Big 12 Morning Five: 05.06.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on May 6th, 2016

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  1. The coaching carousel is essentially finished for the offseason, but it may not be long before we see movement of a bigger variety with expansion “likely” coming to the Big 12, per ESPN’s Matt Rittenberg. While the potential move would be football-driven — like most realignment shake-ups — it obviously would impact basketball as well, no matter who the Big 12 plucks. There are a handful of reasonable candidates for expansion (well, reasonable as far as realignment goes), but Cincinnati is particularly appealing and realistic for a few reasons, all of which make sense: Most importantly, they would instantly bring (what would be) the second-biggest TV market in the conference. The Bearcats also offer an underrated football program and, as we all know, a consistently strong hoops team. Lower on the list, their inclusion would provide a less taxing travel partner for West Virginia, which is 850 miles away from its closest Big 12 opponent, Iowa State. Cincinnati’s administration has been lobbying the Big 12 for inclusion over the past two years, and while that may not make them automatic, that familiarity certainly can’t hurt from either side. We’ll continue to keep an eye on any developments, but after a few years of rumblings, this summer could be the one where the talk finally leads to action.
  2. While there was never any reason to think that Josh Jackson would back out of his commitment to Kansas, the blue-chipper officially inked with the Jayhawks earlier this week, which means that Bill Self was allowed to talk publicly about him for the first time, and those first comments were pretty interesting. Among Self’s praises for the wing was the remark that “his (Jackson’s) impact on our program next year will be as much as any freshman will have on any college program.” While it’s traditional for coaches to talk up their newcomers, that particular comment sure sets a high bar when you consider how strong and deep the 2016 class is purported to be. Self went on to praise Jackson’s competitive nature, which is also worth pointing out in this space. One of themes of Kansas’ recent teams has been the lack of a vocal leader capable of igniting something within his more stoic teammates, so the degree to which that part of Jackson’s game translates in a much tougher environment will definitely be worth monitoring as the coming season wears on.
  3. Jamie Dixon‘s key challenge at TCU is finding prospects who are willing to spurn better programs in favor of one that has struggled mightily to achieve any semblance of success or build more than a passing following, but his first commitment in Fort Worth signifies that he’s up to the task. On Wednesday, the Horned Frogs secured the commitment of 2016 point guard prospect Jaylen Fisher, a former UNLV commit. The Running Rebels’ coaching shake-up led Fisher to reopen his recruitment, and he stayed loyal to his lead recruiter, former UNLV assistant Ryan Miller, who left Vegas to join Dixon’s staff. Perhaps more importantly, though, Fisher is a consensus top-75 recruit, which makes him TCU’s highest-ranking prospect in ages, crazy as that may sound. While the Horned Frogs will return most of their roster from last season, it’s also a roster that went 12-21, so Fisher will have a chance to make an impact from the get-go. It’s clear that Dixon is wasting no time in adding the level of talent that can change TCU’s fortunes in arguably the nation’s best conference.
  4. While there are still some players to be had through both the 2016 high school class and through transfer, the biggest Big 12 prospect still on the board is Jarrett Allen. The Longhorns are currently counting on rising senior Shaquille Cleare and freshman James Banks to fill the void left by the departures of Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh, which isn’t a great starting point. Cleare scored just 3.6 PPG last season as he struggled with conditioning and foul trouble, and while Banks may pan out eventually, he’s no guarantee to make an immediate impact. A commitment from Allen wouldn’t make Texas a top-ten team, but it would give Shaka Smart a little less to worry about as he looks to replace the Longhorns’ top three scorers, top three rebounders and top two shot blockers.
  5. Staying with the Longhorns, plans are reportedly being made for a December 17 match-up in Houston pitting Texas against Arkansas as part of a neutral court doubleheader. The Longhorns may be in rebuilding mode next year, but the Razorbacks will be a work in progress as well. Mike Anderson’s team is coming off a disappointing 2016 campaign that saw them go 16-16 and finish in a tie for eighth place in the SEC before losing its top freshman, Jimmy Whitt, to transfer. It won’t be the most intriguing match-up on paper regardless of what happens between now and then, but it’s early May; We’ll take whatever we can get.
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Big 12 Offseason Burning Questions, Part I

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 11th, 2016

In sending three teams to the Sweet Sixteen, two to the Elite Eight and one to the Final Four, the Big 12 put together a solid NCAA Tournament, but it wasn’t enough to put to rest its reputation as a group of postseason underperformers. The 2015-16 campaign wasn’t without its highlights, though. The story of the season nationally was the prevalence of experienced veterans over one-and-done interlopers, and the Big 12 played a key role in that narrative with seniors Buddy Hield, Perry Ellis and Georges Niang leading their teams deep into March. With those three studs (among others) moving on, though, it’s time to examine the burning question that each Big 12 team faces this offseason. Today we review Oklahoma, Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor and TCU.

Oklahoma (29-8, 12-6)

Oklahoma faces a tough rebuild as it loses Big 12 all-time leading scorer and National Player Of The Year Buddy Hield. (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

Oklahoma faces a rebuild as it loses Big 12 scoring king and National Player of the Year Buddy Hield. (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

What will the identity of post-Hield Oklahoma become? Between Hield, Isaiah Cousins, Ryan Spangler and Dinjyl Walker, Oklahoma is losing 64 percent of the scoring from last season’s lethal offensive unit. That’s a lot. Though we trust that head coach Lon Kruger will find a way eventually, in the meantime, the Sooners will face a tough road in the wake of heavy roster turnover. Jordan Woodard and Khadeem Lattin are expected back and there are some intriguing newcomers arriving in Kameron McGusty, Christian Doolittle and former Ohio State commitment Austin Grandstaff. But it’s tough to suffer the level of production Oklahoma is losing and still be expected to perform at a level comparable to last season’s Final Four squad. Very few programs in college basketball can reload that quickly.

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Big 12 M5: 03.21.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 21st, 2016

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  1. After extended struggles in the NCAA Tournament, the Big 12 pulled through by sending three teams — Kansas, Oklahoma and Iowa State — to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2009. What’s particularly interesting about the league’s current standing is that the three teams still alive are the ones we all thought had the best chance to make a run when the season started. It was tough to see Baylor, West Virginia, Texas and Texas Tech lose games they could have (perhaps should have) won, but all in all, Big 12 supporters have to like this year’s results.
  2. With Stephen F. Austin falling in a heartbreaker to Notre Dame on Sunday, you can expect the chatter connecting Brad Underwood to the Oklahoma State job to ramp up over the next couple of days. He checks many of the necessary boxes for the Cowboys: He’s been tremendously successful; he has connections to the area; he worked in the Big 12 earlier in his career and is a hot name who could reinvigorate the program and re-energize the fan base in very short order. We’ll have more on the coaching search in Stillwater a bit later today, but even though Underwood won just a single NCAA Tournament game this year, his potential addition to the program in Stillwater makes a lot of sense.
  3. In other Big 12 coaching news, a report Sunday indicated that Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon is strongly considering a move to take the vacant TCU job. While it isn’t often that you hear of a coach of Dixon’s stature being connected to a program with as little historical success as TCU, there are a few reasons why this could be a reasonable next step for the Horned Frogs. Dixon is a TCU alumnus and the school just unveiled substantial facilities upgrades, and the timing of Trent Johnson’s firing suggests that athletic director Chris Del Conte wants to take an aggressive approach towards escaping the Big 12 basement. The move could also be appealing from Dixon’s side, too. Fan unrest in Pittsburgh is growing as Dixon has turned only two of his 11 NCAA Tournament bids into Sweet Sixteen runs, and, though there’s not much to suggest he’s at risk of termination, the athletic director and chancellor who were in place when he was hired are now gone, so it’s fair to wonder just how much support he has from the current administration. Given all of those circumstances, the TCU job could represent something of an escape hatch. While the Horned Frogs don’t have the most well-regarded program around college basketball, we haven’t seen what they can do with an accomplished leader like Dixon at the helm. It’s also no secret that Texas is loaded with the kind of prep talent that can make TCU competitive with the right coach.
  4. Returning to the league’s NCAA Tournament performance over the weekend, it has to be especially redeeming for Iowa State to have extended its season for at least one more game. While this year’s campaign hasn’t been without its highlights, the Cyclones have just been through the wringer. First, they lost Naz Mitrou-Long eight games into the season. Then they started 1-3 in conference play, dashing hopes of knocking Kansas from the top of the Big 12 mountain and leading to a level of fan criticism that prompted head coach Steve Prohm to delete his Twitter and Facebook accounts. The team then spent a decent chunk of February working through various challenges with Jameel McKay before ultimately finishing fifth in the conference and going one-and-done at the Big 12 Tournament. Flash forward to this past weekend, and the Cyclones delivered one of the most refreshing stretches of play they’ve had all year. While it’s not a huge surprise to see Iowa State in the Sweet Sixteen, that they’ve done so in spite of all the challenges they’ve faced likely makes this run a little more special than it would be otherwise.
  5. The Big 12’s Sweet Sixteen action will tip on Thursday night when Kansas and Maryland meet in Louisville. At first glance, the most intriguing individual matchup in this game centers on how Mark Turgeon’s team will defend Perry Ellis. Doing so is a tall order, but with four regulars at 6’9″ or taller, the Terrapins certainly have the bodies capable of altering Ellis’ inside shots. Part of what makes Ellis such a matchup nightmare, however, is his ability to force opposing big men defend him in space, so it will be interesting to monitor how often Bill Self utilizes Ellis on the perimeter.
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TCU Fires Trent Johnson: Now What?

Posted by Chris Stone on March 14th, 2016

Late on Selection Sunday, CBS Sports‘ Jon Rothstein broke news that TCU head coach Trent Johnson had been fired by the school, a report that was confirmed on Monday morning in a statement issued by the program’s director of intercollegiate athletics, Chris Del Conte. The statement, posted on the athletic department’s website, twice mentions the Horned Frogs’ new $72 million arena, and suggests that the school has the tools in place to establish a successful program in Fort Worth. The primary concern is that Johnson failed to deliver the necessary results. “We simply did not have the success we envisioned,” Del Conte said.

Trent Johnson finished just 50-79 in four seasons at TCU. (rantsports.com).

Trent Johnson finished just 50-79 in four seasons at TCU. (rantsports.com).

The peak of Johnson’s success in his four seasons at TCU came last year when the Horned Frogs entered Big 12 play undefeated and ranked in the AP Top 25 for this first time since 1999. However, TCU finished just 4-14 in the Big 12 to close out the regular season before making a quick exit in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament. For Johnson, success against weak non-conference slates was the norm. The Horned Frogs went 39-11 in non-conference games under his direction, but their strength of schedule outside Big 12 play was never any better than 331st nationally, according to KenPom. Ultimately, though, Johnson’s inability to turn TCU into a respectable Big 12 program during his tenure appeared to mark the breaking point. The Horned Frogs won a mere eight league games over four seasons. “Your record is your record,” as Del Conte said.

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Takeaways from the Big 12’s Opening Night

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 10th, 2016

Over the last few years there has been at least one NCAA Tournament bid on the line during the Big 12 Tournament’s opening night. It was Texas making its case last season, with Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State before that. For better or worse, there was no such drama last night at the Sprint Center as the team with the shakiest prospects, Texas Tech, already seems safely in the field. The Red Raiders, however, may have dinged their seed with an upset loss to TCU. The games went on regardless, and Kansas State‘s win over Oklahoma State gives us a third game with Kansas in what will undoubtedly be a juiced Sprint Center this afternoon. Here are some quick takeaways on each team that played Wednesday night in Kansas City.

Kansas State Moves On to Face Kansas on Thursday Afternoon (USA Today Images)

Kansas State Moves On to Face Kansas on Thursday Afternoon (USA Today Images)

Kansas State. Kansas State’s offense was not pleasant in its last game against Oklahoma State, as a miserable 0.85 points per possession performance resulted in a three-point loss that effectively killed any hopes of a late season run. The Wildcats’ first half on Wednesday night was a different story, as they did a great job utilizing Dean Wade in the high post and Justin Edwards (four first half assists) in keeping the offense moving. This allowed Kansas State to build a 17-point lead that proved insurmountable. Wesley Iwundu admitted after the game that the Wildcats got “too comfortable” with a lead and let Oklahoma State back into the game in the second half. Their date with the rival Jayhawks will not be comfortable, but Bruce Weber said that his team simply needs to “enjoy the opportunity” and compete with them. Replicating their free-flowing offensive effort from last night’s first half will be the only way to challenge a Jayhawks team that hasn’t lost a Big 12 Tournament opener since 2009.

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Big 12 M5: 02.24.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 24th, 2016

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  1. Kansas took another step toward its 12th consecutive Big 12 title last night with a gutty 66-60 win at Baylor. The Jayhawks overcame one of its worst performances on the defensive glass in recent memory thanks to yet another hot shooting night and some big plays from junior Wayne Selden. Kansas’ defense also put the clamps down on Baylor over the last 13:48 of the second half, allowing just 13 points from the Bears over that span. With a two-game lead over West Virginia and just one road game remaining, it would take an unforeseeable disaster for Kansas to even share this year’s Big 12 title.
  2. The Jayhawks also displayed their long range firepower in last night’s victory, burying eight of their 19 attempts from deep. As detailed by fivethirtyeight.com‘s Matt GilesBill Self appears to have at long last shown a willingness to tailor his team’s attack to the strengths of its personnel — in this year’s case, to its three-point marksmanship. Kansas has posted three-point attempt rates above 35 percent in six of its last seven games and is shooting a white-hot 40.5 percent from distance since its late January loss at Iowa State. That accuracy has been one of the key drivers of Kansas’ current eight-game winning streak. The long-distance game only makes things easier for the likes of Perry Ellis and Landen Lucas inside, so a continued embrace of that skill is vital to a deep NCAA Tournament run.
  3. Texas Tech put what could be the final touches on an at-large bid with an 83-79 win over TCU last night in Lubbock. Led by a combined 48 points from Zach Smith and Aaron Ross, the Red Raiders knocked off their fifth straight league opponent, a feat the program hadn’t accomplished since the all-time great 1996 squad pulled it off en route to a Sweet Sixteen appearance. Tech’s final three regular season games are at Kansas, at West Virginia and at home against Kansas State, which means that even if Tubby Smith’s team were to lose out, it would be nearly impossible for its resume to diminish enough to send them back to the bubble.
  4. Kansas State on Monday night fell to 4-11 in Big 12 play after a loss to Texas, leading Sam Mellinger of The Kansas City Star to weigh in on Bruce Weber‘s struggles during his fourth season in Manhattan. Just like at Illinois, Weber has failed to duplicate the success he had with his predecessor’s recruits, and Kansas State’s conference record has dipped every year since it shared the conference title with Kansas in 2013. While missing the NCAA Tournament is a near-certainty for the Wildcats this year, next season could present an opportunity to make some noise. The young trio of Dean Wade, Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes will have a year of experience under its belt, while current veteran teams like Oklahoma, Iowa State and Baylor are set to undergo significant personnel changes over the summer. Expecting Kansas State to contend for the Big 12 crown in 2017 might be a step too far, but a run at a top-half finish should be in the cards if they show improvement.
  5. Oklahoma State, losers of seven of its last eight Big 12 games amid myriad injuries, will look to pull a huge upset tonight when it travels to Norman. The Cowboys nearly did the unthinkable last month in a narrow loss to Oklahoma, but a last-second missed shot by Jeffrey Carroll instead sent Oklahoma State to another of its eight losses to come by five points or fewer. The Pokes are the only team nationally to close out the regular season with four straight games against ranked opponents, but that’s unlikely to garner any sympathy for Travis Ford from a fan base whose patience with him has already worn thin.
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Big 12 M5: 01.18.16 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 18th, 2016

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  1. After two straight losses in which Iowa State gave up more than 90 points, the Cyclones picked up a 76-63 road win over Kansas State on Saturday. The lower point total was the product of both the Wildcats’ slower pace of play and a change in Steve Prohm‘s philosophy. After a slow start to conference play, Prohm explained that the Cyclones need to manage games in a way that limits the time they spend on defense. His theory is that Iowa State is so good on offense that the Cyclones would be better off spending a bit more of the game with the ball in their hands. The key, though, will still be for Iowa State to slow down opposing offenses. The Cyclones currently rank 114th in adjusted defensive efficiency–a stat which accounts for the quality of opponent and pace of play–and will be put to the test when Oklahoma comes to Ames tonight.
  2. Speaking of the Sooners, their 70-68 victory over West Virginia reopened the Big 12 race as four teams now sit at 4-1 in the conference. More importantly, though, the win may be a boon for the confidence of sophomore Khadeem Lattin. After missing the front end of a one-and-one that would have given Oklahoma a victory in Allen Fieldhouse two weeks ago, Lattin scored the game-winning bucket against the Mountaineers on a tip-in. “It was like a redemption,” Lattin told the media.
  3. Meanwhile at Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas bounced back from their loss in Morgantown on Tuesday with a 70-63 win over TCU. The Jayhawks’ two freshman big men, Carlton Bragg and Cheick Diallo, both got extended looks against the Horned Frogs. Bragg scored 10 points and grabbed four rebounds in 16 minutes, but it was Diallo’s performance that turned heads. After being featured only sparingly so far this year, Diallo played a season-high 21 minutes against TCU. His nine points, nine rebounds, and five blocks gave fans a taste of what Diallo can offer Kansas going forward. The improvement of the Jayhawks’ two freshman will be a critical component come March and it’s the reason Kansas is viewed as the title contender with the most upside going forward.
  4. Baylor‘s Lester Medford continues to come up big in key moments for the Bears. The senior point guard delivered a huge second half in Baylor’s win over Vanderbilt earlier this season, and on Saturday, he knocked down the game-winning three-pointer against Texas Tech. While most of the focus has been on Kansas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, the Bears victory quietly pushed them into a four-way tie for first in the Big 12.
  5. Our final note comes from the recruiting world. Last week, four-star center Udoka Azubuike declared his intention to announce his college choice at the Hoop Hall Classic this weekend. Azubuike, who is choosing between Florida State, Kansas, and North Carolina, appeared to be leaning towards the ‘Noles, but by Sunday rumors were swirling that Florida State was out of the picture altogether. As Kansas and North Carolina picked up predictions in 247Sports’ Crystal Ball, Azubuike’s guardian announced that the high school senior would be pushing back his decision. Just the latest in a long line of strange recruiting stories, it looks like this recruiting battle will continue for a while longer.
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Big 12 M5: Weekend Preview Edition

Posted by Kendall Kaut on January 8th, 2016

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  1. Iowa State hosts Baylor on Saturday as the Cyclones hope to defeat the only team that won a Big 12 game in Hilton Coliseum last season. The Bears, however, enter the game 0-3 on the road this season. One way Scott Drew’s team was able to win in Ames a year ago was on the strength of its shooting, but Taurean Prince will have to return to his road form of last season because he’s only shooting 25 percent away from Waco. Iowa State may now be down to a seven-man rotation, but the Cyclones have been able to survive so far in large part because of the lowest defensive free throw rate in the country. If Deonte Burton continues to play so well — the transfer is averaging 11.0 points in just 18 minutes per game — the Cyclones will have a great chance at a top-three finish in the Big 12 race.
  2. Texas Tech has been the surprise of the season thus far, but it will have a huge task ahead on Saturday in Lubbock. Fresh off a triple-overtime win against Oklahoma, Kansas will be looking to avoid a letdown. The Red Raiders played Iowa State close on Wednesday night, but struggled to stop Matt Thomas late in the game. That challenge will be heightened against a Kansas team that ranks second nationally in three-point offense at 45.7 percent. In his third season with the Red Raiders, Tubby Smith seems to have made a leap with this team (#6 RPI; #39 KenPom). If they can pull off the upset, it could be a really nice Selection Sunday two months from now.
  3. After a legendary 46-point, eight-rebound, seven-assist performance from Buddy Hield against Kansas, the Sooners will host Kansas State on Saturday. The Wildcats have been much better than many expected this season, but because of scheduling and some bad luck they are staring down an 0-3 start in league play. Bruce Weber’s team managed to beat Oklahoma twice last season, which should prevent the Sooners from overlooking them.
  4. West Virginia can start 3-0 in Big 12 play with a win over Oklahoma State on Saturday. The Mountaineers’ vaunted press has put the team second nationally in three-point defense and first in opponents’ turnover percentage. With games coming against Kansas and Oklahoma next week, West Virginia’s schedule will ramp up soon, which is why it’s so important to win the games in which you’re favored. In contrast, Oklahoma State has been killed by the recent news that Phil Forte is probably out for the season, but Jawun Evans has shown how special the Cowboys’ backcourt can be a year from now. Evans had nine assists against Baylor and got to the line 10 times against TCU.
  5. Life has been difficult without big man Cameron Ridley, but Texas can get to 2-1 in Big 12 play with a win at TCU on Saturday. Javan Felix‘s 48 percent shooting from three-point range and Isaiah Taylor‘s average of 26.0 points per game in the first two Big 12 games give the Longhorns hope. With Trent Johnson at the helm and an investment in upgraded facilities, the future appears bright at TCU. However, TCU’s offense ranks 236th in KenPom, and with road trips to Baylor and Kansas next week, a loss to the ‘Horns could put the Horned Frogs at major risk of starting 0-5 in Big 12 play.
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Big 12 M5: New Year’s Day Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 1st, 2016

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  1. West Virginia closed out its non-conference schedule with an 88-63 road win over Virginia Tech on Wednesday night. The Mountaineers were led by sophomore guard Jevon Carter who finished with 18 points. With Juwan Staten’s graduation, Carter has played a much larger offensive roll this season. He’s scoring 13.0 points per game and has improved his outside shot in 2015-16. Already a pesky defender, Carter could be positioning himself for an All-Big 12 type season.
  2. Monte Morris continues to impress. His 10-point, 11-assist, zero-turnover performance in Iowa State’s 104-84 win over Coppin State is Morris’ latest quality outing. While Morris isn’t leading the NCAA in assist-to-turnover ratio for a third straight season (that honor belongs to Pitt’s James Robinson), he is still averaging nearly six assists per turnover. His impressive distribution is keeping teammates on their toes. “Just get to an open area,” Georges Niang told the media after the Cyclones’ win, “because I know he’s going to zing one past someone’s head and hopefully it doesn’t hit me in the face and it hits me in the hands.”
  3. Big 12 play begins Saturday and as usual the five game slate offers up some interesting matchups. There are two games between top 25 teams to open the conference season. Baylor will travel to Lawrence for an opening day contest against Kansas. While the Bears have a nice home win against Vanderbilt on their resume, they failed to pick up other quality wins during non-conference play. They’ll need to find a few resume builders over the remainder of the season if they want a high seed in the NCAA Tournament and there would be no better place to start than with an upset of the Jayhawks in Allen Fieldhouse.
  4. The other Top 25 matchup on the schedule pits Iowa State against Oklahoma in Norman. The big question is whether or not the Cyclones will be able to generate enough defensive stops. Iowa State is giving up 81.3 points per game over their last three contests and opponents are now converting 35.7 percent of their threes against the Cyclones. That may not bode well against the Sooners who are shooting 46.2 percent from behind the arc this season. If both Oklahoma and Kansas pull of the victories as expected, we could be treated to a matchup between #1 and #2 in Lawrence on Big Monday.
  5. The remainder of the Big 12 slate pits Texas Tech against Texas, West Virginia against Kansas State, and Oklahoma State against TCU. The Red Raiders are looking for their first win versus the Longhorns since 2014. Meanwhile, the Mountaineers will be looking to start off conference play with a road win after going 4-5 away from home in the Big 12 last season. The battle between the Cowboys and the Horned Frogs will give both teams an opportunity to pick up what may be one of their few Big 12 wins this season.
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Big 12 New Year’s Resolutions: Part I

Posted by Chris Stone on December 30th, 2015

The year 2016 is right around the corner and along with it comes Big 12 conference play, as the league gets underway with six games on January 2. Although we know that only a fraction of people ultimately keep their New Year’s resolutions, we figured it wouldn’t hurt to come up with a few challenges for teams in the Big 12 once the ball drops tomorrow night. This is part one of a two-part series.

Kansas: To give Devonte Graham the praise he deserves

Devonte Graham has brought a number of positive changes to Kansas. (Charles Riedel/The Associated Press)

Devonte Graham has brought a number of positive changes to Kansas. (Charles Riedel/The Associated Press)

The focus on Kansas to this point has reasonably and rightfully been on the improved play of Wayne Selden and the consistent performance of senior forward Perry Ellis. However, the Jayhawks’ most under appreciated asset may well be sophomore point guard Devonte Graham. Graham’s move to the starting lineup has been linked to Selden’s rise because it helped free him up offensively, but Graham has provided much more. The sophomore has helped increase the number of turnovers the Jayhawks are causing on defense while simultaneously decreasing the number of turnovers Kansas commits on offense by reducing his personal turnover rate from 20.1 percent to 9.9 percent. Graham’s sophomore emergence has made the Jayhawks a national title contender and he deserves more praise for the role he’s played.

Iowa State: To find rest and relaxation for the Cyclones’ rotation

Naz Mitrou-Long’s recovery from hip surgery hit the Cyclones hard. With Deonte Burton becoming eligible at semester, it looked like Iowa State was set to have a quality eight man rotation heading into conference play. Now that Mitrou-Long’s season is over, coach Steve Prohm has made it clear that he intends to stick with a seven man rotation for the remainder of the season. Iowa State ranks 347th in percentage of bench minutes played with just 21.4 percent of available minutes coming off the bench. Last season, Wisconsin reached the Final Four with similar numbers, so the limited rotation doesn’t rule out a trip to Houston for the Cyclones, but they’ll need all the rest and relaxation they can get on the way there. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 M5: 12.30.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on December 30th, 2015

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  1. There will be very few easy games in the Big 12 this season. One of the criticisms of the conference last year was that the bottom of the league wasn’t very good. That should change in 2015-16. On Tuesday, Texas Tech picked up their fourth win over a team ranked in the top 100 on KenPom with an 85-70 victory over Richmond. The Red Raiders lone non-conference loss came against a quality Utah team. Tech is predicted to finish 8-10 in the league which would be the school’s best mark under head coach Tubby Smith. The Red Raiders also have a chance to pick up a road win against Arkansas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. If things fall in their favor, they could find themselves with a shot at their first NCAA Tournament birth since 2007.
  2. Kansas State will also contribute to a deeper Big 12 in 2015-16. With a dominating 75-47 win over Saint Louis on Tuesday, the Wildcats pushed their non-conference record to 10-2. Kansas State’s calling card has been its defense and that was no different in the win over the Billikens. Saint Louis scored a meager 0.67 points per possession in Manhattan. While the Wildcats don’t have the same quality wins that Texas Tech has, a few upsets in Big 12 play could push them onto the bubble come March.
  3. Texas announced that senior center Cameron Ridley will be out 8-10 weeks due to a fracture in his left foot. In the Longhorns’ first game without Ridley, Texas fell 71-66 to Connecticut in Austin. Ridley’s absence was felt on both ends of the floor. The Huskies outscored Texas 40-28 in the paint on Tuesday. Ridley’s replacement, Prince Ibeh, played just 18 minutes and picked up his fourth foul with nearly nine minutes remaining. Without Ibeh or Ridley on the floor, opponents will be able to challenge the Longhorns inside and UConn did so successfully. Forced to rely on a more perimeter oriented attack, Texas floundered. The Longhorns shot 39 percent from the field and 6-of-23 from three-point range. How Shaka Smart adapts to Ridley’s absence early in conference play will be crucial to Texas’ Big 12 success.
  4. Kansas beat UC Irvine, 78-53, to close out its non-conference schedule, but for the second season in a row the story out of Lawrence is becoming the playing time of a highly touted freshman. Cheick Diallo is averaging only 11.2 minutes per game so far and played just six minutes against the Anteaters. Bill Self told the media afterwards that he thinks “our experienced guys are playing better.” While that may be true at the moment, there’s no doubt that Diallo has a higher upside than just about anyone in the Jayhawks’ frontcourt rotation. Allowing Diallo to develop now could benefit Kansas in March, but with Baylor and Oklahoma on tap to open Big 12 play, it seems unlikely the freshman will be seeing significant playing time in the near future.
  5. There are two Big 12 games remaining ahead of the start of conference play on Saturday. Iowa State should cruise against Coppin State tonight, but West Virginia has a much more interesting matchup. The Mountaineers will play their first true road game of the season when they travel to Blacksburg, VA to face Virginia Tech. West Virginia is favored in the contest, but road games are always tricky. Whatever the result, the experience in a hostile environment should prove useful as the Mountaineers open their Big 12 schedule with road trips to Kansas State and TCU.
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Big 12 M5: 12.16.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 17th, 2015

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  1. The Kansas offense is humming, thanks in large part to its dual point guard lineup, posits Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports. With a more traditional lineup last season, the Jayhawks really struggled to find a balanced attack, particularly when Wayne Selden and Kelly Oubre had down nights. With Frank Mason and Devonte Graham at the controls this season, though, the Jayhawks are flying. They aren’t immune to the occasional slump as we saw in the first half of last weekend’s win over Oregon State, but we’ve seen enough to know that they’re going to bring it more often than not.
  2. A tip of the cap goes to Texas Tech for their 79-67 win over South Dakota State. Senior Toddrick Gotcher led the way with 17 points including 3-of-6 shooting from distance to go along with five boards. The Red Raiders lost the rebounding battle, but overcame it thanks to ten steals and just nine turnovers on offense. The win is significant for Texas Tech because coming into the game, the Jackrabbits were ranked higher in KenPom than schools like Georgetown, Syracuse, Providence and Saint Mary’s.  Tubby Smith‘s team had been on the hunt for a marquee win after missing their chance against Utah last month, so it was nice to see them pick one up Wednesday night. They still don’t project to contend for an NCAA Tournament bid, but significant improvement on last season’s measly three conference wins is a goal that should be within sight.
  3. The only other action from the Big 12 saw Baylor take down non-D-I foe Hardin-Simmons 104-59 in the first regular season college game ever played at Fort Hood in TexasJohnathan Motley, whose name can be seen peppering NBA Draft boards, paced the Bears with 23 points. Hardin-Simmons didn’t offer much in the way of competition, but it was still reassuring for Baylor’s chances to see Lester Medford play well, as he finished with 13 assists against two turnovers in just 18 minutes of action. Then again, pretty much everyone for Baylor had a good night handling the ball as they piled up 40 assists on 45 made baskets and committed just 15 turnovers as a team. Next up for Motley, Medford and the Bears is a big road game at Texas A&M on Saturday.
  4. TCU‘s administration opened up the newly-renovated Schollmaier Arena (formerly Daniel-Meyer Coliseum) to the media for tours in advance of the facility’s grand re-opening this weekend, and it’s a huge step up from the previous accommodations which were, to be kind, lacking. In addition to some of the standbys of renovated arenas like widened concourses and new bathrooms and concession stands, the Horned Frogs’ new digs include posh circular locker rooms, a brand-new video board, a club with floor-to-ceiling TVs and an area where boosters can watch postgame press conferences through a glass wall. Pretty swanky if you ask us. The Horned Frogs christen their made-over home Sunday against Abilene Christian.
  5. We discussed the loss of Iowa State sharpshooter Naz Mitrou-Long yesterday, but CBSSports.com took a closer look at what his absence means for transfer Deonte Burton, who is set to make his Cyclones debut on Saturday. Burton arrived in Ames from Marquette, where he had a reputation as a rim-rocking attacker, but Steve Prohm may need a more diverse array of contributions from the 6’3″ guard if Burton is to help Hallice Cooke and Matt Thomas shoulder Mitrou-Long’s production.
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