Big 12 Offseason Storylines to Follow

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 24th, 2017

The Big 12 had a decent but ultimately unimpressive showing in this year’s postseason. Of the league’s six NCAA Tournament teams, three advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, but only one advanced to the Elite Eight, and we all know what happened from there as Kansas flamed out to Jordan Bell and the Oregon Ducks. With the offseason now upon us and some time ahead to reflect, here are a few storylines worth following this summer and into the start of the 2017-18 season.

Frank Mason Takes His Hardware to the Next Level (USA Today Images)

  • How will Kansas retool? Frank Mason III leaves Lawrence as one of the most decorated players in program history. His wonderful four-year career won’t soon be forgotten, but it doesn’t change the fact that Kansas needs to figure out its point guard situation moving forward. Transfer Malik Newman can serve as the Jayhawks’ floor general in a pinch, but he’s more of a scoring guard than a facilitator and Bill Self has already said that he sees the redshirt sophomore manning the two. Barring a surprise commitment from elite point guard prospect Trevon Duval, the Jayhawks are looking at some combination of Devonte’ Graham and freshman Marcus Garrett handling the team’s ball-handling duties next season. Self also needs some frontcourt depth following the departures of Landen Lucas, Josh Jackson and Carlton Bragg, but the point guard position will be the most intriguing roster question as the Jayhawks begin their pursuit of a 14th consecutive regular season Big 12 title next fall.
  • A new era at Iowa State. Despite 47 wins and a Sweet Sixteen appearance in two seasons in Ames, Steve Prohm needs to show what he can do without the services of Monte’ Morris, Deonte Burton, Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas in the lineup. The job now becomes one of rebuilding for the Cyclone program, but there is somewhat of a foundation from which to work. Solomon Young, Donovan Jackson, transfer Ray Kasongo, Cameron Lard and highly-touted freshman Lindell Wigginton are interesting building blocks, but don’t appear to offer the ceiling of Hoiberg and Prohm’s best teams. The early going next season may be a little rocky as this group becomes accustomed to playing with each other, but a top-half finish in Big 12 play would be an admirable achievement. Fans should additionally keep an eye on Prohm’s pursuit of coveted JuCo forward Shakur Juiston.

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2016-17 RTC National Player of the Year: Frank Mason III

Posted by Walker Carey on March 31st, 2017

One of the coolest things about collegiate athletics is when a relatively unheralded recruit develops into one of the country’s best players. College basketball has experienced this a few times in recent years with the likes of Trey Burke at Michigan, Victor Oladipo at Indiana and Doug McDermott at Creighton, but the case of 2016-17 RTC National Player of the Year Frank Mason III, though, is particularly unique. The Kansas point guard from Petersburg, Virginia, originally signed with Towson before a failing grade in a state-mandated government class torpedoed that plan. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the young player, as his stock rose considerably during a post-graduate year at Massanutten Military Academy (VA). Kansas was looking at a variety of point guard options at the time, but it was not until Cat Barber signed with NC State, Chris Jones went to Louisville, Demetrius Jackson went to Notre Dame, and Jordan McLaughlin went to USC that head coach Bill Self was willing to pull the trigger on Mason. That stroke of good fortune resulted in the development of a standout player who became a three-time all-Big 12 player and an All-American during a very successful four-season run in Lawrence.

While Mason was already a very good starting point guard during his sophomore and junior seasons, he took a superstar turn this season. What the dynamic playmaker lacked in stature – he stands at just 5’11” – he made up for it with a knack for making big plays and coming through in the clutch. Not only did Mason lead the Big 12 in scoring at 20.9 points per game, but he also became one of the country’s most reliable three-point shooters at 47.1 percent mark behind the arc. The performance that perfectly highlights how dominant Mason was this year came in Kansas’ regular season finale at Oklahoma State — in a battle with Cowboys’ point guard Jawun Evans, Mason finished with 27 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in an all-around effort. The floor leader turned in another virtuoso performance last week during the Jayhawks’ run to the Elite Eight. In their dominating Sweet Sixteen victory over Big Ten regular season champion Purdue, Mason controlled the entire game to finish with 26 points (9-of-11 FG and 4-of-5 3FG), seven assists and seven rebounds.

While Kansas’ season ended unexpectedly in a disappointing loss to #3 seed Oregon, it is difficult to characterize the Jayhawks’ season as a failure. Self’s team took home its 13th straight Big 12 regular season title – and considering its stark lack of depth, especially on the interior — this one was as difficult as any of the previous 12. The most important component of Kansas’s team success, though, was the steadying influence of Mason. The same Mason who was signed to play college basketball at Towson. The same Mason who ended up at an unknown military academy because of an academic misstep. The same Mason who needed several strokes of luck to wind up at Kansas, but made the most of the opportunity that he was given. College basketball success stories can be overblown and hyperbolic, but Mason’s rise to our 2016-17 RTC Player of the Year is truly one for the history books.

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Final Four Fact Sheet: Oregon Ducks

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 27th, 2017

Now that we’re down to the Final Four, let’s take a deep dive into each of the four remaining teams. Today: Oregon.

How Oregon Got Here

Oregon hopes to continue riding high in Phoenix (Getty Images).

Midwest Region Champions. After receiving a lower-than-expected #3 seed on Selection Sunday, Oregon rolled past #13 Iona 83-67 in its NCAA Tournament opener. Two nights later, it required a pair of clutch Tyler Dorsey three-pointers for the Ducks to survive #11 Rhode Island, which led by as many as 10 points in the second half. Oregon’s late-game execution continued against #7 Michigan in the Sweet Sixteen, where it held the Wolverines scoreless over the game’s final two minutes en route to a 69-68 victory. Finally, despite facing #1 Kansas in Kansas City on Saturday—a road game by almost any standard—the Ducks drilled 11 three-pointers, held the Jayhawks to their worst offensive output of the season (0.94 points per possession), and advanced to their first Final Four since 1939.

The Coach

Dana Altman. The 58-year-old Nebraska native has quietly had one of the most successful careers among active Division I basketball coaches — a career now punctuated by his first Final Four appearance. Altman ranks 10th on the all-time wins list among working head men (597 wins), joining Jim Boeheim, Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Bill Self and Tom Izzo as the only active coaches with 20+ consecutive winning seasons. After spending 16 years at Creighton (and becoming the Bluejays’ all-time winningest coach in the process), Altman has turned an inconsistent Oregon program into a perennial threat to win the Pac-12. Prior to his arrival, the Ducks had reached the Sweet Sixteen three times in program history, and won 30+ games only once; since Altman took the job in 2011, Oregon has doubled that number of Sweet Sixteen appearances and won 30+ games twice. He may well be a future Hall of Famer.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Oregon 74, #1 Kansas 60

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 25th, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) is in Kansas City this weekend.

Oregon Shocked Kansas in Kansas City Tonight to Advance to the Final Four (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Oregon rides explosive first half and timely second half shots to Glendale. The Ducks made every kind of shot you could think of in the early going, but unlike Purdue in its hot start against Kansas on Thursday night, Oregon was able to make it stick. The Ducks then proceeded to pour it on the Jayhawks to the tune of 1.42 points per possession in the first half, topped off by a Tyler Dorsey three-pointer from beyond NBA range just before the buzzer sounded. Though the offense regressed in the second half when the Ducks worked on killing the clock, they made shots seemingly every time Kansas appeared to go on a run.
  2. Jordan Bell stops Kansas silent at the rim. The Ducks’ hyper-athletic forward controlled the paint on defense, blocking eight shots and altering several more in addition to pulling down 13 rebounds. Bell’s presence inside was so intimidating that Kansas seemed to either think twice before attacking the lane or made costly mistakes whenever they got close to the bucket. The Jayhawks shot an uncharacteristic 8-of-17 on layups and were significantly influenced by the work inside of the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.
  3. Frank Mason gets little from his supporting cast. The leading candidate for National Player of the Year came to play tonight (21 points, four rebounds, four assists), but his teammates came well short of expectations — especially considering their performance to this point and the location in a familiar environment. Josh Jackson picked up two early fouls and didn’t crack the box score until midway through the second half. Devonte’ Graham was similarly quiet after coming into Saturday’s game on an absolute tear, and frontcourt stalwart Landen Lucas was outrebounded by every Oregon starter save for point guard Dylan Ennis. The Jayhawks had their share of looks from long range in the second half, but went just 1-of-15 from deep after halftime, sending Kansas home earlier than the Jayhawks had planned.

Star Of The Game. Tyler Dorsey (27 points, 9-of-13 FG, 6-of-10 3FG). There’s a very good argument for Bell in this space, but Dorsey’s shot-making and the confidence he inspired lifted Oregon in the closest thing this NCAA Tournament had to a true road game. He gets extra points here for his execution in the second half, as he became the go-to guy whenever Kansas started to get the crowd involved.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 98, #4 Purdue 66

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 23rd, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) is in Kansas City this weekend.

Kansas Celebrates a Dominant Sweet Sixteen Victory (KC Star)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Explosiveness makes the Jayhawks lethal. Two backbreaking runs did the Boilermakers in tonight. The first was a 21-7 stretch over six minutes to end the first half, and the other was a 21-6 napalming midway through the second half. With shooters and athleticism up and down the roster keying its lethal transition game, Kansas has kicked its offense into a gear that no other team in college basketball can match.
  2. Caleb Swanigan gets his, but Purdue’s other scorers fail to come through. Without a classic rim protector, Kansas has allowed opposing big men to play well this season utilizing a bend-don’t-break defensive style focused on containing secondary weapons. Though Purdue opened tonight’s game with a barrage of three-pointers, it wasn’t built to last. Caleb Swanigan finished with 18 points and seven rebounds, but his teammates buried just 30 percent of their long-range attempts, including an ice-cold 2-of-11 showing in the second half as the game turned into a blowout.
  3. Devonte’ Graham’s hot shooting gives Kansas extra pop. Following a solid sophomore season, there was a reasonable expectation in Lawrence was that Graham would make a big leap forward during his junior year. Graham had a good regular season, but he’s been a completely different player in Kansas’ three NCAA Tournament games, averaging 20.0 points per game and shooting an eye-popping 59 percent from distance, including a 5-of-9 showing against the Boilermakers.

Player Of The Game. Frank Mason III. The Jayhawks didn’t need Mason to make any clutch plays tonight but that didn’t stop him from being the best scorer on the floor. The clear-cut favorite for National Player of the Year scored 26 points on 9-of-11 shooting and poured in seven assists and seven rebounds against one of the tallest frontcourts in college basketball.

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NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 20th, 2017

Rush the Court is providing comprehensive coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks.

New Favorite: #1 Kansas (30-4). Despite receiving a 30-minute test from #9 Michigan State on Sunday, Kansas remains the favorite to win the Midwest Region. The Jayhawks smashed #16 UC Davis 100-62 before dominating the last 10 minutes against the Spartans in the Round of 32 — a hard-fought victory that should prepare them well for an even stronger Big Ten opponent, #4 Purdue, on Thursday. If you buy into advanced metrics, this appears to be a fairly even matchup: Kansas ranks seventh in KenPom, while the Boilermakers rank 13th. Unfortunately for Matt Painter’s group, the game will be played in Kansas City, where a sea of Jayhawk faithful is sure to outnumber Purdue fans several fold. Assuming Kansas prevails, it will be a similar story against #3 Oregon or #7 Michigan. Beating Kansas is one thing, but beating Kansas in a semi-road game is something entirely different.

Kansas Rolls Into KC as the Clear Midwest Region Favorite (USA Today Images)

Horse of Darkness: #7 Michigan (26-11). The Wolverines have not lost since that epic defeat at Northwestern on March 1, a nearly three-week stretch which has included a near-plane crash, a Big Ten Tournament championship, and a pair of gutsy NCAA Tournament victories over Oklahoma State and Louisville. Michigan now boasts the third-most efficient offense in college basketball, thanks in large part to blistering performances like the one Moritz Wagner (26 points on 11-of-14 FT) put on against the Cardinals on Sunday. If John Beilein’s group can get past shorthanded Oregon on Thursday, there’s no reason to think it can’t win this region. Heck, the Wolverines have already beaten Purdue twice since February 25, and the last time they played Kansas in the Big Dance, this happened. Look out.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #11 Rhode Island (25-10). Rhode Island entered the NCAA Tournament on an eight-game winning streak, so its victory over #6 Creighton in the Round of 64 was not that surprising. The fashion in which it whipped the Bluejays, though — winning by 14 points and trailing for exactly zero seconds in game time — was quite unexpected. So too was the Rams’ effort against #3 Oregon on Sunday night, a game in which they led by double-figures in the second half before falling victim to a cold-blooded Tyler Dorsey three-pointer in the closing seconds. For a program that had not gone dancing since 1999, Rhode Island was certainly ready for prime time.

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Big 12 Survival Guide: Keys to Each First Round Matchup

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 16th, 2017

Despite Oklahoma‘s Final Four run last season, the Big 12 continues to fight a public relations battle for reasons both earned and not when it comes to NCAA Tournament success. Kansas State‘s win over Wake Forest in Tuesday’s First Four started things off on a positive note, but the league still has plenty of work ahead. Here are the keys to each of the conference’s six games taking place over the next couple of days.

Frank Mason looks to end his career with a national title (Getty).

  • #1 Kansas – Show up. The Jayhawks have had plenty of rest over the last couple of weeks, so Friday’s game is about shaking off the rust. A handful of #15 and #16 seeds over the last decade have hung with Kansas for 20 or so minutes, but UC Davis wasn’t competitive in its only game against a Power 5 school this season — an 86-61 loss to California in November. Additionally, the Aggies have only won their last three games by a combined nine points, so they’ve beaten long odds to even get to this point. There’s no need to overthink this.

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RTC Bracket Prep: Midwest Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 13th, 2017

All day on Monday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis for the 2017 NCAA Tournament. Here, Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCMWRegion).

Midwest Region

The Pressure is on Bill Self (USA Today Images)

Favorite: #1 Kansas (28-4, 16-2 Big 12). Make no mistake—Kansas’ loss to TCU in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals is disconcerting. The Horned Frogs are an NIT team, and the Jayhawks will certainly see better opponents in the Big Dance. But freshman phenom Josh Jackson (16.4 PPG, 7.2 RPG) was suspended for that game, his absence clearly felt on both ends of the court. With college basketball’s best point guard, Frank Mason (20.8 PPG, 5.1 APG), at the helm and Jackson set to return, the Big 12 champion should have no problem regaining momentum. Looking ahead, neither Miami (FL) or Michigan State seem capable of threatening the Jayhawks in the Round of 32, while a potential Sweet Sixteen matchup with Iowa State—which ended Kansas’ 54-game home winning streak in February—could be an ideal revenge spot for Bill Self’s group. Considering #3 seed Oregon is shorthanded and #2 seed Louisville enters the NCAA Tournament in a slump, the Jayhawks’ path to another Final Four is wide open.

Should They Falter: #2 Louisville (24-8, 12-6 ACC). Though Louisville enters Friday having dropped three of its previous five contents, two of those losses were to North Carolina (in Chapel Hill) and Duke, including a narrow loss to the Blue Devils in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals. Which is to say, the Cardinals are going to be just fine. Perhaps most encouraging is the fact that—while its oppressive defense hasn’t been quite as stingy down the stretch—Louisville’s offensive efficiency improved significantly during the second half of conference play. Assuming the ball-movement is crisp and Donovan Mitchell (15.7 PPG), Quentin Snider (12.7 PPG), and Deng Adel (11.9 PPG) don’t all go cold at the same time, Rick Pitino has a sure-fire Final Four contender on his hands. Especially in light of #3 seed Oregon’s recent bad news.

Grossly Overseeded: #9 Michigan State (19-4, 10-8 Big Ten). The vast majority of bracketologists at BracketMatrix.com pegged Michigan State as a #10, #11 or even #12 seed (average: 10.2). Instead, the Spartans received a #9 seed, which is especially strange when you consider that Wisconsin (#8 seed) and Michigan (#7 seed)—each with markedly better resumes and far stronger metrics—were barely treated any better. Perhaps it wouldn’t be as large of an issue were the optics not so bad: Michigan State’s athletic director, Mark Hollis, was this year’s NCAA Selection Committee Chair.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big 12 Teams

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 12th, 2017

The Big 12 will send six teams to the NCAA Tournament, down from seven in each of the last three seasons. Kansas State may have missed the cut if not for its win over Baylor on Thursday night, but the Wildcats took care of business and the committee rewarded them with a bid despite a soft non-conference schedule. In other relevant news, Kansas lost its grip on the #1 overall seed after its quarterfinal defeat to TCU, while Baylor slipped to a #3 seed due to a 5-6 stretch entering Selection Sunday. Below is a quick look at the Big 12’s lot, including best-case and worst-case scenarios for each team over the coming weeks.

Frank Mason gets one last shot to deliver a national title for Kansas. (Aaron Doster/USA Today Sports)

Kansas (#1 Midwest) – Bill Self‘s team opens on Friday against the winner of North Carolina Central and UC Davis. Assuming a win there, the Jayhawks will either face Miami (FL) or Michigan State, a familiar foe from the Champions Classic rotation.

  • Best Case: Powered by a deathly combination of hot three-point shooting, Josh Jackson‘s dynamic athleticism and Frank Mason‘s knack for closing games, the Jayhawks compartmentalize their off-court issues and cut down the nets in Glendale on April 3.
  • Worst Case: Foul trouble from Landen Lucas and a poor shooting night lead to the Jayhawks underperforming versus their seed for the fifth straight NCAA Tournament.

Baylor (#3 East) – Baylor’s sputtering finish definitely cost them. Not only did the Bears drop from a #2 to a #3 seed, but they received a very tough potential draw in the form of SMU in the second round. That match-up would neutralize (to some degree) the advantage the Bears gain by playing in nearby Tulsa.

  • Best Case: The Bears put the last two seasons of disappointing finishes in the rearview mirror, stifling offenses with their amoeba zone and riding Johnathan Motley‘s all-around game to the team’s third Elite Eight appearance under Scott Drew.
  • Worst Case: With Manu Lecomte compromised by ankle problems, Motley faces constant double-teams and the Bears once again fail to beat a double-digit seed in the opening round.

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Big 12 Quarterfinal Takeaways

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 10th, 2017

Thursday’s quarterfinal round of the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City had a little bit of everything. While #1 seed Kansas wasn’t at full strength with Josh Jackson out of the lineup, TCU pulled off what could be the upset of the week in college basketball in moving to the semifinals. The other afternoon game featured Iowa State’s Monte’ Morris and Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans putting on an entertaining show as the Cyclones treated their big contingency of traveling fans to a win. In the evening session, West Virginia wore Texas down in the only game that lacked significant drama, but Kansas State made up for it by winning a game it absolutely needed to stay alive for an at-large bid. Let’s get to the biggest takeaways from the day that was.

TCU guard Desmond Bane hit three decisive free throws after being fouled by Svi Mykhailiuk with the game tied in the closing seconds. (Nick Krug/KUSports.com)

  • TCU stuns Kansas, but the Jayhawks are still in position for a #1 seed. Prior to Thursday afternoon’s upset, Jackson’s suspension didn’t seem like a deal-breaker. Kansas had swept TCU in the regular season, including a December 30 win in Fort Worth where the freshman wing scored four points and fouled out in 12 forgettable minutes. As it turned out yesterday, however, Kansas sorely missed Jackson’s presence, especially on the offensive glass. The Horned Frogs, playing for the second day in a row, rebounded 78.8 percent of Kansas’ misses, about 10 percent above their season-long rate. Still, despite the shock factor, this isn’t a devastating loss for Kansas. The Jayhawks won the nation’s top-rated conference by four games, beat Kentucky, Baylor and Iowa State on the road, and outlasted Duke on a neutral court. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that when Kansas begins its NCAA Tournament appearance on March 17, it will be playing in just its fourth game in 19 days, and Jackson will be playing his first game in almost two whole weeks. The Jayhawks could benefit from some rest and a #16 seed will provide a chance to shake off any rust, but it’s a very different stretch from what the team has grown accustomed to.

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