Big 12 Wrap-Up and Early 2018-19 Outlook

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 10th, 2018

Despite Villanova beating three Big 12 teams in decisive fashion on its way to the national title, the 2017-18 campaign was another strong one for the league. Here are some takeaways from the year that was and a handful of early thoughts on the main storylines as summer draws near.

Kansas was no match for Villanova’s three-point barrage, but the Big 12 still enjoyed a successful postseason. (Bob Donnan/USA Today)

  • The league began the process of rehabilitating its March reputation. After some disappointing results in the last few NCAA Tournaments, the Big 12 took a step forward this year in sending four teams to the Sweet Sixteen, three teams to the Elite Eight and one to the Final Four. Perhaps most notable was Kansas State‘s head-turning voyage to the Elite Eight, which put Bruce Weber on steadier ground from a job security perspective entering next season. We also watched Texas Tech break into the second weekend with star guard Keenan Evans playing on a broken toe, and West Virginia gave Villanova the toughest game of the Wildcats’ championship run. The league’s national perception won’t change significantly until a team other than Kansas makes the Final Four, but Villanova’s victory over the Jayhawks became easier to swallow when they cut down the nets last Monday night in San Antonio. All told, the conference logged one of its best postseason runs in recent years.
  • What will Kansas do with its last scholarship? When the buzzer sounded on their national semifinal loss to Villanova, the Jayhawks were already one over the scholarship limit for the 2018-19 season. That potential dilemma, however, worked itself out when Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick both opted to forgo their remaining eligibility and pursue professional careers. With one scholarship now available, fans can expect Kansas to ramp up its pursuit of five-star wing Romeo Langford to round out its roster, but the Jayhawks will likely be the preseason #1 team in the country regardless of what happens on that front. If Langford signs elsewhere, Kansas could scour the graduate transfer market for some outside shooting to pick up some of the slack left by Newman and Vick as well as the graduations of Svi Mykhailiuk and Devonte’ Graham. In that light, bringing in a proven three-point threat from the existing market seems to make good sense unless Udoka Azubuike surprises the college basketball world by declaring and staying in the 2018 NBA Draft.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Loyola-Chicago 78, #9 Kansas State 62

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 24th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Atlanta for the South Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Loyola drove past Kansas State and is going to its first Final Four in 55 years.
(Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. This South Regional bracket may have been the wackiest quadrant in NCAA Tournament history. This year’s South Region has produced some historic results: the first #16 Seed (UMBC) beating a #1 Seed (Virginia); the first Sweet Sixteen without any top four seeds; lower-seeded teams winning more than 50 percent of the time (9-6). So it’s fitting that not only did we have the first regional final between a #9 seed and a #11 seed, but the mid-major Ramblers run Kansas State out of the building just like UMBC had done to top-rated Virginia a little over a week ago. Loyola was clearly the better team from the start, shooting 55.6 percent from the floor en route to a 12-point halftime lead. It was more of the same after intermission as Loyola sank 10 of its first 12 shots to build an insurmountable 23-point lead. The Wildcats made a gutsy comeback attempt but could no closer than 11 points the rest of the way as Loyola cruised to its first regional title in over 50 years. The Ramblers simply shredded the Wildcats’ defense — something that no other K-State opponent had been able to do in the tournament.
  2. All the standard cliches apply to this Loyola team. (1) “They are a very balanced team.” On the season, five Ramblers average double-figure scoring, but none comes in above 13.5 points per contest. (2) “Experience matters.” Among the top six in Porter Moser’s rotation, five are in their fourth year of college — three seniors, two redshirt-junior transfers. (3) “They have a winning mentality.” According to Moser, seven of his current players won state championships during their high school days. All three of these applicable cliches are represented by the fact that three different Ramblers nailed game-clinching jumpers in their first three tourney games — Donte Ingram (versus Miami), Clayton Custer (Tennessee) and Marques Townes (Nevada). No last-minute heroics were necessary tonight, though, as the confident Ramblers put together their most complete performance of the NCAA Tournament with a trip to the Final Four as a result.
  3. Kansas State’s Barry Brown is a tremendous defender. Brown is probably the most versatile shut-down perimeter defender we’ve seen in the NCAA Tournament since Butler’s Ronald Nored handcuffed opposing guards during the Bulldogs’ back-to-back trips to the title game in 2010 and 2011. In the first two rounds of this year’s tourney, Brown stymied Creighton’s Marcus Foster (5 points, 2-11 FG), and Jairus Lyles (12 points, 4-15 FG) of UMBC. Coming into the Sweet Sixteen, Kentucky’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was on fire, but Brown effectively doused his flames — Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 15 points, but only shot 2-of-10 from the field and committed five turnovers. And when three of his teammates fouled out late in that game, Brown (6’3″) moved over to check 6’9″ Kevin Knox and more than held his own. Tonight Brown guarded Custer for most of the night, holding the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year to just seven points and 2-of-8 shooting from the floor. But it didn’t really matter against the balanced Ramblers — others stepped up for Loyola and Brown couldn’t guard but one of them at a time.

Player of the Game. Ben Richardson, Loyola-Chicago. As we mentioned above, Loyola gets production from a number of different players with new guys stepping up game to game. Tonight it was the Richardson show from start to finish. Primarily known as a defensive stopper, the senior exploded for a career-high 23 points behind a blistering 6-of-7 from three-point land.

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Kansas State 61, #5 Kentucky 58

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 22nd, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Atlanta for the South Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Xavier Sneed led Kansas State in its upset over Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen.
(Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. The South Region delivers again. Kentucky was a heavy favorite in Atlanta and had heavy crowd support throughout the game, but the Wildcats were in trouble most of the way tonight. Kansas State exploded for an early 13-1 lead and took a four-point lead into the break. Then when it looked like Kentucky would blow past them midway through the second half, Kansas State spurted back ahead by nine. But to Kentucky’s credit, John Calipari’s youngsters kept fighting and clawed their way back yet again. The final push led to a riveting game-ending few minutes, with the lead going back and forth between Wildcats. With under 20 seconds to go and the score tied, Barry Brown made a clutch driving layup to put Kansas State ahead by three, but the game wasn’t decided until Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s three clanged off the back iron at the buzzer. That leaves us with the most improbable Elite Eight matchup we could ever imagine, which is par for the course in this year’s South Region.  
  2. Kansas State is a really good defensive team. It’s not a coincidence that every team that plays the Wildcats struggles on the offensive end of the floor. Kentucky came into tonight’s contest averaging 86.5 points per game in the NCAA Tournament, but the Wildcats couldn’t crack the 60-point mark against Bruce Weber‘s defense. For the game, Kentucky shot just 38.1 percent from the floor and went 3-of-12 from three-point land. The Wildcats in purple were giving up almost four inches per man against Kentucky, however, and it took its toll in the form of foul trouble. Three Kansas State players fouled out and two others finished with four violations, but the tough-minded Big 12 Wildcats hung on to win.
  3. Kentucky’s youth finally caught up with them. Against a physically inferior squad, the Wildcats wearing white made too many mistakes to beat a Kansas State bunch intent on not giving in. In the key moments down the stretch of this game, Kentucky may have felt the pressure of being the favorite — missing free throws (23-of-37 in the game), committing ball-handling mistakes (15 turnovers) and taking a number of questionable shots. Kentucky had been playing great over the last month of the season, but they looked young in the late parts of tonight’s game — failing to get a decent look on either of its last two possessions.

Player of the Game. Xavier Sneed, Kansas State. Sneed led the way with 22 points and nine rebounds despite fighting foul trouble for much of the night. He was particularly effective from deep, sinking more than half of his team’s threes by going 5-of-8 from behind the arc. 

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Big 12 Keys to Sweet Sixteen Success

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 21st, 2018

Last weekend, the Big 12 propelled four teams into the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2002. That year, two of those teams  (Kansas and Oklahoma) went on to make the Final Four, although neither prevailed in their respective National Semifinal game. As KansasTexas Tech, West Virginia and Kansas State prepare for their second weekend action, here are each team’s keys to surviving to play another game.

Kansas guard Malik Newman is shooting a scorching 57 percent from deep over his last nine games. (Nick Krug/KUSports.com)

  • Kansas: Avoid a cold shooting night. Kansas has been one of the most prolific and consistent three-point shooting teams in the country this season. As a team, the Jayhawks have shot 40.3 percent from distance with only one outing at less than 35 percent over their last nine games. Clemson doesn’t have a ton of length and is perfectly fine in letting opponents fire away while they focus on forcing tough angles inside, so while Udoka Azubuike starting is a positive development, Friday’s outcome will likely hinge more on whether the Jayhawks hit their threes early. A hot-shooting Kansas team will cause problems for the Tigers very quickly, but if they start off cold and lose confidence, the Jayhawks will be as vulnerable as they’ve been on their worst days of the season.
  • Texas Tech: Capitalize on the injury to Purdue center Isaac Haas. The Red Raiders have been a tremendous defensive team all season, but have had trouble containing highly efficient big men, so the elbow injury that Purdue’s Isaac Haas suffered in the Round of 64 should be a boon to Chris Beard‘s team whether he plays or not. Matt Haarms will alter some shots, but the key for Texas Tech will be to not let his presence keep them from attacking closeouts and drawing contact. The Red Raiders will also need to discourage Purdue’s shooters on the defensive end, an area in which they haven’t excelled despite their athleticism and depth. Still, I like their chances.

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NCAA Regional Reset: South Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 20th, 2018

Rush the Court is providing comprehensive coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks. Today and tomorrow we reset each of the four regions. 

New Favorite: #5 Kentucky (26-10). Not only is Kentucky the favorite to win the South Region, it has better odds to reach the Final Four than any team left in the NCAA Tournament, per FiveThirtyEight. Who could have foreseen that on Selection Sunday? Then again, who could have foreseen virtually anything that happened in the South? For the first time in college basketball history, the four top seeds from a single region failed to reach the Sweet Sixteen, leaving the Wildcats standing as the clear-cut favorite in Atlanta. And really, they might have been the favorite anyway. After edging Davidson in the opening round, Kentucky continued playing its best offensive basketball of the season against #13 Buffalo, scoring 1.28 points per possession against a defense that had just baffled #4 Arizona two nights earlier. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (more on him below) was great yet again (27 points on 10-for-12 shooting). Hamidou Diallo (22 points) had his best game in months. Wenyen Gabriel (3-of-5 3FG) continued hitting shots. Since losing to Florida on March 3, Kentucky has looked like an entirely different team — an efficient team — on the offensive end. And that should scare the daylights out of every team left in the Dance.

Kentucky is peaking at the right time. (Kentucky Sports)

Horse of Darkness: #11 Loyola-Chicago (30-5). It speaks volumes about this region that a #11 seed advanced to the Sweet Sixteen and there’s even a debate here, but #7 Nevada and #9 Kansas State both have solid arguments. Still, the Ramblers are the worst remaining seed and no team has taken on that Cinderella “feel” quite like Porter Moser’s group. For Loyola to advance, it took a pair of dramatic (near) buzzer-beaters and some prayers from Sister Jean to upend #6 Miami and #3 Tennessee, the program’s first NCAA Tournament victories since 1985. At no point have the Ramblers looked physically outmatched, though, and it’s doubtful they will against Nevada. Don’t be shocked if this team winds up playing for a trip to San Antonio on Saturday.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #16 UMBC (25-11). Biggest surprise (first weekend)? How about biggest surprise (ever)? In perhaps the greatest upset of all-time, UMBC knocked off #1 overall seed Virginia to become the first #16 seed in NCAA Tournament history to reach the Second Round. Even with several days for that to soak in, the accomplishment remains astounding. Consider that Virginia owned the best record in college basketball (31-2) and won the ACC by four games. And that UMBC lost by 44 points to Albany on January 21. And that Virginia’s defense hadn’t allowed a single opponent to score 70 points this season. Or that UMBC’s offensive efficiency ranked fifth in the America East and didn’t even crack the top 150 nationally. And yet, led by a pair of senior guards with enough swagger to last a lifetime, the Retrievers ripped off 53 points in the second half alone en route to a shocking 74-54 victory, the most total points and points per possession the Cavaliers had surrendered all season. It was the upset to end all upsets.

Completely Expected (First Weekend): Nothing. We’re not trying to be cute here — virtually nothing went as expected in the South Region. A #16 seed beat the #1 overall seed. The #9 seed, Kansas State, reached the Sweet Sixteen without its leading scorer. The #13 seed beat the #4 seed — don’t forget about Buffalo! — and the #11 seed advanced to the second weekend. Oh, and as for #2 Cincinnati? It only blew a 22-point second-half lead against #7 Nevada, giving the Wolf Pack its first Sweet Sixteen berth since 2004. Even #5 Kentucky was far from a sure thing: according to KenPom, the Wildcats had just a 36.7 percent chance of reaching Atlanta before the tournament started.

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Kansas State 50, #16 UMBC 43

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 18th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Charlotte this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Kansas State swarmed Jairus Lyles and held off history-making UMBC.
(Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun)

  1. UMBC couldn’t follow-up Friday’s unbelievable performance just two nights later. Everything went right for the Retrievers in their historic upset of #1 Virginia on Friday evening. They shot the lights out from deep (12-of-24 three-pointers) and had great ball movement (16 assists on 26 made field goals) against the Cavaliers, but UMBC’s offense came back to earth this evening against Kansas State — the Retrievers only shot 29.8 percent from the field and committed 17 turnovers. Still, UMBC hung around for 39 minutes of tonight’s game by playing scrappy defense and battling hard on the boards against the much stronger Wildcats.
  2. It wasn’t always pleasant to watch, but it sure was fun. Even though both offenses struggled mightily all night, the intensity and tension level on the floor was very high throughout. Several times in the second half both teams went through scoring droughts simultaneously, making every possession critical. At times, Kansas State appeared to be feeling the added pressure of facing the #16 seed. The Wildcats coughed up the ball 11 times in the second half and took some very ill-advised shots. In the end, though, UMBC had several shot attempts to take the lead in the second half but could never drop one to cause Kansas State to crack.
  3. Kansas State is really good defensively, especially on the perimeter. The Wildcats held Creighton’s explosive offense in check on Friday night, limiting the Bluejays to 59 points and a woeful 26.5 percent three-point shooting night. It was the same story tonight for UMBC. Only two nights after putting up 74 on Virginia’s top-rated defense, the Retrievers managed just 43 points. The Wildcats aggressively switched on ball screens and dribble hand-offs, harassing UMBC’s shooters into a cold 6-of-22 follow-up performance from behind the arc.

Player of the Game. Barry Brown, Kansas State. Once again, Brown got it done on both ends of the floor tonight. He finished with a game-high 18 points and was a perfect 8-of-8 from the free throw line. Defensively, Brown collected two steals and was the primary defender on UMBC’s star Jairus Lyles. After torching Virginia for 28 points on Friday, Lyles only managed 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting from the field against Brown.

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Kansas State 69, #8 Creighton 59

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 16th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Charlotte this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Bruce Weber and Kansas State shut down the potent Creighton offense.
(Ray Martinez/The Mercury)

  1. Creighton’s offense never got untracked. Boasting the nation’s 23rd-best offense, according to KenPom, the Bluejays suffered through one of their worst offensive nights of the season. Much of the credit for that goes to Kansas State. The Wildcats were aggressive throughout, limiting penetration while also defending the three-point line. For the game, Creighton shot just 33.8 percent from the field and only connected on 9-of-34 from deep. The Wildcats also forced the Bluejays into 13 turnovers — Creighton came into the game among the nation’s best in ball security, but couldn’t handle the Kansas State pressure at times.
  2. Kansas State used a small lineup to offset the loss of Dean Wade. When Wade couldn’t play — it was a game-time decision due to a foot injury — Bruce Weber needed multiple players to step up and that’s exactly what happened. Weber went with a four-guard lineup for much of the night and the Wildcats made it work on both ends. Their added quickness on the floor successfully contained Creighton’s guards, and on the offensive side, it created spacing and driving lanes. The biggest surprise among the supporting group was freshman guard Mike Mcguirl. Despite appearing in only eight prior games and scoring a total of 13 points all year, Mcguirl exploded for 17 points and sank 3-of-5 from behind the three-point line.
  3. Marcus Foster had a tough night. It’s hard to say how much of it was caused by the odd situation of this matchup — Foster was dismissed from Kansas State’s program after two years in Manhattan — but Kansas State’s defense deserves a lot of credit too. Foster went scoreless for almost the first 30 minutes of action and finished with just five points on 2-of-11 shooting. When Foster came out of the game in the closing seconds, Weber was very gracious in going over to shake his hand and give him a hug.

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Big 12 Conversation: NCAA Tournament Takes, Part II

Posted by Brian Goodman & Chris Stone on March 15th, 2018

Yesterday, Big 12 microsite writers Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) and Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) reviewed Thursday’s Big 12 match-ups. Today, they’re back to talk about the roads ahead starting on Friday for West VirginiaKansas State and Texas.

CS: This is the fourth NCAA Tournament for Press Virginia and so far the Mountaineers have yet to make it past the Sweet Sixteen. That seems odd given how tough their defense is to prepare for. Do you think West Virginia can finally get over the regional semifinals hump this season?

Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers will need some help to make a deep run. (Washington Times)

BG: They certainly can, but it’s going to be a major challenge. The OVC was home to two of the top 15 teams in the country at generating turnovers — Tennessee State and Austin Peay — and Murray State won all three meetings with them. I like West Virginia’s chances to advance on Friday, but the Mountaineers’ pressure will not be anything new to the Racers and they’ve already proven they can win in spite of it. As far as the Round of 32 goes, West Virginia will likely have to contend with a Wichita State team that takes excellent care of the ball and crashes the defensive glass. Furthermore, the neutral environment in San Diego won’t swing the officiating in the same way it often does in Morgantown. And that’s just to get to the Sweet 16. If you can beat Virginia as West Virginia did earlier this year, you can beat anyone, but I don’t see the Mountaineers getting the requisite amount of help they’ll need to go any further.

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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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Rushed Reactions: Kansas 83, Kansas State 67

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 9th, 2018

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

Three Key Takeaways.

Kansas Cruised Past K-State in the Big 12 Tournament Semifinals (USA Today Images)

  1. Kansas’ bomb squad lifts team to victory. With center Udoka Azubuike recovering from an MCL sprain, the Jayhawks knew what they had to do to maintain control and they went out and did it. Twenty-eight of Kansas’ 60 attempts from the field came from beyond the arc, and they connected on 39.3 percent of their tries. Devonte’ Graham was relatively quiet (3-of-11 FG), but he still found a way to approach his season averages, scoring 15 points and dishing out eight assists against just three turnovers. It wasn’t always pretty, as Kansas State at one point cut a 16-point deficit down to two, but it was enough to move on to the championship game tomorrow night.
  2. Personnel issues set Kansas State back. Already without the services of first team All-Big 12 forward Dean Wade, Kansas State was further hampered just a minute into the game when guard Barry Brown took an inadvertent shot to the eye from Graham. Trainers quickly took Brown to the locker room for evaluation and he warmed up on the court prior to the start of the second half, but he never re-entered the contest. Without its two best playmakers, offense quickly became a chore for Bruce Weber‘s team. Forward Makol Mawien was incredibly efficient in the post on his way to a game-high 29 points, but his night was more of an indictment of Mitch Lightfoot‘s interior defense than it was an endorsement of his own game. The Wildcats’ jump shooters had trouble producing all night, which only underscores Wade’s importance to the team.
  3. Kansas needs Udoka Azuibuike healthy in order to make a deep NCAA Tournament run. Between Wade, Azubuike and Mohamed Bamba, Big 12 big men have been dropping like flies, but no team has as much at stake in the health of its frontcourt centerpiece as Kansas. While Silvio De Sousa pitched in with 11 rebounds in 19 minutes of action, he was frequently lost on offense, leading Bill Self to look down his bench knowing that it offered little in the way of solutions. Meanwhile, Lightfoot helped free up Kansas’ shooters and cleaned up a couple of misses, but couldn’t keep up defensively with an average post player in Mawien. With Azubuike, the Jayhawks have Final Four potential. Without him, their season could be over in the blink of an eye.

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