What’s Trending: Goodbye February, Hello March!

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on March 3rd, 2020

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

Three words that the entire college basketball community has been waiting for have finally been spoken. Take it away, Jon…

The look back at what transpired on the court last week begins with a piece of history, thanks to Dayton. Two minutes and ten seconds into the Flyers’ weekend game against Davidson, Dayton’s Jalen Crutcher missed a jumper. It would end up being the Flyers’ only miss from inside the three-point line for the entire game. Anthony Grant’s team would go on to make 27-of-28 from two-point range in their 82-67 win over Davidson, which, incidentially, also clinched the Atlantic 10 title.

Dayton leads the nation in effective field goal percentage and two-point field-goal percentage this season, and the Flyers are in position to become just the fifth team to shoot above 60 percent on their two-point attempts over the past 15 seasons. Dayton’s 59.7 percent effective field-goal percentage has only been topped in the past 15 seasons by the Lonzo Ball UCLA team of 2016-17. Of course, Dayton shooting those high percentages should not be surprising when Obi Toppin is doing this…

Big Ten-leading Maryland began the week by trailing Minnesota by 16 points at the half. Down by a pair with the clock winding its way towards zero, the ball made its way into the hands of junior Darryl Morsell. The Terps had gone 5-of-27 from beyond the arc before Morsell found the range for his first made three of the game…

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Ten Questions to Consider: Will Rematches Lead to Similar Results?

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 28th, 2020

The end of February and beginning of March is upon the college basketball world. As the number of days remaining in the regular season dwindles to single digits, the importance of each game grows. Here are 10 questions I have for some of the meaningful match-ups this weekend:

  1. Coming off of its late rally against Minnesota, will Maryland be ready for a full 40 minutes of Michigan State? (Michigan State @ Maryland, Saturday, 8 PM EST, ESPN) In the earlier match-up between these two teams in East Lansing, Maryland jumped out to an early 15-point lead before falling behind 60-53 with 3:24 to go. Anthony Cowan’s heroics from deep ultimately saved the Terps and led to pole position atop the Big Ten. It was a game in which Michigan State made just 21 percent of its three-point attempts.
  2. Will Penn State’s bench be a difference-maker as it looks to sweep Iowa? (Penn State @ Iowa, Saturday, Noon EST, Big Ten Network) The Nittany Lions’ bench is averaging 21.6 points per game over the team’s last five games. In their win against Iowa earlier in the season, the Penn State bench scored 46 of the team’s 89 points, while Iowa’s bench managed just eight points of its own.
  3. Will Marquette get productive showings from anyone other than Markus Howard? (Seton Hall @ Marquette, Saturday, 2:30 PM EST, Fox) In the first showdown between Markus Howard and Myles Powell this season, each dynamic scorer finished with more than 20 points (Howard: 27, Powell: 23). For Marquette, though, the rest of the team went just 3-of-11 from inside the arc, 6-of-19 from beyond it, and 4-of-9 at the charity stripe.
  4. After dropping its last two road games at NC State and Wake Forest, how does Duke fare at Virginia? (Duke @ Virginia, Saturday, 6 PM EST, ESPN) As Rush the ACC noted earlier in the week, Duke on the road has been a very different looking team compared to Duke at home. In Duke’s nine road ACC games, the Blue Devils have trailed after the opening 10 minutes in eight of those games. At home, Tony Bennett’s team has held its ACC opponents to an average of just 9.4 points in the opening 10 minutes of action.
  5. Can UCLA slow the Arizona offense again and gain a big win for its resume? (Arizona @ UCLA, Saturday, 10 PM EST, ESPN) In UCLA’s win at the McKale Center earlier this month, the Bruins held Arizona to just 52 points on 25.4 percent shooting from the field. It was the worst home shooting night in Arizona history. The Bruins limited Arizona freshman Nico Mannion to a season-low five points on 2-of-14 shooting.
  6. Will any defensive changes for Saint Mary’s work in slowing Gonzaga? (Saint Mary’s @ Gonzaga, Saturday, 10 PM EST, ESPN2) In Gonzaga’s lopsided win over the Gaels earlier in the year, Corey Kispert’s jumper at the 8:03 mark of the first half pushed the lead to 22 points as Gonzaga led 34-12. Mark Few’s squad made 16 of their first 17 shots from the field. The only thing that slowed Gonzaga in the opening minutes was turnovers, as the Bulldogs committed seven in the first 10 minutes.
  7. Will Auburn be able to win the battle of the backboard and free throw line on the road at Rupp? (Auburn @ Kentucky, Saturday, 3:45 PM EST, CBS) In Auburn’s home win over Kentucky on February 1, the Tigers were +11 in free-throw makes (33 FTM), +20 in free-throw attempts (44 FTA), +14 on the glass, and won the turnover battle. On the season, Kentucky has averaged 9.6 more made free throws at home than its opponents.
  8. Can Michigan keep winning on the road? (Michigan @ Ohio State, Sunday, 4 PM EST, CBS) After dropping its first four road tests in league play, Michigan has won its last four Big Ten tests away from the Crisler Center. In its loss against Ohio State earlier in the season, 31 of Michigan’s 60 field goal attempts were from three-point range, its highest three-point rate on the season, a rate much higher than its season average.
  9. Has Stanford stabilized itself after its tough midseason stretch? (Colorado @ Stanford, Sunday, 6 PM EST, ESPNU) The Cardinal have won three straight games after a stretch where it lost seven of eight. Stanford takes on a Colorado team it lost to earlier in the month. That match-up is remembered for a scary scene involving Oscar da Silva’s head injury. Since returning from the injury suffered in that game, da Silva has scored 15 or more points in each of his four games.
  10. Can Davidson ruin Dayton’s quest for A-10 perfection? (Davidson @ Dayton, Friday, 7 PM EST, ESPN2) Bob McKillop’s Wildcats are shooting an Atlantic 10 best 37.3 percent from beyond the arc in league play while also holding opponents to a league-low 44.2 percent on field goal attempts from inside the arc. Slowing Dayton is easier said than done as the Flyers lead in the nation in effective field goal percentage and two-point shooting percentage.

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What’s Trending: A Week of Statement Like Performances — Both Good and Bad

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 17th, 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 beginning conference play 3-3, many were ready to dismiss Maryland’s chances of contending in the Big Ten this season. Since then, the Terrapins had completely turned things around, winning seven straight games including three straight on the road. Over the weekend, Maryland built a 39-24 lead with 2:57 to go in the first half, but the Spartans seemed to take control of the game as Michigan State led 60-53 with just 3:24 to go. That’s when Maryland’s Anthony Cowan took over…

Over Cowan’s last six games, he is averaging 20.5 points per game on 42 percent three-point shooting. Over that period, he has also tallied 31 assists to just 15 turnovers. He has attacked the paint relentlessly, having made eight or more free throws in four of the six games during this stretch.

Note to future Maryland opponents, slapping the floor late would not be advised…

As far as Michigan State goes, they began the week on a three-game losing streak. After blowing a 20-point second-half lead at Illinois, they found themselves down a point against Illinois, but Xavier Tillman’s 11th rebound of the game proved to be the difference…

For Michigan State — a team that started the year 13-3 and 5-0 in league play — this past week and the college basketball season as a whole can best be summed up like this…

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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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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 Five

Posted by Walker Carey on December 16th, 2019

The past week of the college basketball season was marked by unbeaten teams falling victim to unranked opponents away from home. It began Tuesday night when #4 Louisville fell to Texas Tech in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden, while #7 Maryland was unable to overcome a slow start in a loss at Penn State. Both defeats showed that each team is a bit more susceptible offensively than previously thought, as Louisville only shot 34 percent from the field while committing 19 turnovers and Maryland shot just 33 percent while committing 20 miscues. Both the Cardinals and Terrapins also failed to get strong performances from their stars, as Louisville forward Jordan Nwora was held to just 4-of-16 shooting and Maryland forward Jalen Smith logged only five field goal attempts. #3 Ohio State joined the fray late Sunday afternoon when it trailed throughout the game in an 84-71 loss at Minnesota. Much like Louisville and Maryland, the Buckeyes were done in by poor shooting (38.3% FG), turnovers (14), and a poor performance from a key contributor (forward Kaleb Wesson was just 4-of-13 from the field while committing six turnovers). Louisville, Maryland and Ohio State are all primed for successful seasons, but they must view setbacks like those from the past week as something to learn from and correct. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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What’s Trending: Big Ten/ACC Challenge And More

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 9th, 2019

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

The month of December tipped-off with the ACC/Big Ten Challenge leading the way. Each league picked up a victory on the opening night of the challenge, which set up a big second day of action. Indiana moved to 8-0 after beating Florida State, with Devonte Green posting a career-high 30 points. Archie Miller’s squad shot a sterling 60 percent on two-point attempts and 46.7 percent on three-point attempts, both season-high marks for Seminoles’ opponents.

In a rematch of an NCAA Tournament game from last season, Duke headed to East Lansing to take on Michigan State. While the Blue Devils were without Cassius Stanley, they ran into no problems with the Spartans. Vernon Carey and Tre Jones combined to score 46 points on 14-of-29 shooting.

Some of Michigan State’s struggles come from the inconsistent play of sophomore Aaron Henry. After averaging 13.3 PPG through his first five contests, Henry has scored just nine points over the last two. Against Duke, Henry was held to two points on two field-goal attempts in just 21 minutes of action.

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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 Ten Edition

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 17th, 2019

Below is a review of how the selection process concluded for each Big Ten team and what they should expect in the first few rounds of the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Michigan State looks to carry its momentum into the Dance. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
  • Michigan State, #2 seed, East Region. Michigan State backed up its regular season conference co-title by beating Michigan on Sunday en route to the Big Ten Tournament title. It was the Spartans’ third win over the Wolverines in three weeks, giving them more Quadrant 1 wins than any team in America. Their reward? A potential date with #1 overall seed Duke in the Elite Eight. Of course, Tom Izzo’s club will have to get there first, which is easier said than done. Assuming it gets past #15 Bradley (and it’s never safe to assume), Michigan State would play either Louisville — a team it lost to in November — or Big Ten foe Minnesota in the Round of 32. Still, the Spartans are superior to both teams and should reach Washington, DC. Once there, a win over #3 LSU or #6 Maryland (or Cinderella) would set up a highly-anticipated matchup with the Blue Devils. With Cassius Winston at the helm and forward Nick Ward back in the lineup, Michigan State has enough depth and physicality to hang with the Blue Devils for 40 minutes. Whether it’s enough to beat a trio of top-5 NBA Draft picks remains to be seen.
  • Michigan, #2 seed, West Region. The Wolverines hung on to a #2 seed despite dropping five of their last 13 games, setting up a rematch with Montana, which they played in the First Round as well just last March. Like that contest, Michigan’s elite defense should have no problem shutting down the sharp-shooting Grizzlies. A Second Round date with #7 Nevada or #10 Florida — both inconsistent down the stretch — also poses little danger to last season’s National Runner-Up. A trip to Anaheim, however, would be a different story. Assuming #3 Texas Tech avoids another bizarre upset, Michigan would likely face the Red Raiders in a Sweet Sixteen matchup between the nation’s two stingiest defenses. Are the Wolverines capable of winning that game and knocking off #1 seed Gonzaga for another trip to the Final Four? Absolutely. But their up-and-down offense will have to start scoring more consistently for that to happen.
  • Wisconsin, #5 seed, South Region. What are we to make of the Badgers? Always beloved by advanced metrics, Wisconsin finished the season ranked #12 overall in KenPom thanks to a rock-solid defense that led the Big Ten in efficiency during conference play. Not to mention Ethan Happ (17.1 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 4.6 APG), who ranked among the league’s best in nearly every statistical category known to man. One category not worthy of praise, of course, is free throw shooting (46.5% FT), which has proved to be Happ’s — and perhaps the team’s — kryptonite this season. That could be an issue against a red-hot Oregon team that has size, length, and fouls at a high rate. The #12 Ducks are good enough to beat Wisconsin and may well do so if they grab an early lead. If the Badgers can control the game flow, though, wins against both Oregon and an equally methodical, defensive-minded Kansas State team in the Round of 32 are also within the realm of possibility. For a team with only one consistent offensive threat, a fourth Sweet Sixteen berth in five seasons is probably Wisconsin’s ceiling.
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Ten Questions to Consider: One Month From Selection Sunday

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 15th, 2019

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

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