Feast Week Mission Briefing: West Virginia in the NIT Season Tip-Off

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 24th, 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 West Virginia in the NIT Season Tip-Off, which takes place at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Catching Up: Devin Williams, Jaysean Paige and Jonathan Holton are gone, but “Press Virginia” is alive and well in Morgantown. The 3-0 Mountaineers again lead the country in defensive turnover rate (34.2%) and are first in defensive steal rate (17.3%), steamrolling lesser competition by an average of 42.7 points per game. The demands of Bob Huggins‘ style and the big leads it has generated have given way to a deep, balanced attack in the early part of the season. A staggering 11 players have seen the floor for at least 10 minutes per game and five players are currently posting double-figure scoring averages, led by Nathan Adrian‘s 13.3 points per contest.

This Thanksgiving, opposing teams will be thankful if they can hold onto the ball against West Virginia's swarming defense. (AP/Raymond Thompson)

This Thanksgiving, opposing teams should be thankful if they can hold onto the ball against West Virginia’s swarming defense. (AP/Raymond Thompson)

Opening Round Preview: Illinois will give West Virginia its first real test of the season today in Brooklyn. It feels like John Groce’s team has been snake-bitten from the minute he arrived in Champaign, but his team is off to a solid 4-1 start, although the loss, which came at the hands of Winthrop, shows that they aren’t out of the woods quite yet. Still, the Illini are shooting the ball well, hitting 39.8 percent of their threes, led by seniors Tracy Abrams (7-of-11, 63.6%) and Malcolm Hill (15-of-29, 51.7%). The team has also been extremely effective inside, converting 87.3 percent of its attempts at the rim, per hoop-math.com. The problem for Illinois is that it hasn’t valued the ball, turning it over on 20.2 percent of their possessions and winning the battle on the offensive glass only 23.3 percent of the time. Those are weaknesses that West Virginia is well-versed in exploiting, and Huggins’ team should be able to do just that. Read the rest of this entry »

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Feast Week Mission Briefing: Iowa State in the Advocare Invitational

Posted by Chris Stone on November 24th, 2016

Feast Week is here. To get you ready for the Big 12’s representation in the various holiday tournaments this week, our Feast Week Mission Briefings continue today with Iowa State in the Advocare Invitational.

Catching Up: With longtime staple Georges Niang graduating last spring, this was always going to be a transition year at Iowa State. Much of the preseason focus fell on point guard Monte’ Morris taking on a more significant scoring role this season. That hasn’t really happened. Although Morris is averaging about five more points per game to this point, his usage of offensive possessions is only up by about one percent. Most of Niang’s shots have instead actually gone to senior Naz Mitrou-Long, who is averaging nearly 10 more field goal attempts per 40 minutes than he did in a shortened season a year ago. Morris, though, has taken on nearly all of Niang’s play-making duties, as his assists per 40 minutes have increased by five full assists and his assist rate has increased from 28.9 percent to 39.4 percent. The Cyclones enter the Advocare Invitational at 3-0 with a trio of victories over teams ranked 275th or worse, according to KenPom.

Monte Morris is delivering for Iowa State early. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Monte Morris is delivering early for Iowa State. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Opening Round Preview: Iowa State opens the Advocare Invitational with a match-up against Indiana State. The Sycamores, picked to finish among the bottom half of the Missouri Valley Conference, are 2-1 on the season but shouldn’t pose much of a threat. The player to watch is guard Brenton Scott, who is averaging 22.3 points per contest over three games. The junior guard has taken 35.0 percent of the Sycamores’ shots but he’s not an efficient scorer, which is probably why Indiana State ranks 243rd in Division I in adjusted offensive efficiency. While this might be a fun point guard battle to watch, Iowa State should win its first round game comfortably.

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Kansas’ Backcourt Leads the Way But Questions Abound Inside

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 23rd, 2016

The biggest question facing Kansas as it entered this season centered around the team’s frontcourt. The loss of stalwart Perry Ellis was going to loom large until Bill Self could turn his rotation of big men into a serviceable enough unit to balance a supremely skilled backcourt. Now two weeks into the season and with the toughest part of the Jayhawds’ non-conference schedule in the books, that question remains unanswered. It may even be blurrier than it was in October. In addition to newcomers Dwight Coleby and Udoka Azubuike struggling to earn consistent minutes in Self’s rotation, veteran Landen Lucas has regressed and sophomore Carlton Bragg has yet to find a rhythm as well.

Kansas (USA Today Images)

Kansas Needs to Solve Its Interior Issues but the Backcourt is Excelling (USA Today Images)

Kansas’ frontcourt issues came to a head last night despite a 65-54 victory over Georgia at the CBE Classic in Kansas City. Bulldogs forward Yante Maten roasted every big man Kansas threw at him, dominating the back line with 30 points and 13 rebounds. Lucas, who expertly used his intelligence and size to pull away with the starting center spot last season, was saddled with foul trouble, his latest in a string of lackluster outings. Azubuike, a freshman who logged an inspiring performance against Duke just a week ago, played only five minutes. Collectively, the Jayhawks’ four big men were a mess: five points on 2-of-5 shooting, seven rebounds and 15 fouls, although Coleby gave admirable energy and effort in his first extended run of the season, blocking four shots and grabbing four rebounds. Kansas’ struggles to defend Georgia without fouling led to another rare sighting from a Self-coached team: the deployment of a 2-3 zone. To the team’s credit, the defensive maneuver keyed a decisive second-half run, but that may have had more to do with the fact that it wasn’t a look Georgia had prepared for. These were extenuating circumstances indeed.

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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: 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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Throw Out the Leftovers: Four Teams Finding Trouble During Feast Week

Posted by Shane McNichol on December 1st, 2015

In theory, what we know as Thanksgiving week but ESPN has christened “Feast Week” should be a relatively easy time for a highly-ranked college basketball team. Board a plane and head somewhere sunny. Throw on a polo or a Hawaiian shirt if that’s more your style. Win a few games, maybe lose a tough one against another top team. Have some turkey before heading home to continue your season. For many schools, this is exactly what happened. Kansas, for example, went out to Maui, learned that Chieck Diallo was cleared to play, had some fun, and won the tournament. But for several other teams, their Feast Week did not go as planned. Four formerly ranked teams had a rude awakening in the midst of their early season tournaments, with more questions raised than answers.

LSU

Ben Simmons Needs to Find More Aggression (USAT Images)

Ben Simmons Needs to Find More Aggression (USAT Images)

The Bayou Bengals might have the best player in college basketball in Ben Simmons, but the problem is that his teammates aren’t exactly playing as if that is the case. During the Legends Classic in Brooklyn, Simmons posted two impressive stat lines in the Tigers’ two losses. Against Marquette, he finished with 21 points, 20 rebounds and seven assists. He followed that up with four points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists against NC State. (Ed. note: LSU continued its swoon on Monday night in a 70-58 loss at College of Charleston where Simmons logged 15 points, 18 rebounds, four assists and committed seven turnovers.)

In both games, Simmons showcased the high-level talent that has NBA scouts drooling. He leads all of Division I basketball in rebounding and has flashed elite passing ability for a player his size. If the Tigers are going to win more games, however, Simmons needs to be a bigger scoring threat. Against NC State, he only attempted six shots from the field while teammates Tim Quarterman and Antonio Blakeney took 20 and 17 shots, respectively. Some of this discrepancy is likely because of Simmons’ great vision leading to good shots for teammates, but neither player was able to capitalize. Simmons was more aggressive offensively in the previous game against Marquette but he chose to pass to open teammates on two separate occasions in the Tigers’ final possession. He’s only a freshman, of course, but if LSU is going to contend in the SEC or make some kind of a run next March, it will be on the back of a more aggressive Ben Simmons. Read the rest of this entry »

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Great Alaska Shootout a Dying Breed of Holiday Tournaments

Posted by Kenny Ocker on November 27th, 2015

The school-managed exempt tournament is going extinct. The proliferation of corporate-owned events, including those put on by ESPN, have made sure of that. But out on the Last Frontier, the last holdout is conducting its last event on its own: The Great Alaska Shootout, organized and hosted by the University of Alaska-Anchorage, goes until Saturday, with its champion being the final team to win the tournament before Basketball Travelers takes over as managers next season.

The Great Alaska Shootout Produced One of the Best Moments for Bob Huggins at Cincinnati, in 1998. (AP)

The Great Alaska Shootout Produced One of the Best Moments for Bob Huggins at Cincinnati, in 1998. (AP)

The 50-plus-year-old tradition of exempt tournaments started when schools off the U.S. mainland needed to have an incentive before teams would schedule visits, and for a long time it stayed on an island floating off the coast of the NCAA landscape. But when eccentric Louisianan Bob Rachal took over the UAA men’s basketball program during its inaugural year in the NCAA’s Division II in 1977-78 – donning a tuxedo and top hat in his first game on the sidelines – he found that metaphorical island and used it to his advantage.

“He wanted something that could make a splash, something that could get the program on the map, so he dug around in the NCAA bylaws and he found out that you could host basically free games held under the exemption for any teams playing in Alaska or Hawaii at that point,” Seawolves sports information director Nate Sagan said. Well, not quite free, but close enough: A tournament of up to four games could count as one game against the NCAA’s limit of contests per season.

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