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Looking Forward: Here’s what the Big 12 has in store for the 2016-17 season

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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 for all of the major programs. 

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2016-17 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. 

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

  1. Will the league expand?: Potential realignment won’t be of consequence to this upcoming season in the Big 12, but the conference appears to be seriously considering adding two programs to the league that has been at 10 since 2012. Of course, the move would be made with football in mind, but it would have vast ramifications on the basketball side of the conference. The Big 12 has been the nation’s best conference in recent years, due in part to the true double round-robin schedule they play with really only one program (TCU) failing to be NCAA-tournament caliber. If the Big 12 does expand, it’ll likely lose its signature schedule, but the schools being mentioned (Cincinnati, Memphis, UConn) would certainly make the league even tougher.
  2. Kansas’ pursuit of 13: It’s one of the most amazing streaks in American sport, really, as Kansas has won 12-straight Big 12 championships. It’s a total anachronism when you look across the rest of the college basketball landscape. The Jayhawks lost significant pieces from last year’s team, but that’s never stopped Bill Self from being the best in the conference before. Kansas will again be the favorite to win the Big 12 as one of the most consistent programs in the sport’s history.
  3. A new talent pool: Of the 15 players named to all-conference teams last season in the Big 12, just four will return to the league next season. Iowa State’s Monte Morris, Kansas’ Frank Mason, Kansas State’s Wesley Iwundu and Baylor’s Jonathan Motley are all exceedingly good players, but they don’t have the star power that the league lost with the likes of Buddy Hield, Georges Niang and Perry Ellis all moving on. It will be a very new-look conference this season.
  4. The challengers: Kansas will be the no-doubt favorite in the Big 12, but typically there is an obvious threat or two to their throne every year. That may not be the case this season. Beyond the Jayhawks, the rest of the league is retooling after a season after 70 percent of its membership made the NCAA tournament. Every team in the league seems to have major questions entering this summer.
Josh Jackson, from Napa, Calif.,, dunks over Nancy Mulkey, from Cypress, Texas, as he competes in the slam dunk contest during the McDonald's All-American Jam Fest, Monday, March 28, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
Josh Jackson (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

NOTABLE NEWCOMERS

  • Josh Jackson, Kansas: The country’s consensus No. 1 recruit pledged to the Jayhawks this spring, giving Self yet another NBA-caliber player to his arsenal. Jackson will be compared to 2014 No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins given his size, athleticism and position, but he won’t be asked to carry the load Wiggins was during his one season in Lawrence.
  • Udoka Azubuike, Kansas: The Jayhawks have a strong track record under self of impact big men, and Azubuike would appear to be next in line. The 6-foot-11 center is expected to make an immediate impact at Kansas, unlike recent freshmen forwards like Cliff Alexander, Cheick Diallo and Carlton Bragg, who languished on the bench during their first collegiate seasons.
  • Andrew Jones, Texas: The 6-foot-4 McDonald’s All-American will help ease the transition for Shaka Smart as his roster undergoes a dramatic turnover. The Longhorns will need him to contribute in a big way right away.
  • Austin Grandstaff, Oklahoma: One of the top 2015 recruits in the country, Grandstaff left Ohio State after the first semester last season and enrolled at Oklahoma. He won’t (who could) fill the shoes of Buddy Hield, but he’ll give the Sooners a deadly shooter with size and athleticism.

SURPRISING DEPARTURES

  • Isaiah Taylor, Texas: Everyone expected the Texas point guard to test the NBA waters, but few truly expected him to leave Austin behind. He’s not an expected first-round pick and very well could go undrafted. It would have been his show at Texas this season, but instead Shaka Smart will have to find another player to build around.
  • Devin Williams, West Virginia: Another player who could go undrafted, Williams was a huge part of the Mountaineers’ identity last year, but instead of returning for his senior season, he’ll move on to professional basketball.
Arkansas Little Rock head coach Chris Beard reacts after his team draws a foul against Iowa State during the first half of a second-round men's college basketball game Saturday, March 19, 2016, in the NCAA Tournament in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Chris Beard (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

COACHING CHANGES

Chris Beard, Texas Tech: After a one-week stint as UNLV’s head coach, Beard jumped to fill Tubby Smith’s vacated spot in Lubbock, where he spent years as an assistant previously. His track record as a head coach isn’t extensive as a head coach after just one year in Little Rock (where he won an NCAA tournament game last year), but Texas Tech is a place he wants to be, which is half the battle such a Big 12 outpost.

Brad Underwood, Oklahoma State: All Underwood did at Stephen F. Austin was win and win big. He could have jumped to a bigger job earlier, but waited and got the gig in Stillwater and the Big 12, where he played his collegiate career for Kansas State. Travis Ford left the program in less than a healthy state, but Underwood will have the T.Boone Pickens resources to rebuild quickly.

Jamie Dixon, TCU: Dixon accomplished so much at Pitt, but the fanbase there had grown restless after seasons of seeming stagnation, paving the way for Dixon to return to his alma mater. The Horned Frogs are investing heavily in basketball since their move to the Big 12, and Dixon very well could be the key to unlocking what could be a powerful program in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, which is teeming with talent.

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS

Frank Mason (Kansas): Player of the Year
Monte Morris (Iowa State)
Christian James (Oklahoma)
Josh Jackson (Kansas)
Johnathan Motley (Baylor)

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS, IN TWEETS

  1. Kansas: All the Jayhawks do is win the Big 12. No reason to think this year will be any different.
  2. West Virginia: Losing Jaysean Paige and Devin Williams hurts, but Bob Huggins has developed a deep bench and effective style in Morgantown.
  3. Oklahoma: Lon Kruger has a lot of spots to fill, but there’s still plenty of talent in Norman to keep things rolling even with the loss of a talented senior class.
  4. Iowa State: Losing All-American Georges Niang along with starters Jameel McKay and Abdel Nader will be hard to overcome, but getting Monte Morris back for his senior season raises expectations in Ames.
  5. Texas: The Longhorns have major holes to fill in Year 2 of the Shaka Smart era, but freshman Andrew Jones will help ease the transition.
  6. Baylor: Johnathan Motley will move from role player to focal point this year for Baylor, which has to replace three all-league players.
  7. TCU: Jamie Dixon will have some talent to work with in his first year back in Fort Worth, including incoming top recruit Jaylen Fisher.
  8. Texas Tech: Beard will have his work cut out for him trying to follow-up an improbable NCAA tournament berth for the Red Raiders and Tubby Smith.
  9. Kansas State: In what could very well be a make or break year for Bruce Weber, the Wildcats will be counting on Wesley Iwundu to be huge.
  10. Oklahoma State: This season will be a total rebuild under first-year coach Brad Underwood, not only from a talent perspective but winning over an apathetic fan base.

Best Bets: Previewing the weekend’s biggest college basketball games

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There are no Vegas lines for these games just yet. All analysis will be based on KenPom projections, which typically end up close to the opening lines anyway.

No. 7 NORTH CAROLINA at No. 5 VIRGINIA, Sun. 4:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Virginia 61, North Carolina 55
  • TICKETS: Click here

I am going to be fascinated to see where the line for this game opens up, because neither of these teams are playing all that well right now, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Virginia was blown out by unranked Purdue on the road, 69-40, while North Carolina is coming off of a drubbing at the hands of Ohio State in their own building, 74-49.

My initial lean here is going to be the Virginia side, depending on how much they are laying, but I do think that the best bet would likely be the under assuming the line opens at or around 116. The logic is relatively simple, really. Virginia has still been one of college basketball’s most intimidating defenses this season despite what happened against Purdue. While nice, 69 points doesn’t sound like a lot, but the 1.19 points-per-possession the Boilermakers did post was one of just four times in the last two-plus years that a team has done that against Virginia.

Purdue has done it twice.

That’s because the Boilermakers run the precise kind of action you need to run to beat the Pack-Line. There is a ton of motion, guys running off of screens every which way and action happening simultaneously on both sides of the floor. This is not what North Carolina does, and when combined with the fact that – as shown in the video embedded below – the Tar Heels have basically one option offensively right now, leads me to believe that the Wahoos will control tempo, overwhelm UNC defensively and keep this game in the 50s.

Think about it like this. Ohio State-UNC finished at 123 total points. Virginia is the only defense in the country ranked higher on KenPom that Ohio State, and Virginia is a full 100 spots lower offensively.

PICKS: I like Virginia -5 and below, and I like the under for everything 115 and above.

No. 12 ARIZONA at No. 18 BAYLOR, Sat. 12:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Baylor 75, Arizona 71
  • TICKETS: Click here

There are a couple of things to take into account here.

For starters, this game is being played in Waco, but there are some real questions about just how much of a home court advantage the Bears are going to have here. The football team is in the Big 12 title game, which will be played at the same time. I have a feeling that is going to take priority for the majority of the Baylor fanbase. Baylor has resorted to giving away free tickets to make sure the stands are filled.

That said, I think that Baylor has the matchup advantage here. The Bears haven’t been playing as much zone this year but it’s still something they can fall back into, which will be tricky for an Arizona team built around three freshmen. I also think the size Baylor has inside is less than ideal for a team that relies on Zeke Nnaji quite a bit. Then throw in the fact that this is Arizona’s first true road game and first game outside of the western time zone, and I like the spot for Baylor.

PICKS: I’m refraining from betting on this. I don’t have a great feel.

No. 9 GONZAGA at No. 22 WASHINGTON, Sun. 7:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Gonzaga 73, Washington 71
  • TICKETS: Click here

A rivalry game, one where I expect Gonzaga to be favored on the road. I think I like Washington here. I don’t fully trust Gonzaga’s guard play at this point in the season, and if anyone remembers the way that the Washington-Baylor game ended the first week of the season, Isaiah Stewart completely dominated Baylor’s frontline down the stretch. I can see that happening again, considering just how much Gonzaga relies on running offense through their posts.

PICKS: I think Washington will win, so getting the Huskies on the money line at +125 would be nice.

FLORIDA at No. 24 BUTLER, Sat. 12:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Butler 63, Florida 57
  • TICKETS: Click here

We’ve been betting Butler this season because the Bulldogs have been undervalued by the market all year. But now that they have that number next to their name and coming off of a really impressive win at Ole Miss, I think our chance to be all in on this team may have come to an end.

I also think that six points is a lot in this matchup, which I expect to be really low-scoring. The Gators can defend, are good at running teams off of the three-point line and can’t make threes themselves. They have a number of guards they can throw at Kamar Baldwin and have shown no desire to play fast at all this season. Butler is 348th in average possession length offensively.

PICKS: Let’s see where the total opens, but if it’s in the low-to-mid 120s, I think the under is the play in this game.

No. 20 COLORADO at No. 2 KANSAS, Sat. 7:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Kansas 73, Colorado 65
  • TICKETS: Click here

I am definitely looking forward to this game because I feel like I haven’t had a chance to really watch Colorado yet this season. I saw a little bit of their game against Arizona State in the opener, but that’s it. So keep that in mind as I proceed to tout the Buffaloes. Here’s the logic: The Jayhawks want to run their offense through Udoka Azubuike in the post, and Colorado is top ten nationally in defensive two-point field goal percentage. They have big bodies, they have strong posts and they can make life tough for Azubuike inside.

PICKS: I think this line will open up higher than Colorado (+8). Getting the Buffaloes (+10.5) would make all of my wildest dreams come true.

No. 19 DAYTON vs. SAINT MARY’S, Sun. 4:00 p.m. (Phoenix)

  • KENPOM: Dayton 70, Saint Mary’s 68
  • TICKETS: Click here

I’ll be on Dayton here. What makes Saint Mary’s dangerous is their ability to spread teams out with their shooting and create mismatches all over the court. Dayton does the same thing, only they have Player of the Year candidate Obi Toppin creating mismatches, who should, in theory, be able to limit Malik Fitts’ advantage at the four. Playing this game at a neutral site is a bonus as well.

PICKS: I like Dayton up to (-4.5), and I would think about the under as well. Both of these teams are built on shooting, and neutral sites environments can be tough to shoot in. Saint Mary’s wanting to play at a slow pace will help as well.

CINCINNATI at XAVIER, Sat. 5:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Xavier 73, Cincinnati 67
  • TICKETS: Click here

My take on Cincinnati is that the Bearcats are overvalued right now. The biggest reason for that is that there seems to still be some tension between new head coach John Brannen and star guard Jarron Cumberland. I also think that Xavier is one of the teams that is being undervalued at this point. I know they struggle shooting the rock, but they are tough, they are athletic and they have a couple of game-changers in Naji Marshall, Tyrique Jones and Paul Scruggs. If Kyky Tandy can provide a bit of shooting and Quentin Goodin is truly out of his funk, the Musketeers are a top 20 team.

The only concern I have: This is a rivalry game. If Jarron Cumberland is ever going to play like a National Player of the Year candidate, this is the game he’ll do it.

PICKS: I will probably be staying away at Xavier (-6).

CBT Podcast: Georgetown’s problems, the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, a weekend preview

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Rob Dauster and Bobby Reagan from the Fundamentally Sound podcast go through everything that happened in a wild week of basketball, from the four – yes, four! – blowouts of in the marquee games of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge as well as the rise of DePaul and the enigma that is Indiana. Rob also discusses the situation at Georgetown at the top, and the podcast ends with a preview of what should be a lively weekend of college hoops.

North Carolina’s Armando Bacot to be ‘out a while’

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North Carolina’s freshman center Armando Bacot suffered a left ankle injury in the first half of Wednesday night’s game against Ohio State and did not return.

Bacot, who came down on a defender’s foot and had to be helped off of the floor, immediately when back to the locker.

“It was swollen by the time he got to the locker room,” coach Roy Williams said. “My guess is he’ll be out a while.”

The 6-foot-10 Bacot was averaging 11.7 points and 9.6 boards and was coming off of his best game of the season, when he posted 23 points, 12 boards and six blocks while playing a season-high 30 minutes against Oregon.

Michigan, Kentucky schedule basketball game in London

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan and Kentucky have agreed to play a basketball game in London next season as part of a three-year deal that also includes a home-and-home series between the two programs.

Michigan announced the deal Thursday. The teams will play at O2 Arena in London in December 2020. The teams will meet at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor in 2021 and at Kentucky’s Rupp Arena in 2022.

“When the idea of playing Kentucky came up, we knew it would be an exciting opportunity, not only for ourselves, but for our fans as well,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “What a unique three-game series. First, we get to showcase collegiate basketball overseas in London before playing that traditional home-and-home series in front of two of the nation’s best basketball environments.”

The teams have met seven times previously, with Kentucky holding a 5-2 edge. The Wildcats beat Michigan in a 2014 Elite Eight game in their most recent contest. When Howard was a player at Michigan, his Wolverines beat Kentucky in a 1993 national semifinal.

Film Room: How Ohio State handed North Carolina their worst loss in nearly two decades

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At this point, no one should be surprised when Chris Holtmann does something smart as a head coach, and I certainly was not surprised to see him find a way to smother North Carolina on the defensive side of the ball on Wednesday night.

In a 74-49 win in the Dean Dome, the worst home loss the Tar Heels have taken since 2002, when Matt Doherty was in charge, the Buckeyes held North Carolina to just 27.8 percent shooting from the floor. They shot 25.6 percent on two-point field goal attempts, the lowest number of the Roy Williams era. And I think so much of it had to do with what Holtmann did defensively on Cole Anthony.

The game-plan was, frankly, pretty simple. When Anthony had the ball, Ohio State climbed up in him, they hedged hard on all ball-screens and they sent bodies at him whenever he put the ball on the floor to drive. They made a conscious decision to force Anthony into either playing 1-on-2 and 1-on-3 or giving the ball up to a teammate. As soon as he gave the ball up, they face-guarded him. Full denial, even if it meant playing 4-on-4 for the rest of that possession.

And it worked.

Starting point guard C.J. Walker did the heavy lifting on Anthony, but he was hardly the only one. Luther Muhammad started out on Anthony before getting into foul trouble and playing just nine minutes. D.J. Carton, Andre Wesson and Duane Washington all took a shot at UNC’s freshman stud as well. That’s a lot of bodies, all of whom have some size, some length and some athleticism, and happen to be good individual defenders. Anthony got tired before they did.

This method was effective mainly due to the fact that Ohio State is one of the nation’s elite defenses. Combining all those athletic wings with a center in Kaleb Wesson that dropped the baby fat this summer is a luxury for Holtmann.

But it wasn’t all Ohio State.

Because what became painfully obvious for those that had not yet recognized it is that North Carolina has a startling lack of offensive weaponry. It’s almost like losing five NBA players to the draft is tough to deal with.

No matter who is on the floor with him, defenses are going to dedicate the majority of their attention to Anthony. He’s a game-changing talent. We saw him blow the game wide open against Notre Dame in the opener. He’s going to be the most dangerous player on the floor in just about every game he plays this season. But with a limited supporting cast to rely on, this is the decision Ohio State forced Roy Williams into:

1. Allow Anthony to go full iso-ball and try to win this game on his own by taking deep, contested threes off the dribble or driving into two or three defenders;

or

2. Run offense for the other guys on the roster even if the shots they are getting are tough shots for them. To put this into context, watch the clip below:

North Carolina ran that first play for Cam Johnson, the No. 11 pick in the draft, last season. This year it’s Brandon Robinson. In past seasons, the guy getting the post touch in the second clip was Kennedy Meeks, or Luke Maye, or Brice Johnson. Last night, it was Brandon Huffman. When they’re running pick-and-pop action like the third clip, it’s Garrison Brooks, not Maye, that is taking those jumpers.

If you’re coaching against North Carolina, I think you’re just fine with Brooks shooting 17-footers. That’s the shot you live with.

Now, to be clear, Robinson is not a bad player. In fact, he’s significantly better than I realized coming into the season. And the x-factor here is that Armando Bacot played just seven minutes before spraining his ankle. He may “be out for a while,” as Roy Williams put it after the game, and even then, he’s been much better as a guy that cleans up misses than as a go-to scorer in the post. According to Synergy, he’s scored just .769 points-per-possession on post-ups, which is in the 42nd percentile nationally. You just saw all four of the post-up buckets he’s scored against high-major foes this season if you watched that clip above.

Bacot is a monster on the offensive glass, and his return will help keep defenses honest because of that. Sell out on a Cole Anthony drive, and Bacot is putting that miss back with a tip-dunk.

But that only mitigates the issue North Carolina has this season.

They don’t have enough talent around Cole Anthony.