Kansas’ Frontcourt Management Remains a Concern

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 30th, 2015

Last weekend’s win at Texas gave Kansas some daylight in the Big 12 standings, and, as I discussed on Monday, that little bit of separation may be all it needs to bring home an 11th straight Big 12 title. While the Jayhawks still have three games remaining against what are currently their two closest challengers (West Virginia and Iowa State), they are the clear favorite now that they have built a one-game lead. Expectations in Lawrence, however, don’t end with winning the conference; a deep run in the NCAA Tournament is part of the deal, too. Despite Kansas’ talented rotation and clear improvement over the last few weeks, there’s reason to be concerned with how Bill Self has handled his frontcourt and its ultimate impact on the Jayhawks’ long-term ceiling.

Bill Self (USA Today Images)

Bill Self’s Frontcourt Rotations Have Been Curious (USA Today Images)

That questionable management reared its ugly head in Wednesday’s 64-61 victory over TCU. The game started favorably for Kansas. Sensing a mismatch in the post, Kansas called Perry Ellis‘ number and the junior delivered on the team’s first two possessions, scoring the Jayhawks’ first five points. When Ellis quickly picked up two personal fouls within the game’s first two minutes, though, Self pulled his second-leading scorer and leading rebounder for the rest of the half. The move was confounding not only because Ellis entered the game averaging 16.3 points per contest over his last three outings, but also because he’s been by far the least foul-prone of Kansas’ four regular big men this season, according to KenPom’s data.

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Big 12 M5: 01.30.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 30th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Kansas defeated TCU on Wednesday night in a game that was much closer than the casual fan would have expected, and frankly, the Jayhawks were lucky to come out of DFW with a win. TCU attempted 20 more shots, grabbed 26 offensive rebounds, and went to the foul line nine more times than Kansas. After finishing the non-conference portion of their schedule undefeated, the Horned Frogs are certainly frustrated by a 1-6 Big 12 start, but their efficiency numbers are better than last year  and they’ve played enough close games to suggest that a big win is coming soon. The team is improving but it’s been a difficult journey. Mac Engal of The Star-Telegram said of the team’s future success: “It just won’t come without some pain, but there is a reason Vegas [4.5-point underdog] had TCU so close to Kansas.”
  2. TCU isn’t the only improved team in the Big 12 this season. Oklahoma has also made strides to become a more complete team, with the Sooners’ defense ranking among the nation’s top five in adjusted defensive efficiency. Oklahoma impressed in an 81-36 victory over Texas Tech on Wednesday night, setting a Big 12 record for fewest points allowed in a single game. Kruger credited the team’s focus in its most recent practices as a big reason for the superb performance — a 45-point victory that was a nice bounceback for a team coming off two straight losses. The Sooners face Oklahoma State on Saturday in the second half of this year’s Bedlam series.
  3. The rosters for the 2015 McDonald’s All-American game were announced on Wednesday afternoon, and two Big 12 teams will be represented in this year’s event. Oklahoma State commitment Jawun Evans will play for the Boys’ East team and Kansas commitment Carlton Bragg was selected to play for the Boys’ West squad. Although Evans and Bragg are the only two players in the game that have so far committed to a Big 12 school, the showcase will also feature a number of undecided players being recruited by the likes of Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Kansas.
  4. The Big 12 and SEC announced on Thursday afternoon that they have agreed to move the date of the Big 12/SEC Challenge to early January starting next season in an effort to draw more attention to the series. According to Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby: “We are excited to move this event to January to provide the Big 12 a unique showcase and help ESPN give the Big 12/SEC Challenge the attention it deserves.” The move will require teams to create an open date in the middle of their conference schedules, but it will also allow the league to dodge the college football hysteria that overwhelmed the mid-December iterations of the event.
  5. The best conference in America debate continues to rage, with Randy Peterson of The Des Moines Register only the latest to weigh in on the issue. His conclusion? It’s debatable. If your criteria is which conference is the best from top to bottom, then you’re likely to choose the Big 12. If you’re more interested in which league will perform the best in March, then the ACC and its plethora of elite teams might be for you. At this point, we should all just be happy that we get to watch Top 25 basketball on a consistent basis with plenty of exciting finishes almost nightly in the Big 12.
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Morning Five: 01.29.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 29th, 2015

morning5

  1. Any hopes that Washington had of making the NCAA Tournament this year disappeared over the weeekend when they announced that they had dismissed Robert Upshaw for an unspecified violation of team rules. The talented but troubled big man was clearly the Huskies best player averaging 10.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, and a NCAA-leading 4.4 blocks per game. This is the second time that Upshaw has been kicked out of a program as he was also dismissed from Fresno State in 2013. While this certainly won’t help his draft stock he is still probably a late first round pick because skilled big men are hard to find even if there are some red flags around them. There is a possibility that Upshaw could start playing in the NBA Development League much like P.J. Hairston did last year, but that would require him to be ineligible to play NCAA basketball. Since we don’t know all the details behind Upshaw’s dismissal we cannot comment too much on the probability of that happening, but it is worth keeping an eye on moving forward.
  2. As we have mentioned many times we don’t pay that much attention to high school recruiting for a variety of reasons (including, but not limited to time constraints and a desire to remain sane), but the McDonald’s All-American designation has been around for long enough that we still pay attention when the rosters are announced. This year’s roster was no different even if we only know about half of the players well. The first thing that jumped out at us was that there was only one Kentucky commit on the two rosters, which is certainly different than previous years although part of that has to do with how Kentucky is recruiting now, but there are still nine uncommitted players in the game so John Calipari still has plenty of time to catch up. The other thing was that the players were spread out pretty evenly with only two schools–Duke and LSU–having two commits in the game.
  3. Speaking of Kentucky and their recruiting, maybe one of the reasons that their recruiting is “down” this year is that they are not just focusing on American talent. A striking example of this is the verbal commitment they received from Tai Wynyard, a 6’9″ power forward out of New Zealand. Although we are a little uncertain of the skills of a player from New Zealand, we do trust Calipari’s eye for talent and he has played at a high level internationally. For now the big question regarding Wynyard is when he would come to Lexington as he is still just 16 and currently in the class of 2016, but might reclassify to the class of 2015 meaning he would be on campus for next fall, which would already add to what could be the #1 class in the country (again).
  4. Wichita State guard Conner Frankamp was arrested early Sunday morning on a DUI charge. Frankamp blood alcohol level at the scene was 0.186, which is twice the legal limit in the state of Kansas (0.08). Although Frankamp is still sitting out this year after transferring from Kansas, the school did release the typical generic statement saying they will be looking into the matter. Despite Frankamp’s meager production at Kansas (2.5 points per game last year), he was a top-50 recruit coming out of high school, which would seem to suggest the possibility that he could have a big role playing with less competition particularly against a lower level of competition too.
  5. Speaking of transfer, former Memphis forward Kuran Iverson will be transferring to Rhode Island. Like Frankamp, Iverson’s production (4.6 points and 1.9 rebounds per game) does not particularly grab your attention, but he was also a top-50 recruit coming out of high school. Unlike Frankamp, Iverson made sure to leave a mark at the school on his way out by first getting suspended then retweeting someone’s criticism of Josh Pastner at which point the decision for Iverson to transfer was probably welcome on both sides. While the AAC is not exactly a basketball powerhouse, the move down to the Atlantic-10 (however slight it might be) and perhaps more importantly new scenery might be the boost that Iverson needs to show us why he was so highly recruited coming out of high school.
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Big 12 Power Rankings: Bill Self is Smarter Than Me/You/Us Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 27th, 2015

Time to dust off a familiar narrative: Kansas is in control of the Big 12. The narrative doesn’t require much dusting off, really. The Jayhawks have won a share of the Big 12 regular season title in each of the last 10 seasons. Maybe the narrative needs a gentle wipe with a dry napkin. Or light tap-tap-taps with a clean towel. But it all starts at the top with Bill Self, the mastermind behind the operation. He’s certainly lauded in Lawrence and around the country as one of the top coaches but this season, Self has received criticism from some fans who question how he sends messages to his players. He, like few coaches do, has a good read on every player on his roster. Perry Ellis, the team’s current leading scorer, was inconsistent for much of the season. In advance of his team’s showdown with Iowa State, Self said that Ellis needed to be more aggressive and “believe that he’s the best player on the floor every night.” In the three games since, Ellis is averaging 16.3 points, eight rebounds and shooting 19-of-37 from the floor.

This is what a coach can get away with when you dominate the Big 12 like Bill Self has done at Kansas. (Denny Medley/USA Today Sports)

This is what a coach can get away with when he dominates the Big 12 like Bill Self has done at Kansas. (Denny Medley/USA Today Sports)

In the Iowa State loss, fans didn’t understand why Self sat freshman Cliff Alexander for the final 14 minutes-plus of the second half. Self explained his reasoning for the move was Alexander’s lack of motor on a couple of plays early in the second half. In an important game with Big 12 title implications, it’s understandable for fans to wonder why that had to be done and at that particular time. But Self has no problem benching players if they’re not giving the effort he requires (see: Andrew Wiggins). In the two games since, Alexander recorded a double-double including a career-high in rebounds against Oklahoma (13) and scored a career-high 15 in a road win at Texas. Another season, another chance for Self to prove his worth as a future Hall of Fame coach. He’d have to stay away from videoboards, though. I think the Hall of Fame frowns on videoboard abuse.

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “Our Brian Goodman nailed KU’s gradual rise back into the driver’s seat (with bonus “Candy Shop” mention). They’re the number one team in the latest RPI in the number one ranked RPI conference with the strongest non-conference schedule among Big Five teams according to KenPom. Yes, they are in good shape. Thanks for asking!” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso)
  2. Iowa State — 6 points (All voted 2nd). Comment: “Last night’s win was closer than it should have been, but a bounce-back effort from the Texas Tech debacle keeps the Cyclones in second for another week. We’ll find out if they’re out of their offensive slump for good over their next two games when they take on TCU and Kansas, a pair of teams currently in the top half of the conference in defensive efficiency during Big 12 play.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)
  3. West Virginia — 11 points (Chris — 3rd, Brian & Nate — 4th) Comment: “The Mountaineers are an interesting case. They’ve got the worst effective defensive field goal percentage in the league, but they’re turning opponents over on 27 percent of their possessions. This week, they managed to hold serve at home by beating TCU in overtime.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)
  4. Kansas State — 12 points (Nate — 3rd, Chris — 4th, Brian — 5th) Comment: “Although the Wildcats lost at Iowa State, they picked up a nice home win against Oklahoma State on Saturday. Bruce Weber’s team continues to improve their resume for March, but we’ll get a better sense of where his squad stands after games against West Virginia and Kansas this week.” – CS
  5. Texas — 16 points (Brian — 3rd, Chris — 6th, Nate — 7th) Comment: “If they were able to pull off the comeback shocker in Ames last night, they’re definitely in my personal top five. Beyond that, they blew a big opportunity by failing to beat Kansas in Austin on Saturday. Here was a team that most saw as the biggest challenger to Kansas to start the year but now are nearing the halfway point in league play with a sub .500 record.” – NK
  6. Baylor — 17 points (Chris & Nate — 5th, Brian — 7th) Comment: “Last Saturday, the Bears did something no Big 12 team has been able to do: Contain Buddy Hield. Five days after bringing the Sooners back from the dead against Kansas, Hield was held without a three-pointer for the first time all season on his way to a frustrating 6-17 outing and five turnovers. Kudos, Baylor defense.” – BG
  7. Oklahoma — 19 points (Brian & Nate — 6th, Chris — 7th) Comment: “Somehow, the Sooners maintained an AP top 25 ranking this week despite losing four of their last five. It will be interesting to see what Lon Kruger does with Isaiah Cousins who injured his wrist in Saturday’s game against Baylor. X-rays were negative and he is day-to-day but the OU coach should be careful about rushing an important piece back especially when they’re losing.” – NK
  8. Oklahoma State — 24 points (All voted 8th). Comment: “Although the Cowboys have the best defensive efficiency numbers in Big 12 play, they’re just 3-4 so far. They’ve got two big home games this week against Baylor and Oklahoma.” – CS
  9. TCU — 27 points (All voted 9th). Comment: “No longer a laughingstock, Trent Johnson’s team is playing hard and keeping things competitive to the point where they’re only one-point underdogs in Wednesday’s game against Kansas.” – BG
  10. Texas Tech — 30 points (All voted 10th). Comment: “Texas Tech is making a habit of winning games against teams they have no business beating. It happened again Saturday as the last-place Red Raiders beat the-then first-place Iowa State Cyclones in Lubbock. Next up on their schedule is a road game at Oklahoma on Wednesday night. TTU’s last road conference win was — you guessed it — Oklahoma last season.” – NK

Big 12 Video/GIF of the Week 

In a world where conference games have been sullied by realignment, it was nice to see two fans from two fan bases come together for absolute nonsense on national television. While there was a break in the action of Texas-Iowa State last night, ESPN went to a liveshot of Brent Musburger and Fran Fraschilla doing their thing. Behind them, a fan wearing an Iowa State logo (on the left) and a Texas fan (on the right, presumably) tried to have a little fun while they were on camera. (h/t Erin Sorensen)

https://vine.co/v/OTHm0XWX15p

This Vine leaves us with so many questions. Why is the Iowa State fan flashing Hook ‘em Horns? Why are they all of a sudden fist-bumping? Did these guys properly map out a plan of what they’ll do when they’re on camera? Of course they didn’t. That’s why this is great. Go Big 12, indeed.

Five Big 12 Games You Better Watch This Week

  1. Tuesday: West Virginia at Kansas State (6:00 PM CT, ESPN2)
  2. Tuesday: Baylor at Oklahoma State (8:00 PM CT, ESPNEWS)
  3. Wednesday: Kansas at TCU (8:00 PM CT, ESPNU)
  4. Saturday: Kansas State at Kansas (1:00 PM CT, ESPN)
  5. Saturday: Texas at Baylor (5:00 PM CT, ESPN2)
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RTC Rewind: No. 1,000, Kansas Bill Selfing, Crazy Endings at WVU, Maryland…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on January 26th, 2015

One thousand wins. One, zero, zero, zero. It was a busy weekend in college basketball, but everything else was overshadowed by that number. We’ll start by stating the obvious. In a career full of them, what a truly remarkable accomplishment for Mike Krzyzewski. It’s one thing to coach for a long time and break records and reach milestones based on longevity, but what makes Coach K so special is that he’s combined all those years with such consistent winning. His teams are perennial contenders. He’s established a tradition of greatness, and built a distinct culture over 30 years in Durham that has not eroded in the least.

Coach 1K Was the Story of the Weekend (USA Today Images)

Coach 1K Was the Story of the Weekend (USA Today Images)

One of the things that made win No. 1,000 so awesome was the way in which Krzyzewski and Duke achieved it. Their Sunday afternoon performance in the World’s Most Famous Arena was evocative of the culture and recipe for sustained success that he has crafted. Trailing by as many as 10 points in the second half, the Blue Devils fought back with a 26-7 run to end the game. The players, of course, knew what was on the line, taking it upon themselves to come through for their coach — playing with incredible passion, emotion and commitment. They slapped the floor. They punched the air. They were determined and focused. Afterward, when his team hugged Krzyzewski and his wife and donned shirts and hats to commemorate the milestone, their love for their leader was crystal clear. And in the end, that is exactly why Coach K has been able to achieve what he has achieved. And has he ever achieved a lot! Afterward, Krzyzewski was insistent that the focus remain on the present as opposed to the past. As big of a win it was for him personally, it was also a huge one for Duke. St. John’s — seeing the resume-enhancing possibility with Duke in its building — came to play on Sunday, and made things very difficult for the Blue Devils for most of the game. But in crunch time, Tyus Jones, Quinn Cook and Jahlil Okafor all found another gear, and it pushed Duke to a dominant finish that the Johnnies just couldn’t match.

And That Sets Up…

An ACC showdown on Wednesday in South Bend, because Notre Dame pulled out a massive comeback win of its own at NC State on Sunday. The Wolfpack jumped out to an 18-point first half lead, but the Fighting Irish’s consistent scoring allowed them to claw back into the game so that Jerian Grant and his supporting cast could showcase their ‘clutch genes’ down the stretch. Notre Dame is now 19-2 and will welcome Duke to the Joyce Center on Wednesday. What a game that will be.

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Steady Improvement Puts Kansas in Big 12 Driver’s Seat Again

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 26th, 2015

For all the chaos and cannibalization taking place in the Big 12 this season, the top of the conference sure is in a familiar state after three weeks of play. With a 75-62 win that was as complete a performance as we’ve seen from Kansas all year long — and timed with Texas Tech’s upset of Iowa State — the Jayhawks on Saturday swung the odds of an 11th straight Big 12 title solidly back to their side. Bill Self’s teams always seem to make a significant leap around the holiday break, and this year’s group appears no different. In fact, you could take it one step further and argue that the Jayhawks have noticeably improved just in the last week since losing to Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum.

Cliff Alexander and the Jayhawks are ahead of the pack after a big win in Austin and some help from Texas Tech. (KUSports.com/Nick Krug)

Cliff Alexander and the Jayhawks are ahead of the pack after a big win in Austin and some help from Texas Tech. (KUSports.com/Nick Krug)

After getting benched for a lack of hustle, Cliff Alexander has burst forward with activity, averaging 14 points and 11 rebounds per game in last week’s outings on his way to Big 12 Newcomer Of The Week honors. He still doesn’t have much of a post arsenal, but he makes up for it with outstanding strength and athleticism. In Austin, he got the best of fellow blue-chipper Myles Turner, outworking him for rebounds and slipping by him for close looks. Alexander’s motor was on display on one defensive trip in particular, when he successfully keeping Turner out of the low post, making the big freshman receive the ball just off the elbow and forcing a bad shot.

Alexander’s frontcourt teammate, Perry Ellis, is also coming back around. Ellis had been benched two weeks ago after committing four early turnovers against Oklahoma State, exacerbating the limitations that made him a target of criticism both to Kansas fans and more objective observers. In the three games since, he’s averaged 16.3 points and eight rebounds per contest with just three total turnovers. Ellis’ turnaround has come predominantly from getting the ball in better spots and improved execution in his footwork near the basket. He may not be the classic Kansas power forward who can back down his man from 15 feet in, but his face-up game over the last two weeks has been effective enough to maintain his status as a weapon.

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Big 12 M5: 01.26.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 26th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Coming into the season, Texas looked like the team that would finally end Kansas’ streak of 10 straight Big 12 titles. The Longhorns’ roster combines NBA talent like Myles Turner with hardened veterans like Jonathan Holmes, but in the teams’ first meeting on Saturday, Kansas bullied the Longhorns in a 75-62 win at the Erwin Center. Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star called it, “Kansas’ most complete victory in a season-long hunt for an unprecedented 11th straight Big 12 title.” The Jayhawks only turned the ball over three times in the entire game; Cliff Alexander (15 points and nine rebounds) was the best player on the floor; and Jamari Traylor made the best play Bill Self’s seen in his time at Kansas. Perhaps we all made a mistake in underestimating the Jayhawks.
  2. The most surprising game of the weekend happened in Lubbock where Texas Tech knocked off Iowa State, 78-73. The Red Raiders entered the contest as the only team without a win in the Big 12 and had spent most of the conference season looking like they’d finish that way, but a hot start allowed them to jump out to big lead against the Cyclones. Now, the calls for change are coming. Jameel McKay has been a revelation for Fred Hoiberg, and his energy levels are causing some to wonder whether he should be inserted into the starting lineup. It’s a reasonable consideration given McKay’s play, but the timing makes this feel like a bit of an overreaction. McKay is a very good player and perhaps he deserves a chance to start, but basing those decisions off of one loss doesn’t seem like the Hoiberg way.
  3. After a rough ride during their non-conference schedule, Kansas State now sits just a half game back of the top spot in the Big 12 standings after a 63-53 win over Oklahoma State. The Wildcats have been playing much better defense in conference play, as Bruce Weber’s squad currently has the fourth best defensive efficiency rating in the Big 12. Phil Forte spoke of Kansas State’s aggressiveness and physicality saying, “Any time you play K-State, you know you’re playing against one of the best defensive teams not just in the league but in the country.” We should get a better sense of where the Wildcats stand in relation to the rest of the league this week when they take on West Virginia and Kansas.
  4. Oklahoma is now just 3-4 in Big 12 play after losing at Baylor on Saturday, having now lost four of their last five including their two most recent games. Although Oklahoma’s defense has slipped in league play — now allowing 100.4 points per 100 possessions — it’s not time to panic just yet. The Sooners played a good non-conference schedule and picked up some nice wins before Big 12 play began. They have also played their conference road games at Texas, West Virginia, Kansas, and Baylor already, and have yet to play a game against either Texas Tech or TCU. Oklahoma will surely find its way into the NCAA Tournament and Lon Kruger’s team has the talent to make a run once it gets there.
  5. Tonight gives us another fantastic matchup in the Big 12 as Texas travels to Ames to take on Iowa State. Both teams are coming off of a loss and will need a win to stay in the race for the regular season title. It’s a fantastic contrast of styles with the Cyclones’ high tempo offense and the Longhorns’ stout defense anchored by their massive front line. Be sure to tune into ESPN at 9:00 PM ET to catch the action — just another loaded week of games in the best basketball conference in America this season.
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Big 12 Saturday Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 24th, 2015

This weekend’s slate of Big 12 action isn’t quite as loaded as last week’s in terms of games expected to have a significant impact on the league race, but with the conference being arguably the best one in the country, that’s all relative. The biggest match-up on Saturday’s schedule features league favorite Kansas traveling to Austin to take on the Longhorns, who are looking to reassert themselves in the conference race. 

Oklahoma State at Kansas State (12:00 EST) – The 3-3 Cowboys have a win over Texas in their back pocket, but on the whole, their resume isn’t particularly impressive. If the NCAA Tournament started today, they would almost certainly be in, but a rough go of it on the road has prevented Travis Ford’s team from compiling a stronger case for seeding. They’ll look to reverse their fortunes when they shoot for just their second true road win of the season (the first being a convincing victory over a mediocre Memphis team) with an early afternoon tilt in Manhattan. The Wildcats, meanwhile, are still trying to prove their worth as a potential NCAA Tournament team, and a big component of that equation is holding serve on their home court against competitive teams. The battle between Marcus Foster and Phil Forte should be a fun one, and whether Nino Williams (20 points per game in his last two contests) continues to emerge as a dependable complement to Foster could play a decisive role. Prediction: Kansas State 66, Oklahoma State 63.

Everyone is Waiting on Kansas State to Regress (USA Today Images)

Everyone is Waiting on Kansas State to Regress (USA Today Images)

TCU at West Virginia (2:00 EST) – It’s still crazy to believe that after missing the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons, the Mountaineers are just a few bounces away from 16-1. Their offense hasn’t been pretty, with sub-200 rankings in both two-point shooting and three-point shooting, but it’s still been one of the most effective units in the country thanks to an aversion to turnovers. Of course, there’s also West Virginia’s stifling pressure defense, which has created barrels of extra possessions for Bob Huggins’ team. They’ll look to speed up a TCU offense that is much more deliberate at 62 possessions per game, so the Horned Frogs will have very small margin of error as they try to get their second league win. Prediction: West Virginia 70, TCU 59.

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Big 12 M5: Day After Ballghazi Press Conference Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 23rd, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. It happened guys! While he wasn’t able to stop by Allen Fieldhouse, President Barack Obama spent some time at Anschutz Sports Pavilion on the Kansas campus, which is right next door to the Phog. There, Obama gave a speech and joked about his lack of success in the state (set-up here and punchline here). He also visited with the basketball team and got a commemorative Jayhawks’ #1 jersey (Selden transferring?). Due to time constraints, he wasn’t able to practice with the team, so we’ll never know how he’d handle such a tough environment, but in my opinion this means Jim Harbaugh is the best non-basketball person to ever set foot on the Allen Fieldhouse floor.
  2. So Baylor playing NAIA school Huston-Tillotson in the middle of conference play was weird, right? So here’s the story behind it and it’s quite a doozy. It revolves around longtime high school coach Ken Carter, the same Carter who was portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson in the 2005 film “Coach Carter.” The 56-year-old Carter was planning to coach for Huston-Tillotson during the 2014-15 season and Wednesday’s game was supposed to be a part of another film about Carter’s life, but that didn’t happen. I’m sure Baylor’s talking heads are telling the truth but I want to know what the stories are behind their other games of a similar ilk. What is the story behind Baylor playing Wayland Baptist, another NAIA team, in February 2011? Or Hardin-Simmons, a Division III school, after the start of Big 12 play in January 2013? There could be logical explanations behind the scheduling of all of these games, but I haven’t heard them.
  3. Are we talking about #1 seeds already? Yes we are, because Brian Spaen over at Clones Confidential has laid out his blueprint for Iowa State to get one of those four top seeds. The plan, of course, would have to include the Cyclones winning the Big 12 regular season and tournament titles, and I’m not sure Iowa State or any other Big 12 team can win both championships this season. If a team were able to pull off such an accomplishment, the committee would likely credit the Big 12’s depth enough to award that team one of those #1 seeds. If it happens for Iowa State on Selection Sunday, it would be the first top seed in program history.
  4. After cultivating a reputation as a reliable defender for three seasons, Kansas State forward Nino Williams is having his best all-around season as senior. After two previous subpar performances at Hilton Coliseum, Williams logged a career-high 22 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals in 31 minutes of action during Tuesday night’s loss at Iowa State. Compare those numbers to Williams’ two-game average in Ames of 4.0 PPG and 3.0 RPG in 15.5 minutes per contest and it’s easy to see his development. I’m sure he worked hard every summer but it’s games like these that put you on notice of certain players who put in a lot of extra work in the offseason.
  5. This last blurb is a tiny bit self-serving because I want to show love to one of my all-time favorite players in Big 12 basketball history. Andre Emmett — yes, the Texas Tech great best known in NBA circles for his cups of coffee with Memphis and the-then New Jersey Nets — was recently named the D-League Player of the Week. His career arc is amazing. Emmett was an early second-round pick in the 2004 NBA Draft, but only played eight games with Memphis. He left the Grizzlies to play overseas but always returned to the U.S. to try and win a roster spot in summer league and/or training camp. He returned to the NBA eight years later after signing a 10-day deal with the Nets (which released him after the 10 days completed). In a D-League dominated by players a decade or more his junior, the 32-year-old Emmett averaged 28.5 PPG on 55 percent shooting, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.5 steals, and a block last week to take home the award. That guy has no quit in him.
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Who’s Got Next? Carlton Bragg & Chris Lewis Goes With Harvard

Posted by Sean Moran on January 21st, 2015

http://rushthecourt.net/mag/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/whosgotnext.jpg

Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitment of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul dedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

Kansas Lands Its First 2015 Recruit

Kelly Oubre committed to Kansas shortly after taking his official visit during the school’s 2013 Late Night in the Phog event, but after hosting a number of five-star players during this year’s version, no immediate commitments were forthcoming. That wait ended a couple of weekends ago when five-star forward Carlton Bragg selected the Jayhawks. Bill Self has logged top five recruiting classes in each of the past two years with Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid featured in the 2013 class and Cliff Alexander and Oubre last year’s class. It was only a matter of time until Self got started building his star-studded 2015 class.

The tourney upsets his Kansas teams have suffered will not be forgotten (Getty).

No surprise that Bill Self is racking up another stellar recruiting class. (Getty)

Bragg is a 6’9” power forward who plays for Villa Angela – St. Joseph (OH) High School (one of the top programs in the Buckeye State), and is currently ranked as the No. 12 player in the country and the No. 3 player at his position. The athletic forward started to climb up the rankings during the summer before his junior season and continued to improve from there, resulting in strong interest from the likes of Self, John Calipari and John Groce. Bragg’s versatility should blend in nicely with Kansas’ high-low offense given his ability to convert short hook shots, but he is also very comfortable stepping outside and knocking in jumpers from 15 to 18 feet. While he does have nice form and touch on his jumper, Bragg also has the tendency to fall in love with it, something Self will work with him on correcting. On the defensive end, Bragg moves his feet well and can defend the pick-and-roll while also protecting the rim with his quick leaping ability. Read the rest of this entry »

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RTC Weekly Primer: SEC Squishy Middle, Love for Big 12, Coach 1K, More…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on January 20th, 2015

Okay, okay, we get it… the Big 12 is awesome. I’ve made that pretty clear in past columns, and you probably don’t need me to tell you something so obvious. Monday night offered up yet another prominent example, when a “Kansas is back to its dominant self” narrative in the first half against Oklahoma turned into one of the best games of conference play this season. But rather than raving about it, let’s think big picture: What do we make of the Big 12 race? A few teams will definitely be involved. One is Kansas, of course, which hasn’t missed out on at least a share of the regular season crown since Bill Self’s first year in Lawrence. Two more are Texas, which seems to have found its footing, and Iowa State, which finally cleared the Kansas hurdle over the weekend. Oklahoma should be in the running too, despite losing three of its last four. What other teams could have a say in the matter? How about Kansas State, which is tied for the conference lead at 4-1? What about West Virginia, currently 15-3 and a top-15 KenPom team? Or Baylor? Or Oklahoma State?

The Big 12 Will Remain a War Zone For Most of the Season (USA Today Images)

The Big 12 Will Remain a War Zone For Most of the Season (USA Today Images)

It’s probably safe to rule out those last two teams even though both are ranked among KenPom’s top 25, but neither is likely to beat the teams above them on a consistent basis. It’s also fair to exclude Kansas State from the discussion. The Wildcats are clearly much better than their non-conference performance suggested, but recent wins over Baylor and at Oklahoma don’t tell the full story either. They have some flaws. However, it’s probably a tad premature to rule out West Virginia. The Mountaineers play such a distinctly effective style this season, forcing turnovers on over 30 percent of opponents’ possessions, that will remain a problem to solve for all nine conference foes. They’re a possession away from a 4-1 Big 12 record and the upcoming schedule suggests that we shouldn’t be surprised if Bob Huggins has his team sitting at 6-2 when this column runs two weeks from now. It appears to be a five-team race. But whether you think the Big 12 has four, five, or even six or seven teams capable of winning the league crown, the takeaway here is that the race is wide open. And with Kansas’ astounding decade-long run in jeopardy, the next two months in Middle America are must-watch sports television.

Three for the Money

  • Iowa at Wisconsin | Tuesday, 9:00 PM EST, ESPN. Around this time last year, Iowa sat at 13-3 on the season and waltzed into Value City Arena to take on 15-1 Ohio State. The Buckeyes at the time were KenPom’s second-ranked team and their only loss had come earlier in the week at Michigan State. They also hadn’t given up more than 70 points in a game. The Hawkeyes delivered one of the more impressive Big Ten performances last season, winning by 10 points and vaulting themselves from seemingly out of nowhere into KenPom’s top five. They are presented with a similar opportunity tonight against Wisconsin. With the memory of last year’s collapse still fresh, many people remain unsure of what to make of Fran McCaffery’s team – the Hawkeyes have defeated a questionable Ohio State team twice and won at North Carolina, but the rest of their résumé is dubious. A win in Madison would force the nation to take notice. For Wisconsin, this is its first real test since the loss of senior point guard Traevon Jackson. It could provide a platform for replacement Bronson Koenig to step up his game, but it also could reveal a major midterm problem for Bo Ryan. Tonight’s game will tell us a lot about which it will be.

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Four Key Takeaways From a Wild Night In Lawrence

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 20th, 2015

It was a tale of two halves last night in Lawrence, as Kansas hit nine first half threes to sprint out to a commanding 51-32 halftime lead against Oklahoma, only to watch it disappear as the Sooners stormed back to take a four-point lead before collapsing at the end. Let’s consider four key takeaways from a game of several crazy swings.

Kansas and Oklahoma Took It Hard at Each Other Last Night (USA Today Images)

Kansas and Oklahoma Took It Hard at Each Other Last Night (USA Today Images)

  • Fiery start fuels Kansas’ first halfKelly Oubre got things going by connecting on a pair of early threes and the Jayhawks refused to let up on their way to 51 first half points. Although Oklahoma remained close for the first five minutes, Kansas would register a 16-0 perimeter barrage with nearly everyone contributing. This team is built to fire away from deep, but Bill Self has tried in vain to establish an inside presence even though he doesn’t have a true back-to-the-basket big man (however, Cliff Alexander may be developing into one, as we’ll discuss separately below). While Kansas’ scorching first half is a statistical outlier, it underscores the fact that the Jayhawks are at their best when they utilize their outside shooting prowess.
  • Don’t overlook Buddy Hield in the Big 12 POY race: This conference is filled with scorers from Marcus Foster to Phil Forte to Georges Niang, but the Sooners’ Buddy Hield may be the best of the bunch. His 26 points were a game-high and he’s now shooting a superb 60.5 percent on twos in league action in spite of his 6’4″ frame, along with a 44 percent clip from deep in Big 12 play. Hield isn’t without his warts, though, as he tends to rush shots (especially in transition) and he could stand to share the ball a little more often with talented and effective teammates like Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler. Still, the junior is an undeniable star, as evidenced not only by his huge game in arguably the most intimidating environment in college basketball, but his play all season to date.

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