Ten Questions to Consider: Welcome to Conference Play!

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 30th, 2017

As 2017 comes to a close, conference play gets underway all across the country. Here are 10 questions for a busy weekend of conference games.

Is Arizona Turning the Corner on This Season (USA Today Images)?

  1. Can Arizona State beat Arizona? Arizona State is winless in seven trips to the McKale Center since 2011, and a defensive efficiency that ranks outside of the top 100 this year certainly gives Bobby Hurley reason for concern. Still, in their one true road game at Kansas, the Sun Devils won despite allowing the Jayhawks to shoot a robust 62.1 percent inside the arc. While Arizona State ranks second in the nation in free throw rate, the Pac-12 last year logged the lowest such metric among all 32 conferences during conference play.
  2. Is TCU’s Big 12 opener a must-win game? TCU opens conference play against Oklahoma this afternoon, and that game is followed by a trip to Baylor and a home game against Kansas. TCU could potentially be looking at an 0-3 start with a back-to-back at Texas and Oklahoma looming. The Horned Frogs’ non-conference perfection could very quickly turn into a conference disaster given the next couple weeks’ schedule. TCU should expect to see Sooners’ wunderkind Trae Young put up huge numbers — the freshman is averaging 31.4 PPG and 10.8 APG in his last eight games — but they must also find a way to slow down the accompanying pair of Christian James and Brady Manek. The duo have combined for 30 or more points in each of Oklahoma’s last four games.
  3. What must Villanova do to avenge a pair of losses to Butler from last season? Villanova was 14-0 last season before losing at Butler. While Jalen Brunson had games of 23 and 24 points against the Bulldogs, Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo only combined to score a measly 14 points in 120 minutes of action. After scoring just 20 or more points once last season, Bridges has reached that mark six times this season and he will need to do so again to ensure a Villanova victory.
  4. Duke vs. Florida State: Which strength wins out? Duke comes into this weekend’s game against the Seminoles ranked as the most efficient offense in college basketball. The Blue Devils match up against a Florida State defense that ranks among the top 20 in efficiency, opponents’ effective field goal percentage and three-point defense. In two games against the Seminoles last season, Duke guard Grayson Allen contributed only 11 total points in a split of the two games.  Read the rest of this entry »
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A Quick Look at the Big 12’s Opening Weekend

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 29th, 2017

It’s not very often that the performance of a single conference as a whole is extensively discussed before the start of league play, but the manner in which the Big 12 asserted itself over the first six weeks of the 2017-18 season was nothing short of impressive. Nine of the conference’s 10 teams are ranked among the top 50 of KenPom‘s current rankings, and no team took more losses than Texas‘ three (of which two came in overtime against very good Duke and Gonzaga teams). In fact, the league finished non-conference play by ripping off 27 straight victories. Yes, there were some cupcakes in there, but there were also road and semi-road meetings against teams like Wichita State, Florida State and Nebraska. It’s gotten to the point where there’s been reasoned discussion on this site and others of the Big 12 sending 80 percent of its membership to the NCAA Tournament come March. Even if an underperforming team squelches that possibility, this conference will have meaningful games practically every night from now until March, beginning with tonight’s action. Here’s a quick look at each of the weekend’s five games.

Kansas remains the Big 12 favorite, but its competition is tougher than ever. (AP)

  1. West Virginia at Oklahoma State (Friday 7:00 ET, ESPNU) – The Cowboys project as one of the league’s worst teams, but West Virginia is just a 3.5-point favorite, which should tell you something about the Big 12’s parity and the intense challenge that the road represents this season, no matter the gym. Since installing the press prior to the 2014-15 season, Bob Huggins has not lost in Stillwater, and I expect that to continue tonight. Oklahoma State’s 10-2 start in the wake of Brad Underwood’s unexpected departure is a nice story, but the Cowboys are lacking in the three key areas needed to get the best of the Mountaineers: Ball control (117th nationally), defensive rebounding (174th) and drawing fouls (291st). Those will have to change if the Cowboys are to pull the upset.
  2. Baylor at Texas Tech (Friday 8:00 ET, Fox Sports Regional) – The Red Raiders stunned the Bears in Lubbock last season to give then-first year head coach Chris Beard a big home win. Three Baylor players fouled out of that game, which saw Texas Tech head to the foul line 43 times over the course of the night. That probably won’t be the case this time around, as Baylor ranks second in the country in foul avoidance. It also means that Texas Tech will need to find a fallback plan quickly if Baylor’s zone keeps Keenan Evans, Zach Smith and Zhaire Smith from attacking the rim as effectively as they have to this point in the season. Read the rest of this entry »
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ACC Weekend Preview: December 29-31

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 29th, 2017

Finally, a full slate of ACC play has arrived! While we break down a few key match-ups heading into the last weekend of 2017, we can’t forget a huge non-conference game as well this afternoon. (All stats through games of December 28. All rankings via KenPom.)

Friday, December 29

David Padgett Gets His First Taste of Kentucky as a Head Coach (USA Today Images)

  • Louisville (#33) at Kentucky (#19). This game will always be big for both programs in the Bluegrass State, but what is on the line this year from a resume perspective also happens to matter. Kentucky’s home win over Virginia Tech is probably the best victory either team owns, and both could use another substantive non-conference win before the calendar flips to the new year. Keep an eye on how Kentucky chooses to attack Louisville’s defense today. The Cardinals allow opponents to shoot just 41.4 percent from two-point range (11th nationally), featuring two of the best shot-blockers (Anas Mahmoud, 15.5% block rate; Ray Spalding, 8.4% block rate) in college basketball. While most teams tend to lean on the three-point shot against David Padgett‘s group, that is not Kentucky’s strength. While the Wildcats shoot a solid 36.0 percent on the season from long range, they have only attempted 161 threes, or roughly 15 per game (348th nationally).

Saturday, December 30

  • Florida State (#27) at Duke (#4). The Blue Devils have played just one game — a rout of Evansville — since their surprising early December loss at Boston College. To avoid an 0-2 start in ACC play, Duke needs to once again avoid falling in love with the three-pointer. In that loss to the Eagles, Mike Krzyzewski’s team made just 8-of-30 three-point attempts. It spent long portions of the game ignoring its massive size advantage in the post in the forms of Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter, opting instead to fire away at will. If Florida State hopes to copy Boston College’s winning game plan, the Seminoles will need athletic guards Braian Angola-Rodas (42.4% 3FG) and M.J. Walker (46% 3FG) to shoot it well from distance against a defense that does a solid job defending it (34.9% 3FG).

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Pac-12 Non-Conference Reset (non-Arizona State Edition)

Posted by RJ Abeytia on December 28th, 2017

It may seem out of sync with the Holiday Spirit to practice exclusion, but we’ve spent SO much time on Arizona State already and quite honestly, their unblemished 12-0 record should be more than enough to keep Sun Devil fans happy. They have played great ball to date and, entering conference play, are sitting prettier than they have in quite some time. We’ve heard enough about the story of the year in the Pac-12, so let’s take some stock from the rest of the Conference of Champions with Pac-12 play ready to begin this week.

UCLA is the Surprise Team of the Pac So Far (USA Today Images)

Team of the Non-Conference: UCLA snatched this award away just moments before Santa and his reindeer took flight on the strength of a huge neutral court win over Kentucky on December 23. The Bruins have three wins over Power 6 teams right now (Georgia Tech, Wisconsin, Kentucky) which is second-most in the league behind… well, you already know. The Bruins are doing all this despite the suspensions/departures of three freshmen expected to contribute this year in LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley. Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh have been providing the on-court stability the Bruins were expecting, with both playing heavy minutes and logging true shooting percentages of about 57 percent. UCLA, a team with a relatively short roster, has damned the torpedoes and pushed the ball up at a pace of 74.5 possessions per game, 27th-fastest nationally. Lunardi currently lists UCLA as one of the first four out of the NCAA Tournament, but those three solid wins along with no bad losses (KenPom #29 Creighton, #33 Michigan, and #10 Cincinnati) gives it a good shot to work Pac-12 play to a decent seed in March. Credit head coach Steve Alford for moving past all the distractions and keeping things together in Westwood.

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SEC Weekend Preview: Conference Openers

Posted by David Changas on December 28th, 2017

The last weekend of 2017 marks the first weekend of conference play for several SEC teams.Today we look at a few of the compelling match-ups that lie ahead on Saturday and Sunday.

Jaylen Barford (18.5 PPG) leads an explosive Arkansas offense that is averaging 90 points per game (ArkansasRazorbacks.com)

  • Tennessee at Arkansas. What looked before the season like a relatively nondescript opening game now appears to be the marquee SEC match-up on this weekend’s slate. The #19 Volunteers, picked to finish 13th in the preseason projections, head to a sold-out Bud Walton Arena for what could be one of the best games of the entire season. Tennessee has already won four games away from Knoxville, including two road wins against ACC competition. But beating the Razorbacks in Fayetteville will require its best performance of the season. The key to this contest might be whether the Vols, which force a lot of turnovers, can do so against an Arkansas team that takes care of the ball as well as any group in college basketball.

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A Hater’s Guide to Arizona State Basketball

Posted by RJ Abeytia on December 27th, 2017

All right, Arizona State. You’ve got our attention. 12-0 is no joke, not with a road win at Allen Fieldhouse on your resume. A lofty #3 AP and RPI ranking means the Sun Devils can no longer be ignored or dismissed. A date with Arizona in Tucson where Arizona State will be ranked significantly above its rival Wildcats tells you that Netflix is not the only place where you can witness the Upside Down. Of course, in these times of instant gratification, that means every part of the Hero’s journey is accelerated, and since there’s nothing America likes to do as much as put a new face on a pedestal only to knock it down, it’s time for the backlash. Let’s talk about the most dubious aspects of Arizona State’s success and see if its profile suggests sustainability. Let’s bring the hate.

Arizona State Has Had a Dream Season to Date (USA Today Images)

First of all, Shannon Evans and Tra Holder are playing way too many minutes. Holder’s minutes in the last four games were 40, 37, 32 and 28. Trending correctly, right? Sure, as long as Longwood and Pacific are the opponents. Evans is right there with his teammate, playing just a shade under 88 percent of his possible minutes. Senior Kodi Justice is also playing 82 percent of his available minutes. Our colleague Adam Butler is right in saying that benches and depth tend to be overrated in college basketball, but at 6’1” and under 181 pounds each, Evans and Holder cannot expected to play a full season at the blistering pace the Sun Devils have set for themselves. I’ll add a corollary.  Depth quantity may not matter, but depth production does. You don’t need a 10-man rotation to win in college basketball. However, you do need to develop enough trust such that your best players aren’t pushing past 35 minutes on a nightly basis. That’s also an issue with Romello White, the 6’8” freshman forward who has provided a sorely needed inside presence for Bobby Hurley.

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The 2017-18 RTC 16: Week Six

Posted by Walker Carey on December 26th, 2017

What originally appeared to be a light week of college basketball ended up bringing about some unexpected results. The most stunning result occurred on Wednesday when #14 North Carolina was knocked off at home by Wofford. What made this upset so surprising was that the Terriers held a one-point halftime lead but never again relinquished the upper hand en route to 79-75 victory. Former RTC16 mainstay Miami (FL) also experienced a perplexing defeat, as it suffered its first loss of the season in ugly fashion to New Mexico State at the Diamond Head Classic. The Hurricanes were let down by their offense in the loss, as they shot just 34 percent from the field and sported a ghastly 4-to-14 assist-to-turnover ratio. As this past week showed, college basketball will always find a way to surprise no matter how uninteresting the schedule may at first appear. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty analysis is after the jump…

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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What’s Trending: Holiday Edition

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 26th, 2017

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

Stephen F. Austin rallied from a 13-point second-half deficit against Missouri last week to tie things up with a few minutes remaining. While the Lumberjacks ultimately fell short, they earned the respect of Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin. The first-year coach took some time after the game to let Stephen F. Austin know just what he thought of its team…

Northwestern’s Charlie Hall, also as known as the son of actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, scored his first career point in a game last week against Lewis. While the free throw will not be remembered by many, this picture after the game will go down as a legendary moment…

After Wofford beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill last week, you knew the locker room celebration would be worth seeing — and it certainly was…

Wofford‘s win against the Tar Heels was its second win over an ACC opponent this season, but this home-brewed tweet made some UNC fans feel better.

The “What Just Happened” Award of 2017 goes to Colorado assistant coach Kim English on this wacky sequence that resulted in a technical foul against Colorado.

Colorado State’s Prentiss Nixon with the buzzer-beater to beat Long Beach State…

https://twitter.com/WatchStadium/status/944711164927254528

Is that Tim Miles or Santa Claus? Either way, Nebraska’s Tanner Borchardt was happy to be given the gift of a scholarship…

https://twitter.com/BleacherReport/status/944656927300005888

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Ten Questions to Consider: Christmas Weekend

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 22nd, 2017

Other than the eight teams participating in the Diamond Head Classic, there will be a three-day break from action beginning on Sunday. Here are 10 things to watch while binging to basketball and Christmas carols on Friday and Saturday.

Texas Is a Tough Team to Figure Out (USA Today Images)

  1. How concerned should Texas be with its offense? Texas currently ranks among the bottom 20 nationally in both three-point and free-throw percentage, is 141st in adjusted offensive efficiency, and only one Big 12 team since the 2006-07 season has finished conference play with both a winning record and offense outside the top 100 (2014 Kansas State).
  2. Will the third time be the charm for Northern Iowa? Northern Iowa and Xavier met twice in a span of six days last season with the Musketeers handily winning both games. Xavier held Northern Iowa to 32.7 percent shooting on two-point attempts while forcing the Panthers’ third- and fourth-worst turnover rates last season. The one thing going for Northern Iowa? Xavier has only played one true road game so far this season (a win at Wisconsin).
  3. What will Trae Young do next? Oklahoma’s Trae Young is coming off of a 26-point, 22-assist game against Northwestern State earlier this week. The sensational freshman guard currently leads the country in both points and assists per game, and no player has finished among the top 10 nationally in both categories dating back to the 2001-02 season. Only five players have finished among the top ten in scoring and top 20 in assists over that same time period. What’s next?
  4. Has Marshall’s Dan D’Antoni found his Steve Nash? Under Dan D’Antoni, Marshall has consistently been one of the fastest-paced teams in college basketball. The high-octane offense is led by Jon Elmore. Elmore, like Oklahoma’s Young, currently ranks among the top 10 nationally in both points and assists per game. Elmore’s 23.5 PPG could see an uptick as well, as he is currently shooting a lousy 25.7 percent from three-point range — nearly 10 percent lower than his first two years at Marshall. Read the rest of this entry »
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ACC Weekend Preview: December 22-23

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 22nd, 2017

As you get set for the holidays, don’t miss a few must-watch ACC games before Santa comes down the chimney. (All ratings are via KenPom and statistics are through the games of December 21)

Friday, December 22

Syracuse Needs Quality Wins (USA Today Images)

  • St. Bonaventure (#60) at Syracuse (#52). This is an important game as Syracuse works to put together its NCAA Tournament resume. Normally non-conference wins over former rivals Georgetown and Connecticut would sparkle, but the Hoyas and Huskies are both down this year. Currently all Syracuse has to its credit is a win over Maryland. The Bonnies feature a wonderful backcourt of Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley, but, as usual, Syracuse should have a significant advantage up front. Freshman power forward Oshae Brissett has put together a three-game stretch where he has averaged 23.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per game.
  • Miami (#14) at Hawaii (#211). The Hurricanes are off to the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii this weekend, where they’ll play three games on a Friday/Saturday/Monday schedule. The original hope with this trip five time zones away was to gain a few more chances at quality wins to counterbalance a light non-conference schedule. Instead, Miami will get a true road game against a sub-200 team (Hawaii), followed by a match-up with either Davidson (#83) or New Mexico State (#92). A potential match-up with USC in Christmas Day’s title game has also lost its luster given the Trojans’ recent struggles. Scheduling woes aside, we continue to be impressed by the play of Hurricanes’ sophomore center Dewan Huell. The big man has started to figure it out, putting up a 123.3 Offensive Rating and 28.5 PER to this point in the season. His game is by no means a finished product (an 11.3% defensive rebounding rate and a 15.1% turnover rate are issues), but he has at least become the big man that Jim Larranaga desperately needed coming into this season.

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