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. 
  5. Will this season be different for Virginia Tech? Virginia Tech flew out to an 11-1 non-conference record against one of the easiest schedules in the country a year ago. This season, Virginia Tech sits at 11-2 after playing an equally horrific non-conference schedule. The Hokies rank among the top five teams in college basketball in both two-point and three-point percentage, but it will be a different kind of game against a  Syracuse defense that has forced five of its opponents this season to its lowest offensive efficiency of the year.
  6. Can Boston College stay on top of the ACC? Jim Christian’s Boston College team started ACC play 1-0 by surprising Duke in early December. Having added three additional wins since the upset win, can they carry that momentum into conference play against Virginia? Ky Bowman and Jerome Robinson carry the Eagles’ offense, with both averaging over 16 points per game, but Boston College will need another strong performance in the half-court to outlast a Cavaliers’ defense that, per usual, ranks first nationally.
  7. Can Alabama put a stop to its recent troubles? Since the strange national spotlight of playing 3-on-5 in a competitive game against Minnesota, Alabama has gone just 3-3 in the interim. KenPom ranks Alabama as the fifth-most inexperienced team in college basketball, and its freshman backcourt will match up against a Texas A&M team that features a much more experienced backcourt tandem of Duane Wilson and Admon Gilder.
  8. Which team gets a leg up in the “finish no worse than second” race in the WCC? Saint Mary’s and BYU will both begin WCC play with identical records of 12-2 and without a marquee win. Given that both teams currently hover around #50 in the RPI and are within reasonable range of bubble discussion, this is an important early conference game for each. While BYU is coming off of its two most efficient defensive efforts on the season, neither Texas Southern or Portland have an All-America candidate like Jock Landale. The burly senior leads a Gaels’ offense that ranks among the top five in efficiency by scoring over 20 points per game.
  9. Can St. John’s steal a win against Seton Hall? Seton Hall rallied from 13 points down to win its conference opener earlier this week against Creighton. The Pirates are now 12-2 and rank among the top 30 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They host a St. John’s team coming off of a loss to Providence where the Red Storm could not overcome 16 made threes from Providence. Given the emotional high of a big comeback win, a New Year’s Eve date, and how Seton Hall shoots free throws (the Pirates rank outside the top 300), this could be an opportunistic spot for the Johnnies.
  10. Just how big of a difference maker is Tevonn Walker for Valparaiso? Since starting 8-1 on the season, Valparaiso has now lost four of five games including a double-figure loss to UC Riverside. During that recent poor stretch, the Crusaders were without leading scorer and rebounder Trevonn Walker. Walker contributed an inefficient 19 points and five rebounds in a conference-opening loss to Indiana State on Thursday night, but he will need to play better when Missouri State visits on Sunday. According to Michael Osipoff of the Chicago Post-TribuneWalker recently said that the team is looking to “come in [to the Missouri Valley] with a bang.”
Matthew Eisenberg (140 Posts)

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