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.

 

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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.


Baylor’s Undefeated Season Ends in Kansas

January 17, 2012

As we get deeper into the Big 12 season, one thing has become clear, it helps to be at home. It also helps to have Thomas Robinson. Kansas ended Baylor’s undefeated season in impressive fashion, using Robinson and the home crowd to win 92-74.

Robinson scored 27 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, and spent most of the night frustrating a very good group of Baylor big men. He was helped on the outside by Tyshawn Taylor, who despite still having five turnovers, generally controlled the game. He finished with 28 points, including 4-6 shooting from three, and six assists. It was the kind of game Kansas needed from their point guard in order to beat the Bears.

Kansas got off to a hot start thanks to Baylor playing a weak zone defense. Robinson was able to do whatever he wanted inside, and didn’t show signs of being stoppable until Scott Drew finally switched to man defense. Switching to man helped Baylor get back into the game, and even take the lead for a few minutes. Bill Self responded by tightening up his defense, tempting Baylor’s big men into taking outside shots, and eventually Kansas pulled away.

This game is not at all a knock against Baylor though. Nothing I thought about them has changed based on last night. They are still a great team, they will still win a ton of games, they are still held back by their coach. Perry Jones is an incredible talent, though at times he seems to be hesitant to really bang inside. The same can be said for Quincy Miller, though he is at least more of a small forward than Jones. Still, the two of them combined for nine three point field goal attempts, which is too many.

Scott Drew will have to work on cleaning up his offense, and perhaps spend some time coaching man to man defense. His roster is stacked with guys that have defensive talent, he just needs to use it. He can play zone against Missouri on Saturday, but if the Tigers are shooting lights out from three, it will be another long day for the Bears.

For Kansas, there were things to be learned. Taylor’s continued development into a leader is crucial for the rest of the season. He’s been really good recently, not just as a player, but as a leader. He makes Kansas go from a one man show, to a legitimate threat to make the Final Four.

The play of Jeff Withey cannot go without mention either. He’s about as solid a defensive center as there is in college right now. His presence at the rim was part of the reason the Baylor big men were drifting outside all night, and his work on the offensive glass is stellar. He keeps possessions alive, which helps cover for the Jayhawks streaky shooting. His NBA future is questionable, but he is a great college center.

Kansas moves on to play at Texas this Saturday. Baylor goes home and will face Missouri.

Just remember, and this is important for fans of both teams, NCAA Tournament games are not played in Lawrence


Mizzou bounces back with win in Ames

January 12, 2012

For about 30-35 minutes it sure looked like it was Iowa State’s night. The Cyclones were hot from the three-point line, Royce White was asserting himself and they even got a half-court heave to go down. And what a statement it would be.

After intra-state losses to Drake and Northern Iowa early in the season, the Cyclones could begin conference play 3-0 with a win over a team ranked in the top ten. But it was not to be. Missouri stretched the lead just out of Iowa State’s grasp within the last six or so minutes of the game, and ran disciplined offensive sets to keep it there.

Iowa State used a lot of NBA-style isolation with White and good three-point shooting (12-23) to test the Tigers. This is a formula that should win quite a few games for the Cyclones, especially at home. But Missouri’s scoring depth and balance really shone tonight. Marcus Denmon was shut down (6 points) but the Tigers still had six players in double figures.

White had a stretch where he was easily getting to the basket in isolation, but Missouri started running a guard at him at the top of the key. After White mishandled it once Hoiberg seemed to go away from it. White was also in foul trouble so constantly having him run at guys was dangerous. But there are few players in the conference that can defend that, and Hoiberg can always go back to that look if the Cyclone offense is stagnant.

Steve Moore put in a nice effort and helped the Tigers not get demolished on the glass like they did against Kansas State. Missouri outrebounded Iowa State 36-25, but that isn’t too much of a surprise considering the matchup.

Ricardo Ratliffe’s efficient, reliable post-game (12 points on 6-8 shooting) is something that can really set Missouri apart as the season goes on. He’ll never dominate a game, but it seems if the Tigers can get him the ball in a decent spot near the paint, he’ll find a good shot. Kim English also had a couple of 15-footers while rolling off screens, which isn’t something he’s been great at in his career. That could also be a nice weapon for Frank Haith.

As for Iowa State, their future for this season certainly looks good. Assuming they win the gams they are supposed to, all they’ll need is a win over Kansas, Baylor or Kansas State to really feel good about their NCAA chances. I have a feeling they’ll get one of those teams at Hilton. Oh the beauty of the complete round robin.

Chris Babb did a great job on Denmon tonight, and with his size and athleticism Iowa State has a guy that can frustrate any opposing wing. And then there is White, who might be the singularly most dominant player in the conference behind Thomas Robinson. However, you almost wonder if teams should start to use a hack-a-Royce strategy. He was 2-8 from the line in this game and has gone 12-29 in Big 12 play.

 


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.