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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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big 12 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 17th, 2019

There’s no way around it: The Big 12 had a down year, propelling fewer than seven teams to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013 (five). Despite having a smaller presence than usual, the pressure will be on the league to have a team make a deep run — and all the better if that team is not Kansas. Compared to some of the other power conferences, the Big 12 may be light at the top, but the middle of the league is sufficiently meaty. Here are some quick thoughts on each team’s draw.

Is Texas Tech Ready for Another Run to the Second Weekend (USA Today Images)

Texas Tech (#3 Midwest)

  • Quick First Round Preview: Northern Kentucky is a spicy match-up for Texas Tech’s robust defense. The Norse move the ball extremely well, assisting on a higher percentage of all their shots than all but four teams in college basketball. Fortunately for the Red Raiders, Northern Kentucky’s defense isn’t much to write home about.
  • Intriguing Potential Match-up: Buffalo in the Round of 32. The Bulls have repeatedly shown that they aren’t afraid of major conference powers and are loaded with experience. Texas Tech won a share of the Big 12 this season by loading up on transfers and having one freshman make a big enough leap to turn himself into a lottery pick. There are more than one ways to skin a cat, but what’s the best way?
  • Final Word: It’s reassuring that last Thursday’s neutral court loss to West Virginia didn’t have a measurable effect on the Red Raiders’ seeding. Their region has the most manageable pair of top seeds (North Carolina and Kentucky), so I’ll be very curious to see if Chris Beard can deliver Lubbock its first Final Four.

Kansas (#4 Midwest)

  • Quick First Round Preview: Northeastern is a small team that isn’t shy about firing away from deep and is a very good defensive rebounding team despite its relative lack of size. If the Huskies get hot from long range, anything can happen, but they struggled mightily in earlier losses to Syracuse and Virginia Tech. Kansas fans shouldn’t be too concerned about this game.
  • Intriguing Potential Match-up: North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen. The Jayhawks have faced off against their previous coach multiple times over the last 10 years and could certainly be poised to do so again. From a match-up standpoint, however, a game with Auburn in the Round of 32 would be an interesting tilt. The Tigers, like Kansas, have experienced some head-scratching losses this season, but the their defense could cause problems for the inconsistent Jayhawks’ offense.
  • Final Word: The Jayhawks got a massive break by being placed in the Midwest Region despite finishing third in the Big 12, a testament to the staff’s savvy non-conference scheduling. This team is so tough to peg that it’s challenging to see them winning enough to earn a trip back to Kansas City, much less winning there and advancing to consecutive Final Fours.

Kansas State (#4 South)

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Ten Questions to Consider: The First Weekend of March

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 1st, 2019

With some conference tournaments less than a week away, this weekend is all about conference races, tournament resumes, and doing all that you can to end up on the correct side of the bubble. Here are ten questions I have heading into the weekend.

Kentucky and Tennessee Do Battle Again This Weekend (USA Today Images)
  1. Will Tennessee’s season-long struggles cleaning up its defensive glass be exploited again by Kentucky? (Kentucky @ Tennessee, Saturday 2 PM EST, CBS) In Tennessee’s 17-point loss at Rupp Arena last month, Kentucky’s 59.4 percent effective field goal percentage was the best of any Volunteers’ opponent this season. In addition, the Wildcats grabbed a healthy 41.4 percent of their missed shots.
  2. With Kerwin Roach suspended, could Texas play itself out of the NCAA Tournament? (Iowa State @ Texas, Saturday 2 PM EST, ESPN2) The Bracket Matrix currently projects Texas as a #9 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Longhorns have lost two in a row since Kerwin Roach’s suspension, however, and must finish the regular season with Texas Tech and TCU. Roach was the conference’s eighth-leading scorer at 15 points per game — Texas needs him.
  3. Can Clemson’s offense produce enough to give the Tigers a shot at beating North Carolina? (North Carolina @ Clemson, Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN) While Clemson owns the ACC’s second most efficient defense, its offense lags far behind. The Tigers turn the ball over at an alarming rate while rarely getting to the line or earning second chance opportunities.
  4. Will Texas Tech make enough threes on the road to beat TCU? (Texas Tech @ TCU, Saturday 4 PM EST, ESPN2) On the season, Texas Tech is 13-0 when it shoots better than 33.3 percent from beyond the arc, and just 10-5 when the Red Raiders do not. Correspondingly, they are shooting 38.3 percent on their three-point attempts at home and just 32.5 percent on the road. TCU’s three-point defense leads the conference during Big 12 play.
  5. Does Saint Mary’s have any chance at ending Gonzaga’s perfect WCC season? (Gonzaga @ Saint Mary’s, Saturday 10 PM EST, ESPN) According to KenPom, Gonzaga’s minimum win probability in the first match-up with Saint Mary’s came at tip-off. The Zags never trailed in the game and went on to win by 48 points. Gonzaga held the Gaels, a team that owns an effective field goal percentage of 54.2 percent on the season, to a mere 26.7 percent on that night.
  6. Can Baylor keep both its and Kansas’ regular season title hopes alive with a win at Kansas State? (Baylor @ Kansas State, Saturday 8 PM EST, ESPN 2) At 10-5 in Big 12 play, Baylor sits a game out of first place in the league standings. In the Bears’ previous seven-point loss to Kansas State, they led the Wildcats by seven points midway through the second half before giving up an 18-3 Kansas State run.
  7. How disruptive will Washington’s Matisse Thybulle be this week? (Washington @ Stanford, Sunday 4 PM EST, ESPN2) Matisse Thybulle is 20 steals shy of tying Gary Payton’s career Pac-12 steals record. The senior defensive whiz leads the country in steal rate and is just outside of the top 50 in blocked shot rate. In conference play, Thybulle has notched six games with five or more blocked shots and eight games with five or more steals. Incredible.
  8. Can Utah State solidify a spot in the NCAA Tournament with a weekend win over Nevada? (Nevada @ Utah State, Saturday 8:30 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) As of Thursday, both Jerry Palm and Joe Lunardi project Utah State as a play-in game NCAA Tournament team. However, the Aggies have zero wins against teams safely in the Tournament. In its loss to Nevada earlier in the season, Utah State shot a season worst 17.4 percent on its three-point attempts.
  9. Can Louisville end its recent tailspin? (Notre Dame @ Louisville, Sunday 1:30 PM EST, CBS) Chris Mack’s squad has lost five of its last six games, including four games in which his club led at the half. In its most recent loss, Louisville had a -10 turnover differential against Boston College.
  10. What will Buffalo’s ceiling be come March? (Buffalo @ Miami OH, Friday 8 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) Last season, Nate Oats’ squad toppled Arizona as a feisty #13 seed. This year’s Buffalo team remains as potent offensively while having improved dramatically defensively. Buffalo holding serve the rest of the way will all be about NCAA Tournament seeding.
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Ten Questions to Consider: One Month From Selection Sunday

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 15th, 2019

As the season rolls along into mid-February, we are about to hit the one-month mark until Selection Sunday. This weekend has a number of match-ups that will play a role in deciding conference titles and bubble trouble. Here are 10 questions I have heading into this weekend’s action.

Tennesssee Visits Rupp Arena With an SEC Title on Its Mind (USA Today Images)
  1. Which MAC team will bolster its resume? (Buffalo @ Toledo, Friday 7 PM EST, ESPNU) Buffalo and Toledo lead their respective divisions in the MAC heading into this showdown of 20-win teams. A win at Toledo would give the Bulls a Quadrant 1 victory that could be the difference on the bubble come Selection Sunday if the Bulls ultimately do not win the MAC Tournament.
  2. Can Kentucky stay alive in the race for the SEC regular season title? (Tennessee @ Kentucky, Saturday 8 PM EST, ESPN) The Wildcats’ mid-week loss to LSU pushed them two games behind the SEC-leading Volunteers. In SEC play, no team has logged a better offensive efficiency than Tennessee while Kentucky leads the way defensively. Cleaning up the defensive backboard will be a big key for both sides in what appears to be the game of the weekend.
  3. How much trouble can Bruno Fernando cause for the Michigan defense? (Maryland @ Michigan, Saturday Noon EST, Fox) Maryland’s Bruno Fernando has grabbed 10 or more rebounds in each of his past seven games. Fernando owns the Big Ten’s second best defensive rebounding rate and the third best offensive rebounding rate. While Michigan sits just outside of the top 20 in opponents’ offensive rebounding rate, they just surrendered 12 offensive boards in Tuesday night’s loss at Penn State.
  4. Can Baylor sweep Texas Tech? (Baylor @ Texas Tech, Saturday 2 PM EST, ESPN) After falling behind 23-10 to Texas Tech in the teams’ first match-up, Baylor went on to win 73-62. The Bears forced the Red Raiders into 17 turnovers, including a career-high seven from Jarrett Culver.
  5. If San Diego’s offense ticks again, can it get enough defense to give Gonzaga a scare? (Gonzaga @ San Diego, Saturday 10 PM EST, ESPN) While Gonzaga won by a comfortable 16 points at home against San Diego, the Toreros did not lose a single 10-minute segment of the game by more than five points. Any hope of slowing Gonzaga down begins with the Toreros doing a better job of not turning the ball over as much as they did the first time around.
  6. Can NC State make it three in a row against Duke? (N.C. State @ Duke, Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN) An NC State victory on February 24, 1988 represents the last time the Wolfpack won three straight games against Duke. In the two teams’ most recent match-up, Duke shot a mere 3-of-15 from behind the arc and Kevin Keatts’ squad put six players into double-figure scoring.
  7. Is Minnesota a loss away from being on the wrong side of the bubble? (Indiana @ Minnesota, Saturday 2 PM EST, ESPN2) Having now dropped four straight games, Minnesota sits at 16-9 overall and 6-8 in Big Ten play. With games remaining against Michigan, Maryland and Purdue, the Gophers need to rack up wins everywhere they can. Indiana comes into this game as losers of nine of its last 10 games.
  8. Does a win at Dayton open up VCU’s path to an at-large bid? (VCU @ Dayton, Saturday 4 PM EST, NBC Sports Network) VCU is quietly sitting just outside of the top 40 in the NET Rankings. With four of the Rams’ final six games coming at home and with no further games against a KenPom top-130 opponent left on the schedule, the Rams could rack up enough wins to be selected even if they were not to win the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
  9. Can Kansas State stay two games clear of second place in the Big 12? (Iowa State @ Kansas State, Saturday 4 PM EST, ESPN2) At 9-2 in the Big 12, Bruce Weber’s Wildcats are now two games in front of a quartet of Big 12 teams. Kansas State has won eight of nine games since the return of Dean Wade from injury — the senior has scored 10 or more points in eight straight contests and is just one of two players taller than 6’6″ who ranks among the league’s top 20 in assist rate.
  10. How does Lipscomb respond to a mid-week loss? (Lipscomb @ Kennesaw State, Saturday 4:30 PM EST, ESPN+) Despite losing on Wednesday night to Liberty, Lipscomb remains in the NET Rankings top 40. With few resume-building wins and no opportunities for statement victories outside of an Atlantic Sun championship game win over Liberty, Lipscomb must avoid another loss the rest of the way.
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Ten Questions to Consider: A Weekend of Statement Games

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 18th, 2019

This weekend features road tests for the two remaining undefeated teams, intrigue across the power conferences, and match-ups involving squads looking to end recent trends. Here are 10 questions I have for this weekend’s games.

Tony Bennett is Ready to Take On Duke Again (USA Today Images)
  1. Can Duke do what few can and solve Virginia’s defense? (Virginia @ Duke, Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN) Prior to last season’s win by Virginia at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke had beaten the Cavaliers in the teams’ previous 17 games in Durham. Duke’s offense to date has been held under one point per possession just one time this year (Texas Tech), while Virginia has held 13 of its 16 opponents under that threshold. To beat Virginia, Duke will have to improve upon its three-point shooting, though, as the Blue Devils are hitting only 22.8 percent from behind the arc over their last eight games.
  2. Can Wisconsin find enough production off of its bench to hand Michigan its first loss? (Michigan @ Wisconsin, Saturday Noon EST, ESPN) In the Badgers’ three Big Ten wins, their bench has averaged 18.7 points per game; but in the Badgers three conference losses, their bench has averaged just 7.7 points per game. The trio of Ethan Happ, D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison will need help from the reserves in scoring to beat the Wolverines.
  3. Will Ashton Hagans continue to shine as both Kentucky and Auburn try to avoid a second conference loss? (Kentucky @ Auburn, Saturday 4 PM EST, ESPN) After scoring no more than eight points in a single game during his first 11 outings as a Wildcat, Kentucky’s Ashton Hagans is averaging 15.6 points per game over the last five. Hagans will be dealing with an Auburn defense, however, that leads the country in forced turnover rate (27.8%).
  4. Can Kansas State avoid looking ahead to an upcoming game against Texas Tech when TCU comes to town? (TCU @ Kansas State, Saturday 4 PM EST, ESPN2) After starting Big 12 play 0-2, the Wildcats have subsequently rattled off three straight wins. While Kansas State has an elite defense, its offensive efficiency ranks outside of the top 175. As a team, the Wildcats shoot a mere 63.8 percent from the free throw line, a number that could haunt them if they get caught looking ahead to Texas Tech.
  5. Would keeping Maryland off of the free throw line be enough for Ohio State to end its recent three-game losing streak? (Maryland @ Ohio State, Friday 6 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) According to KenPom‘s database, the average rate at which Big Ten teams are sending opponents to the free throw line in conference play is 32.9 percent. Through five conference games, Ohio State’s defense is sending its opponents to the line at a rate of 53.6 percent. During the Buckeyes current three-game losing streak, their opponents have made 20 more free throws than Chris Holtmann’s team has attempted.
  6. Can Texas Tech find any sort of offensive rhythm? (Texas Tech @ Baylor, Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN2) While the Red Raiders continue to own the nation’s best defense, their offensive efficiency ranks ninth among Big 12 teams in conference play. Texas Tech has made just 29.6 percent of its three-point attempts over the last eight games.
  7. Might Syracuse get stuck looking back at its huge win on Monday when Pittsburgh comes to the Carrier Dome? (Pittsburgh @ Syracuse, Saturday 2 PM EST) Jim Boeheim’s squad is coming off of a marquee win against Duke in which the Orange shot 11-of-25 from distance while the Blue Devils went 9-of-43. Syracuse now hosts a Pittsburgh team that is led by the freshman backcourt duo of Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens.
  8. How will Marquette fare against Providence if Markus Howard is unable to play? (Providence @ Marquette, Sunday Noon, CBS Sports Network) Markus Howard left Marquette’s most recent game after playing just three minutes with a sore back. Without Howard in the lineup, Sam Hauser stepped up and scored 31 points while making 4-of-9 from beyond the arc. Hauser is now shooting 29.4 percent from three-point range in five Big East games — last season, however, Hauser led the Big East from distance at an incredible 53.7 percent.
  9. Who will walk away from the Red River Rivalry game with a win? (Oklahoma @ Texas, Saturday 8 PM EST, Longhorn Network) Both Oklahoma and Texas sit at 2-3 in Big 12 play, but Texas has lost three consecutive games and Oklahoma has lost three of its last five.
  10. Can Oregon State make a statement in the desert? (Oregon State @ Arizona, Saturday 10 PM EST, Pac 12 Network) Oregon State began this week as one of three Pac-12 teams undefeated in conference play — it lost to Arizona State last night and Arizona has since lost to Oregon. The Beavers will have an opportunity to salvage a split against the Wildcats on Saturday night. Keep in mind that Oregon State has lost 33 of its last 34 games against Arizona in Tucson.

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Ten Questions To Consider: Christmas Comes Early With Plenty of Hoops

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 21st, 2018

With Christmas, the New Year and conference play all firmly in the sights of players and teams, this weekend’s slate of games brings plenty of questions to the table. Kick off the holidays with plenty of hoops on Friday and Saturday.

Roy and Cal Get Together Again (USA Today Images)
  1. Will Buffalo pick up another win over a power conference opponent? (Buffalo @ Marquette, Friday 8:30 PM EST, FS1) Having already picked up Quadrant 1 wins at West Virginia and Syracuse, Buffalo can make it three big victories with a win at Marquette tonight. In those two wins, Bulls guard CJ Massinburg combined to score 68 points on 13 made three-pointers.
  2. Will Oklahoma’s success travel? (Oklahoma @ Northwestern, Friday 9 PM EST, Big Ten Network) The Sooners started the season with true road games at UT-Rio Grande Valley and UT-San Antonio, and they have not played a true game since then. This Friday evening trip to Northwestern could be feisty as the Wildcats gave Michigan all it could handle in the Wolverines’ narrow two-point win at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
  3. How will southern California’s best team do on the road at Butler? (UC Irvine @ Butler, Friday 6:30 PM EST, FS1) The most successful southern California basketball team this season belongs to UC Irvine. The Anteaters are 11-2 heading into their Friday evening match-up with Butler. Irvine has a suffocating defense that includes a defensive two-point field-goal percentage that ranks among the top 10 nationally.
  4. Which offensive rebounding force will come out on top in battle between blue-bloods? (Kentucky vs. North Carolina in Chicago, Saturday 5:15 PM EST, CBS) The CBS Sports Classic pits these two heavyweights against one another yet again. Both teams grab offensive rebounds at a rate that places them among the best in the country. In North Carolina’s convincing win over Gonzaga, the Tar Heels had an offensive rebound rate of 46.7 percent.
  5. Is Kansas ready for its first true road test? (Kansas @ Arizona State, Saturday 9 PM EST, ESPN2) Undefeated and top-ranked Kansas hits the road for its first true road game on Saturday evening. In a loss last season to the Sun Devils, the trio of Tra Holder, Shannon Evans, and Remy Martin combined to score 72 of the team’s 95 points. Of the three, only Martin is back with Arizona State this season.
  6. Will Arizona’s offense make an appearance? (UC Davis @ Arizona, Saturday 7 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) Arizona’s offensive efficiency had ranked among the top 20 in the nation in each of the past six seasons. This year, however, the Wildcats’ efficiency has fallen outside of the top 100. As a team, Arizona is 11-of-40 from beyond the arc in its last two games.
  7. Can the WCC pick up ANOTHER win over a Pac-12 opponent? (San Diego @ Washington State, Saturday 7:30 PM EST, FS1) The quest for the West Coast Conference to becoming a three-bid league continues as San Diego looks to pick the conference’s eighth win over the Pac-12. The Toreros are led by Isaiah Pineiro who has scored double-figure points in 30 of his last 31 games.
  8. How far can Kansas State’s superb defense carry the team? (Vanderbilt vs. Kansas State, Saturday 7 PM, ESPN2) Kansas State’s ability to defend the three, create turnovers and limit second-chance opportunities has allowed the Wildcats to log a defensive efficiency that sits among the top five nationally. They are now a team without one of its best offensive weapons in Dean Wade, however. Vanderbilt does not struggle to score the ball, so will this be the game in which Kansas State needs its offense to wake up?
  9. Will UConn get a win against former Big East foe Villanova? (UConn @ Villanova, Saturday 12:30 PM EST, CBS) After its two-game losing streak earlier this season, Villanova went on to win six straight. Having just lost two in a row again, the Wildcats now face a familiar opponent in former Big East rival UConn. The Huskies are 9-3 but have just one win (Syracuse) against an opponent with a KenPom ranking of #225 or better.
  10. Is Auburn vulnerable coming off of its loss at NC State? (Murray State @ Auburn, Saturday 4:30 PM EST, SEC Network) While Auburn shot 68 percent from inside the arc against NC State earlier this week, the Tigers were also a dismal 5-of-25 beyond the three-point line. Auburn returns home for a match-up against a Murray State team that has the nation’s best three-point defense to date. If the Racers can defend the three well and clean up their defensive glass, an area they have struggled in, Auburn could be in for a very tough 40 minutes.

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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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Big 12 Feast Week Catch-Up

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 21st, 2018

We’re halfway through Feast Week and even though much of the conference has faced strong competition for the first time this season, we aren’t that much closer to determining a pecking order than we were on Sunday. That’s a credit to the league’s performance rather than a detriment, though, with strong impressions being made throughout. Idle until later today, Kansas still has the inside track, but whereas before the season when Kansas State was thought to be the sole challenger, the battle for second is a jumbled mess at this juncture with not only the Wildcats but also Texas Tech, Texas and even Iowa State joining the fray. Further down, even Oklahoma isn’t looking like an easy out, which is another good sign for the league’s overall strength

Udoka Azubuike and the Jayhawks stare down their next challenge in New York City. (Getty)

  • Kansas (NIT Season Tip-Off) – The Jayhawks look to collect more marquee wins in their second neutral-court event of the season. Tonight’s semifinal pits Bill Self’s team against a Marquette squad eager to make a splash after finishing seventh in the Big East a season ago. While the Jayhawks are deservedly favored, they’ve been getting cooked from beyond the arc, ranking 331st in defensive 3PA/FGA and allowing opponents to hit 46.9 percent of their tries. Their weakness for going over screens and over-helping hasn’t cost them yet, but although the Golden Eagles haven’t truly heated up, they have the firepower to make the Jayhawks pay with an arsenal of shooters led by Markus Howard, Sam Hauser and Joey Hauser. If they don’t connect, there won’t be much to fall back on with Kansas having the skill and bodies down low to keep Marquette honest on the blocks. Offense hasn’t been much of a problem for the Jayhawks, but it could be against the Volunteers if that matchup materializes Friday night. Rick Barnes has always fielded stingy defensive teams as long as his players have bought in, and it’s been no different this year. Tennessee hasn’t forced turnovers or blocked a ton of shots, but they’ve been forcing tough attempts, which is almost as beneficial. Louisville’s no slouch, either, but the jury’s still out with Chris Mack working to establish the habits that made him a must-have to the Cardinals’ administration and donor base.
  • Kansas State (Paradise Jam) – For Wildcat fans, watching this team in its first four games was kind of like eating Chinese food for dinner. It achieved the desired result, but it was never anything to write home about and you were hungry for something better just a short time later. A decisive 20-2 run against Missouri en route to the Paradise Jam title in Game 5 doesn’t mean that Kansas State’s offense is fixed, but it’s certainly a start. Dean Wade and Barry Brown leading the way with strong support from Xavier Sneed and Cartier Diarra putting in yeoman’s work off the bench is exactly what Bruce Weber needs from his squad to sufficiently complement its heady, efficient defensive play. Now comes the hard part of sustaining it against the rest of a solid non-con slate and into league play.
  • Texas Tech (Hall Of Fame Classic) – The Red Raiders had a successful week in Kansas City, using big second halves to defeat USC and Nebraska on their way to the Hall of Fame Classic championship. Chris Beard made frequent substitutions in search of a rotation that could get the best of Tech’s opponents, but the constant was Jarrett Culver, who averaged 22 points and 7.5 rebounds in the event. Culver struggled to get going early in both games, but made increasingly better decisions as the individual games wore on. By the end of the event, he cemented his role as the team’s leader with Matt Mooney, Tariq Owens and Davide Moretti making for a solid supporting cast. I maintain that Tech’s drop-off from 2018 won’t be as steep as many around the landscape feel, but one thing that gives me pause relates to the way the offense stagnated when Culver wasn’t fully engaged, so while it’s still early and trusting Beard feels like a safe bet, I do worry a bit about the team being able to pick up the slack against better opponents when Culver isn’t at his best.
  • Iowa State (Maui Invitational) – Beating superior competition when you’re short-handed is challenging enough in a normal setting, but when you’re slated to play three games in three days with just eight scholarship players, you just want to have a decent showing and not return to the mainland any worse off than you were when you arrived. A fully healthy Cyclone team might have have been able to finish the job against Arizona on Monday night, but they’re certainly making the best of it in the consolation bracket. Steve Prohm had Brad Underwood’s number in the latter’s lone season at Oklahoma State with the Cyclones sweeping all three meetings in 2017, and that continued Tuesday afternoon with an 84-68 trouncing. Iowa State’s effort epitomized basketball in 2018, with 47 of their 53 shot attempts coming on dunks, layups or three-pointers. With Marial Shayok and Talen Horton-Tucker showing out and the team playing free-flowing, efficient basketball, re-working Lindell Wigginton, Cameron Lard and Solomon Young into the rotation will make for a fascinating storyline they get closer to returning.
  • Oklahoma (Battle 4 Atlantis) – Picked to finish eighth in the league, the Sooners have shown some moxie, undefeated with three of their four wins coming away from Norman and a chance to make the week a big one assuming they meet favored Wisconsin in Friday’s semifinal. As I discussed last week, the calling card of Oklahoma’s defense has been their ability to defend without fouling, but that risk-averse nature hasn’t yielded many turnovers. That may need to change against a Wisconsin team that really values the ball and has largely made the most of their possessions. Jamuni McNeace was highly effective defending the Gators, but stopping Ethan Happ will be one of the biggest challenges he’ll face all year if the matchup comes to fruition. Continuing to get standout offensive play from Christian James (21.5 PPG, 2.5 TO/40) will be vital as well.
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Big 12 Observations After One Week

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2018

Eight of the 10 Big 12 teams have played at least two games (Oklahoma State squares off at Texas-San Antonio tonight and West Virginia meets Monmouth tomorrow), so while it’s still too early to draw sweeping conclusions, it is a good time to take a look at some early revelations with Feast Week just around the corner.

Two games has been enough for Kansas fans to be treated to the full Dedric Lawson experience. (Nick Krug/Lawrence Journal-World)

  • Dedric Lawson’s been just okay. Just one week in and we’ve already seen some of the inconsistency for which the preseason All-American became known during his two years at Memphis. Even though Lawson struggled to a 5-of-18 shooting night against Michigan State, he was good enough to contribute 20 points along with 14 rebounds, two blocks and a pair of steals. In his Allen Fieldhouse debut against Vermont on Monday, however, he was a total non-factor from start to finish as the Catamounts pushed him around and held him scoreless for the first time in his career. Among his many skills, Lawson is a tremendous passer out of the paint, but Kansas’ insistence on running so much of its offense through Udoka Azubuike presents challenges in terms of fit and strategy when they’re both on the floor. The junior shouldn’t have any problems on Friday against Louisiana, whose rotation includes just one player taller than 6’6″, but it’s fair to have expected a little more from the big man in his first two games in Lawrence.
  • It might be a while before we know how good West Virginia is. There isn’t much shame in losing to mid-major darling Buffalo in overtime, but the fact that the Mountaineers put up a defensive turnover rate of just 12.8 percent at home and were fairly mediocre on the offensive glass in allowing a 13-point second half comeback should dispel any notions that this season will be business as usual in Morgantown. Bob Huggins‘ team will have opportunities to clean things up, but with this weekend’s Myrtle Beach Invitational lacking top-end competition and just one meeting against a KenPom top-50 team remaining (Florida in Madison Square Garden) before conference play, determining where this team belongs in both the Big 12 and national picture might take some time.

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Previewing Opening Week in the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 6th, 2018

It’s been a long offseason, but we made it, everyone. Tonight is the night the 2018-19 season gets under way. As per usual, preseason #1 Kansas will own the marquee as one of the four elite teams competing in the Champions Classic, but half the conference will be in action this evening with Texas, Iowa State, Texas Tech and Baylor beginning their seasons as well. TCU will tip its season off on Wednesday, and following an idle Thursday, Kansas State, West Virginia and Oklahoma open the weekend with Friday jumps while Oklahoma State takes the caboose on Saturday afternoon. KenPom likes all 10 Big 12 teams to win their openers, with only the Jayhawks favored by fewer than 10 points (vs. Michigan State) and just one other game (West Virginia vs. Buffalo) coming in at fewer than 15 points. Still, you never know when a team might unleash a surprise, and even if not, there’s always something to keep an eye on as the curtains open. Here’s what to watch for around the Big 12 over the next few days.

Tuesday

Look for Dedric Lawson to make a strong first impression in Indianapolis tonight. (Orlin Wagner/AP)

  • Kansas vs. Michigan State – As mentioned in last week’s team preview, Kansas will feature two bigs in Dedric Lawson and Udoka Azubuike one year after going very guard-heavy. On the other side of this specific frontcourt match-up, Michigan State lost Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson to the draft and Gavin Schilling to graduation, so the Spartans will counter with junior Nick Ward and sophomore Xavier Tillman, who aren’t bad, but don’t hold a candle to a pair of lottery picks and a useful program guy. While I like Kansas to win this one in large part because of the mismatches up front, don’t be surprised to see Michigan State’s Cassius Winston expose the Jayhawks’ new-look backcourt on more than one occasion.
  • Texas vs. Eastern Illinois – Watching the Longhorns try to run offense last season was the ultimate test of will, as they finished dead last in the Big 12 in offensive efficiency. With four starters back this season, they absolutely have to get better. Their non-conference slate includes a neutral site date with Arkansas in addition to tilts against North Carolina, Purdue and Providence, so improved offensive cohesion will be important in the early going.

Get to know Lindell Wigginton before the rest of the country catches up. (Andrew Dieb/USA Today Sports)

  • Iowa State vs. Alabama State – There ought to be plenty of reps at the point guard position for both Nick Weiler-Babb and Lindell Wigginton. The Cyclones will be thin up front to start the season, though, with Solomon Young (injury) and Cameron Lard (suspension) both expected to miss tonight’s game. As a result, newcomers Michael Jacobson and George Conditt will be thrust into major minutes earlier than Steve Prohm would have liked. I don’t think that will be enough for the Hornets to make this game interesting, but it could make for a rockier ride than expected.
  • Texas Tech vs. Incarnate Word – Chris Beard faces off against one of his former employers tonight and it will be next man up with Keenan Evans, Zhaire Smith, Zach Smith and Niem Stevenson all having moved on to the next stages of their careers. A game against one of the 30 worst teams in the sport won’t decide whether Jarrett Culver is ready for the spotlight, but how he starts the season will tell us a lot about the Red Raiders’ fortunes in 2018-19.
  • Baylor vs. Texas Southern – The Bears will start the season as any rebuilding team of their caliber should, with four straight cupcakes. The first two weeks will be a great opportunity for Scott Drew’s squad to sharpen its defense after losing two of its best frontcourt defenders in Nuni Omot and Jo Lual-Acuil as well as an underrated perimeter defender in Manu LecomteBaylor’s going to feature smaller looks this year than what many are used to, which shouldn’t present any significant hurdles against the Tigers tonight, but is noteworthy going forward.

Wednesday

  • TCU vs. Cal State Bakersfield – The Horned Frogs’ backcourt doesn’t get a lot of headlines, but that could change soon, because there’s a lot to like about the trio of Alex Robinson, Jaylen Fisher and Desmond Bane. They’re experienced, they can create for themselves as well as others, and they can shoot it from deep. Their defensive chops aren’t where you’d like them to be, but there’s some untapped potential that will show itself this time around. Keep an eye on TCU’s frontcourt too, as it picks up the pieces from Vladimir Brodziansky and Kenrich Williams’s departures.

Friday

  • West Virginia vs. Buffalo – Aside from the Champions Classic, this is the only game of Opening Week whose outcome isn’t completely foregone, so it should be an interesting watch for those waiting to get back into the swing of things after the short Thursday break. You have a Mountaineer team that should be plenty good but not as good as last year’s edition facing the Bulls, who won the MAC by a country mile, embarrassed Arizona in last season’s NCAA Round of 64 and return nearly everyone, making themselves a strong favorite to repeat in conference. Will Bob Huggins‘ team be ready?
  • Kansas State vs. Kennesaw State – The Wildcats have a strong non-conference schedule that they’ll hope to parlay into a favorable seed come March, but their first two weeks will be more manageable and should offer Bruce Weber opportunities to explore the limits of his rotation. Dean Wade and Barry Brown are the names everyone knows and will be excited to see, but JuCo transfer Austin Trice will look to make his case for minutes as a strong rebounder off the bench.
  • Oklahoma at UT Rio Grande Valley – The Sooners are doing something a little different by starting the season on the road against two mid-majors. It’s admirable on Lon Kruger‘s part, but there isn’t much more to be said. Oklahoma will be among the league’s dregs despite being one of the oldest teams in the league, and they’re scheduled to play just two home games over the season’s first five weeks and won’t play their fifth home game until January 5. It’s setting up to be a long year in Norman.

Saturday

  • Oklahoma State at Charlotte – The Pokes also start the year on the road against a mid-major and aren’t projected to be very good this season. There’s not a lot returning on this team, so Mike Boynton will look to Cameron McGriffLindy Waters and Thomas Dziagwa to keep the ship from sinking early.
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