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


  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


  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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Atlantic 10 Tournament: Semifinal Saturday Review

Posted by Joe Dzuback on March 15th, 2015

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent at the Atlantic 10 Tournament in Brooklyn this weekend. He filed this report after Saturday’s semifinal action.

No Bid Thieves Among Us

With four opponents and three NCAA-bound teams left in the field, the chances for an NIT-bound team to play on Saturday were a given. Which team that would be, however, was not decided until Rhode Island crushed George Washington in the evening quarterfinal session on Friday night. Rhody’s burgeoning bid steal attempt ended at the hands of Dayton on Saturday in a game that was not decided until there were 20 seconds left. Davidson, unsteady in its A-10 Tournament debut in the quarterfinals, was saved by a Jake Gibbs drive and bucket in a one-point win on Friday before falling to Virginia Commonwealth in the semifinals on Saturday. That means Dayton and VCU will meet today (1:00 PM ET) to determine which team will take the Atlantic 10’s automatic bid. Of the three widely-recognized NCAA-bound teams, Dayton and VCU seem to be securely on the #8/#9 seed lines. Only Davidson appears in slight danger, located on the #10 or #11 lines depending on whose bracket you consider.

Archie Miller Once Again Has Dayton Peaking in March (USA Today Images)

Archie Miller Once Again Has Dayton Peaking in March (USA Today Images)

Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley made the obligatory argument for an NCAA bid after his team’s loss. The Rams have the 10th-best defensive efficiency in Division I basketball, no losing streak longer than two games, a 20+ win season, etc. All are legitimate points, but he failed to mention Rhody’s RPI (#60), a strength of schedule ranking of #161, an 0-6 record versus top 50 teams and a 3-2 record versus teams ranked between #100 and #200. In the end, Hurley tacitly acknowledged that his Rams were a bit short: “If that’s [the NIT] where we end up landing we will be thrilled with that.” Expect the Rams along with conference-mates Richmond and George Washington to have at least one home game when the NIT field is announced on Sunday night. All three NIT-bound teams are projected as squarely on the #4 seed line or higher, making them very secure in that field. Massachusetts coach Derek Kellogg removed his team from consideration for a CIT/CBI bid, leaving St. Bonaventure, the remaining unclaimed team with a winning conference and overall record, waiting for a phone call Sunday night.

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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on February 25th, 2015

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Where They Stand

The conference regular season is two weeks away from finishing. Using possession-based offensive and defensive efficiency differences, three distinct tiers in the Atlantic 10 have emerged. The top five teams (see table below) — Davidson, Dayton, Virginia Commonwealth, Richmond and Rhode Island — have separated themselves from their nine conference-mates by an efficiency margin that will not disappear over the next four games. Richmond and Rhode Island present “Nitty Gritty” profiles that read “NIT” rather than “NCAA,” and Massachusetts, lodged in the middle tier but possessing a winning conference record and an non-conference schedule strength ranked second in the league, will test eyeballs and gut-checks. Those three aside, however, the conference records and efficiency margins are behaving more than in seasons past. This is not the conference that sent six teams to the NCAAs last March, but lacking any clear locks (Virginia Commonwealth might be the only team that could lose out and still draw an at-large invitation) the A-10 has three solid candidates for the NCAA Tournament and three more bubble teams. Reviewing the remaining games indicates that bids for the bubble will most likely come at the expense of the conference’s three strongest candidates.


These Teams Can Make the NCAA Tournament If…

  • Virginia Commonwealth (21-6, 11-3) — The Rams have to stay healthy and not lose to George Mason (RPI #221). Losing Briante Weber was a blow, but the recent two-game skid happened while senior wing Treveon Graham, coach Shaka Smart’s penultimate go-to guy, was sidelined with a ankle sprain. The three-game bounce back came with Graham in the lineup. In a one possession game when a score is necessary Smart will give Graham the ball and call for a clear out. VCU’s offense and defense took a step back during much of the season, but Graham’s numbers (usually coupled with one from an assortment of complementary parts, especially Mel Johnson and Moe Alie-Cox) have been strong enough to carry the team against most opponents on most nights. With one of the more challenging four games slates remaining (Richmond, Dayton, Davidson and George Mason have a combined conference record of 31-25, 0.554), the priority is to not lose to GMU. A 3-1 finish (24-7, 14-4) is probably optimistic, but anything less would put the Rams into tie-breakers with at least one other conference team. VCU holds the tie-breaker over Rhode Island (the most likely tie), but a loss to Dayton would give the Flyers the tie-breaker and should the loss come to Davidson, the Rams and Wildcats would have to muddle through the next set of tie-breaker rules to determine the #1 seed in Brooklyn. The Rams have been a regular fixture in the conference tournament championship game since joining the conference in 2012, but have yet to win either the regular season (and take the #1 seed in the tournament) or the tournament championship game.

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