Ten Questions to Consider: Marquee Games and Marquee Opportunities

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on January 15th, 2021

While some of this weekend’s action has already been cancelled due to COVID, there remains plenty of games to keep an eye on. Battles at the top of several conferences are taking place and teams coming off of losses have a chance to make quick turnaround statements. Here are 10 questions I have for the games set to take place over the next few days:

  1. How will Wisconsin respond following its disastrous game at Michigan? (Wisconsin @ Rutgers, Friday, 9 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) After a Nate Reuvers basket at the 6:19 mark of the first half put Wisconsin down three points to Michigan, the Badgers were on the wrong end of a 43-6 run over the next 15:36 of action. Wisconsin’s Brad Davison is averaging just 5.3 points per game over his last four games, having shot 8-of-31 from the field.
  2. Can Texas Tech steady the hot shooting its opponents have had beyond the arc in league play? (Baylor @ Texas Tech, Saturday, 4 PM EST, ESPN) Heading into Wednesday’s game against Texas, the Texas Tech defense has forced opponents to shoot under 30 percent on the season from beyond the arc, a percentage that is among the top 50 nationally. However, in conference play, that number has risen to 36.2 percent, third worst in the Big 12. Baylor is shooting above 42 percent from deep on the season, currently ranking second in college basketball.
  3. Can Clemson’s top-ranked defense slow what is currently a one-dimensional Virginia offense? (Virginia @ Clemson, Saturday, 6 PM EST, ESPN) As of Wednesday, no team in the country has a better defensive efficiency than Clemson. While the Tigers are allowing under 87 points per 100 possessions on the season, that has climbed to a tick above 96 points in ACC play, ranking just sixth among ACC teams. For Virginia, while the Cavaliers’ offense is among the nation’s best inside the three-point line, they come in struggling beyond it, shooting an ACC worst 29.5 percent heading into its game against Notre Dame.
  4. Like Gonzaga has been doing to everyone else, will they simply run Saint Mary’s out of the gym? (Gonzaga @ Saint Mary’s, Saturday, 8 PM EST, ESPN) While the Gaels have been a perennial second banana to Gonzaga in the WCC over the last decade, recent matchups between these teams have not been close. Since the start of the 2016-17 season, Gonzaga has won 9 of the 11 games, with those nine victories coming by an average of 21.6 points.
  5. Is the Ziaire Williams and Oscar Da Silva pairing the best duo in the country that no one is talking about? (Stanford @ Colorado, Saturday, 2 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) While Stanford five-star freshman Ziaire Williams made headlines with his recent triple-double, not enough attention is being given to senior Oscar Da Silva. Through five Pac-12 games, Da Silva is averaging 21.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game, while shooting above 55 percent from the field, numbers that no recent player has managed to compile throughout a league season.
  6. Like they have done twice before this season, will Kansas quickly bounce back from its loss earlier in the week? (Iowa State @ Kansas, Saturday, 8 PM EST, ESPN+) Following losses to Gonzaga and Texas, Kansas responded by beating Saint Joseph’s by 22 points and TCU by 29. In the Tuesday night loss against Oklahoma State, Kansas players other than Ochai Agbaji were 1-of-12 from beyond the arc. Over his last two games, freshman Jalen Wilson has scored just 13 total points while committing 10 turnovers.
  7. Can Minnesota end its skid and takedown the red-hot Wolverines?(Michigan @ Minnesota, Saturday, 2 PM EST, ESPN2) In the first matchup between these teams just 10 days prior, Michigan won 82-57. While three of the four 10-minute segments were played tight, the Wolverines went on a 29-8 run to start the second-half which blew the game open. In that span, Michigan made 12-of-15 from the field, while Minnesota made just 3-of-15 shots. Marcus Carr was the only Golden Gopher to score more than 10 points in the game.
  8. In Bedlam, which star shines brightest? (Oklahoma @ Oklahoma State, Saturday, 8 PM EST) Oklahoma’s Austin Reaves and Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham are the only two players in the Big 12 to currently be averaging at least 15+ points, 5+ rebounds, and 3+ assists per game. Reaves is again off to a poor start from beyond the arc shooting just 27.7 percent, something that plagued him last year as well. In Reaves’ two years at Wichita State prior to joining Oklahoma, he had made 45 percent of his 182 three-point attempts.
  9. Can Buffalo and Bowling Green manage to defend without fouling? (Bowling Green @ Buffalo, Friday, 7 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) The Bulls and Falcons each currently sit a game behind Toledo in the MAC. Bowling Green and Buffalo have the MAC’s #1 and #2 ranked defensive efficiencies in league play, despite sitting in the bottom two spots in opponent free throw rate. In Bowling Green’s win over Buffalo earlier in the season, its 20 point per game scorer Justin Turner was a perfect 15-of-15 at the line, with Bowling Green finishing the game making 31-of-40 as a team.
  10. Will North Carolina’s relentless attacking of the offensive glass be too much for Florida State to stop? (North Carolina @ Florida State, Saturday, Noon EST) North Carolina has finished each of the past six seasons with an offensive rebounding rate that was among the top 20 in the nation. North Carolina’s current offensive rebounding rate ranks second in the nation and would be the program’s highest percentage under Roy Williams. In Tuesday’s win over Syracuse, UNC grabbed 24 offensive rebounds, a rate that was above 50 percent for the game. Heading into Wednesday’s action, Florida State ranks 236th in the nation in clearing its defensive glass.

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Ten Questions to Consider: #1 vs. #2 Leads the Weekend Intrigue

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on December 4th, 2020

Rarely do the Champions Classic and Maui Invitational take a backseat to a game later in the week, but with top-ranked Gonzaga taking on Baylor, that will be the case this weekend. In addition to that heavyweight matchup, I’m intrigued by teams leaving bubbles, teams off to shaky starts, and teams just getting going. Here are 10 questions I have for games taking place over the weekend:

  1. What will be the impact of the Jalen Suggs ankle injury as #1 Gonzaga takes on #2 Baylor? (Gonzaga vs. Baylor, Saturday, 1 PM EST, CBS) The ankle injury to Jalen Suggs in Wednesday night’s win over West Virginia had many college basketball fans around the country holding their breath. Suggs ultimately came back and played 16 minutes in the second half, but he did not score upon returning. However, Gonzaga had four other players score 10 or more points in its 53-point second-half to surge from behind for the win.
  2. After playing four games in Bubbleville, how will Villanova fare in hitting the road against the champs of Maui? (Villanova @ Texas, Sunday, 1 PM EST, ESPN) Villanova had its share of ups and downs while playing at Mohegan Sun Arena last week. All told, though, the Wildcats were a second-half collapse against Virginia Tech away from a 4-0 start to the season. After averaging just under 11 points per game a season ago, Jermaine Samuels has yet to hit double-figures yet. Villanova takes on a Texas team that has held opponents to a three-point percentage of just 20.3 percent through its opening four games.
  3. Will Marquette be able to slow the versatile Wisconsin offense? (Wisconsin @ Marquette, Friday, 7 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) In last season’s match-up between these teams, which the Badgers won 77-61, six different Wisconsin players scored 10 or more points. With four of those players back in action, a Marquette defense, which just saw four Oklahoma State players reach double-figures in the Golden Eagles loss, will be put to the test.
  4. Will this be the game that Kentucky finds any outside shooting? (Kentucky @ Georgia Tech, Sunday, 5 PM EST, ESPN) Kentucky is just 3-of-31 from beyond the three-point line over its last two games. The Wildcats last made three or fewer threes over a two-game span in the 2014-15 season (3-of-19 in wins against Providence and Texas). The Wildcats will be up against a Georgia Tech defense that has allowed its first two opponents to make 22-of-55 three-point attempts.
  5. Might Richmond be primed for a letdown following its win at Rupp Arena? (Furman @ Richmond, Saturday, 6 PM EST) The Spiders return home to face a KenPom top-100 Furman squad which returns five of its six leading scorers, including three players who averaged better than 10 points per game. Mike Bothwell of Furman has scored 17 or more points in each of his first three games and has made 21 of his 26 shots inside the three-point line. The disruptive Richmond defense will be tested by a Furman offense that has finished with a top-30 effective field-goal percentage in each of Bob Richey’s first three seasons as its head coach.
  6. Will it be Oregon or Seton Hall who leaves Omaha with an important win? (Oregon vs. Seton Hall, Friday, 9 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) The Ducks dropped their season opener on Wednesday night just hours after preseason all-conference first team guard Will Richardson had surgery on his thumb. For Seton Hall, the start of the season has included road losses to Louisville and Rhode Island — both teams are looking to find their stride after replacing all-everything players Payton Pritchard and Myles Powell.
  7. Will having played just one game impact Oklahoma as they hit the road for its Big 12 opener? (Oklahoma @ TCU, Sunday, 4 PM EST, ESPN 2) The Sooners take on a TCU team that will have played three more games than Oklahoma when the teams meet on Sunday. The Sooners are looking to replace last season’s leading scorer Kristian Doolittle with a group which includes North Texas transfer Umoja Gibson, who averaged 14.5 points per game with the Mean Green last year.
  8. Was Auburn’s loss on Monday against UCF a sign of things to come or more like a hangover from the Gonzaga loss? (South Alabama @ Auburn, Friday, 9 PM EST, SEC Network) Bruce Pearl’s squad sits at 1-2 with its lone win coming in overtime against Saint Joseph’s. In addition to tis on-court struggles, this is an Auburn team that has been without Sharife Cooper whose status remains up in the air. Without the McDonald’s All-American, Auburn has not yet found what it takes to replace the likes of Samir Doughty, Austin Wiley, J’Von McCormick, Daniel Purifoy and Isaac Okoro.
  9. Will home court advantage reign supreme again in the Battle of Cincinnati? (Xavier @ Cincinnati, Sunday, 3 PM EST) The home team has won each of the past five match-ups between Cincinnati and Xavier with the average margin of victory exceeding 10 points. While Travis Steele’s Musketeers’ squad will have played five games prior to Sunday, the Bearcats will be hitting the court for just the second time. It is a Cincinnati team that is replacing a pair in Jarron Cumberland and Tre Scott, each of whom averaged north of 10 points per game a season ago.
  10. Will Georgetown show fight against the tough Mountaineer team or is the beginning of the end of the Patrick Ewing era well underway? (West Virginia @ Georgetown, Sunday, 4:30 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) In the Hoyas’ loss to Navy on Tuesday, Georgetown surrendered 40 points in the paint, lost the turnover battle, was -1 in second-chance points, and only had one bench point. All that could go wrong seemingly did go wrong. Now in his fourth season at his alma mater, Patrick Ewing needs his team to show signs of life very quickly. Jahvon Blair is averaging 20 points per game so far and is showing production inside the arc where he is shooting 56 percent, but his lack of production from beyond the three-point line (4-of-19) has been troubling for the Hoyas’ offense.
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Red River Rising as Texas and Oklahoma Grab Early Resume Wins

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 12th, 2019

Both Oklahoma and Texas have had their moments in the Big 12, but it would be fair to call them wildcards in recent seasons. Under Lon Kruger‘s leadership, the Sooners have finished as high as second in the conference (2015) and as low as ninth (2017). Under Shaka Smart‘s direction, the Longhorns have finished as high as fourth (2016) and as poorly as last place (2017). While the small sample caveat applies here, the early going this season has given both teams’ fanbases some reason to buy in to 2020.

Lon Kruger (USA Today Images)

Beating one of the worst teams in the Big Ten isn’t going to turn heads on a national level (nor should it), but the Sooners answered the bell over the weekend with a 71-62 semi-road win over Minnesota in Sioux Falls. Like most games around this time of year, a sloppy first half ceded to a 23-4 rager midway through the second half. Oklahoma is hardly a young team, but with the squad graduating five seniors last spring, cohesion was going to be an early question. To their credit, Brady Manek (16.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG) and Kristian Doolittle (10 points, 10 rebounds in his debut against the Gophers) have given Kruger a pair of leaders to which to turn, while Wichita State transfer Austin Reaves (17 PPG, 6 RPG) and sophomore guard Jamal Bienemy should be rotation stalwarts all season long. More tests are on the way, starting with tonight’s matchup against an Oregon State team fresh off a win over Iowa State, but more often than not Kruger can be trusted to get the most out of his players.

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16 Questions: Friday’s First Round Games

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 22nd, 2019

It’s time for another exciting day of 16 games. Here are the questions I have going into Friday’s action:

The Zion Show Moves to the NCAA Tournament (USA Today Images)
  • 1) Duke vs. 16) North Dakota State: Will Duke’s perimeter players begin the Tournament knocking down shots? Zion will be Zion, of course, but Duke will need its other players knocking down shots down the line if the Blue Devils are to cut down the nets in Minneapolis.
  • 1) North Carolina vs. 16) Iona: Can Iona make it to the half within closer range than last year against Duke? As a #15 seed against Duke last year, Iona trailed at the half by 14 points before going on to lose by 22. While the Gaels shot a sterling 58.3 percent from inside the arc, they were just 5-of-24 from beyond the stripe. Duke, on the other hand, shot 62.2 percent from two-point range and went 13-of-30 from behind the line.
  • 1) Virginia vs. 16) Garder-Webb: Will Virginia be quick to rid itself of last season’s nightmare? A 29-3 regular season was great, but memories of last year will surely still be on everyone’s minds as the Cavaliers’ postseason begins. Virginia scored just nine points during the opening 10 minutes against UMBC one year ago, so its first few segments of the game will be telling.
  • 2) Tennessee vs. 15) Colgate: Will Tennessee make quick work of Colgate? Colgate comes into this game with a defensive efficiency ranking of #202, and the Raiders will be tasked with stopping the nation’s third most efficient offense led by the force that is Grant Williams. Good luck.
  • 3) Houston vs. 14) Georgia State: Does Georgia State coach Ron Hunter have more Tournament magic up his sleeves? On the season, Houston has out-rebounded its opponents by an average of 7.7 rebounds per game, whereas Georgia State finds itself getting outmuscled by the tune of 5.3 rebounds per game. If the Panthers can survive on the glass, the duo of D’Marcus Simmonds and Devin Mitchell might be able to keep Georgia State within striking distance.
  • 3) Texas Tech vs. 14) Northern Kentucky: Will Texas Tech’s loss to West Virginia have any carry-over effects? While Texas Tech held the Mountaineers to just 38.8 percent shooting, the Red Raiders gave up 19 offensive rebounds and 20 points at the charity stripe.
  • 4) Kansas State vs. 13) UC Irvine: Will Kansas State be able to get any play and production out of Dean Wade? Wade did not play in the Big 12 Tournament and his status remains up in the air for today’s game. Without the big man inside, the Anteaters could be able to take advantage of its offensive rebounding prowess.
  • 4) Virginia Tech vs. 13) Saint Louis: How will Virginia Tech work Justin Robinson back into the lineup? After missing the last 12 games of the season, Robinson is set to return for the Hokies. The senior guard averages just under 14 points per game while shooting better than 40 percent from deep.
  • 5) Wisconsin vs. 12) Oregon: Can Wisconsin get D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison to knock down open shots? In Wisconsin’s five March games, the pair of Trice and Davison have gone a combined 11-of-48 from behind the three-point line. Without knocking down open shots, Oregon will be able to throw everything they have at slowing All-America center Ethan Happ.
  • 5) Mississippi State vs. 12) Liberty: Will Liberty be overwhelmed by the Mississippi State offense? The Flames played 14 games against an opponent with an offensive efficiency ranking of 260th or worse. The Bulldogs have an offensive efficiency ranking of 56th and are led by Quinndary Weatherspoon, who shot an SEC-best 44.9 percent on three-point attempts during league play.
  • 6) Buffalo vs. 11) Arizona State: Will Buffalo get the best of a school from Arizona again? Bobby Hurley and the Sun Devils won on Wednesday night in Dayton and are rewarded with a match-up against Hurley’s former squad. Arizona State will need more than 23 minutes of action from Remy Martin to get another victory.
  • 6) Iowa State vs. 11) Ohio State: With Kaleb Wesson back, can Ohio State pull off the upset? The Buckeyes lost two of their last three games with Wesson back before falling in his return to the Spartans. Ohio State averaged 10 fewer points per game on the road than they did at home.
  • 7) Cincinnati vs. 10) Iowa: Can Iowa change its late season misfortune? The Hawkeyes come into this game losers of five of their last six games. Throw in needing a pair of last second baskets to beat Northwestern and Rutgers and it’s clear Iowa is playing its worst basketball at the wrong time of the year.
  • 8) Ole Miss vs. 9) Oklahoma: Can Ole Miss knock down enough threes to beat the Sooners? The Rebels were just 2-8 when they failed to make a third of their three-point attempts this season. On the year, Oklahoma has held opponents to a three-point average of 33.3 percent.
  • 8) Utah State vs. 9) Washington: Can the Pac-12’s highest seed help the conference from its dismal 2018 showing in the NCAA Tournament? The Pac-12’s regular season champion scored fewer than 50 points in two of its final four games, both coming against Oregon. The Huskies’ defense does a terrific job of creating havoc, however, led by the wizardry of defensive ace Matisse Thybulle.
  • 8) VCU vs. 9) UCF: If VCU’s Marcus Evans is not at 100 percent, will the Rams have enough firepower? Evans suffered a bone bruise in VCU’s loss to Rhode Island in last week’s Atlantic 10 tournament. The starting guard averages a team-best 13.9 points per game and VCU could be tested greatly by UCF’s stout defense — which includes the towering presence of 7’6″ Tacko Fall.
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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big 12 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 17th, 2019

There’s no way around it: The Big 12 had a down year, propelling fewer than seven teams to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013 (five). Despite having a smaller presence than usual, the pressure will be on the league to have a team make a deep run — and all the better if that team is not Kansas. Compared to some of the other power conferences, the Big 12 may be light at the top, but the middle of the league is sufficiently meaty. Here are some quick thoughts on each team’s draw.

Is Texas Tech Ready for Another Run to the Second Weekend (USA Today Images)

Texas Tech (#3 Midwest)

  • Quick First Round Preview: Northern Kentucky is a spicy match-up for Texas Tech’s robust defense. The Norse move the ball extremely well, assisting on a higher percentage of all their shots than all but four teams in college basketball. Fortunately for the Red Raiders, Northern Kentucky’s defense isn’t much to write home about.
  • Intriguing Potential Match-up: Buffalo in the Round of 32. The Bulls have repeatedly shown that they aren’t afraid of major conference powers and are loaded with experience. Texas Tech won a share of the Big 12 this season by loading up on transfers and having one freshman make a big enough leap to turn himself into a lottery pick. There are more than one ways to skin a cat, but what’s the best way?
  • Final Word: It’s reassuring that last Thursday’s neutral court loss to West Virginia didn’t have a measurable effect on the Red Raiders’ seeding. Their region has the most manageable pair of top seeds (North Carolina and Kentucky), so I’ll be very curious to see if Chris Beard can deliver Lubbock its first Final Four.

Kansas (#4 Midwest)

  • Quick First Round Preview: Northeastern is a small team that isn’t shy about firing away from deep and is a very good defensive rebounding team despite its relative lack of size. If the Huskies get hot from long range, anything can happen, but they struggled mightily in earlier losses to Syracuse and Virginia Tech. Kansas fans shouldn’t be too concerned about this game.
  • Intriguing Potential Match-up: North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen. The Jayhawks have faced off against their previous coach multiple times over the last 10 years and could certainly be poised to do so again. From a match-up standpoint, however, a game with Auburn in the Round of 32 would be an interesting tilt. The Tigers, like Kansas, have experienced some head-scratching losses this season, but the their defense could cause problems for the inconsistent Jayhawks’ offense.
  • Final Word: The Jayhawks got a massive break by being placed in the Midwest Region despite finishing third in the Big 12, a testament to the staff’s savvy non-conference scheduling. This team is so tough to peg that it’s challenging to see them winning enough to earn a trip back to Kansas City, much less winning there and advancing to consecutive Final Fours.

Kansas State (#4 South)

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What’s Trending: The NCAA Tournament is Closer Than You Think

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 11th, 2019

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

Saturday marked the initial release of the Selection Committee’s top 16 seeds for the upcoming NCAA Tournament. While the choices lacked much in the way of surprise, the release was followed by five of those teams losing later that day.

Earlier in the week, the college basketball world was reminded of the drama that comes along with NCAA violations, as Arizona decided to place assistant coach Mark Phelps on administrative leave. The Wildcats have struggled both on and off the court this season.

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Ten Questions to Consider: A Weekend of Statement Games

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 18th, 2019

This weekend features road tests for the two remaining undefeated teams, intrigue across the power conferences, and match-ups involving squads looking to end recent trends. Here are 10 questions I have for this weekend’s games.

Tony Bennett is Ready to Take On Duke Again (USA Today Images)
  1. Can Duke do what few can and solve Virginia’s defense? (Virginia @ Duke, Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN) Prior to last season’s win by Virginia at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke had beaten the Cavaliers in the teams’ previous 17 games in Durham. Duke’s offense to date has been held under one point per possession just one time this year (Texas Tech), while Virginia has held 13 of its 16 opponents under that threshold. To beat Virginia, Duke will have to improve upon its three-point shooting, though, as the Blue Devils are hitting only 22.8 percent from behind the arc over their last eight games.
  2. Can Wisconsin find enough production off of its bench to hand Michigan its first loss? (Michigan @ Wisconsin, Saturday Noon EST, ESPN) In the Badgers’ three Big Ten wins, their bench has averaged 18.7 points per game; but in the Badgers three conference losses, their bench has averaged just 7.7 points per game. The trio of Ethan Happ, D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison will need help from the reserves in scoring to beat the Wolverines.
  3. Will Ashton Hagans continue to shine as both Kentucky and Auburn try to avoid a second conference loss? (Kentucky @ Auburn, Saturday 4 PM EST, ESPN) After scoring no more than eight points in a single game during his first 11 outings as a Wildcat, Kentucky’s Ashton Hagans is averaging 15.6 points per game over the last five. Hagans will be dealing with an Auburn defense, however, that leads the country in forced turnover rate (27.8%).
  4. Can Kansas State avoid looking ahead to an upcoming game against Texas Tech when TCU comes to town? (TCU @ Kansas State, Saturday 4 PM EST, ESPN2) After starting Big 12 play 0-2, the Wildcats have subsequently rattled off three straight wins. While Kansas State has an elite defense, its offensive efficiency ranks outside of the top 175. As a team, the Wildcats shoot a mere 63.8 percent from the free throw line, a number that could haunt them if they get caught looking ahead to Texas Tech.
  5. Would keeping Maryland off of the free throw line be enough for Ohio State to end its recent three-game losing streak? (Maryland @ Ohio State, Friday 6 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) According to KenPom‘s database, the average rate at which Big Ten teams are sending opponents to the free throw line in conference play is 32.9 percent. Through five conference games, Ohio State’s defense is sending its opponents to the line at a rate of 53.6 percent. During the Buckeyes current three-game losing streak, their opponents have made 20 more free throws than Chris Holtmann’s team has attempted.
  6. Can Texas Tech find any sort of offensive rhythm? (Texas Tech @ Baylor, Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN2) While the Red Raiders continue to own the nation’s best defense, their offensive efficiency ranks ninth among Big 12 teams in conference play. Texas Tech has made just 29.6 percent of its three-point attempts over the last eight games.
  7. Might Syracuse get stuck looking back at its huge win on Monday when Pittsburgh comes to the Carrier Dome? (Pittsburgh @ Syracuse, Saturday 2 PM EST) Jim Boeheim’s squad is coming off of a marquee win against Duke in which the Orange shot 11-of-25 from distance while the Blue Devils went 9-of-43. Syracuse now hosts a Pittsburgh team that is led by the freshman backcourt duo of Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens.
  8. How will Marquette fare against Providence if Markus Howard is unable to play? (Providence @ Marquette, Sunday Noon, CBS Sports Network) Markus Howard left Marquette’s most recent game after playing just three minutes with a sore back. Without Howard in the lineup, Sam Hauser stepped up and scored 31 points while making 4-of-9 from beyond the arc. Hauser is now shooting 29.4 percent from three-point range in five Big East games — last season, however, Hauser led the Big East from distance at an incredible 53.7 percent.
  9. Who will walk away from the Red River Rivalry game with a win? (Oklahoma @ Texas, Saturday 8 PM EST, Longhorn Network) Both Oklahoma and Texas sit at 2-3 in Big 12 play, but Texas has lost three consecutive games and Oklahoma has lost three of its last five.
  10. Can Oregon State make a statement in the desert? (Oregon State @ Arizona, Saturday 10 PM EST, Pac 12 Network) Oregon State began this week as one of three Pac-12 teams undefeated in conference play — it lost to Arizona State last night and Arizona has since lost to Oregon. The Beavers will have an opportunity to salvage a split against the Wildcats on Saturday night. Keep in mind that Oregon State has lost 33 of its last 34 games against Arizona in Tucson.

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Ten Questions To Consider: Christmas Comes Early With Plenty of Hoops

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 21st, 2018

With Christmas, the New Year and conference play all firmly in the sights of players and teams, this weekend’s slate of games brings plenty of questions to the table. Kick off the holidays with plenty of hoops on Friday and Saturday.

Roy and Cal Get Together Again (USA Today Images)
  1. Will Buffalo pick up another win over a power conference opponent? (Buffalo @ Marquette, Friday 8:30 PM EST, FS1) Having already picked up Quadrant 1 wins at West Virginia and Syracuse, Buffalo can make it three big victories with a win at Marquette tonight. In those two wins, Bulls guard CJ Massinburg combined to score 68 points on 13 made three-pointers.
  2. Will Oklahoma’s success travel? (Oklahoma @ Northwestern, Friday 9 PM EST, Big Ten Network) The Sooners started the season with true road games at UT-Rio Grande Valley and UT-San Antonio, and they have not played a true game since then. This Friday evening trip to Northwestern could be feisty as the Wildcats gave Michigan all it could handle in the Wolverines’ narrow two-point win at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
  3. How will southern California’s best team do on the road at Butler? (UC Irvine @ Butler, Friday 6:30 PM EST, FS1) The most successful southern California basketball team this season belongs to UC Irvine. The Anteaters are 11-2 heading into their Friday evening match-up with Butler. Irvine has a suffocating defense that includes a defensive two-point field-goal percentage that ranks among the top 10 nationally.
  4. Which offensive rebounding force will come out on top in battle between blue-bloods? (Kentucky vs. North Carolina in Chicago, Saturday 5:15 PM EST, CBS) The CBS Sports Classic pits these two heavyweights against one another yet again. Both teams grab offensive rebounds at a rate that places them among the best in the country. In North Carolina’s convincing win over Gonzaga, the Tar Heels had an offensive rebound rate of 46.7 percent.
  5. Is Kansas ready for its first true road test? (Kansas @ Arizona State, Saturday 9 PM EST, ESPN2) Undefeated and top-ranked Kansas hits the road for its first true road game on Saturday evening. In a loss last season to the Sun Devils, the trio of Tra Holder, Shannon Evans, and Remy Martin combined to score 72 of the team’s 95 points. Of the three, only Martin is back with Arizona State this season.
  6. Will Arizona’s offense make an appearance? (UC Davis @ Arizona, Saturday 7 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) Arizona’s offensive efficiency had ranked among the top 20 in the nation in each of the past six seasons. This year, however, the Wildcats’ efficiency has fallen outside of the top 100. As a team, Arizona is 11-of-40 from beyond the arc in its last two games.
  7. Can the WCC pick up ANOTHER win over a Pac-12 opponent? (San Diego @ Washington State, Saturday 7:30 PM EST, FS1) The quest for the West Coast Conference to becoming a three-bid league continues as San Diego looks to pick the conference’s eighth win over the Pac-12. The Toreros are led by Isaiah Pineiro who has scored double-figure points in 30 of his last 31 games.
  8. How far can Kansas State’s superb defense carry the team? (Vanderbilt vs. Kansas State, Saturday 7 PM, ESPN2) Kansas State’s ability to defend the three, create turnovers and limit second-chance opportunities has allowed the Wildcats to log a defensive efficiency that sits among the top five nationally. They are now a team without one of its best offensive weapons in Dean Wade, however. Vanderbilt does not struggle to score the ball, so will this be the game in which Kansas State needs its offense to wake up?
  9. Will UConn get a win against former Big East foe Villanova? (UConn @ Villanova, Saturday 12:30 PM EST, CBS) After its two-game losing streak earlier this season, Villanova went on to win six straight. Having just lost two in a row again, the Wildcats now face a familiar opponent in former Big East rival UConn. The Huskies are 9-3 but have just one win (Syracuse) against an opponent with a KenPom ranking of #225 or better.
  10. Is Auburn vulnerable coming off of its loss at NC State? (Murray State @ Auburn, Saturday 4:30 PM EST, SEC Network) While Auburn shot 68 percent from inside the arc against NC State earlier this week, the Tigers were also a dismal 5-of-25 beyond the three-point line. Auburn returns home for a match-up against a Murray State team that has the nation’s best three-point defense to date. If the Racers can defend the three well and clean up their defensive glass, an area they have struggled in, Auburn could be in for a very tough 40 minutes.

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Big 12 Quarter-Pole Reset

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 14th, 2018

As college basketball wakes up from Finals Week, it’s a great opportunity to look around the league and see how things are developing. Of course, Kansas being at the top of this league doesn’t surprise anyone, but the pecking order beneath the Jayhawks wasn’t what prognosticators pictured back in October. Texas Tech looks fantastic, although their numbers are a touch inflated by a soft schedule as we’ll get into below. Kansas State and West Virginia don’t look like the contenders many projected, but a couple surprise teams in Oklahoma and TCU have stepped up to take their spots.

A collective effort led by Jarrett Culver has Texas Tech undefeated. (Getty)
  1. It doesn’t look like Kansas State and West Virginia will be giving the Jayhawks a run for their money after all, but Texas Tech, on the other hand, is undefeated heading into tomorrow’s match-up with Abilene Christian. This prediction could blow up in my face, seeing as how the Red Raiders have played the third-easiest non-conference schedule in the country, per KenPom, but they have the potential to be one of the best defensive teams we’ve seen in a very long time. Texas Tech’s opponents are averaging a lengthy 18.6 seconds per possession (346th nationally), committing turnovers 26 percent of the time and are shooting just 37.5 percent on two-point tried. Interestingly, Texas Tech isn’t getting out on the break very much despite generating all those turnovers, instead preferring to have Jarrett Culver, Kyler Edwards and Brandone Francis walk the ball up the floor. It’s reasonable to wonder if that will change come Big 12 play, though. The league currently houses four of the nation’s top 20 defensive units aside from the Red Raiders, so it might make sense for Chris Beard’s club to run more often in an attempt to get quality shots before those stifling defenses can set up.
  2. While I was pretty high on Texas Tech entering the season, I didn’t foresee Oklahoma and TCU looking as good as they have, and each team is getting it done in different ways. I thought the Sooners would be overwhelmed by the ambitious non-conference schedule Lon Kruger assembled (25th in the country, per KenPom), but while the Sooners still have a few hurdles to clear, their defense has been very good. Oklahoma to date has been strong both in transition and non-transition settings, and they dusted off Notre Dame and Wichita State without their best rim protector, Jamuni McNeace. The Horned Frogs’ offense, meanwhile, looks incredibly cohesive, which isn’t something commonly seen before the calendar flips to the new year. With TCU, the ball is always moving and every pass seems to have a purpose. The metrics affirm it, too, as Jamie Dixon’s team has assisted on a staggering 73 percent of its made shots, which is tops in the country. A potential issue with TCU is Jaylen Fisher’s limited ability to create as he continues to recover from offseason knee surgery. He’s attempted just seven twos in 123 minutes of action, which translates to a shade over three games’ worth of action, and his ability to penetrate just isn’t there yet. While he’s been terrific from deep, it won’t be long before opposing defenses start pressing up on both he and Alex Robinson to keep them from getting so much daylight.
  3. When people discuss West Virginia being a different team this season, the conversation is usually centered around how the Mountaineers have regressed without Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles there to set up shop inside opponents’ jerseys. Sure enough, they rank just 143rd in defensive turnover percentage (last four years: first, second, first, second), and even with strong offensive rebounding as usual, the relative lack of turnovers has Bob Huggins turning to an unlikely answer on offense: Sagaba Konate firing from deep. You read that right. The Mountaineers’ vaunted rim protector has attempted 23 three-pointers on the year, but even more surprising is that he’s connected on nine of them, enough to make him the team’s second-leading three-point shooter at 39.1 percent. Konate’s deep ball is slow to release, which shouldn’t shock anyone familiar with his game, nor will it make him the sport’s next unicorn, but he’s been effective enough to keep defenses honest. It’s a good idea for Konate to try to become more versatile, because at just 6’8”, there’s no guarantee that his shot-blocking will translate to the next level, wherever that may be. As long as he continues to make threes at a rate that forces opposing big men out of the paint, however, you’re probably not going to see Huggins complain too much.
  4. Kansas State hit a nadir last weekend with an embarrassing 47-46 loss to Tulsa, and while Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes haven’t emerged as the complementary options they were expected to be, Dean Wade’s recent duds (two points on 1-of-6 shooting with three turnovers at Tulsa; 11 points on 3-of-7 shooting and a DQ at Marquette) are concerning. Just five weeks after tip-off, Wade isn’t on the same planet that would be expected of the Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year. I don’t have a ballot, but if I had to name an all-conference first team today, there’s no way I could justify putting him there. He hasn’t been a total loss, and there’s only so much you can do as a big man when the backcourt cannot reliably set you up, but a forward with Wade’s skill set and experience should be considerably further along.
  5. Sticking with the Wildcats, the adage goes that once a coach is on the hot seat, he’s never truly off of it, and we’re seeing some of that now as fans are understandably frustrated with Bruce Weber’s performance less than a year removed from leading Kansas State to the Elite Eight. Even though athletic director Dean Taylor extended Weber’s contract last spring, the financials don’t make the extension an anchor, as the new Kansas State football coach, Chris Klieman, will draw a starting salary of just $2.3 million (lowest among the Big 12’s public schools). I’m not saying that Klieman was hired to make it easy for Kansas State to get out of Weber’s contract, but it could be a benefit if the fan base and big donors put enough pressure on the administration to think hard about retaining Weber if he can’t right the ship again.
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Big 12 Feast Week Catch-Up

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 21st, 2018

We’re halfway through Feast Week and even though much of the conference has faced strong competition for the first time this season, we aren’t that much closer to determining a pecking order than we were on Sunday. That’s a credit to the league’s performance rather than a detriment, though, with strong impressions being made throughout. Idle until later today, Kansas still has the inside track, but whereas before the season when Kansas State was thought to be the sole challenger, the battle for second is a jumbled mess at this juncture with not only the Wildcats but also Texas Tech, Texas and even Iowa State joining the fray. Further down, even Oklahoma isn’t looking like an easy out, which is another good sign for the league’s overall strength

Udoka Azubuike and the Jayhawks stare down their next challenge in New York City. (Getty)

  • Kansas (NIT Season Tip-Off) – The Jayhawks look to collect more marquee wins in their second neutral-court event of the season. Tonight’s semifinal pits Bill Self’s team against a Marquette squad eager to make a splash after finishing seventh in the Big East a season ago. While the Jayhawks are deservedly favored, they’ve been getting cooked from beyond the arc, ranking 331st in defensive 3PA/FGA and allowing opponents to hit 46.9 percent of their tries. Their weakness for going over screens and over-helping hasn’t cost them yet, but although the Golden Eagles haven’t truly heated up, they have the firepower to make the Jayhawks pay with an arsenal of shooters led by Markus Howard, Sam Hauser and Joey Hauser. If they don’t connect, there won’t be much to fall back on with Kansas having the skill and bodies down low to keep Marquette honest on the blocks. Offense hasn’t been much of a problem for the Jayhawks, but it could be against the Volunteers if that matchup materializes Friday night. Rick Barnes has always fielded stingy defensive teams as long as his players have bought in, and it’s been no different this year. Tennessee hasn’t forced turnovers or blocked a ton of shots, but they’ve been forcing tough attempts, which is almost as beneficial. Louisville’s no slouch, either, but the jury’s still out with Chris Mack working to establish the habits that made him a must-have to the Cardinals’ administration and donor base.
  • Kansas State (Paradise Jam) – For Wildcat fans, watching this team in its first four games was kind of like eating Chinese food for dinner. It achieved the desired result, but it was never anything to write home about and you were hungry for something better just a short time later. A decisive 20-2 run against Missouri en route to the Paradise Jam title in Game 5 doesn’t mean that Kansas State’s offense is fixed, but it’s certainly a start. Dean Wade and Barry Brown leading the way with strong support from Xavier Sneed and Cartier Diarra putting in yeoman’s work off the bench is exactly what Bruce Weber needs from his squad to sufficiently complement its heady, efficient defensive play. Now comes the hard part of sustaining it against the rest of a solid non-con slate and into league play.
  • Texas Tech (Hall Of Fame Classic) – The Red Raiders had a successful week in Kansas City, using big second halves to defeat USC and Nebraska on their way to the Hall of Fame Classic championship. Chris Beard made frequent substitutions in search of a rotation that could get the best of Tech’s opponents, but the constant was Jarrett Culver, who averaged 22 points and 7.5 rebounds in the event. Culver struggled to get going early in both games, but made increasingly better decisions as the individual games wore on. By the end of the event, he cemented his role as the team’s leader with Matt Mooney, Tariq Owens and Davide Moretti making for a solid supporting cast. I maintain that Tech’s drop-off from 2018 won’t be as steep as many around the landscape feel, but one thing that gives me pause relates to the way the offense stagnated when Culver wasn’t fully engaged, so while it’s still early and trusting Beard feels like a safe bet, I do worry a bit about the team being able to pick up the slack against better opponents when Culver isn’t at his best.
  • Iowa State (Maui Invitational) – Beating superior competition when you’re short-handed is challenging enough in a normal setting, but when you’re slated to play three games in three days with just eight scholarship players, you just want to have a decent showing and not return to the mainland any worse off than you were when you arrived. A fully healthy Cyclone team might have have been able to finish the job against Arizona on Monday night, but they’re certainly making the best of it in the consolation bracket. Steve Prohm had Brad Underwood’s number in the latter’s lone season at Oklahoma State with the Cyclones sweeping all three meetings in 2017, and that continued Tuesday afternoon with an 84-68 trouncing. Iowa State’s effort epitomized basketball in 2018, with 47 of their 53 shot attempts coming on dunks, layups or three-pointers. With Marial Shayok and Talen Horton-Tucker showing out and the team playing free-flowing, efficient basketball, re-working Lindell Wigginton, Cameron Lard and Solomon Young into the rotation will make for a fascinating storyline they get closer to returning.
  • Oklahoma (Battle 4 Atlantis) – Picked to finish eighth in the league, the Sooners have shown some moxie, undefeated with three of their four wins coming away from Norman and a chance to make the week a big one assuming they meet favored Wisconsin in Friday’s semifinal. As I discussed last week, the calling card of Oklahoma’s defense has been their ability to defend without fouling, but that risk-averse nature hasn’t yielded many turnovers. That may need to change against a Wisconsin team that really values the ball and has largely made the most of their possessions. Jamuni McNeace was highly effective defending the Gators, but stopping Ethan Happ will be one of the biggest challenges he’ll face all year if the matchup comes to fruition. Continuing to get standout offensive play from Christian James (21.5 PPG, 2.5 TO/40) will be vital as well.
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