Big 12 M5: 01.16.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 16th, 2015

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  1. C.J. Moore of Bleacher Report wrote a great in-depth profile of Iowa State junior Georges Niang centered on how the big man developed the handles and arsenal that have made him a leader for the Cyclones. The new, slimmed-down version of Niang has been even more productive than last year’s and has been the central figure of Iowa State’s efficient offense. It was especially interesting to learn that Royce White, Iowa State’s last “hybrid,” was the one who pushed hardest for Fred Hoiberg to recruit Niang, whose “old man” game will be tested tomorrow night against an improving Kansas defense.
  2. Travis Ford‘s lengthy contract has drawn ire in recent years, but after a 12-4 start and a top-30 placement in the RPI, he isn’t sweating his job security. The Cowboys may not be in position to climb into the race among Kansas, Iowa State and West Virginia, but they’re more of a factor than they were anticipated, and they arguably have a better team than last year despite having less talent. As Jenni Carlson writes, Ford is in the midst of perhaps his best coaching job since he arrived on campus, and a lot of it is due to improved chemistry and a heightened belief in the greater good, particularly with Brian Williams and Kamari Murphy having transferred out.
  3. Bill Self spoke candidly about the struggles of Perry Ellis, which came to a head Tuesday when the junior had four early turnovers, leading to a prompt benching. Self suspects that the problem for Ellis is mental, as he still believes Ellis can be the Jayhawks’ go-to guy. Observers may counter that Frank Mason and Cliff Alexander fit that role better right now, and I agree, but in either case, it’s tough to picture Kansas making a deep run in March without Ellis playing a big part.
  4. The Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 List was released Thursday, and it included three of the Big 12’s best: Juwan Staten of West Virginia, Buddy Hield of Oklahoma and the aforementioned Niang. Oddly enough, the two leading scorers in the Big 12, Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte, were omitted.  It will take big second halves for Staten, Hield and Niang to rise into the elite tier that currently includes Jahlil Okafor, Frank Kaminsky, Delon Wright and Justin Anderson (in my opinion), but it’s always nice to see them get some recognition.
  5. The contrasting personnel of the athletic, fast-paced Mountaineers and the bulky, lengthy Longhorns will make for an interesting battle in Austin tomorrow. Texas is off to a slow start in conference play, but while they’re still formidable, it would be tough to imagine them getting back into the conference race with Kansas and Iowa State with a loss, which would run their conference record to 1-3. Isaiah Taylor has played a few games for Texas since coming back from a wrist injury, but his return hasn’t ignited the team as it was expected. On the other side of the ball, West Virginia will try to speed up Texas’ tempo with constant pressure, hoping that it will be another game before Taylor breaks out again.
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Silver Lining: Despite Loss, Iowa State Breaks Out of Offensive Funk

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 15th, 2015

The first two weeks of Big 12 play have given us no shortage of storylines: Kansas’ maturation; Marcus Foster’s benching; Oklahoma State possibly being better without Marcus Smart and Markel Brown; West Virginia’s reinvention; Oklahoma’s quantum leap on defense; and Texas’ early rut are getting most of the attention nationally. But there’s one plot line that, for whatever reason, wasn’t getting as much publicity over the first two week’s of January. Iowa State‘s offense, typically a paragon of innovation and efficiency, was struggling entering last night’s game against Baylor. While the Cyclones had found ways to win close games against Oklahoma State and West Virginia, they were doing so with uncharacteristically disappointing offensive production. In its previous three games against South Carolina, Oklahoma State and West Virginia, Iowa State scored 0.82, 0.94 and 1.03 points per possession, respectively. To put that in perspective, the last time Fred Hoiberg’s group failed to score at least 1.04 points per trip in three straight games was in 2011, when he inherited a team with few viable pieces and finished in last place. As last night’s game got underway in Waco, it looked like the hole would only get deeper.

The Cyclones may have come up short on Wednesday, but the vaunted Iowa State offense could be back in gear at just the right time after a three-game slump. (AP/Tony Gutierrez)

The Cyclones may have come up short on Wednesday, but the vaunted Iowa State offense could be back in gear at just the right time after a three-game slump. (AP/Tony Gutierrez)

Baylor started the game on a 22-5 run, as four different Bears connected on three-pointers and the Cyclones couldn’t get anything going. They finally started to dig out, though, closing the gap on the shoulders of their three transfers – Jameel McKay, Bryce Dejean-Jones and Abdel Nader – before another Baylor run provided some separation entering halftime. That separation would hold until midway through the second half, when Baylor’s Kenny Chery had to leave the game with a shoulder injury.

Chery’s exit gave Iowa State the opening it needed, as Georges Niang finally got going and sharpshooter Naz Long went on a tear while the Bears cooled off. The Cyclones clawed all the way back to take the lead on two separate occasions before Chery returned to the game and hit a game-winning jumper that allowed Baylor to escape with the win, but there’s a silver lining for Iowa State.

The Cyclones’ offense seems to finally be off the schneid, and the fact that they were able to dig out of that slump, even in a losing effort, should give them some confidence moving forward. In a loaded Big 12, they will certainly need that confidence and rediscovered efficiency when they take on Kansas at Hilton Coliseum on Saturday night. The frenzied competitiveness of the league this season means that it would be silly to describe one game in mid-January as having the biggest implications on the race for the league title, but with College Gameday in town and tickets starting at a small fortune, it’s definitely going to be among the most anticipated games of the weekend.

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What’s the Matter With Texas?

Posted by Chris Stone on January 14th, 2015

Texas entered the season as a widely-acknowledged potential challenger to Kansas’ streak of 10 straight conference championships. The Longhorns returned most of its talent from an NCAA Round of 32 team, including sophomore rising star Isaiah Taylor and senior Jonathan Holmes, both of whom were expected to integrate with elite recruit Myles Turner to make the jump to national contention. Although Taylor was sidelined with a wrist injury early in the season, Rick Barnes’ team appeared to be living up to those expectations. Texas used its stifling defense (still ranked 23rd nationally) to handle most of its opponents with ease, their lone losses coming at home to Stanford in overtime and on the road at Kentucky where the Longhorns played the Wildcats even for much of the game. Flash forward to conference play and Texas now sits 1-2 in the Big 12 with a non-competitive road loss to Oklahoma State and a 21-point blowout defeat to Oklahoma at home. What’s the matter with Texas?

Texas is now 1-2 in Big 12 play. Is it time for concern?  (Eric Gay/Associated Press)

Texas is now 1-2 in Big 12 play. Is it time for concern? (Eric Gay/Associated Press)

  1. The schedule is getting tougher. According to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, Texas played the 181st-best (worst?) non-conference schedule of 351 teams in college basketball. With three games in conference play added, the Longhorns’ strength of schedule rises to become the 74th-toughest. This is what you’d expect to happen when the Big 12 appears to be one of the toughest conferences of the last 15 years. The Big 12 lists six teams other than Texas among Pomeroy’s top 50, which may not be good news for the struggling Longhorns. Texas is now 2-4 against top 50 teams with early wins over Iowa and Connecticut followed by losses to Kentucky, Stanford, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 M5: 01.14.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 14th, 2015

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  1. Kansas beat Oklahoma State last night in a messy, foul-plagued affair in Allen Fieldhouse, running its conference record to a clean 3-0. The Cowboys started off fast, but a scuffle between the two teams injected some fire into the game, and while not all of Oklahoma State’s struggles can be traced back to the incident, they didn’t look the same for the remainder of the night. The Cowboys came into the game ranked ninth in the country in defensive free throw rate, but sent the Jayhawks parading to the free throw line 46 times. On defense, the key for Kansas was shuffling their defensive assignment on Phil Forte so frequently that he had to be subbed out twice due to cramps from running through so many screens against fresh legs in hopes of getting open looks. For Kansas, the win sets up a huge meeting with Iowa State on Saturday at Hilton Coliseum, an environment the Jayhawks have found anything but comfortable in recent years.
  2. While Kansas has been able to win in spite of it, Perry Ellis‘ disappointing performance this season has been the elephant in the room. The junior played well enough last year to earn a spot on the preseason All-Big 12 team, and while he’s had his moments, he hasn’t made the leap on either end of the court. He’s regressed on defense and his inconsistent shooting has been frustrating to the point where it now sticks out among his peers. Of the six forwards and centers from the 2012 McDonald’s All-American class who are still in college and not sitting out the season with injuries, Ellis ranks dead last in effective field goal percentage at 44.2 percent. The next-closest player is Texas’ Cameron Ridley at 52.4 percent. As with all stats, you have to consider the context, which in this case includes Kansas’ tough non-league schedule, their hyper-competitive conference and the absence of a consistent big man who can draw enough defense away from Ellis to allow him to operate. It’s also fair to point out that the Jayhawks would have more than two losses without Ellis, but the fact remains that he’s looked lost way more than he should for someone with as much experience as he has (Tuesday marked his 53rd career start). As someone who was rightfully expected to help lead the Jayhawks to their 11th straight conference title, there’s still time for Ellis to right the ship — he plays in the same program that developed the Morris twins and Thomas Robinson into first round draft picks, after all — but his production to this point has been very disconcerting.
  3. West Virginia used its unique brand of havoc to give Oklahoma their second straight loss as they hammered the Sooners by 21 points in Morgantown. The Mountaineers sped the Sooners’ offense up, forcing 22 turnovers, which is the one more than the number of shots Oklahoma made from the field. The win gives West Virginia by far its best victory of the season, and with their next four games coming against Texas, TCU, Kansas State and Texas Tech, they have a great opportunity to string even more wins together to keep pace at the top of the conference. What should scare those four teams the most is that the Mountaineers only got four points from Juwan Staten last night, though he did dish out eight assists against just one turnover.
  4. While they weren’t in action last night, it’s worth taking a deeper look at Kansas State‘s chances to get back to the NCAA Tournament. While they still don’t look very good in a vacuum, the relative lack of opportunities for the teams they’ll likely be compared to by the selection committee could give them an edge. A .500 trip through conference play, provided the Wildcats don’t get stung by TCU and Texas Tech (they’ve already taken care of TCU once), could be enough to put them in position to only need a single win in the Big 12 Tournament. Obviously, there’s plenty of room for improvement and we’re still eight weeks away from Selection Sunday, but whether the Wildcats make up the grounded needed to get back to the dance will be an interesting storyline.
  5. Iowa State faces an important game on the road against Baylor tonight, and while the Cyclones will have their hands full with the Bears’ overpowering interior, the lack of a traditional backup point guard could give them some trouble as well. As Travis Hines writes, Monte Morris has had to shoulder a big workload this year, and head coach Fred Hoiberg hasn’t been comfortable putting Clayton Custer into pressure situations. Until that changes, look for Georges Niang to continue to initiate offense when Morris needs to take a breather , but the emergence of another option to help conserve his minutes would serve the Cyclones well in the long term.
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Big 12 Power Rankings: TCU, We Hardly Knew Ye Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 13th, 2015

TCU basketball is back! Or, at least, not where they used to be! The Horned Frogs went a perfect 13-0 in non-league play by beating up on bad opponents through the first two months of the season. Still, it was a welcome change for a team that typically struggles against anyone above, on or below their level of play. As a result, Associated Press voters rewarded TCU with a Top 25 ranking in December, a cool but misguided notion. Trent Johnson’s club won’t be a contender for Big 12 titles just yet, but it is taking the necessary steps into becoming a competitive program. They’ll likely win a handful of games in Big 12 play, and they’re making inroads in recruiting the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. For those reasons alone, the perception of the program will change and, who knows, perhaps in a few years we’ll be talking about TCU as a perennial NCAA Tournament team.

Guard Kyan Anderson has been a big part of TCU basketball's transition from doormat to competitive. (Steve Nurenburg/Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

Guard Kyan Anderson has been a big part of TCU basketball’s transition from doormat to competitive. (Steve Nurenburg/Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “The Jayhawks opened their Big 12 slate with a close road win at Baylor and followed that up with a 32-point thrashing of Texas Tech at home. Kansas leads the league in offensive efficiency and defensive field goal percentage through two games. Plus, Bill Self’s squad is the 10-time defending champion.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)
  2. Iowa State — 6 points (All voted 2nd). Comment: “In a game where they committed 27 fouls and 18 turnovers, the Cyclones found a way to win at a West Virginia team with similar aspirations. If Kansas and Iowa State can remain undefeated until Saturday night, the winner of that game will have our top spot in next week’s rankings.” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso)
  3. Oklahoma — 9 points (All voted 3rd). Comment: “The Sooners have issues of their own, as they need to get Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard back on track. Still, they’re just two big Marcus Foster plays away from being undefeated, so it’s hardly time to sound any alarms.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 M5: 01.12.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 12th, 2015

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  1. Saturday marked the first of what will be many wild weekends in the Big 12, as home teams actually had a losing record (2-3) in the day’s five match-ups. Perhaps the most interesting development about the conference so far is that with Texas and Oklahoma both suffering surprising losses, we may already be moving onto Iowa State as the team with the best chance to end Kansas’ stranglehold on the league (at least for now), as the Cyclones are already the only other undefeated team left in conference play. The frenetic movement near the top of the conference speaks to just how competitive it is and how important it will be for the contenders to beat the teams they’re supposed to beat in order to keep pace.
  2. We started off talking about the race to join Kansas at the top because the Jayhawks are unblemished through the first week of Big 12 play, and they could be getting even better. Bill Self’s team dismantled Texas Tech 86-54, and the most important takeaway was the return of Devonte’ Graham. The freshman isn’t fully healed from the toe injury that sidelined him for the previous month, but it was easy to see how much pressure his return took off the shoulders of Frank Mason, who Self could rarely afford to rest during the Jayhawks’ most competitive games. While the Red Raiders were hardly a threat on Saturday, a healthy Graham will allow Kansas do some things on both sides of the ball that they didn’t have the flexibility to do over the last few weeks.
  3. On Friday, I mentioned that Kansas State needed to start stringing together some quality wins to get back in the hunt for an at-large bid, and lo and behold, they knocked off Oklahoma in Norman thanks to a pair of clutch shots by Marcus Foster. In addition to the sophomore’s heroics, the Wildcats got the kind of rebounding performance and ball control that earned them a share of the 2013 conference title, and they received the contributions from Stephen Hurt (15 points and eight rebounds) and Justin Edwards (nine points, nine rebounds and two blocks) that Bruce Weber was counting on when he brought them to Manhattan. The Wildcats are 2-1 in league play with four of their next five games coming at home, which is about as big a break as a team can catch in a conference this deep. Kansas State has their work cut out for them, but don’t write them off just yet.
  4. For the second straight game, the story of Iowa State was its bench. Abdel Nader had a career night against West Virginia’s high-pressure attack, leading his team with 19 points to go with seven rebounds. The Cyclones’ usual contributors were riddled by foul trouble, which, combined with the game’s fast pace, created an opportunity for Nader to come in and make an impact. As a team, Iowa State still isn’t where they should be offensively, but to their credit, they’ve won a pair of close games despite that shortcoming. Still, with games at Baylor and a huge Hilton Coliseum tilt against Kansas this week, they need to get back to where we’re used to seeing them.
  5. Texas’ offensive struggles continued as they shot just 35 percent on twos in a 69-58 loss at Oklahoma State. The Longhorns just never got into a rhythm and were flustered by the Cowboys’ 52.9 percent performance from beyond the arc. Jonathan Holmes has looked uncharacteristically lost over the last few outings, and Isaiah Taylor had a rough day as well. If there’s any solace Longhorns fans can take, it’s that Myles Turner finally looked like he belonged against a legit opponent. The blue-chip freshman put up 18 points, including a perfect 4-of-4 mark from distance and swatted five shots. A 1-2 mark in conference play isn’t the death knell that it’s been in previous years, but suddenly, Texas’ resume isn’t looking so hot for a team once considered to be among the nation’s best.
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Big 12 Weekend Look-Ahead

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 9th, 2015

It’s a full Saturday in the Big 12 this weekend, with five games on the schedule spaced throughout the day. Let’s take a look at each, digging into what’s on the line during conference play’s second weekend.

  • Iowa State at West Virginia (8:00 ET) – The last time the Cyclones met the Mountaineers in Morgantown, an otherwise disappointing West Virginia team blew the doors off of Iowa State with a 25-point win. In the closing minutes, if you recall, Dustin Hogue let emotions get the best of him as he karate-kicked Nathan Adrian, causing former Mountaineer Eron Harris to respond by punching Monte’ Morris in the neck. This year, Bob Huggins’ team is fueled by a more controlled brand of chaos (not that scuffles like last year’s were regular occurrences), and it just so happens that Iowa State is in a mini-funk, having scored just 0.86 points per possession over its last two games. West Virginia has already brushed off Texas Tech and TCU, so this will mark the reinvented Mountaineers’ first game against a Big 12 team on their level both in overall effectiveness and pace. The best game of the day should make for a fun nightcap.
Bryce Dejean-Jones will try to dig Iowa State out of an offensive slump Saturday. (Cyclones.com)

Bryce Dejean-Jones will try to dig Iowa State out of an offensive slump Saturday. (Cyclones.com)

  • Texas at Oklahoma State (5:00 ET) – The Longhorns are talented and cohesive enough this season that Monday’s drubbing by Oklahoma should probably just be chalked up as a fluke, but it did underscore some questions about Rick Barnes’ roster. Isaiah Taylor is getting re-acclimated to the team (and vice versa) after returning from his wrist injury, and while the frontcourt is very deep it is also penetrable, at least until Myles Turner becomes a stronger defensive presence in the low post. I wrote in last week’s conference catch-up that Oklahoma State didn’t make much progress in its non-conference slate, but the Cowboys have since easily handled Kansas State at home and limited Iowa State’s offense at Hilton Coliseum (despite a loss). It’s therefore safe to stay that they’ve taken some steps in the right direction. Will they keep it up and notch what would be — to this point — their best win of the season? Tune in Saturday evening to find out.
  • Kansas State at Oklahoma (7:00 ET) – After a brief stay, Marcus Foster is out of Bruce Weber’s doghouse and it couldn’t come at a more important time. A win at Oklahoma, while impressive, wouldn’t undo all the harm the Wildcats have brought on themselves so far, but they need to get moving if they want to get back in the picture for an at-large bid. Wednesday’s win over TCU started a stretch when five of their next seven games will be played at home, so there will be plenty of opportunities to start making waves before desperation hits. Meanwhile, Oklahoma has clearly surged ahead of Texas as the top challenger to end Kansas’ reign of dominance with a decisive win over the Longhorns on Monday, so this is a game they should win decisively if they’re the dark horse Final Four contender some are claiming.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 M5: 01.09.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 9th, 2015

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  1. Kansas defeated Baylor by a single point in Waco on Wednesday night. The loss makes the Bears 0-2 in conference play, but their upcoming schedule at TCU, at home vs. Iowa State, and at Kansas State will give them an opportunity to pick up some wins. Baylor controlled the tempo as they have done all season, and the result was a game that featured only 52 possessions. While Baylor’s 17 offensive rebounds played a role in lowering the official possessions count, the low number also reflects a Big 12 trend this season. The conference ranks 21st in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted tempo statistic, which measures the pace of play for a league’s teams, and puts the league behind the oft-maligned, plodding Big Ten. It’s time for college hoops officials to rethink the length of the shot clock in order to increase the number of possessions in a game and make it more exciting for the fans.
  2. Baylor and Kansas also shed light on another absurd college basketball rule – the block/charge call. With 3:06 remaining in the first half, Baylor’s Johnathan Motley unleashed the best dunk I have ever seen in person with a ferocious one-handed slam over the Jayhawks’ Jamari Traylor. Bears’ fans immediately broke into a frenzy without noticing that the official under the basket had simultaneously called the move a charge. Kansas’ Evan Manning even called it from the bench. The call took away what was the highlight of the night, and with the way the game finished, also ended up costing Baylor two points that could have made a difference in the game’s outcome. College basketball is meant to be fun and the block/charge call steals some of that from the fans. It’s time for a change.
  3. Also on Wednesday night, Kansas State picked up its first win of the conference season with a 58-53 victory over TCU. For Wildcats fans, that win will hopefully mark a turning point for sophomore guard Marcus Foster. After scoring only two points in 38 minutes in the prior two games, Foster exploded for 23 points on 5-of-11 shooting against the Horned Frogs. Bruce Weber may have finally lit the fire that he was looking for from Foster, which may help Kansas State rebound from its poor non-conference record with some wins during Big 12 play.
  4. It seems college basketball is back in the state of Oklahoma, as hoops competes against football for the time and attention of many Oklahomans during non-conference play and early in the new year. Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman argues that Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are making a case to the state’s residents to invest in basketball a bit earlier than usual. It’s hard to disagree with him. The Sooners defeated Baylor at home in their Big 12 opener and then picked up a huge road win against one of the league’s favorites, Texas, in their second game. And although the Cowboys lost at Iowa State on Tuesday, they had a chance to tie or win on the game’s final possession. Quality college hoops is definitely back in the Sooner State and it’s time for Oklahomans to start paying attention.
  5. The debate over the nation’s best conference rages on, with most people siding with either the Big 12 or the ACC for one reason or another. Either way, there’s no doubt that the Big 12 is going to provide viewers with a number of fantastic games this season. There have already been a number of one-possession games during conference play, and with six teams ranked in the Top 25, there are surely more to come. Our own Brian Goodman put it in perspective on Wednesday morning when he tweeted that there is at least one game between two of those six teams on 24 of the 34 days remaining on the Big 12 schedule. It’s a great time to be a Big 12 hoops fan.
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Carlton Bragg Gives Kansas its First 2015 Commitment

Posted by Chris Stone on January 8th, 2015

Carlton Bragg, a 6-foot-8 forward from Cleveland, announced that he’ll attend Kansas on Thursday afternoon. Bragg is ranked as the 14th best player in the class of 2015 by Rivals.com. He is the first commitment for Bill Self’s 2015 recruiting class. DraftExpress‘ Jonathan Givony–one of the nation’s foremost experts in scouting–writes that Bragg already has the body of collegiate athlete with a strong frame for his age and a 6-foot-9 wingspan. Bragg is aggressive on the offensive end with the ability to play above the rim, especially on the fast break, something easily identifiable in any of his mixtapes. He is also a good shot blocker who can use his frame and long arms to make a game tough on his opponents.

Carlton Bragg offers Kansas another prospect with a lot of upside (Lonnie Timmons III/The Plain Dealer)

Carlton Bragg offers Kansas another prospect with a lot of upside (Lonnie Timmons III/The Plain Dealer)

As with any recruit, Bragg is a bit rough around the edges. He needs to exhibit more consistent effort on the court and some of his fundamentals need work. Bragg has been able to use his athleticism to coast at times on the defensive end. He’ll also need to learn to work within a halfcourt offense at the collegiate level. He has a tendency to settle for jump shots, which is a common trait amongst taller players who have the ability to shoot over their defenders. He needs to develop his ball-handling in order to become more of a threat when facing up his defender. Still, Bragg has plenty of upside and will be a good fit in Self’s system at Kansas.

Bragg’s athleticism and ability to shoot from mid-range suggest that he has the ability to be a face-up power forward for the Jayhawks. His height puts him in a bit of position limbo for the NBA, but he’s certainly tall enough to play in the froncourt in college. Eric Bossi of Rivals.com says that Bragg can help Kansas initiate their offense from the high post in ways similar to past Jayhawks like Marcus Morris or Darrell Arthur. While he doesn’t have the handle of a player like Perry Ellis, Bragg will develop under Self as Kansas has a strong history of training quality big men that Bragg will benefit from.

As I wrote back in November, the Big 12 has been struggling in recruiting the 2015 class having garnered only five commitments from top 100 recruits at that time. Bragg represents the highest ranked recruit so far to commit to a school in the conference, and its not a shock that he’s headed to Kansas who consistently produces strong recruiting classes. The Jayhawks have one remaining scholarship–assuming neither Kelly Oubre or Cliff Alexander leave for the NBA Draft–and are still in on a number of remaining top 20 recruits. Self has said he wanted the class to focus on big men, so look for him to make a strong push for a player like Stephen Zimmerman in the spring.

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Three Things to Watch in Tonight’s Kansas-Baylor Game

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 7th, 2015

It’s only the Big 12’s first full week of conference play, but without a runaway favorite and as many as six teams with hopes to win the conference, nearly every Big 12 game is going to have an impact. Tonight’s headliner pits Baylor against Kansas at the Ferrell Center in Waco. The Jayhawks were the last team to beat the Bears at home nearly a year ago (February 4, 2014), so Baylor is looking to avoid a repeat performance. In this preview, Brian Goodman breaks down the elements most likely to decide the outcome of tonight’s important battle.

Frank Mason leads the Jayhawks on the road, where they'll have to neutralize Baylor's advantage inside. (Denny Medley/USA Today)

Frank Mason leads the Jayhawks on the road, where they’ll have to neutralize Baylor’s advantage inside. (Denny Medley/USA Today)

  1. Kansas’ lineups and rotations. Over the last five games, the lineup of Frank Mason, Wayne Selden, Kelly Oubre, Perry Ellis and Cliff Alexander has been the Jayhawks’ most effective one, but it hasn’t been the one Bill Self has most frequently deployed. Rather, Self has preferred a lineup with Jamari Traylor taking Alexander’s place, despite being an average rebounder and mediocre finisher (shooting just 41.5 percent from the floor). Thanks to his athleticism, Traylor can be an effective energy guy in spurts, but the Jayhawks have been at their best with the more efficient Alexander manning the paint alongside Ellis. This was the case during Kansas’ game-finishing run to put UNLV away on Sunday.
  2. Baylor’s bruisers. It’s no surprise that the Bears rank fourth nationally in offensive rebounding rate, corralling 43.7 percent of their misses on the season. That consistency is due in large part to the effort of Rico Gathers, who grabbed 15 rebounds over 39 minutes in Baylor’s two meetings against Kansas last season, and makes it easy for Baylor to generate offense despite suspect interior shooting. The Jayhawks had trouble creating separation against UNLV’s athletic core of big men until the last 10 minutes of Sunday’s contest and will struggle to leave Waco with a win if Gathers and freshman Johnathan Motley deprive Alexander, Ellis and Traylor of those opportunities.
  3. The battle of perimeter attacks. Sharpshooter Brady Heslip isn’t around to haunt Big 12 teams anymore, but the Bears still have some serious long-range bombers on their roster. Scott Drew’s rotation currently features five players who shoot at least 34 percent or better from beyond the arc, led by a 53.8 percent clip from Taurean Prince, perhaps the conference’s most improved player. On the other end of the floor, Kansas’ shooters have been streaky. One of the main reasons why Frank Mason has been such a huge asset this season has been his 51.4 percent three-point shooting, forcing defenses to guard him and in turn opening passing lanes. Kelly Oubre‘s smooth shot (48.1%) has been effective as well, and after a disappointing start to the season, Wayne Selden has embraced his role as a shooter (36.7%) who will occasionally attack off the bounce. Despite all of that shooting firepower, one of the things keeping Kansas’ offense from higher productivity has been a relative team-wide passivity from distance. The Jayhawks are the best three-point shooting team in the conference at 39.2 percent, but they take only 29 percent of their shots from beyond the arc, a level of frequency that ranks a dispiriting ninth in the Big 12 (and 292nd in the country). It therefore stands to reason that Kansas would benefit from centering its offensive attack on perimeter shooting rather than depending on Ellis and Alexander to generate most of the offense inside.
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Big 12 M5: 01.07.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 7th, 2015

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  1. Texas fell to Oklahoma in its Big 12 home opener on Monday night, and the 21-point margin of defeat was unexpectedly large, causing both head coach Rick Barnes and his players to afterward challenge the team’s effort and pride. Effort and pride may certainly have played a part in the defeat, but the loss to Oklahoma may be symptomatic of a larger problem for a Longhorns squad that shot just 30.o percent from the field. Texas hasn’t shown an ability to score at an elite level this season, posting an adjusted offensive efficiency of 106.0 that ranks 61st nationally, according to KenPom. Part of the problem? According to Barnes, the players can’t remember their plays. “I don’t even know if we can be a good offensive team or not,” Barnes said. “We can’t even remember the play half the time.” That responsibility, of course, falls on the head coach who will need to give his players some mnemonic devices or other forms of memory training in order to make a deep run in March.
  2. While Texas struggled, Oklahoma continues to improve. Lon Kruger pulled off what may turn out to be the most important transfer move in the Big 12 this year with the addition of senior TaShawn Thomas. He has provided the Sooners with a legitimate inside threat and is becoming an increasingly important part of the Oklahoma offense. He finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds against the Longhorns, which marks the sixth time in the last seven games that he has scored in double figures. Although the transfer wasn’t very efficient in getting his numbers, the fact that he attempted 17 shots in the game suggests that he’s becoming a robust option inside. Thomas also came through with an early contender for best dunk during conference play with a big finish on a couple of Texas bigs, resulting in a fantastic bench celebration from the Sooners’ reserves.
  3. Kansas will open its Big 12 season tonight on the road at Baylor, and while the Jayhawks have won at least a share of the last 10 Big 12 regular season titles, the odds seem somewhat stacked against them this year. Ken Pomeroy’s conference predictions currently project Texas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia to finish ahead of Kansas in the league standings this season. The biggest worry for head coach Bill Self at this point is the Jayhawks’ defense. Self’s teams have always prided themselves on being one of the better defensive teams in the conference and country, but Kansas is entering league play with a field goal percentage defense that ranks eighth among Big 12 teams. That number will need to improve in order for Kansas to win an 11th straight Big 12 championship in what is shaping up to be the most competitive league in the country.
  4. In what is a bit of an odd arrangement, TCU is playing its home games this season at Wilkerson-Greines, which is an off-campus athletic facility owned by the Fort Worth school district. Daniel-Meyer Coliseum, the usual home of the Horned Frogs, is currently undergoing renovations. On Monday, TCU head coach Trent Johnson defended his team from critics who have suggested that the change of venue is the reason behind the Horned Frogs’ improved defense. “The rim is 10 feet,” Johnson said, “The only advantage we have, if any, is that if we come out and play extremely hard and rebound. It creates an advantage against certain teams regardless of where you play or when you play.” The Horned Frogs have the sixth-best field goal percentage defense in the country, allowing opponents to shoot only 34.7 percent on the season. If Johnson’s guys are able to keep that up, they’ll be able to pick up a great number more conference wins than last season.
  5. Oklahoma State’s Phil Forte was named the conference’s player of the week after scoring 41 points on 14-of-24 shooting in the Cowboys’ wins over Missouri and Kansas State. Forte has always been a knock-down outside shooter for Travis Ford’s squad, but his offensive role has increased so that he is finishing five percent more of the Cowboys’ possessions and his 17.3 points per game is tied with teammate Le’Bryan Nash for the Big 12 lead. If Oklahoma State is to make it back to the NCAA Tournament this season, Forte must continue to exhibit a high level of play over the next couple months of action.
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Oklahoma’s Blowout of Texas Might Disrupt Big 12 Hierarchy

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 6th, 2015

Nate Kotisso is a Big 12 microsite writer for Rush The Court. He covered Oklahoma-Texas in Austin last night. You can follow him on Twitter @natekotisso.

We are four days into the start of Big 12 play, so naturally, now is the time to make quick declarations on how the conference will ultimately shake out. Until we make new ones on Saturday, that is. The box score will tell you that the Sooners played their most complete game of the season against one of their toughest opponents on Monday night. While it was an impressive victory, the reality is Oklahoma dominated Texas defensively in the first half and coasted in the second. The Sooners forced nine of Texas’ 12 turnovers, scored 11 points off those turnovers, outscored the Horns in the paint by 10, and held the Longhorns to 14 points total — all in the first 20 minutes. At the break, Texas was left with six players each making one field goal to account for their 6-of-30 shooting, while the Sooners’ Ryan Spangler and Buddy Hield equaled that number with three makes apiece. Their size advantage on Texas’ guards with Hield and Isaiah Cousins allowed the duo to shoot over them to the tune of 4-of-10 from the perimeter.

Texas guard Demarcus Holland attempts to grab the ball on this Longhorn possession. However, the game was out of UT's reach as they lost by 21. (Brendan Maloney/USA Today Sports)

Texas guard Demarcus Holland attempts to grab the ball on this Longhorn possession. However, the game was out of UT’s reach as they lost by 21. (Brendan Maloney/USA Today Sports)

Another important piece to this game for Oklahoma was the emergence of TaShawn Thomas. It’s common knowledge that the addition of Thomas has strengthened the team’s defense to a level that hasn’t been seen during head coach Lon Kruger‘s tenure in Norman. Competing against the athletic size of Cameron Ridley, Jonathan Holmes, Prince Ibeh and Connor Lammert, Thomas posted 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting and 10 rebounds, four of them offensive. While not nearly as efficient on the offensive end, Thomas contributed 12 points, 11 rebounds and led all players in offensive rebounds (four), two blocked shots and one nasty dunk that thwarted any chance of a Longhorns’ comeback early in the second half. The Sooners seem to have Texas’ number of late, winning four of the last five games in the series. Oklahoma has also recorded wins in Austin in consecutive seasons for the first time since the program last did so during the 2000-02 seasons. Read the rest of this entry »

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