NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.25.14 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 25th, 2015

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March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Midwest Region

This guy is not intimidated by John Calipari and the Wildcats. (Getty)

This guy is not intimidated by John Calipari and the Wildcats. (Getty)

  • Though he’s struggled thus far in the NCAA Tournament, John Calipari’s message to Devin Booker is simple. “We told him after the game, ‘Hey, you’ve got to keep shooting,’ because there’s going to be a game we need him to make shots or we can’t win,” Calipari said. “You can miss all these. It doesn’t matter. The next one’s coming up and we may need you to make some shots.”
  • Bob Huggins has had John Calipari’s number historically, but Kentucky certainly has the advantage by the numbers this time. Here’s what Kentucky blog A Sea of Blue has to say about Thursday’s battle.
  • West Virginia is fast and physical, but Huggins is concerned about Kentucky’s defense, particularly inside the three-point line. “Probably the closest one was Kentucky in 2010. We led by one [actually two, 28-26] at halftime and did not have a two-point field goal (eight three-pointers and four foul shots). I think every time we took it inside the three [point line] we got our shots blocked. I can’t remember anybody who would be as close to this team other than that team,” he said.
  • The odds are against him, but Bob Huggins has a chance to improve on his 8-2 record against his buddy John Calipari on Thursday.
  • The public seems to be praising Wichita State after its upset over Kansas, but don’t sleep on Notre Dame just yet.
  • Pat Connaughton has been huge for Notre Dame on the court, but his leadership away from it is what sets him apart.
  • Alabama is reportedly looking to make a run at Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall. Here‘s why Matt Bonesteel thinks Marshall should stick around in Wichita.
  • Wichita State is the lowest-seeded team left in the Midwest Region, but the Shockers have several qualities that previous Final Four teams have possessed.

West Region

Two old friends go at it in the Sweet 16. Will Chris Mack the Pupil get the upper hand? Or will Sean Miller the teacher still show who's boss? (Getty)

Two old friends go at it in the Sweet Sixteen. Will Chris Mack the Pupil get the upper hand? Or will Sean Miller the Teacher still show him who’s boss? (Getty)

  • It’s no accident that Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin teams rarely foul. Averaging around 12 fouls per game, the Badgers rank among the lowest in the country in that metric. Much of this is due to the emphasis put on it by the head coach. “There are a few pillars of the program or things that have been consistent through the years and helped us be successful,” associate head coach Greg Gard says. “And that’s one of them. They understand if they want to get on the floor and play, they’re going to have to be able to play without fouling.”
  • Despite having a reputation as a very well-respected academic institution, Wisconsin hasn’t exactly wowed people with its recent graduation rates.
  • Though he was reportedly doubtful to play earlier this week, Kennedy Meeks worked out briefly on Tuesday and he is still a possibility to play on Thursday night.
  • For Marcus Paige, North Carolina’s Sweet Sixteen game on Thursday will be a bit of a family affair. His sister, Morgan, played at Wisconsin, and now plays professionally in Europe.
  • Xavier big man Jalen Reynolds is being investigated by the school for a recent incident outside of a Xavier dorm. However, Reynolds is still scheduled to play for the time being.
  • Thursday’s Sweet Sixteen battle will be special for Xavier coach Chris Mack. Mack served as Arizona coach Sean Miller’s top assistant for five years before he left Xavier for the desert. “The fact is that it’s hard to play against someone who gave me such an opportunity. We spent so much time in the trenches and he trusted me so much as an assistant coach. I enjoyed my time with him,” Mack said.
  • Both Arizona freshman Stanley Johnson and others surrounding the program seem open about Johnson only being in Tucson for one year, but that isn’t stopping both parties from making the best of the situation.
  • For Sean Miller, coaching against his former team, Xavier, will be tough. “It’s kind of one of those things that when you’re watching the selection show, you’re kind of watching and cheering for them [Xavier coach Chris Mack and former Xavier coach Thad Matta] to go off your board,” [Arizona Director of Basketball Operations Ryan] Reynolds said. Reynolds came with Miller from Xavier to Arizona six years ago.

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NCAA Regional Reset: East Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 24th, 2015

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Your bracket is busted and the Sweet Sixteen is set. Let’s do a Regional Reset. Follow @rtceastregion for reporting from Cleveland this week. Check out all of the regional resets for the Sweet Sixteen here.

New Favorite: #3 Oklahoma. There was mayhem at the top, and now Oklahoma – the highest seeded team remaining – becomes the team to beat in Syracuse. The Sooners were in control from start to finish against #14 seed Albany on Friday, then flexed their defensive muscle in a comeback victory over #11 seed Dayton on Sunday, holding the close-to-home Flyers scoreless for a nine-minute stretch late in the game. Make no mistake – Lon Kruger’s group was never dominant – but it also didn’t rely on any one, dominant offensive performance in order to win. The contributions were across-the-board (Frank Booker even dropped 12 points off the bench on Sunday) and big men TaShawn Thomas and Ryan Spangler provided key physicality down low. Michigan State, Oklahoma’s upcoming foe, also made a good case for ‘favorite’ status after beating #10 seed Georgia and #2 seed Virginia, but it’s about time we give the Sooners their due.

Oklahoma is the new favorite in the East. (Jamie Sabau/Getty)

Oklahoma is the new favorite in the East. (Jamie Sabau/Getty)

Horse of Darkness: #8 North Carolina State. Dayton looked well on its way to becoming the Horse of Darkness (yet again) before Oklahoma laid down the defensive hammer in the second half in Columbus. So now we turn to North Carolina State, whose last-second, comeback victory over LSU on Thursday seemed to light a fire under a team that’s often struggled to play up to its potential. The Wolfpack didn’t merely ‘upset’ top-seeded Villanova on Saturday; it controlled the game. It played with confidence. Its modest frontcourt played as well as it has all year. It looked like the better team. Mark Gottfried’s group held the Wildcats – among the most explosive and efficient offenses in college hoops – to just 1.06 points per possession on 31.1 percent shooting (9-of-28 3FG), outmanning the Big East champs on the perimeter and outmuscling them in the paint. The effort was so rock-solid that it makes you wonder just how high this team’s ceiling is. With wins over Duke, North Carolina, Louisville and now Villanova under its belt, perhaps a trip to Indianapolis isn’t out of the question for Mark Gottfried’s Pack.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #8 North Carolina State. Look, we knew North Carolina State had talent – you don’t beat Duke and North Carolina without it – but I’m still not sure anyone saw this coming. The Wolfpack entered the Dance fresh off a 24-point beatdown against the Blue Devils in the ACC Tournament, just two weeks after losing by 16 points to Boston College. To call the team ‘mercurial’ would have been giving it too much credit; Gottfried’s bunch looked downright mediocre. And it looked something less than mediocre for the first 30 minutes against LSU, struggling to contain the Tigers’ loaded frontcourt and digging itself a big hole. Then Kyle Washington exploded with a flurry of points off the bench. And Abdul-Malik Abu went to work down low (13 points). And BeeJay Anya happened. Despite its heavily relied-upon guard trio of Cat Barber, Trevor Lacey and Ralston Turner combining on a 4-of-21 three-point shooting night, Noth Carolina State survived and advanced. Two nights later, it came out more confident than ever, jumped on #1 seed Villanova early and never conceded control, upending the Wildcats 71-68. And now the once-middling Wolfpack are just two wins away from reaching the Final Four. Where did that come from? Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Oklahoma 72, #11 Dayton 66

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 22nd, 2015

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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.

Oklahoma dominated Dayton in the final 10 minutes. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Oklahoma dominated Dayton in the final 10 minutes. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

  1. Oklahoma cranked up the defense. From about the midway point of the first half to the midway point of the second, Oklahoma’s defense simply wasn’t very good. Dayton found open perimeter look after open perimeter look and slashed to the rim at will, assembling two huge runs – 15-0 and 12-0 – that energized the crowd and put it ahead comfortably. Then the Sooners cranked up the heat. For over nine straight minutes of game time – virtually the entire last quarter – the Flyers did not muster a single point, enabling Lon Kruger’s bunch to overcome its deficit and come out on top. The prolonged stand – punctuated by Buddy Hield’s transition block at the 1:02 mark – showed why Oklahoma ranks among the 10-most efficient defenses in college basketball. The Sooners can lock down.
  2. Kendall Pollard’s airballed free-throw may have been a sign. With just under one minute to play and his team down five, Dayton forward Kendall Pollard stepped to the line for a 1-and-1… and promptly missed everything. Net, rim – everything. Maybe it was a sign that the Flyers had finally run out of gas. After playing with great energy against Providence on Friday and for the first 30 minutes tonight, it looked as if Miller’s short-handed group – taking the court for the sixth time in 10 days – just didn’t have the legs to finish. Make no mistake – Oklahoma won this game – but it’s hard to argue that that Dayton’s extremely short turnaround and utter lack of depth (342nd in bench minutes) didn’t play some kind of factor.
  3. Lon Kruger deserves some dap. With the victory, Kruger became the first head coach in the expanded NCAA Tournament era to take four different programs to the Sweet Sixteen. That feat is especially impressive when you consider how dire things looked at times tonight; not only did Oklahoma trail by multiple possessions in front of a hostile environment, but several Sooners’ players seemed heated and rattled during a few second half timeouts. Credit the veteran head man for rallying his guys and gutting out the historic win.

Star Player: Buddy Hield (15 points, five assists). Hield was not very efficient tonight (4-of-13 FG) nor did he ever go on a scoring tear, but the 6’4” junior came up with several big defensive plays – including the clutch block – that illustrated why he’s among the best players in the Big 12.

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Rushed Reactions: #13 Iowa State 67, #15 Oklahoma 65

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 13th, 2015

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Iowa State found itself mired in yet another early deficit, only to come back and squeak out a thrilling 67-65 win over Oklahoma to advance to the Big 12 championship game on Saturday.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Iowa State survives another thrilling finish: Up two with nine seconds to go, Iowa State suffered a major defensive breakdown that allowed Oklahoma guard Jordan Woodard to feed a cutting Ryan Spangler underneath on the team’s final possession. To the shock of everyone, Spangler’s bunny wouldn’t fall and the Cyclones survived yet another close game in front of a raucous semi-home crowd at the Sprint Center. Spangler will be the goat for missing such a close shot, but terrible outside shooting (25%) and a 22 percent turnover rate also helped do the Sooners in tonight.
  2. Rough night for the Big 12 Player of the Year: Buddy Hield is the most dynamic player in the conference due to his ability to tear into defenses at will and carry the Sooners when needed, but there are times like tonight when he tries to do a little too much. Hield tied a season-high with 20 shot attempts, but converted only six of them. Even with Jameel McKay patrolling the paint, the Cyclones have been vulnerable inside, so it stands to reason that Oklahoma wouldn’t have come up short in this one if it had leaned a bit more on TaShawn Thomas or Spangler more than it did.
  3. Cyclones dig out of a big hole… again: Friday’s victory marked the fourth straight time that Iowa State allowed its opponent to build a significant lead before the Cyclones’ offense woke up and its defense forced just enough stops to get back into the game. Hoiberg and his players have repeatedly expressed the need to avoid those situations to begin with, but they are making a habit of needing big runs to squeak out these wins. Credit is due to Iowa State for having the poise and perseverance to get the job done, but it’s not a sustainable way for a program to do business in March, especially when your head coach and athletic director have significant heart conditions.

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Big 12 Weekend Preview: Road Map to the Most Thrilling Finish Possible

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 27th, 2015

For roughly 46 hours between Kansas State’s upset over Kansas on Monday and Iowa State‘s deflating loss to Baylor on Wednesday, the Big 12 race had more intrigue than at any point in the season. But after the Bears took down the Cyclones at Hilton Coliseum thanks to some deadly shooting down the stretch, the standings returned to an all-too-familiar position: the Jayhawks all alone at the top with a logjam behind them. The race isn’t yet over, but Iowa State’s loss definitely removed some of the buzz surrounding the finish. As it stands, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Iowa State — each one game behind Kansas — all need to take care of business and get some unlikely help if any of the three wants to make history. The Sooners still have a game left against the 10-time defending conference champs — their home finale on March 7 — but they will likely have to win their next two games in order for that match-up to mean something. More on that in a minute.

It will take a home loss by Kansas for the Big 12 race to become a race again.

The Big 12 race isn’t over, but it will take a Kansas loss in this building to restore the chaos that has encapsulated the conference all year long.

West Virginia also has a game left against Kansas, but with two of its last three games coming on the road — including next Tuesday’s tilt against the Jayhawks — the Mountaineers are at a big disadvantage. Lastly, not only do the Cyclones not have any remaining games against the Jayhawks, but they’ll also play two of their last three games on the road. Meanwhile, Kansas plays two of its last three games in the cozy confines of Allen Fieldhouse, so the odds of Bill Self’s team winning that 11th straight Big 12 title in outright fashion look favorable.

As great a story as that would be, however, where’s the fun? As a die-hard college hoops fan, I want as much meaningful basketball as possible. Sure, if Kansas puts a bow on it by this time next week, everyone will still be playing for valuable postseason seeding; we’ll still watch; and then the postseason will be here. But throughout its relatively young history, the Big 12 has lacked a climactic final day of action in the truest definition.

I’m talking about one game to decide the conference race and the fate of the Jayhawks’ Big 12 title streak all wrapped up in one tidy package.

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Big 12 M5: 02.09.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 9th, 2015

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  1. The always entertaining Kyle Porter of Pistols Firing recapped Oklahoma State‘s upset win over Kansas on Saturday. The Jayhawks played the first half about as well as possible, running out to a double-figure halftime lead while shooting 7-of-9 from three. The second half, however, went in the opposite direction. Turnovers were a problem, as that number ballooned to 18 (Jamari Traylor had six miscues himself), and the Cowboys found the seam by driving to the basket and drawing fouls (20-of-26 on free throws). With only two Big 12 losses, Kansas is still in the driver’s seat for another conference crown but it will face stiff competition as Iowa State (one game behind) and Oklahoma (1.5 games behind) jockey for position down the stretch.
  2. West Virginia won the opening tap and scored the first two points of Saturday’s game against Baylor in Morgantown, but that would be the last time the Mountaineers would hold the lead as the Bears went on a 23-1 run to coast to an 87-69 blowout victory. Baylor beats you with its offensive balance, as Rico Gathers (17 points), Taurean Waller-Prince (15), Royce O’Neale (15), Al Freeman (11) and Kenny Chery (11) all registered double-figure scoring. In the Bears’ current three-game winning streak, they have shot a scorching 45 percent (22-for-49) from behind the arc. Unfortunately, we figured this would start to happen to West Virginia. The Mountaineers’ conference schedule is so backloaded that a major slide during the rest of the regular season is very much in play. Baylor, meanwhile, will be tested this week, facing upstart Oklahoma State in Waco followed by big, bad Kansas on Saturday afternoon in Lawrence.
  3. A not-such-a-big-deal thing and a hope-it’s-not-such-a-big-deal thing happened to the Cyclones over the weekend. We’ll start with the first thing as Bryce Dejean-Jones came off the bench in Iowa State‘s win against Texas Tech. Fred Hoiberg attributed Dejean-Jones’ benching to tardiness, which, again, is not such a big deal. In his place, Jameel McKay owned the game to the tune of 17 points, eight rebounds, three blocks and two steals in 25 minutes. The other thing that happened was that Georges Niang headed to the locker room in the first half after experiencing soreness in one of his Achilles’ tendons. Niang returned to the game but nevertheless should take extra special caution with the knowledge of how serious Achilles injuries can be. It’ll be something to keep an eye on in the Cyclones’ Big Monday game against Oklahoma tonight and West Virginia on Saturday.
  4. Some big news was released on Sunday night as Oklahoma big man TaShawn Thomas will play in tonight’s showdown with Iowa State. Thomas, who had eight points and 10 rebounds in his 27 minutes on the floor, left Saturday’s game against TCU after getting hit in the eye in the second half. With all hands on deck for both teams tonight, there should be some fireworks in Norman.
  5. The college basketball world lost a giant on Saturday as former North Carolina coach Dean Smith passed away at the age of 83. Smith was a huge success — on and off the hardwood — from his 879 career victories, 11 Final Fours and two national titles to being a fearless advocate for civil rights in a place and time that was not conducive to his views. The countless stories of the influence of Smith have been the most magnificent part of the weekend, including one that Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger told to the Tulsa World. I won’t spoil any of it here, but the piece further underscores how well he treated everyone. Even opposing coaches.
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Big 12 M5: 02.06.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 6th, 2015

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  1. Texas‘ overtime loss to Oklahoma State on Wednesday dropped the Longhorns to a disappointing 3-6 in conference play and ignited some talk of the possibility of the Longhorns missing the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years. I’m here to tell you that that chatter is very premature. While Texas doesn’t have any business being this bad with its formidable blend of talent and experience, it’s way too early to be bringing the Horns into the bubble conversation. They still own wins over Iowa at Madison Square Garden and UConn in Storrs, as well as a home win over West Virginia. On the other side of the ledger, their losses, while numerous, aren’t particularly egregious for their resume — every team they’ve lost to is currently ranked in the RPI top 35. Lastly, as is always the case with these kinds of conversations, in order to leave Texas out of the Big Dance, you have to find a team with a better resume, and the bubble right now is just too soft to make a convincing argument for the Longhorns to be left on the outside. There’s no doubt Texas has fallen well short of expectations, but they aren’t in any danger of missing the Tournament – yet. If they lose two or more of their next three games (at Kansas State, at home against TCU and Texas Tech), then we can talk.
  2. It’s been an up-and-down few years for Oklahoma State, so when a season highlight presents itself, I don’t have any problem if its fanbase wants to milk it for all its worth. Kyle Porter of Pistols Firing dissects Le’Bryan Nash’s rim-shaking throwdown from Wednesday night in great detail, all the way from how the play developed to the always-fun bench reactions and Travis Ford getting greedy and lobbying for a foul call. Looking around the conference, there isn’t a player who is more important to his team’s postseason chances than Nash is to the Cowboys due to his high usage and ability to create plays for himself, so when a play of his goes viral, it’s definitely worth passing along.
  3. Luke Winn’s power rankings at SI.com are always a great read, and this week’s edition includes an interesting blurb about Cliff Alexander‘s presence on the interior. We’ve talked before about Alexander’s offensive rawness in the post, but Winn illuminates how much Alexander lags behind his peers in this department. Jahlil Okafor, Myles Turner and Karl-Anthony Towns have all been considerably more productive on the blocks, but in fairness to Alexander, the other three players are taller and should be expected to post better numbers. Alexander has the potential to develop a true back-to-the-basket game over time, however, so we’ll see what the second half of conference play and the postseason brings out of the freshman.
  4. Tomorrow’s match-up between Baylor and West Virginia is one of the more interesting games of the weekend. A Baylor win would pull the Bears even with West Virginia, allowing them to keep a sliver of hope in ultimately catching Kansas in the league standings. The Mountaineers’ press will look to speed up Baylor’s deliberate tempo, which is currently ranked 300th in the country with an average possession length of 19.7 seconds. Additionally, neither team shoots particularly well, but both rank in the top five nationally in offensive rebounding. Unless Baylor gets white-hot from beyond the arc (as they can get sometimes), you can expect the winner of this one to be determined by second-chance points.
  5. We’ll wrap up by giving Oklahoma credit for fielding the conference’s most efficient defensive unit in the first half of Big 12 play. Kansas has owned that title in each of the last three full seasons and nine of the last 10, so while there’s still a lot of basketball to be played, it says a lot about the progress Lon Kruger‘s team has made from last year’s shaky defensive performance. Buddy Hield has slightly improved his steals rate from 2.4% last year to 2.6% this year while committing just 1.8 fouls per game in conference play. Those marks would be impressive for any player, but it’s especially noteworthy for Hield because of the high workload he’s asked to shoulder (he’s averaging 34 minutes per game in Big 12 play). The Sooners have held their last three opponents to an average of 48 points per game and could be a decent bet to do the same when they face TCU in Fort Worth tomorrow.
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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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Oklahoma’s Blowout of Texas Might Disrupt Big 12 Hierarchy

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 6th, 2015

Nate Kotisso is a Big 12 microsite writer for Rush The Court. He covered Oklahoma-Texas in Austin last night. You can follow him on Twitter @natekotisso.

We are four days into the start of Big 12 play, so naturally, now is the time to make quick declarations on how the conference will ultimately shake out. Until we make new ones on Saturday, that is. The box score will tell you that the Sooners played their most complete game of the season against one of their toughest opponents on Monday night. While it was an impressive victory, the reality is Oklahoma dominated Texas defensively in the first half and coasted in the second. The Sooners forced nine of Texas’ 12 turnovers, scored 11 points off those turnovers, outscored the Horns in the paint by 10, and held the Longhorns to 14 points total — all in the first 20 minutes. At the break, Texas was left with six players each making one field goal to account for their 6-of-30 shooting, while the Sooners’ Ryan Spangler and Buddy Hield equaled that number with three makes apiece. Their size advantage on Texas’ guards with Hield and Isaiah Cousins allowed the duo to shoot over them to the tune of 4-of-10 from the perimeter.

Texas guard Demarcus Holland attempts to grab the ball on this Longhorn possession. However, the game was out of UT's reach as they lost by 21. (Brendan Maloney/USA Today Sports)

Texas guard Demarcus Holland attempts to grab the ball on this Longhorn possession. However, the game was out of UT’s reach as they lost by 21. (Brendan Maloney/USA Today Sports)

Another important piece to this game for Oklahoma was the emergence of TaShawn Thomas. It’s common knowledge that the addition of Thomas has strengthened the team’s defense to a level that hasn’t been seen during head coach Lon Kruger‘s tenure in Norman. Competing against the athletic size of Cameron Ridley, Jonathan Holmes, Prince Ibeh and Connor Lammert, Thomas posted 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting and 10 rebounds, four of them offensive. While not nearly as efficient on the offensive end, Thomas contributed 12 points, 11 rebounds and led all players in offensive rebounds (four), two blocked shots and one nasty dunk that thwarted any chance of a Longhorns’ comeback early in the second half. The Sooners seem to have Texas’ number of late, winning four of the last five games in the series. Oklahoma has also recorded wins in Austin in consecutive seasons for the first time since the program last did so during the 2000-02 seasons. Read the rest of this entry »

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Oklahoma Just Too Much for Baylor

Posted by Eli Linton on January 5th, 2015

Eli Linton is a RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Oklahoma’s 73-63 win over Baylor.

Saturday’s premier matchup — and the country’s only game between ranked opponents — featured #22 Baylor at # 18 Oklahoma in what amounted to two of the nation’s top defenses, and possibly the two best frontcourts in the Big 12. Baylor was the underdog surprise of the season going in. The Bears were selected to finish sixth in the Big 12 preseason poll, but came into Saturday’s Big 12 opener sporting an 11-1 record, including six straight wins. This was the perfect opportunity to showcase their great talent that has helped them rise above expectations. Instead, what we ended up watching was total control by Oklahoma, who won 73-63. The Sooners are starting to pile up wins against quality teams, and are looking more like one of the NCAA’s elite.

Oklahoma forward TaShawn Thomas (35) celebrates a basket against Baylor in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Jan. 3, 2015. Oklahoma's Jordan Woodard is at right. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Oklahoma forward TaShawn Thomas (35) celebrates a basket against Baylor in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Jan. 3, 2015. Oklahoma’s Jordan Woodard is at right. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Oklahoma has been beating up on Baylor seemingly forever, leading 42-11 in the all-time series between the two programs. The Sooners have been even more dominant when the contest is played in Norman as Oklahoma has won 21 of 25 all-time meetings. Still, this was a matchup of two teams that were considered very close by comparison. Baylor, like Oklahoma, plays tough defense and relies on its talented forwards, junior Rico Gathers and freshman Johnathan Motley. But the touted Baylor zone couldn’t stop Sooners’ guard Buddy Hield or forward TaShawn Thomas, who found a way to lead their team to 73 points again a Bears’ defense that hadn’t allowed more than 66 points in a game all year. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Conference Catch-Up: West Virginia and Oklahoma

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 1st, 2015

As the Big 12 schools near the completion of their non-conference schedules this week, it’s a great time to catch up on where the league’s 10 teams stand entering conference play. Surely, this would be the year West Virginia becomes a factor in Big 12 hierarchy and they look like a serious one to this point. Meanwhile, Oklahoma has had a few hiccups in non-conference play but there is reason for optimism as the new pieces begin to settle into their roles. The Conference Catch-Up rolls on today with our last Catch-Up coming up tomorrow.

West Virginia

  • Key Wins: UConn, NC State
  • Bad Losses: None
Senior Juwan Staten had led the Mountaineers to a 12-1 start heading into Big 12 play. (Getty Images)

Senior Juwan Staten has led the Mountaineers to a 12-1 start heading into Big 12 play. (Getty Images)

When you’ve had the success and longevity that Bob Huggins has had in coaching, there are very few things left to prove. Perhaps rebuilding his alma mater into a contender in a new league was something worth going after and Huggins appears to have done that. It was hard to expect such a quick start from the Mountaineers in 2014-15 considering two of their top three scorers from last season (Eron Harris and Terry Henderson) transferred out of Morgantown. With them gone, this has undoubtedly become Juwan Staten‘s team. The Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year Staten leads his team in scoring (15.9) and assists (4.3) despite playing on average seven minutes fewer than he did last year. The last triumph most remember WVU having on the national landscape was their Final Four season in 2009-10. What made that team such a difficult matchup for most were their versatile wing players. Guys like Da’Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones carried a lot of responsibility on a team that only used a seven-man rotation. Butler, Ebanks and Jones were all 6’7″ or taller, could score, rebound in bunches and committed to defending on a team that finished 23rd in the country in adjusted defense according to KenPom. The difficulty with this year’s team is their ability to wear down opponents due to Huggins’ pressure defense armed with a rotation that rolls ten guys deep. At this point, KenPom has WVU sporting a similar adjusted defense rating as 2009-10 (22nd) despite the Mountaineers averaging 13 steals a game, seven more than the 2009-10 team. In KenPom’s metrics, West Virginia is ranked No. 1 in the country in turnover percentage and steal percentage. More steals and turnovers have led to more easy buckets on the other end of the floor. West Virginia breezed through an average non-conference schedule with one minor speed bump in the form of a 74-73 home loss to a solid LSU team. The big question going into conference play is how long can they keep up their defensive pace against much tougher opponents? It’s one thing to post big numbers against VMI, Northern Kentucky or Marshall and another to do the same to Kansas, Texas or Iowa State.

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Oklahoma Quietly Taking Care of Business

Posted by Eli Linton on December 14th, 2014

While Texas and Kansas have hogged the Big 12 spotlight so far, Oklahoma is starting to demand some attention of its own. Lon Kruger’s squad, which came into last week ranked #16 in the country, visited Tulsa on Saturday afternoon and left with an easy 87-68 win. Oklahoma appears to have its best team since Blake Griffin was running the show. The Sooners’ defense is performing at a top-10 level this season, holding every team they’ve faced to fewer than 70 points, 36 percent from the field and 28 percent from three. That stingy defense is the main reason they continue to climb the national rankings and are demanding respect in such a competitive conference.

Lon Kruger

Lon Kruger has the Sooners playing very good basketball right now. (AP)

The strength of Oklahoma comes from its starting five. If it has been a while since you’ve seen the Sooners play, here’s what you can expect:

  • Ryan Spangler is a Gonzaga transfer who plays physical defense in the post. He’s a great athlete who shoots a high percentage. He’s shot 50 percent or better in 32 of his 40 games at Oklahoma, and he’s shooting 64 percent from the field this season. Spangler is disruptive on defense and has a lot of athleticism for a big man.
  • Senior forward TaShawn Thomas is another quick, athletic forward who rounds out the Sooners’ frontcourt. He can put the ball on the floor and play great defense on the perimeter. Thomas was the MVP against Tulsa, shutting down their shooters on the three-point line all afternoon. When he rotated down into the post, there was just no way the Hurricane were going to score driving the lane. Tulsa started settling for the more inviting mid-range jumpers instead of attacking the glass. Thomas ended the night with 25 points, five rebounds, and three blocks to go along with his stellar defensive performance. “We realized that we need to get the ball in to TaShawn and Ryan a lot more,” Kruger said afterward. “Last game, Ryan had a big game against Missouri. TaShawn had a big game today. We had gotten away from that balance, and Ryan and TaShawn help us get back to it and I like the results much better.”

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