2014-15 Season Preview: Kansas will have competition atop Big 12

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Wayne Selden, Jr. (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we will be previewing the Big 12.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

The last time that Kansas did not win at least a share of the Big 12 regular season title was Bill Self’s first season with the Jayhawks. That was back in 2004, when the Big 12 still had 12 teams and the likes of Texas A&M, Colorado, Nebraska and Missouri were still playing in a league that made geographic sense. The Jayhawks finished second that season, two games behind an Oklahoma State team coached by Eddie Sutton and led by now-grizzled Grizzly veteran Tony Allen.

Kansas will, once again, be the favorite to win the league’s regular season title, but it won’t be a cakewalk, as there are four other teams in the league very capable of taking home a regular season title.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

For the first time in a long time, the same ten teams that ended last season in the Big 12 will begin next year in the league as well.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. Kansas reloads … again. But there are questions at the point … again: The Jayhawks lost two players that were picked in the top three of the 2014 NBA Draft and they could end up being better this season than they were last season. Part of that is the addition Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander, and part of that is that Wayne Selden will be healthy. Throw in Perry Ellis, and that’s four guys that can be first team All-Big 12 players this season. But as has been the case since Sherron Collins graduated, the Jayhawks will have point guard question marks. Can Devonte’ Graham or Frank Mason take ownership of the role?

2. But that doesn’t mean the road to Title XI will be easy: Kansas may be the favorite, but there are four other teams capable of winning the Big 12 title. Texas and Iowa State are probably the Jayhawks’ two biggest contenders. Texas returns essentially their entire roster from last year’s tournament team, adding a top ten recruit in Myles Turner to the mix. The Longhorns have a massive front line and one of the nation’s best point guards in sophomore Isaiah Taylor. The question will be how Rick Barnes will get Turner on the floor at the same time as Cam Ridley and Johnathan Holmes.

The Cyclones will be led by Georges Niang, but he’s a known quantity at this point. Iowa State’s three keys are players that are more of a question mark. Monte’ Morris was sensational in limited minutes as a freshman, but how good will he be in a full-time point guard role? Bryce Dejean-Jones has the talent to be a star, but he’s never had the shot selection to play like it. And Jameel McKay can be the rim-protector that Fred Hoiberg has lacked in his tenure in Ames, but what kind of impact will he have when he gets eligible in December?

3. Tashawn Thomas will be the x-factor in the league race: As far as Oklahoma is concerned, their back court of Buddy Hield, Jordan Woodard and Isiah Cousins is loaded. Ryan Spangler is one of the most underrated big men in the country. That’s enough to make them a top 25 team. But if Houston transfer Tashawn Thomas gets a waiver to be eligible immediately, than the Sooners are a legitimate Big 12 title contender and a team that will look more like a Final Four contender than a Sweet 16 candidate.

4. No. 2 on that list? Kansas State’s transfers: We know about Marcus Foster, and we know that one of Nigel Johnson or Jevon Thomas will need to own that point guard role. But the key to the season will be their three transfers: Stephen Hurt, Brandon Bolden and Justin Edwards. Edwards is a high-flying wing that can score in bunches and would be a nice compliment to Foster, while Hurt and Bolden will provide the kind of height in the paint the Wildcats have lacked in recent years.

source: AP
Juwan Staten (AP Photo)

5. There may not be a league with more individual talent in the country: And that’s despite losing Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Marcus Smart, Deandre Kane and Isaiah Austin. Kansas has their Big Four. Niang, Hield and Foster could both end up being first-team all-americans. Taylor and Holmes were the stars for Texas last season, and freshman Turner could end up being their best player this season. And all this ignores the fact that Juwan Staten will be the league’s Preseason Player of the Year.

PRESEASON BIG 12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Juwan Staten, West Virginia

Staten was one of the nation’s most improved players in the country a season ago, averaging 18.1 points, 5.8 assists and 5.6 boards as a junior after spending his sophomore year as “just a guy”. The Mountaineers lose some key pieces from last year’s team, meaning that the 5-foot-11 Staten is going to have his work cut out for him if he wants to play in the NCAA tournament as a senior, but that shouldn’t take away from just how talented of a player he is.

THE REST OF THE ALL-BIG 12 FIRST TEAM:

  • Georges Niang, Iowa State, Jr.: Niang has cut 25 pounds this offseason, meaning one of the toughest matchups in the country will be that much better offensively.
  • Buddy Hield, Oklahoma, Jr.: Hield developed a reputation for being one of the league’s best perimeter defenders as a freshman. As a sophomore, he averaged 16.4 points. What comes next this season?
  • Marcus Foster, Kansas State, So.: Foster was one of the nation’s biggest surprises as a freshman last season. He’ll spend more time with the ball in his hands this year.
  • Perry Ellis, Kansas, Jr.: Once again, Ellis will watch as his teammates — Kelly Oubre, Cliff Alexander, Wayne Selden — get more acclaim, but don’t be surprised when he ends up as the leading Jayhawk scorer this season.

SIX MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Isaiah Taylor, Texas, So.
  • Kenny Chery, Baylor, Sr.
  • Cliff Alexander, Kansas, Fr.
  • Kelly Oubre, Kansas, Fr.
  • Wayne Selden, Kansas, So.
  • Johnathan Holmes, Texas, Sr.

BREAKOUT STAR: The popular pick here is going to be Monte’ Morris; we were on that bandwagon when we picked him for this list, so we’ll give you another option here. Last season, Wayne Selden spent much of the year overshadowed by fellow freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid while he tried to battle through a knee issue that limited his explosiveness. Well, he underwent a procedure this summer on that balky knee and is now back to 100% healthy. With the amount of talent that the Jayhawks have on their roster, Selden’s season long numbers may not look like Marcus Foster’s or Juwan Staten’s, but don’t be surprised if he becomes one of the nation’s best off-guards.

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Travis Ford (Getty Images)

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Last year was the year for Oklahoma State to be a serious contender. Not only did they get a gift with Marcus Smart returning for his sophomore season, but they teamed him up with Markel Brown, Le’Bryan Nash and a roster full of quality role players. But Michael Cobbins blew his achilles tendon, Stevie Clark got himself thrown off the team and Smart spent the season out of control, resulting in a No. 9 seed in the tournament and an opening round exit. Travis Ford has a massive buyout, but that doesn’t mean that his job is safe.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : There’s a chance that three or four Big 12 teams end up in the Final Four.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT … : The fact that the Big 12 is the lone power conference that still plays a double round-robin. Home-and-homes for the top five teams in this league will be fun.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • Nov. 18th, Kansas vs. Kentucky (Champions Classic)
  • Nov. 26th, Oklahoma at UCLA
  • Nov. 30th, Texas at UConn
  • Dec. 5th, Texas at Kentucky (SEC/Big 12 Challenge)
  • Dec. 5th, Florida at Kansas (SEC/Big 12 Challenge)

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @FranFraschilla

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Kansas: The Jayhawks are the most talented team in the league despite the fact that they lost two players that were picked in the top three of the 2014 NBA Draft.
2. Texas: The Longhorns have the best front line in the conference, and maybe the best front line in the country outside of Kentucky. Johnathan Holmes play at the three will be the x-factor.
3. Iowa State: The Cyclones could push for a league title if three things happen: Monte’ Morris pans out, Bryce Dejean-Jones buys in and Jameel McKay is a defensive difference-maker.
4. Oklahoma: This is assuming Tashawn Thomas is not given a waiver to play immediately. If he does get a waiver, the Sooners jump up to No. 2.
5. Kansas State: Marcus Foster is one of the best players in the conference, but question marks at the point and at center limit their upside.
6. Baylor: The Bears lost Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson, but Kenny Chery should be able to lead this group back to the NCAA tournament.
7. West Virginia: Getting Juwan Staten back for his senior season was huge, but losing Eron Harris hurt quite a bit as well.
8. Oklahoma State: Everything all falls on Le’Bryan Nash this season. Can he carry the load.
9. TCU: Kyan Anderson, Amric Fields, Trey Zeigler, Devonta Abron, Karviar Shepard, Chris Washburn. There is talent on this roster.
10. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders snuck up on some people last year, but after losing four of their top five scorers, they’ll have to prove it again this season.

Thursday’s Things to Know: Struggles continue for Pac-12, Georgetown picks up a big win and a wedgie rescues Notre Dame

Michael Caterina/South Bend Tribune via AP
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There weren’t any matchups between top-25 teams Thursday night, with the main November events still a week away, but there is plenty to discuss from around the country. Here’s what you need to know.

Another rough night for the Pac-12

It’s rather amazing how poor the Pac-12 continues to perform. The league managed to get just three teams into the NCAA tournament in each of the last two years. But things have been pretty dire since the league expanded ahead of the 2011-12 season. That year the league’s regular-season champion, Washington, didn’t even make the tournament, though Cal (a 12 seed) and Colorado (11) did. That’s it.

Things have, admittedly, improved since then, but that was really the only direction to head, right? Only three times in the last eight years has the conference gotten more than four teams into the tournament. The Pac-12, which as a reminder is a Power 5 conference, has only been ranked as a top-five conference nationally on KenPom three times in the last eight years.

There isn’t much in the way of expectation for the league this season, certainly past the quartet of Oregon, Colorado, Arizona and Washington. Still, though, nights like Thursday are difficult to watch.

It was an awful evening for the Pac-12, with Washington State blowing a 15-point lead at home in an eventual 85-77 loss to Omaha of the Summit League, Utah getting blasted 79-55 by the Sun Belt’s Coastal Carolina in the Myrtle Beach Classic and Cal getting demolished by top-ranked Duke, 87-52. Arizona was the bright spot of the night, and the Wildcats needed to overcome a halftime deficit to beat South Dakota State in Tucson.

Obviously, none of those three teams which lost Thursday were expected to carry the Pac-12 banner this season and 12-team leagues are going to inevitably have some bad teams every season, but, my goodness, is there a better distillation of the overall health of the league’s basketball than a night like this?

Cal was miles away from being able to compete with the Blue Devils while both the Cougars and Utes couldn’t even hang with teams from so-so mid-major conferences. It’s a league whose best teams can compete against the country’s best, but has almost no meaningful depth beyond that thin upper crust.

The Pac-12 has had just one Final Four team since its expansion, with Oregon getting there in 2017. That ties the conference with the Missouri Valley over that same period. Some of it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the vast majority of the Pac-12 is no good, it makes building an NCAA resume for its good teams more difficult, leaving them with more difficult NCAA tournament paths. Maybe that changes this year if undefeated starts for USC, Stanford and UCLA signal an improving middle class. Thursday’s results don’t signal good times on the horizon, though.

It’s just all around ugly for the Pac-12.

It’s bad news for people who like to stay up late watching west coast basketball, but it’s really bad news for a league whose genuine tradition slides further and further into memory with each passing season.

Georgetown lands a top-25 win

The first two years of the Patrick Ewing era at Georgetown have been encouraging, with the Hoyas improving both their overall and Big East win totals by four in Year 2 of the Hall of Famer’s return to his alma mater. It wasn’t enough to get the Hoyas even on to the NCAA bubble last year, though, thanks in part to a horribly weak non-conference schedule.

The Hoyas beefed up their early-season schedule this season, and just saw the first fruits of the decision.

Georgetown ran away from No. 22 Texas in an 82-66 victory at Madison Square Garden to land a potentially resume-booster four months before Selection Sunday.

Ewing has an interesting and talented team with the backcourt duo of James Akinjo and Mac McClung back for sophomore seasons and big man Omer Yurtseven eligible after sitting out last season following his transfer from NC State. Testing this group early is only going to pay dividends in the long-run.

Ewing’s first non-conference schedule was ranked 351st by KenPom and last year’s was only marginally better at 292. Now, the Hoyas have already faced Penn State and Texas, with Duke on a neutral floor coming Friday with a road swing at Oklahoma State and SMU on tap before Syracuse visits D.C.

That’s a real non-conference schedule. And Ewing might have the team to navigate it, with the destination ultimately being his first NCAA tournament appearance.

Notre Dame rides wedgie to win

There are fewer pure facepalm moments on a basketball court than when a player lodges a shot between the rim and the backboard. The wedgie, as it’s commonly known, is one of the game’s great quirks.

Maybe never, though, has the phenomenon been as welcomed as it was in South Bend on Thursday.

The wedgie helped Notre Dame pull itself out of a tight spot.

Down three, the Fighting Irish got a great look from distance, but TJ Gibbs’ attempt missed its mark. Had it been any normal carom, the game would have just ended with a Notre Dame home loss to Toledo. But no, my friends, Gibbs’ miss was not of the standard variety. It was, indeed, a wedgie. Which means a stopped clock and a jump ball, giving the ball back to Notre Dame with a second to play.

That set up Nat Laszewski’s overtime-forcing triple as time expired in regulation. Notre Dame went on to win, 64-62, in overtime.

Truly, a rescue wedgie.

Davide Moretti sparks No. 12 Texas Tech in 2nd Half of 72-57 Win

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LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — Davide Moretti scored 13 of his 19 points after halftime, including all four of his 3-pointers, and No. 12 Texas Tech finally pulled away for a 72-57 win over Tennessee State on Thursday night.

Freshmen Terrence Shannon Jr. and Jahmi’us Ramsey each scored 13 points for the Red Raiders (4-0).

The Red Raiders were only up by 35-32 with just under 12 minutes left, and Tennessee State (3-2) had just missed a potential tying 3-pointer, before Moretti sparked the home team. The guard, the only returning starter after Tech went to the national championship game last season, had a pair of 3-pointers in a 10-3 run. Tech added 11 points in a row soon after that.

The Red Raiders, who never trailed, ended up leading by as many as 18 points late despite shooting only 34% (17 of 50 field goals).

Ravel Moody had 12 points to lead Tennessee State, which shot 35% (18 of 51). Wesley Harris and Shakem Johnson each scored 10 points.

Kyler Edwards added 10 points for Texas Tech, making up for his 1-of-11 shooting from the field by making all eight of his free throws. Chris Clark was scoreless while taking only one shot in 26 minutes, but he had 12 rebounds and four assists.

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee State: The Tigers clawed all night against the reigning national runner-up. A bad shooting night by the Red Raiders kept the Tigers in the game, but fouls proved to be a key contributor to the loss. Tech made 32 of 38 free throws. Tennessee State faced tough competition in their first trip to Lubbock in history.

Texas Tech: An eight-day break for the Red Raiders may have been a factor in their slow night. Ramsey, the freshman who had gotten off to a tremendous start, was 4-of-13 shooting and missed all six of his 3-point attempts. Tech’s defense, on the other hand, showed different life with solid press, zone and man coverage.

UP NEXT

Tennessee State heads to the West Coast to take on San Diego State on Monday night.

Texas Tech hosts Long Island on Sunday before leaving the state of Texas for the first time. The Red Raiders will spend the Thanksgiving holiday playing two games in Las Vegas.

NCAA denies waiver appeal from Michigan State’s Joey Hauser

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EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was taught by his mentor, the late Jud Heathcote, to give back to the game by being part of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

The Hall of Famer is choosing not to do that anymore.

A frustrated Izzo said Thursday he was resigning from the NABC board of directors after nearly 18 years of service. He said he wanted to focus on his team and family, but he also blamed the NCAA for making what he called “arbitrary decisions” regarding waiver requests, including denying forward Joey Hauser’s appeal to play this season.

“Joey did have a strong case and I’m devasted,” Izzo said.

Hauser transferred from Marquette in May and requested a waiver from the NCAA to be eligible immediately instead of sitting out the season, per usual transfer rules. The NCAA recently changed its waiver policy to give more undergraduate transfers a chance to become immediately eligible to compete.

“We opened Pandora’s box and maybe it will never be shut,” Izzo said.

Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields is among the football players who received a waiver to play in 2019 after transferring following the 2018 season. Earlier this week, the NCAA cleared forward Gabe Osabuohien to play at West Virginia this season after approving his waiver request and TCU got a boost when Ohio State transfer Jaedon LeDee was granted a waiver.

Izzo did not reference any specific decision the NCAA has made, but he said the governing body is relying on people outside of the game to make critical decisions. He said he has tried to be a part of coming up with solutions as part of the NABC, but stepped down from his role because he is fed up.

“I just don’t believe I want to be dealing with these problems and banging my head against the wall,” he said.

Jim Haney, the longtime executive director of the NABC, said Izzo is not the only coach frustrated.

“There’s a lack of trust in terms of the process,” Haney said in a telephone interview. “Coaches look at stories about this kid becoming eligible immediately and then find out this kid is not and there’s a lot of uncertainty. Tom deeply cares about the game and is a great steward. When his frustration comes to the point that he wants to disengage from the conversation, I think that says something significant.”

A message seeking comment was left with the NCAA.

The 6-foot-9 Hauser, who is from Stevens Point, Wisconsin, averaged nearly 10 points and five-plus rebounds last season as a freshman.

The third-ranked Spartans play Virginia Tech next week in the Maui Invitational, where they will also face Dayton or Georgia and potentially No. 4 Kansas.

Patrick Ewing wins big again at MSG, Hoyas knock off No. 22 Texas

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NEW YORK (AP) — Mac McClung scored 19 points to help give coach Patrick Ewing another signature moment at Madison Square Garden, leading Georgetown to an 82-66 victory over No. 22 Texas on Thursday night.

The Hoyas (4-1) used a 12-0 run early in the second half that rallied the crowd and had “Let’s go Hoyas!” chants echoing throughout the arena. With his retired No. 33 New York Knicks jersey hanging in the rafters, Ewing helped orchestrate another wild one at his favorite arena.

The Hoyas are trying to make their first NCAA Tournament since 2015 and an early win over a Top 25 team could give that resume a boost.

Ewing walked on the court and waved his arms to implore the crowd to get louder in the waning moments.

That pose is a familiar sight around New York.

Ewing’s image is plastered inside and out at the Garden where he forged a Hall of Fame career. The most popular photo in the arena in one with his arms outstretched and his back toward the camera from the May 22, 1994, Game 7 win over the Chicago Bulls in the conference semis. His game-worn jersey and sneakers are encased in glass on the concourse. There’s photo of Ewing outside the Garden with his name in bold and the quote, “I always will be a Knick. And I will always be a New Yorker.”

The Knicks tweeted a photo montage of Ewing with the Hoyas and Knicks and wrote, “Pat comes full circle.”

New Yorkers and Georgetown fans haven’t forgotten the big man: Ewing walked off the court hugging and high-fiving fans on his way to the locker room.

Matt Coleman made all six 3-pointers and scored 22 points for the Longhorns (4-1). Texas lost with former Longhorn and injured Nets center Kevin Durant watching courtside. Former Longhorn and Nets center Jarrett Allen also rooted on Texas from a courtside seat.

Texas moved into the Top 25 this week at No. 22 with wins over California Baptist and Prairie View. The Longhorns are ranked for the first time this season and for the first time since November 2018.

The Hoyas made the charge to open the second half kept the pressure on to advance to the title game of the four-team tournament.

Ewing had beckoned Qudus Wahab up from the bench for a late first-half pep talk. Ewing had a few things to say to his 6-foot-11 freshman center and they ended the conversation with a fist bump.

Ewing’s motivation eventually worked on his big man. Wahab had a thunderous dunk for a 54-52 lead and the active Hoyas defensive forced another turnover under Texas’ basket. Ewing waved on the fast-break like a third base coach sending a runner home, and Terrell Allen scored to get the Garden fans up and going wild for the momentum shift. Ewing pumped his fist and the Hoyas were pushing for an upset.

The Longhorns shot only 37 percent from the floor and had 12 turnovers.

Jamorko Pickett scored 15 points and James Akinjo had 14 for the Hoyas.

BIG PICTURE

Georgetown: Former Hoyas star Alonzo Mourning was at the game to watch them knock off a ranked team for the third time under Ewing.

Texas: The Longhorns are sure to fall out of the Top 25 and now have to win a consolation game to salvage something out of their trip to New York.

UP NEXT

The Hoyas play the winner of No. 1 Duke vs. Cal on Friday in the 2K Empire Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project championship. Texas gets the loser of that game.

Tyrique Jones leads No. 18 Xavier To 73-51 victory over Towson

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Tyrique Jones had 12 points and 12 rebounds to lead No. 18 Xavier to a 73-51 victory over Towson on Thursday night in the Charleston Classic.

The Musketeers are 5-0 for the second time in three seasons and first time since 2018 when they won the Big East Conference regular-season title and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

This Xavier group just might have the pieces for another special season as long as Jones keeps playing like this. The dynamic 6-foot-9 senior had a rim-rattling jam early in the second half and finished with the second double-double of the season and 12th of his college career.

The Musketeers will face either Buffalo or UConn in the eight-team tournament Friday night for a spot in the championship game.

Xavier opened a double-digit lead with a 15-6 run midway through the opening half. Scruggs had a pair of baskets to start things, Dahmir Bishop hit a three, Scruggs added another bucket and Carter finished things with two fouls and an inside basket to put the Musketeers up 15-6.

The Tigers (2-3) struggled against Xavier’s relentless pressure, turning the ball over on three straight positions. They weren’t much more successful when they held onto the ball, going 1 of 14 from the field during one brutal stretch of the period.

Towson got a bit of a lift heading to the locker room as Jakigh Dottin made about a 35-footer as time ran out to draw his team to 31-20 at the break. Still, the Tigers could not get their shots to fall, finishing just 18-of-59 shooting (30.5 percent).

Jason Carter finished with 13 points and Bryce Moore added 12 points for Xavier, including a four-point play with 9:50 to go.

BIG PICTURE

Towson: The Tigers won’t be back home for a game until Dec. 10. They’ll be very used to each other after this seven-game stretch that started at with a loss at Florida a week ago and ends at Vermont on Dec. 7.

Xavier: The Musketeers first four wins all came at home and, while they were not all easy, there was a comfort to not leaving the gym. This week in Charleston is a big test for Xavier, which could wind up playing Florida or Miami in its tournament game Sunday night — either for third place or for its third in-season title in the past five seasons.

UP NEXT

Towson will play the Buffalo-UConn loser Friday.

Xavier will play the Buffalo-UConn winner Friday.