Big 12 Burning Questions: Texas Longhorns

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 6th, 2017

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

Burning Question: Will Texas ride the additions of Mo Bamba and Matt Coleman to an at-large bid?

Last Thanksgiving had barely passed when it became clear that something wasn’t right with Texas basketball. The young Longhorns were supposed to get back on track after losing two games to Northwestern and Colorado in the Legends Classic, but instead of licking their wounds and coming out with fire in their next home outing, they were embarrassed by Texas-Arlington. Bad games happen, certainly, and the Mavericks went on to win the Sun Belt last season, but considering the resources at Texas’ disposal and its accomplished coach patrolling the sideline, there was no excuse for such an effort. We all know how things went from there: The Longhorns tried unsuccessfully to play the entire season without a legitimate point guard, ultimately finishing dead last in the Big 12 standings despite having a first-round pick on the blocks in Jarrett Allen. Shaka Smart certainly isn’t on the hot seat in Austin on the heels of one forgettable season, but now that his team has been restocked with a level of talent that he didn’t have in his first two campaigns, it’s time for him to produce.

All eyes will be on Mo Bamba, but Texas needs more than just him to avenge a woeful 2017. (Brian Spurlock/USA Today)

Freshman center Mo Bamba will definitely help, perhaps as much as a one-and-done player can to change the direction of a program. There’s no player in the Big 12 who can match Bamba’s physical gifts of a 7’9″ wingspan on a 6’11” frame, and with great agility to match. He can block shots, run the floor, finish down low and face up his man in space. Allen and Cameron Ridley before him had their legitimate big man strengths, but Bamba provides a completely different skill set. In high school, he was able to produce offensively with his sheer athleticism, but how he develops his game in the face of more physical Division I competition will be worth monitoring. Additionally, Bamba’s presence on the roster may lead Smart to revive his patented “Havoc” defensive system now that he has a center who can get up and down the court. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Say a Prayer for the Sooners Edition

Posted by Big 12 Team on February 14th, 2017

There wasn’t any question what the college basketball world thought about Oklahoma a season ago. The Sooners were led by a likable All-American who was surrounded by a group of teammates that had played more than 100 consecutive games together. Even after a blowout Final Four loss to Villanova ended their season, conventional wisdom was that one poor performance wouldn’t diminish the tremendous gains and relentlessly bright future the program had ahead of it. Unfortunately, this season has made last year feel like the tail end of the Jeff Capel era. The returnees and freshmen have failed to mesh in any meaningful way, resulting in two seven-game losing streaks and looking like a finish in the Big 12 cellar is imminent. With leading scorer Jordan Woodard out for the rest of the season with a career-ending ACL injury, what seemed like an achievable 600 win threshold for Lon Kruger this season is increasingly looking like an impossibility. One bad season among several very good ones will not tarnish Oklahoma basketball in the long run, but it represents a reminder to those on the outside that no one is immune to a bad year every once in a while. This week’s power rankings are right after this goofy picture of Kruger.

Lon Kruger is two wins away from notching 600 wins as a collegiate head coach. The question is: will his wounded Sooners win two with a month left in the season? (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

  • 1. Kansas — all voted 1st – “Aside from a few down games which should be expected of any high-major college player, Josh Jackson has lived up to the hype. In the seven games prior to an average outing against West Virginia (14 points, 11 rebounds, six turnovers) last night, though, he averaged 20.6 points on 56.3 percent shooting (53.6% 3FG), along with 7.6 rebounds in 34.4 minutes per contest. Kansas’ depth issues have led to some recent second-half struggles, but the Jayhawks’ freshman phenom is the primary reason the Jayhawks have been able to overcome them.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)
  • 2. Baylor — all voted 2nd – “Kansas has made a living in the Big 12 historically with its outstanding interior defense, and now Baylor is doing the same thing. Opponents have made just 44.5 percent of their twos against the Bears in conference play this season, with the next best mark Kansas and Oklahoma’s tie at 47.5 percent. Jo Lual-Acuil and Johnathan Motley have combined to make Baylor a realistic competitor even when its offense struggles.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)
  • 3. West Virginia — all voted 3rd – “Per KenPom, West Virginia owns the seventh-best defense and 10th-best offense in college basketball. Despite a heart-breaking overtime loss in Allen Fieldhouse last night, the Mountaineers are still in contention for a top-two NCAA Tournament seed if they can finish strong in their last five games.” – Drew Andrews (@DrewAndrews24)

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Texas Won’t Make the NCAAs This Year and That’s Probably a Good Thing…

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 19th, 2016

The Texas men’s basketball head coaching job is one of the most visible in all of college athletics and Shaka Smart certainly embraced that aspect of the position when he accepted it. After then signing the nation’s fifth best recruiting class, expectations in Austin quickly became that these recruits would walk in to the Erwin Center and take the country by storm. Through the first 10 games of this season, however, it is becoming increasingly clear that the “take the country by storm” part was at best an incorrect forecast. It’s looking a lot more like day-long cloud cover with periods of heavy rain shifting to light precipitation after dark.

Texas freshman Andrew Jones had his best all-around game (17 points, seven assists) in the team's losing effort. (David J. Phillip/Associated Press)

Texas freshman Andrew Jones had his best all-around game (17 points, seven assists) in the team’s losing effort. (David J. Phillip/Associated Press)

While it is true that the Longhorns are getting better, spotting that improvement has been difficult to identify. The last time Texas stepped on to a neutral floor — at the Legends Classic in Brooklyn — Smart’s team was run off the floor in embarrassing double-figure defeats to Northwestern and Colorado. Fast forward to Saturday afternoon’s game against Arkansas and the Longhorns arguably played their best game of the year despite the loss. Jarrett Allen (11 points, 10 rebounds), Andrew Jones (17 points, seven assists) and Tevin Mack (20 points, 12 rebounds) provided Smart with a diversity of scoring options for a team that has often struggled to both find good shots and make them.

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Emerging Frontcourt Providing Michigan With New Ways to Win

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 8th, 2016

Michigan’s 53-50 victory over Texas on Tuesday night was anything but vintage John Beilein basketball. The Wolverines—usually an offensive-leaning unit heavily led by guard play—scored 0.87 points per possession against the Longhorns, with its veteran starting backcourt combining for just 13 points on 4-of-19 shooting. Instead, Beilein’s group relied upon two facets of the game seldom mentioned in the same breath as Michigan basketball: stingy team defense and major offensive production from its big men—namely, sophomores Mortiz Wagner and D.J. Wilson. For a team short on depth and struggling to find a consistent scorer, the newfound production in the paint was a welcome surprise. To understand just how uncharacteristic the victory was, consider this: Michigan had not won a game in which it scored fewer than 0.90 points per possession since February 23, 2008—Beilein’s first year on the job. Much like that contest—a 49-43 win over Illinois—Tuesday’s affair came down to which team could eke out enough late buckets without compromising its defensive intensity. For the Wolverines, both the late buckets and the intensity were supplied by Wagner.

Forward Moritz Wagner was instrumental in Michigan's win on Tuesday (AP Photo/Tony Ding)

Forward Moritz Wagner was instrumental in Michigan’s win over Texas (AP Photo/Tony Ding)

“I thought [Wagner] was the best player on the floor tonight,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said afterwards. “He can shoot, he’s 6’11”, he can put the ball on the floor… Tonight he was constantly in attack mode.” Not only did the German import lead Michigan with 15 points on 7-of-13 shooting, he came up with both the go-ahead putback and the game-winning block in the game’s closing seconds, his emotions pouring out as the clock hit zeroes. The sequence was a testament to both his rare offensive skill set and his improving defensive discipline. “Mo’s blocking shots really for the first time in his life,” Beilein said of Wagner. “He’s learning to be a bigger presence at the rim. I think he’s making major steps defensively right now.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Lost in Transition: Texas Basketball Needs Time for Defense to Arrive

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 23rd, 2016

Longtime Shaka Smart followers wouldn’t even recognize this year’s Texas team. His patented HAVOC system, designed to produce chaos by pressuring opposing ball-handlers, appears to be in place in name only. His best teams at VCU were never particularly effective in the half-court, winning instead by continually forcing turnovers and converting those miscues into points on the other end. At its peak, the Rams produced turnovers on over 23 percent of opponents’ possessions for four consecutive seasons. However, last season’s Texas team was the slowest that Smart has ever coached, and while possessions this season have ticked up, the Longhorns’ version of HAVOC is still a far cry from the VCU heyday.

Texas (USA Today Images)

Texas is still trying to figure it all out. (USA TODAY Images)

The overarching sentiment when it comes to rebuilding programs is that it takes a few years for a new coach to recruit and develop players that fit his system. That’s certainly been the case for Smart in Austin so far, but the playing field is remarkably different at a Big 12 school with a longstanding athletic history and gravitational pull in recruiting. The program-oriented, four-year players that Smart was formerly coaxing into to the VCU basketball philosophy are now being replaced by highly-touted prep stars whose names are plastered on mock NBA Draft boards before setting foot on campus. This of course does not mean Smart won’t be successful at Texas, but it does mean some of his players won’t be sticking around for an entire collegiate career. Elite defense the way HAVOC is played isn’t simply a byproduct of having excellent talent — it requires a certain degree of roster continuity to run a complicated system where players incessantly communicate and work together to establish their traps. So when should we expect to see an effective version of the assault-style defense that made Smart’s VCU teams so imposing? The answer might be never. Read the rest of this entry »

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One Burning Question: Who Will Run Point For Shaka Smart?

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 3rd, 2016

Last year’s Texas team was, more or less, the end of an era — the Rick Barnes Era. The Longhorns’ season ended on an incredible half-court heave from Northern Iowa in the NCAA Tournament, and 80 percent of Texas’ starting lineup on that day were made up of seniors. The other player, junior Isaiah Taylor, decided three weeks later that he would forgo his remaining year of eligibility and enter the NBA Draft. With Taylor gone, the two remaining scholarship players from the Barnes era are senior forward Shaq Cleare and junior guard Kendal Yancy. Taylor’s was the most painful departure of all, as he led the team in scoring (15.0 PPG), assists (5.0 APG) and games (33) last season. While it’s true that the Longhorns have an entire starting lineup to replace, head coach Shaka Smart‘s biggest concern is who he will direct to manage his offense on opening night. All we know right now is that it will be someone young who will have to learn the position on the fly.

Texas head coach Shaka Smart watches his young team in Nov. 2's exhibition game. (TexasSports.com)

Texas head coach Shaka Smart watches his young point guard Andrew Jones (#1) in November 2’s exhibition game versus Division II Angelo State. (TexasSports.com)

Election Day is almost here. In this vein, it appears that Smart is leaning in a particular direction but we may not have all precincts reporting just yet. Down three scholarship players in the Longhorns’ exhibition win last night, Smart started 6’4″ freshman Andrew Jones and he played well against a vastly inferior opponent. The Irving, Texas, native did what led to his meteoric rise at the tail end of his high school career — a little bit of everything. He scored 17 points, grabbed seven rebounds, dished five assists and, most importantly, turned the ball over only once in 33 minutes of game action. Whether he’s facing D-II competition or the powers in the Big 12, Jones should have a good size advantage at the point guard position that makes him especially difficult for defenses to both contain and cut off his passing angles.

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Morning Five: 06.21.16 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on June 21st, 2016

morning5

  1. USC has taken a series major hits this off-season with several players leaving school earlier than expected, but Andy Enfield got an excellent consolation prize on Friday when Duke transfer Derryck Thornton Jr. announced that he would transferring to play at USC. Thornton, who was a five-star recruit in the class of 2016 before agreeing to reclassify and come to Duke a year early, was unhappy with his role in Durham despite averaging a respectable 7.1 points and 2.6 assists per game, but saw his playing time diminish as the season progressed leading to accusations that Thornton had been promised that Duke would build its offense around his skill set when he decided to come to Duke a year early. Thornton, who also reportedly was considering Kansas, Washington, and Miami, will be available to play for the Trojans in the 2017-18 season after sitting out his transfer year.
  2. Charles Matthews might not be the same caliber recruit as Thornton was, but his decision to transfer to Michigan after a year at Kentucky is still a big boost for the program. Matthews, a four-star recruit out of high school, averaged just 1.7 points, 1.6 rebounds, and 0.4 assists while playing 10.3 minutes per game as a freshman. In most programs a player could expect to see more playing time as players in the rotation graduate or leave school for various other reasons, but at Kentucky (and in some sense Duke now) that is far from guaranteed and Matthews probably saw the writing on the wall. After sitting out this season, Matthews will have three more years of eligibility left and should find a bigger role on a Michigan roster that will give him more opportunities to find playing time.
  3. Speaking of USC, the end of Pat Haden‘s time at athletic director cannot come soon enough for its boosters as new allegations have surfaced that Haden may have directed funds from a scholarship foundation toward USC preferentially and paid himself and other family members with large sums of money from the foundation. While directing money towards USC seems unethical at best, paying himself and family members such large sums of money (reportedly almost 10% of the foundations entire endowment for working essentially an hour a week) seems to be going into a more nebulous area that might merit a deeper investigation.
  4. When Shaka Smart took over at Texas last year the big question was how he would be able to recruit particularly in the state of Texas. As Seth Davis notes in his look at how Smart recruits, he appears to be off to a very good start. While it would seem like Smart would be able to recruit easily at Texas with a national brand behind him as a young, dynamic, African-American coach, but the reality is that he is recruiting a very different type of player at Texas than he did at VCU, which makes the process much different. If Smart is able to make that transition, there is no reason that he will not be able to make Texas into a national power.
  5. Over the summer you will will hear plenty of people criticizing AAU basketball and the culture surrounding it, but that pales in comparison to the stuff that goes on at some of these prep schools/basketball academies. As Luke Cyphers and Teri Thompson note in their story on Faith Baptist Christian Academy North (GA), some of the individuals running these schools prey on these teenagers who often come to the United States on student visas in the hope of getting an education and potentially a career playing basketball, but are often lied to about what they are coming to and then exploited in hopes of capitalizing on their basketball abilities. We would like to think that this story is an isolated case, but we suspect that this type of stuff happens more often than that.

Bonus: With all the stuff going on this past Sunday, it would have been easy to not realize that it was the 30th anniversary of the death of Len Bias. We won’t get into the impact it had on NBA history (basically imagine that the Warriors had won the title this year and then added a “can’t-miss talent”), but it was a defining moment in basketball history and led to some major changes at Maryland that impacted the basketball program in many ways (we touched on it a bit in our interview almost six years ago with Lefty Driesell). The Washington Post has an excellent piece on the 30th anniversary of his death, but we encourage you to watch the 30 For 30 on Bias as it also touched on the societal impact of his death in relation to drug laws.

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Big 12 Offseason Burning Questions, Part II

Posted by Chris Stone on April 12th, 2016

Yesterday, Brian Goodman opened our examination of the offseason’s burning questions facing Big 12 teams by reviewing challenges facing Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma and TCU. Our series continues today with consideration of the questions plaguing the remainder of the league: Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech and West Virginia.

Iowa State (23-12, 10-8)

For the first time in a long time, Iowa State will be without Georges Niang. (Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in a long time, Iowa State will be without Georges Niang. (Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports)

Who will step up in the Cyclones’ frontcourt? A lack of depth at Iowa State was a persistent problem last season and it leads to the bigger question about who will fill the gaping frontcourt holes in Ames next year. With both Georges Niang and Jameel McKay no longer around, the Cyclones return no players 6’8″ or taller who played greater than five percent of the available minutes last season. Iowa State will need to rely on a big debut from Emmanuel Malou, one of the best junior college transfers in the country, and dramatic improvement from rising sophomore Simeon Carter, the Cyclones’ best returning big man.

Oklahoma State (12-20, 3-15)

What can new head coach Brad Underwood do with one of the Big 12’s best backcourts? Underwood consistently produced efficient offenses at Stephen F. Austin and he’ll have the chance to do likewise in Stillwater. The first-year head coach will inherit one of the conference’s best backcourts, as both Jawun Evans and Phil Forte appear set to return to school, with Evans showcasing his potential in the Cowboys’ upset of Kansas and Forte likely the best outside shooter in the Big 12. How Evans and Forte develop their chemistry with Underwood this offseason will go a long way toward determining whether Oklahoma State can regain conference relevance next season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Power Rankings: It’s Practically March Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 26th, 2016

It is practically March, isn’t it? We’re just four days away. You can almost feel the bubble shrink as at-large hopefuls drop games they shouldn’t be dropping and simultaneously expand whenever a recent winning streak is validated with a big win. As of now, the Big 12’s bubble situation is relatively clear. Barring a flurry of wins from Kansas State within the next two weeks, the conference will send seven teams to the NCAA Tournament. The last team among the seven is Texas Tech. When Big 12 coaches picked them to finish 10th a few months ago, how could anyone have seen this coming?

THE EVIDENCE. (Big12Sports.com)

HERE IS THE EVIDENCE. LOOK AT IT. LOOK AT ITTTTTT (Big12Sports.com)

Texas Tech has eight conference wins at this point which bodes well with how the selection committee has historically treated eight-win Big 12 teams. Oklahoma State (twice) and Texas (once) made it safely into the field of 68 with that number in 2014 and 2015. Much has been written about the Red Raiders’ rise from rotten to respectable, and rightly so, but we shouldn’t forget that they’ve gone on this five-game winning streak without the services of starting center Norense OdiaseTubby Smith is the favorite for Big 12 Coach of the Year and is also creeping into National Coach of the Year discussions as well. Now let’s hope all seven clubs make it to the Sweet Sixteen.

Big 12 Power Rankings

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VCU Holding Steady Under Will Wade

Posted by Ray Curren (@currenrr) on February 16th, 2016

As with any beloved family member, the longer Shaka Smart stayed in Richmond, the harder he was going to be to replace. And contrary to what many outside the area may think, VCU’s strong basketball tradition didn’t start with the charismatic and personable young coach, but it made him a seemingly impossible act to follow. A 2011 trip to the Final Four is the most notable element of Smart’s impressive coaching resume, but he also won at least 26 games in all six seasons at the helm, going to the NCAA Tournament in each of the last five years (VCU is one of 11 schools nationally with such a streak). In the school’s first three years since moving up to the Atlantic 10, Smart led the Rams to 12 conference wins each season and the Rams never received a seed lower than #7 in the NCAA Tournament.

Once under Shaka Smart, the young Will Wade is beginning to plant the seeds towards his own legacy at VCU. (Getty)

Once an assistant under Shaka Smart, the young Will Wade is beginning to plant the seeds towards his own legacy at VCU. (Getty)

VCU did its best to keep Smart from leaving. To call his departure inevitable is probably inaccurate, but they certainly knew it was a distinct possibility all along. After Smart bolted for the resource-rich program at Texas, it didn’t take long for VCU to appoint Will Wade to replace him. Wade, like Smart, is a young, energetic, new-age leader who never played at a high level. At 33 years old, he is currently the fourth-youngest Division I coach, but, unlike Smart, this young head coach brought two years of D-I head coaching experience with him, leading Chattanooga to a 27-7 Southern Conference record over two seasons from 2013-15. Wade was also an assistant for four years under Smart (including the Final Four campaign) prior to that, and was a key member of the Harvard dynasty in the Ivy League before joining the VCU staff.

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