What’s Trending: The NCAA Tournament is Closer Than You Think

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 11th, 2019

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

Saturday marked the initial release of the Selection Committee’s top 16 seeds for the upcoming NCAA Tournament. While the choices lacked much in the way of surprise, the release was followed by five of those teams losing later that day.

Earlier in the week, the college basketball world was reminded of the drama that comes along with NCAA violations, as Arizona decided to place assistant coach Mark Phelps on administrative leave. The Wildcats have struggled both on and off the court this season.

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Ten Questions To Consider: Mid-Season Tests and Challenges

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 26th, 2019

With no NFL Playoff games on tap this weekend, all eyes will be glued to the young men on the hardwood. With several marquee matchups, conference intrigue, and a star at Murray State all in action, here are 10 questions I have ahead of this weekend’s action.

It’s Always Fun When Kentucky and Kansas Get Together (USA TODAY Sports)
  1. Can Creighton find its defense? (Butler @ Creighton, Friday 8:3o PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Creighton ranks 61st in NET Rankings, is 2-4 in the Big East and was among Joe Lunardi’s “Next Four Out” in his latest Bracketology. A large reason for Creighton’s inconsistent play has been a defensive efficiency rating that ranks in the 200s. In conference play, however, Greg McDermott’s defensive efficiency rating of #120 is nine points worse than the next closest Big East team. (Ed. note: Creighton held Butler to 0.84 PPP last night in a 14-point victory.)
  2. Does Mississippi State’s upcoming schedule make Auburn a must win game? (Auburn @ Mississippi State, Saturday 8:30 PM EST, SEC Network) If the season ended today, Mississippi State would comfortably make the NCAA Tournament. That said, the Bulldogs will go on the road before returning home for LSU and Kentucky. A win against Auburn today would take quite a bit of pressure off of Ben Howland’s team as they prepare to travel next week.
  3. Is Kentucky’s Reid Travis set to have a big game against Kansas? (Kansas @ Kentucky, Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN) In arguably Kentucky’s three biggest games to date (Duke, North Carolina and Louisville) Reid Travis has scored 17 points per game. The graduate transfer has eclipsed just 15 points in two of the Wildcats’ other 15 games. Beyond scoring, Travis’ ability to rebound (10 games with three or more offensive rebounds) could put added pressure on the Jayhawks’ All-American Dedric Lawson.
  4. Who is the favorite to win the SEC? Top-ranked Tennessee had a scare midweek at Vanderbilt; LSU remains unbeaten in conference play; and Kentucky sits just a game back through the first three weeks. One thing to consider moving forward is that LSU only plays the other two schools once each, while Tennessee and Kentucky will play each other twice down the stretch.
  5. Can Ohio State end their recent skid at a hostile Pinnacle Bank Arena? (Ohio State @ Nebraska, Saturday Noon, Fox Sports 1) In a game between a pair of Big Ten teams that cannot afford to drop another conference game, the Buckeyes will look to snap a five-game skid. Ohio State has turned the ball over a whopping 63 times in its last four games.
  6. Can Purdue’s stars figure out the Michigan State defense? (Michigan State @ Purdue, Sunday 1 PM EST, CBS) Purdue’s last loss came at the hands of the Spartans in early December. Michigan State held the pair of Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline to 23 points on 28 shots, and the 11 points scored by Edwards was his season low.
  7. What will Ja Morant do this weekend? (Tennessee State @ Murray State, Saturday 8 PM EST, ESPN+) The Tigers of Tennessee State are one of the worst defensive teams in the country, but they will have the pleasure of attempting to stop Murray State’s dynamic Ja Morant. Heading into Thursday’s game against Belmont, Morant is averaging 26.7 points per game in conference play. According to Hoop-Math, the 6’3″ Morant is 100-for-148 (67.6%) on shots at the rim on the season.
  8. After a disastrous outing against rival USC last weekend, will UCLA show any resistance to Arizona? (Arizona @ UCLA, Saturday 10 PM EST, ESPN2) Last weekend, the lifeless Bruins fell behind 16-2 to start their rivalry game against USC, and Arizona has won three consecutive games at Pauley Pavilion by 11 points. With Thomas Welsh no longer there to torment the Arizona big men, UCLA’s disastrous season could get considerably worse by the end of the weekend.
  9. Will Iowa’s mindset be right when they hit the road this weekend? (Iowa @ Minnesota, Sunday 5 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Sandwiched between home games against Michigan State and Michigan is a road test for the Hawkeyes at Minnesota. After starting conference play 0-3, Iowa has now won five straight heading into Thursday night’s game against Michigan State. Iowa is the only Big Ten team with five players averaging double-figure points per game.
  10. Can VCU avoid a road slip-up when they take on Duquesne? (VCU @ Duquesne, Saturday 2 PM EST, ESPN Plus) The Rams are coming off of a narrow defeat at Rhode Island where they turned the ball over 19 times. VCU’s offense has been abysmal all year long and is only bogged down further as they have the worst turnover rate among Atlantic 10 teams in conference play. A road loss at Duquesne could be crippling come March for VCU.
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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.

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How Bad is Bad? Evaluating the Pac-12

Posted by Adam Butler on December 21st, 2018

During Wednesday evening’s broadcast of the Arizona-Montana game, Bill Walton, while simultaneously running the math for plates on the bench press and waxing poetic about his morning in Utah and evening in Tucson, noted, “This will be a most competitive conference.” I paraphrase; however, the gist remains: Walton was celebrating many of the Pac-12’s teams. He’s a known, if not unapologetic, champion of the Conference of Champions, and was not soon to bash it as many of us have lamented. But regardless of the Big Redhead’s admonitions, this year is looking BAD.  

Is Oregon the Best Worst Team in High-Major Basketball? (USA Today Images)

This is a conference not all that far removed from one of the worst conference performances ever. In 2012, the inaugural Pac-12 season, Washington won the conference regular season, lost in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament, and was summarily dismissed by the NCAA Tournament committee on Selection Sunday. The Pac that year owned nine top-100 KenPom teams (zero among the top 25) and two teams that were rated in the 300s. Just two of those teams danced, including a 23-11 Colorado team that entered the Pac-12 Tournament rated 96th by KenPom yet earned the Pac-12 auto-bid by defeating Arizona in an ugly 53-51 championship game.

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Pac-12 Five: Pre-Feast Week Observations

Posted by Adam Butler on November 16th, 2018

As we head into Feast Week, and the with the Pac-12 continuing to take its lumps, a few items to ensure you’re keeping an eye on.

Brandon Randolph Has Been a Pleasant Surprise For Arizona (USA Today Images)

  1. Arizona has impressed – I recognize that the Wildcats have only played teams in the KenPom >250 but their defense is currently the ninth-best (by raw efficiency) in the nation, a far cry from last season’s 102.8. The Wildcats have the steepest test ahead with a loaded Maui field awaiting next week.
  2. Oregon being Oregon – The Ducks seemingly have an annual tendency to struggle early and improve late, and last night they stuck to that script. See Exhibit 2017 when they swiftly dropped games to Baylor and Georgetown before going on a casual 31-4 run and wound up in the Final Four. Is this team THAT good? Probably not. But come time for Pac-12 play, expect Oregon to be the dominant squad.
  3. USC’s Kevin Porter will be a difference-maker – Yes, Nick Rackocevic has been a handful at 17 PPG, 15 RPG and 3 BPG. But considering the significance and impact of guards, not to mention the confusion a lefty creates, Porter has already demonstrated he’s going to be an absolute threat. The Trojans head to the NABC Hall of Fame Classic this weekend, so it would be a treat to see this group at full strength (reminder: Bennie Boatright is back).
  4. Could Washington find its defense in Canada? The Huskies head to Vancouver for an inaugural tournament just north across the border. But the Dawgs to date have done little to impress, getting blown out in a true road game at Auburn (I suppose excusable) but then just squeaking by a game San Diego squad visiting Seattle.
  5. Tempo – It’s notably up in the NBA and has been steadily increasing in college basketball over the past few seasons as well. Right now, however, the median tempo in college basketball is 71.5 possessions per game. Last year, that number would’ve ranked among the top 50. Keep in mind that pace usually slows down as we get into the meat of the season, but it’s an intriguing storyline to keep an eye on as a burgeoning trend.
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The 2018-19 Pac-12 Elite: What’s Setting the Top Teams Apart

Posted by Adam Butler on November 1st, 2018

With Gonzaga in the top five nationally and some of the traditional western powers not-or-barely ranked, it’s unclear where the conference’s top team lies. Pac-12 media came to the conclusion last month that it will be Oregon, UCLA Washington and Arizona. As we approach season tip-off early next week, let’s explore each of those squads and what differentiates them as the conference elite.

Oregon

Dana Altman Welcomes an Elite Group of New Ducks to Eugene (USA Today Images)

  • Why they’re here: Introducing the best freshman class of Dana Altman’s Oregon tenure to a sound cast of returnees.
  • Summary: Altman has worked magic in Eugene with minimal continuity cemented by transfers, but this year is a little different. He has as much talent as he’s ever had but much of it is youthful, and last season was a little underwhelming with similar (albeit less heralded) youth. Of course many eyes will focus on Bol Bol – the fascinating 7’3” freshman talent — but don’t forget about Kenny Wooten, poised to be something like the next Jordan Bell. Wooten had the nation’s third-highest block rate (15.3%) a season ago and should be poised to progress. Meanwhile, senior Paul White is the kind of dynamic forward Altman has typically built around — 6’9” with a 14 percent defensive rebounding rate and a 35 percent three-point shooter. Further, Payton Pritchard (41% 3FG) might as well be a senior point guard (full disclosure: He is only a junior), and while the Ducks may appear to be light on guards – clearly critical to success at the college level – their on-paper talent suggests this may be a nationally underrated squad.
  • Conclusion: Considering the Ducks’ mix of talented players and a proven (excellent) coach, Oregon should be the best team in the Pac-12.

UCLA

  • Why they’re here: Projected lottery picks returning and incoming.
  • Summary: It’s a familiar tale in Westwood: The Bruins are as talented as any team in the league if not the nation. Kris Wilkes may be the front-runner for Pac-12 Player of the Year while Jaylen Hands – a terrifically skilled big guard – inherits the reins from the last of the Holiday family. The other familiarity, of course, has been some of the underwhelming results of the Steve Alford era. In a Pac-12 with a low ceiling and what I’d consider a relatively high floor, the Bruins have the talent to win this thing outright and the pedigree to finish fourth.
  • Conclusion: Despite the summary’s closing sentence, look for consistency from these Bruins as roles and responsibilities appear clearer than they perhaps have in the past. What does consistency yield? Well, for these Bruins it very well could be a conference title.

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Morning Five: 10.30.18 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on October 30th, 2018

morning5

  1. Mike Krzyzewski and John Calipari are still the top two names in recruiting, but Penny Hardaway is quickly moving up the list as one of the best recruiters in the country. On Saturday morning, Hardaway landed a commitment from D.J. Jeffries, a top-25 recruit in the class of 2020. Jeffries, who previously played for Hardaway’s AAU team, had committed to Kentucky in March, but reopened his commitment after Hardaway was named as the new coach at Memphis. Jeffries also played alongside James Wiseman, the #1 recruit in the class of 2020, this summer so there is a chance he might be able to sway Wiseman, which would be an enormous get for the Tigers. Hardaway has done a great job in turning around the issues Memphis had in recruiting under Tubby Smith, but we will be interested to see if he continues to be as successful as he gets further away from the AAU scene that he was so closely involved in before taking the job at Memphis.
  2. We had almost forgotten about Mark Schlabach as he seemed to disappear after accusing Sean Miller of paying DeAndre Ayton to play at Arizona, but late on Sunday night he released a piece (along with Paula Lavigne) accusing Miller as well as Creighton‘s Greg McDermott of having multiple phone calls with Christian Dawkins, who was acting as Brian Bowen II‘s handler. A player’s handler speaking with assistant coaches isn’t particularly shocking–we aren’t as dumb as Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, and Bill Self think we are–but we are surprised that coaches of the level of Miller and McDermott would have any kind of direct conservation with a handler.
  3. With the start of the season drawing near we have been expecting to hear about teams losing players to injuries or eligibility concerns, but we did not expect a team to lose a player for punching a coach as appears to have happened with Iona‘s Roland Griffin. According to Griffin, a senior forward who averaged 11.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game last season, he punched an assistant coach after the coach tried to wrestle him to the ground after a verbal altercation over whether or not Griffin had to go to study hall. The assistant coach, Garfield “Ricky” Johns,  reportedly spent eight hours in the hospital [Ed. Note: Probably four hours in registration, two hours waiting to be seen, and a little over one and a half hours waiting to be discharged.] Griffin was later informed that he is not allowed on school property through May 31, 2020, which means his time as a Gael is done.
  4. Texas will be without senior guard Kerwin Roach II for its season opener against Eastern Illinois on November 6 after Roach was suspended for a violation of team rules. The violation, which reportedly happened last year, means that Roach, who averaged 12.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game last season, will miss the Longhorns’ two scrimmages along with the aforementioned opener. Fortunately for the Longhorns, he will be back in time for their game on November 9 against Arkansas in the Armed Forces Classic, which should really be the first real test they face.
  5. We don’t usually talk about potential NBA personnel hires, but when Rick Pitino throws his name out there looking for any NBA offers it catches our attention. The fact that Pitino would go to Adrian Wojnarowski seems pretty desperate, but then again so does running a Twitter account that we are still having a hard time believing is real. We can’t imagine that an NBA team would give Pitino a high-level job given his ego and the likelihood that he would try to make a move to take over the team, but we could see someone giving him a G League position particularly with the reports that they will be offering players $125,000/year contracts.
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Three Pac-12 Returnees Who Should Expand Their Games This Season

Posted by Adam Butler on October 26th, 2018

Former UCLA guard Jordan Adams had a fantastic freshman season. You may recall that as a pup in 2012-13 he recorded a 115.0 offensive rating, efficiently posting 15 points per game. A year later, he expanded on that scoring skill set, improving his efficiency five points (120.0 ORtg) and scoring output (17.0 PPG). He also moved his game closer to the rim, taking nearly twice as many shots there as he did during his freshman campaign. Following this change in his offensive philosophy, Adams became an NBA first round draft pick. I’ve long found this fascinating as the whole of basketball seems to be moving to the edges. Particularly as we consider the college game and its general propensity to force longer-range shots (zone defenses; lesser skilled talent; individually impactful bigs). Furthermore, Adams is an intriguing starting point as college players often make their most significant leaps from their freshman to sophomore years.

Jaylen Nowell is Poised to Break Out(USA Today Images)

So who in this year’s Pac might resemble a modern-day Jordan Adams? The answer may reside with players that took the lion’s share of their attempts (not specifically as a freshman) in the mid-range. Here are the Pac’s top-10 returning mid-range shooters (by % of their total shots coming neither at the rim or beyond the arc):

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Pac-12 Media Day: Team Capsules Filled With Evidence

Posted by Adam Butler on October 12th, 2018

A great focus of Thursday’s Pac-12 Basketball Media Day was “evidence.” It came up as both a recommendation from the Pac-12 as well as an implemented rule that the NCAA can use third-party investigations (evidence? information?) to enact punishment. Further, in defending the conference and an allusion to wide-spread corruption (half of the conference’s teams have been mentioned in a federal court in Lower Manhattan this week), commissioner Larry Scott referred to last November’s NCAA charter that all schools conduct internal investigations regarding their compliance. In doing such, the Pac-12’s member institutions found no EVIDENCE of wrongdoing.

All Hands on Deck Yesterday in SF (credit: UCLA Athletics)

Alas, this was a basketball Media Day with the presumed burden of evidence on coaches and players. The EVIDENCE (and media voting suggests) that Oregon will win the conference. But in evaluating what we have for basketball evidence, we find ourselves with very little to know. Players in attendance at Media Day (two per school) averaged just 19 starts last year. Five players started zero games (or weren’t Pac-12 players at all last year). Of course, this trend among the 24 players in attendance is a microcosm of the sport: roster fluidity, consistently new names, etc. It makes evidence difficult. Despite that, however, I’d like to present the most optimistic team-by-team 2018-19 BASKETBALL evidence:

  • Arizona – Sean Miller went out of his way, unprompted, to mention his star freshman, Brandon Williams. When he committed to the Wildcats for the second time, Miller had secured the top point guard recruit of his Arizona tenure. Further, Miller has managed to bring in some intriguing graduates (Justin Coleman, Ryan Luther) to help stabilize an unproven roster — and, in fact, naming Coleman a team captain.
  • Arizona State – Remy Martin showed flashes of scoring brilliance and an ability to slash and shoot, suggesting little drop off from the Tra Holder era. Beyond that, the Devils introduce Zylan Cheatham (SDSU transfer), Luguentz Dort (5-star recruit) and Taeshon Cherry (4-star recruit) to an already intriguing set of athletic forwards (Mickey Mitchell, Romello White) with the hope of improving on a porous defense. Bob Hurley spoke – almost to a man – about defensive prowess and ability.

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Where 2018-19 Happens: Reason #29 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 9th, 2018

As RTC heads into its 12th season covering college hoops, it’s time to begin releasing our annual compendium of YouTube clips that we like to call Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball. These 30 snippets from last season’s action are completely guaranteed to make you wish the games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on Tuesday, November 6. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#29 – Where Begin the Begin Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-142014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17  and 2017-18 preseasons.

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