Kevin Young becomes key piece for KU

October 18, 2011

Bill Self has seemingly had a revolving door of NBA-level frontcout talent the last few years. It’s pretty darn incredible that the Jayhawks have gone from Darrell Arthur and Darnell Jackson to Cole Aldrich and the Morris twins to Thomas Robinson in the present.

Kevin Young will be thrown in the fire early on.

But since prospective freshman Braeden Anderson and Jamari Traylor have been declared ineligible, Kansas will find itself in unfamiliar territory this season: without a big man succession plan coming off the bench.

The loss of the highly-touted guard Ben McLemore will hurt too, but Self should be able to compete with his presumptive starting trio of Elijah Johnson-Tyshawn Taylor-Travis Releford. He should also be able to squeeze enough depth out of freshman Naadir Tharpe and even redshirt senior walk-on Conner Teahan.

But the frontcourt is more of an issue behind Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson. Kevin Young (6’8”), a junior transfer from Loyola Marymount, could find himself being leaned on heavily. In two seasons at Loyola Marymount, Young averaged 10 points per game on 45% shooting and 6.2 rebounds and 1.o blocks per game.

Young’s former coach at Loyola Marymount, rather uncharacteristically for a coach, seemed to be candid in saying that Young wouldn’t be an offensive threat in the half-court but could be a factor in the open floor.

If this is the case, the Jayhawks already explosive transition offense could get a bit better. But they wouldn’t seem to rely on Young for offense regardless, his contribution would have to come from playing defense and making an impact on the offensive glass.

In that vein, in his freshman season in 2009 Young (10.3 OR%, 15.9 DR%) put up rebounding numbers somewhat similar to what Marcus Morris did in 2010 (12.8 OR%, 14.1 DR%). The cause for concern is that those numbers slipped in 2010, and obviously the competition will be different in the Big 12. But for those looking for the glass-half-full take, perhaps those numbers indicate Young can grow into a contributor on the glass.

It is possible that walk-on redshirt sophomore Justin Wesley (6’8”) could see playing time if things get dire, but I am only saying that because of his size. Self could also shift to a four guard lineup at times and retain some size as Releford, Johnson and Teahan are all 6’4” or above.

Side note: Because I am a new to advanced stats (and math-challenged to be honest) and can’t stand when blogs keep dropping them into posts without explaining them, here is kenpom.com’s explanation of DR% and OR%.

Offensive rebounding percentage (OR%): This is the percentage of possible offensive rebounds a player gets and computed as PlayerOR / [%Min * (Team OR + Opp. DR)]. The denominator is scaled based on the percentage of a team’s minutes played by the player.
Defensive rebounding percentage (DR%): This is the percentage of possible defensive rebounds a player gets and computed as PlayerDR / [%Min * (Team DR + Opp. OR)]. It is generally believed that offensive rebounds are more attributable to individual effort than defensive rebounds. Due to its relative rarity, an offensive rebound is considered more valuable than a defensive rebound.

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Jayhawk roster: No McLemore, no Traylor

October 18, 2011

We talked a couple weeks ago about how the eligibility process for players works. You can read about it here.

Jamari Traylor

Anyway, the process has not worked favorably this offseason for KU. Last week, two more freshmen-to-be were declared ineligible to play: 6’5″ guard Ben McLemore (St. Louis) and 6’8″ forward Jamari Traylor(Chicago).

Like Braeden Anderson, who was ruled ineligible earlier this fall, both McLemore and Traylor played at multiple high schools. McLemore played for Wellston High School in St. Louis, but it closed. He then went to the basketball-famous Oak Hill Academy followed by a school in Texas.

Traylor started out at Julian High in Chicago but switched to IMG Academy in Florida.

It makes me wonder if the switching of high schools, an increasingly common practice among basketball players, is a riskier move than people realize. There are varying reasons for switching schools, some of which seem more useful than others. (McLemore’s first change, after all, was mandatory with the school closing).

Especially when players cross state lines, the graduation requirements get complicated – Example: a guy might have enough math classes for one state but not for another. I don’t know what the reasoning was in these cases.

Ben McLemore

McLemore was ranked as the No. 4 shooting guard nationally in his class, and Traylor would have stepped in down low and played plenty of minutes, probably effective minutes too.

I suspect KU’s lineup might look something like this:

C Jeff Withey (jr.)

F Thomas Robinson (jr.)

G Travis Releford (jr.)

G Elijah Johnson (jr.)

G Tyshaun Taylor (sr.)

Kansas fans, feel free to help me out here if you know something I don’t.


Preseason poll – four teams get a 1st place vote

October 14, 2011

Basketball season starts this weekend.

For the next couple days, college basketball will consist of loud player introductions, flashing lights, dunks and “practice sessions” that might look nothing at all like a real practice.

It’s time to take a look at how the Big 12 COACHES voted in the league’s poll of the ten teams. Coaches could not vote for their own.

——

Dash Harris and his Aggie teammates would like to unseat Kansas as the league's best team. Photo thanks Chron.com.

This year’s preseason poll has co-favorites: KANSAS and TEXAS A&M. The Jayhawks got the most first-place votes from the coaches (5), while Texas A&M got two. However, each team garnered 73 points total from the ballots.

The Jayhawks have at least shared the conference title for seven straight seasons. But while they are accustomed to losing talent, there is less depth in place at the moment than there has been in some prior years. Greg, one of this blog’s authors, has mentioned Thomas Robinson as a likely POY. I agree, but the Morris twins were just awesome and those two alone will be tough to replace.

Texas A&M has a new coach this season, Billy Kennedy. The Aggies, if not great in recent years, have been consistently solid.

The three of us at this blog have a running joke called “The List,” of college players who seem like they should have graduated and yet are still playing. (Typically these are just guys who played a lot as freshmen and stayed around.) Fortunately, A&M has two candidates for The List in guard Dash Harris and forward David Loubeau. That bodes well for experience.

They also add 6’7″ junior Khris Middleton, a big scorer last year. He has played in every game during his career.

Kansas State was last year’s preseason No. 1.

Team No. 3 is BAYLOR, which received two first-place votes. Baylor returns four seniors, super soph big guy Perry Jones and a really hyped guard in Deuce Bello. I expect Baylor will once again be one of the league’s most athletic teams (as is often the case). The Bears have underachieved two of the last three years and made the Elite Eight the other year. This is a VERY interesting team.

MISSOURI, you’ll recall, is still part of the Big 12. The Tigers were picked fourth and received one first place vote, despite a seemingly devastating recent injury to forward Laurence Bowers which will keep him off the floor all year. Bowers has been arguably Mizzou’s best player over the past two seasons. I look forward to seeing whether Missouri’s tempo shifts from the frenetic press, now that Frank Haith is coach. Either way, a lot will be required of senior big man Ricardo Ratliffe on offense and defense.

Perenially talented TEXAS takes the No. 5 spot. A team that spent part of last year in the Top 5 nationally seeks to improve its recent NCAA tournament struggles. The Horns are extremely young with six freshmen. Names you’ll recognize include 6’10” senior Clint Chapman and 6’1″ junior J’Covan Brown. Alexis Wangmene (6’7″ from Cameroon) is also a senior.

Korie Lucious (34) and Chris Allen are now Cyclones and might solidify Iowa State's best team in a decade. Photo thanks to Des Moines Register.

KANSAS STATE is team six. The Wildcats’ early months last year were an absolute disaster. Denis Clemente’s absence was noticeable, but K-State got a huge upset win at home over Kansas and turned things around somewhat. They didn’t live up to preseason expectations but I think they can exceed them this year. K-State returns a lot of guys you will remember, including guards Rodney McGruder (junior), Shane Southwell (sophomore) and Will Spradling (sophomore). They also bring back 6’7 senior forward Jamar Samuels.

That group has plenty of talent, so don’t assume K-State will be average just because Jacob Pullen is gone.

OKLAHOMA STATE takes the No. 7 spot. Travis Ford brings two seniors, guard Keiton Page and JUCO forward Darrell Williams. Williams led the team in rebounding last year. J.P. Olukemi will be important again as a junior. Freshman Le’Bryan Nash is a McDonald’s All-American.

IOWA STATE, in its second year under Fred Hoiberg, is the eighth choice. This is another team I look forward to watching. Finally Royce White, the 6’8″ redshirt sophomore from Minnesota gets to play. Adding instant experience are senior Michigan State transfers at guard – Chris Allen and Korie Lucious. It’s been a long time since Marcus Fizer and Jamaal Tinsley made ISU a contender but perhaps the Cyclones are on their way.

OKLAHOMA and TEXAS TECH are tied for ninth and last in this year’s poll. The Sooners have three seniors who have played sparingly. T.J. Franklin sees little floor time. The other two, C.J. Washington and Barry Honoré, are JUCO transfers who were reserves last year. Oklahoma looks very different than it used to and is clearly still in a phase of change from the Kelvin Sampson era.

6’10” Robert Lewandowski is the only senior for the Red Raiders of Texas Tech, now coached by Billy Gillispie. There are eight high school freshmen on the roster along with several JUCO transfers, which is exciting when your team has recently struggled. Hopefully Tech can perform a little better than last year and work toward improving that program.

We will have our own Big 12 preseason poll before the season starts.


Bowers injury leaves Haith in tough spot

October 8, 2011

The Big 12 coaches named Missouri guard Marcus Denmon to the preseason All-Conference team this past week. Denmon is a good player, but Laurence Bowers may actually have been the Tigers’ most valuable. Losing him for the season to a torn ACL is a big blow to Missouri’s chances in 2011/2012.

Bowers is a big loss for Missouri. Photo courtesy zimbio.com.

The waters Frank Haith has to navigate in his first season in Columbia were already choppy. Now he has to find a way to replace his best defender and piece together a front court which was already thin. The Tigers are left with only three players on their roster who are 6’8” or taller in Ricardo Ratliffe, Steve Moore and Kadeem Green.

Bowers potential replacements in the Tigers primary unit would appear to be either Moore or Green, but there are issues with both.

Moore will be a senior and at times contributed solid defense off the bench last season. At this point it is probably safe to say that Moore will never be a plus on offense, but that is okay. Even without Bowers, the talented Missouri guards and an improved post-game from Ratliffe should be able put the ball in the basket enough to keep the Tigers competitive.

Moore and Ratliffe would provide two big body defenders that could muscle way to controlling the paint, something Missouri never had in the Mike Anderson era. Moore flashed some shot-blocking potential last year too (0.9 blocks/game in under 12 minutes/game). So sliding Moore into the primary unit doesn’t seem like a bad idea…initially.

Moore is a foul machine, averaging a foul every four and a half minutes he was on the court last year. Ratliffe too found himself sitting more than he should because of foul trouble. Starting the two together could create the bad situation where both pick up a couple early fouls, and less than ten minutes into the game Haith finds his front court rotation even more limited.

So does Green get the nod then? That doesn’t appear to be the magic answer either. Green will be a redshirt freshman after sitting out all of last year recovering an Achilles injury. He is a big unknown.

He had a three-start ranking from Rivals, and received offers from Wake Forest and New Mexico so he clearly has some potential. But he’s inexperienced and coming off a major injury. Regardless of if he starts or not, which I doubt he will, Green in an odd way becomes one Missouri’s most important players this year because of the large role he is being forced into.

Haith may have to in essence replace Bowers’ with Phil Pressey. If he wants to get his five best players on the court it would be Dixon-Pressey-Denmon-English-Ratliffe. Matchup-wise that would be a nightmare for Missouri fans.

Dixon and Pressey are both solid defenders but small, Denmon is a good rebounder for a guard but only 6’3” and English has some size at 6’6” but his strength would be a major issue when matched up consistently with a forward. The Missouri defense could crumble with this alignment. I’m not sure how much zone Haith ran at Miami (kenpom has their defensive fingerprint listed as “inconcluslive”), but he’d have to cook something complex up to offset the matchup problems.

We’ll look at this more in-depth as the season approaches, but as of now Haith may want to get on the phone with Travis Ford or Jay Wright and ask for some pointers on going with a four-guard lineup.


Possible Replacements, TCU

October 6, 2011

"Whaddaya say?" Jim Christian's Frogs might be the league's next invite. Source: Zimbio.com

Realignment Madness has turned out to be the perfect label for this category of posts.

If you haven’t seen, a report indicates an offer from the Big 12 for a new member: Texas Christian University.

TCU is currently a member of the Mountain West Conference, and had been scheduled to join the Big East Conference starting next school year. Of course, that was all set up before Texas A&M bolted for the SEC and the Big 12 found itself down to nine schools. We’ll talk plenty more here about this story as it’s updated.

Some notes on TCU – it is a Christian school in Fort Worth, Texas. While TCU would be the fourth Texas school in the new Big 12 Conference (joining Tech, Baylor and Texas), it is the only one located in the giant Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.

Athletically, TCU is a football school. Gary Patterson has been there since 1998 and been head coach since 2001 (he was previously defensive coordinator). He was a graduate assistant at Kansas State in 1982.

TCU went 13-0 last year, beating Big Ten champion Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and finishing 2nd in both polls. The Horned Frogs also had an outstanding season in 2009, when they went 12-0 in the regular season before losing to undefeated Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl. They finished ranked sixth. This year, TCU is 3-2, having been knocked off by Baylor and Southern Methodist.

Going into this year, the Horned Frogs finished in the Top 25 seven times out of ten (the Patterson era). TCU played in Conference USA from 2001-2004, winning one conference championship. The team has won the Mountain West three years out of six.

Despite its location in Fort Worth, TCU’s fanbase will not be confused for A&M’s (even though TCU would have probably smacked A&M silly the last couple of years.) The school is currently expanding its stadium to 50,000, but this is not a school with much of a national following.

Of course, this is a basketball blog. And this is where TCU’s profile looks a lot less sexy. As in not at all.

TCU has competed in the NCAA Tournament seven times, most recently in 1998 (their last conference championship). The team’s last NCAA win was in 1987 against Marshall. Since then, TCU finished in the quarterfinals of the 2005 NIT.

It gets worse. TCU’s record last year was 10-23. The Frogs’ final win of the regular season was January 12. (They won one conference tournament game.) Now BYU, San Diego State and New Mexico all take basketball seriously, but this suggests the TCU program will be WAY in over its head, as it was last year in the Mountain West.

Simply put, Texas Christian has fallen flat on its face in conference play each of the last 5 years. Despite a narrow victory over Texas Tech early in the year, TCU almost surely replaces Tech as the dog of the Big 12 if the addition is made.

Jim Christian is starting his fourth year as head coach.

With the departures of Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M (and possibly Mizzou), this league needs a football boost badly. TCU provides that without question. Losing Nebraska and CU won’t greatly affect the basketball competition. But losing both A&M and Mizzou certainly would. And unfortunately, TCU’s recent past doesn’t convince us they would help.

To be fair, perhaps TCU’s basketball recruiting would improve some with Big 12 membership. There is a long way to go.

It will be interesting to see if TCU’s addition makes the addition of more well-rounded athletic programs like Louisville and West Virginia less likely. However, from a football standpoint, TCU is light years ahead of Louisville and at least as strong as WVU.

In any case, it looks like K-State might not be the only Big 12 school celebrating Purple Power for much longer.