With Kansas’ Home Dominance Narrowing, It’s Game on in the Big 12…

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 4th, 2018

Texas Tech‘s victory at Allen Fieldhouse earlier this week was big for a few reasons. First, it announced to the college basketball world that Chis Beard‘s Red Raiders have arrived; it also established that Kansas‘ home loss to Arizona State last month was not a fluke; and it opened up meaningful discussion that the Jayhawks’ dominion over the rest of the Big 12 will be tested in a way that it hasn’t in the 13-year history of The Streak (TM). Let’s start with the Jayhawks’ newfound vulnerability, particularly at home. Prior to this year, Lawrence has been nothing short of a fortress for Bill Self’s team. You have to go all the way back to the 1975-76 season to find the last time when Kansas dropped two games at Allen by January 2. That isn’t to say that the storied gym won’t be a significant home court advantage for the Jayhawks more often than not, but the level of mystique that once led Baylor head coach Scott Drew to hold his team’s pregame huddle in the tunnel isn’t quite there this season — as evidenced by the Sun Devils and Red Raiders hanging 1.18 and 1.21 points per possession on the team, respectively.

With multiple home losses already on its resume, Kansas’ generational streak of conference dominance will be tested unlike another year. (Jamie Squire/Getty)

Of course, much of that has to do with Kansas’ ongoing depth issues that are feeding into the team’s shortfalls on both ends of the court. Self’s teams have always been leaned on activity and movement, and no one knows that more than senior Devonte’ Graham, the only player the head coach truly trusts at point guard. Graham has played fewer than 36 minutes just once in the Jayhawks’ last eight outings and his wear and tear is beginning to show. The lack of depth is also apparent down low, where 280-pound center Udoka Azubuike is admirably but not always effectively playing through back pain. Kansas figures to get some help with Silvio De Sousa reportedly nearing NCAA clearance and the Billy Preston investigation potentially ending soon, but as we noted last month, any reinforcements the team receives will only help but so much. This is still a top-notch offensive unit, but sustaining that level of performance will be dependent on diversifying an attack beyond three-pointers and lobs, which in turn will rely on keeping the current personnel healthy and fresh, mixed in with the occasional drive instead of a rushed jumper.

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A Quick Look at the Big 12’s Opening Weekend

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 29th, 2017

It’s not very often that the performance of a single conference as a whole is extensively discussed before the start of league play, but the manner in which the Big 12 asserted itself over the first six weeks of the 2017-18 season was nothing short of impressive. Nine of the conference’s 10 teams are ranked among the top 50 of KenPom‘s current rankings, and no team took more losses than Texas‘ three (of which two came in overtime against very good Duke and Gonzaga teams). In fact, the league finished non-conference play by ripping off 27 straight victories. Yes, there were some cupcakes in there, but there were also road and semi-road meetings against teams like Wichita State, Florida State and Nebraska. It’s gotten to the point where there’s been reasoned discussion on this site and others of the Big 12 sending 80 percent of its membership to the NCAA Tournament come March. Even if an underperforming team squelches that possibility, this conference will have meaningful games practically every night from now until March, beginning with tonight’s action. Here’s a quick look at each of the weekend’s five games.

Kansas remains the Big 12 favorite, but its competition is tougher than ever. (AP)

  1. West Virginia at Oklahoma State (Friday 7:00 ET, ESPNU) – The Cowboys project as one of the league’s worst teams, but West Virginia is just a 3.5-point favorite, which should tell you something about the Big 12’s parity and the intense challenge that the road represents this season, no matter the gym. Since installing the press prior to the 2014-15 season, Bob Huggins has not lost in Stillwater, and I expect that to continue tonight. Oklahoma State’s 10-2 start in the wake of Brad Underwood’s unexpected departure is a nice story, but the Cowboys are lacking in the three key areas needed to get the best of the Mountaineers: Ball control (117th nationally), defensive rebounding (174th) and drawing fouls (291st). Those will have to change if the Cowboys are to pull the upset.
  2. Baylor at Texas Tech (Friday 8:00 ET, Fox Sports Regional) – The Red Raiders stunned the Bears in Lubbock last season to give then-first year head coach Chris Beard a big home win. Three Baylor players fouled out of that game, which saw Texas Tech head to the foul line 43 times over the course of the night. That probably won’t be the case this time around, as Baylor ranks second in the country in foul avoidance. It also means that Texas Tech will need to find a fallback plan quickly if Baylor’s zone keeps Keenan Evans, Zach Smith and Zhaire Smith from attacking the rim as effectively as they have to this point in the season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Morning Five: 12.21.17 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 21st, 2017

morning5

  1. We all had been waiting for the fateful day when the NCAA would bring down the hammer on UNC basketball for its academic fraud and it happened last Friday to little fanfare. Of course, the reason for the lack of interest was that the NCAA’s sanctions were against Northern Colorado (a case we were unaware of as opposed to the much-publicized one against North Carolina). In its decision (full 45-page PDF here) the NCAA placed the men’s basketball program on probation for three years for academic fraud and recruiting violations. In addition to the probation, the school was given a one-year postseason ban (already served), pay back the money it received from its 2011 NCAA Tournament appearance, restrictions on scholarships and recruiting, and vacating records. They also gave seven coaches “show cause” penalties including a six-year penalty for B.J. Hill with the assistant coaches receiving penalties ranging from three years to five years. Despite his 86-98 record (the NCAA Tournament appearance was in his first year at the school), we would not be surprised to see Hill return to the sidelines after his show cause is up since he is only 44 years old.
  2. Kansas is off to an unexpectedly slow start this year, which some have attributed to the fact that they have been missing two key players–Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa–as they await word on their eligibility. We tend to agree with Brian Goodman’s analysis that the team’s problems are more than just the absence of a few players, but we may start to get part of the answer for that as it appears that De Sousa could be eligible to play as early as the team’s Big 12 opener against Texas on December 29. De Sousa, who reclassified from the class of 2018 and is trying to get the necessary test scores to be eligible, is a top-30 recruit who will give an additional inside presence. Preston’s status is more uncertain as the school is still sorting out issues related to an incident in November that the school is investigating to get a “clearer financial picture specific to the vehicle”.
  3. Speaking of Kansas, given the way that things seem to function around college sports in college towns we are not surprised with the news that no charges will be filed over a report that a 16-year-old girl was raped at a Kansas dorm. The District Attorney stated that they did not have enough evidence to prove that the sexual assault occurred. It does not appear that any Kansas players were implicated in the alleged assault there, but five players listed as potential witnesses although that does not mean they were eyewitnesses to the alleged assault just that they were reportedly in the vicinity of where the girl/assault reportedly happened. Perhaps the only noteworthy thing to come of this case was that the investigation led police to find drug paraphernalia that they tied to Carlton Bragg Jr, who subsequently transferred to Arizona State before taking a leave of absence from there for personal reasons.
  4. On Friday, North Carolina State suspended starting point guard Markell Johnson indefinitely for violating the school’s student code of conduct. We still are not sure what Johnson did to merit the suspending and based on the response from Kevin Keatts so far (not giving any additional information and not acknowledging that Johnson’s absence hurt them in Saturday’s loss to UNC-Greensboro) we doubt will get more clarity any time soon. Until Johnson’s indefinite suspension is over (already at two games, which is two more games that other ACC coaches would keep their starting point guard out for an indefinite suspension), the Wolfpack will have to find a way to replace Johnson’s 8.7 points, 6.6 assists, and ACC-leading 2.4 steals per game.
  5. Texas A&M will be without junior guard Admon Gilder for 2-3 weeks as he recovers from a knee injury he suffered in last week’s win over Savannah State. Gilder is averaging 12.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game and although the Aggies have depth at guard that comes primarily in the form of freshman, which will make it will be hard to replace those numbers and Gilder’s defense consistently. Despite the absence of Gilder and Robert Williams the Aggies were able to win their first game without Gilder with a 6-point win over Northern Kentucky. Fortunately for the Aggies they have almost a week and a half left before they begin SEC play when Gilder’s absence will be more signifcant.
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Reinforcements Can Help Kansas, But Not Where the Jayhawks Need It Most

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 12th, 2017

With the end of the semester approaching, 7-2 Kansas is due to receive some help with the addition of transfer wing Sam Cunliffe, and the possibility remains that some combination of big men Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa could also come on board as both work toward gaining eligibility. Though the Jayhawks could certainly use some additional frontcourt depth, any reinforcements they receive should not be mistaken for a cure-all as they look to bounce back from consecutive regular season losses for the first time since 2013.

Kansas’ perimeter-oriented approach has worked well, but not without some glaring weaknesses. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

As thin as Bill Self‘s team is down low, Kansas’ two-point defense remains among the very best in the country. Even after getting carved up by Arizona State on Sunday, the Jayhawks still rank among the top 30 nationally in two-point defense and 10 best in adjusted defensive efficiency. Although some help on the low blocks could keep Udoka Azubuike from worrying about foul trouble and prevent the head coach from turning to unusual measures like relying on a walk-on to play key minutes against power conference teams and dipping into the football roster for help, what would really make this defense whole is greater urgency from the backcourt in adequately defending the perimeter. Read the rest of this entry »

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