NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Afternoon

Posted by RTC Staff on March 20th, 2015

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In what was certainly one of the most competitive and jam-packed “opening” days in NCAA Tournament history, Friday’s slate of games will have a hard time following Thursday’s remarkable act. However, today offers a fair share of fascinating matchups as well. Here is a preview of Friday’s afternoon games:

#2 Kansas vs. #15 New Mexico State – Midwest Region (from Omaha, NE) — 12:15 PM EST on CBS.

New Mexico State has not lost since January 17 and will enter Friday’s action looking to pull a stunner against the second-seeded Jayhawks. The Aggies are led by their freshman big man Pascal Siakam, who caused problems for WAC big men throughout the season. Siakam carries averages of 13 points and 7.7 rebounds per game and he will look to mix it up against the Kansas frontline. New Mexico State, as a team, has been a very formidable defensive unit throughout the season, as it is 18th in the country in points per game allowed. Unfortunately for Kansas, its frontline depth took a bit of a hit earlier this week when it became known that freshman forward Cliff Alexander would definitely miss the NCAA Tournament due to a pending NCAA investigation. Sans Alexander, the Jayhawks still have some talent in the post with the strong play of junior forward Perry Ellis and the late season emergence of redshirt sophomore Landen Lucas. While Siakam’s play in the post could keep things close for a little while, expect Kansas’ perimeter play, led by point guard Frank Mason and swingman Kelly Oubre, to be the key as the Jayhawks will comfortably advance to the Round of 32.

The RTC Certified Pick: Kansas

#7 Michigan State vs. #10 Georgia — East Region First Round (at Charlotte, NC) — 12:20 pm ET on truTV.

Michigan State will battle Georgia in Charlotte. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Michigan State will battle Georgia in Charlotte. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Michigan State comes in hot after rolling to the Big Ten Tournament championship game and nearly edging Wisconsin. The Spartans are ranked 17th overall by KenPom and have become a substantially better offensive team over the course of the season, especially with a healthy Branden Dawson (12 PPG, 9.1 RPG) in the lineup. The senior forward looked like his old self in the Big Ten Tournament, averaging nearly 16 points, eight rebounds per game and locking down on the defensive end. The Spartans are at their best in transition and should push the tempo against the defensively stingy Bulldogs, a lengthy team which held opponents to the nation’s 15th-lowest effective field goal percentage this season. Although Tom Izzo’s bunch has become less-reliant on three-pointers as the year’s progressed, it wouldn’t hurt for Denzel Valentine (41.8% 3PT), Bryn Forbes (42.4% 3PT) and Travis Trice (36.6% 3PT) to knock down some perimeter shots, considering Georgia’s especially-stout interior defense (43% 2PT). On the other end, the Bulldogs do one thing especially well – attack the basket – which should keep them afloat against a Michigan State team that sent teams to the free throw line at the Big Ten’s third-highest rate. Junior guard Charles Mann (highest free-throw rate in the SEC) and his backcourt mates will get to the stripe. The Spartans are more well-rounded and should win this one, but count on a slimmer margin than some have suggested.

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Steady Improvement Puts Kansas in Big 12 Driver’s Seat Again

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 26th, 2015

For all the chaos and cannibalization taking place in the Big 12 this season, the top of the conference sure is in a familiar state after three weeks of play. With a 75-62 win that was as complete a performance as we’ve seen from Kansas all year long — and timed with Texas Tech’s upset of Iowa State — the Jayhawks on Saturday swung the odds of an 11th straight Big 12 title solidly back to their side. Bill Self’s teams always seem to make a significant leap around the holiday break, and this year’s group appears no different. In fact, you could take it one step further and argue that the Jayhawks have noticeably improved just in the last week since losing to Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum.

Cliff Alexander and the Jayhawks are ahead of the pack after a big win in Austin and some help from Texas Tech. (KUSports.com/Nick Krug)

Cliff Alexander and the Jayhawks are ahead of the pack after a big win in Austin and some help from Texas Tech. (KUSports.com/Nick Krug)

After getting benched for a lack of hustle, Cliff Alexander has burst forward with activity, averaging 14 points and 11 rebounds per game in last week’s outings on his way to Big 12 Newcomer Of The Week honors. He still doesn’t have much of a post arsenal, but he makes up for it with outstanding strength and athleticism. In Austin, he got the best of fellow blue-chipper Myles Turner, outworking him for rebounds and slipping by him for close looks. Alexander’s motor was on display on one defensive trip in particular, when he successfully keeping Turner out of the low post, making the big freshman receive the ball just off the elbow and forcing a bad shot.

Alexander’s frontcourt teammate, Perry Ellis, is also coming back around. Ellis had been benched two weeks ago after committing four early turnovers against Oklahoma State, exacerbating the limitations that made him a target of criticism both to Kansas fans and more objective observers. In the three games since, he’s averaged 16.3 points and eight rebounds per contest with just three total turnovers. Ellis’ turnaround has come predominantly from getting the ball in better spots and improved execution in his footwork near the basket. He may not be the classic Kansas power forward who can back down his man from 15 feet in, but his face-up game over the last two weeks has been effective enough to maintain his status as a weapon.

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Four Key Takeaways From a Wild Night In Lawrence

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 20th, 2015

It was a tale of two halves last night in Lawrence, as Kansas hit nine first half threes to sprint out to a commanding 51-32 halftime lead against Oklahoma, only to watch it disappear as the Sooners stormed back to take a four-point lead before collapsing at the end. Let’s consider four key takeaways from a game of several crazy swings.

Kansas and Oklahoma Took It Hard at Each Other Last Night (USA Today Images)

Kansas and Oklahoma Took It Hard at Each Other Last Night (USA Today Images)

  • Fiery start fuels Kansas’ first halfKelly Oubre got things going by connecting on a pair of early threes and the Jayhawks refused to let up on their way to 51 first half points. Although Oklahoma remained close for the first five minutes, Kansas would register a 16-0 perimeter barrage with nearly everyone contributing. This team is built to fire away from deep, but Bill Self has tried in vain to establish an inside presence even though he doesn’t have a true back-to-the-basket big man (however, Cliff Alexander may be developing into one, as we’ll discuss separately below). While Kansas’ scorching first half is a statistical outlier, it underscores the fact that the Jayhawks are at their best when they utilize their outside shooting prowess.
  • Don’t overlook Buddy Hield in the Big 12 POY race: This conference is filled with scorers from Marcus Foster to Phil Forte to Georges Niang, but the Sooners’ Buddy Hield may be the best of the bunch. His 26 points were a game-high and he’s now shooting a superb 60.5 percent on twos in league action in spite of his 6’4″ frame, along with a 44 percent clip from deep in Big 12 play. Hield isn’t without his warts, though, as he tends to rush shots (especially in transition) and he could stand to share the ball a little more often with talented and effective teammates like Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler. Still, the junior is an undeniable star, as evidenced not only by his huge game in arguably the most intimidating environment in college basketball, but his play all season to date.

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Big 12 M5: 01.19.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 19th, 2015

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  1. If you check to see who sits atop the Big 12 standings today, you’ll probably think there must be some mistake. But no, that is indeed Kansas State, winners of their last four after hanging on against Baylor, leading the league with a 4-1 record. While this start to their conference schedule is welcomed, we can’t ignore the fact that the Wildcats are returning seven of their top nine rotation players from last season. The problem is it’s January 18 and they have no margin of error. Their next four games to end January are as follows: at Iowa State, vs Oklahoma State, vs West Virginia and at Kansas. If they finish the month undefeated, their at-large status will improve. Personally, I’d like to see it all in the name of chaos.
  2. Saturday was a monumental day in the history of TCU basketball. Not only did they end a 23-game Big 12 losing streak which dated back to March 2013 but it was also their first ever road win in Big 12 play. As our Brian Goodman pointed out, winning a road conference game can do wonders for your KenPom profile. It’s little milestones like these that can change an entire culture around a program in so many ways. Eventually we’ll reach a point in the future when TCU puts together a winning streak in the Big 12 or contend for the NCAA Tournament without any of us batting an eye at the accomplishment. Someday soon.
  3. The most entertaining game of the weekend was undoubtedly Kansas-Iowa State on Saturday night. The Jayhawks were always a few possessions away from taking the lead away from the Cyclones but anytime KU strung baskets together, ISU was able to come back on the next possession and beat defenders down the floor for transition buckets. After being called out during the week by Bill Self, Perry Ellis answered the bell early but was unable to take the game over due to foul trouble and Frank Mason was perhaps even better than Ellis all game long. But Monte Morris did a little bit of everything (11 points, seven rebounds, three steals) while he continued his ungodly assist-to-turnover pace by piling on 10 dimes with just two turnovers. Can the Big 12 Tournament final get here already?
  4. Musiq Soulchild released the single “B.U.D.D.Y.” from his album Luvanmusiq eight years ago this month. Were you aware that the song was dedicated to Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield? Well, it wasn’t but it would’ve made for a fascinating story! Had this had been true and he did learn the song was dedicated to him before tipoff of #Bedlam, it would have been clear what inspired Hield to go 10-for-10 from the floor including 6-for-6 from three in the Sooners’ drubbing of Oklahoma State. In any case, Hield was stellar once again and OU gets revenge for their football team’s loss to the Cowboys last month.
  5. Jonathan Holmes summed up best Texasmindset going into Saturday’s game vs the Mountaineers, I think: “West Virginia wanted to come out and punk us, and we couldn’t let that happen.” And so, the Horns, who would have been the original punkees, instead became the punkers and made West Virginia the punkees following an 18-2 Texas run in the first half. Halfway through the second half, the Mountaineers were all punked out and the Horns ran away with the game. Holmes struggled shooting but was able to put his head down, drive to the basket, draw fouls and make 11-for-12 from the free throw line while also grabbing 11 rebounds. What lies ahead for UT is a game against TCU tonight in Fort Worth. Someone’s one-game winning streak will sadly come to an end.
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Kansas and Iowa State Clash Saturday With Big 12 Implications

Posted by Chris Stone on January 16th, 2015

Saturday January 17 figures to be one of the best college basketball days of the season with five top-25 matchups including N0. 4 Duke and No. 6 Louisville at 12:00pm ET, No. 16 West Virginia and No. 20 Texas at 6:15pm ET, and No. 8 Utah and No. 10 Arizona at 7:00pm ET. The cherry on top, though, is the night cap which features N0. 9 Kansas traveling to Ames, Iowa to face off with No. 11 Iowa State. ESPN’s College GameDay will be at Hilton Coliseum for the 9:00pm ET tip. Hilton has been home to a series of intense clashes in the past few seasons including Elijah Johnson’s controversial charge call and game ending dunk as well as Joel Embiid’s breakout performance last year.

Iowa State will look for some Hilton Magic when it faces Kansas on Saturday (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Iowa State will look for some Hilton Magic when it faces Kansas on Saturday (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Bill Self said Saturday’s matchup is “a game that deserves national attention” during his Thursday press conference, and GameDay ensures that the contest will receive its fair share despite the impressive slate of games scheduled. Fred Hoiberg agreed, calling it an opportunity to “showcase” the magic of Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones will try to do just that as they host at least one recruit on Saturday. Travis Hines of the Ames Tribune reported via Twitter that 2016 recruit Amir Coffey will be in the building for an unofficial visit. Coffey, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard, is ranked 44th in the 2016 class, according to Rivals. The high school junior has chosen a good time to visit Ames, with Saturday’s contest having huge implications for the Big 12 title race.

Before the games played this week, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Iowa State shared nearly identical odds to win at least a share of the Big 12 title. Since then, Oklahoma got blown out at West Virginia and Iowa State fell to Baylor on Kenny Chery’s late jumper. Kansas now sits alone atop the Big 12 standings as the only remaining undefeated team in league play. Unfortunately, that doesn’t bring much clarity to the Big 12 title chase. Ken Pomeroy’s projections now predict three teams–Kansas, Iowa State, and West Virginia–to finish with identical 12-6 records in conference play.

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Three Things to Watch in Tonight’s Kansas-Baylor Game

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 7th, 2015

It’s only the Big 12’s first full week of conference play, but without a runaway favorite and as many as six teams with hopes to win the conference, nearly every Big 12 game is going to have an impact. Tonight’s headliner pits Baylor against Kansas at the Ferrell Center in Waco. The Jayhawks were the last team to beat the Bears at home nearly a year ago (February 4, 2014), so Baylor is looking to avoid a repeat performance. In this preview, Brian Goodman breaks down the elements most likely to decide the outcome of tonight’s important battle.

Frank Mason leads the Jayhawks on the road, where they'll have to neutralize Baylor's advantage inside. (Denny Medley/USA Today)

Frank Mason leads the Jayhawks on the road, where they’ll have to neutralize Baylor’s advantage inside. (Denny Medley/USA Today)

  1. Kansas’ lineups and rotations. Over the last five games, the lineup of Frank Mason, Wayne Selden, Kelly Oubre, Perry Ellis and Cliff Alexander has been the Jayhawks’ most effective one, but it hasn’t been the one Bill Self has most frequently deployed. Rather, Self has preferred a lineup with Jamari Traylor taking Alexander’s place, despite being an average rebounder and mediocre finisher (shooting just 41.5 percent from the floor). Thanks to his athleticism, Traylor can be an effective energy guy in spurts, but the Jayhawks have been at their best with the more efficient Alexander manning the paint alongside Ellis. This was the case during Kansas’ game-finishing run to put UNLV away on Sunday.
  2. Baylor’s bruisers. It’s no surprise that the Bears rank fourth nationally in offensive rebounding rate, corralling 43.7 percent of their misses on the season. That consistency is due in large part to the effort of Rico Gathers, who grabbed 15 rebounds over 39 minutes in Baylor’s two meetings against Kansas last season, and makes it easy for Baylor to generate offense despite suspect interior shooting. The Jayhawks had trouble creating separation against UNLV’s athletic core of big men until the last 10 minutes of Sunday’s contest and will struggle to leave Waco with a win if Gathers and freshman Johnathan Motley deprive Alexander, Ellis and Traylor of those opportunities.
  3. The battle of perimeter attacks. Sharpshooter Brady Heslip isn’t around to haunt Big 12 teams anymore, but the Bears still have some serious long-range bombers on their roster. Scott Drew’s rotation currently features five players who shoot at least 34 percent or better from beyond the arc, led by a 53.8 percent clip from Taurean Prince, perhaps the conference’s most improved player. On the other end of the floor, Kansas’ shooters have been streaky. One of the main reasons why Frank Mason has been such a huge asset this season has been his 51.4 percent three-point shooting, forcing defenses to guard him and in turn opening passing lanes. Kelly Oubre‘s smooth shot (48.1%) has been effective as well, and after a disappointing start to the season, Wayne Selden has embraced his role as a shooter (36.7%) who will occasionally attack off the bounce. Despite all of that shooting firepower, one of the things keeping Kansas’ offense from higher productivity has been a relative team-wide passivity from distance. The Jayhawks are the best three-point shooting team in the conference at 39.2 percent, but they take only 29 percent of their shots from beyond the arc, a level of frequency that ranks a dispiriting ninth in the Big 12 (and 292nd in the country). It therefore stands to reason that Kansas would benefit from centering its offensive attack on perimeter shooting rather than depending on Ellis and Alexander to generate most of the offense inside.
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Big 12 M5: 01.05.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 5th, 2015

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  1. Big 12 conference play got under way over the weekend and the biggest story line was the return of point guard Isaiah Taylor to the Texas lineup in the Longhorns 70-61 victory over Texas Tech. Taylor had missed the last 10 games with a wrist injury. He was rusty on the offensive end, hitting only two of his ten field goal attempts, but his defense proved impactful. The sophomore recorded four steals in the game as Texas forced the Red Raiders to turn the ball over on 22.4 percent of their possessions. Texas has one of the best defenses in the country, but has been unable to create turnovers in Taylor’s absence. His return should provide the Longhorns with an even more effective defensive scheme in league play.
  2. In their final non-conference game, Iowa State fell 64-60 to unranked South Carolina at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Saturday. The Cyclones are shooting 34.5 percent from behind the arc this season, but connected on only one of 18 attempts against the Gamecocks in Brooklyn. Given that Fred Hoiberg’s squad is shooting 40 percent of their field goal attempts from behind the three-point line, that’s not a recipe for success in Big 12 play. As Randy Peterson of The Des-Moines Register pointed out, Iowa State may be able to survive against the bottom of the league with their “B-games,” but in order to compete for a conference championship, the Cyclones must knock down their three-pointers and match the physicality of the other top teams in the Big 12.
  3. Baylor entered conference play as one of the more intriguing teams in the Big 12. Despite losing three of their four leading scorers from last season, the Bears have found themselves ranked highly in Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings, but Baylor lost their conference opener on Saturday to Oklahoma, 73-63. The Sooners were able to shoot 8-for-22 from behind the three-point line in the win. Bears’ wing Taurean Prince noted after the game, “We did a poor job of limiting their 3s. We have to do a better job of closing out defensively on the perimeter. We missed some defensive assignments and made some bone-headed plays that we normally make.” Closing down the three-point line will be an important component of Baylor’s defense in the near future. The Bears take on a Kansas team that is shooting 39.2 percent from behind the arc on Wednesday night.
  4. Speaking of Kansas, the Jayhawks closed out their non-conference slate with a 76-61 victory over UNLV on Sunday afternoon. Kansas was paced by point guard Frank Mason who finished with 18 points, seven assists, four rebounds, and four steals in the win. During the Jayhawks’ loss to Temple, NBC Sports‘ Rob Dauster called Mason a “mid major PG,” but the sophomore has been much better than that. Since their loss to Kentucky, Mason is providing the Jayhawks with 12.9 points, 4.9 assists, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game. The sophomore is giving Bill Self his best point guard play since Sherron Collins was in Lawrence. Self will need Mason to continue to play at such a high level if Kansas is to compete for an 11th straight Big 12 title.
  5. Finally, Bleacher Report’s Jason King created a bit of a stir amongst Big 12 fans on Twitter Sunday night when he proclaimed that he’s not buying the league as the best conference in America. King is a graduate of Baylor and was a longtime writer for The Kansas City Star, so he’s certainly familiar with the Big 12. However, the numbers tell a different story than the one King is crafting. KenPom’s efficiency ratings suggest that the Big 12 is tops and it’s not particularly close. The gap between the Big 12 and King’s favored conference, the ACC, is larger than the gap between the ACC and the fifth ranked conference, the SEC. The Big 12 looks poised to send over half of the league’s teams to the NCAA Tournament for the second season in a row. Despite King’s claims about the top tier of the ACC, the Big 12 remains the best conference in America.
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Big 12 Conference Catch-Up: Kansas, Texas and Iowa State

Posted by Brian Goodman & Chris Stone on January 2nd, 2015

As the Big 12 schools conclude their non-conference schedules, it’s a great time to catch up on where the league’s 10 teams stand entering conference play. Once again, Kansas has navigated an arduous schedule, but enough questions remain that we can at least consider the possibility that another team wins the conference. The Jayhawks’ closest challengers are a Texas team that has kept pace despite losing one of the best point guards in the country for an extended period of time, while Iowa State has another high-powered team with a newly-eligible big man who Cyclones fans hope will provide a needed lift on defense.

Kansas (via Chris Stone)

  • Key wins: at Georgetown, Utah (in Kansas City)
  • Key losses: Kentucky (in Indianapolis), at Temple
With two good outings recently, the game finally appears to be slowing down for Kelly Oubre, and that could be bad news for the rest of the Big 12. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

With two good outings recently, is the game finally slowing down for hyped Kansas freshman Kelly Oubre? (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

It’s very easy to watch Kansas’s blowout losses to Kentucky and Temple and write off the Jayhawks as a Big 12 title contender. To do so, however, would ignore the rest of their resume. Kansas has five wins over teams ranked in the top 50 of KenPom’s efficiency rankings; Only Kentucky can match that total. Sophomore Frank Mason is providing Bill Self with his best point guard play since Sherron Collins left Lawrence five years ago. Mason is averaging 11.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game. Freshman Kelly Oubre is finally emerging as the potential lottery pick he was billed as before the season, having scored 20 points in two of the last three games. Still, those two losses linger. Kentucky dominated the Jayhawks in Indianapolis. Temple rocked Kansas at the Wells Fargo Center. The typical refrain surrounding Kansas has been to trust in Bill Self, the man who has won 10 straight conference titles, but Self is still tinkering with his starting lineup while trying to play through a frontcourt that has struggled to score inside. Kansas is shooting just 52.3 percent on shots at the rim, a number that is nearly 15 percent worse than last season’s mark, according to data from hoop-math.com. In particular, junior Perry Ellis has seen his shooting percentage decline by over 10 percent as he’s had a difficult time scoring against the size of teams like Kentucky, Georgetown, and Utah. The Jayhawks have their limitations and the losses to Kentucky and Temple showcased them. They’ve also had their triumphs that suggest an ability to compete for another Big 12 championship. Much depends on the consistency of Mason, the continued emergence of Oubre, and the play of bigs like Ellis and Cliff Alexander, but to write off Kansas is to also write off Self’s history and the quality of their non-conference resume. Big 12 coaches won’t make that mistake, and you shouldn’t, either.

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Three Thoughts on Kansas’ Second Obliteration of the Season

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 23rd, 2014

Brian Goodman filed this report right after Temple’s stunning 77-52 upset over #10 Kansas Monday evening in Philadelphia.

  1. When the Jayhawks get the bad Perry Ellis, the wheels come off quickly. The junior forward that many were counting on to lead the Jayhawks has been a total no-show over the last two games, going a combined 3-of-16 from the floor. He’s been fighting off an illness, which excuses part of his play, but Kansas was expected to win last night’s game without too much trouble despite being on the road. It may not be completely fair that Ellis needs to shoulder so much of the load, but until Cliff Alexander and Jamari Traylor start producing in the paint, he’s all Kansas has there, so when nobody produces, this is what happens. During the game, there was some talk on Twitter about the need for point guard Frank Mason to become a more vocal leader. That may be true to an extent, but if an unheralded point guard already playing above expectations in his first year as a full-time starter is a primary source of your disappointment with this team, you’re looking at the wrong guy.

    It was party time in Philly after one of the more improbable blowouts in recent history. (AP)

    It was party time in Philly after one of the more improbable blowouts in recent history. (AP)

  2. There was more to it than Temple just getting hot (although the Owls were). The Owls came into last night’s game as the AAC’s third-worst shooting team inside the arc and the worst-shooting team outside of it, but they shot a season-best 58.3 percent from the floor in the upset win. However, that may not be the most telling thing about this game. Had Temple merely shot its pedestrian season averages from the field, they still would have prevailed, which is another indictment of Kansas’ rough offensive performance (0.80 PPP). The Jayhawks’ defense isn’t nearly as bad as it looked last night (giving up 1.18 PPP), but the margin by which they got outscored in the paint (34-18) was just staggering. Kansas went on to pack it in down the stretch, which allowed the Owls to turn the unlikely upset into a full-on party. Read the rest of this entry »
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Loss of Devonte’ Graham Puts Kansas Rotation in Even More Flux

Posted by Chris Stone on December 15th, 2014

Kansas head coach Bill Self announced prior to the Jayhawks’ win against Utah on Saturday that freshman guard Devonte’ Graham will miss at least the next four weeks after suffering a severely sprained right big toe in a 75-70 victory over Georgetown last Wednesday. The injury is not likely to require surgery, but the team’s doctors told Self it is possible that Graham won’t return this season. Although the team isn’t planning for it, Kansas would likely seek a medical redshirt if Graham is unable to return. According to Self, “The doctors feel he can come back but also say he may not come back. We’ll have to make a decision before the first half of the season is probably over so we can obviously utilize a medical redshirt if we need to, but we’re not thinking like that.”

Kansas will be without freshman guard Devonte' Graham for at least four weeks (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Kansas will be without freshman guard Devonte’ Graham for at least four weeks (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

The loss only magnifies Kansas’ lack of depth at the point guard position after the preseason transfer of sophomore Conner Frankamp, as Graham and Frank Mason III are the only two point guards on scholarship. Prior to his injury, the freshman was averaging 14.9 minutes per game, mostly as the backup point guard, but Self has also used Graham and Mason together to increase defensive pressure on ball-handlers. “Just watching the game, we put so much more pressure on the defense when those guys were in there together, as opposed to when just one of them was in the game,” Self said in his news conference last Monday. Indeed, Kansas will miss Graham defensively. His 4.1 percent steal percentage would rank in the top 100 in the country if he had enough minutes to qualify. That number is important because a high steal percentage has correlated well with the Jayhawks’ best defensive efficiency numbers throughout Self’s tenure.

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Utah vs. Kansas: Three Keys on Each Side

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 12th, 2014

One of the bigger games of the weekend takes place in Kansas City on Saturday, with Utah riding its recent success to take a shot at the Jayhawks. Below, Pac-12 microsite writer Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) and Big 12 microsite writer Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) break down the keys for the Utes and Jayhawks, respectively.

Three Keys for Utah

The Glass. Given recent history and if you didn’t know anything about these teams’ current rosters, you’d figure that the Kansas roster is filled with glass-eating big men while the Utes were made up of undersized, scrappy kids along the front line. Instead it is Utah that has the seven-footer in the middle, long and athletic wings littering the roster, and a 6’5” future pro running the point. Freshman center Jakob Poeltl is the best offensive rebounder in the nation (grabbing more than 20 percent of his team’s misses when he’s on the floor), while the rest of the Utah bigs go equally hard to the boards on offense, and their guards even chip in a bit too. Priority one, as Utah faces a Kansas team with its own future lottery pick in the middle (Cliff Alexander), is to continue to outrebound its foe, especially on the offensive end. Guys like Poeltl and Chris Reyes and Brekkot Chapman (to name just a few) may not be all that polished on the offensive end, so getting easy hoops in the paint will be a prerequisite to any hopes of a Utah win in Kansas City.

A big day from Delon Wright is paramount to Utah's chances of beating Kansas tomorrow (USA TODAY Sports)

A big day from Delon Wright is paramount to Utah’s chances of beating Kansas. (USA TODAY Sports)

The Star. Delon Wright is undeniably very good. He does almost everything on the court: He scores in the paint and in transition, sets up teammates with easy hoops, rebounds the ball on both ends of the floor, grabs steals, blocks shots, provides on-court leadership, and even gets to the line and knocks in his freebies. But in Utah’s one loss this season, he was, well, not good. Against San Diego State, he made just two of his 13 field goal attempts (both in the waning moments of a comeback attempt), turned it over three times, and was generally ineffective in helping his team put points on the scoreboard. That can’t happen against Kansas tomorrow. He needs to play within himself, set up his teammates and, when the opportunity presents itself, get his own. If Wright has a subpar game, Utah cannot win. Read the rest of this entry »

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Two Burning Questions: Previewing Kansas vs. Florida

Posted by Brian Goodman & David Changas on December 5th, 2014

The Big 12/SEC Challenge will wrap up tonight at 9:00 ET as Kansas looks to exact revenge for a loss in Gainesville last year. Meanwhile, the Gators are in need of a signature non-conference win, and what better venue to get that win than in a raucous Allen Fieldhouse? RTC contributors Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) and David Changas (@dchangas) are here to break down a tilt between two of the millennium’s best programs.

BG: The Jayhawks may finally have their answer at point guard after Frank Mason enjoyed a very successful Orlando Classic as freshman Devonte’ Graham continued to heal from a shoulder injury. The sophomore posted averages of 11.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game last week and has been the primary reason why Kansas has regained its footing despite Graham’s troubles, Wayne Selden‘s shooting slump, and Kelly Oubre‘s failure to find his way onto the court for more than a few minutes a night. In the other backcourt, Kasey Hill has come up big for a Florida team that has otherwise struggled out of the gate. How important is this match-up to the outcome of the game and how do you see it turning out?

Another steady game from Frank Mason would lend an added sense of security for a Kansas team that has occasionally struggled to find consistency in its backcourt. (AP)

Another steady game from Frank Mason would lend an added sense of security for a Kansas team that has occasionally struggled to find consistency in its backcourt. (AP)

DC: Mason was absolutely terrific in Orlando, and Kansas looked nothing like the team that Kentucky embarrassed two and a half weeks ago. On the other hand, Florida came away from the Battle 4 Atlantis with two losses and a mediocre win over UAB to show for it. Thus far, the Gators have a long way to go to become a good offensive team, shooting a highly inefficient 44.1 percent in effective field goal rate. With Eli Carter injured and likely to miss this game, Hill, who has finally begun to look more comfortable in his role as the team’s primary ball-handler, will need to have a big night for Florida. He showed some signs of offensive life with 20 points in Sunday’s loss to North Carolina, shooting the ball well and getting to the line 12 times (making 10) against the Tar Heels. If he can do the same against Mason while simultaneously taking care of the ball, Florida will have a chance at pulling off the big upset.

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