Top 5 Big 12 Matchups For 2015-16

Posted by Brian Goodman on August 21st, 2015

While we’re getting closer to the start of the season, Opening Night is still about three months away. That’s a long way out. On Thursday, however, we were given a taste of what the 2015-16 season will offer as the Big 12 released its conference schedule. As we’ve already touched on several times, the Big 12 won’t be stocked with the same caliber of one-and-done talent that we’ve seen in recent years, but it should make up for that shortfall with a boatload of experienced and productive upperclassmen, so on pretty much any given night, you’ll be able to tune in and see established college stars doing their thing. Add that to the heated rivalries and the infusion of coaching brought on by the additions of Steve Prohm and Shaka Smart and it’s easy to see that we’ll be in for another thrilling season. Here are the top five battles worth circling on the calendar for 2016.

After coming just short of unseating Kansas in 2015, Iowa State will take another crack at the Jayhawks in 2016. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

The 2016 Big 12 slate is headlined by the next chapter in the fierce rivalry between Kansas and Iowa State.                        (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

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Early Summer Big 12 News and Notes

Posted by Brian Goodman on May 29th, 2015

#HoibergWatch has been the dominant storyline in the Big 12 since the season ended back in April, and with the Chicago Bulls head coaching job now vacant, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before The Mayor makes his next move, even if nothing’s official at this very second. We’ll have more on where Iowa State could go from here once the situation plays itself out and we get some resolution, but in the meantime, there’s been no shortage of other Big 12 activity to discuss.

Is This It for Hoiberg's Run in Ames? (AP)

Is This It for Hoiberg’s Run in Ames? (AP)

  • On Wednesday, commissioner Bob Bowlsby announced that the Big 12’s membership had given him full authority to hand down punishments to schools should they fail to adequately prevent students from rushing the court. While it’s a well-intentioned decision, it’s really tough to look at this development as anything more than a knee-jerk reaction to last season’s messy incident at Kansas State’s Bramlage Coliseum, where one student appeared to target Jamari Traylor and others inadvertently pinned members of Kansas’ coaching staff against the scorer’s table. While there’s been (misguided) uproar in the past over court-storms, it seems highly unlikely that the conference would have done anything if things hadn’t gone sideways after the Wildcats upset the Jayhawks that night. Moving forward, while the threat of severe punishment might keep future incidents from getting out of control, it’s no guarantee, and it’s important to note that the chaos from February was the exception, not the rule. The reality is that dozens of stormings take place all across the country each and every year without incident, and the pearl-clutching among many (though certainly not all) in the media is just way over-the-top. Court-storms make college basketball unique from other sports and provide memorable experiences for both the players and students, and isn’t that what college is all about? Yes, once in awhile, there may be an occasion where things get out of control, and in those specific cases, punishment beyond the simple reprimanding Kansas State received in February may be justified. Before getting too wound up, we’ll have to see how this broad policy ends up working in practice, as compared to a more specific policy like the SEC’s, which dishes out automatic fines regardless of whether or not anyone actually gets hurt. At the onset, though, this has the feel of using a flamethrower to take care of a housefly.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Thursday Afternoon

Posted by RTC Staff on March 19th, 2015

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And here we are. For those of us who grew up from around 1985 to 2001, the mathebracketal beauty of a 64-team field is what the NCAA Tournament is all about. Today and tomorrow are a mixture of so many highs and lows that it’s impossible to keep track of it all. We won’t be able to do that, but we can at least get you ready. Here’s a preview on each of today’s afternoon games. Enjoy the Madness.

#3 Notre Dame vs. #14 Northeastern – Midwest Region Second Round (at Pittsburgh, PA) – 12:15 PM EST on CBS.

All-American Jerian Grant Starts Things Off Today (USA Today Sports)

All-American Jerian Grant Starts Things Off Today (USA Today Sports)

Notre Dame enters NCAA Tournament play fresh off a thrilling run to the ACC Tournament title. Waiting for the Irish in Pittsburgh is Northeastern. The Huskies enter the tournament after winning three games in three days to take home the CAA Tournament crown and earn its first tournament bid since 1991. Bill Coen’s squad is led into action by senior forward Scott Eatherton, who leads the team in both points per game (14.6) and rebounds per game (6.4). Northeastern also has some talent at the guard position with junior point guard David Walker, who scores 13.4 points and dishes out 3.5 assists per contest. While the Huskies do have talent, they do not have enough to stop the Notre Dame offensive attack. Seniors Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton lead the way for the Irish, who are second in the country in field goal percentage at 51 percent. Grant and Connaughton have gotten it done for Mike Brey’s squad all season, but the Irish appear to be even more lethal now due to the emergence of sophomore guards Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia. Notre Dame has had its fair share of bad luck in the NCAA Tournament, but that should not be case Thursday afternoon. Expect the Irish to  ride their explosive offense to a comfortable victory.

The RTC Certified Pick: Notre Dame.

#3 Iowa State vs. #14 UAB – South Region Second Round (at Louisville, KY) – 12:40 PM ET on truTV.

Iowa State and UAB commence South region action Thursday afternoon. Fred Hoiberg’s team underwent their annual roster overhaul last summer, but the end result – a team whose fast-paced, hyper-efficient offense leads to wins – saw no change. Iowa State’s national offensive efficiency rankings the last three seasons, including their current mark: 6th, 6th, and 7th. UAB’s primary task has to be slowing down the tempo and effectiveness of that Cyclone attack, a pursuit in which the Blazers are unlikely to be effective. There is little in the statistical profile that suggests they have the extra gear needed to keep pace with Iowa State, whose 15-6 Big 12 mark was about as it good as it got in the Big 12 this season. UAB was not the Conference USA regular season champion (Louisiana Tech was), but the Blazers gloomy Tournament outlook is a subtle reminder of how far their league has fallen. Sending one team to the Tournament, and on the #14 seed line, would have been unthinkable three years ago. It’s the unfortunate reality of 2015, however, and it should get only more uncomfortable after Thursday, when Iowa State will likely to dispatch an overmatched UAB team from the Tournament field.

The RTC Certified Pick: Iowa State.

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Rushed Reactions: #16 Baylor 80, #18 West Virginia 70

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 12th, 2015

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Here are some key takeaways from Baylor’s 80-70 Big 12 quarterfinal win over a West Virginia team that was still without Juwan Staten and Gary Browne.

Rico Gathers had 15 points, nine rebounds and two powerful second-half dunks in Baylor's win over West Virginia (West Virginia Metro News).

Rico Gathers had 15 points, nine rebounds and two powerful second-half dunks in Baylor’s win over West Virginia (West Virginia Metro News).

  1. Selection Sunday Impacts. Baylor should be poised for a happy Selection Sunday. The Bracket Matrix, which aggregates NCAA Tournament projections from across all corners of the web, had the Bears as a solid #3 seed going into the game. The win against a good West Virginia team, even without Staten, should keep them from falling off that line. That’ll especially be the case if fellow #3 seed (or better) hopefuls Iowa State and Oklahoma fall in games later today. This could also set the Bears up for a spot in the South regional in Houston.  Regardless of seed, this year will mark the first time in program history that Baylor will make back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, which is somewhat surprising considering the success Scott Drew has enjoyed over the last decade in Waco.
  2. Bears Bench Deepens. Ish Wainwright may have earned himself more playing time the rest of the way. Early foul trouble in the first half forced Drew to play the little-used forward heavy minutes and the junior did not disappoint. He ended up with seven points and six rebounds and did a good job battling the Mountaineers’ physical frontcourt. It was an undeniably good day for the local native who got the most playing time he has received in a single game since early February. Drew has not utilized an incredibly deep rotation this year — often giving only six players significant minutes — so it’s a great sign that Wainwright has proven he can contribute on a big stage.
  3. Undermanned Mountaineers. West Virginia needs Staten and Browne back. That’s not exactly a groundbreaking thought but the effect of their absences played out in real time today against the Bears. The Mountaineers benefited from some hot shooting from deep for much of the game — including four threes and 18 points from Jaysean Paige — but they didn’t score a field goal over the last six minutes when Staten would have been most useful. Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles had two costly back-to-back turnovers with under four minutes left that Baylor used to build a multi-possession lead it would not relinquish. Having Staten and Browne in those pressure situations instead of two freshmen may have made a difference in this quarterfinal matchup. On the other hand, Carter and Miles had an opportunity to learn from the increased playing time and those mistakes, with an opportunity to apply it next weekend when the games matter even more.

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Big 12 Season Superlatives, Part I: First Team, POY & COY

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 9th, 2015

This year’s Big 12 Conference will go down as one of the most memorable seasons in recent memory. Kansas held on to the championship belt despite fielding what most of its fans would admit was not Bill Self’s most talented team. The Jayhawks withstood challenges from a revolving door of contenders who were capable of outstanding performances at their best and mind-numbing displays at their worst. Over the course of the next couple of days, we’ll look back on the league’s best efforts, both on the floor and on the sidelines. Today: our RTC All-Big 12 Team followed by our POY and COY.

All-Big 12 First Team

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Player of the Year

  • Brian Goodman: Perry Ellis, Kansas – Somewhere along the line it became popular to criticize Perry Ellis for what he wasn’t than to accept him for what he was (I’m not afraid to admit that I was equally guilty of it). Ellis’ pro potential at age 21 is still a big question mark and his lack of any real back-to-the-basket game makes him very different than many of the terrific big men who preceded him in Lawrence, but none of that matters here. Ellis was the best all-around player in the Big 12 this season due to his craftiness inside, his range out to the three-point line (where he shot 37.5 percent in 40 attempts) and his very good rebounding. The junior also had to shoulder a bigger workload due to the inconsistent play of frontcourt teammates Cliff Alexander, Jamari Traylor and Landen Lucas.
Perry Ellis outpaced a slew of worthy candidates to take RTC Big 12 POY honors.

Perry Ellis outpaced a slew of worthy candidates to take RTC Big 12 POY honors. (AP)

  • Nate Kotisso: Buddy Hield, Oklahoma – If you were in a lab and your goal was to come up with the perfect basketball player, you’d have a laundry list of things to consider. He would have to be someone who can shoot the lights out, can get to the rim, will lead by example and become the classic “first to practice, last to leave” guy. Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield has been the most machine-like player in the Big 12 this season. He’s scored in double figures in all but three games on the season, and more often than not, you’ll get a premium effort from the junior wing.
  • Chris Stone: Perry Ellis, Kansas – Ellis is the most important player on the best team in the conference. While Buddy Hield has been a more impressive scorer in conference play, the gap between Hield (22.1 PPG) and Ellis (20.6 PPG) isn’t large when adjusted for efficiency. Ellis also ranks among the Big 12’s top 10 in defensive rebounding and top 20 in block percentage. While Kansas played well against Oklahoma on Saturday, it’s tough to imagine the Jayhawks making any sort of deep run in March without their star big man in the lineup.

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Strength of Big 12 Driven by Impressive Individual Seasons

Posted by Chris Stone on February 18th, 2015

College basketball fans across the country debate which conference is the best every season. That conversation has mostly centered on two leagues this year. If you’re more interested in teams that are likely to make deep runs in March, then your choice will probably be the ACC with the likes of Virginia, Duke, Louisville and Notre Dame at the top of the standings. From a viewpoint of quality of depth of a league, however, nearly every available metric shows that the Big 12 is tops. Ken Pomeroy’s system focused on efficiency ranks this year’s Big 12 as the best conference since the Big Ten of four years ago (when 7 of 11 teams received NCAA Tournament bids). The league has already posted the highest non-conference winning percentage of any conference in a decade and currently has only one team (Texas Tech) with an under .500 overall record.

Georges Niang highlights the Big 12's selections on the Wooden Award Late Season Top 20 list. (Nirmalendu Majumdar)

Georges Niang highlights the Big 12’s selections on the Wooden Award Late Season Top 20 list. (Nirmalendu Majumdar)

The Big 12’s incredible season has correspondingly been driven by a number of individuals who are receiving national recognition on the various late season award lists. While the front-runners for the Wooden Award — given annually to the country’s best player — are Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, and Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant, the Big 12 put three players of its own on the Late Season Top 20 list. Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield has proven to be one of the conference’s best scorers, averaging 17.2 points per game while shooting 43.5 percent from the field. West Virginia’s Juwan Staten recently found his way back into the national conversation with a dazzling spin move to upset Kansas on Big Monday. Iowa State’s Georges Niang leads the Cyclones in scoring while also averaging 5.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game.

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Big 12 M5: 02.11.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 11th, 2015

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  1. We now have repeat winners representing this week’s Big 12 Player and Newcomer of the Week. Baylor’s Rico Gathers takes Player of the Week after sharing the honor with K-State’s Nino Williams two weeks ago. It’s hard to deny the award to a guy who averaged 15.5 points and 17 rebounds in wins over TCU and West Virginia but that’s exactly what Gathers accomplished for the Bears. Oklahoma State’s Anthony Hickey wins his second Newcomer of the Week award after taking home the honors for the week of December 15. Hickey’s 15 points in a win at Texas and 15 more vs Kansas were instrumental in the Cowboys’ climb up the Big 12 ladder. Better make room in your trophy cases, fellas.
  2. Is Travis Ford the Big 12’s Coach of the Year thus far? ESPN’s Myron Medcalf thinks so and makes a compelling argument for the Oklahoma State coach. When you have the week the Cowboys have had sweeping the regular season series from Texas, a double-digit comeback victory versus Kansas and taking care of the also-streaking Baylor Bears, a question like this is bound to pop up. We have to remember that today is only February 11. Chaos has been commonplace nearly everywhere in the Big 12 except for the very top of the league and with six games to go, it’d be silly to expect the status quo to remain the status quo. We have to also remember that the only anxious people in Stillwater is, well, everyone because they’ve tasted fleeting success under Ford before only to see season after season end in disappointment. Who knows, maybe this is the year the Cowboys finish stronger than they usually do and Medcalf’s case makes a lot of sense. But at the same time, we wouldn’t be having this conversation seven days ago. Life can come at you fast.
  3. Down two of their top four scorers in Manhattan, Texas and coach Rick Barnes needed a spark. As Chris Hummer of Horns247 notes, Barnes went with a three-guard starting lineup for the first time all season and it worked out beautifully. With Javan Felix and Jonathan Holmes‘ statuses still up in the air as of now, this experiment by Barnes would be worth trying out again. The trio of Isaiah Taylor, Demarcus Holland and Kendal Yancy, spacing on offense was as good as it has been all year long. Taylor was at his best, keeping the K-State defense off balance by driving and finding teammates. At 4-6 in conference play, it could be time to tinker with the lineup even if Felix and Holmes are ready to go. The Longhorns may not have much time to right the ship completely before the Big 12 Tournament but they must turn it around to ensure a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
  4. The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal came out with a list of the 20 best players in the Big 12 earlier this week. In a league as talented as this one, you can’t possibly find 20 credible names without leaving some good ones off the list but there are a couple (Kenny Chery, Jonathan Holmes). As for the rankings themselves, I’d have some guys higher (Nash, Forte) and some lower (Spangler) but it’s not half bad. I’m curious to know what the thinking was by putting Kyan Anderson on the list. I’m all for showing TCU love whenever it warrants it but they haven’t done a lot of winning since the calendar turned to 2015. If you replace Anderson with Marcus Foster, who has been up and down for K-State, I wouldn’t see much change in the overall quality in the rankings. Then again, it’s just a list so whatever.
  5. Now at 12-12 on the season, Kansas State has now found itself playing the spoiler role. The Wildcats could throw a monkey wrench in the Big 12 race as they face West Virginia tonight and five other teams in the hunt for the NCAA Tournament — Oklahoma, Baylor, Kansas, Iowa State and Texas — before season’s end. A lot of said monkey wrench throwing depends on whether or not Marcus Foster and Malek Harris are taken off suspension in time for tonight’s game (sources told Kansas.com that they’d be both out vs West Virginia). This is the reality that Bruce Weber and his team must face.
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Big 12 M5: 02.09.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 9th, 2015

morning5_big12

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

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 3rd, 2015

It’s a near-consensus this season that the Big 12 is considered the best conference in college basketball. As we approach the halfway point of league play, drawing a line between NCAA Tournament contenders and the rest has become an easier task. We all expected Kansas and Iowa State to reign at the top and Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas Tech rounded out the standings (sorry, guys). But the middle five conference teams have been the tough to forecast all season long. West Virginia is 6-2 in league play but still somewhat unproven, with four of those six wins coming against the Horned Frogs and Red Raiders. Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas State have all left something to be desired. The only middle five team to exceed expectations so far has been none other than Baylor.

It's possible: You can respect Scott Drew's grind while laughing at how silly he looks in this photo. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

It’s possible: You can respect Scott Drew’s grind while laughing at how silly he looks in this photo. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

After finishing sixth last year, Big 12 coaches picked Baylor sixth again before the season began. At the moment, the Bears are in, you guessed it, sixth place. So how are they exceeding expectations? Because they lost Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson and Brady Heslip — three of their top four scorers from a year ago — and a slew of role players has been charged with taking on greater responsibility. Rico Gathers has been an anchor inside, grabbing more rebounds in a starter’s role (12.0 RPG) while sharing the wealth among veterans Royce O’Neale (6.3 RPG), Taurean Prince (5.7 RPG) and freshman Johnathan Motley (4.6 RPG). The graduation of sharpshooter Heslip left a gaping hole in the team’s outside shooting but that role has been supplanted by another trio of Bears. O’Neale has been a consistent outside shooting option since arriving from Denver (42.4%) and Prince is also capable from distance (40.5%), but the most improvement has come from point guard Kenny Chery (32.5% last season to 40.5%).

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Three Things to Watch in Tonight’s Kansas-Baylor Game

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 7th, 2015

It’s only the Big 12’s first full week of conference play, but without a runaway favorite and as many as six teams with hopes to win the conference, nearly every Big 12 game is going to have an impact. Tonight’s headliner pits Baylor against Kansas at the Ferrell Center in Waco. The Jayhawks were the last team to beat the Bears at home nearly a year ago (February 4, 2014), so Baylor is looking to avoid a repeat performance. In this preview, Brian Goodman breaks down the elements most likely to decide the outcome of tonight’s important battle.

Frank Mason leads the Jayhawks on the road, where they'll have to neutralize Baylor's advantage inside. (Denny Medley/USA Today)

Frank Mason leads the Jayhawks on the road, where they’ll have to neutralize Baylor’s advantage inside. (Denny Medley/USA Today)

  1. Kansas’ lineups and rotations. Over the last five games, the lineup of Frank Mason, Wayne Selden, Kelly Oubre, Perry Ellis and Cliff Alexander has been the Jayhawks’ most effective one, but it hasn’t been the one Bill Self has most frequently deployed. Rather, Self has preferred a lineup with Jamari Traylor taking Alexander’s place, despite being an average rebounder and mediocre finisher (shooting just 41.5 percent from the floor). Thanks to his athleticism, Traylor can be an effective energy guy in spurts, but the Jayhawks have been at their best with the more efficient Alexander manning the paint alongside Ellis. This was the case during Kansas’ game-finishing run to put UNLV away on Sunday.
  2. Baylor’s bruisers. It’s no surprise that the Bears rank fourth nationally in offensive rebounding rate, corralling 43.7 percent of their misses on the season. That consistency is due in large part to the effort of Rico Gathers, who grabbed 15 rebounds over 39 minutes in Baylor’s two meetings against Kansas last season, and makes it easy for Baylor to generate offense despite suspect interior shooting. The Jayhawks had trouble creating separation against UNLV’s athletic core of big men until the last 10 minutes of Sunday’s contest and will struggle to leave Waco with a win if Gathers and freshman Johnathan Motley deprive Alexander, Ellis and Traylor of those opportunities.
  3. The battle of perimeter attacks. Sharpshooter Brady Heslip isn’t around to haunt Big 12 teams anymore, but the Bears still have some serious long-range bombers on their roster. Scott Drew’s rotation currently features five players who shoot at least 34 percent or better from beyond the arc, led by a 53.8 percent clip from Taurean Prince, perhaps the conference’s most improved player. On the other end of the floor, Kansas’ shooters have been streaky. One of the main reasons why Frank Mason has been such a huge asset this season has been his 51.4 percent three-point shooting, forcing defenses to guard him and in turn opening passing lanes. Kelly Oubre‘s smooth shot (48.1%) has been effective as well, and after a disappointing start to the season, Wayne Selden has embraced his role as a shooter (36.7%) who will occasionally attack off the bounce. Despite all of that shooting firepower, one of the things keeping Kansas’ offense from higher productivity has been a relative team-wide passivity from distance. The Jayhawks are the best three-point shooting team in the conference at 39.2 percent, but they take only 29 percent of their shots from beyond the arc, a level of frequency that ranks a dispiriting ninth in the Big 12 (and 292nd in the country). It therefore stands to reason that Kansas would benefit from centering its offensive attack on perimeter shooting rather than depending on Ellis and Alexander to generate most of the offense inside.
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Big 12 Conference Catch-Up: Baylor and Oklahoma State

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 31st, 2014

We continue our breakdown of the Big 12 with the part of the league that will likely determine whether the conference matches its high water mark from last season, when it sent seven teams to the NCAA Tournament. If you missed it yesterday, you can find our thoughts on the bottom rung of the conference here.

Baylor

  • Key wins: at South Carolina, vs. Memphis (in Las Vegas), at Vanderbilt
  • Key losses: vs. Illinois (in Las Vegas)
Rico Gathers leads a Baylor rotation that dominates the glass.

Rico Gathers leads a Baylor rotation that dominates the glass.

People love to hate on Scott Drew, but the dirty secret is that the Bears have been one of the country’s most consistent offenses, finishing among the top 20 in adjusted offense in six of the last seven seasons. They’re trending that way again this year, which is especially impressive when you recall that they lost over half of their offensive production due to the departures of Isaiah Austin, Brady Heslip and Cory Jefferson. The strange thing is that despite their performance so far, the Bears have not been a good shooting team, with an effective field goal percentage of just 50.7 percent, but they have the nation’s best offensive rebounder in Rico Gathers leading a core of strong, athletic players who are just relentless on the glass and get tons of second-chance opportunities. Throw in a stingy defense and four regulars that shoot at least 34 percent from deep and the result is a team that will be able to hang with the best teams in the conference.

I wrote earlier this month that it’d be wise to buy in on Baylor to make it back to the NCAA Tournament, and I still believe that, but there are a couple of things keeping the Bears from breaking into the top tier of the Big 12. Their free throw shooting has been horrific, and in a conference as competitive as the Big 12, I worry about that flaw impacting their ability to close out games. I also think that when the Bears get into conference play, their rebounding, while still strong, will regress some and force the team to get more creative on offense, which will be tough to do on the fly. I don’t think the Bears are as good as their #12 KenPom ranking suggests, but they’re definitely no slouch either.

The Bears haven’t made consecutive NCAA Tournaments at any point in their history and have been on an every-other-year pattern since 2008, but I like their chances to break that routine and go dancing as a #7 seed this year. Their ceiling will be closer to a #5 f they can shore up their free throw shooting and withstand the other rigorous frontcourts the Big 12 has to offer.

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Big 12 M5: New Year’s Eve Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 31st, 2014

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  1. Figuring out how best to utilize his team’s athleticism has been one of Kansas head coach Bill Self‘s biggest challenges this season, but he made a concerted effort to allow his Jayhawks to push the pace in transition during a 78-62 win over Kent State last night. After mustering just 18 points in the paint against Temple last week, Kansas scored 44 from that area on Tuesday. The adjustment (dare we call it a tweak?) also led to Cliff Alexander becoming more active, and as a result, more productive than we’ve seen in recent weeks. Kelly Oubre also continued his stellar play with four three-pointers on his way to a second 20-point performance in three games. The lefty finally appears to have a solid grip on one of the wing spots, which is a big step in the team’s development. The Jayhawks host UNLV in their final non-league game on Saturday before Big 12 play revs up, so it will be interesting to see if they keep the new look.
  2. Oklahoma State spent the first six weeks of the season putting together a decent resume with wins over Tulsa and Memphis away from Gallagher-Iba Arena, but they nearly negated that good will in a close call against Missouri in Kansas City last night. Up three with eight seconds remaining in regulation, Travis Ford instructed his team to foul in order to prevent Missouri from attempting a game-tying three, but they didn’t catch the Tigers in time and Tramaine Isbell sank a three-pointer at the buzzer to send the game to overtime. Faced with the same scenario in the closing seconds of the extra period, Oklahoma State successfully fouled Johnathan Williams to send him to the line for a pair of free throws, but the Cowboys failed to rebound the intentional miss on the back end. Luckily, DeAngelo Hall missed a close look at the buzzer and Oklahoma State escaped with the victory. We’ll have more on the Cowboys later today, but it looks like they’ll be involved in more than their fair share of close finishes this season, which means their NCAA Tournament fate could lie in the hands of a whistle here or a lucky bounce there.
  3. To this point, Baylor hasn’t been a very good shooting team, instead deriving a lot of their offense from second-chance points, but in their final tune-up before Big 12 play, the Bears got hot to the tune of a 68.8 percent shooting performance in the second half en route to a 92-51 drubbing of Norfolk State. Royce O’Neale led Baylor with 23 points on just nine shots thanks to a 5-of-6 effort from beyond the arc and Rico Gathers notched his sixth double-double of the season with 13 points and 11 rebounds. There isn’t much to take away from a beatdown over Norfolk State, but if Baylor can find a way to keep up a more consistent level of shooting in conference play, they likely won’t have to scramble in late February to make the NCAA Tournament the way they’ve had to in recent years.
  4. In their last game of the non-conference season, West Virginia overcame a sloppy first half filled with turnovers and fouls and turned their game against Virginia Tech into an 82-51 rout. The Mountaineers locked down the Hokies during a huge run during which Buzz Williams’ team scored just four points over a span of 10 minutes and 23 seconds. West Virginia wraps up non-league play with a 12-1 record and they’re far and away the most improved team in the Big 12, featuring an exciting defense and a potent (if sometimes unorganized) offense led by one of the best all-around players in the conference, Juwan Staten.
  5. On Monday afternoon, Texas struggled but ultimately pulled away in a 66-55 win over Rice. The most troubling sign for the Longhorns was that 6’7″ Rice junior Seth Gearhart gave Texas’ vaunted frontcourt a lot of trouble. Myles Turner received his first start of the year, with Rick Barnes sending Cameron Ridley to the bench, and while the blue-chip freshman continues to show exceptional promise, his identity on this team is still a question mark. For someone who can be an absolute force inside, Turner floats to the perimeter an awful lot on offense as well as on defense, and it’s kept him from being a more effective player. If that issue can be remedied and Isaiah Taylor can return to the team without skipping a beat, there won’t be anything keeping the Longhorns from making a run at Kansas at the top of the standings.
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