Big 12 New Year’s Resolutions: Part I

Posted by Chris Stone on December 30th, 2015

The year 2016 is right around the corner and along with it comes Big 12 conference play, as the league gets underway with six games on January 2. Although we know that only a fraction of people ultimately keep their New Year’s resolutions, we figured it wouldn’t hurt to come up with a few challenges for teams in the Big 12 once the ball drops tomorrow night. This is part one of a two-part series.

Kansas: To give Devonte Graham the praise he deserves

Devonte Graham has brought a number of positive changes to Kansas. (Charles Riedel/The Associated Press)

Devonte Graham has brought a number of positive changes to Kansas. (Charles Riedel/The Associated Press)

The focus on Kansas to this point has reasonably and rightfully been on the improved play of Wayne Selden and the consistent performance of senior forward Perry Ellis. However, the Jayhawks’ most under appreciated asset may well be sophomore point guard Devonte Graham. Graham’s move to the starting lineup has been linked to Selden’s rise because it helped free him up offensively, but Graham has provided much more. The sophomore has helped increase the number of turnovers the Jayhawks are causing on defense while simultaneously decreasing the number of turnovers Kansas commits on offense by reducing his personal turnover rate from 20.1 percent to 9.9 percent. Graham’s sophomore emergence has made the Jayhawks a national title contender and he deserves more praise for the role he’s played.

Iowa State: To find rest and relaxation for the Cyclones’ rotation

Naz Mitrou-Long’s recovery from hip surgery hit the Cyclones hard. With Deonte Burton becoming eligible at semester, it looked like Iowa State was set to have a quality eight man rotation heading into conference play. Now that Mitrou-Long’s season is over, coach Steve Prohm has made it clear that he intends to stick with a seven man rotation for the remainder of the season. Iowa State ranks 347th in percentage of bench minutes played with just 21.4 percent of available minutes coming off the bench. Last season, Wisconsin reached the Final Four with similar numbers, so the limited rotation doesn’t rule out a trip to Houston for the Cyclones, but they’ll need all the rest and relaxation they can get on the way there. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 M5: 12.16.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 17th, 2015

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  1. The Kansas offense is humming, thanks in large part to its dual point guard lineup, posits Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports. With a more traditional lineup last season, the Jayhawks really struggled to find a balanced attack, particularly when Wayne Selden and Kelly Oubre had down nights. With Frank Mason and Devonte Graham at the controls this season, though, the Jayhawks are flying. They aren’t immune to the occasional slump as we saw in the first half of last weekend’s win over Oregon State, but we’ve seen enough to know that they’re going to bring it more often than not.
  2. A tip of the cap goes to Texas Tech for their 79-67 win over South Dakota State. Senior Toddrick Gotcher led the way with 17 points including 3-of-6 shooting from distance to go along with five boards. The Red Raiders lost the rebounding battle, but overcame it thanks to ten steals and just nine turnovers on offense. The win is significant for Texas Tech because coming into the game, the Jackrabbits were ranked higher in KenPom than schools like Georgetown, Syracuse, Providence and Saint Mary’s.  Tubby Smith‘s team had been on the hunt for a marquee win after missing their chance against Utah last month, so it was nice to see them pick one up Wednesday night. They still don’t project to contend for an NCAA Tournament bid, but significant improvement on last season’s measly three conference wins is a goal that should be within sight.
  3. The only other action from the Big 12 saw Baylor take down non-D-I foe Hardin-Simmons 104-59 in the first regular season college game ever played at Fort Hood in TexasJohnathan Motley, whose name can be seen peppering NBA Draft boards, paced the Bears with 23 points. Hardin-Simmons didn’t offer much in the way of competition, but it was still reassuring for Baylor’s chances to see Lester Medford play well, as he finished with 13 assists against two turnovers in just 18 minutes of action. Then again, pretty much everyone for Baylor had a good night handling the ball as they piled up 40 assists on 45 made baskets and committed just 15 turnovers as a team. Next up for Motley, Medford and the Bears is a big road game at Texas A&M on Saturday.
  4. TCU‘s administration opened up the newly-renovated Schollmaier Arena (formerly Daniel-Meyer Coliseum) to the media for tours in advance of the facility’s grand re-opening this weekend, and it’s a huge step up from the previous accommodations which were, to be kind, lacking. In addition to some of the standbys of renovated arenas like widened concourses and new bathrooms and concession stands, the Horned Frogs’ new digs include posh circular locker rooms, a brand-new video board, a club with floor-to-ceiling TVs and an area where boosters can watch postgame press conferences through a glass wall. Pretty swanky if you ask us. The Horned Frogs christen their made-over home Sunday against Abilene Christian.
  5. We discussed the loss of Iowa State sharpshooter Naz Mitrou-Long yesterday, but CBSSports.com took a closer look at what his absence means for transfer Deonte Burton, who is set to make his Cyclones debut on Saturday. Burton arrived in Ames from Marquette, where he had a reputation as a rim-rocking attacker, but Steve Prohm may need a more diverse array of contributions from the 6’3″ guard if Burton is to help Hallice Cooke and Matt Thomas shoulder Mitrou-Long’s production.
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What’s Gotten Into Wayne Selden This Season?

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 11th, 2015

Eight games into the season, the most significant development for Kansas hasn’t been Cheick Diallo‘s clearance by the NCAA. Instead, it’s been the revitalization of once-heralded five-star recruit Wayne Selden. After two mostly unspectacular seasons, the junior had a fantastic summer run at the World University Games, and he’s carried that over into a strong start to this season. The idea that Selden will be a second-team All-American still seems a little far-fetched, but at the quarter-pole, the Massachusetts product has become a completely different player than the one who left Jayhawks fans wanting so much more out of his first two campaigns.

Wayne Selden (USA Today Images)

Wayne Selden Has Been Outstanding This Season (USA Today Images)

Selden has become the Jayhawks’ most reliable three-point shooter on a team with big-time firepower. Brannen Greene came into this season shooting 38.8 percent from deep and is already 8-of-9 from distance this season, but he’s also also been in and out of Bill Self‘s doghouse. Frank Mason, who came into his own last year, is making treys at a 47.4 percent clip. Perry Ellis has always been known to step out to the perimeter from time to time and is at it again this year, connecting on four of his 11 tries. Guard Devonte’ Graham can shoot it, too, but it’s Selden who leads the team with 21 makes on just 36 attempts (58.3%). As the below graph shows, the evolution of his shot selection has played a key role in elevating the Jayhawks from a good offensive team prone to slumps to one that’s firing on all cylinders (1.22 PPP).

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Big 12 M5: 12.04.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 4th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. On a team as loaded as Kansas, it can be tough to keep track of the squad’s best performers on a week-to-week basis. Enter Topeka Capital-Journal beat writer Jesse Newell, who yesterday introduced a Luke Winn-inspired Power Rankings column chock-full of Vines, screenshots, advanced stats and (of course) rankings to separate the wheat from the chaff on the Jayhawks’ deep and talented roster. From his most recent column, it is abundantly clear that Wayne Selden is on a mission to disprove his doubters, but a team with as many weapons as Kansas can lead to someone different stepping up in any given week.
  2. Oklahoma continued its early season dominance, annihilating Central Arkansas 111-68 in Norman last night. The Sooners could do no wrong, winning the rebounding battle by 25 boards while shooting an eye-popping 13-of-22 from deep. That long-range marksmanship was led by Jordan Woodard, who shot a white-hot 6-of-7 from behind the arc. Not surprisingly, the visitors also struggled to contain Buddy Hield, allowing 19 points and seven boards to the NPOY candidate. The Sooners are now 5-0 and rank ninth in KenPom’s national ratings with an average margin of victory of 24.4 points. Things get more challenging fast, however, as Oklahoma faces its biggest challenge of the young season on Monday when it squares off against fellow unbeaten Villanova in Hawaii.
  3. The Shaka Smart era at Texas is off to a somewhat rocky start after losses to Washington, Texas A&M, Michigan and a close call against Texas-Arlington. According to Smart (via Austin-American Statesman writer Cedric Golden), the Longhorns’ prospects would be better if one or more of his players took on a clear leadership role. On the surface, guard Isaiah Taylor has the tools and confidence to become that guy, but he’s been a disappointment at the free throw line in close games. The Longhorns have two more games to find someone to fill that role before North Carolina rolls into town next Saturday.
  4. Opportunities to step up abound on Kansas State‘s young roster, and the first few weeks have allowed JuCo transfer Carlbe Ervin to emerge as a steady backcourt contributor. Ervin provides Bruce Weber some much-needed versatility, as he is capable of both spelling starting point guard Kamau Stokes or playing alongside him if other members of the rotation aren’t performing. Ervin will be in action tonight when the Wildcats take on Georgia in their first true road game of the season.
  5. Iowa State got a surprise when former NBA head coach and current ABC/ESPN commentator Jeff Van Gundy rolled into Ames on Thursday. Van Gundy may be best known as the former coach of the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that he cut his teeth at the college level, breaking in as a graduate assistant for Rick Pitino at Providence in the mid-1980s. Van Gundy leveled with the Cyclones about life in the professional ranks before drawing an interesting comparison between Steve Prohm‘s team and the current Golden State Warriors. He hinted that the Cyclones would do well to follow the Warriors’ lead, noting that it was Stephen Curry and his teammates’ emphasis on defense that took them from being a very good team to world champions.
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Big 12 M5: 11.27.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on November 27th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. After falling to intrastate rival Texas A&M in the opening round of the Battle 4 Atlantis, Texas bounced back in its revenge game against Washington. The key to the Longhorns’ ultimate success this year may be senior big man Cameron Ridley. Entering the season, Ridley was expected to be the player most likely to struggle with the transition to Shaka Smart’s system, but he’s proving everyone wrong. As we mentioned on Monday, Ridley has instead become a focal point of the Longhorns’ offense. His usage rate is up six percent from last season and his per 40 minutes numbers (20.7 points and 16.3 rebounds per game) are impressive. The one concern is that the senior is struggling to adjust to the new rules, fouling out in the Longhorns’ two losses. But assuming the big man can find a way to stay on the floor, it’s clear that he’ll be an important piece for Texas this season.
  2. Another Big 12 big man putting together an incredible run early this season is West Virginia’s Devin Williams, as the junior scored 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a 67-59 victory over Richmond in Thursday’s semifinals of the Las Vegas Invitational. “The turning point was every time we threw it to Devin Williams,” head coach Bob Huggins said after the game. “He was just great, scoring for us. And when we missed, he was rebounding. He was terrific.” Williams has recorded a double-double in all five of the Mountaineers’ games this season.
  3. After a woeful performance against Michigan State last week in the Champions Classic, many analysts rightfully questioned Wayne Selden’s role in Kansas’ offensive attack. The junior shot just 3-of-12 from the field with only one assist against the Spartans, but what a difference a week makes. After a victory over Vanderbilt in the finals of this week’s Maui Invitational where the junior wing averaged 19.3 PPG and shot 71 percent from three-point range, Selden was named Co-MVP of the tournament (along with teammate Frank Mason). While those numbers won’t hold up over the course of the full season, it looks like the controversial player is returning to the form he found in South Korea during the World University Games. This development certainly makes him the “ultimate X-factor” for a team that, with the addition of freshman big man Cheick Diallo, can certainly challenge for a national title.
  4. Five Big 12 teams will hit the floor today. Baylor should cruise against Arkansas State; Oklahoma State returns to Stillwater for the second game of its back-to-back with Long Beach State; and Iowa State faces Virginia Tech prior to its potential NCAA Tournament rematch with UAB on Sunday. The two most interesting contests belong to Texas and West Virginia, however — two teams looking to pick up some resume-building wins. The Longhorns will take on Michigan in the fifth-place game at the Battle 4 Atlantis while the Mountaineers get San Diego State in the Las Vegas Invitational final. Both teams are expected to finish in the middle of the pack in Big 12 play, so picking up a couple of solid non-conference victories will be key to their NCAA Tournament hopes.
  5. Finally, one interesting statistical note coming out of the first two weeks of the season. While Big 12 football is known nationally for its lack of defense, that shouldn’t be the case when it comes to basketball. All 10 of the league’s teams rank among the top 100 of KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings, and seven of those are currently in the top 40. If even the bottom of the league is playing good defense, we could be setting up for an exciting conference season that features a number of nail-biting contests that come down to one play.
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Brannen Greene’s Suspension Deals a Blow to Kansas’ Hopes in Maui

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 20th, 2015

The continuation of Kansas’ offensive struggles from last year have been a huge lightning rod for discussion, and it looks like they’ll continue for at least another few weeks. News released this morning that Bill Self had suspended forward Brannen Greene for the next six games because of conduct detrimental to the team.

This isn’t the first time Greene has found himself in trouble off the court. In July 2013, he was cited by Lawrence police for leaving the scene of a car accident, an incident for which team discipline was handled internally. Last March, he was held out for the final game of the regular season against Oklahoma, with Self citing “irresponsibility” as the culprit.

The length of Greene’s current suspension means that he will miss three games in addition to the Jayhawks’ three contests next week at the Maui Invitational. The opponents for those games will be Loyola (MD), Harvard and Holy Cross, with all three tilts taking place in Lawrence. Greene’s return is currently pegged for December 12, when the Jayhawks are scheduled to face Oregon State in Kansas City.

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Big 12 M5: 11.20.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 20th, 2015

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  1. Early this morning, the NCAA cleared Kansas center Cheick Diallo to fly with the team to the Maui Invitational. Diallo still hasn’t been cleared to play, which is an important distinction for obvious reasons, but at least the possibility exists for the star freshman to suit up if he’s cleared between now and next Wednesday. Whether and when that actually happens is still anyone’s guess, but this seems like a step in the right direction for both the Mali native and his team. Diallo would hardly be a cure-all for Kansas’ woes, but his athleticism and size can help defend the paint, which is something (though not the only thing) Kansas needs in order to realize its aspirations of a deep NCAA Tournament run.
  2. Sticking with the Jayhawks, Scott Phillips of NBCSports.com was in Chicago for Kansas’ Champions Classic loss to Michigan State on Tuesday, and he has some interesting thoughts on Wayne Selden‘s polarizing tenure and ruminations on how the junior could best be utilized. If you watched the game, you saw Selden look completely out of sorts, going 3-of-12 from the floor to finish with an inefficient 12 points in his first major test since the World University Games. Selden’s inconsistency, especially against quality opponents, makes it fair to wonder if the Jayhawks have another solution to their stagnant offensive play in freshman Carlton Bragg. Bragg’s play in practice has drawn rave reviews, and he’s shown that he might be able to hold his own in his limited minutes.
  3. The first in-season edition of Luke Winn’s Power Rankings at SI.com is out, and it features Kansas as well as Oklahoma. We’ve spent a considerable amount of time discussing the Jayhawks already, so I’d like to focus on Winn’s thoughts on the Sooners for a bit. Like him, we’re intrigued by the possibility of Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard splitting duties at the point to add some variety to the Sooners’ offense. We all know about All-American candidate Buddy Hield and how the team needs to find some consistent help for Ryan Spangler, but Cousins and Woodards’ effectiveness beyond Hield’s outbursts will be crucial to keeping opposing backcourts on their toes.
  4. Oklahoma State took care of Towson in its Charleston Classic opener yesterday, but the 69-52 victory came at a cost. As Phil Forte battled for a loose ball, a Towson player landed on his left side, causing his left elbow to hyperextend. Forte spent much of the rest of the game on the bench, and although the injury doesn’t seem too serious, it appears as if the Cowboys may have to finish the weekend tournament without him. There are a couple of silver linings here, however. First, the Cowboys shouldn’t need Forte in the lineup to beat a rebuilding George Mason squad. Secondly, transfer forward Chris Olivier has stepped up to average 15.0 PPG in just 56 total minutes of action this season. That the injury happened on the first day of a tournament where the rounds are played on consecutive days makes for some bad timing, but hopefully Oklahoma State’s sharpshooter is back in action soon.
  5. Texas Tech wasn’t particularly close to the NCAA Tournament’s at-large picture before last night’s 73-63 loss to Utah in Puerto Rico, but the Red Raiders still may end up kicking themselves for dropping this one. They shot terribly from three-point range in the first half and didn’t do a good job of attacking the rim, but thanks to some fortune on jump shots and Jakob Poeltl running into foul trouble, Tubby Smith’s team was able to hang around in this game much longer than expected. Eventually, though, Poeltl righted himself and the Red Raiders were unable to keep Utah guard Lorenzo Bonam from getting into the teeth of the defense. This was ultimately a missed opportunity, but Texas Tech’s effort did nothing to dissuade us from the notion that they’ll be one of the more improved teams in the Big 12 this season.
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Failure to Innovate Offensively Will Limit Kansas In March

Posted by Chris Stone on November 18th, 2015

After last night’s 79-73 loss to Michigan State at the Champions Classic, Kansas head coach Bill Self lamented his team’s inability to score inside the paint–a staple of Self’s high-low offensive scheme. The Jayhawks astonishingly made just 13 of their 33 layups: “The one thing, in order for us to win big consistently, is we’ve got to be able to score with our back to the basket some,” Self told the media after the game. It’s not the first time he has raised this concern. After nearly every loss last season either Self or one of his players made reference to the team’s inability to play through the team’s bigs and score on the inside.

After losing to Michigan State, Kansas is just 1-4 in the Champions Classic. (KU Sports/Nick Krug)

After losing to Michigan State, Kansas is just 1-4 in the Champions Classic. (KU Sports/Nick Krug)

There’s a cliche for situations like this. The one about insanity being defined as doing the same things over and over and over again, and expecting different results. But nobody likes cliches. They’re overused — a less-than-nuanced way of dealing with a problem. Yet cliches are often accurate, which is really what makes us uncomfortable with them. We don’t want to be perceived as insane, so we dismiss the cliche as irrelevant, overused, or simple. For Self and Kansas, their overwheleming drive to pound the ball into the paint is quite possibly the definition of insanity.

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Rushed Reactions: #13 Michigan State 79, #4 Kansas 73

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 18th, 2015

RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes was in Chicago for the Champion’s Classic.

Three Key Takeaways: 

Denzel Valentine Stole The Champion's Classic Show Tuesday Night (Photo: Spartan Avenue)

Denzel Valentine Stole The Champion’s Classic Show Tuesday Night (Photo: Spartan Avenue)

  1. Denzel Valentine Is Really Good. The Spartan senior delivered the individual performance of this young college basketball season, producing a 29 point, 12 rebound, 12 assist triple-double. Valentine had the ball in his hands in the crucial moments of almost every Spartan possession, particularly in the second half. His final shooting numbers don’t dazzle (10-23 from the field), but you can’t underemphasize Michigan State’s reliance on their do-it-all senior leader. Tom Izzo completely abandoned his offense down the stretch to give Valentine the ball and run him off of ball screen after ball screen, a strategy that paid massive dividends on this night. Demanding this much out of Valentine may prove sketchy as a long-term offensive solution, but for now, Michigan State is 2-0 and has Valentine to thank for it.
  2. Kansas’ Champion’s Classic Struggles Continue. If Bill Self wants to look on the bright side, the Jayhawks are probably leaving Chicago feeling better about themselves than they were this time last year. And really, a neutral site loss to a team likely to be very relevant come March will hardly cripple the Jayhawks’ season. Still though, Tuesday night’s result has to be extremely disappointing. Kansas had this game under control for the better part of 35 minutes and lost largely out of an inability to control one player on the other side. Redemption for Champion’s Classic failures of years past was well within reach. Once again, KU fell short.
  3. Michigan State Controls Backboards. With Spartan forward/center Gavin Schilling out again Tuesday night with turf toe, Kansas’ talented corps of big men had to enter the United Center with designs on dominating the glass. If they did have that plan, it didn’t come to fruition. Tom Izzo called his team’s first half performance “very soft”, but Michigan State had collected 10 more rebounds than the Jayhawks by the time the final buzzer sounded. Kansas must be tougher – and has the personnel to do so – moving forward. On the Michigan State side, continued success on the backboards, perhaps paired with a heavy dose of Valentine, could be a nice recipe for success moving forward.

Star of the Game: Denzel Valentine, Michigan State. No surprise here, as Valentine delivered a personal masterpiece that may not be topped anytime soon in 2015-16. One statistic that may be lost in the recounting of his heroics: Valentine finished with just one turnover. It may be the most telling statistic of any, as Valentine seemed to control nearly every second of the last ten minutes.

Quotable:

  • “I didn’t think he was going to hit them. He showed some nuts on that one.” –Valentine on freshman forward Deyonta Davis knocking down two key free throws with 23 seconds to play
  • “I felt stupid at halftime for telling everyone this was one of the better shooting teams I’ve had, shooting 33 percent. Of course that may be true, we’ve shot 28 percent some years.” –Izzo on his teams’ opening half offense
  • “He is like Draymond. There’s a million things he’s not good enough at, but winning he is good enough at.” –Izzo, comparing Valentine to former Spartan star Draymond Green
  • “We did some good things to get control of the game the first 33 minutes or so, then they made a ton of plays late.” –Bill Self
  • “I always thought he was a good player. Tonight I think he proved to everyone that he is an exceptional player.” –Self on Valentine 

Sights and Sounds: Things quieted down a bit for the second game of the Champion’s Classic, but the United Center stayed noisy throughout. Kansas fans impressively invaded Big Ten country, with Jayhawk supporters outnumbering their Spartan counterparts. Still, Valentine’s second half heroics kept a healthy back-and-forth going between fan bases. November did a very good March impersonation in Chicago tonight.

What’s Next: The Jayhawks get six days off before their next contest, a first round game in the Maui Invitational against host Chaminade. The Silverswords should offer KU little resistance, but tricky matchups could arrive on the following two days. Either UCLA or UNLV will be the Jayhawks’ opponent in game two, while possible finals opponents include Vanderbilt and Indiana. Michigan State will also be making a journey west for an in-season tournament, but not before a quick stop in East Lansing for home dates against Arkansas Pine Bluff and Eastern Michigan. The Spartans open the Wooden Classic with Boston College on Thanksgiving; probable opponents in later rounds of the event include Boise State and either Arizona or Providence (on Friday and Sunday, respectively).

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Michigan State vs. Kansas: Four Things to Know

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 17th, 2015

Tonight the fifth annual Champions Classic will tip off at the United Center in Chicago where Michigan State will face Kansas in the late game. The Spartans and Jayhawks — both ranked in the top 15 — bring the usual lofty season expectations each program is accustomed to. Bill Self and Tom Izzo have built the type of rosters that seem to be the recipe for success in today’s college game: a healthy mix of experienced upperclassmen along with some talented freshmen. In order to prepare you for tonight’s game and get you familiar with some of the new faces, here are four things you need to know before you tune in to watch.

Deyonta Davis will need to keep dominating inside against Kansas. (Rey De Rio/Getty Images)

Deyonta Davis faces his first major challenge in the paint against Kansas. (Rey De Rio/Getty Images)

  1. Deyonta Down Low. Michigan State lost a lot of its muscle in the post when Branden Dawson graduated but Izzo seems to have found a more-than-suitable replacement in four-star freshman Deyonta Davis. The Muskegon, Michigan, native didn’t let his youth and inexperience make him reticent in his inaugural outing on Friday, as evidenced by his stat line of 13 points on 14 shots (team-high), 11 rebounds, and five blocks against Florida Atlantic. But his head coach might have to calm his budding star down a bit tonight because Davis won’t be able to physically bully the Jayhawks in the paint like he did against the Owls. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 Preseason Superlatives and Predictions

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 12th, 2015

We noted a few times during the offseason that this year in the Big 12 will have a different tenor than the last few. There won’t be nearly as much attention on the one-and-done players because they aren’t around this year. Oklahoma and Iowa State will again be the token threats to end Kansas‘ long reign atop the conference standings, and the middle of the pack will again be better than the middle of the pack of every other conference. At the end of the day, experienced leaders will carry the Big 12 this season. This conference probably won’t be as wild as it’s been recently, but it’s still going to be a lot of fun, especially with two new head coaches stepping into plum jobs.

Below we will run down our preseason Big 12 superlatives and predictions, as voted upon by our four-man team.

B12Team

Player Of The Year

  • Brian Goodman: Buddy Hield (Oklahoma) – It’s really tough to do this when Georges Niang plays in the same conference, but I have to go with Hield. Both players can light it up from anywhere, but Hield has embraced defense in a way that Niang hasn’t. Hield also turned the ball over significantly less often than Niang while consuming a similar percentage of his team’s possessions, and it’s a good bet that he’ll be able to do so again. Lastly, despite Steve Prohm’s insistence that he won’t change much about the way Niang is used, I still need to see evidence on the court that Prohm will maximize his senior’s unique cocktail of impressive skill combined with not-as-impressive physical abilities. That may not be completely fair to Niang, nor do I think he’ll be a completely different player in the post-Hoiberg era, but when the other candidate has as many credentials as Hield carries, it tips the scales.
Buddy Hield is the microsite's consensus pick for Big 12 Player Of The Year. (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

Buddy Hield is the microsite’s consensus pick for Big 12 Player Of The Year. (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

  • Kendall Kaut: Hield – He’s the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year and plays on the team that I think is most likely to challenge Kansas for the Big 12 title. Although he’ll miss the presence of TaShawn Thomas, Oklahoma returns most of the talent around him, which should free Hield to continue creating. His three-point shooting keeps Oklahoma in games where it should be getting blown out and gives the Sooners an ability to come back from a deficit. And until someone in this league shows otherwise, he’ll stay #1 for me.
  • Nate Kotisso: Hield – This seems like a lazy pick for conference Player of the Year, but this is a case where it doesn’t pay to get cute. Unlike me, Buddy Hield is the furthest thing from lazy; rather, he’s interested in making Oklahoma and himself a lot better this season. The senior guard is likely working on his game at this very moment, but then again, does anyone truly know when he takes time off to do other humanly functions, like, eat? This probably means winning this award again with his sights set on leading the Sooners to Houston in early April.
  • Chris Stone: Hield – While playing the third-most minutes and having the second-highest usage rate in the Big 12 last season, Hield was still the league’s third-most efficient scorer. The senior is everything you could want in an offensive player and he’s a capable defender who averaged nearly two steals per game as well. Without TaShawn Thomas around, Hield should be responsible for even more of Oklahoma’s scoring load, which is enough to make me think he’ll go back-to-back in the Player of the Year race. My dark horse for the award is Baylor’s Taurean Prince, who had better efficiency numbers last season but played far fewer minutes than Hield. If he can hold up in an increased role with a less effective point guard, Prince could take the award.

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Big 12 Preview: Kansas’ Burning Question

Posted by Chris Stone on November 10th, 2015

This team preview is part of the RTC Big 12 microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Can this Kansas team put together a deep NCAA Tournament run? 

Very few teams in college basketball carry the weight of expectations that Kansas does each season. Since Bill Self took over the program in 2003-04, Kansas is one of only three schools (along with Duke and North Carolina) to have been ranked in the top 10 of the AP preseason poll 10 or more times. Of the three times the Jayhawks weren’t in the top 10, the Jayhawks had played in the National Championship Game the year before and had lost significant roster pieces to the NBA. With the Big 12 regular season title streak now at 11 and counting, Kansas winning the league has become about as certain as death and taxes. And yet, it somehow still feels as though the Jayhawks have underachieved during Self’s tenure.

Can Bill Self turn the tide in the NCAA Tournament? (Rich Sugg/The Kansas City Star)

Can Bill Self turn the tide in the NCAA Tournament? (Rich Sugg/The Kansas City Star)

Kansas has failed to make it past the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament in each of the past two seasons, losing to Stanford and Wichita State in its second game of the event. This isn’t the first bout of postseason failure under Self, either, as the Jayhawks suffered opening round defeats to Bucknell (2005) and Bradley (2006) prior to his national title in 2008. Self’s teams tend to bounce back, but can this group rebound from these recent early NCAA exits with a deep run this coming March? Read the rest of this entry »

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