Ten Questions To Consider: Conference Play Begins Across the Country

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 4th, 2019

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

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

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Analysis: Do New Year’s Day Rankings Predict NCAA Tournament Destiny?

Posted by William Ezekowitz on January 3rd, 2019

The turn of the calendar is a significant milestone for many college basketball fans. With the new year comes conference play, and, on the horizon, the NCAA Tournament. The games start to matter a little more. But can we use what happened before the turn of the calendar to predict the NCAA Tournament? Taking data from the past five years, I looked at New Year’s Day KenPom ratings to answer a few important questions. What I found may surprise you.

For reference, here were the New Year’s Day rankings for the top 60 in KenPom:

Now, for the questions:

Given where my team was on New Year’s Day, how likely is it to make the NCAA Tournament?

  • #1-#20 – 99% likelihood. Breathe easy, KenPom top 20 fans! 2015 Florida missed the NCAA Tournament by struggling to an 8-10 record in the SEC after ranking 20th at the turn of the calendar. Every other team got at least a play-in game! 
  • #21 – #40 – 73% likelihood. This group has work left to do, and could very easily find itself on the outside looking in if conference play doesn’t work out. 
  • #40 – #60 – 41% likelihood. This is the true Bubble. Mid-major upstarts should still plan on winning their conferences, and power conference teams have considerable work still to do.
  • #60+ 8% likelihood of an at-large bid. 2016 Temple, a true hero, found its way to a #10 seed despite languishing at 131st at the turn of the New Year. Those Owls notwithstanding, teams below #60 in the ratings may need a minor miracle to get in without winning their conference. 

Given where my team was on New Year’s Day, can it get a good seed?

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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.

 

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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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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 »
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2018-19 RTC 16: Week One

Posted by Walker Carey on November 26th, 2018

The college basketball season really got cooking during a Feast Week that featured two top-five match-ups that could easily be played again at the Final Four in Minneapolis. #1 Gonzaga and #3 Duke tipped things off Wednesday evening in what was an extremely entertaining Maui Invitational title game. The veteran Bulldogs led by as many as 16 points before withstanding a furious Blue Devils rally to escape with a thrilling 89-87 victory. Not to be outdone, #2 Kansas and #5 Tennessee turned in their own early season classic on Friday in the title game of the Preseason NIT. The Jayhawks used a dynamite performance from star forward Dedric Lawson — coupled with the good fortune of Tennessee star big man Grant Williams fouling out prior to overtime — to emerge victorious with an 87-81 result. The college hoops regular season is much more of a marathon than a sprint, but these early season treats serve as a good reminder of how compelling it can be when we have the pleasure of watching some of the best teams in the country face off against one another.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

  • Gonzaga is the new #1 team. Following its impressive win over #3 Duke in the Maui Invitational title game, Gonzaga is the new #1 team in this week’s RTC16. Mark Few‘s squad is loaded with the talent all over the court, highlighted by sophomore guard Zach Norvell Jr. and junior forward Rui Hachimura. What might be the most impressive aspect of the current Bulldogs is that they have emerged to these heights without the services of excellent junior forward Killian Tillie, who remains sidelined with an ankle injury. Gonzaga’s non-conference slate does not get much easier this week, as it faces a good North Dakota State program on Monday before hitting the road to play in what will be a raucous environment at Creighton on Saturday.

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The 2018-19 RTC16: Preseason Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on November 5th, 2018

And so it begins — that wonderful time of year when we once again find our favorite teams playing college basketball. It is a glorious time, indeed. With a sizable slate of games set to commence on Tuesday evening, we are ready to officially unveil our 2018-19 preseason RTC Top 16. This initial poll will hold for the next two weeks but you can expect our weekly RTC16 to release on every subsequent Monday morning starting November 19. Along with the rankings will be the usual quick and dirty analysis that dives more deeply into trends that the poll reveals. To see how we did last year, check out our 2017-18 preseason poll — sure, we nailed a few (Villanova, Kansas and Duke), and missed on some others (USC, Notre Dame and Louisville), but we promise to do better this time around. Here is our preseason poll. Enjoy opening week!

Quick N’ Dirty Thoughts.

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Florida State 75, #4 Gonzaga 60

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 23rd, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is in Los Angeles for the West Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Florida State Was All Smiles After Outlasting Gonzaga (USA Today Images)

  1. It Doesn’t Have to Be Pretty. And this game certainly wasn’t. The stop-and-start pace of the game because of all the fouls (22 in the first half led to 38 overall) didn’t help matters. Neither did the forced offense on both ends. Or the cold shooting from deep (a combined 11-of-40 from deep). Let’s face it, after the offensive beauty that Michigan displayed in the first game of the evening, this was not a game for the faint of heart. But years from now, all that will matter was that Florida State won and advanced to just its third Elite Eight in program history.
  2. Depth. Even on its best days this season, Gonzaga, which basically plays seven players, was not a deep team. When sophomore Killian Tillie became a late scratch after re-aggravating a hip injury during warmups, it became even more of an issue. Against a Florida State team that has no problems going 10 deep, the Zags were simply outmanned. The Seminoles subbed early and often (those 10 players all played at least 10 minutes each) and used physical switching defenses to their advantage, not worrying so much as the fouls piled up. Early in the second half, the Zags looked like they were going to crawl back into the game, but the Seminoles never let their foot off the gas as the Bulldogs faltered late.
  3. Balance. Terance Mann wound up with 18 points to lead all scorers, but no one else on his team scored in double figures. However, six other Florida State players scored at least six points each. The team combined for nine blocks, led by freshman Mfiondu Kabengele; but six other guys chipped in to reach that number. Likewise, six Seminoles combined to swipe nine steals. Long story short, this team is built around the idea of every player on the team picking up for every other player and every guy having everyone else’s back. It worked tonight.

Star of the Game.  Terance Mann. After suffering a groin injury in the Seminoles’ first round win over Missouri, the junior wasn’t expected to play in the round of 32 against Xavier. He toughed it out for 24 minutes of less effective play than normal. But tonight, that injury appeared to be a thing of the past, as evidenced by four dunks on the night and non-stop energetic play. After a quiet first half with just six points on five attempts, the upperclassman picked up the pace in the second half, pouring in 12 on eight attempts, including four dunks on the night.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Gonzaga 90, #5 Ohio State 84

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2018

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

Three Key Takeaways.

Gonzaga’s Zach Norvell Introduced Himself to America (USA Today Images)

  1. 15-0 Runs Aren’t Worth as Much as They Used to Be. Gonzaga came out of the gates like Secretariat this evening in Boise, blitzing Ohio State by an early score of 15-0 before anybody could get a lather worked up. And although the Buckeyes worked their way back into contention in the second half — even taking a five-point lead with 6:02 remaining, it was all Zags from that point on. Gonzaga went on a blistering 18-3 run over the next four-plus minutes, keyed specifically by a pair of back-breaking threes from Zach Norvell and Rui Hachimura that swung the momentum back to the Bulldogs and finished off a tired group of Buckeyes. From that point on, it was another Gonzaga celebration as Mark Few‘s club moved on to its fourth consecutive Sweet Sixteen.
  2. The Next Gonzaga Star is Born. Zach Norvell is a known commodity in the college basketball community, especially among those who closely follow the Gonzaga program, but the rest of America was formally introduced to the talented redshirt freshman tonight. Putting together a stat line of 28 points, 12 rebounds and four assists in 39 minutes of action, it was also his timely three-pointer from the right corner that allowed Gonzaga to get its sea legs back after taking a haymaker from Ohio State in the middle of the second half. Quite a bit better than his four-point, zero-rebound effort back in November when the two teams met for the first time.
  3. Ohio State Will be Back. Head coach Chris Holtmann‘s arrival in Columbus last summer re-energized a program, and more specifically, a pair of rising seniors who had continually underachieved during their Ohio State careers. The program was in desperate need of new blood and the former Butler coach quickly started turning the Buckeyes’ basketball culture around. The result was a team that rose from the Big Ten doldrums with a 7-11 finish last year to a 15-3 second-place finish under new management. Those seniors — Jae’Sean Tate and Kam Williams (along with transfer Andrew Dakich) — clearly bought into the new philosophy, finding a healthy balance between their talents and facilitating the rise of junior Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop. It will be rebuilding mode next season with the expected loss of Bates-Diop along with the seniors, but Holtmann has proven hungry and will have the Buckeyes back in the NCAA Tournament sooner than later.

Player of the Game. Zach Norvell, Gonzaga. It was noted above, but Norvell’s big game shot-making provided the difference against an Ohio State team that had significantly improved since the teams met at the PK80 in late November. If the Zags plan on advancing to consecutive Final Fours next weekend, it will be because Norvell played a major role in leading that charge.

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RTC Bracket Prep: West Region

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 12th, 2018

Today and tomorrow we will be rolling out our region-by-region analysis for the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Here, Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) breaks down the West Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC West Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates over the next two weeks (@RTCWestRegion).

WEST REGION

Favorite: North Carolina, #2, 25-10. At first glance, this is a wide open region with no dominant team. The Tar Heels are the highest rated KenPom team in this group at #7, but they are just one of six teams in the region that fall between #7 and #17 in that metric. In other words, this region is anybody’s ballgame. What sets Roy Williams‘ squad apart from the rest of the contenders fighting to come out of the Staples Center is the level and quality of the experience on this team. All five players who average double figures in scoring (Luke Maye, Joel Berry, Cameron Johnson, Kenny Williams and Theo Pinson) are upperclassmen, and three of the four saw significant action in last year’s National Championship run. In March, offense wins championships, and this Tar Heels team is an elite offensive squad with the experience and savvy to make a return trip to the sport’s final weekend.

Roy Williams’ Team is the Favorite Here, Whether He Likes It or Not (USA Today Images)

Should They Falter: Michigan, #3, 28-7. If you’re looking for a hot hand to ride, look no further than the Wolverines. Since an ugly road loss to Northwestern in early February, John Beilein‘s squad has reeled off nine straight wins, including an impressive one-two punch in the last two games of the Big Ten Tournament to earn the automatic bid. Balanced scoring and an uncharacteristically stingy defense are the hallmarks of this group, but Michigan is highlighted by veterans who take care of the ball, can knock down the three and do all the little things on defense. However, beware of the team’s week-plus layoff after an early Big Ten Tournament along with a slow pace which could allow lesser teams to stick around deep into the game.

Grossly Overseeded: Xavier, #1, 28-5. Sorry Musketeers fans. It’s bad enough that we made it through those first two bullet points without mentioning the #1 seed in this region, but to have them show up here must seem like adding insult to injury. Nothing against Chris Mack‘s clearly talented and accomplished club, but some team has to go in this spot and Xavier doesn’t possess the traditional metrics of a top seed. For instance, try digging through KenPom‘s historical rankings to find another #1 seed ranked as low as Xavier defensively (59th) and you’ll find that Nate Robinson and Brandon Roy in 2005 were the most recent distinction — and that tourney didn’t exactly end well for Washington (lost to Louisville in the Sweet Sixteen). That’s not to disparage this squad. Trevon Blueitt is among the best players in the nation. J.P. Macura is an elite college basketball villain (depending on who you root for). And Mack has lined up his next wave of program leaders with the likes of Quentin Goodin and Naji Marshall. But no one would be surprised to see the Musketeers suffer an early exit either.

Criminally Underseeded: Houston, #6, 26-7. It’s hard to get too worked up about a seven-loss AAC team only getting a #6 seed with blemishes like Drexel, Tulane and Memphis on its resume. But Kelvin Sampson‘s Cougars are a tough, balanced and veteran team. They feature five upperclassmen in their rotation, defend like crazy and have a fearless trio of guards – Armoni Brooks, Corey Davis and Rob Gray – who can get hot from three at any moment — each player has hit at least five threes in a game on multiple occasions this season. A #6 seed is probably an appropriate seed for Houston, but you can bet Michigan isn’t in love with seeing the Cougars as a potential first-weekend opponent.

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