Predicting a Breakout Star From Each Power Conference

Posted by Ryan O'Neil on October 19th, 2018

In every Power 6 conference, there’s an established hierarchy in which the league’s most notable teams comfortably reside. In the ACC, there’s Duke, UNC, and Virginia. The Big East championship has in recent years gone through the Villanova Wildcats. In the Big Ten, Michigan State, Michigan, and Purdue have controlled the conference since former Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan’s retirement a few years back. Kansas has won the Big 12 regular season championship 14 years in a row. Arizona, Oregon, and UCLA have had a relative stranglehold on the Pac-12 for seemingly decades. In the SEC, Kentucky has been without question the league’s best team since John Calipari arrived in Lexington. But with the new season comes the possibility that the traditional powers may be toppled.  In this article, I’m going to identify one player from every power conference league who has the ability to lead his team to a surprise finish in the standings.  There’s just one rule — he can’t be a freshman.

ACC

Ky Bowman (USA Today Images)

  • Ky Bowman, Boston College. Boston College’s junior point guard often looked like the Eagles’ best player last season, even though he played in the same backcourt as eventual lottery pick Jerome Robinson. Bowman, an under-recruited prospect from North Carolina, is a great athlete whose best game last year included 30 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists against Duke. He’s dynamic in the pick and roll, and he has the ability to score at all three levels of the floor. An athlete that makes NBA scouts salivate, Bowman is especially nasty in transition. If he can become more consistent in his approach this season, Boston College is going to surprise some teams in the ACC.

Big East

  • Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s. Ponds was a first-team Big East performer last season for St. John’s after dropping at least 30 points on six separate occasions. Possibly no game better demonstrated his scoring ability than when he put up a whopping 44 points on a 16-of-23 shooting performance against Marquette. The arrival of Mustapha Heron from Auburn this season should take some of the offensive pressure off of Ponds by allowing him more space to operate. The Red Storm were a thorn in the side of several ranked teams last season, a trait that should become only more prominent with a more mature Ponds and Heron in the backcourt.

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Big 12 Conversation: NCAA Tournament Takes, Part II

Posted by Brian Goodman & Chris Stone on March 15th, 2018

Yesterday, Big 12 microsite writers Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) and Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) reviewed Thursday’s Big 12 match-ups. Today, they’re back to talk about the roads ahead starting on Friday for West VirginiaKansas State and Texas.

CS: This is the fourth NCAA Tournament for Press Virginia and so far the Mountaineers have yet to make it past the Sweet Sixteen. That seems odd given how tough their defense is to prepare for. Do you think West Virginia can finally get over the regional semifinals hump this season?

Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers will need some help to make a deep run. (Washington Times)

BG: They certainly can, but it’s going to be a major challenge. The OVC was home to two of the top 15 teams in the country at generating turnovers — Tennessee State and Austin Peay — and Murray State won all three meetings with them. I like West Virginia’s chances to advance on Friday, but the Mountaineers’ pressure will not be anything new to the Racers and they’ve already proven they can win in spite of it. As far as the Round of 32 goes, West Virginia will likely have to contend with a Wichita State team that takes excellent care of the ball and crashes the defensive glass. Furthermore, the neutral environment in San Diego won’t swing the officiating in the same way it often does in Morgantown. And that’s just to get to the Sweet 16. If you can beat Virginia as West Virginia did earlier this year, you can beat anyone, but I don’t see the Mountaineers getting the requisite amount of help they’ll need to go any further.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big 12 Teams

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2018

Every passing postseason where a Big 12 team gets bounced in embarrassing fashion or fails to maximize its potential by way of an otherwise-excusable loss becomes another pock mark on the conference’s reputation. Oklahoma got the Big 12 off the schneid with a Final Four Run in 2016, but it hasn’t been enough. There’s never been more pressure on the league to produce than there is this year, and seven teams will get a bite at the apple. Another Big 12 team has to break through eventually… right?

Kansas (#1 Midwest)

Behind senior guard Devonte’ Graham, Kansas will aim to cut down the nets in San Antonio. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

  • Best Case: The recent breakouts of Malik Newman and Silvio De Sousa continue into the NCAA Tournament, buying additional time for Udoka Azubuike to recover from his MCL injury. With the Jayhawks’ starting center at full strength for the second weekend, Bill Self makes his third Final Four as the Kansas head coach.
  • Worst Case: Foul trouble and a cold shooting night around the perimeter spell another early exit, this time in the Round of 32.

Texas Tech (#3 East)

  • Best Case: Keenan EvansZach Smith and Justin Gray take advantage of a nearly week-long break and get healthy, and the Red Raiders channel the best version of themselves to their first ever Elite Eight appearance.
  • Worst Case: The Red Raiders continue to slide and are defeated at the hands of Stephen F. Austin, a team that bears some striking similarities to the West Virginia team that bested Tech in two of their three meetings.

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Big 12 Tournament Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 7th, 2018

After an intense two months of regular season play, postseason action will finally open tonight when the Big 12 Tournament tips off from Kansas City. The league is currently ripe for seven NCAA Tournament teams, with an eighth in sight and perhaps even a ninth if things really get wild. No matter how the at-large picture pans out, nearly every team in the league has something to play for, which means that there will be no shortage of storylines to monitor this week. Let’s break down this week’s event.

West Virginia seniors Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles begin their encore this week in Kansas City. (Nick Golden/The Daily Athenaeum)

  • The Favorite: After extending its regular season conference title streak to an unprecedented 14 seasons in a row, Kansas is once again the favorite to win this weekend’s Big 12 Tournament, alhough not overwhelmingly. It’s easy to see why most projections are looking Kansas’ way. The Jayhawks have the league’s best player/coach duo in Devonte’ Graham and Bill Self and are clicking offensively (last Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma State notwithstanding). Additionally, the Jayhawks will be playing right in their own backyard, motivated by the potential of capturing a #1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season.
  • Contenders: There are some valid reasons to fade Kansas, too. Counting on a thin team to win three games in as many days is challenging enough without accounting for the stiff competition it figures to face, and Texas Tech and West Virginia would love nothing more than to improve their NCAA seeding by beating the regular season champ. Stud Red Raiders guard Keenan Evans showed no ill effects over the weekend from a toe injury that hampered him in late February, and the Mountaineers’ deep rotation could go a long way toward countering the downsides of the game-per-day environment should West Virginia advance to Friday’s semifinals.

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Big 12 Superlatives

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 5th, 2018

That was a fun regular season. Kansas won the Big 12 as predicted by, well, anyone with a pulse, but the level of drama surrounding the crown was more substantial than in any year I can remember following the league. After being picked to finish seventh in the conference standings, Texas Tech matched the Jayhawks blow for blow for the first six weeks of league play before spinning out to close the regular season. Even West Virginia, which fell out of the race earlier than anticipated, recovered nicely from its late January slide. Trae Young and Oklahoma completely lost its arc after getting tabbed as a #4 seed in the early bracket reveal, and the bottom half of the Big 12 proved why this was the best conference season by any league since such things have been measured. The fact that only 4-14 Iowa State has no hope of making the NCAA Tournament with Selection Sunday only six days away is something the conference should be very happy about.

Devonte’ Graham put Kansas on his back to lead the Jayhawks in 2017-18. (Ed Zurga/Getty)

All Big-12 Team

  • Devonte’ Graham, Kansas
  • Trae Young, Oklahoma
  • Jevon Carter, West Virginia
  • Keenan Evans, Texas Tech
  • Dean Wade, Kansas State

The coaches made the right call with their picks, but let’s be serious — this was impossible to mess up. You could have made an argument for Texas’ Mohamed Bamba over Wade up until mid-February, but the Kansas State big man was so terrific down the stretch that Bamba would’ve been hard-pressed to make up the gap even had he not missed his last two games. More on Wade in a bit.

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Big 12 Weekend In Review

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 19th, 2018

Another weekend of Big 12 action is in the books, and with it another dramatic set of games, each one carrying significant implications on both the league standings and the at-large picture for the NCAA Tournament. With Kansas and Texas Tech drawing back to even with four games remaining — including a crucial head-to-head match-up this coming Saturday — there’s still plenty of intrigue even if Saturday night’s events in Lawrence gave the impression that a 14th straight conference title for the Jayhawks is likelier than the standings suggest.

Bob Huggins became the latest visiting coach to show his frustration with the officiating at Allen Fieldhouse. (Nick Krug/Lawrence Journal-World)

  • Starting with the weekend’s marquee game between Kansas and West Virginia, Bob Huggins’ comments on the officiating, while valid, also left me ambivalent. Huggins certainly made a strong point when he pushed for referees to be made available to media after games in a fashion similar to that of coaches and players. The game as a whole would benefit, but as The Kansas City Star’s Sam Mellinger wrote in his postgame column, Huggins is probably not the right messenger for that idea when you consider his own team’s style of play. That said, while the 35-2 free throw disparity between the Jayhawks and Mountaineers drew the lion’s share of attention, caution should be exercised from draw sweeping conclusions. After all, the Mountaineers held a double-digit lead with fewer than 10 minutes to go despite the difference in free throw attempts, and West Virginia attempted just six shots at the rim all game long — compared with 13 by the Jayhawks. When a team fails to attack the tin, it will have a much harder time getting foul calls, especially on the road. Again, that isn’t to absolve John Higgins’ officiating crew from some responsibility here, but proper context is the name of the game when it comes to wide free throw disparities, even in extreme cases like this one.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Seeding and Bubble Talk Intensifies

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 16th, 2018

This weekend’s slate of games will only further intensify the ongoing talk of seeding, the bubble and conference championships. Here are 10 questions heading into this weekend’s action.

Are the Bonnies Bubbling? (USA Today Images)

  1. Is a win over Rhode Island what St. Bonaventure needs to get on the right side of the bubble? Sitting just outside of the current RPI top 40, St. Bonaventure has a chance for a Quadrant 1 win against Rhode Island tonight. With the Rams’ best player E.C. Matthews status unclear from a recent injury, the Bonnies could be facing Rhode Island at just the perfect time.
  2. How much is Villanova missing Phil Booth?  The Wildcats’ recent losses to St. John’s and Providence have raised questions about Villanova’s potency without the services Phil Booth. With the junior guard sidelined, Jalen Brunson’s increased playing time time has perhaps contributed to his current three-point shooting slump — 3-of-19 over his last three games.
  3. Simply put, how good is Louisville? The post-Rick Pitino era has gotten off to a good start as Louisville sits at 18-8 overall and among the top five in the ACC standings. The Cardinals have benefited from a friendly schedule thus far, however, earning seven wins against teams outside of the KenPom top 200 and just three wins against those in the top 50.
  4. How will Texas Tech deal with its unfamiliar position as the Big 12 leader? Since losing three of four games during a shaky mid-January stretch, Texas Tech has now reeled off seven straight wins. The Red Raiders travel to Waco this weekend to play a hot Baylor team which has won four straight and owns the best opponent effective field-goal percentage in Big 12 play. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 Weekend Review

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 12th, 2018

The Big 12 had quite the shakeup over the weekend as Kansas‘ uncompetitive loss to Baylor and Texas Tech‘s easy road win over Kansas State gave the Red Raiders sole possession of first place with just three weeks to go in the regular season. Before the Jayhawk faithful hit the panic button, it’s worth remembering that Kansas has overcome similar deficits more than a few times over the course of its 13-year Big 12 regular season title streak (although not since 2013). This thing is far from over, but between the Jayhawks’ current struggles and the high stakes of breaking UCLA’s record of consecutive conference championships, there’s more intrigue down the stretch than there has been in several years.

The Red Raiders have a one-game lead on Kansas, but can they succeed where others have failed and end the Jayhawks’ conference title streak? (Jim Cowsert/USA Today)

  1. A look at Texas Tech and Kansas’ remaining schedules reveals that the Red Raiders have an edge for a couple reasons. The biggest is that they have already won at Allen Fieldhouse, meaning their remaining head-to-head match-up will take place in Lubbock. Additionally, Chris Beard‘s team is unbeaten against their other five opponents, while Kansas is just 3-2 against its remaining foes. While those facts are certainly not predictive of how the rest of the race will go, it should make Texas Tech fans feel fairly good about their chances, though a Kansas comeback is always something to keep in mind as long as Bill Self is patrolling the sideline. Read the rest of this entry »
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Friday Figures: TCU’s Efficient Offense, Mitch Lightfoot & Kerwin Roach’s Big Year

Posted by Chris Stone on February 9th, 2018

Friday Figures is back this week with a look at TCU’s successful offense, Kansas’ new starting lineup and Kerwin Roach’s impressive season.

  • Jamie Dixon has TCU’s offense humming. The best offense in the Big 12 doesn’t reside in Lawrence, Kansas or Norman, Oklahoma. Instead, it sits squarely in Fort Worth, Texas, where Jamie Dixon has already brought his history of offensive excellence to bear. The Horned Frogs lead the league with an offensive efficiency of 112.5, two points clear of the Jayhawks. Central to TCU’s success is a commitment to moving the ball to find better shots, and as a result, the Horned Frogs have assisted on 63.9 percent of their made field goals this season (10th nationally, per KenPom). It’s also probably part of the reason the team has been able to weather the loss of sophomore point guard Jaylen Fisher.

Mitch Lightfoot is Kansas’ newest starter. (Image credit: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

  • The Big 12’s unlikely block rate leader. Ask anyone to name the Big 12’s best rim-protectors this season and you’ll get the expected answers. There’s Texas’ Mohamed Bamba and his 7’9″ wingspan or Sagaba Konate, West Virginia’s dunk eating center. Oklahoma’s Khadeem Lattin or Baylor’s Jo Acuil might even get a shout-out. Yet none of them leads the Big 12 in block rate during conference play. Rather, that honor belongs to Kansas’ newly minted starter, Mitch Lightfoot, who edges out Bamba by one-tenth of a percentage point. Obviously Lightfoot hasn’t played as many minutes as anyone else on this list, but his block rate is an interesting jumping-off point for discussing his value to the Jayhawks. The former 3-star recruit has developed into a decent rotation piece in Bill Self’s lineup, but the numbers suggest that Kansas needs Lagerald Vick to bust out of his slump and back into the starting lineup for the team to be at its best. According to data from Hoop Lens, the Jayhawks are 14 points per 100 possessions better with Lightfoot on the bench this season. The sophomore might be a great answer to a silly trivia question, but he’s probably not the piece to help Kansas make a legitimate run this March.

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What’s Trending: Thinking of Andrew Jones

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 15th, 2018

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

This week the world of college basketball was dealt a blow when the Texas released a statement saying sophomore guard Andrew Jones had been diagnosed with leukemia.

Just a few hours after releasing that statement, Texas then had to take the court against a highly-ranked TCU team. The game came down to the final play in double-overtime.

The emotion on the face of Shaka Smart and everyone on the Texas basketball team was evident at the end of the game.

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