Big 12 M5: 03.21.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 21st, 2016

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  1. After extended struggles in the NCAA Tournament, the Big 12 pulled through by sending three teams — Kansas, Oklahoma and Iowa State — to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2009. What’s particularly interesting about the league’s current standing is that the three teams still alive are the ones we all thought had the best chance to make a run when the season started. It was tough to see Baylor, West Virginia, Texas and Texas Tech lose games they could have (perhaps should have) won, but all in all, Big 12 supporters have to like this year’s results.
  2. With Stephen F. Austin falling in a heartbreaker to Notre Dame on Sunday, you can expect the chatter connecting Brad Underwood to the Oklahoma State job to ramp up over the next couple of days. He checks many of the necessary boxes for the Cowboys: He’s been tremendously successful; he has connections to the area; he worked in the Big 12 earlier in his career and is a hot name who could reinvigorate the program and re-energize the fan base in very short order. We’ll have more on the coaching search in Stillwater a bit later today, but even though Underwood won just a single NCAA Tournament game this year, his potential addition to the program in Stillwater makes a lot of sense.
  3. In other Big 12 coaching news, a report Sunday indicated that Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon is strongly considering a move to take the vacant TCU job. While it isn’t often that you hear of a coach of Dixon’s stature being connected to a program with as little historical success as TCU, there are a few reasons why this could be a reasonable next step for the Horned Frogs. Dixon is a TCU alumnus and the school just unveiled substantial facilities upgrades, and the timing of Trent Johnson’s firing suggests that athletic director Chris Del Conte wants to take an aggressive approach towards escaping the Big 12 basement. The move could also be appealing from Dixon’s side, too. Fan unrest in Pittsburgh is growing as Dixon has turned only two of his 11 NCAA Tournament bids into Sweet Sixteen runs, and, though there’s not much to suggest he’s at risk of termination, the athletic director and chancellor who were in place when he was hired are now gone, so it’s fair to wonder just how much support he has from the current administration. Given all of those circumstances, the TCU job could represent something of an escape hatch. While the Horned Frogs don’t have the most well-regarded program around college basketball, we haven’t seen what they can do with an accomplished leader like Dixon at the helm. It’s also no secret that Texas is loaded with the kind of prep talent that can make TCU competitive with the right coach.
  4. Returning to the league’s NCAA Tournament performance over the weekend, it has to be especially redeeming for Iowa State to have extended its season for at least one more game. While this year’s campaign hasn’t been without its highlights, the Cyclones have just been through the wringer. First, they lost Naz Mitrou-Long eight games into the season. Then they started 1-3 in conference play, dashing hopes of knocking Kansas from the top of the Big 12 mountain and leading to a level of fan criticism that prompted head coach Steve Prohm to delete his Twitter and Facebook accounts. The team then spent a decent chunk of February working through various challenges with Jameel McKay before ultimately finishing fifth in the conference and going one-and-done at the Big 12 Tournament. Flash forward to this past weekend, and the Cyclones delivered one of the most refreshing stretches of play they’ve had all year. While it’s not a huge surprise to see Iowa State in the Sweet Sixteen, that they’ve done so in spite of all the challenges they’ve faced likely makes this run a little more special than it would be otherwise.
  5. The Big 12’s Sweet Sixteen action will tip on Thursday night when Kansas and Maryland meet in Louisville. At first glance, the most intriguing individual matchup in this game centers on how Mark Turgeon’s team will defend Perry Ellis. Doing so is a tall order, but with four regulars at 6’9″ or taller, the Terrapins certainly have the bodies capable of altering Ellis’ inside shots. Part of what makes Ellis such a matchup nightmare, however, is his ability to force opposing big men defend him in space, so it will be interesting to monitor how often Bill Self utilizes Ellis on the perimeter.
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Rushed Reactions: #2 Oklahoma 85, #10 VCU 81

Posted by Czech Smith on March 20th, 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 Was Just Doing Buddy Things in Today's Second Half (USA Today Images)

Buddy Was Just Doing Buddy Things in Today’s Second Half (USA Today Images)

  1. Oklahoma is legit, even without Buddy Hield at his best. I mentioned Friday that the Sooners were going to have to play better as a team if they were going to make it to the Sweet Sixteen, and they certainly did that today. Hield’s uncharacteristic airballed three-pointer at the start (he would airball yet another later in the game) was a good indication that he was somewhat off his game. The rest of the Sooners stepped up for him in a big way to give the team a 13-point halftime buffer that allowed them to withstand VCU’s second half charge. In the first half alone, Oklahoma logged nine offensive reboundsa nd Jordan Woodard and Isaiah Cousins combined for 22 points. Their first half performances were the reason that Oklahoma was able to survive Hield’s slow start
  2. Heild proved in the second half why he is likely going to win the Naismith award. Despite being visibly off his game in the first half, Heild came out of the blocks running in the second. His oversized presence forced VCU to blanket him early, which allowed the rest of his team to get open looks. Then, when they needed him most, his second half performance was stellar. At 11:02 remaining, the game was tied at 59-all. From that point forward, Hield put the Sooners on his back in scoring 21 out of Oklahoma’s last 26 points, including several dizzying moves that left the crowd shaking their heads in amazement.
  3. Hats off to VCU. The Rams overcame a horrific start to bring the game back to within reach in the second half, including taking a small lead at several points. Mo Alie-Cox had a great second half and finished with 10 points. Jequan Lewis had 22 and Melvin Johnson 23, but more importantly, Will Wade clearly has the program moving in the right direction after the departure of Shaka Smart last summer. 

Star of the Game. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma. Hield struggled mightily in the first half, but the senior NPOY candidate absolutely took the game over when Oklahoma needed him most in the second half. He had 29 points in the second stanza on his way to 33 for the game. His maturity and ability to make such a mid-game correction are what gives the Sooners a shot to make a very deep run in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

Quotable:

  • “Yeah coach drew up some really good plays and my guards executed really, really well. They got me the ball in spots they knew were really good for me.” – Khadeem Lattin, on being a factor early in the game
  • “Scoring 29 points, I didn’t know I had that, but I just knew I was scoring the ball a lot. Just glad that we got the win. – Buddy Hield, on his second half performance.
  • Our teammates did a great job. I thought Isaiah getting down, driving and kicking in the paint, Jordan making plays, Khadeem catching lobs, everybody did what they needed to do to get open and get easy shots and good shots for us. – Hield, on the teamwork and balance of the starting lineup.

Sights & Sounds.

  • At one point in the second half, Buddy Hield’s mother left her seat to pray and it apparently worked. 
  • The raucous performance by the VCU pep band will be missed, especially the disrobing Superman act. You don’t want to go to war…. with the Raaaammmss….

What’s Next? The Sooners will advance to Friday’s Sweet Sixteen to play the winner of the #3 Texas A&M and #11 Northern Iowa game tonight.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Oklahoma 82, #15 Cal State Bakersfield 68

Posted by Czech Smith on March 18th, 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's 27 Points Led the Way for the Sooners (USA Today Images)

Buddy Hield’s 27 Points Led the Way for the Sooners (USA Today Images)

  1. The Sooners are going to have play better going forward. Cal State Bakersfield played well today, but if the Sooners don’t improve they are going to have a difficult time handling VCU. Their defense allowed Aly Ahmed to get open and score 16 in first half, including a three-pointer at the buzzer to keep Bakersfield in the game. However, they made the right adjustments at the half and Ahmed was held scoreless after the break. Cousins and Woodard were able to make up for Oklahoma’s limited offense in the paint, and will have to keep producing going forward to free up Buddy Hield. Khadeem Lattin scored an important six points, and is going to have to step up on offense more if the Sooners have designs on a Final Four or beyond.
  2. Bakersfield took advantage of early miscues and cold shooting and wouldn’t go away quietly. Oklahoma started out slow and Bakersfield took full advantage of the lull. They were able to keep pace and hold Hield to mainly transition baskets in the first half, but as they tired and allowed the All-American to get his hands on the ball, he wore them down. He scored 13 of his 16 second half points in the final nine minutes as the defense tired. The Sooners as a team shot 72 percent from three-point range in the second half.
  3. Concentrating intently on keeping the ball out of Buddy Hield’s hands seems to have some merit. West Virginia adopted this strategy in the Big 12 Tournament and were able to get past Oklahoma as a result. Bob Huggins said: “All we talked about was, let’s do everything we can possibly do to not let him get his hands on the ball.” Bakersfield had several different defenders on Hield, but it was evident their sole job was to concentrate on him. At one point, Hield was standing in the corner not moving, and the defender didn’t take his eyes off him to look at anything else going on. The majority of Hield’s points were in transition – he had a hard time getting open until the final minutes.

Star of the Game. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma. Hield had a relatively quiet game and was well-defended, but somehow came out with a game-high 27 points. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bracket Prep: West Region

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 14th, 2016

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On Monday and Tuesday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: Monday (East and West); Tuesday (South and Midwest). Here, Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) breaks down the West Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC West Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCwestregion).

Region: West

Courtesy of SI.com

Courtesy of SI.com

Favorite: Oregon, #1, 28-6. Maybe there are college basketball fans back east that go to sleep early and haven’t seen the Ducks this season. And maybe some fans out west have chosen to ignore the Pac-12 Network. Because there are some people who are surprised that the Ducks are a #1 seed. But news for the uninformed: Oregon is really, really good. KenPom ranks Oregon as the fifth-most efficient offensive team in college basketball. It’s a squad built around a seven-man rotation that is dedicated to truly positionless basketball. Everybody on the team can handle and pass; just about everyone can take their defender off the bounce; most are capable of knocking in jumpers at a high rate. But where the Ducks have morphed from a good team into a great one is on the defensive end. With two elite shot-blockers in Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell anchoring the back line, quick and aggressive athletes swarming the perimeter and offering help defense, and a savvy defensive tactician on the sideline in Dana Altman, Oregon is capable of taking away a team’s best options, forcing turnovers (on better than 20 percent of opponents’ offensive possessions) and converting easy (and often spectacular) transition opportunities. There are without a doubt teams in this region that can beat Oregon, but the Ducks should be favored in every game between now and Houston.

These Ducks Are Strong (John Locher, AP)

These Ducks Are Strong. (John Locher, AP)

Should They Falter: Oklahoma, #2, 31-3. If your team has a National Player of the Year candidate like Buddy Hield, shoots 42.6 percent (second in the nation) from three-point range, plays solid defense and also has one of the nation’s best coaches in Lon Kruger, it has a chance to go very far in this NCAA Tournament. After starting the season 15-1 (with the only loss a triple-overtime epic to Kansas), the Sooners have cooled by going 10-6 down the stretch against strong Big 12 competition. But when things are going good for Oklahoma (and they are often going good), the Sooners can play with any team in the country. Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard are the flashy names, but big men Kadeem Lattin and Ryan Spangler do the dirty work that can help win tight games in March.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 13th, 2016

The seven Big 12 teams that heard their names called tonight were never really a mystery. Not because of the leaked bracket, but because of the quality and depth of the conference compared to its peers. While power conference bubble teams like Syracuse, Michigan and Oregon State had to sweat it out before ultimately getting a nod, the Big 12’s bubble has long been settled. Instead, the burning questions around this league are more about the results to come, as the conference hopes to exorcise its March demons over the next few weeks after three years of disappointment.

The Jayhawks hope the nets in Kansas City aren't the last ones they cut down this season (Charlie Riedel, AP)

The Jayhawks hope the nets in Kansas City weren’t the last ones they cut down this season. (Charlie Riedel, AP)

Kansas (30-4; #1 South)

  • Outlook: It’s not a given that the Jayhawks will make it to Houston, as they’ll face several strong teams and coaches who are no strangers to NCAA Tournament success, but there’s no clearly under-seeded team lurking in the South region. Colorado has a good big man in Josh Scott who could make life miserable for Kansas’ interior in a potential second-round meeting, but the Buffaloes don’t have any other players the Jayhawks should fear. If anyone upsets Kansas prior to the Elite Eight, the opponent most capable of doing it is California in the Sweet Sixteen. The Bears have two lottery picks and several three-point shooters who can keep up with the Jayhawks’ potent arsenal, but Kansas would still be favored. Anything can happen with this team, but if you thought they were a good bet to make the Final Four going into Selection Sunday, there’s no reason to waver now.

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Rushed Reactions: West Virginia 69, Oklahoma 67

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 12th, 2016

rushedreactions

Three key takeaways.

Buddy Hield's buzzer-beating three was a fraction of a second late, nullifying the crazy celebration it sparked.

Buddy Hield’s buzzer-beating three was ruled to be fraction of a second late, nullifying the celebration it sparked just behind Press Row.

  1. Buddy Hield and the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day. The National Player of the Year candidate had arguably his worst game of the year in more ways than one. Having played 152 of his team’s last 160 minutes, Hield wasn’t at 100 percent and it showed as he struggled to a 1-of-8 performance from the floor, but he had an opportunity to redeem himself in the game’s closing seconds. After West Virginia’s Jonathan Holton hit the back end of two free throw attempts to put West Virginia ahead by two points with one second left, Oklahoma had one last chance to tie the game or take the lead. Hield broke free from his defender, caught the inbounds pass and started up the sideline, hoisting a three from 50 feet away just as the buzzer sounded. The shot miraculously banked in, seemingly giving Oklahoma the victory and catapulting Hield into the stands to celebrate. After further review by the officials, though, the party was broken up and the bucket was overturned. Jubilation among the Sooners quickly transferred to the Mountaineers as the crowd buzzed in equal parts shock and delight. The absence of another game this weekend for Oklahoma could be a blessing in disguise, though, as it gives the Sooners another day of rest before the NCAA Tournament starts next week. The drama of March certainly hit Oklahoma’s star very hard on this night.
  2. West Virginia gets hot from deep. The Mountaineers will never be mistaken for a team that blinds opponents with their spacing, but they can get hot from outside and they did so tonight. Led by Jevon Carter’s 6-of-9 three-point shooting performance, West Virginia regularly found open shooters on its way to a 45.5 percent clip, the eighth time this season in which they eclipsed 40 percent from distance. The Mountaineers’ preferred style of offense is to create high-percentage looks generated by their press, but the added wrinkle of a perimeter game worthy of respect could raise this team’s ceiling once the brackets are unveiled on Sunday.
  3. There was more to the finish than the buzzer-beater that wasn’t. Between Hield’s struggles and West Virginia’s hot shooting, the Mountaineers built a 12-point lead with seven minutes left, but the Sooners rallied to create a back-and-forth contest over the last three minutes. Hield’s desperation heave twas a product of two key plays in just the last five seconds. With four ticks remaining and his team down by one, Christian James drove for a layup that would have given the Sooners the lead, but he shockingly missed the high-percentage look, which was rebounded by Holton. After Holton was fouled, he missed the first free throw to keep the lead at one with just one second remaining. Rather than intentionally missing the second free throw to significantly reduce the chance of Oklahoma getting a clear look, though, Holton hit the second free throw, setting the drama of the final play into motion. Fortunately for Holton and the Mountaineers, Hield’s three was ultimately waved off, but it’s always interesting to look back and see how one play — James’ botched layup, in this case — changes the complexion of a game.

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Iowa State-Oklahoma Delivers, But Reveals March Madness Concerns

Posted by Chris Stone on March 11th, 2016

Thursday night’s quarterfinal battle between Oklahoma and Iowa State was just the latest in a long line of highly competitive contests between the two schools, as the Cyclones and Sooners have consistently delivered thrilling, high-scoring contests over the last three seasons. In three meetings this season, the two teams combined to score over 150 points each time, with an aggregate margin of victory amounting to only 12 points. Thursday’s quarterfinal, a three-point win for the Sooners, was an individual showcase of two the Big 12’s best players. For 40 back-and-forth minutes, Iowa State’s Georges Niang (31 points) and Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield (39 points) threw haymakers; culminating in a dual postgame interview with ESPN‘s Holly Rowe in which both players called the performance “special.” And yet, as special as those individual performances were, last night’s contest revealed continued concerns about how deep either team’s March can go.

Oklahoma's Buddy Hield fires up a jumper over Iowa State's Matt Thomas during the Sooners' 79-76 win. (Mandatory Credit: Kelsey Kremer/The Register)

Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield fires up a jumper over Iowa State’s Matt Thomas during the Sooners’ 79-76 win. (Mandatory Credit: Kelsey Kremer/The Register)

Hield’s night was certainly spectacular. The senior guard poured in 39 points on 21 shots and grabbed nine rebounds. He only made two of his six three-point attempts, instead dazzling within the arc, knocking down fadeaways and catching alley-oops. Hield, though, has never been the Sooners’ problem. The concern for Lon Kruger’s squad looking ahead is whether he will get sufficient help. On Thursday, the rest of the Oklahoma team combined to shoot 14-of-42 (33.3 %) from the field. Hield’s backcourt mates (and the Sooners’ second and third leading scorers), Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard, made a meager 5-of-19 attempts. After delivering highly efficient performances for the first three months of the season, the duo has struggled with consistency down the stretch. In games since the beginning of February, they have each shot better than 50 percent from the field just once. During that stretch, Oklahoma has gone 7-4. For the Sooners to make a deep run this month, Buddy needs some help from his backcourt buddies.

For Iowa State, the concern is a physical one. Point guard Monte’ Morris suffered a strained rotator cuff in the Cyclones’ loss to Kansas last Saturday and the injury kept him out of practice leading up to the Big 12 Tournament. It also caused him to compare his jump shot unfavorably to none other than Dwight Howard. Morris admitted that he was in pain during Thursday’s loss to the Sooners, finishing a miserable 1-of-9 from the field and delivering a season-low two assists. A full recovery will likely take two to six weeks, but perhaps an early elimination could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for an Iowa State team that lacks a backup point guard. Morris will now be able to rest his shoulder for a full week leading into the NCAA Tournament, which should help the Cyclones get one of the nation’s best point guards back to better strength.

Last night’s game between Oklahoma and Iowa State was as exhilarating a matchup as you’ll find in the quarterfinals of a major conference tournament, but it also revealed some concerns about each team going forward. Sure, Buddy Hield and Georges Niang can deliver outstanding performances on a nightly basis, but it will be the successes or failures of their teammates that determines how far they can go this March.

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NCAA Bound Big 12 Teams Have Plenty Still to Play For

Posted by Chris Stone on March 9th, 2016

The Big 12 is in a bit of a unique position heading into the conference tournament. The league already appears poised to send seven teams to the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season, so unless something completely unexpected happens, the Big 12 Tournament will have very few, if any, bubble implications this week. The conference’s bottom three teams seem to have their futures largely set in stone as well. Kansas State looks poised for an NIT berth while both Oklahoma State and TCU are largely playing for pride. There will still be plenty on the line in Kansas City this week, as all seven NCAA-bound teams are playing for seeding and geographic considerations. Let’s examine what each of those top seven seeds has to gain over the next five days.

big 12 bracket 2016

The 2016 Big 12 Tournament bracket. (Credit: Big 12 Conference)

1. Kansas – Although Kansas already owns 14 wins against the RPI top 50, the Jayhawks are still in a battle to be the overall #1 seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament. If they can knock off the winner of Kansas State-Oklahoma State in Thursday’s quarterfinals, they’ll have a chance to pick up a couple more impressive victories on Friday and Saturday. In order to get there, head coach Bill Self will hope for continued consistency from center Landen Lucas, someone who has provided the Jayhawks with quality inside minutes late this season.

2. West Virginia – The Mountaineers are currently slated as a #3 seed according to most bracket projections, but assuming Texas Tech defeats TCU in their play-in game, they could pick up as many as three additional RPI top 50 wins to support a #2 seed. West Virginia enters the Big 12 Tournament on a four-game winning streak during which it has made 38.2 percent of its three-pointers. If the Mountaineers can keep up that pace, they’re a very dangerous team.

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Handing Out Big 12 Superlatives

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 7th, 2016

To say that the Big 12 had a good year would be a massive understatement. According to KenPom‘s advanced metrics, the league was the nation’s toughest. Not a fan of advanced metrics? That’s fine too, because the conference treated us to a surplus of intense games and is home of one of the two top contenders for National Player of the Year. Furthermore, the Big 12 is expected to propel seven good teams to The Big Dance — including a prohibitive favorite for the top overall seed — for the third straight season. It was a banner year regardless of what happens next, but before we look ahead to the postseason, let’s take some time for the Big 12 microsite to hand out some hardware.

All-Big 12 Team Selections

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Player Of The Year – Buddy Hield (unanimous)

Chris Stone: Perry Ellis and Georges Niang are a pair of worthy contenders, but everyone in the Big 12 is playing for second behind Oklahoma’s Hield. The Oklahoma senior averaged 25.1 points per game during Big 12 play and finished with a league-leading 65.2 percent true shooting rate, all while logging the conference’s second-highest usage rate. For a guard to attempt nearly 31 percent of his team’s shots while making them as efficiently as Hield did is exceptional, especially when you consider that almost 60 percent of his field goal attempts came from behind the three-point arc.”

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The Cases For Buddy Hield and Denzel Valentine For NPOY

Posted by Chris Stone & Alex Moscoso on March 7th, 2016

The National Player of the Year race wasn’t always a two-man affair (we miss you Ben Simmons, Jarrod Uthoff and Kris Dunn), but as we enter postseason play this week, there’s little denying the simplicity of the choice facing voters: Valentine or Hield. We asked Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) and Alex Moscoso (@alexmoscoso) — writers for the Big 12 and Big Ten microsites, respectively — to make a case for their league’s best players as the most deserving NPOY this season.

The Case For Hield

This season’s battle for National Player of the Year has become a two-man race between Michigan State‘s Denzel Valentine and Oklahoma‘s Buddy Hield, as the other primary candidates have faded into the background with lackluster late season performances from their teams. Thus, Valentine and Hield appear to stand alone as the two players with first-class season-long resumes on Final Four contenders. The case for Sparty’s Valentine is understandable. He’s one of the sport’s most versatile players — a quintessential jack-of-all-trades. But despite all of Valentine’s individual achievements and his oversized role on a national title favorite, the Sooners’ Hield is the player who should be this season’s National Player of the Year.

Buddy Hield is a deserving National Player of the Year. (Mandatory Credit: USATSI)

Buddy Hield is a deserving National Player of the Year. (Mandatory Credit: USATSI)

Hield is not a jack-of-all-trades like Valentine; rather, he’s a master of one. The senior guard is a transcendent scorer, so good that he’s drawn comparisons to Stephen Curry from multiple national analysts. Hield is the nation’s second-leading scorer at 25.3 points per game, and he’s done it while playing in the country’s most challenging conference (according to KenPom‘s adjusted metrics). What’s more impressive, though, is the efficiency with which the Oklahoma guard scores. Hield’s true shooting percentage — a statistic that measures all aspects of shooting, including three-pointers and free throws — is an astonishing 66.3 percent this season. Scoring that many points in such an efficient manner makes Hield’s NPOY case. Only two other players since the 2009-10 season have averaged 25 points per game on a true shooting percentage higher than 60 percent (min. 400 minutes) — one of those, Creighton’s Doug McDermott, won the Naismith Award himself in 2013-14. Hield, who spent much of this season flirting with a 50/50/90 shooting line, is the most efficient of the bunch.

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Big 12 M5: 03.04.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 4th, 2016

morning5_big12

  1. Jamari Traylor isn’t a career 1,500-point scorer and his future at the next level will likely be limited by his age and skill set, but those shortcomings won’t stop Bill Self from referring to him as one of his all-time favorite players. While Traylor’s presence isn’t always felt in terms of production (he has averaged just 2.8 points per game in Big 12 play), he embodies the physical toughness and vocal personality that Self values. Teammate Perry Ellis will be the star of the show during Kansas’ Senior Day festivities, but Self will no doubt be sad to see the Chicago native leaving as well.
  2. The last few weeks haven’t been kind to Oklahoma, as the Sooners have gone just 4-4 with their shooting cooling off and their defense allowing back-breaking runs that keep coaches up at night. So what’s been holding Lon Kruger’s team back? Two possible explanations being discussed are fatigue and lapses in focus. For all their offensive prowess, the Sooners don’t have very much depth and have had to make adjustments to their routine in order to stay fresh. It’s not realistic to expect Oklahoma to suddenly develop a more efficient defense or fashion better reserves out of thin air, so Kruger will have to hope that the sense of urgency that comes with postseason play sparks something that reverts them back to their earlier performance.
  3. While Kansas State is more experienced than many believe, its core of young players has spent all season developing together. That hasn’t translated to all that many wins, though, so head coach Bruce Weber has announced that his team will take an overseas trip to Italy and Switzerland for 11 days this summer. The trip will provide the Wildcats roster with additional practice time in addition to the games, hopefully giving them an early leg up on the Big 12 competition next winter.
  4. The upcoming graduations of Georges Niang, Abdel Nader and Jameel McKay from Iowa State mean that Steve Prohm is going to need frontcourt players who can contribute right away next season. In a piece of news that should help with that transition, the Cyclones secured a commitment from Northern Illinois graduate transfer Darrell Bowie. Bowie, a 6’7″, 220-pound forward, suffered a shoulder injury last March and sat out this season after leaving the Huskies in November, but posted averages of 9.8 points and 5.4 rebounds in 23.5 minutes per game as a junior. Along with returnee Deonte Burton, Bowie should become an immediate factor as the Cyclones start a new era this fall.
  5. West Virginia will follow in TCU’s footsteps with a long-overdue facilities project. Crews will start work on a variety of improvements at WVU Coliseum next week, including widened concourses, increased bathroom fixtures and new concession stands. Renovations more beneficial to the school’s athletes will take place elsewhere on campus, including a 12,000-square-foot strength and conditioning center for non-revenue teams. While not as large in scale as TCU’s improvements to Schollmaier Arena, the Mountaineers are clearly poised to take a step forward in the ever-present arms race that is life in the Big 12.
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Big 12 M5: 03.02.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 2nd, 2016

morning5_big12

  1. Oklahoma withstood a frantic second-half rally from Baylor to survive last night in Norman, keeping its chances of a #1 seed intact. The Sooners jumped out to a commanding 26-3 lead and led by as many as 26 points, but Baylor locked down Oklahoma’s shooters in the second half, enabling the Bears’ offense to make a run. Scott Drew’s team even took a brief lead on an Al Freeman layup, but timely responses from Isaiah Cousins and Buddy Hield helped the Sooners prevent a second straight come-from-behind loss. The takeaway here is that Oklahoma still needs to refine its defense, while Baylor, in spite of the loss, looks like a team that is capable of anything later this month.
  2. The race for the conference title may be over, but there’s another battle brewing as Buddy Hield and Georges Niang work their way up the Big 12’s all-time scoring list. Hield entered last night’s game trailing Niang, but a 23-point effort gave him a current total of 2,099 points, enough to pass Niang (2,089) as well as Kansas great Nick Collison (2,097) for fifth on the list. Next in both players’ sights is former Kansas State guard Jacob Pullen (2,132) with Baylor’s LaceDarius Dunn holding the all-time mark with 2,285 points. That’s certainly a number to keep an eye on if either the Sooners or Cyclones make deep NCAA Tournament runs this month.
  3. It’s been four long days since Texas beat Oklahoma in Austin. After his team was subsequently obliterated by Kansas on Monday, head coach Shaka Smart revealed that Isaiah Taylor has been suffering from increasingly painful plantar fasciitis. The junior is the team’s heart and soul in the locker room as well as on the floor — he leads Texas in both scoring and assists —  so while Texas has good depth at the guard position, it can’t afford for its leader to be at anything less than 100 percent the rest of the way.
  4. After Saturday’s loss at Kansas, Texas Tech looks to begin another winning streak tonight when it travels to West Virginia for a 7:00 ET tip in Morgantown. The matchup pits the league’s top foul-drawing teams against one another, so expect a healthy dosage of free throws all night long. The Red Raiders own the advantage in conversions at 76.1 percent in conference play compared with the Mountaineers’ much shakier clip of 66.2 percent, so that could be the difference. Tubby Smith’s team has been one of the league’s best stories this season, but it would still be a surprise to see it walk into Morgantown and pull the upset.
  5. Baylor received some good news on the recruiting trail yesterday when Alabama commitment Terrance Ferguson reopened his recruitment. The five-star 2016 talent is ESPN.com‘s #4 shooting guard prospect (#13 overall), and not long after the news broke, Jerry Meyer of 247sports.com listed the Bears among teams in the mix for Ferguson’s services. Kansas was also mentioned as a candidate. While both the Bears and Jayhawks should have strong backcourt depth next year with or without Ferguson, the chance to add another high-ceiling prospect is always worth considering.
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