Rushed Reactions: West Virginia 66, Texas Tech 63

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 10th, 2018

RTC’s Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) is providing on-site coverage of the Big 12 Tournament.

Three Key Takeaways.

Daxter Miles Gets a Third Shot This Season at Kansas (USA Today Images)

  1. Not Your In-Laws’ Mountaineers. West Virginia’s trademark press didn’t generate the same results as usual, as the Red Raiders turned the ball over on just 15.6 percent of their possessions Friday night. On most nights, that would cause trouble for the Mountaineers since they have such a hard time scoring in Bob Huggins‘ motion offense, but they scored an even 1.00 points per possession in the winning effort. After the game, Huggins acknowledged that the grind of the conference tournament environment led him to pull back the reins, but the adjustment clearly worked. The Mountaineers actually relinquished their Big 12 defensive turnover percentage crown to Kansas State this season as conference opponents have grown accustomed to West Virginia’s brand of havoc; while it would be silly to expect the Mountaineers to completely abandon their hallmark defensive style, their ability to create offense without relying as heavily on turnovers is a positive sign moving forward.
  2. Texas Tech’s offense regresses. Chris Beard‘s team appeared to find its footing over the back half of conference play, as it entered Friday night’s game having scored at least 1.09 points per possession in its previous five outings. West Virginia, however, made frontcourt offense a struggle for the most surprising team in the Big 12. Keenan Evans and Tommy Hamilton IV were the only players who were able to get into any semblance of rhythm, and even then, it was fleeting; Evans uncharacteristically — and unsuccessfully — played hero ball on the game’s decisive possession, and the half-court heave on the next trip looked good out of his hand but rimmed out at the buzzer. Credit is also due to the Mountaineers’ interior defense, as Sagaba KonateEsa Ahmad and Wesley Harris frequently met the Red Raiders at the rim and emerged victorious more often than not.
  3. Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles are looking to go out with a bang. It’s strange knowing that Carter and Miles have just one more game left at the Sprint Center, and on Friday night the senior duo made sure to leave an imprint, combining for 39 points and an atypically hot 9-of-16 clip from distance. The Mountaineers were unusually competent in the half-court, and their leaders needed to be as they didn’t get very much help from their supporting cast.

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Big 12 Superlatives

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 5th, 2018

That was a fun regular season. Kansas won the Big 12 as predicted by, well, anyone with a pulse, but the level of drama surrounding the crown was more substantial than in any year I can remember following the league. After being picked to finish seventh in the conference standings, Texas Tech matched the Jayhawks blow for blow for the first six weeks of league play before spinning out to close the regular season. Even West Virginia, which fell out of the race earlier than anticipated, recovered nicely from its late January slide. Trae Young and Oklahoma completely lost its arc after getting tabbed as a #4 seed in the early bracket reveal, and the bottom half of the Big 12 proved why this was the best conference season by any league since such things have been measured. The fact that only 4-14 Iowa State has no hope of making the NCAA Tournament with Selection Sunday only six days away is something the conference should be very happy about.

Devonte’ Graham put Kansas on his back to lead the Jayhawks in 2017-18. (Ed Zurga/Getty)

All Big-12 Team

  • Devonte’ Graham, Kansas
  • Trae Young, Oklahoma
  • Jevon Carter, West Virginia
  • Keenan Evans, Texas Tech
  • Dean Wade, Kansas State

The coaches made the right call with their picks, but let’s be serious — this was impossible to mess up. You could have made an argument for Texas’ Mohamed Bamba over Wade up until mid-February, but the Kansas State big man was so terrific down the stretch that Bamba would’ve been hard-pressed to make up the gap even had he not missed his last two games. More on Wade in a bit.

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Friday Figures: Big 12 Senior Night Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on March 2nd, 2018

Welcome to the final Friday Figures of the regular season. With senior nights abounding around the Big 12, this week we’re showing some love to a few of the league’s most talented and/or under-appreciated old guys.

  • Kenrich Williams is TCU’s do-it-all glue guy. Only eight players in the last 25 years have averaged 13.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game over the course of a season. One of that group is Williams. Several players on the list — Ben Simmons, Evan Turner and Royce White, for example — were future pros. Williams is also one of only three players in that group to attempt more than three three-pointers per game and is the only one to make better than 40.0 percent of them. On the other end, he is a terrific and multi-positional defender who averages nearly two steals per contest. A former junior college player who joined the Horned Frogs for his sophomore season, Williams has developed into one of the most versatile players in the Big 12.

Kenrich Williams is one of the Big 12’s top seniors. (Photo credit: Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman)

  • Khadeem Lattin is the league’s overlooked defensive anchor. Lattin, a three-year starter for the Sooners, can get lost in the mass of impressive rim-protectors in the Big 12. However, the senior center is perhaps the most influential piece of his team’s defense. Individually, Lattin has the third-highest block rate among qualified players in the conference at 9.5 percent and second highest steal rate (3.3 percent), per KenPom. Both of those translate into a more effective team defense for Oklahoma. The Sooners concede seven points per 100 possessions fewer with Lattin on the floor, per Hoop Lens, as opponents commit significantly more turnovers and shoot just 47.5 percent inside the arc — five points lower than with him on the bench. Obviously Oklahoma’s overall team defense has been a disappointment this season — it ranks outside of the top 100 in adjusted efficiency — but Lattin deserves no blame for those struggles. Instead, he gets a bit of praise.

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Take Me Home, Country Woes…

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 1st, 2018

Who knew that John Denver could predict the future? Fine, so West Virginia basketball probably wasn’t on the forefront of the late country star’s mind when he wrote his 1971 hit, but the title nonetheless aptly sums up the Mountaineers’ January performance. Bob Huggins‘ team had an absolutely dreadful month, illustrated by a 1-3 mark away from WVU Coliseum and punctuated by last night’s 93-77 defeat to eighth-place Iowa State — a loss as surprising as it was debilitating for West Virginia’s regular season Big 12 title chances. Throw in a second second-half meltdown against Kansas in as many years, and just like that, the team’s hopes of giving the conference a new champion for the first time in 14 years are dead and buried.

A 1-5 skid has Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers searching for answers. (Richard W. Rodriguez/AP)

We can point to a few factors when diagnosing the current skid. The first is a smattering of blown second-half leads. The Mountaineers held such advantages in their games against Texas Tech, Kansas and Kentucky, but let all three opponents overtake them and grab hold of the victory. On one hand, the abundance of high-quality competition in the Big 12 means that top teams aren’t fazed by their peers in any location, but on the other hand, perhaps the biggest distinction between the program that has a seemingly generational lock on the conference title and those that do not is a keen ability to close games out. A dip in effectiveness in West Virginia’s vaunted press has also betrayed the team, as the Mountaineers’ last six opponents have each posted turnover rates below the season-average 25.4 percent clip. As we saw against Kansas, when West Virginia’s opponents avoid mistakes, not only does their shot volume increase but the Mountaineers fail to score in transition. This correspondingly forces them to rely on their half-court offense, which has never been a particular strength.

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Can West Virginia Keep It Together?

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 9th, 2018

For a touch over three years now, West Virginia has experienced consistent success playing one of the country’s most unmistakable brands of basketball. Lest you call the Mountaineers’ pressing style a gimmick, they’re 93-29 over a period that includes two Sweet Sixteen runs, a Big 12 Tournament crown and one other finals appearance. But just like every Big 12 team other than Kansas, a regular season title has eluded Bob Huggins. The ‘Eers have been right in the thick of the race over the last two seasons, finishing second in both, but while banking on the Jayhawks to cede the regular season league title remains a sucker’s bet, West Virginia absolutely has the pieces on hand to finish the job in 2018.

Jevon Carter (left) doesn’t care how quickly Trae Young is rising up the draft boards.
(Ben Queen/USA TODAY Sports)

Though their competition in the run-up to league play was not great, the Mountaineers are nonetheless are off to a 14-1 start with zero losses since Opening Night. Their resume includes an early December win over Virginia that has only escalated in value, and a victory over Oklahoma that doubled as a reminder that Trae Young — as talented and electrifying as he is — is also a human who occasionally has to share a court with the one-man defensive juggernaut that is Jevon Carter. As the unrelenting heartbeat of the Mountaineers, Carter has continued to improve despite the consensus that he first played for Huggins in the old Big East. As good as Carter already was — the senior guard was an All-Big 12 Second Team selection last season — he’s improved his game on both ends, increasing his steal rate, assist rate, ability to draw contact and free throw proficiency. Additionally, in a system that relies on non-stop activity, depth and fresh legs, Miles has played 83 percent of the available minutes during the young conference season.

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ACC Weekend Preview: December 8-10 Edition

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 8th, 2017

It is expected to be a relatively quiet weekend in the ACC, but don’t miss the first conference game of the season and a couple more sneaky good matchups (all ratings are via KenPom and statistics are through the games of December 7).

Saturday, December 9

Duke is All Smiles Entering ACC Play at #1 (USA Today Images)

  • Duke (#5) at Boston College (#95). Look, a real live ACC game in early December! Boston College figures to finish near the bottom of the ACC once again this season, but that should not take away from the fact that the Eagles are much improved. A big part of the reason for that improvement was Illinois State graduate transfer Deontae Hawkins, who had gotten off to a terrific start prior to an untimely right knee injury that ended his season. That, once again, leaves the Eagles dangerously thin in the frontcourt and therefore exceptionally vulnerable against all the size of Duke. Speaking of which, Marvin Bagley III has been sensational but not enough has been said about his fellow freshman Wendell Carter. Carter has been nearly as efficient in scoring as Bagley (63.5% eFG to Bagley’s 63.8%) and is a slightly better rebounder (23.6% to 23.5% DRB; 14.4% to 13.9% ORB) to this point. Having two big men playing at such a high level of productivity gives Mike Krzyzewski several options and helps protect Duke if either gets into foul trouble. Without Hawkins available, Jim Christian’s team simply may not have enough bodies up front to pull off what would be a season-defining upset.

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Big 12 Burning Questions: West Virginia Mountaineers

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 9th, 2017

This preview is part of RTC’s Big 12 2017-18 preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Could Esa Ahmad’s lengthy suspension be a blessing in disguise?

One of the benefits of “Press Virginia” is that it’s difficult for the loss of any single player to cause the team to implode. There’s nothing that epitomizes “next man up” quite like having 10 players available who averaged at least 10 minutes per game as the Mountaineers had in 2017, so even if Bob Huggins‘ team drops a few non-conference games in the first half of this season while junior Esa Ahmad is sidelined with an eligibility suspension, the Mountaineers should be alright. But let’s take it one step further. While West Virginia would obviously prefer to have its second-leading scorer available to face the likes of Texas A&M and Virginia, it’s easy to envision a scenario where the Mountaineers ultimately benefit from his absence, as it gives the team a chance to develop a frontcourt that also lost stalwarts Nathan Adrian, Elijah Macon and Brandon Watkins.

West Virginia will search for depth while big man Esa Ahmad starts the season on the bench. (Kelsie LeRose/BGS)

Sophomore Sagaba Konate is a strong bet to start in Ahmad’s absence. The Mali native had a raw freshman season, but gained Huggins’ trust as the season played out, averaging 12.2 minutes per game in Big 12 play. The temperamental head coach even praised Konate’s improvement at Big 12 Media Day last month, noting that the big man has started to flash some range. Expect to also see more time from sophomores Maciej Bender and Logan Routt, though they are bigger mysteries. The pair combined to play just 179 minutes last season, with most of those minutes going to Bender. Aside from Konate, the Mountaineers’ most experienced big man wasn’t even on the roster a year ago. Assistant coach Ronnie Everhart is high on 6’8″ JuCo transfer Wesley Harris, a lefty who offers enough size and agility to play the four in West Virginia’s breakneck system. Harris has reportedly played well in practice and should be ready to become a key contributor both during and after Ahmad’s suspension. Lamont West will play on the wing and be counted on to stem the tide in the meantime.

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 8th, 2017

With the season tipping off on Friday, there’s no better time to roll out our 2017-18 RTC Preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of 10 writers provided their ballots over the last week and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

  • Jalen Brunson, Villanova – There are few things more daunting in college basketball than a talented team with a heady, veteran playmaker at the point guard position. Brunson certainly fits that bill, as he enters the season with great expectations following a sophomore campaign where the point guard earned unanimous all-Big East honors while averaging 14.7 points and 4.1 assists per game. Villanova is the preseason favorite to win the Big East title — and if that prediction comes true, it will be Brunson’s third in three years running the show for Jay Wright’s squad. Factoid: Many players with Brunson’s pedigree would at least test the NBA Draft waters either after their freshman or sophomore seasons, but Brunson is different, stating, “The NBA is not going anywhere. I can wait. I can still get better. I can still get my degree. That’s the approach I had. I talked it over with my parents, and they’re just 100 percent fully supporting me. So that’s where I am.”
  • Allonzo Trier, Arizona – Arizona experienced some offcourt drama late in the offseason when longtime assistant Book Richardson was arrested by the FBI on charges of bribery, corruption, conspiracy, and fraud stemming from improper conduct on the recruiting trail. That news figures to overshadow much of Arizona’s early season — which is a real shame, as the Wildcats are projected to be among the nation’s best teams. A major reason for that is the return of Trier for his junior year. The talented wing returned from a 19-game performance enhancing drug suspension during his sophomore season to lead the Wildcats to the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles. Many were surprised when Trier opted to return to Tucson in lieu of entering the NBA Draft, but he has acknowledged that last season’s suspension definitely factored in his decision to come back to school. Factoid: Trier was the subject of a New York Times Magazine feature when he was in sixth grade that highlighted his precocious basketball ability at a young age with an introduction to the AAU scene.
  • Michael Porter Jr., Missouri – A coaching change can often make a massive difference in a program’s fortunes. That was definitely the case with Missouri when the Tigers fired Kim Anderson in March after an underwhelming tenure and replaced him with Cal’s Cuonzo Martin, a coach who has long enjoyed a sterling reputation for his ability to recruit at a high level. Martin hiring paid off almost immediately when he secured the services of Porter, who was listed by 247Sports as the third-best player in the Class of 2017. The 6’10” forward will provide Missouri with scoring on the wing and has the versatility to defend a variety of positions. The Tigers are projected as one of the most improved teams in the country — and with Porter now in the fold, it will be intriguing to see just how far they can advance in the postseason. Factoid: It is a family affair for the Porters in Columbia this year, as Michael Porter, Sr. is an assistant coach, Jontay Porter reclassified to play with his brother, sisters Bri and Cierra Porter play for the women’s team, and aunt Robin Pingeton is the head coach of that women’s team.
  • Miles Bridges, Michigan State – Michigan State was the recipient of one of the best offseason surprises when the sure-fire lottery pick Bridges decided to return to East Lansing for his sophomore year. Once the national shock of the decision wore off, it became clear the Spartans would be one of the teams to beat in college basketball this season. Bridges will look to build on a terrific freshman year where he averaged 16.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. With a strong supporting cast in tow and uncertainty with many teams in the Big Ten, the star sophomore should lead the Spartans to a prosperous season on both the conference and national landscapes. Factoid: Like most of us, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo assumed Bridges would be a one-and-done player, going so far as to joke about how Bridges will have to carry bags this year as an NBA rookie. In response, Bridges may have hinted at his ultimate decision by questioning, “Coach, why you always trying to get rid of me?”
  • Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame – It is not a stretch for anyone to reference Colson as the most unique player in college basketball. After a turn as a significant role player on Notre Dame’s Elite Eight teams in 2015 and 2016, Colson became The Man in South Bend during his junior season. Standing at just 6’6″, Colson was the only ACC player last year to average a double-double — 17.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. Notre Dame currently finds itself in one of the most successful stretches the program has ever had, and with the talented and experienced Colson as its go-to guy, look for the Irish to continue that run this season. Factoid: Throughout Colson’s career, he has stayed true to two beliefs: play hungry and stay humble. The ACC Preseason Player of the Year vows that will not change as he enters his senior season as one of the country’s top players.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Gonzaga 61, #4 West Virginia 58

Posted by rtmsf on March 23rd, 2017

RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament for the next three weeks.

Gonzaga Survives and Advances (USA Today Images)

Key Takeaways.

  1. The Abominable Mountaineers. West Virginia got the game it wanted. A foul-filled first half full of ugly was followed by more of the same in the second half, ultimately resulting in a gnarly 61-58 abomination of a win by Gonzaga that came down to struggling offense as a result of gritty defense. This game notched a total of 51 fouls, 61 free throws, 29 turnovers and only nine made threes, but it was a bomb by Jordan Mathews from the left wing who provided a glimmer of beauty in a visual disaster. And although Gonzaga clearly did not prefer to play such a physical, rough-and-tumble style, credit goes to the Zags for beating West Virginia at its own game to advance to the Elite Eight.
  2. And It Came Down to Defense. Everyone knows about West Virginia’s pressure defense, and it was certainly a factor tonight — the Zags committed 16 turnovers that included a period in the late second half when it appeared the wheels might be completely coming off. But it was the less-heralded Gonzaga defense that held West Virginia to a moribund 27 percent from the field and 21 percent from three-point range, allowing Mark Few’s team just enough wiggle room to suffer a horrid offensive night and still come away with the win. As Huggins alluded to after the game, there simply weren’t many open looks for his team tonight.
  3. That Final Play Though. The final play of the game — which was really three offensive plays in one — resulted in West Virginia’s Jevon Carter dribbling 22 times (!!!) in an effort to isolate and create space for a pair of long not-close threes. When the Mountaineers grabbed the offensive rebound both times, the ball ended up in his hands again. His final attempt, which Gonzaga had by this point completely sniffed out and covered well beyond the top of the key, resulted in what would have been a blocked shot but ended up being a bailout pass to the wing and no shot at all. It was a disastrous end to a disastrous game, but it felt completely appropriate given all the nastiness that had been displayed over the previous 39+ minutes.

Star of the Game. Jordan Mathews, Gonzaga. In a game where points were at a premium, the most insane play of the game occurred after West Virginia had missed two free throws, Gonzaga corralled the rebound, only to have the ball stolen and a layup attempt blocked (possibly fouled?) and the Zags moving back upcourt. After a tipped 40-foot pass from the right sideline to Mathews standing on the left wing, his three-pointer broke a deadlocked game and allowed the Zags to put together their final stand. Mathews only logged 13 points on 4-of-12 shooting from the field, but his shot will go down in Gonzaga lore in a game that surely felt like it was slipping away.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 West Virginia 83, #5 Notre Dame 71

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 18th, 2017

West Virginia relied on timely shooting and aggressive defense (per usual) to reach its second Sweet Sixteen in the last three years.

West Virginia is headed to San Jose next week. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. No one is immune to Press Virginia. Notre Dame entered Saturday with the best offensive turnover rate in the country, a testament to its stable of seasoned ball-handlers and deliberate approach. Faced with West Virginia’s relentless, bruising defensive pressure, though, the Irish struggled just as so many of the Mountaineers’ opponents have this season. Mike Brey’s veteran club suffered 10 turnovers in the first half alone, unable to find any offensive rhythm and surrendering easy baskets on the other end. West Virginia — which forces turnovers at a higher rate than any other team in college hoops — jumped out to a 10-0 lead to start the game and never really looked back.
  2. The Mountaineers’ offense was pretty great, too. Much of the conversation surrounding West Virginia focuses on its defense, and deservedly so. But if it was defense that gave the Mountaineers’ an initial edge on Saturday, it was the offense that ultimately carried them home. Bob Huggins’ group shot 50 percent from the field, including 8-of-14 from behind the arc and 21-of-26 at the free throw line. Especially great was West Virginia’s interior passing, which enabled Esa Ahmad (11 points), Elijah Macon (11 points), Daxter Miles (18 points), and others to routinely find easy looks at the rim. Oh, and the timely three-point shooting helped — especially from Jevon Carter (4-of-5 3FG), who drilled a clutch triple with 2:30 remaining that helped stick a fork in Notre Dame.
  3. Bonzie Colson was every bit as good as you’d expect. While Notre Dame lost, it wasn’t because Colson didn’t hold his own. The uniquely-built 6’5″ forward scored 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting, including 4-of-5 shooting from long range along with eight rebounds. Despite picking up his fourth foul with about nine minutes left in the game, Colson remained effective on the offensive end, enabling the Irish to hang around despite facing a superior opponent. Silver lining for Notre Dame fans? The big man is only a junior, and should enter 2017-18 as a front-runner for ACC Player of the Year.

Player of the Game. Jevon Carter, West Virginia (24 points, 4-of5 3FG). For as outstanding as Colson was, Carter make the biggest difference in this game. The 6’2″ junior, known for his tenacious defense and quick hands (2.6. SPG), knocked down big shot after big shot on Saturday, including a long three-pointer from straight-on midway through the second half and that dagger triple with a few minutes remaining. He couldn’t have picked a better time to match his season-high point total.

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