10 Questions To Consider: A Weekend of Marquee Matchups and Important Conference Games

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 10th, 2020

With each passing day March inches closer and closer. As conference play continues, this weekend includes a key match-up between the Big 12’s best, Big Ten surprises, and preseason All-Americans. Here are 10 questions I have in advance of the action ahead.

  1. Which conference play trend gets busted in Iowa City? (Maryland @ Iowa, Friday, 7 PM EST, FS1) Through four league games, both Maryland and Iowa have seen struggles on one end of the floor grow dramatically. For the Terps, their adjusted offensive efficiency has dropped by 12 points in Big Ten action, while Iowa’s adjusted defensive efficiency sits 15 points higher in league play than its season average.
  2. Will Baylor be able to match its season-long success on the opponents’ glass against Kansas? (Baylor @ Kansas, Saturday, 1 PM EST, CBS) Baylor has a top-40 offensive efficiency thanks in part to the team’s top-10 offensive rebounding rate. In a pair of match-ups with Kansas last season, Baylor grabbed 18 and 26 offensive boards. Scott Drew’s squad will be challenged by the length and rebounding ability of Udoka Azubuike and David McCormack.
  3. Have the Gators turned a corner? (Florida @ Missouri, Saturday, 8:30 PM EST, SEC Network) After starting the season 7-4, Florida has now won three straight games, including a pair of SEC contests. In the team’s first 11 games, the duo of Andrew Nembhard and Kerry Blackshear were averaging a combined 23.4 points per game — over the last three games, however, the pair is averaging 35.7 points per game.
  4. Can Providence keep things rolling against a one-loss Butler team? (Butler @ Providence, Friday, 9 PM EST, FS1) After opening the year 6-6 with four losses to teams outside of the KenPom top 100, Providence has now rattled off four straight wins against top-100 teams. Senior guard Maliek White tied his career-high with 19 points in his last game — after shooting 13-for-49 from three-point range in Big East action last season, White has gone 6-of-11 in three conference games.
  5. Which style of play will come out on top between Big Ten foes? (Wisconsin @ Penn State, Saturday, 2:15 PM EST, Big Ten Network) Greg Gard’s Badgers head into the weekend with an adjusted tempo that puts Wisconsin among the five slowest teams in the country. On the flip side, the Nittany Lions will come in ranked as one of the top 40’s fastest teams. Side note: Wisconsin has beaten Penn State 12 times in a row.
  6. Can Rutgers do something it hasn’t done since the 2001-02 season? (Rutgers @ Illinois, Saturday, Noon EST, Big Ten Network) Since an early December loss to Michigan State, Rutgers has now won six consecutive games, including three against KenPom top 30 teams. A win on Saturday would extend that winning streak to seven games, something Rutgers has not done since a stretch in November/December 2001.
  7. Will Michigan State continue to shoot well from beyond the arc in Big Ten play? (Michigan State @ Purdue, Sunday, Noon EST, CBS) Entering Michigan State’s Thursday night tilt at Minnesota, the Spartans are shooting a Big Ten best 38 percent on three-point attempts in league play. This is up from the team’s 33.8 percent in non-conference action.
  8. Which superstar shines brightest in this marquee matchup? (Marquette @ Seton Hall, Saturday, 4 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) Entering the season, Markus Howard and Myles Powell were marquee names as two of the nation’s best volume scorers. In three match-ups between the two teams last season, Howard made just 6-of-28 three-point attempts, whereas Powell made 12-of-30. If one goes off this weekend, it could spell doom for the other team.
  9. Which offense will make enough plays in a game featuring two of the nation’s best defenses? (Texas Tech @ West Virginia, Saturday, 6 PM EST) Points will be at a premium in Morgantown this weekend. Will Texas Tech be able to clean up offensive rebounding attack of West Virginia? Will West Virginia be able to make free throws? Will Texas Tech’s Davide Moretti find his stroke? The junior has gone just 11-of-41 from deep since December 1.
  10. Can Miami get key stops or is it time to start talking about Pittsburgh? (Pitt @ Miami, Sunday, 6 PM EST, ACC Network) In Jim Larranaga’s first eight years at Miami, the Hurricanes had an average defensive efficiency ranking of 55th nationally. As of Thursday, Miami’s defensive efficiency sits outside of the top 200. Last season, Pitt began ACC play 2-2 before it dropped its next 13 ACC games. Coming off of their first win at North Carolina in program history, Pitt has a chance to add its name to the bubble with a win at Miami.

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What’s Trending: Tar Heel Troubles and a Tumbling Top 10

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 16th, 2019

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

North Carolina has made 15 NCAA Tournament appearances over the past 16 seasons with Roy Williams as the head coach. After starting the season 6-1, however, the Tar Heels suffered back-to-back losses to start December. While the panic level remained relatively low heading into the weekend, that changed Sunday morning when the following news broke:

Without Cole Anthony, the team’s leading scorer, questions quickly arose about the Heels’ future. This is a team that, despite owning a top-50 adjusted offensive efficiency, ranks 297th or worse in two-point, three-point and free throw shooting percentages. Without Anthony in the lineup, North Carolina’s losing streak reached three games…

https://twitter.com/marchmadness/status/1206347619641036804?s=20

In the loss, North Carolina shot 38.6 percent from two-point range, 31.6 percent from three-point range, and just 60 percent at the line. The defeat brought out what would have been an unthinkable question prior the season. Might North Carolina miss the NCAA Tournament? While it is still just December, Williams is going to have to earn his paycheck — especially if his team is without Cole Anthony.

This past week was full of trouble for teams near the top of the rankings. A previously undefeated and #1 Louisville club had a midweek match-up against Texas Tech at Madison Square Garden. While Louisville’s 3-of-17 performance from deep did the Cardinals no favors, the storyline of the game came in the form of the surprise performance from Texas Tech’s Avery Benson.

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Big Ten Wrap-Up: Lasting Impressions and an Early Top Five

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on April 6th, 2018

Has Donte DiVincenzo stop hitting shots yet? Okay, good. Now that Monday is behind us, let’s take a moment to reflect on the season that was and look ahead to 2018-19.

Michigan had another year to remember. (PHOTO BY AP/DAVID J. PHILLIP)

  • Michigan is an elite basketball program. Before John Beilein took over in Ann Arbor in 2007, Michigan hadn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 1998, a nine-year drought that made the historically great football school seem like just that — a football school. But that’s changed. Since the drought ended in 2009, Beilein has led the Wolverines to eight NCAA Tournaments, including finishes in the Sweet Sixteen (2017), Elite Eight (2016), and twice in the National Championship game (2013, 2018). After years of mediocrity, Michigan basketball now represents offensive efficiency, outstanding player development and clutch play in March. This season, Beilein — always considered an offensive mastermind — took an unproven collection of talent and won big with his defense, suggesting that the 65-year old coach is still evolving both as a tactician (he recently moved away from the 1-3-1 zone) and manager: His hiring of Illinois State assistant Luke Yaklich as “defensive coordinator” was crucial to the Wolverines’ run. With a decade of excellence under its belt and plenty of talent returning next season, Michigan has firmly established itself among the Big Ten’s elite programs.
  • This season will forever sting for Michigan State and Purdue fans. Michigan State went 30-5 and won the outright regular season Big Ten championship. Purdue finished at 30-7, at one point winning 19 straight games. And yet, this season will probably leave a bad taste in both programs’ mouths for some time. For the Spartans, 2017-18 was a Final-Four-or-bust kind of year, with the return of Miles Bridges alongside future NBA lottery pick Jaren Jackson ostensibly giving Tom Izzo his best chance at a National Championship from a talent perspective since 2000. Instead, a season of offensive inconsistency led to an offensively-inept loss to Syracuse in the Round of 32. For the Boilermakers, bad luck prevailed when 7’2″ center Isaac Haas fractured his elbow in the First Round against Cal State Fullerton, his absence proving too much for Purdue to overcome against Texas Tech in the Sweet Sixteen. On paper, both seasons appear successful. In actuality, postseason disappointment will likely overshadow their 60 combined wins.

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Rutgers’ Garden Party to Michigan’s Run: Big Ten Tournament Postmortem

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 7th, 2018

Now that we’ve had a few days to digest what happened in Madison Square Garden last weekend, let’s examine some of the biggest surprises and takeaways from the early Big Ten Tournament.

Michigan dominated the Competition in Madison Square Garden. (Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Michigan established itself as a legitimate national threat. We knew Michigan was playing its best basketball of the season entering postseason play, and we knew it would probably make some noise last week in Manhattan. What we did not foresee was the Wolverines establishing themselves as a serious Final Four threat en route to a second straight conference title. After escaping Iowa in the second round, Michigan put together three of the most complete performances any Big Ten team has displayed this season. The Wolverines hammered bubble-dwelling Nebraska by 19 points. They beat Michigan State by double-figures for the second time in a row. They limited Purdue’s explosive perimeter game to just 4-of-17 three-point shooting. In all, Michigan’s defense — which now ranks sixth nationally in efficiency — held opponents to just 0.96 points per possession over the four-day run, which is remarkable considering that two of those offenses ranked among the nation’s top 10. The Wolverines’ offense, led by Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (15.0 PPG), executed John Beilein’s low-turnover, pick-and-pop offense to perfection. With its most balance in years and a profile good enough to now warrant a #3 seed, Michigan should no longer be viewed as a Big Ten “other”; the Wolverines are as much a Final Four contender as the Boilermakers and Spartans.

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The Big Ten Tournament’s Most Burning Questions

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 28th, 2018

It’s not even March yet and here we are, Day One of the Big Ten Tournament. It’s a strange feeling. Perhaps the only stranger feeling will be watching these predominantly Midwestern schools battle it out in Madison Square Garden, the venue where Willis Reed was immortalized and Frazier beat Ali and no Big Ten school outside of Rutgers sits within easy driving distance. Jim Delaney be damned, let’s examine the most important questions to be answered this week in Manhattan.

Crazy as it sounds, the Big Ten Tournament is in the Big Apple. (scarletknights.com)

  • Can Nebraska do enough to earn an NCAA Tournament bid? After losing to Illinois on February 18, Nebraska took care of business by beating Indiana and hammering Penn State on Sunday in a veritable NCAA Tournament elimination game. Which is to say, the Cornhuskers — currently among Joe Lunardi’s First Four Out — still have life. Yet, with a 1-5 record against Quadrant 1 opponents and a 2-3 record against Quadrant 2, they will probably need to beat at least one NCAA Tournament-bound opponent this week in order to have a legitimate case come Selection Sunday. Luckily, Tim Miles’ group should get that opportunity on Friday against Michigan — the lone Quadrant 1 opponent they managed to beat this season. Another win over the Wolverines will give the Huskers an argument; a victory over Michigan State in the semifinals would probably make them a lock. Key number: 29.7% 3FG. Nebraska did a masterful job taking away the three-point line this season, holding opponents to a Big Ten-best 29.7 percent mark from behind the arc — among the best of any power conference team in America.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Conference Races Heat Up

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 23rd, 2018

As the first conference tournaments begin as soon as early next week, here are 10 questions I have for this weekend’s slate of important conference games.

Texas Tech is Flagging But Still Alive in the Big 12 Race (USA Today Images)

  1. How can Texas Tech keep its dreams of a Big 12 title alive? Having now lost two games in a row, Texas Tech sits a game back of Kansas in the Big 12 standings. In order to sweep the series against Kansas and knot things up in the conference race, the Red Raiders must replicate their earlier performance of dominating the offensive glass and winning the free throw battle. Texas Tech must also hope that the toe injury to leading scorer Keenan Evans has improved, as Evans has scored just six points over his last two games.
  2. Will Arizona be focused for its game at Oregon? Arizona was 10-0 in conference play last season before a 27-point loss at Oregon. This season, Arizona has been much shakier on the road, having lost close games at Washington and Colorado and barely surviving a trip to Stanford. Oregon, on the other hand, improves its points scored and allowed averages by four points per game in Eugene.
  3. Can Wichita State keep the pressure on Cincinnati? Sitting just a game out of first-place in the AAC, Wichita State travels to Dallas to play an SMU team that already has one win over the Shockers. In that loss to the Mustangs, Gregg Marshall’s team allowed them to shoot an exceptional 76 percent on their two-point field-goal attempts.
  4. Is Arkansas’s bubble close to popping? While Arkansas currently sits as a consensus #8 seed in Bracket Matrix, the Razorbacks still have three Quadrant 1 games remaining on their SEC schedule. They also have a 2-5 road record in SEC games heading into this weekend’s trip to Alabama. While Arkansas has the profile of an NCAA Tournament team as of today, a losing streak to end the season coupled with some shaky wins mean the Razorbacks’ position on the bubble is anything but safe. Read the rest of this entry »
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What We Learned From a Wild Week in the Big Ten

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 19th, 2018

From massive upsets to historic comebacks and some ridiculous individual performances in-between, it was one heck of a week in the Big Ten. Let’s examine a few key takeaways.

Purdue should be just fine, assuming Vincent Edwards returns to action. (John Terhune/Journal & Courier)

  • Purdue fans need not panic (unless, of course, Vincent Edwards’ injury lingers). Entering its game against Ohio State on February 7, Purdue had won 19 straight, sat undefeated in the Big Ten (12-0), and looked seemingly unbeatable — especially in Mackey Arena, where it had crushed its opponents by 27 points per game. Then the Boilermakers stumbled against the Buckeyes. Then they dropped a nail-biter at Michigan State, which was followed by a stunning defeat at Wisconsin on Thursday. Suddenly, there were deep concerns about Matt Painter‘s crew. “Something just feels different,” senior Vincent Edwards said of the team’s struggles last Thursday. Take a step back and examine the losses, though, and it’s clear that bad luck was partially at play. Were it not for a last second tip-in against Ohio State and a last second three-pointer versus Michigan State, perhaps the Boilermakers would have gone 3-1 in their last four games. Maybe even 4-0. Their close win over red-hot Penn State on Sunday shows just how fine the line is between a quality win and a “problematic” loss. If there is real cause for concern, it’s this: Edwards (14.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG) missed the game against the Nittany Lions with an injured ankle. Assuming he doesn’t miss extended time down the stretch, Purdue should still be considered a Final Four contender. If his injury lingers, then the Boilers can panic.

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Five Trends to Track During a Big Week in the Big Ten

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 7th, 2018

Ohio State vs. Purdue and Maryland vs. Penn State tonight. Purdue vs. Michigan State on Saturday. Several potential bubble-busters in between. Needless to say, it’s a big week in the Big Ten. Let’s take a look at a few quietly-important trends worth keeping an eye on.

Purdue’s defense has been mediocre in recent weeks. (Anthony Souffle – Purdue Exponent)

  • Purdue’s Struggling Defense. Just because because the Boilermakers own the nation’s longest winning streak of 18 games doesn’t mean all is rosy in West Lafayette. After holding 12 of its previous 14 opponents to less than one point per possession, Purdue has recently allowed five straight opponents to exceed that mark — including Rutgers, which scored 1.17 PPP in a near-upset of the Boilermakers on Saturday. In just a few weeks, Purdue has dropped from fifth nationally in defensive efficiency to 15th, a slump that’s coincided with four straight games decided by fewer than 10 points. Purdue won all four, of course, but when you consider that 10 of its previous 11 victories were absolute blowouts, you begin to understand why it’s worth pointing out. Matt Painter’s group has looked visibly less active in guarding the perimeter over that stretch, and part of the problem may also be rim protection: shot-blocking maven Matt Haarms has only swatted six shots since January 20, his lowest five-game stretch of output this season. It will be interesting to observe how the Boilers fare against Keita Bates-Diop in tonight’s big showdown with Ohio State.
  • Michigan State’s Troubling Late-Game Execution. On January 22, Michigan State led Illinois by 18 points with 4:29 left, only to see the Illini cut the lead to eight in a matter of three minutes. Against Penn State last week, a 15-point lead with 1:09 to play shriveled to six — and nearly three — in just 30 seconds. Up 10 at Indiana on Saturday night, Michigan State mustered just three field goals in the game’s final 12 minutes, giving the Hoosiers a chance to tie it at the buzzer. Part of Sparty’s problem has been shear boneheadedness, like Miles Bridges’ and-1 foul of Devonte Green in the closing seconds against Indiana. But these late-game struggles also shed light on a broader weakness: the Spartans are simply less productive and more turnover-prone in the half-court, where their offense has often lacked rhythm. It wasn’t an issue in Tuesday night’s scare at Iowa, but it could be against Purdue on Saturday.

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The Drive for Five: What Lies Ahead for the Big Ten Bubble Dwellers

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 2nd, 2018

The Big Ten has put at least five teams in the NCAA Tournament in every season since 2008, four years before the league expanded to 12 schools and seven years before it expanded to 14. In fact, you’d have to go back to the pre-Rutgers era (2013-14) to reach the last time the conference sent fewer than seven teams to the Big Dance. That will almost certainly change this season. According to Bracket Matrix, only three of 68 recently-updated bracket projections have more than four Big Ten schools in the NCAA Tournament. The fact is, outside of Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan, the league’s bubble hopefuls still have considerable work to do before earning serious consideration. With February now upon us, let’s examine which teams still have a shot and what they’ll need to do in order to punch a ticket.

It’s been all smiles for Nebraska lately. But will the Huskers go dancing? (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Nebraska (17-8, 8-4) RPI: 57 | KenPom: 56. Nebraska turned a nine-point second-half deficit at Wisconsin on Monday into a runaway 11-point win, the type of season-saving — perhaps season-defining — win its fans won’t soon forget. The Huskers have no RPI sub-150 losses to their name, but also don’t have much to speak of in the “good win” category. Outside of its home win over Michigan, Nebraska is winless against the RPI top 50. With four of their final six games at home — including contests against fellow NCAA Tournament hopefuls Maryland and Penn State — the Huskers will probably need to hold court and avoid a road loss at Illinois on February 18. Even then, at least one quality Big Ten Tournament win (think Michigan or Ohio State) might be necessary for Tim Miles’ group to feel good heading into Selection Sunday. Considering how well James Palmer Jr. and Isaac Copeland have played in recent weeks, that’s certainly within the realm of possibility.

  • RPI Top 50 Wins: vs. Michigan
  • RPI Sub 150 Losses: None
  • Opportunities Left: vs. Maryland (February 13); vs. Penn State (February 25)

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What’s Trending: Send It In, Jerome!

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 29th, 2018

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

I did not expect to highlight a Campbell box score when the week began, but then the Camels went out and did this…

The Butler program experienced tremendous heartache when Andrew Smith passed away a couple years ago. His legacy, however, lives on, and Matt Norlander of CBSSports.com wrote a brilliant piece on Project 44, change borne out of the tragedy of Smith’s passing.

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