Jan. 27 Frank Hoops Notebook

The Texas Longhorns have been running roughshod over Big 12 competition. Unless the Oklahoma Sooners trip them up in Norman Saturday, the Longhorns might be on their way to rolling to the regular-season title. In the Pac-10, it's the Stanford Cardinal who are on the rise, quietly in contention for the league lead with a big game Sunday at Maples Pavilion.

If the University of Texas Longhorns beat the University of Oklahoma Sooners in Norman Saturday night, the Big 12 Conference basketball race won't be over, per se.

 

There will still be a race for spots 2-12 in the conference standings.

 

But, in reality, the regular-season championship will be all but wrapped up and resting snuggly, albeit figuratively, back in Austin and in the arms of Coach Rick Barnes and his players.

 

The Longhorns will take a 5-0 conference record in Norman, with a 26.4 points per-game margin of victory.

 

Everyone else in the Big 12 has at least two defeats, including the Sooners (3-2).

 

If Kelvin Sampson's team (which has reeled off three wins in a row after opening with losses to Nebraska and Missouri by a combined three points) doesn't beat Texas Saturday, any defeat the Longhorns are to suffer – barring injuries – will have to be filed in the "major upset" category.

 

Two other Big 12 games being played Saturday will impact the race for second place (if that's what it becomes, based on what happens in Norman) and pecking order for NCAA Tournament at-large bids out of the conference:

 

*Kansas State (3-2 in the conference after three consecutive wins, and 12-4 overall) at Colorado (4-2 and 14-3): The Wildcats (in junior Cartier Martin) and Buffs (sophomore Richard Roby) each has one of the better players in the conference, both of which are seriously lacking in national recognition. Neither team has any eye-catching non-conference victories (although the Buffs smacked UC Irvine and Penn, which are currently atop the Big West and Ivy standings), so each needs as many conference wins as possible to pad the at-large resumes.

 

*Kansas (3-2 and 12-6) at Iowa State (3-3 and 13-6): The Jayhawks are coming off impressive conference wins over Nebraska and Texas A&M. And non-conference victories over Cal and Kentucky will draw thumbs up from the NCAA tournament selection and seeding crew. The Cyclones want their two most high-profile victims, Northern Iowa and Iowa, to win up a storm the rest of the way.

 

BOUNCING AROUND THE COUNTRY:

*It hasn't been greeted with quite the fanfare that its disappointing early-season play attracted, but Trent Johnson's Stanford team is playing pretty well of late.

 

The Cardinal needed victories over Denver and Princeton to take a 4-4 record into Pacific 10 Conference play after going into the season as, from some perspectives, a co-favorite to win it.

 

The team continued to wobble with 17- and 11-point losses at UCLA and USC to open conference but has won five of six games since with the only defeat coming in overtime in Tucson.

 

If UCLA loses at Oregon State on Saturday, the Cardinal will be playing host to the University of Washington Huskies in Maples Pavilion Sunday with the opportunity to move into a tie for first place with a victory.

 

Those falling into the cynical set might then say "Yeah, but the Pac 10 isn't very good this season". And they'd have, to large degree, a pretty good point.

 

But the Cardinal is playing a lot better of late, with the performance of 6-foot-10 Matt Haryasz (24.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game over the past four contests) a significant reason why.

 

Johnson's team has a chance to help its at-large profile considerably when it visits Spokane for a non-conference game on Feb. 11.

 

The opponent is certainly high profile enough: The Gonzaga Bulldogs, who would help their argument for no worse than a No. 2 seed on March 12 by knocking off a team that could still be in contention for a Pac 10 title when they meet.

 

*OK, how many among us anticipated back in November that when the Virginia Cavaliers visited Cameron Indoor Stadium on Jan. 28, they'd do so with a 4-2 Atlantic Coast Conference mark and a share of second place?

 

David Leitao and his staff are doing a nice job in their first season with the program.

 

And if the Cavaliers still have a piece of second place after Feb. 7 (a stretch of games that includes Saturday's contest with Duke, visits to North Carolina State and Maryland, and a home tilt with Wake Forest), I'll sub "a superb" for "a nice" for Leitao & Co.'s job evaluation.

 

*A big game – or, at least, what passes for such in the Big West Conference these days – will be played Saturday evening in Long Beach, Calif.

 

The UC Irvine Anteaters, 7-0 in the Big West after a 4-8 non-conference performance that included losses to non-Division I opponents Cal State Stanislaus and Arkansas-Monticello, visits Long Beach State to face the second-place (4-2) 49ers.

 

Long Beach Coach Larry Reynolds, who came into this season with his job firmly on the line after a cumulative 21-63 record in his first three years with the program, has three players with NBA bloodlines.

 

Forward Shawn Hawkins is the grandson of Connie Hawkins, one of the legendary names in the sport. Point guard Kejuan Johnson is the nephew of the 49ers' and Big West's all-time leading scorer, Lucious Harris, who spent 12 seasons in the NBA, most recently with Cleveland. And Jibril Hodges is the son of Craig Hodges, another former 49er who played 10 seasons in the NBA and was a member of the Bulls' 1991 and '92 championship clubs.

 

Inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame last April, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's national basketball expert and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.FrankHoops.com


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