Ten Questions to Consider: A Weekend of Statement Games

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 18th, 2019

This weekend features road tests for the two remaining undefeated teams, intrigue across the power conferences, and match-ups involving squads looking to end recent trends. Here are 10 questions I have for this weekend’s games.

Tony Bennett is Ready to Take On Duke Again (USA Today Images)
  1. Can Duke do what few can and solve Virginia’s defense? (Virginia @ Duke, Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN) Prior to last season’s win by Virginia at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke had beaten the Cavaliers in the teams’ previous 17 games in Durham. Duke’s offense to date has been held under one point per possession just one time this year (Texas Tech), while Virginia has held 13 of its 16 opponents under that threshold. To beat Virginia, Duke will have to improve upon its three-point shooting, though, as the Blue Devils are hitting only 22.8 percent from behind the arc over their last eight games.
  2. Can Wisconsin find enough production off of its bench to hand Michigan its first loss? (Michigan @ Wisconsin, Saturday Noon EST, ESPN) In the Badgers’ three Big Ten wins, their bench has averaged 18.7 points per game; but in the Badgers three conference losses, their bench has averaged just 7.7 points per game. The trio of Ethan Happ, D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison will need help from the reserves in scoring to beat the Wolverines.
  3. Will Ashton Hagans continue to shine as both Kentucky and Auburn try to avoid a second conference loss? (Kentucky @ Auburn, Saturday 4 PM EST, ESPN) After scoring no more than eight points in a single game during his first 11 outings as a Wildcat, Kentucky’s Ashton Hagans is averaging 15.6 points per game over the last five. Hagans will be dealing with an Auburn defense, however, that leads the country in forced turnover rate (27.8%).
  4. Can Kansas State avoid looking ahead to an upcoming game against Texas Tech when TCU comes to town? (TCU @ Kansas State, Saturday 4 PM EST, ESPN2) After starting Big 12 play 0-2, the Wildcats have subsequently rattled off three straight wins. While Kansas State has an elite defense, its offensive efficiency ranks outside of the top 175. As a team, the Wildcats shoot a mere 63.8 percent from the free throw line, a number that could haunt them if they get caught looking ahead to Texas Tech.
  5. Would keeping Maryland off of the free throw line be enough for Ohio State to end its recent three-game losing streak? (Maryland @ Ohio State, Friday 6 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) According to KenPom‘s database, the average rate at which Big Ten teams are sending opponents to the free throw line in conference play is 32.9 percent. Through five conference games, Ohio State’s defense is sending its opponents to the line at a rate of 53.6 percent. During the Buckeyes current three-game losing streak, their opponents have made 20 more free throws than Chris Holtmann’s team has attempted.
  6. Can Texas Tech find any sort of offensive rhythm? (Texas Tech @ Baylor, Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN2) While the Red Raiders continue to own the nation’s best defense, their offensive efficiency ranks ninth among Big 12 teams in conference play. Texas Tech has made just 29.6 percent of its three-point attempts over the last eight games.
  7. Might Syracuse get stuck looking back at its huge win on Monday when Pittsburgh comes to the Carrier Dome? (Pittsburgh @ Syracuse, Saturday 2 PM EST) Jim Boeheim’s squad is coming off of a marquee win against Duke in which the Orange shot 11-of-25 from distance while the Blue Devils went 9-of-43. Syracuse now hosts a Pittsburgh team that is led by the freshman backcourt duo of Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens.
  8. How will Marquette fare against Providence if Markus Howard is unable to play? (Providence @ Marquette, Sunday Noon, CBS Sports Network) Markus Howard left Marquette’s most recent game after playing just three minutes with a sore back. Without Howard in the lineup, Sam Hauser stepped up and scored 31 points while making 4-of-9 from beyond the arc. Hauser is now shooting 29.4 percent from three-point range in five Big East games — last season, however, Hauser led the Big East from distance at an incredible 53.7 percent.
  9. Who will walk away from the Red River Rivalry game with a win? (Oklahoma @ Texas, Saturday 8 PM EST, Longhorn Network) Both Oklahoma and Texas sit at 2-3 in Big 12 play, but Texas has lost three consecutive games and Oklahoma has lost three of its last five.
  10. Can Oregon State make a statement in the desert? (Oregon State @ Arizona, Saturday 10 PM EST, Pac 12 Network) Oregon State began this week as one of three Pac-12 teams undefeated in conference play — it lost to Arizona State last night and Arizona has since lost to Oregon. The Beavers will have an opportunity to salvage a split against the Wildcats on Saturday night. Keep in mind that Oregon State has lost 33 of its last 34 games against Arizona in Tucson.

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2018-19 RTC16: Week Nine

Posted by Walker Carey on January 14th, 2019

The early portion of conference play often comes with observations about how new coaches are working out in their programs. Those quick-hit observations can often be misguided because of a small sample size, but there are times where such declarations can clearly be taken as a sign of positive things to come. For example, take a look at what Kermit Davis is doing in his first season at #13 Ole Miss. The Rebels went just 12-20 last season and were picked to finish dead last in the SEC preseason media poll, but a 13-2 start featuring a resounding 82-67 home win over #11 Auburn on Wednesday and a comeback victory over archrival Mississippi State on Saturday have gotten everyone’s attention. It will be interesting to see how Davis’ squad handles the role of the hunted now that it has earned a national ranking. That said, the Rebels have not experienced defeat since the week of Thanksgiving and figure to be home favorites this week in games against LSU and Arkansas. The regular season is far from over, but Davis has already shown in his first year that he is ready to make Ole Miss a contender in a very competitive SEC race. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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What’s Trending: A Wild Week in End of Game Situations…

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 14th, 2019

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

Last week was filled with drama and intrigue around the college basketball world, with plenty of close games heading into the waning seconds.

On Wednesday night, Marquette was staring at a three-point deficit with less than one second remaining when Markus Howard inbounded the ball to Sam Houser, who immediately decided 40 minutes was not enough basketball for this game…

On Thursday night, Oregon watched a large second-half lead dwindle to just three points with a few seconds left. Instead of allowing UCLA to attempt a game-tying three-pointer, Dana Altman instructed his team to foul the Bruins. After Jaylen Hands made the first attempt to trim the lead to just two, chaos ensued. While the game would go to overtime, the Bruins found a way to escape Eugene with a win in extra five minutes. The debate on whether to foul or not to foul rages on…

https://twitter.com/SportsCenter/status/1083576752398577664

Not to be outdone by their power conference brethren, Thursday night was filled with last second drama in both the WAC and the Sun Belt. In the former, New Mexico State’s Johnny McCants delivered this half-court heave in the dying seconds….

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Ten Questions To Consider: Early Conference Play Action

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 11th, 2019

While teams are now just a couple of games into conference play, this weekend features a number of opportunities for some to stay perfect, for others to bounce back from tough loses, and for several resume statements to be made. Here are 10 questions I have in advance of this weekend’s action.

Ethan Happ is Playing like an All-American
  1. Will Ethan Happ’s hot start to conference play continue? (Purdue @ Wisconsin, Friday 9 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ is averaging a career high 19.3 points per game and is coming off of a 22-point outing against Penn State in which he took 24 shots from the field.
  2. Can Indiana find a way to win on the road? (Indiana @ Maryland, Friday 7 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Indiana is 1-3 in true road games this season, with its only win being by two points at Penn State. In the Hoosiers’ recent road loss at Michigan, they fell behind 32-19 midway through the first half.
  3. Will Tennessee start SEC play 3-0 for just the second time in the last decade? (Tennessee @ Florida, Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN) The Volunteers are currently the only SEC team with both an adjusted offensive and deficiency ranking among the top 25 nationally. Tennessee has dropped three games in a row at Florida, however, having lost each game by 13 or more points.
  4. Can the inconsistent Texas offense show up against the elite defense of Texas Tech? (Texas Tech @ Texas, Saturday 2 PM EST, Longhorn Network) Shaka Smart’s Longhorns have been wildly inconsistent on the offensive end this season. In their last six games, Texas has scored at a clip of 1.1 points per possession or better four times but twice have failed to score at least 0.9 points per possession.
  5. How can Florida State find a way to beat Duke (Duke @ Florida State, Saturday 2 PM EST, ESPN) Florida State has won its last two home match-ups when both the Seminoles and Blue Devils were ranked. Led by Christ Koumadje, Florida State has had tremendous success grabbing misses on the offensive end all season — keep in mind that the Blue Devils surrendered 19 offensive rebounds to Wake Forest in their last outing.
  6. Can San Francisco compete with the King of the WCC? (Gonzaga @ San Francisco, Saturday 10 PM EST, ESPN2) San Francisco entered the week with a NET ranking of #37, even though the Dons currently feature just two wins against top 100 KenPom opponents. In order to enter the discussion of an eventual at-large bid, USF must perform well against Gonzaga this weekend. The Dons need to find a way to slow down a Zags’ attack that made 61.8 percent of its two-point attempts against the Dons a season ago.
  7. Is Virginia’s offense not getting enough attention this season? (Virginia @ Clemson, Noon EST, ACC Network) Virginia is coming off of a game on Wednesday night in which it scored 83 points in regulation against Boston College. It was the first time a Cavaliers’ team had scored 80 or more points in regulation of an ACC game since February 24, 2013. After shooting 39.2 percent from behind the arc as a sophomore, Kyle Guy is making 47.3 percent of his three-point attempts this season.
  8. How does Louisville respond to its loss against Pittsburgh against North Carolina? (Louisville @ North Carolina, Saturday Noon EST, ESPN) In Louisville’s loss against Pittsburgh this week, the Panthers shot 56.1 percent from inside the arc. The Cardinals are now 3-4 when their opponents shoot above 50 percent from inside the line. Louisville also needs to see Jordan Nwora respond positively after a miserable 2-of-14 game from the field.
  9. Who will come out on top in a match-up of strengths between the TCU offense and the Oklahoma defense? (TCU @ Oklahoma, Saturday 2 PM EST) Jamie Dixon’s TCU squad heads to Norman with one of the best two-point shooting teams in the nation. On the other side of the ball, Oklahoma’s two-point field goal defense is among the best in the nation. The Sooners have the 10th best field-goal defense at the rim, according to Hoop-Math, holding opponents to 50.5 percent in those attempts, nearly nine points better than the national average.
  10. Will Syracuse’s Frank Howard turn a corner and return to his old self this weekend? (Georgia Tech @ Syracuse, Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN2) After missing the first four games with a leg injury, Syracuse’s Frank Howard has scored in single-digits in 9 of his 11 games this season. This comes just a season removed from Howard scoring in fewer than 10 points in just five games last year.

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2018-19 RTC16: Week Seven

Posted by Walker Carey on January 7th, 2019

Winning conference road games is difficult — it always has been and always will be. #8 Kansas and #11 Nevada were reintroduced to that notion on Saturday, with both top-10 teams falling hard in hostile road environments. The Jayhawks’ loss at Hilton Coliseum to a strong #15 Iowa State squad was not necessarily surprising — the Cyclones closed as a two-point favorite — but it was the way in which Bill Self‘s group faltered that raised some eyebrows around the country. Kansas finished the 77-60 defeat with an astounding 24 turnovers while also hitting just six of their 20 three-point attempts, while usual standout performers Lagerald Vick and Dedric Lawson combined for just 19 points on 7-of-19 shooting. The weekend went from bad to worse for Kansas on Sunday when Self announced that big man Udoka Azubuike — who was sidelined in Saturday’s loss — will miss the remainder of the season with a hand injury. Nevada’s loss was more unexpected, as the Wolf Pack dropped an 85-58 laugher to a New Mexico team that entered the contest with a paltry 7-6 record. Eric Musselman‘s team suffered through an uncharacteristically poor offensive outing — shooting just 33 percent from the field — and it let a 12-point halftime deficit balloon to the final margin with a no-show second half. Standout forward Caleb Martin had a particularly brutal evening, finishing with just eight points on 2-of-14 shooting. It was a rough weekend for these two teams, but knowing college basketball, a majority of the other top squads will also stumble on the road at some point over the balance of the season. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Ten Questions To Consider: Conference Play Begins Across the Country

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 4th, 2019

With non-conference play all but over, it’s time to begin conference play in earnest. This weekend’s slate of games includes key road tests, match-ups among teams expected to battle for conference supremacy, and a chance to end a long losing streak.

It’s Always Fun When Kansas Visits Hilton Coliseum (USA Today Images)
  1. Will Toledo’s offense continue to shine as they take on Ball State in a “Best of the West” MAC opener? (Ball State @ Toledo, Friday 7 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) The MAC’s Western Division is led by KenPom top 100 teams Toledo and Ball State. The Rockets’ Nate Navigato has scored 14 or more points in six of the team’s last seven games while shooting 27-of-48 from distance.
  2. Can Iowa State make enough threes to beat Kansas? (Kansas @ Iowa State, Saturday 5 PM EST, ESPN2) On the season, 41 percent of Cyclone field goal attempts have been three-pointers. Iowa State will be dealing with a Kansas defense, on the other hand, that has forced opponents to miss 126 of their last 168 three-point attempts.
  3. Will Michigan State’s defense show up this year against Ohio State? (Michigan State @ Ohio State, Saturday Noon EST, FOX) Last season, Ohio State was one of four teams to score 80 or more points against Michigan State. The Buckeyes have managed to score at least one point per possession in each of their last five home games against the Spartans.
  4. Is beating Butler as easy as slowing Paul Jorgensen? (Creighton @ Butler, Saturday Noon EST, Fox Sports 1) Butler’s senior guard Paul Jorgensen began the year scoring in double-figures in each of the team’s first six games. Since then, Butler has gone just 1-4 when its backcourt star does not reach 10 points — in those games he is shooting just 3-of-21 from beyond the arc.
  5. Will Kentucky be able to get to the free throw line at its usual high rate in the Wildcats’ SEC opener? (Kentucky @ Alabama, 1 PM EST, ESPN) John Calipari’s squad has marched to the free throw line at a rate that ranks just outside of the top 10 nationally. Kentucky begins SEC play on the road against an Alabama team that has sent teams to the line at a rate better than the national average.
  6. Does this Florida State team have enough offense to beat Virginia if the Cavaliers continue to shut down Terrence Mann? (Florida State @ Virginia, Saturday 3 PM EST, ESPN2) Terrance Mann’s 13.1 points per game leads the Seminoles in scoring on the season, but in three career games against Virginia, he has logged only 11 points in 64 minutes of action.
  7. Will Oregon State’s fortunes change at Matthew Knight Arena this season? (Oregon State @ Oregon, Saturday 8 PM EST, Pac-12 Networks) Oregon State has lost six straight and 23 of its past 25 games at Oregon. In the current losing streak, the Beavers have lost by double-figures five times, including a 42-point embarassment in 2016. In order for Oregon State to come out on top, they will need Tres Tinkle to turn around his shooting woes as he has gone just 8-of-39 from distance over his last seven games.
  8. Will Duke’s freshman play like freshman in their first taste of ACC conference play? (Clemson @ Duke, Saturday 8 PM EST, ESPN) Duke begins ACC play hosting a Clemson team that has done a tremendous job in limiting second-chance opportunities all season long. If Clemson is able to limit easy buckets for Duke, might the pressure of their first ACC game be enough to keep it close?
  9. Is Michigan’s defense beginning to leak some air or is there nothing to worry about? (Indiana @ Michigan, Sunday 4:30 PM EST, CBS) While Michigan’s defense has been among the best in the nation to date, opponents have begun to see great improvement in shooting the ball from inside the arc against the Wolverines. In their first eight games, only one opponent shot better than 40 percent on two-point attempts. Since then, four of Michigan’s last five opponents have shot better than 50 percent in that range.
  10. How much better is Gonzaga about to get? (Santa Clara @ Gonzaga, Saturday 9 PM EST, ROOT Sports) Matt Norlander of CBS Sports tweeted that Mark Few believes Gonzaga could have both Geno Crandall and Killian Tillie available for its game this weekend against Santa Clara. Adding those two stalwarts back in the Bulldogs’ lineup will only make the nation’s most efficient offense that much more lethal.

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What’s Trending: Abbreviated Week of Action

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 2nd, 2019

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

St. John’s was mere seconds away from moving to 13-0 when Seton Hall’s Shavar Reynolds got this look for the win…

While Seton Hall ultimately took the victory, the game-winning shot came immediately following a controversial play in which St. John’s appeared to have secured the win. The Red Storm had an apparent steal, but the referees blew the play dead…

As irate as St. John’s fans were at the end of the game, the explanation given afterward makes the outcome even tougher to swallow. The “timing error” blown whistle is a rough explanation…

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Ten Questions To Consider: Mid-season Questions as Non-Conference Play Comes to a Close

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on December 29th, 2018

Sandwiched between the holidays and the New Year is a weekend slate of games that includes a bitter rivalry, several rematches of early season games, and individual matchups that fans and scouts will want to see. Here are ten questions to consider while enjoying games over the next few days.

  1. Can Chris Mack beat Kentucky in his first matchup against the Wildcats as Louisville coach? (Kentucky @ Louisville, Saturday 2 PM EST, ESPN2) In their first game against Kentucky as head coach of Louisville, both David Padgett and Rick Pitino lost by 20 or more points. Chris Mack’s Lousville team is led by Jordan Nwora who comes into this game having made 16-of-28 three-pointers over the last five games.
  2. Will Florida’s defense be able to create turnovers at a higher rate against Butler this go around? (Butler @ Florida, Saturday 4 PM EST, ESPNU) This is a rematch of the Battle 4 Atlantis fifth-place game in which Butler beat Florida 61-54. In that game, Florida’s defense forced turnovers at a season worst rate of just 17.4%. On the season, the Gators force turnovers at a rate of 24.7%, which ranks among the top ten in the nation.
  3. Will one of the easiest non-conference schedules in the country have St. John’s ready for its Big East opener? (St. John’s @ Seton Hall, Saturday 8:30 PM EST, Fox Sports Net) St. John’s has played one of the ten easiest non-conference schedules in the country according to KenPom rankings. The Red Storm begin Big East play against a Seton Hall team that has won five straight.
  4. Will Oregon avoid disaster in a trap-game at Boise State? (Oregon @ Boise State, Saturday 7:30 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) Oregon beat Boise State by 12 points just two weeks ago at Matthew Knight Arena. The Broncos led the Ducks at halftime of that game. This game is sandwiched between a loss at Baylor and Oregon’s conference-opener next week against in-state rival Oregon State.
  5. Does Purdue have a bad matchup on its hands with Belmont coming to West Lafayette? (Belmont @ Purdue, Saturday 4:30 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Opponents have shot 38% from beyond the arc against Purdue on the season, which puts Purdue’s three-point defensive ranking outside of the top 300. Belmont enters this game as a team that shoots 36.4% from distance and has six players who have made double-digit threes while shooting at least 33% for the season.
  6. Will North Carolina continue its recent trend of following a loss with a dominating performance? (Davidson @ North Carolina, Saturday Noon EST, ESPN2) North Carolina has lost consecutive non-conference games just once (November 2010) with Roy Williams as coach. Following loses to Texas and Michigan earlier in the season, the Tar Heels came out and won the next games by 16 and 28 points.
  7. What will Markus Howard do next? (Southern @ Marquette, Friday 8 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Marquette’s leading scorer Markus Howard is one of five players in the nation who is averaging 25 or more points per game. Howard is averaging 32.8 points this month and is coming off of his second 45 point game of December. Southern’s defensive efficiency ranks among the bottom five in the nation.
  8. Is beating Lipscomb a must for the sake of Clemson’s resume? (Lipscomb @ Clemson, Sunday 3:00 PM EST, ESPN3) Clemson is 0-3 against KenPom top 100 teams on the season. The Tigers get one more opportunity at a top 100 non-conference win with Lipscomb. If Brad Brownell’s squad does not get the win, early conference games against Duke and Virginia could turn into must-win games.
  9. Which big-man will shine brighter between Ethan Happ and Charles Bassey? (Wisconsin @ Western Kentucky, Saturday 5:30 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) Western Kentucky’s five-star freshman big man Charles Bassey will be put to the test against Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ. Both Bassey and Happ do a tremendous job of drawing fouls. With WIsconsin’s offense running through Happ, Bassey’s ability to stay out of foul trouble will be key in this game.
  10. Just how good is the MAC’s second best team? (Penn @ Toledo, Saturday 2 PM EST, ESPN+) While Buffalo has rightfully been a team that has been in the spotlight, Toledo continues to also perform at a high level. The Rockets are 11-1 with a NET ranking in the top 70. Tod Kowalczyk’s squad’s next three games are all against KenPom top 100 teams, including a January 8th matchup with Buffalo.

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2018-19 RTC16: Week Five

Posted by Walker Carey on December 26th, 2018

Winning close game after close game is a trend that we know eventually catches up to a team. The most recent example of such a thing took place Saturday night in Tempe when previously unbeaten #5 Kansas blew an eight-point halftime lead in an 80-76 upset loss to Arizona State. The Jayhawks entered the game at an uncomfortable 10-0, with six of the 10 wins coming by single digits and two in overtime. Bill Self‘s group had been playing with fire all season, and the winning plays down the stretch that had previously bailed his team out never arrived. A single loss will certainly not derail any of Kansas’ hopes for the rest of the season, but it should serve as a bit of a wake-up call. Yes, Udoka Azubuike is still sidelined with a knee injury, but with Big 12 play rapidly approaching, it would be wise for the Jayhawks to put forth more consistent full game efforts if they do not want the losses to become more frequent. This week’s Quick N’Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Thoughts.

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What’s Trending: A Markus Howard Barrage and More…

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 26th, 2018

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

As the temperature drops as winter overcomes us, Marquette shooting guard Markus Howard brought plenty of warmth to the Fiserv Forum in a win over Buffalo last week…

https://twitter.com/SportsCenter/status/1076485136974340097

Those that bet on Duquesne +5.5 against Penn State were feeling pretty good as the clock approached zero. Then chaos ensued…

The Buffalo Bulls: Kings of New York…

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