College Basketball’s Five Best Games of 2013-14

Posted by Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) on April 15th, 2014

As we continue to sift through the memories of the 2013-14 college basketball season, we take a look back at some of the best games of the season. In order, here are the five best games from 2013-14. We covered the five best stories of the season last week, if you’re interested.

  1. November 12: Kansas 94, Duke 83 – Two of the most anticipated freshmen in recent college hoops history matched up in the Champions Classic nightcap, and neither Wiggins (22 points, eight rebounds) nor Parker (27 points, nine rebounds ) disappointed. Kansas broke open a close game behind a late push from Wiggins and Perry Ellis (24 points, nine rebounds), in the process earning one of the season’s first true statement victories. The young Jayhawks would go on to win 25 games and the Big 12 regular season title, but their finest (and most entertaining) win may have come in their second outing of the year.

    Star Freshmen Jabari Parker And Andrew Wiggins Matched Up In What Was A Memorable Champions Classic Battle. (Getty)

    Star Freshmen Jabari Parker And Andrew Wiggins Matched Up In What Was A Memorable Champions Classic Battle. (Getty)

  2. March 29: Wisconsin 64, Arizona 63 (OT) – The low-possession game that everyone expected came to fruition, but both the Badgers (1.05 PPP) and Wildcats (1.03 PPP) managed solid offensive efforts in this Elite Eight battle. Neither team was able to build more than a three-point lead during the final 17 minutes of play (including overtime) in a tangibly tense seesaw battle, but it was the offensive clinic put on by the Badgers’ Frank Kaminsky (28 points, 11 rebounds) that proved to be the ultimate difference. After a controversial replay review in the final seconds that gave the ball back to Arizona, Nick Johnson was unable to get up a winning shot attempt in time, and Wisconsin was headed to the Final Four for the first time under Bo Ryan. Read the rest of this entry »
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Will Defensive Issues Spell Doom for Kansas?

Posted by Taylor Erickson on March 19th, 2014

The biggest question surrounding Kansas as it begins the 2014 NCAA Tournament later this week is whether standout center Joel Embiid will be available sometime in the next few weeks, and if so, when his availability might occur. When news about the stress fracture in his lower back came to light early last week, Self indicated that the first weekend of the tournament was a “long shot” but the Jayhawks were hopeful he could return later in the tournament if they were fortunate enough to advance. While we continue to remain in the dark over Embiid’s status, the next biggest question now becomes what can keep Kansas from surviving this weekend’s trip to St. Louis?

With Joel Embiid out of the lineup, Kansas has been left searching for answers defensively.

With Joel Embiid out of the lineup, Kansas has been left searching for answers defensively. (Photo: KUSports.com)

If you’ve spent any time at all watching Kansas over the last few weeks without the services of their center from Cameroon, the answer to this question is the stark inability of Kansas to lock down the defensive end of the floor. Even typing that last sentence feels odd, given Self’s track record of defensive excellence throughout his tenure as the head coach in Lawrence. Consider that every year from 2006 to last season, the Jayhawks have finished #3, #1, #1, #9, #9, #11, #3, and #5 in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency ranking. This season, Kansas currently sits 45th in Pomeroy’s defensive rankings, illustrating just how much this team has struggled on that end of the floor.

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Three Thoughts on Iowa State’s Win Over Kansas

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 14th, 2014

The Big 12 Tournament’s first semifinal saw Iowa State turn Kansas away after two unsuccessful tries earlier this season. For all the talk of the Big East Tournament having a different look than years’ past, the Jayhawks’ loss ensured a Big 12 Tournament final that won’t feature either of Kansas or Missouri for the first time since 2005. For the fifth straight time against tournament-level competition, Kansas looked especially vulnerable, and tonight, the Cyclones were able to take advantage with yet another strong showing from their Big Three.

Georges Niang Feasted on the Kansas Interior Tonight (AP)

Georges Niang Feasted on the Kansas Interior Tonight (AP)

  1. Iowa State throws a paint party with Embiid out. In Kansas’ first two games against Iowa State (both wins), Joel Embiid was a complete menace, averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds per game, so it wasn’t hard to see Georges Niang‘s eyes light up as he went to work on inferior defenders like Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor. The Cyclones scored 38 points in the paint, and a ton of credit is due to Iowa State’s versatile bigs who make defending them a nightmare for the vast majority of opponents. Niang emptied the toolbox on Kansas’ historically passive defense on his way to a team-high 25 points. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Niang’s eight turnovers, but very few of them were careless.
  2. Andrew Wiggins’ shot goes flat while Perry Ellis has a career game. Andrew Wiggins played all 45 minutes of Kansas’ overtime win over Oklahoma State on Thursday night, and on Friday, his fatigue showed as he struggled to get any kind of momentum going until it was too late. Wiggins missed his first six shots, many of them close to the rim, and finished his night 7-of-21 from the floor. The star freshman flashed a couple explosive moves near the end of the game, but he wasn’t his usual effective self. He finished with 22 points, but he did so on a very inefficient 21 shots. While Wiggins may not be forced to shoulder such big a load should Embiid return, he may not get a chance if he’s so ineffective again. Meanwhile, while the loss was bad enough, it would have been much worse if Perry Ellis didn’t have perhaps the best half of his career. The Wichita native scored 19 first half points on his way to 30 total, with many of those coming in the space of a torrid 23-5 run midway through the first half.
  3. Cyclone bench runs thin: If there was anything to be concerned about regarding Iowa State’s attack tonight, it was their thin bench when it comes to the offensive end. Iowa State’s reserves scored just seven of their 94 total points, and while that was good enough to do the job against a familiar opponent, it’s fair to question what might happen if one of the Cyclones’ big three of NiangMelvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane has an off night, runs into foul trouble, or is matched up against tougher interior defenses. While this isn’t anything new for Fred Hoiberg’s team, it will be something to keep an eye on as we move deeper into March.
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Rushed Reactions: #10 Kansas 77, Oklahoma State 70 (OT)

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 13th, 2014

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Here are three key takeaways from Kansas’ thrilling win over Oklahoma State in the Big 12 quarterfinals.

Andrew Wiggins is heating up at the right time for Kansas (sportschump.net).

Andrew Wiggins is heating up at the right time for Kansas (sportschump.net).

  1. How about that for a follow up performance from Andrew Wiggins? After scoring 41 in a loss to West Virginia last Saturday, the freshman scored 30 points on 9-of-17 shooting in his third, and likely final, game against Oklahoma State. For most of the game the Cowboys did a good job in taking the baseline away from Wiggins and forcing him to beat them with his jump shot. And beat them he did, going 3-of-6 from three, and hitting a stepback jumper to tie the game at the end of regulation. Wiggins found more space going to the rim in the second half, and finished off an elevator of an alley-oop. He was also tasked with guarding Markel Brown the majority of the game, and forced the senior into a 5-of-13 shooting afternoon. This occurred after Brown had an efficient 20 points on 5-of-9 shooting the night before. In these last two games Wiggins has played the type of basketball that can carry a team deep into the postseason. That’s pretty good timing on his part.
  2. Wiggins took the headlines today, but the bigger story is how Kansas fared against a quality opponent without Joel Embiid in the lineup. Tarik Black and Jamari Traylor combined for 21 rebounds, 13 points and two blocks, and production like that will go a long way in allowing the Jayhawks to weather the absence of the seven-foot difference-maker. It’ll need to be an all hands on deck mantra for the Kansas big men, and it was this afternoon. Embiid is a dynamic defensive player, but Kansas may feel his loss just as much on the offensive end. Foul trouble limited Perry Ellis to just eight second half minutes, and without him in the game the Jayhawks had no one to draw the Cowboys’ defensive attention in the low post. If not for Wiggins’ scoring heroics, Kansas likely wouldn’t have been able to weather the Oklahoma State comeback. Though raw offensively, Embiid still demands attention, and that will be missed for as long as he’s out.
  3. Number one seeds now might be able to breathe a sigh of relief. The Cowboys’ late season surge (with wins over Kansas and Kansas State), paired with their solid performance this afternoon, may have served to bump them off of the rumored #8/#9 seed line. Given their star power and reputation going into the season, it wouldn’t be surprising if the committee gives them the benefit of the doubt this weekend. That’s good news for any potential top seed. As Bill Self said after the game, if the Cowboys avoid foul trouble, they are good enough to play with just about anyone in the country. Neither Brown nor Marcus Smart shot the ball well today, but Le’Bryan Nash displayed why he’s a such a tough match-up problem. He’s developed into a capable low post scorer, but by nature is more of a slasher. Contending with both of these styles is a tough task for any big man attempting to guard him.

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Joel Embiid’s Prolonged Absence Leaves Kansas At A Crossroads

Posted by Kory Carpenter & Taylor Erickson on March 11th, 2014

Unless you live under a rock, chances are you’ve heard that Kansas center Joel Embiid will miss this weekend’s Big 12 tournament, and his participation in the first weekend of the NCAA tournament at this point is considered to be a “long shot,” according to head coach Bill Self. While it remains a possibility that Embiid could be available for the later rounds of the NCAA tournament if Kansas advances, for the time being, this news certainly rocks the college basketball landscape and has serious implications for the Jayhawks’ chances of winning it all in early April. Big 12 microsite writers Taylor Erickson and Kory Carpenter break down the challenges that Embiid’s updated prognosis brings to Kansas’ national title aspirations:

TE: The silver lining for Bill Self and company lies in the fact that Embiid isn’t the only NBA lottery pick roaming the sidewalks in Lawrence this season. There’s another ridiculously talented athlete wearing a Kansas jersey that has the ability to completely take over a college basketball game. It’s your move, Andrew Wiggins.

Can Andrew Wiggins put Kansas on his back while Joel Embiid is out with a back injury? (KUSports.com)

Can Andrew Wiggins carry the load while Joel Embiid is out with a back injury? (KUSports.com)

You all know the story by now. Wiggins came to Kansas as one of the most heralded recruits of all time. He had that “best since” clause attached to his name. For the most part, there’s been no shortage of college basketball fans and media alike that would tell you that Wiggins has underachieved this year. But the beauty of college basketball is that heroes in this sport are made in March, and for Andrew Wiggins, the opportunity to leave a lasting impression on college basketball is still right out in front of him, waiting to be capitalized on. We’ve seen it in stretches, and his 41-point outburst at West Virginia, albeit in a loss, was the most recent example of how dominant the 6’8″ guard from Canada can be. In a year where there’s clearly no bulletproof team in the nation, is it really that far-fetched to believe Wiggins could lead Kansas on a Kemba Walker-like run?

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Redemption for Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State Last Night Against Kansas

Posted by Eli Linton on March 2nd, 2014

Eli Linton is a RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday night’s game between Kansas and Oklahoma State.

Before Saturday night’s critical matchup between Kansas and Oklahoma State, the two teams were headed in opposite directions. Oklahoma State, which had been touted as a preseason favorite for both the Big 12 championship and a Final Four run, collapsed in February. A seven-game losing streak and the suspension of Marcus Smart threatened to make this season one of the biggest disasters in school history. Kansas, on the other hand, was once again riding its sensational talent to its 10th straight conference title. While the Cowboys were simply hoping to be find a way into the last four in the Big Dance, Kansas had its sights set on the Final Four. But on Saturday night, it was Marcus Smart’s team that found redemption, just when it seemed they had let the season slip away.

A big second half was the difference for Marcus Smart and the Cowboys. (AP)

A big second half was the difference for Marcus Smart and the Cowboys. (AP)

A lot of deserving criticism has been leveled at Smart for the part he played in the Cowboys’ downfall, but on Saturday he was the best player on the floor, leading the Cowboys to a come-from-behind 72-65 win. After a one-point, 0-of-7 first half line, Smart put up 20 points, four assists, two steals and just a single turnover in the second stanza. “Our focus was different tonight,” said Smart. “Losing those seven straight games opened our eyes. We were extra-focused tonight.” It was the biggest win of the year in the most desperate time for the Cowboys. Already on the NCAA bubble, another loss would have been devastating, but this quality win over #5 Kansas will likely earn them a bid. I am sure bubble talk was a conversation they were hoping to avoid to start the year, but they will take it and move forward. In a stroke of irony, Kansas was still able to clinch the Big 12 title outright thanks to both Texas and Iowa State losing earlier, but according to Bill Self, there will be no celebration.

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Big 12 M5: 02.17.14 Edition

Posted by KoryCarpenter on February 17th, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. When sophomore forward Perry Ellis plays well, his team plays well. And even though there is an asterisk to things accomplished against TCU (at home, no less) it wasn’t surprising to see Kansas beat the Horned Frogs by 30 and Ellis finish with 32 points, a career high. “He stretched it, took the ball strong to the hole,” Bill Self said after the game Saturday. “I think one of his two misses he got back and put in. Even more importantly, he made a couple great passes.” Naadir Tharpe and Joel Embiid might be the most important players for Kansas come March. But Ellis isn’t far behind. The numbers speak for themselves. 
  2. Gary Parrish over at CBSSports.com updated his Top 25 (and one) yesterday, and three Big 12 teams made the cut. Kansas remained at #7 after beating TCU on Saturday. Iowa State and Texas stayed put as well. The Cyclones remain at #10 after beating Texas Tech by six over the weekend while Texas is #22 following a home win over West Virginia. It was a slow weekend in the Big 12, but that changes in short order with Oklahoma State taking on Baylor tonight and Texas facing Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum on Tuesday.
  3. Who would have guessed that Oklahoma State would find themselves on the bubble this season? Not me, and probably not anyone who follows college basketball. The season-ending injury to Michael Cobbins and the loss of Stevie Clark due to disciplinary reasons hurt enough for the 16-9 Cowboys, but the three-game suspension of point guard Marcus Smart might have pushed them over the edge. Oklahoma State had dropped four in a row before Smart’s suspension following his altercation with a Texas Tech fan last week, and things haven’t gotten better with Smart gone. They have lost their first two games without him and face Baylor on the road tonight. They still face Kansas, Kansas State, and Iowa State, and I wouldn’t put the Cowboys in the NCAA Tournament field right now.
  4. It doesn’t have the same shock value as the Oklahoma State debacle, but Kansas State is in the third place in the Big 12 -ahead of teams like Baylor, Oklahoma State, andIowa State- thanks to freshman guard Marcus Foster. Foster is averaging 15.1 PPG for the Wildcats and was a key player in upset wins over Kansas (20 points) and Texas (34 points) in the last 10 days. He is one of the main reasons the Wildcats are firmly in the NCAA Tournament right now and are merely playing for seeding.
  5. Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg has had a successful start to his young coaching career thanks in some part to his willingness to give players a second chance. And as Luke Wynn of the SportsIllustrated.com points out, Cyclone guard DeAndre Kane is the latest example. Kane ran into  trouble both on and off the court while at Marshall before being kicked off the team by head coach Tom Herrion. Kane graduated and was eligible for a fifth year of eligibility while pursuing a graduate degree. He landed at Iowa State and is averaging 15.9 PPG,  6.6 RPG, and 6.1 APG for the Cyclones. He should lead the team back to the NCAA Tournament before getting plenty of looks at the professional level this summer.
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Kansas Offense Clicking on All Cylinders With Its Biggest Questions Answered

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 30th, 2014

Back in October, when we had nothing on which to evaluate the season but preview magazines and computer projections, the biggest questions surrounding Kansas were whether Naadir Tharpe would develop into a mature, trustworthy distributor, and how long it would take for Andrew Wiggins to mesh into Bill Self‘s balanced system. As we now near the halfway mark of conference play, the Jayhawks appear to have fully answered both of those questions. It’s why Kansas looks poised to lock down a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and why they have to be considered among the heavy favorites to cut down the nets in Arlington.

A newly-confident Andrew Wiggins has Kansas plowing through conference play. Again. (Denny Medley/USA TODAY)

A newly-confident Andrew Wiggins has Kansas plowing through conference play. Again. (Denny Medley/USA TODAY)

League play is supposed to be tougher than non-league play, but Tharpe apparently missed that memo. The junior has been terrific in seven games against Big 12 opponents, scoring 11.9 points and dishing out 5.6 assists per game to just 1.7 turnovers per outing. All of those numbers are better than his non-conference splits. While many of his made field goals have been the worst kind to take (long twos), he’s hit plenty of them, so while it may not be a sustainable method of shot selection, his execution has opened up space for his teammates, and there may not be a bigger beneficiary on the team than Wiggins. After exploding against TCU over the weekend, he he had another big night on Wednesday against Iowa State, scoring an efficient 29 points (a new career high) on just 16 shots. He looked more comfortable and confident than perhaps at any other point in the season, calmly making 4-of-6 three-pointers, and when Kansas needed to get some separation with the game in the balance late in the second half, he was there to provide it.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Kansas is Finally Finding Itself

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 13th, 2014

Going into last Wednesday’s game against Oklahoma, Bill Self told his players that conference play was a “new season” and that everything would be “fresh and new from this point forward.” The young Jayhawks have heeded that message so far, getting past the Sooners and soundly beating Kansas State on Saturday. With a 2-0 start in the Big 12, we all figured they would rise in this week’s power rankings, but by how much? Is your top 10 shaped differently than ours? That’s what the comments are for.

It appears safe to close the panic button for Bill Self and the Jayhawks. (AP Photo)

It appears safe to close the panic button for Bill Self and the Jayhawks. (AP Photo)

1. Kansas — 6 points (previous: 3rd; Brian-1st, Kory-1st, Nate-3rd, Taylor-1st)

Comment: “It’s looking like Kansas’ non-conference struggles were nothing more than one of the youngest teams in the country playing one of the toughest schedules in the country. The Jayhawks have looked good the last two games and now have four legitimate threats to have a big game any on night: Andrew Wiggins,  Perry Ellis, Joel Embiid, and Wayne Selden.” – Kory Carpenter (@Kory_Carpenter)

2. Iowa State — 7 points (previous: 1st; Brian-2nd, Kory-2nd, Nate-1st, Taylor-2nd)

Comment: “I didn’t feel like I should drop the Cyclones in my top 10 — they lost to a pretty good Oklahoma team by five on the road. The winner of Kansas-Iowa State tonight will likely take my top spot next week.” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso)

3. Oklahoma State — 13 points (previous: 4th; Brian-3rd, Kory-3rd, Nate-4th, Taylor-3rd)

Comment: “Travis Ford’s squad avoided a disastrous start to conference play by knocking down a big three late to give them the win in Morgantown. If the Cowboys would have dropped two of their first three in league play to teams in the middle tier of the conference, they could have kissed their Big 12 title hopes goodbye.” – Taylor Erickson (@tc_erickson)

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Four Takeaways From Kansas’ Win Over Oklahoma

Posted by Kory Carpenter on January 9th, 2014

It’s true that a team’s conference opener is never a “must-win game,” but the road to Kansas’ 10th straight Big 12 championship would have gotten a lot tougher had the Jayhawks lost at Oklahoma Wednesday evening. The Sooners aren’t bad at all, but with the next four Kansas games coming against Kansas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Baylor, the Jayhawks’ hole in the conference race would have felt much bigger than 0-1. Alas, Kansas escaped with a 90-83 victory in Norman, improving to 10-4 on the year and showing some glimpses of their potential in March. Here are four key takeaways from last night’s win.

Wayne Selden had everything working against the Sooners. (AP)

Wayne Selden had everything working against the Sooners. (AP)

  1. Wayne Selden scored in double-figures for just the fifth time this season, finishing with a career-high 24 points and showing us why he is a projected first round draft pick in June. He was 5-of-10 from three-point range, and while it appeared to be a flukish shooting night (his three-point shooting on the season is at 37.5 percent), it should give him plenty of confidence going forward. The Jayhawks desperately need consistent long-range shooting to open up the lane for its drivers and big men, and Selden is as good a candidate as any. Read the rest of this entry »
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Four Takeaways From Kansas’ Loss to San Diego State

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 6th, 2014

The Jayhawks were handed a rare home non-conference loss by Steve Fisher’s Aztecs on Sunday afternoon. Here are the top four things we learned about Bill Self’s team in the surprising defeat.

Frank Mason wasn't the only Jayhawk who had problems getting up quality shots. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Frank Mason wasn’t the only Jayhawk who had problems getting up quality shots. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  1. Interior toughness leaves a lot to be desired. One look at Joel Embiid’s line – 12 points, 12 rebounds, and five blocks – would suggest otherwise, but this was a night for Kansas to forget when it came to interior defense. San Diego State won despite taking only eight three-pointers and shooting just 37 percent from the field, meaning they got it done with rebounding and putbacks. The Jayhawks deeply miss Jeff Withey, who excelled at swatting shots in a way that allowed his team to take over possession. On Sunday, Kansas blocked 13 shots, but most of those went right back to the Aztecs, and on some instances, SDSU laid the ball right back into the basket within a few seconds. Given the final score of 61-57, a couple of bounces may have been the difference between Kansas winning and losing this game, but while the analytical take is to say that it was just bad luck, this isn’t the first time the Jayhawks have been beaten on the interior. That’s somewhat disconcerting for Bill Self’s team going forward. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 M5: 12.30.13 Edition

Posted by Taylor Erickson on December 30th, 2013

morning5_big12

  1. With the Big 12 season soon to be underway, conference foes will battle it out on the hardwood on nearly a nightly basis. Kansas and Iowa State will also go toe-to-toe in a recruiting battle for one of the top remaining prospects in the class of 2014 in 6’5″ shooting guard Rashad Vaughn. Vaughn is Rival’s 7th ranked recruit, and a teammate of Kansas commit Kelly Oubre, who attends Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nevada, with Vaughn.  Kentucky, North Carolina, and UNLV also made Vaughn’s final five schools, but many believe Iowa State will be the school to beat to earn his commitment.
  2. Speaking of Iowa State, the school announced on Sunday that junior guard K.J. Bluford has decided to leave the program.  Bluford was in his first season with the Cyclones after transferring from Northeast Nebraska Community College, and has averaged 2.7 points per game for Fred Hoiberg’s squad this year. Hoiberg’s strategy to comb the transfer market yearly for new additions to his squad has worked with tremendous success, and given how little impact Bluford has had this season, this loss shouldn’t have a huge impact on Iowa State moving forward.
  3. It’s been obvious through the non-conference season that the top of the Big 12 – Kansas, Oklahoma State, Baylor, and Iowa State – is perhaps better than anyone thought heading into the season, but lost in the shuffle is the quiet 11-1 start Lon Kruger and Oklahoma have gotten off to, with their lone loss coming at the hands of Michigan State. As Dick Vitale points out in his most recent column, Oklahoma will have a chance to quickly prove how viable that record is as they begin Big 12 play with a gauntlet of games out of the gate. Getting off to a good start will be key in strengthening a resume for post season play.
  4. If history is any indicator, the Christmas break will pay dividends for Kansas as they push towards league play. Bill Self’s team used the break the last week to recover from a variety of injuries, including a bruised nerve suffered by forward Perry Ellis and a nagging hip pointer that has kept guard Andrew White III out of the last few contests. It’s not uncommon to see some Bill Self teams struggle before the break, but it will be important for this team to take a big step forward like many teams in the past.
  5. TCU continued their improved play this season on Sunday with a 77-64 win over Texas Southern, and while the victory is nice, the play of junior forward Amric Fields may be the bigger story.  Fields scored 17 points in the win as he continues his return after missing all but three games a season ago due to an ACL injury. Head coach Trent Johnson has been mindful of Fields’ minutes while Fields works to get back into playing shape.
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