Conference Countdown: No. 2 Big XII

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Pre-season Awards

Player of the Year: Jacob Pullen, Kansas State

I
remember watching Pullen play as a freshman and sophomore, and I can
honestly say I never thought he would develop into the player he did as
a junior. Coming into last season, the guy everyone was talking about
in the K-State back court was the dynamic Denis Clemente, but after
some impressive performances in high-profile non-conference wins,
Pullen (deservedly) developed the reputation of a big-time shooter and
scorer. With Clemente gone, Pullen will be the focal point of a Kansas
State team that doesn’t have a ton of offensive options, especially in
the back court. This is still a very good team — they are big, long,
athletic, and will defend and rebound as well as anyone in the country
— but at the end of a game or the shot clock, the ball is almost
assuredly going to be in Pullen’s hands. He’s going to get plenty of
opportunity to put up points this year, and if he can improve his
ability to distribute the ball — he will command a lot of attention
defensively — I don’t see why he can’t be a 20+ ppg scorer and average
4 assists. If you put up those numbers for the conference favorite, you
deserve player of the year consideration.

And a close second goes to: LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor

Dunn
is in a similar situation to Pullen. His talented back court mate —
Tweety Carter — is gone, which means that he is going to have to carry
even more of the offensive load. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing,
either, as Dunn is one of the best shooters in the country. I think
Dunn has a chance to be conference player of the year and a first team
all-american, but Pullen got the nod because Dunn plays off the ball.
Where Pullen is more of a point guard and has the ability to create for
himself off the dribble, Dunn is more of an off-guard, a
catch-and-shoot kind of guy. I worry that a lot of his success this
season will be determined by the development of AJ Walton as a point
guard. Dunn’s placement here is with the assumption that he will not
miss an extended amount of time for the alleged assault against his
girlfriend.

Breakout Star: Marcus Morris, Kansas, and Jordan Hamilton, Texas

The
Big XII has a number of kids that I think are capable of having a
breakout year — AJ Walton, BJ Holmes, David Loubeau, Michael Dixon,
Ray Penn, Christian Standhardinger. But Morris and Hamilton are the two
kids that I think are all-but-guarantees for a big season. Morris
showed flashes of brilliance as a sophomore, starting at the four and
becoming the Jayhawks most reliable offensive option in the post. With
the amount of talent that Kansas is losing, Morris is the guy that will
be counted on to pick up the slack. After seeing how much he improved
after putting on some strength between his freshman and sophomore
campaigns, I see no reason that he isn’t first-team all-conference, and
possibly even an all-american, this year.

Hamilton is a bit of a
different story. A consensus top 10 recruit last year, he spent last
season as the Longhorns hired gun off the bench. The problem is that
Hamilton has yet to develop a sense of shot selection. As a freshman,
if he touched the ball, more than likely a shot was going up. When he
was on, he was a nightmare for opponents (ask Oklahoma State),
but when he was missing he really hurt Texas. There’s not a doubt in my
mind that this kid can be a lethal scorer in the Big XII, but only when
he develops a better sense of what is a good shot. (Although, it should
be noted that as he gets better and becomes a bigger part of the Texas
offense, the standard of what is a “good shot” for him will become more
lax.) Generally speaking, the biggest improvement tends to come between
a player’s freshman and sophomore years. I think Hamilton can make the
jump.

All-Conference First Team

  • POY- Jacob Pullen, Kansas State, Sr.
  • G – LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor, Sr.
  • G – Cory Higgins, Colorado, Sr.
  • G – Kim English, Missouri, Jr.
  • F – Alec Burks, Colorado, So.
  • F – Marcus Morris, Kansas, Jr.

All-Conference Second Team

  • G – Tyshawn Taylor, Kansas, Jr.
  • G – Jordan Hamilton, Texas, So.
  • G – John Roberson, Texas Tech, Sr.
  • F – Jamar Samuels, Kansas State, Jr.
  • F – Quincy Acy, Baylor, Jr.

Freshman of the Year: Josh Selby, Kansas

This
is kind of awkward because Selby has yet to be cleared by the NCAA. If
he does end up getting cleared, Selby — the No. 1 recruit in the
country according to Rivals — should make an immediate impact. Selby
plays a similar brand of basketball as former Jayhawk point guard
Sherron Collins. He’s a scorer that can beat his man off the dribble,
knock down a contested 25 footer, and is capable of creating for
teammates in the lane. But where Collins was built like a running back,
Selby is built like a basketball player — 6’3″, long arms, excellent
athleticism. There is going to be quite a bit of returning talent in
the back court, but if Selby lives up to the hype, he will be the
creator for Bill Self’s club.

All-Freshman Team

  • G – Phil Pressey, Missouri
  • G – Cory Joseph, Texas
  • F – Cameron Clark, Oklahoma
  • F – Perry Jones, Baylor
  • F – Tristan Thompson, Texas

What Happened?:

  • Expansion: Yeah, yeah, yeah. We all know already. Nebraska left. Colorado left. We thought the world was going to end, but the world didn’t end. That enough summary? It is for me.
  • Texas A&M’s rough summer: First, the Aggies lost their star recruit Tobi Oyedeji, a 6’9″ kid out of Bellaire, TX, who tragically passed away
    when he crashed his car on Prom Night. Nowhere near as tragic, but
    still depressing is that Derrick Roland, who snapped his leg just about
    in half last season, was denied an extra year of eligibility, ending his collegiate career.
  • Scandals galore:
    Missouri’s prize recruit, Tony Mitchell, looks like a long shot to be
    on the Tiger roster this season after he wasn’t allowed to graduate
    from high school. The reasons are plenty,
    including unexplained absences, questionable test results, and the fact
    he attended a school accredited as a home school his first three years.
    Mitchell has been ruled ineligible for the first semester already.

    He’s
    not the only star recruit that has yet to be cleared. Josh Selby, a
    consensus top five recruit from Baltimore, has not been cleared by the
    NCAA due to a relationship he has with Carmelo Anthony’s agent. It is not clear
    whether that agent is acting as an advisor or he has an agreement with
    Selby to become his agent, but one thing that is clear is basketball
    players from Baltimore stick together. Its very possible that this
    agent is doing nothing but help this family work through a complicated
    process. But Selby was also spotted driving a white benz. So who knows.

    Oklahoma also had a controversy in their program. Freshman Tiny Gallon was alleged to have been given $3,000 by a financial advisor,
    which likely played a role in his decision to leave Norman after one
    season. Then Tommy Mason-Griffin and Willie Warren, neither of whom did
    anything impressive last year, both hit the road as well. Between
    transfers and graduation, Capel is left with … well … a lot of youngsters.

    And how can we forget about LaceDarius Dunn. The potential all-american broke his girlfriend’s jaw. His suspension hasn’t been announced just yet, but he is back in school and allowed to practice with the team.

  • Jacob Pullen’s beard…: He’s keepin’ it, y’all.
  • The Canadian-Texan pipeline:
    Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph are both top 25 recruits this season.
    They are also both Canadian. Myck Kabongo will be joining them at Texas
    next season after a two day decommitment.
    There is some talent north of the border, and while it is a different
    border than we are generally talking about when dealing with Texas, I
    don’t think Longhorns fans will have a problem with this kind of
    immigration.
  • Coaching changes:
    Believe it or not, no head coaches were fired from Big XII schools this
    off-season. There were two changes, however. Jeff Bzdelik took off for
    the opening at Wake Forest when Dino Gaudio was fired, replaced by Northern Colorado’s Tad Boyle.

    Greg McDermott left Iowa State to head back to the MVC and coach Creighton. He was replaced by local hero, Fred Hoiberg, who will have his work cut out for him with all the players that left and the floods that hit Iowa in August.

  • Royce White lands:
    The troubled youngster who went to Minnesota before dropping out — he
    never stepped on court after getting in trouble a couple of time for
    shoplifting and possibly stealing a laptop — ended up at Iowa State.
    No word on whether he will be able to suit up this season.
  • Nick Sidorakis is a stand-up guy: Enough with the depressing stories already. Give this piece on the Oklahoma State senior a read, who gave up his scholarship for a teammate.

What’s Next?:

  • The Big X:
    So Nebraska and Colorado are both leaving the conference before the
    start of next season. After all that the teams in the league had to do
    to keep from disintegrating, the question now becomes how long will it
    last? Is this a temporary peace treaty, one that lasts until the season
    is over and everyone gets to arguing about television dollars and
    inequitable payouts? Will Texas A&M jump ship to the SEC? Will the
    Pac-10 get the four other teams that they wanted originally?
  • This conference is good:
    The talent level is this league is ridiculous. There are nine schools
    that have a legitimate chance at making the NCAA Tournament. Depending
    on how some freshman pan out and the development of some bench players,
    there could be four, maybe five, teams capable of making a deep
    tournament run. Would anyone be shocked to see three players — Pullen,
    Dunn, and Morris — make first team all-american? This season will be a
    lot of fun to follow in the Big XII.

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas State:
    The Wildcats have a lot of talent on their roster, enough to win the
    Big XII and likely spend the year in the top ten. It starts with Jacob
    Pullen, who will be one of the early favorites for Big XII player of
    the year and a potential first team all-american. We all know about
    Pullen — a big time scorer and shotmaker — that has really developed
    in his four years in Manhattan. Frank Martin’s club is also going to be
    loaded up front again. With a rotation of Curtis Kelly, Jamar Samuels,
    Wally Judge, Jordan Henriquez-Roberts, and Florida International
    transfer Freddy Asprilla, K-State has one of the biggest, most athletic
    front lines in the country. Make sure you box the Wildcats out this
    year. The biggest question mark for K-State is going to be where Pullen
    gets his back court help from. Denis Clemente graduated and Dominique
    Sutton transferred out, leaving quite a bit of inexperience behind —
    three sophomores, three freshman, and one transfer. Someone from this
    group is going to need to step up and become a guy that can defend and
    knock down open jumpers. Rodney McGruder is a 6’4″ sophomore off-guard
    that hit 18-43 threes in limited minutes last year. Martavious Irving
    and Juevol Myles are point guards that could allow Pullen to play off
    the all. And keep an eye on freshman Nino Williams, a Kansas native
    that was a top 100 recruit in 2011 before enrolling early.
  2. Kansas:
    The Jayhawks won’t be as loaded as they have been the past two seasons.
    That’s what tends to happen when you lose players like Sherron Collins,
    Cole Aldrich, and Xavier Henry. The good news for the Jayhawks? They
    actually return everyone else from a team that had as much talent top
    to bottom as anyone in the country. The Morris twins will be back on
    the front line, and its not a stretch to think that Marcus could end up
    being a first team all-american. Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey, two
    talented freshmen that didn’t see many minutes last season, should also
    thrive in expanded roles. The back court will, once again, be loaded
    for Kansas. Josh Selby, if he gets eligible, should be an adequate
    replacement for Collins as a playmaker at the point. If he isn’t,
    Tyshawn Taylor also returns and should be expected to play an expanded
    role this year as well. Brady Morningstar and Tyrell Reed will be back
    to play their roles, and don’t be surprised if Travis Releford or
    Elijah Johnson prove to be playmakers if and when they get a chance.
    While the Jayhawks lost some star power, this is still a team with a
    very deep, very talented roster that will compete for a Big XII title,
    maybe even a Final Four, depending on how some of their bench guys from
    last season develop.
  3. Baylor:
    Scott Drew’s club is losing both Ekpe Udoh and Tweety Carter, their
    best interior player and starting point guard from a year ago. Coming
    back, however, is LaceDarius Dunn, a Big XII player of the year
    candidate that was second in the league is scoring as a junior. The
    Bears will also once again have a very big, very athletic front line
    headlined by freshman phenom Perry Jones. Jones is a kid with a ton of
    potential — size, mobility, perimeter skills — but he lacks some
    aggressiveness and assertiveness. His partner up front is 6’7″ junior
    Quincy Acy, an athletic freak that quite possibly could be the hardest dunker in the country.
    Rounding out the Bears front line is Anthony Jones, a 6’10” lefty with
    three point range, Cody Jefferson, a highly regarded recruit that
    didn’t get many minutes as a freshman, and 6’8″ junior Fred Ellis. The
    issue for Baylor is going to be their back court, specifically at the
    point. AJ Walton had a promising start to his freshman season, starting
    the first four games for Baylor with Carter out. Walton, who proved to
    be a solid defender as well, will need to be able to fill the void left
    by Carter. Nolan Dennis, another highly regarded sophomore that saw
    limited minutes, will be counted on for increased production as well.
    whie freshman point guard Stargell Love will see time. Baylor has a
    star in Dunn and size and athleticism up front. Depending on how guys
    like Jones, Acy, Dennis, and (especially) Walton develop, Baylor could
    very well finish in the top three or four in the league.
  4. Missouri:
    You know what you are going to get with Mizzou. They are going to
    pressure you defensively, using their 40 minutes of hell defense. While
    the Tigers lose a couple of key role players — JT Tiller, Zaire “Mr.
    Big Shot” Taylor, Keith Ramsey — there is still quite a bit of talent
    on this roster. It starts in the back court, where leading scorer Kim
    English and offensive sparkplug Marcus Denmon both return. Promising
    point guard Michael Dixon also returns, and with the addition of Ricky
    Kreklow and Phil (freshman) and Matt (JuCo transfer) Pressey, the sons
    of Paul Pressey, Mike Anderson will be able to go six deep on the
    perimeter. On the front line, Laurence Bowers and Justin Safford are
    both versatile 6’8″ forwards that are athletic, can defend, and have
    three point range. Junior Steve Moore, sophomore John Underwood, and
    freshman Kadeem Green will also see time up front. Perhaps the biggest
    knock suffered by Mizzou this offseason was the investigation into Tony
    Mitchell. Mitchell is the kind of versatile, athletic forward that
    thrives in Mizzou’s system. Even without him, this is a tournament team
    that, possibly a top four team in the league.
  5. Texas:
    The Longhorns were quite the disappointment last season. A preseason
    national title favorite that climbed to No. 1 in the country, the
    ‘Horns stumbled down the stretch, eventually being ousted in the first
    round by Wake Forest. While the Longhorns lose a ton of talent —
    Damion James, Avery Bradley, Dexter Pittman, Justin Mason — this
    roster was as equipped as any to handle it. In the back court, J’Covan
    Brown, Jordan Hamilton, and Jai Lucas are back, while Dogus Balbay
    should be back to full strength after suffering a season ending injury
    last season. The best Longhorn guard may just end up being Cory Joseph,
    a top ten recruit out of Canada that could very well be the starter at
    the point from day one. Don’t be surprised is Jordan Hamilton becomes a
    dangerous player for Rick Barnes. He’s a gunner, but if he can learn
    some shot selection, the kid can really put up points in a hurry. The
    front court is a bit thinner than it was last year, with Gary Johnson,
    Alexis Wangmene, and seldom-used Shawne Williams all back. Like the
    guards, the best big man of the group will likely end up being Tristan
    Thompson, Joseph’s high school teammate at Findlay Prep and fellow
    Canadian. I don’t think the Longhorns can win a Big XII title this
    season, but a top four finish and possibly a Sweet 16 run are not out
    of the question.
  6. Texas A&M:
    It was a rough year to be an Aggie, between Derrick Roland’s leg, Tobi
    Oyedeji’s unfortunate passing, and the loss of Brian Davis and Donald
    Sloan. The cupboard is far from bare, however. BJ Holmes and Dash
    Harris both looked like they could develop into good players in the Big
    XII, especially with the amount of minutes opening up in the Aggie back
    court. Expect sophomore Naji Hibbert to see an increased role on the
    perimeter as well. Up front, A&M has a fairly solid rotation. David
    Loubeau may be primed for a break out season, as he looked very
    impressive last season, and with Khris Middleton, Ray Turner, and
    Nathan Walkup returning and three freshman coming into the program at
    6’8″ or taller, the Aggies once again look like they are going to be a
    physical defensive team. Mark Turgeon’s clubs have never been flashy.
    They grind you out and win games through execution and defense. This
    team is loaded with offensive firepower, but if a couple of guys
    develop and this group continues to play the way Turgeon wants them to,
    this group should be, at the least, in the bubble conversation come
    February.
  7. Colorado:
    The Buffaloes, perennially a Big XII doormat, finished eighth in the
    league last year and stand to make another jump this season. Colorado,
    who lost head coach Jeff Bzdelik to Wake Forest in the spring, return
    essentially their entire starting line-up, including Alec Burks and
    Cory Higgins. Burks and Higgins are two of the most underrated players
    in the country, mainly because they play for a Colorado team that
    rarely gets national exposure. They play different styles — Burks is
    more of a slasher and a small forward, while Higgins is one of those
    crafty scoring guards with “old-man” game — but combined, they
    averaged over 35 ppg. Burks was also the team’s leading rebounder. Also
    returning is Marcus Relphorde, a forward who transferred in from Indian
    Hill CC, that is a solid defender and led the team in threes. Beyond
    that, Colorado doesn’t have a ton of talent on their roster. Nate
    Tomlinson is a decent point guard, there are a couple of capable bigs,
    and new head coach Tad Boyle will have two freshman at his disposal.
    This team will ride their big two, but if the Buffs can get a bench and
    a couple of other role players stepping up alongside Relphorde, there
    is a decent shot this team makes a run at the tournament.
  8. Oklahoma State:
    The Cowboys lost their two leading scorers in James Anderson and Obi
    Muonelo, but the rest of the roster is returning for Travis Ford. And
    while the 35 ppg that those two provided is a lot to replace, there are
    some pieces on this roster. Keiton Page and Ray Penn are both
    undersized in the back court, but make no mistake that both are
    talented kids. Nick Sidorakis and Fred Gulley should both see expanded
    roles in the back court as well, with freshman Markel Brown also
    getting some valuable minutes. A big issue the Cowboys are going to
    face losing Muonelo is that he was a good enough rebounder at 6’4″ that
    he was able to play the four. It will be interesting to see how Ford
    handles that change. Don’t be surprised if Marshall Moses and Matt
    Pilgrim start to play more together, but there are still going to be
    quite a few minutes to be earned. Last year’s crop of newcomers —
    Roger Franklin, Torin Walker, Jarrid Shaw — had quite first years,
    with Franklin the only one cracking the rotation. This year, four
    newbies — freshmen Michael Cobbins (a top 50 recruit and Ford’s best
    newcomer) and Brian Williams, Juco transfers Darrell Williams and JP
    Olukemi — will have a good chance at earning playing time. The Cowboys
    will be a borderline tournament team this season, but the future looks
    good in Stillwater.
  9. Texas Tech:
    The Red Raiders got off to a hot start last season, but thanks to a
    late losing streak fell (way) out of contention for an NCAA bid. The
    good news is that Tech brings back seven of their top nine, including
    leading scorers forward Mike Singletary and point guard Jon Roberson.
    Singletary and Roberson form one of the better 1-2 punches in the
    league. Tech is much more than just those two, however. David Tairu is
    a tough kid that should start alongside Roberson in the back court.
    Brad Reese, D’walyn Roberts, Theron Jenkins, and Robert Lewandowski
    form a solid quartet of front court players. I like the make up of this
    roster — a lot of experience (nine upperclassmen, seven seniors), a
    lot of tough kids, two go-to players. The question will be whether Pat
    Knight can make it all come together on the defensive end of the floor.
  10. Nebraska:
    Like Colorado, the Cornhuskers will be playing their final season in
    the Big XII. But unlike the Buffaloes, Nebraska doesn’t look like they
    will make much noise in the league on their way out the door. If the
    Huskers are anything, they are big. With Brian Diaz returning and
    Christopher Niemann (hopefully) getting healthy after back-to-back acl
    tears, Nebraska will be able to boast two seven foot centers. Also
    expect a big season out of 6’8″ forward Christian Standhardinger, who
    averaged 8.1 ppg and 4.8 rpg in a super productive 15 mpg after missing
    the first 15 games of the year with eligibility issues. Brandon
    Richardson, Eshaunte Jones, and Lance Jeter give the Huskers an
    adequate back court, but there is simply not enough talent on this
    roster to give Nebraska a shot at competing in the league.
  11. Oklahoma:
    Jeff Capel is facing quite the rebuilding process in Norman. Many
    expected the Sooners to be a top 25 team last season, but injuries and
    attitude problems kept Oklahoma near the bottom of the league. And now,
    with their top four scorers gone, Capel will be playing this season
    with, essentially, one returning upperclassmen — senior shooting guard
    Cade Davis. The cupboard isn’t completely bare. Steven Pledger and
    Andrew Fitzgerald both showed flashes of promise as freshmen. Capel
    also brings in seven newcomers, headlined by top 50 small forward
    Cameron Clark. The biggest issue Capel is going to face this season is
    a lack of size inside, as there are really only three post players on
    the entire roster. It will be a while before the Sooners are competing
    for the Big XII title in hoops again.
  12. Iowa State:
    Fred Hoiberg is going to have a long season in his first year back at
    Iowa State. His two best players — Craig Brackins and Marqus Gilstrap
    — are both pursuing professional careers. Lucca Staiger left the team
    midseason for to return to Germany. Charles Boozer was kicked out.
    Their home court was flooded. Its so bad in Ames that Greg McDermott
    left to return to the MVC and Creighton, which may actually be the
    better job. Senior Diante Garrett is a bright spot for the Cyclones,
    and he may be the only one. I can honestly say that Iowa State could go
    winless in the Big XII, and I wouldn’t be that surprised.


Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit

Bubble Banter: It’s that time of year again!

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It’s getting to be that time of year.

Bubble Banter is back, baby!

Over the course of the next three days, we are going to be diving headlong into bubble chatter right here, breaking down every single team that is on or near the bubble for the NCAA tournament Field of 68. This, of course, is according to our Dave Ommen, who sent me a list of all the bubble teams. Our cut-off, at least for this conversation, is teams that currently sit as a No. 9 seed or better in the most recent bracket that we released.

Why?

Because — with the notable exception of Ohio State — it is difficult to see how any of those teams can end up out of the NCAA tournament before our next bracket projection gets published on Monday.

So, you know, they’re not currently on the bubble.

Anyway, come back throughout the weekend to see who the winners and the losers are and what it means for their standing in regards to the cut line.

FRIDAY

Wisconsin at PURDUE, 7:00 p.m.
YALE at Brown, 7:00 p.m.

SATURDAY

VCU at La Salle, 12:00 p.m.
PITT at SYRACUSE, 12:00 p.m.
ST. JOHN’S at DEPAUL, 2:00 p.m.
VIRGINIA TECH at Boston College, 2:00 p.m.
LSU at TEXAS, 2:00 p.m.
OKLAHOMA at MISSISSIPPI STATE, 2:00 p.m.
RHODE ISLAND at St. Bonaventure, 3:00 p.m.
UNCG at Samford, 3:00 p.m.
AKRON at Ohio, 3:30 p.m.
LIBERTY at Stetson, 4:00 p.m.
Chattanooga at EAST TENNESSEE STATE, 4:00 p.m.
N.C. STATE at Georgia Tech, 4:00 p.m.
SMU at MEMPHIS, 4:00 p.m.
TENNESSEE at No. 3 Kansas, 4:00 p.m.
BYU at San Francisco, 5:00 p.m.
No. 7 Dayton at RICHMOND, 6:00 p.m.
No. 15 Kentucky at No. 18 TEXAS TECH, 6:00 p.m.
Kansas State at ALABAMA, 6:00 p.m.
Washington State at UTAH, 7:00 p.m.
NOTRE DAME at No. 5 Florida State, 8:00 p.m.
SAINT MARY’S at LMU, 9:00 p.m.
WASHINGTON at No. 23 Colorado, 9:00 p.m.
No. 22 Arizona at ARIZONA STATE, 9:30 p.m.
Colorado State at UTAH STATE, 10:00 p.m.

SUNDAY

VIRGINIA at Wake Forest, 12:00 p.m.
No. 11 Michigan State at MINNESOTA, 3:00 p.m.
Fordham at SAINT LOUIS, 3:00 p.m.
XAVIER at Creighton, 4:00 p.m.
Loyola-Chicago at NORTHERN IOWA, 4:00 p.m.
OHIO STATE at Northwestern, 6:30 p.m.

Best Bets: Previewing Baylor-Florida, Texas Tech-Kentucky

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As always, the Vegas lines are not out for the weekend games, so we will be breaking them down using KenPom, Torvik and Haslametric projections.

FRIDAY

MARQUETTE at No. 13 BUTLER, 9:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Butler 72, Marquette 66
  • TORVIK: Butler 72, Marquette 66
  • HASLAM: Butler 71, Marquette 64
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: Butler 70, Marquette 64

In theory, this is an ideal buy-low spot for Butler. They are coming off of three straight losses, the last two of which came on the road. The loss at DePaul was a bad matchup, and the loss at Villanova was a result of Sean McDermott and Jordan Tucker shooting a combined 1-for-12 from three until the final minute of a 15-point loss.

Marquette, on the other hand, is in a prime sell-high spot. The Golden Eagles have won three in a row. Two of them came at home and the third was at Georgetown, a team that is down to just seven scholarship players. Trying to predict the nights that Markus Howard doesn’t score 30-plus is more or less impossible, but I do think that it is worth noting Butler is 12th nationally in defensive three-point field goal percentage and has a couple of quality perimeter defenders they can throw at him.

BEST BET: The logic says to bet Butler here. The problem is that, at Butler (-6) or (-6.5), I don’t think we’re buying Butler low or selling Marquette high. KenPom and Torvik both have the line at (-6) while Haslam has it at (-7). I was hoping to get it at (-5) or lower, which is unfortunate. Either way, if I’m going to be betting this game — which, let’s be honest, is probably going to happen — it will be with Butler.

Oh, and Butler is unveiling Butler IV, their new puppy, tonight. Never fade the puppy play.

SATURDAY

No. 15 KENTUCKY at No. 18 TEXAS TECH, 6:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Texas Tech 67, Kentucky 64
  • TORVIK: Texas Tech 67, Kentucky 64
  • HASLAM: Texas Tech 69, Kentucky 63
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

The more I think about this, the more I like the Texas Tech side here. I do think that the Red Raiders have one of the best coaching staffs when it comes to developing and instituting a game-plan. That’s a problem for a Kentucky team that tends to be fairly limited in what they run offensively. Put another way, Kentucky tends to figure out what works for them and run it over and over and over again. Their playbook shrinks as the season progresses, and that’s the kind of thing that Chris Beard and Mark Adams can take advantage of.

This is also a good buy-low spot for Texas Tech, considering that they are coming home off of a loss at TCU.

On the other side of the ball, I do worry about Texas Tech’s ability to create offense. They have struggled on that end, and I don’t think they actually have the front court pieces to be able to pull Nick Richards out of the paint.

BEST BETS: I’ll be curious to see where the line opens up here. I lean Texas Tech at anything (-4) and below, and I hope that the Kentucky effect can push that line much lower. I also will be on the under. If I think Texas Tech will have trouble to score, and Kentucky will have trouble to score, it only makes sense.

No. 1 BAYLOR at FLORIDA, 6:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Baylor 65, Florida 64
  • TORVIK: Baylor 65, Florida 63
  • HASLAM: Baylor 65, Florida 64
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

Baylor feels like they’re due for a loss, right?

They needed to erase a 12-point second half deficit at Oklahoma State last weekend. On Monday night, they nearly had Austin Reaves hitting a three in the final seconds to give Oklahoma a win in Waco. And now they are heading back out on the road to take on a Florida team that has been better of late?

Here’s to hoping that this line gets inflated because of the number next to Baylor’s name.

I also believe that the under is in play here. Baylor is one of the nation’s best defensive teams. Florida has not been as good on that end of the floor of late, but they, too, have shown flashes of being able to guard. They also matchup well with the Bears. But more importantly, I don’t believe that either of these teams are going to try and push the tempo. Florida has shown a frustrating determination to play possession by possession this season, while the Bears rank 269th in average offensive possession length.

BEST BET: I’ll be targeting the Florida ML here, particularly if the Gators end up getting points, but taking the under seems like the best play in this game.

No. 8 VILLANOVA at PROVIDENCE, 12:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Villanova 70, Providence 68
  • TORVIK: Providence 70, Villanova 69
  • HASLAM: Villanova 68, Providence 66
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

It’s not going to feel comfortable, but this feels like a good spot to take Providence. Villanova has won five in a row and 11 of their last 12, but their last four games have been played at home. They’ve failed to cover in two of their last three games and are just 1-3 against the spread on the road this season.

Providence has lost back-to-back games on the road, covering the spread in both games, and have covered in six of their last eight games.

BEST BET: I’ll be on the Providence side, but whether I take the Providence ML or take the points will depend on what the line opens up at.

No. 21 ILLINOIS at MICHIGAN, 12:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Michigan 71, Illinois 68
  • TORVIK: Michigan 71, Illinois 68
  • HASLAM: Michigan 71, Illinois 69
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

The logic here is going to be exceedingly simple: Illinois is as hot as any team in the country right now. They’ve won five straight games, including wins at Wisconsin and at Purdue, the latter of which was by 17 points. Michigan, on the other hand, has not been the same team since they lost Isaiah Livers to a groin injury and, since January 1st, they’ve ranked 127th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to Torvik.

BEST BET: I’ll be all over the Illinois ML, especially if this line opens up at Illinois (+3).

TENNESSEE at No. 3 KANSAS, 4:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Kansas 68, Tennessee 54
  • TORVIK: Kansas 68, Tennessee 54
  • HASLAM: Kansas 70, Tennessee 50
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

Kansas ranks No. 1 nationally in adusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. They’re third in Torvik’s rating system. Since Lamonte Turner saw his season come to an end, Tennessee has ranked 251st nationally if adjusted offensive efficiency. The one point guard on their roster, freshman Santiago Vescovi, is averaging 5.0 turnovers per game despite playing just 24.5 minutes — to be fair, he had 21 turnovers in his first three games and has had just nine in the last three.

BEST BETS: I think Kansas rolls here after a week of hearing how bad they are because of Tuesday night’s fight.

SUNDAY

No. 17 MARYLAND at INDIANA, 1:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Maryland 67, Indiana 66
  • TORVIK: Indiana 67, Maryland 65
  • HASLAM: Maryland 66, Indiana 64
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

Maryland is 1-4 on the road this season. Their one win came at Northwestern in a game where they trailed by 14 points in the first half. The Terps might be the worst road team in the Big Ten, a league where road teams have been terrible this season.

BEST BET: If Indiana is getting points, take the ML. I also will be interested in betting the Indiana first half line. Fade Turgeon is in full effect this weekend.

No. 11 MICHIGAN STATE at MINNESOTA, 3:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Michigan State 72, Minnesota 71
  • TORVIK: Michigan State 72, Minnesota 71
  • HASLAM: Michigan State 72, Minnesota 70
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

This is a tough spot for me. Michigan State has not been great away from East Lansing this season and they are coming off of a road loss at Indiana on Thursday night. That said, their loss came after erasing a 16-point first half deficit in a game where Xavier Tillman missed a wide-open layup that would have forced overtime.

BEST BET: I will be staying away from this game.

Kentucky’s Kahlil Whitney is leaving school

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Kentucky will be down a five-star recruit for the rest of the season.

Kahlil Whitney, who was the No. 11 prospect in the Class of 2019, according to 247 Sports’ composite ranking, announced on Friday that he will be leaving the Kentucky program.

“My time at Kentucky has not gone as I had hoped,” Whitney wrote in a statement released on his twitter page, “and I therefore need to make a difficult decision quickly to put myself back in to the best position possible as I continue to develop and work towards my ultimate goal.

“I’ve realized since high school that the business of basketball waits for no one, and sometimes tough choices need to be made in order to progress.”

Whitney was a starter early on in the season for the Wildcats, but he has been relegated to a limited role off the bench since league play started. He’s averaged 3.3 points in less than 13 minutes. In the last seven games he’s averaging just 6.1 minutes.

Whitney’s statement does not mention transferring, but if he did opt to head to a different school, he will not be eligible to play until 2021-22 without a waiver.

Bracketology: The top seeds remain in place

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Here is the latest NCAA tournament bracketology projection.

It’s been a while since we could say this:  All four No. 1 seeds remained in place between bracket updates: Baylor, Gonzaga, Kansas and San Diego State.

Elsewhere, more than a handful of teams still have significant resume questions.  And several current bubble teams have important showdowns this weekend – including key matchups in the Big 12 / SEC Challenge.

On a closing note … remember that the Selection Committee evaluates a team’s entire profile, from beginning to end.  How a team performed in its last ten games is no longer an official criteria (although each Committee member may have his or her own perspective on its importance).  So while Ohio State and Michigan, as examples, have both struggled of late, each team’s early wins remain relevant considerations with regard to team sheet evaluation.

The latest look at where our NCAA tournament bracketology projection stands …

UPDATED: January 24, 2020

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
EAST REGION Oklahoma vs. VCU
MIDWEST REGION Minnesota vs. Texas Tech
SOUTH REGION  PR VIEW AM vs. NORFOLK ST
WEST REGION MONMOUTH vs. ROBERT MORRIS

SOUTH Houston                  WEST – Los Angeles 
Omaha Spokane
1) BAYLOR 1) GONZAGA
16) PV-AM / NORFOLK ST 16) MONMOUTH / ROB MORRIS
8) USC 8) Wichita State
9) Michigan 9) Arkansas
St. Louis Sacramento
5) Butler 5) Arizona
12) EAST TENNESSEE ST 12) AKRON
4) Maryland 4) Iowa
13) S.F. AUSTIN 13) NEW MEXICO ST
Albany Greensboro
6) Wisconsin 6) Marquette
11) Virginia Tech 11) NC State
3) Villanova 3) West Virginia
14) COLGATE 14) LITTLE ROCK
Tampa Spokane
7) Rutgers 7) Indiana
10) Memphis 10) BYU
2) Florida State 2) Oregon
15) AUSTIN PEAY 15) UC-IRVINE
EAST – New York MIDWEST – Indianapolis
Sacramento Omaha
1) SAN DIEGO STATE 1) Kansas
16) WINTHROP 16) MONTANA
8) STANFORD 8) HOUSTON
9) Florida 9) Ohio State
Tampa Cleveland
5) Penn State 5) Creighton
12) LIBERTY 12) YALE
4) Kentucky 4) DAYTON
13) VERMONT 13) NORTH TEXAS
Greensboro St. Louis
6) Auburn 6) Colorado
11) Oklahoma / VCU 11) Minnesota / Texas Tech
3) Duke 3) LOUISVILLE
14) WRIGHT STATE 14) LOYOLA-CHICAGO
Albany Cleveland
7) Illinois 7) LSU
10) Saint Mary’s 10) DePaul
2) SETON HALL 2) MICHIGAN STATE
15) WILLIAM & MARY 15) SOUTH DAKOTA ST

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Saint Mary’s Oklahoma Xavier Arizona State
DePaul Minnesota Richmond Alabama
Virginia Tech Texas Tech Georgetown Mississippi State
NC State VCU Rhode Island Tennessee

Top Seed Line
Baylor, Gonzaga, Kansas, San Diego State
Seed List

Breakdown by Conference …
Big Ten (11)
Big East (6)
ACC (5)
SEC (5)

Big 12 (5)
Pac 12 (5)
American (3)

West Coast (3)
Atlantic 10 (2)
Mountain West (1)

Duarte’s 30 points leads No. 12 Oregon past USC 79-70 in double OT

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EUGENE, Ore. — Paying close attention paid off for Oregon’s Chris Duarte.

The junior guard had 30 points, 11 rebounds and eight steals, and the No. 12 Ducks outlasted Southern California 79-70 in double overtime Thursday night.

“I was watching the point guard’s eyes. I was watching everybody’s eyes. So I knew where they were going to pass the ball,” Duarte said. “So I took that as an advantage.”

Oregon teammate Payton Pritchard added 24 points and seven assists, becoming the first Pac-12 player to reach 1,500 career points, 600 assists and 500 rebounds. When the achievement was noted on the video scoreboard at Matthew Knight Arena in the second half, the crowd gave the senior guard a standing ovation.

Pritchard is the sixth player in Pac-12 history with 1,500 points and 600 assists, joining Oregon State’s Gary Payton, Arizona’s Damon Stoudamire and Jason Gardner, USC’s Jordan McLaughlin and UCLA’s Tyus Edney.

Oregon (16-4, 5-2) led by 11 in the second half but USC rallied with a 17-2 run to take a 62-58 lead, capped by Jonah Mathews’ 3-pointer with 1:24 left.

C.J. Walker and Pritchard hit consecutive layups to tie it at 62 and send the game to overtime.

Pritchard’s 3-pointer in the first extra period gave the Ducks a 65-64 lead, but Ethan Anderson’s layup and free throw put the Trojans up by two. Duarte made free throws for the Ducks to tie it again, and Mathews and Pritchard both missed shots down the stretch.

Duarte and Pritchard each hit a pair of free throws that gave Oregon a four-point advantage to open the second overtime. Duarte’s 3-pointer put the Ducks up 74-68, and USC couldn’t catch up.

Duarte’s eight steals were one shy of the school record.

“He was the difference in the game,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “No doubt about it.”

Onyeka Okongwu had 23 points and 14 rebounds for the Trojans (15-4, 4-2).

“You’ve got to take care of the ball. Some ill-timed passes that went to the other guys. We just have to make the right basketball play,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “Give them credit, they’re a good defensive team.”

It was Oregon’s third overtime game in league play.

Oregon was coming off a 64-61 overtime win at Washington last weekend. The Ducks overcame a 16-point deficit and won it on Pritchard’s 3-pointer with 3.4 seconds left. But Oregon lost to Washington State 72-61 last Thursday, resulting in a fall from No. 8 to No. 12 in the AP Top 25.

USC had won nine of its last 10 games and three straight, including last Saturday’s 82-78 overtime victory against Stanford. The Trojans came back from a 21-point deficit in the second half to beat the Cardinal.

The Ducks built an early 15-7 lead after Duarte’s fast-break layup and 3-pointer. Oregon stayed in front, but USC closed to 24-23 on Daniel Utomi’s jumper.

The teams went to the break with Oregon ahead 32-30. Utomi led all scorers with 10 points.

Okongwu’s layup for USC tied it at 32 to start the second half but the Ducks responded with a 10-0 run, capped by Duarte’s jumper off a dish from Pritchard. Okongwu’s dunk ended the Trojans’ scoring drought.

Okongwu made consecutive baskets to pull USC to 56-53, and Matthews tied it with a 3-pointer to top off an 11-0 Trojans run. Pritchard answered with a layup for Oregon.

Freshman forward Chandler Lawson’s layup stretched the Ducks’ lead to 49-38 midway through the second half.

“A lot of things we’ve got to work on. But we got some defensive stops when we needed it, we got some big rebounds when we needed it, and just found a way to win the game,” Altman said. “We’ve been doing that too much, though. We’ve got to find a way to get our offense cranked a little bit.”

Lawson made his first start for the Ducks after he had 16 points and 12 rebounds against Washington. Oregon was without center N’Faly Dante, who was questionable for the game after hurting his knee against the Huskies.

Pritchard was one of just two Division I players averaging at least 19 points, five assists and four rebounds per game, joining Pepperdine’s Colbey Ross.

BIG PICTURE

USC: The Trojans started 4-1 in conference play for the first time since 2016. USC went 5-0 to open conference play in 2002. … Enfield said afterward that this loss stung. “We’ve played a few close games this year. We won three or four close ones,” he said. “We were right there and we lost. It hurts when you lose a game and have a chance.”

Oregon: Pritchard is closing in on Oregon’s career record of 614 assists held by Kenya Wilkins. … Pritchard has won 96 games as a Ducks player, one shy of Oregon’s career leader, Johnathan Lloyd. … Sabrina Ionescu, star guard for the No. 4 Oregon women, was at the game and was interviewed by the Pac-12 broadcast team during the first half.

UP NEXT

USC visits Oregon State on Saturday.

Oregon hosts UCLA on Sunday.