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Covering The Baseline

 Championship Preview
 The Importance Of MOMENTUM ...
 Good Year Or Bad? It's Up To You
 Victories, A Very Fine Line
 Big 12 Hoops Follow In Football's Footsteps
 That is Why They Play The Games
 The Stretch Run: Jockeying For Position
 Testimonies Not Titles!
 Big 12 Basketball ... WOW!
 Impact Freshmen
 Defending DEFENSE in a Counter-Culture World!
 The Warriors Of The Big 12...
 Defending Home Court
 Blake Griffin "Gets It" At Oklahoma
 Head Coach of Sales
 Where Is Studio 66?
 Moving The Line Back - What's The Difference?
 Don't Let The Middle Third Be The End
 Big 12 Conference Season Tips Off

What A Championship - And There's More To Come!

March 13, 2009 - Doug Bell, Big 12 Network

I've seen every game of every Big 12 Championship and there have been plenty of memories. I've seen the likes of Paul Pierce, Kevin Durant and Marcus Fizer show off their All-America talents, and Hall of Fame coaches like Roy Williams, Bob Knight and Eddie Sutton stalk the sidelines. I remember the Kansas team that came into the event No. 1 in the country and I thought they couldn't be beaten (Arizona shocked me and the Jayhawks a week later in the Birmingham regional). I've seen Hollis Price play out of his mind for three consecutive years for the Sooners, and I remember Purvis Pasco of Kansas State celebrate a second too early, which allowed Colorado to put a dagger in the heart of the Wildcats! I have seen it all in the Big 12 Championships - at least that's what I thought.

This year's event in Oklahoma City just might be the most memorable of them all. On Wednesday night, I was watching Texas A&M dismantle Texas Tech, building a 23-point lead. A meeting with Missouri seemed inevitable. Enter Mike Singletary, the sophomore from Humble, Texas who turned into Michael Jordan for one 20 minute session. It might have been the most impressive and unlikely performance I can ever remember. This was like a four-handicap golfer firing a 60 - it just doesn't happen. Singletary poured in 29 points in a row, on his way to 43. Pierce, Durant and Fizer, eat your hearts out.

I remember watching the 2001 Baylor team topple an Iowa State squad that was headed for a possible No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. A fluke that we'll never see again, right? Lo-and-behold, eighth-seeded Baylor somehow beat No. 1 seed Kansas by playing a soft 2-3 zone for the entire game! Isn't college hoops fascinating?? You never know what goes through the minds of 18-, 19- and 20-year olds.

Texas big man Dexter Pittman is the largest player I have ever seen in the Big 12 Championship. Tipping the scale around 300 pounds, he could easily bang with Shaquille O'Neal for supremacy in the paint. I'm talking about Shaq of today. (I saw Shaq play at LSU and he was downright skinny). Pittman has turned in two of the best all-around performances I have ever seen for a center in the Big 12 Championship.

How about Bedlam III? There were moments in Kemper that were so special, and the first time Kansas played Oklahoma in the finals in 1998 was pretty neat, but Thursday's game between Oklahoma and OSU was the most exciting atmosphere I have ever experienced at the Big 12 Championship! It was truly a memorable night.

To think - we still have two more days. I hope the best is yet to come!


Big 12 Championship Preview

March 10, 2009 - Mitch Holthus, Big 12 Network

It's time to get it started! It is the four days and nights that Big 12 fans wait all year to experience....The Big 12 Championship to determine the automatic qualifier to the NCAA Tournament. We would like to thank Big 12 alums Desmond Mason of Oklahoma State, Nick Collison of Kansas and of course, Kevin Durant of Texas for letting us use their "place for awhile". The aforementioned are all members of the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder, the usual tenant of the Ford Center.

Blue Oval Certified
Some might assume that the Ford Center would provide some "karma" for Travis FORD, Oklahoma State head coach. It will also help that the Ford Center is only 67 miles from the Pokes campus. The Ford name is common; Bob Ford shot Jesse James, Ford's Theatre was the site of the Lincoln assassination and Henry Ford was one of the greatest businessmen of all time. Interestingly, there have been only three players who have played college basketball at Big 12 member schools who had the last name of Ford. T.J. Ford was one of the all time greats at Texas, Keidrick Ford played at Nebraska and ....Travis Ford of Missouri. Don't forget that the current Oklahoma State coach started his playing career at MU before transferring to Kentucky after his freshman year at Mizzou.

Goliath Rules The Tournament
No team under a three seed has EVER won the Big 12 Championship. The No. 1 seed has won five times, the two seed three times and the No. 3 seed has won four times. The top three seeds have a record of 58 wins and only 24 losses in the previous 12 years of the event. The prevailing thought entering this year's championship is that the trend will continue with the dominance of Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri throughout the regular season.

Don't Throw Away That Scouting Report
The intrigue of this championship is the "quick turnaround" matchups and potential matchups. First, Nebraska and Baylor will meet AGAIN just 96 hours after completing the regular season with a close NU win in Waco. I'm excited to be the play-by-play person for this No. 8 vs. No. 9 matchup and curious what the two coaches will do differently.

Then the championship could really get interesting in the quarterfinals with potential matchups. The Bedlam series of Oklahoma State and Oklahoma ended the regular season as well....those two bitter rivals could meet in a potential No. 2 vs. No. 7 game in the quarterfinals. The potential rematch would be 120 hours after the end of the regular season.

Finally, Texas A&M, the hottest team entering the championship could meet Missouri AGAIN after closing out the regular season. That match up would be a No. 3 vs. No. 6 game in the quarters just 120 hours after the two met in College Station. A very tasty quarterfinal Thursday looms in Oklahoma City.

But ... Can A Team String Four Wins In Four Days?
Who in this year's field could play "giant killer" and make Big 12 history? My thanks to Michael Freer and Chris Farrow of ESPN Research and ESPN Regional Television, respectively, for some research assistance. The list of college basketball teams that have won four games in four days to win their conference tournaments is a short one. The most remarkable story is recent. Last year, the Georgia Bulldogs actually won four games in THREE DAYS! A tornado in Atlanta shortened the SEC Tournament and the Dawgs pulled off the unthinkable. The list of "4 in 4" schools since 2001 includes Syracuse (2006), Xavier (2004, 2006), Siena (2002) and Iowa (2001).

If a Big 12 team in this field could pull it off, it might be Mark Turgeon's Texas A&M Aggies. I've been impressed with the way the Aggies have played the past two weeks. In addition, A&M has post and guard depth to survive the "four-day grind". Turgeon's adjustment to a more motion offense the past couple weeks has given the Aggie offense some flow. The biggest run by a Cinderella team was Missouri's run in the first year of the championship. The Tigers advanced all the way to the finals as a No. 10 seed before losing in the title game. Two five seeds have tried to pull off the "4 in 4" - Oklahoma State in 1999 and Missouri in 2003. Both lost in the championship game.

Can A Freshman Lead Them?
Three times in Big 12 Championship history, a freshman has been named the Most Outstanding Player - Kevin Durant of Texas in 2007, Mario Chalmers of Kansas in 2006 and ....Jeff Boschee of Kansas in 1999. It could happen again this year. Willie Warren of Oklahoma has lived up to his preseason expectations and has the ability to explode but he needs to rediscover his game from January and early February. KU has had several different freshmen emerge at various times, but the best candidate for this award would be Tyshawn Taylor. Don't overlook Missouri's Marcus Denmon or Kim English if the Tigers make a run to the finals.

The Bridesmaids' Dresses Are Orange One of these years, Texas is going to win the Big 12 Championship. In fact, if the Aggies can't pull off the "4 in 4" mentioned above, maybe Rick Barnes' Longhorns can do it. I loved the Longhorns in December and January, but their offensive challenges carried over to the defensive end in February. However, if the Horns could regain their "mojo" and get some consistent offense they could be at the altar as the bride and not the bridesmaid. Texas has been the runner-up in this event FIVE TIMES in the dozen years it has been held (2008, 2007, 2006, 2004, 2001). The bride might wear burnt orange one of these years. Oklahoma State had an orange and black bridal gown in '04 and '05.

You Snooze, You Lose
Don't ignore the first day of the championship on Wednesday. Colorado became the first team in league history to win a game as a No. 12 last year when it upset Baylor in the first round. CU played Kansas to a one-possession game late at Allen Fieldhouse and played Oklahoma tough until late in the game in Norman. Craig Brackins makes Iowa State a worthy first day opponent for Oklahoma State. It is worth the price of admission to watch Brackins play - he has NBA talent and the scouts are watching him closely.

Let's Do This
Many of you have e-mailed me or contacted me at game sites to talk about the Big 12. I look forward to seeing the championship at the Ford Center and seeing many of you cheer for your favorite school. I'll see you at the Ford Collision Center.


The Importance Of MOMENTUM Entering The Postseason

March 5, 2009 - Stephen Howard, Big 12 Network

With the Big 12 Championship about to start next week and the NCAA Tournament not far behind, the question that looms largely on most college basketball fans minds is how their teams will fare in their respective conference championships. One aspect of the game that is sometimes overlooked is MOMENTUM. Some teams have it...others don't, but there is no place where it is more beneficial than in tournament play. With the Big 12 Championship being held on consecutive days, it gives teams at the bottom of the standings that one shot to get on a roll and gather some momentum and do some damage with the hopes of sneaking into the "Big Dance".

If a team gets hot during the Big 12 Championship, the fact that there are no breaks in play favors that hot team. Shooters will be able to keep their rhythm; shot blockers can keep their timing; but more importantly, the confidence of a team on a hot streak with some momentum is always evident. When I watch teams now from the sidelines, it is no different from when I played. You can always tell the team that is playing with that confidence that momentum allows just by looking at the warm-ups. Whether you call it swagger, MOJO or whatever term your team prefers, from the moment that team takes the court, everyone from the star to the team manager will walk with that aura of invincibility.

When you look at the best teams of the Big 12 like Oklahoma and Kansas, they create their own momentum in each game, and in many ways, it is a byproduct of how good they are and their belief in themselves. They have been able to sustain momentum throughout a season which is a difficult task. Oklahoma had a stumbling block recently while losing two in a row with the absence of Blake Griffin creating a brief halt to the momentum they had going on this season. I'd be willing to go out on a limb and say that Coach Capel didn't mind those two losses right before conference tournament play to remind his team that they aren't unbeatable and to regain some of that hunger and fight that created the momentum to begin with.

Kansas has done an exceptional job this year of using the momentum created while winning the NCAA Tournament last year and carrying it over to the following year. A very hard task indeed and much of the credit must go to coach Bill Self in how he has gotten his team ready to play this year. The fact that Kansas is so young gives credence to my belief that they have bought in wholeheartedly what Coach Self has been preaching to them and that their team's momentum has carried them through some tough wins.

The two teams in my mind that could get on a roll during Big 12 postseason play and run the table are Missouri and Kansas State. Missouri especially is a team that is dangerous during conference play because of the way they play all out for 40 minutes. Many coaches preach that they want to play at that pace for 40 minutes, but I haven't witnessed many that have accomplished it. MU creates momentum throughout the game by forcing turnovers and then feasting on those turnovers by scoring on the offensive end. To have a team score on a turnover is one of the more demoralizing acts a team can do to you and when a team is doing that for 40 minutes, good things are bound to happen for the team that is the aggressor. Mizzou knows that will wear you down eventually, and they don't mind waiting patiently for you to implode. In conference tourney play, when you don't have any time to prepare for their unique style of play that makes this team all the more dangerous, and they know it. As you see by the fact that Missouri just beat Oklahoma at home on Wednesday, even with a couple of days to prepare the Tigers creates challenges for teams to overcome.

Kansas State is the other team that I think could surprise some teams during the Big 12 Championship. As they showed early on in Big 12 conference play when guards Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen get on a roll, this team plays extremely well and is hard to beat. These two guards have shown themselves capable of carrying a team and doing it for multiple games, which is a perfect recipe for team momentum to capitalize during the conference postseason competition.

Obviously as I said earlier, the league's top two teams, Oklahoma and Kansas, create their own momentum daily just with their level of play and high degree of confidence. I wouldn't be going out on a limb saying that they would most likely be standing facing each other when the conference championship game is being played. If that is the case, you will have either Coach Capel or Coach Self smiling at the end of the game because their team will be riding into the big dance with not only a great deal of confidence, but that all-important MOMENTUM.

I'm excited for the postseason to get under way. And remember when your team is playing...it isn't always the best team on paper that will win, it is the best team on that day and one factor that all coaches want on their side is MOMENTUM.


Your Team: Good Year Or Bad? It's Up To You

March 3, 2009 - Brad Sham, Big 12 Network

When the 2008 college basketball season ended in San Antonio, there was only one truly happy team in the country. The Big 12's Kansas Jayhawks cut down the nets, gave coach Bill Self his first national title and made the hoops world a Rock, Chalk Jayhawks Nation.

But one happy team should not automatically equate to just one happy group of fans. That would be an awful thing, for an entertainment medium like college basketball to make hundreds of thousands of people unhappy.

And of course, that's not the way it is. Fans' satisfaction levels with their teams depend frequently on expectations and whether your team met them, exceeded them or fell short. If they fell short, why did that happen? All those things are factors in how you answer the question, "What kind of year did your team have?"

In this year's Big 12 race that ends with the regular season finale this weekend, there are some easy answers to that question. The quickest "yes" answers should be coming from Norman, Lawrence and Columbia.

It's no coincidence that Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri also occupy the top three spots in this week's standings, but it's not JUST all about wins and losses.

Clearly the Sooners are one of the best teams in the country. I'll go out on a limb, in fact, and say I'll be a little surprised if Oklahoma is not one of the four teams playing the first weekend in April in Detroit. And they were expected to be good. That's why the league's coaches voted them the preseason favorite back in October. So you know Sooner fans think their team has had a good year.....so far. If something like a second-round or Sweet 16 upset should befall OU, here's guessing their fans won't think it was such a good year.

The league's coaches thought KU would be good again when they picked them tied for third. But I'll bet a lot of loyal Jayhawks were prepared for some reloading after that national title. Instead, it's hard to find a team in the country playing better than Kansas right now. They've had a good year.

Missouri is one of those teams whose fans should be delighted right now. They were picked seventh by the other coaches. Instead, they have a chance to be a top four seed in the NCAAs. Whatever happens this week or next week in Oklahoma City, Missouri fans should look at this as a good year for their team.

On the other hand, you could understand it if fans in Waco and Austin weren't feeling so joyous. League coaches gave Texas more first place votes in the preseason than any team, but the 'Horns have struggled in the second half of the season. They still have time to gain momentum for March Madness, but after reaching the regional finals in Houston last year, Longhorns fans might be looking forward to baseball.

Perspective is important for fans, and Baylor is as good an example as anyone. Hopes were high for the Bears after last year, and fans in Waco might look at this season as a disappointment. But they may want to consider this: if the Bears don't find their way into the NCAA field, but they ARE selected for the NIT, it would be only the second time in school history the team had played postseason men's basketball in consecutive years. Sometimes you have to look at the big picture.

I'm guessing they're doing that in College Station. A team that was expected to challenge for a title got out of the gate slowly in league play. But the Aggies' current four-game winning streak is the second best in the Big 12. If they finish strong, get into the tournament and win a game, most Aggies would probably look at that as a sign of progress.

You can even find signs of hope where the raw numbers might say there isn't much. To say Colorado has struggled would be stating the obvious, especially after their first-round conference tournament upset win last March in Kansas City. But you don't have to go to many Buffs' practices to know that coach Jeff Bzdelik and his staff know what they're doing, and they knew with their youthful roster, this would be a difficult season in the win-loss column. You can see the silver lining from here.

Look at two of the three teams tied for fourth at 8-6, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. The way the Wildcats started conference play, not many might have said it was a good year in the making. Who would object to the way they've competed now? And in Stillwater, coach Travis Ford's team has gotten progressively better. They've won five straight. There should be some pleased Cowboys fans at Eskimo Joe's.

Wins and losses tell you part of the story, but not the whole thing. What happens in the next two weeks, in fact, will determine how a lot of folks feel about the kind of year their team had.

 


Victories, A Very Fine Line

February 26, 2009 - Bryndon Manzer, Big 12 Network

In the world of major college basketball there is a very thin line between winning and losing; success or non-success. There is an abundant of evidence every year of this line in whether you are victorious or not which ultimately dictates getting your name called on selection Sunday. It is easy to come up with plenty of reasons or excuses why teams across the country might not be winning games.

For example, a key player to injury, having a roster full of underclassmen, a difficult schedule, not enough quality players or not catching breaks late in games are just a few of many and valid reasons a W might not show up in the win column. Problem is, success is judged by wins and losses no matter what your unique circumstances may be. Right or wrong, this is the way it goes.

The one common thing that quality coaches understand is that the season is a marathon and not a sprint. All programs have to deal with positives, negatives and challenges that come with the basketball season. It is a given. However, it is the good coaching staffs that, no matter the adversity or daunting task that lies ahead, find ways to grind out victories over the long haul.

You need not look any further than the Big 12 Conference to see great examples of this. That is obvious if you have been watching the league this year. Although teams may have contrasting styles, philosophies, and schemes, they each adhere to the same fundamental necessities needed for the game of basketball. Emphasis on defending, rebounding and taking care of the ball. I will say it again. Defense, rebounding and don't turn it over. Simple but true. This is as important when Dr. Naismith invented this game as it is today. This is what gives you a chance to be on the correct side of the very fine line of winning. The consistent commitment to enforce and teach this daily is absent in many places around the country. Fortunately for those of us who love following the Big 12, that is not the case.

Not all of these teams will qualify for the Big Dance in just a little over two weeks, but these players and coaches have done a terrific job of putting themselves in position to win even with challenges and adversity along the way. Let's take a quick look at a few of this season's examples.

Nebraska
There is more size on rosters of NAIA teams than that of the Huskers. But that has not been used as an excuse. The "fighting Doc Sadlers" have fought injuries and a serious lack of size to a 6-7 league mark, which very easily could be 9-4 with about four possessions going the other way. Why have they been in position? Because they guard you and play harder than you do. Just think how good the Cornhuskers will be once they get more depth and size.

Kansas
I know they are Kansas, but they lost five NBA draft picks off last year's national championship team. Rebuilding year right? Wrong. The Jayhawks are 12-1 and control their own destiny to win another conference championship. Biggest reason why? Commitment to defense from day one. Same as last year and same as it will be in years to come for Bill Self.

Kansas State
Lost their first four conference games and didn't look very good in the process. The young Wildcats were headed for a rough season. What happened? Frank Martin continued to demand winning the rebounding war and tough "D". The result? Winning seven of the next eight and still being in the hunt for an NCAA tournament berth.

Oklahoma State
Scoring was not a problem for the Cowboys during a stretch where they lost four of five conference games. Playing brother-in-law ball was (I let you score if you let me score). The Solution? Head Coach Travis Ford recommitted his team to the defensive end by now spending most of practice time concentrating on keeping the other team from scoring. Add better ball security and the Pokes are 7-6 and winners of four straight to be on the NCAA radar.

Texas A&M
Written off and left for dead at 3-7, Mark Turgeon's Aggies were spiraling downward. However, an impressive Big Monday win verses rival Texas plus back-to-back wins on the road have A&M winners of three straight and once again owners of NCAA hopes. By showing some serious mental toughness, the Aggies have some swagger back.

 


Big 12 Hoops Follow In Football's Footsteps

February 24, 2009 - Bob Carpenter, Big 12 Network

Last fall was one of the most exciting college football seasons in history, as Big 12 teams excited us with prolific offenses led by award-winning quarterbacks and the offensive lines that protected them, fleet running backs and electrifying receivers that made breathtaking plays right down to the final gun.

Oklahoma played for a national championship, and Texas would have in a "normal" year. Texas Tech, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma State all put up big offensive numbers and the Big 12 led the way in points, scores and excitement across the nation. At that time, any Big 12 fan could be excused for wondering, "What can Big 12 basketball possibly do to top this?"

Maybe it's time to answer that question with a few more! Who has the number three team? Who has the best player in the country? Who has the defending national champions, the team that has reloaded and is about to make some serious noise in March? Who has two of the most prolific 3-point shooting teams in the nation? Whose squad seemed to show up at every big non-conference game? Who has 40 minutes of smothering defense, the team no one in the nation would want to play in the first round of the Big Dance? Answer to every question - the Big 12, and this list of equally-correct answers: Oklahoma, Blake Griffin, Kansas, Baylor and Oklahoma State, Texas, Missouri.

OU, after a grueling weekend at Texas and at home against KU, has clearly proved it's deserving of a high national ranking. Blake Griffin may have cemented his "Player of the Year" status with his 40 point-23 rebound game versus Texas Tech, and the NCAA Committee will surely cut the Sooners some slack on the heels of Griffin's concussion. He leads the nation with 24 double-doubles and was No. 1 in rebounds per game and ninth in points before getting hurt.

Texas Tech sniper Alan Voskuil is in the top nine in 3-point percentage at 45.4 percent, while KU sensation Cole Aldrich shoots at a 62 percent clip, good for eighth, while also checking into the top 20 in rebounding (including 20 at Oklahoma!).

It's hard to believe Tech's John Roberson is just a sophomore, but he's seventh in the country with 6.6 assists per game. OU's Austin Johnson hands out nearly three assists for every turnover and Mizzou's Zaire Taylor is right behind him. Iowa State big man Craig Brackins leads the Cyclones at a rounded-off 20 points per game.

Nobody wants to guard the OSU perimeter quartet of Anderson-Eaton-Harris-Page, or the Baylor foursome of Jerrells-Dunn-Dugat-Carter. Speaking of guarding someone, can anyone stay with Missouri's whirling dervish DeMarre Carroll? Or how about trying to get in the grill of hot-shooting recent late-game heroes A.J. Abrams and Sherron Collins?

If, as some national (East Coast) experts have asserted, the Big 12 is having a "down year," then consider these comparisons to the league generally considered to be college hoops' best:

Teams in the top 10: 2 for the Big 12 - 2 for them
Non-conference wins: 137 for the Big 12 - 136 for them
Top 15 RPI: 3 for the Big 12 - 3 for them
Top 40 RPI: 6 for the Big 12 - 5 for them
Top 46 in scoring: 7 for the Big 12 - 4 for them
Top 60 in scoring margin: 7 for the Big 12 - 5 for them
 
And, in recent years:
Final 4 teams since 2002: 6 for the Big 12 - 5 for them
Sweet 16 since '02: 17 for the Big 12 - 14 for them
NCAA Tournament wins since 2000: 52 for the Big 12 - 47 for them
NCAA bids over the same time: 48 for the Big 12 - 43 for them
Different players named consensus
All-Americans the last 2 years:
4 for the Big 12 and 1 for the ... ACC!

Well done, Big 12 football and hoops. I hope our conference baseball coaches have the bats ready!

 


That is Why They Play The Games

February 19, 2009 - Jon Sundvold, Big 12 Network

Now that we are getting close to the finish line I thought it would be a good idea to look back and see how the "experts" did predicting the top teams and players in the Big 12. No, not the media, the real experts.... the coaches....you know the guys who should know better than anyone the order of finish in this league.....the guys who understand not only their own team's strength and weaknesses but have studied countless hours of film on their closest competitors and could easily list the teams in order. Here is how the Big 12 coaches predicted this league would look at the end of conference play.

Predictions Current Standings (as of Feb. 19)
1. Oklahoma 1. Oklahoma
2. Texas 2. Kansas
3. Baylor 3. Missouri
4. Kansas 4. Kansas State
5. Texas A&M 5. Texas
6. Oklahoma State 6. Nebraska
7. Missouri 7. Oklahoma State
8. Kansas State 8. Texas A&M
9. Nebraska 9. Baylor
10. Texas Tech 10. Iowa State
11. Iowa State 11. Texas Tech
12. Colorado 12. Colorado

Not bad but lets be honest, not all that good. Sure they got Oklahoma right but take a closer look. For some reason most of the coaches thought this league would be dominated by the south with five of the top six spots filled by teams from south of the Mason Dixon Line.

Texas made sense with four of its five starters returning. The starter NOT returning was a guy who controlled the ball 90 percent of the time and was one of the best lead guards in all of college basketball. And oh by the way, the No. 9 pick in the National Basketball Association Draft. Without D.J. Augustin, Longhorn players have found it difficult to get the open shots they were accustomed to and have struggled.

Baylor, coming off a NCAA bid and Kansas, well because they are Kansas, were logical choices. The Bears have found out that if you do not defend with passion in this league, it is difficult to be in the upper half. KU has had a better year than predicted and has a chance for another Big 12 crown. Hats off to Bill Self and his Jayhawk team.

Texas A&M and Oklahoma State? Offense has been the issue for A&M and see Baylor note above for the Cowboys.

Biggest mishaps would include Missouri and Kansas State. I'm not sure the coaches took into account the senior leadership provided by DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons with Mizzou. The value of having seniors around that were just shy of being in the NBA pays dividends for many schools and Mike Anderson's team is no exception. Kansas State? Most thought they shouldn't be picked as high as No. 8 with the loss of Michael Beasley and Bill Walker, but the intensity the Wildcats bring on the defensive end and the addition of Denis Clemente has slowly added an offensive weapon to help K-State this year and beyond.

Now for the coaches' preseason All-Big 12 picks
Player of the Year - Blake Griffin
Newcomer of the Year - Mario Little
Freshman of the Year - Willie Warren

Preseason All-Big 12 Team
Blake Griffin
Curtis Jerrells
Sherron Collins
A.J. Abrams
Damion James

Blake Griffin was easy and I can go with Sherron Collins, but the others do not belong at this point. Cole Aldrich and DeMarre Carroll have been fantastic for their teams and deserve first-team honors. The other spot before year-end should be filled by either by Austin Johnson or Willie Warren. My vote today goes to Johnson, who has led his Sooners to the top of this league and has been big in tough situations.

Blake Griffin is automatic for Player of the Year and Willie Warren will be Freshman of the Year, edging several solid freshmen in this league. Newcomer? I like what Clemente has done at Kansas State and Taylor at Missouri but the best newcomer, in my opinion, is Juan Pattillo from Oklahoma. His play in conference competition has elevated Oklahoma to a national power. Yes sir, a clean sweep for the Sooners!

ON ANOTHER NOTE: Anyone else notice some guy by the name of Marty Smith on ESPN NASCAR coverage and the resemblance to Big 12 Network analyst Bryndon Manzer? Unless you have seen them together, I swear Manzer is double-dipping. Twins sons of different mothers. WOW!

 


The Stretch Run: Jockeying For Position

February 17, 2009 - Rich Zvosec, Big 12 Network

Six weeks ago conference play began and all 12 teams were playing for a regular season championship. Now, as we head into the homestretch of the conference season many of the teams are playing with different goals in mind.

Only three teams control their own destiny. Oklahoma (11-0), Kansas (9-1) and Missouri (9-2) can win the title with little or no help from another team. Outside of winning a crown, there is seeding for the Big 12 Championship and down the road, the NCAA Tournament. Also, some teams are trying to play their way into the NCAAs or the NIT. And, finally for some of the younger teams, they are playing for momentum looking ahead to next year.

The top three teams are still battling it out with either five or six games left on their schedule. And for Big 12 fans, the good news is that they still have to play each other one more time. The upcoming schedule:

  • Kansas at Oklahoma (Feb. 23 in Norman)
  • Missouri at Kansas (March 1 in Lawrence)
  • Oklahoma at Missouri (March 4 in Columbia)

It would appear that none of the three have an edge being provided by its home court as the games are split evenly amongst them. However, Oklahoma must go to Texas (currently the fourth-place team) and Kansas will host the Longhorns. Meanwhile, Missouri has already secured a road win at Texas and may own a slight advantage.

Fighting for that precious fourth seed and first round bye are Texas (6-4), Kansas State (6-5) and Nebraska (5-5). Nipping at their heels is Oklahoma State (4-6).

Kansas State has an edge with a win at Texas, as does Nebraska by virtue of its home win over the Longhorns. Texas has the toughest remaining schedule with two games against the top three, while the Wildcats and Cornhuskers only have one game apiece against KU. One other schedule factor that works against UT is that they have only one game left against the current bottom three. Oklahoma State is the wildcard, as its style of play lends them the opportunity to big wins, but also cold nights.

Baylor and Texas A&M have been the enigmas in the conference. Both teams had quality non-conference wins and were projected to finish high in the preseason polls. However, inconsistent play has dogged them in league play. That being said, both have enough talent to go on a run and finish in the upper half and even make a run in conference postseason action.

The current bottom three teams record-wise are Texas Tech, Iowa State and Colorado. All three teams are led by sophomores (Roberson at Tech, Brackins at ISU and Higgins at CU) who will be all-conference players before they are through with their careers. All have pulled near-upsets of the top three teams - showing the balance of the Big 12.

Looking at the national picture, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri are locks for the NCAA Tournament. With a strong finish OU will be a No. 1 seed with the other two having great shots at being top-three seeds.

Historically, the magic number in the conference is 10 wins. Win 10 games and you are just about in. Nine victories could get a team like Texas a berth due to some quality non-conference wins. The RPI rankings have five teams from the Big 12 in the top 40. This is important because 90 percent of the teams with RPI rankings of 40 or better have made the NCAA Tournament. Oklahoma State, with the right wins to end the season, could make it with a total of nine league victories. With matchups against OU and Texas, it could pick up enough style points to qualify. Seven or eight teams still have an opportunity to play themselves into the NCAA's with a strong finish.

I will give you one final example of it being possible by looking at games in the regular season. Iowa State takes Oklahoma down to the last possession and has a player who can control a game in Craig Brackins (just ask Kansas coach Bill Self). Those types of games and players show the depth of Big 12 basketball in 2009.

With the championship in Oklahoma City all 12 teams a chance to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Yes, it will be extremely hard for a team that has to play four games, but it can be done. If you don't believe me, just ask Georgia or Saint Louis, who have both pulled off this feat in their conferences as recently as last year.

 


Testimonies Not Titles!

February 12, 2009 - Reid Gettys, Big 12 Network

I heard a story about a young pastor that did back-to-back funerals one Saturday on behalf of two very different individuals. The first funeral was for an extremely successful businessman whose obituary was as impressive as any you have seen. This gentleman spent his life amassing an enormous fortune and along the way, had a list of titles, honors and accomplishments that literally ran off the page. The pastor described that at his funeral -- which was not very well attended. Several colleagues stood and spoke of the deceased's successful professional life and the impact this man had on the corporate community in which he lived.

The other funeral was for a gentleman whose obituary, which ran in the same paper, barely filled a paragraph. This gentleman worked with his hands and spent his life struggling to make ends meet. When the pastor walked into the sanctuary to begin the services, he was greeted by a jam-packed crowd that filled the aisles and spilled out into the parking lot. After the pastor had delivered his message, he asked the congregation if anyone wanted to publicly express their sympathies to the family. For several hours, person after person stood and gave testimonies about the impact and the difference that this man had made on their lives. It was as if every person in attendance felt the need to tell the family how blessed they were to have been touched by his life. You see, this was a man that truly understood what was important in life. The title of the young pastor's sermon the next day, "Are you living your life to obtain titles....or testimonies?"

Strange lead-in to a blog about Big 12 basketball? Maybe to you, but not from where I am sitting! For strictly personal reasons, lately I have spent a lot of time thinking about what makes a coach, a successful coach. Not from perspective of an Athletic Director, not from the perspective of the alumni, and certainly not from the perspective of the media......but from the athlete's perspective. What is it that 25 years down the road (when you are old, broken down and when you look in the mirror, you can't tell if you used to be a point guard or a pulling guard) that made a difference in your life? Instead of me telling you about my years at the University of Houston, I want to share from my heart what I have been going through and tell you about the phone call that I received today, that left me not only speechless, but with tears rolling down my face.

Please know that this is not an attempt whine or complain - as I am sure that many of you reading this are currently struggling with equally difficult circumstances - however, indulge me so that I can make my point. During the day, I am an in-house litigation attorney for a large corporation. There are enormous challenges with being prepared for a broadcast and keeping up with a very difficult and complex trial docket that is full of hearings and deadlines. For the last three weeks, my life has been further turned upside down by real life issues - the deteriorating health of my parents. My Mom is in the final stages of Alzheimer's. Eddie Oran, who used to be an assistant coach of the University of Texas and now is the Longhorns' radio analyst, learned of my mom's condition and told me about a book that was written by former University of Arkansas football coach, Frank Broyles. (Coach Broyles Playbook for Alzheimer's Caregivers). Recently, Eddie and Rick Barnes were at an event that Coach Broyles was speaking at and they were kind enough to not only think of me and my family, but they went so far as to bring me an autographed copy of the book. I was very touched by this act of kindness. Three weeks ago, my mom suffered a stroke that has ultimately led us to placing her in Alzheimer's nursing unit. Needless to say, it has been a very difficult "season" in our lives.

As most of you know, the Longhorns are in the midst of battling their way out of a three-game losing streak. All three of the games came down to the wire and if you are a fan of K-State, Missouri and/or Nebraska, were decided by incredibly clutch finishes. After having been a part of the most spectacularly dysfunctional coaching staff in the history of D-I basketball, unfortunately, I have some experience with losing streaks! You can not imagine the enormity of the stress that comes along with consecutive losses.

Having said that, I called Texas' game with Oklahoma State on Wednesday night. Early Thursday morning, I received a phone call from Coach Barnes. As a general rule, when you get a call from a coach before 8:00 am on the morning after a game, that call is not going to go well for the announcer. I could not have been more wrong! Rick started our conversation by telling me that he wanted to apologize for something. He wanted to apologize to me? .... Didn't see that one coming. Rick then said that he was sorry for not having asked me before the game about my mom and that he was just calling to check on her.........let that one soak in for a second. In the midst of the most stressful stretch of the season, Rick Barnes not only thought about someone who has nothing to do with his program, but then he went the extra mile to take the time to pick up the phone and call. As my partner Dave Armstrong would say "WOW!"

Some of you will read this and think "Gettys, what a UT homer!" If that is what you take away from this, then please keep that to yourself because you just don't get it and probably never will. While the majority of people will never judge a coach by anything other than W's and L's, trust me, at the end of your career, wins and losses are not what touch you deep in your soul. Long after the trophies have been put away and the banners are collecting dust, hopefully, lives will have been touched and changed forever!

So how do I judge whether a coach has been successful? I am not particularly interested in the titles; I am interested in the testimonies! My purpose in sharing this with you is to honor those coaches that go the extra mile to make a difference in a kid's life, regardless of whether they are stars or never get off the bench. My sincere hope is that this blog will inspire some of you to sit down and write a letter to your junior high, high school or college coach and tell him/her about the impact that they had on your life!

(........Rick, I hope you don't mind me sharing this story, probably should have asked first!)

 


Big 12 Basketball ... WOW!

February 10, 2009 - Dave Armstrong, Big 12 Network

"Wow!" It's one tiny word that has served as a trademark catch-phrase for much of my broadcast career. But that three-letter word has helped me define many, many breath-taking moments over the years. I want to pause at the midway point of this Big 12 Conference men's basketball season to find some of the "Wow!" moments from the hardcourt. But first, a little history.

I get asked all the time when and where and why I first uttered the word "Wow!" at a sporting event. Early in my play-by-play career, I was blessed to spend some time with legendary sports announcer Dick Enberg. He's known for his signature call, "Oh My!" I asked him why he did that, and he said it was his "exclamation point at the end of a great play." A signal to him and his broadcast partners to let the fans watching at home to get a sense and feel for what was going on at that particular moment. For that fan at home to experience what the fans in the stands were experiencing. He punctuates the end of the play with his "Oh My!" call, and then stays silent to let the viewers hear and feel the crowd. He told me that there is nothing a broadcaster can add at that moment in terms of verbiage that would enhance the experience for the ones watching at home. That made perfect sense to me, so I went in search of a catch-phrase that could accomplish that feat.

Some great phrases were already being used. Harry Carey said, "Holy Cow!" Marv Albert is known for "Yes!" In fact, they named a network in New York after that one. I tried a few that crashed and burned. One in particular drew some raised eyebrows. "Ah gee, that was swell!" I know, I'm glad I had the sense to delete that one.

In 1984, I was broadcasting a game at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence. There was a play in the second half where the Jayhawks were running down the court on a fastbreak. Point guard Cedrick Hunter threw a ball toward the basket. A freshman by the name of Danny Manning came out of nowhere, leaped high in the air, grabbed the ball about three feet above the rim and slammed it home. "Wow!" And then I did the best thing I've ever done in broadcasting, I shut up. I've been saying "Wow!" ever since. So here are some "Wow!" moments from this season, and trust me, this list will grow as the season moves on.

The Border War between Missouri and Kansas is always fertile ground for a "Wow!" And this years' game didn't disappoint. Down by 14 points, the Tigers came storming back and won the game with a mid-range jumper by Zaire Taylor with just 1.3 seconds remaining. This has been Missouri's best year in some time. DeMarre Carroll has "wowed" us with his spectacular play all season.

Kansas has certainly had plenty of moments this season. Coming off the National Championship with a brand-new team, KU has watched Sherron Collins lead this squad to an 8-1 conference mark. There was "Mr. Double-Double" Cole Aldrich coming back into a game at Nebraska with a broken nose, and Tyrel Reed hitting a big three. Not only in Lincoln, but in Ames and at home against Colorado.

The Buffaloes have had a tough year, but Cory Higgins stands out with his 45 straight free throws made for a new Big 12 record. "Wow!"

Iowa State has also had a tough year in terms of its record, but let's not forget the performance of Craig Brackins. He's been stellar all year, and the 42 points he scored against Kansas is one of the best individual performances of the season.

Nebraska has been a team that may not be able to ride some rides at an amusement park, but it's a team just has a will to win. That deserves a collective "Wow!" for the entire squad.

The Texas Longhorns have hit a bump in the road, but I was in Austin when A.J. Abrams set a new Big 12 record for career three-point field goals made. His trey in the first half against Kansas State put him over the top. "Wow!"

Speaking of the Wildcats, "Wow!" what a rebound from a tough start to conference play. At that same game in Austin, my partner Reid Gettys and I watched the single-best performance of the year. Denis Clemente of K-State poured in a Big 12 record-tying 44 points to lead the Wildcats to an overtime victory over Texas. He hit all six of his 3-point attempts. He said afterward that it was like throwing the ball in the ocean. Talk about hot, I think I used up my quota of "Wows!" for a month in that one game.

Texas Tech came roaring back against Baylor last week. The guard combination of John Roberson and Alan Voskuil were keys in the comeback. How about the play of freshman center, Robert Lewandowski? "Wow!"

On the subject of freshman, I love watching Keiton Page of Oklahoma State. This diminutive guard is a human highlight machine. I'll see the Cowboys for the first time in person this weekend in Stillwater. I can't wait!

I was at Texas A&M in College Station last Saturday. I love going there. Reed Arena is now in my top five for best atmosphere, and that turnaround deserves a "Wow!"

Baylor, like Texas, has had a rough go. But who can forget the nine 3-pointers made by LaceDarius Dunn at Kansas State? I look for the Bears to come out of hibernation; they just have so much talent.

I've saved the best for last. The Oklahoma Sooners deserve a collective "Wow!" They are now alone in first place, and OU features the best player in the country. Blake Griffin is Mr. "Wow!" I hope you saw the half-court ally-oop pass from freshman phenom Willie Warren to Griffin last Saturday. I was watching that in College Station and literally jumped out of my chair and said, "Wow!"

It's been a fantastic first half...I can't wait to see how it plays out. "Wow!" What fun!

 


Impact Freshmen

February 5, 2009 - Bryndon Manzer, Big 12 Network

I have always had interest in watching the progress of a college freshman. Some come to campus with tremendous hype. Some fulfill those expectations and some do not. Some come with the question of being good enough to even play at this level. Some come quietly to their respective programs and eventually emerge as superstars.

The Big 12 Conference has been fortunate over the years to have many freshmen who we have marveled watching play. Most recently - Kevin Durant of Texas, now the franchise player for the Oklahoma City Thunder; and Michael Beasley of Kansas State, now playing alongside Dwayne Wade with the Miami Heat. Although this season there may not be the completely dominant force of a Durant or Beasley, the Big 12 is not without its emerging freshman stars. There are plenty of first-year players making an immediate impact in one of America's top leagues. Many college coaches have sarcastically stated that "the only good thing about a freshman is that eventually he will become a sophomore." That comment does not apply in the following cases. Let's take a mid-conference look at the progress of some of my favorite "Diaper Dandies" and how they are making their presence felt.

Willie Warren, Oklahoma
Warren has made the biggest splash of all freshmen, averaging 15.4 points for the No. 2 nationally-ranked Sooners. He is multi-faceted because he can shoot with range and put it on the deck. Each of these talents plays off one another. Add his physical strength to a 6-5 frame and this makes him almost impossible to control. Warren has added an athletic dimension in the backcourt to Oklahoma that they have not had the last couple of years, plus a swagger to the team's perimeter. However far the Sooners go in the NCAA Tournament, you can rest assured that his performance will have much to do with it. We may not get to watch him very long in this league. He will be a pro. The question is how soon.

Tyshawn Taylor, Kansas
A three-time Big 12 Rookie of the Week, Taylor is another terrific talent in a long line of others in the storied program at Kansas. He has started in 21 of 22 games and has been the league's most consistent freshman. He also continues to get better, which is a direct correlation with his team doing the same. Already a good defender in his career, Taylor has been taken under the wing of Sherron Collins and mirrors Collins' tenacity to win. Taylor is a key cog in Kansas' 7-0 conference start.

Quincy Acy, Baylor
Nicknamed the "Cookie Monster" for being a glass eater, Acy has started the last six games, averaging 8.8 points and 6.0 rebounds while shooting 59 percent from the field during that time. All of this on a guard-oriented team. Amazingly, he began his career making his first 20 field goal attempts - a Big 12 Conference and Baylor record. Before I broadcasted a game in Waco in early January, head coach Scott Drew said to me "you will really like this kid." Coach Drew was correct. Acy is perfect for the system at Baylor and is an explosive player that compliments senior Kevin Rogers inside. He will fill the void nicely of the reliable Rogers beginning next season.

Keiton Page, Oklahoma State
Do not let his size fool you. At 5-9, Page has answered the question: At what point in his career will he contribute? Answer: The day he stepped on campus. The two best attributes he possesses is his sharp-shooting ability and maybe more importantly his knowledge and feel for the game of basketball. Sounds similar to his current coach, doesn't it? Page is averaging 9.8 points off the bench while carrying a quiet confidence. He knows he belongs so don't fall subject to the "eye check". By the time his career is over, he could be one of the better players in the Big 12.

Robert Lewandowski, Texas Tech
When watching Lewandowski play I constantly think of the words upside and future. A 6-10 skilled big-man who understands the game of basketball, he has started to give the Red Raiders some consistency in the middle. He has already shown the ability to use either hand around the basket and his foot-work is excellent. He is steadily improving and you should expect that to continue because of his work-ethic and intellect. Lewandowski obtained a 4.0 grade-point average his first semester at Tech and it appears he carries that over to the court.

Kim English and Marcus Denmon, Missouri
Anyone notice the Tigers are 6-2 in the Big 12? English and Denmon are part of the reason. While covering a game at Mizzou a couple of weeks ago, my broadcast partner Bob Carpenter appropriately said these two will cause headaches for other schools over the next few years. The 6-6 English is a team-oriented player that cracked the starting lineup seven games ago. He is an excellent shooter who is second on the team in made 3-pointers. Anybody who loves Larry Bird should be able to shoot the rock, right? Denmon is a tough-minded competitor who can score. He can play either guard position with the ability to shoot or slash, perfect for Mike Anderson's system. The depth and athleticism they have added are a huge reason Columbia is excited about hoops again.

 


Non-Negotiable - Defending DEFENSE in a Counter-Culture World!

February 3, 2009 - Mitch Holthus, Big 12 Network

Some precious items are getting harder and harder to find these days - extended credit, quality road wins in college basketball and college basketball teams that are playing REAL defense game-in and game-out. However, if you look closely at the Big 12, you will find some examples to the contrary.

I have been very impressed with Rick Barnes and the job he is doing with his Texas Longhorn squad. No team from a BCS conference played the non-conference schedule that the Longhorns played. Yet, as I watched the 'Horns "slug" it out with the likes of Notre Dame, UCLA, Wisconsin, Villanova, Michigan State and Arkansas, I noticed one constant....UT played hard and played consistent, proper defense. Defense that included excellent on-ball and off-ball rotation, defense of the "high" pick and roll, "side" pick and roll, proper double teams and subsequent rotation behind it. Plus, the Longhorns FINISHED their defensive work defending THE ENTIRE SHOT CLOCK, not just the first 15 seconds of a possession. In addition, Barnes' team has the energy and effort to rebound at the end of their defensive work. Common problems for young teams include defending "only for awhile", or failure to rebound.

That being stated, teams that love to play complete defense and hustle and fight for rebounds HATE to be outhustled and outrebounded. That is exactly what Kansas State did to Texas on January 31. Denis Clemente went for 44 points, an embarrassment to a Texas team that has played consistent defense all year. In addition, K-State made most of the "hustle plays" and commanded the rebounding for much of the game. Simply, K-State "outLonghorned" the Longhorns. It was a great sign of progress for Frank Martin's team.

In a similar fashion, Doc Sadler's Nebraska team has been at or near the top of the Big 12 defensive statistics all season long. The Huskers held the Missouri Tigers to only 51 points and nearly beat Oklahoma in Norman with by far the smallest team in the conference. It will be interesting to see if Sadler can continue those defensive benchmarks as he improves the talent in his program with more high-profile recruits.

It has become a huge chore for coaches throughout the Big 12 and the entire country to get high-profile recruits in high-profile programs to "gut it out" and play tough, consistent, proper defense EVERY GAME. Successful college basketball recruiting has been dominated recently by the "AAU game". Successful AAU programs initially recruit high profile players from coast to coast. Don't get me wrong, I'm not indicting the AAU game, but the AAU culture is about playing a jillion games and showcasing offensive talent and overall athletic skills. Someone e-mail me and tell me the last time you saw a team in an AAU tournament put on a defensive clinic on the half court.

As a result, the learning curve of teaching proper defense has become steeper when that high profile recruit reaches campus. It takes a great deal of time to get such a player to learn and prepare mentally and physically to play outstanding defense. IT IS THE REASON THAT KANSAS WENT 37-3 and won the National Championship last year. Bill Self's Jayhawks were talented, highly-recruited players that Self got to defend EVERY GAME. Last year, the Jayhawks held 24 of their 40 opponents to less than 40 percent shooting. More importantly, Self's team held nine of its 16 Big 12 opponents and five of six NCAA opponents to fewer than 40 percent shooting. I got into many arguments in January and February of last year with my KU friends. They insisted that Self couldn't win a national title, but I disagreed because of the way that he teaches proper defense to high-profile kids.

It's not easy for these coaches to do it. When I asked Rick Barnes how he approaches the matter, he said that it's the way that he and his staff recruit. "It's non-negotiable....we tell the recruit up front that's the way it's going to be" Barnes told me. He also told me that two of his toughest pupils to teach defense to.....A.J. Abrams and Kevin Durant. "A.J. didn't exactly like the film room when he first got here", Barnes commented. "It's in the film room where the defensive flaws are there for all to see". But Abrams had company in the "film room defensive dog house"....Kevin Durant. Barnes said it took awhile, but Durant finally started to take pride in his personal defense and how it fit in with his Longhorn teammate's efforts.

We head for the second half of the Big 12 regular-season race, a race for a championship and a race for seeding in Oklahoma City. It's also a race for all the league coaches to teach their players PROPER defense. I'm guessing that the top four seeds in the Big 12 Championship will have the concept well in place because its "non-negotiable"....REAL defense wins championships.

 


The Warriors Of The Big 12...Big Things Do Come In Small Packages

January 29, 2009 - Stephen Howard, Big 12 Network

One of the things that I enjoy the most about covering Big 12 basketball is watching the players of each team compete and showcase their skills. It's great to watch the coaches go back and forth in their chess match of plays and counter-plays and to feel the atmosphere in the great arenas of the Big 12, but the players and their head-to-head battles are what get me the most excited.

Every year certain players set themselves apart from the rest because they are warriors and because of that, it almost takes a team to stop them. Blake Griffin comes to mind when thinking of such players. A warrior also has another definition in my mind and that is a player who may not have all of the skills, athletic ability, or genes for that matter as a Blake Griffin but still competes and more importantly...Excels.

Every year athletes seem to get bigger, faster, and stronger. That is the name of the game no matter what sport is being played. Size affords a player advantages as soon he hits the black top as a young hoopster. The larger players get picked first, and most of the time receive all the early attention from the coaches. So what do you do when you aren't the largest guy or the most skilled, and you don't get all of the attention? Some would just feel sorry for themselves and throw a pity party in their room while listening to Lionel Richie's slow jam melodies.

Well, that won't cut it in the Big 12, where teams smell fear during warm-ups and players exploit weaknesses of their opponents with skill and precision. I will talk about a few of these key players. Those that play with such heart, determination, and grit that it sometimes seem that they have the advantage over their larger, and at times more skilled, counterparts.

The first of these players is Obi Muonelo of Oklahoma State, who because of the transfer of center Ibrahima Thomas earlier this year, is the sole inside presence for the Cowboys. The fact that Obi is even an inside presence at all is an odd statement since he is known more for his deft 3-point shooting than for roaming the paint. Muonelo is listed at 6-5 and is currently ranked third in the Big 12 in rebounding and 25th nationally.

Are you kidding me? A guy 6-5 is averaging 9.3 rebounds?!?!?! There are seven-footers that don't average that many boards. What's more amazing is that last year Muonelo averaged 3.3 rebounds and a total of 110 for the year. This season, he has almost tripled that and is already at 176 rebounds. There was a void in the middle for these Oklahoma State Cowboys, and he has not only stepped in to fill that void, but is by far exceeding any and all expectations. If it weren't for the fact that we are blessed to be able to witness the greatness that is a Blake Griffin, Muonelo could be the leading rebounder in the Big 12. I say that Obi is "listed" at 6-5 and that is a very liberal listing. I would give him that height only if he was standing on cinder blocks in a room with smoke and mirrors sounding him.

To say that Muonelo is one of the hardest working players in the Big 12 is an understatement. You watch him before practice, and you will see a hard worker tirelessly shooting jumper after jumper after jumper. When you watch him in a game, you see a player who is the glue guy for a good team, working on both ends of the floor to do whatever to help his team win whether it is rebounding, defense and yes...scoring.

This isn't a player that was bestowed the once in a lifetime talent and athletic ability of a Blake Griffin. Anything that Obi gets on the court, you can be assured that he has worked his butt off to attain. Averaging 9.3 rebounds (he is almost averaging a double-double) in any conference in America would be impressive. To average it in a top conference such as the Big 12, known as much for the physicality of its players as it is for the depth of the competition, is amazing. To do it as an undersized guard who shoots as many 3's as he does 2's defy the laws of basketball.

To put this into perspective...the last time an Oklahoma State player averaged over 9.5 boards for the season, he ended up being a lottery pick in the draft, and the first from the Big 12 drafted that year (1994). That player was Bryant "Big Country" Reeves, a legit seven-footer. Talking to OSU coach Travis Ford before a recent game, he mentioned to me that he thought that as the coach of the Cowboys, he might be more athletic than Muonelo. Obviously he wasn't being serious, but he impressed on me the fact that Muonelo is an exception and not the rule. Most of the time, you will see a player with exceptional talent and skill who never reaches his potential because of a bad work ethic or they just don't care. So when you come across players who excel despite the fact that they aren't the biggest or the most athletic, you appreciate them that much more.

DeMarre Carroll is another player who does more with less. Unlike Muonelo, who scores a majority of his points behind the arc, Carroll is a master of the paint who has a knack for turning up in the right place and for putting the rock in the bucket. Carroll is listed at 6-8, but is probably closer to 6-6 (are you noticing a theme here?) and is relentless on the court. Where you might compare a Stephen Curry jumper to poetry in motion, Carroll's game is more likely described as constantly in motion. In other words, he is ALWAYS moving. Whether he is setting a pick to free up a teammate, running on the fast break, or darting to the rack to grab a loose ball; he is never still. When you look at undersized players, they always have something that set them apart or make them successful, and the conditioning that allows Carroll to be so active is his key.

Looking at the statistical leaders of the Big 12, Carroll is the only one of the bunch to be in the top nine in scoring (9th), rebounding (8th) and steals (5th). When talking to opposing coaches about Missouri, one of the most feared components of the MU attack is Carroll. He isn't flashy, and his moves aren't pretty...he just finds a way to get it done. When you hear his teammates call him "Junkyard Dog," you understand the chip on his shoulder that allows him not only to compete but to excel. Every time on the court he brings the Dog, and he doesn't care if you know it because he knows, and everyone in the gym knows, that you can't stop it.

The last on my list of little big men is Keiton Page. I just had to put Keiton on my list if only because he looks more like the team manager then a deadly downtown marksman. But then you put a uniform on his back and the rock in his hand, and this non-descript point guard doesn't back down from anyone or any situation. Take for example, a game that I covered between OSU and Baylor. In that contest, he hit a 3-pointer with time expiring to put the Cowboys ahead by one point. It would have been the game-winner were it not for the heroics of Curtis Jerrells of Baylor.

Page took a shot that many seniors wouldn't take, much less hit and let us not forget Mr. Page is just a freshman. He will remind you that he hit many of these shots as a high school phenom setting scoring records all across the land. Records that I'm sure his teammates will remind him were in high school by telling him..."you're in college now little fella."

The media guide says that Page's height is 5-10. All I will say is there is a reason that coach Travis Ford thought he was a manager when he first came to Oklahoma State and saw Page lounging on the couch. Page makes up for his lack of size and quickness with his high basketball IQ that enables him to figure out other ways to get his shot off or defend opponents. The fact that he is even able to compete at all on a Division I team, averaging over 10.5 points as a freshman speak volumes to this guy's heart. To do it with the ease and style that he does as the first sub off the bench makes you just tip your hat with respect.

These three players not only amaze us nightly with their prowess on the basketball court, but they inspire other players to reach for heights not yet attained and for goals not yet reached. That's what warriors do...they lead us into battle, and they inspire us to greatness.

 


 

Defending Home Court

January 27, 2009 - Brad Sham, Big 12 Network

There are an awful lot of blessings that go with broadcasting games around the Big 12. Just doing the job is one of them. And one of the benefits is traveling the conference and getting to see what home courts are like around one of the country's best leagues. Comparing facilities and gameday presentations is fascinating. I've had the great good fortune to do this for a little while. I've done college basketball games at Pauley Pavilion at UCLA and at Duke's Cameron Indoor. The changes in home court through the years in college basketball are as dramatic as they are in the rest of campus life, and in our culture overall.

In Waco a week ago, in a conversation with announcers, school and conference officials and others, I praised the Ferrell Center as a place to watch a game. It has great warmth, and if you get the chance to walk in the letterman's door on the side of the building and see the tremendous mural displays that celebrate Baylor's men's and women's programs, you see what makes people feel good about being in a program. I tried to tell some people how different it was from the old Heart O'Texas Coliseum, and then I realized most of the people experiencing Big 12 basketball have no frame of reference to the Southwest Conference and some of the buildings it played in. I'm grateful I do!

But one thing hasn't changed through the years: the importance of playing well at home.

Over the course of a season, every league will have stronger and weaker teams from year-to-year. By the time you get to the end of the schedule, the better teams are going to win some road games because the weaker teams won't be able to keep up. There aren't many of those, though, and where the so-called lesser teams have a chance to pull an upset is usually at home.

The reasons for this are mostly mental and emotional. The court's the same size everywhere and the basket is the same distance from the floor. What's different on the road? Disruption of routine and fans.

Nebraska coach Doc Sadler says he always thinks it's about the players. "When you go to Oklahoma," said Sadler, "you find Blake Griffin. That makes it a tougher game." And of course, that's true.

A&M coach Mark Turgeon said a few weeks ago when current North Carolina coach Roy Williams was at Kansas, he said the Big 12 had the toughest road stops in the country. Not sure if Williams would say that today, but he did have a few points of reference, and there's a good chance he's right.

One of the most striking things to me in the first quarter of the Big 12 season has been not just home and road results, but the difference in the WAY teams have played. If you saw A&M's opener at Oklahoma State and then their next game at home against Baylor, you wouldn't have thought you were watching the same team. The Missouri team that opened (with a loss) at Nebraska bore little resemblance to the one that went home and played Colorado and Iowa State. The examples go on and on.

If my math is right, the week started with 50 games having been played, and nine of them were won by visiting teams. And there are some anomalies.

If it's true that fans and atmosphere in an arena contribute to a team being tougher at home, just wait until attendance really picks up at Missouri and Oklahoma State. On the other hand, there's a good chance Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas are going to be pretty tough everywhere they play. Something about those players Coach Sadler mentioned.

At this stage of the season, there's not a team in the Big 12 that's played more than five games on a true road court. That means most teams, counting the overall schedule, have played two-thirds of their games at home.

That'll obviously change as we get into the meat of the schedule. Defending the home court is critical for teams with March dreams.

 


 

Blake Griffin "Gets It" At Oklahoma

January 22, 2009 - Bob Carpenter, Big 12 Network

Has any conference in America produced three players better than Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley and Blake Griffin recently? Big 12 fans would answer, "No way!"

The first two have taken their games to the next level, and the third may be about to, although Blake Griffin did look me in the eye on Big 12 Media Day and say he hadn't really thought about his future in the NBA. I have found out something about this interesting young man in his still short career at Oklahoma; if he says it, he means it, and some pretty good thought goes behind those few, well-chosen words.

In basketball terms, Blake is going to "get his" every time he steps on the floor for Jeff Capel, even when Big 12 teams double (and sometimes triple) team him. He's a double-double waiting to happen, but even when he doesn't get one, like when A&M hounded him recently at Reed Arena, he'll find a way to get the ball to his teammates and make them better. When he decided to return for his sophomore season and one more year with older brother Taylor, Blake Griffin "changed everything" for the Sooners, according to Capel, and probably for the conference as well.

But there's more to Blake Griffin than hoops. For us media types, he "gets it" and fans who've been fortunate enough to interact with him these last two seasons would agree. It's almost as if he has learned to stop and smell the roses at an age when most of us couldn't wait to get one task over with and begin another.

I first saw this on an OU road trip to Baylor last year. Some Oklahoma fans had made the trip to Waco and, after the game, they watched on the airport tarmac as the team bus unloaded and players headed for the chartered jet. There were the usual iPods and headsets, when most young athletes have their head down in a world of their own. Not Blake. He put down his bag, walked over and greeted those fans one by one with handshakes and, for the ladies, hugs. Their faces said it all; they had been thrilled to watch him return from his knee injury that day to spark a tough road win, but now they were touched by an aware young athlete who showed them he was glad they were there.

Then there was our face-to-face meeting in Oklahoma City, and I could tell in front of our Big 12 Network cameras that we were visiting with and learning more about someone special. It was "yes, sir" and "thank you" with a firm handshake.

After an OU non-conference game in January, Coach Capel wasn't feeling well and couldn't come over for our postgame interview. Here came Blake, but before he made it to the table, he was surrounded by some young boys who came for a clinic after the game. He shook hands, exchanged high-fives, messed up some hair and made dozens of friends in a minute or two. We started the interview, I asked him about it, and he smiled and told us how much he enjoys interacting with fans. I thought, "Yeah, whether it's adults near a plane or kids with a ball under their arm."

He's a gym rat, always the first on the floor and last to leave. Blake and Capel had some pretty good one-on-ones after practices last year. At a recent game, I chided him, saying "I can't believe Cade (Davis) beat you on to the floor for pregame." His eyes flared a bit as he answered, "Hey, I had to get taped. It wasn't my fault!" That's Blake Griffin; he wanted to be the first on the floor, and he wasn't happy when it didn't turn out that way. Imagine trying to stop him once that ball is tipped! And imagine those pickup games the Griffins used to have in their driveway. Blake told me many a bloody nose was dished out in those games with Taylor, and mom was none too pleased with it. Of course, that's probably the only time these quality kids got in any kind of trouble.

Whether he goes or stays next season, Big 12 fans have seen a special player, the third in a line of greatness stretching from Austin to Manhattan to Norman. This league is loaded with talent and great coaches, but Durant-Beasley-Griffin, plus a national championship by a talented bunch of Kansas Jayhawks, has taken us to a whole new level these last three seasons.

 

 


 

Head Coach of Sales.........Coffee Is For Closers Only

January 20, 2009 - Jon Sundvold, Big 12 Network

If you are like me you are glad to see conference play has started and by looking in the stands it appears the fans agree. We were tiring of the alphabet leagues scheduled for home games - MEAC, SWAC, LEAC, FLEAC, whatever - and are ready for Big 12 hoops. But scheduling is for another day. My thought today is about the coaching turnover this league has seen over the past three years.

Lets face it, most people think a coach is all about X's and O's. But the main job if you are taking over a program that is, or has been down is that of sales, especially if you are not a household name. Nine of the 12 schools in this league have had an opening for the position of head men's basketball coach over the past three years. Athletic directors have put out the sign "I need a coach that makes me look good," but maybe it should have said, "Wanted - Needed: Head Coach of Sales". Sales? What are you selling? It is just basketball. Show up, coach a little ball and the people will fill the stands. As Lee Corso might say, "Not so fast my friend."

Think back a few years and the names associated with Big 12 basketball; Roy Williams, Eddie Sutton, Bob Knight, Norm Stewart, Kelvin Sampson, Rick Barnes, Larry Eustachy, Bill Self, Bob Huggins - the names alone could sell tickets not only at home, but also on the road. Fans packed arenas to cheer their team and also watch a Hall of Fame coach potentially work his magic or even possibly blow a gasket. The Big 12 has always been a league of outstanding coaches and today is no exception. The difference is many of the newer coaches do not yet have the Hall of Fame resume, but the opportunity is there. That brings in the area of sales.

In the movie Glengarry Glen Ross, Blake (Alec Baldwin), the slick hotshot from downtown, arrives to give the sales force a chalk-talk and a warning. His motivational talk rivals General Patton and is one of the great cinema speeches. At one point, he instructs Shelly Levene (Jack Lemmon) to get away from the coffee maker because "coffee's for closers only".

Why sales? Think about it. The new coach is hired. Many fans will embrace and welcome him but there will be many that settle in on the wait-and-see method. So the new coach must sell himself to this new fan base. Not difficult to some, but what about "Mr. Big Bucks Alum" who just moved into those plush seats in the new arena or the newest ticket holders who paid for the upgrade in the new "points system" that booted out some of the long-term fans that now no longer attend games? These new fans like to come to games when you are winning but are very busy when the losses pile up. Yes, the sales process begins.

"Let me tell you about the system I am going to run, the recruits I am going to bring in, the schedule we will have, the commitment to winning championships I am about" and on and on ... that's part of the sales pitch.

Okay, that's easy. Fans are on board. Next up is that sophomore "potential" All-American down the road averaging a triple-double. It is now time for "Zig Ziglar's Selling 101" to get "Johnny Big Shot" to your school. Lock up a couple of these kids in the first two years, especially those sponsored by the golden arches, and you are well on your way.

The first two years you may have to go back to the fans and hope they understand the difficulty in what you inherited as a team. Sales pitch? "This is a three-to-five year process to change the culture of what we want to do". Huh? Hey, remember it is SALES. Sell the vision - a Big 12 Championship, a National Championship.

At some point the client wants results away from the easy stuff. Remember all those alphabet conferences with directional schools you were playing in year one and two? Move on. The client is ready for an upgraded product. So upgrade your sales force and upgrade your talent. Then upgrade your schedule and upgrade your program. The sales process is never complete.

The nine relatively new coaches in this league are talented and have a great opportunity to take their programs to the highest levels. Some have already had great success, with teams in the top five and top 25, and have built solid programs not only for today but also for the future. For others, the work may take longer. There will be successes and failures but the key is the sales process never ends.

And remember - coffee is for closers only.

Here is to a great conference season!

 

 


 

Where Is Studio 66?

January 15, 2009 - By Doug Bell, Big 12 Network

Time definitely flies by when you're having a good time and on Saturday, January 10, 2009, we not only tipped off the inaugural weekend of the new Big 12 Network, but it also marked the start of the 13th season of Studio 66, our (ESPN SportsCenter style) studio show previewing all of the action for the weekend and following week in conference play.

Thirteen years is a long time for anything in major college sports and I must say, I am proud and honored to be host of Studio 66. We've seen all the outstanding players and coaches that have played a role in making the league what it is today. The most asked question we receive is "Where exactly is Studio 66 based?" Most people feel it's in the Dallas area where the conference office is located, and some say it has to be Kansas City, where the Big 12 Championship has been played more than any other city. I remember the first year of the conference tourney, then-Texas football coach John Mackovic stopped by our perch, in the end zone of Kemper Arena, and asked me, "How's things in Dallas?" No, we're not located in Dallas, Kansas City, or any of the other wonderful stops in Big 12 Country. In fact, Studio 66's home base is somewhat of a mystery, until the end of the season when we show up at the conference tournament, live from our make shift perch in the end zone. (Sometimes the perch does get shaky, especially when Stacey King climbed aboard with a star player from the game.)

I often wonder - Who really pays attention to the studio show? After all, the players, coaches and games themselves are what we all want to see. Two years ago, while working the PGA Championship in Chicago for Sirius/XM radio (one of my many jobs), I was stopped on the 15th hole by a group of Nebraska fans, who started chanting, "Studio 66, Studio 66!" much to the surprise of the golfers I was following, as well as my producer, who heard the entire exchange over the head set.

It's been an honor to work with some all-stars on Studio 66, including the great K-State All-American Rolando Blackmon (who worked with us during our first season), former Oklahoma star Stacey King (who always kept everyone in the studio entertained with unbelievable and hilarious stories), Kansas legend Chris Piper (he paid me to say that), and former Houston Cougar Reid Gettys (the best lawyer/analyst in the business). All of these gentleman probably don't realize how much they have taught me over the years, by simply listening to them break down and analyze things, as we watch match-ups all over the country in our studio, with no less than 14 monitors all showing a different game. No, I still won't divulge our location. You see, Studio 66 is everybody's show in the Big 12.

There are plenty of stories, including back in 1997, when Kansas stars Jacque Vaughn, Raef LaFrentz and Paul Pierce all stopped by the studio for an interview after a win in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Championship, and afterwards, they were literally swarmed by hundreds of KU fans who wanted pictures and autographs. All three obliged every fan's request, but we received word the next day that Roy Williams was not too pleased that we kept the trio for that long of an interview (Hey, I'll never sell out the fans that make it memorable for all of us). Almost all the coaches over the years have been very kind in giving us interviews, whether it's at the tourney, or during the regular season when we interview them live from their arena on Saturday morning before the game. Even Bob Knight was a regular at the conference championship. Perhaps he was auditioning for his current role with ESPN.

It is a basketball junkie's dream job. I sit in the studio, watching all the games around the country and bending the ears of my esteemed colleagues and then hopefully entertaining and informing the fans who sit in their living rooms on Saturday's and watch their favorite Big 12 teams play.

I have always said I have the best seat in the house and 13 years have zoomed by. Heck, when I started my oldest son was a baby, and now all three of my boys play basketball and root for a different Big 12 team (I can't divulge that information either. It's best if I stay completely neutral).

It's great being a fan of a fantastic basketball conference, and better yet, it's so much fun talking about it on Saturdays during the conference season. It goes without saying, but the good people from Phillips 66 have been behind us all the way. Every year at halftime of the semifinals, I anxiously await the winner of the Phillips 66 free throw giveaway. I was so worried two years ago, when our contestant wanted to also propose to his girlfriend. Hey buddy, this is live television, what if she says no? Actually she never answered, just started giving the guy a bunch of kisses and a huge bear hug. Forgive me for going on, but I enjoy what I do, and I hope that comes across every weekend. Don't worry about where home base is, just know that Studio 66 is the Big 12 conference pregame show, and we'll see you in Oklahoma City.

If you have any suggestions, drop us a note at Big12studio@espn.com. Just don't ask us where we're located.

Can you believe the hype?
From my perch at Studio 66, I get to watch a ton of college hoops. When I get right down to minutes spent in front of our gorgeous bank of 14 monitors, it's kind of scary. I watch every league, big and small, and I can safely say that I've honestly tested the conference waters from the home base of the Big 12 and beyond.

I'm here to tell you that bigger is not better, unless you are listening to the out-of-control hype machine that is Big East hyperbole! There is no denying the Big East Conference deserves plenty of recognition, right? Wait just a second, will someone please tell me what the world's best mega-conference has accomplished? It is worth noting, the Big 12 had only 17 less victories in the non-conference schedule, and the Big East has 4 more teams! Like the Big East, the Big 12 won seven games against ranked non-conference opponents, and as long as we're throwing out statistics, the Big 12 has a .780 winning percentage, the best in league history. Oh yeah, the Big 12 is one of only three conferences (ACC, SEC) where every team has a winning record. Sorry Big East, bigger is not better. Sure, the beasts of the Big East have more teams ranked in the top 25, but they should with 16 teams. Let's talk about that. The Big East Conference's bottom dwellers aren't anything to write home about, and I've watched them all play. St. John's, South Florida, Cincinnati, Seton Hall, Rutgers and DePaul are all winless in conference as of this writing. Colorado is going through a serious rebuilding stage in the Big 12, so let's match the Big East Conference top nine versus the Big 12 Conference top nine. Remember, I've watched them all play numerous times, and I like the Big 12 chances to hold its own, especially on a neutral floor.

What I'm trying to say is the Big 12 shouldn't take a back seat to anybody. I'm not talking hype here, but reality. The Big 12 is likely to have seven teams headed to the NCAA Tournament in March, and the defending national champions will be primed and ready by then to make another run.

I talked to Bill Self and Rick Barnes last week about conference rankings, and they both agreed it is way too early to be comparing leagues, but both said by the end of February, the Big 12 will be taking a backseat to nobody, including the Big East.

UConn won the last national title from the Big East back in 2004, and since then it's been the ACC (North Carolina), SEC (Florida) twice and the Big 12. I've never been one to jump on a bandwagon, especially one that has been super charged by the runaway hype machine like the Big East, so I'm sticking close to home. The Big 12 will be ready to make another run to Ford Field in Detroit, and I believe both the Big 12 and Big East will be represented. A former Big 12 coach now in the ACC is likely to be there as well. Kansas might have gotten a taste of the other Final Four team last weekend.

Who is going win it all? Way too early, as Coach Self and Barnes keep telling me. I suppose it's time to crank up the Studio 66 television screens and continue the scouting report. I wonder if a Big East game will be on? With 14 screens, I'll watch everybody - including the Big 12 Network!

 

 


 

Moving The Line Back: What's The Difference?

January 13, 2009 - Rich Zvosec, Big 12 Network

For the first time since the 3-point line was adopted over 20 years ago it has been moved back this season. When the 3-point line was adopted many coaches spoke out against it as it might change the game too dramatically. Well, they were right.

One of the outspoken critics was former Texas Tech head coach Bob Knight. But like all great coaches he adapted and exploited the line to help his Indiana team win a National Championship behind sharp-shooting Steve Alford. This year there was no outcry in the coaching community about moving the line back. A mid-season look at shooting results will explain why this move has not changed the game as significantly as the initial adoption of the 3-point line.

How the line has affected the Big 12 is negligible. Shooters are still shooting it and still making it at a comparable percentage. A quick look at the overall Big 12 stats shows that the league as a whole is attempting and making more 3-point shots. Also, players are shooting at a higher percentage, thus disproving the notion that moving the line back will make teams more conservative due to shooting a lower percentage.

Teams that made the biggest jump in attempts, makes and shooting percentage are Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. New coaches and a new offensive philosophy has led to the increases at OSU and Tech, while a stronger inside game as opened up shooters at Iowa State.

3-Point Field Goal Shooting - The Last Two Years

  Attempts Per Game Made Per Game Percentage
  '07-08 '08-09 '07-08 '08-09 '07-08 '08-09
Baylor 22.7 21.9 8.6 8.5 37.8 38.8
Colorado 17.3 16.7 5.9 5.7 34.3 34.6
Iowa State 18.9 21.6 5.9 7.9 31.0 36.0
Kansas 17.1 18.0 6.7 6.7 39.7 37.3
Kansas State 20.0 19.2 6.3 6.9 31.7 35.9
Missouri 20.0 21.0 6.6 7.5 33.4 35.9
Nebraska 16.8 18.5 5.7 7.1 34.2 38.2
Oklahoma 18.0 21.7 6.2 7.4 34.0 34.0
Oklahoma State 21.4 25.3 7.3 10.7 33.9 42.4
Texas 21.0 15.0 8.1 5.1 38.6 34.0
Texas A&M 16.3 15.9 5.8 5.4 35.9 33.9
Texas Tech 13.8 19.8 5.1 7.6 37.4 38.3

Shooting The 3 - The Top Returnees

Makes per game '07-08 '08-09
A.J. Abrams (UT) 3.2 3.3
LaceDarius Dunn (BU) 2.3 3.1
Matt Lawrence (MU) 2.2 2.3
Percentage '07-08 '08-09
Alan Voskuil (TTU) 50% 46%
LaceDarius Dunn (BU) 41% 41%
A.J. Abrams (UT) 38% 42%

Overall, scoring is up in the league. Eleven of the twelve teams are averaging more points per game. The biggest jumps have been made by Oklahoma State (+17), Texas Tech (+14) and Oklahoma (+13). Only Texas has shown a decrease in scoring, which is understandable after losing Kevin Durant and D.J. Augustin in consecutive years. However, the Longhorns have shown the ability to out-defend teams, but that's a different article to be discussed later.

What does all this mean to fans? It means that Big 12 action will be faster paced and more exciting than ever before. Hope you will join the fun, but make sure you bring your seat belt!

 


 

Don't Let The Middle Third Be The End

January 8, 2009 - Reid Gettys, Big 12 Network

Guy V. Lewis - my Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame Coach (that was intended to be a direct shot at the knuckleheads who continue to refuse to vote for Coach Lewis for admission into the Naismith Hall of Fame!) -  started every season with the same speech: “I want y’all to know that at the end of this season, Deana (his lovely wife of over 60 years) and I are going to the Final Four. We have gone every year that I can remember and just so that you know, we are going again this year. There is no sporting event on the planet that can compare to the electricity, the pageantry and the excitement of the Final Four weekend! Now two times, I have taken a team with me....and it is a whole lot more fun if y’all were to come with me this year, but either way, I am going. Want to join me?” (sidenote #1 I was blessed to have joined Coach Lewis on his trip to the ’82, ’83 and ’84 Final Fours).

Each year Coach Lewis would then challenge us to set goals by dividing the season into thirds; the first third being the non-conference schedule, the second third being the conference schedule and finally, the last third, the NCAA Tournament. The warning was always the same - “Stay focused and don’t let the season end after the middle third of the season!”

With that admonition still resonating in my ears and with the “middle third” of the Big 12 season tipping off this Saturday, what are realistic goals and how should you view the next eight or nine weeks of conference play?  We know that only one team will win the tournament title in Oklahoma City (sidenote #2 the change this year of moving the championship up one day so that the final is played on Saturday as opposed to being played on Selection Sunday, is a great idea!) and although we have had some exceptions, for the most part, it safe to assume that only one team is going to win the regular-season crown.

Although all 12 teams should have both of these titles as their goals for the “middle third”, it is crucial that no one loses focus of the most important third of the season, the NCAA tournament. In 1982, our University of Houston team lost seven games in row during conference play! We did not win the Southwest Conference and we did not win the SWC Tournament. We sneaked into the NCAA’s as a very, very low seed, and then went on a magical run to the Final Four where we lost to Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Sam Perkins and the rest of the Tar Heels that eventually won the National Championship. Do you think anyone remembers who won the SWC in 1982? I would guess Arkansas, but I don’t even recall and I sure don’t have a clue as to who won the tournament that year. Nothing is more important than keeping your focus on making it to the NCAA tournament - nothing!

I know, I know, you play them one game at a time and never look ahead to the next opponent. I am going to let you in on a little secret, I guarantee you that during a quite moment (and trust me, there are not many quite moments during a season) every Coach in the league has closed his office door and looked ahead to the upcoming games on the schedule. Here is what he is looking at, the simple formula for not letting his season end after the middle third of the season.

The formula is not complicated (at least not complicated to say, doing it - that is another story); have a winning record at home and split your road games. That’s all there is to it!  You math majors don’t need this help, but for the rest of you, (6-2) or (5-3) at home and (4-4) on the road gets you to (10-6) or (9-7).  In spite of the dominance of the Big East and the ACC in the rankings, and in spite of the fact that it appears the Big Ten is back up from last year (buoyed by Michigan State's win over Texas and Illinois' win over Missouri), it is my opinion that there will be seven bids for the Big 12 this year.

Either (10-6) or (9-7) is good enough to get you in.......assuming that you played a competitive non-conference schedule. However, if your SOS keeps you on the dreaded bubble all year, or worse, keeps you from dancing.....don’t come crying to me when we start pulling up resumes! You have two choices, shut up and enjoy the fact that you were even in the conversation.....or don’t put Eastern Middle Alabama State Tech Institute on your schedule!

Hey, shoot us some e-mails in the Big 12 Network Studio this year (Big12Studio@ESPN.com) - it is much more fun to talk about what interests you. If you don’t have any questions, shoot us some suggestions for topics. In fact send us anything that we can use so that I don’t have to talk about anyone’s resume until we get Oklahoma City!
 

 


 

Big 12 Conference Season Tips Off

January 6, 2009 - Dave Armstrong, Big 12 Network

It's time to get another Big 12 basketball season cranked up. It seems like just yesterday when the Kansas Jayhawks came back in such exciting fashion against Memphis to win their fifth national title. They still cheer wildly at Allen Fieldhouse when they show, before every home game, the replay of Mario Chalmers' 3-pointer that sent the game into overtime.

It has been a year-long celebration for KU fans. And why not? It was an important win not only for Kansas, but for the Big 12. It was the one missing ingredient on an impressive conference resume. The Big 12 had already celebrated national championships in football and women's basketball, not to mention numerous other team titles and individual honors. But the Kansas title completed the big trifecta of college sports.

I'm proud of my association with the conference. I feel very honored to say this year will mark my 23rd straight announcing games in the Big 12/Big 8. It's been my pleasure calling the exciting action from my court-side perch at sold-out arenas throughout the league. So let's take a peak at what this year looks like.

We're at the point where we're starting to get a sense of who the contenders will be. It comes as no surprise that Oklahoma and Texas have jumped to the head of the class. Blake Griffin looks like he has a lock on the Player of the Year award. And he's got a great shot at giving the conference another national honor. He's joined by a talented cast led by Willie Warren who is off to a great start in his freshman campaign.

Texas is loaded with talent. I just saw them play last Friday night in Austin against Appalachian State. You already know about Damion James and A.J. Abrams, but Dexter Pittman was very impresssive. He gives the Longhorns a real presence inside. The Sooners and the Horns could both make a very deep run in March. Kansas has re-loaded, and the Jayhawks are coming off a most impressive win against Tennessee. KU's youngsters seem to be growing up fast, and with Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich, the Jayhawks will be there challenging for their fifth straight Big 12 title.

Baylor's guards along with Kevin Rogers make the Bears very dangerous. Kansas State seems to have found some depth, and they're playing great defense. We'll know a lot more about the Wildcats after their first two games of conference play against OU at home and KU on the road. Missouri had a hiccup against Illinois, but the Tigers also have impressive wins against California and at Georgia. I called the Cal game, and I was very impressed with Mizzou. This is Mike Anderson's best team, but they do play in the Show-me state, so they still have something to prove. Texas A&M isn't getting nearly enough attention. The Aggies had a great win against Arizona. Mark Turgeon has put his stamp on this team, and so far, they seem to have the right ingredients to keep winning.

All in all, this looks like another exciting race. Another exciting year. I'll be in Manhattan this Saturday when the Conference season tips off with the Sooners and the Wildcats. Wow! I can't wait.

 

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