Big 12 Superlatives, Predictions and Storylines

Posted by Big 12 Team on November 11th, 2016

The 2016-17 Big 12 season is going to be an interesting one despite Kansas being the prohibitive favorite to win the conference yet again. The battle for second appears to be a three-horse race between Iowa State, Texas and West Virginia, while the middle and bottom tiers of the league will still feature teams capable of contending for NCAA Tournament bids. We’re beyond excited to see it all unfold, and with that, we unveil our Big 12 preseason predictions and superlatives (written by each voter).

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Player Of The Year

  • Drew Andrews: Monte’ Morris, Iowa State — While you could easily look at freshmen phenoms Josh Jackson and Jarrett Allen as potential Big 12 Player of the Year candidates, Monte’ Morris should win the award next March. With the departures of Cyclone stalwarts like Georges Niang, Abdel Nader and Jameel McKay, Morris will be asked to bring a huge amount of the magic to Hilton Coliseum this season. The senior will need to carry more of the scoring load in addition to his league-leading 6.9 assists per game and second-place 1.8 steals per game if Iowa State wants to make its sixth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
  • Justin Fedich: Josh Jackson, Kansas — Unlike last season, the pick for this year’s Big 12 Player of the Year isn’t as obvious. I’ll take the most talented player on the best team, Kansas freshman Josh Jackson. The 6’8” wing from Detroit will benefit from playing with the experienced backcourt duo of Frank Mason and Devonté Graham. He might have some early growing pains, but Kansas will need someone to replace the void left by Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis, the top two scorers from last season’s team.

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One Burning Question: Can Jordan Woodard Carry Oklahoma?

Posted by Chris Stone on October 27th, 2016

March is sadistic. For all but one school, the month — and the few days of April we tend to group with it — inevitably ends in sorrow. For some teams like Texas or USC, that ending is abrupt, brought on by last second heroics that put an end to a once-promising season. For others, the ending is an excruciating wait. So it was for Oklahoma last season. Midway through the campaign, the Sooners were the top-ranked team in the AP poll. By the end of it, they had made the school’s first Final Four since 2002. In Houston, though, Oklahoma was steamrolled, losing to eventual national champion Villanova by the largest margin in Final Four history. With each missed three-pointer, the conclusion became clearer. It was like watching a car accident in slow motion.

Jordan Woodard will lead the way for Oklahoma this season. (Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports)

Jordean Woodard will have the keys to the engine with Buddy Buckets now gone. (USA TODAY Sports)

Now, Lon Kruger‘s team will have to rebuild its proverbial car and the model will look substantially different than last season. Gone are starters Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler. The NPOY Hield, of course, will leave the biggest shoes to fill, but Cousins was a dogged defender and effective three-point shooter while Spangler was an experienced stretch four who brought a certain toughness to the team. Gone are 66.5 percent of the team’s total scoring and 59.2 percent of its total minutes played. Also gone is 7’0″ center Akolda Manyang, a potentially valuable rotation piece who was dismissed after being arrested for aggravated robbery. With so much of its Final Four roster no longer residing in Norman, Kruger will put one of his returning upperclassmen into the driver’s seat of the new model.  

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Buddy Hield Out to Make Norman a Two-Sport Town

Posted by Chris Stone on April 2nd, 2016

Oklahoma isn’t a college that is historically known for basketball. That doesn’t mean that a number of outstanding basketball players and several teams haven’t passed through Norman over the years, but the Sooners are set to play in just the program’s fifth Final Four in history (the most recent was in 2002). They have twice made the national title game (1947 and 1988), but the school has never raised a championship trophy in hoops. Oklahoma is much more commonly known as a football school — the only such entity in this season’s Final Four (North Carolina, Villanova and Syracuse are, without question, basketball schools) — and while the Sooners can lay claim to seven gridiron national titles, Buddy Hield is ready to challenge football’s dominance in the Sooner State this weekend.

Buddy Hield will lead the charge for Oklahoma in the Final Four. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Buddy Hield will lead the charge for Oklahoma in the Final Four. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

What makes this Oklahoma team the one that can cut down the nets in Houston? The short answer is Hield himself, one of the most prolific collegiate scorers in recent memory. The senior guard is the only player since 2009-10 (the first year Basketball Reference began tracking minutes played) to average more than 25.0 PPG and finish the season with a true shooting percentage higher than 65 percent. The long answer is that Oklahoma is a lot more than just the RTC National Player of the Year. The Sooners’ backcourt, comprised of Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard, is one of the best in the country. Both players shoot better than 40 percent from behind the arc and can act as point guards capable of navigating Villanova’s stingy trapping defense. And contrary to popular belief, the Sooners are more than just an offensive show. Oklahoma is also stout on the defensive end where it can flexibly switch one through three on the perimeter and employ the shot-blocking prowess of Khadeem Lattin inside — whose grandfather, incidentally, played on the 1966 Texas Western team that won an NCAA championship.

The last time the Sooners were national title good was in 2008-09 when future #1 pick Blake Griffin was a sophomore. Griffin’s squad lost to the eventual champion, North Carolina, in an Elite Eight game that was generally noncompetitive. This season offers the Sooners a shot at redemption. If they can make it past Villanova this evening, they’ll likely get another shot at the Tar Heels, and this time with a national title on the line. Oklahoma has already become the first school to make both the College Football Playoff and the Final Four in the same season, but Lon Kruger‘s group have a chance to surpass their football counterparts, if only for a weekend. Still, given the folk hero popularity of Hield around Norman, maybe this is the team that could help turn it into a two-sport town.

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Final Four Previews: Oklahoma/Villanova Will Win If…

Posted by Brian Goodman & Tommy Lemoine on April 1st, 2016

We’re a little more than 24 hours from the Final Four, so it’s time to break down the upcoming games by determining what it will take for each team to win. Let’s start with the early battle between Oklahoma and Villanova, tipping off at 6:09 PM ET on Saturday evening. RTC’s Brian Goodman (Oklahoma) and Tommy Lemoine (Villanova) with the honors.

Oklahoma Will Win If…

Buddy Hield and the Sooners look to reverse the trend of poor shooting at the spacious NRG Stadium. (Getty Images)

Buddy Hield and the Sooners look to reverse the trend of poor-shooting teams at spacious NRG Stadium. (Getty Images)

  • It overcomes NRG Stadium’s reputation as a challenging shooting environment. Though the sample size isn’t overwhelming, teams have historically shot below their averages in the expansive confines of this year’s Final Four venue (as detailed last year by Ken Pomeroy and expanded upon earlier this week by Yahoo!‘s Jeff Eisenberg). The Sooners and Wildcats are notoriously reliant on jump-shooting, but what you may not know is just how eerily similar the two teams are in this fashion. Per hoop-math.com, 67.4 percent of Villanova’s field goal attempts this season have come away from the rim, and Oklahoma is just below the Wildcats in that category at 67.2 percent. Though it’s hardly earth-shattering, sometimes these things are simple: Whichever team solves the puzzle of performing well in spite of a tougher shooting environment will prevail, and with three Sooner regulars connecting from long range at rates of 42 percent or better, Oklahoma should have the slight edge.
  • It wins the battle of the interior. Should both teams struggle to find the range at NRG Stadium, inside play will become much more important to the outcome, and Oklahoma will have to answer some questions there. Ryan Spangler logged 10 points and eight rebounds against Texas A&M, but he hasn’t had a very good NCAA Tournament otherwise. The same can be said for rim-protector Khadeem Lattin, who went for 10 points and a pair of blocks against the Aggies, but has blocked just four shots in the Sooners’ other three tourney games. Though he’s technically a guard, freshman Christian James, a Houston native who emerged with a pair of quality outings in Anaheim, may be called upon to help inside as the Sooners look to best Daniel Ochefu and Kris Jenkins.

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Final Four Fact Sheet: Oklahoma Sooners

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 29th, 2016

Now that the Final Four is set, our writers have put together a fact sheet on each of the four teams still remaining. Next, Oklahoma. 

How Oklahoma Got Here

Oklahoma Celebrates Its First Final Four in 12 Years (USA Today Images)

Oklahoma Celebrates Its First Final Four in 12 Years (USA Today Images)

West Region Champions. After sleepwalking for the better part of the afternoon in their opener against Cal State Bakersfield, the Sooners found themselves down a single point with 15 minutes remaining. From there, a familiar story played out – one that would be repeated often on Oklahoma’s run to Houston: Buddy Hield took over. In the remainder of the game, Hield threw in 16 of his game-high 27 points to drag his team to the second round. From there it was a repeat performance, as Hield went off for a 29-point second half against VCU, including 22 points in the final 11 minutes after the Rams had come back from 13 down to tie the game. A Sweet Sixteen victory over Texas A&M allowed Hield to “only” go for 17 points (along with 10 boards in his sole double-double of the season) in a game that was never particularly close. But Buddy bounced back in a big way, scorching Oregon for 37 phenomenal points (including eight threes) to earn the Sooners’ first trip to the Final Four since 2002.

The Coach

Lon Kruger. This is Kruger’s 30th season of coaching a Division I basketball program. He started at Texas-Pan American in 1982, taking the independent program to a 20-win season in his fourth year. After getting hired by Kansas State in 1986, he brought on a little-known coach named Dana Altman from Moberly Area Community College — someone who happened to have a kid named Mitch Richmond on his team. The future Hall of Famer followed Altman to Manhattan and the Wildcats subsequently went to an Elite Eight in Richmond’s senior season. A coaching star was officially born. Kansas State went to the NCAAs in all four seasons Kruger spent in Manhattan, and he turned that run into a coaching upgrade at Florida in 1990. In his fourth season with the Gators, Kruger took Andrew DeClercq, Dan Cross and Craig Brown to the 1994 Final Four, the only other time he made it to his sport’s final weekend. Since then, Kruger spent time at Illinois, the Atlanta Hawks and UNLV, before settling in Norman five seasons ago. He’s taken five Division I teams to the NCAA Tournament, four to the Sweet Sixteen, three to the Elite Eight, and now two to the Final Four.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Oklahoma 80, #1 Oregon 68

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 26th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Buddy Hield Looked Like a Champion Today (USA Today Images)

Buddy Hield Looked Like a Champion Today (USA Today Images)

  1. Sure, Buddy’s Great, But There’s More. Don’t worry, we’re going to get to your National Player of the Year favorite, Buddy Hield, and his 37 points, in a moment. But there is so much more to Oklahoma than just a star shooter dropping threes in from 25 feet out. This is a complete team. The Sooners have at times this year had trouble on the glass at both end of the floor. Today, the entire team chipped in to help the relatively thin frontcourt compile a significant advantage on the glass, grabbing 42 percent of the available offensive rebounds. Freshman Christian James again provided a big spark from the wing, grabbing 10 boards of his own to aid the effort. Then there’s Hield’s backcourt mates Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard. They’re not as offensively explosive or as flashy as their more famous running mate, but both are highly efficient and always in control. While Hield definitely has the ability to carry the team for long stretches of time, there are more reasons than he that the Sooners are Final Four-bound.
  2. Oregon First Half Out of Sorts. Oregon wasn’t going to win with Buddy Hield playing so well regardless, but the Ducks didn’t do themselves any favors either. They seemed tentative throughout the first half, always a step late to loose balls. They had at least four mindless turnovers. They left points at the free throw line. And three-point shots just weren’t falling. Some of those struggles were certainly caused by the Sooners, who pressured the Ducks at the top of the key and took ball-handlers like Casey Benson, Tyler Dorsey and Dillon Brooks out of their rhythm. But after playing fast and loose against Duke on Thursday night, the Ducks couldn’t bring the same level of energy in this one. They gave up 15 second-chance points and 12 points off turnovers, building up an 18-point halftime deficit that they never had a realistic chance to erase.
  3. Three-Point Shooting and Dunks. In the first half, the Sooners put on an offensive clinic, scoring 1.33 points per possession by hitting threes and getting easy looks at the rim. Of their 36 first half field goal attempts, 14 came from three while an equal number came at the bucket. Oregon adjusted somewaht in the second half through better energy and help defense, limiting the Sooners to just three point-blank looks in the second half. The difference was apparent in the Sooners’ production, as they dipped to just 0.97 PPP in the second half. This isn’t exactly groundbreaking news, but preventing the Sooners from getting easy looks at the rim goes a long way towards limiting their oft-prolific offense.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: It’s Practically March Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 26th, 2016

It is practically March, isn’t it? We’re just four days away. You can almost feel the bubble shrink as at-large hopefuls drop games they shouldn’t be dropping and simultaneously expand whenever a recent winning streak is validated with a big win. As of now, the Big 12’s bubble situation is relatively clear. Barring a flurry of wins from Kansas State within the next two weeks, the conference will send seven teams to the NCAA Tournament. The last team among the seven is Texas Tech. When Big 12 coaches picked them to finish 10th a few months ago, how could anyone have seen this coming?

THE EVIDENCE. (Big12Sports.com)

HERE IS THE EVIDENCE. LOOK AT IT. LOOK AT ITTTTTT (Big12Sports.com)

Texas Tech has eight conference wins at this point which bodes well with how the selection committee has historically treated eight-win Big 12 teams. Oklahoma State (twice) and Texas (once) made it safely into the field of 68 with that number in 2014 and 2015. Much has been written about the Red Raiders’ rise from rotten to respectable, and rightly so, but we shouldn’t forget that they’ve gone on this five-game winning streak without the services of starting center Norense OdiaseTubby Smith is the favorite for Big 12 Coach of the Year and is also creeping into National Coach of the Year discussions as well. Now let’s hope all seven clubs make it to the Sweet Sixteen.

Big 12 Power Rankings

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Big 12 M5: 01.18.16 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 18th, 2016

morning5_big12

  1. After two straight losses in which Iowa State gave up more than 90 points, the Cyclones picked up a 76-63 road win over Kansas State on Saturday. The lower point total was the product of both the Wildcats’ slower pace of play and a change in Steve Prohm‘s philosophy. After a slow start to conference play, Prohm explained that the Cyclones need to manage games in a way that limits the time they spend on defense. His theory is that Iowa State is so good on offense that the Cyclones would be better off spending a bit more of the game with the ball in their hands. The key, though, will still be for Iowa State to slow down opposing offenses. The Cyclones currently rank 114th in adjusted defensive efficiency–a stat which accounts for the quality of opponent and pace of play–and will be put to the test when Oklahoma comes to Ames tonight.
  2. Speaking of the Sooners, their 70-68 victory over West Virginia reopened the Big 12 race as four teams now sit at 4-1 in the conference. More importantly, though, the win may be a boon for the confidence of sophomore Khadeem Lattin. After missing the front end of a one-and-one that would have given Oklahoma a victory in Allen Fieldhouse two weeks ago, Lattin scored the game-winning bucket against the Mountaineers on a tip-in. “It was like a redemption,” Lattin told the media.
  3. Meanwhile at Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas bounced back from their loss in Morgantown on Tuesday with a 70-63 win over TCU. The Jayhawks’ two freshman big men, Carlton Bragg and Cheick Diallo, both got extended looks against the Horned Frogs. Bragg scored 10 points and grabbed four rebounds in 16 minutes, but it was Diallo’s performance that turned heads. After being featured only sparingly so far this year, Diallo played a season-high 21 minutes against TCU. His nine points, nine rebounds, and five blocks gave fans a taste of what Diallo can offer Kansas going forward. The improvement of the Jayhawks’ two freshman will be a critical component come March and it’s the reason Kansas is viewed as the title contender with the most upside going forward.
  4. Baylor‘s Lester Medford continues to come up big in key moments for the Bears. The senior point guard delivered a huge second half in Baylor’s win over Vanderbilt earlier this season, and on Saturday, he knocked down the game-winning three-pointer against Texas Tech. While most of the focus has been on Kansas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, the Bears victory quietly pushed them into a four-way tie for first in the Big 12.
  5. Our final note comes from the recruiting world. Last week, four-star center Udoka Azubuike declared his intention to announce his college choice at the Hoop Hall Classic this weekend. Azubuike, who is choosing between Florida State, Kansas, and North Carolina, appeared to be leaning towards the ‘Noles, but by Sunday rumors were swirling that Florida State was out of the picture altogether. As Kansas and North Carolina picked up predictions in 247Sports’ Crystal Ball, Azubuike’s guardian announced that the high school senior would be pushing back his decision. Just the latest in a long line of strange recruiting stories, it looks like this recruiting battle will continue for a while longer.
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Big 12 Power Rankings: Safe To Call Kansas State Good? Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 24th, 2015

Kansas State had chemistry problems all season long a year ago as the Wildcats stumbled to a miserable 15-17 record. The offseason then brought a multitude of departures that only further weakened a fan base’s confidence in head coach Bruce Weber. This season, however, with 10 newcomers — including seven freshmen — Weber’s team has already given Texas A&M and North Carolina difficult games. The Wildcats also beat Georgia, a better-than-average SEC team, on the road. So who are these Wildcats?

You might be alarmed to learn that Bruce Weber has the Kansas State Wildcats out to an 8-2 start. (Scott Sewell/USA TODAY Sports)

You might be surprised to hear that Bruce Weber has the Kansas State Wildcats off to an 8-2 start. (Scott Sewell/USA TODAY Sports)

Justin Edwards and Wesley Iwundu are the two highest scoring returnees, but it’s freshmen like last year’s Kansas Mr. Basketball Dean Wade (11.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG) and Kamau Stokes (9.1 PPG, 3.5 APG) who have led the Wildcats to a 9-2 record thus far. Is it too early to call them a good team? Probably. Still, it’s encouraging to see the Wildcats hang around with teams that are clearly better than them. Kansas State likely isn’t at the point of beating good teams just yet, but the Wildcats also aren’t nearly as far away as we expected them to be before the season began. Let’s see how they fared in our latest power rankings.

Power Rankings

  • 1. Oklahoma (tie) — 6 points (Chris & Nate — 1st, Brian & Kendall — 2nd). Comment: “The Sooners still own the Big 12’s best win according to KenPom, a 23-point drubbing of Villanova on a neutral floor. They also have the country’s fifth-best defense. Sophomore Khadeem Lattin has helped fill the void left by the departure of TaShawn Thomas. His production on the defensive end, where he’s grabbed nearly 20.0 percent of the available rebounds and blocked 8.6 percent of the opposing shots, has been his biggest contribution.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)
  • 1. Kansas (tie) — 6 points (Brian & Kendall — 1st, Chris & Nate — 2nd). Comment: Wayne Selden‘s development has fueled Kansas’ shot at winning a national title. Although Selden can’t shoot 54.0 percent from three-point range all season, he has also increased his field goal percentage at the rim by 10 percent from last season.” – Kendall Kaut (@kkaut)
  • 3. Iowa State — 12 points (All voted 3rd). Comment: “Yes, the Cyclones did not lose their first game until falling to Northern Iowa in Des Moines last week, but their imperfections have been noticeable for a little while now. They struggled to beat a clearly inferior Colorado team. They trailed by 20 at home to Iowa before coming all the way back to win that one in dramatic fashion. Now they’ve lost both a game and a major shotmaker in Naz Mitrou-Long for the season while they slowly work Deonte Burton into the rotation. So, naturally, they then go out and nip Cincinnati at the wire on the road.” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso)

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Oklahoma Looks to Outlast Villanova in Clash of Unbeatens

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 7th, 2015

Three weeks into the season, college basketball is down to just 13 undefeated teams. We’ll be in for a treat tonight when two of those teams, Oklahoma and Villanova, square off at the Pearl Harbor Classic in Hawai’i. When people talk about the Sooners, they generally lead with the play of All-American Buddy Hield, and with good reason. The story of his transformation from Bahamian sleeper recruit to National Player Of The Year candidate on a top 10 team is worth telling.

Buddy Hield leads Oklahoma against Villanova in tonight's clash of unbeatens. (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

Buddy Hield leads Oklahoma against Villanova in tonight’s clash of unbeatens. (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

While the Sooners aren’t lacking for weapons outside of Hield, he’s taken an even bigger role in his team’s offense and he’s only improved (albeit against suspect competition). His true shooting percentage, which measures collective efficiency on two-point shots, three-pointers and free throws, has risen from 54.5 percent to 62.0 percent this season, largely on the strength of improved accuracy from beyond the three-point line and the foul line. He has also done a better job of involving his teammates in Lon Kruger‘s offense, as his assist rate has improved from 13.2 percent to 16.2 percent this season.Additionally, Oklahoma’s opponents are struggling to contain the senior, fouling him an average of 7.1 times per 40 minutes.

As special as Hield has been, Oklahoma’s complementary players are worth much more ink than they’ve received. Ryan Spangler keeps the Sooners’ inside game steady with consistent rebounding and finishing down low, and Khadeem Lattin and Akolda Manyang have provided the help needed to fill the void left by TaShawn Thomas’ departure. As a sophomore, Lattin is making life miserable for opposing forwards with his rebounding and shot-altering ability despite only playing about 15 minutes per contest; meanwhile, the seven-foot Manyang has been a shot-blocking force in limited opportunities as he’s adjusted to the college level. Read the rest of this entry »

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