Entries from blogs tagged with “big”

Will anyone challenge KU hoops for Big 12 title in 2011-12?

It doesn't require much of a memory to recall the last seven regular season Big 12 men's basketball champions.

Kansas, Kansas, Kansas, Kansas, Kansas, Kansas, Kansas.

(Note: Three of those years, KU shared the regular-season title with Oklahoma [2005] and Texas [2006, 2008], but you get the point. It's a heck of an accomplishment).

With Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris and Josh Selby seeking NBA riches, the success of next year's team will be largely connected to the on-court maturation of Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson.

Bill Self, who's won an absurd 83.7 percent of his games in eight years in Lawrence, will be gunning for an eighth straight Big 12 title in 2011-2012. Will anyone from the recently-trimmed Big 12 legitimately challenge KU? The Jayhawks have never finished worse than 12-4 in the league during their seven-year reign as conference champs.

The NBA Draft early eligibility deadline passed on April 24, so we have a better idea of how Big 12 rosters will be constructed next season. Note that players who have not signed with agents can withdraw from the draft up until June 13, so this is not an exact analysis.

Here's how I'd rank the 10 Big 12 teams (still have to get used to that) right now, looking ahead to next season:

1. Kansas (35-3 overall, 14-2 Big 12)

With the Morris twins declaring for the draft, Kansas will lose its top two scorers and rebounders from a year ago, when the Jayhawks went 35-3 and lost to VCU in the Elite Eight. KU's third-leading scorer, Tyrel Reed, is also gone, along with Brady Morningstar and Mario Little.

That said ... Not picking KU to win the Big 12 next season would be a bigger mistake than a pitcher grooving Jose Bautista a fastball in the middle of the strike zone (only shameless plug of my fantasy baseball team in this entry, I promise).

We've seen this episode before. KU was supposed to take a step back in the league standings last year after the departures of Cole Aldrich, Sherron Collins and Xavier Henry. How did that turn out?

Until the Jayhawks are knocked off their throne, they deserve the top spot on everyone's preseason ballot. And there's a good chance KU will live up to the expectations. Taylor and Robinson return, along with Jeff Withey, Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford.

Ben McLemore, an incoming freshman from St. Louis and Rivals.com's No. 34-rated player nationally, should challenge for a starting spot immediately (especially if he throws down like this in Allen Fieldhouse).

Furthermore, KU fans are hitting the refresh button 50-100 times per minute awaiting the decisions of recruits DeAndre Daniels (No. 10 nationally) and Trevor Lacey (No. 24 nationally). (Side note: I've fielded two calls after midnight at the Journal-World recently inquiring about Daniels. To quote Johnny Depp from Pirates of the Caribbean: "You need to find yourself a girl, mate.")

You'd have to think the Jayhawks lure at least one of the prized recruits to Lawrence with playing time readily available. Kansas is probably a top 15-20 team without Daniels and Lacey, and a top 5-10 team with one or both of them.

2. Baylor (18-13, 7-9)

The Bears, after a disastrous 18-13 season (considering the talent), and a seventh-place finish in the league standings, will be loaded next season.

Perry Jones surprisingly turned down millions of dollars and a potential top-five spot in the NBA Draft to return to Baylor for his sophomore season. He'll be joined by incoming 6-8, 193-pound freshman Quincy Miller, ranked No. 7 overall by Rivals.com. Another Quincy (Acy) also will return, giving the Bears one of the most feared front lines in the country.

If Baylor receives production from its backcourt (incoming freshman Deuce Bello and a slew of transfers should help), the Bears could make a run at the league title.

3. Missouri (23-11, 8-8)

New coach Frank Haith will inherit an immensely talented group. The Tigers only lose Justin Safford from last year, and he only started 12 of 34 games. MU's top six scorers return, including Marcus Denmon (16.9 ppg), one of the best guards in the league. Mizzou is deep at guard with the Pressey brothers (Phil, Matt) back, along with Michael Dixon.

Laurence Bowers and Ricardo Ratliffe will form a solid frontcourt. Expecting Haith to win the league in his first year is unrealistic, but a top-three finish is not far-fetched.

4. Texas A&M (24-9, 10-6)

Murray State coach Billy Kennedy accepted the Texas A&M head coaching job on Sunday night, taking over for Mark Turgeon, who left for Maryland. Kennedy will take over a solid group, led by Khris Middleton and David Loubeau, A&M's top two scorers last season. Add incoming freshman point guard Jamal Branch (No. 65 nationally), and the Aggies have some nice pieces.

5. Texas (28-8, 13-3)

Texas was the lone threat to Kansas last season in the league race, but the Longhorns should take a step back next year with the losses of Jordan Hamilton, Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph to the NBA. Add seniors Gary Johnson, Dogus Balbay and Jai Lucas to the departure list, and that's six of UT's seven leading scorers from last season who will be gone.

Say what you want about coach Rick Barnes, but he remains one of the best recruiters in the country. Five-star incoming freshman point guard Myck Kabongo (No. 26 overall) will run the show for UT next season, and J'Covan Brown will join him in what should be a solid backcourt.

Depth issues and an unproven frontcourt will raise questions on whether the Longhorns can challenge for the Big 12 title.

6. Oklahoma State (20-14, 6-10)

The Cowboys will be somewhat of a wild card, with their success likely tied to the effectiveness of incoming five-star freshman recruit LeBryan Nash (6-7, 230 pounds, No. 6 nationally). Coach Travis Ford also will bring in point guard Cezar Guerrero (four stars, No. 71 nationally) to go along with returners Keiton Page and J.P. Olukemi. OSU will be a scary team loaded with sleeper potential and a high ceiling.

7. Kansas State (23-11, 10-6)

The Wildcats return Rodney McGruder, Jamar Samuels and Jordan Henriquez-Roberts, but I don't see them contending for the league crown without Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly.

8. Iowa State (16-16, 3-13)

The Cyclones were competitive last season, despite finishing last in the league standings. Coach Fred Hoiberg will enter his second season with quite a few transfers (mainly Chris Allen from Michigan State, and Royce White from Minnesota) looking to make up for the loss of seniors Diante Garrett and Jamie Vanderbeken.

9. Oklahoma (14-18, 5-11)

New coach Lon Kruger signed a seven-year, $16.6 million contract to leave UNLV and head to Norman. He has quite the rebuilding project ahead of him.

10. Texas Tech (13-19, 5-11)

Billy Gillispie will receive another chance to prove himself in the Big 12. The former Texas A&M coach will have to deal with the departures of TTU's best players: John Roberson, Mike Singletary, David Tairu, D'walyn Roberts and Brad Reese.

That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.


10 observations from NCAA Tournament leading up to Final Four

Ten observations from another wild weekend in the NCAA Tournament that produced a most improbable Final Four, featuring No. 3 seed Connecticut, No. 4 Kentucky, No. 8 Butler and No. 11 VCU:

1. jra004 leads the KUsports.com bracket challenge with one weekend left. It appears no one predicted more than two correct Final Four teams in the challenge. The contest was wide open this year as a result of the parity that took over the tournament.

2. Speaking of parity ... Butler and VCU, really? Both remarkable stories. It proves that pre-tournament analysis and all those television shows we love to watch that break down each region on Selection Sunday are pointless. They just make for interesting conversation and friendly debating. This is the first time in the history of the tournament that neither a No. 1 nor a No. 2 seed will participate in the Final Four.

3. I feel for the Kansas fans who looked forward to the tournament all year, only to feel disappointment in losing to another mid-major in March. VCU joined Bucknell, Bradley and Northern Iowa on the list of mid-majors that have recently taken out KU in the NCAAs. The frustration is both visible and understandable.

Taking out all those frustrations on coach Bill Self, however, is completely absurd. Self did not shoot 2-for-21 from three-point range, nor did he only convert 15 of 28 free throws on Sunday against VCU. And spare me the "he should work on free throws more in practice" rebuttal. KU practices are closed to the public. No one knows how many they actually shoot aside from the players and coaches themselves. Considering KU is a combined 68-6 in the past two seasons, who is anyone to question the team's practice routine? Self will and should be on the KU sidelines for as long as he desires.

I'm not a big fan of the 2008 argument either. It goes something like this: If not for KU's national title in 2008, Self would be mocked and his job would be in jeopardy. Well, uh ... he still did win a national title in 2008, and that was just three years ago. He has three appearances with KU in the Elite Eight.

My one question for those who don't think Self is right for KU: Who would be better?

Answer: No one.

Rant over.

4. The Self situation is somewhat similar to Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops, who, like Self, has lost his fair share of postseason games despite having a wildly successful overall record.

Stoops had suffered five straight BCS bowl defeats before winning the Fiesta Bowl this past season. But he also owns seven Big 12 championships and one national title.

Self owns seven straight regular-season league titles, five Big 12 tournament titles and one national title. But the unfortunate reality for these coaches is that the last game of the season is the one that's remembered most. For Stoops, much of the time, it's Boise State's miracle in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. For Self, much of the time, it will be VCU.

Stuff happens, though, especially in postseason college basketball, where, as Journal-World sports editor Tom Keegan recently pointed out, the playing field is becoming more and more even. It's not like VCU took down Kansas in the first round. It was the Elite Eight. VCU did the same thing to USC, Georgetown, Purdue and Florida State. The Rams are hot at the right time, one of the most basic products of March Madness stunners. As unfortunate a loss as it was for KU fans, it doesn't mean Self isn't the right coach for the foreseeable future.

5. A large reason KU fell to VCU was due to its inability to hit outside shots.

The Jayhawks were just 4-of-30 from outside the paint on Sunday. Think about that for a second. OK, maybe don't, because it's probably too painful to mull over any more. But KU needs someone who can consistently knock down outside shots next year.

6. KU's lack of bench production greatly affected the outcome on Sunday. The Jayhawks' bench scored only three points against VCU. Thomas Robinson, KU's sixth man, didn't score and was plagued by three fouls. Against Richmond in the Sweet 16, for example, the KU bench erupted for 31 points, and Robinson had 12 points and 14 boards. KU won that game, 77-57.

7. If you told me before I filled out my bracket that a team from last year's Final Four would return again this year, I would have immediately picked Duke to win it all. What Butler accomplished is incredible, especially since the Bulldogs had such close calls against Old Dominion and Pittsburgh. They could have easily been knocked out of the first round by ODU.

8. Most impressive player of tournament: All due respect to Kemba Walker of UConn, I'm going with Derrick Williams of Arizona. The guy flat-out destroyed Duke's interior defense, and I didn't think that could be done by one player. Williams, who poured in 32 points and grabbed 13 boards against the Blue Devils, provided an incredible show each time Arizona took the floor in this year's NCAAs. The Wildcats had a rigorous road, but it made for exciting drama against Memphis, Texas, Duke and UConn.

9. If you could have a do-over, who will win the national title, now that the Final Four is set? I'm tempted to go with VCU, but I'll be boring and go with UConn.

10. Speaking of UConn ... Thank you, Huskies, for proving once and for all that the fatigue argument has no merit. I'm as guilty as anyone on this issue. I had UConn getting bounced in the Sweet 16 because, I reasoned, it played five games in five days a week before in the Big East tournament. But recent momentum outweighed any questions of fatigue with UConn and Kentucky, which won the SEC tournament.

That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.


10 bracket-buster observations after first weekend of NCAA Tournament

My NCAA Tournament bracket, like many others on KUsports.com and across the country, is running on fumes after the first weekend of basketball mayhem.

A top seed is already done, two schools that call Richmond, Va. home are in the Sweet 16 and four double-digit seeds still have their dancing shoes on.

Here are 10 bracket-buster observations from the first weekend of games:

1. Penciling in Kansas to the Final Four would be somewhat premature, given the unpredictable nature of the first weekend. With the Jayhawks' draw, though, anything less than a trip to Houston would likely result in disappointment from the KU fan base.

KU will face No. 12 seed Richmond on Friday in San Antonio (6:27 p.m. on TBS). If I did one thing right this year in my bracket, it was forecasting this matchup. Should the Jayhawks win, they would face the winner of No. 10 Florida State and No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth (not No. 2 Notre Dame or No. 3 Purdue). I'll pose the question to our KUsports.com readers: Anything less than a Final Four = disappointment?

2. Craziest ending to a game from first weekend: No. 8 Butler 71, No. 1 Pittsburgh 70 in Washington, D.C. I really hope Butler junior guard Shelvin Mack found the nearest gas station after the game and demanded tickets to the D.C. lottery. He'd probably win the powerball with the luck that was on his side on Saturday.

With Butler ahead by one in the final seconds, Mack inexplicably fouled Gilbert Brown near midcourt — almost 50 feet away from the basket — with 1.4 seconds left. Brown sank his first free throw, but missed the second. Butler's Matt Howard grabbed the rebound and heaved an awkward-looking, desperation full-court shot, only to be slapped on the arm by Pittsburgh's Nasir Robinson ... roughly 90 feet away from the basket on a foul that was even more mind-boggling than the one that preceded it. Howard naturally sank the first charity to give Butler a one-point lead and intentionally clanked the second off the rim to end the game.

3. Second-craziest ending to a game from first weekend: No. 5 Arizona 70, No. 4 Texas 69 in Tulsa, Okla. Fitting this game was on TNT, which claims the slogan, 'We know drama.' This game was packed with more drama than any Law & Order or Bones episode you'd come across during the station's daytime programming hours.

First question: Should a five-second violation have been called on Texas guard Cory Joseph with 14.5 seconds remaining? Texas led by two before the call gave possession to Arizona, which converted a three-point play to win the game.

Keep an eye on the ref. It really appeared Joseph called timeout around the time the ref's count hit four.

Controversy ensued on the final possession, when UT's J'Covan Brown drove hard to the bucket and received no foul call. Ditto for Gary Johnson on an attempted game-winning put-back. Looking at the replay, I didn't have any problem with the officiating on the final possession. Brown ran into minor contact that probably shouldn't have warranted a foul, and Johnson was hacked after the buzzer, so that's irrelevant. Joseph, however, has a legitimate case to prosecute the Wildcats (or the ref) for getting away with March Madness murder.

4. Can anyone make any sense of No. 10 Florida State, No. 11 Marquette, No. 11 VCU and No. 12 Richmond in the Sweet 16? My bracket has 10 Sweet 16 teams left, five Elite Eight teams remaining, and two Final Four teams left. Far from ideal.

5. Big 12 outlook after first weekend: It's all up to Kansas. Texas A&M and Missouri faltered in the round of 64, while Texas and Kansas State couldn't make it out of the round of 32. This has to be considered an under-performing effort from league squads.

Breakdown of Sweet 16 teams, by conference: ACC 3 (Duke, North Carolina, Florida State); Big East 2 (Connecticut, Marquette); Big Ten 2 (Ohio State, Wisconsin); SEC 2 (Florida, Kentucky); Mountain West 2 (San Diego State, BYU); Big 12 1 (Kansas); Pac-10 1 (Arizona); Atlantic 10 1 (Richmond); Colonial Athletic 1 (VCU); Horizon 1 (Butler).

6. Most valuable player of first weekend: Derrick Williams, Arizona.

Williams' 22 points and 10 rebounds against Memphis were impressive, as were the 17 points and nine boards against Texas. But, most importantly, Williams blocked the potential game-tying shot in the closing seconds against Memphis, and completed the game-winning three-point play against Texas. The Wildcats would be watching the tourney from their couches if not for the ultra-clutch Williams, a 6-foot-8, 241-pound sophomore from La Mirada, Calif.

7. Runners-up for MVP after first weekend: Kemba Walker, Connecticut; Jimmer Fredette, BYU.

Walker had 18 points, 12 assists, and eight rebounds against Bucknell; he followed that up with 33 points, five assists and six boards against Cincinnati. The Huskies don't look tired after playing five games in five days two weeks ago to win the Big East tournament. Walker, a 6-1, 172-pound junior, has been near unstoppable.

Fredette has 66 points in two games, and has to be one the most conditioned athletes in the field. He's played all but one minute in the Cougars' two NCAA victories. Fredette drilled seven of 12 threes on Saturday, when he lit up Gonzaga for 34 points.

8. Biggest surprise after first weekend: VCU. No contest. The Rams, who snuck into the expanded 68-team field, beat USC in the tournament's First Four round, then smoked Georgetown (74-56) and Purdue (94-76) to reach the Sweet 16. VCU's best victory during the regular season was a triumph over UCLA way back on Nov. 26, 2010. The Rams went 12-6 and finished fourth in the Colonial Athletic Conference. Where did they come from?

9. Best Gus Johnson call after first weekend: George Mason's victory over Villanova. Johnson went crazy in the final few minutes after Mike Morrison followed a missed shot with a dunk that gave Mason the lead with 55 seconds remaining. Johnson quickly proclaimed that the Patriots were "Hustlin' ... fightin' ... scrappin' ... jammin!'" on the way to commercial break. What would the tournament be without Gus?

10. Who's your call to win it all, after seeing what happened in the first few rounds? Ohio State and Kansas looked the best. Duke looked good, especially with Kyrie Irving back, but the Blue Devils let Michigan hang around way too long on Sunday. KU fans have to love the Jayhawks' draw, however, with Richmond, and then either VCU/Florida State. And with Pittsburgh knocked out, the only teams standing in KU's way of making the championship game would be Butler, Wisconsin, BYU or Florida.

That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.


10 NCAA Tournament bullet-point observations: Big 12 pairings, upset possibilities

Because America's workforce slacks off this week in the holy quest to fill out the perfect NCAA Tournament bracket, here are 10 bullet-point observations leading up to the Big Dance. If this blog entry takes you away from work, the Conference Chatter blog apologizes in advance (hey, that rhymed).

1. Colorado got jobbed. Is there any other way to describe this indefensible omission? CU coach Tad Boyle should storm NCAA headquarters and demand answers. Coach, if you need suggestions in listening to some heavy rock to let off some steam while throwing furniture around your office, I highly recommend Avenged Sevenfold's "Waking the Fallen" album or Sevendust's "Seasons."

Seriously, though, the Buffaloes (21-13, 8-8 Big 12) scored six victories against top-50 teams. They beat K-State, a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tourney, three times. They beat Texas, a No. 4 seed. UAB (22-8, 12-4 Conference USA), for example, an inexplicable tournament team, beat ... umm ... VCU (23-11, 12-6 Colonial Athletic). Well whoop-de-bleepin'-doo. UAB also played the following NCAA tournament teams: Georgia, Duke, Memphis, Memphis again. They lost to all of them. This was an example on Sunday of over-evaluation from the NCAA committee, which typically does a fine job of selecting the field. Perhaps the new, 68-team composition confused some folks this year (the field never should have expanded from 64 in the first place).

2. Each year in the tournament, there seems to be a 5 vs. 12 upset (or two). This year, I like the upstart No. 12 seed Richmond Spiders (27-7, 13-3 Atlantic 10) taking down No. 5 seed Vanderbilt (23-10, 9-7 SEC). Richmond, which owns a quality victory over Purdue, has won seven games in a row and 11 of its last 12. The Spiders recently won the Atlantic 10 tournament. Plus, Vanderbilt has a recent history of being upset. Remember last year? No. 13 Murray State 66, No. 4 Vanderbilt 65.

3. Kansas' path as the second No. 1 seed seems to be more favorable than the overall No. 1, Ohio State. In the East region, Ohio State will run into a dangerous George Mason squad or Villanova in round 2, while the Jayhawks should be able to handle UNLV or Illinois in the Southwest region in round 2.

Furthermore, OSU could draw No. 4 Kentucky (winners of six straight, SEC tournament champs) in the Sweet 16, and No. 2 North Carolina or No. 3 Syracuse in the Elite Eight, if seeds hold. No thanks. Kansas could draw No. 4 Louisville in the Sweet 16 and No. 2 Notre Dame or No. 3 Purdue in the Elite Eight.

4. Why is Texas (27-7) a No. 4 seed? This is particularly perplexing when you glance at the bottom right of your bracket and see Florida (26-7) as a No. 2. Was the committee throwing back Patron shots while assigning these two seeds? OK, so Florida has a national ranking of 4 in strength of schedule on realtimerpi.com, and an RPI of 8. UT's strength of schedule is 15, while its RPI is 11. These are not two teams that should be separated by two seeds, though.

5. Best player in the tournament: BYU's Jimmer Fredette. As Chris Walken might say: I've got a fever. And the only prescription ... is more Jimmer. Fredette posted a half-century (more, actually, since it was 52) on New Mexico in a memorable Mountain West tournament semifinals matchup last week. He leads the country with 28.5 points per game. Fredette is one of the most exciting players the game's offered in a few years.

I'd caution advancing BYU too far in your bracket, though. The loss of Brandon Davies, its best interior post player who was suspended for violating the team's honor code, could haunt the Cougars.

6. Big 12 outlook: Texas: The Longhorns will take on No. 13 Oakland (25-9) at 11:15 a.m. on Friday in Tulsa, Okla. If they win, the Horns would face the winner of No. 5 Arizona (27-7) and No. 12 Memphis (25-9). I'm pulling for an Arizona-Texas clash in what would be the most exciting second-round matchup I can ever remember. KU fans who make the trip to Tulsa would be fortunate enough to witness it.

7. Big 12 outlook: Texas A&M: The No. 7 Aggies (24-8) find themselves in KU's bracket in the Southwest region, taking on No. 10 Florida State (21-10) at 3:10 pm. on Friday in Chicago. A&M has a solid shot of winning, but would likely run into No. 2 Notre Dame in the second round on Sunday. When updating your bracket, be sure to check on the status of Florida State star guard Chris Singleton, who's questionable with a foot injury. It looks like he's going to play, but the Aggies would have a decisive advantage if Singleton doesn't suit up. Texas A&M has won first-round NCAA tourney games each of the past five seasons.

8. Big 12 outlook: Kansas State: The No. 5 Wildcats (22-10) have a tough draw in round 1, when they'll face No. 12 Utah State (30-3) at 8:57 p.m. on Thursday in Tucson, Ariz. If KSU gets by Utah State, it could make a run, with subsequent games against Wisconsin, Pittsburgh and Florida/BYU, if the seeds hold. Time for Jacob Pullen to make his name known across the country.

9. Big 12 outlook: Missouri: The No. 11 Tigers (23-10) sputtered into the tournament and will face No. 6 Cincinnati (25-8) at 8:50 p.m. on Thursday in Washington, D.C. Missouri has lost four of its past five games and displayed nothing at the Big 12 tournament that would suggest it's capable of a deep NCAA run. MU would face the No. 3 UConn/No. 14 Bucknell winner if it advances.

10. Fill out your NCAA Tournament brackets on KUsports.com today. We are picking play-in games this year, so you only have until 5:30 p.m. Central time on Tuesday to finalize your picks.

That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.


Big 12 tournament hoops preview: Storylines, observations and a prediction

A glance at this year's Big 12 tournament bracket triggered the following thoughts regarding the path to the championship at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo:

If I'm a Kansas fan, I'm looking at the bracket thinking Texas has an easier path to the title game. Which team would you rather face in the semifinals, No. 3 Texas A&M or No. 4 Kansas State?

Kansas would beat Texas A&M in Kansas City nine out of 10 times. That's plain reality. A&M coach Mark Turgeon has never beaten KU and the Jayhawks are 17-1 in the Big 12 era against the Aggies.

K-State, conversely, is on a rampage right now, winners of eight of their last nine games and six straight. The Wildcats, after struggling early in the season, jumped to a No. 4 seed and would face the Jayhawks in the semifinals if both teams take care of business (KU against Nebraska/Oklahoma State; K-State against Colorado/Iowa State).

Jacob Pullen continues to play like an All-American. His point totals (19.6 ppg) are aided by his unrelenting ability to get to the rim and draw fouls. The last time Pullen attempted fewer than eight free throws in a game was Feb. 12. And he's making his trips to the line count. Since Feb. 12, he's converted 55 of 64 charities (85.9 percent).

Kansas and Kansas State can't meet for the Big 12 tournament championship like last year, but a semifinals matchup would be a heck of a game. Last year's final was the most electric I've ever seen the Power & Light District.

It could be argued that Texas has the more difficult second-round game, likely against a potentially dangerous No. 7 Baylor seed. Sure, the Bears have lost four of their past five games, but at 7-9 in the league, they're not heading to the Big Dance unless they win the Big 12 tournament. They have the talent, and they have a history of rallying in the Big 12 tournament in a last-ditch effort to make the NCAAs. In 2009, as a No. 9 seed, Baylor knocked out Kansas in the second round of the Big 12 tourney and nearly won it all. Eventually, BU fell to Missouri in the championship game.

Who could surprise: I'm going with No. 6 seed Missouri, of the teams that don't have byes in Round 1. The Tigers should beat Texas Tech. After that, they would have a winnable game against Texas A&M in front of a pro-MU crowd in K.C. In the semifinals, the Tigers would draw either Texas or Baylor, most likely. Texas, despite a victory over Baylor on Saturday in Waco, isn't playing nearly as well as it was earlier in the season.

Bold tournament prediction: Missouri makes it to the Big 12 tournament finals.

Who needs to get on track the most in K.C.: UT's Jordan Hamilton. Josh Selby could also be an understandable answer, but KU's depth provides various back-up plans for the Baltimore native's struggles. Texas does not have a back-up plan for Hamilton. In UT's past six games, Hamilton is 32-for-102 (31.2 percent) from the field. Texas is a mere 3-3 in that time. Tristan Thompson is carrying the Longhorns offensively of late, but UT plays considerably better when Hamilton is that guy.

Predicted champion: Here's what went through my head when predicting a winner:

First, the winner has to be one of the top 4 seeds. In the previous 14 years, no 5-12 seed has ever won the Big 12 tournament. To pull it off, the lower seeds would have to play four straight days. It just doesn't happen. This year, in particular, the top 4 seeds will be better and fresher.

Second, who's playing the best basketball right now? Many would say Kansas State, winners of eight of nine and six straight. It's not that simple, though.

One quick look at Kansas reveals the Jayhawks are just as hot. The Wildcats may have won eight of nine, but the Jayhawks have won 11 of 12. K-State cannot say that. Yeah, sure, K-State beat KU in Manhattan, so KU has the more recent loss. K-State hasn't lost since Feb. 12. But KU's most recent loss was just two days later, on Feb. 14. Big deal.

Third, a glance at Big 12 tournament history suggests recent Jayhawk dominance. Kansas has won four of the past five Big 12 tournaments, including the only two years at Sprint Center (2010, 2008). The Jayhawks are playing much better defense lately. And with UT's recent tailspin, Kansas is in a class of its own (again) atop the Big 12.

Final answer: Kansas.

That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.

You can follow the Big 12 tournament each day on KUsports.com. Starting Wednesday at 11:30 a.m., we'll be posting a live blog from Sprint Center. Be sure to join the discussion.

I'll be live in K.C. for most of the days, contributing to the blog and updating my Twitter feed. Give me a follow if you haven't already.


Big 12 observations: Who’s in, who’s not; looking ahead to Monday: Texas or K-State?

It's going to be difficult to fill out my NCAA Tournament bracket this year.

Three more teams ranked in the top 5 of the Associated Press poll faltered over the weekend, leaving no overwhelming favorite presiding over the college basketball world. Top-ranked Duke, No. 4 Pittsburgh and No. 5 Texas were the latest victims to go down this week. The path to the Final Four in Houston should be filled with mystery, madness and Gus Johnson going berserk behind the microphone.

The Big 12 storyline of the weekend was the mayhem in Boulder, where Colorado stormed back from a 22-point deficit to take down Texas. The Longhorns dropped to 12-2 in the league, opening a massive door that Kansas gladly walked through with an 82-70 victory over Oklahoma. KU improved to 12-2 in the league, keeping its quest for a seventh consecutive Big 12 regular-season title well within reach.

KU's remaining schedule: vs. Texas A&M, at Missouri.

UT's remaining schedule: vs. Kansas State, at Baylor.

Advantage? KU has the tougher road game. It's probably close to a push, though.

Onto some Conference Chatter bullet-point observations after the weekend's action:

Have any plans Monday night? Hopefully not. Kansas State travels to Texas in what should be a thrilling matchup at 8 p.m. on ESPN. A month ago, this would not have been nearly as exciting. But K-State has won six of its past seven games. The Wildcats will face a ticked off Texas squad that will be ready to hit the court after the loss at CU.

I get the sense that most KU fans are rooting for K-State, despite the Sunflower rivalry. Winning the league title outright appears to be more important than simply rooting against the in-state rivals. If I'm off on this, let me know.

K-State senior Jacob Pullen probably doesn't have to worry about the NIT. The Cats, at 20-9 and 8-6 in the Big 12, appear to be headed to the NCAA Tournament.

Before the weekend, ESPN's Joe Lunardi had five Big 12 schools cracking the tournament field. I see six: Kansas, Texas, Texas A&M, Missouri, Kansas State, and either Baylor or Colorado. Baylor's remaining schedule: at Oklahoma State, vs. Texas. Colorado's remaining schedule: at Iowa State, vs. Nebraska. Advantage: Buffs.

Big 12 player of the year, to this point: Jordan Hamilton, Texas. Still in the running: Marcus Morris, Kansas.

Big 12 coach of the year, to this point: Rick Barnes, Texas. Still in the running: Tad Boyle, Colorado (if UT slips up again and CU wins out).

My early All-Big 12 first team hasn't changed from last week: Kansas State's Pullen, Baylor's LaceDarius Dunn, Colorado's Alec Burks, Texas' Hamilton, KU's Marcus Morris.

As good as Burks is — he erupted for 33 points against UT's elite defense — the sophomore could be even better with a more potent outside jump shot. On Saturday, Burks slashed his way to the rim, initiated contact and attempted 21 foul shots. It was a great game plan. But with the NBA hype surrounding Burks (11th overall on NBADraft.net, 19th overall on draftexpress.com), he will need to develop a steadier jump shot to have a lengthy career at the next level.

Kansas State has won its last two meetings against Texas in Austin.

Big Monday pick: Texas.

Much safer option. Big 12 teams have struggled mightily on the road this season. K-State is 2-5 on the road this season in Big 12 play, while UT has yet to lose a league game in Austin.

Texas opened as an 8.5-point favorite on Sunday night. I'll also take UT -8.5.

What I love about Kansas in a potential deep NCAA Tournament run: The offensive prowess.

From left, Markieff Morris, coach Bill Self, Brady Morningstar, Marcus Morris and Elijah Johnson look on from the sidelines on Saturday against Oklahoma in Norman, Okla.

From left, Markieff Morris, coach Bill Self, Brady Morningstar, Marcus Morris and Elijah Johnson look on from the sidelines on Saturday against Oklahoma in Norman, Okla. by Jesse Newell

This is one of the best offenses of the Bill Self era. The Jayhawks find the open man particularly well with free clinics on accurate ball movement, and punish teams that suffer mental lapses on defense. KU also takes good shots. Kansas has led the country for a while this season in kenpom.com's effective field goal percentage (58.8 percent currently).

The Jayhawks are also the best road team in the Big 12 (6-1 in league road games). They'll need to carry that over to the NCAA tourney.

What scares me about Kansas in a potential earlier-than-expected exit: Inconsistent point guard play. Tyshawn Taylor has his moments, but his turnovers are concerning. He had 10 (vs. six assists) in the two games before his suspension. Elijah Johnson appears to have the stats on his side — he's not had a game with more than two turnovers all season — but how much will his inexperience play a factor in the tournament? Josh Selby's stress reaction in his foot is clearly affecting his play. Since coming back from the injury after missing three games, he's yet to score in double figures. His field goal percentage since returning from injury is 25.9 percent in four games. Kansas will need a steady floor general in time for the tourney.

What I love about Texas in a potential deep NCAA Tournament run: defense. UT didn't show up on defense against a Burks-inspired Colorado comeback on Saturday, but the Longhorns have been steady for the majority of the season. Texas remains No. 1 in the country in kenpom.com's adjusted defensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage defense rankings.

What scares me about Texas in a potential earlier-than-expected exit: Closing out games and foul shooting. Texas shoots only 64.2 percent from the free throw line, second-to-last in the Big 12. In close games, converting charities becomes vital. Texas led Colorado by 22 in the first half on Saturday. UT had 34 chances at the foul line and only made 20 (58.8 percent). The Longhorns could have weathered the massive CU rally and quieted the frenzied fans with a couple more made free throws. This could become a concern during the NCAA Tournament.

That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.


Early All-Big 12 basketball first and second teams

With three games remaining on the schedule for Big 12 basketball teams, the dog days of the winter season are coming to an end.

Will Texas (22-4, 12-1 Big 12) hold on at Colorado, vs. Kansas State and at Baylor? If so, the Longhorns would clinch the Big 12 regular season title, their first since sharing the crown with Kansas in 2007-08.

If UT loses one of its remaining three games this season, Kansas (26-2, 11-2) would have to win out (at Oklahoma, vs. Texas A&M, at Missouri) to claim at least a share of a seventh straight league title.

If KU and UT finish with the same league record, both would win the regular season title. The Big 12 doesn't turn to head-to-head matchups or any sort of tiebreaker.

In a little more than a week, the All-Big 12 team will be announced. If I was voting for my first and second teams today, here's what my ballot would look like:

Guard: Jacob Pullen, Kansas State

Say what you want about Pullen (it took him nearly the entire season to starting playing to his gamebreaking potential) and Kansas State (not performing up to expectations after being picked to win the league; guys quitting the team; post players regressing), but the following facts are indisputable: In Big 12 play, Pullen leads the conference with 21.6 points per game. In his last three games, the Wildcats senior has went off for 30.7 ppg. Kansas State (19-9, 7-6) has won five of its last six games and will likely earn an NCAA Tournament bid.

K-State's big men (Jamar Samuels, Curtis Kelly) continue to struggle putting up consistent scoring totals. Put simply, the stellar play of Pullen is the main reason KSU will likely be dancing in March. Better late than never, I suppose.

Guard: LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor

By Dunn's standards, the senior has struggled this season. His field goal percentage, three-point percentage and rebounding figures are all down. His turnover average is up. That said, Dunn (20.4 ppg) is the only Big 12 player to average at least 20 points this season. Yes, he's occasionally a chucker (his 212 attempted threes are by far the most in the Big 12), but Dunn's 38.7 percentage from distance is decent. If he keeps the Big 12 scoring title, he deserves a first-team nod.

Guard: Alec Burks, Colorado

Only Dunn and Pullen average more points in the Big 12 than Burks (19.2 ppg). The sophomore's 6.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game prove the Grandview, Mo. native can do more than just score. But he's a scorer at heart. Burks is one of the best slashers in the conference. He gets to the foul line more than anyone in the league (202 times) for players with at least 2.5 made free throws per game. He's shooting 84.7 percent from the line, third in the Big 12.

Guard/forward: Jordan Hamilton, Texas

If there's a more improved player than Hamilton in the Big 12 this season, I haven't heard of him. Pick a stat, any stat. It's likely better than Hamilton's freshman season a year ago. Field goal percentage (41 to 45.6), three-point percentage (36.5 to 40.7), free throw percentage (57.8 to 77.1), rebounds per game (3.7 to 7.5), assists per game (1.5 to 2.3), points per game (10 to 18.8). Hamilton's ascension from sixth man as a freshman to one of the best players in the league as a sophomore has Texas in a better spot than anyone could have predicted before the season.

UT's chemistry is considerably better than last year, and Hamilton's shot selection is a contributing factor. He's not taking nearly as many ill-advised shots to simply boost the scoring average. If anything, he took his aggressive shot selection and applied it to defense. Hamilton's 5.61 defensive rebounds per game rank second in the league, a rather impressive feat for a perimeter-oriented player. Texas has also ranked first in the country in kenpom.com's adjusted defensive efficiency ratings for a large portion of the season.

Hamilton is fourth in the Big 12 in scoring and third in rebounding. Hamilton gets my early vote for Big 12 player of the year.

Forward: Marcus Morris, Kansas

The junior may not be at the very top of the Big 12 in scoring (17.1 ppg, sixth in league) or rebounding (6.9 rpg, 12th in league), but his marksmanship from the field is unparalleled. Morris leads the conference in field goal percentage at 60.3. If he took more shots, he could probably lead the league in scoring, but the balance of the KU offense prohibits that from happening.

To put Morris' accuracy into perspective, consider that Iowa State's Diante Garrett, for instance, averages 17.3 points per game, almost identical to Morris' 17.1. Garrett, however, attempts 16.5 shots per game, while Morris only averages 10.5 per game. Imagine the potential scoring average for Morris if he took 16 shots per game.

Here's my second team:

Guard — Diante Garrett, Iowa State: Senior leads conference in assists with six per game; also scores 17.3 points per game.

Guard — Marcus Denmon, Missouri: Seventh in conference with 17.5 points per game; second in Big 12 in steals (1.86 per game); junior is shooting an impressive 44.4 percent from three-point line; could be second-most improved player in league behind UT's Hamilton.

Forward — Perry Jones, Baylor: Freshman averages 14.1 ppg and 7.1 rpg; scoring has improved in Big 12 play, where he's averaging 16.5 ppg; third in Big 12, behind KU's Morris twins, in field goal percentage (56.3).

Forward — Tristan Thompson, Texas: Leads conference in blocked shots (2.25 per game) and offensive rebounds (3.46 per game); freshman scores 12.7 ppg and pulls down 7.5 boards per game; a difference-maker on defensive end; still has some polishing left on offense.

Forward — Markieff Morris, Kansas: Junior leads Big 12 in rebounding at 8.4 per game; he's second in league to his brother Marcus (60.3) in field goal percentage at 60 — no other Big 12 player is above 57 percent.

Would your first or second team look any different? Who's your Big 12 player of the year?

That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.


Big 12 teams hitting massive road blocks; main difference between KU, K-State: post men

Distinct tiers have separated Big 12 Conference basketball teams this season.

Let's call tier 1 the elite: Texas, Kansas.

Tier 2 — NCAA Tournament hopefuls: Texas A&M, Baylor, Missouri.

Tier 3 — NCAA Tournament bubble teams: Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas State, Oklahoma State.

Tier 4 — Thanks for playing, come again next year: Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Iowa State. Tier 1 likely makes up the best two teams in the country right now (Ohio State, Duke and Pittsburgh enthusiasts will likely think otherwise).

This top-shelf tier also possesses a unique quality: The Longhorns and Jayhawks have the uncanny ability to win conference road games. No other tier from the Big 12 can even come close to saying that.

Texas and Kansas are on a completely different level than their Big 12 counterparts. It's not close. The distance between the aforementioned tiers is widest between tier 1 and the rest of the Big 12 field.

To illustrate how much space is between Texas/Kansas and the rest of the Big 12, simply take a look at how these teams play on the road.

Texas and Kansas have won more Big 12 road games this season (10) than the other 10 schools combined (nine). That's embarrassing for the rest of the league.

The Jayhawks and Longhorns are 10-0 on the road in Big 12 play, while the rest of the Big 12 is 9-42 (.176).

So, what gives?

Likely, it means the rest of the league is average to good, at best, with limited NCAA Tournament ceilings.

Missouri, for instance, is a nice team, but the Tigers are 5-0 at Mizzou Arena and 0-5 away from Mizzou Arena in Big 12 play. How can MU pose a threat to reach its first-ever Final Four if it can't win away from home?

Texas A&M, as another example, reminds me of the Minnesota Twins in recent years. Consistently good, but with a limited ceiling. The Aggies are 3-2 at home and 3-2 on the road in Big 12 play. They look very good some nights, and mediocre on other nights. The Aggies haven't done anything to suggest they will make a deep NCAA Tournament run.

Overall, conference teams are 19-42 (.311) on the road this season. It hasn't been this difficult to win on the road in the Big 12 in eight years. In 2002-2003, Big 12 teams went 28-68 (.292) away from home. To date, that's been the toughest year (tied with 1996-97) to win on the road.

The conference has 19 road victories in league play in 2010-11. Does the Big 12 have 10 road victories left to pass the low 2002-03 total?

Kansas and Texas only have six combined road games left. Sad that I'm even looking at it that way. But it's reality: No teams other than Kansas or Texas can consistently win away from their home floor, suggesting UT and KU could be the only Big 12 teams making deep tournament runs in March.

Up next for Kansas (24-1, 9-1 Big 12): Kansas State on Big Monday, 8 p.m. in Manhattan.

It's been a forgettable year for Kansas State (16-9, 4-6), which was picked by the league's coaches to win the Big 12 this season. Saturday's contest at Colorado had to be the most frustrating game yet for the K-State faithful.

The Wildcats were down two with 1.1 seconds left and had possession. Shane Southwell tossed a pass from the sideline to Rodney McGruder, who spun around and drained a remarkable three-pointer with Alec Burks draped all over him. Initially, it counted and the Wildcats went nuts in surrounding McGruder. The refs, however, consulted the monitors and waved off the shot because the ball was on McGruder's fingertips as the game clock hit zero. CU won, 58-56.

Dreadful way to lose a game. That's the kind of season it's been for KSU. The Wildcats needed that game to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive. The sudden tugging of such opposite emotions, from the jubilation of hitting a last-second shot to the dreaded heartbreak of having it overturned, can be draining.

How much will K-State have left in the tank after Saturday's momentum killer?

Now, to keep their fading NCAA Tournament hopes alive, the Wildcats are faced with the unenviable task of taking down a team that has owned them on their home floor. Kansas is 21-1 all-time at Bramlage Coliseum and 31-2 against Kansas State since the Big 12's inception.

KSU must pull a Michael Beasley and Bill Walker in 2008 and defeat KU in Manhattan to save its NCAA Tournament resume.

K-State has a solid RPI (41st in country) and strength of schedule (19th), so the Wildcats could crack the tournament field if they go 8-8 in Big 12 play. For that to happen, KSU would have to finish the season 4-2.

KSU's schedule the rest of the way: vs. Kansas, vs. Oklahoma, at Nebraska, vs. Missouri, at Texas, vs. Iowa State.

Going 4-2 is possible, with the two obvious losses coming against Kansas and at Texas.

For K-State to make the tournament, however, it needs a signature victory. Beating Kansas or Texas would qualify, but I don't see it happening, for a few reasons:

• Sure, Kansas State can rebound with the best of them, and from the games I've seen, KSU plays solid defense. But it doesn't really matter if you can't put the ball in the hoop. K-State ranks last in the Big 12 in field goal percentage at .431. If anyone watched the KSU-CU game on Saturday night, you could probably relate to my wanting to bang my head against the wall in a desire for any semblance of offense from either team. It was painful.

• Furthermore, the Wildcats have struggled from the foul line. OK, so there's more to the game than foul shooting, but when you get to the line as much as K-State, converting charities becomes important in squeezing out points. Due to their aggressive, scrappy nature and offensive rebounding prowess (first in Big 12 with 15.80 per game), the Wildcats get to the charity stripe quite a bit. Kansas State has attempted 613 foul shots, second-most in the Big 12. The Cats are only shooting 61.3 percent from the line, though, last in the Big 12.

• Pinning K-State's struggles on the departure of Denis Clemente is overrated. How about some help for Jacob Pullen from guys in the post? Sure, Clemente leaving hurt K-State, but not nearly as much as KSU's inability to provide paint presence/balance for the senior guard Pullen, its best player.

That balance could have come from highly-rated Wally Judge, but he quit the team. Freddy Asprilla? He also left the team, initially saying he'd pursue professional opportunities in his native Colombia. He has since committed to transfer to Canisius (N.Y.) of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. OK, fair enough. There's still Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels. Except Kelly and Samuels have actually regressed from last season. Kelly's averages in points (11.5 to 9.9), rebounds (6.2 to 4.9) and field goal percentage (55.6 to 53.6) are down from last season. Ditto for Samuels' points (11 to 9.6) and field goal percentage (53.9 to 40.3).

The main reason KU is 24-1 and KSU's 16-9: the development of post players from last season to this season.

KU's Marcus and Markieff Morris have greatly improved from last season to form a feared front line that should carry the Jayhawks deep into the NCAA Tournament, barring another Northern Iowa fiasco. Marcus has gone from 12.8 points per game last season to 16.9 ppg this season. His rebounding average has climbed from 6.1 to 7.0. His field goal percentage from 57 percent to a ridiculous 60.9.

How about Markieff? His average in points has grown from 6.8 to 13.2; his rebounds from 5.3 to 8.5; his field goal percentage from 56.6 percent to 59.4.

Kudos to Danny Manning for developing KU's post players at a considerably faster rate than K-State's big men. Marcus and Markieff Morris could both make the All-Big 12 first-team, while Thomas Robinson has improved on the court as well and provided a steady complement off the bench.

The Wildcats, meanwhile, had two post men leave the team, their two best interior players have regressed, and their post complement off the bench, Jordan Henriquez-Roberts, still hasn't matured enough to be a legitimate Big 12 threat.

I see the nightmare continuing for the Wildcats on Monday, even at Bramlage Coliseum, where they need a victory in the worst way to keep their dwindling NCAA Tournament hopes alive.

That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.


Next up for KU: Iowa State; catching up with Fred Hoiberg and Diante Garrett

Yes, Iowa State takes a 1-8 Big 12 Conference record into Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday to take on a Kansas team that it hasn't defeated in the past 10 meetings. No, the Jayhawks shouldn't have any trouble at home, and anything less than a victory would be considered a disappointment.

But the Cyclones (14-10) have been in games this season under first-year coach Fred Hoiberg. They just haven't closed them out. Natural struggles for a team in transition.

Two of Iowa State's conference losses came in overtime (at Oklahoma State, vs. Oklahoma), while two others have been by one point (vs. Kansas State, at Nebraska). ISU could be 5-3 in league play. The Big 12 becomes a brutal league when you can't close games, though, because so many of them go down to the wire. And with the logjam that remains in the conference standings — eight of the 12 teams have three, four, or five Big 12 wins — every victory is a boost to the NCAA Tournament resume.

Hoiberg's Cyclones won't make the tournament this season. But they have shown promise. Hoiberg, like Colorado's Tad Boyle, appears to be a good hire because Ames is where he wants to be. It won't be a stepping stone for a better job one year later.

Before this season, Hoiberg was most recently vice president for basketball operations with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2009-2010. He's a hometown hero in Ames. He grew up and played college basketball there before having a 10-year NBA career. He's so popular he's known as The Mayor around Ames.

Hoiberg's best player this season is Diante Garrett. The senior leads the Big 12 in assists per game with 5.96, and is fifth in the league in scoring at 17.9 points per game. He's on the floor all the time as well, as evidenced by his 35.92 minutes per game, tops in the Big 12.

Hoiberg and Garrett both caught up with the Conference Chatter blog to discuss Big 12 hoops, Kansas, Bill Self, Larry Bird, and a variety of other topics. Here are the highlights. No. 2 Kansas (23-1, 8-1 Big 12) will take on Iowa State at 3 p.m. Saturday in Allen Fieldhouse. The game will be televised on the Big 12 Network.

Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg

On KU coach Bill Self: "Love his teams. Love how they play. Love how they compete. Love how they defend. They play up-tempo. I think it's something where every school in the league strives to get there. I think they've won, what is it, seven conference championships in a row (six)? It's what everyone strives to get to, man. You want to get to the top of your profession, and coach Self has done a great job of doing that."

On the ISU coaching gig and being a native of Ames: "My ultimate goal was to get back to Iowa State one day and be the head coach. It happened before I thought it would happen. I'm excited to be back ... Look at (senior Brady) Morningstar down at Kansas. Similar situation. You get to play in the town that supported you growing up. People watched me and supported me in AAU Tournaments all the way back in the seventh and eighth grade. So to play in front of them in college, and now to have the chance to coach in front of those people who supported me is such a thrill."

On whether he shows any of his players up by displaying his three-point prowess in practice: "I played for Larry Bird in Indiana (from 1997-99). It didn't matter who was shooting. Reggie Miller. Chris Mullen, whoever it was. He outshot everybody. I'll shoot a little bit with the guys, but my days are over (laughs)."

On how his NBA experience will translate to the college game: "One area where it really helps is in recruiting. Shoot, all these players who go play for a BCS school have the ultimate goal of playing at the top level. The fact that I've been there as a player and a front-office executive (assistant general manager, then later VP of basketball operations with Timberwolves) makes it very important. These guys see that. They want to get there, and they want to know how. I was very fortunate to play for 10 years and then have a great job, to where my last year, I was second in command. So it's big for recruiting and I'm trying to use it as much as I can."

Iowa State senior point guard Diante Garrett

On playing at Allen Fieldhouse: "I think it's a great place. The tradition that's been in there. The teams that have played there. And Kansas has always been on top, one of the top 10 teams in the nation. I'm thankful to be able to play in that kind of place."

On toughest defensive assignment in his four years at ISU: "I'd say Sherron Collins. He had the green light to do whatever he really wanted to do for Kansas. Guarding him, he's like a bulldog. He got a lot of ball screens, down screens. Chasing him around was kind of tough, but it was fun to play against that type of competition. And then, having big Cole Aldrich come out to set those screens on you, it was kind of hard to get around it (laughs)."

On what stands out most about KU this year: "This year? The twins (Marcus, 16.9 points per game, 6.8 rebounds per game; and Markieff Morris, 13.2 ppg/8.4 rpg). They played a pretty big role their first two years at Kansas."

On what he did this summer when he learned Hoiberg would coach ISU: "At the time, I was back at home (Milwaukee). There was a lot of stuff going on at Ames (after previous coach Greg McDermott left). I was shocked and was thinking to myself, 'What's going to happen now? What coach are we going to get?' And then I finally got the phone call that Fred Hoiberg was going to be our coach and my eyes opened wide. I smiled. I was ready to get back to school."

That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.


KU most balanced team in country by wide margin in one measure; Next up: Missouri

I've come away with a common thought after watching the last three Kansas University basketball games on television.

If the Jayhawks keep shooting like this, it's going to be mighty difficult to pick against them in March.

You've all seen it. The balance is remarkable, the crispness is refreshing, the depth is so clearly evident and the coaching is magnificent. The last three KU games — against Kansas State, Texas Tech and Nebraska — have ended in the same dominating fashion each time: win 90-66, win 88-66, win 86-66.

How's that for consistency?

KU's shooting clinics and sturdy defensive performances made me wonder: Just how balanced is No. 2 Kansas on a national scale? I compiled an exercise in an attempt to find a clearer answer.

Because shooting is such a determining factor in wins and losses, I added up kenpom.com's effective field goal efficiency rankings for offense and defense for each team in the top 25 of the latest Associated Press poll.

For those wondering, effective field goal percentage differs from conventional field goal percentage by taking into account the extra value of a made three-pointer. It's the same as regular field goal percentage, except that made three-pointers are appropriately given 50 percent more credit.

The statistics I used were updated after Saturday night's games.

Kansas, for instance, is ranked No. 1 in the country in effective field goal percentage offense, and No. 7 in the country in effective field goal percentage defense. Therefore, KU's total score is 8 for this exercise. The lower the score, the better.

To my surprise, the Jayhawks were the only team in the country ranked in the top 10 of both statistical categories. And it's really not close. The next-closest team to KU's total score of 8 was Duke's 39.

Kansas: 8 (Effective offensive FG percentage 1; effective defensive FG percentage 7)
Duke: 39 (offense 12; defense 27)
Utah State: 46 (offense 35; defense 11)
Vanderbilt: 49 (offense 33; defense 16)
Louisville: 50 (offense 22; defense 28)
Kentucky: 54 (offense 48; defense 6)
Washington: 54 (offense 15; defense 39)
Georgetown: 62 (offense 3; defense 59)
San Diego State: 63 (offense 49; defense 14)
Pittsburgh: 74 (offense 29; defense 45)
Texas: 77 (offense 76; defense 1)
Syracuse: 79 (offense 47; defense 32)
Ohio State: 81 (offense 5; defense 76)
Arizona: 89 (offense 7; defense 82)
BYU: 102 (offense 64; defense 38)
Wisconsin: 102 (offense 54, defense 48)
Notre Dame: 119 (offense 46; defense 73)
Purdue: 133 (offense 66; defense 67)
Villanova: 133 (offense 108; defense 25)
Missouri: 139 (offense 51; defense 88)
North Carolina: 159 (offense 104; defense 55)
Minnesota: 165 (offense 82; defense 83)
West Virginia: 208 (offense 184; defense 24)
Texas A&M: 225 (offense 156; defense 69)
Connecticut: 234 (offense 221; defense 13)

Certainly, this doesn't tell us everything about college hoops, but as KUsports.com online editor/Ken Pom king Jesse Newell said to me on the phone recently in the simplest terms possible: "When KU is shooting, it's been going in of late. When KU's defending, it's not been going in."

The Jayhawks have been unbelievably balanced this season. They've shot and defended exceptionally well, as evidenced by the above exercise.

One thing I should point out about effective field goal percentage numbers: They don't take a team's schedule into account. That's probably why No. 3 Texas was rather undervalued in the above exercise. The Longhorns had a tougher nonconference schedule than most (Illinois, Pittsburgh, North Carolina, Michigan State, Connecticut to name a few), undoubtedly lowering their offensive production a bit.

Regardless of KU's schedule — we're already halfway through Big 12 play — the Jayhawks have displayed offensive and defensive balance in shooting percentages matched by no one.

Next up for Kansas (22-1, 7-1): an 8 p.m. battle against Missouri (18-5, 4-4) on Monday at Allen Fieldhouse.

No. 14 Mizzou's identity is no secret. Wreak havoc on defense. Cause turnovers. Rotate guys regularly to keep fresh legs. Cause turnovers some more.

The Tigers lead the conference in turnover margin at +5.52 per game. They are in the top 5 nationally in steals at just about 10 per game.

KU's ball movement was darn near flawless against a similarly-pesky Nebraska squad on Saturday. The Jayhawks will have to be equally as crisp on Monday. Missouri, to no one's surprise, pressures the entire length of the court, so while MU and NU have similar defensive tendencies, it's a different dynamic. NU, to my recollection, doesn't pick up full court as much as MU. I look at Missouri as a more talented, even peskier version of Nebraska.

Missouri has some quality depth. On Saturday, Kim English and Michael Dixon Jr. came off the bench. Coach Mike Anderson elected to start brothers Phil/Matt Pressey and Marcus Denmon at the guards, with Ricardo Ratliffe and Laurence Bowers at the forward spots. Very similar lineup composition to Kansas with three guards and two bigs.

It will undoubtedly help KU that the game is at Allen Fieldhouse, where MU last won 11 years ago.

Kansas has won eight of the last nine meetings overall and will be favored again on Monday night.

The way the Jayhawks are playing, they'll most likely be favored for the rest of their Big 12 Conference schedule. With the balance that KU has displayed, though, this is to be expected.

That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.


What does cluster in Big 12 standings say about league? A look ahead to KU-Nebraska

Several nights per week, when working on the sports copy desk for the Lawrence Journal-World, I update the Big 12 basketball standings so they can be placed on our Scoreboard page.

After Wednesday's Big 12 games, a variety of thoughts crossed my mind as I updated the standings. A few Conference Chatter bullet-point observations:

Oklahoma is in a tie for third place in the Big 12. Um ... Yeah. The same OU that's 12-9. Credit coach Jeff Capel and the Sooners, though, for winning four straight conference games to sit at 4-3 in the league. When I glanced at the standings and noticed OU that high up, I had to make sure I was looking at the right sport.

So just how good is the Big 12? A week ago, the conference was arguably the best in the country. Then, Texas A&M and Missouri had awful weeks and lost two in a row, raising questions about the conference's depth and quality.

Really, what teams in the Big 12 are well above-average right now? Texas (19-3, 7-0 conference), clearly. Kansas (21-1, 6-1), obviously.

The rest of the conference, however, is a bigger mess than the women who don't receive a rose in the final 10 minutes of The Bachelor.

Every team in the Big 12, minus UT, KU, and bottom-feeder Iowa State (1-7 in league) is either 4-3, 3-4 or 3-5. Talk about a cluster. I don't know what to make of it. Perhaps A&M and Mizzou can provide separation and join with UT and KU to create an upper tier of the league again.

For now, it's a two-horse race for the Big 12 title, with the rest of the teams fighting to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive.

Realtimerpi.com actually has high praise for the conference, ranking the Big 12 second in the country behind the Big East.

Where would you rank the Big 12 right now? It's way too top-heavy to place above the Big East. But the two top-heavy Big 12 teams are so good that I can see how Realtimepri ranked the Big 12 ahead of the third-place Big Ten.

Let's take a look at the upcoming opponent for Kansas: the pesky Nebraska Cornhuskers (3 p.m., Saturday, Lincoln, Neb.).

The Jayhawks had trouble knocking off the Huskers on Jan. 15 in Lawrence. Kansas escaped, 63-60, to preserve its then-69-game home court winning streak.

Since that game in Lawrence, Nebraska has gone 2-2. No secret in the pattern. Both victories came at home, while both losses took place on the road.

Nebraska (15-6, 3-4 Big 12) is no slouch at home. The Huskers are actually undefeated at the Devaney Center this season, sporting a sparkling 14-0 record. Most notably, the Huskers have taken out USC, Iowa State, Colorado and Texas A&M in Lincoln.

It wouldn't be surprising if Big Red fans treated Saturday's game as their Super Bowl (one day before the actual Super Bowl in Arlington, Texas). Think about what a victory would do for the Huskers and their chances of making the NCAA Tournament. There's a pretty big difference between 4-4 and 3-5, especially since nine Big 12 teams have either three or four league victories at the moment.

If Nebraska wants to play in the NCAA Tournament, it needs a signature victory to spice up its resume. The Huskers can't just slide into the Big Dance going 8-8 in the league, for instance, and expect the committee to give them the benefit of the doubt. NU went 8-8 in the league in 2008-09, and was rewarded only with an NIT invitation. Nebraska has only made six NCAA Tournament appearances in its history, and hasn't been included in the field since 1998.

Now ... A 9-7 league record with a victory over Kansas? Nebraska's chances would become much better.

Saturday is a huge game for the Cornhuskers, who last beat Kansas seven years ago.

What Nebraska does best: Holds opponents to low shooting percentages.

The Huskers defend well, as evidenced by their 43.2 effective field goal percentage defense, good for eighth in the country out of 345 teams.

But will NU be able to stop KU's dynamic offensive attack? Only one team in the Big 12 consistently shoots better than 50 percent from the field: Yep, it's Kansas (51.9 percent).

How well Nebraska shows up on D will determine if the Huskers are in this game again at the end against KU.

Saturday will be a big game for Kansas as it continues its chase of Texas and a seventh consecutive Big 12 regular season title.

Saturday's also important for Nebraska and coach Doc Sadler, who's trying to elevate the Huskers to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in the coach's five years in Lincoln.

That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.


Next up for KU: Texas Tech, whose inconsistencies lead to questions

Two-thirds of the way through the college basketball season, the Big 12 has had a few unexpected developments.

Texas, not too long after a disastrous last season, looks like a national title contender.

Kansas State, after the league's coaches selected the Wildcats to win the Big 12, look disorganized and undisciplined. KSU's current standing in the conference: tied for 10th. One of the biggest surprises, though — perhaps as startling as the first two — is how poorly Texas Tech began Big 12 play.

The Red Raiders (11-11, 3-4 Big 12), who will play host to Kansas (20-1, 5-1) on Tuesday in Lubbock, Texas, started conference play 0-4, losing by an average of 21.5 points per game. It just didn't make sense.

Entering the season, Tech had upper-half-of-the-league aspirations. The Red Raiders returned five of their top six scorers from a year ago, including point guard John Roberson and forward Mike Singletary. Both are seniors.

I remember attending Big 12 media day in Kansas City, Mo. before the season, when third-year coach Pat Knight candidly addressed reporters, saying he was entering a "get-an-extension or get-fired kind of year."

At the time, it wasn't too big a stretch to think Knight could turn the program around. Tech was 14-19 in his first season in 2008-2009, and 19-16 last season. I came away from media day thinking Knight, who typically speaks what's on his mind, meant business this year. That's why it was somewhat surprising when Tech appeared to be spiraling its season down the tubes at 0-4 in league play.

A sudden burst of life has seemed to re-energize the Red Raiders, however. Tech has won its last three league games, giving Knight his first three-game Big 12 win streak as a head coach.

It's part of the mission of this blog to occasionally offer insight into KU's Big 12 opposition, but the Red Raiders and their Six Flags over Texas roller-coaster rides into the land of inconsistency are making that rather difficult.

Which bunch will Kansas run into on Tuesday, the 0-4 Red Raiders or the 3-0 Red Raiders?

Two telling stats with Texas Tech that could decide the outcome: how well TTU is shooting, and how well it's rebounding.

In Tech's four conference losses, it shot an average of .387 from the field. In their three conference wins, the Red Raiders are shooting at a .501 clip.

In TTU's four Big 12 losses, it was outrebounded by an average of 34-25 per game. In three conference wins, Tech is holding a 33-30 average rebounding advantage.

Kansas is vastly more athletic and talented on paper, but Tuesday's venue (United Spirit Arena) might alter that advantage a bit.

Something has happened to KU the last few times it has visited Lubbock. Not sure what exactly that is, but KU hasn't won at Tech since March of 2003. The Jayhawks were more talented than the Red Raiders in 2009, 2007 and 2005 as well, but were upended each of those years in Lubbock. That means Kansas coach Bill Self has never won at the United Spirit Arena since taking over in Lawrence, surely one of the oddest KU stats out there.

The guess here is Kansas ends that streak on Tuesday. The Jayhawks are simply too good offensively, ranking first in the country in effective field goal percentage (57.9 percent). The Red Raiders, conversely, have played porous defense this season, sitting last in the Big 12 in scoring defense with a hefty 75.6 points allowed per game (that's also 311th of 335 teams in the country).

Tech's been able to squeeze out some victories against middle-of-the-pack Big 12 teams (Nebraska, Oklahoma State) and Iowa State. When it's come time to play the big boys (Texas, Baylor), however, the Red Raiders have been taken out rather handily.

We'll find out just how good TTU is in the next few weeks. Brutal upcoming schedule: vs. Kansas, at Texas, vs. Texas A&M, at Missouri, at Baylor.

As for Tuesday, mismatch city, even with KU on the road.

That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.


Emptying the notebook: Colorado, Kansas basketball pre-game observations

With the Kansas men’s basketball team set to take on Colorado at 7 p.m. on Tuesday night in Boulder, Colo., I had some leftover items that didn’t make it into my Colorado feature story on senior Cory Higgins and coach Tad Boyle.

Time to empty out the notebook.

• I spoke to Boyle on the phone on Monday. I continue to be impressed with this hire. The Buffaloes lured Boyle away from Northern Colorado, where he spent the last four years turning around the Bears program. Boyle, a former KU guard in the 1980s, reminds me of KU coach Bill Self. Both are very smart, engaging speakers who don't always speak in boring cliches.

Boyle’s Buffaloes, who enter Tuesday night at 14-6 overall and 3-2 in the Big 12, aren’t nearly as talented as No. 6 Kansas (18-1, 3-1). Boyle was honest when I asked him about the challenge of contending in a loaded Big 12 that may send six or seven teams to the NCAA Tournament this season. The most the conference ever sent was seven last season.

“We may not be the biggest team, because we're not,” Boyle said. “We may not be the deepest team, because we’re not. But we have some pieces that give us an opportunity to compete. What we don't have is any margin for error. We can't have one or two guys not play well and be able to overcome that. Some teams in the league, one or two of their guys don't play well, they can go to maybe one or two guys some place else and get that production. We don't have that luxury. But we do have a good nucleus.”

That nucleus starts with CU guards Higgins and Alec Burks. If Colorado wants to spring an upset, the two guards must score consistently. I’m thinking 45-50 combined points.

In Colorado’s two conference losses against Nebraska and Oklahoma this season, Higgins has struggled with his shot (combined 7-for-22) and Burks has tried to occasionally do too much (12 turnovers).

Last season, CU nearly beat KU in Boulder but fell, 72-66 in overtime. Burks did not play that game. The Buffs need him to score in bunches Tuesday.

Inside the paint is where the Jayhawks should have a noticeable advantage.

Colorado typically starts four guards: 6-foot-5 Higgins, 6-6 Burks, 6-3 Nate Tomlinson and 6-7 Marcus Relphorde. Austin Dufault, 6-9, is the Buffs’ only starting forward.

Should CU stick with this lineup, the most important matchup will be how well Relphorde guards Marcus Morris, arguably the Big 12’s best player.

Kansas seems to play its most dominating basketball when the Morris twins lead the charge (see Baylor). If the Buffs don’t limit the twins in the paint, it will be a long night for the home crowd.

• Kansas is a clear favorite (7.5 points), and much of that has to do with better talent. History also swings the advantage heavily toward the Jayhawks. Colorado and Kansas have played 29 games in the Big 12 era. Kansas has won 28 of them.

• Higgins, on how the CU pair of he (16.1 points per game, 3.6 rebounds per game, 2.7 assists per game) and Burks (19.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.3 apg) compares to others around the country: “I think we have as good a duo as anyone in the country,” Higgins said. “You can’t key to one of us.”

This Bleacher Report blog post ranked Burks and Higgins the No. 18 college duo in the country this season. KU's Markieff and Marcus Morris are No. 4, Texas' Jordan Hamilton and Tristan Thompson are No. 3, Purdue's JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore are No. 2, and Duke's Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith are No. 1. Thoughts on this topic?

• In practice, Boyle typically places Burks and Higgins on different teams. So who typically wins?

“Oh, we’ve both gotten each other on certain days,” Higgins said. “It’s hard to stop him. But I think it’s hard to stop me, too (laughs). Really, though, it makes us better defenders.”

What’s the hardest part of Burks’ game to stop?

“Just how many moves he has,” Higgins said. “If you stop one move, he’s right into his second move like that. His instincts are unbelievable.”

Burks, at 6-6, presents a similar matchup situation for KU at the 3-spot to Texas swingman Jordan Hamilton. A combination of Tyshawn Taylor, Brady Morningstar, Mario Little and maybe Travis Releford, if he’s healthy enough to play, could draw defensive assignments on Burks.

• Boyle took over as coach of Northern Colorado in 2006-2007. In that first season, the Bears went 4-24. They improved in each consecutive season, going 13-16 in 2007-08, 14-18 in 2008-09 and 25-8 last season. It appears the Bears have continued to ride the momentum from when Boyle was there. Northern Colorado is currently 7-0 in the Big Sky Conference (11-7 overall ... kind of an odd split) and in first place.

• Over/under guess on the amount of combined points and rebounds from the Morris twins Tuesday night? I'll set the line at their combined averages: 30 points and 15.5 rebounds. Let's get some guesses going.

That should be all for now, friends. Enjoy the game. And as always, discuss.


Kansas-Texas hoops battle looms; what makes Longhorns different from last year?

In trying to gauge how much of a threat the University of Texas basketball team will pose to Kansas University's six straight Big 12 titles, it would be easy to look at UT's 3-0 conference start this season and think, 'same story, different year.'

Remember last season? Texas started 17-0 and climbed to No. 1 in the Associated Press poll. The Longhorns began Big 12 play 3-0 last season as well. They ended the season, however, with a catastrophic nosedive into irrelevance. Texas finished 7-10 the rest of the way, with a first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament. To think the Longhorns will have another letdown in the second half of this season would be to seriously undermine the differences from last year that coach Rick Barnes' 2010-11 squad has displayed.

No. 2 Kansas will take on No. 10 Texas at 3 p.m. on Saturday in Allen Fieldhouse in the Big 12 regular season game of the year. My reason for the billing of high expectations: Texas looks a whole lot different than last season.

The main differences:

• Sophomore Jordan Hamilton is not playing like he did last season, when he took ill-advised shots that made you play an over/under guessing game on the amount of sprints Barnes had in store for him the next day in practice.

This season, the 6-foot-7 guard/forward looks like a more polished player. I'll estimate 75 percent of our KUsports.com regular hoops commenters saw part of the Texas-Texas A&M game Wednesday night. Hamilton went off for 27 points on 10-of-14 shooting. When he hoisted threes, he was open. When he put up two-pointers, he was under control. In fact, he didn't miss a shot from inside the arc (7-of-7) all night. Hamilton also nailed 4-of-4 free throws and grabbed eight boards.

Barnes has rewarded Hamilton for his offseason improvement with 10 more minutes per game and a starting spot for all 18 of UT's games this season. Hamilton didn't start any games last season. The one-year difference is rather startling:

Points per game 2009-10: 10
Points per game 2010-11: 19.7

Rebounds per game 2009-10: 3.7
Rebounds per game 2010-11: 7.1

Assists per game 2009-10: 1.5
Assists per game 2010-11: 2.3

Field-goal percentage 2009-10: .410 (.365 from three-point range)
Field-goal percentage 2010-11: .474 (.424 from three-point range)

Free-throw percentage 2009-10: .578
Free-throw percentage 2010-11: .725

You get the idea.

This is a completely different player. Hamilton, along with KU's Marcus Morris, are my two front-runners to this point for Big 12 player of the year.

• Barnes couldn't figure out a consistent rotation last season, when eight players averaged at least 19 minutes per game. This year, only five players average at least 19 minutes per game. Roles are more clearly defined. For example:

(1) Point guard/offensive facilitator: Cory Joseph
(2) Defensive specialist: Dogus Balbay
(3) Primary scorer: Jordan Hamilton
(4) Glue/hustle guy: Gary Johnson
(5) Legitimate inside presence on offense/defense, shot blocker: Tristan Thompson
Sixth man: J'Covan Brown

• Freshmen Thompson and Joseph sparked the Longhorns immediately upon their arrival on the court. Texas seems to have better chemistry this season with the Canada natives in the starting lineup. Odd, considering the Longhorns had seniors Damion James, Dexter Pittman and Justin Mason last season. Again, though, roles were up in the air and with eight to 10 players getting consistent playing time, rhythm was hard to find on a game-to-game basis.

Joseph, who has drawn comparisons to former UT guard D.J. Augustin, has given the Longhorns a steady point guard and facilitator, a missing component from last season. A solid point guard seems to be imperative with Barnes' best teams. T.J. Ford led Texas to a Final Four in 2003, while Augustin was the floor general for the 2008 Elite Eight team.

Thompson is incredibly active in the paint. He leads the Big 12 in offensive rebounds and ranks second in blocked shots per game. He plays at a seemingly bigger size than his actual height of 6-8 because of his long arms.

• Texas can flat-out defend. The Longhorns, according to stat wizard Ken Pomeroy, are the second-best team in the country when it comes to effective field goal percentage defense (holding opponents to 40.7 percent). Kansas, for reference, isn't half bad either, ranking fourth in the country in Pomeroy's rankings at 42 percent.

Combining these factors, Texas has the look of a team that could seriously threaten KU's 69-game home win streak, best in the country by a long shot.

KU defensive assignments?

When mulling over the potential matchups for Saturday, Hamilton, at the 3-spot, presents an interesting challenge for KU's typical starting lineup.

At 6-7, Hamilton appears too tall for starting KU guards Tyshawn Taylor (6-3), Tyrel Reed (6-3) or Josh Selby (6-2).

That leaves Marcus Morris and Markieff Morris. Marcus is certainly athletic enough to draw the Hamilton assignment, but I'd think KU coach Bill Self would want the 6-9 forward playing inside against Gary Johnson. Ditto to Markieff and Tristan Thompson, which should be a monster encounter.

What do you think? Should KU stick one of its usual starting guards on Hamilton, or bench one of them in favor of a taller option, like 6-4 Brady Morningstar, who did a superb job on Monday defensively against Baylor's LaceDarius Dunn?

Saturday's game in Lawrence should provide can't-miss entertainment between the two best teams in the Big 12 this season. Barnes has Texas in a familiar position again, after a disappointing last season, of challenging Kansas for the Big 12 title.

That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.


Baylor’s LaceDarius Dunn on verge of breaking Big 12 three-point record this season

Monday night, when Kansas University's basketball team takes on Baylor in Waco, Texas, Jayhawk defenders will undoubtedly chase sharp-shooting, three-point threat LaceDarius Dunn all around the Ferrell Center.

Dunn, a senior from Monroe, La., leads the Big 12 in scoring (22.3 points per game) and three-pointers made per game (4.15). Doesn't it seem like Dunn has played for the Bears forever? He's a guy like Texas A&M's Josh Carter, who I swore was a 10-year player for the Aggies.

Dunn is on the verge of making Big 12 history this season for career three-pointers.

Currently, Dunn has converted 353 career triples. The Big 12 record is 389, held by former Texas guard A.J. Abrams. Dunn should reach that mark in another nine games, if his averages hold up.

Two years ago, in a Conference Chatter blog entry, we discussed the best three-point shooters in the history of the Big 12.

Popular names in the comments section included Abrams and former Kansas guards Jeff Boschee and Kirk Hinrich.

Add Dunn to that mix.

By the end of the season, the career three-pointers list in the Big 12 should look like this:

  • 1. LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor (2007-2011): xxx
  • 2. A.J. Abrams, Texas (2005-2009): 389
  • 3. Jeff Boschee, Kansas (1998-2002): 338
  • 4. Clarence Gilbert, Missouri (1998-2002): 332
  • 5. Josh Carter, Texas A&M (2005-2009 [OK, maybe not 10 years]): 299

Of course, it's difficult to define 'best' three-point shooter. Three-point percentage should factor into the equation. Here are the top five three-point career percentages in Big 12 history, with a minimum of two trifectas made per game:

  • 1. Dedric Willoughby, Iowa State (1996-1997): 45.1 percent (102-of-226)
  • 2. Brian Conklin, Nebraska (2000-2004): 43.2 percent (176-407)
  • 3. Galen Morrison, Kansas State (1999-2000): 43.2 percent (67-155)
  • 4. Kirk Hinrich, Kansas (1999-2003): 43.1 percent (236-546)
  • 5. Tracey Anderson, Texas A&M (1996-1997): 42.7 percent (47-110)

Each of the aforementioned names, with the exception of Hinrich, is rather forgettable when discussing the best three-point marksman in the history of the conference.

To me, the real question was, which player on the career three-pointers list had the best three-point percentage? This way, we could factor in total threes and percentage.

The answer: A&M's Carter, at 42 percent. Dunn isn't too far behind, however, at 40.8.

If Dunn keeps his three-point percentage at 40 percent this season, it'd be difficult not to designate him the best three-point shooter in Big 12 history.

So who do you think gets KU's Big Monday defensive assignment against Dunn? The 6-foot-4 Dunn typically plays the 2-guard, with A.J. Walton running point, Anthony Jones at 3, Quincy Acy at 4 and Perry Jones at 5.

KU's starting guards on Saturday against Nebraska were Tyshawn Taylor, Josh Selby and Tyrel Reed. Journal-World sports editor Tom Keegan thinks there's still hope for Tyshawn Taylor on defense. Do you stick him on Dunn? Or do you go with Selby or Reed? Brady Morningstar could also receive some looks against Dunn coming off the bench.

Dunn is a tough assignment because he's more of an all-around player this season.

His first two seasons, Dunn seemed content camping out beyond the three-point line and firing away. He didn't drive a whole lot. And he really didn't find open teammates, as evidenced by his .8 assists per game his freshman season and his ridiculously putrid .6 assists per contest his sophomore campaign.

The last two years, Dunn has kept defenses more honest. He dishes more this season (2.3 assists per game; not all-world, but an improvement), and he's a threat to reach the paint for layups off the dribble-drive.

In the four times Dunn has faced Kansas (he's 1-3 against the Jayhawks), he's averaged 21.8 points per game and has shot better than 50 percent from beyond the arc.

For Kansas (17-0, 2-0 Big 12) to stay undefeated, it will have to challenge Dunn to a lower clip from distance. Statistically, KU has defended the three better than any team in the Big 12 this season, holding opponents to a chilly 24.9 percentage.

Should that happen with Dunn, the Jayhawks should stay undefeated.

That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.


The top 10 freshmen hoops players in the Big 12 at mid-season

For the past two years, the Conference Chatter blog has put together a list of the top 10 freshmen basketball players in the Big 12 at mid-season.

Oklahoma's Willie Warren took the top spot in the first year in 2008-09, while Kansas University's Xavier Henry captured the distinction last season in 2009-10.

Who will capture the mid-season honor this year?

It's not atypical for freshmen to be leading their respective squads. Jared Sullinger for No. 2 Ohio State. Terrence Jones for No. 13 Kentucky. Kyrie Irving, before injury, for No. 1 Duke. Will Barton for 12-4 Memphis.

In fact, nbadraft.net predicts the top 5 picks in the 2011 NBA Draft to be freshmen.

This season in the Big 12, which has five teams ranked in the top 25, several freshmen are making a distinct impact.

Please note: These picks are primarily based on proven production, and not as much on a prospect's potential ceiling.

Now introducing Conference Chatter's third annual top 10 rookies in the Big 12:

10. Jaye Crockett, Texas Tech

It's been a disastrous season in Lubbock (8-9 overall), but the 6-foot-7 forward has played rather well for a freshman, averaging 5.4 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. Most important, perhaps, has been Crockett's accuracy (50.7 percent) from the field.

9. Phil Pressey, Missouri

Had it not been for a fractured finger, which sidelined the 5-10 freshman for four games, Pressey may have been higher on the list. As it is, Pressey, a four-star Rivals.com recruit coming into the season, showed flashes of his potential with 15 points and 11 assists against Central Arkansas on Dec. 18, 2010. But that was before the injury. Now that he's back and playing, how much will the injury affect him?

Pressey is averaging 4.5 points and 2.2 assists in 19.7 minutes per game this season.

8. Kourtney Roberson, Texas A&M

How about the Aggies this year? Mark Turgeon's surprising squad is 15-1 and ranked No. 14 in the country. Roberson, a 6-9 forward, is averaging 6.0 points and 4.4 boards per game. Roberson is only getting 12.5 minutes per game, but he's making them count, as evidenced by an impressive 59.4 percent field goal percentage. Roberson provides sturdy depth off the bench for an A&M squad that could challenge for the Big 12 title.

7. Cameron Clark, Oklahoma

The 6-6 guard/forward has started all 16 games for a struggling Oklahoma squad (8-8) going through a transition phase. Clark, ranked by Rivals.com the 34th-best freshman in the country coming into the season, has averaged 9.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. He's caught fire lately with 15.75 points per game in his last four outings.

6. Andre Roberson, Colorado

The 6-7 versatile guard doesn't start, but has averaged 20 minutes and 6.5 points per game. Most impressive, though, is his ability to crash the glass. Roberson has produced an eye-popping 7.5 rebounds per game, and has landed double-digit boards in five games already. Tremendous for a freshman.

5. Melvin Ejim, Iowa State

Ejim, a 6-6 forward who attended Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H. (same prep school as KU's Thomas Robinson and 2011-12 KU commit Naadir Tharpe), has pieced together a startling freshman campaign, going for 12.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per night. His 54.7 field goal percentage is terrific. It would rank in the top five of the Big 12 standings, except Ejim is barely under the requisite of five field goals made per game (4.5).

4. Josh Selby, Kansas

Selby's only played in seven games for the Jayhawks, or else he would have likely been ranked higher on the list. In the few games he's been on the court, he's been a difference-maker. His most memorable game remains his first one, a 21-point effort in which he drilled the go-ahead three-pointer to preserve a KU victory over USC.

Curiously, Selby is shooting better from three-point range (45.9 percent) than he is from two-point distance (39.7). He has to become more aggressive and improve his shot selection from inside the arc. Once he does, that will create more opportunities at the foul line, where he has excelled (19-for-22, 86.4 percent). His two creative layups on Wednesday at Iowa State, both times from the right wing where Selby made a move in mid-air to avoid an incoming defender, proved that he has legitimate slashing ability. Once Selby adopts more of a mind-set to attack the rim, his two-point field goal percentage should improve.

The 6-2 guard is averaging 13.4 points, 3.4 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game for the No. 3 Jayhawks, and should continue to improve as the season progresses. Once he reaches his potential, look out.

NBADraft.net currently projects Selby the No. 11 overall pick in the summer's NBA Draft, while DraftExpress.com pegs him at No. 12.

3. Cory Joseph, Texas

Last season, Texas started 17-0, but went 7-10 the rest of the way in large part because it didn't have an effective point guard. Joseph, a 6-3 point who Rivals.com ranked the No. 8 freshman in the country heading into the season, gives the Longhorns a legitimate floor general.

His averages of 11.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game are nice, but Joseph's maturity is unique for a freshman. It could be argued Joseph is the most mature freshman in the Big 12, due to his 1.96 assists-to-turnover ratio, fifth-best in the Big 12 and tops among conference rookies.

Joseph also appears extremely calm for a freshman. I think back to the game-winner he drilled against North Carolina with 1.4 seconds to go in Greensboro, N.C. Joseph's highlights from the Carolina game remind me of a young Mario Chalmers, a guy who can get into the lane with ease and shoot the soft floater over the outstretched arms of rotating post men.

Texas (13-3, 1-0 Big 12) is dangerous this season, and Joseph is a big reason why.

2. Tristan Thompson, Texas

Say what you will about Texas coach Rick Barnes, but the guy recruits as well as anyone. Landing Joseph and Thompson has turned around a UT program that seemed in utter dismay last March when Texas lost to Wake Forest in the NCAA Tournament.

Thompson has started 14 of 16 games for Barnes, and averages 12.7 points, 7.8 boards and two blocks (third in the Big 12) per contest. It would behoove opposing teams to make an effort to box out the 6-8 forward. Thompson's 4.1 offensive rebounds per game lead the conference.

One area he must improve before he's a dominant force on both ends of the floor: foul shooting. Thompson visits the charity stripe quite a bit (117 times). He's converted only 57 free throws for an anything-but-stellar 48.7 percent. For the amount of times he gets to the line, he probably should be averaging two to three more points per game.

1. Perry Jones, Baylor

Catch him while you can, because it will be the only season the 6-10, 220-pound forward/center plays college ball. Sure, Jones is a solid scorer (13.3 points per game), but he's an efficient scorer. His 56.7 shooting percentage ranks second in the Big 12 (only to KU's Marcus Morris and his ridiculous 60 percent clip from field) for players who make at least five field goals per game. Jones is also a heck of a rebounder (7.4 per game).

And he's maturing. He had 20 points, six boards and five steals on Jan. 8 at Texas Tech. In two conference games, Jones has scored 20 and 25 points. In watching a few Baylor games, his court vision is excellent. Jones is a gifted passer for a big man. His jump shot from 15 feet away from all around the court looks smooth.

Jones stays away from the three-point line (only 1-of-8), but that doesn't need to be a part of his game until he reaches the NBA. Bears teammate LaceDarius Dunn leads the league in three-pointers made per game (4.17). Jones is best served sticking with his offensive talents inside the arc, particularly with that high field goal percentage.

Jones and Quincy Acy form one of the most exciting dunking tandems around. The Bears (12-3) are off to a solid 2-0 start in conference play and should be a top-tier Big 12 team this season.

NBADraft.net predicts Jones to be the top overall pick in this year's NBA Draft, while DraftExpress.com pencils in Jones at No. 2.

That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.


Winner revealed in KUsports.com over/under contest: Which commenter took it all?

A few months ago, I asked 10 over/under questions in a Conference Chatter entry relating to the upcoming Big 12 football season.

The KUsports.com community responded with more than 60 entries.

I tallied up each answer to see which commenter won a prize package with the following goodies: A KUsports.com combo pack of a T-shirt, water bottle and hat; and a copy of our Kansas preseason men's basketball magazine.

Drum roll...

And the winner of the KUsports.com 2010-2011 over/under contest is:

Jeffrey Worthington of Overland Park, also known as Jhawkjdub.

Congrats. Of all the entries, Jeffrey had the high score of eight correct answers.

Interestingly, Jeffrey was the final contestant who entered, posting at 11:51 p.m. on Aug. 12, a mere eight minutes before the deadline.

I caught up with Jeffrey on Tuesday night via e-mail. A little bit about our winner: He's originally from Bucyrus (population 300). Jeffrey is a six-year Kansas football season ticket holder. He drove to the Orange Bowl in 2008 to witness KU knock off Virginia Tech. He's only missed one home football game in six years — and that was because his brother was getting married. Our winner is a heck of a football fan.

Four other commenters (d_prowess, tororosso83, bdparkinson, KGphoto) came very close with seven correct responses.

Here's a recap of the questions from the contest with their corresponding answers:

Question 1: The rushing touchdowns for Kansas University sophomore running back Toben Opurum this season. Line set at eight. Over or under?

Answer: Under. I wrote the questions 10 days before KU coach Turner Gill moved Opurum to linebacker (and, later, to defensive end). No one had the foresight on Aug. 9 to predict freshman James Sims, pictured below, would have nine rushing TDs for the season. And if you did, I want proof. That'd be quite impressive.

Question 2: Amount of passing touchdowns thrown by Kansas sophomore quarterback Kale Pick. Line set at 13. Over/under?

Answer: Under. Pick didn't throw any touchdown passes, was replaced at quarterback in the first game by Jordan Webb and later switched positions to wide receiver.

Question 3: Total Kansas football victories this season. Line set at 6.5. Over/under?

Answer: Under. KU went 3-9. The first three questions hurt many commenters' chances. A lot of optimistic Jayhawk fans picked over for all three. I'll admit, with KU's schedule, there's no way I would have predicted three victories.

Question 4: Rushing yards by Kansas State senior running back Daniel Thomas. Line set at 1,350 yards. Over/under?

Answer: Over. The senior piled up 1,555 rushing yards and 19 scores.

Question 5: Passing touchdowns by Missouri junior quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Line set at 24. Over/under?

Answer: Under. Gabbert, who recently declared for the NFL Draft, threw for only 16 touchdowns in 13 games.

Question 6: Total Nebraska football victories this season, its last as a member of the Big 12. Line set at 10.5. Over/under?

Answer: Under. The Cornhuskers went 10-4 in their last season in the Big 12. Nebraska had two chances at the end of the season to switch this answer to over, but lost in the Big 12 Championship to Oklahoma, then looked dreadful in the Holiday Bowl against Washington.

Question 7: Receiving yards by Oklahoma junior Ryan Broyles. Line set at 1,250 yards. Over/under?

Answer: Over. Broyles went off for 1,622 receiving yards this season, third in the country.

Question 8: Interceptions by the Texas defense. Line set at 20. Over/under?

Answer: Under. UT led the country with 25 picks last season, but only came up with eight this season.

Question 9: Passing touchdowns by all Texas Tech quarterbacks in 2010. Line set at 35. Over/under?

Answer: Over. Taylor Potts had 35 TD passes, and Steven Sheffield swayed this answer to over with three TD passes.

Question 10: Total yards (passing/rushing) accumulated by Baylor sophomore quarterback Robert Griffin. Line set at 2,900 yards. Over/under?

Answer: Over. Griffin, in his comeback from a right knee injury, obliterated the line and combined for 3,963 yards (3,501 passing and 462 rushing) for a Bears team that went 7-6 and made their first bowl appearance in 16 seasons.

For reference, Jeffrey only missed questions 4 (Daniel Thomas) and 7 (Ryan Broyles). Stellar showing.

That should be all for now, friends. Thanks to all who submitted answers this year in the over/under contest. As always, discuss.


Call it like you see it: K-State got jobbed in Pinstripe Bowl

It's no secret football referees at the college and pro level have made an effort to crack down on excessive celebrations in the end zone the past couple of years.

No more Terrell Owens sharpies, Chad Ochocinco playing golf or Joe Horn making a call on his cell phone after touchdowns.

All the more reason Thursday's Pinstripe Bowl, a 36-34 Syracuse victory over Kansas State in New York, had one of the more disappointing conclusions to a game that I've seen in some time.

With Kansas State trailing by eight, receiver Adrian Hilburn caught a simple pass near the sideline, made a Syracuse cornerback miss a tackle and outraced the rest of the Orange secondary to the endzone. It was only the second touchdown Hilburn, a senior from New Braunfels, Texas, had ever scored.

Shortly after crossing the end zone, the referees inexplicably flagged Hilburn for one simple salute to the crowd. Worst excessive celebration call I've ever seen:

That's all it took. A simple salute. You know, the same sort of thing Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor does after momentum-swinging dunks. The same sort of thing Denver Broncos players do after scoring touchdowns at Invesco Field at Mile High.

Ref, please.

Excessive celebration calls are not rocket science. They're obvious. That's why it's deemed excessive. If a knucklehead does anything ridiculous after scoring a touchdown that draws attention to himself, it's a 15-yard penalty. Simple enough. Fair enough.

Except the way the referees treated Hilburn was anything but fair. Hilburn told reporters after the game that the referee told him, "Wrong choice, buddy," for his salute.

Come on.

Both the head linesman and the back judge threw flags after Hilburn saluted the crowd.

“These kinds of excessive celebrations have been a priority in the rulebook for the last several years,” Big Ten referee Todd Geerlings told reporters after the game. “There’s a whole page in the rulebook pertaining to sportsmanship.”

Did anyone watch Oklahoma State rout Arizona in the Alamo Bowl on Wednesday night? Justin Blackmon broke free for a 71-yard touchdown in the first quarter and proceeded to sprint along the goal line, as if to taunt Arizona defenders, for several yards before finally breaking the plane to the end zone. Funny thing about that? No flag.

Or how about Tennessee wide receiver Gerald Jones scoring a touchdown in Thursday night's Music City Bowl, doing a wacky dance, then saluting twice? Common theme here? You guessed it. Again, no flag.

Consider me beyond puzzled.

I'm not saying Kansas State would have won without the flag. The Wildcats, who trailed by two points after the touchdown, would have had to convert the two-point conversion, hold Syracuse for the final minute of regulation and outplay the Orange in overtime.

Instead, K-State had to attempt a two-point conversion from the 17-yard line. Odds for conversion, not so great.

The Wildcats deserved a much better chance at extending that game. They were jobbed, plain and simple.

What did you think? As always, discuss.


Will Josh Selby be freshman of the year by season’s end?

Before Saturday, the only time I saw Josh Selby play basketball was during Oct. 15's Late Night in the Phog.

And, all due respect to the scrimmage, evaluating a player in that type of sloppy setting is dangerous. Doesn't paint a true picture.

Saturday's nailbiter — a 70-68 KU triumph over USC in Allen Fieldhouse — didn't paint the complete picture of Selby either. It was only his first game of playing college basketball after serving a nine-game suspension for accepting impermissible benefits.

Kansas guard Josh Selby jokes with head coach Bill Self before tipoff against USC, Saturday, Dec. 18, 2010 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Josh Selby jokes with head coach Bill Self before tipoff against USC, Saturday, Dec. 18, 2010 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

But Saturday gave us a pretty darn good idea of what kind of player Selby is. Selby's 21-point outburst in 27 minutes was one of the more fearless performances I've seen from a KU freshman.

The kid was not afraid, with 26 seconds left and Kansas down two, to receive the ball on the wing, fake a pass to his right to ever so slightly free up some space and drill a game-winning, ice-in-the-veins three-pointer. It was one of his five threes on a memorable day.

By Saturday afternoon, Selby's performance was the talk of the town. When people spoke about the freshman, it was like they were describing a religious experience. Selby the savior.

Didn't take long for the Twitter world to catch on to the hype. If you haven't searched for #selbymovies, take five minutes to scroll down the hilarious list that describes Selby's impact with fans. Whatever genre you want, it's there. Star Wars: Revenge of the Selby. Eternal Sunshine of the Selby Mind. Selbys on a Plane. On Monday, I submitted 'When Selby Met Sally.' I'm a sucker for classic rom coms; what can I say?

Should Selby continue to improve, particularly on defense, he will undoubtedly be one of the best freshmen in the country and a potential lottery pick in next year's NBA Draft.

Time to look into the crystal college ball for now. Will Selby end up being the NCAA freshman of the year?

Quite possibly. But he'll have some dynamite freshmen he needs to hold off, even in the Big 12. Here's a list of other potential top freshmen in the country by season's end:

Terrence Jones, Kentucky: Is it any surprise the top three scorers on John Calipari's 8-2 Wildcats are diaper dandies? Jones tops all freshmen in the country with 18.9 points per game, and is pretty close to the top in rebounds per game (10) as well.

Kentucky's Terrence Jones.

Kentucky's Terrence Jones. by Associated Press

Jared Sullinger, Ohio State: ESPN analyst Doug Gottlieb called Sullinger the best freshman in the country over the weekend after the Buckeyes bruiser went for 30 points and 19 boards in a victory over South Carolina. Gottlieb went a step farther and called Ohio State the best team in the country. Wonder how Duke and Kansas feel about that. There's no denying Sullinger's impact, though. The 6-foot-9, 280-pound behemoth is averaging 18.5 points and 9.6 rebounds for No. 2 OSU.

Brandon Knight, Kentucky: For the second consecutive season, the Wildcats have a top 10 recruit running the point as a freshman (John Wall in 2009-10). Knight, not as much of a driver/creator as Wall, has responded with 17.1 points per game this year. Knight has to cut down on his turnovers (38 in 10 games), though, which currently outweigh his assist totals (37).

Kyrie Irving, Duke: Had Irving not suffered a foot injury earlier this month, he may have been the front-runner to receive top freshman honors. Irving led the No. 1 team in the country with 17.4 points per game, while also piling up 5.1 assists and 3.8 boards per contest. Because he only played in eight games and could miss the remainder of the season, Irving seems like a long shot to be considered the best freshman. Interesting to note that Rivals.com ranked only one point guard ahead of Irving in the Class of 2010: Selby.

Perry Jones, Baylor: Jones and Selby lead an underrated class of impact freshmen in the Big 12 this season. The 6-10 Jones leads the 7-1 Bears in rebounding (8.9) and averages 13.9 points per game, tops in the conference for freshmen who have appeared in at least 75 percent of their team's games.

Cory Joseph, Texas: Remember one of the (many) problems with Texas last year? No point guard. Not the case this year because of Joseph, who's averaging 11.9 points, 2.9 assists (vs. 1.9 turnovers) and 3.8 rebounds per game. And if you want to observe the guy's clutch-o-meter, check out Joseph's game-winner from the weekend against North Carolina in front of a pro-Tar Heel crowd in Greensboro, N.C.:

Harrison Barnes, North Carolina: Barnes hasn't been quite as dominant as advertised, but there's still plenty of season left. The 6-8, 210-pounder has been good for 12.3 points and 6.1 boards per game. The unranked Tar heels have struggled to a 7-4 start, but if they pick it up, chances are you'll start to see Barnes mature on the floor.

Also consider: Doron Lamb, Kentucky; Tobias Harris, Tennessee; Tristan Thompson, Texas; Will Barton, Memphis.

Selby has some competition for top freshman. But if Saturday was any indication of what we'll see from the Baltimore native, he could very well finish ahead of everyone on this list.

That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.


Big 12 football bullet-point observations: A glance at the past with a look toward the future

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops stamped another ownership seal on the Big 12 Championship over the weekend, hoisting his seventh conference title in his 12 years on the job. My reflection is in the latest episode of Conference ChatterTV above.

The Sooners' 23-20 victory over Nebraska in Arlington, Texas, marked the end Big 12 football as we know it. Starting next season, no Nebraska or Colorado. A 10-team league will hold the Big 12 together for the foreseeable future. It might last. Some think it has no chance.

As the Big 12 readies for its bowl games, here are a few Conference Chatter bullet-point observations, in no particular order, to sum up the football season with a look at the past and a glance toward the future.

As a Big 12 football fan, have you ever witnessed a wilder summer of sports news than the realignment mess in June? The Big 12 looked finished, with all teams attempting to bolt to whichever major conference would take them. Twitter rumors ran rampant and I remember waking up for two days in that time feeling like I was cast in 'The Day After Tomorrow.' OK, maybe the end of the world is a bit much, but all hope to save the conference seemed lost until a sudden twist saw Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe unveil his 'Hail Mary Plan,' which saved the conference as a 10-member league.

On the field, it wasn't the most memorable football year in the Big 12. In five of the past seven seasons, a Big 12 team has played in the main event for the BCS Championship. Not this year. Just one team (Oklahoma) is playing in a BCS bowl.

This year, the Big 12 was relegated to bowl undercard status. And it very well could be the most anticlimactic slate of Big 12 bowl games in the 15-year history of the league. Big 12 champion Oklahoma will play in the Fiesta Bowl against Connecticut, a team that didn't even make the top 25 of the latest BCS rankings.

Most interesting bowl for a Big 12 team: Texas A&M vs. LSU in Cotton Bowl. Missouri vs. Iowa in Insight Bowl a close second.

Lamest bowl including a Big 12 team: Nebraska vs. Washington in Holiday Bowl. Um, we already saw that this season.

We're about a month away from awarding a winner for the season-long KUsports.com over/under contest. We had roughly 60 entrants in August. Be sure to check your answers in the comments section of the August blog if you need a refresher. After the bowl games, I'll write a blog entry declaring a winner. Prizes are involved.

Next year, the Big 12 will return the following quarterbacks: Landry Jones (Oklahoma), Brandon Weeden (Oklahoma State), Blaine Gabbert (Missouri), Robert Griffin (Baylor), Ryan Tannehill (Texas A&M) and Garrett Gilbert (Texas). Perhaps it will result in more exciting and prominent bowl matchups.

Biggest surprise of the year: Texas not making a bowl game. Oklahoma State going 10-2 a close second.

Conference Chatter Big 12 player of the year: Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon. The sophomore led the country with 18 touchdown catches (to go along with 102 catches and 1,665 yards). If Blackmon and Weeden come back next year, as opposed to entering their names in the NFL Draft, the Cowboys should contend for the Big 12 title.

I don't want to give up hope on Kansas coach Turner Gill until I see his own recruits take the field. Gill and his assistants have a plan, and it became clear they couldn't fully implement it with the current roster. It's not like Gill is taking over Oklahoma or Texas. Building a program takes time. Mark Mangino went 2-10 (0-8 in conference) in his first year at KU in 2002. Next year should be interesting, and 2012 (year three) should really give an indication on the direction of Gill's Jayhawks. These next few months are vital for Gill in recruiting.

Speaking of recruiting, offensive line might be the most important position for Gill and his staff to fill. I say that because the Jayhawks should be a run-first team next season. James Sims seems like he could be the focal point of an offense that won't know its starting quarterback heading into spring ball. The Jayhawks have a slew of options at running back as well (Brandon Bourbon [took a red-shirt], incoming freshman Darrian Miller, freshman DeShaun Sands, junior Rell Lewis [missed 2010 with ACL injury]). Good news for KU fans: Last summer, the Jayhawks landed four O-Lineman commitments in six days.

Colorado found its next head coach in Jon Embree, currently a tight ends coach in the NFL with the Washington Redskins. Embree didn't appear on any of the early rumors I saw floating around, but appears to be a good hire. Embree was the tight ends coach from 2006-08 with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he worked with All-Pro Tony Gonzalez. He also coached tight ends, wide receivers and defensive ends at Colorado, and played college ball with the Buffs.

Eight Big 12 teams made bowl games this winter. The best combined record for the conference in the Big 12 era is 5-3.

That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.