Big East Bubble Watch: Volume II

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 3rd, 2020

With only about a week remaining until the Big East Tournament, things only continue to get more interesting (looking at you, Providence). There’s still plenty of bubble movement to monitor, but the upper-tier teams are all but locked in. Below is Rush the Court’s second bubble evaluation of the Big East. All figures below are from WarrenNolan.com.

Locks

Seton Hall: 21-7 (13-3); NET: 12; SOS: 10.
Creighton: 21-7 (11-5); NET: 13; SOS: 17.
Villanova: 22-7 (11-5); NET: 17; SOS: 3.
Butler: 20-9 (8-8); NET: 20; SOS: 35.

  • Analysis: Lock city with this group. At this point, it’s difficult to see any of these four teams missing the NCAA Tournament. Villanova, Seton Hall and Creighton are shaping up to be somewhere in the #2-#4 seed range, while Butler is a #5 or #6 seed in most brackets. Sure a loss here or there will hurt seeding, but there isn’t a scenario whereby any would miss the Tournament at this point. You can thank the strength of the Big East for providing so few opportunities for Q2/Q3 losses.

Should Be In

Markus Howard Likely Has His Team Dancing Again (USA Today Images)

Marquette: 18-10 (8-8); NET: 25; SOS: 4.

  • Analysis: A late season stumble hasn’t helped Steve Wojciechowski’s group secure a spot in the Tournament, but it would take a drastic collapse at this point for the Golden Eagles to miss out. However, with two road games at DePaul and St. John’s remaining, an opportunity exists for two more damaging losses and a first round Big East Tournament exit. Even if those losses are in the Q1 or Q2 category, the damage is more in the name and signalling (see Creighton’s loss at St. John’s). One more win would put this team into lock territory and ensure a 9-9 conference record without much NET slippage. Consider me shocked if they miss the Dance.
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2019-20 RTC16: Week 15

Posted by Walker Carey on March 2nd, 2020

In case you have not heard by now, “This is March.” With the calendar finally turning to college basketball’s premier month, the regular season is winding down. And continuing with the unexpected nature of this season, several ranked teams were once again tripped up by unranked foes over the weekend. #13 Duke was the week’s most notable victim. The Blue Devils’ first loss came last Tuesday at Wake Forest when they blew a nine-point lead with 1:21 to play in regulation and ended up losing by 12 in double-overtime. Mike Krzyzewski‘s group then suffered its second loss of the week on Saturday when it was unable to overcome Virginia’s stifling defense in a 52-50 defeat. #4 Baylor had developed a well-earned reputation as one of the surest things in the country this season, but that reputation took a hit Saturday when the Bears suffered their second defeat in three games at TCU. #8 Florida State and #11 Creighton also joined the party in suffering upset losses on the road with the Seminoles falling at Clemson and the Bluejays getting hit with a flurry of three-pointers in a 20-point loss at St. John’s. If the trend of ranked teams taking unexpected losses continues throughout the rest of this month, it is likely this March will go down as one to remember. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Will Rematches Lead to Similar Results?

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 28th, 2020

The end of February and beginning of March is upon the college basketball world. As the number of days remaining in the regular season dwindles to single digits, the importance of each game grows. Here are 10 questions I have for some of the meaningful match-ups this weekend:

  1. Coming off of its late rally against Minnesota, will Maryland be ready for a full 40 minutes of Michigan State? (Michigan State @ Maryland, Saturday, 8 PM EST, ESPN) In the earlier match-up between these two teams in East Lansing, Maryland jumped out to an early 15-point lead before falling behind 60-53 with 3:24 to go. Anthony Cowan’s heroics from deep ultimately saved the Terps and led to pole position atop the Big Ten. It was a game in which Michigan State made just 21 percent of its three-point attempts.
  2. Will Penn State’s bench be a difference-maker as it looks to sweep Iowa? (Penn State @ Iowa, Saturday, Noon EST, Big Ten Network) The Nittany Lions’ bench is averaging 21.6 points per game over the team’s last five games. In their win against Iowa earlier in the season, the Penn State bench scored 46 of the team’s 89 points, while Iowa’s bench managed just eight points of its own.
  3. Will Marquette get productive showings from anyone other than Markus Howard? (Seton Hall @ Marquette, Saturday, 2:30 PM EST, Fox) In the first showdown between Markus Howard and Myles Powell this season, each dynamic scorer finished with more than 20 points (Howard: 27, Powell: 23). For Marquette, though, the rest of the team went just 3-of-11 from inside the arc, 6-of-19 from beyond it, and 4-of-9 at the charity stripe.
  4. After dropping its last two road games at NC State and Wake Forest, how does Duke fare at Virginia? (Duke @ Virginia, Saturday, 6 PM EST, ESPN) As Rush the ACC noted earlier in the week, Duke on the road has been a very different looking team compared to Duke at home. In Duke’s nine road ACC games, the Blue Devils have trailed after the opening 10 minutes in eight of those games. At home, Tony Bennett’s team has held its ACC opponents to an average of just 9.4 points in the opening 10 minutes of action.
  5. Can UCLA slow the Arizona offense again and gain a big win for its resume? (Arizona @ UCLA, Saturday, 10 PM EST, ESPN) In UCLA’s win at the McKale Center earlier this month, the Bruins held Arizona to just 52 points on 25.4 percent shooting from the field. It was the worst home shooting night in Arizona history. The Bruins limited Arizona freshman Nico Mannion to a season-low five points on 2-of-14 shooting.
  6. Will any defensive changes for Saint Mary’s work in slowing Gonzaga? (Saint Mary’s @ Gonzaga, Saturday, 10 PM EST, ESPN2) In Gonzaga’s lopsided win over the Gaels earlier in the year, Corey Kispert’s jumper at the 8:03 mark of the first half pushed the lead to 22 points as Gonzaga led 34-12. Mark Few’s squad made 16 of their first 17 shots from the field. The only thing that slowed Gonzaga in the opening minutes was turnovers, as the Bulldogs committed seven in the first 10 minutes.
  7. Will Auburn be able to win the battle of the backboard and free throw line on the road at Rupp? (Auburn @ Kentucky, Saturday, 3:45 PM EST, CBS) In Auburn’s home win over Kentucky on February 1, the Tigers were +11 in free-throw makes (33 FTM), +20 in free-throw attempts (44 FTA), +14 on the glass, and won the turnover battle. On the season, Kentucky has averaged 9.6 more made free throws at home than its opponents.
  8. Can Michigan keep winning on the road? (Michigan @ Ohio State, Sunday, 4 PM EST, CBS) After dropping its first four road tests in league play, Michigan has won its last four Big Ten tests away from the Crisler Center. In its loss against Ohio State earlier in the season, 31 of Michigan’s 60 field goal attempts were from three-point range, its highest three-point rate on the season, a rate much higher than its season average.
  9. Has Stanford stabilized itself after its tough midseason stretch? (Colorado @ Stanford, Sunday, 6 PM EST, ESPNU) The Cardinal have won three straight games after a stretch where it lost seven of eight. Stanford takes on a Colorado team it lost to earlier in the month. That match-up is remembered for a scary scene involving Oscar da Silva’s head injury. Since returning from the injury suffered in that game, da Silva has scored 15 or more points in each of his four games.
  10. Can Davidson ruin Dayton’s quest for A-10 perfection? (Davidson @ Dayton, Friday, 7 PM EST, ESPN2) Bob McKillop’s Wildcats are shooting an Atlantic 10 best 37.3 percent from beyond the arc in league play while also holding opponents to a league-low 44.2 percent on field goal attempts from inside the arc. Slowing Dayton is easier said than done as the Flyers lead in the nation in effective field goal percentage and two-point shooting percentage.

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Five Questions: February in the Big East

Posted by Justin Kundrat & Brad Cavallaro on February 25th, 2020

We’re oh so close to March, the Big East Tournament and everything good that follows. With each slate of conference games under wrap comes more certainty but also more urgency. The Big East has had its fair share of risers and fallers in recent weeks, and below, microsite writers Justin Kundrat and Brad Cavallaro attempt to tackle the big themes happening now.

1. Creighton has seemingly taken the conference by storm these last few weeks, winning nine of its last 10 games. Is it safe to say the Bluejays are the team to beat at the upcoming Big East Tournament?

Creighton has Been on Fire All February (USA Today Images)

JK: As much as I want to say they’re being overrated, it’s hard to overlook what Creighton has accomplished in recent weeks. At 11-4 in Big East play, they are still a game back from Seton Hall but have been playing unconsciously on the offensive end. I could write for days about their 38.6 percent three-point shooting (fourth nationally) supported by three guys hitting at greater than 40 percent, and the ball movement that accompanies their small ball style. But the key difference has been: 1. Ty-Shon Alexander’s function as a defensive ball stopper, and 2. Denzel Mahoney’s ability to score at multiple levels. Alexander has shut down just about everyone from Kamar Baldwin to Markus Howard to Myles Powell, while Mahoney, a 6’5″ transfer from Southeastern Missouri has shot 34 percent from deep while showing an ability to out-muscle his defenders on drives. I’m a buyer of this team and think they’re the conference favorite.

BC: I agree, Creighton looks the best team at this point. Their dynamic offense quickly disposed of Butler in a blink of an eye and it will be extremely difficult for any other Big East team to slow them down. The Zegarowski/Alexander/Ballock trio is so scary because all three have extremely deep range and an ability to put the ball on the floor and become playmakers. While Villanova may have the highest ceiling and Seton Hall has an elite scorer and rim protector, Creighton’s scorching shooting makes them the late February favorite.

2. With just a few games remaining, are you worried about the late season slides for Butler and Marquette?

BC: I am certainly more worried for Butler than Marquette. Butler was projected as an NIT team in the preseason and their talent level is certainly closer to that level than that of an elite team. Butler will certainly make the NCAA Tournament — probably as a #6 or #7 seed — and has a fairly favorable closing schedule, but their deteriorating defense is the biggest concern. As for Marquette, I think we were getting ahead of ourselves in ranking them as a top 20 club. Expect a 10-8 conference record and a #6 or #7 seed for the Golden Eagles as well, but they have a much better chance of advancing behind an improved defense and the unreal scoring wizardry of Markus Howard.

JK: It seems like we’re writing about late season slides for Marquette every season as Howard runs out of gas or the defense fails to materialize or their secondary scorers disappear. It’s a problem, and I’m not sure why guys like Sacar Anim, Brendan Bailey and Koby McEwen can’t consistently generate offense when Howard receives so much attention. But the last game’s box score against Providence tells you all you need to know: Howard: 38 points, rest of team: 34. I love Howard, but I think you need an offense with multiple options, or a defense that can string together enough stops to offset any scoring droughts. So I’m a little worried, but not as worried as I am about Butler… a team that has battled more injuries than I can keep track of and recently saw Kamar Baldwin go out as well. This is already a short rotation team but the guys simply look gassed and don’t have the same cohesiveness defensively that we saw earlier in the season. Here’s a shocking stat: in conference play, Butler is dead last in defensive efficiency, allowing teams to score 1.08 PPP. This seems like a difficult problem to fix when you’re already short-handed.

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2019-20 RTC 16: Week 13

Posted by Walker Carey on February 17th, 2020

Entering this season, it seemed like almost a formality that preseason #1 Michigan State was going to run through the Big Ten on its way to a regular season title. That notion, however, has not turned out to the be the case, as #7 Maryland and #9 Penn State have emerged as the clear favorites to take home the Big Ten title. The Terrapins have now won eight straight games after overcoming a seven-point deficit with less than four minutes to play in a stunning 67-60 weekend victory at Michigan State. The Terrapins currently have a one-game lead in the Big Ten standings over the Nittany Lions, who are equally as hot. A January 16 loss to Minnesota left Penn State at 2-4 in the league and decidedly behind the eight-ball in a very competitive conference. Things have turned on a dime, though, for Pat Chambers‘ group, as the Nittany Lions have now won eight consecutive league games for the first time in program history with an ability to win both at home and on the road. While the Big Ten race has thus far shaken out much differently than expected, Maryland and Penn State have both shown they are good enough to not only take home the league title, but also be legitimate contenders to advance to the Final Four. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Ten Questions To Consider: Resume Building, Season Saving, Slump Busting Weekend

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 14th, 2020

With Selection Sunday now just five weekends away, the importance of each and every game increases. This weekend some teams will look to solidify their spot on the right side of bubble, while others will look to keep their position at the top of their conference standings. Here are 10 questions I have for just some of the meaningful action to take place.

  1. Did the win at Illinois turn a corner for Michigan State or will it prove to be a bit of a mirage? (Maryland @ Michigan State, Saturday, 6 PM EST, ESPN) Michigan State played a tremendous opening half at Illinois on Tuesday night, as the Spartans led by 20 points early in the second half before falling apart and needing a Xavier Tillman putback to win in the final seconds. This is Michigan State’s first of five games remaining on the schedule against teams currently in the KenPom top 20.
  2. Can West Virginia dominate the glass and find a way to steal a win at Baylor? (West Virginia @ Baylor, Saturday, 4 PM EST, ESPN+) Baylor and West Virginia each rank among the nation’s top 10 teams in offensive rebound rate. Rebounding has been a key factor for the Mountaineers all season, especially on the defensive glass. West Virginia has gone 13-1 when holding its opponent to an offensive rebounding rate below 28 percent. When that rate exceeds that mark, Bob Huggins’ team has gone just 5-5.
  3. How will the Louisville’s starting five respond to its lackluster performance against Georgia Tech? (Louisville @ Clemson, Saturday, 4 PM EST, ACC Network) In Louisville’s surprising loss Wednesday at Georgia Tech, the Cardinals’ starting five combined for just 18 points. Jordan Nwora logged a season-low two points while committing four turnovers. In Louisville’s win against Clemson on January 25, the same five starters combined to score 48 of Louisville’s 80 points.
  4. Can Stanford find a way to save its season? (Arizona @ Stanford, Saturday, 10:30 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) After starting the season 15-2 and 4-0 in Pac-12 play, Stanford has dropped five of its next six games since. While the Cardinal maintain a top 30 NET Ranking as of Thursday night, a pair of home losses to the Arizona schools would likely serve as a knockout punch to its lingering Tournament hopes.
  5. Will the Illini have Ayo Dosunmu to help end a three-game skid? (Illinois @ Rutgers, Saturday, 4:30 PN EST, Big Ten Network) The final seconds of the Illinois/Michigan State game were not kind to Brad Underwood’s squad — from the game-deciding basket of Xavier Tillman to an injury seconds later to Illinois’ leading scorer Ayo Dosunmu. Dosunmu’s status is unclear heading into the weekend, but without him, Illinois is in great danger of picking up its fourth consecutive loss.
  6. If Boise State protects the ball, can they become the first team to knock off the Aztecs? (San Diego State @ Boise State, Sunday, 4 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) In the first match-up of the season between these two teams, Boise State made 60.7 percent of its two-point field-goal attempts, the highest percentage of any Aztecs opponent. Unfortunately for the Broncos, 18 turnovers (a season-high turnover rate of 26.3%) was far too much to overcome.
  7. Can the Hoosiers find a way to improve its offense away from Assembly Hall? (Indiana @ Michigan, Sunday, 1 PM EST, CBS) The Indiana offense has looked vastly different on the road than at home this season. While the Hoosiers have scored north of 78 points per game at home, their road average sits at just 60.3 points per game. Archie Miller will need more from his four leading scorers this weekend, who average 50 points per game at home and just 36.1 points per game away from Bloomington.
  8. Will Colorado make it out of the state of Oregon with at least one win? (Colorado @ Oregon State, Saturday, 10 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Saturday’s game at Gill Coliseum will be an opportunity for Colorado salvage one win to remain on top of the Pac-12. The Buffaloes led Oregon State 63-52 with just under eight minutes to go in the first match-up before Colorado closed on a 24-5 run end the game.
  9. Can the Razorbacks end recent struggles and add a Quadrant 2 win to their resume? (Mississippi State @ Arkansas, Saturday, 1 PM EST, SEC Network) Arkansas sat at #28 in the NET Rankings on January 28, but since then, the Razorbacks have gone 1-4 with a pair of those losses coming in overtime and another by a mere two points. Their current NET Ranking is now just barely inside the top 50. With a 4-8 record against Quadrant 1 and 2 teams, Saturday could amount to a must-win game for the Razorbacks.
  10. Can Porter Moser’s Ramblers slow Northern Iowa from beyond the arc or will it grab a stranglehold on the MVC’s top spot? (Northern Iowa @ Loyola Chicago, Saturday, 8 PM EST, ESPN2) On the season, Loyola ranks outside of the top 300 in opponents’ three-point percentage, making this a difficult match-up against a Northern Iowa squad that is among the five best three-point shooting teams. Northern Iowa has three player who have made 40 or more threes at a clip of 40 percent or better.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume V

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 14th, 2020

Here is this week’s 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. This week, we look at the best 3-point shooting teams (offensively and defensively) and see how they compare to recent ACC leaders in those categories. Finally, we will forecast how the final ACC standings may look given current efficiency margins, and what that may mean for teams’ ultimate postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Wednesday, February 12.

Current Standings

At this point in the season, team rankings in point per possession margin (PPM) line up well with overall league standings, but there are a couple of outliers. Based on PPM alone, one would expect North Carolina and Boston College to be flip-flopped in the standings — to explain why this is not the case, performance in close games tells the tale. The Eagles are an impressive 4-1 in games decided by two possessions or fewer, while the Tar Heels are 0-5 in similar situations. Among the teams in the upper middle of the ACC, Virginia and Notre Dame may have an advantage in short-term schedule difficulty. The Cavaliers will face four straight sub-.500 ACC squads in the next two weeks, while the Irish have a toughie at Duke on Saturday, but next comes four games in a row versus ACC schools with losing league marks. Meanwhile, Syracuse must play five of its next seven contests on the road, and NC State is looking at a three-game stretch that features a roadie at Boston College followed by challenging home tilts with Duke and Florida State.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Elite Three-Point Offense and Defense

Success from behind the arc has been very important to determining the outcome of ACC games this season – the team with a higher 3-point shooting percentage in a given game has tasted victory 78 percent of the time. The top two schools in the standings are excelling in this crucial statistic in historic fashion, but in very different ways.

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Big East Bubble Watch: Volume I

Posted by Justin Kundrat & Brad Cavallaro on February 10th, 2020

We’re finally working our way into the heart of February. College football is over, the Super Bowl is over, and as these other attention-grabbing sports fade into the rear-view, college basketball embraces its time in the spotlight. We still have a solid five weeks of play before the NCAA Tournament tips off on March 17, but the bracket is already taking form. Below is Rush the Court’s first evaluation of the Big East. All figures below are from WarrenNolan.com.

Locks

Seton Hall is Back, Baby (USA Today Images)

Seton Hall: 18-5 (10-1); NET: 12; SOS: 20
Villanova: 17-6 (7-4); NET: 18; SOS: 2

  • Analysis: Some other sites have been cautious to call these two teams locks, but I can’t conceive a scenario where neither makes it. Both are shaping up to be seeded in the #3-#5 range, with incremental wins at this point serving to move the dial upward and ideally provide a favorable location draw. In spite of Villanova’s recent three-game skid, the Wildcats still boast a NET ranking of #18 with five Q1 wins. The concern for Jay Wright is less about seeding and more so fixing its short rotation and ailing post defense. Seton Hall meanwhile has seen a number of its secondary players emerge at just the right time. Romaro Gill‘s offensive play has stalled, but the likes of Sandro Mamukelashvili and Jared Rhoden are helping to soften a recent Myles Powell shooting slump.

Should Be In

Butler: 18-6 (6-5); NET: 10; SOS: 46.

  • Analysis: Butler is closer to “Lock” status than “Not Quite There,” but after a sizzling 15-1 start, the Bulldogs have only won just three of their last eight games. In those eight contests, the defense has given up 1.12 points per possession, as opponents are scoring both at the rim and around the perimeter. This is a concern for a team with a methodical approach that, in the beginning half of the season, used defensive stops to power its offense. Still, none of the trio of losses are necessarily bad — Butler is still 12-6 in Q1/Q2 games and has no losses in the Q3/Q4 territory. Consider this team safe, in general.

Creighton: 17-6 (7-4); NET: 22; SOS: 31.

Creighton Has Been Sneaky Good All Season (USA Today Images)
  • Analysis: The bracket aggregation site BracketMatrix lists Creighton’s average seed as a 5.08. With a 6-6 record in Q1 games and unblemished beyond that, the Bluejays look every part a Tournament team. Their defense, given a lack of size and inability to win the rebounding battle, is concerning, but a 7-4 conference record is propelled by a remarkably efficient offense (7th nationally). The remaining schedule offers more opportunities for quality wins, which can further improve their seeding, but the other benefit is that there are not many opportunities for bad losses either. Consider Creighton close — maybe a week or two away from being a lock.

Marquette: 17-6 (7-4); NET: 24; SOS: 10.

  • Analysis: Marquette has an eerily similar profile to Creighton in many ways. The Golden Eagles also have six Q1 wins, no bad losses, and a 7-4 Big East record. The notable part about this group is their much improved defense, with a range of long wing players and an improving front line in tow. They are currently slotted as a #6/#7 seed in most brackets, which should further improve once adjusted for Sunday’s home win over Butler. There is some margin for error here, so a few bad losses won’t put them out of the picture, but it’s too early to say definitively. Like Creighton, this team is almost to the point of playing for seeding.
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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume IV

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 7th, 2020

Here is this week’s 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. In this edition, we look at how high usage rate correlates to offensive efficiency for the players that are eating up the most possessions in league play. Finally, we will forecast how the final ACC standings may look given current efficiency margins, and what that may mean for teams’ ultimate postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Wednesday, February 5.

Current Standings

Last week we suggested that North Carolina and Notre Dame may be ready to make a surge in the standings based on how they were performing on a per possession basis. Well, we were half right. Even with star Cole Anthony back in the lineup, the Tar Heels dropped two in a row after showing signs of life the week before. But the Fighting Irish have indeed been on an upward trend, thanks to the performance of the second-best offense in the league. In winning its last three outings, Notre Dame has averaged a sizzling 1.22 points per possession. Its upcoming schedule will make it hard to keep up this momentum -– three consecutive road trips (Clemson, Virginia and Duke) are next for Mike Brey’s group.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Usage versus Efficiency

Since his return to game action (and even before), Cole Anthony has come under scrutiny for the high volume of shots that he launches for North Carolina. That criticism seems valid, considering how infrequently his attempts go in the basket (35.1% FG). In his four ACC games to date, Anthony has the highest usage rate (34.3% Poss) in the league but has an offensive rating of just 94.5. Let’s see how that compares to the other high-possession players in the conference.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Will the Wild and Crazy Continue?

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 7th, 2020

As February moves along, the college basketball season hits a key weekend of rivalry matchups and games among conference foes. From teams battling for conference superiority to schools looking to fight their way back to the right side of the bubble, here are 10 questions I have for this weekend:

  1. Will Saint Mary’s be able to get the necessary stops against Gonzaga? (Gonzaga @ Saint Mary’s, Saturday, 10 PM EST, ESPN) After finishing as KenPom’s top-ranked offense last season, the Zags find themselves in the top spot once again this season. In last season’s three match-ups between WCC foes, Saint Mary’s struggled to slow Gonzaga inside the arc, as Gonzaga made 61.6 percent of its two-point attempts. In Saint Mary’s loss last weekend at BYU, the Gaels allowed the Cougars to shoot a blistering 57.9 percent from the field.
  2. Can Villanova claw its way back into the Big East title race? (Seton Hall @ Villanova, Saturday, 2:30 PM EST, FOX) Villanova has lost two straight contests, including a home loss last weekend at the hands of Creighton. The Wildcats last lost consecutive home games during the 2011-12 season. In three career games at Villanova, however, Myles Powell has scored an average of nine points per game and has made just 4-of-20 shots from beyond the arc.
  3. Quite simply, which Purdue team shows up? (Purdue @ Indiana, Saturday, 2 PM EST, ESPN) The Boilermakers are 10-2 at home, outscoring opponents by an average of 20.4 points per game. On the road, though, Matt Painter’s squad has gone just 3-8, scoring an average of 18.8 fewer points per game away from home. The Boilermakers travel to Bloomington this weekend, where they will look to grab a victory for the fourth straight time.
  4. Can Illinois remain perfect at home? (Maryland @ Illinois, Friday, 8 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) The Terps escaped with a victory over Illinois earlier this season despite trailing by seven points with under four minutes remaining. Illinois will need Kofi Cockburn on the floor to try and slow a red-hot Jalen Smith — the Illini star played a season-low 21 minutes in the first match-up while hampered with foul trouble.
  5. Is Davidson the team Atlantic 10 front-runners do not want to see on their schedule? (Davidson @ VCU, Friday, 7 PM EST, ESPN2) While Davidson remains iffy defensively, its offense is clicking. Senior guard Jon Axel Gudmundsson is shooting 37 percent from three-point range over his last five conference games after starting league play making just 4-of-28 (14.3%). The preseason pick to finish second in the league could be clicking at just the wrong time for its opponents.
  6. What will Mick Cronin’s first trip to the McKale Center look like? (UCLA @ Arizona, Saturday, 10 PM EST, ESPN2) The Bruins head to the desert winners of four of their last five games, but UCLA’s Jalen Hill and Cody Riley will be put to the test down low by Zeke Nnaji. Tyger Campbell will also be challenged by Nico Mannion, who has several inches on his counterpart.
  7. Will there be any lingering effects of the last match-up between Saint Louis and Dayton? (Saint Louis @ Dayton, Saturday, 2 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) First, Saint Louis led by 13 with 7:40 to go, then Dayton found itself up five with 1:59 left. Saint Louis tied it at the buzzer in regulation, but came up on the short end of the stick because of Jalen Crutcher’s overtime winner at the buzzer. The Billikens’ duo of Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French combined to grab 12 offensive boards in the first match-up.
  8. Which Big East team adds an important win to its resume? (Providence @ Xavier, Saturday, 8 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Providence began the season with a very poor non-conference season and has since turned things around in league play. While Xavier entered Big East play at 11-2, it has gone just 4-6 since. Providence’s leading scorer Alpha Diallo (12.8 PPG) is averaging just 7.6 points per game over his last five contests on 13-of-44 shooting from the field.
  9. In a crazy year of college basketball, would North Carolina beating Duke really be THAT crazy? (Duke @ North Carolina, Saturday, 6 PM EST, ESPN) For starters, Cole Anthony is back, and while he has not been efficient since his return, he has enough talent to take over any game. With Brandon Robinson out with a recent injury, even more will be on the plate on Saturday night for Anthony. In the last 13 match-ups between these teams, six games have been decided by five points or fewer, and the margin of victory has been more than 10 points only once over that stretch.
  10. Can Texas add its name to the bubble with a win over the Red Raiders? (Texas Tech @ Texas, Saturday, 4 PM EST, ESPN2) As of Thursday night, Shaka Smart’s Longhorns sit at 3-6 against Quad 1 opponents and 1-2 in Quad 2 games. With wins at TCU and Oklahoma State in precarious spots on the edge of Quad 1, Texas needs to take advantage of its remaining home opportunities against quality opponents.

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