Posted by Ryan Clark at 3:11PM

Texas slid to sixth in both polls this afternoon following back-to-back losses on the road. The Kentucky Wildcats ascended to the top spot as the nation’s lone undefeated team, while Kansas moved up to second in both rankings.

The K-State Wildcats took a slight dip after a home loss to Oklahoma State, even though they were the first team to knock off Texas with a Big Monday victory earlier in the week. KSU is 11th in the media poll and is ranked 13th by coaches. Baylor is the only other Big 12 representative, checking in at 24th in the Associated Press rankings, although Texas A&M, Missouri, and Oklahoma State all received votes in both polls.

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The Longhorns also took a dive in Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology, sliding to the 2-seed line in the Salt Lake City regional. In Lunardi’s mock bracket, Texas is paired with 1-seed Syracuse, an absolute nightmare match-up for a Longhorn team that is paralyzed by zone defenses.

The Jayhawks maintained their hold on a 1-seed, but were moved to the Houston regional that the Longhorns vacated. Lunardi awarded five other bids to the Big 12, putting K-State (3-seed), Baylor (5), Missouri (8), A&M (9), and Oklahoma State (11) in the mix.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 5:38AM

With Kansas’ stunning road loss to a depleted Tennessee Volunteers team yesterday afternoon, the Jayhawk stranglehold on the No. 1 ranking is finally over. And with Purdue falling at Wisconsin just a day earlier, that leaves only two undefeated contenders vying for that top spot — the Kentucky Wildcats and your Texas Longhorns.

The Wildcats were pushed for 38 minutes by the Georgia Bulldogs in Rupp Arena on Saturday, while Texas logged double-digit victories against Colorado and on the road against Arkansas. The Longhorns already had eight first place votes in last week’s AP Poll, while one coach tabbed Texas as the best team in the land. Kentucky managed just one vote for first, in the Associated Press rankings.

All signs point to the first-ever No. 1 ranking in school history for the Longhorns. This afternoon, we’ll find out if it really happens.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 12:31PM

Texas Longhorns (20-9 overall, 9-6 Big 12) at Kansas Jayhawks (24-6, 13-2)
Allen Fieldhouse | Lawrence, KS | Tip: 3 PM CST | TV: CBS

Coach Self and Brady Morningstar discuss their LOST theories
(Photo credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press)

Following their Monday night victory over the Baylor Bears, the Texas Longhorns can now breathe a little easier about their NCAA tournament hopes. They cracked the magical 20-win mark, have RPI and SOS numbers in the top 40, and have logged four wins against teams in the Top 30 of the RPI. But even with their ticket to the Big Dance practically punched, the Longhorns have a lot to play for this Saturday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence.

Texas sits in a tie with Oklahoma State for fourth in the Big 12, which comes with the added benefit of a first-round bye in next week’s conference tournament in Oklahoma City. While the Longhorns hold a tiebreaker over the Cowboys, they do not hold the tiebreaker over Kansas State, a team which is only one game back in the standings and hosts the lowly Colorado Buffaloes this afternoon. With the Wildcats likely winning and Oklahoma State having to travel to Norman to face Oklahoma, the Longhorns must win today to seal that fourth first-round bye.

For Kansas, today is a chance to win the Big 12 title outright. Even if they lose and split the league title, the Jayhawks will earn the 1-seed in next week’s conference tourney. But for a program with such a proud and storied history, anything less than an outright title will feel tainted. So while the Longhorns have their own reasons for wanting an upset this afternoon, the role of spoiler is also calling their name.

Unfortunately, winning in Lawrence has been an unsolvable mystery for the Longhorns, who have been unsuccessful in their eight tries dating back to 1941. Allen Fieldhouse is just as tough for other visiting opponents, as the Jayhawks have won 40 straight contests at home and have only lost once in 38 home games against teams from the conference’s southern half.

By the numbers

Based simply on efficiency, the Jayhawks seem like a flawless team. Kansas is 9th-best in the country on the defensive end, holding opponents to just 0.883 points per possession, while they also dice teams up on the offensive end to the tune of 1.141 points per possession. That differential of nearly 0.30 points each trip down the court starts to add up quickly, and it’s led to a handful of blowouts for the Jayhawks this year.

That excellent efficiency on both ends of the ball is especially dangerous in Lawrence, where Kansas rides the crowd’s energy to punch visitors in the mouth and race out to huge early leads. Against Missouri and Kansas State, both solid teams who are bitter rivals of the Jayhawks, Kansas jumped out to 33-12 and 18-0 leads, respectively. If the Longhorns aren’t clicking early, they could be digging themselves out of a massive hole for the entire afternoon.

Statistically, the one anomaly for Kansas is their turnover margin. The Jayhawks are actually giving it up 0.8 times per game more than their opponents, and it’s been the Achilles heel for a team that oftentimes seems unbeatable. In the road loss against Missouri, KU coughed it up an inexcusable 27 times. Texas isn’t a team that forces an inordinate number of mistakes by their opponents, but they are a team that hangs on to the basketball. If the Horns can squeeze out a few extra possessions, it will only help their long odds this afternoon.

Sherron Collins relishes his new leadership role
(Photo credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press)

The starting five

After losing all five starters from last year’s national championship team, the Jayhawks were a huge question mark heading into the season. They boasted a recruiting class that was ranked in the top five according to Scout, but the lack of experience was a definite concern for those bleeding blue in the midwest. Fortunately, junior Sherron Collins and sophomore Cole Aldrich stepped up to the task, filling the leadership void and carrying the team to a sparkling 24-6 record to date.

Collins is the steady floor general, a wicked fast guard who can heat up in a hurry from outside. Even though he leads the team with over 18 points per game, he’s averaging nearly five assists as well. Collins’ long-range threat means that defenders can often get pump-faked before he blows by them, and the little guy knows how to finish at the rack. But perhaps more importantly, he loves to kick it out when the defense collapses down on him, and this team has its share of long-range gunners that can capitalize on the opportunities Collins opens up.

Brady Morningstar is one of those three-point threats, hitting over 41% of his attempts this season. He’s a redshirt sophomore who actually took his year off after his freshman season, and he’s a capable ball-handler who can take over for Collins in a pinch. Morningstar is the team’s best on-ball defender, and he’ll likely be tasked with getting in the face of A.J. Abrams all game long.

Big man Aldrich is the key to everything for the Jayhawks, but he’s coming into this one a bit gimpy after hurting his ankle in the waning minutes of Wednesday night’s loss to Texas Tech. Kansas loves to run an inside-out game built on Aldrich’s presence in the lane, and when he’s sitting on the bench with foul trouble or injury, the Jayhawks turn fairly one-dimensional. The center is the team’s second-leading scorer with 15 points per contest, so if that ankle flares up at all this afternoon, Texas could hang around long enough to have a shot in the final minutes.

Cole Aldrich is a solid post defender
(Photo credit: Alonzo Adams/Associated Press)

Aldrich is also a hell of a rebounder and is averaging more than two blocks a game. Cole gets most of his blocks when he rotates over to help, so if the Texas guards can penetrate and draw him out of the lane, it could open things up for little dump-offs to Dexter Pittman, Gary Johnson, and Damion James.

Marcus Morris is the team’s lone starting forward, and one of two twin brothers from Philadelphia on the Jayhawk roster. Marcus is the more well-rounded of the two, and he is going to be an absolute star before he finishes his time at Kansas. He can isolate the defender and take him off the dribble, step out and hit the threes, or post up and kiss it off the glass. One knock on his game is a tendency to pick up dumb fouls, as he’s getting whistled about once every seven minutes. Fortunately, Coach Self has a few other solid options at forward, so he doesn’t need more than 18-20 minutes from this Morris.

Freshman Tyshawn Taylor is still a bit unpolished, but it’s clear that this kid will also be giving Big 12 opponents a bunch of headaches in the next few years. He’s only 6’3″, but his wingspan is deceptively long and he uses it to his advantage to get the shot off over taller defenders when he drives to the rim. Taylor also has a good jumper, can hit shots on the run, and penetrates with flashy speed. But he’s shown a problem with making sound decisions this year, and as a result he has more than his share of turnovers. Unfortunately, he’s also coming into this one a little banged up from the Tech game, where he injured his lower leg and headed to the locker room almost immediately.

Off the bench

Tyrel Reed is another three-point gunner for Kansas, hitting over 39% of his attempts from long range. Like Taylor and Morningstar, Reed is also enough of a ball handler to help out when Collins is off the court, but he’s not a true point guard. Taking Reed away from his natural position off the ball marginalizes his speciality, so Coach Self doesn’t waste many of his minutes by doing it.

Off the bench, Mario Little is an excellent sixth man for Coach Self and the ‘Hawks. He is a JuCo transfer that missed the first half of the season with injury, and many thought he was going to sit out the entire year and use a medical redshirt. But Little decided he wanted to help out his team immediately, and he saw his first action in conference play against Kansas State.

He’s a bit of a ‘tweener, as he can play as a big guard or a smaller forward and does both equally well. He has great outside range, can easily knock down the mid-range J, and loves to fight down low for rebounds and buckets. Despite only grabbing about 13 minutes per game, he’s averaging more than three rebounds, and is yet another player who is going to stand out in the near future.

Markieff Morris is more of a forward than his brother, and he has an even bigger problem picking up fouls. While Marcus is getting whistled once every seven minutes, Markieff is caught cheating once every five minutes. If he could learn to play better defense and stop picking up stupid fouls, Markieff Morris could earn more playing time and be a much bigger presence for the Jayhawks.

Travis Releford is a very big guard who has played in nearly every game this year, but doesn’t make a huge impact. He’s really good in the open court, but he’s not the greatest jump shooter and as a result, he struggles a bit more in the half-court. Releford can get to the rim, but he still needs some seasoning before he’s considered much of a threat.

Marcus Morris is not a fan of the new TigerChair
(Photo credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press)

Keys to the game

Mason and Balbay must penetrate – Both Texas guards showed that they weren’t afraid to attack the rim against Baylor on Monday night, but Mason has only rarely taken it to the rack this year. As mentioned above, Aldrich loves to rotate in help defense, so if the Texas guards can get him and the rest of the Jayhawks to play reactive defense, it should open up the post. In addition, any fouls the guards can draw on the big man will only help to turn Kansas into a team glued to the perimeter.

Play solid team defense – Kansas loves to spread out the floor, so their talented backcourt can easily expose flaws in the Texas man-to-man defense. The Longhorns are going to have to play smart D today, and work together to help on penetration without leaving the perimeter wide open. The Jayhawks can absolutely light it up from long range, so Texas simply cannot overpursue.

Shut down Collins – It seems fairly obvious to say that Texas must shut down the leading scorer for Kansas. But that’s exactly what Texas Tech did on Wednesday night, and the Jayhawks just could not get over the hump without his leadership. While you can’t really expect the Longhorns to hold Collins to an abysmal 3-of-19 like the Red Raiders did, it’s painfully obvious that the junior guard cannot score 20 points if Texas hopes to win.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 3:21PM

It’s the first Monday in March, which means that the power begins to shift from the pollsters and over to the bracketologists. We’ve still got your weekly rundown of both, but you can be certain that fans of teams on the cusp of the polls are just a teeeeensy bit more concerned about the various bubble watches floating around the internet. On to the goodies……

Following Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma State, the Longhorns slipped from both major polls this week, falling into the “others receiving votes” category. Oklahoma slid only a few spots after their Griffin-less loss to Kansas on Monday night, checking in at 4th with the AP and 5th with the writers. The Jayhawks benefitted from that victory and their blowout win over Missouri yesterday, jumping to 9th in both polls. The Tigers slid to 12th in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll, while the much more vengeful Associated Press shipped them all the way to 15th for their deer-in-the-headlights performance at Allen Fieldhouse. Oklahoma State also grabbed a slight bit of attention from the AP, earning two points in this week’s poll for their five-game winning streak.

For once, the resident bracketologists at Sports Illustrated and ESPN agree on the Longhorns…sort of. Andy Glockner seeds the Longhorns 9th, facing off against Utah, while Joe Lunardi pegs Texas an 8, taking on UNLV. The common ground for the two men? A trip to Dayton for this first weekend, which sits just fine with this basketball traveler, who is strongly pulling for a Friday/Sunday pod that doesn’t involve the fabulous March weather of Minneapolis. For a complete list of the tournament sites this year, click on over to my favorite Wiki.

The folks assigned to watching the bubble are also in agreement that the Longhorns really just need to win tonight to seal up their tournament bid. Both Andy Glockner of SI.com and Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com think Texas should be in. But like any good college basketball fans would know, Andy and Mark are fully aware that this schizophrenic Longhorn team could just as easily lose their last two regular season games, lay a turd in the Big 12 Tournament, and be sweating things out on Selection Sunday. For the sake of my heart and currently-forming ulcers, this doomsday scenario would be best left on the table.

This week’s consensus blogpoll at CBS Sportsline follows the lead of the major polls, with UConn ascending to the top spot. For the second straight week, our ballot was dubbed “Mr. Numb Existence” for being the one amongst the 42 submitted which most closely approximated the consensus poll. We’re not sure if that’s some sort of sign that we watch too much basketball, but we’ll take it as a compliment. Be sure to check out the link in this paragraph to not only see the rankings, but to get all of the great analysis by Jerry Hinnen of the Auburn blog The Joe Cribbs Car Wash.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 11:59AM

Last week’s ballot was admittedly a tough one, with teams around the country refusing to play consistent basketball. As a result, we submitted rankings which we weren’t exactly proud of, but ones which best reflected the muddied state of college hoops this year.

It’s painfully clear now that there is a very thin upper crust in the NCAA this season, and a lot of other mediocre teams filling up the middle. But even amidst that thin upper crust, there’s not much differentiation, as it’s a season in which no one is the clear frontrunner for the national title.

This week’s vote was a little easier, as only ten teams which we ranked were victims of a loss over the last seven days. Below is our ballot from this week, followed by superfluous explanation. If you’re enjoying the new “change” data in the third column, you might also be interested in our previous ballot, from February 23rd.

Rank Team Change
1 Connecticut 1
2 Memphis 2
3 Pittsburgh 2
4 Oklahoma 1
5 North Carolina
6 Louisville
7 Duke
8 Wake Forest 1
9 Michigan St. 1
10 Kansas 5
11 Missouri 3
12 Villanova 1
13 Marquette 1
14 Gonzaga 2
15 Clemson 2
16 Washington 4
17 Arizona St. 3
18 UCLA 1
19 Louisiana St. 2
20 Illinois 2
21 Purdue 4
22 Xavier 1
23 Florida St. 1
24 Brigham Young 2
25 Syracuse 1

At first glance, some readers may be confused by the very minor slides from Pitt and Oklahoma. At this point, we feel that a team should be valued more on their overall body of work than simply the results from the last seven days. The recent games certainly must be taken into account, but even Pitt’s road loss to unranked Providence isn’t enough to overshadow the fact that the Panthers have many more quality wins than the Tar Heels. As for the Sooners, they get some leniency when you consider that they lost to a Kansas team which we’ve moved into the Top Ten, and that they did so without superstar Blake Griffin.

Those Jayhawks are our biggest movers of the week, shooting up from No. 15 to tenth in this week’s ballot. Kansas finished the week with an absolute mudholing of Missouri in Allen Fieldhouse yesterday, and they were also aided by the fact that Marquette, Clemson, and Arizona State all lost a pair of games during the last week.

The other portion of our ballot that is worthy of discussion this week is, as always, the troubling bottom five spots. As we mentioned in the introduction, there’s really not any consistency or exceptional quality once you get past the initial contenders, and losses this week by West Virginia and Texas muddied things up at the bottom once again. You may notice that even though Florida State lost on the road against Boston College, they actually climbed a rung in our rankings this week. That’s an anomaly explained by both the Seminoles’ huge win against Clemson on Saturday, and the fact that once again there was a dearth of teams wanting to crack the rankings.

Some bloggers have been ranking Butler, which actually resulted in the Bulldogs checking in at 24th in our consensus poll last week. Considering that they won their pair of games this week, they likely will even climb when the consensus poll is released this afternoon. But the simple fact of the matter is that Butler lost at home to Loyola-Chicago and on the road to Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Wisconsin-Green Bay. Do you honestly think the Bulldogs would be sitting at 25-4 if they played in a conference that was worth a damn?

As we’ve mentioned, the consensus blogpoll will be up later this afternoon. Fast Break will be here for your late afternoon enjoyment, including new bracket projections, bubble watches, and the real polls from the AP and coaches. The Baylor game preview will follow in the late afternoon.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 5:34AM

#15 Kansas Jayhawks 87, #3 Oklahoma Sooners 78 – With Blake Griffin out of the game as a precaution following his Saturday-night concussion, Kansas was hoping to exploit their advantage inside by pounding it to Cole Aldrich. While the big man certainly made a difference for the Jayhawks with his 15-point, 20-rebound performance, it was the three point shooters who stole the show late in the game. The two teams combined to shoot 20-of-43 from behind the arc (46.5%), with Sherron Collins and Willie Warren trading bombs from long range. Collins finished the night with 26 points, while Warren had 23 in the losing effort.

With the win, Kansas grabbed sole possession of first place heading into their Sunday showdown with Border War rival Missouri. The Tigers are one and a half games behind the Jayhawks in the standings, but won the first meeting between the two teams back on February 2nd.

#6 Louisville Cardinals, Georgetown Hoyas 76 58 – The Cardinals converted their first seven three-point attempts against Georgetown on Monday night and never looked back, cruising to an 18-point win at the Verizon Center. Terrence Williams had a ridiculous stat line for Coach Pitino, nearly earning a triple-double with his ten points, twelve rebounds, and seven assists. On the other side of the court, DeJuan Summers was nearly non-existent for the Hoyas in the defeat, scoring only four points in his thirty minutes of play. The loss was the ninth in the last eleven games for Georgetown.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 3:48AM

Zaire Taylor hits the game-winning shot
(Photo credit: L.G. Patterson/Associated Press)

#4 Pittsburgh Panthers 70, West Virginia Mountaineers 59
DeJuan Blair played only 16 minutes thanks to foul trouble, but Pitt was still able to cruise to victory behind Sam Young’s 20 point performance. Pitt had yet another dominating night on the glass, outrebounding West Virginia by a 39-23 count. The loss dropped the ‘Neers below the .500 mark in conference play, and was their third defeat in the four games. Pitt, meanwhile, moved to 9-2 in the Big East and stayed within striking distance of the three-way log jam of one-loss teams atop the league.

#17 Missouri Tigers 62, #16 Kansas Jayhawks 60
In a game that is destined to be replayed on ESPN Classic for years to come, Zaire Taylor hit the game-winning jumper with just 1.3 seconds left to give Mizzou a narrow win in the heated Border War rivalry. Down by fourteen and having scored only 16 points at the half, the Tigers looked to be dead in the water against their hated conference foes. But 26 Jayhawk turnovers kept Missouri in the contest and allowed a frantic comeback that was capped by Taylor’s second game-winning shot in just six days.

The win does more than just stir the pot for the rivalry re-match scheduled for March 1st in Lawrence. It also loudly announces Missouri’s intentions of making the Big 12 race a three-team affair, and even sets them up to control their own destiny should the undefeated Sooners stumble in any of their five games prior to visiting Columbia on March 4th. The league may be incredibly stratified this season, but it’s certainly going to be an exciting battle for the championship.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 4:17PM

In the midst of a three-game losing skid, Texas dropped from both the AP and ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll for the first time since February 19, 2007. The sudden plummet ended a streak of 37 consecutive weeks ranked in the Coaches Poll and 39 straight weeks in the Associated Press rankings. The Longhorns still received votes in both tallies, which put them at 27th in the Coaches Poll and 28th according to the media.

Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri are still the only three ranked representatives from the Big 12 conference, with the Sooners holding firm to their grasp on second place in both polls. The Jayhawks are slotted 16th by both groups, while the Tigers were placed 15th and 17th by the media and coaches, respectively.

The losing skid is hurting Texas in more important ways, as their NCAA outlook is getting cloudier by the day. Fortunately, many other teams across the country are stumbling at the same time, but it still hasn’t stopped the Longhorns from sliding another line in today’s Bracketology, where Lunardi slots the Horns as a 7-seed in Dayton. Andy Glockner still believes the Longhorns should be in the field of 65, but he echoes Lunardi’s sentiments and tabs Texas as a 7-seed.

If you were here back in the infancy of Longhorn Road Trip — or perhaps just attended the first two rounds of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic back in 2006 — you might remember tiny Chicago State guard David Holston lighting up St. Bonaventure for 43 points at The Drum. Now just two years later, Holston is the NCAA’s third-leading scorer, averaging 25.6 points per contest. Sports Illustrated’s Bill Trocchi shed some extra light on the “little package of dynamite” in a piece on their website a few weeks ago. Be sure to check it out.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 2:27PM

Texas slid to 17th in the Coaches Poll following their home loss to Kansas State. Meanwhile, Kansas cracked the rankings once again at 24th, giving the Big 12 three teams for the first time since Baylor hit the skids. Oklahoma still leads the way for the conference with its No. 2 berth, having grabbed three first-place votes in this week’s poll.

The Longhorns are a spot higher in the Associated Press rankings, checking in at 16th. The Jayhawks also enjoyed a gaudier review from the media folks, who slotted at No. 21. Following Duke’s loss, the AP was more split than the coaches when it came to which team is truly the best team in the nation. The writers not only gave OU five nods, but also included UNC in the discussion with three first-place votes of their own.

Is Bob Knight making his way back into the coaching ranks? Reports have confirmed his interest in the newly-vacated office at Georgia, where players are excited about the possibility. Since the story first broke, Knight has only admitted that he would return in the right situation. If The General is truly ready to come back, will Georgia truly be his destination? Arizona will be looking to make a splash with their next hire, while SI.com’s FanNation points out that Gary Williams might be on the way out at Maryland. There are going to be a number of high-profile gigs out there, and those of us at LRT certainly hope Coach Knight decides to take one.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 3:30PM

Bill Self might be in trouble for saying hello to recruit John Wall. Really? AAU coaches and family members of recruits are hired on staffs or paid to speak at camps and clinics, and this is what catches the NCAA’s attention? Basketball recruiting needs some cleaning up, but this kind of crap is not what they should be focusing on. Hell, if the Dallas Morning News could dig up the dirt on the Big 12, then certainly the NCAA could do some actual good instead of policing interactions like the one Self and Wall had.

Andy Glockner debuted his Bubble Watch this week, with seven Big 12 teams worthy of consideration in the field of sixty-five. OU is his only lock thus far, but Baylor and Texas sit just outside that coveted circle at the moment.

Don’t look now, but St. Joseph’s might be hitting its stride as A-10 play kicks off. The Hawks certainly aren’t a candidate for an NCAA at-large bid at this point, but they’ve opened league play at 3-0 and are helping Texas’ computer numbers with every win. The Atlantic 10+4 is clearly Xavier’s to lose, but St. Joe’s has the luxury of only having to play the Muskies once in the league’s unbalanced round robin — and the Hawks get to host the game at their temporary home, The Palestra.

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