Big 12 Wrap-Up and Early 2018-19 Outlook

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 10th, 2018

Despite Villanova beating three Big 12 teams in decisive fashion on its way to the national title, the 2017-18 campaign was another strong one for the league. Here are some takeaways from the year that was and a handful of early thoughts on the main storylines as summer draws near.

Kansas was no match for Villanova’s three-point barrage, but the Big 12 still enjoyed a successful postseason. (Bob Donnan/USA Today)

  • The league began the process of rehabilitating its March reputation. After some disappointing results in the last few NCAA Tournaments, the Big 12 took a step forward this year in sending four teams to the Sweet Sixteen, three teams to the Elite Eight and one to the Final Four. Perhaps most notable was Kansas State‘s head-turning voyage to the Elite Eight, which put Bruce Weber on steadier ground from a job security perspective entering next season. We also watched Texas Tech break into the second weekend with star guard Keenan Evans playing on a broken toe, and West Virginia gave Villanova the toughest game of the Wildcats’ championship run. The league’s national perception won’t change significantly until a team other than Kansas makes the Final Four, but Villanova’s victory over the Jayhawks became easier to swallow when they cut down the nets last Monday night in San Antonio. All told, the conference logged one of its best postseason runs in recent years.
  • What will Kansas do with its last scholarship? When the buzzer sounded on their national semifinal loss to Villanova, the Jayhawks were already one over the scholarship limit for the 2018-19 season. That potential dilemma, however, worked itself out when Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick both opted to forgo their remaining eligibility and pursue professional careers. With one scholarship now available, fans can expect Kansas to ramp up its pursuit of five-star wing Romeo Langford to round out its roster, but the Jayhawks will likely be the preseason #1 team in the country regardless of what happens on that front. If Langford signs elsewhere, Kansas could scour the graduate transfer market for some outside shooting to pick up some of the slack left by Newman and Vick as well as the graduations of Svi Mykhailiuk and Devonte’ Graham. In that light, bringing in a proven three-point threat from the existing market seems to make good sense unless Udoka Azubuike surprises the college basketball world by declaring and staying in the 2018 NBA Draft.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Villanova 95, #1 Kansas 79

Posted by rtmsf on April 1st, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish.

Three Key Takeaways.

Villanova Advances to the Title Game for the Second Time in Three Years (USA Today Images)

  1. Three-llanova. It was 9-2 before most people had even started their mid-session hot dog. 14-4 by the first TV timeout. 22-4 seven minutes into the game. And everyone in the building, including Kansas head coach Bill Self, knew it was over. Villanova was simply too good to blow an 18-point lead, even if 80 percent of the game was still to come. At that point in the game, Villanova had already nailed six threes, but the Wildcats were far from done. Over the course of the next 13 minutes, Villanova dropped another seven threes, totaling a Final Four record-tying 13 in the first half alone. The Wildcats did so on 26 attempts (50%), effectively eschewing its patented drive game in favor of a number of long-range heat checks that dropped. Furthermore, Villanova only attempted seven two-point field goals for the half and took zero foul shots. All of this goes to show that Jay Wright‘s team was absolutely scorching, feeling it and playing to their hot hands. It was a first half performance for the ages and Kansas never really had a chance after the opening few minutes. Going into the break down 15 points, the Jayhawks never saw a single-figure deficit again.
  2. Villanova is on the Cusp of Greatness. Win a single National Championship at any school in America and you drink for free in the area for the rest of your life. But the truth is that there have been a number of one-hit wonder championship teams that are generally forgotten beyond their localities. If Villanova cuts down the nets on Monday night in San Antonio, however, Wright’s program will ascend to greatness. Three-year runs that include a trio of 30-win seasons and two banners don’t exactly grow on trees. In fact, only Kentucky from 1996-98 can make that claim in the modern era. For a program that doesn’t pile up all of the elite recruits but rather cultivates and grows the ones it gets, this run is nothing short of astonishing. There is still another game to be played, of course, and Michigan is a worthy and capable opponent, but all signs point to Villanova achieving something that perhaps only Wright and his closest supporters saw coming three years ago.
  3. Kansas Did Its Job For America. Bill Self alluded to this after the game, but given the number of issues that Kansas has faced this season — from losing Billy Preston to running a four-guard set — the Jayhawks have nothing of which to be ashamed. Beating a loaded Duke team in overtime of the Elite Eight is what this team will be remembered for, and even though the Kansas program plays for banners, it will be a very nice memory for the Jayhawks and the rest of America for years to come. We made light of Self having his “least impressive team” ever — which is still hogwash, but it certainly had more weaknesses than most of his teams over the last decade in Lawrence. That said, Kansas will continue to recruit great players; Self will continue to coach ’em up; and Kansas will continue to get to Final Fours. Eventually he’s going to win another one of these tournaments.

Player of the Game. Eric Paschall, Villanova. Take your pick on the Villanova roster for this award, but it’s yours when you drop 24 points in 29 minutes with only one missed shot on the entire evening. Paschall is one of the lesser-known players among the Wildcats’ regulars but he was All-American level tonight, draining a couple of threes for eight points in the first half and effectively ensuring Kansas would not make a run with 16 more points in the second stanza.

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What a National Championship Would Mean For Each Final Four Team…

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 31st, 2018

With the Final Four set to begin this evening in San Antonio, the college basketball world is getting close to crowning its 2018 National Champion. With the ultimate goal of standing atop a Werner ladder cutting down the nets now in sight, the question becomes what would a title mean for each of the remaining four programs. Let’s examine each in more detail.

Kansas Slayed Mighty Duke to Get to the Final Four (USA Today Images)

A National Championship for Kansas would… be the program’s fourth NCAA title overall, putting the Jayhawks in the same company as Connecticut, Duke, Florida and North Carolina as programs with multiple championships since 2000. A second ring would make Bill Self the 14th head coach with multiple titles and just the third active coach with at least two. It would also further erase the memory of first round exits at the hands of Bradley and Bucknell early in Self’s tenure at Kansas, as well as the no-shows against VCU, Northern Iowa and Oregon in recent years.

A win would also further elevate Devonte’ Graham in Jayhawks’ lore. The Big 12 Player of the Year, a consensus All-American, a four-year player, and the possibility of a National Championship could combine to getting Graham’s jersey lifted into the Allen Fieldhouse rafters some day.

A National Championship for Loyola would… be historic for the “little guy.” While a pair of wins in San Antonio would produce the program’s second National Championship, the shift of the college basketball landscape over the last several decades has put all but a few mid-major programs like Loyola in a large and difficult hole. The annual margin of error is minuscule come conference tournament time and NCAA Tournament paths are rarely advantageous as a result. A win by a mid-major program would remind everyone that these teams deserve not only inclusion in the tournament, but they help make the tournament as great as it is.

By cutting down the nets on Monday night, Porter Moser would become the immediate “it” coach at any number of interested programs. While leaving Loyola immediately after a National Championship might be unlikely, a new contract at Loyola is a certainty. If Moser is able to guide Loyola to a championship this year followed by another strong season in 2018-19, he will have plenty of opportunities to vault himself into a power conference coaching position as soon as he likes.

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ACC Conversation: Final Four Preview and Coaching Carousel Update

Posted by ACC Team on March 30th, 2018

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad JenkinsMatt Auerbach and Mick McDonald chatted this week to wonder why the ACC couldn’t get a team to the Final Four and talk about a pair of new head coaches joining the league.

Brad Jenkins: Well guys, the ACC came up empty in this year’s Final Four. Last week, we addressed what went wrong for Virginia and North Carolina. Why did Duke not make it either? Matt, why don’t you start?

Matt Auerbach: Well, I’m not exactly sure I’d tackle it from the same perspective. North Carolina and Virginia both lost games to opponents who were inferior — or, more accurately in the Tar Heels case, had inferior seasons. As for Duke, I think they just got nipped by an excellent team with an elite head coach playing its best at the right time of year. It’s a coin-flip game, and we’re having a different discussion if Grayson Allen‘s shot at the end of regulation falls. But that’s just the way the ball bounces sometimes.

Kansas Slayed Mighty Duke to Get to the Final Four (USA Today Images)

Mick McDonald: Right. If Allen’s shot goes in (and man, was it close), we are breaking down an epic Final Four matchup with Villanova this weekend. That said, I thought the key to the game was Bill Self. He coached a hell of a game and frustrated Marvin Bagley III unlike any team had all season. Also, imagine being a Mississippi State fan watching that game. That was the Malik Newman they were promised two years ago! He was outstanding.

Matt Auerbach: Newman was fantastic and his evolution into being the Malik Newman that everyone expected him to be as a freshman has been the change in Kansas‘ season that has elevated the Jayhawks to this point.

Brad Jenkins: I know a lot of people are pointing to Allen’s incredibly close miss as tough luck. But if it had gone in Duke would have been very fortunate to win the game. In my opinion they were outplayed considering all the open shots Kansas missed and the great job the Jayhawks did on the boards in addition to defensively on Bagley. Also, I know Duke had a couple of big calls go against them in overtime, but up until that point, I thought they had gotten a very generous whistle — particularly on out of bounds situations.

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Final Four Fact Sheet: Kansas Jayhawks

Posted by Walker Carey on March 28th, 2018

Now that the Final Four is set, our writers have put together a fact sheet on each of the four teams still remaining. Next, #1 Kansas,  from the South Region.

How Kansas Got Here

Kansas Slayed Mighty Duke to Get to the Final Four (USA Today Images)

Midwest Region Champions. Kansas became the region’s NCAA Tournament representative following an epic 85-81 overtime win over #2 Duke in Sunday’s instant classic regional final. The Jayhawks began their run to San Antonio with a somewhat close 16-point victory over #16 Penn before experiencing some pressure in both its Second Round triumph over #8 Seton Hall and Sweet Sixteen win over #5 Clemson. Kansas’ win over the Blue Devils in the Elite Eight was arguably the game of the NCAA Tournament and further illustrated Midwest Regional Most Outstanding Player Malik Newman‘s March star turn. The redshirt sophomore swingman finished with a career-high 32 points and scored all 13 of Kansas’ points during the extra period.

The Coach

Bill Self. The Hall of Fame coach should have all the nonsensical “he cannot win the big game” talk regarding his recent career put to bed for at least a year, as Self has taken what many view as one of his least talented Kansas teams back to the Final Four. This will be Self’s third Final Four appearance. His was in San Antonio in 2008 when his Jayhawks beat North Carolina and Memphis to take home the school’s third national title. Self also took Kansas to the 2012 Final Four in New Orleans where it beat Ohio State in the national semifinals before falling to Kentucky in the championship game. With the Final Four again in San Antonio, expect there to be a lot of national discussion revolving around whether Self will once again be able to capture the San Antonio magic.

Style

Bill Self’s Kansas teams have normally run their offenses through a traditional back-to-the-basket big man. While sophomore center Udoka Azubuike is a more than capable offensive weapon, these Jayhawks have been heavily dominated by their guard play. Guards Newman, Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick all start and are the team’s leaders in minutes played. The guard-heavy lineup has worked all season, as Kansas is ranked fifth nationally in offensive efficiency and averages a healthy 81.4 points per game. The Jayhawks also shoot 40.3 percent from the three-point line, so perimeter shooting is a definite strength. To beat Kansas, you have to slow down its guards — and considering the talent in its backcourt — an exceptionally difficult task for any team.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 85, #2 Duke 81 (OT)

Posted by Walker Carey on March 25th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is in Omaha for the Midwest Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Kansas Outlasted Duke to Get Bill Self to His Third Final Four (USA Today Images)

  1. Kansas winning the rebounding battle was surprising and played a huge role in the win. Leading into the game, a lot of the talk about tonight’s Elite Eight match-up was focused on how Kansas was going to have a very difficult time keeping Duke off the glass. It turns out all that talk went for naught, however, as Kansas was the team that dominated the rebounding category. The Jayhawks finished with a 47-32 advantage on the glass while grabbing an amazing 17 offensive rebounds. The most impressive Jayhawk on the glass was senior guard Svi Mykhailiuk, who finished with 10 caroms — and it sure seemed like each one came at huge spots in the game. Sophomore big man Udoka Azubuike battled foul trouble for most of his night, but he still found a way to collect eight boards (five offensive) while freshman reserve forward Silvio De Sousa played 26 important minutes and gathered 10 more rebounds of his own. It was a team effort for the Jayhawks on the glass and that cohesiveness and hard work led to them finishing with such an advantage over what was considered a far superior rebounding team.
  2. Duke’s offensive strategy was perplexing. Kansas is an excellent offensive team but it had struggled throughout the season on the defensive end of the court. A lot of the Jayhawks’ struggle was because the Jayhawks exclusively play four guards and teams with good size could often take advantage. Duke certainly qualifies as a team with more size than Kansas, but the Blue Devils were unable to take advantage of that frontcourt disparity. At no point during the game did it seem like Duke was making a concerted effort to run its offense through its incredibly talented front line. Freshman star forward Marvin Bagley III only finished the game with nine field goal attempts. Fellow freshman big man Wendell Carter Jr. battled foul trouble for much of the game while only attempting nine shots of his own, and sophomore reserve Javin DeLaurier did not appear engaged on the offensive end in his 13 minutes of action. The Duke guards dominated the ball throughout the game, with Grayson Allen, Trevon Duval and Gary Trent Jr. finishing with 13, 16 and 18 field goal attempts, respectively. There are no sure things in life or college basketball, but it certainly seems like Duke would be headed to the Final Four instead of Kansas if it had found a way to get Bagley and Carter more involved.
  3. Malik Newman was the best player on the court. Duke was supposed to have all of the stars in this game. Grayson Allen is probably the most famous player in college basketball. Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter, Jr. will both be lottery picks very soon. Trevon Duval and Gary Trent, Jr. arrived in Durham as ballyhooed prospects. The Blue Devils were supposed to have the best player on the court, but it did not turn out like that as Kansas sophomore Malik Newman took on that role from the opening tip to overtime’s final buzzer. Newman finished with a game-high 32 points and it was his three-pointer from the corner with 1:49 remaining that gave the Jayhawks a three-point lead that it would never relinquish.

Player of the Game. Malik Newman, Kansas. The sophomore guard came up time after time again tonight for the Jayhawks. Each time Kansas needed a big shot, it seemed like the transfer Newman came through with the goods. He scored all 13 of the Jayhawks’ points in the overtime period — 32 in total for the night — and he also did an excellent job defensively on Duke’s Grayson Allen. Allen finished his final collegiate game with just 12 points on 3-of-13 shooting. If Kansas wants two more wins in San Antonio, it is going to need this version of Newman to make the trip.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 80, #5 Clemson 76

Posted by Walker Carey on March 23rd, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is in Omaha for the Midwest Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Kansas Heads Back to the Elite Eight For the Third Year in a Row (USA Today Images)

  1. Udoka Azubuike showed how important he is to Kansas’ success. The sophomore big man is finally back from a knee injury that kept him out of the Big 12 Tournament and limited his minutes during the First and Second Rounds of this NCAA Tournament. With Azubuike now healthy, Kansas forced the issue with him early and often as he finished the evening with 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds. While those statistics suggest to the casual eye that he just had a good game, you have to look beyond the box score to realize just how important he is to Kansas’ success. The Jayhawks at the very least look his way for an easy bucket every time he’s on the floor, and he is a stalwart in the middle on the defensive end. If Kansas is to win Sunday and advance to Bill Self’s third Final Four, what Azubuike brings to the fold on both ends of the court will be an important factor.
  2. Devonte’ Graham needs to play better if Kansas wants a trip to the Final Four. The final statistics show that Graham finished with a pretty standard outing, totaling 16 points while collecting five rebounds and four assists on the night. While the senior point guard gathered his numbers, he would also be the first to say that he did not play nearly as well as he needs to for his team to advance to San Antonio. Graham made just one of seven shots from three-point range and finished just 4-of-12 from the field. He also committed three uncharacteristic turnovers, including one where he threw the ball away followed by an ill-advised foul that gave Clemson an and-one opportunity. Graham has been quite steady throughout his collegiate career so it is certainly reasonable to expect he will play better against Duke or Syracuse on Sunday. Kansas is going to need a quality performance from him because it cannot advance to another Final Four without Devonte’ Graham playing like the Big 12 Player of the Year.
  3. Clemson deserves a ton of credit for fighting until the final buzzer. There are no good losses or moral victories in the NCAA Tournament, but Clemson’s performance tonight would certainly qualify if there were. Playing in front of a very partisan Kansas crowd, the Tigers fell behind by 20 points early in the second half and it looked like their run was over. It would have been understandable if Brad Brownell‘s squad simply went through the motions for the remainder of the game, but the Tigers instead fought tooth and nail to the final buzzer to lose by only four points. Behind senior guard Gabe DeVoe‘s career-high 31 points and some tenacious defense, Clemson put considerable game pressure on Kansas as the final minutes ticked away. Their efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, but you would have to be a significantly jaded individual if you do not come away from that game impressed with Clemson’s fight.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big 12 Teams

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2018

Every passing postseason where a Big 12 team gets bounced in embarrassing fashion or fails to maximize its potential by way of an otherwise-excusable loss becomes another pock mark on the conference’s reputation. Oklahoma got the Big 12 off the schneid with a Final Four Run in 2016, but it hasn’t been enough. There’s never been more pressure on the league to produce than there is this year, and seven teams will get a bite at the apple. Another Big 12 team has to break through eventually… right?

Kansas (#1 Midwest)

Behind senior guard Devonte’ Graham, Kansas will aim to cut down the nets in San Antonio. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

  • Best Case: The recent breakouts of Malik Newman and Silvio De Sousa continue into the NCAA Tournament, buying additional time for Udoka Azubuike to recover from his MCL injury. With the Jayhawks’ starting center at full strength for the second weekend, Bill Self makes his third Final Four as the Kansas head coach.
  • Worst Case: Foul trouble and a cold shooting night around the perimeter spell another early exit, this time in the Round of 32.

Texas Tech (#3 East)

  • Best Case: Keenan EvansZach Smith and Justin Gray take advantage of a nearly week-long break and get healthy, and the Red Raiders channel the best version of themselves to their first ever Elite Eight appearance.
  • Worst Case: The Red Raiders continue to slide and are defeated at the hands of Stephen F. Austin, a team that bears some striking similarities to the West Virginia team that bested Tech in two of their three meetings.

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Rushed Reactions: Kansas 83, Kansas State 67

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 9th, 2018

RTC’s Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) is providing on-site coverage of the Big 12 Tournament.

Three Key Takeaways.

Kansas Cruised Past K-State in the Big 12 Tournament Semifinals (USA Today Images)

  1. Kansas’ bomb squad lifts team to victory. With center Udoka Azubuike recovering from an MCL sprain, the Jayhawks knew what they had to do to maintain control and they went out and did it. Twenty-eight of Kansas’ 60 attempts from the field came from beyond the arc, and they connected on 39.3 percent of their tries. Devonte’ Graham was relatively quiet (3-of-11 FG), but he still found a way to approach his season averages, scoring 15 points and dishing out eight assists against just three turnovers. It wasn’t always pretty, as Kansas State at one point cut a 16-point deficit down to two, but it was enough to move on to the championship game tomorrow night.
  2. Personnel issues set Kansas State back. Already without the services of first team All-Big 12 forward Dean Wade, Kansas State was further hampered just a minute into the game when guard Barry Brown took an inadvertent shot to the eye from Graham. Trainers quickly took Brown to the locker room for evaluation and he warmed up on the court prior to the start of the second half, but he never re-entered the contest. Without its two best playmakers, offense quickly became a chore for Bruce Weber‘s team. Forward Makol Mawien was incredibly efficient in the post on his way to a game-high 29 points, but his night was more of an indictment of Mitch Lightfoot‘s interior defense than it was an endorsement of his own game. The Wildcats’ jump shooters had trouble producing all night, which only underscores Wade’s importance to the team.
  3. Kansas needs Udoka Azuibuike healthy in order to make a deep NCAA Tournament run. Between Wade, Azubuike and Mohamed Bamba, Big 12 big men have been dropping like flies, but no team has as much at stake in the health of its frontcourt centerpiece as Kansas. While Silvio De Sousa pitched in with 11 rebounds in 19 minutes of action, he was frequently lost on offense, leading Bill Self to look down his bench knowing that it offered little in the way of solutions. Meanwhile, Lightfoot helped free up Kansas’ shooters and cleaned up a couple of misses, but couldn’t keep up defensively with an average post player in Mawien. With Azubuike, the Jayhawks have Final Four potential. Without him, their season could be over in the blink of an eye.

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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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