Yes, folks. Even though the new hand-check rules the NCAA put in place seem like a problem, what with exhibitions finishing with 70 free throws off a billion fouls, everyone needs to chill.
As with all new rules: 1.) Referees have a hard time calling them the right way at first and 2.) Teams have a hard time adjusting their style of play to it. However, once teams adjust, it will improve a major problems that arose last season.
The first was, believe or not, all the fouls. Last year, refs were just calling one-on-one fouls with no basis other than the one that has stood for years. That is, you can’t physically impede the process of the ball-handler and going for steals is now an even bigger gamble. This led to maximum drives to the basket and a subsequent spike in free throw attempts. Well, think about this: There’s now a set rule. Meaning it’s now in the books that hand-checking is to be at a minimum.
After teams adjust, the good ones at least, we’ll start to see smarter defense by the teams that know how to play smart defenses. Meaning the Louisville’s, Kansas’ and VCUs of the world. You’ll definitely see more blowouts as a result, but that’s the nature of the game. Adapt or die.
So once teams realize that calling hand-check fouls is no longer subjective according to which referees have their game, they’ll start to figure out how to beat ball-handlers to spots for charges (which is also slightly altered this season) and to cut off lanes. They’ll learn to keep active arms and slide consistently, switch on screens and communicate. They’ll slap the floor, hike the shorts and focus in on staying in front of their man, rather than just trying to get the bump to keep them back.
That, in turn, will improve scoring. With less contact means more space, and the faster, guard-oriented teams will take advantage of the extra area to slash. Physical teams such as West Virginia and South Carolina (the product of physically-dominant coaches in Bob Huggins and Frank Martin) will suffer, but that may also force them to play zone, another adjustment.
Keep in mind this (obviously) won’t be immediate. But when looking at what this rule could mean, come February, this might be the one recent change the NCAA got right.
When someone asks you who you like in the Big 12 this season, go ahead and find the Big 12 standings from five years ago, or any year since, and tell them whoever is on top of them, is your team that you think will win. Because that will be Kansas. It’s a tale as old as Hug Hefner. Who still is doing better than all of us.
BIG-12 PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS
1.) Kansas - This seems too easy, but I’m not one to look off a sure thing. Withey is back. Travis Releford at the point with Elijah Johnston in the backcourt. Perry Ellis is going to make a name for himself while Bill Self continues to prove he’s an elite coach even though he’s probably the most overlooked coach with a national title, in all of America.
2.) Baylor - It’s really a two-team race in the Big 12. Scott Drew has brought the Bears out of the depths of college basketball and continuously hauls in top recruiting classes. This season, Isaiah Austin will compliment Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip on the perimeter. Look at Duece Bello and A.J. Walton to have better season defensively for a Baylor team that really needs to disrupt passing lanes to stay competitive.
3.) West Virginia - We all keep forgetting that the Mountaineers have made the move to the Big 12. Coach Bob Huggins doesn’t mind. West Virginia has two key transfers eligible this season in LaSalle defector Aaric Murray and Juwan Staten from Dayton. Jabarie Hinds (7.4 ppg, team-leading 108 assists) and Deniz Kilicli (10.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg) return and as long as WVU can make up for the losses of Kevin Jones’ 19.9 ppg and 10.9 rpg and Darryl “Truck” Bryant’s 16.9 ppg — which will probably happen by-committee — they should compete in their first year in the league.
4.) Kansas State - The Wildcats enter the Bruce Weber era with the promise of a team still coached by Frank Martin. I guess that’s a good thing. Jordan Henriquez and Angel Rodriguez return, and what’s more, the leading-scorer Rodney MacGruder’s 15.8 points and 5.2 boards and 50 made three’s return, as does Will Spradling’s 9.3 points and 47 made three’s also makes its way back to Bramlage Coliseum. If the team can get even the gist of Weber’s system early-on, expect fireworks and deep run into March for K-State.
5.) Oklahoma State - How does a team that went 15-18 last season make the Top 5? They return everyone but their leading scorer, at least all the guys that matter. And really, that’s one guy: LeBryan Nash and his 13.3 points per game. Marcus Smart hits Gallagher-Iba Arena and Markel Brown brings his numbers back. Travis Ford has a legitimate NCAA Tournament team on his hands. The only question is depth.
8.) Iowa State
10.) Texas Tech
Pierre Jackson, Baylor – Junior college players in big-time college basketball are normally quick-fix guys. Jackson is one of those exceptions. He averaged 13.8 points and 5.9 assists for the Bears last season and with the addition of Isaiah Austin, the lobs should still be aplenty. He’s quick, defends the perimeter well — leading the team with 68 steals — and has total control of the offense under coach Scott Drew. He’s headed for the Cousy Award.
Jeff Withey, Kansas – Seems like he’s been around forever, right? The talented shot-blocker for the Jayhawks is ready to take leadership with the departure of Thomas Robinson to the NBA. He averaged 9 points, 6.3 boards and had 140 blocks in 2011-12 and this season he’ll need more of the same now that he’s the sole guy in the post. Perry Ellis will take some of the burden off Withey, but it won’t stop him from being a human bruise.
Myck Kabongo, Texas – The sophomore has no choice. Kabongo learned for one season under J’Covan Brown and now school is out — on the court, at least — for the point guard. There isn’t a ton of hype on this team going into the season, so they’ve got that going for them. But that’s because the number of high-profile players is at one: Kabongo. More that likely, this will be it for him as a collegian, because this kid can lead the nation in assists (averaged 5.1 assists per game last season) if he minimizes the turnovers (102 in 2011-12).
LaBryan Nash – He’ll be the top offensive weapon for the Cowboys. He’ll be spelled by Markel Brown and Marcus Smart, but he’s the epicenter of this half-court-centric attack that commands discipline in the post. Nash has it after some freshman season bumps. This will more-than-likely be his final season in Stillwater, so leaving the program with an NCAA Tournament berth will be on his mind. A double-double year isn’t out of the question.
Jordan Tolbert, Texas Tech – The bright spot on an otherwise horrible team. Blame Billy Gillispie. Tolbert quietly had a serious season for the Red Raiders in BCG’s lone season, and now he’ll have to do the same under interim coach Chris Walker. He averaged 11.5 ppg and 5.7 rpg for the 8-23 Red Raiders and I expect him to do more now that he’s not being chain-whipped in practice by BCG (KIDDING!). Expect an 18-and-8 year from him, because he has to do it for Texas Tech to even sniff a .500 record.
MOST UNDERVALUED TEAM
Texas – No, this isn’t supposed to be below in the “overrated team” category. Rick Barnes is one of the best at getting average out of great talent. This season, he’s giving Myck Kabongo the keys to the system, and hoping that he does something right. This team lacks talent, and strangely, that’s why this team will do well. Prince Ibeh is the prize incoming recruit, and the Longhorns return Sheldon McClellan (11.3 ppg) and Julien Lewis (7.8 ppg) in terms of scoring to go along with Kabongo’s 9.6 ppg. They also bring back Jonathan Holmes’ 4.8 rebounds per game. If Kabongo can be the man that J’Covan Brown was last season, this team could shock the Big 12.
MOST OVERRATED TEAM
Kansas State – Forgive me, Bruce Weber. One of the nicest guys in the business inherits great talents in Jordan Henriquez and Angel Rodriguez, and he’ll get to the NCAA Tournament in his first season. But I think a lot of people overvalue Weber’s buffer time between getting his team to adjust to his style of play. Weber utilizes more zone than Frank Martin did, and that’s a lot tougher to get used to that one would imagine. It’s not going to be a bad first year for Wildcat fans under Weber, just not a great one.
SLEEPER IMPACT PLAYER
Romero Osby, Oklahoma – He’s not that traditional sleeper. Osby was third on the Sooners in scoring (12.9 ppg) in his first season since transferring in from Mississippi State in 2011-12. He also led the team in rebounding at 7.3 per game. The sleeper part of it is that he was on a 15-16 team. The Sooners should be better this season, but if that team is going to be good, Osby is going to be the reason why. Wouldn’t be surprised to see a double-double out of this guy.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Pierre Jackson, Baylor- I’m one of the most skeptical people when it comes to junior college players making the jump to Division I. The ones that make it normally are the ones that didn’t qualify out of high school, and even those have a tough time keeping it together for two/three years in D-I. Jackson is one of the exceptions. He’s got the speed and court vision and has commanded control of the Bears on the court since Day 1. He’s going to make some late-first-round team very happy in the 2013 NBA Draft.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Travis Ford, Oklahoma State – The Cowboys had the roughest of rough years in 2011-12. This year, a huge recruiting haul for Ford including point guard Marcus Smart could create a deadly one-two punch with LeBryan Nash. Back comes Nash’s 13.3 ppg and 5 rpg along with Markel Brown’s 10.5 and 5.1 per. Don’t forget Jean-Paul Olukemi (9.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and Brian Williams (9.6 ppg) making a return. Smart will be this team’s starting point guard with Brown moving to the two. If Michael Cobbins and Phillip Jurick (97 combined blocks) can improve their defensive presence, Ford could be a surprise 12-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
PHOTO: BIG 12 CONFERENCE
We have made it to the final weekend of college basketball.
New Orleans is the place to be, for those that are stuck watching CBS, hopefully they don’t use the SkyCam shot too much, and hopefully Jim Nantz doesn’t force his ‘non-scripted’ sayings into the broadcast.
On one side of the bracket you have a bitter instate rivalry, Louisville vs Kentucky. Being from Louisville I have to list Louisville first, Kentucky can not be first when you list these two teams. One the other side Ohio State and Kansas face off for the right to play in the last college game of the season.
Back on December 10 Kansas defeated the Buckeyes 78-67, Thomas Robinson led Kansas with 21 points and 7 rebounds, however Jared Sullinger was out for the Buckeyes with an injury.
The Jayhawks are making their 14th Final Four appearance, they are one of six schools to appear in the Final Four at least 10 times, Kentucky and Ohio State are also on this list.
Here are a few reasons why the Jayhawks might cut down the nets on Monday. Kansas has out rebounded 29 of their 37 opponents, shot a higher percentage than 34 teams. In all of their games this season six different players have led the team in scoring, so they do not rely on one player to provide the spark. The Jayhawks have won 11 Final Four games (6th best in college basketball).
Thomas Robinson was named the ESPN.com 2012 National Player of the Year, is a First-Team All-American as well as Big 12 Player of the Year. With 17.7 ppg and 11.8 rpg, Robinson is the only player in the Big 12 that is averaging a double-double. Tyshawn Taylor has scored 20 or more points in five of his last nine games. The downside for Kansas, they are 2-4 in the Superdome.
If you are a fan can this Final Four be any better? You are in New Orleans, you have Kentucky and Kansas, two programs that have fans that are everywhere and travel well. You have the Louisville fans that flock to destinations to watch the Cardinals and you have Ohio State wanting to prove that the Big Ten is a power basketball conference.
With Conference Tournament games just over a week away here is a look at some of the games that you should keep an eye on this week.
Monday: Connecticut @ Villanova (7pm ESPN) – ESPN’s Big Monday has a double-header worth watching. UConn and Nova both are in need of a confidence boost before they head to Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament. If you want a second game tonight, Baylor is at Texas at 9pm on ESPN
Tuesday: Kansas St at Missouri (7pm ESPN2) – The Big 12 leader host 5th place Wildcats. This games kicks off a tough week for both teams.
Wednesday: So many games to pick this week but a few to keep an eye on include West Virginia @ Notre Dame (7pm ESPN2), USF at Syracuse (7pm Big East Net.), Oklahoma State @ Oklahoma (8pm Big 12 Net.).
Thursday: Duke @ Florida State (7pm ESPN) – Two of the three teams at the top of the ACC meet in Durham. Murray State @ Tennessee State (8pm ESPNU), the top two in the OVC will battle it out, the Racers are coming off the win over St. Mary’s. Louisville @ Cincinnati (9pm ESPN) the long time conference rivals meet at Fifth Third Arena, both teams are currently at 9-5 in conference play.
Friday:Baseball is back; go watch your college program play our national past-time. If you really want to watch some hoops Butler @ Valparaiso (7pm ESPNU) and Marquette @ West Virginia (9pm ESPN) should settle that craving.
Saturday: Go on and clear your schedule it’s the last full Saturday of regular season basketball. The day starts with Vanderbilt @ Kentucky (Noon CBS), Iowa State @ Kansas State (1:30 Big 12 Net.), North Carolina @ Virginia (4pm ESPN), Creighton @ Indiana State (4pm ESPN2), and what could be the final meeting of Missouri @ Kansas (4pm CBS).
Sunday: It’s the Daytona 500 why do you want to watch basketball? Cincinnati @ USF (Noon Big East Net), Indiana @ Minnesota (1pm ESPN), Pittsburgh @ Louisville (2pm CBS), Florida State @ Miami (FL) (6pm ESPNU), Oregon @ Oregon State (7:30pm FSN).
If you can not find a game that peaks your interest this week then you might not be a college basketball fan.