What To Take From Kansas’ Gold Medal World University Games Run

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 14th, 2015

Yesterday, Kansas brought home the gold for the United States by beating Germany in double overtime in the World University Games championship. Hosted in Korea, the event was sort of funky, as USA Basketball’s commitment to the Pan-Am Games led them to essentially outsource its participation to the Jayhawks, who beat out other schools for the opportunity. It was also interesting in that two likely members of Kansas’ 2015-16 rotation (Svi Mykhailiuk and Cheick Diallo) had to skip the event because they weren’t American citizens, and two others (Brannen Greene and DevonteGraham) sat out due to health reasons. They were replaced by SMU’s Nic Moore and Florida Gulf Coast’s Julian DeBose, so while you can’t take the gold medal away, it’s important to remember that between the roster changes, a busy schedule that had the team playing eight games in 11 days, and the rules of international play, you should tread lightly before drawing too many conclusions from Kansas’ run. That being said, there were some interesting developments worth noting.

Wayne Selden left opposing defenses in his dust during the World University Games. (Mike Yoder/Lawrence Journal-World)

Wayne Selden left opposing defenses in his dust during the World University Games. (Mike Yoder/Lawrence Journal-World)

  • The team got an early leg up: This isn’t so much about any particular player, but more about the team’s participation as a whole. Kansas enjoyed extra practices and reps they wouldn’t have otherwise received because of the NCAA’s restrictions on summer practices. That’s an advantage, but one that was earned by virtue of being selected by USA Basketball. For an experienced team that already figured to be in the Top 5 of most preseason polls, any additional time the team is able to spend together should work in their favor, even if the precise impact of those extra practices can’t be measured.

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Steve Prohm Inherits a Fascinating Situation at Iowa State

Posted by Brian Goodman on June 9th, 2015

It’s not often that a new head coach inherits a team ready to win big right now, but then again, it’s also not often that a successful college coach gets snatched up by a pro team in June, putting his boss in the unenviable position of finding an early summer successor. While former Murray State head coach Steve Prohm doesn’t have many of the characteristics typically found in a new power conference coach — a connection to the school or its recruiting base; a strong reputation among the program’s boosters; a deep NCAA Tournament run to make him an easy sell — nothing in the immediate post-Hoiberg era at Iowa State is typical, and that makes the future in Ames one of the most intriguing situations to monitor heading into next season.

Steve Prohm arrives in Ames with immediate expectations. (Dave Martin/AP)

Steve Prohm arrives in Ames with immediate expectations. (Dave Martin/AP)

Prohm takes the reins of a squad that will likely be among the preseason top 10 in most polls, and one that could ultimately go down as the best in Iowa State basketball history. Because of that, the new head coach will have to answer a number of questions not normally posed to a first-year man. He will of course have the right to bring in his own staff, but in a scenario where the short game for the program is just as important as the long game, he may need to be more careful than in a typical situation. For example, will Prohm retain assistant coach T.J. Otzelberger, a man whom he beat out for the job but also with which the current team is already comfortable? If he doesn’t, or if Otzelberger leaves on his own accord, what kind of impact might that have on the current roster?

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How Fred Hoiberg Left His Mark on College Hoops in Five Short Years

Posted by Brian Goodman on June 2nd, 2015

You could say that Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg‘s departure to the NBA has been the world’s worst-kept secret, but his eventual plan to return to the professional ranks wasn’t. Named head coach of the Chicago Bulls earlier today, now is the time to look back on Hoiberg’s college coaching career and recognize his legacy as an offensive innovator willing to gamble on players with checkered pasts. His keen ability to combine the two resulted in the Cyclones becoming one of this decade’s most successful programs.

Though his return to Ames was relatively brief, Fred Hoiberg revitalized a downtrodden Iowa State program.

Fred Hoiberg didn’t take long to revitalize a downtrodden Iowa State program.

Following the heyday of the Larry Eustachy era, it was a mystery whether Iowa State would again become a consistent winner. The program had fallen on hard times after Eustachy’s untimely exit from Ames in 2003 — a mixture of poor on-court results with alcohol addiction off of it — and churned through two more head coaches between 2003-10, with just one NCAA Tournament berth to show for it. While it sounds crazy in hindsight, athletic director Jamie Pollard’s move to bring Hoiberg home in April 2010 was viewed as a significant risk by most in the media. Nearly all coaching moves are gambles to some extent, but Hoiberg came to Iowa State with zero head coaching experience at any level and, despite his enormous local popularity, many were uncertain whether he could revitalize a program that had suffered four straight losing seasons and hadn’t won more than nine conference games in any year since 2001.

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Early Summer Big 12 News and Notes

Posted by Brian Goodman on May 29th, 2015

#HoibergWatch has been the dominant storyline in the Big 12 since the season ended back in April, and with the Chicago Bulls head coaching job now vacant, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before The Mayor makes his next move, even if nothing’s official at this very second. We’ll have more on where Iowa State could go from here once the situation plays itself out and we get some resolution, but in the meantime, there’s been no shortage of other Big 12 activity to discuss.

Is This It for Hoiberg's Run in Ames? (AP)

Is This It for Hoiberg’s Run in Ames? (AP)

  • On Wednesday, commissioner Bob Bowlsby announced that the Big 12’s membership had given him full authority to hand down punishments to schools should they fail to adequately prevent students from rushing the court. While it’s a well-intentioned decision, it’s really tough to look at this development as anything more than a knee-jerk reaction to last season’s messy incident at Kansas State’s Bramlage Coliseum, where one student appeared to target Jamari Traylor and others inadvertently pinned members of Kansas’ coaching staff against the scorer’s table. While there’s been (misguided) uproar in the past over court-storms, it seems highly unlikely that the conference would have done anything if things hadn’t gone sideways after the Wildcats upset the Jayhawks that night. Moving forward, while the threat of severe punishment might keep future incidents from getting out of control, it’s no guarantee, and it’s important to note that the chaos from February was the exception, not the rule. The reality is that dozens of stormings take place all across the country each and every year without incident, and the pearl-clutching among many (though certainly not all) in the media is just way over-the-top. Court-storms make college basketball unique from other sports and provide memorable experiences for both the players and students, and isn’t that what college is all about? Yes, once in awhile, there may be an occasion where things get out of control, and in those specific cases, punishment beyond the simple reprimanding Kansas State received in February may be justified. Before getting too wound up, we’ll have to see how this broad policy ends up working in practice, as compared to a more specific policy like the SEC’s, which dishes out automatic fines regardless of whether or not anyone actually gets hurt. At the onset, though, this has the feel of using a flamethrower to take care of a housefly.

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Commitment of Cheick Diallo Shores Up Kansas’ Frontcourt

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 28th, 2015

The biggest weakness of last season’s Kansas team was its season-long struggle to consistently protect the rim. Perry Ellis has never been known for his defense and probably never will be, but a frontcourt of he, Jamari Traylor, Cliff Alexander and Landen Lucas swatted only 12.3 percent of opponents’ shot attempts on the season, the team’s second-worst mark since 2005. Kansas’ results on the defensive glass were similarly uncharacteristic (and galling). The Jayhawks rebounded just 68.4 percent of opponents’ misses in 2015, their lowest rate in five years and a mark among the bottom half nationally (205th) for the first time in the Bill Self era. While Kansas didn’t really miss a beat offensively in winning an impressive 11th straight Big 12 title, the Jayhawks clearly weren’t the same team we had grown accustomed to on the other end. Thanks to Tuesday’s commitment from one of the nation’s top big man prep standouts, however, that deficiency could be addressed as soon as next season.

With Cheick Diallo in the fold, Kansas is on its way to restoring its reputation as a defensive stalwart.

With Cheick Diallo in the fold, Kansas is on its way to restoring its reputation as a defensive stalwart.

After an NCAA eligibility issue effectively ended Cliff Alexander’s college career, the Jayhawks needed an immediate influx of size and defense to shore up their frontcourt. Self got busy on the recruiting trail and ultimately beat out Kentucky and St. John’s for forward Cheick Diallo, a 6’9″, 225-pound athletic wonder. While he lacks offensive polish, Diallo’s shot-blocking prowess, rebounding ability and motor renews the hope that Kansas’ front line will return its typically intimidating defensive force.

The native Malian (he arrived in the United States in 2012) will arrive in Lawrence this summer with as many accolades as imaginable. He’s a consensus five-star recruit who played in the McDonald’s All-American Game and Jordan Brand Classic, capturing MVP honors in the former as one of the few players who showed great energy in the showcase event. He also suited up for the World team in the Nike Hoop Summit earlier this month, where he went for 12 points, six rebounds and three blocks in 16 minutes of action.

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Big 12 Way-Too-Early Power Rankings

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 15th, 2015

Depending on how you judge such things, the Big 12 either had a great year in sending seven teams to the NCAA Tournament and finishing first in all the relevant computer rankings, or a miserable one, propelling just two teams to the Sweet Sixteen and missing out on the Elite Eight and beyond entirely for the third straight season. As we’ve said for some time now, it’s silly to let NCAA Tournament results determine your assessment, but the hive mind will continue to pick at the conference’s March shortcomings until the Big 12 breaks through. The good news for the league, though, is that the top teams appear to be retaining most of their best players, and Kansas, Iowa State, Texas and Baylor are still in the running for some of the nation’s top prep talents as well as a handful of graduate transfers who could step in and make immediate impacts. Add it all up and the league should be poised to take a step forward in 2015-16. Here’s how we see things shaking out next season.

1. Kansas

This is what a coach can get away with when you dominate the Big 12 like Bill Self has done at Kansas. (Denny Medley/USA Today Sports)

Al jokes aside, the Big 12’s postseason prospects have to start with Bill Self (Denny Medley/USA Today Sports)

  • Key Departures: Kelly Oubre, Cliff Alexander
  • Key Returnees: Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden, Frank Mason, Devonte’ Graham, Landen Lucas, Brannen Greene, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk
  • New Arrivals: Carlton Bragg
  • Summer Storyline: The Jayhawks in a down year still won the Big 12, but last year illuminated how vulnerable they are when they don’t have an elite rim-protector inside. To that end, Kansas could really use the services of 6’10” Charlotte transfer Mike Thorne, a physical, productive post threat on both ends of the floor. Bill Self’s program also remains in the running for highly-touted recruits Cheick Diallo, Malik Newman and Jaylen Brown.

2. Iowa State

  • Key Departures: Bryce Dejean-Jones, Dustin Hogue
  • Key Returnees: Georges Niang, Monte’ Morris, Naz Long, Jameel McKay, Abdel Nader
  • New Arrivals: Hallice Cooke, Deonte Burton (transfer)
  • Summer Storyline: Between the annual rumors of Fred Hoiberg leaving for the NBA and Iowa State’s presence on the transfer market, the summer is always a busy time but this offseason has already been more dramatic than usual. St. John’s poaching of top Iowa State assistant Matt Abdelmassih could hurt the Cyclones more than many seem to be noticing. He already flipped former JuCo signee Darien Williams to the Red Storm, and Iowa State’s chances of landing Cheick Diallo, for whom Abdelmassih was the lead recruiter, also took a serious hit. Despite those recruiting challenges, the Cyclones will return most of their offensively gifted core, but questions will remain on defense. Read the rest of this entry »
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Texas Brings HAVOC to the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 3rd, 2015

Less than a week after the firing of Rick Barnes, Texas has hired its next head basketball coach. And as we speculated on Monday, VCU’s Shaka Smart is packing his bags for the Lone Star State. Once he’s introduced, Smart will be expected to immediately breathe new life into a program that had fallen into a lull over the last four seasons. Given its resources and location, the Longhorns have no legitimate reason to not be a force in the Big 12 and nationally on an annual basis, and Smart’s track record, enthusiasm and unique style of play make him Texas’ best bet to restore and possibly exceed its basketball peak from a decade ago.

As the new head coach at Texas, Shaka Smart will look to bring postseason success back to Austin.

As the new head coach at Texas, Shaka Smart will look to bring deep postseason runs back to Austin.

The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Smart is his vaunted “Havoc” defense. His Rams led the country in defensive turnover percentage every year between 2012-14 and turned in a top-10 performance again this season. Had Briante Weber stayed healthy, the Rams may have ended up leading the nation again in that category. Smart’s teams also excel on the other side of the turnover column, giving the ball away less than 18 percent of the time in every season under his watch.

As with any coach making the jump from a mid-major to power conference, though, Smart will face the challenge of competing with consistently good teams on a regular basis. The Rams famously beat #3 seed Purdue and #1 seed Kansas on their way to the 2011 Final Four, but in the four seasons that followed, VCU went just 16-19 against teams rated in the KenPom top 50 and failed to return to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. In fairness, many of those games came on the road or in neutral settings as the college landscape provides little incentive for power conference teams to travel to places like VCU, but Smart’s results against top-notch competition suggest that immediate success isn’t a given at Texas no matter how good a fit he is.

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Evaluating Texas’ Top Three Candidates

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 31st, 2015

The head coaching job at Texas hasn’t been vacant for two whole days, but the search is already sending shockwaves throughout the college basketball landscape. Now, the top candidates for the gig had been rumored as successors even before athletic director Steve Patterson let Rick Barnes go on Sunday, and nothing has really changed since then, so none of the names are exactly surprising. But now that the wheels are actually moving, things could get real in a hurry. Here’s a quick rundown of the three coaches most likely to take the reins in Austin.

Say, that orange tie looks pretty good on Shaka. (sportsillustrated.com)

Say, that orange tie looks pretty good on Shaka… (sportsillustrated.com)

  1. Shaka Smart, VCU – Smart’s teams at VCU have turned heads ever since he led the Rams to the Final Four in 2011. While Smart hasn’t returned to the second weekend, much less the third, since that memorable run, that doesn’t make the 37-year old any less viable of a candidate. While some have doubts about his lack of experience as a head coach at a high-major program, he spent time on Billy Donovan’s staff at Florida and has successfully leveraged his track record, youth and enthusiasm to land commitments from some of the top prospects in the country. And he’s done it at a school with a fraction of Texas’ recruiting budget. Smart has notoriously rejected offers from plenty of high-major programs to stay at VCU, but turning down a top-10 job in terms of resources and access would be much tougher for him to do. Read the rest of this entry »
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Texas and Rick Barnes Finally Part Ways

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 28th, 2015

Rick Barnes‘ last four seasons with Texas were a rollercoaster ride. After failing to win an NCAA Tournament game in consecutive seasons for the first time in his 17-year tenure, Barnes reformed the team in 2013 without once-promising recruits Sheldon McClellan, Myck Kabongo, Julien Lewis, Jaylen Bond and Ioannis Papapetrou. His remaining players took him off the hot seat, riding stifling interior defense to a surprise third-place finish in the Big 12 and a thrilling NCAA Tournament win over Arizona State before bowing out to Michigan in the Round of 32. You probably know what happened next, but to bring you up to speed, the Longhorns came into this season as the leading candidate to knock Kansas from its conference perch, but injuries, inconsistent offense and lax perimeter defense kept the team from meeting expectations.

Rick Barnes brought unprecedented levels of success to Texas, but rocky seasons and early NCAA Tournament flameouts finally caught up to him. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Rick Barnes brought unprecedented levels of success to Texas, but rocky seasons and early NCAA Tournament flameouts finally caught up to him. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Texas finished with a losing record in the Big 12 for the second time in three years, and while they had a chance to redeem themselves in the NCAA Tournament last week, they petered out in an uninspiring loss to Butler. On Thursday night reports emerged that athletic director Steve Patterson gave Barnes an ultimatum: Replace your staff or I’ll replace you. Barnes wouldn’t acquiesce to those demands, and now the two parties going their separate ways.

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Unlikely Yet Capable, Oklahoma and West Virginia Look to Carry Big 12 Flag

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 25th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

Let’s rewind to last Thursday morning. If I had told you that the Big 12 would send just two of its seven NCAA Tournament teams to the Sweet Sixteen, you’d probably feel let down. Conference members have struggled to make many deep runs over the last 10 years, and while it didn’t appear that there was a national title contender among the group this season, there were plenty of teams that were good enough to survive the first weekend. A flawed Kansas team had scrapped and defended its way to an 11th straight conference crown. Iowa State had shown great resilience in erasing one double-figure lead after another on its way to a Big 12 Tournament title. Scott Drew’s Baylor team was arguably better than the one that went to the Sweet Sixteen last season.

Can the new-look Mountaineers help the Big 12 save face? (Greg Bartram/USA TODAY Sports)

Can the new-look Mountaineers help the Big 12 save face? (Greg Bartram/USA TODAY Sports)

As we all now know, none of those three promising teams are still standing, and the also-rans of the bunch — Oklahoma State and Texas — fizzled out as well. That leaves us with Oklahoma and West Virginia as the Big 12’s two survivors. While the Sooners and Mountaineers are very good teams led by two of the most experienced and successful coaches in the game, their presence in the Sweet Sixteen still feels like a bit of a surprise. Oklahoma’s ability to play great defense while utilizing an uptempo attack is impressive, but there were plenty of reasons to be suspicious of the Sooners. They played poorly in two losses to downtrodden Kansas State, struggled to find consistency against competitive teams away from Norman, and their composure fell under increased scrutiny after they coughed up a pair of big leads to the Cyclones. While similar criticisms can be made of other teams still playing (see: UCLA), you would have a good case if you wanted to remain skeptical on Lon Kruger‘s team. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Takes Three on the Chin, But Today is a New Day

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 20th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

Well, that could’ve gone better.

 

In the Big 12’s latest opportunity to reverse its NCAA Tournament fortunes, the conference fell flat on its face, losing all three of its games on Thursday. Were this the regular season or the conference tournament, I’d say that Baylor and Iowa State both losing by a single point shouldn’t be huge a cause for concern, and analytically, that remains true. If the Bears and Cyclones played their games again today and every day after that, they’d come out on top in an overwhelming number of those games. But it’s a different game this time of year where variance trumps all, and this was the end of the road for two teams that, at minimum, were expected to make it through the weekend. The same can’t be said for Texas, but that’s only a reflection of the Longhorns’ massive letdown of a campaign.

Three favorites, three losses, all in time for Happy Hour.

The Cyclones knew going into Thursday’s game against UAB that they could no longer afford to fall into double-digit deficits if they wanted to survive. They lived up to one end of the bargain, as the biggest hole they faced was just three points. But that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) take away from the fact that the Blazers didn’t have much business hanging around with the Big 12 Tournament champs, let alone knocking them off. UAB has a tall, athletic lineup, but the Cyclones outscored the Blazers 36-32 in the paint. Instead, Iowa State’s undoing came down to poor rebounding and relying too heavily on jumpers, shots that head coach Fred Hoiberg has become famous for despising. More than one-third of their attempts were jump shots, and star forward Georges Niang was most responsible in that department, attempting 10 jumpers and connecting on just two. Read the rest of this entry »

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How the Big 12 Can Change the Conversation

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 18th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

While the Big 12 went wire to wire this season as the top conference in America, according to KenPom and the RPI, its postseason results over the last decade continue to cast a shadow over the league’s legitimacy. Since 2005, the Big 12 is tied for fourth in NCAA Tournament wins, tied for fifth in Sweet Sixteen appearances and tied for fourth in Final Four berths. In the last 10 years, 17 Big 12 teams have underperformed relative to their seeds compared with just 12 teams that have overperformed. Although the season-long metrics are more reliable from an analytical perspective than chaotic NCAA Tournament results, the postseason is valued more heavily when it comes to both bar room debates and television contracts. Fortunately for the conference this season, it propelled seven teams into the Big Dance, so there are plenty of opportunities to quiet the skeptics. Here’s how each of those teams can help the conference flip the script.

Fred Hoiberg's Cyclones have a chance to save the Big 12 from more postseason criticism. (Eric Gay/AP).

The Mayor can rescue the Big 12 from years of tournament disappointment with a run to Indianapolis. (Eric Gay/AP)

  • Iowa State: Fred Hoiberg has turned the Iowa State program around and then some in his five years running the team, but the time is ripe for him to raise the status even higher by adding a trip to the Final Four — which would be Iowa State’s first since 1944 — to his already-impressive resume. The Cyclones are among the hottest teams in the country but they’ll need to keep up their hot shooting and not rely on their proven ability to mount comebacks in order to capitalize on the good favor they’ve curried.
  • Kansas: The Jayhawks limp into the Big Dance with Perry EllisLanden Lucas and Frank Mason at less than 100 percent. If that weren’t bad enough, they’re planning to be without Cliff Alexander and have notched just three wins in their last eight games away from Allen Fieldhouse (and one of those road wins was in Lubbock). Oh, and they received by far the worst Tournament draw of any #2 seed, facing a potential Elite Eight game against juggernaut Kentucky. As terrific a coach as Bill Self is, the odds of him extracting a 2012 type of run to the championship game from this team are long. A ride to the regional final would be impressive, though, especially if the Jayhawks can knock off local rival Wichita State in the process.
  • Oklahoma: The Sooners have been snake-bitten in the Lon Kruger years, assuming the role of first round upset victim in their last two NCAA Tournament appearances. While Oklahoma needs to get over that hump, this team is Kruger’s best one yet so the expectations don’t stop at simply winning one game. A pilgrimage to the Sweet Sixteen would give Kruger the distinction of taking four different programs that deep, but Oklahoma’s excellent defense and Buddy Hield‘s scoring ability make the Sooners a threat to play even deeper, possibly slaying two monsters in Virginia and Villanova on the way there.

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