Trae Young Leads Salty Sooners Back on to the National Radar

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 28th, 2017

When Oklahoma lost Buddy Hield, Ryan Spangler and Isaiah Cousins after their trip to the 2016 Final Four, the Sooners predictably dropped off. They were better than their 11-20 overall record last year suggested, but you couldn’t fault anyone for tuning them out as it quickly became clear that a return to the postseason wasn’t in the cards. Just one season later, though, Lon Kruger‘s team is right back to putting up explosive numbers with one of the country’s best guards leading the way. To be clear, freshman point guard Trae Young and the former NPOY Hield are vastly different players, even aside from their different track records. Whereas Hield made most of his hay off the ball, Young is a more balanced offensive threat possessing savvy court vision to boot. In the early going, though, Young is showing that he could have a similarly memorable campaign in Norman.

After an off-year in 2016-17, Oklahoma is back among the most exciting teams in college basketball. (AP Photo/Troy Wayrynen)

Facing legitimate competition for the first time this season, Young balled out at the PK80 event in Portland, averaging 34.7 points per game across three tilts against Arkansas, Portland, and Oregon, while putting up a hyper-efficient 70.8 percent true shooting percentage. The freshman has excelled everywhere on the floor — shooting 38.6 percent from three-point range, 57.1 percent inside the arc, and 89.4 percent at the free throw line. For greater context, his 8.0 fouls drawn per 40 minutes dwarf Frank Mason’s clip of 5.5 per 40 last season, and he’s making his opponents pay at the stripe. Young’s aggression while leading the third-fastest offense in the country occasionally backfires in the form of a bad pass or ill-advised shot, but those miscues haven’t yet been detrimental to the Sooners, nor are they currently keeping him from occupying the top spot in KenPom’s National Player of the Year rankings.

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Rushed Reactions: #22 Baylor 65, Creighton 59

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 22nd, 2017

RTC is providing coverage of The Hall Of Fame Classic in Kansas City.

Three Key Takeaways.

Baylor Showed Impressive Poise in Winning the HOF Classic Tonight (USA Today Images)

  1. Jo-Lual Acuil brought the intensity on the defensive glass. Creighton wasn’t known as a gifted rebounding team coming into tonight’s championship game and Baylor’s Jo Lual-Acuil ensured that would remain the case tonight. While the senior’s extreme length gives him an inherent advantage nearly every night out, his lack of bulk in the form of a 225-pound body on a 7’0″ frame and corresponding effort isn’t always there. This means that he can be too easily moved off the blocks by other high-level forwards like Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ. For at least one night, however, Lual-Acuil flipped the script in pulling down 15 of his team’s 38 total rebounds to deny Creighton a number of opportunities for second chance points.
  2. Both teams turned up the defense. After allowing 1.06 points per possession to UCLA on Monday night, Creighton head coach Greg McDermott stressed the need for his team to improve its defense. As a result, the Bluejays put the clamps on Baylor’s offense by hard-hedging screens at the point of attack, preventing the smallish Manu Lecomte from locating defenders over the top. On the other end of the floor, Baylor tightened things up after giving up several Creighton drives in the first half. The Bears were much more active defensively down the stretch, holding the Bluejays to just 29 percent shooting after the half.
  3. Marcus Foster is going to want tonight’s effort back. Creighton needed a spark in the second half but the senior guard hurt his team more than he helped in shooting a frosty 5-of-17 from the floor, including a ghastly 1-of-9 dud from the three-point line. Foster’s last two misfires, a pair of corner threes during the final minute, sealed Creighton’s fate and allowed the Bears to leave town with the Hall of Fame Classic title.

Player of the Game. King McClure, Baylor. The Bears were offensively starved for most of the night, but the junior stepped up in an impressive manner, scoring 15 of his game-high 19 points after the intermission. Mixing several tough drives with a pair of three-pointers, McClure showed the ability that has made him such a valued part of Scott Drew‘s unit over the last two seasons.

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Rushed Reactions: #22 Baylor 70, Wisconsin 65

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 21st, 2017

RTC is providing coverage of The Hall Of Fame Classic in Kansas City.

Three Key Takeaways.

Baylor Was Just Too Much For Wisconsin Tonight (USA Today Images)

  1. Baylor survived a scare. Baylor asserted its experience, athleticism and range in the early going over Wisconsin tonight, leading by as many as 19 points before letting up in the second half and allowing the Badgers’ Ethan HappBrad Davison and Brevin Pritzl to get loose. While the Bears ultimately prevailed and will advance to the Hall of Fame Classic championship game, it felt more like Wisconsin simply ran out of time in its comeback attempt. Baylor is a highly formidable team and is fortunate to have one of the country’s best free throw shooters in Manu Lecomte (93.9% this season) to put close games on ice the way he did Monday night, but the Bears might not be so lucky the next time they take their foot off the gas.
  2. Wisconsin had the right game plan, but a lack of early execution early did them in. Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard had the right idea in how to attack Baylor’s aggressive 1-3-1 zone, running side pick-and-roll actions to open up backdoor passing lanes and baseline drives. The problem was that the Badgers couldn’t get a number of close looks to go down early. As Baylor built up its lead, the Badgers fell out of sorts and started to panic. Wisconsin certainly didn’t give up after a difficult start, though, narrowing that 19-point gap to just two in the final two minutes, but its early mistakes were just too much to overcome. Still, as the new core develops and Gard learns who he can trust, it became increasingly clear that Wisconsin will return to Big Ten contention before long.
  3. Jo Lual-Acuil flashed some seldom-seen range. To this point in his career, the Australian senior’s game has been all about defense and low post play. But tonight, Lual-Acuil nailed a couple threes and showed a comfort level with the shot that you don’t often see from a seven-footer. He’ll never be mistaken for a sharpshooter, but he’ll certainly be an increasingly frustrating big man to guard if he continues to show a serviceable face-up game.

Player Of The Game. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin. Though his team came up short tonight, Happ led by example, pacing his team in points (23), rebounds (13), assists (4) and blocks (3). The junior All-America candidate utilized an impressive array of back cuts and post moves in frustrating Baylor’s more athletic frontcourt, almost single-handedly willing the Badgers back into the contest.

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Rushed Reactions: Creighton 100, #23 UCLA 89

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 20th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage of The Hall Of Fame Classic in Kansas City.

Three Key Takeaways.

Creighton Fans Had Some Fun at the Expense of UCLA Monday Night (USA Today Images)

  1. Creighton played with pace but also with intelligence. The Bluejays are known for their frenetic pace but every movement tonight had a purpose, and that purpose was to find smart shots. Greg McDermott‘s team attacked the paint relentlessly, resulting in easy buckets and numerous trips to the free throw line (31 FTA). Creighton also turned the ball over on only 9.4 percent of their possessions, meaning that they got at least one shot up on practically every trip down the floor. The Bluejays’ defense wasn’t always at its best tonight, but Big East teams should be terrified by their potent combination of fearlessness and efficiency.
  2. UCLA’s lack of frontcourt depth was exposed. The Bruins had trouble containing Creighton down low all night, whether it was in the form of Marcus Foster, Ty-Shon Alexander or Khyri Thomas barging through the lane. As a result, UCLA big man Thomas Welsh picked up three personal fouls in the first half alone, and frustration set in throughout the remainder of the game as UCLA gave several hard fouls which only resulted in more easy points. A greater amount of production from Gyorgy Goloman and Alex Olesinski would have helped significantly, but both fell short tonight (four points and six rebounds combined in 35 minutes of action).
  3. Ronnie Harrell did the dirty work down low. With starting big man Toby Hegner still missing time with an ankle injury, McDermott gave the junior forward Harrell his first career start this evening. Harrell put in an effort reminiscent of Creighton alumnus and 2017 College Basketball Hall Of Fame inductee Paul Silas, pulling down 15 rebounds and denying a number of second chances to UCLA’s talented offense.

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Tim Duncan and Jay Williams Lead 2017 College Basketball HOF Class

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 20th, 2017

One of the most fun things about following college basketball is observing its constant evolution, but it’s also fascinating to look back on the legends who impacted the game regardless of their era. On Sunday night in Kansas City, the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame enshrined its 2017 class, whose membership ranges from a former player-turned analyst who has yet to turn 40 to a pioneer who faced impossible challenges during integration. Let’s take a look at each.

Tim Duncan was an unstoppable force for Wake Forest, showing the dazzling post moves, defensive dominance and tremendous intelligence that made him an all-time great. (Getty)

  • Tim Duncan, Wake Forest: Before he was the linchpin for one of American sports’ top dynasties with the San Antonio Spurs, The Big Fundamental put together one of the most illustrious college careers of any big man to ever play the game. In a four-year career from 1993-97, Duncan was the 1997 National Player of the Year, a two-time consensus First Team All-American, two-time ACC Player of the Year and three-time NABC Defensive Player of the Year. The reserved big man made the game look effortless by combining his raw athletic ability with a high basketball IQ in soaking up the game’s nuances faster than anyone could have imagined. He famously rejected several opportunities to go pro despite favorable projections after each year and became the first player in college basketball history to notch 1,500 points, 1,000 rebounds, 400 blocked shots and 200 assists.
  • Jay Williams, Duke: With a devastating motorcycle injury that effectively limited his playing days to 75 NBA games, Williams’ professional career ended almost as soon as it began. We’ll always wonder what could have been, though, because the 2002 Duke graduate was one of the most talented, explosive and accomplished players the college level has ever seen. Williams was an all-time great college point guard and played a key role on one of the best Duke teams ever, pacing the 2001 National Championship Blue Devils in scoring (21.6 PPG), three-point shooting (42.7% 3FG) and winning the NABC’s Player of the Year award. Even though he had every reason to turn professional that summer, he returned to Durham to get his degree and put up another amazing season by sweeping every NPOY honor in 2002.

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Five Big 12 Feast Week Storylines to Watch

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 20th, 2017

Feast Week is here, and with it comes the first chance for many Big 12 teams to see how they stack up against legitimate competition. The storylines around the league haven’t evolved significantly over the season’s first two weeks, but in case you need a primer, here’s a quick breakdown on what to watch for as you gorge yourself on college hoops and turkey this week.

Baylor will need Jo Lual-Acuil’s intensity this week in Kansas City. (Tom Pennington/Getty)

  1. Will Baylor assert its will on the offensive glass against Wisconsin? The Bears were the third-best team in college basketball at rebounding their own misses last season and are off to a strong start again this year — logging an offensive rebounding rate of 41.3 percent through their first three wins. Wisconsin, however, is a different animal than the likes of Central Arkansas, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Alcorn State, rebounding 83.5 percent of its opponents’ tries. Baylor’s offense has been very efficient in the first week-plus, but the Bears’ big men have effectively gone unchallenged inside. Ethan Happ and Andy Van Vliet bring an element of size that Baylor has yet to face, so outlasting the Badgers on the glass will be vital in this rematch from the 2014 Sweet Sixteen.
  2. How will Matt Coleman fare in facilitating Texas’ offense? The freshman point guard has brought some much-needed stability to Texas’ backcourt, dishing out 10 assists against just one turnover over 74 minutes across the Longhorns’ first three games. Still, Shaka Smart’s club ranks among the bottom 25 schools nationally in assists per field goal. Coleman’s distributing ability wasn’t needed in Saturday’s blowout win over Lipscomb, but it’s going to be a different story in Portland this week when the Longhorns face Butler and potentially Duke. Read the rest of this entry »
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On What Bill Self Likes Most…

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 15th, 2017

Bill Self absolutely loves hustle plays and grind-it-out wins. A coach doesn’t simply roll out elite defensive units on the regular without emphasizing the little things. No matter how good his teams are offensively, or how many NBA prospects come through his program, or how many Big 12 titles he piles up, Self values few things more than a dive for a loose ball, a winning battle on the glass or an offensive angle denied. Conversely, there isn’t much that grinds Self’s gears settling for sub-optimal shots. The Jayhawks did plenty of the former in their 65-61 win over Kentucky on Tuesday night, but there was also too much of the latter, and that will have to improve for Kansas to ultimately reach its National Championship potential.

Kansas won a rock fight Tuesday night utilizing the kind of defensive intensity Bill Self loves. (AP)

The strength of this team coming into the season was in the explosiveness of its backcourt. That will continue for as long as Self has just three scholarship big men on his roster, and especially as long as he has just two scholarship big men while the school figures out exactly what is going on with Billy Preston’s car. That said, the talented guard corps didn’t fully show up against Kentucky. Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Malik Newman made all the right plays down the stretch to secure the win, but the trio also shot just 30 percent from the field for the game. Lagerald Vick made some good contributions too, but not as many as he could have in stumbling to a 4-of-14 shooting mark. Even while playing small lineups against the Wildcats’ long and hyper-athletic roster, Kansas rebounded 38.0 percent of its own misses and generated turnovers on a staggering 25.7 percent of Kentucky’s trips down the floor. That resulted in 20 second-chance points, but Kansas still only tabulated 0.93 points per possession as a result of suspect shot selection and poor execution around the rim.

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Big 12 Notebook: Opening Weekend

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 13th, 2017

Most of the Big 12 started its season with resounding victories over the weekend, but the two exceptions were certainly glaring as they came in matchups that pitted teams against programs from other power conferences. After a solid start to the game, West Virginia completely fell apart against Texas A&M on Friday night in Germany. Back in America, Iowa State got much more than it bargained for when the Cyclones agreed to play a very different Missouri program a year ago as the Tigers soundly defeated their old conference foe in Columbia. Elsewhere around the league, two heralded recruits got their first tastes of Division I action and did not disappoint. Here are the three items that stuck out the most over the Big 12’s opening weekend.

1. West Virginia falls flat against Texas A&M.

Texas A&M handled West Virginia’s press with ease on Friday night. (Michael Probst/AP)

When the Mountaineer press is working and they’re crashing the offensive glass, West Virginia is incredibly tough to beat. This is not a new development, but it’s worth a reminder as the season tips off, because when they don’t do either of those things, it’s a very different story as we saw on Friday night. In an 88-65 blowout loss to Texas A&M, the Mountaineers generated turnovers on just 23 percent of the Aggies’ possessions and rebounded their own misses just 23 percent of the time. Disappointing results on those two fronts put the pressure on Bob Huggins‘ half-court offense to produce, but any chance of that was snuffed out by Billy Kennedy’s switch to a zone defense midway through the first half. Combine all of that with big shooting nights from the Aggies’ Admon Gilder (4-of-6 3FG) and JJ Hogg (4-of-5 3FG) and there was just too much to overcome. Huggins mentioned earlier this month that he may pull back on the press in spots, citing the team’s changing roster, and with the Mountaineers facing a relatively lax schedule over the next couple weeks, don’t be surprised if he utilizes those opportunities to do a little tinkering.

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Big 12 Burning Questions: Kansas Jayhawks

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 10th, 2017

This preview is part of RTC’s 2017-18 preseason coverage.

Burning Question: How much will Kansas’ small ball lineups compensate for another thin frontcourt?

It took some time for Bill Self to embrace both his roster and basketball’s changing landscape in the era of pace and space, but he did just that in 2017, even if it took a season-ending injury to center Udoka Azubuike to fully make the leap. Three-pointers comprised 35.9 percent of Kansas’ shot attempts last season, the highest rate of any of Self’s teams during his illustrious career. The Jayhawks connected on 40 percent of those tries from distance, powering them to a highly successful season that included an 18-game winning streak, a 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season title, and a run to the Elite Eight. With a National Player of the Year leading his backcourt, a lottery pick on the wing and a heady center like Landen Lucas patrolling the middle, Self once again succeeded without the services of a deep stable of big men. The question for this season is whether Kansas can continue playing that way without any of those three elements in place — because the pressure will certainly once again be on Kansas’ guards to convert from deep.

Devonte’ Graham knows what the 2017-18 Jayhawks will be all about. (Getty)

Kansas’ backourt shouldn’t regress significantly from last year despite the departure of NPOY Frank Mason. Devonte’ Graham will lead the charge as the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year, but transfer guard Malik Newman could become the team’s leading scorer after sitting out last year. The redshirt sophomore averaged 32.5 points per 40 minutes during the Jayhawks’ August trip to Italy, and while those numbers aren’t fully indicative of how he will fare against better competition, they may provide a hint of what to expect. It feels like Svi Mykhailiuk has tested the waters every summer he’s been in Lawrence, but he’s back in a Kansas uniform for his senior year. The Ukrainian can get hot in a hurry and play some point guard in a pinch, but he’s also a defensive liability that clearly frustrates Self from time to time.

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Big 12 Burning Questions: West Virginia Mountaineers

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 9th, 2017

This preview is part of RTC’s Big 12 2017-18 preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Could Esa Ahmad’s lengthy suspension be a blessing in disguise?

One of the benefits of “Press Virginia” is that it’s difficult for the loss of any single player to cause the team to implode. There’s nothing that epitomizes “next man up” quite like having 10 players available who averaged at least 10 minutes per game as the Mountaineers had in 2017, so even if Bob Huggins‘ team drops a few non-conference games in the first half of this season while junior Esa Ahmad is sidelined with an eligibility suspension, the Mountaineers should be alright. But let’s take it one step further. While West Virginia would obviously prefer to have its second-leading scorer available to face the likes of Texas A&M and Virginia, it’s easy to envision a scenario where the Mountaineers ultimately benefit from his absence, as it gives the team a chance to develop a frontcourt that also lost stalwarts Nathan Adrian, Elijah Macon and Brandon Watkins.

West Virginia will search for depth while big man Esa Ahmad starts the season on the bench. (Kelsie LeRose/BGS)

Sophomore Sagaba Konate is a strong bet to start in Ahmad’s absence. The Mali native had a raw freshman season, but gained Huggins’ trust as the season played out, averaging 12.2 minutes per game in Big 12 play. The temperamental head coach even praised Konate’s improvement at Big 12 Media Day last month, noting that the big man has started to flash some range. Expect to also see more time from sophomores Maciej Bender and Logan Routt, though they are bigger mysteries. The pair combined to play just 179 minutes last season, with most of those minutes going to Bender. Aside from Konate, the Mountaineers’ most experienced big man wasn’t even on the roster a year ago. Assistant coach Ronnie Everhart is high on 6’8″ JuCo transfer Wesley Harris, a lefty who offers enough size and agility to play the four in West Virginia’s breakneck system. Harris has reportedly played well in practice and should be ready to become a key contributor both during and after Ahmad’s suspension. Lamont West will play on the wing and be counted on to stem the tide in the meantime.

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