NCAA Regional Reset: East Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 20th, 2017

Rush the Court is providing comprehensive coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks.

New Favorite: #4 Florida (26-8). Florida’s 65-39 drubbing of #5 Virginia on Saturday should put the rest of the remaining field on notice— the Gators are really, really difficult to score against. Mike White’s aggressive group held to Cavaliers to a paltry 0.65 points per possession, limiting its ACC foe to just 1-of-15 shooting from behind the arc and preventing any Virginia player from reaching double figures. Wisconsin, which is somewhat similar to Virginia stylistically, could be in for a rude awakening on Friday night. 6’8” swingman Devin Robinson, a supremely gifted athlete, is playing some of his best basketball of the season (19.0 PPG in the NCAA Tournament), and only West Virginia and North Carolina possess more depth than Florida of the teams remaining. Now ranked third nationally by KenPom, the Gators are as good a threat as any to win the National Championship.

Florida’ Defense Dominated Virginia This Weekend (USA Today Images)

Horse of Darkness: #8 Wisconsin (27-9). Despite being underseeded, Wisconsin outlasted Virginia Tech in the First Round before knocking off the reigning National Champion in the Round of 32. Saturday’s unexpected, high-drama victory over Villanova highlighted the Badgers’ strengths — patience, veteran leadership, stingy defense — and firmly establishes them as a threat in the East Region. Greg Gard’s club, now in its fourth straight Sweet Sixteen, will again enter Friday’s match-up with #4 Florida as an underdog. With a pair of seniors (Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes) and a First Team All-Big Ten forward (Ethan Happ) leading the way, bet against the dark horse Badgers at your own risk.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #7 South Carolina (24-10). #11 USC shocked #6 SMU and #8 Wisconsin upended the reigning National Champion — both huge surprises in their own right. But it was the other USC — #7 South Carolina — that pulled off the biggest stunner in the East, and perhaps the entire Big Dance. #2 Duke entered the Thursday as the betting favorite win the NCAA Tournament, a testament to both its supreme talent and undeniable momentum heading into the event (the Blue Devils had just won the ACC Tournament). The Gamecocks, meanwhile, entered Friday having lost six of its previous nine games, including an 11-point stinker against Alabama in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals. And yet, Frank Martin’s defensive-minded group pounded Duke in the second half on Sunday night, scoring 65 points in the final 20 minutes and knocking off the Blue Devils in front of a home-state crowd filled with South Carolina fans and North Carolina fans (otherwise known as Duke haters) alike. Few people saw this coming.

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

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

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

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

Three Key Takeaways

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

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

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

Posted by Chris Stone on March 17th, 2017

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

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

Three Key Takeaways.

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

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Big 12/SEC Challenge Edition

Posted by Big 12 Team on January 31st, 2017

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

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

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

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

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Baylor: The Team Nobody Saw Coming…

Posted by Justin Fedich on January 7th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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Which is Easier to Maintain: Offense or Defense?

Posted by William Ezekowitz on December 27th, 2016

There are certain teams you can count on to have specific strengths seemingly every college basketball season. The high-flying athletes of North Carolina, Duke and Kentucky will score in bunches, while the rigid defensive systems of Virginia and Louisville will keep their opponents offensively flummoxed. The coaches in nearly every instance are who get credit for this year-to-year consistency, but which skill is more reliable? Is it easier to be a really good offensive team every year or a really good defensive one? In order to find out, we turned to KenPom’s offensive and defensive efficiency ratings to actually determine if the same teams — or, more accurately, the same coaches — always finish at the top of their respective area of strength. We defined this as being among the top 25 offensive or defensive efficiency teams for five years in a row. Here are the results.

Every year, it seems like Roy Williams has a fleet of athletes ready to score points at a breakneck pace. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Every year, it seems like Roy Williams has a fleet of athletes ready to score points at a breakneck pace. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Offensive Efficiency (Top 25)

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Defensive Efficiency (Top 25)

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Florida’s Mike White and Wisconsin’s Greg Gard are only second-year coaches at their programs, but both have already shown such an aptitude for defensively-effective basketball that it seems appropriate to include them. With or without those two, though, it seems that it is much easier to produce a great defense year in and year out than it is for offense.

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Feast Week Mission Briefing: Baylor in the Battle 4 Atlantis

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 23rd, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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One Burning Question: Is Baylor Due For A Rebuilding Year?

Posted by Nate Kotisso on October 31st, 2016

The fickle nature of the NCAA Tournament once again revealed itself to Baylor last season. After collapsing late in its 2015 Round of 64 game against Georgia State, the Bears dropped another early round game to a double-digit seed last season — Yale, this time around. On the heels of that disappointing upset and several important pieces departing, it brings up a worthwhile question: Is Baylor due for a rebuilding year? Most programs — even the high-major to elite ones — undergo a rebuilding process at some point. For many, a strong recruiting class gets things back on track; for others, the process can take a while longer. Between Elite Eight appearances in 2010-11, the Bears went 18-13 and finished seventh in the Big 12. With Taurean Prince, Rico Gathers and Lester Medford all now gone from Waco, this season appears to have more questions than answers.

Big 12 coaches named former Miami (FL)/ current Baylor sharpshooter Manu Lecomte as the league's Newcomer of the Year. (Rich Barnes/Getty)

Big 12 coaches named former Miami (FL)/current Baylor sharpshooter Manu Lecomte as the league’s 2016-17 Newcomer of the Year. (Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

The burning question for the Bears this time one year ago was whether they’d get consistent point guard play from Medford. Not only did he provide that support but he dropped more dimes (6.5 APG) than anyone in the Big 12 other than Iowa State’s Monte’ Morris (6.9 APG). As for this season, Baylor’s starting point guard situation is still in doubt. Scott Drew has not yet decided who his on-floor leader will be, but it’s not a stretch to assume sophomore guard Jake Lindsey is the front-runner. Lindsey averaged 6.3 assists per 40 minutes last year, which is a statistic Drew will surely contemplate. The other guard positions appear more certain: Preseason Big 12 Newcomer of the Year Manu Lecomte is expected to fill in the Brady Heslip-like role after nailing 43.4 percent of his three-pointers in two years at Miami (FL); Al Freeman on the wing is the team’s best returning scorer (11.3 PPG) and three-point shooter (38.2%).

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Rushed Reactions: Kansas 70, Baylor 66

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2016

rushedreactions

Three key takeaways.

  1. Kansas extends its run of success against Baylor. Kansas has had Baylor’s number in recent years, having won eight of the last nine meetings heading into Friday night’s Big 12 semifinal. Although they had to withstand a frantic last-minute rally, the Jayhawks extended their domination of the Bears with a 70-66 win. Bill Self’s offense didn’t execute at the level to which it has gotten accustomed, but they proved once again who the kings of the Big 12 are.
  2. Baylor fails to cash in on opportunities. Bill Self, who espouses the importance of toughness at every opportunity, wasn’t pleased with his team’s rebounding effort in its last meeting with the Bears. Self clearly got through to his team, as Baylor, which entered Friday’s contest with the nation’s third-best offensive rebounding rate, pulled down just two of its 14 misses in the first half and finished with a season-worst 20.9 percent offensive rebounding rate. The Bears also shot themselves in the foot by failing to capitalize at the free throw line (56%), reducing their margin for error in the other facets of the game. By failing to build on Thursday’s inspired offensive effort against Texas, Baylor showed that scoring will remain a huge question mark for them entering the NCAA Tournament.
  3. Devonte’ Graham and Frank Mason continue to give Kansas a two-headed monster at the point. Self said earlier this week that he would continue to approach recruiting with the goal of playing two point guards at the same time, and the play of Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham has been a big reason behind that attitude. Though the Jayhawks scored just 21 first-half points, Graham was seemingly everywhere on the floor. The Jayhawks made only nine baskets before halftime, but the junior scored or assisted on seven of those and finished the game with a versatile stat line of 14 points, eight assists and five steals. While Mason wasn’t Kansas’ best player Friday night, he continued to be an asset, finishing with nine points and hauling in six rebounds despite a huge disparity in size. Having to account for Mason and Graham’s respective playmaking abilities will be one of the biggest challenges for any team facing Kansas from here on out.

Star Of The GameDevonte’ Graham. Without Graham’s steady play, Baylor’s furious second-half run may have been enough to send the Jayhawks home without the Big 12 Tournament title for the third straight year. He was the only Kansas player to have a solid first half, and though he finished with four turnovers, his positive contributions far outweighed his miscues.

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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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