Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 2nd, 2018

With the season tipping off next Tuesday, there’s no better time to roll out our 2018-19 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 10 RTC writers provided their ballots over the last week and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

  • Carsen Edwards, Purdue (unanimous) – Purdue has plenty to replace this season with former mainstays Vincent Edwards and Isaac Haas now gone from West Lafayette. Luckily for Matt Painter’s Boilermakers, Edwards opted to return to Purdue for his junior season. The standout point guard will look to build on what has been a dynamic collegiate career. Following a freshman season where Edwards showed he belonged in the Big Ten, he took a big step forward in his sophomore campaign, averaging 18.5 points per game and shooting a commendable 40.6 percent from the three-point line. The Boilermakers lose nearly 50 points per game from last season’s Sweet Sixteen team, but it would not be surprising to see the play-making floor general take Purdue back to the second weekend next March. Factoid: Edwards participated in the NBA Draft combine last spring before deciding to return to Purdue. A noticeable change since his return has been in his physical stature, as he added around 10 pounds to his frame. Purdue men’s basketball strength and conditioning coach Gavin Roberts attributes Edwards’ strength gain to a “professional” demeanor in the weight room.
  • R.J. Barrett, Duke – Duke bringing in a star-studded recruiting class is certainly nothing new, but you would be hard-pressed to find another time when such a unique talent as Barrett descended on Durham. At 6’7″, the incoming freshman can handle the ball, create his own shot and relentlessly attack the basket. His size and athleticism will also allow him to effectively defend multiple positions and contribute on the boards.  The Blue Devils figure to once again be an offensive juggernaut, and it is fair to speculate that Barrett will be their most productive component. Factoid: Hailing from Canada, Barrett has a unique connection to basketball lore. He is the godson of two-time NBA MVP — and fellow Canadian — Steve Nash.
  • Caleb Martin, Nevada – Nevada exploded onto the scene last season, as the Wolf Pack won the regular season Mountain West title and earned the program’s first Sweet Sixteen berth since 2004. Expectations are now sky high for Eric Musselman’s group entering this season, as his team is already ranked #8 in the preseason AP Top 25. A major reason for all the lofty hopes in Reno is that Martin decided to put the NBA on hold in returning for his senior season. The rangy forward will look to build on a junior campaign when he averaged 18.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. If Martin can once again put up dominant numbers, the preseason hype encompassing the Wolf Pack will likely prove to be warranted. Factoid:In addition to the RTC All-America team, Martin was named a preseason first team All-American by the AP, becoming the first player in program history to receive the honor.
  • Luke Maye, North Carolina – There might not be a player in the country that has had as unique of a collegiate career as the North Carolina senior. Recall that Maye did not have a guaranteed scholarship in place when he originally committed to the Tar Heels in high school, and while playing time was difficult to earn through a majority of his first two seasons in Chapel Hill, his breakout finally came in the 2017 Elite Eight when he scored 17 points and buried a game-winning jumper to beat Kentucky. Maye followed up those heroics with a junior season averaging 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds per contest while earning first team All-ACC honors. The Tar Heels have a lot of new faces in place this season, but the transition should be relatively seamless with double-double machine Maye on the blocks. Factoid: Maye joined rarefied North Carolina air last season with a 32-point, 18-rebound performance against Boston College and a 33-point, 17-rebound effort against NC State. Those two performances made him only the fourth player in program history with multiple 30/15 games in a season.
  • Ethan Happ, Wisconsin – Last March represented the first time since 1998 that Wisconsin did not earn an NCAA Tournament bid. The young Badgers battled injuries and inconsistency throughout the season as they sputtered their way to a 15-18 overall record. Despite the lost season, Happ still managed to contribute very productive numbers. Building on impressive freshman and sophomore campaigns, the junior forward tallied 17.9 points and 8.0 rebounds per game on his way to becoming a first team all-Big Ten player. Assuming Happ takes another step forward during his final season in Madison, it is likely Wisconsin will find its way back to the NCAA Tournament. Factoid: Happ was so distraught about Wisconsin not making the NCAA Tournament lats year that he kept the TV in his apartment from showing anything about March Madness.

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Analyzing Five Breakout Players Nationally

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on October 31st, 2018

Will Ezekowitz (@wezekowitz) is a national columnist focusing on the numbers behind college basketball.

I have tried to project next year’s breakout players for several years now. Doing so is largely subjective and also generally requires team success, but I’m trying to answer the following question: “Which players are not getting the headlines now but who will be in February and March?” Last year, I gave you Markus Howard, Keenan Evans (bonus points) and, regrettably, Justin Jackson (negative points), among several others. This year, I have refined my approach by using the Projected Contributors tool at BartTorvik, aka free KenPom. Torvik’s site projects points, rebounds and assists for every player in college basketball, and I have included those projected totals below.

Ty Jerome is Poised for an Outstanding Season (USA Today Images)

  • Ty Jerome – Virginia. 12.2 PPG, 3.4 RPG. 4.8 APG. Tony Bennett has the defense, Kyle Guy has the man-bun, and DeAndre Hunter has the lottery pick talent. But do not forget about Ty Jerome among these Cavaliers. After minimal playing time as a freshman, he showed flashes of downright dominance in his sophomore tilt even while often deferring to Guy. He’s a 41 percent shooter from deep, a capable creator and logged a better assist to turnover rate last season than even the great London Perrantes did during his senior year. His 6’5” frame at the point of attack is also a necessary key to Virginia’s incredible defense, and he ended last year with the highest steal rate in the ACC (3.6%). He should take on even more responsibility this year, and if he continues on his current trajectory, he can become the best point guard in a loaded ACC (and one of the best nationally as well).
  • Sagaba Konate – West Virginia. 14.4 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.2 APG. Disclaimer: I am the official conductor of the Sagaba Konate Hype Train. Konate is an absolutely chiseled physical specimen who is the toughest dude on which any basketball court he steps. Quite simply, he’s the best rim protector in the country, but he’s also an elite rebounder. Last year he became the third major conference player in the last 15 years to log a block rate above 15 percent and a defensive rebounding rate above 20 percent (Kansas’ Jeff Withey and Mississippi State’s Jarvis Vernardo were the others). A big man usually must choose to either challenge a shot or corral it if it misses — Konate, somehow, is elite at both. On the offensive end, he improved from simply a putback artist who shot 56 percent at the line his freshman year into a legitimate post player who nailed 88 percent from the line in Big 12 play last year (second-best). After surprising scouts at last spring’s NBA Combine, Konate knows he needs a more refined offensive game to become a first round pick. Bet on him developing it and turning in an All-America season in Morgantown.

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Big 12 Previews: West Virginia & TCU

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 30th, 2018

With tip-off mere days away, we’re continuing our 2018-19 Big 12 coverage by going around the league team-by-team. Be sure to check in throughout the season and follow Big 12 correspondent Brian Goodman on Twitter @BSGoodman.

TCU

A healthy Jaylen Fisher (middle) is vital to TCU’s fortunes. (USA Today Images)

Well, that didn’t take long. Just two years after extending its investment in basketball by hiring Jamie Dixon away from Pittsburgh, TCU made its first NCAA Tournament in 20 years. It wasn’t always pretty, as the Horned Frogs started just 5-8 in Big 12 play before rallying in late February, but fans need not be focused on such things when a drought is that long. Dixon’s squad sported the Big 12’s best offense, led by an army of shooters and a big man in Vladimir Brodziansky who could operate both inside and out. While he and Kenrich Williams played pivotal roles, they aren’t irreplaceable, and the return of the entire backcourt as well as some additions will go a long way towards picking up the slack. As the curtains open on the 2018-19 season, TCU is arguably the best team in the entire state of Texas, a notion that would have been impossible to entertain just a couple of short years ago.

Who’s Gone:

  • G Kenrich Williams: 13.2 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.8 SPG, 1.7 BPG, 39.5% 3FG
  • F Vladimir Brodziansky: 15.0 PPG, 5.1 RPG

Who’s Back:

  • G Jaylen Fisher: 12.3 PPG, 5.4 APG, 1.1 SPG, 43.9% 3FG
  • G Alex Robinson: 9.7 PPG, 6.1 APG, 1.2 SPG
  • G Desmond Bane: 12.5 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 46.1% 3FG
  • F Kouat Noi: 10.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 43.4% 3FG
  • F J.D. Miller: 24 GS, 7.9 PPG
  • G R.J. Nembhard: 6 GP, former four-star recruit

Who’s Coming In:

  • F Kaden Archie (four-star recruit)
  • C Yuat Alok (nation’s top-rated juco transfer)
  • F Lat Mayen (redshirted in 2017-18)
  • F Kevin Samuel (redshirted 2017-18, former four-star recruit)

Outlook:

Offense is going to be this team’s calling card once again. Jaylen Fisher and Alex Robinson make an excellent backcourt duo, as both are very comfortable with the ball in their hands. Robinson is better at creating for others than for himself, but he’ll have plenty of teammates to take advantage of his strength. Desmond Bane, who led the Big 12 in eFG% and true shooting percentage as a sophomore, is back for another go, and Kouat Noi and redshirt freshman Lat Mayen will help spread the floor as well. The interior is going to be a question mark on both ends of the floor, as Williams’ ability to pressure multiple positions will be missed, but a top-four finish in the league and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend are fair expectations as Dixon aims to build on last season’s momentum in Fort Worth.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Villanova 90, #5 West Virginia 78

Posted by Matt Patton on March 23rd, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Matt Patton (@pattonm08) is in Boston for the East Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Jalen Brunson was the best player in the country Friday night. (Photo credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. West Virginia controlled the first 30 minutes of the game. Villanova was uncharacteristically sloppy. Donte DiVicenzo and Mikal Bridges were totally lost. Even when the Wildcats avoided turnovers, they took contested (often rushed) shots. If Jalen Brunson was the best player on the floor — keeping the Wildcats within striking distance — it was his former teammate on the other side, Jevon Carter, who set the tone for the game. With 11:08 remaining, the Mountaineers were up six and looked like they had seized control. To that point Villanova was 2-of-11 in the half with a whopping zero points in the paint. Then everything fell apart for Bob Huggins’ team.
  2. And then Villanova settled down. From that point, Villanova outscored West Virginia 36-18 the rest of the way. Brunson started things off, as he always seems to do, with an and-one, and the Wildcats ripped off 11 points in a row to regain control of the game. The Mountaineers missed nine straight shots over the next five minutes before finally getting something to drop at the 6:25 mark. Villanova, on the other hand, made 10 of their last 14 field goal attempts while committing only two turnovers (both of which came when the outcome was effectively decided). But even so, the game felt much closer than the final score. West Virginia compounded their closing woes with missed layups, open threes and free throws.
  3. Villanova is the favorite to cut down the nets in San Antonio. The Wildcats looked rattled at times against West Virginia’s relentless press, but they also run the prettiest offense in college basketball, bar none. They space the floor as well as an NBA team, and Brunson will be the best player on the floor no matter the possible remaining opponent (even against Duke). And considering that Villanova looked totally rattled (apart from Brunson), they were only down six to West Virginia tonight. Their ceiling is as high as any team remaining, but their floor is quite a bit higher than the rest of the field.

Star of the Game. Jalen Brunson, Villanova. Brunson kept the Wildcats from being run out of the gym during the first 30 minutes of the game. He looked every bit the National Player of the Year candidate that he is, creating opportunities for himself as well as his teammates. He broke the West Virginia press with ease for most of the night. He drew fouls when necessary. It felt like he never missed an open look. His closing line was 27 points and four assists in 37 minutes of floor generalship.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big 12 Teams

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2018

Every passing postseason where a Big 12 team gets bounced in embarrassing fashion or fails to maximize its potential by way of an otherwise-excusable loss becomes another pock mark on the conference’s reputation. Oklahoma got the Big 12 off the schneid with a Final Four Run in 2016, but it hasn’t been enough. There’s never been more pressure on the league to produce than there is this year, and seven teams will get a bite at the apple. Another Big 12 team has to break through eventually… right?

Kansas (#1 Midwest)

Behind senior guard Devonte’ Graham, Kansas will aim to cut down the nets in San Antonio. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

  • Best Case: The recent breakouts of Malik Newman and Silvio De Sousa continue into the NCAA Tournament, buying additional time for Udoka Azubuike to recover from his MCL injury. With the Jayhawks’ starting center at full strength for the second weekend, Bill Self makes his third Final Four as the Kansas head coach.
  • Worst Case: Foul trouble and a cold shooting night around the perimeter spell another early exit, this time in the Round of 32.

Texas Tech (#3 East)

  • Best Case: Keenan EvansZach Smith and Justin Gray take advantage of a nearly week-long break and get healthy, and the Red Raiders channel the best version of themselves to their first ever Elite Eight appearance.
  • Worst Case: The Red Raiders continue to slide and are defeated at the hands of Stephen F. Austin, a team that bears some striking similarities to the West Virginia team that bested Tech in two of their three meetings.

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Rushed Reactions: West Virginia 66, Texas Tech 63

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 10th, 2018

RTC’s Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) is providing on-site coverage of the Big 12 Tournament.

Three Key Takeaways.

Daxter Miles Gets a Third Shot This Season at Kansas (USA Today Images)

  1. Not Your In-Laws’ Mountaineers. West Virginia’s trademark press didn’t generate the same results as usual, as the Red Raiders turned the ball over on just 15.6 percent of their possessions Friday night. On most nights, that would cause trouble for the Mountaineers since they have such a hard time scoring in Bob Huggins‘ motion offense, but they scored an even 1.00 points per possession in the winning effort. After the game, Huggins acknowledged that the grind of the conference tournament environment led him to pull back the reins, but the adjustment clearly worked. The Mountaineers actually relinquished their Big 12 defensive turnover percentage crown to Kansas State this season as conference opponents have grown accustomed to West Virginia’s brand of havoc; while it would be silly to expect the Mountaineers to completely abandon their hallmark defensive style, their ability to create offense without relying as heavily on turnovers is a positive sign moving forward.
  2. Texas Tech’s offense regresses. Chris Beard‘s team appeared to find its footing over the back half of conference play, as it entered Friday night’s game having scored at least 1.09 points per possession in its previous five outings. West Virginia, however, made frontcourt offense a struggle for the most surprising team in the Big 12. Keenan Evans and Tommy Hamilton IV were the only players who were able to get into any semblance of rhythm, and even then, it was fleeting; Evans uncharacteristically — and unsuccessfully — played hero ball on the game’s decisive possession, and the half-court heave on the next trip looked good out of his hand but rimmed out at the buzzer. Credit is also due to the Mountaineers’ interior defense, as Sagaba KonateEsa Ahmad and Wesley Harris frequently met the Red Raiders at the rim and emerged victorious more often than not.
  3. Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles are looking to go out with a bang. It’s strange knowing that Carter and Miles have just one more game left at the Sprint Center, and on Friday night the senior duo made sure to leave an imprint, combining for 39 points and an atypically hot 9-of-16 clip from distance. The Mountaineers were unusually competent in the half-court, and their leaders needed to be as they didn’t get very much help from their supporting cast.

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What’s Trending: Weekend of Buzzer-Beaters

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 22nd, 2018

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

Earlier this season, Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey made a fashion statement in Hawaii with a casual shorts and t-shirt look. Last week, Kansas head coach Bill Self decided to make his own fashion statement in the Jayhawks’ Big Monday game against West Virginia…

While Kansas ultimately got the victory, West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate had himself a one-man block party…

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Can West Virginia Keep It Together?

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 9th, 2018

For a touch over three years now, West Virginia has experienced consistent success playing one of the country’s most unmistakable brands of basketball. Lest you call the Mountaineers’ pressing style a gimmick, they’re 93-29 over a period that includes two Sweet Sixteen runs, a Big 12 Tournament crown and one other finals appearance. But just like every Big 12 team other than Kansas, a regular season title has eluded Bob Huggins. The ‘Eers have been right in the thick of the race over the last two seasons, finishing second in both, but while banking on the Jayhawks to cede the regular season league title remains a sucker’s bet, West Virginia absolutely has the pieces on hand to finish the job in 2018.

Jevon Carter (left) doesn’t care how quickly Trae Young is rising up the draft boards.
(Ben Queen/USA TODAY Sports)

Though their competition in the run-up to league play was not great, the Mountaineers are nonetheless are off to a 14-1 start with zero losses since Opening Night. Their resume includes an early December win over Virginia that has only escalated in value, and a victory over Oklahoma that doubled as a reminder that Trae Young — as talented and electrifying as he is — is also a human who occasionally has to share a court with the one-man defensive juggernaut that is Jevon Carter. As the unrelenting heartbeat of the Mountaineers, Carter has continued to improve despite the consensus that he first played for Huggins in the old Big East. As good as Carter already was — the senior guard was an All-Big 12 Second Team selection last season — he’s improved his game on both ends, increasing his steal rate, assist rate, ability to draw contact and free throw proficiency. Additionally, in a system that relies on non-stop activity, depth and fresh legs, Miles has played 83 percent of the available minutes during the young conference season.

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Big 12 Burning Questions: West Virginia Mountaineers

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 9th, 2017

This preview is part of RTC’s Big 12 2017-18 preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Could Esa Ahmad’s lengthy suspension be a blessing in disguise?

One of the benefits of “Press Virginia” is that it’s difficult for the loss of any single player to cause the team to implode. There’s nothing that epitomizes “next man up” quite like having 10 players available who averaged at least 10 minutes per game as the Mountaineers had in 2017, so even if Bob Huggins‘ team drops a few non-conference games in the first half of this season while junior Esa Ahmad is sidelined with an eligibility suspension, the Mountaineers should be alright. But let’s take it one step further. While West Virginia would obviously prefer to have its second-leading scorer available to face the likes of Texas A&M and Virginia, it’s easy to envision a scenario where the Mountaineers ultimately benefit from his absence, as it gives the team a chance to develop a frontcourt that also lost stalwarts Nathan Adrian, Elijah Macon and Brandon Watkins.

West Virginia will search for depth while big man Esa Ahmad starts the season on the bench. (Kelsie LeRose/BGS)

Sophomore Sagaba Konate is a strong bet to start in Ahmad’s absence. The Mali native had a raw freshman season, but gained Huggins’ trust as the season played out, averaging 12.2 minutes per game in Big 12 play. The temperamental head coach even praised Konate’s improvement at Big 12 Media Day last month, noting that the big man has started to flash some range. Expect to also see more time from sophomores Maciej Bender and Logan Routt, though they are bigger mysteries. The pair combined to play just 179 minutes last season, with most of those minutes going to Bender. Aside from Konate, the Mountaineers’ most experienced big man wasn’t even on the roster a year ago. Assistant coach Ronnie Everhart is high on 6’8″ JuCo transfer Wesley Harris, a lefty who offers enough size and agility to play the four in West Virginia’s breakneck system. Harris has reportedly played well in practice and should be ready to become a key contributor both during and after Ahmad’s suspension. Lamont West will play on the wing and be counted on to stem the tide in the meantime.

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