Rushed Reactions: #7 Rhode Island 83, #10 Oklahoma 78 (OT)

Posted by Walker Carey on March 15th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is in Pittsburgh this weekend.

Rhode Island Gutted Out Another NCAA Tournament Victory (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. What a start to the NCAA Tournament. This afternoon’s action represented the first game of the Round of 64 this year and it certainly did not disappoint. Regulation was marked by both teams trading punches and finding responses to stay within striking distance. Oklahoma came back to force overtime thanks to heroics from freshman phenom Trae Young, as the point guard extraordinaire scored the Sooners’ final 11 points of regulation to knot the game at 69. Rhode Island had a pair of chances to win it in regulation, but a Jeff Dowtin jumper rattled off the rim and Stanford Robinson‘s put-back attempt agonizingly fell off to force the extra period. While Rhode Island was able to put together several strong possessions in a row and eventually pull away in overtime, this game was a strong reminder of what makes the NCAA Tournament such an exciting event every single year.
  2. E.C. Matthews carried Rhode Island in the overtime period. With Rhode Island trailing 72-71 and under two minutes to play, it went to its senior leader for a much-needed spark. E.C. Matthews buried a three-pointer with 1:52 left to give the Rams a two-point lead, and he followed that up by burying another one with 31 seconds remaining to give his team an insurmountable five-point lead. The Rams had to be disappointed that they had squandered a late lead in regulation, but a senior leader like Matthews ensured that his team was going to carry on and win the game in overtime. Leading up to Rhode Island’s Second Round game on Saturday, it is a near certainty you will hear more about the long and winding career of Matthews.
  3. This was likely Trae Young’s last college basketball game. If you have followed college basketball this season, you have certainly heard more than enough about Oklahoma’s Trae Young. In likely his final game as a Sooner, he turned in a very on-brand performance to support his certain All-America bona fides. Young finished the afternoon with 28 points on 9-of-18 shooting (3-of-9 3FG) to go along with seven assists and six turnovers. The best part of his performance, though, was that Young was really all Oklahoma had as an offensive option when it needed a big play. It was a benefit and a challenge which was pretty much the entire story for Oklahoma this season — and ultimately caused Lon Kruger‘s Sooners to go one-and-done in the NCAA Tournament. Young is an exceptional player who seems poised to have a lengthy NBA career, but it is somewhat a shame that he did not receive more assistance from his teammates during his tenure as the Sooners’ star point guard.

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Big 12 Conversation: NCAA Tournament Takes, Part I

Posted by Brian Goodman & Chris Stone on March 14th, 2018

With Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas Tech set to play in the Round of 64 tomorrow, Big 12 microsite writers Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) and Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) break down the burning questions facing the Sooners, Jayhawks and Red Raiders.

Will tomorrow be the last day we see Trae Young in an Oklahoma uniform? (Sue Ogrocki/AP)

Brian Goodman: A lot of people are understandably down on Oklahoma after their disastrous finish to the regular season and early exit in the Big 12 Tournament, but the Big Dance can have a way of breathing new life into teams who are limping into it. Do you see the Sooners turning over a new leaf tomorrow afternoon?

Chris Stone: The Sooners don’t exactly look like they want to be playing basketball anymore, so I’m leaning no here. The team doesn’t seem like they enjoy playing together; Trae Young is admittedly tuckered out; and the defense has been a disaster. I expect Rhode Island’s Jared Terrell to set the tone defensively in this game by getting into Young early. It wouldn’t surprise me if Oklahoma wilts from there.

BG: Silvio De Sousa and Malik Newman needed to have big games for Kansas last weekend in the Big 12 Tournament and both delivered. With Udoka Azubuike still on the mend, how important are those two players to the team’s overall prospects?

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RTC Bracket Prep: Midwest Region

Posted by Walker Carey on March 13th, 2018

Yesterday and today we will be rolling out our region-by-region analysis for the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Here, Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) 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).

Favorite: #2 Duke (26-7, 13-5 ACC). While Kansas is the top seed in the region, Duke’s overall talent makes the Blue Devils the favorite. According to KenPom, Duke ranks third in the country in offensive efficiency and seventh in defensive efficiency. The Blue Devils are led by senior guard Grayson Allen (15.7 PPG, 4.5 APG) and freshman phenom Marvin Bagley III (21.1 PPG, 11.5 RPG), which gives it a decided talent advantage on both the perimeter and inside nearly every time they take the floor. Neither Rhode Island nor Oklahoma possesses the offensive firepower to knock off Duke in the Round of 32, while a potential Sweet Sixteen match-up with Michigan State represents a rematch of a Champions Classic showdown where Allen scored a career-high 37 points in leading his team to victory. Considering #1 Kansas’ general inconsistency and questions surrounding the health of big man Udoka Azuibuike, the Blue Devils’ path to another Final Four appears clear.

Grayson Allen’s Last Hurrah Starts in the Midwest Region (USA Today Images)

Should They Falter: #1 Kansas (27-7, 13-5 Big 12). For a team that earned its 14th consecutive regular season Big 12 title this season, Kansas certainly experienced plenty of national doubt. There have been legitimate questions about the Jayhawks’ overall depth and interior play all season — and those discussion points were not helped by Azuibuike suffering a knee injury prior the to the Big 12 Tournament. That said, Kansas was able to win three games in three days at the Big 12 Tournament to take home the title and the Jayhawks appear to be playing their best basketball of the season. With senior guards Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk leading the charge, coupled with the emergence of sophomore guard Malik Newman, Kansas has enough offensive prowess to keep up with anyone in the field.

Grossly Overseeded: #10 Oklahoma (18-13, 8-10 Big 12). The Sooners were one of the best stories of the early portion of this season. Freshman guard Trae Young was drawing favorable comparisons to Stephen Curry for his outstanding perimeter game, and it appeared Lon Kruger‘s group was equipped to rise from the ashes of last season’s debacle to ascend to the program’s second Final Four in the last three years. That all came to a screeching halt when the calendar turned to 2018. Since Big 12 play began, Oklahoma has gone just 8-12 and has not won a game away from Norman. While Young looked fresh and explosive in the early season, he has looked tired and lethargic since (an astronomical nation-leading usage rate of 38.6 percent surely contributes). The committee has repeatedly acknowledged that it values early season play just as much as it does the late season, so you can certainly understand why the Sooners were selected to the Field of 68. The surprising part is how firmly they were in — getting a #10 seed and avoiding the First Four is a generous draw for a team that has struggled so much.

Criminally Underseeded: #14 Bucknell (25-9, 16-2 Patriot League). Following a loss to Boston University on January 2, Bucknell was saddled with a mediocre 7-8 record and was looking for answers. The Bison finished the year, however, by winning 18 of their last 19 games and dominating the Patriot League Tournament — winning their semifinal and championship games by 31 and 29 points, respectively. It seems like everything is humming along nicely for Nathan Davis‘ group as the NCAA Tournament commences this week. That is why it was surprising to see the Bison earn only a #14 seed and a rather intimidating match-up with a very talented Michigan State squad in Detroit. Advancing past the First Round will be a tough ask of Bucknell.

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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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Friday Figures: Diving into the Big 12’s Freshmen Guards

Posted by Chris Stone on February 16th, 2018

Welcome back to Friday Figures, a weekly look at interesting and (occasionally) important statistical facts from the Big 12. This week, we’re diving into the big numbers surrounding some of the Big 12’s best freshmen guards.

Trae Young’s struggles aren’t Oklahoma’s only problem. (Photo Credit: Timothy J. Gonzelez, AP)

  • Trae Young’s struggles are real, but Oklahoma’s problems run deeper. By now, the Oklahoma freshman phenom’s recent troubles have been well-documented. Young has converted only one of his last 17 attempts from behind the arc, and 7-of-41 during the Sooners’ recent four-game losing streak. Dating back even further, the team has lost seven of its last nine games as its leading scorer has struggled to adjust to attention from quality opponents. Against KenPom’s Tier A group — the equivalent of games against the top 50 — Young is shooting just 33.1 percent from three-point range and his turnovers are up during conference play. Yet, it’s not clear if Oklahoma’s offense has any better options. With Young on the floor, the Sooners are still averaging 1.15 points per possession, per Hoop Lens — the equivalent of a top 20 offense. So what gives? It’s the defense. In Big 12 play, Oklahoma is conceding 110.1 points per 100 possessions, seventh in the league, per KenPom. There’s only so much the Sooners can do about opponents shooting 38.0 percent from three, but they rank dead last in tcreating turnovers with a lowly 14.5 percent turnover rate that would 347th nationally over the course of an entire season. While Young’s inefficiency has been a lightning rod for criticism, it’s arguably missing the bigger issue. Poor defense magnified by some bad three-point luck is swinging the pendulum against the Sooners.
  • Jarrett Culver’s emergence has been a boon for Texas Tech. At this point, everybody knows about the Red Raiders’ stifling defense but Culver’s development has turned them into a more well-rounded Final Four contender. Head coach Chris Beard inserted Culver into the starting lineup last month after a foot injury sidelined senior Zach Smith, but, since losing its first game without Smith, Tech has reeled off seven straight wins and taken sole possession of the top spot in the Big 12. Culver’s presence transforms the Red Raiders’ offense — they average 1.12 points per possession with him on the court compared to just 1.05 without him, per Hoop Lens. Culver has been Texas Tech’s most frequent three-point shooter this season, converting 38.4 percent of his chances and logging a sub-14.0 percent turnover rate. Once a sub-300 recruit nationally, Culver ascent has helped make the Red Raiders the favorite to win the Big 12 this season.

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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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Trae Young Wasn’t Oklahoma’s Problem on Saturday

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 23rd, 2018

As the final horn sounded on Oklahoma’s 83-81 overtime loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday afternoon, the takes started flying nearly as frequently as Trae Young‘s three-pointers. The freshman phenom is too selfish. He doesn’t get his teammates involved. He turns the ball over too much. But as usually tends to be the case with instant reactions based on limited observation, most of the comments about the spectacular point guard were silly. While Young’s record-breaking afternoon — 48 points on 14-of-39 shooting and eight assists — wasn’t perfect, a closer inspection of the most common criticisms of his game renders them flat.

Trae Young drew more ire than he deserved following Oklahoma’s loss to Oklahoma State.
(Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman)

Young clearly struggled to get in a groove in the first half as the Cowboys made a priority of containing him, but it was clear early that Brady Manek and Christian James, the freshman guard’s two most reliable supporting cast members, might not have it either. In allowing Oklahoma State to jump out to an early 25-6 lead, the pair struggled to shoot a combined 1-of-6 from distance and failed to attack the Cowboys’ closeouts to find better looks.

As the Sooners went to work on a 12-point halftime deficit, Young realized that he was unlikely to get much more help. As a result, he did what most elite players do in that situation — he put on his blinders and tried to carry his team to a rivalry game victory. It nearly worked, as his offensive performance in the second half was flat-out remarkable. He gave the ball away just three times over the final 25 minutes (versus seven miscues in the first half) while scoring 34 points on 24 shots with a stellar 61.8 percent true shooting percentage, slightly above his season mark of 60.8 percent. By contrast, Young’s teammates shot a paltry 8-of-25 from the field after the break, and the takeaway was that Young should have been the one shooting less frequently?

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Ten Questions To Consider: Weekend Adversity Ahead?

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 19th, 2018

As conference play continues this weekend, teams across the country are having to face different types of adversity. Here are 10 questions for games to be played over the next few days:

Michigan State Will Try to Right the Ship This Weekend (USA Today Images)

  1. Are turnovers killing Michigan State? Michigan State has lost two of its last three games and needed overtime to escape at home with a win against Rutgers. The Spartans were -18 in turnovers in those three games. They must limit their giveaways against an Indiana team that ranks second in the Big Ten in forced turnover rate during conference play.
  2. Will Wichita State bounce back from its first conference loss? In Wichita State’s first AAC loss of the season, the Shockers allowed SMU to shoot 76 percent on two-point attempts and 50 percent on three-point attempts. It was the fifth time this season in which Wichita State has allowed an opponent to score more than 1.1 points per possession — something that happened only four times last year. For Wichita State to win the American in its first year in the league, it will need to become more consistent defensively.
  3. Will Kentucky be able to follow up another loss with a win? After each of its previous three losses, Kentucky has returned home and won its next game. After falling Tuesday to South Carolina, Kentucky returns home to play Florida. Kentucky’s current SEC defensive efficiency of 104 points per 100 possessions is the worst of any group of Wildcats since Tubby Smith’s 2005-06 team. Their defensive struggles come from a season long inability to force turnovers, an area where Kentucky currently ranks outside of the top 200.
  4. How troubling is West Virginia’s offense? Since Big 12 play began, West Virginia’s offense has undergone a steady decline. The Mountaineers currently own the second worst offensive efficiency, effective field-goal percentage, and turnover rate in the conference. The Mountaineers will host a Texas team that held Texas Tech to just 58 points in its last game. Read the rest of this entry »
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What’s Trending: The End of 2017

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 2nd, 2018

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

Georgetown’s double-overtime loss to Butler last Wednesday was the second overtime loss of the season for the Hoyas. Those are also the only losses Georgetown had at the time — something worthy of consideration by the committee…?

Depaul fell short in its upset bid against Villanova, but “What’s Trending’s” favorite bench player Pantelis Xidias got some tv time regardless!

Saturday afternoon featured a pair of thrilling finishes at the same time. Duke and Florida State were flying up and down the court on one channel while TCU and Oklahoma were trading late leads on another. At Cameron Indoor Stadium, Marvin Bagley missed a free throw but managed to turn it into a wild bucket and foul.

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A Quick Look at the Big 12’s Opening Weekend

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 29th, 2017

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

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

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