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: Mid-Season Madness Continues

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 20th, 2020

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

After Auburn’s loss on Wednesday night, San Diego State became the only remaining undefeated team in college basketball. Brian Dutcher’s Aztecs added two wins to their resume this week, pushing their overall record to 19-0. It is San Diego State’s best start since the 2010-11 season in which they began the year 20-0 en route to a Sweet Sixteen appearance. Led by Washington State transfer Malachi Flynn, the Aztecs currently only have one remaining game against a team ranked inside of the KenPom top 100 (Utah State).

https://twitter.com/marchmadness/status/1218310685962186753?s=20

The top four teams in the NET Rankings remain stable at the end of the week. While Baylor and Kansas were tested over the weekend, both made it through unblemished. The same cannot be said for the rest of the top 10.

As top teams continue to fall, one question repeatedly finds itself leading the narrative of the season: Is all this parity good for the game?

The answer should be an unequivocal yes.

While offensive efficiency and shooting percentages have dropped, the corresponding result has been the unpredictable. Talent alone is not serving as determinative. Transfers, early departures, NCAA eligibility issues and key recruits opting to play overseas all have impacted the landscape and consistency of play, but the result has been that teams need to come prepared to win every night out. This season, on any given night, anything is possible, and that is a good thing.

While the unexpected has ruled the land this college basketball season, there has been one player who has remained anything but surprising: Oregon senior point-guard Payton Pritchard. After beginning his career 3-0 in games at Washington, Pritchard’s Ducks were down three points late in the game when the All-American took things into his own hands…

https://twitter.com/marchmadness/status/1218672908379328512?s=20

In overtime, with the game tied, it was again Pritchard coming through in the clutch…

As far as the unexpected goes, there were a pair of games on Saturday that challenged the wildest of imaginations.

First, USC found itself down by five points with a mere 15 seconds to go when Stanford had the ball and a chance to ice the game away. Then, this happened…

While USC trailed by as many 21 points in that game, the Trojans at least had most of the second-half to claw their way back. Unlike USC, Boise State found itself down big but without much time left on the clock. Trailing 66-48 with 3:52 to go, the Broncos chipped the lead down to just five points with 8.9 seconds to go. Well, that’s when things really got weird…

Strange and funny things followed Kentucky this week as well. First, on Wednesday night, after leading by double-figures in the second half at South Carolina, Kentucky collapsed and trailed by six points with just over a minute to go. Thanks to some missed free-throws by South Carolina, Kentucky managed to tie things up in the closing seconds. While it looked like overtime was imminent, South Carolina’s Jermaine Couisnard had another idea…

After that difficult loss at South Carolina, Kentucky found itself at Bud Walton Arena on Saturday to face a hot Arkansas squad. After leading by nine points at the break, Arkansas fought itself to a tie game with just over eight minutes to go. With the tide seemingly turning, John Calipari had enough with the referees and got himself tossed from the game. While it cost the Wildcats the lead momentarily, Kentucky ultimately rallied and took control the rest of the way. All part of Cal’s master plan?

Entering this season, DePaul basketball had last beaten a team ranked inside of the KenPom top 20 on December 2, 2006 (a 64-57 win over Kansas). After early season wins against a pair of KenPom top 20 teams, DePaul picked up its third such win over the weekend in a trouncing of Butler. The win snapped a four-game losing streak and gives DePaul a chance to turn things back around as they spend the week at home with games against Creighton and St. John’s.

https://twitter.com/DePaulHoops/status/1218620020961562625?s=20

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Ten Questions To Consider: Bumps in the Road Lead to Weekend of Opportunity

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on January 17th, 2020

With each passing week, familiarity breeds competitive action everywhere one looks. This weekend provides opportunities for players and teams to overcome some of their recent struggles. Here are 10 questions I have for this weekend’s action.

  1. How does Cassius Winston respond following his subpar game against Purdue? (Wisconsin @ Michigan State, Friday, 7 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) After averaging 24.8 points per game through his first five Big Ten outings, Cassius Winston was held to just 10 points in Michigan State’s blowout loss at Purdue. Winston failed to make any of his five three-point attempts and tied his career-high by committing nine turnovers.
  2. Will turnovers help Eric Musselman pick up his first marquee SEC win? (Kentucky @ Arkansas, Saturday, 4 PM EST, ESPN) Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks squad ranks among the top 20 in opponents’ turnover rate, having forced 86 more turnovers than they have committed through 16 games. Kentucky comes in after a loss at South Carolina, a game in which the Wildcats were -6 in the turnover battle. On the season, Kentucky has forced just one more turnover than they have committed.
  3. “No Place Like Home” – Will returning home be what fixes Maryland’s recent struggles? (Purdue @ Maryland, Saturday, 2 PM EST, ESPN2) Maryland returns to College Park where the Terps are a perfect 10-0 on the season. As Mark Turgeon’s seat heats up, Maryland will need more scoring from someone other than Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith. On the most recent 0-2 road-trip, Maryland’s three other starters totaled just 20 points on 7-of-33 shooting in 144 minutes of game action.
  4. After struggling to slow Clemson’s Tevin Mack and Aamir Simms, how will Duke fare against ACC Preseason POY Jordan Nwora and Steven Enoch? (Louisville @ Duke, Saturday, 6 PM EST, ESPN) Duke’s top-10 defensive efficiency ranking has been aided by blocking 15.2 percent of its opponents’ shots, as their opponents have taken 46.3 percent of their field goal attempts at the rim (7th nationally). In its recent loss at Clemson, Duke only managed to block two shots.
  5. Can BYU make enough from beyond the arc to challenge Gonzaga in Spokane? (BYU @ Gonzaga, Saturday, 10 PM EST, ESPN2) A finger injury will keep BYU’s Yoeli Childs from playing against Gonzaga. Without Childs, the Cougars will look to rain threes against the Zags. BYU enters action Thursday night with five players who have made 20 or more three-pointers and a team three-point percentage that ranks well inside the top 10 nationally (39.6% 3FG).
  6. Can Auburn be the latest team to end a lengthy losing streak at a certain venue? (Auburn @ Florida, Saturday, 1:30 PM EST, CBS) Last weekend it was Baylor winning at Kansas and Clemson overcoming history at North Carolina. This weekend, Auburn has a chance to end a 12-game losing streak at Florida. During this streak, the Gators have won eight of those games by 15 or more points.
  7. Is it time to start taking Stanford seriously as both an NCAA team and Pac-12 threat? (Stanford @ USC, Saturday, 6:30 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) Behind a top-20 defensive efficiency ranking and a top-10 effective field goal percentage, Stanford sits at 15-2 (4-0 Pac-12). When the Cardinal avoid turning the ball over, they have been lethal from the floor, led by the outstanding play of freshman guard Tyrell Terry and the sharpshooting of Spencer Jones (46-of-102 from beyond the arc on the season).
  8. Can Minnesota ends its struggles on the road and pick up a quality win against Rutgers? (Minnesota @ Rutgers, Sunday, 1 PM EST, Big Ten Network) The Golden Gophers are 1-6 away from home so far this season as they head to Piscataway to take on a Rutgers team that is a perfect 12-0 there. While Rutgers owns a top-10 defensive efficiency, the Knights can struggle offensively, especially from deep. Minnesota, on the other hand, comes in with Marcus Carr and Daniel Oturu combining for 104 points over their last two games,
  9. Can Arizona find scoring beyond its “Big Three” freshman? (Colorado @ Arizona, Saturday, 2:30 PM EST, FOX) The freshman trio of Zeke Nnaji, Nico Mannion and Josh Green are averaging 43.8 points per game and are the the only three Wildcats averaging more than nine points per game. Seniors Dylan Smith and Chase Jeter continue to be plagued by bouts of inconsistent play.
  10. Can St. Louis find its interior defense that was present in the non-conference season? (Dayton @ Saint Louis, Friday, 7 PM EST, ESPN2) The Billikens have held opponents to a two-point field-goal percentage of 42.1 percent on the season, a rate that ranks among the top 20 in the nation. That said, through four Atlantic 10 contests, Saint Louis opponents have managed to shoot a healthy 49.2 percent from inside the arc. The recent lull will be tested by the nation’s best shooting team from inside the arc, Dayton, at 62.1 percent.

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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 To Consider: The Final Weekend of 2019

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 28th, 2019

In the midst of the holidays comes a weekend of action where teams must avoid distraction off the court as they look to answer questions on the court. Highlighted by Louisville’s trip to Rupp Arena, here are 10 questions I have for this weekend’s slate of games:

  1. How will Kentucky’s offense look in the half-court? (Louisville @ Kentucky, Saturday, 3:45 PM EST, CBS) Defensively, no team has a lower opponents’ transition effective field goal percentage than Louisville. On offense, Kentucky’s non-transition effective field-goal percentage ranks outside of the top 200. The Wildcats, one of the nation’s worst three-point shooting teams, must find a way to knock down perimeter shots to beat Louisville.
  2. Can Wisconsin’s “Big Three” be efficient from beyond the arc? (Wisconsin @ Tennessee, Saturday, 1:30 PM EST, CBS) Entering the weekend, the shot making of Nate Reuvers, D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison has been a bellweather for success. In the team’s six wins, the trio has shot 41.2 percent from three-point range; In Wisconsin’s five defeats, however, the trio has made just 21.5 percent of its shots from deep.
  3. Will Ohio State continue to torch the nets from beyond the arc? (West Virginia vs. Ohio State, Sunday, Noon, FS1) The Buckeyes are shooting over 40 percent from three-point range on the season, good for a top 10 ranking nationally. West Virginia will be Ohio State’s first opponent with a defensive three-point percentage ranking of 80th or better, however (Mountaineers rank fourth).
  4. Just how good is Stanford freshman Tyrell Terry? (Kansas @ Stanford, Sunday, 3 PM EST, ABC) Tyrell Terry is averaging over 15 points and five rebounds per game this season while making 40.4 percent of his three-point attempts. The four-star freshman guard has struggled with turnovers recently, however, coughing up the ball 15 times over his last four games.
  5. Can Arkansas keep the Hoosiers off the free throw line and steal a road win? (Arkansas @ Indiana, Sunday, 6 PM EST, Big Ten Network) Only Eastern Michigan has a higher free throw attempt to field goal attempt ratio than Indiana. If Arkansas can avoid fouls and limit one of the nation’s best freshman offensive rebounders in Trayce Jackson-Davis, the Razorbacks have a chance to pick up their first quality non-conference win.
  6. Can Duke’s Joey Baker keep his recent success going? (Brown @ Duke, Saturday, 11:30 AM EST, ESPN2) After scoring just over four points in 10 minutes per game through Duke’s first seven contests, Baker is averaging 12.8 points in 19.5 minutes per game over Duke’s last four. Baker gives Coach K another sharpshooter who can help keep the post clear for Vernon Carey.
  7. Can Liberty’s balanced attack keep the Flames undefeated? (Liberty @ LSU, Sunday, 1:30 PM EST, SEC Network) Ritchie McKay’s Liberty squad features six players averaging nine or more points per game this season. The Flames have had four different players lead the team in scoring over the squad’s last five games.
  8. What can be made of UC Irvine’s start to the season? (Pacific @ UC Irvine, Saturday, 10 PM EST) Russell Turner’s Anteaters were tabbed as the preseason Big West favorite, but after losing only six games last season, they have already lost seven this season. A defense that ranks among the bottom 40 in three-point percentage defense will be challenged by a Pacific squad that ranks among the top 40 three-point shooting teams.
  9. Will Bryant help turn Maryland’s fortunes around as they get ready for Big Ten play? (Bryant @ Maryland, Sunday, Noon, Big Ten Network) After starting 10-0, the Terps dropped consecutive games at Penn State and Seton Hall. In those defeats, senior guard Anthony Cowan went 8-of-31 from the field along with nine turnovers and just six assists. While Bryant struggles to force turnovers and protect its defensive glass, the Bulldogs own a top 40 effective field-goal percentage defense.
  10. Can Cartier Diarra end Kansas State’s recent struggles? (Tulsa @ Kansas State, Sunday, 6 PM EST, ESPN+) The Wildcats have lost five of their last seven games, and three of the team’s six wins have come against KenPom teams ranked 320th or worse. After shooting 38.6 percent on 158 three-point attempts during his first two years at Kansas State, Cartier Diarra is shooting just 25.5 percent on his 25 three-point attempts this season.

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2019-20 RTC16: Week Six

Posted by Walker Carey on December 23rd, 2019

Another week of the season has been completed and another #1 team fell victim to an upset. Like Michigan State, Kentucky, Duke and Louisville before it, #4 Kansas had a rather short stay in the top spot of the RTC16. The Jayhawks saw their nine-game winning streak end on Saturday with a one-point loss at #12 Villanova. Following the defeat, Kansas coach Bill Self hypothesized that the parity we are seeing this season is because he believes there are not as many good players as there used to be in the sport. He referenced his own team as an example, noting that star forward Dedric Lawson left Kansas after last season with eligibility remaining. Self’s argument has merit, as the 2019 NBA Draft had 175 early entries while the 2018 NBA Draft had 181, but it does seem premature to conclude that this season will not see a dominant team emerge once conference play fully begins. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Ten Things to Consider: First Wave of Feast Week Tournaments

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 22nd, 2019

Thanksgiving is next week but the first wave of Feast Week tournaments is already underway. Whether it is a trip to Jamaica, Charleston or the Mohegan Sun Arena, I have 10 questions for teams far and wide heading into this weekend.

  1. Can LSU find a way to protect the ball better? (Jamaica Classic, Friday & Sunday, CBS Sports Network) LSU is up against Utah State on Friday and Rhode Island on Sunday in the Jamaica Classic, but the Tigers have struggled mightily with turnover issues this season. As a team, they have logged 82 turnovers and just 46 assists through four games.
  2. Just how far can Oregon’s three seniors carry the Ducks? (Houston @ Oregon, Friday, 9 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) Seniors Payton Pritchard, Shakur Juiston and Anthony Mathis have each played key roles in the Ducks’ nice 4-0 start. Pritchard might be the nation’s best guard that no one talks about, while Juiston and Mathis have each stepped in to replace what Oregon lost from last year’s squad. They’ll be tested by a good Houston squad on Friday night.
  3. Is the Mohegan Sun Arena ready for the track meet between the Sun Devils and Red Storm? (Arizona State vs. St. John’s Saturday, 2:30 PM EST) Entering action on Thursday, Arizona State and St. John’s both ranked among the top 10 in shortest offensive possession length nationally. Both are teams that look for the first good shot, protect the ball well and force turnovers at an above-average rate.
  4. Will Virginia freshman Casey Morsell find his stroke? (Massachusetts vs. Virginia, Saturday, Noon, ESPNews) Casey Morsell has the indubitable task of being asked to help replace Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy in the Virginia backcourt. The consensus top-100 recruit has scored just seven points in his first 104 minutes over four games of action, while shooting just 1-of-17 from deep. As great as the Cavaliers have been defensively, they will eventually need some outside shots to start falling.
  5. Can Kentucky shake its cobwebs and put together a complete performance? (Mount St. Mary’s @ Kentucky, Friday, 7 PM EST, SEC Network) Following its loss to Evansville, Kentucky was put to the test in a win earlier this week against Utah Valley. With EJ Montgomery and Immanuel Quickley both questionable for this game, who steps up for the Big Blue? In 21 games since February 1 of last season, Ashton Hagans has gone 10-of-41 from deep (0-of-9 this season).
  6. Who will steal the headline of the Myrtle Beach Invitational unscathed? (Myrtle Beach Invitational, Friday & Saturday) Villanova added five-star recruit Bryan Antoine to the rotation on Thursday in its win over Middle Tennessee and outlasted an undefeated Mississippi State team on Friday. On the other half of the bracket, Baylor began its invitational path with a 23-point win in a game where it shot just 42 percent from the field.
  7. Can Miami pick up what could be an important win come March? (Miami vs. Florida, Charleston Classic, Friday) The Hurricanes get intrastate rival Florida in the Charleston Classic. With a non-conference schedule light on quality opponents and a brutal early ACC schedule, Miami must take advantage of this game. The Gators remain a team with many questions of their own.
  8. Is Clemson undergoing a change in philosophy offensively? (TCU vs. Clemson, Sunday, 10:30 PM EST, ESPN2) In Brad Brownell’s first nine seasons at Clemson, the Tigers on average took 34.6 percent of their field-goal attempts from behind the three-point line. Through the team’s first four games, that number has risen to 45.3 percent. Leading scorer Tevin Mack is 9-of-22 from beyond the stripe this season.
  9. With the James Wiseman situation settled, how will Memphis respond? (Ole Miss @ Memphis, Saturday, 1 PM EST) Memphis now knows it will be without James Wiseman (19.7 PPPG and 10.7 RPG) until mid-January. The Tigers get two shots against power conference opponents in the coming week beginning with a test against an Ole Miss squad that has played exceptional defense early.
  10. Can Georgetown hang with Duke? (Georgetown vs. Duke, Friday) The Hoyas picked up a win on Thursday against Texas in a game in which Georgetown held the Longhorns to 6-of-27 shooting in the second half. In order to beat Duke, Georgetown will likely need Omer Yurtseven to avoid the foul trouble he experienced against Texas.
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The 2019-20 RTC16: Week One

Posted by Walker Carey on November 18th, 2019

It is unusual to see a college basketball team begin its season experiencing the highest of highs and shortly following that up with a truly head-scratching defeat. But that was certainly the case with how #10 Kentucky began its year. The Wildcats earned a very impressive victory at the season-opening Champions Classic by riding a game-high 26 points from star freshman Tyrese Maxey to knock off #2 Michigan State, 69-62. Kentucky then followed up that victory with a 42-point mauling of Eastern Kentucky. After those two wins, everything seemed to be right on schedule for John Calipari‘s squad, but that came to a screeching halt last Tuesday when the Wildcats were upset by 25-point underdog Evansville in a 67-64 loss in Lexington. It is still just November and, per usual, Kentucky is still breaking in some new parts, but losing to a team that was picked to finish eighth in the Missouri Valley Conference only a week after beating a team of Michigan State’s caliber shows the Wildcats will go through some growing pains this season. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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The 2019-20 RTC16: Preseason Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on November 4th, 2019

And so it begins — that wonderful time of year when we once again find our favorite teams playing college basketball. It is a glorious time, indeed. With a sizable slate of games set to commence on Tuesday evening, we are ready to officially unveil our 2019-20 preseason RTC Top 16. This initial poll will hold for the next two weeks, but you can expect our weekly RTC16 to release on every subsequent Monday morning starting November 18. Along with the rankings will be the usual quick and dirty analysis that dives more deeply into trends that the poll reveals. To see how we did last year, check out our 2018-19 preseason poll – sure, we nailed a few (Virginia; Duke; Gonzaga; North Carolina), and missed on some others (Kansas at #1; Syracuse; Texas Tech not even receiving a vote), but we promise to do better this time around. Here is our preseason poll. Enjoy opening week!

Quick N’ Dirty Thoughts.

  • Michigan State checks in as the preseason #1 team. Fresh off its first Final Four appearance since 2015, Tom Izzo’s squad begins the 2019-20 season in the #1 spot of the RTC16. Reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Cassius Winston is back at point guard — and having a dynamic veteran talent like him as your floor general is a luxury few teams will ever experience. Junior forward Xavier Tillman also returns and appears primed to improve on a sophomore campaign where he averaged 10 points and 7.3 rebounds per game while shooting 60.5 percent from the field. Sophomores Gabe Brown and Aaron Henry showed flashes as freshmen and figure to be important pieces in their second seasons in East Lansing. In addition to the returning production, the Spartans enroll guard Rocket Watts and forward Malik Hall, both of whom enter college as elite prospects with decorated prep résumés. The only noticeable concerns for Michigan State are the departures of key role players Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins, and senior guard Joshua Langford‘s injury status. Langford, who was limited to just 13 games last season with a foot injury, suffered a setback in his recovery and will remain sidelined until at least January this season. Even with Langford’s uncertain availability, the Spartans are strong contenders to both bring home another Big Ten title and cut down the nets in Atlanta in April.
  • Defending national champion Virginia begins the season at #9. The Cavaliers are going to look significantly different than the group that fatefully responded to the UMBC debacle in the 2018 NCAA Tournament by capturing the National Championship this past April. Gone is the star-studded trio of Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter — replacing those three would be a daunting task for any team, but Virginia has maintained enough program stability over the last several seasons to make Tony Bennett‘s task much more manageable. Sophomore Kihei Clark, junior Jay Huff, and seniors Braxton Key and Mamadi Diakite each served as role players of varying degrees last season and they will all see their responsibilities increase this season. Freshman guard Casey Morsell is the new name in Charlottesville to learn. He joins Virginia — and is expected to start at shooting guard — after a highly successful prep career that culminated in the 2019 Gatorade Player of the Year award for Washington, DC. It would not be surprising to see the Cavaliers undergo some growing pains at the beginning of this season, but considering Bennett’s recent track record of developing ACC contenders, it would also not be surprising if this new-look group of Cavaliers becomes an important factor in the league race.
  • All eyes will be on #14 Memphis. When Penny Hardaway took over at Memphis prior to the 2018-19 season, it was only a matter of time before the native son used his AAU ties in both the city and beyond to stock the Tigers’ roster with elite talent. Entering just his second season on the sideline, Hardaway has enrolled the top-ranked recruiting class in the country and has brought a national interest back to the program that has been missing since John Calipari was running the program more than a decade ago. The crown jewel of that class is consensus #1 recruit, James Wiseman. The athletic seven-footer spurned Kentucky to stay home and play for his hometown Tigers. Fellow freshmen Precious Achiuwa, Boogie Ellis, D.J. Jeffries, Lester Quinones, Malcolm Dandridge and Damion Baugh were all at least four-star recruits and also project to make an early impact for what will be a young Memphis squad. Success is never a sure thing for a team that will rely so heavily on freshmen, but the talent alone will make Memphis a team to track for the entire season.

Poll Defenses.

  • Louisville returns preseason ACC Player of the Year Jordan Nwora, a wing in Dwayne Sutton who averaged 10 points per game and just under seven rebounds per game. Throw in seniors Ryan McMahon, Steven Enoch and Saint Joseph’s transfer Lamarr Kimble, and I believe Louisville enters the season with few question marks. Unlike Louisville, I have too many question marks for many of the other highly regarded teams in the preseason. Florida adds Blackshear, but losses three of its four leading scorers. I have question marks with Kansas and Azubuike. North Carolina and Duke each have tons of talent, but have to replace way too much from last year’s squads for me to give them the second spot. At the end of the day, I gave Louisville the #2 preseason ranking based off of what is coming back and a bump up in year two of Chris Mack.” – RTC pollster Matt Eisenberg on his decision to rank Louisville #2, the highest of any of the pollsters.
  • “It feels like Maryland has real potential to make a leap from a first weekend, 23-win team into a legitimate Final Four contender. The improvement en masse starts individually with senior point guard Anthony Cowan, who has been on the precipice of stardom for what feels like the better part of a year and a half. If he puts it all together in his final collegiate campaign, presumptive lottery pick Jalen Smith gives the Terps a viable second star. Sophomore Aaron Wiggins has all the makings of a player who takes a significant step forward in year two, after showing signs in spurts as a freshman — combine that with a dynamic and versatile incoming crop of talent, and Mark Turgeon has a roster with the balance and upside that is capable of making a run to Atlanta.” – RTC pollster Matt Auerbach on going out on a limb and tabbing Maryland as his preseason #3.

    Game of the Week. #1 Michigan State vs. #2 Kentucky. The top two top teams in the preseason RTC16 will meet Tuesday night at the Champions Classic in Madison Square Garden. This will be a heavyweight battle between two Hall of Fame coaches with loaded rosters that could reasonably see each other again in Atlanta next April. The individual match-up to keep an eye on here will be Spartans point guard Cassius Winston going up against Wildcats point guard Ashton Hagans. Winston is as steady as they come and his calm demeanor coupled with his elite playmaking skills is a major key to Michigan State’s success. Hagans is a hounding defender who made a name for himself as a freshman with his ability to make opposing point guards uncomfortable. Which point guard is able to get the best of the other should play a major role in determining who departs New York with a benchmark early-season victory.

    Keep Tabs On. #3 Kansas vs. #6 Duke; #7 North Carolina vs. Notre Dame; #13 Ohio State vs. Cincinnati; #9 Virginia vs. Syracuse; #5 Florida vs. Florida State; #14 Memphis vs. #16 Oregon; #11 Villanova vs. #13 Ohio State; #1 Michigan State vs. #15 Seton Hall.

    Conference Call. ACC (4), Big Ten (3), SEC (2), Big 12 (2), Big East (2), WCC (1), AAC (1), Pac-12 (1).
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What’s Trending: A Wild Weekend in the NCAA Tournament

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on April 1st, 2019

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

After a relatively chaos-free opening two rounds of the 2019 NCAA Tournament, the madness arrived in earnest over the weekend. Taking a look back at the memorable moments begins in the East Region where Virginia Tech and Duke found themselves in a battle to the very end.

While Zion Williamson marvels those that watch Duke play with his dunks, it is plays like this that truly show how unique he is. With Duke nursing a narrow three-point lead, Williamson gets crossed-up by Virginia Tech’s Justin Robinson. Despite the blow-by, Williamson recovers like few others playing high-level basketball can…

Just days after surviving at the buzzer against UCF, Duke found itself in a similar situation again. The Blue Devils were up two points with just over one second to go when Virginia Tech drew up this perfect play to send the game to overtime… minus the finish.

The East Region Sweet Sixteen also featured Michigan State’s 80-63 win over LSU. In that game, the Spartans’ Aaron Henry scored a season-high 20 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out six assists. This performance by Henry came on the heels of Tom Izzo’s outrage at the talented freshman in Michigan State’s opening round win. After the win against LSU, Izzo was quick to credit young Henry and his teammates…

The Elite Eight match-up between Duke and Michigan State was a game that many were looking forward to the second the bracket came out. With the lead going back and forth throughout much of the second half, Michigan State’s Matt McQuaid pushed the Spartans back in front with this layup that will not be forgotten…

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