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Conference Catchups: Kansas doesn’t lack for challengers in Big 12

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College basketball is now almost two months old. League play will be kicking off in the next week. Let’s get you caught up on all you need to know with some of the country’s best conferences. 

To read through the rest of our Conference Catchups, click here.

Midseason Player of the Year: Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State)

The preseason pick to win Big 12 Player of the Year, Smart has done little to dispel that notion through 12 games. The sophomore’s raised his scoring average from a season ago to 18.0 points per game in 2013-14, and he’s shooting a higher percentage from the field (46.3%) as well. The three-point shooting (32.3%) could use a boost, but given all the other things that Smart does it’s difficult to argue against him at this point.

All-Big 12 First Team:

  • Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
  • DeAndre Kane, Iowa State
  • Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
  • Cameron Clark, Oklahoma
  • Melvin Ejim, Iowa State

Midseason Coach of the Year: Fred Hoiberg (Iowa State)

Lon Kruger (Oklahoma) would have a good argument as well, but the pick is the head coach of the league’s lone remaining undefeated team. Thanks to Hoiberg transfers DeAndre Kane and Dustin Hogue have slid right into the Iowa State rotation, and the presence of veterans Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang has helped matters as well. Can Iowa State win the Big 12? Rebounding will have a lot to do with that, but don’t ever underestimate “The Mayor.”

Favorite: Kansas Jayhawks

A team that has three losses remains the favorite to win the league? Yes, and there are two reasons why. First, Bill Self’s young Jayhawks have been tested more than any team in the country to date, as according to the computers they’ve faced the toughest schedule in the country. Secondly, as this group dominated by freshmen and sophomores get more comfortable with each other and what Self wants done they’re only going to get better (especially Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins). Kansas’ hands will be full given how tough the Big 12 is, but how can you bet against the program that has won at least a share of the last nine regular season conference titles?

And three more contenders:

  • That Oklahoma State of Smart, Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash is darn good, and in Phil Forte III they’ve got a very good marksman coming off the bench. But keep an eye on forwards Michael Cobbins and Kamari Murphy. If Oklahoma State’s to make a run at the Big 12 title, those two will need to come up big against the league’s best interior presences.
  • Iowa State will be heard from as well, with a couple reasons why stated above. Also of importance for Iowa State will be their perimeter shooting, with underclassmen Naz Long and Matt Thomas being two keys in that regard. And if DeAndre Kane can knock down threes at a consistent rate, opponents won’t be so willing to give him five feet of space on the perimeter.
  • Baylor’s right there with Kansas when it comes to picking out who has the deepest/most talented front court in the Big 12, with Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin leading the way. And Kenny Chery’s done a good job at the point through 11 games. But in order for the Bears to win the Big 12, Austin has to look to dominate.

Most Surprising Team: Texas Longhorns

Let’s be honest: a lot of us had Rick Barnes on his way out before practices even began. Well his young Longhorns have proven to be far more formidable than most people expected, with Jonathan Holmes being a tough front court leader and Javan Felix, Demarcus Holland and Cameron Ridley all showing signs of improvement. Not sure how much of a factor Texas can be in the Big 12 title chase, but it’s clear that this group isn’t going to simply lie down.

Most Disappointing Team: Kansas Jayhawks

This one’s tough, especially when considering just how tough of a schedule the Jayhawks have played to this point. But there have been issues, most notably the question mark at point guard. It looks as if Naadir Tharpe’s taken the strides needed to lead the way for the Jayhawks in Big 12 play, and if that remains the case the Jayhawks will be better for it. Another key for Kansas moving forward: Tarik Black has to snap out of his three-plus year habit of landing in foul trouble. He avoided that against Georgetown, and his presence on the floor made a big difference.

Most Important Player (in league play): PG Naadir Tharpe (Kansas)

Oklahoma State has Marcus Smart, Iowa State had DeAndre Kane and Baylor has Kenny Chery. Those are three strong point guards to contend with when looking to win the Big 12, which means that Tharpe will need to continue to take steps in the right direction. Over his last three games the junior has 18 assists and eight turnovers, and if he can get that ratio closer to 3-to-1 Kansas will be better for it.

Who will slide?: Texas

The Longhorns are off to a surprising 10-2 start, but it’s difficult to see them continuing that pace when league play begins. Texas is shooting just 43.9% from the field this season, and their offensive rebounding (grabbing nearly 38% of their misses) has helped the Longhorns make up for that issue. But will they be able to do so against the bigger teams in the Big 12?

Who is the sleeper?: Oklahoma

The Sooners have been without the services of sophomore guard Je’lon Hornbeak, who’s expected back at some point in January after breaking a bone in his foot a couple weeks ago. His return will give Oklahoma another scoring option on the perimeter, and with Clark and Ryan Spangler in the front court they’ve got two players to rely on inside. If the bigs can hold up in league play, Oklahoma has the potential to be the sleeper team in the Big 12.

New Power Rankings

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

No. 15 Cincinnati extends home streak, beats Memphis 87-74

CINCINNATI, OH - FEBRUARY 04:  Troy Caupain #10 of the Cincinnati Bearcats dribbles the ball during the game against the Connecticut Huskies at Fifth Third Arena on February 4, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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CINCINNATI (AP) After a dominant first half, No. 15 Cincinnati relaxed and wound up sweating one out.

Jacob Evans III scored 12 of his 15 points during the Bearcats’ lopsided first half on Thursday night, and they let most of a big lead slip away before holding on for their 25th straight home victory, 87-74 over Memphis.

Cincinnati (25-3, 14-1 American Athletic) led by as many as 24 points during its highest-scoring opening half in conference play this season, pulling ahead 51-32 at the break. The Tigers cut the lead to six points before fading.

“We got off to a big lead, and in the second half I feel we started to coast a little bit,” Evans said. “We can’t do that. If we want to make a deep run in March, we can’t take a half off against any team. Our energy on defense went down.”

The Bearcats’ front line dominated on offense. Gary Clark had 13 points and nine rebounds while Kyle Washington had 16 points and six rebounds. The problem was the sluggish defense in the second half, which left shooters open.

“For about 30 minutes, I thought we played about as well as we can play,” coach Mick Cronin said. “My halftime speech gets an F. I talked to our guys about defense. Our defense was nonexistent for most of the second half. We learned our lessons.”

Memphis (18-10, 8-7 ) has dropped a season-high three straight. Jeremiah Martin led the Tigers with 23 points and 11 assists. Dedric Lawson had 21 points with 10 rebounds.

“They were a little bit intimidated to start the first half because (Cincinnati) was making shots,” Memphis coach Tubby Smith said. “And when you get in a hole like that, it’s tough.”

The Tigers cut the lead to 75-69 on Martin’s three-point play with 5:18 left. Evans’ 3-pointer – his only basket of the second half – ended the comeback. It was his only 3-pointer of the game.

BIG PICTURE

Memphis: Lawson got his 35th double-double, the sixth-most by an active player. His 18 double-doubles this season are a career high for the sophomore. He has 282 rebounds this season. The AAC record is 321 by UConn’s Daniel Hamilton.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats’ 25 straight home wins match the second-longest streak at Fifth Third Arena, which opened in 1989. The arena record is 41 straight wins from 1997-2000.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Bearcats have won four straight since a 60-51 loss at SMU on Feb. 12, minimizing the damage of their only conference loss.

BAD START

The Tigers were playing from behind the entire time because of their horrible start. They missed 10 of their first 15 shots – Lawson was 0 for 3 – while the Bearcats rolled out to a 26-11 lead.

LOOKING UP

Lawson got a loose ball while sitting under the basket in the second half and took a shot that bounced off the rim. After the slow start, he ended up 9 of 16 from the field.

CUMBERLAND BACK

Freshman Jarron Cumberland sat out Cincinnati’s last game because of a curfew violation. He was back on Thursday and had nine points in 22 minutes.

UP NEXT

Memphis: The Tigers host Houston on Saturday. They won at Houston 79-67 in overtime on Jan. 19.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats play at Central Florida on Saturday. They beat Central Florida 60-50 on Feb. 8.

More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Five Maine players suspended following a fight over locker room music

DURHAM, NC - DECEMBER 03:  Head coach Bob Walsh of the Maine Black Bears prepares for their game against the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium on December 3, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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There wasn’t much love being spread in the Maine basketball locker room on Valentine’s Day.

A locker room fight led to the suspensions of five players, including the team’s leading scorer. According to Larry Mahoney of the Bangor Daily News, who obtained the police report, the incident was the result of teammates Wes Myers and Marko Pirovic arguing over locker room music on Feb. 14.

Myers wanted the music off, Pirovic, who stands five inches taller and outweighs Myers by 25 pounds, refused. This led to both throwing punches, one of which connected on Pirovic’s face, breaking his jaw.

Jaquan McKennon, Ilija Stojiljkovic and Dusan Majstorovic were all suspended, but reinstated on Wednesday, for telling head trainer Ryan Taylor that Pirovic’s injuries resulted from him falling in the shower.

Myers, a junior guard averaging a team-best 16.9 points per game, remains suspended indefinitely.

Pirovic declined to press charges. All involved could still face punishment from the university, according to the Bangor Daily News.

It’s been a long season for the Black Bears. Maine owns the America East’s worst record at 6-24 (3-12). Outside of a modest three-game winning streak in late January, the Black Bears have not won a game in 2017. They close out the regular season on Saturday at home against Binghamton.

How did Gary Clark catch that alley-oop?

CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 24:  Gary Clark #11 of the Cincinnati Bearcats shoots the ball against the Tulane Green Wave at Fifth Third Arena on January 24, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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No. 15 Cincinnati pounced on Memphis from the start, taking a 51-32 lead into halftime.

Then, Gary Clark decided to add insult to injury to start the second half. Seriously, how did he catch that?

Mick Cronin’s team is much better offensively than in previous seasons. I’m sure fans in the Fifth Third Arena can get used to seeing more plays like this.

Cassius Winston ends half with half-court 3-pointer

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 15:  Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans talks with Cassius Winston #5 in the second half during the State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on November 15, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Michigan State freshman guard Cassius Winston had just one field goal in the first half. And it was a half-court buzzer-beater as the Spartans capped a sizable run to take a 49-31 lead over Nebraska going into the break.

The Spartans ended the half on a 21-5 run.

Winston provided a serious boost off the bench during that stanza. Moments earlier, he helped the Breslin Center erupt when he lobbed a pass off the backboard to teammate Miles Bridges.

Michigan State opened the day projected as one of the final at-large bids in the NCAA Tournament. The margin for error is thing and it appears the Spartans are playing with a sense of urgency.

 

CBT Podcast: Mark Titus recaps Wednesday’s games

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 22: Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks lays the ball up against JD Miller #15 and Jaylen Fisher #0 of the TCU Horned Frogs in the first half at Allen Fieldhouse on February 22, 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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Wednesday’s slate of games had several wild results.

Former Ohio State walk-on turned blogger turned author Mark Titus, who is currently writing for The Ringer, joined Rob Dauster on the latest episode of the CBT Podcast to go over last night’s games. The two also discussed who is the best team in the nation at the moment, as well Frank Mason III’s rap single from several years ago #BIFM

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom