Dallas Colleges: Mountain West
I'd like to see Myck Kabongo return for a full season at Texas. His 23-game penalty (originally a full year) was excessive for a workout last May and the expenses incurred. But he wasn't truthful with Texas when asked initially and that cost him dearly. The Texas staff told Kabongo to watch what he did and yet he still went ahead and put himself in a position to be caught or at the very least in a precarious situation. It was unnecessary. He didn't need the pro workout when he was hardly a lock for a first round spot. The draft is not strong but I'll be surprised if NBA teams are lining up to get Kabongo. He should return to see if he can get Texas back to the NCAA tournament after this disappointing and disjointed season. Returning to lead would also prove to NBA teams that he has matured and worked on his all-around game.
No. 9 Kansas at No. 14 Oklahoma State, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Kansas’ three-game losing streak in early February -- the one that temporarily blew its bandwagon into a ditch on the outskirts of Lawrence -- began with a flip. After his team had sealed the 85-80 victory Feb. 2 on a late layup, Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart did a backflip at center court. And that’s not something Kansas players, coaches and fans have forgotten.
The image exemplified the vigor that the Cowboys have displayed since that upset, one that ended KU's 33-game winning streak at the Phog. That defeat launched a major slide for a Kansas squad that lost to TCU and Oklahoma in its next two games.
The Jayhawks have recovered in the polls, but they’re still fighting to earn a slice of their ninth consecutive Big 12 title. The winner of Wednesday’s game will enter into a first-place tie with Kansas State, a squad the Jayhawks already have swept this season.
Beyond the conference title implications, the game features two of America’s best freshmen. Ben McLemore (16.7 points per game) has soared up the NBA draft boards due to a series of phenomenal performances. Smart (15 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 4.5 apg, 2.9 spg) is a candidate for national player of the year honors.
Kansas wants payback for that first loss. That program hasn't lost twice to the same opponent in one season since 2001 -- and hasn't been swept by the Cowboys since the 1982-83 season. But will the Jayhawks get their revenge if they have more point guard problems? (Elijah Johnson went 3-for-14 and committed four turnovers in the first meeting.)
That strange funk appears to be in the past for Bill Self’s program, although the Jayhawks have lost their past two Big 12 road games. A convincing road win over a nationally ranked Cowboys team would leave little, if any, doubt about KU's potential on a national level. Yet the Jayhawks must overcome Oklahoma State’s home-court advantage and its defense (19th in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy). The Pokes will need Markel Brown (28 points in the first matchup) to repeat his effort from the first game and not Oklahoma State’s past two home matchups (9-for-30 combined).
No. 22 Colorado State at UNLV, 10:15 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network
Colorado State’s 66-61 win over UNLV on Jan. 19 sent a message to the rest of the league and the country about Larry Eustachy’s program. Two players -- Dorian Green (24 points) and Greg Smith (16 points) -- led CSU to a victory that has helped the Rams during their six-game winning streak. With a win, they’d remain atop the Mountain West with New Mexico.
The rematch in Las Vegas, however, could end with a different outcome. The Runnin’ Rebels have not lost to a Mountain West team at home this season. Colorado State has a tough anchor inside in Colton Iverson (13.6 ppg, 9.6 rpg), but the Runnin' Rebels are ranked 27th in adjusted defensive efficiency.
The Rams are a scrappy team (second in offensive rebounding rate, per Ken Pomeroy) that leads the Mountain West with 72.2 points per game despite shooting 33.7 percent from the 3-point line (fourth in the conference). During its win in the first meeting, Colorado State held UNLV standouts Khem Birch, Mike Moser and Anthony Bennett to 6-for-15 shooting from the field. But the Runnin’ Rebels lost by only five.
Can Colorado State neutralize UNLV’s frontcourt again? That seems to be the most critical question surrounding the matchup.
Who to watch: Fresno State's Phillip Thomas was the school's first-ever unanimous All-American following a nation-best eight-pick season, which set the Mountain West Conference single-season record. Thomas returned three of those picks for scores (a school record), and he led the Bulldogs with 82 total tackles and 12 tackles for loss, while tying for the team lead with four forced fumbles, adding four sacks and one fumble recovery. The fifth-year senior from Bakersfield, Calif., has recovered from a leg injury that forced him to redshirt last season and now has more interceptions than 29 teams. Simply put, Thomas is a ball hawk whom SMU must be aware of at all times.
What to watch: Both defenses. While both offenses are capable of big chunk plays -- Fresno State boasts the nation's No. 12 scoring offense -- the other side of the ball has put each team in great scoring position throughout the season. You already know about Thomas, but his nine takeaways account for barely a quarter of the Bulldogs' 33 forced turnovers this season. SMU? The same number, though the Mustangs have lost it 21 times this season, five more than Fresno State. The Bulldogs are No. 5 in turnover margin; the Mustangs are No. 12. Whichever defense makes more big plays is the one most likely to walk away with the victory, as SMU is minus-10 in the turnover category in its six losses this season.
Why to watch: Derek Carr, brother of former NFL No. 1 draft pick David Carr, has been phenomenal under center all season for Fresno State, completing better than 68 percent of his passes for 3,742 yards with 36 touchdowns and just five interceptions. Casual fans will also recognize the man under center for SMU as Garrett Gilbert, who is best known for his relief act of Colt McCoy in the 2010 BCS National Championship, and has 21 total touchdowns while netting nearly 3,000 yards of offense.
Prediction: Fresno State 35, SMU 24. The Bulldogs enter this game riding a five-game winning streak. The Mustangs had to win their regular-season finale over Tulsa just to extend their season. Fresno State does a better job of protecting the ball and has the more productive quarterback.
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