A Handy Preview of Big 12 Opening Friday

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 30th, 2016

Thought to be headed for a down year, the Big 12 opened the 2016-17 campaign by notching several high-profile victories in neutral-site events across the country and in the Bahamas. With a handful of exceptions, it’s been quiet since as teams have taken advantage of buy-game opponents to firm up their rotations and find their identities. Activity slowed even more over the Christmas weekend, but the season is finally back from its slumber with the first full slate of conference match-ups tipping off today. Here’s a breakdown of the five best angles and storylines to follow as you settle in for the New Year’s Eve-Eve Big 12 feast.

Jawun Evans and Oklahoma State have a chance to make a statement against #11 WVU. (Alonzo Adams/USA TODAY Sports)

Jawun Evans and Oklahoma State have a chance to make an early statement in Big 12 play against #11 West Virginia. (Alonzo Adams/USA TODAY Sports)

  • West Virginia at Oklahoma State (4:00 ET, ESPN2) – In this afternoon’s opener, Bob Huggins gets a chance to exact revenge on former assistant Brad Underwood after the latter’s Lumberjacks bounced the Mountaineers from last season’s NCAA Tournament. West Virginia and Oklahoma State both feature aggressive defenses, with Press Virginia still thriving and Underwood installing more of a half-court press-and-trap look. Both teams rank among the top five nationally in offensive rebounding and in the bottom 50 in defensive rebounding, so the team that makes the most of its second chances could be the difference here.
  • Texas Tech at Iowa State (6:00 ET, ESPNEWS) – The Red Raider defense has shown an interesting indifference to the deep ball this season, ranking 345th in opponent three-point field goal attempt rate and allowing a greater percentage of their opponents’ scoring to come from beyond the arc than all but three other teams. It hasn’t cost 11-1 Texas Tech to this point, but that record came against the country’s third-easiest non-conference schedule, so take it with a grain of salt. While Iowa State doesn’t let it fly under Steve Prohm like it did under Fred Hoiberg, the experienced core of Monte’ MorrisDeonte Burton, Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas are all shooting 35 percent or better from beyond the arc. An improved showing on the perimeter defensively will be crucial if Texas Tech is to notch an impressive road win in Ames.

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Big 12 Resumes at the Quarter Pole of the Season

Posted by Justin Fedich on December 9th, 2016

The Big 12 has contributed seven of its 10 teams to the NCAA Tournament in each of the past three seasons, but the conference will be challenged to reach 70 percent representation this year. When TCU lost to SMU on Wednesday and Iowa State fell to Iowa on Thursday, it went to show that the middle tier of the league behind Kansas, Baylor and West Virginia probably isn’t as strong as it typically has been. By way of comparison, it was abundantly clear at this time last season that at least six Big 12 teams would make the NCAA Tournament field. Inexperience and a lack of quality wins beyond those three leave a bunch of teams with many questions to be answered. Let’s briefly take a look at the resume of each at the quarter pole of the season.

Locks

Kansas is Looking for More Smiles in March (USA Today Images)

Kansas is Looking for More Smiles in March (USA Today Images)

  • Kansas (99.8% chance of making NCAA Tournament, according to teamrankings.com): No justification is needed to explain why Kansas will be in the NCAA Tournament for the 28th straight season. The bigger question should be whether Bill Self’s Jayhawks can finish the season as the No. 1 overall seed.
  • West Virginia (99%): Aside from a strange slip-up against Temple, the non-conference season has been impressive for the Mountaineers. A huge road win at Virginia and a nearly 50-point win over Manhattan — a game in which West Virginia forced a whopping 40 turnovers — provides enough assurance that Bob Huggins’ squad will make the Big Dance, and likely as a top-four protected seed.
  • Baylor (97.8%): Arguably no team in college basketball has a stronger non-conference resume than Baylor to this point. The Bears have been one of the most pleasant surprises of the young season and would need to seriously falter in Big 12 play to lose its grasp on an NCAA Tournament bid.

Jury Is Still Out 

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2016-17 RTC Top 25: Week Three

Posted by Walker Carey on December 5th, 2016

Another week of college hoops is in the books, and a few teams last week demonstrated they will be reckoned with during the rest of the season. #4 UCLA, behind a terrific offensive attack, earned the most impressive victory of the young season when it left Rupp Arena on Saturday with a 97-92 victory over #8 Kentucky. That defeat at the hands of the Bruins marked the first time the Wildcats have lost in Lexington since the 2013-14 season. #5 Baylor likewise continued its dream start to the season with a dominant 76-61 win over #12 Xavier. In only the first week of December, the Bears already have an excellent profile with victories over #10 Louisville, #20 Oregon and the formerly top-10 Musketeers. #7 Gonzaga also bolstered its flawless record last week, earning a 69-62 neutral site win over #23 Arizona. The Bulldogs are benefiting from the return of big man Przemek Karnowski, who missed all but five games last season with a back injury. The college basketball season is definitely a marathon where things can change on a nightly basis, but it sure seems like the Bruins, Bears and Bulldogs are in great position to succeed all season. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty Analysis of the RTC25 is after the jump.

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Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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How Johnathan Motley’s Supporting Cast Has Elevated Baylor

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 1st, 2016

Three weeks into the new season, the best non-conference resume in college basketball belongs to Baylor. The Bears already have four wins against teams ranked among the KenPom top 50 thanks to a flawless run through the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, and they’ll have yet another chance to score a victory over a marquee opponent when they host Xavier on Saturday afternoon. November served as a national breakout party for Big 12 POY candidate Johnathan Motley, whose length, footwork and range have keyed Baylor’s hot start. But one player — even someone the caliber of the 6’10” junior — doesn’t result in a 7-0 start with wins over Oregon, VCU, Michigan State and Louisville. While there’s no doubt Motley is keeping opposing coaches up at night, the unheralded pieces around him have helped the team flourish as well.

Johnathan Motley Has Had a Lot to Celebrate This Season (USA Today Images)

Johnathan Motley Has Had a Lot to Celebrate This Season (USA Today Images)

Motley makes the whole thing go in the paint, but junior center Jo Lual-Acuil has also been a force. The JuCo transfer owns the nation’s third-best shot block rate (15.6%) and already has 29 rejections on the year. For most big men, there are two potential costs to chasing blocks: foul trouble and getting caught out of position for the rebound. But Lual-Acuil is the rare breed of player who has both avoided the whistle (2.3 fouls per 40 minutes) and remained a presence on the defensive glass (team-leading 25.1% defensive rebounding rate). Big 12 play may cause some regression when Lual-Acuil faces players willing to challenge him at the rim, but that doesn’t make him any less important. On the offensive end, the attention Motley commands opens a number of close looks that Lual-Acuil is converting at an incredibly high rate. Two-way threats at the five don’t come around very often, but Baylor has one of them.

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It’s a Make or Break Week for the Pac-12

Posted by RJ Abeytia on November 30th, 2016

After a sizzling opening weekend followed by some Feast Week struggles, the Pac-12 finds itself facing a potential do or die week in terms of its national perception. Three teams will be front and center this week under the bright lights of ESPN and CBS, and after 71 games and even with all of December left, chances are it will be this week’s main events that set the tone for the Pac-12 come March. Part of the concentration on these games stems from factors out of the league’s control. Oregon’s injury issues have left it a shell of the team most expected it to be come March — the Ducks have already dropped games to Baylor and Georgetown without the services of Dillon Brooks (and have looked shaky even with him back). While the committee will factor Oregon’s injuries into its analysis, that doesn’t help the Pac-12’s overall profile. And that brings us to this week, starting this evening on the Peninsula.

St. Mary’s at Stanford: Wednesday 11/30 8:00 PM PT (Pac-12 Bay Area)

So far, so good for Jerod Haase and Stanford. (Tahoe Daily Tribune)

Jerod Haase and Stanford have a monster week ahead of them, including a trip to Haase’s alma mater where dreams tend to fade. (Tahoe Daily Tribune)

Not only is the Pac-12 counting on Stanford — the team picked to finish 10th in the league standings this season — but the Cardinal actually have two games with national ramifications this week. First, Randy Bennett’s St. Mary’s bunch (11th nationally, per KenPom) comes to Maples Pavilion tonight. The Gaels may not yet be a nationally-renowned name, but they drilled Stanford last season and will be a contender in a league (WCC) that has been quite the thorn in the side of the Pac-12 in recent years. This is one of two big Pac-12/WCC showdowns this week, and while it’s definitely the undercard, it’s still a big game for both teams and conferences.

UCLA at Kentucky: Saturday 12/3 9:30 AM PT (CBS)

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2016-17 RTC Top 25: Week Two

Posted by Walker Carey on November 29th, 2016

Feast Week always results in a couple teams really establishing themselves as legitimate teams to watch the rest of the season. This year the three teams that took the Feast Week Leap are #7 Baylor, #11 UCLA and #16 Butler. In a loaded Battle 4 Atlantis field, Baylor emerged victorious by scoring wins over VCU, Michigan State and #10 Louisville. UCLA, behind its star backcourt of Lonzo Ball and Isaac Hamilton, took home the Wooden Legacy crown with wins over Portland, Nebraska and Texas A&M. Butler won the Las Vegas Invitational by topping Vanderbilt and earning a hard fought upset victory over #17 Arizona. In other Feast Week action, #3 North Carolina showed why it is one of the best teams in the country with a dominant performance at the Maui Invitational. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty Analysis of the RTC25 is after the jump.

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Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Feast Week Mission Briefing: Baylor in the Battle 4 Atlantis

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 23rd, 2016

Feast Week is here. To get you ready for the Big 12’s representation in the various holiday tournaments, our Feast Week Mission Briefings continue with Baylor in the Battle 4 Atlantis.

Catching Up: If you really think about it, Baylor didn’t have a lot to overcome heading into this season. The Bears only lost a double-double machine to the NFL (Rico Gathers), an NBA lottery pick (Taurean Prince) and the 10th-best assist man in college basketball last season (Lester Medford)… wait a minute, they DID lose a lot. And yet, despite those enormous personnel losses, the Bears haven’t looked anything like a team in rebuilding mode, getting off to an impressive 3-0 start that includes a pounding of Pac-12 favorite Oregon. This week’s Battle 4 Atlantis is another chance for Baylor to get ready for Big 12 competition, as a loaded field awaits the Bears in the Bahamas.

Baylor point guard Manu Lecomte (#20) has dazzled in his first three games as the Bears' new point guard. (Raymond Carlin III/USA Today Sports)

Baylor point guard Manu Lecomte (#20) has been impressive in his first three games as the Bears’ new point guard. (Raymond Carlin III/USA TODAY Sports)

Opening Round Preview: Baylor will open the tournament against VCU in perhaps a preview of the style they will see from Texas. Shaka Smart may be the architect of the full-court pressing HAVOC defense, but the Rams have continued this style of play under second year head coach Will Wade. Through three games, VCU ranks among the top 15 nationally in steal rate (13.7%), per KenPom. Compare that with Baylor’s first three opponents this year: Oral Roberts is 242nd in steal percentage; Oregon is 255th; and Florida Gulf Coast checks in at 339th. It’s clear that the dazzling point guard Manu Lecomte (16.7 PPG, 7.0 APG, 1.7 TOPG) will face his toughest opposition since arriving in Waco.

Potential Later Round Match-ups: Regardless of what happens against VCU, Baylor is in line for a second resume-building game in Atlantis against either Michigan State — one of the youngest and most talented teams in America — or St. John’s, a program on the rise with enough talented pieces to spring an upset. This is one of those tournaments that will allow the eight participating coaches to return to the United States with a very clear progress report on their teams.  Read the rest of this entry »

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2016-17 RTC Top 25: Week One

Posted by Walker Carey on November 21st, 2016

The college basketball season began in earnest over the last 10 days with several upsets taking place and a few teams providing a solid glimpse of what should be expected this season. #3 Duke and #4 Kansas are a pair of teams that experienced some high points as well as the upset bug. The formerly top-ranked Blue Devils are a respectable 4-1 on the young season, but they experienced their hiccup against the Jayhawks in the Champions Classic. It is important to note that Duke is still experiencing significant health issues, as Grayson Allen, Chase Jeter, Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden and Harry Giles have all battled injuries to varying extents. Even with the corresponding depth concerns, Duke has already showcased that it is an extremely talented unit that will likely remain near the top of the polls throughout the season. Kansas’ season started on a sour note by getting surprised by #6 Indiana in an overtime thriller. The Jayhawks rebounded nicely in their victory over Duke and it appears that Bill Self’s veteran backcourt of Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham will mask some of the growing pains the team will likely experience elsewhere. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty Analysis of the RTC25 is after the jump.

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Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Big 12 Opening Weekend in Review

Posted by Drew Andrews on November 15th, 2016

Opening night of the college basketball season gave nine of the 10 Big 12 programs a chance to begin their seasons with easy wins. Those match-ups went according to plan, as only Kansas played a team inside KenPom’s top 250 and, as a result, took the only loss. However, there was another surprise that could ultimately spell trouble for one of the contenders to the conference title. Let’s take a look at one key takeaway from each team coming out of the opening weekend.

  • Kansas – The Jayhawks came into the season with questions about leadership, scoring in the post, and whether Josh Jackson could make the leap to superstardom. The loss to Indiana in the Armed Forces Classic on Friday night only provided a first piece of an answer to one of those questions. Frank Mason III exploded for 30 points and nine assists in the defeat, making it seem that he might be Bill Self‘s Option A for leadership and scoring this season. In the absence of the graduated Perry Ellis, Landon Lucas and Carlton Bragg will be asked to replace some of his frontcourt scoring load. Lucas proved that he could play the necessary minutes last year, but Bragg rarely saw the floor. After a meager 18-minute outing on opening night, it seems as if Self still has questions about the sophomore forward. Meanwhile, Jackson struggled to find a rhythm on both ends of the floor. Early foul trouble and questionable shot selection meant he saw more of the bench than expected, but it will be interesting to see how Self utilizes him in tonight’s clash with top-ranked Duke.
Josh Jackson struggled against Indiana. Can he break out against Duke in the Champions Classic? (Photo: Kansas City Star)

Josh Jackson struggled against Indiana. Can he break out against Duke in the Champions Classic? (Photo: Kansas City Star)

  • Iowa State  Monte’ Morris began his quest for conference and national honors with a bang against Savannah State (21 points and 11 assists), followed by a quieter but efficient outing (18 points and three assists) last night against Mount St. Mary’s. Steve Prohm started five seniors in both games, and if Iowa State hopes to again challenge Kansas for the Big 12 title, it will need every bit of experience and leadership from that group to get there.
  • TexasJarrett Allen certainly looked the part of star in the making in his debut for the Longhorns, but despite his 16 points and 12 boards, Texas was outrebounded on the offensive glass in its first two outings against Incarnate Word and Louisiana-Monroe. Shaka Smart‘s HAVOC defense certainly creates great energy and scoring opportunities via turnovers, but he has to be concerned that his players are giving up so many second chances to teams that were clearly overmatched in talent and size.

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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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