Dallas Colleges: Khris Middleton
1. Missouri: The Tigers have played the two toughest teams in the league (Kansas and Baylor) and defeated them both. Guard Marcus Denmon had made just five of his previous 31 attempts from 3-point range before going 6-for-9 from beyond the arc in Saturday’s win against Kansas.
2. Kansas: The Jayhawks blew an eight-point lead with just more than 2 minutes remaining in Saturday’s loss at Missouri, but with Baylor up next on Wednesday, there’s no time to mope about the loss. Kansas is 16-2 all-time against the Bears, who it defeated by 18 points last month at Allen Fieldhouse.
3. Baylor: The Bears’ Big 12 title hopes depend largely on what happens this week. Baylor hosts Kansas on Wednesday and travels to Missouri Saturday. Baylor’s only two losses are against those two teams. The Bears' offense looked sloppy and disorganized in last week’s victories over Texas A&M (63-60) and Oklahoma State (64-60).
4. Iowa State: The Cyclones won at Oklahoma Saturday despite getting just three points from leading scorer Royce White. Fred Hoiberg's squad has won five of its past six games overall and could continue that streak this week against Texas A&M and Oklahoma State.
5. Kansas State: The Wildcats got back on the winning track by defeating Texas A&M Saturday at home. And the good times should continue when Kansas State hosts Texas Tech on Tuesday. Leading scorer Rodney McGruder has made just four of his previous 20 3-point attempts.
6. Texas: Rick Barnes’ squad hasn’t caught many breaks in conference play. Texas’ six league losses have come by an average of five points. The Longhorns had lost five of their previous six games before defeating Texas Tech on Saturday. Monday’s road game against a beat up Texas A&M squad is winnable.
7. Texas A&M: The Aggies almost defeated Baylor without Khris Middleton and Dash Harris on Wednesday, and they led Kansas State at halftime before falling 64-53 Saturday in Manhattan. Considering all of the injuries, Texas A&M deserves credit for competing as well as it has.
8. Oklahoma: The Sooners have dropped four of their previous five games heading into Monday’s contest against Missouri. All of a sudden the team that got off to a 9-1 start is 3-7 in league play. Steven Pledger and Andrew Fitzgerald are averaging a combined 31.1 points.
9. Oklahoma State: Three weeks after losing to them by 41 points, Oklahoma State nearly upset the Baylor Bears before falling 64-60 Saturday in Stillwater. Freshman Brian Williams had 23 points in the loss. On Tuesday, Oklahoma State hosts the same Iowa State squad that it lost to on a buzzer-beater Jan. 18 in Ames.
10. Texas Tech: Last week’s home game against Oklahoma State appeared to be the Red Raiders’ best chance of picking up a Big 12 win. Instead, Billy Gillispie’s team was throttled 80-63. Jordan Tolbert leads Texas Tech in scoring with 11.9 points per contest. But he’s averaging just 6.3 points in his past three games.
1. Kansas: Bill Self said Saturday’s 69-66 victory at Texas was his team’s best win of the season. Not because the Jayhawks played particularly well against the struggling Longhorns, but because they found a way to grind out a victory in a tough road environment. Kansas is 36-7 in Big 12 road games in the past five-plus seasons.
2. Missouri: Ricardo Ratliffe scored 27 points in Saturday’s 89-88 win at Baylor, but many of those came on easy baskets against the Bears’ soft interior defense. The bigger story was the performance of point guard Phil Pressey, who had 18 points, seven assists and six steals in the Tigers’ most impressive victory of the season.
3. Baylor: Saturday’s 89-88 loss to Missouri was more lopsided than the final score indicates. The Bears were outscored 14-0 on second-chance points in the first half, when they were out-toughed and out-hustled in the paint by the undersized Tigers. The Bears trailed by as many as 12 points in the second half. Perry Jones III has a nagging ankle injury that has limited his performance the past two games.
4. Iowa State: Success in its next three games (at Texas and at home against Kansas and K-State) would go a long way toward improving the NCAA tournament hopes of a Cyclones team that is 14-5 overall and 4-2 in league play. Juco transfer Tyrus McGee had six 3-pointers in a 20-point effort in Saturday’s win at Texas Tech.
5. Kansas State: The Wildcats have won their last two games (against Texas and Oklahoma State), but their free-throw shooting has been abysmal. Frank Martin’s squad has made just 44 of its last 79 attempts from the foul stripe (55.7 percent). Center Jordan Henriquez has been suspended indefinitely.
6. Texas: The Longhorns are improving, but it hasn’t shown up in the win column. Texas’ last two losses (to K-State and Kansas) have come by a combined seven points. Freshman guard Sheldon McClellan is averaging 15 points in his last two games.
7. Texas A&M: Billy Kennedy’s team got a huge confidence boost when it defeated Oklahoma in overtime Saturday in College Station. It may be short-lived. Three of the Aggies’ next four games are against Kansas, Baylor and Kansas State. Khris Middleton, who is regarded as Texas A&M’s top player, missed most of Saturday’s game after bumping knees with a teammate and is questionable for Monday’s game at Kansas.
8. Oklahoma: The Sooners have a huge chance to regain some momentum when they host Baylor on Tuesday. Forward Romero Osby is averaging 17.3 points in his last three games, but he may have trouble against the Bears’ size and length. Upcoming road games at Kansas State (Saturday) and Kansas (Feb. 1) won’t be easy.
9. Oklahoma State: The undermanned Cowboys turned in an impressive performance before losing at Iowa State on a buzzer-beater last week. Saturday they fell at home to Kansas State for their third straight loss. Missouri visits Stillwater on Wednesday. The Cowboys are 9-10 overall.
10. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are 0-6 in Big 12 play, and their losses have come by an average of 17 points. Billy Gillispie’s squad averages just 63.1 points per game. The biggest question the rest of the way will be whether Texas Tech can get a conference win. Its best chance may be at home against Oklahoma State on Jan. 31.
1. Baylor: The Bears notched one of the best road wins in school history Saturday when they knocked off BYU 86-83 in front of 22,700 in Provo. Perry Jones III scored a career-high 28 points, but things will only get tougher from here. Baylor plays St. Mary's and West Virginia in this week's Las Vegas Classic before taking on Mississippi State in Dallas on Dec. 28. Baylor needs to get tougher in the paint -- the Bears were outrebounded 41-26 by BYU.
2. Missouri: The Tigers' biggest test to date comes Thursday when they play Illinois in the annual Braggin' Rights game in St. Louis. The showdown lost a bit of its luster when the previously unbeaten Illini were stomped by UNLV in Chicago on Saturday. Don't be surprised if Missouri wins in a blowout.
3. Kansas: Just eight days removed from a minor knee injury, point guard Tyshawn Taylor is expected to return to the court when the Jayhawks face Davidson on Monday in Kansas City. Kansas, which is getting 17.8 points and 11.4 rebounds from Thomas Robinson, visits USC on Thursday to take on the undermanned Trojans.
4. Kansas State: The Wildcats' 71-58 victory Saturday over Alabama was one of the best nonconference victories of the season for a Big 12 squad. Point guard Angel Rodriguez (13 points, seven assists) and forward Jordan Henriquez (17 points, eight boards) provided a huge spark off the bench for a K-State squad that opens play in the Diamond Head Classic on Thursday against struggling Southern Illinois.
5. Texas: The Longhorns are getting better -- fast. Saturday's win over Temple was the seventh in a row for Texas, with each of the victories coming by double digits. After a somewhat slow start, freshman point guard Myck Kabongo is starting to catch on. He's averaged 12.2 points and 6.5 assists in his past five games.
6. Texas A&M: Injured forward Khris Middleton (knee) has returned to the lineup, but it didn't make much difference in Saturday's 20-point loss to Florida. The Aggies, who have yet to beat anyone of any significance, continue to have trouble scoring. They've averaged just 60 points in their past seven games.
7. Oklahoma: Steven Pledger is averaging 19.5 points for a Sooners squad that has been the surprise team of the league. Last week's victories over Arkansas and Houston should provide a huge momentum boost for a team that's adapted quickly to first-year coach Lon Kruger.
8. Iowa State: The Cyclones have just two games between now and Jan. 4. Coach Fred Hoiberg hopes to use that time to find the cohesion that has been missing from his team. Forward Royce White leads Iowa State in points, rebounds and assists.
9. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys have lost four of their past seven games. Highly touted freshman wing LeBryan Nash is shooting just 37.4 percent from the field and 30 percent from beyond the arc. Oklahoma State will be hard-pressed Wednesday to beat an athletic Alabama team that will defend the Cowboys harder than they've been defended all season.
10. Texas Tech: Billy Gillispie's rebuilding project continues in Lubbock, where the Red Raiders are preparing for a huge game Wednesday at Oral Roberts, which is coming off a blowout win at Xavier. A victory would give Texas Tech a much-needed jolt of momentum, which they'll certainly need for Gillispie's intense practices during winter break.
1. Baylor: The Bears are the most talented team in the Big 12, and it’s not even close. Just ask previously unbeaten Northwestern, which shot 24.1 percent in a 69-41 home loss to Baylor last weekend. The frontline is imposing, but guard play will determine the Bears’ fate. Juco transfer Pierre Jackson (11.9 ppg, 4.4 apg) is off to a nice start.
2. Missouri: Frank Haith’s detractors are eating their words, as the guard-oriented Tigers have been one of the most impressive teams in the country thus far. Senior Marcus Denmon (21.8 ppg) has looked like an All-American candidate in victories against Notre Dame, Cal and Villanova. Kim English is playing the best basketball of his career.
3. Kansas: We’ll know a lot more about the Jayhawks after Saturday’s game against Ohio State. For now, though, KU's streak of seven straight Big 12 titles appears to be in jeopardy. Forward Thomas Robinson (17.4 ppg, 12 rpg) will contend for national player of the year honors, but a lack of depth and poor guard play -- Kansas committed 22 turnovers Tuesday against Long Beach State -- have been issues.
4. Texas A&M: The Aggies have done an admirable job in the absence of top player Khris Middleton, who is hoping to return in time for A&M’s game against Florida on Dec. 17. Billy Kennedy’s squad has won its past four games by an average of 16.3 points. Forward Ray Turner (14.3 ppg) and guard Elston Turner (12.2 ppg), a Washington transfer, have led the way thus far.
5. Kansas State: The Wildcats aren’t as strong as they’ve been the past few seasons, but Frank Martin has done an impressive job with a team that has a lot of nice pieces but no true star. Jamar Samuels is averaging 13 points and 9 rebounds for squad that beat Virginia Tech on the road before dropping a double-overtime heartbreaker to West Virginia on Wednesday.
6. Texas: The Longhorns are rebuilding after losing Jordan Hamilton, Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson to the NBA draft. But a pair of gut-wrenching losses (in overtime against Oregon State and by three to NC State) apparently didn’t do anything to squelch Texas’ spirits. Rick Barnes’ squad is on a four-game winning streak thanks in part to J’Covan Brown (19.4 ppg).
7. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys haven’t been all that impressive. They lost to unranked Virginia Tech and Stanford in the NIT, and only managed narrow wins against UT-San Antonio and Tulsa. Highly touted freshman LeBryan Nash has been inconsistent, and is shooting just 40 percent from the field and 29 percent from 3-point range.
8. Iowa State: Fred Hoiberg’s squad has been the league’s biggest disappointment thus far. Despite a cast of talented transfers and one of the top all-around players in the conference (Royce White), Iowa State finds itself toting losses to Drake and Northern Iowa, the latter of which came at home.
9. Oklahoma: Lon Kruger is doing an excellent job during his first year in Norman, so don’t be surprised if the one-loss Sooners move up a few spots in the rankings in the coming weeks. Nonconference wins against Houston, Arkansas and Cincinnati would do wonders for OU’s confidence as it prepares to enter Big 12 play.
10. Texas Tech: Billy Gillispie is doing the best he can, but he’s basically working with a group of freshmen and junior college transfers who had never played a minute of Division I basketball prior to this season. The Red Raiders went 0-3 in the Old Spice Classic, losing to Indiana State, DePaul and Wake Forest. It's going to be a long season in Lubbock.
No. 7 seed Texas A&M (21-10) vs. No. 10 seed Florida State (24-8), 3:10 p.m. (TBS)
How they got here: Somehow, it seems Mark Turgeon always finds a way. The Texas A&M coach faced a serious challenge in the offseason: Replacing three seniors, including stars Donald Sloan and Bryan Davis, with a group of unproven unknowns. The Aggies didn’t miss a beat. Instead, A&M quickly established itself as another smart, solid Turgeon team, one that looked like it might compete for a spot among the Big 12’s elite before a late-January hiccup. Meanwhile, despite losing its leading scorer and best defender in forward Chris Singleton to a broken hand on Feb. 19, Florida State admirably maintained its spot above the bubble fray.
Players to watch: Singleton hasn’t seen action since his injury, but he practiced Thursday and appears likely to play Friday. Saying this is “huge” for the Seminoles is like saying water is “huge” for human survival. With Singleton on the prowl, an already-stout Florida State defense is one of the toughest, most disruptive units in the country. Texas A&M forward Khris Middleton will have to find a way to remain productive despite Singleton’s singular defensive prowess, and A&M will need to balance its interior scoring with some timely perimeter shooting from guard B.J. Holmes.
What to look for: A slow, defensive slugfest that will be decided on the offensive boards. FSU's defense is the second-stingiest in the nation; only Texas has allowed opponents fewer points per possession in 2011. That stinginess stems from Florida State’s excellent first-shot defense. The Seminoles simply don’t allow good looks. That said, Leonard Hamilton’s offense-averse team does allow opponents its share of offensive rebounds, and A&M ranks among the top 15 teams in the nation in retrieving their own misses. The Aggies aren’t going to get many good looks. But if they can take advantage of the offensive glass and get a few easy putbacks, they’ll be at a major advantage against a Florida State team that frequently struggles to score.
Quotable: “How big of a factor he's going to be will be in direct proportion to how he's going to adjust to not being available for a month, not being in practice, not having any contact, not being in rhythm. [...] He's only been in any type of contact with us now for four or five days. So to be honest with you, I think that's yet to be determined.” -- Florida State coach Hamilton on what he expects -- or doesn’t expect from Singleton.
Baylor, 25-7, still hasn't lost by more than seven points, but it will need to win an NCAA tournament game to set a new school record with a 26th victory. The last time the Bears won a tournament game? 1950 (56-55 over BYU) when the bracket included eight teams.
The good news for the Bears is they have yet to lose consecutive games this season.
Baylor dearly wanted a second consecutive title game appearance, but they're not done yet. Some inside the Baylor program believe a 3-seed is coming Sunday when the selection committee reveals the 65-team NCAA Tournament bracket. Wherever the Bears land, they learned Friday night, as they have all season, that they'll be a tough out.
"This was a great experience," Baylor power forward Ekpe Udoh said. "Basically, we played an away game up here in Kansas City. Towards the end of the game I think we kind of lost our mojo. It's something you can't have happen from here on out and we're going to learn from that. In the tournament, if you slip up one time you go home."
Udoh will have decision to make
Ekpe Udoh is widely regarded as a lottery pick in June's NBA Draft and he only enhanced his stock at the Big 12 tournament. The 6-foot-10 junior power forward averaged 21.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in the two games. The Big 12's new shot-blocking king chewed up Texas for 25 points and eight rebounds.
Rule of thumb for draft prospects is if you're a lock to be a first-round pick, then go grab the guaranteed money. If Udoh trusts he'll be a lottery pick (sorry Baylor fans) it should make that decision easier. The money is too good and with an impeding lockout looming in 2011-12 and impending salary restructuring once the NBA re-opens for business, this might be the time to maximize dollars.
Is Baylor's Jerome Tang head-coaching material?
Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw thinks so: "He's really matured as a coach. I see him being a head coach in the very near future."
Coach Scott Drew made Tang one of his first hires seven years ago, plucking him from controversial Heritage Christian, a small-private school near Houston that had a reputation as a basketball factory. Tang also didn't have a college degree when hired, a prerequisite at Baylor (and most universities) in the past. Since, Tang received a Bachelor of Science degree from Charter Oak State College, an online program.
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Baylor guard LaceDarius Dunn will lead the Big 12 in scoring next season and will win Player of the Year honors. Along the way, he'll likely become Baylor's all-time leading scorer.
He already holds school records for most 3-pointers in a game, season and career.
"You know, Anderson was great this year, he scored consistently, and Lace scored consistently, so it was a toss-up on who should have got it this year," said Baylor senior guard Tweety Carter, referring to Oklahoma State's James Anderson, the Big 12's Player of the Year. "I'm pretty sure that next year he'll get it."
Texas less than its parts
Texas coach Rick Barnes called the ugly quarterfinal loss to Baylor a microcosm of the season: a few minutes of scatterbrained play and then the Horns panic and lose all ability to execute. The Bears buried Texas with a 13-2 to run to open the second half and you could see in the Horns' body language and frustration how their spirit was crushed.
"Like coach says, we don't play together sometimes," center Dexter Pittman said. "Once we start playing together, we'll be unstoppable and untouchable, but, man, we just got to go back to that."
It would appear it is too late. Junior forward Gary Johnson summed up the disappointing situation best.
"When you have a team full of guys with as much talent as we do, it's hard to give each guy a role, like you have to do this when a guy feels like he could do other things," Johnson said. "At times, guys feel like they can do everything on this team and it just isn't the right decision at that moment. Guys know their roles, but it's like a panic factor and guys try to go out and do other things that they're not capable of and we find ourselves in deep holes."
Red Raiders to NIT?
Caach Pat Knight hit the campaign trail hard at the Big 12 tournament, determined to get the Red Raiders into the NIT.
Knight said it would be a "shame" if the NIT ignored the 17-win Raiders out of the top-rated RPI conference in the nation. Tech's chances didn't look good after losing their final seven regular-season game, but it proved it belonged after putting a scare into top-seeded Kansas in the quarterfinal.
The last time Tech went to the NIT under Bob Knight it made it to the final four in New York and rode the momentum to a trip to the NCAA Tournament the following season (much like Baylor this season). It could happen again. Tech will be a senior-dominated team in 2010-11 and returns four of its top five scorers, including its top two in Mike Singletary and John Roberson.
If Tech gets in, it would give the Big 12 eight teams in postseason play -- assuming other tournament upsets don't leave Oklahoma State out. The Cowboys should be able to breath easy.
A&M star in making?
Texas A&M has to be excited about the future of freshman Khris Middleton. The 6-foot-7 forward from North Charleston, S.C., had a breakout in two games in Kansas City.
Having averaged 6.7 points a game during the regular season, he dropped 31 combined against Nebraska and Kansas, making 10-of-19 from the field and 5-of-11 from 3-point range. One weakness? Turnovers. He had eight in the two games.
With scoring leader Donald Sloan graduating, Middleton looks poised to take over as a No. 1 scoring option.
So long, Mr. Killian
After 23 years working in the Texas A&M media relations office, Colin Killian will hang 'em up after the NCAA tournament. He's accepted a job with the city of College Station. Killian has an 8-year-old son and while the new gig won't be as exciting as Texas A&M hoops has become the past five years, it will have its perks -- namely no work at night or weekends or holidays and no travel.
Good luck, Colin.
Is Oregon tugging at Turgeon?
Oregon basketball coach Ernie Kent isn't officially out, but the writing is on the wall. Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon has come up as a possible replacement. Turgeon was a Ducks assistant from 1992-97. Unless Oregon is tugging at the Topeka, Kan., native, A&M is a better job and the Big 12 is a better conference.
Roland hoping for one more year
First-class A&M senior Derrick Roland is hopeful the NCAA will grant him a medical redshirt and allow him to return to the Aggies next season.
The shooting guard from Seagoville broke his leg during a late-December game in Washington and is out for the season after undergoing surgery. Remarkably, he is already walking around as if nothing happened as he continues a grueling daily rehabilitation process.
"Hopefully the NCAA has some sympathy for me," Roland said. "It would give me the opportunity to graduate and that's important to my family."
Roland said if he's not granted an extra year of eligibility he will try to complete his degree during the summer.
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