Must Watch Games in the Big 12

The Big 12 Conference holds its hat on being able to crown “one true champion.” It’s the only conference that every team plays twice to truly see who is number one. Any college basketball fan knows that for the past 13 years, Kansas has been the said true champion in the Big 12, at least in the regular season. But it hasn’t always been predictable. Let’s look at five games that could impact the Big 12 championship.

Kansas at West Virginia – Monday, January 15th

Kansas and West Virginia have provided exciting contests since the Mountaineers joined the Big 12. West Virginia and their press is notorious for giving KU fits. Bob Huggins even gets a bonus every time he beats Kansas. Last year WVU won handily at home, and then lost a heart breaker in Lawrence. The Mountaineers blew a 14 point lead with 4 minutes to play, eventually falling to KU in overtime 84-80. It’s Jevon Carter vs. Devonte Graham. Bill Self vs. Bob Huggins. Kansas vs West Virgina. Will be a great one.

 

Oklahoma at TCU – Saturday December 30th

Welcome to the Big 12, Trae Young. This will be the first conference game for the likely one-and-done from Oklahoma. Young has the potential to put up scoring numbers similar to that of Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley in his one year in Norman. There’s no doubt OU will only go as far as Young takes them. For many talented freshman, it takes some time to adjust to the college game. It will be interesting to see how much Young has been able to adjust by the time conference play rolls around.

Texas at Baylor – Saturday, January 6th

This is a big game for Texas. For the past couple of season, Baylor has been the best team in the state of Texas. The Longhorns have a chance to change that and their first match-up with the Bears will go a long way to changing who runs the Lone Star state. Mo Bamba vs Jo Lual-Acuil (above) will be a highlighted match up in this one. Two of the best big men in the conference going to head-to-head; expect the paint to be well protected on both ends. Expectations are growing in Austin as Shaka Smart continues to rebuild the Longhorns. Bragging rights in the state is a big step in the right direction for a growing program.

Kansas at Texas – Friday December 29th

This is the earliest the Big 12 Conference begins play and it starts out with two of the conference’s premier teams. As mentioned above, Texas is looking to make a leap from last season. They return key pieces from last year’s team, while bringing in a five-star recruit and their point guard of the future. If Texas really is going to become a contender, they’re going to get a chance to prove themselves early against the conference favorite Kansas Jayhawks. What better way to declare yourselves back than to knock off the best?

TCU at Baylor – Tuesday January 2nd

Jamie Dixon might not admit to it, but this is a statement game for TCU as well. The Horned Frogs were one of college basketball’s most improved teams last season. They return a good nucleus of players from an NIT championship team and will look to take a step forward in the Big 12, while eyeing an NCAA Tournament bid. Similar to Texas, the next step is taking down the state’s most dominant team over the past few seasons. TCU lost both match ups to Baylor last season. If this season is going to be different, a win at Baylor will be a nice start.

For a full preview of the Big 12, click here.

Breaking Down the Big 12 Conference

For over a decade, the Big 12 conference has belonged to the Kansas Jayhawks. Teams have come and gone, but the one constant has been KU finishing atop the regular season standings. The feat is impressive when you consider the talent that circulates around the Big 12 Conference on a yearly basis. Unlike most conferences, the Big 12 hangs their hat as crowning “one true champion.” It’s the only conference that each team players each other twice. How will the Big 12 fair in the 2017-18 season? Will Kansas reign again? Will someone find a way to knock them off? Let’s preview the Big 12.

Kansas

Spoiler alert: Kansas will likely not be dethroned this season. The Big 12 has been, and will continue to be Kansas’ Conference. While the Jayhawks do not have the typical powerhouse recruiting class coming in, they do have a lot of experience returning to a team that made an Elite Eight appearance last season. The starting back court is solidified, and is the foundation of success for the Jayhawks. Devonte Graham returns to take on a bigger role than last year, Svi Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick also return, and former McDonald’s All-American Malik Newman joins the rotation after sitting out a transfer year.

Up front will be more of a question mark. Bill Self landed Oak Hill’s Billy Preston, and the Jayhawks will have Udoka Azuibuke return after a season-ending hand injury. After that it’s thin for KU. Mitch Lightfoot will rotate in after seeing sporadic action in his freshman season. More likely than not though, you’ll see Self run out a four guard rotation to exploit mismatches and keep his bigs out of foul trouble. It might not be an exciting pick, but you can never bet against Kansas winning the Big 12.

West Virginia

The Mountaineers got a huge boost this off-season when Jevon Carter withdrew his name from the NBA Draft. The reigning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year will be the focal point of Bob Huggins’s chaotic defense, as well as the primary ball handler for WVU. Carter’s return, as well as West Virginia’s ability to give Kansas fits, gives them a chance to steal the conference.

The Mountaineers also return a slew of key contributors to last season’s team. Esa Ahmad, the team’s second leading scorer also returns, giving the offense a potent one-two punch. Daxter Miles Jr. will be relied upon heavily to raise his level of play as a senior this season. In typical Bob Huggins fashion, West Virginia doesn’t have any major recruiting prospects. Instead, they have a veteran team that will pester the heck out of teams for 40 minutes.

Texas

Texas had some growing pains last season under Shaka Smart. Slowly but surely, Smart is bringing in a team that will fit his system and as result, turn into success for the Longhorns. For starters, UT has a great freshman class. Mo Bamba (4), Matt Coleman (31), Jericho Sims (67) and Royce Hamm (82) are all Top 100 recruits according to ESPN. Bamba is a sure one-and-done and will have fans falling in love with him from day one. Coleman could be the best point guard Texas has seen since D.J. Augustin.

The Longhorns also got promising news when Andrew Jones chose to return to school instead of pursuing a professional career. The team’s third leading scorer from a year ago will give Smart a go to offensive player as his prizes freshman adjust to the college game. With other key contributors such as Kerwin Roach and Eric Davis returning, it could be a good season in Austin this year.

Baylor

Baylor was atop the Big 12 much of last season. Injuries and some misfortune led to a 20 point blowout loss in the Sweet 16. The Bears lost Jonathan Motley to the NBA. Al Freeman graduated and transferred to NC State. Senior leader Ishmail Wainright is also gone. Scott Drew will lean on returnees Manu Lecomte and Jo Lual-Acuil. Both players were key contributors to the Bears success last season, which did include wins over non-conference teams such as Oregon, Michigan State, Louisville and Xavier.

Terry Matson, King McClure and Jake Lindsey all return as well this season, but a majority of the Bears’ success this year will fall on the shoulders of Lecomte and Lual-Acuil.

TCU

TCU was by far the most improved team in the conference last season. Jamie Dixon has the Horned Frogs trending in the right direction, and for the first time in a long time, TCU is relevant in college basketball. The Horned Frogs finished seventh in the conference last season, but ended the 16-17 campaign on an extremely high note. They knocked off the top seeded Jayhawks in the Big 12 Tournament, and then marched their way to an NIT Championship.

Jamie Dixon will return his top six scorers from last season, including leading scorer Vladimir Brodziansky, who averaged 14 points a game last season, including a season-high 28 against Kansas at Phogg Allen. Also joining the mix are two strong freshman recruits. Kevin Samuel (6’10, St. Thomas Episcopal) and R.J. Bemhard (6’4 Keller) will provide great depth to a seasoned team that is riding a lot of momentum from last year.

 

Oklahoma

It was a down year last season for a young Oklahoma team. The Sooners only had two upperclassmen average 20 minutes or more per game last season (Jordan Woodard & Khadeem Lattin). Woodard is gone, but the Sooners spent much of last season without him anyway due to injury. Lattin will return and is far and away the most experienced player for Lon Kruger.

While OU faithful need to believe that this group will learn from its growing pains last season, they can also get excited about the arrival of Trae Young. Young, the five-star recruit ranked #23 overall on ESPN, chose to stay home in Oklahoma over the likes of Kansas and Kentucky. A prolific scorer in high school, Young will be a huge addition to a team looking to take a major step forward from last season.

Texas Tech

For the past two seasons, location has been key to Texas Tech’s outcome. In two years, they are 30-6 in the comfort of their own gym. Away from home however, they are 4-16. While some of those wins are against low-major schools, they did enjoy wins over West Virginia and Baylor at home last season, and took Kansas to the final seconds.

If Chris Beard’s team wants to take a step forward, they will need to find a way to win on the road. If a team is going to do that, it’s this Tech team. TTU’s top two leading scorers return in Keenan Evans and Zach Smith. The duo combined to average 27 points per game last year. Justin Gray and Niem Stevenson also return, giving Texas Tech a solid core of returning contributors. If Texas Tech can learn how to win on the road, I probably like them to finish higher than seventh. Until that is proven though, they stay here.

Iowa State

Iowa State lost a decorated senior class after last season. Monte Morris, Naz Long, Deondre Burton & Matt Thomas were major pieces to the Cyclone’s Big 12 Championship run last year. With so much production gone, it will take multiple players to step up for Steve Prohm next season. Donovan Jackson will move from role player to centerpiece, and will likely take over as floor general. Solomon Young saw an increase in minutes midway through the year last season; he will now have a huge role in protecting the paint and owning the glass.

Lindell Wigginton is the Cyclone’s prize recruit who will be able to contribute from the start next season. Coming from prestige powerhouse Oak Hill Academy, Wigginton is a great slasher and can penetrate the defense so himself or others. Pieces are there, but it would take some Hilton Magic for Iowa State to find themselves in another Big 12 Championship.

Kansas State

It was a middle of the road finish last season for Bruce Weber and Kansas State. Good news is that they only lose two players from last year’s team. Bad news is they are their two most important players, Wesley Iwundu and D.J. Johnson. Iwundu did it all for K-State, including leading them in points and rebounds per contest. Johnson was KSU’s most important player. Games often changed for the worse when he came off the floor. Their absence will be felt this season.

That said, the Wildcats return a good chunk of production in Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes and Dean Wade. All three were starters and played in every contest for Kansas State last season. Adding Xavier Sneed into the starting lineup will give Weber four experienced starters, but the depth is shallow after that. Could hurt K-State in the long grind that is the Big 12 regular season.

Oklahoma State

The Cowboys backcourt is wide open with the departure of Juwan Evans and Phil Forte. Evans led the team in points and assists and Forte has been a staple in the Cowboy lineup for what feels like 10 years now. Replacing those two will not be easy. Jeffrey Carroll returns as the focal point of the offense, but they will not have any one player who can replace what Evans and Forte brought to the team.

15U Team Loaded and 16U Ohio Basketball Club Win West Virginia Championships

Team Loaded

15U Team Scan (NY) v Team Loaded (VA)

When players, parents, and fans took notice of the 15U championship game, they looked on in surprise. Why?

They didn’t see these teams all weekend nor did they know they were only 15 years old. Everyone was shocked when they found out that this was the 15U championship . Both Team Scan and Team Loaded feature a plethora of talent that could give some 17U teams a run for their money.

Team Scan was led by point guard Shavar Newkirk and power forward Chris McCullough who both finished with 13 points a piece. This wasn’t nearly enough to stop the balanced scoring attack of Team Loaded which had 9 different players score (6 players who scored more than 5 points).

Team Loaded led by 3 points at the half (20-17) but their deep roster wore down Team Scan in the 2nd half. The lead kept extending and eventually ended with a 9 point margin 53-44.

16U East Coast Elite (DE) vs Ohio Basketball Club (OH)

East Coast Basketball expended a ton of energy on and off the floor. Every single member of the 16U team was in the stands cheering for the 17U team during bracket play. It was one of those moments that really make your cherish AAU basketball. After they rooted their elders in the program they carried their energy on the floor shocking Team Final (PA) in the semis.

As this went on Ohio Basketball Club was battling against Team Loaded (VA). OBC proved to be too much for Team Loaded moving on to play EOC.

Ohio Basketball Club took control of the game early on against East Coast Elite and never really looked back. 6’5 Anthony Dallier paced OBC with 13 points including three treys. Elijah Brown ran the show while Kash Blackwell did a lot of the blue collar work down low.

17U Final Four Recap Hoop Group West Virginia Jam Fest

Hoop Group’s West Virginia Jam Fest played their Final Four on Saturday, and it was every bit as exciting as you would have expected.

In the first semifinal, Team Philly and Team Takeover went to overtime. With just over a minute left, Takeover’s Coleman Johnson — who had 14 points — hit an eight foot jumper to take a 57-55 lead. After trading turnovers, Team Philly tied the game up on two free throws. On the ensuing possession, Takeover ran out the clock and had two looks from within five feet, but couldn’t get them to drop.

In the overtime, Philly’s Brendan Taylor scored to take the initial lead, but a three from Myles Tate gave Takeover the lead with 40 seconds left. On the ensuing possession, Tate stripped Maurice Watson and got the ball to Tillman Dunbar. Dunbar was fouled and hit both free throws to give Takeover a three point lead. Philly had a look at a three to tie the game, but the shot was off the mark and Takeover advanced to the final.

At the same time, the NY Gauchos and Hoop Heaven Elite were in the midst of their own exciting finish. (It should be noted that both teams advanced to the semi’s on buzzer beaters late Friday night.)

Hoop Heaven’s Brian Bartner had done a terrific job on top 50 recruit and UConn commit Omar Calhoun, but the Gauchos had still managed to built a lead, largely due to the cold shooting from Hoop Heaven’s stud back court of Alex Mitola and Jaren Sina. Mitola, in particular, was having a terrible game, missing seven threes and going scoreless over the first 20 minutes of the game. But with the score 42-32 and about 10 minutes left on the clock, Mitola was able to get into the paint and score a layup. That bucket was all the 5’8″ Dartmouth commit needed, as he absolutely caught fire.

Mitola scored 25 points in Hoop Heaven’s 28-8 run to close the game, including a stretch where he hit three high-arching threes on consecutive possessions. Once Hoop Heaven grabbed the lead, they didn’t give it up, as Mitola hit eight free throws in the final minute to ice the game.

In the final, it was all Hoop Heaven in the first half.

Takeover’s talented back court was unable to get any penetration against a stout Hoop Heaven defense. Thanks to five combined threes from Mitola and Chris Jenkins in the first half, Hoop Heaven opened up a 30-14 lead at the half. But that lead didn’t last, as Takeover went on a 21-5 run to start the second half, shutting off the open jumpers and pounding the ball into the paint. But once again, it was Mitola who rose to the occasion. After four free throws gave Hoop Heaven a 39-35 lead, Mitola buried a three with just under three minutes left, putting Hoop Heaven up 42-35.

They would go on to cruise to a 47-38 win, taking home the West Virginia Jam Fest 17U title.

Top Tier Talent Highlights Hoop Group Elite West Virginia Jam Fest

Pennslyvania has been the premier spot for all hoops concerning the Hoop Group Elite. Now it’s West Virginia’s turn. Holding the Hoop Group Elite Jam Fest, college coaches at all levels and from all over the nation turned out to check on the action:

Jaren Sina ’13 Gil Saint Bernard’s (NJ): The Alabama-commit proved why he’s one of the top players, and point guard, in the class of 2013; with his ability to pour it in on the offensive end while displaying a relentless scorer’s mentality. Sina was able to create for open shots for his Hoop Heaven Elite teammates using his strong ball-handling skill-set.

Jordan Reed ’12 Wissachicken (PA): The 6’3 guard made his presence felt early on with his fantastic athleticism. The strong-framed Reed was able to finish at the rim, even when facing bigger defenders. Reed’s intensity on both ends was a key factor in Jersey Shore Warriors’ (PA) success in the first day of action.

Blaise Mbargorba ’12 Peddie School (NJ): At 7’0, Mbargorba is one of the more interesting prospects in the Hoop Group Elite West Virginia Jam Fest. His size catches people’s eyes and his ability to alter shots in the paint on the defensive end keeps them watching. The New Jersey Roadrunner big man runs the floor with ease which allows for easy baskets for the rising senior.

Mahammed Ahmed ’12 John F. Kennedy (NY): Playing on a team with nationally-known players such as Omar Calhoun and Dashawn Suber, Ahmed has proved he is a catalyst for the New York Gauchos. Supporting a solid frame at 6’7, Ahmed is incredibly aggressive around the paint, causing for rebounds and baskets surrounding the paint. The rising senior was a force down in the paint for the New York City-based program.

Jaylen Bond ’12 St. Thomas More (CT): The one-time Pittsburgh-commit had the attention of college coaches today. Great size on his 6’7 frame, Bond was able to finish at the rim on the regular. Over-powering defenders during a drive from the peremiter to the basket was a common trait for Bond on Thursday.

Emile Blackman ’12 Half Hollow Hills West (NY): Playing above the rim is Blackman’s game, and sure did the rising senior play it well on the first day of action. From soaring to the sky for defensive rebounds to throwind down furocious slams, Blackman was one of the more exciting players of the day.

McKenzie Moore ’11 College Park (CA): One of the few class of 2011 prospects in the event, Moore used his maturity to expose opponents on the floor. At 6’7, Moore is a versatile athlete who scored in numerous fashions on the offense end. A player who’s will to win is undeniable, Moore led his Team 94 squad to a perfect record on Thursday.