Aggies, Tigers in action tonight

November 17, 2011

Tonight’s slate of games in the Big 12 is light, but two of the conference’s ranked teams are in action.

A&M and Miss. St. look a lot alike jersey-wise. Image courtesy 101cheapchecks.com

#18 Texas A&M gets a nice early season test against Mississippi State in Madison Square Garden. The SEC looks like it could be one of the strongest conferences this season but has taken some lumps early on. The Bulldogs are one of the guilty parties, as they dropped a game at home to Akron.

It probably sounds worse than it is because Akron is coming off a 23-win season and funny things happen early in the season when teams are still growing. Akron also had a well-regarded 7-footer in Zeke Marshall who had 10 points, 6 rebounds and 5 blocks in that game, and you don’t see players like that too often.

But nonetheless this should be the best team the Aggies play besides Florida and whomever else they play in New York before the season starts. Point guard Dee Bost is the Bulldogs leader, but he’s not the greatest shooter and turns the ball over a bit much. Mississippi State does have some big bodies in Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney, and it such be fun to watch them match up with A&M’s frontcourt.

For the Aggies, Ray Turner has been remarkably efficient the first two games, making 18 out of 22 shots he’s taken. We’ll see how he and the rest of the team continue to adapt to not having Khris Middleton. These two schools with extremely similar colors should get used to playing each other as they’ll be in the same conference next season.

Niagara visits Columbia this evening to take on #25 Missouri. Presumptively the Tigers are more talented, but these non-conference fodder teams could create issues for Frank Haith if they have some size. Unfortunately for Niagara they have only one player over 6’8”. The Purple Eagles are also very young, with only one senior on the roster and the majority of their scoring coming from freshman or sophomores in their only game so far.

Tonight I’ll be watching for consistent play from Kim English and Phil Pressey, who I am refusing to call Flip until I read something that says he actually likes being called that. English is off to a good start, but at times it looks like he still thinks he can do more than he should be doing. All English needs to do to be a fine contributor is give effort on defense, space the floor and wait for the drive and dish opportunities that’ll come via Pressey/Dixon/Denmon.


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.


Time for Year Two!

August 15, 2011

The Huskers are gone. The Buffs are gone.

But we’re coming back.

We had a lot of fun with this blog last season, and we’ve decided to keep it again for 2011-12. A lot has changed in the league in the past year, and the upcoming basketball season should be a great one.

Now, our updates will be less frequent throughout football season before we really get active in November. But we’ll still have thoughts and analysis on news and interesting topics until then.

Some highlights we’re looking forward to blogging about this fall:

 – The impact of a round robin schedule: Harkening back to the old Big 8 days, starting this year each team plays every league opponent twice, home and away. The league schedule was already difficult, and it’s probably tougher now. Not to sound like a coach, but there are few easy wins left anymore in the Big 12.

 – Is Iowa State for real? The Cyclones have assembled some of their best talent in years, and don’t think that’s gone unnoticed by ISU’s great basketball fans. If Royce White and his pals are ready to go, “Hilton Magic” could be a very real factor this year after a considerable hiatus.

 – How will Missouri, Texas A&M and Texas Tech fare with new coaches? Few in Columbia knew anything about Frank Haith before this past Spring, but Tiger fans still expect success as MU will likely start four seniors. Mark Turgeon continued what Billy Gillispie got started in College Station, building a solid basketball contender at a football school, but Turgeon is now at Maryland. Where will A&M fit in a wide open race?

And speaking of Gillispie, he’s back in the Big 12 at Texas Tech! The run at Kentucky didn’t work out for anyone, but the Red Raiders have room to grow and perhaps “Billy Clyde” will feel more at home in Lubbock.

 – Big 12 in the NBA: This is a special section Greg started last year, and it’s worth a look. He’s catalogued every active NBA-er who spent some time in the Big 12. You might find a name or two you had forgotten all about, or someone you didn’t realize attended a Big 12 school!

 – THE ARCHIVES: These articles are a look back to some of the past heroes of the league’s programs since the inception of the Big 12. We’ve done research on guys like Wayne Simien, Hollis Price, Kenton Paulino and others and you can still check those out. We’ll continue to add new names and find out what those guys are doing now in their professional lives, whether in sports or not.

Hopefully our content gets you excited for basketball season – as always, make it a conversation and give us your thoughts on any topic. We want to build a community here. Until then, Sic Em, Gig Em, Hook Em, Rock Chalk, Boomer Sooner, Guns Up, M-I-Z … you get the idea. Can we all agree the Pac-12 still sucks?

 – Craig, Greg and Justin (your humble Big 12 bloggers)


Texas A&M at Baylor preview

February 25, 2011

No. 21 Texas A&M at Baylor – 8 p.m. ESPNU

Baylor limps into Saturday having lost three straight Big 12 games, while Texas A&M enters the first of two difficult road tests with the hope of securing a No. 3 seed in the league tournament.

Coach Mark Turgeon hopes Texas A&M can win its rematch Saturday with Baylor. Source: Big 12 Journal

Texas A&M: The Aggies have won five consecutive games since their February 5 home loss to… Baylor. Those wins came against arguably the league’s five weakest teams. Texas A&M (22-5, 9-4) isn’t a high scoring team, but is consistent, having averaged around 70 points per game this month.

A&M and Baylor are different in that while the Aggies don’t have a go-to player, Baylor relies too much on one. As we’ve written here before, Texas A&M can get a big lift from several different players. It’s not surpring to see David Loubeau, Nathan Walkup, B.J. Holmes or Khris Middleton make the most significant contribution in a game.

If we assume a loss at Kansas and a win against Texas Tech to close out the season, a win here would put the Aggies in position to finish 11-5. An 11-5 record would guarantee the No. 3 seed in the Big 12 Tournament based on their overtime win over Missouri earlier in the season.

Baylor: Meanwhile, the Bears (17-10, 6-7) rely too much on LaceDarius Dunn for offense. With such a tall frontcourt, they ought to get more easy baskets than they do. They were outrebounded at Missouri, a poor rebounding team, thanks largely to the first half effort of the Tigers’ Ricardo Ratliffe. At the same time, Dunn struggled offensively, and the Bears’ brief run to start the second half was the only time they didn’t look overwhelmed. Throughout the game, they missed a ton of baskets inside.

At the moment, it’s unlikely Baylor would make the tournament. A win Saturday would bring the team’s conference record to .500, but the Bears are left with a road game against Oklahoma State and a home game against Texas. Both games will be challenging.

In the previous matchup, won by Baylor by two points in OT, the Bears shot 52 percent from the field while holding Texas A&M to 43 percent. Baylor made 7 out of 16 three-pointers, which hasn’t been replicated enough since then.

Bottom Line

The Oklahoma win was probably Texas A&M’s most complete win in a month. Baylor should look better at home than it has lately, but I anticipate the Aggies sneak away with a win in Waco. Expect a good effort from Baylor which must start winning games for a chance at an at-large NCAA bid.

Texas A&M 71, Baylor 65


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


Last Night in the Big 12

February 10, 2011

Three games last night, two real fun ones, and one involving Texas.

Texas 68 Oklahoma 52

OU has been better lately, but they never stood a chance in this game. Texas had control the entire time, and got one step closer to being unbeaten in conference play. All five Texas starters scored in double figures, led by Jordan Hamilton with 20. Dogus Balbay even scored 12, on 5-6 shooting.

Andrew Fitzgerald led the over matched Sooners with 16.

Baylor 74 Nebraska 70

One of the two really good games from last night, the Bears needed a last second block from Anthony Jones to keep Nebraska from pulling off the upset. The game was close throughout, and Baylor nearly gave it away with some sloppy play late, but Nebraska returned the favor, falling just short again.

LaceDarius Dunn hit a big lay-up to give Baylor a 71-67 lead, then Nebraska’s Toney McCray had his three pointer blocked by Anthony Jones, a sequence that sealed the game for the Bears and put them at 6-4 in conference play. Dunn finished the night with 24 points, mostly from the free throw line, to go with four rebounds and four assists.

This game summed up a lot of the Nebraska games this season, they fought hard the whole time, kept it close, but in the end they just didn’t have the raw talent to win the game. Watch the Anthony Jones play again, and it is literally the case of him being really long and athletic, something the Huskers just don’t have. Until Doc Sadler starts getting more talented recruits, Nebraska is going to continue being this team. Close, but not close enough.

Now Baylor is sitting in the driver’s seat towards the third seed in the conference tournament. They’ve been playing better lately, making the plays they need to make at the end of games. It will be very interesting to see if they can keep it up, since this isn’t the first time they’ve shown flashes of being a good team.

Texas A&M 73 Colorado 70 OT

The game of the night, and maybe the best Big 12 game I’ve seen in a few weeks. Colorado was in the control the entire game, but you could tell that TAM just needed a few extra minutes of basketball to take control. B.J. Holmes hit a three pointer with 1.4 seconds left to tie the game and send it to overtime, and TAM was able to escape with a big win.

Colorado just couldn’t score in overtime, running bad set after bad set, and TAM did a great job making sure Alec Burks took tough jumpers. It was very impressive that the Aggies were able to get the win, especially since they did their best to give it away with two dumb technical fouls in the second half (one of those was on Mark Turgeon, who doesn’t seem to time his technical fouls very well). Still, the Aggies overcame it, were able to keep the game close with good defense on Burks, and then set up Holmes for the big shot.

It was the Aggies ability to force Burks into contested jumpers that ultimately won them the game. He was getting to the foul line with ease, but the Aggies allowed him to catch the ball, then collapsed on him around the foul line. He made some moves, but still couldn’t get free.

The loss means Colorado is now 4-6 in the Big 12 and in need of some wins. The NCAA tourney is still in reach, they just need to start pulling out some of these close games. For TAM, they get the win the so desperately needed, and now have a soft schedule to finish out the year.