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College Basketball Preview 14-15: Big 12 Conference

My numeric projections will be available near the start of the season, but today I want to write a few words about each Big 12 team’s outlook.

Earlier Previews: ACC Preview, MWC Preview, SEC Preview, WCC Preview, A10 Preview, Big East Preview, American Preview, Pac-12 Preview, MVC Preview

Big 12 Favorite

Kansas: Some people are worried about the Jayhawks’ point guard situation, but I think that concern is overstated. Throughout the last four seasons the Jayhawks’ PG position has been in flux, and Kansas has had no trouble extending their Big 12 regular season title streak.

Devonte Graham’s consensus recruiting ranking was 65th according to RSCI. And even if Graham is not ready, Kansas has other options. Frank Mason was better last year than most people appreciate, and as the #89 RSCI recruit he still hasn’t reached his ceiling. Conner Frankamp played more off the ball last year, but the former #40 recruit also has some PG skills. With Mason and Frankamp likely to benefit from the sophomore leap, Kansas has options.

Syracuse is another team with PG questions, and I would argue unambiguously that Kansas is in better shape, even if Kaleb Joseph was ranked slightly higher than Graham in this year’s recruiting class. Joseph is going to play almost every minute (because Syracuse doesn’t have other options), so his stats might be better. But Syracuse simply has no options if Joseph suffers a minor injury or falls into a slump. Kansas on the other hand, will use the competition to be the starting PG to keep Graham and Mason sharp in practice, and ultimately the better player will be finishing key games at the end of the year.

Surprisingly, my bigger question for Kansas is on defense. Bill Self has been the top defensive coach in the nation in the tempo-free era, but last year was his worst defensive team. Evidence suggests that the change in the way fouls were called may have hurt Bill Self more than other coaches. Typically opposing teams earn 31 to 35 free throws per 100 shots against a Bill Self coached team. But last year Self’s team allowed 45 free throws per 100 shots. The NCAA average increased by about 4 free throw attempts per 100 shots, so this was a larger than expected increase. Bill Self’s teams have been known for their physical aggressive defense, and there is a real question whether the new foul rules hurt Kansas more because Kansas players don’t shy away from contact.

If not the foul rules, another explanation for Kansas’ proclivity to foul last year may have been the team’s extreme youth. This year Kansas will be young again with super-recruits Cliff Alexander, Kelly Oubre, and Graham all expected to play major minutes. But Kansas was unbelievably young last year with six freshmen in their ten man rotation. With an addition like transfer Hunter Mickelson complimenting veterans Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden, Kansas is unlikely to make quite as many freshmen mistakes on defense as they did last year.

The Top Challengers

Texas: I know a lot of people view Texas as a clear Top 10 team. After all, they return 100% of their rotation from last year and they add a Top 10 recruit in the post in Myles Turner. The problem is that unlike the other teams in the Top 10, Texas appears to have a weakness at the off-guard position. Demarcus Holland has played a bunch of minutes the last two years, but he is not an elite shooter. And that lack of an outside shot has allowed teams to sag off him defensively which has made him turnover prone. I thought Holland might play less this year, but with Martez Walker recently suspended for some off-court incidents, there is no guarantee. Kendal Yancy will probably see some time, but other than an odd 3-3 game against Baylor, Yancy didn’t make a three in Big 12 play either. And Damarcus Croaker was the least efficient player on the team last year.

The best Texas lineup might actually be one without a true off-guard. PGs Isaiah Taylor and Javan Felix can play together, and Jonathan Holmes has enough of a perimeter game that he can play some at the wing.

The Texas frontcourt is almost too stacked, but I think the players will complement each other well. Cameron Ridley is a pure inside threat, while Myles Turner is a more skilled player who can knock down jump shots. And Connor Lammert does a little bit of everything. Lammert and Prince Ibeh might be the best back-up big men in the nation this season.

Iowa St: Fred Hoiberg is the king of the transfers. The next table shows the coaches whose debuting Division 1 transfers have produced the most points from 2011-2014. Points Produced (PP) is the numerator of the ORtg formula which gives credit to assists and offensive rebounds that create points, as well as the buckets. I also list the three debuting D1 transfers with the most points produced for each coach.

 

Coach

Teams

PP

Most Prolific

 

 

1

Fred Hoiberg

Iowa St.

2908

DeAndre Kane

Royce White

Will Clyburn

 

 

2

Dana Altman

Oregon

2721

Joseph Young

Devoe Joseph

Mike Moser

 

 

3

Tod Kowalczyk

Toledo

2320

Rian Pearson

Justin Drummond

Dominique Buckley

 

 

4

LeVelle Moton

NC Central

2318

Dominique Sutton

Landon Clement

Ray Willis

 

 

5

Dave Rice

UNLV

2237

Mike Moser

Bryce Dejean-Jones

Roscoe Smith

 

 

6

Frank Haith

Missouri

2117

Jordan Clarkson

Alex Oriakhi

Earnest Ross

 

 

7

Larry Eustachy

Colorado St.

Southern Miss

2112

JJ Avila

Colton Iverson

Neil Watson

 

 

8

Rod Barnes

CS Bakersfield

Georgia St.

2068

Issiah Grayson

Brandon Barnes

Javonte Maynor

 

 

9

Gib Arnold

Hawaii

1995

Christian Standhardinger

Zen Johnson

Keith Shamburger

 


10

Anthony Evans

FIU

Norfolk St.

1935

Rakeem Buckles

Dennis Mavin

Malcolm Hawkins

Bryce Dejean-Jones has already been an impact transfer at UNLV under Dave Rice and he hopes to do it a second time after joining Iowa St. this offseason. But he wouldn’t be the first player to be a productive transfer for two teams. Mike Moser did the same thing at UNLV and Oregon.

There is some concern whether Dejean-Jones great stats actually mask the fact that he is not a great team player. Despite being surrounded with Top 100 athletes at UNLV, the PG somehow seemed to fill his own box score, while not really running a crisp or coherent offense. But Hoiberg’s done a great job integrating misunderstood players, from Royce White to DeAndre Kane. And I think he gets the benefit of the doubt with Dejean-Jones.

It would seem that Hoiberg has the winning formula down. Find talented athletes, give them freedom offensively, and use a tight rotation that allows everyone to have great chemistry. On that last point, Hoiberg’s biggest problem this year may be that the team is actually too deep. How does Clayton Custer, a freshman PG that Rivals deemed to be a 4-star recruit, fit in with PGs Dejean-Jones and Monte Morris already on the roster. A year after Iowa St. thrived with its three forwards playing major minutes, can Hoiberg really find time for Georges Niang, Dustin Hogue, and incoming transfers Jameel McKay and Abdel Nader? When your biggest question mark heading into a season is whether you have too many talented players, you know your program has arrived.

The Debate

Kansas St and Oklahoma: My model has Oklahoma lower than just about every preseason poll. But let me explain why I think Kansas St., a team that finished two games behind Oklahoma in the Big 12 standings, may be the better team in 2014-15.

Roster Changes: Kansas St. loses Will Spradling who was a quality three point gunner for four seasons. But Kansas St. can replace Spradling with Maine transfer Justin Edwards. The “smart” fans immediate reaction may be that this is a downgrade because Edwards was far less efficient than Spradling. But that ignores the importance of shot volume. Edwards played on a bad Maine team and had to take a ton of shots. He used 32% of his team’s possessions when on the floor. Edwards will get to be much more selective at Kansas St. and that will help his efficiency tremendously. Spradling used just 14% of the possessions for Kansas St. and Edwards diverse offensive skillset will not be a downgrade.

Kansas St. also loses Shane Southwell. But the team adds Top 10 JUCO recruit Stephen Hurt, who was the freshman of the year in the A-Sun a couple of year ago. Hurt is more of a center (more on this in a moment), but if Kansas St. needs traditional wing players, Nino Williams was very efficient reserve last season. Kansas St. also adds forwards Malek Harris and Branden Bolden. Harris isn’t ranked in the Top 100, so he is not a guarantee, but Rivals and Scout were particularly fond of his game. Bolden is a transfer from Georgetown who did little with his former team, but perhaps the change of scenery will benefit him.

Because of Edwards and Hurt, my model does not see a downgrade for Kansas St.’s lineup.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma loses reserve guard Je’lon Hornbeak. The Cowboys add JUCO Dinjiyl Walker as a replacement. Walker is a bit of a risk, since JUCO players at his level don’t always translate, but it isn’t a stretch to think he can replace Hornbeak as a reserve. Even if he cannot, Frank Booker can easily expand his role from last season.

The bigger question will be Oklahoma’s forward rotation. Last year Cameron Clark played major minutes at the 4-slot. Clark was not only one of Oklahoma’s most efficient players, he was also Oklahoma’s most aggressive offensive player. That means other players will have to shoot more now that Clark is gone, which could hurt their efficiency. Oklahoma also loses forward Tyler Neal.

Oklahoma’s replacements at this point are Dante Buford and Khadeem Lattin. ESPN liked them both (though Rivals and Scout were not as high on them), but again neither was a Top 100 recruit. The downgrade from Cam Clark to these freshmen is significant and meaningful.

Advantage: Kansas St.

Growth potential: Both teams appear to downgrade their perimeter shooting with these changes, which may hurt their overall floor spacing. Additionally, while most of the teams in the Top 25 are filled with Top 100 recruits, (an average of five and a half per Top 25 team), Kansas St. and Oklahoma have zero players who were consensus Top 100 recruits out of high school.

What that means for projection purposes is that the incumbent players may not have a ton of room to grow. Oklahoma’s Isaiah Cousins was a 2.7 star recruit who saw his ORtg leap from 72 to 112 last year. He was phenomenal, but there is a lot of statistical evidence that Cousins has reached his ceiling. The same can be said of Kansas St.’s senior Thomas Gibson.

The biggest place to expect improvement is with the freshmen. Kansas St. gave major minutes to Marcus Foster, Wesley Iwundu, Nigel Johnson, and Jevon Thomas, while Oklahoma gave major minutes to Jordan Woodard and Frank Booker. The sophomore leap should benefit all these players, but since Kansas St.’s freshmen played more, they should get a bigger boost from player development.

Advantage: Kansas St.

Defensively, both teams should be better. While Oklahoma’s Cameron Clark played admirably and rebounded extremely well, he was a big guard playing out of position. Meanwhile Kansas St. did not have a single rotation player over 6’7” last season. Height at the center position is a huge factor in a team’s 2 PT FG% defense, and the addition of 6’11” Stephen Hurt should pay huge dividends for the Wildcats.

Advantage: Draw

Overall, my model likes Kansas St. to improve on offense and defense, while Oklahoma should be slightly worse on offense but better on defense. A lot of people will have both teams in their Top 25 this year. And that’s a very defensible position, particularly if you thought Oklahoma was a Top 25 team last year. Since the margin-of-victory numbers suggest Oklahoma was really only the 33rd best team in the nation last year, my model has the Sooners just outside the Top 25.

The Sooners do have one ace in the hole that could turn the tide. Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas joined the team this summer. Thomas has filed a waiver and applied for immediate eligibility. If Thomas becomes available as a replacement for Clark, Oklahoma is inarguably a Top 25 team.

But I am not crediting this because I have yet to hear a good reason why Thomas’ wavier would be approved. Thomas is not a graduate transfer. He is not moving closer to home for an ill relative. His former school is not banned from the NCAA tournament. His former coach was not accused of misconduct. His former coach did resign, but I don’t see the precedent for that kind of waiver approval, and I think the odds are against Thomas suiting up in 2014-15.

Hoping for the NCAA Tournament

The top five teams in the Big 12 are likely to be so dominant that the rest of the teams in the league may all finish below .500 in conference play. There are advantages to this kind of strength at the top. Everyone will have plenty of chances to pick up resume building quality wins. But it can be hard to break out of a losing streak when you are playing elite opponents game-after-game.

Oklahoma St.: Your gut instinct may be that Oklahoma St. is going to fall off the map now that Marcus Smart is gone. But keep in mind that Oklahoma St. was a much better team than their 8-10 conference record last year. An untimely suspension to Marcus Smart and limited depth in the front-court hurt the Cowboy’s win-loss record, but that doesn’t prove that Travis Ford is an incompetent coach.

Oklahoma St. retains a couple of quality players. LeBryan Nash is the rare Top 10 recruit to spend four years in college. But thanks to his improved shot selection, he finally became an efficient player last season. Meanwhile, Phil Forte is one of the best three point shooters in the country.

Oklahoma St. also adds one of the biggest impact transfers in the nation in PG Anthony Hickey. Hickey was a quality shooter and passer which made him one of the most efficient players in the nation at LSU. Top 100 JUCO Jeff Newberry also adds to the teams’ perimeter depth.

And if Oklahoma St. was lacking for big bodies last season, that isn’t the case anymore. The team adds Top 100 freshmen Joe Burton, near Top 100 recruit Mitch Solomon, and Top 100 JUCO prospect Anthony Allen, to compliment a now healthy Michael Cobbins.

Baylor: Baylor is in similar shape with a nice core, and some new pieces that might be able to step up and play well enough for a return tournament trip. Kenny Chery is the returning superstar PG. And Royce O’Neale and Taurean Prince are quality wing players. People are worried about their post depth, but Ricardo Gathers and Top 10 JUCO prospect Deng Deng are not scrubs.

People seem to be down on Gathers at this point, as the once #32 RSCI recruit has been stuck in a reserve role. But Gathers is a tremendous rebounder. If Oklahoma could make the tournament with Ryan Spangler in the middle last year, I don’t see why Baylor cannot have a quality team anchored by Gathers.

I think the season really comes down to Ish Wainwright and Allerik Freeman. Wainwright and Freeman were ranked 58th and 62nd nationally out of high school. I think people sometimes misunderstand the Top 100. Only players in the Top 10 are locks to be instant impact players. And only player in the Top 30 are frequently instant impact players. For most players in the Top 100, they settle into a role as a star as a sophomore or junior. While Wainwright played poorly last year, and while Freeman was injured, that doesn’t mean they both don’t have high potential. How quickly Baylor’s younger players develop is the mystery of their season.

West Virginia: When Bob Huggins joined the Big 12 and saw the first media poll he laughed. To paraphrase, “If you think we’re in the bottom half of the Big 12, this must be one hell of a conference.” But that’s where this team is projected once again.

Given that Terry Henderson and Eron Harris decided to transfer this off-season, it is tempting to conclude that WVU is headed in the wrong direction. But keep in mind that there were no senior graduations for the Mountaineers this off-season. The transfer of those two players does not mean WVU is starting over, it just means WVU has a couple of rotation spots to fill. That’s normal for power conference teams. WVU’s solution to this roster vacancy is to add three Top 100 JUCO transfer guards, Tarik Phillip, BillyDee Williams, and Jaysean Paige. (The team will also finally get to use Jonathan Holton, the former Top 100 JUCO and former Rhode Island forward, who was denied a waiver last year and had to sit out.)

I’ve said on many occasions that JUCO recruits of this type are lottery tickets. But Bob Huggins made his career at Cincinnati with JUCO players, and if anyone deserves the benefit of the doubt using this approach, it is him.

Still at the Bottom

Texas Tech: In his first year, Tubby Smith managed to double Texas Tech’s conference win total. The problem Smith faces, (exacerbated by Texas Tech’s current basketball reputation), is that he is no longer an elite recruiter. When his team loses a star like Jaye Crockett to graduation, when his team loses quality players like Jordan Tolbert and Dusty Hannahs to transfer, it is very hard to replace them with recruits ranked three stars or lower.

TCU: Even though I think TCU might be the worst team in the Big 12 again, I see the team improving substantially this season. First, the team adds Pitt transfer Trey Zeigler. Zeigler’s bounced around at this point, and he isn’t a clear star. But the former RSCI #29 recruit clearly has talent. And after TCU struggled with Christian Gore, Hudson Price, Thomas Montigel, and Michale Williams last season, Zeigler is a clear upgrade. PG Kyan Anderson is the real deal. And with Amric Fields and Devonte Abron returning after being injured last season, Karviar Shepherd will finally have some help in the front court. This team won’t go winless in the Big 12 again. Three of four conference wins is far more likely.

Marcus Smart: Why College Coaching Even Matters For Top-5 Picks

- The following is an excerpt from Jonathan Tjarks' e-book about the NBA Draft that can be purchased for just $3.99.

Marcus Smart just lived through the worst possible timeline at Oklahoma State. Everything that could have went wrong when he decided to return to school, went wrong. His team collapsed, going from being ranked in the Top 5 to sneaking into the NCAA Tournament and losing in the first round. Things got so crazy he actually went into the stands in a game at Lubbock. He was in a very dysfunctional situation, which you have to take into account when evaluating him. 

Season

G

MP

FG

FGA

FG%

3P

3PA

3P%

FT

FTA

FT%

RB

AS

ST

BK

TO

PF

PTS

2012-13

33

33.5

4.6

11.3

.404

1.2

4.0

.290

5.1

6.5

.777

5.8

4.2

3.0

0.7

3.4

2.8

15.4

2013-14

31

32.7

5.3

12.5

.422

1.6

5.3

.299

5.9

8.1

.728

5.9

4.8

2.9

0.6

2.6

2.9

18.0

Smart’s stats improved slightly, but there wasn’t the quantum leap scouts look for in a player’s second year of school. Efficiency was the main knock on him as a freshman and he did little to settle those doubts, with almost negligible improvements in his field goal and three-point shooting percentages. The most encouraging sign was his assist-to-turnover ratio, which jumped from 1.26 to 1.84, an indication he improved as both a ball-handler and decision-maker.

If he were playing for John Beilein at Michigan, he would have had a much easier time racking up stats. Beilein runs a stable program and fits players into roles - he spreads the floor with 4 3-point shooters who can attack the rim and moves the ball from side to side. The situation at Oklahoma State was a little different. Along with Scott Drew at Baylor, Travis Ford has been doing less with more for years. This season, all his chickens came home to roost.

There’s no reason a team with Smart, Markel Brown and LeBryan Nash should have played that poorly and it speaks very poorly of Ford as a coach that it happened. He had a shocking amount of talent yet still managed to waste it. Those three guys could have played for any team in the country - they could have started at Kentucky. Oklahoma State’s annual disappearing act has hurt Brown and Nash’s chances of being drafted and it will cost Smart a lot of money.

Ford started the season with only one competent big man on the roster - Michael Cobbins. There are no waiver wires in college like there are in the NBA - a coach can’t just pick up a forward in the middle of the season. As a result, when Cobbins tore his Achilles in January, the team completely fell apart. The Cowboys were 12-1 with Cobbins and only 9-11 without him. A good coach has contingency plans on his roster, so he doesn’t end up in a situation like that.

Beilein lost Mitch McGary for the season, which is a significantly bigger loss than Cobbins. The difference is he had other big men who could play - Jon Horford and Jonathan Morgan. They weren’t world beaters by any stretch, but they could be trusted with minutes, unlike some of the stiffs Ford recruited. He was forced to play LeBryan at center for large stretches of the season and that was never going to work. You didn’t see Beilein playing GR3 as a 5.

Just as important, Beilein ran a consistent halfcourt offense with motion and ball movement. Ford’s offense, on the other hand, was basically controlled chaos. Oklahoma State had a 6-man rotation and they were dramatically undersized upfront - they were constantly playing from behind and they were trying to play as fast as possible. The end result was some very sloppy basketball, with Smart being asked to go 1-on-5 against a set defense too often.

Smart was shooting 30% from 3 and taking 5 a game. You don’t see that on a well-coached team. At a certain point, a good coach will tell a player that he doesn’t need to shoot that many 3’s at such a low percentage - there are other things they can do. Smart was regularly taking step-back off the dribble 3’s and there are maybe three guys in the world who can make that shot at a high percentage. He’s a decent shooter who thought he was Stephen Curry.

So while he’s not a great shooter by any means, he should be more efficient in a more structured offense. Smart doesn’t need to shoot 15-20 times a game to be a really good player at the next level. He’s a rare PG who can impact the game as a passer, rebounder and defensive player. At 6’3 225 with a 6’9 wingspan, he’s much bigger and more physical than most NBA PG’s. He had a 26.9 PER because he stuffs the stat-sheet - points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.

There are a lot of undersized SG’s who try to pass themselves off as PG’s - Smart is a PG with the size to play SG. There’s a big difference. A player like that is how you can have a two-PG starting line-up - the Suns can play Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic together for most of the game because Bledsoe can match-up with any type of guard in the NBA. Smart isn’t as athletic a Bledsoe, but he’s big enough to make up most of the difference on defense.

Smart is an ideal player for a rebuilding team because he can be successful next to any type of guard. You can play him next to a PG or next to a SG and still be sound defensively. While he lost some money on his first contract in the league, he should be able to make up for it in his second. He shouldn’t have rushed the stands, but what happened on the court had more to do with Ford. He’s a bad coach who is probably going to lose his job next season.

LeBryan Nash is the only big piece left from last year’s team and there isn’t a lot of talent in the pipeline behind him. Ford’s pipeline of McDonald’s All-Americans out of the Dallas area has dried up - when a mediocre coach’s recruiting starts to fall off, that is usually the kiss of death. If Smart had spent the last two seasons at Michigan or Kentucky or Kansas, he would be viewed differently. College coaching matters, even for players projected to go in the Top 5.

- This was an excerpt from Jonathan Tjarks' e-book about the NBA Draft that can be purchased for $3.99.

NCAA Tournament Day 2

#14 Mercer defeated #3 Duke

The Duke game has already been over-analyzed. Did they take too many threes? Maybe, but they did score 1.21 points per possession by making 15 threes on 37 shots from deep. Did Duke’s inexperience hurt them? Maybe, the Blue Devils allowed a home run pass for a lay-up after they cut the lead to three late in the game. That kind of mistake could be the result of the team’s youth. Did the Blue Devils fail to utilize Jabari Parker properly? Almost certainly they should have given him more post touches. But Parker was 4 of 11 on his twos, and getting Parker the ball more didn’t seem like a totally dominant strategy against Mercer’s defensive alignment.

To be realistic, college basketball analysts knew this was coming. We’ve known all year that Duke was going to lose in the NCAA tournament because their defense couldn’t get enough stops. On Friday, Mercer made 56% of its shots and hit almost every key free throw down the stretch. We didn’t know Duke would go down in the first round, but we knew this would happen eventually. And as Mike Krzyzewski himself noted, it was a beautiful thing to see seven Mercer seniors (who should have been in the NCAA tournament last year if not for Florida Gulf Coast), finally receiving the payoff from all their hard work.

#6 Baylor defeated #11 Nebraska

Nebraska looked lost against a zone defense. In the first half they went 0 for 11 from three. At halftime, head coach Tim Miles said his team was 4 of 5 when it got the ball in the paint, and they needed to stop settling for jump shots. For a stretch at the start of the first half, Nebraska responded and finally made a few shots. Then Miles got a technical. Then Miles went to complain about the shot-clock not working and got ejected from the game.

In the first half the announcers noted that Tim Miles is a “one question coach”. If you want to do a media interview, all you have to do is ask him one question, and he will talk for 10 minutes. Normally his energy and enthusiasm helps build excitement for the program.

But in this case, Miles words, his constant harassing of the referees, eventually got him kicked out. The technical for complaining about the shot-clock was clearly a tough call. But given all of Miles complaints leading up to it, he certainly bears some responsibility for what happened.

Sadly, Nebraska’s offensive ineptitude and Miles antics distracted from an impressive victory for Baylor. Baylor’s splits this season are insane:

Baylor

Off

Def

W

L

PWP

Early

115.5

97.3

12

1

0.878

Midseason

108.6

103.2

2

8

0.643

Late

122.7

100.3

11

2

0.910

In the middle of the season, Baylor was playing like a team outside the Top 100. But since Feb 12th, Baylor has been playing like a Top 10 team. A lot of people want to point to Kenny Cherry’s ankle injury as a reason for the team’s swoon. But that isn’t the full story. Cherry had some good games when Baylor was losing, including 22 in a loss to Texas Tech.

Realistically, Baylor has simply played better in every offensive category late in the season. They’ve shot better, turned the ball over less, grabbed more offensive rebounds, and got to the foul line more since that swoon. They’ve also been playing at a slower and more controlled pace, with about 4 fewer possessions per game. On Friday, the free throw attempts were the difference. But as Baylor heads into Sunday’s match-up with Creighton, they are clearly clicking on all cylinders.

#10 Stanford defeated #7 New Mexico

Stanford led 20-4 early, but New Mexico kept crawling back. Eventually the Lobos tied the game on a Cullen Neal fast-break bucket with about 10 minutes left in the game. But as well as Cameron Bairstow played, he simply didn’t have any support. Kendall Williams, a former MWC player-of-the-year, couldn’t get a clean look at the basket. Normally given Williams 6’4” frame, he can shoot over anyone. But Stanford harassed him with bigger defenders, including the 6’10” Dwight Powell. And Williams struggled to beat Stanford’s defense off the dribble. The net result was a nearly 7 minute scoring drought that locked the game up for Stanford.

We often write about redemption in the NCAA tournament. Last year New Mexico had one of the best seasons in program history. But New Mexico lost to Harvard in round of 64, and it felt like this team had some unfinished business. With four starters back from last year’s team, 2014 was supposed to be a year for redemption.

But a Stanford team full of juniors and seniors decided to write the happy ending for their team instead. Senior Josh Huestis hit a late jumper to put Stanford up 7. Senior John Gage played some great minutes in relief of foul plagued Stefan Nastic. And even though Senior Dwight Powell had an off night offensively, thanks to the team’s all-around defensive effort, Powell earned another game to show his stuff in the NCAA tournament.

#11 Tennessee defeated #6 UMass

“This is the lowest number of points UMass has scored in any half of any game this season.” UMass struggled to just 22 points in the first half against Tennessee, and despite a valiant effort to create chaos and gamble for steals in the second half, the 19 point deficit was simply too big to overcome.

Somehow Tennessee has gone from a team that barely made the NCAA tournament, to a Sweet Sixteen favorite. And it might not stop there. Tennessee has been winning by such a large margin since March 1st, that they would actually be favored against Michigan according to Kenpom.com.

#3 Creighton defeated #14 Louisiana Lafayette

Doug McDermott went 13 minutes without scoring in the second half, and the Ragin Cajuns pulled within three points. But even when McDermott doesn’t score, he still makes a huge difference on the court. The almost constant double-teams of McDermott gave his teammates wide open looks from three point range. And McDermott even had a block in crunch time. Then, when his team needed it again, he nailed a dagger three. The fifth all-time scorer in NCAA history scored 30 points in the win.

#2 Kansas defeated #15 Eastern Kentucky

In the RealGM.com bracket podcast, I said that Eastern Kentucky wasn’t going to win, but at some point they were going to make some threes and give Kansas a scare. Well, EKU’s 8th three of the game gave the EKU a 48-45 lead. EKU’s 9th three of the game (a ridiculous step-back three by Orlando Williams) made it 53-51 in favor of EKU. And EKU’s 10th three of the game gave EKU a 56-53 lead. At one point, Kansas was shooting 62% and still losing.

But that’s when Jamari Traylor really took over. I’ve spent this season being skeptical of the Kansas big man. Traylor shot 42% from the floor last year while taking mostly lay-ups. He’s the lowest ranked recruit on scholarship with the Jayhawks. And while he has played better this year, I’ve never quite believed he would be an impact player. But with Joel Embiid out, Kansas needed Traylor to rise to the occasion, and he did. Traylor hit two huge buckets when EKU was knocking down its threes. And then, when EKU went on one last run to cut the lead to 64-61, Traylor’s offensive rebound put-back essentially sealed the victory. Traylor’s previous season best was 10 points against TCU, but he scored 17 in the Jayhawks close victory.

#8 Gonzaga beat #9 Oklahoma St.

There were 61 fouls in this game, the most in a non-OT NCAA tournament game since 1975. There are a number of people that are going to call the foul situation an abomination. But I found it more fascinating what this game revealed about how the players involved respond to pressure.

With the pressure on, Marcus Smart continued to make questionable decisions. He turned the ball over. He missed free throws. And when a call went against him (an out-of-bounds that he never touched), he did not react in a relaxed fashion. Instead he exaggerated his frustration by jumping up and down. If we hoped Smart had somehow matured into a different player due to his suspension, that was probably not accurate.

LeBryan Nash has matured this season. But under the pressure of the tournament, he again wilted. His shirt-grab for a fifth foul was probably a call the officials should let go. But it was also dumb to reach with four fouls. Travis Ford even seemed like a coach who got caught up in the emotion of the moment, picking up a technical at the end of the first half.

In my opinion, the player who truly matured for Oklahoma St. this season was Markel Brown. Brown raised his career ORtg from 90 as a freshman, to 96 as a sophomore, to 110 last year, to 118 this season. And when the game was being decided, Brown was the only player taking to the ball to the basket and converting easy looks for Oklahoma St.

To see Brown go down like this is difficult. But for the rest of the Oklahoma St. team, this game showed the dangers of putting all your hopes and dreams in one basket. Marcus Smart came back to Oklahoma St. because he wasn’t satisfied with last year’s first round NCAA tournament exit. He was betting on a better outcome this year. But no one can go back to school and expect to settle unfinished business. Too much depends on injuries, match-ups, teammates, and referees.

You can’t go back to win a Big 12 title. You can’t go back to win a national title. You can’t even go back to win a game in the round of 64. You can only go back to be a better player and hope for an opportunity.

#6 North Carolina defeated #11 Providence

Like I was saying, no single player can do it all. Bryce Cotton scored a career high 36 points on Friday. He had 8 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and he seemingly did it all. He hit crunch time threes. He was fouled on crunch time three attempts. He got transition baskets. He attacked the rim in the half-court and was fouled. Cotton refused to spend a moment on the bench. But you can’t win a basketball game alone. And with North Carolina dominating the rebounding game (grabbing over half of its missed shots), Cotton’s amazing performance simply wasn’t enough.

#8 Memphis defeated #9 George Washington

For 5th year transfers, the long end of a career can be fascinating. Maurice Creek, who transferred from Indiana to George Washington, has nothing to regret. The once elite prospect (and often prolific scorer) spent his entire Indiana career injured. But at GW he finally got a chance to be the star. And even though his shot was off in the NCAA tournament (including an airball with one second left), at least he got to go down swinging.

I wonder how David Pellom feels. He played 27 minutes a game for George Washington last season. But he used a graduate school transfer to leave for Memphis. At Memphis, he has seen his playing time cut in half. He hasn’t played 20 minutes in a game since January. With the young Memphis frontcourt players emerging, his biggest role has been as a practice adversary. Yes, his current team got the last laugh on his old team. Memphis beat GW in the NCAA tournament. But if he had stuck around in the nation’s capital, would things have been different? Would it have been a more satisfying ending to his career?

Michael Dixon isn’t questioning his decision. The Missouri player who transferred to Memphis didn’t have a choice to continue his career at his old school. And in a two point game, Dixon provided the needed cushion with a clutch three. Dixon was also more than willing to go to the line to put the game away at the charity stripe. For these three 5th year transfers, the first NCAA tournament game could not have been more different.

#12 Stephen F Austin defeated #5 VCU

This feels like the worst mistake ever! Leading by 4 points, the only way VCU could blow the game against SFA was by fouling a SFA player in the act of shooting a three. The game was essentially over. But somehow VCU’s JeQuan Lewis got caught up in the heat of the moment and got too aggressive. SFA’s Desmond Haymon made a three pointer, Lewis tackled him, and the 4 point play sent the game into OT.

Kenny Smith was more generous in one of the halftime segments. He said these things happen in basketball games. He knew that labeling a college player as a “choker” is harsh and unfair. But I don’t see how Lewis can ever live this moment down.

Besides the horrible foul, perhaps we should just realize that when teams get on winning streaks, miraculous things seem to happen. When Syracuse was on a long winning streak, Tyler Ennis made the amazing buzzer beater at Pittsburgh. When you win every game, you start to believe you will win every game.

How else do you describe moments like in OT, when Trey Pinkney was about to turn it over, but he somehow miraculously rolled the ball to Jacob Parker who picked it up and nailed a shot before the shot clock expired? SFA’s golden horseshoe has not expired yet.

Finally, I must say that in a tournament full of upsets, almost none were completely out of nowhere. Many experts thought Harvard was a better team than Cincinnati. I knew Duke was a bad defensive team. But SFA’s win truly came out of left field. Even with the 28 game winning streak, this was a hugely under-sized team. And even without Melvin Johnson, VCU’s HAVOC defense was dominant in the second half. VCU built a double digit lead and seemingly put the game away. This comeback was truly what March Madness is all about.

#1 Virginia defeated #16 Coastal Carolina

#1 Arizona defeated #16 Weber St.

#1 Wichita St. defeated #16 Cal Poly

It still hasn’t happened. But wow, there sure is an exhilarating feeling when you flip over and see Coastal Carolina leading Virginia by 10 points in the first half. Meanwhile Arizona’s close win against Weber St. knocked them out of first place in the Pomeroy rankings for the first time since January 1st.

#3 Iowa St. defeated #14 North Carolina Central

According to Marv Albert, Emanuel “Poobie” Chapman is called this because he could not pronounce “Winnie the Pooh” when he was a kid. Steve Kerr is skeptical of Albert’s internet research. Yes, this game was a blowout.

The big story of the game was that Iowa St.'s Georges Niang broke his foot late in the game and will be out for the remainder of the tournament.

#8 Kentucky defeated #9 Kansas St.

Kansas St. made a late run in this game, but for the first time in a long-time, Kentucky’s defense looked like it might be national championship caliber. I also thought Greg Anthony had a nice comment at the end of the game. In the preseason, Kentucky thought they would be undefeated. Now on Sunday, they get to play a team that is undefeated. The hype for Wichita St. vs Kentucky is just beginning. This is going to be the most watched Round of 32 game in a long time.

#4 UCLA defeated #13 Tulsa

Remember in the preseason when everyone was writing about how UCLA didn’t have a clear answer at PG. Well, all Kyle Anderson has done is become an All-American candidate as an elite distributor. But as the team showed on Friday, even if Anderson is off (5 turnovers), UCLA still has plenty of other players who can distribute. Jordan Adams took over offensively at the start of the second half and really broke the game open. And over the course of the game Adams dished 4 assists. Meanwhile Bryce Alford had 4 assists of his own, and should have had a fifth on a beautiful no look pass to Tony Parker in the lane. But Parker missed the lay-up and cost Alford the dime. Regardless, UCLA’s willingness to share the ball stands in stark contrast to last year when Shabazz Muhammad had just 27 assists on the whole season. This is a less selfish team than last year’s squad, and that’s a good sign if this year’s team wants to go on a run.

Experience Is Not A Guarantee

Oklahoma St. (89% of minutes back), Boise St. (89% of minutes back), and Boston College (95% of minutes back) have struggled, but experience does not guarantee that a team will win.

Do Freshmen-Filled Teams Get Better In-Season?

Is Colorado's youth a long-run problem? Also, why Notre Dame was the worst possible matchup for Ohio St.

Opening Weekend Thoughts

Grading Joshua Smith's defense, Oregon's transfer debuts, Harvard's returning Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, and UConn's new big men.

Final Thoughts On Ranking 351 D1 Teams

Over the past few days, Dan Hanner has presented his updated projection model, his season projections on ESPN Insider, Q&A's with Eamonn Brennon and John Templon, along with replying to questions on Twitter. Here are a few additional thoughts that didn't make the cut.

Welcome Back, Part 2

Returning minutes are sometimes deceiving. Thatís because a number of teams will welcome back players who missed all or nearly all of last season. Letís take a look at some of those players such as Andre Dawkins, Anthony Brown, Malcolm Brogdon and Drew Crawford.

Big 12 Basketball Early Projection

With Andrew Wiggins joining Kansas, the Jayhawks should stay at the Top of the Big 12. But the projection for West Virginia, Kansas St., and Oklahoma is entirely different from last season.

Weaknesses of Title Contenders

In this edition, we take the teams in the Top 16 of the Pomeroy Rankings and figure out how often they look beatable on the basketball court.

NCAA Power Poll For February

While there are certainly no elite college teams this season, there are a host of teams that can reach the Final Four. In this edition, we outline the various tiers.

A Super Saturday

On LeBryan Nash, Davante Gardner, Elston Turner, Rontei Clarke, Wisconsin/Illinois, and every minute of two games between real Final Four contenders (Minnesota/Indiana and Duke/NC State).

Nerlens Noel, Isaiah Austin, And A Quick Look At How The Top 80 Recruits Have Fared

On Nerlens Noel, Isaiah Austin, Kyle Anderson and the rest of the freshman class as they play such prominent roles to begin the 12-13 NCAA season.

Why Every College Game Matters

Weíve seen Kobe Bryant and LeBron James play thousands of basketball games; at this point, we have a pretty good idea of what they are all about. So while the level of play in the NBA is much higher, you never know what you are going to get in the NCAA.

Four Seasons That Went South

Nothing in college basketball is guaranteed, as evidenced by LeBryan Nash, Cameron Clark, Doneal Mack and Malcolm Grant.

The Many Facets & Unpredictability Of March Madness

While personnel determine scheme in the NBA, college basketball coaches recruit players that fit their schemes.

Understanding Breakout Players

Thomas Robinson, J'Covan Brown, Meyers Leonard, Jamaal Franklin and Trae Golden are amongst the Top-20 Breakout Players in college basketball.

YACB Column, Jan. 23rd: On Duke's Home Loss, Big Win For Kansas & More

On a great weekend of college basketball that saw Florida State beat Duke at Cameron, Syracuse get their first loss, Kansas stave off Texas, as well as the reasoning why we must look at match-ups and reevaluations.

Five Surprises From The Second Weekend In January

The theme heading into this weekend was that there were not many must-see games. But with college basketball, the sheer volume of games ensures there will always be a few surprises.

BCS Basketball Power Poll January 2012

Separating the BCS schools into tiers named after John Wooden, Dean Smith, Gene Keady, Rollie Massimino, John Chaney, Kelvin Sampson, Tim Welsh, Pat Knight and Sidney Lowe, how does everyone stand?

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