College Basketball Nation: Big 12 Buzz

Summer Buzz: Kansas Jayhawks

August, 13, 2010
For the next month or so, our friends at The Mag are previewing one high-profile school per day for their Summer Buzz series. For the sake of all that is synergistic, yours truly will be attempting the same, complementing each comprehensive Insider preview with some adjusted efficiency fun. Today's subject? Kansas. Up next? No one. This is the last buzz of the summer. Stay tuned for more previews from us very soon, though.

Kansas will still be very, very good.

When you think about it, that's kind of insane. After all, Kansas just waved goodbye to its three best players -- the heart-and-soul captain in senior Sherron Collins, one of the most intimidating big men in the country in Cole Aldrich, and a preternaturally smooth scorer in Xavier Henry -- and, even with teams like Kansas State, Baylor and Missouri in hot pursuit, Jayhawks fans still have reason to like their conference title chances.

Last season, commentators sometimes joked that if Kansas only played its second five, it would still be a top 25 team. This year, we get to test that theory for real.

Of course, it's not quite that exact. There's the addition of uber-recruit Josh Selby, who will compete with Duke's Kyrie Irving and Kentucky's Brandon Knight for the John Wall Memorial Freshman Point Guard of the Year award in 2010-11. That is, if Selby plays; the NCAA is still investigating his relationship with Carmelo Anthony's business manager and hasn't yet indicated whether Selby will be able to play by the time the season starts.

Kansas also has the benefit of keeping a pair of starters -- guard Tyshawn Taylor and forward Marcus Morris -- who have been resigned to role player positions for much of their careers. This season, both could prove their stardom.

Morris is perhaps the better candidate. He was the No. 56-ranked player in the country in offensive rating last season; his 120.7 was far and away Kansas' best. At 6-foot-8, Morris isn't the intimidating defender or shot blocker that Aldrich was, but he's far more skilled on the offensive end, and his outside touch has extended almost to the three-point line in recent seasons.

Taylor, for his part, isn't the offensive player Collins or Henry was, even in limited possessions. But he does have two major advantages: Speed and defense. Taylor can get to the rim on the break as quickly as any guard in the country, and his steal rate of 3.2 in 2009-10 counted as a major defensive contribution.

In many ways, Kansas is better prepared to deal with the loss of Cole Aldrich -- last season's most dominant interior defensive player -- than their personnel would indicate. That's because Kansas was already guard-dominant, even with Aldrich in the lineup. Assuming Selby gets eligible, Kansas will have a coterie of guards -- Taylor, Brady Morningstar, newcomer Royce Woolridge -- with it they can push the pace. With Morris' range, transitioning to a faster, more diverse Jayhawks attack team might be the only way forward.

The biggest hole to fill, then, will be Aldrich's defensive presence. The center blocked 12.97 percent of his opponents' shot attempts in 2009-10, the fifth-highest rate in the country. Even with Marcus' taller brother Markieff Morris sliding into a starting role, the Jayhawks are not going to be able to recreate Aldrich's dominant shot-blocking ability. That's tough ... but it's also where better defensive ball pressure and depth at the guard positions can come into play. Since 2005-06, a Bill Self-coached Kansas team has never finished outside of the top 10 in adjusted defensive efficiency; even with Aldridge gone, that statistic seems unlikely to change in 2010-11.

In other words, Kansas will look remarkably different in 2010-11, but the results, if not quite as impressive as last season's, should look similar.
For the next month or so, our friends at The Mag are previewing one high-profile school per day for their Summer Buzz series. For the sake of all that is synergistic, yours truly will be attempting the same, complementing each comprehensive Insider preview with some adjusted efficiency fun. Today's subject? Kansas State. Up next? Kansas.

About three weeks ago, I hosted a chat right here on the Interwebs. One chatter asked me to guess at four 2010-11 Final Four teams. So I did: Duke, Michigan State, Purdue and Kansas State. You might notice a trend here. All four teams are stocked with veterans who excelled in 2009-10. Guessing at the next freshman phenom is always difficult; if you're going to force me to pick the Final Four eight months before the tournament starts, I'm going with what I know.

Interestingly enough, chatters questioned but one team in that group. That team was Kansas State.

To be fair, most of the doubters were Kansas fans. One even asked me if Kansas State gave me a "free farming class," an inter-Kansan insult I didn't quite get. (In the comments, a Kansas State fan called the angry Kansas fans "beakers." Total burn!)

But, in-state rivalry aside, the Kansas fans did raise some interesting questions. Whether Kansas State can answer them could determine the Big 12 title, a Final Four bid, and, if all goes well, a national title, too.

The questions are as follows: Can Kansas State make up for the loss of lightning-quick point guard Denis Clemente without losing its offensive edge? And can Frank Martin find a defensive stopper to replace the here-today-transferred-tomorrow Dominique Sutton?

The answers -- well, the answers are tougher. Despite returning six of its seven leading scorers, Clemente's loss will remake Kansas State in significant ways. Jacob Pullen, the team's leading scorer and one of the few carryover candidates for best guard in the country, will have to handle the ball even more. Rather than benefit from Clemente's pace-pushing fast breaks, Pullen will be the one setting the tempo. And, by the way, he'll still need to score.

It's quite an assignment, but if anyone's up for it, Pullen is. The bearded one was one of the country's best offensive players last season; his three-point range is seemingly unlimited, and on the rare times when his shot isn't falling, he's quick enough to get by his defender and draw a foul. (Pullen drew 6.5 fouls per 40 minutes last season.) Clemente's skills were worthwhile -- score on the fast break, distribute to teammates, don't turn the ball over -- but Pullen's skill set mirrors them nicely.

The only problem with all of this is whether Kansas State's attack can be as potent as 116.6 points per 100 possessions if Pullen is pulling double combo-guard duty -- not to mention drawing extra help defenders in the process. That could either go really well ... or, yeah, not so much.

Meanwhile, down on the block, forward Curtis Kelly ought to be licking his lips. Kelly proved he could handle a major scoring load in Kansas State's legendary Sweet Sixteen win against Xavier this spring, and with Clemente out of the mix, that means even more touches for the talented big man. At the Deron Williams/Amar'e Stoudamire Nike Skills Camps this summer, the guards and forwards played a ton of pick and roll, and it's not hard to envision Kelly and Pullen -- both camp attendees -- putting those lessons toward a revamped 2010-11 Kansas State attack.

There's also the small matter of replacing Dominique Sutton. Sutton, who decided to transfer to North Carolina, was his team's designated defensive stopper last season, and it's not exactly clear if the Wildcats have anyone who can approximate his versatile lockdown ability. As good as Kansas State was on offense last season -- No. 13 in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency -- it was nearly as good on the defensive side (No. 17). Martin will have to hope a pair of athletic and defensively touted small forward recruits -- Shane Southwell and Nino Williams -- can keep the Wildcats' perimeter defense taking a Sutton-less step back.

In the end, there's very little reason to doubt that Kansas State is a Final Four team. By January, maybe that prediction will look silly, but for now, few teams combine this level of star power with experienced, veteran talent. Actually, there are four of those teams. And one of them is Kansas State.

Summer Buzz: Baylor Bears

July, 23, 2010
For the next month or so, our friends at The Mag are previewing one high-profile school per day for their Summer Buzz series. For the sake of all that is synergistic, yours truly will be attempting the same, complementing each comprehensive Insider preview with some adjusted efficiency fun. Today's subject: Baylor Insider . Up next? Michigan State.

The Baylor Bears were not a great defensive team in 2009-10. This was less obvious than it sounds.

When you watched the Bears play, it seemed like they were everywhere. Ekpe Udoh and Quincy Acy prowled the paint, Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn roamed the perimeter, and the net effect was a team fast and athletic enough to give anyone fits.

A closer look at Baylor's efficiency numbers, though, reveals a team that was far more adept at scoring than stopping. The Bears were, in fact, a team with a potent offense and a merely OK defense. Baylor ranked No. 3 in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency and No. 34 in adjusted defensive efficiency. Baylor was good at preventing good looks -- they were ranked No. 20 in the country in opponents' effective field goal percentage -- but failed to keep opponents off the glass and didn't force nearly as many turnovers as you'd expect.

Entering the NCAA tournament, I sheepishly predicted that if Baylor met Duke in the Elite Eight, the Bears' interior athleticism would be too much for the more ground-bound Dukies. Naturally, I was wrong. Baylor ended up being just as soft on the defensive end as their numbers suggested. The lesson, as always: Never doubt the numbers. The numbers do not like to be doubted.

What does this mean for the 2010-11 Bears? It means Perry Jones has to be as good as advertised, and maybe better.

Replacing the talented Udoh after his No. 6 overall selection in the 2010 NBA draft won't be easy. That task will fall on Jones, the No. 3 overall power forward in the class of 2010. Jones is an athletic and versatile 6-foot-11 forward who, according to our ESPNU recruiting service Insider, "has off the charts talent and skill." Sounds great, right? The only problem: Jones' "production is no where close to what it should be." Gulp.

The rest of Baylor's stars are easier to read: Dunn will still be a ruthlessly effective shooting guard, Acy will still be a skilled scorer with an elite offensive rating (the best in the Big 12 at 125.0) and should see even more of the ball with Udoh and center Josh Lomers out of the picture. Baylor will still score in bunches. That much is clear.

What's missing here is what was missing from Baylor's 2009 team: defense. The key, then, is Jones. If the first-year player is good enough to affect the defensive interior -- to at least marginally shore up his team's own glass, and to prevent good looks in the post -- Baylor could be even more dangerous in 2010. At this point, given what we know about Jones' skills, that's a possibility.

But it's far from a certainty. Which means the 2010-11 Baylor Bears could be very similar to the 2009-10 version. Considering where Baylor was at the start of the decade, that's still awfully impressive.