Big 12 Reset: Halfway Through the Non-Conference Slate

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 3rd, 2018

As we round the corner on the halfway mark of non-conference play, I can’t say I’ve been overwhelmed yet by the Big 12’s performance. Maybe that’s more of a testament to the league’s sterling performance over the last few years, but it’s the case nonetheless. There are certainly some things to be optimistic about, like Kansas’ unblemished 6-0 record despite not yet playing to its talent level, Texas Tech not just treading water but perhaps being better than last season’s group, and Iowa State and Oklahoma outperforming preseason projections. But there are some pockmarks around the league, too. Baylor looks completely dreadful even through the lens of what was expected, Texas’ offense has run hot and cold, and Kansas State was embarrassed over the weekend in its biggest test of non-league play. The metrics still show that this is the best conference in the land, but the eye test to date hasn’t always reflected it.

Lagerald Vick’s Big Three on Saturday Saved the Jayhawks (USA Today Images)

  1. Where would Kansas be without Lagerald Vick? Just six months ago, Lagerald Vick and Bill Self didn’t want any part of each other, but things have worked out wonderfully since. Put simply, the senior shooting guard looks like a completely different player. He’s embraced and delivered on key opportunities when other players haven’t and he’s playing with a looseness that was missing during his first three years. You can point to at least two games already this season that the Jayhawks would not have won without Vick getting hot, and his 59.6 percent on three-point shooting ranks 14th nationally (and first among high-volume shooters). His incredible outside shooting is bound over time to regress to the mean, but it’s hard to say enough about his hot start.
  2. Texas Tech is absolutely rolling. The Red Raiders didn’t assemble the intense non-conference slate that Kansas did this season, but Chris Beard’s team already looks fantastic in the early going. Texas Tech is undefeated at 7-0 — with their closest win coming by 11 points — and role players like Tariq Owens, Matt Mooney and Brandone Francis have been very supportive on the few nights where Jarrett Culver hasn’t been fully engaged. What sticks out most when watching the Red Raiders play is how well Beard has scouted his opponents. His team also plays with a chip on its shoulder, which makes sense when you remember how lightly several of the players on the team were recruited. Texas Tech’s meeting with Duke on December 20 is still a few weeks away, but it has a chance to be one of the best games of the season. Read the rest of this entry »
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2018-19 RTC16: Week Two

Posted by Walker Carey on December 3rd, 2018

Right around the beginning of December, the college basketball world begins to really notice which teams may have been severely underrated in the preseason. This year, #5 Michigan is the most glaring example of a team whose significant early season success has been wholly unexpected. The Wolverines began the year with several question marks stemming from the loss of significant production from last season’s national runner-up squad. Because of that looming uncertainty, John Beilein‘s team did not receive even a single vote in the preseason RTC16. So far, that has turned out to be a big omission, as Michigan sits at 8-0 following a week in which it laid waste to both #11 North Carolina and a solid Purdue team. Sophomore guard Jordan Poole and junior forward Jon Teske have taken crucial steps forward this season, and freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis has emerged as a viable offensive weapon. Their development has aided veteran guards Zavier Simpson and Charles Matthews in leading the Wolverines to their unbeaten start. It should be a requirement to not overlook a Beilein team in the preseason because he has proven time and time again that the Wolverines are usually going to surpass expectations. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Thoughts.

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2018-19 RTC 16: Week One

Posted by Walker Carey on November 26th, 2018

The college basketball season really got cooking during a Feast Week that featured two top-five match-ups that could easily be played again at the Final Four in Minneapolis. #1 Gonzaga and #3 Duke tipped things off Wednesday evening in what was an extremely entertaining Maui Invitational title game. The veteran Bulldogs led by as many as 16 points before withstanding a furious Blue Devils rally to escape with a thrilling 89-87 victory. Not to be outdone, #2 Kansas and #5 Tennessee turned in their own early season classic on Friday in the title game of the Preseason NIT. The Jayhawks used a dynamite performance from star forward Dedric Lawson — coupled with the good fortune of Tennessee star big man Grant Williams fouling out prior to overtime — to emerge victorious with an 87-81 result. The college hoops regular season is much more of a marathon than a sprint, but these early season treats serve as a good reminder of how compelling it can be when we have the pleasure of watching some of the best teams in the country face off against one another.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

  • Gonzaga is the new #1 team. Following its impressive win over #3 Duke in the Maui Invitational title game, Gonzaga is the new #1 team in this week’s RTC16. Mark Few‘s squad is loaded with the talent all over the court, highlighted by sophomore guard Zach Norvell Jr. and junior forward Rui Hachimura. What might be the most impressive aspect of the current Bulldogs is that they have emerged to these heights without the services of excellent junior forward Killian Tillie, who remains sidelined with an ankle injury. Gonzaga’s non-conference slate does not get much easier this week, as it faces a good North Dakota State program on Monday before hitting the road to play in what will be a raucous environment at Creighton on Saturday.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Feast Week

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 23rd, 2018

It’s time to take out the Thanksgiving leftovers, make a plate of food and sit back and watch some college basketball. Here are 10 questions to consider heading into this weekend’s slate of games.

Will Virginia be the Next Highly-Ranked ACC Team to Take an Upset (USA Today Images)

  1. Will Virginia come out on top as Battle 4 Atlantis Champions? (Championship Game, Friday 2 PM EST, ESPN) Tony Bennett’s squad squares off against Wisconsin in a defensive spectacular. This mid-afternoon match-up will likely be slow, physical, and must-see tv. Ethan Happ will test the big men of Virginia.
  2. Who will win the Grant Williams/Dedric Lawson matchup? (NIT Tip-Off Final, Tennessee vs. Kansas, Friday 9 PM EST, ESPN2)  Both Grant Williams of Tennessee and Dedric Lawson of Kansas have shined through the first few weeks of the season. Each draws more than seven fouls per 40 minutes of action, so they will be tested to defend each another without fouling.
  3. Will Villanova get back to being Villanova? (Advocare Invitational, Friday and Saturday) After losing consecutive games for the first time since the 2012-13 season, Villanova heads to Florida for the Advocare Invitational. Phil Booth and Eric Paschall shot a combined 7-of-31 on three-point attempts in the two recent Wildcat losses. If they get their shots back, Villanova should sail through this bracket; otherwise Jay Wright’s team could be in trouble in a second-round match-up with either Oklahoma State or Memphis.
  4. Will Miami leave the Wooden Legacy undefeated? (Wooden Legacy, Friday and Saturday) When Miami last played in the Wooden Legacy in 2013, they began the tournament with a loss to George Washington. The Hurricanes begin this tournament against an Atlantic 10 team again this time — La Salle. Miami heads to Fullerton as one of 14 teams with a top 25 ranking in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. Read the rest of this entry »
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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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Big 12 Observations After One Week

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2018

Eight of the 10 Big 12 teams have played at least two games (Oklahoma State squares off at Texas-San Antonio tonight and West Virginia meets Monmouth tomorrow), so while it’s still too early to draw sweeping conclusions, it is a good time to take a look at some early revelations with Feast Week just around the corner.

Two games has been enough for Kansas fans to be treated to the full Dedric Lawson experience. (Nick Krug/Lawrence Journal-World)

  • Dedric Lawson’s been just okay. Just one week in and we’ve already seen some of the inconsistency for which the preseason All-American became known during his two years at Memphis. Even though Lawson struggled to a 5-of-18 shooting night against Michigan State, he was good enough to contribute 20 points along with 14 rebounds, two blocks and a pair of steals. In his Allen Fieldhouse debut against Vermont on Monday, however, he was a total non-factor from start to finish as the Catamounts pushed him around and held him scoreless for the first time in his career. Among his many skills, Lawson is a tremendous passer out of the paint, but Kansas’ insistence on running so much of its offense through Udoka Azubuike presents challenges in terms of fit and strategy when they’re both on the floor. The junior shouldn’t have any problems on Friday against Louisiana, whose rotation includes just one player taller than 6’6″, but it’s fair to have expected a little more from the big man in his first two games in Lawrence.
  • It might be a while before we know how good West Virginia is. There isn’t much shame in losing to mid-major darling Buffalo in overtime, but the fact that the Mountaineers put up a defensive turnover rate of just 12.8 percent at home and were fairly mediocre on the offensive glass in allowing a 13-point second half comeback should dispel any notions that this season will be business as usual in Morgantown. Bob Huggins‘ team will have opportunities to clean things up, but with this weekend’s Myrtle Beach Invitational lacking top-end competition and just one meeting against a KenPom top-50 team remaining (Florida in Madison Square Garden) before conference play, determining where this team belongs in both the Big 12 and national picture might take some time.

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Overnight 5: 11.13.18 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on November 13th, 2018

Can’t guarantee that we’re going to do this every night this season — questions of sustainability and all that — but let’s try this to see what happens. From over the weekend…

 

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Previewing Opening Week in the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 6th, 2018

It’s been a long offseason, but we made it, everyone. Tonight is the night the 2018-19 season gets under way. As per usual, preseason #1 Kansas will own the marquee as one of the four elite teams competing in the Champions Classic, but half the conference will be in action this evening with Texas, Iowa State, Texas Tech and Baylor beginning their seasons as well. TCU will tip its season off on Wednesday, and following an idle Thursday, Kansas State, West Virginia and Oklahoma open the weekend with Friday jumps while Oklahoma State takes the caboose on Saturday afternoon. KenPom likes all 10 Big 12 teams to win their openers, with only the Jayhawks favored by fewer than 10 points (vs. Michigan State) and just one other game (West Virginia vs. Buffalo) coming in at fewer than 15 points. Still, you never know when a team might unleash a surprise, and even if not, there’s always something to keep an eye on as the curtains open. Here’s what to watch for around the Big 12 over the next few days.

Tuesday

Look for Dedric Lawson to make a strong first impression in Indianapolis tonight. (Orlin Wagner/AP)

  • Kansas vs. Michigan State – As mentioned in last week’s team preview, Kansas will feature two bigs in Dedric Lawson and Udoka Azubuike one year after going very guard-heavy. On the other side of this specific frontcourt match-up, Michigan State lost Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson to the draft and Gavin Schilling to graduation, so the Spartans will counter with junior Nick Ward and sophomore Xavier Tillman, who aren’t bad, but don’t hold a candle to a pair of lottery picks and a useful program guy. While I like Kansas to win this one in large part because of the mismatches up front, don’t be surprised to see Michigan State’s Cassius Winston expose the Jayhawks’ new-look backcourt on more than one occasion.
  • Texas vs. Eastern Illinois – Watching the Longhorns try to run offense last season was the ultimate test of will, as they finished dead last in the Big 12 in offensive efficiency. With four starters back this season, they absolutely have to get better. Their non-conference slate includes a neutral site date with Arkansas in addition to tilts against North Carolina, Purdue and Providence, so improved offensive cohesion will be important in the early going.

Get to know Lindell Wigginton before the rest of the country catches up. (Andrew Dieb/USA Today Sports)

  • Iowa State vs. Alabama State – There ought to be plenty of reps at the point guard position for both Nick Weiler-Babb and Lindell Wigginton. The Cyclones will be thin up front to start the season, though, with Solomon Young (injury) and Cameron Lard (suspension) both expected to miss tonight’s game. As a result, newcomers Michael Jacobson and George Conditt will be thrust into major minutes earlier than Steve Prohm would have liked. I don’t think that will be enough for the Hornets to make this game interesting, but it could make for a rockier ride than expected.
  • Texas Tech vs. Incarnate Word – Chris Beard faces off against one of his former employers tonight and it will be next man up with Keenan Evans, Zhaire Smith, Zach Smith and Niem Stevenson all having moved on to the next stages of their careers. A game against one of the 30 worst teams in the sport won’t decide whether Jarrett Culver is ready for the spotlight, but how he starts the season will tell us a lot about the Red Raiders’ fortunes in 2018-19.
  • Baylor vs. Texas Southern – The Bears will start the season as any rebuilding team of their caliber should, with four straight cupcakes. The first two weeks will be a great opportunity for Scott Drew’s squad to sharpen its defense after losing two of its best frontcourt defenders in Nuni Omot and Jo Lual-Acuil as well as an underrated perimeter defender in Manu LecomteBaylor’s going to feature smaller looks this year than what many are used to, which shouldn’t present any significant hurdles against the Tigers tonight, but is noteworthy going forward.

Wednesday

  • TCU vs. Cal State Bakersfield – The Horned Frogs’ backcourt doesn’t get a lot of headlines, but that could change soon, because there’s a lot to like about the trio of Alex Robinson, Jaylen Fisher and Desmond Bane. They’re experienced, they can create for themselves as well as others, and they can shoot it from deep. Their defensive chops aren’t where you’d like them to be, but there’s some untapped potential that will show itself this time around. Keep an eye on TCU’s frontcourt too, as it picks up the pieces from Vladimir Brodziansky and Kenrich Williams’s departures.

Friday

  • West Virginia vs. Buffalo – Aside from the Champions Classic, this is the only game of Opening Week whose outcome isn’t completely foregone, so it should be an interesting watch for those waiting to get back into the swing of things after the short Thursday break. You have a Mountaineer team that should be plenty good but not as good as last year’s edition facing the Bulls, who won the MAC by a country mile, embarrassed Arizona in last season’s NCAA Round of 64 and return nearly everyone, making themselves a strong favorite to repeat in conference. Will Bob Huggins‘ team be ready?
  • Kansas State vs. Kennesaw State – The Wildcats have a strong non-conference schedule that they’ll hope to parlay into a favorable seed come March, but their first two weeks will be more manageable and should offer Bruce Weber opportunities to explore the limits of his rotation. Dean Wade and Barry Brown are the names everyone knows and will be excited to see, but JuCo transfer Austin Trice will look to make his case for minutes as a strong rebounder off the bench.
  • Oklahoma at UT Rio Grande Valley – The Sooners are doing something a little different by starting the season on the road against two mid-majors. It’s admirable on Lon Kruger‘s part, but there isn’t much more to be said. Oklahoma will be among the league’s dregs despite being one of the oldest teams in the league, and they’re scheduled to play just two home games over the season’s first five weeks and won’t play their fifth home game until January 5. It’s setting up to be a long year in Norman.

Saturday

  • Oklahoma State at Charlotte – The Pokes also start the year on the road against a mid-major and aren’t projected to be very good this season. There’s not a lot returning on this team, so Mike Boynton will look to Cameron McGriffLindy Waters and Thomas Dziagwa to keep the ship from sinking early.
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The 2018-19 RTC16: Preseason Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on November 5th, 2018

And so it begins — that wonderful time of year when we once again find our favorite teams playing college basketball. It is a glorious time, indeed. With a sizable slate of games set to commence on Tuesday evening, we are ready to officially unveil our 2018-19 preseason RTC Top 16. This initial poll will hold for the next two weeks but you can expect our weekly RTC16 to release on every subsequent Monday morning starting November 19. Along with the rankings will be the usual quick and dirty analysis that dives more deeply into trends that the poll reveals. To see how we did last year, check out our 2017-18 preseason poll — sure, we nailed a few (Villanova, Kansas and Duke), and missed on some others (USC, Notre Dame and Louisville), but we promise to do better this time around. Here is our preseason poll. Enjoy opening week!

Quick N’ Dirty Thoughts.

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Big 12 Previews: Kansas & Kansas State

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 2nd, 2018

With tip-off now mere days away, we’re continuing 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.

Kansas

Bill Self and Kansas want nothing more than to roll out the ball. (USA Today Images)

A few misses on the recruiting trail and Billy Preston’s compromised eligibility led last season’s Jayhawks to field one of their thinnest teams in recent memory. With Bill Self’s hand forced, he leaned into his team’s strength of perimeter play like never before. Svi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman and Devonte’ Graham each buried at least 85 three-pointers last year, and all three connected at a 40 percent or better clip in pacing the nation’s fifth-best offense, which also helped mask the worst defensive group of the Self era (47th nationally). There were a number of moments that Kansas fans would rather forget, such as losing to NIT-bound Washington in Kansas City and dropping three home games for the first time since boy bands dominated the Billboard charts, but the Jayhawks still won 31 games, still notched their 14th consecutive Big 12 title and still made the Final Four for the first time since 2012 without a single first-round pick, so they handled the adversity just fine.

Who’s Gone:

  • G Devonte’ Graham: 17.3 PPG, 7.2 APG, 40.6% 3FG
  • G Svi Mykhailiuk: 14.6 PPG, 44.4% 3FG
  • G Malik Newman: 14.2 PPG, 5.0 RPG

Who’s Back:

  • C Udoka Azubuike: 13.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.7 BPG
  • G Lagerald Vick: 12.1 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 37.3% 3FG
  • G Marcus Garrett: 19.2 MPG, 4.1 PPG
  • F Mitch Lightfoot: 14.0 MPG, 3.8 PPG, 3.1 RPG
  • F Silvio De Sousa*: 20 GP, 4.0 PPG, 3.7 RPG

*suspended indefinitely

Who’s Coming In:

  • F Dedric Lawson (transfer from Memphis): 19.2 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 2.1 BPG in 2016-17
  • G K.J. Lawson (transfer from Memphis): 12.3 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 2.8 APG in 2016-17
  • G Charlie Moore (transfer from Cal): 12.2 PPG, 3.5 APG, 35.2% 3FG in 2016-17
  • G Quentin Grimes (five-star recruit)
  • G Devon Dotson (five-star recruit)
  • F David McCormack (four-star recruit)

Outlook: Even if De Sousa were available, he’d be no better than the team’s third-best big man (if that), so while a cloud of suspicion stemming from alleged improprieties revealed over the last several months may surround this team, it’s more likely to manifest itself in the form of increased vitriol from opposing fanbases and in local and national talk than in any real way on the court. That isn’t nothing, but the point is that this year’s team should be just fine, barring any new revelations. That’s a credit to the group of talent that Self has assembled in spite of any doubts circling its construction. Kansas is positioned to return to a classic two-big look, with Memphis transfer and preseason All-American Dedric Lawson and Udoka Azubuike possessing the strength, skill and experience to overpower most of their match-ups, and Mitch Lightfoot and David McCormack behind them. Whether it’s optimal to feature two bigs as prominent as Lawson and Azubuike in the era of pace and space is a conversation worth having, but we’ll leave it for another time. Another interesting question in Lawrence is how the point guard position will shake out after Devonte’ Graham and Frank Mason gave the team so much production and consistency over the last four seasons. Charlie Moore has experience and some scoring ability, but Marcus Garrett has the defensive-mindedness and toughness that Self loves so much and Devon Dotson is the most decorated point guard prospect to come through Lawrence since Josh Selby. There shouldn’t be many problems at the two-guard slot, though, with Lagerald Vick returning and a blue-chip freshman in Quentin Grimes ready to contribute as well. The Jayhawks are a melting pot of program guys, transfers and stud recruits, making them an excellent bet to win their 15th consecutive conference title followed by another deep postseason run. 

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