Big 12 Offseason Storylines to Follow

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 24th, 2017

The Big 12 had a decent but ultimately unimpressive showing in this year’s postseason. Of the league’s six NCAA Tournament teams, three advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, but only one advanced to the Elite Eight, and we all know what happened from there as Kansas flamed out to Jordan Bell and the Oregon Ducks. With the offseason now upon us and some time ahead to reflect, here are a few storylines worth following this summer and into the start of the 2017-18 season.

Frank Mason Takes His Hardware to the Next Level (USA Today Images)

  • How will Kansas retool? Frank Mason III leaves Lawrence as one of the most decorated players in program history. His wonderful four-year career won’t soon be forgotten, but it doesn’t change the fact that Kansas needs to figure out its point guard situation moving forward. Transfer Malik Newman can serve as the Jayhawks’ floor general in a pinch, but he’s more of a scoring guard than a facilitator and Bill Self has already said that he sees the redshirt sophomore manning the two. Barring a surprise commitment from elite point guard prospect Trevon Duval, the Jayhawks are looking at some combination of Devonte’ Graham and freshman Marcus Garrett handling the team’s ball-handling duties next season. Self also needs some frontcourt depth following the departures of Landen Lucas, Josh Jackson and Carlton Bragg, but the point guard position will be the most intriguing roster question as the Jayhawks begin their pursuit of a 14th consecutive regular season Big 12 title next fall.
  • A new era at Iowa State. Despite 47 wins and a Sweet Sixteen appearance in two seasons in Ames, Steve Prohm needs to show what he can do without the services of Monte’ Morris, Deonte Burton, Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas in the lineup. The job now becomes one of rebuilding for the Cyclone program, but there is somewhat of a foundation from which to work. Solomon Young, Donovan Jackson, transfer Ray Kasongo, Cameron Lard and highly-touted freshman Lindell Wigginton are interesting building blocks, but don’t appear to offer the ceiling of Hoiberg and Prohm’s best teams. The early going next season may be a little rocky as this group becomes accustomed to playing with each other, but a top-half finish in Big 12 play would be an admirable achievement. Fans should additionally keep an eye on Prohm’s pursuit of coveted JuCo forward Shakur Juiston.

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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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The Big 12 Bubble Picture Remains Hazy

Posted by Nate Kotisso on March 8th, 2017

From now until Sunday evening, those viewing the various conference tournament games around the country will see a flurry of “last four in,” “first four out” and “next four out” graphics that will make you question whether you’ve lived your life the way you hoped. Let’s work under the impression that Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma State and West Virginia are already safe bets to make the upcoming Field of 68. In order to lower the risk of convulsing at the sight of these graphics, here is a guide of where Kansas State, TCU and Texas Tech stand heading into the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament. So make sure to bookmark this article for the rest of the week. Your life depends on it.

You might think this screencap from The Simpsons’ season three premiere episode “Stark Raving Dad” has nothing to do with college hoops. But you would be wrong. Above is Leon Kompowsky, an insane asylum roommate of Homer Simpson’s who was voiced by the late Michael Jackson. Here, Kompowsky (voiced by Jackson) takes out his pet monkey and says to it, “Bubbles, it’s gonna be a long night.” Hence, the bubble talk. (20th Century Fox)

*RPI and SOS numbers via CBSSports.com

Kansas State Wildcats

Record: 19-12 (8-10); RPI: 58, SOS: 53, Non-conference SOS: 223, KenPom: 32

  • What they have: Thank goodness for conference play. The Wildcats put together a respectable 11-1 record through Christmas but their only non-conference win during that stretch was on a neutral court against Colorado State. Kansas State recovered from its weak schedule by snagging several important Big 12 victories versus West Virginia and Baylor at home and Oklahoma State on the road.
  • Anything to add: One win at this week’s Big 12 Tournament would clinch it. Considering that the Wildcats’ first game would come against former #1 Baylor, a second victory over the Bears would provide plenty of justification. But it probably isn’t necessary. If K-State loses on Thursday, there is a distinct possibility that the Wildcats will still slide into the field on the overall strength of the Big 12.

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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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Iowa State’s Recent Winning Streak Reveals Its March Potential

Posted by Chris Stone on March 3rd, 2017

On February 4, Iowa State flashed the peak of its potential. On that fateful day, the Cyclones held on to win at iconic Allen Fieldhouse for the first time since 2005, ending Kansas’ 54-game home winning streak and handing Jayhawks’ head coach Bill Self just his 10th loss ever at the venue. All it took was an overtime, 92 points and a school-record 18 three-pointers. It also represents Iowa State’s offense at its best — an efficient scoring machine capable of raining down a barrage of jumpers on its competition. The scary thing is that the Cyclones haven’t cooled off since — they’ve been performing at a similar level for the last month. After beating the Jayhawks, Iowa State stumbled on the road at Texas, but has won six straight since. During that stretch, Steve Prohm‘s squad has converted 1.21 points per trip, taking 40.7 percent of their shots from behind the arc and making 48.5 percent of those attempts. For greater context, that would easily rank as the best three-point rate nationally over the course of a season. It is a sustained run of shooting unlike anything Iowa State has seen this season.

Naz Mitrou-Long has helped key Iowa State’s hot shooting streak. (Reese Strickland/USA TODAY Sports)

For most of this season, Iowa State has oscillated between scorching hot shooting nights and cold spells. In the last six games, however, the Cyclones have converted better than 45 percent of their threes in every contest, but it’s tough to pinpoint the exact cause for this trend. Prohm moved big man Solomon Young into the starting lineup after the Texas game, but data from Hoop Lens suggests that Iowa State’s offense has been worse with the freshman on the floor during this stretch (largely because of turnovers). Take a look at the Cyclones’ three-point percentage by game in 2016-17. Read the rest of this entry »

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