College Basketball Nation: Rick Barnes


MILWAUKEE -- Many teams create watchwords before the season or the NCAA tournament, corny but commendable slogans that look good on dry-erase boards or in Twitter hashtags.

Few teams follow through on them. Even fewer do so the way Texas did Thursday night.

Three days earlier, Longhorns players and coaches had brainstormed three guiding principles for their tournament quest: fundamentals, team and win. The fundamentals lacked at times against Arizona State, as Texas committed 24 fouls and allowed too many open looks for the Sun Devils in the second half. But the Longhorns were the ultimate team, especially down the stretch, and they prevailed with an 87-85 win.

Cameron Ridley's acrobatic putback a flicker before the horn punctuated the victory and led off the highlights, as it should, but Texas' final four baskets all came on second-chance efforts, as Ridley and forward Jonathan Holmes combined for 10 offensive rebounds. There were fortunate bounces, but Texas repeatedly capitalized on them.

The Longhorns had six players score in double figures -- all five starters and freshman guard Martez Walker, who had a career-high 16. There are no Kevin Durants or T.J. Fords on the team that brought back Texas basketball and rescued coach Rick Barnes. Texas has many contributors, and it needed them all against an Arizona State team that controlled play after falling behind by 14 with 12:11 to play.

"We know we need everybody," guard Isaiah Taylor said. "Other teams, they always have two leading scorers. We know that anybody on our team can lead us in scoring on any given night. You can rely on everybody for confidence. All five of us can score, so we can pass it to anybody and everybody can create for themselves."

Thursday marked the sixth game this season in which Texas had at least five players score in double figures. The Longhorns adhere to the motto INAM -- It's Not About Me -- but as guard Javan Felix notes, it means to "selfishly attack your role."

[+] EnlargeCameron Ridley
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesCameron Ridley, who made the game-winning shot for Texas, goes on the offensive in the second half.
"Before the game, we just talked about fighting," Felix said. "On those two plays, you just saw how hard we fought."

Arizona State led 83-82 with 35 seconds left when Felix fired a 3-pointer from the corner. The problem: it only went about 19 feet. As soon as he released it, he started shouting, "Short! Short!"

Fortunately, Holmes heard him, caught the air ball, scored and drew a foul.

"That's my assist," Felix said, smiling.

Another wayward 3-point attempt, this time by Holmes, appeared to send the game to overtime. But the 285-pound Ridley cut through the lane, caught the ball near his ankles and banked it in with his left hand, just outside the reach of Arizona State center Jordan Bachynski.

Ridley's first buzzer-beater at any level -- "The ball was never in my hands for that situation," he said -- came on the biggest stage.

"Arizona State players were crashing the boards, and I saw a small opening, so I took it," Ridley said. "The ball just happened to bounce my way, and I got the shot up as quick as possible."

Officials reviewed the play to make sure Ridley got the shot off in time. He had no doubt.

"Positive," he said. "Right when I released it, I started screaming. I knew I took the team to the next round."

A top-10 recruit with superb shot-blocking ability and touch around the basket, Ridley could be Texas' next megastar. Thursday night, he was simply one of several capable options who came through.

"Six people in double figures," Felix said. "That's the pure example of team."

The seventh-seeded Longhorns advance to face No. 2 Michigan on Saturday. A win will put them past the tournament's first weekend for the first time since an Elite Eight run in 2008.

Taylor joked in the locker room that it was the first time he had seen Barnes happy after a victory this season.

"Great team win," Barnes said. "Really a great team win."

At Texas, there's no other way.

Texas gains much-needed validation

December, 19, 2013
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Texas coach Rick Barnes had a hunch that his team, despite a 9-1 start, hadn’t cultivated many believers outside of Austin. To prove it, he had an assistant fetch a copy of the top 25 polls to see if the Longhorns were at least among the “others receiving votes.”

Sure enough, the Longhorns received zero votes combined in the coaches and media poll.

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Taylor
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesPoint guard Isaiah Taylor had a team-high 16 points against UNC.
“I said we’re not going to be taken seriously until we do something we’re not supposed to do,” Barnes said. “And I said you’ve got a chance this week and it starts [against UNC].”

Barnes and the young Longhorns got their validation with the 86-83 win over No. 14 North Carolina which will make them that much more confident to return home and face No. 5 Michigan State on Saturday.

It’s been a rough offseason for Barnes and the Longhorns. They lost their top four scorers from last season -- two turned professional and two transferred. He has also had to deal with rumblings that his 16th season could be his last if they miss the NCAA tournament for a second straight year.

Texas sophomore guard Javan Felix said the group of returning players, which excludes any seniors, made one promise entering this season.

“We refuse to let us have a season like last year,” Felix said. “As far as coach being on the hot seat, we hear people talk about it but it’s never talked about around the facility. We never touch on it at all. We just go out there and play as hard as we can for him.”

Certainly Texas wasn’t supposed to go into the Dean Smith Center and beat the Tar Heels.

Not with UNC coming off an 82-77 win over Kentucky, its third win over a ranked team this season. Not after the good news spread that senior Leslie McDonald, who missed the first nine games of the season due to NCAA rules violations, was finally cleared to play.

The storyline was supposed to be about McDonald’s 15 points off the bench in his return or his four 3-pointers against the Longhorns equaling the total made by any Carolina players not named Marcus Paige.

It seemed that McDonald would help finish off a triumphant return after the Heels rallied from down 11 in the second half to tie the game at 77 with two minutes left.

Texas sophomore guard Demarcus Holland said last season, Texas probably would have found a way to lose the lead completely in a game like this, but this team is nothing like last season’s that bickered its way to a losing record.

“It will open up some people’s eyes that Texas does have some fight this year and show them that Texas does have some players,” Holland said. “A lot of people underestimate us because of our season last year so we’re going to just try to keep moving and getting better.”

Texas played with the kind of urgency that the Heels didn’t have until the second half. By then it was too late.

“I’m not very pleased with our intensity, with our effort, with our concentration. I thought it was just ridiculous in the first half,” said UNC coach Roy Williams, who pointed to the 24-of-47 outing at the free throw line as an example of lack of focus. Williams added that he was tired of talking about free throws, that the Heels needed to be “tough enough to step up and make the dag-on thing or go play soccer.”

Williams was so put off by his team's effort, he initially threatened a midnight practice.

"We cannot practice until 5 a.m., and everybody’s [butt] will be in at 5 a.m. this morning," he said.

At Texas, Barnes actually includes toughness in his game plan.

[+] EnlargeRick Barnes
Mitchell Leff/Getty ImagesWith the win over UNC, Rick Barnes could begin quieting rumors about his job status.
“Our goal was to come in here and play harder than them. I think we did that for the most part,” Felix said. “We let up sometimes but we didn’t surprise ourselves. Our goal was to definitely come in here and try to get a win and we knew we could do it.”

The Longhorns rely on five sophomores to act as their veterans because they have just one junior, forward Jonathan Holmes, in their rotation. Against the Tar Heels it seemed as if each had his time to shine.

Forward Connor Lammert grabbed eight of his season-high 10 rebounds in the first half -- including six on the offensive end. He helped set a tone as the Horns outscored the Heels 21-12 on second-chance points. Thanks to a 14 rebound advantage in the first half, they also out-rebounded UNC 51-42.

Felix started 23 games last season until Myck Kabongo gained eligibility. Felix gave way to freshman Isaiah Taylor in the starting lineup against UNC, but came off the bench to score all 12 of his points in the second half.

Once Carolina tied the game at 72 with 4:06 left, it was Felix who scored on three of five possessions including a 3-pointer over Paige that gave the Horns’ an 82-77 lead with 1:06 left.

Holland punctuated the Horns’ effort not only for the game, but their character so far this season. He missed two free throws nursing a one-point lead with seven seconds left, but he gathered his own rebound for a basket that bounced high into the rim to make it a three-point game.

“It just shows how much character these guys have on this team and how much fight we have and how unselfish we are,” Holland said. “It just shows how if we stick together we can do big things in this program.”

And they have their first win that proves it.

3-point shot: Tough blow for Texas

August, 21, 2013
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1. The easy thing to do is pile on Texas and coach Rick Barnes for Ioannis Papapetrou's decision to sign with Olympiacos BC, a professional team in his native Greece. This departure is completely different than the decisions made by Jaylen Bond, Julien Lewis and Sheldon McClellan. Papapetrou got a multi-year, multi-million-dollar deal. He was already in Greece, ripe to be convinced to stay. From all accounts, Papapetrou was happy with his situation in Austin -- and the Longhorns loved having him. This was not a planned departure, nor one that was pushed by the Texas staff. And that's why it stings more than the traditional transfers or Myck Kabongo's decision to leave early for the NBA draft. Texas needed a player who could produce, was experienced and wanted to be there. Losing someone like Papapetrou -- the top returning scorer once those players above bolted -- in late August is a crushing blow because he cannot be replaced. This puts even more pressure on returnees Javan Felix, Jonathan Holmes and Demarcus Holland to not only lead, but also to score and defend at a higher clip to avoid a second consecutive losing season.

2. Baylor senior guard Brady Heslip made the 14-man Canadian national team that will compete in the Continental Cup in Puerto Rico as a precursor to the FIBA Americas tournament in Venezuela. Heslip was the only collegian who made the team. Contacted late Tuesday, Heslip was obviously thrilled. So, too, was Baylor coach Scott Drew. If Heslip returns from these tournaments as a stronger shooter, defender and all-around player, the Bears will benefit greatly. Baylor is/should be a top-three team in the Big 12, behind Kansas and Oklahoma State. The Bears have the bigs with Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson but are green at the point. If Heslip can produce and create an inside-outside threat again, Baylor will be a real contender.

3. The NCAA can't have it both ways on preseason scrimmages. If the NCAA wants these scrimmages to be played, but not seen or heard from by the media or the public, then they can't be deemed some sort of official competition. Yet Old Dominion's Donte Hill has been ruled ineligible for what would have been his final season because he played in a scrimmage before transferring from Clemson to ODU. He played as a freshman at Clemson and then the past two years at ODU, redshirting the season in between. Hill's appeal was denied. He should try again and again. And if he's rejected, then these scrimmages -- especially the ones between two schools that travel to a neutral site to play -- need to be viewed as real exhibition games with countable stats, media and an opportunity for fans to watch.
Editor's note: Over two days, we're releasing the brackets/matchups for 11 of the top early-season events. A thread of previews and info for all 11 tourneys can be found here.

When and where: Nov. 25-26 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Semifinal schedule for the CBE Hall of Fame Classic:
Nov. 25: Texas vs. BYU (7:30 p.m., ESPNU); Wichita State vs. DePaul (10, ESPN3)
Nov. 26: Consolation game (7:30 p.m., ESPNU); Championship game (10, ESPN2)

Initial thoughts: Wichita State couldn’t have picked a better year to travel three hours northeast on Interstate 35 for a game in Kansas City. The Shockers, who have a large alumni base in the area, are riding high after last season’s Final Four appearance. And no one would be surprised if Gregg Marshall’s squad is even better this season. Wichita State returns three starters (Ron Baker, Cleanthony Early and Tekele Cotton) along with its top reserve (point guard Fred VanVleet) from its 30-win team. ... DePaul was a massive disappointment in 2012-13, when it won just 11 games. But the Blue Demons could be on the cusp of a breakthrough season thanks to the return of leading scorers Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young. ... BYU has reason for optimism as well. Led by Tyler Haws, the Cougars return nearly every key piece from the squad that won 24 games and reached last year’s NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden. ... Texas went 16-18 last season and failed to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time in Rick Barnes’ tenure. Things could get even worse in 2013-14. The Longhorns lost their top three scorers and signed a lackluster recruiting class compared to past seasons.

[+] EnlargeWichita State Shockers forward Cleanthony Early
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY SportsWichita State's Cleanthony Early gained national attention with his performance in the Final Four.
Matchup I can’t wait to see: DePaul is athletic and physical enough to upset Wichita State in the semifinals. Both teams feature veteran players, so chemistry won’t be as big of an issue as it will be for other schools this early in the season. I won’t be shocked if this is a competitive game, especially compared to the other semifinal.

Potential matchup I’d like to see: Wichita State vs. BYU. These are clearly the best two teams in the field, so it’d be fitting for them to end up in the title game. The Cougars averaged 76.5 points per game last season, a mark that ranked 18th in the country, but it will be interesting to see how they fare against an aggressive Wichita State squad that is known for its toughness and intensity on defense.

Five players to watch

Cleanthony Early, Wichita State: The top NBA prospect in this field averaged a team-high 13.9 points per game last season and ranked second on the squad in rebounds (5.4). The 6-foot-8 small forward is an incredibly difficult matchup because he spends most of his time outside the paint. Early scored 24 points against Louisville in the NCAA semifinals and was named to the All-Final Four team.

Tyler Haws, BYU: The guard averaged 21.7 points a game last season -- dropping 42 on Virginia Tech -- and 28.8 points in the NIT. Haws is a volume shooter who hoisted 15.9 attempts per game in 2012-13. He connected on 48 percent of his attempts, so for the most part he’s taking quality shots. He’s the type of guy who can beat a team by himself.

Cleveland Melvin, DePaul: The rising junior has hinted on Twitter that the 2013-14 season could be his last before entering the NBA draft. Melvin has certainly posted some head-turning numbers. He averaged 16.6 points a game as a sophomore last season along with a team-high 6.8 boards. Melvin, who is 6-foot-8, averaged 17.5 points and 7.4 rebounds a game as a freshman in 2011-12.

Ioannis Papapetrou, Texas: The 6-8 small forward was one of the few bright spots for Texas last season, when he averaged 8.3 points per game, which makes him the Longhorns’ leading returning scorer. He also snared 4.4 boards per contest. Along with producing on the court, Texas needs Papapetrou to assume more of a leadership role in 2013-14.

Fred VanVleet, Wichita State: The sophomore point guard will be under a lot of scrutiny early in the season as he moves into the starting lineup to replace graduated senior Malcolm Armstead. VanVleet certainly shouldn’t have any jitters. He averaged 16.2 minutes per game last season and logged 23 minutes in Wichita State’s NCAA semifinal loss to Louisville. VanVleet’s transition into a starting role needs to be seamless if the Shockers hope to avoid taking a step back.

Title game prediction: Wichita State over BYU

Along with the confidence gained from last season’s Final Four appearance, the Shockers will have something else going for them in the CBE Classic: home-court advantage. Wichita State already had a lot of supporters in the Kansas City area before last season. That number probably doubled following its magical postseason run. Still, even though the Shockers return four key players, they’ll also be incorporating some new pieces. This is a game BYU can win, especially because of the Cougars’ ability to score and the presence of a marquee player such as Haws. This should be a great game between two strong programs led by two of the country’s most underrated coaches (Wichita State’s Marshall and BYU’s Dave Rose). The Shockers are the slight favorite.

Who others are picking:

Eamonn Brennan: Wichita State over BYU
Jeff Goodman: Texas over Wichita State
Andy Katz: Wichita State over Texas
Myron Medcalf: Wichita State over BYU
Dana O'Neil: Wichita State over BYU
1. Texas lost 18 games last season. The Longhorns won seven in the Big 12 and were shut out of the NCAA tournament for the first time since head coach Rick Barnes arrived in 1998. Sheldon McClellan and Julien Lewis were third and fourth, respectively, on the team last season in turnovers with a combined 112 and are both transferring. Jaylen Bond, who battled a foot problem for most of the season, also left. According to a source, the decisions weren’t solely the players'. Should Texas be worried that these three, as well as NBA-draft-bound guard Myck Kabongo (23-game amateurism suspension), are out of the program? If last season’s freshmen class is on board with the way Barnes wants to play, the answer is no. Ioannis Papapetrou, Javan Felix, Connor Lammert, Demarcus Holland, Prince Ibeh and Jonathan Holmes will be the core of next season’s team. Holland clearly likes the idea of what remains in Austin. He tweeted after a workout on April 30: “Honestly never loved a team like I do now. Feels great when you can get it in, say family on three, and really feel like brothers. #Horns.’’ At the time, Bond, McClellan and Kabongo were all gone. Barnes told his staff that he wants to get back to the teams he has had in the past, with players who will play with toughness and display the passion for winning. According to someone close to the program, despite the defections, the staff has looked at this spring as one of its best in terms of player development. The Longhorns also brought in four newcomers for next season. Texas will be picked in the lower half of the league, below Kansas, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Iowa State and Kansas State. The onus is on this crew, led by someone like Holland, to propel Texas back to its rightful place in the Big 12, in competition behind Kansas. If these departures are addition by subtraction, Barnes will know early on. If not, next season could seem like a dog year.

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.

Observations from Saturday afternoon

February, 9, 2013
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Kansas coach Bill Self was in the postgame handshake line after his team’s 72-66 loss to Oklahoma when he looked up and saw hundreds of students rushing the Lloyd Noble Center court.

His lips didn’t move, but as he tilted back his head and rolled his eyes, it was obvious what Self must’ve been thinking.

“Are you serious?”

A victory over Kansas hardly seems like a big deal these days -- or at least not monumental enough for a court-storming. Saturday’s setback against the Sooners marked the third consecutive loss for the Jayhawks. And it came just three days after a defeat against last-place TCU that some are calling one of the biggest upsets in decades.

KU certainly played better Saturday than it did against the Horned Frogs, but this is still a team that looks mentally frazzled and out of sorts, which is almost unthinkable for a Self-coached team. Point guard Elijah Johnson missed a pair of easy layups in the waning minutes, and small forward Travis Releford shot a 3-pointer that barely nicked the front of the rim.

Even worse was that a KU squad known for its defense allowed a good-but-not-great Oklahoma team to shoot 45 percent from the field. Because of it the Jayhawks -- who have won eight straight Big 12 titles -- are now toting three losses in a row for the first time since 2005.

[+] EnlargeGeron Johnson
Chuck Cook/USA TODAY SportsGeron Johnson's 25 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists led Memphis to its 14th win in a row.
Things won’t get any easier for Kansas on Monday, when No. 13 Kansas State visits Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks defeated the Wildcats 59-55 in Manhattan on Jan. 22, but the two programs have gone in opposite directions since then.

Here are a few other observations from Saturday’s afternoon games:

1. It might be time to consider putting Memphis back in the top 25. Josh Pastner’s squad picked up a huge victory Saturday by defeating Southern Miss on the road 89-76. The Golden Eagles are considered the second-best team in Conference USA behind Memphis, which hasn’t lost since falling to Louisville on Dec. 15.

The Tigers are 20-3 overall and 9-0 in Conference USA. I realize Memphis doesn’t have a ton of quality wins. But Pastner can’t control what league his team is in -- and at least the Tigers haven’t lost games they’re not supposed to lose, like seemingly every other team in the country. There’s something to be said for avoiding upsets, especially when everyone is gunning for you as the top team in your conference. Memphis’ only three losses are to Minnesota, VCU and Louisville. The Tigers host the conference’s other top team (UCF) on Wednesday.

2. The teams that pulled the two biggest upsets in the country this week didn’t exactly capitalize on the momentum. Arkansas, which whipped No. 2 Florida 80-69 on Tuesday, got embarrassed at Vanderbilt, 67-49. Three days after toppling Kansas, TCU was back to its old ways in a 63-50 home loss to West Virginia.

3. Georgetown coach John Thompson III doesn’t get nearly enough credit. The Hoyas’ 69-63 victory over Rutgers marked their seventh win in their past eight games. Included in that stretch are wins against Notre Dame and Louisville and two victories over a red-hot St. John’s squad.

Each year, Georgetown seems to lose stars to the NBA draft or seasoned veterans to graduation. But Thompson always responds. He always has guys ready to step in. Heck, this Georgetown team lost its second-leading scorer and rebounder (Greg Whittington) to academics midway through the season -- and the Hoyas got better. The man is an excellent coach, plain and simple.

4. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan needs to send Ben Brust a thank-you card -- or, at the very least, he could ease up on him during the next round of conditioning drills.

Brust’s desperation 3-pointer from just past half court forced overtime against No. 3 Michigan on Saturday, and the Badgers capitalized with a 65-62 win. Brust also saved Ryan from what would’ve been a slew of criticism for not fouling on the previous possession with the score tied. Michigan guard Tim Hardaway Jr. made the Badgers pay with a 3-pointer that made it 60-57 with less than three ticks remaining. Wisconsin had fouls to give. If the Badgers would’ve lost that game, Ryan would’ve been crucified.

But Brust saved his coach moments later with the heave that gave his team new life. Wisconsin has now won four of its past five games. Its past two victories have come in overtime. Another great stat: Wisconsin has won six of its past seven home games against top-five opponents. Amazing.

5. Texas point guard Myck Kabongo will take the court for the first time Wednesday after a 23-game suspension for illicit dealings with an agent. At this point I’m not sure Kabongo will make much of a difference for a Longhorns squad mired in its worst season in recent memory.

Rick Barnes’ team shot just 39 percent from the field in its 72-59 home loss to Oklahoma State and missed 17 of its 18 attempts from beyond the arc. Texas also went 12 of 21 from the foul stripe. Barnes has been questioning the Longhorns’ effort all season, and it will likely take more than the return of Kabongo -- who was mediocre as a freshman -- to get things right.

At 10-13 overall and 2-8 in the Big 12, Texas is almost certain to miss the NCAA tournament for the first time in Barnes’ 15 seasons.

6. Less than 48 hours after losing at Texas A&M, Missouri turned in its best performance of the season in a 98-79 victory over Ole Miss.

My initial reaction is, so what?

The Tigers have been winning home games all season. But they’ve looked like a completely different team on the road, where their lack of toughness and poor decision-making (particularly by point guard Phil Pressey) have been alarming. Losses at LSU and Texas A&M are flat out inexcusable considering the talent gap between Missouri and those two teams.

Still, I saw things Saturday that made me think the Tigers’ victory over Ole Miss was more than just another home win. Three players (Pressey, Alex Oriakhi and Keion Bell) scored 20 or more points, and Oriakhi had 18 rebounds against a Rebels squad that spanked Missouri less than a month ago in Oxford. Missouri had only nine turnovers and shot 47 percent from the field.

If Bell becomes a bigger contributor and if Pressey (only one turnover Saturday) turns the corner, we may look back on Saturday’s Ole Miss win as a pivotal moment in Missouri’s season. Frank Haith’s squad should be high on confidence after this one.

7. During his time at Kansas and North Carolina, Roy Williams has rarely had teams that built their reputation on defense. But the 2012-13 Tar Heels have been particularly bad on that end of the floor.

Miami shot 54.4 percent from the field in Saturday’s 87-61 victory and went 15 of 26 from 3-point range.

North Carolina has allowed an average of 79.6 points per game in its seven losses. In five of those games, the opponent scored more than 80 points. The Tar Heels need to get tougher.

Conference Power Rankings: Big 12

January, 18, 2013
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Kansas State has moved up a spot in this week's Big 12 power rankings -- and the Wildcats could be even higher by this time next week if they capitalize on two huge opportunities in the coming days. K-State's next two games are against Oklahoma and Kansas -- both at home. The Sooners and Jayhawks are the only schools in the Big 12 besides K-State that have yet to lose a league game. Should be a fun week. Here are the latest rankings.

1. Kansas. The Jayhawks' offense has sputtered a bit lately, but defensively Bill Self's squad has been stout. The Jayhawks held Baylor to 44 points on 23.2 percent shooting Monday. Leading scorer Ben McLemore injured his ankle but is expected to play against Texas on Saturday in Austin.

2. Iowa State. After nearly upsetting KU in Lawrence nine days ago, Iowa State has defeated Texas by 20 points and staved off a late rally by West Virginia. The Cyclones' next two games are road tilts against the league's worst two teams: TCU and Texas Tech.

3. Kansas State. No other player in the Big 12 has been as good as Rodney McGruder since the beginning of conference play. The senior is averaging 22 points per game against Big 12 opponents and is shooting 54 percent from the field. Center Jordan Henriquez has given his team a nice boost off the bench in recent weeks.

4. Baylor. The Bears can't be as bad as they looked against Kansas on Monday, can they? Baylor is in for a long Big 12 season if it doesn't show more discipline and start taking better shots. Baylor plays a nonconference game against Hardin-Simmons on Saturday before hosting Oklahoma State in a crucial contest Monday night.

5. Oklahoma. The Sooners hit the jackpot by hiring Lon Kruger. Oklahoma is one of the league's three remaining undefeated teams along with Kansas and K-State. Romero Osby leads the team in points (13.7) and rebounds (6.3). Saturday's game at K-State is huge for both teams. Four of OU's next six games are on the road.

6. Oklahoma State. By the time they take the court for Saturday's game against Texas Tech, the Cowboys will have had a week to think about last weekend's 77-68 loss to rival Oklahoma in Norman. Marcus Smart has shown great leadership, but he's shooting just 41.3 percent from the field and 29.7 percent from 3-point range.

7. West Virginia. The Mountaineers haven't lived up to their expectations, but they certainly appear to be getting better, especially in the toughness department. Bob Huggins' squad erased an 18-point second-half deficit against Iowa State but lost when Cyclones forward Georges Niang hit a layup with 2.5 seconds remaining. WVU is a threat to beat anyone in the conference.

8. Texas. The Longhorns have lost four of their past five games, including two in overtime. With Kansas visiting this weekend, things probably won't get better soon. Sheldon McClellan played just one minute in last weekend's 20-point loss to Iowa State as coach Rick Barnes, displeased with McClellan's effort, sent the team's leading scorer a message.

9. Texas Tech. Chris Walker's squad has lost its past three Big 12 games by an average of 22 points. Jaye Crockett leads the team in points (13.8) and rebounds (8.3). Texas Tech's next two games (at Oklahoma State on Saturday and at home against Iowa State on Wednesday) will be tough. But a Jan. 26 tilt at Texas could be interesting.

10. TCU. The Horned Frogs led Baylor at halftime Saturday before losing 51-40. Trent Johnson's squad simply doesn't have the personnel to compete with major college schools. No one would be surprised if TCU finished 0-18 in league play.

3-point shot: Realignment winners

January, 1, 2013
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1. Among the biggest winners of this latest round of realignment will be the men's basketball teams for Boise State and possibly San Diego State. The Broncos might have had a better shot of being a top team in the Big West, but it would be a hard sell to the fans in Boise to bring in UC and Cal-State schools. Boise State coach Leon Rice has the Broncos moving in the right direction, and the momentum is in the Mountain West, not the Big West. Rice said the MWC provides a higher ceiling for the Broncos. Meanwhile, the Aztecs would have dominated the Big West and still might if that plan doesn't change. But the fans of Viejas Arena simply aren't going to be as jazzed for the Big West teams as they would for rivalries with UNLV, New Mexico and I'm anticipating Utah State. Obviously, the power ratings advantage in the MWC versus the Big West isn't comparable.

2. Texas coach Rick Barnes said on our ESPNU college basketball podcast that the staff originally thought Myck Kabongo would be available for the Maui Invitational. Then, as the investigation dragged, the anticipation was 10 games. The Texas staff was stunned initially when Kabongo was ruled to be ineligible for a year before he won an appeal to have the punishment reduced to 23 games for giving false information during a university interview into his May draft workout. Barnes is also an advocate now, that if any of his staff have to talk to the NCAA they must have legal representation present.

3. I'm glad to see VCU and Virginia playing a true home-and-home starting next year, as VCU coach Shaka Smart told us Monday on our podcast. VCU has earned the right to be treated as an equal by the more prestigious state school. Smart said that if he were in the ACC, he wouldn't want to come to the Richmond Coliseum, either. But it's not like Virginia can get anyone to come to Charlottesville for a true home-and-home. The Cavaliers have had schools like Stanford come, but scheduling is never easy for the Cavs, and VCU should always be a power-rating plus.

Katz, Greenberg on Ollie's extension

December, 31, 2012
12/31/12
11:44
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Andy Katz and Seth Greenberg discuss Kevin Ollie's extension at UConn and talk to a pair of head coaches: VCU's Shaka Smart and Texas' Rick Barnes.


AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas suffered its biggest loss of the season on the night it pulled off its biggest win.

Prior to the Longhorns' 85-67 victory over No. 23 North Carolina at the Frank Erwin Center, point guard Myck Kabongo was ruled ineligible for the season by the NCAA, barring an appeal, according to sources from within the Texas athletics department. The story was first reported by Yahoo! Sports on Wednesday night.

The loss of Kabongo put a serious dent in this young Texas team's chances of making a 16th consecutive NCAA tournament. But the win against the Tar Heels at least gives the 7-4 Longhorns some hope.

Playing with a true freshman point guard in Javan Felix and only freshmen and sophomores on the court, UT played the role of the aggressor, pushed the more talented and savvy Heels around, built a big lead and -- for the first time this season -- didn't crumble.

"There is process that every student-athlete goes through, and I can only tell you that process is not done. We are in the middle of that process," said Texas coach Rick Barnes of the Kabongo situation. "Every student-athlete is entitled to a process if something comes up, and that process is ongoing."

Kabongo has been under investigation for impermissible benefits concerning a workout that involved agent Rich Paul. According to sources, the penalty was so severe because Kabongo had been less than straightforward when the NCAA initially questioned him.

While Barnes refused to take further questions on Kabongo, North Carolina coach Roy Williams now has plenty of them about his team.

"It was like comedy of errors, except it wasn't very blankety-blank funny," Williams said.

The Tar Heels' defense refused to extend in the first half and allowed Texas to build a 19-point lead. That lead was aided by two straight surprising 3-pointers from Texas forward Jonathan Holmes. The sophomore had made only three shots from beyond the arc in his 10 previous games.

[+] EnlargeJavan Felix
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsFreshman point guard Javan Felix effectively piloted Texas, scoring 8 points with 8 assists.
"We backed off him," Williams said.

And North Carolina continued to back down for most of the night.

"They did a better job of pushing the pace and getting us back on our heels," Williams said. "It seems like they got every loose ball."

There were plenty of those to go around, as Carolina turned it over 18 times. Texas, typically not a solid transition team, scored 14 points off those turnovers.

"Coming into the game, coach Barnes preached to us to getting the ball out and getting back in transition, and that was our game plan along with rebounding -- and that was what we tried to do," Felix said.

"They outran a running team," is how Williams put it.

In fact, Texas struggled only when it went into half-court sets. Starting the second half, North Carolina started to value the basketball more and made more of an effort to keep the Texas offense in front of it. That, coupled with the aggressiveness of James Michael McAdoo (14 points, 9 rebounds) and Reggie Bullock (a career-high 13 rebounds), allowed UNC to cut the lead to four.

Given that Texas has been a team that has struggled down the stretch -- the Longhorns were outscored 13-2 down the stretch in a 65-63 loss to UCLA -- it appeared as if the tide had started to turn.

Until, that is, North Carolina neglected to communicate on defense and allowed Cameron Ridley to throw down an uncontested dunk to push the lead back to seven with 6 minutes, 35 seconds remaining.

"We were aggressive and moved the ball pretty well, and some guys knocked some shots down," Barnes said. "But this was a game we thought would be won in transition and on the boards."

Texas didn't win on the boards in the box score (North Carolina had 43 to the Horns' 40). But UT did win in second-chance points with 18, and in fast-break points with 14.

"We have had a couple of tough losses because we had not played as hard as we should," said Holmes, who finished with 15 points and 8 boards. "[Wednesday night], we came out and did what we had to do. We definitely set the bar high for the rest of the season."

Regardless of who might be with Texas for the rest of the season.

--HornsNation writer Max Olson contributed to this report

Video: Barnes on Kabongo suspension

December, 20, 2012
12/20/12
12:05
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Texas coach Rick Barnes reacts to the report that guard Myck Kabongo has been suspended by the NCAA. For the full story, click here.

Conference Power Rankings: Big 12

December, 7, 2012
12/07/12
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Last season, the Pac-12 was the toughest conference in the country to power-rank each week. This season, that honor falls on the Big 12. Other than Kansas, the league is filled with mediocre teams that -- at least for now -- don’t appear to have much potential for a deep run in March. But hey, on the positive side, the parity will make for some close, exciting games once Big 12 play begins in January. Here is how the conference looks thus far.

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.

Georgetown has staying power

December, 4, 2012
12/04/12
10:50
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NEW YORK -- Players leave. They get hurt.

Stuff, if you will, happens.

This isn’t exactly breaking news in sports, especially in college basketball where, in the age of one-and-done, a player’s tenure has the shelf life of milk left out on a July day in Vegas.

And so J’Covan Brown left Texas a year early for the NBA and Myck Kabongo, the subject of an NCAA investigation, isn’t playing for the Longhorns right now and Jaylen Bond is rehabbing a tricky foot injury and has no set return date.

Fair enough reasons behind the Longhorns' 5-3 record, their loss to Chaminade, and their 64-41 obliteration Tuesday at the hands of Georgetown in the Jimmy V Classic, a game that wasn’t close from the tip.

So explain Georgetown, then.

The Hoyas lost their three leading scorers -- Jason Clark, Hollis Thompson and Henry Sims. OK, they have Otto Porter, but the other guys who are starring -- Greg Whittington, Markel Starks, Nate Lubick -- were role players a season ago.

Yet the Hoyas are 6-1 and ranked 15th in the country. On the heels of a 24-9 season and a third-round exodus from the NCAA tournament, Georgetown, even without its top three players, looks better.

And the Longhorns look, well ... awful isn’t too strong, is it?

“It’s a fragile business, very fragile,’’ Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. “A couple guys leave that you don’t expect -- like they have guys hurt, dealing with the NCAA -- it makes a big difference. The way you plan for things to do, from last year to the next, it changes and it’s hard.’’

[+] EnlargeOtto Porter
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesSophomore forward Otto Porter (22) scored 14 points and grabbed 8 rebounds for the No. 15 Hoyas.
Except it never seems to be that hard for the Hoyas. Georgetown guys graduate or move on and yet here the Hoyas are, back in the mix just like every year. The lazy answer is to chalk it up to the Princeton system, a term Thompson despises, as if it is some smoke-and-mirrors game of deception that confuses everyone else.

The more simple solution is that the Hoyas recruit not just for the immediate but also for the long term, building a program instead of just a team.

Guys leave, and have left the Hoyas early. But there are plenty who stay and develop.

This team is a perfect example. Porter didn’t go the AAU route, didn’t have anything resembling a profile until he started a year ago. Now he’s a legit candidate for Big East Player of the Year.

“I think what makes this team exciting is we could get a lot better,’’ Lubick said. “There are a lot of things we can sharpen up on both ends of the floor. We’re a young team. We’re not looking at the rankings. We’re excited to get better.’’

Yeah, so are the Longhorns -- and considering this performance, they can’t get much worse.

Texas scored 41 points -- crossing the 40-point threshold only in the final minute of the game.

It was the Longhorns' fewest points in a game since 1987. Texas also coughed up 22 turnovers, which would be alarming except for the fact that it’s the third time in eight games the Longhorns have given the ball away more than 20 times.

Certainly if and when Kabongo is cleared, it will help. He’s a playmaker, both for himself and his teammates. Presumably he’ll help eliminate the turnovers -- though committing more might be difficult -- and offer some much-needed direction to a team that appears to be lost in the forest.

Texas coach Rick Barnes said that, during the first television timeout, he asked his team how many turnovers it had. Someone offered two.

“They had seven,’’ Barnes said. “How can you not know that? It’s like you’re not in the game mentally.’’

So, yes, Kabongo can help, but to pin everything on the absence or return of one guy is an excuse that even Barnes is tiring of.

“That doesn’t matter right now,’’ he said. “These guys that we have right now are better, better than they are playing.’’

Stuff happens.

Good teams that become great programs handle it.

Ask Georgetown.

Katz: As star PG sits, Texas' frustration grows

December, 4, 2012
12/04/12
5:59
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NEW YORK -- Texas coach Rick Barnes is adamant in his assessment of the Longhorns.
Get Myck Kabongo and Jaylen Bond back and the Longhorns will be just fine.

But when?

"We'll be a much better team when we're back,'' said Bond of the 5-2 Longhorns, who play Georgetown on Tuesday night in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden. "Myck and I do things that we don't have. Myck at the point and me being physical. Once we're back, we can be fine.''

In a T-shirt and sweatpants, Bond was working with a trainer throughout Tuesday's shootaround at MSG. He was trying to be as limber as possible as he deals with a nagging fascia foot injury. The 6-7 Bond lasted just five minutes in a disheartening loss to Chaminade in Maui. That's his only action this season and his return date is unknown, although surgery not needed.

But what about Kabongo, the team's starting point guard?

Barnes doesn't want to get into a verbal tussle with the NCAA as he awaits word, he said the organization hasn't kept Texas in the loop. So the Longhorns are totally clueless about when Kabongo will return.

To read more from Andy Katz, click here.
1. The curious case of Shabazz Muhammad took another turn Thursday when UCLA announced that the freshman forward would be out for two to four weeks due to a right-shoulder strain. Muhammad still hasn’t been cleared to compete in games while the NCAA investigates unofficial visits and any possible extra benefits prior to his enrolling at UCLA. He is in the midst of a 45-day practice period while his case is being investigated. There’s no way to tell whether this is going to be an Enes Kanter-like decision (ineligible for the season at Kentucky after a slow investigation), a Renardo Sidney situation (eligible but after an extended game penalty at Mississippi State) or if Muhammad is eventually cleared without missing games. But it appears Muhammad for certain won’t be available for the Bruins’ key early games against Georgetown on Nov. 19, in Brooklyn, N.Y., in the Legends Classic, then possibly the next night against Indiana or Georgia. The Bruins also play San Diego State in Anaheim, Calif., Texas in Houston and host Missouri in December. UCLA cannot afford to try to earn an NCAA bid solely through its Pac-12 play, and a long Muhammad absence could prove fatal to this team’s tourney chances. UCLA is also still awaiting word on the eligibility of fellow freshman Kyle Anderson -- himself fairly important to the Bruins' chances.

2. The Big Ten serves no purpose in putting out just a top three in a preseason poll. There’s simply no point. No one’s feelings will be hurt if they’re picked 10th or 12th. The coaches know where they stand in the conference pecking order heading into the season. If you’re going to have a poll, have a full poll. Meanwhile, the top three released Thursday were Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State. I know I only saw a snapshot of Michigan State and haven’t yet seen Michigan or Ohio State in person, but I will be surprised if the Spartans don’t finish in the top three of the Big Ten yet again with their size, length, and experience returning.

3. Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said he felt much better a year after learning he had Parkinson’s disease, and after having to deal with the effects of insomnia, which led to anxiety over his inability to sleep. Kennedy isn’t as cautious with his speech and is moving much more fluidly. He was in good spirits at SEC media day Thursday in Hoover, Ala. He also said that he wants to play Texas after the series took a hiatus due to the Aggies' departure for the SEC from the Big 12. He said he spoke with Longhorns coach Rick Barnes about it recently, but Barnes said it’s above both of them and out of their hands. Kennedy agreed.

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