Ten Questions to Consider: Conference Tests, Busting Trends, and the Quest to Remain Perfect

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 24th, 2020

The first standalone weekend for college basketball is finally upon us. Without football on the calendar over the next three days, eyes shift even more to the hardwood. It’s a weekend that includes tests within conference play in addition to between power conferences. Here are 10 questions I have for the games to come.

  1. Can Texas Tech guard Kentucky without sending the Wildcats to the free throw line? (Kentucky @ Texas Tech, Saturday, 6 PM EST, ESPN) Kentucky heads to Lubbock with an offense that gets to the free throw line at a rate north of 42 percent, a figure that ranks among the top 10 nationally. In Texas Tech’s six losses on the season, the Red Raiders have given up an average of 25.4 free throw attempts, an average of 10.8 more attempts than they have taken in those games.
  2. Which streaky Big East club picks up a key win to begin the weekend? (Marquette @ Butler, Friday, 9 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Marquette began league play by dropping three of its first four games, but since then, the Golden Eagles have now won three straight. On the other side of things, Butler began Big East play 3-0 but has since lost three straight of its own. In order for Butler to turn things around, it begins with trying to slow Markus Howard, who comes in averaging 35 points per game over his last five outings.
  3. What impact will the midweek melee have on Kansas? (Tennessee @ Kansas, Saturday, 4 PM EST, ESPN) The Jayhawks will be without both Silvio De Sousa and David McCormack this weekend, forcing Bill Self’s hand into a more small-ball oriented lineup alongside Udoka Azubuike. Isaiah Moss and Christian Braun are two players who could see more consistent minutes in this type of lineup.
  4. Can Florida get enough defensive rebounds to potentially upset #1 Baylor? (Baylor @ Florida, Saturday, 8 PM EST, ESPN) While Baylor sits at 16-1 with a top five defensive efficiency ranking, it is a squad, however, that has an effective field goal percentage below the national average. In order for Florida to pull the upset, the Gators will have to limit second-chance opportunities. In their last game, Mike White’s team allowed 15 offensive rebounds to LSU.
  5. Will the quick turnaround to their second game against one another lead to a different result in the Big Ten? (Michigan State @ Minnesota, Sunday, 3 PM EST, Fox) Entering play on Thursday, Big Ten home teams have won 44 of 54 conference games, with five of those losses coming from bottom dwellers Nebraska and Northwestern. A little more than two weeks after losing in East Lansing, Minnesota hosts Michigan State. Xavier Tillman was a force for the Spartans in the last game, scoring 19, grabbing 16 rebounds and blocking five shots.
  6. Will Richmond be able to slow Dayton down and keep its hot A-10 start going? (Dayton @ Richmond, Saturday, 6 PM EST) The Spiders have held five of their six Atlantic 10 opponents to under 65 points. That will be a daunting challenge against a Dayton squad that owns the nation’s best effective field goal percentage and two-point percentage. In last season’s only match-up, the Flyers shot 73.7 percent from inside the arc in what was an easy 24-point win.
  7. How will Memphis look coming off of a 40-point loss? (SMU @ Memphis, Saturday, 4 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) In the Tigers’ recent lopsided loss at Tulsa, Memphis shot 2-of-21 from beyond the arc and turned the ball over 20 times. Freshman guard Boogie Ellis began the season by making 9 of his first 21 three-point attempts, but since then, Ellis has shot just 9-of-42 (21.4%). One difference between now and then, of course, is the absence of James Wiseman.
  8. Can Kihei Clark find his groove and help rescue Virginia’s season? (Virginia @ Wake Forest, Sunday, Noon EST, ACC Network) ACC play has not been kind to Virginia’s third-leading scorer. The sophomore guard is shooting just 33 percent from inside the arc and just 28.6 percent from beyond it during league play. Over his last five games, Clark has missed a terrible 26 of his 37 two-point attempts.
  9. Will San Diego State pass its latest test in Las Vegas? (San Diego State @ UNLV, Sunday, 4 pm EST, CBS Sports Network) In 68 prior match-ups between these squads, each team has won 34 times. While the Aztecs have won five of the past eight in Las Vegas, four of those have come by two points or fewer. San Diego State has done a tremendous job all season in creating turnovers, an area of which UNLV has struggled mightily all year.
  10. Can DePaul find a way to end its slump in Big East play? (St. John’s @ DePaul, Saturday, 2 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) DePaul began the year 12-1 but has since run into the Big East buzzsaw, having lost five of its first six league games. In the Blue Demons’ loss to St. John’s on January 11, center Paul Reed was held to a season-low four points. Over the three games since, Reed is averaging 21 points and 12 rebounds per game.

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Big 12 Temperature Check

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 12th, 2019

While the ACC and Big Ten continue the absolutely farcical exercise of playing conference games before all non-conference games are in the books (and make no mistake, that’s what it is), the Big 12 is among the power conferences still cutting their teeth against non-league foes. As we hit the quarter-pole of the season, it’s a good time to take a look around the league and make some quick but measured evaluations.

Bill Self is Amused By Your Doubts (USA Today Images)

Kansas still looks like a title contender. Before the season, Bill Self proclaimed that the NCAA’s notice of allegations was going to “motivate [him] in a pretty competitive way,” and the results on the court to date are bearing that out. The Jayhawks sit at 8-1 with an impressive set of victories and appear to be getting better by the game. Most notably, Udoka Azubuike‘s improved physique has helped him stay effective on offense, and it’s serving as a foundation for improved defensive play. The big man is committing just 3.1 fouls per 40 minutes while blocking just under two shots per game. There are other positives, of course. Devon Dotson has picked up right where he left off; Marcus Garrett has been a completely different player than the one whose performance against Duke led so many to question the viability of Kansas’ backcourt; and Ochai Agbaji is playing like an upperclassman in what was supposed to be his freshman season. The play of those four have allowed complementary pieces like David McCormack, Tristan Enaruna and Isaiah Moss to stay in those roles a year after personnel issues and injuries forced Self’s hand into relying more on K.J. Lawson, Charlie Moore and Mitch Lightfoot than he had planned. The Jayhawks do have a few things to iron out, particularly their perimeter defense and ability to stretch the floor, but in a volatile year atop the polls, Kansas is more than holding their own.

Baylor could be right there with them, but the Bears have some work to do. No, I’m not talking about their resume, which includes three wins over top-20 teams over a three-week stretch. Scott Drew’s team scored just 86 points per 100 trips in the wins over Arizona and Butler, teams which more closely resemble the Big 12 foes that await them come January than the dregs on which Baylor has feasted elsewhere. The Bears are one of the most physical teams in the country, making scoring a chore for every opponent it has faced thus far, but the offense needs to be more consistent against the best the schedule has to offer. Jared Butler is living up to the hype, but here’s hoping Tristan Clark isn’t out for long.

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Big 12 Key Questions: Will Kansas Return to the Top?

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 4th, 2019

You didn’t have to look at the standings last season to know that the Jayhawks weren’t their usual selves. You could throw a dart and hit a valid reason for Kansas missing out on a Big 12 15-peat: A disappointing backcourt outside of Devon Dotson; Udoka Azubuike missing 75 percent of the team’s games with a hand injury, and the frontcourt rotation behind him being terribly ill-equipped to pick up the slack; or the fact that eventual conference champion Texas Tech was flat-out better and Kansas State far more cohesive. With the page turning to 2019-20, though, the Jayhawks will look to avenge last season with a cast of bona fide challengers waiting for the league’s flagship program to stumble.

Bill Self No Longer Has the Pressure of The Streak to Worry About (USA Today Images)

Bill Self‘s team will be much deeper this season. Dedric Lawson is gone, but the Jayhawks return nearly everyone else of consequence. Though the head coach may not say so publicly, it’s tough to ignore the feeling that he isn’t all that heartbroken over losing Charlie Moore and K.J. Lawson, even if Quentin Grimes left Lawrence with a substantial amount of potential that Kelvin Sampson may tap at Houston. In their place, Isaiah Moss and Jalen Wilson should bring the scoring punch Kansas needs to put together the kinds of runs they struggled to assemble a season ago. Defensively, the Jayhawks will be deep and versatile up front. Self could surround Azubuike with another defense-first big like David McCormack or Silvio De Sousa, but with the way basketball has trended over the last few years, a small-ball option emerging among Marcus Garrett or Ochai Agbaji could be what tips the scales, provided of course that Self can keep the noise surrounding the program’s current entanglement with the NCAA from becoming a mitigating factor.

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Eight Questions: National Championship Edition

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on April 8th, 2019

After five grueling rounds of NCAA Tournament action, we are finally down to the final two. Texas Tech and Virginia have each navigated 37-game schedules to get to this point, where the only thing standing between themselves and a National Championship is 40 minutes of action. Here are eight questions I have ahead of the title game.

Texas Tech

Texas Tech Plays for Its First National Championship in Basketball Tonight (USA Today Images)

1) Will Matt Mooney continue his recent hot play? After beginning the NCAA Tournament 11-of-30 from the field in Texas Tech’s first three games, Matt Mooney has found his groove in converting 14 of his last 28 shots. The senior’s hot shooting in the second half against Michigan State is what opened the game up and ultimately allowed the Red Raiders to hang on. Texas Tech is 10-4 when Mooney is held to single-figures and 21-2 when he scores 10 or more points.

2) Will Tariq Owens be at 100 percent tonight? The bouncy Owens collapsed to the ground early in the second half against Michigan State, before eventually returning to the game. Questions loom about his potential swelling and discomfort moving forward, however, which is very important to Texas Tech’s defense as he is one of the nation’s best rim protectors.

3) Will Texas Tech be able to create those key turnovers which lead to easy points? In five NCAA Tournament games, the Red Raiders have forced 12.3 turnovers per game and are averaging 15.2 points off of those miscues. Virginia, however, remains one of the most difficult teams from which to force turnovers. After turning the ball over 15 times in its opening round game against Gardner-Webb, Virginia has coughed up the ball just 5.4 times per game since.

4) Will Jarrett Culver be able to get the best of De’Andre Hunter on the offensive end? Culver, a second-team AP All-American, will almost certainly see a whole lot of De’Andre Hunter tonight. Hunter, a third-team All-American, was the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year and has a keen ability to play excellent defense while staying away from fouls. While Culver woke up just in time to ice the game against the Spartans, he has gone a mere 25.8 percent from the field over his last two games.

Virginia

Virginia Plays for Its First National Championship in Basketball Tonight (USA Today Images)

1) Which De’Andre Hunter shows up? In the first half of Virginia’s Final Four game against Auburn, De’Andre Hunter scored five points on 2-of-6 shooting, passively settling for jump shots repeatedly. After halftime, Hunter poured in nine points on a perfect 5-of-5 shooting from the field. A dynamic Hunter opens the floor and lessens the required offensive load on teammates Ty jerome and Kyle Guy.

2) Can Virginia find any production from its bench? Dating back to the Cavaliers’ Sweet Sixteen game against Oregon, Virginia’s bench has scored a grand total of seven points — its bench is -37 in points over that period. Texas Tech’s suffocating defense has been particularly tough on opposing reserves throughout this tournament, having held the benches of Michigan, Gonzaga and Michigan State to a combined 11 points.

3) Will Virginia be able to play Jack Salt? After starting in 28 of Virginia’s 32 games prior to the NCAA Tournament, Salt has been replaced in the starting lineup by Mamadi Diakite in Virginia’s last four games. The 6’10” senior played a big role against the frontcourt size of Purdue, but otherwise his minutes have dramatically shrunk. If Texas Tech goes big with both Tariq Owens and Norense Odiase on the floor at the same time, Salt could see more time this evening. While unassuming in the box score, heis a terrific screener and someone who can help free Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy for open looks.

4) What else could Virginia possibly face in the closing minutes of a game? Virginia has been living on the brink of its season ending in the final seconds of each of its last two games. From the Diakite basket against Purdue to the foul on Kyle Guy against Auburn, good fortune has been on the side of Tony Bennett’s squad. After dealing with the disaster of a season ago, nothing has yet flustered this Cavaliers’ team. With a National Championship on the line, will the trend continue?

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Texas Tech is The Best Parts Of College Basketball in 2019, Distilled

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 5th, 2019

The last 10-15 years of college basketball have witnessed a number of changes. The impact of the NBA’s one-and-done rule has been obvious, but think about what else has shaped the game. There has been an influx of international talent as well as a sharp increase in undergraduate and graduate transfers. In practice facilities, coaching staffs have access to more data and video than ever before, and on the sidelines, the best coaches find a way to marry all of that information with the traditional scouting and player development on which their careers have been built to get the best possible results on the court. Yes, there remains a variety of ways to skin the cat, but not many, and especially not when it comes to rising to the absolute top. Texas Tech may not be the objectively best team left, and whether they’re the most talented team left is debatable, but when I watch the Red Raiders play, I see college basketball in 2019 crystallized into one team.

Texas Tech is the Likeliest Unlikely Final Four Team (USA Today Images)

Sure, Jarrett Culver is a sophomore rather than a one-and-done, but he was already on many 2019 NBA Draft boards after playing a perfect complementary role to Zhaire Smith and Keenan Evans on last season’s Elite Eight squad. Last summer, the Red Raiders put Culver on a liberal eating regimen so that he could bulk up and carry the workload necessary to propel his team to a regular season Big 12 title. As a result, he earned Big 12 Player of the Year honors and has led Texas Tech to the sport’s final weekend as a prospective lottery pick two months from now. I guess you could say it’s worked.

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2018-19 Rush the Court National Coach of the Year: Chris Beard

Posted by Walker Carey on April 5th, 2019

The 2018-19 RTC National Coach of the Year Chris Beard took a circuitous path to becoming the head coach at Texas Tech — and when considering that route, the fact that he guided his Red Raiders to a regular season Big 12 championship and to the Final Four seems too far-fetched to believe.

Beard began his high-major coaching career working as an assistant under the legendary Bob Knight at Texas Tech while the Red Raiders were experiencing a period of prolonged success. After subsequent head coach Pat Knight was relieved of his duties at the end of 2011, Beard began a stretch of employment that took him to the ABA, McMurry University, Angelo State and Arkansas-Little Rock. It was while in the state capital of Arkansas during the 2015-16 season that Beard became a rising star in the coaching world. In his lone season at the school, the Trojans stunned #5-seed Purdue in a double-overtime thriller. Following that season, Beard took the UNLV head coaching job in late March, holding it for about three weeks before Memphis hired Tubby Smith from Texas Tech, leaving the Red Raiders job vacant. Beard then spurned his new position with the Runnin’ Rebels and returned to Lubbock to try to finish what he had started a decade prior.

After a transition year when the Red Raiders finished a solid 18-14, Beard really got things moving forward during the 2017-18 season. Led by senior guard Keenan Evans and dynamic freshman Zhaire Smith, Texas Tech advanced all the way to the Elite Eight — pushing eventual national champion Villanova for 35 minutes — before the Wildcats ultimately pulled away with the victory.

It would have made sense for the Red Raiders to take a step back this season given that Evans had exhausted his eligibility and Smith had left early for the NBA. That was not the case, though, as Beard landed South Dakota transfer Matt Mooney and St. John’s transfer Tariq Owens, while developing sophomores Jarrett Culver and Davide Moretti to take on bigger roles. Those offseason maneuvers paid immediate dividends, as Texas Tech began this season 10-0 and never looked back. Ultimately, Beard’s club ended Kansas’ streak of 14 consecutive regular season Big 12 championships before entering the NCAA Tournament as a #3 seed and steamrolling Northern Kentucky, Buffalo and defending national runner-up Michigan. In Saturday’s Elite Eight, the Red Raiders used their suffocating defense and timely shooting to get past top-seeded Gonzaga and advance to the first Final Four in program history.

Texas Tech has a legitimate chance to take home the national title on Monday night in Minneapolis. It might not be the favorite, but Chris Beard has never been the favorite at any point in his career — and that has turned out just fine.

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

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on April 5th, 2019

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

Michigan State

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

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

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

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

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

Texas Tech

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

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

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

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

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

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What’s Trending: A Wild Weekend in the NCAA Tournament

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on April 1st, 2019

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

After a relatively chaos-free opening two rounds of the 2019 NCAA Tournament, the madness arrived in earnest over the weekend. Taking a look back at the memorable moments begins in the East Region where Virginia Tech and Duke found themselves in a battle to the very end.

While Zion Williamson marvels those that watch Duke play with his dunks, it is plays like this that truly show how unique he is. With Duke nursing a narrow three-point lead, Williamson gets crossed-up by Virginia Tech’s Justin Robinson. Despite the blow-by, Williamson recovers like few others playing high-level basketball can…

Just days after surviving at the buzzer against UCF, Duke found itself in a similar situation again. The Blue Devils were up two points with just over one second to go when Virginia Tech drew up this perfect play to send the game to overtime… minus the finish.

The East Region Sweet Sixteen also featured Michigan State’s 80-63 win over LSU. In that game, the Spartans’ Aaron Henry scored a season-high 20 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out six assists. This performance by Henry came on the heels of Tom Izzo’s outrage at the talented freshman in Michigan State’s opening round win. After the win against LSU, Izzo was quick to credit young Henry and his teammates…

The Elite Eight match-up between Duke and Michigan State was a game that many were looking forward to the second the bracket came out. With the lead going back and forth throughout much of the second half, Michigan State’s Matt McQuaid pushed the Spartans back in front with this layup that will not be forgotten…

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Rushed Reactions: NCAA Tournament, Elite Eight

Posted by rtmsf on March 31st, 2019

RTC continues its coverage of the NCAA Tournament through the regionals this weekend, at each of the four sites. Using social media to share information, we produced Rushed Reactions threads in Twitter for each game in those locations. Click within each tweet to see the entire RR thread for each game. Have a look below from all of this weekend’s games.

#3 Texas Tech 75, #1 Gonzaga 69.

#1 Virginia 80, #3 Purdue 75 (OT).

#5 Auburn 77, #2 Kentucky (OT).

#2 Michigan State 68, #1 Duke 67.

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Eight Questions For The Elite Eight

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 30th, 2019

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

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

Gonzaga vs. Texas Tech

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

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

Virginia vs. Purdue

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

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

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