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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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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Three Things to Watch in Tonight’s Kansas-Baylor Game

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 7th, 2015

It’s only the Big 12’s first full week of conference play, but without a runaway favorite and as many as six teams with hopes to win the conference, nearly every Big 12 game is going to have an impact. Tonight’s headliner pits Baylor against Kansas at the Ferrell Center in Waco. The Jayhawks were the last team to beat the Bears at home nearly a year ago (February 4, 2014), so Baylor is looking to avoid a repeat performance. In this preview, Brian Goodman breaks down the elements most likely to decide the outcome of tonight’s important battle.

Frank Mason leads the Jayhawks on the road, where they'll have to neutralize Baylor's advantage inside. (Denny Medley/USA Today)

Frank Mason leads the Jayhawks on the road, where they’ll have to neutralize Baylor’s advantage inside. (Denny Medley/USA Today)

  1. Kansas’ lineups and rotations. Over the last five games, the lineup of Frank Mason, Wayne Selden, Kelly Oubre, Perry Ellis and Cliff Alexander has been the Jayhawks’ most effective one, but it hasn’t been the one Bill Self has most frequently deployed. Rather, Self has preferred a lineup with Jamari Traylor taking Alexander’s place, despite being an average rebounder and mediocre finisher (shooting just 41.5 percent from the floor). Thanks to his athleticism, Traylor can be an effective energy guy in spurts, but the Jayhawks have been at their best with the more efficient Alexander manning the paint alongside Ellis. This was the case during Kansas’ game-finishing run to put UNLV away on Sunday.
  2. Baylor’s bruisers. It’s no surprise that the Bears rank fourth nationally in offensive rebounding rate, corralling 43.7 percent of their misses on the season. That consistency is due in large part to the effort of Rico Gathers, who grabbed 15 rebounds over 39 minutes in Baylor’s two meetings against Kansas last season, and makes it easy for Baylor to generate offense despite suspect interior shooting. The Jayhawks had trouble creating separation against UNLV’s athletic core of big men until the last 10 minutes of Sunday’s contest and will struggle to leave Waco with a win if Gathers and freshman Johnathan Motley deprive Alexander, Ellis and Traylor of those opportunities.
  3. The battle of perimeter attacks. Sharpshooter Brady Heslip isn’t around to haunt Big 12 teams anymore, but the Bears still have some serious long-range bombers on their roster. Scott Drew’s rotation currently features five players who shoot at least 34 percent or better from beyond the arc, led by a 53.8 percent clip from Taurean Prince, perhaps the conference’s most improved player. On the other end of the floor, Kansas’ shooters have been streaky. One of the main reasons why Frank Mason has been such a huge asset this season has been his 51.4 percent three-point shooting, forcing defenses to guard him and in turn opening passing lanes. Kelly Oubre‘s smooth shot (48.1%) has been effective as well, and after a disappointing start to the season, Wayne Selden has embraced his role as a shooter (36.7%) who will occasionally attack off the bounce. Despite all of that shooting firepower, one of the things keeping Kansas’ offense from higher productivity has been a relative team-wide passivity from distance. The Jayhawks are the best three-point shooting team in the conference at 39.2 percent, but they take only 29 percent of their shots from beyond the arc, a level of frequency that ranks a dispiriting ninth in the Big 12 (and 292nd in the country). It therefore stands to reason that Kansas would benefit from centering its offensive attack on perimeter shooting rather than depending on Ellis and Alexander to generate most of the offense inside.
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Big 12 Conference Catch-Up: Kansas, Texas and Iowa State

Posted by Brian Goodman & Chris Stone on January 2nd, 2015

As the Big 12 schools conclude their non-conference schedules, it’s a great time to catch up on where the league’s 10 teams stand entering conference play. Once again, Kansas has navigated an arduous schedule, but enough questions remain that we can at least consider the possibility that another team wins the conference. The Jayhawks’ closest challengers are a Texas team that has kept pace despite losing one of the best point guards in the country for an extended period of time, while Iowa State has another high-powered team with a newly-eligible big man who Cyclones fans hope will provide a needed lift on defense.

Kansas (via Chris Stone)

  • Key wins: at Georgetown, Utah (in Kansas City)
  • Key losses: Kentucky (in Indianapolis), at Temple
With two good outings recently, the game finally appears to be slowing down for Kelly Oubre, and that could be bad news for the rest of the Big 12. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

With two good outings recently, is the game finally slowing down for hyped Kansas freshman Kelly Oubre? (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

It’s very easy to watch Kansas’s blowout losses to Kentucky and Temple and write off the Jayhawks as a Big 12 title contender. To do so, however, would ignore the rest of their resume. Kansas has five wins over teams ranked in the top 50 of KenPom’s efficiency rankings; Only Kentucky can match that total. Sophomore Frank Mason is providing Bill Self with his best point guard play since Sherron Collins left Lawrence five years ago. Mason is averaging 11.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game. Freshman Kelly Oubre is finally emerging as the potential lottery pick he was billed as before the season, having scored 20 points in two of the last three games. Still, those two losses linger. Kentucky dominated the Jayhawks in Indianapolis. Temple rocked Kansas at the Wells Fargo Center. The typical refrain surrounding Kansas has been to trust in Bill Self, the man who has won 10 straight conference titles, but Self is still tinkering with his starting lineup while trying to play through a frontcourt that has struggled to score inside. Kansas is shooting just 52.3 percent on shots at the rim, a number that is nearly 15 percent worse than last season’s mark, according to data from hoop-math.com. In particular, junior Perry Ellis has seen his shooting percentage decline by over 10 percent as he’s had a difficult time scoring against the size of teams like Kentucky, Georgetown, and Utah. The Jayhawks have their limitations and the losses to Kentucky and Temple showcased them. They’ve also had their triumphs that suggest an ability to compete for another Big 12 championship. Much depends on the consistency of Mason, the continued emergence of Oubre, and the play of bigs like Ellis and Cliff Alexander, but to write off Kansas is to also write off Self’s history and the quality of their non-conference resume. Big 12 coaches won’t make that mistake, and you shouldn’t, either.

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Three Thoughts on Kansas’ Second Obliteration of the Season

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 23rd, 2014

Brian Goodman filed this report right after Temple’s stunning 77-52 upset over #10 Kansas Monday evening in Philadelphia.

  1. When the Jayhawks get the bad Perry Ellis, the wheels come off quickly. The junior forward that many were counting on to lead the Jayhawks has been a total no-show over the last two games, going a combined 3-of-16 from the floor. He’s been fighting off an illness, which excuses part of his play, but Kansas was expected to win last night’s game without too much trouble despite being on the road. It may not be completely fair that Ellis needs to shoulder so much of the load, but until Cliff Alexander and Jamari Traylor start producing in the paint, he’s all Kansas has there, so when nobody produces, this is what happens. During the game, there was some talk on Twitter about the need for point guard Frank Mason to become a more vocal leader. That may be true to an extent, but if an unheralded point guard already playing above expectations in his first year as a full-time starter is a primary source of your disappointment with this team, you’re looking at the wrong guy.

    It was party time in Philly after one of the more improbable blowouts in recent history. (AP)

    It was party time in Philly after one of the more improbable blowouts in recent history. (AP)

  2. There was more to it than Temple just getting hot (although the Owls were). The Owls came into last night’s game as the AAC’s third-worst shooting team inside the arc and the worst-shooting team outside of it, but they shot a season-best 58.3 percent from the floor in the upset win. However, that may not be the most telling thing about this game. Had Temple merely shot its pedestrian season averages from the field, they still would have prevailed, which is another indictment of Kansas’ rough offensive performance (0.80 PPP). The Jayhawks’ defense isn’t nearly as bad as it looked last night (giving up 1.18 PPP), but the margin by which they got outscored in the paint (34-18) was just staggering. Kansas went on to pack it in down the stretch, which allowed the Owls to turn the unlikely upset into a full-on party. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 M5: 12.23.14 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 23rd, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. In a game that was decided during the first few minutes of action, Kansas fell to Temple by an astonishing score of 77-52 on Monday night. Leading scorer Perry Ellis struggled, going 1-of-1o from the field, but he didn’t get much support from his teammates either (10-of-28 from two-point range). To further illustrate how anticlimactic the outcome of this game was, Temple scored the first seven points of the game before the Jayhawks scored their first two — that five-point deficit would be the Owls’ smallest lead of the entire game, while their largest lead at one time topped out at 30 points. It was a poor performance, for sure, but there’s no reason to start flipping out yet over Kansas’ long-term outlook. Bill Self’s team has some problems, but it is still very much a threat to win another Big 12 regular season title.
  2. Late last night, the Associated Press reported that Oklahoma had fired an unnamed men’s basketball support staffer for committing an NCAA violation related to an “extra benefit violation.” Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione says that the school has notified the NCAA of the violation and it has already taken “corrective action we believe to be appropriate.” The Sooners were also in action Monday night, easily running past Weber State by a score of 85-51.
  3. In recent games, Kansas head coach Bill Self has rewarded Kelly Oubre‘s hard work with more playing time. The Big 12 announced on Monday that it too was rewarding Oubre’s stellar recent play with his first Newcomer of the Week award after he posted career highs in points (23) and rebounds (10) versus Lafayette last week. The conference also awarded West Virginia‘s Juwan Staten his first Player of the Week award of the season after his 24-point, six-assist performance in the Mountaineers’ victory over NC State.
  4. Last week, ESPN reported that Texas guard Damarcus Croaker would transfer at the end of the fall semester, and on Monday, he announced via Twitter that he will transfer to Murray State. Croaker averaged around 9.5 minutes per game in his first year-plus for the Longhorns but had only played in five of the team’s nine games this season. Joining the Racers allows for Croaker to not only be a little closer to his son, who lives in Orlando, Florida, but also attend a familiar school, one that had recruited him out of high school.
  5. The field for the 2015 Diamond Head Classic was announced on Sunday and Oklahoma was selected as one of the eight participating schools. The Sooners will be a part of a competitive field with BYU, Harvard, New Mexico, Northern Iowa, Auburn and Washington State along with the host school Hawaii. It’s a solid group of teams that are typically in contention for NCAA Tournament bids if not elite programs. Other than Hawaii, Washington State and Auburn are probably the weakest links, but under the new leaderships of Ernie Kent and Bruce Pearl, respectively, both teams should be considerably better in their second seasons.
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Big 12 M5: 12.17.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 17th, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. We lead with a thorough analysis from Bleacher Report‘s CJ Moore on how the mock draft culture impacts its key stakeholders from NBA prospects and their families to college coaches to pro scouts to the work of people such as ESPN’s Chad Ford and DraftExpress‘ Jonathan Givony. We recommend you read the entire article, which is couched in Kelly Oubre‘s scenario with Kansas, because Moore does a fantastic job of seeking out the most relevant angles, but it’s especially interesting to hear how head coach Bill Self feels about the mock draft dynamic; Some of his objections are valid, even though they can also be interpreted as self-serving. Ultimately, I think Givony’s response that it’s up to each individual to form their own opinion and that it’s not right for coaches to conflate one person’s thoughts with the community’s as a whole is fair as well.
  2. West Virginia‘s struggles in its first two seasons of Big 12 membership dimmed the national spotlight on the Mountaineers, which was unfortunate for many reasons. Of course, I wanted to see West Virginia be as competitive in their new home as they were in the Big East, but lower on the list, their diminished relevance provided fewer opportunities for a good-old-fashioned Bob Huggins rant to make the rounds. That ended Monday night and into Tuesday, though, when the 61-year-old vet sounded off on his radio show after Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni accused him of being “afraid” to play the Thundering Herd twice a year (D’Antoni’s comments were sparked by a close loss to the Mountaineers on Sunday). Huggins is right to be incensed at D’Antoni’s comments both as one of the most fearless head coaches in the game and as the leader of a West Virginia program that has much more to lose than they have to gain by repeatedly playing a mediocre team like Marshall. It isn’t very often that we see coaches react so emotionally and honestly, so when the opportunity presents itself, it’s definitely worth checking out.
  3. Every season, there’s a handful of players you swore have been in college forever. This season, that hypothetical roster includes guys like Oklahoma State forward Le’Bryan Nash, who was a highly-touted recruit expected to not be long for college, but is nonetheless still at it in Stillwater. Despite being the only top-15 recruit from the high school Class of 2011 still in college, Nash is at peace with his position as the leader of a talented Cowboy squad. In speaking to CBSSports.com‘s Gary Parrish, Nash admitted that he has flirted with declaring for the NBA Draft each offseason since his arrival. According to head coach Travis Ford, Nash chose to return for his senior season so he could take ownership of the Cowboys. So far, the decision has worked out for all parties involved, as Nash is currently the second-leading scorer in the Big 12 with an efficient 17.7 points per game on 11 shots per contest. There’s no doubt that his presence has given Oklahoma State someone to rally around and lead them to a bounceback season. Staying on campus for all four years isn’t what Nash had in mind, but to his credit, he’s adapted well, so it’s tough not to find yourself rooting for him.
  4. In a game that was never really a game, Oklahoma trounced in-state foe Oral Roberts 85-53 in front of a light home crowd. The Golden Eagles were simply no match for the Sooners’ attack, which was able to put up a high scoring total despite getting only three points from the free throw line. Buddy Hield led Oklahoma with 16 points, while Ryan Spangler dominated the glass and Jordan Woodard had eight assists — in other words, the Sooners stuck to their blueprint, though in fairness, Oral Roberts was playing its third game in four days. We may not have learned much about the Sooners in this one, but Saturday’s matchup against Washington in neutral Las Vegas should be more revealing.
  5. On a minor note, the end of the semester has come, and that means certain players concluding that their current schools aren’t doing the trick for them. To that end, we learned yesterday that former Texas guard Damarcus Croaker and former Iowa State guard Sherron Dorsey-Walker will look for new homes. Croaker, a two-guard, averaged 9.5 minutes per game this season, but failed to see any court time in the Longhorns’ biggest games. He’s looking to transfer closer to his native Orlando so he can be with his young son. Dorsey-Walker, most notably, was Fred Hoiberg’s first redshirt player, but struggled to gain a foothold in the Cyclone rotation in each of his two eligible seasons. With a more talented guard in Oregon State transfer Hallice Cook set to play next season, the writing appeared to be on the wall. Dorsey-Walker may have been an afterthought in Iowa State’s rotation, but had offers from Michigan and Indiana (among others) as a recruit, so it will be interesting to see who takes him in.
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Two Burning Questions: Previewing Kansas vs. Florida

Posted by Brian Goodman & David Changas on December 5th, 2014

The Big 12/SEC Challenge will wrap up tonight at 9:00 ET as Kansas looks to exact revenge for a loss in Gainesville last year. Meanwhile, the Gators are in need of a signature non-conference win, and what better venue to get that win than in a raucous Allen Fieldhouse? RTC contributors Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) and David Changas (@dchangas) are here to break down a tilt between two of the millennium’s best programs.

BG: The Jayhawks may finally have their answer at point guard after Frank Mason enjoyed a very successful Orlando Classic as freshman Devonte’ Graham continued to heal from a shoulder injury. The sophomore posted averages of 11.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game last week and has been the primary reason why Kansas has regained its footing despite Graham’s troubles, Wayne Selden‘s shooting slump, and Kelly Oubre‘s failure to find his way onto the court for more than a few minutes a night. In the other backcourt, Kasey Hill has come up big for a Florida team that has otherwise struggled out of the gate. How important is this match-up to the outcome of the game and how do you see it turning out?

Another steady game from Frank Mason would lend an added sense of security for a Kansas team that has occasionally struggled to find consistency in its backcourt. (AP)

Another steady game from Frank Mason would lend an added sense of security for a Kansas team that has occasionally struggled to find consistency in its backcourt. (AP)

DC: Mason was absolutely terrific in Orlando, and Kansas looked nothing like the team that Kentucky embarrassed two and a half weeks ago. On the other hand, Florida came away from the Battle 4 Atlantis with two losses and a mediocre win over UAB to show for it. Thus far, the Gators have a long way to go to become a good offensive team, shooting a highly inefficient 44.1 percent in effective field goal rate. With Eli Carter injured and likely to miss this game, Hill, who has finally begun to look more comfortable in his role as the team’s primary ball-handler, will need to have a big night for Florida. He showed some signs of offensive life with 20 points in Sunday’s loss to North Carolina, shooting the ball well and getting to the line 12 times (making 10) against the Tar Heels. If he can do the same against Mason while simultaneously taking care of the ball, Florida will have a chance at pulling off the big upset.

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Evaluating the Kansas Backcourt a Month Into the Season

Posted by Kory Carpenter on December 4th, 2014

It has now been 16 days since Kansas suffered its worst loss of the Bill Self era, a 72-40 clubbing at the hands of the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats. Luckily for Jayhawks fans, the team has rebounded about as nicely as you could expect, winning four straight, including an Orlando Classic title after a five-point victory of Michigan State on Sunday. Still, there are plenty of questions about this team. Will Perry Ellis continue his recent surge when faced with bigger frontcourts? Will Kelly Oubre impress Self enough to earn decent minutes? What exactly is wrong with Wayne Selden? There is one thing we know for certain, though: Sophomore point guard Frank Mason III looks like the guy who will lead this team going forward. Since a disastrous outing at the Champions Classic where he was 1-of-10 from the field and largely invisible in his 32 minutes, Mason has made a strong case to become Self’s starting point guard. He has a 134.5 offensive rating since the Kentucky game, a very good mark for someone who uses fewer than 20 percent of his team’s possessions.

Frank Mason looks like Bill Self's man at point guard. (USATSI)

Frank Mason III looks like Bill Self’s man at point guard. (USATSI)

I don’t want to discount the night against Kentucky out of hand, though, because maybe it was indicative of how Mason will perform against the highest level of Division I competition. But Mason has been miles ahead of Devonte’ Graham, a player who many thought could supplant Mason in the starting lineup at some point this season. Self doesn’t appear to see it that way, as Graham has only played 13.4 MPG thus far and is no realistic threat to take Mason’s job from him anytime soon. In Orlando last week, Mason looked nothing like the player who went barreling into the lane with no apparent plan against the Wildcats. Instead, he picked his spots for aggressiveness, shooting 11-of-18 from the field and 4-of-6 from three-point range over three games. He also grabbed 10 rebounds in the match-up against Michigan State and averaged 5.6 APG. Read the rest of this entry »

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Observations From The Big 12’s Opening Weekend

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 17th, 2014

The Big 12 got off to a running start this weekend. The competition wasn’t exactly stout, as the Big 12 faced just one KenPom top 100 opponent (Kansas, vs. UC Santa Barbara), but as of Monday afternoon, the conference sat at an unblemished 13-0 and is the only league other the Big East to sport an undefeated record. The quality of the opposition heats up this week, but before we look forward, it’s helpful to look back and make note of some relevant observations.

Newcomer Myles Turner made a huge impression with two strong performances over the weekend. (Jenna VonHofe/Daily Texan)

Newcomer Myles Turner made a huge impression with two strong performances over the weekend. (Jenna VonHofe/Daily Texan)

  • Kansas’ Freshmen Debut In Hot And Cold Fashions: The extremely early returns on Jayhawks freshmen Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre are mixed. The former played just 12 minutes against UC Santa Barbara, but scored nine points and brought down four rebounds while Oubre barely played long enough to make a dent in the box score (zero points, two rebounds, an assist and a turnover in just four minutes). The limited minutes for both players are explainable. It was revealed that Alexander played through some wrist soreness after dunking particularly hard during one of Kansas’ prior exhibition games, and it’s well-known that Bill Self prefers experience over unpolished players in the early part of the season. Either way, it will be very interesting to see how both players are deployed tomorrow night against Kentucky, as their size and athleticism will be very important if the Jayhawks are to knock off the #1 team in the Champions Classic.
  • Myles Turner Hits The Ground Running: The Longhorns’ stud forward didn’t start Friday’s game against North Dakota State, but he entered at the 16:05 mark of the first half and nailed the first three shots of his career: a tough turnaround jumper from the baseline; a 17-foot jumper; and a beautiful step-back fadeaway. Turner went on to finish with 15 points, but he wasn’t done. On Sunday afternoon, he put up 10 points to go along with seven rebounds and a staggering six blocks in an 85-53 thrashing of Alcorn State. Despite the quality of the opposition, it’s very tough to hold back the excitement for this freshman. Turner will get a national audience on Thursday when the Longhorns head to Madison Square Garden to take on Iowa in the 2K Sports Classic.

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Big 12 Season Preview: Kansas Jayhawks

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2014

Throughout the preseason, the Big 12 microsite will preview each of the league’s 10 teams, from worst to first. Today: Kansas.

Kansas

Strengths: Coaching and talent. It sounds simple, but when you’ve won 10 straight conference titles, why complicate things? Consider this: Last season, the Jayhawks won the Big 12 by two games and had two of the top three picks in the NBA Draft, yet the season was considered by many to be the most disappointing of Bill Self‘s tenure (and not just because of the early NCAA Tournament flameout to Stanford, though that certainly had a lot to do with it). That’s a major testament to Self’s ability to coach and develop talent, but it also speaks to the annual expectation his track record breeds. The Jayhawks reload yet again, with Kelly Oubre replacing Andrew Wiggins on the wing and Cliff Alexander taking Joel Embiid’s spot down low. Wayne Selden is back with a healthy knee and Perry Ellis is a reliable stalwart in the post. Add a high-ceiling wild card in Svi Mykhaliuk, who Self says is sometimes the best player on the floor in practice, and you’re looking at yet another Kansas team that will be expected to win the Big 12 and, come March, should be among the smartest picks to make a run to Indianapolis.

The Cliff Alexander hype train is already leaving the station. (The Kansas City Star)

The Cliff Alexander hype train is already leaving the station. (Rich Sugg/The Kansas City Star)

Weaknesses: The Jayhawks have enjoyed tremendous success since Sherron Collins left the program in 2010, but ask fans and people close the program and they’ll tell you they’d feel even better if their team had steady play at the point guard spot. It’s definitely not for a lack of trying, though. Since Collins’ departure, the Jayhawks have been connected in various degrees to several of the top floor generals available, including Emmanuel Mudiay, Tyus Jones, Mark Lyons, Gabe York and Cat Barber. For assorted reasons, though, all of them found other landing spots, leaving Kansas to make do with a group of which each had their share of moments and headaches — Josh Selby, Tyshawn Taylor, Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe. The Jayhawks have proven that they can succeed in spite of the point guard issue, but that doesn’t mean it’s a preferable position. Additionally, Kansas needs to rebound from a pedestrian defensive showing (by their standards). The Jayhawks finished last season with their worst defensive efficiency ranking of the KenPom era (#31), due to a combination of a brutal schedule, inexperience, injuries and uncharacteristically poor backcourt defense. This year’s non-conference schedule isn’t less daunting nor is this year’s team significantly more experienced (if at all), but on the other hand, it’s tough to imagine a Self team letting him down on the defensive end for a second straight year. Still, Kansas will have to quiet those concerns if it is to live up to its potential.

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The Freshman 15: Preseason Freshman of the Year Watch List

Posted by Alex Joseph on November 12th, 2014

The 2013-14 NCAA freshman class was packed with stars. Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, Aaron Gordon, Julius Randle and Noah Vonleh were all top 10 picks in the 2014 NBA Draft. Not far behind that group were Zach LaVine (No. 13), James Young (No. 17) and Tyler Ennis (No. 18). Will the 2014-15 NCAA freshman class deliver nine first-round draft picks? While it’s doubtful, it’s certainly possible. This is a deep class full of talented players with completely different skill sets. RTC has compiled a list of 15 hopeful freshmen that have a solid shot at winning this upcoming season’s INTEGRIS Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Year award.

Let’s start with the player most pundits believe will hold up the trophy at the end of the season.

The Favorite

Duke's Jahlil Okafor is the favorite (left) but the guys on the right (Arizona's Stanley Johnson,

Duke’s Jahlil Okafor is the favorite (left) but the guys on the right (Arizona’s Stanley Johnson, Kansas’ Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre and UNLV’s Rashad Vaughn) will also be right in the mix.

Jahlil Okafor, Duke – 6’11”, 272 pounds: If it weren’t for Emmanuel Mudiay (who chose to play overseas in lieu of a year of college), Okafor might be the consensus No. 1 NBA draft pick in 2015. Okafor has the size and length (7’5” wingspan) to not only be an interior force on offense, but he’s going to be a solid rim-protector on defense. Don’t be fooled by his weight, either. At 272 pounds, Okafor has surprisingly great mobility and athleticism. His ability to run the floor and his soft hands will make him a prime candidate to receive transition lobs on the fast break. As of now, Okafor is strictly a back-to-the-basket player who needs to develop a consistent mid-range jumper to round out his game. He also needs to work on his free throw shooting, as he figures to spend a lot of time there this season.

In the Discussion

  • Stanley Johnson, Arizona – 6’7”, 235 pounds: Johnson might actually be the most complete player in this class. He is a polished, two-way player and an above-average ball-handler for his size. He uses his high motor skills and never-ending energy to produce in transition, absorbing any and all contact as he makes his way to the rim. The knock on Johnson right now is that he needs to become a more consistent shooter and develop more range. Depending on what Arizona head coach Sean Miller wants to do with him, Johnson could find himself as the starting shooting guard in the Wildcats’ lineup. His versatility allows him to play multiple positions, but if he starts at the two, then he is going to need to become a floor-spacer with consistency. It will be interesting to see how Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson play next to each other, as they have very similar size and playing styles.

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