Mizzou in the SEC

September 27, 2011

Yes, this blog is all about Big 12 basketball, and I would love nothing more than for the Big 12 to stick around. Having said that, things are still up in the air, and the hottest rumor right now is that the Missouri Tigers could be the 14th team in the new SEC.

Forget the football implications, Missouri in the SEC from a basketball perspective is all kinds of hypothetical fun. Sure, losing the Kansas rivalry would be unfortunate, but some exciting new rivalries would be born.

First is the fact that Arkansas, and former Missouri coach Mike Anderson, would visit Columbia at least every other year. Anderson, once the man who rebuilt the Tigers, is now one of the most disliked people in town. Anderson returning to Mizzou Arena could result in one of those special atmospheres typically reserved for the Kansas Jayhawks or another top 5 team. By the time Mizzou would join the SEC, most of Anderson’s former recruits will probably be finished with their college career, but the Missouri fans won’t soon forget.

Imagine the fun fans would have playing Kentucky every year, especially now that the Wildcats feature a NBA starting lineup each season. That is the kind of game that would give Mizzou hardcore national exposure each season, something that is lacking at times in the Big 12.

Missouri would probably be one of the top programs in the conference, in a second tier with Tennessee, Texas A&M, and Arkansas. Not up quite at the level of Kentucky or Florida, but still head and shoulders above a good portion of the conference.

I would argue that the Tigers would experience a little bit easier basketball life in the SEC. The slimmed down Big 12 features a round robin schedule and multiple trips to notoriously hostile environments. Nearly every team in the conference is on the rise, and all seem to have a serious commitment to basketball. In the SEC, football is king, and with the exception of Kentucky, basketball is a distant second priority. A school like Missouri, which at the very least has basketball as a close second priority (I would argue the Tigers’ fan base takes basketball more seriously when both sports are performing well) could flourish in a BCS conference full of teams that don’t care what they do in basketball.

Now, should Missouri fans want the Tigers to compete in the SEC? I don’t think so. Things might be a bit easier, but in the Big 12 better competition will breed more respect, better NCAA seeds, and more experience to make a run at the school’s first Final Four. Better for Missouri to stick it out with the Big 12, hope they add another solid program like Louisville or West Virginia, and enjoy the fact that they are in the best basketball conference in the country.

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Possible addition to the Big 12: West Virginia

September 24, 2011

Country roads … take me home …

to the place … I belong …

John Denver’s 1971 hit has become the anthem for WVU athletics, frequently sung by the school’s fans or played by the marching band. Mountaineer fans make it clear on game days West Virginia will always be their home.

Not just a football school: Some young Mountaineers show love for the WVU basketball team. Image courtesy AP/Kenneth R. Brooks

But now West Virginia’s athletic program might need a new home in another sense. With all the conferences changing, where does it belong?

Rumors abound these days and a few have mentioned WVU as a school with interest from the Big 12. The school boasts a prominent football program which, among many accomplishments, won the Sugar Bowl following the 2005 season and the Fiesta Bowl after 2007 (don’t ask Bob Stoops about that one).

The basketball team has been good too, winning the 2010 Big East tournament and then advancing to its first Final Four in 51 years. Bob Huggins (a WVU grad) took over for John Beilein and has established his old school’s team as a force in the Big East.

West Virginia has made the NCAA Tournament all four years with Huggins as coach. The Mountaineers won 21 games last season, beating Clemson in the NCAA opener and losing to eventual Final Four team Kentucky. In 2010 they beat top seed Kentucky, claiming a Final Four and a 31-win season and finishing No. 3 in the coaches poll. The year before that, the Mountaineers won 23 games and finished seventh in the conference (all six Big East teams ahead of them were ranked).

Though the state of West Virginia cannot claim any large metro areas (Charleston is the largest at 154th nationally), it certainly would expose the Big 12 to a new audience. Additionally, the school boasts an almost Nebraska-like statewide popularity. 

Milan Puskar Stadium is regularly filled to its capacity of around 60,000 and Mountaineer fans are probably the best travelers in the current Big East.

Considering the options of Louisville, TCU, BYU and West Virginia, the Mountaineers’ best cases as an addition to the Big 12 are their fanbase and their athletic balance. I would estimate they have more fans than BYU and Louisville and far more than TCU.

They are also very relevant in both football and men’s basketball – BYU and Louisville are still struggling a bit with football, and TCU is not a strong basketball program.

West Virginia would not be the league favorite for Big 12 football if Texas and Oklahoma both stay, but would join Missouri, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech as routine challengers. In basketball, WVU would become an immediate contender for the league title and improve an already solid basketball conference.

There’s no guarantee the Big 12 will add anyone at the moment, but West Virginia would be a great pickup.


Texas: The sleeping giant?

September 23, 2011

Texas basketball has been on a good run since the late 80’s when Tom Penders was coach, and Rick Barnes has elevated the program to an even higher level since he took over in 1998. Although I have the general feeling that Barnes has underachieved considering the talent he’s had, there is no doubt the Longhorns have been trending up for awhile.

"Hey Bill, how many Kevin Durants have you put in the league?" Image courtesy zimbio.com.

One of the reasons for this is that Barnes has been scoring victory after victory on the recruiting trail. While winning there doesn’t always correlate to winning on the court, the number of players he has put in the NBA, and the success of two in particular, should ensure that Texas keeps piling up the blue chip recruits.

High-profile recruit Archie Goodwin recently scratched Baylor off his list in part because they play a 2-3 zone, and he had figured this didn’t bode well for his NBA stock. Craig pointed out that Syracuse, which also primarily plays a 2-3 zone, has had no trouble getting high-profile recruits most likely because Jim Boehiem has put players into the NBA.

Kids want to get to the league. Who wouldn’t want to make millions and get to join LeBron’s pre-game dance party? A school’s track record of putting players in the league is obviously an enormous pull.

Obviously there are other factors too, such as the “forge my own legacy” idea of playing at a school with little history or the hometown discount. And of course if you are related to Mike Anderson or any of his close friends you go play for him. Though I think that pool of recruits is drying up.

Then there is the chicken or the egg situation of the prestigious programs. Do highly-ranked recruits choose UCLA/North Carolina/Kentucky/etc. because they have rich histories? Or do they go there because many of great players that have created those rich histories end up in the NBA? It’s probably a combination of both, but for high school kids the allure of the NBA has to be strong.

Consider Texas’ recent run of players making it to the league:

  • 2007: Daniel Gibson, LaMarcus Aldridge
  • 2008: Kevin Durant
  • 2009: D.J. Augustin
  • 2010: Avery Bradley, Damion James, Dexter Pittman
  • 2011: Tristan Thompson, Jordan Hamilton, Corey Joseph
Now there is a lot of NBA riff-raff on that list. But Durant and Aldridge are among the best players in the league, and although that isn’t necessarily solely a product of them going to Texas, their big success is very effective and very free advertising for the program.

Now compare this to Kansas’ results over the same time:

  • 2007: None
  • 2008: Julian Wright
  • 2009: Darrell Arthur, Mario Chalmers, Darnell Jackson, Brandon Rush
  • 2010: Xavier Henry, Cole Aldrich, Sherron Collins
  • 2011: Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris

Both schools have put ten players in the league since 2007. And many of those players have thus far played bit roles for their respective teams.

Texas, however, has the good fortune of having had two of their players skyrocket. I don’t think that this means Barnes has a built-in advantage anytime he goes against Bill Self for a recruit. And Kansas’ long-history and former players that have made the league aren’t going away.But it looks like it could somewhat even the playing field for Texas, and allow recruits to look past their lack of great history and “blueblood” status.

Take Myck Kabongo, the 5-star point guard in Texas’ incoming class, for example. He chose Texas over Kentucky, which has put 71 players in the NBA and ABA and North Carolina, which has put in 76.

Each program has also had their fair share of recent players find success in the NBA, like Rajon Rondo and Ty Lawson. Now I can’t get inside the head of Kabongo, but I’d reason that Texas’ recent string of NBA players, especially Aldridge and Durant, helped put them on the same level as UK and NC in the first place.

Texas already has great resources and a television network that could play a part in boosting recruiting. Barnes is also clearly a skilled recruiter, and that skill is paying dividends and should continue to do so. It all adds up to Texas being a sleeping basketball giant.


Big 12 Roundtable: The Year of Hope

September 22, 2011

Kansas has won every single Big 12 basketball championship. That’s not actually true, but it sure seems like that is the case. They have won nine of the last 10 regular season Big 12 titles, and have been the only true power in the conference. They boast an overall Big 12 winning percentage of .835, and have lost half as many Big 12 games as the next closest team (Texas).

Year after year we’ve watched Kansas replace their great talent with more great talent. Sasha Kaun was good, Cole Aldrich was better, and the Morris brothers were best. Mario Chalmers was replaced by Sherron Collins. Julian Wright went to the NBA, and Kansas just plugged in Darrell Arthur. No more Brandon Rush? That was okay, because Xavier Henry was coming in.

This year though, things aren’t the same, and there is hope across the Big 12. With the exception of probable top 10 draft pick Thomas Robinson, Bill Self won’t be plugging in a group of future superstars. Tyshawn Taylor is expected to step up, but the reality is he’s been getting big minutes for two seasons, and his numbers aren’t likely to take a big jump. Travis Releford has struggled to get off the bench his whole career, and now he’s going to carry a big scoring load for a Final Four team? Doubtful.

For Oklahoma State, Missouri, Texas A&M, and Baylor this is the year to take down the Jayhawks. By this time next year Bill Self will have loaded himself up with another stellar recruiting class. Texas will have had time to develop into a big time threat. Now is the time for one of those teams to step up, so its a shame they are all full of more question marks than Kansas.

Oklahoma State has the perimeter talent to compete, but they don’t have anyone to play inside. Good enough to pull off some big upsets, but not going to work night in night out for 18 games. Baylor has the inside talent to compete, and then a little extra just to rub it in. Problem is they don’t have any guards, transfer Gary Franklin can’t play until the second semester, and even then, he’s generally unproven. Juco guard Pierre Jackson has to step up and play with some of the best guards in the country, otherwise Baylor isn’t doing anything.

For TAM and Mizzou, it’s all about the new coaches. Both teams have solid rosters, maybe top to bottom the best two rosters in the conference. Problem is both teams have new coaches, new systems, and that means we don’t know what they will really be.

My point in all this? Six teams could win the Big 12 this year. That has never been the case before. The other four teams will all compete as well. For me, that is the theme of this basketball season. It’s all about hope, even though this whole thing probably ends in another 14 win conference season for the mighty Jayhawks.


Louisville would be big addition

September 22, 2011

We’ve said it here before and it couldn’t be more painfully obvious: all the realignment chatter has nothing to do with basketball.

But since this is a basketball site and we are basketball-crazed, we look at the realignment madness from a basketball slant.

The Big 12 will first have to convince itself and others that it will stabilize for a period of time. If it does and the schools play nice, adding Louisville to the mix would be a huge boost for the basketball profile of the conference. 

Could this man soon be coaching in the Big 12? I sure hope so. Image courtesy best-basketball-tips.com.

Louisville, in my estimation, would immediately become the second-most accomplished and prestigious basketball program in the conference. Clearly Kansas is the top dog, and even Missouri fans couldn’t deny that.

This is what the Cardinals bring: 37 NCAA tournament appearances, which is good for fifth all-time and ahead of Duke and Indiana.

But they’ve cashed in those appearances with eight Final Fours and most importantly two national championships. Only 35 schools have won a national championship, and only 14 of those have won it more than once. Louisville is one of them.

Oklahoma State would be the closest competition to the “coveted” title of the Big 12 Basketball Blog’s second-most accomplished program in the Big 12. The Cowboys also have two national championships. But Louisville has 13 more NCAA’s and 100+ more total wins, along with with two more Final Four appearances. Additionally, although the Cowboys have been competitive in the past decade, Louisville has been better by winning a Big East title and appearing in the 2005 Final Four.

The Big 12 has some programs which are trending upwards but don’t have a boatload of history in Texas and Baylor (Texas A&M is too but nowadays we’ll mention them as little as possible…just joking…kind of). And in the case of Texas, they could be a sleeping basketball giant considering their resources, recent development of NBA players and increasing popularity of their brand in the state of Texas.

The more exposure Longhorn basketball gets (as it presumably would with the infamous Longhorn Network), the more all those Texas athletes will choose basketball over football. But then again the same increased exposure argument could be made for football too. Still, Texas has potential to vault itself into a different basketball-strata, but as of the present it is not on the same level as Louisville.

Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas State are all solid programs with decent history, but none of them rise to the level of Louisville, mainly because none have won a national championship.

Louisville may not be in the “blueblood” class of Kentucky, UCLA, North Carolina, Kansas and Duke. But they certainly are in the next group of great programs, with teams like Indiana and Connecticut. Adding them to the Big 12, at least for basketball purposes, would be fantastic.

 


KC’s college basketball identity will survive realignment

September 20, 2011

This Kansas City Star article talks about the effects the realignment madness could have on Kansas City’s college basketball culture, especially if Kansas, K-State and Missouri end up in different conferences:

If the schools wind up in different conferences — or in the same league that wouldn’t bring its basketball tournament to Kansas City — the region’s sports identity could take a big hit.

But I don’t think the breakup of the Big 12 will have that drastic of an effect on the college basketball scene in Kansas City, even if the three area schools end up in different conferences. It will continue to thrive for the following reasons.

Kansas basketball will always be relevant, even if they are in the Missouri Valley Conference (Side note: I’m not saying this is likely, I’m just imaging a worse case scenario). The history won’t just vanish. Kansas City is a Kansas stronghold, and therefore a college basketball stronghold by default.

The Sprint Center. It's not going anywhere and neither is college basketball's hold on KC. Image courtesy of fannation.com.

As for games played, all three schools could play at least one non-conference game in the Sprint Center every year, if not more. That would be most likely good for three near-certain sellouts.

If the teams were to split up, playing one another in the Sprint Center would be a hugely-popular event. Could you imagine a Missouri-Kansas game in early December in downtown Kansas City?

The Braggin’ Rights game between Missouri and Illinois has been filling up (or close to it) the Scottrade Center in St. Louis for years. And this has happened despite an almost-unbelievable run of nine straight Missouri losses that ended two seasons ago.

You could conceivably have three such games a year in the Sprint Center should all three schools end up in different conferences. While that scenario is a longshot, anything seems possible right now.

I don’t know about the contract, but the CBE Classic presumably wouldn’t disappear either. In recent years the tournament has brought Syracuse, Duke, UCLA, Gonzaga and others to Kansas City. While non-conference tournaments don’t generate the same buzz as conference tournaments, bringing name programs to the Sprint Center will draw a crowd. And that’s regardless of what conference any of those programs are in.

And most importantly, the lack of the Big 12 conference shouldn’t prevent the Sprint Center from being chosen to host NCAA tournament games. From 1940-2009, Kansas City hosted 122 NCAA tournament games, more than any other city. The next closest was Salt Lake City at 83. Even Indianapolis, the cradle of basketball, had hosted less at 79.

The big tournament, and college basketball in general, has been in Kansas City’s identity for decades, long before the Big 12’s present and recent editions were in existence. The tournament is set to return for first and second round games in 2013, and I see no reason why it wouldn’t continue to do so.

Kansas City is a basketball town and in a perfect world deserves a conference tournament that includes Kansas, K-State and Mizzou. But as long I’m not missing something, I don’t think Lawrence itself is picking up and moving across the country. And if KU ends up in the ACC I don’t think you’ll be seeing a mass exodus of alumni and fans to North Carolina.

The same can be said for Columbia and Manhattan: the people who support those three schools will continue to populate the Kansas city metro area. Their basketball fandoms won’t change, even if the conference logo on their school’s court does.


Braeden Anderson’s ineligibility a bummer for Jayhawks

September 19, 2011

A primary strength for Kansas basketball in recent years has been the program’s ability to develop young talent in the shadows of current stars. 

Unfortunately for a Kansas team replacing a lot of talent, KU recently found out that a freshman-to-be, 6’8 power forward Braeden Anderson, will not be eligible for an athletic scholarship. Anderson was a partial qualifier, but was not approved for financial aid by the Big 12. The KC Star has the details.

With Braeden Anderson ineligible, LMU transfer Kevin Young will contribute to a thin Jayhawk frontcourt. Courtesy Gus Ruelas/AP

His financial aid denied, Anderson said he cannot afford to attend KU as a walk-on.

Following the ruling, which came late last week, Anderson described teary moments for both himself and coach Bill Self. Understandably, Self feels bad for a young man who moved around to try and earn eligibility but was eventually denied. Anderson is from Canada and spent his senior year of high school as well as an additional year afterward in the United States.

What is a partial qualifier? I honestly couldn’t have told you much about that, so I looked it up and you can read everything here.

A partial qualifier has not met all the requirements to be academically eligible, but has a combination of GPA and standardized test score to earn the designation. For example, with a 2.5 GPA or higher, a student needs an SAT score of 820 to qualify. If the GPA is only 2.2, the minimum SAT rises to 940.

Partial qualifiers must have a GPA of at least 2.5. Either their standardized test scores are too low to make them qualifiers, or they haven’t met the course requirements from high school. Their scholarship eligibility must be approved by the conference, and Anderson’s wasn’t. In this case, it’s possible (though not certain) that Anderson’s switch from his Canadian high school to his American one created an awkward transfer of classes and left him short of the requirements for qualification.

We haven’t seen freshmen play huge minutes at Kansas too often, but their bench depth will be shorter than it has been in recent years under Self. Thomas Robinson is primed to lead the way for KU in 2011-12, but the Morris twins alone are huge losses and Kansas surely looked forward to developing new talent at the forward position. Anderson will not be part of that.

Additionally, highly touted newcomers Ben McLemore (6’5″ guard, St. Louis) and Jamari Traylor (6’8″ forward, Chicago) are waiting for NCAA approval to join the team. Kansas’ four forwards on the roster are Robinson, Traylor and transfers Kevin Young and Justin Wesley. Center Jeff Withey is one of two seniors on the roster.

Kansas has the talent to be a Big 12 contender this season but needs more depth, particularly up front, to re-establish itself as the league’s team to beat.