Texas Tech is The Best Parts Of College Basketball in 2019, Distilled

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 5th, 2019

The last 10-15 years of college basketball have witnessed a number of changes. The impact of the NBA’s one-and-done rule has been obvious, but think about what else has shaped the game. There has been an influx of international talent as well as a sharp increase in undergraduate and graduate transfers. In practice facilities, coaching staffs have access to more data and video than ever before, and on the sidelines, the best coaches find a way to marry all of that information with the traditional scouting and player development on which their careers have been built to get the best possible results on the court. Yes, there remains a variety of ways to skin the cat, but not many, and especially not when it comes to rising to the absolute top. Texas Tech may not be the objectively best team left, and whether they’re the most talented team left is debatable, but when I watch the Red Raiders play, I see college basketball in 2019 crystallized into one team.

Texas Tech is the Likeliest Unlikely Final Four Team (USA Today Images)

Sure, Jarrett Culver is a sophomore rather than a one-and-done, but he was already on many 2019 NBA Draft boards after playing a perfect complementary role to Zhaire Smith and Keenan Evans on last season’s Elite Eight squad. Last summer, the Red Raiders put Culver on a liberal eating regimen so that he could bulk up and carry the workload necessary to propel his team to a regular season Big 12 title. As a result, he earned Big 12 Player of the Year honors and has led Texas Tech to the sport’s final weekend as a prospective lottery pick two months from now. I guess you could say it’s worked.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big 12 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 17th, 2019

There’s no way around it: The Big 12 had a down year, propelling fewer than seven teams to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013 (five). Despite having a smaller presence than usual, the pressure will be on the league to have a team make a deep run — and all the better if that team is not Kansas. Compared to some of the other power conferences, the Big 12 may be light at the top, but the middle of the league is sufficiently meaty. Here are some quick thoughts on each team’s draw.

Is Texas Tech Ready for Another Run to the Second Weekend (USA Today Images)

Texas Tech (#3 Midwest)

  • Quick First Round Preview: Northern Kentucky is a spicy match-up for Texas Tech’s robust defense. The Norse move the ball extremely well, assisting on a higher percentage of all their shots than all but four teams in college basketball. Fortunately for the Red Raiders, Northern Kentucky’s defense isn’t much to write home about.
  • Intriguing Potential Match-up: Buffalo in the Round of 32. The Bulls have repeatedly shown that they aren’t afraid of major conference powers and are loaded with experience. Texas Tech won a share of the Big 12 this season by loading up on transfers and having one freshman make a big enough leap to turn himself into a lottery pick. There are more than one ways to skin a cat, but what’s the best way?
  • Final Word: It’s reassuring that last Thursday’s neutral court loss to West Virginia didn’t have a measurable effect on the Red Raiders’ seeding. Their region has the most manageable pair of top seeds (North Carolina and Kentucky), so I’ll be very curious to see if Chris Beard can deliver Lubbock its first Final Four.

Kansas (#4 Midwest)

  • Quick First Round Preview: Northeastern is a small team that isn’t shy about firing away from deep and is a very good defensive rebounding team despite its relative lack of size. If the Huskies get hot from long range, anything can happen, but they struggled mightily in earlier losses to Syracuse and Virginia Tech. Kansas fans shouldn’t be too concerned about this game.
  • Intriguing Potential Match-up: North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen. The Jayhawks have faced off against their previous coach multiple times over the last 10 years and could certainly be poised to do so again. From a match-up standpoint, however, a game with Auburn in the Round of 32 would be an interesting tilt. The Tigers, like Kansas, have experienced some head-scratching losses this season, but the their defense could cause problems for the inconsistent Jayhawks’ offense.
  • Final Word: The Jayhawks got a massive break by being placed in the Midwest Region despite finishing third in the Big 12, a testament to the staff’s savvy non-conference scheduling. This team is so tough to peg that it’s challenging to see them winning enough to earn a trip back to Kansas City, much less winning there and advancing to consecutive Final Fours.

Kansas State (#4 South)

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Rushed Reactions: Iowa State 78, Kansas 66

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 16th, 2019

Coming into Saturday’s Big 12 championship game, this had not been a tournament to remember for a small but important number of reasons. Most notably, this year’s edition didn’t include a team pushing for a #1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, and the conference’s two biggest NBA Draft prospects (Texas Tech‘s Jarrett Culver and TexasJaxson Hayes) were bounced in the quarterfinals. West Virginia‘s upset over Texas Tech was important at the moment, but it also birthed a laugher of a semifinal game against Kansas. In Friday’s other semifinal match-up, Kansas State couldn’t overcome the loss of Dean Wade, leaving fans with a title tilt between two very talented teams weighed with inconsistencies (and in Kansas’ case, roster limitations) that make them unlikely bets for deep NCAA Tournament runs.

Talen Horton-Tucker and Iowa State kept their lead over the Jayhawks at arm’s length, capturing the Big 12 Tournament crown and transforming Sprint Center into Hilton Coliseum South in the process. (Getty)

Still, the Kansas-Iowa State series has consistently generated juice throughout the decade and the last edition of the 2010s was no different. And if you can’t hold a conference tournament on campus, the next-best place is Kansas City, where both Kansas and Iowa State fanbases are more than happy to pack the joint and get loud. And the teams held up their end of the bargain too, delivering a fun, high-level championship game resulting in Steve Prohm‘s club coming out on top for its fourth Big 12 tournament crown in six seasons. Here are a few thoughts on tonight’s game.

  • Iowa State takes advantage of extra reps. I mentioned in this week’s preview that Iowa State had plenty for which to play this weekend. The Cyclones ended the regular season on a disastrous 1-5 skid and the intensity with which they played had started to get the best of them, embodied by confrontations among players and then between players and their head coach. This team is still very tough to predict, but its worst days appear to be behind them. The Cyclones were stellar offensively this week at the Sprint Center, but they were outstanding on defense, allowing 0.95 points per possession for the tournament (compared with 1.05 points per possession in Big 12 play). The most impressive part of their weekend came in Saturday’s final as the Cyclones’ bigs stymied Kansas’ Dedric Lawson into an inefficient 8-of-21 shooting night, even drawing a technical on the typically cool-headed big man. Better Iowa State teams have fallen early in the NCAA Tournament, so caution should be exercised before pegging the Cyclones for a deep run, but there’s no denying that they took complete advantage of the opportunity presented to them in Kansas City this week.
  • Kansas needs better production from its X-factors in order to reach its ceiling. The Jayhawks beat West Virginia on Friday evening thanks in large part to a terrific stretch from Quentin Grimes, but he couldn’t follow it up, finishing with only 10 points on 5-of-12 shooting on Saturday. Marcus Garrett pulled down some big rebounds, but otherwise experienced a horrible night on the offensive end, and Ochai Agbaji and David McCormack didn’t play the way they’re capable of playing. It’s not reasonable to expect those two freshman to produce on a consistent basis, but unexpected contributions from complementary players are what is necessary for a team like Kansas to make a run in next week’s bracket. You see it all the time. Lawson and Devin Dotson will get their numbers and impact the game more often than not, but who steps up to fill in the gaps is the question Kansas will have to answer if it’s going to end the season on high note.
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Rushed Reactions: Big 12 Semifinal Friday

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 15th, 2019

A heated series will be reignited Saturday night as Iowa State will square off against against Kansas. (Orlin Wagner/AP)

While West Virginia‘s quarterfinal upset of Texas Tech hammered home the Big 12’s lack of elite teams, it also highlighted the league’s parity and unpredictability when it comes to individual games. The conference figures to send something like seven teams to the Big Dance, but it’s tough to feel confident about any of them reaching the Elite Eight, much less the Final Four. All that said, there was something odd about one of the co-champions not being in the house for the semifinals, having been bounced by the league’s worst team. That didn’t stop the two semifinal bouts from giving us some drama, however. Here are some of the key takeaways from Friday night’s action.

  1. Marial Shayok carries Iowa State home. After a one-year layoff, the Cyclones are back in the Big 12 Tournament championship, marking the fourth time in six seasons that Iowa State has made it to Saturday night. This time around, they have the Virginia transfer to thank for some clutch play down the stretch. Trailing 55-52 with 2:38 remaining, Shayok bombed a pair of triples on consecutive trips to give the Cyclones the edge they needed to outlast the Big 12 regular season co-champions. Shayok wasn’t just a shooter on Friday night, however, routinely taking advantage of Dean Wade‘s absence to drive the lane and finish in transition. It was just a few weeks ago that the Iowa State roster looked fractured, but even though Kansas State wasn’t at full strength tonight, the Cyclones’ performance restored the notion that they’re a second weekend NCAA threat no matter what happens tomorrow in Kansas City.
  2. Shorthanded Kansas State effort affirms Wildcats’ offensive challenges. Without Wade in the lineup, Bruce Weber‘s team made scoring look like a trip to the dentist. Ugly as it was, Kansas State had plenty of chances to come out on top tonight, but a 1-of-14 stretch late in the first half put an end to that. The Wildcats only had to be passable down low to secure a victory, but they couldn’t even muster that much. The silver lining here may be that the Wildcats are certainly capable of better even if they don’t get Wade back at full strength in the NCAA Tournament, but they’ll have to lean even more heavily on their vaunted defense if they can’t cash in easy looks, and as excellent a defender as Barry Brown is, it’s unreasonable to ask him to carry that much.
  3. Is this closer to the real Quentin Grimes? Kansas‘ most highly-touted freshman has been an enigma all year, but he went nuclear on the Mountaineers in the first half this evening, burying all five of his threes on his way to 16 points before intermission. Grimes’ confidence picked up as his shots fell, eventually giving him enough to get inside, which he’s been hesitant to do for long stretches. The Jayhawks will never be as good as they could have been with Udoka Azubuike and Silvio De Sousa still playing, but the question now becomes how heavily Grimes can be counted on when Ochai Agbaji or Marcus Garrett sputter as they did in the first half Friday night. That’s probably not the difference between a trip to the Final Four and the Elite Eight, but every team that eyes a deep NCAA Tournament run needs a guy who can get hot for a stretch or two when the rest of the team is stuck in neutral, and Grimes can certainly provide that for Kansas.
  4. West Virginia bows out, but not before giving us something to remember it by. There were several times this season where you could tune into a Mountaineers’ game and see Bob Huggins‘ sideline demeanor or read snippets from his postgame press conferences and draw the conclusion that coaching this season’s team was the last thing on Earth he wanted to do. Despite being in the twilight of his career with a team littered with injuries, dismissals and transfers, the coaching lifer showed that his team still had something left in its shocking upset of Texas Tech on Thursday night. Unable to do the near-impossible and beat three clearly better teams in three days, West Virginia exited the tournament gracefully with a hard-fought loss to Kansas in a situation where they were simply outgunned. The Mountaineers will regroup next year without Esa Ahmad, Beetle Bolden and probably Sagaba Konate, but keep some intriguing pieces in Lamont West, Derek Culver, Jordan McCabe, Brandon Knapper and Jermaine Haley. Perhaps the most fascinating contributor of that bunch will be Culver, who was held out of his first 10 games this year due to academic issues, but went on to post the Big 12’s highest individual defensive rebound percentage in league play (30 percent) as a freshman while soaking up 73 percent of available minutes. Add McDonald’s All-American Oscar Tshiewbe down low and it’s not unreasonable to expect the Mountaineers to contend for a top-half finish in 2019-20.
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Big 12 Tournament Storylines To Follow

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 13th, 2019

This year’s Big 12 Tournament will have a different feel to it than those of recent memory. For the first time since 2005, Kansas will not enter the event as the regular season champion; and coincidentally enough, that year was also the last time that Texas Tech advanced to the championship game. The Red Raiders lost to Oklahoma State that year, but they are the clear favorite to cut down the nets in Kansas City this weekend. It’s easy to see The Streak ending as the biggest takeaway from this Big 12 season, but there’s still some conference intrigue left between now and Selection Sunday. Let’s get to it.

Jarrett Culver is licking his chops at the opportunity to deliver Texas Tech’s first Big 12 tournament championship. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Texas Tech looks to ride the wave. The Red Raiders are the clear favorite this week, and for plenty of reasons. Not only are they the conference’s best team with the nation’s best defense and the Big 12’s best player in Jarrett Culver, but they also have one of college basketball’s best coaches in Chris Beard. On top of all of that, they’ve won nine in a row and 11 of their last 12 with an offense that has significantly improved. Additionally, among the serious contenders to take home the trophy this weekend, Texas Tech is the only team that has its full complement of players healthy and available. So take your pick. Sure, anything can happen in a single-elimination setting on a neutral floor, but if you’re looking for a bold prediction about which team will cut down the Sprint Center nets, you won’t find it here.

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Big 12 Weekend in Review: Leaders Stayed the Course With Kansas Hovering

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 4th, 2019

Concerns about Kansas remain, but all the Jayhawks needed to put the Silvio De Sousa news and Marcus Garrett‘s injury behind them was a home game. As it has for decades, a return to Allen Fieldhouse provided a respite as the Jayhawks blew out Texas Tech on Saturday. The Red Raiders missing 80 percent of their three-pointers accelerated the outcome, but yet again, Bill Self made the necessary adjustments to enable the Jayhawks to log their best three-point shooting performance in nearly three weeks. While Baylor, Kansas State and Iowa State also won their games to stay ahead of Kansas in the league standings, in my mind, the notion of The Streak coming to an end will not merit serious discussion until Self’s club is two or more games back of the leaders with five remaining.

Baylor’s 90-64 victory over TCU on Saturday was big for a few reasons. As former contributor and friend of RTC Kendall Kaut noted, it marked the biggest loss by final margin of Jamie Dixon‘s career as a head coach at either Pittsburgh or TCU. It also kept the Bears in first place, and a 40-point, 9-of-12 from distance showcase from Makai Mason in that game would make even former Brady Heslip turn red. Seriously. Look where some of these shots came from. The win pushed Baylor’s Big 12 winning streak to five games, marking just the third time the Bears have accomplished such a feat. Six league wins in a row has proven elusive for Scott Drew to this point (exempting a couple cases where the sixth win came in the Big 12 Tournament), but the Bears will have a good chance to reach that apex on Wednesday night against Texas. Looking forward, it remains anyone’s guess how long they can stay hot (40.2% 3FG) from distance. This season has been massive for Baylor in that an NCAA Tournament bid seems like a formality just a few months after being picked to finish ninth in the league, but don’t be surprised to see some regression as the schedule toughens on the Bears down the stretch.

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Breaking Down the Pileup at the Top of the Big 12 Standings

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 21st, 2019

Through three weeks of Big 12 play, we have a metaphorical clown car at the top of the standings with Kansas, Texas Tech, Iowa State and Kansas State all sitting at 4-2 and Baylor just a half-game back at 3-2. As I wrote earlier this month, a big reason why the Jayhawks have been able to maintain their extensive conference title streak has been the inability of their top challengers to cash in when opportunity knocks. Sure enough, on Saturday Kansas lost to arguably the worst team in the conference in West Virginia and just four hours later, Baylor dropped Texas Tech without the services of Tristan Clark, far and away the Bears’ best forward. Yes, winning on the road is hard, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Jayhawks and Red Raiders were four-point and three-point favorites, respectively, and that Texas Tech did not lead the Bears at any point in the second half. Despite Kansas’ struggles, betting on them to win the conference remains the safe pick, but based on how things are going, it might be awhile before we see much separation.

After a tepid start to the season, Kansas State may finally be rounding into form.
(Olivia Bergmeier/Collegian Media Group)

As up-and-down as conference play has been as a whole this season, Kansas’ Achilles’ heel remains the same as it has been all year: an inability to close games out. This problem goes back to the team’s guards, who, as electrifying and athletic as they are, don’t have the experience, poise and confidence that so many of Bill Self‘s previous floor generals have possessed. In past years, whenever the Jayhawks needed a late bucket, they could always turn to guys like Frank Mason or Devonte’ Graham make something good happen. This year, Devon Dotson, who is fantastic in the open floor, is also showing his inexperience by deferring a little too much in the clutch. In fairness to him, Quentin Grimes was expected to be further along at this point, so Dotson has been forced to take on a bigger role than Self would like, but the results have nonetheless made crunch time an adventure.

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Injury to Udoka Azubuike and Other Woes Not Enough to Pick Against Kansas in Big 12 Race

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 8th, 2019

Kansas was dealt a significant blow on Sunday when the program announced that center Udoka Azubuike will have season-ending surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right hand. It’s the latest trickle of bad news for a team that can never seem to avoid having something go sideways with its big men, whether it is Azubuike, Silvio De Sousa, Billy Preston, Carlton Bragg, Cliff Alexander or Cheick Diallo. There have been injuries, certain and potential NCAA violations, slow development and matches simply not working out the way both parties hoped for one reason or another. You name it and the Jayhawks have been through it, even if it can be argued that some of it the problems have been self-inflicted. But this weekend’s news was also a tough break for Azubuike directly, who over the last two years has shown tremendous dedication to improving his game and his body to the point where he was considered a possible first-round pick in last year’s NBA Draft despite an awful track record at the foul line and an inability to defend in space.

Kansas Jayhawks Basketball Big 12
The Jayhawks may be down and out, but picking against them to win the Big 12 remains a trap. (AP)

Despite losing Azubuike, the road to the Big 12 title still goes through Lawrence even though personnel issues are poised to force Bill Self into playing a smaller but more modern brand of basketball for yet another season. Skeptics may point to the team’s current three-point shooting woes (27.9 percent over its last eight games), but those struggles are not any more indicative of the team’s proficiency than its white-hot start (43.9 percent over its first six games). As tends to be the case, the answer is somewhere in the middle, and for all the deserved talk of the league’s defenses being terrific this year, just two Big 12 teams (TCU and West Virginia) rank among the top 100 in defensive 3PA/FGA, and none in the top 50. It stands to reason, then, that Kansas will be just fine once its accuracy trends back up. Freshman Quentin Grimes is already starting to bounce back, with the highly-touted guard averaging 16.3 points and shooting at a 37.5 percent clip from distance over his last three games. Even if this unit doesn’t showcase the pinpoint accuracy of last year’s group, it has a better all-around five in Dedric Lawson, who can defend away from the hoop and terrorize opposing defenses with his above-average handle, passing ability and range. When combined with a strong arsenal of post moves, the transfer forward is a walking double-double and Player of the Year candidate.

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Big 12 Quarter-Pole Reset

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 14th, 2018

As college basketball wakes up from Finals Week, it’s a great opportunity to look around the league and see how things are developing. Of course, Kansas being at the top of this league doesn’t surprise anyone, but the pecking order beneath the Jayhawks wasn’t what prognosticators pictured back in October. Texas Tech looks fantastic, although their numbers are a touch inflated by a soft schedule as we’ll get into below. Kansas State and West Virginia don’t look like the contenders many projected, but a couple surprise teams in Oklahoma and TCU have stepped up to take their spots.

A collective effort led by Jarrett Culver has Texas Tech undefeated. (Getty)
  1. It doesn’t look like Kansas State and West Virginia will be giving the Jayhawks a run for their money after all, but Texas Tech, on the other hand, is undefeated heading into tomorrow’s match-up with Abilene Christian. This prediction could blow up in my face, seeing as how the Red Raiders have played the third-easiest non-conference schedule in the country, per KenPom, but they have the potential to be one of the best defensive teams we’ve seen in a very long time. Texas Tech’s opponents are averaging a lengthy 18.6 seconds per possession (346th nationally), committing turnovers 26 percent of the time and are shooting just 37.5 percent on two-point tried. Interestingly, Texas Tech isn’t getting out on the break very much despite generating all those turnovers, instead preferring to have Jarrett Culver, Kyler Edwards and Brandone Francis walk the ball up the floor. It’s reasonable to wonder if that will change come Big 12 play, though. The league currently houses four of the nation’s top 20 defensive units aside from the Red Raiders, so it might make sense for Chris Beard’s club to run more often in an attempt to get quality shots before those stifling defenses can set up.
  2. While I was pretty high on Texas Tech entering the season, I didn’t foresee Oklahoma and TCU looking as good as they have, and each team is getting it done in different ways. I thought the Sooners would be overwhelmed by the ambitious non-conference schedule Lon Kruger assembled (25th in the country, per KenPom), but while the Sooners still have a few hurdles to clear, their defense has been very good. Oklahoma to date has been strong both in transition and non-transition settings, and they dusted off Notre Dame and Wichita State without their best rim protector, Jamuni McNeace. The Horned Frogs’ offense, meanwhile, looks incredibly cohesive, which isn’t something commonly seen before the calendar flips to the new year. With TCU, the ball is always moving and every pass seems to have a purpose. The metrics affirm it, too, as Jamie Dixon’s team has assisted on a staggering 73 percent of its made shots, which is tops in the country. A potential issue with TCU is Jaylen Fisher’s limited ability to create as he continues to recover from offseason knee surgery. He’s attempted just seven twos in 123 minutes of action, which translates to a shade over three games’ worth of action, and his ability to penetrate just isn’t there yet. While he’s been terrific from deep, it won’t be long before opposing defenses start pressing up on both he and Alex Robinson to keep them from getting so much daylight.
  3. When people discuss West Virginia being a different team this season, the conversation is usually centered around how the Mountaineers have regressed without Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles there to set up shop inside opponents’ jerseys. Sure enough, they rank just 143rd in defensive turnover percentage (last four years: first, second, first, second), and even with strong offensive rebounding as usual, the relative lack of turnovers has Bob Huggins turning to an unlikely answer on offense: Sagaba Konate firing from deep. You read that right. The Mountaineers’ vaunted rim protector has attempted 23 three-pointers on the year, but even more surprising is that he’s connected on nine of them, enough to make him the team’s second-leading three-point shooter at 39.1 percent. Konate’s deep ball is slow to release, which shouldn’t shock anyone familiar with his game, nor will it make him the sport’s next unicorn, but he’s been effective enough to keep defenses honest. It’s a good idea for Konate to try to become more versatile, because at just 6’8”, there’s no guarantee that his shot-blocking will translate to the next level, wherever that may be. As long as he continues to make threes at a rate that forces opposing big men out of the paint, however, you’re probably not going to see Huggins complain too much.
  4. Kansas State hit a nadir last weekend with an embarrassing 47-46 loss to Tulsa, and while Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes haven’t emerged as the complementary options they were expected to be, Dean Wade’s recent duds (two points on 1-of-6 shooting with three turnovers at Tulsa; 11 points on 3-of-7 shooting and a DQ at Marquette) are concerning. Just five weeks after tip-off, Wade isn’t on the same planet that would be expected of the Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year. I don’t have a ballot, but if I had to name an all-conference first team today, there’s no way I could justify putting him there. He hasn’t been a total loss, and there’s only so much you can do as a big man when the backcourt cannot reliably set you up, but a forward with Wade’s skill set and experience should be considerably further along.
  5. Sticking with the Wildcats, the adage goes that once a coach is on the hot seat, he’s never truly off of it, and we’re seeing some of that now as fans are understandably frustrated with Bruce Weber’s performance less than a year removed from leading Kansas State to the Elite Eight. Even though athletic director Dean Taylor extended Weber’s contract last spring, the financials don’t make the extension an anchor, as the new Kansas State football coach, Chris Klieman, will draw a starting salary of just $2.3 million (lowest among the Big 12’s public schools). I’m not saying that Klieman was hired to make it easy for Kansas State to get out of Weber’s contract, but it could be a benefit if the fan base and big donors put enough pressure on the administration to think hard about retaining Weber if he can’t right the ship again.
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Big 12 Feast Week Catch-Up

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 21st, 2018

We’re halfway through Feast Week and even though much of the conference has faced strong competition for the first time this season, we aren’t that much closer to determining a pecking order than we were on Sunday. That’s a credit to the league’s performance rather than a detriment, though, with strong impressions being made throughout. Idle until later today, Kansas still has the inside track, but whereas before the season when Kansas State was thought to be the sole challenger, the battle for second is a jumbled mess at this juncture with not only the Wildcats but also Texas Tech, Texas and even Iowa State joining the fray. Further down, even Oklahoma isn’t looking like an easy out, which is another good sign for the league’s overall strength

Udoka Azubuike and the Jayhawks stare down their next challenge in New York City. (Getty)

  • Kansas (NIT Season Tip-Off) – The Jayhawks look to collect more marquee wins in their second neutral-court event of the season. Tonight’s semifinal pits Bill Self’s team against a Marquette squad eager to make a splash after finishing seventh in the Big East a season ago. While the Jayhawks are deservedly favored, they’ve been getting cooked from beyond the arc, ranking 331st in defensive 3PA/FGA and allowing opponents to hit 46.9 percent of their tries. Their weakness for going over screens and over-helping hasn’t cost them yet, but although the Golden Eagles haven’t truly heated up, they have the firepower to make the Jayhawks pay with an arsenal of shooters led by Markus Howard, Sam Hauser and Joey Hauser. If they don’t connect, there won’t be much to fall back on with Kansas having the skill and bodies down low to keep Marquette honest on the blocks. Offense hasn’t been much of a problem for the Jayhawks, but it could be against the Volunteers if that matchup materializes Friday night. Rick Barnes has always fielded stingy defensive teams as long as his players have bought in, and it’s been no different this year. Tennessee hasn’t forced turnovers or blocked a ton of shots, but they’ve been forcing tough attempts, which is almost as beneficial. Louisville’s no slouch, either, but the jury’s still out with Chris Mack working to establish the habits that made him a must-have to the Cardinals’ administration and donor base.
  • Kansas State (Paradise Jam) – For Wildcat fans, watching this team in its first four games was kind of like eating Chinese food for dinner. It achieved the desired result, but it was never anything to write home about and you were hungry for something better just a short time later. A decisive 20-2 run against Missouri en route to the Paradise Jam title in Game 5 doesn’t mean that Kansas State’s offense is fixed, but it’s certainly a start. Dean Wade and Barry Brown leading the way with strong support from Xavier Sneed and Cartier Diarra putting in yeoman’s work off the bench is exactly what Bruce Weber needs from his squad to sufficiently complement its heady, efficient defensive play. Now comes the hard part of sustaining it against the rest of a solid non-con slate and into league play.
  • Texas Tech (Hall Of Fame Classic) – The Red Raiders had a successful week in Kansas City, using big second halves to defeat USC and Nebraska on their way to the Hall of Fame Classic championship. Chris Beard made frequent substitutions in search of a rotation that could get the best of Tech’s opponents, but the constant was Jarrett Culver, who averaged 22 points and 7.5 rebounds in the event. Culver struggled to get going early in both games, but made increasingly better decisions as the individual games wore on. By the end of the event, he cemented his role as the team’s leader with Matt Mooney, Tariq Owens and Davide Moretti making for a solid supporting cast. I maintain that Tech’s drop-off from 2018 won’t be as steep as many around the landscape feel, but one thing that gives me pause relates to the way the offense stagnated when Culver wasn’t fully engaged, so while it’s still early and trusting Beard feels like a safe bet, I do worry a bit about the team being able to pick up the slack against better opponents when Culver isn’t at his best.
  • Iowa State (Maui Invitational) – Beating superior competition when you’re short-handed is challenging enough in a normal setting, but when you’re slated to play three games in three days with just eight scholarship players, you just want to have a decent showing and not return to the mainland any worse off than you were when you arrived. A fully healthy Cyclone team might have have been able to finish the job against Arizona on Monday night, but they’re certainly making the best of it in the consolation bracket. Steve Prohm had Brad Underwood’s number in the latter’s lone season at Oklahoma State with the Cyclones sweeping all three meetings in 2017, and that continued Tuesday afternoon with an 84-68 trouncing. Iowa State’s effort epitomized basketball in 2018, with 47 of their 53 shot attempts coming on dunks, layups or three-pointers. With Marial Shayok and Talen Horton-Tucker showing out and the team playing free-flowing, efficient basketball, re-working Lindell Wigginton, Cameron Lard and Solomon Young into the rotation will make for a fascinating storyline they get closer to returning.
  • Oklahoma (Battle 4 Atlantis) – Picked to finish eighth in the league, the Sooners have shown some moxie, undefeated with three of their four wins coming away from Norman and a chance to make the week a big one assuming they meet favored Wisconsin in Friday’s semifinal. As I discussed last week, the calling card of Oklahoma’s defense has been their ability to defend without fouling, but that risk-averse nature hasn’t yielded many turnovers. That may need to change against a Wisconsin team that really values the ball and has largely made the most of their possessions. Jamuni McNeace was highly effective defending the Gators, but stopping Ethan Happ will be one of the biggest challenges he’ll face all year if the matchup comes to fruition. Continuing to get standout offensive play from Christian James (21.5 PPG, 2.5 TO/40) will be vital as well.
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