Big 12 Quarter-Pole Reset

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 14th, 2018

As college basketball wakes up from Finals Week, it’s a great opportunity to look around the league and see how things are developing. Of course, Kansas being at the top of this league doesn’t surprise anyone, but the pecking order beneath the Jayhawks wasn’t what prognosticators pictured back in October. Texas Tech looks fantastic, although their numbers are a touch inflated by a soft schedule as we’ll get into below. Kansas State and West Virginia don’t look like the contenders many projected, but a couple surprise teams in Oklahoma and TCU have stepped up to take their spots.

A collective effort led by Jarrett Culver has Texas Tech undefeated. (Getty)
  1. It doesn’t look like Kansas State and West Virginia will be giving the Jayhawks a run for their money after all, but Texas Tech, on the other hand, is undefeated heading into tomorrow’s match-up with Abilene Christian. This prediction could blow up in my face, seeing as how the Red Raiders have played the third-easiest non-conference schedule in the country, per KenPom, but they have the potential to be one of the best defensive teams we’ve seen in a very long time. Texas Tech’s opponents are averaging a lengthy 18.6 seconds per possession (346th nationally), committing turnovers 26 percent of the time and are shooting just 37.5 percent on two-point tried. Interestingly, Texas Tech isn’t getting out on the break very much despite generating all those turnovers, instead preferring to have Jarrett Culver, Kyler Edwards and Brandone Francis walk the ball up the floor. It’s reasonable to wonder if that will change come Big 12 play, though. The league currently houses four of the nation’s top 20 defensive units aside from the Red Raiders, so it might make sense for Chris Beard’s club to run more often in an attempt to get quality shots before those stifling defenses can set up.
  2. While I was pretty high on Texas Tech entering the season, I didn’t foresee Oklahoma and TCU looking as good as they have, and each team is getting it done in different ways. I thought the Sooners would be overwhelmed by the ambitious non-conference schedule Lon Kruger assembled (25th in the country, per KenPom), but while the Sooners still have a few hurdles to clear, their defense has been very good. Oklahoma to date has been strong both in transition and non-transition settings, and they dusted off Notre Dame and Wichita State without their best rim protector, Jamuni McNeace. The Horned Frogs’ offense, meanwhile, looks incredibly cohesive, which isn’t something commonly seen before the calendar flips to the new year. With TCU, the ball is always moving and every pass seems to have a purpose. The metrics affirm it, too, as Jamie Dixon’s team has assisted on a staggering 73 percent of its made shots, which is tops in the country. A potential issue with TCU is Jaylen Fisher’s limited ability to create as he continues to recover from offseason knee surgery. He’s attempted just seven twos in 123 minutes of action, which translates to a shade over three games’ worth of action, and his ability to penetrate just isn’t there yet. While he’s been terrific from deep, it won’t be long before opposing defenses start pressing up on both he and Alex Robinson to keep them from getting so much daylight.
  3. When people discuss West Virginia being a different team this season, the conversation is usually centered around how the Mountaineers have regressed without Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles there to set up shop inside opponents’ jerseys. Sure enough, they rank just 143rd in defensive turnover percentage (last four years: first, second, first, second), and even with strong offensive rebounding as usual, the relative lack of turnovers has Bob Huggins turning to an unlikely answer on offense: Sagaba Konate firing from deep. You read that right. The Mountaineers’ vaunted rim protector has attempted 23 three-pointers on the year, but even more surprising is that he’s connected on nine of them, enough to make him the team’s second-leading three-point shooter at 39.1 percent. Konate’s deep ball is slow to release, which shouldn’t shock anyone familiar with his game, nor will it make him the sport’s next unicorn, but he’s been effective enough to keep defenses honest. It’s a good idea for Konate to try to become more versatile, because at just 6’8”, there’s no guarantee that his shot-blocking will translate to the next level, wherever that may be. As long as he continues to make threes at a rate that forces opposing big men out of the paint, however, you’re probably not going to see Huggins complain too much.
  4. Kansas State hit a nadir last weekend with an embarrassing 47-46 loss to Tulsa, and while Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes haven’t emerged as the complementary options they were expected to be, Dean Wade’s recent duds (two points on 1-of-6 shooting with three turnovers at Tulsa; 11 points on 3-of-7 shooting and a DQ at Marquette) are concerning. Just five weeks after tip-off, Wade isn’t on the same planet that would be expected of the Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year. I don’t have a ballot, but if I had to name an all-conference first team today, there’s no way I could justify putting him there. He hasn’t been a total loss, and there’s only so much you can do as a big man when the backcourt cannot reliably set you up, but a forward with Wade’s skill set and experience should be considerably further along.
  5. Sticking with the Wildcats, the adage goes that once a coach is on the hot seat, he’s never truly off of it, and we’re seeing some of that now as fans are understandably frustrated with Bruce Weber’s performance less than a year removed from leading Kansas State to the Elite Eight. Even though athletic director Dean Taylor extended Weber’s contract last spring, the financials don’t make the extension an anchor, as the new Kansas State football coach, Chris Klieman, will draw a starting salary of just $2.3 million (lowest among the Big 12’s public schools). I’m not saying that Klieman was hired to make it easy for Kansas State to get out of Weber’s contract, but it could be a benefit if the fan base and big donors put enough pressure on the administration to think hard about retaining Weber if he can’t right the ship again.
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Big 12 Feast Week Catch-Up

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 21st, 2018

We’re halfway through Feast Week and even though much of the conference has faced strong competition for the first time this season, we aren’t that much closer to determining a pecking order than we were on Sunday. That’s a credit to the league’s performance rather than a detriment, though, with strong impressions being made throughout. Idle until later today, Kansas still has the inside track, but whereas before the season when Kansas State was thought to be the sole challenger, the battle for second is a jumbled mess at this juncture with not only the Wildcats but also Texas Tech, Texas and even Iowa State joining the fray. Further down, even Oklahoma isn’t looking like an easy out, which is another good sign for the league’s overall strength

Udoka Azubuike and the Jayhawks stare down their next challenge in New York City. (Getty)

  • Kansas (NIT Season Tip-Off) – The Jayhawks look to collect more marquee wins in their second neutral-court event of the season. Tonight’s semifinal pits Bill Self’s team against a Marquette squad eager to make a splash after finishing seventh in the Big East a season ago. While the Jayhawks are deservedly favored, they’ve been getting cooked from beyond the arc, ranking 331st in defensive 3PA/FGA and allowing opponents to hit 46.9 percent of their tries. Their weakness for going over screens and over-helping hasn’t cost them yet, but although the Golden Eagles haven’t truly heated up, they have the firepower to make the Jayhawks pay with an arsenal of shooters led by Markus Howard, Sam Hauser and Joey Hauser. If they don’t connect, there won’t be much to fall back on with Kansas having the skill and bodies down low to keep Marquette honest on the blocks. Offense hasn’t been much of a problem for the Jayhawks, but it could be against the Volunteers if that matchup materializes Friday night. Rick Barnes has always fielded stingy defensive teams as long as his players have bought in, and it’s been no different this year. Tennessee hasn’t forced turnovers or blocked a ton of shots, but they’ve been forcing tough attempts, which is almost as beneficial. Louisville’s no slouch, either, but the jury’s still out with Chris Mack working to establish the habits that made him a must-have to the Cardinals’ administration and donor base.
  • Kansas State (Paradise Jam) – For Wildcat fans, watching this team in its first four games was kind of like eating Chinese food for dinner. It achieved the desired result, but it was never anything to write home about and you were hungry for something better just a short time later. A decisive 20-2 run against Missouri en route to the Paradise Jam title in Game 5 doesn’t mean that Kansas State’s offense is fixed, but it’s certainly a start. Dean Wade and Barry Brown leading the way with strong support from Xavier Sneed and Cartier Diarra putting in yeoman’s work off the bench is exactly what Bruce Weber needs from his squad to sufficiently complement its heady, efficient defensive play. Now comes the hard part of sustaining it against the rest of a solid non-con slate and into league play.
  • Texas Tech (Hall Of Fame Classic) – The Red Raiders had a successful week in Kansas City, using big second halves to defeat USC and Nebraska on their way to the Hall of Fame Classic championship. Chris Beard made frequent substitutions in search of a rotation that could get the best of Tech’s opponents, but the constant was Jarrett Culver, who averaged 22 points and 7.5 rebounds in the event. Culver struggled to get going early in both games, but made increasingly better decisions as the individual games wore on. By the end of the event, he cemented his role as the team’s leader with Matt Mooney, Tariq Owens and Davide Moretti making for a solid supporting cast. I maintain that Tech’s drop-off from 2018 won’t be as steep as many around the landscape feel, but one thing that gives me pause relates to the way the offense stagnated when Culver wasn’t fully engaged, so while it’s still early and trusting Beard feels like a safe bet, I do worry a bit about the team being able to pick up the slack against better opponents when Culver isn’t at his best.
  • Iowa State (Maui Invitational) – Beating superior competition when you’re short-handed is challenging enough in a normal setting, but when you’re slated to play three games in three days with just eight scholarship players, you just want to have a decent showing and not return to the mainland any worse off than you were when you arrived. A fully healthy Cyclone team might have have been able to finish the job against Arizona on Monday night, but they’re certainly making the best of it in the consolation bracket. Steve Prohm had Brad Underwood’s number in the latter’s lone season at Oklahoma State with the Cyclones sweeping all three meetings in 2017, and that continued Tuesday afternoon with an 84-68 trouncing. Iowa State’s effort epitomized basketball in 2018, with 47 of their 53 shot attempts coming on dunks, layups or three-pointers. With Marial Shayok and Talen Horton-Tucker showing out and the team playing free-flowing, efficient basketball, re-working Lindell Wigginton, Cameron Lard and Solomon Young into the rotation will make for a fascinating storyline they get closer to returning.
  • Oklahoma (Battle 4 Atlantis) – Picked to finish eighth in the league, the Sooners have shown some moxie, undefeated with three of their four wins coming away from Norman and a chance to make the week a big one assuming they meet favored Wisconsin in Friday’s semifinal. As I discussed last week, the calling card of Oklahoma’s defense has been their ability to defend without fouling, but that risk-averse nature hasn’t yielded many turnovers. That may need to change against a Wisconsin team that really values the ball and has largely made the most of their possessions. Jamuni McNeace was highly effective defending the Gators, but stopping Ethan Happ will be one of the biggest challenges he’ll face all year if the matchup comes to fruition. Continuing to get standout offensive play from Christian James (21.5 PPG, 2.5 TO/40) will be vital as well.
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Big 12 Previews: Kansas & Kansas State

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 2nd, 2018

With tip-off now mere days away, we’re continuing our 2018-19 Big 12 coverage by going around the league team-by-team. Be sure to check in throughout the season and follow Big 12 correspondent Brian Goodman on Twitter @BSGoodman.

Kansas

Bill Self and Kansas want nothing more than to roll out the ball. (USA Today Images)

A few misses on the recruiting trail and Billy Preston’s compromised eligibility led last season’s Jayhawks to field one of their thinnest teams in recent memory. With Bill Self’s hand forced, he leaned into his team’s strength of perimeter play like never before. Svi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman and Devonte’ Graham each buried at least 85 three-pointers last year, and all three connected at a 40 percent or better clip in pacing the nation’s fifth-best offense, which also helped mask the worst defensive group of the Self era (47th nationally). There were a number of moments that Kansas fans would rather forget, such as losing to NIT-bound Washington in Kansas City and dropping three home games for the first time since boy bands dominated the Billboard charts, but the Jayhawks still won 31 games, still notched their 14th consecutive Big 12 title and still made the Final Four for the first time since 2012 without a single first-round pick, so they handled the adversity just fine.

Who’s Gone:

  • G Devonte’ Graham: 17.3 PPG, 7.2 APG, 40.6% 3FG
  • G Svi Mykhailiuk: 14.6 PPG, 44.4% 3FG
  • G Malik Newman: 14.2 PPG, 5.0 RPG

Who’s Back:

  • C Udoka Azubuike: 13.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.7 BPG
  • G Lagerald Vick: 12.1 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 37.3% 3FG
  • G Marcus Garrett: 19.2 MPG, 4.1 PPG
  • F Mitch Lightfoot: 14.0 MPG, 3.8 PPG, 3.1 RPG
  • F Silvio De Sousa*: 20 GP, 4.0 PPG, 3.7 RPG

*suspended indefinitely

Who’s Coming In:

  • F Dedric Lawson (transfer from Memphis): 19.2 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 2.1 BPG in 2016-17
  • G K.J. Lawson (transfer from Memphis): 12.3 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 2.8 APG in 2016-17
  • G Charlie Moore (transfer from Cal): 12.2 PPG, 3.5 APG, 35.2% 3FG in 2016-17
  • G Quentin Grimes (five-star recruit)
  • G Devon Dotson (five-star recruit)
  • F David McCormack (four-star recruit)

Outlook: Even if De Sousa were available, he’d be no better than the team’s third-best big man (if that), so while a cloud of suspicion stemming from alleged improprieties revealed over the last several months may surround this team, it’s more likely to manifest itself in the form of increased vitriol from opposing fanbases and in local and national talk than in any real way on the court. That isn’t nothing, but the point is that this year’s team should be just fine, barring any new revelations. That’s a credit to the group of talent that Self has assembled in spite of any doubts circling its construction. Kansas is positioned to return to a classic two-big look, with Memphis transfer and preseason All-American Dedric Lawson and Udoka Azubuike possessing the strength, skill and experience to overpower most of their match-ups, and Mitch Lightfoot and David McCormack behind them. Whether it’s optimal to feature two bigs as prominent as Lawson and Azubuike in the era of pace and space is a conversation worth having, but we’ll leave it for another time. Another interesting question in Lawrence is how the point guard position will shake out after Devonte’ Graham and Frank Mason gave the team so much production and consistency over the last four seasons. Charlie Moore has experience and some scoring ability, but Marcus Garrett has the defensive-mindedness and toughness that Self loves so much and Devon Dotson is the most decorated point guard prospect to come through Lawrence since Josh Selby. There shouldn’t be many problems at the two-guard slot, though, with Lagerald Vick returning and a blue-chip freshman in Quentin Grimes ready to contribute as well. The Jayhawks are a melting pot of program guys, transfers and stud recruits, making them an excellent bet to win their 15th consecutive conference title followed by another deep postseason run. 

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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: #11 Loyola-Chicago 78, #9 Kansas State 62

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 24th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Atlanta for the South Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Loyola drove past Kansas State and is going to its first Final Four in 55 years.
(Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. This South Regional bracket may have been the wackiest quadrant in NCAA Tournament history. This year’s South Region has produced some historic results: the first #16 Seed (UMBC) beating a #1 Seed (Virginia); the first Sweet Sixteen without any top four seeds; lower-seeded teams winning more than 50 percent of the time (9-6). So it’s fitting that not only did we have the first regional final between a #9 seed and a #11 seed, but the mid-major Ramblers run Kansas State out of the building just like UMBC had done to top-rated Virginia a little over a week ago. Loyola was clearly the better team from the start, shooting 55.6 percent from the floor en route to a 12-point halftime lead. It was more of the same after intermission as Loyola sank 10 of its first 12 shots to build an insurmountable 23-point lead. The Wildcats made a gutsy comeback attempt but could no closer than 11 points the rest of the way as Loyola cruised to its first regional title in over 50 years. The Ramblers simply shredded the Wildcats’ defense — something that no other K-State opponent had been able to do in the tournament.
  2. All the standard cliches apply to this Loyola team. (1) “They are a very balanced team.” On the season, five Ramblers average double-figure scoring, but none comes in above 13.5 points per contest. (2) “Experience matters.” Among the top six in Porter Moser’s rotation, five are in their fourth year of college — three seniors, two redshirt-junior transfers. (3) “They have a winning mentality.” According to Moser, seven of his current players won state championships during their high school days. All three of these applicable cliches are represented by the fact that three different Ramblers nailed game-clinching jumpers in their first three tourney games — Donte Ingram (versus Miami), Clayton Custer (Tennessee) and Marques Townes (Nevada). No last-minute heroics were necessary tonight, though, as the confident Ramblers put together their most complete performance of the NCAA Tournament with a trip to the Final Four as a result.
  3. Kansas State’s Barry Brown is a tremendous defender. Brown is probably the most versatile shut-down perimeter defender we’ve seen in the NCAA Tournament since Butler’s Ronald Nored handcuffed opposing guards during the Bulldogs’ back-to-back trips to the title game in 2010 and 2011. In the first two rounds of this year’s tourney, Brown stymied Creighton’s Marcus Foster (5 points, 2-11 FG), and Jairus Lyles (12 points, 4-15 FG) of UMBC. Coming into the Sweet Sixteen, Kentucky’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was on fire, but Brown effectively doused his flames — Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 15 points, but only shot 2-of-10 from the field and committed five turnovers. And when three of his teammates fouled out late in that game, Brown (6’3″) moved over to check 6’9″ Kevin Knox and more than held his own. Tonight Brown guarded Custer for most of the night, holding the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year to just seven points and 2-of-8 shooting from the floor. But it didn’t really matter against the balanced Ramblers — others stepped up for Loyola and Brown couldn’t guard but one of them at a time.

Player of the Game. Ben Richardson, Loyola-Chicago. As we mentioned above, Loyola gets production from a number of different players with new guys stepping up game to game. Tonight it was the Richardson show from start to finish. Primarily known as a defensive stopper, the senior exploded for a career-high 23 points behind a blistering 6-of-7 from three-point land.

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Kansas State 61, #5 Kentucky 58

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 22nd, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Atlanta for the South Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Xavier Sneed led Kansas State in its upset over Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen.
(Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. The South Region delivers again. Kentucky was a heavy favorite in Atlanta and had heavy crowd support throughout the game, but the Wildcats were in trouble most of the way tonight. Kansas State exploded for an early 13-1 lead and took a four-point lead into the break. Then when it looked like Kentucky would blow past them midway through the second half, Kansas State spurted back ahead by nine. But to Kentucky’s credit, John Calipari’s youngsters kept fighting and clawed their way back yet again. The final push led to a riveting game-ending few minutes, with the lead going back and forth between Wildcats. With under 20 seconds to go and the score tied, Barry Brown made a clutch driving layup to put Kansas State ahead by three, but the game wasn’t decided until Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s three clanged off the back iron at the buzzer. That leaves us with the most improbable Elite Eight matchup we could ever imagine, which is par for the course in this year’s South Region.  
  2. Kansas State is a really good defensive team. It’s not a coincidence that every team that plays the Wildcats struggles on the offensive end of the floor. Kentucky came into tonight’s contest averaging 86.5 points per game in the NCAA Tournament, but the Wildcats couldn’t crack the 60-point mark against Bruce Weber‘s defense. For the game, Kentucky shot just 38.1 percent from the floor and went 3-of-12 from three-point land. The Wildcats in purple were giving up almost four inches per man against Kentucky, however, and it took its toll in the form of foul trouble. Three Kansas State players fouled out and two others finished with four violations, but the tough-minded Big 12 Wildcats hung on to win.
  3. Kentucky’s youth finally caught up with them. Against a physically inferior squad, the Wildcats wearing white made too many mistakes to beat a Kansas State bunch intent on not giving in. In the key moments down the stretch of this game, Kentucky may have felt the pressure of being the favorite — missing free throws (23-of-37 in the game), committing ball-handling mistakes (15 turnovers) and taking a number of questionable shots. Kentucky had been playing great over the last month of the season, but they looked young in the late parts of tonight’s game — failing to get a decent look on either of its last two possessions.

Player of the Game. Xavier Sneed, Kansas State. Sneed led the way with 22 points and nine rebounds despite fighting foul trouble for much of the night. He was particularly effective from deep, sinking more than half of his team’s threes by going 5-of-8 from behind the arc. 

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NCAA Regional Reset: South Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 20th, 2018

Rush the Court is providing comprehensive coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks. Today and tomorrow we reset each of the four regions. 

New Favorite: #5 Kentucky (26-10). Not only is Kentucky the favorite to win the South Region, it has better odds to reach the Final Four than any team left in the NCAA Tournament, per FiveThirtyEight. Who could have foreseen that on Selection Sunday? Then again, who could have foreseen virtually anything that happened in the South? For the first time in college basketball history, the four top seeds from a single region failed to reach the Sweet Sixteen, leaving the Wildcats standing as the clear-cut favorite in Atlanta. And really, they might have been the favorite anyway. After edging Davidson in the opening round, Kentucky continued playing its best offensive basketball of the season against #13 Buffalo, scoring 1.28 points per possession against a defense that had just baffled #4 Arizona two nights earlier. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (more on him below) was great yet again (27 points on 10-for-12 shooting). Hamidou Diallo (22 points) had his best game in months. Wenyen Gabriel (3-of-5 3FG) continued hitting shots. Since losing to Florida on March 3, Kentucky has looked like an entirely different team — an efficient team — on the offensive end. And that should scare the daylights out of every team left in the Dance.

Kentucky is peaking at the right time. (Kentucky Sports)

Horse of Darkness: #11 Loyola-Chicago (30-5). It speaks volumes about this region that a #11 seed advanced to the Sweet Sixteen and there’s even a debate here, but #7 Nevada and #9 Kansas State both have solid arguments. Still, the Ramblers are the worst remaining seed and no team has taken on that Cinderella “feel” quite like Porter Moser’s group. For Loyola to advance, it took a pair of dramatic (near) buzzer-beaters and some prayers from Sister Jean to upend #6 Miami and #3 Tennessee, the program’s first NCAA Tournament victories since 1985. At no point have the Ramblers looked physically outmatched, though, and it’s doubtful they will against Nevada. Don’t be shocked if this team winds up playing for a trip to San Antonio on Saturday.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #16 UMBC (25-11). Biggest surprise (first weekend)? How about biggest surprise (ever)? In perhaps the greatest upset of all-time, UMBC knocked off #1 overall seed Virginia to become the first #16 seed in NCAA Tournament history to reach the Second Round. Even with several days for that to soak in, the accomplishment remains astounding. Consider that Virginia owned the best record in college basketball (31-2) and won the ACC by four games. And that UMBC lost by 44 points to Albany on January 21. And that Virginia’s defense hadn’t allowed a single opponent to score 70 points this season. Or that UMBC’s offensive efficiency ranked fifth in the America East and didn’t even crack the top 150 nationally. And yet, led by a pair of senior guards with enough swagger to last a lifetime, the Retrievers ripped off 53 points in the second half alone en route to a shocking 74-54 victory, the most total points and points per possession the Cavaliers had surrendered all season. It was the upset to end all upsets.

Completely Expected (First Weekend): Nothing. We’re not trying to be cute here — virtually nothing went as expected in the South Region. A #16 seed beat the #1 overall seed. The #9 seed, Kansas State, reached the Sweet Sixteen without its leading scorer. The #13 seed beat the #4 seed — don’t forget about Buffalo! — and the #11 seed advanced to the second weekend. Oh, and as for #2 Cincinnati? It only blew a 22-point second-half lead against #7 Nevada, giving the Wolf Pack its first Sweet Sixteen berth since 2004. Even #5 Kentucky was far from a sure thing: according to KenPom, the Wildcats had just a 36.7 percent chance of reaching Atlanta before the tournament started.

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Kansas State 50, #16 UMBC 43

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 18th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Charlotte this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Kansas State swarmed Jairus Lyles and held off history-making UMBC.
(Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun)

  1. UMBC couldn’t follow-up Friday’s unbelievable performance just two nights later. Everything went right for the Retrievers in their historic upset of #1 Virginia on Friday evening. They shot the lights out from deep (12-of-24 three-pointers) and had great ball movement (16 assists on 26 made field goals) against the Cavaliers, but UMBC’s offense came back to earth this evening against Kansas State — the Retrievers only shot 29.8 percent from the field and committed 17 turnovers. Still, UMBC hung around for 39 minutes of tonight’s game by playing scrappy defense and battling hard on the boards against the much stronger Wildcats.
  2. It wasn’t always pleasant to watch, but it sure was fun. Even though both offenses struggled mightily all night, the intensity and tension level on the floor was very high throughout. Several times in the second half both teams went through scoring droughts simultaneously, making every possession critical. At times, Kansas State appeared to be feeling the added pressure of facing the #16 seed. The Wildcats coughed up the ball 11 times in the second half and took some very ill-advised shots. In the end, though, UMBC had several shot attempts to take the lead in the second half but could never drop one to cause Kansas State to crack.
  3. Kansas State is really good defensively, especially on the perimeter. The Wildcats held Creighton’s explosive offense in check on Friday night, limiting the Bluejays to 59 points and a woeful 26.5 percent three-point shooting night. It was the same story tonight for UMBC. Only two nights after putting up 74 on Virginia’s top-rated defense, the Retrievers managed just 43 points. The Wildcats aggressively switched on ball screens and dribble hand-offs, harassing UMBC’s shooters into a cold 6-of-22 follow-up performance from behind the arc.

Player of the Game. Barry Brown, Kansas State. Once again, Brown got it done on both ends of the floor tonight. He finished with a game-high 18 points and was a perfect 8-of-8 from the free throw line. Defensively, Brown collected two steals and was the primary defender on UMBC’s star Jairus Lyles. After torching Virginia for 28 points on Friday, Lyles only managed 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting from the field against Brown.

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Kansas State 69, #8 Creighton 59

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 16th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Charlotte this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Bruce Weber and Kansas State shut down the potent Creighton offense.
(Ray Martinez/The Mercury)

  1. Creighton’s offense never got untracked. Boasting the nation’s 23rd-best offense, according to KenPom, the Bluejays suffered through one of their worst offensive nights of the season. Much of the credit for that goes to Kansas State. The Wildcats were aggressive throughout, limiting penetration while also defending the three-point line. For the game, Creighton shot just 33.8 percent from the field and only connected on 9-of-34 from deep. The Wildcats also forced the Bluejays into 13 turnovers — Creighton came into the game among the nation’s best in ball security, but couldn’t handle the Kansas State pressure at times.
  2. Kansas State used a small lineup to offset the loss of Dean Wade. When Wade couldn’t play — it was a game-time decision due to a foot injury — Bruce Weber needed multiple players to step up and that’s exactly what happened. Weber went with a four-guard lineup for much of the night and the Wildcats made it work on both ends. Their added quickness on the floor successfully contained Creighton’s guards, and on the offensive side, it created spacing and driving lanes. The biggest surprise among the supporting group was freshman guard Mike Mcguirl. Despite appearing in only eight prior games and scoring a total of 13 points all year, Mcguirl exploded for 17 points and sank 3-of-5 from behind the three-point line.
  3. Marcus Foster had a tough night. It’s hard to say how much of it was caused by the odd situation of this matchup — Foster was dismissed from Kansas State’s program after two years in Manhattan — but Kansas State’s defense deserves a lot of credit too. Foster went scoreless for almost the first 30 minutes of action and finished with just five points on 2-of-11 shooting. When Foster came out of the game in the closing seconds, Weber was very gracious in going over to shake his hand and give him a hug.

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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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