LACKING SOME PUNCH
Before Kansas State took the floor against Oklahoma State on Saturday, coach Bruce Weber gave his players a little extra motivation by reminding them that they were about to face a ranked opponent.
Unless the top 25 polls change drastically in the next few weeks, K-State won’t play many more this season.
The Big 12 is home to two ranked teams. Kansas leads the way at No. 6, while K-State jumped up to No. 18 after beating the Cowboys, who were ranked No. 22 at the time but now fall in the “receiving votes” category. None of the league’s other seven teams are within striking distance.
“I told the guys, ‘There are only three teams in our league that are rated, you are only going to have four opportunities right now to play rated teams and help your resume,’” Weber said. “This was big to get this at home.”
Weber’s pregame speech serves as a reminder for the weakened state of the Big 12 as its teams fully transition into conference play this week. The Big 12 normally features anywhere from three to six ranked teams and four to seven NCAA Tournament teams. This season, the league’s top selling point is having six teams in the top 54 of the RPI.
Though five teams are in position to reach the NCAA Tournament, it’s undoubtedly a down year for Big 12 hoops. It is ranked sixth in the RPI, behind the Big Ten, Big East, Mountain West, ACC and the Pac-12.
The same slogan that fans coined as a dig at Kansas during football season could also be used for basketball. The Big 12: Kansas and nine other teams.
Not that Jayhawks coach Bill Self looks at it that way.
“Our league RPI is six, but we are just a fraction of being out of second,” “It’s not like there are so many leagues that are separating themselves above us. That’s not the case.
“When you look across America … the Big Ten without question is the deepest league in the country, but after that you have some leagues that look better than others. But when you really study the RPI, we have seven teams in the top 75. We are going to have teams in position to make the NCAA Tournament.”
Kansas, K-State and Oklahoma State are on their way to the NCAA Tournament. Baylor seems likely to make it, with Oklahoma, Texas and Iowa State hoping to join that group.
But they will have to prove themselves in conference, where there aren’t many head-turning wins to come by. TCU and Texas Tech look like pushovers, West Virginia is down and Texas and Baylor have been maddeningly inconsistent.
The Bears won at Kentucky but lost at home to Charleston. The Longhorns stomped North Carolina but couldn’t beat Division II Chaminade. K-State and Kansas helped the league by beating Florida and Ohio State in nonconference play, but five teams hurt the league by losing to Gonzaga.
There is concern the Big 12 will receive worse seeds than usual in the NCAA Tournament. Coaches are using that as motivation in some situations, ignoring it in others.
“Unfortunately we don’t have time to make that up,” Self said. “It’s not even a consideration with us. We are just thinking about winning our league. If you are one of the better teams in our league, there is no question you are going to get a good seed.”
Iowa State’s football team wasn’t the only program on campus that got a long break between games around the holidays. Its basketball team has played once since Dec. 19. It isn’t in action again until Wednesday, when the Cyclones travel to Kansas for the conference opener for both teams.
Iowa State defeated UMKC on Dec. 19, took nearly two weeks off and beat Yale on New Year’s Day. After another week off, it will play one of the hardest games on its schedule.
“I’ve never had a situation where you play one game in 21 days,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said.
He is trying to make the best of the situation by allowing players to rest and hitting them with drills he wouldn’t normally have time for in the regular season. No word on whether he consulted Iowa State football coach Paul Rhoads beforehand.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR WATCH
Fresh off a 28-point outburst against Oklahoma State, which earned him Big 12 player of the week honors, Rodney McGruder is on the shortlist of players worth watching for the conference’s top honor. The K-State senior swingman got off to a slow start, but he seems to be hitting his stride under Weber. At the least, he should challenge Ben McLemore, Jeff Withey, Marcus Smart and Pierre Jackson for Big 12 Player of the Year.
K-STATE LANDS FORWARD
K-State rounded out its 2013 recruiting class on Monday, picking up an oral commitment from Neville Fincher.
The 6-foot-9, 240-pound power forward who currently plays at Hargrave Military Academy (Chatham, Va.) is exactly the type of player the coaching staff needed to get with its fourth, and final, available scholarship. Their other three members — shooting guard Marcus Foster, small forward Wesley Iwundu, and point guard Jevon Thomas – won’t contribute much inside.
With Jordan Henriquez in his senior season, Fincher will compete with Adrian Diaz, D.J. Johnson and Thomas Gipson for playing time next year. Fincher describes himself as a defensive-minded player that also has "a few moves on the block. I can score and get the ball in the hoop."
"I’m long, I block shots, I grab rebounds and I try to dunk everything when I’m down low," Fincher said. "I’m quick off my feet and I run the floor really well ... At Kansas State, I want to develop a little with my mid-range game and get to the point where I can shoot a few jumpers."
1. Kansas (12-1, 0-0): Can Jayhawks go 18-0?
2. Kansas State (12-2, 1-0): When McGruder gets hot, look out.
3. Oklahoma State (10-3, 0-1): Talent is there, but experience needed.
4. Baylor (9-4, 1-0): Started league play with crucial win over Texas.
5. Oklahoma (10-3, 1-0): No. 19 team in the RPI.
6. Iowa State (10-3, 0-0): Tough conference opener.
7. Texas (8-6, 0-1): Trying to survive until Myck Kabongo returns.
8. West Virginia (7-6, 0-1): Tough season for Bob Huggins.
9. Texas Tech (8-4, 1-0): Undefeated in league play. Enjoy it while it lasts.
10. TCU (9-5, 0-1): Wins, even in weakened Big 12, will be hard to come by.