Missouri at Kansas State preview

February 26, 2011

No. 20 Missouri at Kansas State – 11 a.m. ESPN

K-State wants to beat Missouri at home for the seventh straight time. Things have gone well for the Wildcats since their Big Monday upset of KU on Valentine’s Day. A 20th win would make most people feel a little better about the Wildcats’ NCAA chances, and Missouri counts as a quality opponent.

Playing at home, Shane Southwell and Kansas State should have an easier time breaking the traditional Missouri full court press. Source: Getty Images

Missouri: It’s tempting to write this game off as a case where K-State is good at home, Missouri struggles on the road, K-State must win and Missouri doesn’t have to. Thus K-State will win.

But that’s not entirely fair. While Missouri (22-6, 8-5) has yet to play really well on the road this season, the Tigers have improved overall lately. They took away Baylor’s expected rebounding advantage and outrebounded the Bears on Wednesday night in a 77-59 win. (Ricardo Ratliffe had 10 boards in the first half.) Laurence Bowers looks more comfortable than ever with his mid-range baseline jumper, and Phil Pressey can adequately hold the ball and set up Mizzou’s offense.

However, Missouri must still shoot better to get a difficult road win. Marcus Denmon played his first good road game in quite some time against Iowa State, and the Tigers won. While Iowa State is not very good, this was a good sign. Kim English shot very well in Columbia against Baylor, but he hasn’t proven to be reliable on the road, either.

Kansas State: For the first time this year in conference play, the Wildcats (19-9, 7-6) have won three straight games. After cruising past KU and OU, they had to win a different way against Nebraska (no surprise there). They held off the Huskers in Lincoln, 61-57. I wish I could have watched some of this game.

They re-established their superiority over the Huskers, who are also in limbo between qualifying or not qualifying as an NCAA at-large. This was K-State’s first season sweep of the year (and they have a chance for a second one against I-State). They didn’t shoot well but they forced 17 turnovers and limited their own.

K-State wasn’t too competitive in a 75-59 loss at Mizzou earlier in the year, but the team had a ton of issues at that point. Things had already gotten off to a troubling start, and after all no visitor has won at Mizzou Arena yet this season. This game will be different regardless of who ends up winning.

Bottom Line

Missouri did a nice job making LaceDarius Dunn ineffective this week, but Jacob Pullen is a better player who makes smarter decisions. He’s feeling very good and capitalizing on the chances he takes.

If Ricardo Ratliffe gets a double-double as he did against Baylor, that would be wonderful for the Tigers. Missouri hasn’t played well at Bramlage Coliseum, and I think Kansas State is more motivated now that things are going well. The Wildcats won’t have a certain at-large spot with a win, but they’ll be a lot closer.

Kansas State 78, Missouri 69


Texas A&M at Baylor preview

February 25, 2011

No. 21 Texas A&M at Baylor – 8 p.m. ESPNU

Baylor limps into Saturday having lost three straight Big 12 games, while Texas A&M enters the first of two difficult road tests with the hope of securing a No. 3 seed in the league tournament.

Coach Mark Turgeon hopes Texas A&M can win its rematch Saturday with Baylor. Source: Big 12 Journal

Texas A&M: The Aggies have won five consecutive games since their February 5 home loss to… Baylor. Those wins came against arguably the league’s five weakest teams. Texas A&M (22-5, 9-4) isn’t a high scoring team, but is consistent, having averaged around 70 points per game this month.

A&M and Baylor are different in that while the Aggies don’t have a go-to player, Baylor relies too much on one. As we’ve written here before, Texas A&M can get a big lift from several different players. It’s not surpring to see David Loubeau, Nathan Walkup, B.J. Holmes or Khris Middleton make the most significant contribution in a game.

If we assume a loss at Kansas and a win against Texas Tech to close out the season, a win here would put the Aggies in position to finish 11-5. An 11-5 record would guarantee the No. 3 seed in the Big 12 Tournament based on their overtime win over Missouri earlier in the season.

Baylor: Meanwhile, the Bears (17-10, 6-7) rely too much on LaceDarius Dunn for offense. With such a tall frontcourt, they ought to get more easy baskets than they do. They were outrebounded at Missouri, a poor rebounding team, thanks largely to the first half effort of the Tigers’ Ricardo Ratliffe. At the same time, Dunn struggled offensively, and the Bears’ brief run to start the second half was the only time they didn’t look overwhelmed. Throughout the game, they missed a ton of baskets inside.

At the moment, it’s unlikely Baylor would make the tournament. A win Saturday would bring the team’s conference record to .500, but the Bears are left with a road game against Oklahoma State and a home game against Texas. Both games will be challenging.

In the previous matchup, won by Baylor by two points in OT, the Bears shot 52 percent from the field while holding Texas A&M to 43 percent. Baylor made 7 out of 16 three-pointers, which hasn’t been replicated enough since then.

Bottom Line

The Oklahoma win was probably Texas A&M’s most complete win in a month. Baylor should look better at home than it has lately, but I anticipate the Aggies sneak away with a win in Waco. Expect a good effort from Baylor which must start winning games for a chance at an at-large NCAA bid.

Texas A&M 71, Baylor 65


Weekend look ahead – February 26

February 24, 2011

We’ll have full previews of the most interesting games coming up later. What else is happening Saturday? Predicted winners in bold.

No. 3 Kansas (26-2, 11-2) at Oklahoma (12-15, 4-9) – 3 p.m. ESPN

Kansas should have no trouble in Norman. The Jayhawks pass and shoot far too well for the Sooners, who have lost six straight, to hang around very long. OU hasn’t shown us it can hang with the top tier teams of the league. The regular season for KU ends with Senior Day against Texas A&M and then a road game at rival Missouri. Those two could be tough. At 12-15, it’ll be tough for Oklahoma to qualify for any postseason tournament after they’re finished at the Sprint Center.

Texas Tech (12-16, 4-9) at Oklahoma State (16-11, 4-9)

The Cowboys are the ones with something to gain. At 16-11, an NCAA berth is essentially impossible. The team’s conference record is the same as Texas Tech’s even though Oklahoma State should be a better team. I expect OSU to win, and the Cowboys probably need to win to avoid 11th place in the conference.

No. 5 Texas (24-4, 12-1) at Colorado (17-11, 6-7)

A road win would put the Longhorns a step away from the conference title. Colorado has trapped some good teams at home, beating Missouri and nearly beating Kansas. Texas has won this year with superior athleticism to almost all of its opponents, but Colorado has won some games with NBA talent, too. Keep Alec Burks in check, and that should be enough. Despite the Nebraska loss, Texas is rolling.

Nebraska (18-9, 6-7) at Iowa State (14-14, 1-12)

“Hilton Magic” isn’t strong enough when Iowa State faces this much of a talent disparity against league competition. It’s critically important for Nebraska to win this game. The Huskers have winnable games at home against Missouri and on the road at Colorado. Compared to some teams on the bubble, 21 wins with a winning league record might be enough for an NCAA invite.

No. 21 Texas A&M (22-5, 9-4) at Baylor (17-10, 6-7) – 8 p.m. ESPNU

FULL PREVIEW TOMORROW

No. 20 Missouri (22-6, 8-5) at Kansas State (19-9, 7-6) – 11 a.m. ESPN

FULL PREVIEW TOMORROW


Baylor at Missouri preview

February 23, 2011

Baylor at No. 20 Missouri – 8 p.m. ESPN2

These two programs need wins for different reasons. Missouri (21-6, 7-5) could use a win or two to solidify its already likely NCAA berth and improve seeding. Additionally, the Tigers hope for a bye in the Big 12 Tournament. Baylor’s loss to Texas Tech over the weekend has put pressure on the Bears (17-9, 6-6) to get back  on track before the league tourney.

A.J. Walton and Baylor could get a valuable win tonight at Missouri. Source: Lawrence Journal-World

BAYLOR: How does a team with three major players who shoot above 50% average only 71 points per game? Perhaps it’s because those guys don’t get enough attempts? Guards LaceDarius Dunn and A.J. Walton take plenty of shots themselves, but upon a closer look, both shoot over a satisfactory 40%.

The more likely explanation comes from assists and turnovers. The Bears have a roughly 4:5 assist to turnover ratio on the season. Most winning teams in a given game have more assists than turnovers. This is troubling because a team as athletic as Baylor, with so many strong shooters, should score a lot more points. Turnovers are hurting, including the 16 Baylor committed while hosting Texas Tech (compared to just 10 assists).

The Texas Tech game was the team’s third silly conference loss of the season, following an early matchup at Iowa State (the Cyclones haven’t won another league game) and a game at Oklahoma on February 2.

Baylor should outrebound Missouri, because that’s a weakness for the Tigers, but Missouri is strong at forcing turnovers and capitalizing on them. If Baylor is sloppy again, don’t expect Missouri to lose its first home game of the season.

MISSOURI: The Tigers have been in take-care-of-business mode lately, winning home games against OU and Texas Tech and a road game (finally!) at Iowa State. They didn’t look great in the Tech or I-State games, but we’ve seen some good signs. Laurence Bowers is hitting his jump shots, and Marcus Denmon bounced back with a huge game against the Cyclones (26 points). Freshman Phil Pressey continues his strong play at point guard.

Again, Missouri needs to rebound to prevent a Baylor upset. Ricardo Ratliffe and Laurence Bowers shoulder much of this responsibility, but contributions from Justin Safford and even Kim English, the tallest guard, would help.

Missouri has put itself in strong postseason position almost entirely by winning home games – all of them. The Tigers are the only remaining Big 12 team undefeated at home. For whatever reason, opponents’ turnovers increase dramatically in Columbia, and teams seem to tire out much more quickly than at other sites (ask Colorado and Iowa State).

Bottom Line

Time is running out for Baylor. For every upset loss, you need an upset win. The Bears have chances against Mizzou, Texas A&M and Texas. I expect Baylor to be competitive and make the Tigers work for baskets, but I don’t think that’ll be enough. Home sweet Mizzou Arena.

Missouri 83, Baylor 70


Kansas State at Nebraska preview

February 23, 2011

Kansas State at Nebraska – Wednesday 8 p.m. ESPNU

Kansas State had hoped to begin salvgaing the season with a big home win against KU last week. The Wildcats (18-9, 6-6) took care of business again at home Saturday vs. Oklahoma. Now they have a road game, and face the other team looking for an unlikely NCAA rally – Nebraska, who scored arguably an even bigger upset beating Texas.

Will Spradling needs to continue solid point guard play for Kansas State to make the NCAA Tournament. Source: FloridaToday.com

KANSAS STATE: Obviously the Wildcats’ season-long problems have extended far beyond the play of guard Jacob Pullen, but his efforts the last two games have shown how much better he makes K-State overall. Even if you didn’t see the Kansas game live, you surely saw highlights of his magnificent, gritty 38 point performance against the Jayhawks.

However, K-State did not cruise against Oklahoma, and the Sooners began to cut into the margin early in the second half. Pullen hit some shots and K-State got more aggressive defensively, and they pulled away for a 77-62 win.

As always, it won’t be easy controlling the pace at Nebraska (18-8, 6-6). It’s only fair to expect a good game from Nebraska, which played very well this past weekend against Texas, establishing a strong low post presence. K-State has not been as strong down low as we expected early in the year, but it will be awfully interesting to see who takes advantage there.

NEBRASKA: The Huskers are 5-2 in conference play when they allow fewer than 70 points in a game. They are 1-4 in the other games. Interestingly, though, one of those two losses was to Kansas State in Manhattan, 69-53.

You would think Nebraska’s style would lead to protecting the ball, and it usually does, but against K-State the Huskers committed 22 turnovers. They had just six assists, and those lost possessions are part of the reason Nebraska ended up with just 17 first half points. 

Nebraska would be well served to get the ball to Jorge Brian Diaz inside, as he is a reliable scorer (though it’d be nice if he weren’t such a dreadful free throw shooter at 56 %). Additionally, guard Brandon Richardson looked quite comfortable slashing late in the Texas game, probably partly as a result of adrenaline. Good to see.

Bottom Line

The tough thing here is what happens to the loser. It’ll be hard to expect an NCAA bid for a team sitting at 6-7 with three games to go, though there will still be a chance. K-State will host Missouri and Iowa State, with a road date against Texas in between. Nebraska is at Iowa State and at Colorado, hosting Mizzou for Senior Night in between. The winner, already feeling good, gets to extend its rally.

Nebraska 70, Kansas State 66


Oklahoma State at Kansas preview

February 20, 2011

Big Monday – Oklahoma State at Kansas – 8 p.m. ESPN

For the third week in a row the Jayhawks prepare to play on Monday night. They were excellent at home against Missouri in a 103-86 win. They struggled in Manhattan last week losing 84-68 to Kansas State.

OKLAHOMA STATE: Oh, how different things would be had Saturday gone a little better. The Cowboys lost 67-66 to Texas A&M, far more competitive than in their 23-point shellacking back in January, but not quite good enough to get a desperately needed conference win. That means Oklahoma State (16-10, 4-8) will enter Allen Fieldhouse on a three-game losing streak, and conventional wisdom suggests Lawrence is about the worst place to get back on the winning track.

Fortunately, Oklahoma State has three winnable games to close the year:

Texas Tech, Baylor, @ Oklahoma

If they were to win all those, and we assume a Monday loss, they would enter the Big 12 Tournament at 19-11 with a lot of work to do. Then again, even with four straight wins, they’ll almost surely need some success in the conference tournament.

Tyshawn Taylor's 4.7 assists per game have helped Kansas rank 2nd nationally in that category. Photo source: Rock Chalk Talk

The keys Monday night: Marshall Moses needs to rebound effectively and also make the Morris twins work on defense. They were frustrated (particularly Markieff) with their offensive struggles against Kansas State, further limiting their contributions against the Wildcats. I would rather force Kansas to shoot 3s than bang inside.

(It’s worth noting I advocated this for Missouri as well, the Tigers did it and then got beat by double digits anyway. But it was still better than giving up the interior.)

KANSAS: KU spent most of the Colorado game in cruise control, getting ahead early and never letting CU charge back. Kansas is as good as anyone at spreading everybody out in the halfcourt and finding open shooters. It won’t be easy for Oklahoma State to defend this, but if the Morris twins approach or get double-doubles, this game will be over much faster.

Kansas, with a win, moves closer toward securing a No. 1 seed. It would be their fourth in five years, which demonstrates amazing consistency. Don’t be misled by people who say there are “no great teams” or this is a “down year” for college basketball. There are plenty of other worthy No. 1 seeds if Kansas doesn’t continue winning.

We’ll learn more about Kansas the next time they face adversity – whether that’s at home against Texas A&M, in Columbia to close the regular season, or in the conference tournament. The Jayhawks must be more prepared to fight back after trailing than they showed against Kansas State. The topic shouldn’t come up Monday night.

Kansas 85, Oklahoma State 64


What does Nebraska’s win mean?

February 19, 2011

Now that everyone is off the court at the Devaney Center, it’s time to discuss the significance of the biggest upset of the conference season.

Or at least the biggest upset since Monday night.

Strong contributions from Jorge Brian Diaz will give Nebraska a better chance in its last two home games, against Kansas State and Missouri. Source: Getty Images

Nebraska is 18-8, 6-6 in the Big 12. The Huskers beat Texas on Saturday by hitting 47% of their shots. Note that they didn’t make many three-pointers, and their 18 for 25 freet throw shooting was satisfactory but not outstanding.

They got the ball to Jorge Brian Diaz, who had 11 points, and fellow big man Andre Almeida hit all five shots he took. An inability to find easy shots has hurt teams like Oklahoma State and Kansas State all season, but today Nebraska figured it out.

The Huskers have won three straight games. Their remaining four before the league tournament:

Kansas State, @ Iowa State, Missouri, @ Colorado

Kansas State, too, is playing for its at-large viability. Nebraska didn’t get its offense going in a 69-53 loss at Bramlage earlier in the year. Iowa State has only won one conference game this year, but seems to give everyone a tough game in Ames. Nebraska beat the Cyclones by one way back at the start of conference play.

The Huskers have a reasonable chance to beat Missouri if they utilize their big men as well as they did today. Missouri’s frontcourt is relatively thin, with only two consistently effective inside scorers. As they often did in football, the Huskers face Colorado in the season finale. They handled the Buffs at home earlier this year, but Alec Burks and Cory Higgins can be tough to contain, and Levi Knutson isn’t a bad player, either.

Of these four opponents, the stronger two come to Lincoln, while the weaker two host Nebraska. In its last year in the league before going to the Big Ten, Nebraska has been able to slow the pace of games down against weak teams and strong teams.

Some credit goes to coach Doc Sadler, who has had trouble getting the Nebraska program to the top half of the Big 12. Perhaps this year Nebraska can

With three wins in the following four games, Nebraska would have a very winnable first round game in the Big 12 tournament, and might just be in position for an at-large NCAA selection. The Huskers last played in the tournament in 1998.