Post-Orlando Oklahoma Reset

Posted by Justin Fedich on November 23rd, 2016

Oklahoma didn’t make it to the championship game against Xavier at the Tire Pros Invitational but nearly everything else over the weekend in Orlando fell the Sooners’ way. An 89-70 win over Tulane was followed up by a blown lead against Northern Iowa (which knows a little something about blown leads) to lose 73-67 in overtime. The Sooners bounced back with a 70-64 victory against Clemson in the third place game on Sunday to notch a nice resume-enhancing win. Here are three takeaways from Oklahoma’s third place finish at the Tire Pros Invitational last weekend.

Jordan Woodard is clearly 'the guy' in Norman this year. (Sooner Sports)

Jordan Woodard is clearly ‘the guy’ in Norman this year. (Sooner Sports)

  1. Oklahoma’s bench is still a work in progress. This was to be expected considering that Lon Kruger’s bench rotation consists of two freshmen, Matt Freeman and Kameron McGusty; a transfer, Darrion Strong; and a sophomore (Jamuni McNeace) who averaged fewer than eight minutes per game last season. In the Tulane game, no bench player scored more than six points, although McNeace was able to pull down nine rebounds. In the Northern Iowa game, no bench player scored more than three points. Against Clemson, McGusty found a rhythm, going 6-of-8 from the field and scoring 14 points. Still, Kruger is giving 37 percent of his minutes to the bench without a corresponding level of production. He needs more. Read the rest of this entry »
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Feast Week Mission Briefing: Baylor in the Battle 4 Atlantis

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 23rd, 2016

Feast Week is here. To get you ready for the Big 12’s representation in the various holiday tournaments, our Feast Week Mission Briefings continue with Baylor in the Battle 4 Atlantis.

Catching Up: If you really think about it, Baylor didn’t have a lot to overcome heading into this season. The Bears only lost a double-double machine to the NFL (Rico Gathers), an NBA lottery pick (Taurean Prince) and the 10th-best assist man in college basketball last season (Lester Medford)… wait a minute, they DID lose a lot. And yet, despite those enormous personnel losses, the Bears haven’t looked anything like a team in rebuilding mode, getting off to an impressive 3-0 start that includes a pounding of Pac-12 favorite Oregon. This week’s Battle 4 Atlantis is another chance for Baylor to get ready for Big 12 competition, as a loaded field awaits the Bears in the Bahamas.

Baylor point guard Manu Lecomte (#20) has dazzled in his first three games as the Bears' new point guard. (Raymond Carlin III/USA Today Sports)

Baylor point guard Manu Lecomte (#20) has been impressive in his first three games as the Bears’ new point guard. (Raymond Carlin III/USA TODAY Sports)

Opening Round Preview: Baylor will open the tournament against VCU in perhaps a preview of the style they will see from Texas. Shaka Smart may be the architect of the full-court pressing HAVOC defense, but the Rams have continued this style of play under second year head coach Will Wade. Through three games, VCU ranks among the top 15 nationally in steal rate (13.7%), per KenPom. Compare that with Baylor’s first three opponents this year: Oral Roberts is 242nd in steal percentage; Oregon is 255th; and Florida Gulf Coast checks in at 339th. It’s clear that the dazzling point guard Manu Lecomte (16.7 PPG, 7.0 APG, 1.7 TOPG) will face his toughest opposition since arriving in Waco.

Potential Later Round Match-ups: Regardless of what happens against VCU, Baylor is in line for a second resume-building game in Atlantis against either Michigan State — one of the youngest and most talented teams in America — or St. John’s, a program on the rise with enough talented pieces to spring an upset. This is one of those tournaments that will allow the eight participating coaches to return to the United States with a very clear progress report on their teams.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Feast Week Mission Briefing: Texas Tech in the Cancun Challenge

Posted by Chris Stone on November 22nd, 2016

Feast Week is here. To get you ready for the Big 12’s representation in the various holiday tournaments over the next week, our Feast Week Mission Briefings continue today with Texas Tech in the Cancun Challenge.

Catching Up: Texas Tech currently sits at 3-0 and the Red Raiders have easily dispatched their first three opponents (all ranked 240th or worse nationally, according to KenPom). Head coach Chris Beard entered his first season in Lubbock with a plethora of talent with which to work and it has shown in his rotations. Nine different players are averaging double-figure minutes so far and only two, Justin Gray and Zach Smith, are pushing the 30-minute mark. Meanwhile, four different players are scoring 10 or more points per game as Texas Tech has averaged 84.3 points per contest through the first three games of the season. Although they are not battle-tested, the Red Raiders have the look like a team with enough depth, length and athleticism to compete for a spot in the top half of the Big 12 standings.

Justin Gray is helping lead the way for Texas Tech (Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Justin Gray leads the way for Texas Tech (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Opening Round Preview: An opening round match-up with Auburn will be Texas Tech’s first real test of the season. The Tigers also enter the event at 3-0 but their three wins were over teams ranked among the KenPom top 200. A trio of freshmen — Danjel Purifoy, Mustapha Heron, and Jared Harper — are all scoring in double figures while posting an effective field goal percentage above 50 percent. This contest should represent a clash in styles as Bruce Pearl’s squad likes to push the pace (14.4 seconds per possession). The Red Raiders, on the other hand, are more methodical (17.0 seconds per possession).

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Feast Week Mission Briefing: Kansas at the CBE Hall of Fame Classic

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 21st, 2016

Feast Week is here. To get you ready for the Big 12’s representation in the various holiday tournaments over the next week, our Feast Week Mission Briefings continue today with Kansas in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic.

What They’ve Done So Far: In a break from the norm for traditional powers, Kansas has already played the toughest part of its non-conference schedule. The Jayhawks fell in overtime to Indiana on the first night of the season before edging Duke at the Champions Classic, both in neutral settings. Frank Mason has been fantastic to open the year; Not only did he bury a clutch jumper to sink the Blue Devils last Tuesday, but he has led the Jayhawks in scoring in each of their first three games and has taken advantage of the new officiating directives to make 30 trips to the free throw line (converting 76.6 percent of his attempts). Perhaps feeling tired legs from their trips to Hawaii and New York, the Jayhawks had some trouble shaking Siena for most of their home opener on Friday night, but pulled away late for an 86-65 win.

Frank Mason has come up big early for Kansas. Will the Jayhawks need to rely on him again this week in Kansas City? (Nick Krug/Lawrence Journal-World)

Opening Round Preview: Kansas opens against UAB in what would have been a reunion for former Jayhawks guard Jerod Haase, but Haase left the Blazers’ post over the summer to take the head coaching job at Stanford. UAB hasn’t played a very tough schedule to date, but they’ve held opponents to 36.3 percent shooting inside the arc, largely on the prowess of big man William Lee (13 rejections through three games). Kansas has meanwhile been very dependent on its inside game, ranking among the bottom 30 nationally in 3PA/FGA and shooting a miserable 23.1 percent from beyond the arc. A strong performance from Carlton Bragg to follow up a career game against Siena (15 points and 11 rebounds) would go a long way toward avoiding an upset tonight, especially if his teammates have another cold outside shooting night. Read the rest of this entry »

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Feast Week Mission Briefing: Oklahoma State in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 21st, 2016

Feast Week is here. To get you ready for the Big 12’s representation in the various holiday tournaments, our Feast Week Mission Briefings continue with Oklahoma State in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational.

Catching Up: Despite Big 12 coaches picking the Cowboys to finish seventh in the conference standings, it was hardly a surprise that Oklahoma State hammered Campbell, Central Arkansas and New Orleans thoroughly in Brad Underwood‘s first three outings. In doing so, the Cowboys put together three 100-point efforts in a season for the first time since Marcus Smart was on campus in Stillwater. Underwood’s projected backcourt duo of Jawun Evans and Phil Forte has so far lived up to its lofty expectations. Evans and Forte have combined to average 45.3 points per game, a figure inflated by a low level of competition but still nice to look at it a week and a half into the season.

Oklahoma State Cowboys guard Jawun Evans has put up video game numbers so far this season: 23.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 6.3 apg and 3.0 spg. (Alonzo Adams/USA TODAY Sports)

Oklahoma State Cowboys guard Jawun Evans has put up video game numbers so far this season: 23.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 6.3 apg and 3.0 spg. (Alonzo Adams/USA TODAY Sports)

Opening Round Preview: Connecticut came into this opening round game looking nothing like its usual self. Picked in the preseason to finish second in the American, UConn has stumbled out of the gate in losing back-to-back home games to Wagner and Northeastern, followed by a comeback road victory at Loyola Marymount. Despite being plagued by poor three-point shooting (27%), the Huskies still have athletic bodies like Amida Brimah and Rodney Purvis, both of whom can guard multiple positions. Monday night’s game will be a meeting of one team that wants to run (Oklahoma State) and another that would much prefer a tight, defensive affair (UConn).

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Feast Week Mission Briefing: Oklahoma in the Tire Pros Invitational

Posted by Justin Fedich on November 17th, 2016

Feast Week is almost here. To get you ready for the Big 12’s representation in the various holiday tournaments over the next couple weeks, our Feast Week Mission Briefings begin today with Oklahoma in the Tire Pros Invitational.

Catching Up: Oklahoma upperclassmen Jordan Woodard and Khadeem Lattin were projected to have much bigger roles this season, and it’s already clear after just one game (a season-opening 97-61 win over Northwestern State) that they will. Lattin on Sunday notched his third career double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds, while Woodard poured in 16 points and collected five rebounds. Oklahoma’s big lead also allowed young players such as freshman Matt Freeman, who came off the bench to score 15 points, to get involved. The fact that Lon Kruger’s team easily managed a 97-61 victory is a good sign, but a win over an 0-2 team that ranks among the bottom 60 teams nationally in the KenPom rankings won’t be found on the front page of Oklahoma’s final NCAA Tournament resume.

We're not sure what Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger is telling his players at this moment. It's likely he is sharing something basketball related here but I wouldn't rule out Kruger explaining to him the lyrics of "Coconut" by Harry Nilsson. (CBS Sports)

Lon Kruger, one of the Big 12’s best on the sidelines, will once again have Oklahoma right in the thick of things. (CBS Sports)

Opening Round Preview: Tulane hosted North Carolina last Friday night to open the season and was quickly dispatched, 95-75. The Green Wave then returned Monday to beat Southeastern Louisiana, 93-76. Longtime NBA head coach Mike Dunleavy is now the man in charge in New Orleans, but it will take him some time to instill his values and system into a program that has long been considered a basketball backwater. If Oklahoma beats Tulane, the Sooners will then face the winner of Arizona State and Northern Iowa on Friday — both of which are beatable. Read the rest of this entry »

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Kansas Already Battle Tested Just Five Days Into Season

Posted by Justin Fedich on November 16th, 2016

Only two games into the new season, Kansas has already endured one crushing defeat and one thrilling victory. The Jayhawks responded from a 103-99 overtime loss to Indiana on Friday night in Hawaii to outlast top-ranked Duke 77-75 in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden last night. No high-major team outside of arguably Michigan State has been challenged nearly as much. Senior guard Frank Mason has stolen the show to this point, scoring 30 points against Indiana and hitting the game-winning jump shot last night against Duke.

The tourney upsets his Kansas teams have suffered will not be forgotten (Getty).

The Kansas program has never shied away from testing itself early against elite programs and this year is no exception. (Getty)

What Adjustments Did Kansas Make? Even with Duke’s three highly-touted freshman sidelined, Bill Self’ needed to make some adjustments from the Indiana game to avoid falling to 0-2. The biggest shift came in the contributions of 6’11” freshman Udoka Azubuike off the bench. After playing only seven minutes and failing to score against the Hoosiers, Azubuike added six points and pulled down 12 big rebounds against Duke. It was clear that Self wanted to expose Duke’s lack of size down low with 6’10” Harry Giles and 6’11” Marques Bolden sitting on the bench. After being the only Kansas starter to not foul out in the game against Indiana, freshman Josh Jackson played much more aggressively for most of last night’s game before fouling out. Still, he scored 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field, putting all three Kansas starting guards into double figures (Mason, 21; Devonte’ Graham, 15). Using Jackson on the wing and Azubuike inside to balance things offensively is the formula Kansas needs rather than relying on Mason, who scored 30 points against Indiana, to consistently contribute such a heavy load. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 M5: 11.16.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 16th, 2016

morning5_big12

  1. Another huge game from Frank Mason fueled Kansas’ 77-75 win over Duke last night. Even though the Blue Devils were without three of its star freshmen, the Jayhawks withstood plenty of their own challenges — from foul trouble to ineffectiveness beyond the arc (2-of-16 3FG) to a bad night at the charity stripe (9-of-19 FT). The Jayhawks also blew a late double-digit lead, but it ultimately did not matter as Mason cashed in a game-winning elbow jumper with 1.8 seconds remaining, the last of his 17 second-half points. Beating Duke in any environment is a big deal, but this victory should yield some real dividends come March if the Blue Devils play to their lofty expectations once healthy.
  2. Entering the season, one of the key questions for Baylor aside from point guard play was how the Bears would account for the loss of Rico Gathers. It’s a remarkably small sample size, but through two games including a top-five opponent in Oregon, Jo Lual-Acuil has answered the bell, averaging 15.0 rebounds and 7.2 blocks per 40 minutes  in the young season. The junior will be challenged next week when the Bears head to the Bahamas and again in December when they host Xavier, so stiffer competition should give way to a more confident read on Lual-Acuil, but in the meantime, he’s been one of the big surprises around the conference.
  3. Switching gears from a surprise to a known quantity, how great is it to have Oklahoma State‘s Phil Forte back? I suppose you could ask head coach Brad Underwood, but he was still working for Stephen F. Austin when the senior suffered a shoulder injury last November. He’s probably grateful nonetheless. The Big 12’s new elder statesman has stormed out of the gates, averaging 27.0 points per game and converting each of his first 17 attempts at the free throw line. The Cowboys are still looking for answers inside, but Forte and Jawun Evans (28.5 PPG, 5.5 APG, 4.0 SPG) are showing why they should be mentioned among the conference’s best perimeter tandems.
  4. I’ve thought a little more about Kansas State‘s lax non-conference schedule, and while I still think it has a chance to backfire, it’s worth mentioning the potential benefits as well. Given that Wesley Iwundu and D.J. Johnson are the team’s only scholarship upperclassmen who have been with the program all four years, there’s a big drop-off to the younger core of sophomores Dean WadeBarry BrownKamau Stokes and freshman Xavier Sneed. This isn’t the most analytical viewpoint, but building confidence matters for a relatively young team, especially when its league schedule starts with a road game at Kansas sandwiched between home games against Oklahoma and West Virginia. Steamrolling the likes of Hampton, Robert Morris and Boston College wouldn’t lead anyone to picking the Wildcats to win at Allen Fieldhouse, but it can be helpful in the overall scheme with the league being deeper than it usually is. While I’d be remiss if I didn’t think there was at least a sliver of self-preservation by head coach Bruce Weber at play here as well, the general approach makes sense for a team looking to build some experience and confidence during the non-conference slate.
  5. Texas Tech will be shorthanded for a while as the school revealed over the weekend that big man Norense Odiase broke a bone in his left foot. While the Red Raiders have started 2-0 in spite of Odiase’s absence, it’s still a tough blow since he missed 12 games just last season with a similar injury to his other foot. For what it’s worth, Chris Beard doesn’t anticipate Odiase missing as much time as he did last season, which would be nice. The Red Raiders don’t have much time to adjust, though, with Auburn and a potential game against Purdue’s twin towers looming in next week’s Cancun Challenge.
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RTC Gametime: Key Questions in Duke vs. Kansas

Posted by Chris Stone & Brad Jenkins on November 15th, 2016

College basketball got underway with a pair of hotly contested Top 25 match-ups on Friday night. The heat will rise tonight as the ESPN Tip-off Marathon reaches its climax with the Champions Classic in Madison Square Garden. Because we’re so excited about what tonight’s headliner has to offer, we’ve gotten the ACC and Big 12 microsites together to preview the event’s evening contest between Duke and Kansas. Questions and answers were provided by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) and Chris Stone (@cstonehoops).

Questions for Kansas

Frank Mason looks like Bill Self's man at point guard. (USATSI)

Bill Self and Frank Mason against a talented Duke team? Sign us up. (USATSI)

The Blue Devils look vulnerable in the paint given all their current injuries. Bill Self teams have traditionally been dominant in the post, but is Kansas equipped to take advantage of Duke’s depleted frontcourt?

Unless something surprising happens, probably not. This game should ultimately be a battle of the backcourts. Although the Jayhawks have historically feasted on the interior by utilizing Self’s high-low offense to find open looks near the rim, Kansas doesn’t have the frontcourt players required to do that this season. Big men accounted for just 19.7 percent of Kansas’ total field goal attempts against Indiana last week, even as starters Landen Lucas and Carlton Bragg shot a combined 9-of-11 from the field. Don’t expect that pair to suddenly become high usage players tonight. Lucas is fundamentally sound and more than capable of sealing off defenders for easy looks, but he lacks the post game necessary to be a go-to option. Bragg’s repertoire of post moves is considerably more complete, but his best offense is still played in the mid-range. With a full complement of talented perimeter players, look for Self to base his offense tonight around the likes of Frank Mason and Devonte Graham rather than Lucas and Bragg. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Opening Weekend in Review

Posted by Drew Andrews on November 15th, 2016

Opening night of the college basketball season gave nine of the 10 Big 12 programs a chance to begin their seasons with easy wins. Those match-ups went according to plan, as only Kansas played a team inside KenPom’s top 250 and, as a result, took the only loss. However, there was another surprise that could ultimately spell trouble for one of the contenders to the conference title. Let’s take a look at one key takeaway from each team coming out of the opening weekend.

  • Kansas – The Jayhawks came into the season with questions about leadership, scoring in the post, and whether Josh Jackson could make the leap to superstardom. The loss to Indiana in the Armed Forces Classic on Friday night only provided a first piece of an answer to one of those questions. Frank Mason III exploded for 30 points and nine assists in the defeat, making it seem that he might be Bill Self‘s Option A for leadership and scoring this season. In the absence of the graduated Perry Ellis, Landon Lucas and Carlton Bragg will be asked to replace some of his frontcourt scoring load. Lucas proved that he could play the necessary minutes last year, but Bragg rarely saw the floor. After a meager 18-minute outing on opening night, it seems as if Self still has questions about the sophomore forward. Meanwhile, Jackson struggled to find a rhythm on both ends of the floor. Early foul trouble and questionable shot selection meant he saw more of the bench than expected, but it will be interesting to see how Self utilizes him in tonight’s clash with top-ranked Duke.
Josh Jackson struggled against Indiana. Can he break out against Duke in the Champions Classic? (Photo: Kansas City Star)

Josh Jackson struggled against Indiana. Can he break out against Duke in the Champions Classic? (Photo: Kansas City Star)

  • Iowa State  Monte’ Morris began his quest for conference and national honors with a bang against Savannah State (21 points and 11 assists), followed by a quieter but efficient outing (18 points and three assists) last night against Mount St. Mary’s. Steve Prohm started five seniors in both games, and if Iowa State hopes to again challenge Kansas for the Big 12 title, it will need every bit of experience and leadership from that group to get there.
  • TexasJarrett Allen certainly looked the part of star in the making in his debut for the Longhorns, but despite his 16 points and 12 boards, Texas was outrebounded on the offensive glass in its first two outings against Incarnate Word and Louisiana-Monroe. Shaka Smart‘s HAVOC defense certainly creates great energy and scoring opportunities via turnovers, but he has to be concerned that his players are giving up so many second chances to teams that were clearly overmatched in talent and size.

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