Pistol Pete courtesy of Oklahoma State Athletics

Conference Catchup: Best Cowboy up if you want to beat Kansas

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Conference play is right around the corner, so to help you get out of that post-holiday haze, we’ll be catching you up on all the happenings in the country’s top 12 conferences. Here’s our Big 12 Conference Catchup:

Favorite: Kansas

Yep. Again. You may feel like one of these other Big 12 programs is about due to win the league, but this sure isn’t looking like the year to bet the ranch on it. Jeff Withey has become a force majeure under his own basket, and Ben McLemore is the enfant terrible who collects outlet passes and embarrasses his elders any chance he gets. They’re such an effective one-two punch that I had to speak in tongues to do it justice. Surrounded by steady, capable upperclassmen like Travis Releford, Kevin Young and Elijah Johnson, the dynamic duo doesn’t even have to do it all.

Contenders: Oklahoma State is coming on fast and strong, with a super-solid nucleus of Marcus Smart, Markel Brown, Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte. Gallagher-Iba’s going to be a miserable place for opponents to visit this season, and quite a few will want to roll up the welcome mat when the Cowboys take to the road as well. It’s not just about offensive fireworks, either. The Cowboys are playing elite-level defense as well.

Kansas State is rolling in their first season under Bruce Weber, but we’ll hold off on getting too excited about that just yet. Baylor needs to locate a little defense to go with a high-powered offense, but they’re very much in this race. Iowa State seems to be lurking in the shadows, waiting to strike.

Biggest Surprise: Kansas State

We’ve all come to expect some pretty uneven results from Bruce Weber, so it wasn’t much of a surprise that his Wildcats were chosen to finish fifth in the league after he took over for the hastily-departed Frank Martin. So far, he’s wisely played to his team’s strengths, keeping them in the top-25 of defensive efficiency and taking offensive opportunities as they come. Michigan and Gonzaga were able to crack the code, but Florida was not, and the Wildcats carry a national ranking into the new year.

Biggest Disappointment: Texas

It’s popular to lay blame for the Longhorns’ deficiencies on the NCAA, for not letting Myck Kabongo play most of this season. That seems a bit naive. Great as Kabongo is as a point guard, shouldn’t Rick Barnes — who’s coached in the Big 12 since 1998 — be able to get a little more out of the talent he’s accumulated in Austin this season? The guy used to be able to win 20+ games with Dogus Balbay and a spool of baling wire.

Player of the Year: Ben McLemore, Kansas

McLemore’s situation last season had to be galling to Bill Self. He made it to the national title game with one of his best players sitting out a season. Bygones are bygones, however, and now Self has a nominal freshman who spent a year getting his house in order and stepped on the court ready to dominate this season. McLemore can drive and dunk or splash a three, making him exceptionally hard to guard, and he creates his own opportunities on defense, swiping 1.2 steals per game. This may be his only season in Lawrence, but it’s bound to be a memorable one.

Best Freshman: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State

I know. That’s two freshmen. But they’re both worthy of a nod. Smart caught the nation’s attention with this stat line against NC State: 20 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 steals, 4 blocks. The only team that’s really slowed him down since is Missouri State, by being so inept that Travis Ford decided to sit Smart for half the game rather than humiliate the Bears any further. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for the McLemore/Smart battles coming our way this season.

Three Predictions

  • Texas will bounce back. The offense is struggling, granted. But Texas is playing lights-out defense, coming in third nationally in defensive efficiency according to Kenpom. That includes a DI-best perimeter defense. All it will take is for one or two things to start clicking offensively, and this team will be a threat.
  • TCU will win a single league game. Trent Johnson will start his first season in the Big 12 off with a win over Texas Tech, then proceed to lose every game thereafter. What the Big 12 is, the basketball Horned Frogs ain’t ready for.
  • Hardin-Simmons will wish they had asked for more money. Baylor travels to Kansas on January 14, then hosts Oklahoma State on the 21st. In-between, they’ll paste the tar out of the poor, frightened Hardin-Simmons Cowboys of DIII for no apparent reason except that they can. I’m with Harten – can’t we just end these shenanigans?

Power Rankings (* = tourney team):

1. Kansas*
2. Oklahoma State*
3. Kansas State*
4. Baylor*
5. Iowa State*
6. Texas
7. Oklahoma
8. West Virginia
9. Texas Tech
10. Texas Christian

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

Jayson Williams says Charles Oakley lent him $20K while at St. John’s

24 Jan 1999: Jayson Williams #55 and Sam Cassell #10 of the New Jersey Nets cheer on of the St John''s Red Storm during the game against the Duke Blue Devils at the Madison Square Garden in New York, New York. The Blue Devils defeated the Red Storm 92-88. Mandatory Credit: David Leeds  /Allsport
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Another Madison Square Garden tenant has been brought into the feud between Charles Oakley and Knicks owner James Dolan.

St. John’s.

How, exactly, do the Red Storm figure in? Well, the story comes courtesy of former St. John’s and NBA standout Jayson Williams, who spoke to Gio & Jones of CBS Sports Radio.

“So, how we did it at St. John’s was when you were in your senior year, and the guys who made it before you goes to the NBA, that guy would give you,” Williams said, according to CBS Sports, “let’s call it like a loan so you don’t have to go out and get an agent or put St. John’s in any trouble with the NCAA. So when my year was up and I was a senior, it was Mark Jackson. Now if anybody knows Mark Jackson, Mark is the greatest human being on Earth – but cheap as the day is long. That man is so frugal.”

As such, Jackson didn’t lend Williams any money, but his teammate on the 1989-90 Knicks, Oakley, did. More from Williams:

“He said, ‘Come here, man. Once you ask somebody once and they ain’t going to give it to you, you don’t beg. What you do is follow me home after.’ Went home and he gave me 20 (and said) ‘When you get drafted, I’m going to want 25 back.’”

And after that the two became fast friends, even if Oakley charged Williams “mafia rates” on return, Williams said. Williams has been one of many outspoken defenders of Oakley, who is in a very public dispute with Dolan after an ugly incident at MSG.

Williams averaged 14.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in his final season with St. John’s before being taken. in the first round of the 1990 draft.

Oakley was one of the few people that came to prison to visit Williams in prison after Williams was sentenced for fatally shooting a hired limo driver in 2002.

“Charles Oakley came to see me once every month like clockwork,” Williams said. “This is why people are so adamant about supporting Charles Oakley.”

 

Bubble Banter: California, TCU and Syracuse with critical games tonight

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 10:  Ivan Rabb #1 of the California Golden Bears stands on the court during a quarterfinal game of the Pac-12 Basketball Tournament against the Oregon State Beavers at MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 10, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. California won 76-68.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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The latest NBC Sports bracketology can be found here. That is where the seeds you see listed below come from. 

This post will be updated throughout the night.

STILL TO PLAY

Vanderbilt at Tennessee (RPI: 50, KenPom: 42, first four out), 6:30 p.m.

Michigan (RPI: 52, KenPom: 27, No. 10 seed) at Rutgers, 6:30 p.m.

No. 10 Duke at Syracuse (RPI: 84, KenPom: 48, first four out), 7:00 p.m.

Pitt (RPI: 59, KenPom: , next four out) at Wake Forest (RPI: 40, KenPom: 31, next four out), 7:00 p.m.

TCU (RPI: 54, KenPom: 43, play-in game) at No. 3 Kansas, 7:00 p.m.

Southern Illinois at Illinois State (RPI: 36, KenPom: 50, No. 12 seed), 7:00 p.m.

Saint Louis at VCU (RPI: 26, KenPom: 41, No. 9 seed), 7:00 p.m.

Xavier at Seton Hall (RPI: 47, KenPom: 59, play-in game), 7:00 p.m.

Texas A&M at Arkansas (RPI: 33, KenPom: 51, No. 9 seed), 8:30 p.m.

No. 6 Oregon at Cal (RPI: 39, KenPom: 47, No. 10 seed), 9:00 p.m.

Oklahoma State at Kansas State (RPI: 51, KenPom: 28, No. 11 seed), 9:00 p.m.

Providence (RPI: 69, KenPom: 58, first four out) at No. 23 Creighton, 9:00 p.m.

Man arrested for selling fake Duke-UNC tickets

DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 09:  Justin Jackson #44 of the North Carolina Tar Heels throws the ball in against the Duke Blue Devils during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 9, 2017 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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A man was arrested in Durham on Feb. 9th, the day of the Duke-North Carolina game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, for selling counterfeit tickets to the game, according to the Durham Herald-Sun.

The man, a 24-year old from Ft. Myers, Florida, named Andrew Frank Arvai, was busted in a sting that was set up by someone that had bought fake tickets from Arvai before.

From the Sun:

DPD spokesman Wil Glenn alleged that Arvai placed an ad on Craigslist for the tickets and set up a meeting with a ticket broker from stubhub.com at Northgate to sell the tickets to the Feb. 9 game.

Glenn said the broker had purchased tickets from Arvai in the past and the Feb. 9 transaction was a sting. The broker called mall security and alerted a police officer that he was going to meet the scalper, who he accused of selling phony tickets.

According to Durham jail records, he was charged with four counts of scalping tickets, four counts of counterfeiting a trademark and four counts of obtaining property by false pretenses.

Louisville-North Carolina, Duke-Syracuse preview features two matchups of Hall-of-Famers

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 29:  (R-L) Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels smiles as he talks with head coach Rick Pitino of the Louisville Cardinals during the 2008 NCAA Men's East Regional Final at Bobcats Arena on March 29, 2008 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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No. 7 Louisville at No. 8 North Carolina, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN)

There are six active Hall of Fame head coaches in the collegiate ranks today. Four of them are coaching tonight. Two of them will be squaring off with each other in the Dean Dome in what promises to be a terrific games with a ton on the line.

The Tar Heels are currently sitting all alone in first place in the ACC, a game ahead of Duke and Louisville. A win on Wednesday would put UNC in a position where it seems very unlikely that they’ll finish behind Louisville and, barring upset losses at either Virginia or Pitt, given them a chance to lock up the outright ACC regular season title when they host Duke in the season finale. An ACC regular season title might be enough for the Tar Heels to lock up the No. 1 seed in the South. That would be a nice present, even if the games aren’t going to be played in state.

The game itself should be fascinating. Rick Pitino is one of the greatest defensive coaches to ever live, as his team’s have been in the top five of KenPom’s defensive efficiency rankings each of the last seven seasons and nine of the last ten years. The question with his group is going to be whether or not they are able to score enough points to keep pace with the Tar Heels, who feature ACC Player of the Year favorite Justin Jackson alongside a big, veteran front line and a point guard in Joel Berry II who is the engine of that fast break.

  • PREDICTION: UNC’s ability to get to the offensive glass combined with the presence of Jackson, who has been unstoppable in ACC play, is enough to get the Tar Heels to cover (-5.5)
SYRACUSE, NY - FEBRUARY 14: Head coach Jim Boeheim of the Syracuse Orange shakes the hand of Head coach Mike Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils after the game on February 14, 2015 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. Duke defeats Syracuse 80-72. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
SYRACUSE, NY – FEBRUARY 14: Head coach Jim Boeheim of the Syracuse Orange shakes the hand of Head coach Mike Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils after the game on February 14, 2015 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. Duke defeats Syracuse 80-72. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Four more games to watch

  • No. 10 Duke at Syracuse, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN): The other two Hall of Fame coaches in action tonight square off in the Carrier Dome in front of what could end up being as many as 30,000 Syracuse fans. It’s a must-win for the Orange, who are still in the NCAA tournament picture despite a 16-12 record and a trio of horrid losses. PREDICTION: I think Syracuse wins outright, so I’m on the Orange (+4)
  • Minnesota at No. 24 Maryland, 8:30 p.m. (BTN): Maryland’s bid for the Big Ten regular season title isn’t completely shot, but the Terps are a game behind both Wisconsin and Purdue. They need this win, but the Gophers have proven to be tough, better than we’ve expected. PREDICTION: Maryland (-4.5)
  • No. 22 Butler at No. 2 Villanova, 9:00 p.m. (FS1): It seems like Butler hasn’t been right for weeks, and tonight they make the trek to Philadelphia to face off with the Wildcats. They play in The Pavilion, and no one on this Villanova team has ever lost a game in that building. PREDICTION: Villanova (-10)
  • No. 6 Oregon at California, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN2): This is a game that Cal desperately needs, not because the Bears are in real danger of missing the NCAA tournament but because they need an elite on their profile to avoid getting stuck somewhere in that 8-9 game. PREDICTION: Oregon (-4)

VIDEO: Frank Martin hides in shirt to duck politics question, then delivers eloquent answer

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South Carolina head coach Frank Martin was asked at a Monday media session how he would feel if, after his team won a national title, one or more of his players decided against visiting the White House with the team.

Martin is the son of Cuban exiles and grew up in Miami. When the question was prefaced with, “Since it’s President’s Day I think I can ask this,” Martin hid in his shirt, and while his reaction was funny, his answer was actually pretty enlightening and typical Frank Martin.

(If you cannot watch the video, the text is below):

“I haven’t thought about it,” Martin said when his head finally emerged from within his shirt and after a good 15 seconds of contemplation. “Probably not. Probably not I haven’t agreed with every President that’s been in the White House in my lifetime. But I love this country and what our government stands for as a whole. I’ not going to judge our country based on who I like and don’t like. I think we do an injustice to young people when we make them think this country is run by one person.”

“I think it’s an injustice. Any time we take a stand against one person — we can do whatever we want to here, I’m not trying to tell people how to do things, you’re asking my my opinion and I’m sharing it with you — I think we do an injustice. The beautiful thing in this country is that we all have different voices and we can all express our voices and our views. I think I would be disappointed if any of our players chose not to attend. If they were adamant about it, I wouldn’t force them to go. I’m not going to put their scholarship on the line and make them do something that they feel that strongly about. But I would let them know as their coach, a guy that tries mentor them and try to educate and try to prevent that from happening. But at the end of the day, they’re human beings and they don’t live in a country where you’re forced to do what you don’t want to do.

“I’d be OK coaching somebody that would be against. I would just be disappointed in their unwillingness to understand that their country has moved forward. Contrary to what the media wants us to get us believe, we haven’t moved backwards, we’ve moved forward in the last 50 years. Since my family arrived in this country, this country has moved forward. Does it move forward at a great rate, great pace, is it perfect? No. But it’s moved forward.”

“For us to act like one person runs or controls the decision of this country is false. It’d be a disservice to what this country stands for, what we’re about and my love for the opportunity this country has given me for me to get selfish because of my personal views on one person and not be supportive of the thing as a whole.”