Big 12 Power Rankings: The Big 12 isn’t the Best Conference, You Guys Edition

Posted by Big 12 Team on February 20th, 2017

We are now fewer than three weeks away from Selection Sunday and the committee has already had real conversations about which teams should be in, which teams should be out, where they should be seeded and where they will eat after the bracket is announced. The strength of each of the six power conferences is no doubt another topic the committee has discussed, which is why we need to have an honest talk with ourselves about where the Big 12 currently sits. The league has something of a body image problem. One year ago, the Big 12 was in the best shape of its life. It actually looked forward to leg day, but it’s been a different story ever since. Needless to say the league gained a few pounds during the holidays — just enough to notice it cannot fit into its favorite clothes anymore and needs to find a few good pairs of sweatpants. That’s all it is. Because the ACC is the best game going in 2017. The Big 12 is a little puffier in the midsection and its legs are hardly recognizable. But it’s great that we were able to talk this out. The power rankings are up next.

Kansas Celebrates What Appears to be an Insurmountable Lead for Another Big 12 Title (USA Today Images)

1. Kansas — all voted 1st – “This team is good.” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso)

2. Baylor — average: 2.2 – “The Bears’ odds of becoming a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament took a major hit with back-to-back losses to Texas Tech and Kansas. While Baylor isn’t likely to win the Big 12 regular season championship, the Bears are still firmly in position to challenge Kansas in the upcoming Big 12 Tournament and make some serious noise into late March.” – Justin Fedich (@jfedich)

3. West Virginia — average: 3.0 (not unanimous) – “There nothing more to say about the 14-point collapse at Allen Fieldhouse other than, ‘It is what it is.’ The Mountaineers held Kansas to 50 points and under 30 percent shooting for over 37 minutes before allowing 34 points over the final eight minutes of the game. It is exceptionally rare to see Bob Huggins teams lose intensity like that, but the one thing that is holding this team back has been a propensity to blow big leads.” – Drew Andrews (@DrewAndrews24)

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Quick Reactions to Tuesday Night’s Big 12 Action

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 11th, 2017

With college football season officially in the books, hoops took the baton last night with five of the Big 12’s best teams on display. Though only one contest came down to the last few minutes, there were several key takeaways from Tuesday’s three league battles. Here’s what we learned.

Jevon Carter put an early end to Baylor’s reign as the #1 team in America. (Ben Queen/USA Today Sports)

  • The battle for second place is officially on. It’s worth noting that top-ranked Baylor entered last night’s game against West Virginia as a six-point underdog, but the Bears were woefully unprepared for the Mountaineers’ press, turning the ball over on 35.7 percent of their possessions en route to their first loss of the season. Baylor’s resume still shows a tremendous set of wins, but the one thing Scott Drew‘s team lacks — and West Virginia does not — is a true road win against an NCAA Tournament-caliber team. In dominating the nation’s #1 team from start to finish, the Mountaineers effectively neutralized their close loss against a Texas Tech team that may end up on the bubble. Nathan Adrian and the rest of “Press Virginia” have a good chance to keep things rolling over the next week with upcoming games against the league’s two worst teams in Texas and Oklahoma, which is about as much of a breather as it gets in this conference.
  • These aren’t (exactly) last year’s Mountaineers. In the first two seasons of Bob Huggins‘ retooled running and pressing system, the Mountaineers paid a price for their intense defense by finishing dead last nationally in defensive free throw rate. Year Three of the experiment has revealed a slightly different story, as the Mountaineers rank a more respectable 273rd (40.5%) this time around. There’s a natural ceiling to how much a team can limit fouls while playing such aggressive defense, but West Virginia may be finding it. The team’s depth is still an asset that can prevent foul trouble from becoming an issue, but it always helps to be able to keep guys like Adrian, Esa Ahmad and Tarik Phillip on the floor as much as possible. Another area where the Mountaineers have improved is in three-point shooting, burying 36.7 percent of their attempts from distance — up from 32.5 percent last season, and 31.6 percent in 2014-15. While West Virginia will continue to rely heavily on points in transition, the long ball gives them a weapon on night when they either don’t generate turnovers or when a considerable ratio of the turnovers are of the dead-ball variety.

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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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A Coaching Tree Grows in Stillwater…

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 21st, 2016

West Virginia’s renaissance under Bob Huggins is by now a familiar story — perennially relevant hoops brand endures an uncharacteristic drought of postseason success, only to right itself with an overhaul of the team’s identity focused on frenzied defense, relentless offensive rebounding, a rare degree of unselfishness and staggering depth. Some 1,100 miles away, though, Brad Underwood – a former disciple of Huggins — is hard at work resurrecting Oklahoma State in a similar fashion.

Brad Underwood is Up to Plenty of Good in Stillwater (USA Today Images)

Brad Underwood is Up to Plenty of Good in Stillwater (USA Today Images)

Last Saturday, Underwood’s Cowboys dominated Wichita State 93-76 at Intrust Bank Arena to move to 9-2 on the season. The result didn’t get much national attention because of a surplus of good games that afternoon, but Oklahoma State dismantled a team that had gone 116 home games without allowing so much as 80 points to an opponent. The victory gave a significant boost to Oklahoma State’s non-conference resume in the wake of missed opportunities against North Carolina and Maryland, and come Big 12 play, opponents would be ill-advised to overlook the Cowboys in much the same way they overlooked the Mountaineers two seasons ago.

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A Serious Analysis of Bob Huggins’ Comments on Playground Basketball

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 14th, 2016

For as long as there has been college basketball, we have heard coaches across the country complain about youth sports. The correlation between those complaints and a head coach’s advancing age appears to be scientifically sound, but that doesn’t mean they don’t sometimes have a point. Last week Louisville women’s basketball coach Jeff Walz took time out of his postgame press conference to lament that “everybody gets a damn trophy” in today’s youth sports.

Bob Huggins believes playground basketball produced players who knew how to win. (Ben Queen/USA Today Sports)

Bob Huggins believes playground basketball produced players who knew how to win. (Ben Queen/USA Today Sports)

CBSSports.com’s Matt Norlander then did us a service by highlighting a series of quotes made by West Virginia coach Bob Huggins last weekend. The irascible head coach’s commentary centers on how playground and AAU basketball are different animals, but he prefers the former on how it teaches young players to learn the game. A few of his most illustrative lines:

  • “I don’t think they know how to play.”
  • “I think they play all of the time but they don’t. It’s kind of long and complicated and I’m not trying to kill AAU because I think it has some good. But I think when you used to have to go to the playground to play, you had to win, or you sat for four or five games.”
  • “You learn how to win.”
  • “You drive by courts now, you don’t see anyone out there playing. It’s just a different culture, I think. And in fairness, the athletes now are bigger, stronger, faster. They’re better. It’s just their idea of how to play sometimes baffles me.”

It goes without saying that Huggins and his peers typically try their best to avoid undermining the AAU programs because they know they will need those players to keep their programs nationally relevant. But some of Huggins’ comments ring true. AAU tournaments can take up the majority of a given day and teams often play for consecutive days at a time. Indeed, participating teams receive shoes and other apparel regardless of how they finish. And criss-crossing the country to play basketball can take a toll on these kids’ developing bodies. But these weren’t Huggins’ main points. Rather, he believes that the drying up of playground basketball around the country has produced a wave of prospects who don’t know how to play the game.

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Feast Week Mission Briefing: West Virginia in the NIT Season Tip-Off

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 24th, 2016

Feast Week is here. To get you ready for the Big 12’s representation in the various holiday tournaments over the next week, our Feast Week Mission Briefings continue today with West Virginia in the NIT Season Tip-Off, which takes place at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Catching Up: Devin Williams, Jaysean Paige and Jonathan Holton are gone, but “Press Virginia” is alive and well in Morgantown. The 3-0 Mountaineers again lead the country in defensive turnover rate (34.2%) and are first in defensive steal rate (17.3%), steamrolling lesser competition by an average of 42.7 points per game. The demands of Bob Huggins‘ style and the big leads it has generated have given way to a deep, balanced attack in the early part of the season. A staggering 11 players have seen the floor for at least 10 minutes per game and five players are currently posting double-figure scoring averages, led by Nathan Adrian‘s 13.3 points per contest.

This Thanksgiving, opposing teams will be thankful if they can hold onto the ball against West Virginia's swarming defense. (AP/Raymond Thompson)

This Thanksgiving, opposing teams should be thankful if they can hold onto the ball against West Virginia’s swarming defense. (AP/Raymond Thompson)

Opening Round Preview: Illinois will give West Virginia its first real test of the season today in Brooklyn. It feels like John Groce’s team has been snake-bitten from the minute he arrived in Champaign, but his team is off to a solid 4-1 start, although the loss, which came at the hands of Winthrop, shows that they aren’t out of the woods quite yet. Still, the Illini are shooting the ball well, hitting 39.8 percent of their threes, led by seniors Tracy Abrams (7-of-11, 63.6%) and Malcolm Hill (15-of-29, 51.7%). The team has also been extremely effective inside, converting 87.3 percent of its attempts at the rim, per hoop-math.com. The problem for Illinois is that it hasn’t valued the ball, turning it over on 20.2 percent of their possessions and winning the battle on the offensive glass only 23.3 percent of the time. Those are weaknesses that West Virginia is well-versed in exploiting, and Huggins’ team should be able to do just that. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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Keeping the Big 12 Expansion Doors Open

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 20th, 2016

For a little while on Monday, it seemed like the Big 12 might actually expand after months of indecisiveness. As we all know now, the league’s press conference ended up being a whole lot of nothing as commissioner Bob Bowlsby announced an extension of the status quo (until it comes up again this winter and we do this dance all over again). The will-they/won’t-they is frustrating enough for college football fans with their sport driving the decisions (or lack thereof), but it’s also exasperating on the basketball side as we’re merely along for the ride. If there’s any solace we can take from the seemingly seasonal Big 12 expansion talks, it is that the programs mentioned most frequently each have considerable basketball juice to bring to the table. Football may steer the ship in terms of overall revenue potential, but the hoops programs at BYU, Cincinnati and Connecticut would certainly make basketball even more competitive than it already is, with invested fan bases and strong histories in tow. Let’s take a closer look at each.

BYU

Jimmer Fredette Was a Household Name at BYU Several Years Ago (Jack Dempsey/AP)

Jimmer Fredette Was a Household Name at BYU Several Years Ago (Jack Dempsey/AP)

  • The Lowdown: The Cougars may not be as nationally relevant as they were when NPOY Jimmer Fredette was rewriting the school’s record books twice a week, but there’s still a lot to like about this program. Head coach Dave Rose has led BYU to NCAA Tournament appearances in eight of his 11 seasons at the helm, although they’ve only advanced to the Round of 32 twice and the Sweet Sixteen once in those chances. They play a very entertaining brand of offensive basketball, pushing tempo, valuing possessions, and knocking down threes. That might suggest a finesse style in the vein of Hoiberg-era Iowa State, but they also crash the defensive glass with complete abandon, ranking among the upper echelon in defensive rebounding rate on an annual basis.

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With such a high level of success and an entertaining blueprint to match, the Cougars have transformed the Marriott Center into a fortress, losing just four conference games there over the last three seasons. BYU regularly ranks among the top 15 schools in attendance, topping every current Big 12 program other than Kansas.

  • Recent Big 12 Meetings: The Cougars are incredibly tough to beat at home, but Iowa State did just that in November 2014, winning a 90-88 thriller in Provo. Just five days later, though, BYU exacted revenge on the Big 12 with an 86-82 win over Texas in Kansas City. Going back even further than that, BYU also lost to Iowa State in Ames in 2013 and dropped a pair of games to Baylor that same year — once in Waco and then in New York in the NIT semifinals. Read the rest of this entry »
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Bracket Prep: East Region

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2016

bracketprep22

On Monday and Tuesday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: Monday (East and West); Tuesday (South and Midwest). Here, Brian Otskey (@botskey) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCeastregion).

East Region

Favorite: No. 1 North Carolina (28-6, 14-4 ACC). Although this region is loaded from top to bottom, the ACC regular season and tournament champions are the clear favorite. Roy Williams has one of the nation’s most talented teams with seniors Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige leading the way. Contending with Johnson is a nightmare for most teams. A relentless rebounder who averages a double-double, Johnson is one of the nation’s most efficient players. Carolina has weaknesses — namely three-point shooting and three-point defense — but the way it utilizes great athleticism to speed up the game makes the Heels hard to beat.

UNC

The ACC regular season and tournament champions are the favorite to take the East Region. (Photo: Todd Melet)

Should They Falter: No. 4 Kentucky (26-8, 13-5 SEC). Yes, we’re going to roll with the Wildcats here. John Calipari’s team has made Final Fours from lower seeded positions — most notably in 2011 and 2014. This is not a vintage Kentucky team by any means, but it is highly talented and Coach Cal has proven that he can push the right buttons in March. College basketball is a guards’ game and Kentucky has that in spades with Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe. The lack of a major threat inside and occasionally spotty defense are definite concerns, but Kentucky has the talent and athletes to get by North Carolina in a potential Sweet Sixteen matchup.

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Rushed Reactions: Kansas 81, West Virginia 71

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 12th, 2016

rushedreactions

Three key takeaways.

Kansas Does the Double Big 12 Championship Thing (USA Today Images)

Kansas Does the Double Big 12 Championship Thing (USA Today Images)

  1. Devonte’ Graham shows out once again. Kansas’ sophomore guard has never been particularly bad, but he’s been a completely different player over the last month of the season. He routinely broke West Virginia’s trademark press and hit plenty of big shots, finishing with 27 points on 16 attempts en route capturing the Big 12 Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award. Graham also capitalized on some suspect decision-making by the Mountaineers, adding four steals to his stat line, and was the most expressive player for a team that has been criticized by Bill Self for not having vocal leaders. There may not be a player who epitomizes Kansas’ loose style of play down the stretch of this season more than Graham, and it’s getting easier with each passing game to nod your head with Chris Stone’s prediction that the Raleigh, North Carolina native will have one shining moment in the Dance.
  2. Devin Williams finds rhythm, but not help. West Virginia’s best player has struggled to find consistency against top-flight opponents as of late, but he was tremendous throughout the game — regularly going up strong against Kansas’ big men and showing a smooth jumper when the Jayhawks gave him space. Williams finished with a game-high 31 points, but his supporting cast completely let him down. Though the Mountaineers came into the game on an extended hot streak from deep, they shot just 2-of-15 there tonight, and Daxter Miles was the only Mountaineer other than Williams who scored more than six points. We know that fouls may be an issue next week with West Virginia playing in neutral environments, but this is also too deep a team for it to rely so heavily on one guy.
  3. West Virginia exposes Kansas’ liabilities defending the interior. The Jayhawks’ biggest strength is their incredibly deep rotation of perimeter players, but its interior (especially on the defensive end) carries more questions. Landen Lucas has been the team’s best post defender over the last few weeks, but Kansas struggled to maintain a lead in the first half as Williams got Lucas into early foul trouble. Jamari Traylor didn’t provide any answers behind him, and for all the talent and potential Carlton Bragg brings to the table, his four fouls in just 10 minutes of action show that he’s still a long way off. All of that comes before getting into why Cheick Diallo and Hunter Mickelson haven’t given Kansas meaningful minutes. It’s much easier said than done, but if an opponent can get Lucas into foul trouble or make him defend in space, the Jayhawks’ less effective and experienced players will be pressured to perform above their norms. It’s far from the only thing needed to send Kansas home early in the next couple weeks, but when it comes to considering key ingredients for an upset, making Lucas uncomfortable should be at the top of the list.

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