Big 12 Previews: Kansas & Kansas State

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 2nd, 2018

With tip-off now mere days away, we’re continuing our 2018-19 Big 12 coverage by going around the league team-by-team. Be sure to check in throughout the season and follow Big 12 correspondent Brian Goodman on Twitter @BSGoodman.

Kansas

Bill Self and Kansas want nothing more than to roll out the ball. (USA Today Images)

A few misses on the recruiting trail and Billy Preston’s compromised eligibility led last season’s Jayhawks to field one of their thinnest teams in recent memory. With Bill Self’s hand forced, he leaned into his team’s strength of perimeter play like never before. Svi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman and Devonte’ Graham each buried at least 85 three-pointers last year, and all three connected at a 40 percent or better clip in pacing the nation’s fifth-best offense, which also helped mask the worst defensive group of the Self era (47th nationally). There were a number of moments that Kansas fans would rather forget, such as losing to NIT-bound Washington in Kansas City and dropping three home games for the first time since boy bands dominated the Billboard charts, but the Jayhawks still won 31 games, still notched their 14th consecutive Big 12 title and still made the Final Four for the first time since 2012 without a single first-round pick, so they handled the adversity just fine.

Who’s Gone:

  • G Devonte’ Graham: 17.3 PPG, 7.2 APG, 40.6% 3FG
  • G Svi Mykhailiuk: 14.6 PPG, 44.4% 3FG
  • G Malik Newman: 14.2 PPG, 5.0 RPG

Who’s Back:

  • C Udoka Azubuike: 13.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.7 BPG
  • G Lagerald Vick: 12.1 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 37.3% 3FG
  • G Marcus Garrett: 19.2 MPG, 4.1 PPG
  • F Mitch Lightfoot: 14.0 MPG, 3.8 PPG, 3.1 RPG
  • F Silvio De Sousa*: 20 GP, 4.0 PPG, 3.7 RPG

*suspended indefinitely

Who’s Coming In:

  • F Dedric Lawson (transfer from Memphis): 19.2 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 2.1 BPG in 2016-17
  • G K.J. Lawson (transfer from Memphis): 12.3 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 2.8 APG in 2016-17
  • G Charlie Moore (transfer from Cal): 12.2 PPG, 3.5 APG, 35.2% 3FG in 2016-17
  • G Quentin Grimes (five-star recruit)
  • G Devon Dotson (five-star recruit)
  • F David McCormack (four-star recruit)

Outlook: Even if De Sousa were available, he’d be no better than the team’s third-best big man (if that), so while a cloud of suspicion stemming from alleged improprieties revealed over the last several months may surround this team, it’s more likely to manifest itself in the form of increased vitriol from opposing fanbases and in local and national talk than in any real way on the court. That isn’t nothing, but the point is that this year’s team should be just fine, barring any new revelations. That’s a credit to the group of talent that Self has assembled in spite of any doubts circling its construction. Kansas is positioned to return to a classic two-big look, with Memphis transfer and preseason All-American Dedric Lawson and Udoka Azubuike possessing the strength, skill and experience to overpower most of their match-ups, and Mitch Lightfoot and David McCormack behind them. Whether it’s optimal to feature two bigs as prominent as Lawson and Azubuike in the era of pace and space is a conversation worth having, but we’ll leave it for another time. Another interesting question in Lawrence is how the point guard position will shake out after Devonte’ Graham and Frank Mason gave the team so much production and consistency over the last four seasons. Charlie Moore has experience and some scoring ability, but Marcus Garrett has the defensive-mindedness and toughness that Self loves so much and Devon Dotson is the most decorated point guard prospect to come through Lawrence since Josh Selby. There shouldn’t be many problems at the two-guard slot, though, with Lagerald Vick returning and a blue-chip freshman in Quentin Grimes ready to contribute as well. The Jayhawks are a melting pot of program guys, transfers and stud recruits, making them an excellent bet to win their 15th consecutive conference title followed by another deep postseason run. 

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Kansas State 61, #5 Kentucky 58

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 22nd, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Atlanta for the South Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Xavier Sneed led Kansas State in its upset over Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen.
(Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. The South Region delivers again. Kentucky was a heavy favorite in Atlanta and had heavy crowd support throughout the game, but the Wildcats were in trouble most of the way tonight. Kansas State exploded for an early 13-1 lead and took a four-point lead into the break. Then when it looked like Kentucky would blow past them midway through the second half, Kansas State spurted back ahead by nine. But to Kentucky’s credit, John Calipari’s youngsters kept fighting and clawed their way back yet again. The final push led to a riveting game-ending few minutes, with the lead going back and forth between Wildcats. With under 20 seconds to go and the score tied, Barry Brown made a clutch driving layup to put Kansas State ahead by three, but the game wasn’t decided until Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s three clanged off the back iron at the buzzer. That leaves us with the most improbable Elite Eight matchup we could ever imagine, which is par for the course in this year’s South Region.  
  2. Kansas State is a really good defensive team. It’s not a coincidence that every team that plays the Wildcats struggles on the offensive end of the floor. Kentucky came into tonight’s contest averaging 86.5 points per game in the NCAA Tournament, but the Wildcats couldn’t crack the 60-point mark against Bruce Weber‘s defense. For the game, Kentucky shot just 38.1 percent from the floor and went 3-of-12 from three-point land. The Wildcats in purple were giving up almost four inches per man against Kentucky, however, and it took its toll in the form of foul trouble. Three Kansas State players fouled out and two others finished with four violations, but the tough-minded Big 12 Wildcats hung on to win.
  3. Kentucky’s youth finally caught up with them. Against a physically inferior squad, the Wildcats wearing white made too many mistakes to beat a Kansas State bunch intent on not giving in. In the key moments down the stretch of this game, Kentucky may have felt the pressure of being the favorite — missing free throws (23-of-37 in the game), committing ball-handling mistakes (15 turnovers) and taking a number of questionable shots. Kentucky had been playing great over the last month of the season, but they looked young in the late parts of tonight’s game — failing to get a decent look on either of its last two possessions.

Player of the Game. Xavier Sneed, Kansas State. Sneed led the way with 22 points and nine rebounds despite fighting foul trouble for much of the night. He was particularly effective from deep, sinking more than half of his team’s threes by going 5-of-8 from behind the arc. 

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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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Big 12 Burning Questions: Kansas State Wildcats

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 26th, 2017

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

Will Bruce Weber escape the hot seat yet again?

It’s been a strange eight months for Kansas State basketball. In late February, with the Wildcats in the midst of a 5-9 slump, former athletic director John Currie abruptly left Manhattan to take the same position at Tennessee. The Wildcats righted the ship down the stretch just enough to limp into the NCAA Tournament, however, where it beat Wake Forest in the First Four before bowing out to Cincinnati in the next round. Despite the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2014, it wasn’t considered a successful year in the eyes of a fan base weary of repeated mediocre seasons under Weber.

Bruce Weber will look to a veteran core to shake off his critics. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)

The university didn’t hire a new athletic director until mid-April, well after the best time to strike for a new head coach. That’s not to say that Currie would have fired Weber had he stuck around, but it’s clear that Weber benefited from the sudden change. A few months later, new athletic director Gene Taylor gave Weber a two-year contract extension, and while Taylor can spin it however he wants, the financials and length indicate that he did so more out of an obligation to give his coach cover on the recruiting trail than as an affirmative gesture endorsing his recent performance. With three straight sub-.500 finishes in Big 12 play, a knack for wearing fans out with inconsistency and a penchant for taking things from bad to worse with regrettable postgame comments, Weber finds himself in the odd situation of being under the microscope in Year One of a contract extension.

Wesley Iwundu and D.J. Johnson are assuredly big losses, but the Wildcats have an identifiable and skilled core returning in juniors Dean Wade, Kamau Stokes and Barry Brown. Together, the trio accounted for 45 percent of Kansas State’s offense last year and will need to contribute more as upperclassmen — especially Wade, one of the conference’s most efficient scorers and three-point shooters. The key issues for this team are that Wade hasn’t yet proven he can be more consistent on a game-to-game basis and that the drop-off from that trio to the rest of the roster may be too steep to overcome.

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Big 12 Offseason Storylines to Follow

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 24th, 2017

The Big 12 had a decent but ultimately unimpressive showing in this year’s postseason. Of the league’s six NCAA Tournament teams, three advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, but only one advanced to the Elite Eight, and we all know what happened from there as Kansas flamed out to Jordan Bell and the Oregon Ducks. With the offseason now upon us and some time ahead to reflect, here are a few storylines worth following this summer and into the start of the 2017-18 season.

Frank Mason Takes His Hardware to the Next Level (USA Today Images)

  • How will Kansas retool? Frank Mason III leaves Lawrence as one of the most decorated players in program history. His wonderful four-year career won’t soon be forgotten, but it doesn’t change the fact that Kansas needs to figure out its point guard situation moving forward. Transfer Malik Newman can serve as the Jayhawks’ floor general in a pinch, but he’s more of a scoring guard than a facilitator and Bill Self has already said that he sees the redshirt sophomore manning the two. Barring a surprise commitment from elite point guard prospect Trevon Duval, the Jayhawks are looking at some combination of Devonte’ Graham and freshman Marcus Garrett handling the team’s ball-handling duties next season. Self also needs some frontcourt depth following the departures of Landen Lucas, Josh Jackson and Carlton Bragg, but the point guard position will be the most intriguing roster question as the Jayhawks begin their pursuit of a 14th consecutive regular season Big 12 title next fall.
  • A new era at Iowa State. Despite 47 wins and a Sweet Sixteen appearance in two seasons in Ames, Steve Prohm needs to show what he can do without the services of Monte’ Morris, Deonte Burton, Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas in the lineup. The job now becomes one of rebuilding for the Cyclone program, but there is somewhat of a foundation from which to work. Solomon Young, Donovan Jackson, transfer Ray Kasongo, Cameron Lard and highly-touted freshman Lindell Wigginton are interesting building blocks, but don’t appear to offer the ceiling of Hoiberg and Prohm’s best teams. The early going next season may be a little rocky as this group becomes accustomed to playing with each other, but a top-half finish in Big 12 play would be an admirable achievement. Fans should additionally keep an eye on Prohm’s pursuit of coveted JuCo forward Shakur Juiston.

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Kansas State’s Real Work Begins This Weekend

Posted by Drew Andrews on December 29th, 2016

Kansas State will begin conference play against a reeling Texas team on Friday night in Manhattan, and it’s about time. Head coach Bruce Weber should be commended for getting to the start of Big 12 play with only a one-point loss to Maryland on the Wildcats’ resume, but his team has played the fifth-worst schedule of 351 Division I college basketball teams, according to KenPom. The offenses that Kansas State has faced ranks second-worst in the nation. With the Longhorns coming to Bramlage Coliseum as the only Big 12 offense ranked outside of the top 75 nationally, it is safe to say that the Wildcats’ schedule is about to get much more difficult.

Bruce Weber Doesn't Yet Know What He's Got This Season (USA Today Images)

Bruce Weber Doesn’t Yet Know What He’s Got This Season (USA Today Images)

What has worked for the Wildcats this season is that they have been equally effective on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. Ranked 41st and 29th, respectively, in offensive and defensive efficiency, Weber’s team has shot very well from three-point range (38.8% 3FG) and smothered teams inside the arc (38.9% 2FG defense). Given the weak schedule, it’s difficult to know if these statistics are sustainable, but last year’s team by contrast was one of the worst in the country from beyond the arc (30.0% 3FG). The addition of freshman wing Xavier Sneed (38.8% 3FG) and the maturation of sophomores like Kamau Stokes (40.7% 3FG) and Dean Wade (40.7% 3FG) has led to a more balanced offense. No Wildcat shot better than 34 percent from three-point range a season ago; this season, four players have double-figure makes and are shooting above that mark.

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Big 12 Freshmen Update: The Names You Know & The Names You Should

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 2nd, 2016

Last season was like a dream for the Big 12, as junior and senior-laden teams produced some of the best basketball the conference has seen in its 20-year history. Seven teams made the NCAA Tournament, and unlike years past, multiple members other than Kansas made it to the second weekend and beyond. With much of that experience from those teams now gone, many Big 12 teams are looking to their freshmen to lead this season. There are a few schools with freshmen who did not make the cut for several reasons. Those particular teams either did not have compelling enough freshmen just yet (i.e., Baylor and West Virginia), have good contributors who haven’t played in every game (i.e., Iowa State’s Solomon Young) or don’t have any scholarship freshmen at all (Texas Tech). Let’s take a look at the top eight freshmen in the league to this point in the season.

I doubt a better picture of KU super freshman Josh Jackson in the known universe. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

I doubt a better photo of KU super freshman Josh Jackson exists in the known universe. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

  • Jarrett Allen, center, Texas (10.5 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.3 BPG in 29.7 MPG): Allen being on this list is both a blessing and a curse. The Round Rock, Texas, native currently ranks first in rebounds and blocked shots on the team and is third in scoring. However, Allen has to this point logged better field goal shooting (52.2%) than he has at the charity stripe (51.7%). Still, the season is young and this freshman is a rising star for the Longhorns.
  • Udoka Azubuike, center, Kansas (5.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.3 BPG in 13.7 MPG): Azubuike is the latest in Bill Self’s successful recruit-17-year-old-basketball-prodigies program. His measurements — an energetic 6’11” big man with a 7’5″ wingspan — are what get NBA scouts excited, but it is clear that the freshman has some game. Self clearly is buying in, given that Azubuike has started each of Kansas’ last two games. Prepare for more impressive numbers from this precocious big man after we ring in the New Year.

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Big 12 M5: 11.16.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 16th, 2016

morning5_big12

  1. Another huge game from Frank Mason fueled Kansas’ 77-75 win over Duke last night. Even though the Blue Devils were without three of its star freshmen, the Jayhawks withstood plenty of their own challenges — from foul trouble to ineffectiveness beyond the arc (2-of-16 3FG) to a bad night at the charity stripe (9-of-19 FT). The Jayhawks also blew a late double-digit lead, but it ultimately did not matter as Mason cashed in a game-winning elbow jumper with 1.8 seconds remaining, the last of his 17 second-half points. Beating Duke in any environment is a big deal, but this victory should yield some real dividends come March if the Blue Devils play to their lofty expectations once healthy.
  2. Entering the season, one of the key questions for Baylor aside from point guard play was how the Bears would account for the loss of Rico Gathers. It’s a remarkably small sample size, but through two games including a top-five opponent in Oregon, Jo Lual-Acuil has answered the bell, averaging 15.0 rebounds and 7.2 blocks per 40 minutes  in the young season. The junior will be challenged next week when the Bears head to the Bahamas and again in December when they host Xavier, so stiffer competition should give way to a more confident read on Lual-Acuil, but in the meantime, he’s been one of the big surprises around the conference.
  3. Switching gears from a surprise to a known quantity, how great is it to have Oklahoma State‘s Phil Forte back? I suppose you could ask head coach Brad Underwood, but he was still working for Stephen F. Austin when the senior suffered a shoulder injury last November. He’s probably grateful nonetheless. The Big 12’s new elder statesman has stormed out of the gates, averaging 27.0 points per game and converting each of his first 17 attempts at the free throw line. The Cowboys are still looking for answers inside, but Forte and Jawun Evans (28.5 PPG, 5.5 APG, 4.0 SPG) are showing why they should be mentioned among the conference’s best perimeter tandems.
  4. I’ve thought a little more about Kansas State‘s lax non-conference schedule, and while I still think it has a chance to backfire, it’s worth mentioning the potential benefits as well. Given that Wesley Iwundu and D.J. Johnson are the team’s only scholarship upperclassmen who have been with the program all four years, there’s a big drop-off to the younger core of sophomores Dean WadeBarry BrownKamau Stokes and freshman Xavier Sneed. This isn’t the most analytical viewpoint, but building confidence matters for a relatively young team, especially when its league schedule starts with a road game at Kansas sandwiched between home games against Oklahoma and West Virginia. Steamrolling the likes of Hampton, Robert Morris and Boston College wouldn’t lead anyone to picking the Wildcats to win at Allen Fieldhouse, but it can be helpful in the overall scheme with the league being deeper than it usually is. While I’d be remiss if I didn’t think there was at least a sliver of self-preservation by head coach Bruce Weber at play here as well, the general approach makes sense for a team looking to build some experience and confidence during the non-conference slate.
  5. Texas Tech will be shorthanded for a while as the school revealed over the weekend that big man Norense Odiase broke a bone in his left foot. While the Red Raiders have started 2-0 in spite of Odiase’s absence, it’s still a tough blow since he missed 12 games just last season with a similar injury to his other foot. For what it’s worth, Chris Beard doesn’t anticipate Odiase missing as much time as he did last season, which would be nice. The Red Raiders don’t have much time to adjust, though, with Auburn and a potential game against Purdue’s twin towers looming in next week’s Cancun Challenge.
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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: Is Kansas State Poised for a Breakthrough?

Posted by Nate Kotisso on October 26th, 2016

The following question has been asked within Big 12 circles all too often: Is Bruce Weber on the hot seat at Kansas State? We have heard that question a number of times since the former Illinois head coach first stepped on the Manhattan campus in 2012. The murmurs about Weber’s job status, however, reached a fever pitch following last season’s NCAA Tournament, an event that included then-Stephen F. Austin head coach and Kansas State alumnus Brad Underwood pull off a major upset of the Big 12’s very own West Virginia. Wildcats’ fans figured this would be the best time for the Kansas State administration to dump Weber and bring home their native son. Alas, Underwood was instead named the new head coach at Oklahoma State. Does that development (or lack thereof) mean that all hope is now lost in the Weber era?

Save for Kansas, the Big 12 appears to be in a transitional period. Is this the best time for Bruce Weber's group to pounce? (Scott Rovak/USA Today Sports)

Save for Kansas, the Big 12 appears to be in a transitional period. Is this the best time for Bruce Weber’s group to pounce? (Scott Rovak/USA TODAY Sports)

Actually, there is some hope. Let’s start with the ugly 2014-15 season. Budding sophomore star Marcus Foster struggled to get his mind right all year long. Players were suspended. By season’s end, the Wildcats were 15-17 and a total of 10 players had either graduated or decided to transfer out of the program. Weber responded by bringing in a massive seven-man recruiting class that 247Sports ranked ninth-best in the 10-team Big 12. And somehow, that team full of newcomers won 17 games. That brings us to present day. Wesley Iwundu, the team’s do-everything wing, is looking to start and finish his Kansas State career with an appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Fellow senior D.J. Johnson will anchor the frontcourt with his 60.8 field goal percentage and top-25 offensive rebounding rate (14.7%). Dean Wade, Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes are all back for their sophomore seasons after accounting for 39.5 percent of the team’s scoring a year ago. Read the rest of this entry »

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