Curtis Kelly suspended for first two league games; back Jan. 15

December 28, 2010

Kansas State forward Curtis Kelly will not be available to play again until Jan. 15 against Texas Tech, according to the Big 12 Conference. Kelly and teammate Jacob Pullen got in trouble for accepting free merchandise at a clothing store, which is against NCAA rules. Pullen will return for the Savannah State game.

This means Kelly (6’8″ senior) cannot play in the last two non-league games: North Florida and Savannah State. More significantly, he also can’t play at Oklahoma State on Jan. 8 or at home against Colorado on Jan. 12.

It’ll be interesting to see why Kelly got suspended for longer than Pullen did. Earlier this month, a three-game suspension was announced for Pullen and an indefinite one, which turned out to be six games total, was handed to Kelly.

Kelly is a primary forward for the Wildcats (10-3), who have struggled on occasion this season. Not having him makes the Oklahoma State road game more difficult, though a win over Colorado at home is expected anyway.

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Holiday checkpoint in the Big 12

December 28, 2010

With the holiday season and most of the nonconference games behind us, we check out the strengths the Big 12 programs have shown. We have notes on the improvements we’d like to see going into January.

BAYLOR Gifts we liked: Quincy Acy and Percy Jones have shown they can rebound, which Baylor must do to stay near the top of the conference. It’s also good to see LaceDarius Dunn still has his three-point stroke (41%).

New Year’s Resolution: The Bears must play better away from home than they have so far (1-3).

COLORADO Gifts we liked: It’s hard to learn much from statistics until conference play starts, but at least the Buffs’ scoring is balanced with four players averaging double figures. Alec Burks and Cory Higgins have been leaders like they need to be. December has been a much better month than November was.

Alec Burks (above) and Cory Higgins have been effective for Colorado. Who will help them out? Source: CJonline

NYR: They were outrebounded in all four of their losses (Georgia, San Francisco, Harvard and New Mexico). This must change, or the Buffaloes will finish where everyone expects them to – near the bottom.

IOWA STATE Gifts we liked: Without Craig Brackins, Iowa State has managed to play respectable basketball. There were times last year that seemed unlikely. They beat lousy Iowa, but hey, a rival is a rival.

NYR: Obviously, they lean heavily on Diante Garrett as well as Scott Christopherson, whose 53% three point shooting is bound to cool off. Against strong teams, someone else will have to contribute more. Taking the opener in Lincoln would be a great start, too. 

KANSAS Gifts we liked: Seeing Josh Selby carry the Jayhawks to victory against USC let everyone know how valuable he will be. Kansas is now a complete team that just needs to get better. This team also passes and shoots very well.

NYR: KU needs to break its habit of playing down to weaker competition in low-pressure situations. Both the UCLA and USC games should have been losses.

KANSAS STATE Gifts we liked: Will Spradling has played well at point guard when called upon. It’s nice to see a guard capable of ballhandling and running the offense when Pullen is cold or in foul trouble.

NYR: This team’s lack of depth is starting to show and needs to be remedied. Also, can someone make a free throw? Did I mention it would be nice to still have Denis Clemente around?

MISSOURI Gifts we liked: The win over Illinois was exciting and might help later for seeding purposes. Michael Dixon has played very well at guard, and it’s been nice seeing a true inside presence from Ricardo Ratliffe. The more he can do underneath, the better.

NYR: Kim English would be better off taking fewer and better shots. Versatility is nice, but comes more naturally for other players like Marcus Denmon. The Tigers pass too well for anyone to force tough shots.

NEBRASKA Gifts we liked: The USC win was impressive, especially considering how Kansas and Texas faired against the Trojans. Mostly, the Huskers have won the games they should have, and lost to Vandy and Davidson.

NYR: I know Nebraska’s style is to limit the number of possessions, but that will require the excellent FG percentage (49%) to be maintained. And there won’t be as many open shots as there are now.

OKLAHOMA Gifts we liked: Let’s be fair – Oklahoma’s schedule has been horrid. The Sooners were just not good enough to reasonably expect to beat Kentucky, Arizona or Cincinnati. After 5 straight losses (all away from home), they have beaten Oral Roberts and two other teams in Norman.

NYR: Conference play starts with 3 opponents all currently ranked. Similar to Colorado, no one on the team is a great rebounder. Teams like Baylor would get WAY too many second-chance points if OU played them today.

Usually working against bigger players, Keiton Page helps run Oklahoma State's offense. Source: Stormingthefloor.net

OKLAHOMA STATE Gifts we liked: Keiton Page is small but he’s a good player. He takes good shots and he’s able to play a lot of minutes. After struggling against DePaul and Virginia Tech, OSU has gotten its act together. I look forward to seeing more of this team.

NYR: The Cowboys need to be ready for conference play Jan. 8 when they host K-State. Losing there ahead of a College Station trip might mean an 0-2 start, which would be too bad because I think OSU is pretty underappreciated.

TEXAS Gifts we liked: The UNC victory was a solid effort, but the win at Michigan State was what showed everyone Texas should not be considered overrated. Getting a win in East Lansing is as tough a win as the Longhorns will get all year. The young players, including prominent freshmen Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph, have been both promising and reliable.

NYR: Don’t blow it like last year.

TEXAS A&M Gifts we liked: A&M has shown it can  win close games (beating Temple 54-51, Washington 63-62 and Arkansas in overtime). Khris Middleton was great in the Arkansas game, scoring 31 points. He also has almost as many assists this year as he did all of last year. A&M is another underappreciated team to watch, similar to OSU.

NYR: The Aggies could get even better by cutting down on their 15 turnovers a game. They have four tough games between Jan. 12 and Jan. 22.

TEXAS TECH Gifts we liked: Hardworking Mike Singletary is taking care of the Red Raiders again this year without much help. He got 29 points and 13 rebounds against Oral Roberts to break up what might otherwise have been a six-game losing streak. D’walyn Roberts plays enough to help ease the rebounding troubles now that he’s available.

NYR: This team had no business losing to South Florida, or at home to TCU. Tech has two warmup games after the New Year before opening conference play against three ranked teams. If they don’t find who to go to outside of Singletary and forward Brad Reese, Big 12 play won’t be fun.


Mizzou Beats Illinois: Quick Reaction

December 23, 2010

Perhaps I can put together some more complete thoughts on Mizzou’s win tomorrow, but for now some quick analysis from tonight’s exciting win over Illinois.

First, it seems Mike Dixon really is the engine that makes Mizzou go. His ability to penetrate sets up the team’s shooters, and his ability to finish in traffic makes him even more dangerous. His play reminds me a little bit of Rajon Rondo, in the sense that his penetration is the key to Mizzou’s offense. Of course, Dixon is also a really good outside shooter, which is nice when the shot clock is running out and Mizzou needs a quality outside look.

Marcus Denmon might be the team’s most underrated defender. His shooting gets him noticed, but for the second big game in a row (the other against Vandy) Denmon’s defense was huge. Another late game steal off an in-bounds play sparked the finishing run, and it happened right after it looked like Illinois was going to make a run of their own.

Clearly the call on Mike Tisdale will be what this game is remembered for, but it is important to remember it was the right call. Pushing an airborne player in the back with two hands is probably one of the most dangerous plays in basketball, and it was rightfully treated as such. Sure, the situation meant that the call essentially ended the game, but it was still the right call. Some rules (especially the real ticky-tack ones) can be let go by the refs in the final moments of a game, but that is not one of them. Good officiating from John Higgins, for once, even if Bruce Weber disagrees.

Also, way to compound the problem by getting a technical and costing your team two more points Bruce Weber.

For all the hype that surrounded Jereme Richmond the past two years, you would think he could at least be on the floor down the stretch. Impact freshman talent, which is what Richmond is supposed to be, doesn’t get benched in the closing minutes of any game. Maybe I just caught him on an off night, but color me very unimpressed.

Finally, it seems like Mizzou has learned a lot from the Georgetown collapse. They have executed well at the end of a close game for the second time since that meltdown, and were clearly the mentally tougher team.


Mizzou to clash with leader; Texas faces legend.

December 22, 2010

MU-Illinois (8 p.m. ESPN2): They call Mizzou/Illinois the Braggin’ Rights game. Wednesday night in St. Louis, MU can win Braggin’ Rights for the whole Big 12. It was thought for a time, you’ll recall, Missouri might leave for the Big Ten, but the Big Ten did not see Missouri as enough of a leader or legend to deserve admission.  But, as Kansas coach Bill Self pointed out, that was all about football.

This is basketball season, and it’s time to see if No. 9 Missouri (10-1) can override its biggest legend of a) getting owned in this game and b) not living up to expectations in general. No. 21 Illinois (10-2), for its part, has primarily been a leader in failing to land the best nearby basketball talent.

Justin Safford (MU) will try to put another one over on Mike Tisdale (UofI) after last year's 81-68 Missouri win. Source: Mizzou Magazine

Still, Braggin’ Rights is usually fun, as the games are close and the rivalry is more natural and less forced than in football (which is why it has lasted for 30 years and not four). Missouri and Illinois fans want so badly to hang out at the top of their respective leagues, when doing the same in football is a much more unlikely task. (But wait, what about the Rose Bowl? Ha.) 

Anyway, Missouri won last year, 81-68, for the first time in a decade.

The Tigers cannot play freshman guard Phil Pressey (broken finger), a highly touted though largely untested point guard who is nonetheless an exciting playmaker. However, MU will bring back sophomore guard Michael Dixon, who was suspended last week for undisclosed reasons and missed the last couple games.

Illinois often operates largely in the halfcourt (certainly more than MU does) but it’s also an athletic, fast-moving team despite several of the players’ height. Senior Mike Tisdale is 7’1″ and far taller than any significant Tiger, yet his minutes might be limited if the game moves as quickly as Missouri would like. Senior guard Demetri McCamey (the shortest starter at 6’3″) is once again Illinois’ primary scorer and also averages seven assists a game.

Missouri won last year’s game despite rebounding ineffectively because Kim English (24 points) and Dixon (16) both shot well. Illinois will start a very similar starting lineup to last year’s, all five of whom scored at least 11 points in last year’s game.

The Illini last played in a rather embarrassing 54-51 loss to Illinois-Chicago. Missouri will be the last nonconference game before Illinois opens its Big Ten season at Iowa.

Note: When both teams are ranked in this series, Illinois is 6-0.

UT-Michigan State (6 p.m. ESPN2): The No. 18 Longhorns (9-2) got a nice win Saturday against UNC, but now enter one of the louder road venues in college basketball, East Lansing’s Breslin Center. Texas has won three straight since a peculiar 17-point loss at USC. In that game, only J’Covan Brown and Jordan Hamilton scored in double figures.

Texas must keep track of MSU's many good athletes, including experienced forward Delvon Roe. Source: Cleveland.com

The No. 12 Spartans (8-3) are a popular Final Four pick. This would be their third straight trip. However, that is not important right now. Led by point guard Kalin Lucas and shooting guard Durrell Summers, Michigan State is very well tested. The Spartans already have three losses, but to UConn, Duke and Syracuse. They have also beaten Washington. They should be excellently prepared for the Big Ten, if they weren’t already with so many veterans.

How did Syracuse beat MSU by 14? The Orange got to the free throw line (making 22 out of 29 attempts). Now, Texas is not as big up front as Syracuse (6′ 9″ Rick Jackson, 7’0″ Fab Melo), but Gary Johnson and the rest of the Texas team must be active rebounders. Michigan State is regularly very tough, willing to take and dish out contact. So if Texas doesn’t embrace that, the chances of winning drop considerably.

I would like Texas’ chances much better in this game at a neutral site or at home. At MSU, the young Longhorns will have to be at least as good as they’ve been all year.

Note: The two met this time last year, with Texas winning 79-68. The Horns moved to 11-0 while the Spartans were 9-3. Of course, MSU ended up in the Final Four, and Texas lost to Wake Forest in the NCAA first round.

Win or lose, Missouri and Texas will be better off having played these games away from home. Athletes and coaches say outside expectations have no effect on them, but plenty of evidence suggests that’s not always true. Missouri was never highly ranked last season, and the Illinois game has not always worked out well. Both Missouri and Texas need sound, complete games to earn big wins tomorrow night.


Pullen, Kelly suspended

December 22, 2010

K-State’s already rough week has gotten worse.

Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly were held out of Tuesday’s game against UNLV. Pullen’s suspension is for three games. The length of Kelly’s suspension is still being determined. According to Kansas State, both men received free merchandise at a clothing store, which of course is against NCAA rules.

No. 11 Kansas State has struggled to find its offense recently, especially in a horrendous shooting performance this past weekend against Florida. The Wildcats lost 57-44.

Fortunately for K-State, the Wildcats should have three easy wins after UNLV (UM-Kansas City, North Florida and Savannah State). Pullen would be allowed to return for the Savannah State game. They open Big 12 play January 8 against Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

Pullen has been K-State’s offensive leader this season since the departure of Denis Clemente at guard.


Weekend Recap: Let’s wave to Oklahoma State

December 20, 2010

Lost in all this talk of Kansas (who survived another home upset) and Kansas State (disappointing again this week) is focus on another solid Big 12 basketball program. We’ve talked very little here about Oklahoma State (10-1), and though they might not contend for the title yet, the Cowboys are worth some conversation.

The Cowboys got a nice, though not unexpected, win Saturday in OKC against Alabama, 68-60. I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen Oklahoma State play yet this year, but they were a team I wondered about from the start. Marshall Moses (17.7 per game) and Keiton Page (15.2) take most of the scoring.

Marshall Moses should again be pleased with the Cowboys' effort this season. Source: Scout.com

Coming in to this year, the primary losses for OSU were James Anderson, the do-everything guard, and Obi Muonelo, but Moses was the primary rebounder anyway. Look for that to continue this year. Sophomore guard Ray Penn has experience helping out in the backcourt, and Kentucky transfer Matt Pilgrim will rebound well this year.

Up to now, the Cowboys’ schedule has been easy. They lost only to VT at a neutral site, and their best early wins were probably Murray State and Missouri State or Tulsa. OSU still has games against Stanford and Gonzaga (who took down Baylor this week) before diving into Big 12 play. Their first three conference games are against K-State and @ A&M and Colorado. A win at A&M would mean a lot, and Reed Arena is not the easiest place to get one.

OTHER NOTES FROM AROUND THE LEAGUE:

 – Kansas State got flat embarrassed by the Gators. The Wildcats shot an embarrassing 27% from the field, and you obviously don’t figure to win that way. It’s concerning, as Greg on this blog has pointed out before, how few options Kansas State has when Pullen isn’t shooting well. They don’t get enough easy baskets, and when they drive, they can’t make free throws. K-State will get much better than this, but if they don’t play MUCH better, they will lose to UNLV tomorrow in the Sprint Center.

 – The news is better for Texas. The Horns defended their Top 25 ranking well with a 78-76 win in Greensboro over North Carolina. Unfortunately I didn’t see any of this game, but Jordan Hamilton earned praise with 24 points and 10 rebounds. Texas outrebounded UNC by six which to me is a great sign.

 – Texas A&M held off Arkansas in overtime, 71-62. Another nice neutral site win for the Big 12. The Aggies relied heavily on their starters, especially Nathan Walkup (12 points, 15 boards) and Khris Middleton (31 points). A&M did not shoot particularly well, but move up to 10-1.

 – Kansas‘ 70-68 win over USC in Lawrence would not normally garner much comment from me here, but we have to talk about Josh Selby. I saw the first half of this game, and he was magnificent. You can tell he’s been practicing and is comfortable playing. All he did was score a game-high 21 points, preserving KU’s home win streak and undefeated season. They are the last remaining unbeaten team in this league.

Scoreboard:

 – Gonzaga 68, Baylor 64 (as mentioned above, Baylor’s unbeaten season ends)

 – Nebraska 71, E. Washington (who thank God doesn’t paint their basketball court red like the football field) 42

 – Missouri 116, Central Arkansas 63 (Tigers are 10-1)

 – Cincinnati 66, Oklahoma 56 (Bearcats are undefeated)

 – UTEP 82, Texas Tech 71

 – Iowa State 71, Dartmouth 42 (Cyclones are 10-2)

 – Colorado 104, Longwood 59


Previewing Texas-UNC and KSU-Florida

December 17, 2010

This weekend, I’ll be curious about two scores involving Big 12 teams away from home. No. 22 Texas faces North Carolina, and No. 6 Kansas State plays No. 24 Florida. Both games are at neutral sites.

Texas must limit the contribution of Tyler Zeller (above) when the Horns and Heels play Saturday. Source: Zimbio.com

UT-UNC (3 p.m. CBS): This game will be played at the Greensboro Coliseum, a rather ugly, plain arena that unfortunately is a de facto home arena for the Atlantic Coast Conference. (Look for the empty green upper level seats, a staple of the ACC tournament.) Anyway, North Carolina lost narrowly to Minnesota, Vandy and Illinois so far, but they looked better in a nice home win against Kentucky.

You heard all about freshman Harrison Barnes before the season, but he is still developing and some impatient folks seem to write him off as some of a bust. This, of course, is ridiculous. Barnes is already an important contributor and should be a fine player.

Texas needs to force tough shots for Tar Heel big man Tyler Zeller. Zeller leads UNC in points and rebounds and takes good shots. Gary Johnson and Tristan Thompson will play a lot and need to rebound the way they can. And they might as well do it Saturday because they’ll need to do it again for their next game against traditionally tough and physical Michigan State.

KSU-Florida (2:30 p.m.): A lot of people seem a little bummed about Kansas State, especially after the uninspiring performance against Duke a few weeks ago. Florida is not elite like Duke, but the Gators aren’t bad and should have a strong fan advantage in Sunshine, Fla. Personally, I was unimpressed watching the end of Florida’s game against Ohio State early in the season, when the Buckeyes pulled away from Florida with such ease in Gainesville.

Florida was a popular choice to win the SEC this year, although overall Tennessee has looked better early. Vernon Macklin (6’10” center) is shooting nearly 65% from the floor, and the Gator scoring responsibility is well-balanced.

Jacob Pullen will have to go to work once again, looking to free himself for good shots. Kansas State took far too many challenged jump shots in the second half against Duke. At 6’8″, it would be nice to see Curtis Kelly rebound a bit better, and the team’s overall free throw shooting (54.3%) is embarrassing. At that rate, slashing doesn’t reward you near as much as it should. 

With Josh Selby (above) eligible to play, it's time for the Jayhawks to show how good they can be. Source: BounceMag

OTHER NOTES: We’ll all be on Selby-watch as No. 3 Kansas hosts USC (11 a.m. ESPN). I expect he’ll get some playing time because coach Bill Self won’t want him to have to wait any longer.

No. 9 Baylor looks to stay undefeated against Gonzaga (5-5), which despite the poor record has lost four games to currently ranked teams and has beaten Marquette. This will be played in Waco. (3:30 p.m., ESPN2)

On ESPNU at 8 p.m., Oklahoma welcomes undefeated Cincinnati (9-0). Texas A&M can go to 10-1 by beating Arkansas in Dallas (1 p.m. ESPN2). Oklahoma State, who hardly anyone talks about yet, can also go to 10-1 with a win over Alabama (5-5) in OKC (5:30 p.m ESPN2).