Big 12 Sports.com Correspondent
Some shortcomings in basketball can be overcome by compensating - teams lacking quickness can play zone, for example. But height-wise, if you're short you're ... short.
Nebraska has the smallest team in Division I basketball. Oklahoma State is the second-smallest team in the Big 12 and 281st in D-I out of 344 teams. (Those numbers are gleaned from Ken Pomeroy's excellent basketball site - kenpom.com).
Both the Cornhuskers and the Cowboys will spend the Big 12 season looking up at their opponents. The tallest active player on Nebraska's roster is 6-8. Oklahoma State relies on a 6-4 power forward - Obi Muonelo - who is probably closer to 6-2 than his listed height.
Nebraska coach Doc Sadler and Oklahoma State first-year coach Travis Ford are resigned to the fact that the rest of their seasons will be spent defending the basketball equivalent of the Alamo.
Sadler's team often has five guard-size players on the floor. Nebraska compensates for its lack of size by playing lock-down defense, double-teaming post players, treasuring each offensive possession and trying to exploit mismatches on the perimeter.
"Heart. Playing hard," guard Sek Henry said of the Cornhuskers' playing style. "That's how I see it. We know teams are going to be bigger than us. But last year's Big 12 was a whole lot bigger than this year's. Teams have size, but it's not like last year.
"We just play hard, play smart, I think we'll be all right."
Nebraska was able to exert its will and playing style in a conference-opening 56-51 victory over Missouri on Saturday. After the game, Sadler said his players were exhausted. One all-out, draining effort down, 15 to go.
"That really concerns me," Sadler, who is in his third season at Nebraska, said of the season-long grind his team faces. "The physical part of this league with our size ... I mean, you're talking about some small guys having to battle in there, and battle and battle.
"If we try to get out and run up and down the court these next 16 games, we'll be crawling to the finish line."
While Nebraska tries to slow the tempo and keep games in the 60-point range, Oklahoma State plays pedal to the metal. Ford, a Rick Pitino disciple, prefers full-court pressure, fast breaks and 3-pointers. A lack of depth means this year's Cowboys can press only in certain spots.
"Our team has some shortcomings, but we seem to make up for them a little bit by playing hard for 40 minutes," said Ford, whose team opened Big 12 play with a 72-61 defeat of Texas A&M. "Do I think we have the potential to be a pretty good basketball team that can compete at the top of this league? Absolutely. Do we have weaknesses on our team that are tough to overcome? Absolutely.
"Right now, we just need to keep grinding it out."
Walking The Walk
Last season, Missouri coach Mike Anderson suspended some key players after they violated his zero tolerance policy. The move probably cost the Tigers a couple of victories and they finished out the Big 12 schedule short handed.
On Monday senior Leo Lyons, Missouri's second leading scorer and rebounder, was suspended indefinitely. He missed Wednesday's home game with Colorado and might return to action for Saturday's game with Iowa State.
Lyons' transgression? He was stopped by Columbia Police at 11:28 p.m. on Sunday because his car was driving without lights. He could provide proof of insurance and a records check discovered an outstanding misdemeanor warrant for an unpaid fine for a previous traffic violation.
Your Humble Correspondent would wager there are a few hundred Missouri students driving around with similar vehicular skeletons in their trunks. There are dozens of other programs that would have punished Lyons by making him run extra wind sprints.
"The theme here is responsibility," Anderson said. "Leo failed to meet his responsibilities as a driver, and it led him to this unfortunate situation. We preach responsibility to our young men every day, and we are going to help Leo learn from this mistake."
YHC applauds Anderson for his tough love.
Just A Little More
Tuesday was a big day for Kansas basketball. Not only did the Jayhawks open Big 12 play with a victory over in-state rival Kansas State, but the victory saw junior-college transfer Mario Little play 13 minutes.
The 6-5 forward, who in the preseason was selected as the Big 12's Newcomer of the Year, has been slowed by a stress fracture in his leg and a broken hand. The Kansas State game was the first game of the second semester. By playing, Little gave up the option of sitting out this season as a redshirt and preserving a season of eligibility.
"I was thinking about, 'Should I do it for the team? Or should I do what's best for me?'" Little told the Lawrence Journal-World. "I just tried to do it for the team. "I didn't feel like watching these guys playing anymore. It was bugging me. I kind of did it for myself, too."
Little started against the Wildcats and finished with eight points and three rebounds. In his previous three games, Little had scored two points in 22 minutes of action.
Kansas needs a third scoring option to support point guard Sherron Collins and center Cole Aldrich. Little probably is the best option, particularly when it comes to a player who can help in the frontcourt.
"He has a chance to really impact this team," Kansas coach Bill Self said.
And You Are?
When a player wearing jersey No. 13 checked into the Texas-Oklahoma game Monday night, there was a bit of confusion. There was no Sooner listed wearing that number.
It turns out that junior-college transfer Juan Patillo decided he no longer wanted to sit out this season as a redshirt. Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel agreed. The Sooners now have a 6-6 forward to work into their rotation.
"He's been practicing with us, but he's been with the scout team, so he doesn't really know our stuff," Capel said. "One of the things Juan can provide us is energy, rebounding and defense. We look forward to working with him and getting him out there with us."
Grumpy Old Men, Vegas Edition
(Writer's note: Your Humble Correspondent has clearance to write that sub head because he himself is a Grumpy Old Man.)
Former Texas Tech coach Bob Knight and fellow AARP retiree Billy Packer will team up to analyze the NCAA Tournament in a series of one-hour television shows that will be taped at the the race and sports book at the Wynn Las Vegas.
Packer, who (choose one) retired/was fired by CBS after 27 years as the network's top college basketball analyst, says that gambling odds won't be mentioned despite the show's location.
Knight, said the NCAA Tournament show with Packer would not affect his role as an analyst with ESPN.
The show will be taped after the bracket is announced, before the regionals and before and the Final Four.
* Texas A&M's first five games can arguably be called the toughest opening stretch in Big 12 history. The Aggies, who lost at Oklahoma State and defeated Baylor in their first two league games, in the preseason were picked to finish fifth. A&M's first five games are against the other five teams predicted to finish in the top half of the standings. Three of those games are on the road. No other Big 12 team has had to play every team in the top-half of the preseason coaches poll in its first five games.
* Referee Steve Welmer, who often works Big 12 games, might be finished as a whistle blower for this season. Welmer suffered a stress fracture in his foot while working last Saturday's Kansas-Michigan State game in East Lansing. Welmer was scheduled to work Monday night's Texas-Oklahoma and Tuesday night's Kansas State-Kansas games.
* Jeff Withey, a 7-foot transfer from Arizona, has officially enrolled at Kansas and was on the bench in street clothes for Tuesday night's game against Kansas State. Withey will be eligible to play in December of 2009. "Jeff will be a big asset to us," Kansas coach Bill Self said of the 7-foot Withey. "He's very tall and long, and he's a very good shot blocker. He needs to put on some weight. I believe we can put 20 pounds on him by the time he's eligible."
* Texas has won 13 consecutive Big 12 home games, the best streak in school history. The Longhorns also have won their last 11 conference home openers.
* Kansas State point guard Jacob Pullen has missed 14 of his last 17 attempts from 3-point range.
* In its last six games, Texas is 21-of-97 (21.6 percent) from beyond the arc. During that stretch, senior guard A.J. Abrams is 11-of-46 on 3-pointers (23.9 percent) while his teammates are 10-of-51 (19.6 percent) behind the line.
* Oklahoma guards Tony Crocker and Willie Warren have combined to make 37 of their 3-pointers over the Sooners' last seven games. Crocker is 18-of-37 (48.6 percent) while Warren is 19-of-45 (42.2 percent) during that stretch.
* Colorado has lost 12 consecutive Big 12 openers. The last time the Buffaloes started 1-0 in conference play was 1997.
* Mark Turgeon, in his second season as Texas A&M's coach, has a 40-13 record. That's the second-best start in Big 12 history. Kansas' Bill Self started 42-10.
* Colorado sophomore Cory Higgins' school and Big 12-record streak of made free throws ended at 45 straight in the Buffs' 107-62 loss at Missouri Wednesday night. Higgins missed his first attempt then made his next six. The Colorado and Big 12 records for consecutive free throws had been 39.
* Oklahoma freshman guard Willie Warren about the abuse teammate Blake Griffin takes from opposing fans: "I've seen it all with Blake, from pictures of him dressed as a girl to him having gingivitis."
* Texas coach Rick Barnes after his team lost at Oklahoma Monday: "We're going to have a great race this year in our league. I think the teams are very evenly matched. Right now, unless somebody just takes it and goes with it, I don't see a real dominant team. I think every game is going to be real competitive. Teams are going to have to win at home, and the team that wins the league will go on the road and get more on the road. That's what will determine it."
* Kansas State sophomore guard Jacob Pullen after the Wildcats' 0-2 start: "North Carolina is 0-2 and nobody's worried about them. On nights when we're clicking, when everybody is playing well, I feel like we're the best team in the Big 12."
* Kansas junior guard Sherron Collins recalling his struggles as a freshman and empathizing with Jayhawks freshman guard Tyshawn Taylor: "I'd just get frustrated so much that I'd feel like, I don't know, just yelling, and giving up. I got down on myself a lot."
12 in 12
Updates/assessments of the men's teams in a dozen words or less:
|Baylor||Bears must play defense with same intensity as they attack the basket.|
|Colorado||Other than sophomore Cory Higgins, inexperienced Buffs lack star players.|
|Iowa State||Cyclones proving they won't be easy to beat, especially in Ames.|
|Kansas||Young Jayhawks could battle for first-round bye in Big 12 Championship.|
|Kansas State||Wildcats are rebounding fiends but have shot selection issues.|
|Missouri||Tough to beat when forcing turnovers, playing a fast tempo.|
|Nebraska||Smallest team in Division I has small margin of error.|
|Oklahoma||Win over Texas gives Sooners early edge in Big 12 race.|
|Oklahoma State||Scrappy Cowboys hoping guard play overcomes lack of size.|
|Texas||Longhorns need to find a point guard and offensive identity.|
|Texas A&M||If guards support front court size, Aggies will be dangerous.|
|Texas Tech||Red Raiders need defense to improve and match potent offense.|