2018-19 RTC16: Week Nine

Posted by Walker Carey on January 21st, 2019

Last week began with many observers wondering when college basketball’s last two undefeated teams — #2 Virginia and #6 Michigan — would fall from the ranks of the unbeaten. Wonder no more, as both the Cavaliers and Wolverines went into hostile road environments on Saturday and failed to leave with a victory. Michigan suffered through an uncharacteristically sloppy performance in a 64-54 loss at Wisconsin, as the Wolverines entered the game averaging just 9.5 turnovers per contest but suffered 16 miscues en route to defeat. Michigan’s offensive woes were fueled by star freshman Ignas Brazdeikis being held scoreless in 23 minutes of action, and senior swingman Charles Matthews producing only five points on a head-scratching five field goal attempts. Virginia’s trip to #3 Duke on Saturday evening appeared less daunting as the week wore on. The Blue Devils had been stunned at home by unranked Syracuse on Monday — and to make matters worse, freshman point guard Tre Jones was lost to a shoulder injury for an unspecified period of time. Duke, however, did just enough to eke out a 72-70 win over the Cavaliers, as Virginia had no answer for a pair of freshmen phenoms in R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson who combined to score 57 points. The sky is not falling for either Michigan or Virginia, of course, but Saturday showed that they have weaknesses too. It will be intriguing to see how each team responds as conference play continues in full force. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

  • Tennessee is the new #1.  When Rick Barnes was hired in Knoxville prior to the 2015 season, it was generally considered a good but stable hire after the Donnie Tyndall disaster. Less than four years later, Barnes has his Volunteers sitting at 16-1 and at the #1 spot in the RTC16. Tennessee needed every minute of Saturday’s game against Alabama to secure its fifth SEC victory, but it was able to fight off a valiant Crimson Tide second half surge to survive. A sign of a great team is when it can secure a win even without its best stuff — and that was certainly the case with the Volunteers on Saturday. Tennessee has a good chance to remain in the top spot of the polls for more than one week, as it figures to be healthy favorites in both of its upcoming games — a trip to SEC also-ran Vanderbilt on Wednesday followed by a Big 12/SEC Challenge home date with West Virginia on Saturday.
  • The top of the Big 12 is a mess. The Big 12 is arguably the most competitive league in the country, but that does not excuse #9 Kansas and #12 Texas Tech for both losing games they probably should have won. Coming off a too close for comfort home win over Texas on Monday, the Jayhawks traveled to Morgantown to take on a West Virginia squad that entered the game with an 0-5 record in the Big 12. Throughout Saturday’s contest, it appeared Kansas may not have taken West Virginia all that seriously, as turnovers and wretched shot selection plagued the Jayhawks throughout the game. While Kansas notched one win last week, the Red Raiders were not nearly as lucky. Texas Tech failed to defend its home court on Wednesday in a 68-64 loss to Iowa State and then their vaunted defense allowed over 70 points for the first time this year in a 73-62 weekend loss at Baylor. The top of the Big 12 now shows Kansas, Texas Tech, Iowa State and Kansas State tied at 4-2 in the league — and to make matters even more interesting, Kansas hosts Iowa State on Monday and Texas Tech travels to Kansas State on Tuesday. The top of the league should have more clarity as we approach the midpoint by week’s end.
  • #8 Kentucky has found its rhythm. There were certainly takes out there suggesting this year’s Kentucky team was nowhere near as talented or as good as a vintage John Calipari squad. Some early season results backed up those takes — there was the 34-point season opening loss to Duke, the overtime loss to unranked Seton Hall, and the conference opening loss to unranked Alabama. The last couple of weeks, however, have shown a different story as Kentucky has won four straight games since the loss at Alabama — the most impressive coming Saturday in a thrilling 82-80 road win against a very strong Auburn squad. The Wildcats can add even more shine to its dossier this week, as they host a solid Mississippi State squad at Rupp Arena on Tuesday before #9 Kansas comes to Lexington for the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

Poll Defense. I do not have anything against Tennessee. I think a case can be made to rank it #1. It’s just that I think Duke and Virginia are the two best teams and the next four are almost even. I think a full-strength Gonzaga is slightly better than the others and I moved Michigan State up because its 7-0 Big Ten record (against four current KenPom top 50 teams) is more impressive than Tennessee’s 5-0 SEC mark (only one against a current KenPom top-50 team). – RTC pollster Brad Jenkins, defending his decision to put #1 Tennessee at #5 in his poll.

Game of the Week. #8 Kentucky vs. #9 Kansas. Two of college basketball’s true blue-bloods will meet on Saturday night for the third time in the last four Big 12/SEC Challenge events. The Jayhawks have won the previous two games in this series, but they figure to head to Lexington as a healthy underdog. Kansas has had its struggles on the road this season, with all three of its losses coming away from Allen Fieldhouse, while Kentucky has yet to suffer a setback at Rupp Arena. The match-up to keep an eye here will be how Kansas star forward Dedric Lawson can operate in the post against Kentucky’s interior depth. Lawson is the key to everything Kansas tries to do offensively, so if the Wildcats can contain him and force the other Jayhawks to become the focal point, it is likely Kentucky will emerge with an impressive resume-enhancing home victory.

Keep Tabs On. #5 Michigan State vs. #9 Maryland; #7 Virginia Tech vs. #14 North Carolina; #9 Kansas vs. Iowa State; #8 Kentucky vs. Mississippi State; #12 Texas Tech vs. Kansas State; #5 Michigan State vs. Iowa; #6 Michigan vs. Indiana; #5 Michigan State vs. Purdue.

Conference Call: ACC (4), Big Ten (3), Big 12 (2), Big East (2), SEC (2), WCC (1), Mountain West (1), MAC (1).

WCarey (299 Posts)

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