Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Big 12 Conference Reset: Get Caught Up On All The League’s Offseason Wheelings And Dealings

Leave a comment

The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close. The transfer market is slowly winding down.

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2017-18 season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what has happened — and what will happen — in the Big 12 over the next six months.

OFFSEASON STORYLINES

1. Kansas, again: In most of the previous 13 years, there was at least an argument to be made about a team that could challenge Kansas and end the Jayhawks’ reign atop the league. You can’t even pretend to believe that’s the case heading into the summer before this season. Yes, West Virginia will be good and Texas is interesting, but the Jayhawks, well, they’re on another level.

Nearly everything went according to plan this offseason for Kansas, which lost Frank Mason and Landen Lucas to graduation and Josh Jackson to the draft but Devonte Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk are both coming back. Those two make for an experienced and skilled core, and when it’s paired with Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman, high-level recruits Billy Preston and Marcus Garrett and a healthy Udoka Azubuike, Kansas’ talent is among the best in the country.

2. What’s Bruce Weber’s status?: When Kansas State got blasted by 30 points in late February by Oklahoma – a Sooners team that won just 11 games on the year – it looked like be curtains for Bruce Weber’s tenure in Manhattan. Rather than fade to black, though, the Wildcats won their next three to nab a spot in the First Four, where they beat Wake Forest.

So what’s next for Weber? The fan base is unsettled, even after the third NCAA tournament in his five years there, and Kansas State has a new athletic director, Gene Taylor. Kamau Stokes, Barry Brown and Dean Wade return after successful seasons, but is there enough talent there to get back to the NCAA tournament? And is that even the bar to clear, both for Wildcat fans and the new AD? Weber may not be on the proverbial hot seat – there’s even talk of an extension for him this summer – but his situation is an interesting one, especially if Kansas State struggles out of the gates.

Shaka Smart (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

3. Texas’ reinvention: Yeah, Texas made the NCAA tournament in Shaka Smart’s first season leading the Longhorns, but it’s hard to look at his two seasons there without some disappointment, especially after an 11-22 season in which Texas finished last in the Big 12 last season despite having a potential lottery pick in Jarrett Allen on the roster. The Longhorns were young and had a roster that didn’t really fit, but, still, a 4-14 Big 12 record is unsightly.

This year, though, Smart has a truly intriguing and, more importantly, talented group that would appear to fit together well. Andrew Jones tested the draft waters before coming back to Austin and Kerwin Roach and Eric Davis are a year older and more seasoned. But it’s the newcomers that really make Texas a team to watch. Mo Bamba picked Texas over Duke and Kentucky, giving the Longhorns not only a 7-footer who may be the top 2018 NBA draft pick but also a massively important symbolic recruiting victory. Four-star recruit Matt Coleman gives Smart the point guard he so desperately missed, and Smart secured three other four-star players in the class. Texas probably won’t win the Big 12 this season, but it’s not hard to think this will be the season we all look back on as truly the start of the Smart era.

4. Country roads lead to victories: West Virginia lost a lot, namely Tarik Phillip and Nathan Adrian, but Jevon Carter and Esa Ahmad might be the best one-two punch in the conference outside of the city limits of Lawrence. Bob Huggins is going to get the most out of this group, and that’s likely going to mean a bunch of wins. Kansas is the toast of the league, but the Mountaineers are worth raising a cup for as well, though it should probably be filled with something stronger than champagne.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS

  • Malik Newman, Kansas: Newman underwhelmed in his first collegiate season, averaging 11.3 points and shooting 39.1 percent as a Mississippi State freshman, but he’s a former top-10 recruit that’s spent a year away from competition under the tutelage of Bill Self. He seems to be a prime candidate to turn a fresh start into a dynamic season
  • Mohammed Bamba, Texas: As mentioned above, Bamba’s decision to come to Texas is a potential game-changer. He adds some serious star power to the Big 12, a league that’s lacked that some in recent years outside of Kansas’ one-and-done players.
  • Billy Preston, Kansas: Preston isn’t thought of as highly as recent top Kansas recruits like Josh Jackson, Kelly Oubre or Andrew Wiggins, but the kid can really play. He won’t be asked to play a starring role, but if he can be an impactful contributor, that’s all Kansas will need
  • Trae Young, Oklahoma: The post-Buddy Hield wasn’t kind to Oklahoma last season, but Lon Kruger and the Sooners don’t figure to stay down long, especially with the hometown five-star prospect in the fold.
  • Lindell Wigginton, Iowa State: The Cyclones have enjoyed one of the steadiest point guards in recent college basketball history for the last four years with Monte Morris setting the sport’s career assist-to-turnover ratio record, but they’ll now turn the team over to Wigginton, the program’s best-rated recruit in a generation. Wigginton will probably have to be special if Iowa State is to make a seventh-straight NCAA tournament.
Devonte’ Graham (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

SURPRISING DEPARTURES

  • Al Freeman, Baylor: Freeman saw his role slashed last year, so it’s not entirely surprising, but losing an experienced and talented player like Freeman always stings.
  • Tevin Mack, Texas: He was Texas’ leading scorer last year, but seemed to find himself at odds with Shaka Smart. Texas has an infusion of talent coming, but losing Mack is losing production, even if it also means dispatching with some headaches
  • Carlton Bragg, Kansas: Maybe not so surprising after Bragg averaged 13.8 minutes per game last year, but definitely noteworthy as he’s a former top-25 recruit. Kansas should have plenty of frontcourt talent anyway.

COACHING CHANGES

  • Mike Boynton, Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State got one of the most coveted coaches on the market in 2016 when it pulled Brad Underwood from Stephen F. Austin. Then the Cowboys promptly lost him to Illinois reportedly largely over monetary concerns, and turned around and hired his assistant for a $1 million salary this upcoming season. Boynton may turn out to be a wildly successful head coach, but Oklahoma State certainly signaled that it doesn’t prioritize spending on basketball with this whole ordeal.

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS

Devonte Graham, Kansas (Player of the Year)
Jevon Carter, West Virginia
Andrew Jones, Texas
Esa Ahmad, West Virginia
Mohammed Bamba, Texas

Bob Huggins (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

  1. Kansas: After 13-straight titles, this doesn’t need much explanation. The Jayhawks are, as always, the team to beat.
  2. West Virginia: Bob Huggins has turned Press Virginia from gimmick to way of life in Morgantown. The Mountaineers have plenty of turnover, but the talent, and coach, are still in place for a high league finish.
  3. Texas: The Longhorns looked like a team in the tier below the league’s top squads, but adding Mo Bamba late gives them the appearance of being a cut above. If Andrew Jones can take a big step forward as a sophomore and Matt Coleman can deliver at the point, Texas could be a very dangerous team.
  4. TCU: Jamie Dixon already had the Horned Frogs looking like a vastly improved group in Year 1, and he’s bringing just about everyone back in his second season. They might be light in high-end talent, but the continuity could go a long way.
  5. Texas Tech: Chris Beard may have been two overtime losses and two one-possession defeats in February away from getting the Red Raiders into the NCAA tournament last year. He’ll lose Anthony Livingston, but otherwise returns a solid core. Florida transfer Brandone Francis and DePaul transfer Tommy Hamilton IV might be the difference makers for Beard.
  6. Baylor: Losing Johnathan Motley early to the draft was a major loss for the Bears, but Manu Lecomte and Jo Lual-Acuil should keep Scott Drew and the Bears competitive.
  7. Oklahoma: Last year was a rough one for Oklahoma as it looked to rebuild after a Final Four season led by seniors, but it led to valuable experience for its young players. Now, Trae Young enters the fray hoping to take his hometown team back to the top-half of the Big 12.
  8. Iowa State: The Cyclones graduated four starters and six rotation players overall and will now be rebooting the roster in Year 3 under Steve Prohm. Iowa State is adding three well-regarded prep recruits, highlighted by five-star Lindell Wigginton, along with graduate transfers Hans Brase (Princeton) and Jeff Beverly (UTSA), but a step back seems inevitable.
  9. Kansas State: The Wildcats return some nice pieces in Kamau Stokes, Dean Wade and Barry Brown, but it’s going to be hard to make up for the losses of Wesley Iwundu and D.J. Johnson.
  10. Oklahoma State: Jeffrey Carroll is a potential all-league player, but the rest of the roster would suggest that the Cowboys will have their work cut out for them a year removed from making the NCAA tournament after an 0-6 start in the Big 12 under Brad Underwood, who now resides in Champaign, Ill.

Five-star 2018 recruit Anfernee Simons could test NBA Draft process

1 Comment

Five-star Class of 2018 guard Anfernee Simons is interested in potentially entering the 2018 NBA Draft.

According to a report from Jonathan Givony of ESPN, the former Louisville commit will likely be eligible to jump to the NBA straight out of high school since he graduated high school last year while turning 19 next June. The 6-foot-4 Simons, considered the No. 16 overall prospect in the Rivals’ Class of 2018 national rankings, is playing a post-grad season at IMG Academy for 2017-18 after reclassifying as a sophomore.

If Simons opts to go pro than college basketball loses a potential star as he’s been shooting up the national rankings over the past year. Simons was committed to the Cardinals since the beginning of his junior year but he opened things up once former head coach Rick Pitino lost his job in a fallout from the FBI investigation on college basketball.

Simons started his season at the National Prep Showcase this weekend as six NBA teams sent people to watch him play, according to Givony’s report.

It’ll be fascinating to see what happens in this situation as Simons hasn’t done much with the recruiting process over the last several months. Now that NBA teams are already watching him play, Simons could follow in Thon Maker’s footsteps and turn pro right away.

LaVar Ball on Trump’s involvement in bringing son home: ‘Who?’

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
31 Comments

The war of words none of us wanted is now upon us.

LaVar Ball downplayed the impact that Donald Trump had in ensuring that his son, LiAngelo, along with two other UCLA players were released from custody and returned to the United States following a shoplifting incident on the team’s trip to China.

“Who?” the eldest Ball told ESPN on Friday night when asked about Trump’s involvement. “What was he over there for? Don’t tell me nothing. Everybody wants to make it seem like he helped me out.”

When the players arrived back in Los Angeles, and before they had a chance to speak publicly, Trump had already taken to twitter to complain about the fact that the trio had not yet thanked him. Trump happened to be in China at the same time and, in a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, he reportedly asked for his counterpart’s help in assuring an expedited legal process.

Trump got the thank you that he so desperately needed when UCLA held a press conference announcing that the three players would be suspended indefinitely, but LaVar was not going to let the President have the last word. And you can bet that Trump is not going to let this be the end of it, either, which means that two men that have risen to prominence through their willingness to say the audacious whenever the spotlight is on them will have the floor.

And unless someone has managed to change the passcode on Trump’s cellphone, you can rest assured that this will not be the end of it.

Bridges perfect from 3, No. 5 Villanova blows out Lafayette

Mike Stobe/Getty Images
1 Comment

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Mikal Bridges set a school record by hitting all six of his 3-point shots and scored a career-high 24 points in No. 5 Villanova’s 104-57 rout of Lafayette on Friday night.

Jalen Brunson added 22 points and hit 4 of 6 3s in another dominant performance by the Wildcats (3-0), who made 16 of 30 from long range.

Three nights after setting a school record with 13 blocked shots in a blowout of Nicholls, the versatile and deep Wildcats showed another strength and overwhelmed the Leopards (0-3).

Led by Bridges’ 4 of 4 long-distance shooting, Villanova hit 11 of its first 14 3s in racing to a 39-16 lead. The Wildcats had a stretch of nine straight baskets being 3s en route to a 56-23 halftime lead.

Matt Klinewski had 16 points and six rebounds for Lafayette, which was 7 of 29 from 3-point range.

Bridges finished 9 of 10 from the field before he sat out the final 10 minutes. The junior bested his previous career-high by one point set Tuesday.

While it was a Villanova home game, it was played about 50 miles from campus at the PPL Center, home of minor league hockey’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms. It was a 20-mile drive for Lafayette, but the Wildcats sure seemed at home.

Villanova spent much of the second half going inside to score. Omari Spellman had 15 points and nine rebounds and Eric Paschall had 14 points and eight boards.

BIG PICTURE

Lafayette: Try as a Patriot League school squaring off against one of the best teams in the nation and watching the opponent shoot like that, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s alma mater never had a chance.

Villanova: The Wildcats have perimeter shooting, depth inside and play good defense. They’ve been dominant against inferior competition, and will finally get tested next week.

SO MANY 3-POINTERS

Bridges surpassed Doug West in 1988 and John Celestand in 1999, each of whom went 5 of 5 from long range. Villanova finished one shy of the school record of 17 3s set against Lehigh on Nov. 27, 2005.

NO LUCK

Lafayette coach Fran O’Hanlon fell to 0-6 against his alma mater. O’Hanlon still holds the Villanova record for assists in a game with 16 set against Toledo on Feb. 24, 1970.

Only six Division I coaches have been at their schools longer than O’Hanlon, in his 23rd season.

UP NEXT

Lafayette visits Princeton on Wednesday.

Villanova faces Western Kentucky on Wednesday in the first of three games at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. No. 19 Purdue and No. 3 Arizona are possible opponents the following two days.

Mykhailiuk helps No. 4 Kansas rout South Dakota State, 98-64

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LAWRENCE, Kan. — Svi Mykhailiuk scored a career-high 27 points, Lagerald Vick finished with 22 and fourth-ranked Kansas routed Summit League favorite South Dakota State 98-64 on Friday night.

Udoka Azubuike added 17 points and Malik Newman had 13 for the Jayhawks (3-0), who shot 60 percent from the field and didn’t commit a turnover until midway through the second half.

By that point, the Jackrabbits (3-1) were staring at a 30-point deficit.

Mike Daum led South Dakota State with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Tevin King contributed 12 points and David Jenkins Jr. scored 10 off the bench.

Once again without heralded freshman Billy Preston, the Jayhawks were forced to use the same reduced rotation that managed to top seventh-ranked Kentucky on Tuesday night. But their perilous lack of depth became crippling in the first half when Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot picked up two fouls each.

That forced coach Bill Self to use walk-on Clay Young in the post.

The 6-foot-5 senior turned out to be a bright spot, too, keeping the ball moving on offense and handling the 6-9 Daum inside. The Jackrabbits’ leading scorer at more than 21 points per game had eight on 2-for-8 shooting in the first half, when Young spent a good chunk of time covering him.

Nobody could cover Mykhailiuk, though.

The senior from the Ukraine hit his first three shots — the Jayhawks made eight of their first nine — while getting into an easy rhythm. Even on the seemingly rare occasion that his jumper didn’t splash the net, it often rattled around the rim and dropped through to a thunderous ovation.

Several of his baskets came on feeds from Devonte Graham, who didn’t hit a field goal until deep in the second half. He finished with eight points but also had 11 assists and five boards.

PRESTON SITS

Preston went through early warmups but remained on the bench as Kansas investigates an on-campus incident that raised questions about the “financial picture” of the car he was driving. Self declined to discuss the situation other than to say “we’re definitely going to hold him out until we get to the bottom of this.” Self did say he expects a resolution soon.

BIG PICTURE

South Dakota State can recover from its thumping in paradise with a trip to the Cayman Islands Classic up next. But their next trip to the Sunflower State figures to be just as tough: They visit No. 6 Wichita State on Dec. 5.

Kansas cruised despite a shortened lineup again, and help is only a month away. Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe becomes eligible for a trip to Nebraska on Dec. 16, and there is a chance five-star prospect Silvio De Sousa from Florida’s IMG Academy enrolls at the semester break.

UP NEXT

South Dakota State plays Wyoming on Monday in George Town, Cayman Islands.

Kansas continues a four-game home stand against Texas Southern on Tuesday night.

No. 18 Louisville hangs on over Omaha 87-78

Bobby Ellis/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Ray Spalding had a career-high 19 points and 11 rebounds, Deng Adel had a game-high 21 points and Anas Mahmoud had eight of his team’s 15 blocked shots as No. 18 Louisville outlasted Omaha 87-78 on Friday night.

Spalding scored 14 points after halftime, and Adel made 7 of 8 shots from both the field and the free-throw line to pace the offense for the Cardinals (2-0), who led by 20 early in the second half but didn’t make a field for the last 4:36 of the game.

Omaha (0-4) was competitive in facing its highest-ranked opponent since becoming an NCAA Division I program in the 2011-12 season. The Mavericks hung around with a 12-0 second-half run and got within 71-64 on KJ Robinson’s 3-pointer with 5:45 left, but Louisville answered with seven straight points to keep the lead large enough to stay unbeaten under interim coach David Padgett.

Louisville’s three primary big men — Spalding (6-foot-10), Mahmoud (7-0) and Malik Williams (6-11) — bothered Omaha with their length around the rim. Mahmoud flirted with a triple-double, posting 10 points and eight rebounds to go with his blocks. Williams, a former five-star recruit who made his first career start in place of Mahmoud, had eight points, four rebounds and three blocks. Spalding blocked three shots, too.

Daniel Norl led five Omaha scorers in double figures with 16 points and eight rebounds.

BIG PICTURE

Omaha: The Mavericks averaged 83.9 points in their first three games but dug a hole in the first half when they shot only 24.4 percent to go down 40-25 at halftime. Louisville finished the first half on an 18-7 run, and Omaha made only one of its final nine shots before the break.

Louisville: Adel, who scored 20 points in the season-opening win over George Mason, continues to impress with his slicing drives and up-tempo play and shapes up as one of the top wings in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He made his first seven shots and added eight rebounds.

UP NEXT

Omaha plays at TCU on Monday as part of the Emerald Coast Classic, the fourth of seven straight games away from home to start the season while the Mavericks’ home arena hosts the U.S. Olympic Curling Trials.

Louisville has home games against Southern Illinois on Tuesday and Saint Francis next Friday before traveling to Purdue on Nov. 28 for the Big 10/ACC Challenge.