Bidding Them Farewell: Paying Homage to the Undrafted College Seniors

Posted by EJacoby on July 2nd, 2012

The NBA Draft is only two rounds long, so it’s quite difficult to crack the top 60 eligible draftees into the league in a given year. It’s even more challenging for graduating seniors, who not only compete with younger collegians but also foreign prospects from around the world who possess greater ‘upside’ in the minds of NBA evaluators. Constantly in search of the next hidden gem, general managers tend to overlook the players they’ve watched over the past four seasons in college. Only four seniors were picked in the first round during last Thursday’s draft, and while another 17 made it into the second there was still a large pool of graduates who didn’t hear their names called. There were far more than 21 impactful seniors in college basketball last season, and we’re here to honor the careers of those who didn’t get selected. We won’t forget the contributions of these following players, and with hard work and a little luck they should have a strong chance of cracking an NBA roster in the future.

Kevin Jones had a brilliant college career but wasn’t recognized on draft night (Getty Images)

  • Kevin Jones, West Virginia – A career that included a trip to the Final Four as a sophomore and leading the Big East in scoring and rebounding as a senior wasn’t enough to merit consideration by the NBA. Jones averaged 19.9 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks last season on 50.9% shooting from the field and 78.0% shooting from the line while also making a three-pointer per game. He also led the conference in Offensive Rating, this all coming on a squad with little offensive help elsewhere.
  • William Buford, Ohio State – Buford was a McDonald’s All-American guard with prototypical 6’6″ size who averaged double figures every season at Ohio State, making two Sweet Sixteens and a Final Four. He shoots it well and has shown a strong tendency to fit into an offensive scheme with other talented scorers, but his inability to take over games perhaps made him overlooked by scouts.
  • Scott Machado, Iona – Machado led the country in assists last season (9.9 per game) while also reaching career highs in points, rebounds, steals, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and free throw percentage as the leader of an at-large NCAA Tournament team. Even in a weak point guard draft, no team pulled the trigger on Machado, but he’ll have a great chance to dazzle in Summer League as one of the more polished floor leaders. Read the rest of this entry »
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Grading the Big 12′s 2011-12 Season: Bottom Half

Posted by dnspewak on April 5th, 2012

With the 2011-12 campaign now just a memory, it’s difficult to actually remember all of the drama and agony the Big 12 experienced during the last five months. Kansas’ thrilling loss to Duke in the Maui Invitational seems like ages ago, as does the Jayhawks’ first loss to Kentucky at Madison Square Garden. Remember when Missouri and Baylor were only a few of the remaining unbeaten teams in college basketball? Or when Texas found a way to lose game after game in the most heartbreaking fashion? These memories are hard to digest, but you’ll probably never forget the Border War drama between Kansas and Missouri, nor will you forget Iowa State’s rise thanks to the brilliant play of Royce White. The Big 12 kept playing until the final game of the 2011-12 season, ending with Kansas’ loss to Kentucky in the title game on Monday. And with the conclusion of this wild campaign, the final grades are in. Kansas earns an A+. Big surprise. Texas A&M earns an F. Big surprise, too, but for different reasons. The other eight teams settled into a grade somewhere between those two extremes.

We’ll cover the bottom half of the league today, and the top half tomorrow.

10. Texas Tech (8-23, 1-17)

Gillispie's First Year in Lubbock Wasn't Great

FINAL GRADE: D

The Red Raiders get a free pass in Billy Gillispie‘s first season. Playing almost exclusively with newcomers, Texas Tech had no chance this year. Robert Lewandowski was the only senior on the roster, but not even he could lead this team to any sort of success. Their inexperience was just too much to overcome. The Red Raiders were plagued by turnovers all season and they never got consistent point guard play. Jordan Tolbert emerged as the leading scorer in the frontcourt, and he played the most consistent basketball on the team from November through February. Still, even after a last-place finish, Texas Tech should not worry about the state of this program. Gillispie’s success at UTEP and Texas A&M proves he can win in this state, and he’ll have almost everybody back next season.

9. Texas A&M (14-18, 4-14)

FINAL GRADE: F

Sorry, A&M. You fail. Picked in the pre-season to win the Big 12, the Aggies suffered through a nightmare year, though there are extenuating circumstances to consider here. Coach Billy Kennedy learned of a Parkinson’s diagnosis in the fall, which kept him sidelined for fall practice and away from his team during critical teaching moments. As a first-year coach, Kennedy never had the chance to establish himself to his new players. Adding to the woes, many of those players missed time themselves with injuries. Star wing Khris Middleton had surgery on his knee in November and sat out part of Big 12 play. Point guard Dash Harris missed a handful of games, too, and his backup Jamal Branch transferred before conference play. Kourtney Roberson played only nine games before his season ended due to injury as well. As the troubles mounted, the losses began to pile up. The Aggies simply could not score because of all the roster turnover and the lack of creators on the offensive end. We thought this team could muscle its way to a Big 12 title by playing with the principles former coach Mark Turgeon instilled, but that never happened. Now, Kennedy must revamp this program and forget about the 2011-12 nightmare.

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Big 12 Key Questions: NCAA Tournament

Posted by dnspewak on March 14th, 2012

Despite hiding relatively under the radar for most of the regular season, 60% of the Big 12 will represent the league in the NCAA Tournament this week. Texas was the last team to cement its at-large bid, knocking off Iowa State in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament to secure an 11 seed. Here’s a team-by-team look at the burning questions this weekend (apologies in advance for that Jim Rome reference):

Missouri

Will its lack of size eventually be its downfall? The Tigers have proven this season that they are capable of overcoming a thin frontcourt. If it was really such an issue, they would not have won a Big 12 Tournament title and finished with 30 victories. Still, when Frank Haith‘s team runs into a team with dominant bigs, it will simply have less room for error. A foul-ridden game by either Ricardo Ratliffe or Steve Moore could end Missouri’s season.

Can Frank Haith Continue To Highlight Missouri's Strengths & Hide Its Weaknesses?

Kansas

Will it overlook Detroit? Hard to say. The idea of “overlooking” anyone in the NCAA Tournament is a little trite, but the Jayhawks actually did draw a scary matchup in this instance. Nobody’s going to doubt Bill Self with all of his Big 12 titles and a national title to his name, but you have to take the good with the bad. He has suffered four fairly enormous upsets during his tenure: Bucknell (2005) Bradley (2006), Northern Iowa (2010), and VCU (2011). Will the trend continue? Probably not, but Detroit is a team that has high-major talent and underachieved in the regular season. Remember, they were a trendy pick to win the Horizon over the two-time national runner-ups.

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Bracket Prep: West Region Analysis

Posted by AMurawa on March 12th, 2012

Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (9 AM), South (11 AM), Midwest (2 PM), West (4 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).

You can also check out our RTC Podblast with Andrew breaking down the West Region here.

West Region

Favorite: Michigan State, #1, 27-7. This is the fourth time in the Tom Izzo era that Michigan State has earned a #1 seed. The previous three times (1999, 2000, and 2001), they advanced at least to the Final Four, winning the national title in 2000. Led by likely All-American senior forward Draymond Green, this is, almost without question, the best Spartan team since those teams at the turn of the century. They do have to go forward without injured freshman Branden Dawson, out for the year with a torn ACL, but senior Brandon Wood stepped into his starting spot and he shot the ball well in the Big Ten Tournament this weekend. You can say that there are more talented teams in this region (Missouri and Marquette come to mind), but beating Izzo in March is always easier said than done.

Draymond Green And Michigan State Are The Team To Beat In The West Region (AP)

Should They Falter: Missouri, #2, 30-4. While the Spartans are the favorite, the Tigers are a solid 1-A. The Selection Committee had Mizzou as the #8 overall seed, but they have been excellent all season long behind the most efficient offense in the nation. The Tigers are undersized (only two players taller than 6’6” are in the rotation) and lack depth (they only play seven guys), but head coach Frank Haith gets every last drop out of the guys who do play. And with guards like Marcus Denmon, Kim English, Phil Pressey, and Michael Dixon, they have enough talent on the perimeter to cause plenty of trouble.

Grossly Overseeded: BYU, #14 (First Four), 26-8. I don’t have a whole lot of problems with any of the seeding this year; I think the Selection Committee by and large did a pretty good job. But I’m not sure why BYU is in the tournament. Their lone quality win of the season is over Gonzaga, a team who doesn’t have much in the way of quality wins itself. I would rather have seen a team like Drexel or Oral Roberts (teams admittedly without a ton of big wins either) get the Cougars’ spot. The Dragons and Golden Eagles both had better records against top 50 RPI teams, and both excelled in their conference regular season. I will even take Iona, their First Four opponent, over the Cougs despite a complete lack of quality wins on the Gaels’ resume. The committee gave Iona credit for scheduling a tough non-conference slate, and their strength of schedule out of conference even exceeds BYU’s.

Grossly Underseeded: Missouri, #2, 30-4. I’m having trouble working up a whole lot of outrage about anything in the bracket, but Missouri should not have dropped to the #8 overall seed. To me, they were right in the conversation with Kansas for the #5 overall seed (and I might have given Missouri the edge, although the committee docked them for a relatively tame non-conference schedule). The only difference for the Tigers in terms of their placement in the bracket is that had they earned the #5 overall seed, they would have been dropped in the St. Louis regional instead of being shipped West. But the good news is that they still are in the bracket with the lowest #1 seed. It all works out.

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Big 12 Season Recap and Postseason Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 7th, 2012

Steve Fetch is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12. You can also find his musings online at Rock Chalk Talk or on Twitter @fetch9.

Conference Tournament Preview

The big attraction this year for many fans is the chance to see one more Kansas-Missouri battle before the Tigers leave for the SEC. If Kansas reaches the final, they will likely be a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and there’s still a chance Missouri can nab one if they win the Big 12 Tournament as well. Given the general lack of depth on both teams it might behoove them to lose early and rest up for the NCAA Tournament, but their competitiveness and seed chasing will probably lead to one last matchup.

Let's Go For a Third, Shall We? (AP)

The Big 12 has likely locked up five bids in the tournament, with a sixth possibly going to Texas. The Longhorns will need to beat Iowa State Wednesday night to have a shot, and with how soft the bubble is this year, that will probably be enough.

Elsewhere, Baylor can potentially get a #3 seed if they make a run (though with their new uniforms I am wondering if there is a way we can keep them out of the postseason altogether) and Iowa State can probably get away from the dreaded #8/#9 game if they do so as well. Kansas State‘s seeding could range widely depending on its performance this week, but the Wildcats are soundly in the Dance.

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The Message From the Final Border War: KU and Mizzou Can Play With Anybody

Posted by dnspewak on February 27th, 2012

In the aftermath of Saturday’s epic finish between Missouri and Kansas, discussion in the mainstream media has focused on everything from the officiating to the drama of the Border War/SEC controversy. Out in the always-entertaining Twitter world, established analysts like Jay Bilas and Doug Gottlieb have criticized late-game foul calls tilted in Kansas’ favor, and just about every outlet has run a story begging the Jayhawks to continue the series despite Missouri’s departure from the Big 12.

Thomas Robinson Certainly Looked Like the Player of the Year on Saturday (photo by AP)

It seems they’re talking about absolutely everything except for the actual basketball game. And, for the record, the actual basketball game was pretty darn appealing to the national college basketball audience. We can quibble about how Missouri blew a 19-point lead and we can argue about how vulnerable Kansas looked during that atrocious stretch at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second. Regardless of all that negativity, it was obvious from the opening tip that this was an even matchup between two elite teams. The first five minutes set the tone: Kansas and Missouri each threw a first punch, matching the other basket for basket. Mistakes were limited. Defense was top-notch on both ends. It was simply two terrific basketball teams playing as hard as possible in a game that mattered so much — for so many reasons.

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Missouri’s Path to A Road Win in Border War Finale

Posted by dnspewak on February 25th, 2012

We’ll remember this date: February 25, 2012. The day the Border War ended. The day Missouri and Kansas played their 267th and final game against each other. The day more than 100 years of hatred ended, the day the 2012 Big 12 Championship may be decided and the day that determined eternal bragging rights.

It’s a big day. The biggest ever at Allen Fieldhouse? That’s a tough call, according to coach Bill Self. From the Lawrence-Journal World:

“No, probably not,” Self said, asked if it was the biggest home game in his tenure at KU. “We’ve had other games where we had to win that game to win the league. In fans’ minds and our players’ minds since they beat us the first time when we felt we had them down the stretch, I believe it’s probably in everybody else’s minds, maybe other than the coaches’, the biggest game we’ve had.”

Bill Self This Isn't the Biggest Game at AFH History, But He Understands Why It's Touted That Way

Define the game however you’d like. At the very least, it’s a top five matchup between two teams vying for a Big 12 regular-season championship at one of college basketball’s most historic venues. Yet just about everybody is writing the Tigers off at Allen Fieldhouse, perhaps for rational reasons. They haven’t won in Lawrence in 13 years — January 24, 1999, to be exact, when point guard Brian Grawer scored 18 points and the Tigers limited arch-enemy Ryan Robertson to 1-10 shooting. Unless you’re a Kansas or Missouri fan, you’ve either never heard of those players or faintly remember their names simply because you followed college basketball at the time. That’s how long its been since Missouri last won a road game against Kansas, and it will have a difficult time handling the energy of the home crowd in the Border War finale on Saturday.

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Set Your TiVo: 02.24.12 – 02.26.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 24th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Somewhat unbelievably, the second-to-last regular season Saturday is upon us. Plenty of big time and bubble games are on the schedule as the stretch run really heats up.

#3 Missouri @ #4 Kansas – 4:00 PM EST Saturday on CBS (*****)

  • The final Border War game promises to be another terrific display of basketball between two top five teams that really don’t care for one another. Missouri won the first meeting between these teams, but to do it again it will have to defend at a higher level. Both teams shot over 50% at Mizzou Arena three weeks ago, but Kansas has been the better defensive team all season long. Now playing at home in virtually impenetrable Allen Fieldhouse, the Jayhawks have to like their chances in this one. Kansas has a huge rebounding and size advantage in the paint with Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey going up against Ricardo Ratliffe. While Ratliffe is a great finisher around the bucket, he was held to six points in the first meeting, limited by foul trouble in only 20 minutes of action. Kansas can neutralize Ratliffe and force Missouri to make shots. Missouri hit 10 threes in the first meeting, led by Marcus Denmon’s six. Kansas will have to tighten up a three point defense that ranks #173 nationally in order to prevent that from happening again.

    Can Denmon & The Tigers Rebound?

  • Denmon’s 29-point effort against Kansas on February 4 lifted him out of a slump and his high level of play has continued since then. Denmon and Kim English have to make shots or else Kansas will have a significant edge in this game. The Jayhawks should be dominant inside with Robinson going against Ratliffe with Withey by his side. Kansas is one of the best teams in the nation in two point percentage. Defensively, Bill Self has to be worried about the three point line. While Kansas is a very efficient defensive team, they can be beaten from the arc. Missouri is certainly a team capable of doing that as it moves the ball well and has a multitude of deep threats lining the perimeter. Frank Haith needs a good game at point guard out of Phil Pressey, otherwise Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor could take over the game quickly as they did against Baylor at the Phog. Taylor has had an outstanding senior season but is vulnerable to turnovers. Look for Missouri to target him defensively in order to prevent him from getting into a rhythm and setting up the Jayhawk offense.
  •  The big question mark here is can Missouri defend at a high level against an elite opponent on the road? The Tigers are last in the Big 12 in three point defense and their overall efficiency rating leaves a lot to be desired. Kansas is going to get its points inside but is not a particularly great outside shooting team. However, Taylor poses a big threat and must be held in check if Missouri is going to beat Kansas in a place where almost nobody wins. Until proven otherwise, we can’t pick against the Jayhawks in such an emotionally charged game as this one.

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Set Your TiVo: 02.21.12

Posted by bmulvihill on February 21st, 2012

Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @themulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Lots of important conference games on the docket this evening. As we move into the final two weeks of the regular season in college hoops, there are several conference titles up for grabs.  It should be a fantastic closing to the season before we head into the postseason.

Kim English, Ricardo Ratliffe & The Rest Of The Tigers Look To Avenge Their Earlier Loss

Kansas State at #3 Missouri – 7:00PM EST on ESPN2 (****)

  • Along with Texas, Kansas State sits squarely on the bubble in the Big 12. A road win at Missouri would do wonders for their tourney chances. Frank Martin’s team is coming off a nice win against Baylor and can feel some comfort in the fact they have beaten the Tigers once already this season. They need to take advantage of their size on the offensive glass as they in did the previous match-up with Mizzou. Additionally, keep a close eye on Kansas State’s ability to get to the free throw line as the Wildcats rely heavily on free throws. Also, watch Rodney McGruder’s shooting from deep. Missouri is allowing teams to shoot 39.7% from three in conference play. McGruder is Kansas State’s best three-point shooter and can have a huge impact in a close game.
  • Missouri is on a collision course with Kansas next Saturday in Lawrence. In what could be the last regular season “Boarder Wars”, the game looms large for the Tigers. In most cases, this would be a classic trap game. However, with a loss earlier in the season to Kansas State, don’t expect Missouri to look past the Wildcats. The Tigers are undefeated at home, have won seven in a row, and operate the most efficient offense in the entire country. They look ready for a deep run in the tourney. Keep a close eye on how Ricardo Ratliffe plays against the Kansas State size. He had zero impact in the last game and needs a better showing for Missouri to win tonight.
  • This game comes down to defense. Kansas State held the Tigers to their worst shooting performance of the season in their previous match-up. If they can do the same in this one, they have a chance to pull the big upset. If Missouri can box out on the defensive end and create turnovers, they can avenge their previous loss to the Wildcats.
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Set Your TiVo: 02.11.12 – 02.12.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 10th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Plenty of top 25 games are on Saturday’s slate while conference races heat up and bubble teams look for key wins.

#20 Virginia at #5 North Carolina – 1:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com (****)

  • Coming off the crushing home loss to Duke on Wednesday, how will the Tar Heels respond? Without P.J. Hairston (sore foot) in the lineup, things could get a little dicey for #5 UNC. Hairston’s absence severely limits Carolina’s already thin back court depth. This game is going to be all about pace. Virginia plays at one of the slowest paces in the nation while North Carolina is one of the fastest teams. Point guard Kendall Marshallhas to get his team running as much as they can but we’ve seen time and time again how it is much easier to slow a game down than it is to speed it up. Wisconsin did this effectively at the Dean Dome earlier this season and you’re going to see the same blueprint from Virginia. The Cavaliers do a great job defending the three-point arc so UNC will likely get almost all of its points from inside or the free throw line. The Tar Heels are among the bottom five teams in America in terms of threes attempted to begin with and get 61.8% of their points from two-point range on average. Marshall and his teammates must be able to penetrate and move the ball well against Virginia’s strong half court defense.

    How Will Marshall & The Tar Heels Respond To Tuesday's Last Second Loss?

  • Virginia’s biggest strengths are its defense and play of forward Mike Scott. At 60.3% from the field, Scott is among the best interior players in the nation, but will have to receive some help from a thin UVA front line in this game. Led by Tyler Zeller and John Henson, North Carolina has a ton of height up front that could give Scott a lot of problems. With Assane Sene still out with an ankle injury, the burden of helping Scott against UNC’s imposing front line falls to Akil Mitchell. His presence will be needed more on the defensive end to limit Zeller and Henson but Virginia is not going to win if Scott doesn’t score. Mitchell must be enough of a threat to prevent quick double teams on Scott, allowing him to maneuver around the UNC trees. Defensively, Virginia will look to pack its defense in and prevent Marshall from penetrating and dishing to Zeller and Henson. Making opponents take tough shots is something Virginia does really well and the Cavaliers will need to do it again. Harrison Barnes will likely oblige but Mitchell and Scott must force Zeller and Henson into shots outside the paint or falling away from the basket. If you allow those guys to receive the ball in the paint, you’re finished.
  • Even though Virginia will likely slow the game down to a pace of its liking, the Cavaliers still must score the basketball. Sammy Zeglinski is five for his last 19 from the floor over the past three games and Jontel Evans has to have a good game at the point guard position. Virginia can’t turn the ball over and fuel the Carolina transition attack. It would also help if Joe Harris was knocking down triples, especially if Zeglinski can’t get out of his funk. Keep an eye on rebounding. North Carolina did a great job against Duke, showing some toughness on the glass that we haven’t always seen this year. Virginia is fourth nationally in defensive rebounding percentage but the Cavs really struggle on the offensive end. If the shots aren’t falling, Virginia will have a lot of one and done possessions if it can’t do a better job on the offensive glass. Good rebounding also helps a team control tempo and that’s exactly what Virginia needs to do in order to win this game on the road.

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Big 12 Weekend Primer: Kansas at Missouri

Posted by dnspewak on February 3rd, 2012

With College Gameday in the house, the Big 12 Conference lead on the line and a century-old rivalry nearing its end, the stakes could not possibly be any higher for Saturday night’s Border War showdown between Kansas and Missouri. It’s not just the league’s must-see game this weekend. It’s one of the most important regular-season games of the entire 2011-12 college basketball season, second maybe only to the rematch in Lawrence later this month. As for the rest of the league, Baylor must keep pace with a road game in Stillwater, while Kansas State will look to salvage its season when it hosts Texas A&M. 

GAME OF THE WEEKEND

  • #8 Kansas at #4 Missouri, Saturday, 8 PM CT (ESPN)
Years ago, Missouri earned a notorious reputation for knocking off Kansas in Columbia. In 1997, for example, the top-ranked Jayhawks left the Hearnes Center with a double-overtime loss, a game both programs will likely never forget. In recent years, though, KU has owned Missouri at Mizzou Arena, winning four of the last five contests — with the only loss came in 2009 on Zaire Taylor’s game-winning jumper in the waning seconds. That raises the anticipation for the 2012 version of the Border War, especially considering KU has vowed to discontinue the series because of MU leaving for the SEC. Since Wednesday, students have camped out for the best seats to College Gameday, making its first-ever trip to Columbia for a basketball game. It’s hard to count all of the storylines here, in fact. Both teams are ranked in the Top 10; KU leads Missouri by just one game in the Big 12 standings; they may never play at Mizzou Arena again; and, the entire nation will be watching to see the culmination of 100 years of rivalry.

Jeff Withey Could Be a Difference-Maker Against Missouri (KemperLesnik/B. Spurlock)

Expect some nerves in the first few minutes of the game. But once everyone settles down, this will be a terrific matchup between two teams with All-Big 12 talent at almost every position. We won’t see many substitutions — both Frank Haith and Bill Self play a very short rotation — but fatigue won’t be a factor in a game of this magnitude. For Missouri, it comes down to offensive execution, ball movement and a better defensive effort. Since earning a landmark win at Baylor two weeks ago, the Tigers have not played well in their last three games. First, they blew a late lead at Oklahoma State and allowed one of the league’s worst offensive teams to light them up. Then, last weekend, a poor shooting night kept Texas Tech in contention for much of the game, and on Wednesday, MU needed a game-winner from Michael Dixon to overcome yet another blown lead and a sluggish effort. Against the Longhorns, the Tigers’ lack of size became a major problem in the rebounding department.
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Set Your TiVo: 02.03 – 02.05

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 3rd, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

There are lots of good games on Saturday, highlighted by the big one in Columbia. Overall it’s a very nice day of hoops despite only a handful of truly terrific games.

#4 Kansas @ #6 Missouri – 9:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN (*****)

KU Needs Taylor To Be Good Tyshawn on Saturday (credit: Missourian)

  • It doesn’t get much better than this. Two teams that don’t particularly like each other and a Border War rivalry with roots in the Civil War era. Missouri enters this game after surviving Texas in Austin on Monday. The Tigers have perhaps the best offense in the nation with incredible balance at the guard and wing positions. The question for Frank Haith and his team will be how effective Ricardo Ratliffe can be against Thomas Robinson inside. Ratliffe shoots almost exclusively in the paint and converts an astounding 75.1% of the time. However, Ratliffe will be going up against a front line of Robinson and Jeff Withey (3.1 BPG) in this one and needs to utilize his patented pick-and-roll more in this game. Ratliffe won’t have great success going one-on-one against either Robinson or Withey inside. Kansas’ defense ranks #4 in two-point percentage against but the Jayhawks are vulnerable to the three-ball. That’s where Missouri and snipers Marcus DenmonKim English and Michael Dixon can really take advantage of Bill Self’s team.
  • The Jayhawk offense is essentially a two-man operation. While players like Withey and Travis Releford contribute offensively, Kansas’ fortunes depend on Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor. Taylor has taken his game to another level over the last month, highlighted by the back to back 28-point efforts against Iowa State and Baylor. The Kansas senior hasn’t shot under 40% from the floor since January 4 but will be the focus of Haith’s perimeter defense. Taylor is prone to turnovers and you can bet the Missouri guards will be ball hawking him all night long. If Taylor has a good ball handling night, Kansas will be in very good position to grab a road win. Robinson will get his points but it’s up to Taylor to put the Jayhawks in a position to win this game.
  • It’s hard to pick against Missouri at home but if any team is going to win in Columbia, Kansas is the one. With ESPN in the house for the top two teams in the Big 12, this will be as charged an environment as you will see all year in college basketball. Despite Ratliffe’s stellar shooting percentage, Kansas should win the battle inside. The duo of Robinson and Withey is incredibly difficult to score against and Robinson is obviously a load on the offensive end as well. However, the friendly confines of Mizzou Arena and the Tigers’ perimeter attack and balance should be enough to put Missouri over the top.

#3 Ohio State @ #23 Wisconsin – 2:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN (****)

  •  Ohio State can take command of the Big Ten with a win in this game. The Buckeyes hold a one game lead over Wisconsin in the loss column heading into Saturday’s matchup. If Ohio State has one weakness, it’s three-point shooting. Thad Matta is not going to beat Wisconsin, a team that shoots well over 20 threes a game, from outside. Matta has the best player on the floor in Jared Sullinger and he needs to use him early and often in order to set the tone. Ohio State is not going to turn Wisconsin over and fast break points will be at a minimum. The Buckeyes must execute their half court offense in order to win this game and the way to do that is through the big man in the middle.
  • The Badgers have righted the ship with six straight wins but will need a big game out of their supporting cast if they are going to make it a seventh. Jared Berggren in particular must contain Sullinger on the low block or else Aaron Craft can feed him all day long with no consequences. Offensively, Wisconsin will run everything through Jordan Taylor but guys like Josh Gasser and Ben Brust need to be hot from deep in order for the Badgers to pull off the win. Wisconsin will be limited to one shot per possession most of the time as it loves to run the shot clock down and shoot threes. Ohio State ranks fourth in defensive rebounding percentage, mostly thanks to Sullinger.
  • This game features the top two defensive teams in the nation in terms of efficiency. It’s likely to be a low scoring, low possession affair that comes down to the final minutes. Players like Ryan Evans for Wisconsin and Ohio State’s Lenzelle Smith could be the determining factors. The battle at the point guard position between Taylor and Craft will be phenomenal but the complementary players usually put a team over the top in matchups like these. We think that’s what will happen at the Kohl Center on Saturday.
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