College Basketball Nation: Royce White


DAYTON, Ohio -- Three years ago, Fred Hoiberg almost looked lonely.

It was Hoiberg's first Big 12 media day as the coach at Iowa State, his alma mater, and when each coach sat down to field questions at their own folding table, the media scrum went in all the usual directions: Kansas' Bill Self was swarmed, Baylor's Scott Drew was fending off questions about a recent recruiting scandal, and everybody wanted a quote — or at least a quality stare — from Kansas State coach Frank Martin.

Save Hoiberg, the Cyclones coach's table was mostly empty. He sat with his hands folded, cell phone flat in front of him, like a teenager sliding through his first day at a new school.

"I don't know," Hoiberg said, when a reporter asked him for an interview. "I'm pretty busy over here."

On Friday night, just minutes after Iowa State's dominant 76-58 win over No. 7 seed Notre Dame, Hoiberg stood in the corner of the UD Arena coach's locker room surrounded by a score of television cameras and microphones and voice recorders, squinting just so to combat the bright lights.

Surprise, surprise: Interest in Iowa State basketball has increased. When Hoiberg inherited the program as a local hero and longtime NBA scout, but also a first-time coach at any level, the Cyclones hadn't finished above .500 in any of the previous four seasons. Larry Eustachy's firing set the program back a decade. Iowa State fans understandably lost some enthusiasm. The home arena's famed "Hilton Magic" had long since faded.

[+] EnlargeIowa State's Fred Hoiberg
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesFred Hoiberg has Iowa State heading in the right direction again. The Cyclones routed Notre Dame.
The magic is back now, resurrected by not just a former player but the most intensely loved former player in program history. Hoiberg is Ames-born and raised, schooled under legendary ISU coach Johnny Orr, and his Cyclones are not only playing better basketball but playing fun basketball, too. Iowa State runs a five-out offense, with lots of fast breaks and even more 3s. That attack dismantled the slower, sluggish Irish Friday night, and it is what has re-energized a hungry heartland fan base who still remembers when The Mayor -- who earned that nickname when he received more than a few write-in votes in the 1993 Ames mayoral elections -- used to get up and down the floor.

"As a kid that used to walk to Hilton Coliseum, how fun that was for me to see Johnny Orr running up and down the floor and playing an exciting brand of basketball," Hoiberg said. "We're trying to bring that back.

"I know how important basketball is to the community, to the state," he said.

The move was a bit of a risk in the first place. Fans were uncertain. What if the Mayor couldn't coach? What if the program went south? What if Hoiberg rode back to Ames and fell flat? The memories were wrapped in a forgiving gauze; losing is one thing, but losing your fuzzy relationship with your former star is quite another.

But Hoiberg has succeeded faster than anyone thought possible, in large part thanks to transfers like Royce White (Minnesota), Will Clyburn (Utah), Chris Babb (Penn State), and Korie Lucious (Michigan State). And Georges Niang, who finished with 19 points on 13 shots Friday night, is just a freshman -- an overlooked, undersized forward who fits the offense to a tee, and presents matchup problems with his scoring and versatility.

And now the Cyclones are off to the round of 32 with a talented freshman forward, a ragtag band of transfers, a modicum of defense and a fun offensive style, and long-suffering Iowa State fans are 100 percent along for the ride. Sunday's matchup with Ohio State won't be remotely easy -- if you're a perimeter-oriented offensive team, there is no opponent in the country you want to see less than the Buckeyes -- but it's clear Hoiberg has Iowa State basketball moving forward in a real way for the first time in over a decade.

It just shows how much work we've put in, how much talent we have on our team, and the future ability I would say we'll have in the Big 12 and on the national stage," junior Melvin Ejim said. "I think we're doing a great job."

NBA draft's biggest surprises

June, 29, 2012
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Andre DrummondJerry Lai/US PresswireThe Pistons drafted Andre Drummond with the No. 9 overall pick, mostly based on potential.
For college hoops/NBA nerds like me, the NBA draft is an event.

Chinese food. High-def TV. A comfortable chair. An iPad/laptop to follow Chad Ford’s “Matrix”-like draft coverage. (When I logged off, he was teasing his 2025 mock draft, which will likely feature the children of D-Wade and LeBron.)

I anticipated more trades. And I had no idea David Stern would take on the hostile crowd the way he did. Fascinating stuff.

And there were certainly some surprises with the various selections. Some good. Some bad. Some baffling.

The Good ...

Jared Cunningham to Dallas at No. 24: I think Cunningham is a major sleeper. It’s nice to see a guy get credit for defensive prowess. He’s a versatile guard. His defensive skills (2.5 spg) will make him a valuable player on Day 1. He’s big (6-foot-5), too. This pick may have turned a few heads, but Cunningham is legit. Nice sleeper.

Royce White to Houston at No. 16: I figured some team was hiding its interest in White, a high-level passer and ball handler trapped in a power forward’s body. Some called his anxiety disorder a red flag prior to the draft. But the concern was so over-the-top, I started to think that some NBA squad probably wanted that. Let everyone assume he’s not top-20 and then grab him. The Rockets did that. He has NBA strength right now. And the best part about White’s game is he’ll facilitate an offense and not worry about buckets. Just wants to win.

Austin Rivers to New Orleans at No. 10 : Some booed this pick. Rivers couldn’t escape the haters at Duke. He either did too much or too little. Here’s the thing. He played within an offense that didn’t have a true point guard. He had to run the offense and create shots. Now, he can focus on the latter. Rivers has an NBA game. He’s not going to face the zones and traps that teams needed to lock him up his freshmen season. He’ll have the freedom to roam. This is how he learned the game. The son of Boston Celtics and former NBA standout Doc Rivers will be a different player at the next level. Might not make sense right now. But give it a year.

The Bad ...

[+] EnlargeDion Waiters
Mark Konezny/US PresswireDion Waiters, a guard drafted by Cleveland, averaged 12.6 points per game at Syracuse last season.
Dion Waiters to Cleveland at No. 4: So NFL officials aren’t the only ones who fall for athletes after one or two workouts. Based on reports, Waiters had a few amazing auditions in Vegas and the Cavs fell in love with him. The former Syracuse star is a great athlete who attacks the rim. He’ll push the pace and get buckets in transition. But Harrison Barnes is more polished. Thomas Robinson, too. Big risk for the Cavs here. And Barnes and Robinson could have better careers.

Andre Drummond to Detroit at No. 9, Meyers Leonard to Portland at No. 11: Plenty of potential with both players. Drummond has the gift to form a potent frontcourt with Greg Monroe. In stretches, Leonard was a stud. One of his biggest challenges at Illinois was the limited touches he received. They didn’t feed him enough.

But I can’t justify taking these two over North Carolina’s duo of Tyler Zeller and John Henson. Henson blocked 2.9 shots per game last season with few fouls (1.6). So many knocks against his limited strength. How about the fact he’s a pure shot-blocker who plays the ball and not the body? Few possess that skill. Milwaukee should be happy with that pick. Zeller, who was traded to the Cavs, was the ACC’s player of the year. He averaged 16.3 ppg, 9.6 rpg and 1.5 bpg. He’s 7 feet tall. Both Drummond and Leonard have had some motor issues. Can’t say that about Zeller and Henson. Drummond and Leonard were drafted on potential. Zeller and Henson produced. I just don’t get it.

Miles Plumlee to Indiana at No. 26: Over Draymond Green? Over Arnett Moultrie? Over Perry Jones III? At this point, you’re not necessarily drafting according to need. You just want a good player. Plumlee is big (7-foot), but he averaged just 6.6 ppg and 7.1 rpg as a senior at Duke. I just think Indiana had a chance to pick multiple players with more talent and higher ceilings.

More surprises ...

• Barnes fell to No. 7, but he might average 15.0 ppg for the next decade. Might not be a star, but he could have the most consistent career in the entire draft.

• I don’t know about Jared Sullinger’s back. But if he’s healthy, he’ll be one of the best players in this draft. He faced bigger, more athletic players in college. High school, too. Yet he keeps winning. That should count for something, too.

• Perry Jones III slipped all the way to 28th? Just ... wow. Read more of my take on this here.

• Not sure why so many teams passed on Draymond Green, who fell all the way to No. 35. He played point guard in the NCAA tournament. He’s a strong rebounder. Knows how to be a leader. Not the most athletic forward in the draft, but he’ll surprise people next season. The Warriors made the right move when they took him in the second round.

• Maurice Harkless is very athletic. Not to mention he was one of the best athletes in the draft. I’m just not sure what else he has to offer Philly right now. He might develop into a stud (15.3 ppg for St. John’s). But there’s a lot of work to do.

• I think the Grizzlies made a great pick at No. 25 when they grabbed Tony Wroten (16.0 ppg last season). The confines of college basketball were not suited for this guard’s strengths. He’s a free spirit on the floor. And the NBA’s flow will really enhance his game. He’ll be a different (better) player at the next level.

• This isn’t surprising, but it’s ironic. The Minnesota Timberwolves picked Purdue’s Robbie Hummel at No. 58. Two years ago, Hummel tore his ACL for the first time during a matchup against the Gophers in Minneapolis. That was the beginning of a tough road for Hummel, who tore his ACL again about eight months later. I wouldn’t count him out. He could stick with the Wolves and earn a spot in next year’s rotation.

Royce White comes full circle

June, 27, 2012
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One of the benefits of writing about college basketball pretty much every day for three years (and change) is that you get to see players develop, and careers blossom or implode, on both macro and micro levels.

One of the drawbacks is that it's easy to jump to conclusions. It was especially easy with Royce White.

[+] EnlargeRoyce White
Peter G. Aiken/US PresswireIn ESPN.com's latest experts mock draft, Royce White was selected within the top 10 of the first round.
Just two years ago, White became a poster child for the immaturity of collegiate freshmen. During his freshman season at Minnesota, he pled guilty to theft and disorderly conduct after he was accused of shoplifting and pushing a security guard at the Mall of America in 2009. A few weeks later, university officials extended a previous suspension when he was linked to a laptop theft case on campus. (White denied that allegation.) Then, in the coup de grace, he released an infamous YouTube "retirement" video. He made his way back to Minnesota's program team eventually, but soon after announced his withdrawal again, citing his distrust of Minnesota campus police as the reason.

The entire saga was baffling, sure, but more than anything it looked like a troubled young kid without the good sense to recognize an opportunity when he had it. Nothing less, but nothing more.

But then things began to turn around. White transferred to Iowa State; when Cyclones fans watched him play summer ball, they could barely keep from squealing. They were right. This season, White burst onto the college hoops scene, flashing a rare blend of athleticism, size and skill. All of a sudden, the strange kid with colorful tattoos and the retirement video was the leader of an emerging team. How did that happen?

In January, our own Myron Medcalf got White to detail the reasons for his erratic behavior: Since he was a kid, White admitted, he had suffered from anxiety disorder and a fear of flying, which grew so bad he cancelled a plane trip to visit Kentucky and John Calipari (and really, what prospect does that?). It was a brave revelation: White surely knew he would be facing the NBA draft questions sooner rather than later, and rather than hide his problem -- one that could give NBA teams a reason not to draft him -- he came clean and encouraged other anxiety disorder sufferers to do the same.

From that point forward, White was an easy player to root for. He was a nigh-superhuman basketball star -- one who gave the Kentucky Wildcats everything they could handle (on the offensive end, at least) in the second round of the NCAA tournament -- suffering from a very quotidian human problem. Nothing is easier to cheer on in our sports figures than endearment.

Now, White is arguably the most intriguing player in the NBA draft. He's also been the subject of two excellent recent profiles. The first came from Sports Illustrated's excellent Pablo S. Torre; the second came from Grantland's excellent Jonathan Abrams. In both, White opened up -- about music and John Lennon, about his disorder and his past, about honesty and what it means to be truly alive. In a world full of bad quotes and boring people, White is decidedly neither.

This is his story. In the matter of two years, Royce White has gone from an 18-year-old waste of talent to one of the most interesting and human figures set to join the NBA. He has come full circle, and college basketball fans have been there every step of the way.

There's something thrilling about seeing a player like White make this journey. And, as always, there's the reminder that first impressions are only that -- impressions.
The man they call "The Mayor" -- one of the truly great nicknames in college hoops history -- won't be leaving his mayoral chair anytime soon. Because late Tuesday night, that chair became considerably more gilded.

Hoiberg
That's when Iowa State announced that Fred Hoiberg, the second-year coach, former star, Ames native and all-around Cyclones legend had agreed with the school to a hefty contract extension. The extension will replace Hoiberg's current five-year, $4.5 million deal with an eight-year contract worth $1.5 million per year, keeping Hoiberg signed until the 2021 season.

In case you aren't into math, the extension more than doubles Hoiberg's current $800,000-a-year contract, and it's hard to argue the man isn't worth the lofty raise. In just two seasons, Hoiberg has hoisted a languishing program -- one that fired its last successful coach (that coach: Larry Eustachy) after he was photographed with coeds and beer cans (that beer: Natural Light) -- out of the bottom of the Big 12 and back into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005. The turnaround came thanks mostly to Hoiberg's ability to lure once-troubled transfers like Royce White and Chris Allen, and form them into a cohesive, defensively solid bunch.

But it was also thanks to Hoiberg's decidedly underrated coaching. The proof, as we've written before, is in the post-timeout statistics: As SI's Luke Winn discovered last month, Hoiberg ranked tops among all college coaches in points per possession in post-timeout situations. Contrary to assumption, the Cyclones actually improved when Hoiberg had time to draw up a play. For someone who had never been a head coach before he took over at Iowa State -- something which nagged at even the most dyed-in-the-wool Cyclones fans -- Hoiberg easily exceeded everyone's x's and o's expectations.

So, to recap: The most popular man in the history of Iowa State basketball, who resurrected his former program from its near-decade-long doldrums in his second season, who bolstered his team with near-term transfers and is building it with long-view recruiting, and who also -- guess what? -- can really coach ... just signed an eight year deal doubling his salary through the 2021 season.

Yep. That sounds about right.

The 2012 All-Tournament team

April, 3, 2012
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NEW ORLEANS -- It’s over.

The 2011-12 college basketball season wrapped up with a fascinating Final Four and national title game. Now, it’s time for some hardware.

Here’s my version of the 2012 All-Tourney team:

First Team

[+] EnlargeAnthony Davis
Richard Mackson/US PresswireAnthony Davis earned Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors after leading Kentucky to a national crown.
Anthony Davis (Kentucky): The Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player left his mark on college basketball by leading the Wildcats to the national title. He finished with 29 blocks in the 2012 NCAA tournament, No. 2 all time. Against Kansas, he became the first player to record 6 points, 16 rebounds, 6 blocks, 5 assists and 3 steals during an NCAA tournament game.

Jeff Withey (Kansas): The 7-footer blossomed in the NCAA tournament and really clogged the lane for the Jayhawks' defense. He was a big reason Davis finished 1-for-10 in the national championship game. Withey established a record for blocks in a tournament with 31 in this year’s installment.

Thomas Robinson (Kansas): The Wooden Award finalist didn’t go home with a ring. But he was crucial in his team’s run to the Final Four. The junior averaged 16.6 ppg and 12.5 rpg during this year’s tournament.

Doron Lamb (Kentucky): The sophomore’s 22-point performance (a game high) in the national title game was the culmination of an impressive run for the young star. He averaged 16.5 ppg during the NCAAs. Without Lamb, the Wildcats may have fallen short against the Jayhawks on Monday night.

Bradley Beal (Florida): The freshman fueled Florida’s run to the Elite Eight with a series of high-octane efforts. He had 21 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals during Florida’s 68-58 win over Marquette in the Sweet 16. He followed that with 14 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists in his squad’s Elite Eight loss to Louisville.

Second Team

Tyler Zeller (North Carolina): The ACC Player of the Year helped the Tar Heels stay alive when Kendall Marshall suffered a serious wrist injury that kept him out of an overtime win against Ohio in the Sweet 16 and a loss to Kansas in the Elite Eight. He had 20 points and 22 rebounds against Ohio and he finished with 12 points, 6 rebounds and 4 blocks against the Jayhawks.

Draymond Green (Michigan State): The versatile forward started the tournament with a triple-double against LIU-Brooklyn. He had 16 points and 13 rebounds in a win over Saint Louis in the third round. Green also played some point guard in that game. The Spartans scored only 44 points in a Sweet 16 loss to Louisville, but Green ended his career with 13 points and 16 rebounds.

Deshaun Thomas (Ohio State): His team’s season ended when Kansas launched a furious comeback in their Final Four matchup Saturday. Prior to his nine-point effort that night, however, Thomas had scored 31, 18, 24 and 14 points, respectively, in Ohio State’s four previous NCAA tournament games. If he comes back for another year, the Buckeyes will be a top-5 preseason squad.

D.J. Cooper (Ohio): Cooper scored 21 points during his team’s upset win over Michigan in the second round. He had 19 against South Florida. And he finished with 10 points and six assists during an overtime loss to North Carolina. Now, his former head coach has a new job as a result of his performances in the NCAA tournament. He should send Cooper a check. Once he’s finished with school, of course.

Dion Waiters (Syracuse): He had 18 points in his team’s 75-59 win against Kansas State in the third round. And in a tight Sweet 16 matchup with Wisconsin, he went 5-for-11 and scored 13 points. The athletic guard is going to the NBA, but he put together a solid string of performances on his way out.

Other noteworthy performances:

Norfolk State’s Kyle O’Quinn put his program on the national map with 26 points, 14 rebounds and 2 blocks during the biggest upset of the NCAA tournament, Norfolk State’s 86-84 victory over No. 2 seed Missouri in the second round.

Royce White used the NCAA tournament as an audition for NBA execs. He had 15 points and 13 rebounds against Connecticut in the second round. And he scored 23 points and grabbed nine boards in Iowa State’s loss to Kentucky in the third round.

Aaron Craft is a thief. The sophomore had 16 steals for Ohio State throughout the NCAA tournament and solidified his slot as one of America’s greatest on-the-ball defenders.

Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum scored 30 points in his team’s 75-70 victory over No. 2 seed Duke in the second round.

Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick, a 6-4 guard, scored just eight points in his team’s second-round win over Texas. But when the lights came on in the later rounds, Kilpatrick showed off his star power. He had 18 points against Florida State in the third round. And he finished with 15 against Ohio State in the Sweet 16.


LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- What are you gonna do?

Seriously, how are you going to beat Kentucky in this NCAA tournament? That's what Iowa State -- and maybe the rest of America -- must be thinking after watching the preposterously gifted Wildcats break out a new weapon and push back the Cyclones' upset bid with extreme force in Saturday's 87-71 third-round NCAA tournament victory.

Just when it looked like Iowa State was going to create the first real drama of the weekend at the KFC Yum! Center and put the No. 1 overall seed on red alert, the Wildcats unleashed a 10-minute tsunami. Along the way, they threw safety nets over all their potential postseason pitfalls, such as:

Point guard play. John Calipari's best teams have had great point guards, but Big Blue fans haven't been sold on Marquis Teague most of the season. Truthfully, he's been solid most of the way after a shaky beginning. But he's rarely been much more than a game manager, and the fear was that his lack of offense and decision-making might prove a liability in a tournament often dominated by guards.

Teague, though, had his best game of the season against Iowa State. He erupted for 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting, scoring eight more points than he had in any other game of his freshman season. He finished in transition and sank jump shots as ISU sagged off him. He also had seven assists with only two turnovers.

Teague knew skeptics had wondered whether he would be the team's weak link.

"I heard a lot people say that, but I knew my time would come if I just continued to work," he said. "On a team like this, they don't really need me to score. I know I can step up and do that, but because we have so many scorers around, I don't have to."

Kentucky already is really, really good. If Teague is going to operate like an elite point guard, it's scary good.

"He did a great job not only scoring, but being a floor general," teammate Darius Miller said. "When he's playing like that, we're a totally different team."

Outside shooting. Vanderbilt beat the Wildcats in the SEC tournament final in large part because the Commodores went to a zone and Kentucky missed shots late. Iowa State collapsed its defense to try to handle Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones, hoping UK's guards would have an off night.

They didn't. Miller, who was slumping during the early rounds of the SEC tournament, and Doron Lamb combined to hit eight of their 13 3-point attempts. The Wildcats made their first six 3s of the second half and were 10-for-20 for the game, shooting 64 percent overall in the final 20 minutes.

[+] EnlargeMarquis Teague
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesFreshman point guard Marquis Teague sent the tournament's remaining teams a warning with a career night in Kentucky's impressive victory.
"We don't shoot a lot because we get to the rim, we throw lobs," Calipari said. "We play different -- we get a lot in transition. If you make us shoot 3s, we will shoot them."

And if they're making them as well as they did Saturday night, forget it.

Terrence Jones' psyche. The talented sophomore forward has had a tendency to disappear in big moments, as he did in the loss at Indiana in December. But Calipari rightly described Jones as a beast for the way he's played so far in March.

In his past six games, Jones is averaging 15 points and nine rebounds while attacking the rim. He scored only eight against Iowa State, mainly because he concentrated on trying to slow down the Cyclones' version of Charles Barkley, Royce White. But Jones ignited the team's backbreaking 18-2 second-half run with a drive for a dunk and a lob to Davis. He also pulled down 11 rebounds.

"I've just been trying to be a little hungrier and step up my role on this team," he said. "I felt I was letting my team down by not being as aggressive and thinking too much. I wanted to change that for [the] postseason and get us as deep as I could."

Three-point defense. Anybody can go down in March if another team starts raining home 3s. Indiana did it in the Dec. 10 upset in Bloomington and just might do it again next week in Atlanta.

But Calipari has the luxury of letting his players defend tightly on the perimeter, because Davis and Jones can erase mistakes if they are beaten on dribble penetration. Iowa State is one of the most prolific 3-point-shooting teams in the country, with four shooters ready to snipe from outside at any given time. The Cyclones went just 3-of-22 from the 3-point line Saturday night. After making six of their first seven shots of the second half to tie the score at 42, they hit only 28 percent the rest of the game.

Kentucky was content to let White get his points -- he had 23 -- and stop the shooters.

"Coach Cal told us that it was just like last year against Ohio State," Davis said. "If Sully [Jared Sullinger] gets 30 and nobody else can score, then they can't win. So we just tried to contain their [guards] with high hands and make it hard for them to score."

Foul trouble. Calipari usually goes only seven deep, and on Saturday, his top six guys played all but three minutes of the game. Lamb picked up his fourth foul early in the second half, and Jones fouled out after 33 minutes. That's pretty close to the doomsday scenario, yet Miller's fiery play off the bench more than made up for Lamb's extended absence. And even though White is built like a bull and tried to go into Davis' chest, Davis continued to get his hands on the ball without fouling. He had only two fouls Saturday night.

Kentucky is not unbeatable, and its next opponent definitely knows that. While the players said all the right things Saturday night about the rematch, it's no secret the Wildcats have been itching for another shot at the Hoosiers. Expect them to be incredibly motivated for next week in Atlanta. An effort similar to the one they gave in Louisville should be plenty good enough.

"[Calipari] after the game came up to me and told me that's the best game they played all year," Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. "They can't play any better than they did."

The rest of the tournament better hope that's true.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Kentucky comfortably survived the first weekend of the NCAA tournament in its own backyard, and now we have a pretty sweet rematch on tap for next week in Atlanta.

But first, here's a quick look at the No. 1 seed Wildcats' 87-71 victory over No. 8 seed Iowa State at the KFC Yum! Center.

Overview: The top overall seed faced its first test of this tournament early in the second half, when Iowa State tied the score at 42. The sea of blue in the stands began to squirm.

But Kentucky turned in a brilliant response, seizing control of the game in breathtaking fashion, zooming ahead by 24 points in just 10 minutes of action. Point guard Marquis Teague had the best offensive game of his young career, Darius Miller scored 19 points off the bench and Terrence Jones' defense finally slowed down Iowa State's multidimensional Royce White.

The Wildcats hit 6 of 7 3-pointers and shot better than 60 percent in the second half. If they are going to make shots from the outside like that, nobody is going to beat them. Iowa State, which played a pretty solid game, found that out the hard way.

Turning point: After Iowa State erased an 11-point halftime deficit in short order, Kentucky went on a devastating run that showed how much talent it has. Jones, who's been on a tear all of March, started things off with a baseline drive for a dunk. Moments later, Jones grabbed a tough rebound in traffic, dribbled the length of the court and threw a lob to Anthony Davis for another slam. Then the rest of the Wildcats started getting into the act, and suddenly the Cyclones were blindsided by an 18-2 spurt.

Key player: Teague is not normally a big scorer for Kentucky, but Iowa State gave him open looks and he drained them on Saturday. Teague scored a career-high 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting. The freshman had not scored more than 16 points all season.

Key stat: Teague, Miller and Doron Lamb went a combined 22-of-33 for the field and made nine 3-pointers. Iowa State was just 3-of-22 on 3-point tries.

Miscellany: Twice early in the second half, White went coast-to-coast for dunks with no Kentucky players even attempting to impede his progress. After the second one, which started when he blocked Davis, White yelled out, "I'm the best player in the country!" White -- who had 23 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists before fouling out -- was very impressive here this week and likely made himself some money with his performance against Kentucky's future pros. ... Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg was slapped with a technical foul with 11:35 left when he disputed a Cyclones turnover. Davis sank the ensuing two free throws. It was the first technical foul of Hoiberg's two-year coaching career. Kentucky's Jones got a technical for unsportsmanlike conduct with 10:11 left. That was the second technical levied against the Wildcats in two games, as Davis picked one up Thursday night for hanging on the rim. ... Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's mysterious late-season offensive swoon continues. The Wildcats freshman did not score before a meaningless layup in the final minute, though he did have seven rebounds.

What's next: Kentucky advances to play No. 4 seed Indiana in the Sweet 16 on Friday in Atlanta. The Hoosiers, of course, handed the Wildcats their only regular-season loss in a 73-72 thriller on Dec. 10 in Bloomington.


LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Thursday's slate of second-round games at the KFC Yum! Center didn't offer a lot of intrigue. All four higher seeds won by an average of 16 points.

Maybe they were just setting the stage for a dramatic doubleheader Saturday. On paper, at least, we have the possibility of two great games. The opener features teams with similar, fast-paced styles, while the nightcap pits the tournament's No. 1 overall seed against an upstart that might have the right ingredients for an upset.

Here's a closer look at Saturday's two third-round games in Louisville:

No. 3 seed Marquette (26-7) vs. No. 6 Murray State (31-1), 5:15 p.m. ET


What to watch: Each team must feel like it's looking into a mirror when scouting the other. Both like to crowd passing lanes and push the pace, and though neither is particularly big, their frontcourt players are active around the rim. So the question is, which one does it better? Marquette has more ability to switch up styles and pound the ball inside, especially when 6-foot-8, 290-pound forward Davante Gardner comes off the bench. He is averaging 17 points and six rebounds in three games since returning from a knee injury. But Murray State should have a significant crowd advantage from its fans who made the short trip here, and from Kentucky backers who likely will pick up their fellow state school's cause.

Who to watch: Both teams have terrific lead guards who could match up against one another. Murray State will almost assuredly need a big game from star Isaiah Canaan to have a chance to advance. The Racers' backcourt will have to slow down Darius Johnson-Odom, who can fill it up from outside or stutter-step and drive the lane. But the Golden Eagles' Jae Crowder presents the toughest matchup problem with his versatility. The 6-6 slasher had 25 points and 16 rebounds in the win against BYU. It's not height but bulk that might bother Murray State, as players like Johnson-Odom and Crowder look like they've spent as much time on their bench press as their jump shot. "They look like they should all be in spring practice at Alabama and LSU playing defensive back and linebacker," Racers coach Steve Prohm said.

Why to watch: This has all the makings of an entertaining, up-and-down game that shouldn't tax the shot clock operator. Canaan and Crowder are among the best players in the country. The winner of this game has a very real chance at making it to the West Region final and beyond.

What they're saying: "For people to look at us as a Cinderella story, it's an honor. But we try to stay level and remember the things that got us to this point, and try to remember to do those things. Because we know if we do that, everything else will take care of itself." -- Murray State guard Isaiah Canaan.

"You just visualize what the moment will be like when you see your 14 guys celebrating going to the Sweet 16. And that's how you're preparing right now, so those guys can have that moment." -- Murray State coach Steve Prohm.

"It's like watching Syracuse. You watch six or seven games, and by the time you're watching the eighth game, you're like, 'Yeah, they just do the same stuff over and over and over. Not to be over-simplistic, but maybe that's why they win." -- Marquette coach Buzz Williams, on scouting Murray State.

"They've got good guards, their bigs run in transition. We've got to get back in transition and keep the ball out of the paint. They look like they come to play and fight every night, and that's how we play." -- Marquette guard Junior Cadougan.

Of note: Donte Poole took an elbow to the nose on Thursday against Colorado State. The Murray State guard said his nose was sore and congested, but he plans on playing Saturday without a protective face mask. ... Marquette is looking to make its second straight Sweet 16 appearance and 15th overall. Murray State has never advanced that far. ... This is just the second meeting between the schools. The first came in the 1969 NCAA tournament, with Marquette winning 82-62.

No. 1 seed Kentucky (33-2) vs. No. 8 Iowa State (23-10), approximately 7:45 p.m. ET


What to watch: Kentucky should get its first real challenge of the tournament against an Iowa State team that took out defending champion Connecticut with ease Thursday night. The Cyclones can bury you from 3-point land by putting four shooters outside the arc on most possessions, but they also can get physical inside, as they showed against UConn. Of course, Kentucky still has Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones and all that other NBA talent, and it will be playing in the friendliest Big Blue confines outside of Rupp Arena. So Iowa State will be a heavy underdog, but that's a role this team has wholeheartedly embraced.

Who to watch: Iowa State's Royce White nearly transferred to Kentucky from Minnesota two years ago. John Calipari visited him in Minneapolis and said "it was done." But when it came time for White to enroll in summer school, he balked. White, who has an anxiety disorder, said he felt uncomfortable getting on a plane, and the mother of his first son had just found out she was pregnant again. Could White come back to haunt the Wildcats? He's one of the most unorthodox players in the country, a 6-8, 270-pounder who serves as the team's primary ball-handler and distributor. If he can throw his weight around inside and find open shooters, look out. But Kentucky also has big men who can play on the perimeter. "He's not LeBron James," Michael Kidd-Gilchrist said. "Can we pressure him? Yeah. He's not special."

Why to watch: The tournament favorite against a very game underdog? That's appointment television.

What they're saying: "We've got to do a great job of trying to keep their guards in front of us and try to make them shoot contested jump shots over us. Because if you do give up guard penetration to the middle, they have incredible athleticism and length, and they can just kind of flip it up there on the rim." -- Iowa State guard Scott Christopherson.

"I think I read somewhere that we were only picked in 32 percent of the brackets on the ESPN challenge. We have played that underdog role, and we have played it well. Our guys have gone out there and taken it personally. And hopefully, we'll do that again [Saturday] night." -- Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg.

"It's not nerves that I'm worried about. Iowa State is a really good team. I watched some tapes where I had to stop watching because I started getting worried that we can't beat this team. So I'm trying to watch a tape or two where they've lost. ... This is going to be one of the toughest games we've played in a while." -- Kentucky coach John Calipari.

Of note: Hoiberg played against Kentucky in the second round of the 1992 NCAA tournament when he was a Cyclones freshman. Hoiberg scored two points and fouled out of a 106-98 loss. "It was the only game in my college career that I fouled out," Hoiberg said. ... Looking ahead? Kentucky guard Marquis Teague said he hopes to see No. 4 seed Indiana -- which handed the Wildcats their only regular-season loss -- in next week's Sweet 16. "We want to play them because of the way they beat us," he said. "We're upset about that." ... White is Iowa State's only starter taller than 6-6, but the Cyclones have outrebounded their past 10 opponents. ... Kentucky's Jones is on a roll in March, averaging 20.8 points and 11 rebounds in his past four games.


LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Chris Allen played his first three years at Michigan State, experiencing two Final Fours and a Sweet 16 with the Spartans.

His old team expected to do great things in March. Back in the NCAA tournament as a senior with Iowa State, Allen senses an entirely different feeling.

"People see us and say, 'That's Iowa State. Who are they?'" Allen said. "But you can't worry about the name on the front of the jersey. You just have to worry about the players."

Plenty of folks saw the name Connecticut and automatically assumed the Huskies would brush past Iowa State in the second round of the NCAA tournament. UConn was the defending national champion, after all, while the Cyclones were a collection of castoffs at a program that hadn't gone dancing in seven years. Forget that Iowa State was seeded one spot higher, at No. 8, than Connecticut. Everybody was already looking forward to a third-round matchup between UConn and top seed Kentucky.

Except that Iowa State's players were better than Connecticut's. A lot better, and they showed it during Thursday's 77-64 dethroning at the KFC Yum! Center.

The Cyclones felt disrespected leading into the game and believed they would win. In the waning seconds, big man Royce White barked at the Iowa State radio crew, "I told you!"

"Nobody picked us to win," White said. "That bothered me a lot. Personally, I was as tuned-in as I've been all year to this game as far as my effort."

White showed it on the first possession of the game, throwing down a dunk off a rebound to set an early tone. Twelve minutes later, Iowa State led 36-14 after what coach Fred Hoiberg called his team's best stretch of the season.

[+] EnlargeScott Christopherson
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesScott Christopherson (15 points against UConn) transferred to Iowa State from Marquette in 2008.
The Cyclones hit eight of their first 11 shots and drilled six 3-pointers in the first half. But this wasn't simply the story of a team getting hot from outside and pulling off an upset. Iowa State didn't make a 3-pointer in the second half and instead took it to the Huskies physically, outrebounding them 41-24 and just wanting it more. After UConn cut the lead to six points at the under-eight-minutes timeout, Iowa State responded by scoring seven consecutive points and grabbing four offensive rebounds during that stretch.

"That's just hunger," White said. "That's us being the underdog."

UConn suffered from the same disinterested, disjointed vibe that plagued the team all year. At one point after a Cyclones run, Jim Calhoun called timeout and just stared at his team from the court for several moments, unsure of what to say. He later said the Huskies got caught "being nothing more than a street sign as [Iowa State] went by us by a thousand miles." With a 2013 tournament ban looming plus Calhoun's uncertain future, who knows what path Connecticut takes the next couple of years?

Truth is, Iowa State presents a tougher matchup for Kentucky than UConn ever did. This is a team that beat Kansas, Kansas State and Baylor this season and plays an odd style that is not easy to prepare for in one day.

"We have a lot of stuff that's abnormal to the college game," guard Chris Babb said.

That starts with White, a 6-foot-8, 270-pounder who often brings the ball up the court and initiates the offense. Hoiberg puts four shooters on the court with him most of the time. Teams that can spread Kentucky out and shoot -- think Vanderbilt and Indiana -- can beat the Wildcats, though it will still take a monumental effort.

There's very little that's conventional about Iowa State. Hoiberg had never coached at any level before he was hired two years ago. Looking for a quick fix, he brought in six transfers, four of whom are playing for the Cyclones in this tournament. Some of them had checkered pasts.

"It's kind of weird, because we have so many different people coming from so many different places," said guard Scott Christopherson, who transferred in from Marquette in 2008. "But we have all bonded together."

They used that togetherness to knock off the defending champions. Up next is the No. 1 team in this year's tournament. Win that one, and people will know all about Iowa State.

"There's nothing better you could have as far as a plot line for an underdog that wants to achieve something great," White said. "We've got to embrace the spot we're in now."

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The games in Louisville have all wrapped up, and the chalk advanced with every higher seed winning by double digits. But the late-game result still might surprise some people.

Here's a look at No. 8 Iowa State's 77-64 victory over No. 9 seed Connecticut in the final game at the KFC Yum! Center on Thursday:

Overview: Fans and TV executives probably wanted the appetizing third-round matchup between Kentucky, the presumed favorite in this year's field, and defending national champion Connecticut. But you get only what you deserve in the NCAA tournament, and Iowa State certainly earned its way into a matchup against the nation's No. 1 team.

The Cyclones had a better season than Connecticut and were the better team on Thursday night. They rode a hot-shooting start -- making eight of their first 11 attempts -- to a 22-point first-half lead. And even though Fred Hoiberg's 3-point-loving team didn't make a single triple in the second half, it surprisingly outmuscled and outhustled UConn.

Don't sleep on this Iowa State team, whose unique style of play could cause Kentucky trouble. Just ask the defending champs.

Turning point: Connecticut's Ryan Boatright scored seven straight points, the last of which was a 3-pointer, to cut Iowa State's lead to 58-52 with a little more than eight minutes left. But Kemba Walker was not walking through that door. The Cyclones would score the next seven points by beating the Huskies around the rim.

Key player: Chris Allen knows how to win in the NCAA tournament from his days at Michigan State, so it was no surprise Allen made a lot of winning plays when needed. The Iowa State guard scored a team-high 20 points, including a key putback to repel UConn's second-half rally. Honorable mention to Royce White, who had 15 points and 11 rebounds.

Key stat: We knew Iowa State could shoot it, but we weren't sure the Cyclones could push around a Big East team. But that's exactly what they did on the backboards, outrebounding the Huskies 37-20.

Miscellany: UConn became just the fourth defending champion to lose its first game of the NCAA tournament since seeding began in 1979. The other three teams to do so (1996 UCLA, 1988 Indiana and 1981 Louisville) were all No. 4 seeds. ... The 42 points scored by Iowa State in the first half were one more than Butler managed in the entire national championship game last year against Connecticut. ... Two plays that seemed to sum up the Huskies' troubles, if not their season: Roscoe Smith threw up a Hail Mary from beyond half court near the end of the first half, only there was still more than three seconds left and he let Iowa State have the ball back with time remaining. And at the end of the game, Jeremy Lamb attempted a wind mill dunk just before the buzzer. He missed, badly.

What's next: Iowa State will face No. 1 overall seed Kentucky in the third round Saturday. The two teams met in their second game of the tournament 20 years ago, with the Wildcats winning.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Looking for something interesting in the Thursday night session at the KFC Yum! Center? Well, we've got the NCAA Tournament's No. 1 overall seed and the defending national champions each playing and possibly charting a collision course toward one another. Is that something you might be interested in?

Here's a closer look at the two late games here in Louisville:

No. 1 seed Kentucky (32-2) vs. No. 16 Western Kentucky (16-18), 6:50 p.m. ET

What to watch: Western Kentucky was 9-18 on Feb. 18. Now the Hilltoppers have an NCAA tournament win under their belts and will face the No. 1 overall seed in what also happens to be an in-state rivalry. So they're playing with house money and can give Kentucky their best shot with no pressure on their backs. The Wildcats will open up in front of an extremely friendly crowd, but they need to shake off the disappointing loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament final.

Who to watch: Player of the year candidate Anthony Davis begins his first and only NCAA tournament, and the Wildcats will likely go as far as he can carry them. Western Kentucky's Teeng Akol, a rail-thin 6-foot-11 junior, has the unenviable task of trying to contain Davis. Don't be surprised to see the Hilltoppers play a lot of zone, as Vanderbilt did with great success. Do be surprised if they come close to approaching the 53-30 rebounding edge they held over Mississippi Valley State in Round 1.

Why to watch: Kentucky is the commanding favorite in this tournament, but don't forget this team starts three freshmen who have never experienced March Madness as players. They'll need to work out the butterflies early. Western Kentucky has manufactured two ridiculous comebacks, first just to get to the NCAA tournament and then in erasing a late 16-point deficit in Tuesday night's win. If the Hilltoppers find a way to upset the Wildcats and become the first No. 16 seed to oust a No. 1, the city of Bowling Green may never stop partying.

What they're saying: "It was a very intense practice. We don't like losing. Coach Cal doesn't like losing, so we tried to pick it up a little bit. We tried to get focused on what we need to do going into this tournament. That has been our main goal all year." -- Kentucky guard Darius Miller on the mood of the team after the Vanderbilt loss.

"You don't want to start out the game bad against a team like this because ... it's kind of like horse racing. When you're racing a really big horse, you don't want to get behind too much because the race is only so long." -- Western Kentucky forward Vinny Zollo.

Of note: Kentucky's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Western Kentucky leading scorer Derrick Gordon were high school teammates and close friends at St. Patrick in New Jersey. "It's like a dream come true for both of us," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "I can't wait to play them." Kidd-Gilchrist will likely be assigned to defend Gordon. ... Zollo committed to Kentucky as a high school freshman but dropped his pledge after Billy Gillispie was fired in 2009. ... The two schools haven't played since Western Kentucky upset then-No. 4 Kentucky 64-52 in November 2001.

No. 8 seed Iowa State (22-10) vs. No. 9 seed UConn (20-13), approximately 9:20 p.m.

What to watch: UConn is the defending national champion, but Iowa State is actually the higher seed. And don't discount the Cyclones, who were good enough to beat Kansas, Baylor and Kansas State this season. The Huskies, who needed to win two games in the Big East tournament last week to feel secure about getting here, have looked indifferent at times this season, especially in their perimeter defense. That could spell trouble against an Iowa State team that was one of the most prolific 3-point shooting clubs in the country while making nearly nine treys per game.

Who to watch: Iowa State forward Royce White is the only player in the country to lead his team in scoring, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. So, yeah, he can do it all. But can the 6-foot-8 Royce do it all effectively inside against UConn shotblocker Andre Drummond?

Why to watch: The Huskies begin their title defense, and with Jim Calhoun back on the bench they have to be taken seriously. This is still a talented team with two future pros in Drummond and Jeremy Lamb, though the chemistry has seemed off most of the season. Iowa State is better than many think. Whoever wins this game has a chance to cause No. 1 Kentucky some problems in the next round.

What they're saying: "I mean, Kemba Walker's not coming back, is he? Obviously, we know Connecticut is one of the most storied programs in all of college basketball. We know they're the defending national champs. [But] we feel like we earned our way to be here, too. We respect them, but I don't think there's like a fear factor with them at all." -- Iowa State guard Scott Christopherson.

"You definitely hear it from the fans. They definitely want to see the UConn-Kentucky matchup. We're just trying to beat Iowa State and then play Saturday." -- Connecticut forward Alex Oriakhi.

Of note: Calhoun is 16-1 all time in the first round, with a 2008 loss to San Diego his only blemish. ... The Huskies haven't been seeded this low since they were ninth in the 1992 tournament. ... Iowa State scores 36.4 percent of its points from 3-point range, the fifth-highest among power six conference teams. Connecticut is allowing its opponents to score 33.9 percent of their points from 3-point range, the second-highest rate among power six conference teams.


KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Moments before a final half of basketball that may have decided the fate of Texas’ season, coach Rick Barnes stood before a dry-erase board in the Longhorns’ locker room.

On one side, Barnes scribbled three letters: “N-I-T.”

Then he took a step to his right and jotted down four more: “N-C-A-A.”

Barnes put down the marker and looked at his team.

“Who are we?” he asked the Longhorns. “Which one would you put your name under?”

By the time Texas left the Sprint Center, the question had been answered.

In a game that so many predicted they would lose, the Longhorns fought back from an 11-point deficit and defeated Iowa State 71-65 in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament. Along with propelling them into Friday’s semifinal against Missouri, the victory significantly enhanced the résumé of a Texas team that entered the contest on the NCAA tournament bubble.

Now 20-12, the Horns feel much better about their chances of earning a 14th consecutive bid under Barnes, who isn’t the type to politick to the selection committee.

He shouldn’t have to.

Texas finished 9-9 in what is generally regarded as the second-best league in the country behind the Big Ten. The Longhorns’ strength of schedule is No. 20 in the country according to ESPN's InsideRPI, and they have only one defeat (at Oklahoma State) that can be viewed as a “bad loss.”

Thursday’s victory over Iowa State also should turn some heads considering the Cyclones -- who tied for third in the Big 12 standings -- entered the game touting wins in four of their previous five contests. Texas’ win Thursday came before 18,792 people, most of whom were in support of Iowa State.

“You love to walk into other gyms and quiet their fans,” UT guard J’Covan Brown said.

Texas led 65-59 with 2 minutes, 55 seconds left before Iowa State scored six consecutive points to force a tie. But rather than flounder in the face of adversity, the Longhorns flourished.

[+] EnlargeJ'Covan Brown
Peter G. Aiken/US PresswireJ'Covan Brown's late-game cool helped Texas hold off Iowa State -- and strengthen its NCAA case.
With 36 seconds left, Brown spun into the lane and swished a floater as he was fouled. He sank the ensuing free throw to convert the 3-point play to give Texas a 68-65 lead. It was yet another huge shot for a player whose career has been defined by gut-check moments.

Brown scored seven of his game-high 23 points in the second half.

“A few seconds before I hit that shot, Coach was like, ‘Are you feeling it?’” said Brown, a junior. “I told him I was, and he let me go out and do my thing. It gives you a lot of confidence when your coach has your back like that.”

Brown’s performance this season -- he averages a Big 12-best 20.1 points -- is even more impressive considering he’s on a team that features five freshmen among its top seven players. Opposing defenses are geared to stop Brown, yet he still finds ways to score. His game winner Thursday came against Iowa State’s Chris Babb, who is regarded as one of the top defenders in the Big 12.

“[Brown] is a gifted offensive player,” Barnes said. “He has such great vision. On that last play he had three or four different options, and he picked the right one to get the ball where it needed to be.”

The Cyclones still had a chance after Brown’s clutch basket, but standout Royce White lost control of the ball on the perimeter, and it ended up in the hands of Texas forward Jonathan Holmes. Iowa State immediately fouled Holmes, and the freshman made both free throws to make it 70-65 with 22 seconds left.

Ballgame.

As proud as he was of Brown, Barnes was also ecstatic about the play of freshman point guard Myck Kabongo, who has been on a steady incline all season. Kabongo finished with 11 points, five assists and no turnovers -- Texas had only six turnovers as a team -- and he played excellent defense on Iowa State 3-point ace Scott Christopherson.

A senior, Christopherson entered Thursday’s game averaging 21.8 points in his previous five contests and had made 19 of 36 3-point attempts during that span. Pestered by Kabongo, he scored just 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting and missed four of his six attempts from beyond the arc.

As a team, the Cyclones made just five 3-pointers Thursday. They came in averaging nine per game.

Texas now advances to play another strong shooting team in Missouri. The Tigers are shooting 49.9 percent from the field, a mark that ranks third in the nation. Mizzou defeated Texas 84-73 in Columbia on Jan. 14 and 67-66 in Austin on Jan. 30.

“We feel good about this win,” Brown said. “But we can’t let our young guys celebrate too much. We’ve got another big one tomorrow.”
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Quick thoughts from Texas' 71-65 victory over Iowa State.

Overview: Texas' streak of 13 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances under Rick Barnes may be extended another year. Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but the Longhorns certainly have to feel much better about their chances of earning an at-large bid after defeating the No. 3-seeded Cyclones in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament at the Sprint Center. Texas, which improved to 20-12 overall, entered the game on the bubble. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi had Texas as one of his last teams in before Thursday's tipoff.

Just as he has countless times throughout his career, junior guard J'Covan Brown came through in the clutch. The conference's leading scorer broke a 65-65 tie by converting a three-point play with 36.3 seconds remaining. Iowa State turned it over on the other end, and Texas' Jonathan Holmes came up with the loose ball. Holmes was fouled and hit both free throws to make it 70-65. Iowa State had no chance after that.

Brown had a game-high 23 points for Texas while point guard Myck Kabongo added 11. Royce White had 17 points and 10 rebounds for the Cyclones.

Turning point: Texas trailed by as many as 11 points in the second half before going on a 26-8 run that was capped by Kabongo's deep 3-pointer with 11:12 remaining. The scoring march provided a huge jolt of momentum for Texas. Iowa State fought back and tied the game twice but could never take the lead.

Key player: Because of Texas' up-and-down season, Brown hasn't received the attention he deserves. He is one of the best pure scorers in the nation - and the fact that he's averaging 20 points a game on a team dominated by freshmen makes his success even more impressive, because he is the focal point of opposing defenses.

Key stat: Iowa State's biggest strength is its 3-point shooting. But the Cyclones were just 5-of-18 from beyond the arc Thursday.

Miscellaneous: Texas won despite playing without senior forward Alexis Wangmene, who is out for the season after breaking his wrist in Saturday's loss at Kansas. Wangmene averages just 4.6 points and 4.7 rebounds, but his energy and post presence was invaluable for the Longhorns.

What's next: Texas advances to play No. 2 seed Missouri in Friday's semifinal. The Longhorns lost twice to the Tigers this season, including a 67-66 defeat in Austin on Jan. 30. Iowa State's season is far from over, as the Cyclones are a lock to make the NCAA tournament. Fred Hoiberg's team is 22-10 and 12-6 in Big 12 play. Iowa State was 3-13 in conference games last season.

Top 10 Thursday: FSU's turnaround

February, 23, 2012
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In the moments that followed a 79-59 road loss to Clemson on Jan. 7, Florida State’s coaching staff accosted players in the locker room about the multiple gaffes that had led to the lopsided score.

The Seminoles’ stubborn defense had failed them as the Tigers shot 49 percent from the field. They committed 16 turnovers. And their 24 fouls led to Clemson’s 28-for-33 mark from the charity stripe.

But as Leonard Hamilton and his staff pointed out the team’s flaws, Bernard James stirred in his seat, especially when coaches questioned players’ collective effort.

[+] EnlargeMichael Snaer
Melina Vastola/US PresswireMichael Snaer and Florida State are rolling with wins in 10 of their past 11 games.
James, who scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds in that game, felt a need to speak. With a declarative tone, he told everyone in the room that he had played hard. And he asked his teammates, who’d just suffered their sixth loss in 10 games, if they’d done the same.

“I just kind of snapped right there. I kind of defended myself,” James told ESPN.com. “I felt like I played hard that game. I placed the blame on certain individuals. It wasn’t to tear anybody down. I just felt like somebody needed to take responsibility for the loss.”

That moment broke the ice for a Florida State squad that turned a postgame discussion into an intervention. James said the Seminoles expressed their frustrations with one another. They talked about the missed assignments that had led to their poor start. They vowed to implement more accountability.

“We pretty much had to let the frustration out to start off on a new foot,” said junior Michael Snaer.

They’ve won 10 of their past 11 games, a mark punctuated by wins over North Carolina and Duke. Tickets for Thursday night’s home game against Duke sold out in 15 minutes.

The Seminoles’ evolution was evident on the final play of their 76-73 road win at Duke on Jan. 21. After Austin Rivers tied the game on a late drive, the Seminoles didn’t panic. They just executed.

James said he “knocked the snot out of” Seth Curry on a screen as Luke Loucks drove up the floor and found Snaer in the corner for the winning 3-pointer.

“Something would have went wrong [if that had happened before the Clemson loss]. Something would have been out of place,” James said. “The reason why that play worked was because everything happened the way it was supposed to.”

Hamilton could see the surge coming. Even after the Clemson loss, the coach said he believed his team was struggling because it hadn’t jelled yet. Xavier Gibson had switched positions. Loucks was still getting comfortable as the starting point guard. Ian Miller was unavailable at the start of the season, but he’s averaged 10.5 points per game since his Dec. 22 return.

But Hamilton agrees that the Clemson loss jolted a team that needed a midseason wake-up call.

“That game just brought us back to reality,” he said. “It kind of refocused us.”

Here’s a list of the other squads that have managed to turn things around this year:

Drexel -- The Dragons lost four of their first six games. But they’ve lost just one game since Dec. 3 and are riding a 14-game winning streak. They’re on top of the CAA with a 15-2 record.

George Mason -- Paul Hewitt endured some early struggles in his first season at George Mason. Nonconference losses to Florida Atlantic and Florida International seemed to spell trouble for the Patriots. But the Patriots found some poise as the season progressed. At 14-3 in the CAA, they’re tied with VCU for second place.

Iowa State -- The Cyclones suffered from the chemistry issues that come with being a team that relies on transfers. Despite possessing talented players such as Royce White and Chris Allen, the Cyclones lost at Drake, to Northern Iowa at home and at Michigan in their nonconference season. Would they find a way to click and extract the full potential from their roster? Yep. The Cyclones are fourth in the Big 12 with a 10-5 record, and they’re probably headed back to the NCAA tournament.

LIU Brooklyn -- The Blackbirds own the Northeast Conference right now (15-1). But they lost six of their first 11 games.

Notre Dame -- It all started with Tim Abromaitis suffering a season-ending injury in November. The Fighting Irish’s 65-58 road loss to Rutgers on Jan. 16 was their eight defeat of the year. But that’s the past. The new Fighting Irish have won nine games in a row.

South Florida -- The Bulls are on the bubble with a 10-5 record in the Big East. In late December, that would have appeared to be a misguided forecast. From Nov. 19 through Dec. 28, the Bulls lost seven of 11 games.

UNC Greensboro -- The Spartans are on top of the Southern Conference’s North division with a 10-7 record. Somehow, this team recovered from a 2-14 start to its 2011-12 campaign. Now that’s a turnaround.

VCU -- Shaka Smart’s Rams look dangerous again. After losing most of the starters from last season’s Final Four team, the Rams lost three of their first six games. But Bradford Burgess (12.9 ppg) has embraced his role as a leader on and off the floor. They’re tied with George Mason for second place in the CAA at 14-3.

Washington -- There’s a lot of bad in the Pac-12. But the Huskies are one of the struggling league’s success stories. They lost to South Dakota State 92-73 at home Dec. 18. It was their fifth loss in seven games. But the Huskies have lost just three games since that disaster. They’re 12-3 in the Pac-12 and making a legitimate push for an at-large berth.

Conference Power Rankings: Big 12

February, 20, 2012
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Saturday’s game between Kansas and Missouri will go a long way toward deciding this year's Big 12 regular-season champion. Both teams have identical 12-2 conference records, but Missouri gets the nod in this week’s Conference Power Rankings because of its victory over the Jayhawks on Feb. 4 in Columbia.

1. Missouri: Frank Haith’s squad eked out another hard-fought road victory Saturday when it defeated Texas A&M 71-62 in College Station. The win was the seventh straight for the Tigers, who will try to avenge a Jan. 7 loss to Kansas State on Tuesday.

2. Kansas: The Jayhawks had an easy time with last-place Texas Tech in Saturday’s 33-point win. Forward Thomas Robinson continues to make a case for national player of the year honors. The junior is averaging 17.7 points and 11.8 rebounds.

3. Kansas State: Angel Rodriguez scored 15 points to lead the Wildcats to their best win of the season against Baylor on Saturday. The 57-56 victory upped Kansas State’s Big 12 record to 7-7 and will greatly enhance its resume on Selection Sunday. Two more tough tests await this week. The Wildcats visit Missouri on Tuesday and host Iowa State on Sunday.

4. Baylor: The Bears are in a downward spiral with losses in three of their past four games. Scott Drew’s team failed to score in the final two minutes of Saturday’s home defeat against Kansas State and looked completely disorganized and lost on its final two possessions. Getting healthy at Texas on Monday won’t be easy.

5. Iowa State: Scott Christopherson scored 25 points and Chris Allen added 16 in Saturday’s 80-69 victory over Oklahoma. At 9-5, the Cyclones are now tied with Baylor for third place in the Big 12 standings. Standout Royce White has had three single-digit scoring outputs in his past five games.

6. Texas: Saturday’s 90-78 loss to Oklahoma State in Stillwater snapped the Longhorns’ four-game winning streak. Texas was outscored from the free throw line 43-14. At 7-7 in league play, Rick Barnes’ team desperately needs a home win against Baylor on Monday to enhance its NCAA tournament hopes. Texas lost to the Bears 76-71 on Jan. 28 in Waco.

7. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys are the Big 12’s most improved team; especially when they play at home. Oklahoma State has now defeated Missouri, Texas, Iowa State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma in Stillwater. They still have home games remaining against Texas A&M and Kansas. Keiton Page had 40 points in Saturday’s win over Texas, when he was 20-for-20 from the foul stripe.

8. Texas A&M: The Aggies have lost five of their past six games, and with Kansas coming to town Wednesday, things may get worse before they get better. Point guard Dash Harris hasn’t played since Jan. 23 because of a foot injury. Elston Turner averages a team-high 14 points.

9. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders didn’t do much to capitalize on their Feb. 11 victory over Oklahoma. They turned in a dismal offensive performance in a 47-38 setback against Texas A&M on Tuesday before getting stomped by 33 points at Kansas on Saturday.

10. Oklahoma: The Sooners have lost six games in a row and eight of past last nine. Wednesday’s home game against Oklahoma State looks like a possible victory, as the Cowboys have been terrible on the road. Still, it’s been quite a collapse for a team that opened the season with wins in nine of its first 10 games.

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