Missouri hangs on to beat Texas

January 31, 2012

Missouri beats Texas, 67-66

Missouri-Texas lived up to its prestigious billing as the Big 12’s Basketball Blog’s “Game of the Week.” But all joking aside, the Tigers and Longhorns gave the country a good show tonight.

First off, you really have to feel for Texas. In the past 5 games they’ve played Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri close but only have a win against Iowa State to show for their work. Such is the life of a young team in a good league I suppose. But that win over the Cyclones is starting to look like a good one.

Texas should still be encouraged. They’ve only got one game left on the schedule that would take the planets aligning to win: at Kansas. The other eight games are certainly winnable, with two games each against Oklahoma and Texas Tech.

Also, Julien Lewis is turning into a solid two-way player, though he’ll need to improve his efficiency as he goes forward (35 percent FG, 32 percent 3FG on the year). You would like to have seen Myck Kabongo have more of an impact on the game (1 assist/3 turnovers) but Missouri’s guards do play good ball-pressure defense.

As for the Tigers, it looked for awhile late in the second half like they were following the same script from last week’s game against Oklahoma State: tight first half, surge out to a sizable second half lead, watch the lead shrink late as other team’s star player takes over, lose. That all happened, except for the lose part.

Missouri did get stagnant as they tried to run out the clock but there is a fine line to balance between milking clock and losing your offensive flow. There really is no right decision in that scenario. The potential turning point was Mike Dixon’s clear 2-shot-and-the-ball foul on Lewis. Why Kim English gave him the ball so quickly after Dixon had crossed halfcourt is a mystery. It pinned Dixon down and put him in a tough position.

But Dixon came back and made the go-ahead shot, and with Marcus Denmon struggling from the field (14-43 last three games), he’s probably the right man to take that shot. He’s fearless and seemingly plays with a lot of confidence. And especially so when he is near perfect from the field.

We are also finding out that Frank Haith is a good in-game coach, which is something you couldn’t always say for the stubborn Mike Anderson. It some cajones to pull out a zone for Texas’ final possession, and it certainly looked like it confused the Longhorns. Kabongo, however, eventually got a good look with a eight of nine foot runner, and I was surprised that he missed it.


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.

Texas-UCLA Preview

December 3, 2011

As far as brand recognition goes, it is hard to think of a non conference game with more brand recognition. With UCLA, probably the greatest basketball program in college history, and Texas, possibly the most powerful brand in college sports. this should be a huge game.

Except, it’s really not.

Texas is rebuilding, hoping to make the NCAA tournament with a collection of promising freshman, and super scorer J’Covan Brown. UCLA is in full crisis mode, and is probably closer to firing its coach than going to another Final Four.

UCLA did show some signs of life in their last couple of games, and will be playing at home, which makes this an important game for Texas to win. Non conference road wins matter for a team that might be sitting on the bubble come March.

UCLA is built around a talented core of big men, though the group has underachieved this season. Josh Smith should be an unstoppable force in the paint, but instead is out of shape, foul prone, and teams constantly take advantage of his poor conditioning. Forward Reeves Nelson is a constant headache, and has already been suspended once this season.

North Carolina transfers David and Travis Wear come in with big hype, but so far haven’t delivered a ton, especially on defense. Travis averages 10 points and almost six rebounds a game, but hasn’t been consistent yet. David doesn’t get as many chances on offense, though he is coming off his best game of the season against Pepperdine.

None of the UCLA guards are very good shooters, though Jermine Anderson is the team’s leading scorer. Senior Lazeric Jones is too turnover prone for my taste, averaging nearly three a night, combine that with 28% shooting from the floor and UCLA has a problem. Sophomore Tyler Lamb isn’t a good enough shooter to be relied on as a scorer. Freshman Norman Powell is certainly talented, but so far hasn’t gotten a ton of minutes to break out. Perhaps that will change against Texas’ three guard lineup.

For Texas, the key is obviously J’Covan Brown. He will be the best player on the court, and will be facing some pretty shaky guards. He’s averaging 20 points a game, and has been a great play maker as well (5.8 assists a night). Texas would be 5-1 if he hadn’t lost his cool against NC State. Freshman Myck Kabango is coming off his best game of the season, and is starting to settle in as a college player. He’s proved to be great at getting to the free throw line, and should plan on attack UCLA’s big men early and often.

Jonathan Holmes has really emerged down low for Texas, and will have an interesting challenge with Nelson, Josh Smith, and the Wear’s down low. Expect him to attack off the dribble, taking advantage of his speed.

This is a great test for Texas. As long as Brown plays as well as he can, and Kabango can attack early, Texas should be able to win. Their guards will give UCLA fits, and should be able to get the Bruins’ big men in foul trouble.

Texas 70 UCLA 59

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.

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.

Texas- Texas A&M Round 2

January 31, 2011

It was just two weeks ago that these two teams faced off to see who is the best in Texas. Now, the Longhorns are not just the best team in the state of Texas, but the best team in the whole Big 12 conference. Meanwhile, the Aggies have struggled a little since then, and their struggles finally led to a tough loss against Nebraska on Saturday.

Tonight’s Big Monday game represents one of the last times this season Texas won’t be favored to win. Even if they win tonight, I won’t pick them to go undefeated in conference play, but I will sure believe it’s possible. For Texas A&M, they could use this game to get them back on track, and the loss will probably mean they can finish no higher than third in conference.

Last time these two teams played, Texas wrote the script on how to beat the Aggies. Pound them inside, beat them on the boards, and force their guards to shoot jump shots. Khris Middleton held his own last time, but the rest of the Aggies struggled, including a total no-show from Nathan Walkup. Walkup will need to have a big game in order for the Aggies to win tonight.

Texas will continue to ride Tristan Thompson inside, and Jordan Hamilton everywhere else. Those two have been stellar recently, and so has Dogus Balbay, who totally commands both sides of the court despite having no jump shot at all. The Longhorns calling card is their defense, and it has been really fun to watch them lock down some high-octane offenses this conference season.

If the Aggies want to win, they need to attack Thompson off the dribble early, and try to get him in foul trouble. Texas doesn’t have a ton of depth inside, and can be vulnerable when Thompson goes to the bench. On defense, A&M has to force Balbay to shoot. When he attacks off the dribble, it sets up a world of possibilities for Texas, none of which end well for the other team.

A&M is at home, and has a lot more on the line, but I just don’t see Texas losing right now. They are playing too well defensively, and haven’t shown any sign of slipping up recently.

Texas 78 Texas A&M 72