Feast Week Mission Briefing: West Virginia in the NIT Season Tip-Off

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 24th, 2016

Feast Week is here. To get you ready for the Big 12’s representation in the various holiday tournaments over the next week, our Feast Week Mission Briefings continue today with West Virginia in the NIT Season Tip-Off, which takes place at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Catching Up: Devin Williams, Jaysean Paige and Jonathan Holton are gone, but “Press Virginia” is alive and well in Morgantown. The 3-0 Mountaineers again lead the country in defensive turnover rate (34.2%) and are first in defensive steal rate (17.3%), steamrolling lesser competition by an average of 42.7 points per game. The demands of Bob Huggins‘ style and the big leads it has generated have given way to a deep, balanced attack in the early part of the season. A staggering 11 players have seen the floor for at least 10 minutes per game and five players are currently posting double-figure scoring averages, led by Nathan Adrian‘s 13.3 points per contest.

This Thanksgiving, opposing teams will be thankful if they can hold onto the ball against West Virginia's swarming defense. (AP/Raymond Thompson)

This Thanksgiving, opposing teams should be thankful if they can hold onto the ball against West Virginia’s swarming defense. (AP/Raymond Thompson)

Opening Round Preview: Illinois will give West Virginia its first real test of the season today in Brooklyn. It feels like John Groce’s team has been snake-bitten from the minute he arrived in Champaign, but his team is off to a solid 4-1 start, although the loss, which came at the hands of Winthrop, shows that they aren’t out of the woods quite yet. Still, the Illini are shooting the ball well, hitting 39.8 percent of their threes, led by seniors Tracy Abrams (7-of-11, 63.6%) and Malcolm Hill (15-of-29, 51.7%). The team has also been extremely effective inside, converting 87.3 percent of its attempts at the rim, per hoop-math.com. The problem for Illinois is that it hasn’t valued the ball, turning it over on 20.2 percent of their possessions and winning the battle on the offensive glass only 23.3 percent of the time. Those are weaknesses that West Virginia is well-versed in exploiting, and Huggins’ team should be able to do just that. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Opening Weekend in Review

Posted by Drew Andrews on November 15th, 2016

Opening night of the college basketball season gave nine of the 10 Big 12 programs a chance to begin their seasons with easy wins. Those match-ups went according to plan, as only Kansas played a team inside KenPom’s top 250 and, as a result, took the only loss. However, there was another surprise that could ultimately spell trouble for one of the contenders to the conference title. Let’s take a look at one key takeaway from each team coming out of the opening weekend.

  • Kansas – The Jayhawks came into the season with questions about leadership, scoring in the post, and whether Josh Jackson could make the leap to superstardom. The loss to Indiana in the Armed Forces Classic on Friday night only provided a first piece of an answer to one of those questions. Frank Mason III exploded for 30 points and nine assists in the defeat, making it seem that he might be Bill Self‘s Option A for leadership and scoring this season. In the absence of the graduated Perry Ellis, Landon Lucas and Carlton Bragg will be asked to replace some of his frontcourt scoring load. Lucas proved that he could play the necessary minutes last year, but Bragg rarely saw the floor. After a meager 18-minute outing on opening night, it seems as if Self still has questions about the sophomore forward. Meanwhile, Jackson struggled to find a rhythm on both ends of the floor. Early foul trouble and questionable shot selection meant he saw more of the bench than expected, but it will be interesting to see how Self utilizes him in tonight’s clash with top-ranked Duke.
Josh Jackson struggled against Indiana. Can he break out against Duke in the Champions Classic? (Photo: Kansas City Star)

Josh Jackson struggled against Indiana. Can he break out against Duke in the Champions Classic? (Photo: Kansas City Star)

  • Iowa State  Monte’ Morris began his quest for conference and national honors with a bang against Savannah State (21 points and 11 assists), followed by a quieter but efficient outing (18 points and three assists) last night against Mount St. Mary’s. Steve Prohm started five seniors in both games, and if Iowa State hopes to again challenge Kansas for the Big 12 title, it will need every bit of experience and leadership from that group to get there.
  • TexasJarrett Allen certainly looked the part of star in the making in his debut for the Longhorns, but despite his 16 points and 12 boards, Texas was outrebounded on the offensive glass in its first two outings against Incarnate Word and Louisiana-Monroe. Shaka Smart‘s HAVOC defense certainly creates great energy and scoring opportunities via turnovers, but he has to be concerned that his players are giving up so many second chances to teams that were clearly overmatched in talent and size.

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One Burning Question: How Can West Virginia Replace Its Lost Talent?

Posted by Chris Stone on November 2nd, 2016

The idea of building around a system or a specific style of play is not a new one in college basketball. Villanova’s Jay Wright, for example, has historically succeeded by playing a four-out, one-in offensive system that features guards who can shoot and take advantage of mismatches. The Big 12 also has its share of programs with a knack for finding players and fitting them into a largely predetermined system of play. Kansas head coach Bill Self has been notoriously stubborn about his high-low offense, even going so far as to suggest there is a target number of three-point field goals the Jayhawks look to take each season. At VCU, Shaka Smart earned his reputation by regularly recruiting players best suited to succeed in the system he dubbed “HAVOC.” Over the past several seasons, another Big 12 program has made waves by instituting a similarly successful, if not somewhat unorthodox, system.

With a revamped press philosophy, Bob Huggins and West Virginia are climbing their way up the college basketball mountain. (USA TODAY Sports)

With a revamped press philosophy, West Virginia is climbing its way back up the college basketball mountain. (USA TODAY Sports)

West Virginia has developed a fast-paced, in-your-face press — Press Virginia, if you will — that has turned the Mountaineers from a merely average defensive team into one of the very best in the country., Bob Huggins’ team has ranked among the top two nationally in defensive turnover percentage the last two seasons, causing a miscue on over a quarter of their opponents’ offensive possessions. All those giveaways in turn led to easy buckets and spurred West Virginia on to consecutive NCAA Tournament bids after several years of middling efforts. The question now is whether the proven system can withstand a significant shock to its personnel. West Virginia no longer has the services of either of their two double-figure scorers from a year ago — Jaysean Paige is out of eligibility and big man Devin Williams declared early for the 2016 NBA Draft. The pair provided the Mountaineers with something of an offensive safety net when the turnovers weren’t coming. Jonathan Holton is also finished. The 6’9″ forward –one of the signature pieces in Huggins’ pressing defense — was the type of versatile athlete who excelled atop the press. Holton could defend smaller players coming upcourt with time to quickly recover and battle with some of the league’s best in the post. He was also the team’s second-best rebounder, helping to close out defensive possessions after opponents had gotten through the pressure and taken a rushed shot. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Offseason Burning Questions, Part II

Posted by Chris Stone on April 12th, 2016

Yesterday, Brian Goodman opened our examination of the offseason’s burning questions facing Big 12 teams by reviewing challenges facing Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma and TCU. Our series continues today with consideration of the questions plaguing the remainder of the league: Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech and West Virginia.

Iowa State (23-12, 10-8)

For the first time in a long time, Iowa State will be without Georges Niang. (Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in a long time, Iowa State will be without Georges Niang. (Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports)

Who will step up in the Cyclones’ frontcourt? A lack of depth at Iowa State was a persistent problem last season and it leads to the bigger question about who will fill the gaping frontcourt holes in Ames next year. With both Georges Niang and Jameel McKay no longer around, the Cyclones return no players 6’8″ or taller who played greater than five percent of the available minutes last season. Iowa State will need to rely on a big debut from Emmanuel Malou, one of the best junior college transfers in the country, and dramatic improvement from rising sophomore Simeon Carter, the Cyclones’ best returning big man.

Oklahoma State (12-20, 3-15)

What can new head coach Brad Underwood do with one of the Big 12’s best backcourts? Underwood consistently produced efficient offenses at Stephen F. Austin and he’ll have the chance to do likewise in Stillwater. The first-year head coach will inherit one of the conference’s best backcourts, as both Jawun Evans and Phil Forte appear set to return to school, with Evans showcasing his potential in the Cowboys’ upset of Kansas and Forte likely the best outside shooter in the Big 12. How Evans and Forte develop their chemistry with Underwood this offseason will go a long way toward determining whether Oklahoma State can regain conference relevance next season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #14 Stephen F. Austin 70, #3 West Virginia 56

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 18th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

SFA Celebrates a Huge NCAA Tournament Win (USA Today Images)

SFA Celebrates a Huge NCAA Tournament Win (USA Today Images)

  1. West Virginia was exposed. The Mountaineers have made a living all season by forcing turnovers. Tonight, West Virginia really struggled to turn Stephen F. Austin over, as the Lumberjacks did an outstanding job protecting the basketball. The Mountaineers created only seven SFA turnovers and more damningly, were outscored 29 to 4 in points off turnovers. West Virginia dominated on the backboards, but the 25-point deficit in the points off turnovers category proved insurmountable. It didn’t help that West Virginia lost its composure midway through the second half, which allowed the Lumberjacks to hammer the final nail in the coffin. It was rare this season, but Bob Huggins’ team is average at best when it can’t turn the opponent over. The Mountaineers just do not score the ball consistently enough in the halfcourt to overcome a lack of transition opportunities.
  2. Why was Stephen F. Austin a #14 seed? Did the Lumberjacks look like one of the worst teams in the field to you? Not a chance. Score one for KenPom, who had Stephen F. Austin rated 33rd in his metrics, which should translate to a 9-seed. Thomas Walkup could play significant minutes for almost any high major team in the country, and Brad Underwood sure can coach. He should be a hot name on the coaching market, especially with two Big 12 jobs opening up recently. Any potential seeding injustice doesn’t matter now, however — the third-seeded Mountaineers are heading home.
  3. Stephen F. Austin’s weaknesses were offset by West Virginia’s weaknesses. Coming into the game, the Lumberjacks were averaging 12 turnovers per game and had middling free throw rates. In this matchup against West Virginia, none of this was a big deal. The Mountaineers put their opponents on the free throw line more often than anyone during the regular season, while also turning the ball over at a high rat — both traits played right into the hands of the Lumberjacks. It always comes down to matchups in this tournament, and this was a good one for Underwood’s team, who exploited West Virginia’s weaknesses in cooking up the upset.

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Preseason Unranked to Ranked: These Teams Underperform in the NCAAs

Posted by William Ezekowitz on March 16th, 2016

Preseason rankings. Irrelevant in professional sports, but weirdly important in college basketball. I have shown in the past that rankings released before a single game has been played overvalue previous year’s NCAA Tournament success, so they clearly aren’t perfect. The odd wrinkle is that they also are just as predictive as pre-tournament rankings in determining who will make the Final Four. Given that the First Round starts tomorrow, I decided to look more closely into just how important preseason rankings are by looking at whether teams that outperform their preseason expectations regress in the NCAA Tournament. To do this, I reviewed all of the teams since 2007 that were unranked in the preseason and were ranked in the polls just before the NCAA Tournament (i.e., teams that performed better than expected during the regular season). In order to gauge how a team should do in the Big Dance, I borrowed Neil Payne’s win expectation chart by seed listed in this very interesting article. I then tested whether the teams that fit my definition for outperforming expectations did better or worse relative to win expectations than the rest of the field.

Ron Morris Was Certainly On To Something

Kemba Walker and UConn were one of the few programs to buck statistical trends. (Getty)

Here are the results.

# of Teams Expected Wins Actual Wins
Over-Performers 90 125.7 98
Everyone else 344 425 461

 

The tested group of over-performers did in fact do worse in the NCAA Tournament than everyone else, and the difference is statistically significant. It should also be noted that an examination of the converse group — preseason ranked teams finishing the regular season unranked — produced no difference between win expectation by seed and actual wins. For some frame of reference, there are seven teams this year that have gone from unranked in the preseason to ranked now. That group is listed below. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bracket Prep: East Region

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2016

bracketprep22

On Monday and Tuesday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: Monday (East and West); Tuesday (South and Midwest). Here, Brian Otskey (@botskey) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCeastregion).

East Region

Favorite: No. 1 North Carolina (28-6, 14-4 ACC). Although this region is loaded from top to bottom, the ACC regular season and tournament champions are the clear favorite. Roy Williams has one of the nation’s most talented teams with seniors Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige leading the way. Contending with Johnson is a nightmare for most teams. A relentless rebounder who averages a double-double, Johnson is one of the nation’s most efficient players. Carolina has weaknesses — namely three-point shooting and three-point defense — but the way it utilizes great athleticism to speed up the game makes the Heels hard to beat.

UNC

The ACC regular season and tournament champions are the favorite to take the East Region. (Photo: Todd Melet)

Should They Falter: No. 4 Kentucky (26-8, 13-5 SEC). Yes, we’re going to roll with the Wildcats here. John Calipari’s team has made Final Fours from lower seeded positions — most notably in 2011 and 2014. This is not a vintage Kentucky team by any means, but it is highly talented and Coach Cal has proven that he can push the right buttons in March. College basketball is a guards’ game and Kentucky has that in spades with Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe. The lack of a major threat inside and occasionally spotty defense are definite concerns, but Kentucky has the talent and athletes to get by North Carolina in a potential Sweet Sixteen matchup.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 13th, 2016

The seven Big 12 teams that heard their names called tonight were never really a mystery. Not because of the leaked bracket, but because of the quality and depth of the conference compared to its peers. While power conference bubble teams like Syracuse, Michigan and Oregon State had to sweat it out before ultimately getting a nod, the Big 12’s bubble has long been settled. Instead, the burning questions around this league are more about the results to come, as the conference hopes to exorcise its March demons over the next few weeks after three years of disappointment.

The Jayhawks hope the nets in Kansas City aren't the last ones they cut down this season (Charlie Riedel, AP)

The Jayhawks hope the nets in Kansas City weren’t the last ones they cut down this season. (Charlie Riedel, AP)

Kansas (30-4; #1 South)

  • Outlook: It’s not a given that the Jayhawks will make it to Houston, as they’ll face several strong teams and coaches who are no strangers to NCAA Tournament success, but there’s no clearly under-seeded team lurking in the South region. Colorado has a good big man in Josh Scott who could make life miserable for Kansas’ interior in a potential second-round meeting, but the Buffaloes don’t have any other players the Jayhawks should fear. If anyone upsets Kansas prior to the Elite Eight, the opponent most capable of doing it is California in the Sweet Sixteen. The Bears have two lottery picks and several three-point shooters who can keep up with the Jayhawks’ potent arsenal, but Kansas would still be favored. Anything can happen with this team, but if you thought they were a good bet to make the Final Four going into Selection Sunday, there’s no reason to waver now.

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Rushed Reactions: Kansas 81, West Virginia 71

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 12th, 2016

rushedreactions

Three key takeaways.

Kansas Does the Double Big 12 Championship Thing (USA Today Images)

Kansas Does the Double Big 12 Championship Thing (USA Today Images)

  1. Devonte’ Graham shows out once again. Kansas’ sophomore guard has never been particularly bad, but he’s been a completely different player over the last month of the season. He routinely broke West Virginia’s trademark press and hit plenty of big shots, finishing with 27 points on 16 attempts en route capturing the Big 12 Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award. Graham also capitalized on some suspect decision-making by the Mountaineers, adding four steals to his stat line, and was the most expressive player for a team that has been criticized by Bill Self for not having vocal leaders. There may not be a player who epitomizes Kansas’ loose style of play down the stretch of this season more than Graham, and it’s getting easier with each passing game to nod your head with Chris Stone’s prediction that the Raleigh, North Carolina native will have one shining moment in the Dance.
  2. Devin Williams finds rhythm, but not help. West Virginia’s best player has struggled to find consistency against top-flight opponents as of late, but he was tremendous throughout the game — regularly going up strong against Kansas’ big men and showing a smooth jumper when the Jayhawks gave him space. Williams finished with a game-high 31 points, but his supporting cast completely let him down. Though the Mountaineers came into the game on an extended hot streak from deep, they shot just 2-of-15 there tonight, and Daxter Miles was the only Mountaineer other than Williams who scored more than six points. We know that fouls may be an issue next week with West Virginia playing in neutral environments, but this is also too deep a team for it to rely so heavily on one guy.
  3. West Virginia exposes Kansas’ liabilities defending the interior. The Jayhawks’ biggest strength is their incredibly deep rotation of perimeter players, but its interior (especially on the defensive end) carries more questions. Landen Lucas has been the team’s best post defender over the last few weeks, but Kansas struggled to maintain a lead in the first half as Williams got Lucas into early foul trouble. Jamari Traylor didn’t provide any answers behind him, and for all the talent and potential Carlton Bragg brings to the table, his four fouls in just 10 minutes of action show that he’s still a long way off. All of that comes before getting into why Cheick Diallo and Hunter Mickelson haven’t given Kansas meaningful minutes. It’s much easier said than done, but if an opponent can get Lucas into foul trouble or make him defend in space, the Jayhawks’ less effective and experienced players will be pressured to perform above their norms. It’s far from the only thing needed to send Kansas home early in the next couple weeks, but when it comes to considering key ingredients for an upset, making Lucas uncomfortable should be at the top of the list.

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Rushed Reactions: West Virginia 69, Oklahoma 67

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 12th, 2016

rushedreactions

Three key takeaways.

Buddy Hield's buzzer-beating three was a fraction of a second late, nullifying the crazy celebration it sparked.

Buddy Hield’s buzzer-beating three was ruled to be fraction of a second late, nullifying the celebration it sparked just behind Press Row.

  1. Buddy Hield and the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day. The National Player of the Year candidate had arguably his worst game of the year in more ways than one. Having played 152 of his team’s last 160 minutes, Hield wasn’t at 100 percent and it showed as he struggled to a 1-of-8 performance from the floor, but he had an opportunity to redeem himself in the game’s closing seconds. After West Virginia’s Jonathan Holton hit the back end of two free throw attempts to put West Virginia ahead by two points with one second left, Oklahoma had one last chance to tie the game or take the lead. Hield broke free from his defender, caught the inbounds pass and started up the sideline, hoisting a three from 50 feet away just as the buzzer sounded. The shot miraculously banked in, seemingly giving Oklahoma the victory and catapulting Hield into the stands to celebrate. After further review by the officials, though, the party was broken up and the bucket was overturned. Jubilation among the Sooners quickly transferred to the Mountaineers as the crowd buzzed in equal parts shock and delight. The absence of another game this weekend for Oklahoma could be a blessing in disguise, though, as it gives the Sooners another day of rest before the NCAA Tournament starts next week. The drama of March certainly hit Oklahoma’s star very hard on this night.
  2. West Virginia gets hot from deep. The Mountaineers will never be mistaken for a team that blinds opponents with their spacing, but they can get hot from outside and they did so tonight. Led by Jevon Carter’s 6-of-9 three-point shooting performance, West Virginia regularly found open shooters on its way to a 45.5 percent clip, the eighth time this season in which they eclipsed 40 percent from distance. The Mountaineers’ preferred style of offense is to create high-percentage looks generated by their press, but the added wrinkle of a perimeter game worthy of respect could raise this team’s ceiling once the brackets are unveiled on Sunday.
  3. There was more to the finish than the buzzer-beater that wasn’t. Between Hield’s struggles and West Virginia’s hot shooting, the Mountaineers built a 12-point lead with seven minutes left, but the Sooners rallied to create a back-and-forth contest over the last three minutes. Hield’s desperation heave twas a product of two key plays in just the last five seconds. With four ticks remaining and his team down by one, Christian James drove for a layup that would have given the Sooners the lead, but he shockingly missed the high-percentage look, which was rebounded by Holton. After Holton was fouled, he missed the first free throw to keep the lead at one with just one second remaining. Rather than intentionally missing the second free throw to significantly reduce the chance of Oklahoma getting a clear look, though, Holton hit the second free throw, setting the drama of the final play into motion. Fortunately for Holton and the Mountaineers, Hield’s three was ultimately waved off, but it’s always interesting to look back and see how one play — James’ botched layup, in this case — changes the complexion of a game.

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