Big 12 Weekend Report

January 23, 2012

Now three weeks in, the Big 12 picture is starting to really clear up. Kansas, Missouri, and Baylor appear to be head and shoulders above the rest of the conference. K-State and Iowa State look to be in position to make the NCAA tournament. Texas could make a run too, if they continue to mature and improve.

Winners of the Weekend

Missouri: The Tigers made the biggest statement of the Big 12 season Saturday, beating Baylor 89-88 in Waco. While the score was shocking enough, the way Missouri won was the story. They out-rebounded a team that had a massive size advantage. They ran the offense through Ricardo Ratliffe, who was finally able to stay on the court and out of foul trouble. Missouri survived a somewhat off-day from Marcus Denmon because of Ricardo, and it is no somewhat conceivable that Mizzou can win games where they aren’t shooting lights out from three.

Kansas: It looked like the Jayhawks were going to suffer their first conference loss on Saturday, but they were able to pull out a close win against Texas. The Jayhawks don’t have too many potential losses left on the schedule. 15-3 or 16-2 in conference play is a real possibility.

Losers of the Weekend

Scott Drew: Baylor had a real tough week, and while they ultimately may end up with a dream season, they have some work to do. It starts with the coach, who doesn’t seem to know his team’s defensive identity. Both games this week Drew started out in zone defense, switched to man when the zone got beat, only to have his team exposed for not practicing man defense enough. Given the athletic ability of Baylor, there is no reason for them to not be a solid defensive team capable of playing man defense. That all falls on Scott Drew.

Perry Jones: Eight points against an undersized Missouri team. Jones drifted in and out of the action, and once again preferred the jump shot over drives to the hoop.

Texas: Couldn’t finish off a win against Kansas at home. Missed some shots in the final minute to put the game away. Going to be an uphill battle to make the NCAA tournament this year.

Other thoughts

Kansas State got a much-needed win against Oklahoma State, thanks in part of a 49-27 advantage on the boards. The Wildcats probably can’t win the conference this season, but they are in solid position for a five or six seed in the tournament.

Iowa State continues to chug along, under the radar. They need to get a signature win or two (beating Kansas at home for example) to firm up their resume, but it looks like the Cyclones are in position to sneak into the tournament.

Oklahoma State continues to fall, and Travis Ford will be lucky to survive the season. Le’Bryan Nash looks lost and useless. They have a hard time generating easy offense, and aren’t playing the super-tight defense they were in non-conference play.

Finally, the new rankings are out. Missouri is the top ranked team in the conference, checking in at #2 in both polls. Kansas is #5, Baylor is #6, and Kansas State is #22. Baylor is #7 in the coaches poll.

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Missouri looks to bounce back, I-State to keep building

January 11, 2012

The Tigers found out they weren’t invincible on Saturday by getting thrashed at Kansas State. The loss wasn’t a hard one to see coming, considering Missouri has historically laid eggs in Manhattan and struggled just a week before in their first true road game against Old Dominion. 

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Will we see Hilton magic tonight? Image courtesy iowacyclonefantickets.com.

Missouri isn’t as dominating as it looked against California, but it also isn’t as bad as it looked Saturday. The Tigers, however, will have tough time bouncing back against Iowa State tonight. The Cyclones will be bringing a ton of confidence into tonight’s game as they are off to a great conference start with wins over Texas and Texas A&M. 

Texas may be a bit down and A&M has been disappointing, but there is still something to be said for beating two teams that have been good in recent years, especially when you haven’t. Iowa State doesn’t match up as well against Missouri as it doesn’t have the abundance of size Kansas State did. Royce White (6-8) and Melvin Ejim (6-6) see the majority of the minutes in the front court. I’d expect Percy Gibson (6-9) and Anthony Booker (6-9), who both average 11 minutes a game, to exceed that average tonight.

This isn’t exactly going out on a limb, but White could do a lot of damage in this game, especially if Ricardo Ratliffe gets into early foul trouble. That has been and will continue to be the theme with Missouri, but it becomes that much more important when the other team’s best forward is as good as White. White has done a decent job at getting to the line this year (6.6 free throw attempts per game) and should be banging up against Ratliffe early trying to draw those fouls. 

This will also be a game the Tigers will very much miss Laurence Bowers. White is an especially athletic big, and it’ll be tough for the plodding Ratliffe and Moore to keep up with him on the perimeter. 

For Missouri to do well it will need to be patient and get some easy looks early, and not revert back to their contested-three safety blanket. Iowa State’s guards have done a good job not turning the ball over this year, so it is unlikely the Tigers will get the easy transition baskets they’ve thrived off of this year. If they get off to a cold start it will spur the crowd and the Tigers will find themselves in a hole like they did in Manhattan.  

That being said, the Tigers will undoubtedly still throw up a lot of three’s, whether they are good shots or not. The game should be filled with three’s, as Chris Babb, Marcus Denmon, Chris Allen and Kim English are in the conference’s top ten in three-point attempts. That doesn’t even include Scott Christopherson or Mike Dixon.

Prediction: I’ve been going back and forth on who I think will win this game, and the flip-flopping deals with Missouri’s seniors. Part of me thinks that their road struggles from the last few years haven’t disappeared and they’ll continue tonight. But another partthinks that because they’ve been around, the Tiger seniors can change that tonight. 

White may be the best player the Tigers have faced this season, and it’s great news for Iowa State matchup-wise that he is 6-9. I think that Missouri will again find itself in a big hole, through a combination rushed shots and mounting frustration. I think they’ll fight back and make a run, as they did against Kansas State, and that Iowa State won’t be able to re-stretch the lead. But I don’t think the Tigers will have enough, and it’ll be a close loss for Missouri. Let’s say 66-62 in favor of Iowa State

 


Baylor outlasts Kansas State

January 11, 2012

Is it time to buy in to Baylor as a legitimate Final Four contender? Whether or not you think this team is capable of a deep run in March, their 75-73 win at Kansas State is a big deal. 

The game

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Acy and the Bears passed a big test. Image courtesy zimbio.com.

Pierre Jackson controlled the second half, constantly creating opportunities and hitting back-to-back three’s at one point. This didn’t completely swing momentum as Kansas State would later retake the lead, but it still felt like an important moment for Baylor. He ended up with 11 assists which is a career high for him. 

Perry Jones III had a good game (17 points on 8-12, 8 rebounds), but to me never really made his presence felt towards the end of the game. But with Jackson playing the way he was, Jones didn’t need to completely take over. Quincy Miller had a relatively quiet night (9 points on 4-6, 2 rebounds) but responded to a Will Spradling go-ahead three with a go-ahead three of his own near the seven minute mark. The shot quieted a crowd that was ready to Wabash Cannonball all night long and I felt like it may have stopped things from snowballing on Baylor. 

Kansas State got jammed up and lost the ball on screens between the three point line and half court time and time again. This lack of ball security especially hurt them in the last three minutes when Quincy Acy came up with back-to-back steal and scores. Baylor switching from their happy-place zone to man to man obviously had a lot do with this. Credit must go to Scott Drew for switching out of something he likes when it wasn’t working. 

The Wildcats were dominating the turnover battle midway through the first half (8 to 0), but were never able to push the lead past 10. Rodney McGruder had a special night, scoring 30 points on 10-14 shooting. What was most impressive was he showed a complete game: getting into the lane, getting to the free throw line, hitting a couple three’s, etc. And for as much as he had the ball in his hands, he only turned it over once. Perhaps he can be that crunch-time, go-to-guy the Wildcats will probably need in the NCAA’s.

What it means for Baylor 

This win looks even better for Baylor because it comes after Kansas State dismantled Missouri in Manhattan and ended Missouri’s undefeated season. Kansas State got Baylor in an early hole (10 points), like they did with Missouri, but Baylor was able to stop the bleeding at 10 and go into halftime only down two. The matchup also wasn’t as favorable for Kansas State, as Baylor has the size to not be absolutely demolished on the glass like Missouri was.  

But regardless of style and matchups, Kansas State is a quality team that has an animal of a home court environment/advantage. The Baylor teams of recent years probably would not have won this game, but this team did. And they just didn’t fight back from a halftime deficit, they had to battle to get the lead back in the last few minutes. 

There is that question that comes up every year when a team looks like they just might finish off an undefeated season (not that we are there with Baylor yet): is it better for a team to lose a game? Is that something a team can learn from and then draw on during the tournament? But, at least so far, the “learning experience” logic argument might not apply to Baylor. 

It isn’t as if the Bears have breezed by their competition all year long. They have been in a number of dog fights at the end of games. They had to beat West Virginia and Mississippi State in the closing minutes as well. They also had to do the same against BYU, and that was a true road game. So to say this team doesn’t have “adversity-type” situations to draw from would be wrong.

But we’ll see if we have to have that conversation in a month or so. The Bears survived Manhattan, but a trip to Lawrence  next Monday looms, assuming they can take care of Oklahoma State. 

Final thought 

I’m shocked Kansas State’s PA announcer still has workable vocal chords after saying Rodney McGruder’s (or McGruuuuuuder’s) name for the past three years. And especially so after a night like this when he was constantly saying it. Those bellows on the “ooo” sound are something the state of Kansas should treasure.


Kansas is Fine, Thank You

January 5, 2012

Before last night’s game between Kansas and Kansas State, I tweeted that KU was a “sinking ship”. Clearly, I could not have been more wrong. The Jayhawks made a statement to their (many) doubters with a 67-49 thrashing of Kansas State at Phog Allen Fieldhouse.

Travis Releford led a balanced Jayhawk attack with 16 points and 11 rebounds, Thomas Robinson continued his brilliance with 15 and 14, while Jeff Withey just missed out on a double-double with eight points and nine rebounds.

The story of the game was rebounding. The Jayhawks managed to out-rebound the Wildcats 48-24 for the game, a shocking margin, especially considering that Frank Martin’s teams usually out-rebound their opponent. This season the Wildcats have had to generate a lot of offense off of rebounds, and that was nearly impossible last night. Without easy put backs and run outs off of defensive rebounds, the Wildcats were forced to run a rather ugly half court offense. The result was a lot of contested, long jump shots, and 31% shooting from the floor.

For a brief time in the second half, mostly as a result of Kansas turnovers, the game was close. A couple of Jamar Samuels three-pointers cut the Jayhawk lead to three, but K-State couldn’t defend well enough to ever get closer.

For Kansas, this game was a reminder that they are every bit the force in Big 12 play that they have always been. Winning at Allen Fieldhouse is the hardest thing to do in the Big 12, and a talent drop won’t change that. Kansas’ half court defense was great, contesting every shot, making passes difficult, and preventing offensive rebounds.

That defense made up for a pedestrian game on the offensive end, which Bill Self still needs to clean up. Thomas Robinson, who is considered by many to be the best player in the conference, goes long stretches without touching the ball. Considering that Robinson has solid range out to 15-18 feet, and is even capable of creating a jumper off the dribble, that is unacceptable. Robinson should be getting 15-20 shots a night.

While Travis Releford’s stat line looks nice, and Releford did hit some big shots, he is one of the main culprits of not getting Robinson the ball. Releford tends to over dribble and put himself in questionable positions, he was guilty of it a few times last night. Since the result was 6-11 shooting and 16 points, it can be ignored for once game.

Finally, Tyshawn Taylor. He’s incredibly good at driving to the basket, and does a good job creating for his teammates at times. He is also going to be the downfall of the Jayhawks this season. Last night Taylor had eight turnovers, and is averaging almost four a game. That has been the issue all season, and it might be too late to fix. Against teams with quick guards, like Baylor and Missouri, Taylor is going to be in for a long night.

Kansas and Kansas State are both really good teams. The Jayhawks used last night as a reminder that they are still the force of the conference, and that the Wildcats will have to wait their turn. I was ready to put the Wildcats in the top 3 of the conference, but that will have to wait until Frank Martin finds a better way to generate offense. I was ready to write off the Jayhawks, but that will have to wait too.

K-State hosts Missouri on Saturday, while Kansas travels to Oklahoma.


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. 

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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. 


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

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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. 

 


Big 12 Power Rankings

December 6, 2011

We’re deep enough into the non-conference season to put together the first power rankings of the season. Expect weekly updates (probably Tuesday’s) the rest of the season.

1. Baylor Bears

Baylor has been more than just the most talented team in the conference so far this season. While the early season script wasn’t pretty (too much mental wandering during second halves) the results have been. Perry Jones III is back, which has benefited the team across the board. JuCo transfer Pierre Jackson has been impressive for stretches off the bench, which provides Baylor with the outside threat they need to be great.

2. Missouri Tigers

Somehow going away from the Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball has made the Tigers even faster. The speed of Phil Pressey and Mike Dixon has given opposing guards nightmares all year long. Inside play will be a question all season, but the emergence of Kim English as second banana to Marcus Denmon gives Mizzou hope for a run at the conference title.

3. Kansas Jayhawks

A loaded non-conference schedule will pay off later in the season. Kansas has a lot of work to do, but looks good to challenge for the conference title. Thomas Robinson is a star, and Tyshawn Taylor has really stepped up. To stay with Missouri and Baylor all season though, Kansas needs better three-point shooting, and more scoring from Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford.

4. Texas Longhorns

The freshman have looked good so far, especially Jonathan Holmes and Myck Kabango. J’Covan Brown is a scoring stud, and will benefit from the surprising help he’s gotten so far. I think this Texas team does a lot more damage than people were thinking a month ago.

5. Texas A&M Aggies

Not sure yet what TAM is, especially with Khris Middelton injured. Not sure we will know much about them until conference play starts.

6. Oklahoma State Cowboys

I haven’t been terribly impressed by Le’Bryan Nash, and Keiton Page is in a terrible shooting slump. Right now, this team isn’t anything special, despite having intriguing talent.

7. Kansas State Wildcats

Undefeated so far, but haven’t played much. Win over Virginia Tech is nice, beating West Virginia on Friday would be better.

8. Iowa State

Have a feeling Iowa State is going to lose a lot of really close games all season long. Royce White is dark horse candidate for conference player of the year.

9. Oklahoma

Only loss is to an impressive SLU team, but haven’t played much competition. Their offense has been impressive all season, which should keep them in games this season.

10. Texas Tech

You lose to DePaul, you get ranked last. Tech already has issues scoring, that will only get worse once Big 12 play starts.