COLLEGE BASKETBALL REPORT: WEEK 18

Let the madness of March begin: It's conference tournament time

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TEXAS LONGHORNS (19-12), (9-9)

Last week: (1-1): W - Oklahoma 52-51, L - Oklahoma State 81-59

This week: Thursday Texas Tech

Before dropping a 22-point game in their season finale against the Cowboys, the Texas Longhorns came away victorious in a 52-51 win over the Oklahoma Sooners on Tuesday. In addition to scoring a game-high 21 points, junior guard Matt Coleman III knocked down the game-winning 3-pointer to seal the deal for the Longhorns.

Up next, the Longhorns will open their Big 12 tournament against the Texas Tech Red Raiders on Thursday in Kansas City.

TEXAS A&M AGGIES (16-14), (10-8)

Last week: (2-0): W - Auburn 78-75, W - Arkansas 77-69

This week: Thursday Missouri

After dropping two straight, the Texas A&M Aggies are riding a two-game winning streak after picking up wins against No. 17 Auburn (78-75) and Arkansas (77-69) last week. In both games, senior forward Josh Nebo led the way averaging 19.5 points, while recording 5.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks.

The Aggies will return to action on Thursday against the Missouri Tigers to open their SEC Tournament in Nashville.

Houston Cougars (23-8), (13-5)

Last week: (1-1): L- UConn 77-71, W - Memphis 64-57

This week: Friday SMU/Temple

The Houston Cougars captured their second straight American Athletic Conference championship following a 64-57 win over the Memphis Tigers inside the Frittata Center in Houston. Sophomore guard Quentin Grimes scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half to lead the Cougars to the comeback win.

Following the win, the Cougars will return to the court on Friday to take part in the American Athletic Conference Tournament in Fort Worth. Houston earned a bye into the quarterfinals and will play the winner of SMU vs. Temple.

RICE OWLS (15-16), (7-11)

Last week: (1-1): W - Southern Miss 72-57, L - UTEP 77-72

This week: Wednesday vs. FIU

The Rice Owls closed out their regular season in a 77-72 loss to the UTEP Miners. While shooting 35.9% from the field (25.7% from deep), the Owls could not match the production of UTEP. The Miners shot 43.9% from the floor as Souley Boum led the way with 25 points.

Following the win, the Owls will take on the FIU Panthers on Wednesday to begin the USA Conference Tournament.

BAYLOR BEARS (26-4), (15-3)

Last week: (0-1): L - West Virginia 76-64

This week: Saturday vs. West Virginia

After what was a remarkable season that included a 23-game winning streak, the Baylor Bears dropped three of their previous five games following a 76-64 loss to West Virginia. The Bears defense was a no-show against West Virginia, as Baylor allowed the Mountaineers to score 55 points on 57.6% shooting from the floor during the second half.

Following the loss, the Bears will return to the court on Thursday to take part in the Big 12 Championship Tournament in Kansas City. As the No. 2 seed, Baylor earned a bye into the quarterfinals and will play one of the following three teams: Kansas State, TCU, or Oklahoma.

TCU Horned Frogs (16-15), (7-11)

Last week: (0-2): L - Kansas 75-66, L - Oklahoma 78-76

This week: Wednesday Kansas State

After picking up their most impressive victory of the season, the TCU Horned Frogs could not strike gold twice. TCU dropped a close one to the No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks on Wednesday.

The Frogs held their own against the Jayhawks during the first half, in which TCU held a two-point led before losing the momentum in the second half. During the final period, Kansas outscored Baylor 40-29 while Udoka Azubuike registered 31 points (13-14 FG), 14 rebounds, and five blocks in the win for the Jayhawks — senior guard Desmond Bane led the way with 20 points shooting 60% from behind the arc for the Horned Frogs.

Up next, TCU will open their Big 12 Conference Tournament on Wednesday against Kansas State.

Texas Tech (18-13), (9-9)

Last week: (0-1): L - Kansas 66-62

This week: Thursday vs. Texas

The Texas Tech Red Raiders dropped their four consecutive game in a 66-62 loss to the No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks. In the loss, Texas Tech never got going on the offensive end, as the Red Raiders only connected on eight of their 26 attempts from behind the arc. Junior forward Davide Moretti scored a game-high 18 points in the loss.

With the hopes of ending their four-game losing streak, Texas Tech will open their Big 12 tournament against the Texas Longhorns on Thursday in Kansas City.

SMU Mustangs (19-11), (9-9)

Last week: (0-2): L- UCF 61-58, L - USF 61-60

This week: Thursday Temple

After a disappointing loss to the UCF Knights, the SMU Mustangs ended their regular season in a tough defeat to the USF Bulls on Saturday. After an entertaining second half separated by four points, USF's senior Laquincy Rideau sealed the deal for the Knights with a game-winning 3-pointer to close out the game. It was another frustrating loss for SMU, as Ethan Chargois led the way with 20 points on the night Mustangs.

While riding a three-game losing streak, the Mustangs will return to action on Thursday against the Temple Owls to open the American Athletic Conference Tournament in Fort Worth.

LSU Tigers (21-10), (12-6)

Last week: (1-1): L - Arkansas 99-90, W - Georgia 94-64

This week: Saturday vs. TBD

The LSU Tigers ended their regular season with a 94-64 win over the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday. In the win, four players scored in double-figures for LSU, as Marlon Taylor scored a career-high 30 points (10-17 FG, 3-7 3PT), to go along with seven rebounds, while Skylar Mays added in 19 points and six boards.

In the midst of ending the season as the No. 3 seed, the Tigers will open their SEC Tournament on Friday.

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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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