ACC/Big Ten Challenge Preview: Part II

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 28th, 2017

After a two-game appetizer on Monday night that resulted in a 2-0 ACC lead, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge revs into high gear this evening with a full slate of five more games.

  • Louisville at Purdue (8:00 PM, ESPN): Of the 10 Challenge teams playing tonight, only Louisville is ranked in this week’s AP Top 25, checking in at #17.  The Cardinals, which have won their first four games with new head coach David Padgett at the helm, travel to Mackey Arena for their sternest test to date to take on Purdue. The Boilermakers are coming off of a disappointing seventh place finish at the Battle 4 Atlantis during Feast Week, but they finished strong in obliterating Arizona in an 11-of-22 performance from three-point range. Padgett’s group has thus far sustained the defensive prowess and identity (second nationally in block percentage and 10th in two-point field goal percentage) of former head coach Rick Pitino, but Purdue will represent a significant step up in weight class in the featured game of the evening.

The Cardinals Have Maintained A Similar Style Under David Padgett (Credit: Michael Clevenger/Courier-Journal)

  • Florida State at Rutgers (7:00 PM, ESPNU): Considering the Seminoles’ opposition to date, a 5-0 start isn’t all that surprising, but the manner in which they have achieved that result most certainly has been. Florida State has exceeded 85 points in four of its first five contests by shooting a very healthy 53 percent as a team, highlighted by a blistering 64 percent conversion rate from inside the arc (trailing only Xavier nationally). A trip to visit 6-0 Rutgers should make for an interesting match-up, as neither squad has played a top-100 team nor have they been tested. Terrance Mann will be the focal point of Steve Pikiell’s defensive game plan, as the junior has missed only seven of his 40 two-point field goal attempts so far this season.

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Big Ten Preview Part II: Key Questions for Illinois & Ohio State

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on October 30th, 2017

With the season just a few weeks away, Rush the Court’s Big Ten preview will tip off its coverage by posing season-defining key questions for each team. Today we address Illinois and Ohio State.

#12 Illinois Does Brad Underwood have the backcourt to create more of his first year magic?

Point guard Te’Jon Lucas will be key for Illinois this season. (Caylor Arnold/USA TODAY Sports)

As a first-year, first-time head coach in 2013-14, Brad Underwood led Stephen F. Austin to a 32-3 overall record, including a 29-game winning streak and the Lumberjacks’ first NCAA Tournament victory in school history. In his first and only year at Oklahoma State, Underwood pulled his team out of an 0-6 Big 12 hole, proceeded to rip off 10 victories in 11 games, and ultimately took the Cowboys dancing. Now, after receiving an offer too good to refuse, Underwood finds himself at Illinois, where another first-year NCAA Tournament run seems dubious. Gone are three of the Illini’s top four offensive weapons — including Malcolm Hill (17.2 PPG) — which presents a problem for a coach whose teams thrive on sharp ball-movement and shooting. That’s why sophomore point guard Te’Jon Lucas, Wright State transfer Mark Alstork, and touted freshman Mark Smith probably hold the keys to success. If Lucas, a pure passer, can open up Underwood’s spread offense and find efficient looks for Alstork (19.0 PPG in 2016-17) and Smith (Illinois’ Mr. Basketball), Illinois has a chance to discover the offensive rhythm it generally lacked under previous head coach John Groce. The ability of forwards like Michael Finke (41% 3FG) and Slovenian freshman Matic Vesel to stretch the floor — along with marked improvement from frontcourt anchor Leron Black (8.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG) — will also be imperative. Realistically, there are probably too many “ifs” in Champaign for Underwood to pull yet another rabbit out of his hat this season, even with a backcourt that already seems to fit his system. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten Preview Part I: Key Questions for Rutgers and Nebraska

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on October 27th, 2017

With the season just a few weeks away, Rush the Court’s Big Ten preview will tip off its coverage by posting a season-defining key question for each team. This week, we start at the bottom.

#14 Rutgers – Will the Scarlet Knights score enough to climb out of the cellar?

Can Steve Pikiell lift Rutgers out of last place? (Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports)

In Steve Pikiell’s first year, Rutgers doubled its overall win total, won its first-ever Big Ten Tournament game, and climbed nearly 150 spots in the KenPom ratingsOf course, the Scarlet Knights still finished dead-last in the league for the third year in a row, stymied by three-point, two-point, and free throw shooting percentages that ranked among the worst 25 teams nationally. The good news for Pikiell is that significant incoming talent — headlined by four-star power forward Mamadou Doucoure and three-star combo guard Geo Baker — should help diversify Rutgers’ scoring potential. Doucoure, who joins the 2017 class after reclassifying in August, adds needed size to the Scarlet Knights’ frontcourt and should take defensive pressure off senior Deshawn Freeman, who’s proven to be a capable scorer in addition to his rebounding prowess (7.8 RPG). Baker — by all accounts an adept passer and playmaker — adds sorely-needed perimeter shooting and offensive versatility. He should help fill the shoes of Nigel Johnson, a departing graduate transfer who was the team’s best three-point shooter a season ago (36% 3FG). Equally important will be the addition of JuCo transfer Souf Mensah, whose presence at point guard should help leading scorer Corey Sanders (12.8 PPG) play off the ball more regularly and, presumably, score at a more efficient clip. Like Pikiell’s best teams at Stony Brook, Rutgers’ improvement was defined by hard-nosed defense and rebounding last season. Coupling that identity with a more capable offensive attack would make the Scarlet Knights far more competitive in 2017-18.

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Big 12 Burning Questions: Oklahoma State Cowboys

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 19th, 2017

This preview is part of RTC’s Big 12 preseason coverage.

Will Mike Boynton follow the recent trend of first-year Big 12 coaches fielding competitive teams?

In spite of some recent March slip-ups, the Big 12 maintains its reputation as the most competitive, if not the best, basketball conference in America. It routinely sends at least half of its membership to the Big Dance, propels a number of top-flight prospects to the NBA Draft, and contributes experienced players to postseason All-America teams on a regular basis. One byproduct of all that competitiveness that isn’t discussed as much is that for a conference so small relative to the rest of the Power 5, the Big 12 has witnessed a staggering amount of coaching turnover in the past few years.

Jeffrey Carroll will be one of the most dynamic scorers in the country, but the Cowboys will struggle to stay competitive in the cutthroat Big 12. (Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman)

Five Big 12 teams have made six head coaching changes since the start of the 2016 offseason, with a handful of that group achieving success with their new teams in relatively short order. Last season Brad Underwood led Oklahoma State to its first .500 conference record since 2013. Similarly, buoyed by a more committed TCU administration, Jamie Dixon led the Horned Frogs to as many league wins in 2017 (6) as they had notched in the last three seasons combined — riding that wave all the way to the NIT title. Going back another year, Steve Prohm led Iowa State to just its second Sweet Sixteen of the last 18 years in 2016. The Chris Beard and Shaka Smart eras at Texas Tech and Texas, respectively, have been works in progress, but both of their teams should be better this year. No one knows what the FBI’s investigation of the Oklahoma State program will bring, but at least until then, Mike Boynton will have a team to coach. Still, given what he has at his disposal, it will be tough for the new head coach in Stillwater to match the strong campaigns from some of the league’s recent first-year coaches.

First, Boynton has never been a head coach, cutting his teeth as an assistant for Frank Martin at South Carolina and Brad Underwood at Stephen F. Austin in addition to last year at Oklahoma State. Apparently not learning the lesson in allowing Illinois to snatch Underwood from the program last March, the administration went cheap on his replacement. Maybe athletic director Mike Holder knows something we don’t, but seeing as how Boynton had never been linked to a major head coaching job prior to his promotion, it’s fair to question his acumen (although it could have been worse — among Oklahoma State’s other candidates was also former assistant Lamont Evans, who was charged in last month’s NCAA corruption scandal and fired shortly thereafter).

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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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Oklahoma State’s Recent Surge Could Lead to the NCAAs

Posted by Justin Fedich on February 18th, 2017

On January 18, Oklahoma State found itself alone in last place in the Big 12, staring up at the likes of Texas and Oklahoma in the standings with zero conference wins to its name. A team that had through the non-conference season appeared poised to make a run to the NCAA Tournament under first-year head coach Brad Underwood, wondered what had gone so wrong. “We’ve got to show and have some competitive pride,” Underwood said at after his team had dropped 96-88 home game to Kansas State.

Brad Underwood Has Turned His Team’s Season Around (USA Today Images)

Over the past month, the Cowboys have done just that. Since their 0-6 start, the Cowboys have won seven of their last eight games thanks to clear improvement on both ends of the floor. Oklahoma State’s defense will never be considered great, but a team that allowed an average of 85.6 points per game during its losing streak has held every opponent since to 76 points or fewer. On the offensive end, the Cowboys rank second in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency, behind only the record-setting group at UCLA. One of the keys for Underwood has been players other than Jawun Evans and Phil Forte contributing more consistently. As a result, Oklahoma State has made an improbable comeback to position itself for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Say a Prayer for the Sooners Edition

Posted by Big 12 Team on February 14th, 2017

There wasn’t any question what the college basketball world thought about Oklahoma a season ago. The Sooners were led by a likable All-American who was surrounded by a group of teammates that had played more than 100 consecutive games together. Even after a blowout Final Four loss to Villanova ended their season, conventional wisdom was that one poor performance wouldn’t diminish the tremendous gains and relentlessly bright future the program had ahead of it. Unfortunately, this season has made last year feel like the tail end of the Jeff Capel era. The returnees and freshmen have failed to mesh in any meaningful way, resulting in two seven-game losing streaks and looking like a finish in the Big 12 cellar is imminent. With leading scorer Jordan Woodard out for the rest of the season with a career-ending ACL injury, what seemed like an achievable 600 win threshold for Lon Kruger this season is increasingly looking like an impossibility. One bad season among several very good ones will not tarnish Oklahoma basketball in the long run, but it represents a reminder to those on the outside that no one is immune to a bad year every once in a while. This week’s power rankings are right after this goofy picture of Kruger.

Lon Kruger is two wins away from notching 600 wins as a collegiate head coach. The question is: will his wounded Sooners win two with a month left in the season? (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

  • 1. Kansas — all voted 1st – “Aside from a few down games which should be expected of any high-major college player, Josh Jackson has lived up to the hype. In the seven games prior to an average outing against West Virginia (14 points, 11 rebounds, six turnovers) last night, though, he averaged 20.6 points on 56.3 percent shooting (53.6% 3FG), along with 7.6 rebounds in 34.4 minutes per contest. Kansas’ depth issues have led to some recent second-half struggles, but the Jayhawks’ freshman phenom is the primary reason the Jayhawks have been able to overcome them.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)
  • 2. Baylor — all voted 2nd – “Kansas has made a living in the Big 12 historically with its outstanding interior defense, and now Baylor is doing the same thing. Opponents have made just 44.5 percent of their twos against the Bears in conference play this season, with the next best mark Kansas and Oklahoma’s tie at 47.5 percent. Jo Lual-Acuil and Johnathan Motley have combined to make Baylor a realistic competitor even when its offense struggles.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)
  • 3. West Virginia — all voted 3rd – “Per KenPom, West Virginia owns the seventh-best defense and 10th-best offense in college basketball. Despite a heart-breaking overtime loss in Allen Fieldhouse last night, the Mountaineers are still in contention for a top-two NCAA Tournament seed if they can finish strong in their last five games.” – Drew Andrews (@DrewAndrews24)

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Saturday Lost Its Damn Mind Edition

Posted by Big 12 Team on February 7th, 2017

It took five weeks to get there, but the Big 12 finally returned to the wackiness that made it college basketball’s most entertaining league a season ago. At least for a day. All three of Saturday’s upsets encompassed a group of strangely similar qualities: the losing teams were ranked in the top 10; they dropped these games on their home floors; and the teams who won desperately needed to bolster their otherwise tame NCAA Tournament profiles. On the backs of the still surging Jeffrey Carroll and superhero guard Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State became the second Oklahoma school to hand West Virginia a home loss this season. Known for their insane comeback victories, Baylor was unable to overcome Kansas State’s 19-point first half lead, even in Waco. Finally, the Big 12’s best match-up gave us another game to remember. If you’ve enjoyed the previous editions of Iowa StateKansas since 2013, there is a great chance you also liked the Cyclones’ thrilling overtime victory in Allen Fieldhouse. What Saturday’s action proved is that a day, or even a week, full of surprises is still possible in the less chaotic 2017 version of the Big 12. Our rankings are coming your way.

Brad Underwood’s Cowboys scored a huge road win at West Virginia on Saturday. (USA Today Sports Images)

1. Kansas — all voted 1st – “The Jayhawks lost their first conference home game since 2013 on Saturday when Iowa State canned 18 three-pointers. It should have created an opening for both Baylor and West Virginia to make up ground in the title race, but both teams stumbled at home as well. KenPom ranks Kansas as the 65th luckiest team in the country, but the Jayhawks certainly had their horse shoes and rabbit foots on hand Saturday.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)

2. Baylor — all voted 2nd – “The Bears were given a gift as Kansas couldn’t hold serve in its earlier home game, but the Wildcats entered Waco and walked out with a huge road win. The defense did its part but Johnathan Motley was the only Baylor player in double figures. Scott Drew’s team now has three straight games against bottom-half league teams before hosting Kansas in what could be a de facto regular season championship game.” – Drew Andrews (@DrewAndrews24)

3. West Virginia — all voted 3rd – “The gap between third and fourth place in the Big 12 has shrunken considerably in a matter of just a few days. With West Virginia’s second home loss to a sub-.500 team in league play and Iowa State’s road triumph in Lawrence, the Cyclones and Mountaineers are now both 6-4 in Big 12 play. What’s keeping West Virginia in third is its head-to-head win at Iowa State last Tuesday night.” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso)

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Exploring Oklahoma State’s Defensive Woes

Posted by Chris Stone on January 18th, 2017

The beginning of Big 12 play hasn’t exactly gone as hoped for Oklahoma State. After jumping out to an impressive 10-2 record in non-conference play under new head coach Brad Underwood, expectations were high for a Cowboys’ team that had only suffered a neutral-site defeat to North Carolina and a one-point loss at Maryland. Through five games of the conference season, however, things couldn’t be going much worse. The trio of defeats to the league’s top three teams — Baylor, Kansas and West Virginia — is understandable, but a pair of losses to Texas and Iowa State are not. What has gone wrong for the Cowboys?

Big man Mitchell Solomon is a major key to Oklahoma State’s defensive success. (Rich Sugg/The Kansas City Star)

The biggest problems have come on the defensive end of the floor where Oklahoma State has allowed opponents to score a league-high 1.18 points per possession (PPP) over those five contests, per KenPom. That figure was a much more reasonable 0.98 PPP during non-conference play, and certainly some of the disparity is attributable to its schedule — the toughest in the league so far. Compare that to a non-conference slate that ranked 120th nationally and it’s easy to understand why Oklahoma State’s four defensive factors — effective field goal percentage, turnover rate, offensive rebounding rate and free throw rate — have been worse across the board. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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