Ten Questions to Consider: Challenges In and Across Conferences

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on January 29th, 2021

The final weekend of January brings important conference tilts with teams trying to stay at the top of their leagues, others trying to end skids, and those in the Big 12 and SEC playing for conference bragging rights. With under 50 days to go until Selection Sunday, here are 10 questions I have for games this weekend:

  1. Can Iowa play enough defense to leave Champaign with a victory? (Iowa @ Illinois, Friday, 9 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) The Hawkeyes led Indiana 53-44 with 12 minutes to go last week before surrendering the lead from a 23-3 Hoosiers’ run over the next nine minutes. The Illini’s Kofi Cockburn enters this game with seven consecutive double-doubles and 11 on the season, matching Western Kentucky’s Charles Bassey for the most in the nation. Entering play on Thursday, Illinois is one of three teams to rank among the top 20 in both two-point and three-point field-goal percentages.
  2. Will Alabama exploit the percentages surrounding the Oklahoma defense? (Alabama @ Oklahoma, Saturday, Noon EST, ESPN) Over 47 percent of Alabama’s field-goal attempts come from behind the three-point line. And while they are making 36 percent of those attempts on the season, the Crimson Tide have made an SEC best 41.2 percent during a 9-0 start to league play. In this Big 12/SEC Challenge, the Tide face an Oklahoma defense that both sees opponents attempt more threes than the national average and make them at a clip of 35.8 percent, ranking 258th in the nation.
  3. Can Santiago Vescovi snap out of his recent shooting troubles? (Kansas @ Tennessee, Saturday, 6 PM EST, ESPN) Tennessee’s Santiago Vescovi is 5-of-19 (26.3%) from beyond the arc over his last four games. In all other games this season, Vescovi has gone 24-of-55 (43.6%). A hot Vescovi could send Kansas to its fourth loss in five games.
  4. Will Sharife Cooper’s excellence be slowed by the tenacious Baylor defense? (Auburn @ Baylor, Saturday, 4 PM EST, ESPN) Since becoming eligible six game ago, Auburn freshman Sharife Cooper is averaging 22.3 points, 8.7 assists and 5.0 rebounds a game. In his last game, Cooper scored 28 points in just 28 minutes, thanks in part to an 18-for-21 night at the line. Baylor’s suffocating defense led by Davion Mitchell rarely gives up looks around the rim, putting pressure on Cooper to show a three-point stroke that has not been there yet this season.
  5. How much of Boise State’s great start to the season was a product of its schedule? (Boise State @ Colorado State, Friday, 11 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Boise State began the year 13-1 overall and 9-0 in Mountain West play before dropping a game Wednesday night to Colorado State. Of the Broncos’ 13 wins, only one (BYU) has come against a team with a KenPom ranking of #175 or better. In Wednesday night’s game, Boise State had no answer for Colorado State’s David Roddy, who logged 27 points and 15 rebounds. Roddy is one of seven players in the nation averaging 16 or more points, nine or more rebounds, and two or more assists per game.
  6. Can West Virginia continue its hot shooting from beyond the arc? (Florida @ West Virginia, Saturday, 2 PM EST, ESPN) Since shooting 2-of-21 from deep against Oklahoma six games ago, the Mountaineers have made 52-of-112 three-pointers since. Miles McBride is making a Big 12 best 53 percent in league play, including 12 of his last 19 attempts.
  7. Can Missouri State throw a wrench into the Ramblers 8-1 start to MVC play? (Loyola Chicago @ Missouri State, Sunday, 3 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) Last week, Missouri State played undefeated Drake on back-to-back nights. In the first game, the Bears blew a 15-point second-half lead and on the next wasted a two-point lead with under six minutes to go. Missouri State has the MVC’s top-two scorers in Isiaih Mosley (22.9 PPG) and Gaige Prim (17.1 PPG) and the league’s top rebounder (Prim, 9.8/G).
  8. What Michigan State team will show up in Columbus? (Michigan State @ Ohio State, Sunday, 1 PM EST, CBS) Prior to Thursday night’s no-show against Rutgers, Michigan State had last played on January 8. Through the Spartans’ first six Big Ten games, they have shot 40.8 percent from the field and just 32.5 percent on three-point attempts.
  9. How far can St. Bonaventure ride its defense? (George Mason @ St. Bonaventure, Saturday, 2 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) The Bonnies are 8-1 overall and 6-1 in the A-10. With a defensive effective field-goal percentage which ranks among the top 25 nationally, St. Bonaventure is allowing an A-10 low 87.6 points per 100 possessions in A-10 games. The Bonnies are still waiting for more from the team’s leading scorer Kyle Lofton, who is just 3-of-29 from three-point range this season, a year after he made 41 percent in conference-play.
  10. Which Creighton team shows up on the road this weekend? (Creighton @ DePaul, Saturday, 8 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) Creighton overcame a 16-point second-half deficit on Wednesday to beat Seton Hall. While the Bluejays are 4-2 on the road, a pair of those wins have been by a mere two points. Creighton scores 6.7 fewer points per game on the road while also allowing its opponents to score 5.3 more points per game when playing away from the CHI Health Center.
Matthew Eisenberg (130 Posts)


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