The 2019-20 RTC16: Week One

Posted by Walker Carey on November 18th, 2019

It is unusual to see a college basketball team begin its season experiencing the highest of highs and shortly following that up with a truly head-scratching defeat. But that was certainly the case with how #10 Kentucky began its year. The Wildcats earned a very impressive victory at the season-opening Champions Classic by riding a game-high 26 points from star freshman Tyrese Maxey to knock off #2 Michigan State, 69-62. Kentucky then followed up that victory with a 42-point mauling of Eastern Kentucky. After those two wins, everything seemed to be right on schedule for John Calipari‘s squad, but that came to a screeching halt last Tuesday when the Wildcats were upset by 25-point underdog Evansville in a 67-64 loss in Lexington. It is still just November and, per usual, Kentucky is still breaking in some new parts, but losing to a team that was picked to finish eighth in the Missouri Valley Conference only a week after beating a team of Michigan State’s caliber shows the Wildcats will go through some growing pains this season. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Ten Questions to Consider: A Weekend of Non-Conference Questions

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 15th, 2019

The second full weekend of college basketball is upon us. A weekend that is highlighted by a battle of Wisconsin and several other compelling match-ups between power conference opponents. Here are 10 questions I have for the slate of action.

  1. Which Marquette defense shows up against the Badgers? (Marquette @ Wisconsin, Sunday, 1 PM EST, FS1) Marquette trailed by 13 points at the break earlier this week against Purdue before rallying to win by 10. In the first half, the Golden Eagles’ defense allowed Purdue to shoot 44 percent from the field and make five three-pointers. In the second half, Marquette held Purdue to just 20 percent from the field that included only a single made three.
  2. How will Admon Gilder fare against his old team? (Gonzaga @ Texas A&M, Friday, 9 PM EST, SEC Network) After playing three years with the Aggies, Gilder is now in his first year at Gonzaga where he has gone 7-of-16 from behind the arc. Through the opening week-plus of action, Gonzaga has logged the nation’s best effective field-goal percentage.
  3. Can Minnesota end its skid by winning at hostile Utah? (Minnesota @ Utah, Friday, 9 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) A pair of second half collapses against Oklahoma and Butler have the Golden Gophers sitting at 1-2 heading to Salt Lake City. Minnesota’s bench has been a sore spot in those two losses, having been outscored 35-4 in the pair of games. 
  4. Will the Gators find any consistency from beyond the arc? (Florida @ Connecticut, Sunday, 3 PM EST, ESPN) Michael White’s Gators are currently ranked 298th in effective field-goal percentage, 310th in three-point field goal percentage, and 243rd in two-point field goal percentage. Kerry Blackshear, Noah Locke and Andrew Nembhard are a combined 7-of-33 (21%) from beyond the arc. With five of their next six games coming away from Gainesville, the Gators need to find their shooting stroke.
  5. Can the young Huskies pick up another marquee W? (Washington vs. Tennessee, Saturday, 5 PM EST, ESPN+) Having already beaten Baylor, Washington heads to Toronto for a weekend game against Tennessee. Will Mike Hopkins’ zone and his Huskies’ length frustrate Tennessee’s duo of Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden? Against Jaden McDaniels and Isaiah Stewart, this is a classic matchup of youth vs. experience.
  6. Quite simply, which Pittsburgh team shows up? (West Virginia @ Pittsburgh, Friday, 7 PM EST, ESPNU) The Panthers began the season by knocking off Florida State before returning to lose at home to Nicholls State. In last season’s match-up between these teams, they combined to commit 50 turnovers (Pitt, 24), grabbed 30 offensive rebounds (Pitt, 14), and shoot 11-of-44 (Pitt 6-of-23) from beyond the three-point line. Let’s hope for a better performance this year.
  7. Will Jon Axel Gudmundsson return to form for Davidson? (UNC Wilmington @ Davidson, Saturday, 7 PM EST) After dropping its opener to Auburn, Davidson was thoroughly outplayed in its next game at Charlotte. Last season Jon Axel Gudmundsson took home conference Player of the Year honors behind his 16.9 PPG. In the opening two games, Gudmundsson has scored just 18 points total in 67 minutes of action.
  8. Just how good is freshman Zeke Nnaji? (New Mexico State @ Arizona, Sunday, 2 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) Teammates Nico Mannion and Josh Green began the year as the must-see freshman at Arizona. While both have been worthy of their preseason hype, it has also been the play of fellow freshman Zeke Nnaji who has stolen the show. Nnaji is averaging 21.7 points per game on a scorching 81.3 percent shooting from the field.
  9. What will Virginia’s defense have in store this week? (Columbia @ Virginia, Saturday, Noon, ACC Network) New year, same Cavaliers’ defense. Through two games, Virginia’s opponents have shot 12-of-48 (25%) from inside the arc, 13-of-60 from beyond it, and 5-of-11 at the charity stripe. All told, back-to-back 34-point outings for its opponents has Virginia sitting at 2-0 despite some offensive concerns of their own. 
  10. Can the Bruins get off to a quick start? (UNLV @ UCLA, Friday, 11 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) UCLA trailed at the half against both Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara before figuring things out in the second half. The Bruins are -8 in the first half and a +28 in the second half to date. This is a UCLA squad that got a huge lift from sophomore Jalen Hill, who grabbed eight offensive rebounds to go along with a career-best 22 points in the win over the Gauchos.
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ACC Stock Report: Volume I

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on November 14th, 2019

While Duke’s victory over Kansas in the Champions Classic and Cole Anthony’s historic start have garnered much of the ACC attention, there are some stories under the surface that are also worth noting. Here’s this season’s initial stock report.

Stock Rising

A Happy Derryck Thornton Has Landed at Boston College (Boston Herald)

Derryck Thornton Four years after starting his career at one of the ACC’s flagship programs, Thornton has started his final collegiate campaign at a perennial cellar dweller, looking to take advantage of a last chance to alter the narrative of a disappointing career. After reclassifying and getting to Duke a year ahead of schedule, Thornton logged an uninspiring season in Durham before ultimately opting for USC rather than compete for point guard minutes with future one-and-doner Frank Jackson. Things never really materialized as anticipated for him in Los Angeles, and now, as he watches contemporaries like De’Aaron Fox and Lonzo Ball about to sign their second NBA contracts, Thornton is looking to turn it all around in Chestnut Hill. His early returns have been dynamite. Perhaps now maturing into that five-star prospect, Thornton has piloted the Eagles to a trio of early wins, scoring a career-high 23 in the conference-opening win against Wake Forest, following that up with another 22 in a win over a talented South Florida team and handing out five assists in short minutes against High Point. Popular opinion was that this was a make or break year for Jim Christian at the school, and preseason expectations were portending an inevitable break. But a strong start by Thornton has the Eagles feeling a little bit more optimistic.

Stock Holding

Pittsburgh. It’s tough to make sense of an inconsistent 2-1 start by Pittsburgh, but maybe it should be expected given such a youthful roster. After a gritty opening win against a Florida State team that has since authored a dismantling of top-10 Florida in Gainesville, the Panthers dropped a home game to #256 Nicholls State before going back on the road to pull away late from Robert Morris. The central reason for concern regarding a potential leap for Jeff Capel’s club in year two was an inability to stretch the defense. However, in junior college transfer Ryan Murphy, Pittsburgh may have found a perfect fit to complement attack-first guards Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens. Murphy’s energy and marksmanship shot the Panthers back into the opener against the Seminoles, and his 28 points against Nicholls State nearly singlehandedly avoided the upset. The 6’2” junior has now accounted for half of the Panthers’ 18 triples through the team’s first three contests, and after drawing his first start Tuesday night, he looks to be a fixture for Capel’s squad going forward.

Stock Falling

Jim Boeheim is Already Cranky (USA Today Images)

Jim Boeheim’s Act. After his team’s dreadful opening night performance against Virginia — 34 points on 24 percent shooting — Boeheim lashed out at the ACC, which had the gall in his eyes to “grab the money” and start the season with an intra-league slate to promote the rollout of its newly launched television network. Boeheim has been at this long enough, is certainly smart enough, and is undeniably rich enough, to know that this whole thing is a television show, and that’s why his salary has risen presumably about 40 times to $2.5 million dollars a year over the span of his illustrious 44-year career. Typically, Boeheim doesn’t reach his maximum level of ornery until mid-March when he is defending a weak non-conference schedule, but the combination of opening with the reigning National Champion, and then getting spanked in front of his home crowd, really had him in mid-season form. Fortunately, the Orange will once again play a whole bunch of non-league games (all of them) inside the New York State border before really attacking the teeth of the league docket. His team won’t be any worse, because it won’t face a better defensive unit than Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers, and as Boeheim rightly alluded to, the offenses generally trail the defenses in the early part of the season. And as for Bennett, shouldn’t he have been the coach feeling slighted? His team was forced to open the season on the road at Syracuse? Not a word — just another dominant win, with no whining about it.

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Red River Rising as Texas and Oklahoma Grab Early Resume Wins

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 12th, 2019

Both Oklahoma and Texas have had their moments in the Big 12, but it would be fair to call them wildcards in recent seasons. Under Lon Kruger‘s leadership, the Sooners have finished as high as second in the conference (2015) and as low as ninth (2017). Under Shaka Smart‘s direction, the Longhorns have finished as high as fourth (2016) and as poorly as last place (2017). While the small sample caveat applies here, the early going this season has given both teams’ fanbases some reason to buy in to 2020.

Lon Kruger (USA Today Images)

Beating one of the worst teams in the Big Ten isn’t going to turn heads on a national level (nor should it), but the Sooners answered the bell over the weekend with a 71-62 semi-road win over Minnesota in Sioux Falls. Like most games around this time of year, a sloppy first half ceded to a 23-4 rager midway through the second half. Oklahoma is hardly a young team, but with the squad graduating five seniors last spring, cohesion was going to be an early question. To their credit, Brady Manek (16.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG) and Kristian Doolittle (10 points, 10 rebounds in his debut against the Gophers) have given Kruger a pair of leaders to which to turn, while Wichita State transfer Austin Reaves (17 PPG, 6 RPG) and sophomore guard Jamal Bienemy should be rotation stalwarts all season long. More tests are on the way, starting with tonight’s matchup against an Oregon State team fresh off a win over Iowa State, but more often than not Kruger can be trusted to get the most out of his players.

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This is a Different Looking Duke Team

Posted by Brad Jenkins on November 11th, 2019

After just two games, it’s obvious that this year’s Duke team is not going to look (or play) like any of head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s recent Blue Devils’ squads. His roster this season is devoid of NBA Lottery talent, so success in Durham in 2019-20 will be much more dependent on a group effort.

Sophomore point guard Tre Jones is Duke’s clear leader at both ends of the court. (AP Photo)

Typically, Duke features two players that dominate the team’s offensive touches — think Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett last season; Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter the year prior; and Jason Tatum and Luke Kennard the season before that. So far, Duke’s new points by committee approach has resulted in good balance – five Blue Devils are averaging between 10.0 and 16.0 points per game. Also, Coach K appears to be altering his traditional method of minutes distribution, i.e., playing more than seven guys. Through the Blue Devils’ first two outings, nine players are seeing more than 12 minutes of action per contest. It’s been a long time since Krzyzewski has employed this approach, a fact he acknowledged after Duke’s 89-55 win over Colorado State on Friday night. “I need to learn how to sub again.” What remains to be seen is whether the lack of a go-to scorer will cost his team in tight-game situations. There is an advantage to having multiple options that defenses must prepare for, but there are also times when somebody just needs to go get a bucket. Early signs suggest that perhaps Cassius Stanley will develop into that guy. Though less heralded than fellow freshmen Vernon Carey and Matthew Hurt, Stanley has been Duke’s most impressive rookie to date — leading the team in scoring (16 PPG), while being extremely efficient (13-of-17 FG).

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What’s Trending: The 2019-20 Season Is Underway!

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 11th, 2019

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

College basketball is back and all is right in the sports world again. The season began with the highly anticipated Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden last Tuesday. The battle of #1 vs. #2 was a tight game, but it was the play of Kentucky’s Tyrese Maxey which proved to be the difference-maker. Here is exhibit A of Maxey’s heroics…

Earlier in the night, Duke’s new dunking sensation Cassius Stanley showed off his vertical in the Blue Devils’ win over Kansas. This was a game in which Kansas turned the ball over 18 times in the first half and 28 times overall.

While Maxey and Stanley were starring at the Garden, North Carolina’s Cole Anthony set the Dean Smith Center afire in his debut….

It was also an opening night which included plenty of ACC match-ups. Syracuse and Virginia battled their way through a “first to 40” type of game. Afterward, Jim Boeheim expressed his displeasure in opening the season with a conference game…

It has been an opening week of action which has included plenty of surprises…

There was the record setting night in Salt Lake City where Utah beat Mississippi Valley State by a whopping 94 points…

There were upsets everywhere at the bottom of the Big Ten, including Merrimack getting it’s first win at the D-I level…

…and then there was Southern Utah getting the best of Nebraska in double-overtime.

https://twitter.com/marchmadness/status/1193288254679912448

The opening week also included a wild couple of hours in Memphis.

First there was the news that freshman phenom James Wiseman was ruled ineligible by the NCAA…

…and then there was the news less than an hour later that a restraining order would allow Wiseman to remain on the floor, at least for now…

Thus ultimately setting up what is sure to be a contentious battle between Memphis/Wiseman vs. the NCAA

It was an opening week which included an impactful injury.

And it was an opening week which included moments that players and fans will never forget.

In Wisconsin, there was this moment with Jerrell Moore being announced to the crowd as part of the Badgers staring lineup…

https://twitter.com/marchmadness/status/1192977717861474304

In Austin there was the career-high 20 point performance from Andrew Jones

https://twitter.com/br_CBB/status/1191938373184839686

And in Kent, Ohio, there was this moment with Kent State freshman Kalin Bennett

Then there was a showing of love and support for Michigan State All-American, Cassius Winston, who lost his brother to a tragic train accident on Saturday night.

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68 Preseason Questions For The 2019-20 Season

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 5th, 2019

Before a team can reach its ultimate goal of cutting down the nets in early April, it must find a way to become part of the field of 68. With the start of the season fast approaching, here are 68 questions I have for College Basketball Nation.

The Top 25: Questions On The Nation’s Best Teams

Tom Izzo Welcomes Back the Nation’s Most Accomplished Player (USA Today Images)
  1. With all that Michigan State is missing to start the season, might it end up being a blessing come March?
    Josh Langford is out for a while; Kyle Ahrens is dealing with an injured ankle; Joey Hauser’s status remains in the hands of the NCAA. This opens up playing time for freshman Rocket Watts and sophomore Gabe Brown. With Cassius Winston, Xavier Tillman and Aaron Henry, Sparty has plenty of elite talent on the court. These injuries just allow it to get young players even more experience in meaningful non-conference games.
  2. Can Immanuel Quickley carry over an impressive exhibition season into the regular season for Kentucky?
    After scoring more than 10 points in only six games last season, Quickley scored a team-best 16 and 15 points in Kentucky’s two exhibition games. Without Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson and PJ Washington around, Quickley’s ability to shoot from deep could be critical for Kentucky.
  3. Is Udoka Azubuike really the type of player that can carry Kansas throughout the season?
    While Azubuike has been named preseason Big 12 Player of the Year, he does not come without flaws. He committed more than five fouls per 40 minutes in each of the last two years, and is a career 39.4 percent free-throw shooter. He is extremely talented, but can he carry the load?
  4. Can Tre Jones become the leader of a less talented but perhaps more balanced Duke squad?
    Without Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, Duke must replace more than 55 points per game from last year’s team. The return of Tre Jones gives Coach K a floor general and an elite defender, but after shooting 26.2 percent from deep as a freshman, Jones went 0-of-6 from long range in Duke’s exhibition games.
  5. Will Louisville find ways to win on the road this season?
    The Cardinals were a team that went 1-3 away from home in last season’s non-conference schedule and then went 4-5 on the road in the ACC, including losses at Pittsburgh and Boston College. A team that returns a lot of talent, including Preseason ACC Player of the Year Jordan Nwora, needs to win away from the Yum! Center to have the season it hopes for.
  6. While Kerry Blackshear and Andrew Nembhard are getting all of the attention, is Noah Locke Florida’s most important player?
    Locke averaged 14 points per game in Florida’s first 11 SEC games last season, but just 5.5 PPG over the Gators final 13 contestes. He is a floor spacer and someone who could benefit on kickouts after voluminous Blackshear offensive rebounds.
  7. At Maryland, can Jalen Smith fill the shoes of Bruno Fernando?
    Bruno Fernando had 15 double-doubles last year in Big Ten play. A ferocious rebounder and rim presence on defense, Fernando was the heart and soul of the Terrapins. Jalen Smith had just three double-doubles in his Big Ten games — there’s enough around Smith to replace Fernando’s scoring, but Smith must do a better job at rebounding.
  8. How much action should Gonzaga reasonably expect out of Killian Tillie?
    After missing 22 games with an injury last year, Tillie begins the season questionable with a knee injury. For a team that needs to replace four key players from last year’s team, the Zags really need the talented and experienced Tillie to be on the floor.
  9. Freshman phenom Cole Anthony is North Carolina’s most talented player, but are transfers Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce UNC’s most important players?
    With North Carolina’s top five scorers departed, the Tar Heels need to replace plenty of scoring and experience. Freshman All-Everything Cole Anthony is the known, but it is transfer newcomers Christian Keeling (Charleston Southern) and Justin Pierce (William & Mary) who could be the difference-makers. These are two proven scorers at the college level who are now surrounded by a lot more talent.
     
  10. Will Villanova’s defense return to its old standard?
    Villanova finished Big East play with a defensive efficiency that ranked fourth last season in the Big East. It was the first time in four years that Villanova did not have the conference’s best defensive efficiency during the Big East season. Will it return?
  11. Who will be the toughest player for Virginia to replace?
    Will it be the decision making of Ty Jerome, the shot-making of Kyle Guy or the defense and scoring of DeAndre Hunter? This is a trio that collectively played in 214 games over the past two seasons. Tony Bennett’s squad will be put to an immediate test with an ACC season-opener at Syracuse.
  12. Can Sandro Mamukelashvili take another leap forward in being Seton Hall’s second option behind Myles Powell?
    Mamukelashvili averaged just 2.6 points and 1.9 rebounds per game in just under 10 minutes per contest as a freshman. Last season, he raised those totals to 8.9 PPG and 7.8 RPG in 29.4 MPG. The next step for Mamukelashvili is to improve upon his 28.8 percent three-point percentage in Big East play (52 3PA).
  13. What type of growing pains will Texas Tech’s defense go through with an influx of freshman and transfers?
    After consecutive seasons with a top-five defensive efficiency ranking, Texas Tech must replace six of its eight players who averaged at least 10 minutes per game last season. How will senior transfers Chris Clarke (Virginia Tech) and T.J. Holyfield (Stephen F. Austin) fit in and understand Chris Beard’s defensive standard?
  14. Will Memphis’ group of elite freshman gel as a team or will there be a “me not team” approach?
    The nation’s top recruiting class belongs to Memphis and Penny Hardaway. A pair of 5-star recruits and five 4-star recruits bring tons of talent to Memphis. Can Hardaway get his precocious talent to buy in and play as a cohesive team on both ends of the court?
  15. Will UNLV transfer Shakur Juiston be a difference-maker for Oregon?
    Including Bol Bol, the Ducks’ top four rebounders are gone from last year’s squad. Juiston averaged 10 boards a game at UNLV two seasons ago and 8.8 per contest last year in just eight games. Additionally, Juiston put up 14.6 points per game in 2017-18, an addition that could go a long way toward helping Payton Pritchard run the offense.
  16. Will Baylor’s Jared Butler do a better job of protecting the ball?
    As a team, Baylor finished last season ranked 257th nationally in turnover rate. Jared Butler logged a season turnover rate of 20.7 percent, which increased to an even higher 24 percent in Big 12 play. In league play, Butler committed three or more turnovers in 11 games. With Makai Mason gone, the sophomore could be handling the ball at an even higher rate this season.
  17. What type of impact will Neemias Queta’s knee injury have on Utah State?
    Mountain West Freshman of the Year and Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year Neemias Queta suffered a knee injury and his return is unknown. Sam Merrill can carry the Aggies early, but mid-November tests against LSU and Saint Mary’s become much more difficult without Queta available. A lingering injury could cost the Aggies several non-conference marquee wins, adding pressure to Mountain West play.
  18. Which point guard will have a bigger role with Ohio State this season?
    No Buckeyes returnee averaged more than two assists per game last season, and freshman DJ Carton and junior CJ Walker are both in contention to start at point guard. Carton, a top-40 recruit, scored 15 points, but more importantly dished out five assists while only committing one turnover in Ohio State’s exhibition win. Walker, a transfer from Florida State who redshirted last season, has two years of ACC experience under his belt.
  19. How will the new three-point line impact Xavier’s offense?
    The Musketeers return four players who averaged 10 or more PPG. Three of those players made 40 or more three-pointers, but Naji Marshall and Quentin Goodin each did so on sub-30 percent shooting. The NCAA is moving the three-point line from 20 feet, 9 inches to 22 feet, 1.75 inches, just so you know.
  20. Can St. Mary’s get a few key non-conference wins that have escaped them the past few seasons?
    Over the last two seasons, the Gaels have gone 2-5 against KenPom top 100 teams during non-conference play. This season, Saint Mary’s has five games on its schedule against preseason top-100 teams, beginning on opening night against Wisconsin. Saint Mary’s is a very good team, but an automatic bid out of the WCC is never a guarantee given that Gonzaga lives in the same neighborhood.
  21. Is Arizona back or is Tucson filled with more hype than hope?
    Following a 17-15 transition season, Arizona is ranked in both the preseason AP and Coaches polls. They add talented freshman Nico Mannion and Josh Green along with graduate transfers Max Hazzard (UC Irvine) and Stone Gettings (Cornell), as well as Jermari Baker (Kentucky). Returnees Chase Jeter, Dylan Smith and Ira Lee have all shown flashes, but each has been inconsistent while at Arizona. There’s ultimately a lot of “ifs” with this team that Sean Miller needs to answer.
  22. With Tremont Waters and Naz Reid gone, are Skylar Mays and Javonte Smart ready to carry the offensive load?
    Waters and Reid led LSU in scoring last season, each averaging more than 13 points per game. The Tigers managed to earn two SEC wins last season without Waters in the lineup (vs. Tennessee and Texas A&M) — in those games, Smart and Mays combined to score 80 points.
  23. What will Purdue’s offense look like this season?
    Approximately 46 percent of Purdue’s field-goal attempts last season were three-pointers, the 32nd-highest rate in the country. The trio of Carsen Edwards, Ryan Cline and Grady Eifert combined to make 285 of those shots, but each of those players is now gone. With fewer proven shooters on the roster, Matt Haarms should see even more defensive attention in the post.
  24. With Jared Harper and Bryce Brown gone, is J’Von McCormick ready to lead the Auburn backcourt?
    Harper and Brown combined to score 30.1 points per game last season, making 239 threes and dishing 308 assists. In his first year at Auburn, J’Von McCormick scored in double-figures just once prior to the NCAA Tournament. He did so twice during the tournament. In the Tigers’ exhibition win over Eckerd, McCormick dropped in a team-high 20 points.
  25. Can VCU find a way to knock down a better percentage of its three-point attempts?
    Last season, VCU shot 30.5 percent on its three-point attempts, ranking among the bottom 20 nationally. It was the Rams’ worst team three-point percentage since the 1999-00 season. In their two regular season conference losses and in Atlantic 10 Tournament loss, VCU went a combined 13-of-56 (23.2%) from deep. In an exhibition win over Virginia State last week, the Rams made an improved 13-of-33 (39.4%) from beyond the three-point line. Which is more representative?

Familiar Faces in New Places: Questions On First Year Coaches

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Big East Key Questions: Villanova and Xavier

Posted by Brad Cavallaro on November 4th, 2019

Villanova: Will the Wildcats’ offense be as effective without a clear go-to guy?

Jay Wright Wonders Where His Offense Will Come From (USA Today Images)

Villanova’s roster last season was missing a perimeter creator and Jay Wright clearly had expected 2018 Final Four MOP Donte DiVincenzo to have filled that role. Seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall were terrific on their own, but a supporting cast led by Joe Cremo and Jahvon Quinerly fell woefully short of preseason expectations. Collin Gillespie began to flourish when Booth assumed the go-to scoring role, but he looked overmatched as the lead ball-handler. Saddiq Bey and Jermaine Samuels showed great promise as well, but neither created for themselves very often.

The 2019-20 Wildcats do not have any unforeseen departures, but they did lose the only two players in Booth and Paschall who could consistently put the ball in the basket. A strong group of returnees is bolstered by an excellent freshman class, but it is difficult to see how the Villanova offense moves forward. When you factor in the fifth-year seniors’ wealth of experience and essential contributions, an adjustment period feels inevitable.

Still, most prognosticators disagree. Despite finishing 30th in KenPom last season and losing their two most productive players, the Wildcats are expected by many to be significantly better this season. Villanova has been consistently ranked as a top-10 team in most human polls and computer metrics. I expect Villanova finish closer to 20th nationally. Their defense has elite potential with great positional size and versatility, but the losses of Booth and Paschal — especially on the offensive end — are being undersold. Multiple players will need to take major leaps in their skill set development to become consistent shot creators. Freshman Bryan Antoine was the most logical candidate until his season was jeopardized with a shoulder injury. Bey and Justin Moore could fill that role eventually, but it is probably too soon to place that burden on them. Perhaps big man Jeremiah Robinson-Earl can add an interior scoring punch, but will that be enough?

Xavier: Was last year’s end of season push a mirage or a sign of things to come?

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Big 12 Key Questions: Will Kansas Return to the Top?

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 4th, 2019

You didn’t have to look at the standings last season to know that the Jayhawks weren’t their usual selves. You could throw a dart and hit a valid reason for Kansas missing out on a Big 12 15-peat: A disappointing backcourt outside of Devon Dotson; Udoka Azubuike missing 75 percent of the team’s games with a hand injury, and the frontcourt rotation behind him being terribly ill-equipped to pick up the slack; or the fact that eventual conference champion Texas Tech was flat-out better and Kansas State far more cohesive. With the page turning to 2019-20, though, the Jayhawks will look to avenge last season with a cast of bona fide challengers waiting for the league’s flagship program to stumble.

Bill Self No Longer Has the Pressure of The Streak to Worry About (USA Today Images)

Bill Self‘s team will be much deeper this season. Dedric Lawson is gone, but the Jayhawks return nearly everyone else of consequence. Though the head coach may not say so publicly, it’s tough to ignore the feeling that he isn’t all that heartbroken over losing Charlie Moore and K.J. Lawson, even if Quentin Grimes left Lawrence with a substantial amount of potential that Kelvin Sampson may tap at Houston. In their place, Isaiah Moss and Jalen Wilson should bring the scoring punch Kansas needs to put together the kinds of runs they struggled to assemble a season ago. Defensively, the Jayhawks will be deep and versatile up front. Self could surround Azubuike with another defense-first big like David McCormack or Silvio De Sousa, but with the way basketball has trended over the last few years, a small-ball option emerging among Marcus Garrett or Ochai Agbaji could be what tips the scales, provided of course that Self can keep the noise surrounding the program’s current entanglement with the NCAA from becoming a mitigating factor.

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The 2019-20 RTC16: Preseason Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on November 4th, 2019

And so it begins — that wonderful time of year when we once again find our favorite teams playing college basketball. It is a glorious time, indeed. With a sizable slate of games set to commence on Tuesday evening, we are ready to officially unveil our 2019-20 preseason RTC Top 16. This initial poll will hold for the next two weeks, but you can expect our weekly RTC16 to release on every subsequent Monday morning starting November 18. Along with the rankings will be the usual quick and dirty analysis that dives more deeply into trends that the poll reveals. To see how we did last year, check out our 2018-19 preseason poll – sure, we nailed a few (Virginia; Duke; Gonzaga; North Carolina), and missed on some others (Kansas at #1; Syracuse; Texas Tech not even receiving a vote), but we promise to do better this time around. Here is our preseason poll. Enjoy opening week!

Quick N’ Dirty Thoughts.

  • Michigan State checks in as the preseason #1 team. Fresh off its first Final Four appearance since 2015, Tom Izzo’s squad begins the 2019-20 season in the #1 spot of the RTC16. Reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Cassius Winston is back at point guard — and having a dynamic veteran talent like him as your floor general is a luxury few teams will ever experience. Junior forward Xavier Tillman also returns and appears primed to improve on a sophomore campaign where he averaged 10 points and 7.3 rebounds per game while shooting 60.5 percent from the field. Sophomores Gabe Brown and Aaron Henry showed flashes as freshmen and figure to be important pieces in their second seasons in East Lansing. In addition to the returning production, the Spartans enroll guard Rocket Watts and forward Malik Hall, both of whom enter college as elite prospects with decorated prep résumés. The only noticeable concerns for Michigan State are the departures of key role players Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins, and senior guard Joshua Langford‘s injury status. Langford, who was limited to just 13 games last season with a foot injury, suffered a setback in his recovery and will remain sidelined until at least January this season. Even with Langford’s uncertain availability, the Spartans are strong contenders to both bring home another Big Ten title and cut down the nets in Atlanta in April.
  • Defending national champion Virginia begins the season at #9. The Cavaliers are going to look significantly different than the group that fatefully responded to the UMBC debacle in the 2018 NCAA Tournament by capturing the National Championship this past April. Gone is the star-studded trio of Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter — replacing those three would be a daunting task for any team, but Virginia has maintained enough program stability over the last several seasons to make Tony Bennett‘s task much more manageable. Sophomore Kihei Clark, junior Jay Huff, and seniors Braxton Key and Mamadi Diakite each served as role players of varying degrees last season and they will all see their responsibilities increase this season. Freshman guard Casey Morsell is the new name in Charlottesville to learn. He joins Virginia — and is expected to start at shooting guard — after a highly successful prep career that culminated in the 2019 Gatorade Player of the Year award for Washington, DC. It would not be surprising to see the Cavaliers undergo some growing pains at the beginning of this season, but considering Bennett’s recent track record of developing ACC contenders, it would also not be surprising if this new-look group of Cavaliers becomes an important factor in the league race.
  • All eyes will be on #14 Memphis. When Penny Hardaway took over at Memphis prior to the 2018-19 season, it was only a matter of time before the native son used his AAU ties in both the city and beyond to stock the Tigers’ roster with elite talent. Entering just his second season on the sideline, Hardaway has enrolled the top-ranked recruiting class in the country and has brought a national interest back to the program that has been missing since John Calipari was running the program more than a decade ago. The crown jewel of that class is consensus #1 recruit, James Wiseman. The athletic seven-footer spurned Kentucky to stay home and play for his hometown Tigers. Fellow freshmen Precious Achiuwa, Boogie Ellis, D.J. Jeffries, Lester Quinones, Malcolm Dandridge and Damion Baugh were all at least four-star recruits and also project to make an early impact for what will be a young Memphis squad. Success is never a sure thing for a team that will rely so heavily on freshmen, but the talent alone will make Memphis a team to track for the entire season.

Poll Defenses.

  • Louisville returns preseason ACC Player of the Year Jordan Nwora, a wing in Dwayne Sutton who averaged 10 points per game and just under seven rebounds per game. Throw in seniors Ryan McMahon, Steven Enoch and Saint Joseph’s transfer Lamarr Kimble, and I believe Louisville enters the season with few question marks. Unlike Louisville, I have too many question marks for many of the other highly regarded teams in the preseason. Florida adds Blackshear, but losses three of its four leading scorers. I have question marks with Kansas and Azubuike. North Carolina and Duke each have tons of talent, but have to replace way too much from last year’s squads for me to give them the second spot. At the end of the day, I gave Louisville the #2 preseason ranking based off of what is coming back and a bump up in year two of Chris Mack.” – RTC pollster Matt Eisenberg on his decision to rank Louisville #2, the highest of any of the pollsters.
  • “It feels like Maryland has real potential to make a leap from a first weekend, 23-win team into a legitimate Final Four contender. The improvement en masse starts individually with senior point guard Anthony Cowan, who has been on the precipice of stardom for what feels like the better part of a year and a half. If he puts it all together in his final collegiate campaign, presumptive lottery pick Jalen Smith gives the Terps a viable second star. Sophomore Aaron Wiggins has all the makings of a player who takes a significant step forward in year two, after showing signs in spurts as a freshman — combine that with a dynamic and versatile incoming crop of talent, and Mark Turgeon has a roster with the balance and upside that is capable of making a run to Atlanta.” – RTC pollster Matt Auerbach on going out on a limb and tabbing Maryland as his preseason #3.

    Game of the Week. #1 Michigan State vs. #2 Kentucky. The top two top teams in the preseason RTC16 will meet Tuesday night at the Champions Classic in Madison Square Garden. This will be a heavyweight battle between two Hall of Fame coaches with loaded rosters that could reasonably see each other again in Atlanta next April. The individual match-up to keep an eye on here will be Spartans point guard Cassius Winston going up against Wildcats point guard Ashton Hagans. Winston is as steady as they come and his calm demeanor coupled with his elite playmaking skills is a major key to Michigan State’s success. Hagans is a hounding defender who made a name for himself as a freshman with his ability to make opposing point guards uncomfortable. Which point guard is able to get the best of the other should play a major role in determining who departs New York with a benchmark early-season victory.

    Keep Tabs On. #3 Kansas vs. #6 Duke; #7 North Carolina vs. Notre Dame; #13 Ohio State vs. Cincinnati; #9 Virginia vs. Syracuse; #5 Florida vs. Florida State; #14 Memphis vs. #16 Oregon; #11 Villanova vs. #13 Ohio State; #1 Michigan State vs. #15 Seton Hall.

    Conference Call. ACC (4), Big Ten (3), SEC (2), Big 12 (2), Big East (2), WCC (1), AAC (1), Pac-12 (1).
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