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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Big 12 Tournament Storylines To Follow

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 13th, 2019

This year’s Big 12 Tournament will have a different feel to it than those of recent memory. For the first time since 2005, Kansas will not enter the event as the regular season champion; and coincidentally enough, that year was also the last time that Texas Tech advanced to the championship game. The Red Raiders lost to Oklahoma State that year, but they are the clear favorite to cut down the nets in Kansas City this weekend. It’s easy to see The Streak ending as the biggest takeaway from this Big 12 season, but there’s still some conference intrigue left between now and Selection Sunday. Let’s get to it.

Jarrett Culver is licking his chops at the opportunity to deliver Texas Tech’s first Big 12 tournament championship. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Texas Tech looks to ride the wave. The Red Raiders are the clear favorite this week, and for plenty of reasons. Not only are they the conference’s best team with the nation’s best defense and the Big 12’s best player in Jarrett Culver, but they also have one of college basketball’s best coaches in Chris Beard. On top of all of that, they’ve won nine in a row and 11 of their last 12 with an offense that has significantly improved. Additionally, among the serious contenders to take home the trophy this weekend, Texas Tech is the only team that has its full complement of players healthy and available. So take your pick. Sure, anything can happen in a single-elimination setting on a neutral floor, but if you’re looking for a bold prediction about which team will cut down the Sprint Center nets, you won’t find it here.

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Ten Questions to Consider: The First Weekend of March

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 1st, 2019

With some conference tournaments less than a week away, this weekend is all about conference races, tournament resumes, and doing all that you can to end up on the correct side of the bubble. Here are ten questions I have heading into the weekend.

Kentucky and Tennessee Do Battle Again This Weekend (USA Today Images)
  1. Will Tennessee’s season-long struggles cleaning up its defensive glass be exploited again by Kentucky? (Kentucky @ Tennessee, Saturday 2 PM EST, CBS) In Tennessee’s 17-point loss at Rupp Arena last month, Kentucky’s 59.4 percent effective field goal percentage was the best of any Volunteers’ opponent this season. In addition, the Wildcats grabbed a healthy 41.4 percent of their missed shots.
  2. With Kerwin Roach suspended, could Texas play itself out of the NCAA Tournament? (Iowa State @ Texas, Saturday 2 PM EST, ESPN2) The Bracket Matrix currently projects Texas as a #9 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Longhorns have lost two in a row since Kerwin Roach’s suspension, however, and must finish the regular season with Texas Tech and TCU. Roach was the conference’s eighth-leading scorer at 15 points per game — Texas needs him.
  3. Can Clemson’s offense produce enough to give the Tigers a shot at beating North Carolina? (North Carolina @ Clemson, Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN) While Clemson owns the ACC’s second most efficient defense, its offense lags far behind. The Tigers turn the ball over at an alarming rate while rarely getting to the line or earning second chance opportunities.
  4. Will Texas Tech make enough threes on the road to beat TCU? (Texas Tech @ TCU, Saturday 4 PM EST, ESPN2) On the season, Texas Tech is 13-0 when it shoots better than 33.3 percent from beyond the arc, and just 10-5 when the Red Raiders do not. Correspondingly, they are shooting 38.3 percent on their three-point attempts at home and just 32.5 percent on the road. TCU’s three-point defense leads the conference during Big 12 play.
  5. Does Saint Mary’s have any chance at ending Gonzaga’s perfect WCC season? (Gonzaga @ Saint Mary’s, Saturday 10 PM EST, ESPN) According to KenPom, Gonzaga’s minimum win probability in the first match-up with Saint Mary’s came at tip-off. The Zags never trailed in the game and went on to win by 48 points. Gonzaga held the Gaels, a team that owns an effective field goal percentage of 54.2 percent on the season, to a mere 26.7 percent on that night.
  6. Can Baylor keep both its and Kansas’ regular season title hopes alive with a win at Kansas State? (Baylor @ Kansas State, Saturday 8 PM EST, ESPN 2) At 10-5 in Big 12 play, Baylor sits a game out of first place in the league standings. In the Bears’ previous seven-point loss to Kansas State, they led the Wildcats by seven points midway through the second half before giving up an 18-3 Kansas State run.
  7. How disruptive will Washington’s Matisse Thybulle be this week? (Washington @ Stanford, Sunday 4 PM EST, ESPN2) Matisse Thybulle is 20 steals shy of tying Gary Payton’s career Pac-12 steals record. The senior defensive whiz leads the country in steal rate and is just outside of the top 50 in blocked shot rate. In conference play, Thybulle has notched six games with five or more blocked shots and eight games with five or more steals. Incredible.
  8. Can Utah State solidify a spot in the NCAA Tournament with a weekend win over Nevada? (Nevada @ Utah State, Saturday 8:30 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) As of Thursday, both Jerry Palm and Joe Lunardi project Utah State as a play-in game NCAA Tournament team. However, the Aggies have zero wins against teams safely in the Tournament. In its loss to Nevada earlier in the season, Utah State shot a season worst 17.4 percent on its three-point attempts.
  9. Can Louisville end its recent tailspin? (Notre Dame @ Louisville, Sunday 1:30 PM EST, CBS) Chris Mack’s squad has lost five of its last six games, including four games in which his club led at the half. In its most recent loss, Louisville had a -10 turnover differential against Boston College.
  10. What will Buffalo’s ceiling be come March? (Buffalo @ Miami OH, Friday 8 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) Last season, Nate Oats’ squad toppled Arizona as a feisty #13 seed. This year’s Buffalo team remains as potent offensively while having improved dramatically defensively. Buffalo holding serve the rest of the way will all be about NCAA Tournament seeding.
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Ten Questions to Consider: A Statement Weekend

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 22nd, 2019

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

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

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 15th, 2019

As the season rolls along into mid-February, we are about to hit the one-month mark until Selection Sunday. This weekend has a number of match-ups that will play a role in deciding conference titles and bubble trouble. Here are 10 questions I have heading into this weekend’s action.

Tennesssee Visits Rupp Arena With an SEC Title on Its Mind (USA Today Images)
  1. Which MAC team will bolster its resume? (Buffalo @ Toledo, Friday 7 PM EST, ESPNU) Buffalo and Toledo lead their respective divisions in the MAC heading into this showdown of 20-win teams. A win at Toledo would give the Bulls a Quadrant 1 victory that could be the difference on the bubble come Selection Sunday if the Bulls ultimately do not win the MAC Tournament.
  2. Can Kentucky stay alive in the race for the SEC regular season title? (Tennessee @ Kentucky, Saturday 8 PM EST, ESPN) The Wildcats’ mid-week loss to LSU pushed them two games behind the SEC-leading Volunteers. In SEC play, no team has logged a better offensive efficiency than Tennessee while Kentucky leads the way defensively. Cleaning up the defensive backboard will be a big key for both sides in what appears to be the game of the weekend.
  3. How much trouble can Bruno Fernando cause for the Michigan defense? (Maryland @ Michigan, Saturday Noon EST, Fox) Maryland’s Bruno Fernando has grabbed 10 or more rebounds in each of his past seven games. Fernando owns the Big Ten’s second best defensive rebounding rate and the third best offensive rebounding rate. While Michigan sits just outside of the top 20 in opponents’ offensive rebounding rate, they just surrendered 12 offensive boards in Tuesday night’s loss at Penn State.
  4. Can Baylor sweep Texas Tech? (Baylor @ Texas Tech, Saturday 2 PM EST, ESPN) After falling behind 23-10 to Texas Tech in the teams’ first match-up, Baylor went on to win 73-62. The Bears forced the Red Raiders into 17 turnovers, including a career-high seven from Jarrett Culver.
  5. If San Diego’s offense ticks again, can it get enough defense to give Gonzaga a scare? (Gonzaga @ San Diego, Saturday 10 PM EST, ESPN) While Gonzaga won by a comfortable 16 points at home against San Diego, the Toreros did not lose a single 10-minute segment of the game by more than five points. Any hope of slowing Gonzaga down begins with the Toreros doing a better job of not turning the ball over as much as they did the first time around.
  6. Can NC State make it three in a row against Duke? (N.C. State @ Duke, Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN) An NC State victory on February 24, 1988 represents the last time the Wolfpack won three straight games against Duke. In the two teams’ most recent match-up, Duke shot a mere 3-of-15 from behind the arc and Kevin Keatts’ squad put six players into double-figure scoring.
  7. Is Minnesota a loss away from being on the wrong side of the bubble? (Indiana @ Minnesota, Saturday 2 PM EST, ESPN2) Having now dropped four straight games, Minnesota sits at 16-9 overall and 6-8 in Big Ten play. With games remaining against Michigan, Maryland and Purdue, the Gophers need to rack up wins everywhere they can. Indiana comes into this game as losers of nine of its last 10 games.
  8. Does a win at Dayton open up VCU’s path to an at-large bid? (VCU @ Dayton, Saturday 4 PM EST, NBC Sports Network) VCU is quietly sitting just outside of the top 40 in the NET Rankings. With four of the Rams’ final six games coming at home and with no further games against a KenPom top-130 opponent left on the schedule, the Rams could rack up enough wins to be selected even if they were not to win the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
  9. Can Kansas State stay two games clear of second place in the Big 12? (Iowa State @ Kansas State, Saturday 4 PM EST, ESPN2) At 9-2 in the Big 12, Bruce Weber’s Wildcats are now two games in front of a quartet of Big 12 teams. Kansas State has won eight of nine games since the return of Dean Wade from injury — the senior has scored 10 or more points in eight straight contests and is just one of two players taller than 6’6″ who ranks among the league’s top 20 in assist rate.
  10. How does Lipscomb respond to a mid-week loss? (Lipscomb @ Kennesaw State, Saturday 4:30 PM EST, ESPN+) Despite losing on Wednesday night to Liberty, Lipscomb remains in the NET Rankings top 40. With few resume-building wins and no opportunities for statement victories outside of an Atlantic Sun championship game win over Liberty, Lipscomb must avoid another loss the rest of the way.
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Ten Questions to Consider: A Super Weekend of Hoops

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 1st, 2019

This weekend’s slate of college basketball from Friday evening through Sunday afternoon will be the perfect lead-in to the “Big Game.” With now under 50 days until Selection Sunday, here are 10 questions I have for this weekend’s crucial action.

  1. Can Iowa turn around its porous defense against one of the Big Ten’s best? (Michigan @ Iowa, Friday 7 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Despite having one of the Big Ten’s most efficient offenses, Iowa finds itself 5-5 in conference play ahead of tonight’s game against Michigan. The Hawkeyes are the only Big Ten team that is allowing at least 1.10 points per possession in conference games.
  2. Is Bowling Green a threat to Buffalo in the MAC’s Eastern Division? (Buffalo @ Bowling Green, Friday 8 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) Bowling Green and Buffalo each have just one MAC loss ahead of tonight’s match-up, but the Falcons’ ability to clean up its defensive glass could be the difference-maker. Bowling Green’s Demajeo Wiggins has a defensive rebounding rate that sits among the top five in the nation.
  3. Can Louisville stymie North Carolina’s three-point shooting for a second time? (North Carolina @ Louisville, Saturday 2 PM EST, ESPN) Roy Williams’ team has shot 40 percent or better from three-point range in six of its past seven games. The single game in which it did not was a 3-of-22 performance in a loss against Louisville. Correspondingly, ACC opponents have shot 30.8 percent against the Cardinals over their last five games.
  4. Will NC State be focused and ready for a feisty Virginia Tech team? (Virginia Tech @ North Carolina State, Saturday Noon, ACC Network) Sandwiched between the disappointment of their overtime loss to Virginia and a Tuesday game against North Carolina, the Wolfpack play Virginia Tech. All three losses by the Hokies thus far have come on the road.
  5. Which Big 12 title contender falls further back in the race for the regular season title? (Texas Tech @ Kansas, Saturday 4 PM EST, CBS) With both teams sitting at 5-3 in conference play, the loser of this game could find itself in the danger zone (yes, even Kansas). After shooting over 40 percent from long-range last season in conference play, Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver has missed 24 of his 27 three-point attempts in conference play this season.
  6. Will the three-point line again be the difference in the battle of Mississippi? (Mississippi State @ Mississippi, 3:30 PM EST, SEC Network) In the January meeting between these teams, both sides shot above 55 percent from inside the arc. The Rebels came out on top by four points, however, partly thanks to an 18-point advantage from behind the arc. Ole Miss has beaten the Bulldogs seven consecutive times in Oxford.
  7. Can San Francisco pick up a big resume boost? (San Francisco @ Saint Mary’s, Saturday 4 PM EST) San Francisco has two top-100 KenPom wins on the season, including a win over Saint Mary’s earlier this year. In their win over the Gaels last month, the Dons’ put four players in double-figures.
  8. Which Big East team will end its recent struggles in conference play? (Seton Hall @ Butler, Saturday Noon EST, Fox Sports 1) Collectively, Seton Hall and Butler have lost nine of their last 12 Big East games. In Seton Hall’s one-point win over Butler last month, Butler starters Sean McDermott and Henry Baddley both fouled out.
  9. Will Georgetown be in over its head again with its trip to Villanova? (Georgetown @ Villanova, Noon EST, Fox Sports 1) Villanova has beaten Georgetown seven straight times at home by an average of 17.7 points per game. Jay Wright’s offense is firing on all cylinders now, having shot above 50 percent on two-point attempts and 40 percent on three-point attempts in each of its last five games.
  10. Can Baylor avenge its earlier loss to TCU and stay on top of the Big 12? (TCU @ Baylor, Saturday 8 PM EST, ESPNU) Surging Baylor sits outside the top 30 in the most recent NET Rankings despite sitting atop the Big 12 standings. Scott Drew’s team trailed by as many as 19 points in the loss at TCU, a game in which Baylor’s defense was torched to the tune of 1.2 points per possession.

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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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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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2018-19 RTC 16: Week One

Posted by Walker Carey on November 26th, 2018

The college basketball season really got cooking during a Feast Week that featured two top-five match-ups that could easily be played again at the Final Four in Minneapolis. #1 Gonzaga and #3 Duke tipped things off Wednesday evening in what was an extremely entertaining Maui Invitational title game. The veteran Bulldogs led by as many as 16 points before withstanding a furious Blue Devils rally to escape with a thrilling 89-87 victory. Not to be outdone, #2 Kansas and #5 Tennessee turned in their own early season classic on Friday in the title game of the Preseason NIT. The Jayhawks used a dynamite performance from star forward Dedric Lawson — coupled with the good fortune of Tennessee star big man Grant Williams fouling out prior to overtime — to emerge victorious with an 87-81 result. The college hoops regular season is much more of a marathon than a sprint, but these early season treats serve as a good reminder of how compelling it can be when we have the pleasure of watching some of the best teams in the country face off against one another.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

  • Gonzaga is the new #1 team. Following its impressive win over #3 Duke in the Maui Invitational title game, Gonzaga is the new #1 team in this week’s RTC16. Mark Few‘s squad is loaded with the talent all over the court, highlighted by sophomore guard Zach Norvell Jr. and junior forward Rui Hachimura. What might be the most impressive aspect of the current Bulldogs is that they have emerged to these heights without the services of excellent junior forward Killian Tillie, who remains sidelined with an ankle injury. Gonzaga’s non-conference slate does not get much easier this week, as it faces a good North Dakota State program on Monday before hitting the road to play in what will be a raucous environment at Creighton on Saturday.

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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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