Rushed Reactions: #1 Villanova 71, #3 Texas Tech 59

Posted by Matt Patton on March 25th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Matt Patton (@mpatton08) is in Boston for the East Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Donte DiVincenzo ignites the Villanova crowd in the second half of their Elite Eight win (photo credit: AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

  1. Villanova doesn’t have to outshoot its opponents to win. Villanova won this game for two main reasons, and neither is a hallmark of this squad. First, the Wildcats dominated Texas Tech on the glass. They rebounded 37 percent of their own misses (20 offensive boards in all), extending their possessions and shortening the game. While they didn’t get all that many second-chance points, those rebounds forced the Red Raiders to expend more energy on defense with less time to mount a comeback. The second reason Jay Wright‘s team won today was because of their work defending the paint. Villanova had a good two-point defense this year (holding opponents to 49 percent shooting from the field), but their work in Boston this weekend was phenomenal. Wright’s team held Texas Tech to 7-of-24 shooting on layups despite foul trouble for much of the game for big man Omari Spellman. In fact, Texas Tech missed their last 10 layups of the game, covering the last 12 minutes of action (which was also when they were trying to mount an ultimately futile comeback).
  2. Villanova’s ball movement is probably unparalleled in college basketball. The threes didn’t fall for Villanova today, but the Wildcats space the floor better than any other team in college basketball. The whole rotation can shoot, so Jalen Brunson will frequently drive the ball inside as the other four players on the floor spread themselves around the perimeter. If Brunson’s pass to the corner or wing doesn’t find a wide-open shooter, the swing pass does. This exact scenario played out multiple times per game against West Virginia and Texas Tech this weekend. Brunson also doesn’t have to drive the ball to be successful. He posted up and backed down his Texas Tech defender multiple times today — most of the time he was looking for his own shot there, but he also had ample opportunity to pass out if anyone even hinted at helping off their man.
  3. Keenan Evans didn’t provide the spark Texas Tech needed from its best offensive player. Evans, who disclosed after the game that he has been playing for the last month with a broken big toe, wound up shooting 3-of-14 from the field, missing all four of his attempts from three. He was able to get to the line, which is another place the Red Raiders struggled, but when Texas Tech cut it to five points with five minutes left in the game, it seemed like the moment when Evans might step up. It’s hard to say how painful that injury was for him, but you can bet that it affected his explosiveness and balance with the ball throughout the postseason this year.

Player of the Game. Eric Paschall finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds (six on the offensive ends) today, and was really the guy who stymied both of Texas Tech’s best opportunities to come back in the second half. When Brandone Francis hit a three-pointer to cut the deficit to five with six minutes remaining, it was Paschall who blocked Zach Smith’s subsequent layup that would have made it a one-possession game. With four minutes to play and the deficit again five points, it was Paschall who hauled in Brunson’s missed three while getting fouled.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Texas Tech 78, #2 Purdue 65

Posted by Matt Patton on March 24th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Matt Patton (@pattonm08) is in Boston for the East Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Texas Tech’s depth is a big part of their run. (Photo credit: Lubboc Avalanche Journal)

  1. Texas Tech is deep. The Red Raiders outscored Purdue’s bench 33-6 tonight. Four players wound up in double figures, and Niem Stevenson had nine of those points. For most of the game All-American Keenan Evans was ineffective (he was 1-of-6 from the field at the under-eight media timeout in the second half), but Texas Tech remained in control. Somehow he still ended up Texas Tech’s leading scorer, but his points mostly served to maintain rather than build the lead. In contrast to the injury-hampered Boilermakers, only Evans finished with more than 30 minutes. That bodes well for the quick turnaround coming before Sunday.
  2. Carsen Edwards versus Jalen Brunson was the matchup we’ll never get to see. With the rest of his team ineffective and hesitant, Edwards was poetry in motion tonight. He finished with 30 points on 20 shots and, amazingly, only one turnover. Edwards has a nose for the ball and like Brunson always finds a way to carve up double-teams. Edwards kept the Boilermakers within striking distance until the last five minutes of the game when an 11-0 Red Raiders run sealed it. The backup matchup of Brunson and Evans should still be must-see basketball, but their styles of play are much more distinct.
  3. Injuries bite. Without Isaac Haas, Purdue had no viable inside presence to combat Texas Tech with tonight. Matt Haarms and Vincent Edwards were non-factors. Edwards’ four offensive boards were more than cancelled out by his six turnovers. Haas’ absence hurt Purdue’s presence on the defensive boards and probably contributed to the team’s turnovers. Without being able to play inside-out, the offense sputtered for long stretches at a time. After the game, Purdue head coach Matt Painter noted, “Empty possessions really hurt us where we weren’t getting a shot at all, and that was probably the hardest thing for us, where they were getting in transition, getting the layups and the dunks.” In addition to dominating the bench points, Texas Tech owned a 15-2 advantage in points off turnovers. Had Purdue not hit nearly 40 percent of its threes this evening, this game could have been incredibly ugly.

Stars of the Game: Justin Gray and Zhaire Smith played like stars in finishing a combined 13-of-18 from the field for 26 points and 12 boards (five offensive) collectively. They’ll need to continue their excellence on Sunday and Beard will need a lot out of Gray in particular against Villanova’s more intact frontline.

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NCAA Regional Reset: East 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: #1 Villanova (32-4). The Wildcats did nothing to put their ‘favorite’ status into question over the weekend. In fact, they may have actually established themselves as the new odds-on favorite to win the whole thing. After handling #16 seed Radford by 27 points in the First Round, Villanova put on a second half clinic against #9 Alabama in the Round of 32, outscoring the Crimson Tide 49-21 over the final 20 minutes and finishing the game with 17 made three-pointers. On the weekend, in fact, Villanova shot a combined 31-of-68 (46%) from long range, its spread offense looking more lethal than ever. Now ranked #1 by KenPom with the most efficient offense in America, the Wildcats roll into Boston looking Final Four ready — especially considering the season-ending injury to Purdue center Isaac Haas in the other half of this bracket.

Meet the new favorite, same as the old favorite. (Yahoo Sports)

Horse of Darkness: #5 West Virginia (26-10). We had to put someone here, right? In an overall bracket riddled with chaos, the East Region remained more uniform than most, leaving #5 West Virginia as the “dark horse” if there is one. Entering the NCAA Tournament, KenPom gave the Mountaineers only a 42.6 percent chance of reaching the Sweet Sixteen, odds that changed dramatically once Marshall upset #4 Wichita State on Friday. West Virginia now heads to Boston where it will be a clear underdog against #1 Villanova, which is probably just how Bob Huggins and his aggressive group likes it.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #13 Marshall (25-11). Hunter became the hunted in San Diego, where #4 Wichita State — usually the one busting brackets — fell victim to Marshall’s high-powered attack. Entering Friday, the Shockers had won at least one game as a lower-seeded team in five of the last six NCAA Tournaments, including a run to the Final Four as a #9 seed in 2013. Simply put, Wichita State feels comfortable wearing the underdog hat — even in games in which it is favored, like that 2014 classic against #8 seed Kentucky. But this time around, Gregg Marshall’s group felt like Goliath, and perhaps that unfamiliar pressure wore on the Shockers down the stretch. While Wichita State tightened in the second half, the Thundering Herd just kept on shooting. The result was an upset we did not see coming.

Completely Expected (First Weekend): #2 Purdue. We fully expected Purdue to reach the Sweet Sixteen. What we did not expect was how much uncertainty it would endure to get there. After pounding Cal State Fullerton in the First Round, the team announced that senior Isaac Haas — the Boilermakers’ second-leading scorer and premier post-threat — would miss the remainder of the NCAA Tournament with a fractured elbow. Subsequent reports revealed that he might see limited action. Finally, his arm brace failed to clear NCAA safety standards, meaning the Boilermakers would have to beat Butler without him. They did, thanks in large part to the brilliance of Vincent Edwards (20 points), but not before two days filled with doubt.

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Rushed Reactions: West Virginia 66, Texas Tech 63

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 10th, 2018

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

Three Key Takeaways.

Daxter Miles Gets a Third Shot This Season at Kansas (USA Today Images)

  1. Not Your In-Laws’ Mountaineers. West Virginia’s trademark press didn’t generate the same results as usual, as the Red Raiders turned the ball over on just 15.6 percent of their possessions Friday night. On most nights, that would cause trouble for the Mountaineers since they have such a hard time scoring in Bob Huggins‘ motion offense, but they scored an even 1.00 points per possession in the winning effort. After the game, Huggins acknowledged that the grind of the conference tournament environment led him to pull back the reins, but the adjustment clearly worked. The Mountaineers actually relinquished their Big 12 defensive turnover percentage crown to Kansas State this season as conference opponents have grown accustomed to West Virginia’s brand of havoc; while it would be silly to expect the Mountaineers to completely abandon their hallmark defensive style, their ability to create offense without relying as heavily on turnovers is a positive sign moving forward.
  2. Texas Tech’s offense regresses. Chris Beard‘s team appeared to find its footing over the back half of conference play, as it entered Friday night’s game having scored at least 1.09 points per possession in its previous five outings. West Virginia, however, made frontcourt offense a struggle for the most surprising team in the Big 12. Keenan Evans and Tommy Hamilton IV were the only players who were able to get into any semblance of rhythm, and even then, it was fleeting; Evans uncharacteristically — and unsuccessfully — played hero ball on the game’s decisive possession, and the half-court heave on the next trip looked good out of his hand but rimmed out at the buzzer. Credit is also due to the Mountaineers’ interior defense, as Sagaba KonateEsa Ahmad and Wesley Harris frequently met the Red Raiders at the rim and emerged victorious more often than not.
  3. Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles are looking to go out with a bang. It’s strange knowing that Carter and Miles have just one more game left at the Sprint Center, and on Friday night the senior duo made sure to leave an imprint, combining for 39 points and an atypically hot 9-of-16 clip from distance. The Mountaineers were unusually competent in the half-court, and their leaders needed to be as they didn’t get very much help from their supporting cast.

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Big 12 Superlatives

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 5th, 2018

That was a fun regular season. Kansas won the Big 12 as predicted by, well, anyone with a pulse, but the level of drama surrounding the crown was more substantial than in any year I can remember following the league. After being picked to finish seventh in the conference standings, Texas Tech matched the Jayhawks blow for blow for the first six weeks of league play before spinning out to close the regular season. Even West Virginia, which fell out of the race earlier than anticipated, recovered nicely from its late January slide. Trae Young and Oklahoma completely lost its arc after getting tabbed as a #4 seed in the early bracket reveal, and the bottom half of the Big 12 proved why this was the best conference season by any league since such things have been measured. The fact that only 4-14 Iowa State has no hope of making the NCAA Tournament with Selection Sunday only six days away is something the conference should be very happy about.

Devonte’ Graham put Kansas on his back to lead the Jayhawks in 2017-18. (Ed Zurga/Getty)

All Big-12 Team

  • Devonte’ Graham, Kansas
  • Trae Young, Oklahoma
  • Jevon Carter, West Virginia
  • Keenan Evans, Texas Tech
  • Dean Wade, Kansas State

The coaches made the right call with their picks, but let’s be serious — this was impossible to mess up. You could have made an argument for Texas’ Mohamed Bamba over Wade up until mid-February, but the Kansas State big man was so terrific down the stretch that Bamba would’ve been hard-pressed to make up the gap even had he not missed his last two games. More on Wade in a bit.

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Big 12 Weekend Review

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 12th, 2018

The Big 12 had quite the shakeup over the weekend as Kansas‘ uncompetitive loss to Baylor and Texas Tech‘s easy road win over Kansas State gave the Red Raiders sole possession of first place with just three weeks to go in the regular season. Before the Jayhawk faithful hit the panic button, it’s worth remembering that Kansas has overcome similar deficits more than a few times over the course of its 13-year Big 12 regular season title streak (although not since 2013). This thing is far from over, but between the Jayhawks’ current struggles and the high stakes of breaking UCLA’s record of consecutive conference championships, there’s more intrigue down the stretch than there has been in several years.

The Red Raiders have a one-game lead on Kansas, but can they succeed where others have failed and end the Jayhawks’ conference title streak? (Jim Cowsert/USA Today)

  1. A look at Texas Tech and Kansas’ remaining schedules reveals that the Red Raiders have an edge for a couple reasons. The biggest is that they have already won at Allen Fieldhouse, meaning their remaining head-to-head match-up will take place in Lubbock. Additionally, Chris Beard‘s team is unbeaten against their other five opponents, while Kansas is just 3-2 against its remaining foes. While those facts are certainly not predictive of how the rest of the race will go, it should make Texas Tech fans feel fairly good about their chances, though a Kansas comeback is always something to keep in mind as long as Bill Self is patrolling the sideline. Read the rest of this entry »
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With Kansas’ Home Dominance Narrowing, It’s Game on in the Big 12…

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 4th, 2018

Texas Tech‘s victory at Allen Fieldhouse earlier this week was big for a few reasons. First, it announced to the college basketball world that Chis Beard‘s Red Raiders have arrived; it also established that Kansas‘ home loss to Arizona State last month was not a fluke; and it opened up meaningful discussion that the Jayhawks’ dominion over the rest of the Big 12 will be tested in a way that it hasn’t in the 13-year history of The Streak (TM). Let’s start with the Jayhawks’ newfound vulnerability, particularly at home. Prior to this year, Lawrence has been nothing short of a fortress for Bill Self’s team. You have to go all the way back to the 1975-76 season to find the last time when Kansas dropped two games at Allen by January 2. That isn’t to say that the storied gym won’t be a significant home court advantage for the Jayhawks more often than not, but the level of mystique that once led Baylor head coach Scott Drew to hold his team’s pregame huddle in the tunnel isn’t quite there this season — as evidenced by the Sun Devils and Red Raiders hanging 1.18 and 1.21 points per possession on the team, respectively.

With multiple home losses already on its resume, Kansas’ generational streak of conference dominance will be tested unlike another year. (Jamie Squire/Getty)

Of course, much of that has to do with Kansas’ ongoing depth issues that are feeding into the team’s shortfalls on both ends of the court. Self’s teams have always been leaned on activity and movement, and no one knows that more than senior Devonte’ Graham, the only player the head coach truly trusts at point guard. Graham has played fewer than 36 minutes just once in the Jayhawks’ last eight outings and his wear and tear is beginning to show. The lack of depth is also apparent down low, where 280-pound center Udoka Azubuike is admirably but not always effectively playing through back pain. Kansas figures to get some help with Silvio De Sousa reportedly nearing NCAA clearance and the Billy Preston investigation potentially ending soon, but as we noted last month, any reinforcements the team receives will only help but so much. This is still a top-notch offensive unit, but sustaining that level of performance will be dependent on diversifying an attack beyond three-pointers and lobs, which in turn will rely on keeping the current personnel healthy and fresh, mixed in with the occasional drive instead of a rushed jumper.

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A Quick Look at the Big 12’s Opening Weekend

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 29th, 2017

It’s not very often that the performance of a single conference as a whole is extensively discussed before the start of league play, but the manner in which the Big 12 asserted itself over the first six weeks of the 2017-18 season was nothing short of impressive. Nine of the conference’s 10 teams are ranked among the top 50 of KenPom‘s current rankings, and no team took more losses than Texas‘ three (of which two came in overtime against very good Duke and Gonzaga teams). In fact, the league finished non-conference play by ripping off 27 straight victories. Yes, there were some cupcakes in there, but there were also road and semi-road meetings against teams like Wichita State, Florida State and Nebraska. It’s gotten to the point where there’s been reasoned discussion on this site and others of the Big 12 sending 80 percent of its membership to the NCAA Tournament come March. Even if an underperforming team squelches that possibility, this conference will have meaningful games practically every night from now until March, beginning with tonight’s action. Here’s a quick look at each of the weekend’s five games.

Kansas remains the Big 12 favorite, but its competition is tougher than ever. (AP)

  1. West Virginia at Oklahoma State (Friday 7:00 ET, ESPNU) – The Cowboys project as one of the league’s worst teams, but West Virginia is just a 3.5-point favorite, which should tell you something about the Big 12’s parity and the intense challenge that the road represents this season, no matter the gym. Since installing the press prior to the 2014-15 season, Bob Huggins has not lost in Stillwater, and I expect that to continue tonight. Oklahoma State’s 10-2 start in the wake of Brad Underwood’s unexpected departure is a nice story, but the Cowboys are lacking in the three key areas needed to get the best of the Mountaineers: Ball control (117th nationally), defensive rebounding (174th) and drawing fouls (291st). Those will have to change if the Cowboys are to pull the upset.
  2. Baylor at Texas Tech (Friday 8:00 ET, Fox Sports Regional) – The Red Raiders stunned the Bears in Lubbock last season to give then-first year head coach Chris Beard a big home win. Three Baylor players fouled out of that game, which saw Texas Tech head to the foul line 43 times over the course of the night. That probably won’t be the case this time around, as Baylor ranks second in the country in foul avoidance. It also means that Texas Tech will need to find a fallback plan quickly if Baylor’s zone keeps Keenan Evans, Zach Smith and Zhaire Smith from attacking the rim as effectively as they have to this point in the season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 Burning Questions: Texas Tech Red Raiders

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 31st, 2017

This preview is part of RTC’s 2017-18 preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Will the Red Raiders cash in on an athletic and experienced roster in 2018?

Texas Tech finished last season with a modest 18-14 overall record and no postseason appearance. The Red Raiders were expected to fare considerably worse in the wake of Tubby Smith’s departure to Memphis, but not only were they better than many anticipated, a fair argument could be made that their record undersold how good they actually were last season. Texas Tech finished just outside of KenPom‘s top 40 and were clearly snake-bitten down the stretch, losing six tough games in a row that were decided by five points or fewer or in overtime. Of course, it also lost six more Big 12 games, so it wasn’t all attributable to bad luck. Despite the disappointing finish, it looks like the program made the right hire in second-year man Chris Beard, who will turn to an experienced rotation that wants nothing more than to follow up last year’s disappointment with an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2018.

Keenan Evans is ready to lead the Red Raiders in a bounceback campaign. (John Weast/Getty)

When looking at the Red Raiders’ roster, athleticism, especially in the backcourt, is what jumps out. Keenan Evans was one of the better all-around guards in the Big 12 last season, dishing out 3.0 assists per game while limiting turnovers and frequenting the foul line (where he converted 85 percent of his tries). Wing Justin Gray led all Texas Tech regulars with a 54.7 percent eFG last season, propped up by a tremendous ability to finish at the rim (82.1%, per hoop-math.com) despite standing just 6’6″. Both players are back, as is Niem Stevenson, who averaged 8.6 PPG a year ago.

Similar to last season, the Red Raiders will also have a flood of transfers ready to go. This year’s additions are headlined by Deshawn Corprew, a 6’5″ stat sheet-stuffer from the junior college ranks, and Brandone Francis, an attacking guard who sat out last year after transferring from Florida. Hyron Edwards will provide depth and athleticism at the point guard slot after transferring over from Trinity Valley (TX) Community College, and Josh Webster will look to fill a role as well. It should be noted that Tech wasn’t a very good offensive team during Big 12 play last year (1.03 PPP, ranking seventh in the conference), so that aspect of Beard’s attack will need to improve if it wants to turn things around.

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Feast Week Mission Briefing: Texas Tech in the Cancun Challenge

Posted by Chris Stone on November 22nd, 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 Texas Tech in the Cancun Challenge.

Catching Up: Texas Tech currently sits at 3-0 and the Red Raiders have easily dispatched their first three opponents (all ranked 240th or worse nationally, according to KenPom). Head coach Chris Beard entered his first season in Lubbock with a plethora of talent with which to work and it has shown in his rotations. Nine different players are averaging double-figure minutes so far and only two, Justin Gray and Zach Smith, are pushing the 30-minute mark. Meanwhile, four different players are scoring 10 or more points per game as Texas Tech has averaged 84.3 points per contest through the first three games of the season. Although they are not battle-tested, the Red Raiders have the look like a team with enough depth, length and athleticism to compete for a spot in the top half of the Big 12 standings.

Justin Gray is helping lead the way for Texas Tech (Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Justin Gray leads the way for Texas Tech (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Opening Round Preview: An opening round match-up with Auburn will be Texas Tech’s first real test of the season. The Tigers also enter the event at 3-0 but their three wins were over teams ranked among the KenPom top 200. A trio of freshmen — Danjel Purifoy, Mustapha Heron, and Jared Harper — are all scoring in double figures while posting an effective field goal percentage above 50 percent. This contest should represent a clash in styles as Bruce Pearl’s squad likes to push the pace (14.4 seconds per possession). The Red Raiders, on the other hand, are more methodical (17.0 seconds per possession).

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