Feast Week Mission Briefing: Texas Tech in the Cancun Challenge

Posted by Chris Stone on November 22nd, 2016

Feast Week is here. To get you ready for the Big 12’s representation in the various holiday tournaments over the next week, our Feast Week Mission Briefings continue today with Texas Tech in the Cancun Challenge.

Catching Up: Texas Tech currently sits at 3-0 and the Red Raiders have easily dispatched their first three opponents (all ranked 240th or worse nationally, according to KenPom). Head coach Chris Beard entered his first season in Lubbock with a plethora of talent with which to work and it has shown in his rotations. Nine different players are averaging double-figure minutes so far and only two, Justin Gray and Zach Smith, are pushing the 30-minute mark. Meanwhile, four different players are scoring 10 or more points per game as Texas Tech has averaged 84.3 points per contest through the first three games of the season. Although they are not battle-tested, the Red Raiders have the look like a team with enough depth, length and athleticism to compete for a spot in the top half of the Big 12 standings.

Justin Gray is helping lead the way for Texas Tech (Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Justin Gray leads the way for Texas Tech (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Opening Round Preview: An opening round match-up with Auburn will be Texas Tech’s first real test of the season. The Tigers also enter the event at 3-0 but their three wins were over teams ranked among the KenPom top 200. A trio of freshmen — Danjel Purifoy, Mustapha Heron, and Jared Harper — are all scoring in double figures while posting an effective field goal percentage above 50 percent. This contest should represent a clash in styles as Bruce Pearl’s squad likes to push the pace (14.4 seconds per possession). The Red Raiders, on the other hand, are more methodical (17.0 seconds per possession).

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Big 12 M5: 11.16.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 16th, 2016

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  1. Another huge game from Frank Mason fueled Kansas’ 77-75 win over Duke last night. Even though the Blue Devils were without three of its star freshmen, the Jayhawks withstood plenty of their own challenges — from foul trouble to ineffectiveness beyond the arc (2-of-16 3FG) to a bad night at the charity stripe (9-of-19 FT). The Jayhawks also blew a late double-digit lead, but it ultimately did not matter as Mason cashed in a game-winning elbow jumper with 1.8 seconds remaining, the last of his 17 second-half points. Beating Duke in any environment is a big deal, but this victory should yield some real dividends come March if the Blue Devils play to their lofty expectations once healthy.
  2. Entering the season, one of the key questions for Baylor aside from point guard play was how the Bears would account for the loss of Rico Gathers. It’s a remarkably small sample size, but through two games including a top-five opponent in Oregon, Jo Lual-Acuil has answered the bell, averaging 15.0 rebounds and 7.2 blocks per 40 minutes  in the young season. The junior will be challenged next week when the Bears head to the Bahamas and again in December when they host Xavier, so stiffer competition should give way to a more confident read on Lual-Acuil, but in the meantime, he’s been one of the big surprises around the conference.
  3. Switching gears from a surprise to a known quantity, how great is it to have Oklahoma State‘s Phil Forte back? I suppose you could ask head coach Brad Underwood, but he was still working for Stephen F. Austin when the senior suffered a shoulder injury last November. He’s probably grateful nonetheless. The Big 12’s new elder statesman has stormed out of the gates, averaging 27.0 points per game and converting each of his first 17 attempts at the free throw line. The Cowboys are still looking for answers inside, but Forte and Jawun Evans (28.5 PPG, 5.5 APG, 4.0 SPG) are showing why they should be mentioned among the conference’s best perimeter tandems.
  4. I’ve thought a little more about Kansas State‘s lax non-conference schedule, and while I still think it has a chance to backfire, it’s worth mentioning the potential benefits as well. Given that Wesley Iwundu and D.J. Johnson are the team’s only scholarship upperclassmen who have been with the program all four years, there’s a big drop-off to the younger core of sophomores Dean WadeBarry BrownKamau Stokes and freshman Xavier Sneed. This isn’t the most analytical viewpoint, but building confidence matters for a relatively young team, especially when its league schedule starts with a road game at Kansas sandwiched between home games against Oklahoma and West Virginia. Steamrolling the likes of Hampton, Robert Morris and Boston College wouldn’t lead anyone to picking the Wildcats to win at Allen Fieldhouse, but it can be helpful in the overall scheme with the league being deeper than it usually is. While I’d be remiss if I didn’t think there was at least a sliver of self-preservation by head coach Bruce Weber at play here as well, the general approach makes sense for a team looking to build some experience and confidence during the non-conference slate.
  5. Texas Tech will be shorthanded for a while as the school revealed over the weekend that big man Norense Odiase broke a bone in his left foot. While the Red Raiders have started 2-0 in spite of Odiase’s absence, it’s still a tough blow since he missed 12 games just last season with a similar injury to his other foot. For what it’s worth, Chris Beard doesn’t anticipate Odiase missing as much time as he did last season, which would be nice. The Red Raiders don’t have much time to adjust, though, with Auburn and a potential game against Purdue’s twin towers looming in next week’s Cancun Challenge.
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Big 12 Opening Weekend in Review

Posted by Drew Andrews on November 15th, 2016

Opening night of the college basketball season gave nine of the 10 Big 12 programs a chance to begin their seasons with easy wins. Those match-ups went according to plan, as only Kansas played a team inside KenPom’s top 250 and, as a result, took the only loss. However, there was another surprise that could ultimately spell trouble for one of the contenders to the conference title. Let’s take a look at one key takeaway from each team coming out of the opening weekend.

  • Kansas – The Jayhawks came into the season with questions about leadership, scoring in the post, and whether Josh Jackson could make the leap to superstardom. The loss to Indiana in the Armed Forces Classic on Friday night only provided a first piece of an answer to one of those questions. Frank Mason III exploded for 30 points and nine assists in the defeat, making it seem that he might be Bill Self‘s Option A for leadership and scoring this season. In the absence of the graduated Perry Ellis, Landon Lucas and Carlton Bragg will be asked to replace some of his frontcourt scoring load. Lucas proved that he could play the necessary minutes last year, but Bragg rarely saw the floor. After a meager 18-minute outing on opening night, it seems as if Self still has questions about the sophomore forward. Meanwhile, Jackson struggled to find a rhythm on both ends of the floor. Early foul trouble and questionable shot selection meant he saw more of the bench than expected, but it will be interesting to see how Self utilizes him in tonight’s clash with top-ranked Duke.
Josh Jackson struggled against Indiana. Can he break out against Duke in the Champions Classic? (Photo: Kansas City Star)

Josh Jackson struggled against Indiana. Can he break out against Duke in the Champions Classic? (Photo: Kansas City Star)

  • Iowa State  Monte’ Morris began his quest for conference and national honors with a bang against Savannah State (21 points and 11 assists), followed by a quieter but efficient outing (18 points and three assists) last night against Mount St. Mary’s. Steve Prohm started five seniors in both games, and if Iowa State hopes to again challenge Kansas for the Big 12 title, it will need every bit of experience and leadership from that group to get there.
  • TexasJarrett Allen certainly looked the part of star in the making in his debut for the Longhorns, but despite his 16 points and 12 boards, Texas was outrebounded on the offensive glass in its first two outings against Incarnate Word and Louisiana-Monroe. Shaka Smart‘s HAVOC defense certainly creates great energy and scoring opportunities via turnovers, but he has to be concerned that his players are giving up so many second chances to teams that were clearly overmatched in talent and size.

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One Burning Question: How Will Chris Beard Use Texas Tech’s Newfound Depth?

Posted by Chris Stone on October 25th, 2016

It was an adventurous offseason in Lubbock. After taking Texas Tech to its first NCAA Tournament since 2007, head coach Tubby Smith left for the Memphis job that was vacated by Josh Pastner. Two days later, the Red Raiders hired former Little Rock head coach Chris Beard away from UNLV where Beard had committed to coach just a couple of weeks prior. The 43-year old already has a long history in Lubbock, spending 10 years working there as an assistant under the Knights (Bob and Pat) from 2001 until 2011. In addition to Beard, Texas Tech will also welcome seven transfers — two of whom will sit out this season — and a walk-on freshman. Four of those players will vie for playing time immediately on a roster that returns five players who averaged at least 19 minutes per game last season. Having that collection of talent will be a boon for Beard in his first season on the job, but figuring out how to put the puzzle together will be his most challenging task.

Chris Beard will have his work cut out for him in his first season at Texas Tech. (Brad Tollefson/A-J Media)

Chris Beard will have his work cut out for him in his first season at Texas Tech. (Brad Tollefson/A-J Media)

Although Texas Tech lost its two leading scorers from last season, it still returns plenty of talent deserving of minutes on the court. Junior Zach Smith, for example, is one the Big 12’s top breakout candidates this season. A bouncy power forward that uses his quickness to attack larger defenders, Smith averaged 10.0 points per game last season. He’s also an important contributor on the defensive end where his 5.1 percent block rate and high defensive rebound percentage helps the Red Raiders close out possessions. Texas Tech should also have a fully healthy Norense Odiase back on the court this year. Odiase averaged an impressive 17.8 points per 40 minutes last season and has the ability to be an effective presence on the low blocks. Senior Aaron Ross, a 6’8″ frontcourt player, also returns as a big man who can stretch the floor, while junior Keenan Evans is likely to spend even more time as the team’s lead guard without Devaugntah Williams in the fold.

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Three Big 12 Storylines to Follow this Season

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 11th, 2016

Whether you’ve noticed or not, college basketball is almost here. The league schedules have been released, public practices like Kansas’ Late Night in the Phog and Iowa State’s Hilton Madness have either come and gone or are on the horizon, blurbs are emerging of players losing weight or adding muscle, and coaches are talking about how they want to play faster and take pages from NBA teams’ playbooks. Even though college football, the NFL and baseball’s playoffs tend to dominate the national sports conversation this time of year, it’s nevertheless a good opportunity to start looking at the hoops season ahead (and let’s be honest, any time is a good time to talk hoops around here). We’ll have much, much more to come over the next month as the season draws near, but in the interest of keeping things simple at the opening tip, here are three storylines that will define one of the nation’s top conferences in 2016-17.

Bill Self's Jayhawks are well-positioned for yet another conference title in 2017. (John Rieger/USA TODAY Sports)

Bill Self’s Jayhawks are well-positioned for yet another conference title in 2017. (John Rieger/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Kansas goes for #13 – The Jayhawks lost one of the Big 12’s elder statesmen in Perry Ellis as well as two other mainstays in Wayne Selden and Jamari Traylor, but Bill Self‘s team is going to be loaded once again. Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham are back as the two-headed monster in the backcourt, Landen Lucas will hold own the center spot after running away with the job last season and Svi Mykhailiuk returns to provide an X-factor opposing coaches will have to respect, even if he only sees 10-15 minutes per game. Oh, and the potential #1 overall pick in next June’s draft in Josh Jackson will slide easily into Selden’s old spot, bringing versatility, rebounding and that #motor to the wing that Self loves so much. This team isn’t without questions — particularly how effective Carlton Bragg will be as a sophomore — but while there’s usually a token competitor who contrarians pick to upend the Jayhawks in the Big 12, the reality is that there’s no good reason to bet against Kansas matching both Gonzaga and the John Wooden-era UCLA teams with 13 consecutive regular season conference titles. Read the rest of this entry »
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Texas Tech Rides the Coaching Carousel

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 16th, 2016

Sometimes, all it takes is one domino.

Just one week ago, Georgia Tech provided an improbable escape hatch for Josh Pastner at Memphis, which led the Tigers’ program to quickly move in uprooting well-traveled Tubby Smith from Texas Tech. On Friday, the Red Raiders responded by hiring Chris Beard from UNLV. Now, I’m not going to lie and say that Beard is an upgrade from Smith, and time will tell how it works out in the long run. In the short term, however, Texas Tech has emerged from a whirlwind week with only a few scratches when it could have been left bruised and bloodied.

Texas Tech reached back in its history in plucking Chris Beard from UNLV. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Texas Tech reached back in its history in plucking Chris Beard from UNLV. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Though critics have zeroed in on Beard’s transience by pointing out that this move marks his fifth job since 2011, it is very clear that the Texas Tech position represents something different to him than the three coaches the school has employed in the eight seasons since Bobby Knight retired in 2008. It may not necessarily prevent him from jumping again, but it is important in framing his decision to move. Beard’s daughters live in nearby Abilene and he toiled in Lubbock as an associate head coach under the Knights (Bobby and Pat) for 10 years, the longest he’s worked at a single school since entering the coaching profession in 1991. The fact that UNLV’s program appears to be teetering with leadership uncertainty and a roster that’s been almost completely gutted may have also played a role in Beard’s decision to pull the cord and return somewhere familiar.

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Big 12 Offseason Burning Questions, Part II

Posted by Chris Stone on April 12th, 2016

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

Iowa State (23-12, 10-8)

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

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

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

Oklahoma State (12-20, 3-15)

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

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Butler 71, #8 Texas Tech 61

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 17th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Kellen Dunham hit five threes and scored 23 points to lead Butler past Texas Tech. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Kellen Dunham hit five threes and scored 23 points to lead Butler past Texas Tech. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

  1. Classic NCAA #8-#9 Game (for about 30 minutes). As expected, this was a back and forth affair between two evenly matched teams for most of the game. The key stretch turned out to be a personal 8-0 spurt by Bulldogs forward Kelan Martin with around eight minutes to go. With the score tied at 48, the sophomore hit consecutive threes to force a Texas Tech timeout. On the next possession, Martin turned a midcourt steal into a breakaway dunk to give Butler some breathing room. The Red Raiders could get no closer than three points the rest of the way.
  2. Butler was better equipped to win a physical game. Perhaps it’s their Big East pedigree, but the Bulldogs looked much more comfortable when push came to shove (literally). Things got a little chippy about halfway through the second half right before Butler took control of things. At that point in the game, Texas Tech appeared to be knocked back by Butler’s physicality on defense. The Bulldogs also won the rebound battle with a +6 margin. Texas Tech finished with only six offensive boards, including none in the first half.
  3. Texas Tech didn’t win the free throw game. Coming into the game, the Red Raiders ranked in the nation’s top 33 in both free throw percentage and free throw attempt rate. But credit goes to the Bulldogs’ defense for not putting the Red Raiders on the line much at all today. Texas Tech was only 2-of-3 from the stripe in the first half, and finished the game with just nine attempts (converting four). The Red Raiders got good production off the bench with 30 points from reserves, including 18 from senior Devaugntah Williams. Tubby Smith will only lose two players from this year’s surprising NCAA squad, so brighter days should be ahead for Texas Tech.

Star of the Game.  Kellen Dunham, Butler. Dunham was the one constant for his team in both halves. The senior scored 13 in the first half to keep the Bulldogs close — Roosevelt Jones and Kelan Martin combined for only a single point in the first stanza. Dunham finished with 23 points and made 5-of-9 from three-point range.

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Bracket Prep: Midwest Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 15th, 2016

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On Monday and Tuesday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: Monday (East and West); Tuesday (South and Midwest). Here, Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@rtcMWregion).

Midwest Region

Favorite: #2 Michigan State (30-5, 13-5 Big Ten). They aren’t the top seed in the region (more on that later), but the Spartans are as hot as any team in the nation entering the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State’s only blemish over its last 13 games is a one-point loss in overtime at Purdue, a surge that may not have earned them appropriate respect in the RPI (#11) but has done so in advanced rating systems (KenPom #3, Sagarin #2). Any Tom Izzo team is scary in March, but one led by a potential National Player of the Year (Denzel Valentine) evolves into an even more frightening tier of “opponent no team wants to face.” Oh, and their most likely challenger for the title of Midwest favorite knows this reality all too well – top-seeded Virginia has been bounced from each of the last two Tournaments by the Spartans. Michigan State is #2 in seed only in this Midwest Region.

Fresh off a Big Ten tournament title, Michigan State is as hot as any team in the field of 68. (Photo: AP)

Fresh off a Big Ten tournament title, Michigan State is as hot as any team in the field of 68. (Photo: AP)

Should They Falter: #1 Virginia (26-7, 13-5 ACC). Michigan State’s anointment as region favorite has little to do with any deficiencies exhibited by Virginia. Aside from a two-week stretch in early January in which the Cavaliers lost three of four, Tony Bennett’s team has been stellar from November to March. Like the Spartans, they too are in the top four in both the Sagarin and Pomeroy rating systems; unlike the Spartans, they have repeatedly proven capable of beating some of the nation’s best teams: Virginia owns five victories over teams that earned a #3 seed or better – four more than the Spartans. Making the Final Four could well require an exorcism of recent March demons by defeating Michigan State in the Elite Eight, but ACC Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes, and Anthony Gill form a leading trio capable of guiding the Cavaliers past any team in the field. Believe it.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 13th, 2016

The seven Big 12 teams that heard their names called tonight were never really a mystery. Not because of the leaked bracket, but because of the quality and depth of the conference compared to its peers. While power conference bubble teams like Syracuse, Michigan and Oregon State had to sweat it out before ultimately getting a nod, the Big 12’s bubble has long been settled. Instead, the burning questions around this league are more about the results to come, as the conference hopes to exorcise its March demons over the next few weeks after three years of disappointment.

The Jayhawks hope the nets in Kansas City aren't the last ones they cut down this season (Charlie Riedel, AP)

The Jayhawks hope the nets in Kansas City weren’t the last ones they cut down this season. (Charlie Riedel, AP)

Kansas (30-4; #1 South)

  • Outlook: It’s not a given that the Jayhawks will make it to Houston, as they’ll face several strong teams and coaches who are no strangers to NCAA Tournament success, but there’s no clearly under-seeded team lurking in the South region. Colorado has a good big man in Josh Scott who could make life miserable for Kansas’ interior in a potential second-round meeting, but the Buffaloes don’t have any other players the Jayhawks should fear. If anyone upsets Kansas prior to the Elite Eight, the opponent most capable of doing it is California in the Sweet Sixteen. The Bears have two lottery picks and several three-point shooters who can keep up with the Jayhawks’ potent arsenal, but Kansas would still be favored. Anything can happen with this team, but if you thought they were a good bet to make the Final Four going into Selection Sunday, there’s no reason to waver now.

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