College Basketball Nation: Melvin Ejim
• They rank sixth in the Big 12 in points per possession (1.075).
• Through Sunday night, Texas Tech and West Virginia both ranked higher than the Cyclones in per-possession offense in conference play.
• They rank sixth in the Big 12 in points allowed per possession (1.068).
Now, to some extent, those numbers are disproportionately affected by the 102-77, 75-possession wallop West Virginia delivered to the Cyclones last week. That kind of demolition will mess with your statistics, you know? And the Big 12 is good -- probably the best league in the country now that Texas Tech is playing everybody tough.
But even so, Iowa State, sixth on offense and sixth on defense? Really? What happened here?
The Cyclones are a prime example of why tempo-free stuff helps us make more sense of the basketball world. Because they play fast, the Cyclones' offense always numerically looks like one of the best in the country -- and at various points in the season, it was. But it's not right now, and the sneaky-good defense that helped anchor ISU's early run has mostly gone missing. Meanwhile, the Cyclones are getting great frontcourt stuff out of of Dustin Hogue. Fred Hoiberg just added freshman Monte Morris, who almost never turns the ball over, to the starting lineup in a two-point configuration with DeAndre Kane. Everything our eyes tell us that the Cyclones, save that whole West Virginia fiasco, are one of the best 10 teams in the country. Right now, their actual performance tells us otherwise.
Might Texas' visit to Hilton on Tuesday night expose the gulf between the two?
Forget all the perception stuff: Texas is a tough matchup for anyone. The Longhorns don't shoot the ball particularly well -- though they too rank above Iowa State in offensive efficiency in Big 12 play -- but they make up for it with their size and athleticism in the lane. The Longhorns rebound more of their own misses (40 percent) than any team in the Big 12, and more than 70 percent of their opponents'. They block 16.4 percent of opponents' field goal attempts, sixth-most in the country. When they beat Kansas in Austin, they outpowered one of the most athletic and physical frontcourts in the country a few nights after it handled the Cyclones.
Melvin Ejim, Georges Niang, and Hogue have a tough task ahead of them. They also have the advantage of spacing, and of the offensive strengths of their coach's innovative and versatile offense. But the fact is, Iowa State hasn't been playing that great lately. Where it goes from here will say a lot about whether this is the product of a slight mid-season slump, or something more disconcerting.
It was another eventful Saturday in the world of college basketball.
These 10 players were responsible for some of the most significant performances of the day.
- Melvin Ejim (Iowa State) -- A few weeks ago, Fred Hoiberg identified the senior as the glue guy who has helped him rebuild Iowa State basketball. The veteran recorded 20 points, nine rebounds, two assists, three steals and three blocks in No. 16 Iowa State’s 81-75 home win over No. 22 Kansas State. He also blocked Shane Southwell's 3-point attempt in the final seconds, snatched a key rebound and hit a pair of late free throws to seal it.
- Treveon Graham (VCU) -- The junior guard scored a career-high 34 points in VCU’s 97-89 double-overtime win at La Salle. Graham scored six straight points to send the game into its first overtime. He also finished with 12 rebounds and two assists for a VCU squad that has won 12 of its last 14 games.
- Le'Bryan Nash (Oklahoma State) -- Travis Ford needed some help on a horrible day for Marcus Smart, who fouled out with just four points and a 1-for-7 tally. Nash stepped up. He recorded 29 points, nine rebounds, two assists and two blocks in No. 11 Oklahoma State’s 81-75 win over West Virginia, which played tough for 40 minutes.
- Ryan Arcidiacono (Villanova) -- The controversial offensive foul call at the end of No. 4 Villanova’s 94-85 overtime win over Marquette shouldn’t mask the exceptional effort by Arcidiacono. The point guard finished with 20 points, 11 assists and, most impressively, zero turnovers in 39 minutes. He also grabbed a critical loose ball and steadied the Wildcats in the extra period.
- Isaiah Taylor (Texas) -- Why are the Longhorns legitimate Big 12 contenders now after winning three consecutive games against ranked opponents (Iowa State, Kansas State and Baylor)? Because players such as Taylor continue to step up for Rick Barnes. The guard finished with 27 points (10-for-18), three assists and three steals in Texas’ 74-60 road win over Baylor.
- Kendall Williams (New Mexico) -- The Lobos dealt with some tough losses during the nonconference season, but they’re 6-1 in league play after a 68-66 victory over Colorado State. Williams finished with 23 points, five assists and one steal in that game. He hit 5 of 10 3-pointers.
- Michael Frazier II (Florida) -- The guard anchored a balanced attack in No. 6 Florida’s 67-41 win over Tennessee. Frazier finished with 17 points (3-for-6 from beyond the arc), four rebounds and two assists. The Gators haven’t lost since Dec. 2.
- Tyler Ennis (Syracuse) -- It wasn’t a pretty performance. But No. 2 Syracuse scored a 64-52 win at Miami in a tough road game. Ennis continues to make a case for “best point guard in America” status. He finished with 14 points, five rebounds and four assists. That effort included some clutch plays in the final minutes.
- Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky) -- The sophomore hasn’t been a consistent offensive threat, but his defensive presence is undeniable. He only scored eight points in No. 14 Kentucky’s 79-54 win over Georgia. But he also recorded six steals, six blocks and altered multiple shots. He's such a vital player for that young Kentucky team.
- Chase Fieler (Florida Gulf Coast) -- The “Dunk City” contributor had an impressive stat line during Florida Gulf Coast’s 83-62 win over Kennesaw State. He hit 7 of 14 shots and went 9-for-9 from the free throw line for 24 points while also recording 7 rebounds, one block and two steals.
His point guard, Marshall transfer DeAndre Kane, had snuck into the Wooden Award conversation. The players around him formed a unit that seemed poised to contend for the Big 12 crown. It wasn't crazy at that time to think the Cyclones were the best team in the league, as they'd just crushed Baylor at Hilton Coliseum by 15 points.
They were a top-10 team on the rise with wins over Michigan, Iowa and Baylor.
They're still a nationally ranked team, but they're falling as they prepare for a critical home game against No. 22 Kansas State on Saturday.
What's wrong with the Cyclones?
Iowa State, ranked No. 16, has a variety of challenges. The Cyclones are not strong on the offensive glass (297th in offensive rebounding rate per Ken Pomeroy). They've also been a middle of the pack free-throw shooting team (70.8 percent) in Big 12 play.
But their most important struggle is centered on the 3-point line.
As opposing coaches prep for Hoiberg's squad, they emphasize the quandary presented by the program's lengthy list of 3-point shooters. And they're not all guards.
Georges Niang, Dustin Hogue and Melvin Ejim can all step beyond the arc and hit shots.
Iowa State typically forces opponents to guard every player on the court in space because they're all so versatile.
But the 3-pointer has not been as meaningful for Iowa State in Big 12 play as it was during the nonconference part of the schedule. Through five league games, 40 percent of the team's field-goal attempts have come from beyond the arc. But they're shooting only 28.3 percent on 3-pointers in Big 12 play, ninth in the league. Only 28 percent of their offensive output thus far is credited to 3s, which in large part explains their 2-3 start in conference play.
So much of Iowa State's identity is based on its offensive diversity, as seven players have made at least 34 3-pointers this season.
So its recent problems from deep have been pivotal in its current three-game losing streak. Iowa State's upcoming four-game stretch will be a gantlet with home games against Kansas State and Oklahoma and a pair of road matchups against Kansas and Oklahoma State.
It's an opportunity for Iowa State to get back into a healthy rhythm. But it could also extend the fall.
Iowa State's success at the 3-point line, or lack thereof, could be the element that dictates the path it will take.
AMES, Iowa -- He did not fear the 7-foot-1 defender in front of him. He baited him.
In the first half of a performance that should multiply the All-American chatter about the transfer from Marshall, DeAndre Kane drove left and stared at Isaiah Austin.
He maintained his dribble and gave Austin a moment to think about his next move.
Although it was still early in No. 9 Iowa State’s 87-72 whipping of No. 7 Baylor on Tuesday night at Hilton Coliseum, the Bears had already tried everything to contain Kane. They used a zone. They put Gary Franklin on him. They trapped him. They even chased him down the floor and tackled him in their effort to beat Iowa State on the road for the time in school history.
On that drive before halftime, they threw their biggest man at him. That’s all Baylor had left. But Kane’s floater sailed above Austin’s broomsticks and found the hoop.
In that moment, it was clear that Baylor hadn’t brought an answer for the senior point guard on its trip from Waco.
It was also obvious that Kane is the engine of an unblemished Cyclones team that might be the best squad in school history -- if the program-record 14-game winning streak is any indication -- and arguably the best team in the Big 12. But the latter might be decided on Monday when Iowa State hosts Kansas.
Kane scored 30 points, grabbed eight rebounds, recorded nine assists and collected five steals. He’s the fourth Division I player since 1997 to produce those numbers, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
“I think the stats speak for themselves,” Melvin Ejim said. “He went off.”
In the beginning, there was Andrew Wiggins and Marcus Smart.
The Big 12 orbited around the talented underclassmen from Kansas and Oklahoma State, respectively, during the months leading up to the season.
But Kane was relatively unknown, even though he’d starred in Conference USA for three seasons at Marshall.
He was productive, but few knew it because he’d never reached the NCAA tournament.
“I just wanted to be a part of something special,” Kane said about his decision to choose Iowa State.
Kane left the Thundering Herd on uncertain terms. On the surface, it appeared that he and Marshall had parted ways on a good note. It also appeared that Marshall coach Tom Herrion had given the senior his blessing. Kane had even penned an endearing letter about the Huntington, W.V., community that was published in the local paper.
However, rumblings of trouble and hints throughout the college basketball community that Kane might come with red flags started to circulate.
That’s nothing new for Fred Hoiberg, the maestro of young men seeking second chances and fresh starts. He’s relied on Royce White, Chris Allen and other transfers throughout his time with the Cyclones.
All arrived with question marks, and all succeeded.
“If [people] thought I was a risk, they see now I’m pretty helpful to the team,” Kane said.
Signing transfers and junior college players is not a new tactic in college basketball. But Hoiberg’s gift is that he blends it all together in a short amount of time. And that’s what stood out against Baylor.
Dustin Hogue (10 rebounds) is a junior college transfer. Monte Morris (13 points, 3-for-4 from the 3-point line) is a freshman. Georges Niang (9 points, 5 assists) is a sophomore. Ejim (18 points) is a senior.
A few months ago, Hoiberg handed Kane the ball and told him to organize the pieces and create harmony despite being new.
New faces, new egos, new pressure. It’s a recipe for chaos.
But it’s the consistent template for perennial symphonies in Ames.
How does it all work and so quickly?
“I don’t know,” Hoiberg said. “I give our guys a lot of credit.”
After Tuesday’s game, Kane didn’t talk about his teammates. He talked about his brothers.
They play together.
It takes a unified team to trick a lengthy Baylor team into playing small ball. Although the combined size of Austin, Rico Gathers and Cory Jefferson presented problems for Iowa State, the Cyclones never let those big men get free. They harassed them and forced them to make shaky passes that contributed to Baylor’s 19 turnovers.
They also convinced Baylor that the 3-pointer was its only weapon. So a Bears team that entered the game ranked 293rd nationally with just 207 3-pointers attempted in its first 13 games equaled Iowa State’s 25 3-point attempts Tuesday evening. The Bears were actually better than the Cyclones from beyond the arc (44 percent to 40 percent).
But they abandoned their greatest advantage -- their size inside -- so they were outscored 47-26 in the paint.
This Iowa State team’s game-by-game strategy is anchored by a senior point guard who wanted to help, not disrupt, when he arrived.
He’s the catalyst that allows good teams to exploit the gaps in their opponent’s game plan.
Kane found the gaps against Baylor. He usually does. That’s why he embarrassed a top-10 team on national television. And that’s why he has All-American stats and a chance to guide a team into the NCAA tournament for the first time.
Yet he’s still waiting on All-America recognition.
Kane wants a slice of the spotlight. Not because he’s selfish and self-absorbed, but because he’s worked so hard and executed in anonymity for so many years.
“I just gotta give it everything I got,” Kane said. “I’ve gotta show people around the word that I can play with the elite players. I deserve to be talked about a little bit more. And I will. As long as we win, that’s all that matters to me. I came here to win. I didn’t come here for the player of the week or the newcomer of the week.”
But that praise will come if he continues to excel.
Kane is too good to stay hidden. He’s too talented to be suppressed.
“He’s a matchup nightmare out there,” Hoiberg said.
In Ames, however, he’s finally part of the dream.
Iowa State's 85-82 victory over Iowa on Friday night was many things.
It was a seminal moment, a truly great game, and a line of demarcation for two basketball programs that haven't had a truly marquee rivalry game since 1987, in a state that really does love basketball -- if you give it a little nudge.
Iowa State 85, Iowa 82 was also a thrilling, high-speed affair. It was 40 minutes of sheer, evenly matched entertainment. It was a clear indication that, in their twin streaks to national prominence, both the Cyclones and the Hawkeyes have not only become good but somehow become have done so at exactly the same time. It was a gigantic vibrating cardinal-and-gold love-in, or a high-decibel world-record attempt, or both.
It was, more than anything, a great win for Iowa State and coach Fred Hoiberg, which is starting to become a habit.
And it was a brutal, heartbreaking, kick-in-the-teeth kind of loss for Iowa -- a glaring, gobstopping missed opportunity for a team that was sure it kicked that tic in 2012-13.
Perhaps the most frustrating part for Iowa fans is the inability to direct frustration. Viewed from a more remote, detached perspective, Friday night's loss was less a breakdown than a very good 40-minute effort in a difficult road environment that came down to 13 seconds and two statistically advantageous circumstances, all of which went Iowa State's way.
Instead, Gesell -- facing a storm of noise at Hilton Coliseum; "You could feel the vibrations in the building again," Hoiberg said -- missed the first. He rimmed out the second.
Iowa still had a chance. After the Cyclones' Dustin Hogue made two foul shots to put the Cyclones up by three, Gesell advanced again. The Hawkeyes ran a pretty simple wing-screen set and got a shockingly open look for guard Zach McCabe. Down three, with overtime on the line, it was the kind of look college basketball teams never, ever get. Iowa got it, and got it for one of the best shooters in the country to date this season -- a 48.5 percent 3-point shooter. McCabe was lined up. He was square. His shot rimmed out, too.
How do you even get mad about that? Where do you direct your anger? The gulf between process and outcome can be vast. Even with Iowa's issues down the stretch in the second half, it got the shots it needed to get to win the game. They didn't go in. What are you going to do?
All of which takes nothing away from Iowa State. The Cyclones trailed for longer during the game than Iowa did, but not by much; in any case, you knew the run would come. That is the chief strength of Hoiberg's program: The Cyclones have become so skilled and versatile on the offensive end that no gap seems too large for them to close before the end of regulation. The ensemble setup also allows them to cover for sudden productivity dips.
Friday was a perfect example. Guard DeAndre Kane, Iowa State's best player to date, shot just 1-of-6 (albeit with nine assists). But Niang and Melvin Ejim combined for 46 points, 7 assists and 9 rebounds. No worries, right? Meanwhile, Hogue -- a junior college transfer grabbing 26.4 percent of available defensive rebounds, and shooting 67 percent inside the arc -- added 16 boards and 12 points. And while all of the Cylcones have slightly different strengths, they are thrillingly non-traditional: Kane is a big, versatile ballhandler who can hold his own in the lane; Ejim is an undersized forward who uses his quickness to his advantage; Hogue might be one of the best rebounders in the country at 6-foot-6; and Niang is one of the quirkiest and most unclassifiable stretch-point-forward players in recent college hoops memory.
The combination works. With a road win at BYU and a home win over Michigan under its belt, Iowa State's win over the Hawkeyes was its third genuinely impressive victory of the season.
Iowa, despite all available evidence of its quality, can not say the same.
Friday night's three-point loss is unlikely to hurt this Iowa team the same way last season's series of close losses did down the stretch. The Hawkeyes were much younger and on the bubble then, fighting a desperate uphill battle against their own soft RPI. This year's team is older, deeper, stronger, and more balanced, especially with the addition of Wisconsin transfer Jarrod Uthoff. Iowa should be fine.
Even so: Iowa's two best chances for nonconference plaudits this season were an overtime loss to Villanova, 88-83, in the Bahamas, and Friday night. The Hawkeyes played good basketball; they are good. But they still missed on both.
So you can excuse Iowa fans if they don't quite feel up to the spirit of the occasion. Iowa State 85, Iowa 82 was a lot of things Friday night, from the basketball to the atmosphere to the symbolism of both programs' recent history. But for Iowa fans, it was another missed opportunity -- another instance of a bad habit everyone involved would be more than happy to correct.
Now as the head coach, Hoiberg owns a 47-9 record in his home gym and it will be rocking on Sunday when Michigan comes to Ames (5 p.m. ET, ESPN2/WatchESPN). That's what I'm eager to see this weekend.
This game could be better -- the Cyclones are without Melvin Ejim, out because of a knee injury, until December and Mitch McGary has yet to suit up for Michigan -- but even as is, it stacks up pretty nicely. Neither team is afraid of scoring, though Iowa State is slightly more averse to defense, so it will be entertaining.
Sans Ejim and McGary, the big matchup comes in the backcourt where Marshall transfer DeAndre Kane squares off against freshman Derrick Walton Jr. Kane has been sensational in his first two games, averaging 14 points, nine rebounds and 5.5 assists. Walton, taking over for Trey Burke, has been steady -- which is exactly what he's supposed to do.
Certainly no one's season will be made or ruined by this game. It's a quality nonconference game for both. But as Iowa State continues to make strides under Hoiberg, I'm curious to see how his Cyclones handle an early test like this one.
Which is precisely why you've got to spice it up. In the past, VCU coach Shaka Smart has put his VCU Rams through Navy Seals training. This summer, DePaul's Oliver Purnell worked some beach volleyball into the sprint-and-lift routine. Some of it is fun, some of it is brutal physical stress, some of it is both. Anything to change up the routine.
Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg has his own variation on this theme: yoga. Maybe you've heard of it? I hear it's pretty popular, and by "hear" I mean everyone I know and everyone that lives within a mile of my house is always either a) doing yoga, b) talking about doing yoga, or c) buying overpriced clothes in which they might one day ostensibly do yoga. It's easy to be dismissive, in other words, but yoga does have its recognized benefits -- from breathing to muscle strength and flexibility to good old-fashioned meditative calm.
The Iowa State kids seem to be feeling all of the above these days. Or maybe that's just exhaustion? Ames Tribune reporter (and friend of the CBN) Travis Hines stopped by for a hot session last week, and both senior Melvin Ejim and sophomore forward Georges Niang were effusive in their praise, even if Niang's "runner's pose" elicited "the pained expression of someone attempting to squat 400 pounds."
“When [instructor] Emily [Hampton] is telling you not to let up, this is all in your head, it’s so true,” Niang said. “It’s like when you’re down five with 30 seconds to go. You have to tell yourself you can do it and fight through.” […]
“To be able to completely focus on one thing, to let go of what your mind is thinking and kind of just give yourself the opportunity to get everything out of what you’re doing,” said Ejim, “I think it’s a great opportunity.”
It's also a lot of fun to watch. I mean, I'm guessing; I haven't seen Iowa State do yoga. But come on -- it's a bunch of huge 7-foot yoga noobs crammed into one studio. How could that not be hilarious?
Anyway, this is interesting to me not because I'm certain it will give Iowa State some mental edge -- though playing at breakneck speed the way the Cyclones do, it can't hurt -- but because it seems so obvious. Strength and speed are great, but flexibility is what ties it all together, and in few sports is 180-degree dexterity as important as this one. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar figured it out in the 1970s, and played basketball for approximately 82 years. Yet this is the first I can remember hearing of a team doing yoga as part of its workout regimen. Are other programs already on board here? Is it so obvious it doesn't require a mention? Or have college hoops programs been slow to pick it up? Is yoga not as widely accepted as I think? Forget changing the preseason workout pace. For basketball cross-training, yoga seems like a no-brainer.
2. Canada's WUG team was undefeated through six games, including a win over the Americans. The play of Brady Heslip (Baylor), Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga), Melvin Ejim (Iowa State) and Jordan Bachynski (Arizona State) should bode well for their respective teams and Canada's future. Remember the best Canadians are in the NBA now and will be coming next season too. Consecutive Canadians could be drafted No. 1 from Anthony Bennett to Kansas' Andrew Wiggins. Kelly Olynyk performance for the Celtics in the summer league adds to the depth of this national team. Heslip had a disappointing season a year ago but should be ready to assume more of a leadership role for the Bears. Pangos will be the focal point for the Zags. Ejim is a major player for the Cyclones and Bachynski has to be the interior scorer for the Sun Devils. The front-running school for former Kentucky forward Kyle Wiltjer has always been Gonzaga and playing with Pangos should be a reason to suspect the Zags will get Wiltjer. Of course, Wiltjer could still decide to come back to Kentucky and either play or redshirt.
3. The freak fractured right ankle for Shane Larkin doesn't mean he didn't make the right decision to leave for the NBA. Larkin suffered the injury while practicing with his Dallas Mavericks team in preparation for the Las Vegas Summer League. Larkin is out for three months with the best-case scenario being that he returns in time for training camp in October. Dallas coach Rick Carlisle was positive about Larkin's return and what he could mean for the Mavericks once healthy. Larkin was a first-round pick and will get serious minutes once he is ready next season. Had he returned to Miami for his junior season then he would have been back for a team that relied too much on him. Larkin wouldn't have been simply a playmaker, he would have had to make the majority of plays and that isn't who he will, or should, be in the NBA. Meanwhile, his injury has likely opened up a chance for Ricky Ledo to earn some time. Ledo left Providence after not being eligible in his one season on campus. Ledo was a long shot to be eligible to play in college and probably made the best decision for his career to leave.
2. The U.S. World University Games team will have its hands full with Canada during the competition, set for July 6-17 in Kazan, Russia. The Canadian roster, released Tuesday, isn't as loaded but boasts plenty of major-college talent. Boston College's Olivier Hanlan, the ACC freshman of the year, is joined by headline players Kyle Wiltjer (Kentucky), Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga), Dwight Powell (Stanford), Brady Heslip (Baylor), Melvin Ejim (Iowa State), Laurent Rivard (Harvard) and Jordan Bachynski (Arizona State). Each of these Canadians will have a significant role on his respective team, with all of them starting the season in position to make a run at an NCAA bid. Ejim may be the most intriguing of the lot, with a real shot to be even more of a breakout player in the Big 12. Pangos will have more scoring next season. Powell led the Cardinal last season. Rivard will be a fixture on a stacked Crimson. Wiltjer has to adjust his role with the newcomers at Kentucky but can still be a matchup problem. Heslip must be more consistent. Bachynski has to absorb some of Carrick Felix's numbers after his departure. And Hanlan will be responsible for leading the Eagles higher in the ACC.
3. Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg has taken plenty of transfers his first few years in Ames. He has had success stories mixed in with quality newcomers. I'll be very interested to see if he can maximize the talent of DeAndre Kane, who was a disappointment for Marshall after starting last season with such promise. Kane was essentially asked to leave Marshall by coach Tom Herrion; they weren't going to mesh for one more season. Now Kane has to be in step with Hoiberg if his final year in college is going to be productive. Kane originally was looking to go to Pitt, but that didn't work out, either. He pursued Iowa State and the Cyclones were receptive. It's in everyone's best interest that this works for next season so the Cyclones can be relevant come March for a third consecutive season.
2. Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said there were logistical issues that could not be worked out for the proposed Dec. 7 game against Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash., to honor former Spartans coach and Spokane resident Jud Heathcote. So the game is off -- along with the proposed undercard of Washington State versus Montana. Wazzu coach Ken Bone said Idaho had been willing to move a date for the Cougars, but now that is unnecessary. Meanwhile, an SEC official said the league didn’t have criteria for not including Georgia, LSU, Arkansas and Tennessee in the inaugural SEC/Big 12 Challenge. Scheduling conflicts and the need to balance the series were why those four schools were omitted in a challenge between a 14-team SEC and a 10-team Big 12. Still, organizers probably could have tried to get star-laden Oklahoma State a higher-profile game than hosting rebuilding South Carolina.
3. Gonzaga coach Mark Few said being away from his family was the reason he is stepping aside from coaching the U.S. under-19 team with Florida’s Billy Donovan and Virginia Commonwealth's Shaka Smart in the world championships June 27-July 7 in Prague. Along with the practice sessions, it becomes nearly a month's commitment. The three coaches won gold a year ago in Brazil with the under-18 squad. Virginia coach Tony Bennett will take Few’s spot on the staff. In an event taking place July 6-17 in Kazan, Russia, Davidson’s Bob McKillop, Michigan’s John Beilein and South Carolina’s Frank Martin will coach the U.S. team at the World University Games. Meanwhile, Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim is diversifying his international basketball career. Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg said Ejim will play for Canada this summer after playing for Nigeria a year ago. Hoiberg said Ejim has dual citizenship from the two nations.
But who comes next?
Baylor, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Iowa State all have solid squads with somewhat similar resumes. Ranking those four schools -- and the rest of the league -- isn’t easy, but here’s how I see things as we near the season’s midway point.
1. Kansas. While most other schools open Big 12 play this week, the Jayhawks will host a Temple squad on Sunday that defeated previously unbeaten Syracuse last month. Point guards Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe combine to average 8.1 assists.
2. Oklahoma State. The Cowboys appeared to have Gonzaga beaten on New Year’s Eve in Stillwater before the Zags battled back for a 69-68 victory. Still, the Cowboys -- who got 23 points from Marcus Smart -- should be encouraged by their gutsy performance.
3. Baylor. The Bears have looked much better their past two outings, drubbing BYU at home before falling by seven points against a very strong Gonzaga squad in Spokane, Wash. They can’t afford to lose home games against lesser foes. That includes Texas, which visits Waco on Saturday still without point guard Myck Kabongo.
4. Iowa State. The Cyclones are off until their Big 12 opener at Kansas on Jan. 9. Will Clyburn and Tyrus McGee are averaging a combined 27.5 points. Melvin Ejim leads the team with 9.2 rebounds. It’s not absurd to say that Iowa State could finish as high as second in this league.
5. Kansas State. The Wildcats are playing hard for their new coach, Bruce Weber. But it’s not always pretty. K-State has looked mediocre since it defeated Florida Dec. 22 in Kansas City. Weber’s squad is good defensively while ranking 21st in the country in rebounds per game. But K-State has trouble scoring.
6. Texas. Freshman point guard Javan Felix hasn’t been all that bad in replacement of suspended sophomore Kabongo. Felix averages 6.5 assists. The Longhorns (8-5) have some serious work to do in conference play if they hope to keep their streak of 14 consecutive NCAA appearances alive.
7. Oklahoma. The Sooners are good enough to sneak up and beat anyone in this conference. But to contend for a postseason berth, Oklahoma needs to win some games on the road. It all starts Saturday with a tilt against West Virginia in Morgantown.
8. West Virginia. The Big 12’s most disappointing team can’t afford to lose Saturday’s home game against Oklahoma. Transfers Juwan Staten and Aaric Murray combine to average only 21.8 points.
9. Texas Tech. The Red Raiders will hit the road for the first time this season for Saturday’s game against TCU in Fort Worth. Texas Tech (7-4) is getting 15.2 points per game from Jaye Crockett.
10. TCU. Saturday’s home game against Texas Tech may be the best chance TCU will have at a conference win all season. Sophomore guard Kyan Anderson has been the Horned Frogs’ steadiest player, with 13 points per game.
1. Kansas. The Jayhawks clearly have separated themselves from the rest of the Big 12, yet even Bill Self will admit his squad hasn’t looked all that great. Chemistry and depth are issues in the backcourt, and Kansas still is searching for a leader. Saturday’s home game against Colorado is scary.
2. Iowa State. As I mentioned, ranking the Big 12 is a crapshoot at this point, but Iowa State is 6-2 with losses against a pair of ranked teams (Cincinnati and UNLV). The Cyclones boast plenty of weapons with Will Clyburn, Korie Lucious, Tyrus McGee, Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang. And they’ve got a great coach. Good enough for me.
3. Oklahoma State. I know Virginia Tech has surprised some people, but the Cowboys still shouldn’t have lost to the Hokies by double figures last week in Blacksburg. Travis Ford’s team is too talented to let that happen. Oklahoma State deserves credit, however, for bouncing back with a nice effort in Wednesday’ 61-49 home victory over South Florida.
4. Kansas State. Rodney McGruder appears to have snapped out of his funk and is averaging 19 points in his past two games. Kansas State has played just one good team (Michigan) and lost handily. It’s tough to get a read on the Wildcats at this point, but they’re definitely one of the more experienced squads in the conference.
5. Oklahoma. Lon Kruger has made the Sooners relevant again. Oklahoma competed its tail off before losing to Arkansas 81-78 in a difficult road environment Tuesday. Romero Osby is averaging a team-high 12.5 points per game for the Sooners, who are off until Dec. 15.
6. Baylor. It seems unheard of for a team to beat Kentucky in Lexington and then drop four spots in the power rankings. But the Bears can’t be trusted. Not yet, at least. Considering its depth and talent, Baylor’s home losses to College of Charleston and Northwestern were two of the worst setbacks by any Division I team all season. And it easily could have lost to downtrodden Boston College. There’s no excuse for this team to be playing so sloppily and uninspired.
7. West Virginia. The Mountaineers appear to be on an upswing following Wednesday’s victory over a solid Marshall team, although the victory was marred by a near-brawl that led to the ejections of four WVU players for leaving the bench. Bob Huggins’ squad could gain even more momentum by beating undefeated Virginia Tech on Saturday.
8. Texas. As if a 12-point loss to Division II Chaminade wasn’t embarrassing enough, the Longhorns scored a measly 41 points in Tuesday’s setback against Georgetown in the Jimmy V Classic. Even the return of point guard Myck Kabongo might not be enough to save Rick Barnes’ team, which plays UCLA on Saturday in Houston.
9. Texas Tech. The Red Raiders finally played a quality opponent last week and, predictably, got exposed in an 85-57 loss to Arizona. Still, there are reasons for optimism in Lubbock. Guard Josh Gray is averaging three steals, and Jaye Crockett is scoring 15.3 points per game. This team will win some Big 12 games, and not just against TCU.
10. TCU. The Horned Frogs lost to Houston on Tuesday and will be looking to bounce back at Tulsa on Saturday. Coach Trent Johnson is doing well on the recruiting trail but simply lacks the personnel to win many games during his first season in Fort Worth.