Ten Questions to Consider: Will the Wild and Crazy Continue?

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 7th, 2020

As February moves along, the college basketball season hits a key weekend of rivalry matchups and games among conference foes. From teams battling for conference superiority to schools looking to fight their way back to the right side of the bubble, here are 10 questions I have for this weekend:

  1. Will Saint Mary’s be able to get the necessary stops against Gonzaga? (Gonzaga @ Saint Mary’s, Saturday, 10 PM EST, ESPN) After finishing as KenPom’s top-ranked offense last season, the Zags find themselves in the top spot once again this season. In last season’s three match-ups between WCC foes, Saint Mary’s struggled to slow Gonzaga inside the arc, as Gonzaga made 61.6 percent of its two-point attempts. In Saint Mary’s loss last weekend at BYU, the Gaels allowed the Cougars to shoot a blistering 57.9 percent from the field.
  2. Can Villanova claw its way back into the Big East title race? (Seton Hall @ Villanova, Saturday, 2:30 PM EST, FOX) Villanova has lost two straight contests, including a home loss last weekend at the hands of Creighton. The Wildcats last lost consecutive home games during the 2011-12 season. In three career games at Villanova, however, Myles Powell has scored an average of nine points per game and has made just 4-of-20 shots from beyond the arc.
  3. Quite simply, which Purdue team shows up? (Purdue @ Indiana, Saturday, 2 PM EST, ESPN) The Boilermakers are 10-2 at home, outscoring opponents by an average of 20.4 points per game. On the road, though, Matt Painter’s squad has gone just 3-8, scoring an average of 18.8 fewer points per game away from home. The Boilermakers travel to Bloomington this weekend, where they will look to grab a victory for the fourth straight time.
  4. Can Illinois remain perfect at home? (Maryland @ Illinois, Friday, 8 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) The Terps escaped with a victory over Illinois earlier this season despite trailing by seven points with under four minutes remaining. Illinois will need Kofi Cockburn on the floor to try and slow a red-hot Jalen Smith — the Illini star played a season-low 21 minutes in the first match-up while hampered with foul trouble.
  5. Is Davidson the team Atlantic 10 front-runners do not want to see on their schedule? (Davidson @ VCU, Friday, 7 PM EST, ESPN2) While Davidson remains iffy defensively, its offense is clicking. Senior guard Jon Axel Gudmundsson is shooting 37 percent from three-point range over his last five conference games after starting league play making just 4-of-28 (14.3%). The preseason pick to finish second in the league could be clicking at just the wrong time for its opponents.
  6. What will Mick Cronin’s first trip to the McKale Center look like? (UCLA @ Arizona, Saturday, 10 PM EST, ESPN2) The Bruins head to the desert winners of four of their last five games, but UCLA’s Jalen Hill and Cody Riley will be put to the test down low by Zeke Nnaji. Tyger Campbell will also be challenged by Nico Mannion, who has several inches on his counterpart.
  7. Will there be any lingering effects of the last match-up between Saint Louis and Dayton? (Saint Louis @ Dayton, Saturday, 2 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) First, Saint Louis led by 13 with 7:40 to go, then Dayton found itself up five with 1:59 left. Saint Louis tied it at the buzzer in regulation, but came up on the short end of the stick because of Jalen Crutcher’s overtime winner at the buzzer. The Billikens’ duo of Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French combined to grab 12 offensive boards in the first match-up.
  8. Which Big East team adds an important win to its resume? (Providence @ Xavier, Saturday, 8 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Providence began the season with a very poor non-conference season and has since turned things around in league play. While Xavier entered Big East play at 11-2, it has gone just 4-6 since. Providence’s leading scorer Alpha Diallo (12.8 PPG) is averaging just 7.6 points per game over his last five contests on 13-of-44 shooting from the field.
  9. In a crazy year of college basketball, would North Carolina beating Duke really be THAT crazy? (Duke @ North Carolina, Saturday, 6 PM EST, ESPN) For starters, Cole Anthony is back, and while he has not been efficient since his return, he has enough talent to take over any game. With Brandon Robinson out with a recent injury, even more will be on the plate on Saturday night for Anthony. In the last 13 match-ups between these teams, six games have been decided by five points or fewer, and the margin of victory has been more than 10 points only once over that stretch.
  10. Can Texas add its name to the bubble with a win over the Red Raiders? (Texas Tech @ Texas, Saturday, 4 PM EST, ESPN2) As of Thursday night, Shaka Smart’s Longhorns sit at 3-6 against Quad 1 opponents and 1-2 in Quad 2 games. With wins at TCU and Oklahoma State in precarious spots on the edge of Quad 1, Texas needs to take advantage of its remaining home opportunities against quality opponents.

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Ten Questions to Consider: A Super Slate of Action Ahead of the Super Bowl

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 31st, 2020

While the Super Bowl will have the attention of the sports world on Sunday afternoon across America, there are plenty of critical college basketball match-ups this weekend beforehand. Games involving teams at the top of their conference, schools looking to avoid falling further on to and beyond the bubble, and programs looking to make statements to their doubters. Here are 10 questions I have for the college basketball world this weekend.

  1. Can Rhode Island’s defense again control VCU for 40 minutes? (VCU @ Rhode Island, Friday, 7 PM EST, ESPN2) In the first meeting between the Atlantic 10’s second and third place teams, Rhode Island came prevailed in a game in which it never trailed. VCU’s starting backcourt of Marcus Evans and De’Riante Jenkins shot a combined 3-of-14 from beyond the arc, and a Rhode Island win would keep the Rams just a game behind Dayton in the conference standings.
  2. Is Kofi Cockburn vs. Luke Garza the best individual match-up of the weekend? (Illinois @ Iowa, Sunday, 1 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Last season, Luke Garza averaged 13.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. This season, he’s become one of the most dominant players in college basketball, averaging 23.1 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. Illinois will likely throw its tenacious freshman, Kofi Cockburn, at Garza. Cockburn, an elite rebounder and good shot-blocker, could be one of Garza’s biggest challenges to date.
  3. Will Stanford’s defense give it a chance at home in a battle of two of the Pac-12’s best? (Oregon @ Stanford, Saturday, 6 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) Presumptive Pac-12 favorite Oregon and NPOY candidate Payton Pritchard head to Maples Pavilion this weekend to battle Stanford. The Cardinal own the Pac-12’s best defensive efficiency, thanks in part to their highest defensive turnover rate and second-best defensive effective field-goal percentage.
  4. Can Moretti, Ramsey and Shannon replicate their midweek performance for Texas Tech? (Texas Tech @ Kansas, Saturday, 4 PM EST, ESPN) In Texas Tech’s 89-81 win over West Virginia on Wednesday night, the trio of Davide Moretti, Jahmi’us Ramsey and Terrence Shannon combined for 69 points on 18-of-29 shooting. It will be imperative for the Red Raiders that this trio limits their turnovers, an area that has been a particular problem during league play.
  5. Can Wisconsin rally at home around some tough circumstances? (Michigan State @ Wisconsin, Saturday, 1 PM EST, FOX) Not only does Wisconsin have to take on Big Ten leading Michigan State this weekend, but the Badgers now must do so shorthanded. Brad Davison will miss the game as a result of his flagrant foul late in the Iowa game, and Kobe King decided to leave the program on Wednesday.
  6. What has happened to Ohio State’s defense in league play? (Indiana @ Ohio State, Saturday, Noon EST, ESPN) On the season, Ohio State has a defensive efficiency of 91 points per 100 possessions (PPP), ranking 18th in the country. In league play, that has ballooned to 104 PPP, ranking 10th among Big Ten teams. League opponents have made north of 37 percent of their three-point attempts against the Buckeyes.
  7. Can Rutgers pick up a crucial win away from the RAC? (Rutgers @ Michigan, Saturday, 4:30 PM EST, Big Ten Network) With a win on Saturday, Rutgers would guarantee itself a winning record at the end conference tournament season for the first time since 2005-06. The Scarlet Knights will be looking for just their second win away from home this year. On the season, Steve Pikiell’s team is 1-5 away from the RAC, with its lone win coming at Nebraska.
  8. Can Georgetown end its Big East woes in what might be a must-win game at Madison Square Garden? (Georgetown @ St. John’s, Sunday, 1 PM EST, CBS) Georgetown has lost three straight and six of its first eight Big East games. The Hoyas are now 0-4 on the road in league play, having lost each of those contests by nine or more points. After making 32 percent of his three-point attempts as a freshman in Big East play, Mac McClung has made just 8-of-36 (22.2%) through the eight Big East games played so far.
  9. Can Markell Johnson fix his shooting woes? (Louisville @ N.C. State, Saturday, 2 PM EST, ESPN) In Markell Johnson’s previous two seasons at NC State, he converted 41.9 percent of his three-point attempts. Through 20 games this season, Johnson has made just 25.7 percent of his 113 three-point attempts. In order to beat Louisville, Johnson must find a way to snap out of his season-long funk.
  10. Will Yoeli Childs be the difference maker? (Saint Mary’s @ BYU, Saturday, 10 PM EST, ESPN2) Yoeli Childs missed the first match-up of the season between these teams, a three-point Gaels win in overtime. In his nine games played on the season, Childs is putting in just over 21 points and nine rebounds per game. Already with conference losses to Pacific and Santa Clara, this is a game Saint Mary’s really needs to find a way to win.
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What’s Trending: Tar Heel Troubles and a Tumbling Top 10

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 16th, 2019

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

North Carolina has made 15 NCAA Tournament appearances over the past 16 seasons with Roy Williams as the head coach. After starting the season 6-1, however, the Tar Heels suffered back-to-back losses to start December. While the panic level remained relatively low heading into the weekend, that changed Sunday morning when the following news broke:

Without Cole Anthony, the team’s leading scorer, questions quickly arose about the Heels’ future. This is a team that, despite owning a top-50 adjusted offensive efficiency, ranks 297th or worse in two-point, three-point and free throw shooting percentages. Without Anthony in the lineup, North Carolina’s losing streak reached three games…

https://twitter.com/marchmadness/status/1206347619641036804?s=20

In the loss, North Carolina shot 38.6 percent from two-point range, 31.6 percent from three-point range, and just 60 percent at the line. The defeat brought out what would have been an unthinkable question prior the season. Might North Carolina miss the NCAA Tournament? While it is still just December, Williams is going to have to earn his paycheck — especially if his team is without Cole Anthony.

This past week was full of trouble for teams near the top of the rankings. A previously undefeated and #1 Louisville club had a midweek match-up against Texas Tech at Madison Square Garden. While Louisville’s 3-of-17 performance from deep did the Cardinals no favors, the storyline of the game came in the form of the surprise performance from Texas Tech’s Avery Benson.

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