College Basketball Nation: Big 12

Kansas has conditioned Big 12 observers as well as Pavlov's dogs over the past decade, and many assumed the Jayhawks were headed for their 11th straight conference title.

But after Kansas State's 70-63 upset of the No. 8 Jayhawks on Monday, that space for a new Big 12 trophy in the Phog Allen Fieldhouse case will remain empty at least until March.

Iowa State (20-6, 10-4 Big 12) and Kansas (22-6, 11-4) are now tied in the loss column atop the Big 12 standings although the Jayhawks maintain a half game lead. Oklahoma (19-8, 10-5) looms just one loss behind Kansas.

The Sooners will have their say in March on the road at Iowa State and closing the regular season at home against the Jayhawks. The Sooners are the hottest team in the league, winning seven of their last eight games including one over the Cyclones.

West Virginia (21-6, 9-5) owns a last-second win over Kansas and could also be eyeing a shot at the crown should it win its remaining four games.

[+] EnlargeK-State
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerKansas State fans stormed the court following their upset win over No. 8 Kansas, a victory that has opened up the Big 12 title race.
All of a sudden it looks as if Kansas is the vulnerable team in the Big 12 having lost three of its last six. The good news for the Jayhawks is all three of those losses came on the road and their next two games against Texas and the Mountaineers are at home.

But the loss, along with the other two defeats in February, might create some doubt in Lawrence, Kansas. More importantly, it might make the Sooners and Cyclones more confident that the Jayhawks' grip on the title can be broken.

KU coach Bill Self has more to be concerned with than the way the K-State students stormed the floor after the game.

The Jayhawks haven't been a team that gets to the free throw line a lot. They rank ninth in the league in terms of percentage point distribution from free throws according to Ken Pomeroy, so if they're not making shots they tend to struggle.

Freshman forward Cliff Alexander has seemingly regressed despite Self inserting him into the starting lineup. Alexander was held scoreless with only four rebounds against the Wildcats. He's totaled just six points and 12 rebounds combined in his last four games.

The past three games for sophomore guard Wayne Selden Jr. haven't been much better offensively. He's shot a combined 5-of-15, including just one 3-pointer in his last seven attempts, for 16 total points.

Perry Ellis it seems is the lone Kansas player who has been consistently good as his 24 points against Kansas State marked back-to-back outings of more than 20 for the first time this season.

It is a bit perplexing. Kansas had beaten its in-state rival 40 of 44 times in the Big 12 era entering the game. The Wildcats were reeling, having lost seven of eight games. Senior Thomas Gipson had even publically questioned their heart, telling the Topeka Capital-Journal, “We'll probably lose by 27, who knows?”

Gipson's thoughts hardly suggested a team with resolve.

K-State was led by reserve sophomore guard Nigel Johnson -- he of a 4.2 scoring average and four previous double-figure scoring games all season -- pumping in a career-high 20 points.

Sophomore Marcus Foster, arguably the most talented player on the team, missed three games for disciplinary reasons after the first meeting with Kansas. He didn't look like a malcontent Monday, only scoring six points, but wildly cheering his teammates on from the bench.

It's hard to tell if the Wildcats just summoned enough intensity to pull off an upset because seeing that smiling Jayhawk mascot generally gets them seething. It will only take until Saturday to find out, when Iowa State visits Manhattan, Kansas.

In the meantime, the Wildcats unexpectedly breathed new life into a league chasing the Jayhawks and made it just a tad tougher on their rivals to breathe easy.


Big 12

Kansas team manager Chris Huey, a 6-foot-7 senior playfully called “Scarecrow” by teammates and coaches, ditched his duties on Saturday to suit up for the No. 8 Jayhawks in their home matchup against TCU.

Huey sported a No. 23 jersey for the occasion and even earned a mention in the official game notes.

According to the Kansas City Star, Huey was a solid basketball player who began his career at Saint Mary, an NAIA school in Leavenworth, Kansas. But he suffered a collapsed lung three times -- the first was reportedly the result of a vicious collision in high school -- and ultimately chose to stop playing and attend Kansas, where he's stayed close to the game while serving as a team manager.

Prior to the TCU game, coach Bill Self told Huey, a Kansas City-area native, that he wanted to reward him for his contributions to the team.

Per the KC Star:
“He’s unbelievably bright,” Self will say. “You can tell him anything, and he’ll remember it. He’s been a big asset for us.”

So much so, in fact, that Self approached Huey in the weeks leading up to Saturday’s game against TCU. After a season on the scout team, Self wanted to offer a reward: Huey would suit up against TCU, don a Kansas uniform and take his place on the bench -- just like the rest of the players. In the days before the game, Self kept the gesture quiet. But around the KU basketball office, staffers were busy putting him on the official roster, finding proper gear and adding his head shot to the pregame notes.

Would he get in the game, though? For most of the day, Kansas had a comfortable lead, but not quite comfortable enough to insert a student manager into the action.

But with 35 seconds to go, KU extended its lead to 11 and Self made the call. Get in there, Scarecrow.

The crowd went nuts.

How did he do? Check it out.


Saturday wrap: Time to face reality

January, 18, 2015
Jan 18
It’s that time of the season where hope is slowly replaced in the lineup by reality. There have been enough games on the road, enough against tough competition. Enough with the cupcake schedules. Enough excuses.

It’s time for teams to accept exactly what they are.

That’s why No. 11 Iowa State’s 86-81 win over No. 9 Kansas should be viewed as a statement game. The Cyclones proved they are not some gimmicky offense that just tries to wilt an opponent with pressure to keep pace scoring.

Oh, they are still very much an offensive explosion waiting to happen. They outscored the Jayhawks 31-19 in transition, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Iowa State guard Naz Long had 20 points and all five starters scored in double figures.

[+] EnlargeNaz Long
Reese Strickland/USA TODAY SportsNaz Long led the Cyclones with 20 points in their 86-81 win over Kansas on Saturday.
But they play defense now, too. The Cyclones have improved from being 133rd in adjusted defense in 2013 to 52nd this season, according to Iowa State held Kansas to 42.7 percent shooting from the field, which was slightly below its 46.5 average in conference play.

Georges Niang sealed the win by drawing a charge when the Jayhawks had a chance to tie the score with 14 seconds left.

The loss doesn’t bring an end to Kansas’ reign in the Big 12. It’s still too early for that kind of claim. But it does signal that Iowa State is going to have a say in determining who claims the league crown.


The biggest surprise from Saturday has to be that Kansas State, the same team that lost to Texas Southern, now has a half-game lead in the Big 12. There are seven ranked teams in the league, and the Wildcats aren’t one of them.

There’s no guarantee they’ll stay in first with the next four games all against ranked teams. But the Wildcats were trending downward when coach Bruce Weber benched Thomas Gipson, Marcus Foster and Jevon Thomas at different times recently in an attempt to get his team’s attention.

He’s got it now as the Wildcats rallied from a 14-point deficit to beat No. 22 Baylor 63-61. They’ve won four straight, which includes a win at No. 18 Oklahoma.


No. 1 Kentucky’s well-dissected struggles in its first two SEC games are long forgotten after its 70-48 win over Alabama. Along with Tuesday’s 86-37 win over Missouri, that makes back-to-back games of not allowing its opponent to reach 50 points. The Wildcats are once again the dominant team everyone expected to see in league play.

No. 2 Virginia, which joins Kentucky as the only unbeaten teams remaining, has arguably been the most consistent team all season. The Cavaliers showed they don’t get rattled after being down five early in the second half at Boston College. They used a 10-0 run to take control of the game and exit with a 66-51 victory.

No. 5 Villanova took a break from the Big East schedule to handle crosstown rival Penn 62-47. Nova is still positioned as the team to beat in the league with its only loss coming in overtime at Seton Hall.

Besides a road dud at Illinois, No. 14 Maryland is fitting in just fine its first season in the Big Ten. The Terps also hold a half-game lead over Wisconsin and Iowa for first place.

They dismantled Michigan State 75-59 as Melo Trimble and Jake Layman combined for 47 points.


No. 4 Duke, No. 18 Oklahoma and No. 20 Texas all entered Saturday having lost two straight games. Each stopped the losing streak against ranked teams, and in the process, regained some of that missing confidence.

Duke uncharacteristically played zone to neutralize what had been its weakness in both losses -- defending ball screens and dribble penetration.

Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield went 10-for-10 from the field for 27 points. When the Sooners get hot shooting, there will be many more wins like their 82-65 dismantling of No. 24 Oklahoma State

Texas guard Isaiah Taylor’s return from a wrist injury that sidelined him for a month was supposed to signal that the ‘Horns were getting stronger. Instead, they dropped two of three games while seemingly figuring out their chemistry again. They appeared to find it in stomping No. 16 West Virginia 77-50.

No. 10 Arizona had one of the most impressive wins of the day in stopping No. 8 Utah 69-51. The Wildcats may still be slow starters, but their win proved that they can finish.


Louisville got exposed at home in a way that no one expected. Losing to Duke is one thing, but shooting 30 percent from the field is another. The Cardinals have lost two of their past three games and will probably have to deal with more zones after failing to meet the Blue Devils’ challenge of daring them to shoot from outside.

They don’t have any bad losses -- all three have come to teams ranked in the top 15 -- and their best win was against Ohio State, a team that’s also losing its grip.

The Buckeyes have dropped two of their past three games with Saturday’s 76-67 loss at Iowa. Thought as a team that could possibly contend with Wisconsin for the Big Ten title, they moved to 3-3 and are in eighth place.

Oklahoma State has now dropped three out of four games with its loss to Oklahoma. Yes, the losses all came against ranked teams, and they were all on the road. But in the Big 12 this season, only three league members aren’t currently ranked. The Cowboys need to find a way to win away from Stillwater.

No. 19 Arkansas joined Baylor in losing to unranked teams on Saturday. The Razorbacks appear to be pretty one-dimensional with their frenetic full-court pressure and trapping. If their opponent doesn’t have the backcourt to handle the pace, they generally have a good shot at winning. When they face teams like Mississippi, who don’t mind playing that pace, it can be trouble. Aided by transition baskets, Ole Miss shot 56 percent in its 96-82 win over the Razorbacks.

Selden could be that dude for Kansas

December, 6, 2014

LAWRENCE, Kansas -- If you want to really irritate Kansas coach Bill Self, ask him about players not living up to expectations. Especially the players he's coached who were one-and-done types.

The list is long, which is why his tolerance for the questioning is short.

His tipping point was probably last season when an early narrative on Andrew Wiggins emerged that he was somehow not playing to his potential. It has continued this season with freshmen Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre. And along the way, Self has found himself preaching patience to anyone who will listen when it comes to sophomore guard Wayne Selden Jr.'s development.

"Most of the kids that come in with a lot of expectations are expectations that have been placed on them by outside influences," Self said.

Selden, like the others, arrived on campus as a potential ready-made NBA player. At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, he had the body frame. He'd shown enough explosiveness to be a big-time scorer and enough physical skills to be a good defender.

[+] EnlargeWayne Selden Jr., Michael Frazier II
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsWayne Selden Jr. said he's finding ways to stay on the court for Kansas if his shot isn't falling.
After a solid freshman season, but certainly not one that NBA scouts would consider sizzling, he dropped out of a lot of mock drafts.

"You play good one or two days in a summer camp, those things can be blown up or those things can really hurt you," Self said. "Neither one of them help or hurt you in the big scheme of things because you still have an opportunity to go out and play and show who you are."

Selden showed who he is Friday in the Jayhawks' 71-65 win over Florida. The sophomore guard bounced back from an 0-for-10 outing against Michigan State and scored a season-high 21 points to lead Kansas' rally from an 18-point deficit.

Selden admitted he might not have shaken off a poor performance so easily last season.

"As a freshman, you get down on yourself a lot," Selden said. "You struggle with confidence, you just don't really know what to do. Now if I miss shots I'm not really thinking I'm not going to play. I try to defend and do the other things to help me stay with it and stay on the floor."

Selden is aiming to become a well-rounded player whose game isn't affected by a poor shooting night.

"I think he's always been a streaky shooter, but the one thing about him is I think he's got confidence in himself and belief in himself," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "That's what really good players do ... he came back and responded really, really well."

The scouting report on Kansas is defend the 3-point line and protect the paint. All midrange shots are fair game and Donovan said he was willing to concede those. Selden blew up that blueprint, and if he can continue to do so moving forward, the Jayhawks will soar.

"We need him every game. He's a big part of the team, one of the best players," Kansas freshman guard Devonte Graham said. "We feed off of him and you [saw] what happened."

Forward Perry Ellis has been as steady all season, leading Kansas in scoring and rebounding. But for the Jayhawks to be special -- to pursue another Big 12 title and have a deep run in March -- they need one of their future pros to step forward.

Selden could be that guy. And he doesn't have to score 20 points a game to do so.

"It's not about that here at Kansas, it's about sharing the ball and playing basketball," Selden said. "If you do that, the pie is big enough for everybody."

SEC, Big 12

This season’s SEC/Big 12 Challenge is anchored by Friday’s prime-time matchup between Texas and Kentucky. But that’s not the only meaningful game of the series. Kansas State-Tennessee, Florida-Kansas, Arkansas-Iowa State and LSU-West Virginia are all interesting, too. And you can watch them all here.

Here are the top 10 players in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

Agree? Disagree? Tell us on Twitter by using #Top10Thursday.

1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky

Karl-Anthony TownsMark Zerof/USA TODAY Sports
It’s not easy to stand out on a roster full of future first-round picks. But the freshman and potential No. 1 pick in next summer’s NBA draft has emerged as one of the premier talents in Lexington, especially on the defensive end. He has a ridiculous 18.6 block percentage (No. 2 in the country, per Ken Pomeroy).

2. Dakari Johnson, Kentucky

Dakari JohnsonMark Zerof/USA TODAY Sports
After he decided to come back following last season’s solid finish in the NCAA tournament, Johnson changed his body and tweaked his game. He’s second in scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage (10.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game, 60.5 percent from the field) on the No. 1 team in the country.

3. Perry Ellis, Kansas

Perry EllisMark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire
He was overshadowed by Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins last season, but Ellis is the catalyst for a Kansas team that’s chasing its 11th consecutive Big 12 title. He’s the reigning Big 12 player of the week after earning MVP honors at the Orlando Classic. He scored 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the title game against Michigan State.

4. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma

Buddy HieldSteven Branscombe/USA TODAY Sports
Oklahoma has suffered some tough losses already this season (Creighton, Wisconsin). But the Sooners will get back on the right path with Hield in charge. The 6-foot-4 junior’s stats this season have been impressive. Can’t ignore the 2.3 turnovers per game, but check out the 16.7 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.2 SPG and 37.5 percent clip from beyond the arc.

5. Georges Niang, Iowa State

Georges NiangAP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
He has clearly recovered from the foot injury that sidelined him during the NCAA tourney last season. Niang is shooting a career-low 30 percent from the 3-point line, but his 18.2 PPG, 6.6 RPG and 88.5 percent mark from the free throw line are all career highs.

6. Juwan Staten, West Virginia

Juwan StatenAP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo
He hasn’t quite matched last season's crazy marks. But 15.1 PPG, 4.3 APG and 1.4 SPG are still respectable numbers. Plus, he’s ranked 12th overall in the Big 12 with a 121.9 offensive rating, per Ken Pomeroy. Staten’s production has been vital for 16th-ranked and undefeated West Virginia.

7. Marcus Foster, Kansas State

Marcus FosterBrian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports
Somehow, Foster wasn’t even ranked among the best players in Texas as a prep athlete. But multiple colleges now probably wish they’d pursued the sophomore. He’s averaging 14.9 PPG. That’s commendable. His 47.7 percent connection rate on his 3-pointers is just nonsense.

8. Cinmeon Bowers, Auburn

Cinmeon BowersEthan Miller/Getty Images
The junior college transfer is an important player for Bruce Pearl. He’s averaging 15.2 PPG and 13.0 RPG for the Tigers. It might be a tough season for Pearl, but Bowers, KT Harrell and a healthy Antoine Mason will keep this program in most games throughout the season.

9. Bobby Portis, Arkansas

Bobby PortisTim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports
He grew a couple of inches in the offseason. And he was a problem before he hit 6-11. Portis (14.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.5 BPG), a potential lottery pick next summer, is one of the reasons Arkansas possesses a top-20 offense and top-60 defense.

10. Jarvis Summers, Ole Miss

Jarvis SummersSpruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports
Remember that “What will Ole Miss do without Marshall Henderson?” convo? Well, Andy Kennedy’s squad is 5-1 with wins over a previously ranked Creighton squad and Cincinnati. How? Well, Summers (14.7 PPG, 3.7 APG, 1.7 SPG) has become the new leader for the program. He’s an underrated star for a team that needed one after Henderson left the building.

Five observations: Big 12 media day

October, 15, 2014
KANSAS CITY -- Here are five quick observations from Wednesday's Big 12 media day at the Sprint Center:

1. Media days can be sleepy affairs. Coaches step to the podium for early-morning interviews, answer a couple of rote questions ("Could you talk about the importance of experience for your team?") with mostly vague platitudes ("I really like our team") and then shuffle off to the next scheduled requirement. Everyone goes through the undercaffeinated motions. With rare exceptions, very little is learned.

Curtis Shaw is not a coach. He's the Big 12's coordinator of officials. On Wednesday morning, he staged a brief, scheduled interruption midway through the coaches' news conferences. Shaw's incursion wasn't just a break from the typical media day protocol; it was a genuine burst of self-criticism and new information on the NCAA's ongoing efforts to create a better, more fluid brand of basketball.

Shaw was on hand to talk about rules. More specifically, he was at the Sprint Center to discuss the so-called "freedom of motion" changes the NCAA rules committee made last season, why those changes were made, and how they'll be implemented anew in the season to come.

"The rules committee is made up of coaches," Shaw said. "They're the ones who decided the game didn't look well. The UConn-Butler game in the Final Four a couple years ago -- everyone said, 'This is enough. We're not playing basketball like this anymore.'"

As the numbers demonstrate, the changes made before the 2013-14 season really did have a positive effect. The game was more free-flowing. Scoring was up, even as the pace of the game -- maybe something only a shot-clock reduction could substantively affect -- stayed steady. But all was not well, as Shaw saw it. Even the one area where reviews for the changes were mostly positive -- the block-charge -- Shaw saw serious room to improve.

"We butchered it," Shaw said. "By January 1st, I could watch film and couldn't tell you if it was right or wrong."

The problem was not that officials didn't take the NCAA's changes to heart. It's that the interpretation lacked uniformity and created confusion. Now, the new emphasis will remove any distinction between primary defenders and secondary defenders, to streamline the block-charge call into one simple calculation: When the offensive player leaves the floor, any defensive movement is a blocking foul. That simple.

But it's not all about defense; offensive strategies also have a role to play in freedom of motion. Shaw brought a raft of clips with him to this effect, comprising a number of situations the officials will police even more closely this season: holding and tugging cutters away from the ball, illegal jostling for position on the block, illegal screens on the perimeter.

To demonstrate, Shaw showed a clip of Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes displacing a defender with his shoulder. The defender was in legal, established position as Stokes gained an advantage with his sizable torso. A made basket (and no call) were the result. Others showed tugging away from the play, the kind of thing officials might hesitate to call in the past. But after coaches insisted these kinds of plays were as crucial as any on-ball contact, Shaw is determined to hold the whole court to the same standard.

The ultimate goal? A better, more balanced understanding of legal play on both sides of the ball, no matter the position of the player or the play. In other words, a better game -- at least as far as the officials can create it.

"A rules official said three years ago, "Our time in the weight room became more important than our time in practice,'" Shaw said. "That's not the intent of basketball."

[+] EnlargeJuwan Staten
AP Photo/Andrew FergusonJuwan Staten averaged 18.1 points in his junior season at West Virginia.
2. West Virginia might be the most intriguing team in the Big 12, in that the Juwan Staten-led Mountaineers have a seemingly equal chance of being really good or really mediocre. So what will the Mountaineers do differently this season? To guide us on our quest for knowledge, a bowtie-clad Bob Huggins offered some classically Huggins-esque guruship:

"I think we're finally maybe going to try to guard somebody, which would be something new," Huggins said. "Actually, maybe [we'll] try to run to the rim and shoot a layup. We've been kind of like your dog, you know, with the electric fence. We run right to that 3 and kind of stop right there. So we're going to actually try to run in past the 3point line this year and see if that works."

No further analysis required.

3. Kansas, reigning Big 12 champs 10 years in a row, were the coaches totally predictable preseason title pick. But they weren't unanimous: Bill Self admitted he chose Texas and said the Longhorns' five returning starters, plus super-talented incoming freshmen, made them the selection.

"I think if you're looking at it in terms of their roster, they should be the favorite," Self said.

If that's the case, it might hinge on whether Jonathan Holmes, an aggressive, slashing power forward, can slide away from the rim far enough to give Myles Turner and Cameron Ridley room to work.

"We're working on it right now, figuring out each other's tendencies -- when to cut, when not to cut," Holmes said. "I've played some 3. I know the plays. It's just about finding what I can do against defenders, where I can make things work."

4. Self is being polite, of course. He's also pretty optimistic about his roster, even if he and his players don't quite know what the rotation will look like when the Jayhawks begin the season in November.

[+] EnlargeCliff Alexander
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty ImagesKansas' Cliff Alexander is one of the headliners in a group of talented freshmen entering the Big 12.
It's hard to overstate just how new different the 2014-15 Jayhawks will look from the freshman-dominated version that Self rolled out last season. There are talented freshmen here -- Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre chief among them -- but there are also a host of returners and veterans (and a transfer or two) all vying for time in the starting lineup. That competition is ongoing, meaning neither Self nor his players could say what the rotation will look like just yet.

"We've got a LOT of guys," Perry Ellis said. "And everybody's going against each other every day, trying to earn minutes. It's a different look for sure, but it's making us better as a team."

5. Any short list of 2014-15 Big 12 contenders must include Iowa State, even an Iowa State team that lost its two best players (DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim) to graduation. One reason? Transfers, of course: As he's done every season of his tenure, Fred Hoiberg has lured a crop of immediately ready transfers to Ames, the most notable of which, Bryce Dejean-Jones, should be a major contributor right away. The other reason? The emergence of Dustin Hogue, a great rebounder and role player who looks likely to push Georges Niang for post touches in the season to come.

So, how does Hoiberg do it? How do you get so many new players to integrate so quickly, each and every season?

"It's all about freedom," Hogue said. "Playing his offense is about learning how to express yourself on the court. You have to unlearn how you played before, like, 'Oh, I'm a 3, I have to play here.' You play everywhere. You can't be robotic. But once you figure that out, everything feels much freer."

Big 12

Earlier this year, Kansas announced that Naadir Tharpe had chosen to transfer to another school for personal reasons. And a promising preseason for a team that has won or shared the last 10 conference titles was pre-empted by the perennial point guard drama that’s become the norm in Lawrence.

The Jayhawks have a point guard situation? Yeah, and the sun came up and Beyonce just won another award and the Cubs are struggling and another Kevin Hart movie will hit theaters soon. What’s new?

Nothing, really.

The race remains open. It’s always open.

And that’s the problem. And that should be the fear in Lawrence.

[+] EnlargeFrank Mason
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesFrank Mason has experience but Kansas is likely to explore different combinations of players at point guard.
Sure, there’s Frank Mason. He’s experienced and a solid leader for a Jayhawks squad that will boast a robust roster of future NBA draft picks, including Cliff Alexander, Kelly Oubre, Wayne Selden Jr. and Perry Ellis. Last season, Mason was 10th in the Big 12 in assist rate, per But he logged only 16.2 minutes per game. It’s unclear how the sophomore will perform with extended action this year.

Freshman Devonte' Graham, a late signee, will compete for the slot, too.

“I think Devonte’ will be an immediate-impact guy for us,” Bill Self said via the press release that accompanied Graham’s signing. “We certainly solidified our situation in the backcourt by bringing in a quality guy, and I think Devonte’ is one of the premier point guards in the country.”

There’s also the Conner Frankamp conundrum. The sophomore can play both guard spots, but his defense could be a challenge for Self’s scheme. Frankamp shot only 31 percent on 3-pointers last season, but if he regains the stroke that made him a prep star in his hometown of Wichita, Kansas, Self will have to use the guard.

That’s not the country’s most appealing crop of point guards, especially in comparison to the other top-10 teams. Duke will be led by Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook. Arizona has T.J. McConnell. Kentucky has Andrew Harrison and Tyler Ulis. Fred VanVleet is still at Wichita State. The road to the Final Four will be paved with elite PGs.

Still, Self cobbles together point guards the way MacGyver made explosives from a toothbrush, napkin and cheeseburger wrapper. The coach will figure it out.

In recent seasons, Tyshawn Taylor, Elijah Johnson and Tharpe all played the position for the Jayhawks. But their sometimes erratic efforts and sloppiness were a problem. They weren’t fits for Self’s system. That didn’t stop the Jayhawks from manhandling the Big 12 or advancing in the NCAA tournament.

But it kept them from their peak performance during some of those seasons.

Once again, KU is in a situation that features so much potential yet so many potential problems if Self can’t find the right point guard.

Johnson and Taylor weren’t pure point guards. But they could create shots and push the ball and run the break. They were playmakers.

With Mason, Graham or Frankamp, Kansas won’t have that. Not to that degree. There’s enough talent on the roster, however, to capture the Big 12 title without dynamic point guard play. And there’s still a chance that Self will use Graham and Mason together.

But they need a point guard who's comfortable in that role and a team that’s comfortable with that player embracing that role, too.

The Jayhawks never seemed at peace with Tharpe at point guard last season. When a Joel Embiid-less Jayhawks team came undone (14 turnovers) in its third-round loss to Stanford in the NCAA tournament, there were clearly some leadership and ballhandling problems that contributed to that loss.

Kansas will be favored to win another Big 12 title. The Jayhawks will crack the preseason top 10 again, and they’ll be equipped with a squad that should compete for Self’s second national title.

That’s assuming the staff reaches some conclusion, some solution, at point guard. Mason, Graham and Frankamp are all options. They aren’t stars. And they’re all young.

But someone usually emerges for Self. You don’t win 10 consecutive Big 12 crowns without a serviceable point guard.

Yet Kansas’ season centers on what happens there. Will it be Mason, Frankamp or Graham? What if Selden has to move over and help? What if these young Jayhawks don’t find a point guard they trust?

Well, they’ll eventually figure it out.

Unless they don’t.

If that happens, Kansas might be left behind come March.

Georges Niang disputes Hield's prediction

July, 11, 2014
On Friday, while everyone was busy talking about an obscure professional athlete returning to his hometown team, Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield -- who was at the LeBron James Skills Academy this week, fittingly enough -- dropped a rather bold prediction about the 2014-15 Big 12.

"We're gonna win the Big 12," Hield told CBS' Jeff Borzello. "I'm saying it right now, we're gonna win the Big 12."

Iowa State forward Georges Niang disagreed:

One can only assume Niang was so incredulous because he assumes, like the rest of us, that Kansas is going to win the Big 12. (Kansas always wins the Big 12.)

3-point shot: Baylor reaches out to Austin

June, 24, 2014

In today's 3-point shot, Andy Katz reports on the Baylor Bears' invitation to Isaiah Austin to finish his degree; Marquette's new coaching staff; and why Billy Donovan could be Mike Krzyzewski's heir as the coach for Team USA.
Editor's note: Over the next five weeks, we will reveal the top 50 coaches in college basketball as decided by our ESPN Forecast panel. On Monday, we unveil No. 15: Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg. On Tuesday, we release No. 14.

He had a plan, but he didn’t have the personnel to execute it.

Fred Hoiberg had no interest in the typical rebuilding project that requires the nurturing of young players’ minds and bodies. The Mayor wanted to win now. He craved a Big 12 title today. Not two or three years from the date of his return to Iowa State in 2010.

[+] EnlargeFred Hoiberg
Reese Strickland/USA TODAY SportsFred Hoiberg has reignited the Iowa State program by becoming the Pied Piper of transfers.
He had to have the players that would allow the Cyclones to compete with Kansas that season.

And the pool of young men searching for second and third chances -- transfers -- provided the firepower he sought.

They had game experience and maturity. They were talented and desperate. Some arrived with warning labels, but their talent surpassed the risk for Hoiberg and his staff.

“I really came into it with an open mind,” Hoiberg told “The biggest thing was getting talent to compete for the Big 12 title. I didn’t know all the ins and outs of recruiting. [My staff and I] talked a lot about how we could get the talent level up.”

Today, Ames, Iowa, is a hub -- a successful one -- for transfers. They’ve been the soil that has sprouted a bountiful stretch for a Top-25 program and a head coach who is now recognized as one of the most coveted young coaches by the NBA.

Last season, former Marshall star DeAndre Kane earned Big 12 Newcomer of the Year honors after guiding the Cyclones to a Big 12 tourney title and the Sweet 16, where they lost to eventual national champion Connecticut.

Next season, former UNLV standout Bryce Dejean-Jones, former Northern Illinois star Abdel Nader and former Marquette recruit Jameel McKay could all crack the starting rotation for a Cyclones program that will seek its fourth consecutive trip to the Big Dance in 2014-15.

“The chemistry is great because it’s such an open program,” McKay said. “As far as blending with the team, honestly, I was surprised when I first got here. They all welcomed me when I got in. I never felt like a transfer or anything. I was welcomed from day one.”

The pursuit of transfers, some of whom had murky playing pasts, began with Royce White (Minnesota), a former All-Big 12 first-teamer and first-round NBA draft pick in 2012. He, Chris Allen (Michigan State) and Chris Babb (Penn State) helped Iowa State reach its first NCAA tournament since 2005.

They all came to Ames with some baggage, none more highly publicized than White’s.

White was a five-star prospect when he entered Minnesota, but he never played for Tubby Smith because of multiple legal issues. The 6-foot-8 forward had a unique set of skills. He also had the potential to mar everything that Hoiberg craved.

“Right away, right off the bat, when we first got the job, the guy we locked in on, that we knew would really help if it all worked out, was Royce,” said Matt Abdelmassih, an Iowa State assistant who has played a key role in the recruitment of transfers for the Cyclones. “Royce, I’d say, started it all for us. The reason why is getting a high-caliber player to buy in and trust us was really difficult because we were unknown. He trusted us. It took off.”

[+] EnlargeRoyce White
David Calvert/NBAE/Getty ImagesRoyce White helped establish the transfer pipeline to Ames, Iowa.
White flourished and avoided the drama that had delayed his progress with the Gophers.

His production impacted Kane, who wanted what White had in Ames -- a positive conclusion to his collegiate career and an NBA future. Kane enabled Hoiberg to lure additional ready-now talents to Ames.

“I got to see the success rate from the guys before, and I got to talk to DeAndre Kane,” said Dejean-Jones, who averaged 13.6 points for UNLV last season. “He told me how he was in the same position I was in and how comfortable he felt going into it and just how he loved going there, so I just felt like it was the right place for me.”

Hoiberg’s naivete helped him when he accepted the job. He admits that he initially didn’t know all the recruiting rules and nuances. But his stint in the NBA also made it easier to dismiss the stigma attached to the multitude of Division I prospects who would rather see other people. Sure, some had issues he knew he’d have to address. That wasn’t unusual in the NBA, though.

So he embraced that process. As an executive with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Hoiberg vetted young men vying for multimillion-dollar contracts.

He has applied the same tactics at Iowa State. And those investigations have revealed some red flags about players that the program has rejected.

“I had done a lot of that leading into the draft,” Hoiberg said. “Not one time has [the former coach of a player we’ve signed] said, ‘You really shouldn’t go after that kid.’ ... But we’ve turned down some pretty good players.”

White had a variety of off-court issues. Hoiberg spoke to White’s former coaches and family members, however, and concluded that the young man just needed a new environment. He was right.

Allen was suspended multiple times by Tom Izzo during his time at Michigan State. Kane had a reputation as a selfish hothead.

Both admitted their shortcomings and asked for a fresh start.

“Someone confesses to you that they really screwed up, it’s worth the risk,” Abdelmassih said.

It hasn’t been a flawless mission, though. Babb was suspended for a violation of team rules at the beginning of the 2012-13 season. Nader is due to make an appearance in court later this month after pleading not guilty to a DWI charge stemming from an April arrest -- sophomore guard Matt Thomas was also cited Saturday for operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

But Hoiberg’s first four years have not been defined by problems, although they could have been. That initial group of transfers had the potential to both reboot the program and scar it.

Hoiberg knew the possibilities. And he worried about them.

Shortly after he’d accepted the job in 2010, he attended an AAU tournament in the Minneapolis suburbs during a furious thunderstorm. He’d already targeted White at that point.

And he wanted to know if it was the right move. As he spoke with a local reporter about the pros and cons of chasing White, a rattling boom rocked the building. Then, the lights went out and the gym grew quiet.

In that dark facility, Hoiberg conversed about the light that White might provide if he could just lure the versatile talent to Ames and help him focus. Maybe the troubled power forward would be the answer and not the problem.

“There are times where you say to yourself we dodged a bullet,” Abdelmassih said, “and it’s a big bullet that we dodged because it could have backfired.”

3-point shot: SEC/Big 12 Challenge draws

May, 8, 2014

Andy Katz looks at the SEC/Big 12 Challenge draws for Arkansas and LSU and off-the-field trouble for Oregon.

The pairings for the 2014 SEC/Big 12 Challenge were announced Wednesday afternoon.

In the event’s second year, it will again offer a variety of intriguing matchups. The Big 12 won the first Challenge last year by a 7-3 margin, and the Big 12, a league that sent seven teams to the NCAA tourney last season compared to the SEC’s three, has the edge again.

Here’s a ranking of the 10 games in this year’s SEC/Big 12 Challenge (Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Alabama and Georgia will not participate this season):

1. Texas at Kentucky: Call your friends. Get your popcorn ready. This will be phenomenal. Well, at least it appears that way right now. When Myles Turner, the nation's No. 2 prospect in the 2014 ESPN 100, picked Texas, he transformed the Longhorns into a Big 12 title contender and potential national power. The Longhorns had a solid stable even before Turner's decision. Cameron Ridley and Jonathan Holmes helped the Longhorns orchestrate one of the most surprising runs to the NCAA tourney in the country last season, considering all the departures from the previous season’s team. It’s fitting that Texas' ridiculous frontcourt will face the “Voltron” of college basketball frontcourts. Kentucky will be a problem for the rest of the country. Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee would form the nation’s top frontcourt without any help. Add blue-chip recruits Trey Lyles and Karl Towns Jr. and, well, you can see this is a rare pool of NBA prospects in one frontcourt. Plus Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison are back. And a couple McDonald’s All Americans will come off the bench. Is Texas a legitimate contender? Is Kentucky the top team in America and the national title favorite? This matchup could answer both questions.

2. Florida at Kansas: Bill Self just lost two players, Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins, who could be the top two players selected in this summer’s NBA draft. But this is Kansas. Hit reset and continue to win Big 12 titles. That’s just what they do in Lawrence. The Jayhawks will reload with Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre, a couple McDonald’s All Americans who will fill the voids. Wayne Selden, Perry Ellis and a starting-point-guard-to-be-determined will be on the floor too. Point guard is not an issue for the Gators with Kasey Hill returning. They have lost the senior crew that helped the Gators beat the Jayhawks in Gainesville during last season’s Challenge, though. That is an issue. But this is a good barometer for both programs, which will each rely on youth. Billy Donovan’s 13th-ranked recruiting class, per RecruitingNation, will have to mature fast and help Dorian Finney-Smith, Michael Frazier II, Chris Walker and the rest of the roster challenge Kentucky at the top of the SEC next season. Walker will have to be a primary piece of the offense, not a sub at the end of the bench. But Kansas’ edge in experience and overall talent could be the difference. Look for Selden to have an All-America moment or two in this matchup.

3. Arkansas at Iowa State: Fred Hoiberg signed former UNLV star Bryce Dejean-Jones to play for the Cyclones. Add him to a squad that also features Monte Morris, Naz Long, Dustin Hogue and Georges Niang and the Fighting Hoibergs should be Big 12 contenders again. Arkansas swept Kentucky last season, but the Razorbacks struggled on the road. And Hilton Coliseum gets rowdy. Can Arkansas handle that environment? Bobby Portis is one of three top scorers from last season returning for the Razorbacks. Four-star point guard Anton Beard could make an immediate contribution too. This should be a solid matchup, especially as both squads are figuring things out early in the season.

4. LSU at West Virginia: Prior to last season, both LSU and West Virginia looked like programs that would turn the corner in 2013-14. Although both improved, they still missed expectations. So this is a statement game. If they are serious about securing NCAA tourney bids, then they have to win games like this. Juwan Staten anchors a West Virginia team that returns most of the talent from a season ago. On the other side, Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey will be joined by four-star recruit Elbert Robinson in a strong frontcourt that must carry LSU this season. This is one of those matchups that might mean a lot more on Selection Sunday than it will in December.

5. Oklahoma State at South Carolina: Travis Ford and Frank Martin are in similar positions. They both need one player on their respective rosters to have a breakout season. The Cowboys are deeper than the Gamecocks, but there is a lot riding on Le'Bryan Nash. If South Carolina plans to make a move in 2014-15, talented sophomore Sindarius Thornwell will have to orchestrate that evolution.

6. Baylor at Vanderbilt: Two teams with interesting outlooks. Scott Drew lost every meaningful member of last season's Sweet 16 squad other than Kenny Chery, Rico Gathers and Royce O'Neale, and he didn’t sign a stellar recruiting class. But he does have a bunch of reserves who have been waiting to prove themselves. For Vanderbilt, Kevin Stallings will get Kedren Johnson, who missed a year due to suspension, back in the mix and add a recruiting class ranked 28th nationally by RecruitingNation. This could be the season Vandy rises in the SEC. Johnson vs. Chery will be one of the best matchups in the Challenge.

7. Missouri at Oklahoma: Ryan Spangler and three other starters return for Lon Kruger’s Oklahoma squad. Plus, he will add a couple top-100 recruits. New Missouri coach Kim Anderson will need youngsters Johnathan Williams III and top recruit JaKeenan Gant to step up after the Tigers lost their top three scorers from last season.

8. Kansas State at Tennessee: Marcus Foster should be the early favorite to win Big 12 player of the year honors. He’s the reason Bruce Weber’s team shouldn’t be dismissed as a threat in the conference. Donnie Tyndall doesn’t really have a roster right now, so this one is difficult to gauge. But if the young men who have requested releases from their scholarships come back to Knoxville, then this one will be more intriguing than it appears to be right now.

9. Auburn at Texas Tech: This game won’t feature the most talent from either league. But this will be Bruce Pearl’s first season at Auburn, where he’s blessed with great facilities and an administration that seems determined to make a stand in the SEC. Tubby Smith didn’t turn the Red Raiders into world beaters during his first season in Lubbock, but a few surprises -- upsets over Baylor, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Texas -- were promising. Nothing wrong with a matchup between a couple of veteran coaches who are trying to rebuild in unique locations.

10. TCU at Ole Miss: The Marshall Henderson era is over, so Andy Kennedy will try to rebuild around Jarvis Summers, incoming young players and junior college transfers. TCU coach Trent Johnson lost talented guard Jarvis Ray. Both squads will start at the bottom and probably stay there all season. This isn’t the Challenge’s sexiest matchup.

3-point shot: Oregon State coaching search

May, 6, 2014

Andy Katz looks at replacements for Craig Robinson at Oregon State and news at the Big 12 meetings.

3-point shot: Tommy Amaker's future

April, 23, 2014

Andy Katz looks at Tommy Amaker's future at Harvard and SEC-Big 12 challenge field.

Look back, look ahead: Big 12

April, 17, 2014
In recent years, the Big Ten has been -- arguably -- college basketball’s best conference.

But the Big 12 fought for that perch in 2013-14. The league featured an impressive lineup, one that only the Big Ten rivaled. Realignment’s winds took more from the league (Colorado, Nebraska and Missouri) than they added (West Virginia) in recent years. Seven squads from the conference, however, earned invites to this year’s NCAA tournament, the ultimate barometer of a conference’s success. There are only 10 teams in the Big 12, so you can definitely call it college basketball’s pound-for-pound king this past season.

[+] EnlargeJoel Embiid
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsAn injury to Kansas center Joel Embiid did not help the Big 12's tournament showing.
Kansas competed for a top seed in the tourney and probably would have seized one had Joel Embiid remained healthy down the stretch. Iowa State won the conference tourney title and made a run to the Sweet 16, where it lost to eventual national champ Connecticut. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State (just the second team since tourney expansion in 1985 to secure an at-large berth after enduring a seven-game losing streak during its season), Kansas State, Baylor and Texas were all in the field, too.

Few thrived, though. Iowa State and Baylor were the only Big 12 teams in the Sweet 16, and neither advanced beyond that stage. However, the 2013-14 campaign was still a strong one for the league, excluding its lukewarm results in the tournament. The latter shouldn’t be -- can’t be -- ignored in the final assessment of the conference, but it’ll be back in 2014-15.

The Big 12 hit the reset button. An influx of top recruits and transfers is coming, so next year might be even better.

What we saw this season: In 2004, the iPhone hadn’t been introduced to the public yet. Dwight Howard was an NBA rookie. And Georgia Tech -- yes, Georgia Tech -- lost to Connecticut in the national championship.

That was also the last time Bill Self failed to win a Big 12 title (the Jayhawks finished second) during his time at Kansas. It was his first season. His reign continued last season, when he led the Jayhawks to their 10th consecutive conference crown following a rocky nonconference season. Andrew Wiggins wasn’t LeBron James, but he didn’t have to be. The freshman’s numbers -- 17.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.0 blocks and 1.2 steals per game -- were as remarkable as the poise he displayed while he dealt with intense scrutiny throughout the season. His team’s round of 32 loss to Stanford in the Big Dance was a stunner, but Embiid’s late-season back injury certainly affected the program.

DeAndre Kane was able to lead Iowa State to wins over opponents such as Michigan, Iowa, Baylor and Kansas. Melvin Ejim, however, was the league’s player of the year. Georges Niang's foot injury suffered during the NCAA tournament was an unfortunate development for the program, but Fred Hoiberg proved again that it’s possible to add new pieces each season and develop chemistry. His formula works.

Marcus Smart's most memorable matchup had nothing to do with basketball. That shoving incident in Lubbock, Texas, prompted a three-game suspension, the worst of a series of lows for Travis Ford’s team. Everything that could go wrong for Oklahoma State went wrong. Season-ending injuries. Arrests. Suspensions. But Smart and the Pokes recovered to make a run to the Big Dance. Baylor found similar magic late. Cory Jefferson and Co. started 2-8 in league play but finished with a furious push that ended in the Sweet 16.

Oklahoma and Texas had successful stretches, too. But neither could maintain that mojo. The Sooners and Longhorns, however, made the Big 12 gauntlet even tougher.

Tubby Smith couldn’t get Texas Tech out of the conference’s lower tier even after a 5-3 midseason spurt -- ultimately an anomaly -- that included wins over Baylor, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. West Virginia couldn’t find the quality wins necessary to be considered for an at-large slot on Selection Sunday, and a lopsided loss to Texas in the first round of the Big 12 tourney didn’t help. But the Mountaineers were the eighth Big 12 squad that finished in the RPI’s top 100.

Meanwhile, coach Trent Johnson has to be on the hot seat after TCU finished 0-18 in conference play.

Still, the Big 12 had a big season. Everything that preceded March suggested the league would have a solid showing in the Big Dance. That didn’t happen. And that took some of the luster off the regular season.

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Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsGeorges Niang and Iowa State should be back in contention for a Big 12 title next season.
What we expect to see next season: Even if Myles Turner, the No. 2 prospect in the 2014 ESPN 100, chooses another school, Kansas will still be stacked. Wayne Selden, Perry Ellis and Naadir Tharpe return. Plus, Cliff Alexander (the top power forward in the 2014 class per RecruitingNation, and fellow McDonald’s All American Kelly Oubre are on their way to Lawrence, Kan. The Jayhawks should contend for their 11th consecutive Big 12 crown under Self.

But it won’t be easy.

Hoiberg won’t stop. Niang will recover from the foot injury. Monte Morris, Dustin Hogue and Naz Long are back, too. Former Marquette recruit Jameel McKay will be eligible next season, and Hoiberg just landed former UNLV star Bryce Dejean-Jones. And there’s always a chance that he’ll add another top transfer before next season.

Oklahoma returns four standouts from last year’s NCAA tourney team. Losing Smart and Markel Brown hurts Oklahoma State, and Le'Bryan Nash could leave, too. But Phil Forte, Brian Williams, Kamari Murphy and Michael Cobbins (once healthy) will help the Cowboys compete for a berth in the tourney. A pair of ESPN 100 recruits (Joe Burton and Jared Terrell) will also be in the mix.

Kansas State youngster Marcus Foster will be the Big 12 player of the year in 2014-15. And overall, four of Kansas State’s top six scorers from last season will return next year.

Baylor is somewhat of a mystery. No great recruiting class. Jefferson, Brady Heslip and Gary Franklin were seniors, and Isaiah Austin is likely to enter the draft. So there will be a lot of pressure on Kenny Chery and Royce O'Neale next season. How will they handle that?

There's good news in Morgantown. Bob Huggins didn’t have one senior on his roster last season. Juwan Staten (18.1 points per game) and Co. are talented enough to compete with Kansas, Iowa State and Oklahoma for the conference crown.

Texas will contend, too. Rick Barnes’ starters from last year, including underrated standout Jonathan Holmes, will return. And Jordan Barnett, ranked No. 86 in the 2014 class by RecruitingNation, will add more depth.

Texas Tech and TCU will have a hard time emerging from the basement in this tough field.

The Big 12 could end 2014-15 as the best conference in America. Again.