What Happened To Kansas’ Depth?

Posted by Chris Stone on January 27th, 2016

When Kansas was regularly discussed among a handful of national title contenders early on in the season, one aspect of the Jayhawks’ roster stuck out more than anything else: its depth. Even head coach Bill Self acknowledged the fact that his talent pool contained 10 or 11 potential rotation players. Given that wealth of talent, a reasonable roster development plan would have looked something like this: Freshman Cheick Diallo receives clearance from the NCAA and becomes the Jayhawks’ motor, a rim protector and rebounding machine that would fill Kansas’s biggest hole in the front court. Fellow freshman Carlton Bragg grows into an offensive threat that could help spread the floor as a sort of Diet Perry Ellis off the bench. Together, Bragg and Diallo would displace many of the minutes devoted to the Jayhawks’ other solid, but unexciting front line options – guys like Hunter Mickelson, Jamari Traylor, and Landen Lucas. Meanwhile, guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk would begin to fulfill some of his potential as a possible NBA lottery pick by turning into a dangerous scoring option off the Kansas bench.

Kansas suffered its third straight road loss on Monday night. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Kansas suffered its third straight road loss on Monday night. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Things haven’t exactly gone according to plan for Self and the Jayhawks. Last Friday, Self met with his four co-captains to help sort out the team’s rotation going forward. The results have been hard to miss. Over the Jayhawks’ past two games, Self has shrunk his rotation down to basically seven players–Ellis, Lucas, and Traylor in the front court along with Frank Mason, Devonte Graham, Wayne Selden, and Brannen Greene. The trio of youngsters expected to help Kansas reach its peak have combined to play just 16 of the 400 available minutes in those two contests. Bragg is the only one of the three to see the floor in both games.

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West Virginia Crashes the Big 12 Contender Party

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 13th, 2016

At Big 12 Media Day last October, the usual suspects sat at the top of the pecking order. Kansas was tabbed to once again lead the pack while veteran-laden squads at Oklahoma and Iowa State loomed as the Jayhawks’ primary challengers. West Virginia‘s revamped style and fourth-place finish in 2014-15 was a nice story, but the league’s coaches didn’t exactly bank on Bob Huggins pulling it off again, as the Mountaineers were picked to finish sixth in the conference’s annual preseason poll. After last night’s start-to-finish 73-64 win over Kansas, West Virginia has showed that it too should be viewed as a legitimate contender to win the Big 12.

Press Virginia is alive and well in Morgantown. (WVUSports.com)

“Press Virginia” is alive and well in Morgantown. (WVUSports.com)

While last night’s game in Morgantown never reached blowout status, the Mountaineers’ vaunted press generated 22 Kansas turnovers and they were in control for most of the night. Frank Mason and Devonte Graham, whose ball-handling skills have played a key role in the Jayhawks’ offensive success this season, were shellshocked by West Virginia’s defense. Wayne Selden looked good early, but six crippling turnovers reflected his status as a liability for the remainder of the game. Perry Ellis turned in another strong performance with 21 points and seven rebounds, but he could only do so much, especially after West Virginia started doubling on him. West Virginia sophomore Jaysean Paige enjoyed a career night for the Mountaineers with 26 points and some fantastic on-ball defense, while Devin Williams played a great all-around game, chipping in 12 points and 10 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the season. Late three-pointers by Mason, Carlton Bragg and LaGerald Vick made the score more respectable than it otherwise would have been, but this was no close finish.

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Kansas and Oklahoma Carry Burden of Big 12 Reputation

Posted by Chris Stone on January 5th, 2016

Last season’s NCAA Tournament resulted in a huge black mark on the Big 12’s reputation. The conference entered March ranked as KenPom‘s top league in the nation and yet three of its top teams — Baylor, Iowa State, and Kansas — were all eliminated before the second weekend, and no Big 12 school made it past the Sweet Sixteen. At the time, Sam Mellinger of The Kansas City Star called it a “colossal failure” that would “live with the league for a while.” It was a defensible sentiment. Last year’s postseason collapse was just the most recent example of the Big 12’s failings on college basketball’s biggest stage. It’s now been four seasons since the conference’s last Elite Eight team and Kansas is the only school to make the NCAA Tournament’s final weekend since 2004. To call the Big 12’s recent NCAA Tournament performance underwhelming would be completely accurate.

Kansas and Oklahoma gave us one for the ages on Monday. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Kansas and Oklahoma gave us one for the ages on Monday. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Is this the season when the Big 12 finally bounces back. Exhibit A of such a shift in fortunes came on Monday night when fans were treated to one of the best college basketball games in recent memory. Kansas head coach Bill Self gave the game his highest praise, calling it “probably the best game I have ever been a part of during the regular season,” and comparing last night’s 109-106 triple-overtime thriller against Oklahoma with Kansas’ final Border War battle against Missouri in 2012 (won by the Jayhawks in overtime, 87-86). The contest had everything we want from a college basketball game. It featured an otherworldly individual performance from All-American Buddy Hield, a 46-point virtuoso performance so sublime that Kansas fans gave him a standing ovation after the game. Allen Fieldhouse was so wild that ESPN commentator Dick Vitale went so far as to call it the loudest game he had called in his 37 years of announcing. But perhaps most importantly, the game featured arguably college basketball’s two best teams taking each other’s hardest punches before countering back with their own.

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Reactions From Last Night’s Game of the Season: Kansas vs. Oklahoma

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 5th, 2016

Last night, Oklahoma and Kansas treated us to the best game of the season — an epic triple-overtime thriller won by the Jayhawks, 109-106. It won’t be a surprise at all if that description holds until the nets come down in Houston three months from now. This game had pretty much everything: An NPOY candidate going off for 46 points, clutch moments everywhere and huge calls (and non-calls) shifting the tides of key possessions all the way to the final buzzer. At the end of the night, though, the Jayhawks protected home court as they so often do in conference play. There’s so much to cover from such an outstanding game, so we’ll have more to come a later today, but here are the three biggest takeaways from Monday night’s basketball masterpiece.

Buddy Hield's Sooners and Frank Mason's Jayhawks gave us the game of the decade. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Buddy Hield’s Sooners and Frank Mason’s Jayhawks gave us the game of the year. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

  • Buddy Hield scored 46 points, but Kansas actually did a decent job defending him! Normally, there would be no way those two notions could coexist, but very little about last night’s game was normal. Hield put together an outstanding 22-point first half reminiscent of Kevin Durant’s lone appearance at Allen Fieldhouse, but Frank Mason stuck to the All-American like glue after the intermission. Hield didn’t even take another shot until 11:45 remained in regulation, but once he got going again, he hit tough shot after tough shot, sometimes right in Mason’s face. In a cruel twist of fate, the star senior turned the ball over with 8.6 seconds left in the third overtime and missed a game-tying three-pointer on the next possession to seal Kansas’ win. In spite of those late miscues, though, he came away with the biggest statement any National Player of the Year candidate has made to this point in the season. Hield’s performance is unlikely to be topped — his 46 points came in 54 minutes of action and included an 8-of-15 effort from three-point range; just for good measure, he also added eight rebounds and seven assists, but it was an outing you had to see to believe.

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Three Keys For Kansas and Oklahoma in Tonight’s Huge Showdown

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 4th, 2016

When Kansas and Oklahoma tip off tonight, it will be the first time the nation’s top two teams have squared off in conference action since 2007. We know what you’re thinking: We’re not sure what we did to deserve this, either. It’s way too early to be certain of the precise impact this matchup will have on the impending Big 12 race, but as a result of their tremendous seasons to this point, it is safe to say that this game will be a big one, and that it pits #1 versus #2 only elevates the excitement. To get you ready for tonight’s main event (9:00 PM EST, ESPN), here are three keys for each team, brought to you by Big 12 microsite writers Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) and Chris Stone (@cstonehoops).

Three Keys For Kansas (BG)

Perry Ellis is having a great season, but will he find success against Oklahoma's talented back line? (UTASI)

Perry Ellis is having a great season, but will he be able to find success against Oklahoma’s talented back line? (UTASI)

  1. Stretch Oklahoma’s defense. Perry Ellis is having his best season as a Jayhawk — averaging 15.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game — but his lack of overwhelming size for his position and wavering levels of assertiveness could be exposed by Oklahoma’s interior defense. Led by Ryan Spangler and Khadeem Latin, the Sooners are allowing just 50.4 percent shooting on attempts at the rim, which ranks 33rd nationally. There’s always the chance that a friendly whistle in Allen Fieldhouse helps even things out, but if Spangler and Lattin clamp down inside, Kansas will need to try something different. With five players shooting 39 percent or better from long-range, the Jayhawks certainly have the personnel to extend the Sooners’ defense.
  2. Lock down Jordan Woodard. When facing a team with a legitimate National Player of the Year candidate like Buddy Hield, the conventional wisdom is to force his supporting cast of role players to make plays. While it sounds good in theory, that shouldn’t be the Jayhawks’ plan tonight. Yes, if Kansas contains Hield, there’s a very good chance it will come out on top, but this is no one-man operation. Oklahoma’s supporting cast — especially Jordan Woodard — is also very good. The junior is shooting a scorching 53.1 percent from long range and draws 4.1 fouls per 40 minutes, which is more than any other Sooner than Hield. He’ll make you pay for those whistles, too, as he’s made 89.7 percent of his free throw attempts this season. Hawaii hung close to the Sooners two weeks ago in large part because the Rainbow Warriors held Woodard to just one made field goal. The Jayhawks have enough firepower to use a rough game from Woodard as the difference between a win and loss.
  3. Keep the Sooners out of transition. Kansas’ standing as a top-10 defensive unit can largely be attributed to their outstanding transition defense. Just 17 percent of opponents’ shot attempts have come in transition, with Kansas foes shooting just 44.8 percent in that situation. The Sooners love to push the ball, and even though Kansas’ athleticism and stable of quality big men allows them to run with anyone, the Jayhawks must make sure they beat Oklahoma back on defense. Kansas isn’t a pressing team, but don’t be surprised if you see the Jayhawks pick up the Sooners in the backcourt on at least a few occasions in an effort to slow down Oklahoma’s transition game.

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Big 12 M5: Oklahoma vs. Kansas Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 4th, 2016

morning5_big12

  1. So… there’s a little game going on in Lawrence tonight. The implications of OklahomaKansas are enormous considering the game is likely to feature the top two teams in this week’s Associated Press poll. It is also a tiny bit disappointing that the first of two games in this epic clash will be played so early in the conference season. It’s sort of like having really good chocolate for breakfast. Not exactly a 3 Musketeers-level of chocolate (not that there’s anything wrong with a 3 Musketeers-level of chocolate) but Oklahoma at Kansas would qualify as a higher class of chocolate (Ghiradelli-esque). Let’s try to save some of the good chocolate for February 13 (lunch) and March 12 for the Big 12 Tournament title game (dinner).
  2. On Saturday, the Jayhawks dropped a triple-digit offensive effort on a Baylor team well-known for their defensive prowess. Spearheading that effort were Kansas’ two point guards Frank Mason and Devonté Graham who are natural complements to each other’s talents and inconsistencies. In addition to their games, the two players assert themselves differently on the floor. Graham is the more emotional player while Mason is the player who will let his game do the talking for him. It’s not a surprise these two mesh well on arguably Bill Self’s deepest team since arriving in Lawrence.
  3. We knew going into tonight that Sooners coach Lon Kruger and the state of Kansas were connected considering his memorable tenure at Kansas State in the late 1980s. As The Oklahoman’s Berry Tramel notes, the personal ties go much deeper than that. The journey for Kruger in Manhattan, Kansas, to Norman, Oklahoma, has gone through more than a few stops along the way. Still, the journey from Kruger’s introductory press conference at Oklahoma in April 2011 to national title contender in January 2016 is one to marvel at. It took time, it took a few beatdowns and close calls at the hands of Kansas but now, Kruger’s chance to disrupt Big 12 hierarchy is as good now as it has ever been for him.
  4. What’s sure to play a pivotal role in tonight’s proceedings is the fan environment of Allen Fieldhouse. It will be loud and it will be uncomfortable for the Sooners just as it was for Baylor on Saturday afternoon. The Bears dropped their ninth game at Allen Fieldhouse in the Scott Drew era which insanely equals the amount of times Kansas has lost at home in the Bill Self era (Drew and Self both entered the Big 12 head coaching ranks in 2003). Oklahoma will attempt to pull off something schools like Texas A&M, San Diego State, Oklahoma State, Texas and a few others were able to do in recent years — win in The Phog.
  5. The Sooners were able to remain undefeated entering tonight’s game by edging out Iowa State on Saturday night. A large part of the victory came via senior big man Ryan Spangler,who battled through banging knees with Iowa State’s Matt Thomas and a trip to the locker room, in order to finish with 20 points and 12 rebounds. It’ll be interesting to see how a nicked-up Spangler deals with long and versatile frontline of Kansas, the shot-blocking Hunter Mickelson, floor-spreaders like Perry Ellis and Carlton Bragg and the quickness of Cheick Diallo. Needless to say, we’ll be waitin’ all day for Mondayyyyyy Nightttttt. Or something.
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Big 12 New Year’s Resolutions: Part I

Posted by Chris Stone on December 30th, 2015

The year 2016 is right around the corner and along with it comes Big 12 conference play, as the league gets underway with six games on January 2. Although we know that only a fraction of people ultimately keep their New Year’s resolutions, we figured it wouldn’t hurt to come up with a few challenges for teams in the Big 12 once the ball drops tomorrow night. This is part one of a two-part series.

Kansas: To give Devonte Graham the praise he deserves

Devonte Graham has brought a number of positive changes to Kansas. (Charles Riedel/The Associated Press)

Devonte Graham has brought a number of positive changes to Kansas. (Charles Riedel/The Associated Press)

The focus on Kansas to this point has reasonably and rightfully been on the improved play of Wayne Selden and the consistent performance of senior forward Perry Ellis. However, the Jayhawks’ most under appreciated asset may well be sophomore point guard Devonte Graham. Graham’s move to the starting lineup has been linked to Selden’s rise because it helped free him up offensively, but Graham has provided much more. The sophomore has helped increase the number of turnovers the Jayhawks are causing on defense while simultaneously decreasing the number of turnovers Kansas commits on offense by reducing his personal turnover rate from 20.1 percent to 9.9 percent. Graham’s sophomore emergence has made the Jayhawks a national title contender and he deserves more praise for the role he’s played.

Iowa State: To find rest and relaxation for the Cyclones’ rotation

Naz Mitrou-Long’s recovery from hip surgery hit the Cyclones hard. With Deonte Burton becoming eligible at semester, it looked like Iowa State was set to have a quality eight man rotation heading into conference play. Now that Mitrou-Long’s season is over, coach Steve Prohm has made it clear that he intends to stick with a seven man rotation for the remainder of the season. Iowa State ranks 347th in percentage of bench minutes played with just 21.4 percent of available minutes coming off the bench. Last season, Wisconsin reached the Final Four with similar numbers, so the limited rotation doesn’t rule out a trip to Houston for the Cyclones, but they’ll need all the rest and relaxation they can get on the way there. Read the rest of this entry »

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Failure to Innovate Offensively Will Limit Kansas In March

Posted by Chris Stone on November 18th, 2015

After last night’s 79-73 loss to Michigan State at the Champions Classic, Kansas head coach Bill Self lamented his team’s inability to score inside the paint–a staple of Self’s high-low offensive scheme. The Jayhawks astonishingly made just 13 of their 33 layups: “The one thing, in order for us to win big consistently, is we’ve got to be able to score with our back to the basket some,” Self told the media after the game. It’s not the first time he has raised this concern. After nearly every loss last season either Self or one of his players made reference to the team’s inability to play through the team’s bigs and score on the inside.

After losing to Michigan State, Kansas is just 1-4 in the Champions Classic. (KU Sports/Nick Krug)

After losing to Michigan State, Kansas is just 1-4 in the Champions Classic. (KU Sports/Nick Krug)

There’s a cliche for situations like this. The one about insanity being defined as doing the same things over and over and over again, and expecting different results. But nobody likes cliches. They’re overused — a less-than-nuanced way of dealing with a problem. Yet cliches are often accurate, which is really what makes us uncomfortable with them. We don’t want to be perceived as insane, so we dismiss the cliche as irrelevant, overused, or simple. For Self and Kansas, their overwheleming drive to pound the ball into the paint is quite possibly the definition of insanity.

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Rushed Reactions: #13 Michigan State 79, #4 Kansas 73

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 18th, 2015

RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes was in Chicago for the Champion’s Classic.

Three Key Takeaways: 

Denzel Valentine Stole The Champion's Classic Show Tuesday Night (Photo: Spartan Avenue)

Denzel Valentine Stole The Champion’s Classic Show Tuesday Night (Photo: Spartan Avenue)

  1. Denzel Valentine Is Really Good. The Spartan senior delivered the individual performance of this young college basketball season, producing a 29 point, 12 rebound, 12 assist triple-double. Valentine had the ball in his hands in the crucial moments of almost every Spartan possession, particularly in the second half. His final shooting numbers don’t dazzle (10-23 from the field), but you can’t underemphasize Michigan State’s reliance on their do-it-all senior leader. Tom Izzo completely abandoned his offense down the stretch to give Valentine the ball and run him off of ball screen after ball screen, a strategy that paid massive dividends on this night. Demanding this much out of Valentine may prove sketchy as a long-term offensive solution, but for now, Michigan State is 2-0 and has Valentine to thank for it.
  2. Kansas’ Champion’s Classic Struggles Continue. If Bill Self wants to look on the bright side, the Jayhawks are probably leaving Chicago feeling better about themselves than they were this time last year. And really, a neutral site loss to a team likely to be very relevant come March will hardly cripple the Jayhawks’ season. Still though, Tuesday night’s result has to be extremely disappointing. Kansas had this game under control for the better part of 35 minutes and lost largely out of an inability to control one player on the other side. Redemption for Champion’s Classic failures of years past was well within reach. Once again, KU fell short.
  3. Michigan State Controls Backboards. With Spartan forward/center Gavin Schilling out again Tuesday night with turf toe, Kansas’ talented corps of big men had to enter the United Center with designs on dominating the glass. If they did have that plan, it didn’t come to fruition. Tom Izzo called his team’s first half performance “very soft”, but Michigan State had collected 10 more rebounds than the Jayhawks by the time the final buzzer sounded. Kansas must be tougher – and has the personnel to do so – moving forward. On the Michigan State side, continued success on the backboards, perhaps paired with a heavy dose of Valentine, could be a nice recipe for success moving forward.

Star of the Game: Denzel Valentine, Michigan State. No surprise here, as Valentine delivered a personal masterpiece that may not be topped anytime soon in 2015-16. One statistic that may be lost in the recounting of his heroics: Valentine finished with just one turnover. It may be the most telling statistic of any, as Valentine seemed to control nearly every second of the last ten minutes.

Quotable:

  • “I didn’t think he was going to hit them. He showed some nuts on that one.” –Valentine on freshman forward Deyonta Davis knocking down two key free throws with 23 seconds to play
  • “I felt stupid at halftime for telling everyone this was one of the better shooting teams I’ve had, shooting 33 percent. Of course that may be true, we’ve shot 28 percent some years.” –Izzo on his teams’ opening half offense
  • “He is like Draymond. There’s a million things he’s not good enough at, but winning he is good enough at.” –Izzo, comparing Valentine to former Spartan star Draymond Green
  • “We did some good things to get control of the game the first 33 minutes or so, then they made a ton of plays late.” –Bill Self
  • “I always thought he was a good player. Tonight I think he proved to everyone that he is an exceptional player.” –Self on Valentine 

Sights and Sounds: Things quieted down a bit for the second game of the Champion’s Classic, but the United Center stayed noisy throughout. Kansas fans impressively invaded Big Ten country, with Jayhawk supporters outnumbering their Spartan counterparts. Still, Valentine’s second half heroics kept a healthy back-and-forth going between fan bases. November did a very good March impersonation in Chicago tonight.

What’s Next: The Jayhawks get six days off before their next contest, a first round game in the Maui Invitational against host Chaminade. The Silverswords should offer KU little resistance, but tricky matchups could arrive on the following two days. Either UCLA or UNLV will be the Jayhawks’ opponent in game two, while possible finals opponents include Vanderbilt and Indiana. Michigan State will also be making a journey west for an in-season tournament, but not before a quick stop in East Lansing for home dates against Arkansas Pine Bluff and Eastern Michigan. The Spartans open the Wooden Classic with Boston College on Thanksgiving; probable opponents in later rounds of the event include Boise State and either Arizona or Providence (on Friday and Sunday, respectively).

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Kansas Seeking Redemption at the Champions Classic

Posted by Chris Stone on November 17th, 2015

Kansas hasn’t had much luck in the Champions Classic. Since the event began in 2011, the Jayhawks have won just once in four tries — a 94-83 victory against Duke at the United Center in 2013. This year, Bill Self‘s squad returns to Chicago looking for redemption after last season’s embarrassing 72-40 defeat to Kentucky. Kansas isn’t looking to fall so hard again. “We have no plans of having anything like that happen again,” junior Landen Lucas recently said. “That was not something that is OK with us. For the people that were here last year, that is not acceptable, no matter how early in the season it is.”

The last time Kansas won in the Champions Classic, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker were on the floor. (Getty Images)

The last time Kansas won in the Champions Classic, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker were on the floor. (Getty Images)

To avoid another loss, the Jayhawks will look to take advantage of a depleted Michigan State frontcourt. For the second straight game, the Spartans will be without 6’9″ forward Gavin Schillingwho will miss the contest with turf toe. Schilling is one of only three players that size on Tom Izzo‘s roster so Kansas should have plenty of opportunities to challenge the Spartans inside with senior forward Perry Ellis. Although Ellis made only 47 percent of his two-point field goals last season, his ability to draw fouls (5.1 per 40 minutes a year ago) makes him a dangerous matchup against an already thin frontline. Kansas, meanwhile, has one of the deepest groups of big men in the country. Ellis is flanked by a talented corps of bigs that includes Carlton BraggJamari Traylor, Landen Lucas and Hunter Mickelson. The burden will be on Michigan State’s Matt Costello and Deyonta Davis to defend the Jayhawks’ plethora of post options without fouling them. Limited minutes for either could expose that thin Spartans’ front line. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Preseason Superlatives and Predictions

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 12th, 2015

We noted a few times during the offseason that this year in the Big 12 will have a different tenor than the last few. There won’t be nearly as much attention on the one-and-done players because they aren’t around this year. Oklahoma and Iowa State will again be the token threats to end Kansas‘ long reign atop the conference standings, and the middle of the pack will again be better than the middle of the pack of every other conference. At the end of the day, experienced leaders will carry the Big 12 this season. This conference probably won’t be as wild as it’s been recently, but it’s still going to be a lot of fun, especially with two new head coaches stepping into plum jobs.

Below we will run down our preseason Big 12 superlatives and predictions, as voted upon by our four-man team.

B12Team

Player Of The Year

  • Brian Goodman: Buddy Hield (Oklahoma) – It’s really tough to do this when Georges Niang plays in the same conference, but I have to go with Hield. Both players can light it up from anywhere, but Hield has embraced defense in a way that Niang hasn’t. Hield also turned the ball over significantly less often than Niang while consuming a similar percentage of his team’s possessions, and it’s a good bet that he’ll be able to do so again. Lastly, despite Steve Prohm’s insistence that he won’t change much about the way Niang is used, I still need to see evidence on the court that Prohm will maximize his senior’s unique cocktail of impressive skill combined with not-as-impressive physical abilities. That may not be completely fair to Niang, nor do I think he’ll be a completely different player in the post-Hoiberg era, but when the other candidate has as many credentials as Hield carries, it tips the scales.
Buddy Hield is the microsite's consensus pick for Big 12 Player Of The Year. (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

Buddy Hield is the microsite’s consensus pick for Big 12 Player Of The Year. (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

  • Kendall Kaut: Hield – He’s the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year and plays on the team that I think is most likely to challenge Kansas for the Big 12 title. Although he’ll miss the presence of TaShawn Thomas, Oklahoma returns most of the talent around him, which should free Hield to continue creating. His three-point shooting keeps Oklahoma in games where it should be getting blown out and gives the Sooners an ability to come back from a deficit. And until someone in this league shows otherwise, he’ll stay #1 for me.
  • Nate Kotisso: Hield – This seems like a lazy pick for conference Player of the Year, but this is a case where it doesn’t pay to get cute. Unlike me, Buddy Hield is the furthest thing from lazy; rather, he’s interested in making Oklahoma and himself a lot better this season. The senior guard is likely working on his game at this very moment, but then again, does anyone truly know when he takes time off to do other humanly functions, like, eat? This probably means winning this award again with his sights set on leading the Sooners to Houston in early April.
  • Chris Stone: Hield – While playing the third-most minutes and having the second-highest usage rate in the Big 12 last season, Hield was still the league’s third-most efficient scorer. The senior is everything you could want in an offensive player and he’s a capable defender who averaged nearly two steals per game as well. Without TaShawn Thomas around, Hield should be responsible for even more of Oklahoma’s scoring load, which is enough to make me think he’ll go back-to-back in the Player of the Year race. My dark horse for the award is Baylor’s Taurean Prince, who had better efficiency numbers last season but played far fewer minutes than Hield. If he can hold up in an increased role with a less effective point guard, Prince could take the award.

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 12th, 2015

With the season tipping off on Friday, there’s no better time to roll out our the RTC Preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of seven national columnists provided ballots over the last week and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

first_team_2015_16

  • Kris Dunn, Providence (UNANIMOUS) – Dunn enters his junior season after a finally healthy campaign where he averaged 15.6 points and 7.5 assists per game in leading Providence to its second straight NCAA Tournament. While his numbers show he is a triple-double threat every night, he needs to be watched in order to understand just how good he is. He ranked first in the country last season with a 50.0 percent assist rate; he was named co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year; and he recorded a steal once every 20 defensive possessions for the Friars. The quintessential floor leader does it all for his team and he does it at an awe-inspiring level. Factoid: The television show “Friends” may have aired its last episode in 2004, but that has not stopped Dunn from apparently becoming an avid fan of the series. Could we see the likes of Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer show up at Dunkin’ Donuts Center to root Dunn’s team on before season’s end?
  • Melo Trimble, Maryland – Maryland was quite successful in its inaugural Big Ten season as the team advanced to its first NCAA Tournament since 2010. Those Terrapins were unquestionably led by senior guard Dez Wells, but now that he has graduated, Trimble will take over as the team’s heart and soul. The sophomore guard turned in a highly impressive freshman season where he averaged 16.2 points per game and shot a respectable 41.2 percent from behind the three-point line. Expectations are high this season in College Park, and Trimble will be a big reason why if Maryland ultimately meets its goals. Factoid: Trimble spent a portion of last summer playing for Team USA at the Pan American Games. At 20 years old, he was the youngest player selected to the squad by Gonzaga coach Mark Few.
  • Buddy Hield, Oklahoma – The reigning Big 12 Player of the Year returns to Norman for his senior season. After terrorizing conference foes throughout both his sophomore (16.5 PPG) and junior (17.4 PPG) years, Hield will look to take his game to an even higher level during his final collegiate go-around. When he bypassed the NBA Draft last spring, the junior guard noted, “I just can’t wait to see what Coach Kruger has in mind for next year. I know we’re going to be a really good team.” It’s difficult to argue with Hield’s assertion there. Factoid: Hield, a native of the Bahamas, says that his self-proclaimed “Bahamian Swagger” is something he developed while growing up on the island chain with his single mother and six brothers and sisters.
  • Ben Simmons, LSU (UNANIMOUS) – The 2015 Gatorade National Player of the Year arrives in Baton Rouge accompanied by a great deal of hype. When looking at the freshman’s prep statistics, it’s easy to understand why expectations surrounding him are so high. In 29 regular season games as a senior, he averaged 28.0 points, 11.9 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 2.6 steals per game while shooting 70.7 percent from the field and collecting 24 double-doubles. Factoid: Former LSU great Shaquille O’Neal called Simmons “the best player in the world” when he introduced the prep star to his many Instagram followers last November.
  • Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga – Wiltjer returns to the fold at Gonzaga after a junior season where he averaged 16.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game on his way to becoming a consensus second-team All-American. At 6’10”, Wiltjer’s long-range shooting makes him a nightmarish match-up for Zags’ opponents — he shot a sizzling 54 percent from the field and 46.6 percent from behind the three-point line a season ago. Factoid: When Wiltjer arrived in Spokane following his transfer from Kentucky, Wildcats head coach John Calipari called Gonzaga coach Mark Few and told him how good of a post scorer Wiltjer can be, even though he never really had a chance to show that part of his game in Lexington.

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