Burks has Buffs at the top of Big 12 standings

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Colorado, Nebraska surprising in their final season in the league.

Colorado, Nebraska surprising in their final season in the league.

By Ken Davis

During those crazy summer days of 2010, realignment rumors threatened to blow up the Big 12 as we know it. In the end, the Texas Longhorns put an end to that speculation by sticking with the membership and keeping the league together — minus Nebraska and Colorado.

The Cornhuskers and Buffaloes are committed to their escape plan. The old Big Eight partners have decided to bail out after this season. Nebraska will join the Big Ten and Colorado is headed for the mountains and surf of the Pac-10.

There is no doubt the Big 12 will feel a greater sense of loss as a football conference. From a basketball perspective, the reaction was an overwhelming sense of “Good riddance.” Neither program has brought much to the basketball table — especially in recent seasons — so who will miss them?

But guess what? It appears the Huskers and Buffs want to make a little noise as they head for the exit ramp.

Colorado travels to Lincoln, Neb., to play the Cornhuskers Tuesday. It’s not a game that will catch the fancy of the entire nation. But the Heartland will take notice. Just look at the Big 12 standings. Colorado (14-4 overall) is tied for first place with Texas A&M with a 3-0 conference record. Kansas, which plays at Baylor Monday night, and Texas are 2-0. Behind Baylor (2-1) is a logjam of five teams at 1-2, including Missouri, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Kansas State — and Nebraska (13-4 overall).

The Cornhuskers nearly rocked the college basketball world Saturday when they almost took the Rock Chalk out of Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks had to battle back from a 10-point deficit early in the second half to defeat the Cornhuskers, 63-60, in Nebraska’s last visit to Lawrence — at least as a Big 12 member. Kansas remained undefeated this season and extended its home winning streak to 69 games, but the Huskers made a statement.

“I can tell you this, as long as I’m coaching here — I’ll be a spectator probably the next time there’s a game here,” Nebraska coach Doc Sadler said. “I don’t like it that much.”

College presidents, commissioners and athletic directors make their realignment decisions with money in mind. They give very little thought — if any — to the traditions that are being destroyed. They give no thought to the emotions of coaches and players. It was obvious Saturday’s trip to historic Allen Fieldhouse meant something to Nebraska. Football coach Bo Pelini even attended the game.

The Jayhawks didn’t play their best game, but credit the Cornhuskers for making it close. Nebraska won the battle of the boards, 39-31, and played tough defense — especially on the interior. Sophomore forward Brandon Ubel grew up in nearby Overland Park, Kan., and attended games at Allen Fieldhouse. Like the other Huskers, he was hungry for Nebraska’s first victory there since 1999.

“I really wanted to get that win,” Ubel told the Lawrence Journal-World. “We were so close. … The fact that I’m not going to be able to come back here and give it another go is one of the more disappointing things.”

The emotions will be even stronger for Colorado coach Tad Boyle on Feb. 19 when the Buffaloes make their final appearance at Allen Fieldhouse. Boyle is a 1985 graduate of Kansas and played point guard for the Jayhawks. He is excited about the move to the Pac-10, but knows he will only get one chance to coach against KU in a conference game.

Boyle is a native of Greeley, Colo., and after building a program from scratch at Northern Colorado, he got the Colorado job when Jeff Bzdelik left for Wake Forest. With a new practice facility opening in April, Boyle is excited about Colorado’s future.

“This is not a stepping stone job for Tad Boyle,” he said during an interview last summer. “It’s a destination job for me. … This is where I want to be.”

The Colorado players are flourishing in Boyle’s system. Sophomore guard Alec Burks is averaging 19.7 points and is one of the most underrated players in the nation. But Burks isn’t a one-man show. Cory Higgins (16.6 ppg), Marcus Relphorde (12.0 ppg) and Levi Knutson (11.6 ppg) are all averaging in double figures scoring for CU.

Burks had 20 points and 11 rebounds in a 75-71 win over Oklahoma State Saturday. Colorado is 3-0 in conference play for the first time since 1996-97, when they opened 6-0 and went on to the NCAA tournament.

“You have to give Colorado credit,” OSU coach Travis Ford told The Boulder Daily Camera. “They have come a long way. They’re not the team of the past. They are a very good basketball team.”

And their timing couldn’t have been better.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Jimmer Fredette is the talk of college basketball, especially after scoring 47 points in BYU’s 104-79 victory over Utah last Tuesday. So how could we possibly deny him the Player of the Week award, even if he gets it for the second consecutive week? If you haven’t seen the highlights, Fredette was 16-of-28 from the field, including 6-of-9 from 3-point range, and 9-of-9 from the free throw line. So just when you thought Kemba Walker was going to walk away with Player of the Year honors, you might want to reconsider. Fredette took over the national scoring lead that night with a 26.1-point average. “I just felt good right from the beginning,” Fredette said.

FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK

Terrence Jones scored 35 points against Auburn last Tuesday night and then apologized to teammate Doron Lamb. Why the apology? Jones had just broken the Kentucky freshman scoring record set by Lamb last month when he scored 32 against Winthrop. Jones came off the bench and demonstrated his versatility by scoring from points all over the floor. “I just wanted to do the little things on defense, run the floor hard and shoot it when I was open,” Jones said.

GAMES OF THE WEEK

Monday, Jan. 17

Villanova at Connecticut
This has developed into one of the best rivalries in the Big East. Why should it be any different with Kemba Walker, Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes on the floor? This is the start of a great Martin Luther King Day schedule on the ESPN networks.

Kansas State at Missouri
Curtis Kelly is back for K-State. Missouri’s grueling overtime loss to Texas A&M dropped the Tigers’ conference record to 1-2 — same as the Wildcats.

Syracuse at Pittsburgh
Coach Jim Boeheim’s leading scorer, Kris Joseph, won’t be healthy enough to play. In fact, he won’t even make the trip. That makes the task at Pitt even tougher. The Cuse might suffer its first loss.

Kansas at Baylor
The Ferrell Center will be amped up to greet the Jayhawks. But Kansas hasn’t lost in Waco since 2001.

Tuesday, Jan. 18

Colorado at Nebraska
For all the traditionalists out there, this is a slice of history. This is the next to last Big 12 game between these two. Both have shown remarkable improvement in conference play.

Michigan State at Illinois
Two overtime victories last week put the Spartans back in contention in the Big Ten. Now can they pick up a big win on the road?

Wednesday, Jan. 19

Duke at North Carolina State
The Blue Devils got off to such a smooth start, but last week was full of speed bumps. The trip over to Raleigh is always interesting.

Cincinnati at Notre Dame
The Irish will be glad to be home at the Joyce Center for this one. Notre Dame’s most recent road trip resulted in losses at Marquette and St. John’s.

Texas A&M at Texas
Mark Turgeon’s Aggies have been a huge surprise. The winner of this game emerges as the strongest contender to Kansas in the Big 12.

Thursday, Jan. 20

Virginia Tech at Maryland
Both of these teams have fallen below expectations, but you get the impression they aren’t far from busting out. This is a big ACC game.

Saturday, Jan. 22

Villanova at Syracuse
Syracuse hopes to have guard Kris Joseph healthy and back in the lineup for this game. Either one of these teams could win the Big East.

Ohio State at Illinois
With two big home games this week, the Illini could make a big difference in the Big Ten standings.

Kansas State at Texas A&M
You better make yourself familiar with Khris Middleton. He is a rising star at Texas A&M, a team that is quietly starting to make a lot of noise.

Kentucky at South Carolina
The Gamecocks love to cause trouble for Kentucky. Led by freshman guard Bruce Ellington, South Carolina is dangerous at home.

Iowa State at Missouri
Fred Hoiberg’s Cyclones lost back-to-back Big 12 games to Nebraska and Kansas, but bounced back to beat Baylor.

Tennessee at Connecticut
The Vols take a break from the SEC and that earns coach Bruce Pearl a “Get Out Of Jail” card.

Texas at Kansas
This is the rivalry that has defined the Big 12 Conference. The Jayhawks will be shooting for their 70th consecutive home court victory.

Sunday, Jan. 23

Wisconsin at Northwestern
If John Shurna doesn't score, Northwestern finds itself in big trouble. Michigan State held Shurna to six points and the Spartans won in OT.

THEY SAID IT

“I have failed this team. I’ve got to do a better job of making us see how well we can play.” — Kansas State coach Frank Martin, after deciding to show his team video of wins over Gonzaga and Virginia Tech earlier this season.

“Look at anybody’s next six games in this league. It is by far the best league in the country. Everybody watches it because it’s drama and it’s playing out again.” — Notre Dame coach Mike Brey after his team lost to St. John’s 72-54.

“They’re kind of similar to a Big Ten team. It kind of reminded me of Minnesota. It wasn’t anything I haven’t seen before.” — Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson, after a 68-64 loss to West Virginia in Morgantown.

“It’s someone’s girlfriend. (Reading) ‘Meet me at Jake’s … Is there a Jake here? …. (puts down the phone) I shouldn’t be getting messages on that. I told them not to call me on someone else’s phone.” — Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, reading a text message from a reporter’s buzzing cell phone at the press conference following the Blue Devils’ loss at Florida State.

“When he starts to shoot from 40 feet out you know he’s feeling something. You kind of wanted to keep giving him the ball.” — BYU’s Jackson Emery, commenting on Jimmer Fredette’s 47-point performance in a 104-79 victory over Utah.

“If that does happen, the thing that excites me the most is that’s the second time we’ve been there in a few years. I think it’s great for the program. I don’t know how many schools can say that they’ve been in that position. We’re definitely one of them.” — Ohio State coach Thad Matta on the possibility of rising to the No. 1 spot in the polls. Ohio State ended the 2006-07 regular season as the No. 1 team.

NOTES

• Guard Jeremy Hazell is playing again at Seton Hall and somehow that just seems like a miracle. We’ve been updating you on the preseason first-team All-Big East selection since November. He went into the season as the centerpiece of everything the Pirates wanted to do, but a wrist injury immediately ripped him from the lineup. The uncertainty of his return upset Hazell deeply. Then on Christmas Day, Hazell was shot, hit by a bullet as he fled armed robbers in Harlem. Suddenly a wrist injury didn’t seem so serious. Hazell could have lost his life. But rather remarkably, there he was last Wednesday, scoring 23 points in a victory over DePaul. We’ve seen comeback stories before, but maybe nothing like this. “I was just happy to get back with my team,” he said. “When they told me I could play, there was no holding back.”

• Reggie Moore, starting point guard at Washington State, has been suspended indefinitely. Coach Ken Bone made the decision and Moore was in street clothes when the Cougars defeated Stanford Saturday. According to the Associated Press, Moore received two misdemeanor citations last month involving marijuana and drug paraphernalia. He was cited after a Dec. 11 search of a dorm room. Bone told the rest of the team about the suspension as they were getting off the bus at Maples Pavilion.

• Again, if you’ve been paying attention to this space, we predicted the first loss of the season for UCF would come against Southern Miss. The Knights did lose there 86-69. But it wasn’t the first loss for UCF. That came a week ago Saturday at Houston. So now UCF has lost two in a row and everyone is casting doubt over that 14-0 start. Southern Miss, under the direction of former Iowa State coach Larry Eustachy, scored its first home victory over a ranked team since 1986. There’s a lot to think about there. Most important, UCF might not be as impressive as originally thought.

• The soap opera at Memphis has gotten out of hand. Now coach Josh Pastner has suspended Wesley Witherspoon. There’s no doubt Witherspoon, a veteran with outstanding athletic ability, is a major key to the Tigers. But Pastner had little choice. Reportedly, Witherspoon mimicked an assistant coach by getting on the team bus’ loudspeakers and doing an impression of the coach — after a loss at SMU. It was supposed to be comical. But maybe Witherspoon should think about growing up a bit before he hurts his team again.

• Kansas State junior center Freddy Asprilla, who transferred to the Wildcats from Florida International and had started 13 games, has left the team. Coach Frank Martin called it a “mutual decision.” Martin offered no further explanation, other than to say he expected Asprilla to pursue pro opportunities in Colombia. “I found out last night,” Martin said before Saturday’s game against Texas Tech. “I don’t know what to tell you.” It’s just one more distraction for the Wildcats.

• Oregon’s new Matthew Knight Arena cost $227 million. It looks like a terrific building and I’m sure it tailored to the fan in every way possible — except actually watching the game. That court has to go. The idea is to pay tribute to the “Tall Firs,” that 1939 national championship team. My first impression? Someone spilled paint all over the floor. The more I watched on TV, the more problems I — and others — noticed. The lighting creates a horrible glare. The mid-court line is barely visible, even with a camera close up. Let’s hope there’s a new court in there by next season — if not sooner.

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