Big 12 Weekend Preview: Road Map to the Most Thrilling Finish Possible

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 27th, 2015

For roughly 46 hours between Kansas State’s upset over Kansas on Monday and Iowa State‘s deflating loss to Baylor on Wednesday, the Big 12 race had more intrigue than at any point in the season. But after the Bears took down the Cyclones at Hilton Coliseum thanks to some deadly shooting down the stretch, the standings returned to an all-too-familiar position: the Jayhawks all alone at the top with a logjam behind them. The race isn’t yet over, but Iowa State’s loss definitely removed some of the buzz surrounding the finish. As it stands, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Iowa State — each one game behind Kansas — all need to take care of business and get some unlikely help if any of the three wants to make history. The Sooners still have a game left against the 10-time defending conference champs — their home finale on March 7 — but they will likely have to win their next two games in order for that match-up to mean something. More on that in a minute.

It will take a home loss by Kansas for the Big 12 race to become a race again.

The Big 12 race isn’t over, but it will take a Kansas loss in this building to restore the chaos that has encapsulated the conference all year long.

West Virginia also has a game left against Kansas, but with two of its last three games coming on the road — including next Tuesday’s tilt against the Jayhawks — the Mountaineers are at a big disadvantage. Lastly, not only do the Cyclones not have any remaining games against the Jayhawks, but they’ll also play two of their last three games on the road. Meanwhile, Kansas plays two of its last three games in the cozy confines of Allen Fieldhouse, so the odds of Bill Self’s team winning that 11th straight Big 12 title in outright fashion look favorable.

As great a story as that would be, however, where’s the fun? As a die-hard college hoops fan, I want as much meaningful basketball as possible. Sure, if Kansas puts a bow on it by this time next week, everyone will still be playing for valuable postseason seeding; we’ll still watch; and then the postseason will be here. But throughout its relatively young history, the Big 12 has lacked a climactic final day of action in the truest definition.

I’m talking about one game to decide the conference race and the fate of the Jayhawks’ Big 12 title streak all wrapped up in one tidy package.

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Big 12 M5: 02.09.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 9th, 2015

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  1. The always entertaining Kyle Porter of Pistols Firing recapped Oklahoma State‘s upset win over Kansas on Saturday. The Jayhawks played the first half about as well as possible, running out to a double-figure halftime lead while shooting 7-of-9 from three. The second half, however, went in the opposite direction. Turnovers were a problem, as that number ballooned to 18 (Jamari Traylor had six miscues himself), and the Cowboys found the seam by driving to the basket and drawing fouls (20-of-26 on free throws). With only two Big 12 losses, Kansas is still in the driver’s seat for another conference crown but it will face stiff competition as Iowa State (one game behind) and Oklahoma (1.5 games behind) jockey for position down the stretch.
  2. West Virginia won the opening tap and scored the first two points of Saturday’s game against Baylor in Morgantown, but that would be the last time the Mountaineers would hold the lead as the Bears went on a 23-1 run to coast to an 87-69 blowout victory. Baylor beats you with its offensive balance, as Rico Gathers (17 points), Taurean Waller-Prince (15), Royce O’Neale (15), Al Freeman (11) and Kenny Chery (11) all registered double-figure scoring. In the Bears’ current three-game winning streak, they have shot a scorching 45 percent (22-for-49) from behind the arc. Unfortunately, we figured this would start to happen to West Virginia. The Mountaineers’ conference schedule is so backloaded that a major slide during the rest of the regular season is very much in play. Baylor, meanwhile, will be tested this week, facing upstart Oklahoma State in Waco followed by big, bad Kansas on Saturday afternoon in Lawrence.
  3. A not-such-a-big-deal thing and a hope-it’s-not-such-a-big-deal thing happened to the Cyclones over the weekend. We’ll start with the first thing as Bryce Dejean-Jones came off the bench in Iowa State‘s win against Texas Tech. Fred Hoiberg attributed Dejean-Jones’ benching to tardiness, which, again, is not such a big deal. In his place, Jameel McKay owned the game to the tune of 17 points, eight rebounds, three blocks and two steals in 25 minutes. The other thing that happened was that Georges Niang headed to the locker room in the first half after experiencing soreness in one of his Achilles’ tendons. Niang returned to the game but nevertheless should take extra special caution with the knowledge of how serious Achilles injuries can be. It’ll be something to keep an eye on in the Cyclones’ Big Monday game against Oklahoma tonight and West Virginia on Saturday.
  4. Some big news was released on Sunday night as Oklahoma big man TaShawn Thomas will play in tonight’s showdown with Iowa State. Thomas, who had eight points and 10 rebounds in his 27 minutes on the floor, left Saturday’s game against TCU after getting hit in the eye in the second half. With all hands on deck for both teams tonight, there should be some fireworks in Norman.
  5. The college basketball world lost a giant on Saturday as former North Carolina coach Dean Smith passed away at the age of 83. Smith was a huge success — on and off the hardwood — from his 879 career victories, 11 Final Fours and two national titles to being a fearless advocate for civil rights in a place and time that was not conducive to his views. The countless stories of the influence of Smith have been the most magnificent part of the weekend, including one that Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger told to the Tulsa World. I won’t spoil any of it here, but the piece further underscores how well he treated everyone. Even opposing coaches.
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Big 12 M5: 02.06.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 6th, 2015

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  1. Texas‘ overtime loss to Oklahoma State on Wednesday dropped the Longhorns to a disappointing 3-6 in conference play and ignited some talk of the possibility of the Longhorns missing the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years. I’m here to tell you that that chatter is very premature. While Texas doesn’t have any business being this bad with its formidable blend of talent and experience, it’s way too early to be bringing the Horns into the bubble conversation. They still own wins over Iowa at Madison Square Garden and UConn in Storrs, as well as a home win over West Virginia. On the other side of the ledger, their losses, while numerous, aren’t particularly egregious for their resume — every team they’ve lost to is currently ranked in the RPI top 35. Lastly, as is always the case with these kinds of conversations, in order to leave Texas out of the Big Dance, you have to find a team with a better resume, and the bubble right now is just too soft to make a convincing argument for the Longhorns to be left on the outside. There’s no doubt Texas has fallen well short of expectations, but they aren’t in any danger of missing the Tournament – yet. If they lose two or more of their next three games (at Kansas State, at home against TCU and Texas Tech), then we can talk.
  2. It’s been an up-and-down few years for Oklahoma State, so when a season highlight presents itself, I don’t have any problem if its fanbase wants to milk it for all its worth. Kyle Porter of Pistols Firing dissects Le’Bryan Nash’s rim-shaking throwdown from Wednesday night in great detail, all the way from how the play developed to the always-fun bench reactions and Travis Ford getting greedy and lobbying for a foul call. Looking around the conference, there isn’t a player who is more important to his team’s postseason chances than Nash is to the Cowboys due to his high usage and ability to create plays for himself, so when a play of his goes viral, it’s definitely worth passing along.
  3. Luke Winn’s power rankings at SI.com are always a great read, and this week’s edition includes an interesting blurb about Cliff Alexander‘s presence on the interior. We’ve talked before about Alexander’s offensive rawness in the post, but Winn illuminates how much Alexander lags behind his peers in this department. Jahlil Okafor, Myles Turner and Karl-Anthony Towns have all been considerably more productive on the blocks, but in fairness to Alexander, the other three players are taller and should be expected to post better numbers. Alexander has the potential to develop a true back-to-the-basket game over time, however, so we’ll see what the second half of conference play and the postseason brings out of the freshman.
  4. Tomorrow’s match-up between Baylor and West Virginia is one of the more interesting games of the weekend. A Baylor win would pull the Bears even with West Virginia, allowing them to keep a sliver of hope in ultimately catching Kansas in the league standings. The Mountaineers’ press will look to speed up Baylor’s deliberate tempo, which is currently ranked 300th in the country with an average possession length of 19.7 seconds. Additionally, neither team shoots particularly well, but both rank in the top five nationally in offensive rebounding. Unless Baylor gets white-hot from beyond the arc (as they can get sometimes), you can expect the winner of this one to be determined by second-chance points.
  5. We’ll wrap up by giving Oklahoma credit for fielding the conference’s most efficient defensive unit in the first half of Big 12 play. Kansas has owned that title in each of the last three full seasons and nine of the last 10, so while there’s still a lot of basketball to be played, it says a lot about the progress Lon Kruger‘s team has made from last year’s shaky defensive performance. Buddy Hield has slightly improved his steals rate from 2.4% last year to 2.6% this year while committing just 1.8 fouls per game in conference play. Those marks would be impressive for any player, but it’s especially noteworthy for Hield because of the high workload he’s asked to shoulder (he’s averaging 34 minutes per game in Big 12 play). The Sooners have held their last three opponents to an average of 48 points per game and could be a decent bet to do the same when they face TCU in Fort Worth tomorrow.
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Four Key Takeaways From a Wild Night In Lawrence

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 20th, 2015

It was a tale of two halves last night in Lawrence, as Kansas hit nine first half threes to sprint out to a commanding 51-32 halftime lead against Oklahoma, only to watch it disappear as the Sooners stormed back to take a four-point lead before collapsing at the end. Let’s consider four key takeaways from a game of several crazy swings.

Kansas and Oklahoma Took It Hard at Each Other Last Night (USA Today Images)

Kansas and Oklahoma Took It Hard at Each Other Last Night (USA Today Images)

  • Fiery start fuels Kansas’ first halfKelly Oubre got things going by connecting on a pair of early threes and the Jayhawks refused to let up on their way to 51 first half points. Although Oklahoma remained close for the first five minutes, Kansas would register a 16-0 perimeter barrage with nearly everyone contributing. This team is built to fire away from deep, but Bill Self has tried in vain to establish an inside presence even though he doesn’t have a true back-to-the-basket big man (however, Cliff Alexander may be developing into one, as we’ll discuss separately below). While Kansas’ scorching first half is a statistical outlier, it underscores the fact that the Jayhawks are at their best when they utilize their outside shooting prowess.
  • Don’t overlook Buddy Hield in the Big 12 POY race: This conference is filled with scorers from Marcus Foster to Phil Forte to Georges Niang, but the Sooners’ Buddy Hield may be the best of the bunch. His 26 points were a game-high and he’s now shooting a superb 60.5 percent on twos in league action in spite of his 6’4″ frame, along with a 44 percent clip from deep in Big 12 play. Hield isn’t without his warts, though, as he tends to rush shots (especially in transition) and he could stand to share the ball a little more often with talented and effective teammates like Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler. Still, the junior is an undeniable star, as evidenced not only by his huge game in arguably the most intimidating environment in college basketball, but his play all season to date.

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Oklahoma’s Blowout of Texas Might Disrupt Big 12 Hierarchy

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 6th, 2015

Nate Kotisso is a Big 12 microsite writer for Rush The Court. He covered Oklahoma-Texas in Austin last night. You can follow him on Twitter @natekotisso.

We are four days into the start of Big 12 play, so naturally, now is the time to make quick declarations on how the conference will ultimately shake out. Until we make new ones on Saturday, that is. The box score will tell you that the Sooners played their most complete game of the season against one of their toughest opponents on Monday night. While it was an impressive victory, the reality is Oklahoma dominated Texas defensively in the first half and coasted in the second. The Sooners forced nine of Texas’ 12 turnovers, scored 11 points off those turnovers, outscored the Horns in the paint by 10, and held the Longhorns to 14 points total — all in the first 20 minutes. At the break, Texas was left with six players each making one field goal to account for their 6-of-30 shooting, while the Sooners’ Ryan Spangler and Buddy Hield equaled that number with three makes apiece. Their size advantage on Texas’ guards with Hield and Isaiah Cousins allowed the duo to shoot over them to the tune of 4-of-10 from the perimeter.

Texas guard Demarcus Holland attempts to grab the ball on this Longhorn possession. However, the game was out of UT's reach as they lost by 21. (Brendan Maloney/USA Today Sports)

Texas guard Demarcus Holland attempts to grab the ball on this Longhorn possession. However, the game was out of UT’s reach as they lost by 21. (Brendan Maloney/USA Today Sports)

Another important piece to this game for Oklahoma was the emergence of TaShawn Thomas. It’s common knowledge that the addition of Thomas has strengthened the team’s defense to a level that hasn’t been seen during head coach Lon Kruger‘s tenure in Norman. Competing against the athletic size of Cameron Ridley, Jonathan Holmes, Prince Ibeh and Connor Lammert, Thomas posted 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting and 10 rebounds, four of them offensive. While not nearly as efficient on the offensive end, Thomas contributed 12 points, 11 rebounds and led all players in offensive rebounds (four), two blocked shots and one nasty dunk that thwarted any chance of a Longhorns’ comeback early in the second half. The Sooners seem to have Texas’ number of late, winning four of the last five games in the series. Oklahoma has also recorded wins in Austin in consecutive seasons for the first time since the program last did so during the 2000-02 seasons. Read the rest of this entry »

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Oklahoma Just Too Much for Baylor

Posted by Eli Linton on January 5th, 2015

Eli Linton is a RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Oklahoma’s 73-63 win over Baylor.

Saturday’s premier matchup — and the country’s only game between ranked opponents — featured #22 Baylor at # 18 Oklahoma in what amounted to two of the nation’s top defenses, and possibly the two best frontcourts in the Big 12. Baylor was the underdog surprise of the season going in. The Bears were selected to finish sixth in the Big 12 preseason poll, but came into Saturday’s Big 12 opener sporting an 11-1 record, including six straight wins. This was the perfect opportunity to showcase their great talent that has helped them rise above expectations. Instead, what we ended up watching was total control by Oklahoma, who won 73-63. The Sooners are starting to pile up wins against quality teams, and are looking more like one of the NCAA’s elite.

Oklahoma forward TaShawn Thomas (35) celebrates a basket against Baylor in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Jan. 3, 2015. Oklahoma's Jordan Woodard is at right. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Oklahoma forward TaShawn Thomas (35) celebrates a basket against Baylor in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Jan. 3, 2015. Oklahoma’s Jordan Woodard is at right. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Oklahoma has been beating up on Baylor seemingly forever, leading 42-11 in the all-time series between the two programs. The Sooners have been even more dominant when the contest is played in Norman as Oklahoma has won 21 of 25 all-time meetings. Still, this was a matchup of two teams that were considered very close by comparison. Baylor, like Oklahoma, plays tough defense and relies on its talented forwards, junior Rico Gathers and freshman Johnathan Motley. But the touted Baylor zone couldn’t stop Sooners’ guard Buddy Hield or forward TaShawn Thomas, who found a way to lead their team to 73 points again a Bears’ defense that hadn’t allowed more than 66 points in a game all year. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Conference Catch-Up: West Virginia and Oklahoma

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 1st, 2015

As the Big 12 schools near the completion of their non-conference schedules this week, it’s a great time to catch up on where the league’s 10 teams stand entering conference play. Surely, this would be the year West Virginia becomes a factor in Big 12 hierarchy and they look like a serious one to this point. Meanwhile, Oklahoma has had a few hiccups in non-conference play but there is reason for optimism as the new pieces begin to settle into their roles. The Conference Catch-Up rolls on today with our last Catch-Up coming up tomorrow.

West Virginia

  • Key Wins: UConn, NC State
  • Bad Losses: None
Senior Juwan Staten had led the Mountaineers to a 12-1 start heading into Big 12 play. (Getty Images)

Senior Juwan Staten has led the Mountaineers to a 12-1 start heading into Big 12 play. (Getty Images)

When you’ve had the success and longevity that Bob Huggins has had in coaching, there are very few things left to prove. Perhaps rebuilding his alma mater into a contender in a new league was something worth going after and Huggins appears to have done that. It was hard to expect such a quick start from the Mountaineers in 2014-15 considering two of their top three scorers from last season (Eron Harris and Terry Henderson) transferred out of Morgantown. With them gone, this has undoubtedly become Juwan Staten‘s team. The Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year Staten leads his team in scoring (15.9) and assists (4.3) despite playing on average seven minutes fewer than he did last year. The last triumph most remember WVU having on the national landscape was their Final Four season in 2009-10. What made that team such a difficult matchup for most were their versatile wing players. Guys like Da’Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones carried a lot of responsibility on a team that only used a seven-man rotation. Butler, Ebanks and Jones were all 6’7″ or taller, could score, rebound in bunches and committed to defending on a team that finished 23rd in the country in adjusted defense according to KenPom. The difficulty with this year’s team is their ability to wear down opponents due to Huggins’ pressure defense armed with a rotation that rolls ten guys deep. At this point, KenPom has WVU sporting a similar adjusted defense rating as 2009-10 (22nd) despite the Mountaineers averaging 13 steals a game, seven more than the 2009-10 team. In KenPom’s metrics, West Virginia is ranked No. 1 in the country in turnover percentage and steal percentage. More steals and turnovers have led to more easy buckets on the other end of the floor. West Virginia breezed through an average non-conference schedule with one minor speed bump in the form of a 74-73 home loss to a solid LSU team. The big question going into conference play is how long can they keep up their defensive pace against much tougher opponents? It’s one thing to post big numbers against VMI, Northern Kentucky or Marshall and another to do the same to Kansas, Texas or Iowa State.

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Oklahoma Quietly Taking Care of Business

Posted by Eli Linton on December 14th, 2014

While Texas and Kansas have hogged the Big 12 spotlight so far, Oklahoma is starting to demand some attention of its own. Lon Kruger’s squad, which came into last week ranked #16 in the country, visited Tulsa on Saturday afternoon and left with an easy 87-68 win. Oklahoma appears to have its best team since Blake Griffin was running the show. The Sooners’ defense is performing at a top-10 level this season, holding every team they’ve faced to fewer than 70 points, 36 percent from the field and 28 percent from three. That stingy defense is the main reason they continue to climb the national rankings and are demanding respect in such a competitive conference.

Lon Kruger

Lon Kruger has the Sooners playing very good basketball right now. (AP)

The strength of Oklahoma comes from its starting five. If it has been a while since you’ve seen the Sooners play, here’s what you can expect:

  • Ryan Spangler is a Gonzaga transfer who plays physical defense in the post. He’s a great athlete who shoots a high percentage. He’s shot 50 percent or better in 32 of his 40 games at Oklahoma, and he’s shooting 64 percent from the field this season. Spangler is disruptive on defense and has a lot of athleticism for a big man.
  • Senior forward TaShawn Thomas is another quick, athletic forward who rounds out the Sooners’ frontcourt. He can put the ball on the floor and play great defense on the perimeter. Thomas was the MVP against Tulsa, shutting down their shooters on the three-point line all afternoon. When he rotated down into the post, there was just no way the Hurricane were going to score driving the lane. Tulsa started settling for the more inviting mid-range jumpers instead of attacking the glass. Thomas ended the night with 25 points, five rebounds, and three blocks to go along with his stellar defensive performance. “We realized that we need to get the ball in to TaShawn and Ryan a lot more,” Kruger said afterward. “Last game, Ryan had a big game against Missouri. TaShawn had a big game today. We had gotten away from that balance, and Ryan and TaShawn help us get back to it and I like the results much better.”

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Big 12 M5: 11.19.14 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 19th, 2014

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  1. If you had the fortitude to sit through the afternoon games of yesterday’s marathon, perhaps you caught Baylor get by Frank Martin and an improved South Carolina team in Columbia. Redshirt freshman Johnathan Motley was the clear player of the game with 17 points and five rebounds, but what was most impressive for Baylor was its ability to win the game despite committing more turnovers and getting outrebounded by the Gamecocks. Games like these during the first week of the season are difficult to gauge, so while this was a true road game on an opponent’s home floor, the Gamecocks aren’t expected to make much noise in the SEC this year. It’s certainly a positive that the Bears won a game away from Waco, but let’s hold off on buying in just yet because a) we’re two games into the season; and b) the top half of the league is still better than Baylor. Steady as she goes, Bears fans.
  2. While the football team has stolen most of the headlines this fall, TCU still very much has a men’s basketball program. I’m not sure how many people were aware of this, but the Horned Frogs throttled Washington State (and new head coach Ernie Kent) by a score of 81-54 on Monday night. It is more than a little shocking that TCU put another Power Five team out to pasture, but this one was decided long before the final buzzer sounded. Using Baylor-South Carolina as a template, we’re not expecting TCU to contend for an at-large bid or anything this season, but perhaps we’re finally seeing just how competitive the Horned Frogs can look when they aren’t dealing with a rash of injuries.
  3. Here was a quote from Georges Niang following Iowa State’s season-opening win last Friday: “I think we played real well offensively, but it’s a little disappointing what we did defensively.” Apparently the Cyclones took those words to heart and put the defensive clamps on Georgia State’s high-powered offense on Monday night, winning 81-58. The Panthers shot 39.1 percent from the field for the game including a paltry 15-of-48 (31.3 percent) effort from the skilled guard trio of R.J. Hunter, Ryan Harrow and Kevin Ware. Niang himself struggled offensively (3-of-12) while Monte Morris (19 points, nine assists, zero turnovers) played his best overall game as a collegian. And remember, Iowa State is still missing Matt Thomas, Abdel Nader and two-time JuCo All-American Jameel McKay until December. Good grief.
  4. A big question going into this season surrounded the starting point guard position for Kansas State, but perhaps it’s possible that there are two answers to that question. Jevon Thomas has started the first two games of the season, performing admirably with 14 assists against only five turnovers, after showing flashes as a capable passer last year. Nigel Johnson (eight assists, two turnovers) has impressed as well. Whether Thomas or Johnson are in the lineup, the Wildcats shouldn’t have to worry too much about finding ways to get the ball to their top scorers in Marcus Foster and Justin Edwards. If you’re Bruce Weber, those are the kinds of dilemmas you want to have as a head coach.
  5. Four-star point guard Payton Pritchard gave a verbal commitment to Lon Kruger and Oklahoma on Tuesday. As quickly as he has been able to take the program from struggling to thriving, Pritchard is technically the highest-rated high school prospect to pledge to the Sooners in Kruger’s short tenure. This news is only the cherry on top for Oklahoma, as the Sooners also get Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas in his first game in crimson and cream against Creighton tonight in Omaha. Let that marinate for a bit.
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Big 12 M5: 11.12.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 12th, 2014

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  1. We lead off with a pretty crazy bit of trivia. If you follow Friend of RTC, Fran Fraschilla, on Twitter, you may already know that Kansas freshman Svi Mikhailiuk won’t turn 18 until next June 10. But did you know that makes him eight years younger — to the day — than former Iowa State star DeAndre Kane, who played in the Big 12 just last season? We doubt they’ll be celebrating birthdays together, but remembering that Kane spent an extra year in prep school and had to sit out the 2009-10 season as a partial qualifier at Marshall, then looking at how Mykhailiuk became eligible as prospect from overseas just highlights the NCAA clearinghouse aerobics that can lead to such a bizarre circumstance.
  2. The season is about to tip off, but the Iowa State brass is already hard at work preparing next year’s slate. The Cyclones will participate in the Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Florida, over Thanksgiving weekend just over a year from now. They’ll headline the eight-team event along with Virginia Tech, Illinois and UAB. We don’t know much about what Iowa State will look like by then, but with a quick glance at the Cyclones’ roster, Georges Niang will likely be around, as will Naz Long, Monte Morris and two of the three transfers we profiled yesterday.
  3. Kansas steamrolled intrastate opponent Emporia State, 109-56, in its final tune-up before the first real game on Friday against UC Santa Barbara. Perry Ellis and Landen Lucas led the way with 13 points each, but eight other Jayhawks scored in double-figures, so it was very much a balanced attack. Perhaps the biggest takeaway, though, was how composed freshman Devonte’ Graham looked running the point guard position. As always, the quality of competition has to be taken into consideration, but a steady hand initiating the offense is one of just a few things missing from last season’s team that can really take this year’s squad to the next level.
  4. For the first time since Blake Griffin was the BMOC in Norman, Oklahoma will open the season with legitimate expectations. Many of those come with the caveat of Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas becoming eligible, but they’re there nonetheless. Fortunately, the Sooners have an experienced head coach in Lon Kruger who knows a thing or two about resurrecting teams from the dead and getting them in position to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
  5. College Basketball Talk‘s Rob Dauster wrote a piece that looks at the culture change Rick Barnes orchestrated with Texas that led the program to where it is today. We’ve discussed a few times how cleansing the program of selfish egos at the close of the 2013 campaign and the ensuing offseason set the team on a better course. While things like team chemistry and leadership can be tough to observe or quantify from an outside perspective, it’s not hard at all to spot when those things aren’t there, and that was definitely the case if you watched even just one game of Longhorns basketball in 2012-13.
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Big 12 Season Preview: Oklahoma Sooners

Posted by KoryCarpenter on November 11th, 2014

This week, the Big 12 microsite will finish previewing each of the league’s 10 teams. Today: Oklahoma.

Strengths: Guards Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins, and Jordan Woodard return for the Sooners, giving them potentially one of the best backcourts in the Big 12. Hield averaged 16.4 PPG and shot 38.6 percent from beyond the arc last season, both major improvements from his freshman season. The 6’4″ junior was a second-team All-Big 12 selection and was second in the conference with 1.4 steals per game. Jordan Woodard saw significant minutes (28 MPG) as a freshman and landed on the Bob Cousy Award watch list heading into this season after averaging 10.3 PPG, 4.6 APG, and 2.2 RPG last season. Isaiah Cousins was named the team’s most improved player last season after averaging 11 PPG and 4.2 RPG, and along with Hield and Woodard will give the Sooners one of the most experienced backcourts in the Big 12. They will be joined by junior forward Ryan Spangler, who started every game last season and led the Big 12 with 9.3 RPG. There are definitely holes to fill from last year’s team, but a lineup with Hield, Cousins, Woodard, and Spangler in it is a good place to start for head coach Lon Kruger.

Lon Kruger has talent this season, but will depth become a problem?

Lon Kruger has talent this season, but will depth become a problem?

Weaknesses: The loss of Cameron Clark could be huge for Oklahoma this season. Clark, a 6’7″ forward, might have been the most important player on last year’s team. He was certainly the most important big man. His departure leaves plenty of question marks down low for the Sooners. Spangler should be improved and will help, but that’s about it. There’s senior forward D.J. Bennett, I guess. But Bennett only averaged 9.1 MPG last season, so it’s hard to say what kind of impact he will have in 2014-15. The presumed fifth starter alongside Spangler looks to be Houston transfer Tashawn Thomas. That’s if he is ruled eligible by the NCAA. Thomas averaged 14.5 PPG and 8.7 RPG in three seasons at Houston. He elected to transfer this summer after Houston coach James Dickey left the program, and is waiting to see if the NCAA will let him play immediately for Lon Kruger. If that is the case, it would go a long way in solidifying an otherwise thin rotation for the Sooners. If not, we’ll see just how much of a load Spangler can carry.

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Big 12 M5: 11.03.14 Edition

Posted by Kory Carpenter on November 3rd, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. Guys like Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Isaiah Austin and DeAndre Kane might be gone from the league, but the Big 12 could be as good as ever this season. As was pointed out here, this is the first season when four Big 12 teams have made an appearance in the Preseason AP Top 25. Those four teams are Kansas (#5), Texas (#10), Iowa State (#14), and Oklahoma (#19). The quartet of Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and West Virginia all received votes as well. Kansas was picked by Big 12 scribes to win the conference for the 11th consecutive year and the AP voters rightfully gave the Jayhawks the highest ranking of any Big 12 team. But as you can see, there isn’t much of a gap between Kansas and the other schools, which should make for a great conference race.
  2. Former President Bill Clinton was campaigning for Democrats in Iowa over the weekend when he stopped at a coffee shop in Ames. “You have a very interesting team,” he told a small group of people, referring to Fred Hoiberg’s Iowa State team [see full video below]. It’s not every day when someone can talk hoops with a former president, and while Clinton didn’t give any amazing breakdowns during the conversation, it was still pretty cool to see. For someone who probably doesn’t watch a ton of Cyclones basketball, his wasn’t a terrible point to make. If the Cyclones are anything like what they’ve been in the past few years under Hoiberg, they’ll shoot well enough in some games to beat anybody and go cold in others, making them as upset-prone as nearly any team in the country.
  3. If Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas becomes eligible this season, Crimson and Cream Review believes that Oklahoma might be able to knock Kansas off the top spot in the Big 12 for the first time in over a decade. That’s good news for their readers, who seem to believe that Thomas will receive a waiver to play soon. The Sooners winning the conference wouldn’t be a stunner on the level of a TCU or Texas Tech winning the Big 12 title, but getting past Kansas and Texas this year? I don’t know about that one.
  4. Kansas freshman forward Cliff Alexander seemed to be a guy who might need a few weeks to get used to the college game. If you watched his high school clips, he basically did whatever he wanted inside simply because he was five inches taller and 50 pounds heavier than anyone else on the court. And while Kansas coach Bill Self recently told beat writer Gary Bedore that Alexander “had done great,” it still looks like he will need a month or so to get the hang of things in college. “Tarik averaged more fouls than rebounds and points until Christmas, and Cliff has the same potential to do that,” Self said. “But when he gets it, he’s going to be really good. I think by the end of the year, he could be one of the harder players to deal with in the league.”
  5. CBSSports.com recently ranked its top 100 college basketball players heading into the season, and surprisingly (at least to this writer), incoming freshman Jahlil Okafor was their No. 1 player ahead of guys like Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell and Frank Kaminsky. The list’s top Big 12 player is Iowa State forward Georges Niang, who will have plenty of opportunities to showcase his talents this season with the losses of DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim from the Cyclones. He is joined in the top 25 by West Virginia’s Juwan Staten (#12), Kansas’ Cliff Alexander (#14), Texas’ Myles Turner (#16), Kansas State’s Marcus Foster (#20), Kansas’ Kelly Oubre (#21), Kansas’ Perry Ellis (#22), and Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield (#25). That’s not a bad collection of talent for what looks to be the second-best conference in the country, behind only the ACC.

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