Ten Questions to Consider: Conference Play Heats Up

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 6th, 2018

As we turn the corner into 2018 and settle into conference play, let’s examine 10 questions heading into a busy weekend.

Texas Tech Looks to Build Off Its Huge Upset Win in Allen Fieldhouse (USA Today Images)

  1. Big 12, Part 1: Will Kansas leave Forth Worth with one or two conference losses? While Kansas was picked once again to win the Big 12 in the conference’s preseason poll, the Jayhawks are in serious danger of losing two of their first three conference games. Earlier this season, head coach Bill Self noted that “this is the softest team that Kansas has had since I’ve been here. Things have not improved since those remarks as Kansas currently owns the second worst defensive efficiency in the Big 12 and ranks last in opponents’ rebounding rate through two games.
  2. Big 12, Part 2: Who will stay undefeated at the top? While Trae Young shines every night out for the Sooners, Oklahoma has also received consistent contributions from his sidekicks Kameron McGusty, Christian James and Brady Manek. West Virginia will represent the Sooners’ second opponent this season with a defensive efficiency within the top 50. The Mountaineers will get an offensive boost with the return of Esa Ahmad, who was second on the team in scoring last year.
  3. Big 12, Part 3: Should Texas Tech be concerned with Kansas State? After beating Kansas in Lawrence earlier this week, Texas Tech is riding high with a 2-0 record in Big 12 play. With games to come next week at Oklahoma and versus West Virginia, it would be easy to overlook a Kansas State team that lacks a true marquee win. But the Wildcats have four double-figure scorers and are a year removed from having already beaten Texas Tech. Beating Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse was a program-defining win, but it will lose some of its luster if Texas Tech fails to show up against Kansas State.
  4. How will Notre Dame look without Bonzie Colson? While Notre Dame did not miss a beat without the services of an injured Bonzie Colson against NC State, the Irish must now deal with a tricky road game against the Syracuse 2-3 zone. ESPN.com‘s Jeff Borzello reported earlier this week that Colson — who accounts for approximately a quarter of Notre Dame’s points and rebounds this season — is likely to miss eight weeks with a foot fracture. TJ Gibbs stepped up with 22 points in the Irish’s first game without Colson, his fifth time with at least 20 points this season.
  5. Who in the SEC can grab an important early conference road win? Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky and Mississippi State all have road games today. Dating back to the 2016 season, SEC home teams have won 63 percent of their conference home games. Kentucky in particular faces a swift test in a Tennessee team that ranks among the top 20 nationally in defensive efficiency. A key in all of these games will be free throw shooting, as Florida is the only road team among the bunch to rank among the nation’s top 230 in that metric.
  6. Is Arizona State suddenly in trouble? After rallying late on Thursday night to force overtime at Colorado, Arizona State went on to lose its second consecutive conference game. Since Utah joined the Pac-12, Arizona State is winless in five trips to Salt Lake City, with an average margin of 27 points per game. On the season Arizona State has shot 36.7 percent on its three-point attempts and 52.7 percent inside the line, but in the Sun Devils’ two recent losses they have shot just 29.3 percent and 42.2 percent, respectively.
  7. Which SMU team shows up against Cincinnati? SMU is 11-0 at home this season and 1-3 away from Moody Coliseum. Coming off of a three-point loss at Tulane, the Mustangs must now play against the conference favorite in Cincinnati.  The play of senior Ben Emelogu has been up and down this year. Emelogu started December with five consecutive games of double-figure scoring, but since conference play has begun he has maxed out at seven points. If SMU intends to compete for an AAC title, it must find a way to win games away from home.
  8. Will Rhode Island avoid a road trip letdown? Much like SMU, Rhode Island has also much preferred playing at home this season — the Rams are 9-0 at home and 1-3 away. Rhode Island must deal with a George Washington team that has also played much better there than on the road (home +/-: +4.8; road: -16.8). The good news is that Rhode Island has been superb in defending the three-point line lately, having held six of its last eight opponents to under 27 percent from long range.
  9. Will Butler rebound with a win against Seton Hall? After beating top-ranked Villanova last weekend, Butler could not recover from a slow start in its subsequent game against Xavier. In last season’s Big East finale, the Bulldogs lost at home to Seton Hall behind 20 points and 16 rebounds from Angel Delgado. Butler’s Paul Jorgensen could be the difference-maker this time around as he is hitting 50 percent of his three-pointers at home compared with 31.2 percent away from Hinkle Fieldhouse.
  10. Will Villanova show signs of defensive improvement? Villanova’s last two outings have been its two worst games defensively in terms of efficiency and points allowed. While the Wildcats rank among the top 30 nationally in defensive efficiency this season, that performance is partially driven by being slightly above average in forcing turnovers and limiting offensive rebounds. Villanova will be tested defensively against a Marquette team that possesses two of the nation’s top 20 scorers in Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey.
Matthew Eisenberg (143 Posts)

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