K-State enters the polls

December 27, 2011

The Wildcats have ridden their 5-game winning streak and success in Hawaii to just get into the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll at #25. This is well-deserved for Frank Martin’s squad, which is sitting at 10-1. This is a long way from halftime of the Wildcats’ first game of the year, when they trailed Charleston Southern at home by 14. 


Frank has done a lot of good coaching along with yelling this season. Image courtesy coreybrinn.com.

But Martin is really starting to show his coaching chops, and has K-State looking like an easy NCAA team 11 games in. The Wildcats went 3-0 in Hawaii over the past few days with wins over Southern Illinois (83-58), UTEP (78-70) and Long Beach State (77-60). The first two have been notable mid-major programs in the past but seem down this year. Long Beach State, however, is a quality win as that team has beaten Pitt and (weakened) Xavier, and played Kansas close in Lawrence. 

Since Michael Beasley was in Manhattan (and really Bill Walker the year before), K-State has had at least one All-Big 12 type player every year (Beasley, Walker, Jacob Pullen, Denis Clemente). The Wildcats don’t have that this year, but it seems Martin (a testament to his coaching) has turned that into the team’s strength. K-State is developing into a team with depth: right now the Wildcats go eight deep, with eight players averaging over 19 minutes/game.

Two freshmen have been nice surprises. Forward Thomas Gipson was making a big offensive impact until the past four games, where he has tailed off. But since that time, guard Angel Rodriguez has seen a big jump in his scoring (even though he went 0-6 in the last game). These two will continue to grow, and as they both become more consistent the Wildcats will have plenty of offensive options. 

K-State will need to keep the solid play rolling along, as they enter the Big 12 with a tough stretch of games. They open on January 4 in Lawrence, and even though school will be out, I imagine Allen Fieldhouse will still be intimidating. They then get Baylor and Mizzou in Manhattan, followed by a trip to Oklahoma (whom the jury is still out on after a good start). 

K-State should be able to stay in most games, even road ones, because of some of the things they’ve done well thus far. They’ve defended well, holding teams to 63 points a game and putting up a defensive rating of 88.4 (27th in the country). In addition they’ve rebounded well, averaging 41.6 (7th in the country). Their field goal percentage is pretty average, so the rebounding numbers aren’t inflated by a ton of missed shots. 

The ceiling on this K-State team may not be that high without a star to take over in the tournament. But right now they are a solid team that should be a tough to beat on a nightly basis. Stay tuned. 


Missouri is Bragging for Third Straight Year

December 23, 2011

For the fourth time this season, Missouri faced their “first test” of the season. The first three times the Tigers were “tested” they won in such convincing fashion that the opposition was flat out dismissed as invalid. This time, that was not the case. This time, Missouri finally faced the test all the critics were waiting for, and they passed, beating Illinois 78-74 to move to 12-0.

It wasn’t the prettiest win in the world, and last 12 minutes of the game brought up plenty of concerns, but Missouri still won. They won a game where their two highest scorers, Marcus Denmon and Kim English, combined for 16 points. They won a game where they shot 44% from the field, eight percentage points below their season average. They won a game despite regressing back to the selfish offensive play that ruined them last season.

That last thing is, unfortunately, my big take away from last night. For the first time this season Missouri played a close game, and they responded in the way nobody wanted them to. The amazing ball movement and team work that has defined the season disappeared. It was replaced by contested shots early in the shot clock. Phil Pressey started forcing his shot, instead of looking for teammates. Despite getting the Illini in foul trouble early in the second half, the Tigers stopped attack and started jump shooting. The result was a 21-6 Illini run to turn a potential blowout into a hardcore basketball game.

The good news is, Missouri snapped out of their poor decision making in the final moments. Phil Pressey drove to the hoop in order to create for his teammates rather than look for a contested layup. The result was a sweet behind the back dump off to Ricardo Ratliffe. Another layup by Ratliffe, immediately after Illinois took a 70-69 lead, gave the Tigers the lead for good.

The play of the game, and the play that I’m sure is giving Illinois fans nightmares right now, came with about 30 seconds left. The Tigers were up four and had the ball. Rather than foul, Bruce Weber elected to let Phil Pressey dribble out the shot clock. The result was an easy driving layup for Pressey, and just 15 seconds for Illinois to score six points. It was the kind of super conservative coaching that Weber is known for, and it basically handed Missouri the win.

Missouri’s critics will point to the 21-6 run and offensive meltdown as evidence that Missouri is still the team they were last year. Missouri fans will say this proved the Tigers are ready for a big run in conference play, and that when it matters most, the team can get the baskets they need to win. Feel free to jump to your own conclusion.

Other notes

Steve Moore had his best effort of the season last night. The box score only gives a small picture. Moore was able to play 21 minutes of active defense, and made Ricardo Ratliffe’s early game foul trouble a non-issue. His emergence as a good defender and rebounder is as big a story as any for Missouri this year.

Marcus Denmon might catch some heat for not having a good game, but you won’t see that here. Denmon has been the best player against every major conference team Mizzou played this season. Won’t penalize a guy for having one off night, especially when the offense went away from him the whole second half.

Missouri is going on the road next week to play Old Dominion, then its on to conference play.

A&M takes hit, K-State cruises on

December 23, 2011

Over the half of the Big 12 was in action Thursday, and we had some interesting results. 

Rice 65, Texas A&M 58 

The Aggies had two excusable losses on their schedule (even if one was a shellacking), but this third loss at home to a middle-tier Conference USA doesn’t fall in that category. It wasn’t as if Rice fluked their way to a win by making a ton of three’s. They actually beat the Aggies at their game, out-rebounding A&M 35 to 24. The Aggies should still be fine, but they’ll need to bounce back quickly as they travel to Waco on January 2. 

Kansas State 83, Southern Illinois 59


Angel Rodriguez has been dynamite lately for the Wildcats. Image courtesy desertnews.com

Southern Illinois clearly isn’t what it was in Chris Lowery’s early years, but Kansas State should still feel good moving right along and getting to 8-1. We’ve talked about the Wildcats lack of a great individual player this year, which they’ve seemingly had every year since Michael Beasley. But as the season progresses Kansas State is showing that they may have a ton of depth. 

Thomas Gipson was the early story. Now Angel Rodriguez has stepped up lately. Add them to Jordan Henriquez, Jamar Samuels, Will Spradling and Rodney McGruder and you’ve got a number of guys that can beat you on a given night. Statistically of note in this game was that 10 of Samuels’ 14 points came from the free throw line. 

Texas Tech 56, Oral Roberts 72 

It wasn’t difficult to see this one coming. Oral Roberts probably isn’t one of the darling mid-majors this year, but I’m sure they had a lot of confidence after giving Xavier their first loss of the season, even if Xavier wasn’t at full strength. You can’t expect to win on the road when you turn the ball over 20 times, which Tech did tonight.

This is simply where Tech is right now as they rebuild their program, and there is no shame in that. It probably means nothing, but for comparison’s sake, Oklahoma beat Oral Roberts by 14 earlier this year, though that game was in Norman. 


Kansas falls to Davidson

December 20, 2011

The Big 12 has taken a few (understandable) non-conference lumps the past couple of days. Texas A&M got waxed by Florida, which is a good team but shouldn’t be 20 points better than the Aggies. Oklahoma State lost a virtual home game in Oklahoma City to New Mexico, although the Lobos are projected to be one of the better teams in the Mountain West.

Then Kansas followed suit, losing a virtual home game in Kansas City to a Steph Curry-less Davidson team. Davidson had shown flashes this season, losing a close game against Vanderbilt and holding a lead over Duke at halftime.

But they had just come off a 20+ point loss to Charlotte and were a team the Jayhawks probably should have taken care of. Especially since basketball-reference.com has them at 209th in defensive rating. Davidson has also been a poor shooting team thus far. Kansas was probably the most forgivable 2-loss team in the country, with “good” losses to Duke and Kentucky. No more.

Although obviously this isn’t the end of the world. The Jayhawks have just lost so rarely over the past few seasons that it is strange to see, especially in a building they’ve looked so invincible in lately. Kansas did lose to UMass in the Sprint Center in 2008-2009, and things didn’t work so badly as they ended up in the Sweet Sixteen that year.

It’s not surprising the Jayhawks looked sloppy last night. They were just coming off a big win against #2 Ohio State and had 9-day layover between games, which may explain how rusty they looked. They turned the ball over too much (14 TO’s). Davidson also turned it over with 12 in the first half, but took care of the ball as they didn’t commit any in the second half.  The Jayhawks also didn’t shoot the ball well from three (6-23) or from the free throw line (18-31).

The three-point shot is an element the Jayhawks have been lacking a bit this year. Clearly their talent level has dropped with the loss of the Morris twins, and the only real NBA-prospect on the team being Thomas Robinson. But they are also feeling the loss of Tyrell Reed and Brady Morningstar in a few different areas.

One of them is their consistency from three. Both shot over 38 percent last season, and this year only Conner Teahan is shooting at that rate. As a team the Jayhawks are shooting 3 percent loss from deep. But then again Teahan really struggled Monday night, going 2-8 from three.

Here are some links from last night’s game:

Kansas City Star: Davidson topples KU 80-74 at the Sprint Center 

Rock Chalk Talk: A (semi) Statistical Recap of Davidson 


Ok-State has good chance for quality win

December 17, 2011

It may be flying under the radar, but Oklahoma State and New Mexico will end your basketball Saturday at 9:30 p.m. on ESPN2. The Cowboys have a good opportunity to get a quality win in front of what will undoubtedly be a pro-Cowboy crowd in Oklahoma City.

This picture of Le'Bryan Nash needed to be put up. Courtesy thesportsbank.net

UNLV by virtue of their win over North Carolina would seem to be the Mountain West favorite at this point. But New Mexico should be right behind them along with San Diego State.

The Cowboys are in the middle of a pretty tough non-conference stretch. After tonight they’ll play Alabama and Virginia Tech (who they’ve lost to already) before New Year’s day.

Obviously there are enough big games on the schedule for the Cowboys to make up for a mediocre non-conference record, but winning tonight is still important. If they were to lose tonight it is very possible they’d enter conference play at 7-6.

One of New Mexico’s best players is UCLA transfer Drew Gordon (10.9 ppg, 9.6 rpg), a 6’9” forward and efficient rebounder. The challenge for the Cowboys will be to not allow Gordon to dominate the glass like Pitt’s bigs did. But then again rebounding has been Pitt’s calling card lately.

I’d like to see Le’Bryan Nash continue his improvement tonight, especially by getting to the  free throw line more. He got there 11 times against Tulsa and eight against Missouri State, but only three times against Pitt. New Mexico sophomore Tony Snell (6’7”) is in the same sort of highly-versatile, wing-type player mold as Nash, so that should be a matchup to keep an eye on.


Big 12 Power Poll 12/15

December 15, 2011

After a busy weekend, the Big 12 is taking it easy this week. That means there isn’t much movement, though I’m switching the Oklahoma teams.

1. Baylor Bears

I might have to write expanded thoughts on the Bears later today, but for now, I’ll just say this: They are the most exciting team in the conference, and maybe the country.

2. Missouri Tigers

The next test for the Tigers: facing a team that can successfully slow them down. I’m not sure any team outside of Baylor can beat Missouri when the game is played in the 70s and 80s. I’m sure this will be Illinois’ strategy next week.

3. Kansas Jayhawks

They got a big name win at home, albeit one with a large asterisk. Won’t lie, I think KU still winds up winning the Big 12 this year. Thomas Robinson is so NBA ready it’s scary.

4. Texas Longhorns

I really like the way Rick Barnes has his freshman playing. Come next week, they will FINALLY get a big test against North Carolina.

5. Texas A&M Aggies

Khris Middelton is back. They finally play a team of value, going to Florida this Saturday. Time to see what they are made of.

6. Oklahoma Sooners

I way undervalued the Sooners last week, they deserve to be here right now. Steven Pledger leads a really good offensive attack, and Lon Kruger is a very good coach. At the same time, I don’t think the Sooners are going to fare well in conference play.

7. Kansas State Wildcats

Too bad nobody on this team is capable of making a play on their own. Once again Frank Martin has a tough, defensive minded team. They are going to give a Baylor, Kansas, and Missouri plenty of trouble, but in the end, a lack of a go to scorer will be their downfall.

8. Oklahoma State Cowboys

This is a very good team, no doubt about it. Probably one of the better defending teams in the conference. They struggle to score though, which is why the continued improvement of Le’Bryan Nash is so important.

9. Iowa State Cyclones

Royce White has shot 22-31 from the field his last three games. Not quite at the level of a Ricardo Ratliffe, but damn impressive.

10. Texas Tech Red Raiders

At least TCU knows they will be able to win some conference games next winter.

Friday Night slate: Iowa State hosts rival Hawkeyes

December 9, 2011

Iowa State, at 6-3, has lost most of its interesting non-conference matchups this season. The Cyclones fell early in the year to Drake, and recently lost to Michigan and Northern Iowa. So that’s two in-state opponents I-State has been beaten by.

Big chance today, as they take on Iowa. So far, I-State has shown some good things but a 6-3 record isn’t too indicative of success. The Cyclones need to take advantage of non-conference games to boost their record before the tough Big 12.

Some things I like:

 – Iowa State has shown scoring balance. Four players average more than 10 points per game: guards Chris Allen, Chris Babb and Tyrus McGee, and big man Royce White. McGee doesn’t play quite as much as the others. As an observer I prefer scoring balance in the college game because it shows you’re not relying on one guy for points and offense (as it would be easy for I-State to do with White). If the Cyclones compete in the Big 12, it will be in part because of continued offensive balance.

 – Royce White is playing very well. Averaging very close to a double-double (leading the team in both points and rebounds) is quite an accomplishment for a guy who has been playing competitive games for less than a month. I know he is in shape and has obviously been practicing, but he wasted no time contributing to this Iowa State team. White also shoots better than 52 percent, which indicates he is getting good shots.

 – Scott Christopherson is getting a lot of minutes. He is currently shooting 38.7 percent from three-point range, which is fine as this is his primary skill. If he could raise that to about 40 percent in Big 12 play, it would be a huge asset for Iowa State.

In its last game, Iowa got routed at Northern Iowa, 80-60. (UNI beat I-State 69-62 in Ames. I-State was outrebounded by five.) The Hawkeyes actually outrebounded UNI but shot 1 of 12 from three-point range, while the purple Panthers hit 11 of 21.

I’m not going to say too much more about Iowa because I don’t know much of anything you couldn’t just find from statistics, but it would seem if Iowa State can keep from getting outrebounded badly and continue to get White the ball where he can score, the Cyclones can get a very helpful non-conference win.