Big 12 Reset: Halfway Through the Non-Conference Slate

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 3rd, 2018

As we round the corner on the halfway mark of non-conference play, I can’t say I’ve been overwhelmed yet by the Big 12’s performance. Maybe that’s more of a testament to the league’s sterling performance over the last few years, but it’s the case nonetheless. There are certainly some things to be optimistic about, like Kansas’ unblemished 6-0 record despite not yet playing to its talent level, Texas Tech not just treading water but perhaps being better than last season’s group, and Iowa State and Oklahoma outperforming preseason projections. But there are some pockmarks around the league, too. Baylor looks completely dreadful even through the lens of what was expected, Texas’ offense has run hot and cold, and Kansas State was embarrassed over the weekend in its biggest test of non-league play. The metrics still show that this is the best conference in the land, but the eye test to date hasn’t always reflected it.

Lagerald Vick’s Big Three on Saturday Saved the Jayhawks (USA Today Images)

  1. Where would Kansas be without Lagerald Vick? Just six months ago, Lagerald Vick and Bill Self didn’t want any part of each other, but things have worked out wonderfully since. Put simply, the senior shooting guard looks like a completely different player. He’s embraced and delivered on key opportunities when other players haven’t and he’s playing with a looseness that was missing during his first three years. You can point to at least two games already this season that the Jayhawks would not have won without Vick getting hot, and his 59.6 percent on three-point shooting ranks 14th nationally (and first among high-volume shooters). His incredible outside shooting is bound over time to regress to the mean, but it’s hard to say enough about his hot start.
  2. Texas Tech is absolutely rolling. The Red Raiders didn’t assemble the intense non-conference slate that Kansas did this season, but Chris Beard’s team already looks fantastic in the early going. Texas Tech is undefeated at 7-0 — with their closest win coming by 11 points — and role players like Tariq Owens, Matt Mooney and Brandone Francis have been very supportive on the few nights where Jarrett Culver hasn’t been fully engaged. What sticks out most when watching the Red Raiders play is how well Beard has scouted his opponents. His team also plays with a chip on its shoulder, which makes sense when you remember how lightly several of the players on the team were recruited. Texas Tech’s meeting with Duke on December 20 is still a few weeks away, but it has a chance to be one of the best games of the season. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

2018-19 RTC16: Week Two

Posted by Walker Carey on December 3rd, 2018

Right around the beginning of December, the college basketball world begins to really notice which teams may have been severely underrated in the preseason. This year, #5 Michigan is the most glaring example of a team whose significant early season success has been wholly unexpected. The Wolverines began the year with several question marks stemming from the loss of significant production from last season’s national runner-up squad. Because of that looming uncertainty, John Beilein‘s team did not receive even a single vote in the preseason RTC16. So far, that has turned out to be a big omission, as Michigan sits at 8-0 following a week in which it laid waste to both #11 North Carolina and a solid Purdue team. Sophomore guard Jordan Poole and junior forward Jon Teske have taken crucial steps forward this season, and freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis has emerged as a viable offensive weapon. Their development has aided veteran guards Zavier Simpson and Charles Matthews in leading the Wolverines to their unbeaten start. It should be a requirement to not overlook a Beilein team in the preseason because he has proven time and time again that the Wolverines are usually going to surpass expectations. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Thoughts.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big 12 Observations After One Week

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2018

Eight of the 10 Big 12 teams have played at least two games (Oklahoma State squares off at Texas-San Antonio tonight and West Virginia meets Monmouth tomorrow), so while it’s still too early to draw sweeping conclusions, it is a good time to take a look at some early revelations with Feast Week just around the corner.

Two games has been enough for Kansas fans to be treated to the full Dedric Lawson experience. (Nick Krug/Lawrence Journal-World)

  • Dedric Lawson’s been just okay. Just one week in and we’ve already seen some of the inconsistency for which the preseason All-American became known during his two years at Memphis. Even though Lawson struggled to a 5-of-18 shooting night against Michigan State, he was good enough to contribute 20 points along with 14 rebounds, two blocks and a pair of steals. In his Allen Fieldhouse debut against Vermont on Monday, however, he was a total non-factor from start to finish as the Catamounts pushed him around and held him scoreless for the first time in his career. Among his many skills, Lawson is a tremendous passer out of the paint, but Kansas’ insistence on running so much of its offense through Udoka Azubuike presents challenges in terms of fit and strategy when they’re both on the floor. The junior shouldn’t have any problems on Friday against Louisiana, whose rotation includes just one player taller than 6’6″, but it’s fair to have expected a little more from the big man in his first two games in Lawrence.
  • It might be a while before we know how good West Virginia is. There isn’t much shame in losing to mid-major darling Buffalo in overtime, but the fact that the Mountaineers put up a defensive turnover rate of just 12.8 percent at home and were fairly mediocre on the offensive glass in allowing a 13-point second half comeback should dispel any notions that this season will be business as usual in Morgantown. Bob Huggins‘ team will have opportunities to clean things up, but with this weekend’s Myrtle Beach Invitational lacking top-end competition and just one meeting against a KenPom top-50 team remaining (Florida in Madison Square Garden) before conference play, determining where this team belongs in both the Big 12 and national picture might take some time.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big 12 Previews: Kansas & Kansas State

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 2nd, 2018

With tip-off now mere days away, we’re continuing our 2018-19 Big 12 coverage by going around the league team-by-team. Be sure to check in throughout the season and follow Big 12 correspondent Brian Goodman on Twitter @BSGoodman.

Kansas

Bill Self and Kansas want nothing more than to roll out the ball. (USA Today Images)

A few misses on the recruiting trail and Billy Preston’s compromised eligibility led last season’s Jayhawks to field one of their thinnest teams in recent memory. With Bill Self’s hand forced, he leaned into his team’s strength of perimeter play like never before. Svi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman and Devonte’ Graham each buried at least 85 three-pointers last year, and all three connected at a 40 percent or better clip in pacing the nation’s fifth-best offense, which also helped mask the worst defensive group of the Self era (47th nationally). There were a number of moments that Kansas fans would rather forget, such as losing to NIT-bound Washington in Kansas City and dropping three home games for the first time since boy bands dominated the Billboard charts, but the Jayhawks still won 31 games, still notched their 14th consecutive Big 12 title and still made the Final Four for the first time since 2012 without a single first-round pick, so they handled the adversity just fine.

Who’s Gone:

  • G Devonte’ Graham: 17.3 PPG, 7.2 APG, 40.6% 3FG
  • G Svi Mykhailiuk: 14.6 PPG, 44.4% 3FG
  • G Malik Newman: 14.2 PPG, 5.0 RPG

Who’s Back:

  • C Udoka Azubuike: 13.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.7 BPG
  • G Lagerald Vick: 12.1 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 37.3% 3FG
  • G Marcus Garrett: 19.2 MPG, 4.1 PPG
  • F Mitch Lightfoot: 14.0 MPG, 3.8 PPG, 3.1 RPG
  • F Silvio De Sousa*: 20 GP, 4.0 PPG, 3.7 RPG

*suspended indefinitely

Who’s Coming In:

  • F Dedric Lawson (transfer from Memphis): 19.2 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 2.1 BPG in 2016-17
  • G K.J. Lawson (transfer from Memphis): 12.3 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 2.8 APG in 2016-17
  • G Charlie Moore (transfer from Cal): 12.2 PPG, 3.5 APG, 35.2% 3FG in 2016-17
  • G Quentin Grimes (five-star recruit)
  • G Devon Dotson (five-star recruit)
  • F David McCormack (four-star recruit)

Outlook: Even if De Sousa were available, he’d be no better than the team’s third-best big man (if that), so while a cloud of suspicion stemming from alleged improprieties revealed over the last several months may surround this team, it’s more likely to manifest itself in the form of increased vitriol from opposing fanbases and in local and national talk than in any real way on the court. That isn’t nothing, but the point is that this year’s team should be just fine, barring any new revelations. That’s a credit to the group of talent that Self has assembled in spite of any doubts circling its construction. Kansas is positioned to return to a classic two-big look, with Memphis transfer and preseason All-American Dedric Lawson and Udoka Azubuike possessing the strength, skill and experience to overpower most of their match-ups, and Mitch Lightfoot and David McCormack behind them. Whether it’s optimal to feature two bigs as prominent as Lawson and Azubuike in the era of pace and space is a conversation worth having, but we’ll leave it for another time. Another interesting question in Lawrence is how the point guard position will shake out after Devonte’ Graham and Frank Mason gave the team so much production and consistency over the last four seasons. Charlie Moore has experience and some scoring ability, but Marcus Garrett has the defensive-mindedness and toughness that Self loves so much and Devon Dotson is the most decorated point guard prospect to come through Lawrence since Josh Selby. There shouldn’t be many problems at the two-guard slot, though, with Lagerald Vick returning and a blue-chip freshman in Quentin Grimes ready to contribute as well. The Jayhawks are a melting pot of program guys, transfers and stud recruits, making them an excellent bet to win their 15th consecutive conference title followed by another deep postseason run. 

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big 12 Wrap-Up and Early 2018-19 Outlook

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 10th, 2018

Despite Villanova beating three Big 12 teams in decisive fashion on its way to the national title, the 2017-18 campaign was another strong one for the league. Here are some takeaways from the year that was and a handful of early thoughts on the main storylines as summer draws near.

Kansas was no match for Villanova’s three-point barrage, but the Big 12 still enjoyed a successful postseason. (Bob Donnan/USA Today)

  • The league began the process of rehabilitating its March reputation. After some disappointing results in the last few NCAA Tournaments, the Big 12 took a step forward this year in sending four teams to the Sweet Sixteen, three teams to the Elite Eight and one to the Final Four. Perhaps most notable was Kansas State‘s head-turning voyage to the Elite Eight, which put Bruce Weber on steadier ground from a job security perspective entering next season. We also watched Texas Tech break into the second weekend with star guard Keenan Evans playing on a broken toe, and West Virginia gave Villanova the toughest game of the Wildcats’ championship run. The league’s national perception won’t change significantly until a team other than Kansas makes the Final Four, but Villanova’s victory over the Jayhawks became easier to swallow when they cut down the nets last Monday night in San Antonio. All told, the conference logged one of its best postseason runs in recent years.
  • What will Kansas do with its last scholarship? When the buzzer sounded on their national semifinal loss to Villanova, the Jayhawks were already one over the scholarship limit for the 2018-19 season. That potential dilemma, however, worked itself out when Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick both opted to forgo their remaining eligibility and pursue professional careers. With one scholarship now available, fans can expect Kansas to ramp up its pursuit of five-star wing Romeo Langford to round out its roster, but the Jayhawks will likely be the preseason #1 team in the country regardless of what happens on that front. If Langford signs elsewhere, Kansas could scour the graduate transfer market for some outside shooting to pick up some of the slack left by Newman and Vick as well as the graduations of Svi Mykhailiuk and Devonte’ Graham. In that light, bringing in a proven three-point threat from the existing market seems to make good sense unless Udoka Azubuike surprises the college basketball world by declaring and staying in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Final Four Fact Sheet: Kansas Jayhawks

Posted by Walker Carey on March 28th, 2018

Now that the Final Four is set, our writers have put together a fact sheet on each of the four teams still remaining. Next, #1 Kansas,  from the South Region.

How Kansas Got Here

Kansas Slayed Mighty Duke to Get to the Final Four (USA Today Images)

Midwest Region Champions. Kansas became the region’s NCAA Tournament representative following an epic 85-81 overtime win over #2 Duke in Sunday’s instant classic regional final. The Jayhawks began their run to San Antonio with a somewhat close 16-point victory over #16 Penn before experiencing some pressure in both its Second Round triumph over #8 Seton Hall and Sweet Sixteen win over #5 Clemson. Kansas’ win over the Blue Devils in the Elite Eight was arguably the game of the NCAA Tournament and further illustrated Midwest Regional Most Outstanding Player Malik Newman‘s March star turn. The redshirt sophomore swingman finished with a career-high 32 points and scored all 13 of Kansas’ points during the extra period.

The Coach

Bill Self. The Hall of Fame coach should have all the nonsensical “he cannot win the big game” talk regarding his recent career put to bed for at least a year, as Self has taken what many view as one of his least talented Kansas teams back to the Final Four. This will be Self’s third Final Four appearance. His was in San Antonio in 2008 when his Jayhawks beat North Carolina and Memphis to take home the school’s third national title. Self also took Kansas to the 2012 Final Four in New Orleans where it beat Ohio State in the national semifinals before falling to Kentucky in the championship game. With the Final Four again in San Antonio, expect there to be a lot of national discussion revolving around whether Self will once again be able to capture the San Antonio magic.

Style

Bill Self’s Kansas teams have normally run their offenses through a traditional back-to-the-basket big man. While sophomore center Udoka Azubuike is a more than capable offensive weapon, these Jayhawks have been heavily dominated by their guard play. Guards Newman, Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick all start and are the team’s leaders in minutes played. The guard-heavy lineup has worked all season, as Kansas is ranked fifth nationally in offensive efficiency and averages a healthy 81.4 points per game. The Jayhawks also shoot 40.3 percent from the three-point line, so perimeter shooting is a definite strength. To beat Kansas, you have to slow down its guards — and considering the talent in its backcourt — an exceptionally difficult task for any team.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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 »

Share this story

On What Bill Self Likes Most…

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 15th, 2017

Bill Self absolutely loves hustle plays and grind-it-out wins. A coach doesn’t simply roll out elite defensive units on the regular without emphasizing the little things. No matter how good his teams are offensively, or how many NBA prospects come through his program, or how many Big 12 titles he piles up, Self values few things more than a dive for a loose ball, a winning battle on the glass or an offensive angle denied. Conversely, there isn’t much that grinds Self’s gears settling for sub-optimal shots. The Jayhawks did plenty of the former in their 65-61 win over Kentucky on Tuesday night, but there was also too much of the latter, and that will have to improve for Kansas to ultimately reach its National Championship potential.

Kansas won a rock fight Tuesday night utilizing the kind of defensive intensity Bill Self loves. (AP)

The strength of this team coming into the season was in the explosiveness of its backcourt. That will continue for as long as Self has just three scholarship big men on his roster, and especially as long as he has just two scholarship big men while the school figures out exactly what is going on with Billy Preston’s car. That said, the talented guard corps didn’t fully show up against Kentucky. Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Malik Newman made all the right plays down the stretch to secure the win, but the trio also shot just 30 percent from the field for the game. Lagerald Vick made some good contributions too, but not as many as he could have in stumbling to a 4-of-14 shooting mark. Even while playing small lineups against the Wildcats’ long and hyper-athletic roster, Kansas rebounded 38.0 percent of its own misses and generated turnovers on a staggering 25.7 percent of Kentucky’s trips down the floor. That resulted in 20 second-chance points, but Kansas still only tabulated 0.93 points per possession as a result of suspect shot selection and poor execution around the rim.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #4 Kansas 65, #7 Kentucky 61

Posted by Walker Carey on November 15th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage of the Champions Classic in Chicago.

Three Key Takeaways.

Kansas and Kentucky Battled It Out in Chicago Tonight (USA Today Images)

  1. This was the very definition of an early season college basketball game. After the first game of the Champions Classic exhibited two elite teams duking it out to the end in very exciting fashion, the second game between Kansas and Kentucky — while also close — left something to be desired. The Jayhawks earned the 65-61 victory despite shooting just 35.3 percent from the field, 28.6 percent from the three-point line, and 56.3 percent from the charity stripe. The starting backcourt was even worse — Devonte’ Graham, LaGerald Vick and Malik Newman shot just 11-of-41 for the game. Kentucky shot the ball somewhat better –finishing at 41.8 percent from the field — but torpedoed its chance to win with 18 turnovers. These ugly performances certainly make sense when you consider Kansas is clearly still adjusting to life without Frank Mason II and Josh Jackson, and Kentucky is once again breaking in an entirely new rotation. There are more growing pains coming for both teams as they maneuver through the regular season, but the talent is definitely there for each team to be a factor in both its conference and the national landscape.
  2. Hamidou Diallo and Kevin Knox gave Kentucky fans a glimpse of the future. While several Kentucky freshmen struggled on the big stage in Chicago tonight, Diallo and Knox showed flashes of what made them such highly-sought recruits in the first place. Diallo’s speed and athleticism were on full display, as his tenacious defense bothered the Kansas backcourt all night and led to several difficult shots. The Wildcats, on the other hand, needed someone to step up offensively and Knox provided that boost. The freshman scored a game-high 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting (3-of-6 from the three-point line). Freshman growth is not linear, but both Diallo and Knox took substantial steps in the right direction in tonight’s defeat.
  3. Kansas needs to find a way to get Udoka Azubuike more touches. In a game where Kansas struggled to get normal production from its backcourt, it instead found great success in pounding the ball inside to sophomore seven-footer Azubuike. The big man finished the game with 13 points and eight rebounds while making all five of his shots from the field. It was baffling to understand how he only got five shot attempts in 34 minutes — especially considering how poorly Kansas shot from the perimeter — but Bill Self made it known in his postgame remarks that his guards need to do a better job of getting the ball to Azubuike.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big 12 Burning Questions: Kansas Jayhawks

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 10th, 2017

This preview is part of RTC’s 2017-18 preseason coverage.

Burning Question: How much will Kansas’ small ball lineups compensate for another thin frontcourt?

It took some time for Bill Self to embrace both his roster and basketball’s changing landscape in the era of pace and space, but he did just that in 2017, even if it took a season-ending injury to center Udoka Azubuike to fully make the leap. Three-pointers comprised 35.9 percent of Kansas’ shot attempts last season, the highest rate of any of Self’s teams during his illustrious career. The Jayhawks connected on 40 percent of those tries from distance, powering them to a highly successful season that included an 18-game winning streak, a 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season title, and a run to the Elite Eight. With a National Player of the Year leading his backcourt, a lottery pick on the wing and a heady center like Landen Lucas patrolling the middle, Self once again succeeded without the services of a deep stable of big men. The question for this season is whether Kansas can continue playing that way without any of those three elements in place — because the pressure will certainly once again be on Kansas’ guards to convert from deep.

Devonte’ Graham knows what the 2017-18 Jayhawks will be all about. (Getty)

Kansas’ backourt shouldn’t regress significantly from last year despite the departure of NPOY Frank Mason. Devonte’ Graham will lead the charge as the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year, but transfer guard Malik Newman could become the team’s leading scorer after sitting out last year. The redshirt sophomore averaged 32.5 points per 40 minutes during the Jayhawks’ August trip to Italy, and while those numbers aren’t fully indicative of how he will fare against better competition, they may provide a hint of what to expect. It feels like Svi Mykhailiuk has tested the waters every summer he’s been in Lawrence, but he’s back in a Kansas uniform for his senior year. The Ukrainian can get hot in a hurry and play some point guard in a pinch, but he’s also a defensive liability that clearly frustrates Self from time to time.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story