Big 12 Wrap-Up and Early 2018-19 Outlook

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 10th, 2018

Despite Villanova beating three Big 12 teams in decisive fashion on its way to the national title, the 2017-18 campaign was another strong one for the league. Here are some takeaways from the year that was and a handful of early thoughts on the main storylines as summer draws near.

Kansas was no match for Villanova’s three-point barrage, but the Big 12 still enjoyed a successful postseason. (Bob Donnan/USA Today)

  • The league began the process of rehabilitating its March reputation. After some disappointing results in the last few NCAA Tournaments, the Big 12 took a step forward this year in sending four teams to the Sweet Sixteen, three teams to the Elite Eight and one to the Final Four. Perhaps most notable was Kansas State‘s head-turning voyage to the Elite Eight, which put Bruce Weber on steadier ground from a job security perspective entering next season. We also watched Texas Tech break into the second weekend with star guard Keenan Evans playing on a broken toe, and West Virginia gave Villanova the toughest game of the Wildcats’ championship run. The league’s national perception won’t change significantly until a team other than Kansas makes the Final Four, but Villanova’s victory over the Jayhawks became easier to swallow when they cut down the nets last Monday night in San Antonio. All told, the conference logged one of its best postseason runs in recent years.
  • What will Kansas do with its last scholarship? When the buzzer sounded on their national semifinal loss to Villanova, the Jayhawks were already one over the scholarship limit for the 2018-19 season. That potential dilemma, however, worked itself out when Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick both opted to forgo their remaining eligibility and pursue professional careers. With one scholarship now available, fans can expect Kansas to ramp up its pursuit of five-star wing Romeo Langford to round out its roster, but the Jayhawks will likely be the preseason #1 team in the country regardless of what happens on that front. If Langford signs elsewhere, Kansas could scour the graduate transfer market for some outside shooting to pick up some of the slack left by Newman and Vick as well as the graduations of Svi Mykhailiuk and Devonte’ Graham. In that light, bringing in a proven three-point threat from the existing market seems to make good sense unless Udoka Azubuike surprises the college basketball world by declaring and staying in the 2018 NBA Draft.

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Final Four Fact Sheet: Kansas Jayhawks

Posted by Walker Carey on March 28th, 2018

Now that the Final Four is set, our writers have put together a fact sheet on each of the four teams still remaining. Next, #1 Kansas,  from the South Region.

How Kansas Got Here

Kansas Slayed Mighty Duke to Get to the Final Four (USA Today Images)

Midwest Region Champions. Kansas became the region’s NCAA Tournament representative following an epic 85-81 overtime win over #2 Duke in Sunday’s instant classic regional final. The Jayhawks began their run to San Antonio with a somewhat close 16-point victory over #16 Penn before experiencing some pressure in both its Second Round triumph over #8 Seton Hall and Sweet Sixteen win over #5 Clemson. Kansas’ win over the Blue Devils in the Elite Eight was arguably the game of the NCAA Tournament and further illustrated Midwest Regional Most Outstanding Player Malik Newman‘s March star turn. The redshirt sophomore swingman finished with a career-high 32 points and scored all 13 of Kansas’ points during the extra period.

The Coach

Bill Self. The Hall of Fame coach should have all the nonsensical “he cannot win the big game” talk regarding his recent career put to bed for at least a year, as Self has taken what many view as one of his least talented Kansas teams back to the Final Four. This will be Self’s third Final Four appearance. His was in San Antonio in 2008 when his Jayhawks beat North Carolina and Memphis to take home the school’s third national title. Self also took Kansas to the 2012 Final Four in New Orleans where it beat Ohio State in the national semifinals before falling to Kentucky in the championship game. With the Final Four again in San Antonio, expect there to be a lot of national discussion revolving around whether Self will once again be able to capture the San Antonio magic.

Style

Bill Self’s Kansas teams have normally run their offenses through a traditional back-to-the-basket big man. While sophomore center Udoka Azubuike is a more than capable offensive weapon, these Jayhawks have been heavily dominated by their guard play. Guards Newman, Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick all start and are the team’s leaders in minutes played. The guard-heavy lineup has worked all season, as Kansas is ranked fifth nationally in offensive efficiency and averages a healthy 81.4 points per game. The Jayhawks also shoot 40.3 percent from the three-point line, so perimeter shooting is a definite strength. To beat Kansas, you have to slow down its guards — and considering the talent in its backcourt — an exceptionally difficult task for any team.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 85, #2 Duke 81 (OT)

Posted by Walker Carey on March 25th, 2018

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

Three Key Takeaways.

Kansas Outlasted Duke to Get Bill Self to His Third Final Four (USA Today Images)

  1. Kansas winning the rebounding battle was surprising and played a huge role in the win. Leading into the game, a lot of the talk about tonight’s Elite Eight match-up was focused on how Kansas was going to have a very difficult time keeping Duke off the glass. It turns out all that talk went for naught, however, as Kansas was the team that dominated the rebounding category. The Jayhawks finished with a 47-32 advantage on the glass while grabbing an amazing 17 offensive rebounds. The most impressive Jayhawk on the glass was senior guard Svi Mykhailiuk, who finished with 10 caroms — and it sure seemed like each one came at huge spots in the game. Sophomore big man Udoka Azubuike battled foul trouble for most of his night, but he still found a way to collect eight boards (five offensive) while freshman reserve forward Silvio De Sousa played 26 important minutes and gathered 10 more rebounds of his own. It was a team effort for the Jayhawks on the glass and that cohesiveness and hard work led to them finishing with such an advantage over what was considered a far superior rebounding team.
  2. Duke’s offensive strategy was perplexing. Kansas is an excellent offensive team but it had struggled throughout the season on the defensive end of the court. A lot of the Jayhawks’ struggle was because the Jayhawks exclusively play four guards and teams with good size could often take advantage. Duke certainly qualifies as a team with more size than Kansas, but the Blue Devils were unable to take advantage of that frontcourt disparity. At no point during the game did it seem like Duke was making a concerted effort to run its offense through its incredibly talented front line. Freshman star forward Marvin Bagley III only finished the game with nine field goal attempts. Fellow freshman big man Wendell Carter Jr. battled foul trouble for much of the game while only attempting nine shots of his own, and sophomore reserve Javin DeLaurier did not appear engaged on the offensive end in his 13 minutes of action. The Duke guards dominated the ball throughout the game, with Grayson Allen, Trevon Duval and Gary Trent Jr. finishing with 13, 16 and 18 field goal attempts, respectively. There are no sure things in life or college basketball, but it certainly seems like Duke would be headed to the Final Four instead of Kansas if it had found a way to get Bagley and Carter more involved.
  3. Malik Newman was the best player on the court. Duke was supposed to have all of the stars in this game. Grayson Allen is probably the most famous player in college basketball. Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter, Jr. will both be lottery picks very soon. Trevon Duval and Gary Trent, Jr. arrived in Durham as ballyhooed prospects. The Blue Devils were supposed to have the best player on the court, but it did not turn out like that as Kansas sophomore Malik Newman took on that role from the opening tip to overtime’s final buzzer. Newman finished with a game-high 32 points and it was his three-pointer from the corner with 1:49 remaining that gave the Jayhawks a three-point lead that it would never relinquish.

Player of the Game. Malik Newman, Kansas. The sophomore guard came up time after time again tonight for the Jayhawks. Each time Kansas needed a big shot, it seemed like the transfer Newman came through with the goods. He scored all 13 of the Jayhawks’ points in the overtime period — 32 in total for the night — and he also did an excellent job defensively on Duke’s Grayson Allen. Allen finished his final collegiate game with just 12 points on 3-of-13 shooting. If Kansas wants two more wins in San Antonio, it is going to need this version of Newman to make the trip.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 80, #5 Clemson 76

Posted by Walker Carey on March 23rd, 2018

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

Three Key Takeaways.

Kansas Heads Back to the Elite Eight For the Third Year in a Row (USA Today Images)

  1. Udoka Azubuike showed how important he is to Kansas’ success. The sophomore big man is finally back from a knee injury that kept him out of the Big 12 Tournament and limited his minutes during the First and Second Rounds of this NCAA Tournament. With Azubuike now healthy, Kansas forced the issue with him early and often as he finished the evening with 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds. While those statistics suggest to the casual eye that he just had a good game, you have to look beyond the box score to realize just how important he is to Kansas’ success. The Jayhawks at the very least look his way for an easy bucket every time he’s on the floor, and he is a stalwart in the middle on the defensive end. If Kansas is to win Sunday and advance to Bill Self’s third Final Four, what Azubuike brings to the fold on both ends of the court will be an important factor.
  2. Devonte’ Graham needs to play better if Kansas wants a trip to the Final Four. The final statistics show that Graham finished with a pretty standard outing, totaling 16 points while collecting five rebounds and four assists on the night. While the senior point guard gathered his numbers, he would also be the first to say that he did not play nearly as well as he needs to for his team to advance to San Antonio. Graham made just one of seven shots from three-point range and finished just 4-of-12 from the field. He also committed three uncharacteristic turnovers, including one where he threw the ball away followed by an ill-advised foul that gave Clemson an and-one opportunity. Graham has been quite steady throughout his collegiate career so it is certainly reasonable to expect he will play better against Duke or Syracuse on Sunday. Kansas is going to need a quality performance from him because it cannot advance to another Final Four without Devonte’ Graham playing like the Big 12 Player of the Year.
  3. Clemson deserves a ton of credit for fighting until the final buzzer. There are no good losses or moral victories in the NCAA Tournament, but Clemson’s performance tonight would certainly qualify if there were. Playing in front of a very partisan Kansas crowd, the Tigers fell behind by 20 points early in the second half and it looked like their run was over. It would have been understandable if Brad Brownell‘s squad simply went through the motions for the remainder of the game, but the Tigers instead fought tooth and nail to the final buzzer to lose by only four points. Behind senior guard Gabe DeVoe‘s career-high 31 points and some tenacious defense, Clemson put considerable game pressure on Kansas as the final minutes ticked away. Their efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, but you would have to be a significantly jaded individual if you do not come away from that game impressed with Clemson’s fight.

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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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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big 12 Teams

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2018

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

Kansas (#1 Midwest)

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

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

Texas Tech (#3 East)

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

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Rushed Reactions: Kansas 83, Kansas State 67

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 9th, 2018

RTC’s Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) is providing on-site coverage of the Big 12 Tournament.

Three Key Takeaways.

Kansas Cruised Past K-State in the Big 12 Tournament Semifinals (USA Today Images)

  1. Kansas’ bomb squad lifts team to victory. With center Udoka Azubuike recovering from an MCL sprain, the Jayhawks knew what they had to do to maintain control and they went out and did it. Twenty-eight of Kansas’ 60 attempts from the field came from beyond the arc, and they connected on 39.3 percent of their tries. Devonte’ Graham was relatively quiet (3-of-11 FG), but he still found a way to approach his season averages, scoring 15 points and dishing out eight assists against just three turnovers. It wasn’t always pretty, as Kansas State at one point cut a 16-point deficit down to two, but it was enough to move on to the championship game tomorrow night.
  2. Personnel issues set Kansas State back. Already without the services of first team All-Big 12 forward Dean Wade, Kansas State was further hampered just a minute into the game when guard Barry Brown took an inadvertent shot to the eye from Graham. Trainers quickly took Brown to the locker room for evaluation and he warmed up on the court prior to the start of the second half, but he never re-entered the contest. Without its two best playmakers, offense quickly became a chore for Bruce Weber‘s team. Forward Makol Mawien was incredibly efficient in the post on his way to a game-high 29 points, but his night was more of an indictment of Mitch Lightfoot‘s interior defense than it was an endorsement of his own game. The Wildcats’ jump shooters had trouble producing all night, which only underscores Wade’s importance to the team.
  3. Kansas needs Udoka Azuibuike healthy in order to make a deep NCAA Tournament run. Between Wade, Azubuike and Mohamed Bamba, Big 12 big men have been dropping like flies, but no team has as much at stake in the health of its frontcourt centerpiece as Kansas. While Silvio De Sousa pitched in with 11 rebounds in 19 minutes of action, he was frequently lost on offense, leading Bill Self to look down his bench knowing that it offered little in the way of solutions. Meanwhile, Lightfoot helped free up Kansas’ shooters and cleaned up a couple of misses, but couldn’t keep up defensively with an average post player in Mawien. With Azubuike, the Jayhawks have Final Four potential. Without him, their season could be over in the blink of an eye.

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On Kansas, a Quiet Contender Gelling at the Right Time

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 27th, 2018

On Monday night, Kansas brushed Texas aside to clinch another outright Big 12 title, send seniors Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk out with a bang, and stay ahead of the pack in the chase for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Around the college basketball landscape, many keystrokes have been dedicated to the historic and dominant nature of Kansas’ seemingly eternal grip on the Big 12, but while the 14-year streak is all those things and more, many Jayhawk fans would trade one or two of those regular season crowns for another Final Four run (Bill Self‘s two appearances were in 2008 and 2012). With the way his team is playing as March quickly approaches, however, this year may not be an either/or proposition.

Devonte Graham’s current hot streak has Kansas on a tear with postseason play just around the corner. (Nick Krug/KUSports.com)

The biggest reason why the Jayhawks are peaking has been because of Graham’s outstanding recent play. He’s been terrific all season but is clicking on all cylinders right now, with averages of 18.6 points and 6.9 assists per game over his last nine contests. Additionally, he’s drilling 44 percent of his three-point attempts and taking care of the ball with just 2.5 turnovers per 40 minutes over that span, all while playing virtually every second of competitive games. For Kansas to reach San Antonio, Graham needs to remain on his game in March and not disappear like he did in last season’s Elite Eight loss. The good news is that it’s been nearly three months since the senior put up a dud. As long as he continues to be a linchpin of the Jayhawks’ attack, it’s going to be increasingly tough to think he’ll go AWOL when the team needs him the most.

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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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Reinforcements Can Help Kansas, But Not Where the Jayhawks Need It Most

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 12th, 2017

With the end of the semester approaching, 7-2 Kansas is due to receive some help with the addition of transfer wing Sam Cunliffe, and the possibility remains that some combination of big men Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa could also come on board as both work toward gaining eligibility. Though the Jayhawks could certainly use some additional frontcourt depth, any reinforcements they receive should not be mistaken for a cure-all as they look to bounce back from consecutive regular season losses for the first time since 2013.

Kansas’ perimeter-oriented approach has worked well, but not without some glaring weaknesses. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

As thin as Bill Self‘s team is down low, Kansas’ two-point defense remains among the very best in the country. Even after getting carved up by Arizona State on Sunday, the Jayhawks still rank among the top 30 nationally in two-point defense and 10 best in adjusted defensive efficiency. Although some help on the low blocks could keep Udoka Azubuike from worrying about foul trouble and prevent the head coach from turning to unusual measures like relying on a walk-on to play key minutes against power conference teams and dipping into the football roster for help, what would really make this defense whole is greater urgency from the backcourt in adequately defending the perimeter. Read the rest of this entry »

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