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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Big 12 Keys to Sweet Sixteen Success

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 21st, 2018

Last weekend, the Big 12 propelled four teams into the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2002. That year, two of those teams  (Kansas and Oklahoma) went on to make the Final Four, although neither prevailed in their respective National Semifinal game. As KansasTexas Tech, West Virginia and Kansas State prepare for their second weekend action, here are each team’s keys to surviving to play another game.

Kansas guard Malik Newman is shooting a scorching 57 percent from deep over his last nine games. (Nick Krug/KUSports.com)

  • Kansas: Avoid a cold shooting night. Kansas has been one of the most prolific and consistent three-point shooting teams in the country this season. As a team, the Jayhawks have shot 40.3 percent from distance with only one outing at less than 35 percent over their last nine games. Clemson doesn’t have a ton of length and is perfectly fine in letting opponents fire away while they focus on forcing tough angles inside, so while Udoka Azubuike starting is a positive development, Friday’s outcome will likely hinge more on whether the Jayhawks hit their threes early. A hot-shooting Kansas team will cause problems for the Tigers very quickly, but if they start off cold and lose confidence, the Jayhawks will be as vulnerable as they’ve been on their worst days of the season.
  • Texas Tech: Capitalize on the injury to Purdue center Isaac Haas. The Red Raiders have been a tremendous defensive team all season, but have had trouble containing highly efficient big men, so the elbow injury that Purdue’s Isaac Haas suffered in the Round of 64 should be a boon to Chris Beard‘s team whether he plays or not. Matt Haarms will alter some shots, but the key for Texas Tech will be to not let his presence keep them from attacking closeouts and drawing contact. The Red Raiders will also need to discourage Purdue’s shooters on the defensive end, an area in which they haven’t excelled despite their athleticism and depth. Still, I like their chances.

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NCAA Regional Reset: East Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 20th, 2018

Rush the Court is providing comprehensive coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks. Today and tomorrow we reset each of the four regions. 

New Favorite: #1 Villanova (32-4). The Wildcats did nothing to put their ‘favorite’ status into question over the weekend. In fact, they may have actually established themselves as the new odds-on favorite to win the whole thing. After handling #16 seed Radford by 27 points in the First Round, Villanova put on a second half clinic against #9 Alabama in the Round of 32, outscoring the Crimson Tide 49-21 over the final 20 minutes and finishing the game with 17 made three-pointers. On the weekend, in fact, Villanova shot a combined 31-of-68 (46%) from long range, its spread offense looking more lethal than ever. Now ranked #1 by KenPom with the most efficient offense in America, the Wildcats roll into Boston looking Final Four ready — especially considering the season-ending injury to Purdue center Isaac Haas in the other half of this bracket.

Meet the new favorite, same as the old favorite. (Yahoo Sports)

Horse of Darkness: #5 West Virginia (26-10). We had to put someone here, right? In an overall bracket riddled with chaos, the East Region remained more uniform than most, leaving #5 West Virginia as the “dark horse” if there is one. Entering the NCAA Tournament, KenPom gave the Mountaineers only a 42.6 percent chance of reaching the Sweet Sixteen, odds that changed dramatically once Marshall upset #4 Wichita State on Friday. West Virginia now heads to Boston where it will be a clear underdog against #1 Villanova, which is probably just how Bob Huggins and his aggressive group likes it.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #13 Marshall (25-11). Hunter became the hunted in San Diego, where #4 Wichita State — usually the one busting brackets — fell victim to Marshall’s high-powered attack. Entering Friday, the Shockers had won at least one game as a lower-seeded team in five of the last six NCAA Tournaments, including a run to the Final Four as a #9 seed in 2013. Simply put, Wichita State feels comfortable wearing the underdog hat — even in games in which it is favored, like that 2014 classic against #8 seed Kentucky. But this time around, Gregg Marshall’s group felt like Goliath, and perhaps that unfamiliar pressure wore on the Shockers down the stretch. While Wichita State tightened in the second half, the Thundering Herd just kept on shooting. The result was an upset we did not see coming.

Completely Expected (First Weekend): #2 Purdue. We fully expected Purdue to reach the Sweet Sixteen. What we did not expect was how much uncertainty it would endure to get there. After pounding Cal State Fullerton in the First Round, the team announced that senior Isaac Haas — the Boilermakers’ second-leading scorer and premier post-threat — would miss the remainder of the NCAA Tournament with a fractured elbow. Subsequent reports revealed that he might see limited action. Finally, his arm brace failed to clear NCAA safety standards, meaning the Boilermakers would have to beat Butler without him. They did, thanks in large part to the brilliance of Vincent Edwards (20 points), but not before two days filled with doubt.

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Big 12 Conversation: NCAA Tournament Takes, Part II

Posted by Brian Goodman & Chris Stone on March 15th, 2018

Yesterday, Big 12 microsite writers Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) and Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) reviewed Thursday’s Big 12 match-ups. Today, they’re back to talk about the roads ahead starting on Friday for West VirginiaKansas State and Texas.

CS: This is the fourth NCAA Tournament for Press Virginia and so far the Mountaineers have yet to make it past the Sweet Sixteen. That seems odd given how tough their defense is to prepare for. Do you think West Virginia can finally get over the regional semifinals hump this season?

Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers will need some help to make a deep run. (Washington Times)

BG: They certainly can, but it’s going to be a major challenge. The OVC was home to two of the top 15 teams in the country at generating turnovers — Tennessee State and Austin Peay — and Murray State won all three meetings with them. I like West Virginia’s chances to advance on Friday, but the Mountaineers’ pressure will not be anything new to the Racers and they’ve already proven they can win in spite of it. As far as the Round of 32 goes, West Virginia will likely have to contend with a Wichita State team that takes excellent care of the ball and crashes the defensive glass. Furthermore, the neutral environment in San Diego won’t swing the officiating in the same way it often does in Morgantown. And that’s just to get to the Sweet 16. If you can beat Virginia as West Virginia did earlier this year, you can beat anyone, but I don’t see the Mountaineers getting the requisite amount of help they’ll need to go any further.

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Untrustworthy: Caveat Emptor on These 10 Teams

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on March 14th, 2018

Preseason rankings — they are, in most sports, completely irrelevant when the postseason rolls around. But not in college basketball. When projecting Final Four teams, as we have covered in this space before, the preseason AP Poll is just as predictive as the current AP poll. The rationale for this is that preseason rankings account for things that the mathematical models struggle with (for example, coaching changes, big recruiting classes, injuries and suspensions, etc.), making them a surprisingly accurate projection system. So what about the handful of teams each year that are excluded from these rankings but go on to do great things in the regular season? Is it safe to assume that if you can’t crack the preseason Top 25, you won’t cut down any nets in March?

Can Virginia Break the Trend? (USA Today Images)

To answer this question, I looked at historical NCAA Tournament teams that were unranked in the preseason but were ranked in the final regular season poll (this one) to examine whether they came crashing down to earth when it mattered most. My findings indicate that these teams have in fact underperformed as a group in the NCAA Tournament. Since 2007, 106 teams fit the criteria. Just 37 of that group (35%) exceeded their seeds’ average win expectation (based on average wins for each seed since 2002), and the group as a whole won just 120 games. That mark is 30 below an expected aggregate total of 150 victories, a statistically significant difference at the five percent level. Furthermore, just one of 51 top-four seeds ultimately made the Final Four (Kemba Walker’s 2011 Connecticut squad), although they have collectively produced 11 Elite Eight appearances with Florida‘s run last year being the most recent example. The conclusion here is that, although a handful of teams in this group may turn out to exceed expectations, it is likely as a whole to underperform.

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RTC Bracket Prep: East Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 12th, 2018

Today and tomorrow we will be rolling out our region-by-region analysis for the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Here, Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates over the next two weeks (@RTCEastRegion).

East Region

Favorite: #1 Villanova (30-4, 14-4 Big East). Sound familiar? Villanova enters the NCAA Tournament as a #1 or #2 seed for the fifth straight season, a remarkable run that has included great success (see: 2016 National Championship) and bitter disappointment, with the Wildcats failing to reach the Sweet Sixteen in 2014, 2015 and 2017. This year, expect something closer to the former. While less defensively stout than in recent seasons, Villanova boasts the second-most efficient offense in the KenPom era behind only Wisconsin in 2014-15. Big East Player of the Year Jalen Brunson (19.4 PPG) might be the most reliable late-game scorer in college basketball, while 6’7″ wing Mikal Bridges (18 PPG, 1.6 SPG, 1.1 BPG) — a projected lottery pick — is among the sport’s premier two-way players. Jay Wright’s club may not be deep, but its 7-to-8 man rotation is cohesive and often blisteringly lethal. A potential Sweet Sixteen match-up with West Virginia could present some challenges, but it’s hard to see the Wildcats stumbling until a possible Elite Eight game with Purdue.

Villanova Adds Some More Hardware to Its Trophy Case (USA Today Images)

Should They Falter: #2 Purdue (28-6, 15-3 Big Ten). As recently as early February, Purdue ranked among the top 10 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency while arguably looking like the best team in America. Then it lost three games in a row, battled injury concerns and looked prone to fatigue. Lucky for the Boilermakers, this year’s early Big Ten Tournament means they will have had a full 11 days of rest by the time they tip off against Cal State Fullerton on Friday. That bodes well for an offense — the country’s second-most efficient behind Villanova —predicated on lights-out three-point shooting (42% 3FG) and pounding it underneath to 7’2″ center Isaac Haas (14.9 PPG). The extra rest should also help Purdue’s struggling defense clamp down more like it did for the first three months of the season. Between the match-up problems Haas and guard Carsen Edwards (18.5 PPG) present in addition to a manageable bottom half of the bracket, Matt Painter’s group is the next best bet after the Wildcats.

Grossly Overseeded: #9 Alabama (19-15, 8-10 SEC). There was nothing too egregious in the East Region, but it’s still hard to look at Alabama’s 15 (15!) losses and sub-.500 conference record and feel good about the Crimson Tide as a #9 seed. On Thursday, they were one Collin Sexton missed-layup away from the NIT. Two SEC Tournament wins later — albeit against quality opponents — and they are seeded higher than a Butler team that’s been an NCAA Tournament lock for weeks (with wins over Villanova and Ohio State to boot).

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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: West Virginia 66, Texas Tech 63

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 10th, 2018

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

Three Key Takeaways.

Daxter Miles Gets a Third Shot This Season at Kansas (USA Today Images)

  1. Not Your In-Laws’ Mountaineers. West Virginia’s trademark press didn’t generate the same results as usual, as the Red Raiders turned the ball over on just 15.6 percent of their possessions Friday night. On most nights, that would cause trouble for the Mountaineers since they have such a hard time scoring in Bob Huggins‘ motion offense, but they scored an even 1.00 points per possession in the winning effort. After the game, Huggins acknowledged that the grind of the conference tournament environment led him to pull back the reins, but the adjustment clearly worked. The Mountaineers actually relinquished their Big 12 defensive turnover percentage crown to Kansas State this season as conference opponents have grown accustomed to West Virginia’s brand of havoc; while it would be silly to expect the Mountaineers to completely abandon their hallmark defensive style, their ability to create offense without relying as heavily on turnovers is a positive sign moving forward.
  2. Texas Tech’s offense regresses. Chris Beard‘s team appeared to find its footing over the back half of conference play, as it entered Friday night’s game having scored at least 1.09 points per possession in its previous five outings. West Virginia, however, made frontcourt offense a struggle for the most surprising team in the Big 12. Keenan Evans and Tommy Hamilton IV were the only players who were able to get into any semblance of rhythm, and even then, it was fleeting; Evans uncharacteristically — and unsuccessfully — played hero ball on the game’s decisive possession, and the half-court heave on the next trip looked good out of his hand but rimmed out at the buzzer. Credit is also due to the Mountaineers’ interior defense, as Sagaba KonateEsa Ahmad and Wesley Harris frequently met the Red Raiders at the rim and emerged victorious more often than not.
  3. Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles are looking to go out with a bang. It’s strange knowing that Carter and Miles have just one more game left at the Sprint Center, and on Friday night the senior duo made sure to leave an imprint, combining for 39 points and an atypically hot 9-of-16 clip from distance. The Mountaineers were unusually competent in the half-court, and their leaders needed to be as they didn’t get very much help from their supporting cast.

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Big 12 Tournament Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 7th, 2018

After an intense two months of regular season play, postseason action will finally open tonight when the Big 12 Tournament tips off from Kansas City. The league is currently ripe for seven NCAA Tournament teams, with an eighth in sight and perhaps even a ninth if things really get wild. No matter how the at-large picture pans out, nearly every team in the league has something to play for, which means that there will be no shortage of storylines to monitor this week. Let’s break down this week’s event.

West Virginia seniors Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles begin their encore this week in Kansas City. (Nick Golden/The Daily Athenaeum)

  • The Favorite: After extending its regular season conference title streak to an unprecedented 14 seasons in a row, Kansas is once again the favorite to win this weekend’s Big 12 Tournament, alhough not overwhelmingly. It’s easy to see why most projections are looking Kansas’ way. The Jayhawks have the league’s best player/coach duo in Devonte’ Graham and Bill Self and are clicking offensively (last Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma State notwithstanding). Additionally, the Jayhawks will be playing right in their own backyard, motivated by the potential of capturing a #1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season.
  • Contenders: There are some valid reasons to fade Kansas, too. Counting on a thin team to win three games in as many days is challenging enough without accounting for the stiff competition it figures to face, and Texas Tech and West Virginia would love nothing more than to improve their NCAA seeding by beating the regular season champ. Stud Red Raiders guard Keenan Evans showed no ill effects over the weekend from a toe injury that hampered him in late February, and the Mountaineers’ deep rotation could go a long way toward countering the downsides of the game-per-day environment should West Virginia advance to Friday’s semifinals.

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Big 12 Superlatives

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 5th, 2018

That was a fun regular season. Kansas won the Big 12 as predicted by, well, anyone with a pulse, but the level of drama surrounding the crown was more substantial than in any year I can remember following the league. After being picked to finish seventh in the conference standings, Texas Tech matched the Jayhawks blow for blow for the first six weeks of league play before spinning out to close the regular season. Even West Virginia, which fell out of the race earlier than anticipated, recovered nicely from its late January slide. Trae Young and Oklahoma completely lost its arc after getting tabbed as a #4 seed in the early bracket reveal, and the bottom half of the Big 12 proved why this was the best conference season by any league since such things have been measured. The fact that only 4-14 Iowa State has no hope of making the NCAA Tournament with Selection Sunday only six days away is something the conference should be very happy about.

Devonte’ Graham put Kansas on his back to lead the Jayhawks in 2017-18. (Ed Zurga/Getty)

All Big-12 Team

  • Devonte’ Graham, Kansas
  • Trae Young, Oklahoma
  • Jevon Carter, West Virginia
  • Keenan Evans, Texas Tech
  • Dean Wade, Kansas State

The coaches made the right call with their picks, but let’s be serious — this was impossible to mess up. You could have made an argument for Texas’ Mohamed Bamba over Wade up until mid-February, but the Kansas State big man was so terrific down the stretch that Bamba would’ve been hard-pressed to make up the gap even had he not missed his last two games. More on Wade in a bit.

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