16 Questions About Thursday’s First Round Games

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 20th, 2019

With tip-off of the First Round of the NCAA Tournament just around the corner, here are 16 questions to get you ready for all the action on Thursday.

Here We Go… (USA Today Images)
  • 1) Gonzaga vs. 16) Fairleigh Dickinson: Will Gonzaga spring back to life after its surprising loss to Saint Mary’s? The Zags shot 2-of-17 from beyond the arc in the WCC championship game, but a deep Tournament run will require better shooting from the likes of Zach Norvell, Josh Perkins, and Corey Kispert (collectively, 37.3 percent on the season).
  • 2) Kentucky vs. 15) Abilene Christian: When Kentucky misses shots, will Abilene Christian be able to keep the Wildcats off of the glass? Abilene Christian’s leading rebounder is 6’6″ Jaren Lewis, who averaged 6.2 boards per game. Kentucky’s duo of PJ Washington and Reid Travis could be in line for huge games on the interior for the Wildcats.
  • 2) Michigan vs. 15) Montana: Will Michigan’s size dominate this game? Even without leading scorer Jamar Akoh down the stretch, Montana went 10-2 behind a balanced attack which includes three other players who average at least 13 points per game. For the Grizzlies to win, though, the size of Ignas Brazdiekis and Jon Teske will be a lot to overcome.
  • 2) Michigan State vs. 15) Bradley: Will Michigan State avoid the early exit it took the last time it was a #2 Seed? Bradley managed to beat a Big Ten team (Penn State) earlier this year, but the Braves are going to have their hands full with Michigan State’s Nick Ward in the post.
  • 3) LSU vs. 14) Yale: How focused will LSU be with all the distractions surrounding the Will Wade situation? The Tigers will be without head coach Will Wade as they begin their NCAA Tournament run against a Yale team that likes to get up and down the floor. Each squad has four players who average double-figure points per game.
  • 3) Purdue vs. 14 Old Dominion: Which Carsen Edwards shows up for the Boilermakers? While Edwards shot 33.5 percent from behind the arc on the season, he’s shooting just 22.5 percent in Purdue’s last 11 games. Another shaky performance from the Boilermakers’ star guard could send Purdue home early.
  • 4) Kansas vs. 13) Northeastern: While Northeastern’s Vasa Pusica is grabbing the buzz, is Shawn Occeus the Huskies’ most important player? Occeus was the CAA Defensive Player of the Year in 2018, so if he can lock down the Jayhawks’ perimeter options tomorrow, a lot of pressure will fall on to the shoulders of Dedric Lawson.
  • 4) Florida State vs. 13) Vermont: In a one-game setting, does depth and size win over star power? The Seminoles leading scorer is the 6’10” Mfiondu Kabengele, who puts in 12.9 points per game. In addition, Leonard Hamilton’s team has seven other players who average six or more points per game. Vermont is led by the 21.4 points per game of unanimous America East Player of the Year, Anthony Lamb. The Catamounts only have three other players who average six or more points and just one player in the rotation who stands 6’7″ or taller.
  • 5) Auburn vs. 12) New Mexico State: Which strength brings the bigger advantage? Auburn’s defense leads the nation in turnover rate, while New Mexico State is among the nation’s best in grabbing offensive rebounds. This game could come down to which side is able to get the most out of those two areas.
  • 5) Marquette vs. 12) Murray State: Will Marquette’s sometimes porous transition defense be a deciding factor? The Golden Eagles’ defense sits in the bottom 20 percent in college basketball when it comes to the percentage of shots an opponent takes in transition. The Racers are one of the nation’s best at getting and finishing in transition, led by none other than All-American Ja Morant.
  • 6) Maryland vs. 11) Belmont: Can Belmont’s duo of Nick Muszynski and Dylan Windler hold up against the Maryland frontcourt of Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith? While Windler struggled against Temple offensively, he was a force on the glass. Muszynski returned to the court after missing the OVC championship game and chipped in 16 points. They will be tested against the large Terrapins’ tandem that can wreak havoc on opponents.
  • 6) Villanova vs. 11) Saint Mary’s: Who wins the battle of the three-point line: Villanova’s offense or Saint Mary’s defense? Only three teams took three-point attempts at a higher rate than Villanova this season, while the Gaels sat in the top 10 nationally in terms of running teams off of the three-point line.
  • 7) Louisville vs. 10) Minnesota: Can Minnesota find enough points to get the Pitino family revenge against Louisville? The Golden Gophers averaged 14.3 fewer points per game on the road than they did at home this year. Minnesota’s offense could find it difficult to score against the highly-efficient Louisville defense.
  • 7) Nevada vs. 10) Florida: Which senior will make the biggest impact? In a sport dominated by freshmen, this game will include a plethora of seniors on both sides including the likes of Nevada’s Caleb Martin, Jordan Caroline and Florida’s Ke’Vaughn Allen and Jalen Hudson.
  • 7) Wofford vs. 10) Seton Hall: Will this game come down to which star has a better game? If Ja Morant vs. Markus Howard is must-see matchup #1A, this game’s battle of Fletcher Magee and Myles Powell is must-see match-up #1B. Both players average more than 20 points per game and have taken nearly 500 field goal attempts on the season.
  • 8) Syracuse vs. 9) Baylor: Will the “Boeheim zone” reign supreme again? The Syracuse zone once again led to plenty of three-point attempts for opponents, so Baylor will need a better showing than the 34 percent it shot from distance on the year. Syracuse must also find ways to slow a Bears’ team that finished the year with the second best offensive rebounding rate in college basketball.
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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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Rushed Reactions: Iowa State 78, Kansas 66

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 16th, 2019

Coming into Saturday’s Big 12 championship game, this had not been a tournament to remember for a small but important number of reasons. Most notably, this year’s edition didn’t include a team pushing for a #1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, and the conference’s two biggest NBA Draft prospects (Texas Tech‘s Jarrett Culver and TexasJaxson Hayes) were bounced in the quarterfinals. West Virginia‘s upset over Texas Tech was important at the moment, but it also birthed a laugher of a semifinal game against Kansas. In Friday’s other semifinal match-up, Kansas State couldn’t overcome the loss of Dean Wade, leaving fans with a title tilt between two very talented teams weighed with inconsistencies (and in Kansas’ case, roster limitations) that make them unlikely bets for deep NCAA Tournament runs.

Talen Horton-Tucker and Iowa State kept their lead over the Jayhawks at arm’s length, capturing the Big 12 Tournament crown and transforming Sprint Center into Hilton Coliseum South in the process. (Getty)

Still, the Kansas-Iowa State series has consistently generated juice throughout the decade and the last edition of the 2010s was no different. And if you can’t hold a conference tournament on campus, the next-best place is Kansas City, where both Kansas and Iowa State fanbases are more than happy to pack the joint and get loud. And the teams held up their end of the bargain too, delivering a fun, high-level championship game resulting in Steve Prohm‘s club coming out on top for its fourth Big 12 tournament crown in six seasons. Here are a few thoughts on tonight’s game.

  • Iowa State takes advantage of extra reps. I mentioned in this week’s preview that Iowa State had plenty for which to play this weekend. The Cyclones ended the regular season on a disastrous 1-5 skid and the intensity with which they played had started to get the best of them, embodied by confrontations among players and then between players and their head coach. This team is still very tough to predict, but its worst days appear to be behind them. The Cyclones were stellar offensively this week at the Sprint Center, but they were outstanding on defense, allowing 0.95 points per possession for the tournament (compared with 1.05 points per possession in Big 12 play). The most impressive part of their weekend came in Saturday’s final as the Cyclones’ bigs stymied Kansas’ Dedric Lawson into an inefficient 8-of-21 shooting night, even drawing a technical on the typically cool-headed big man. Better Iowa State teams have fallen early in the NCAA Tournament, so caution should be exercised before pegging the Cyclones for a deep run, but there’s no denying that they took complete advantage of the opportunity presented to them in Kansas City this week.
  • Kansas needs better production from its X-factors in order to reach its ceiling. The Jayhawks beat West Virginia on Friday evening thanks in large part to a terrific stretch from Quentin Grimes, but he couldn’t follow it up, finishing with only 10 points on 5-of-12 shooting on Saturday. Marcus Garrett pulled down some big rebounds, but otherwise experienced a horrible night on the offensive end, and Ochai Agbaji and David McCormack didn’t play the way they’re capable of playing. It’s not reasonable to expect those two freshman to produce on a consistent basis, but unexpected contributions from complementary players are what is necessary for a team like Kansas to make a run in next week’s bracket. You see it all the time. Lawson and Devin Dotson will get their numbers and impact the game more often than not, but who steps up to fill in the gaps is the question Kansas will have to answer if it’s going to end the season on high note.
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Rushed Reactions: Big 12 Semifinal Friday

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 15th, 2019

A heated series will be reignited Saturday night as Iowa State will square off against against Kansas. (Orlin Wagner/AP)

While West Virginia‘s quarterfinal upset of Texas Tech hammered home the Big 12’s lack of elite teams, it also highlighted the league’s parity and unpredictability when it comes to individual games. The conference figures to send something like seven teams to the Big Dance, but it’s tough to feel confident about any of them reaching the Elite Eight, much less the Final Four. All that said, there was something odd about one of the co-champions not being in the house for the semifinals, having been bounced by the league’s worst team. That didn’t stop the two semifinal bouts from giving us some drama, however. Here are some of the key takeaways from Friday night’s action.

  1. Marial Shayok carries Iowa State home. After a one-year layoff, the Cyclones are back in the Big 12 Tournament championship, marking the fourth time in six seasons that Iowa State has made it to Saturday night. This time around, they have the Virginia transfer to thank for some clutch play down the stretch. Trailing 55-52 with 2:38 remaining, Shayok bombed a pair of triples on consecutive trips to give the Cyclones the edge they needed to outlast the Big 12 regular season co-champions. Shayok wasn’t just a shooter on Friday night, however, routinely taking advantage of Dean Wade‘s absence to drive the lane and finish in transition. It was just a few weeks ago that the Iowa State roster looked fractured, but even though Kansas State wasn’t at full strength tonight, the Cyclones’ performance restored the notion that they’re a second weekend NCAA threat no matter what happens tomorrow in Kansas City.
  2. Shorthanded Kansas State effort affirms Wildcats’ offensive challenges. Without Wade in the lineup, Bruce Weber‘s team made scoring look like a trip to the dentist. Ugly as it was, Kansas State had plenty of chances to come out on top tonight, but a 1-of-14 stretch late in the first half put an end to that. The Wildcats only had to be passable down low to secure a victory, but they couldn’t even muster that much. The silver lining here may be that the Wildcats are certainly capable of better even if they don’t get Wade back at full strength in the NCAA Tournament, but they’ll have to lean even more heavily on their vaunted defense if they can’t cash in easy looks, and as excellent a defender as Barry Brown is, it’s unreasonable to ask him to carry that much.
  3. Is this closer to the real Quentin Grimes? Kansas‘ most highly-touted freshman has been an enigma all year, but he went nuclear on the Mountaineers in the first half this evening, burying all five of his threes on his way to 16 points before intermission. Grimes’ confidence picked up as his shots fell, eventually giving him enough to get inside, which he’s been hesitant to do for long stretches. The Jayhawks will never be as good as they could have been with Udoka Azubuike and Silvio De Sousa still playing, but the question now becomes how heavily Grimes can be counted on when Ochai Agbaji or Marcus Garrett sputter as they did in the first half Friday night. That’s probably not the difference between a trip to the Final Four and the Elite Eight, but every team that eyes a deep NCAA Tournament run needs a guy who can get hot for a stretch or two when the rest of the team is stuck in neutral, and Grimes can certainly provide that for Kansas.
  4. West Virginia bows out, but not before giving us something to remember it by. There were several times this season where you could tune into a Mountaineers’ game and see Bob Huggins‘ sideline demeanor or read snippets from his postgame press conferences and draw the conclusion that coaching this season’s team was the last thing on Earth he wanted to do. Despite being in the twilight of his career with a team littered with injuries, dismissals and transfers, the coaching lifer showed that his team still had something left in its shocking upset of Texas Tech on Thursday night. Unable to do the near-impossible and beat three clearly better teams in three days, West Virginia exited the tournament gracefully with a hard-fought loss to Kansas in a situation where they were simply outgunned. The Mountaineers will regroup next year without Esa Ahmad, Beetle Bolden and probably Sagaba Konate, but keep some intriguing pieces in Lamont West, Derek Culver, Jordan McCabe, Brandon Knapper and Jermaine Haley. Perhaps the most fascinating contributor of that bunch will be Culver, who was held out of his first 10 games this year due to academic issues, but went on to post the Big 12’s highest individual defensive rebound percentage in league play (30 percent) as a freshman while soaking up 73 percent of available minutes. Add McDonald’s All-American Oscar Tshiewbe down low and it’s not unreasonable to expect the Mountaineers to contend for a top-half finish in 2019-20.
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What’s Trending: Conference Week Madness is Underway!

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 11th, 2019

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

Let the NCAA Tournament ticket punching begin!

https://twitter.com/br_CBB/status/1104579515672678401

Jon Rothstein eloquently describes the month of March perfectly. It’s time to sit back and enjoy all that college basketball will bring us…

After 14 consecutive years at the top of the Big 12, Kansas‘ reign as the conference’s top team finally came to an end. In an era of college basketball where anything is possible, the longevity of the Jayhawks’ streak was beyond remarkable…

I
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What’s Trending: An Impactful Week at the Top

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 25th, 2019

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

LSU and Tennessee went back and forth on Saturday afternoon giving each other everything they could handle. After a frantic tip-in tied things up for LSU, the Volunteers had a chance to win the game. The Vols’ Lamonte Turner, who had made only four of his last 22 three-point attempts, took this quick look after dribbling upcourt. What happened next was a bit of misfortune on Grant Williams’ part to give LSU the break it needed.

https://twitter.com/SportsCenter/status/1099393801846693890

Rivalry Week began with the primary focus, as usual, on Tobacco Road. A mere 30 seconds into the game in Cameron Indoor Stadium, though, the focus swung onto Zion Williamson and his shoes…

https://twitter.com/SportsCenter/status/1098404362148208640

For as much grief as Charles Barkley deservedly gets when it comes to analyzing the NCAA Tournament, the Round Mound of Rebound delivered a spot-on take with respect to the Zion Williamson situation….

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Ten Questions to Consider: A Statement Weekend

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 22nd, 2019

This weekend features a number of key match-ups at the top of the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC. With the regular season quickly winding down, here are 10 questions I have about those contests as well as several other intriguing games across the country.

Kansas Ran All Over Texas Tech in Their First Meeting (USA Today Images)
  1. Can Texas Tech find a way to slow down Kansas? (Kansas @ Texas Tech, Saturday 8 PM EST, ESPN) In the first match-up between these two teams — a resounding Jayhawks’ victory — Kansas’ scorching 56.8 percent effective field goal rate was the highest of any Texas Tech opponent on the season. Kansas enters Lubbock this weekend without Lagerald Vick, however, a player who went 3-of-4 from distance in the first game.
  2. Can LSU take advantage of a Tennessee weakness? (Tennessee @ LSU, Saturday Noon EST, ESPN) In Tennessee’s loss last weekend at Kentucky, Rick Barnes’ squad gave up 12 offensive rebounds, an area of which they have struggled this season. LSU, as it turns out, ranks among the 10 best offensive rebounding teams in college basketball.
  3. Can Michigan hold serve atop the Big Ten? (Michigan State @ Michigan, Sunday 3:45 PM EST, CBS) The Spartans and Wolverines are set to square off twice in the final three weeks of Big Ten play, and this weekend’s game, the first meeting, will take place in Ann Arbor. An efficient offensive display by John Beilein’s squad could be the difference, as Michigan State is just 3-5 when opponents crack an adjusted offensive efficiency total of 100.0 or better.
  4. Will Duke avenge its home loss to the Orange? (Duke @ Syracuse, Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN) Duke shot 9-of-43 from beyond the three-point line in its overtime loss against Syracuse. The duo of R.J. Barrett and Jack White alone were a combined 4-of-27. Zion Williamson led Duke in that game with 35 points on 60 percent shooting, but will his sprained knee allow him to play?
  5. Which ACC defense will shine brightest? (Virginia @ Louisville, Saturday Noon EST, ACC Network) Virginia and Louisville have the best defensive units in ACC play, but the Cardinals have lost three of their last four games, including a 20-point defeat to Syracuse earlier this week. Last season, Virginia needed a miracle comeback to topple the Cardinals by a single point on the road — what’s in store this year?
  6. Can TCU cement its place in the NCAA Tournament? (Iowa State @ TCU, Saturday 2 PM EST, ESPN2) TCU is a mere 5-8 in Big 12 play with four games remaining against top-30 KenPom teams. In the Horned Frogs’ win over Iowa State earlier this month, they forced the Cyclones into a turnover rate much higher than their season average. That’s the key to success the second time around too.
  7. Can Florida State stay red hot? (Florida State @ North Carolina, Saturday 3:45 PM EST, CBS) Since losing three straight games in mid-January, Leonard Hamilton’s Seminoles have rattled off eight straight victories. They will get a Tar Heels group that is clearly flying high after beating Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
  8. Will Furman’s SoCon best defense be what slips up Wofford? (Wofford @ Furman, Saturday 4 PM EST, ESPN+) Wofford begins the weekend with a perfect 15-0 record in the Southern Conference. The Terriers will battle a Furman defense that has been just one of four teams this season to hold Wofford under an adjusted offensive efficiency of 100.0.
  9. With Reid Travis out, can Auburn steal a win at Rupp? (Auburn @ Kentucky, Saturday 1:30 PM EST, CBS) Kentucky will be without injured Reid Travis, who scored 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting in Kentucky’s two-point road victory over Auburn last month. Keep in mind that the Tigers’ last win at Rupp Arena came on January 9, 1988.
  10. How will Ethan Happ respond to his benching in crunch time the previous game? (Wisconsin @ Northwestern, Saturday 8:30 PM EST, Big Ten Network) In Wisconsin’s win over Illinois on Monday night, Badgers’ head coach Greg Gard benched Ethan Happ down the stretch. The senior as a result scored a season-low six points and turned the ball over three times. Happ has committed a woeful 14 turnovers in his last three games.
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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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Breaking Down the Pileup at the Top of the Big 12 Standings

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 21st, 2019

Through three weeks of Big 12 play, we have a metaphorical clown car at the top of the standings with Kansas, Texas Tech, Iowa State and Kansas State all sitting at 4-2 and Baylor just a half-game back at 3-2. As I wrote earlier this month, a big reason why the Jayhawks have been able to maintain their extensive conference title streak has been the inability of their top challengers to cash in when opportunity knocks. Sure enough, on Saturday Kansas lost to arguably the worst team in the conference in West Virginia and just four hours later, Baylor dropped Texas Tech without the services of Tristan Clark, far and away the Bears’ best forward. Yes, winning on the road is hard, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Jayhawks and Red Raiders were four-point and three-point favorites, respectively, and that Texas Tech did not lead the Bears at any point in the second half. Despite Kansas’ struggles, betting on them to win the conference remains the safe pick, but based on how things are going, it might be awhile before we see much separation.

After a tepid start to the season, Kansas State may finally be rounding into form.
(Olivia Bergmeier/Collegian Media Group)

As up-and-down as conference play has been as a whole this season, Kansas’ Achilles’ heel remains the same as it has been all year: an inability to close games out. This problem goes back to the team’s guards, who, as electrifying and athletic as they are, don’t have the experience, poise and confidence that so many of Bill Self‘s previous floor generals have possessed. In past years, whenever the Jayhawks needed a late bucket, they could always turn to guys like Frank Mason or Devonte’ Graham make something good happen. This year, Devon Dotson, who is fantastic in the open floor, is also showing his inexperience by deferring a little too much in the clutch. In fairness to him, Quentin Grimes was expected to be further along at this point, so Dotson has been forced to take on a bigger role than Self would like, but the results have nonetheless made crunch time an adventure.

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Injury to Udoka Azubuike and Other Woes Not Enough to Pick Against Kansas in Big 12 Race

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 8th, 2019

Kansas was dealt a significant blow on Sunday when the program announced that center Udoka Azubuike will have season-ending surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right hand. It’s the latest trickle of bad news for a team that can never seem to avoid having something go sideways with its big men, whether it is Azubuike, Silvio De Sousa, Billy Preston, Carlton Bragg, Cliff Alexander or Cheick Diallo. There have been injuries, certain and potential NCAA violations, slow development and matches simply not working out the way both parties hoped for one reason or another. You name it and the Jayhawks have been through it, even if it can be argued that some of it the problems have been self-inflicted. But this weekend’s news was also a tough break for Azubuike directly, who over the last two years has shown tremendous dedication to improving his game and his body to the point where he was considered a possible first-round pick in last year’s NBA Draft despite an awful track record at the foul line and an inability to defend in space.

Kansas Jayhawks Basketball Big 12
The Jayhawks may be down and out, but picking against them to win the Big 12 remains a trap. (AP)

Despite losing Azubuike, the road to the Big 12 title still goes through Lawrence even though personnel issues are poised to force Bill Self into playing a smaller but more modern brand of basketball for yet another season. Skeptics may point to the team’s current three-point shooting woes (27.9 percent over its last eight games), but those struggles are not any more indicative of the team’s proficiency than its white-hot start (43.9 percent over its first six games). As tends to be the case, the answer is somewhere in the middle, and for all the deserved talk of the league’s defenses being terrific this year, just two Big 12 teams (TCU and West Virginia) rank among the top 100 in defensive 3PA/FGA, and none in the top 50. It stands to reason, then, that Kansas will be just fine once its accuracy trends back up. Freshman Quentin Grimes is already starting to bounce back, with the highly-touted guard averaging 16.3 points and shooting at a 37.5 percent clip from distance over his last three games. Even if this unit doesn’t showcase the pinpoint accuracy of last year’s group, it has a better all-around five in Dedric Lawson, who can defend away from the hoop and terrorize opposing defenses with his above-average handle, passing ability and range. When combined with a strong arsenal of post moves, the transfer forward is a walking double-double and Player of the Year candidate.

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