Big 12 weekday preview

January 30, 2012

Monday: Missouri @ Texas, 8 p.m. CST (ESPN)

Tuesday: Kansas State @ Iowa State, 8 p.m. CST (ESPN3); Oklahoma State @ Texas Tech, 7 p.m. CST (ESPN3)

Wednesday: Oklahoma @ Kansas, 8 p.m. CST (ESPNU); Baylor @ Texas A&M, 8 p.m. CST (ESPN2)

(Presumptive) Game of the Week: Missouri @ Texas

The weight of that #2 ranking seemed like it was just a bit too heavy for the Tigers to handle. Luckily for them, they avoided an absolutely catastrophic week by beating a game Texas Tech team on Saturday. The Tigers are still a very good team, but this will be another tough road game.

I don’t see the Tigers struggling in Austin simply because they lost at Oklahoma State. Missouri was in control of that game until the last few minutes. The Longhorns have a good chance in this game because they found something against the Tigers in the second half of their first game, winning it 43-41. And since then they’ve played K-State, Kansas and Baylor close. They haven’t given up as the losses have mounted. Rick Barnes’ young team is bound to break through sooner or later.

(Presumptive) Game of the Week, Part II: Kansas State @ Iowa State

I know I am kind of cheating by throwing two “games of the week” up here, but I just couldn’t resist. Hilton Magic is back right? Maybe, but this game screams of the “psychology of the schedule” idea that Fran Fraschilla talks about. Iowa State is way up and Kansas State is down after a disappointing home loss to Oklahoma.

In a match up between Fred Hoiberg keeping his team focused and Frank Martin sparking his team out of urgency, I’ll go with Martin. Nothing against Hoiberg, I just think that Frank Martin stare is pretty hard to top. And the Mayor looks like such a nice guy.

Under the Radar Game: Oklahoma State @ Texas Tech

The Cowboys got their moment in the sun with the big win against Missouri and its then-#2 ranking. They then showed up flat in College Station and lost last weekend. But despite the up-and-down week they are certainly more talented than Texas Tech and you’d think they’d have their way in Lubbock.

But this may be Tech’s best shot a conference win this season. And though they didn’t beat Missouri this weekend, they frustrated one of the better teams in the country to the point that they were  within striking distance in final minutes. You might say, “okay, so what?” Well the way Tech’s season has gone that is something. Billy Gillepsie should be able to get enough out of the Red Raiders to pick up a win here.

Jordan Tolbert had his best game in conference play against Kansas State last week but was hit with foul trouble against Missouri. His second-highest scoring output during conference came against the Cowboys, so he may be ready to have a big game.

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OU wins in Manhattan, shocker

January 29, 2012

Oklahoma’s 63-60 win at Kansas State flew under the Big 12 radar yesterday. That tends to happen when Kansas loses a conference game, because it seems that, well, Kansas never loses a conference game.

Lon has "1" now: One win over a ranked team at OU.

But I’d go out on a limb and say that Sooners win in Manhattan was the most surprising of yesterday’s result. The Kansas loss wasn’t totally unexpected: you knew Hilton would be jazzed up, the Cyclones had played the Jayhawks tough in Lawrence, and when crunch time came Royce White could exchange blows with Thomas Robinson.

Texas giving Baylor a run for its money in Waco wasn’t a shocker either because the Longhorns had been playing better as of late even if they were getting wins. And Missouri not blowing away Texas Tech at home raised an eyebrow, but it seems the Tigers may have hit a bit of a cold patch. The way they were shooting all season that isn’t totally unexpected.

The Sooners gave the Wildcats their second home loss of the year, and in the process picked up the first win over a ranked opponent in the Lon Kruger era. Steven Pledger (3o points, 11-17 FG) gave one of those super-human performances you generally need to beat a good team on the road. And he especially needed to play like that because K-State did a good job limiting Andrew Fitzgerald (3 points, 1-7 FG).

It’s odd to see a K-State Frank Martin team lose at home, but especially to see that in a game that should have been a “taking care of business” affair, and especially when they need to keep piling up wins to really feel secure about a NCAA bid. They are probably still safe right now but they certainly can’t afford any more slip ups. And I’m sure Martin will make that crystal clear in his own special way over the next few days.

The Wildcats still have trips to Columbia, Waco and Austin on their schedule as well as a home game with Kansas. That’s definitely no picnic.

As for the Sooners, I am sure Kruger is pleased his team was able to pick up at least one win in a brutal 5-game stretch against the conference’s five best teams. After playing Baylor and K-State, they’ll now head to Kansas and then get Iowa State and Missouri at home.

If they complete a state of Kansas sweep then I will be floored and declare Kruger the “Kansas killer.” But Iowa State could be a winnable game at home, and a 2-3 mark in that stretch would be an encouraging thing.

 


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.


Kansas State – Kansas preview

January 4, 2012

You’ll have to go the Internet to find it, but there’s a really good basketball rivalry tonight in the Big 12.

No. 15 Kansas hosts No. 22 Kansas State at Allen Fieldhouse at 7 p.m. It’s only on ESPN3, because bowl games are still being dragged out and hey, Duke is playing Temple. Hopefully you have a good connection and a sharp picture, because this is the top game of the year so far in the conference.

A lot has been said about how this year’s Kansas team (10-3) is “different” from Self’s other teams, a label that is clearly not a compliment. To be sure, there aren’t the obvious stars available to come off the bench like there were in 2008, when Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich were fighting Russell Robinson and Sasha Kaun for playing time.

Everyone loved to talk about how “deep” those Kansas teams were, and certainly the depth isn’t quite there now. But that was extremely unusual – this is more normal. And yet forward Thomas Robinson is still an All-American – one of those players that is worth watching even for those who prefer the NBA to the college game.

You also hear a lot about the home gym in Lawrence. Allen Fieldhouse is a great place and the fans get very into these rivalry games – they will be very loud from the start of tonight’s game. But KU has won 82 out of 83 at home largely because of the teams they put on the floor – the fans help some, but the talent has been the primary factor in home success. People talk about K-State’s “curse” in Lawrence, but remember, Kansas has had the better team almost every year that said “curse” has been in place.

Certainly, home court advantage makes a big difference in college basketball. It might make the difference tonight. But don’t think that Allen Fieldhouse is winning this game for KU. If the Wildcats outplay the Jayhawks, I think K-State will win.

FOR KANSAS STATE, experience from previous seasons should help in the team’s second road game of the year. I think the Wildcats (11-1) are confident they can hang with KU and beyond that compete for a Big 12 title.

Why not? Jamar Samuels and Thomas Gipson are scoring and getting it done on the glass. Will Spradling is shooting a great percentage from both inside and outside the arc, and Rodney McGruder is reliable. Frank Martin’s team has a well-earned connection with physical toughness.

Kansas State might not have played in many road environments yet, but that’s not unusual for the first week of January. The Cats had an exciting game against West Virginia out in Las Vegas a few weeks ago. The double OT loss is the only mark against them this season. Wins over Alabama and Long Beach State suggest good things. I haven’t seen much of K-State this year, and I’m excited to see a big conference game for them.

They face Missouri on Saturday and Baylor next week, so we’ll see three big conference games straight away for the Wildcats.

PREDICTION

For all the talk about Kansas’ decreased talent this year, the Jayhawks have a nice win themselves over Georgetown. In previous years, they did a great job of working inside first (be it with Aldrich or the Morris twins) and kicking out for 3s on the wing. KU got a lot of quick early leads in conference play. K-State must contain Robinson without keying so much on him that other people get too much space, while KU’s Tyshawn Taylor needs to limit the turnovers and get his team comfortable in the halfcourt set in which the Jayhawks traditionally thrive.

Kansas 73, Kansas State 66


Opening night roundup: A few scares

November 12, 2011

The opening game in college basketball is supposed to be a feel good romp. Tonight there were a few tense moments in the early games; a few “how is this happening?” moments. But thus far, everyone in the conference can exhale.

Kansas State and Oklahoma had to overcome half-time deficits to win. Missouri wasn’t that much better, as they enjoyed only a two point lead at the break.

I was bouncing around a lot and didn’t focus on one game in particular, so I’d be making up any comprehensive analysis I put on here. Thus, here is a quick overview of the action:

McGruder (eventually) stepped up, and boy did Frank Martin need that. Image courtesy foxsportskansascity.com

Charleston Southern 67 – Kansas State 72 

The head-scratching moment of the night came in Manhattan, where the Wildcats found themselves down by 15 at halftime. Had they been trailing by a few points it wouldn’t have been that surprising, since for the first time in the Frank Martin era they don’t had a clear cut go-to guy.

But as you’d expect, Martin had the Wildcats ready to mount a rally in the second half. Rodney McGruder began to assert himself more offensively towards the end of the first half, and ended up as the game’s leading scorer with 20 points. McGruder also pitched in with 10 rebounds. Jordan Henriquez was solid, and Will Spradling made some key plays late, allowing the Wildcats to take their first lead with a little over three minutes left.

Idaho State 74 – Oklahoma 78

Well don’t I look stupid (at least right now). I had wrote the other day that Andrew Fitzgerald and Cameron Clark, and to a lesser extent Steven Pledger, would handle virtually all of the scoring load for OU this season. That is 99 percent likely to still be the case, but on this night the three combined for only 9 points (though Pledger was suspended).

Despite the fact OU did find itself behind at half, they have some things to be encouraged about other than simply escaping Lloyd Noble with a win. They won on a night their two presumptive “biggest” contributors didn’t score much. Romero Osby, the hyped up transfer, actually looked the part in filling up the stat sheet (17 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists).

Their point guard play, a concern heading into the season, looked alright in an extremely small sample size. Newcomer Sam Grooms had a nice A/TO rate (8-2) and incumbent Carl Blair wasn’t so bad either (5-2) after struggling mightily last year in that category. They also got an unexpected scoring boost from guard Calvin Newell, Jr. who had a great time chucking up three’s (4-11).

Southeast Missouri State 68 – Missouri 83 

The Tigers hit a rough patch midway though the first half with SEMO leading by as many as six. But Missouri swung momentum with a run into halftime and didn’t look back in the second half. Marcus Denmon had a predictably good game, doing what he does best: scoring (20 points) and not turning the ball over (0 TO’s). Kim English and Ricardo Ratliffe also played well.

The interesting thing for Mizzou was that Frank Haith’s worst fears were realized right away. Without Laurence Bowers the Tigers are very thin in the frontcourt. Behind Ratliffe, only Steve Moore and Kadeem Green provide any size, and Green’s first minute tonight was his first in official NCAA competition. Moore and Ratliffe have an affinity for fouling, will probably cause a ton of problems for Haith this year.

He got some experience shuffling his lineups in this manner against SEMO as Moore picked up a few early fouls in the first half and was rendered basically useless throughout the game because of this (12 minutes, 4 fouls). Ratliffe picked up his third foul early in the second half, and the tightrope act began.


Preseason poll – four teams get a 1st place vote

October 14, 2011

Basketball season starts this weekend.

For the next couple days, college basketball will consist of loud player introductions, flashing lights, dunks and “practice sessions” that might look nothing at all like a real practice.

It’s time to take a look at how the Big 12 COACHES voted in the league’s poll of the ten teams. Coaches could not vote for their own.

——

Dash Harris and his Aggie teammates would like to unseat Kansas as the league's best team. Photo thanks Chron.com.

This year’s preseason poll has co-favorites: KANSAS and TEXAS A&M. The Jayhawks got the most first-place votes from the coaches (5), while Texas A&M got two. However, each team garnered 73 points total from the ballots.

The Jayhawks have at least shared the conference title for seven straight seasons. But while they are accustomed to losing talent, there is less depth in place at the moment than there has been in some prior years. Greg, one of this blog’s authors, has mentioned Thomas Robinson as a likely POY. I agree, but the Morris twins were just awesome and those two alone will be tough to replace.

Texas A&M has a new coach this season, Billy Kennedy. The Aggies, if not great in recent years, have been consistently solid.

The three of us at this blog have a running joke called “The List,” of college players who seem like they should have graduated and yet are still playing. (Typically these are just guys who played a lot as freshmen and stayed around.) Fortunately, A&M has two candidates for The List in guard Dash Harris and forward David Loubeau. That bodes well for experience.

They also add 6’7″ junior Khris Middleton, a big scorer last year. He has played in every game during his career.

Kansas State was last year’s preseason No. 1.

Team No. 3 is BAYLOR, which received two first-place votes. Baylor returns four seniors, super soph big guy Perry Jones and a really hyped guard in Deuce Bello. I expect Baylor will once again be one of the league’s most athletic teams (as is often the case). The Bears have underachieved two of the last three years and made the Elite Eight the other year. This is a VERY interesting team.

MISSOURI, you’ll recall, is still part of the Big 12. The Tigers were picked fourth and received one first place vote, despite a seemingly devastating recent injury to forward Laurence Bowers which will keep him off the floor all year. Bowers has been arguably Mizzou’s best player over the past two seasons. I look forward to seeing whether Missouri’s tempo shifts from the frenetic press, now that Frank Haith is coach. Either way, a lot will be required of senior big man Ricardo Ratliffe on offense and defense.

Perenially talented TEXAS takes the No. 5 spot. A team that spent part of last year in the Top 5 nationally seeks to improve its recent NCAA tournament struggles. The Horns are extremely young with six freshmen. Names you’ll recognize include 6’10” senior Clint Chapman and 6’1″ junior J’Covan Brown. Alexis Wangmene (6’7″ from Cameroon) is also a senior.

Korie Lucious (34) and Chris Allen are now Cyclones and might solidify Iowa State's best team in a decade. Photo thanks to Des Moines Register.

KANSAS STATE is team six. The Wildcats’ early months last year were an absolute disaster. Denis Clemente’s absence was noticeable, but K-State got a huge upset win at home over Kansas and turned things around somewhat. They didn’t live up to preseason expectations but I think they can exceed them this year. K-State returns a lot of guys you will remember, including guards Rodney McGruder (junior), Shane Southwell (sophomore) and Will Spradling (sophomore). They also bring back 6’7 senior forward Jamar Samuels.

That group has plenty of talent, so don’t assume K-State will be average just because Jacob Pullen is gone.

OKLAHOMA STATE takes the No. 7 spot. Travis Ford brings two seniors, guard Keiton Page and JUCO forward Darrell Williams. Williams led the team in rebounding last year. J.P. Olukemi will be important again as a junior. Freshman Le’Bryan Nash is a McDonald’s All-American.

IOWA STATE, in its second year under Fred Hoiberg, is the eighth choice. This is another team I look forward to watching. Finally Royce White, the 6’8″ redshirt sophomore from Minnesota gets to play. Adding instant experience are senior Michigan State transfers at guard – Chris Allen and Korie Lucious. It’s been a long time since Marcus Fizer and Jamaal Tinsley made ISU a contender but perhaps the Cyclones are on their way.

OKLAHOMA and TEXAS TECH are tied for ninth and last in this year’s poll. The Sooners have three seniors who have played sparingly. T.J. Franklin sees little floor time. The other two, C.J. Washington and Barry Honoré, are JUCO transfers who were reserves last year. Oklahoma looks very different than it used to and is clearly still in a phase of change from the Kelvin Sampson era.

6’10” Robert Lewandowski is the only senior for the Red Raiders of Texas Tech, now coached by Billy Gillispie. There are eight high school freshmen on the roster along with several JUCO transfers, which is exciting when your team has recently struggled. Hopefully Tech can perform a little better than last year and work toward improving that program.

We will have our own Big 12 preseason poll before the season starts.


Possible Replacements, TCU

October 6, 2011

"Whaddaya say?" Jim Christian's Frogs might be the league's next invite. Source: Zimbio.com

Realignment Madness has turned out to be the perfect label for this category of posts.

If you haven’t seen, a report indicates an offer from the Big 12 for a new member: Texas Christian University.

TCU is currently a member of the Mountain West Conference, and had been scheduled to join the Big East Conference starting next school year. Of course, that was all set up before Texas A&M bolted for the SEC and the Big 12 found itself down to nine schools. We’ll talk plenty more here about this story as it’s updated.

Some notes on TCU – it is a Christian school in Fort Worth, Texas. While TCU would be the fourth Texas school in the new Big 12 Conference (joining Tech, Baylor and Texas), it is the only one located in the giant Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.

Athletically, TCU is a football school. Gary Patterson has been there since 1998 and been head coach since 2001 (he was previously defensive coordinator). He was a graduate assistant at Kansas State in 1982.

TCU went 13-0 last year, beating Big Ten champion Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and finishing 2nd in both polls. The Horned Frogs also had an outstanding season in 2009, when they went 12-0 in the regular season before losing to undefeated Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl. They finished ranked sixth. This year, TCU is 3-2, having been knocked off by Baylor and Southern Methodist.

Going into this year, the Horned Frogs finished in the Top 25 seven times out of ten (the Patterson era). TCU played in Conference USA from 2001-2004, winning one conference championship. The team has won the Mountain West three years out of six.

Despite its location in Fort Worth, TCU’s fanbase will not be confused for A&M’s (even though TCU would have probably smacked A&M silly the last couple of years.) The school is currently expanding its stadium to 50,000, but this is not a school with much of a national following.

Of course, this is a basketball blog. And this is where TCU’s profile looks a lot less sexy. As in not at all.

TCU has competed in the NCAA Tournament seven times, most recently in 1998 (their last conference championship). The team’s last NCAA win was in 1987 against Marshall. Since then, TCU finished in the quarterfinals of the 2005 NIT.

It gets worse. TCU’s record last year was 10-23. The Frogs’ final win of the regular season was January 12. (They won one conference tournament game.) Now BYU, San Diego State and New Mexico all take basketball seriously, but this suggests the TCU program will be WAY in over its head, as it was last year in the Mountain West.

Simply put, Texas Christian has fallen flat on its face in conference play each of the last 5 years. Despite a narrow victory over Texas Tech early in the year, TCU almost surely replaces Tech as the dog of the Big 12 if the addition is made.

Jim Christian is starting his fourth year as head coach.

With the departures of Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M (and possibly Mizzou), this league needs a football boost badly. TCU provides that without question. Losing Nebraska and CU won’t greatly affect the basketball competition. But losing both A&M and Mizzou certainly would. And unfortunately, TCU’s recent past doesn’t convince us they would help.

To be fair, perhaps TCU’s basketball recruiting would improve some with Big 12 membership. There is a long way to go.

It will be interesting to see if TCU’s addition makes the addition of more well-rounded athletic programs like Louisville and West Virginia less likely. However, from a football standpoint, TCU is light years ahead of Louisville and at least as strong as WVU.

In any case, it looks like K-State might not be the only Big 12 school celebrating Purple Power for much longer.