Big 12 M5: 12.09.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 9th, 2015

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  1. West Virginia came into last night’s “all-Virginia-in-their-name” showdown with the Cavaliers with a sparkling 7-0 record. Things looked good initially with the Mountaineers taking a six-point lead into the dressing room… but then the second half happened. Second halves tend to occur in basketball and on this night, Bob Huggins’ team was not ready for it. The normally slow-tempoed Cavaliers put up 40 points in the final 20 minutes, fueled by London Perrantes’ 13 points for the half. Virginia is also known for its stingy defense, but once again, a major concern for West Virginia was finding any semblance of a functioning half-court offense. Playing a team like the Cavaliers is a good barometer to check where a team is three weeks before conference play starts.
  2. Consider the following sentence: Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger is one of the most underrated coaches in college basketball. This is a true sentence but CBS Sports‘ Gary Parrish dives even deeper into why this is a true sentence. He’s been everywhere and he’s won everywhere (sorry, UT-Pan American). He’s taken a fringe top 150 recruit and turned him into the defending Big 12 Player of the Year. He’s also… well, it’s all in Parrish’s column, which is another true sentence.
  3. If you were to take a closer look at Monday night’s Iowa State win over Buffalo, you’d notice that there were a lot more connections between the two programs than you’d realize. Cyclones point guard Monte’ Morris played his high school ball at Romulus High School in Michigan for newly-minted Buffalo head coach Nate Oats. Iowa State assistant Charlie Henry worked on Oats’ staff at Romulus High as well while fellow assistant T.J. Otzelberger has been friends with Oats since their days working together at Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater. The best thing to emerge from these two teams meeting didn’t happen on the floor but off the floor. Chris Williams, a publisher for Iowa State fan site Cyclone Fanatic, created a GoFundMe for Oats’ wife, Crystal, who is currently battling double-hit lymphoma. The goal was set at $10,000 which covered the cost of medical expenses for Oats’ family. With the help of Iowa State fans, they raised more than $12,000 in just four days. Beyond the game played at Hilton Coliseum that night, Oats, Iowa State and their fans will have a bond that lasts for many seasons to come.
  4. Texas hasn’t had the best start in Shaka Smart‘s first season in Austin. Texas-Arlington took the Horns to overtime last week but this time, they would not face stiff competition from another University of Texas System team as Texas-San Antonio was outrun by Texas 116-50 at the Frank Erwin Center. Some other incredible stats from this game: the Longhorns led by as many 67 points; they made 65 percent of their field goal attempts; and they were somehow tied with UTSA for one minute and 16 seconds. Anytime the coach can look up at the scoreboard, see that his team is up a bunch and empty his bench as soon as possible is a good might for said coach.
  5. Hello, my name is Nate Kotisso. At the one month mark of the college basketball season, I am admittedly wrong on most fronts; now, I am free to admit that I was wrong about Kansas State. I pictured the worst basketball atrocities to occur to this team in 2015-16, and while there’s enough time for said basketball atrocities to occur, they haven’t happened as of yet. The Wildcats are 6-1 with a kinda solid win at Georgia last week and an admirable effort in their only loss to North Carolina. With Coppin State coming into Manhattan tonight, it is possible for K-State to go into Big 12 play with potentially nine or more wins. Considering the massive meltdown from a season ago, this is good! Enjoy the goodness while it lasts!
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Big 12 M5: 12.04.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 4th, 2015

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  1. On a team as loaded as Kansas, it can be tough to keep track of the squad’s best performers on a week-to-week basis. Enter Topeka Capital-Journal beat writer Jesse Newell, who yesterday introduced a Luke Winn-inspired Power Rankings column chock-full of Vines, screenshots, advanced stats and (of course) rankings to separate the wheat from the chaff on the Jayhawks’ deep and talented roster. From his most recent column, it is abundantly clear that Wayne Selden is on a mission to disprove his doubters, but a team with as many weapons as Kansas can lead to someone different stepping up in any given week.
  2. Oklahoma continued its early season dominance, annihilating Central Arkansas 111-68 in Norman last night. The Sooners could do no wrong, winning the rebounding battle by 25 boards while shooting an eye-popping 13-of-22 from deep. That long-range marksmanship was led by Jordan Woodard, who shot a white-hot 6-of-7 from behind the arc. Not surprisingly, the visitors also struggled to contain Buddy Hield, allowing 19 points and seven boards to the NPOY candidate. The Sooners are now 5-0 and rank ninth in KenPom’s national ratings with an average margin of victory of 24.4 points. Things get more challenging fast, however, as Oklahoma faces its biggest challenge of the young season on Monday when it squares off against fellow unbeaten Villanova in Hawaii.
  3. The Shaka Smart era at Texas is off to a somewhat rocky start after losses to Washington, Texas A&M, Michigan and a close call against Texas-Arlington. According to Smart (via Austin-American Statesman writer Cedric Golden), the Longhorns’ prospects would be better if one or more of his players took on a clear leadership role. On the surface, guard Isaiah Taylor has the tools and confidence to become that guy, but he’s been a disappointment at the free throw line in close games. The Longhorns have two more games to find someone to fill that role before North Carolina rolls into town next Saturday.
  4. Opportunities to step up abound on Kansas State‘s young roster, and the first few weeks have allowed JuCo transfer Carlbe Ervin to emerge as a steady backcourt contributor. Ervin provides Bruce Weber some much-needed versatility, as he is capable of both spelling starting point guard Kamau Stokes or playing alongside him if other members of the rotation aren’t performing. Ervin will be in action tonight when the Wildcats take on Georgia in their first true road game of the season.
  5. Iowa State got a surprise when former NBA head coach and current ABC/ESPN commentator Jeff Van Gundy rolled into Ames on Thursday. Van Gundy may be best known as the former coach of the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that he cut his teeth at the college level, breaking in as a graduate assistant for Rick Pitino at Providence in the mid-1980s. Van Gundy leveled with the Cyclones about life in the professional ranks before drawing an interesting comparison between Steve Prohm‘s team and the current Golden State Warriors. He hinted that the Cyclones would do well to follow the Warriors’ lead, noting that it was Stephen Curry and his teammates’ emphasis on defense that took them from being a very good team to world champions.
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Big 12 M5: 11.30.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on November 30th, 2015

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  1. Perhaps it’s because they stayed home over Thanksgiving, but it feels like Oklahoma has flown under the radar during the season’s opening stages. The Sooners have been every bit as good as expected, though maybe even better. Buddy Hield has been fantastic and they’re getting the inside play they need from Ryan Spangler and Khadeem Lattin, but I may be most impressed by Oklahoma’s defense, which has just been outstanding in the early going. On Sunday, the Sooners forced Wisconsin into its worst shooting day in nine years en route to a 65-48 win. While the Badgers aren’t what they’ve been over the last few years, everyone can agree that allowing 23.5 percent shooting against them should turn some heads. Oklahoma’s December 7 showdown with Villanova is an absolute must-watch game.
  2. Iowa State point guard Monte’ Morris continues to have increased success under Steve Prohm, as he put together another standout performance over the weekend in the Cyclones 84-73 victory over Illinois in the Emerald Coast Classic final. So far in his career, Morris has floored us with his vision and scoring ability, but he flashed a new dimension on Saturday night as he pulled down a career-high nine rebounds, all on the defensive end. While no one should ever mistake the undersized Morris for an answer to the Cyclones’ challenges inside, it has to be inspiring for Prohm to know that his floor general doesn’t mind battling it out with high-major bigs.
  3. A 2-3 start isn’t what Texas had in mind to begin the season, but while it isn’t time to panic, it isn’t unreasonable to have some concerns. The biggest trouble spots have been the Longhorns’ inability to finish (50.4% FG at the rim), generate transition offense and pull down defensive rebounds. While losses to a mediocre Washington team and a rebuilding Michigan squad won’t look good on the resume in March, it’s important to bear in mind that the Longhorns have played just one home game. Shaka Smart was thrown right into the fire by having to open the season in China with three games against competitive teams in the Bahamas shortly after, but with a much more favorable schedule coming over the next two weeks, the Longhorns need to start finding their footing. For what it’s worth, I think they will.
  4. Everyone is excited to see how quickly Cheick Diallo will make an impact for Kansas, but there’s another newcomer a little further off the radar to whom people should already start paying attention. Oklahoma State forward Chris Olivier has been a godsend for the Cowboys. The Eastern Illinois transfer is averaging 13.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game off the bench and has committed just two turnovers in 121 minutes of run. He’s been efficient at the rim (66.7% FG) as well as on jump shots (52.2%) and is drawing fouls all over the place. The toughest part of the Cowboys’ non-conference schedule is still ahead of them with meetings against Tulsa, Minnesota and Florida on tap for December, so it’s important to contextualize Olivier’s performance, but for the time being, he’s been a huge boost, especially with Phil Forte nursing an elbow injury.
  5. After last Tuesday’s meltdown against North Carolina, the young Kansas State Wildcats were faced with the potential of letting another late lead slip away, but they held on to beat South Carolina State 68-66 on Sunday to move to 5-1 on the year. Senior Justin Edwards led the way with 18 points, including four clutch free throws, to go with eight rebounds and six assists. As they have been all season, the Wildcats cleaned up on the glass, but sloppy play down the stretch almost turned this one into the latest in a series of awful non-conference losses for Kansas State over the years. Edwards, Wesley Iwundu and company get thrown right back into the mix with a home tilt against Coppin State sandwiched by road games at Georgia and Texas A&M over the next two weeks.
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Big 12 M5: 11.27.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on November 27th, 2015

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  1. After falling to intrastate rival Texas A&M in the opening round of the Battle 4 Atlantis, Texas bounced back in its revenge game against Washington. The key to the Longhorns’ ultimate success this year may be senior big man Cameron Ridley. Entering the season, Ridley was expected to be the player most likely to struggle with the transition to Shaka Smart’s system, but he’s proving everyone wrong. As we mentioned on Monday, Ridley has instead become a focal point of the Longhorns’ offense. His usage rate is up six percent from last season and his per 40 minutes numbers (20.7 points and 16.3 rebounds per game) are impressive. The one concern is that the senior is struggling to adjust to the new rules, fouling out in the Longhorns’ two losses. But assuming the big man can find a way to stay on the floor, it’s clear that he’ll be an important piece for Texas this season.
  2. Another Big 12 big man putting together an incredible run early this season is West Virginia’s Devin Williams, as the junior scored 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a 67-59 victory over Richmond in Thursday’s semifinals of the Las Vegas Invitational. “The turning point was every time we threw it to Devin Williams,” head coach Bob Huggins said after the game. “He was just great, scoring for us. And when we missed, he was rebounding. He was terrific.” Williams has recorded a double-double in all five of the Mountaineers’ games this season.
  3. After a woeful performance against Michigan State last week in the Champions Classic, many analysts rightfully questioned Wayne Selden’s role in Kansas’ offensive attack. The junior shot just 3-of-12 from the field with only one assist against the Spartans, but what a difference a week makes. After a victory over Vanderbilt in the finals of this week’s Maui Invitational where the junior wing averaged 19.3 PPG and shot 71 percent from three-point range, Selden was named Co-MVP of the tournament (along with teammate Frank Mason). While those numbers won’t hold up over the course of the full season, it looks like the controversial player is returning to the form he found in South Korea during the World University Games. This development certainly makes him the “ultimate X-factor” for a team that, with the addition of freshman big man Cheick Diallo, can certainly challenge for a national title.
  4. Five Big 12 teams will hit the floor today. Baylor should cruise against Arkansas State; Oklahoma State returns to Stillwater for the second game of its back-to-back with Long Beach State; and Iowa State faces Virginia Tech prior to its potential NCAA Tournament rematch with UAB on Sunday. The two most interesting contests belong to Texas and West Virginia, however — two teams looking to pick up some resume-building wins. The Longhorns will take on Michigan in the fifth-place game at the Battle 4 Atlantis while the Mountaineers get San Diego State in the Las Vegas Invitational final. Both teams are expected to finish in the middle of the pack in Big 12 play, so picking up a couple of solid non-conference victories will be key to their NCAA Tournament hopes.
  5. Finally, one interesting statistical note coming out of the first two weeks of the season. While Big 12 football is known nationally for its lack of defense, that shouldn’t be the case when it comes to basketball. All 10 of the league’s teams rank among the top 100 of KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings, and seven of those are currently in the top 40. If even the bottom of the league is playing good defense, we could be setting up for an exciting conference season that features a number of nail-biting contests that come down to one play.
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Feast Week Mission Briefing: Texas in the Battle 4 Atlantis

Posted by Chris Stone on November 25th, 2015

It’s Feast Week in college basketball. To get you ready for the Big 12’s representation in the various holiday tournaments this week, our Feast Week Mission Briefings continue today.

Catching Up: The beginning of the Shaka Smart era in Austin got off to a rough start when the Longhorns were upset by Washington in their opener. Outside of guard Isaiah Taylor‘s 27 points, Texas struggled to put together a competent offensive attack, shooting just 26 percent from the field against the Huskies. The Longhorns bounced back with a 67-56 victory over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in their home opener, and Smart’s first win with the program was highlighted by an impressive performance from big man Cameron Ridley (14 points, 14 rebounds). But even in victory, the Longhorns failed to break the one point per possession mark on offense. Looking at their offensive stats on KenPom feels like you’re about to run headfirst into a brick wall:

texas offense

Luckily, the season is long and those numbers should improve as the players become more comfortable in Smart’s system. As the coach reminded everyone during a Monday press conference: “We have to focus on the process. […] The process isn’t pretty. It’s not sexy. But it’s something that works.”

Opening Round Preview: The Battle 4 Atlantis field is stacked this year and Texas won’t get an easy start as the Longhorns face in-state rival Texas A&M in the opening round of the tournament. KenPom gives Smart’s team a 43 percent chance of winning against an A&M team that features three seniors and a cabal of freshman — many of whom chose the Aggies over Texas. A&M is undefeated through four games this season and shares a common opponent with the Longhorns in Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The Aggies fared slightly better against the Islanders than the Longhorns did, beating them by 25. Billy Kennedy‘s team has been potent offensively and are owners of the fifth best effective field goal percentage in the country, but haven’t yet faced an opponent near the quality of Texas. The Longhorns will need to dig in defensively if they want to make their way into the second round. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 M5: 11.23.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on November 23rd, 2015

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  1. It’s been an eventful weekend for Cheick Diallo‘s eligibility struggle. After he was allowed to travel to Maui on Friday with the Jayhawks, Bill Self opened up to the media about the process the school has endured to clear the big man. So far, Kansas has hired two separate investigative firms, visited Diallo’s high school on six different occasions, and sent a letter listing 19 shortcomings with the NCAA’s investigation. As of Sunday morning, Kansas still had not heard from the governing body regarding its most recent efforts. What happens next is really anybody’s guess, but the Mali native is with the team on island and is presumably ready to go should he get cleared sometime during the tournament.
  2. After hanging tough against Utah before losing last Thursday, Texas Tech bounced back with a pair of wins to finish fifth in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. The Red Raiders knocked off Mississippi State and their highly touted freshman Malik Newman on Friday before defeating Tubby Smith‘s former school, Minnesota, on Sunday. For his part, Smith seems very happy with his position, telling the media, “I’m really happy we were able to come to a place like Texas Tech where they’ll celebrate you and not just tolerate you.” With a roster showing promise, the Red Raiders are poised to improve their Big 12 record this season, something that should give Texas Tech fans more reasons to celebrate Tubby’s team.
  3. There was also some recent cause for celebration in Austin, as Shaka Smart picked up his first win as the Texas head coach when the Longhorns defeated Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 67-56, in their home opener. They were led by big man Cameron Ridley, who scored 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field and pulled down 14 rebounds. After shedding some pounds in the offseason, Ridley is becoming a focal point of Smart’s attack and it has become clear that he intends to keep feeding him the ball going forward. Getting the senior some high percentage looks is a priority for a team that is shooting just 34.4 percent on two-point attempts through two games.
  4. Travis Hines at the Ames Tribune took an opportunity to draw some early conclusions about Iowa State, and one of the things he noticed is just how much balance with which the Cyclones are playing through 80 minutes of game action. Iowa State so far has four players with usage rates higher than 20 percent, suggesting that they’re generously spreading the love on offense. The one starter not above that mark? Senior Georges Niang. But make no mistake, the team still knows Niang is its rock. “It’s good to have the foundation,” Naz Mitrou-Long said, “and Georges has been our guy for that for the last couple years.”
  5. Despite missing three rotation players, Oklahoma State eked out a victory over Long Beach State on Sunday to finish third in the Charleston Classic. The Cowboys led by seven points with 39 seconds remaining when Jawun Evans picked up a personal foul and Chris Olivier was hit with a technical. Long Beach State would get it to within a single point as a result, but four clutch free throws by Tyree Griffin sealed the game for the Cowboys. Interestingly enough, the two teams will turn right around and play again on Friday in Stillwater, but this time Oklahoma State figures to be closer to full strength.
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Big 12 M5: 11.16.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 16th, 2015

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  1. Kansas had no problem whatsoever handling Northern Colorado to open the season on Friday night, blowing out the Bears 109-72. The Jayhawks’ scoring output was their highest since the famous Elijah Johnson game at Iowa State in 2013 (although that game needed overtime). Everyone played a role in Friday night’s win, but the most impressive performance came from wing Brannen Greene, who went a perfect 5-of-5 off the bench from deep. Like most players whose value is tied up in his ability to make three-pointers, Greene is streaky, so whether he carries his hot start into tomorrow night’s Champions Classic meeting against Michigan State will be something to monitor.
  2. Another big story on Opening Night was the inaugural game of the Shaka Smart era at Texas, but it wasn’t quite the start fans had in mind as the Longhorns fell to Washington in a sloppy, foul-plagued rockfight in Shanghai. The game’s 83 possessions were the most for Texas in a regulation game since a close loss to an uptempo BYU team in in 2013. Havoc is of course Smart’s favored style of play and brand — and there’s no reason to doubt that it will take off once he has his own players in the fold — but in the meantime, it’s also fair to question whether pushing the pace is the best idea for a Longhorns group prone to suspect shot selection.
  3. When it comes to the teams who have the best shot of snapping the Jayhawks’ long streak of 11 straight conference titles, an overwhelming majority of the talk has centered on Oklahoma and Iowa State. However, Baylor could be right there with those two schools if its 97-55 dismantling of a decent Stephen F. Austin team is a sign of its long-term potential. We wouldn’t expect the Bears to consistently post eFG% rates in the high 70s as they did in Friday night’s victory, but the big win should serve as a new reminder to not sleep on Scott Drew’s squad this season.
  4. Speaking of Big 12 contenders, Oklahoma was idle over the weekend, but the Sooners will face a tough opener on the road Tuesday night as they travel to face Memphis. The Tigers under Josh Pastner have been competitive over the last few years but their fan base has grown impatient with the team’s inconsistency and lack of postseason success. Still, Memphis features a deep rotation inside that could make scoring difficult for Buddy HieldRyan Spangler, Khadeem Lattin and JeMuni McNeace.
  5. Lastly, the handful of Big 12 coaches facing the most pressure this season enjoyed worry-free debuts. To start off, Bruce Weber‘s new-look Kansas State squad beat a terrible Maryland-Eastern Shore team. Wesley Iwundu probably isn’t cut out to play a starring role on a good Big 12 team, but he looked the part on Friday, scoring an efficient 23 points on just 13 shots. Freshman Barry Brown was very good as well, posting 17 points in his collegiate debut. Meanwhile in Stillwater, Oklahoma State cruised to a 91-57 win over Tennessee-Martin. The Cowboys were on fire the whole game in a way we haven’t seen in a while, as their scoring efficiency of 1.34 PPP was better than any single performance from last season. Phil Forte scored 24 points on nine shots to lead the way. The Pokes have a few more cupcakes before the schedule starts to heat up, so we’ll see if they can continue to be effective.
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Thoughts From a Wacky Opening Night in College Basketball

Posted by Andrew Gripshover on November 14th, 2015

There were a lot of games and a lot of things that happened last night!  Some immediate takeaways on several of them…

Wisconsin. Yikes. You just don’t expect THAT from a Bo Ryan team, right? We all knew the Badgers were replacing a lot this season but it’s always been next man up in Madison. Perhaps it’s a little different though when you’re replacing the NPOY Frank Kaminsky, his sidekick Sam Dekker and many of the other key components of arguably one of the greatest offenses in college basketball history. Still, there shouldn’t be a drop from that to losing at arguably the nation’s greatest fortress to WESTERN ILLINOIS. Picked last in the Summit (as I’m sure you’ve heard by now), the Leathernecks weren’t exactly North Florida winning at Illinois or even Belmont winning at Marquette (both of which also happened last night). This was THE most shocking result of the night.

Shocker of Shockers on a Wild Opening Night

Shocker of Shockers on a Wild Opening Night

Monmouth over UCLA put in a late bid, though.  Playing 2,796 miles away from campus at Pauley Pavilion and with their body clocks at well after midnight Eastern time, the Hawks more or less debunked every time-zone theory by winning 84-81 in overtime. Maybe it’s fairer to say that the Bruins really lost this one, however, after blowing a 13-point lead with 12 minutes to play, and then up five with two minutes remaining in the extra session. Aaron Holiday had an end-of-game sequence to forget — first missing a jumper, followed by one-of-two free throws after an offensive rebound, and then badly bricking a game-tying three-pointer as time ran out. Perhaps tearing up San Diego State in a secret scrimmage isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

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Gametime: What We Want to See in Texas vs. Washington

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 13th, 2015

We’re just so excited that games are tipping off today that we had to spend some time thinking about what we’re about to see. As a result, the Pac-12 and Big 12 microsites got together to review this evening’s Texas vs. Washington matchup, the first regular season game in any big-time American sports league to be played in China. Shanghai is hosting the event as part of Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott’s initiative to open up Asia. Aside from the intrigue surrounding the location of the game, it will also feature the debut of Shaka Smart as Texas’s new head coach. On the other bench, almost everything except the head coach, Lorenzo Romar, is new for the Huskies. Ken Pomeroy’s ratings suggests that Texas is a nine-point favorite. Below Brian Goodman and Andrew Murawa discuss what they want to see out of each team tonight.

What We Want to See From Texas

Shaka Smart is all smiles as Texas tips off from China. (UT Athletics)

Shaka Smart is all smiles as Texas tips off from China. (UT Athletics)

True Havoc is still a little ways away, but there should still be some change in store for Texas as they tip off their season in China under new head coach Shaka Smart. At a minimum, the Longhorns’ 300th-ranked tempo from last season should tick up. Just don’t expect Texas’ defense to have the same look of Smart’s classic VCU teams. While the Rams drew heaps of praise for the way the guards pressured the backcourt, Texas’ backcourt defense was apathetic at best a year ago, with defensive turnover and steal percentages among the worst in the game. Instead, the Longhorns relied on their bigs to make life miserable for opponents inside, blocking more of their opponent’s shot than every team in the country. Quite the dynamic. While Isaiah Taylor, Javan Felix and Demarcus Holland should improve under Smart, it’s a good bet that his interior will remain the team’s bread and butter on the defensive end of the court. Ridley rightfully gets praise for his shot-blocking prowess, but Prince Ibeh is a highly effective post defender as well, and should earn a bigger role this season. Whether Ibeh shares the floor with Ridley or slides over when he needs a breather, expect Texas’ frontcourt to be very good once again, especially with Shaquille Cleare available after sitting out his transfer year.

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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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Texas Brings HAVOC to the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 3rd, 2015

Less than a week after the firing of Rick Barnes, Texas has hired its next head basketball coach. And as we speculated on Monday, VCU’s Shaka Smart is packing his bags for the Lone Star State. Once he’s introduced, Smart will be expected to immediately breathe new life into a program that had fallen into a lull over the last four seasons. Given its resources and location, the Longhorns have no legitimate reason to not be a force in the Big 12 and nationally on an annual basis, and Smart’s track record, enthusiasm and unique style of play make him Texas’ best bet to restore and possibly exceed its basketball peak from a decade ago.

As the new head coach at Texas, Shaka Smart will look to bring postseason success back to Austin.

As the new head coach at Texas, Shaka Smart will look to bring deep postseason runs back to Austin.

The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Smart is his vaunted “Havoc” defense. His Rams led the country in defensive turnover percentage every year between 2012-14 and turned in a top-10 performance again this season. Had Briante Weber stayed healthy, the Rams may have ended up leading the nation again in that category. Smart’s teams also excel on the other side of the turnover column, giving the ball away less than 18 percent of the time in every season under his watch.

As with any coach making the jump from a mid-major to power conference, though, Smart will face the challenge of competing with consistently good teams on a regular basis. The Rams famously beat #3 seed Purdue and #1 seed Kansas on their way to the 2011 Final Four, but in the four seasons that followed, VCU went just 16-19 against teams rated in the KenPom top 50 and failed to return to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. In fairness, many of those games came on the road or in neutral settings as the college landscape provides little incentive for power conference teams to travel to places like VCU, but Smart’s results against top-notch competition suggest that immediate success isn’t a given at Texas no matter how good a fit he is.

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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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