2020-21 RTC16: Week 12

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on February 15th, 2021

Gonzaga returns to a unanimous #1 in the RTC16 following another 2-0 week on the road. While Baylor enters a pause, Michigan returned to action and showed it belongs among the top four teams that have separated from the rest of the pack. While neither team remains in the RTC16, perhaps the biggest outcome of the past week came in the Missouri Valley Conference where Drake and Loyola (Chicago) split their matchups, leaving the possibility of a two-bid MVC.

CONFERENCE BREAKDOWN: Big 12 (5), Big Ten (4), Big East (2), AAC (1), ACC (1), Pac-12 (1), SEC (1), WCC (1)

RISING

  • Creighton: After receiving zero votes in last week’s RTC16, Creighton climbs back into the top 16 and again appears on all ballots. Creighton made 17 of its first 22 field-goal attempts against Villanova to build a 10-point first-half lead that they never would relinquish. While Marcus Zegarowski and Mitch Ballock led the way in scoring, the performances of Christian Bishop and Damian Jefferson again proved that Creighton is a dangerous team on any given night.
  • LSU: Will Wade’s squad went 2-0 this past week with a pair of double-figure SEC victories. The Tigers are now tied for second in the SEC at 8-4 while boasting a top 10 offensive efficiency ranking. Freshman Cameron Thomas is averaging 22.6 points per game, the fourth highest mark in the country.
  • USC: The Trojans’ rise to the top of the Pac-12 has been matched with a new season best showing in the RTC16. Having now won six straight and 12 of its past 13 games, USC is holding opponents to an average of 60.1 points per game over its last seven outings. Evan Mobley continues his show his immense talent, dominating on each end of the floor.

FALLING

  • Missouri: An 0-2 week for Missouri drops the Tigers out of the RTC16. Missouri was without third-leading scorer and the team’s best rebounder Jeremiah Tilmon in the weekend loss to Arkansas, as Tilmon was away from the team following a death in his family.
  • Penn State: Prior to this week, Penn State was 7-8 and 4-7 in Big Ten play with recent wins over Wisconsin and Maryland. With no bad losses and several resume-building wins, the Nittany Lions had a chance to play their way into bubble consideration. Then this week happened. First Penn State blew a four-point lead late Michigan State and then they became the first Big Ten team Nebraska had beaten since January of last year.
  • UCLA: Recent lackluster play carried into this week for the Bruins beginning with a poor showing in Pullman against Washington State and carrying over to a game against Washington in which the Bruins barely walked away victorious. They face an important week ahead as the desert schools travel to Los Angeles.

NOTABLE GAMES OF THE WEEK

  • Monday: Virginia @ Florida State, 7 PM EST, ESPN
  • Tuesday: Texas @ Oklahoma, 9 PM EST, ESPN
  • Thursday: Iowa @ Wisconsin, 7 PM EST, ESPN
  • Thursday: Houston @ Wichita State, 7 PM EST,
  • Saturday: West Virginia @ Texas, 3 PM EST, ABC
  • Saturday: Texas Tech @ Kansas, 2 PM EST, ESPN
  • Sunday: Michigan @ Ohio State, 1 PM EST, CBS
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Ten Questions to Consider: A Resume Building and Protecting Weekend

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on February 12th, 2021

With the Super Bowl behind us, the focus of the sports world shifts fully to college basketball for the next month. For those just tuning in, this weekend presents several key match-ups across numerous conferences. For those who have been following the sport all season long, this weekend’s slate of action provides another glimpse into action of teams that have brought intrigue throughout the season. Here are 10 questions I have, questions that could go a long a way to helping answer a teams plans for March:

  1. Can West Virginia continue to torch the nets from beyond the arc? (Oklahoma @ West Virginia, Saturday, 1 PM EST, ESPN+) After starting the year making 30.3 percent of their three-point attempts through their first 10 games, the Mountaineers are now shooting 43.8 percent from deep over their last nine games. The percentages flipped once Oscar Tshiebwe left the team. West Virginia made 14-of-24 from deep against Oklahoma earlier in the season, but made a season-low 27.8 percent of shots attempted inside the arc.
  2. Can Creighton continue to keep Villanova ineffective from three-point range? (Villanova @ Creighton, Saturday, 5 PM EST, Fox) While Villanova is 2-1 in its last three games against Creighton, those wins have not been easy as one came in overtime and the other came after trailing by 10 points with just over 11 minutes to go. One cause for concern for Villanova heading into this match-up is the way they have recently shot the three against the Bluejays. In these past three contests, Villanova is shooting just 24.7 percent on its three-point attempts.
  3. Can Arkansas do a better job of slowing Xavier Pinson and Jeremiah Tilmon this time around? (Arkansas @ Missouri, Saturday, 4 PM EST, ESPN2) In the first match-up between these two teams, Missouri’s pair of Pinson and Tilmon scored 48 points on 14-of-24 shooting, including 19 made free throws. Both Pinson and Tilmon have shown flashes of becoming dominant scorers for Missouri, while at other times both have been held in check. Slowing the pair can go a long way in Arkansas adding its second Quad 1 win to its resume.
  4. After last playing on January 22, how will Michigan look in its return to action? (Michigan @ Wisconsin, Sunday, 1 PM EST, CBS) Michigan has the nation’s best two-point field-goal percentage defense and it showed in its first match-up of the season with the Badgers. Wisconsin was held to 11-of-37 shooting from inside the arc en route to a season-low 54 points, 25 of which came in the final 10 minutes.
  5. Will this AAC battle again prove to be an offensive struggle? (Memphis @ Houston, Sunday, 1 PM EST, ESPN) In last season’s two games against one another, points were always at a premium. Houston shot 33.6 percent from the field against Memphis, while the Tigers shot just 35 percent in the two games against Houston. A big key last year was turnovers. In Houston’s win, they were +9 in the turnover battle, while they finished -6 in the Memphis win.
  6. If a team seizes control early, will they be able to maintain it for 40 minutes? (Louisville @ Virginia Tech, Saturday, Noon EST, ACC Network) In the first game of the year between these two ACC foes, Virginia Tech jumped out to an 11-0 lead before Louisville responded with a 47-22 run of its own. While the Hokies ultimately lost by two points, they finished the rest of the game on what amounts to a 49-26 run of their own. Jalen Cone’s sharpshooting gave the Hokies a chance with his season-best six made threes, while the rest of the team went just 3-of-18 from deep.
  7. Does the road to the top spot in the A-10 run through defending one’s own backboard? (St. Bonaventure @ VCU, Friday, 7 PM EST, ESPN2) Entering midweek, St. Bonaventure and VCU were tied with three other teams for first place in the Atlantic 10. The Bonnies beat VCU earlier in a game where each team had 15 or more offensive rebounds. In A-10 play, both teams rank among the bottom three in opponents’ offensive rebounding rate, while ranking among the top three in offensive rebounding rate.
  8. Can Clemson clean up its turnovers and avoid being swept by the Yellow Jackets? (Georgia Tech @ Clemson, Friday, 8 PM EST, ACC Network) Earlier this season, Clemson shot 52 percent from the field, made 9-of-18 from deep and still lost to Georgia Tech by 18 points. The Tigers committed 20 turnovers and could not stop the Yellow Jackets from anywhere on the floor, including watching three different Georgia Tech players score 20 or more points. Georgia Tech (5-5) and Pitt are the only remaining Clemson opponents to be at least .500 in ACC play.
  9. After playing against one another on Saturday, is Sunday’s game a must-win for one of these teams? (Loyola Chicago @ Drake, Sunday, Noon EST, ESPN2) After losing to Valparaiso last week, Drake’s NET Ranking fell by nearly 30 spots. Loyola (Chicago) sits inside the top 15 for now, but they lack a Quad 1 win and are just 3-3 vs. Quad 1 and Quad 2 opponents. While both have strong arguments today as bubble teams, avoiding being swept this weekend will go a long ways towards keeping themselves in bubble consideration a month from now.
  10. At what point will Ohio State need CJ Walker to find his touch from beyond the arc? (Indiana @ Ohio State, Saturday, Noon EST, ESPN) While EJ Liddell has made tremendous strides this season and Justice Sueing’s presence in Columbus has been a valuable addition, one thing that has been missing has been the three-point shot of guard CJ Walker. Walker made 34 percent of 194 three-point attempts the last two seasons, but is shooting just 21.4 percent this season (15.4% in Big Ten play). Walker has a chance to change things against an Indiana defense that ranks dead last in Big Ten play in opponents’ three-point percentage.
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Ten Questions to Consider: Rivalries, Rematches & Opportunities

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on February 5th, 2021

From Monday through Wednesday, AP Top 25 teams had won just 10 of 19 games played during the week. Heading into the weekend, will chaos continue to rule the college basketball landscape? Rivalries, rematches and teams streaking in both directions lead the way of the 10 questions I have for games taking place over the next few days.

  1. Can Illinois get transition opportunities against Wisconsin? (Wisconsin @ Illinois, Saturday, 2:30 PM EST, Fox) Hoop-Math data shows that Illinois ranks among the top 20 in both percentage of shots that come in transition and transition field goal percentage. In Wisconsin’s five losses they have allowed an average of 13 fast break points to opposition. In Badgers’ victories, opponents are averaging just 6.6 fast break points.
  2. Can Cade Cunningham carry the Cowboys over the Longhorns? (Texas @ Oklahoma State, Saturday, 3 PM EST, ABC) After a pair of early fouls against TCU on Wednesday, Cunningham played just eight minutes in the first half without scoring a point. He finished the game with 15 points over the final 10 minutes, but an ill-advised shot attempt with the clock winding down in a tie game ultimately cost the Cowboys. Cunningham finished with a season-low two rebounds and two assists.
  3. Will UCLA be able to get post scoring from Cody Riley up against Evan Mobley? (UCLA @ USC, Saturday, 10 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) The Bruins picked up a win against Oregon State last week despite shooting just 32.7 percent from the field. Mick Cronin wants to use Cody Riley’s time on the court with the ball in the big man’s hands. Riley, a strong but undersized big, will be challenged by the talented Evan Mobley who is averaging over three blocks a game over his previous eight games.
  4. Which part of the first matchup will carry over into the Big Ten tilt between Iowa and Indiana? (Iowa @ Indiana, Sunday, Noon EST, Fox) In the first matchup between these teams, Iowa led and seemed to have control for the opening 28 minutes of action. Then Indiana went on its 27-6 run which flipped control of the game. The Hoosiers lived at the free-throw line with a free-throw rate of 66 percent, which led to 21 makes on 35 attempts.
  5. Can Maryland win back-to-back league games for the first time this season? (Maryland @ Penn State, Friday, 7 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Maryland has followed up each of its three previous Big Ten wins by losing its next game. The Terps will be challenged by the Penn State duo of Izaiah Brockington and Myreon Jones, who are both averaging more than 18 points per game over their last four home games.
  6. Can Alabama make a run at a #1 Seed? (Alabama @ Missouri, Saturday, Noon EST, SEC Network) As of Thursday, the Crimson Tide have 10 wins across Quad 1 and Quad 2 teams, the most in the nation. Missouri is one of two remaining teams on Alabama’s regular-season schedule that would qualify as a Quad 1 opponent. These teams are polar opposites of one another from beyond the three-point line, with Alabama ranking first in offensive and defensive three-point percentage in SEC play, while Missouri ranks 12th in both categories.
  7. Will Villanova be focused at the tip following its loss at St. John’s? (Georgetown @ Villanova, Sunday, 2:30 PM EST, Fox) Villanova’s offensive efficiency against St. John’s was a season low by more than 15 points. In the first matchup with Georgetown, the Wildcats trailed at the half, 46-33, before coming back to win the game by 13. It truly was a tale of two halves with Georgetown shooting 58 percent in the first and just 27 percent in the final 20 minutes.
  8. Can Posh Alexander continue his hot play and further push the Johnnies into bubble contention? (St. John’s @ Providence, 2 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) The St. John’s freshman guard is averaging 16.8 points per game during the current five-game winning streak of the Red Storm. During this stretch, Alexander has found his stroke from three-point range having made 10-of-23 (43.5%). In the team’s first 14 games, Alexander was just 5-of-22 (22.7%) from beyond the arc.
  9. Can LSU end its recent funk and find its three-point shot? (Florida @ LSU, Saturday, 2 PM EST, ESPN) On the one hand, three of LSU’s four recent losses have come against top 15 ranked opponents. On the other hand, over their last five games, the Tigers are shooting just 27 percent from beyond the arc. One player the Tigers particularly need to improve from deep is Cam Thomas. Over LSU’s first seven games, Thomas was making 36.8 percent of his three-point attempts, but since the calendar hit 2021, Thomas is just 17-of-74 (23%) from deep.
  10. Can the Tar Heels avoid the trap that is a struggling Duke team? (North Carolina @ Duke, Saturday, 6 PM EST, ESPN) North Carolina heads to Durham without a Quad 1 win. While Duke sits at just 7-6, with a NET Ranking of 66th prior to action on Thursday, the Blue Devils would qualify as a Quad 1 opponent. The Tar Heels must be cognizant of their turnover woes, especially coming off committing 17 in the loss at Clemson.
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Ten Questions to Consider: Challenges In and Across Conferences

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on January 29th, 2021

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

  1. Can Iowa play enough defense to leave Champaign with a victory? (Iowa @ Illinois, Friday, 9 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) The Hawkeyes led Indiana 53-44 with 12 minutes to go last week before surrendering the lead from a 23-3 Hoosiers’ run over the next nine minutes. The Illini’s Kofi Cockburn enters this game with seven consecutive double-doubles and 11 on the season, matching Western Kentucky’s Charles Bassey for the most in the nation. Entering play on Thursday, Illinois is one of three teams to rank among the top 20 in both two-point and three-point field-goal percentages.
  2. Will Alabama exploit the percentages surrounding the Oklahoma defense? (Alabama @ Oklahoma, Saturday, Noon EST, ESPN) Over 47 percent of Alabama’s field-goal attempts come from behind the three-point line. And while they are making 36 percent of those attempts on the season, the Crimson Tide have made an SEC best 41.2 percent during a 9-0 start to league play. In this Big 12/SEC Challenge, the Tide face an Oklahoma defense that both sees opponents attempt more threes than the national average and make them at a clip of 35.8 percent, ranking 258th in the nation.
  3. Can Santiago Vescovi snap out of his recent shooting troubles? (Kansas @ Tennessee, Saturday, 6 PM EST, ESPN) Tennessee’s Santiago Vescovi is 5-of-19 (26.3%) from beyond the arc over his last four games. In all other games this season, Vescovi has gone 24-of-55 (43.6%). A hot Vescovi could send Kansas to its fourth loss in five games.
  4. Will Sharife Cooper’s excellence be slowed by the tenacious Baylor defense? (Auburn @ Baylor, Saturday, 4 PM EST, ESPN) Since becoming eligible six game ago, Auburn freshman Sharife Cooper is averaging 22.3 points, 8.7 assists and 5.0 rebounds a game. In his last game, Cooper scored 28 points in just 28 minutes, thanks in part to an 18-for-21 night at the line. Baylor’s suffocating defense led by Davion Mitchell rarely gives up looks around the rim, putting pressure on Cooper to show a three-point stroke that has not been there yet this season.
  5. How much of Boise State’s great start to the season was a product of its schedule? (Boise State @ Colorado State, Friday, 11 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Boise State began the year 13-1 overall and 9-0 in Mountain West play before dropping a game Wednesday night to Colorado State. Of the Broncos’ 13 wins, only one (BYU) has come against a team with a KenPom ranking of #175 or better. In Wednesday night’s game, Boise State had no answer for Colorado State’s David Roddy, who logged 27 points and 15 rebounds. Roddy is one of seven players in the nation averaging 16 or more points, nine or more rebounds, and two or more assists per game.
  6. Can West Virginia continue its hot shooting from beyond the arc? (Florida @ West Virginia, Saturday, 2 PM EST, ESPN) Since shooting 2-of-21 from deep against Oklahoma six games ago, the Mountaineers have made 52-of-112 three-pointers since. Miles McBride is making a Big 12 best 53 percent in league play, including 12 of his last 19 attempts.
  7. Can Missouri State throw a wrench into the Ramblers 8-1 start to MVC play? (Loyola Chicago @ Missouri State, Sunday, 3 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) Last week, Missouri State played undefeated Drake on back-to-back nights. In the first game, the Bears blew a 15-point second-half lead and on the next wasted a two-point lead with under six minutes to go. Missouri State has the MVC’s top-two scorers in Isiaih Mosley (22.9 PPG) and Gaige Prim (17.1 PPG) and the league’s top rebounder (Prim, 9.8/G).
  8. What Michigan State team will show up in Columbus? (Michigan State @ Ohio State, Sunday, 1 PM EST, CBS) Prior to Thursday night’s no-show against Rutgers, Michigan State had last played on January 8. Through the Spartans’ first six Big Ten games, they have shot 40.8 percent from the field and just 32.5 percent on three-point attempts.
  9. How far can St. Bonaventure ride its defense? (George Mason @ St. Bonaventure, Saturday, 2 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) The Bonnies are 8-1 overall and 6-1 in the A-10. With a defensive effective field-goal percentage which ranks among the top 25 nationally, St. Bonaventure is allowing an A-10 low 87.6 points per 100 possessions in A-10 games. The Bonnies are still waiting for more from the team’s leading scorer Kyle Lofton, who is just 3-of-29 from three-point range this season, a year after he made 41 percent in conference-play.
  10. Which Creighton team shows up on the road this weekend? (Creighton @ DePaul, Saturday, 8 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) Creighton overcame a 16-point second-half deficit on Wednesday to beat Seton Hall. While the Bluejays are 4-2 on the road, a pair of those wins have been by a mere two points. Creighton scores 6.7 fewer points per game on the road while also allowing its opponents to score 5.3 more points per game when playing away from the CHI Health Center.
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2020-21 RTC16: Week 9

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on January 25th, 2021

While the top four remains unchanged this week, the rest of the top 16 was not without shuffle. A loss to Indiana sends Iowa back out of the top five, while Michigan, now headed for a two-week break, moves back into the top five. Alabama extended its winning-streak to nine games and jumps from 13th to 7th, appearing in the top 10 in each ballot cast. Kansas tumbles to a tie for 16th this week, appearing on just 50 percent of the submitted ballots. Kansas gets a home game against TCU mid-week before a test in the Big 12/SEC Challenge against an equally struggling Tennessee team, which dropped from #7 to unranked in the RTC16 this week.

CONFERENCE BREAKDOWN: Big 12 (5), Big Ten (4), ACC (2), Big East (2), SEC (2), AAC (1) WCC (1)

RISING

  • Florida State: The Seminoles climb from outside of the top 16 all the way up to #10 this week. Leonard Hamilton’s team not only put together back-to-back double-figure wins, but did so in dominant fashion. Florida State led Louisville by a margin of 40-16 before winning 78-65; and then over the weekend led Clemson by as many as 38 points on its way to a 80-61 victory.
  • Loyola Chicago: As of today, the Ramblers have a top 30 NET Ranking and a top 25 KenPom ranking. Senior center Cameron Krutwig is averaging a career-best 15.3 points per game, while shooting 62.7 percent from the field. Porter Moser’s squad is playing tenacious defense, holding MVC opponents to a league-low 83.8 points per 100 possessions.
  • Oklahoma: Despite Austin Reaves shooting 3-of-11 from the field, the Sooners grabbed a big win at home over Kansas over the weekend. De’Vion Harmon matched his season-high of 22 points. More impressively OU limited Kansas to just two offensive-rebounds.

FALLING

  • Virginia Tech: Virginia Tech falls out of the RTC16 after a lopsided loss at Syracuse over the weekend. The Hokies leading scorer on the season Keve Aluma scored just two points and shot 1-of-10 from the field. Earlier today, the Hokies were dealt a blow when Tyrece Radford was suspended indefinitely from the team as he is dealing with off the court issues.
  • Tennessee: The Volunteers were 0-2 this past week with losses to Florida and Missouri. Tennessee turned the ball over 18 times in both games, finishing the week with a turnover margin of -8. Additionally, the Volunteers really struggled at the free-throw line, making just 25 of their 50 free-throw attempts during the week.
  • The top of the Pac-12: While the middle and bottom of the Pac-12 had been largely criticized for being lackluster, prior to this past week the top of the conference seemed to be running strong. Then Colorado, Oregon, and UCLA each lost games last week. Oregon hits the road for a Southern California trip which will feature two games against UCLA and another at USC over the next eight days in what will be important action for the conference.

NOTABLE GAMES OF THE WEEK

  • Monday: Syracuse @ Virginia, 7 PM EST, ESPN
  • Tuesday: Oklahoma @ Texas, 7 PM EST
  • Wednesday: Wisconsin @ Maryland, 9 PM EST, Big Ten Network
  • Thursday: Oregon @ UCLA, 9 PM EST, ESPN
  • Friday: Iowa @ Illinois, 9 PM EST, Fox Sports 1
  • Saturday: Big 12/SEC Challenge, All-Day
  • Sunday: SMU @ Houston, 1 PM EST
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Ten Questions to Consider: Marquee Games and Marquee Opportunities

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on January 15th, 2021

While some of this weekend’s action has already been cancelled due to COVID, there remains plenty of games to keep an eye on. Battles at the top of several conferences are taking place and teams coming off of losses have a chance to make quick turnaround statements. Here are 10 questions I have for the games set to take place over the next few days:

  1. How will Wisconsin respond following its disastrous game at Michigan? (Wisconsin @ Rutgers, Friday, 9 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) After a Nate Reuvers basket at the 6:19 mark of the first half put Wisconsin down three points to Michigan, the Badgers were on the wrong end of a 43-6 run over the next 15:36 of action. Wisconsin’s Brad Davison is averaging just 5.3 points per game over his last four games, having shot 8-of-31 from the field.
  2. Can Texas Tech steady the hot shooting its opponents have had beyond the arc in league play? (Baylor @ Texas Tech, Saturday, 4 PM EST, ESPN) Heading into Wednesday’s game against Texas, the Texas Tech defense has forced opponents to shoot under 30 percent on the season from beyond the arc, a percentage that is among the top 50 nationally. However, in conference play, that number has risen to 36.2 percent, third worst in the Big 12. Baylor is shooting above 42 percent from deep on the season, currently ranking second in college basketball.
  3. Can Clemson’s top-ranked defense slow what is currently a one-dimensional Virginia offense? (Virginia @ Clemson, Saturday, 6 PM EST, ESPN) As of Wednesday, no team in the country has a better defensive efficiency than Clemson. While the Tigers are allowing under 87 points per 100 possessions on the season, that has climbed to a tick above 96 points in ACC play, ranking just sixth among ACC teams. For Virginia, while the Cavaliers’ offense is among the nation’s best inside the three-point line, they come in struggling beyond it, shooting an ACC worst 29.5 percent heading into its game against Notre Dame.
  4. Like Gonzaga has been doing to everyone else, will they simply run Saint Mary’s out of the gym? (Gonzaga @ Saint Mary’s, Saturday, 8 PM EST, ESPN) While the Gaels have been a perennial second banana to Gonzaga in the WCC over the last decade, recent matchups between these teams have not been close. Since the start of the 2016-17 season, Gonzaga has won 9 of the 11 games, with those nine victories coming by an average of 21.6 points.
  5. Is the Ziaire Williams and Oscar Da Silva pairing the best duo in the country that no one is talking about? (Stanford @ Colorado, Saturday, 2 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) While Stanford five-star freshman Ziaire Williams made headlines with his recent triple-double, not enough attention is being given to senior Oscar Da Silva. Through five Pac-12 games, Da Silva is averaging 21.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game, while shooting above 55 percent from the field, numbers that no recent player has managed to compile throughout a league season.
  6. Like they have done twice before this season, will Kansas quickly bounce back from its loss earlier in the week? (Iowa State @ Kansas, Saturday, 8 PM EST, ESPN+) Following losses to Gonzaga and Texas, Kansas responded by beating Saint Joseph’s by 22 points and TCU by 29. In the Tuesday night loss against Oklahoma State, Kansas players other than Ochai Agbaji were 1-of-12 from beyond the arc. Over his last two games, freshman Jalen Wilson has scored just 13 total points while committing 10 turnovers.
  7. Can Minnesota end its skid and takedown the red-hot Wolverines?(Michigan @ Minnesota, Saturday, 2 PM EST, ESPN2) In the first matchup between these teams just 10 days prior, Michigan won 82-57. While three of the four 10-minute segments were played tight, the Wolverines went on a 29-8 run to start the second-half which blew the game open. In that span, Michigan made 12-of-15 from the field, while Minnesota made just 3-of-15 shots. Marcus Carr was the only Golden Gopher to score more than 10 points in the game.
  8. In Bedlam, which star shines brightest? (Oklahoma @ Oklahoma State, Saturday, 8 PM EST) Oklahoma’s Austin Reaves and Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham are the only two players in the Big 12 to currently be averaging at least 15+ points, 5+ rebounds, and 3+ assists per game. Reaves is again off to a poor start from beyond the arc shooting just 27.7 percent, something that plagued him last year as well. In Reaves’ two years at Wichita State prior to joining Oklahoma, he had made 45 percent of his 182 three-point attempts.
  9. Can Buffalo and Bowling Green manage to defend without fouling? (Bowling Green @ Buffalo, Friday, 7 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) The Bulls and Falcons each currently sit a game behind Toledo in the MAC. Bowling Green and Buffalo have the MAC’s #1 and #2 ranked defensive efficiencies in league play, despite sitting in the bottom two spots in opponent free throw rate. In Bowling Green’s win over Buffalo earlier in the season, its 20 point per game scorer Justin Turner was a perfect 15-of-15 at the line, with Bowling Green finishing the game making 31-of-40 as a team.
  10. Will North Carolina’s relentless attacking of the offensive glass be too much for Florida State to stop? (North Carolina @ Florida State, Saturday, Noon EST) North Carolina has finished each of the past six seasons with an offensive rebounding rate that was among the top 20 in the nation. North Carolina’s current offensive rebounding rate ranks second in the nation and would be the program’s highest percentage under Roy Williams. In Tuesday’s win over Syracuse, UNC grabbed 24 offensive rebounds, a rate that was above 50 percent for the game. Heading into Wednesday’s action, Florida State ranks 236th in the nation in clearing its defensive glass.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Rematches and Road Tests

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on January 8th, 2021

As the season progresses, teams are beginning to face many different challenges. From injuries to key players, to rematches against conference foes and battles against ongoing trends, teams must adapt and grow to have continued success as the calendar continues to move on. Here are 10 questions I have for the action set to unfold over the next few days:

  1. Can Texas erase last season’s nightmarish trip to Morgantown with a dominant performance of its own? (Texas @ West Virginia, Saturday, 1 PM EST, ESPN) Last season, the Longhorns’ road trip to West Virginia ended with a lopsided 97-59 loss. Texas had a -10 turnover margin and surrendered 23 offensive rebounds. West Virginia is coming off of a win against Oklahoma State, a game in which the Mountaineers trailed by 19 points with 11:15 to go.
  2. After a tale of two halves in the first match-up, can either the Buckeyes or Scarlet Knights assert control for 40 minutes? (Ohio State @ Rutgers, Saturday, Noon EST, Big Ten Network) In the first match-up between these teams on December 23, Rutgers won the first half by 10 points while Ohio State won the second half by 22. One key for Ohio State was its ability to get to the free throw line in the second half, making 17-of-21 after going just 5-of-8 at the line in the first half.
  3. Can Clemson keep up its terrific start by doing something that it has done just once before? (Clemson @ North Carolina, Saturday, 7 PM EST, ESPN) Clemson is currently 9-1, has five wins against the KenPom top 50, and as of Thursday morning, boasts the nation’s best adjusted defensive efficiency rating. Clemson’s defense creates a high-rate of turnovers, an area that can trouble the Tar Heels. The Tigers ended a 40-game losing streak at North Carolina with its win in Chapel Hill last season.
  4. How will the loss of Chris Smith impact the Bruins’ trip to the desert? (UCLA @ Arizona, Saturday, 9 PM EST, ESPN) UCLA learned of Chris Smith’s torn ACL shortly before its game last week against Colorado. This week they begin the desert trip with Arizona State before taking on Arizona on the weekend. The Bruins have won three straight in Tucson for the first time since the early 1980’s. Earning either a split or a sweep in Arizona will tell a lot about UCLA moving forward.
  5. As well as Alabama has been playing, might they have room to get even better? (Alabama @ Auburn, Saturday, Noon EST, ESPN2) The Crimson Tide are 3-0 in SEC play with wins already over Tennessee and Florida. Alabama is shooting 32.3 percent on its three-point attempts for the season, but have been making 39 percent of their attempts in league play. Among those to find their shot has been John Petty, who after starting the year 11-of-39 from deep, has made 10 of his last 20 three-point attempts.
  6. Can the undefeated Drake Bulldogs continue to roll against its stiffest competition? (Loyola Chicago @ Drake, Sunday, 6:30 PM EST, ESPN2) The Drake Bulldogs are a dominant 13-0 with an average margin of victory of 24 points to start the season. Loyola-Chicago’s top-50 KenPom ranking will be the highest of any Drake opponent by roughly 100 spots. For Drake, a trio of former Florida Southwestern players led by Shanquan Hemphill’s 14.2 points per game has been a big reason for the early success of the Bulldogs.
  7. Will this Big Ten battle come down to the stars again? (Minnesota @ Iowa, Sunday, 2:30 PM EST, Big Ten Network) In the Christmas day matchup between Iowa and Minnesota, Minnesota dug itself out of a seven-point deficit in the final minute behind Marcus Carr’s shotmaking which forced overtime and eventually gave the Golden Gophers the win. Carr finished with 30 points and six made threes, while Iowa’s Luka Garza had a game-high 32 points. Garza grabbed 11 offensive rebounds in the game, with Iowa as a team tallying 27.
  8. Can Fatts Russell work his magic on the road or will VCU remain undefeated in the A-10? (Rhode Island @ VCU, Saturday, 2 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) The last time these teams played last season, URI’s Fatts Russell scored 30 points, with 16 coming at the free-throw line. The Rams come in struggling having lost four of six, with one of those wins coming after trailing Saint Joseph’s by four with just 20 seconds to go. VCU comes in having won seven straight games and with its defense creating plenty of frustration with an average of 19.2 forced turnovers over its last five games.
  9. Can UConn take advantage of what has been an ineffective Butler defense? (Connecticut @ Butler, Saturday, 4 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) After having a top-30 ranked effective field-goal defense last season, Butler’s eFG% defense currently ranks among the bottom 50 nationally. If Butler is able to force misses, keeping a Huskies team that ranks among the top five nationally in offensive rebound rate could lead to constant pressure on the Butler defense.
  10. How will UC San Diego fare in its first game in league play at the D-1 level? (UC Irvine @ UC San Diego, Friday, 7 PM EST, ESPN3) The Tritons have played just two games on the year, both coming before Christmas against Saint Katherine of the NAIA. UCSD gets UC Irvine on both Friday and Saturday for its “welcome to the Big West.” UCSD went 30-1 last season and finished the year ranked third in the final D2SIDA rankings
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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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