16 Questions: Friday’s First Round Games

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 22nd, 2019

It’s time for another exciting day of 16 games. Here are the questions I have going into Friday’s action:

The Zion Show Moves to the NCAA Tournament (USA Today Images)
  • 1) Duke vs. 16) North Dakota State: Will Duke’s perimeter players begin the Tournament knocking down shots? Zion will be Zion, of course, but Duke will need its other players knocking down shots down the line if the Blue Devils are to cut down the nets in Minneapolis.
  • 1) North Carolina vs. 16) Iona: Can Iona make it to the half within closer range than last year against Duke? As a #15 seed against Duke last year, Iona trailed at the half by 14 points before going on to lose by 22. While the Gaels shot a sterling 58.3 percent from inside the arc, they were just 5-of-24 from beyond the stripe. Duke, on the other hand, shot 62.2 percent from two-point range and went 13-of-30 from behind the line.
  • 1) Virginia vs. 16) Garder-Webb: Will Virginia be quick to rid itself of last season’s nightmare? A 29-3 regular season was great, but memories of last year will surely still be on everyone’s minds as the Cavaliers’ postseason begins. Virginia scored just nine points during the opening 10 minutes against UMBC one year ago, so its first few segments of the game will be telling.
  • 2) Tennessee vs. 15) Colgate: Will Tennessee make quick work of Colgate? Colgate comes into this game with a defensive efficiency ranking of #202, and the Raiders will be tasked with stopping the nation’s third most efficient offense led by the force that is Grant Williams. Good luck.
  • 3) Houston vs. 14) Georgia State: Does Georgia State coach Ron Hunter have more Tournament magic up his sleeves? On the season, Houston has out-rebounded its opponents by an average of 7.7 rebounds per game, whereas Georgia State finds itself getting outmuscled by the tune of 5.3 rebounds per game. If the Panthers can survive on the glass, the duo of D’Marcus Simmonds and Devin Mitchell might be able to keep Georgia State within striking distance.
  • 3) Texas Tech vs. 14) Northern Kentucky: Will Texas Tech’s loss to West Virginia have any carry-over effects? While Texas Tech held the Mountaineers to just 38.8 percent shooting, the Red Raiders gave up 19 offensive rebounds and 20 points at the charity stripe.
  • 4) Kansas State vs. 13) UC Irvine: Will Kansas State be able to get any play and production out of Dean Wade? Wade did not play in the Big 12 Tournament and his status remains up in the air for today’s game. Without the big man inside, the Anteaters could be able to take advantage of its offensive rebounding prowess.
  • 4) Virginia Tech vs. 13) Saint Louis: How will Virginia Tech work Justin Robinson back into the lineup? After missing the last 12 games of the season, Robinson is set to return for the Hokies. The senior guard averages just under 14 points per game while shooting better than 40 percent from deep.
  • 5) Wisconsin vs. 12) Oregon: Can Wisconsin get D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison to knock down open shots? In Wisconsin’s five March games, the pair of Trice and Davison have gone a combined 11-of-48 from behind the three-point line. Without knocking down open shots, Oregon will be able to throw everything they have at slowing All-America center Ethan Happ.
  • 5) Mississippi State vs. 12) Liberty: Will Liberty be overwhelmed by the Mississippi State offense? The Flames played 14 games against an opponent with an offensive efficiency ranking of 260th or worse. The Bulldogs have an offensive efficiency ranking of 56th and are led by Quinndary Weatherspoon, who shot an SEC-best 44.9 percent on three-point attempts during league play.
  • 6) Buffalo vs. 11) Arizona State: Will Buffalo get the best of a school from Arizona again? Bobby Hurley and the Sun Devils won on Wednesday night in Dayton and are rewarded with a match-up against Hurley’s former squad. Arizona State will need more than 23 minutes of action from Remy Martin to get another victory.
  • 6) Iowa State vs. 11) Ohio State: With Kaleb Wesson back, can Ohio State pull off the upset? The Buckeyes lost two of their last three games with Wesson back before falling in his return to the Spartans. Ohio State averaged 10 fewer points per game on the road than they did at home.
  • 7) Cincinnati vs. 10) Iowa: Can Iowa change its late season misfortune? The Hawkeyes come into this game losers of five of their last six games. Throw in needing a pair of last second baskets to beat Northwestern and Rutgers and it’s clear Iowa is playing its worst basketball at the wrong time of the year.
  • 8) Ole Miss vs. 9) Oklahoma: Can Ole Miss knock down enough threes to beat the Sooners? The Rebels were just 2-8 when they failed to make a third of their three-point attempts this season. On the year, Oklahoma has held opponents to a three-point average of 33.3 percent.
  • 8) Utah State vs. 9) Washington: Can the Pac-12’s highest seed help the conference from its dismal 2018 showing in the NCAA Tournament? The Pac-12’s regular season champion scored fewer than 50 points in two of its final four games, both coming against Oregon. The Huskies’ defense does a terrific job of creating havoc, however, led by the wizardry of defensive ace Matisse Thybulle.
  • 8) VCU vs. 9) UCF: If VCU’s Marcus Evans is not at 100 percent, will the Rams have enough firepower? Evans suffered a bone bruise in VCU’s loss to Rhode Island in last week’s Atlantic 10 tournament. The starting guard averages a team-best 13.9 points per game and VCU could be tested greatly by UCF’s stout defense — which includes the towering presence of 7’6″ Tacko Fall.
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What’s Trending: The Wild Week That Was

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 18th, 2019

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

It was quite a week for Kentucky at Rupp Arena. It began with a controversial ending as SEC rival LSU got the benefit of the doubt when it came to a tip-in at the buzzer.

https://twitter.com/SECNetwork/status/1095506119525650438

The loss pushed Kentucky two games behind SEC-leading Tennessee. Not to worry, though, as the Wildcats took a bite out of the #1 team in the country in a prime time showcase between top-five teams.

The win against the Volunteers pushed Kentucky’s John Calipari into some new territory of his own…

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Ten Questions to Consider: A Super Weekend of Hoops

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 1st, 2019

This weekend’s slate of college basketball from Friday evening through Sunday afternoon will be the perfect lead-in to the “Big Game.” With now under 50 days until Selection Sunday, here are 10 questions I have for this weekend’s crucial action.

  1. Can Iowa turn around its porous defense against one of the Big Ten’s best? (Michigan @ Iowa, Friday 7 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Despite having one of the Big Ten’s most efficient offenses, Iowa finds itself 5-5 in conference play ahead of tonight’s game against Michigan. The Hawkeyes are the only Big Ten team that is allowing at least 1.10 points per possession in conference games.
  2. Is Bowling Green a threat to Buffalo in the MAC’s Eastern Division? (Buffalo @ Bowling Green, Friday 8 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) Bowling Green and Buffalo each have just one MAC loss ahead of tonight’s match-up, but the Falcons’ ability to clean up its defensive glass could be the difference-maker. Bowling Green’s Demajeo Wiggins has a defensive rebounding rate that sits among the top five in the nation.
  3. Can Louisville stymie North Carolina’s three-point shooting for a second time? (North Carolina @ Louisville, Saturday 2 PM EST, ESPN) Roy Williams’ team has shot 40 percent or better from three-point range in six of its past seven games. The single game in which it did not was a 3-of-22 performance in a loss against Louisville. Correspondingly, ACC opponents have shot 30.8 percent against the Cardinals over their last five games.
  4. Will NC State be focused and ready for a feisty Virginia Tech team? (Virginia Tech @ North Carolina State, Saturday Noon, ACC Network) Sandwiched between the disappointment of their overtime loss to Virginia and a Tuesday game against North Carolina, the Wolfpack play Virginia Tech. All three losses by the Hokies thus far have come on the road.
  5. Which Big 12 title contender falls further back in the race for the regular season title? (Texas Tech @ Kansas, Saturday 4 PM EST, CBS) With both teams sitting at 5-3 in conference play, the loser of this game could find itself in the danger zone (yes, even Kansas). After shooting over 40 percent from long-range last season in conference play, Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver has missed 24 of his 27 three-point attempts in conference play this season.
  6. Will the three-point line again be the difference in the battle of Mississippi? (Mississippi State @ Mississippi, 3:30 PM EST, SEC Network) In the January meeting between these teams, both sides shot above 55 percent from inside the arc. The Rebels came out on top by four points, however, partly thanks to an 18-point advantage from behind the arc. Ole Miss has beaten the Bulldogs seven consecutive times in Oxford.
  7. Can San Francisco pick up a big resume boost? (San Francisco @ Saint Mary’s, Saturday 4 PM EST) San Francisco has two top-100 KenPom wins on the season, including a win over Saint Mary’s earlier this year. In their win over the Gaels last month, the Dons’ put four players in double-figures.
  8. Which Big East team will end its recent struggles in conference play? (Seton Hall @ Butler, Saturday Noon EST, Fox Sports 1) Collectively, Seton Hall and Butler have lost nine of their last 12 Big East games. In Seton Hall’s one-point win over Butler last month, Butler starters Sean McDermott and Henry Baddley both fouled out.
  9. Will Georgetown be in over its head again with its trip to Villanova? (Georgetown @ Villanova, Noon EST, Fox Sports 1) Villanova has beaten Georgetown seven straight times at home by an average of 17.7 points per game. Jay Wright’s offense is firing on all cylinders now, having shot above 50 percent on two-point attempts and 40 percent on three-point attempts in each of its last five games.
  10. Can Baylor avenge its earlier loss to TCU and stay on top of the Big 12? (TCU @ Baylor, Saturday 8 PM EST, ESPNU) Surging Baylor sits outside the top 30 in the most recent NET Rankings despite sitting atop the Big 12 standings. Scott Drew’s team trailed by as many as 19 points in the loss at TCU, a game in which Baylor’s defense was torched to the tune of 1.2 points per possession.

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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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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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The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: Big Ten Running Out of Non-Conference Chances

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 15th, 2017

Michigan’s 59-52 win at Texas on Tuesday was important for the Big Ten, and not just because it could use some respect after taking a beating in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Rather, the road victory was big because it helps provide some much-needed heft to the league’s overall non-conference resume. With several bad losses under its belt and an underachieving middle tier, the Big Ten needs every quality win it can get before for turning on itself in conference play.

Iowa, like several Big Ten teams, has struggled during non-conference play. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

The Good. As of Thursday, the Big Ten has eight teams ranked in both the KenPom and Sagarin top 50, which suggests there is some depth of quality in the league. In fact, Michigan State and Purdue rank second and third overall in the latter ranking system. Although the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) remains the most widely-referenced metric, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee has been increasingly influenced by advanced metrics in recent years. The more teams viewed favorably by advanced analytical tools, the more opportunities for quality intra-conference wins in the committee’s view. What’s more, the league does have a few quality non-conference true road wins to its name. Minnesota beat Providence (KenPom #52) by double-figures in the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. Purdue pounded Marquette (KenPom #52). Michigan topped them both by upending Texas this week (KenPom #31). According to reports last summer, the committee will be “placing greater emphasis on winning road games.” Victories like these — on the road against NCAA Tournament-caliber opponents — will go a long way towards boosting the the Big Ten’s overall profile.

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Five Key Big Ten Takeaways From a Dreadful ACC Challenge Week

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 1st, 2017

This year’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge was a wake-up call for the Big Ten, as the conference dropped 11 of the 14 contests, including five losses by more than 10 points. Its 3-11 mark represents the league’s worst record, by far, in the event’s 19-year year history. And while it’s only fair to judge a conference so much based on a single set of match-ups in November, there’s still reason to worry. Let’s examine a few of the most glaring takeaways, both good and bad, from the four-day drubbing.

Maryland’s loss at Syracuse was one of many for the Big Ten. (Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports)

  • The “best of the rest” might not be so great. Michigan State and Purdue were pegged #1 and #2 in the Big Ten preseason media poll, and both took care of business this week. The Spartans knocked off their second-straight top-10 ACC opponent, while the Boilermakers used a crowd-fueled second-half surge to defeat #17 Louisville. As for the remaining “upper echelon” squads? The ACC/Big Ten Challenge did not go very well. Preseason #3 Minnesotashorthanded, to be sure — lost at home to Miami (FL), unable to keep big man Dewan Huell (23 points) and the Hurricane guards from carving them up on the pick-and-roll. Northwestern, picked fourth, mustered just 0.88 points per possession in a buzzer-beating loss at Georgia Tech. Michigan and Wisconsin were soundly defeated on the road against North Carolina and Virginia, respectively, while Maryland — just three days after losing to St. Bonaventure — fell at Syracuse. While one could simply blame the bulk of these losses on bad match-ups, that would be ignoring the fact that several of these programs were unknown quantities heading into the season. The Terps lost Melo Trimble to the pros; Wisconsin and Michigan each lost three of their top four scorers to graduation; Northwestern hasn’t finished among the top four of the Big Ten since 1968. This week’s results may be nothing more than a few bad match-ups playing out in the ACC’s favor; then again, they may also be indicative of Big Ten that is not quite as deep — or simply as good — as some expected. At the very least, the one-sided outcome could do lasting damage to the conference’s seeding profile come Selection Sunday.

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Big Ten Preview Part IV: Key Questions for Iowa & Maryland

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 3rd, 2017

With the season just a little over a week away, Rush the Court’s Big Ten preview will tip off its coverage by posing season-defining key questions for each team. Today we address Iowa and Maryland.

#8 Iowa – Will the loss of Peter Jok be addition by subtraction?

Isaiah Moss and co. have big shoes to fill, offensively. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Peter Jok largely defined Iowa’s offense last season, taking a whopping 31.2 percent of the Hawkeyes’ shots while on the floor, scoring a quarter of his team’s points (19.9 PPG), and occasionally willing the Hawkeyes to victory — like when he scored 35 points — including 15 in overtime — against Indiana in February. The 6’6″ wing was a scoring machine and will obviously be missed. But he could also be a defensive liability at times, struggling to keep players in front of him and preventing better defenders from seeing the floor. With virtually everyone else on the roster back, Iowa will be defined this season by the extent to which its promising young roster can fill Jok’s offensive void while also improving defensively. Thanks to a rotation that should run more than 10 deep, the former task will fall on a variety of players. While forward Tyler Cook (12.3 PPG) should lead the team in scoring, many of Jok’s 15 shots per game will be distributed among Isaiah Moss (6.5 PPG) and Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year Nicholar Baer, both of whom will need to become more aggressive scorers from the wing. Point guard Jordan Bohannon (10.9 PPG), who shot 41.6 percent from three-point range on more than 200 attempts last season, is now the team’s primary perimeter threat; how he performs without Jok to divert defensive attention will also be key. Defensively, more minutes for Baer, Moss and forward Cordell Pemsl should help Iowa improve on last season’s middling defense, which ranked near the bottom of league play in efficiency. Pemsl is reportedly leaner, healthier and more athletic, while Baer — who led the team in both block and steal rate in 2016-17 — is versatile enough to defend multiple positions. With a strong recruiting class entering the program to boot, the Hawkeyes could well be a more well-rounded team without Jok.

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Five Key Storylines in This Week’s Big Ten Tournament

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 8th, 2017

The Big Ten Tournament begins this afternoon in Washington, D.C., when Penn State takes on Nebraska. It will end Sunday afternoon presumably with a postseason picture looking much closer to clarity. In anticipation of the proceedings, here are a handful of quick potential storylines to keep an eye on over the next five days.

Whether or not Malcolm Hill can lead Illinois to a couple of Big Ten victories is one of many questions heading into the B1G Tournament. (Getty)

Bubble Teams: Two of the more fascinating games in the early portion of the Big Ten Tournament will be Illinois vs. Michigan and Iowa vs. Indiana. With late-season surges, both the Illini and the Hawkeyes have moved into bubble consideration. Illinois has improved defensively over the past month but will be tested by Michigan’s sixth-most efficient offense in the country. Iowa has won four in a row (including a win over the Hoosiers) on the strength of 10.5 made three-pointers per game at a 46.7 percent clip. If both teams lose early this week, the number of Big Ten teams heading to the NCAA Tournament will essentially be set. Two wins, however, will keep the debate alive.

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Big Ten Tournament Mission Sheet: What Can Each Team Get From the Event?

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 8th, 2017

There are 14 teams in the Big Ten and although each team is ultimately playing to win a conference championship on Sunday afternoon, there are smaller, somewhat more realistic goals for each school involved in the five-day hoops extravaganza. Here’s a closer look at what each Big Ten team should look to gain from the event.

  • Illinois: The goal for the Illini is fairly obvious. After losing its regular season finale to Rutgers, Illinois likely has to get to Saturday’s semifinals in order to feel truly confident about its chances.
  • Indiana: Indiana needs to find a way to bottle its offense during the first 10 minutes — wherein the Hoosiers scored 32 points — of last weekend’s win over Ohio State. If Tom Crean’s offense can play at that level in Washington, DC, this weekend, Indiana can legitimately win the Big Ten Tournament.
  • Iowa: The Hawkeyes have the same goal as Illinois but with less urgency because of the youth of their roster. The longer Iowa stays in this weekend’s tournament, the more quality experience their underclassmen will have heading into next season.
  • Maryland: Maryland has taken a whopping 24 three-pointers per contest over its last nine games, making only 33.8 percent of those attempts. The key for the Terrapins is to return to attacking the rim for easy looks and foul shots. Continued over-reliance on the three-ball from a team that requires greater balance could spell an early postseason exit in DC and beyond.

Derrick Walton Jr. will look to lift Michigan to multiple wins in the Big Ten Tournament. (Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

  • Michigan: The metrics suggest that Michigan is better than its 20-11 overall record. This means that the Wolverines have a golden opportunity to win the Big Ten tournament and jump a couple of seed lines prior to Sunday’s bracket release.

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