By Brent Blum, CycloneFanatic.com Columnist Follow Brent on Twitter @BrentBlum
Now that the pesky college football season is complete, we can concentrate on the round-ball. Like many of you who grew up in the Orr/Floyd eras of the ’80’s and ’90’s, football was just the appetizer for basketball in my simple world. Now that the Cyclones appear to be trending towards relevance, it is a perfect time to jump back on the basketball train. We are in for a strange, yet intriguing year in the Big 12 conference. The 18 game, round-robin schedule will be a treat. The next two months are setting up to be very entertaining. With that in mind, each week we will take a look at the Big 12 here at CycloneFanatic.com to look at how the conference is taking shape and how Fred Hoiberg’s bunch fit in.
Recapping Big Monday:
Oklahoma State 72 Oklahoma 65
If you forgot about this contest because of the BCS Title game, you didn’t miss much. The Cowboys have issues, but they were able to hide them for a night. They are playing a seven man rotation after guards Fred Gulley and Reger Dowell transferred in late December and another wing Jean-Paul Olukemi tore his ACL before conference play started. Thankfully, their prized freshman LeBryan Nash showed up in the Bedlam game. The McDonald’s slam dunk champion finally showed some assertiveness on his way to 21 points on 18 shots. Travis Ford’s club gets after it on defense, but their lack of consistent offense will be a problem all year. The Pokes shot 38 percent from the floor, but that was far better than OU’s 32 percent. The Sooners Steven Pledger came into Big 12 play as the conference’s second leading scorer, but is in a Adam Dunn-esque slump, connecting on just 10 of 35 field goal attempts in OU’s current three game skid. He has to be better if they want to compete.
K-State 75 Missouri 59
This was an impressive performance from the opening tip for the Wildcats. Mizzou came in as the most efficient offensive team in America, averaging 85 points per game, while only turning it over nine times per game. But that was before they entered the "Octagon of Doom." Flip Pressey had two turnovers in the first two Tiger possessions and it was 9-3 Wildcats before the first TV time-out. Missouri finished shooting just 32 percent and had 14 turnovers. On the K-State offensive end, Rodney McGruder was solid as ever with 20 points. This dude is about as flashy as a news special on PBS, but he gets the job done. At 6-foot-4, he was able to use his size over the smallish Mizzou guards, taking them to the rack at will. The Tigers are going to have issues all conference season long with guarding size. The Wildcats outscored Mizzou 46-18 in the paint. Ouch.
Kansas 72 Oklahoma 61
Once again, it is not going to be easy to beat Kansas in conference play. KU junior guard Travis Releford scored 28 points and keyed a HUGE 29-6 run to open the second half and helped the Jayhawks win in Norman. Releford reminds you of that old guy at the YMCA. He beats you with jab steps and pump fakes. Twenty-eight points on 13 shots is ridiculously efficient. He’s turned into a great secondary option to Thomas Robinson – who is now consistently knocking down 18-foot jumpers, a scary thought.
Baylor 73 Texas Tech 60
Texas Tech showed some serious fight in this game, but they are severely under-manned. Billy Gillispie has these young ‘fellas grinding and playing smart basketball. Unfortunately, they have no size and not much scoring punch. This was a classic Baylor game. Unbelievably talented team, but a bit unfocused once again. Baylor’s JUCO point guard Pierre Jackson is extremely entertaining to watch. The T.J. Ford clone scored 19 points on 12 shots, handed out seven assists and was a force in the second half. Perry Jones III had just nine points on eight shots. If he had Thomas Robinson’s mentality, he would be unguardable, but he’s got a little too much Jessan Gray, "I’d rather shoot jump-shots," on his mind. The Baylor zone can be frightening when they play hard. It’s like trying to score on five giant octopuses? Octopi? Octopodes? You get the point.
Texas 58 Oklahoma State 49.
This was hideous basketball. The Cowboys had 21 turnovers and committed 29 fouls against UT. Freshman Brian Williams was the lone positive for the Cowboys, as he scored 16 points on 12 shots. The Horns did their best to let the Pokes hang around by making a meager 30 percent of their shots. J’Covan Brown played a hobbled 26 minutes, not quite recovered from his ankle injury suffered in the Iowa State game. Texas is really searching for offense. UT’s Myck Kabongo is a dynamic table setter, but there is nobody who wants to eat. GET IN MY BELLY. Without a healthy J’Covan, it will be an adventure for Texas to score in Big 12 play.
Iowa State 74 Texas A&M 50.
A near flawless performance for Iowa State. It has been rehashed enough already, but Royce White’s ability to dominate a game without hoisting up a shot is remarkable. There just isn’t another player quite like him. He’s like a giant Rajon Rondo. When the Cyclones shoot it well, they can compete with anyone in America. That said, A&M was absolutely dreadful. You really have to question how deep the discontent is in Aggie-land after four-star freshman Jamal Branch transferred prior to conference play. Head coach Billy Kennedy had some major health concerns prior to the season and it makes you wonder if that has had any lasting impact. Right now, his squad looks lost and disinterested. First team All-Big 12 selection Khris Middleton is playing like a shadow of his self after a knee surgery in November. And the vaunted depth and skill in the post for the Aggies has been almost non-existent the past two weeks. The Aggies have now lost four of five and things appear to be spiraling in the wrong direction.
What to Watch For:
Tuesday (tonight): Baylor @ Kansas State – Can the Bears talent overcome the Wildcats toughness? Baylor has never had a winning record on the road in Big 12 conference play. If they want to win the conference for the first time ever, they have to start winning tough games on the road. This would put away some doubters (myself included).
Missouri @ Iowa State – Royce White has to be a huge concern for Mizzou. Iowa State will give RW the ball early and often to try and create foul issues for the Tigers. If he can handle the switching pressure and avoid turnovers, Cyclones have a chance to start 3-0 in conference for 1st time since the Fizer/Tinsley squad in 2000.
Texas A&M @ Texas – Have the wheels completely fallen off in College Station? If UT puts it on ’em, beware.
Kansas @ Texas Tech – Jayhawks have a great opportunity to start 3-0 with two wins on the road to open up conference play. Schedule sets up well for KU as home games with Iowa State and Baylor are next on the docket.
Rant of the Week:
Where have all the dislikeable players gone in the Big 12? One of my fondest memories at Hilton Coliseum in the ’90’s was learning F-Bombs while giving it to Missouri’s Jason Sutherland (my first real enemy) and Anthony Peeler. I then added a few more colorful verbs to my vernacular while listening to the students taunt the memorable collection of Kansas stiffs (Greg Ostertag, T.J. Pugh, Scott Pollard, Jerod Haase, Eric Chenoweth). Here’s my All-Jackwagon Team:
G: Jason Sutherland (Missouri)
G: Tim Heskett (Oklahoma)
F: David Harrison (Colorado)
F: T.J. Pugh (Kansas)
C: Bryant "Big Country" Reeves (Oklahoma State)
6th man: Victor Avila (Oklahoma)
People may have forgotten about Avila, he was the big oaf who played some center for the 2000 Sooner team that beat Fizer’s group in 2OT in Norman. In that game Avila hit a shot to take a lead in the first OT, Pete Taylor (reacting like we all grew accustomed to) said, "GOOD NIGHT!!…That Big STIFF hasn’t hit a shot the entire game!" Had to love Pete.
It is far from sportsmanlike, but part of the fun of going to the games back in the day was giving those dudes the business.
But with the exit of the Morris brothers from KU and Baylor’s LaceDarius Dunn, who is left in the conference to conjure up irrational feelings of displeasure? I’m stumped. The league has gone soft! We need a Rex Walters to boo!