Big 12 Power Rankings 2/13

February 13, 2012

Been too long since the last edition of the power rankings. So much has changed since then, though, as usual, most of the movement is in the middle of the pack. At this point, we have a clear top 2 in the conference, Baylor,  a second tier, and Texas Tech.

1. Missouri (23-2, 10-2)

The Tigers impressed again on Saturday, blowing #6 Baylor out with a barrage of three point shooting. Right now, there isn’t a better offensive team in the country. The schedule has set up nicely for Frank Haith, and there is probably only one regular season loss left. Unfortunately, that is February 25th, against Kansas, and it is the battle for the conference title.

2. Kansas (20-5, 10-2)

Jeff Withey has responded wonderfully from his no-show against Missouri last weekend. 43 points, 25 rebounds, and 10 blocks in two Jayhawk wins. Should the Jayhawks win tonight against Kansas State, everything sets up for a winner take all showdown in Lawrence against Missouri.

3. Baylor (21-4, 8-4)

While the conference title is probably out of the question, Baylor could still be a major threat in the NCAA tournament. Remember, they haven’t lost outside of the Top 10 this season. Whatever is broken with Perry Jones, they need to fix it.

4. Iowa State (18-7, 8-4)

The NCAA tournament is a real possibility for the Cyclones. They already have one signature win, over Kansas, and can get another one tonight against Baylor. Most encouraging thing right now: Royce White hasn’t been a big scorer in the last two Cyclone wins. They’re learning to win without relying solely on him.

5. Texas (16-9, 6-6)

The comeback win against K-State on Saturday probably saved the Longhorn’s season. Rick Barnes has his team playing the kind of defense that gives the other team fits. The lack of a signature win hurts for NCAA selection purposes, but they still have a game against Baylor and one against Kansas.

6. Kansas State (17-7, 6-6)

The Wildcats are a mess right now, but they have some hope on the horizon. A home win tonight against their rival Kansas would go a long way. With a win against Missouri already in pocket, beating the Jayhawks probably puts Frank Martin on the right side of the bubble.

7. Oklahoma State (12-13, 5-7)

Travis Ford saved his job in conference play. His team still defends well, and Le’Bryan Nash has started playing like the All-American recruit he was supposed to be. While there won’t be much postseason play this year, there is tons of hope in Stillwater. Plus, we get to watch Markel Brown dunk some more, which is just too much fun.

8. Oklahoma (13-11. 3-9)

Steven Pledger is a nice building block, and the Sooners are hanging with much better teams, they just don’t know how to win yet. Lon Kruger should be applauded for the job he’s done this season.

9. Texas A&M (12-12, 3-9)

Currently on a four game losing streak, the Aggies are having a truly miserable season. Injuries to players and the new coach cannot be ignored, but this season is still a major disappointment.

10 Texas Tech (8-16, 1-11)

Well, they won’t go winless in conference play after all. Actually, with Texas A&M up next, the Red Raiders could squeeze out a two game winning streak here.


Baylor’s Final Four Dreams Died Yesterday

February 12, 2012

For a team that hasn’t lost a game to a team not ranked in the top 10, things sure are looking gloomy for the Baylor Bears. Yesterday the Bears lost in Columbia, Missouri to the fourth ranked Tigers, dropping them to 8-4 in conference play.

Baylor now is two full games behind both Kansas and Missouri in the Big 12 standings, and both teams hold the tiebreaker over them. Translation: their conference title dreams are dead.

That is disappointing enough, especially since there is probably only three or four more talented teams in the entire country. To make matters worse though, Baylor looks like a team destined for an early exit in the NCAA tournament.

At the end of an impressive, and unbeaten, non-conference season that statement wouldn’t have made much sense. Baylor boasted (still does) an army of long, athletic, skilled big men. Perry Jones could have been conference player of the year. Quincy Miller was arguably the best freshman in the conference. Quincy Acy the most fearsome dunker.

If Scott Drew could just squeeze some competent point guard play out of Pierre Jackson and AJ Walton, Baylor was going to be unstoppable.

Jackson has delivered, for the most part. Miller has been up and down, but has probably become Baylor’s best player.

So what has done Baylor in? Two things: Perry Jones and zone defense.

Jones is one of those special basketball talents. He’s super tall, super athletic, and has the skills to play both inside and outside. He would have been a top 5 pick in the draft last season, he might have been a top 5 pick this year as well.

His recent play, however, has raised a ton of questions and red flags. In his last two games, against the two best teams in the conference, Jones has shot 3-20 from the field. He didn’t even attempt a free throw against Missouri, despite the fact that he was being defended by a guard the whole game.

Jones has been exposed as a timid player, unwilling to bang inside with anyone. He drifts outside, content with jump shots that should be the secondary part of his offensive game. He shows flashes of brilliant post moves, only to shy away on the next possession. Jones is still probably going to leave school after this season, but his stock has taken a major hit, and his lackluster play is probably the biggest individual reason why Baylor won’t live up to expectations this season.

Drew has continued to ride his zone defense in big games, even as it blows the game right in front of his face. Against Kansas, the zone was exploited inside, center Jeff Withey essentially stood under the basket and waited for a pass, he wasn’t guarded the entire first half. Against Missouri, one of the best shooting teams in the nation, Baylor dared them to make three pointers. The Tigers did, made 14 in fact, and waltzed away with a 15 point win.

It is a point that has been beaten to death on this blog, but it remains painfully true. Baylor has the talent and the players to play an aggressive, strong man defense. Falling back in zone, especially when it is being exploited, is just lazy and dumb.

It’s too late to fix the zone defense problem, not that Drew has shown any interest in fixing it anyway. If Baylor wants to try to salvage its season, try to make a run to the Final Four, they need Perry Jones to become a new player. Need him to become an aggressive monster. That is what makes them a special team.

Short of that, Baylor won’t make it out of the first weekend in March, and 2011-12 will be just another season of underachievement in Baylor basketball.


Kansas Takes Control of the Big 12

February 9, 2012

Last night the Kansas Jayhawks walked in to Waco, Texas, and took pole position in the race for the Big 12 regular season title. Their 68-54 win over Baylor means that all Kansas has to do to secure their eight straight Big 12 title is win the rest of their games.

Now 9-2 in conference, Kansas will be the favorite in every game they play from now on, including February 25th against Missouri.

Now 8-3, Baylor needs a ton of help. If the Bears fall to Missouri on Saturday, it will officially become a two team race. Either way, Baylor sits without a single tiebreaker over the two teams in front of them in the standings.

Baylor started the game on a 7-0 run, including a great lob play to Perry Jones to start the night. It all went downhill from there for both Jones and the Bears. Jones was a missing man the rest of the night, struggling to set post position on offense, and once again drifting too far off the block. He finished the night with five points, three rebounds, and his only made field goal was the dunk to start the game. Pretty bad for a guy who is supposed to be the best player in the conference, or at least the most talented.

For Kansas it was all about the return of Jeff Withey. After speed basically took him out of the Missouri game, Withey looked like he was lacking confidence early in this game as well. That changed rather quickly though, and Withey finished with a career high 25 points. He was able to take advantage of the attention paid to Thomas Robinson, and slipped behind Baylor’s zone for easy layups and dunks. Withey was also 9-11 from the foul line. There is no denying that Kansas is at its best when Withey is active and involved on both offense and defense, mostly because it helps open up space for Thomas Robinson to operate.

So now we play the waiting game. The schedule sets up well for Kansas the rest of the way. If Missouri knocks off Baylor on Saturday (which seems likely), then the game on the 25th will be for the conference title. Trips to Kansas State and Oklahoma State could prove troublesome for the Jayhawks, but it seems unlikely anyone besides Missouri has a shot to beat them right now. Thomas Robinson is cruising to the National Player of the Year award (and deserves to win it over Anthony Davis if Kansas wins the Big 12), Kansas weathered the toughest part of their schedule and still emerged the favorites to win the conference. Things are looking up in Lawrence right now.

For Baylor, there is still some hope. Winning the conference is probably not going to happen, unless Kansas suffers two major slip ups, but they are still in great position to have a memorable season. A win over Missouri on Saturday would be a great confidence builder. The talent and ability are still there for a long run in the NCAA tournament, and honestly, Baylor might be built more for the NCAAs than the Big 12 grind. There aren’t going to be many teams as tough inside as Kansas, or overall as tough as Missouri, in the field of 64. Sure Baylor had a weak non-conference schedule, but they still breezed through it. It is very possible that Scott Drew still ends up in the Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight.

Kansas returns home to face Oklahoma State on Saturday, Baylor plays Missouri in Columbia.


Kansas and Baylor Meet Again

February 8, 2012

A few weeks ago at Allen Fieldhouse, the Kansas Jayhawks made a loud statement. Their 92-74 win over previously unbeaten Baylor reminded the Big 12 who was boss. Since then, Missouri has taken charge of the conference race, with wins over both Kansas and Baylor, but tonight’s rematch in Waco will set one team up to take down the Tigers.

A Kansas win would give the Jayhawks the final tiebreaker over Baylor, and set them up well against Missouri as well, since the Tigers have to go to Lawrence in two weeks. A Baylor win sets them up to take complete control of the conference Saturday afternoon in Columbia.

Obviously, this game is important, which is why Perry Jones needs to show up tonight and play the best game of his season. In their first game, Jones reduced himself to a jump shooter, while Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey dominated inside. Jones remains the most talented player on the court nearly every night he plays (the exception probably being a hypothetical game against Kentucky). He doesn’t act like it though. Instead of attacking the basket and going hard after rebounds, Jones seems to take himself out of the game. Patrolling the outside and taking jumpers, leaving the hard inside work to Quincy Acy and Quincy Miller.

Like it or not, Jones and Thomas Robinson will be compared to one another all night long. On the surface, the comparison makes sense, as both are lottery bound big men who lead top 10 teams. In reality though, they couldn’t be more different. Robinson loves playing inside, thrives on contact, and just happens to have a decent outside shot. Jones relies on his shot first, and only drifts inside in the open court, or when set up by his teammates. If Jones can flip that script tonight, Baylor is going to have an excellent chance to win.

Kansas will continue to sink or swim with Tyshawn Taylor, who has been playing very well in conference play. He suffered a one man mental breakdown at the end of the Missouri game though, so it will be interesting to see how he responds. In years past, odds are Taylor would let his struggles carry over, should be interesting to see how much he’s matured. Also in need to a reclamation game, Jeff Withey.  Previously the Jayhawk’s secret weapon, Withey was completely useless against Missouri. Against Baylor, Withey will be playing against guys more his size, which should be a breath of fresh air. He pushed around the soft Baylor front line two weeks ago, and Bill Self is going to need him to do it against tonight.

Scott Drew is going to want to get Quincy Miller back on track, Miller has scored double-digit points just one time in the last two weeks. As long as Perry Jones continues to pussyfoot around the court, Miller has to be the Bear’s best player. He showed the ability to do it while Jones was suspended, and has shown flashes since. This would be a good night for him to get back on track.

Most important for Baylor, setting their defense from the start. Kansas shredded Drew’s zone early in the last game, and it proved useless. If Baylor starts in man defense from the start, and Drew keeps it going the whole game, they will have already improved their chances to win.

The game is in Waco, the Bears have revenge on their minds, and Kansas is coming off a tough, draining loss to their biggest rival. Still, Thomas Robinson is a monster inside, and nobody on Baylor seems willing to trade blows with him. I think Kansas gets the win, and sets up a conference title showdown with Missouri in two weeks.

Kansas 78 Baylor 69 


Does Oklahoma really have a NCAA pulse?

February 1, 2012

So you win a couple games against Kansas State, does that mean you are bound for the NCAA tournament? If you are 2011 Colorado, then no, you are not. The Buffaloes beat a good K-State  team three times in their final Big 12 season and didn’t get an invite. But can Lon Kruger’s first Oklahoma team use its two wins over K-State to propel a second-half surge to the tournament?

 

Steven Pledger will try to lead OU on a late-season charge. Image courtesy soonersports.com.

SI.com’s bubble watch has the Sooners “in the mix” while ESPN’s version has them with “work left to do.” Both pretty much carry the same sentiment: the Sooners are far from being in a comfortable place, but midway into the conference schedule they do indeed have a NCAA pulse. And after an 0-3 conference start that feels pretty good.

According to rpiratings.com, the Sooners are #70 in RPI and have played the 44th hardest schedule in the country. The computer numbers won’t save them from their uninspiring record (13-7, 3-5). Neither will any of their non-conference wins, the best being victories over Oral Roberts and Arkansas, which both merit nothing more than a shrug.

A 9-9 conference record would give the Sooners a prayer at getting in (with a couple conference tournament wins), and although it’d be hard to get there it’s not utterly impossible. They’ll need a true marquee win, and their best chance at that is probably Missouri at home on February 6. The Tigers did thrash Oklahoma in Columbia, but Missouri is 3-2 on the road thus far and all have been close games.

My gut reaction after looking at the remaining schedule had Oklahoma going 4-6 the rest of the way, with wins over Iowa State (home), Tech (road), Texas (home) and Ok-State. The losses were against Kansas (road), Missouri (home), Iowa State (road), Baylor (road), Texas (road) and Texas A&M (road). Clearly they’d need to steal two of the tougher games, and Texas and Texas A&M may be possible.

Are they likely to make a run and get in? Probably not. But the exciting thing for Sooner fans is that there is a chance, and that if Oklahoma can take care of business, any marquee win they may get could put them over the top. The seemingly dead team rising from the dead to make a run at an invite also seems to be in style this season, take a look at Pittsburgh and Notre Dame.

 


Missouri hangs on to beat Texas

January 31, 2012

Missouri beats Texas, 67-66

Missouri-Texas lived up to its prestigious billing as the Big 12′s Basketball Blog’s “Game of the Week.” But all joking aside, the Tigers and Longhorns gave the country a good show tonight.

First off, you really have to feel for Texas. In the past 5 games they’ve played Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri close but only have a win against Iowa State to show for their work. Such is the life of a young team in a good league I suppose. But that win over the Cyclones is starting to look like a good one.

Texas should still be encouraged. They’ve only got one game left on the schedule that would take the planets aligning to win: at Kansas. The other eight games are certainly winnable, with two games each against Oklahoma and Texas Tech.

Also, Julien Lewis is turning into a solid two-way player, though he’ll need to improve his efficiency as he goes forward (35 percent FG, 32 percent 3FG on the year). You would like to have seen Myck Kabongo have more of an impact on the game (1 assist/3 turnovers) but Missouri’s guards do play good ball-pressure defense.

As for the Tigers, it looked for awhile late in the second half like they were following the same script from last week’s game against Oklahoma State: tight first half, surge out to a sizable second half lead, watch the lead shrink late as other team’s star player takes over, lose. That all happened, except for the lose part.

Missouri did get stagnant as they tried to run out the clock but there is a fine line to balance between milking clock and losing your offensive flow. There really is no right decision in that scenario. The potential turning point was Mike Dixon’s clear 2-shot-and-the-ball foul on Lewis. Why Kim English gave him the ball so quickly after Dixon had crossed halfcourt is a mystery. It pinned Dixon down and put him in a tough position.

But Dixon came back and made the go-ahead shot, and with Marcus Denmon struggling from the field (14-43 last three games), he’s probably the right man to take that shot. He’s fearless and seemingly plays with a lot of confidence. And especially so when he is near perfect from the field.

We are also finding out that Frank Haith is a good in-game coach, which is something you couldn’t always say for the stubborn Mike Anderson. It some cajones to pull out a zone for Texas’ final possession, and it certainly looked like it confused the Longhorns. Kabongo, however, eventually got a good look with a eight of nine foot runner, and I was surprised that he missed it.


Big 12 weekday preview

January 30, 2012

Monday: Missouri @ Texas, 8 p.m. CST (ESPN)

Tuesday: Kansas State @ Iowa State, 8 p.m. CST (ESPN3); Oklahoma State @ Texas Tech, 7 p.m. CST (ESPN3)

Wednesday: Oklahoma @ Kansas, 8 p.m. CST (ESPNU); Baylor @ Texas A&M, 8 p.m. CST (ESPN2)

(Presumptive) Game of the Week: Missouri @ Texas

The weight of that #2 ranking seemed like it was just a bit too heavy for the Tigers to handle. Luckily for them, they avoided an absolutely catastrophic week by beating a game Texas Tech team on Saturday. The Tigers are still a very good team, but this will be another tough road game.

I don’t see the Tigers struggling in Austin simply because they lost at Oklahoma State. Missouri was in control of that game until the last few minutes. The Longhorns have a good chance in this game because they found something against the Tigers in the second half of their first game, winning it 43-41. And since then they’ve played K-State, Kansas and Baylor close. They haven’t given up as the losses have mounted. Rick Barnes’ young team is bound to break through sooner or later.

(Presumptive) Game of the Week, Part II: Kansas State @ Iowa State

I know I am kind of cheating by throwing two “games of the week” up here, but I just couldn’t resist. Hilton Magic is back right? Maybe, but this game screams of the “psychology of the schedule” idea that Fran Fraschilla talks about. Iowa State is way up and Kansas State is down after a disappointing home loss to Oklahoma.

In a match up between Fred Hoiberg keeping his team focused and Frank Martin sparking his team out of urgency, I’ll go with Martin. Nothing against Hoiberg, I just think that Frank Martin stare is pretty hard to top. And the Mayor looks like such a nice guy.

Under the Radar Game: Oklahoma State @ Texas Tech

The Cowboys got their moment in the sun with the big win against Missouri and its then-#2 ranking. They then showed up flat in College Station and lost last weekend. But despite the up-and-down week they are certainly more talented than Texas Tech and you’d think they’d have their way in Lubbock.

But this may be Tech’s best shot a conference win this season. And though they didn’t beat Missouri this weekend, they frustrated one of the better teams in the country to the point that they were  within striking distance in final minutes. You might say, “okay, so what?” Well the way Tech’s season has gone that is something. Billy Gillepsie should be able to get enough out of the Red Raiders to pick up a win here.

Jordan Tolbert had his best game in conference play against Kansas State last week but was hit with foul trouble against Missouri. His second-highest scoring output during conference came against the Cowboys, so he may be ready to have a big game.


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