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Big 12 tournament preview and postseason awards

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POSTSEASON AWARDS

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

Culver is the Player of the Year in the Big 12, and I honestly don’t think there is really all that much argument here. He is the best and most talented player on the Big 12 co-champions, a 6-foot-6 sophomore guard that went from being an under-the-radar prospect to a likely top ten picks come the 2019 NBA Draft.

And if a way, he is the quintessential Chris Beard player. He’s a hometown kid, having gone to high school in Lubbock. He was not someone that was recruited by the likes of Kansas or Kentucky or Duke. He stayed home, outworked everyone that he went up against and found a way to win in the end. That’s more or less the mantra of this Texas Tech program under Beard …

BIG 12 COACH OF THE YEAR: Chris Beard, Texas Tech

… and it’s why he is the easy pick for Big 12 Coach of the Year.

The Red Raiders were picked to finish seventh in the conference heading into the season, and that’s because they lost their leading scorer from last season (Keenan Evans), a one-and-done freshman that wasn’t expected to be one-and-done and four senior rotation players. In total, six of the top eight members of last year’s team are gone.

And Beard still found a way to share the title in the first season that Kansas was not the Big 12 regular season champion in 15 years. Coaching jobs don’t get much better than that.

FIRST TEAM ALL-BIG 12

  • JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech
  • BARRY BROWN, Kansas State
  • MARIAL SHAYOK, Iowa State
  • DEAN WADE, Kansas State
  • DEDRIC LAWSON, Kansas

SECOND TEAM ALL-BIG 12

  • MATT MOONEY, Texas Tech
  • DEVON DOTSON, Kansas
  • DESMOND BANE, TCU
  • TARIQ OWENS, Texas Tech
  • JAXSON HAYES, Texas

BIG 12 TOURNAMENT PREVIEW

WHEN: March 13-16
WHERE: Kansas City
FINAL: March 16, 6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN

(All odds courtesy DraftKings Sportsbook.)

FAVORITE: Texas Tech (+175)

There has not been a hotter team in the conference than the Red Raiders over the course of the last month. Hell, I don’t know if there has been a hotter team in college basketball. Texas Tech has won nine in a row and 11 of their last 12 games, going from being a team that ranked outside the top 100 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric to No. 34 in that ranking. They also happen to have the best defense in all of college basketball this season.

Another reason to consider Texas Tech the heavy favorite: They are healthy while everyone else in the league is seemingly losing players left and right. Kansas State (+400) is not expected to have Dean Wade available for the conference tournament. Kansas (+350) is not getting Lagerald Vick back. Iowa State (+650) and Baylor (+1100) have both dealt with injuries all season long. This tournament being in Kansas City means it will be a home game for Kansas if they play in the semifinals and a home game for Kansas State if they play in the finals, but Texas Tech fans travel better than you think and get loud.

SLEEPER: Iowa State (+650)

My love affair with Iowa State is well-documented this season, and I can fully admit that I may be the wrong guy to ask this question to. I know they’ve lost three in a row, five of their last six and six of their last eight games. I know that there was some kind of fight in a practice and that there was some kind of an argument between players during the loss at West Virginia. But I just cannot quit this team, because I still believe that they are the most talented team in the conference.

There is a very real chance that Iowa State loses their first game of the tournament to No. 5 seed Baylor. But their path isn’t really all that difficult. The Cyclones, if they can get past the Bears, would then draw either No. 1 Kansas State — who they beat by 14 points in Manhattan and who will not have Dean Wade playing — or someone from the 8-9 game. The Cyclones also have wins over both Kansas and Texas Tech, the top two seeds on the other side of the bracket. At 6.5:1 odds, that’s great value.

I also think that Oklahoma State (+10000) is worth a look at well. The Cowboys have won two in a row, and prior to that they lost by five against Kansas and took Texas Tech to overtime on the road. They’re the No. 9 seed, which means they’re on the right side of the bracket as well.

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

BEST VALUE: Kansas (+350)

I still think the best value here is the Jayhawks. Much has been made of the issues that have plagued Kansas this season, but I do think that it is important to note than Kansas has completed yet another season undefeated at Phog Allen Fieldhouse. Playing at the Sprint Center will not be the same as playing in the Phog, but it sure is going to feel like a Kansas home game. The Jayhawks were (+450) when I started writing this, and the odds have since adjusted, so if the book you use still have Kansas getting better than 4:1 odds, that’s might be the best bet to make here.

BUBBLE DWELLERS

TEXAS (NET: 39, SOS: 6): The Longhorns suffered a disastrous loss at home on Saturday, getting drubbed by fellow bubble-dweller TCU. They’ve now lost two in a row and four of their last five, dropping them to 16-15 on the season. They do have five Q1 wins — including North Carolina (7) on a neutral and Purdue (11) at home — with just one Q3 loss, and they have played the No. 6 SOS in all of college hoops. But at some point, you have to win games to get into the tournament, and Texas lost at home to VCU (31), Providence (74) and Radford (143) and also dropped roadies to Oklahoma State(82) and Georgia (112). They are currently one of the Next Four Out in our most recent bracket projection, and they likely have more ground to make up than that. I think they need to beat Kansas and Texas Tech en route to the finals to be an at-large.

TCU (NET: 47, SOS: 26): The Horned Frogs put themselves in a pretty good spot by knocking off Texas (39) by 17 points on Saturday, their third Q1 win of the season. All told, they are 3-8 against Q1, 8-12 against Q1 and Q2 and have no bad losses. I think they will be fine as long as they avoid an opening round loss to Oklahoma State (82), but thats assuming that there aren’t a number of bubbles burst this week.

OKLAHOMA (NET: 40, SOS: 9): The Sooners are a team that is going to rile some people up, seeing as they are 19-12 on the season and 7-11 in the Big 12, but they have just two losses outside Q1, four Q1 wins and an SOS that checks in at ninth nationally. They have just one loss to teams outside the top 40, a win over Wofford (14) and a 10-12 mark against Q1 and Q2. How wild is it that Wofford is going to be a difference-making win for the Sooners?

WHAT ELSE IS ON THE LINE?

I’m not sure that anyone in the Big 12 has a real chance at getting a No. 1 seed. If Texas Tech wins the Big 12 tournament, there’s a chance, but that will likely require Kentucky, Tennessee, Duke, North Carolina, LSU and both Michigan school to take bad losses.

To me, the most interesting thing to track in Kansas City this week is going to be Shaka Smart’s job status. His buyout is massive and the Texas fanbase barely fills the Erwin Center when the Longhorns are good, so the pressure isn’t really there. But this may be a chance for them to land someone like a Buzz Williams or a Chris Beard, and a first round loss means that Shaka will end his fourth season with a 16-16 record. That’s not ideal.

PREDICTION

I think that Kansas makes a run that reminds us all just how good they can actually be, playing and beating Iowa State in the title game.

New-look Virginia back to work after winning NCAA title

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Tony Bennett’s first offseason as a national champion coach has come with benefits on the recruiting trail. His first season at Virginia after winning the title, however, will bring challenges.

Five players who helped Virginia beat Texas Tech to capture the first basketball title in school history are gone, and that’s four more than expected. Center Jack Salt graduated, and guards De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy declared for the NBA draft. Seldom-used Marco Anthony transferred.

Recruiting was already well underway before the Cavaliers won it all, but Bennett said Wednesday the result “certainly can’t hurt and I think it has helped. It validates a lot of good stuff that’s happened in the past.”

Virginia hopes the spoils of those improvements are evident quickly in incoming freshmen guard Casey Morsell, big men Justin McKoy and Kadin Shedrick and junior college shooting guard Tomas Woldetensae.

Virginia opened its summer practice period on Tuesday, and Bennett said he’s not sure just yet who will be ready to contribute.

“Everyone will have ample opportunity, the newcomers, so to speak,” he said. “To say who, you just don’t know. … There are some opportunities out there. So it’s the returners and we can go down the list of the guys we brought in, but I think they’re excited about the opportunity.

“There’s always a learning curve any time you go from whether it’s high school to college or junior college to college or coming from a redshirt to being eligible. … Going up a level and playing in the ACC, for any of these guys, there’s the challenge of the physicality and the level of talent and the speed.”

Woldetensae, a left-handed shooter, averaged 17.3 points per game and shot 47.6 percent from 3-point range last season at Indian Hills Community College.

“We thought we needed to add some experience and a quality player on the perimeter and when he was mentioned and we did our homework and watched film and all those kinds of things,” he said. “His personality came out as a young man of character and we always start there. He seemed wanting to challenge himself at a very high level.”

The Cavaliers were delighted that Mamadi Diakite decided to come back for his senior year after testing the professional waters. And they added senior transfer Sam Hauser, who averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds last season at Marquette. Hauser will be eligible to practice with the team, but won’t be able to play until 2020-21.

Bennett’s offseason included numerous speaking engagements, recruiting, talking to NBA scouts about his players and some time to decompress.

He also checked an item off his bucket list when, with his father, longtime college coach Dick Bennett, he played Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters. That, he said, “was amazing.”

Now, it’s back to work.

“I’m grateful for the busy-ness of it,” he said of the offseason. “It means something good happened.”

Four-star forward commits to West Virginia

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West Virginia landed a top-75 recruit Thursday night.

Isaiah Cottrell, a 6-foot-9 forward from Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, committed to West Virginia’s 2020 recruiting class.

Cottrell picked the Mountaineers overs offers from the likes of Kansas, Washington and Arizona, among others. His father, Brian Lewin, played for West Virginia in the 1990s. The four-star prospect continues a promising recruiting trend for Bob Huggins, who landed a top-40 commit in center Oscar Tshiebwe in the 2019 class.

The Mountaineers missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in four years as they slid to 15-21 overall and last in the Big 12 with a 4-14 mark.

John Calipari’s new deal at Kentucky worth $86 million over 10 years

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John Calipari and Kentucky agreed in April to what was described as a “lifetime contract.” Thursday, the exact terms of that deal were disclosed.

The Wildcats coach’s new contract worth $86 million over 10 years.

“I’ve said from day one that this would be the gold standard and it has been for student-athletes and coaches,” Calipari said in a statement released by the school. “As I enter my 11th year, I’m reminded it took me 20 years to get an opportunity to like this. There is no other place I want to be. As I look forward, my mindset is what’s next and how can we be first at it for the young people that we coach.”

Calipari, 60, will likely continue to be a source of speculation for other jobs presuming he keeps things rolling in Lexington as he has for the last 10 years, but what Kentucky is paying him will almost certainly be more than any other program – and potentially NBA franchises – are going to be willing to. Calipari’s success, NBA history and ability to always be central to the broader college basketball conversation means he’ll always be in demand, but it’s hard to picture a situation that could intrigue Calipari enough to leave one of – if not the – best jobs in basketball.

“(Calipari) has added a special chapter to the greatest tradition in college basketball and it’s a chapter we want him to continue writing until the end of his coaching career,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “We are pleased to announce a new contract that will enable him to do exactly that.”

Calipari 305-71 with one national championship, four Final Fours and 26 first-round draft picks in 10 years with the Wildcats. He and Kentucky will likely open the 2019-20 season as one of the frontrunners for the national championship.

Michigan State reports violation for Tom Izzo hosting visit for former high school

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Michigan State self-reported an NCAA rules violation for Tom Izzo hosting Iron Mountain High School for a tour while the team was in town to compete for its first ever state title that weekend.

Izzo unknowingly committed the violation — which only occurred because Iron Mountain was competing in the Breslin Center that weekend — and the Spartans immediately gave notice once they became aware of it. Proud of his alma mater for advancing to Michigan’s final weekend, Izzo was merely taking interest in players and a team connected to his youth. The Iron Mountain program toured the Breslin Center with Izzo and toured Michigan State’s locked room while also watching the Spartans practice before their state semifinal game.

Since it was a special privilege for Iron Mountain, playing in an event there, the Spartans were technically at fault for a violation. The fact that Izzo and Michigan State have to report a violation for this sort of thing is kind of ridiculous since Izzo has a natural connection to the team in question. Although Michigan State likely isn’t going to get hit with any NCAA issues from this, it’s the kind of thing that critics come to question about the NCAA’s rulebook.

Former lacrosse star Pat Spencer commits to Northwestern for basketball

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Northwestern landed a unique graduate transfer on Thursday as Loyola lacrosse star Pat Spencer will spend his final year of college eligibility hooping for the Wildcats, according to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman.

A former high school basketball standout at Boys’ Latin (MD), Spencer was one of the best lacrosse players in the country for the Greyhounds the past four years in college. He was selected in two drafts during the Spring. Spencer was taken first overall in the inaugural PLL College Draft while getting taken seventh overall in the MLL’s Collegiate Draft. Loyola remains in the NCAA tournament as Spencer is playing out his senior season of college.

Spencer is passing up multiple professional lacrosse opportunities to play Big Ten basketball for Northwestern. For a stud athlete in a sport to pass up money to pursue another athletic dream is one of the college basketball’s best things to follow next season.

As if Spencer’s background wasn’t unique enough, he’ll be at a Northwestern team starving for an identity since making the NCAA tournament a few seasons ago. By playing in the Big Ten, Spencer will be thrown against Final Four contenders and potential draft picks, which makes this transition particularly intriguing. It’s a cool story to follow this season as college hoops doesn’t often get athletes from other sports playing in such prominent conferences.

Greg Paulus famously went from Duke point guard to Syracuse quarterback as a graduate transfer, but he was leaving the sport to pursue an opportunity to play football. Spencer choosing basketball over a sure pro shot in lacrosse is an interesting opportunity for him this season. It’ll be interesting to see if he can still contribute anything on the hardwood.

(Ht: Jeff Goodman, Stadium)