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: 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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Most Improved Offensive and Defensive Pac-12 Teams

Posted by RJ Abeytia on January 9th, 2018

I swear we aren’t trying to become an Arizona State subsite. When I got the idea for this post, it never occurred to me that I was walking right back in the direction of Tempe.  I was actually hoping to be pleasantly surprised to see which Pac-12 team has to date made the biggest leaps on offense and defense. Instead, the Sun Devils took all the fun out of my balloon. Arizona State has moved up a whopping five places in both Offensive Rating and Defensive Rating, which is one of those facts that only feels inevitable after you hear about it. As a matter of fact, the Sun Devils are the most efficient offensive team in the Pac-12 this season, up from sixth last year to first today. They also rank sixth in defensive efficiency one season after finishing last in the league overall. It’s been an uprising on both ends of the court for Bobby Hurley.

Arizona State Has Made Big Improvements From Last Year to This Year (USA Today Images)

Arizona State’s three-point shooting is by far the biggest contributor to its offensive success, but what else are the Sun Devils doing right? They are obviously shooting the ball very well, with an effective field goal rate of 56.2 percent, 26th nationally. They are also snaring 32.2 percent of the available offensive rebounds (84th) and they are getting to the line at an exceptional rate of 47.4 percent, second-highest in the country. When watching them play, it is easy to see how their strengths all feed off one another. Driving lanes are open because opponents can’t cheat off shooters. That creates clean post opportunities for freshman Romello White, who in a DeAndre Ayton-less world would be getting serious Freshman of the Year shine for bringing a desperately needed inside presence to this team. Arizona State also has multiple perimeter guys playing with great poise, so teams cannot focus on just one piece there to short-circuits the whole show. Defensively, the Sun Devils have been built with inside-out priorities. Over 43 percent of their opponents’ shots are threes, resulting in 35.9 percent of their points coming from distance. But what Arizona State really does well is play clean defense. Opponents have scored only 17.3 percent of their points on free throws, which puts the Sun Devils among the top third nationally in least charitable teams.

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Pac-12 Listicles: Pick and Roll Offense

Posted by Adam Butler on November 15th, 2017

Offensively, the pick-and-roll is a common means to forcing a mismatch, a big vs. small scenario either on the post or the perimeter. Its ubiquity gave way to positionless basketball and a treasuring of the 6’8” athlete. Philosophically, if a defender is versatile enough to defend both off the bounce or on the block, the offense would be limited in its ability to create these mismatches. Of course this is more difficult to achieve at the collegiate level. Players are less refined, needing greater definition to their roles. Considering as much, I thought it’d be interesting to see which of the Pac-12’s offenses utilized the pick-and-roll more often and more effectively than others. Heading in to a Pac-12 season featuring some fantastic frontcourt and backcourt combinations (Trier/Ayton, Holder/White, McLaughlin/Metu, Holiday/Welsh, Cartwright/Travis, Pritchard/Brown), is the PnR a tactic more coaches will be inclined to use?

Arizona’s Allonzo Trier is Murder on the PnR (USA Today Images)

Here are last season’s Pac-12 PnR utilizers:

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Pac-12 Final Regular Season Power Rankings

Posted by Pac-12 Team on March 8th, 2017

The Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas tips off at Noon PT today and fans are already salivating about the possible semifinals on Friday night. That said, the handful of teams in the second tier — such as Utah — are also serious threats to make some noise in Sin City. Let’s jump into the final Power Rankings of the season.

1. UCLA — Don’t look now, but UCLA is allowing 0.96 points per possession over its last eight games. Considering how much attention has been paid to the Bruins’ defensive issues this season, consider this an encouraging trend. If they can continue to defend at a reasonable level, Steve Alford‘s team will be ridiculously tough to beat in the NCAA Tournament.

Lonzo Ball’s UCLA team is one of the favorites heading into Las Vegas. (USA TODAY Sports)

2. Oregon — This team is stupid good on both ends. The 16-2 Ducks finished the conference season as the only team among the top two in both offensive and defensive efficiency. With the toughest portion of their schedule — five of their last seven games were on the road — now behind them, their focus shifts to being the #1 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Power Rankings: The Big Three and Everyone Else Edition

Posted by RJ Abeytia on March 1st, 2017

As we launch ourselves into March and the final weekend of Pac-12 play of the regular season, here are the final Power Rankings.

Thomas Welsh Wants Everyone to Recognize Where UCLA Stands (USA Today Images)

  1. UCLA– Nobody in the upper three did as much as the Bruins last weekend. Note that Arizona — which doesn’t really lose at the McKale Center, remember — was the first team in the past four games to post an offensive efficiency above the national average against UCLA’s improving defense.
  2. Oregon– The Ducks stood tough in the Bay Area last weekend thanks in large part to the second-best Pac-12 defense. Oregon plays aggressively (forcing a 20 percent turnover rate) yet cleanly with the second lowest FTA allowed rate in the conference.
  3. Arizona– Arizona, despite a tough home loss to the Bruins, continues to make its case as the most NCAA Tournament-ready team in the league. Why? First, the Wildcats play at the third-slowest pace in the Pac-12, and games always slow in postseason play. Secondly, Arizona does the best job in the conference in both getting to the foul line (37.4% FTA Rate) and making free throws when they get there (78%). Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 Power Rankings: Who Will Get the Fourth Bye?

Posted by RJ Abeytia on February 16th, 2017

With three weeks of league play left, both the the regular season title and the cherished final Pac-12 Tournament bye are still very much in play…

UCLA Basketball is Cool in LA Again (USA Today Images)

  1. Arizona– The Wildcats are experiencing their three talented freshmen (Lauri Markannen, Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins) running smack into the proverbial freshman wall. Despite that ongoing issue, they were still able to sweep the Bay Area schools without playing their best basketball. One of the biggest signs for optimism comes in the form of Chance Comanche, who has fortified Arizona’s post rotation by shooting 17-of-29 (59%) over the last two games.
  2. UCLA– How about a little love for Aaron Holiday? Upstaged by the arrival of superstar freshman Lonzo Ball, the sophomore guard has drastically improved upon what was a very good freshman campaign. He has already converted more three-pointers than all of last season (42) and has flipped his assist rate (24.4%) and turnover rates (21.5%) as well. He isn’t playing as much this season, but he is still a key cog in the Bruins’ devastating offensive machine.
  3. Oregon– The Ducks were about 15 minutes away from looking like the best team in the Pac-12. A furious comeback, however, orchestrated by UCLA’s Lonzo Ball proved that the conference is still up for grabs. As balanced as Oregon is across its rotation, the need for a closer is still an issue. Dillon Brooks has played that role very well for most of this season, but when he’s having an off game, the Ducks need another player to provide late-game production. Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 Weekly Power Rankings: Vol. 3

Posted by Pac-12 Team on January 18th, 2017

The Pac-12 last season boasted the toughest road game in college basketball. During conference play, the league’s home teams won at a higher rate (71%) than any other conference in America. This season, Pac-12 home teams are winning at just a 59 percent rate. They say that conference titles are won on the road. How has your team fared in hostile territory?

Plenty to smile about for Dillon Brooks and Oregon lately. (Cole Elsasser/Emerald)

  1. Oregon (1) – The Ducks’ conference dominance continues. Since their dramatic, two-point victory over UCLA in the Pac-12 opener, Oregon has simply decimated their opponents. Oregon’s average margin of victory over the last four games is 26.5 points, a full 15 points higher than UCLA. Granted, the four teams the Ducks have played also have a combined 6-15 conference record, but at least they are taking care of business.
  2. UCLA (2) – How do we convince Thomas Welsh to get to the free throw line more often? That is the question that head coach Steve Alford should be asking himself. After shooting 75 percent from the charity stripe last season, the junior has yet to miss in his 24 attempts this year (leading to a subtle breakout season for the junior). Now if he could just average more than one freebie attempt every two games… Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 Weekly Power Rankings: Vol. 2

Posted by Pac-12 Team on January 11th, 2017

Ivan Rabb thwarted away last weekend’s final shot, cementing his Player of the Week title and lending us little clarity on the Pac’s mid-section. The second volume of our Pac-12 Power Rankings saw minimal movement as home favorites mostly held court, road warriors fought and Oregon State got rolled (-22.9 conference efficiency margin). Last week’s ranking in parenthesis.

The Ducks Are Coming (USA Today Images)

1. Oregon (1) – After toppling the two southern California undefeated teams last week, Oregon continued its conference domination again in beating the Washington schools by a total of 41 points. What’s most impressive is that the Ducks did this with star Dillon Brooks playing only 25 combined minutes. Oregon’s depth was on full display as Tyler Dorsey picked up the slack against Washington (a career-high 28 points, including eight threes) and Chris Boucher did the same against Washington State (a career-high 29 points, including six threes).

2. UCLA (2) – Depth has become a minor concern for UCLA as Steve Alford has stuck to a very tight rotation. UCLA ranks just 343rd nationally in bench minutes and it is clear that Alford does not yet trust big men Ike Anigbogu or Gyorgy Goloman. It has not been an issue to this point, of course, but it will be something to keep an eye on as conference play progresses.

3. Arizona (3) – The Wildcats still can’t leap over the Ducks and Bruins despite a 4-0 conference start, but two storylines are emerging in Tucson that could very well vault Arizona to the top of the rankings. First, the Wildcats continue to defend very well, surrendering fewer than 70 points in 16 of its last 17 games (Colorado) and producing a conference-leading Defensive Rating of 88.3. Secondly, the Dusan Ristic Experience is real. In Pac-12 play, Ristic carries an effective field goal rate of 64.4% and an Offensive Rating of 126.7. He has provided good post play on both ends, taking some of the pressure from Lauri Markannen while also at times stepping into the spotlight himself. Sean Miller‘s team appears to be rounding into a team with deep March prospects.

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Expectations Bring Growing Pains at Oregon State

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 9th, 2016

When Gary Payton II graduated from Oregon State last spring, it was well understood that the Beavers were losing one of their best players of all-time and would face an uphill battle back to the NCAA Tournament. With one month of this season now in the books, dancing again in March seems all but forgotten. Oregon State lost a close road game to a marginal Charlotte team last weekend, dropping its overall record to 3-6 and reflecting the team’s sixth straight loss to a Division I opponent. While head coach Wayne Tinkle‘s two-year extension and raise in light of the team’s first NCAA appearance since 1990 was well-deserving, Oregon State knew the program would spend this season rebuilding. Still, even though they were clearly confident in the direction of the program, this is not the kind of disastrous backslide that anyone in Corvallis envisioned.

Things In Corvallis Have Not Gone According to Wayne Tinkle's Plan This Season. (Getty)

Things In Corvallis Have Not Gone According to Wayne Tinkle’s Plan This Season. (Getty)

Building basketball prestige in a place where there isn’t much requires a lot of things to go right. Wins on the court or on the recruiting trail help build buzz around the brand, which can often be the start of something more sustainable. Tinkle looked to doing just that, but the team’s brutal start this year has undone a lot of that momentum. The importance of Payton’s loss cannot be overstated, but it appeared as if the program was in good hands with rising sophomores Stephen Thompson, Jr., Tres Tinkle and Drew Eubanks. Thompson, however, missed six of the team’s first seven games with a foot injury, and Tinkle, who was the team’s leading scorer, broke a bone in his wrist. Mix in an ACL rehab that is keeping freshman Ben Kone on the bench as well as a pair of suspensions for promising wing Keondre Dew, and it is somewhat surprising the elder Tinkle has managed to keep his sanity in place. Read the rest of this entry »

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