Big 12 Way-Too-Early Power Rankings

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 15th, 2015

Depending on how you judge such things, the Big 12 either had a great year in sending seven teams to the NCAA Tournament and finishing first in all the relevant computer rankings, or a miserable one, propelling just two teams to the Sweet Sixteen and missing out on the Elite Eight and beyond entirely for the third straight season. As we’ve said for some time now, it’s silly to let NCAA Tournament results determine your assessment, but the hive mind will continue to pick at the conference’s March shortcomings until the Big 12 breaks through. The good news for the league, though, is that the top teams appear to be retaining most of their best players, and Kansas, Iowa State, Texas and Baylor are still in the running for some of the nation’s top prep talents as well as a handful of graduate transfers who could step in and make immediate impacts. Add it all up and the league should be poised to take a step forward in 2015-16. Here’s how we see things shaking out next season.

1. Kansas

This is what a coach can get away with when you dominate the Big 12 like Bill Self has done at Kansas. (Denny Medley/USA Today Sports)

Al jokes aside, the Big 12’s postseason prospects have to start with Bill Self (Denny Medley/USA Today Sports)

  • Key Departures: Kelly Oubre, Cliff Alexander
  • Key Returnees: Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden, Frank Mason, Devonte’ Graham, Landen Lucas, Brannen Greene, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk
  • New Arrivals: Carlton Bragg
  • Summer Storyline: The Jayhawks in a down year still won the Big 12, but last year illuminated how vulnerable they are when they don’t have an elite rim-protector inside. To that end, Kansas could really use the services of 6’10” Charlotte transfer Mike Thorne, a physical, productive post threat on both ends of the floor. Bill Self’s program also remains in the running for highly-touted recruits Cheick Diallo, Malik Newman and Jaylen Brown.

2. Iowa State

  • Key Departures: Bryce Dejean-Jones, Dustin Hogue
  • Key Returnees: Georges Niang, Monte’ Morris, Naz Long, Jameel McKay, Abdel Nader
  • New Arrivals: Hallice Cooke, Deonte Burton (transfer)
  • Summer Storyline: Between the annual rumors of Fred Hoiberg leaving for the NBA and Iowa State’s presence on the transfer market, the summer is always a busy time but this offseason has already been more dramatic than usual. St. John’s poaching of top Iowa State assistant Matt Abdelmassih could hurt the Cyclones more than many seem to be noticing. He already flipped former JuCo signee Darien Williams to the Red Storm, and Iowa State’s chances of landing Cheick Diallo, for whom Abdelmassih was the lead recruiter, also took a serious hit. Despite those recruiting challenges, the Cyclones will return most of their offensively gifted core, but questions will remain on defense. Read the rest of this entry »
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McDonald’s All-American Game: A Big 12 Viewer’s Guide

Posted by Chris Stone on April 1st, 2015

Tonight the 38th Annual McDonald’s All-American Game will take place at the United Center in Chicago. Twenty-four of the top high school players in the country will showcase their skills in front of a national audience in what is one of the few opportunities for fans to catch a glimpse of next year’s class of recruits. Over the past few days, the players have been competing in practices against one another ahead of tonight’s showdown. With a number of players either committed to or still considering Big 12 schools, we felt that it would be a good idea to quickly profile those players to keep an eye on tonight as you tune into the game. All rankings from Scout.com.

Committed Players

Carlton Bragg has committed to Kansas. (Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports)

Carlton Bragg has committed to Kansas. (Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports)

This year’s class of All-Americans includes two players who have already committed to Big 12 schools.

Uncommitted Players

Jaylen Brown Has Kansas on His Short List (FreeP.com)

Jaylen Brown Has Kansas on His Short List (FreeP.com)

The 2015 McDonald’s All-American Game also features a number of uncommitted prospects who plan to sign with schools in the coming weeks. Many of these players are considering Big 12 institutions, with Kansas on the lists of just about all of them. Here is a quick rundown of each McDonald’s All-American prospect who is still considering a Big 12 school next season.

  • No. 1 Jaylen Brown, Wheeler High School (GA). Brown is a 6’7″ small forward who has spent the week speaking highly of Kentucky’s program while also saying that academics will help guide his decisionDespite having the skill set to make the jump, Brown may not be a typical one-and-done prospect. He’s got NBA size and athleticism but needs to spend time working on his jump shot to truly become an effective player at the next level. Kansas is the lone Big 12 school that remains on this prospect’s list.
  • No. 5 Ivan Rabb, Bishop O’Dowd High School (CA). It would be a big surprise to see Ivan Rabb in the Big 12 next season. Kansas is currently the only Big 12 school that remains on his list, but Rabb appears headed to California. He’s another versatile big man who showed off his shooting touch recently by hitting the game-winning free throws in overtime of California’s state championship game.
  • No. 8 Malik Newman, Callaway High School (MS). Newman has made his plan clear that he intends to spend as little time in college as possible. He’s considering six schools, including Kansas. Newman is a combo guard who has spent quite a bit of time running the point during practices this week, so keep an eye on how much he plays the position during tonight’s game.
  • No. 9 Stephen Zimmerman, Bishop Gorman High School (NV). Zimmerman is an almost seven-footer from Las Vegas who has also been open about his desire to get to the NBA as soon as possible. Hometown school UNLV appears to be the favorite over Kansas and some other bluebloods like Kentucky and UCLA. Zimmerman obviously has the size to develop into an impressive post presence over time. He’ll get a chance to show off some of that development this evening.
  • No. 10 Cheick Diallo, Our Savior New American School (NY). Diallo is perhaps one of the more interesting players on the uncommitted list. He’s being recruited by both Kansas and Iowa State but the Cyclones’ lead recruiter on Diallo is headed to St. John’s next season. He is a high energy big man who impressed observers during Tuesday’s practice, according to Rivals’ Eric Bossi, by showcasing his ability to block shots and collect rebounds on the defensive end while hustling to finish dunks on the other.
  • No. 13 Brandon Ingram, Kinston High School (NC). Ingram is another Kansas prospect. The 6’8″ forward spent most of Tuesday’s practice engaged in trash talk with Jaylen Brown. He backed it up with an impressive scoring ability that has RivalsEric Bossi calling him the “biggest revelation” of this week.
  • No. 33 Thomas Bryant, Huntington Prep (WV). Bryant is also considering Kansas but he hasn’t yet visited the school. He is a physical 6’10” center who has impressed with his play on the block during practices this week.

While obviously not all of these players will end up in the Big 12 next season, it is likely that one or more will choose a school in the conference. Tonight’s McDonald’s All-American Game should give fans a chance to see what each of them has to offer.

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Rushed Reaction: #8 Oregon 79, #9 Oklahoma State 73

Posted by Eric Clark on March 20th, 2015

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Joe Young Was a Load For Oklahoma State to Handle Today (USA Today Images)

Joe Young Was a Load For Oklahoma State to Handle Today (USA Today Images)

  1. The game was a beautiful, ugly mess. Oregon and Oklahoma State each had 12 turnovers and played little to no defense – but it led to an exciting game with plenty of runs and a quick tempo. Combined, the Ducks and Cowboys shot 48 three-pointers and connected on 17 of them. The extra pass was rarely made by either team on any occasion, as the two teams combined to register for 22 assists. Throw in the color-on-color jersey matchup with Oregon in highlighter yellow and Oklahoma State in highlighter orange, and the game was a glorious blur. If dunks were tallied on the postgame box score, we’d give you the exact number – but trust me when I say there were approximately 1,000. Oregon gets the unenviable task of (probably) taking on Wisconsin in the next round. The Badgers, they of preposterous efficiency, had to be salivating at the sight of this #8/#9 contest. Oregon is explosive in both a good and disastrous way (check out its most recent Pac-12 performance against Arizona), and that plays precisely into Wisconsin’s hands.
  2. Joe Young has no fear. Young began the first half by primarily sticking to pull-up jumpers and three-pointers, whether it was on the fast break or in a half-court set. He came out of his shell in the second half, particularly when he blew by Oklahoma State’s Anthony Hickey and threw down an emphatic left-handed dunk. Young showcased his versatility as a scorer (27 points), beating the Cowboys every which way and confirming his status as the Pac-12 Player of the Year. He played every single minute on Friday night and seemingly never ran out of gas. His four turnovers are simply a byproduct of his aggressiveness, and that’s something the Ducks are going to have to live with for the remainder of his career. But Young is Oregon’s sparkplug, catalyst and leader. He kept himself fresh on offense, picking up no fouls and only getting one steal, but he’s not out there to dominate defensively. He does his best work with the ball in his hands.
  3. Le’Bryan Nash ended his career on a sour note. Nash is undoubtedly a professional talent, but his final game as a Cowboy will certainly leave an ugly mark on his collegiate career. While he was solid on the boards, he matched his rebound total in turnovers with seven. His 18 points were a team-high but those turnovers were incredibly costly – not to mention surprising. A big, strong player like Nash probably shouldn’t have the ball taken away so easily in the post as he did tonight. He voiced his disappointment at the postgame press conference, and it’s hard to see such a good player go out that way. March Madness is odd – it gives us insanely dramatic storylines, makes heroes out of unknowns, and ends careers abruptly. Luckily for Nash, his basketball career isn’t over. Hopefully his last NCAA Tournament performance will only further his motivation to become a solid professional player somewhere.

Star of the game. Joe Young, Oregon. The Pac-12’s best gunner and electric floor general was phenomenal, putting up 27 points, canning 8-of-8 free throws and dishing our four assists in the process. He showed he could do it all, from acrobatic layups to long jumpers and even a couple of contested dunks. Even though he had plenty of support from Dillon Brooks (17 points) and Elgin Cook (18 points), it was Young who was the Cowboys’ primary concern and ultimately, their downfall, here on Friday.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Evening

Posted by RTC Staff on March 20th, 2015

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In what was certainly one of the most competitive and jam-packed “opening” days in NCAA Tournament history, Friday’s slate of games will have a hard time following Thursday’s remarkable act. However, today offers a fair share of fascinating matchups as well. Here is a preview of Friday’s evening games.

#8 Oregon vs. #9 Oklahoma State – West Region First Round (at Omaha, NE) – 6:50 PM ET on TBS.

The game plan is simple when playing Oregon: Stop Joe Young. (USA TODAY Sports)

The game plan is simple when playing Oregon: Stop Joe Young. (USA TODAY Sports)

For the Ducks, it all begins and ends with Pac-12 Player of the Year Joseph Young. A deadly shooter, Young is stroking it at 36.1% from three (a career-low), 50.3% from two and 92.6% from the free throw line. He’s adept as a pull-up shooter from deep, a catch-and-shoot guy coming off a screen or on the bounce and on the attack. He’s scored 20 or more 17 different times this season. In other words: stop Young, stop the Ducks. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, they don’t appear to have a ready-made matchup for Young, unless they put 6’6” Le’Bryan Nash – ostensibly a power forward on this team – on him. On the other end of the court, the Ducks can throw a combination of Dwayne Benjamin, Elgin Cook and Dillon Brooks at Nash – the ‘Pokes leading scorer – and feel relatively comfortable, while they’ll let Young, or any of their other fresh guards, chase Phil Forte off screens and try to limit his clean three-point looks. In the end, the Cowboys are more reliant on three-point shooting, while the Ducks can score in all three ranges. Unless Forte and senior Anthony Hickey get super hot from deep, the Ducks should have the edge

The RTC Certified Pick: Oregon

#1 Duke vs. #16 Robert Morris – South Region Second Round (at Charlotte, NC) – 7:10 PM ET on CBS.

Robert Morris sprung a mild upset in Dayton on Wednesday, knocking off favored North Florida in impressive fashion. To further extend their season, the Colonials will need another unexpected victory, but quite obviously, this upset may be slightly less attainable. Duke has had their share of recent struggles in the Tournament’s second round, but stubbed toes against foes such as Mercer and Lehigh can only offer RMU so much solace. Jahlil Okafor dominated small-conference foes in November and December – the Colonials, like almost every team in America, has no player capable of slowing Duke’s freshman star. Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones have proven virtually unstoppable as a duo: stopping one is possible, but forcing poor shooting nights from both is rare. The Colonials made only 4-of-16 three-point field goals against North Florida but have shot the three-ball well this season (37.7 percent). Getting hot from long range would be a great way for Andy Toole’s team to begin the task of hanging around in this game. To finish that chore — even if it ends in defeat — Robert Morris will need to pitch a perfect game. This is the life of a #16 seed, and while it’ll be Duke moving on to face the winner of San Diego State-St. John’s, Robert Morris should head home with heads held high, a proud season in the books.

The RTC Certified Pick: Duke Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Takes Three on the Chin, But Today is a New Day

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 20th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

Well, that could’ve gone better.

 

In the Big 12’s latest opportunity to reverse its NCAA Tournament fortunes, the conference fell flat on its face, losing all three of its games on Thursday. Were this the regular season or the conference tournament, I’d say that Baylor and Iowa State both losing by a single point shouldn’t be huge a cause for concern, and analytically, that remains true. If the Bears and Cyclones played their games again today and every day after that, they’d come out on top in an overwhelming number of those games. But it’s a different game this time of year where variance trumps all, and this was the end of the road for two teams that, at minimum, were expected to make it through the weekend. The same can’t be said for Texas, but that’s only a reflection of the Longhorns’ massive letdown of a campaign.

Three favorites, three losses, all in time for Happy Hour.

The Cyclones knew going into Thursday’s game against UAB that they could no longer afford to fall into double-digit deficits if they wanted to survive. They lived up to one end of the bargain, as the biggest hole they faced was just three points. But that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) take away from the fact that the Blazers didn’t have much business hanging around with the Big 12 Tournament champs, let alone knocking them off. UAB has a tall, athletic lineup, but the Cyclones outscored the Blazers 36-32 in the paint. Instead, Iowa State’s undoing came down to poor rebounding and relying too heavily on jumpers, shots that head coach Fred Hoiberg has become famous for despising. More than one-third of their attempts were jump shots, and star forward Georges Niang was most responsible in that department, attempting 10 jumpers and connecting on just two. Read the rest of this entry »

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Morning Five: 03.19.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 19th, 2015

morning5

  1. Companies often try to hide negative announcements by issuing press releases on Friday afternoon before a long weekend and we guess that is what Syracuse was trying to do by announcing that firing athletic director Daryl Gross and announcing that Jim Boeheim will retire in three years. The former is not exactly shocking since Gross ran the program during much of the time that it committed the NCAA violations for which it was punished. The announcement for Boeheim is a little more surprising and seems to suggest a comprise at some level as it was not that long ago that Boeheim said he would not be retiring any time soon. It would seem that the administration wanted to get rid of Boeheim, but perhaps he was too powerful to have that happen so instead we will be treated to the world’s longest retirement tour. It also raises questions as to what the school’s plans will be to replace Boeheim since Mike Hopkins has been the coach-in-waiting for years, but that was under Gross and with Gross on his way out that decision will be made by his successor, who might opt to go in a completely different direction. It will be interesting to see what happens in the post-Boeheim era since without Boeheim and the basketball program’s reputation there is really nothing to draw a recruit there and the area is not exactly a hotbed for basketball talent.
  2. In other news… the NCAA Tournament is finally here. For some the NCAA Tournament kicked off with the first of the First Four games, but for traditionalists like us the “real” Tournament does not start until the field is set at 64. If you haven’t already found resources to help you understand each region and/or match-up either for your curiosity or your bracket (still a few hours left to make final edits), we have plenty of resources available in our 2015 NCAA Tournament section. If you are just looking for breakdowns of each region, we have that for you for the East, Midwest, South, and West Regions. If you are looking for a completely different way of looking at the NCAA Tournament, we would suggest you check out the post by Draft Express breaking down the prospects for each of the opening games. It will also help you sound a little smarter when you are sitting around with our friends talking about every prospect on each team. Of course, since you are visiting this site, we doubt that you need any help being smart.
  3. This year’s NCAA Tournament will produce many stars, but Chris Obekpa and Cliff Alexander are not likely to be among them barring any surprises. Obekpa, one of the top shot blockers in the country, was suspended for two weeks after testing positive for marijuana. While the decision to suspend Obekpa is not that surprising if that is the school’s policy, the decision to announce the suspension before the Selection Show was pretty gutsy since it could have been enough to move St. John’s down at least one seed line. As for Alexander, it appears increasingly likely that we have seen the last of him for at least this season as he did not make the trip with the team to Omaha for its opening game(s) while he waits to speak with NCAA investigators regarding alleged impermissible benefits he received (his mother receiving a loan). While we think Kansas can survive without Alexander, his absence limits their upside although a potential weekend match-up against Wichita State might have a bigger impact on that.
  4. The big topic in this year’s NCAA Tournament is obviously Kentucky namely who can actually beat the Wildcats. President Obama, for one, is picking Kentucky to win in his Presidential bracket (he also announced his support of a 30-second shot clock, which means that every red state will now support extending the shot clock to 45 seconds). As for someone with a little more legitimate NCAA basketball experience (and two more NCAA violations), Larry Brown boldly claimed that this Kentucky team would make the NBA Playoffs in the Eastern Conference. We won’t get into how ridiculous this statement is (plenty of others have already done it), but it does make us question the sanity of a Hall of Fame coach and one who led his team the AAC title. As for individuals who are trying to maintain a shred of credibility when discussing Kentucky, ESPN Magazine offered seven ways to beat Kentucky and teams that are suited to do so (hint: all of the teams listed are really, really good and none of the teams are listed in more than two of the seven ways). If you’re looking for more credible responses or at least ones from coaches who have matched up against Kentucky, Jeff Eisenberg has some of their tips on how to beat Kentucky and who is ideally equipped to do so.
  5. We suspect that the Equity in Athletics report claiming that many NCAA Tournament teams do not make a profit might involve some creative accounting methods, but it should serve as a reminder just how tenuous the financials can be for some schools and serve to highlight issues involved in paying student-athletes to pay college sports. While Louisville led the nation with its basketball program turning a $24.2 million profit in 2013-14, several notable programs like West Virginia, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, and Davidson reported losses with the first two reporting $2.2 million and $2 million in losses respectively. Several other big-name programs reported breaking even and Duke, which apparently hired some accountants from Arthur Anderson, actually reported a $2 million loss for the 2008-9 season. Although we doubt the validity of some of the figures (particularly that Duke one), it does underscore the variable profitability within the sport.
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How the Big 12 Can Change the Conversation

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 18th, 2015

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While the Big 12 went wire to wire this season as the top conference in America, according to KenPom and the RPI, its postseason results over the last decade continue to cast a shadow over the league’s legitimacy. Since 2005, the Big 12 is tied for fourth in NCAA Tournament wins, tied for fifth in Sweet Sixteen appearances and tied for fourth in Final Four berths. In the last 10 years, 17 Big 12 teams have underperformed relative to their seeds compared with just 12 teams that have overperformed. Although the season-long metrics are more reliable from an analytical perspective than chaotic NCAA Tournament results, the postseason is valued more heavily when it comes to both bar room debates and television contracts. Fortunately for the conference this season, it propelled seven teams into the Big Dance, so there are plenty of opportunities to quiet the skeptics. Here’s how each of those teams can help the conference flip the script.

Fred Hoiberg's Cyclones have a chance to save the Big 12 from more postseason criticism. (Eric Gay/AP).

The Mayor can rescue the Big 12 from years of tournament disappointment with a run to Indianapolis. (Eric Gay/AP)

  • Iowa State: Fred Hoiberg has turned the Iowa State program around and then some in his five years running the team, but the time is ripe for him to raise the status even higher by adding a trip to the Final Four — which would be Iowa State’s first since 1944 — to his already-impressive resume. The Cyclones are among the hottest teams in the country but they’ll need to keep up their hot shooting and not rely on their proven ability to mount comebacks in order to capitalize on the good favor they’ve curried.
  • Kansas: The Jayhawks limp into the Big Dance with Perry EllisLanden Lucas and Frank Mason at less than 100 percent. If that weren’t bad enough, they’re planning to be without Cliff Alexander and have notched just three wins in their last eight games away from Allen Fieldhouse (and one of those road wins was in Lubbock). Oh, and they received by far the worst Tournament draw of any #2 seed, facing a potential Elite Eight game against juggernaut Kentucky. As terrific a coach as Bill Self is, the odds of him extracting a 2012 type of run to the championship game from this team are long. A ride to the regional final would be impressive, though, especially if the Jayhawks can knock off local rival Wichita State in the process.
  • Oklahoma: The Sooners have been snake-bitten in the Lon Kruger years, assuming the role of first round upset victim in their last two NCAA Tournament appearances. While Oklahoma needs to get over that hump, this team is Kruger’s best one yet so the expectations don’t stop at simply winning one game. A pilgrimage to the Sweet Sixteen would give Kruger the distinction of taking four different programs that deep, but Oklahoma’s excellent defense and Buddy Hield‘s scoring ability make the Sooners a threat to play even deeper, possibly slaying two monsters in Virginia and Villanova on the way there.

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Bracket Prep: West Region Analysis

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 17th, 2015

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Throughout Tuesday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), South (11:00 AM), Midwest (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) breaks down the West Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC West Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCwestregion).

West Region

Stanley Johnson And His Arizona Teammates Have To Be Considered Co-Favorites In The West Region

Stanley Johnson And His Arizona Teammates Have To Be Considered Co-Favorites In The West Region. (Getty)

Favorite: Arizona, #2, 31-3. Wisconsin fans won’t like this, so let me first cover my butt: The Wildcats are the second-best team nationally according to KenPom and the Badgers are the third-best. Still, for my money, they’re co-favorites and the spread will likely not be larger than a point if they meet in the regional final. The other advantage that the Wildcats will have in a potential meeting with the Badgers is that their fans will make the easy drive from Tucson to Los Angeles and pack the Staples Center, giving Arizona a relative home court advantage. And then there’s this: Arizona is very, very good. Senior point guard T.J. McConnell is Aaron Craft with an offensive game. Junior power forward Brandon Ashley is finally back at the top of his game after breaking his foot last year. Freshman phenom Stanley Johnson is among the best first-year guys in the nation and is a grown man physically. And his fellow wing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a dynamic individual defender capable of taking even the best offensive players – from point guards to power forwards – out of their games. If the Wildcats have a weakness, it is that they can at times go for long stretches at a time without scoring. UCLA held them without a single point for six minutes at the start of their matchup in mid-February. It’s certainly true that the Wildcats have improved since then, and even given that handful of struggles, they are still rated as the 11th-most efficient offensive team in the nation. It will take a near-Herculean effort for anybody in Arizona’s half of the bracket to beat them prior to the regional final. But assuming the two favorites get there, it is a toss-up.

Should They Falter: Wisconsin, #1, 31-3. Let’s throw out the Badgers’ head-scratching loss to Rutgers without National Player of the Year favorite Frank Kaminsky in the lineup. Aside from that, the Badgers lost at home to Duke (another #1 seed) and at Maryland in late February. On Sunday, they were taken to overtime in the Big Ten championship game by Michigan State before turning it on in the extra period and taking out the Spartans. Beyond that, they’ve been on cruise control throughout most of this season. Kaminsky has put together one of the most stupendous offensive seasons in recent history. Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker have taken huge leaps forward. And even after losing senior point guard Traevon Jackson to a foot injury in that same mid-January loss to Rutgers, sophomore Bronson Koenig stepped in and may have even improved upon Jackson’s level of play. The senior could be back for the Badgers as early as their opening round matchup with Coastal Carolina, providing quality veteran depth. But even if that never happens, this is the best offensive team in the nation and a group, as Michigan State learned on Sunday, very capable of turning into a very tough defensive team at the drop of a hat as well.

Grossly Overseeded: Oklahoma State, #9, 17-13. Okay, the RPI is flawed, that’s a given. But the Selection Committee uses it. And at #48 in the RPI with an 8-11 record against top 100 teams that includes losses to sub-100 RPI teams in both TCU and Texas Tech, the Cowboys are one of several examples of major conference teams with lousy records getting in over mid-major teams. Sure, the fact that the Cowboys were able to sweep Baylor and handle Kansas at Gallagher-Iba Arena means that they’re still a team that probably deserved to be in this NCAA Tournament. But their resume looks a lot more like a team that should have been headed to Dayton rather than in an #8/#9 game with a very favorable geographical placement.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big 12 Teams

Posted by Brian Goodman, Chris Stone & Nate Kotisso on March 16th, 2015

For the second consecutive season, the Big 12 sent seven teams to the Big Dance. Before considering those schools’ seedings, let’s first acknowledge that sending 70 percent of the conference’s membership is an outstanding achievement and that assessment will surely be echoed by its leadership, coaches and players over the coming days. Additionally, top-four seeds went to four teams – Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma and Baylor – more than any other conference except the ACC, which yielded five, but also has nine teams that didn’t crack the field at all. Skeptics of the Big 12 will point out that the most talented teams in the conference (Kansas and Texas) haven’t lived up to expectations, and another team expected to return to the NCAA Tournament in Kansas State fell completely flat. Those criticisms can be countered, though, with success stories in Baylor and West Virginia, who weren’t taken seriously as NCAA Tournament teams until after the calendar turned to 2015. Here’s our early outlook at the seven Big 12 teams in this year’s field.

Kansas (Chris Stone)

Just how far can a healthy Perry Ellis carry the Jayhawks?

Just how far can a healthy Perry Ellis carry the Jayhawks?

  • Seed: #2 Midwest
  • Quick First Round Preview: Kansas drew the WAC’s automatic bid winner, New Mexico State (23-10, 13-1 WAC), in its opening game, and the Aggies are the 88th-best team in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency rankings. To put that into some perspective, Big 12 foe Kansas State finished the season ranked 81st. NMSU features a balanced offensive attack with four players averaging double-figures. Defensively, the Aggies will look to run Kansas off the three-point line with their strong (seventh nationally) three-point defense, which has allowed opponents to hit just 29.5 percent of their attempts from behind the arc on the season. It’s a tough matchup, but the Jayhawks should get through.
  • Intriguing Potential Future Matchup: This one seems rather obvious. While Wichita State won’t get the home-and-home that coach Gregg Marshall has campaigned for, the Shockers will finally have their chance at their in-state foe if the Jayhawks get past New Mexico State and they take care of business against Indiana. The contest would pit two of the game’s best coaching minds against one another and allow the state of Kansas to settle who the better team is this season once and for all.
  • Final Word: Kansas drew undoubtedly the toughest region. According to KenPom, the Jayhawks’ road to the Final Four includes the highest-ranked #15 seed in New Mexico State, the top #7 seed in Wichita State, the second-best #3 seed in Notre Dame, and the overall #1 seed, Kentucky. The Jayhawks will need to return to their January form when they started Big 12 play 9-0 with a healthy Perry Ellis to pull off a Final Four run.

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Big 12 Tournament Second Day: The Good, Bad & Ugly

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 13th, 2015

All season long we have anticipated big things from the wall-to-wall second day of basketball at the Big 12 Tournament, and for the most part, Thursday’s action in Kansas City did not disappoint. The afternoon session featured two largely competitive games and the evening session featured the crown jewel of the conference tournament up to this point: Iowa State‘s last-second win over Texas. Here is some of the good, bad and ugly from the Cyclones’ thrilling victory as well Oklahoma‘s neutral-site Bedlam win over Oklahoma State.

Monte Morris certainly deserved to be carried off the floor after sinking Texas (USA Today Sports).

Monte Morris certainly deserved to be carried off the floor after sinking Texas (USA Today Sports).

The Good.

  • Iowa State’s Resilience. The Cyclones are developing a habit lately of playing with fire. There was the eight-point halftime hole they dug themselves into against TCU followed by the 19-point halftime deficit they faced against Oklahoma. Each time the Cyclones were able to battle back and win those games behind explosive second halves, and last night was more of the same for Fred Hoiberg. Texas essentially held a double-figure lead until the final four minutes when Iowa State used pressure-induced turnovers to start their run. Are these come-from-behind wins exciting? Certainly. Are they sustainable? Probably not. Georges Niang acknowledged the importance of avoiding these holes in his postgame press conference. “It’s a mental aspect. We really just got to come in and really respect our opponent and come in with a locked-in mind to run our stuff and defend against their stuff.” Iowa State has concrete reasons to believe that it can come back from any deficit it faces, but I’m guessing Hoiberg would prefer that his team no longer need to draw on those experiences.

  • Big 12 Tournament Legacies. Monte Morris‘ game-winning jumper is now cemented in Iowa State lore. Pulling that play off to cap a dramatic comeback in front of a packed house of Cyclones’ fans is about as memorable as it can get. Le’Bryan Nash also had a memorable performance in his final Big 12 contest. The senior scored more than half of Oklahoma State’s points (27) in the Cowboys’ loss to Oklahoma. Nash was the only player who could get anything going for Oklahoma State, and while his great night came in a losing effort, it was emblematic of the leadership role that he has grown into during his four years in Stillwater.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Down the Stretch They Come

Posted by Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso) on March 2nd, 2015

We’ve arrived at the final week of the regular season and now more than ever it is crystal clear just how many Big 12 teams will make the field of 68 (yeah, right). Anywhere from five to potentially eight teams could hear their names called by CBS Sports’ Greg Gumbel on Selection Sunday, but it’s reasonably safe to say that these five teams — Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa State, West Virginia and Baylor — are virtual locks. Two maybes and a long shot from the Big 12 have quite a bit of ground to make up, though, between now and the conference title game in 12 days in Kansas City. Let’s take a deeper dive look at each of those three bubble squads.

  • Oklahoma State appears to be in the best position. The Cowboys were able to notch some quality wins by beating Kansas and sweeping Baylor while also taking both games from bubbling Texas. To assure Oklahoma State’s status in the field, one of two things needs to happen. They could beat TCU and lose to West Virginia (finishing at 8-10 in league play) before winning one game in the Big 12 Tournament. After all, that is what happened a season ago. The second option is to simply win in Morgantown on Saturday, a much-tougher task. That separates this team from continuing insecurity and a sure thing.

    Travis Ford and the Cowboys are (Getty)

    Travis Ford and the Cowboys have a big week ahead of them. (Getty)

  • Texas’ situation is a little more complicated. The Longhorns sit at four games under .500 in the league with a dismal 6-10 record. Despite the ongoing Big 12 benefit of playing Tournament-caliber teams both home and away, the Longhorns have only registered one victory in 11 tries against those teams. They need to beat both Baylor tonight and Kansas State on Saturday. If the Big 12 Tournament started today, the Horns would be the #8 seed and open play against a pesky TCU team. If they were able to advance to the semifinalss with two wins, that should be enough to get them in. If they don’t do that, there’s a chance we could see a revamped roster and new head coach in Austin this fall.
  • Two weeks ago, ESPN.com’s Eamonn Brennan made the claim that Kansas State arguably has the most interesting at-large NCAA Tournament resume in quite some time. While an at-large now seems out of the question, their chance to nab the league’s automatic bid is still certainly in play. K-State’s NCAA chances are the easiest (or hardest) to draw out. Basically, win all of the games. All. Of. Them. One more loss would give the Wildcats 16 defeats on the season, and it’s hard to imagine the Selection Committee would reward an at-large bid to a team with that many losses. Georgia rolled off four wins in four days to win the 2008 SEC Tournament, and, fortunately for Kansas State, most of the teams they’d likely face in Kansas City next week are teams it’s already beaten.

Will the Big 12 get all three teams in? Probably not! But two of these clubs might! Is is Championship Week yet?

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “A lot of the talk surrounding Kansas’ games lately has actually been centered on its opponents. The losses at Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Kansas State in addition to Isaiah Taylor’s last-second drive on Saturday have dominated the conversation, but there hasn’t been nearly as much air time and ink given to how well Perry Ellis has played for a team desperate for frontcourt production. Over his last five games, the junior (yes, junior, Rick Barnes) has averaged 22.4 points per game on 57.5 percent shooting to go along with 8.0 rebounds per contest. If he can keep up his torrid pace, the Jayhawks may not miss the suspended Cliff Alexander so much after all.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)
  2. Oklahoma — 7 points (Brian & Chris — 2nd, Nate — 3rd) Comment: “After starting conference play 3-4, the Sooners have won eight of their last nine games. Four outings against TCU and Texas Tech have bolstered their record as they prepare to face Iowa State and Kansas in the season’s final week.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)
  3. Baylor — 8 points (Nate — 2nd, Brian & Chris — 3rd) Comment: “It looks like Scott Drew has created some separation between he and Bob Huggins in the Big 12 Coach of the Year race. It’s fascinating to see him take a team many viewed with average talent to become an absolute match-up nightmare in March.” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso) Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 M5: 03.02.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 2nd, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Kansas moved one win closer to clinching an amazing 11th straight conference title with a close win on Saturday over Texas, but questions abound as to the nature of a potential NCAA eligibility case involving freshman forward Cliff Alexander. According to Sports Illustrated, Alexander is represented by Arthur McAfee, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney with significant experience working with the NCAA from both sides of the table. McAfee, Alexander and Kansas head coach Bill Self are pulling for a quick resolution so Alexander can be eligible for the Jayhawks’ remaining games, but as we’ve come to learn from all sorts of NCAA cases, it’s incredibly tough to predict when a resolution will be reached.
  2. Once 3-4 in Big 12 play, Oklahoma finds itself with a decent chance of sharing the Big 12 title with Kansas and a small chance of winning it outright. While there’s no doubt the Sooners are an incredibly good team, they’ve also benefited recently from a few breaks, winning their last three contests by a combined 13 points including Saturday’s seven-point win over TCU. The Sooners will look to stay alive in the hunt for the Big 12 crown tonight when they head on the road to face a scuffling Iowa State squad.
  3. Kansas State‘s sudden surge of strong victories have many asking a question that seemed absolutely insane last week: Do the Wildcats have any chance of making the NCAA Tournament? The Sporting News‘ Mike DeCourcy remains bearish on Bruce Weber’s team due to its incredibly high number of losses (15) for a team with Tournament aspirations, particularly the low-level opponents that felled Kansas State in the non-conference slate. With some back-of-the-napkin math, it looks like Kansas State still needs to win its last game against Texas, which won’t be a walk in the park, and leave Kansas City with at least two wins next week to even get back in the conversation.
  4. It’s danger time for Oklahoma State, which saw its losing streak balloon to five games with an untimely loss to Texas Tech. The Cowboys are back on the bubble with two games remaining, but since this is the Big 12, opportunities still abound. This week they’ll play host to TCU on Senior Day before going on the road to wrap up the regular season against West Virginia. The ceiling has never been very high for this year’s Pokes due to its reliance on standouts Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte, but the same team that swept Baylor, won at Texas and bested Kansas at home needs to return soon.
  5. In a touching moment on Saturday, Oklahoma honored the memory of a young fan, Reat Griffin Underwood, who was killed along with his grandfather, William Corporan, in an attack last April just outside of Kansas City. Underwood had dreamed of singing the national anthem at a Sooners’ sporting event growing up, and on Saturday, the university paid tribute to him by playing a video of him doing just that prior to the tip of their game against TCU. Several of Underwood and Corporan’s family members were on the court at the Lloyd Noble Center as the video played. A special tip of the cap goes out to Oklahoma’s event staff for a classy gesture.
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