Kansas Remains a Contender Even Without Udoka Azubuike

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 22nd, 2016

Kansas‘ transition to small-ball this season was a product of three primary factors: 1) the Jayhawks’ surplus of quality shooters and ball-handlers; 2) Josh Jackson‘s versatility; 3) a collection of big men who each brought something different to the table but none of whom possesses a well-rounded game. The Jayhawks have been getting by inside with centers Landen Lucas and Udoka Azubuike sharing the workload, but while a season-ending wrist injury to the freshman Azubuike is a clear setback, it doesn’t dispel Kansas’ status as a legitimate national title contender.

Kansas will miss Udoka Azubuike, but the Jayhawks' championship aspirations remain intact. (Michael Reaves/Getty)

Kansas will miss Udoka Azubuike, but the Jayhawks’ championship aspirations remain intact. (Michael Reaves/Getty)

For all of Azubuike’s upside as a five-star recruit with an NBA-ready body, he’ll end this season averaging a fairly modest 5.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in just under 13 minutes per game. That’s not to say that he’s been a disappointment in his first season, or that Kansas won’t drop a game or two that it otherwise wouldn’t have, but it is to say that a team as talented and efficient as Kansas can replace his level of production. Recall that in the preseason, Azubuike wasn’t projected to play a major role this season, but it didn’t stop many in the national media from tabbing the Jayhawks to win the national title. Yes, Azubuike miss out on chances to develop in the throes of Big 12 play, and his presence in the pain will be missed against bigger teams like Baylor and West Virginia, but his rawness also made him prone to turnovers (26.6% TO), fouls (8.7 fouls per 40 minutes) and struggles at the stripe (38% FT).

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Big 12 Freshmen Update: The Names You Know & The Names You Should

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 2nd, 2016

Last season was like a dream for the Big 12, as junior and senior-laden teams produced some of the best basketball the conference has seen in its 20-year history. Seven teams made the NCAA Tournament, and unlike years past, multiple members other than Kansas made it to the second weekend and beyond. With much of that experience from those teams now gone, many Big 12 teams are looking to their freshmen to lead this season. There are a few schools with freshmen who did not make the cut for several reasons. Those particular teams either did not have compelling enough freshmen just yet (i.e., Baylor and West Virginia), have good contributors who haven’t played in every game (i.e., Iowa State’s Solomon Young) or don’t have any scholarship freshmen at all (Texas Tech). Let’s take a look at the top eight freshmen in the league to this point in the season.

I doubt a better picture of KU super freshman Josh Jackson in the known universe. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

I doubt a better photo of KU super freshman Josh Jackson exists in the known universe. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

  • Jarrett Allen, center, Texas (10.5 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.3 BPG in 29.7 MPG): Allen being on this list is both a blessing and a curse. The Round Rock, Texas, native currently ranks first in rebounds and blocked shots on the team and is third in scoring. However, Allen has to this point logged better field goal shooting (52.2%) than he has at the charity stripe (51.7%). Still, the season is young and this freshman is a rising star for the Longhorns.
  • Udoka Azubuike, center, Kansas (5.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.3 BPG in 13.7 MPG): Azubuike is the latest in Bill Self’s successful recruit-17-year-old-basketball-prodigies program. His measurements — an energetic 6’11” big man with a 7’5″ wingspan — are what get NBA scouts excited, but it is clear that the freshman has some game. Self clearly is buying in, given that Azubuike has started each of Kansas’ last two games. Prepare for more impressive numbers from this precocious big man after we ring in the New Year.

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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 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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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 10th, 2016

With the season tipping off on Friday, there’s no better time to roll out our the 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 seven national columnists provided ballots over the last week and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

1stteam

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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 »
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Big 12 Morning Five: 05.06.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on May 6th, 2016

morning5_big12

  1. The coaching carousel is essentially finished for the offseason, but it may not be long before we see movement of a bigger variety with expansion “likely” coming to the Big 12, per ESPN’s Matt Rittenberg. While the potential move would be football-driven — like most realignment shake-ups — it obviously would impact basketball as well, no matter who the Big 12 plucks. There are a handful of reasonable candidates for expansion (well, reasonable as far as realignment goes), but Cincinnati is particularly appealing and realistic for a few reasons, all of which make sense: Most importantly, they would instantly bring (what would be) the second-biggest TV market in the conference. The Bearcats also offer an underrated football program and, as we all know, a consistently strong hoops team. Lower on the list, their inclusion would provide a less taxing travel partner for West Virginia, which is 850 miles away from its closest Big 12 opponent, Iowa State. Cincinnati’s administration has been lobbying the Big 12 for inclusion over the past two years, and while that may not make them automatic, that familiarity certainly can’t hurt from either side. We’ll continue to keep an eye on any developments, but after a few years of rumblings, this summer could be the one where the talk finally leads to action.
  2. While there was never any reason to think that Josh Jackson would back out of his commitment to Kansas, the blue-chipper officially inked with the Jayhawks earlier this week, which means that Bill Self was allowed to talk publicly about him for the first time, and those first comments were pretty interesting. Among Self’s praises for the wing was the remark that “his (Jackson’s) impact on our program next year will be as much as any freshman will have on any college program.” While it’s traditional for coaches to talk up their newcomers, that particular comment sure sets a high bar when you consider how strong and deep the 2016 class is purported to be. Self went on to praise Jackson’s competitive nature, which is also worth pointing out in this space. One of themes of Kansas’ recent teams has been the lack of a vocal leader capable of igniting something within his more stoic teammates, so the degree to which that part of Jackson’s game translates in a much tougher environment will definitely be worth monitoring as the coming season wears on.
  3. Jamie Dixon‘s key challenge at TCU is finding prospects who are willing to spurn better programs in favor of one that has struggled mightily to achieve any semblance of success or build more than a passing following, but his first commitment in Fort Worth signifies that he’s up to the task. On Wednesday, the Horned Frogs secured the commitment of 2016 point guard prospect Jaylen Fisher, a former UNLV commit. The Running Rebels’ coaching shake-up led Fisher to reopen his recruitment, and he stayed loyal to his lead recruiter, former UNLV assistant Ryan Miller, who left Vegas to join Dixon’s staff. Perhaps more importantly, though, Fisher is a consensus top-75 recruit, which makes him TCU’s highest-ranking prospect in ages, crazy as that may sound. While the Horned Frogs will return most of their roster from last season, it’s also a roster that went 12-21, so Fisher will have a chance to make an impact from the get-go. It’s clear that Dixon is wasting no time in adding the level of talent that can change TCU’s fortunes in arguably the nation’s best conference.
  4. While there are still some players to be had through both the 2016 high school class and through transfer, the biggest Big 12 prospect still on the board is Jarrett Allen. The Longhorns are currently counting on rising senior Shaquille Cleare and freshman James Banks to fill the void left by the departures of Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh, which isn’t a great starting point. Cleare scored just 3.6 PPG last season as he struggled with conditioning and foul trouble, and while Banks may pan out eventually, he’s no guarantee to make an immediate impact. A commitment from Allen wouldn’t make Texas a top-ten team, but it would give Shaka Smart a little less to worry about as he looks to replace the Longhorns’ top three scorers, top three rebounders and top two shot blockers.
  5. Staying with the Longhorns, plans are reportedly being made for a December 17 match-up in Houston pitting Texas against Arkansas as part of a neutral court doubleheader. The Longhorns may be in rebuilding mode next year, but the Razorbacks will be a work in progress as well. Mike Anderson’s team is coming off a disappointing 2016 campaign that saw them go 16-16 and finish in a tie for eighth place in the SEC before losing its top freshman, Jimmy Whitt, to transfer. It won’t be the most intriguing match-up on paper regardless of what happens between now and then, but it’s early May; We’ll take whatever we can get.
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Big Ten Key Offseason Questions: Part IV

Posted by Patrick Engel on April 11th, 2016

In three parts over the last week, we’ve examined a key offseason question for 10 of the 14 Big Ten teams. Part I reviewed Rutgers, Minnesota and Illinois; Part II featured Nebraska, Penn State and Northwestern; Part III examined Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa. The fourth and final part today examines the Big Ten’s top four teams from this season: Purdue, Maryland, Michigan State and Indiana. (Note: Scout.com used for all player and class ranks).

Purdue (26-9, 12-6 Big Ten)

Dakota Mathias (31) needs to be a productive three-point shooter again for Purdue. (Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar)

Dakota Mathias (#31) needs to be a productive three-point shooter again for Purdue. (Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar)

Can Purdue find consistent offensive production from its guards?

The Boilermakers this season possessed one of the most productive frontcourts but one of the least productive backcourts in college basketball. P.J. Thompson boasted a 4.8-to-1 assist-turnover ratio, but the group of Dakota Mathias, Ryan Cline and Kendall Stephens (if he returns) and himself are mainly three-point shooters, none of whom attempted more than 16 percent of his shots at the rim. This group of guards shouldn’t experience much turnover outside of senior Raphael Davis and possibly Stephens, if he transfers, meaning that freshman point guard Carsen Edwards should have every chance to become the starter from day one next year. He’s not very big (5’11”, 175 pounds), but he’s aggressive, mature and a good passer. If he can play well enough to earn major minutes, he’ll mitigate one of Purdue’s clear weaknesses. Matt Painter’s frontcourt should again be a strength, assuming Vince Edwards and Caleb Swanigan return to complement Isaac Haas, whose touches should increase substantially. This team’s Big Ten ceiling, though, might depend on the readiness of its lone freshman.

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