Handing Out Grades For Finals Week

Posted by Andrew Gripshover on December 18th, 2015

It’s finals week across the country and we’re currently in the midst of the slowest week of the college basketball season. The basketball may not be great, but it is the perfect time to hand out a few grades of our own to teams, players, coaches and conferences. Hopefully the feedback will be easier to understand than your teacher’s scribbled critiques in those little blue books.

Purdue: A

Isaac Haas Has Been Dominant For The Undefeated Boilers (Photo: The Exponent)

Isaac Haas Has Been Dominant For The Undefeated Boilers (Photo: The Exponent)

Over the first month of the season, the two biggest “it” teams are Oklahoma and these Boilers. Purdue is 11-0 for the first time since 2009-10, when Robbie Hummel, E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson led the Boilers to a share of the Big Ten crown. This Purdue outfit may be the best Matt Painter team since that group, and some are saying this could be the best team in West Lafayette since Glenn Robinson donned the black and gold in the early ’90s. That kind of talk may be getting a little ahead of things, but these Boilers have won all 11 games by double-figures. The major tests start coming in now, beginning with the Boilers’ next four games: Butler at the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis; Vanderbilt at home; at Wisconsin (in the Badgers first Big Ten game without Bo Ryan in over a decade); Iowa in West Lafayette. Go 15-0 and this is a surefire A+.

Isaac Haas: A+

If you asked the average college basketball fan to name the best player on Purdue, the answer you’d likely get is AJ Hammons. It wouldn’t be a terrible response — last season, Hammons led the Big Ten in blocked shots for the third straight year (only JaJuan Johnson and Penn State’s Calvin Booth have ever done that before). If you asked a recruiting guru, you might hear the name of blue chip freshman Caleb Swanigan, who has met or even exceeded the lofty expectations attached to him since stepping on campus. But neither of those two has been the most important Boilermaker so far. That notation belongs to Haas, the 7’2″ sophomore who has made the leap as a sophomore. Last season Haas’ offensive rating, per KenPom, was 95.1. So far this year, it’s a whopping 129.8 as he draws almost 9.8 fouls per 40 minutes, the highest average in the country. He’s improved his free throw percentage by 20 points (54.7 percent to 74.2 percent) and he’s making 10 percent more of his two-point attempts (63.3 percent this season) He and Hammons are both dominant on the boards and as shot blockers (Haas’ 8.5 percent block rate falls just a bit short of Hammons’ 10.1 percent) but it’s Haas who is the #5 player in the (very early) KenPom Player of the Year race.

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SEC Burning Questions: First Year Coach With the Biggest Impact

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 2nd, 2015

One of the biggest developments in the SEC this offseason was the star power added to the league’s coaching ranks, as no fewer than three programs added a head coach with an impressive pedigree. Mississippi State hired Ben Howland, a man who led UCLA to three straight Final Fours from 2006-08 and has won conference titles in the Big Sky, Big East and Pac 10/12. Tennessee quickly ended its tumultuous relationship with Donnie Tyndall and added a coach with a Final Four to his name as well (plus three Sweet Sixteens and two Elite Eights) in Rick Barnes. And after swinging and missing on Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall, Alabama was nonetheless able to win the press conference by hiring Avery Johnson, a former NBA Coach of the Year who led the Dallas Mavericks to the NBA Finals in 2006. Florida didn’t make a splashy hire, but the Gators replaced its legendary coach with Louisiana Tech’s Michael White  no stranger to the SEC after playing and coaching at Ole Miss.

Ben Howland inherits a better-than-you'd-think situation in Starkville (stationcaster.com).

Ben Howland inherits a better-than-you’d-think situation in Starkville (stationcaster.com).

Of the four, Howland and White are poised to have the biggest impacts this season. For Howland, this is in no small part because of the situation former Bulldogs’ head coach Rick Ray left him. It would have been more than understandable had Mississippi State stuck with Ray for at least another year. His three-year results weren’t great, but there had been incremental improvement: The Bulldogs won six SEC games under him last year (his highest total) and were poised to return a strong and experienced core that he had recruited and developed. But as cruel as it was for Ray to lose on the chance to continue building his program, it’s refreshing that Mississippi State strived for more — the type of ambition the league needs if it wants to raise its national profile. Howland arrived in Starkville and delivered right away, signing Jackson native Malik Newman (Rivals’ #8 overall prospect) away from the likes of Kentucky, Ole Miss and LSU.

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SEC Impact Newcomers: Part II

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 29th, 2015

Yesterday, we looked at the freshmen or transfers who figure to make a first-year impact for half of the teams in the SEC. Today we do the same with the other half of the league, including two freshmen who could be top-10 picks in the upcoming NBA Draft and a transfer who has some international experience.

LSU – Ben Simmons. Simmons was a major get for Johnny Jones, a coach who will try to prove his critics wrong by showing that he can get the most out of a talented roster. The Australian-born wing will almost certainly be a top-five pick in next year’s NBA Draft and is without question the most talented player Jones has had, which is saying something. Simmons is 6’10”, explosively athletic, and according to DraftExpress, was the best passer at the Nike Academy over the summer. Those kinds of skills are a coach’s dream — Simmons, Tim Quarterman and fellow freshman Antonio Blakeney should make the Tigers a fun team to watch in transition this season.

Ben Simmons is as elite a prospect and talent as there is. Can Johnny Jones cash in on that? (sports.yahoo.com).

Ben Simmons is as elite a prospect and talent as there is in college basketball. Can Johnny Jones cash in on that?

Auburn – Kareem Canty. How do you replace scorers like KT Harrell and Antoine Mason? Simple — add yet another high-volume shooting transfer player with a scoring pedigree. Canty, who spent his freshman season averaging 16.2 PPG at Marshall, will assume that role on Bruce Pearl’s second Auburn team. His latest recruiting class generated a lot of buzz, but Canty should be able to take some of the offensive pressure from the freshmen. He’s not the three-point marksman Harrell was, but he’s a proven scorer. In a three-game stretch against Vanderbilt, Penn State and West Virginia two years ago, Canty scored 18, 28 and 16 points, respectively. That kind of offensive production could allow Auburn to rise up the SEC ladder despite the loss of such a prolific three-point shooter and scorer. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Preview: Texas’ Burning Question

Posted by Chris Stone on October 26th, 2015

This team preview is part of the RTC Big 12 microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Can Shaka Smart turn Texas into a basketball school?

College basketball feels like it’s engaged in a constant search for the next big thing. The one-and-done rule has turned college hoops into a temporary pit stop for the next great NBA player, and in a similar fashion, athletic departments at power conference schools are often looking to find the next mid-major head coach who can transform a struggling program into an overnight success. While many highly touted coaches including Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall have resisted the calls from power five schools, Shaka Smart has finally taken the plunge, and the Big 12 is better for it.

Shaka Smart is poised to lead Texas' turnaround. (Daulton Venglar/The Daily Texas)

Shaka Smart is poised to lead Texas’ turnaround. (Daulton Venglar/The Daily Texas)

After an impressive six-year tenure at VCU, Smart signed a six year, $22 million deal with Texas in April. The Longhorns’ athletics program has been in a bit of a rut lately. Although it made the NCAA Tournament in all but one year under former head coach Rick Barnes, Texas hasn’t played in the event’s second weekend since D.J. Augustin led the Longhorns to the Elite Eight in 2008. The school’s football program has experienced a similarly disappointing slide since losing to Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game in 2010. Charlie Strong was brought in to inject life into the program, but in two years has been largely unsuccessful as rumors swirl regarding the team’s overall lack of talent. The cherry on top was the recent dismissal of athletic director Steve Patterson in September. Patterson lasted less than two years in Austin, during which time he alienated boosters and long-term employees alike.

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Three Takeaways From Wednesday’s #SECTipoff16

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 22nd, 2015

Ed. Note: make sure to add @rushtheSEC to your Twitter follows for SEC basketball coverage over the next six months!

Billy Donovan is no longer roaming the sidelines for the Florida Gators. Karl Anthony-Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, and a handful of other Kentucky underclassmen are gone to the riches and fame of the NBA. There are new coaches with Final Four and NBA Finals resumes now leading programs in Knoxville, Starkville and Tuscaloosa. The SEC certainly looks a little different heading into the upcoming college basketball season, but overall that might be for the best. Participants in the SEC Media Day event in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Wednesday oozed hope that the SEC’s early season stumbles and late collapses of years past would better prepare the league for ascent into college basketball’s elite this season. After many years of hype, will this finally be the year that SEC basketball takes a big leap forward into the national landscape?

Tyler Ulis and Marcus Lee at #SECTipoff16 (photo credit - CoachCal.com)

Tyler Ulis and Marcus Lee with Sean Farnham at #SECTipoff16 (photo credit – CoachCal.com)

Here are three key takeaways from Wednesday’s #SECTipoff16:

1) The SEC is no longer Kentucky and everyone else.

Ben Howland has won at the highest levels of college basketball, taking three different schools to the NCAA Tournament. The new Mississippi State head coach has been successful in the Big Sky, Big East, and the Pac-12, but he spoke highly of the depth and quality of the teams in the SEC. “You have to bring it every night or you’re not going to win,” said the first-year Bulldogs coach.

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Evaluating Texas’ Top Three Candidates

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 31st, 2015

The head coaching job at Texas hasn’t been vacant for two whole days, but the search is already sending shockwaves throughout the college basketball landscape. Now, the top candidates for the gig had been rumored as successors even before athletic director Steve Patterson let Rick Barnes go on Sunday, and nothing has really changed since then, so none of the names are exactly surprising. But now that the wheels are actually moving, things could get real in a hurry. Here’s a quick rundown of the three coaches most likely to take the reins in Austin.

Say, that orange tie looks pretty good on Shaka. (sportsillustrated.com)

Say, that orange tie looks pretty good on Shaka… (sportsillustrated.com)

  1. Shaka Smart, VCU – Smart’s teams at VCU have turned heads ever since he led the Rams to the Final Four in 2011. While Smart hasn’t returned to the second weekend, much less the third, since that memorable run, that doesn’t make the 37-year old any less viable of a candidate. While some have doubts about his lack of experience as a head coach at a high-major program, he spent time on Billy Donovan’s staff at Florida and has successfully leveraged his track record, youth and enthusiasm to land commitments from some of the top prospects in the country. And he’s done it at a school with a fraction of Texas’ recruiting budget. Smart has notoriously rejected offers from plenty of high-major programs to stay at VCU, but turning down a top-10 job in terms of resources and access would be much tougher for him to do. Read the rest of this entry »
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Texas and Rick Barnes Finally Part Ways

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 28th, 2015

Rick Barnes‘ last four seasons with Texas were a rollercoaster ride. After failing to win an NCAA Tournament game in consecutive seasons for the first time in his 17-year tenure, Barnes reformed the team in 2013 without once-promising recruits Sheldon McClellan, Myck Kabongo, Julien Lewis, Jaylen Bond and Ioannis Papapetrou. His remaining players took him off the hot seat, riding stifling interior defense to a surprise third-place finish in the Big 12 and a thrilling NCAA Tournament win over Arizona State before bowing out to Michigan in the Round of 32. You probably know what happened next, but to bring you up to speed, the Longhorns came into this season as the leading candidate to knock Kansas from its conference perch, but injuries, inconsistent offense and lax perimeter defense kept the team from meeting expectations.

Rick Barnes brought unprecedented levels of success to Texas, but rocky seasons and early NCAA Tournament flameouts finally caught up to him. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Rick Barnes brought unprecedented levels of success to Texas, but rocky seasons and early NCAA Tournament flameouts finally caught up to him. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Texas finished with a losing record in the Big 12 for the second time in three years, and while they had a chance to redeem themselves in the NCAA Tournament last week, they petered out in an uninspiring loss to Butler. On Thursday night reports emerged that athletic director Steve Patterson gave Barnes an ultimatum: Replace your staff or I’ll replace you. Barnes wouldn’t acquiesce to those demands, and now the two parties going their separate ways.

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Big 12 Takes Three on the Chin, But Today is a New Day

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 20th, 2015


Well, that could’ve gone better.


In the Big 12’s latest opportunity to reverse its NCAA Tournament fortunes, the conference fell flat on its face, losing all three of its games on Thursday. Were this the regular season or the conference tournament, I’d say that Baylor and Iowa State both losing by a single point shouldn’t be huge a cause for concern, and analytically, that remains true. If the Bears and Cyclones played their games again today and every day after that, they’d come out on top in an overwhelming number of those games. But it’s a different game this time of year where variance trumps all, and this was the end of the road for two teams that, at minimum, were expected to make it through the weekend. The same can’t be said for Texas, but that’s only a reflection of the Longhorns’ massive letdown of a campaign.

Three favorites, three losses, all in time for Happy Hour.

The Cyclones knew going into Thursday’s game against UAB that they could no longer afford to fall into double-digit deficits if they wanted to survive. They lived up to one end of the bargain, as the biggest hole they faced was just three points. But that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) take away from the fact that the Blazers didn’t have much business hanging around with the Big 12 Tournament champs, let alone knocking them off. UAB has a tall, athletic lineup, but the Cyclones outscored the Blazers 36-32 in the paint. Instead, Iowa State’s undoing came down to poor rebounding and relying too heavily on jumpers, shots that head coach Fred Hoiberg has become famous for despising. More than one-third of their attempts were jump shots, and star forward Georges Niang was most responsible in that department, attempting 10 jumpers and connecting on just two. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #6 Butler 56, #11 Texas 48

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 19th, 2015


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.

Kellen Dunham and the Bulldogs came up big when it mattered most. (Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)

Kellen Dunham and the Bulldogs came up big when it mattered most. (Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Once again, Butler overcame adversity.  After former head coach Brandon Miller left the team just before the season started, Butler responded by going 8-1 out of the gate, including wins over Georgetown and North Carolina. After Andrew Chrabascz went down for four games in mid-February, Butler responded by going 3-1 and maintaining its strong NCAA Tournament profile. And today, after the Bulldogs blew their early lead – and second-leading scorer Roosevelt Jones went down with a leg injury – the team fought back, regained the lead and held off Texas. This group takes hit after hit and continues to respond, time and time again.
  2. Chris Holtmann knows what he’s doing. The interim-turned-permanent head coach seemed hell-bent on maximizing Butler’s final few possessions, calling a series of timeouts around the final media break that seemed to pay off; Kellen Dunham and Kameron Woods knocked down a couple huge shots and put the Bulldogs up for good. Holtmann’s defensive game plan – backing off Texas’ shooters and committing extra help in the post – was similarly excellent. Forget about the fact that he wasn’t even supposed have this job – the 43-year old knows know what he’s doing on the sidelines.
  3. Maybe Texas was what its record reflected. “It is what it is. We are who we are,” Texas head coach Rick Barnes said after the game. That pretty much sums it up for the Longhorns, which lost yet another close game and again failed to live up to expectations (they were Vegas favorites today). Barnes’ club struggled to hit jump shots and was never really able to maximize its massive frontcourt advantage, especially on the offensive end. At some point, you just have to accept that if it looks like a rat and smells like a rat… well, you get the picture. At 20-14, Texas was not necessarily “better than its record shows.” It might have just been a middling team all along.

Star of the Game: Kellen Dunham (20 points, 8-of-11 FT). The sharp-shooting junior carried the Bulldogs when Jones went out and then carried them again when it mattered most, earning numerous trips to the free throw line – including a three-point foul midway through the second half – and hitting the dagger triple to give Butler its decisive final advantage.

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Big 12 Tournament Second Day: The Good, Bad & Ugly

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 13th, 2015

All season long we have anticipated big things from the wall-to-wall second day of basketball at the Big 12 Tournament, and for the most part, Thursday’s action in Kansas City did not disappoint. The afternoon session featured two largely competitive games and the evening session featured the crown jewel of the conference tournament up to this point: Iowa State‘s last-second win over Texas. Here is some of the good, bad and ugly from the Cyclones’ thrilling victory as well Oklahoma‘s neutral-site Bedlam win over Oklahoma State.

Monte Morris certainly deserved to be carried off the floor after sinking Texas (USA Today Sports).

Monte Morris certainly deserved to be carried off the floor after sinking Texas (USA Today Sports).

The Good.

  • Iowa State’s Resilience. The Cyclones are developing a habit lately of playing with fire. There was the eight-point halftime hole they dug themselves into against TCU followed by the 19-point halftime deficit they faced against Oklahoma. Each time the Cyclones were able to battle back and win those games behind explosive second halves, and last night was more of the same for Fred Hoiberg. Texas essentially held a double-figure lead until the final four minutes when Iowa State used pressure-induced turnovers to start their run. Are these come-from-behind wins exciting? Certainly. Are they sustainable? Probably not. Georges Niang acknowledged the importance of avoiding these holes in his postgame press conference. “It’s a mental aspect. We really just got to come in and really respect our opponent and come in with a locked-in mind to run our stuff and defend against their stuff.” Iowa State has concrete reasons to believe that it can come back from any deficit it faces, but I’m guessing Hoiberg would prefer that his team no longer need to draw on those experiences.

  • Big 12 Tournament Legacies. Monte Morris‘ game-winning jumper is now cemented in Iowa State lore. Pulling that play off to cap a dramatic comeback in front of a packed house of Cyclones’ fans is about as memorable as it can get. Le’Bryan Nash also had a memorable performance in his final Big 12 contest. The senior scored more than half of Oklahoma State’s points (27) in the Cowboys’ loss to Oklahoma. Nash was the only player who could get anything going for Oklahoma State, and while his great night came in a losing effort, it was emblematic of the leadership role that he has grown into during his four years in Stillwater.

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