Big 12 Burning Questions: Kansas State Wildcats

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 26th, 2017

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

Will Bruce Weber escape the hot seat yet again?

It’s been a strange eight months for Kansas State basketball. In late February, with the Wildcats in the midst of a 5-9 slump, former athletic director John Currie abruptly left Manhattan to take the same position at Tennessee. The Wildcats righted the ship down the stretch just enough to limp into the NCAA Tournament, however, where it beat Wake Forest in the First Four before bowing out to Cincinnati in the next round. Despite the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2014, it wasn’t considered a successful year in the eyes of a fan base weary of repeated mediocre seasons under Weber.

Bruce Weber will look to a veteran core to shake off his critics. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)

The university didn’t hire a new athletic director until mid-April, well after the best time to strike for a new head coach. That’s not to say that Currie would have fired Weber had he stuck around, but it’s clear that Weber benefited from the sudden change. A few months later, new athletic director Gene Taylor gave Weber a two-year contract extension, and while Taylor can spin it however he wants, the financials and length indicate that he did so more out of an obligation to give his coach cover on the recruiting trail than as an affirmative gesture endorsing his recent performance. With three straight sub-.500 finishes in Big 12 play, a knack for wearing fans out with inconsistency and a penchant for taking things from bad to worse with regrettable postgame comments, Weber finds himself in the odd situation of being under the microscope in Year One of a contract extension.

Wesley Iwundu and D.J. Johnson are assuredly big losses, but the Wildcats have an identifiable and skilled core returning in juniors Dean Wade, Kamau Stokes and Barry Brown. Together, the trio accounted for 45 percent of Kansas State’s offense last year and will need to contribute more as upperclassmen — especially Wade, one of the conference’s most efficient scorers and three-point shooters. The key issues for this team are that Wade hasn’t yet proven he can be more consistent on a game-to-game basis and that the drop-off from that trio to the rest of the roster may be too steep to overcome.

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Big 12 Burning Questions: Iowa State Cyclones

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 24th, 2017

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

Will the new-look Cyclones gel in Steve Prohm’s first season without any holdovers from the Hoiberg era?

Iowa State’s 2017 graduating class of Monte’ Morris, Naz Mitrou-Long, Matt Thomas and Deonte Burton was one of the most decorated in program history. There weren’t any surefire NBA players in the bunch, but together, they helped former coach Fred Hoiberg revitalize the program and made it possible for successor Steve Prohm to maintain that success in his first two seasons. Now that core is gone and it’s time to see what Prohm can do with a roster composed completely of his own recruits. The Cyclones return just three scholarship players from last season’s rotation, and of the group, only big man Solomon Young started. The freshman was inserted into the lineup during the stretch run, with the Cyclones going 10-2 during that period — the only two losses coming against West Virginia in the regular season finale and against Purdue in the NCAA Tournament Round of 32. Of course, all of that success isn’t fully attributable to the insertion of Young into the starting lineup, but he was a clear upgrade from the pair of Merrill Holden and Darrell Bowie and should bring the same stability to this season’s rotation.

Steve Prohm will forge his own path after Iowa State graduated the last remaining players from the Hoiberg regime. (USATSI)

Senior guard Donovan Jackson didn’t play much at the point guard slot with the workhorse Morris standing in front of him, but he showed some intriguing offensive potential off the bench, especially in league play. Jackson played just 41.9 percent of the available minutes against Big 12 opponents, but his offensive rating (120.5), turnover rate (9.5%) and three-point shooting (44.5%) during those opportunities were top-notch. If this year’s Iowa State offense is to have any hope of matching its benchmark from the last few seasons, Jackson will have to increase his production with more playing time. The Cyclones’ other returning scholarship player is Nick Weiler-Babb, a wing whose role is still a bit hazy, but a player who possesses some versatility with an ability to make athletic plays and move the ball. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Burning Questions: Oklahoma State Cowboys

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 19th, 2017

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

Will Mike Boynton follow the recent trend of first-year Big 12 coaches fielding competitive teams?

In spite of some recent March slip-ups, the Big 12 maintains its reputation as the most competitive, if not the best, basketball conference in America. It routinely sends at least half of its membership to the Big Dance, propels a number of top-flight prospects to the NBA Draft, and contributes experienced players to postseason All-America teams on a regular basis. One byproduct of all that competitiveness that isn’t discussed as much is that for a conference so small relative to the rest of the Power 5, the Big 12 has witnessed a staggering amount of coaching turnover in the past few years.

Jeffrey Carroll will be one of the most dynamic scorers in the country, but the Cowboys will struggle to stay competitive in the cutthroat Big 12. (Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman)

Five Big 12 teams have made six head coaching changes since the start of the 2016 offseason, with a handful of that group achieving success with their new teams in relatively short order. Last season Brad Underwood led Oklahoma State to its first .500 conference record since 2013. Similarly, buoyed by a more committed TCU administration, Jamie Dixon led the Horned Frogs to as many league wins in 2017 (6) as they had notched in the last three seasons combined — riding that wave all the way to the NIT title. Going back another year, Steve Prohm led Iowa State to just its second Sweet Sixteen of the last 18 years in 2016. The Chris Beard and Shaka Smart eras at Texas Tech and Texas, respectively, have been works in progress, but both of their teams should be better this year. No one knows what the FBI’s investigation of the Oklahoma State program will bring, but at least until then, Mike Boynton will have a team to coach. Still, given what he has at his disposal, it will be tough for the new head coach in Stillwater to match the strong campaigns from some of the league’s recent first-year coaches.

First, Boynton has never been a head coach, cutting his teeth as an assistant for Frank Martin at South Carolina and Brad Underwood at Stephen F. Austin in addition to last year at Oklahoma State. Apparently not learning the lesson in allowing Illinois to snatch Underwood from the program last March, the administration went cheap on his replacement. Maybe athletic director Mike Holder knows something we don’t, but seeing as how Boynton had never been linked to a major head coaching job prior to his promotion, it’s fair to question his acumen (although it could have been worse — among Oklahoma State’s other candidates was also former assistant Lamont Evans, who was charged in last month’s NCAA corruption scandal and fired shortly thereafter).

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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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