Rushed Reactions: #3 Oregon 69, #7 Michigan 68

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 23rd, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) is in Kansas City for this weekend’s Midwest Regional.

Oregon Gets To Keep On Dancing (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  • Derrick Walton Jr. shines, but falls just short. Michigan’s senior point guard had elevated his play down the stretch, and he had another terrific game Thursday night, scoring 20 points on 6-of-10 shooting and delivering eight assists against just two turnovers in 37 minutes of action. With the game in the balance, however, Walton hoisted an ill-advised three-pointer that rimmed away sealing the win for Oregon. His excellent play and self-confidence showed why he’s become so magnetic over the last few weeks, but he fell just one play short.
  • Jordan Bell excels on both ends. With Chris Boucher out, Bell has stepped up to provide athleticism and denial of easy looks. He did a terrific job of shutting down Moe Wagner and DJ Wilson, Michigan’s two talented big men. He also helped carry the load on offense, scoring 16 points and carving up the Wolverines’ small frontcourt. Most teams don’t have a player who can lock up a pair of players like that on one end and dice them up on the other, but Bell was just that for Oregon, and he’ll be an X-Factor no matter who he lines up against Saturday night.
  • A storybook chapter in Michigan basketball comes to a close. The Wolverines went through it all in the last few weeks from a potentially disastrous travel incident to an improbable Big Ten Tournament run and conquering two of college basketball’s best units in Oklahoma State’s offense and Louisville’s defense. With just one more fortuitous bounce on Thursday, the Wolverines would be playing for a spot in the Final Four, but just because they fell short doesn’t mean that this wasn’t one of college basketball’s best stories, because it was.

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Big 12 Survival Guide: Keys to Each First Round Matchup

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 16th, 2017

Despite Oklahoma‘s Final Four run last season, the Big 12 continues to fight a public relations battle for reasons both earned and not when it comes to NCAA Tournament success. Kansas State‘s win over Wake Forest in Tuesday’s First Four started things off on a positive note, but the league still has plenty of work ahead. Here are the keys to each of the conference’s six games taking place over the next couple of days.

Frank Mason looks to end his career with a national title (Getty).

  • #1 Kansas – Show up. The Jayhawks have had plenty of rest over the last couple of weeks, so Friday’s game is about shaking off the rust. A handful of #15 and #16 seeds over the last decade have hung with Kansas for 20 or so minutes, but UC Davis wasn’t competitive in its only game against a Power 5 school this season — an 86-61 loss to California in November. Additionally, the Aggies have only won their last three games by a combined nine points, so they’ve beaten long odds to even get to this point. There’s no need to overthink this.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big 12 Teams

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 12th, 2017

The Big 12 will send six teams to the NCAA Tournament, down from seven in each of the last three seasons. Kansas State may have missed the cut if not for its win over Baylor on Thursday night, but the Wildcats took care of business and the committee rewarded them with a bid despite a soft non-conference schedule. In other relevant news, Kansas lost its grip on the #1 overall seed after its quarterfinal defeat to TCU, while Baylor slipped to a #3 seed due to a 5-6 stretch entering Selection Sunday. Below is a quick look at the Big 12’s lot, including best-case and worst-case scenarios for each team over the coming weeks.

Frank Mason gets one last shot to deliver a national title for Kansas. (Aaron Doster/USA Today Sports)

Kansas (#1 Midwest) – Bill Self‘s team opens on Friday against the winner of North Carolina Central and UC Davis. Assuming a win there, the Jayhawks will either face Miami (FL) or Michigan State, a familiar foe from the Champions Classic rotation.

  • Best Case: Powered by a deathly combination of hot three-point shooting, Josh Jackson‘s dynamic athleticism and Frank Mason‘s knack for closing games, the Jayhawks compartmentalize their off-court issues and cut down the nets in Glendale on April 3.
  • Worst Case: Foul trouble from Landen Lucas and a poor shooting night lead to the Jayhawks underperforming versus their seed for the fifth straight NCAA Tournament.

Baylor (#3 East) – Baylor’s sputtering finish definitely cost them. Not only did the Bears drop from a #2 to a #3 seed, but they received a very tough potential draw in the form of SMU in the second round. That match-up would neutralize (to some degree) the advantage the Bears gain by playing in nearby Tulsa.

  • Best Case: The Bears put the last two seasons of disappointing finishes in the rearview mirror, stifling offenses with their amoeba zone and riding Johnathan Motley‘s all-around game to the team’s third Elite Eight appearance under Scott Drew.
  • Worst Case: With Manu Lecomte compromised by ankle problems, Motley faces constant double-teams and the Bears once again fail to beat a double-digit seed in the opening round.

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Iowa State Riding High on Another Selection Sunday

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 12th, 2017

With just a few hours to go before the brackets are revealed, there are aren’t many programs around the country riding a bigger wave than Iowa StateSteve Prohm‘s team has elevated its play over the last several weeks and is clicking at precisely the right time, downing Oklahoma State, TCU and West Virginia in succession en route to its third Big 12 Tournament crown in four seasons. This isn’t the most talented Cyclones team since Fred Hoiberg resurrected the program, but it may be the most cohesive. Here are three key reasons why.

Iowa State has given its fans plenty to be excited about during their recent stretch of play. (Danny Medley/USA Today)

  • Veteran leadership: The is a cliche rooted in truth — the Cyclones’ core of Monte’ MorrisNaz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas comprise the winningest class in program history. Their run started as supporting players on the 2013-14 squad, the first Iowa State team to make the Sweet Sixteen since the Larry Eustachy era. Following their first-round NCAA Tournament loss to UAB a year later and Hoiberg’s subsequent departure to the NBA, a vocal subset of fans questioned the sustainability of the Iowa State program. While Prohm’s tenure hasn’t come without some speed bumps, his team is now in great position based on the combined strength and experience of his nucleus.

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Rushed Reactions: West Virginia 51, Kansas State 50

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2017

RTC’s Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) is providing on-site coverage of the Big 12 Tournament.

West Virginia Pulls Off the Comeback (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Offense was nowhere to be found in first-half slog. In their previous two meetings against the Mountaineers, Kansas State struggled to hold onto the ball, posting turnover rates above 20 percent. West Virginia’s press didn’t frustrate the Wildcats quite as much tonight, as Bob Huggins‘ team generated takeaways on just 18.3 percent of Kansas State’s possessions. Instead, it was poor half-court offense, inaccurate three-point shooting and a lack of offensive rebounds that set the Wildcats back early — scoring just 0.78 points per possession before halftime. Those struggles would have been a much bigger issue had West Virginia scored more than 0.50 points per trip itself.
  2. West Virginia’s defensive adjustment keys second-half rally. The Mountaineers’ defensive identity as a pressing team is firmly entrenched, but it’s tough to set it up if you don’t make shots. West Virginia shot an ice-cold 18.8 percent in the first half and failed to score a single point 0ff a Kansas State giveaway until the second half. Huggins switched things up down the stretch, deploying a 1-3-1 zone that worked all the way down to the final play, when Kamau Stokes picked up his dribble and had nowhere to go with his team needing a bucket to win. The Wildcats connected on just four shots over the final 13:26 of the game, buying just enough time for the Mountaineers to make up a 12-point deficit.
  3. Isaiah Maurice provides another big body. Two years into his career, Dean Wade is still mostly a one-way big man who struggles to defend similarly-sized players. D.J. Johnson can’t do it all down low, so Bruce Weber needs another option. Enter the unlikely Maurice, a redshirt freshman and former Old Dominion commitment. Maurice helped the Wildcats contain Johnathan Motley on Thursday and performed admirably on Friday in 20 minutes of action. West Virginia shot just 2-of-15 inside the arc in the first half, with Maurice holding down the paint and altering shots by Jevon Carter and Nathan Adrian. Until Wade becomes more assertive on the defensive end, expect Maurice to continue to play a key role in the Wildcats’ rotation.

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Rushed Reactions: Iowa State 84, TCU 63

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 10th, 2017

RTC’s Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) is providing on-site coverage of the Big 12 Tournament.

Iowa State Seems to Have this Big 12 Tournament Thing Down Pat (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. The long ball propels the Cyclones to a laugher. Friday night was classic Hoiball, as the Cyclones scorched the nets to the tune of a 48 percent clip from deep. Iowa State connected in transition, in half-court sets, off the bounce and on catch-and-shoots. Steve Prohm‘s use of forward Solomon Young in the starting lineup also continued to pay dividends. While he’s hardly an offensive force, he pulled TCU’s defense inward just enough to provide space for the likes of Naz Mitrou-LongMonte’ Morris and Matt Thomas to fire away with plenty of clean looks. Iowa State was also highly efficient inside the arc, but the three-ball continues to be the Cyclones’ bread and butter. They will enter Saturday’s championship game shooting a mind-blowing 47 percent from deep over their last 11 games.
  2. Deonte Burton was at his best. Burton won’t ever be mistaken for Georges Niang, but he’s similarly difficult for opponents to match up with. He scored nine of Iowa State’s first 11 points and carried that confidence through the rest of the night, sinking jumper after jumper on his way to a game-high 22 points. The senior transfer also made some smooth passes in transition and was active on the glass, displaying his usual versatility. Burton is just as capable of shooting his team into losses as he is of shooting them into wins, but Iowa State didn’t need his ‘A’ game to beat a gassed TCU team tonight. He brought it anyway and his contributions played a key role in building a lead big enough for Prohm to comfortably pull his starters down the stretch.
  3. TCU builds a strong foundation in Jamie Dixon’s first year. The national media didn’t pay much attention to TCU before the Horned Frogs upset Kansas on Thursday afternoon, but to be fair, there wasn’t much reason for them to. TCU played a lax non-conference schedule and went just 1-9 against teams in the top half of the Big 12 standings this season. The development on its roster was apparent, however, as the core of Kenrich Williams, Alex Robinson, Jaylen Fisher and Vladimir Brodziansky made tremendous strides throughout the season. The Horned Frogs won’t be anonymous for much longer. This season’s starting lineup has no seniors and reinforcements are on the way in the form of a recruiting class headlined by four-star signees Kevin Samuel and R.J. Nembhard.

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Big 12 Quarterfinal Takeaways

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 10th, 2017

Thursday’s quarterfinal round of the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City had a little bit of everything. While #1 seed Kansas wasn’t at full strength with Josh Jackson out of the lineup, TCU pulled off what could be the upset of the week in college basketball in moving to the semifinals. The other afternoon game featured Iowa State’s Monte’ Morris and Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans putting on an entertaining show as the Cyclones treated their big contingency of traveling fans to a win. In the evening session, West Virginia wore Texas down in the only game that lacked significant drama, but Kansas State made up for it by winning a game it absolutely needed to stay alive for an at-large bid. Let’s get to the biggest takeaways from the day that was.

TCU guard Desmond Bane hit three decisive free throws after being fouled by Svi Mykhailiuk with the game tied in the closing seconds. (Nick Krug/KUSports.com)

  • TCU stuns Kansas, but the Jayhawks are still in position for a #1 seed. Prior to Thursday afternoon’s upset, Jackson’s suspension didn’t seem like a deal-breaker. Kansas had swept TCU in the regular season, including a December 30 win in Fort Worth where the freshman wing scored four points and fouled out in 12 forgettable minutes. As it turned out yesterday, however, Kansas sorely missed Jackson’s presence, especially on the offensive glass. The Horned Frogs, playing for the second day in a row, rebounded 78.8 percent of Kansas’ misses, about 10 percent above their season-long rate. Still, despite the shock factor, this isn’t a devastating loss for Kansas. The Jayhawks won the nation’s top-rated conference by four games, beat Kentucky, Baylor and Iowa State on the road, and outlasted Duke on a neutral court. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that when Kansas begins its NCAA Tournament appearance on March 17, it will be playing in just its fourth game in 19 days, and Jackson will be playing his first game in almost two whole weeks. The Jayhawks could benefit from some rest and a #16 seed will provide a chance to shake off any rust, but it’s a very different stretch from what the team has grown accustomed to.

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Four Storylines Heading into the Big 12 Tournament

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 8th, 2017

While the Big 12 figures to take a step back from 2016 in terms of NCAA Tournament participation, the league has once again enjoyed a stellar season. You could certainly look at Kansas winning the regular season championship by four games and conclude that it wasn’t all that great, but a look under the hood reveals a different stance. Of the 90 league games that were played this season, 43 were decided by five points or fewer (or in overtime) and just two were decided by 20 points or more. Although the majority of the league’s NCAA Tournament fates are already sealed, we should be in for more several more exciting finishes over the next four days. Here are the four biggest storylines worth following this week in Kansas City.

Frank Mason takes his POY campaign to Kansas City for the Big 12 Tournament (Reed Hoffmann/Getty Images)

  1. Kansas State has everything to play for. After losing eight of 10 games, the Wildcats rejoined the bubble conversation by closing its regular season with victories in must-win games against TCU and Texas Tech. Bruce Weber also appears to have received a temporary reprieve from the hot seat with athletic director John Currie stepping down, so things are trending in the right direction in Manhattan. A win over Baylor in Thursday’s quarterfinals should remove any lingering doubts over an NCAA Tournament bid, and senior D.J. Johnson is the most important piece of that puzzle. The injury-prone big man was healthy and, more importantly, productive in the team’s regular season finale, scoring 19 points on an efficient 8-of-11 shooting against the Red Raiders. He also helped contain standout Bears forward Johnathan Motley to 6-of-17 shooting in the Wildcats’ win over Baylor in early February.
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What Makes #13 Different For Kansas

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 23rd, 2017

Kansas‘ 13th consecutive regular season Big 12 title became a formality after its comeback win over Baylor last weekend, but it’s felt like an inevitability in practical terms since February 4 when the Jayhawks’ closest challengers failed to capitalize on a rare loss at Allen Fieldhouse. That doesn’t make The Streak (TM) any less impressive, however. In fact, this season’s run to the regular season title — a share of which was clinched in Wednesday’s 87-68 win over TCU — represents Bill Self‘s best coaching job since taking the reins at Kansas in 2003. Here are three reasons why.

Josh Jackson and Kansas battled challenged both internal and external on its way to a record-tying 13th consecutive regular season Big 12 title. (Orlin Wagner/AP Photo)

  • Conference Strength – The Big 12 has been the nation’s best conference for several years now, but it’s never been as deep as this year even if it only sends six teams to the NCAA Tournament this time. The residents of the conference’s cellar help tell the story, too. Oklahoma at 3-12 is the worst team in the league, but the Sooners still rank among KenPom’s top 75 with a resume that includes a win at West Virginia and close losses to Baylor, Oklahoma State (twice), TCU and Wichita State. All five of those opponents are either safe bets to make the NCAA Tournament or right on the periphery, which goes to show that the also-rans of the other power leagues simply can’t compare. With just two league losses to date, Kansas leads the Big 12 by three games and could add even more padding before the regular season ends.

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Kansas’ Kryptonite: Five Teams That Can Cause Problems for the Jayhawks

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 16th, 2017

Monday night’s memorable comeback win over West Virginia effectively sealed Kansas’ record-tying 13th straight Big 12 title — if not mathematically, then symbolically. Yes, Baylor could topple the Jayhawks on Saturday in Waco to pull within a single game in the standings with two weeks left, but the Bears also must face the same Mountaineers team that steamrolled them last month and travel to Hilton Coliseum. Even if Baylor were to beat the odds and win out, Kansas’ finale in Stillwater represents the only other remaining game it could foreseeably lose, as its other three match-ups are home tilts against TCU and Oklahoma and a road game against Texas. And even if the improbable occurs and Kansas drops its final game along with Baylor winning its last five, the Jayhawks would still be in possession of a share of the conference title. So while the confetti may not officially fly in Lawrence for a couple more weeks, the gameday crew can start stocking up on cannons and CO2 without much apprehension. As far as March is concerned, Kansas’ status as the champion of the nation’s toughest conference may cement its standing as a #1 seed no matter what happens at the Big 12 Tournament.

Devonte’ Graham and the Jayhawks are on the cusp of yet another Big 12 title. (AP Photo)

We know that Kansas has a National Championship ceiling because it boasts three-point shooters all over the floor, one of the game’s best coaches, a one-and-done wing who is becoming more impressive by the day, and a penchant for closing out tight games in preparation for single-elimination basketball. On the other hand, though, those close games have revealed some weaknesses that opponents can exploit to send the Jayhawks home early. With their fate as a top-two NCAA Tournament seed all but assured, it’s not too early to look around the rest of the field and identify a handful of teams that could give Kansas some serious headaches when the brackets are revealed 24 days from today.

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