Three Big 12 Storylines to Follow this Season

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 11th, 2016

Whether you’ve noticed or not, college basketball is almost here. The league schedules have been released, public practices like Kansas’ Late Night in the Phog and Iowa State’s Hilton Madness have either come and gone or are on the horizon, blurbs are emerging of players losing weight or adding muscle, and coaches are talking about how they want to play faster and take pages from NBA teams’ playbooks. Even though college football, the NFL and baseball’s playoffs tend to dominate the national sports conversation this time of year, it’s nevertheless a good opportunity to start looking at the hoops season ahead (and let’s be honest, any time is a good time to talk hoops around here). We’ll have much, much more to come over the next month as the season draws near, but in the interest of keeping things simple at the opening tip, here are three storylines that will define one of the nation’s top conferences in 2016-17.

Bill Self's Jayhawks are well-positioned for yet another conference title in 2017. (John Rieger/USA TODAY Sports)

Bill Self’s Jayhawks are well-positioned for yet another conference title in 2017. (John Rieger/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Kansas goes for #13 – The Jayhawks lost one of the Big 12’s elder statesmen in Perry Ellis as well as two other mainstays in Wayne Selden and Jamari Traylor, but Bill Self‘s team is going to be loaded once again. Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham are back as the two-headed monster in the backcourt, Landen Lucas will hold own the center spot after running away with the job last season and Svi Mykhailiuk returns to provide an X-factor opposing coaches will have to respect, even if he only sees 10-15 minutes per game. Oh, and the potential #1 overall pick in next June’s draft in Josh Jackson will slide easily into Selden’s old spot, bringing versatility, rebounding and that #motor to the wing that Self loves so much. This team isn’t without questions — particularly how effective Carlton Bragg will be as a sophomore — but while there’s usually a token competitor who contrarians pick to upend the Jayhawks in the Big 12, the reality is that there’s no good reason to bet against Kansas matching both Gonzaga and the John Wooden-era UCLA teams with 13 consecutive regular season conference titles. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Reviewing Four ACC Offseason Storylines

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 11th, 2016

We are now fewer than five weeks away from opening night in college basketball, so it’s time to start our preseason coverage here at the ACC microsite. After a record-setting NCAA Tournament performance last March, many pundits have tabbed the ACC as even more competitive this year, with hopes of challenging the record for most NCAA Tournament bids in a single season (Big East, 11 bids, 2011). Over the next several weeks we will preview the fortunes of all 15 ACC schools by projecting how each squad will maximize its strengths and mitigate its weaknesses, and we will also be reporting from ACC Operation Basketball in Charlotte on October 26. But first, let’s catch up on several of the most important storylines in the ACC since Kris Jenkins’ buzzer-beater toppled North Carolina on Championship Monday night back in April.

ACC Commissioner John Swofford had a pair of major announcements during this past offseason. (Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports)

ACC Commissioner John Swofford had a pair of major announcements during the offseason.
(Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports)

NCAA/ACC Take Stands

Perhaps the most interesting offseason news had more to do with politics than basketball. Ever since the North Carolina legislature passed the controversial HB2 law last March, the state has suffered backlash in the form of outside businesses and entertainers boycotting the state. It was only a matter of time before the NCAA and ACC followed suit. Both entities were probably holding out hope that state politicians would repeal the law before time necessitated action, but it appears that no changes are imminent. On September 12, as a result, the NCAA announced that it was removing all of its postseason events from North Carolina, including this season’s NCAA Tournament First and Second Round scheduled for Greensboro. The NCAA recently awarded that site to Greenville, South Carolina — the first time an NCAA Tournament will be held in the Palmetto State since 2002. South Carolina had previously been the state on the NCAA’s naughty list over its confederate flag flying on the capitol grounds in Columbia, but that ban was lifted last year after its removal. Just two days after the NCAA’s September announcement, ACC Commissioner John Swofford made his own statement that the ACC would also be moving its championship events out of North Carolina. The ACC Tournament was already set to begin a two-year run in Brooklyn this season, but future scheduled sites for the event include Greensboro and Charlotte. In the near-term, the NCAA’s stance is the most important. North Carolina has been a frequent spot for early round games over the years, providing a nice home court advantage for local ACC schools — most notably, Duke and North Carolina.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

2015-16 RTC National Player of the Year: Buddy Hield

Posted by Walker Carey on April 1st, 2016

This college basketball season was the “year of the senior.” Seniors like Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, North Carolina’s Brice Johnson, Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell, Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff, Kansas’ Perry Ellis, and Iowa State’s Georges Niang were all yesterday named to the RTC All-America Teams. They each put together amazing seasons in lifting their teams to outstanding regular season success and NCAA Tournament berths. As excellent as those players were, however, there was one senior who stood out among the pack. That player is Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield. In this era of the one-and-done superstar, it might be cynical to view a senior winning the National Player of the Year award as something approaching a career achievement award. But while Hield put together a successful first three seasons in Norman, he saved his best for last this year. The dynamic shooting guard averaged an incredible 25.4 points per game while shooting 50.4 percent from the field and a very impressive 46.5 percent from three. In an offense completely centered around Hield’s explosive offensive skills, Oklahoma averaged a robust 80.4 points per game.

Buddy Hield is the 2015-16 RTC Player of the Year  (Getty Images)

Buddy Hield is the 2015-16 RTC Player of the Year (Getty Images)

Hield put together many sensational games this season, but two performances in particular come to mind as the most memorable. In a January 4 epic triple-overtime Big 12 battle between Oklahoma and Kansas, the casual college basketball fan became acquainted with Hield’s heroics. The All-American finished the evening in Allen Fieldhouse with a career-high 46 points on 13-of-23 shooting, along with eight rebounds and seven assists. It was such an amazing effort that Kansas fans gave Hield a standing ovation, and one that will be remembered in Norman and around the college basketball world for years to come. The other memorably outstanding performance came in the Elite Eight when Hield’s star power led the Sooners past #1 seed Oregon and into the program’s first Final Four in 14 years. The senior contributed 37 points on 13-of-20 shooting and 8-of-13 from behind the three-point line. Oklahoma will face a staunch test when it takes on Villanova in the Final Four Saturday night, but it would be unwise to discount the Sooners’ chances of advancing whenever a star like Hield is involved.

Share this story

2015-16 RTC National Coach of the Year: Jay Wright

Posted by Walker Carey on April 1st, 2016

The 2015-16 RTC National Coach of the Year Jay Wright has been a winner throughout his 15-year tenure at Villanova. He has led the Wildcats to 11 of the last 12 NCAA Tournaments and the program has taken home four Big East titles under his guidance. Even with all that winning and a Final Four appearance in 2009, the veteran coach has received some criticism in recent years because of several early NCAA Tournament exits. In 2014, Villanova entered the NCAA Tournament with a 28-4 record and was viewed as a dangerous #2 seed. That buzz fizzled out quickly, though, as the Wildcats were sent packing by eventual national champion Connecticut in the Round of 32. The next year it appeared Villanova was in even better shape to make a deep run. Wright’s group compiled a sterling 32-2 regular season that included a 15-game winning streak heading into the NCAAs. That did not matter much, though, as the Wildcats were once again bounced in the Round of 32 — this time at the hands of streaky NC State. With a mostly veteran squad returning this season, Villanova looked once again ready to combine a strong regular season with deep advancement into the NCAA Tournament.

Jay Wright is the 2015-16 RTC Coach of the Year  (AP)

Jay Wright is the 2015-16 RTC Coach of the Year (AP)

Villanova completed its first mission with relative ease, taking home another Big East regular season title and entering the NCAA Tournament with a 29-5 record as a #2 seed. Wright’s Wildcats easily exorcised their first weekend demons two weeks ago in Brooklyn by routing #15 seed UNC-Asheville and #7 seed Iowa. Even with those two impressive wins, pundits still doubted the team’s legitimacy heading into its Sweet Sixteen game with #3 seed Miami (FL). Villanova easily proved those doubters wrong, as it blew the Hurricanes off the floor en route to a 92-69 victory. But even that rousing victory did the Wildcats no favors with their critics. An Elite Eight victory against overall #1 seed Kansas appeared unlikely, but Wright’s veteran squad took the challenge and battled forward to a 64-59 victory. The regional-clinching win sent the Villanova program back to the Final Four for the first time since 2009.

The Wildcats will face a difficult test on Saturday when it faces Oklahoma and NPOY candidate Buddy Hield. The Oklahoma guard is a dynamic scorer with a proven ability to take over a game every time he takes the floor. Villanova is going to have to play a sound defensive game to contain Hield and emerge with the victory. Luckily for Villanova fans, Wright has shown a steady touch with this group all season long and you better believe it will be ready for the challenge. Our RTC National Coach of the Year will know what buttons to push and put his team in a position to win if it executes reasonably well. It is only the latest version of what he has been doing since he began patrolling the sideline at Villanova all those many years ago.

Share this story

2015-16 Rush the Court All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on March 31st, 2016

Compiling preseason All-America teams is a difficult task because nobody knows what’s to come during the season. There will always be players who will fail to live up to expectations and there will always be relatively unknown types who will unexpectedly emerge to stardom. When our outfit of seven RTC pollsters selected their preseason All-America teams back in November; nobody could have guessed that only eight of the 15 players chosen would live up to the hype: Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon, LSU’s Ben Simmons, Providence’s Kris Dunn, Utah’s Jakob Poeltl, Kentucky’s Jamal Murray, and Iowa State’s Georges Niang. Hield and Simmons were the only two players projected to be first-teamers and ended up there. The seven other players who did not make our postseason team are Maryland’s Melo Trimble, Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer, Wichita State’s Ron Baker, Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere, Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet, North Carolina’s Marcus Paige and Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes. All turned in varying degrees of productive seasons but were surpassed in achievements by the names that rose to the top of our list. Here are the 2015-16 RTC All-America Teams.

First Team All-America


  • Buddy Hield, Senior, Oklahoma (consensus) (25.4 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 50.4% FG, 46.5% 3FG). Hield has wrapped up his collegiate career in dynamite fashion. After bypassing the NBA Draft last spring, Hield noted, “I just can’t wait to see what Coach Kruger has in mind for next year. I know we’re going to be a really good team.” Suffice it to say Hield was correct, as the Sooners are headed to their first Final Four since 2002. The explosive senior scorer has led the way all season with possibly no performance greater than the one he turned in during Oklahoma’s Elite Eight victory over Oregon. Hield finished the night with 37 points on a blistering 13-of-20 shooting from the field and an extremely impressive 8-of-13 outing from behind the three-point line. This college basketball season has been marked by uncertainty, but with Hield in tow, it is probably smart not to doubt Oklahoma’s chances in Houston this weekend.
  • Denzel Valentine, Senior, Michigan State (consensus) (19.2 PPG, 7.8 APG, 7.5 RPG, 46.2% FG). There was likely not a more complete player in college basketball this season. Valentine did it all for the Spartans and it seemed like the senior really stepped his game up in big spots throughout the regular season. He turned in an iconic triple-double in Michigan State’s early comeback victory over Kansas and came through with a 30-point performance in a February home victory over eventual Big Ten champion Indiana. While the Spartans saw their season end in a shocking upset to Middle Tennessee State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Valentine’s incredible campaign should not be discounted in any way.
  • Brice Johnson, Senior, North Carolina (consensus) (17.1 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 61.6% FG). Given North Carolina’s lofty postseason expectations, it is not entirely unexpected that the Tar Heels are headed to the Final Four as the favorite to cut down the nets on Monday night. What has been a bit unexpected, though, is the rise of Johnson from a good player as a junior to a bona fide star as a senior. Johnson’s improvement over the course of his career has been so great that Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams has referred to his senior as the most improved player he has ever coached. To provide a glimpse of just how important Johnson has been to North Carolina’s run to Houston, consider the fact that he has recorded at least 20 points and grabbed at least 10 rebounds in each of his team’s last three games.
  • Malcolm Brogdon, Senior, Virginia (18.2 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.1 APG, 45.7% FG). Virginia has been one of the most successful programs in the country over the last three seasons. It took home the ACC crown in both 2014 and 2015, and it earned a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament this year. A major reason behind this success has been Brogdon’s ascension into stardom. Brogdon’s fantastic senior campaign led him to being named both the ACC’s Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year – becoming the first player to win both awards since the defensive honor was introduced in 2005.
  • Ben Simmons, Freshman, LSU (19.2 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 4.8 APG, 56.0% FG). It is not often you see a player turn in a first team All-America season on a team that finished 19-14 and did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament, but this is that situation. The freshman entered the season with an unbelievable amount of hype, but somehow amid the hoopla, he handled it quite well. Simmons led LSU in points, rebounds and assists, and was clearly the team’s best player all season long. Simmons has already made it known that he is headed to the NBA Draft, but his lone season in Baton Rouge should be remembered for his consistently great on-court performances.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Top 25: Week Thirteen Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on February 15th, 2016

A prevailing storyline of the last several college basketball seasons has been what #1 Kansas has accomplished under head coach Bill Self. The Jayhawks are in the midst of a run where they have won (or shared) 11 consecutive Big 12 regular season titles, and his group took an enormous step toward its 12th in a row on Saturday with a 76-72 victory at #3 Oklahoma. This season’s team has been characterized as a well-balanced unit and that was on full display as sophomore guard Devonte’ Graham led the way with 26 points while harassing National Player of the Year front-runner Buddy Hield. The victory did not effectively hand Kansas the conference title, as it is still tied with #11 West Virginia atop the league standings, but it did prove (once again) that the Jayhawks are capable of grabbing monstrous conference road wins with trips to #25 Texas and Baylor ahead. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 11.59.25 AM

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Top 25: Week 11 Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on February 1st, 2016

College basketball is one of those sports where no development should really surprise anyone. Things can change on a dime and unexpected occurrences are the norm. For example, the way in which the conference season has played out for #25 Duke has been a shock to the system. Mike Krzyzewski’s squad dropped to 4-4  in ACC play last Monday when it was toppled by #16 Miami (FL) on the road. A road loss to the Hurricanes is nothing to worry about on its own, but grouped with losses to Clemson, Notre Dame and Syracuse, it is part of a more troubling trend. Things have a chance of improving this week, as Duke figures to be the favorite in a trip to Georgia Tech on Tuesday and at home with NC State on Saturday. On the contrary, a loss in either of those games would put Duke dangerously close to the bubble. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

RTC25 02.01.16

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Top 25: Week Ten Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on January 25th, 2016

When the season began, #6 Maryland and #12 Michigan State were seen as the Big Ten favorites. While it is still possible for those squads to take home the conference title, those are not the two teams who sit at 7-0 and atop the current Big Ten standings. #3 Iowa moved its league record to 7-0 this past week with wins over Rutgers and #22 Purdue. The win over the Boilermakers was especially impressive as it clinched a season sweep for the Hawkeyes. It is only late January, yet Iowa already owns season sweeps over both Michigan State and Purdue. #18 Indiana was seen as an afterthought after a tough start to the season, but the Hoosiers haven’t lost since Dec. 2. Tom Crean’s squad moved to 7-0 in the Big Ten this past week with dominating home victories over Illinois and Northwestern. Indiana has a good chance to move its league record to 9-0 this week, as it figures to be solid favorites in a visit to Wisconsin on Tuesday and when Minnesota comes to Bloomington on Saturday. While the hot starts by Iowa and Indiana are certainly noteworthy, we know by now that league titles are not won in January. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.


Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Top 25: Week Nine Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on January 19th, 2016

Ed. Note: These rankings were submitted on Sunday night and don’t take Monday night’s games into account. Most notably, #1 Oklahoma’s loss at #14 Iowa State and #15 Duke’s home defeat to Syracuse were not considered by voters.

After undoubtedly the most chaotic week of the season, blue bloods Duke and Kentucky are searching for answers to help get them back on the winning track. The Blue Devils suffered two defeats in four days (and another one Monday night at home vs. Syracuse), first falling at Clemson before surrendering a five-point halftime lead and losing to Notre Dame at home, 95-91. The biggest issue plaguing Duke is its thin frontcourt depth; an issue that will likely remain problematic until senior forward Amile Jefferson returns from a broken foot suffered in December. Kentucky won its first game of the week on Tuesday, fighting off a furious Mississippi State rally to top the Bulldogs 80-74. The Wildcats were not able to keep on their winning ways, as they were upset at Auburn on Saturday. The defeat marked the first time Kentucky has lost to Auburn since 2000. The issue that is plaguing John Calipari’s squad the most is a lack of production from its interior players. In Saturday’s defeat, forwards Marcus Lee, Skal Labissiere, and Alex Poythress combined for just 13 points and nine rebounds. It is probably still too early to be terribly concerned about Duke and Kentucky, but it would probably be a good idea for each squad to figure out how to get back on a more consistent track. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.


Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Top 25: Week Eight Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on January 11th, 2016

The last week in college basketball was highlighted by Monday night’s epic heavyweight showdown between #1 Kansas and #2 Oklahoma, a game that had a little bit of everything. Kansas held a big first half lead that it relinquished; Oklahoma held a big second half lead that it relinquished; NPOY candidate Buddy Hield scored 46 points on 23 shots. After the final buzzer sounded, the Jayhawks had emerged with a rewarding 109-106 triple-overtime victory. Kansas got the job done with a balanced effort from starters Frank Mason, Devonte Graham, Wayne Selden, and Perry Ellis all scoring 15 or more points. This early Big 12 showdown showcased all that we love about college basketball: two longtime rivals playing a hotly-contested battle in one of the country’s best home court environments. We will be very lucky if the remainder of the season rewards us with anything as amazing as last Monday night’s game. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

RTC25 01.11.16

Quick N’ Dirty Thoughts.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story