College Basketball Report: Week 17

The Houston Cougars reclaim their place atop of the American Athletic Conference

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TEXAS LONGHORNS (18-11), (8-8)

Last week: (1-0): W - Texas Tech 68-58

This week: Tuesday vs. Oklahoma, Saturday Oklahoma State

On Saturday, the Texas Longhorns came away victorious in a 68-58 win over the Texas Tech Red Raiders inside United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock. Andrew Jones tied his career-high in the win, as the sophomore guard recorded 22 points 57.1% from the field.

Up next, the Longhorns will travel to Oklahoma to take on the Sooners before welcoming the Cowboys to Austin on Saturday.

TEXAS A&M AGGIES (14-14), (8-8)

Last week: (0-2): L - Kentucky 69-60, L - LSU 64-50

This week: Wednesday vs. Auburn, Saturday vs. Arkansas

After winning three straight, the Texas A&M Aggies are riding a two-game losing streak after dropping games against No. 6 Kentucky (69-60) and LSU (64-50). In both games, junior guard Savion Flagg led the way averaging 17.0 points, while Josh Nebo recorded 11.5 points and 7.5 boards.

After a disappointing week, the Aggies will look to end their losing streak ahead of the Conference Tournament on Wednesday against the Auburn Tigers.

Houston Cougars (27-7), (12-4)

Last week: (1-0): W- Cincinnati 68-55

This week: Thursday vs. UConn, Sunday Memphis

The Houston Cougars reclaimed their spot atop of the American Atheltic Conference with a 68-55 win over the Cincinnati Bearcats inside the Frittata Center in Houston. Despite a subpar shooting night as a team, Marcus Sasser led the way with a game-high 21 points in 33 minutes, as the sharpshooting guard recorded a dozen in the final period shooting 8-for-16 (50%) from the field, 5-for-12 (41.6%) from 3-point range.

Ahead of closing out the season in a home match against Memphis on Sunday, the Cougars will travel to Connecticut to take on the 17-12, 8-8 UConn Huskies, Thursday, inside the Gampel Pavilion in Storrs.

RICE OWLS (14-15), (6-10)

Last week: (1-0): W- Middle Tennessee 77-66

This week: Wednesday vs. Southern Miss, Saturday UTEP

The Rice Owls closed out their regular-season series against Middle Tennesse Blue Raiders with a 77-66 win on Sunday. Trey Murphy III fell two rebounds short of recording a double-double with 17 points (8-14, 4-9 3PT) and eight boards in the win.

After trailing 29-24 at the half to the Blue Raiders, the Owls went on a tear in the second half. Rice shot a sizzling 64.2% from the field, 55.5% from behind the arc, as the scored a season-high 53 second-half points. Following the win, the Owls will take on the Southern Miss Golden Eagles on Wednesday.

BAYLOR BEARS (26-3), (15-2) 

Last week: (1-1): W - Kansas State 85-66, L - TCU 75-72, W - Texas Tech 71-68 OT

This week: Saturday vs. West Virginia

After ending their 23-game winning streak to Kansas, the Baylor Bears dropped their second conference game of the season in a 75-72 loss to the TCU Horned Frogs.

Despite holding a seven-point lead at the half, the Bears' defense became a no show in the final 24 minutes, as Baylor allowed the Horned Frogs to score 54 points on 76.1% shooting from the floor, 63.4% from the deep.
Following a win over Texas Tech on Monday, the Bears will look to close out their regular season schedule in a road game against West Virginia.

TCU Horned Frogs (16-13), (7-9)

Last week: (1-1): L - Iowa State 65-59, W - Baylor 75-72

This week: Wednesday vs. Kansas, Saturday vs. Oklahoma

After a tough loss against the Iowa State Cyclone on Tuesday, the TCU Horned Frogs picked up their most impressive victory of the season against No. 4 Baylor Bears.

Behind a 23-point performance from senior Desmond Bane, TCU outscored Baylor 54-44 in the second half while shooting 76.1% from the floor, 63.4% from the deep. Up next, the Horned Frogs will look to end their Big 12 conference schedule on a high against the Kansas Jayhawks on Wednesday, and the Oklahoma Sooners.

Texas Tech Red Raiders (18-12), (9-8)

Last week: (0-0): L- Oklahoma 65-51, L - Texas 68-58, L - Baylor 71-68 OT

This week: Saturday vs. Kansas

Despite experiencing their worst stretch of the season, the Texas Tech Red Raiders nearly pulled an upset over the No. 4 Baylor Bears on Monday. Behind freshmen guards, Jahml'us Ramsey (13) and Kevin McCullar (13), Texas Tech ended the night shooting 50% from the floor inside the Ferrell Center in Waco.

Although they had a solid night from the field, the Red Raiders could not stop Baylor from scoring from the outside, as the Bears connected on 10 3-point field goals on 42% shooting from deep.

Up next, Texas Tech will look to get back to their winning ways on Saturday against the Kansas Jayhawks to close out their 2019-20 college basketball season.

SMU Mustangs (19-9), (9-7)

Last week: (2-1): W- Memphis 58-53, L - Wichita State 66-62

This week: Wednesday vs. UCF, Saturday vs. USF

Before falling to Wichita State on Sunday, the SMU Mustangs took a 58-53 victory over the Memphis Tigers on Tuesday. Junior forward Tyson Jolly recorded a double-double of 13 points and pulled down 10 rebounds, as SMU forced 21 turnovers in which they converted into 20 points.

Following the win, the Mustangs will travel to Orlando to take on the UCF Bulls on Wednesday.

LSU Tigers (20-9), (11-5)

Last week: (1-1): L - Florida 81-66, W - Texas A&M 64-50

This week: Wednesday vs. Arkansas, Saturday vs. Georgia

After a 15 point loss to Florida, the LSU Tigers picked up a 64-50 victory over the Texas A&M Aggies on Saturday. In the win, it was a great all-round performance from Skylar Mays, as the senior guard recorded 24 points on 7-of-12 shooting with four treys, to go with eight rebounds, three assists and two steals.

Up next, the Tigers will look to end their regular-season conference schedule on Saturday against the Georgia Bulldogs.

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Tucker looks like the real deal. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Kyle Tucker finally had his breakout season in 2020. The 23-year-old flashed potential to be a legitimate five-tool threat. He slashed .268/.325/.512, swiped eight bags, and played above average defense. Is Tucker's performance sustainable? Not only that, but is there room for growth?

Hard Hit % - 44.5%

Barrel % - 9.1%

K % - 20.2%

BB % - 7.9%
Chase % - 26.2%

The first thing to realize with Kyle Tucker is the small sample size at the MLB level. Despite appearing in three separate seasons, he's played in a total of 108 games, which is obviously quite a bit shy of even one full season. He also has an extremely unique swing that you wouldn't teach to anybody, but it "works" for him. This makes him a tough hitter to judge, as it's uncomfortable judging mechanics that work for him, and it's uncomfortable judging numbers that haven't had time to develop trends.

Hard Hit, Barrel, and Chase numbers are unavailable for the minors, but walk and strikeouts percentages are. This creates the ability to at least look at one trend.

Tucker broke onto the scene in 2018 with a monstrous season for AAA Fresno, the Astros affiliate at the time. In 2018, Tucker slashed .332/.400/.590 with 24 homers and 20 steals. He had an 18.1% K% and a 10.3% BB% that season. In 2019, Tucker struck out a little bit more (21.6%) but also walked a little bit more (11.2%). Tucker's 20.2% K% in 2020 is more in line with his minor league K%, indicating he's adjusted to major league pitching.

Tucker essentially put the pieces of contact ability and quality of contact from his previous MLB stints together in 2020. In 2018, Tucker didn't strike out very much (18.1% K%), but his 3.9% Barrel % didn't strike fear in any opponent.

In 2019, Tucker had a 12.8% Barrel %, and his 92 MPH average exit velocity is the best of his three seasons in MLB, but he struck out 27.8% of the time and walked just 5.6% of the time.

In 2020, there's a marriage between the two. His K% and BB% aren't as good as his 2018 marks, but they're better than his 2019 marks. His exit velocity and Barrel % aren't as good as his 2019 marks, but they're better than his 2018 marks. Tucker became a hitter that was able to do more damage without sacrificing consistency.

Tucker had a xBA of .267, which is right in line with his .268 average. His .459 xSLG lags behind his .512 actual SLG, but it isn't a catastrophic drop. The version of Tucker Astros fans saw is essentially who he is, but how does he improve?

What really unlocked Tucker in 2020 was a change in his setup.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Here he is on August 2nd against the Angels. As you can see, he's standing pretty straight up, and he has a "neutral" stance. Following the game on Aug. 2, Tucker was batting .200/.250/.300 with no homers.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Here's Tucker on August 6th, just a few days later. He's started to close off his stance just a bit, but he's still pretty neutral, and he has a little more forward body lean with his torso. Following the game on Aug. 6, he was batting .214/.267/.357 with a homer.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Now, here's Tucker on August 10th. His stance is considerably closed off, and he's maintaining the forward body lean he adopted on August 6th. Following the game on Aug. 10, Tucker was batting .190/.230/.328. It would be the last time any of those numbers would be that low the rest of the year. He maintained that stance for the rest of the season, and he finished the month of August hitting .272/.333/.588.

The swing change allowed him to be a factor on the outside pitch. Tucker would pull off on his front side, which made it tough for him to keep balls fair on the pull side. He'd often yank inside fastballs into the stands down the right field line. It also made him uncompetitive on outside strikes, as he'd either swing-and-miss, or roll them over into the shift.

After he made the change, Tucker started steering inside pitches fair, and he was able to do something with pitches on the outer third.

The next step is finding a way to continue to diversify his batted ball profile. Tucker's pull percentage in 2020 was 47%. That's a higher pull % than guys like Kyle Schwarber and Matt Olson. It was only 1% lower than Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo.

The one dimensional batted ball profile allows teams to shift Tucker aggressively. Teams shifted Tucker in 74% of his at-bats. His wOBA against the shift is .304. In AB's where teams didn't shift him, Tucker had a .455 wOBA. The shift hurts Tucker more than most as well, because he hits the ball on the ground 39% of the time. Gallo and Olson hit it on the ground 32% and 35% of the time respectively.

Lastly, Tucker's performance on breaking balls leaves a lot to be desired. He crushes fastballs, as he batted .303 with a .574 SLG against fastballs in 2020, with a .292 xBA and .528 xSLG. His .208 AVG and .396 SLG against breaking balls aren't very good, and his .209 xBA and .340 xSLG don't tell a prettier story. His 32% whiff % against breaking balls is nearly double his whiff % on fastballs.

If Tucker can learn to be more competitive against breaking balls and learn to use the whole field, then he'll be a really scary hitter. If he doesn't, teams will be able to gameplan for him, and he'll see streaky production similar to other one dimensional hitters like Matt Carpenter and the aforementioned Gallo and Olson.

While the bat may be streaky, Tucker brings it with the glove and on the bases. He had 5 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) in the outfield in 2020, a 0.6 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), and he was plus-4 in Outs Above Average. His well above average speed and instincts give him the ability to be a rangy outfielder and dangerous baserunner.

Tucker had a breakout season in 2020, but there's still changes left to be made if he wants to be a breakout star and not a one hit wonder.

This is part four of an offseason series covering the 2020 Houston Astros. Be sure to check out parts 1-3 on SportsMap.

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