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Big 12 reset: Who makes a run at Kansas?

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College basketball’s non-conference season is finally coming to a close.

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 recaps to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.

Who has been the best player in the biggest leagues?

Who is on track to get an NCAA tournament bid?

What have we learned about the conference hierarchy?

What is still left for us to figure out?

We break it all down here.

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

MIDSEASON BIG 12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech

Losing Keenan Evans, who averaged 17.6 points per game, and Zhaire Smith, who went one-and-done as the 16th overall pick in June’s NBA draft, should have been a major setback for Texas Tech, but instead the Red Raiders are 11-1 and ranked 11th in the AP poll thanks in large part to Culver’s emergence as dominant force.

The 6-foot-5 sophomore has seamlessly moved into Evans’ role as the engine of Texas Tech’s offense, averaging 19.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game while shooting 56.3 percent overall and 45.2 percent from 3-point range. He’s got an offensive rating of 124.8 with a usage rate of 30 percent. He’s high-volume and high-efficiency while also getting his teammates involved with a 31.8 percent assist rate. If Texas Tech is the team to finally stop Kansas’ run atop the league, Culver will be a massive reason why.

THE ALL BIG 12 FIRST TEAM

  • JARRETT CULVER, TEXAS TECH
  • MARIAL SHAYOK, IOWA STATE: The Cyclones are a surprising 10-2 while weathering injuries and suspensions, and the Virginia transfer has played a big part. He left Tony Bennett’s program searching greener offensive pastures, and he’s now leading the Big 12 in scoring with 20.1 points per game.
  • DEDRIC LAWSON, KANSAS: The Memphis transfer has been as good as Kansas could have hoped as he’s averaging a double-double of 19.6 points and 10.8 rebounds while also dishing out 2.5 assists per game and shooting 51.8 percent from the floor.
  • LAGERALD VICK, KANSAS: Just a few months removed from essentially being cast out of the Jayhawk program, Vick has at times been a savior this season for Kansas. He’s single-handedly won them a couple of games, and is averaging 15.8 points while shooting 46.8 percent from 3-point range.
  • ALEX ROBINSON, TCU: The Horned Frog guard is averaging an eye-popping 8.6 assists per game while shooting 50 percent from the floor and 42.3 percent from 3-point range to average 13.1 points.

POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS

  • NCAA: Kansas, Texas Tech, Kansas State, TCU, Iowa State, Oklahoma, West Virginia
  • NIT: Texas, Baylor
  • OTHER/NO POSTSEASON: Oklahoma State
(Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

THREE THINGS WE’VE LEARNED

1. KANSAS HAS COMPETITION

Kansas is probably going to win the league because that’s what they do every year, but it may not be as easy as it looked back in October. Texas Tech is thoroughly legit, having racked up 11 wins and pushing Duke to the brink on a neutral floor. The Red Raiders are, at the moment, the clearest and best threat to the Jayhawks’ supremacy in the Big 12 thanks to Jarrett Culver’s emergence and Chris Beard continuing to prove himself one of the country’s most capable coaches.

The Red Raiders aren’t alone, though. Kansas State hasn’t been great, but if Dean Wade comes back from a foot injury sooner than later, the Wildcats have experience, continuity and talent. Jamie Dixon has TCU rolling, and the Horned Frogs are better than most think while Oklahoma looks surprisingly strong. Then there’s Iowa State, which has been really good despite Lindell Wigginton playing in essentially just one game, and has Hilton Coliseum homecourt advantage to lean on.

Sure, Kansas is going to win, but it might be pretty interesting along the way.

2. CHRIS BEARD HAS TEXAS TECH IN IT FOR THE LONG HAUL

Situated out in west Texas in Lubbock, Texas Tech is a helluva tough job. There’s little-to-no tradition, little natural recruiting and a landscape whose most interesting feature is often tumbleweeds (and I mean this very literally). Chris Beard, though, seems built to make it a winner. He calls that part of the world home and was a part of Bob Knight’s staff when Knight had the Raiders rolling.

He won big in his one season at Arkansas-Little Rock and then had Texas Tech in the tournament in Year 2. His teams are defensively elite, something that seems ideal for keeping Texas Tech relevant year in and year out. Maybe they can’t get guys like Jarrett Culver and Zhaire Smith every year – or maybe they can – but you can bet they’re gonna defend. Beard is the real deal.

3. TEXAS CONTINUES TO HAVE ISSUES

Shaka Smart waited out a job for Texas for four years after taking VCU to the Final Four, and the idea would be he’d instantly take his career to the next level at a Power 5 school, especially one with the resources likes Texas. It, uh, hasn’t gone like that.

Texas has unquestionably underachieved, and this year is shaping up to be the same. The Longhorns showed some promise with wins over North Carolina and Purdue, but those seem to be outweighed by losses to Radford, VCU and Providence (all three at home). Maybe the Longhorns figure it out and act like the team beating the likes of the Tar Heels and Boilermakers, but multiple bad losses like that make you wonder.

There is no wondering about what the problem is as it’s been the issue for much of Smart’s tenure in Austin. THe offense is ranked 100th in KenPom a year after slotting 89th and two years removed from registering 177th (they were 49th in Smart’s first year with Rick Barnes’ players). The defense has been very good, but if Texas can’t field a good-to-quite-good offense (which isn’t exactly asking a lot), it’s hard to see them breaking through in a meaningful way.

(Sam Wasson/Getty Images)

THREE STORYLINES TO FOLLOW

1. HOW GOOD IS KANSAS?

The thinking coming into the season was that Kansas was the best team in the country. They had returning contributors, top-flight transfers and top-rated recruits coming in. That cocktail of talent and experience in Lawrence usually means a special season is in the offing.

And the Jayhawks have really done nothing to dispel that notion, but…they haven’t exactly looked as good as you’d expect. They sleep walked through a game against Vermont, needed overtime to beat Stanford and had close calls against New Mexico State and VIllanova before losing at Arizona State. They’re 11-1 with some nice wins, but…something seems underwhelming. Maybe it was the high expectations. Maybe it’s Duke looking dominant from the start or Michigan being great or Gonzaga and Virginia looking awesome, too.

The Jayhawks are probably fine, but maybe they’re not great? Who knows? We’ll probably get an idea of it quickly in the Big 12, though.

2. IS OKLAHOMA FOR REAL?

Normally, you don’t lose a lottery pick – the nation’s leader in scoring and assists – and get better, but that may be the case for Oklahoma. Trae Young looked to be a generational player for the Sooners, a Norman native whose game was creative and dynamic, but Oklahoma faltered down the stretch, with that very style Young played taking much of the blame.

It’s probably not fair, but those detractors may have some evidence in their corner as the Sooners are suddenly thriving with an 11-1 record with Wisconsin on a neutral the only misstep. They’re doing it with defense and just enough offense while playing with pace. Maybe it’s a mirage, but the evidence is mounting that Lon Kruger’s team is for real.

3. HOW STRONG IS THE BOTTOM?

What’s separated the 10-team Big 12 from some of the country’s other top conferences in recent years is that the bottom of the league has been unlike other conferences – it’s been pretty good. As cliche as it sounds, there just haven’t been nights off in the Big 12.

Is that the case this year again?

Baylor has a couple nice wins, but some disconcerting losses as well. Oklahoma State looks like the likeliest culprit to drag down the league-wide RPI, though as they’ve already lost to the likes of Charlotte and Tulsa with Charleston and LSU their top-100 wins. As strange as it sounds, you’ve got to keep an eye on West Virginia as well given how uneven they’ve looked, though it’s hard to picture Bob Huggins’ program faltering quite like that.

Still, as far as cellars go, it could be rather formidable.

(Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

THREE PREDICTIONS

1. THEY’LL GET EIGHT BIDS

Yeah, I know, I only picked the league to get seven teams up above, but let’s get bold here. Assuming West Virginia gets things squared away and Texas starts looking more like a blue blood, there’s strong shot the conference gets 80 percent of its membership into the Big Dance. That’ll probably come on the heels of a lot of conference records hovering around .500, but the conference has built enough of a reputation that it wouldn’t be punished for mediocrity but rather for high-level parity.

2. KANSAS STATE UNDERWHELMS

Expectations were probably over-cooked for Bruce Weber’s team given they got to the Elite 8 largely thanks to a friendly path – shoutout to UMBC – after a so-so regular season. The Wildcats lost to the best team they’ve played – Marquette – and struggled against the likes of Southern Miss and George Mason (while losing to Tulsa). If Dean Wade missing a ton of time, Kansas State could tumble down the standings.

3. KANSAS’ STREAK FINALLY ENDS

No, it won’t. Maybe next year, everybody.

ACC coaches back idea of all D-I teams in 2021 NCAA tourney

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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RALEIGH, N.C. — Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball coaches are pushing the idea of having next year’s NCAA Tournament include all eligible teams in Division I.

Numerous league schools and coaches released statements Wednesday after the coaches held their weekly call to discuss the proposal, which was first reported by Stadium. There are 357 Division I programs in the country, with NCAA spokeswoman Meghan Durham saying 346 of those are eligible to play in next year’s tournament.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said the ACC coaches are “united in strongly pursuing this” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that led to the cancellation of last year’s NCAA Tournament days before the field of 68 was set to be revealed. Multiple coaches said creating an everybody-gets-in format would be an incentive for schools as they create the safest conditions possible for returning to play.

“This is not a regular season,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement. “It is clearly an irregular season that will require something different. Our sport needs to be agile and creative. Most importantly, an all-inclusive postseason tournament will allow a unique and unprecedented opportunity for every team and every student-athlete to compete for a national championship.”

Durham declined comment specifically on the proposal in an email to The Associated Press on Wednesday. Last month, NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt said the Division I oversight committees for men’s and women’s basketball planned to announce by mid-September plans for whether the season and preseason practice would start on time or require a delay due to the pandemic.

Louisville coach Chris Mack said the proposal would provide flexibility during the season without mandating a number of nonconference or conference games to be played. And the league has already experienced that scheduling challenge with football and other fall sports.

The ACC announced in July that it would have each football team play 10 league games – including the addition of Notre Dame as a football member this year – and one nonconference game to be played in the home state of the member school. Those schedules were released in early August, slightly more than a month before Thursday’s UAB-Miami game kicks off the season.

“This is a time to think differently,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said, adding: “After all these players have been through, what better way to reward them than the opportunity to compete in an unprecedented version of the most exciting event in sports.”

College basketball floats idea of bubbles for safe season

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The NBA bubble has held. So has the NHL’s double bubble. The WNBA and MLS, no leaks.

In this unprecedented landscape of sports in a pandemic world, one indisputable fact has emerged: bubbles work.

Thousands of tests, minimal to no positive COVID-19 test results.

So as the NCAA gets set announce its plans for the 2020-21 college basketball season, there are clear precedents and blueprints in place should it decide to go the bubble route.

“It’s certainly viable,” said Mark Starsiak, vice president of sports at Intersport, a Chicago-based sports marketing and media agency, “From a basketball standpoint, I think we can follow those models.”

The college football restart has been scattershot. The season has already started, yet 53 FBS schools have the pads and helmets hanging on hooks while waiting for better pandemic news.

A much more unified plan is in place for the college basketball season.

The NCAA is hoping to start the season in late November/early December, with a vote by the Division I council expected Sept. 16.

A partnership between the Pac-12 and Quidel Corp. to potentially do daily, rapid COVID-19 tests on athletes should help smooth a return to the court.

The question then becomes: What’s the best way to safely play basketball again?

Bubbles may be the answer.

While bubble football would be next to impossible logistically, basketball could fit nicely.

The travel parties are much smaller and college basketball already has plenty of multiple-team events, from holiday and conference tournaments to the NCAA Tournament. Add the effective safety measures of the pro leagues, find suitable sites and bubble basketball could work.

The NCAA is already looking at it, reportedly filing a trademark for the phrase “Battle in the Bubble.” Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont also said there have been preliminary talks for bubble basketball at the Mohegan Sun resort.

“The idea of a bubble would be a really good idea, just to isolate all the teams who want to play against each other in that bubble and keep things safe, keep away from the public and keep us in our own area where we’re able to play the game the right way and safely,” Duke sophomore forward Wendell Moore, Jr. said.

A big key will be finding the right places to bubble.

The NBA has the ideal setup at Disney World, but college basketball might be better suited to follow the NHL’s lead.

Hockey’s two bubbles – Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta – cordoned off areas enclosing the arena and several nearby hotels. All personnel entering are tested and strict protocols are in place for vendors delivering food and packages into the bubbles.

Similar bubbles for college basketball could be set up at smaller resorts, cities with arenas and hotels nearby, or Division II or III schools with arenas not being used during the pandemic.

The NCAA could set up pods of multiple nonconference teams, conference tournaments could be held in similar fashion and so could the NCAA Tournament.

In other words, basketball bubbles could pop up all over the country.

“Maybe do it for maybe a week or two at a time, playing a certain amount of games and getting retested after you come back or something like that,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said. “It’s possible, but it’s not going to be easy.”

Pulling off a college basketball bubble, however, comes with a caveat.

NCAA players are considered students, so academics would have to be part of the equation.

Division I players are already accustomed to doing school work on the road and the majority take primarily online classes. To make the bubbles work, socially distant space would have to be carved out for the players to take their classes and study.

The programs may also have to rethink the size of their traveling parties.

“Discussions about the right amount of tutors or academic staff would need to take place,” said Starsiak, who has operated high-level sports and entertainment events for 15 years. ”

You have to look at, do we need three managers this time around? No, probably not. Do you take two and have a tutor or an academic come with us? Yeah, I think you could. I think there’s a way to kind of combine both things to have some live, in-person resources.”

The NCAA is going to do everything possible to have a basketball season.

The pandemic wiped out the NCAA Tournament last spring and the NCAA collected $270 million in cancellation insurance instead of the $1 billion TV payout it normally gets. A second straight year without March Madness could be devastating.

Bubbles may be the way to go.

‘Father of the Final Four’ Tom Jernestedt dies at 75

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INDIANAPOLIS — Tom Jernstedt, a member of the Naismith Hall of Fame for his contributions to college basketball and the NCAA Tournament, has died. He was 75.

The NCAA said Sunday Jernstedt died this weekend.

Nicknamed “Father of the Final Four,” Jernstedt has widely been credited with transforming the NCAA Tournament into the billion-dollar March Madness it has become today.

“A decade after his departure from the NCAA, Tom Jernstedt’s fingertips remain visible during March Madness and the Final Four,” NCAA senior vice president Dan Gavitt said in a statement. “His innovation and superb ability to develop relationships turned a basketball tournament into a three-week phenomenon that became a global event.”

A former back-up quarterback, Jernstedt worked his first Final Four in 1973 and helped push the growth of the NCAA Tournament from 25 teams to the 68, anything-can-happen bonanza held every spring.

Jernstedt helped the NCAA increase its television contract from just over $1 million to more than $10 billion when he left in 2011. He served as president of USA Basketball, was a member of the College Football Selection committee and was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame as a contributor in 2017.

“Tom Jernstedt was a humble and unsung steward of the game,” John L. Doleva, president and CEO of the Basketball Hall of Fame, said in a statement. “Under his direction, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament grew into a phenomenon that brings college basketball fans together on a global scale. He will forever be remembered as the Father of the Final Four and one of the most respected leaders in basketball.”

Jernstedt established himself as a team leader despite being a backup quarterback at Oregon from 1964-66 and went on to serve as the Ducks’ events manager. He joined the NCAA in 1972 and spent 38 years with the organization.

“Tom served as a friend and mentor to countless people in and around collegiate athletics, and I’m proud to be among that vast group of people,” Gavitt said. “His legacy within the NCAA and its membership, and his impact on the sport of college basketball, is eternal. We extend our deepest condolences to Tom’s family.”

Aztecs extend Brian Dutcher’s contract 3 years through 2026

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SAN DIEGO — San Diego State basketball coach Brian Dutcher has signed a three-year contract extension through the 2025-26 season.

Dutcher signed the deal following one of the most successful seasons in school history. The Aztecs went 30-2, won the Mountain West regular-season title and were expected to be a No. 1 or 2 seed before the NCAA Tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. They opened the season 26-0 and were the nation’s last undefeated team.

“Having spent more than 20 years at San Diego State University I understand what a special place this is,” Dutcher said in a statement Friday. “I am humbled and honored to continue to represent SDSU and Aztec Basketball as its head coach.”

Dutcher is 73-26 in three seasons, the most victories by an Aztecs coach in his first three seasons. He spent 18 seasons as Steve Fisher’s top assistant, including six as associate head coach/head coach in waiting. He took over as head coach after Fisher retired following the 2016-17 season. The Aztecs reached the NCAA Tournament in his first season.

Before that, he spent 10 seasons with Fisher at Michigan. In Dutcher’s first season with the Wolverines, Fisher was promoted to interim head coach on the eve of the NCAA Tournament and won the national championship.

Indiana halts all voluntary workouts

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Indiana has halted all voluntary workouts indefinitely for its men’s basketball, field hockey, men’s soccer and wrestling teams after 14 participants tested positive for the coronavirus this week.

The Hoosiers did not identify which teams recorded the positive tests. The football team, like other Big Ten programs, is not playing this fall. Indiana said 63 positives have been reported from more than 1,400 tests of athletes, coaches and staff since June 8.

“Our athletic program is following strict protocols during these unprecedented times and we strongly support our medical staff as we try and mitigate this issue,” men’s basketball coach Archie Miller said.