This is the 8th edition of my Big 12 Power Rankings and the first edition posted after Big 12 conference games have been played. In the first week of conference play, road teams went 8-2, Kansas lost at home to Texas Tech for the first time ever, and Trae Young had a 27/10/9 line that felt oddly average (for him). What a great first week. Let’s dive into the rankings. But first!
All of my previous Power Rankings posts, as well as the season previews I wrote, can be found at this link. For any newcomers, below is a blurb I wrote in my first Power Rankings post this season. (If you’ve been here before, go ahead and skip ahead to the good stuff.) The below inset is what I’ve decided is essentially my mission statement for this weekly article. Give it a read if you’re new.
“Two of my favorite basketball writers on the Internet are Zach Lowe and Luke Winn. I guess I should say “were” for one of those guys as Luke Winn was hired by the Toronto Raptors (!) in the summer of 2017 as Director of Prospect Strategy. Lowe covers the NBA and Winn did cover college basketball for Sports Illustrated. The best part about reading these guys is that you learn something new about basketball, whether it’s a team or a player, every time that you read their stuff. They inform you in intelligent ways without relying on the standard hot take-isms or journalistic tropes. They notice things about teams or players while watching games and then show it to their readers, whether through game clips or data-based analysis, and they do it in a way that is digestible and thought-provoking.
I do not have the talent that these two guys have, but my goal is to provide you with a similar look at the Big 12 every week with my weekly Big 12 Power Rankings post. I will rank the teams 1 through 10, but that’s not really what matters here (but feel free to let me know if your team should obviously be ranked 5th instead of 6th). What I want to provide are statistics, analysis, game clips, or just random observations that I’ve made that help you to learn more about a team or a player on that team. And sometimes, I just might include a funny anecdote or item about a team if there’s a slow week. Some weeks, I’ll write more about some teams than other teams. The bigger the game or a week a school has, the more likely I am to go a little deeper on them. Everyone will get their fair share in the end. Just like Lowe and Winn, I want to inform you and give you thought-provoking and compelling analysis on the Big 12 that you’re not getting anywhere else on the Internet. Alright, let’s jump in.”
Alright, let’s dive in. As per usual, here’s a breakdown on the key Kenpom statistics and metrics that will be shown for each team every week. These will always be shown right below the header for each team. Ken Pomeroy’s blog post explaining these metrics can be read here.
• Ranking and AdjEM: The ranking signifies where a team ranks nationally in Kenpom’s AdjEM. AdjEM is Adjusted Efficiency Margin; it is the difference between a team’s offensive and defensive efficiency. The margin is “adjusted” to account for strength of competition, expected outcome, and recency. The idea of “adjusted” is explained in much clearer detail by Pomeroy here.
• Adj. Offense: Also known as Adjusted Offensive Efficiency. Adj. Offense is shown on a per 100 possessions basis, so a rating of 112.3 would represent 112.3 points scored per 100 possessions. This will include the team’s adjusted efficiency number, their rank nationally, and their rank in the Big 12.
• Adj. Defense: Also known as Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. This works the same as Adj. Offense, but is for a team’s defensive efficiency. Adj. Defense is shown on a per 100 possessions basis, so a rating of 98.7 would represent 98.7 points allowed per 100 possessions. This will include the team’s adjusted efficiency number, their rank nationally, and their rank in the Big 12.
• Adj. Tempo: This shows the number of possessions per 40 minutes. A data point of 71.8 would mean this team plays 71.8 possessions per 40 minutes. This will always include the team’s adjusted tempo, their rank nationally, and their rank in the Big 12.
1. West Virginia Mountaineers (Last Week: 2nd)
Current Record (Overall/Conference): 13-1, 2-0
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 10th, +22.56
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 115.0, 21st, 4th
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 92.5, 11th, 3rd
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 74.5, 26th, 2nd
In last week’s space, I talked about the improved offensive skill on this West Virginia team compared to years past. This is currently the best 2-point shooting team and FT shooting team under Bob Huggins during his tenure at West Virginia. I mentioned the fact that guards Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles, and James Bolden are all scorers who can showcase their play-making abilities as well. I forgot to mention someone.
Freshman Teddy Allen has been superb in his first two Big 12 games. In the opener against Oklahoma State, Allen led the Mountaineers in scoring with 15 points in just 16 minutes. He followed that game up with an even better performance at Kansas State, scoring 22 points in just 19 minutes to lead the Mountaineers in scoring yet again. Allen has now been the leading scorer in 3 of the last 4 games for West Virginia.
Allen is not afraid to put it up on offense. He currently leads the Mountaineers in usage rate at 34% despite being 9th currently on the team in minutes, playing 31% of available minutes thus far. His minutes are increasing though; he’s played three of his highest four minute totals in the last four games. To put his usage rate in perspective, Trae Young currently leads the Big 12 in usage rate at 39%. Allen is not far behind at 34%. The young man is not afraid to chuck. The next closest usage rate in the league is Jeffrey Carroll at 29%.
Check out Allen’s shot chart.
Allen is not shooting well from the perimeter. He’s 3-22 from 3-point range on the season. But one area that Allen is special in is finishing in the restricted area; he’s crafty when he gets into the paint. His athleticism won’t wow you, but (cliche incoming) the kid just knows how to score. He’s shooting 58% on those shots in the restricted area, and 73 of his 80 2-pointers have come at the rim. That’s a great shot distribution, and it shows that the freshman is not willing to settle for jumpers. If Allen continues playing like this, it only helps in increasing the chances of West Virginia grabbing their first Big 12 regular season title.
Coming Up: 1/6 vs. Oklahoma, 1/9 vs. Baylor
2. Texas Tech Red Raiders (Last Week: 5th)
Current Record (Overall/Conference): 13-1, 2-0
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 6th, +26.11
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 114.5, 26th, 5th
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 88.4, 3rd, 1st
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 69.8, 174th, 7th
Texas Tech had the best first week of any Big 12 team. Blowing out Baylor at home and winning in a comfortable fashion at Kansas is about as impressive as it gets. The Red Raiders are now an official contender for the regular season Big 12 title. (And I feel incredibly foolish for picking them to go 9-9 in league play. I deserve ridicule.)
What’s most impressive about Texas Tech right now is their defense. It’s the main reason this team is now ranked 6th in Kenpom. Think about that for a second. Texas Tech is currently the 6th best team in college basketball according to the most respected college basketball advanced statistics website. Who could have predicted that back in November when the season started?
Texas Tech’s defense is currently 3rd best in the nation and 1st in the Big 12. Their Adjusted Defense, per Kenpom, is currently at 88.4 points per 100 possessions. Across the board, they’ve got great numbers on that end. Opponents have the 8th worst eFG% nationally, at 43%. Offenses shoot 42% on 2-pointers (10th lowest nationally) and 29% on 3-pointers (11th lowest nationally). Opponents turn it over 25% of the time, the 5th highest rate in the nation. Texas Tech does a great job in the paint as well. They rebound 74.2% of their opponents’ misses, which ranks 63rd nationally. Tech also blocks 12.4% of 2-pointers taken against them, which ranks 57th nationally. Everything looks tremendous on that end.
I’m consistently impressed by three things on that end: their fluid defensive rotations, their destructive length and long arms, and their ability to limit dribble penetration. Let’s look at all three.
In this first clip, look at how well Texas Tech defends this entire possession and how each defender is in the perfect spot at nearly all times.
A lot of teams can defend the start of that possession just as well as Texas Tech. The action is simple. Where Texas Tech succeeds where other teams falter is once the ball goes into the post. The defense is officially forced to move and rotate at that point in the possession. There are no missed rotations. Everything is fluid. After the kickout from the post, there are multiple attempted drives into the paint by Baylor guards; nothing breaks down the defense. Every attempted drive is defended well by the primary defender, and help defenders are in the perfect position each time. The shape and rotation of the defense is totally on point.
In this clip, look at how Tech’s length and long arms affects the defense.
Every closeout on Manu Lecomte on this possession looks difficult for Lecomte to deal with just due to the sheer length of the person closing out. Niem Stevenson’s long arms and quickness almost get him a steal with :18 left on the shot clock. Lecomte’s pass at the end of the possession has zero chance. A crosscourt pass like that has to have absolutely perfect placement and the perfect speed to beat Tech’s defense. There are too many arms everywhere. Keenan Evans is ready to pick off the pass even if it is on target to the cutter.
In this last clip, Texas Tech does about as good of a job as possible defending dribble penetration vs. Kansas.
Kansas runs that dribble weave action hoping to get a defender off-balance or out of position on one of the handoffs. They can then attack off the dribble. First, no Texas Tech defender is ever out of position. Second, once Kansas gives up on the weave action, Tech defenders perfectly defend three different dribble penetration attempts by Kansas guards — first it’s Malik Newman, then Devonte’ Graham, and finally Lagerald Vick. None of them have a chance; they go nowhere. Vick gets off a shot attempt just because his initial drive is so well defended that he loses the ball and accidentally creates a bit of space because of it. Even then, the help defender is right there in perfect position to make his shot attempt super difficult.
I know these are just three possessions, but watch any Texas Tech game, and you will see loads of possessions just like these. They’re so good on this end, and they make things so incredibly arduous for their opponents. Nothing is easy. Chris Beard has this defense and this team rolling right now.
Coming Up: 1/6 vs. Kansas State, 1/9 at Oklahoma
3. Oklahoma Sooners (Last Week: 3rd)
Current Record (Overall/Conference): 12-1, 2-0
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 13th, +21.88
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 118.1, 10th, 2nd
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 96.2, 40th, 6th
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 78.8, 4th, 1st
Earlier this season, I talked about the play and struggles of Kameron McGusty. Here is what I wrote in the December 7th Power Rankings post.
McGusty is the more curious case. It really does seem like he has lost his spot to Trae Young (and to a lesser extent, Jordan Shepherd). Not only that, it seems like McGusty taking a backseat to Young has affected his confidence. McGusty was never a super efficient player last season. His offensive rating was barely over 100 last year. But this year, it’s dipped down to 89.3. He’s currently 5-22 on 3-pointers (23%) and is turning the ball over 3x as often as he’s assisting teammates (TO Rate of 15.3% compared to an Assist Rate of 5.9%). This is a kid who scored 22 points in a home win over TCU to close out the regular season last year. He had a 5-game stretch in January where he scored 17, 19, 21, 10, and 22 points. He’s a talented kid, but it looks like he’s fallen out of favor a bit this season.
McGusty really struggled earlier this season. It looks like that has finally turned around a bit. Look at McGusty’s game log for this season, per Kenpom.
I don’t think there can be a better representation of his turnaround than the drastic change in scoring and efficiency in the last five games. After not reaching double figures a single time in the first eight games of the season, he has reached double figures in each of the last five games and is averaging 15.2 PPG in those games. He’s shooting 11-25 (44%) on 3-pointers in those five games after going just 7-25 (28%) on 3-pointers in the first eight games. So not only is he shooting a better percentage, but he’s getting more shots up in this recent stretch. He’s averaging 10.4 shots/game in the last five games compared to just 6.6 shots/game in the first eight games of the season.
It’s amazing what seeing the ball go in the hoop and gaining confidence can do for a player. With Trae Young and Christian James already playing terrifically on the perimeter, McGusty joining them in that “terrific” category makes Oklahoma’s offense even harder to defend. The more you focus your defense on Trae Young, the more looks there will be for James and McGusty. The more you worry about finding them on the perimeter, the more Trae Young will go off.
There’s no easy answer here, and it shows. Oklahoma’s offense is averaging 1.22 PPP through two Big 12 games. On the season, they’re averaging 1.20 PPP (non-adjusted). Opposing coaches building a defensive gameplan… good luck.
Coming Up: 1/6 at West Virginia, 1/9 vs. Texas Tech
4. Kansas Jayhawks (Last Week: 1st)
Current Record (Overall/Conference): 11-3, 1-1
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 7th, +24.19
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 118.2, 8th, 1st
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 94.0, 19th, 4th
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 71.4, 92nd, 3rd
I have Kansas 4th in a Big 12 Power Rankings post. Who could have ever predicted such a thing? At this point, I’m not sure there’s a reasonable argument for putting Kansas first in your conference rankings besides them being “Kansas”. Texas Tech, West Virginia, and Oklahoma have all looked better over the last month. I understand this team is still currently 7th in Kenpom, but there’s too much uncertainty around this team right now. The Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa situations continue to hang over this team like a cold front that just won’t move on from your city. Ten years from now, when someone brings up this Kansas season, I’m pretty sure the conversation will include someone saying, “Oh yeah, that was the Billy Preston season right?” It’s ever-present.
At this point, the on-court issues with this Kansas team are clearly defined. They rely on 3-point shooting at times to their benefit but also to their detriment. They can’t get to the FT line. They have no reliable frontcourt depth, which has resulted in a team susceptible to opponents controlling the glass on both ends of the court — something previously unseen by a Bill Self-coached Kansas team. They allow opponents to shoot more 3-pointers than any Bill Self-coached Kansas team. These trends continue to show up in each game.
One trend I want to discuss this week focuses more on an individual player — Svi Mykhailiuk. Svi has made a lot of progress from his freshman to his senior season. He’s shooting 3’s better this season than he ever has in a Kansas uniform. He’s more consistently productive night to night; he’s only had one game this season where he failed to score in double figures. Last season, he had an 8-game stretch in Big 12 play where he scored in single digits. He’s clearly a more productive offensive player this season. However, one problem with Svi continues to exist, and that is that opponents continually target him on defense in late-game situations.
In Kansas’ only home loss last season, Iowa State continually went after Svi in switches and isolation situations. Here’s a clip from that game in which Monte Morris gets Svi in a switch on the wing; Iowa State clears that side of the court and lets Morris attack Svi. If you go back and watch the 2nd half of that game, it’s almost amazing how frequently Iowa State’s offense seems to basically be, “Find Svi, Attack Svi.” They attacked him at will to win that game in Lawrence.
In Tuesday’s loss to Texas Tech, you saw more of the same. With Kansas trying to mount a comeback, Texas Tech goes to the “Find Svi, Attack Svi” offense. On this play, Texas Tech runs a ballscreen with Svi’s man, knowing Kansas is switching everything on defense at this point in the game with the lineup they’re playing. They want Svi switching onto Keenan Evans. They spread the court, and Evans is able to attack Svi 1-on-1 and get to the FT line. You’ll see this often in Kansas games, but especially later in the 2nd half and when Kansas is frequently switching.
Last year, Kansas could take Svi off the court and have reliable defenders out there instead of him. They could play a perimeter group of Frank Mason, Graham, Vick, and Josh Jackson. This season, that’s not exactly the case. After Svi fouled out on the above play, Bill Self had to turn to Sam Cunliffe. Look what happened on the next possession.
Texas Tech runs a ballscreen action to generate a switch; Cunliffe is now guarding Keenan Evans. Chris Beard immediately signals for Texas Tech to spread the court and go to the “Find Sam, Attack Sam” offense. Evans gets to the basket with relative ease and finishes to go up 10 points late in the game.
Kansas has a handful of various issues right now. Some are more debilitating than others. Svi Mykhailiuk being a defensive liability is one that isn’t going away. Teams will continue to go after him whenever they can, especially in close, late-game situations.
Coming Up: 1/6 at TCU, 1/9 vs. Iowa State
5. TCU Horned Frogs (Last Week: 4th)
Current Record (Overall/Conference): 13-1, 1-1
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 22nd, +19.26
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 117.5, 11th, 3rd
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 98.3, 70th, 9th
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 71.2, 101st, 5th
TCU’s offense is currently ranked 11th nationally and 3rd in the Big 12. Other than their terrific spread pick and roll offense (which I’ve written about here), the thing I notice most frequently about their offense when I watch them play is their offensive balance. TCU currently has five players averaging double-figures in points scored per game. Against Oklahoma and Baylor, TCU had five players in double-figures in each game (seven different players made up that group of five).
Let’s provide even more data backing up this “balance” claim of mine. Let’s take a look at the variance in individual scoring averages on each Big 12 team. I looked at the top five scoring averages for each Big 12 team and calculated the variance of those five averages. For those of you who haven’t taken a statistics class in awhile, here’s a simple refresher. Variance measures how far a data set is spread out from their average value. Essentially, how stretched or tight is a group of numbers? If a team’s top five scorers all averaged exactly 10 PPG, the variance would be zero.
Here’s a table showing the top 5 scoring averages for each Big 12 team and the calculated variance of those averages. I’ve shaded the variance column from green to red. The lower a team’s variance, the more green the cell will be. The higher a team’s variance, the more red the cell will be.
TCU’s low variance among their top 5 scorers really stands out (as does Oklahoma’s very high variance, HELLO YET AGAIN TRAE YOUNG FACTOR). This team does not rely on one, two, or even three entities to get their points. If one guy is having an off night, another one is right there to pick up the slack. That’s a really valuable trait for an offense, and it makes it that much harder for defenses to focus on stopping just one or two guys.
Here’s another way to visualize this balance. This chart is just a stacked bar chart showing those top five scoring averages for Big 12 teams.
TCU has the lowest scoring average among leading scorers at 14.8 PPG (Kenrich Williams) and the highest scoring average among the 5th placed guys at 11.1 PPG (JD Miller). Having this scoring balance combined with running their spread pick and roll offense which creates scoring opportunities for each player has made this one of the best offenses in the country. I’m not sure there is any other 5th-ranked team in Conference Power Rankings posts as good as this one. Welcome to the Big 12.
Coming Up: 1/6 vs. Kansas, 1/10 at Texas
6. Baylor Bears (Last Week: 6th)
Current Record (Overall/Conference): 10-4, 0-2
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 36th, +16.13
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 112.3, 41st, 7th
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 96.1, 38th, 5th
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 65.3, 337th, 10th
In last week’s Power Rankings in the Baylor section, my “Reason for Pessimism” regarding Baylor was the over-reliance on Manu Lecomte. I wrote the following:
Lecomte has made 42 3-pointers on the season — he’s currently 42-91 on the season, a 46% clip. The rest of Baylor’s primary rotation has made 44 3-pointers. That’s seven other players (Lual-Acuil, Vital, McClure, Omot, Clark, Maston, Lindsey), and they’ve only made two more 3-pointers than Lecomte. He needs help out there. I talked about this in a Power Rankings post back when Baylor played Wichita State, but there are far too many possessions that turn into, “hey Manu, go do something for us.” That’s okay in the non-conference portion of the schedule, but once the conference grind kicks in, it may be too much for him. I’m a bit worried about Baylor. I would not be surprised if they’re a bubblish team once late February gets here.
In Baylor’s first two games, it looked like it may have been a bit too much for Lecomte. In losses to Texas Tech and TCU, Lecomte scored 8 points in each game. He shot 2-11 on 2-pointers and 2-11 from 3-point range. He recorded 4 assists compared to 6 turnovers. There is a lot on his shoulders right now, and in those first two games, it showed.
It feels unfair to say, but Baylor cannot afford Lecomte having an off night. Against TCU, his one 3-pointer was the only 3 made by the Bears — they went 1-12 as a team. Against Texas Tech, Baylor only made three 3-pointers — two by King McClure and one by Lecomte. Quite simply, there’s just not enough perimeter shooting and guard play on this team.
Baylor is currently the only team in the Big 12 averaging less than 1.00 PPP in Big 12 games. That’s obviously a small sample size, but they’re just not a very good offensive team at this moment.
I feel like I was ahead of the curve on this, but last week, I mentioned yet again that I was worried about Baylor. Their profile has a chance to be much more bubbly than people currently realize. Well now the predictive ranking sites are aligning with my previous notions. Kenpom and T-Rank are now both projecting Baylor to go 7-11 in conference play. If that happens, there’s a very good chance Baylor will miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013.
Coming Up: 1/6 vs. Texas, 1/9 at West Virginia
7. Texas Longhorns (Last Week: 7th)
Current Record (Overall/Conference): 10-4, 1-1
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 35th, +17.18
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 105.8, 127th, 10th
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 88.6, 5th, 2nd
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 67.8, 262nd, 8th
Mo Bamba looks to have taken a bit of a leap in the last two weeks of games for Texas. In the last 3 games for Texas against Alabama, Kansas, and Iowa State, Bamba is averaging 16.3 points, 14 rebounds, and 5.6 blocks while shooting 59% from the field on 20-34 shooting. Before these last three games, Bamba was averaging 10.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 4.1 blocks while shooting 48% from the field on 39-82 shooting. That’s a six point increase, four rebound increase, 1.5 block increase, and a 10 percentage point shooting percentage increase. He’s been superb. He was the “MVP” of both the Alabama and Kansas games, according to Kenpom’s MVP game designations (essentially, this measures who had the biggest impact on the game from both an efficiency and total production standpoint).
Clearly, he’s affecting the game on both ends of the court. First, let’s talk about his offense. Texas flounders on offense as a team at times. They are last in the Big 12 in Kenpom’s Adjusted Offense, scoring 105.8 points per 100 possessions. They cannot shoot from the perimeter, and they get to the FT line infrequently. They need to find easy baskets. They’ve found one way to do it, and that’s to put their 7’0″ center with a 7’9″ wingspan near the rim. When you do that, good shit happens. Take a look at all the easy baskets Texas got against Kansas by Bamba being at or near the rim.
The last basket in that clip is ludicrous. That type of height and length cannot be taught or coached, but it is a coach’s job to put that height and length in the best position to succeed. Shaka Smart did that against Kansas. Texas scored 1.19 PPP in that Kansas game, their 3rd highest PPP in a game, only behind games against lowly Northwestern State and Florida A&M. It’s no coincidence that it was also Bamba’s best offensive game.
On defense, Bamba continues to be the towering, overwhelming presence for Texas’ 5th ranked defense, per Kenpom. Per College Basketball Reference, Bamba is currently 6th nationally in Defensive Box Plus/Minus at 11.0. He’s 4th in Defensive Rating at 78.3. Texas’ defense was good last season with Jarrett Allen at center — they had an Adjusted Defense rating of 93.7. It’s gotten nearly five points better with Bamba in that position — their current Adjusted Defense rating is 88.6.
His best skill is blocking shots. He leads the nation in blocks per game — averaging 4.5. Against Kansas, he recorded 8 blocks. Take a look at this video, which shows all 8 of those blocks. What’s most impressive to me is that seven of these eight blocks are made with his left hand, which is Bamba’s off-hand. One of the most difficult things to teach young shot-blockers is the benefit of blocking shots with both hands, not just your dominant hand. Bamba already has that figured out.
His defensive impact is not just limited to blocking shots. His sheer length and wingspan affects opposing offenses in a multitude of ways. Take a look at these two clips below. In the first, Bamba steals an entry pass with such ease — he really should be insulted the pass was even attempted. When Mo is playing on the high side of your big guy, maybe try a reversal. In the second clip, Bamba has perhaps his most impressive defensive possession. Bamba is forced to guard Lagerald Vick on the perimeter. His length helps him here. He moves his feet reasonably well, but his long arms result in Vick missing a 3 worse than he probably will for the rest of the season.
It looks like Mo Bamba is finally hitting his very long stride. Texas’ next game on Saturday at Baylor should be fun simply for the matchup in the paint — Bamba vs. 7-footer Jo Lual-Acuil. It’ll be a good test to see how Bamba plays against someone with a similar body type.
Coming Up: 1/6 at Baylor, 1/10 vs. TCU
8. Kansas State Wildcats (Last Week: 8th)
Current Record (Overall/Conference): 11-3, 1-1
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 40th, +15.41
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 113.6, 29th, 6th
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 98.1, 68th, 8th
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 66.5, 314th, 9th
Just like most teams in 2018, Kansas State is shooting 3’s more than they ever have. It’s especially noticeable for this Bruce Weber team though simply because it is a Bruce Weber team. Weber’s teams have never been known as heavy 3-point launchers. In his previous five seasons at Kansas State, their highest 3-point rate was 36.3% in 2017, which ranked 178th nationally. Their highest ranked season nationally was in 2013, when they ranked 176th nationally with a 3PA/FGA rate of 32.9%. This year’s team is surpassing those numbers with plenty of room to spare. They are 95th nationally in 3PA/FGA with a 3-point rate of 41% — 5th in the Big 12.
To show the stark increase in 3-pointers shot this season, here’s a visual representation in the below chart.
The increase in 3PA/FGA and the visual decrease (but actual rise) in national rank is stark. That increase in 3PA/FGA since 2015 is shockingly linear. You don’t often see a trend that is so distinctly linear.
I’m not sure if this is a change of Weber’s philosophy or him natually evolving at the same time as basketball as evolved in general. It could also be the makeup of his current roster. This team has a lot of shooters on it. On 3-pointers, Dean Wade is currently shooting 45%, Kamau Stokes is at 42%, and Xavier Sneed is at 38%. Barry Brown is currently only at 28%, but he has shown potential in the past.
This team is playing quite well on offense — I don’t think many prognosticators would have had them with a top-30 offense nationally at this point in the season. Four of their next five games are against Texas Tech, Kansas, Oklahoma, and TCU. They’re going to need their offense to keep playing so well to grab a win or two during that brutal stretch.
Coming Up: 1/6 at Texas Tech, 1/10 vs. Oklahoma State
9. Oklahoma State Cowboys (Last Week: 10th)
Current Record (Overall/Conference): 10-4, 0-2
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 54th, +12.60
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 109.9, 63rd, 8th
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 97.3, 56th, 7th
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 71.3, 95th, 4th
Oklahoma State had an 0-2 start to conference play, but played one of the tougher slates thus far. Opening with a home game over winter break with no students against West Virginia followed by a trip to Norman to face Oklahoma and Trae Young is no easy task. No one expected them to win either of those games, and their result against West Virginia was encouraging. You could argue Oklahoma State should have won the game; they were up 6 points midway into the 2nd half. West Virginia was just too much for them in the end.
One interesting statistic I’ve noticed about this team right now — Mitchell Solomon is suddenly entirely confident when it comes to firing up 3-pointers. Solomon has already fired up 19 3-pointers this season. In his previous three years in Stillwater, he’s only shot 25 3-pointers total. He only fired up 4 attempts last season, failing to make a single one. In his sophomore season in 2016, Solomon shot 19 3-pointers for the entire season, making only three.
I’m not really sure what drove this sudden increase to occur. Oklahoma State is even running out-of-bounds plays to generate 3-point looks for Solomon. Look at this BLOB (baseline out-of-bounds) play Mike Boynton called against Wichita State earlier this season for a Soloman made 3.
Here’s the issue. Solomon doesn’t appear to particularly good at shooting threes! He’s currently 3-19 on 3-pointers this season — an obviously not great 16%. Solomon doesn’t seem to be noticeably uncomfortable shooting from the perimeter. His catch, rise, form, and release all look to be perfectly fine. But the results aren’t there.
I’m curious to see if Boynton and Oklahoma State sticks with this. It’s clear they’re confident in his shooting ability considering they’re running plays to get him looks from 3. Maybe his percentage will turn around and trend upward. Oklahoma State could use it — they’re currently shooting just 33% from 3 as a team, ranking 244th nationally.
Coming Up: 1/6 vs. Iowa State, 1/10 at Kansas State
10. Iowa State Cyclones (Last Week: 9th)
Current Record (Overall/Conference): 9-4, 0-2
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 92nd, +6.82
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 109.1, 78th, 9th
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 102.3, 138th, 10th
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 70.1, 157th, 6th
This season, Iowa State’s defense has taken a serious dip under Steve Prohm with a mostly new group of players. Per Kenpom, their Adjusted Defense is currently at 102.3 points per 100 possessions — ranking 138th nationally. Defense has never been Iowa State’s staple, but last season, they finished with an Adjusted Defense rating of 96.3 points per 100 possessions — ranking 42nd nationally.
They are allowing opponents to shoot way, way too many 3-pointers. They currently have a defensive 3PA/FGA rate of 42.6% — the worst in the Big 12 and 311th nationally. This problem reared its ugly head in home losses to both Kansas State and Texas. Kansas State shot 13-26 on 3-pointers — their 26 attempts were K-State’s third highest total of the season. Texas shot 13-32 — their 32 attempts were the second most Texas shot all season.
This specifically hurt them as they tried (I think?) to defend Dean Wade and Dylan Osetkowski on the perimeter in ballscreen action. Wade went 6-8 on 3-pointers vs. Iowa State. He made three 3’s in their season opener; since then, he hasn’t made more than one 3 in a single game. Osetkowski went 7-13 from 3-point range vs. ISU. Much like Wade, it was Osetkowski’s best performance from 3 on the season. He previously made three 3’s against VCU and Louisiana Tech. Before the game, Osetkowski shot just 25% on 3-pointers for the season.
How did Wade and Osetkowski constantly find space on the perimeter to launch threes? Iowa State’s ballscreen defense was truly terrible. Each and every ballscreen action had the potential for Kansas State or Texas to get a truly good look from long range. The Kansas State game was truly awful. Let’s examine a few clips from that game first.
In this first clip, Kansas State runs a simple staggered ballscreen action with Kamau Stokes. Dean Wade sets the first screen and immediately pops to the perimeter. Solomon Young is guarding Wade. He shows after the Wade screen but then picks up the rolling man, Levi Stockard, for some reason. Cameron Lard, who was originally guarding Stockard, also shows but when he stops and looks to cover Stockard on the roll, Young is already there leaving Lard in no-man’s land. Wade has no one within 10 feet of him as he rises up for 3. On the backside, Terrence Lewis is put in a tough position. If he leaves his man in the corner to rotate onto Wade, his guy will have a wide-open corner 3. Young and Lard have to communicate better there; one of them has to stick with Wade. Preferably it would be Young. I think Iowa State would have had this play easily defended if Lard was able to return to his rolling man.
In this second play, it’s the same action. This time, Wade is the second screener. What goes wrong here? Lindell Wigginton absolutely dies on the first screen and lazily goes under the second screen. He can’t get screened that easily; he must fight harder to recover. Young shows on Stokes, but because Wigginton is slow to recover, Young has to stay on Stokes for far too long. This allows Wade to find plenty of space, and Young has no chance to recover back to him in time to challenge Wade’s 3-point attempt.
This third clip in the K-State game might be the worst one yet. It’s just a simple high ballscreen action between Stokes and Wade. Nick Weiler-Babb is guarding Stokes and does a fair job fighting over the screen and trailing Stokes. His positioning isn’t great, but it isn’t awful. Cameron Lard is showing on the screen, but he might be showing onto Stokes in the most disinterested way possible. He’s mot in a good defensive stance, and his feet are moving slowly. He appears to be lightly traipsing. When Stokes passes to Wade, Lard is still moving towards the left corner for unknown reasons. By the time Wade catches the ball, Lard has to be 15 feet away from him. On the backside, Donovan Jackson is guarding his man on the right wing. He gives a slight feint toward Wade at the top of the key, but it’s not enough. He needs to realize Lard has no chance and rotate over hard, forcing Wade to make another pass and trusting that his teammate in the corner, Wigginton, will rotate to help him.
There’s no connectivity among Iowa State players on these possessions. Compare their connectivity and total lack of movement to Texas Tech’s defensive possessions above. It’s like the two teams have entirely different concepts of what defense is.
Against Texas, Iowa State’s effort on ballscreens improved, but their execution was still lacking. In this clip, Texas goes to the same set Kansas State ran in the first two clips — a staggered ballscreen at the top of the key. If you show you can’t defend a specific action, be prepared to see that action ran against you over and over again. (Ask Svi.) You can tell Iowa State was coached how to defend this action after the K-State game. Young hedges out much higher than he did vs. Kansas State. The issue is that he gets in Jackson’s way, essentially screening his own man. Cameron Lard knows he needs to be ready to close out on Osetkowski — Coach told him this in practice — but because of the Young-Jackson collision, he has to cover for Young in guarding the rolling Bamba. What’s the result? Lard can’t recover fast enough to Osetkowski, and he gets a wide-open 3 at the top of the key.
None of this is good, but there is hope. First, even though it may not look that way from the numbers, Iowa State did defend the ballscreen action better against Texas. The effort was there in ways that it was not against Kansas State. Second, I typed a lot of young guys’ names in those above paragraphs. Lard, Wigginton, and Lewis are all freshmen. Young is a sophomore. Weiler-Babb is a junior but is playing more than he ever has. The only senior I mentioned was Donovan Jackson. They will get better throughout the year. It’s just unlikely they’ll reach the level they’d need to in order to make their 7th straight NCAA Tournament.
Coming Up: 1/6 at Oklahoma State, 1/9 at Kansas