Ten Questions to Consider: Conference Races Heat Up

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 23rd, 2018

As the first conference tournaments begin as soon as early next week, here are 10 questions I have for this weekend’s slate of important conference games.

Texas Tech is Flagging But Still Alive in the Big 12 Race (USA Today Images)

  1. How can Texas Tech keep its dreams of a Big 12 title alive? Having now lost two games in a row, Texas Tech sits a game back of Kansas in the Big 12 standings. In order to sweep the series against Kansas and knot things up in the conference race, the Red Raiders must replicate their earlier performance of dominating the offensive glass and winning the free throw battle. Texas Tech must also hope that the toe injury to leading scorer Keenan Evans has improved, as Evans has scored just six points over his last two games.
  2. Will Arizona be focused for its game at Oregon? Arizona was 10-0 in conference play last season before a 27-point loss at Oregon. This season, Arizona has been much shakier on the road, having lost close games at Washington and Colorado and barely surviving a trip to Stanford. Oregon, on the other hand, improves its points scored and allowed averages by four points per game in Eugene.
  3. Can Wichita State keep the pressure on Cincinnati? Sitting just a game out of first-place in the AAC, Wichita State travels to Dallas to play an SMU team that already has one win over the Shockers. In that loss to the Mustangs, Gregg Marshall’s team allowed them to shoot an exceptional 76 percent on their two-point field-goal attempts.
  4. Is Arkansas’s bubble close to popping? While Arkansas currently sits as a consensus #8 seed in Bracket Matrix, the Razorbacks still have three Quadrant 1 games remaining on their SEC schedule. They also have a 2-5 road record in SEC games heading into this weekend’s trip to Alabama. While Arkansas has the profile of an NCAA Tournament team as of today, a losing streak to end the season coupled with some shaky wins mean the Razorbacks’ position on the bubble is anything but safe.
  5. Will Oklahoma really lose seven games in a row? Oklahoma now sits at 16-11 overall and 6-9 in the Big 12 after an 11-1 start. During the non-conference season, Oklahoma averaged 120 points per 100 possessions while allowing just 104. Over their last 14 games, however, the Sooners are scoring just 104 points per 100 possessions while allowing 112. Kansas State comes to Norman having already beaten Oklahoma once this season — in that loss, Trae Young committed 12 of his team’s 20 turnovers, the Sooners’ worst turnover rate of the season.
  6. How can Florida stop its recent skid? Heading into this weekend’s game against Auburn, the Gators have now lost three games in a row and five of their last seven. Florida’s Jalen Hudson and Chris Chiozza have gone a combined 4-of-19 from beyond the arc during the recent losing streak. Auburn’s defense is predicated upon creating turnovers, but if Florida can manage to protect the ball, the Gators will have numerous opportunities to score.
  7. Can Ohio State regain its footing away from Columbus? Prior to its last road trip, Ohio State sat atop the Big Ten at a healthy 13-1. Recent road losses to Penn State and Michigan, however, pushed the Buckeyes into a tie for second place behind Michigan State. In the defeats, Keita Bates-Diop shot just 5-of-20 from inside the three-point line, well below his 55.5 percent two-point season average. The Buckeyes close conference play with a trip to Indiana, a trick game in that the Hoosiers have given the likes of Duke, Purdue and Michigan State all they could handle at Assembly Hall.
  8. Nebraska vs. Penn State: Which team takes a step closer to the right side of the bubble? Nebraska, with just one home loss on the season, hosts Penn State in what is likely a must-win game for both Big Ten teams. In the first match-up of this season, Penn State held Nebraska’s James Palmer to a season-low five points.
  9. Does Villanova continue to use Phil Booth off of the bench? Prior to his recent injury, Phil Booth started the Wildcats’ first 20 games of the season. In his absence, Donte DiVincenzo moved into the starting lineup and head coach Jay Wright used Booth off of the bench against DePaul. In that role, Booth scored 14 points in just 16 minutes of action.
  10. What impact will the final weekend have on the NEC’s tournament seeding? With the field for the NEC Tournament all but decided, the final weekend of the regular season becomes all about seeding. Entering Thursday’s games, second- through fourth-place is separated by just one game, while fifth- through seventh-place is likewise. With home court advantage in the tournament given to the higher seed, these final games could make all the difference when it comes to hosting the NEC Tournament Championship.
Matthew Eisenberg (143 Posts)

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