Texas’ Slow Start Could be Sign of Things to Come

Posted by Justin Fedich on December 2nd, 2016

From a close call to Incarnate Word on opening night to a not-so-close upset at home this week by UT-Arlington, the first three weeks of this season have not gone how Texas had hoped. The pain that comes with a three-game losing streak (Northwestern and Colorado did the trick last week) is only exacerbated by the fact that Texas hasn’t yet played a single team most would consider an NCAA Tournament lock. Only six games into the season, Shaka Smart‘s team is struggling to find answers, perhaps still feeling the hangover from Paul Jesperson’s halfcourt buzzer-beating shot in last season’s Big Dance. Texas was 3-3 after an overtime win against UT-Arlington exactly one year ago, but a five-game winning streak that included a victory over North Carolina ensued. Texas is not on track for such a streak, or even a winning record, this time around, and these are the key reasons why.

Unfortunately, it hasn't been all smiles for Shaka Smart and Texas lately. (Texas Athletics)

Unfortunately, it hasn’t been all smiles for Shaka Smart and Texas this season. (Texas Athletics)

  • Loss of top three scorers: Replacing 3,446 combined career points doesn’t happen overnight. The realization that the Longhorns have lost last season’s top three scorers — Isaiah Taylor, Cameron Ridley, and Javan Felix — has taken a bigger toll than expected. Looking back two seasons ago, a starting five that also included one-and-done Myles Turner and Jonathan Holmes is completely gone. Instead, the burden has fallen on returnees Tevin Mack, Kerwin Roach, Jr. and Kendal Yancy, along with freshmen Jarrett Allen and Andrew Jones, to pick up the pieces. The Longhorns should certainly get better as the season progresses, but lack of an experienced playmaker who can settle roles and responsibilities has taken its toll in the early going.

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Lost in Transition: Texas Basketball Needs Time for Defense to Arrive

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 23rd, 2016

Longtime Shaka Smart followers wouldn’t even recognize this year’s Texas team. His patented HAVOC system, designed to produce chaos by pressuring opposing ball-handlers, appears to be in place in name only. His best teams at VCU were never particularly effective in the half-court, winning instead by continually forcing turnovers and converting those miscues into points on the other end. At its peak, the Rams produced turnovers on over 23 percent of opponents’ possessions for four consecutive seasons. However, last season’s Texas team was the slowest that Smart has ever coached, and while possessions this season have ticked up, the Longhorns’ version of HAVOC is still a far cry from the VCU heyday.

Texas (USA Today Images)

Texas is still trying to figure it all out. (USA TODAY Images)

The overarching sentiment when it comes to rebuilding programs is that it takes a few years for a new coach to recruit and develop players that fit his system. That’s certainly been the case for Smart in Austin so far, but the playing field is remarkably different at a Big 12 school with a longstanding athletic history and gravitational pull in recruiting. The program-oriented, four-year players that Smart was formerly coaxing into to the VCU basketball philosophy are now being replaced by highly-touted prep stars whose names are plastered on mock NBA Draft boards before setting foot on campus. This of course does not mean Smart won’t be successful at Texas, but it does mean some of his players won’t be sticking around for an entire collegiate career. Elite defense the way HAVOC is played isn’t simply a byproduct of having excellent talent — it requires a certain degree of roster continuity to run a complicated system where players incessantly communicate and work together to establish their traps. So when should we expect to see an effective version of the assault-style defense that made Smart’s VCU teams so imposing? The answer might be never. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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Where 2016-17 Happens: Reason #3 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 9th, 2016

As RTC heads into its 10th season — Season X, if you will — covering college basketball, it’s time to begin releasing our annual compendium of YouTube clips that we like to call Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball. These 30 snippets from last season’s action are completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on Friday, November 11. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#3 – Where For the Win! Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-142014-15 and 2015-16 preseasons.

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Reviewing the Big 12’s Top 10 Non-Conference Matchups

Posted by Chris Stone on November 8th, 2016

Once again it looks like the Big 12 regular season title will remain in Kansas. Bill Self’s team enters this season as the prohibitive favorite to win a 13th straight championship, but the good news is that there is plenty of great non-conference basketball to sustain us until conference teams take turns trying to knock the Jayhawks from their perch. Most Big 12 teams will play tough November and December schedules featuring several preseason top 10 teams and tough mid-majors. Notably excluded from this list are games from January’s Big 12/SEC Challenge, but here’s a look at the league’s best 10 non-conference games through the first two months of the season.

Kansas is poised to win another Big 12 title, but the non-conference games come first. (USA Today Images)

Kansas is poised to win another Big 12 title, but the non-conference games come first. (USA Today Images)

  • 10. Oklahoma State vs. Connecticut, Monday November 21 – This is an opening round game at the Maui Invitational, and while the Cowboys may struggle to beat a ranked Connecticut team on the Valley Isle, the individual match-up between point guards Jawun Evans and Jalen Adams makes this must-see TV.
  • 9. Texas at Michigan, Tuesday December 6 – John Beilein’s Michigan teams play a beautiful brand of offensive basketball that the Longhorns will look to muck up by increasing tempo and using their athleticism to outrun the Wolverines in Ann Arbor.
  • 8. Oklahoma at Wisconsin, Saturday December 3 – The Badgers open the season as the Big Ten favorite so Oklahoma will have its hands full in Madison. Guard Jordan Woodard will need to deliver a Buddy Hield-esque performance for the Sooners to come away with an upset in this one.

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O26 At-Large Watch: Early Season Games With Late Season Impact

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 7th, 2016

With March still several months away, it’s impossible to know which non-conference match-ups will actually prove critical once Selection Sunday arrives. But we here at the Other 26 microsite can certainly take an educated guess. Here are 11 pre-January contests that we think may play a significant role in deciding which O26 contenders will be in position to earn at-large bids on March 12.

Princeton will have several opportunities for resume-defining wins. (goprincetontigers.com)

Princeton has several opportunities for resume-defining wins. (goprincetontigers.com)

  • Princeton at Brigham Young – November 14, 10:00 PM EST, ESPN2. BYU essentially struck out in non-conference play last season and wound up paying the price on Selection Sunday. The Cougars’ margin for error may be even slimmer this year. As it stands, Princeton (#39 RPI in 2015-16) is probably BYU’s best non-league opponent, making this Tip-Off Marathon home tilt critical for Dave Rose’s offensively gifted group. For the Tigers — who also play VCU, California and Monmouth in the season’s first two months — a victory at the Marriott Center would be a giant feather in their non-conference cap.
  • San Diego State at #14 Gonzaga – November 14, 11:59 PM EST, ESPN2. If the Mountain West has another down year, San Diego State could find itself with a very hollow resume come March even if it lives up to its preseason billing. The Aztecs simply don’t have many opportunities for quality non-conference wins. Luckily, the bulk of their roster back, and the addition of two power-conference transfers should enable one of the nation’s most effective defensive teams to become more impactful on offense. Which is to say that Steve Fisher’s group should be able to compete with a talented-but-unproven Gonzaga unit, especially early this season. A win in the Kennel would be huge.

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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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Morning Five: 06.21.16 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on June 21st, 2016

morning5

  1. USC has taken a series major hits this off-season with several players leaving school earlier than expected, but Andy Enfield got an excellent consolation prize on Friday when Duke transfer Derryck Thornton Jr. announced that he would transferring to play at USC. Thornton, who was a five-star recruit in the class of 2016 before agreeing to reclassify and come to Duke a year early, was unhappy with his role in Durham despite averaging a respectable 7.1 points and 2.6 assists per game, but saw his playing time diminish as the season progressed leading to accusations that Thornton had been promised that Duke would build its offense around his skill set when he decided to come to Duke a year early. Thornton, who also reportedly was considering Kansas, Washington, and Miami, will be available to play for the Trojans in the 2017-18 season after sitting out his transfer year.
  2. Charles Matthews might not be the same caliber recruit as Thornton was, but his decision to transfer to Michigan after a year at Kentucky is still a big boost for the program. Matthews, a four-star recruit out of high school, averaged just 1.7 points, 1.6 rebounds, and 0.4 assists while playing 10.3 minutes per game as a freshman. In most programs a player could expect to see more playing time as players in the rotation graduate or leave school for various other reasons, but at Kentucky (and in some sense Duke now) that is far from guaranteed and Matthews probably saw the writing on the wall. After sitting out this season, Matthews will have three more years of eligibility left and should find a bigger role on a Michigan roster that will give him more opportunities to find playing time.
  3. Speaking of USC, the end of Pat Haden‘s time at athletic director cannot come soon enough for its boosters as new allegations have surfaced that Haden may have directed funds from a scholarship foundation toward USC preferentially and paid himself and other family members with large sums of money from the foundation. While directing money towards USC seems unethical at best, paying himself and family members such large sums of money (reportedly almost 10% of the foundations entire endowment for working essentially an hour a week) seems to be going into a more nebulous area that might merit a deeper investigation.
  4. When Shaka Smart took over at Texas last year the big question was how he would be able to recruit particularly in the state of Texas. As Seth Davis notes in his look at how Smart recruits, he appears to be off to a very good start. While it would seem like Smart would be able to recruit easily at Texas with a national brand behind him as a young, dynamic, African-American coach, but the reality is that he is recruiting a very different type of player at Texas than he did at VCU, which makes the process much different. If Smart is able to make that transition, there is no reason that he will not be able to make Texas into a national power.
  5. Over the summer you will will hear plenty of people criticizing AAU basketball and the culture surrounding it, but that pales in comparison to the stuff that goes on at some of these prep schools/basketball academies. As Luke Cyphers and Teri Thompson note in their story on Faith Baptist Christian Academy North (GA), some of the individuals running these schools prey on these teenagers who often come to the United States on student visas in the hope of getting an education and potentially a career playing basketball, but are often lied to about what they are coming to and then exploited in hopes of capitalizing on their basketball abilities. We would like to think that this story is an isolated case, but we suspect that this type of stuff happens more often than that.

Bonus: With all the stuff going on this past Sunday, it would have been easy to not realize that it was the 30th anniversary of the death of Len Bias. We won’t get into the impact it had on NBA history (basically imagine that the Warriors had won the title this year and then added a “can’t-miss talent”), but it was a defining moment in basketball history and led to some major changes at Maryland that impacted the basketball program in many ways (we touched on it a bit in our interview almost six years ago with Lefty Driesell). The Washington Post has an excellent piece on the 30th anniversary of his death, but we encourage you to watch the 30 For 30 on Bias as it also touched on the societal impact of his death in relation to drug laws.

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Big 12 Morning Five: 05.06.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on May 6th, 2016

morning5_big12

  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 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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