RTC Weekly Primer: Who Can Make a Run in March?

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 24th, 2015

It happens every year. Every single year. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but more often than not, there comes a time in a college basketball season when the entire hoops world witnesses the birth of something. It can begin with a bang; but it can also begin innocuously. It can occur in plain sight; but it can also be the tree in the middle of a deserted forest. This birth, of course, is the preliminary stage of a postseason run. And the run, of course, is the one that in a few weeks time will be the talk of college basketball. Back in 2011, it was Shelvin Mack, Brad Stevens and Butler. In 2012, it was Lorenzo Brown and NC State. In 2013, it was very nearly Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss. A season ago, it was Jordan McRae and the upstart Tennessee Volunteers. NCAA Tournament runs usually don’t just appear out of thin air. Typically, there’s a backstory. In 2015, the time has come for those backstories to develop. Next month’s headlines will start formulating themselves right now.

Most Every Team is Looking For Its Butler Moment (USA Today Images)

Most Every Team is Looking For Its Butler Moment (USA Today Images)

Who will those headlines be written about this year? Who will be the team that sees everything come together at the right time? Who will be that team? It’s time to start considering some possibilities:

  • Georgetown – The Hoyas aren’t exactly in the same category as the Butlers and Ole Misses of years past, but they seem to be flying somewhat under the radar. Georgetown has the pieces to make a run. The Hoyas are a top-20 defensive team, boast an occasionally dominant post presence in senior center Josh Smith, and have a guard in D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera who can take over a game. After getting smoked by Villanova a couple weeks ago, they’ve now won three straight and have the week off to prepare for St. John’s in Madison Square Garden on Saturday. That’s the kind of win that could propel the Hoyas to a #4 or #5 seed and their first Sweet Sixteen (or better) run since 2007.
  • Indiana – Another team that is solidly in the NCAA Tournament, the Hoosiers certainly will never be considered a Cinderella story. But most projections have them as a #8 or #9 seed right now, meaning they aren’t being discussed as a legitimate contender either. This team has notable flaws in its personnel and it has a coach who many have questioned in recent years. But it’s also arguably got the most lethal backcourt in the country — just the type of thing that can carry a team on a surprising journey through March. The Hoosiers, which have struggled on the road but have been dynamite at home, travel to Northwestern on Wednesday night before a two-game home swing featuring Iowa and Michigan State. It’s really the perfect slate to build some March momentum.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big 12 Power Rankings: The Texas Basketball Massacre Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 23rd, 2015

This was supposed to be the season. Like, THE season. The season Texas began ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press preseason poll. The season it would dethrone Kansas from the perch overlooking the rest of the Big 12. And more importantly, this was supposed to be the season — with eight rotation players returning and a blue-chipper entering — where it was destined for a run to NCAA Tournament’s second weekend, and perhaps beyond. Instead, the Longhorns sit at 17-10 overall with a meager 6-8 mark in Big 12 play. The general consensus from bracketologists, bubble-watchers and fans alike is that Texas, while starting trouble in the face over the next few weeks, is still safely in the field.

The problem with Texas' nosedive is a lot of little problems: from inconsistent play to coach Rick Barnes. (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images)

The problem with Texas’ nosedive is a lot of little problems: from inconsistent play to coach Rick Barnes and beyond. (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images)

To his credit, Rick Barnes is the only Big 12 coach other than Bill Self who consistently schedules a difficult non-conference schedule. This season’s slate of games looked rough in August but doesn’t seem all that impressive six months later. Four of Texas’ five toughest opponents (not including Kentucky, because Kentucky) were Iowa, California, Connecticut and Stanford. The Hawkeyes and Bears are no strangers to playing in the NCAA Tournament; Stanford went to the Sweet Sixteen just last year; and Connecticut, of course, is 10 months removed from cutting down the nets in Arlington. Unfortunately for Texas, the win over Iowa now means that the Longhorns have a win against another bubble team instead of a resume-enhancer; beating Cal doesn’t help them with their postseason aspirations; a win over UConn is questionable at best, and a loss to fellow bubble resident Stanford at home doesn’t help things. The conference schedule isn’t much better. Texas has only beaten one team (West Virginia) that is likely to reach the NCAA Tournament. The perception of this team could have easily been improved in a strong conference where every team plays each other twice, but possible sweeps of TCU, Texas Tech and Kansas State do not exactly scream great resume. With road tilts still to come at West Virginia and Kansas followed by home dates with Baylor and Kansas State, the Horns would have to find a way to finish 3-1 by splitting their road games and sweeping the last two in order to get themselves safely into the NCAA Tournament. Otherwise, Texas won’t make it to the finish line. What a disappointment.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Top 25: Week Fourteen

Posted by Walker Carey on February 23rd, 2015

Former Big East rivals #16 West Virginia and #18 Louisville probably turned in the most eventful week in college basketball. The Mountaineers jumped eight spots this week after earning victories against two ranked opponents, beginning on Monday when senior guard Juwan Staten made a layup with four seconds remaining to give his team a one-point home triumph over #8 Kansas. Bob Huggins’ squad followed that up on Saturday when it grabbed a nice 10-point win at Oklahoma State. Those two Big 12 wins moved West Virginia’s conference record to 9-5, which at this point still gives the Mountaineeers a glimmer of hope in the Big 12 race. While West Virginia’s week had a great week, Louisville experienced something of a media circus that concluded with the dismissal of one of its key players. First, news broke Tuesday evening that senior guard Chris Jones was suspended indefinitely and would not be with the team for Wednesday’s game at Syracuse. Predictably, Louisville blew a second half lead at the Carrier Dome and lost to the Orange by 10 points. Jones was then reinstated on Thursday for Saturday’s home game versus Miami (FL), a game in which Louisville overcame a 10-point halftime deficit on its way to a much-needed two-point win. Just when it seemed like things were returning to normal for Rick Pitino’s program, the school then announced on Sunday afternoon that Jones had been formally dismissed from the program. The Cardinals now have the unenviable task of finishing the balance of the regular season and the postseason without their senior point guard and one of their best offensive threats. College basketball is often where the unexpected happens, and that was certainly on display at Louisville last week.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty Analysis after the jump…

rtc25 02.23.15

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big 12 M5: 02.23.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on February 23rd, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Don’t look now, but the Big 12 title race is in full swing. After an 85-77 victory over Texas on Saturday afternoon, Iowa State has now won three straight games and sits one game behind first place Kansas with four games left to play. While it may be tough for Fred Hoiberg’s group to win the regular season crown outright, it could certainly earn a share if the Cyclones finish strong. Hoiberg and his players agree that they are putting it together at just the right time. “We’re hitting our stride,” Georges Niang said after the win, “and I think that’s because we decided to come together and do it as a team rather than as individuals. That’s huge for us.” With their potent offense clicking on all cylinders, Iowa State will be a tough out come March.
  2. Texas, meanwhile, is headed in the opposite direction. The Longhorns have lost their last two games and are now 6-8 in Big 12 play with only one win over a conference team likely to make the NCAA Tournament. With upcoming road contests against West Virginia and Kansas still to come, it might be time for Texas to start pressing the panic button. Carrying a 1-10 record against the RPI top 50, it’s now just as likely that the Longhorns will head to the NIT, according to NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster. A win against West Virginia or Kansas would go a long, long way toward shoring up Texas’ shaky NCAA Tournament resume.
  3. Jesse Newell of The Topeka Capital-Journal published an interesting read on some of the finer details of Bill Self’s coaching during Kansas’ weekend win over TCU. From his position on press row, Jesse could hear how Self was instructing his players during the game’s stoppages in play, so he documented some of those moments in addition to how the players reacted to those conversations. While we are used to analyzing the game from a distance, this was a great opportunity to get inside one of the game’s best coaching minds.
  4. ESPN Insider has been running a series of posts this season examining potential Giant Killers in the NCAA Tournament — teams with high seeds that might upset a much better seed in the round of 32. The metric-based forecast has pegged the Big 12’s West Virginia as the most potent potential Giant Killer in the potential field. The Mountaineers’ ability to create extra shots through offensive rebounding and turnovers gives them a 77.9 percent chance to upset an average Giant come March. That’s a lethal combination when opposing teams will have such a limited amount of time (48 hours or less) to prepare for West Virginia’s unique style.
  5. Oklahoma and Texas Tech provided the latest case study in whether a team leading by three should foul or defend on the final possession. With 16 seconds remaining, Sooners’ coach Lon Kruger instructed his team to foul on the upcoming possession. With 7.7 seconds remaining, Oklahoma fouled the Red Raiders’ Toddrick Gotcher. After missing the first free throw, Gotcher intentionally missed the second. The ensuing scrum allowed Texas Tech’s Isaiah Manderson to grab the rebound before kicking it out to Gotcher for the tying basket. The Sooners would escape with a win in overtime, but not before facing a similar situation in the extra period. Oklahoma elected to play it out the second time around, walking away with the victory after a missed three-point attempt.
Share this story

Big 12 Power Rankings: College Basketball’s Most Boring Conference? Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 17th, 2015

We’ve heard from fans and pundits alike this season that the Big 12 is the best conference in college basketball. SB Nation’s Mike Rutherford decided to do some homework on that discussion and released some findings in a piece he published on Monday afternoon. Before you get out your pitchforks and torches, though, Rutherford brings some strong evidence to suggest that maybe the conference is not all it’s cracked up to be. He samples the seven teams that have been ranked in the AP Top 25 during conference play — Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas, West Virginia and Oklahoma State — and averaged out each team’s win/loss margin whenever a match-up between two ranked opponents occurred. For instance, in the eight games where a ranked Oklahoma team has faced a ranked Big 12 opponent, the Sooners’ combined average margin of victory (or defeat) was 14.6 points per game.

Is the Big 12 as difficult as the pollsters make it out to be? (Big 12 Conference)

Is the Big 12 as difficult as the pollsters make it out to be?

Rutherford then calculated the other average margins (accurate as of tip-off of the Kansas-West Virginia game) — Iowa State (7.9 PPG), Kansas (8.4), Baylor (10.4), Oklahoma State (12.0), Texas (17.4) and West Virginia (17.8) — and then argues that the scoring margins should be a lot closer that they actually are (aggregate scoring margin: 12.6 PPG). In this context, Rutherford is right. Big 12 basketball can be quite boring. But is that the fault of the teams? Some of it is, but the pollsters deserve the lion’s share of it. Many AP pollsters who don’t primarily cover college basketball sometimes paste together their Top 25s by skimming over how teams did the previous week. While that is clearly an important factor to consider, there are others at play too, such as performances earlier in the season or the severity of some losses. Case in point: Oklahoma was ranked #16 in the AP poll during the week of January 5 but the Sooners would go on to lose four of their next five games. In the January 26 poll released three weeks afterward, Oklahoma dropped from #16 to #24. Often a team that loses twice in a week is poised to completely fall out of the rankings, but the pollsters only punished the Sooners by eight spots following such a rough stretch. Another example is Texas, a team that dropped six of eight games at an early point in league play, falling from #10 to #25 in the AP poll over four weeks. Rankings are ultimately an exercise in aggregating how different people view the world around them, and speaking of which, here’s this week’s Big 12 Power Rankings.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big 12 Weekend Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 13th, 2015

As we move into mid-February, the dust in the Big 12 race may finally be starting to settle. Kansas at the head of the pack isn’t anything new, but recent games have brought us a little more clarity behind them after several weeks of volatility. Oklahoma has built a sliver of separation on Iowa State and Baylor while West Virginia‘s backloaded schedule looks like it’s starting to catch up to them. Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Oklahoma State, which has done more in the last week to change its NCAA Tournament status than perhaps any other team in the country. Weekend #7 of conference play should continue to provide resolution, but you never know when things will get chaotic again.

Wayne Selden (left) and Brannen Greene (center) have made a living torching Big 12 opponents from deep. (Jamie Squire/Getty)

Is a reliable back-to-the-basket threat really that important when Wayne Selden (left) and Brannen Greene (center) are torching all comers from deep? (Jamie Squire/Getty)

  • Baylor at Kansas (1:00 ET) – Bill Self wants his team to shoot fewer threes, but the data suggests that it shouldn’t as Kansas ranks seventh in the country in three-point percentage (40.9%). In addition, the Jayhawks make post scoring look like pulling teeth at times, so a game against Baylor’s zone should dictate more long-range bombing. Also of note here is the development that Cliff Alexander will start consecutive games for the first time all season, so keep an eye on how he responds to the challenge of keeping the glass-eating Rico Gathers off the boards.
  • West Virginia at Iowa State (4:00 ET) – Losers of two of their last three, the Mountaineers are about to enter a scheduling gauntlet that starts tomorrow at less than full strength — sophomore Brandon Watkins availability is in question after he sprained his MCL against Kansas State. Iowa State is in a little bit of a rut themselves lately, having also lost two of their last three games. As welcome an addition as Jameel McKay has been for the Cyclones, their recent efforts on defense have been horrific, so perhaps a home game against the league’s seventh-ranked will cure what ails them.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Musings on the Mountaineers: Just How Good is West Virginia?

Posted by Chris Stone on February 13th, 2015

West Virginia has been one of this season’s biggest surprises in college basketball. Picked by the league’s coaches to finish in a tie for sixth in the Big 12, the Mountaineers are currently 7-4 and tied for third. Head coach Bob Huggins has fundamentally transformed the team’s playing style by adopting a high-pressure defense that aims to turn opponents over before they can set up their half-court offense. “We knew we could get teams to play different,” West Virginia assistant Larry Harrison recently told Bleacher Report. “Our goal is to get them out of their half-court offense. That’s what the goal was.”

The Mountaineers have opened the eyes of opponents with their up tempo play.

The Mountaineers have opened the eyes of opponents with their uptempo play this season.

The strategy has been successful. West Virginia leads the Big 12 in defensive turnover percentage, causing a turnover on 27.5 percent of its opponents’ possessions. Its high-paced, trapping defense has helped create steals on 14.5 percent of possessions in league play. Freshman Jevon Carter — an unranked, three-star recruit — has been a revelation, ranking 10th nationally in steal percentage by creating a turnover on 5.0 percent of possessions. Turnovers are an important part of keeping teams out of their half-court offenses and they’re necessary to West Virginia’s success. Because of it, the Mountaineers have the fourth-best defense in the Big 12 (allowing 98.8 points per 100 possessions) despite only having the league’s ninth-best defensive effective field goal percentage.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big 12 M5: 02.13.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 13th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Last summer, Kansas assistant Jerrance Howard pled guilty to a charge of unlawful possession of marijuana in Peoria, Illinois. According to the Peoria Journal Star, Howard was ordered to pay nearly $1,200 in fines and legal fees and was placed under court supervision for six months. Somewhat coincidentally, the six-month court supervision period ends today and head coach Bill Self claims he did not have knowledge of the situation until Wednesday. Self responded by suspending Howard from team activities for two weeks, but this is pretty much a non-story. Howard had a lapse in judgment, a sentence was handed down, and it was served. Let’s all move on.
  2. TCU coach Trent Johnson announced yesterday that junior guard Charles Hill Jr. has been suspended indefinitely for “conduct unbecoming of a TCU men’s basketball player.” Hill has appeared in 14 games this season, averaging 2.6 points and 1.2 rebounds in a little over five minutes per game of action. As Frogs O’ War points out, Hill sent out a tweet following TCU’s 66-43 loss to Texas that may or may not have to do with his suspension. We probably won’t hear what he did to warrant punishment but kudos to Johnson, though, for working in “unbecoming” into a suspension announcement. Coaches and athletic departments typically reuse the same suspension statement ad nauseam. Finally, I feel smarter after reading one of these things!
  3. In West Virginia’s recent win over Kansas State, Mountaineers sophomore forward Brandon Watkins sprained the medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his left knee while having his best game of the season (14 points and nine rebounds in 17 minutes). Watkins is listed as day-to-day and therefore has a chance to suit up for the team’s massive road contest with Iowa State on Saturday. I hope he is well enough to play because heaven knows the ‘Eers haven’t had a good win since throttling Oklahoma a month ago.
  4. On Thursday, SI’s Luke Winn published the interweb’s most intelligent power rankings for your consumption. Seven Big 12 teams are ranked in the top 24 teams on his list, with Oklahoma making a seven-spot jump from last week, the sharpest increase of any team among his top 16. Winn asks whether the Sooners are the national title contender that we aren’t talking about, and it’s a valid question. They’ve played fantastic basketball lately but have still suffered a handful of head-scratching losses (Creighton, Washington, Kansas State at home and at West Virginia). I want to believe in the Sooners, I do, but I’m not totally confident in Lon Kruger’s team getting to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, much less Final Four weekend.
  5. West Virginia guard Juwan Staten was named as a finalist for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award on Thursday. Staten is just one of ten players in Division I to earn this distinction, given to the senior with “notable achievements in four areas of excellence: community, classroom, character and competition.” Staten is the Big 12’s lone representative. The Big East had three (D’Angelo Harrison – St. John’s; Matt Stainbrook – Xavier; Alex Barlow – Butler); the Big Ten had two (D.J. Newbill – Penn State; Frank Kaminsky – Wisconsin); the West Coast Conference had two (Kevin Pangos – Gonzaga; Tyler Haws – Brigham Young); while the Ohio Valley (Reece Chamberlain – Belmont) and Pac-12 (Chasson Randle – Stanford) conferences each had one representative per league.
Share this story

Big 12 Power Rankings: Oklahoma, Where Wins Come Sweeping Down the Plains Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 9th, 2015

The regular season can be a long, drawn out-proposition. Around 12 to 15 games are typically played during the pre-conference season, and even though it’s impossible to survey each team correctly, people like us try it anyway to avoid doing something else that’s actually mind-numbing. Case in point with Oklahoma. While some prognosticators pegged them as an early darkhorse to make the Final Four, no one told Creighton about that as the Bluejays beat the Sooners by two points in their second game of the season (RPI: #130). Lon Kruger’s team made up for that defeat by winning two of three out in its trip to the Bahamas, including a key neutral-court victory over a much-improved Butler team (RPI: #18). December resulted in another hiccup, though, with the Sooners losing to a ranked Washington group on a neutral court. The Huskies had started the year 11-0 with several nice victories before losing nine of their next 12 games. Now that loss is looking a lot more iffy (RPI: #80).

Don't be shy. Give it a try. (SoonerSports.com)

Don’t be shy. Give it a try. (SoonerSports.com)

Thank goodness for conference play, right? Every team welcomes the chance to start all over again. After beating Baylor and Texas by a combined 31 points to tip off Big 12 play, bad Oklahoma paid a return visit. Starting with a crushing home loss in the final seconds of overtime to Kansas State, the Sooners would move on to lose four of their next five contests. But in recent weeks, it now appears that good Oklahoma is back in action with a four-game winning streak. Through the ups and downs has been a talented crop of players but perhaps the best of this group is Big 12 Player of the Year candidate Buddy Hield. His game was far more perimeter-oriented last year, but Hield has become a dangerous offensive weapon from anywhere on the floor this season. So given all of these ups and downs, the Sooners are poise to leap into sole possession of second place in the Big 12 and become the newest challenger to Kansas’ throne. But they have to win tonight.

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “The Jayhawks control their own destiny despite Saturday’s loss in Stillwater, but the allocation of minutes across their frontcourt continues to baffle me. Cliff Alexander played 16 minutes and was fantastic around the rim while Jamari Traylor set a new career high in turnovers (six) in his 23 minutes of action. Meanwhile, Landen Lucas contributed a forgettable two rebounds and no points in 12 minutes.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)
  2. Iowa State — 7 points (Chris & Nate — 2nd, Brian — 3rd) Comment: “The Cyclones blasted Texas Tech 75-38 this week, as Jameel McKay found his way into the starting lineup due to Bryce Dejean-Jones’ tardiness. After finishing with 17 points and nine rebounds, McKay might be proving himself worthy of a permanent spot.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Big 12 M5: 02.06.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 6th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Texas‘ overtime loss to Oklahoma State on Wednesday dropped the Longhorns to a disappointing 3-6 in conference play and ignited some talk of the possibility of the Longhorns missing the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years. I’m here to tell you that that chatter is very premature. While Texas doesn’t have any business being this bad with its formidable blend of talent and experience, it’s way too early to be bringing the Horns into the bubble conversation. They still own wins over Iowa at Madison Square Garden and UConn in Storrs, as well as a home win over West Virginia. On the other side of the ledger, their losses, while numerous, aren’t particularly egregious for their resume — every team they’ve lost to is currently ranked in the RPI top 35. Lastly, as is always the case with these kinds of conversations, in order to leave Texas out of the Big Dance, you have to find a team with a better resume, and the bubble right now is just too soft to make a convincing argument for the Longhorns to be left on the outside. There’s no doubt Texas has fallen well short of expectations, but they aren’t in any danger of missing the Tournament – yet. If they lose two or more of their next three games (at Kansas State, at home against TCU and Texas Tech), then we can talk.
  2. It’s been an up-and-down few years for Oklahoma State, so when a season highlight presents itself, I don’t have any problem if its fanbase wants to milk it for all its worth. Kyle Porter of Pistols Firing dissects Le’Bryan Nash’s rim-shaking throwdown from Wednesday night in great detail, all the way from how the play developed to the always-fun bench reactions and Travis Ford getting greedy and lobbying for a foul call. Looking around the conference, there isn’t a player who is more important to his team’s postseason chances than Nash is to the Cowboys due to his high usage and ability to create plays for himself, so when a play of his goes viral, it’s definitely worth passing along.
  3. Luke Winn’s power rankings at SI.com are always a great read, and this week’s edition includes an interesting blurb about Cliff Alexander‘s presence on the interior. We’ve talked before about Alexander’s offensive rawness in the post, but Winn illuminates how much Alexander lags behind his peers in this department. Jahlil Okafor, Myles Turner and Karl-Anthony Towns have all been considerably more productive on the blocks, but in fairness to Alexander, the other three players are taller and should be expected to post better numbers. Alexander has the potential to develop a true back-to-the-basket game over time, however, so we’ll see what the second half of conference play and the postseason brings out of the freshman.
  4. Tomorrow’s match-up between Baylor and West Virginia is one of the more interesting games of the weekend. A Baylor win would pull the Bears even with West Virginia, allowing them to keep a sliver of hope in ultimately catching Kansas in the league standings. The Mountaineers’ press will look to speed up Baylor’s deliberate tempo, which is currently ranked 300th in the country with an average possession length of 19.7 seconds. Additionally, neither team shoots particularly well, but both rank in the top five nationally in offensive rebounding. Unless Baylor gets white-hot from beyond the arc (as they can get sometimes), you can expect the winner of this one to be determined by second-chance points.
  5. We’ll wrap up by giving Oklahoma credit for fielding the conference’s most efficient defensive unit in the first half of Big 12 play. Kansas has owned that title in each of the last three full seasons and nine of the last 10, so while there’s still a lot of basketball to be played, it says a lot about the progress Lon Kruger‘s team has made from last year’s shaky defensive performance. Buddy Hield has slightly improved his steals rate from 2.4% last year to 2.6% this year while committing just 1.8 fouls per game in conference play. Those marks would be impressive for any player, but it’s especially noteworthy for Hield because of the high workload he’s asked to shoulder (he’s averaging 34 minutes per game in Big 12 play). The Sooners have held their last three opponents to an average of 48 points per game and could be a decent bet to do the same when they face TCU in Fort Worth tomorrow.
Share this story

Can Any Big 12 Team Stop Kansas From Lucky Number 11?

Posted by Chris Stone on February 4th, 2015

We’ve now arrived at the halfway point of the Big 12 season and the league standings certainly have a familiar feel to them. After winning at least a share of the regular season title in each of the last 10 seasons, Bill Self’s Kansas group once again sits atop the conference with a remarkable 8-1 record. The Jayhawks currently hold a two-game lead over their closest competitors, Iowa State and West Virginia, so even at this midway point, it’s already worth asking if another team can stop Kansas from snagging a share or an outright 11th straight regular season title. Ken Pomeroy’s ratings system currently projects Kansas to finish Big 12 play with a league-best 14-4 record. The Jayhawks are expected to be favored in all but two of their remaining games — road trips to West Virginia and Oklahoma are the pair of outliers. Because Pomeroy’s system factors in the cumulative probabilities of winning each game, he expects Kansas might drop one other unnamed game along the way.

Brannen Greene celebrates with fans after the Jayhawks' win over Iowa State. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Brannen Greene celebrates with fans after the Jayhawks’ win over Iowa State. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

The Jayhawks’ season will turn on their final five road games, something Self is keenly aware of. “If you’re able to go steal another game or two on the road, then you’ll be in better shape.” he recently said. “But hey, we’ve got five road games left and if we don’t go and play well, we’ll go 0-5.” That scenario, of course, is extremely unlikely with a road game against league-worst Texas Tech coming up. Kansas is also likely to win its four remaining home games (Baylor, TCU, West Virginia and Texas). Pomeroy gives them at least a 70 percent win probability in each and Kansas is on a 20-game winning streak at Allen Fieldhouse. Even if the unthinkable occurs and the Jayhawks lose their four remaining road games, that would likely put them at 13-5 in Big 12 play to end the season.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Weekly Primer: At Long Last, It’s Basketball Season

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 3rd, 2015

It’s basketball season. At long last, it’s basketball season. It’s a shame that the general sports-loving public takes so long to realize that’s the case, but regardless of their failures and inadequacies, it’s time to look ahead. Football is finally and definitively over, and it’s time for the roundball and the hardwood floor to take center stage on the American sports landscape. The Super Bowl was awesome — one of the greatest of all-time, and a phenomenal advertisement for the competitiveness of the NFL — but as always, it was a bit anti-climactic. After two weeks of buildup, it’s all over; and just like that, there is a major void on the sports scene.

There's No Better Environment That Those in College Basketball (USA Sports Images)

There’s No Better Environment That Those in College Basketball (USA Sports Images)

College basketball must fill that void. For the dedicated fans, it undoubtedly will. But a frequently posed question in recent years has been whether college basketball has become a “niche sport”? According to a recent Harris poll, the game has indeed declined in popularity. Currently only three percent of American sports fans identify college hoops as their go-to game — down from five percent in 2011, and 10 percent in 1989 — and only a seismic shift in popularity could see the sport return to its peak levels in the 1980s and 1990s. Does that matter? For those who attach themselves to the overall health and growth of the game, yeah, it does. But at least in the short run from now until April 6, no poll will inhibit the joy we derive from the on-court action of college basketball. “Niche” can be viewed as a demeaning word when it is used in this context, but niche is fine so long as it can produce compelling games like Duke-Virginia in Charlottesville on Saturday and atmospheres like Kansas-Iowa State in Allen Fieldhouse last night.

Three for the Money

  • West Virginia at Oklahoma | Tuesday, 8:00 PM EST, ESPN2. After an explosive Big Monday of important (if not competitive) games, it’s a rather slow work week in the world of college hoops. But before we jump ahead to the weekend’s action, let’s not lose sight of this one on Tuesday night in Norman. It’s time to focus on the season that West Virginia is putting together. All of a sudden, the Mountaineers at 6-2 appear to be the biggest threat to Kansas in the Big 12 race. Bob Huggins has done a spectacular job in rebuilding this team after a couple of down years. He has possibly the conference’s best player in senior Juwan Staten but his true value with this year’s group has been molding them into a new identity featuring pressure defense all over the floor. Four West Virginia players rank among the nation’s top 100 in steal percentage, and the team prides itself on turning opponents over and getting out in transition. Tonight’s game could go either way. Oklahoma could get sucked into West Virginia’s traps and come out on the wrong end of a helter-skelter contest; or the Sooners could constantly be in attack mode, using the fast tempo and a raucous home crowd to play right into their hands.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story