Big 12 M5: 01.07.13 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 7th, 2013

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  1. Amidst the hoopla of the NFL wildcard playoffs, Sunday afternoon gave us a sneaky good game with Kansas taking on Temple in Lawrence. At halftime, KU held on to a six-point lead while in the locker room, Bill Self laid into his senior Travis Releford, who had committed two turnovers and two fouls in 12 first half minutes. “He [Self] got into me. I can’t relay the message over an interview. He let me know I need to change it because I didn’t come ready to play early on,” Johnson said in a post-game interview. Whatever Self said must have worked. He finished a perfect 5-of-5 from the field including a key three-pointer with 35 seconds left to finish off the victory. It’s scary how good of a coach Self is. Score 2,945,967 for Self. (WARNING: scoring may be unofficial but probably isn’t.)
  2. Moving back one day to the first Saturday of the conference slate, we got a showcase of two nationally-ranked teams and a couple of the best players in the Big 12. For Oklahoma State, it could have gone better. The Cowboys went into the locker room with a narrow 32-30 lead but later lost it as Kansas State erupted for 43 points in the second half to run away with a 73-67 victory. Maybe this mini-slide from OSU was to be expected. We know that they’ve longed for the tougher part of their schedule to arrive but since they have now lost to Gonzaga and K-State in back-to-back games, maybe they aren’t who we thought they were either. It’s not time to panic just yet, as OSU has TCU, rival Oklahoma and Texas Tech in their next three (all winnable) games. Hopefully winning those three games is what they need to get back on track.
  3. On the other side, it’s time we officially welcome back Rodney McGruder as a premier player in this league. He had a 22-point effort against USC Upstate on December 2 but then went a combined 7-of-27 in the two games afterward. Now it seems that he’s learning to flourish in Bruce Weber’s motion offense. In the last five games, McGruder is averaging 19.8 PPG which includes making nearly half of his field goal attempts (49%). Kansas State is now 2-2 against ranked opponents and should now see their national ranking improve. I know the Wildcats can’t afford to overlook opponents but I can. January 22 vs the Jayhawks in the Octagon? Can’t wait. 
  4. I guess West Virginia has become an unexpected punching bag in the Big 12. A program that made the Sweet Sixteen in 2008 and then a Final Four two years later lost to Oklahoma for the second time — 67-57, this time — in its conference home opener. I didn’t expect the Mountaineers to contend for an NCAA Tournament bid this year but I thought Bob Huggins would at least be able to get this team to overachieve and make things interesting down the stretch of the season. A 7-6 record just one game into January? If I’m Huggins, I believe it’s time to see what you have to develop this season and start looking towards 2013-14.
  5. A day before the Longhorns fell to Baylor in overtime Saturday, Texas received its first verbal commitment for the Class of 2013. Isaiah Taylor, a 6’2″ point guard out of The Village School in Houston, was evidently the only point guard offered by UT. Barking Carnival describes the three-star prospect as a guard with “elite quickness” who “excels at breaking guys down off the dribble and dishing for easy shots.” That sounds like just about every starting point guard at Texas since T.J. Ford. According to ESPN, Taylor chose Texas over Alabama, SMU, Fresno State, and Creighton, among other schools. Texas still has one scholarship available for next season.
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Set Your DVR: Weekend Edition

Posted by bmulvihill on December 21st, 2012

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Brendon Mulvihill is the head curator for @SportsGawker and an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

A top ten battle with a bit of recent history leads a solid slate of games this weekend. We are down to the last few non-conference games before we go full tilt into the conference season starting in the new year. It is going to be interesting to see who starts to separate from the pack as we head towards March. Let’s get to the breakdowns.

Game of the Weekend

#8 Kansas at #7 Ohio State 4:00 PM EST, Saturday on CBS (*****)

Kansas' Jeff Withey Builds A Case For Most Improved Player. (AP)

How will Ohio State deal with Jeff Withey? (AP)

  • Kansas beat Ohio State twice last season.  Once in the regular season in Lawrence and once in the Final Four. Both teams are without their main contributors from last season in Jared Sullinger for OSU and Thomas Robinson for KU. The key for Kansas in both wins was field goal defense. They held OSU to under 40% shooting in both outings. The Jayhawks come into this game with another solid defense led by center Jeff Withey. Withey provides an inside presence that the Buckeyes will need to game plan around. They had trouble with Duke\’s Mason Plumlee in last month\’s loss to the Blue Devils. Plumlee put up 21 points and 17 rebounds against a Buckeye team that is a bit thin on the inside. While Withey\’s offensive skills may not be as refined as Plumlee\’s, he is capable of putting up 20+ points and will certainly be a major factor on defense. Additionally, pay close attention to the KU guards. Travis Releford, Ben McClemore, and Elijah Johnson are big guards. Look to see if they can take advantage of their size.
  • Ohio State has only lost two non-conference home games since Thad Matta got to Columbus in 2005. They lost in 2008 to North Carolina and in 2009 to West Virginia. While OSU is struggling a bit to find a legit second and third scoring threat, it’s hard to argue against a record like that at home. I learned that when Notre Dame beat Kentucky earlier this season. Still though, DeShaun Thomas is going to need help on the offensive end if Thad Matta and company are to keep that home record intact. Watch Aaron Craft, as he will be the X factor for the Buckeyes. He is averaging just under 10 points a game thus far but is capable of more. Watch the match-up between Craft and Johnson for Kansas. Johnson is turning the ball over frequently (25%) and Craft is one of the best ball thieves in the business. If he can create turnover and get the Buckeyes out on the run, OSU will be in good shape.
  • It’s tough to argue against Ohio State’s home record and they are still a very talented team, but I think Withey and the big guards make the difference in this contest. Look for Withey to shut down any second chance opportunities and defend the hoop against a slashing Thomas. Plus Kansas has this to inspire them.

More Great Action

#14 Missouri vs. #10 Illinois  6:00 PM EST, Saturday on ESPN2 (****)

  • Illinois’ win at Gonzaga may be the best win of the year thus far, along side Butler’s OT victory against Indiana. As it turns out, Illinois beat Butler as well, so it’s time to take John Groce’s team seriously. The guard match-ups should be excellent in this game. The keys for Missouri will be creating turnovers and getting offensive rebounds. The Tigers aren’t turning teams over like they have in the past but the addition of Alex Oriakhi has helped the rebounding situation tremendously. Mizzou ranks 7th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. The Tigers will still have to contain Illinois’ Brandon Paul, however. If he gets loose like he did against Gonzaga, it will be another nice win for the Illini.

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Big 12 M5: 12.10.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on December 10th, 2012

  1. If you’re looking for the next fan favorite in the Big 12, get ready for four years of Buddy Hield. The Oklahoma freshman has a motor that never steps, and that goes double for his mouth. As the linked article points out, his family hails from the Bahamas and visited him during the Old Spice Classic. Hield, a 6’3” guard, has played well off the bench and has made the most of his minutes. He’s part of the new fresh blood that could help Lon Kruger’s more experienced veterans get over the hump this season.
  2. Kevin Noreen has always been an interesting case at West Virginia. The 6’10” center doesn’t get a lot of fanfare and he’s logged limited minutes under Bob Huggins so far in his career. That’s why his performance on Saturday in a win over Virginia Tech might be his coming-out party. He was a terrific high school shooter, but he’d never even attempted a three-pointer in college until Saturday. He took three treys in that game and made a pair of them, which means he’s now a 66 percent lifetime three-point shooter. Oh, and he’s a 6’10” center — did we mention that? In 33 minutes of action, he finished with 14 points, and that’s a great sign for a guy Huggins calls “a great role model.”
  3. Historic Gallagher-Iba Arena, once one of the the most feared arenas in all the land, has taken a step back ever since Eddie Sutton stepped down. At times, it’s even been sad and downright pathetic to see the empty seats at that place, but slowly, the fans are starting to crawl back. If you’re anywhere near Stillwater, listen to what The Oklahoman has to say in that column. You need to see this team. And the third-party observers want to see GIA all the way back to glory.
  4. Some of you are snobs. Some of you will laugh when you read that Texas Tech will offer $1 tickets for December games. You’ll say it’s a sign the program is in the dumps, you’ll say it’s pathetic and you’ll pity the fans for having to watch a poor product on the floor. We’re going to be bigger than that here at RTC’s Big 12 Microsite, though. Is the demand low for a team and program in transition? Certainly. But there aren’t a lot of athletic departments out there at this level of college basketball that would offer a deal like this and essentially let people come to watch its games for free. That shows a real commitment on the part of Texas Tech’s administration to get people in the seats and make games affordable for people who might not otherwise be able to attend. Kudos to the Red Raiders. Now, go win some games.
  5. There were a lot of shining moments during Kansas’ 90-64 victory over Colorado at Allen Fieldhouse this weekend, but Travis Releford deserves top honors for his dunk over Jeremy Adams late in the first half. Teammate Kevin Young had the quote of the day: “It shocked me.” The Lawrence Journal-World has a couple of solid, posterizing photos to embarrass Adams, but that’s the least of the Buffs’ concerns right now. In other notes, Tyler Self scored the first points of his college career with two seconds left in the game. Not sure anybody thought that debut would come against a team like Colorado, but KU fans will certainly take it.
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Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On Kentucky, Florida, Minnesota, Canadian Imports, and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 4th, 2012

Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. When the AP Top 25 was released Monday afternoon, Kentucky wound up unranked for the first time in the John Calipari era after a blowout loss to Notre Dame and a home setback to Baylor, UK’s first loss at Rupp Arena under Calipari (UK remains ranked at #20 here at RTC). Kentucky’s drop from #8 to unranked was the largest in AP poll history since the poll expanded to include 25 teams in 1990. Now we all know college basketball polls don’t really matter (unlike a certain other collegiate sport) so this is just something to discuss among basketball junkies. But seriously, do people really believe this isn’t one of the Top 25 teams in the country? I guess it depends on your philosophy when it comes to filling out a ballot. If you’re going purely by record, sure the Wildcats shouldn’t be ranked at 4-3. But a deeper inspection reveals a team with a win over Maryland, one that could turn into a very good win if the Terrapins sustain their early season level of play, and three losses to very good basketball teams (Duke, Notre Dame and Baylor). The Wildcats aren’t anywhere near last year’s juggernaut but until they lose to a bad team or the losses to good teams keep piling up, I’ll continue to rank Kentucky and won’t overreact. What are the issues Calipari faces? Number one, Ryan Harrow has proven not to be the answer at point guard. Archie Goodwin has been forced to be the primary ballhandler and is turning the ball over more than three times per game. Second, Kentucky’s rebounding and defense has taken a dip from last year but who didn’t expect that? Anthony Davis is in New Orleans now, not Lexington. Third, the team is relying exclusively on freshmen, one sophomore (Kyle Wiltjer, who does need to pick his game up) and two transfers. There is no veteran presence who has been through the SEC wars like Doron Lamb and Darius Miller had been last season. While Cal’s teams have had tremendous freshmen talent, the presence of Miller and Lamb pushed the team over the top last year. Without that crucial element, Kentucky will continue to struggle with immature plays and poor decision-making. However, I’m sure that Calipari will find a way to make things work eventually. Let’s not panic in early December because Kentucky lost three games to Top 25 teams.

    Coach Cal’s Team Is Now Unranked, But Don’t Panic Yet

  2. With Kentucky struggling to find its way right now, Florida has emerged as the early favorite in the SEC. The Gators are 6-0 with a pair of blowout wins over Wisconsin and Marquette and a nice “neutral” court win over a good Middle Tennessee team. It’s pretty clear that Florida is for real but the schedule ramps up in a big way this month with tomorrow’s road trip to rival Florida State followed 10 days later by a visit to Arizona and a quasi-road game against Kansas State in Kansas City on December 22. Everyone knows about Florida’s high-powered offensive attack but the most astonishing thing about this team has been its defense. This could very well be Billy Donovan’s best defensive team in Gainesville. Florida leads the nation in scoring defense, giving up just 48.5 PPG to date. The Gators are fourth in defensive efficiency and have also improved their rebounding from a year ago with Patric Young and Will Yeguete doing most of the work on the boards but even UF’s guards are contributing to that effort as well. Florida is just as efficient on the offensive end of the floor with balanced scoring and depth. Seven Gators are averaging at least seven points per game, led by Kenny Boynton. Donovan has to be thrilled with senior Erik Murphy, someone who is an absolute match-up nightmare for almost every opponent because of his length, versatility and ability to stretch defenses. When Murphy hangs out on the perimeter he can hit shots or open up gaps for his teammates to drive and score, or get to the line as Florida has done so well this year. His numbers don’t jump off the stat sheet at you but he’s such a valuable asset to this team. Murphy has had his share of off-court problems and here’s to hoping he’s learned from that and takes on a leadership role for his team as a senior. He’s off to a great start and it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see Florida in the top 10 all year long. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 Power Rankings: Week Three

Posted by KoryCarpenter on November 28th, 2012

With a couple of weeks of games in the books, we can start getting a good gauge on Big 12 teams this season — not a great gauge this early, but good enough. The three Big 12 writers — myself, Danny, and Nate — will publish our conference power rankings every week. While a team that loses usually drops a few slots in the AP or Coaches Top 25 poll, that might not be the case here. The best teams (in our opinion at least) up until that point in the season will be on top. But don’t expect things to remain stagnant with this group of teams. There aren’t many guarantees other than TCU being pretty bad. Each of our top 10′s will be averaged out with any ties going to the higher ranked KenPom team. We’ll also try to mix it up a bit each week with a theme facing each team — this time around, we examine a player stepping up for each squad, someone who maybe wasn’t expected to shoulder as much of the load as he’s done so far this season.

1) Oklahoma State (5-0, 0-0 Big 12)
Previous Ranking: 6

Oklahoma State makes its debut at No. 1 on our list with a nice win over North Carolina State.

Last Week: W 81-51 vs. Portland State

This Week: Saturday @ Virginia Tech, 2:00 PM CST

  • Rundown: With the return of sophomore guard Le’Bryan Nash and the introduction of freshman point guard and former five-star recruit Marcus Smart, the Cowboys are 5-0 with an impressive upset of then No. 6 North Carolina State on November 18. It’s enough for them to begin the season atop the list.
  • A Player Stepping Up: Junior G Markel Brown: Brown has been a nice complement to the underclassmen duo of Nash and Smart through five games this season. He’s averaging 14.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG, and 2.2 APG including a season-high 23 points on opening night against Portland State.

2) Kansas (5-1, 0-0)
Previous Ranking: 1

Last Week: W 78-41 vs. Washington State, W 73-59 vs. Saint Louis

This Week: W 70-57 vs San Jose State, Friday vs. Oregon State, 7:00 PM

  • Rundown: The Jayhawks should have beaten Michigan State a few weeks ago but struggled down the stretch, eventually losing, 67-64. They’ve also looked less than impressive at times against subpar competition at home. Southeast Missouri State got within striking distance in the second half, Chattanooga held an eight-point halftime lead, and San Jose State lost by only 13 on Monday night in Allen Fieldhouse. Bill Self will have this group improved by conference play, but for now, they’re going to continue to be inconsistent while the freshmen get acclimated.
  • A Player Stepping Up: Senior G Travis Releford: The senior guard was named Big 12 Player of the Week last week after averaging 20 points in wins over Washington State and Saint Louis in the CBE Classic. Never a true first or second option on offense, Releford is Bill Self’s go-to defender on the perimeter and he’s a nearly automatic in transition.

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Big 12 M5: 11.27.12 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 27th, 2012

  1. There was a lot that went wrong in the Big 12 last week. There was that one school that lost to a Division II school (Texas), another team that scored 31 points in a 40 minute basketball game (TCU), and two others that lost two times each (Iowa State and West Virginia). But what was the league office to do, not release their weekly awards? Well they did. Kansas senior guard Travis Releford was named Player of the Week after averaging 20 PPG while killing it from everywhere there was hardwood (65% FG and 60% 3FG). Meanwhile, Oklahoma high-flying transfer Amath M’Baye won Rookie of the Week honors and I’ve got a feeling it won’t be his last. Let’s hope for a better overall week from our Big 12 teams.
  2. There are two teams currently undefeated in the Big 12: The first of course is Oklahoma State with its 6-0 mark and flashy Top 20 ranking. But can you name the other? Oh it’s… no, that can’t be right. Can it? That’s right, the Texas Tech Red Raiders are standing tall at 4-0. How can this be explained? This team averaged a paltry 59 points per game last season and now they’re putting up 90 on the regular. Yes they’ve dominated SWAC competition so far this year but if you told me a month ago they’d be one of two teams with a spotless record in the Big 12, I would have commended your positive attitude and kindly told you to get real. Indeed it is I who needs to get real. I’m rooting big time for Chris Walker to get a contract extension because to me, he earned one at Big 12 Media Day. He and his Red Raiders have a great litmus test coming up Saturday in Lubbock vs #9 Arizona.
  3. The injury saga with Kansas freshman Zach Peters has come to an unfortunate end. After battling through four concussions in the last two years and a rotator cuff injury suffered early this offseason, Peters has decided to leave the KU basketball team effective at the end of the fall semester. But according to coach Bill Self, Peters will not be leaving the school; he just won’t be competing anywhere else “at least for a while,” which is even sadder news. Peters had his first two concussions while playing football during his senior season in Plano, Texas, and suffered the other two within the last four months at Kansas. All the best to you, Zach.
  4. As we mentioned above, Iowa State had a rough couple days in Las Vegas. They face two ranked teams in Cincinnati and UNLV, and they had chances to win both games before faltering late, so Fred Hoiberg will have his team working hard at practice this week. One problem mentioned in this Des Moines Register article is the ineffective play of transfer Korie Lucious, whose 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio isn’t exactly ideal from your starting point guard. Once the Cyclones can take better care of the basketball (they’re currently averaging 16 turnovers per game), only then will we see this team reach its full potential.
  5. Some breaking news to pass along: Jeff Withey plays basketball and he plays it well. The senior had himself quite a night against San Jose State, tallying 16 points, 12 rebounds and 12 blocked shots in KU’s win against San Jose State. Last night’s triple-double is only the second recorded in the history of Kansas basketball; Cole Aldrich had the other one back in 2009. But it wasn’t all easy for the Jayhawks. They held a 60-36 lead halfway through the second half before the Spartans made a run to cut their lead to seven with 2:39 to play. Kansas then scored the game’s last six points, shutting the door for good. But seriously, how did KU in the 1950s not count how many blocked shots per game Wilt Chamberlain had? That is very much a ridiculous thing to not do.
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ATB: Hoosiers Tested by Georgetown, Butler Destroys UNC, and a Record-Breaking 138-point Effort (Seriously)…

Posted by Chris Johnson on November 21st, 2012

Chris Johnson is an RTC National Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Tonight’s Lede. No. 1 Hoosiers Survive First Real Test. The Legends Classic Championship did not feature the matchup we all spotlighted on calendars and hyped up to ridiculous proportions in the preseason. It didn’t come down to a titanic mid-air class of Shabazz Muhammad exploding to the rim and Cody Zeller attempting an acrobatic swat on a final possession. That’s half true because UCLA never made it there. Georgetown took down the vaunted Bruins Monday, and for entertainment purposes, a Hoyas win in all likelihood set up a tougher challenge for No. 1 Indiana than anything UCLA could have mustered at this early stage. The Hoosiers handled said challenge, though not without producing a fair measure of late-game drama. Tuesday night’s Legends Final was the first showcase game for the preseason national championship favorite. The proceedings matched every bit the hype. But Indiana’s spotlight game wasn’t the only major storyline from Tuesday night. Shall we dig in to the rest of college hoops’ biggest developments?

Your Watercooler Moment.  NCAA Scoring Record Snapped.

On a night where Indiana staged its biggest game yet, and Michigan State potentially lost a crucial asset, Thomas’ 138-point game shines through (photo credit: AP Photo).

Say what you will about competition level or defensive effort, throw out any “volume shooter” pejoratives you like, because Jack Taylor’s 138-point game in Division III Grinnell College’s 179-104 win over Faith Baptist Bible is downright impressive any way you slice it. Taylor, a 5’10’’ sophomore cashed 27 three pointers and finished 52-of-108 from the field. This counts as an offensive explosion of the highest order, not just by Taylor, but also by Grinnell.  For those familiar with the program, though, the wow factor must have been tempered somewhat by the Pioneer’s recent track record: before last night’s win, Grinnell combined to score 241 points in its first two games, both wins. I’m a sucker for high-scoring affairs just as much as the next guy, but at what point does a desire to push the pace and execute quickfire offense sacrifice reasonable strategic wisdom? Does the Grinnell playbook just exclude defensive strategy all together? Or is the offense-focused system just some incredible recruiting tool that’s all too popular among players to pass up? There’s playing fast, and then there’s Grinnell. Whatever your level of affinity for pace, it’s hard to quibble with Taylor’s awesome display Tuesday night. No matter how distorted, or how amenable to high-volume shooting and ball-dominating tendencies, Grinnell’s offense gave Taylor a night he will never forget. And no one — not for stylistic eccentrity, not for the inordinate number of shot attempts he took to get there, not for the clear and concerted effort his team made to get Taylor as many shots as possible so he could score as many points as possible — can begrudge him that.

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Rushed Reactions: #12 Kansas 73, Saint Louis 59

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 21st, 2012

Brian Goodman is an RTC correspondent and editor. He filed this report from the CBE Classic Hall of Fame Classic final in Kansas City Tuesday night.

Here are three key takeaways from Kansas’ victory over Saint Louis in the CBE Classic finals:

  1. Jeff Withey: Closer? After controlling the game for much of Tuesday’s championship battle, the Jayhawks allowed Saint Louis to claw back into it whittling a 16-deficit lead down to nine with 3:52 to go. Down the stretch, Kansas sealed the game by repeatedly going inside to Jeff Withey. Over the final 3:29, Withey made two high-percentage shots and hit a pair of free throws. The senior center was more aggressive on offense than he has been all season, backing towards the basket and getting close looks rather than settling for hook shots. While opinions vary on whether it’s just a narrative or a real need, KU fans expect complete teams, and that means having a go-to guy to stop runs and close out victories. For the Jayhawks, that person has generally been a guard in the mold of Mario Chalmers or Sherron Collins, but Withey’s size and experience, combined with an accurate stroke from the line (he hit 11 of 14 free throws Tuesday) make him a strong candidate to fill the role. As if his defensive prowess wasn’t already enough to keep opposing coaches up at night, his aggression on offense may bring it to a whole new level. With a challenging non-conference schedule still remaining for KU (including Colorado, Belmont, Richmond and Ohio State), Bill Self may very well need a trustworthy ball-handler in the closing minutes, so it will be interesting to see whether and how Withey embraces the clutch role moving forward.
  2. Travis Releford Puts On For His City: KU’s fifth-year senior has been a target of criticism throughout his collegiate career due to his ineffectiveness on offense, though there’s no question that he’s an above-average defender. If Releford’s 17-point game against Washington State Monday was an outburst, Tuesday was an explosion. Releford continued his hot shooting with 21 first half points against Saint Louis. While he would add just two in the second half, the extra attention devoted to him opened opportunities for Withey get easy look after easy look. Releford, a Kansas City native, took home tournament MVP honors for his efforts. His 65% clip from the field isn’t sustainable over the rest of the season, but it was a very welcome departure from the ice-cold stretch he endured to start the year. If Releford can settle into a regular complementary scorer to the tune of even ten points per game, the Jayhawks will be tough to beat in March.
  3. The Billikens Go Back To The Drawing Board: After an encouraging win Monday night, Saint Louis fell behind the Jayhawks quickly and struggled to get back into the game. While they made a run late in the second half on the strength of back-to-back threes by Cody Ellis, it wasn’t enough. The Billikens’ success on offense relies on available time and the use of ball screens to create scoring opportunities, and when Jim Crews’ team got down early, it had to adjust, and that only made things worse. Self admitted after the game that his team let up on defense, which allowed the Billikens to shave a few points off KU’s comfortable lead, but SLU wasn’t able to execute their game plan with nearly the amount of success it had against the Aggies. Already down a key player in Kwamain Mitchell, Saint Louis now awaits the fate of guard Jordair Jett, who left the game in the first half with an undisclosed injury and never returned. It’s not even Thanksgiving and the Billikens have been faced with more adversity than many teams will face all season, though its stunning loss to Santa Clara was the kind of adversity a team inflicts on itself. Saint Louis is a tournament team, though, and its top priority should be getting everyone healthy and playing together.
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Rushed Reactions: #12 Kansas 78, Washington State 41

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 20th, 2012

Brian Goodman is an RTC editor and correspondent. He filed this report from the second semifinal of the Edward Jones CBE Hall of Fame Classic Monday night.

Kansas throttled the Cougars in an even more impressive fashion than was expected coming into Monday night. Some key takeaways:

  1. Message Received By Jayhawks After Early Bumps: There’s no shame in losing to Michigan State on a neutral floor in Atlanta, but the Jayhawks needed an injection of tough love from Bill Self after falling behind to Chattanooga at home later that week. KU responded in the second half last Thursday and kept the momentum rolling from the opening tip against Washington State Monday night. The Jayhawks shot their way to a 50-point first half with a scorching 64% clip from the floor. Kansas clicked on the glass as well, rebounding five of its nine misses for an incredibly efficient start. Staked to a 29-point lead at the intermission, Self substituted freely throughout the second half, and as a result, his most important players should benefit from the rest with a one-night turnaround. In addition, the extra reps for players like Anrio AdamsAndrew White and Naadir Tharpe will serve the team well in the long run.
  2. Role Players Emerge For Kansas: While it wasn’t surprising to see KU perform well in front of a de facto home crowd, not many predicted the role Travis Releford would play Monday. The senior came into tonight’s contest shooting a bone-dry 26.1% from the floor, but made his first six shots, including a pair of threes, on his way to a game-high 17 points against the Cougars. Defensively, Kevin Young made good on his first start as a Jayhawk. The senior transfer starred alongside Jeff Withey and the two combined to fluster Wazzu in its attempts to penetrate. For KU to keep a lock on its conference championship streak, it needs consistency from its complementary players in addition to Withey and Elijah Johnson, who are expected to lead the team on a regular basis.
  3. Washington State Has Too Many Leaks For Ken Bone To Plug: Beating Kansas in its second home is a tall order for any team, but Washington State’s failure to make the game competitive at any point can’t bode well for Bone’s future in Pullman. While his portrayal of a disciplinarian in removing Reggie Moore from the team in September was admirable, Bone has struggled to pick up the pieces. Based on the combined 7-25 shooting night from Wazzu’s backcourt on Monday, the early returns in the quest for help can’t be much more discouraging. Brock Motum‘s international flavor at center is unorthodox enough to throw opposing big men off their games, but if no other threats emerge for Washington State, teams will simply continue to double Motum, knowing they can hedge away from other personnel. Coaches express emotions in several ways, but all Bone could do was shake his head as he watched Kansas make shot after shot. While it’s not advisable to make too much out of one bad game, Bone needs to find answers if his team is to make a run at a postseason tournament bid. The Pac-12 has climbed back to respectability, but Wazzu is still groping for the light switch.
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Night Line: Spartans Find Their Offense, Rebound With Huge Win Over Kansas

Posted by EJacoby on November 13th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @EJacobyRTC on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

With the departure of first team All-American and do-it-all superstar Draymond Green from this year’s Michigan State roster, the Spartans figured to take a new offensive approach this season away from the high post, Draymond-centric attack they featured last year. What they didn’t expect was a surprising season-opening loss to depleted Connecticut last Friday in which they shot just 37.5% from the field. Tuesday night presented another massive challenge in defending national runner-up Kansas, and Tom Izzo’s team found a way to change the narrative by converting 52.1% of their field goals and defeating the Jayhawks, 67-64, in the Champions Classic in Atlanta. In the process, Michigan State found a new go-to offensive player in Gary Harris and a clutch late-game playmaker with Keith Appling. Replacing the versatile Green isn’t an easy task, but this year’s Spartans team learned a lot about its potential to do so with the impressive offensive performance on Tuesday night.

Michigan State leaned on Keith Appling, left, down the stretch in Tuesday’s win over Kansas (AP Photo/D. Martin)

The Spartans couldn’t have looked any different in their first two tilts of a five-day stretch to open this season. A trip to Germany to play in an aircraft hangar might have something to do with that. A Hall of Fame head coach with an understanding of how to make quick adjustments might, too. Izzo understood that his team struggled to score in the 66-62 loss to Connecticut to open the season, and it needed better production from the players expected to carry this team offensively. The freshman Harris played tentatively with a “deer in the headlights” look in the season opener, according to Izzo, en route to a 4-for-13 shooting night for 11 points. Harris was much more assertive from the get-go on Tuesday, looking to score early and often with smooth moves to the hoop and a soft touch from the perimeter, and he finished with 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting. Harris was aggressive and productive in attacking Kansas’ guards, so much so that the Jayhawks switched their top defensive player, Travis Releford, to guard Harris in the second half. Nonetheless the frosh still found ways to score without forcing the issue.

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: The National Championship Game

Posted by Brian Otskey on April 2nd, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

College basketball fans, this is it. A champion will be crowned tonight in front of 70,000+ people packed into the Superdome. Savor it because this beautiful sport of ours won’t be seen again for seven long and painful months. Between tonight and early November, many things will happen. Baseball and football will begin new seasons. The NBA will end one season and begin another. A long, hot summer will come and go. A presidential election will be held. All of this before we see another college basketball game that matters, after tonight’s phenomenal finale of course.

#1 Kentucky vs. #2 Kansas – National Championship (at New Orleans, LA) – 9:23 PM ET on CBS

It’s not often when the consensus top two players meet in the final game of the season, but that’s exactly what we have as Anthony Davis and Kentucky face Thomas Robinson and Kansas. You could make an argument that Bill Self and John Calipari are the best coaches in the sport as well, matched up in a battle between the two winningest programs in NCAA history. This has the makings of a special night, one that might trump them all in terms of the pregame storylines. Kentucky enters the game as a solid favorite (six points in Las Vegas) and won the first meeting by 10 points on November 15 at Madison Square Garden. Who had that as the national championship preview after watching it? Maybe you had the Kentucky half, but you certainly did not have the Kansas half of the equation. Plenty has changed since then, but there are a few things we can glean from that game. Kansas jumped out to an early lead before Kentucky rallied to tie it at the half and took control after the break. The Wildcats shot 51% but committed 19 turnovers (25.6% of possessions, their fifth highest total of the season). There were 45 fouls called in the game and Kansas point guard Tyshawn Taylor went to the line 17 times as a result. Kentucky’s defense was outstanding, limiting Kansas to 34% shooting and 4-15 from deep. The Wildcats blocked 13 shots (seven courtesy of Davis) and won the game in comfortable fashion.

Anthony Davis Will Need To Show Thomas Robinson Why He Is The National Player Of The Year

Tonight’s contest is a matchup between two elite defensive teams, tied for the national lead in defensive two-point percentage  (39.8%). The battles at the power forward and center positions are absolutely fantastic. Davis and Terrence Jones go up against Jeff Withey and Robinson, four outstanding defensive players and three who can change the game offensively as well. Robinson is the best defensive rebounder in the nation while Davis and Withey are the top two shot blockers. Jones can electrify the crowd with his athleticism and can also stretch his game to the three-point line. Kentucky is the more talented team, but Kansas has shown an incredible level of grit and toughness throughout the season, never more so than in the NCAA Tournament. Overcoming deficits against Purdue and Ohio State, plus putting away NC State and North Carolina late in the game has shown us this Kansas team is no fluke. The Jayhawks have absolutely nothing to lose in this game and are the more experienced team by a wide margin. On the other hand, Kentucky has one more game to go in order to live up to the preseason expectation of winning the program’s eighth national championship.

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The Ultimate Breakdown: Ohio State vs. Kansas

Posted by zhayes9 on March 28th, 2012

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court. You can read his Louisville-Kentucky breakdown here.

It was clear from the first game of the season that everyone’s favorite breakout player, Kansas’ Thomas Robinson, was going to live up to the hype. At the same time, Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, a first team All-American as a freshman and preseason All-American as a sophomore, was widely viewed as the premier big man in the country. It only took a quick glance at the calendar for December 10 to stand out: Ohio State at Kansas. Or more accurately: Sullinger at Robinson. Unfortunately, Sullinger’s body would spoil all our fun. The Buckeyes’ leading scorer sat out the visit to Allen Fieldhouse with painful back spasms and Ohio State limped to an 11-point loss.

Barring a freak accident in the next three-plus days, the Ohio State-Kansas sequel won’t lack one of its biggest stars. Sullinger is healthy and Robinson is ready, two exceptional talents and future lottery picks banging bodies in the post with a trip to the sport’s brightest stage on the line: Monday night at the Final Four. Of course, Ohio State-Kansas is about much more than two players. It’s about Tyshawn Taylor trying to take Aaron Craft off the dribble. It’s about Travis Releford chasing William Buford all over the floor. It’s about Bill Self and Thad Matta matching wits on the sidelines. Heck, I’m sure Jeff Withey will be matched up with Sullinger for a good portion of Saturday’s game.

Louisville-Kentucky may be the Final Four main event, but you may want to stick around for the after party.

Sullinger and Robinson will finally go toe-to-toe. Oh, and it's at the Final Four.

Backcourt- The much-maligned Tyshawn Taylor posted a redemptive senior season, staying out of Bill Self’s doghouse, limiting turnovers and shooting a robust 39 percent from three. Taylor is a tough cover due to his blazing speed, swift crossover and irrepressible confidence, a characteristic never more evident than when Taylor pulled up for a 3-on-1 three-pointer late in Kansas’ Elite Eight win over North Carolina despite the fact he hadn’t made a shot from behind the arc in the entire tournament. His running mate is the much-improved Elijah Johnson, a bit player turned double-digit scorer and clutch shot-maker. We might be talking about Robbie Hummel’s unprecedented run to the Final Four if Johnson didn’t bail out the Jayhawks during a Robinson/Taylor no-show in Kansas’ second-round escape against Purdue. Travis Releford is Bill Self’s go-to perimeter defender. He’ll receive the challenging task of chasing William Buford around screens for 40 minutes. Buford underachieved relative to inflated expectations this season, coming off an extremely efficient junior campaign, but ask Michigan State if he’s capable of exploding at any moment. Lenzelle Smith is essentially Johnson’s clone, a 6’4” glue guy who’s canned his fair share of clutch shots this tournament. The matchup to track is Aaron Craft, far and away best perimeter defender in the country, and Taylor with his athleticism and quickness. Taylor went 1-of-4 from the floor with six turnovers guarded by Craft in their December meeting. Slight Edge: Ohio State.

Frontcourt- Equally tantalizing are the frontcourt matchups: DeShaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger vs. Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson. Thomas is the leading scorer in this year’s NCAA Tournament, a versatile southpaw who shot a phenomenal 61 percent from two and has never met a shot he didn’t love. That irrational confidence is to Thad Matta’s benefit on the offensive end, but the kindest way to describe Thomas’ defensive effort is the anti-Aaron Craft. It’ll be interesting to see if Self shows some triangle-and-2 or zone so Robinson or Withey don’t have to chase Thomas around the floor. The scenario is similar to when Kansas faced Missouri’s four-guard attack, but there’s no Matt Pressey on Ohio State you can leave unguarded. The one-on-one scrap we all want to witness is Sullinger vs. Robinson. According to Synergy and Luke Winn’s tournament blog, Sullinger is much more efficient away from the block than Robinson. The Buckeye star is fully capable of utilizing the mid-range jumper he perfected last summer, while Robinson is a superior overall rebounder. Withey actually posted a higher block percentage than Anthony Davis, but isn’t much of a low-post scoring threat outside of dunks and put-backs. Slight Edge: Ohio State.

Bench- Much like Louisville and Kentucky, the bench simply isn’t a major factor for either side. Remember 2012 the next time somebody denounces a team’s Final Four chances because of their lack of depth. While Matta has always rejected using more than six or seven players, backup big men Evan Ravenel and Amir Williams simply holding the fort while Sullinger was on the bench for 13 minutes during the first half of Ohio State’s regional final win over Syracuse may have saved their season. It’s doubtful that Williams, backup point Shannon Scott or backup wing Sam Thompson will see more than a few minutes combined because of the stakes, unless of course foul trouble is a factor. Kansas doesn’t have a bench due to a combination of early entries, recruiting whiffs and graduation, an obstacle that renders the job Self did this season even more remarkable. Connor Teahan has the reputation of a solid shooter, but he’s canned only 34 percent from deep on the season. Kevin Young will spell Robinson or Withey. His 6’8” frame is actually a better matchup opposite Thomas. Slight Edge: Kansas.

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