2019-20 RTC16: Week 16

Posted by Walker Carey on March 9th, 2020

The final week of the regular season saw the resolution to many conference championship battles. In the SEC, #7 Kentucky secured the outright championship last week. In the Big 12, #1 Kansas clinched a share of the league title with a win over TCU on Tuesday and earned the outright crown with a win at Texas Tech on Saturday. The ACC saw #4 Florida Statewhich was picked to finish fifth in the preseason — take home the outright league title with wins over Notre Dame and Boston College coupled with #15 Louisville falling at Virginia. #14 Oregon used comfortable home wins over California and Stanford along with some help via UCLA and Arizona State losing to earn the outright Pac-12 title. The Big Ten and Big East races ended with three teams earning the privilege to hang a banner. #8 Michigan State, #13 Maryland and Wisconsin shared the Big Ten title while #9 Creighton, #10 Villanova and #12 Seton Hall split the Big East crown. This regular season was defined by the unexpected, so be on high alert for some surprises as the postseason hits its stride later this. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty is after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Teams Battle For Positioning As Others Fight for a Chance to Dance

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 6th, 2020

This weekend will send the first few teams dancing as conference tournaments are already underway in several leagues. Elsewhere, the power conferences enter their regular season finales with conference titles on the line. Here are 10 questions I have for just some of what will take place on the hardwood this weekend:

  1. Which Big East front-runner will gain the edge for a Big East Tourney run? (Seton Hall @ Creighton, Saturday, 2:30 PM EDT, Fox) With a win in Omaha, Seton Hall would guarantee itself a Big East title and the top seed in the upcoming Big East tournament. The #1 seed will open next week’s event against one of the three Big East teams not currently positioned to make the NCAA Tournament. In Creighton’s win at Seton Hall, the four Bluejays scored 18 points.
  2. After clinching no worse than a share of the Big 12 title, will Kansas be focused as it heads to Lubbock? (Kansas @ Texas Tech, Saturday, 2 PM EDT, ESPN) The Jayhawks have won 15 straight games and are a win away from winning the Big 12 regular season title outright. In Kansas’ two most recent games, they trailed with a little more than 14 minutes to go. Despite getting just five points from Udoka Azubuike in the first match-up with Texas Tech, Kansas never found itself behind on the scoreboard.
  3. Can Jay Huff keep up his recent level of play? (Louisville @ Virginia, Saturday, 4 PM EDT, ESPN) After dominating Duke on the defensive end of the floor last week, Virginia’s Jay Huff put an offensive show against Miami in the Cavaliers’ midweek win. Huff tied his career-high of 17 points while also grabbing nine rebounds. The big man has now scored 32 points over his last two games, the most of any two-game stretch during his career.
  4. Will UCLA’s recent improbable run of success continue? (UCLA @ USC, Saturday, 3:15 PM EDT, CBS) Mick Cronin’s Bruins can earn at worst a share of the Pac-12 title with a win over USC this weekend. UCLA has won seven straight games, but they will take on a Trojans team that beat the Bruins by 11 points in early January. In that match-up, foul trouble limited USC’s Onyeka Okongwu to just four points, yet the Trojans still posted 1.17 points per possession behind a 60 percent day from inside the arc and 7-of-14 shooting beyond it.
  5. Can West Virginia find any offense as it hosts Baylor? (Baylor @ West Virginia, Saturday, 1 PM EDT, ESPN+) There is no denying that West Virginia is an elite defensive and rebounding squad, capable of frustrating any opponent to great lengths. Unfortunately for Bob Huggins, this Mountaineers team is one of his worst offensive groups. Going back to the 1996-97 season, no Huggins team has logged a worse three-point or free-throw percentage. Poor shooting and a high turnover rate have derailed what was a very promising start.
  6. Will returning home help Maryland turn its play around? (Michigan @ Maryland, Sunday, Noon EDT, Fox) Had Minnesota not collapsed against Maryland last week, the Terps would be heading into their regular season finale with four straight defeats. After catching fire late from three-point range in the win at Michigan State, Anthony Cowan has made just 3-of-21 from distance over his last four games. Maryland returns to the Xfinity Center, however, where it has gone 15-1 so far on the season.
  7. Can Richmond keep its bubble hopes alive? (Richmond @ Duquesne, Friday, 7 PM EDT) After going 25-40 over the last two seasons, Chris Mooney now has Richmond sitting at 23-7 heading into its season finale. A win at Duquesne would make the Spiders 3-2 against Quad 2 opponents. Richmond currently has the second best in-conference defensive efficiency of any Atlantic 10 team over the past five years.
  8. Will San Diego State make it through the Mountain West Tournament unscathed? (MWC Final, Saturday, 5:30 PM EDT, CBS) A San Diego State Mountain West tournament championship would almost certainly lock up at least a #2 seed for the Aztecs in March Madness. Brian Dutcher’s squad has needed recent second-half rallies to avoid picking up their second loss, though. A title game matchup against a Utah State team that is among the Bracket Matrix’s first four out could be the final Mountain West test for San Diego State.
  9. Will the Missouri Valley Tournament come down to another thriller between Loyola (Chicago) and Northern Iowa? (MVC Final, Sunday, 2:10 PM EDT, CBS) Top seeds Loyola (Chicago) and Northern Iowa sit on opposite sides of the draw in “Arch Madness.” Both regular season matchups required overtime, with each team winning at home. Conference Player of the Year AJ Green of Northern Iowa made 39.4 percent of his three-point attempts on the regular season, but connected on just 6-of-18 attempts against the Ramblers.
  10. Can Liberty hold off a red-hot Ahsan Asadullah of Lipscomb? (A-Sun Final, Lipscomb @ Liberty, Sunday, 3 PM EDT, ESPN) Ritchie McKay’s Liberty Flames are the defending Atlantic Sun champs and the conference’s top seed this season. They take on a Lipscomb squad that is coming off a recent upset at North Florida. Lipscomb’s Ahsan Asadullah had 40 points and 14 rebounds in the Atlantic Sun quarterfinals and followed that up with 27 and 19 at North Florida.

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2019-20 RTC16: Week 15

Posted by Walker Carey on March 2nd, 2020

In case you have not heard by now, “This is March.” With the calendar finally turning to college basketball’s premier month, the regular season is winding down. And continuing with the unexpected nature of this season, several ranked teams were once again tripped up by unranked foes over the weekend. #13 Duke was the week’s most notable victim. The Blue Devils’ first loss came last Tuesday at Wake Forest when they blew a nine-point lead with 1:21 to play in regulation and ended up losing by 12 in double-overtime. Mike Krzyzewski‘s group then suffered its second loss of the week on Saturday when it was unable to overcome Virginia’s stifling defense in a 52-50 defeat. #4 Baylor had developed a well-earned reputation as one of the surest things in the country this season, but that reputation took a hit Saturday when the Bears suffered their second defeat in three games at TCU. #8 Florida State and #11 Creighton also joined the party in suffering upset losses on the road with the Seminoles falling at Clemson and the Bluejays getting hit with a flurry of three-pointers in a 20-point loss at St. John’s. If the trend of ranked teams taking unexpected losses continues throughout the rest of this month, it is likely this March will go down as one to remember. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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What’s Trending: Brawls, Bulldogs and a Boisterous Brey

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 27th, 2020

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

As the final seconds ticked away in a lopsided Kansas win over intrastate rival Kansas State last week, what appeared to be normal ending of a blowout turned into anything but normal…

Bill Self spoke on the matter postgame and provided context: While it’s not always seen, every coach should be thrilled with the hustle of his players while time remains on the clock. He felt that DaJuan Gordon stealing the ball as well as Silvio De Sousa running him down and blocking his shot should also be applauded. But the line was crossed when De Sousa taunted Gordon after the clock struck zero, not before that point.

Allen Fieldhouse was not the only place with controversy between players. At Purdue, Illinois’ Alan Griffin blatantly stepped on Purdue’s Sasha Stefanovic in the opening minutes of the game.

In this week’s edition of “What Could Go Wrong College Officiating…,” Notre Dame found itself on the wrong end of the truly bizarre and wacky. Trailing by six points, the Irish forced a Florida State miss and grabbed the defensive rebound. Unfortunately for Notre Dame, the clock operator placed just 20 seconds on the shot clock. Somehow no one caught the mistake, leading to this fruitless rushed possession…

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Ten Questions to Consider: Conference Tests, Busting Trends, and the Quest to Remain Perfect

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 24th, 2020

The first standalone weekend for college basketball is finally upon us. Without football on the calendar over the next three days, eyes shift even more to the hardwood. It’s a weekend that includes tests within conference play in addition to between power conferences. Here are 10 questions I have for the games to come.

  1. Can Texas Tech guard Kentucky without sending the Wildcats to the free throw line? (Kentucky @ Texas Tech, Saturday, 6 PM EST, ESPN) Kentucky heads to Lubbock with an offense that gets to the free throw line at a rate north of 42 percent, a figure that ranks among the top 10 nationally. In Texas Tech’s six losses on the season, the Red Raiders have given up an average of 25.4 free throw attempts, an average of 10.8 more attempts than they have taken in those games.
  2. Which streaky Big East club picks up a key win to begin the weekend? (Marquette @ Butler, Friday, 9 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Marquette began league play by dropping three of its first four games, but since then, the Golden Eagles have now won three straight. On the other side of things, Butler began Big East play 3-0 but has since lost three straight of its own. In order for Butler to turn things around, it begins with trying to slow Markus Howard, who comes in averaging 35 points per game over his last five outings.
  3. What impact will the midweek melee have on Kansas? (Tennessee @ Kansas, Saturday, 4 PM EST, ESPN) The Jayhawks will be without both Silvio De Sousa and David McCormack this weekend, forcing Bill Self’s hand into a more small-ball oriented lineup alongside Udoka Azubuike. Isaiah Moss and Christian Braun are two players who could see more consistent minutes in this type of lineup.
  4. Can Florida get enough defensive rebounds to potentially upset #1 Baylor? (Baylor @ Florida, Saturday, 8 PM EST, ESPN) While Baylor sits at 16-1 with a top five defensive efficiency ranking, it is a squad, however, that has an effective field goal percentage below the national average. In order for Florida to pull the upset, the Gators will have to limit second-chance opportunities. In their last game, Mike White’s team allowed 15 offensive rebounds to LSU.
  5. Will the quick turnaround to their second game against one another lead to a different result in the Big Ten? (Michigan State @ Minnesota, Sunday, 3 PM EST, Fox) Entering play on Thursday, Big Ten home teams have won 44 of 54 conference games, with five of those losses coming from bottom dwellers Nebraska and Northwestern. A little more than two weeks after losing in East Lansing, Minnesota hosts Michigan State. Xavier Tillman was a force for the Spartans in the last game, scoring 19, grabbing 16 rebounds and blocking five shots.
  6. Will Richmond be able to slow Dayton down and keep its hot A-10 start going? (Dayton @ Richmond, Saturday, 6 PM EST) The Spiders have held five of their six Atlantic 10 opponents to under 65 points. That will be a daunting challenge against a Dayton squad that owns the nation’s best effective field goal percentage and two-point percentage. In last season’s only match-up, the Flyers shot 73.7 percent from inside the arc in what was an easy 24-point win.
  7. How will Memphis look coming off of a 40-point loss? (SMU @ Memphis, Saturday, 4 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) In the Tigers’ recent lopsided loss at Tulsa, Memphis shot 2-of-21 from beyond the arc and turned the ball over 20 times. Freshman guard Boogie Ellis began the season by making 9 of his first 21 three-point attempts, but since then, Ellis has shot just 9-of-42 (21.4%). One difference between now and then, of course, is the absence of James Wiseman.
  8. Can Kihei Clark find his groove and help rescue Virginia’s season? (Virginia @ Wake Forest, Sunday, Noon EST, ACC Network) ACC play has not been kind to Virginia’s third-leading scorer. The sophomore guard is shooting just 33 percent from inside the arc and just 28.6 percent from beyond it during league play. Over his last five games, Clark has missed a terrible 26 of his 37 two-point attempts.
  9. Will San Diego State pass its latest test in Las Vegas? (San Diego State @ UNLV, Sunday, 4 pm EST, CBS Sports Network) In 68 prior match-ups between these squads, each team has won 34 times. While the Aztecs have won five of the past eight in Las Vegas, four of those have come by two points or fewer. San Diego State has done a tremendous job all season in creating turnovers, an area of which UNLV has struggled mightily all year.
  10. Can DePaul find a way to end its slump in Big East play? (St. John’s @ DePaul, Saturday, 2 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) DePaul began the year 12-1 but has since run into the Big East buzzsaw, having lost five of its first six league games. In the Blue Demons’ loss to St. John’s on January 11, center Paul Reed was held to a season-low four points. Over the three games since, Reed is averaging 21 points and 12 rebounds per game.

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What’s Trending: Out With the Old and In With the New

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 13th, 2020

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

When Clemson hit the floor at North Carolina and Baylor visited Kansas on Saturday, both teams were carrying much more than just a point spread labeling them as underdogs. Rather, these two programs were up against history, as neither school had ever won a game at those locations. That is, until Saturday….

In Chapel Hill, postgame feelings from the head coaches were quite different. For Brad Brownell‘s Tigers, the locker room was full of jubilation and joy as the weight of the long losing streak at North Carolina had mercifully ended…

Roy Williams, on the other hand, was hyperbolic beyond reason, from citing the loss as the lowest moment of his career to suggesting that athletic director Bubba Cunningham should fire him.

In Lawrence, Baylor held Kansas to a season-low offensive efficiency and effective field-goal percentage. After averaging 18.6 PPG through his first 14 contests of the season, Baylor held a banged-up Devon Dotson to just nine insignificant points. The Bears’ ability to slow he, along with Udoka Azubuike, led to an easy Baylor victory. Another streak snapped and the jumping off point for the question that never dies when referencing Baylor basketball: Is Scott Drew a good coach?

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10 Questions To Consider: A Weekend of Marquee Matchups and Important Conference Games

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 10th, 2020

With each passing day March inches closer and closer. As conference play continues, this weekend includes a key match-up between the Big 12’s best, Big Ten surprises, and preseason All-Americans. Here are 10 questions I have in advance of the action ahead.

  1. Which conference play trend gets busted in Iowa City? (Maryland @ Iowa, Friday, 7 PM EST, FS1) Through four league games, both Maryland and Iowa have seen struggles on one end of the floor grow dramatically. For the Terps, their adjusted offensive efficiency has dropped by 12 points in Big Ten action, while Iowa’s adjusted defensive efficiency sits 15 points higher in league play than its season average.
  2. Will Baylor be able to match its season-long success on the opponents’ glass against Kansas? (Baylor @ Kansas, Saturday, 1 PM EST, CBS) Baylor has a top-40 offensive efficiency thanks in part to the team’s top-10 offensive rebounding rate. In a pair of match-ups with Kansas last season, Baylor grabbed 18 and 26 offensive boards. Scott Drew’s squad will be challenged by the length and rebounding ability of Udoka Azubuike and David McCormack.
  3. Have the Gators turned a corner? (Florida @ Missouri, Saturday, 8:30 PM EST, SEC Network) After starting the season 7-4, Florida has now won three straight games, including a pair of SEC contests. In the team’s first 11 games, the duo of Andrew Nembhard and Kerry Blackshear were averaging a combined 23.4 points per game — over the last three games, however, the pair is averaging 35.7 points per game.
  4. Can Providence keep things rolling against a one-loss Butler team? (Butler @ Providence, Friday, 9 PM EST, FS1) After opening the year 6-6 with four losses to teams outside of the KenPom top 100, Providence has now rattled off four straight wins against top-100 teams. Senior guard Maliek White tied his career-high with 19 points in his last game — after shooting 13-for-49 from three-point range in Big East action last season, White has gone 6-of-11 in three conference games.
  5. Which style of play will come out on top between Big Ten foes? (Wisconsin @ Penn State, Saturday, 2:15 PM EST, Big Ten Network) Greg Gard’s Badgers head into the weekend with an adjusted tempo that puts Wisconsin among the five slowest teams in the country. On the flip side, the Nittany Lions will come in ranked as one of the top 40’s fastest teams. Side note: Wisconsin has beaten Penn State 12 times in a row.
  6. Can Rutgers do something it hasn’t done since the 2001-02 season? (Rutgers @ Illinois, Saturday, Noon EST, Big Ten Network) Since an early December loss to Michigan State, Rutgers has now won six consecutive games, including three against KenPom top 30 teams. A win on Saturday would extend that winning streak to seven games, something Rutgers has not done since a stretch in November/December 2001.
  7. Will Michigan State continue to shoot well from beyond the arc in Big Ten play? (Michigan State @ Purdue, Sunday, Noon EST, CBS) Entering Michigan State’s Thursday night tilt at Minnesota, the Spartans are shooting a Big Ten best 38 percent on three-point attempts in league play. This is up from the team’s 33.8 percent in non-conference action.
  8. Which superstar shines brightest in this marquee matchup? (Marquette @ Seton Hall, Saturday, 4 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) Entering the season, Markus Howard and Myles Powell were marquee names as two of the nation’s best volume scorers. In three match-ups between the two teams last season, Howard made just 6-of-28 three-point attempts, whereas Powell made 12-of-30. If one goes off this weekend, it could spell doom for the other team.
  9. Which offense will make enough plays in a game featuring two of the nation’s best defenses? (Texas Tech @ West Virginia, Saturday, 6 PM EST) Points will be at a premium in Morgantown this weekend. Will Texas Tech be able to clean up offensive rebounding attack of West Virginia? Will West Virginia be able to make free throws? Will Texas Tech’s Davide Moretti find his stroke? The junior has gone just 11-of-41 from deep since December 1.
  10. Can Miami get key stops or is it time to start talking about Pittsburgh? (Pitt @ Miami, Sunday, 6 PM EST, ACC Network) In Jim Larranaga’s first eight years at Miami, the Hurricanes had an average defensive efficiency ranking of 55th nationally. As of Thursday, Miami’s defensive efficiency sits outside of the top 200. Last season, Pitt began ACC play 2-2 before it dropped its next 13 ACC games. Coming off of their first win at North Carolina in program history, Pitt has a chance to add its name to the bubble with a win at Miami.

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2019-20 RTC16: Week Seven

Posted by Walker Carey on December 30th, 2019

The final full week of 2019 did not really get going on the hardwood until Saturday when one of the most bitter rivalries in college basketball resumed with #4 Louisville visiting #16 Kentucky. The game did not disappoint, as the Cardinals fought back from an eight-point halftime deficit to force overtime before the home Wildcats grabbed control in the final minute of the extra period to earn a hotly contested 78-70 victory. It was a much-needed win for Kentucky, as it entered riding a two-game losing streak and had not earned an impressive victory since its season opening dispatch of Michigan State. The Wildcats were led by incredible efforts from freshman guard Tyrese Maxey, who tallied a game-high 27 points, sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley, who added a career-high 18 points, and junior forward Nick Richards, who controlled the game inside with 13 points and 10 rebounds. John Calipari‘s squad also did an excellent job frustrating star Louisville forward Jordan Nwora all afternoon, as the standout junior was mostly a non-factor, finishing with just eight points and four rebounds. Kentucky is still far from a finished product, but if it can string together several more impressive efforts, the Wildcats will once again be a factor in both the SEC race and on the national landscape. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Ten Questions: Teams Looking to Overcome Trends

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 20th, 2019

As the non-conference slate begins to reach its final days, the trends around college basketball are starting to become more clear. This is a weekend where I have questions on teams who are looking to break or reinforce the trends that have formed over the first month and a half of the season.

  1. Will Villanova have enough defense to stop Kansas? (Kansas @ Villanova, Saturday, Noon EST, Fox) Jay Wright’s Villanova squad comes into this weekend’s action ranked 86th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, the worst ranking of any of his Wildcat teams. This group also has the worst-ranked effective field-goal percentage defense and opponent two-point field-goal percentage ranking of any Villanova team of the past 10 years.
  2. What impact might the absence of Matt Haarms have on Purdue (Butler @ Purdue, Saturday, 2:30 PM EST, Big Ten Network) The Boilermakers got by Ohio without Haarms in the lineup, but have a much tougher test looming this weekend against Butler. Haarms, second on the team in points per game and rebounds per game, is also a defensive anchor, ranking among the nation’s top 10 in block rate. Butler’s highly efficient offense will test Purdue.
  3. Is it time to panic in Lexington? (Ohio State vs. Kentucky, Saturday, 5:15 PM EST, CBS) The Wildcats were outplayed for much of their recent game against Utah, even if a late rally gave Kentucky a chance to overcome the Utes. This Kentucky squad has the worst team three-point percentage (27.5%) of any Big Blue team of the past 20 years. If they can’t figure things out against Ohio State, they’ll take a two-game losing streak into next weekend’s huge match-up with Louisville.
  4. Who wins the battle at the rim? (Colorado vs. Dayton, Saturday, 6:30 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) Defensively, Colorado’s defense is strongest on the interior, where according to Hoop-Math, the Buffaloes own the nation’s 12th-best defensive field-goal percentage at the rim. Dayton star Obi Toppin gets more than half of his field goal attempts at the bucket, where he shoots a staggering 83.9 percent.
  5. Will Utah State pick up another win over an SEC opponent? (Utah State @ Florida, Saturday, 2:30 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) The Aggies were victorious over LSU earlier this season and now will get a shot at Florida. The Gators are a team that have struggled when unable to create turnovers from their opponents, which could prove a challenge against a Utah State squad that is ranked among the worst 50 teams nationally in turnover rate.
  6. How will Arizona State react to its midweek thrashing? (Creighton @ Arizona State, Saturday, 8:30 PM EST, Pac-12 Networks) Arizona State’s 40-point loss to Saint Mary’s on Wednesday was the Sun Devils’ worst loss since a Kentucky beatdown in 2016. In Wednesday’s defeat, only three Sun Devils scored, with 43 of the team’s 56 points coming from Alonzo Verge off the bench.
  7. Experience vs. Inexperience: Which backcourt shines brightest? (VCU @ Wichita State, Saturday, Noon EST, ESPN2) VCU starts a pair of senior guards in Marcus Evans and De’Riante Jenkins. Wichita State’s backcourt is made up of freshmen Grant Sheffield, Tyson Etienne and sophomore’s Jamarius Burton and Erik Stevenson. This VCU squad is forcing turnovers at a clip over nine percent better than the national average. How will the young Wichita State guards hold up against the pressure?
  8. Will San Diego State’s three-point defense keep them undefeated? (San Diego State vs. Utah, Saturday, 6:30 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) The Aztecs have a three-point defense that ranks among the top 20 in the nation, six percent better at 26.9 percent than last year’s mark that ranked 93rd nationally. Brian Dutcher’s team will be tested by a Utah team that made 8-of-15 from deep in its recent win over Kentucky.
  9. Can a St. John’s team looking to push the pace survive against a Nico Mannion led Arizona team? (Arizona vs. St. John’s, Saturday, 10 PM EST, ESPN2) St. John’s adjusted tempo of 75.4 possessions per game is the highest of any Mike Anderson coached team in the KenPom era. While the Red Storm have an effective field-goal percentage of 53.6 percent in transition, it falls short of Arizona’s even-better 59.4 percent field-goal percentage in transition.
  10. Will Markus Howard make Marquette history? (North Dakota State @ Marquette, Friday, 9 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) After making 6-of-10 from deep against Grambling State, Markus Howard has now made 349 three-pointers at Marquette. With just five more makes, Howard will tie Steve Novak for the most triples in Marquette history. North Dakota State has allowed an average of just five made three-pointers over its last five games.

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Big 12 Temperature Check

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 12th, 2019

While the ACC and Big Ten continue the absolutely farcical exercise of playing conference games before all non-conference games are in the books (and make no mistake, that’s what it is), the Big 12 is among the power conferences still cutting their teeth against non-league foes. As we hit the quarter-pole of the season, it’s a good time to take a look around the league and make some quick but measured evaluations.

Bill Self is Amused By Your Doubts (USA Today Images)

Kansas still looks like a title contender. Before the season, Bill Self proclaimed that the NCAA’s notice of allegations was going to “motivate [him] in a pretty competitive way,” and the results on the court to date are bearing that out. The Jayhawks sit at 8-1 with an impressive set of victories and appear to be getting better by the game. Most notably, Udoka Azubuike‘s improved physique has helped him stay effective on offense, and it’s serving as a foundation for improved defensive play. The big man is committing just 3.1 fouls per 40 minutes while blocking just under two shots per game. There are other positives, of course. Devon Dotson has picked up right where he left off; Marcus Garrett has been a completely different player than the one whose performance against Duke led so many to question the viability of Kansas’ backcourt; and Ochai Agbaji is playing like an upperclassman in what was supposed to be his freshman season. The play of those four have allowed complementary pieces like David McCormack, Tristan Enaruna and Isaiah Moss to stay in those roles a year after personnel issues and injuries forced Self’s hand into relying more on K.J. Lawson, Charlie Moore and Mitch Lightfoot than he had planned. The Jayhawks do have a few things to iron out, particularly their perimeter defense and ability to stretch the floor, but in a volatile year atop the polls, Kansas is more than holding their own.

Baylor could be right there with them, but the Bears have some work to do. No, I’m not talking about their resume, which includes three wins over top-20 teams over a three-week stretch. Scott Drew’s team scored just 86 points per 100 trips in the wins over Arizona and Butler, teams which more closely resemble the Big 12 foes that await them come January than the dregs on which Baylor has feasted elsewhere. The Bears are one of the most physical teams in the country, making scoring a chore for every opponent it has faced thus far, but the offense needs to be more consistent against the best the schedule has to offer. Jared Butler is living up to the hype, but here’s hoping Tristan Clark isn’t out for long.

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