Ten Questions to Consider: MLK Weekend Hoops

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 13th, 2018

Last weekend 11 of the 25 teams in the AP Poll lost a game. As we already know, in conference play, anything is possible. Here are 10 things to watch for this weekend.

Mike Brey Really Needs His Point Guard Back (USA Today Images)

  1. Can a short-handed Notre Dame find a way to stay close against North Carolina? Without the injured Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell available in its last two games, Notre Dame has shot 38.2 percent on two-point attempts and 23.1 percent on three-point attempts (yet still managed to beat Syracuse — go figure). With Farrell’s status still unclear heading into this weekend, the Irish will need production from T.J. Gibbs, Rex Pflueger, and Martinas Geben.
  2. Will the Cintas Center be the difference for Xavier? After dropping two straight games on the road, Xavier returns home to play Creighton. The Musketeers allowed both of their opponents last week (Providence and Villanova) to shoot the ball considerably better than what they typically allow.
  3. Can Texas A&M avoid an 0-5 start in the SEC?  Since starting the year 11-1, Texas A&M has lost its first four SEC games. The Aggies are coming off of a pair of one-point losses and need to find a way to turn its fortunes around very quickly. A&M hosts a Tennessee team that has struggled to keep its opponents off the offensive glass all season long, an area in which Texas A&M has shined.
  4. Is this an early “must-win” if Michigan State plans on winning the Big Ten? At 4-1 in the Big Ten, Michigan State is off to a fine start. That said, with the only loss coming to Ohio State and only a single game against Purdue to come, the Spartans could find themselves on the short end of several tie-breakers if they lose some games at home. Michigan State barely defeated Rutgers this week and now intrastate rival Michigan comes to town. Last season, star forward Miles Bridges shot over 54 percent on two-point attempts in conference play, but so far this year he is shooting just 37 percent on those same shots. Read the rest of this entry »
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Ten Questions to Consider: Conference Play Heats Up

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 6th, 2018

As we turn the corner into 2018 and settle into conference play, let’s examine 10 questions heading into a busy weekend.

Texas Tech Looks to Build Off Its Huge Upset Win in Allen Fieldhouse (USA Today Images)

  1. Big 12, Part 1: Will Kansas leave Forth Worth with one or two conference losses? While Kansas was picked once again to win the Big 12 in the conference’s preseason poll, the Jayhawks are in serious danger of losing two of their first three conference games. Earlier this season, head coach Bill Self noted that “this is the softest team that Kansas has had since I’ve been here. Things have not improved since those remarks as Kansas currently owns the second worst defensive efficiency in the Big 12 and ranks last in opponents’ rebounding rate through two games.
  2. Big 12, Part 2: Who will stay undefeated at the top? While Trae Young shines every night out for the Sooners, Oklahoma has also received consistent contributions from his sidekicks Kameron McGusty, Christian James and Brady Manek. West Virginia will represent the Sooners’ second opponent this season with a defensive efficiency within the top 50. The Mountaineers will get an offensive boost with the return of Esa Ahmad, who was second on the team in scoring last year.
  3. Big 12, Part 3: Should Texas Tech be concerned with Kansas State? After beating Kansas in Lawrence earlier this week, Texas Tech is riding high with a 2-0 record in Big 12 play. With games to come next week at Oklahoma and versus West Virginia, it would be easy to overlook a Kansas State team that lacks a true marquee win. But the Wildcats have four double-figure scorers and are a year removed from having already beaten Texas Tech. Beating Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse was a program-defining win, but it will lose some of its luster if Texas Tech fails to show up against Kansas State.
  4. How will Notre Dame look without Bonzie Colson? While Notre Dame did not miss a beat without the services of an injured Bonzie Colson against NC State, the Irish must now deal with a tricky road game against the Syracuse 2-3 zone. ESPN.com‘s Jeff Borzello reported earlier this week that Colson — who accounts for approximately a quarter of Notre Dame’s points and rebounds this season — is likely to miss eight weeks with a foot fracture. TJ Gibbs stepped up with 22 points in the Irish’s first game without Colson, his fifth time with at least 20 points this season. Read the rest of this entry »
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With Kansas’ Home Dominance Narrowing, It’s Game on in the Big 12…

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 4th, 2018

Texas Tech‘s victory at Allen Fieldhouse earlier this week was big for a few reasons. First, it announced to the college basketball world that Chis Beard‘s Red Raiders have arrived; it also established that Kansas‘ home loss to Arizona State last month was not a fluke; and it opened up meaningful discussion that the Jayhawks’ dominion over the rest of the Big 12 will be tested in a way that it hasn’t in the 13-year history of The Streak (TM). Let’s start with the Jayhawks’ newfound vulnerability, particularly at home. Prior to this year, Lawrence has been nothing short of a fortress for Bill Self’s team. You have to go all the way back to the 1975-76 season to find the last time when Kansas dropped two games at Allen by January 2. That isn’t to say that the storied gym won’t be a significant home court advantage for the Jayhawks more often than not, but the level of mystique that once led Baylor head coach Scott Drew to hold his team’s pregame huddle in the tunnel isn’t quite there this season — as evidenced by the Sun Devils and Red Raiders hanging 1.18 and 1.21 points per possession on the team, respectively.

With multiple home losses already on its resume, Kansas’ generational streak of conference dominance will be tested unlike another year. (Jamie Squire/Getty)

Of course, much of that has to do with Kansas’ ongoing depth issues that are feeding into the team’s shortfalls on both ends of the court. Self’s teams have always been leaned on activity and movement, and no one knows that more than senior Devonte’ Graham, the only player the head coach truly trusts at point guard. Graham has played fewer than 36 minutes just once in the Jayhawks’ last eight outings and his wear and tear is beginning to show. The lack of depth is also apparent down low, where 280-pound center Udoka Azubuike is admirably but not always effectively playing through back pain. Kansas figures to get some help with Silvio De Sousa reportedly nearing NCAA clearance and the Billy Preston investigation potentially ending soon, but as we noted last month, any reinforcements the team receives will only help but so much. This is still a top-notch offensive unit, but sustaining that level of performance will be dependent on diversifying an attack beyond three-pointers and lobs, which in turn will rely on keeping the current personnel healthy and fresh, mixed in with the occasional drive instead of a rushed jumper.

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A Quick Look at the Big 12’s Opening Weekend

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 29th, 2017

It’s not very often that the performance of a single conference as a whole is extensively discussed before the start of league play, but the manner in which the Big 12 asserted itself over the first six weeks of the 2017-18 season was nothing short of impressive. Nine of the conference’s 10 teams are ranked among the top 50 of KenPom‘s current rankings, and no team took more losses than Texas‘ three (of which two came in overtime against very good Duke and Gonzaga teams). In fact, the league finished non-conference play by ripping off 27 straight victories. Yes, there were some cupcakes in there, but there were also road and semi-road meetings against teams like Wichita State, Florida State and Nebraska. It’s gotten to the point where there’s been reasoned discussion on this site and others of the Big 12 sending 80 percent of its membership to the NCAA Tournament come March. Even if an underperforming team squelches that possibility, this conference will have meaningful games practically every night from now until March, beginning with tonight’s action. Here’s a quick look at each of the weekend’s five games.

Kansas remains the Big 12 favorite, but its competition is tougher than ever. (AP)

  1. West Virginia at Oklahoma State (Friday 7:00 ET, ESPNU) – The Cowboys project as one of the league’s worst teams, but West Virginia is just a 3.5-point favorite, which should tell you something about the Big 12’s parity and the intense challenge that the road represents this season, no matter the gym. Since installing the press prior to the 2014-15 season, Bob Huggins has not lost in Stillwater, and I expect that to continue tonight. Oklahoma State’s 10-2 start in the wake of Brad Underwood’s unexpected departure is a nice story, but the Cowboys are lacking in the three key areas needed to get the best of the Mountaineers: Ball control (117th nationally), defensive rebounding (174th) and drawing fouls (291st). Those will have to change if the Cowboys are to pull the upset.
  2. Baylor at Texas Tech (Friday 8:00 ET, Fox Sports Regional) – The Red Raiders stunned the Bears in Lubbock last season to give then-first year head coach Chris Beard a big home win. Three Baylor players fouled out of that game, which saw Texas Tech head to the foul line 43 times over the course of the night. That probably won’t be the case this time around, as Baylor ranks second in the country in foul avoidance. It also means that Texas Tech will need to find a fallback plan quickly if Baylor’s zone keeps Keenan Evans, Zach Smith and Zhaire Smith from attacking the rim as effectively as they have to this point in the season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Morning Five: 12.21.17 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 21st, 2017

morning5

  1. We all had been waiting for the fateful day when the NCAA would bring down the hammer on UNC basketball for its academic fraud and it happened last Friday to little fanfare. Of course, the reason for the lack of interest was that the NCAA’s sanctions were against Northern Colorado (a case we were unaware of as opposed to the much-publicized one against North Carolina). In its decision (full 45-page PDF here) the NCAA placed the men’s basketball program on probation for three years for academic fraud and recruiting violations. In addition to the probation, the school was given a one-year postseason ban (already served), pay back the money it received from its 2011 NCAA Tournament appearance, restrictions on scholarships and recruiting, and vacating records. They also gave seven coaches “show cause” penalties including a six-year penalty for B.J. Hill with the assistant coaches receiving penalties ranging from three years to five years. Despite his 86-98 record (the NCAA Tournament appearance was in his first year at the school), we would not be surprised to see Hill return to the sidelines after his show cause is up since he is only 44 years old.
  2. Kansas is off to an unexpectedly slow start this year, which some have attributed to the fact that they have been missing two key players–Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa–as they await word on their eligibility. We tend to agree with Brian Goodman’s analysis that the team’s problems are more than just the absence of a few players, but we may start to get part of the answer for that as it appears that De Sousa could be eligible to play as early as the team’s Big 12 opener against Texas on December 29. De Sousa, who reclassified from the class of 2018 and is trying to get the necessary test scores to be eligible, is a top-30 recruit who will give an additional inside presence. Preston’s status is more uncertain as the school is still sorting out issues related to an incident in November that the school is investigating to get a “clearer financial picture specific to the vehicle”.
  3. Speaking of Kansas, given the way that things seem to function around college sports in college towns we are not surprised with the news that no charges will be filed over a report that a 16-year-old girl was raped at a Kansas dorm. The District Attorney stated that they did not have enough evidence to prove that the sexual assault occurred. It does not appear that any Kansas players were implicated in the alleged assault there, but five players listed as potential witnesses although that does not mean they were eyewitnesses to the alleged assault just that they were reportedly in the vicinity of where the girl/assault reportedly happened. Perhaps the only noteworthy thing to come of this case was that the investigation led police to find drug paraphernalia that they tied to Carlton Bragg Jr, who subsequently transferred to Arizona State before taking a leave of absence from there for personal reasons.
  4. On Friday, North Carolina State suspended starting point guard Markell Johnson indefinitely for violating the school’s student code of conduct. We still are not sure what Johnson did to merit the suspending and based on the response from Kevin Keatts so far (not giving any additional information and not acknowledging that Johnson’s absence hurt them in Saturday’s loss to UNC-Greensboro) we doubt will get more clarity any time soon. Until Johnson’s indefinite suspension is over (already at two games, which is two more games that other ACC coaches would keep their starting point guard out for an indefinite suspension), the Wolfpack will have to find a way to replace Johnson’s 8.7 points, 6.6 assists, and ACC-leading 2.4 steals per game.
  5. Texas A&M will be without junior guard Admon Gilder for 2-3 weeks as he recovers from a knee injury he suffered in last week’s win over Savannah State. Gilder is averaging 12.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game and although the Aggies have depth at guard that comes primarily in the form of freshman, which will make it will be hard to replace those numbers and Gilder’s defense consistently. Despite the absence of Gilder and Robert Williams the Aggies were able to win their first game without Gilder with a 6-point win over Northern Kentucky. Fortunately for the Aggies they have almost a week and a half left before they begin SEC play when Gilder’s absence will be more signifcant.
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Reinforcements Can Help Kansas, But Not Where the Jayhawks Need It Most

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 12th, 2017

With the end of the semester approaching, 7-2 Kansas is due to receive some help with the addition of transfer wing Sam Cunliffe, and the possibility remains that some combination of big men Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa could also come on board as both work toward gaining eligibility. Though the Jayhawks could certainly use some additional frontcourt depth, any reinforcements they receive should not be mistaken for a cure-all as they look to bounce back from consecutive regular season losses for the first time since 2013.

Kansas’ perimeter-oriented approach has worked well, but not without some glaring weaknesses. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

As thin as Bill Self‘s team is down low, Kansas’ two-point defense remains among the very best in the country. Even after getting carved up by Arizona State on Sunday, the Jayhawks still rank among the top 30 nationally in two-point defense and 10 best in adjusted defensive efficiency. Although some help on the low blocks could keep Udoka Azubuike from worrying about foul trouble and prevent the head coach from turning to unusual measures like relying on a walk-on to play key minutes against power conference teams and dipping into the football roster for help, what would really make this defense whole is greater urgency from the backcourt in adequately defending the perimeter. Read the rest of this entry »

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The 2017-18 RTC16: Week Four

Posted by Walker Carey on December 12th, 2017

The week of the upset came much earlier this season. Last week certainly called a great deal of attention to the sport of college basketball as several highly-ranked teams fell victim to unexpected losses. Former RTC16 mainstays Florida and Notre Dame both discovered they are not always protected by a home court advantage, as the Gators lost in Gainesville to #16 Florida State and Loyola-Chicago, and the Fighting Irish fell in South Bend to Ball State. While those losses were certainly notable, they are an afterthought considering what happened to #3 Duke and #14 Kansas last week. The Blue Devils once again showed their defensive deficiencies in a stunning weekend defeat at the hands of Boston College, while the previously unbeaten Jayhawks lost to unranked Washington in Kansas City before suffering an extremely rare home defeat to #5 Arizona State. The season is obviously still young, but both of those teams will need to make some adjustments if they want to get back on the winning track. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty analysis is after the jump…

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Washington on the Come Up?

Posted by RJ Abeytia on December 8th, 2017

Washington, a team left for dead by the pundit class before the season even started, showed plenty of bark and bite earlier this week in snagging the Pac-12’s best non-conference win of the season versus #2 Kansas in Kansas City — functionally speaking, the Jayhawks’ alternate home court. The question now becomes whether such a monumental win gives any indication that the Huskies’ level of play is sustainable? Three things stand out about Washington’s win: First, Mike Hopkins‘ club won the three-point battle. Second, the Huskies kept Kansas off the free throw line by defending cleanly and effectively. Finally, they got a 19-point, five three-pointer masterpiece of an offensive performance from Matisse Thybulle. So to what extent were these three pillars of victory outliers?

Mike Hopkins Leads a New-Look Washington Program (USA Today Images)

Per KenPom, Washington on the year is shooting 33.5 percent from behind the arc and its opponents are shooting 37.1 percent. The Huskies get 25.2 percent of their points from the three-point line, which rates 294th in the country, but logged 36.4 percent (27) of their points from distance on Wednesday night while holding Kansas to only 25 percent shooting beyond the arc. On the year, the Huskies send opponents to the line at a 34.2 percent FTA/FGA rate, but they allowed the Jayhawks just eight free throws against 62 field goal attempts in Kansas City. That’s converts to a stellar 13 percent FTA rate that would make Washington one of the cleanest defending teams in the country if they were to maintain that identity on a nightly basis. Thybulle’s 19 points were built on a great shooting night resulting in a 177.0 Offensive Rating for the game. Last year Thybulle carried a respectable 106.7 ORtg and is currently at 104.5 this season. Was his sharpshooting (five threes) against the Jayhawks an ascent back to his normal mean? Washington should probably hope so, as his body of work last year (41 percent on 131 attempts) suggests that’s the case.  

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Ten Questions to Consider: Hall of Fame Classic Tips Off Weekend Action

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 8th, 2017

The best way to start a weekend of college basketball is by having a quality triple-header on Friday night, and the Hall of Fame Classic in Los Angeles will deliver that to us.

Trae Young Headlines a Strong Group of Teams in Los Angeles Tonight

  1. Which will prevail — good offense or good defense? The Hall of Fame Classic begins this evening with a match-up between St. John’s and Arizona State. Arizona State is ranked among the top 20 nationally in offensive efficiency, three-point percentage, and two-point percentage, while St. John’s ranks among the top 20 in effective field-goal defense, turnover, block and steal rates. In their one loss, the Red Storm allowed Missouri to shoot 51 percent from distance and gave up 26 free throws.
  2. Can USC end its losing streak? The second game from the Staples Center tonight features a pair of interesting teams in Oklahoma and USC. After starting the season 4-0, USC has dropped its last two games. One area that has let the Trojans down is fairly simple — shooting the ball. In its first four games, USC shot 41 percent from beyond the arc; in losses to Texas A&M and SMU, USC shot just 27 percent from distance. If the Trojans fail to get a win tonight against Oklahoma, USC’s resume will be devoid of a quality non-conference win.
  3. How will TCU fare with the late tip-off time? Not only does TCU have to prepare for a talented and undefeated Nevada squad, but the tip-off time back home in Fort Worth will be midnight. While TCU has held three opponents to under 30 percent three-point shooting this season, the Horned Frogs tonight face Nevada’s Caleb Martin and Kendall Stephens, a pair of 6’7″ forwards who are each shooting better than 44 percent in high-volume three-point attempts. Read the rest of this entry »
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Friday Figures: Kansas’ Zone O, Baylor’s Rebounding Woes & Texas Tech’s Defense

Posted by Chris Stone on December 8th, 2017

After a couple of weeks off, Friday Figures is back to dive into some of the most interesting statistical notes from around the Big 12 with a look at issues surrounding Kansas, Baylor and Texas Tech.

A smart game plan can make a big difference. It’s rare to see a team play against the same iteration of a zone defense in back-to-back non-conference games like Kansas did last week, but since Washington hired former Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins in March, the Jayhawks faced Jim Boeheim’s notorious 2-3 zone twice in five days with wildly different results. Kansas rather easily handled the Orange behind 35 points from Devonte’ Graham on Saturday before stumbling against a much worse Huskies squad in Kansas City on Wednesday night. So, what changed?

The Kansas offense couldn’t find success against Washington’s zone. (Image credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s all about shot selection. Hopkins brought the wings of his 2-3 zone all the way out to the perimeter to deny the Jayhawks’ three-point attempts in the half-court, effectively creating a 4-1 zone. He wanted to deny a potent Kansas offense its most efficient shot, and it worked like a charm. According to Hoop-Math, just 17.4 percent of the Jayhawks’ half-court attempts were threes against the Huskies compared with a wild 57.1 percent against Syracuse. Add in Kansas shooting just 3-of-12 on quickly taken threes and there is the anatomy for an upset.

Given that opposing defenses have more control over three-point attempts than actual three-point percentage, it’ll be interesting to observe if other teams try something similar against Kansas this season.

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