Rushed Reactions: #3 Baylor 82, #11 USC 78

Posted by Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) on March 19th, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) is in Tulsa this weekend.

Johnathan Motley, who was stellar defensively, put up big numbers in Baylor’s win over USC. (J Pat Carter/Getty Images)

Three Key Takeaways

  1. Baylor dominated the interior. The Bears did what they always do and took care of business in the paint on the offensive end. Junior Johnathan Motley finished with 19 points and junior Terry Maston added 19 of his own. As a team, Baylor finished with 40 points — nearly half of their total — in the paint. The Bears also managed to grab 14 offensive rebounds to help extend possessions and create extra scoring opportunities. USC’s zone defense helped open up opportunities for their opponent to crash the offensive glass. This is the second big performance for Maston — he also put up 19 points in Baylor’s opening round game against New Mexico State.
  2. USC made up for it with threes. The Trojans didn’t go away quietly, though, finding opportunities to exploit Baylor’s defense — whether zone or man — from behind the three-point arc. As a team, USC finished 9-of-22 (40.9%) from deep and it was Bennie Boatwright and Elijah Stewart who led the way. Boatwright hit 4-of-9 triples while Stewart made three of his six attempts. The three-point shot can be a great equalizer in basketball as it opens up the game offensively and puts an extra point on the board. Against Baylor, Chimezie Metu was the beneficiary of the extra spacing. He finished with 28 points.
  3. Manu Lecomte was the hero. With Motley on the bench with four fouls, Baylor coach Scott Drew made a surprising decision to play a smaller lineup. The Bears have spent most of their time on the court this season with two traditional bigs, so this was a big departure for their norm. Drew was rewarded by point guard Manu Lecomte. The junior had struggled for most of the game, but found an extra gear during its most crucial stretch. He scored eight of his 12 points during a 46 second stretch to help build Baylor’s lead.

Star of the Game. While Motley’s stat line was a bit better, this award has to go to Terry Maston for his second straight important performance off the bench. In addition to his 19 points, the junior grabbed nine boards and collected a pair of steals. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Baylor 91, #14 New Mexico State 73

Posted by Chris Stone on March 17th, 2017

Rush the Court will be providing on-site coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish.

Baylor avoided a first round upset for the first time in three years. (AP Photo/Jerry Larson)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Al Freeman came up big for Baylor. The Bears’ guard lost his starting spot in the middle of conference play, but since returning he’s delivered some important performances off the bench. Freeman put together 21 points in the win on Friday afternoon while shooting 6-of-10 from the field, including 3-of-3 from behind the three-point arc. Freeman’s ability to stretch the floor — he came into the game hitting 37.3 percent of his threes — is vital to the Bears’ offense because they play with two traditional big men who don’t space the floor. Baylor needs the threat of Freeman’s outside shooting to create driving lines for point guard Manu Lecomte, and sometimes that three-point threat actualizes itself like it did today against New Mexico State.
  2. Baylor’s man-to-man defense stifled the Aggies. New Mexico State actually led by two points at the half on the back of 6-of-13 shooting from behind the three-point arc, but a defensive change from the Bears put a quick end to the Aggies’ hopes. Head coach Scott Drew had his team play strict man-to-man defense in the second half, which allowed his team’s length and athleticism to overwhelmed New Mexico State. This is one of the most frustrating things about Drew as a head coach. He’s consistently had the talent, athleticism and size to play man-to-man, but he often defaults to a 1-3-1 zone. That zone got shredded for the first 20 minutes, though, and the man-to-man defense brought the Bears back. Credit Drew for being willing to make the switch.
  3. The first half must have terrified Baylor fans. Since making the Sweet Sixteen in 2014, the Bears have failed to advance past the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. In each of the following two seasons, they lost to double-digit seeds in the Round of 64, first to an R.J. Hunter buzzer beater by Georgia State in 2015, followed by Makai Mason and Yale last year. With Baylor trailing at halftime and its opponent hot from deep, there was a definite sense of deja vu around Tulsa. Luckily, with strong performances from the bench and a switch up on the defensive end, the Bears were able to avoid a repeat of recent history.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Iowa State Won A Bunch Of Games While You Weren’t Looking Edition

Posted by Big 12 Team on February 28th, 2017

Quick! How many games has Iowa State won this season? You vaguely remember the Cyclones beating Kansas a few weeks ago, so that must mean they’re doing well, right? At this point in the year, you’re probably thinking they have a nice, healthy number of wins. Like 22 or 23. Yeah, that sounds good. You’ll go with that. I’m sorry, however, but you are incorrect. The correct answer is 19. Having 19 wins on February 27 isn’t particularly noteworthy unless you note how Iowa State got to that number in the first place. First, Steve Prohm put together an ambitious non-conference schedule that produced two losses to very good basketball teams (Gonzaga, Cincinnati) and two other losses that he’d like to have back (Iowa, Vanderbilt). Add in a 5-4 start to Big 12 play — not to mention Oklahoma State’s herculean turnaround — and it was pretty easy to forget the Cyclones even existed. Now they’re on a five-game winning streak and, with two more wins, have a chance to clinch the #2 seed in next month’s Big 12 Tournament. I didn’t think I’d be typing that sentence a month ago. Power Rankings time!

Hey you! Remember me? I’m Monte, the preseason All-American dude from Iowa State. You know, I’m still doing All-American type things on the court. You should turn on one of my games some time. You’ll enjoy it! (photo: lanezphotography.com)

1. Kansas — all voted 1st – “The Jayhawks have won seven straight games since their home loss to Iowa State a few weeks ago. Along the way, Kansas also won its 13th straight Big 12 regular season title, one of the most impressive streaks in college basketball history.” – Drew Andrews (@DrewAndrews24)

2. West Virginia — average: 2.4 – “Saturday’s match-up against Iowa State will be the last game in Morgantown for hometown hero Nathan Adrian. Adrian was a sparsely used bench player last year, but he’s taken on Jonathan Holton’s role atop the press this year. He’s been excellent with the additional responsibility and figures to be missed at the Coliseum.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)

3. Iowa State — average: 3.0 (not unanimous) – “The Cyclones’ rotation is not very deep, so it has helped that freshman forward Solomon Young has started to contribute lately. During Iowa State’s current five-game winning streak, Young has had multiple blocks in four of those games.” – Justin Fedich (@jfedich)

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Big 12/SEC Challenge Edition

Posted by Big 12 Team on January 31st, 2017

College basketball’s several interconference challenges are largely the same, but the Big 12 and SEC’s decision to turn theirs into a one-day event smack dab in the middle of conference play is a great way of differentiating itself. Most fans and pundits seem to agree with this opinion, unless, of course, you believe that the Big 12/SEC Challenge should move to December for carefully researched reasons like “just because.” What instead might lead to the challenge’s demise is not when the games are played during the season, but the lack of watchable games provided to the viewers. For example, there is no good explanation for 17-4 South Carolina to be left off this year’s schedule in favor of 10 other SEC teams. And even if it’s understandable that the challenge wants to avoid a number of potential conflicts  — such as Baylor‘s Scott Drew not wanting to play his brother Bryce Drew‘s team at Vanderbilt; Frank Martin having no interest in taking his Gamecocks to Kansas State; Texas tussling with Texas A&M; or Rick Barnes squaring off with the Longhorns — the fans want to see the most compelling match-ups. In any case, a fresh batch of power rankings is ready for your consumption. (caution: do not eat them all at once)

Maybe it was the Yeezys. Whatever it was, Bill Self and Kansas were able to hand Kentucky its second home loss of the season. (Mark Zerof/USA Today Sports)

1. Kansas — all voted 1st – The Jayhawks had not lost back-to-back games since December 10, 2014. The last time Kentucky, on the other hand, had lost consecutive games was just last season, when it fell to Kansas and Tennessee in succession. This year the order was reversed, but the Jayhawks delivered the Wildcats the same fate. If there was any concern about Kansas after its Tuesday night loss to West Virginia, that quickly evaporated with the win at Rupp Arena, where Frank Mason continued to make his case for National Player of the Year.” – Justin Fedich (@jfedich)

2. Baylor — all voted 2nd – “The Bears seem to have lost some steam in the national conversation but they still have one of the five best defenses in the country and the best of the Big 12. Their length inside has held opponents to 43.2 percent shooting on two-pointers in conference play. That’s a recipe for success in this league.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)

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Baylor: The Team Nobody Saw Coming…

Posted by Justin Fedich on January 7th, 2017

It’s only January 7, but with Baylor going into tonight’s game against Oklahoma State as one of two remaining unbeaten teams in college basketball, many are wondering where this team came from. The Bears started the season with a grand total of zero votes in the AP preseason Top 25, but through 14 games against an excellent schedule, no opponent has been able to touch them. Under longtime head coach Scott Drew, Baylor has never made the Final Four but his teams have gotten close. During a three-year stretch from 2010-12, the Bears made two Elite Eights but had the misfortune of playing the eventual National Champion on both occasions (Duke – 2010; Kentucky 2012). This year, Baylor is better equipped to make its first Final Four in school history, but it’s not because expectations in Waco will be high. On the contrary, it’s because expectations are not high, which is exactly how Baylor has thrived to this point of the season.

Baylor is Off to One of Its Best Starts Ever (USA Today Images)

Baylor is Off to One of Its Best Starts Ever (USA Today Images)

Baylor had plenty of question marks coming into this season. Senior forward Johnathan Motley was a preseason All-Big 12 pick, but beyond that was mostly unknown. The most notable concern was how Miami transfer Manu Lecomte would fare in his first season with the Bears. The answer is so far, so good. Lecomte is leveraging his additional time in Drew’s lineup by averaging 5.1 assists per game, ranking among the nation’s top 60 in assist rate at 32.3 percent. As outstanding as the possible Big 12 Transfer of the Year has been, he hasn’t even been the most pleasant surprise on the team. Junior center Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. has gone from relative anonymity to averages of 11.0 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, pairing with Motley to create a formidable frontcourt that no team in the Big 12 — not even Kansas — wants to face. The starters have been exceptionally consistent to this point, and a bench of which little was expected continues to get better as the season rolls along. Sophomore wing Jake Lindsey contributed his first double-figure game of the season against Iowa State on Wednesday night.

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How Johnathan Motley’s Supporting Cast Has Elevated Baylor

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 1st, 2016

Three weeks into the new season, the best non-conference resume in college basketball belongs to Baylor. The Bears already have four wins against teams ranked among the KenPom top 50 thanks to a flawless run through the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, and they’ll have yet another chance to score a victory over a marquee opponent when they host Xavier on Saturday afternoon. November served as a national breakout party for Big 12 POY candidate Johnathan Motley, whose length, footwork and range have keyed Baylor’s hot start. But one player — even someone the caliber of the 6’10” junior — doesn’t result in a 7-0 start with wins over Oregon, VCU, Michigan State and Louisville. While there’s no doubt Motley is keeping opposing coaches up at night, the unheralded pieces around him have helped the team flourish as well.

Johnathan Motley Has Had a Lot to Celebrate This Season (USA Today Images)

Johnathan Motley Has Had a Lot to Celebrate This Season (USA Today Images)

Motley makes the whole thing go in the paint, but junior center Jo Lual-Acuil has also been a force. The JuCo transfer owns the nation’s third-best shot block rate (15.6%) and already has 29 rejections on the year. For most big men, there are two potential costs to chasing blocks: foul trouble and getting caught out of position for the rebound. But Lual-Acuil is the rare breed of player who has both avoided the whistle (2.3 fouls per 40 minutes) and remained a presence on the defensive glass (team-leading 25.1% defensive rebounding rate). Big 12 play may cause some regression when Lual-Acuil faces players willing to challenge him at the rim, but that doesn’t make him any less important. On the offensive end, the attention Motley commands opens a number of close looks that Lual-Acuil is converting at an incredibly high rate. Two-way threats at the five don’t come around very often, but Baylor has one of them.

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Feast Week Mission Briefing: Baylor in the Battle 4 Atlantis

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 23rd, 2016

Feast Week is here. To get you ready for the Big 12’s representation in the various holiday tournaments, our Feast Week Mission Briefings continue with Baylor in the Battle 4 Atlantis.

Catching Up: If you really think about it, Baylor didn’t have a lot to overcome heading into this season. The Bears only lost a double-double machine to the NFL (Rico Gathers), an NBA lottery pick (Taurean Prince) and the 10th-best assist man in college basketball last season (Lester Medford)… wait a minute, they DID lose a lot. And yet, despite those enormous personnel losses, the Bears haven’t looked anything like a team in rebuilding mode, getting off to an impressive 3-0 start that includes a pounding of Pac-12 favorite Oregon. This week’s Battle 4 Atlantis is another chance for Baylor to get ready for Big 12 competition, as a loaded field awaits the Bears in the Bahamas.

Baylor point guard Manu Lecomte (#20) has dazzled in his first three games as the Bears' new point guard. (Raymond Carlin III/USA Today Sports)

Baylor point guard Manu Lecomte (#20) has been impressive in his first three games as the Bears’ new point guard. (Raymond Carlin III/USA TODAY Sports)

Opening Round Preview: Baylor will open the tournament against VCU in perhaps a preview of the style they will see from Texas. Shaka Smart may be the architect of the full-court pressing HAVOC defense, but the Rams have continued this style of play under second year head coach Will Wade. Through three games, VCU ranks among the top 15 nationally in steal rate (13.7%), per KenPom. Compare that with Baylor’s first three opponents this year: Oral Roberts is 242nd in steal percentage; Oregon is 255th; and Florida Gulf Coast checks in at 339th. It’s clear that the dazzling point guard Manu Lecomte (16.7 PPG, 7.0 APG, 1.7 TOPG) will face his toughest opposition since arriving in Waco.

Potential Later Round Match-ups: Regardless of what happens against VCU, Baylor is in line for a second resume-building game in Atlantis against either Michigan State — one of the youngest and most talented teams in America — or St. John’s, a program on the rise with enough talented pieces to spring an upset. This is one of those tournaments that will allow the eight participating coaches to return to the United States with a very clear progress report on their teams.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Opening Weekend in Review

Posted by Drew Andrews on November 15th, 2016

Opening night of the college basketball season gave nine of the 10 Big 12 programs a chance to begin their seasons with easy wins. Those match-ups went according to plan, as only Kansas played a team inside KenPom’s top 250 and, as a result, took the only loss. However, there was another surprise that could ultimately spell trouble for one of the contenders to the conference title. Let’s take a look at one key takeaway from each team coming out of the opening weekend.

  • Kansas – The Jayhawks came into the season with questions about leadership, scoring in the post, and whether Josh Jackson could make the leap to superstardom. The loss to Indiana in the Armed Forces Classic on Friday night only provided a first piece of an answer to one of those questions. Frank Mason III exploded for 30 points and nine assists in the defeat, making it seem that he might be Bill Self‘s Option A for leadership and scoring this season. In the absence of the graduated Perry Ellis, Landon Lucas and Carlton Bragg will be asked to replace some of his frontcourt scoring load. Lucas proved that he could play the necessary minutes last year, but Bragg rarely saw the floor. After a meager 18-minute outing on opening night, it seems as if Self still has questions about the sophomore forward. Meanwhile, Jackson struggled to find a rhythm on both ends of the floor. Early foul trouble and questionable shot selection meant he saw more of the bench than expected, but it will be interesting to see how Self utilizes him in tonight’s clash with top-ranked Duke.
Josh Jackson struggled against Indiana. Can he break out against Duke in the Champions Classic? (Photo: Kansas City Star)

Josh Jackson struggled against Indiana. Can he break out against Duke in the Champions Classic? (Photo: Kansas City Star)

  • Iowa State  Monte’ Morris began his quest for conference and national honors with a bang against Savannah State (21 points and 11 assists), followed by a quieter but efficient outing (18 points and three assists) last night against Mount St. Mary’s. Steve Prohm started five seniors in both games, and if Iowa State hopes to again challenge Kansas for the Big 12 title, it will need every bit of experience and leadership from that group to get there.
  • TexasJarrett Allen certainly looked the part of star in the making in his debut for the Longhorns, but despite his 16 points and 12 boards, Texas was outrebounded on the offensive glass in its first two outings against Incarnate Word and Louisiana-Monroe. Shaka Smart‘s HAVOC defense certainly creates great energy and scoring opportunities via turnovers, but he has to be concerned that his players are giving up so many second chances to teams that were clearly overmatched in talent and size.

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Oregon vs. Baylor is the Best Daytime Marathon Game and That’s Fine

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 15th, 2016

One of the virtues of having a winning basketball program is when a school fearlessly schedules its non-conference slate of games. Participating in a multi-team tournament where the weather’s warm? Most definitely. How about playing a true road game or two before January? You betcha. After paying a trip to Eugene as part of last year’s ESPN Tip-Off Marathon, Baylor is set to host a top-five Oregon team in an otherwise blasé daytime portion of the event (3:30 PM ET, ESPN2). The Ducks, which return much of its Elite Eight squad from a season ago, can do just about everything and they aren’t even healthy yet — leading scorer Dillon Brooks (16.7 PPG) is still recovering from foot surgery. Both teams enter today’s game at 1-0. Oregon didn’t play its best against Army but did enough to keep distance in a 14-point win. Baylor wasn’t at full strength against Oral Roberts either, playing without the services of preseason First Team all-Big 12 forward Johnathan Motley (suspension), but still came away with a 15-point victory.

Baylor's Manu Lecomte (#20) had himself a night in Friday night's season opener versus Oral Roberts. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune-Herald)

Baylor’s Manu Lecomte (#20) had himself a night in Friday night’s season opener versus Oral Roberts. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune-Herald)

There are a lot of ways a match-up like this can be sliced, but three-point defense is the key variable here. After making nine threes against the Black Knights on Friday, Oregon will trot out a slew of outstanding shooters headlined by Tyler Dorsey (career: 40.8%) and Payton Pritchard (40.0%). Baylor, which made 10 threes of its own against the Golden Eagles, counters with the likes of Manu Lecomte (career: 42.6%) and Al Freeman (37.4%). The team that closes out on shooters effectively will triumph in this game. If neither team can stop the other from canning double-figure threes, however, then it will be a high-scoring, fast-paced game that will end after a minimum of two overtimes. Or six. The point here is that we, the viewers, cannot lose with a game like this.

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Transfers Look to Lift Big 12 Teams This Season

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 7th, 2016

Like most power conferences around college basketball, the Big 12 has seen a number of players look its way in search of fresh starts. Similarly (and despite bemoaning the process at every opportunity), coaches haven’t been shy about picking up transfers from all over the landscape. From guys like former Sooner Ryan Spangler, who became a Big 12 fixture over multiple seasons, to one-year rentals such as Iowa State’s DeAndre Kane and Kansas’ Tarik Black, transfers have filled a variety of roles within the conference over the years. Some will be relied on more than others, but here’s a full rundown of the new faces who will look to make their presences felt in 2016-17.

After a year of waiting, Manu Lecomte takes the reigns for Baylor.(Scott Cunningham/Getty)

After a year of waiting, Manu Lecomte takes the reins for Baylor. (Scott Cunningham/Getty)

  • Manu Lecomte, Baylor: One of the reasons Baylor has enjoyed trips to the NCAA Tournament in four of the last five seasons has been the presence of a steady if not always spectacular point guard. Just as he did a few years ago when he found Kenny Chery, Scott Drew mined the transfer list in 2015 and found Lecomte, who arrives from Miami and sat out last season. Lecomte was a prolific three-point shooter in his two seasons in Coral Gables, but he also showed some decent handles with 144 assists to 101 turnovers playing for Jim Larranaga. He’ll be charged with initiating the Bears’ offense, which will be no easy task with Taurean Prince and Rico Gathers out of the picture.
  • Niem Stevenson, Texas Tech: Texas Tech lost a pair of off-guards in Devaugntah Williams and Toddrick Gotcher, so new head coach Chris Beard will look to fill the gap with Stevenson, a two-time JuCo All-American from Seward County Community College (KS). Stevenson is a legit scorer who averaged 24.7 points per game last season, but at 6’5″, he can help on the glass and defend a little bit, too. Tubby Smith left Beard with many helpful pieces in Lubbock, but it could be one Beard picked up himself who propels the Red Raiders to a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

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