One Burning Question: Will Steve Prohm’s Big Bet Pay Off?

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 1st, 2016

On the surface, the changes that Steve Prohm is asking Monte’ Morris to make this season seem rational. The Cyclones are coming off of a Sweet Sixteen appearance, but lost the Big 12’s fourth all-time scoring leader in Georges Niang and two other effective scorers in Abdel Nader and Jameel McKay. The thinking goes that someone has to pick up the slack, and who better to do so than a Preseason All-American and potential first round pick? Furthermore, recent history on both sides of the equation supports the notion that Prohm and Morris can pull this off. In 2014, Prohm’s offense turned Cameron Payne into a lottery pick at Murray State. The season before that, DeAndre Kane soaked up 27 percent of Iowa State’s possessions on the way to leading Iowa State to its first Sweet Sixteen in 14 years. So this should work too, right? I’m not so sure. In fact, there are a few reasons to be skeptical of how far Morris can carry this team, though admittedly, Prohm doesn’t have much choice.

Can Iowa State ride Monte' Morris back to the Big Dance? (AP/Charlie Neibergall)

Can Iowa State ride Monte’ Morris back to the Big Dance? (AP/Charlie Neibergall)

Perhaps the biggest difference between this Iowa State team and the last few versions is that opposing defenders will be locked in on Morris from the start. Matt Thomas and Naz Mitrou-Long are legitimate scoring threats who will divert some attention away from Morris, but defenses won’t be motivated to stay on them if they aren’t hitting their threes. Even if Thomas and Mitrou-Long pick up where they left off, though, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Morris — despite sporting an improved physique — will be able to successfully absorb the kind of volume the Cyclones hope to extract from him this season. Read the rest of this entry »

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One Burning Question: Will Jawun Evans and Phil Forte Get Enough Help Inside?

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 28th, 2016

After several years of underperformance, Oklahoma State finally parted ways with Travis Ford and made the splashiest move of the offseason in hiring Brad Underwood. A former Kansas State assistant, Underwood arrives in Stillwater with a shiny 89-14 record over three seasons at Stephen F. Austin, including an upset of his mentor Bob Huggins’ program, West Virginia, in the first round of last season’s NCAA Tournament. The returns of Phil Forte and Jawun Evans should provide Underwood with an excellent base to his first season. The sharpshooting Forte is an underrated Big 12 veteran who owns a career 38.9 percent three-point shooting clip and is an automatic 86.6 percent at the free throw line. Evans’ corresponding emergence as an NBA prospect on the strength of his advanced vision and handle gives the Cowboys a lift they badly need. The question this team faces, though, is a familiar one despite a new head coach at the helm: Will the Cowboys’ frontcourt be effective enough to keep opposing defenses from overloading on their two potent guards?

Phil Forte's return gives the Cowboys an instant boost. (Mic Smith/AP)

Phil Forte’s return gives the Cowboys an instant boost. (Mic Smith/AP)

The Cowboys under Ford were never known for stout frontcourts, and last season may have been their low point, especially on the offensive end. Oklahoma State shot a league-worst 55.2 percent at the rim, per hoop-math.com, relying on free throws and, without Forte, shaky three-point shooting to carry the load. It went about as poorly as you’d imagine, as the team finished last in the conference in offensive efficiency. Fortunately, Underwood could be the right guy to reverse the Pokes’ fortunes. His last two Lumberjack teams ranked 15th and sixth nationally in converting twos and were especially effective at the rim, shooting 67.7 percent on close looks last season and 63.3 percent the year before. The defenses that Underwood will see in the Big 12 will be more imposing than the ones he faced in the Southland, but the standard he’ll have to meet is mere respectability rather than elite production.

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One Burning Question: What’s In Store For Jamie Dixon’s First Season at TCU?

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 24th, 2016

TCU was woefully unprepared to compete in the Big 12 when the school jumped over from the Mountain West in 2012. Schollmaier Arena wasn’t in any kind of condition to attract the talent necessary to compete, and the hiring of Trent Johnson instead of a hungrier coach on the rise always seemed like a suspect move. TCU subsequently learned the hard way — in the form of an 8-64 league record over Johnson’s four seasons — that it needed to make serious investments in order to compete. After a $72 million renovation of its facility and the foresight to sense that Jamie Dixon and Pittsburgh were growing tired of each other, those investments have now been made. The upcoming season won’t define Dixon’s tenure at TCU, but with seven of last year’s nine rotation players returning, a top-50 recruiting class, and a promising transfer eligible in December, a solid foundation exists in Fort Worth for TCU to climb out of the Big 12 cellar.

TCU brought their man home. Is Big 12 relevance next for the Horned Frogs?. (Ron T. Ennis/Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

TCU brought their man home. Is Big 12 relevance next for the Horned Frogs? (Ron T. Ennis/Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

Backcourt: This is a group that has some potential, but it’s tough to see how the pieces fit together. Malique Trent is the team’s leading returning scorer at 11.6 points per game, but those points came on a paltry 38.9 percent shooting, including 25.2 percent from distance. Freshman Jaylen Fisher, who the Horned Frogs pried away from UNLV, is the prize of TCU’s recruiting class. He’s a play-making point guard rather than an attacker, but with a lack of high-level weapons around him, it may take some time before the team can fully capitalize on his skill set. The Horned Frogs should also get a boost from point guard Alex Robinson, who transferred over from Texas A&M when Trent Johnson was still coach and maintained his commitment through the transition. He won’t be eligible to play until after the fall semester ends, but he’ll be able to help Fisher shoulder the workload and give defenses a different look as a lefty.

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Keeping the Big 12 Expansion Doors Open

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 20th, 2016

For a little while on Monday, it seemed like the Big 12 might actually expand after months of indecisiveness. As we all know now, the league’s press conference ended up being a whole lot of nothing as commissioner Bob Bowlsby announced an extension of the status quo (until it comes up again this winter and we do this dance all over again). The will-they/won’t-they is frustrating enough for college football fans with their sport driving the decisions (or lack thereof), but it’s also exasperating on the basketball side as we’re merely along for the ride. If there’s any solace we can take from the seemingly seasonal Big 12 expansion talks, it is that the programs mentioned most frequently each have considerable basketball juice to bring to the table. Football may steer the ship in terms of overall revenue potential, but the hoops programs at BYU, Cincinnati and Connecticut would certainly make basketball even more competitive than it already is, with invested fan bases and strong histories in tow. Let’s take a closer look at each.

BYU

Jimmer Fredette Was a Household Name at BYU Several Years Ago (Jack Dempsey/AP)

Jimmer Fredette Was a Household Name at BYU Several Years Ago (Jack Dempsey/AP)

  • The Lowdown: The Cougars may not be as nationally relevant as they were when NPOY Jimmer Fredette was rewriting the school’s record books twice a week, but there’s still a lot to like about this program. Head coach Dave Rose has led BYU to NCAA Tournament appearances in eight of his 11 seasons at the helm, although they’ve only advanced to the Round of 32 twice and the Sweet Sixteen once in those chances. They play a very entertaining brand of offensive basketball, pushing tempo, valuing possessions, and knocking down threes. That might suggest a finesse style in the vein of Hoiberg-era Iowa State, but they also crash the defensive glass with complete abandon, ranking among the upper echelon in defensive rebounding rate on an annual basis.

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With such a high level of success and an entertaining blueprint to match, the Cougars have transformed the Marriott Center into a fortress, losing just four conference games there over the last three seasons. BYU regularly ranks among the top 15 schools in attendance, topping every current Big 12 program other than Kansas.

  • Recent Big 12 Meetings: The Cougars are incredibly tough to beat at home, but Iowa State did just that in November 2014, winning a 90-88 thriller in Provo. Just five days later, though, BYU exacted revenge on the Big 12 with an 86-82 win over Texas in Kansas City. Going back even further than that, BYU also lost to Iowa State in Ames in 2013 and dropped a pair of games to Baylor that same year — once in Waco and then in New York in the NIT semifinals. Read the rest of this entry »
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Three Big 12 Storylines to Follow this Season

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 11th, 2016

Whether you’ve noticed or not, college basketball is almost here. The league schedules have been released, public practices like Kansas’ Late Night in the Phog and Iowa State’s Hilton Madness have either come and gone or are on the horizon, blurbs are emerging of players losing weight or adding muscle, and coaches are talking about how they want to play faster and take pages from NBA teams’ playbooks. Even though college football, the NFL and baseball’s playoffs tend to dominate the national sports conversation this time of year, it’s nevertheless a good opportunity to start looking at the hoops season ahead (and let’s be honest, any time is a good time to talk hoops around here). We’ll have much, much more to come over the next month as the season draws near, but in the interest of keeping things simple at the opening tip, here are three storylines that will define one of the nation’s top conferences in 2016-17.

Bill Self's Jayhawks are well-positioned for yet another conference title in 2017. (John Rieger/USA TODAY Sports)

Bill Self’s Jayhawks are well-positioned for yet another conference title in 2017. (John Rieger/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Kansas goes for #13 – The Jayhawks lost one of the Big 12’s elder statesmen in Perry Ellis as well as two other mainstays in Wayne Selden and Jamari Traylor, but Bill Self‘s team is going to be loaded once again. Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham are back as the two-headed monster in the backcourt, Landen Lucas will hold own the center spot after running away with the job last season and Svi Mykhailiuk returns to provide an X-factor opposing coaches will have to respect, even if he only sees 10-15 minutes per game. Oh, and the potential #1 overall pick in next June’s draft in Josh Jackson will slide easily into Selden’s old spot, bringing versatility, rebounding and that #motor to the wing that Self loves so much. This team isn’t without questions — particularly how effective Carlton Bragg will be as a sophomore — but while there’s usually a token competitor who contrarians pick to upend the Jayhawks in the Big 12, the reality is that there’s no good reason to bet against Kansas matching both Gonzaga and the John Wooden-era UCLA teams with 13 consecutive regular season conference titles. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 Morning Five: 05.06.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on May 6th, 2016

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  1. The coaching carousel is essentially finished for the offseason, but it may not be long before we see movement of a bigger variety with expansion “likely” coming to the Big 12, per ESPN’s Matt Rittenberg. While the potential move would be football-driven — like most realignment shake-ups — it obviously would impact basketball as well, no matter who the Big 12 plucks. There are a handful of reasonable candidates for expansion (well, reasonable as far as realignment goes), but Cincinnati is particularly appealing and realistic for a few reasons, all of which make sense: Most importantly, they would instantly bring (what would be) the second-biggest TV market in the conference. The Bearcats also offer an underrated football program and, as we all know, a consistently strong hoops team. Lower on the list, their inclusion would provide a less taxing travel partner for West Virginia, which is 850 miles away from its closest Big 12 opponent, Iowa State. Cincinnati’s administration has been lobbying the Big 12 for inclusion over the past two years, and while that may not make them automatic, that familiarity certainly can’t hurt from either side. We’ll continue to keep an eye on any developments, but after a few years of rumblings, this summer could be the one where the talk finally leads to action.
  2. While there was never any reason to think that Josh Jackson would back out of his commitment to Kansas, the blue-chipper officially inked with the Jayhawks earlier this week, which means that Bill Self was allowed to talk publicly about him for the first time, and those first comments were pretty interesting. Among Self’s praises for the wing was the remark that “his (Jackson’s) impact on our program next year will be as much as any freshman will have on any college program.” While it’s traditional for coaches to talk up their newcomers, that particular comment sure sets a high bar when you consider how strong and deep the 2016 class is purported to be. Self went on to praise Jackson’s competitive nature, which is also worth pointing out in this space. One of themes of Kansas’ recent teams has been the lack of a vocal leader capable of igniting something within his more stoic teammates, so the degree to which that part of Jackson’s game translates in a much tougher environment will definitely be worth monitoring as the coming season wears on.
  3. Jamie Dixon‘s key challenge at TCU is finding prospects who are willing to spurn better programs in favor of one that has struggled mightily to achieve any semblance of success or build more than a passing following, but his first commitment in Fort Worth signifies that he’s up to the task. On Wednesday, the Horned Frogs secured the commitment of 2016 point guard prospect Jaylen Fisher, a former UNLV commit. The Running Rebels’ coaching shake-up led Fisher to reopen his recruitment, and he stayed loyal to his lead recruiter, former UNLV assistant Ryan Miller, who left Vegas to join Dixon’s staff. Perhaps more importantly, though, Fisher is a consensus top-75 recruit, which makes him TCU’s highest-ranking prospect in ages, crazy as that may sound. While the Horned Frogs will return most of their roster from last season, it’s also a roster that went 12-21, so Fisher will have a chance to make an impact from the get-go. It’s clear that Dixon is wasting no time in adding the level of talent that can change TCU’s fortunes in arguably the nation’s best conference.
  4. While there are still some players to be had through both the 2016 high school class and through transfer, the biggest Big 12 prospect still on the board is Jarrett Allen. The Longhorns are currently counting on rising senior Shaquille Cleare and freshman James Banks to fill the void left by the departures of Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh, which isn’t a great starting point. Cleare scored just 3.6 PPG last season as he struggled with conditioning and foul trouble, and while Banks may pan out eventually, he’s no guarantee to make an immediate impact. A commitment from Allen wouldn’t make Texas a top-ten team, but it would give Shaka Smart a little less to worry about as he looks to replace the Longhorns’ top three scorers, top three rebounders and top two shot blockers.
  5. Staying with the Longhorns, plans are reportedly being made for a December 17 match-up in Houston pitting Texas against Arkansas as part of a neutral court doubleheader. The Longhorns may be in rebuilding mode next year, but the Razorbacks will be a work in progress as well. Mike Anderson’s team is coming off a disappointing 2016 campaign that saw them go 16-16 and finish in a tie for eighth place in the SEC before losing its top freshman, Jimmy Whitt, to transfer. It won’t be the most intriguing match-up on paper regardless of what happens between now and then, but it’s early May; We’ll take whatever we can get.
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Texas Tech Rides the Coaching Carousel

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 16th, 2016

Sometimes, all it takes is one domino.

Just one week ago, Georgia Tech provided an improbable escape hatch for Josh Pastner at Memphis, which led the Tigers’ program to quickly move in uprooting well-traveled Tubby Smith from Texas Tech. On Friday, the Red Raiders responded by hiring Chris Beard from UNLV. Now, I’m not going to lie and say that Beard is an upgrade from Smith, and time will tell how it works out in the long run. In the short term, however, Texas Tech has emerged from a whirlwind week with only a few scratches when it could have been left bruised and bloodied.

Texas Tech reached back in its history in plucking Chris Beard from UNLV. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Texas Tech reached back in its history in plucking Chris Beard from UNLV. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Though critics have zeroed in on Beard’s transience by pointing out that this move marks his fifth job since 2011, it is very clear that the Texas Tech position represents something different to him than the three coaches the school has employed in the eight seasons since Bobby Knight retired in 2008. It may not necessarily prevent him from jumping again, but it is important in framing his decision to move. Beard’s daughters live in nearby Abilene and he toiled in Lubbock as an associate head coach under the Knights (Bobby and Pat) for 10 years, the longest he’s worked at a single school since entering the coaching profession in 1991. The fact that UNLV’s program appears to be teetering with leadership uncertainty and a roster that’s been almost completely gutted may have also played a role in Beard’s decision to pull the cord and return somewhere familiar.

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Big 12 Offseason Burning Questions, Part I

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 11th, 2016

In sending three teams to the Sweet Sixteen, two to the Elite Eight and one to the Final Four, the Big 12 put together a solid NCAA Tournament, but it wasn’t enough to put to rest its reputation as a group of postseason underperformers. The 2015-16 campaign wasn’t without its highlights, though. The story of the season nationally was the prevalence of experienced veterans over one-and-done interlopers, and the Big 12 played a key role in that narrative with seniors Buddy Hield, Perry Ellis and Georges Niang leading their teams deep into March. With those three studs (among others) moving on, though, it’s time to examine the burning question that each Big 12 team faces this offseason. Today we review Oklahoma, Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor and TCU.

Oklahoma (29-8, 12-6)

Oklahoma faces a tough rebuild as it loses Big 12 all-time leading scorer and National Player Of The Year Buddy Hield. (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

Oklahoma faces a rebuild as it loses Big 12 scoring king and National Player of the Year Buddy Hield. (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

What will the identity of post-Hield Oklahoma become? Between Hield, Isaiah Cousins, Ryan Spangler and Dinjyl Walker, Oklahoma is losing 64 percent of the scoring from last season’s lethal offensive unit. That’s a lot. Though we trust that head coach Lon Kruger will find a way eventually, in the meantime, the Sooners will face a tough road in the wake of heavy roster turnover. Jordan Woodard and Khadeem Lattin are expected back and there are some intriguing newcomers arriving in Kameron McGusty, Christian Doolittle and former Ohio State commitment Austin Grandstaff. But it’s tough to suffer the level of production Oklahoma is losing and still be expected to perform at a level comparable to last season’s Final Four squad. Very few programs in college basketball can reload that quickly.

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Final Four Previews: Oklahoma/Villanova Will Win If…

Posted by Brian Goodman & Tommy Lemoine on April 1st, 2016

We’re a little more than 24 hours from the Final Four, so it’s time to break down the upcoming games by determining what it will take for each team to win. Let’s start with the early battle between Oklahoma and Villanova, tipping off at 6:09 PM ET on Saturday evening. RTC’s Brian Goodman (Oklahoma) and Tommy Lemoine (Villanova) with the honors.

Oklahoma Will Win If…

Buddy Hield and the Sooners look to reverse the trend of poor shooting at the spacious NRG Stadium. (Getty Images)

Buddy Hield and the Sooners look to reverse the trend of poor-shooting teams at spacious NRG Stadium. (Getty Images)

  • It overcomes NRG Stadium’s reputation as a challenging shooting environment. Though the sample size isn’t overwhelming, teams have historically shot below their averages in the expansive confines of this year’s Final Four venue (as detailed last year by Ken Pomeroy and expanded upon earlier this week by Yahoo!‘s Jeff Eisenberg). The Sooners and Wildcats are notoriously reliant on jump-shooting, but what you may not know is just how eerily similar the two teams are in this fashion. Per hoop-math.com, 67.4 percent of Villanova’s field goal attempts this season have come away from the rim, and Oklahoma is just below the Wildcats in that category at 67.2 percent. Though it’s hardly earth-shattering, sometimes these things are simple: Whichever team solves the puzzle of performing well in spite of a tougher shooting environment will prevail, and with three Sooner regulars connecting from long range at rates of 42 percent or better, Oklahoma should have the slight edge.
  • It wins the battle of the interior. Should both teams struggle to find the range at NRG Stadium, inside play will become much more important to the outcome, and Oklahoma will have to answer some questions there. Ryan Spangler logged 10 points and eight rebounds against Texas A&M, but he hasn’t had a very good NCAA Tournament otherwise. The same can be said for rim-protector Khadeem Lattin, who went for 10 points and a pair of blocks against the Aggies, but has blocked just four shots in the Sooners’ other three tourney games. Though he’s technically a guard, freshman Christian James, a Houston native who emerged with a pair of quality outings in Anaheim, may be called upon to help inside as the Sooners look to best Daniel Ochefu and Kris Jenkins.

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Early Draft Declarations Create Uncertainty at Kansas

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 31st, 2016

Although Kansas fell short of expectations in failing to reach this weekend’s Final Four, the Jayhawks enjoyed another hugely successful season. They won the Maui Invitational, took home their 12th straight Big 12 title, broke a three-year Big 12 Tournament championship drought and earned the overall #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. When a team typically has that kind of year, it has at least a couple players talented enough to enter the NBA Draft. Wayne Selden and Brannen Greene have their warts as prospects, but they remain skilled players in the eyes of talent evaluators, and for that reason (among others, in Greene’s case), neither will be returning to Kansas next season. Their decisions could mean that Bill Self‘s method of addressing the openings created by his two departing wings could come to define his team’s offseason.

Will the allure of playing time created by roster defections be enough to keep Svi Mykhailiuk in Lawrence? (AP)

Will the allure of playing time created by roster defections be enough to keep Svi Mykhailiuk in Lawrence? (AP)

The Jayhawks’ tremendous depth this season means the team may be able to shoulder the losses of Selden and Greene with an in-house solution. Svi Mykhailiuk is a dynamic rising junior who can blow games open with his shooting — in a similar fashion to Greene — while possessing the ball-handling skills and court vision Greene lacked and Selden didn’t need. Of course, those attributes, in addition to Mykhailiuk’s young age (he doesn’t turn 19 until this June), make him a candidate for early entry as well. However, with Selden and Greene already officially gone from Kansas’ roster, the sophomore might see the situation as an opportunity to hone his skills for 20-plus minutes a night next season.

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