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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The Good and the Bad from SEC Week 1

Posted by David Changas on November 9th, 2018

With most SEC teams having already opened the 2018-19 college basketball season, let’s take a Week 1 look at the good and the not-so-good.

The Good

Jared Harper had a stellar opening-night for Auburn (al.com)

  • Auburn’s Offense. Bruce Pearl’s team smoked South Alabama 101-58 in its home opener on Tuesday night. And while the incoming expectation was that the Tigers would be very good offensively, it’s going to be a really fun season on the Plains if they’re as good as they showed earlier this week. Specifically, Auburn went 18-of-38 from deep, with junior guard Jared Harper hitting six three-pointers while handing out 13 assists. Things will get much tougher for the Tigers tonight when they host #25 Washington in what should be one of the best games on this evening’s slate.
  • Jordan Bone’s Finishing. Tennessee’s junior point guard – who also happens to be Tennessee’s only point guard – looked phenomenal in finishing at the rim in the Volunteers’ easy 86-41 win over Division II Lenoir-Rhyne. Bone finished with a game-high 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting. Last season, the biggest criticism of the cat-quick Bone was his inability to convert shots after getting to the basket with relative ease. If Tuesday night’s performance is a sign of true improvement in this area, an already dangerous Tennessee team becomes that much scarier.
  • The Vanderbilt Freshman. Much is expected of Vanderbilt’s five-star freshmen Darius Garland and Simi Shittu, the duo who form the core of the most highly-touted incoming class in school history. Neither disappointed in the Commodores’ 92-79 win over Winthrop earlier this week. Garland scored a game-high 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting, making three of his seven three-point attempts along the way. Shittu, a power forward who has played sparingly after tearing his ACL last December, went for 18 points and 10 rebounds in his collegiate debut. Along with Notre Dame transfer Matt Ryan and sophomore guard Saben Lee, Vanderbilt certainly will have a formidable offense. If Bryce Drew‘s defense comes along too, this exciting young team will make some noise over the next few months.

The Bad

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Where 2018-19 Happens: Reason #11 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 27th, 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.

#11 – Where SEC, What? 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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Rushed Reactions: #5 Clemson 84, #4 Auburn 53

Posted by rtmsf on March 18th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish.

Three Key Takeaways.

Clemson Will Not Soon Forget This Performance (USA Today Images)

  1. Sheer Dominance. Not even the #1 vs. #16 match-ups earlier this weekend were this lopsided. Chalk it up to Clemson’s outstanding defense combined with Auburn’s inept offense, but the point remains that a run that started with a 13-13 tie at the 12-minute mark of the first half became a 40-point lead 20 minutes later. FORTY. Not even Cincinnati can blow that kind of advantage. The statistics are marvelous in their ugliness (e.g., Auburn’s 26 percent shooting), but the key stretch was really the last 10 minutes of the first half when Auburn missed 18 consecutive shots while giving up 25 points in a series of layups and three-pointers on the other end. It was a blitzkrieg, magnificent in its efficiency and domination. And it propelled Clemson to the Sweet Sixteen for just the fourth time ever.
  2. Is Clemson Good? Obviously, yes, but just how good? Today’s victory was a real eye-opener for a lot of people wondering if the Tigers were capable of making a deep run. New Mexico State was a trendy upset pick on Friday, and Clemson manhandled the Aggies without too much concern. Today’s game was 32 minutes of curb-stomping. The question with Clemson has never been with its defense, which ranks among the top 10 in college basketball this season, but rather whether they had enough play-makers to get past the likes of elite programs. Their best win this season was over North Carolina in Littlejohn Arena, but it they lost relatively close games to Duke and Virginia (the ACC Tournament game). The Tigers may get their chance to prove themselves in the Midwest Regional next weekend, as Kansas awaits next followed by ACC brethren Duke or Syracuse. In a ball-control kind of game where the shots aren’t falling (a typical Jayhawks loss scenario), it wouldn’t be impossible to see Clemson advance two more rounds just like its Palmetto State rival from a season ago.
  3. Auburn Still Had a Great Season. No team likes to go out of the NCAA Tournament like Auburn did today, but sometimes the forces align and there’s not much a team can do to manage the buzzsaw. Still, Bruce Pearl put together a fantastic season that included a first-place finish in the SEC (the Tigers were projected ninth in the preseason by SEC media), the school’s first NCAA appearance (and win) in 15 years and a buzz that had been missing around the basketball program for a very long time. Depending on how the FBI thing shakes out, Auburn is poised to get back to the NCAA Tournament for years to come — only hopefully with better performances than the Tigers gave today.

Player of the Game. Elijah Thomas, Clemson. Thomas set the tone in the first half with 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting as the Tigers simply overwhelmed the other Tigers. He finished with a highly-efficient 18 points, 11 rebounds and a pair of assists on 7-of-10 shooting. But really, the entire Clemson team was the player of tonight’s game.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Auburn 62, #13 Charleston 58

Posted by rtmsf on March 16th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish.

Three Key Takeaways.

Auburn Flexed at the End of Their Tough Victory Today (USA Today Images)

  1. Auburn and Charleston Started Cold as Ice, Finished Hot. In the first half the two teams combined to shoot 2-of-23 from three-point range (Auburn was 0-of-13 on its own), allowing Charleston to stay close enough to give the Cougars reason to hope for the big upset going into the second half. For most of that half, it appeared that the team that made the biggest couple of plays down the stretch would end up with the victory — and that was an accurate assumption. After Charleston had taken the lead on a three-pointer from Marquise Pointer with three minutes remaining, clutch back-to-back threes from Auburn’s Bryce Brown and Jared Harper gave the Tigers some final breathing room. After such a miserable first-half shooting performance, the two teams nailed four of their 10 threes during the game-ending stretch.
  2. Except From the Foul Line. There’s an old adage that championship-level teams hit their free throws when they count, and it was certainly put to the test this evening with Charleston and Auburn. The two teams combined to shoot less than 50 percent from the line, but it was truthfully the spirit-crushing misses by Charleston down the stretch that made the difference in the game. From the 1:40 mark forward — crunch time of a tie game — the Cougars missed four of their seven free throw attempts, effectively ceding the momentum to an Auburn team that had proven shaky to that point. Auburn didn’t exactly close things out from the line itself, missing four of its own in the final minute. But by that time, the threes from Harper and Brown had given the Tigers a working margin.
  3. Should There Have Been a Call? Notwithstanding all the missed foul shots and the questionable decision-making in the final few minutes of this game, it appeared as if Charleston’s Grant Riller was fouled on a long three-point attempt to tie the game with three seconds remaining. Of course, Riller had already missed a couple free throws on the evening, so there was no guarantee that he would have made three to send the game to overtime. But unlike many no-calls where referees swallow the whistle in close games, it’s usually an automatic call when a jump shooter gets raked across the arm. Charleston will lament the call, certainly, but the Cougars really put themselves in that precarious position.

Player of the Game. Mustapha Heron, Auburn. In an ugly game devoid of any super performances, Heron gets the nod here for his 16-point, five-rebound night that included several key buckets during a second-half stretch when Charleston was pushing forward.

Quotable.

  • “No, this was definitely probably worst one of the year, definitely. But it’s good to survive and advance.” — Auburn’s Mustapha Heron, on the Tigers’ quality of play today.
  • “Only difference this year is Auburn is part of it.” — Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl, describing his pride in his team being a part of the NCAA Tournament this year.
  • “I think I got touched, but it’s not my job to worry about foul calls or not.” — Charleston’s Grant Riller, referring to the final shot.

Sights and Sounds. There’s nothing quite like a generally neutral building starting to get the fever of a plucky underdog in the second half of a close game. When Charleston’s Jarrell Brantley dropped a three from the right wing with around seven minutes left in the game to give Charleston a lead, Viejas Arena exploded. The venue was raucous the rest of the way as the two teams traded missed foul shots, deep threes and assorted haymakers back and forth. This play from the first half was also quite nasty.

https://twitter.com/marchmadness/status/974802270423474176

What’s Next. Auburn advances to the Round of 32 for only the third time since 2000. Charleston will head back to South Carolina dreaming of what could have been with a couple made free throws.

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Untrustworthy: Caveat Emptor on These 10 Teams

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on March 14th, 2018

Preseason rankings — they are, in most sports, completely irrelevant when the postseason rolls around. But not in college basketball. When projecting Final Four teams, as we have covered in this space before, the preseason AP Poll is just as predictive as the current AP poll. The rationale for this is that preseason rankings account for things that the mathematical models struggle with (for example, coaching changes, big recruiting classes, injuries and suspensions, etc.), making them a surprisingly accurate projection system. So what about the handful of teams each year that are excluded from these rankings but go on to do great things in the regular season? Is it safe to assume that if you can’t crack the preseason Top 25, you won’t cut down any nets in March?

Can Virginia Break the Trend? (USA Today Images)

To answer this question, I looked at historical NCAA Tournament teams that were unranked in the preseason but were ranked in the final regular season poll (this one) to examine whether they came crashing down to earth when it mattered most. My findings indicate that these teams have in fact underperformed as a group in the NCAA Tournament. Since 2007, 106 teams fit the criteria. Just 37 of that group (35%) exceeded their seeds’ average win expectation (based on average wins for each seed since 2002), and the group as a whole won just 120 games. That mark is 30 below an expected aggregate total of 150 victories, a statistically significant difference at the five percent level. Furthermore, just one of 51 top-four seeds ultimately made the Final Four (Kemba Walker’s 2011 Connecticut squad), although they have collectively produced 11 Elite Eight appearances with Florida‘s run last year being the most recent example. The conclusion here is that, although a handful of teams in this group may turn out to exceed expectations, it is likely as a whole to underperform.

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RTC Bracket Prep: Midwest Region

Posted by Walker Carey on March 13th, 2018

Yesterday and today we will be rolling out our region-by-region analysis for the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Here, Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCMWRegion).

Favorite: #2 Duke (26-7, 13-5 ACC). While Kansas is the top seed in the region, Duke’s overall talent makes the Blue Devils the favorite. According to KenPom, Duke ranks third in the country in offensive efficiency and seventh in defensive efficiency. The Blue Devils are led by senior guard Grayson Allen (15.7 PPG, 4.5 APG) and freshman phenom Marvin Bagley III (21.1 PPG, 11.5 RPG), which gives it a decided talent advantage on both the perimeter and inside nearly every time they take the floor. Neither Rhode Island nor Oklahoma possesses the offensive firepower to knock off Duke in the Round of 32, while a potential Sweet Sixteen match-up with Michigan State represents a rematch of a Champions Classic showdown where Allen scored a career-high 37 points in leading his team to victory. Considering #1 Kansas’ general inconsistency and questions surrounding the health of big man Udoka Azuibuike, the Blue Devils’ path to another Final Four appears clear.

Grayson Allen’s Last Hurrah Starts in the Midwest Region (USA Today Images)

Should They Falter: #1 Kansas (27-7, 13-5 Big 12). For a team that earned its 14th consecutive regular season Big 12 title this season, Kansas certainly experienced plenty of national doubt. There have been legitimate questions about the Jayhawks’ overall depth and interior play all season — and those discussion points were not helped by Azuibuike suffering a knee injury prior the to the Big 12 Tournament. That said, Kansas was able to win three games in three days at the Big 12 Tournament to take home the title and the Jayhawks appear to be playing their best basketball of the season. With senior guards Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk leading the charge, coupled with the emergence of sophomore guard Malik Newman, Kansas has enough offensive prowess to keep up with anyone in the field.

Grossly Overseeded: #10 Oklahoma (18-13, 8-10 Big 12). The Sooners were one of the best stories of the early portion of this season. Freshman guard Trae Young was drawing favorable comparisons to Stephen Curry for his outstanding perimeter game, and it appeared Lon Kruger‘s group was equipped to rise from the ashes of last season’s debacle to ascend to the program’s second Final Four in the last three years. That all came to a screeching halt when the calendar turned to 2018. Since Big 12 play began, Oklahoma has gone just 8-12 and has not won a game away from Norman. While Young looked fresh and explosive in the early season, he has looked tired and lethargic since (an astronomical nation-leading usage rate of 38.6 percent surely contributes). The committee has repeatedly acknowledged that it values early season play just as much as it does the late season, so you can certainly understand why the Sooners were selected to the Field of 68. The surprising part is how firmly they were in — getting a #10 seed and avoiding the First Four is a generous draw for a team that has struggled so much.

Criminally Underseeded: #14 Bucknell (25-9, 16-2 Patriot League). Following a loss to Boston University on January 2, Bucknell was saddled with a mediocre 7-8 record and was looking for answers. The Bison finished the year, however, by winning 18 of their last 19 games and dominating the Patriot League Tournament — winning their semifinal and championship games by 31 and 29 points, respectively. It seems like everything is humming along nicely for Nathan Davis‘ group as the NCAA Tournament commences this week. That is why it was surprising to see the Bison earn only a #14 seed and a rather intimidating match-up with a very talented Michigan State squad in Detroit. Advancing past the First Round will be a tough ask of Bucknell.

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The 2017-18 RTC16: Week Fourteen

Posted by Walker Carey on February 19th, 2018

Another wild week of college basketball is in the books with several more top teams suffering surprising defeats while a number of others continue to prep for postseason play next month. #5 Duke showed why it should still be considered one of the country’s most dangerous teams with an easy home win over Virginia Tech on Wednesday followed by a hard-fought road win at #16 Clemson Sunday. What made the Blue Devils’ week even more impressive was that both victories came without the services of freshman phenom Marvin Bagley III, who is currently nursing a knee injury. #2 Villanova experienced both sides of the coin last week, as it took on both an upset loss and earned a very impressive victory. The Wildcats were unable to overcome 19 turnovers and a 3-of-20 three-point shooting performance in Wednesday’s loss at Providence, but Jay Wright’s group rebounded in a big way Saturday in dominating #4 Xavier throughout a 16-point road win. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty analysis is after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Examining the SEC Bubble: Volume I

Posted by David Changas on February 8th, 2018

With just over a month remaining in college basketball’s regular season, the SEC is collectively better positioned for postseason play than it has been in a very long time. But as of today, only two teams – Auburn and Tennessee – should feel completely comfortable about making the upcoming Field of 68. On the other end of the spectrum, barring any unforeseeable late-season surges, we feel safe in saying that four SEC teams – Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, South Carolina, and LSU – will miss out on this year’s Big Dance. That leaves eight teams in the messy middle, so let’s take our first look at the otherwise crowded bubble and offer some predictions on the fortunes of those squads.

Kassius Robertson has been a huge part of Missouri’s turnaround. (Kansas City Star)

  • Kentucky. Despite the considerable angst in Lexington about these Wildcats — now 6-5 in SEC play with trips to Texas A&M and Auburn upcoming — they appear to be safe, for now. They have 10 top-100 RPI wins without any bad losses, and there will be several more opportunities for quality wins down the stretch. Chances of making the field: 90%.
  • Florida. The up-and-down Gators are a surprise on this list, and not in a good way. At 15-8 overall, they’ve now lost three in a row in SEC play and face a very difficult closing stretch. While they currently have seven top-50 RPI wins, four Tier-2 losses mean Mike White’s team needs to take advantage of its chances over the last two weeks. Chances of making the field: 85%.
  • Texas A&M. After what was the best performance of any SEC team in non-conference play, it is hard to understand how the Aggies have landed on this list. An 0-5 start in conference play will certainly do that, however, and even though they have won five of their last six SEC games and hold five Tier-1 wins, the Aggies have more work ahead. Chances of making the field: 80%.

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Recapping the Good and Bad from the Big 12/SEC Challenge

Posted by David Changas on January 30th, 2018

Despite being underdogs in seven of the 10 games of the Big 12/SEC Challenge last weekend, the SEC pulled off its first overall win (6-4) in the fourth year of the battle between power conferences. It was yet another boost to a league that has undergone a revival of sorts this season. Let’s take a look at the good and the bad for the SEC from Saturday’s action.

The Good

John Calipari paid homage to Bob Huggins with his attire, then saw his team pull off a big upset against the Mountaineer coach (John Clay/Lexington Herald-Leader).

  • Kentucky’s Upset of West Virginia. How improbable was it that the previously struggling Wildcats would come back from a 17-point second half deficit in Morgantown on Saturday night? According to KenPom’s win probability metric, the Mountaineers had a 97.8 percent chance of emerging victorious with 17 minutes left in the game. And yet, Kentucky stormed back and notched the impressive victory. While an inspiring road win doesn’t fix all of the Wildcats’ ongoing woes, it will serve as a clear resume-enhancer for a club desperately in need of one and should boost the team’s confidence as it heads into February.

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