Big 12 Power Rankings: January 19th, 2018 Edition

This week’s Power Rankings post is my 10th edition of the season (double-digits!). No need for too much extraneous fluff, these posts are long enough — let’s dive right into this week’s rankings.

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.

All statistics used in this post are from Kenpom, Synergy Sports, College Basketball Reference, Hoop-Math, or T-Rank. Kenpom ratings and efficiency numbers are always changing; the numbers this week are as up to date as 10:00 PM CST on Thursday, January 18.

1. Kansas Jayhawks (Last Week: 4th)

Current Record (Overall/Conference): 15-3, 5-1
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 10th, +23.85
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 118.7, 10th, 2nd
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 94.9, 30th, 5th
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 70.2, 103rd, 4th

Kansas returned to their usual spot at the top of the Big 12 standings this week after a close win over Kansas State at home and the most impressive win of the Big 12 season so far with their win at West Virginia on Monday night. They also return to the top of my Big 12 Power Rankings.

At this point in the season, it already feels like Kansas is going to win this thing yet again right? They currently have a one-game lead on Texas Tech, West Virginia, and Oklahoma. And ultimately, they really have a two-game lead on winning their 14th straight Big 12 title. If Kansas is tied with someone at the top of the standings, the streak will continue. That’s why West Virginia losing at home on Monday was so harmful for their chances of winning the regular season title, and why it was so tremendously helpful for Kansas. Winning on the road in this league is such an incredible boost. Kansas does it often, which is why they keep winning this league over and over again.

Former Iowa State coach, Tim Floyd, had his own standings he would track when he was coaching at Iowa State in the mid-90s. In his first two seasons in Ames, the Big 12 did not exist — the conference was the Big Eight. Just like the current Big 12 schedule, teams played a double round-robin. Because of that home-and-away play everyone twice schedule, Floyd said that winning on the road was a bonus, losing at home was detrimental, and winning at home or losing on the road was basically expected. To move up in the standings, you would have to win on the road or avoid losses at home. The Tim Floyd Standings were born. (Credit where credit is due, I originally heard of the Tim Floyd Standings earlier this season on Twitter from Iowa State writer/fan @khaal53.)

Let’s take a look at the current Tim Floyd Standings for the conference.

Capture - tim floyd standings

Kansas is at the top of the standings to no one’s surprise. The home loss to Texas Tech was detrimental — at that time, we wondered if it could end up being the reason for Kansas not winning the league (it still could). What did they do to make up for it? Well they’ve gone 3-0 on the road, winning at fellow title contender West Virginia as well as at likely NCAA Tournament teams in TCU and Texas. They still have road games remaining against the four teams in the league ranked the lowest in Kenpom: Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, and Baylor. They very well could go something like 7-2 on the road this season.

This is why they win the league every year. Everyone talks about their home success, but even if they didn’t go 9-0 or 8-1 in conference play at home every season, they nearly always have a winning record on the road. In the last 13 seasons, here are their conference road records: 8-1, 6-3, 4-5, 5-4, 6-3, 7-2, 7-1, 7-1, 6-2, 5-3, 6-2, 6-2, 5-3. They’ve had one season with a losing record on the road since 2005; that came in 2015, which was the one season in which you could probably say that they should have or could have not finished first. (Kansas went 13-5 that season as Oklahoma and Iowa State both went 12-6; OU and ISU both lost home games they shouldn’t have and were upset on the road by bad teams.)

I’ll keep updating these standings throughout the season. As early March rolls around, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the same team at the top.

Coming Up: 1/20 vs. Baylor, 1/23 at Oklahoma

2. Texas Tech Red Raiders (Last Week: 2nd)

Current Record (Overall/Conference): 15-3, 4-2
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 8th, +25.61
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 113.6, 41st, 5th
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 88.2, 3rd, 1st
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 67.8, 218th, 7th

Texas Tech had a frustrating loss at Texas on Wednesday night. It’s the first game since Zach Smith’s injury when I truly felt they might not be able to overcome losing him. A team that looked as versatile and lengthy as any team in the country earlier in the season suddenly looked like a team heavily dependent on guards. There was so much offensive responsibility on Keenan Evans vs. Texas and when he only scored 11 points and went 0-5 from the 3-point line, the whole team felt it.

This was Texas Tech’s first loss to a team outside the Top 4 — which consists of Kansas, Texas Tech, West Virginia, and Oklahoma. Right now, it feels like the league splits up pretty evenly into that Top 4 and Bottom 6. (You could make an argument that the Bottom 6 could also be broken down even further into a Middle 4 of TCU, Texas, Kansas State, and Baylor and a Bottom 2 of Oklahoma State and Iowa State). Monitoring how the Top 4 performs against one another as well as against the Bottom 6 could be predictive in seeing how the league race shapes up. Let’s take a look.

Capture - top 4 matrix

Home teams are on the left in this matrix; visitors are on the top. That Texas Tech victory in Kansas earlier this season still gives them the best chance out of this Texas Tech/West Virginia/Oklahoma group of unseating the Jayhawks. If Texas Tech continues to hold serve at home, that February 24th matchup vs. Kansas could decide the league. Really, the 9-day stretch from February 19th to February 28th will be truly massive. Kansas plays all three other contenders in that timeframe. If they avoid being beaten at home again, and if West Virginia helps them out by beating Texas Tech in Morgantown, Kansas will likely have their 14th straight league title yet again.

Keep an eye on that last column as well. If any of the three contenders want to unseat Kansas, they probably cannot have more than two losses to the “Bottom 6” teams. Texas Tech and Oklahoma both already have one.

Remember, a simple share of the title doesn’t end the streak. You’ve got to finish one game ahead of Kansas. That’s why that stretch from February 19th to February 28th will be so crucial. I think Kansas would have to go 1-2 in that stretch for anyone to have a chance. Texas Tech has the best shot as they’ve got them at home and already have that win in Allen Fieldhouse.

Coming Up: 1/20 at Iowa State, 1/23 vs. Oklahoma State

3. West Virginia Mountaineers (Last Week: 1st)

Current Record (Overall/Conference): 15-3, 4-2
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 11th, +22.01
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 113.5, 41st, 6th
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 91.4, 9th, 3rd
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 72.3, 38th, 2nd

Before West Virginia’s 2nd-half collapse vs. Kansas on Monday night, the Mountaineers and West Virginia fans were reveling in the play of sophomore center Sagaba Konate. His first half performance vs. Kansas was one of the best halves I’ve seen out of any big man this season. Konate blocked five shots in that first half and altered many more throughout the game.

Here are his five blocks from that first half.

I mean, those are absurd. I’ve never seen a player implement the strategy of standing directly under the rim and jumping straight up with both arms extended on a dunk attempt to literally block the path of the ball to the hoop. He’s not blocking a shot on some of those; he’s preventing the ball from even having a directional chance of getting to the hoop. I’m not sure if there’s ever been a better back line of defense in a press.

The Mykhailiuk and Garrett blocks are just 100% ridiculous. Let’s watch them again. In the still shots of the videos before you click play, check out Konate’s starting position on these blocks.

Konate’s Block Rate is currently 16.2% for the season, which ranks 4th in the nation and 1st in the Big 12. In a league with Mo Bamba, it’s really quite an accomplishment to be 1st in Block Rate. Konate doesn’t just block shots, though. Because of the sheer magnitude of some of his blocks, opponents start to approach the hoop with fear and hesitation. Look at this possession from the 1st half of the Kansas game.

Lagerald Vick throws a high, inaccurate floater off the glass, gets the rebound, see Konate there, and retreats to the perimeter to fire up a 3. He looks panicked the entire sequence. Who can blame him? Mitch Lightfoot does more of the same in the 2nd half.

He gets a nice dropoff bounce pass from Devonte’ Graham here. Look how he hesitates when he catches it and sees Konate in front of him. That slight moment of hesitation ruined the possession for Kansas; Lightfoot was completely out of rhythm when he shot a half-second later. Konate’s presence affects everything in the paint.

Before the season, I wrote in my West Virginia season preview about frontcourt depth being the biggest potential pitfall for West Virginia. Now, that is still partly true. When Konate goes out of the game for rest or due to foul trouble, they don’t have any one nearly as reliable as him to take his place. Maciej Bender rarely looks comfortable on the basketball court. Before the season, though, one of the reasons I thought frontcourt depth would be an issue is because I wasn’t sure what Konate would give West Virginia as a starter. He’d never had that much responsibility, and he’d never proven that he could avoid fouling as much as he did as a freshman. I was wrong.

Konate has been an absolute revelation on the defensive side of the court (see blocks above), and he does enough on offense to get by. He shoots 51% from the field, which could be better considering how close he is to the basket, but his Offensive Rating is still 108.8. He’s got an effective hook shot over his left shoulder — it’s the post move that he trusts most. His ORtg is hurt by his Turnover Rate, which is a bit too high at 17.4%. He’s a tremendous rebounder, grabbing 9% of available offensive rebounds (ranks 300th nationally) and grabbing 28% of available defense rebounds (ranks 18th nationally).

Konate is only a sophomore, and he will the back line of that press for the next two seasons. Just think of all the outstanding blocks and preposterous goaltends we’ll get to see; I am irrationally excited about this.

Coming Up: 1/20 vs. Texas, 1/22 at TCU

4. Oklahoma Sooners (Last Week: 3rd)

Current Record (Overall/Conference): 14-3, 4-2
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 21st, +19.98
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 117.1, 15th, 3rd
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 97.1, 52nd, 6th
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 77.0, 3rd, 1st

A major talking point after Oklahoma’s last two games (the OT win vs. TCU and the 18-point loss at Kansas State) has been the play of Trae Young. Young had 21 combined turnovers in those two games, which is obviously concerning. Over the course of the season, his turnovers per games has steadily increased.

trae young turnovers.png

I’m still not THAT concerned. He’s always been a high-risk, high-reward player, even in the non-conference. He shoots 30-foot 3-pointers and tries the most daring passes of any college player. He’s now facing tougher competition on a night-to-night basis, and these teams have had the chance to scout and prepare for him more than those teams that faced him in the non-conference. It was always going to get more difficult for him in Big 12 play. Should he be turning it over 9 or 12 times per game? Of course not, and he won’t.

It’s much more likely that those two games were a blip, and he’ll get back down to 4-5 turnovers a game. With a usage rate as high as his is (41%), he’s going to turn the ball over a lot. Whenever I hear someone mention that he leads the nation in turnovers, I chuckle. The guy has a usage rate of 41%, and the ball is constantly in his hands — what do we expect? I’m not worried that this is some sign of a player who has already reached his peak.

Because I’m not concerned, let’s use this space on another Oklahoma freshman — Brady Manek. Manek is playing incredibly well this season and is Oklahoma’s 3rd leading scorer behind only Young and Christian James. He’s averaging 11.3 PPG and 5.2 RPG on 52% shooting from the field and 43% shooting from 3-point land (37-86 on the season). I went back and forth on whether saying Manek or James has been the 2nd best offensive player for Oklahoma this season. Because of my uncertainty, I don’t want to definitively say it, but there’s certainly an argument to be made for Manek. The spacing he provides from a frontcourt position is invaluable.

Manek’s best attribute is his perimeter shooting, especially when you consider he’s 6’9” and provides a perfect stretch-4 option for the Sooners. He’s terrific in catch-and-shoot situations. He currently averages 1.29 PPP in spot-up situations per Synergy Sports — that ranks in the 93rd percentile nationally and is 4th in the Big 12 behind only Andrew Jones, Kenrich Williams, and Manu Lecomte (of Big 12 players who average 2 spot-up situation possessions per game).

Manek’s catch-and-shoot prowess is even more outstanding when you watch him shoot. Manek has a surprisingly quick release for a player of his size. Typically, big-men shoot it a little slower, simply because they can. They don’t have to worry about opponents blocking them. Manek’s release does not dawdle; that ball has a hoop it needs to go in, and it needs to get there stat. Check out this clip, showing the six 3-pointers he made vs. TCU.

That release is lightning-fast, and he doesn’t seem to be bothered if there’s someone in his immediate space. I mean, watch the third three he hit again. Kenrich Williams is 6’7” with long arms and is not that far away on the catch. His closeout is perfectly acceptable. But the ball is out of Manek’s hands so quickly that it doesn’t even matter.

Manek’s 3-point shooting is clearly the best part of his game. He’s shot 86 3’s on the season compared to just 55 2-pointers. He’s only been to the FT line 17 times. He still seems to be adjusting to the physicality of the college game. On these two post-ups vs. TCU, you can see the contact from the defender negatively affecting him. He got bailed out by a foul call on the first post-up; otherwise, it was going nowhere fast.

Trae Young is clearly the engine and conductor and even a few of the railcars of this Oklahoma offense. But Manek is at one of the most important passengers. Wherever the fanciest railcar is in this train metaphor that is suddenly going off the tracks (boom, nailed it), Manek is in that railcar.

Manek has scored in double-figures in nine Oklahoma games this season. In six of those games, Oklahoma has reached 100 points. They’ve reached 100 points in zero other games this season. When Manek is on, this Oklahoma team reaches its full offensive potential.

Coming Up: 1/20 at Oklahoma State, 1/23 vs. Kansas

5. TCU Horned Frogs (Last Week: 5th)

Current Record (Overall/Conference): 14-4, 2-4
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 24th, +19.52
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 121.9, 4th, 1st
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 102.3, 131st, 9th
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 69.2, 147th, 6th

TCU’s defense continues to be surprisingly ineffective this season. They are currently 131st in the nation in Adjusted Defense, per Kenpom, with an AdjD of 102.3 points per 100 possessions. That ranks 9th in the Big 12. What’s most confusing about their defensive performance is it’s disparate from how they performed on that end of the court last season.

In the 2016-17 season, TCU finished the year with an AdjD of 97.0 points per 100 possessions, which ranked 50th nationally. They’ve gotten five points worse this season with basically the exact some roster. They lost four seniors off of last year’s team, but none of them started, and only one (Brandon Parrish) was in the top-7 of minutes played for the Horned Frogs.

What are the main statistical differences between last season and this season? First, opponents are shooting much better on 2-pointers vs. TCU this season. Last year, opponents shot 48% on 2-pointers; this year, that number is up to 52%. It’s just much easier for the opposition to find advantageous looks (which I’ll dive into deeper in a bit), and that shows in their Block Rate as well. Last year, they blocked 12% of 2-pointers (50th nationally), but this year, that number has dipped to 10% (136th nationally). Vladimir Brodziansky is not the rim-protector this season that he was last season.

Opponents are shooting similarly on 3-pointers this year (37%) compared to last year (36%), so bad luck isn’t a major factor here. But, TCU is doing a much worse job at preventing those 3-pointers from being taken. Currently, 39% of their opponents’ field-goal attempts are 3-pointers, which ranks 227th nationally. Last year, they did a great job of preventing 3’s, as opponents shot them just 33% of the time, which ranked 72nd in the nation. So even though they’re not experiencing bad 3-point luck this year, simply allowing opponents to shoot more of them is really hurting them.

Otherwise, most key statistics look the same. They’re forcing turnovers at a similar rate (18% last season to 19% this year). They’re rebounding the ball on defense much better — they grab 75% of missed shots on defense compared to 71% last season. And they are not fouling more this season (31% FT Rate allowed each year). The major issue is allowing opponents to shoot more 3-pointers and a higher 2-point field goal defense. Let’s explore that second issue a bit more.

At this point in the season, TCU is allowing dribble penetration WAY too easily. In their loss at Oklahoma this past Saturday, Oklahoma got into the paint whenever they wanted with whomever they wanted. Yes, at times, it was Trae Young doing most of it, and he is difficult to stop. But it was still far too easy for Young and surprisingly easy for guys whom you would not expect.

On this first possession, look how easily Rashard Odomes gets to the rim against TCU’s zone after a skipped pass. Odomes catches it on the move, but it still shouldn’t be that easy for him to immediately get past Kenrich Williams, side-step around Ahmed Hamdy, and finish over JD Miller. There’s very little resistance.

In this clip, TCU is in zone yet again. Trae Young makes a pass to the right wing, gets it back on top, and basically waltzes into the lane. Jaylen Fisher’s closeout is quite poor, and then everyone else on TCU apparently forgets they are playing Trae Young and give him his easiest floater he’ll have all season.

On this possession, it’s an example of TCU being lackadaisical in allowing dribble penetration from a role player. Kristian Doolittle gets the ball on the left wing, and JD Miller commits the cardinal sin of letting him drive into the middle of the paint. Once Doolittle picks up his dribble there, Miller essentially gives way, allowing an easy shot attempt. Right as the clip ends, you can see Jamie Dixon on the sideline start to raise his arms in frustration. It was a common occurrence during this game.

In this last clip, Vladimir Brodziansky’s poor rim protection is on display. He starts off guarding Doolittle with the ball at the top of the key. Once Doolittle swings it to the left wing, Brodziansky is immediately in no man’s land. He’s not guarding Doolittle, but he’s not in good help position. He stepped toward the ball after Doolittle’s initial pass, but in an ineffective way. I’m not sure who he thinks he’s helping by standing on the left elbow. When Young drives to the rim, Brodziansky is too slow to react, and Young gets an and-1. If Brodziansky stepped into a better help position initially, maybe Young can’t make that drive and finish. TCU was up 6 with 4:30 to play. That’s the type of defensive possession that is the difference in a close game.

After Wednesday night’s blowout victory over Iowa State, TCU is now 2-4 in conference play. Their offense has been superb in Big 12 play, never scoring less than 1.09 PPP in a single game, but their defense is the concern. Their lowest opponent PPP during Big 12 play is only 1.05. That’s not going to cut it. They’ve got to start stringing stops together if they want to have any long-term success this season. The loss of Jaylen Fisher for the rest of this season certainly won’t help.

In my Tuesday Tally article earlier this week, I compared TCU’s great offense/poor defense profile to similar teams in the past five seasons. None of them have had much NCAA Tournament success. TCU needs to improve defensively to avoid that same fate.

Coming Up: 1/20 at Kansas State, 1/22 vs. West Virginia

6. Texas Longhorns (Last Week: 7th)

Current Record (Overall/Conference): 12-6, 3-3
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 34th, +17.26
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 106.7, 116th, 10th
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 89.5, 6th, 2nd
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 65.9, 297th, 8th

I also talked about this in my Tuesday Tally feature this week, but for those of you who haven’t started reading that feature yet, let’s do one rehash this week.

I’ve talked about it multiple times this season, but Texas 3-point shooting was always going to be this team’s biggest weakness. They weren’t good at it last season (they shot 29%, ranking 345th nationally). This year didn’t start much better — they were at 28% as a team entering Big 12 play. Whether it’s luck or fortuitous bounces or better shot selection, something seems to have changed since the start of this Big 12 season. Take a look at Texas’ 3-point shooting by game over the course of the season.

texas 3-point shooting.png

They’ve had a serious improvement over the first six Big 12 games! They are currently shooting just 30% as a team on 3-pointers this season. But in Big 12 play, they are shooting 35% — good for 5th in the league in conference play. I can’t state enough how wildly unexpected that was. Three of their five best 3-point shooting games on the season have come in their last five games.

Why the sudden change? I was curious — are they simply just being more selective with their 3-pointers and taking better, but fewer, shots? The answer is no. They averaged 21 3-pointers/game in the non-conference and are shooting 24 3-pointers/game in conference play. Quite simply, guys who weren’t making 3’s earlier in the season are now. Eric Davis is shooting 44% on 3’s in conference play after shooting 30% in non-conference action. Dylan Osetkowski is shooting 36% in Big 12 play after shooting 25% before conference play. Jase Febres is at 39% in conference play after shooting 23% in the non-con.

Is all of this sustainable or is it a six game stretch? That’s the question, right? If it continues to happen, Texas is an NCAA Tournament team full-stop. There’s no doubt in my mind. If it falls off again, their chances for that at-large bid in March obviously will decrease. Texas currently has the 5th best offensive efficiency during Big 12 play, averaging 107.4 points per 100 possessions. No one expected that before conference play, and their shooting has been the number one surprise.

Coming Up: 1/20 at West Virginia, 1/22 vs. Iowa State

7. Kansas State Wildcats (Last Week: 8th)

Current Record (Overall/Conference): 13-5, 3-3
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 39th, +16.30
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 116.1, 19th, 4th
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 99.8, 97th, 8th
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 65.0, 326th, 9th

Let’s talk about a Bruce Weber team that looks nothing like your average Bruce Weber team. In The Tuesday Tally this week, I wrote a little bit about the offensive efficiency of Bruce Weber coached teams since 2002. In this section, I want to write specifically about Bruce Weber’s time at Kansas State since 2013, and how this team has an entirely different profile of any previous Weber team at K-State.

Kansas State currently has the 4th best Adjusted Offense in the Big 12 per Kenpom, at 116.1 points per 100 possessions. In Big 12 play only, they are 3rd in the league, averaging 112.8 points per 100 possessions (only trailing TCU and Kansas). When people talk about Kansas State, you don’t hear about their offense. You often hear the combination of the words, “defensive” or “grind-it-out” or “hard-working” or “tough” or “physical”. These are the typical words journalists and fans use in sports like basketball, football, and soccer when describing a defensive team.

Those last four words could still apply this season, I guess. You can be all four of those things while still being good on offense. But the first word simply does not fit the bill this season. Kansas State is currently allowing 99.8 points per 100 possessions per Kenpom’s Adjusted Defense metric. That is 97th in the nation and 8th in the Big 12. They are not a great defensive team this season; they depend on their offense to win games.

This won’t stop the national media from talking about this team as a defensive powerhouse — I heard a nationally prominent podcast do exactly that this week. We’ve got to fight those narratives, and trust what the data (and the film) is telling us. This Kansas State team is nothing like previous seasons. Check it out.

Kansas State history

The above chart shows the national rank in both Adjusted Offense and Adjusted Defense for Kansas State in Bruce Weber’s six seasons as head coach. For this chart, the lower the number the better. For example, in 2013, Kansas State had the 23rd ranked offense (very good) and 52nd ranked defense (good). This 2018 team has a statistical profile that we haven’t seen under Bruce Weber. It’s their best offense yet, ranking 19th nationally after being 42nd in 2017 (which followed three straight non-top 100 seasons). Unlike years past, their defense is as bad as it’s ever been, currently ranking 97th in the nation.

I made a half-serious comparison on Twitter this week between this Bruce Weber team and Fred Hoiberg teams at Iowa State — great offense, average to subpar defense. Now, the difference is their tempo — Iowa State always played quickly, while Kansas State still plays as slow as previous seasons.

kstate tempo

Nonetheless, this Kansas State team has been a treat to watch offensively. It’s a different team than years past, and I’d argue it’s more enjoyable. I will eat crow — I did not think they would be able to replace Wesley Iwundu’s production from last season. I wrote exactly that in my Kansas State season preview, and I was wrong. Dean Wade, Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes, Xavier Sneed, and now Cartier Diarra have all been terrific. Kansas State should continue to enjoy this season, but if they want to explore the “what-could-be” frontier, think about next season. There’s not a senior on this team getting serious playing time. All of these guys should be back next year. Kansas State could be even better on offense next season.

Coming Up: 1/20 vs. TCU, 1/22 at Baylor

8. Baylor Bears (Last Week: 6th)

Current Record (Overall/Conference): 12-6, 2-4
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 40th, +16.22
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 110.6, 66th, 7th
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 94.3, 25th, 4th
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 64.8, 331st, 10th

Scott Drew has made the decision to roll with Mark Vital over Nuni Omot as the primary 3rd perimeter player in the starting lineup after originally beginning the season with Omot in the starting lineup. Vital slowly took more and more of Omot’s minutes before starting in the West Virginia game on January 9th. He’s now often closing games while Omot is on the bench.

minutes distrubution.png

Vital’s trendline shows a pretty clear increase in minutes played (he was injured for the Randall game), while Omot’s shows a steady decline. The distribution has essentially been flipped. There are positives and negatives to Vital now being on the floor more frequently than Omot. Let’s run through the positives first.

Vital is a tremendous athlete and is strong as an ox. He has all of the physical tools when you factor in both athleticism and body type. He is 6’5”, 230 pounds while Omot is 6’9” but just 205 pounds. You lose some of that length by going with Vital, but Omot had a tendency to get pushed around a bit with his slender frame. Scott Drew doesn’t have that same problem with Vital — I don’t think Vital has ever been pushed around by anybody.

There are some similarities between Vital and Texas Tech’s Zhaire Smith (who I wrote about last week). They both often find themselves around the ball. Vital has a high Offensive Rebound Rate of 10%, which is 3rd on the team and ahead of 6’9” players like Omot and Tristan Clark. His Assist Rate is 22.5%, which is 2nd on the team, only trailing pass-first guard Jake Lindsey. When you watch Baylor play recently, Vital is always just hanging around. He loiters in the lane. He and Zhaire Smith would be 1st Team All-Wooderson among Big 12 players.

Let’s take a quick look at his passing skills. Against Oklahoma State on Monday, Vital recorded a season-high 8 assists. I pulled some of the best ones.

My favorite pass by him in that game is the first one. It’s such a terrific touch pass; he already knows he’s dishing it to Lual-Acuil as the pass is in the air to him. There’s not a moment of hesitation. On the 2nd assist, he’s loading up to fire a pass to the flashing Terry Maston before Maston even flashes. When Baylor gets zoned like on the final play, he’s a great option in the middle because of his passing skill and his ability to turn and score with his athleticism.

Now, let’s dive into his weaknesses, or should I simply say weakness, singular. Vital cannot shoot at all. He’s 1-8 from 3-point range on the season, and a majority of his shots come at the rim. If Vital is outside of 10 feet, he is absolutely not a threat to score. Of his 47 made field goals this season, just one has come outside the restricted area.

vital shot chart.jpeg

Compare this to Nuni Omot. He might not have the feel for the game or the athleticism that Vital has, but he can shoot it much better. He’s 17-50 on 3-pointers this season — a 34% mark. Baylor doesn’t have many perimeter shooters besides Manu Lecomte and King McClure; Omot’s shooting is valuable to have on the court.

Because of Vital’s lack of shooting, defenses can completely ignore him at times to focus on Baylor’s more effective scorers. His presence can completely shrink the space in which Baylor has to operate. Against Iowa State this past Saturday, the Cyclones would often ignore Vital to disrupt other actions that Baylor was trying to run. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples.

In this first possession, watch Nick Weiler-Babb (#1 for Iowa State) as he “guards” Vital.

Vital starts off the possession in the left corner; Weiler-Babb couldn’t care less. He’s completely focused on helping in the post at the start of this possession. As the possession progresses, Vital moves to the top of the key and receives the ball. Weiler-Babb initially is in normal guarding position on Vital, but then it’s almost as if something clicks in his head. He remembers who he’s guarding and what the scouting report was — he takes a step back off of Vital. Once Vital rotates the ball to the left wing, Weiler-Babb is no longer truly worried about him. He goes to double the ball on the left block without fear of a kickout. This is freeing for a defender. Losing your man for an open 3-pointer is one of the absolute no-no’s as a defender; this is not even the slightest of concerns vs. Vital. When the ball is kicked back out to Vital at the FT line, Weiler-Babb knows he’s not going to shoot it. Vital is a pass-first guy; he reads the action and gets an easy steal.

Here is another possession in the 2nd half where Vital’s lack of shooting shrinks the court.

Once again, Weiler-Babb is on Vital. As Vital moves from the left wing to the right wing in the first half of this possession, Weiler-Babb never seems overly concerned. He’s not pursuing him with any real vigor. He’s monitoring the rest of the court to make sure there’s no easy entry pass to the post or penetration before he catches up to Vital. Once Terry Maston foregoes the dribble handoff with Vital and backs into a post-up on the right side, Weiler-Babb immediately slides over to be a nuisance. He’s not worried about Vital at the top of the key. Weiler-Babb is just close enough the entire time to force Maston into a difficult fadeaway rather than being able to attack a 1-on-1 situation with a post move.

These are the issues Baylor will face as Vital continues to get more minutes. Any time he’s on the court, there will always be floor spacing issues. Now he counteracts some of that with his general pesky style of play, but the potential problems will always be there this season. I’m curious if Scott Drew will start to explore playing a “smaller” lineup with Lecomte/McClure/Omot/Vital/Lual-Acuil more frequently. Omot is still 6’9”, and Vital is still a very good rebounder. It would put their three best shooters on the court, along with Vital’s passing ability and Lual-Acuil’s rim presence. It’s an option worth considering moving forward.

Coming Up: 1/20 at Kansas, 1/22 vs. Kansas State

9. Oklahoma State Cowboys (Last Week: 9th)

Current Record (Overall/Conference): 12-6, 2-4
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 64th, +11.03
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 110.4, 67th, 8th
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 99.4, 90th, 7th
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 70.4, 89th, 3rd

Oklahoma State put up a good fight in the first half at Baylor on Monday, but it was a loss that was expected, especially with Baylor 1-4 in league play and desperate for a win. There’s no shame in that loss. I want to go back to the previous game, however. This past Saturday, Oklahoma State beat Texas 65-64 and overcame a 12-point deficit with just under 6:00 to play. Let’s explore how they were able to comeback in this “Anatomy of a Comeback” type breakdown.

First, here was the win probability chart from Kenpom for this game. With just under six minutes left, Texas had more than a 95% chance of winning the game. What went wrong?

osu-tex winprobchart.png

On this first possession around the six-minute mark, Oklahoma State ran their reliable pinwheel offense, (which I’ve written about both here and here) and Jeffrey Carroll was able to effectively use an elbow ballscreen to get to the rim, lay it in, and get fouled. He made the free throw to cut to nine.

On the next Texas possession, Jacob Young fires up a corner 3, which he misses. On the backside, Brandon Averette gets in good position and forces Mo Bamba to commit a foul (Averette definitely sells the call). Averette will appear regularly in this comeback. Averette goes to the FT line and makes both to cut the lead to seven. There’s just over five minutes remaining at this point.

Time for some aggravating Brandon Averette ball-pressure defense. He picks up Matt Coleman early in this possession, antagonizing him the entire length of the court. His intense ball-pressure forces Coleman to attack earlier than he should — he just wants some damn space to breathe — and Coleman misses the layup. Jeffrey Carroll is able to grab the long rebound and go the other way for a quick layup. It took Oklahoma State exactly four seconds from rebound to layup to score. The lead is down to five with just under five minutes to play.

You’ll notice this clip starts with Jacob Young in possession of the ball with Jeffrey Carroll guarding him. Texas was tired of running offense that started with Brandon Averette guarding the ball — it was too irritating. Young gets penetration and finds Osetkowski in the corner for a good look for 3, but it just rims out. Once again, Oklahoma State turns defense into offense quickly, as Averette pushes tempo after his rebound. Lindy Waters makes a nice play for a midrange jumper. The lead is down to to three with 4:13 to play.

Once again, another clip starts with Averette’s energy bursting off the screen. His on-ball defense on Coleman is aggressive yet again. Coleman finally gets the action away from him, and Eric Davis ends up having a good look at the rim that he just misses — luck is necessary in these types of comebacks. Averette ends up with the ball after an outlet pass and flies up the court, forcing a (silly) reach-in foul by Matt Coleman. Averette hits both free throws. The lead is now down to one with 3:40 to go. It’s only been two minutes of gametime since it was a 12-point lead.

This is the final clip before Oklahoma State takes the lead. Surprising to absolutely no one who’s made it this far, this OSU defensive possessions starts off with Averette picking up Coleman fullcourt. His on-ball defense as Coleman tries to initiate offense is so incredibly fervent — he does not ever quit. Coleman finally has to give it up to Osetkowski in the right corner, and when Osetkowski dribbles it off his foot, guess who’s there to belly-flop dive on the floor to get the loose ball? Averette, of course. Oklahoma State gets a transition 3-pointer in just four seconds and are now leading 64-62, less than three minutes after Jeffrey Carroll started this rally.

The whole sequence was just magnificent effort and execution by Oklahoma State. They would get a stop, quickly convert that stop into points, and then do it all over again on the next possession. Luck played a factor as it always does to some degree in a comeback like this. However, Brandon Averette was an even bigger factor. His effort, defense, intensity, and ability to transition from defense to offense were all superb. He was the main driver behind the comeback and the eventual win.

Averette was moved into the starting lineup for this game — his first start of the season — as Kendall Smith moved to the bench. I’m surprised it took so long for Mike Boynton to make the move. Averette plays with such passion, and he’s also simply better at this point than Smith. Averette has an Offensive Rating of 111.7 compared to Smith’s 93.9 (yuck). Averette is shooting 50% on 2-pointers and 35% on 3-pointers while Smith is shooting just 40% on 2-pointers (double yuck) and 33% on 3’s. I’m not sure there’s a single thing Smith does better than Averette at this point, and Averette gives you an effort and a ferocity that a coach has to love. I’m sure Mike Boynton loved everything Averette gave him in this comeback vs. Texas.

Coming Up: 1/20 vs. Oklahoma, 1/23 vs. Texas Tech

10. Iowa State Cyclones (Last Week: 10th)

Current Record (Overall/Conference): 10-7, 1-5
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 110th, +5.62
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 109.0, 85th, 9th
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 103.4, 160th, 10th
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 70.0, 108th, 5th

Iowa State continues to struggle tremendously on defense this season, ranking last in the Big 12 and 160th in the nation in Adjusted Defense per Kenpom. Iowa State continues to allow too many 3-pointers (defensive 3PA% of 41%, 287th in the nation), and their pick and roll defense continues to be picked apart. For evidence of that weakness, take a look at Vladimir Brodziansky’s 11-11 performance on 2-pointers and Alex Robinson’s school-record 17 assists in Wednesday’s 96-73 TCU win.

I tweeted out the below on Thursday morning.

There’s no pretty way to decipher that from an Iowa State perspective. They had the worst defensive performance in a Big 12 game in the last five seasons. And in the last two seasons, there’s really nothing even close to their 1.48 PPP allowed debacle.

This was always going to be a rebuilding year for the Cyclones, but I didn’t expect the defense to take this much of a step back. At this point in time, Iowa State really seems to be hurt by the fact that they don’t have a smaller, more versatile 4-man that they can trust. They typically always have two traditional big men on the court, and when they face Big 12 offenses with versatile 4-men who can shoot and play on the perimeter, Steve Prohm really has no one he can turn to who he trusts to defend these types of players.

Look at the players who have gone off in games against Iowa State this conference season:
•  Dean Wade: A versatile 4-man. Shot 13-16 from the field and 6-8 on 3-pointers as he scored 34 points.
•  Dylan Osetkowski: Another versatile 4-man. He’s not as good of a shooter as Wade, but he found a way to go off vs. ISU. Shot 8-21 from the field but shot 7-13 on 3-pointers as he scored 25 points.
•  Malik Newman: A guard in Kansas’ 4-guard lineup who Iowa State chose to put their 4-man on. Scored a season high 27 points on 10-23 shooting and 5-13 shooting from 3-point range.
•  JD Miller: Another versatile, small-ball 4-man. Before the game, he was shooting 26% on 3-pointers. Went 8-14 from the field and 5-6 on 3-pointers as he scored 21 points.

This is now a disturbingly clear trend. It’s such debilitating weakness, but at this point, I’m not sure what Steve Prohm can do. He doesn’t have an experienced, versatile 4-man on the roster who can handle these types of matchups. His best option is probably 6’7” junior forward Zoran Talley, but Talley is only 190 pounds. He will get bullied in the post by guys like Wade and Osetkowski, and on the offensive end, Talley is not a particularly great scorer. He’s 0-8 on 3-pointers this season, and he’s only shooting 41% on 2-pointers.

Prohm turned to zone out of desperation at times vs. TCU on Wednesday night. They very rarely did get stops, but when they would, TCU would grab an offensive rebound. Of TCU’s 8 offensive rebounds on Wednesday, 3 came when Iowa State was playing zone. To put that into perspective, Iowa State probably played zone less than 15% of possessions.

The entire game was a defensive catastrophe for Iowa State, and there just might be foundational roster construction issues for this Cyclones team that may prohibit the defense from improving all that much.

Originally, before Iowa State’s poor defensive performance vs. TCU, I was going to use this section to talk about the play of Nick Weiler-Babb. I’ll still touch on him quickly. Weiler-Babb is the only player in the country averaging 12 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists per game (Weiler-Babb’s averages are 12.0 PPG/7.4 RPG/7.6 APG). Denzel Valentine in 2016 is the only other major conference player to ever average numbers like that. Weiler-Babb’s scoring has decreased of late as his shooting has declined. He’s only averaging 11.2 PPG in Big 12 play as his 3-point shooting has fallen to 17% in conference play after being at 39% in the non-conference portion of the schedule.

Despite his shooting woes, he still manipulates the pick and roll as well as any player in the Big 12. I pulled all ten of his assists from their win over Baylor. Here they are in one clip.

There’s a world where Weiler-Babb is surrounded by more than just two shooters in Wigginton and Jackson in which he could average close to 10 assists per game. He typically always makes the right decisions — his assist/turnover ratio is 2.87. He’s great at getting into the lane and finding shooters. And his best skill is probing in the pick and roll, often after an initial screen and then a second re-screen, to find the best option. These two assists below are my favorite from the Baylor game; he’s in total command of these ballscreen situations as he continues to survey the court and probe.

Hopefully Weiler-Babb continues to play well and starts to shoot it a bit better again. I’d like to write about him in greater detail in the next few weeks. His play deserves it.

Coming Up: 1/20 vs. Texas Tech, 1/22 at Texas


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