Big 12 Temperature Check

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 12th, 2019

While the ACC and Big Ten continue the absolutely farcical exercise of playing conference games before all non-conference games are in the books (and make no mistake, that’s what it is), the Big 12 is among the power conferences still cutting their teeth against non-league foes. As we hit the quarter-pole of the season, it’s a good time to take a look around the league and make some quick but measured evaluations.

Bill Self is Amused By Your Doubts (USA Today Images)

Kansas still looks like a title contender. Before the season, Bill Self proclaimed that the NCAA’s notice of allegations was going to “motivate [him] in a pretty competitive way,” and the results on the court to date are bearing that out. The Jayhawks sit at 8-1 with an impressive set of victories and appear to be getting better by the game. Most notably, Udoka Azubuike‘s improved physique has helped him stay effective on offense, and it’s serving as a foundation for improved defensive play. The big man is committing just 3.1 fouls per 40 minutes while blocking just under two shots per game. There are other positives, of course. Devon Dotson has picked up right where he left off; Marcus Garrett has been a completely different player than the one whose performance against Duke led so many to question the viability of Kansas’ backcourt; and Ochai Agbaji is playing like an upperclassman in what was supposed to be his freshman season. The play of those four have allowed complementary pieces like David McCormack, Tristan Enaruna and Isaiah Moss to stay in those roles a year after personnel issues and injuries forced Self’s hand into relying more on K.J. Lawson, Charlie Moore and Mitch Lightfoot than he had planned. The Jayhawks do have a few things to iron out, particularly their perimeter defense and ability to stretch the floor, but in a volatile year atop the polls, Kansas is more than holding their own.

Baylor could be right there with them, but the Bears have some work to do. No, I’m not talking about their resume, which includes three wins over top-20 teams over a three-week stretch. Scott Drew’s team scored just 86 points per 100 trips in the wins over Arizona and Butler, teams which more closely resemble the Big 12 foes that await them come January than the dregs on which Baylor has feasted elsewhere. The Bears are one of the most physical teams in the country, making scoring a chore for every opponent it has faced thus far, but the offense needs to be more consistent against the best the schedule has to offer. Jared Butler is living up to the hype, but here’s hoping Tristan Clark isn’t out for long.

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ACC Stock Report: Volume II

Posted by Matt Auerbach on December 10th, 2019

With the intra-league docket on pause until New Year’s Eve, now is a good time for coaches to take a breath and evaluate where their teams sit in the wake of just completed holiday tournaments and the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Finals and the holiday season dilute most schedules prior to the reconvening of the ACC slate, but there are still a few games with intrigue on the horizon. One of those occurs tonight, featuring the team that has established itself as perhaps the favorite to capture the league title.

Stock Rising: Louisville

Louisville is the Early Favorite in the ACC (USA Today Images)

I had some reluctance to fully buy in to this Louisville ensemble being the league’s best team, but given its performance through nine games, it may be time to cede to the results. The Cardinals were barely tested in seven November victories, winning all but one of those contests by double figures, while defeating zero top-80 KenPom teams. However, in vanquishing Michigan, a team that ran roughshod over stiff competition on its way to winning the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament, the Cardinals definitively proved worthy of inclusion among the nation’s elite.  Chris Mack’s squad is doing it on both ends of the floor, the only team nationally inside the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency. A microcosm of that balance is the team’s best player Jordan Nwora, who is about as an efficient three-level scorer as there is in college basketball. The 6’7” junior forward, who tested the draft waters last summer, is also excelling on the defensive end and on the glass, and is currently the leader in the KenPom Player of the Year standings.

In a year devoid of dominant outfits, consistent output needs to be acknowledged, and thus far, no one in the league has come close to the Cardinals’ level of consistency. Tonight, they get another chance to prove their worthiness of the nation’s top ranking against last year’s national runner-up, Texas Tech, at Madison Square Garden. Get past that, and it should be an undefeated Louisville entering Rupp Arena to face intrastate rival Kentucky on December 28.

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2019-20 RTC16: Week Four

Posted by Walker Carey on December 10th, 2019

Around this time in the calendar every season, a team grabs national attention for, not just piling up wins, but piling up those wins in a demonstrative manner. That team in this season is #2 Ohio State. The Buckeyes are now 9-0 after a 25-point win at North Carolina and a 32-point win over Penn State in its Big Ten opener. Since an eight-point win over Cincinnati in the first game of the year, Ohio State has won every one of its contests by at least 19 points. The most remarkable aspect of Chris Holtmann‘s group is how balanced it is, with six different players averaging at least eight points per game — led by junior big man Kaleb Wesson at 14.1 PPG and sophomore guard Duane Washington Jr. at 11.4 PPG. The Buckeyes got off to a 12-1 start last season before fading down the stretch and needing a win in the Big Ten Tournament to comfortably earn an NCAA Tournament bid, so their hot start this season is not unprecedented. Having said that, there has been nothing about this season’s Ohio State team that suggests that another swoon in conference play is coming. The Buckeyes have established themselves as a terrific team that should be one everyone’s radars as a legitimate national title contender. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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What’s Trending: Big Ten/ACC Challenge And More

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 9th, 2019

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

The month of December tipped-off with the ACC/Big Ten Challenge leading the way. Each league picked up a victory on the opening night of the challenge, which set up a big second day of action. Indiana moved to 8-0 after beating Florida State, with Devonte Green posting a career-high 30 points. Archie Miller’s squad shot a sterling 60 percent on two-point attempts and 46.7 percent on three-point attempts, both season-high marks for Seminoles’ opponents.

In a rematch of an NCAA Tournament game from last season, Duke headed to East Lansing to take on Michigan State. While the Blue Devils were without Cassius Stanley, they ran into no problems with the Spartans. Vernon Carey and Tre Jones combined to score 46 points on 14-of-29 shooting.

Some of Michigan State’s struggles come from the inconsistent play of sophomore Aaron Henry. After averaging 13.3 PPG through his first five contests, Henry has scored just nine points over the last two. Against Duke, Henry was held to two points on two field-goal attempts in just 21 minutes of action.

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Ten Questions to Consider: A Weekend of Statement Games

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 6th, 2019

Over the next three days action on the hardwood includes conference games, battles among intrastate rivals, and teams looking to either snap skids or prove they are the real deal. Here are 10 questions I have for what’s to come over a busy college basketball weekend.

  1. Will Gonzaga be able to get out in transition? (Gonzaga @ Washington, Sunday, 7 PM EST, ESPN2) Nearly a third of Gonzaga’s shots have come in transition this year, representing a top-20 rate on the season. The Zags will be up against a Washington zone defense that has only allowed three squads a lower rate of shots in transition.
  2. What will Cole Anthony vs. Virginia’s defense look like? (North Carolina @ Virginia, Sunday, 4 PM EST, ACC Network) The freshman star struggled against Ohio State earlier this week, going 0-for-7 from inside the arc. With Armando Bacot dealing with an injury, how will Anthony perform against the nation’s best defense?
  3. Can Vernon Carey, Jr. continue to mirror the freshman season had by Jahlil Okafor? (Duke @ Virginia Tech, Friday, 7 PM EST, ACC Network) Through Vernon Carey’s first nine games at Duke, he has scored 11 more points, grabbed six more rebounds and blocked seven more shots than former Duke great Jahlil Okafor. In Okafor’s first ACC game, he logged 28 points, eight rebounds and four blocks against Boston College — what will Carey do against Virginia Tech?
  4. How does Michigan respond from its lackluster Big Ten/ACC performance? (Iowa @ Michigan, Friday, 6:30 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) After making 33 three-pointers on 47 percent shooting in their three games at Atlantis, the Wolverines shot a season worst 15.8 percent from deep against Louisville. It led to Michigan posting its worst single-game offensive efficiency total since a Big Ten Tournament loss against Wisconsin in 2008.
  5. Will there be a home court advantage for this under the radar, mega-matchup? (Arizona @ Baylor, Saturday, Noon EST, ESPNU) Just as the basketball tips at the Ferrell Center on Saturday afternoon, Baylor’s football team will be kicking off in its Big 12 title game. The Bears are offering free tickets to anyone who wants to watch the match-up with Arizona, which includes a dazzling backcourt battle of Nico Mannion vs. Baylor’s plethora of guards.
  6. What will the Crosstown Shootout look like without Mick Cronin on the sidelines? (Cincinnati @ Xavier, Saturday, 5 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) For the first time in 13 years, the Cincinnati/Xavier rivalry will not include either Mick Cronin or Chris Mack. Can new Bearcats’ coach John Brannen do something that Cronin never did and win at Xavier? The Musketeers have won each of the past seven home match-ups.
  7. Quite simply, will the free throw line be the deciding factor in USC-TCU? (USC @ TCU, Friday, 9 PM EST, ESPN2) Entering play on Thursday, both USC and TCU ranked outside of the top 240 nationally in free throw percentage. In USC’s nine-point loss against Temple, the Trojans went 11-of-20 at the line. In TCU’s only loss — an overtime loss against Clemson — the Horned Frogs missed eight of their 15 free throw attempts.
  8. Can Wisconsin fix its troubles around the three-point line? (Indiana @ Wisconsin, Saturday, 4:30 PM EST, Big Ten Network) Greg Gard’s Badgers are in the midst of a three-game losing streak in which the Badgers have shot a measly 18.4 percent on 76 three-point attempts. Wisconsin’s three-point attempt rate is up nearly 10 percent from last season, while their success rate is down six points. They get an undefeated Indiana team which includes a red-hot Devonte Green from deep.
  9. Who will win the battle at the rim at Allen Fieldhouse? (Colorado @ Kansas, Saturday, 7 PM EST, ESPN2) According to Hoop-Math, Kansas has logged 45.9 percent of its shots at the rim, a top-10 rate nationally. On those attempts, the Jayhawks are converting a robust 68.3 percent. Defensively, only a few teams in the nation allow more shots at the rim than the Colorado defense. That said, Tad Boyle’s squad holds opponents to a field goal percentage of just 46.3 percent at the rim — a top-20 ranking.
  10. Can DePaul continue to use turnovers its advantage? (Buffalo @ DePaul, Sunday, 5 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) DePaul looks to start a season 10-0 for the first time since the 1986-87 season (when it began 16-0). The Blue Demons own a top-50 defensive turnover rate, which has led to double-figure points off turnovers in each of its first nine games.

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The 2019-20 RTC16: Week Three

Posted by Walker Carey on December 3rd, 2019

It seems like every Feast Week there is a team or two that establishes itself as a legitimate national contender — that was no different this year as #2 Michigan and #5 Maryland both made it known that they will be forces to be reckoned with for the rest of the season. The previously unranked Wolverines put together the most impressive performance of Feast Week with a championship run at Battle 4 Atlantis, as Juwan Howard‘s squad magnificently ripped through Iowa State, #8 North Carolina, and #7 Gonzaga en route to the tournament title. It was fair to have concerns about Michigan this preseason, as legendary former coach John Beilein departed for the NBA and was replaced by Howard, who had no previous experience coaching college basketball. The Wolverines’ returning core has done a commendable job in fully easing those concerns, as senior point guard Zavier Simpson looks to be one of the best ball distributors in the country and former role players Eli Brooks, Isaiah Livers and Jon Teske have emerged as key pieces in an offensive attack that ranks third in the country. The Terrapins were also victorious in a Feast Week tournament, knocking off Temple, Harvard and Marquette en route to the Orlando Invitational title. The championship game was especially noteworthy, as Maryland’s defensive effort limited Marquette scoring machine Markus Howard to just six points in an 84-63 victory. The backcourt had led the way to its 8-0 start with Anthony Cowan Jr., Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins all averaging over 10 points per game. The Terrapins have had early season hype before in the Mark Turgeon era, and while that failed to materialize for a variety of reasons, this Maryland team — with its strong backcourt and solid interior play — appears like it should be able to buck that trend. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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What’s Trending: A Feast Week Stuffed With Action, Intrigue & Upsets

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 2nd, 2019

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

The first month of the season has been completely wild and unpredictable. The only thing that everyone seems to agree on is that there is no dominant team this season — the notion that anything is possible and that the top 10 will shuffle all season long — well, it continued this week.

Duke entered the week as the #1 ranked team in the nation. Prior to this week, the Blue Devils had won 150 consecutive non-conference games at Cameron Indoor Stadium. As a 27.5-point favorite against Stephen F. Austin, Duke had four starters score 15 or more points; it shot 50 percent from the field as a team; and it won the battle on the glass. That said, this is college basketball, and chaos is to be expected. As the clock ticked down in regulation, Duke had the ball and a chance to win a tie game…

https://twitter.com/SportsCenter/status/1199544108815130625?s=20

While things did not go Duke’s way at the end of regulation, the first four minutes and fifty seconds of overtime were mostly uneventful. Both Duke and Stephen F. Austin had scored just two points. With the clock winding down, Duke again had a chance to win the game… once again, though, chaos ensues…

https://twitter.com/SportsCenter/status/1199678832585916417?s=20

Chaos and upsets were not limited to the top spot. In Maui a few days earlier, #3 Michigan State found itself trailing by 10 points against Virginia Tech with 4:39 to go, but a 15-6 run had cut the Spartans’ deficit to just a single point. That is when Landers Nolley hit a dagger. The Hokies’ freshman is now averaging 20 points and 5 rebounds per game, while making over three three-pointers per game on better than 50 percent shooting.

The drama in Maui continued into the title game. Dayton, already with wins against Georgia and Virginia Tech, found itself trailing by three points again #4 ranked Kansas late. In a possession which really was not going anywhere, Jalen Crutcher came up clutch to force overtime. While Kansas ultimately would go on to win the championship, it represented yet another scare for a top-five team.

The Battle 4 Atlantis entered Feast Week as the marquee event and it certainly did not disappoint. In his first year as coach, Juwan Howard and his Michigan squad made a statement. After getting by Iowa State, the Wolverines simply manhandled North Carolina. The Tar Heels jumped out to an early 16-7 lead, but a 53-20 Michigan run broke the game wide open.

Then Michigan found itself in the title game against Gonzaga. Not to be outdone by its previous performance, Big Blue held the Zags to 37.7 percent shooting from two-point range, the lowest such percentage from a Gonzaga team since the Bulldogs’ 30 percent outing in the 2017 National Championship game against North Carolina.

https://twitter.com/umichbball/status/1200518929623347201?s=20

While Gonzaga fell short in the title game of that event, Mark Few‘s squad picked up a quality win against Oregon. One thing to watch moving forward for the Zags is this team’s depth. In their opening win over Southern Mississippi, Anton Watson was injured and he missed the rest of the tournament. While Killian Tillie played in the last two games, he also missed the opener. A player who has struggled to stay healthy in the past is already dealing with bumps and bruises early this season.

https://twitter.com/marchmadness/status/1200190352931598336?s=20

Texas Tech spent Feast Week in Las Vegas as part of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational. Unfortunately for the Red Raiders, their three-point shooting did not make the trip from Lubbock to Sin City. After beginning the year shooting 42.3 percent from deep in the team’s first five games, Tech made just 4-of-24 in their opening loss to Iowa.

One night later, an 8-of-30 three-point night, along with a dazzling performance by Creighton’s Marcus Zegarowski, sent Texas Tech home with an ugly 0-2 trip in Las Vegas.

The Emerald Coast Classic featured top-20 Tennessee and VCU, along with Purdue and Florida State. The four games played between the teams all ended with a margin of victory of three points. On the opening night of the tournament, Florida State held Tennessee’s Lamonte Turner to 4-of-14 shooting and eight turnovers in a close Seminoles win.

On the same day, VCU found itself down three points to Purdue with the chance to tie the game. It was a game in which the teams combined to turn the ball over 39 times and made just 7 of their combined 33 three-point attempts.

A day later, Tennessee and VCU were battling to the buzzer. With the game tied at 69-all, Lamonte Turner knocked down this corner three to win it for Tennessee. Will Wade’s Rams finished the tournament 0-2, with a pair of tough, closely decided games.

Feast Week was highlighted by more than just ranked teams going down. With eyes glued to games everywhere, big time players had some big time performances.

In Maui, Georgia’s Anthony Edwards delivered. The Bulldogs trailed Michigan State by 19 points at the half, a half in which Edwards scored just four points on 1-of-8 shooting. But the final 20 minutes brought a different Edwards to the floor that resulted in 33 points on 10-of-18 shooting, Anthony Edwards gave Georgia a chance, while showing to NBA scouts that the highly regarded freshman warrants all of the attention that has been put upon him.

A day later, Tom Crean’s team found itself tied with host Chaminade. With the clock winding down, Edwards put an end to any hope of a Silverswords upset.

The Orlando Invitational brought the very best out of Marquette’s Markus Howard. A night after scoring 40 points in a win over Davidson, Howard tore apart the USC defense to the tune of 51 points. The senior All-American became the only Division I player in the past 20 seasons with multiple 50-point games.

North Carolina’s Cole Anthony put on quite the display over an in-game stretch of two minutes late in the first half against Oregon. First, the freshman phenom had his defense lead to offense in this sequence…

Moments later, Anthony was back making a statement defensive play. This time, the 6’3″ guard rose up and turned away Oregon’s 6’7″ Shakur Juiston at the rim…

The brilliant play of freshman guards extended west to Anaheim, where in the closing seconds of the Wooden Legacy opening round, Arizona found itself tied to Pepperdine. With 7.6 seconds left in a tie game, freshman guard Nico Mannion had the ball in his hands…

Freshman aside, the Maui Invitational was a place where Dayton’s Obi Toppin shined bright. In the Flyers’ three games, Toppin averaged 22.3 points (69.4 FG%) and seven rebounds per game. While Kansas got the best of Dayton in the game, Toppin’s reaction to this shot should have his future opponents on notice.

Off the court, the wild week that was can best be summed up with the story of Stephen F. Austin’s Nate Bain. The Lumberjacks’ hero in the win over Duke comes from a family that was devastated by Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas. A GoFundMe for the Bain family exploded with donations following his heroics against the Blue Devils.

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Virginia Picking Up Right Where It Left Off

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 26th, 2019

A week ago on the Eye on College Basketball Podcast, hosts Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander started a benign dialogue aiming to contextualize the greatness of Virginia head coach Tony Bennett. It began with the duo opining on how many games Bennett would be able to win against the Cavaliers’ 2019-20 schedule with a top-10 level Division II roster, and evolved into a more interesting and reasonable hypothetical — how high would Bennett finish with the roster that Danny Manning has at Wake Forest? Neither was willing to pick a Bennett-coached Demon Deacons’ squad lower than sixth, with Norlander capitulating that he could envision a scenario yielding a team that could crack the league’s top four. Such is now the universal adulation of Bennett’s prowess that none of the proclamations of his greatness, in this context or others, feels hyperbolic.

Tony Bennett is a Pundit’s Dream Coach (USA Today Images)

A year ago at this time, despite the fresh wounds of the ignominy of being the first #1 seed to ever lose an NCAA Tournament game to a #16 seed, Bennett was still thought of as one of the games’ premier coaches. The questions remained, fairly or not, however, whether his style could yield a National Championship, a question ultimately put to bed forever last April. With all the subsequent roster turnover (Virginia lost its top three scorers, all three with eligibility remaining), it was fair to expect the Cavaliers to retreat substantially this year — but early returns suggest otherwise.

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The 2019-20 RTC16: Week Two

Posted by Walker Carey on November 25th, 2019

It is not uncommon for teams breaking in new pieces to experience some peaks and valleys early in the season, but that does not appear to be the case thus far for #2 Duke and #6 Virginia. The mostly new-look Blue Devils rode a star in the making turn from freshman big man Vernon Carey Jr. to throttle California and survive an inspired effort from Georgetown at the 2K Empire Classic at Madison Square Garden this weekend. Carey was far and away Duke’s best player, contributing averages of 25.5 points and 11.0 rebounds to the winning efforts. With most of the scoring production from last season’s national championship squad now gone, Virginia has relied on its famous defensive intensity in its 6-0 start. The Cavaliers suffocated Massachusetts on Saturday en route to a 58-46 win, and then brought that vigor up another another level Sunday when they held Arizona State to just seven points over the final 11:33 in a plodding 48-45 victory. While Virginia’s offense still needs some work, it did receive a noteworthy contribution from freshman guard Casey Morsell, who tallied 19 points against the Sun Devils. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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What’s Trending: A Busy Week For the NCAA

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 25th, 2019

It was a busy week in Indianapolis at NCAA headquarters. After going back and forth with Memphis on the status of James Wiseman, the NCAA settled on a penalty of 12 games.

While some wanted to argue whether the suspension was warranted and others felt it was head coach Penny Hardaway who deserved the punishment, there is no argument when it comes to the NCAA’s decision to force Wiseman to repay the $11,500 his family was given…

In addition to the Wiseman saga, the NCAA dropped Level 1 allegations against Oklahoma State. The FBI probe into college basketball continues to makes headlines here…

But let’s not stop there! While the entire offseason was not quite enough time for the NCAA to make all of its rulings on transfer eligibility cases, the NCAA was busy this week.

There was Joey Hauser’s decision…

There was Micah Potter’s decision…

and there was the decision on Joel Ntambwe

Each decision by the NCAA resulted in reactions from the head coach at each school.

Greg Gard expressed his displeasure in a postgame speech…

Tom Izzo decided the Hauser decision was enough of a reason to resign from the National Association of Basketball Coaches Board of Directors…

…and Chris Beard made a statement following the Ntambwe decision.

On the court this week, there was the usual November wackiness. No game though had more of that than Toledo/Notre Dame. There was this offensive foul on John Mooney — a call that Mike Brey and the rest of the nation are still trying to figure out.

But the wackiness did not stop with there. Down three with under 10 seconds to go. Notre Dame found itself at the free throw line. A missed foul shot led to this crazy sequence, wedgie included.

This week had upsets, including Hofstra taking down UCLA at Pauley Pavilion…

We had big-time players making big-time shots to win a game…

We had an exempt tournament taking place in a ballroom…

We had an ankle-breaking move lead to this wide-open three for Auburn’s Samir Doughty

https://twitter.com/SECNetwork/status/1196809155383889921

We had meaningless baskets with all too much importance for some…

https://twitter.com/ChrisVernonShow/status/1198339656972152838?s=20

…and not just once, but these are of course, everywhere…

We had this moment with Cassius Winston thanking the crowd for all of the support his family has received following the death of his brother…

And we saw something new with this, “the Flap Counter”…

A reminder to everyone though…

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