Ten Questions To Consider: Early Conference Play Action

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 11th, 2019

While teams are now just a couple of games into conference play, this weekend features a number of opportunities for some to stay perfect, for others to bounce back from tough loses, and for several resume statements to be made. Here are 10 questions I have in advance of this weekend’s action.

Ethan Happ is Playing like an All-American
  1. Will Ethan Happ’s hot start to conference play continue? (Purdue @ Wisconsin, Friday 9 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ is averaging a career high 19.3 points per game and is coming off of a 22-point outing against Penn State in which he took 24 shots from the field.
  2. Can Indiana find a way to win on the road? (Indiana @ Maryland, Friday 7 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Indiana is 1-3 in true road games this season, with its only win being by two points at Penn State. In the Hoosiers’ recent road loss at Michigan, they fell behind 32-19 midway through the first half.
  3. Will Tennessee start SEC play 3-0 for just the second time in the last decade? (Tennessee @ Florida, Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN) The Volunteers are currently the only SEC team with both an adjusted offensive and deficiency ranking among the top 25 nationally. Tennessee has dropped three games in a row at Florida, however, having lost each game by 13 or more points.
  4. Can the inconsistent Texas offense show up against the elite defense of Texas Tech? (Texas Tech @ Texas, Saturday 2 PM EST, Longhorn Network) Shaka Smart’s Longhorns have been wildly inconsistent on the offensive end this season. In their last six games, Texas has scored at a clip of 1.1 points per possession or better four times but twice have failed to score at least 0.9 points per possession.
  5. How can Florida State find a way to beat Duke (Duke @ Florida State, Saturday 2 PM EST, ESPN) Florida State has won its last two home match-ups when both the Seminoles and Blue Devils were ranked. Led by Christ Koumadje, Florida State has had tremendous success grabbing misses on the offensive end all season — keep in mind that the Blue Devils surrendered 19 offensive rebounds to Wake Forest in their last outing.
  6. Can San Francisco compete with the King of the WCC? (Gonzaga @ San Francisco, Saturday 10 PM EST, ESPN2) San Francisco entered the week with a NET ranking of #37, even though the Dons currently feature just two wins against top 100 KenPom opponents. In order to enter the discussion of an eventual at-large bid, USF must perform well against Gonzaga this weekend. The Dons need to find a way to slow down a Zags’ attack that made 61.8 percent of its two-point attempts against the Dons a season ago.
  7. Is Virginia’s offense not getting enough attention this season? (Virginia @ Clemson, Noon EST, ACC Network) Virginia is coming off of a game on Wednesday night in which it scored 83 points in regulation against Boston College. It was the first time a Cavaliers’ team had scored 80 or more points in regulation of an ACC game since February 24, 2013. After shooting 39.2 percent from behind the arc as a sophomore, Kyle Guy is making 47.3 percent of his three-point attempts this season.
  8. How does Louisville respond to its loss against Pittsburgh against North Carolina? (Louisville @ North Carolina, Saturday Noon EST, ESPN) In Louisville’s loss against Pittsburgh this week, the Panthers shot 56.1 percent from inside the arc. The Cardinals are now 3-4 when their opponents shoot above 50 percent from inside the line. Louisville also needs to see Jordan Nwora respond positively after a miserable 2-of-14 game from the field.
  9. Who will come out on top in a match-up of strengths between the TCU offense and the Oklahoma defense? (TCU @ Oklahoma, Saturday 2 PM EST) Jamie Dixon’s TCU squad heads to Norman with one of the best two-point shooting teams in the nation. On the other side of the ball, Oklahoma’s two-point field goal defense is among the best in the nation. The Sooners have the 10th best field-goal defense at the rim, according to Hoop-Math, holding opponents to 50.5 percent in those attempts, nearly nine points better than the national average.
  10. Will Syracuse’s Frank Howard turn a corner and return to his old self this weekend? (Georgia Tech @ Syracuse, Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN2) After missing the first four games with a leg injury, Syracuse’s Frank Howard has scored in single-digits in 9 of his 11 games this season. This comes just a season removed from Howard scoring in fewer than 10 points in just five games last year.

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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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Is the Big Ten Better Than Expected?

Posted by Ryan O'Neil on November 20th, 2018

Before the season began, there was a lot of skepticism nationally about the Big Ten, a conference that placed only three teams in the preseason AP Top 25: Michigan State (#10), Michigan (#19), and Purdue (#24). After Michigan State was thoroughly dominated by Kansas at the Champions Classic, the rhetoric only became more harsh. The conference’s presumed best team had been outplayed in every aspect by the Jayhawks, so experts and fans alike were left to wonder if the Big Ten was even worse than previously thought. Two weeks into the season, however, has introduced a different narrative — one of depth and quality rather than shallowness and despair.

Michigan is Rolling Again (USA Today Images)

Although Michigan State began the year as the highest-ranked team in the Big Ten, it appears as if its intrastate rival, Michigan, might just be the best team in the league. In the Wolverines’ Gavitt game, they dominated Villanova from start to finish en route to a 73-46 road win. John Beilein‘s squad, which has been led so far by freshman Ignas Brazdeikis and junior point guard Zavier Simpson, has the best defense in the country (per KenPom), and the Wolverines are particularly adept at turning turnovers (14.9% TO Rate) into points. Michigan’s next big test will be in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge next week against North Carolina.

Indiana also beat a ranked team when the Hoosiers easily knocked off #24 Marquette at home. While the Hoosiers took a one-point loss to Arkansas on Sunday, Archie Miller’s squad is already showing flashes of the team that it could become. The freshman backcourt of Rob Phinisee and Romeo Langford is talented and dynamic, serving as a better complement to Juwan Morgan than he’s had in the past. The biggest question for Indiana will be whether they can consistently win away from Assembly Hall.

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Ten Questions: Mid-November Intrigue

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 16th, 2018

While this weekend’s schedule is a little light as teams prepare for the nonstop action of Feast Week, here are 10 questions to consider as the season settles in.

Is Michigan Due For a Letdown? (USA Today Images)

  1. How will St. John’s fare in its only road non-conference game? (St. John’s at Rutgers, Friday 7 PM EST, BTN) St. John’s only road non-conference game takes place just down the road in New Jersey against local rival Rutgers. In Mustapha Heron‘s  first two games as a member of the Red Storm, he is averaging over 20 points per game.
  2. Will Arizona State avoid an upset in a potential trap game? (ed. note: this game was canceled last night because of smoke issues related to wildfires) (Arizona State @ San Francisco, Friday 10 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) Before Arizona State heads to Las Vegas to take on a ranked Mississippi State team, they will take on the Dons in San Francisco. After falling behind by 15 points early, San Francisco was only outscored by three points in the final 30 minutes of last season’s match-up in the desert.
  3. Has Stanford found Reid Travis 2.0 in KZ Okpala? (Wofford at Stanford, Friday 10 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) When Reid Travis decided to transfer to Kentucky, Stanford had to fill a large gap in its offense. Sophomore KZ Okpala has seen his scoring average explode from 10.0 as a freshman to 22.7 PPG through the first three games of the season.
  4. Will early season turnover woes be the deciding factor? (South Carolina vs. Providence, Saturday 2:30 PM EST, ESPN 3) Through three games South Carolina has committed 44 turnovers while Providence has committed 46 turnovers. Both the Gamecocks and Friars are forcing turnovers at a rate better than the national average, so winning the turnover battle will be crucial in this game.
  5. Can Charleston stay perfect with a win in Stillwater? (Charleston @ Oklahoma State, Sunday 4 PM EST) Coming off a 26-8 record last season, Charleston was picked second in the preseason CAA media poll. The Cougars feature two of the conference’s best players in Jarrell Brantley and Grant Riller. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State is struggling, having lost to #299 Charlotte already this season. Read the rest of this entry »
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What’s Trending: The Ball is Tipped…

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 12th, 2018

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

Welcome back college basketball, it’s good to have you back!

Kyle Tucker of The Athletic provided this glimpse into Bankers Life Fieldhouse prior to the tip of last week’s Kentucky/Duke game. Match-ups like these are what we all look forward to…

While the game itself may have not lived up to expectations, the debuts of Duke’s R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson most definitely did. Among their countless highlights of the night, this sequence will be tough to beat.

College sports, where the wild and wacky often happens. Indiana opened its season in Bloomington while wearing their road crimson uniforms.

Why were the Hoosiers wearing their road uniforms at Assembly Hall? Well, Chicago State’s road uniforms were never delivered to them.

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What We Learned From a Wild Week in the Big Ten

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 19th, 2018

From massive upsets to historic comebacks and some ridiculous individual performances in-between, it was one heck of a week in the Big Ten. Let’s examine a few key takeaways.

Purdue should be just fine, assuming Vincent Edwards returns to action. (John Terhune/Journal & Courier)

  • Purdue fans need not panic (unless, of course, Vincent Edwards’ injury lingers). Entering its game against Ohio State on February 7, Purdue had won 19 straight, sat undefeated in the Big Ten (12-0), and looked seemingly unbeatable — especially in Mackey Arena, where it had crushed its opponents by 27 points per game. Then the Boilermakers stumbled against the Buckeyes. Then they dropped a nail-biter at Michigan State, which was followed by a stunning defeat at Wisconsin on Thursday. Suddenly, there were deep concerns about Matt Painter‘s crew. “Something just feels different,” senior Vincent Edwards said of the team’s struggles last Thursday. Take a step back and examine the losses, though, and it’s clear that bad luck was partially at play. Were it not for a last second tip-in against Ohio State and a last second three-pointer versus Michigan State, perhaps the Boilermakers would have gone 3-1 in their last four games. Maybe even 4-0. Their close win over red-hot Penn State on Sunday shows just how fine the line is between a quality win and a “problematic” loss. If there is real cause for concern, it’s this: Edwards (14.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG) missed the game against the Nittany Lions with an injured ankle. Assuming he doesn’t miss extended time down the stretch, Purdue should still be considered a Final Four contender. If his injury lingers, then the Boilers can panic.

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Five Trends to Track During a Big Week in the Big Ten

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 7th, 2018

Ohio State vs. Purdue and Maryland vs. Penn State tonight. Purdue vs. Michigan State on Saturday. Several potential bubble-busters in between. Needless to say, it’s a big week in the Big Ten. Let’s take a look at a few quietly-important trends worth keeping an eye on.

Purdue’s defense has been mediocre in recent weeks. (Anthony Souffle – Purdue Exponent)

  • Purdue’s Struggling Defense. Just because because the Boilermakers own the nation’s longest winning streak of 18 games doesn’t mean all is rosy in West Lafayette. After holding 12 of its previous 14 opponents to less than one point per possession, Purdue has recently allowed five straight opponents to exceed that mark — including Rutgers, which scored 1.17 PPP in a near-upset of the Boilermakers on Saturday. In just a few weeks, Purdue has dropped from fifth nationally in defensive efficiency to 15th, a slump that’s coincided with four straight games decided by fewer than 10 points. Purdue won all four, of course, but when you consider that 10 of its previous 11 victories were absolute blowouts, you begin to understand why it’s worth pointing out. Matt Painter’s group has looked visibly less active in guarding the perimeter over that stretch, and part of the problem may also be rim protection: shot-blocking maven Matt Haarms has only swatted six shots since January 20, his lowest five-game stretch of output this season. It will be interesting to observe how the Boilers fare against Keita Bates-Diop in tonight’s big showdown with Ohio State.
  • Michigan State’s Troubling Late-Game Execution. On January 22, Michigan State led Illinois by 18 points with 4:29 left, only to see the Illini cut the lead to eight in a matter of three minutes. Against Penn State last week, a 15-point lead with 1:09 to play shriveled to six — and nearly three — in just 30 seconds. Up 10 at Indiana on Saturday night, Michigan State mustered just three field goals in the game’s final 12 minutes, giving the Hoosiers a chance to tie it at the buzzer. Part of Sparty’s problem has been shear boneheadedness, like Miles Bridges’ and-1 foul of Devonte Green in the closing seconds against Indiana. But these late-game struggles also shed light on a broader weakness: the Spartans are simply less productive and more turnover-prone in the half-court, where their offense has often lacked rhythm. It wasn’t an issue in Tuesday night’s scare at Iowa, but it could be against Purdue on Saturday.

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The Big Ten’s Biggest Early Surprises

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 19th, 2018

Now that we’re roughly one-third of the way through the Big Ten slate, let’s take a look at the biggest surprises and storylines taking shape in the Midwest.

Who had Ohio State pegged as a Big Ten title contender? (Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Chris Holtmann, Keita Bates-Diop, and the Buckeyes. Forget the Big Ten for a moment — Ohio State might be the biggest surprise in the entire country. The Buckeyes began the season ranked 74th overall by KenPom and picked to finish 11th — yes, 11th — in the conference. And after getting blasted by Gonzaga in the PK80 on Thanksgiving Day, those projections appeared to make sense. That is, until Big Ten play rolled around. Since losing to Clemson on November 29, Ohio State has gone 11-1 overall and 5-0 in league play, including a 25-point road drubbing of Wisconsin and dominant win against top-ranked Michigan State. Its KenPom ranking has skyrocketed as a result to 12th overall nationally. Junior forward Keita Bates-Diop (19.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG) has emerged as the frontrunner for Big Ten Player of the Year — highlighted by a 32-point effort against the Spartans — while his coach, Chris Holtmann, may be on track for conference (if not national) honors in his own right. Perhaps Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith put it best: “None of us, including me, expected to be here.”
  • Purdue is the clear Big Ten favorite. Who would have expected to be saying that in mid-January? It’s not that Purdue wasn’t expected to be good — the Boilers were picked to finish second, after all — it’s just that Michigan State was supposed to be that much better. Roughly one-third of the way through Big Ten play, however, that’s clearly not the case. Whereas Michigan State has lost two of its last three games, both by double-figures, Matt Painter’s club has been on an absolute tear. Since November 24, Purdue is 14-0 (7-0 in Big Ten play) with eight wins by 25 or more points — including wins against Arizona, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Boilermakers rank among the top six nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency while boasting the third-highest three-point shooting mark (42.6%) in America. 7’2″ center Isaac Haas has been more efficient than ever (122.7 ORtg); sophomore guard Carsen Edwards (17 PPG) has been the breakout player some thought he could be; put simply, Purdue has looked infallible. With home games against Ohio State and Michigan left, Painter’s group is in great position to win the conference outright — even if it were to stumble in East Lansing on February 10.

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Big Ten Christmas Wish List: Buckets, Defense & a Little Good Fortune

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 21st, 2017

As Santa’s elves wrap presents and non-conference play comes to an end, let’s examine which Big Ten hopefuls could use a little magic from the jolly man in the big red suit.

The defensively-stout Scarlet Knights need guys like Geo Baker to make more shots. (Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Rutgers (10-3): All I want for Christmas is… a shooter (or two). The Scarlet Knights picked up their biggest win in years on Saturday, upsetting intrastate rival Seton Hall, 71-65, at the RAC. Steve Pikiell called it “a very good day for Rutgers Nation” as his team held the Pirates to just 0.89 points per possession, their worst offensive performance of the year. Now if only Pikeill’s group could put the ball in the basket. While the Scarlet Knights rank 27th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, their offense is by far the Big Ten’s worst, ranking 219th in efficiency despite a low turnover rate. The problem? Shooting, plain and simple. Rutgers ranks 334th in effective field goal percentage (44% eFG), including paltry numbers from outside the arc (29.4% 3FG), inside the arc (44% 2FG), and at the free throw line (65% FT). More than anything else this holiday season, Pikiell could use some consistent shooting, whether it be from top-scorer Corey Sanders — who shot a very good 9-of-16 FG against Seton Hall — or fellow guard Geo Baker, who’s quietly been one of the league’s best freshmen. If the Scarlet Knights can improve those shooting numbers, their days in the Big Ten cellar might soon be over. Especially considering their stout defense. 

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What’s Trending: Week of Wild Endings

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 18th, 2017

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

This week’s Whats Trending starts with a look back to last Sunday. After Arizona State beat Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse, Arizona State assistant athletic director (and friend of RTC) Doug Tammaro realizes that his wallet is about to be $500 lighter…

Is it a block? Is it a charge? With two seconds left on the clock, a whistle helps save the day for Wisconsin against Western Kentucky.

Bill Raftery was inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame this week. Few people add as much to the color commentary of a game as Raf.

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