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.


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.

 


Le’Bryan Nash Showing Signs

December 8, 2011

Every year there are a couple of McDonald’s All Americans that just don’t pan out. Sometimes they can’t behave on campus, sometimes they can’t resist the allure of all you can eat dorm food, and sometimes they just weren’t that good to begin with. After his first handful of games in Stillwater, it appeared that Le’Bryan Nash wasn’t going to be the player he was hyped as. The 10th ranked prospect in the country, according to ESPN, was averaging just 12 points under five rebounds a game. Travis Ford benched him after a total no-show against Virginia Tech.

Nash looked lost at times, and over matched at others. Hard to not be frustrated with him if you are an Oklahoma State fan.

In last night’s 72-67 win at Missouri State though, Nash showed some signs of turning the corner. In 29 minutes Nash led the Cowboys in scoring with 19, and added eight rebounds. He played solid defense all night, and pulled down a couple of big rebounds. Most importantly, he looked active and engaged throughout, something that wasn’t the case earlier in the season.

For Oklahoma State to make noise in the Big 12 this season, they need Nash to be really good. The team lacks a go to scorer that can create his own shot. Keiton Page can only score coming off screens. JP Olukemi could be that guy, but he fades in and out of games. Markel had been the team’s best player, but last night managed just one point, and only took four shots.

Nash is the most talented player on the team. He will be the one getting the ball in close games come January and February. Before yesterday, I would have predicted disaster in that situation. After watching him play well on the road, and contribute meaningful minutes down the stretch, it’s clear Le’Bryan Nash has plenty of great nights ahead of him.

Other notes from last night

Oklahoma State is a damn fine defensive team when they want to be. Despite having one of the worst individual defenders in the conference (Page), Travis Ford had his guys playing multiple stretches of great team defense.

That defense will have to keep them in games too, because the Cowboy’s half court offense is really bad. A lot of standing around and hoping someone makes a play. Posting up Nash or sending Page through eight screens seems to be the only two plays they have right now. Otherwise, everyone stands around and waits for the guy with the ball to take a bad, contested jumper.

Cezar Guerrero is trending in the opposite direction of Nash. Guerrero looked like a surprise freshman star after scoring 29 points against Texas San Antonio. He hasn’t been above 10 points in a game since, and played eight scoreless minutes last night. Wasn’t hard to see why either, he took a couple of bad shots yesterday, and was playing too loose with the ball. He’s another guy capable of creating his own shot, so hopefully he can fall back into favor with Travis Ford and start contributing more.

OSU plays next on Saturday afternoon in New York, against #14 Pitt.


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.


Oklahoma State Advances Past Nebraska

March 9, 2011

In a first round game that had plenty of NCAA implications, the Oklahoma State Cowboys beat the Nebraska Cornhuskers, 53-52. OSU advances to the second round, where they will play top ranked Kansas. Nebraska will now await their post season destination, most likely the NIT.

It was a fairly well-played game defensively for both teams, and both offenses struggled for long stretches of the game. Nebraska got off to a terribly slow start, and it looked like Oklahoma State might run away with the game, but they hit a shooting drought as well.

Nebraska had a lead coming into the final two minutes, before two three pointers from Keiton Page put the Cowboys up for good. Page missed the front end of a one and one with 15 seconds left though, and it opened the door for Nebraska to win. Lance Jeter slipped in the lane though, losing the ball and the game.

It was a shame too, because it looked like Jeter either had an easy pass to his teammate, who would have had a pretty easy layup, or Jeter could have taken an eight foot jumper in the lane. Either option would have given Nebraska the win and kept their NCAA hopes alive.

Instead, Nebraska has played their final Big 12 game. They will play a game or two in the NIT before moving on to the Big 10 next season. Oklahoma State is now just three more wins away from stealing a NCAA bid, though I expect Kansas will knock them out tomorrow afternoon.

Colorado-Iowa State is up next.


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


Friday preview – Texas A&M at Oklahoma State

February 19, 2011

Texas A&M (20-5, 7-4) at Oklahoma State (16-9, 4-7) – Saturday 8 p.m. ESPNU

OKLAHOMA STATE: The Cowboys are in the midst of a very difficult stretch of games, and Saturday’s is winnable. Their offense has been lacking of late. They have scored fewer than 60 points in five of their seven conference losses. What’s the problem?

They have been dreadful shooting the three. To their credit, at least they don’t try a ton of them, but shooting under 30% means the shot is killing you. They also don’t rebound particularly well.

JP Olukemi had nice games in back-to-back wins against Missouri and Oklahoma, but he’s not offered much in the last two games. His big games early in conference play showed how much better the Cowboys can be when he plays well and takes attention off Marshall Moses and Keiton Page.

(Darrell Williams was suspended because he faces felony rape and assault charges. He had been playing quite well, but he obviously will not be around for the immediate future.)

Oklahoma State, at 16-9, needs several more wins to get serious consideration from the NCAA Tournament committee. This would be a great one, as A&M is very likely to make the tournament.

Nathan Walkup followed up a double-double at Texas Tech with 19 big points against Iowa State. Source: Getty Images

TEXAS A&M: The Aggies have played their recent games close, as the last four were all within five points. (They have won three straight, holding off Iowa State earlier in the week.)

A&M doesn’t need this win as desperately as Ok. State does, but it would still be nice to keep pace with Baylor and Missouri. A bye in the conference tournament is probably not that big of a deal, but winning in Kansas City will definitely improve a team’s seed, and a bye makes that a bit easier.

Balance is an asset to help separate good teams from average ones, and Texas A&M exemplifies this. I could see the Aggies getting a big game from Nathan Walkup, BJ Holmes or Khris Middleton.

Bottom Line

On the road, this game isn’t going to be comfortable for Texas A&M. The Cowboys probably have to win this game to make the tournament as an at-large, despite the number of mediocre teams on the bubble. I like Texas A&M because Oklahoma State doesn’t have Darrell Williams any longer as an offensive option, and Texas A&M has shown they can win close games.

Texas A&M 67, Oklahoma State 61