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.

Share this story

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.

Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

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).
Share this story

Eight Questions for the Final Four: Michigan State vs. Texas Tech

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on April 5th, 2019

The other side of the bracket features the East Region champion Michigan State and West Region champion Texas Tech. In a match-up of the Big Ten and Big 12, here are four questions I have for each team regarding the upcoming game.

Michigan State

Michigan State Has Its Eyes Set on One More Celebration (USA Today Images)

1) Will Michigan State limit its turnovers? On the season, Michigan State has turned the ball over at nearly the national average. The Spartans ranked 12th in Big Ten play in turnover rate, however, and they logged a 22-turnover performance in the Second Round against Minnesota. During the regional, Texas Tech pestered Michigan and Gonzaga into turning the ball over at a much higher rate than which they were accustomed.

2) Might the Spartans look to push the pace? While Michigan State’s pace of play ranks slightly below the national average, the Spartans tend to score with great success when they run. According to Hoop-Math, Tom Izzo’s squad owns the ninth-best effective field goal conversion rate while in transition. Texas Tech, on the other hand, has the second-best non-transition effective field-goal percentage defense in the country. A strategy that centers on beating Texas Tech in the half-court could make for a long night for Sparty.

3) Can Michigan State’s bench provide help for the Spartans offensively? The Spartans will be up against a Texas Tech defense that allowed just six total bench points in its two regional wins against Gonzaga and Michigan. Throughout the NCAA Tournament, Michigan State’s bench has primarily consisted of contributions from Nick Ward and Gabe Brown. Ward could provide second-chance opportunities against a Red Raiders’ defense that at times can be suspect in cleaning up its defensive glass.

4) Will the rest between the Elite Eight and Final Four be enough time to help Nick Ward return to his earlier form? In Michigan State’s first 15 Big Ten games, Nick Ward averaged 15.3 points per game. Since returning from an injury late in the year, however, the junior has averaged just 5.9 points per game. Ward, now coming off of the bench, has the potential to give Cassius Winston some much needed offensive help against the stout Texas Tech defense.

Texas Tech

Chris Beard is on the Fast Track to Coaching Superstardom (USA Today Images)

1) Will Texas Tech be vulnerable against Michigan State’s offensive rebounding ability? Through four NCAA Tournament games to date, Texas Tech has surrendered 46 offensive rebounds to its opponents. This weekend’s game against Michigan State will be the Red Raiders’ seventh game against an opponent with an offensive rebounding ranking of 25th or better. In those six games, the Red Raiders went just 3-3.

2) Can Texas Tech’s bigs stay out of foul trouble? In Saturday’s win over Gonzaga, Texas Tech’s Norense Odiase picked up two quick fouls within the opening three minutes. Fellow big Tariq Owens went on to pick up a pair of fouls in the first half as well. Michigan State’s trio of Cassius Winston, Xavier Tillman and Nick Ward all draw fouls at a high rate. After Odiase and Owens, Chris Beard is very limited in available bigs to put on the floor.

3) Which Davide Moretti shows up for the Red Raiders? The sophomore guard from Italy is shooting 46.3 percent from beyond the three-point line and led the Big 12 by shooting 53.5 percent in league play. Moretti made five of his eight attempts during the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight, but he had gone 0-for-7 in the opening two rounds.

4) Will Jarrett Culver bring his A-game to the table? Culver, a second-team AP All-American, is averaging 21.5 points per game in the NCAA Tournament. A year after shooting a robust 38.2 percent on three-point attempts, Culver is converting just 31.6 percent this season. In Texas Tech’s six losses this year, Culver has made only 20.6 percent of his attempts.

Share this story

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…

Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Eight Questions For The Elite Eight

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 30th, 2019

The Road to the Final Four has one final stop for the eight remaining teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament. As the weekend advances, here are the eight questions I have for the match-ups ahead.

The Zags Push For Their Second Final Four Appearance in History (USA Today Images)

Gonzaga vs. Texas Tech

Gonzaga: Will Gonzaga’s offense solve a Texas Tech defense that dominated Michigan for 40 minutes? Mark Few’s Bulldogs rank first in the nation in offensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage and two-point field goal percentage. According to Hoop-Math, Gonzaga also owns the fifth-best shooting percentage on attempts at the rim, an area that could be tested by a Red Raiders defense that blocks a lot of shots inside.

Texas Tech: Do the Red Raiders have enough size to compete against the large Gonzaga front line? Gonzaga’s bigs of Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke and Killian Tillie will be up against a Texas Tech squad that will play just two players 6’8″ or taller in Tarriq Owens and Norense Odiase. Texas Tech’s ability to stay out of foul trouble on its front line will be imperative in attempting to slow the Bulldogs’ interior game.

Virginia vs. Purdue

Virginia: Can the Cavaliers snap out of their shooting woes? Over Virginia’s last four games, the Cavaliers are shooting a woeful 26.9 percent on 104 three-point attempts. In the five games prior to that stretch they converted 54.2 percent on 107 attempts. Kyle Guy has most notably found himself in a staggering slump, having made just five of his last 31 attempts after shooting 42.7 percent on the season.

Purdue: Will Purdue’s recent struggles at the free throw line keep it from reaching the Final Four? While the Boilermakers have shot 71.9 percent from the line on the season, they have made just 63.4 percent from the stripe in seven March games. Purdue survived in its win on Thursday night against Tennessee despite missing 17 of its 33 attempts. And remember, points always come at a premium against Virginia.

Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Eight Questions For the Sweet Sixteen

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 28th, 2019

The lack of major upsets in the opening two rounds of the NCAA Tournament has created numerous intriguing match-ups for the upcoming Sweet Sixteen. Here are the questions I have for each match-up:

Thursday Games

Brandon Clarke Has Been Putting on a Show for the #1 Zags (USA Today Images)
  • Florida State vs. Gonzaga: Does Gonzaga have a Rui Hachimura problem? While Hachimura is averaging 19.7 points per game this year, he is coming off of a season-low six-point performance against Baylor. Hachimura scored in double-figures in each of the first 32 games of the season, but has failed to eclipse 10 points in two of his previous three games. What’s going on with the junior All-American? The 6’8″ forward will be put to the test against the length of the Florida State front line.
  • Purdue vs. Tennessee: Will Carsen Edwards’ shooting be the difference? Carsen Edwards is coming off of an explosive 42-point performance against Villanova — a game in which he went 9-of-16 from beyond the arc. Tennessee’s three-point defense ranks below the national average and the Volunteers allowed Colgate to shoot 51.7 percent from distance in the First Round.
  • Texas Tech vs. Michigan: Which offense will be more dynamic in a match-up of elite defenses? According to KenPom, this game features the top two defenses in college basketball, as both teams have held their Tournament opponents under 60 points. The Wolverines are led offensively by freshman Ignas Brazdeikis — who scored just five points on 2-of-8 shooting against Florida — while Texas Tech is led by Jarrett Culver, who is averaging 25.5 points per game over his last four outings. The Red Raiders’ All-American, however, has shot only 20.6 percent from beyond the arc in games Texas Tech has lost.
  • Oregon vs. Virginia: Can Oregon’s defense stifle the immensely efficient Virginia offense? Since being blitzed for 90 points in a loss at UCLA, Oregon has given up an average of just 54.2 points per game over its last 10 contests. During that stretch, the Ducks have held their opponents to a sterling 20.9 percent on three-point attempts. While Virginia has shot over 40 percent from distance on the season, the Cavaliers have gone just 29.8 percent so far in the Tournament.

Friday Games

Duke Survived the UCF Push (USA Today Images)
  • LSU vs. Michigan State: Will LSU be able to put together a full 40-minute performance against Michigan State? Through two NCAA Tournament games LSU is +25 in the first half and -18 in the second half. That disparity features a 30.8 percent field-goal percentage in the second half and an even worse 16.7 percent from beyond the arc. Over their last five games, the Spartans, on the other hand, have outscored their opponents by 36 points in the second half.
  • Auburn vs. North Carolina: As hot as Auburn can get offensively, can its defense slow down North Carolina? Auburn has played 13 games against opponents with adjusted offensive efficiency rankings of 40th or better, and the Tigers have gone just 5-8 in those games. Additionally, the Tigers are just 2-6 in games against an opponent with an offensive rebounding rate that ranks among the top 20 in college basketball. For your consideration, North Carolina owns the nation’s eighth most efficient offense and has a top 20 offensive rebounding rate.
  • Virginia Tech vs. Duke: Can Virginia Tech replicate its winning formula against Duke? The Hokies defeated Duke, 77-72, back in late February in a game both Zion Williamson and Justin Robinson missed. Kerry Blackshear had a season-high 23 points to lead the Hokies in an all-around balanced effort. The return of the point guard Robinson will give Buzz Williams’ squad an extra ball-handler to deal with the pressure defense of Tre Jones.
  • Houston vs. Kentucky: What will the status of PJ Washington be come tip-off time? Kentucky’s PJ Washington missed the first two games of the NCAA Tournament and his availability remains unclear for Friday night’s game. Washington was the SEC’s second-best three-point shooter in conference play and is a player that would help spread the floor for a Wildcats’ team that has made just 25.9 percent of its 27 three-point attempts in the NCAA Tournament.
Share this story

What’s Trending: NCAA Tournament Edition

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 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.

Looking back at the first two rounds of the 2019 NCAA Tournament has to begin with the opening weekend’s most memorable game. In Sunday afternoon’s UCF vs. Duke game, there was much more to it than the average #1 vs. #9 match-up. How would the battle of Zion Williamson vs. Tacko Fall unfold? How would the pupil (Johnny Dawkins) fare against his teacher (Coach K)? Williamson definitely had to earn his 32 points — the superstar freshman shot just 9-of-17 on his two-point attempts, representing the first time he has been under 60 percent inside the arc since a 4-of-7 performance on January 12 against Florida State.

https://twitter.com/si_ncaabb/status/1109931709066285056

Despite falling behind by as many as eight points in the second half, UCF rallied to take a four-point lead with under two minutes to go. The Knights were racing upcourt with a chance to extend the lead, but a failed alley-oop followed by a Cam Reddish three-pointer cut the lead to a single point.

Push off? Verticality? Down three points in the dying seconds, Duke put the ball in Williamson’s hands and he made a play.

Zion went on to miss the game-tying free-throw, but the ball ultimately ended up in the hands of R.J. Barrett, who put in a bunny to give Duke a one-point lead. While many were arguing that Barrett pushed off to get the rebound, the bigger grievance with a missed call on this play came with this missed hook and hold. An emphasis was placed on this call all season long, yet it appears to have been blatantly missed here. This is a call that would have all but ensured the end of Duke’s season…

Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

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.
Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story