In my “5 From the Fieldhouse,” I typically give you 5 observations from the latest Kansas game. But, since the Jayhawks don’t play until tonight, I’m going to use this list to give some general observations about the Big 12 through the first couple of games of the season.
1) Baylor Emerges: The Bears entered conference play as the favorites to end KU’s run of 7 straight Conference championships. After last night’s gutty 75-73 win over K-State in Manhattan, the Bears have only strengthened that position. Scott Drew’s team is 3-0 in the League, with 2 road wins, including by far the most impressive road victory of anyone in the League, to this point. Many questions about Baylor’s toughness were answered in that win last night. The Bears faced several forms of adversity: they trailed by 10 in the first half, then again by 9 in the second half, and 5 of their best players were in foul trouble. Yet they still found a way to win. Piere Jackson has been a major difference maker for the Bears. He doesn’t start for Baylor (presumably because Drew doesn’t want to mess with chemistry,) but he played 33 minutes against K-State, and dished out 11 assists. He also scored the game-winning bucket in the Bears’ win over Mississippi State down in Dallas. Jackson is extremely explosive going to the basket, and it will be difficult for most guards in the Big 12 to stay in front of him.
2) K-State Will Be Fine: Sure, the Cats are 1-2, with a home loss, in conference play, and sure, last night’s game has got to feel like an opportunity lost for the Wildcats. But, all that being said, I full expect this Kansas State team to be a contender in this league, and I’d be shocked if they don’t finish in the top 4. Look at it this way: the Wildcats have already gone through the toughest stretch of their schedule. Rodney McGruder is emerging as a big-time scoring threat, as he went for a career-high 30 points last night. Frank Martin’s team has length, with Samuels, Henriquez, and Gipson, enough to make most coaches in the conference envious. The ‘Cats’ biggest problem last night was their lack of ball security. But remember that the two biggest culprits are underclassmen. Will Spradling (Sophomore) and Angel Rodriguez (Freshman) had 4 turnovers apiece. It’s understandable that those players, especially Rodriguez, might struggle in a game like yesterday’s. They’ll continue to improve.
3) Big Test for the Tigers: Missouri heads on the road tonight, eager to prove that their dismal showing in Manhattan wasn’t an accurate reflection of how they’ll play away from Columbia. The Tigers have only had two true road tests this season, and they were probably Mizzou’s worst two performances to date. This league will likely come down to which team can best handle itself away from home, and Baylor has already earned a leg up in that category. So, it’s important for the Tigers to grab a win up in Hilton tonight, if they want to keep a close distance to the Bears. All of a sudden, Iowa State doesn’t look like such an easy team to beat. The Cyclones are 2-0 in league play, coming off of a blowout win at Texas A&M over the weekend. As a team loaded with transfers, it looks like the ‘Clones are starting to gel. I’ll be interested to see how the Tigers match up with Royce White. The transfer from Minnesota has good size, at 6’8”, 250 pounds, and he’s a great passer. He had 18 rebounds and 10 assists in College Station. Kimmie English might have an advantage on the offensive end, making White chase him around the perimeter, but it’ll be a different story on the defensive end. This will all be a case of who takes advantage of his advantage. Should be fun to watch.
4) Is Robinson the Best? It’s almost staggering to me when I consider how much Thomas Robinson has improved from the Kentucky game to today. I suppose I shouldn’t be so surprised, considering the improvement that all of KU’s big men have exhibited under the tutelage of Danny Manning, but you can practically see Robinson getting better on a game-by-game basis. It’s to the point where I think he’s in the conversation for national player of the year. Mike Decourcy, told us this morning that he has Robinson in his 5-player All American team right now, and that it wasn’t even a tough decision to put him there. If Kansas somehow wins a ridiculous 8th straight conference title, Robinson will be a legit candidate for National POY.
5) Big Monday is Back Again: In the famous words of Robert Goulet, “Lot’s of primo games on the tube again. You’re gonna have to wait ‘til half to hit the John my friend…” Big Monday officially started this past weekend with “Bedlam,” but that game was overshadowed by the BCS Championhsip game (not to mention the fact that both of the Oklahoma schools’ basketball teams aren’t exactly lighting the world on fire right now.) So, for all practical purposes, Big Monday’s opening act will this coming week, when Kansas hosts Baylor. This could conceivably be the most important game of the season in the Big 12. No doubt the Jayhawks feel that they must defend home court, if they want to make it 8 in a row. There seems to be no love lost between the Bears and Jayhawks over the past few seasons as well. No doubt the Fieldhouse will be rocking on Monday night.
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