Ten Questions to Consider: A Statement Weekend

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 22nd, 2019

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

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

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 26th, 2019

With no NFL Playoff games on tap this weekend, all eyes will be glued to the young men on the hardwood. With several marquee matchups, conference intrigue, and a star at Murray State all in action, here are 10 questions I have ahead of this weekend’s action.

It’s Always Fun When Kentucky and Kansas Get Together (USA TODAY Sports)
  1. Can Creighton find its defense? (Butler @ Creighton, Friday 8:3o PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Creighton ranks 61st in NET Rankings, is 2-4 in the Big East and was among Joe Lunardi’s “Next Four Out” in his latest Bracketology. A large reason for Creighton’s inconsistent play has been a defensive efficiency rating that ranks in the 200s. In conference play, however, Greg McDermott’s defensive efficiency rating of #120 is nine points worse than the next closest Big East team. (Ed. note: Creighton held Butler to 0.84 PPP last night in a 14-point victory.)
  2. Does Mississippi State’s upcoming schedule make Auburn a must win game? (Auburn @ Mississippi State, Saturday 8:30 PM EST, SEC Network) If the season ended today, Mississippi State would comfortably make the NCAA Tournament. That said, the Bulldogs will go on the road before returning home for LSU and Kentucky. A win against Auburn today would take quite a bit of pressure off of Ben Howland’s team as they prepare to travel next week.
  3. Is Kentucky’s Reid Travis set to have a big game against Kansas? (Kansas @ Kentucky, Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN) In arguably Kentucky’s three biggest games to date (Duke, North Carolina and Louisville) Reid Travis has scored 17 points per game. The graduate transfer has eclipsed just 15 points in two of the Wildcats’ other 15 games. Beyond scoring, Travis’ ability to rebound (10 games with three or more offensive rebounds) could put added pressure on the Jayhawks’ All-American Dedric Lawson.
  4. Who is the favorite to win the SEC? Top-ranked Tennessee had a scare midweek at Vanderbilt; LSU remains unbeaten in conference play; and Kentucky sits just a game back through the first three weeks. One thing to consider moving forward is that LSU only plays the other two schools once each, while Tennessee and Kentucky will play each other twice down the stretch.
  5. Can Ohio State end their recent skid at a hostile Pinnacle Bank Arena? (Ohio State @ Nebraska, Saturday Noon, Fox Sports 1) In a game between a pair of Big Ten teams that cannot afford to drop another conference game, the Buckeyes will look to snap a five-game skid. Ohio State has turned the ball over a whopping 63 times in its last four games.
  6. Can Purdue’s stars figure out the Michigan State defense? (Michigan State @ Purdue, Sunday 1 PM EST, CBS) Purdue’s last loss came at the hands of the Spartans in early December. Michigan State held the pair of Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline to 23 points on 28 shots, and the 11 points scored by Edwards was his season low.
  7. What will Ja Morant do this weekend? (Tennessee State @ Murray State, Saturday 8 PM EST, ESPN+) The Tigers of Tennessee State are one of the worst defensive teams in the country, but they will have the pleasure of attempting to stop Murray State’s dynamic Ja Morant. Heading into Thursday’s game against Belmont, Morant is averaging 26.7 points per game in conference play. According to Hoop-Math, the 6’3″ Morant is 100-for-148 (67.6%) on shots at the rim on the season.
  8. After a disastrous outing against rival USC last weekend, will UCLA show any resistance to Arizona? (Arizona @ UCLA, Saturday 10 PM EST, ESPN2) Last weekend, the lifeless Bruins fell behind 16-2 to start their rivalry game against USC, and Arizona has won three consecutive games at Pauley Pavilion by 11 points. With Thomas Welsh no longer there to torment the Arizona big men, UCLA’s disastrous season could get considerably worse by the end of the weekend.
  9. Will Iowa’s mindset be right when they hit the road this weekend? (Iowa @ Minnesota, Sunday 5 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Sandwiched between home games against Michigan State and Michigan is a road test for the Hawkeyes at Minnesota. After starting conference play 0-3, Iowa has now won five straight heading into Thursday night’s game against Michigan State. Iowa is the only Big Ten team with five players averaging double-figure points per game.
  10. Can VCU avoid a road slip-up when they take on Duquesne? (VCU @ Duquesne, Saturday 2 PM EST, ESPN Plus) The Rams are coming off of a narrow defeat at Rhode Island where they turned the ball over 19 times. VCU’s offense has been abysmal all year long and is only bogged down further as they have the worst turnover rate among Atlantic 10 teams in conference play. A road loss at Duquesne could be crippling come March for VCU.
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2018-19 RTC16: Week Seven

Posted by Walker Carey on January 7th, 2019

Winning conference road games is difficult — it always has been and always will be. #8 Kansas and #11 Nevada were reintroduced to that notion on Saturday, with both top-10 teams falling hard in hostile road environments. The Jayhawks’ loss at Hilton Coliseum to a strong #15 Iowa State squad was not necessarily surprising — the Cyclones closed as a two-point favorite — but it was the way in which Bill Self‘s group faltered that raised some eyebrows around the country. Kansas finished the 77-60 defeat with an astounding 24 turnovers while also hitting just six of their 20 three-point attempts, while usual standout performers Lagerald Vick and Dedric Lawson combined for just 19 points on 7-of-19 shooting. The weekend went from bad to worse for Kansas on Sunday when Self announced that big man Udoka Azubuike — who was sidelined in Saturday’s loss — will miss the remainder of the season with a hand injury. Nevada’s loss was more unexpected, as the Wolf Pack dropped an 85-58 laugher to a New Mexico team that entered the contest with a paltry 7-6 record. Eric Musselman‘s team suffered through an uncharacteristically poor offensive outing — shooting just 33 percent from the field — and it let a 12-point halftime deficit balloon to the final margin with a no-show second half. Standout forward Caleb Martin had a particularly brutal evening, finishing with just eight points on 2-of-14 shooting. It was a rough weekend for these two teams, but knowing college basketball, a majority of the other top squads will also stumble on the road at some point over the balance of the season. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Ten Questions To Consider: Conference Play Begins Across the Country

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 4th, 2019

With non-conference play all but over, it’s time to begin conference play in earnest. This weekend’s slate of games includes key road tests, match-ups among teams expected to battle for conference supremacy, and a chance to end a long losing streak.

It’s Always Fun When Kansas Visits Hilton Coliseum (USA Today Images)
  1. Will Toledo’s offense continue to shine as they take on Ball State in a “Best of the West” MAC opener? (Ball State @ Toledo, Friday 7 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) The MAC’s Western Division is led by KenPom top 100 teams Toledo and Ball State. The Rockets’ Nate Navigato has scored 14 or more points in six of the team’s last seven games while shooting 27-of-48 from distance.
  2. Can Iowa State make enough threes to beat Kansas? (Kansas @ Iowa State, Saturday 5 PM EST, ESPN2) On the season, 41 percent of Cyclone field goal attempts have been three-pointers. Iowa State will be dealing with a Kansas defense, on the other hand, that has forced opponents to miss 126 of their last 168 three-point attempts.
  3. Will Michigan State’s defense show up this year against Ohio State? (Michigan State @ Ohio State, Saturday Noon EST, FOX) Last season, Ohio State was one of four teams to score 80 or more points against Michigan State. The Buckeyes have managed to score at least one point per possession in each of their last five home games against the Spartans.
  4. Is beating Butler as easy as slowing Paul Jorgensen? (Creighton @ Butler, Saturday Noon EST, Fox Sports 1) Butler’s senior guard Paul Jorgensen began the year scoring in double-figures in each of the team’s first six games. Since then, Butler has gone just 1-4 when its backcourt star does not reach 10 points — in those games he is shooting just 3-of-21 from beyond the arc.
  5. Will Kentucky be able to get to the free throw line at its usual high rate in the Wildcats’ SEC opener? (Kentucky @ Alabama, 1 PM EST, ESPN) John Calipari’s squad has marched to the free throw line at a rate that ranks just outside of the top 10 nationally. Kentucky begins SEC play on the road against an Alabama team that has sent teams to the line at a rate better than the national average.
  6. Does this Florida State team have enough offense to beat Virginia if the Cavaliers continue to shut down Terrence Mann? (Florida State @ Virginia, Saturday 3 PM EST, ESPN2) Terrance Mann’s 13.1 points per game leads the Seminoles in scoring on the season, but in three career games against Virginia, he has logged only 11 points in 64 minutes of action.
  7. Will Oregon State’s fortunes change at Matthew Knight Arena this season? (Oregon State @ Oregon, Saturday 8 PM EST, Pac-12 Networks) Oregon State has lost six straight and 23 of its past 25 games at Oregon. In the current losing streak, the Beavers have lost by double-figures five times, including a 42-point embarassment in 2016. In order for Oregon State to come out on top, they will need Tres Tinkle to turn around his shooting woes as he has gone just 8-of-39 from distance over his last seven games.
  8. Will Duke’s freshman play like freshman in their first taste of ACC conference play? (Clemson @ Duke, Saturday 8 PM EST, ESPN) Duke begins ACC play hosting a Clemson team that has done a tremendous job in limiting second-chance opportunities all season long. If Clemson is able to limit easy buckets for Duke, might the pressure of their first ACC game be enough to keep it close?
  9. Is Michigan’s defense beginning to leak some air or is there nothing to worry about? (Indiana @ Michigan, Sunday 4:30 PM EST, CBS) While Michigan’s defense has been among the best in the nation to date, opponents have begun to see great improvement in shooting the ball from inside the arc against the Wolverines. In their first eight games, only one opponent shot better than 40 percent on two-point attempts. Since then, four of Michigan’s last five opponents have shot better than 50 percent in that range.
  10. How much better is Gonzaga about to get? (Santa Clara @ Gonzaga, Saturday 9 PM EST, ROOT Sports) Matt Norlander of CBS Sports tweeted that Mark Few believes Gonzaga could have both Geno Crandall and Killian Tillie available for its game this weekend against Santa Clara. Adding those two stalwarts back in the Bulldogs’ lineup will only make the nation’s most efficient offense that much more lethal.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Feast Week

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 23rd, 2018

It’s time to take out the Thanksgiving leftovers, make a plate of food and sit back and watch some college basketball. Here are 10 questions to consider heading into this weekend’s slate of games.

Will Virginia be the Next Highly-Ranked ACC Team to Take an Upset (USA Today Images)

  1. Will Virginia come out on top as Battle 4 Atlantis Champions? (Championship Game, Friday 2 PM EST, ESPN) Tony Bennett’s squad squares off against Wisconsin in a defensive spectacular. This mid-afternoon match-up will likely be slow, physical, and must-see tv. Ethan Happ will test the big men of Virginia.
  2. Who will win the Grant Williams/Dedric Lawson matchup? (NIT Tip-Off Final, Tennessee vs. Kansas, Friday 9 PM EST, ESPN2)  Both Grant Williams of Tennessee and Dedric Lawson of Kansas have shined through the first few weeks of the season. Each draws more than seven fouls per 40 minutes of action, so they will be tested to defend each another without fouling.
  3. Will Villanova get back to being Villanova? (Advocare Invitational, Friday and Saturday) After losing consecutive games for the first time since the 2012-13 season, Villanova heads to Florida for the Advocare Invitational. Phil Booth and Eric Paschall shot a combined 7-of-31 on three-point attempts in the two recent Wildcat losses. If they get their shots back, Villanova should sail through this bracket; otherwise Jay Wright’s team could be in trouble in a second-round match-up with either Oklahoma State or Memphis.
  4. Will Miami leave the Wooden Legacy undefeated? (Wooden Legacy, Friday and Saturday) When Miami last played in the Wooden Legacy in 2013, they began the tournament with a loss to George Washington. The Hurricanes begin this tournament against an Atlantic 10 team again this time — La Salle. Miami heads to Fullerton as one of 14 teams with a top 25 ranking in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. Read the rest of this entry »
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NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Walker Carey on March 21st, 2018

Rush the Court is providing comprehensive coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks.

Same Favorite: #2 Duke (28-7). The Blue Devils did nothing in the first weekend to lessen their status as the favorite to advance to San Antonio from this region — in fact, they probably strengthened their case with a pair of dominant victories over #15 Iona and #7 Rhode Island. Neither the Gaels nor Rams had enough size or talent to keep up with Duke last weekend in a pair of blowout wins. Mike Krzyzewski‘s club now advances to face ACC rival Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen for their second match-up of the season — the two teams most recently met in February where Duke logged a 60-44 home victory. Given the versatile firepower that the Blue Devils have on the offensive end of the court along with Syracuse’s scoring issues, it is wise to presume another Duke victory and a slot in the regional finals against either #2 Kansas or #5 Clemson. Beating Duke is one thing and Syracuse is capable of doing so certain scenarios, but beating Duke when it is clearly firing on all cylinders is quite another story.

Duke Mowed Down Two Opponents on Its Way to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Horse of Darkness: #5 Clemson (25-9). No Sweet Sixteen team quite flew under the radar more than Clemson during the opening weekend. The Tigers kicked off tournament play with a comfortable and relatively drama-free 11-point victory over #12 New Mexico State, which had been a popular upset pick. While chaos engulfed the Second Round on Sunday, the Tigers brought out their big guns in a dominant 84-53 win over #4 Auburn. The Tigers’ Sweet Sixteen match-up with #1 Kansas is only daunting in name alone, as these Jayhawks are beatable. If Brad Brownell‘s group can carry over its first weekend efficiency to this week, it could have a chance at duplicating its intrastate rival’s run from last season and advancing to the first Final Four in program history.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #3 Michigan State’s unexpected demise. Most national pundits initially viewed this region as either #2 Duke or #3 Michigan State’s to win. While the Blue Devils still have a shot to come out of the East region, the Spartans’ season ended in stunning fashion on Sunday in a ghastly 55-53 loss to #11 Syracuse. Michigan State slogged through the defeat by shooting just 25.8 percent from the field, 21.6 percent from three-point range, and committing 14 turnovers. Additionally, freshman star Jaren Jackson Jr. played only 14 ineffective minutes while Tom Izzo opted instead for sixth-year senior Ben Carter in his place down the stretch. To make matters even worse, Sparty took the loss at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, a venue that is just 90 miles from the Michigan State campus in East Lansing.

Completely Expected (First Weekend): #2 Duke. There was never much doubt whether Duke was headed to the Sweet Sixteen last weekend. The Blue Devils impressively rolled through both Iona and Rhode Island without much tension — Duke won the two games by a combined 47 points. Marvin Bagley III and Gary Trent Jr. averaged 22.0 PPG and 17.0 PPG, respectively, while freshman forward Wendell Carter Jr. was a dominant presence on the defensive end of the court.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Syracuse 55, #3 Michigan State 53

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 18th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) is in Detroit this weekend. 

Three Key Takeaways.

Syracuse was all smiles after pulling off the upset. (Paul Sancya | The Associated Press)

  1. Syracuse mucked this game up to perfection. In order for Syracuse to win this game, it was going to have to slow down the pace, force Michigan State to run its half-court sets, and hope the Spartans missed shots from behind the arc. And that’s exactly what happened. The Big Ten champs were completely flummoxed by Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone, unable to exploit gaps inside and unconfident from the perimeter. Were it not for a few difficult made threes immediately before and after halftime, in fact, Michigan State’s final box score would have looked even uglier — which is remarkable when you consider that the Spartans finished 8-of-37 from three-point range. Despite getting hammered on the glass, Syracuse’s length inside was too much for big men like Nick Ward (10 points) and Jaren Jackson (two points). Even when Michigan State began passing out of the high post with Ben Carter — its best interior passer — the team’s go-to shooters like Josh Langford simply couldn’t hit. Afterward, Tom Izzo put it simply: “I thought we’d have a little easier time getting it in the middle.”
  2. Michigan State’s offense was atrocious. And it’s not a complete surprise. Michigan State boasted the ninth-most efficient offense in college basketball entering Sunday, largely the product of excellent outside shooting and a great running game. But there were times this season — Michigan, Rutgers, and others — in which the Spartans looked rhythmless and inept in the half-court. That issue reared its ugly head again on Sunday. Against an opponent built to slow teams down, Michigan State wasted far too much shot clock dribbling and handing-off instead of running clear offensive sets. When the pick-and-roll didn’t work — and it generally did not — Cassius Winston (4-of-12) and the Spartan guards were apt to either force a bad shot or hope Miles Bridges (4-of-18) could make something out of nothing. Following Michigan State’s home loss to Michigan on January 13 — a game in which it struggled mightily from the field — Izzo noted, “we have to do some soul-searching.” If Sunday’s performance was any indication, it’s clear that the Spartans never found their soul — at least not offensively.
  3. Jim Boeheim’s system works, no matter what you feel about it. There’s been plenty of chatter this weekend about whether Tony Bennett’s ‘system’ will ever result in March success for Virginia. Meanwhile, Boeheim’s 2-3 zone defense — very much a system in its own right — has enabled the offensively-limited Orange to make yet another deep run. For the second time in three seasons, Syracuse is finding the perfect level of cohesion at exactly the right time with an extremely shallow roster (351st nationally in bench minutes). How? Opponents facing Boeheim’s team for the first time simply don’t know how to breach that zone, especially with Syracuse’s length all over the court. The 73-year-old’s success should give those doubting Bennett a moment of pause.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Michigan State 82, #14 Bucknell 78

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 16th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) is in Detroit this weekend. 

Three Key Takeaways.

Miles Bridges was high NBA-caliber Friday evening in the Spartans’ tournament opener. (Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Miles Bridges took over down the stretch. After a back-and-forth first half that ended with Michigan State up just four, the All-American and future lottery pick asserted himself when Michigan State needed him most. In a three-minute period midway through the second half, Bridges ripped off 10 straight points, including a monstrous tip-slam over Bucknell center Nana Foulland. The sophomore finished with 29 points in all — 19 in the second half alone — in the type of performance Spartan country envisioned he would upon announcing his return last summer. Everything from Bridges’ talent to his assertiveness has been questioned by someone at some point this season, deserved or not. But on Friday, there was no questioning his excellence, and no denying that Michigan State is scary when he plays this well.
  2. Zach Thomas’s effort shouldn’t be forgotten. The Patriot League Player of the Year was awesome on Friday night (27 points), despite fouling out on a technical foul with six minutes remaining and despite playing with cotton swabs in his nose. The 6’7″ senior scored 20 points in the first half alone, drilling cold-blooded three-pointers and taking advantage of mismatches when Tom Izzo sat his best bigs. In a world where one-and-done players often rule the conversation, it’s great to see talented. little-known  four-year players put on a show against top-notch competition. “There wasn’t much of one. I mean, we didn’t defend him,” Izzo said of his team’s game plan for Thomas.
  3. Jaren Jackson needs to stay out of foul trouble. While discussing Zach Thomas’s skillset after the game, Bucknell coach Nathan Davis made a point of saying that the senior could post-up anyone on the floor “except maybe Jaren Jackson.” The rest of his statement had nothing to do with Jackson, but that comment spoke volumes — there simply aren’t many players in college basketball with Jackson’s length and defensive ability. And that’s why the freshman can’t afford to find himself in foul trouble like he did on Friday, or like he did in Michigan State’s two Big Ten Tournament games. Jackson, who has a 7’4″ wingspan, is an elite rim-protector capable of defending multiple positions; when he is on the floor, opponents becomes far more one-dimensional. And that’s not even taking into account his offensive versatility. Though the Spartans were able to overcome his absence against Bucknell, they might not be so lucky against better, bigger opponents in future rounds.

Star of the Game. Miles Bridges, Michigan State. The super-sophomore had one of his best performances of the season on Friday, finishing with 29 points and nine rebounds in 35 minutes of action. Izzo spoke after the game — as he has before — of always wanting Bridges to be more aggressive. If he he keeps playing like this, Michigan State will go very deep into March. Read the rest of this entry »

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RTC Bracket Prep: Midwest Region

Posted by Walker Carey on March 13th, 2018

Yesterday and today we will be rolling out our region-by-region analysis for the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Here, Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCMWRegion).

Favorite: #2 Duke (26-7, 13-5 ACC). While Kansas is the top seed in the region, Duke’s overall talent makes the Blue Devils the favorite. According to KenPom, Duke ranks third in the country in offensive efficiency and seventh in defensive efficiency. The Blue Devils are led by senior guard Grayson Allen (15.7 PPG, 4.5 APG) and freshman phenom Marvin Bagley III (21.1 PPG, 11.5 RPG), which gives it a decided talent advantage on both the perimeter and inside nearly every time they take the floor. Neither Rhode Island nor Oklahoma possesses the offensive firepower to knock off Duke in the Round of 32, while a potential Sweet Sixteen match-up with Michigan State represents a rematch of a Champions Classic showdown where Allen scored a career-high 37 points in leading his team to victory. Considering #1 Kansas’ general inconsistency and questions surrounding the health of big man Udoka Azuibuike, the Blue Devils’ path to another Final Four appears clear.

Grayson Allen’s Last Hurrah Starts in the Midwest Region (USA Today Images)

Should They Falter: #1 Kansas (27-7, 13-5 Big 12). For a team that earned its 14th consecutive regular season Big 12 title this season, Kansas certainly experienced plenty of national doubt. There have been legitimate questions about the Jayhawks’ overall depth and interior play all season — and those discussion points were not helped by Azuibuike suffering a knee injury prior the to the Big 12 Tournament. That said, Kansas was able to win three games in three days at the Big 12 Tournament to take home the title and the Jayhawks appear to be playing their best basketball of the season. With senior guards Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk leading the charge, coupled with the emergence of sophomore guard Malik Newman, Kansas has enough offensive prowess to keep up with anyone in the field.

Grossly Overseeded: #10 Oklahoma (18-13, 8-10 Big 12). The Sooners were one of the best stories of the early portion of this season. Freshman guard Trae Young was drawing favorable comparisons to Stephen Curry for his outstanding perimeter game, and it appeared Lon Kruger‘s group was equipped to rise from the ashes of last season’s debacle to ascend to the program’s second Final Four in the last three years. That all came to a screeching halt when the calendar turned to 2018. Since Big 12 play began, Oklahoma has gone just 8-12 and has not won a game away from Norman. While Young looked fresh and explosive in the early season, he has looked tired and lethargic since (an astronomical nation-leading usage rate of 38.6 percent surely contributes). The committee has repeatedly acknowledged that it values early season play just as much as it does the late season, so you can certainly understand why the Sooners were selected to the Field of 68. The surprising part is how firmly they were in — getting a #10 seed and avoiding the First Four is a generous draw for a team that has struggled so much.

Criminally Underseeded: #14 Bucknell (25-9, 16-2 Patriot League). Following a loss to Boston University on January 2, Bucknell was saddled with a mediocre 7-8 record and was looking for answers. The Bison finished the year, however, by winning 18 of their last 19 games and dominating the Patriot League Tournament — winning their semifinal and championship games by 31 and 29 points, respectively. It seems like everything is humming along nicely for Nathan Davis‘ group as the NCAA Tournament commences this week. That is why it was surprising to see the Bison earn only a #14 seed and a rather intimidating match-up with a very talented Michigan State squad in Detroit. Advancing past the First Round will be a tough ask of Bucknell.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big Ten Teams

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 11th, 2018

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 NCAA Tournament.

Can Michigan stay red-hot in the Big Dance? (SI.com)

  • Purdue, #2 seed, East Region. Fatigue played a role in Purdue’s late-season slide, which makes its first-round draw — a Friday match-up against Cal-State Fullerton — especially beneficial. While the Titans are the most aggressive squad in the country, scoring nearly 25 percent of their points at the free throw line, no team in the NCAA Tournament surrenders fewer points at the charity stripe than the Boilermakers. Isaac Haas and the rest of his front line should have no problem limiting Fullerton’s paint production. A potential second-round game with Arkansas could be a different story. The Razorbacks play an uptempo brand of basketball and have the size up front — 6’11” freshman Daniel Gafford (11.9 PPG, 2.1 BPG), in particular — to compete. Still, whether it winds up being Arkansas or Butler, expect Purdue to reach the East Regional in Boston.
  • Michigan State, #3 seed, Midwest Region. Despite a 29-4 record and regular season Big Ten title, Michigan State fell to the #3 line because of its dearth of Quadrant 1 wins. As a consolation prize, the Spartans get to play in Detroit, where they’ll take on Patriot League champion Bucknell. The Bison are a balanced, cohesive group that nearly upset #4 West Virginia in last year’s Dance. They also have size up front (namely 6’10” all-league center Nana Foulland) and considerable depth. Michigan State’s size and talent should ultimately overwhelm the Bison, but a harder-than-expected match-up could make the Spartans’ Second Round game a bit more interesting. Arizona State and TCU are two of the best offensive units in the country, while Syracuse boasts the tallest lineup in college hoops.

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