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

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 27th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Big 12 M5: 02.27.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on February 27th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. And just like that Kansas is back in the driver’s seat as the favorite to win an 11th straight Big 12 championship. The situation looked a bit bleak for the Jayhawks following their recent 70-63 loss to Kansas State, but Baylor’s 79-70 win over Iowa State on Wednesday night put Kansas ahead again. A win would have drawn the Cyclones even with Kansas in the standings, but a barrage of second half threes from the Bears sealed the Cyclones’ fate. “We didn’t talk about any championships that were there,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. “The guys understand it. They read it. But it’s just going out there taking care of today, and obviously we didn’t get that accomplished.”
  2. Wednesday marked the first win ever in Ames for Baylor, and the big road victory should help the Bears immensely with seeding in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. A lock for an at-large bid, this year will mark the first time that Baylor has made consecutive trips to March Madness in school history. Much of the Bears’ recent success should be attributed to Scott Drew. The 12th-year head coach of the Bears takes a great deal of criticism from the college basketball community, but he has molded a roster that was picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 into a Top 25 team with high postseason expectations. Drew rightfully appears to be the clear front-runner for Big 12 Coach of the Year at this point in the season.
  3. Drew’s biggest competitor in the race for Coach of the Year comes from West Virginia’s Bob Huggins. The Mountaineers were also picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 preseason poll but have utilized a change in playing style to now sit just one game behind Kansas in the standings. After getting blasted by Baylor in Morgantown, West Virginia will seek revenge on the Bears in Waco this weekend. If the Mountaineers pull of the win, we could have a new name leading the Big 12 Coach of the Year race come Monday.
  4. A day after the Jayhawks’ loss at Kansas State, Kansas junior Perry Ellis and sophomore Wayne Selden called a players-only meeting back in Lawrence. There was no trip to Henry T’s like back in 2008, but Ellis and Selden took the opportunity to emphasize the importance of winning another Big 12 championship. Sporting a 3-3 record in its last six games, Kansas is engaged in some soul-searching ahead of March this season. “We got to figure out what’s wrong,” sophomore Brannen Greene said. With three remaining contests against teams ranked in Ken Pomeroy’s top 25, the Jayhawks will need to figure it out quick, starting with a reeling but dangerous Texas squad on Saturday.
  5. Finally, while much of Twitter was abuzz yesterday attempting to determine the colors of this dress (hint: it’s white and gold), Adidas was drawing its usual ire for releasing its latest line of jerseys. With Baylor having switched to Nike this season, Kansas remains the only Big 12 team to receive an stylistic update, which the Jayhawks are likely wear for at least one game in the Big 12 Tournament. Baylor received its new look last week, and its tempered color scheme will likely disappoint fans of their glowing highlighter look.
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Big 12 Power Rankings: Oklahoma, Where Wins Come Sweeping Down the Plains Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 9th, 2015

The regular season can be a long, drawn out-proposition. Around 12 to 15 games are typically played during the pre-conference season, and even though it’s impossible to survey each team correctly, people like us try it anyway to avoid doing something else that’s actually mind-numbing. Case in point with Oklahoma. While some prognosticators pegged them as an early darkhorse to make the Final Four, no one told Creighton about that as the Bluejays beat the Sooners by two points in their second game of the season (RPI: #130). Lon Kruger’s team made up for that defeat by winning two of three out in its trip to the Bahamas, including a key neutral-court victory over a much-improved Butler team (RPI: #18). December resulted in another hiccup, though, with the Sooners losing to a ranked Washington group on a neutral court. The Huskies had started the year 11-0 with several nice victories before losing nine of their next 12 games. Now that loss is looking a lot more iffy (RPI: #80).

Don't be shy. Give it a try. (SoonerSports.com)

Don’t be shy. Give it a try. (SoonerSports.com)

Thank goodness for conference play, right? Every team welcomes the chance to start all over again. After beating Baylor and Texas by a combined 31 points to tip off Big 12 play, bad Oklahoma paid a return visit. Starting with a crushing home loss in the final seconds of overtime to Kansas State, the Sooners would move on to lose four of their next five contests. But in recent weeks, it now appears that good Oklahoma is back in action with a four-game winning streak. Through the ups and downs has been a talented crop of players but perhaps the best of this group is Big 12 Player of the Year candidate Buddy Hield. His game was far more perimeter-oriented last year, but Hield has become a dangerous offensive weapon from anywhere on the floor this season. So given all of these ups and downs, the Sooners are poise to leap into sole possession of second place in the Big 12 and become the newest challenger to Kansas’ throne. But they have to win tonight.

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “The Jayhawks control their own destiny despite Saturday’s loss in Stillwater, but the allocation of minutes across their frontcourt continues to baffle me. Cliff Alexander played 16 minutes and was fantastic around the rim while Jamari Traylor set a new career high in turnovers (six) in his 23 minutes of action. Meanwhile, Landen Lucas contributed a forgettable two rebounds and no points in 12 minutes.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)
  2. Iowa State — 7 points (Chris & Nate — 2nd, Brian — 3rd) Comment: “The Cyclones blasted Texas Tech 75-38 this week, as Jameel McKay found his way into the starting lineup due to Bryce Dejean-Jones’ tardiness. After finishing with 17 points and nine rebounds, McKay might be proving himself worthy of a permanent spot.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) Read the rest of this entry »
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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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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: 11.14.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2014

morning5_big12

 

  1. Yesterday, we talked about Iowa State‘s plans to play in a neutral court event next Thanksgiving. Late Thursday night, we learned about another team planning ahead. In 2016, Kansas will tip off its season against Indiana from a military base in Pearl Harbor as part of the Armed Forces Classic. One of the biggest ongoing storylines in college basketball is how the sport can better market the start of the season, and while this event doesn’t always have the fanfare of the Champions Classic or some of the other 24-Hour Marathon battles, it has helped bring the start of the season to the national spotlight.
  2. Oklahoma State blog Pistols Firing has 20 predictions for the Cowboys’ season. As discussed in our conference preview Thursday, we aren’t very high on Travis Ford’s team, we can definitely see some of the more positive predictions coming true, such as OSU outperforming its expectations to finish sixth, Le’Bryan Nash making first-team all-conference and Travis Ford holding onto his job.
  3. Outside of the conference, tonight’s Louisville-Minnesota match-up is getting headlines as it pits Rick Pitino against his son, Richard, but right here in the Big 12 is another father-son battle as Tubby Smith and the Texas Tech Red Raiders will open their season against his Smith’s son, G.G. Smith, who is making his head coaching debut with Loyola (Maryland). Smith cut his teeth with the Greyhounds as an assistant under former Loyola head coach Jimmy Patsos for six years.
  4. Remember last year when Kansas State lost three of its first five games (including its debut against Northern Colardo) leading to some warranted bubble conversation before Thanksgiving even hit? The Wildcats will look to avoid a similar fate when it tips off against Southern Utah tonight. As the 342nd-ranked team in the country according to KenPom, we don’t expect the Thunderbirds to pull this season’s opening night upset, but the Wildcats should now know more than anyone how important it is to take care of business early in the season.
  5. For a program the reached the Sweet 16 last year, there hasn’t been much chatter around Baylor. Part of that is because the Bears lost what had been the cornerstones of their program over the last two years in Cory Jefferson, Isaiah Austin and Brady Heslip, and another part of that is because the Bears don’t have the incoming star power that Kansas, Texas and Iowa State has. Still, Scott Drew is excited for the lights to come on tonight when his team squares off against McNeese State, as he should, because the Bears still have a lot of remaining talent in Rico Gathers, Kenny Chery, Royce O’Neale, Taurean Prince and redshirt freshmen Johnathan Motley and Al Freeman.
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Big 12 Season Preview: Baylor Bears

Posted by Nate Kotisso on October 30th, 2014

Throughout the preseason, the Big 12 microsite will preview each of the league’s 10 teams, from worst to first. Today: Baylor.

Baylor Bears

We’re seven months removed from the 2013-14 season ending and I still feel as if Baylor underachieved. The Bears had a lot of the qualities that normally consist of a Final Four-type team: NBA talent, experience, rebounding, good-enough defense. They were brilliant in non-league action, started 2-8 in conference play, went on a late run, and finished with a loss to Wisconsin during the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Most are unsure of what to expect from Baylor this time around — the Bears were picked sixth in the Big 12 preseason coaches poll, marking the second time in the last seven seasons that the Bears have been picked to finish outside of the Big 12’s top four. Scott Drew’s team was picked 10th in 2009-10 and eventually found itself in the Elite Eight. But now, three of the Bears’ top scorers are gone and a slew of young players will take over in an, gulp, odd-numbered NCAA Tournament year.

Scott Drew goes into the 2014-15 season with the task of replacing three starters. (USA Today Sports Images)

Scott Drew goes into the 2014-15 season with the task of replacing three starters. (USA Today Sports Images)

Strengths: The Bears lost Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson yet the bigs they’ll have available still appear worthy of opponents’ game-planning. Let’s start with junior Rico Gathers, who managed to average the same number of points as rebounds (6.4) off the bench. It’d be silly to expect anything other than the 6’8″, 280-pound Gathers be a bully down low by giving him starter’s minutes. Perhaps the biggest question mark lies with redshirt freshman forward Jonathan Motley. Motley has bulked up with 15 pounds of muscle and will be counted on as the defensive enforcer that Austin and Jefferson have been over the past two seasons. On the wing, having Royce O’Neale grab a guaranteed five rebounds at 6’6″ isn’t too shabby either. It also helps to have a senior point guard like Kenny Chery returning in a deep point guard league like the Big 12. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 M5: 10.24.2014 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 24th, 2014

morning5_big12

 

  1. It’s been a rough week for complementary players in the Big 12. We’ve talked about D.J. Johnson and Georgois Tsalmpouris being hobbled to various degrees, and Thursday, it was announced that Iowa State transfer Hallice Cooke (formerly of Oregon State) will miss the season to repair cartilage tears in both of his hips. Cooke’s injury won’t have too big an impact this year, as he wasn’t going to play anyway due to NCAA transfer rules, but now, he won’t even be able to practice with his new team. Cooke will have three years of eligibility left starting with the 2015-16 season.
  2. Kansas State guard Marcus Foster admitted that being snubbed by Kansas as a prospect is a motivating factor as he looks to live up to high expectations as a sophomore for the Wildcats this season. In case you aren’t familiar, Foster was a highly sought-after guard before he let his conditioning fall by the wayside. Bruce Weber stuck with him, though, and Kansas State was rewarded for their loyalty with a commitment and the best season from a freshman Wildcat since Michael Beasley. Foster is getting some attention as a Big 12 Player Of The Year Candidate, so it will be interesting to see if he gets off to a fast start next month.
  3. Cliff Alexander and Myles Turner were mentioned by NBC’s College Basketball Talk among 20 impact freshmen around the game this year. Both Alexander and Turner have tremendous strength that should help them power to the basket on offense, but like the vast majority of freshmen at any level of college hoops, both are a little rough around the edges. It will be a lot of fun to see how they match up come conference play, as those tilts could very well decide the fate of the Big 12 race.
  4. This week had been a little quiet on the Baylor front, but not anymore. Late Thursday night, Scott Drew reeled in his fourth commitment of the 2015 class when 6’3″ guard Wendell Mitchell gave a verbal commitment to the Bears. Depending on which scouting service you prefer, Mitchell checks in with either three or four stars. While Baylor hasn’t landed a big fish in the class quite yet, they have some solid pieces on the way and remain in the hunt for the services of 5-star big man Skal Labissiere.
  5. Tubby Smith‘s first season as the head coach of Texas Tech saw his team spring a few upsets, topping Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Texas during conference play. While there are seven new players on the squad, Smith is hopeful that the team will build on last year’s experience and become a more competitive squad in 2014-15. The ceiling for this team remains limited, but as our Nate Kotisso relayed earlier this week, they have a deep pool of guards that can help lead them to a finish around .500 in league play if things break right.
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Big 12 Media Day Recap: A Photo For The Ages

Posted by Nate Kotisso on October 16th, 2014

If you haven’t heard, Kansas City’s a happening place these days. Aside from that ALCS thing in town yesterday, the Big 12 also held its annual men’s basketball media day at the Sprint Center (here’s all that stuff, if it tickles your fancy). It was your run-of-the-mill media day: Reporters asked bland questions, players and coaches gave calculated answers, and no one really learned anything new. The apex of the festivities came, however, when the Big 12’s Twitter account tweeted out a group photo will all 10 of the conference’s head coaches. Here it is below:

Bask in all its glory (photo via @Big12Conference on Twitter)

Bask in All of its Glory (photo via @Big12Conference)

Instead of breaking down the nonstop action from media day, the following were the “thoughts” that went through each coach’s mind at the time the above photo was taken.*

  • Baylor’s Scott Drew: “I hate coming here when the Tournament is in an odd-numbered year. (sighs) OK, what should I do here, hands together or apart? Together? Apart? Wait, did I use all my timeouts yet? [camera takes photo] Ah heck, they’re apart.”
  • Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg: “Put me in the back, will ya? That’s fine. I’ll end up dreamier than I was before.”
  • Kansas’ Bill Self: “Really wanted to wear Wiggins’ draft day suit again. Knew I shouldn’t have had that glass of butter with dinner.”
  • Kansas State’s Bruce Weber: (chuckles to himself) “I can’t believe Ford was in ‘The 6th Man.’ That’s the best movie of all-time! I bet that made a heckuva lot of money in theaters!”
  • Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger:  “I would take another coaching job right now if it meant I didn’t have to take this photo.”
  • Oklahoma State’s Travis Ford: “This contract I have means that I’m pretty much bulletproof. I could pull down Drew’s pants right now and I’d STILL get that check next week. [mulls it over] Nah, I won’t do that to ‘em. He’s probably worried that he has to call a timeout here or something.”
  • Texas’ Rick Barnes: “I bet if I left media day, traveled the world and missed the entire year, we’d still have a better record than the football team.”
  • TCU’s Trent Johnson: “I don’t know why this camera guy told me to move this far up. He could have gotten a much better shot of me if I stood at half-court like I wanted.”
  • Texas Tech’s Tubby Smith: “I should have been more direct with people calling me Orlando instead of Tubby.”
  • West Virginia’s Bob Huggins:  “I don’t think anyone here gets my E. Gordon Gee Halloween costume.”

*thoughts confirmed by unnamed sources

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No Matter What Happens Tonight, Scott Drew Deserves a Fair Shake

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 27th, 2014

Ever since Baylor blew the doors off of Creighton on Sunday, the public tide has started to turn in Scott Drew’s favor. He hasn’t shaken all of the criticisms — that he’s underachieved with top-flight talent in previous seasons and that he’s toed a fine line with his recruiting strategies (as if other programs don’t)  — but with every postseason win he continued to chalk up, the noise has definitely quieted. On Wednesday night alone, CBSSports.com‘s Dennis Dodd and Yahoo!‘s Jeff Eisenberg posted columns detailing why the doubters have it all wrong about Drew. While Dodd and Eisenberg aren’t the first to defend the Baylor head coach, their points remain that regardless of what you think about his tactics, the results he’s produced deserve acclaim among some of the best coaching jobs in the country — no matter what happens tonight against Wisconsin.

No matter what happens tonight, it's time to evaluate Scott Drew with fairness. (AP)

You don’t have to like Scott Drew, but it’s past time to evaluate his tenure at Baylor with fairness. (AP)

The Bears are one win away from a chance to play in the Final Four for the third time in five seasons, so if they beat the Badgers this evening, they’ll have cracked the Elite Eight with three very different teams. While one of the prevalent knocks on Drew is that last season’s group — which had a similar look and feel to this year’s team in terms of roster construction — failed to make the NCAA Tournament, it’s also true that three of his best players this season were guys who were passed over by bigger programs. In other words, if you’re going to penalize Drew for missing out on a Dance card with Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson and a senior Pierre Jackson, that’s fine; but if you’re going to do that, it’s only fair to also credit him for getting the most out of Kenny Chery and Royce O’Neale and parlaying that player development into postseason success. Going back even further, he’s offset the lukewarm contributions of hyped recruits Perry Jones and Quincy Miller by getting great value from low-level prospects like Jackson, Quincy Acy and Ekpe Udoh, all three of whom are now playing professionally.

Even if Drew loses tonight, he’ll still find himself among rarefied air in the coaching community. Only six other programs have made the Sweet Sixteen three times in the last five years: Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan State and Wisconsin. Not Kansas, not Duke, not Syracuse, not Connecticut. Not bad for a guy who arrived in Waco 11 years ago with the unenviable task of rebuilding a D-I program from essentially scratch. No matter what the narrative says you should think about him, stop thinking it. The guy can coach.

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen, Thursday Night

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) & Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) on March 27th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the NCAA Tournament’s West Region correspondent, and Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is the NCAA Tournament’s South Region correspondent. Make sure to also follow @RTCSouthRegion and @RTCWestRegion for news and analysis from Memphis and Anaheim throughout the weekend.

Tonight we tip off the Sweet Sixteen with games from the South Region in Memphis, TN, and the West Region in Anaheim, CA. Here are the breakdowns for tonight’s games.

#10 Stanford vs. #11 Dayton — South Region Sweet Sixteen (at Memphis, TN) — 7:15 PM ET on CBS

Nobody expected the Flyers or Cardinal to be in this spot, but one of the two teams will be a game away from the Final Four after Thursday night. This battle between party crashers doesn’t figure to be the most entertaining Sweet Sixteen matchup when it comes to talent and overall quality of basketball, but after Stanford knocked off New Mexico and Kansas by a combined eight points, and Dayton defeated Ohio State and Syracuse by a mere three total points, we should at least be able to count on this game being a tight one. KenPom doesn’t disagree, as his predictor foresees a one-point final margin. Stanford is the team on the right side of that predicted final score, and despite displaying maddening amounts of game-to-game inconsistency all season long, I can’t find a way to disagree that it will be the Cardinal advancing to the regional final.

Sweet 16 Participants For The First Time In 30 Years, Dayton Will be Flying High When They Arrive In Memphis On Thursday Night, But Can Their Magical Ride Live On For Another Night?

Sweet  Sixteen Participants For The First Time In 30 Years, Dayton Will be Flying High When They Arrive In Memphis On Thursday Night, But Can Their Magical Ride Live On For Another Night?

Both these teams are double-digit seeds that the FedEx Forum could have never seen coming, but the narrative surrounding the two teams this week has pegged Dayton as the truer “Cinderella.” Vegas oddsmakers have also pegged the Flyers as a three-point underdog, and there’s also that three-decade Sweet Sixteen drought that lends itself to the role of plucky little David. But before recognizing that Stanford is hardly akin to Goliath, let’s also take a second to note that this Dayton team is more accomplished than many surprise second-weekend visitors of NCAA Tournaments past. They were the best team in the Atlantic 10 from February on (a league that sent six teams to this Tournament), have gone 12-2 in their last 14 games, and were one point and a late collapse away from beating Baylor in the Maui Invitational (they wound up beating Cal by 18 in the third place game). Their inclusion in this NCAA Tournament hung in the balance all season, but they’ve proven they belonged – both before and after admission was granted.

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NCAA Regional Reset: West Region

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on March 25th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the NCAA Tournament’s West Region correspondent, which begins Thursday night at Honda Center in Anaheim with Baylor vs. Wisconsin followed by San Diego State vs. Arizona. The South Regional Reset published earlier today and the East and Midwest Resets will release tomorrow. Make sure to also follow @RTCWestRegion for news and analysis from Anaheim throughout the week.

New Favorite: Arizona, #1, 32-4. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. The Wildcats looked a little shaky in what turned into just a nine-point win in their round of 64 game against Weber State, but they really did little this weekend to change the popular notion that the Wildcats are not only the strong favorite in this region, but a legitimate contender for the national championship.

Arizona Did Little In The First Weekend To Make Us Second Guess Their Status As National Championship Contenders (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

Arizona Did Little In The First Weekend To Make Us Second Guess Their Status As National Championship Contenders. (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

Horse of Darkness:  Wisconsin, #2, 28-7. The Badgers took a 12-point deficit into the half against Oregon in the round of 32, getting lit up to the tune of somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.48 points per possession by a great offensive team for 20 minutes. But coming out of the locker room, they made a commitment to getting the ball inside on offense and getting back and challenging jump shooters on the defensive end. The adjustment turned into less than a point per possession in the second half for the Ducks, while the high-scoring Badgers were the one that turned in 1.5 points per possession. The Badgers have proven their ability to score in bunches this season, but if they can play defense like they did in the second half against Oregon, they’re going to be a real tough out.

Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): Creighton Getting Demolished. The simple fact that Baylor advanced over Creighton isn’t all that shocking. But the manner in which it happened was stunning. Creighton shoots five-of-24 from three against the Baylor zone? A sketchy Baylor defense hold the nation’s best offensive team below a point per possession? Doug McDermott’s college career ends with just a 15-point performance? Stunning.

Completely Expected (1st Weekend): Mostly Chalk. Three of the top four seeds advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, and the one upset based on seed-line probably isn’t that much of an upset at all, as Baylor crushed Creighton to earn its 12th win in the last 14 games.

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