Big 12 Feast Week Catch-Up

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 21st, 2018

We’re halfway through Feast Week and even though much of the conference has faced strong competition for the first time this season, we aren’t that much closer to determining a pecking order than we were on Sunday. That’s a credit to the league’s performance rather than a detriment, though, with strong impressions being made throughout. Idle until later today, Kansas still has the inside track, but whereas before the season when Kansas State was thought to be the sole challenger, the battle for second is a jumbled mess at this juncture with not only the Wildcats but also Texas Tech, Texas and even Iowa State joining the fray. Further down, even Oklahoma isn’t looking like an easy out, which is another good sign for the league’s overall strength

Udoka Azubuike and the Jayhawks stare down their next challenge in New York City. (Getty)

  • Kansas (NIT Season Tip-Off) – The Jayhawks look to collect more marquee wins in their second neutral-court event of the season. Tonight’s semifinal pits Bill Self’s team against a Marquette squad eager to make a splash after finishing seventh in the Big East a season ago. While the Jayhawks are deservedly favored, they’ve been getting cooked from beyond the arc, ranking 331st in defensive 3PA/FGA and allowing opponents to hit 46.9 percent of their tries. Their weakness for going over screens and over-helping hasn’t cost them yet, but although the Golden Eagles haven’t truly heated up, they have the firepower to make the Jayhawks pay with an arsenal of shooters led by Markus Howard, Sam Hauser and Joey Hauser. If they don’t connect, there won’t be much to fall back on with Kansas having the skill and bodies down low to keep Marquette honest on the blocks. Offense hasn’t been much of a problem for the Jayhawks, but it could be against the Volunteers if that matchup materializes Friday night. Rick Barnes has always fielded stingy defensive teams as long as his players have bought in, and it’s been no different this year. Tennessee hasn’t forced turnovers or blocked a ton of shots, but they’ve been forcing tough attempts, which is almost as beneficial. Louisville’s no slouch, either, but the jury’s still out with Chris Mack working to establish the habits that made him a must-have to the Cardinals’ administration and donor base.
  • Kansas State (Paradise Jam) – For Wildcat fans, watching this team in its first four games was kind of like eating Chinese food for dinner. It achieved the desired result, but it was never anything to write home about and you were hungry for something better just a short time later. A decisive 20-2 run against Missouri en route to the Paradise Jam title in Game 5 doesn’t mean that Kansas State’s offense is fixed, but it’s certainly a start. Dean Wade and Barry Brown leading the way with strong support from Xavier Sneed and Cartier Diarra putting in yeoman’s work off the bench is exactly what Bruce Weber needs from his squad to sufficiently complement its heady, efficient defensive play. Now comes the hard part of sustaining it against the rest of a solid non-con slate and into league play.
  • Texas Tech (Hall Of Fame Classic) – The Red Raiders had a successful week in Kansas City, using big second halves to defeat USC and Nebraska on their way to the Hall of Fame Classic championship. Chris Beard made frequent substitutions in search of a rotation that could get the best of Tech’s opponents, but the constant was Jarrett Culver, who averaged 22 points and 7.5 rebounds in the event. Culver struggled to get going early in both games, but made increasingly better decisions as the individual games wore on. By the end of the event, he cemented his role as the team’s leader with Matt Mooney, Tariq Owens and Davide Moretti making for a solid supporting cast. I maintain that Tech’s drop-off from 2018 won’t be as steep as many around the landscape feel, but one thing that gives me pause relates to the way the offense stagnated when Culver wasn’t fully engaged, so while it’s still early and trusting Beard feels like a safe bet, I do worry a bit about the team being able to pick up the slack against better opponents when Culver isn’t at his best.
  • Iowa State (Maui Invitational) – Beating superior competition when you’re short-handed is challenging enough in a normal setting, but when you’re slated to play three games in three days with just eight scholarship players, you just want to have a decent showing and not return to the mainland any worse off than you were when you arrived. A fully healthy Cyclone team might have have been able to finish the job against Arizona on Monday night, but they’re certainly making the best of it in the consolation bracket. Steve Prohm had Brad Underwood’s number in the latter’s lone season at Oklahoma State with the Cyclones sweeping all three meetings in 2017, and that continued Tuesday afternoon with an 84-68 trouncing. Iowa State’s effort epitomized basketball in 2018, with 47 of their 53 shot attempts coming on dunks, layups or three-pointers. With Marial Shayok and Talen Horton-Tucker showing out and the team playing free-flowing, efficient basketball, re-working Lindell Wigginton, Cameron Lard and Solomon Young into the rotation will make for a fascinating storyline they get closer to returning.
  • Oklahoma (Battle 4 Atlantis) – Picked to finish eighth in the league, the Sooners have shown some moxie, undefeated with three of their four wins coming away from Norman and a chance to make the week a big one assuming they meet favored Wisconsin in Friday’s semifinal. As I discussed last week, the calling card of Oklahoma’s defense has been their ability to defend without fouling, but that risk-averse nature hasn’t yielded many turnovers. That may need to change against a Wisconsin team that really values the ball and has largely made the most of their possessions. Jamuni McNeace was highly effective defending the Gators, but stopping Ethan Happ will be one of the biggest challenges he’ll face all year if the matchup comes to fruition. Continuing to get standout offensive play from Christian James (21.5 PPG, 2.5 TO/40) will be vital as well.
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Analyzing Five Breakout Players Nationally

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on October 31st, 2018

Will Ezekowitz (@wezekowitz) is a national columnist focusing on the numbers behind college basketball.

I have tried to project next year’s breakout players for several years now. Doing so is largely subjective and also generally requires team success, but I’m trying to answer the following question: “Which players are not getting the headlines now but who will be in February and March?” Last year, I gave you Markus Howard, Keenan Evans (bonus points) and, regrettably, Justin Jackson (negative points), among several others. This year, I have refined my approach by using the Projected Contributors tool at BartTorvik, aka free KenPom. Torvik’s site projects points, rebounds and assists for every player in college basketball, and I have included those projected totals below.

Ty Jerome is Poised for an Outstanding Season (USA Today Images)

  • Ty Jerome – Virginia. 12.2 PPG, 3.4 RPG. 4.8 APG. Tony Bennett has the defense, Kyle Guy has the man-bun, and DeAndre Hunter has the lottery pick talent. But do not forget about Ty Jerome among these Cavaliers. After minimal playing time as a freshman, he showed flashes of downright dominance in his sophomore tilt even while often deferring to Guy. He’s a 41 percent shooter from deep, a capable creator and logged a better assist to turnover rate last season than even the great London Perrantes did during his senior year. His 6’5” frame at the point of attack is also a necessary key to Virginia’s incredible defense, and he ended last year with the highest steal rate in the ACC (3.6%). He should take on even more responsibility this year, and if he continues on his current trajectory, he can become the best point guard in a loaded ACC (and one of the best nationally as well).
  • Sagaba Konate – West Virginia. 14.4 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.2 APG. Disclaimer: I am the official conductor of the Sagaba Konate Hype Train. Konate is an absolutely chiseled physical specimen who is the toughest dude on which any basketball court he steps. Quite simply, he’s the best rim protector in the country, but he’s also an elite rebounder. Last year he became the third major conference player in the last 15 years to log a block rate above 15 percent and a defensive rebounding rate above 20 percent (Kansas’ Jeff Withey and Mississippi State’s Jarvis Vernardo were the others). A big man usually must choose to either challenge a shot or corral it if it misses — Konate, somehow, is elite at both. On the offensive end, he improved from simply a putback artist who shot 56 percent at the line his freshman year into a legitimate post player who nailed 88 percent from the line in Big 12 play last year (second-best). After surprising scouts at last spring’s NBA Combine, Konate knows he needs a more refined offensive game to become a first round pick. Bet on him developing it and turning in an All-America season in Morgantown.

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Big 12 Previews: Texas Tech & Texas

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 25th, 2018

With games starting in less than two weeks now, we’re tipping off our 2018-19 Big 12 coverage by going around the league team-by-team. Be sure to check in throughout the season and follow Big 12 correspondent Brian Goodman on Twitter @BSGoodman.

Texas Tech

The Red Raiders were one of college basketball’s best stories last year, riding a deep and talented rotation to a 27-10 finish (11-7 Big 12) and the first Elite Eight appearance in program history. It’s still incredibly fun to think about what might have been had senior star Keenan Evans not been saddled with a broken toe down the stretch, but even so, this team was wildly successful in coming out of the woodwork to hang with Kansas for most of the conference season and make such a deep run in March. It also served to establish second-year head coach Chris Beard as one of the hottest names in coaching.

Jarrett Culver will take the keys from Keenan Evans in Lubbock. (Getty)

Who’s Gone:

  • G Keenan Evans: 17.6 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.5 SPG
  • F Zhaire Smith: 11.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.1 SPG
  • G Niem Stevenson: 7.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 39.2% 3FG
  • F Zach Smith: 6.2 PPG, 3.8 RPG
  • F Justin Gray: 5.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG
  • C Tommy Hamilton IV: 5.4 PPG, 2.9 RPG

Who’s Back:

  • G Jarrett Culver: 11.2 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 38.2% 3FG
  • G Brandone Francis: 5.1 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 38.4% 3FG
  • F Norense Odiase: 3.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG
  • F Davide Moretti: 3.5 PPG

Who’s Coming In:

  • G Matt Mooney (graduate transfer from South Dakota): 18.7 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.1 APG, 35.2% 3FG for South Dakota
  • C Tariq Owens (graduate transfer from St. John’s): 8.4 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 2.8 BPG for St. John’s
  • F Deshawn Corprew (JuCo transfer)
  • F Khevan Moore (four-star recruit)
  • G Kyler Edwards (three-star recruit)

Outlook: Beard may have lost his three of his best players from last season (Evans and Zhaire and Zach Smith), but there’s still a lot to like about this roster even if a league title is too much to ask. Jarrett Culver is a legitimate breakout candidate who is capable of scoring in a number of ways, and will be flanked by by floor-spacers in Matt Mooney, and Brandone Francis. Tariq Owens steps into the middle just one season removed from leading the Big East in blocked shots, and Deshawn Corprew’s rebounding ability on a 6’5” frame makes him an ideal small-ball four. A relative lack of depth is something the Red Raiders didn’t have to worry about in 2017-18, but it’s more likely to crop up this year. Still, expect this team to remain competitive. The Big 12 coaches somehow picked this group to finish seventh, but don’t make the same mistake.

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Friday Figures: Diving into the Big 12’s Freshmen Guards

Posted by Chris Stone on February 16th, 2018

Welcome back to Friday Figures, a weekly look at interesting and (occasionally) important statistical facts from the Big 12. This week, we’re diving into the big numbers surrounding some of the Big 12’s best freshmen guards.

Trae Young’s struggles aren’t Oklahoma’s only problem. (Photo Credit: Timothy J. Gonzelez, AP)

  • Trae Young’s struggles are real, but Oklahoma’s problems run deeper. By now, the Oklahoma freshman phenom’s recent troubles have been well-documented. Young has converted only one of his last 17 attempts from behind the arc, and 7-of-41 during the Sooners’ recent four-game losing streak. Dating back even further, the team has lost seven of its last nine games as its leading scorer has struggled to adjust to attention from quality opponents. Against KenPom’s Tier A group — the equivalent of games against the top 50 — Young is shooting just 33.1 percent from three-point range and his turnovers are up during conference play. Yet, it’s not clear if Oklahoma’s offense has any better options. With Young on the floor, the Sooners are still averaging 1.15 points per possession, per Hoop Lens — the equivalent of a top 20 offense. So what gives? It’s the defense. In Big 12 play, Oklahoma is conceding 110.1 points per 100 possessions, seventh in the league, per KenPom. There’s only so much the Sooners can do about opponents shooting 38.0 percent from three, but they rank dead last in tcreating turnovers with a lowly 14.5 percent turnover rate that would 347th nationally over the course of an entire season. While Young’s inefficiency has been a lightning rod for criticism, it’s arguably missing the bigger issue. Poor defense magnified by some bad three-point luck is swinging the pendulum against the Sooners.
  • Jarrett Culver’s emergence has been a boon for Texas Tech. At this point, everybody knows about the Red Raiders’ stifling defense but Culver’s development has turned them into a more well-rounded Final Four contender. Head coach Chris Beard inserted Culver into the starting lineup last month after a foot injury sidelined senior Zach Smith, but, since losing its first game without Smith, Tech has reeled off seven straight wins and taken sole possession of the top spot in the Big 12. Culver’s presence transforms the Red Raiders’ offense — they average 1.12 points per possession with him on the court compared to just 1.05 without him, per Hoop Lens. Culver has been Texas Tech’s most frequent three-point shooter this season, converting 38.4 percent of his chances and logging a sub-14.0 percent turnover rate. Once a sub-300 recruit nationally, Culver ascent has helped make the Red Raiders the favorite to win the Big 12 this season.

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With Kansas’ Home Dominance Narrowing, It’s Game on in the Big 12…

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 4th, 2018

Texas Tech‘s victory at Allen Fieldhouse earlier this week was big for a few reasons. First, it announced to the college basketball world that Chis Beard‘s Red Raiders have arrived; it also established that Kansas‘ home loss to Arizona State last month was not a fluke; and it opened up meaningful discussion that the Jayhawks’ dominion over the rest of the Big 12 will be tested in a way that it hasn’t in the 13-year history of The Streak (TM). Let’s start with the Jayhawks’ newfound vulnerability, particularly at home. Prior to this year, Lawrence has been nothing short of a fortress for Bill Self’s team. You have to go all the way back to the 1975-76 season to find the last time when Kansas dropped two games at Allen by January 2. That isn’t to say that the storied gym won’t be a significant home court advantage for the Jayhawks more often than not, but the level of mystique that once led Baylor head coach Scott Drew to hold his team’s pregame huddle in the tunnel isn’t quite there this season — as evidenced by the Sun Devils and Red Raiders hanging 1.18 and 1.21 points per possession on the team, respectively.

With multiple home losses already on its resume, Kansas’ generational streak of conference dominance will be tested unlike another year. (Jamie Squire/Getty)

Of course, much of that has to do with Kansas’ ongoing depth issues that are feeding into the team’s shortfalls on both ends of the court. Self’s teams have always been leaned on activity and movement, and no one knows that more than senior Devonte’ Graham, the only player the head coach truly trusts at point guard. Graham has played fewer than 36 minutes just once in the Jayhawks’ last eight outings and his wear and tear is beginning to show. The lack of depth is also apparent down low, where 280-pound center Udoka Azubuike is admirably but not always effectively playing through back pain. Kansas figures to get some help with Silvio De Sousa reportedly nearing NCAA clearance and the Billy Preston investigation potentially ending soon, but as we noted last month, any reinforcements the team receives will only help but so much. This is still a top-notch offensive unit, but sustaining that level of performance will be dependent on diversifying an attack beyond three-pointers and lobs, which in turn will rely on keeping the current personnel healthy and fresh, mixed in with the occasional drive instead of a rushed jumper.

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