Ten Questions to Consider: A Weekend of Non-Conference Questions

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 15th, 2019

The second full weekend of college basketball is upon us. A weekend that is highlighted by a battle of Wisconsin and several other compelling match-ups between power conference opponents. Here are 10 questions I have for the slate of action.

  1. Which Marquette defense shows up against the Badgers? (Marquette @ Wisconsin, Sunday, 1 PM EST, FS1) Marquette trailed by 13 points at the break earlier this week against Purdue before rallying to win by 10. In the first half, the Golden Eagles’ defense allowed Purdue to shoot 44 percent from the field and make five three-pointers. In the second half, Marquette held Purdue to just 20 percent from the field that included only a single made three.
  2. How will Admon Gilder fare against his old team? (Gonzaga @ Texas A&M, Friday, 9 PM EST, SEC Network) After playing three years with the Aggies, Gilder is now in his first year at Gonzaga where he has gone 7-of-16 from behind the arc. Through the opening week-plus of action, Gonzaga has logged the nation’s best effective field-goal percentage.
  3. Can Minnesota end its skid by winning at hostile Utah? (Minnesota @ Utah, Friday, 9 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) A pair of second half collapses against Oklahoma and Butler have the Golden Gophers sitting at 1-2 heading to Salt Lake City. Minnesota’s bench has been a sore spot in those two losses, having been outscored 35-4 in the pair of games. 
  4. Will the Gators find any consistency from beyond the arc? (Florida @ Connecticut, Sunday, 3 PM EST, ESPN) Michael White’s Gators are currently ranked 298th in effective field-goal percentage, 310th in three-point field goal percentage, and 243rd in two-point field goal percentage. Kerry Blackshear, Noah Locke and Andrew Nembhard are a combined 7-of-33 (21%) from beyond the arc. With five of their next six games coming away from Gainesville, the Gators need to find their shooting stroke.
  5. Can the young Huskies pick up another marquee W? (Washington vs. Tennessee, Saturday, 5 PM EST, ESPN+) Having already beaten Baylor, Washington heads to Toronto for a weekend game against Tennessee. Will Mike Hopkins’ zone and his Huskies’ length frustrate Tennessee’s duo of Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden? Against Jaden McDaniels and Isaiah Stewart, this is a classic matchup of youth vs. experience.
  6. Quite simply, which Pittsburgh team shows up? (West Virginia @ Pittsburgh, Friday, 7 PM EST, ESPNU) The Panthers began the season by knocking off Florida State before returning to lose at home to Nicholls State. In last season’s match-up between these teams, they combined to commit 50 turnovers (Pitt, 24), grabbed 30 offensive rebounds (Pitt, 14), and shoot 11-of-44 (Pitt 6-of-23) from beyond the three-point line. Let’s hope for a better performance this year.
  7. Will Jon Axel Gudmundsson return to form for Davidson? (UNC Wilmington @ Davidson, Saturday, 7 PM EST) After dropping its opener to Auburn, Davidson was thoroughly outplayed in its next game at Charlotte. Last season Jon Axel Gudmundsson took home conference Player of the Year honors behind his 16.9 PPG. In the opening two games, Gudmundsson has scored just 18 points total in 67 minutes of action.
  8. Just how good is freshman Zeke Nnaji? (New Mexico State @ Arizona, Sunday, 2 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) Teammates Nico Mannion and Josh Green began the year as the must-see freshman at Arizona. While both have been worthy of their preseason hype, it has also been the play of fellow freshman Zeke Nnaji who has stolen the show. Nnaji is averaging 21.7 points per game on a scorching 81.3 percent shooting from the field.
  9. What will Virginia’s defense have in store this week? (Columbia @ Virginia, Saturday, Noon, ACC Network) New year, same Cavaliers’ defense. Through two games, Virginia’s opponents have shot 12-of-48 (25%) from inside the arc, 13-of-60 from beyond it, and 5-of-11 at the charity stripe. All told, back-to-back 34-point outings for its opponents has Virginia sitting at 2-0 despite some offensive concerns of their own. 
  10. Can the Bruins get off to a quick start? (UNLV @ UCLA, Friday, 11 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) UCLA trailed at the half against both Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara before figuring things out in the second half. The Bruins are -8 in the first half and a +28 in the second half to date. This is a UCLA squad that got a huge lift from sophomore Jalen Hill, who grabbed eight offensive rebounds to go along with a career-best 22 points in the win over the Gauchos.
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68 Preseason Questions For The 2019-20 Season

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 5th, 2019

Before a team can reach its ultimate goal of cutting down the nets in early April, it must find a way to become part of the field of 68. With the start of the season fast approaching, here are 68 questions I have for College Basketball Nation.

The Top 25: Questions On The Nation’s Best Teams

Tom Izzo Welcomes Back the Nation’s Most Accomplished Player (USA Today Images)
  1. With all that Michigan State is missing to start the season, might it end up being a blessing come March?
    Josh Langford is out for a while; Kyle Ahrens is dealing with an injured ankle; Joey Hauser’s status remains in the hands of the NCAA. This opens up playing time for freshman Rocket Watts and sophomore Gabe Brown. With Cassius Winston, Xavier Tillman and Aaron Henry, Sparty has plenty of elite talent on the court. These injuries just allow it to get young players even more experience in meaningful non-conference games.
  2. Can Immanuel Quickley carry over an impressive exhibition season into the regular season for Kentucky?
    After scoring more than 10 points in only six games last season, Quickley scored a team-best 16 and 15 points in Kentucky’s two exhibition games. Without Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson and PJ Washington around, Quickley’s ability to shoot from deep could be critical for Kentucky.
  3. Is Udoka Azubuike really the type of player that can carry Kansas throughout the season?
    While Azubuike has been named preseason Big 12 Player of the Year, he does not come without flaws. He committed more than five fouls per 40 minutes in each of the last two years, and is a career 39.4 percent free-throw shooter. He is extremely talented, but can he carry the load?
  4. Can Tre Jones become the leader of a less talented but perhaps more balanced Duke squad?
    Without Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, Duke must replace more than 55 points per game from last year’s team. The return of Tre Jones gives Coach K a floor general and an elite defender, but after shooting 26.2 percent from deep as a freshman, Jones went 0-of-6 from long range in Duke’s exhibition games.
  5. Will Louisville find ways to win on the road this season?
    The Cardinals were a team that went 1-3 away from home in last season’s non-conference schedule and then went 4-5 on the road in the ACC, including losses at Pittsburgh and Boston College. A team that returns a lot of talent, including Preseason ACC Player of the Year Jordan Nwora, needs to win away from the Yum! Center to have the season it hopes for.
  6. While Kerry Blackshear and Andrew Nembhard are getting all of the attention, is Noah Locke Florida’s most important player?
    Locke averaged 14 points per game in Florida’s first 11 SEC games last season, but just 5.5 PPG over the Gators final 13 contestes. He is a floor spacer and someone who could benefit on kickouts after voluminous Blackshear offensive rebounds.
  7. At Maryland, can Jalen Smith fill the shoes of Bruno Fernando?
    Bruno Fernando had 15 double-doubles last year in Big Ten play. A ferocious rebounder and rim presence on defense, Fernando was the heart and soul of the Terrapins. Jalen Smith had just three double-doubles in his Big Ten games — there’s enough around Smith to replace Fernando’s scoring, but Smith must do a better job at rebounding.
  8. How much action should Gonzaga reasonably expect out of Killian Tillie?
    After missing 22 games with an injury last year, Tillie begins the season questionable with a knee injury. For a team that needs to replace four key players from last year’s team, the Zags really need the talented and experienced Tillie to be on the floor.
  9. Freshman phenom Cole Anthony is North Carolina’s most talented player, but are transfers Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce UNC’s most important players?
    With North Carolina’s top five scorers departed, the Tar Heels need to replace plenty of scoring and experience. Freshman All-Everything Cole Anthony is the known, but it is transfer newcomers Christian Keeling (Charleston Southern) and Justin Pierce (William & Mary) who could be the difference-makers. These are two proven scorers at the college level who are now surrounded by a lot more talent.
     
  10. Will Villanova’s defense return to its old standard?
    Villanova finished Big East play with a defensive efficiency that ranked fourth last season in the Big East. It was the first time in four years that Villanova did not have the conference’s best defensive efficiency during the Big East season. Will it return?
  11. Who will be the toughest player for Virginia to replace?
    Will it be the decision making of Ty Jerome, the shot-making of Kyle Guy or the defense and scoring of DeAndre Hunter? This is a trio that collectively played in 214 games over the past two seasons. Tony Bennett’s squad will be put to an immediate test with an ACC season-opener at Syracuse.
  12. Can Sandro Mamukelashvili take another leap forward in being Seton Hall’s second option behind Myles Powell?
    Mamukelashvili averaged just 2.6 points and 1.9 rebounds per game in just under 10 minutes per contest as a freshman. Last season, he raised those totals to 8.9 PPG and 7.8 RPG in 29.4 MPG. The next step for Mamukelashvili is to improve upon his 28.8 percent three-point percentage in Big East play (52 3PA).
  13. What type of growing pains will Texas Tech’s defense go through with an influx of freshman and transfers?
    After consecutive seasons with a top-five defensive efficiency ranking, Texas Tech must replace six of its eight players who averaged at least 10 minutes per game last season. How will senior transfers Chris Clarke (Virginia Tech) and T.J. Holyfield (Stephen F. Austin) fit in and understand Chris Beard’s defensive standard?
  14. Will Memphis’ group of elite freshman gel as a team or will there be a “me not team” approach?
    The nation’s top recruiting class belongs to Memphis and Penny Hardaway. A pair of 5-star recruits and five 4-star recruits bring tons of talent to Memphis. Can Hardaway get his precocious talent to buy in and play as a cohesive team on both ends of the court?
  15. Will UNLV transfer Shakur Juiston be a difference-maker for Oregon?
    Including Bol Bol, the Ducks’ top four rebounders are gone from last year’s squad. Juiston averaged 10 boards a game at UNLV two seasons ago and 8.8 per contest last year in just eight games. Additionally, Juiston put up 14.6 points per game in 2017-18, an addition that could go a long way toward helping Payton Pritchard run the offense.
  16. Will Baylor’s Jared Butler do a better job of protecting the ball?
    As a team, Baylor finished last season ranked 257th nationally in turnover rate. Jared Butler logged a season turnover rate of 20.7 percent, which increased to an even higher 24 percent in Big 12 play. In league play, Butler committed three or more turnovers in 11 games. With Makai Mason gone, the sophomore could be handling the ball at an even higher rate this season.
  17. What type of impact will Neemias Queta’s knee injury have on Utah State?
    Mountain West Freshman of the Year and Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year Neemias Queta suffered a knee injury and his return is unknown. Sam Merrill can carry the Aggies early, but mid-November tests against LSU and Saint Mary’s become much more difficult without Queta available. A lingering injury could cost the Aggies several non-conference marquee wins, adding pressure to Mountain West play.
  18. Which point guard will have a bigger role with Ohio State this season?
    No Buckeyes returnee averaged more than two assists per game last season, and freshman DJ Carton and junior CJ Walker are both in contention to start at point guard. Carton, a top-40 recruit, scored 15 points, but more importantly dished out five assists while only committing one turnover in Ohio State’s exhibition win. Walker, a transfer from Florida State who redshirted last season, has two years of ACC experience under his belt.
  19. How will the new three-point line impact Xavier’s offense?
    The Musketeers return four players who averaged 10 or more PPG. Three of those players made 40 or more three-pointers, but Naji Marshall and Quentin Goodin each did so on sub-30 percent shooting. The NCAA is moving the three-point line from 20 feet, 9 inches to 22 feet, 1.75 inches, just so you know.
  20. Can St. Mary’s get a few key non-conference wins that have escaped them the past few seasons?
    Over the last two seasons, the Gaels have gone 2-5 against KenPom top 100 teams during non-conference play. This season, Saint Mary’s has five games on its schedule against preseason top-100 teams, beginning on opening night against Wisconsin. Saint Mary’s is a very good team, but an automatic bid out of the WCC is never a guarantee given that Gonzaga lives in the same neighborhood.
  21. Is Arizona back or is Tucson filled with more hype than hope?
    Following a 17-15 transition season, Arizona is ranked in both the preseason AP and Coaches polls. They add talented freshman Nico Mannion and Josh Green along with graduate transfers Max Hazzard (UC Irvine) and Stone Gettings (Cornell), as well as Jermari Baker (Kentucky). Returnees Chase Jeter, Dylan Smith and Ira Lee have all shown flashes, but each has been inconsistent while at Arizona. There’s ultimately a lot of “ifs” with this team that Sean Miller needs to answer.
  22. With Tremont Waters and Naz Reid gone, are Skylar Mays and Javonte Smart ready to carry the offensive load?
    Waters and Reid led LSU in scoring last season, each averaging more than 13 points per game. The Tigers managed to earn two SEC wins last season without Waters in the lineup (vs. Tennessee and Texas A&M) — in those games, Smart and Mays combined to score 80 points.
  23. What will Purdue’s offense look like this season?
    Approximately 46 percent of Purdue’s field-goal attempts last season were three-pointers, the 32nd-highest rate in the country. The trio of Carsen Edwards, Ryan Cline and Grady Eifert combined to make 285 of those shots, but each of those players is now gone. With fewer proven shooters on the roster, Matt Haarms should see even more defensive attention in the post.
  24. With Jared Harper and Bryce Brown gone, is J’Von McCormick ready to lead the Auburn backcourt?
    Harper and Brown combined to score 30.1 points per game last season, making 239 threes and dishing 308 assists. In his first year at Auburn, J’Von McCormick scored in double-figures just once prior to the NCAA Tournament. He did so twice during the tournament. In the Tigers’ exhibition win over Eckerd, McCormick dropped in a team-high 20 points.
  25. Can VCU find a way to knock down a better percentage of its three-point attempts?
    Last season, VCU shot 30.5 percent on its three-point attempts, ranking among the bottom 20 nationally. It was the Rams’ worst team three-point percentage since the 1999-00 season. In their two regular season conference losses and in Atlantic 10 Tournament loss, VCU went a combined 13-of-56 (23.2%) from deep. In an exhibition win over Virginia State last week, the Rams made an improved 13-of-33 (39.4%) from beyond the three-point line. Which is more representative?

Familiar Faces in New Places: Questions On First Year Coaches

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Eight Questions: National Championship Edition

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on April 8th, 2019

After five grueling rounds of NCAA Tournament action, we are finally down to the final two. Texas Tech and Virginia have each navigated 37-game schedules to get to this point, where the only thing standing between themselves and a National Championship is 40 minutes of action. Here are eight questions I have ahead of the title game.

Texas Tech

Texas Tech Plays for Its First National Championship in Basketball Tonight (USA Today Images)

1) Will Matt Mooney continue his recent hot play? After beginning the NCAA Tournament 11-of-30 from the field in Texas Tech’s first three games, Matt Mooney has found his groove in converting 14 of his last 28 shots. The senior’s hot shooting in the second half against Michigan State is what opened the game up and ultimately allowed the Red Raiders to hang on. Texas Tech is 10-4 when Mooney is held to single-figures and 21-2 when he scores 10 or more points.

2) Will Tariq Owens be at 100 percent tonight? The bouncy Owens collapsed to the ground early in the second half against Michigan State, before eventually returning to the game. Questions loom about his potential swelling and discomfort moving forward, however, which is very important to Texas Tech’s defense as he is one of the nation’s best rim protectors.

3) Will Texas Tech be able to create those key turnovers which lead to easy points? In five NCAA Tournament games, the Red Raiders have forced 12.3 turnovers per game and are averaging 15.2 points off of those miscues. Virginia, however, remains one of the most difficult teams from which to force turnovers. After turning the ball over 15 times in its opening round game against Gardner-Webb, Virginia has coughed up the ball just 5.4 times per game since.

4) Will Jarrett Culver be able to get the best of De’Andre Hunter on the offensive end? Culver, a second-team AP All-American, will almost certainly see a whole lot of De’Andre Hunter tonight. Hunter, a third-team All-American, was the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year and has a keen ability to play excellent defense while staying away from fouls. While Culver woke up just in time to ice the game against the Spartans, he has gone a mere 25.8 percent from the field over his last two games.

Virginia

Virginia Plays for Its First National Championship in Basketball Tonight (USA Today Images)

1) Which De’Andre Hunter shows up? In the first half of Virginia’s Final Four game against Auburn, De’Andre Hunter scored five points on 2-of-6 shooting, passively settling for jump shots repeatedly. After halftime, Hunter poured in nine points on a perfect 5-of-5 shooting from the field. A dynamic Hunter opens the floor and lessens the required offensive load on teammates Ty jerome and Kyle Guy.

2) Can Virginia find any production from its bench? Dating back to the Cavaliers’ Sweet Sixteen game against Oregon, Virginia’s bench has scored a grand total of seven points — its bench is -37 in points over that period. Texas Tech’s suffocating defense has been particularly tough on opposing reserves throughout this tournament, having held the benches of Michigan, Gonzaga and Michigan State to a combined 11 points.

3) Will Virginia be able to play Jack Salt? After starting in 28 of Virginia’s 32 games prior to the NCAA Tournament, Salt has been replaced in the starting lineup by Mamadi Diakite in Virginia’s last four games. The 6’10” senior played a big role against the frontcourt size of Purdue, but otherwise his minutes have dramatically shrunk. If Texas Tech goes big with both Tariq Owens and Norense Odiase on the floor at the same time, Salt could see more time this evening. While unassuming in the box score, heis a terrific screener and someone who can help free Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy for open looks.

4) What else could Virginia possibly face in the closing minutes of a game? Virginia has been living on the brink of its season ending in the final seconds of each of its last two games. From the Diakite basket against Purdue to the foul on Kyle Guy against Auburn, good fortune has been on the side of Tony Bennett’s squad. After dealing with the disaster of a season ago, nothing has yet flustered this Cavaliers’ team. With a National Championship on the line, will the trend continue?

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Eight Questions for the Final Four: Michigan State vs. Texas Tech

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on April 5th, 2019

The other side of the bracket features the East Region champion Michigan State and West Region champion Texas Tech. In a match-up of the Big Ten and Big 12, here are four questions I have for each team regarding the upcoming game.

Michigan State

Michigan State Has Its Eyes Set on One More Celebration (USA Today Images)

1) Will Michigan State limit its turnovers? On the season, Michigan State has turned the ball over at nearly the national average. The Spartans ranked 12th in Big Ten play in turnover rate, however, and they logged a 22-turnover performance in the Second Round against Minnesota. During the regional, Texas Tech pestered Michigan and Gonzaga into turning the ball over at a much higher rate than which they were accustomed.

2) Might the Spartans look to push the pace? While Michigan State’s pace of play ranks slightly below the national average, the Spartans tend to score with great success when they run. According to Hoop-Math, Tom Izzo’s squad owns the ninth-best effective field goal conversion rate while in transition. Texas Tech, on the other hand, has the second-best non-transition effective field-goal percentage defense in the country. A strategy that centers on beating Texas Tech in the half-court could make for a long night for Sparty.

3) Can Michigan State’s bench provide help for the Spartans offensively? The Spartans will be up against a Texas Tech defense that allowed just six total bench points in its two regional wins against Gonzaga and Michigan. Throughout the NCAA Tournament, Michigan State’s bench has primarily consisted of contributions from Nick Ward and Gabe Brown. Ward could provide second-chance opportunities against a Red Raiders’ defense that at times can be suspect in cleaning up its defensive glass.

4) Will the rest between the Elite Eight and Final Four be enough time to help Nick Ward return to his earlier form? In Michigan State’s first 15 Big Ten games, Nick Ward averaged 15.3 points per game. Since returning from an injury late in the year, however, the junior has averaged just 5.9 points per game. Ward, now coming off of the bench, has the potential to give Cassius Winston some much needed offensive help against the stout Texas Tech defense.

Texas Tech

Chris Beard is on the Fast Track to Coaching Superstardom (USA Today Images)

1) Will Texas Tech be vulnerable against Michigan State’s offensive rebounding ability? Through four NCAA Tournament games to date, Texas Tech has surrendered 46 offensive rebounds to its opponents. This weekend’s game against Michigan State will be the Red Raiders’ seventh game against an opponent with an offensive rebounding ranking of 25th or better. In those six games, the Red Raiders went just 3-3.

2) Can Texas Tech’s bigs stay out of foul trouble? In Saturday’s win over Gonzaga, Texas Tech’s Norense Odiase picked up two quick fouls within the opening three minutes. Fellow big Tariq Owens went on to pick up a pair of fouls in the first half as well. Michigan State’s trio of Cassius Winston, Xavier Tillman and Nick Ward all draw fouls at a high rate. After Odiase and Owens, Chris Beard is very limited in available bigs to put on the floor.

3) Which Davide Moretti shows up for the Red Raiders? The sophomore guard from Italy is shooting 46.3 percent from beyond the three-point line and led the Big 12 by shooting 53.5 percent in league play. Moretti made five of his eight attempts during the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight, but he had gone 0-for-7 in the opening two rounds.

4) Will Jarrett Culver bring his A-game to the table? Culver, a second-team AP All-American, is averaging 21.5 points per game in the NCAA Tournament. A year after shooting a robust 38.2 percent on three-point attempts, Culver is converting just 31.6 percent this season. In Texas Tech’s six losses this year, Culver has made only 20.6 percent of his attempts.

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Eight Questions for the Final Four: Virginia vs. Auburn

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on April 4th, 2019

The right side of the bracket features the South Region champion Virginia and Midwest Region champion Auburn. In a matchup of ACC and SEC powers, here are four questions I have for each team regarding the upcoming match-up.

Virginia

Virginia Overcame Its Demons to Get to the Final Four (USA Today Images)

1) Should Virginia be concerned with its recent three-point defense? While on the season Virginia owns the third-best three-point defense (28.7% 3FG) in college basketball, eight of the Cavaliers’ last nine opponents have shot better than 30 percent from distance. Even more startling, opponents have made 39 percent of their long-range shots over the last five games.

2) Will De’Andre Hunter regain his shooting touch? While De’Andre Hunter is shooting a robust 42.4 percent on 99 three-point attempts this season, the sophomore has made just five of his last 22 attempts from beyond the arc. In Virginia’s two wins in Louisville last week, Hunter combined for 21 points on 8-of-23 shooting from the field. For a player that was among the ACC’s most efficient and effective scorers this season, things have not been easy for Hunter lately.

3) Does Virginia’s offensive tendencies create a glaring mismatch against Auburn’s defense? According to Synergy Sports, Tony Bennett’s squad creates 12.5 percent of its offense coming off of screens, nearly three times as much as the national average. Auburn, on the other hand, gave up 0.99 points per possession in those situations — a mark that ranked 295th in the nation.

4) Can Mamadi Diakite continue his recent hot play on the offensive side of the ball? Virginia’s hero of the Elite Eight, Mamadi Diakite, is averaging 13 points per game in the NCAA Tournament. Prior to the start of the event, Diakite was averaging just 6.8 points per game. The junior forward led the ACC in blocked shot rate during conference play and was a constant threat on the offensive glass this season, but as teams have geared their defensive strategies toward Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter, Diakite has stepped up to help his team’s offense.

Auburn

Auburn Heads to Its First Ever Final Four (USA Today Images)

1) Will Auburn dominate the three-point line? In Auburn’s 30 wins this season, the Tigers have made on average four more three-pointers than their opponents. In their nine losses, Auburn does not even make one more three than its opponents. Bruce Pearl’s team takes nearly 50 percent of their shots from behind the arc and the Tigers make a high percentage of them (38.3% 3FG). Defensively, Auburn has generally allowed teams to shoot a high volume of threes against it, something that could prove costly against a Virginia team that owns a top 10 three-point shooting percentage of 39.4 percent.

2) Will Auburn’s defense be able to create turnovers from Virginia? No team in the country has created turnovers at a higher rate than Auburn (24.9% TO), and the Tigers have forced 14 or more turnovers in each of their four previous NCAA Tournament games. Virginia is one of the toughest teams to force into miscues, however, having turned the ball over just 8.5 times per game so far in the NCAA Tournament.

3) How much will Chuma Okeke be missed in this game? The emotional jolt gained by Auburn in its desire to win for Chuma Okeke was certainly unmeasurable. But while Bryce Brown and Jared Harper were able to carry Auburn to an overtime victory against Kentucky, losing the 13.8 points per game that Okeke was averaging in March could prove very tough against the stingy Virginia defense.

4) Can Auburn find a way to speed up Virginia? Auburn’s offense thrives in transition — only American had a higher effective field-goal percentage in transition this season than the Tigers. In 20 Auburn games where the possession total was 70 possessions or higher this season, Bruce Pearl’s club logged an effective field-goal percentage of 56.6 percent that included 39.7 percent from three-point land. In nine games where Auburn was held to 63 or fewer possessions, the Tigers logged an effective field-goal percentage of just 50.1 percent and their three-point percentage dropped to just 33 percent.

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Eight Questions For The Elite Eight

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 30th, 2019

The Road to the Final Four has one final stop for the eight remaining teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament. As the weekend advances, here are the eight questions I have for the match-ups ahead.

The Zags Push For Their Second Final Four Appearance in History (USA Today Images)

Gonzaga vs. Texas Tech

Gonzaga: Will Gonzaga’s offense solve a Texas Tech defense that dominated Michigan for 40 minutes? Mark Few’s Bulldogs rank first in the nation in offensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage and two-point field goal percentage. According to Hoop-Math, Gonzaga also owns the fifth-best shooting percentage on attempts at the rim, an area that could be tested by a Red Raiders defense that blocks a lot of shots inside.

Texas Tech: Do the Red Raiders have enough size to compete against the large Gonzaga front line? Gonzaga’s bigs of Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke and Killian Tillie will be up against a Texas Tech squad that will play just two players 6’8″ or taller in Tarriq Owens and Norense Odiase. Texas Tech’s ability to stay out of foul trouble on its front line will be imperative in attempting to slow the Bulldogs’ interior game.

Virginia vs. Purdue

Virginia: Can the Cavaliers snap out of their shooting woes? Over Virginia’s last four games, the Cavaliers are shooting a woeful 26.9 percent on 104 three-point attempts. In the five games prior to that stretch they converted 54.2 percent on 107 attempts. Kyle Guy has most notably found himself in a staggering slump, having made just five of his last 31 attempts after shooting 42.7 percent on the season.

Purdue: Will Purdue’s recent struggles at the free throw line keep it from reaching the Final Four? While the Boilermakers have shot 71.9 percent from the line on the season, they have made just 63.4 percent from the stripe in seven March games. Purdue survived in its win on Thursday night against Tennessee despite missing 17 of its 33 attempts. And remember, points always come at a premium against Virginia.

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Eight Questions For the Sweet Sixteen

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 28th, 2019

The lack of major upsets in the opening two rounds of the NCAA Tournament has created numerous intriguing match-ups for the upcoming Sweet Sixteen. Here are the questions I have for each match-up:

Thursday Games

Brandon Clarke Has Been Putting on a Show for the #1 Zags (USA Today Images)
  • Florida State vs. Gonzaga: Does Gonzaga have a Rui Hachimura problem? While Hachimura is averaging 19.7 points per game this year, he is coming off of a season-low six-point performance against Baylor. Hachimura scored in double-figures in each of the first 32 games of the season, but has failed to eclipse 10 points in two of his previous three games. What’s going on with the junior All-American? The 6’8″ forward will be put to the test against the length of the Florida State front line.
  • Purdue vs. Tennessee: Will Carsen Edwards’ shooting be the difference? Carsen Edwards is coming off of an explosive 42-point performance against Villanova — a game in which he went 9-of-16 from beyond the arc. Tennessee’s three-point defense ranks below the national average and the Volunteers allowed Colgate to shoot 51.7 percent from distance in the First Round.
  • Texas Tech vs. Michigan: Which offense will be more dynamic in a match-up of elite defenses? According to KenPom, this game features the top two defenses in college basketball, as both teams have held their Tournament opponents under 60 points. The Wolverines are led offensively by freshman Ignas Brazdeikis — who scored just five points on 2-of-8 shooting against Florida — while Texas Tech is led by Jarrett Culver, who is averaging 25.5 points per game over his last four outings. The Red Raiders’ All-American, however, has shot only 20.6 percent from beyond the arc in games Texas Tech has lost.
  • Oregon vs. Virginia: Can Oregon’s defense stifle the immensely efficient Virginia offense? Since being blitzed for 90 points in a loss at UCLA, Oregon has given up an average of just 54.2 points per game over its last 10 contests. During that stretch, the Ducks have held their opponents to a sterling 20.9 percent on three-point attempts. While Virginia has shot over 40 percent from distance on the season, the Cavaliers have gone just 29.8 percent so far in the Tournament.

Friday Games

Duke Survived the UCF Push (USA Today Images)
  • LSU vs. Michigan State: Will LSU be able to put together a full 40-minute performance against Michigan State? Through two NCAA Tournament games LSU is +25 in the first half and -18 in the second half. That disparity features a 30.8 percent field-goal percentage in the second half and an even worse 16.7 percent from beyond the arc. Over their last five games, the Spartans, on the other hand, have outscored their opponents by 36 points in the second half.
  • Auburn vs. North Carolina: As hot as Auburn can get offensively, can its defense slow down North Carolina? Auburn has played 13 games against opponents with adjusted offensive efficiency rankings of 40th or better, and the Tigers have gone just 5-8 in those games. Additionally, the Tigers are just 2-6 in games against an opponent with an offensive rebounding rate that ranks among the top 20 in college basketball. For your consideration, North Carolina owns the nation’s eighth most efficient offense and has a top 20 offensive rebounding rate.
  • Virginia Tech vs. Duke: Can Virginia Tech replicate its winning formula against Duke? The Hokies defeated Duke, 77-72, back in late February in a game both Zion Williamson and Justin Robinson missed. Kerry Blackshear had a season-high 23 points to lead the Hokies in an all-around balanced effort. The return of the point guard Robinson will give Buzz Williams’ squad an extra ball-handler to deal with the pressure defense of Tre Jones.
  • Houston vs. Kentucky: What will the status of PJ Washington be come tip-off time? Kentucky’s PJ Washington missed the first two games of the NCAA Tournament and his availability remains unclear for Friday night’s game. Washington was the SEC’s second-best three-point shooter in conference play and is a player that would help spread the floor for a Wildcats’ team that has made just 25.9 percent of its 27 three-point attempts in the NCAA Tournament.
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16 Questions: Friday’s First Round Games

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 22nd, 2019

It’s time for another exciting day of 16 games. Here are the questions I have going into Friday’s action:

The Zion Show Moves to the NCAA Tournament (USA Today Images)
  • 1) Duke vs. 16) North Dakota State: Will Duke’s perimeter players begin the Tournament knocking down shots? Zion will be Zion, of course, but Duke will need its other players knocking down shots down the line if the Blue Devils are to cut down the nets in Minneapolis.
  • 1) North Carolina vs. 16) Iona: Can Iona make it to the half within closer range than last year against Duke? As a #15 seed against Duke last year, Iona trailed at the half by 14 points before going on to lose by 22. While the Gaels shot a sterling 58.3 percent from inside the arc, they were just 5-of-24 from beyond the stripe. Duke, on the other hand, shot 62.2 percent from two-point range and went 13-of-30 from behind the line.
  • 1) Virginia vs. 16) Garder-Webb: Will Virginia be quick to rid itself of last season’s nightmare? A 29-3 regular season was great, but memories of last year will surely still be on everyone’s minds as the Cavaliers’ postseason begins. Virginia scored just nine points during the opening 10 minutes against UMBC one year ago, so its first few segments of the game will be telling.
  • 2) Tennessee vs. 15) Colgate: Will Tennessee make quick work of Colgate? Colgate comes into this game with a defensive efficiency ranking of #202, and the Raiders will be tasked with stopping the nation’s third most efficient offense led by the force that is Grant Williams. Good luck.
  • 3) Houston vs. 14) Georgia State: Does Georgia State coach Ron Hunter have more Tournament magic up his sleeves? On the season, Houston has out-rebounded its opponents by an average of 7.7 rebounds per game, whereas Georgia State finds itself getting outmuscled by the tune of 5.3 rebounds per game. If the Panthers can survive on the glass, the duo of D’Marcus Simmonds and Devin Mitchell might be able to keep Georgia State within striking distance.
  • 3) Texas Tech vs. 14) Northern Kentucky: Will Texas Tech’s loss to West Virginia have any carry-over effects? While Texas Tech held the Mountaineers to just 38.8 percent shooting, the Red Raiders gave up 19 offensive rebounds and 20 points at the charity stripe.
  • 4) Kansas State vs. 13) UC Irvine: Will Kansas State be able to get any play and production out of Dean Wade? Wade did not play in the Big 12 Tournament and his status remains up in the air for today’s game. Without the big man inside, the Anteaters could be able to take advantage of its offensive rebounding prowess.
  • 4) Virginia Tech vs. 13) Saint Louis: How will Virginia Tech work Justin Robinson back into the lineup? After missing the last 12 games of the season, Robinson is set to return for the Hokies. The senior guard averages just under 14 points per game while shooting better than 40 percent from deep.
  • 5) Wisconsin vs. 12) Oregon: Can Wisconsin get D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison to knock down open shots? In Wisconsin’s five March games, the pair of Trice and Davison have gone a combined 11-of-48 from behind the three-point line. Without knocking down open shots, Oregon will be able to throw everything they have at slowing All-America center Ethan Happ.
  • 5) Mississippi State vs. 12) Liberty: Will Liberty be overwhelmed by the Mississippi State offense? The Flames played 14 games against an opponent with an offensive efficiency ranking of 260th or worse. The Bulldogs have an offensive efficiency ranking of 56th and are led by Quinndary Weatherspoon, who shot an SEC-best 44.9 percent on three-point attempts during league play.
  • 6) Buffalo vs. 11) Arizona State: Will Buffalo get the best of a school from Arizona again? Bobby Hurley and the Sun Devils won on Wednesday night in Dayton and are rewarded with a match-up against Hurley’s former squad. Arizona State will need more than 23 minutes of action from Remy Martin to get another victory.
  • 6) Iowa State vs. 11) Ohio State: With Kaleb Wesson back, can Ohio State pull off the upset? The Buckeyes lost two of their last three games with Wesson back before falling in his return to the Spartans. Ohio State averaged 10 fewer points per game on the road than they did at home.
  • 7) Cincinnati vs. 10) Iowa: Can Iowa change its late season misfortune? The Hawkeyes come into this game losers of five of their last six games. Throw in needing a pair of last second baskets to beat Northwestern and Rutgers and it’s clear Iowa is playing its worst basketball at the wrong time of the year.
  • 8) Ole Miss vs. 9) Oklahoma: Can Ole Miss knock down enough threes to beat the Sooners? The Rebels were just 2-8 when they failed to make a third of their three-point attempts this season. On the year, Oklahoma has held opponents to a three-point average of 33.3 percent.
  • 8) Utah State vs. 9) Washington: Can the Pac-12’s highest seed help the conference from its dismal 2018 showing in the NCAA Tournament? The Pac-12’s regular season champion scored fewer than 50 points in two of its final four games, both coming against Oregon. The Huskies’ defense does a terrific job of creating havoc, however, led by the wizardry of defensive ace Matisse Thybulle.
  • 8) VCU vs. 9) UCF: If VCU’s Marcus Evans is not at 100 percent, will the Rams have enough firepower? Evans suffered a bone bruise in VCU’s loss to Rhode Island in last week’s Atlantic 10 tournament. The starting guard averages a team-best 13.9 points per game and VCU could be tested greatly by UCF’s stout defense — which includes the towering presence of 7’6″ Tacko Fall.
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16 Questions About Thursday’s First Round Games

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 20th, 2019

With tip-off of the First Round of the NCAA Tournament just around the corner, here are 16 questions to get you ready for all the action on Thursday.

Here We Go… (USA Today Images)
  • 1) Gonzaga vs. 16) Fairleigh Dickinson: Will Gonzaga spring back to life after its surprising loss to Saint Mary’s? The Zags shot 2-of-17 from beyond the arc in the WCC championship game, but a deep Tournament run will require better shooting from the likes of Zach Norvell, Josh Perkins, and Corey Kispert (collectively, 37.3 percent on the season).
  • 2) Kentucky vs. 15) Abilene Christian: When Kentucky misses shots, will Abilene Christian be able to keep the Wildcats off of the glass? Abilene Christian’s leading rebounder is 6’6″ Jaren Lewis, who averaged 6.2 boards per game. Kentucky’s duo of PJ Washington and Reid Travis could be in line for huge games on the interior for the Wildcats.
  • 2) Michigan vs. 15) Montana: Will Michigan’s size dominate this game? Even without leading scorer Jamar Akoh down the stretch, Montana went 10-2 behind a balanced attack which includes three other players who average at least 13 points per game. For the Grizzlies to win, though, the size of Ignas Brazdiekis and Jon Teske will be a lot to overcome.
  • 2) Michigan State vs. 15) Bradley: Will Michigan State avoid the early exit it took the last time it was a #2 Seed? Bradley managed to beat a Big Ten team (Penn State) earlier this year, but the Braves are going to have their hands full with Michigan State’s Nick Ward in the post.
  • 3) LSU vs. 14) Yale: How focused will LSU be with all the distractions surrounding the Will Wade situation? The Tigers will be without head coach Will Wade as they begin their NCAA Tournament run against a Yale team that likes to get up and down the floor. Each squad has four players who average double-figure points per game.
  • 3) Purdue vs. 14 Old Dominion: Which Carsen Edwards shows up for the Boilermakers? While Edwards shot 33.5 percent from behind the arc on the season, he’s shooting just 22.5 percent in Purdue’s last 11 games. Another shaky performance from the Boilermakers’ star guard could send Purdue home early.
  • 4) Kansas vs. 13) Northeastern: While Northeastern’s Vasa Pusica is grabbing the buzz, is Shawn Occeus the Huskies’ most important player? Occeus was the CAA Defensive Player of the Year in 2018, so if he can lock down the Jayhawks’ perimeter options tomorrow, a lot of pressure will fall on to the shoulders of Dedric Lawson.
  • 4) Florida State vs. 13) Vermont: In a one-game setting, does depth and size win over star power? The Seminoles leading scorer is the 6’10” Mfiondu Kabengele, who puts in 12.9 points per game. In addition, Leonard Hamilton’s team has seven other players who average six or more points per game. Vermont is led by the 21.4 points per game of unanimous America East Player of the Year, Anthony Lamb. The Catamounts only have three other players who average six or more points and just one player in the rotation who stands 6’7″ or taller.
  • 5) Auburn vs. 12) New Mexico State: Which strength brings the bigger advantage? Auburn’s defense leads the nation in turnover rate, while New Mexico State is among the nation’s best in grabbing offensive rebounds. This game could come down to which side is able to get the most out of those two areas.
  • 5) Marquette vs. 12) Murray State: Will Marquette’s sometimes porous transition defense be a deciding factor? The Golden Eagles’ defense sits in the bottom 20 percent in college basketball when it comes to the percentage of shots an opponent takes in transition. The Racers are one of the nation’s best at getting and finishing in transition, led by none other than All-American Ja Morant.
  • 6) Maryland vs. 11) Belmont: Can Belmont’s duo of Nick Muszynski and Dylan Windler hold up against the Maryland frontcourt of Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith? While Windler struggled against Temple offensively, he was a force on the glass. Muszynski returned to the court after missing the OVC championship game and chipped in 16 points. They will be tested against the large Terrapins’ tandem that can wreak havoc on opponents.
  • 6) Villanova vs. 11) Saint Mary’s: Who wins the battle of the three-point line: Villanova’s offense or Saint Mary’s defense? Only three teams took three-point attempts at a higher rate than Villanova this season, while the Gaels sat in the top 10 nationally in terms of running teams off of the three-point line.
  • 7) Louisville vs. 10) Minnesota: Can Minnesota find enough points to get the Pitino family revenge against Louisville? The Golden Gophers averaged 14.3 fewer points per game on the road than they did at home this year. Minnesota’s offense could find it difficult to score against the highly-efficient Louisville defense.
  • 7) Nevada vs. 10) Florida: Which senior will make the biggest impact? In a sport dominated by freshmen, this game will include a plethora of seniors on both sides including the likes of Nevada’s Caleb Martin, Jordan Caroline and Florida’s Ke’Vaughn Allen and Jalen Hudson.
  • 7) Wofford vs. 10) Seton Hall: Will this game come down to which star has a better game? If Ja Morant vs. Markus Howard is must-see matchup #1A, this game’s battle of Fletcher Magee and Myles Powell is must-see match-up #1B. Both players average more than 20 points per game and have taken nearly 500 field goal attempts on the season.
  • 8) Syracuse vs. 9) Baylor: Will the “Boeheim zone” reign supreme again? The Syracuse zone once again led to plenty of three-point attempts for opponents, so Baylor will need a better showing than the 34 percent it shot from distance on the year. Syracuse must also find ways to slow a Bears’ team that finished the year with the second best offensive rebounding rate in college basketball.
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Ten Questions to Consider: Regular Season Comes to a Close

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 8th, 2019

With several conferences already in the midst of tournament action and others still wrapping up regular season play, this weekend is setting up to be a great warm-up for the upcoming wall-to-wall action. Here are 10 questions I have for a set of games that could set the tone for the next few weeks.

Will He or Won’t He? (USA Today Images)
  1. If Zion Williamson is held out against North Carolina, will Duke be looking at a similar result? (Duke @ North Carolina, Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN) Duke’s defense surrendered 58 points to the Tar Heels’ duo of Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson a few weeks ago. The Blue Devils allowed a total of 88 points despite North Carolina shooting a season-worst 10 percent from deep.
  2. Will Michigan have any luck slowing down Cassius Winston? (Michigan @ Michigan State, Saturday 8 PM EST, ESPN) In Michigan State’s win in Ann Arbor, Cassius Winston scored 27 points, with 19 of those coming in the second half. In that particular match-up, the Spartans turned the ball over at a season low rate of just 9.6 percent.
  3. Which Carsen Edwards shows up for Purdue as the Boilermakers look for a share (or more) of the Big Ten regular season title? (Purdue @ Northwestern, Saturday 2:30 PM EST, Big Ten Network) After shooting a robust 41.7 percent on his three-point attempts last season in league play, Purdue’s Carsen Edwards is shooting just 30.2 percent in Big Ten games this season. In Purdue’s four league losses, Edwards has shot an icy 19.6 percent from beyond the arc.
  4. Can San Diego State get the best of Nevada again? (Nevada @ San Diego State, Saturday 10:30 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) The Aztecs have won three consecutive games against Nevada, including an inspiring victory in San Diego two weeks ago. Brian Dutcher’s team forced 10 first half turnovers in that game, which led to a 17-3 edge in points off turnovers over the opening 20 minutes.
  5. Is Anthony Cowan the barometer of success for Maryland? (Minnesota @ Maryland, Friday 7 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) In Maryland’s 21 wins this season, Anthony Cowan is shooting 41.8 percent from beyond the arc; but in the Terrapins nine losses, Cowan is shooting just 28.6 percent. The junior has shot a mere 1-of-11 from distance in the Terps’ last two games, both losses.
  6. Will the Big South’s best get revenge in the conference’s semifinal match-up? (Radford vs. Charleston Southern, Friday 6 PM EST, ESPN+) The Big South’s top seed Radford trailed at the half in its opening round win against Presbyterian, but the Highlanders take on Charleston Southern next, a team that recently beat Radford by a single point. Made shots were far from plentiful in that game, however, as Charleston Southern went 5-of-25 from inside the arc and Radford was just 5-of-28 on its three-point attempts.
  7. How will Virginia Tech respond to its midweek collapse at Florida State? (Miami @ Virginia Tech, Friday 7 PM EST, ESPN2) The Hokies led by 14 points in the second half at Florida State before ultimately losing to the Seminoles in overtime. Virginia Tech’s bench was outscored 28-0 in regulation and has tallied just 31 points combined in the team’s six conference losses.
  8. Can Louisville put together a full 40-minute effort against Virginia? (Louisville @ Virginia, Saturday 4 PM EST, ESPN) While Louisville was +30 from behind the arc in its February loss to Virginia, the Cavaliers owned a 38-4 advantage in the paint. The Cardinals held Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome without a single three-point make, but the duo of De’Andre Hunter and Mamadi Diakite put together a 40-point performance.
  9. Will Arizona State avoid disaster against Arizona? (Arizona State @ Arizona, Saturday 4 PM EST, CBS) While the Pac-12 is likely going to be given no favors come Selection Sunday, a conference record of 12-6 with non-conference wins against Kansas and Mississippi State would seemingly put the Sun Devils in good shape. A loss against struggling intrastate rival Arizona, however, could easily send Bobby Hurley’s squad to the wrong side of the bubble.
  10. Where will conference tournament chaos break out? With nine conferences in tournament action this weekend, it’s not a matter of if chaos will ensue, but when and where. Four tournament tickets will be punched over the weekend, but will the top seeds prevail? A potential Ohio Valley Conference title game between Belmont and Murray State would be must-see mid-major television.
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