Conference Catch-ups: The Big 12

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Over the course of this week, we will spend a few minutes catching you up on how some of the best conferences in the country currently look. With conference play starting up, its time to get into the basketball spirit.

Favorite: Baylor

I just finished recording a podcast over at CBS, and one of the things that we discussed was Baylor and why they aren’t getting the same kind of hype as, say, Indiana or Ohio State or UConn. The most obvious reason is that they haven’t exactly beaten a murderer’s row; BYU, West Virginia and St. Mary’s are, by far, the Bear’s three best wins. Teams build hype by winning games that you cannot help but watch, and as of now, Baylor doesn’t have a single win of that ilk. But there is more to it: Baylor has serious question marks about three important pieces on their team. Is Scott Drew a good enough coach? His reputation is that of a recruiter, not a play-by-play tactician. Can Pierre Jackson run the point for this team? He’s made some clutch plays over the past couple of games, but he also has a tendency to go into NBA 2K mode when he’s not good enough for that. Is Perry Jones III ever going to find the “Eff You!” mentality that the best-of-the-best have? Assertiveness and aggressiveness are the only things that are keeping PJIII from being a serious contender for National Player of the Year.

And-1: There are four undefeated teams left in the country. Baylor is one of them. Missouri is another. The Tigers are a much different team from Baylor — where the Bears are one of the longest and most athletic teams in the country, Missouri plays four guards and is arguably the best shooting team — but they have been just as impressive. Mizzou is a potent offensive team, with two playmaking point guards (Phil Pressey, Mike Dixon) that free up a pair of devastatingly good shooters (Kim English, Marcus Denmon). The issue plaguing Missouri right now is whether the numbers they have put up (they are second in adjusted offensive efficiency in the country) are simply a result of playing a weak schedule. Teams like Cal, Illinois and Villanova are not as good as they have been in recent season.

Biggest Surprise: Kansas State

The Wildcats have had a nice start to the year. They are 11-1 — with the “1” being a double-overtime loss to West Virginia — and are playing some typical Frank Martin basketball. They have a trio of quality big men (Thomas Gibson, Jamar Samuels and Jordan Henriquez) that pound the offensive glass and they have a roster of kids that go to work on the defensive end of the floor. The difference of late has been the emergence Angel Rodriguez alongside Rodney McGruder and Will Spradling. Not bad for a team that lost Jacob Pullen last season.

And-1: I have to admit, I really didn’t expect much out of Texas this season. They lost a ton of talent from a team that chronically underperformed and replaced it with slightly off-the-radar freshmen. But it has worked this year. J’Covan Brown has been good and Myck Kabongo, who has had the typical ups-and-downs of a freshman point guard, is getting better. More impressive, however, has been the play of Julien Lewis, Sheldon McClellan, and Jonathon Holmes, all freshmen as well. The Horns have six freshmen in their nine man rotation. That means the season will be a learning process, but that this group will have a steep learning curve.

Biggest Disappointment: Texas A&M

At this point in the season, its really not fair to be too harsh on the Aggies. Besides the fact that their best player, Khris Middleton, missed seven games early in the season with a knee injury, Kourtney Roberson has missed the past three games with a fractured ankle and freshman Jamal Branch has transferred out of the program. The biggest issue is that their head coach is battling early on-set Parkinson’s. That’s far from an ideal situation. But A&M’s start has been far from ideal as well, with the Aggies most recently getting blown out by Florida and following that up with a loss to Rice. Until A&M can find a consistent way to score the ball, they are going to continue to struggle.

And-1: Oklahoma State wasn’t exactly expected to win the Big 12 this season, but they also weren’t expected to finish in last place. But that’s exactly where they stand heading into the start of league play, and things aren’t exactly looking up. LeBryan Nash has been, well, awful. JP Olukemi is out for the season after tearing his acl. Fred Gulley and Reger Dowell have both transferred out of the program. Travis Ford is going to have his work cut out for him as he tries to turn this thing around.

Something left to prove: Kansas

Thomas Robinson is a monster. That much we do know about the Jayhawks. After that, however, there still is plenty to find out. There are the questions marks surrounding the leadership abilities of Elijah Johnson and Tyshawn Taylor. There are the issues regarding the amount of talent that Bill Self’s role players have — Travis Releford, Jeff Withey, Naadir Tharpe. The are concerns (at least on my end) of whether or not T-Rob is enough of a go-to player to carry the Jayhawks. That said, Kansas is Kansas. Bill Self is Bill Self. And there is a reason that the Jayhawks have won seven straight Big 12 titles. Until its official, Kansas has to be considered in the mix for the title.

And-1: Lon Kruger has done a great job turning around the Oklahoma program. Heading into Big 12 play, the Sooners are 10-2 on the season. They have wins over Washington State, Santa Clara, Houston and Arkansas. They have one of the most improved players in the country in Steven Pledger. They came within a late-game collapse of knocking off the new-and-improved Cincinnati Bearcats. We’ll find out just how “for real” this group is when they open up league play at Missouri.

Player of the Year: Thomas Robinson, Kansas

T-Rob has proved that the all-american hype he had in the preseason was deserved. He’s averaging 17.7 ppg and 12.2 rpg through non-conference play, providing a rock in the post for the Jayhawks. If he’s not the hardest-working player in the country, he’s somewhere in the top five. In a conference that has plenty of Player of the Year options, Robinson is a pretty easy pick.

All-Conference Team:

POY: Thomas Robinson, Kansas
G: J’Covan Brown, Texas
G: Marcus Denmon, Missouri
G: Steven Pledger, Oklahoma
F: Royce White, Iowa State
C: Perry Jones III, Baylor

Power Rankings

1. Baylor
2. Missouri
3. Kansas
4. Kansas State
5. Texas
6. Texas A&M
7. Oklahoma
8. Iowa State
9. Texas Tech
10. Oklahoma State

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

Alabama coach Nate Oats gets new 6-year, $30 million deal

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama coach Nate Oats has agreed to a new six-year, $30 million contract amid the program’s best regular season in decades.

Oats will average $5 million plus incentives over the deal running through the 2028-29 season under a deal approved Friday by the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees Compensation Committee.

It makes him the fourth-highest paid basketball coach in the Southeastern Conference and among the Top 10 nationally, athletic director Greg Byrne said.

Oats, who is in his fourth season, will make $4.5 million for the first year with $200,000 annual raises. The fourth-ranked Crimson Tide (19-3, 9-0 SEC) has the team’s highest ranking this deep into a season since 1976-77.

“I am honored and humbled to receive a contract extension from the University of Alabama,” Oats said in a statement. “As I have said many times, my family and I love this community, the city of Tuscaloosa and the university.

“I am incredibly proud of what we have been able to build during our time at UA which is a direct reflection of the student-athletes, coaches and staff who have all played a big part in our success. I am excited for what’s happening in the future of our program and the direction we are heading.”

Alabama has gone 80-39 under Oats, winning the 2021 SEC regular season and tournament championships.

“Coach Oats has done an outstanding job leading our men’s basketball program, and we want him to continue doing so for many years to come,” Byrne said in a statement. “He and his staff have lifted the program back to national prominence and built a product that is exciting to be a part of for our team and for our fans.

“We were confident Nate was going to be an outstanding coach for us when we hired him, and he is not only that, but also a great leader of our young men.”

The new contract comes nearly three weeks after Alabama basketball player Darius Miles and another man were charged with capital murder following a fatal shooting near campus. Miles, a reserve forward, was removed from the team and suspended from the university following his arrest.

Duke women’s coach Kara Lawson says men’s ball used vs. FSU

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Duke coach Kara Lawson said her team played with a men’s basketball for the first half of a loss to Florida Stated.

The 16th-ranked Blue Devils lost to the Seminoles 70-57 in Tallahassee, Florida – the team’s second Atlantic Coast Conference loss of the season.

After her team beat Pittsburgh 53-44 , Lawson ended her news conference by speaking animatedly.

“This would never happen in a men’s game. This would never happen. It’s embarrassing for our sport,” she said.

The circumference of a women’s ball is about an inch smaller than a men’s ball and it is typically 2 ounces lighter. While it may not seem like a lot, that’s a big difference.

Lawson said throughout the first half, Duke players were “complaining about the ball.” The Blue Devils were 7 for 34 from the field in the opening 20 minutes of that game. They were 12 for 38 in the second half. Florida State made 10 of its 30 shots in the first two quarters and 14 of 31 in the second half.

“To have a game that, at the end of the season, could be the difference between a seed, between a title, my players don’t deserve that and neither do their players,” Lawson said. “It’s a complete failure. And you can figure out who the people I’m talking about that failed the sport and our players and both teams.”

Lawson said assistant coach Winston Gandy went to the scorer’s table at the half to check on the ball when he realized what the problem was. She said the game officials changed the ball to start the second half.

“We have concluded through our investigation that it was a men’s ball,” Lawson said. “The conference and Florida State is saying that it wasn’t.”

The ACC said it did a comprehensive review talking with game officials, administrators, the table crew and both schools.

“Following the thorough and objective review process, there was no evidence found to support the claim,” the conference said in a statement. “Per NCAA playing rules, there is no appeal or protest process.”

The ACC has instituted a procedural change that the game ball will be brought to the pregame meeting with the captains for approval.

“It’s very frustrating that (the game) … was not treated with the utmost respect that players on both teams deserve,” she said.

This wasn’t the first time this has happened in women’s basketball. In 2017, the College of Charleston played home games and practiced with men’s balls for most of its season until the error was was discovered.

“Let me be clear: Florida State beat us. They beat us playing with a men’s ball in the first half and a women’s ball in the second half. But I can’t say if we’d have played with a women’s ball in the first half and the second half that we would have won. But they can’t say that either,” Lawson said.

No. 1 South Carolina wins 28th straight 87-69 over ‘Cats

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — Dawn Staley’s pleased South Carolina had made its once-lopsided series with UConn more competitive the past few years.

She hopes her top-ranked team can accomplish another milestone when the teams meet for a top-five showdown on Sunday.

“It still stands true that we haven’t won up there,” Staley said.

Aliyah Boston had 14 points and 14 rebounds as South Carolina prepared for the top-five showdown with an 87-69 victory over Kentucky on Thursday night.

The Gamecocks (10-0 Southeastern Conference) improved to 22-0 and won their 28th straight, a run that included a 64-49 victory over the Huskies in Minneapolis last April to win the national championship.

Staley had lost her first seven games as South Carolina coach against UConn. The Gamecocks have won three of the past four matchups since.

“This particular class committed to each other,” Staley said. “When you have that type of commitment and you just want to win, you find yourself winning some games that you haven’t won before.”

Against Kentucky, reigning AP player of the year Boston extended her school mark with her 75th career double-double and moved within 11 of the SEC record of 86 games with a double-double held by LSU great Sylvia Fowles.

Things weren’t perfect for South Carolina, which fell behind early, then had its 15-point halftime lead cut to 54-48 midway through the third quarter.

Still, its dominant inside game – South Carolina outscored the Wildcats 62-14 in the paint – was more than enough to shut down Kentucky (10-12, 2-8), the last team to defeat the defending national champions at the SEC Tournament last March.

The Wildcats went on top 16-15 after a pair of baskets by Adebola Adeyeye.

That’s when South Carolina, fueled by its bench, took control with a 17-2 run. Ashlyn Watkins had three inside shots and Kamilla Cardoso scored four points during the surge.

The Wildcats used a 13-4 burst to start the third quarter to give South Carolina a few uncomfortable moments. But the Gamecocks got going once more with an 11-0 run to extend their margin.

Cardoso, the 6-foot-7 reserve, had 14 points and five of South Carolina’s 14 blocks. Defensive ace Brea Beal had 10 including both of the Gamecocks’ 3-pointers.

Beal thought the team held together well to blunt Kentucky’s runs and regain control. “I think it’s our mental aspect of the game and us believing in each other,” she said.

Robyn Benton had 24 points to lead Kentucky, which has lost three of its past four games.

Wildcats coach Kyra Elzy said South Carolina is difficult to match up with because of its deep bench. “They have depth after depth after depth,” she said. “They keep coming.”

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: The Wildcats are the not the same team that featured two-time SEC player of the year Rhyne Howard the past few seasons. They have 10 newcomers – and six freshmen – who are still learning how to play against the SEC’s top teams like South Carolina.

South Carolina: Forgive the Gamecocks if their focus wasn’t fully on this one at first with a big week ahead. In an eight-game span, South Carolina will face No. 5 UConn and No. 3 LSU, a pair of high-profile games could expose any flaw – or show how powerful the Gamecocks are in chasing a second straight NCAA crown.

UCONN KARMA

South Carolina has opened 22-0 twice under coach Dawn Staley, in 2014-15 and the following year. Both runs ended against UConn. Next up for Gamecocks are the Huskies, although South Carolina has won three of the past four games over UConn including last April’s 64-49 victory to win the NCAA Tournament title.

UP NEXT

Kentucky returns home to face Alabama on Feb. 9.

South Carolina heads to No. 5 UConn on Sunday.

Miles, Citron lead No. 9 Irish past Boston College 72-59

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BOSTON — Olivia Miles and Sonia Citron had already scored 10 straight points to put away Boston College when they turned their attention to other things.

“I told Sonia I needed two more assists for the double-double. And she was like, `All right, I’ve got you,”‘ Miles said after helping No. 9 Notre Dame beat BC 72-59 on Thursday night.

“That’s just kind of our communication on the court,” said Miles, who found Citron for baskets on the next two Irish possessions to complete a 14-0 run – with all 14 points from Miles and Citron. “We just really play off each other really well.

Miles scored 22 points with 10 assists and eight rebounds, and Citron scored 23 for the Irish (18-2, 9-1 Atlantic Coast Conference).

Maria Gakdeng scored 16 points, T’Yana Todd had 13 and Andrea Daly scored 10 with eight rebounds for BC (14-11, 4-8). The Irish beat BC at home 85-48 on New Year’s Day but hadn’t won in Chestnut Hill since 2019.

“This is such a tough place to play,” said Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey, whose team faces No. 16 Duke next. “We’ll celebrate it until about 12:30, and then we’ve got film. Tomorrow we start focusing on Duke.”

BC came within five points, 55-50, before the Irish ran off 14 points in a row – nine by Citron, and five by Miles. That put an end to what had been a back-and-forth game in which the Irish opened big leads and then frittered them away.

“I always feel like we’re close,” BC coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee said. “They’re young; I think consistency comes with experience.

“I think it’s a big improvement from the first time we played Notre Dame,” she said. “I still want to see more, and I want to see us grow up as fast as humanly possible because I think we do have a dangerous team when we going well.”

Notre Dame led by 11 in the first quarter and held a 38-30 lead with two minutes gone in the third. BC scored 13 of the next 18 points, capitalizing on back-to-back Irish turnovers to tie it 43-all with three minutes left in the quarter.

But Natalija Marshall put back the rebound of her own miss, Miles drove to the basket, Maddy Westbeld added a pair of baskets and then Miles stole the ball and found Citron on the fast break to make it 53-43.

BIG PICTURE

Notre Dame bounced back from their first league loss of the season, a 69-65 defeat at North Carolina State on Sunday. Now they face No. 16 Duke.

The Eagles, who beat Pittsburgh on Sunday to snap a five-game losing streak, were looking for their second victory over a Top 25 team this season, having also beaten then-No. 10 N.C. State on Jan. 5.

UP NEXT

Notre Dame: Hosts No. 16 Duke on Sunday.

Boston College: Visits Syracuse on Sunday.

No. 16 Xavier beats No. 17 Providence 85-83 in OT thriller

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Kareem Elgazzar/USA TODAY NETWORK
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CINCINNATI — Jack Nunge had 23 points and 14 rebounds as No. 16 Xavier held off No. 17 Providence 85-83 in an overtime thriller Wednesday night.

Colby Jones and Souley Boum each scored 20 for the Musketeers, who won a first-place showdown in the Big East without injured forward Zach Freemantle.

Noah Locke had 22 points and Ed Croswell added 21 for Providence (17-6, 9-3), which had beaten Xavier three straight times.

A layup by Boum put the Musketeers (18-5, 10-2) ahead 82-79 with 51 seconds remaining in overtime. A turnover by the Musketeers led to a layup by Devin Carter that cut Xavier’s lead to one with 24 seconds left.

Boum hit one of two free throws, and Jared Bynum’s 3-point attempt from the left corner rimmed out at the buzzer as the Musketeers held on.

Xavier played its first game without Freemantle, the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer. He is expected to miss four weeks with a left foot injury, the same foot that required surgery in 2021.

Jerome Hunter, who has excelled off the bench for the Musketeers, made his first start of the season and scored nine points with eight rebounds. Xavier had used the same starting lineup in each of its previous 11 Big East games.

Things started well for the Musketeers. who went on a 12-1 run to build a 25-11 lead.

With Boum on the bench with two fouls, the Musketeers didn’t have a field goal in the final 4:18 of the first half and the Friars pulled to 39-35 at halftime.

Providence outscored Xavier 8-2 to start the second half and took its first lead, 43-41, with 17:41 left.

There was a frantic finish to the second half, with Adam Kunkel’s 3-pointer putting Xavier ahead 76-73 with 55 seconds left. But then Bynum banked in a tying 3 and Boum missed two long shots to send the game to overtime.

BIG PICTURE

Providence: The Friars, who won their first Big East regular-season title last year, entered the night tied atop the conference standings with Xavier and No. 14 Marquette, which hosted Villanova later. Providence was picked fifth in the preseason.

Xavier: Hunter, who averages 14 minutes, left with three minutes remaining in OT with an apparent cramp in his right leg. With Freemantle out, Hunter played 36 minutes.

UP NEXT

Providence: Hosts last-place Georgetown on Wednesday.

Xavier: Will host St. John’s on Saturday.