Texas- Texas A&M Round 2

January 31, 2011

It was just two weeks ago that these two teams faced off to see who is the best in Texas. Now, the Longhorns are not just the best team in the state of Texas, but the best team in the whole Big 12 conference. Meanwhile, the Aggies have struggled a little since then, and their struggles finally led to a tough loss against Nebraska on Saturday.

Tonight’s Big Monday game represents one of the last times this season Texas won’t be favored to win. Even if they win tonight, I won’t pick them to go undefeated in conference play, but I will sure believe it’s possible. For Texas A&M, they could use this game to get them back on track, and the loss will probably mean they can finish no higher than third in conference.

Last time these two teams played, Texas wrote the script on how to beat the Aggies. Pound them inside, beat them on the boards, and force their guards to shoot jump shots. Khris Middleton held his own last time, but the rest of the Aggies struggled, including a total no-show from Nathan Walkup. Walkup will need to have a big game in order for the Aggies to win tonight.

Texas will continue to ride Tristan Thompson inside, and Jordan Hamilton everywhere else. Those two have been stellar recently, and so has Dogus Balbay, who totally commands both sides of the court despite having no jump shot at all. The Longhorns calling card is their defense, and it has been really fun to watch them lock down some high-octane offenses this conference season.

If the Aggies want to win, they need to attack Thompson off the dribble early, and try to get him in foul trouble. Texas doesn’t have a ton of depth inside, and can be vulnerable when Thompson goes to the bench. On defense, A&M has to force Balbay to shoot. When he attacks off the dribble, it sets up a world of possibilities for Texas, none of which end well for the other team.

A&M is at home, and has a lot more on the line, but I just don’t see Texas losing right now. They are playing too well defensively, and haven’t shown any sign of slipping up recently.

Texas 78 Texas A&M 72


Nebraska and the NCAA’s

January 30, 2011

Take Nebraska as proof that all it takes is one marquee win to transform a team’s season.

Doc has a lot to smile about right now.

A week after dropping a winnable-game in Lubbock, the Huskers pulled off a big upset in beating #11 Texas A&M 57-48 in Lincoln. The win added an exclamation mark to Nebraska’s solid but certainly not spectacular tournament resume (15-5, 3-3). Before yesterday their best wins were home wins over middling Creighton and up and down Colorado. The A&M win should continue to carry weight because besides games against Texas and Kansas, the Aggies should be favored to win the rest of their games.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t giving Nebraska the respect it deserved in the last few power rankings. Aside from that loss to Texas Tech the Huskers have played well in the Big 12. They nearly-Texas’d Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse and played a tight game against Missouri in Columbia.

The Texas Tech loss is looking more and more liked a missed opportunity because the schedule is tough the rest of the way, here is how I break it down:

Should win games: @OU, OK-State, @I-State, K-State

The Huskers shouldn’t (that’s the operative word here) lose these games if they keep defending the way they have this season. But having two of your three easiest games left on the road isn’t the most ideal situation.

Toss-up games: @K-State, @Baylor, @Colorado

I think Nebraska is a more complete, better-trending team than these any of three, but the Jekyl and Hyde acts make them hard to predict. If Pullen, Dunn or Burks have a big game their respective teams get very tough to beat, especially when they are at home. Isn’t it nice having an NBA player on your team?

Tough games: Kansas, Texas, Missouri

The way I see it, these three games work in Nebraska’s favor. All will be in Lincoln, and seeing how well the Huskers did in Columbia and Lawrence, they’ll have to be feeling good about themselves going into games against Missouri and Kansas. If they go 0-3 in these games, so be it – it was expected. But should they steal one of them they’ll suddenly have another bright, shiny win on their resume.

Verdict: If the Huskers can get to 9-7 they should have no trouble grabbing a bid. 8-8 might get them in too and 7-9 plus a win or two in the conference tourney could work as well. If they can take care of business in the “should win games,” win one of the “toss up” games with their consistent defense and steal a “tough” game at home, there are your six games.

Right now I like Nebraska’s chances of making their first NCAA tournament since 1998, but in a week their arrow could be trending in the opposite direction. That’s what makes college basketball so fun.

Missouri – Texas preview

January 29, 2011

8 p.m. – ESPNU

As the last team with an undefeated conference mark, No. 7 Texas now adjusts to being chased down by everyone else. It starts today with a home game against No. 11 Missouri. Both teams are 17-3 overall.

The Latest on Texas

Point guard Dogus Balbay will be largely responsible for limiting the effectiveness of Missouri's pressure defense. Source: Interbasket.net

You know the story. Demolished Texas A&M. Knocked off Kansas. Took care of Oklahoma State. Nobody’s playing better than Texas, a team led by young players like J’Covan Brown, Jordan Hamilton and Tristan Thompson.

The Longhorns have not relied on any individual player, even though Hamilton’s statistics stand out the most. They have good traditional interior production from Gary Johnson, and with so many athletes to move around on the perimeter, they are a handful in the halfcourt and also in transition.

Significantly, the Horns have allowed no more than 63 points in any of their five conference games.

The Latest on Missouri

Up to this point, Mizzou has ranked in the top 10 nationally in scoring offense at around 85 points per game. This is due in part to playing several opponents (both in and out of conference) who were turnover-prone and played poor defense. Missouri has scored at least 75 points in every conference game so far, two of which were losses.

However, coach Mike Anderson has tried to get Missouri to improve its defense and win games that way. For that to be the case today, Missouri will have to rebound. Ricardo Ratliffe does a nice job of it inside, and is the best low post presence the Tigers have had in several years. But Texas gets strong rebounding efforts from several players, and Missouri will be challenged to keep up.

Missouri’s three conference wins have come at home. The two losses, one of which was in overtime, were on the road.

Bottom Line

These might be two of the league’s top three (certainly four) teams. Missouri has depth equal to Kansas without as much elite talent. Texas A&M let the Horns push them around at the beginning of their game a couple weeks ago, and Missouri must not do the same. Expect a good game from a Missouri team that’s playing pretty well, but Texas is probably too good if they play as they have recently.

Texas 79, Missouri 68

Kansas State – Kansas preview

January 29, 2011

6 p.m. – ESPN

With the Wildcats picked as the league’s preseason favorite and the Jayhawks having won the last meeting in the conference tourney final, this would have been a reasonable choice for Big 12 game of the year.

It’s not.

Don’t get me wrong, there is no guarantee that Kansas blows out its rival from Manhattan tomorrow. Kansas has looked vulnerable against far less talented squads. But Kansas State’s most recent game against Baylor suggested the Wildcats are still not a cohesive unit.

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Pretty basketball was not easy to find last Monday night at Bramlage. The Wildcats and Baylor Bears seemed to spend a lot of time trading turnovers and despite the usual raucous crowd in the background, the game was pretty hard to watch.

Jordan Henriquez-Roberts (above) can help the Wildcats' rebounding. That'll be important tomorrow in Lawrence. Source: FloridaToday.com

Among the positives was Kansas State’s rebounding. Baylor is a very athletic group, too, and K-State outrebounded the Bears by ten. Without question, it will take an outstanding effort on the glass to beat Kansas.

Additionally, the Wildcats found a nice surprise at the foul line, making 25 out of 31 free throws. Bob Knight gave a lot of praise to point guard Will Spradling, who made all nine of his free throw attempts. Jacob Pullen was 7 for 9 despite a mediocre shooting night from the field.

The Latest on Kansas

The Jayhawks lost what might well be considered the Big 12 game of the year when this regular season is finished. Texas invaded Allen Fieldhouse and won, the first time an opponent has done so since Texas A&M did it in February 2007 (You may now fully exit basketball relevancy, Billy Gillispie.)

Interestingly, Kansas did not lose this game early. In fact, it appeared initially they might pummel Texas, opening up an 18-3 lead in the first six minutes. But J’Covan Brown scored 23 points and both Cory Joseph and Jordan Hamilton pulled down more rebounds than any Jayhawk. I can’t imagine KU has been outrebounded often this season, but that alone did not cause Texas to outscore KU by 23 in the second half.

The Jayhawks improved in beating Colorado by 4 on the road, which on the surface isn’t particularly impressive but it was an important step. Alec Burks still scored 25 but Kansas survived by outrebounding the Buffs 35-19. This was a very entertaining game highlighted by excellent three-point shooting on both sides.

Bottom Line

I’m curious to see how Kansas opens up Saturday. If the Jayhawks jump out to a big early lead, the game will be over, because K-State does not have the ability at this point to rally the way Texas did. I’d say the player with the most to prove is Curtis Kelly. Even if K-State doesn’t win, if he can keep the Morris twins off the glass, that will suggest to me that the Wildcats are on the right track. Better luck at the Octagon.

Kansas 80, Kansas State 63

Last Night in the Big 12

January 27, 2011

Texas continued to make a statement to the rest of the conference, while Texas Tech did something I didn’t think they would do all season.

Dogus has been the heart of the Texas defense all season long. (Image thanks to interbasket.net)

Texas 61 Oklahoma State 46

This game felt a little unfair at times. Texas lost Tristain Thompson early in the to foul trouble, and still were able to build a seven point halftime lead. Dogus Balbay scored 10 points in the first half, something that we will probably never see again. He was the story of the game though, controlling Texas’ offense without shooting much, and completely dominating Okie State on defense.

Defense, as usual, was the story for Texas. They totally smothered the Cowboys. Keiton Page went 0-7 from the field and didn’t score. Marshall Moses had 14, but spent most of the second half catching the ball at the top of the key. J.P. Olukemi was bothered all night, and only managed 13 points because he was able to get 10 free throw attempts.

Texas has a real tough week ahead of them, with Missouri visiting on Saturday and then a trip to Texas A&M on Monday. The chances of Texas escaping those games with wins are very small, but after watching the defensive clinic they’ve been having all season, it is more than possible.

For now, Texas remains the power in the conference, and I would dare to say I think they are a better team than Kansas right now. For Oklahoma State, three of their next four games are very winnable, and they should get back into position for a possible NCAA bid.

Texas Tech 92 Iowa State 83

Texas Tech actually got a road win, something I sure didn’t see coming this season. Heck, I didn’t even think they would get A win, so this is really impressive. Mike Singletary flashed back to the Big 12 tournament a few years ago, and dropped 33 points to go with 10 rebounds and six assists.

All five Texas Tech starters scored in double figures, and Tech shot 58% from behind the three-point line for the game.

I’m not sure a lack of depth hurt I-State this time, Tech only played eight people as well, but they certainly don’t have the fight in them that they had a week ago. Diante Garrett scored 27 points, and played all 40 minutes. The Cyclones shot just 19% from behind the arc, which pretty much explains their loss.

While neither of these teams is any good, Iowa State did have a little hope at being decent in conference play this year. It seems like that just won’t happen though. For now, they sit at the very bottom of the conference, where they might be all season long.

Tony Mitchell Not Coming to MU

January 26, 2011

After months of speculation, and a whole lot of silence from both school and NCAA officials, we finally have a resolution to the Tony Mitchell saga. He’s not eligible to play Division I basketball, and will never be suiting up for Missouri.

Here is the official statement from the NCAA, which does a nice job of spelling everything out. Mitchell’s grades were always very shaky, and while Missouri did their best to get him eligible, it wasn’t in the cards.

Apparently Mitchell will try to enroll at North Texas, where he won’t be able to play this season anyway. He can change his status by going to school there for one year, though his professional prospects make it unlikely he ever plays college basketball now. There will be plenty of opportunities for him to play overseas, and the NBA D-League is also an option for him. Perhaps Mitchell will continue to try to play some form of college ball, but he certainly has other, much more lucrative options.

Thankfully this long, drawn out saga is over now. Missouri misses out on a big time recruit, but this late in the season his impact would have been minimal anyway. Time for everyone to move on.

Last Night in the Big 12

January 26, 2011

Just one game last night, but what a game it was. Colorado tried as hard as they could to upset sixth ranked Kansas, but fell just short, 82-78.

Alec Burks was the star once again.

It was one of the best played games of the conference season, with a loud Colorado crowd, a ton of offense, and some great individual performances. Despite allowing Alec Burks to score 25 (a lot more on him in a moment) and Cory Higgins to add 19, Kansas pulled out a tough road win, thanks in part to shooting 51% from the field.

I thought Kansas would try to win this game by dominating inside with the Morris twins, but instead they simply bombed away from the three point line. Brady Morningstar and Josh Selby combined to hit seven threes, and KU hit 10 total threes as a team. Marcus Morris added 15 points, but did most of his work with screens and defense. His brother Markieff grabbed 11 rebounds to go along with six points.

Colorado stayed in the game despite Kansas’ great shooting, thanks entirely to Alec Burks. Cory Higgins scored a few points early, and added some big buckets late, but Burks was the star. With about eight minutes left in the game Colorado’s offense had basically turned to nothing, and that is when Burks took over. He started to attack the rim, making some impressive layups and getting to the foul line. With a lot of NBA scouts at the game, Burks showed his entire arsenal.

Both teams impressed me last night. Colorado proved that they really can play with any team in the conference, even though they didn’t pull out the win. Unfortunately they might not finish better than .500 in conference, even though they certainly have the chance to do a little better than that.

Kansas bounced back in a classic trap game situation. Dealing with the Thomas Robinson tragedy on top of playing in a hostile environment, I wouldn’t have been shocked if they lost. Add to that the fact that Tyrel Reed had a horrible night shooting, the Morris brothers were very average (for them), and it makes the win more impressive. Josh Selby showed he could still hit shots, and getting Brady Morningstar out of his season long slump might come in handy down the road.

Good win for Kansas, and a not that bad loss for Colorado. This was a great game, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see these two teams face off in the second round of the conference tournament. If only every Big 12 game could be this fun.