Oregon vs. Baylor is the Best Daytime Marathon Game and That’s Fine

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 15th, 2016

One of the virtues of having a winning basketball program is when a school fearlessly schedules its non-conference slate of games. Participating in a multi-team tournament where the weather’s warm? Most definitely. How about playing a true road game or two before January? You betcha. After paying a trip to Eugene as part of last year’s ESPN Tip-Off Marathon, Baylor is set to host a top-five Oregon team in an otherwise blasé daytime portion of the event (3:30 PM ET, ESPN2). The Ducks, which return much of its Elite Eight squad from a season ago, can do just about everything and they aren’t even healthy yet — leading scorer Dillon Brooks (16.7 PPG) is still recovering from foot surgery. Both teams enter today’s game at 1-0. Oregon didn’t play its best against Army but did enough to keep distance in a 14-point win. Baylor wasn’t at full strength against Oral Roberts either, playing without the services of preseason First Team all-Big 12 forward Johnathan Motley (suspension), but still came away with a 15-point victory.

Baylor's Manu Lecomte (#20) had himself a night in Friday night's season opener versus Oral Roberts. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune-Herald)

Baylor’s Manu Lecomte (#20) had himself a night in Friday night’s season opener versus Oral Roberts. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune-Herald)

There are a lot of ways a match-up like this can be sliced, but three-point defense is the key variable here. After making nine threes against the Black Knights on Friday, Oregon will trot out a slew of outstanding shooters headlined by Tyler Dorsey (career: 40.8%) and Payton Pritchard (40.0%). Baylor, which made 10 threes of its own against the Golden Eagles, counters with the likes of Manu Lecomte (career: 42.6%) and Al Freeman (37.4%). The team that closes out on shooters effectively will triumph in this game. If neither team can stop the other from canning double-figure threes, however, then it will be a high-scoring, fast-paced game that will end after a minimum of two overtimes. Or six. The point here is that we, the viewers, cannot lose with a game like this.

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Big 12 Superlatives, Predictions and Storylines

Posted by Big 12 Team on November 11th, 2016

The 2016-17 Big 12 season is going to be an interesting one despite Kansas being the prohibitive favorite to win the conference yet again. The battle for second appears to be a three-horse race between Iowa State, Texas and West Virginia, while the middle and bottom tiers of the league will still feature teams capable of contending for NCAA Tournament bids. We’re beyond excited to see it all unfold, and with that, we unveil our Big 12 preseason predictions and superlatives (written by each voter).

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Player Of The Year

  • Drew Andrews: Monte’ Morris, Iowa State — While you could easily look at freshmen phenoms Josh Jackson and Jarrett Allen as potential Big 12 Player of the Year candidates, Monte’ Morris should win the award next March. With the departures of Cyclone stalwarts like Georges Niang, Abdel Nader and Jameel McKay, Morris will be asked to bring a huge amount of the magic to Hilton Coliseum this season. The senior will need to carry more of the scoring load in addition to his league-leading 6.9 assists per game and second-place 1.8 steals per game if Iowa State wants to make its sixth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
  • Justin Fedich: Josh Jackson, Kansas — Unlike last season, the pick for this year’s Big 12 Player of the Year isn’t as obvious. I’ll take the most talented player on the best team, Kansas freshman Josh Jackson. The 6’8” wing from Detroit will benefit from playing with the experienced backcourt duo of Frank Mason and Devonté Graham. He might have some early growing pains, but Kansas will need someone to replace the void left by Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis, the top two scorers from last season’s team.

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Reviewing the Big 12’s Top 10 Non-Conference Matchups

Posted by Chris Stone on November 8th, 2016

Once again it looks like the Big 12 regular season title will remain in Kansas. Bill Self’s team enters this season as the prohibitive favorite to win a 13th straight championship, but the good news is that there is plenty of great non-conference basketball to sustain us until conference teams take turns trying to knock the Jayhawks from their perch. Most Big 12 teams will play tough November and December schedules featuring several preseason top 10 teams and tough mid-majors. Notably excluded from this list are games from January’s Big 12/SEC Challenge, but here’s a look at the league’s best 10 non-conference games through the first two months of the season.

Kansas is poised to win another Big 12 title, but the non-conference games come first. (USA Today Images)

Kansas is poised to win another Big 12 title, but the non-conference games come first. (USA Today Images)

  • 10. Oklahoma State vs. Connecticut, Monday November 21 – This is an opening round game at the Maui Invitational, and while the Cowboys may struggle to beat a ranked Connecticut team on the Valley Isle, the individual match-up between point guards Jawun Evans and Jalen Adams makes this must-see TV.
  • 9. Texas at Michigan, Tuesday December 6 – John Beilein’s Michigan teams play a beautiful brand of offensive basketball that the Longhorns will look to muck up by increasing tempo and using their athleticism to outrun the Wolverines in Ann Arbor.
  • 8. Oklahoma at Wisconsin, Saturday December 3 – The Badgers open the season as the Big Ten favorite so Oklahoma will have its hands full in Madison. Guard Jordan Woodard will need to deliver a Buddy Hield-esque performance for the Sooners to come away with an upset in this one.

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Transfers Look to Lift Big 12 Teams This Season

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 7th, 2016

Like most power conferences around college basketball, the Big 12 has seen a number of players look its way in search of fresh starts. Similarly (and despite bemoaning the process at every opportunity), coaches haven’t been shy about picking up transfers from all over the landscape. From guys like former Sooner Ryan Spangler, who became a Big 12 fixture over multiple seasons, to one-year rentals such as Iowa State’s DeAndre Kane and Kansas’ Tarik Black, transfers have filled a variety of roles within the conference over the years. Some will be relied on more than others, but here’s a full rundown of the new faces who will look to make their presences felt in 2016-17.

After a year of waiting, Manu Lecomte takes the reigns for Baylor.(Scott Cunningham/Getty)

After a year of waiting, Manu Lecomte takes the reins for Baylor. (Scott Cunningham/Getty)

  • Manu Lecomte, Baylor: One of the reasons Baylor has enjoyed trips to the NCAA Tournament in four of the last five seasons has been the presence of a steady if not always spectacular point guard. Just as he did a few years ago when he found Kenny Chery, Scott Drew mined the transfer list in 2015 and found Lecomte, who arrives from Miami and sat out last season. Lecomte was a prolific three-point shooter in his two seasons in Coral Gables, but he also showed some decent handles with 144 assists to 101 turnovers playing for Jim Larranaga. He’ll be charged with initiating the Bears’ offense, which will be no easy task with Taurean Prince and Rico Gathers out of the picture.
  • Niem Stevenson, Texas Tech: Texas Tech lost a pair of off-guards in Devaugntah Williams and Toddrick Gotcher, so new head coach Chris Beard will look to fill the gap with Stevenson, a two-time JuCo All-American from Seward County Community College (KS). Stevenson is a legit scorer who averaged 24.7 points per game last season, but at 6’5″, he can help on the glass and defend a little bit, too. Tubby Smith left Beard with many helpful pieces in Lubbock, but it could be one Beard picked up himself who propels the Red Raiders to a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

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One Burning Question: Will Kansas Really Play Small?

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 4th, 2016

Perry Ellis was one of the most recognizable players in college basketball over the last two seasons. This isn’t news, but anyone who has ever played in a pickup game could empathize with Ellis’s opponents in how they struggled to contain his lethal combination of footwork, soft touch and accuracy. The jokes about Ellis’s age were every bit as much about what he did with the ball in his hands as they were about his status as a college mainstay in the one-and-done era. As the curtains open on the 2016-17 season, Kansas will miss the All-American’s scoring ability, but something people haven’t mentioned nearly as much is that Ellis’s rebounding ability, while not as prolific, will need to be replaced as well. While the Wichita native was no Thomas Robinson, he did average 6.4 rebounds per game over his final three seasons and finished among the top ten in the conference in that category in each of his last two. The degree to which Kansas’ frontcourt helps Landen Lucas replace that production will strongly impact Bill Self’s efforts to deliver his second National Championship to Lawrence.

The paint could be a lonely place for Landen Lucas in 2016-17. (KUSports.com/Nick Krug)

Kansas opens the 2016-17 season without a clear-cut complement to Landen Lucas down low. (KUSports.com/Nick Krug)

As our Chris Stone wrote last month, sophomore Carlton Bragg will get the first crack at filling Ellis’ void. At 6’10”, he still needs to prove that he can get into position to retrieve caroms off the glass and initiate Self’s lethal transition attack. Bragg didn’t do a very good job of that in Tuesday’s exhibition, but we’ll find out very quickly against Duke and Indiana if this was just a matter of adjusting to a new role or if it’s something to be more concerned about. If Bragg gets exposed early, don’t be surprised to see transfer Dwight Coleby get the next shot down low. A transfer from Mississippi, Coleby has good experience and, at 240 pounds, a bigger frame than Bragg. The potential drawback with the redshirt junior, though, is that he has been slow to recover from ACL surgery last year. As a coach who values players who make defensive hustle plays and aren’t shy about mixing things up in the post, Self likely won’t have much patience if he senses that Coleby isn’t completely recovered or that he’s not as comfortable testing his body as much as Self thinks he could.

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One Burning Question: Who Will Run Point For Shaka Smart?

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 3rd, 2016

Last year’s Texas team was, more or less, the end of an era — the Rick Barnes Era. The Longhorns’ season ended on an incredible half-court heave from Northern Iowa in the NCAA Tournament, and 80 percent of Texas’ starting lineup on that day were made up of seniors. The other player, junior Isaiah Taylor, decided three weeks later that he would forgo his remaining year of eligibility and enter the NBA Draft. With Taylor gone, the two remaining scholarship players from the Barnes era are senior forward Shaq Cleare and junior guard Kendal Yancy. Taylor’s was the most painful departure of all, as he led the team in scoring (15.0 PPG), assists (5.0 APG) and games (33) last season. While it’s true that the Longhorns have an entire starting lineup to replace, head coach Shaka Smart‘s biggest concern is who he will direct to manage his offense on opening night. All we know right now is that it will be someone young who will have to learn the position on the fly.

Texas head coach Shaka Smart watches his young team in Nov. 2's exhibition game. (TexasSports.com)

Texas head coach Shaka Smart watches his young point guard Andrew Jones (#1) in November 2’s exhibition game versus Division II Angelo State. (TexasSports.com)

Election Day is almost here. In this vein, it appears that Smart is leaning in a particular direction but we may not have all precincts reporting just yet. Down three scholarship players in the Longhorns’ exhibition win last night, Smart started 6’4″ freshman Andrew Jones and he played well against a vastly inferior opponent. The Irving, Texas, native did what led to his meteoric rise at the tail end of his high school career — a little bit of everything. He scored 17 points, grabbed seven rebounds, dished five assists and, most importantly, turned the ball over only once in 33 minutes of game action. Whether he’s facing D-II competition or the powers in the Big 12, Jones should have a good size advantage at the point guard position that makes him especially difficult for defenses to both contain and cut off his passing angles.

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One Burning Question: How Can West Virginia Replace Its Lost Talent?

Posted by Chris Stone on November 2nd, 2016

The idea of building around a system or a specific style of play is not a new one in college basketball. Villanova’s Jay Wright, for example, has historically succeeded by playing a four-out, one-in offensive system that features guards who can shoot and take advantage of mismatches. The Big 12 also has its share of programs with a knack for finding players and fitting them into a largely predetermined system of play. Kansas head coach Bill Self has been notoriously stubborn about his high-low offense, even going so far as to suggest there is a target number of three-point field goals the Jayhawks look to take each season. At VCU, Shaka Smart earned his reputation by regularly recruiting players best suited to succeed in the system he dubbed “HAVOC.” Over the past several seasons, another Big 12 program has made waves by instituting a similarly successful, if not somewhat unorthodox, system.

With a revamped press philosophy, Bob Huggins and West Virginia are climbing their way up the college basketball mountain. (USA TODAY Sports)

With a revamped press philosophy, West Virginia is climbing its way back up the college basketball mountain. (USA TODAY Sports)

West Virginia has developed a fast-paced, in-your-face press — Press Virginia, if you will — that has turned the Mountaineers from a merely average defensive team into one of the very best in the country., Bob Huggins’ team has ranked among the top two nationally in defensive turnover percentage the last two seasons, causing a miscue on over a quarter of their opponents’ offensive possessions. All those giveaways in turn led to easy buckets and spurred West Virginia on to consecutive NCAA Tournament bids after several years of middling efforts. The question now is whether the proven system can withstand a significant shock to its personnel. West Virginia no longer has the services of either of their two double-figure scorers from a year ago — Jaysean Paige is out of eligibility and big man Devin Williams declared early for the 2016 NBA Draft. The pair provided the Mountaineers with something of an offensive safety net when the turnovers weren’t coming. Jonathan Holton is also finished. The 6’9″ forward –one of the signature pieces in Huggins’ pressing defense — was the type of versatile athlete who excelled atop the press. Holton could defend smaller players coming upcourt with time to quickly recover and battle with some of the league’s best in the post. He was also the team’s second-best rebounder, helping to close out defensive possessions after opponents had gotten through the pressure and taken a rushed shot. Read the rest of this entry »

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One Burning Question: Will Steve Prohm’s Big Bet Pay Off?

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 1st, 2016

On the surface, the changes that Steve Prohm is asking Monte’ Morris to make this season seem rational. The Cyclones are coming off of a Sweet Sixteen appearance, but lost the Big 12’s fourth all-time scoring leader in Georges Niang and two other effective scorers in Abdel Nader and Jameel McKay. The thinking goes that someone has to pick up the slack, and who better to do so than a Preseason All-American and potential first round pick? Furthermore, recent history on both sides of the equation supports the notion that Prohm and Morris can pull this off. In 2014, Prohm’s offense turned Cameron Payne into a lottery pick at Murray State. The season before that, DeAndre Kane soaked up 27 percent of Iowa State’s possessions on the way to leading Iowa State to its first Sweet Sixteen in 14 years. So this should work too, right? I’m not so sure. In fact, there are a few reasons to be skeptical of how far Morris can carry this team, though admittedly, Prohm doesn’t have much choice.

Can Iowa State ride Monte' Morris back to the Big Dance? (AP/Charlie Neibergall)

Can Iowa State ride Monte’ Morris back to the Big Dance? (AP/Charlie Neibergall)

Perhaps the biggest difference between this Iowa State team and the last few versions is that opposing defenders will be locked in on Morris from the start. Matt Thomas and Naz Mitrou-Long are legitimate scoring threats who will divert some attention away from Morris, but defenses won’t be motivated to stay on them if they aren’t hitting their threes. Even if Thomas and Mitrou-Long pick up where they left off, though, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Morris — despite sporting an improved physique — will be able to successfully absorb the kind of volume the Cyclones hope to extract from him this season. Read the rest of this entry »

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One Burning Question: Is Baylor Due For A Rebuilding Year?

Posted by Nate Kotisso on October 31st, 2016

The fickle nature of the NCAA Tournament once again revealed itself to Baylor last season. After collapsing late in its 2015 Round of 64 game against Georgia State, the Bears dropped another early round game to a double-digit seed last season — Yale, this time around. On the heels of that disappointing upset and several important pieces departing, it brings up a worthwhile question: Is Baylor due for a rebuilding year? Most programs — even the high-major to elite ones — undergo a rebuilding process at some point. For many, a strong recruiting class gets things back on track; for others, the process can take a while longer. Between Elite Eight appearances in 2010-11, the Bears went 18-13 and finished seventh in the Big 12. With Taurean Prince, Rico Gathers and Lester Medford all now gone from Waco, this season appears to have more questions than answers.

Big 12 coaches named former Miami (FL)/ current Baylor sharpshooter Manu Lecomte as the league's Newcomer of the Year. (Rich Barnes/Getty)

Big 12 coaches named former Miami (FL)/current Baylor sharpshooter Manu Lecomte as the league’s 2016-17 Newcomer of the Year. (Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

The burning question for the Bears this time one year ago was whether they’d get consistent point guard play from Medford. Not only did he provide that support but he dropped more dimes (6.5 APG) than anyone in the Big 12 other than Iowa State’s Monte’ Morris (6.9 APG). As for this season, Baylor’s starting point guard situation is still in doubt. Scott Drew has not yet decided who his on-floor leader will be, but it’s not a stretch to assume sophomore guard Jake Lindsey is the front-runner. Lindsey averaged 6.3 assists per 40 minutes last year, which is a statistic Drew will surely contemplate. The other guard positions appear more certain: Preseason Big 12 Newcomer of the Year Manu Lecomte is expected to fill in the Brady Heslip-like role after nailing 43.4 percent of his three-pointers in two years at Miami (FL); Al Freeman on the wing is the team’s best returning scorer (11.3 PPG) and three-point shooter (38.2%).

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One Burning Question: Will Jawun Evans and Phil Forte Get Enough Help Inside?

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 28th, 2016

After several years of underperformance, Oklahoma State finally parted ways with Travis Ford and made the splashiest move of the offseason in hiring Brad Underwood. A former Kansas State assistant, Underwood arrives in Stillwater with a shiny 89-14 record over three seasons at Stephen F. Austin, including an upset of his mentor Bob Huggins’ program, West Virginia, in the first round of last season’s NCAA Tournament. The returns of Phil Forte and Jawun Evans should provide Underwood with an excellent base to his first season. The sharpshooting Forte is an underrated Big 12 veteran who owns a career 38.9 percent three-point shooting clip and is an automatic 86.6 percent at the free throw line. Evans’ corresponding emergence as an NBA prospect on the strength of his advanced vision and handle gives the Cowboys a lift they badly need. The question this team faces, though, is a familiar one despite a new head coach at the helm: Will the Cowboys’ frontcourt be effective enough to keep opposing defenses from overloading on their two potent guards?

Phil Forte's return gives the Cowboys an instant boost. (Mic Smith/AP)

Phil Forte’s return gives the Cowboys an instant boost. (Mic Smith/AP)

The Cowboys under Ford were never known for stout frontcourts, and last season may have been their low point, especially on the offensive end. Oklahoma State shot a league-worst 55.2 percent at the rim, per hoop-math.com, relying on free throws and, without Forte, shaky three-point shooting to carry the load. It went about as poorly as you’d imagine, as the team finished last in the conference in offensive efficiency. Fortunately, Underwood could be the right guy to reverse the Pokes’ fortunes. His last two Lumberjack teams ranked 15th and sixth nationally in converting twos and were especially effective at the rim, shooting 67.7 percent on close looks last season and 63.3 percent the year before. The defenses that Underwood will see in the Big 12 will be more imposing than the ones he faced in the Southland, but the standard he’ll have to meet is mere respectability rather than elite production.

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