Conference Catchup: Does Kansas finally relinquish control of the Big 12?

source: AP
Georges Niang (AP)

College basketball’s non-conference season is coming to a close, and to help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason primers to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.

MORE: All of CBT’s Conference Catchups

Today, we’ll be taking a look at the Big 12.

MIDSEASON BIG 12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Georges Niang, Iowa State

In-part because of an offseason body transformation, the junior is playing very efficient basketball for a very good Iowa State team. Niang is taking fewer shots this season but averaging nearly the same in terms of points because he’s increased his shooting percentages to 52 percent from the field, 38 percent from three-point range and 86 percent from the free-throw line. Niang has also improved his rebound (5.4 per game) and assist (3.9 per game) numbers this season and he’s improved on the defensive end because he’s laterally quicker and stays engaged for longer stretches of time.


  • Georges Niang, Iowa State
  • Jonathan Holmes, Texas – The senior forward isn’t putting up gigantic numbers, but he’s stepped up his play in big-game situations while also sacrificing minutes because of Texas’ tremendous front court depth. When point guard Isaiah Taylor went down, Holmes stepped up, and he looked like the best player in the 2K Sports Classic before a game-winning shot on the road at UConn.
  • Le’Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State – With the loss of Marcus Smart and Markel Brown, the Cowboys could have been really mediocre, but Nash is averaging a conference-leading 17.9 points per game to go along with 6.5 rebounds per game. His low point total on the season is 13 and the senior has been consistent all season scoring and getting a high number of free-throw attempts. Without him, Oklahoma State is not even close to 10-2.
  • Buddy Hield, Oklahoma – A brief slump pushed the junior’s field goal percentages down a little bit, but he’s still Oklahoma’s go-to scorer and one of the toughest assignments on the perimeter in college basketball. Hield is averaging 15.7 points, 5 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game and gives the Sooner big men a lot of space to operate.
  • Juwan Staten, West Virginia – While his numbers have gone down a bit from a remarkable 2013-14 campaign, Staten is still the senior point guard that makes West Virginia go. The Mountaineers are 12-1 as Staten is averaging 16.1 points, 4.2 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game while also being apart of a tenacious West Virginia defense.


1. The Big 12 once again looks very deep: As we enter the New Year, the Big 12 once again looks tough from top-to-bottom. This is a league that could clean up on NCAA Tournament bids this season with other leagues like the Pac-12, SEC and AAC struggling for depth. Six teams are ranked in the top 25 as we enter 2015 and that doesn’t even include unbeaten TCU. With a 10-team league and a true home/road conference schedule, things are going to be very interesting in the Big 12 this conference season.

2. Kansas is still trying to forge an identity: We can tell Kansas has talent and we know they have depth in the front court, but this team is still trying to find a go-to player and a consistent source of toughness. The Jayhawks have also received inconsistent play at some point this season from nearly every player on the roster as they scramble for leadership as well. Talented freshman wing Kelly Oubre “solidified” a spot in the starting lineup just this week and he’s the team’s most talented player. If Oubre can settle in as a go-to guy and Kansas finds consistent toughness and leadership, they should be just fine.

3. West Virginia is back: Winning the Puerto Rico Tip-Off and head coach Bob Huggins publicly ripping an opposing coach shows that the Mountaineers mean business this season. We already knew that point guard Juwan Staten was a serious conference player of the year candidate entering 2014-15, but he’s now surrounded by a lot of tough-minded players who wreck havoc on the defensive end. West Virginia has an astounding nine different players averaging at least one steal a game right now. Jonathan Holton looks like one of the best defenders in the Big 12, and Devin Williams one of the best rebounders. As long as the bench continues to play well, and Staten has continued help, West Virginia should be back in the NCAA Tournament.


1. Does Kansas continue its streak of Big 12 titles? It’s been a decade of dominance for the Jayhawks in the Big 12 as they’ve won an astounding 10 consecutive conference regular-season championships. Kansas is also the only program from the Big 12 to reach the Final Four in the last decade and they’ve done it twice, in 2008 and 2012. But this year’s team has struggled to figure out what makes them go and they’ve looked very lost at times early this season. Kansas has good wins over Michigan State, Florida, Georgetown and Utah (in consecutive games), but they’ve also been completely blown out by Kentucky and Temple. The Kentucky loss was concerning, but the Temple loss was tough to stomach. The Jayhawks continued to at least put up a fight against Kentucky, but they just stopped competing in the loss at Temple. How is Kansas going to fare in tough Big 12 road games when everyone in the league is gunning for their spot at the top?

2. How does Texas look with the return of Isaiah Taylor? Texas has stayed in the top 25 this season despite the loss of starting point guard Isaiah Taylor. The sophomore played in three games this season before going down with a wrist injury in a win over Iowa. Since then, the Longhorns have still played pretty well, going 8-2 in his absence with losses only coming at Kentucky and in overtime against Stanford. Texas has shown that its front court is one of the best in the country in terms of overall talent and depth, and the return of a dynamic guard like Taylor should help the Longhorns significantly. With a healthy Taylor, Texas has a Final Four ceiling.

3. What makes this Baylor team tickI’ve had some discussions about Baylor with my CBT colleague Rob Dauster and of all of the top-25 teams, we just can’t seem to get a great feel for the Bears. Who are they? They’re off to an impressive 11-1 start, but they don’t have any eye-popping wins yet — just a lot of solid ones. Baylor doesn’t have any star power, but they have a roster built on specialists who seem to mesh well together. Taurean Prince and Royce O’Neale are both in the top four in the conference in 3-point percentage. Rico Gathers and Jonathan Motley clean up the misses and both rank in the top five in the league in offensive boards per game. Lestor Medford and Kenny Chery both set up other players with assists. O’Neale has been the team’s most complete all-around player, but it seems as though Baylor has its players focusing on their main strengths and they’re succeeding early because of it.


1. Texas wins the Big 12: With Isaiah Taylor returning, Texas has a superior point guard and a superior front court to Kansas this season. The interior combination of Jonathan Holmes, Myles Turner, Cameron Ridley, Connor Lammert and Prince Ibeh is as solid as any front court group in the country outside of Lexington and should give the Big 12 some major issues this season. With Holmes and Turner both shooting at or above 40 percent from three-point range, this team is really tough to defend and they will add another gear with Taylor’s ability to touch the paint with the ball in his hands.

2. A few teams will emerge as Final Four contenders: The Big 12 has been dominated by Kansas for the last decade, but outside of the Jayhawks, there are a few other teams that should be in the Final Four conversation this season. Texas is a serious contender to reach Indianapolis. Oklahoma received a lot of preseason love as a darkhorse to reach Indy as well. Iowa State once again looks like a credible threat as Georges Niang continues to look great and he’s surrounded by a balanced and talented team that can really score. And you can’t count out the Jayhawks just yet. That four-game win streak earlier in the season was NCAA Tournament caliber and Bill Self knows how to get his team clicking heading into conference season. Don’t be surprised if the Big 12 has a representative in Indianapolis in a few months.

3. TCU misses the NCAA Tournament despite a 13-0 start: Sure, TCU is 13-0 and one of the last unbeatens left in college basketball. Trent Johnson deserves credit for winning every game and giving the Horned Frogs a respectable start and Kyan Anderson and Kenrich Williams are a decent top two, but this team hasn’t played anybody good. TCU hasn’t played a top-50 opponent and their non-conference strength of schedule ranks 347 out of 351. They’ve at least played all Division I opponents, but only three of those wins are against teams in the top 150. They’re just not ready to run the gauntlet of great teams in the Big 12. I think they falter in a big way and miss the NCAA Tournament.


NCAA: Texas, Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Baylor

NIT/CBI: Kansas State, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas Tech 

Houston-Miami matchup a battle for respect

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Top-seeded Houston is in the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament, but the Cougars don’t feel they receive the proper respect.

Heading into the second weekend of the tournament, that feeling lingers despite the Cougars being just one victory away from their third straight Elite Eight appearance.

“A lot of people were pushing for us to lose,” Houston guard Tramon Mark said. “They didn’t believe we were a real 1 seed because of the conference (American Athletic) we play in. But I think we’re one of the best teams in the country still, and we proved it.”

The Cougars (33-3) look to take the next step when they battle fifth-seeded Miami (27-7) on Friday night in Midwest Region play in Kansas City, Mo.

Houston spent the entire season near the top of the national rankings and surely isn’t a surprise Sweet 16 participant.

“I put ourselves in a whole different category,” forward J’Wan Roberts said. “I don’t compare us to other teams. We just stick to what we do, and it shows. Other No. 1 teams got beat, but we didn’t.”

The Cougars and Alabama are the No. 1 seeds still playing. Purdue lost in the opening round and Kansas fell in the second.

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson tries to simplify the approach during March Madness.

“We’ve been here many times in the final 16,” Sampson said. “The next 40 minutes are going to be big. We’ve got to find a way to get the next 40 minutes, and then we’ll move on from there. If not, it’s over.”

Star guard Marcus Sasser (groin) is still gimpy despite scoring 22 points in Saturday’s 81-64 win over Auburn. On Thursday, Sasser proclaimed he will be “around 90 percent” for the game. Teammate Jamal Shead (knee) said he is 100 percent recovered.

Mark scored a career-high 26 points against Auburn.

The Hurricanes are in the Sweet 16 in consecutive seasons for the first time in program history. Last season, they reached the Elite Eight before being routed 76-50 by eventual national champion Kansas.

Star guard Isaiah Wong said it is a great era for the Hurricanes, who are just two victories away from matching the school record.

“It’s just an honor being part of this program, with the history we have,” Wong said. “We have a great team this year and last year too, and I feel like it’s great to see how we came up.

“My first year we wasn’t as good, but for the last two years, we’re going to the Sweet 16, and last year the Elite Eight.”

Still, guard Jordan Miller said that Miami also doesn’t receive the level of respect it should.

“I wouldn’t say underappreciated, but at the end of the day, all we can do is just come out and win basketball games,” Miller said. “I feel like winning a game in itself is a way to get recognition. We’re going to the Sweet 16. That’s a lot of recognition. We don’t necessarily care about what the media says.”

Wong averages a team-best 16.1 points and Miller is right behind at 15.1 Nijel Pack and Norchad Omier both average 13.4 points with the latter collecting a team-leading 10.1 rebounds per game.

Omier grabbed 17 rebounds in Sunday’s 85-69 victory over Indiana. That was a program record for boards in an NCAA Tournament game, surpassing the 14 he collected two nights earlier in a 63-56 victory over Drake.

“If I’m being honest, I really don’t know,” Omier said of his success. “I just like playing with my teammates. They always motivate me to go do what I love to do, and I love rebounding.”

Wong scored 27 points against Indiana.

Miami guard Wooga Poplar, who injured his back against Indiana, has yet to be cleared but will be in the starting lineup if he can play.

Houston holds a 9-5 series edge over Miami but the schools haven’t met in 52 years.

The winner faces either second-seeded Texas or third-seeded Xavier in Sunday’s regional final.

Punch thrown following Bowling Green-Memphis WNIT game

Chris Day/The Commercial Appeal / USA TODAY NETWORK

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio – A confrontation between two players in the postgame handshake line following Bowling Green’s win over Memphis on Thursday night in the Women’s NIT has been referred to campus police.

As the teams walked toward center court following Bowling Green’s 73-60 win in the Round of 16 game, Memphis’ Jamirah Shutes stopped to talk with Falcons’ player Elissa Brett. After a short conversation, Shutes appears to throw a punch at Brett’s face. Brett fell toward the scorer’s table and onto the sideline.

There was no immediate word about what caused the confrontation or if any player was seriously injured.

Bowling Green said in a statement that the incident is in the hands of the campus police.

“The incident that took place following tonight’s home WNIT game has been turned over to the BGSU Police Department,” the school said. “Bowling Green State University Athletics does not make comments about active police investigations. Our priority is with the health, safety and support of our student-athletes.”

Bowling Green coach Robyn Fralich didn’t directly comment on the incident after the game, saying only that they were “figuring all those things out,” as far as what happened in the handshake line.

Memphis’ office of sports information didn’t immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press seeking comment.

The Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper reported that Shutes, who leads the Tigers in scoring, took an elbow to her face with 24 seconds left in the opening quarter and played just eight minutes in the first half. She returned to start the second half.

Shutes, a fifth-year player who finished with 13 points in her final game with the Tigers, was a second-team All-AAC selection this season.

Brett scored 15 points in the win.

South Carolina’s leading scorer Jackson heads to NBA draft

Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina leading scorer Gregory “GG” Jackson II said Friday that he’s entering the NBA draft after one season in college.

The 6-foot-9 freshman said on Instagram Live that his year in college with the Gamecocks helped him mature.

“Now, I’m declaring for the NBA draft, just like that,” he said.

Jackson, 18, is projected as a mid-first round selection.

He started 29 of 32 games for the 11-21 Gamecocks, averaging a team-high 15.4 points a game. He also led South Carolina with 26 blocks and 24 steals.

Jackson, from Columbia, was rated the No. 1 college prospect in 2023. But he reclassified to join his hometown team and first-year coach Lamont Paris.

Gonzaga beats UCLA 79-76 in Sweet 16 on Julian Strawther’s late 3-pointer

Gonzaga's Malachi Smith
USA Today
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LAS VEGAS — Gonzaga and UCLA played one NCAA Tournament game that left the Zags’ star player bawling, and another game that stunned the Bruins.

Add another to the list. Maybe the maddest one in March yet.

Julian Strawther hit a 3-pointer with 7.2 seconds left to answer a 3-pointer by UCLA’s Amari Bailey, lifting Gonzaga to a wild 79-76 win over UCLA Thursday night in the Sweet 16.

“It’s moments like that you can’t make up,” said Strawther, a Las Vegas native. “Those are literally the moments you dream of. To even make a shot like that in March Madness and just to be back home in Vegas is like the cherry on top.”

The Bruins (31-6), the West Region’s No. 2 seed, stormed back from an eight-point deficit in the final 1:05 and took a 76-75 lead on Bailey’s 3-pointer with 12.2 seconds left.

The Zags (31-5) brought the ball up the floor and Strawther stepped into a 3-pointer after a drop pass from Hunter Sallis, sending Gonzaga fans to their feet.

“As soon as it came off, it looked like it was on line,” Strawther said.

The Zags still had to sweat it out.

Gonzaga’s Malachi Smith stole the ball from UCLA’s Tyger Campbell, but Strawther only hit 1 of 2 free throws at the other end, giving the Bruins a chance.

Campbell’s 3-pointer at the buzzer hit the back of the rim, sending the Zags rushing off the bench and into the Elite Eight against UConn on Saturday while leaving the Bruins disappointed again.

“Every game, try not to get too high, try not to get too low,” said UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez, who had 29 points and 11 rebounds. “He hit a big shot and we lost.”

Strawther’s shot was reminiscent of the one Villanova’s Kris Jenkins made off a drop pass to clinch the 2016 national championship – a shot that came after North Carolina’s Marcus Paige hit an off-balance 3-pointer with 4.7 seconds left.

There’s a reason it looked familiar.

“That’s Jay Wright’s play that he used in Villanova-Carolina, the championship,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “That’s what we call it. He makes it all the time.”

It also is the latest chapter in what’s become the best West Coast rivalry in college basketball.

UCLA got the better of the teams’ first NCAA Tournament go-around, rallying from 17 points down to send the Zags out of the 2006 bracket and star Adam Morrison to the floor crying.

Jalen Suggs crushed the Bruins the last time, hitting a running 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the Zags to the 2021 national championship game.

“I can’t even describe what he did. It’s crazy,” Gonzaga’s Drew Timme said of Strawther’s game-winner. “It’s just like that Jalen shot, man.”

Timme had 36 points for his record 10th NCAA Tournament game with 20 points.

The flurry of a finish started off more like a prize fight, each team taking its turn landing blows in a game of wild swings.

UCLA led by 13 at the half, but went on an 11-minute field goal drought as Gonzaga went up by 10 with 2:40 left. The Bruins took their rally turn and retook the lead, but left Gonzaga with too much time on the clock.

“We should have been tighter on Strawther,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “We were the whole game. We just weren’t on that play. If we were tighter then he couldn’t have looped behind.”

Timme kept Gonzaga in it during UCLA’s torrid first half and Gonzaga’s porous first-half defense tightened in the second, giving them a seven-point lead with 53 seconds left.

Jaquez brought the Bruins back in his final college game.

The Pac-12 player of the year scored on a three-point play and a layup to cut it 74-71 with 45 seconds left. Timme then missed two free throws, setting up Bailey’s shot.

Thankfully for the Zags, Strawther was on the mark with his long 3-pointer and Campbell was off the mark on his, sending Gonzaga to the Elite Eight for the fifth time under Few.

Florida Atlantic makes first Elite Eight, bounces Tennessee

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Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — Florida Atlantic, playing in just its second NCAA Tournament, moved within a victory of the Final Four by using a second-half push led by Michael Forrest to beat fourth-seeded Tennessee 62-55 on Thursday night.

The ninth-seeded Owls (34-3) will play third-seeded Kansas State in the East Region final at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.

Even before the tournament started, this was the unquestionably the greatest season in FAU history. Now it the Owls are one of the biggest stories in all of sports.

Johnell Davis led the Owls with 15 points and Forrest finished with 11, eight in a crucial second-half run where FAU took control.

The Volunteers (25-11), who were looking for just the second Elite Eight appearance in program history, shot just 33% – including 6 of 23 from 3-point range. Josiah-Jordan James and Jonas Aidoo scored 10 points apiece.


The Owls have never played Kansas State.