Big 12 Opening Weekend in Review

Posted by Drew Andrews on November 15th, 2016

Opening night of the college basketball season gave nine of the 10 Big 12 programs a chance to begin their seasons with easy wins. Those match-ups went according to plan, as only Kansas played a team inside KenPom’s top 250 and, as a result, took the only loss. However, there was another surprise that could ultimately spell trouble for one of the contenders to the conference title. Let’s take a look at one key takeaway from each team coming out of the opening weekend.

  • Kansas – The Jayhawks came into the season with questions about leadership, scoring in the post, and whether Josh Jackson could make the leap to superstardom. The loss to Indiana in the Armed Forces Classic on Friday night only provided a first piece of an answer to one of those questions. Frank Mason III exploded for 30 points and nine assists in the defeat, making it seem that he might be Bill Self‘s Option A for leadership and scoring this season. In the absence of the graduated Perry Ellis, Landon Lucas and Carlton Bragg will be asked to replace some of his frontcourt scoring load. Lucas proved that he could play the necessary minutes last year, but Bragg rarely saw the floor. After a meager 18-minute outing on opening night, it seems as if Self still has questions about the sophomore forward. Meanwhile, Jackson struggled to find a rhythm on both ends of the floor. Early foul trouble and questionable shot selection meant he saw more of the bench than expected, but it will be interesting to see how Self utilizes him in tonight’s clash with top-ranked Duke.
Josh Jackson struggled against Indiana. Can he break out against Duke in the Champions Classic? (Photo: Kansas City Star)

Josh Jackson struggled against Indiana. Can he break out against Duke in the Champions Classic? (Photo: Kansas City Star)

  • Iowa State  Monte’ Morris began his quest for conference and national honors with a bang against Savannah State (21 points and 11 assists), followed by a quieter but efficient outing (18 points and three assists) last night against Mount St. Mary’s. Steve Prohm started five seniors in both games, and if Iowa State hopes to again challenge Kansas for the Big 12 title, it will need every bit of experience and leadership from that group to get there.
  • TexasJarrett Allen certainly looked the part of star in the making in his debut for the Longhorns, but despite his 16 points and 12 boards, Texas was outrebounded on the offensive glass in its first two outings against Incarnate Word and Louisiana-Monroe. Shaka Smart‘s HAVOC defense certainly creates great energy and scoring opportunities via turnovers, but he has to be concerned that his players are giving up so many second chances to teams that were clearly overmatched in talent and size.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Reviewing the Big 12’s Top 10 Non-Conference Matchups

Posted by Chris Stone on November 8th, 2016

Once again it looks like the Big 12 regular season title will remain in Kansas. Bill Self’s team enters this season as the prohibitive favorite to win a 13th straight championship, but the good news is that there is plenty of great non-conference basketball to sustain us until conference teams take turns trying to knock the Jayhawks from their perch. Most Big 12 teams will play tough November and December schedules featuring several preseason top 10 teams and tough mid-majors. Notably excluded from this list are games from January’s Big 12/SEC Challenge, but here’s a look at the league’s best 10 non-conference games through the first two months of the season.

Kansas is poised to win another Big 12 title, but the non-conference games come first. (USA Today Images)

Kansas is poised to win another Big 12 title, but the non-conference games come first. (USA Today Images)

  • 10. Oklahoma State vs. Connecticut, Monday November 21 – This is an opening round game at the Maui Invitational, and while the Cowboys may struggle to beat a ranked Connecticut team on the Valley Isle, the individual match-up between point guards Jawun Evans and Jalen Adams makes this must-see TV.
  • 9. Texas at Michigan, Tuesday December 6 – John Beilein’s Michigan teams play a beautiful brand of offensive basketball that the Longhorns will look to muck up by increasing tempo and using their athleticism to outrun the Wolverines in Ann Arbor.
  • 8. Oklahoma at Wisconsin, Saturday December 3 – The Badgers open the season as the Big Ten favorite so Oklahoma will have its hands full in Madison. Guard Jordan Woodard will need to deliver a Buddy Hield-esque performance for the Sooners to come away with an upset in this one.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

One Burning Question: Will Steve Prohm’s Big Bet Pay Off?

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 1st, 2016

On the surface, the changes that Steve Prohm is asking Monte’ Morris to make this season seem rational. The Cyclones are coming off of a Sweet Sixteen appearance, but lost the Big 12’s fourth all-time scoring leader in Georges Niang and two other effective scorers in Abdel Nader and Jameel McKay. The thinking goes that someone has to pick up the slack, and who better to do so than a Preseason All-American and potential first round pick? Furthermore, recent history on both sides of the equation supports the notion that Prohm and Morris can pull this off. In 2014, Prohm’s offense turned Cameron Payne into a lottery pick at Murray State. The season before that, DeAndre Kane soaked up 27 percent of Iowa State’s possessions on the way to leading Iowa State to its first Sweet Sixteen in 14 years. So this should work too, right? I’m not so sure. In fact, there are a few reasons to be skeptical of how far Morris can carry this team, though admittedly, Prohm doesn’t have much choice.

Can Iowa State ride Monte' Morris back to the Big Dance? (AP/Charlie Neibergall)

Can Iowa State ride Monte’ Morris back to the Big Dance? (AP/Charlie Neibergall)

Perhaps the biggest difference between this Iowa State team and the last few versions is that opposing defenders will be locked in on Morris from the start. Matt Thomas and Naz Mitrou-Long are legitimate scoring threats who will divert some attention away from Morris, but defenses won’t be motivated to stay on them if they aren’t hitting their threes. Even if Thomas and Mitrou-Long pick up where they left off, though, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Morris — despite sporting an improved physique — will be able to successfully absorb the kind of volume the Cyclones hope to extract from him this season. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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

Big 12 Offseason Burning Questions, Part II

Posted by Chris Stone on April 12th, 2016

Yesterday, Brian Goodman opened our examination of the offseason’s burning questions facing Big 12 teams by reviewing challenges facing Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma and TCU. Our series continues today with consideration of the questions plaguing the remainder of the league: Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech and West Virginia.

Iowa State (23-12, 10-8)

For the first time in a long time, Iowa State will be without Georges Niang. (Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in a long time, Iowa State will be without Georges Niang. (Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports)

Who will step up in the Cyclones’ frontcourt? A lack of depth at Iowa State was a persistent problem last season and it leads to the bigger question about who will fill the gaping frontcourt holes in Ames next year. With both Georges Niang and Jameel McKay no longer around, the Cyclones return no players 6’8″ or taller who played greater than five percent of the available minutes last season. Iowa State will need to rely on a big debut from Emmanuel Malou, one of the best junior college transfers in the country, and dramatic improvement from rising sophomore Simeon Carter, the Cyclones’ best returning big man.

Oklahoma State (12-20, 3-15)

What can new head coach Brad Underwood do with one of the Big 12’s best backcourts? Underwood consistently produced efficient offenses at Stephen F. Austin and he’ll have the chance to do likewise in Stillwater. The first-year head coach will inherit one of the conference’s best backcourts, as both Jawun Evans and Phil Forte appear set to return to school, with Evans showcasing his potential in the Cowboys’ upset of Kansas and Forte likely the best outside shooter in the Big 12. How Evans and Forte develop their chemistry with Underwood this offseason will go a long way toward determining whether Oklahoma State can regain conference relevance next season. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #1 Virginia 84, #4 Iowa State 71

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 25th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion

Three Key Takeaways.

Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia got out early and stayed a step ahead of Iowa State all night. (Photo: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports)

Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia got out early and stayed a step ahead of Iowa State all night. (Photo: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Virginia blitzes Iowa State early. The Cavaliers opened on a 12-2 run that they extended to leads of 17-3 (five minutes in) and 26-9 (eight minutes in). Adding to the Cyclones’ early troubles was foul trouble for star Georges Niang, who picked up his second foul with 12:46 to play in the half. Steve Prohm would gamble in re-inserting Niang minutes later, but a tentative Niang didn’t make the Cyclones any better defensively. Getting down early is never recommended, but against a Virginia team that plays at a deliberate tempo and can be suffocating defensively, an early hole is too often a death knell. It certainly played out that way tonight.
  2. Virginia’s passing. The Cavaliers are known as a good-passing team, but their ability to share the ball was particularly excellent this evening. They assisted on a remarkable 81 percent (26 of 32) of their field goals, well above their season average of 55 percent. When Iowa State extended their pressure into the full-court with three minutes to go, Virginia repeatedly passed their way through the press for dunks, as Anthony Gill and Isaiah Wilkins had five combined dunks in a two-minute stretch. London Perrantes led the Cavaliers with nine assists.
  3. Georges Niang. As bad as Iowa State’s first half was, it would have been even worse without heavy contributions from its senior star. Niang shrugged off a pair of quick fouls to score 15 points in the opening half – just one fewer than the rest of his team combined. He opened the second half hot, too, scoring seven points in the first seven minutes. Unfortunately he also picked up two more fouls in that stretch, and headed to the bench with 13:10 to play and Iowa State on a run that had cut the Cavalier lead to eight. He returned with nine minutes to play and his team down 13, after which point Iowa State would never really threaten again. Niang finished with 30 points and eight rebounds in the final game of an outstanding collegiate career.

Star of the Game. Mike Tobey, Virginia. The Cavaliers had a number of key contributors, but Tobey supplied an unexpected lift off the bench that made a huge difference. The senior had 18 points and seven rebounds – including four on the offensive end – and was critical in helping UVA maintain a comfortable lead throughout the second half. Jameel McKay was a virtual non-factor for the Cyclones, as Tobey and the Virginia frontcourt took it to Iowa State on the glass, outrebounding them by eight, 31-23.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

The Big 12’s Road to the Final Four

Posted by Chris Stone on March 24th, 2016

The opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament was a mixed bag for college basketball’s toughest conference. Although three Big 12 teams — Iowa State, Kansas and Oklahoma — advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, the other four invitees headed home after the first weekend. Baylor, Texas and West Virginia were all upset by double-digit seeds, while Texas Tech was knocked off by higher-seeded (but favored) Butler. Still, this is the first time since 2009 that the Big 12 has produced as many as three Sweet Sixteen teams and each has a legitimate chance to make the Final Four in Houston. Let’s take a look at how they can get there.

Buddy Hield is the key to Oklahoma's Final Four potential. (Getty Images)

Buddy Hield is the key to Oklahoma’s Final Four potential. (Getty Images)

  • Iowa State – The Cyclones have the most difficult task ahead. Virginia is currently the top-ranked team in the KenPom ratings and represent a stylistic nightmare for an Iowa State team that prefers to get up and down the floor. Virginia has not played a single game with more than 70 possessions this season, while only about a third of the Cyclones’ contests have fallen below that mark. Iowa State will have to rely on its highly efficient offense — especially senior All-American Georges Niang  to produce enough points to get past the Cavaliers. If Steve Prohm’s team can make it to the Elite Eight, they’ll face one of two teams in Gonzaga or Syracuse with good but not great defenses. In either matchup, Iowa State would likely be favored to advance to Houston. The key game for the Cyclones comes Friday night.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 21st, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

New Favorite: #1 Virginia. Michigan State’s shocking first round loss to Middle Tennessee State sent reverberations throughout the entire bracket, but especially within the Midwest Region. The loss rendered meaningless all the pre-Tournament talk about Virginia’s poor fortune in drawing the Spartans in their region, as the Cavaliers are now a clear favorite to advance to Houston. Tony Bennett’s team handled business in dispatching Hampton and Butler in the first two rounds. Getting two more victories will be no cinch, but Virginia should arrive in Chicago with no shortage of confidence.

With Michigan State out of the bracket, there's little doubt that Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia are favorites to advance to the Final Four. (Photo: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

With Michigan State out of the bracket, there’s little doubt that Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia are favorites to advance to the Final Four. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

Horse of Darkness: #11 Gonzaga. If the name on the front of the jersey wasn’t Gonzaga, this really would be a beautiful Cinderella story. With non-existent at-large hopes, a talented mid-major sweeps through its conference tournament to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament field and wins its two first weekend games as a double-digit seed. Cute story, right? Except when it’s Gonzaga, a program that has been to 18 straight Tournaments with wins in each of the last eight and is coming off an Elite Eight appearance. After beating #6 Seton Hall and #3 Utah by a combined 39 points, Mark Few’s team heads to Chicago as a dangerous team – and a likely favorite in its Sweet Sixteen matchup with Syracuse. Beating the Orange won’t be an easy first step, but if the Zags can advance to a regional final against either Virginia or Iowa State, forget their uninspiring regular season and double-digit seed line – this team has the talent and pedigree to break through to deliver the program’s maiden voyage to the Final Four. Wouldn’t that be a Cinderella story, of sorts?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big 12 M5: 03.21.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 21st, 2016

morning5_big12

  1. After extended struggles in the NCAA Tournament, the Big 12 pulled through by sending three teams — Kansas, Oklahoma and Iowa State — to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2009. What’s particularly interesting about the league’s current standing is that the three teams still alive are the ones we all thought had the best chance to make a run when the season started. It was tough to see Baylor, West Virginia, Texas and Texas Tech lose games they could have (perhaps should have) won, but all in all, Big 12 supporters have to like this year’s results.
  2. With Stephen F. Austin falling in a heartbreaker to Notre Dame on Sunday, you can expect the chatter connecting Brad Underwood to the Oklahoma State job to ramp up over the next couple of days. He checks many of the necessary boxes for the Cowboys: He’s been tremendously successful; he has connections to the area; he worked in the Big 12 earlier in his career and is a hot name who could reinvigorate the program and re-energize the fan base in very short order. We’ll have more on the coaching search in Stillwater a bit later today, but even though Underwood won just a single NCAA Tournament game this year, his potential addition to the program in Stillwater makes a lot of sense.
  3. In other Big 12 coaching news, a report Sunday indicated that Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon is strongly considering a move to take the vacant TCU job. While it isn’t often that you hear of a coach of Dixon’s stature being connected to a program with as little historical success as TCU, there are a few reasons why this could be a reasonable next step for the Horned Frogs. Dixon is a TCU alumnus and the school just unveiled substantial facilities upgrades, and the timing of Trent Johnson’s firing suggests that athletic director Chris Del Conte wants to take an aggressive approach towards escaping the Big 12 basement. The move could also be appealing from Dixon’s side, too. Fan unrest in Pittsburgh is growing as Dixon has turned only two of his 11 NCAA Tournament bids into Sweet Sixteen runs, and, though there’s not much to suggest he’s at risk of termination, the athletic director and chancellor who were in place when he was hired are now gone, so it’s fair to wonder just how much support he has from the current administration. Given all of those circumstances, the TCU job could represent something of an escape hatch. While the Horned Frogs don’t have the most well-regarded program around college basketball, we haven’t seen what they can do with an accomplished leader like Dixon at the helm. It’s also no secret that Texas is loaded with the kind of prep talent that can make TCU competitive with the right coach.
  4. Returning to the league’s NCAA Tournament performance over the weekend, it has to be especially redeeming for Iowa State to have extended its season for at least one more game. While this year’s campaign hasn’t been without its highlights, the Cyclones have just been through the wringer. First, they lost Naz Mitrou-Long eight games into the season. Then they started 1-3 in conference play, dashing hopes of knocking Kansas from the top of the Big 12 mountain and leading to a level of fan criticism that prompted head coach Steve Prohm to delete his Twitter and Facebook accounts. The team then spent a decent chunk of February working through various challenges with Jameel McKay before ultimately finishing fifth in the conference and going one-and-done at the Big 12 Tournament. Flash forward to this past weekend, and the Cyclones delivered one of the most refreshing stretches of play they’ve had all year. While it’s not a huge surprise to see Iowa State in the Sweet Sixteen, that they’ve done so in spite of all the challenges they’ve faced likely makes this run a little more special than it would be otherwise.
  5. The Big 12’s Sweet Sixteen action will tip on Thursday night when Kansas and Maryland meet in Louisville. At first glance, the most intriguing individual matchup in this game centers on how Mark Turgeon’s team will defend Perry Ellis. Doing so is a tall order, but with four regulars at 6’9″ or taller, the Terrapins certainly have the bodies capable of altering Ellis’ inside shots. Part of what makes Ellis such a matchup nightmare, however, is his ability to force opposing big men defend him in space, so it will be interesting to monitor how often Bill Self utilizes Ellis on the perimeter.
Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #4 Iowa State 78, #12 Little Rock 61

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 19th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Monte Morris, Steve Prohm and Iowa State are Sweet Sixteen Bound (Photo: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

Monte Morris, Steve Prohm, and Iowa State are Sweet Sixteen Bound (Photo: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Iowa State Offensive Excellence. According to KenPom, the Cyclones are fourth in the nation in offensive efficiency. It’s easy to see why. They’ve got an excellent floor general in Monte Morris, a player always in charge. Georges Niang is a human mismatch, capable of scoring in the paint with the big boys, stepping out to the arc and knocking in threes, or creating off the bounce. Jameel McKay gets on the offensive boards and runs the floor. Abdel Nader can hit the three or attack the hoop. And Matt Thomas is the perfect off-the-ball compliment to the other pieces. It’s not often that even the best defensive teams in the nation have a chance of slowing the talented and versatile Iowa State offense.
  2. Little Rock’s Offensive Struggles. Little Rock does many things well, but supremely efficient offense is not one of them. Today, they had a four-minute scoring drought at the end of the first half, another six-minute stretch without points at the start of the second and another two and a half-minute scoreless streak in the middle of the second. Against a team that scores as efficiently and as often as Iowa State does, these droughts were back-breakers.
  3. Clean and Pretty. In order to have a chance in this game, Little Rock probably needed to ugly this game up in a barrage of floor burns and whistles. Instead, the teams combined for just 14 turnovers and 24 fouls (a few of which were late fouls intended to send poor-shooting Jameel McKay to the line). A handful of times, Little Rock tried to unleash the press that frustrated Purdue late on Thursday, but with ballhandlers like Morris, Niang and Thomas in charge, it never put a significant dent into Iowa State’s gameplan.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story