Big 12 Power Rankings: January 26th, 2018 Edition

This week’s Power Rankings post is my 11th edition of the season. Included this week: Bill Self is an offensive genius, Alex Robinson is a pick and roll genius, I weigh in on the Trae Young debate, I speculate wildly about Scott Drew’s future at Baylor, and more! Let’s get 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 3:00 PM CST on Thursday, January 25.

1. Kansas Jayhawks (Last Week: 1st)

Current Record (Overall/Conference): 16-4, 6-2
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 9th, +23.00
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 118.3, 12th, 2nd
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 95.3, 30th, 4th
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 69.8, 100th, 3rd

Kansas lost at Oklahoma in a close game on Tuesday. After already winning at West Virginia, winning this one would have been astronomical for their chances at already wrapping up their 14th straight Big 12 title. Even with the loss, they’re still in great shape at 6-2 in conference play.

I want to use this space this week to just show the genius that is Bill Self on offense. Every single game, you see Self call the perfect ATO play (after timeout), BLOB set (baseline out-of-bounds), or a terrific offensive set. This season, it seems like nearly every single one of these ends with a lob to Lagerald Vick. Everyone knows Self has this shit dialed up, and yet it doesn’t even matter. They seem to work every single time. Let’s run through some of his gold from the last few games.

This first play is an ATO following the under-12 of Kansas’ win at West Virginia. West Virginia had been hedging hard on ball screens most of this game. What does Self do? Out of the timeout, the set starts with some dribble handoff action to get the defense shifted and spread. When Lightfoot feigns at setting the screen and instead slips toward the hoop, Konate is out of position as he’s prepared to hedge and the lane is mostly open. Easy lay-in.

This next one is one of Self’s go-to BLOBs. It starts with a loose, standard BLOB box — two guys on the blocks, two on the elbows. The two on the elbows flare to the corners. The ball is entered to the ball-side low man as he pops up to the elbow (the backside man does the same and pops to the top). The next part is what makes this set so good. Graham, the inbounder, steps in and sets up to set a screen on Lagerald Vick’s man. Now sometimes, depending on how the defenders are guarding this action and what the call is, Graham will actually set this screen, and Vick will cut hard to the hoop. If he’s open, great. That was not the intention on this call, though. Azubuike quickly reversed it to Mykhailiuk up top, and on the baseline, Graham fakes a screen and then quickly changes course to run off an Azubuike pindown screen. West Virginia messes up their coverage on Graham. They don’t switch the action smoothly, and Wesley Harris doesn’t stay attached to Graham. He’s wide open coming off the pindown. Self runs this action ALL the time, and yet, it still somehow works. It has to infuriate opposing Big 12 coaches when their players don’t properly defend the action, because they all know it’s coming.

Here’s the patented Lagerald Vick lob. Self runs different sets on ATO’s to get lobs — this might be the most simple. Vick enters to Graham, slowly traipses his way over to the left wing, but quickly turns off of Azubuike’s backscreen before reaching the wing. Brady Manek, who’s trailing Vick, does not stand a chance. The immediacy of this set is what makes it work. With any more set-up or misdirection, the defenders on the backside would get suspicious. On this play, there’s no time to even be aware as Vick is already elevating toward the rim before they realize what happened.

This particular play results in a miss, but the action is still perfect. Kansas will run this a lot. The set starts with Newman and Vick spaced to the corners. Azubuike sets a ballscreen for Graham at the top and rolls hard. Graham is not looking to score on this screen; he turns back to the left to enter into an action with Mykhailiuk, who replaced Azubuike at the top after his screen. Mykhailiuk slips this screen to the right wing, and he’s wide open. Really, Svi should have pulled the trigger on this open 3. He shot fakes, his man runs by him, and he could pull up for another look from 3. He’s unselfish on this possession, though, and when Graham’s man just takes a slight step towards Mykhailiuk, Graham is now open and Svi kicks it back to him. Graham misses the shot, but it’s an open look — you cannot complain. I love this set. It almost always results in an open 3 for either Svi or Graham. If the defenders do somehow guard it perfectly, you’ve now got a high-low opportunity with Azubuike or a reversal to the guard on the left wing, who will almost certainly have a chance to attack as his man has rotated to help with the main action.

Here’s the last one for this week. This is another common Kansas set that gets Graham and Azubuike alone on one side of the court to run a little two-man action. There’s initial motion to get the defense shifted, but the initial action is simply setup to get the ball to Graham on the left wing with Azubuike ready to set a screen for a side pick-and-roll. Graham can look to score off the ballscreen, look for Azubuike on the roll, or in this instance, give Azubuike time to post-up after the roll. It’s a great way to give Azubuike plenty of room to operate on his preferred left block. He can then go to a right hook over his left shoulder like he does here.

Kansas currently has the 2nd best offense in the Big 12 and the 12th best offense in the nation per Kenpom. A lot of that is due to their shooting ability and the terrific scorer that Azubuike is down low. Self certainly helps. His offensive sets are sublime, and seeing what he has drawn up in ATO situations gets me irrationally excited when I watch Kansas play. Keep an eye on it the next time you watch Kansas play.

Coming Up: 1/27 vs. Texas A&M, 1/29 at Kansas State

2. West Virginia Mountaineers (Last Week: 3rd)

Current Record (Overall/Conference): 16-4, 5-3
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 10th, +22.90
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 113.8, 39th, 5th
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 90.9, 8th, 3rd
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 72.4, 30th, 2nd

Let’s keep talking about offense in this week’s post. West Virginia has lost 3 of their last 4, and their offense has struggled of late. They scored just 0.95 PPP in their home loss to Kansas and scored an even worse 0.92 at TCU. What’s going wrong? Well, before I get into that, let’s break down one of West Virginia’s favorite offensive sets and what it looks like when it works.

On this possession, West Virginia runs their triangle offense. This isn’t exactly like the Phil Jackson triangle offense, but the principles are similar. In West Virginia’s version, their triangle consists of two men on the block and one man on the nail at the free throw line. That is the shape of their triangle. These three men in the triangle will continue to screen for each other and try to seal their man in the hopes that they can use their size and strength to their advantage and get a post seal on one of those two blocks. Assuming they can create the angle for a post entry from the nail or from the wing, you’ve got a good opportunity for a nice, post-up look. It also puts those three players in great position to attack the offensive glass, which the Mountaineers love to do. It works on this possession. Before Daxter Miles makes the entry pass to Konate on the right block, you can see the perfect triangle shape.

Here’s another possession where it works. This time, it’s Miles who gets the post-up on the right block after good motion and action throughout the possession. West Virginia’s guards are strong, and when Miles or Teddy Allen have a guard sealed on their back in the post, the advantage lies with West Virginia.

On this possession, West Virginia doesn’t score, but you see one of the alternative options West Virginia has built into this set for when the defense gets wise. When the ball is passed to the nail, Esa Ahmad starts his usual motion to the right block. Before he gets to Konate screen on the left block, he flares back to the corner when he sees his man cheating on the screen. This is nice built-in option to beat a cheating defense.

Alright, let’s get into some of the problems with this triangle set. The biggest issues with this set is the crowded space it creates. With the three players in the triangle all within 12-15 feet of each other at all times, there’s not much room to operate. It’s also quite easy for the defense to help each other on all of the screening action due to the relative close proximity in which it all occurs.

Second, the guards are entirely too stationary in this set, which leads to a general look of malaise and stagnation when the offense isn’t scoring. This is what West Virginia looked like when they didn’t make a field goal for multiple minutes at the start of the 2nd half vs. TCU. With the guards so stationary, their defenders can also be extra prudent in their help defense — they know where their man will be if the ball is kicked out to him. When the guards are Jevon Carter and James Bolden, it makes it a little tougher on the defenders as those two are terrific shooters. But still, the lack of movement makes it easier. If a guard like Wesley Harris or Chase Harler is out there, forget about it — West Virginia might as well run the set 4-on-5.

Here’s a possession from the TCU game where it all went wrong. The first issue — Harler and Harris are both on the court here. Watch how little Harler’s man pays attention to him; he is of no concern to TCU’s defense. That just cramps all the triangle action even more. Throughout the possession, just focus on the paint. There are at least three TCU defenders in the paint at all times, if not more. Everything is tight and crowded. When Ahmad gets the ball on the left block, the help defense is quick to arrive for the blocked shot simply because it doesn’t have very far to travel.

When West Virginia gets in those stretches where they struggle to score and things get stagnant, I really wish Huggins would forget about this set. When it’s working, it’s really effective at doing what it’s supposed to do. When it’s not working, it just hangs over the offense like a dark cloud. In those stretches, it’s okay to be simple — just go to a high ball-screen with Carter and Konate or Carter and Ahmad and let your best player initiate the offense and make things happen. Keep an eye on this triangle set the next time you watch West Virginia; they go to it a lot, sometimes to their detriment.

Coming Up: 1/27 vs. Kentucky, 1/31 at Iowa State

3. Oklahoma Sooners (Last Week: 4th)

Current Record (Overall/Conference): 15-4, 5-3
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 19th, +19.87
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 117.4, 15th, 3rd
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 97.6, 57th, 6th
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 75.9, 6th, 1st

A major talking point over the last week has been a discussion on what’s the best way for Trae Young to play for Oklahoma to reach their utmost potential. This was sparked by Young’s 39 shot performance in Oklahoma’s overtime loss to Oklahoma State with many people saying Oklahoma cannot win if Young takes that many shots and that it is best for Young’s game for him to be more selective with his shots. Is this actually true or this simply a narrative because Oklahoma ending up losing that game? Let’s look at the data.

This graph shows Trae Young’s attempted shots and eFG% (which simply accounts for the 1-point benefit of a 3-pointer over a 2-pointer) by game in this 2018 season. Also shown are the trendlines for both his shots taken and his eFG%.

Capture - tyoung shots efg

There has been a steady uptick this season in his shots attempted per game. This is entirely understandable for two reasons: 1) he’s playing more minutes as games are closer and 2) against tougher competition, it’s more difficult for his teammates with lesser talent to find shots. Now what I find interesting here is that, despite the increase in shots/game, Young’s eFG% has basically been flat for the entire season (right around 58%). So for all this chatter on how Young’s game will be negatively affected if he shoots too much, I guess other parts of his game could be affected, but his shooting percentages certainly haven’t suffered.

Let’s take a look at the other part of his game people are discussing frequently — his assists and turnovers. Young had two games last week in which he recorded a combined 21 turnovers. He had 9 vs. TCU and 12 vs. Kansas State. That’s obviously not what you want. There is no argument there.

Check out the graph below, which shows his assists and turnovers by game this season. Once again, the trendlines are shown.

Capture - tyoung assists-turnovers

For as much as people want to talk about Trae Young’s shot selection (which as I stated above is something I think is overblown), his team’s success can somewhat be boiled down to his assist/turnover ratio. Oklahoma’s four losses this season are to Arkansas, West Virginia, Kansas State, and Oklahoma State. Look at those four games on the graph — they all are games in which Young either barely had more assists than turnovers or had more turnovers than assists. His assist/turnover ratio in those four games: 5/4, 5/8, 6/12, 8/7. In their biggest wins of the season over the likes of Oregon, Wichita State, Northwestern, TCU, Texas Tech, and Kansas, here were his assist/turnover ratios: 7/4, 10/4, 12/4, 14/7, 9/4, 9/5.

Young can take as many shots as he wants as long as he’s taking care of the ball and still feeding his teammates. In that loss to Oklahoma State, no one is talking about Young’s 39 shot attempts as a negative if he simply has 3-4 turnovers instead of 7, because Oklahoma likely would have won without those extra few giveaways. That is the difference to me, not counting his shot attempts.

They ended up winning the game, but I found it a bit absurd that he only took 9 shots vs. Kansas. The goal here is to make a Final Four and win the Big 12. Oklahoma will not do either of those things if Young is taking single-digit shot attempts in a game. He should be shooting anywhere from 15-25 times per game. What will decide these games are not the shot attempts in the first chart, it’s the assists compared to turnovers in the second one.

Coming Up: 1/27 at Alabama, 1/30 vs. Baylor

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

Current Record (Overall/Conference): 16-4, 5-3
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 12th, +22.38
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 111.5, 60th, 6th
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 89.1, 4th, 1st
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 67.2, 241st, 7th

Whether it’s the catalyst for it happening or whether it’s a coincidence, it’s hard to ignore the sudden drop-off in Texas Tech’s offense since the injury to Zach Smith. Take a look at the following chart, which show Texas Tech’s offensive PPP by game this season.

Capture - tt offense

Zach Smith’s last game was vs. Kansas State. Since then, Texas Tech have had their three worst offensive performance of the season, including scoring 0.85 PPP vs. the 6th best defense in the league (Oklahoma) and 0.83 PPP vs. the league’s worst defense (Iowa State). Even their good offensive performances have only been okay, as they scored 1.06 PPP vs. West Virginia and Oklahoma State.

Keenan Evans has had even more responsibility on his already heavily burdened shoulders in the last five games, and his play has suffered because of it. He recorded his two worst offensive performances of the season in losses to Texas and Iowa State, scoring just 11 and 7 points respectively while shooting 25% from the field. When you look at both his and Texas Tech’s performance as a whole since Smith’s injury, the contrast is pretty damn stark.

Event Offense PPP Keenan Evans Average ORtg
Before Zach Smith Injury 1.15 127.9
After Zach Smith Injury 0.94 103.8

Now, before Texas Tech fans panic, let’s remember a few things. Texas Tech’s offense was always going to be a bit worse in Big 12 play; that’s what happens when you play tougher competition. Second, if the offense were to struggle, it’s better for it to struggle now at the start of conference play than later in the season. Chris Beard has time to find what works and what doesn’t work — there’s still plenty of time to make this whole thing right again. Remember that Texas Tech’s freshmen — Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver — are getting more playing time than any of us expected. They too have to adjust to Big 12 play, and it’s better for them to be thrown into the fire now versus at the end of the regular season.

Ultimately, Texas Tech was always going to be a team built around their defense that relied on timely, efficient-enough offense on the other end of the court. That is still the case. Their offense isn’t doomed yet, and these next few weeks will be crucial in seeing how it evolves as they learn to play without Smith more and more.

Coming Up: 1/27 at South Carolina, 1/31 vs. Texas

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

Current Record (Overall/Conference): 15-5, 3-5
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 20th, +19.71
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 121.0, 5th, 1st
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 101.3, 118th, 9th
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 69.5, 118th, 5th

In the last three games, we’ve seen how TCU will look without Jaylen Fisher, who is out for the season with a knee injury. The keys to the offense have been handed to Alex Robinson. Robinson is a master in the pick and roll, which we know is TCU’s offense of choice as I’ve written before. He’s averaging 10.7 assists per game in the three games since Fisher’s injury. Most of those come out of ballscreen actions.

Take a look at some great looks Robinson created for others with his great court vision in ballscreen action vs. West Virginia.

Robinson does a great job of getting into the paint and drawing defenders’ attention toward him. In the first possession of this clip, he gets into the paint and does one of his patented jump passes (more on that in a bit) to get defenders to focus on him. Kenrich Williams misses the 3, but the play was the correct choice by Robinson. Robinson pulls off another jump pass on the third possession. He also does a great job of pausing after the ballscreen to let the defense continue to shift and rotate. Pausing or freezing for a second creates openings. That’s how Kouat Noi gets an open look in the second possession. Robinson is superb in these ballscreen actions.

There a couple of downsides to Robinson’s game. He’s still not a great shooter — he’s shooting just 58% on free throws, 46% on 2-pointers, and 28% on 3-pointers. Eventually, coaches will drill into their players to make Robinson make shots on these actions. Second, he does have a high turnover rate at 24%, by far the highest on TCU’s roster. Often, Robinson will go for the spectacular rather than the simple play. Check out these two possessions.

In the first possession, Robinson tries a bounce pass that basically has zero chance of working. Even if he somehow does get it just right, what would Shawn Olden do with it running at full speed with Daxter Miles not far behind him? The second possession is an example of what can go wrong with Robinson’s jump passes. He’ll occasionally get up in the air with no clear outlet in sight.

Jamie Dixon will live with the mistakes if Robinson continues to play so well in ballscreen action. If he starts making shots, that would be even better. If he doesn’t, it’s worth monitoring how defenses guard these ballscreens. If they start to make Robinson beat them with his shot, I’m curious how he will respond.

Coming Up: 1/27 at Vanderbilt, 1/30 at Oklahoma State

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

Current Record (Overall/Conference): 15-5, 5-3
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 31st, +17.51
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 117.2, 16th, 4th
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 99.7, 94th, 8th
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 65.7, 297th, 8th

Let’s do another check-in with a team dealing with the aftermath of an injured player. Like Texas Tech, Kansas State is dealing with the loss of one of their primary players — Kamau Stokes. Stokes’ last full game was the same one Smith played in — the matchup between Kansas State and Texas Tech on January 6. When Stokes went down, it was obvious that most of the burden would fall on fellow juniors, Dean Wade and Barry Brown. Let’s check in on those two.

When I watched Kansas State play vs. Baylor on Monday night, it felt like they were really force-feeding the ball to Dean Wade. I had thought the same thing in K-State’s game vs. TCU just two days earlier. As any good basketblogger should do, I wondered if the data backed up my hypothesis. Let’s check it out.

This first chart shows Dean Wade’s Offensive Rating and Usage Rate by game in this 2018 season. As you look at this graph, remember that Stokes’ last full game was vs. Texas Tech.

Capture - dean wade linechart

Since then, Wade has had a fairly consistent usage rate right around 25%. He continues to be incredibly efficient offensively, but he hasn’t been noticeably better than he was before. In face, his trendline in ORtg is actually trending down slightly, but a lot of that is due to his very good performance against weak non-conference opponents early in the season. He continues to be efficient even with his slight increase in usage rate.

Here’s the same chart for Barry Brown.

Capture - barry brown linechart

Brown’s ORtg and usage rate have both increased throughout the season, but interestingly, his usage hasn’t had a clear increase since Stokes’ injury. Brown has been incredibly efficient and productive since Stokes’ injury. He’s recorded three of his four highest ORtg games of the season and is averaging 23 PPG in Big 12 play.

When you look at both Wade and Brown’s play before and after Stokes’ injury, you can see how Brown is really flourishing now.

Event Dean Wade Average ORtg Dean Wade Average Usage % Barry Brown Average ORtg Barry Brown Average Usage %
Before Kamau Stokes Injury 127.7 23.2% 105.7 25.9%
After Kamau Stokes Injury 121.2 24.8% 126.4 28.8%

Brown’s terrific play should not be viewed as an insult to Stokes by any means. Brown is just playing better than he ever has. It’s unclear if that would be the case if Stokes were still playing or not, and I don’t think there’s any way of knowing. But for now, Brown is killing it and it shows with Kansas State’s offense, which is now the 16th best offense in the country per Kenpom and the 2nd most efficient offense in Big 12 play. The play of Wade and Brown is the main reason why.

Coming Up: 1/27 vs. Georgia, 1/29 vs. Kansas

7. Texas Longhorns (Last Week: 6th)

Current Record (Overall/Conference): 13-7, 4-4
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 40th, +15.56
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 106.1, 134th, 10th
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 90.5, 6th, 2nd
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 65.6, 305th, 9th

Mo Bamba’s performance vs. Iowa State on Monday was yet another argument against the one-and-done rule, as Bamba’s freakish size and abilities seemed out of place in the college game.

Bamba scored 24 points on 9-11 shooting from the field (2-2 from 3!), recorded 12 rebounds (six offensive, six defensive), and recorded 3 blocks. The 3 blocks aren’t astronomical, but his rim protection constantly alters shots. Check out these two possessions, where he forces misses out of Cam Lard — who shoots 61% on 2-pointers — just due to Bamba’s ridiculous length.

His length and size makes things easier on the offensive end as well. I wrote about this in the January 4th Power Rankings, but Texas’ best option on offense is often to simply throw the ball to Bamba at the rim. Check out this play that ends with a Bamba lob dunk.

Iowa State didn’t even defend that action that poorly! I would argue they actually defended it well. Lard stayed on Roach long enough to prevent penetration and then quickly returned to Bamba. He knew what was coming and even jumped to defend the lob pass. It doesn’t matter when Roach knows he can throw the lob 11 feet in the air and Bamba will still punch it home.

When Bamba plays well on both ends of the court, Texas’ potential is sky-high. He changes the game, especially when he’s efficient offensively like he was vs. Iowa State. Texas is sitting at 4-4 in league play; they won’t challenge for the regular season title, but I feel plenty safe in saying they’ll be back in the NCAA Tournament after missing out on a bid last season. Mo Bamba’s presence is one of the biggest reasons why.

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

8. Baylor Bears (Last Week: 8th)

Current Record (Overall/Conference): 12-8, 2-6
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 42nd, +15.39
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 110.9, 65th, 7th
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 95.5, 31st, 5th
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 65.5, 308th, 10th

Baylor is now 12-8 on the season and just 2-6 in league play. They’ve dropped two conference home games to TCU and Kansas State. They have yet to even host Kansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma, or Texas Tech. Despite their respectable Kenpom rank of 42, I feel entirely comfortable saying Baylor’s 4-season streak of making the NCAA Tournament will be coming to an end.

Kenpom has Baylor projected to go 6-12 in Big 12 play. T-Rank has them projected to do the same. That would put them at 16-15 on the season. That is obviously not going to get it done. With their next two games being at SEC leader Florida and at Oklahoma, it feels like this season could be “over” within the next five days. If they drop both games to fall to 12-10, they’re not making the NCAA Tournament. They have to record a big win in the next five days.

Let’s say they don’t and they miss the NCAA Tournament. Baylor is losing Manu Lecomte, Jo Lual-Acuil, Terry Maston, and Nuni Omot off of this team. The best returning players would be King McClure, Jake Lindsey, and Tristan Clark. Those three are fine players, but ultimately, they are role players. Baylor does have Mario Kegler, a 6’7” guard transfer from Mississippi State, sitting out this season. Kegler averaged 10 points and 6 rebounds per game as a freshman in Starkville. Their 2018 recruting class is currently ranked 6th in the Big 12 and has just one Top-100 signing at the moment, per 247Sports. The roster looks like it has plenty of gaps and a dearth of talent headed into next season. I write all of this to ask the following question.

Is it possible Scott Drew could be a candidate for other jobs this offseason, and is it remotely possible he would consider leaving Baylor? They are (very likely) not going to make the NCAA Tournament this season. With what they’re losing from this roster and what they have coming back, I would be shocked if they made the NCAA Tournament next season.

Could Drew see the writing on the wall and look for greener pastures before Baylor donors start to turn on him? I’m not saying they will or that they should. Drew has done a TREMENDOUS job at Baylor. However, he’s been there for 15 seasons, and that is incredibly uncommon in college basketball. Look at what happened to Jamie Dixon at Pittsburgh. Eventually, every job must come to an end and every fanbase (or coach) thinks things have gotten stale. I wonder if the end is closer than we all realize for Drew at Baylor.

Coming Up: 1/27 at Florida, 1/30 at Oklahoma

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

Current Record (Overall/Conference): 13-7, 3-5
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 64th, +11.65
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 110.4, 71st, 8th
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 98.8, 82nd, 7th
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 69.8, 101st, 4th

I was comparing the statistical profile of this season’s Oklahoma State team to last season’s team at Kenpom. Here’s a snip of the data for each team.

Capture - osu 2017 2018 comp

Oklahoma State’s defense is clearly better this season. Their Adjusted Defense is at 98.8 points per 100 possessions this season compared to 103.5 points per 100 possessions last season. What’s interesting about the two seasons is that most statistics have not really changed between the two teams. Check out this comparison.

Capture - osu D comp

Turnover rate, opponent offensive rebounding rate, opponent 3-point FG%, opponent 3PA/FGA, and opponent average possession length are all basically unchanged since last season. So what’s the difference? The categories in yellow. Opponents are shooting about five percentage points worse this season, largely due to opponents shooting 45% on 2-pointers this season compared to 52% in 2017. Why the sudden improvement in this metric for Oklahoma State?

Under Mike Boynton, Oklahoma State has ramped up the ball pressure and ball denial on the perimeter, and their perimeter defenders are simply better this season. Brandon Averette, Tavarius Shine, Lindy Waters, and Jeffrey Carroll is a better group of defenders than Jawun Evans, Phil Forte, Carroll, and Leyton Hammonds. Brandon Averette in particular has made it much more difficult for opposing guards to easily initiate offense. He constantly hounds and annoys opposing PGs. Last season, Mitchell Solomon was the only rim protector behind that group. This season, Solomon is joined by Yankuba Sima in protecting the paint.

While Oklahoma State is clearly worse on offense this season, their defensive improvement has allowed them to already record three Big 12 wins. If they continue to make it difficult for opponents to reliably make 2-pointers, Oklahoma State could surprise a few more Big 12 teams in the 2nd half of conference play.

Coming Up: 1/27 at Arkansas, 1/30 vs. TCU

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

Current Record (Overall/Conference): 11-8, 2-6
Kenpom Ranking and AdjEM: 99th, +6.97
Adj. Offense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 109.6, 80th, 9th
Adj. Defense (Efficiency, National Rank, Conference Rank): 102.7, 138th, 10th
Adj. Tempo (Possessions/Game, National Rank, Conference Rank): 69.0, 141st, 6th

Iowa State currently has their worst offense since Fred Hoiberg’s first season in Ames in 2011. From 2012 to 2017, Iowa State made the tournament every season and never had an offense outside of the top-25 nationally in Kenpom’s Adjusted Offense metric. This season, they are currently ranked 80th in that metric. What has changed?

Well first, this was always going to be a dip back down for Iowa State. They have finally lost all of their core players from that 6-year NCAA Tournament stretch. Every non-Blue Blood program requires a rebuild at some point. Second, this is the worst shooting team Iowa State has had in the last seven seasons. Take a look.

Capture - isu shooting 2012

This is Iowa State’s worst 2-point shooting team in the last seven seasons, and it’s tied for the worst 3-point shooting team in that timeframe. Only Donovan Jackson and Lindell Wigginton are threats from behind the 3-point line, and Cameron Lard and Nick Weiler-Babb are the only two players who have showed any real consistency at finishing in the paint.

This results in an Effective Field Goal percentage that has taken a nosedive since their peak performance in 2016 and is now matching the eFG% in Fred Hoiberg’s first season in Ames — 2011.

Capture - isu efg 2011.PNG

Because of the lack of shooters on this team, spacing is always tight. In the previous six seasons, Iowa State always had a playmaking and/or shooting 4-man. First it was Royce White, followed by Georges Niang, followed by Deonte Burton. Having a player like that at the 4 always created space. Without a player like that, everything feels cramped. Check out this possession where Iowa State is playing a frontcourt combination of Cameron Lard and Solomon Young — their most common frontcourt duo.

In the initial drag screen action, check out Cameron Lard’s roll to the basket. His man, Mo Bamba, is out of position — he showed way too long on Weiler-Babb and has lost his man. The problem is that there is no space for Lard to roll to the basket as fellow big man Solomon Young has set up in the post, and there’s no angle for Weiler-Babb to make the pass. If Iowa State had a stretch-4, this would not happen. If the stretch-4 were Lard, he could pop off the screen and set up for a 3-pointer (and would be open). If the stretch-4 were Young, he would already be spacing the floor, preferably on the opposite wing. With two big men who like to patrol the same areas in the paint, they get in each other’s way. You can see Lard’s disappointment around the 0:05 mark of the clip; he knows they had an easy basket if there was a clear passing lane. The rest of the possession goes nowhere.

Here’s another example of a possession gone wrong. Watch Dylan Osetkowski defend Hans Brase this entire possession. Brase was supposed to be the stretch-4 on this team, but he is struggling from 3-point range, shooting just 29% from long range.

Osetkowski is not worried about Brase for the entire duration of this possession. Initially, he’s helping defend Lard in the paint. If an entry pass goes into Lard, Osetkowski is in perfect position to help. If Brase were a better shooter, Osetkowski could not stray that far away from him in the corner. When Weiler-Babb runs a ball screen with Lard, look where Eric Davis and Osetkowski are on Lard’s roll (the screenshot is below). The two are not worried in the least about Talley and Brase on the backside. Weiler-Babb is forced to kick it to Brase on the perimeter, who fires up a brick.

Capture - lard roll spacing.PNG

Most likely, Iowa State’s shooting will not get significantly better this season. This is not an easy problem to solve. You can not just turn Brase or Young into White, Niang, or Burton. I still think Iowa State’s best option offensively might be to play Zoran Talley at the 4 a bit more. Talley cannot shoot, but he is a slasher. He could make opposing 4-men uncomfortable on defense with his dribble penetration. If things stay the same, expect to see more of the poor spacing highlighted in these two clips.

Coming Up: 1/27 vs. Tennessee, 1/31 vs. West Virginia


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