Is Kansas Ready For the Gauntlet Ahead?

Posted by Justin Fedich on January 24th, 2017

Starting tonight in Morgantown, the owner of the nation’s second-longest winning streak (18) in college basketball begins as tough of an eight-day stretch of games as we can remember with West Virginia, Kentucky and Baylor on the menu. To this point, Kansas appears destined for another No. 1 seed — perhaps the No. 1 overall seed — in this year’s NCAA Tournament, but Big 12 play has revealed some blemishes. In fact, only two of the Jayhawks’ seven Big 12 games to this point — against Texas Tech and Texas — have been wire-to-wire blowouts. With games pending against KenPom‘s #2, #4 and #5 ranked teams (Kansas is #8), the next week of basketball should determine just how prepared Bill Self‘s team is to be considered a National Championship favorite. While Kansas hasn’t shown the overall consistency of a team poised to leapfrog the field, it has all the tools necessary to win these three upcoming games and catapult itself to the mantle as the team to beat. Let’s take a snapshot look at each game heading into tonight’s battle with West Virginia.

The cohort of long range bombers, led by Frank Mason, is a big reason why Kansas is red hot. (KU Sports)

  • West Virginia (Morgantown) – Tuesday, January 24. West Virginia’s defensive success is well-documented, and a hot Kansas team will face a hungry unit at home ready to end a two-game losing skid. While it’s easy to see Kansas falling at the same arena that produced Baylor’s first loss of the season, the Jayhawks’ strengths match up well against West Virginia’s weaknesses. The most vulnerable part of West Virginia’s defense is in preventing offensive rebounds, where the Mountaineers rank 327th nationally in that metric. Kansas, meanwhile, is a very good offensive rebounding team. The Jayhawks have three players — Landen Lucas, Josh Jackson and Carlton Bragg, Jr. — who average more than five rebounds a game, while Nathan Adrian is the only player from West Virginia with that distinction. If Kansas can dominate West Virginia on the offensive glass, it will counteract much of the pressure brought on by the pesky Mountaineers’ defense.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: We Can See Clearly Now Edition

Posted by Big 12 Team on January 13th, 2017

With four games of conference action now in the books, we have good clarity on the league’s pecking order. The unblemished Jayhawks maintain their perch at the top of the standings, followed by West Virginia after its demolition of Baylor in front of a national audience. The middle is typically where things get jumbled, but Iowa State’s 3-1 start and Texas Tech’s head-to-head win over Kansas State this week made #4-#6 a fairly easy call. Rounding out the list of NCAA Tournament-caliber teams is TCU, followed by a trio of teams with just one combined win between them. Below is how our five Big 12 microsite writers — Drew Andrews, Justin Fedich, Brian Goodman, Nate Kotisso, and Chris Stone — see the conference stacking up entering the weekend.

  1. Kansas – “Roughly halfway through the regular season, Frank Mason is shooting better on three-pointers (54.9%) than he is on two-pointers (52.3%). Combine that staggering level of shooting efficiency with his flair for the dramatic against Duke and Oklahoma (not to mention his team’s status as the likely #1 team in America on Monday afternoon) and you have a recipe for a first-team All-American. Mason will have two chances to add to his legend when he goes toe-to-toe with Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans and Iowa State’s Monte’ Morris over the next few days.” -Brian Goodman Read the rest of this entry »
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The Five Most Improved Players in the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 14th, 2016

It’s been an exciting first month of hoops in the Big 12, with a few preconceived notions about teams evolving over the first four weeks. Kansas still appears to be alone at the head of the pack, but the gap between the Jayhawks and the rest of the league looks smaller than originally considered with Baylor storming out of the gate unbeaten and West Virginia showing no ill effects from their departed seniors. We’ve also seen a handful of Big 12 players take sizable steps in the progression of their careers. Some of the five breakout players listed below have simply produced at similar clips to their careers to this point, but with bigger workloads this season, while others have just become more well-rounded players. Still others have benefited from changes in their team’s style of play or coaching, and some improvements have been a result of some combination of the above.

Regardless of the reason, the thing to watch moving forward will be whether these players can carry their newfound success through league play. These are the Big 12’s five most improved players in order of who has the best chance to sustain his performance the rest of the way.

Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State

Look for Oklahoma State's Jawun Evans (left) to leave a few more opponents in his dust before the end of the 2016-17 season. (AP/Rick Bowmer)

Look for Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans to leave a few more opponents in his dust before the end of the 2016-17 season. (AP/Rick Bowmer)

  • 2016-17: 33.9% POSS, 23.9 PPG, 5.1 APG, 9.9% TO
  • 2015-16: 26.6% POSS, 12.9 PPG, 4.9 APG, 20.4% TO

The sophomore Evans was already a tremendous point guard, but Oklahoma State’s coaching transition from Travis Ford to Brad Underwood has unlocked something special in Stillwater. His huge increase in scoring has been heavily influenced by the breakneck pace with which the Cowboys are playing (~10 more possessions per game), but it also says a lot about Evans that he can maintain such a high rate of productivity while taking on more responsibility in a hectic environment.

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Kansas’ Backcourt Leads the Way But Questions Abound Inside

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 23rd, 2016

The biggest question facing Kansas as it entered this season centered around the team’s frontcourt. The loss of stalwart Perry Ellis was going to loom large until Bill Self could turn his rotation of big men into a serviceable enough unit to balance a supremely skilled backcourt. Now two weeks into the season and with the toughest part of the Jayhawds’ non-conference schedule in the books, that question remains unanswered. It may even be blurrier than it was in October. In addition to newcomers Dwight Coleby and Udoka Azubuike struggling to earn consistent minutes in Self’s rotation, veteran Landen Lucas has regressed and sophomore Carlton Bragg has yet to find a rhythm as well.

Kansas (USA Today Images)

Kansas Needs to Solve Its Interior Issues but the Backcourt is Excelling (USA Today Images)

Kansas’ frontcourt issues came to a head last night despite a 65-54 victory over Georgia at the CBE Classic in Kansas City. Bulldogs forward Yante Maten roasted every big man Kansas threw at him, dominating the back line with 30 points and 13 rebounds. Lucas, who expertly used his intelligence and size to pull away with the starting center spot last season, was saddled with foul trouble, his latest in a string of lackluster outings. Azubuike, a freshman who logged an inspiring performance against Duke just a week ago, played only five minutes. Collectively, the Jayhawks’ four big men were a mess: five points on 2-of-5 shooting, seven rebounds and 15 fouls, although Coleby gave admirable energy and effort in his first extended run of the season, blocking four shots and grabbing four rebounds. Kansas’ struggles to defend Georgia without fouling led to another rare sighting from a Self-coached team: the deployment of a 2-3 zone. To the team’s credit, the defensive maneuver keyed a decisive second-half run, but that may have had more to do with the fact that it wasn’t a look Georgia had prepared for. These were extenuating circumstances indeed.

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Feast Week Mission Briefing: Kansas at the CBE Hall of Fame Classic

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 21st, 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 Kansas in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic.

What They’ve Done So Far: In a break from the norm for traditional powers, Kansas has already played the toughest part of its non-conference schedule. The Jayhawks fell in overtime to Indiana on the first night of the season before edging Duke at the Champions Classic, both in neutral settings. Frank Mason has been fantastic to open the year; Not only did he bury a clutch jumper to sink the Blue Devils last Tuesday, but he has led the Jayhawks in scoring in each of their first three games and has taken advantage of the new officiating directives to make 30 trips to the free throw line (converting 76.6 percent of his attempts). Perhaps feeling tired legs from their trips to Hawaii and New York, the Jayhawks had some trouble shaking Siena for most of their home opener on Friday night, but pulled away late for an 86-65 win.

Frank Mason has come up big early for Kansas. Will the Jayhawks need to rely on him again this week in Kansas City? (Nick Krug/Lawrence Journal-World)

Opening Round Preview: Kansas opens against UAB in what would have been a reunion for former Jayhawks guard Jerod Haase, but Haase left the Blazers’ post over the summer to take the head coaching job at Stanford. UAB hasn’t played a very tough schedule to date, but they’ve held opponents to 36.3 percent shooting inside the arc, largely on the prowess of big man William Lee (13 rejections through three games). Kansas has meanwhile been very dependent on its inside game, ranking among the bottom 30 nationally in 3PA/FGA and shooting a miserable 23.1 percent from beyond the arc. A strong performance from Carlton Bragg to follow up a career game against Siena (15 points and 11 rebounds) would go a long way toward avoiding an upset tonight, especially if his teammates have another cold outside shooting night. Read the rest of this entry »

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Kansas Already Battle Tested Just Five Days Into Season

Posted by Justin Fedich on November 16th, 2016

Only two games into the new season, Kansas has already endured one crushing defeat and one thrilling victory. The Jayhawks responded from a 103-99 overtime loss to Indiana on Friday night in Hawaii to outlast top-ranked Duke 77-75 in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden last night. No high-major team outside of arguably Michigan State has been challenged nearly as much. Senior guard Frank Mason has stolen the show to this point, scoring 30 points against Indiana and hitting the game-winning jump shot last night against Duke.

The tourney upsets his Kansas teams have suffered will not be forgotten (Getty).

The Kansas program has never shied away from testing itself early against elite programs and this year is no exception. (Getty)

What Adjustments Did Kansas Make? Even with Duke’s three highly-touted freshman sidelined, Bill Self’ needed to make some adjustments from the Indiana game to avoid falling to 0-2. The biggest shift came in the contributions of 6’11” freshman Udoka Azubuike off the bench. After playing only seven minutes and failing to score against the Hoosiers, Azubuike added six points and pulled down 12 big rebounds against Duke. It was clear that Self wanted to expose Duke’s lack of size down low with 6’10” Harry Giles and 6’11” Marques Bolden sitting on the bench. After being the only Kansas starter to not foul out in the game against Indiana, freshman Josh Jackson played much more aggressively for most of last night’s game before fouling out. Still, he scored 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field, putting all three Kansas starting guards into double figures (Mason, 21; Devonte’ Graham, 15). Using Jackson on the wing and Azubuike inside to balance things offensively is the formula Kansas needs rather than relying on Mason, who scored 30 points against Indiana, to consistently contribute such a heavy load. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 M5: 11.16.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 16th, 2016

morning5_big12

  1. Another huge game from Frank Mason fueled Kansas’ 77-75 win over Duke last night. Even though the Blue Devils were without three of its star freshmen, the Jayhawks withstood plenty of their own challenges — from foul trouble to ineffectiveness beyond the arc (2-of-16 3FG) to a bad night at the charity stripe (9-of-19 FT). The Jayhawks also blew a late double-digit lead, but it ultimately did not matter as Mason cashed in a game-winning elbow jumper with 1.8 seconds remaining, the last of his 17 second-half points. Beating Duke in any environment is a big deal, but this victory should yield some real dividends come March if the Blue Devils play to their lofty expectations once healthy.
  2. Entering the season, one of the key questions for Baylor aside from point guard play was how the Bears would account for the loss of Rico Gathers. It’s a remarkably small sample size, but through two games including a top-five opponent in Oregon, Jo Lual-Acuil has answered the bell, averaging 15.0 rebounds and 7.2 blocks per 40 minutes  in the young season. The junior will be challenged next week when the Bears head to the Bahamas and again in December when they host Xavier, so stiffer competition should give way to a more confident read on Lual-Acuil, but in the meantime, he’s been one of the big surprises around the conference.
  3. Switching gears from a surprise to a known quantity, how great is it to have Oklahoma State‘s Phil Forte back? I suppose you could ask head coach Brad Underwood, but he was still working for Stephen F. Austin when the senior suffered a shoulder injury last November. He’s probably grateful nonetheless. The Big 12’s new elder statesman has stormed out of the gates, averaging 27.0 points per game and converting each of his first 17 attempts at the free throw line. The Cowboys are still looking for answers inside, but Forte and Jawun Evans (28.5 PPG, 5.5 APG, 4.0 SPG) are showing why they should be mentioned among the conference’s best perimeter tandems.
  4. I’ve thought a little more about Kansas State‘s lax non-conference schedule, and while I still think it has a chance to backfire, it’s worth mentioning the potential benefits as well. Given that Wesley Iwundu and D.J. Johnson are the team’s only scholarship upperclassmen who have been with the program all four years, there’s a big drop-off to the younger core of sophomores Dean WadeBarry BrownKamau Stokes and freshman Xavier Sneed. This isn’t the most analytical viewpoint, but building confidence matters for a relatively young team, especially when its league schedule starts with a road game at Kansas sandwiched between home games against Oklahoma and West Virginia. Steamrolling the likes of Hampton, Robert Morris and Boston College wouldn’t lead anyone to picking the Wildcats to win at Allen Fieldhouse, but it can be helpful in the overall scheme with the league being deeper than it usually is. While I’d be remiss if I didn’t think there was at least a sliver of self-preservation by head coach Bruce Weber at play here as well, the general approach makes sense for a team looking to build some experience and confidence during the non-conference slate.
  5. Texas Tech will be shorthanded for a while as the school revealed over the weekend that big man Norense Odiase broke a bone in his left foot. While the Red Raiders have started 2-0 in spite of Odiase’s absence, it’s still a tough blow since he missed 12 games just last season with a similar injury to his other foot. For what it’s worth, Chris Beard doesn’t anticipate Odiase missing as much time as he did last season, which would be nice. The Red Raiders don’t have much time to adjust, though, with Auburn and a potential game against Purdue’s twin towers looming in next week’s Cancun Challenge.
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Rushed Reactions: #7 Kansas 77, #1 Duke 75

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 16th, 2016

RTC’s Brian Otskey (@botskey) and Justin Kundrat (@justinkundrat) are providing on-site coverage of the Champions Classic this evening.

Three Key Takeaways.

Frank. Mason. For the Win. (USA Today Images)

Frank. Mason. For the Win. (USA Today Images)

  1. Josh Jackson’s coming out party has commenced. Following a disappointing nine-point debut on 3-for-11 shooting against Indiana, the 6’8″ freshman posted 15 points on just nine shots tonight. His obvious hesitancy and discomfort in the first game and a half of his career forced Frank Mason into the role of primary scorer while pressuring other players such as Devonte’ Graham to fill the void. But Jackson broke out in the second half, using his length to defend the passing lanes while creating for himself at will on the offensive end. There will be ups and downs this season for a player like Jackson, but the obvious sentiment is that Bill Self needs him fully locked in come March.
  2. Stopping Duke on offense is already a headache. The hype around NPOY candidate Grayson Allen is warranted, but the Blue Devils have five legitimate scoring threats and the lineup versatility to match almost any team even without their heralded freshmen. Sophomore Luke Kennard is capable of playing a stretch four role, but Duke can also go big by playing senior Amile Jefferson alongside the shot blocking center Chase Jeter. The Jeter/Kennard toggle provides Coach K with the ability to choose between offense and defense without having to drastically alter his lineups. Given the team’s current inside-outside dynamic, expect Duke to capitalize regardless of how teams choose to defend them.
  3. The concerns around Kansas’ defense are overstated. It’s not that the Jayhawks cannot defend — rather, it’s that their early results are simply a combination of playing two of the country’s best offenses. Strong individual defenders such as Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham are known quantities, but team defenses take time to develop and this is especially true for a team that lost two key cogs in Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis. Josh Jackson has the tools to become an exceptional perimeter defender and Udoba Azubuike has a 7’5″ wingspan who and will develop better defensive instincts over time.

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RTC Gametime: Key Questions in Duke vs. Kansas

Posted by Chris Stone & Brad Jenkins on November 15th, 2016

College basketball got underway with a pair of hotly contested Top 25 match-ups on Friday night. The heat will rise tonight as the ESPN Tip-off Marathon reaches its climax with the Champions Classic in Madison Square Garden. Because we’re so excited about what tonight’s headliner has to offer, we’ve gotten the ACC and Big 12 microsites together to preview the event’s evening contest between Duke and Kansas. Questions and answers were provided by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) and Chris Stone (@cstonehoops).

Questions for Kansas

Frank Mason looks like Bill Self's man at point guard. (USATSI)

Bill Self and Frank Mason against a talented Duke team? Sign us up. (USATSI)

The Blue Devils look vulnerable in the paint given all their current injuries. Bill Self teams have traditionally been dominant in the post, but is Kansas equipped to take advantage of Duke’s depleted frontcourt?

Unless something surprising happens, probably not. This game should ultimately be a battle of the backcourts. Although the Jayhawks have historically feasted on the interior by utilizing Self’s high-low offense to find open looks near the rim, Kansas doesn’t have the frontcourt players required to do that this season. Big men accounted for just 19.7 percent of Kansas’ total field goal attempts against Indiana last week, even as starters Landen Lucas and Carlton Bragg shot a combined 9-of-11 from the field. Don’t expect that pair to suddenly become high usage players tonight. Lucas is fundamentally sound and more than capable of sealing off defenders for easy looks, but he lacks the post game necessary to be a go-to option. Bragg’s repertoire of post moves is considerably more complete, but his best offense is still played in the mid-range. With a full complement of talented perimeter players, look for Self to base his offense tonight around the likes of Frank Mason and Devonte Graham rather than Lucas and Bragg. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Superlatives, Predictions and Storylines

Posted by Big 12 Team on November 11th, 2016

The 2016-17 Big 12 season is going to be an interesting one despite Kansas being the prohibitive favorite to win the conference yet again. The battle for second appears to be a three-horse race between Iowa State, Texas and West Virginia, while the middle and bottom tiers of the league will still feature teams capable of contending for NCAA Tournament bids. We’re beyond excited to see it all unfold, and with that, we unveil our Big 12 preseason predictions and superlatives (written by each voter).

all-big-12

Player Of The Year

  • Drew Andrews: Monte’ Morris, Iowa State — While you could easily look at freshmen phenoms Josh Jackson and Jarrett Allen as potential Big 12 Player of the Year candidates, Monte’ Morris should win the award next March. With the departures of Cyclone stalwarts like Georges Niang, Abdel Nader and Jameel McKay, Morris will be asked to bring a huge amount of the magic to Hilton Coliseum this season. The senior will need to carry more of the scoring load in addition to his league-leading 6.9 assists per game and second-place 1.8 steals per game if Iowa State wants to make its sixth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
  • Justin Fedich: Josh Jackson, Kansas — Unlike last season, the pick for this year’s Big 12 Player of the Year isn’t as obvious. I’ll take the most talented player on the best team, Kansas freshman Josh Jackson. The 6’8” wing from Detroit will benefit from playing with the experienced backcourt duo of Frank Mason and Devonté Graham. He might have some early growing pains, but Kansas will need someone to replace the void left by Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis, the top two scorers from last season’s team.

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