What To Take From Kansas’ Gold Medal World University Games Run

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 14th, 2015

Yesterday, Kansas brought home the gold for the United States by beating Germany in double overtime in the World University Games championship. Hosted in Korea, the event was sort of funky, as USA Basketball’s commitment to the Pan-Am Games led them to essentially outsource its participation to the Jayhawks, who beat out other schools for the opportunity. It was also interesting in that two likely members of Kansas’ 2015-16 rotation (Svi Mykhailiuk and Cheick Diallo) had to skip the event because they weren’t American citizens, and two others (Brannen Greene and DevonteGraham) sat out due to health reasons. They were replaced by SMU’s Nic Moore and Florida Gulf Coast’s Julian DeBose, so while you can’t take the gold medal away, it’s important to remember that between the roster changes, a busy schedule that had the team playing eight games in 11 days, and the rules of international play, you should tread lightly before drawing too many conclusions from Kansas’ run. That being said, there were some interesting developments worth noting.

Wayne Selden left opposing defenses in his dust during the World University Games. (Mike Yoder/Lawrence Journal-World)

Wayne Selden left opposing defenses in his dust during the World University Games. (Mike Yoder/Lawrence Journal-World)

  • The team got an early leg up: This isn’t so much about any particular player, but more about the team’s participation as a whole. Kansas enjoyed extra practices and reps they wouldn’t have otherwise received because of the NCAA’s restrictions on summer practices. That’s an advantage, but one that was earned by virtue of being selected by USA Basketball. For an experienced team that already figured to be in the Top 5 of most preseason polls, any additional time the team is able to spend together should work in their favor, even if the precise impact of those extra practices can’t be measured.

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Steve Prohm Inherits a Fascinating Situation at Iowa State

Posted by Brian Goodman on June 9th, 2015

It’s not often that a new head coach inherits a team ready to win big right now, but then again, it’s also not often that a successful college coach gets snatched up by a pro team in June, putting his boss in the unenviable position of finding an early summer successor. While former Murray State head coach Steve Prohm doesn’t have many of the characteristics typically found in a new power conference coach — a connection to the school or its recruiting base; a strong reputation among the program’s boosters; a deep NCAA Tournament run to make him an easy sell — nothing in the immediate post-Hoiberg era at Iowa State is typical, and that makes the future in Ames one of the most intriguing situations to monitor heading into next season.

Steve Prohm arrives in Ames with immediate expectations. (Dave Martin/AP)

Steve Prohm arrives in Ames with immediate expectations. (Dave Martin/AP)

Prohm takes the reins of a squad that will likely be among the preseason top 10 in most polls, and one that could ultimately go down as the best in Iowa State basketball history. Because of that, the new head coach will have to answer a number of questions not normally posed to a first-year man. He will of course have the right to bring in his own staff, but in a scenario where the short game for the program is just as important as the long game, he may need to be more careful than in a typical situation. For example, will Prohm retain assistant coach T.J. Otzelberger, a man whom he beat out for the job but also with which the current team is already comfortable? If he doesn’t, or if Otzelberger leaves on his own accord, what kind of impact might that have on the current roster?

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How Fred Hoiberg Left His Mark on College Hoops in Five Short Years

Posted by Brian Goodman on June 2nd, 2015

You could say that Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg‘s departure to the NBA has been the world’s worst-kept secret, but his eventual plan to return to the professional ranks wasn’t. Named head coach of the Chicago Bulls earlier today, now is the time to look back on Hoiberg’s college coaching career and recognize his legacy as an offensive innovator willing to gamble on players with checkered pasts. His keen ability to combine the two resulted in the Cyclones becoming one of this decade’s most successful programs.

Though his return to Ames was relatively brief, Fred Hoiberg revitalized a downtrodden Iowa State program.

Fred Hoiberg didn’t take long to revitalize a downtrodden Iowa State program.

Following the heyday of the Larry Eustachy era, it was a mystery whether Iowa State would again become a consistent winner. The program had fallen on hard times after Eustachy’s untimely exit from Ames in 2003 — a mixture of poor on-court results with alcohol addiction off of it — and churned through two more head coaches between 2003-10, with just one NCAA Tournament berth to show for it. While it sounds crazy in hindsight, athletic director Jamie Pollard’s move to bring Hoiberg home in April 2010 was viewed as a significant risk by most in the media. Nearly all coaching moves are gambles to some extent, but Hoiberg came to Iowa State with zero head coaching experience at any level and, despite his enormous local popularity, many were uncertain whether he could revitalize a program that had suffered four straight losing seasons and hadn’t won more than nine conference games in any year since 2001.

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Early Summer Big 12 News and Notes

Posted by Brian Goodman on May 29th, 2015

#HoibergWatch has been the dominant storyline in the Big 12 since the season ended back in April, and with the Chicago Bulls head coaching job now vacant, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before The Mayor makes his next move, even if nothing’s official at this very second. We’ll have more on where Iowa State could go from here once the situation plays itself out and we get some resolution, but in the meantime, there’s been no shortage of other Big 12 activity to discuss.

Is This It for Hoiberg's Run in Ames? (AP)

Is This It for Hoiberg’s Run in Ames? (AP)

  • On Wednesday, commissioner Bob Bowlsby announced that the Big 12’s membership had given him full authority to hand down punishments to schools should they fail to adequately prevent students from rushing the court. While it’s a well-intentioned decision, it’s really tough to look at this development as anything more than a knee-jerk reaction to last season’s messy incident at Kansas State’s Bramlage Coliseum, where one student appeared to target Jamari Traylor and others inadvertently pinned members of Kansas’ coaching staff against the scorer’s table. While there’s been (misguided) uproar in the past over court-storms, it seems highly unlikely that the conference would have done anything if things hadn’t gone sideways after the Wildcats upset the Jayhawks that night. Moving forward, while the threat of severe punishment might keep future incidents from getting out of control, it’s no guarantee, and it’s important to note that the chaos from February was the exception, not the rule. The reality is that dozens of stormings take place all across the country each and every year without incident, and the pearl-clutching among many (though certainly not all) in the media is just way over-the-top. Court-storms make college basketball unique from other sports and provide memorable experiences for both the players and students, and isn’t that what college is all about? Yes, once in awhile, there may be an occasion where things get out of control, and in those specific cases, punishment beyond the simple reprimanding Kansas State received in February may be justified. Before getting too wound up, we’ll have to see how this broad policy ends up working in practice, as compared to a more specific policy like the SEC’s, which dishes out automatic fines regardless of whether or not anyone actually gets hurt. At the onset, though, this has the feel of using a flamethrower to take care of a housefly.

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Commitment of Cheick Diallo Shores Up Kansas’ Frontcourt

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 28th, 2015

The biggest weakness of last season’s Kansas team was its season-long struggle to consistently protect the rim. Perry Ellis has never been known for his defense and probably never will be, but a frontcourt of he, Jamari Traylor, Cliff Alexander and Landen Lucas swatted only 12.3 percent of opponents’ shot attempts on the season, the team’s second-worst mark since 2005. Kansas’ results on the defensive glass were similarly uncharacteristic (and galling). The Jayhawks rebounded just 68.4 percent of opponents’ misses in 2015, their lowest rate in five years and a mark among the bottom half nationally (205th) for the first time in the Bill Self era. While Kansas didn’t really miss a beat offensively in winning an impressive 11th straight Big 12 title, the Jayhawks clearly weren’t the same team we had grown accustomed to on the other end. Thanks to Tuesday’s commitment from one of the nation’s top big man prep standouts, however, that deficiency could be addressed as soon as next season.

With Cheick Diallo in the fold, Kansas is on its way to restoring its reputation as a defensive stalwart.

With Cheick Diallo in the fold, Kansas is on its way to restoring its reputation as a defensive stalwart.

After an NCAA eligibility issue effectively ended Cliff Alexander’s college career, the Jayhawks needed an immediate influx of size and defense to shore up their frontcourt. Self got busy on the recruiting trail and ultimately beat out Kentucky and St. John’s for forward Cheick Diallo, a 6’9″, 225-pound athletic wonder. While he lacks offensive polish, Diallo’s shot-blocking prowess, rebounding ability and motor renews the hope that Kansas’ front line will return its typically intimidating defensive force.

The native Malian (he arrived in the United States in 2012) will arrive in Lawrence this summer with as many accolades as imaginable. He’s a consensus five-star recruit who played in the McDonald’s All-American Game and Jordan Brand Classic, capturing MVP honors in the former as one of the few players who showed great energy in the showcase event. He also suited up for the World team in the Nike Hoop Summit earlier this month, where he went for 12 points, six rebounds and three blocks in 16 minutes of action.

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Big 12 Way-Too-Early Power Rankings

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 15th, 2015

Depending on how you judge such things, the Big 12 either had a great year in sending seven teams to the NCAA Tournament and finishing first in all the relevant computer rankings, or a miserable one, propelling just two teams to the Sweet Sixteen and missing out on the Elite Eight and beyond entirely for the third straight season. As we’ve said for some time now, it’s silly to let NCAA Tournament results determine your assessment, but the hive mind will continue to pick at the conference’s March shortcomings until the Big 12 breaks through. The good news for the league, though, is that the top teams appear to be retaining most of their best players, and Kansas, Iowa State, Texas and Baylor are still in the running for some of the nation’s top prep talents as well as a handful of graduate transfers who could step in and make immediate impacts. Add it all up and the league should be poised to take a step forward in 2015-16. Here’s how we see things shaking out next season.

1. Kansas

This is what a coach can get away with when you dominate the Big 12 like Bill Self has done at Kansas. (Denny Medley/USA Today Sports)

Al jokes aside, the Big 12’s postseason prospects have to start with Bill Self (Denny Medley/USA Today Sports)

  • Key Departures: Kelly Oubre, Cliff Alexander
  • Key Returnees: Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden, Frank Mason, Devonte’ Graham, Landen Lucas, Brannen Greene, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk
  • New Arrivals: Carlton Bragg
  • Summer Storyline: The Jayhawks in a down year still won the Big 12, but last year illuminated how vulnerable they are when they don’t have an elite rim-protector inside. To that end, Kansas could really use the services of 6’10” Charlotte transfer Mike Thorne, a physical, productive post threat on both ends of the floor. Bill Self’s program also remains in the running for highly-touted recruits Cheick Diallo, Malik Newman and Jaylen Brown.

2. Iowa State

  • Key Departures: Bryce Dejean-Jones, Dustin Hogue
  • Key Returnees: Georges Niang, Monte’ Morris, Naz Long, Jameel McKay, Abdel Nader
  • New Arrivals: Hallice Cooke, Deonte Burton (transfer)
  • Summer Storyline: Between the annual rumors of Fred Hoiberg leaving for the NBA and Iowa State’s presence on the transfer market, the summer is always a busy time but this offseason has already been more dramatic than usual. St. John’s poaching of top Iowa State assistant Matt Abdelmassih could hurt the Cyclones more than many seem to be noticing. He already flipped former JuCo signee Darien Williams to the Red Storm, and Iowa State’s chances of landing Cheick Diallo, for whom Abdelmassih was the lead recruiter, also took a serious hit. Despite those recruiting challenges, the Cyclones will return most of their offensively gifted core, but questions will remain on defense. Read the rest of this entry »
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On the Big 12’s Poor Tournament Performance and Best Conference Proclamations

Posted by Chris Stone on April 10th, 2015

The Big 12’s season ended in disappointing fashion in the 2015 NCAA Tournament. No team from the conference made the Elite Eight, and only two, Oklahoma and West Virginia, earned a spot in the Sweet Sixteen. The league lost a pair of its highest-seeded teams, Baylor and Iowa State, to massive upsets in the Round of 64 while regular season champion Kansas fell to intrastate foe Wichita State shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, this type of performance has become a somewhat common occurrence for the league. The Big 12 hasn’t produced a single Elite Eight team since 2012, and Kansas was the last Big 12 team to make the Final Four. Even more disturbing, the Jayhawks are also the only program in the league to make the Final Four since 2004 when Oklahoma State pushed through to the final weekend.

Daxter Miles Jr. became the face of the Big 12's failure after his guarantee to beat Kentucky. (Getty)

Daxter Miles Jr. became the face of the Big 12’s failure after his guarantee to beat Kentucky. (Getty)

The string of failures has become a key talking point among the media. Sam Mellinger of The Kansas City Star called this season “a colossal failure,” while noting that, “if [the Big 12] happens to be first or second or even third in the RPI rankings next year it will be greeted with more mockery than respect.” Meanwhile, David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest argued, “the Big 12 can say goodbye to its reputation as college basketball’s best league this season.” This is the problem college basketball runs into when using March Madness to determine its champion. The ACC opened the NCAA Tournament with an 11-1 record during the first weekend, but it was just a few possessions away from losing two of its top teams, North Carolina and Notre Dame, in the Round of 64. There is a lot of randomness to the tourney — which is what makes the spectacle so exciting — but it also makes it difficult to draw broad season-long conclusions about who the best teams (and leagues) in the country actually are.

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Texas Brings HAVOC to the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 3rd, 2015

Less than a week after the firing of Rick Barnes, Texas has hired its next head basketball coach. And as we speculated on Monday, VCU’s Shaka Smart is packing his bags for the Lone Star State. Once he’s introduced, Smart will be expected to immediately breathe new life into a program that had fallen into a lull over the last four seasons. Given its resources and location, the Longhorns have no legitimate reason to not be a force in the Big 12 and nationally on an annual basis, and Smart’s track record, enthusiasm and unique style of play make him Texas’ best bet to restore and possibly exceed its basketball peak from a decade ago.

As the new head coach at Texas, Shaka Smart will look to bring postseason success back to Austin.

As the new head coach at Texas, Shaka Smart will look to bring deep postseason runs back to Austin.

The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Smart is his vaunted “Havoc” defense. His Rams led the country in defensive turnover percentage every year between 2012-14 and turned in a top-10 performance again this season. Had Briante Weber stayed healthy, the Rams may have ended up leading the nation again in that category. Smart’s teams also excel on the other side of the turnover column, giving the ball away less than 18 percent of the time in every season under his watch.

As with any coach making the jump from a mid-major to power conference, though, Smart will face the challenge of competing with consistently good teams on a regular basis. The Rams famously beat #3 seed Purdue and #1 seed Kansas on their way to the 2011 Final Four, but in the four seasons that followed, VCU went just 16-19 against teams rated in the KenPom top 50 and failed to return to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. In fairness, many of those games came on the road or in neutral settings as the college landscape provides little incentive for power conference teams to travel to places like VCU, but Smart’s results against top-notch competition suggest that immediate success isn’t a given at Texas no matter how good a fit he is.

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McDonald’s All-American Game: A Big 12 Viewer’s Guide

Posted by Chris Stone on April 1st, 2015

Tonight the 38th Annual McDonald’s All-American Game will take place at the United Center in Chicago. Twenty-four of the top high school players in the country will showcase their skills in front of a national audience in what is one of the few opportunities for fans to catch a glimpse of next year’s class of recruits. Over the past few days, the players have been competing in practices against one another ahead of tonight’s showdown. With a number of players either committed to or still considering Big 12 schools, we felt that it would be a good idea to quickly profile those players to keep an eye on tonight as you tune into the game. All rankings from Scout.com.

Committed Players

Carlton Bragg has committed to Kansas. (Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports)

Carlton Bragg has committed to Kansas. (Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports)

This year’s class of All-Americans includes two players who have already committed to Big 12 schools.

Uncommitted Players

Jaylen Brown Has Kansas on His Short List (FreeP.com)

Jaylen Brown Has Kansas on His Short List (FreeP.com)

The 2015 McDonald’s All-American Game also features a number of uncommitted prospects who plan to sign with schools in the coming weeks. Many of these players are considering Big 12 institutions, with Kansas on the lists of just about all of them. Here is a quick rundown of each McDonald’s All-American prospect who is still considering a Big 12 school next season.

  • No. 1 Jaylen Brown, Wheeler High School (GA). Brown is a 6’7″ small forward who has spent the week speaking highly of Kentucky’s program while also saying that academics will help guide his decisionDespite having the skill set to make the jump, Brown may not be a typical one-and-done prospect. He’s got NBA size and athleticism but needs to spend time working on his jump shot to truly become an effective player at the next level. Kansas is the lone Big 12 school that remains on this prospect’s list.
  • No. 5 Ivan Rabb, Bishop O’Dowd High School (CA). It would be a big surprise to see Ivan Rabb in the Big 12 next season. Kansas is currently the only Big 12 school that remains on his list, but Rabb appears headed to California. He’s another versatile big man who showed off his shooting touch recently by hitting the game-winning free throws in overtime of California’s state championship game.
  • No. 8 Malik Newman, Callaway High School (MS). Newman has made his plan clear that he intends to spend as little time in college as possible. He’s considering six schools, including Kansas. Newman is a combo guard who has spent quite a bit of time running the point during practices this week, so keep an eye on how much he plays the position during tonight’s game.
  • No. 9 Stephen Zimmerman, Bishop Gorman High School (NV). Zimmerman is an almost seven-footer from Las Vegas who has also been open about his desire to get to the NBA as soon as possible. Hometown school UNLV appears to be the favorite over Kansas and some other bluebloods like Kentucky and UCLA. Zimmerman obviously has the size to develop into an impressive post presence over time. He’ll get a chance to show off some of that development this evening.
  • No. 10 Cheick Diallo, Our Savior New American School (NY). Diallo is perhaps one of the more interesting players on the uncommitted list. He’s being recruited by both Kansas and Iowa State but the Cyclones’ lead recruiter on Diallo is headed to St. John’s next season. He is a high energy big man who impressed observers during Tuesday’s practice, according to Rivals’ Eric Bossi, by showcasing his ability to block shots and collect rebounds on the defensive end while hustling to finish dunks on the other.
  • No. 13 Brandon Ingram, Kinston High School (NC). Ingram is another Kansas prospect. The 6’8″ forward spent most of Tuesday’s practice engaged in trash talk with Jaylen Brown. He backed it up with an impressive scoring ability that has RivalsEric Bossi calling him the “biggest revelation” of this week.
  • No. 33 Thomas Bryant, Huntington Prep (WV). Bryant is also considering Kansas but he hasn’t yet visited the school. He is a physical 6’10” center who has impressed with his play on the block during practices this week.

While obviously not all of these players will end up in the Big 12 next season, it is likely that one or more will choose a school in the conference. Tonight’s McDonald’s All-American Game should give fans a chance to see what each of them has to offer.

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Evaluating Texas’ Top Three Candidates

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 31st, 2015

The head coaching job at Texas hasn’t been vacant for two whole days, but the search is already sending shockwaves throughout the college basketball landscape. Now, the top candidates for the gig had been rumored as successors even before athletic director Steve Patterson let Rick Barnes go on Sunday, and nothing has really changed since then, so none of the names are exactly surprising. But now that the wheels are actually moving, things could get real in a hurry. Here’s a quick rundown of the three coaches most likely to take the reins in Austin.

Say, that orange tie looks pretty good on Shaka. (sportsillustrated.com)

Say, that orange tie looks pretty good on Shaka… (sportsillustrated.com)

  1. Shaka Smart, VCU – Smart’s teams at VCU have turned heads ever since he led the Rams to the Final Four in 2011. While Smart hasn’t returned to the second weekend, much less the third, since that memorable run, that doesn’t make the 37-year old any less viable of a candidate. While some have doubts about his lack of experience as a head coach at a high-major program, he spent time on Billy Donovan’s staff at Florida and has successfully leveraged his track record, youth and enthusiasm to land commitments from some of the top prospects in the country. And he’s done it at a school with a fraction of Texas’ recruiting budget. Smart has notoriously rejected offers from plenty of high-major programs to stay at VCU, but turning down a top-10 job in terms of resources and access would be much tougher for him to do. Read the rest of this entry »
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Texas and Rick Barnes Finally Part Ways

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 28th, 2015

Rick Barnes‘ last four seasons with Texas were a rollercoaster ride. After failing to win an NCAA Tournament game in consecutive seasons for the first time in his 17-year tenure, Barnes reformed the team in 2013 without once-promising recruits Sheldon McClellan, Myck Kabongo, Julien Lewis, Jaylen Bond and Ioannis Papapetrou. His remaining players took him off the hot seat, riding stifling interior defense to a surprise third-place finish in the Big 12 and a thrilling NCAA Tournament win over Arizona State before bowing out to Michigan in the Round of 32. You probably know what happened next, but to bring you up to speed, the Longhorns came into this season as the leading candidate to knock Kansas from its conference perch, but injuries, inconsistent offense and lax perimeter defense kept the team from meeting expectations.

Rick Barnes brought unprecedented levels of success to Texas, but rocky seasons and early NCAA Tournament flameouts finally caught up to him. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Rick Barnes brought unprecedented levels of success to Texas, but rocky seasons and early NCAA Tournament flameouts finally caught up to him. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Texas finished with a losing record in the Big 12 for the second time in three years, and while they had a chance to redeem themselves in the NCAA Tournament last week, they petered out in an uninspiring loss to Butler. On Thursday night reports emerged that athletic director Steve Patterson gave Barnes an ultimatum: Replace your staff or I’ll replace you. Barnes wouldn’t acquiesce to those demands, and now the two parties going their separate ways.

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Bill Self’s One-And-Done Experience: Success Or Failure?

Posted by Chris Stone on March 26th, 2015

For the second straight season, Kansas was knocked out of the NCAA Tournament in the Third Round. The early exits have begun to wear on one of the nation’s most passionate fan bases as the Jayhawks have been eliminated prior to the Sweet Sixteen in five of Self’s 12 seasons in Lawrence. The most recent, vocal criticism of Self relates to his recruitment of potential one-and-done players. Self’s two best teams did not feature the standard-bearers for the elite in college basketball these days. The 2008 Jayhawks won the national championship with only one freshman, Cole Aldrich, playing in more than 20 percent of the team’s minutes. The 2012 team that lost to Kentucky in the championship game had only one freshman, Naadir Tharpe, who played in more than 10 percent of the team’s available minutes. That narrative, though, paints an incomplete picture of Self’s experience with one-and-done talent.

Bill Self is being questioned after another early exit from the NCAA Tournament. (Photo credit: AP Photo).

Bill Self is Wondering What Went Wrong After Another Early Exit (AP)

Talent is indispensable in college basketball and one-and-done players are the epitome of talent. They have program-changing potential and their inclusion in a rotation certainly doesn’t hurt teams seeking deep runs in the NCAA Tournament. This year’s Sweet Sixteen provides great support to that notion. Most notably, Arizona (Stanley Johnson), Duke (Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow), Kentucky (Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker, and Trey Lyles) and Utah (Jakob Poeltl) all have at least one freshman likely to be in June’s NBA Draft playing a significant role for their team. Read the rest of this entry »

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