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Posts Tagged ‘Baylor Bears’

Weekend Roundup (11/29-30)

Posted by Zach on December 1, 2008

Tennessee Gonzaga Basketball

Here’s a summary of how an entertaining weekend played out in college hoops…

Five Most Meaningful Outcomes

1. Gonzaga 83, Tennessee 74: Credible experts like Dick Vitale and myself (okay, Dickie V isn’t a credible expert) predicted Gonzaga would make the Final Four this season. Their performance Sunday night in a huge resume building win over Tennessee vaulted them firmly into contention to reach Detroit and established the Zags as a top-five team in the nation. The big differences from a year ago? Jeremy Pargo has listened to NBA scouts advice and molded into a coaches dream for a point guard- one who makes sure his talented teammates are involved before taking over scoring-wise when his team desperately needs a boost. Austin Daye has turned into one of the top shooters in college basketball at 6’10. Josh Heytvelt is clearly the team leader and has advanced post moves and scoring ability some in the NBA don’t even possess. Other players like Goodson, Brown, Bouldin, Downs and Gray (whom I love) all know their roles and stay grounded. Rather than the usual finesse Gonzaga teams of years past, this group is physical, tough and has all the ingredients. They certainly impressed Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, and these two teams will meet up again next month in Knoxville for a tremendous rematch.

2. Wake Forest 87, Baylor 74: I was extremely impressed with Wake Forest’s performance in a dominating second half over a Baylor team that cleanly beat Arizona State on Friday night. Coach Dino Gaudio allows his athletic team to run the floor and play the fast-paced offense that suits point guard Jeff Teague. Wake grabbed 57 rebounds in the contest led by L.D. Williams, Al Farouq-Aminu, Chas McFarland and James Johnson. Whether Wake can contend with Duke or Carolina in the ACC is still a question mark, but they certainly showed they’re top-4 seed worthy in Anaheim. The question is whether Wake can develop more consistency shooting from the outside as the season wears on (fortunately Baylor shot only 26% from deep in the game).

3. Kentucky 54, West Virginia 43: This one was ugly, but Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie doesn’t care. The Wildcats rebounded from the VMI loss and the UNC thrashing to win the Las Vegas Invitational over the weekend, defeating both Kansas State and NCAA contender West Virginia. Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson are constituting pretty much the entire Wildcat offense, with Meeks once again putting the game away at the free throw line and Patterson chipping in with a double-double. These two will need to lead Kentucky if they hope to make the NCAA Tournament and save their coaches job. Kentucky overcame a 26-16 deficit at halftime in this game.

4. Pittsburgh 57, Washington State 43: Two defensive-minded teams met in the final of the Legends Classic in New Jersey as you can tell by the score. Sam Young (15) and Levance Fields (14) forced enough Washington State turnovers (15) and turned them into points for the victory. After a hotly contested first half, Pitt really stiffened their defense in the second stanza. With a weaker Pac-10, the Cougars could find themselves in the NCAA Tournament as a third place finisher, so it’s a nice resume win for Pittsburgh.

5. Georgetown 75, Maryland 48: These crosstown foes finally meet (why they don’t play is a mystery) in the third place game of the Old Spice Classic with Georgetown winning in an impressive rout. It’s fairly clear that John Thompson is simply recruiting on a higher level than Gary Williams in the talent-heavy DC area at this point, with the Hoyas reeling in talent like Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, DaJuan Summers and Jason Clark while the Terrapins settle for second-tier talent such as Eric Hayes, Adrian Bowie, Sean Mosley and Braxton Dupree. And it clearly showed on the basketball court with this game not even being competitive. Still, Maryland showed they’re capable in their shocking victory over Michigan State and Georgetown could be pointing to this convincing win in March.

Top Five Player Performances

1. James Harden– He doesn’t wow you with his leaping ability or blazing speed or strong frame. Heck, he even looks kind of dorky with the long tee-shirt he wears under his Arizona State uniform. But James Harden can definitely play basketball, and if Blake Griffin, Tyler Hansbrough and Stephen Curry didn’t exist, Harden would be Player of the Year. He dropped 32 points on Baylor in a loss and followed it up with 40 in a blowout win over NCAA caliber UTEP, hitting six threes.

2. Kyle McAlarney– Remember his shooting display in Maui against North Carolina? He decided to perform an encore in front of the home fans on Sunday, collecting 32 points on nine threes in the win over Furman. In his last two games, McAlarney has shot 35 threes and made over 50% of them. They’ll need McAlarney to keep shooting the lights out with Luke Harangody sidelined with pneumonia.

3. A.J. Slaughter– In the absolute #1 shocker of the month of November, Western Kentucky flat out dominated #3 Louisville on a neutral floor. This isn’t last years Sweet 16 Hilltopper team, either. Most of the top scorers from that team have departed. A.J. Slaughter played more of a secondary role last year, but certainly looked like a star in the victory, compiling 25 points and 9 rebounds on 8/15 shooting.

4. Sam Young– Mentioned him before in the Legends recap, but Young is the early frontrunner for Big East Player of the Year. He dropped 33 on Belmont, followed it up with 24 in a win over Texas Tech, and then led the way with 15 and 8 against tough Washington State. With Levance Fields also playing well and looking healthy, Pittsburgh is to be feared.

5. Jodie Meeks– Meeks has been flat out unstoppable early for Kentucky. He’s averaging 25.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, shooting 38% from three and 88% from the line. And he’s been to the line often, hitting 23/25 from the charity stripe in Las Vegas over the weekend, most in high-leverage situations. Meeks turned the ball over nine times against Kansas State, but totaled 37 points, 6 rebounds and 4 steals for the Horse Trailer. Meeks personally told me he is honored.

Five Upset Specials

1. Western Kentucky 68, Louisville 54: If somebody told you he/she saw this coming, they are a liar. In just the third game of the season for the Cardinals and coach Rick Pitino, they were the victims of the most shocking upset of the year to date. Western Kentucky effectively double-teamed Samardo Samuels and caused all kinds of havoc for Louisville guards Edgar Sosa and Andre McGee, who combined to go 0/13 from the floor, 0/9 from three, score 2 points while dishing out 2 assists with 4 turnovers. Yikes. Louisville got three-happy like they often do, shooting 30 from deep and making 6. Earl Clark is showing no signs he wants to be one of the premiere players in college hoops. A reprehensible loss for Louisville.

2. Dayton 89, Marquette 75: Another Big East contender to fall on Saturday was Marquette, losing to upstart Dayton in Chicago in a game where they were thoroughly outplayed. The Flyers used their quickness and a career performance from reserve guard Rob Lowery (21 points) to stun the Golden Eagles and improve to 6-0. Once again, Marquette played no defense, an obvious concern for Buzz Williams. They allowed an Atlantic 10 team to shoot 53% and shoot 39 free throws, while Dominic James continues to regress jump shooting wise.

3. Drake 68, New Mexico 62: The Lobos were supposed to be taking over right about now under coach Steve Alford. Instead he fell in both games at Cancun over the weekend to VCU and Drake, the latter being the more shocking and disappointing. New Mexico even held Drake’s main scorer, Josh Young, to 10 points on 2/10 from the floor and still lost the game, falling behind by as much as 16 in the second half. They’ll need to win the Mountain West now for a tournament bid at 3-4.

4. Cal State Fullerton 92, Charlotte 84: This one isn’t a huge upset (CSF was only a 3-point dog), but Charlotte and coach Bobby Lutz are currently on a major down spiral, finishing last in the Anaheim Classic with this loss and dropping to 1-6 on the season. They looked like at least an NIT contender nearly downing Clemson earlier in the week before losing heartbreakers to Providence and Cal State Fullerton and receiveing a walloping from Arizona State. Can they possibly recover from this?

5. Green Bay 84, Massachusetts 67: Speaking of bad A-10 teams, how about Massachusetts? They have talented players like Chris Lowe, Anthony Gurley and Ricky Harris, but it clearly isn’t materializing at this point for new coach Derrek Kellogg. Most of all they can’t play defense, letting Green Bay have six players in double figures in a performance that dropped the Minutemen to 1-4 on the season.

Bubblicious Wins

  • Texas Tech over Mississippi State at the Legends Classic was a big win for coach Pat Knight and one to possibly place on the resume come March if the Red Raiders are sitting on the bubble
  • Texas A&M taking down MAC contender Kent State on a neutral floor was a nice win for Mark Turgeon and Co. after losing to Tulsa
  • Don’t look now, but Nebraska is still undefeated! They beat MVC favorite Creighton in a hotly contested game over the weekend.
  • Illinois is still undefeated, too. They topped Tulsa who beat A&M the day before.
  • Florida State with two very impressive wins over California and Cincinnati in Las Vegas. The opposite for UNLV, who lost to both of those teams and are now looking weak for an at-large, even with the win at UTEP earlier in the week. Wink Adams went 5/26 with three assists in the two losses.
  • Saint Mary’s looked overwhelmed in their loss to UTEP on Thursday but rebounded with a couple quality victories over Providence and Cal State Fullerton
  • Nevada lost to Portland and is off to a horrific start to the season. Brandon Fields is still trying to get himself into the flow of the offense.

Enjoy the ACC/Big Ten Challenge everyone!

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2008-09 Big 12 Preview

Posted by Zach on November 8, 2008

The Big 12 is becoming more deep, more talented and more balanced every single season. They boast the national champion Kansas Jayhawks, up-and-comers like Baylor and Oklahoma, mainstays atop the standings such as Texas, and perennial dangerous teams Texas Tech, Kansas State, Missouri, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. It wouldn’t be wise to underestimate Colorado, Iowa State or Nebraska, either. With Kansas losing basically their entire championship roster, it’s time for a new team to emerge. Will it be Texas and A.J. Abrams? Oklahoma and Blake Griffin? Baylor and Curtis Jerrells? Here are my predictions for the 2008-09 season:

1. Oklahoma Sooners: While most preseason prognosticators have the Longhorns notched to the top spot, I’m picking Oklahoma based on three assumptions: 1) I feel like their backcourt of Johnson and Crocker will stay healthy and overachieve, 2) Willie Warren is going to have a major impact, and 3) Blake Griffin could be the best player in the country (hey, he is my preseason player of the year over Hansbrough). None of these expectations are out of the realm of possibility, and I may even argue they all have a high probability of happening.

Backcourt:
Point guard Austin Johnson isn’t the type of player to wow anyone with his pure skills, but he’s a solid point guard and court anchor for coach Jeff Capel. He finished with near a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio last season, can drain a clutch three-pointer, and also led the team in minutes played per game. The drop in FT% from 93% to 73% is concerning, yet I feel that is more fluke than reality. Fellow backcourt mate Tony Crocker is a double digit scorer with one of the deadliest shots from behind the arc. Crocker shot 42% overall from three last year, but in Sooner wins he shot a stunning 52%. If he can improve on reducing the turnovers and become more of a complete guard, it’ll be awfully difficult to defend Tony Crocker this season. Completing Jeff Capel’s three guard lineup is freshman sensation Willie Warren, a dynamic scorer who may be Oklahoma’s top recruit in the program’s history. Warren has an outstanding mid-range jumper and exceptional athleticism, but Warren must learn to transition from the high school game where he dominated every night scoring-wise to more of a team-oriented passer and rebounder for the Sooners. Coach Capel believes he can, and Warren even predicted he’d average eight assists per game this season.

Frontcourt:
The Griffin brothers. More famous than the Jonas Brothers? Probably not, but they play a decent game of basketball. Most would imagine Taylor Griffin may become slightly jealous of his younger brother, but the modest Taylor remains Blake’s biggest fan. He embraces his role as the team’s prototypical glue player, a guy never afraid to dive on the floor for a loose ball or snag the key offensive rebound. With the loss of Longar Longar, Griffin’s 4.9 RPG must improve for Oklahoma. Capel wants Taylor to play with “reckless abandon” this season in the paint. The more touted of the siblings is All-American brother Blake Griffin, the player that truly transformed the atmosphere around Oklahoma basketball. As a freshman, Blake showed the skills to average nearly 15 PPG and just over 9 RPG including a 57% mark from the field. Those stats don’t tell the entire story; Griffin really improved during Big 12 play and against the best forwards in the nation. If he can improve defensively, he’ll be the best player in college basketball and likely the #1 pick in the NBA Draft. Blake’s in the best shape of his life and ready to win a national title first.

Bottom Line: The Sooners have an experienced and tested backcourt with a little Willie Warren mixed in. They also have a duo in the frontcourt that does everything to win. Their bench is useful with JC transfer Juan Pattillo and senior Omar Leary. Coach Jeff Capel has done a tremendous job with this Oklahoma program, but with Warren a possible one-and-done and Griffin surely entering the draft, this may be his one year to shine in the near future. Look for him to take advantage.

2. Texas Longhorns:
When I rank Oklahoma number one, don’t think that’s a slap in the face to the most underrated coach in the nation, Rick Barnes, and this Texas Longhorns squad. I just think very highly of the Sooners upside. Texas and Oklahoma will be neck-and-neck all through January and February battling for that conference banner much like Texas and Kansas did last season.

Backcourt: A.J. Abrams was told by NBA scouts after testing the draft waters that they viewed the 5’11 dynamo as more of a point guard than a shooting guard. Well, it appears like Rick Barnes agrees, and Abrams will be playing mostly the 1-spot this season. Abrams led the Big 12 in three-pointers made en route to a 16.5 PPG average in a season in which he made second team all-Big 12. Why does Barnes believe Abrams can play the point guard with flourishing success? How about only 31 turnovers total last year. The biggest knock on Texas heading into the season is whether they can find a dependable floor leader, but A.J. Abrams certainly fits that bill and he should have Texas competing for a #2 seed. Also in the mix will be Turkish guard Dogus Balbay, who played for the U20 Turkey club and led the team in assists per game over the summer. Justin Mason is Texas’s glue guy- a defensive mastermind who flies around the court and plays like the ultimate competitor he is. Mason only boasts average all-around offensive skills, but makes up for his weaknesses with effort and athleticism.



Frontcourt:
Damion James is more of a perimeter-oriented forward that finished second in the conference in RPG last season with 10.3 per game. How is that possible? Watch James play on a consistent basis and you’ll find out: it seems like this athletic forward is about 15 different places on the court at one time. He’s truly a complete player, someone that can step back and drain a clutch three-pointer (41%) or lock down the other team’s top scoring wing on the other end of the floor. Seemingly his only true weakness is at the free throw line. Gary Johnson is the player that can turn Texas into an elite team. The 6’6 sophomore has finally recovered fully from a scary heart condition and the athletic forward should finally be able to see the floor on a consistent basis for Rick Barnes. When Texas is playing on all cylinders, center Connor Atchley is leading the charge. The breakout player from last year, a season in which he averaged nearly 10 PPG, shot 54% overall and blocked 80 shots,  Atchley is looking to become one of the most feared postmen in the Big 12. Dexter Pittman is another wild card. He’s lost over 75 pounds since coming to Austin and still weighs around 315 pounds. When he’s able to play prolonged minutes, Pittman is a ferocious rebounder and a capable post scorer.

Bottom Line:
Much like Oklahoma, Texas has plenty of question marks. Can Abrams run the point? Can Dexter Pittman contribute? Is Gary Johnson finally healthy? If most of these questions play to Rick Barnes’ favor, they should win another Big 12 title. They preach stout defense and can shoot from outside- a recipe for another successful year in Austin.

3. Baylor Bears: The rebuilding project of all rebuilding projects is finally crystallizing into something special for the Baylor Bears and head coach Scott Drew. Last season, Baylor was the last team admitted to the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday after winning 21 games and 9 conference contests. But that doesn’t tell the whole story: nine of the team’s 11 losses were by 10 points or less. That means Baylor won 21 games and was still unlucky last season. That bodes well for 2008-09 and the four returning starters.

Backcourt: The leading scorer in the history of United States high school basketball- Tweety Carter- will start at point guard for Baylor in his junior season. Carter isn’t a polished point guard by any means, but the quick tempo that coach Drew instills means half-court sets are a rarity, and Carter can do what he does best: score the basketball. He shot 43% from the floor last season, a good number for a 5’11 combo guard. Curtin Jerrells is the backcourt star, a 13.6 PPG scorer who should explode in his senior season. Someone with his pure talent could have bolted after Baylor was littered with punishments (including a year of zero non-conference games) but Jerrells stayed loyal and that decision is bearing fruit. He led the Bears in scoring- he’s led Baylor in scoring all three years- assists, minutes, field goals and free throws, finished second in three-pointers and earned a spot on the all-Big 12 squad. Sophomore LaceDarius Dunn may come off the bench like he did much of last season and provide coach Drew with an excellent shooter from outside and the free throw stripe. If Dunn can mold into a more fundamentally sound player on defense, he’ll be a national star by his junior season. Henry Dugat is yet another double-digit scorer who’s also Baylor’s top returning defender and is the opposite of Dunn- a complete and consistent player who simply contributes where he can.

Frontcourt: Kevin Rogers is the post anchor for Baylor. His numbers- 12.3 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 50% FG, 77% FT- are all extremely solid. It’s a luxury for Drew to have a consistent player like Rogers to depend on if the Bears need a basket inside. He notched 18 boards last year vs. tournament team Texas A&M and is an outside contender to average a double-double this season. The center position is much more of a question mark, meaning it’s entirely possible Drew goes with four guards and Rogers for the majority of the time. The 7 foot Josh Lomers started 24 games last year and shot 61% from the floor, using his size and strength to dominate for easy baskets in the post. Anthony Jones is a 6’10 freshman that should see major minutes. The lanky forward was ranked in the top-50 nationally in most recruiting magazines and should provide Drew with advanced defense and another scoring option. Quincy Acy is another freshman who may make an impact. Credit Drew with assembling recruits where he was clearly short-manned this season.



Bottom Line:
The job this program has done through epic trials and tribulations to make the NCAA Tournament last season and hopefully contend for the Big 12 title this year is truly remarkable. They’ll be a national favorite and deservedly so. The talent assembled could reach unimagined heights four years ago with Dunn, Jerrells, Rogers and Dugat leading the charge. Watch out for the rejuvenated Bears.

4. Kansas Jayhawks:
As the national championship banner rose to the rafters a couple Friday’s ago in Lawrence, only two contributors from that squad actually remained: Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich. Gone is hero Mario Chalmers, Darnell Jackson, Brandon Rush, Russell Robinson, Darrell Arthur and Sasha Kaun. Luckily for coach Bill Self, who finally tore that postseason monkey off his back, he’s recruited a top-flight class to keep Kansas in contention.

Backcourt: Sherron Collins needs to develop into one of the top point guards in the nation for Kansas to compete for a conference championship. Whether Collins is fully motivated and can get his weight and conditioning under control are two question marks that Bill Self hopes to answer in the affirmative. With the youth assembled on this Kansas team, Self needs Collins to be a leader more than anything, because we know the talented Chicago guard can score and distribute. Whether Collins can answer that call and become the face of the Kansas program is undetermined. Freshman Tyshawn Taylor, a former Crean recruit at Marquette, looks to be the second starting guard, but who really knows at this point. Taylor led St. Anthony’s to a 32-0 record and can really play the point guard position for someone his age, much like Kemba Walker at Connecticut. Mario Little could be Kansas’s top player by the end of the campaign. The top JUCO player in the nation shot 55% from the floor and 40% from three as a wing player. Freshman Travis Releford is an excellent defender and should play the role of knocking down a clutch three-pointer.

Frontcourt:
The Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, are the gems of the incoming recruiting class. Marcus is a versatile forward who can handle the rock both inside and outside.  He’s made outstanding improvements both defensively and rebounding the basketball in his last year, two areas where Self needs Marcus to contribute this season. Twin brother Markieff is much like Marcus in that he’s a versatile post player who can step outside and drive to the hoop. He’ll likely start off on the bench and give Self another defender and rebounding option. The most improved player in the nation this year could be center Cole Aldrich. He wasn’t able to see many minutes due to the frontcourt logjam for Kansas last year. Now he’s the starting center and ready to shine. Aldrich is a shot-blocker who could also led the Jayhawks in scoring and rebounding in his sophomore campaign. We saw glimpses of his potential against North Carolina in the national semifinal when he contributed with eight points and four blocks.

Bottom Line:
It’s going to be a rebuilding year in Lawrence, and it’s probably a good sign that a rebuilding year means a likely winning record in conference and an NCAA Tournament selection nonetheless. The freshman talent is certainly assembled, they’ve lured two outstanding JUCO players, and Aldrich and Collins are two players who could really make the leap. Kansas will be right in the mix as always.

5. Texas A&M Aggies: Coach Mark Turgeon should have another competitive team in College Station. Three-point shooter extraordinaire Josh Carter returns, a 6’7 swingman who shot 50% from three as a sophomore to lead the nation and “fell off” to 38% last season. Donald Sloan went through rough times replacing Acie Law at point guard, but improved mightily in the second half of the year cutting down on turnovers and turning into a team leader. His jump shot still needs improvement. Forward Bryan Davis also improved as the season wore on for the Aggies, averaging 9.2 PPG and 5.2 RPG during conference play. He’s also A&M’s strongest post defender and shot blocker. Junior Derrick Roland should see minutes as a role player. Two freshmen will contribute immediately: Dashan Harris and David Loubeau. Harris is a 6’0 scoring point guard who’s ranked #70 by Scout.com nationally, and Loubeau, who averaged a stunning 29 and 17 as a senior, chose Texas A&M over UCLA and Pittsburgh.



6. Oklahoma State Cowboys:
New coach Travis Ford leads a backcourt-oriented Cowboys team into battle. Byron Eaton averaged 20.6 PPG during the Cowboys’ late winning streak in February and March, and with his weight under wraps, Ford expects Eaton to become a top point guard in the nation this season. He should bloom under Ford’s freer offense rather than the strict Sutton rules. I’m more excited about sophomore James Anderson and his potential. A future NBA talent, Anderson led Oklahoma State in three-pointers last season as a freshman and averaged 13.3 PPG. His numbers dipped mightily in conference play, though. Anderson will need to play a full season of top-notch basketball for the Cowboys to contend. Terrel Harris is another double-digit scoring returnee in the backcourt. Harris will need to improve on his dismal 27% from behind the arc. He’s a better shooter than that number indicates. Junior Obi Muonelo will need to step up in a thin frontcourt and provide OSU with more rebounding and toughness than he did last year. 6’11 sophomore Ibrahima Thomas and senior Anthony Brown need to play more in the post or Oklahoma State will be out-rebounded on a nightly basis.

7. Missouri Tigers:
Coach Mike Anderson would love to play more of a fast-paced offense, but his two best players are both over 6’8: DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons. Carroll, a former Vandy transfer, emerged as the do-everything forward for Missouri, leading the team in rebounding, points, free throws made, steals and blocked shots. His two weaknesses are committing stupid fouls and struggles at the free throw line. Lyons really emerged in the second half of Missouri’s season, culminating in 27 points and 18 rebounds against Oklahoma State in February. Lyons can certainly score and rebound, and he may even prove to be an all-Big 12 type player if his defense continues to improve. 6’9 JUCO transfer Keith Ramsey will also contribute in the frontcourt. The loss of Keon Lawrence to Seton Hall could be crushing blow in what would have been a stellar backcourt that’s now just average. 6’7 senior Matt Lawrence is an outstanding jump shooter and 6’3 junior J.T. Tiller is a dependable point guard and defensive stopper. 6’2 freshman Marcus Denmon will also see plenty of minutes.

8. Kansas State Wildcats:
Losing Michael Beasley and Bill Walker certainly stings. The only returning starter is Jacob Pullen, who finished third in scoring behind the dynamic freshman duo last season. He’s a smart ball-handler with shooting skills and made a mark with his 20 points in the epic win over Kansas. Sophomore Fred Brown should start at the other guard. He shot the three well at 37%, but has plenty of development to do before he’s a reliable contributor. Ron Anderson and Dominique Sutton should anchor the frontcourt. Anderson is a ferocious rebounder who shot 55% from the field a year ago in limited time. Sutton is also a strong rebounder who needs to become more of a scoring presence. Miami transfer Denis Clemente will help right away as a scoring combo guard. While this is a rebuilding year in Manhattan, coach Frank Martin has a great freshman class in line for next season.

9. Texas Tech Red Raiders
10. Nebraska Cornhuskers
11. Iowa State Cyclones
12. Colorado Buffaloes

Big 12 First Team
G- Sherron Collins, Kansas
G- A.J. Abrams, Texas
G- Curtis Jerrells, Baylor
F- Damion James, Texas
F- Blake Griffin, Oklahoma

Freshman of the Year:
Willie Warren, Oklahoma
Newcomer of the Year: Mario Little, Kansas
Coach of the Year:
Jeff Capel, Oklahoma and Scott Drew, Baylor
Player of the Year: Blake Griffin, Oklahoma

Posted in Big 12 Report, Conference Previews | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Gameday, Sleepers and Other News

Posted by Zach on August 28, 2008

Not much news in or around college basketball during late August. I could update you on the Derrick Caracter situation, but he’s not worth anyone’s time. The recruiting rampage has died down with the elite camps concluding and coaches returning for the start of school. While some injury or late transfer may take place in the next few days, don’t expect much big news as the summer ends and fall begins. Don’t fear though, college basketball is closer than you may think. To conjure up excitement, here’s a look at the recently released College Gameday sites for the 2008-09 season:

Jan. 17- Chapel Hill, N.C. (Miami at North Carolina)
Jan. 24- South Bend, Ind. (Connecticut at Notre Dame)
Jan. 31- Knoxville, Tenn. (Florida at Tennessee)
Feb. 7- Spokane, Wash. (Memphis at Gonzaga)
Feb. 14- Madison, Wis. (Ohio State at Wisconsin)
Feb. 21- Austin, Texas (Oklahoma at Texas)
Feb. 28- Berkeley, Calif. (UCLA at California)
Mar. 7- Morgantown, W.V. (Louisville at West Virginia)

Fairly pedestrian, right? The two best games are Connecticut-Notre Dame, which should have major Big East title implications, and Oklahoma-Texas, which should do the same for the Big 12 later in the season. California must feel fortunate considering they’re in full-fledged rebuilding and the UCLA pairing will probably result in a blowout. Memphis-Gonzaga could be interesting, but the Zags never lose at home. That March 7 game could prove to be the reason Louisville loses out on a Big East title in the last weekend of the season. Keep that date circled. Not an easy place to play.

Anyway, on to the main point of this post: my top five sleeper/surprise teams of this upcoming season:

UNLV
– Lon Kruger is one of the smartest coaches in the business, taking his team on a two week summer trek around Australia to prepare for the season against top-notch Australian teams. The Rebels are perennially a contender in the Mountain West and reached the Sweet 16 just two years ago in Saint Louis; this year, they’re the clear favorite to win the regular season crown in the MWC. Still, because of the MWC TV package with CSTV and the lack of national exposure, most don’t give the credit to UNLV and Kruger that is deserved.

The Rebels are led by super-talented guard Wink Adams, a true playmaker in every sense of the word that scored 25 against Kansas in their second round matchup last March. He’ll need to improve drastically on his 14 total points scored against rival BYU in two games for the Rebels to win the conference. UNLV will be boosted by Memphis transfer guard Tre’Von Willis and strong, elite forwards Joe Darger and Rene Rougeau. They’ll be in the Top 25 at some point this year.

Kentucky
– Billy Gillespie showed his coaching mettle last season by overcoming strong pressure and adversity following a disastrous non-conference performance by finishing valiantly in the SEC and in their close loss to Marquette in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Two freshmen battling for the point guard spot on an SEC contender is never a good thing due to the inexperience, but DeAndre Liggins and Kevin Galloway are prime talents and are fully cleared by the NCAA. Someone will emerge.

The stud is recently healed Patrick Patterson, a forceful and menacing forward who uses his physicality to put up double-doubles on any given night. He’s my pick for preseason SEC player of the year. Jodie Meeks is also healthy and Perry Stevenson is a quality role player for any team. Kentucky could be boom or bust this season due to the amount of freshmen they’re relying on; my inclination says boom, but it could easily go the other way.

Baylor
– The Bears are becoming a sexy sleeper pick for this season, and the direction of the program is clearly heading in the right track after indirectly and unofficially landing one of the top players in the 2009 class, John Wall (wink wink). The Bears will surely improve on a school record nine conference wins from a season ago and have NCAA Tournament expectations. Their guard play is terrific, even with their loss of team leader Aaron Bruce. Curtis Jerrells averaged over 15 PPG last season and may turn out to be a contender for Big 12 POY this season if his outside shooting improves.

The team returns eight of their top nine scorers from a year ago, including emerging sophomore guard LaceDarius Dunn. The Monroe, LA native averaged 13.6 PPG and shot 42% from three in his freshman campaign. Scott Drew also added Michigan transfer Ekpe Udoh to the program, who started 31 games for Michigan the last couple years. Drew has this program on the rise. They could finish third in the Big 12 this year.

Southern Cal
– Most would consider the Trojans exempt from any sleeper list, but the national media may sleep on a team that lost both top-five pick O.J. Mayo and draft defect Davon Jefferson. For the folks in Southern California, here’s two words that should heal any post-Mayo wounds: DeMar DeRozan. Believe me, this kid is going to be something special. Another one-and-done recruit for Tim Floyd, DeRozan has athleticism unmatched in his freshman class, a complete package in terms of scoring and rebounding, and the ability to penetrate and finish in any situation.

Joining DeRozan will be UNC transfer Alex Stepheson, a true post presence who will take more and more pressure off of Taj Gibson to recover following a disappointing 2007-08 season and Leonard Washington to contribute immediately. Daniel Hackett and Dwight Lewis are also extremely valuable role players for Tim Floyd. The Pac-10 isn’t as loaded as in past campaigns, so look for USC to finish third behind UCLA and Arizona State.

Providence
– Most folks scoff when I mention the possibility of the Big East actually getting ten teams into the NCAA Tournament this season. The likelihood of one of the contenders fading and/or the conference beating up on each other too much for this to occur is very high, but even the consideration shows the bulk of top-heavy talent in this conference. That tenth team I’m throwing out there is Providence, led by former Drake coach Keno Davis.

The Friars have two main questions that need to be addressed: 1) is Sharaud Curry healthy enough to lead this team, and 2) who will handle point guard duties in a conference where, frankly, you need a competent point guard. The Friars have some interesting pieces, most notably guard Weyinmi Efejuku, a double-digit per game scorer, and former Manhattan transfer Jeff Xavier, another player who can handle much of the scoring load for Providence. They’ll be tested immediately with the Anaheim Classic and were fortunate in getting a favorable Big East slate with Cincinnati and Rutgers twice.

Some other quick news and notes:

– Marquette sophomore forward Trevor Mbakwe gave every indication he was going to return to the program even with the departure of Tom Crean this off-season, but he has changed his mind and has left Marquette for other ventures. We’ll see which small school scoops him up. He’s a project but a worthwhile one.

– Memphis is heading towards another package deal, a growing and disturbing trend in college basketball. They lured in the brother of one of the top players in the 2009 class, Xavier Henry’s brother C.J, to enroll full-time at their school. Slick move by John Calipari to help in the recruiting of Xavier, so they’ve seemingly moved ahead in the race.

– Villanova landed another top recruit in Mouph Yarou, a 6’9 African big man from a military academy in Virginia, ranked #28 overall in the county by Scout.

– Freshman guard Mark McLaughlin will not play for Nevada this season, a top-100 recruit in the nation. This is a big loss for the Wolfpack as he was expected to team up with Luke Babbitt and contribute mightily this season.

For excellent mid-major season previews, just go to ESPN.com for their ShootAround segment. For the big conferences, we’ve previewed all six on this site, so snoop around.

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Summer Big 12 Report

Posted by Patrick on August 23, 2008

As we try to kill time during this long break in college basketball action, it’s time to preview another major conference. Recently the Big 12 has featured some of the best freshman in the league i.e. Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Blake Griffin, etc. and this conference has also had its success in the tournament. Most notably, Kansas took home the title last season. It will be interesting to see if the Big 12 will be represented in the Final Four. The last time they had one in (before Kansas) was Oklahoma State in 2004, but I’m not expecting another drought as long as four years. This season is also very intriguing because there is no clear-cut favorite to win the conference. Some may say there as many as four teams that have a legitimate shot at the crown.

Baylor- Scott Drew did a heck of a job getting this program back on the right track after being suspended from non-conference play just two seasons ago. Drew is figuring out that Texas is a great state to recruit in, and I think soon you may be seeing Baylor steal some of the big programs’ recruits (A&M and UT). As for this year’s team, they really didn’t lose a lot of talent and are returning most of their key starters. Leading scorer Curtis Jerrells will attempt to lead this team to the NCAA tournament with a great supporting cast in guards Henry Dugat and LaceDarius Dunn. Kevin Rogers is really the only guy that can make noise in the frontcourt for the Bears so I wouldn’t be surprised if they used key reserve Tweety Carter as a starter in a four guard lineup. This team’s strengths will be speed and the ability to put the ball in the bucket, but the weaknesses definitely lie in size and rebounding.

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Colorado- If I said things were going to get better in Colorado I would definitely question my own credibility; the Buffaloes are coming off a 3-13 finish in the conference putting them in last place once again. This season might be even worse because their three top scorers all graduated (Marcus Hall and Richard Roby are signed with NBA teams). Sophomore Cory Higgins will lead the backcourt while Jermyl Jackson-Wilson will be their best threat at the forward position, but it really doesn’t look good for CU basketball fans in 2008.

Iowa State- Once again here is a team that lately has not been any kind of factor in the Big 12, and like Colorado it doesn’t look like the tables will be turning this season. The top four scorers are gone and there are only three seniors on this year’s team. Diante Garrett (6.3 PPG and 2.8 APG last year as a freshman) will be the Cyclones best player, followed by seniors Bryan Peterson and Sean Haluska. Dominique Buckley could make a big impact as a freshman in ’08, but it doesn’t look like this team will be getting back to any postseason tournament any time soon.

Kansas- This is easily the team that lost the most key players for this upcoming season; however, Bill Self will still have himself a pretty quality basketball team. Sherron Collins will lead the Jayhawks at point and try to get the ball to a pair of freshman forwards, twin brothers Marcus and Markief Morris (if eligible). Cole Aldrich will also be a very solid contributor to this offense, but I don’t see Kansas getting anywhere close to where they finished last season. A Sweet Sixteen isn’t impossible, though. If the Jayhawks get one more guard to step it up, they could catch some teams sleeping in the Big 12.

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Kansas State- Kansas State is another team that probably won’t have success like they did last season because of the loss of key players such as Michael Beasley and Bill Walker. Sophomore Jacob Pullen will lead along with fellow sophomore guard Fred Brown. It’s likely the Wildcats will go through a lot of growing pains this season, but they could be back on the radar for a Big 12 championship in 2009.

Missouri- This is probably one of the only teams in this conference that has improved since last season. Senior forwards DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons (26.1 PPG and 12.4 RPG combined last season) will be the duo that will determine the success of the Tigers on offense and defense. Key contributors include J.T. Tiller and freshman Miguel Paul and Steve Moore. The Tigers can definitely be a surprise team in the Big 12 for this upcoming season, and I wouldn’t be surprised with a top five finish. In order to make the NCAA tournament, they are going to need consistent play from their support players.

Nebraska- The Cornhuskers are a trendy pick to surprise in 2008, especially when people saw what they could do after beating Oregon at home last season. If Nebraska continues to have success it could be scary for other teams because their great facilities provide a great recruiting edge. As or this year, guards Steve Harley and Ade Dagunduro will be the prime offensive threats. Cookie Miller (one of the best names in basketball) and Ryan Anderson will also be key contributors and need to play well behind the two guards in order for this team to live up to rare expectations, especially in year where they can make noise in the Big 12.

Oklahoma- Obviously Blake Griffin will be the one that is leading this team all season, and he might just be good enough to carry the Sooners all the way to a deep NCAA tournament run. Guards Tony Crocker and Austin Johnson will be the outside threats in Oklahoma’s offense, and both have a key role: spread the floor to open up plays for Griffin on the inside. Freshman phenom Willie Warren will probably get starting time right out of the gate (ranked as the #3 SG in the nation). The Sooners toughest non-conference test will come in the Preseason NIT where they will have to beat Davidson to advance to New York to meet the likes of Purdue, Arizona, and Boston College (two of those three).

Oklahoma State- The Cowboys could definitely be a dark horse candidate in the Big 12, especially because their top three scorers are back for this season. Sophomore James Anderson, senior Byron Eaton, and senior Terrel Harris (just deemed eligible) averaged 35.3 PPG and 11.2 RPG. Former UMass coach Travis Ford took the Oklahoma State job for this season, and he is being handsomely paid to do so with his $9.1 million contract.  The only inside threat that the Cowboys have is Ibrahima Thomas. They’ll surely be trying to shoot more threes because their outside attack is formidable.

Texas A&M- Mark Turgeon’s first year at Texas A&M was filled with ups and downs. The Aggies struggled on the road in conference play, but they showed what they’re team was capable of in the NCAA Tournament when they lost a nailbiter to UCLA. Star freshman DeAndre Jordan entered the draft, and they also lose some good scorers. However, the “Big Three” are back in leading scorer and NBA prospect Josh Carter, Bryan Davis who will be really the only experienced force on the inside, and point guard Donald Sloan. The Aggies will once again be a force in the Big 12, but in order to compete for a title they need to play consistently all season long.

Texas- If this team still had D.J. Augustin, they would probably be ranked #2 in the nation behind the Tar Heels. Augustin entered the draft and it’s tough to say if Texas is even a Top 15 team. A.J. Abrams will be taking over the leadership role for Texas, but many don’t have faith in Abrams because of his unreliable play down the stretch last season. Damion James is probably UT’s best player, and a big reason for why they upset UCLA early last year. If Abrams steps it up and James can bring it like he did last season, Texas has all the surrounding pieces to win a Big 12 title.

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Texas Tech- The Pat Knight reign begins in Red Raider land, and it will be interesting to see how the fans react if the team isn’t up to par. However, I don’t think Knight will have to worry about having a bad team. He returns Mike Singletary, who was a strong forward last season, and outside threat Alan Voskuil. The loss of scoring leader Martin Zeno will probably affect this team. Look for someone else to step up and take over the scoring load.

Projected Finish (Postseason Tournament)

1. Texas (NCAA)

2. Oklahoma (NCAA)

3. Baylor (NCAA)

4. Kansas (NCAA)

5. Texas A&M (NCAA)

6. Oklahoma State (NIT)

7. Missouri (NIT)

8. Texas Tech (CBI)

9. Nebraska (CBI)

10. Kansas State (none)

11. Iowa State (none)

12. Colorado (none)

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Saturday News and Notes

Posted by Zach on August 2, 2008

Ready for another addition of News and Notes? We’re all excited.

Loved this article from Gary Parrish on prized Nevada recruit Luke Babbitt. Apparently this kid is such a workout/basketball junkie, Wolfpack coach Mark Fox banned Babbitt from the gym for ten days this summer. That’s right, Babbitt was banned from touching a basketball or lifting weights or even walking into the gym for ten days, so the kid is going down to Florida with his family. Refreshing to see 1) a coach who is not hawking over his players to spend their lives in the gym and 2) a player with the work ethic as strong as Babbitt. Nevada is a contender in the WAC and Babbitt is the reason why.

– Baylor coach Scott Drew pulled a move many coaches are resorting to recently, hiring John Wall’s AAU coach to a director of player development position. Dwon Clifton coaches John Wall, who is ranked as the number one point guard in the nation for the class of 2009 by most publications, and with this new gig landed in Waco, it appears Baylor has the inside track to land their best recruit ever. Wall is a 6’4 speedster from Raleigh, NC and is officially considering other schools like Kentucky, Oklahoma State and NC State. Baylor already landed a commitment from the #13 center in the nation, Cory Jefferson, for the class of 2009. What Baylor and Scott Drew have done to re-energize a program that hasn’t won a NCAA tournament game in 58 years is remarkable.

– Andy Katz blogged about Blake Griffin and his offseason workout regimen in efforts to establish himself as the true #1 pick in the 2009 draft. Griffin is going through a Marine-like experience this summer to get into peak shape for the upcoming Oklahoma campaign. Blake stayed not only for a Big 12 title, and they’ll have a chance with Willie Warren, Tony Crocker and Austin Johnson returning, but to vault his draft stock even higher. Putting up a Tyler Hansbrough stat line wouldn’t hurt. That’s the goal for Griffin this season.

– The WCC officially moved their ESPN broadcast to a Thursday-Saturday slate rather than their usual midnight ET Big Monday slot for this season. The WCC is stronger than ever this season with top-ten team Gonzaga, top mid-major San Diego and contender Saint Mary’s leading the pack. Rather than just featuring the Zags in most of their games, ESPN is attempting to showcase more of the WCC teams, including the San Diego-Saint Mary’s duel on January 22.

– Recruiting news: Michigan landed the best recruit of the Beilein era thus far by snatching Darius Miles, a top-100 player and top-10 point guard, for their 2009 class. Miles hails from Los Angeles. Villanova received a commitment for 2010 when James Bell, a 6’4 Orlando shooting guard, decided to join Jay Wright’s squad. The Wildcats boast an impressive ’09 class and look to be building for ’10. Finally, Michael Dixon, the 17th ranked PG, committed to play for Mike Anderson and Missouri in 2009.

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