Dallas Colleges: Bill Self

Tournament preview: Big 12

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
8:30
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The sun rose. And Kansas won its 10th consecutive Big 12 title.

There’s more, though.

The 2013-14 campaign for the Big 12 orchestrated a shift in the conference hierarchy. The Big Ten has been the king of regular-season college basketball for years. But the Big 12 can make that claim this season. The league will enter its tournament with seven teams positioned to earn at-large NCAA bids. That’s 70 percent of the conference.

No conference can match that depth. And if the hoopla in Kansas City, Mo., is anything like the movie we witnessed in a thrilling round of conference play, then we’ll need a lot of popcorn this week because anything could happen.

What’s at stake?

[+] EnlargeKansas Jayhawks
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesBill Self's Jayhawks will have NCAA seeding to play for at the Big 12 tournament.
Kansas is still fighting for that fourth No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament but will have to do so without the services of Joel Embiid. After Embiid met with a spinal specialist in California, the initial stress fracture prognosis was confirmed and he was ruled out of the Big 12 tourney and is unlikely to play the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.

"Based on that, this weekend [in the Big 12 championship] is out," Kansas coach Bill Self said in a statement. "Next weekend, we feel like is a longshot, but the doctors are hopeful that if Joel works hard in rehab and progresses that it is possible that he could play in the later rounds of the NCAA tournament if our team is fortunate enough to advance."

So this week, for a few reasons, could be significant for the Big 12 champs.

A few wins in Kansas City would solidify the Jayhawks’ campaign, if a top seed is their best scenario. Maybe it’s not. Kansas could end up in a No. 2 slot opposite in-state enigma Wichita State. Perhaps that’s preferable. Regardless, this week could ease or complicate KU’s potential path to the Final Four.

But the Jayhawks are not alone.

Melvin Ejim, the Big 12's player of the year, and Iowa State could use this week’s tournament to attain some much-needed momentum after dropping two of three. A successful stretch would also help Texas and Oklahoma secure favorable second-round matchups on Selection Sunday.

But Baylor and Oklahoma State are the two teams that really need this tourney. Just two weeks ago, both looked as if they’d fallen out of the NCAA tourney pool.

Then Baylor won seven of its final eight regular-season games. And Marcus Smart led Oklahoma State out of a ditch, too. His return from a suspension fueled a rally of four wins in its last five games.

Both of those teams could win this tournament. Or they could stumble early. Their Thursday matchups -- potentially Baylor against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State against Kansas -- could be their toughest, assuming they’re successful in Wednesday night meetings with TCU and Texas Tech, respectively. A run in Kansas City could also position both teams to avoid dicey seeds in the Big Dance.

Baylor and Oklahoma State look good right now. But when they were bad, they were horrid. Oklahoma State endured a seven-game losing streak, and Baylor lost seven of eight during one ugly Big 12 stretch.

Additional quality wins would make it easier for the selection committee to consider the present instead of their collective, rocky past.

Team with the most to gain

What if West Virginia makes a run? On its best days, the Mountaineers have competed against the best teams in the league. And the 9-9 Big 12 squad enters the conference tourney following a whipping of Kansas over the weekend.

Juwan Staten would be a major star in any other league. A run would help him attract the praise he deserves. It’s not crazy, either. West Virginia opens the tourney against a Texas team that’s lost four of its past six. A win would lead to a matchup against Baylor or Oklahoma, two teams that split their season series with the Mountaineers. And Kansas might be waiting in the title game.

There’s nothing sexy about WVU’s 83 RPI or its 5-12 record against top-100 teams. But if you’re looking for a dark horse that could steal a bid and shake up the field, check out the crew in Morgantown.

Marcus Smart takes care of Kansas

March, 2, 2014
Mar 2
1:29
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STILLWATER, Okla. -- Marcus Smart came flying out of nowhere, secured the ball and kicked it back out to a teammate, all in one motion.

Smart’s offensive rebound late in the second half of Oklahoma State’s 72-65 win over No. 5 Kansas at Gallagher-Iba Arena on Saturday night sent a message to the Jayhawks and everyone watching:

Marcus Smart was going to impose his will during the final four minutes.

And that’s exactly what the Cowboys point guard did.

"He made big plays down the stretch … huge plays," OSU coach Travis Ford said. "There aren’t many [players] that have his competitive toughness."

Competitive toughness, will and desire are just a few of the words that could be used to describe Smart’s excellence when it mattered most on Saturday night. Simply put, he took over the game with a mindset that he would not be denied.

"We were extra focused tonight," he said. "We knew we would have to close out the game down the stretch if it came down to it, especially if we wanted to win."

[+] EnlargeMarcus Smart
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Smart was a different player for Oklahoma State in the second half.
Smart scored eight points in the final 4:24 after his offensive board, sparking a 12-4 run to secure the win for OSU and give the Cowboys’ NCAA tournament hopes a much-needed boost. The Cowboys trailed 61-60, and the sophomore was 2-of-11 from the field when Smart’s hustle resulted in another OSU possession.

After that play, Smart was 3-for-3 down the stretch and made play after play while a Jayhawk squad, led by dynamic freshmen Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins, didn’t have answers.

Smart had 20 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals in the final 20 minutes. Those second-half numbers came after a first half that saw him head into the locker room shooting 0-of-7 from the field with more turnovers than assists (two to one). The preseason Big 12 player of the year finished with 21 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals and 1 block.

"My teammates stayed in my ear and told me keep shooting, keep driving and to just do what I do," Smart said. "They told me [to] let my defense create my offense, so that's what I was trying to do. I think I had four steals, so I got back to what I do, and I let my game come back to me in the second half."

His second-half performance was a not-so-subtle reminder why Smart entered the season as one of the national player of the year candidates. Images of him pushing a fan or smacking a chair in disgust during OSU’s struggles in Big 12 play have made it easy to forget why Smart’s name was on the lips of all college basketball fans heading into the season.

As the calendar turned to March, Smart turned his play up another notch.

"When you’re great at something and it’s not going your way for a while, you’re not just going to quit," Ford said of Smart’s first-half struggles. "Marcus struggled a lot, but then, he made a lot of big plays. After the game, I told him he's a piece of work. You have to stick with him because he's going to make plays. He's a competitor."

Smart’s performance helped the Cowboys improve to 19-10, 7-9 in in the Big 12 and extended their win streak to three games after a seven-game losing streak during February.

"Our focus was different tonight," Smart said. "Losing those seven straight games opened our eyes to a lot of things, with a majority of those being not closing out a lot of those games."

OSU’s tournament hopes have been in jeopardy since that seven-game Big 12 losing streak, but there’s no doubt where the Cowboys belong come tournament time in the eyes of Jayhawks coach Bill Self.

"They’re definitely a tournament team. They’re too talented," Self said. "They can get hot and make a serious run. There’s no question."

KU-Michigan: McGary-Withey one to watch

March, 29, 2013
3/29/13
12:30
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Seven-foot Kansas center Jeff Withey couldn’t help but do a double-take when he spotted Michigan’s Mitch McGary in the bowels of Cowboys Stadium Friday.

“He’s not as tall as I thought,” Withey said of the 6-foot-10 McGary. “But he definitely looks strong.”

[+] EnlargeMitch McGary
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesAfter a bruising game against VCU, Michigan freshman Mitch McGary must deal with Jeff Withey next.
Indeed, McGary -- who had started just two games all season before last week -- has been one of the top performers in the NCAA tournament thus far. He averaged 17 points and 11.5 rebounds in victories over South Dakota State and VCU to help Michigan advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 19 years.

His matchup against Withey in Friday’s Sweet 16 showdown could be one of the more entertaining battles of the evening.

“[McGary] brings intensity to the game,” Wolverines point guard Trey Burke said. “He’s kind of like our X factor. He’s the guy that gives us the spark and makes our engine run in the frontcourt.”

McGary’s biggest test to date will come against Withey, the second-leading shot-blocker in NCAA tournament history. Withey may have a few inches on McGary, but there aren’t many players in all of college basketball as thick and strong and agile as the UM freshman, who weighs 250 pounds.

“I guess I kind of have a football mentality,” McGary said. “I played it growing up, but that’s my mentality. I’m just a hard-nosed, blue-collar guy who likes to do the nitty-gritty stuff.”

The attitude is fitting for where McGary plays, as Michigan natives have always adored physical bruisers such as Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman and Rick Mahorn.

McGary certainly commanded Withey’s attention during film sessions last week.

“Just how physical he is and how hard he plays,” said Withey when asked what impressed him the most about McGary. “He loves to dive after loose balls and he loves to screen people. He likes to hit [people].

“I’m used to getting hit and whatnot. I’m not worried about that.”

Michigan coach John Beilein is counting on McGary to do everything he can to neutralize -- or at least limit -- Withey on both ends of the floor. ESPN.com’s Big 12 Player of the year, Withey averages 13.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.9 blocks. He had 16 points, 16 rebounds and five swats in Sunday’s victory over North Carolina.

“You run a beautiful play,” Beilein said, “it couldn’t be run better, and he somehow blocks a shot and they’re going the other way. It can be very deflating to a team.”

WHO TO WATCH

Burke, Michigan's point guard, averages 18.8 points and 6.7 assists per game and leads the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio. “He’s the national player of the year,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “He deserves it. He’ll get it. I think he’s terrific.” KU's Ben McLemore is a projected top-five pick in this summer’s NBA draft, but he’s averaging just seven points in his last four games.

WHAT TO WATCH

Michigan, which is making its first Sweet 16 appearance since 1994, was ranked No. 1 in early February but hasn’t played as well down the stretch. The Wolverines lost five of their final 10 regular-season games and ended up with the No. 5 seed in the Big Ten tournament. Kansas, which has a huge alumni base in Dallas-Fort Worth, will have the homecourt advantage.

STAT TO WATCH

Kansas ranks first in the nation in field goal percentage defense (35.7 percent) ... Jayhawks coach Bill Self has won 300 games and counting during his 10 seasons in Lawrence for an average of 30 wins per year ... All of Michigan’s key players are non-seniors.

TCU drops Kansas in upset of the season

February, 6, 2013
2/06/13
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It left Kansas fans disgusted, TCU fans dumbstruck, and Horned Frogs coach Trent Johnson wandering among court-storming students, offering high-fives and twirling around and looking like a man who had no idea what to do next.

It was the biggest upset of the season. It was also the weirdest.

Wipe your eyes as many times as you like. It happened. The previously 9-12 TCU Horned Frogs, losers of their previous eight games, owners of the 330th-ranked efficiency offense in the country prior to Wednesday night, really did upset the No. 5-ranked Kansas Jayhawks 62-55 in Fort Worth -- the first win over a top-five team in program history.

The obvious question is: How? How does a team so good, so routinely effective both at home and on the road, lose to such a dismal outfit like TCU?

Here's where the weirdness comes in: Kansas shot just 29.5 percent from the field -- 18-of-61 -- and just 3-of-22 from beyond the arc. Ben McLemore, the man who saved Kansas from a home upset to Iowa State with a 33-point, 10-for-12 night Jan. 9, went just 6-of-16 from the field and 0-of-6 from 3. Jeff Withey was effective but rarely touched the ball. Reserve guard Naadir Tharpe attempted a borderline-shocking 15 field goals -- Tharpe should never shoot the ball 15 times -- and made just two of them. And then there was Elijah Johnson, who, already firmly ensconced in Bill Self's doghouse, continued not only his shooting slump but his streak of poor decision-making and ill-timed turnovers.

[+] EnlargeGarlon Green
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsGarlon Green gets the hero treatment after his game-high 20 points in the upset of Kansas.
It would be unfair to place all the blame for the loss at the Jayhawks' feet, to ignore what TCU did well in its own right. So: The Horned Frogs drew 29 fouls and shot 38 free throws, not all of which were the product of the Jayhawks' last-ditch attempts at a comeback. Johnson's team -- who you don't know, but which includes guys with awesome names like Nate Butler Lind, Connell Crossland, Adrick McKinney, Garlon Green and Kyan Anderson, and that's just the starters -- made enough of those free throws down the stretch to maintain a lead. It also took care of the ball when it needed to, grabbed timely rebounds, and got stops. Kansas doesn't shoot 30 percent in an empty gym.

Even so, you couldn't watch this game and not come away more willing to indict Kansas than praise TCU. I mean, good for the Horned Frogs -- this is a rare moment in the sun for a program with almost no historical relevance whatsoever, and it should be enjoyed as such. But it was Kansas that failed to pressure the Horned Frogs well enough to generate easy points; it was Kansas that squandered mini-run after mini-run, and flung brick after increasingly forlorn brick into the unforgiving iron.

All the while, TCU fans -- who were possibly out-attended by Kansas fans -- had no idea what to do. At one point, the ESPNU cameras showed the Horned Frogs cheerleaders jumping around and cheering seemingly at random, and while cheer groups do that all the time, I joked that it was probably because they hadn't drilled for the possibility of actually, you know, cheering. It felt that way: TCU fans mustered a "T-C-U, T-C-U" midway through the second half, but mostly they just seemed to sit there and do their best to process the weirdness happening in front of them.

Then they stormed the court.

That's when Johnson, in a move reminiscent of the classic clip of NC State coach Jim Valvano, started to walk off the court, then thought better of it, then offered a few high-fives to onrushing fans -- he, like the rest of the arena, looked like he had no idea what to make of anything happened around him.

Understandably so. It was that big -- and that weird -- of an upset.

Power Rankings: Big 12 basketball

January, 18, 2013
1/18/13
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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.

Power Rankings: Big 12 basketball

January, 11, 2013
1/11/13
5:00
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Kansas is still the heavy favorite to win a ninth consecutive Big 12 title. But its path to the championship may be more difficult than Big 12 fans expected. That was evident Wednesday, when Iowa State nearly upset Bill Self's squad at Allen Fieldhouse. Some late-game heroics by Ben McLemore sparked a furious comeback that resulted in a 97-89 Kansas victory in overtime. Still, the effort by the unranked Cyclones served as a reminder that there are other capable teams in this league besides the Jayhawks. Here's a look at this week's Big 12 power rankings.

1. Kansas. The Jayhawks have won 100 of their past 101 games at Allen Fieldhouse. The only home game they've lost there in the last six-plus years came against Texas in 2011, the morning after forward Thomas Robinson's mother passed away unexpectedly. KU plays at Texas Tech on Saturday before hosting Baylor on Monday. McLemore averages a team-high 16.9 points.

2. Iowa State. It's rare that a team moves up in the polls after a loss, but the poise the Cyclones displayed in Wednesday's setback against KU was remarkable considering the opponent and venue. This team has a lot of nice pieces and will continue to improve as long as Michigan State transfer Korie Lucious plays at a high level. Fred Hoiberg is one of the country's more underrated coaches.

3. Baylor. The Bears opened Big 12 play with an overtime win against Texas and looked scary good in Tuesday's road-thumping of Texas Tech. Baylor won by 34 points but probably could've beaten the Red Raiders by 60. Scott Drew, who returns to the bench this weekend after serving a two-game suspension, has already led his team to a victory at Kentucky's Rupp Arena. Winning against Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse on Monday will be even tougher.

4. Kansas State. Rodney McGruder looked like the best player in the league while scoring 26 points in the second half of Saturday's home victory against then-No. 22 Oklahoma State. Winnable road games against West Virginia (Saturday) and TCU (Wednesday) are up next. Reserve forward Nino Williams is averaging 16.5 points off the bench in his past two games.

5. Oklahoma State. The Cowboys snapped a two-game losing streak with an 18-point home win over TCU on Wednesday. OSU needs to get more production out of wing Le'Bryan Nash. The potential first-round NBA draft pick ranks third on the team in scoring with 13.7 points per game. But he's shooting just 42.8 percent from the field and 24.1 percent from 3-point range.

6. Oklahoma. The Sooners are the Big 12's most improved team. Lon Kruger's squad opened conference play with a road victory at West Virginia. Sure, the Mountaineers are struggling. But winning in Morgantown isn't easy no matter what. A victory in Saturday's Bedlam game against Oklahoma State in Norman would give the Sooners a huge jolt of momentum and generate legitimate NCAA tournament buzz.

7. West Virginia. Bob Huggins' squad showed a ton of resolve by battling back from a double-digit deficit to force overtime against Texas in Austin on Wednesday. WVU went on to win 57-53 for its first league victory as a member of the Big 12. As poorly as things have gone for the Mountaineers thus far, a home win over K-State on Saturday could alter the course of their season. Huggins spent a year as KSU's head coach before taking over at WVU in 2007.

8. Texas. After two consecutive overtime losses to open Big 12 play, it's tough to envision the Longhorns (8-7, 0-2) extending their streak of 14 straight NCAA tournament berths. Heck, at this point, they might not even make the NIT. Texas' next three games are: on the road against Iowa State, at home against Kansas and on the road against Oklahoma. The Longhorns will be underdogs in each.

9. Texas Tech. Longtime followers of the Big 12 have opined that TCU might be the worst team in the history of the conference -- and that Texas Tech might be the second-worst. The Red Raiders weren't even close to being competitive in Tuesday's 34-point loss to Baylor. Whoever takes over this program in the spring will have a massive rebuilding job on his hands.

10. TCU. No one will be surprised if the injury-riddled Horned Frogs finish 0-18 in Big 12 play. Their best chance for a victory game in last week's league opener against Texas Tech, but TCU lost at home by nine points. Saturday's road tilt at Baylor will be followed by back-to-back home games against Kansas State and Iowa State.

Conference Power Rankings: Big 12 basketball

December, 21, 2012
12/21/12
9:46
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A Big 12 team other than Kansas finally picked up a quality nonconference victory when Texas upset North Carolina in Austin on Wednesday. Don’t get too excited, though. This league still has a long way to go. Here are this week’s power rankings.

1. Kansas. Saturday’s tilt with No. 7 Ohio State in Columbus will be the first true road game for Bill Self’s squad. The Jayhawks’ three most recent victories -- against Colorado, Belmont and Richmond -- came by an average of 31 points. Jeff Withey leads the nation with 5.4 blocks per game.

2. Oklahoma State. Kudos to the Cowboys, who have won four straight since losing at Virginia Tech on Dec. 1. Travis Ford’s squad, which gets a combined 30.2 points per game from Le’Bryan Nash and Markel Brown, hosts Tennessee Tech on Saturday and then has eight days off before a New Year’s Eve date with Gonzaga in Stillwater.

3. Iowa State. Christmas has come early for the Cyclones, who don’t play again until Jan. 1. Guard Tyrus McGee has been playing extremely well for Fred Hoiberg’s squad. He’s averaging 13.3 points and shooting 48 percent from 3-point range. Iowa State is 9-3 with losses to Cincinnati, UNLV and Iowa.

4. Baylor. The Bears host Brigham Young on Friday. They. Have. To. Win. Seriously, a team that’s already toting home losses to College of Charleston and Northwestern can’t afford to drop another non-league game against an inferior opponent. Baylor has zero chemistry on offense.

5. Kansas State. The Wildcats’ two losses are to Michigan (in New York) and to Gonzaga (in Seattle. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. Still, even against mediocre teams at home, Kansas State has struggled to score. That’s not a good thing for a team that takes on Florida on Saturday in Kansas City.

6. Texas. Myck Kabongo won’t play for the Longhorns this season, but Texas didn’t even need him during Wednesday’s 85-67 whacking of an alarmingly sloppy, uninspired North Carolina club. Texas, which is getting 15.5 points from Sheldon McClellan, could pick up some additional momentum with a victory at Michigan State on Saturday.

7. Oklahoma. Wouldn’t you know it? The minute I start complimenting the Sooners for the strides they’ve made under Lon Kruger, Oklahoma goes out and drops a game to Stephen F. Austin. That’s inexcusable, boys. The Sooners' next game, a Dec. 29 visit from Ohio University, won’t be a cakewalk.

8. West Virginia. The Mountaineers ended a two-game losing streak by squeaking past Oakland on Wednesday. Still, Bob Huggins’ squad may be the Big 12’s biggest disappointment thus far. Transfers Aaric Murray and Juwan Staten are averaging a collective 20.5 points.

9. Texas Tech. Chris Walker is going to have a tough time earning the permanent head-coaching position if his team can’t beat McNeese State at home. The Red Raiders showed some fight against Alabama three nights later but still lost 66-62. Arizona State, Saturday’s opponent, is pesky.

10. TCU. The Horned Frogs haven’t caught any breaks in Trent Johnson’s first season. Aaron Durley and Amric Fields were both lost to ACL injuries, and now Jarvis Ray is out six to eight weeks with a broken foot.

Power Rankings: Big 12 basketball

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.

Larry Brown: Gamble worth taking at SMU?

April, 18, 2012
4/18/12
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It is not at all difficult to figure out why the Southern Methodist University men's basketball program wants to hire Larry Brown, and they most likely will, as reported Tuesday afternoon by ESPN.com's Jason King.

The Mustangs -- a program with one winning season since 2003-04, just 10 all-time NCAA tournament appearances (exactly one since Brown last coached in a college game in 1988), and no long-term tradition or cachet to speak of -- are in the process of moving from Conference USA to the Big East. This is a program that needs to get good quickly. It is a program that needs a splash hire, a boost to national perception, a conversation-starter. It is a program that needs to take a risk.

Larry Brown, it is safe to say, represents all of those things.

[+] EnlargeLarry Brown
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesLarry Brown can certainly coach -- but rarely sticks around anywhere for very long.
Brown is something like a legend in the game, the only coach ever to win both a national title and an NBA championship. His legacy in the game, his sheer reach, extends well beyond his own former programs: Both Kansas coach Bill Self and Kentucky coach John Calipari -- the two men in charge of your 2012 national runner-up and champion, respectively -- consider Brown a mentor. Good luck finding someone to tell you this man can't coach the game. Because he really, really can.

But along with that acumen and experience comes the rest of the overstuffed Brown baggage cart. He is just as legendary for his short attention span; his longest coaching tenure -- q.v. this timeline for the details -- was six years (with the 76ers), and more frequently he has left his job after two or three seasons, and often even sooner than that. He has coached 30 percent of the NBA's teams and is on the verge of taking his 13th head coaching job.

Even worse, especially for an athletics program with SMU's history, is Brown's run-ins with NCAA regulatory brass: At UCLA, a Final Four appearance was vacated, and when he left Kansas in 1988 the program was under NCAA probation.

That said, SMU appears to be working on some built-in Brown backup plans. The first is a potential coach-in-waiting deal with Illinois State coach Tim Jankovich, who was still deciding on the opportunity as of early Tuesday evening.

But according to reports, Brown's staff would also include former Illinois assistant/recruiting ace Jerrance Howard and current Kentucky assistant Rod Strickland. That's a good staff. It's also a staff that could take over on a moment's notice if Brown, now 71 years old, decides this whole "coaching basketball again" wasn't such a good idea after all.

So there are huge upsides, sure. In fact, you're looking at one right now. I'm writing about SMU basketball right this very minute. You're reading about SMU basketball. That is a massive improvement over the recent state of the program -- and by "recent" I mean "since 1993 or so" -- in and of itself.

But there are massive risks here, too. The Mustangs, it seems, have decided to take the entire package, the putative risks with the potential rewards. It could work out. It could blow up. That's the Larry Brown package, and all that comes with it.

New-look Baylor in Big 12 title game

March, 10, 2012
3/10/12
12:03
AM CT


KANSAS CITY, Mo. - One day after debuting highlighter-yellow jerseys, the Baylor basketball team trotted onto the court for Friday’s Big 12 tournament semifinal against Kansas decked out in camouflage.

“A new look,” Perry Jones III said, and even though the forward was referring to the Bears’ apparel, he could’ve been talking about the entire program.

From the uniforms to the attitudes to the on-court play, everything about Baylor appears to have changed. On Friday, coach Scott Drew’s squad catapulted into the Big 12 tournament title game with an 81-72 semifinal victory over third-ranked Kansas -- the same team it lost to twice this season by an average of 16 points.

“This,” forward Quincy Miller said, “is how we should’ve been playing all along.”

Baylor, 27-6, was ranked as high as No. 3 after opening the year with 17 consecutive victories. But the Bears ended the regular season with an 0-4 mark against conference bluebloods Kansas and Missouri.

Baylor could beat the good teams, sure. But what about the great ones?

After whipping Kansas in what was basically a road environment at the Sprint Center on Friday, it became clear that Baylor could now be mentioned in the same breath as its conference rivals. No one ever doubted the Bears had Final Four-caliber talent. But now, for the first time all season, they look like a Final Four-caliber team.

“Make no mistake about it,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “They beat us tonight. They were better than us, no question. That’s a good basketball team. They’re very talented.”

The victory propels Baylor into Saturday’s Big 12 tournament championship against Missouri. No team from Texas has ever won the conference’s postseason title. The Bears are currently projected as a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. But there’s a chance they could move up to a No. 2 seed with a win against the Tigers.

Kansas, meanwhile, may have cost itself a No. 1 seed by losing to the Bears.

“Everyone, from a psychological (standpoint), wants to be on the highest seed line they can possibly be,” Self said. “But I think it’s more about matchups than a seed line.”

Kansas also might have squandered its chance to play in the Midwest Regional, which is just four hours away in St. Louis.

“To play in St. Louis means we would’ve had to have won two games,” Self said. “If we win two games, I could care less where we play. But we hurt ourselves tonight if we want to be No. 1 seed. I guess it could still happen, but some other teams would probably have to lose.”

[+] EnlargePerry Jones III
Peter G. Aiken/US PresswirePerry Jones III continued his strong Big 12 tourney run with 18 points and 7 boards against Kansas.
An even bigger story line Friday involved a game that will never even be played. Fans from both Kansas and Missouri were hoping to see the teams meet one last time -- in Saturday’s championship -- before Missouri bolts for the SEC. The Jayhawks and Tigers split the regular-season series, but there will be no rubber match in the Sprint Center.

“I’ve never said I was all right with the rivalry ending,” Self said. “I never said that. I’d like for it to go on. It’s just not going to.

“So we had two epic games with them this year. Two epic games. It’s unfortunate it’s going to end.”

And so, instead of Kansas, Baylor will be the team charged with trying to prevent the Tigers from walking away with the tournament trophy in their final Big 12 season. If the Bears continue to perform like they have in Kansas City, a victory would hardly come as as a shock.

Baylor has made a handful of adjustments in the last few weeks, and each of them is proving beneficial.

After playing a zone defense for most of the season, the Bears played primarily man-to-man defense against Kansas State and Kansas, which shot just 42.6 percent Friday.

“I was surprised they played man,” Self said. “That was a good move.”

Baylor has also started using a three-guard lineup with cat-quick point guard Pierre Jackson, 3-point specialist Brady Heslip and defensive standout A.J. Walton. All three are solid ball-handlers -- Baylor committed just nine turnovers against Kansas -- who are good at maintaining their poise. And their presence has given more room and freedom for versatile forwards such as Jones and Miller, who combined for 31 points Friday.

Baylor led by as many as 14 points early in the second half before an 18-3 run by Kansas put the Jayhawks up 58-56.

The game turned, though, when a loose ball was batted toward Heslip, who was wide open on the left wing. The sophomore swished a 3-pointer that put Baylor ahead 59-58. The Bears never trailed again.

Heslip came up huge again in the game’s final two minutes when he made a 3-pointer that extended Baylor’s 67-64 lead to 70-64. Kansas’ Tyshawn Taylor countered with a layup on the other end, but Heslip responded with another 3-pointer to make it 73-66 with 1:17 remaining.

Ballgame.

“You knew (Kansas) was going to make a run,” Drew said. “When they took the lead, I was really pleased with the poise our guys had and the togetherness, the character. For three first-year college guys and one second-year, I think they grew up a little bit tonight.

“That’s the great thing about playing in the Big 12. If you don’t have those (tests) in the regular season, you’re not seasoned and ready when the postseason comes.”

The Bears certainly look seasoned and ready now. Instead of grouping them in with the “best of the rest,” it’s time to include Baylor among the country’s elite. Even with those new uniforms.

“Hey,” Drew said, “they work for me.”

Bill Self on Oklahoma St. tragedy

November, 20, 2011
11/20/11
11:00
PM CT


Kansas head coach Bill Self, who played and was an assistant coach at Oklahoma State, discusses the plane crash that killed Oklahoma State women's basketball coach Kurt Budke and assistant Miranda Serna.

Billy Gillispie back in his element at Tech

August, 5, 2011
8/05/11
3:25
PM CT
Billy Gillispie is a basketball coach and a Texan. In other words -- after being fired and arrested and wandering the hoops wilderness for two years -- the man is back in his element at Texas Tech.

ESPN's Andy Katz caught up with the Red Raiders' coach. Here's a snippet:
Billy Gillispie doesn't appear to have changed one bit.

He's a coach. A basketball coach. That's really all he wants to do. That's who he is. And to define him in any other way is probably a mistake.

And now he's back in the Big 12 at Texas Tech, tucked away in Lubbock, where he can grind away and produce a winner in relative obscurity, much like he did when he left Bill Self's staff at Illinois to head up UTEP and Texas A&M before accepting one of the highest profile jobs in the sport at Kentucky.

"I've been lucky,'' said Gillispie, a native of Abilene, Texas. "We've improved the teams and we've won. I'm proud of where we are and what we can achieve at Texas Tech.''

To read more of the story, click here.

Self confident about Big 12's staying power

June, 28, 2010
6/28/10
10:37
AM CT
Kansas coach Bill Self believes the Big 12 as 10 is here to stay. He said he's confident that football, college athletics' driving financial force, won't rise up again soon and threaten conference alignment.

"That became very apparent that football was definitely driving the bus," Self said. "I feel great about our league. I feel better about our league today than I've felt over the last seven years that I've been in the leauge. Not that I didn't feel good about it; I think there's been a commitment by 10, that certainly nobody has one foot in, one foot out.

"I think this is a long-term deal, without question. I think that's how everybody's looking at it. With the thing still up in the air television-wise that hasn't been finalized yet, I know they're working diligently on, it could be a situation that we could be locked up even longer than any of the other established leagues have been locked up. So, I see this as being a permanent situation."

During the week or so when the Big 12's very survival looked bleak, Self was vocal about his belief that Kansas would not be left out of a major conference had the Big 12 Conference dissolved. Rumors swirled that the Jayhawks, one of the premiere basketball programs in the country, would have little choice but to join the Mountain West Conference.

He said that was never a consideration.

"I never feared that we weren't going to have a home. I never feared that we weren't going to be in a BCS conference. My problem that I had was the uncertainly that we could lose a recruiting class or whatever in the meantime trying to determine where we would go. I'll be real honest, I think one of the common threads that we had was Lou Perkins' contacts. I think that was a big player in the situation...I felt assured that we would land somewhere, but just the uncertainty of it is what was the biggest problem because there was no many media reports out there that we would go to the Mountain West or we'd do this or we'd do that, that wasn't even a thought.

"The thought was keep the Big 12 together, the Big 10 together -- or Big 10 now, I guess, which is still the Big 12 -- but keep our 10 together and then if that last-case scenario, if we don't do that, then we'll sit tight and decide what avenue is best for us."

Roast is on for Baylor coach Scott Drew

June, 17, 2010
6/17/10
11:45
AM CT
Baylor basketball coach Scott Drew will be the guest of honor on June 29 at 1660 ESPN Radio's sixth annual Celebrity Roast at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame's "Great Hall."

Drew led the Bears to a school-record 28 wins this season and a first-ever appearance in the Elite Eight.

Let's just assume that among those who won't be there to roast Drew is Bob Knight, Rick Barnes and Bill Self.

Those who will roast the coach include former Houston Rockets coach and general manager Carroll Dawson (former Baylor player, assistant coach and head coach), Big 12 associate commissioner for men's basketball John Underwood, former Baylor basketball coach and current FOX Sports Southwest analyst Jim Haller and Baylor football coaching legend Grant Teaff.

For ticket information, click here.

Bill Self saw conference writing on the wall

June, 7, 2010
6/07/10
4:29
PM CT
video
Kansas basketball coach Bill Self saw this coming, the day when Jayhawks hoops, one of the three premiere college basketball programs in America, would compete for conference championships with Utah, BYU, TCU Air Force and San Diego State.

As coach Self knows all too well, basketball is great, but football pays the bills and cold, hard cash (as in fat football TV contracts) is at the heart of impending conference realignment.

If a Pac-10/Big 12 (South) merger were to go down, Kansas (along with Kansas State and Iowa State) would be left out of the major-conference realignment. Kansas could find itself with little choice but to join the Mountain West Conference.

On Feb. 15, as the Big 12 was headed down the stretch run of what was arguably the legaue's most competitive season from top to bottom, and rivaled the Big East for national supremacy, Self was asked about the rumors of realignment, which at that point were being spearheaded by the Big Ten's stated desire to expand.

Here's Self:
"I don't understand all the ins and outs. I would think the Big Ten, with the Big Ten Network and the media markets that they have, naturally would be more of a money-generating league [than the Big 12] from the television aspect of it. But, there's more to it than just the money.

"Having to start new rivalries with people, that would take 40 or 50 years to build and I'm sure it wouldn't be a favorite of the fan base and so many things that go along with it that I don't think it would be positive. But, if the Big Ten were to come after us -- I'm not saying they are, the Pac-10 or any league, because they're not, I don't know anything about it -- that would be something I'd strongly try to fight. There's some things that are inbred with fans and throughout your teams over time that it makes it so special to play certain games and to eliminate those games are in very, very poor taste for so many.

"I do think there is a lot of flirting going on and you certainly understand why people listen, but at the end of the day, I think our league is rock solid."


Self is correct on two of four counts. First, Kansas fans would not be happy dropping its roots rivalries from the Big Eight and newer ones with Texas and Baylor and Oklahoma State and Texas A&M in the Big 12 for Colorado State and Wyoming and UNLV and New Mexico in the MWC.

Second, Self is correct, surely to his chagrin, that neither the Big Ten nor the Pac-10 is coming after Kansas.

Now, the two counts Self got wrong? For one, clearly the Big 12 is not rock solid. And, obviously, there's not more to it than just the money.

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