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.

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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Ten Questions To Consider: Christmas Comes Early With Plenty of Hoops

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 21st, 2018

With Christmas, the New Year and conference play all firmly in the sights of players and teams, this weekend’s slate of games brings plenty of questions to the table. Kick off the holidays with plenty of hoops on Friday and Saturday.

Roy and Cal Get Together Again (USA Today Images)
  1. Will Buffalo pick up another win over a power conference opponent? (Buffalo @ Marquette, Friday 8:30 PM EST, FS1) Having already picked up Quadrant 1 wins at West Virginia and Syracuse, Buffalo can make it three big victories with a win at Marquette tonight. In those two wins, Bulls guard CJ Massinburg combined to score 68 points on 13 made three-pointers.
  2. Will Oklahoma’s success travel? (Oklahoma @ Northwestern, Friday 9 PM EST, Big Ten Network) The Sooners started the season with true road games at UT-Rio Grande Valley and UT-San Antonio, and they have not played a true game since then. This Friday evening trip to Northwestern could be feisty as the Wildcats gave Michigan all it could handle in the Wolverines’ narrow two-point win at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
  3. How will southern California’s best team do on the road at Butler? (UC Irvine @ Butler, Friday 6:30 PM EST, FS1) The most successful southern California basketball team this season belongs to UC Irvine. The Anteaters are 11-2 heading into their Friday evening match-up with Butler. Irvine has a suffocating defense that includes a defensive two-point field-goal percentage that ranks among the top 10 nationally.
  4. Which offensive rebounding force will come out on top in battle between blue-bloods? (Kentucky vs. North Carolina in Chicago, Saturday 5:15 PM EST, CBS) The CBS Sports Classic pits these two heavyweights against one another yet again. Both teams grab offensive rebounds at a rate that places them among the best in the country. In North Carolina’s convincing win over Gonzaga, the Tar Heels had an offensive rebound rate of 46.7 percent.
  5. Is Kansas ready for its first true road test? (Kansas @ Arizona State, Saturday 9 PM EST, ESPN2) Undefeated and top-ranked Kansas hits the road for its first true road game on Saturday evening. In a loss last season to the Sun Devils, the trio of Tra Holder, Shannon Evans, and Remy Martin combined to score 72 of the team’s 95 points. Of the three, only Martin is back with Arizona State this season.
  6. Will Arizona’s offense make an appearance? (UC Davis @ Arizona, Saturday 7 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) Arizona’s offensive efficiency had ranked among the top 20 in the nation in each of the past six seasons. This year, however, the Wildcats’ efficiency has fallen outside of the top 100. As a team, Arizona is 11-of-40 from beyond the arc in its last two games.
  7. Can the WCC pick up ANOTHER win over a Pac-12 opponent? (San Diego @ Washington State, Saturday 7:30 PM EST, FS1) The quest for the West Coast Conference to becoming a three-bid league continues as San Diego looks to pick the conference’s eighth win over the Pac-12. The Toreros are led by Isaiah Pineiro who has scored double-figure points in 30 of his last 31 games.
  8. How far can Kansas State’s superb defense carry the team? (Vanderbilt vs. Kansas State, Saturday 7 PM, ESPN2) Kansas State’s ability to defend the three, create turnovers and limit second-chance opportunities has allowed the Wildcats to log a defensive efficiency that sits among the top five nationally. They are now a team without one of its best offensive weapons in Dean Wade, however. Vanderbilt does not struggle to score the ball, so will this be the game in which Kansas State needs its offense to wake up?
  9. Will UConn get a win against former Big East foe Villanova? (UConn @ Villanova, Saturday 12:30 PM EST, CBS) After its two-game losing streak earlier this season, Villanova went on to win six straight. Having just lost two in a row again, the Wildcats now face a familiar opponent in former Big East rival UConn. The Huskies are 9-3 but have just one win (Syracuse) against an opponent with a KenPom ranking of #225 or better.
  10. Is Auburn vulnerable coming off of its loss at NC State? (Murray State @ Auburn, Saturday 4:30 PM EST, SEC Network) While Auburn shot 68 percent from inside the arc against NC State earlier this week, the Tigers were also a dismal 5-of-25 beyond the three-point line. Auburn returns home for a match-up against a Murray State team that has the nation’s best three-point defense to date. If the Racers can defend the three well and clean up their defensive glass, an area they have struggled in, Auburn could be in for a very tough 40 minutes.

2018-19 RTC16: Week Four

Posted by Walker Carey on December 17th, 2018

As full conference play nears, it is becoming increasingly clear what the strengths and weaknesses are among the top teams in college basketball. That was certainly the case Saturday night in Chapel Hill when #8 North Carolina used a first half offensive explosion to pace its way to a 103-90 victory over #6 Gonzaga. The game went a long way to show that the Tar Heels still possess one of the country’s most dynamic offenses and will be reckoned with this season. Senior guard Cameron Johnson and senior forward Luke Maye combined for 45 points in the winning effort, while the team’s duo at point guard – freshman Koby White and junior Seventh Woods – teamed up to contribute 29 points and seven assists. North Carolina still has its defensive flaws, but the Tar Heels have enough firepower to beat anyone. On the other side of the coin, Gonzaga’s defensive issues again presented significant problems, as the Zags allowed 50+ points in both halves and gave up 13 North Carolina three-pointers. Mark Few‘s club will not be exposed on the defensive end of the floor during WCC play this season, but its middling defensive efficiency (63rd nationally) shows the Bulldogs need to work some things out before the NCAA Tournament commences in three months. This week’s Quick n’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Thoughts.

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What’s Trending: Holiday Cheers and Jeers

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 17th, 2018

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

Gonzaga’s Mark Few did not mince words when talking about NCAA President Mark Emmert, going so far as saying, “Emmert needs to step up and be a leader and make some quicker decisions.” Few continued: “there’s a lot of teams who do it right – the National Champions two out of the last three years. There’s a lot of great things. This thing is worth saving.” While Few later went on to say his championship comments were not a shot at North Carolina’s Roy Williams, it was still interesting timing ahead of Gonzaga’s weekend game against North Carolina (which the Zags lost).

On the topic of Emmert and the NCAA, the NCAA and the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) have partnered on a new rule that limits the players that coaches can watch during the month of June. Limiting access of coaches to players in this way is not a step in the right direction.

While action on the court was limited this week because of final exams, it did include a few noteworthy moments. Midweek action included Villanova’s trip to The Palestra to take on Penn. While the Quakers ultimately came out on top, credit should still be given to Jay Wright for playing the game. High-major programs willing to play true road games at mid-majors is always good for college basketball. 

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Ten Questions to Consider: A Recent Final Four Rematch

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 14th, 2018

While the slate of games this weekend is far from full, there remains plenty of intrigue and questions heading into the action. Here are 10 questions I have heading into this weekend’s games. 

The Zags Look to Regroup After Last Weekend’s Loss (USA Today Images)
  1. Will Gonzaga bounce back from its loss to Tennessee with a win against North Carolina? (Gonzaga @ North Carolina, Saturday 7 PM EST, ESPN2) A 2017 Final Four rematch takes place in Chapel Hill on Saturday evening. Gonzaga is coming off of its first loss of the season, a game in which they led Tennessee by nine points with just over six minutes to go. Gonzaga could be challenged by the Tar Heels’ excellent ability to attack the offensive glass. 
  2. Will Butler have enough size to lock down Romeo Langford? (Indiana vs. Butler, Saturday 3:45 PM EST, CBS) Indiana starts four players who are 6’4″ or taller while Butler starts just two players above that height. Romeo Langford’s size will create a mismatch against any Bulldogs starter. The freshman comes into this game averaging over 18 points per game despite going just 5-of-21 from beyond the arc in Indiana’s last six games.
  3. Which conference breaks the tie in this ACC/Big Ten Challenge tie-breaker of sorts? (NC State vs. Penn State in Atlantic City, Saturday 2 PM EST, ESPNU) Penn State’s lone bright spot on its season to date is its win over Virginia Tech in the challenge. The Nittany Lions are just 1-3 away from Happy Valley and take on an NC State group whose lone loss came at Wisconsin after blowing a double-figure second half lead. 
  4. Can St. Mary’s add a quality win to the WCC conference resume? (LSU vs. St. Mary’s in Las Vegas, Saturday 11 PM EST, ESPNU) After a rough patch in the middle of November, the Gaels have now won four straight contests. This game in Las Vegas will feature a terrific backcourt match-up between St. Mary’s Jordan Ford and LSU’s Tremont Waters.
  5. Where will the offense come from in a battle of great defenses? (Cincinnati @ Mississippi State, Saturday 8:30 PM EST, SEC Network) Both teams feature top 30 defenses with suffocating ball pressure and length at the rim. While they have not done a good job in getting to the line, Mississippi State once there has an ability to make free throws at a clip above 76 percent. That could be the difference.
  6. Can Villanova’s defense be fixed in time to challenge Kansas in Lawrence? (Villanova @ Kansas, Saturday Noon EST, ESPN) Villanova opponents last season managed to score at a rate of 1.2 points per possession just once all year, per KenPom. This season, the Wildcats have already allowed two opponents (Penn and La Salle) to do so. If the Wildcats can show signs of life defensively, their offense remains potent and capable of stealing a win in Lawrence.
  7. Will Nebraska add to its non-conference resume? (Nebraska vs. Oklahoma State in South Dakota, Sunday 7 PM EST, Big Ten Network) A year ago, the Cornhuskers’ resume featured just one non-conference win against a team ranked among the KenPom top 100. Nebraska already has notched three such wins prior to this opportunity. In their last game, the Cornhuskers made 14-of-27 three-point attempts en route to a 19-point win over Creighton.
  8. Will Houston stay perfect? (Saint Louis @ Houston, Sunday 3 PM EST, ESPNU) In its last five games, Houston’s Corey Davis and Armani Brooks have gone 8-of-37 and 21-of-56, respectively, from beyond the arc. The three-point happy Cougars take on a Billikens team that is among the nation’s best in defending from distance. 
  9. Will someone other than Carsen Edwards show up for Purdue? (Purdue vs. Notre Dame in Indianapolis, Saturday 1:30 PM EST, CBS) In Purdue’s loss last weekend to Texas, the Boilermakers other than Carsen Edwards missed 16-of-18 three-point attempts. Shooting woes for Ryan Cline have led to the senior shooting just 6.7 percent over his last 15 three-point attempts.
  10. Can the Pac-12 get a win or two over the Big 12? (Baylor @ Arizona, Saturday 11 PM EST, ESPN2 and USC @ Oklahoma, Saturday 9 PM EST, ESPNU)  As a league, the Pac-12 has won just 11 of 41 Quadrant 1 and 2 games heading into this weekend. Arizona gets a shot at a Baylor team who has yet to beat any club among the KenPom top 150. Wins by Arizona and USC could go a long way for the conference come NCAA Tournament selection time.

 

2018-19 RTC16: Week Two

Posted by Walker Carey on December 3rd, 2018

Right around the beginning of December, the college basketball world begins to really notice which teams may have been severely underrated in the preseason. This year, #5 Michigan is the most glaring example of a team whose significant early season success has been wholly unexpected. The Wolverines began the year with several question marks stemming from the loss of significant production from last season’s national runner-up squad. Because of that looming uncertainty, John Beilein‘s team did not receive even a single vote in the preseason RTC16. So far, that has turned out to be a big omission, as Michigan sits at 8-0 following a week in which it laid waste to both #11 North Carolina and a solid Purdue team. Sophomore guard Jordan Poole and junior forward Jon Teske have taken crucial steps forward this season, and freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis has emerged as a viable offensive weapon. Their development has aided veteran guards Zavier Simpson and Charles Matthews in leading the Wolverines to their unbeaten start. It should be a requirement to not overlook a Beilein team in the preseason because he has proven time and time again that the Wolverines are usually going to surpass expectations. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Thoughts.

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What’s Trending: The ACC/Big Ten Challenge & More…

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 3rd, 2018

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

Two weeks ago, college basketball fans were treated to a Feast Week that featured Gonzaga vs. Duke in Maui, Virginia vs. Wisconsin in the Bahamas and Kansas vs. Tennessee in Brooklyn. This past week brought us the perfect dessert to the meal with the 20th annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge. This season’s event, as always, included a plethora of quality match-ups…

https://twitter.com/accmbb/status/1067103946186067968

The challenge this year included Michigan soundly beating North Carolina by 17 points, as Wolverines’ freshman Iggy Brazdeikis scored a season-high 24 points in a dominant performance. Michigan’s elite defense stifled the Tar Heels all game long, as the below sequence shows…

https://twitter.com/BigTenNetwork/status/1068000299506225152

The challenge this year included Wisconsin making plays in crunch time. The Badgers overcame a 12-point second half deficit to beat NC State. The below sequence sealed things…

The challenge this year included last-second drama. Pittsburgh was down a point with the ball in the closing seconds against Iowa. Unfortunately for the Panthers, the final few seconds included nothing more than these two airballs….

The challenge this year included an ACC team draining a game-winning shot in the final seconds. Leonard Hamilton‘s Florida State club trailed Purdue by eight points with under four minutes to go, but the deficit was just one point with ten seconds remaining. Then, the Seminoles’ Trent Forrest stepped up…

https://twitter.com/theACCDN/status/1068003704312233984

The challenge this year featured 14 games and each conference walked away with seven victories. Thank you ACC, thank you Big Ten, for another terrific challenge.

https://twitter.com/theACCDN/status/1068007237413732352

The challenge this year featured a number of individual efforts and plays as well. There was Zion doing #Zionthings in Duke‘s win over Indiana…

https://twitter.com/br_CBB/status/1067633045904199681

The challenge this year featured Wisconsin‘s Brad Davison taking five charges….

https://twitter.com/espn/status/1067663730316636161

Outside of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge last week, college basketball also experienced a rather sizable lowlight. Despite having access to countless respected advanced analytics platforms and plenty of smart people offering to help the NCAA develop its system, it decided to handle the job on its own. The organization unveiled its initial NET Rankings on Wednesday morning…

https://twitter.com/marchmadness/status/1067105577661276160

And well, within a half-hour Twitter ripped apart the new system. Whether that meant Nate Silver offering this opinion…

The NET rankings also gave us the least talked about upset of a “#1” team ever…

This past week also featured March Madness darling Sister Jean jumping back into our lives as she was given a Final Four ring at Loyola (Chicago)

This past week also featured two plays that flew under the radar. First, Western Kentucky’s Josh Anderson registered this dunk which could be up against any dunk of the week…

And finally, Eastern Kentucky’s Nick Mayo found the ball in his hands in the waning seconds against High Point…

Ten Questions to Consider: Early Conference Action? Edition

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 30th, 2018

As November comes to a close, we are starting to have an idea of what teams will look like this season. Here are 10 questions I have for a group heading into this weekend’s action.

Michigan and Purdue Meet in an Early Monster Big Ten Match-Up (USA Today Images)

  1. Can the Badgers end their skid against the Hawkeyes? (Wisconsin @ Iowa, Friday 8 PM EST, Big Ten Network) Wisconsin begins Big Ten play on the last day of November with a trip to Iowa. The Badgers come to Iowa City having lost two straight to the Hawkeyes. In last season’s defeat, the trio of Ethan Happ, Khalil Iverson and the seldom used Charles Thomas made 20-of-35 shots while the rest of the Badgers went 6-of-30 from the field.
  2. Can San Francisco continue its hot start in Northern Ireland? (San Francisco vs. Stephen F. Austin, Friday 8 AM EST) The Hall of Fame Belfast Classic will give four mid-majors an opportunity to pick up a pair of quality wins this weekend. While the WCC is often Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and everyone else, USF is making its presence felt so far this seaon. The Dons are a perfect 5-0 to date and have a chance to pick up quality wins against Stephen F. Austin and potentially Buffalo. A pair of victories here could further the WCC’s notion of becoming a three-bid league next March.
  3. How will Gonzaga fare in its first true road game of the season? (Gonzaga @ Creighton, Saturday 2 PM EST, Fox) Gonzaga hits the road for its first true road game of the year in Omaha against Creighton. The Bulldogs must deal with an elite shooting team in the Bluejays, which have made at least nine three-pointers in every game while Gonzaga has allowed that many only once.
  4. Can Purdue’s offense be effective against Michigan’s elite defense? (Purdue @ Michigan, Saturday 3:30 PM, ESPN) In Purdue’s recent two losses, star guard Carsen Edwards committed 14 turnovers while handing out 11 assists. This early blockbuster Big Ten match-up will be interesting as Michigan’s defensive focus is staying in front of its opponent and making every shot difficult — more so than creating turnovers.
  5. Can USC get a resume-building win over Nevada? (Nevada @ USC, Saturday 4:30 PM EST, Fox) USC sits at 5-2 with all five of its wins against teams with a KenPom ranking outside of the top 200. With Nevada coming into the Galen Center on Saturday afternoon, the Trojans have an opportunity to add a marquee win to their resume. In order to have a chance, USC will need Bennie Boatwright to shine and for Kevin Porter Jr. to play after missing the last two games with a quad bruise. Read the rest of this entry »