Rushed Reactions: #11 Syracuse 57, #6 TCU 52

Posted by Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) on March 17th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) is in Detroit this weekend. 

Three Key Takeaways.

Syracuse’s defense was all over TCU on Friday night. (Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)

  1. TCU’s super-efficient offense struggled against the Syracuse zone. TCU was hands-down the most efficient offense in the Big 12 this season, ranking 7th nationally in adjusted efficiency and shooting nearly 40% from behind the arc. But it struggled mightily against Syracuse’s patented 2-3 zone. The Horned Frogs shot just 3-of-17 from behind the arc, the Orange defense using its size — Syracuse is the tallest team in college basketball — and length to prevent good looks. TCU also turned the ball over at an uncharacteristically high rate, which may have been the difference (extra possessions) considering both teams shot nearly identical from the field and the free throw line. “This was just a defensive game, and we didn’t give them good looks from the three-point line,” Syracuse Jim Boeheim said afterwards.
  2. Marek Dolezaj’s career night couldn’t have come at a better time. Slovakian freshman Marek Dolezaj entered Friday averaging 5.2 PPG. He scored 17 points on Friday night, including 11 of his team’s first 23 points. He was so on point, in fact, that even his sole three-point attempt — just his ninth of the season (2-of-9 3PT) — went in, helping Syracuse jump out to an early lead. For an offense that can at times look inept, Dolezaj’s contributions (he scored 20 points against Wake Forest on March 6) could be the spark Syracuse needs for another March run.
  3. Jim Boeheim out-performing expectations in March once again. Two years ago, Syracuse was a double-digit seed and one of the last teams to sneak into the Dance. Sound familiar? That team wound up making a completely unexpected Final Four run, the fifth appearance of Boeheim’s career. This year’s team — tall, methodical, defensive-minded — has plenty of similarities, if not a player as dynamic as Michael Gbinije. With two NCAA Tournament wins now under its belt, Boeheim is once again making lemonade out very bubbly lemons.

Star of the Game. Marek Dolezaj, Syracuse. The 6-9 Slovakian couldn’t miss on Friday, knocking down every type of shot you can imagine on his way to 17 points. Had Dolezaj not fouled out midway through the second half, he may have posted a career high. For Syracuse to upset Michigan State on Sunday, it’s going to need role players like Dolezaj to step up in similar fashion. Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big 12 Teams

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2018

Every passing postseason where a Big 12 team gets bounced in embarrassing fashion or fails to maximize its potential by way of an otherwise-excusable loss becomes another pock mark on the conference’s reputation. Oklahoma got the Big 12 off the schneid with a Final Four Run in 2016, but it hasn’t been enough. There’s never been more pressure on the league to produce than there is this year, and seven teams will get a bite at the apple. Another Big 12 team has to break through eventually… right?

Kansas (#1 Midwest)

Behind senior guard Devonte’ Graham, Kansas will aim to cut down the nets in San Antonio. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

  • Best Case: The recent breakouts of Malik Newman and Silvio De Sousa continue into the NCAA Tournament, buying additional time for Udoka Azubuike to recover from his MCL injury. With the Jayhawks’ starting center at full strength for the second weekend, Bill Self makes his third Final Four as the Kansas head coach.
  • Worst Case: Foul trouble and a cold shooting night around the perimeter spell another early exit, this time in the Round of 32.

Texas Tech (#3 East)

  • Best Case: Keenan EvansZach Smith and Justin Gray take advantage of a nearly week-long break and get healthy, and the Red Raiders channel the best version of themselves to their first ever Elite Eight appearance.
  • Worst Case: The Red Raiders continue to slide and are defeated at the hands of Stephen F. Austin, a team that bears some striking similarities to the West Virginia team that bested Tech in two of their three meetings.

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Friday Figures: TCU’s Efficient Offense, Mitch Lightfoot & Kerwin Roach’s Big Year

Posted by Chris Stone on February 9th, 2018

Friday Figures is back this week with a look at TCU’s successful offense, Kansas’ new starting lineup and Kerwin Roach’s impressive season.

  • Jamie Dixon has TCU’s offense humming. The best offense in the Big 12 doesn’t reside in Lawrence, Kansas or Norman, Oklahoma. Instead, it sits squarely in Fort Worth, Texas, where Jamie Dixon has already brought his history of offensive excellence to bear. The Horned Frogs lead the league with an offensive efficiency of 112.5, two points clear of the Jayhawks. Central to TCU’s success is a commitment to moving the ball to find better shots, and as a result, the Horned Frogs have assisted on 63.9 percent of their made field goals this season (10th nationally, per KenPom). It’s also probably part of the reason the team has been able to weather the loss of sophomore point guard Jaylen Fisher.

Mitch Lightfoot is Kansas’ newest starter. (Image credit: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

  • The Big 12’s unlikely block rate leader. Ask anyone to name the Big 12’s best rim-protectors this season and you’ll get the expected answers. There’s Texas’ Mohamed Bamba and his 7’9″ wingspan or Sagaba Konate, West Virginia’s dunk eating center. Oklahoma’s Khadeem Lattin or Baylor’s Jo Acuil might even get a shout-out. Yet none of them leads the Big 12 in block rate during conference play. Rather, that honor belongs to Kansas’ newly minted starter, Mitch Lightfoot, who edges out Bamba by one-tenth of a percentage point. Obviously Lightfoot hasn’t played as many minutes as anyone else on this list, but his block rate is an interesting jumping-off point for discussing his value to the Jayhawks. The former 3-star recruit has developed into a decent rotation piece in Bill Self’s lineup, but the numbers suggest that Kansas needs Lagerald Vick to bust out of his slump and back into the starting lineup for the team to be at its best. According to data from Hoop Lens, the Jayhawks are 14 points per 100 possessions better with Lightfoot on the bench this season. The sophomore might be a great answer to a silly trivia question, but he’s probably not the piece to help Kansas make a legitimate run this March.

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TCU Looks To Solidify Itself With a Big Week

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 5th, 2017

When we last checked in on TCU, the Horned Frogs were entering the season looking to parlay last year’s NIT title into the program’s first NCAA Tournament bid in two decades. Three weeks into the campaign, not much has changed other than perhaps the notion that Jamie Dixon‘s team could be even more formidable than originally forecasted. TCU currently owns the longest active winning streak in college basketball (13), but with tough match-ups on tap this week against intrastate foe SMU and Mountain West contender Nevada, we’re about to find out exactly where the Horned Frogs stack up in the national conversation.

With five double-doubles in eight games, wing Kenrich Williams has been a steady force for the Horned Frogs (AP/Ralph Laurer).

TCU’s 8-0 start, while impressive, isn’t a true indicator of its talent level because the team’s competition to this point has left something to be desired. Their best win to date is a neutral court victory over St. Bonaventure, but while the Bonnies look to be a contender in the Atlantic-10, they pale in comparison to stronger teams like SMU, who already boasts wins over Arizona and USC, and the Wolf Pack, one of college basketball’s 12 other remaining undefeated teams. That’s not to say that there aren’t legitimate reasons to believe TCU can tangle with the Big 12’s best this season, because Dixon’s club certainly can. The Horned Frogs enter tonight’s game with a top-20 offense and a top-35 defense, headlined by their current standing as the nation’s top defensive rebounding team, collecting over 80 percent of their opponents’ misses. Significant improvement from Vladimir Brodziansky, J.D. Miller and Kenrich Williams have provided the spark, while additional support from VCU transfer Ahmed Hamdy and redshirt freshman Kouat Noi round out the corps.

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ACC Taking Stock: Volume I

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on November 22nd, 2017

While it’s natural to focus on the upper echelon of a league when evaluating non-conference play, it’s instructive to keep a watchful eye on the under the radar squads as well. These are the units that ultimately could act as stumbling blocks for the heavyweights down the road while providing the depth and balance that generally makes the ACC the ACC. For this season’s initial iteration of our weekly stock report, we will ignore that Duke already looks unspeakably robust even by its lofty standards and that defending champion North Carolina looks far better than expected, in favor of reviewing a few teams projected to finish in the league’s bottom half.

Stock Rising

The talented Battle has been mighty impressive to start the year. (Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports)

Tyus Battle, Syracuse: It is no secret that for Syracuse to exceed expectations this season that the sophomore guard would have to carry the offensive load, and through four games, he has done just that. Efficiently tallying 92 points on 59 percent shooting from two-point range and 43 percent from three-point range, defensive attention on Battle is making the game easier for backcourt mate Frank Howard, who notched a career-high 18 points in Syracuse’s Monday night victory over Oakland. Maryland and Kansas loom after Wednesday’s home date with Toledo, so it will be interesting to track how better competition affects his production.

Stock Overperformance

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Big 12 Burning Questions: TCU Horned Frogs

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 8th, 2017

This team preview is part of the RTC Big 12 microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Will TCU live up to its bullish expectations?

Expectations are funny things in that they can mean very different things to very different teams. Though the odds are inherently long, a small handful of teams like Duke and Kansas are generally expected to be in the conversation for a Final Four berth each and every year. For others, expectations can mean contending for a conference title and playing into the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend. Further down the pecking order, some schools will be satisfied with receiving at-large bids and still others simply aim to stay competitive against their best competition and let the chips fall where they may. The Horned Frogs accomplished the latter in Jamie Dixon‘s first season in the Metroplex, going 6-12 in Big 12 play with good wins over Iowa State and a Josh Jackson-less Jayhawks team in the Big 12 Tournament, but they also showed their mettle in close losses to that same Kansas team at full strength and defeats at the hands of West Virginia and Oklahoma State. With their top six scorers returning, the Horned Frogs are set to move up in the ranks with legitimate aspirations for an NCAA Tournament berth for the first time in 20 years.

Led by experienced contributors like Alex Robinson and Vladimir Brodziansky, TCU has college basketball’s attention for the first time in a generation. (Ray Carlin/USA TODAY)

To quickly recap last season, Dixon’s arrival in Fort Worth instantly transformed TCU from a 2-16 team in league play to a group exhibiting many of the traits of the coach’s best Pittsburgh teams: a hunger for offensive rebounds; a methodical half-court approach centered around point guards setting up teammates for high-percentage looks; and defenders who know how to force bad shots without fouling. While the Frogs modestly improved to a 6-12 record in Big 12 play, they gathered themselves in time to go on an NIT championship run in March. This year’s rotation will have a familiar look. Jaylen Fisher and Alex Robinson will share point guard duties; Desmond Bane will hold down the off-guard spot; Kenrich Williams will man the wing; and JD Miller will patrol the paint alongside the underrated Vladimir Brodziansky. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Offseason Storylines to Follow

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 24th, 2017

The Big 12 had a decent but ultimately unimpressive showing in this year’s postseason. Of the league’s six NCAA Tournament teams, three advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, but only one advanced to the Elite Eight, and we all know what happened from there as Kansas flamed out to Jordan Bell and the Oregon Ducks. With the offseason now upon us and some time ahead to reflect, here are a few storylines worth following this summer and into the start of the 2017-18 season.

Frank Mason Takes His Hardware to the Next Level (USA Today Images)

  • How will Kansas retool? Frank Mason III leaves Lawrence as one of the most decorated players in program history. His wonderful four-year career won’t soon be forgotten, but it doesn’t change the fact that Kansas needs to figure out its point guard situation moving forward. Transfer Malik Newman can serve as the Jayhawks’ floor general in a pinch, but he’s more of a scoring guard than a facilitator and Bill Self has already said that he sees the redshirt sophomore manning the two. Barring a surprise commitment from elite point guard prospect Trevon Duval, the Jayhawks are looking at some combination of Devonte’ Graham and freshman Marcus Garrett handling the team’s ball-handling duties next season. Self also needs some frontcourt depth following the departures of Landen Lucas, Josh Jackson and Carlton Bragg, but the point guard position will be the most intriguing roster question as the Jayhawks begin their pursuit of a 14th consecutive regular season Big 12 title next fall.
  • A new era at Iowa State. Despite 47 wins and a Sweet Sixteen appearance in two seasons in Ames, Steve Prohm needs to show what he can do without the services of Monte’ Morris, Deonte Burton, Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas in the lineup. The job now becomes one of rebuilding for the Cyclone program, but there is somewhat of a foundation from which to work. Solomon Young, Donovan Jackson, transfer Ray Kasongo, Cameron Lard and highly-touted freshman Lindell Wigginton are interesting building blocks, but don’t appear to offer the ceiling of Hoiberg and Prohm’s best teams. The early going next season may be a little rocky as this group becomes accustomed to playing with each other, but a top-half finish in Big 12 play would be an admirable achievement. Fans should additionally keep an eye on Prohm’s pursuit of coveted JuCo forward Shakur Juiston.

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Big 12 Quarterfinal Takeaways

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 10th, 2017

Thursday’s quarterfinal round of the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City had a little bit of everything. While #1 seed Kansas wasn’t at full strength with Josh Jackson out of the lineup, TCU pulled off what could be the upset of the week in college basketball in moving to the semifinals. The other afternoon game featured Iowa State’s Monte’ Morris and Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans putting on an entertaining show as the Cyclones treated their big contingency of traveling fans to a win. In the evening session, West Virginia wore Texas down in the only game that lacked significant drama, but Kansas State made up for it by winning a game it absolutely needed to stay alive for an at-large bid. Let’s get to the biggest takeaways from the day that was.

TCU guard Desmond Bane hit three decisive free throws after being fouled by Svi Mykhailiuk with the game tied in the closing seconds. (Nick Krug/KUSports.com)

  • TCU stuns Kansas, but the Jayhawks are still in position for a #1 seed. Prior to Thursday afternoon’s upset, Jackson’s suspension didn’t seem like a deal-breaker. Kansas had swept TCU in the regular season, including a December 30 win in Fort Worth where the freshman wing scored four points and fouled out in 12 forgettable minutes. As it turned out yesterday, however, Kansas sorely missed Jackson’s presence, especially on the offensive glass. The Horned Frogs, playing for the second day in a row, rebounded 78.8 percent of Kansas’ misses, about 10 percent above their season-long rate. Still, despite the shock factor, this isn’t a devastating loss for Kansas. The Jayhawks won the nation’s top-rated conference by four games, beat Kentucky, Baylor and Iowa State on the road, and outlasted Duke on a neutral court. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that when Kansas begins its NCAA Tournament appearance on March 17, it will be playing in just its fourth game in 19 days, and Jackson will be playing his first game in almost two whole weeks. The Jayhawks could benefit from some rest and a #16 seed will provide a chance to shake off any rust, but it’s a very different stretch from what the team has grown accustomed to.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Iowa State Won A Bunch Of Games While You Weren’t Looking Edition

Posted by Big 12 Team on February 28th, 2017

Quick! How many games has Iowa State won this season? You vaguely remember the Cyclones beating Kansas a few weeks ago, so that must mean they’re doing well, right? At this point in the year, you’re probably thinking they have a nice, healthy number of wins. Like 22 or 23. Yeah, that sounds good. You’ll go with that. I’m sorry, however, but you are incorrect. The correct answer is 19. Having 19 wins on February 27 isn’t particularly noteworthy unless you note how Iowa State got to that number in the first place. First, Steve Prohm put together an ambitious non-conference schedule that produced two losses to very good basketball teams (Gonzaga, Cincinnati) and two other losses that he’d like to have back (Iowa, Vanderbilt). Add in a 5-4 start to Big 12 play — not to mention Oklahoma State’s herculean turnaround — and it was pretty easy to forget the Cyclones even existed. Now they’re on a five-game winning streak and, with two more wins, have a chance to clinch the #2 seed in next month’s Big 12 Tournament. I didn’t think I’d be typing that sentence a month ago. Power Rankings time!

Hey you! Remember me? I’m Monte, the preseason All-American dude from Iowa State. You know, I’m still doing All-American type things on the court. You should turn on one of my games some time. You’ll enjoy it! (photo: lanezphotography.com)

1. Kansas — all voted 1st – “The Jayhawks have won seven straight games since their home loss to Iowa State a few weeks ago. Along the way, Kansas also won its 13th straight Big 12 regular season title, one of the most impressive streaks in college basketball history.” – Drew Andrews (@DrewAndrews24)

2. West Virginia — average: 2.4 – “Saturday’s match-up against Iowa State will be the last game in Morgantown for hometown hero Nathan Adrian. Adrian was a sparsely used bench player last year, but he’s taken on Jonathan Holton’s role atop the press this year. He’s been excellent with the additional responsibility and figures to be missed at the Coliseum.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)

3. Iowa State — average: 3.0 (not unanimous) – “The Cyclones’ rotation is not very deep, so it has helped that freshman forward Solomon Young has started to contribute lately. During Iowa State’s current five-game winning streak, Young has had multiple blocks in four of those games.” – Justin Fedich (@jfedich)

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Say a Prayer for the Sooners Edition

Posted by Big 12 Team on February 14th, 2017

There wasn’t any question what the college basketball world thought about Oklahoma a season ago. The Sooners were led by a likable All-American who was surrounded by a group of teammates that had played more than 100 consecutive games together. Even after a blowout Final Four loss to Villanova ended their season, conventional wisdom was that one poor performance wouldn’t diminish the tremendous gains and relentlessly bright future the program had ahead of it. Unfortunately, this season has made last year feel like the tail end of the Jeff Capel era. The returnees and freshmen have failed to mesh in any meaningful way, resulting in two seven-game losing streaks and looking like a finish in the Big 12 cellar is imminent. With leading scorer Jordan Woodard out for the rest of the season with a career-ending ACL injury, what seemed like an achievable 600 win threshold for Lon Kruger this season is increasingly looking like an impossibility. One bad season among several very good ones will not tarnish Oklahoma basketball in the long run, but it represents a reminder to those on the outside that no one is immune to a bad year every once in a while. This week’s power rankings are right after this goofy picture of Kruger.

Lon Kruger is two wins away from notching 600 wins as a collegiate head coach. The question is: will his wounded Sooners win two with a month left in the season? (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

  • 1. Kansas — all voted 1st – “Aside from a few down games which should be expected of any high-major college player, Josh Jackson has lived up to the hype. In the seven games prior to an average outing against West Virginia (14 points, 11 rebounds, six turnovers) last night, though, he averaged 20.6 points on 56.3 percent shooting (53.6% 3FG), along with 7.6 rebounds in 34.4 minutes per contest. Kansas’ depth issues have led to some recent second-half struggles, but the Jayhawks’ freshman phenom is the primary reason the Jayhawks have been able to overcome them.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)
  • 2. Baylor — all voted 2nd – “Kansas has made a living in the Big 12 historically with its outstanding interior defense, and now Baylor is doing the same thing. Opponents have made just 44.5 percent of their twos against the Bears in conference play this season, with the next best mark Kansas and Oklahoma’s tie at 47.5 percent. Jo Lual-Acuil and Johnathan Motley have combined to make Baylor a realistic competitor even when its offense struggles.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)
  • 3. West Virginia — all voted 3rd – “Per KenPom, West Virginia owns the seventh-best defense and 10th-best offense in college basketball. Despite a heart-breaking overtime loss in Allen Fieldhouse last night, the Mountaineers are still in contention for a top-two NCAA Tournament seed if they can finish strong in their last five games.” – Drew Andrews (@DrewAndrews24)

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