Big East Key Questions: Part 2

Posted by Brad Cavallaro on November 25th, 2020

Note that Part 1 of Big East Key Questions can be located here.

1. Does Villanova belong in the conversation as a national title contender?

Jay Wright is Excited to Be Back in Action (USA TODAY Sports)

Villanova absolutely belongs in the conversation as a national title contender, somewhere in the top tier with Baylor, Kansas and Gonzaga. Despite losing Saddiq Bey to the Detroit Pistons, the Wildcats return four other starters including two potential All-Americans in Collin Gillespie and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. Gillespie took an enormous leap as a junior by improving his playmaking ability to go along with his reliable long range shooting. Robinson-Earl is a perfect modern center who can defend, rebound and use his quickness to attack the basket. An improved shooting stroke will make him an NBA First Round pick.

However, it is Villanova’s supporting cast that elevates it to the top. Scoring combo guard Justin Moore is due for a major breakthrough after a strong freshman season, and Jermaine Samuels is a forgotten man nationally despite his senior experience, defensive versatility, and double figure scoring at the power forward position. Even with Bryan Antoine currently sidelined, the remainder of the team has a unique mix of upside and experience. Daniels (Tulane transfer scoring guard), Brandon Slater (lockdown defender), and Cole Swider (shooter) could all emerge based on promising flashes, while backup center Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree has played meaningful minutes throughout his career. This mix of high-end talent, experience, and intriguing wildcards has Wildcats fans rightfully excited for the start of the 2020-21 season.

2. Can Providence carry over their hot finish into this season?

I’m buying Providence stock this year. David Duke is a star-caliber player that people outside the Big East seem to foolishly overlook. The Friars’ defense should remain at a high level with a Duke/Jared Bynum backcourt and a deep and experienced frontcourt, and the transfers seem to fit in seamlessly with the existing roster. Noah Horchler provides an inside-out threat, Bynum has a facilitating point guard, Brycen Goodine as a three-and-D rotation guard, and Ed Croswell as a physical presence. Ultimately it will be AJ Reeves and Nate Watson who determine Providence’s fate, though. Both had slightly disappointing seasons last year as Ed Cooley leaned on defensive-minded seniors Maliek White and Kalif Young as the year progressed. They need to be double-figure scorers who play serviceable defense which would allow Providence to utilize Reeves’ shooting and Watson’s post scoring to their full extent. The Friars have Top 25 upside and will likely return to the NCAA Tournament.

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68 Preseason Questions Heading into the 2020-21 Season

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on November 25th, 2020

We have come a long way since we last saw live college basketball action. It was an unforgettable March morning when the sports world came to a screeching halt. Now, seven long months later, COVID-19 remains a threat to the future of the sport, but it looks to charge on.

College Basketball Was Last Seen on Life Support in March (USA Today Images)

In a season full of uncertainty, there remains hope and optimism for fans, players, and coaches alike. In a year of the unpredictable, perhaps college basketball sees the unexpected as well. After all, Gonzaga has landed a top-five recruit and the preseason AP poll does not have either Duke or Kentucky in its top five for the first time since the 2008-09 season.

With the start of the season beginning in various locales around the country today, here are 68 questions I have for the season ahead.

QUESTIONS ON THE PRESEASON TOP 25

  1. With all that Gonzaga must replace, how ready will freshman Jalen Suggs be? Gone are four double-digit scorers from Gonzaga’s 31-2 team a season ago, including the team’s leading scorer and WCC Player of the Year Filip Petrušev. Enter Jalen Suggs, the highest-ranked freshman Mark Few has ever landed. Suggs will play a pivotal role in running an offense and distributing the ball to the likes of Corey Kispert, Joel Ayayi and Drew Timme.
  2. Returning most of its core, will a hot start catapult Baylor into a favorable position come March? After winning 26 games last season, Baylor returns each of its top three scorers, including the pair of Jared Butler and MaCio Teague. Both players averaged more than 13 points per game and made at least 60 three-pointers. Baylor has a chance to pad its resume early with as many as three games against top-10 teams all within the opening 10 days of the season.
  3. Will Villanova’s Jeremiah Robinson-Earl take a big step forward this season? Villanova returns much of its roster from last season, but does need to replace the production from departed leading scorer Saddiq Bey. As a freshman, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl averaged 10.5 points and 9.4 rebounds per game — he struggled in Villanova’s seven losses, however, scoring just 8.1 points per game and shooting just 28.3 percent from the field.
  4. How big of an impact will Sam Hauser make on the Virginia offense? After losing the core of its National Championship team, Virginia struggled offensively last season, finishing the year with an offensive efficiency ranking of 234th, a full 232 spots lower than the previous season. After sitting out last season, Marquette transfer Sam Hauser is eligible and will add a much needed shot-maker for Tony Bennett’s squad. Virginia must replace over 41 percent of the team’s points per game departed between leading scorer Mamadi Diakite and Braxton Key.
  5. While Luka Garza shines brightest, might the return of Jordan Bohannon be Iowa’s difference maker? With Big Ten Player of the Year Luka Garza returning and talented shooters Joe Wieskamp and Connor McCaffery back, the Hawkeyes are destined to again be an immensely talented team. Getting Jordan Bohannon back for a fifth year, though could be what the team needs to make a deep March run. Bohannon has made 40.6 percent of his 372 three-point attempts in Big Ten play and will get plenty of open looks with the talent that surrounds him.
  6. Bill Self is a magician, but how can even he replace the production of Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike? In Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike, Kansas losses a pair of consensus All-Americans, the NABC Defensive Player of the Year, and 31.8 points, 14.6 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game. Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett each showed promise at times, but neither was consistent throughout the entire season.
  7. Will the returning experience of Wisconsin give the Badgers an advantage in the Big Ten? If experience wins games, Wisconsin will be a very strong team in 2020-21. The Badgers return five of their top six scorers from last year’s team, all of whom are seniors. Greg Gard’s squad finished last season playing as well as anyone in the conference, having rattled off eight consecutive wins to end the season.
  8. Will Illinois find a way to be more consistent on the road? The Fighting Illini head into the season led by the talented duo of Kofi Cockburn and Ayo Dosunmu, both of whom have been selected to the preseason All-Big Ten team. Their 13 conference wins a season ago were the most by an Illinois team since it went 15-1 in 2004-05. Last year could have been even better had Illinois found a way to not implode in the second half in games away from the State Farm Center.
  9. The likes of Bagley, Barrett, Zion, Vernon Carey and Cassius Stanley all shined bright in their first year at Duke; will Duke have the trend of freshman stardom carry the team again? Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore were the perfect complementary pieces to Vernon Carey, Tre Jones and Cassius Stanley a season ago. Now, though, they serve as the leading returning scorers for the Blue Devils. Coach K will again need a freshman trio to take control of the team. Duke brings in another set of five-star recruits in Jalen Johnson, Jeremy Roach and D.J. Steward.
  10. Will it be the freshman or the incoming transfers that make a bigger impact for Coach Cal’s Kentucky team? To the surprise of no one, Kentucky brings in a loaded recruiting class led by a trio of five-star recruits. In typical Kentucky fashion, Brandon (BJ) Boston and Terrence Clarke are capable of carrying the Cats for long stretches. They’ll get plenty of help, though, from eligible transfers Davion Mintz (via Creighton) and Olivier Sarr (via Wake Forest).
  11. Can Creighton duplicate its Big East success from a season ago? Greg McDermott’s Creighton team returns five of the team’s top six scorers from a group that owned an adjusted offensive efficiency ranking of third in the nation. Creighton’s biggest struggles last season came in games in which Marcus Zegarowski was inefficient from the field, so keep an eye on his shot selection.
  12. What will sophomore Santiago Vescovi’s impact be for Tennessee this year? After arriving on campus after the season started, Santiago Vescovi had moments where he shined for the Volunteers and at other times looked like a freshman. Vescovi shot 36 percent on 100 three-point attempts and possessed a quality assist rate. He must cut back on turnovers, though, having turned the ball over three and a half times per game.
  13. Quite simply, how does Michigan State replace all that Cassius Winston brought to the floor? The floor general, the heart and soul, the former conference player of the year, and an all-league performer from a season ago is gone. Rocket Watts showed flashes at the end of last season, averaging 17.8 points per game over his final four games, but he needs to improve upon a 28 percent three-point shooting mark. Joey Hauser’s presence will provide an additional scorer for a Michigan State team that also loses Xavier Tillman.
  14. Can a trio of transfers offset what Texas Tech lost between Moretti and Ramsey? Last season Chris Beard used transfers TJ Holyfield and Chris Clarke as key pieces alongside Davide Moretti and Jahmi’us Ramsey. This season, Beard is hoping Mac McClung (Georgetown), Jamarius Burton (Wichita State), and Marcus Santos-Silva (VCU) can provide a similar spark via the transfer market. Each player heads to Lubbock coming off of a season averaging at least 10 points per game for their former team.
  15. Will West Virginia’s defense remain elite and carry the Mountaineers to a successful season? In the 2018-19 season, West Virginia had an adjusted defensive efficiency ranking of 135th. Last season, Bob Huggins’ team held opponents to 15 fewer points per 100 possessions en route to posting an adjusted defensive efficiency ranking of third in the nation. The defense carried a team which still turned the ball over at an alarming rate and missed far too many shots. With Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe back again, however, it’s a Mountaineers team that has the potential to be the best defensive squad in the country.
  16. Will the growth Garrison Brooks showed last season carry over to this season for North Carolina? While many teams had their season cut short by COVID-19 last March, North Carolina’s had already come to an end after an ACC Tournament loss to Syracuse finished off a disappointing 14-19 season. Through the team’s first 13 games, Garrison Brooks averaged 12.3 points per games, but over his final 19 games, he logged 19.9 points per game. With Armando Bacot returning beside him, the duo can form a tough frontcourt for opposing teams to deal with.
  17. What will the addition of Cameron Tyson to the Houston rotation mean to the Cougars offense? In the 2018-19 season at Idaho, freshman Cameron Tyson broke both the school’s and Big Sky’s freshman three-point record with 106 makes. The Cougars return their top two scorers from last season, along with three players who made at least 40 from behind the arc. After sitting out last season, Tyson will provide another bucket-getter for a talented Houston squad.
  18. Can Arizona State’s deep and talented backcourt carry a team lacking size up front? What Arizona State lacks down low, the Sun Devils more than make up with firepower from the guard and wing positions. Joining the returning fiery duo of Remy Martin and Alonzo Verge on the preseason all-conference team is five-star recruit Josh Christopher. In addition, Bobby Hurley’s team adds the nearly 18 points per game Holland Woods scored for Portland State a season ago. That quartet is as talented as any, but all stand under just 6’5″. With Romello White transferring out, the Sun Devils do not return a single player who averaged more than 3.5 rebounds per game.
  19. What is the key to Shaka Smart making it through another season at Texas? Last season’s nine Big 12 conference wins was the second most in Shaka Smart’s five seasons at Texas. The Longhorns, however, turned the ball over at a rate higher than any of Smart’s previous years in Austin. It was a contributing factor to having Texas rank as the least efficient offense in conference play. With the team’s top five scorers returning, perhaps continuity will lead to more offensive success and keep Smart in Texas beyond this season.
  20. Oregon is full of talent, but is that enough to replace Payton Pritchard? Payton Pritchard was one of three players in the country to average at least 20 points, five assists and four rebounds per game a year ago. Like Texas Tech, the Ducks bring in three transfers who have each previously averaged scoring at least 10 points per game in Amauri Hardy, LJ Figueroa and Eugene Omoruyi.
  21. How much pressure will be on freshman Scottie Barnes to carry Florida State this season? Scottie Barnes, a consensus top-10 recruit, decided to stay in-state when he picked Florida State. Having lost three of the team’s top four scorers, two of whom were drafted among the top 11 of this year’s NBA Draft, Barnes has an opportunity and Florida State has a need for the freshman to meet the high-expectations he brings to Tallahassee.
  22. Will the growth UCLA showed under Mick Cronin to end last season be there at the start of this season? Home losses to Hofstra and Cal State Fullerton had Bruins fans up in arms early in the Mick Cronin era. But after a 1-3 Pac-12 start, things suddenly clicked. The Bruins then went 11-3 down the stretch and were squarely on the bubble heading into the final weekend of the season. It’s a team that returns all of its core, including Chris Smith, while also adding Kentucky transfer Johnny Juzang.
  23. Will Ohio State have another season where they adhere to the saying, “live by the three, die by the three?” When it came to last season, 35 percent was a key indicator for the Buckeyes. When the team made more than that percentage of its three-point attempts, they went 17-1; whereas, when they hit fewer than that clip of their three-point attempts, the Buckeyes were just 4-9. The same was true defensively where Ohio State finished 16-3 when they held opponents to under 35 percent shooting from deep and just 5-7 when teams eclipsed that mark.
  24. Will returning most of last season’s roster help Rutgers see the offensive improvements the team needs? The Scarlet Knights return six of the seven players who averaged at least 6.7 points per game from a season ago. Rutgers has increased its Big Ten win total from three to five to 11 over the past three seasons. Steve Pikiell’s team has played consistently good defense over these years, but has seen dramatic rises in offensive efficiency over this time frame. With all that returns, Rutgers has a chance to take another step forward in the Big Ten and nationally.
  25. Will Michigan’s Franz Wagner show similar year-to-year growth as his brother and former Wolverine Mo Wagner? After averaging 7.4 points per game through his first 10 games, Franz Wagner finished the year averaging 13.2 points per game in mostly Big Ten play. His older brother, Mo, showed steady improvements each year at Michigan, if Franz follows in his footsteps, he and the senior trio of Eli Brooks, Chaundee Brown and Isaiah Livers can lead Michigan to another strong season.

POWER CONFERENCE TEAMS WITH INTRIGUE AND QUESTION MARKS

  1. NCAA investigations aside, just how warm is Sean Miller’s seat at Arizona? Five Level I NCAA violations, including lack of institutional and head coach control is enough to put a coach on a hot seat, but when combined with a team that underperformed last year, has a mere .500 record in the Pac-12 over the past two seasons, pressure on Sean Miller appears to be at an all-time high. After relying on freshman last year, Miller is hoping a pair of transfers can lead the way with the arrival of James Akinjo (Georgetown) and Terrell Brown (Seattle).
  2. After a disappointing season a year ago, how will the Florida Gators look this season? Mike White’s team was a consensus preseason top-10 team last season, but the team had trouble coming together and never met those expectations. Gone are Kerry Blackshear and Andrew Nembhard, but talent does return in the pair of Keyontae Johnson and Noah Locke. Last year was the first time a White-coached Florida team finished outside of the top 25 in adjusted defensive efficiency rankings, finishing the year at a disappointing 61st.
  3. Can Indiana win enough in conference play to have a successful season? Over the last two seasons, Indiana has a 19-3 record in the non-conference season, while finishing just 17-23 in Big Ten play. Conference play road tests have been especially harsh on Indiana as the Hoosiers are just 5-15 over the past two seasons.
  4. How big of a jump will the move from Radford to Louisville be for Carlik Jones? Last season, Carlik Jones was the only player in the nation to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per outing. The Big South Player of the Year has previously played against a couple of ACC opponents in the past, including games against Clemson and Maryland his sophomore year in which he showed an ability to play well against stiffer competition.
  5. Can freshman Cameron Thomas fill the void behind the arc at LSU left behind by the departure of Skylar Mays? While LSU returns three double-figure scorers from a season ago, they did lose Skylar Mays’ team leading 16.7 points per game, as well as the 13.3 PPG of Emmitt Williams. Top 25 recruit Cam Thomas, described by many as a “smooth scorer” should be an important piece for Will Wade’s team right from the start.
  6. Can Notre Dame turn things back into the right direction? Last season, with seniors TJ Gibbs, John Mooney, and Rex Pflueger combining to make 94 starts, a 20-12 record felt like a major disappointment as the Irish finished last year with zero wins against the KenPom top 50. A program that last reached the NCAA Tournament in 2017, Mike Brey is throwing his team straight into the fire with a non-conference schedule that includes Michigan State, Ohio State, Kentucky and Purdue.
  7. Will the Syracuse zone and defensive efficiency have a resurgence this season? Syracuse finished last season with a defensive efficiency ranking of 116th, a far cry from the standard set by most Jim Boeheim coached teams. While Elijah Hughes has left, the Orange return four other players who have combined to make 126 starts. With a slight improvement on the defensive end, Syracuse is a team that should see itself back in NCAA Tournament contention.
  8. Can Eric Musselman continue to work magic as a coach for Arkansas team that has a lot to replace?: Eric Musselman’s first year in Fayetteville saw the Razorbacks return to winning 20 games. They are a team looking to replace the team’s three-leading scorers, each of whom averaged at least 14 points per game. The “Muss Buss” will be aided by a bevy of transfers including Justin Smith (Indiana), Vance Jackson (New Mexico), and last season’s Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year Jalen Tate (Northern Kentucky).
  9. Can Oklahoma sneak up and challenge for a top-four spot in the Big 12? Picked sixth in the preseason conference coaches poll, Oklahoma returns four of its top five scorers including the pair of Austin Reaves and Brady Manek, each of whom averaged more than 14 points per game. Lon Kruger also adds Umoja Gibson to the mix, who averaged 14.5 points per game and made 86 three-pointers a season ago at North Texas.
  10. Is NC State flying too far under the radar in the ACC? Yes, NC State did lose its two leading scorers, but it’s a team that brings back a pair of seniors who averaged more than 10 points per game last year, as well as the never shy Braxton Beverly. Consistency will be the key for a team that beat Duke, Virginia and Wisconsin a season ago, but also went 0-4 against the trio of Boston College, North Carolina and Virginia Tech, three teams that were a collective 20-40 in ACC play.
  11. Can St. John’s find a way to succeed offensively in Big East play? The Red Storm entered Big East play 11-2 last season before ultimately finishing the year 17-15. It was a St. John’s team which finished with the 323rd-best team effective field-goal percentage in college basketball. As poor and inefficient of an offense as they were a season ago, they must improve this year with the likes of their top two scorers from a season ago no longer on the team.
  12. Can Georgetown take a step forward or is the Patrick Ewing era in danger of coming to an end soon? From injuries to players leaving the program to seven straight defeats to end the season, last year was a disaster for the Hoyas. Patrick Ewing has now finished at 5-13 in league play twice and above .500 overall just once. Georgetown has finished league play with a bottom two defensive efficiency in each season in DC, and with Mac McClung and Omer Yurtseven gone, Ewing faces quite the challenge of righting the ship in the nation’s capital.
  13. Can DePaul do the unthinkable and end its streak of 16 consecutive missed NCAA Tournaments? Before last season’s DePaul team finished Big East play 3-15, they finished the non-conference part of the season 12-1 with wins over Iowa, Minnesota and Texas Tech. Leading scorer Charlie Moore returns and is joined by transfer Ray Salnave who averaged 14.5 points per game at Monmouth last season. Salnave should help a team that in conference play ranked last in effective field-goal percentage, turnover rate and three-point percentage.

QUESTIONS ON SOME OF THE NATION’S IMPACT FRESHMAN

  1. With a postseason ban in place on Oklahoma State, what will top recruit Cade Cunningham’s season look like? The past five top recruits in the country have had mixed success, with R.J. Barrett and Josh Jackson having strong campaigns, whereas the likes of James Wiseman, Michael Porter, and Skal Labissiere all falling short for varying reasons. This year, Cade Cunningham, the #1 recruit in the country, stuck with his commitment to Oklahoma State even after his team was given a postseason ban. The regular season will be Cunningham’s time to shine.
  2. A year after freshman Onyeka Okongwu shined bright, what will Evan Mobley’s impact be on the Trojans? Onyeka Okongwu was a force on both ends of the court for USC a season ago, leading the team in points, rebounds and blocked shots per game. This year, Andy Enfield adds top-10 recruit Evan Mobley to his roster. The seven-footer is described by many as a plus-athlete whose presence will especially be felt on the defensive side of the court.
  3. Is Ziaire Williams the missing piece Stanford needs to return to the NCAA Tournament? After winning 20 games for the first time under Jerod Haase, the Cardinal bring back much of last year’s team while also adding the highly-regarded Ziaire Williams. As a senior at Sierra Canyon, playing alongside the likes of B.J. Boston and Bronny James, Williams averaged 15 points and eight rebounds per game while taking home the Los Angeles Times Player of the Year award.
  4. After only getting three games out of James Wiseman last year, what can Memphis expect from the highly touted Moussa Cisse this seaosn? Moussa Cisse decided to stay local and commit to the Memphis program. After getting just three games out of James Wiseman last year, Penny Hardaway is hoping Cisse can bring the goods for an entire season. The freshman is an elite rim-protector and someone who should be a force on the frontcourt for the Tigers.
  5. What will Makur Maker’s freshman look like after deciding to go to Howard over the likes of Kentucky and UCLA? Maker shocked many recruiting pundits when he picked the path of attending Howard over the blue-blood programs that had pursued him. “I just dare to be different,” said Maker about his decision. An NBA talent in the MEAC, Maker is forging a new path, a path that will have eyes glued to him each night he hits the floor.
  6. What should college basketball expect moving forward with the competition from the G-League for recruits? The creation of the NBA G-League developmental team has led to some of the top recruits in the nation deciding against playing college basketball. The likes of Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga and Daishen Nix deciding to go that route cost some coaches time and agony with losing recruits, but questions remain about the impact it will have on the game as a whole. Will more recruits bail on college as time moves forward, or will this just allow for different players to emerge as college stars?

THE BIGGEST QUESTION MARK OF THE SEASON: COVID-19

  1. The elephant in the room that needs to be asked, will there be a full 2020-2021 season or will COVID-19 break basketball hearts again? The morning of March 12, 2020, feels like an eternity ago — it was the day when the college basketball season completely shut down. From playing conference tournament games to facing the end of the season in the blink of an eye. While this season is set to begin, getting though March and the 2021 NCAA Tournament is far from a guarantee.
  2. With the recent news of the NCAA’s plans to play the entire NCAA Tournament in or around Indianapolis, do certain teams pick up a new advantage? Without COVID-19, the 2021 NCAA Tournament would have had teams playing through Regional sites such as Brooklyn, Memphis, Denver and Minneapolis. That said, the NCAA recently announced plans to hold the entire tournament within the confines of Indianapolis and the surrounding areas. With teams not gaining geographical advantages and potentially playing without fan support, could Midwest teams gain an advantage?
  3. With the NCAA already relocating the NCAA Tournament, what will conference tournaments look like come early March? Beyond the NCAA Tournament being played in a centralized location, perhaps individual conferences will follow suit. The possibility of moving conference tournaments from a neutral site to on the campus of a school could play a major impact on which teams end up with automatic bids.
  4. Cancelled games are inevitably going to happen, what impact will they have on resumes and teams? The comparing of resumes in March will be interesting when taking note of all the cancelled games, many of which will not be rescheduled. It will be interesting to see how the committee handles similar teams that potentially could have quite a difference in number of games played.
  5. While players fall into a category of lower health threats to the disease, what effects might COVID-19 have on the veteran coaches across the country? Mid-November brought the news that Jim Boeheim tested positive for COVID-19. Boeheim, 76 years of age, is one of those premier coaches whose age puts them at a greater risk than the players. While a player might be able to recover quickly, there remains great uncertainty of what a positive test to those coaches, espeically those north of 70 (Leonard Hamilton, Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams) could mean.
  6. Players and teams will inevitably face COVID-19 challenges, but for those that must rest players while still playing games, will deeper, more experienced teams gain an edge ? Players missing time and being forced to isolate from a team will present unique obstacles for many teams. Perhaps it benefits teams with deep, experienced benches in the short term, but perhaps young, inexperienced teams could use these challenges to increase playing time for young players while also increasing the depth of the squad.

QUESTIONS FOR THOSE COACHING IN A NEW PLACE

  1. After five consecutive 24-win seasons, how will East Tennessee State fare with a new roster and new coach? In Steve Forbes’ five years at ETSU, the Buccaneers won at least 24 games in each season. Former assistant Jason Shay takes over a team that went 30-4 last year, but with a roster that does not return any of its top eight scorers from that squad.
  2. Grand Canyon University disappointed in Dan Majerle’s final season, but can they have a resurgence in Bryce Drew’s first year? After four consecutive 20-win seasons, Grand Canyon went just 13-17 in Dan Majerle’s final season leading the way. After disappointing at Vanderbilt, Bryce Drew returns to the mid-major level where he had previously excelled. The Antelopes bring back the WAC Freshman of the Year, Jovan Blacksher, who averaged 10.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game in his first year.
  3. After being away from college basketball for several years, what will Rick Pitino’s return look like at Iona? Rick Pitino was last on the sideline of a college basketball game in 2017. His return to the game finds himself with a pair of MAAC Preseason Second Team selections in Isaiah Ross and Asante Gist. Pitino has won at least 20 games in each of his past 15 seasons as a college coach.
  4. The sudden firing of Pat Chambers leaves Penn State with a new coach; can Jim Ferry keep the Nittany Lions trending in the right direction? For the first time in over 20 years, Penn State basketball has won 20 or more games in two of its past three seasons. Off the court issues required the school to go in a new direction and bringing in Jim Ferry after Pat Chambers was fired. Ferry last coached at Duquesne in the 2016-17 season, and, in his five years with the Dukes, Ferry’s teams finished with more than 13 wins just once.
  5. Can Steve Forbes find success at Wake Forest after winning year in and year out at ETSU? The Danny Manning era at Wake Forest came to an end last season with little success to show for it, and Steve Forbes looks to replicate the success he had at ETSU in the ACC. With ETSU, the Buccaneers were a top-100 defense in three of his five seasons, a side of the ball that Manning’s Wake teams often struggled with. Forbes brings guard Daivien Williamson with him to his new team.
  6. With limited time between the firing of Gregg Marshall and the start of the season, how will Wichita State perform under the new leadership of coach Isaac Brown? After a run of eight NCAA Tournaments in a nine-year stretch, Gregg Marshall’s tenure at the helm came to a crashing end after considerable off-court troubles were discovered. Former assistant Isaac Brown takes over on short notice with a team that does not bring back its top three scorers.

QUESTIONS ON THE NEW TEAMS ON THE BLOCK

  1. Can Bellarmine take a successful D-II program and have immediate success in the Atlantic Sun? Bellarmine was one of the premier programs in the Great Lakes Valley Conference over the past 10 years. They enter D-I basketball coming off of a 20-win season, their 12th in a row. On offense, Bellarmine shot over 40 percent from beyond the arc and were disruptive on the defensive end with over seven steals per game.
  2. Can the duo of Hunter Schofield and Frank Staine help Dixie State announce its presence at the D-I level this season? Schofield and Staine join Dason Youngblood as three returning players who started at least 28 games on last season’s 23-7 team. Schofield was the only player in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference to finish the season ranked in the top 10 in scoring, rebounding and field-goal percentage. This is a Dixie State squad that could find itself in the top half of the WAC in its first season.
  3. Wait a second, who is the coach at Tarleton State? With Tarleton State’s debut at the D-I level comes the return of former Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie. Gillispie last coached at this level in the 2011-12 season at Texas Tech before being let go for allegations of player mistreatment. Trouble has always followed Gillispie, but he does bring experience and a knack for program-building. He’ll need that experience to guide a team that won 18 games a season ago and does not return its top three scorers.
  4. After a 30-1 season last year, can UC San Diego have Merrimack-type success in year one at the D-I level? The Tritons of UC San Diego become the eighth University of California school to join the D-I level. UCSD is coming off of a 30-1 season in which it finished the year ranked third in the final D2SIDA rankings. They averaged 12.6 made three-pointers per game, while shooting better than 40 percent from deep. Returning to the team is 5’11” All-American guard Tyrell Roberts who averaged over 19 points per game and made 111-of-240 three-point attempts.
  5. If college basketball is all about the student-athletes, why does the NCAA continue to impose the postseason ban on teams that transition to D-I? When Merrimack beat Central Connecticut on February 27, it clinched sole possession of the NEC regular season title. With that, their season came to an end due to the NCAA’s postseason ban on team’s transitioning to the Division I level. Among the countless puzzling rules the NCAA has, this is near the top of the list that needs to change. If any of the four teams making the move to this level earn what should be a postseason berth, they unequivocally should be allowed to play.

QUESTIONS ON GROWING TRENDS IN COLLEGE BASKETBALL

  1. Will the trend of decreased offensive efficiency continue this season? According to KenPom data, the national average efficiency total was at its lowest in a stretch of the past seven seasons. With limited off-seasons, questions about COVID-19 breaking up the rhythm of the season, the upcoming season could see the ongoing decline of offensive efficiceny continue.
  2. Will college basketball continue to see a decline of free throws being attempted? The Division I free-throw rate last year fell to 32.6 percent, the lowest it has been in over 30 years. The game has invariably changed and the reliance on shooting from deep has correspondingly led to a decline in getting to the line. Another consequence of COVID-19 could be the return of trips to the foul line. With fewer summer practices working on defense and perhaps worse conditioning, perhaps college basketball sees more fouls called.
  3. Will we see three-point percentages get worse again this season? Last season’s average NCAA three-point field-goal percentage was 33.3 percent, the lowest of any season recorded by KenPom data going back to the 1986-87 season. The average sat at 35 percent two and three years ago, respectively. Whereas ten teams made at least 40 percent of their three-point attempts five seasons ago, only BYU did last season.
  4. Will offense return to the Big 12? Four of the top-10 defensive efficiency teams came from the Big 12 last season. With terrific defense came subpar offense. In league play, the Big 12 became the first power conference to post a conference-wide offensive efficiency of under 1.0 point per possession since the Big 12 did it in the 2002-03 season.
  5. Will Pac-12 teams find a way to win on the road in conference play? In conference play, Pac-12 home teams won 70.4 percent of their games, the second-best mark of any conference a season ago. Of the 32 home losses, 13 came via the bottom three teams in the league. Put simply, Pac-12 teams really struggled to get wins on the road. With the race for a league-title appearing to include a handful of teams, winning on the road could be what separates the teams at the top.
  6. Will replay continue to ruin far too many end of games? The balance between getting the call right and repeatedly going to the monitor for far too long continues to be a problem for college basketball referees. These stoppages kill any flow late in games and far too often leave calls still being questioned. After hearing complaints from seemingly everywhere last season, here is hoping the NCAA has spent the off-season finding some way to fix this issue.

67 DOWN, 1 TO GO…

  1. With all that being said, what should you expect this coming season? It’s college basketball, the unexpected should be the expected. I will leave you with the following bold predictions. Duke will not make it past the Round of 32; one of Houston or Oklahoma makes a run to the Sweet 16; one of Arizona State or UCLA makes a trip the Elite Eight, Iowa makes the title game, but it’s Gonzaga who cuts down the nets.
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Big East Key Questions: Part 1

Posted by Brad Cavallaro on November 24th, 2020

With the 2020-21 season only one day away (hopefully), here are some of the most interesting things to monitor as we head into live game action. The biggest elephant in the room is clearly what will happen with respect to COVID-19 cancellations, protocols, schedule flexibility, and ultimately, the monumental task of selecting an NCAA Tournament field. But this post and its subsequent version will focus on the biggest on-court questions in the Big East.

  1. Is UConn hype warranted? Can the Huskies be a legitimate factor at the top of the Big East?
Dan Hurley is Happy to Be Back in the Big East (USA Today Sports)

Even after missing four straight NCAA Tournaments, expectations are extremely high for the Huskies among both their fan base and many national analysts. Several Top 25s include UConn among their rankings, and the Huskies are almost unanimously picked to finish in the top half of the Big East standings. And there are plenty of reasons for optimism in Storrs: a strong finish down the stretch last season; multiple impact transfers; and the emergence of James Bouknight as a potential star.

However, it says here that expectations need to be somewhat dialed back. Slotting the Huskies anywhere from third to fifth in the Big East is reasonable, but it is highly unlikely they can join Villanova and Creighton in the elite tier. UConn is undeniably deep with eight or nine legitimate rotation players, but most are underestimating how an abbreviated preseason will affect the chemistry of a newcomer-heavy group. Two of UConn’s best players and probable starters are transfers — RJ Cole and Tyrese Martin — and two other key pieces — Akok Akok and Tyler Polley — are coming back from major injuries. It also seems like UConn is being treated as a team that returns all of its talent, but Christian Vital was one of the AAC’s best players last season.

Nationally, the Huskies look like a top 40 team or, in NCAA Tournament terms, a #8-#10 seed. While this would disappoint UConn fans thirsty for national relevance, it would be a great step forward in Dan Hurley‘s multiple-year rebuild. With an excellent 2021 recruiting class pending and another year of development from a deep rotation of players, it won’t be long before UConn is once again consistently at the top of the Big East.

2. Ty-Shon Alexander’s stellar two-way play was a huge part of Creighton’s success. Can the Bluejays replicate last year’s success without him?

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2019-20 Rush the Court All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on March 27th, 2020

Compiling preseason All-America teams is a difficult task because nobody knows what will come during the regular season. There will always be several players who fall short of expectations and there will always be several relative unknowns who unexpectedly emerge to stardom. When our unit of RTC pollsters selected their preseason All-American teams in November, nobody could have guessed that eight of the 15 players chosen would live up to that lofty standing: Marquette’s Markus Howard; Kansas’ Devon Dotson; Kansas’ Udoka Azubuike; Seton Hall’s Myles Powell; Maryland’s Jalen Smith; Michigan State’s Cassius Winston; Duke’s Tre Jones; and Louisville’s Jordan Nwora.

Here are the 2019-20 RTC All-America Teams.

First Team All-America

  • Obi Toppin, Sophomore, Dayton (consensus) (20.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 63.3% FG). Among the worst things about the college basketball season coming to an early end because of the COVID-19 crisis is that we will never get to see what Toppin and Dayton could have accomplished in the NCAA Tournament. The AP National Player of the Year was sensational all season, leading the Flyers to a program-best 29-2 record. Dayton finished the season ranked second at KenPom in offensive efficiency and the sophomore forward was a major reason why, as he dominated opponents from wire to wire, shooting an incredible 69.8 percent on two-point field goals. Toppin also drew a lot of attention nationally for his highlight reel dunks that helped make the Flyers one of the must-watch teams throughout the season.
  • Luka Garza, Junior, Iowa (consensus) (23.9 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 1.8 BPG, 54.2% FG). Iowa has had several players emerge as big-time scoring weapons throughout Fran McCaffery’s tenure in Iowa City, and Garza burst onto the scene early with a 30-point effort against Oral Roberts and a 29-point outing versus North Florida. He began garnering national attention, however, after putting up 44 points at Michigan in early December. The Big Ten Player of the Year was so dominant through conference play that he tallied fewer than 20 points only once in 20 league games.
  • Markus Howard, Senior, Marquette (27.8 PPG, 3.3 APG, 41.2% 3FG). The Big East’s all-time leading scorer wrapped up an illustrious career with the Golden Eagles this season — and he went out in style. The dynamic guard left school with 2,761 career points, including seven career games where he topped 40. It is tough to predict what will happen in a sport as chaotic as college basketball, but it is a safe bet to say that Marquette will sorely miss Howard’s elite scoring prowess next season and into the future.
  • Devon Dotson, Sophomore, Kansas (18.1 PPG, 4.0 APG, 46.8% FG). There has been a long lineage of great point guards to come through Kansas during Bill Self’s time in Lawrence — from Aaron Miles to Mario Chalmers to Sherron Collins to Tyshawn Taylor to Frank Mason to Devonte’ Graham, the Jayhawks have found success when they have a terrific floor general. Dotson became the next in line during a sophomore season that saw him lead the Jayhawks to being the consensus #1 team in the country. The dynamic scorer’s ability to breeze past defenders to get to the rim, coupled with his knack for hitting outside jumpers, led to him finishing the season as the Big 12’s leading scorer.
  • Udoka Azubuike, Senior, Kansas (13.7 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 2.6 BPG, 74.8% FG). Another enormous bummer of the college basketball season being cut short is that we will never get to see a fully healthy Azubuike in the postseason. The dominant big man missed both his freshman and junior postseasons with injury and was hampered by a knee issue during his sophomore campaign. A convincing argument can be made that Azubuike was the most valuable player in the country this season — and that was never more evident than in his 23-point, 19-rebound effort in the Jayhawks’ win at Baylor on February 22. In a sport that has recently gone the way of guard play and perimeter shooting, the senior big man proved that having a force in the interior can still lead a team to the top of the rankings.

Second Team All-America

  • Payton Pritchard, Senior, Oregon (20.5 PPG, 5.5 APG, 41.5% 3FG). The Oregon point guard established himself as one of the country’s most clutch players during his final season in Eugene. When it was winning time, Pritchard came through time and time again. Whether it was his game-winning three-pointer in an overtime comeback win at Washington or his 38-point effort in an overtime win at Arizona, the Ducks knew they could rely on their floor leader to guide the team to victory. While he just made the second team here, Pritchard’s season was so impactful that it led to him becoming Oregon’s first consensus first-team All-American in 80 years.
  • Myles Powell, Senior, Seton Hall (21.0 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.9 APG). The Seton Hall senior finished off an illustrious career that saw him go down as one of the most dynamic scorers in program history. His offensive ability was one of the key reasons why the Pirates took home a share of their first Big East title since 1993. Powell’s ability to take over games was never more evident than in the game where he scored his 2,000th career point. Needing a second half run to knock off St. John’s on January 18, Powell put up 23 of his game-high 28 points in the second stanza to lead the Pirates to an 82-78 win.
  • Malachi Flynn, Junior, San Diego State (17.6 PPG, 5.1 APG, 2.0 SPG). San Diego State remaining unbeaten until February 22 was among the most unexpected occurrences this season. A major facet of the Aztecs’ historic year was the emergence of Flynn as a big time player. The Washington State transfer came through for Brian Dutcher’s squad all season, but never more than in the regular season finale when he tallied 36 points on 13-of-20 shooting to lead the Aztecs back from a nine-point halftime deficit to knock off Nevada.
  • Vernon Carey Jr., Freshman, Duke (17.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 57.5% FG). The National Freshman of the Year shined throughout his inaugural campaign in Durham. The athletic big man was a match-up problem throughout ACC play, as his knack for scoring around the rim left many opponents unable to prevent him from taking over the game. If Carey Jr. departs for the NBA, his last game in a Duke uniform was a memorable one, as he dropped 25 points and collected 10 rebounds in an 89-76 victory over archrival North Carolina.
  • Jalen Smith, Sophomore, Maryland (15.5 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 53.8% FG). The sophomore forward was electric all season for a Maryland team that took home a share of its first Big Ten title since joining the conference in 2014. Smith, affectionately known as Stix due to his slender frame, was a true terror for opponents due to both his prowess in the post and ability to step out and hit shots from the perimeter. Smith’s marquee performance of the season came in the January 26 comeback win at Indiana when he scored 29 points, drained four of six three-point attempts, and corralled 11 rebounds to lead the Terrapins to victory.

Third Team All-America

  • Cassius Winston, Senior, Michigan State (18.6 PPG, 5.9 APG, 44.8% FG). Winston will go down in Michigan State lore in the same rarefied air that accompanied past four-year Spartan standouts Mateen Cleaves and Draymond Green. Winston’s Senior Day sendoff following a win over Ohio State should give you an idea of how much he meant to the Michigan State program. In a senior season marred by an unthinkable personal tragedy, the heady point guard still found a way to excel on the hardwood while leading the Spartans to a share of the regular season Big Ten crown.
  • Jared Butler, Sophomore, Baylor (16.0 PPG, 3.1 APG, 1.6 SPG). Baylor was likely going to be a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. A substantial reason for that was Butler, who, on a team with no top recruits, established himself as one of the country’s premier playmakers. The Bears set a Big 12 record this season with 23 consecutive wins and Butler’s steady play led the way. The sophomore guard’s most notable performance came in Baylor’s first-ever win at Kansas on January 11, where he poured in 22 points and turned in a dominant defensive effort.
  • Tre Jones, Sophomore, Duke (16.2 PPG, 6.4 APG, 1.8 SPG). While classmates Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish departed Durham after one season, Jones returned to school and took on a much greater role in his sophomore campaign. The ACC Player of the Year boosted his scoring average from 9.4 points per game as a freshman to 16.2 points per game as a sophomore. He also compiled a 2.4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and turned in an elite defensive season.
  • Filip Petrusev, Sophomore, Gonzaga (17.5 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 56.2% FG). Petrusev was the latest in Gonzaga’s acclaimed line of breakout performers. After a freshman season that saw him play just 11.4 minutes per game and average only 6.5 points and 2.7 rebounds, he exploded onto the scene as a sophomore, putting up 17.5 points and 7.9 rebounds in 26 minutes per game. The forward’s standout performance occurred in Gonzaga’s regular season finale when his 27 points lifted the Bulldogs to a win over conference rival Saint Mary’s.
  • Jordan Nwora, Junior, Louisville (18.0 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 40.2% 3FG). The dynamic forward made his decision to bypass the NBA Draft last spring worth it with a junior season that saw Nwora lead the Cardinals in scoring, finish second in rebounding, and help the team to a second place finish in the ACC.

Honorable Mention: Immanuel Quickley, Kentucky; Daniel Oturu, Minnesota; Xavier Tillman, Michigan State; Yoeli Childs, BYU; Kaleb Wesson, Ohio State.

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Five Questions: Big East Tourney Preview Edition

Posted by Justin Kundrat & Brad Cavallaro on March 11th, 2020

We made it, everyone. From Feast Week to December’s lull to conference tip-off and a February with no shortage of complete mayhem, we’ve somehow arrived at March in one piece. The Big East Tournament starts this evening at MSG with no clear favorite and a whole host of questions in tow. Microsite writers Justin Kundrat and Brad Cavallaro are here to break it down.

Q: With Marcus Zegarowski’s status in flux, where does that leave Creighton? Can the Bluejays win the Big East Tournament and/or advance in the NCAA Tournament without their star point guard at full strength?

How Will Creighton Respond Without Marcus Zegarowski (USA Today Images)

JK: It’s not that Creighton isn’t still a contender for the Big East crown, but I am seriously reconsidering their status as the top dog. The Bluejays excel offensively with dribble penetration and floor spacing to enable kick-out threes, and Zegarowski is a key cog in breaking his man down. His sophomore campaign has resulted in 16.1 PPG and 5.0 APG, and he’s shooting an absurd 45.6 percent from deep in conference play. Not only that, but this team isn’t deep, ranking only 343rd nationally in bench minutes. Outside of Ty-Shon Alexander, there’s nobody else to run this offense! For a team that relies so heavily on crisp offensive execution, I’m worried about their performance this week without him. Let’s see how his status trends, but it might be safe to hold him out until next week.

Q: Providence is one of the hottest teams in the country after rattling off six straight wins. Do you see this hot streak extending into the postseason?

JK: I think so, but I’ll caveat that by saying I’ve been slow getting on the Friars’ recent bandwagon. Their defense has been tremendous and ranks second in efficiency, per Barttorvik, since February 1. Providence is a long team that possesses an uncanny ability to force teams into shots they don’t want to take, and that’s enough to give plenty of opponents a problem. Where they struggle: 1) a propensity to foul; and 2) efficient scoring. Luwane Pipkins has been great and Alpha Diallo is finally showing some maturity, but outside of that duo, the Friars’ offensive output has been unpredictable. If this team runs into a similarly lengthy team (which they won’t face in the conference except maybe against Villanova) that can stifle its robust offensive rebounding, what happens? The impending run will come down to match-ups, in my opinion.

Q: Who is your pick to win the Big East championship and why?

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Big East Bubble Watch: Volume III

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 10th, 2020

There’s only one week to go, which means no more fringe teams. Georgetown has played its way out of the discussion following a pair of losses, while Providence has solidified its place in the NCAA Tournament by cleaning up its home games. We’re oh so close to Selection Sunday, so let’s do one more round of bubble watch before the Big East Tournament kicks off tomorrow. Below is Rush the Court’s second bubble evaluation of the Big East. All figures below are from WarrenNolan.com.

Locks

Two of the Best Big East Teams are NCAA Locks (USA Today Images)

Creighton: 23-7 (13-5); NET: 11; SOS: 18.
Villanova: 24-7 (13-5); NET: 13; SOS: 3.
Seton Hall: 21-9 (13-5); NET: 15; SOS: 4.
Butler: 22-9 (10-8); NET: 19; SOS: 45.
Providence: 19-12 (12-6); NET: 36; SOS: 8.

  • Analysis: Hello, Providence. While the first four teams on this list secured their place weeks ago, the Friars extended a four-game winning streak to six, thereby eliminating the potential for a bad loss. Ed Cooley’s group now stands at 19-12 overall with a 12-6 record in conference play, which includes seven Quad 1 wins and a NET rating that has climbed to 36th over the last week. What a run it’s been. With a match-up against Butler pending in the quarterfinals, a loss won’t be damaging enough to derail the Friars’ train.

Should Be In

Marquette: 18-12 (8-10); NET: 26; SOS: 6.

  • Analysis: Marquette did nothing to help its case in the last week and has, as a result, cast serious doubts over its Tournament status. Realistically, the Golden Eagles needed just one win to secure a spot, but instead further damaged their resume by adding a pair of losses at St. John’s and DePaul. The worst part? Those losses were by a combined three points. Neither is more than a Quad 2 loss, but now we have a team that’s lost six of its last seven games and is clearly spiraling. Their metrics (NET 26, SOS 6) are propping them up, but it’s hard to make the case that this team is playing like a tournament team. For better or for worse, Steve Wojciechowski’s group draws Seton Hall in the Big East quarterfinals, avoiding yet another potentially bad loss while giving it an opportunity to put all concerns to rest with a win. Would a loss against the Pirates cost them a bid? Unlikely, but the possibility is there.
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Inside the ACC Numbers: Final Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 10th, 2020

Here is the final edition of our weekly view at the current ACC standings with a focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their conference records may indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to share a few interesting notes on teams, statistics, and trends around the conference. With the regular season in the books, this week we will compare how each ACC squad performed in the second half of league play, with an eye on the teams that might excel in the ACC Tournament in Greensboro. Finally, we will examine the ACC standings and project what it may mean for teams’ ultimate postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Saturday, March 8.

Current Standings

Congrats to Tony Bennett’s crew for posting the ACC’s best defense for the fourth year in a row, and for the sixth time in the past seven seasons. On the other end of the floor, Duke had the most effective offense for the first time since 2015, ending up with the best overall point per possession margin (PPM) in ACC play. That was primarily accomplished by a league record five conference wins by more than 30 points, and the fact that Duke faced the ACC’s easiest slate of league games. Virginia was able to match the Blue Devils in the win column with an incredible 8-2 mark in games decided by three points or fewer (or overtime). While there may be some luck involved in such a performance, there’s also the fact that Virginia simply executed better during endgame situations than did its opponents. That’s a trait that will give the Cavaliers confidence in the postseason. At the other end of the spectrum we find North Carolina, whose PPM performance would suggest a record close to .500, but the Tar Heels were done in by an unfortunate 0-6 mark in one-possession outcomes. But the biggest story of the regular season is Florida State. Hats off to Leonard Hamilton for leading the Seminoles to their first-ever ACC regular season title.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Who’s Hot and Who’s Not?

Heading into this week’s ACC Tournament, it’s a good time to compare recent team performance to how schools were playing earlier in the year. Below we break down the ACC season into two fairly even timeframes to see which squads have improved and which have regressed.

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2019-20 RTC16: Week 16

Posted by Walker Carey on March 9th, 2020

The final week of the regular season saw the resolution to many conference championship battles. In the SEC, #7 Kentucky secured the outright championship last week. In the Big 12, #1 Kansas clinched a share of the league title with a win over TCU on Tuesday and earned the outright crown with a win at Texas Tech on Saturday. The ACC saw #4 Florida Statewhich was picked to finish fifth in the preseason — take home the outright league title with wins over Notre Dame and Boston College coupled with #15 Louisville falling at Virginia. #14 Oregon used comfortable home wins over California and Stanford along with some help via UCLA and Arizona State losing to earn the outright Pac-12 title. The Big Ten and Big East races ended with three teams earning the privilege to hang a banner. #8 Michigan State, #13 Maryland and Wisconsin shared the Big Ten title while #9 Creighton, #10 Villanova and #12 Seton Hall split the Big East crown. This regular season was defined by the unexpected, so be on high alert for some surprises as the postseason hits its stride later this. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty is after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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What’s Trending: Let’s Dance…

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 9th, 2020

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

After a January 18 loss at Boise State, Utah State’s record fell to 14-6 (3-4 Mountain West) with a NET Ranking of 83rd and any bubble hope seemingly out of reach. After a stretch of winning 11 of its next 13 games, however, Utah State found itself playing for a Mountain West title over the weekend against San Diego State. After a tightly fought second half, the Aggies had possession with the score tied and the clock winding down…

Sam Merrill’s game-winner was his sixth made three of the game. The star guard played every second of the game, scored 27 points and helped carry the Aggies right into the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year. The senior averaged 27.7 points per game in the MW Tournament and is the type of player than can definitely wreck opponent’s dreams next week.

While winning the Mountain West title would have capped a tremendous pre-NCAA Tournament season for the Aztecs, Jon Rothstein outlines below why San Diego State’s loss could end up benefitting the team in the long run. The roughly 125-mile trip from Viejas Arena to Staples Center definitely beats the 2,800 miles between San Diego and Madison Square Garden (if the Aztecs had gotten the #1 Seed in the East Region).

Belmont last year made the NCAA Tournament in head coach Rick Byrd’s final season leading the Bruins. Entering the season, the school needed to not only replace Byrd, but also the team’s two-leading scorers — Dylan Windler (21.3 PPG) and Kevin McClain (16.8 PPG). New head coach Casey Alexander began the season with a shaky loss to Illinois State and an even more surprising defeat at the hands of SIU-Edwardsville, but things started to click by OVC play. Down a point to Murray State on Saturday, Belmont went to a program classic, the backdoor cut. Like last year’s team, the Bruins are dancing.

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What’s Trending: Goodbye February, Hello March!

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on March 3rd, 2020

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

Three words that the entire college basketball community has been waiting for have finally been spoken. Take it away, Jon…

The look back at what transpired on the court last week begins with a piece of history, thanks to Dayton. Two minutes and ten seconds into the Flyers’ weekend game against Davidson, Dayton’s Jalen Crutcher missed a jumper. It would end up being the Flyers’ only miss from inside the three-point line for the entire game. Anthony Grant’s team would go on to make 27-of-28 from two-point range in their 82-67 win over Davidson, which, incidentially, also clinched the Atlantic 10 title.

Dayton leads the nation in effective field goal percentage and two-point field-goal percentage this season, and the Flyers are in position to become just the fifth team to shoot above 60 percent on their two-point attempts over the past 15 seasons. Dayton’s 59.7 percent effective field-goal percentage has only been topped in the past 15 seasons by the Lonzo Ball UCLA team of 2016-17. Of course, Dayton shooting those high percentages should not be surprising when Obi Toppin is doing this…

Big Ten-leading Maryland began the week by trailing Minnesota by 16 points at the half. Down by a pair with the clock winding its way towards zero, the ball made its way into the hands of junior Darryl Morsell. The Terps had gone 5-of-27 from beyond the arc before Morsell found the range for his first made three of the game…

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