TAG | KU
This conference has scene quite a shakeup from what the preseason prognosticators had thought. Texas came out of nowhere to be a national title contender; Kansas St. has taken a dump right in the middle of the court, and Kansas’ home winning streak is finally over. I gave the Big Ten and Big East the titles of frontcourt and backcourt of America so that doesn’t leave me with a whole lot more to anoint upon any of the other conferences (that’s ok, the disparity from those two conferences and the rest is significant). Although, the Big 12 could hold the most “confusing conference” title, that is if this were some sort of fucking yearbook voting.
Best Team: Texas (19-3, 7-0)
I have to adhere to the rule of winning on the road to put the Longhorns over the Jayhawks at this point. There is still something about this team that rubs me the wrong way, but they have been spectacular recently.
The Horns have won three of four on the road in convincing fashion within the league, including the now infamous win in Fog Allen and an ass blasting of arch rival A&M. Their schedule in the non-conference was much tougher than the Jayhawks and they had some nice wins (Illinois, UNC, Sparty), tough losses (Pitt, UConn), and one baffler (@USC). They should coast to the regular season title, the toughest game left on the schedule is probably @ Nebraska, then most likely get a rematch with KU in the Big 12 title game. So, what’s to question?
First off, a couple of aberrations are acceptable (especially early in the year), but any loss to a Pac 10 team has to be pondered, especially when that team isn’t spelled Washington Huskies. Second, I’m not completely sold on Jordan Hamilton. He forces a lot of shots and that caused chemistry issues last year, so it could happen again. Finally, Rick Barnes. This guy has never struck me as more as than a great recruiter without the X’s and O’s mentality (look at some of the players this guy has had), but maybe this year he recruited so well that he doesn’t have to coach them very much.
Next in line (you’ll be shocked!): Kansas (21-1, 6-1)
It is possible that the loss to Texas was one of the Jayhawks’ aberrations for the year. Close home games against UCLA, Nebraska, USC (again, how?), and road wins over Michigan (OT) and Iowa St, say that they may have had more than just that one even though the record doesn’t show it. They seem to have put the loss behind them, winning three straight, but the schedule gets considerably tougher down the stretch, which means it will be difficult to actually catch UT.
Biggest Disappointment (duh): Kansas St. (14-8, 2-5)
Another preseason top-five team (are you starting to understand how stupid those rankings are yet!?) that has not lived up to any of the expectations. They lost Denis Clemente and now Jacob Pullen is lost between playing the point and being the primary scoring threat. Curtis Kelly hasn’t stepped up like the team had hoped, former McDonald’s AA Wally Judge quit the team, and the chemistry is bad all the way across the board (92nd in the nation in assists). This all rests on the head coach. Maybe crazy eyes killer Frank Martin isn’t as good of a coach as everyone thought he was when he had Bobby Huggins’ recruits (which the best players on the team still are).
*Special note: They were the other team in the running with Michigan St. for most disappointing in the country. Things were pretty much settled in that category tonight as K St. dominated Nebraska at home and the Spartans were embarrassed @Iowa. So congrats to the Wildcats for avoiding such an astronomical embarrassment.
Next in line: Baylor (14-7, 4-4)
Started out 7-0 and the main complaint was that they hadn’t played anyone yet. Turns out those arguments were very valid. This team’s best win is probably…….Colorado, at home, really? This team had LaceDarius Dunn and Quincy Acy returning to combine with Percy Jones, a super frosh, who was supposed to be as good as Ekpe Udoh, and were supposed to at least make it to where they were a year ago. This team doesn’t look close to that team.
Biggest Surprise (not named Texas): Nebraska (15-6, 3-4)
They get a nod over Oklahoma because the Huskers didn’t lose to a Division 3 school (see Chaminade 68 OK 64). A desperate Kansas St team hammered them tonight, but Nebraska has played tough in every other game this year and can still move up in the standings. The toughest games they have left are at home so a run could be possible (of course the obvious argument is that there are no easy games on the road). The Huskers play fierce D (best in the B12) and have a solid shooting percentage (48%). We’ll see in that translates into enough wins to be NCAA tourney bound.
Next in line: Oklahoma (12-9, 4-3)
The coaches, media, really even fans didn’t think much of the Sooner basketball season before and soon after it started. Let’s go back just two weeks to Jan 18th. Before that date, they were swept in the Maui Invite (including that D3 loss), got blown out by every BCS conference team they played, and were 0-3 in the B12. Since that day they’ve won four straight (including decent wins over Colorado and Baylor at home and @Iowa St.). All of a sudden the Okie’s are tied for third! Doubt it will last, but at least Jeff Capel has temporarily gotten himself back into the good graces with the Sooner faithful.
Saturday’s Big Games
1:00 Baylor (14-7, 4-4) @ Texas A&M (17-4, 4-3): The Aggies are struggling, losing three of their last four (to be fair two of them were to Texas), but the schedule favors a strong finish down the stretch and a win at home is a good way to start that. Meanwhile, the Bears need to bounce back from their extended trip to Norman (which considering the talent disparity, should be a humiliating loss) because their schedule does not favor a strong second half surge.
3:oo Kansas (21-1, 6-1) @ Nebraska (15-6, 3-4): This was only a three point contest in Lawrence so the Huskers should have that confidence going for them, they also know they need more signature wins. The Jayhawks need to avoid looking ahead to the Big Monday match-up with rival Missouri and if they drop another game any hope of catching Texas is officially toast.
For many of us the greatest part of the sporting season has just tipped off. Scores of us have been waiting for over seven long months since our beloved teams exited from the most thrilling post season event in all of sports that is the NCAA tournament. Last year you may have seen enough of your up and coming or rebuilt squad to garner aspirations of cutting down the net this April in Indy. Or maybe this class of incoming freshmen has created so much hype on campus surely this is the year your program makes the leap to the next level. Perhaps your school’s BCS and bowl hopes were squashed prematurely leading you to say “just wait ‘til hoops season.” It could be all of the above or you are just an All-American fan who enjoys following the thrills and pitfalls that is college basketball. Wherever your interest lies here are ten bold and not so predictions on what will surely be another fantastic season to add to the games mystic.
10: Coach of the Year: Bill Self. Duh, no peaking but see number one.
9: Player of the Year: Luke Harangody. It is this simple, he is and will be the most productive player in the country. He may be unorthodox and lacks tools NBA executives crave but no one can deny his hustle or heart. This short and stocky power forward for the Irish does it all. He is a scoring machine that hits the trinity with the best of them and is just a beast on the boards. Oh how refreshing it will be to see a POY not be an underclassmen. Bonus, he is from a school with higher admission standards than even a John Wall impersonator can get into.
8: Game of the Year: Circle 2/13/2010 on your calendar for what is sure to be a game for the ages. The two most talented teams square off in Austin which is the equalizer Texas needs if anyone hopes to stand in the way of KU and a perfect season. What isn’t to love? The top two teams from the Big XII the past decade square off. Barnes has recruited an unbelievably talented squad featuring number one recruit Avery Bradley. KU features its own super frosh in Xavier Henry. What an opportunity for Texas to show the nation it has more than football going for it, not to mention they are no longer just playing second fiddle to KU in the Big XII.
7: One and done no more. Headlined by a huge UK meltdown and an uprising in upper classmen, freshmen are suddenly wondering if leaving after their freshman year is in their best interest. Failure to make the second weekend of the NCAA tournament due to lack of experience and maturity the Wildcats show this isn’t the bellwether blueprint many believe it is and why for the most part teenagers simply aren’t ready to make the jump. All this happens while Cole Aldrich, Luke Harangody, Sherron Collins, Evan Turner, Kyle Singler, Craig Brackens, and Talor Battle show what time and good coaching can do for a player as they increase their draft stock.
6: ESPN discovers Universities exist that don’t border the Atlantic. It has been no secret that this elite sports network drools all over itself for schools that have Atlantic or East in their conference names. Much to their dismay these conferences leave too much to be desired while the two best conferences Big XII and Big 10 prove to be the class of the country and it simply can’t be blatantly ignored.
5: A new mid-major in town. Butler has established itself has a March staple in recent years and looks ready to institute itself as the premier team not in a power conference. Is there a coach that coaches a more fundamental and classic style than Brad Stevens? What a better year to make their footprint on the college landscape by making the Final Four in their own backyard this year? The Bulldogs are a team loaded with talent and returning their whole squad, what a feel good story this will make.
4: The Big 10 unseats the ACC. Eleventh time is a charm for a conference that has for the most part slumped since the new millennia, particularly in their annual challenge. That now changes with both MSU and Purdue being superior to both UNC and Duke this year. Michigan, OSU, Illinois, and Minnesota all have stronger teams than the only other competitive team Georgia Tech in what is down year for the ACC. Don’t mistake this for a hiccup, the Big 10 has done some serious upgrading in coaching and talent the past two years and look poised to return to relevance on the national scene for years to come.
3: More Blues in the Bluegrass state. In blinding pursuit to reach college basketball prominence UK hires two time cheat Calipari who brings with him more baggage than Dianna Ross. UK and the fans want a winner so bad they are willing to ignore and forgive him for the scandals he lead at employers past despite these schools being forced to vacate Final Four seasons as a result of his reprehensible actions. Calipari’s longtime friend “World Wide” Wes’ relationship is finally infiltrated by the NCAA for more violations than this site can hold. Unfortunately another black eye on perhaps the most storied program in the game. Here goes the coaching carousel again. Sorry Ashley Judd, I still love you!
2: Dukie V is busted. It turns out for the past 10+ years he has been doing more than drinking the ACC kool aid. He is in fact a paid lobbyist by the ACC to pimp up the conference above and beyond your usual ESPN and media east coast bias. This doesn’t matter to ESPN who despite the bad publicity it receives is too in love with their poster boy star broadcaster to get him to change his ways or financiers.
1: Lookout ‘76 Hoosiers. UNLV came close to running the table nearly two decades ago and experts say with the parity in the game today it can’t be done. Those that believe that need to look at this year’s Jayhawks. They return everyone who played from a team that was mugged out of the tournament last year to the eventual runner-up Spartans. Most notably are two future 1st team All-Americans Collins and Aldrich. To make a run through the tourney everyone knows you need an inside game and backcourt, having the best center and point guard in the country is a good start (sorry Wall but you haven’t proved a thing yet). These lads also bring a championship resume along with their coach. Bill Self has shown he is capable of out coaching the best in signature games over UNC’s Roy Williams and former Memphis’ John Calipari during their ‘08 title run. The toughest challenge will be against the next best team in the land, the Longhorns, who Self has owned and out coached in his KU tenure. If you aren’t in Indy April 5th, 2010 you won’t find a bigger party on the planet than Mass St. in Lawrence that night when the Rock Chalk Jayhawks dance their way to a second championship in three years and rewrite the record books going 40-0.
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