Big 12 Tournament Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 7th, 2018

After an intense two months of regular season play, postseason action will finally open tonight when the Big 12 Tournament tips off from Kansas City. The league is currently ripe for seven NCAA Tournament teams, with an eighth in sight and perhaps even a ninth if things really get wild. No matter how the at-large picture pans out, nearly every team in the league has something to play for, which means that there will be no shortage of storylines to monitor this week. Let’s break down this week’s event.

West Virginia seniors Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles begin their encore this week in Kansas City. (Nick Golden/The Daily Athenaeum)

  • The Favorite: After extending its regular season conference title streak to an unprecedented 14 seasons in a row, Kansas is once again the favorite to win this weekend’s Big 12 Tournament, alhough not overwhelmingly. It’s easy to see why most projections are looking Kansas’ way. The Jayhawks have the league’s best player/coach duo in Devonte’ Graham and Bill Self and are clicking offensively (last Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma State notwithstanding). Additionally, the Jayhawks will be playing right in their own backyard, motivated by the potential of capturing a #1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season.
  • Contenders: There are some valid reasons to fade Kansas, too. Counting on a thin team to win three games in as many days is challenging enough without accounting for the stiff competition it figures to face, and Texas Tech and West Virginia would love nothing more than to improve their NCAA seeding by beating the regular season champ. Stud Red Raiders guard Keenan Evans showed no ill effects over the weekend from a toe injury that hampered him in late February, and the Mountaineers’ deep rotation could go a long way toward countering the downsides of the game-per-day environment should West Virginia advance to Friday’s semifinals.

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Big 12 Weekend In Review

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 19th, 2018

Another weekend of Big 12 action is in the books, and with it another dramatic set of games, each one carrying significant implications on both the league standings and the at-large picture for the NCAA Tournament. With Kansas and Texas Tech drawing back to even with four games remaining — including a crucial head-to-head match-up this coming Saturday — there’s still plenty of intrigue even if Saturday night’s events in Lawrence gave the impression that a 14th straight conference title for the Jayhawks is likelier than the standings suggest.

Bob Huggins became the latest visiting coach to show his frustration with the officiating at Allen Fieldhouse. (Nick Krug/Lawrence Journal-World)

  • Starting with the weekend’s marquee game between Kansas and West Virginia, Bob Huggins’ comments on the officiating, while valid, also left me ambivalent. Huggins certainly made a strong point when he pushed for referees to be made available to media after games in a fashion similar to that of coaches and players. The game as a whole would benefit, but as The Kansas City Star’s Sam Mellinger wrote in his postgame column, Huggins is probably not the right messenger for that idea when you consider his own team’s style of play. That said, while the 35-2 free throw disparity between the Jayhawks and Mountaineers drew the lion’s share of attention, caution should be exercised from draw sweeping conclusions. After all, the Mountaineers held a double-digit lead with fewer than 10 minutes to go despite the difference in free throw attempts, and West Virginia attempted just six shots at the rim all game long — compared with 13 by the Jayhawks. When a team fails to attack the tin, it will have a much harder time getting foul calls, especially on the road. Again, that isn’t to absolve John Higgins’ officiating crew from some responsibility here, but proper context is the name of the game when it comes to wide free throw disparities, even in extreme cases like this one.

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Big 12 Weekend Review

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 12th, 2018

The Big 12 had quite the shakeup over the weekend as Kansas‘ uncompetitive loss to Baylor and Texas Tech‘s easy road win over Kansas State gave the Red Raiders sole possession of first place with just three weeks to go in the regular season. Before the Jayhawk faithful hit the panic button, it’s worth remembering that Kansas has overcome similar deficits more than a few times over the course of its 13-year Big 12 regular season title streak (although not since 2013). This thing is far from over, but between the Jayhawks’ current struggles and the high stakes of breaking UCLA’s record of consecutive conference championships, there’s more intrigue down the stretch than there has been in several years.

The Red Raiders have a one-game lead on Kansas, but can they succeed where others have failed and end the Jayhawks’ conference title streak? (Jim Cowsert/USA Today)

  1. A look at Texas Tech and Kansas’ remaining schedules reveals that the Red Raiders have an edge for a couple reasons. The biggest is that they have already won at Allen Fieldhouse, meaning their remaining head-to-head match-up will take place in Lubbock. Additionally, Chris Beard‘s team is unbeaten against their other five opponents, while Kansas is just 3-2 against its remaining foes. While those facts are certainly not predictive of how the rest of the race will go, it should make Texas Tech fans feel fairly good about their chances, though a Kansas comeback is always something to keep in mind as long as Bill Self is patrolling the sideline. Read the rest of this entry »
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Ten Questions to Consider: Duke vs. Virginia Headlines This Weekend

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 26th, 2018

With no NFL action this weekend, Duke vs. Virginia should get the proper attention it deserves. That match-up of top-five teams leads 10 things that I will be paying attention to this weekend.

Duke Got the Best of Virginia in their Last Matchup (USA Today Images)

  1. Will Duke vs. Virginia come down to Duke’s offensive rebounding? In two ACC games against opponents with a top-10 offensive rebounding rate, Virginia allowed both to collect offensive rebounds more than 48 percent of the time. Even with a defensive efficiency that is better than any other team in the 17-year KenPom database, the nation’s best offensive rebounding team should give Virginia all it can handle.
  2. Is Notre Dame a strong Matt Farrell performance away from snapping out of its skid? After winning its first two games without the services of injured star Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame has now lost four straight games with Matt Farrell shooting 25 percent on his three-point attempts in his last two outings. Farrell’s 32.4 percent shooting from distance in conference play is down from a 45 percent clip a season ago. A hot-shooting Farrell is what Notre Dame needs to get back into the win column this weekend against Virginia Tech.
  3. Can Maryland show defensive signs of life against Michigan State? Maryland’s defense has fallen apart in Big Ten play, giving up 15 more points per 100 possessions than its season average. In its lopsided loss at Michigan State earlier this month, the Terrapins allowed the Spartans to shoot 57 percent on both two-point and three-point attempts. Maryland is 12-1 at home this season, but it will need a great defensive effort on Sunday to beat Michigan State. Read the rest of this entry »
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Ten Questions To Consider: Weekend Adversity Ahead?

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 19th, 2018

As conference play continues this weekend, teams across the country are having to face different types of adversity. Here are 10 questions for games to be played over the next few days:

Michigan State Will Try to Right the Ship This Weekend (USA Today Images)

  1. Are turnovers killing Michigan State? Michigan State has lost two of its last three games and needed overtime to escape at home with a win against Rutgers. The Spartans were -18 in turnovers in those three games. They must limit their giveaways against an Indiana team that ranks second in the Big Ten in forced turnover rate during conference play.
  2. Will Wichita State bounce back from its first conference loss? In Wichita State’s first AAC loss of the season, the Shockers allowed SMU to shoot 76 percent on two-point attempts and 50 percent on three-point attempts. It was the fifth time this season in which Wichita State has allowed an opponent to score more than 1.1 points per possession — something that happened only four times last year. For Wichita State to win the American in its first year in the league, it will need to become more consistent defensively.
  3. Will Kentucky be able to follow up another loss with a win? After each of its previous three losses, Kentucky has returned home and won its next game. After falling Tuesday to South Carolina, Kentucky returns home to play Florida. Kentucky’s current SEC defensive efficiency of 104 points per 100 possessions is the worst of any group of Wildcats since Tubby Smith’s 2005-06 team. Their defensive struggles come from a season long inability to force turnovers, an area where Kentucky currently ranks outside of the top 200.
  4. How troubling is West Virginia’s offense? Since Big 12 play began, West Virginia’s offense has undergone a steady decline. The Mountaineers currently own the second worst offensive efficiency, effective field-goal percentage, and turnover rate in the conference. The Mountaineers will host a Texas team that held Texas Tech to just 58 points in its last game. Read the rest of this entry »
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Friday Figures: Home Court Advantage, West Virginia’s Press & Baylor’s Offensive Woes

Posted by Chris Stone on January 5th, 2018

Friday Figures is a (somewhat) weekly feature where we look at some of the most intriguing statistics from the Big 12. This week, we’re diving into the Big 12’s home court advantage (or lack thereof), Bob Huggins’ preseason fib and what’s ailing Baylor.

Home-court advantage ain’t what it used to be. That home teams in the Big 12 have only won two of their 12 contests so far is one of the more startling figures to come out of early conference play. Obviously the first 12 games have been dramatic, but maybe it should not be a big surprise that visiting teams are winning more often. Over the past two seasons, the league registered the first- and third-worst conference home win percentages for the Big 12 of the KenPom era, as the graph below shows.

Source: KenPom

This phenomenon isn’t unique to the Big 12, though. Across the spectrum, home teams are winning conference games less often. Over the summer, Ken Pomeroy put in some work trying to figure out why exactly such a decline exists. His conclusion was that home teams are increasingly losing out on their foul advantage which coincides very well with their decline in home court advantage. So, although it’s unlikely that Big 12 home teams will continue to post a .200 win percentage over the course of the season, it is certainly possible that we’ll see more unexpected road wins like the one Texas Tech pulled off at Kansas.

Bob Huggins is a fibber. Before the start of the season, Huggins suggested that West Virginia may not use its fabled press quite as often this season because of depth issues. “We might be better served to do something else,” he said at the time. “We’re going to keep doing it and see. I’m more convinced we can’t than we can right now.” So far the lack of a deep bench has played out just as Huggins expected, with a Press Virginia low of 34.6 percent of the team’s total minutes coming from the bench, per KenPom. Despite that, West Virginia continues to press just as much and just as well as ever before, holding teams to 0.745 points per possession and a 31.5 percent turnover rate on those possessions.

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A Quick Look at the Big 12’s Opening Weekend

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 29th, 2017

It’s not very often that the performance of a single conference as a whole is extensively discussed before the start of league play, but the manner in which the Big 12 asserted itself over the first six weeks of the 2017-18 season was nothing short of impressive. Nine of the conference’s 10 teams are ranked among the top 50 of KenPom‘s current rankings, and no team took more losses than Texas‘ three (of which two came in overtime against very good Duke and Gonzaga teams). In fact, the league finished non-conference play by ripping off 27 straight victories. Yes, there were some cupcakes in there, but there were also road and semi-road meetings against teams like Wichita State, Florida State and Nebraska. It’s gotten to the point where there’s been reasoned discussion on this site and others of the Big 12 sending 80 percent of its membership to the NCAA Tournament come March. Even if an underperforming team squelches that possibility, this conference will have meaningful games practically every night from now until March, beginning with tonight’s action. Here’s a quick look at each of the weekend’s five games.

Kansas remains the Big 12 favorite, but its competition is tougher than ever. (AP)

  1. West Virginia at Oklahoma State (Friday 7:00 ET, ESPNU) – The Cowboys project as one of the league’s worst teams, but West Virginia is just a 3.5-point favorite, which should tell you something about the Big 12’s parity and the intense challenge that the road represents this season, no matter the gym. Since installing the press prior to the 2014-15 season, Bob Huggins has not lost in Stillwater, and I expect that to continue tonight. Oklahoma State’s 10-2 start in the wake of Brad Underwood’s unexpected departure is a nice story, but the Cowboys are lacking in the three key areas needed to get the best of the Mountaineers: Ball control (117th nationally), defensive rebounding (174th) and drawing fouls (291st). Those will have to change if the Cowboys are to pull the upset.
  2. Baylor at Texas Tech (Friday 8:00 ET, Fox Sports Regional) – The Red Raiders stunned the Bears in Lubbock last season to give then-first year head coach Chris Beard a big home win. Three Baylor players fouled out of that game, which saw Texas Tech head to the foul line 43 times over the course of the night. That probably won’t be the case this time around, as Baylor ranks second in the country in foul avoidance. It also means that Texas Tech will need to find a fallback plan quickly if Baylor’s zone keeps Keenan Evans, Zach Smith and Zhaire Smith from attacking the rim as effectively as they have to this point in the season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Friday Figures: Kansas’ Zone O, Baylor’s Rebounding Woes & Texas Tech’s Defense

Posted by Chris Stone on December 8th, 2017

After a couple of weeks off, Friday Figures is back to dive into some of the most interesting statistical notes from around the Big 12 with a look at issues surrounding Kansas, Baylor and Texas Tech.

A smart game plan can make a big difference. It’s rare to see a team play against the same iteration of a zone defense in back-to-back non-conference games like Kansas did last week, but since Washington hired former Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins in March, the Jayhawks faced Jim Boeheim’s notorious 2-3 zone twice in five days with wildly different results. Kansas rather easily handled the Orange behind 35 points from Devonte’ Graham on Saturday before stumbling against a much worse Huskies squad in Kansas City on Wednesday night. So, what changed?

The Kansas offense couldn’t find success against Washington’s zone. (Image credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s all about shot selection. Hopkins brought the wings of his 2-3 zone all the way out to the perimeter to deny the Jayhawks’ three-point attempts in the half-court, effectively creating a 4-1 zone. He wanted to deny a potent Kansas offense its most efficient shot, and it worked like a charm. According to Hoop-Math, just 17.4 percent of the Jayhawks’ half-court attempts were threes against the Huskies compared with a wild 57.1 percent against Syracuse. Add in Kansas shooting just 3-of-12 on quickly taken threes and there is the anatomy for an upset.

Given that opposing defenses have more control over three-point attempts than actual three-point percentage, it’ll be interesting to observe if other teams try something similar against Kansas this season.

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Rushed Reactions: #22 Baylor 65, Creighton 59

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 22nd, 2017

RTC is providing coverage of The Hall Of Fame Classic in Kansas City.

Three Key Takeaways.

Baylor Showed Impressive Poise in Winning the HOF Classic Tonight (USA Today Images)

  1. Jo-Lual Acuil brought the intensity on the defensive glass. Creighton wasn’t known as a gifted rebounding team coming into tonight’s championship game and Baylor’s Jo Lual-Acuil ensured that would remain the case tonight. While the senior’s extreme length gives him an inherent advantage nearly every night out, his lack of bulk in the form of a 225-pound body on a 7’0″ frame and corresponding effort isn’t always there. This means that he can be too easily moved off the blocks by other high-level forwards like Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ. For at least one night, however, Lual-Acuil flipped the script in pulling down 15 of his team’s 38 total rebounds to deny Creighton a number of opportunities for second chance points.
  2. Both teams turned up the defense. After allowing 1.06 points per possession to UCLA on Monday night, Creighton head coach Greg McDermott stressed the need for his team to improve its defense. As a result, the Bluejays put the clamps on Baylor’s offense by hard-hedging screens at the point of attack, preventing the smallish Manu Lecomte from locating defenders over the top. On the other end of the floor, Baylor tightened things up after giving up several Creighton drives in the first half. The Bears were much more active defensively down the stretch, holding the Bluejays to just 29 percent shooting after the half.
  3. Marcus Foster is going to want tonight’s effort back. Creighton needed a spark in the second half but the senior guard hurt his team more than he helped in shooting a frosty 5-of-17 from the floor, including a ghastly 1-of-9 dud from the three-point line. Foster’s last two misfires, a pair of corner threes during the final minute, sealed Creighton’s fate and allowed the Bears to leave town with the Hall of Fame Classic title.

Player of the Game. King McClure, Baylor. The Bears were offensively starved for most of the night, but the junior stepped up in an impressive manner, scoring 15 of his game-high 19 points after the intermission. Mixing several tough drives with a pair of three-pointers, McClure showed the ability that has made him such a valued part of Scott Drew‘s unit over the last two seasons.

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What’s Trending: November Non-Conference Games

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 21st, 2017

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

The Sviatoslav Myhailiuk question that everyone outside of Lawrence, Kansas is curious about…

Dunk(s) of the Week

St. John’s puts the old saying “defense leads to offense” with this against Nebraska…

Baylor, with authority…

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