2020-21 RTC16: Week 6

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on January 4th, 2021

Gonzaaga’s Joel Ayayi had two double-doubles through his first two seasons in Spokane. After an 18-point, 10-rebound performance against San Francisco over the weekend, however, Ayayi now has four double-doubles in 10 games this season. While the likes of Corey Kispert, Jalen Suggs and Drew Timme rightfully dominate the headlines, Gonzaga’s spot at #1 in the RTC16 remains firmly gripped thanks in part to its premier depth. #2 Baylor picked up its second KenPom top-100 win on Saturday at Iowa State, and the Bears next six opponents are ranked inside of the top 65. Villanova is currently dealing with COVID issues which include head coach Jay Wright, but chaos within the RTC16 moves the Wildcats up to #3. Here’s a look at the first RTC16 of 2021.

Conference Breakdown: Big Ten (5), Big 12 (4), Big East (2), SEC (2), AAC (1), Pac-12 (1), WCC (1)

Risers

  • Texas: After missing five of its final six three-point attempts in the first-half at Kansas, the Longhorns began the second-half by drilling their first six attempts after the break. While Greg Brown was held to just five points, five of his Longhorn teammates scored in double-figures. Shaka Smart’s second win over Kansas while at Texas sent a statement to the rest of the Big 12 — after sitting at #10 in the RTC16 last week, Texas now appears ranked at #4 in all seven ballots cast this week.
  • Iowa: Since collapsing late against Minnesota, Iowa has compiled a pair of quality wins against Northwestern and at Rutgers. Jordan Bohannon scored in double-figures in each game, including tying his season-high of 24 points against Northwestern. While both the Wildcats and Scarlet Knights each averaged 1.06 points per possession against Iowa, it was an improvement from the 1.32 PPP allowed by the Hawkeyes against Minnesota.
  • Michigan: The Wolverines added a pair of victories against KenPom top-60 teams last week, and they are now 5-0 against top-100 teams, with four of those victories coming by more than 10 points. Freshman Hunter Dickinson is now averaging 16.6 points per game with a 72.6 percent field-goal percentage. After appearing among the top-10 in just a single RTC16 ballot last week, the Wolverines now appear at #5 in over half of the ballots this week.

Fallers

  • Houston: Houston’s fall this week comes after a narrow loss at Tulsa. While the Cougars rebounded with a win over SMU on Sunday, the team learned that Caleb Mills would be stepping away from the team. While Mills has been limited early in the year, he averaged more than 13 points per game last season and made north of 35 percent of his threes.
  • Kansas: The Jayhawks’ 25-point home loss to Texas tied the school’s largest margin of defeat at home (Feb. 1, 1989, vs. Missouri) going back to the 1949-50 season. David McCormack’s struggles continue as he is now shooting just 32.9 percent from the field, a steep drop from the 52.1 percent notch he shot last season.
  • West Virginia: Not only has West Virginia lost two of its last three games, including this past weekend’s matchup with Oklahoma, but the team was dealt the blow of Oscar Tshiebwe leaving the program. Jalen Bridges saw his minutes rise against Oklahoma and while the Mountaineers lost the game, Bridges scored 19 points, made 5-of-6 three-point attempts and showed that he can bring a spark to the WVU offense moving forward.

Notable Upcoming Games

  • Monday: West Virginia @ Oklahoma State, 9 PM EST
  • Tuesday: Rutgers @ Michigan State, 9 PM EST, ESPN2
  • Wednesday: Minnesota @ Michigan, 8:30 PM EST
  • Thursday: USC @ Arizona, 9 PM EST
  • Saturday: Texas @ West Virginia, TBA
  • Sunday: Minnesota @ Iowa, TBA
  • Sunday: Loyola-Chicago @ Drake, 6 PM EST

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

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on December 4th, 2020

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

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

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 7th, 2020

As February moves along, the college basketball season hits a key weekend of rivalry matchups and games among conference foes. From teams battling for conference superiority to schools looking to fight their way back to the right side of the bubble, here are 10 questions I have for this weekend:

  1. Will Saint Mary’s be able to get the necessary stops against Gonzaga? (Gonzaga @ Saint Mary’s, Saturday, 10 PM EST, ESPN) After finishing as KenPom’s top-ranked offense last season, the Zags find themselves in the top spot once again this season. In last season’s three match-ups between WCC foes, Saint Mary’s struggled to slow Gonzaga inside the arc, as Gonzaga made 61.6 percent of its two-point attempts. In Saint Mary’s loss last weekend at BYU, the Gaels allowed the Cougars to shoot a blistering 57.9 percent from the field.
  2. Can Villanova claw its way back into the Big East title race? (Seton Hall @ Villanova, Saturday, 2:30 PM EST, FOX) Villanova has lost two straight contests, including a home loss last weekend at the hands of Creighton. The Wildcats last lost consecutive home games during the 2011-12 season. In three career games at Villanova, however, Myles Powell has scored an average of nine points per game and has made just 4-of-20 shots from beyond the arc.
  3. Quite simply, which Purdue team shows up? (Purdue @ Indiana, Saturday, 2 PM EST, ESPN) The Boilermakers are 10-2 at home, outscoring opponents by an average of 20.4 points per game. On the road, though, Matt Painter’s squad has gone just 3-8, scoring an average of 18.8 fewer points per game away from home. The Boilermakers travel to Bloomington this weekend, where they will look to grab a victory for the fourth straight time.
  4. Can Illinois remain perfect at home? (Maryland @ Illinois, Friday, 8 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) The Terps escaped with a victory over Illinois earlier this season despite trailing by seven points with under four minutes remaining. Illinois will need Kofi Cockburn on the floor to try and slow a red-hot Jalen Smith — the Illini star played a season-low 21 minutes in the first match-up while hampered with foul trouble.
  5. Is Davidson the team Atlantic 10 front-runners do not want to see on their schedule? (Davidson @ VCU, Friday, 7 PM EST, ESPN2) While Davidson remains iffy defensively, its offense is clicking. Senior guard Jon Axel Gudmundsson is shooting 37 percent from three-point range over his last five conference games after starting league play making just 4-of-28 (14.3%). The preseason pick to finish second in the league could be clicking at just the wrong time for its opponents.
  6. What will Mick Cronin’s first trip to the McKale Center look like? (UCLA @ Arizona, Saturday, 10 PM EST, ESPN2) The Bruins head to the desert winners of four of their last five games, but UCLA’s Jalen Hill and Cody Riley will be put to the test down low by Zeke Nnaji. Tyger Campbell will also be challenged by Nico Mannion, who has several inches on his counterpart.
  7. Will there be any lingering effects of the last match-up between Saint Louis and Dayton? (Saint Louis @ Dayton, Saturday, 2 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) First, Saint Louis led by 13 with 7:40 to go, then Dayton found itself up five with 1:59 left. Saint Louis tied it at the buzzer in regulation, but came up on the short end of the stick because of Jalen Crutcher’s overtime winner at the buzzer. The Billikens’ duo of Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French combined to grab 12 offensive boards in the first match-up.
  8. Which Big East team adds an important win to its resume? (Providence @ Xavier, Saturday, 8 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Providence began the season with a very poor non-conference season and has since turned things around in league play. While Xavier entered Big East play at 11-2, it has gone just 4-6 since. Providence’s leading scorer Alpha Diallo (12.8 PPG) is averaging just 7.6 points per game over his last five contests on 13-of-44 shooting from the field.
  9. In a crazy year of college basketball, would North Carolina beating Duke really be THAT crazy? (Duke @ North Carolina, Saturday, 6 PM EST, ESPN) For starters, Cole Anthony is back, and while he has not been efficient since his return, he has enough talent to take over any game. With Brandon Robinson out with a recent injury, even more will be on the plate on Saturday night for Anthony. In the last 13 match-ups between these teams, six games have been decided by five points or fewer, and the margin of victory has been more than 10 points only once over that stretch.
  10. Can Texas add its name to the bubble with a win over the Red Raiders? (Texas Tech @ Texas, Saturday, 4 PM EST, ESPN2) As of Thursday night, Shaka Smart’s Longhorns sit at 3-6 against Quad 1 opponents and 1-2 in Quad 2 games. With wins at TCU and Oklahoma State in precarious spots on the edge of Quad 1, Texas needs to take advantage of its remaining home opportunities against quality opponents.

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Ten Questions: Teams Looking to Overcome Trends

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 20th, 2019

As the non-conference slate begins to reach its final days, the trends around college basketball are starting to become more clear. This is a weekend where I have questions on teams who are looking to break or reinforce the trends that have formed over the first month and a half of the season.

  1. Will Villanova have enough defense to stop Kansas? (Kansas @ Villanova, Saturday, Noon EST, Fox) Jay Wright’s Villanova squad comes into this weekend’s action ranked 86th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, the worst ranking of any of his Wildcat teams. This group also has the worst-ranked effective field-goal percentage defense and opponent two-point field-goal percentage ranking of any Villanova team of the past 10 years.
  2. What impact might the absence of Matt Haarms have on Purdue (Butler @ Purdue, Saturday, 2:30 PM EST, Big Ten Network) The Boilermakers got by Ohio without Haarms in the lineup, but have a much tougher test looming this weekend against Butler. Haarms, second on the team in points per game and rebounds per game, is also a defensive anchor, ranking among the nation’s top 10 in block rate. Butler’s highly efficient offense will test Purdue.
  3. Is it time to panic in Lexington? (Ohio State vs. Kentucky, Saturday, 5:15 PM EST, CBS) The Wildcats were outplayed for much of their recent game against Utah, even if a late rally gave Kentucky a chance to overcome the Utes. This Kentucky squad has the worst team three-point percentage (27.5%) of any Big Blue team of the past 20 years. If they can’t figure things out against Ohio State, they’ll take a two-game losing streak into next weekend’s huge match-up with Louisville.
  4. Who wins the battle at the rim? (Colorado vs. Dayton, Saturday, 6:30 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) Defensively, Colorado’s defense is strongest on the interior, where according to Hoop-Math, the Buffaloes own the nation’s 12th-best defensive field-goal percentage at the rim. Dayton star Obi Toppin gets more than half of his field goal attempts at the bucket, where he shoots a staggering 83.9 percent.
  5. Will Utah State pick up another win over an SEC opponent? (Utah State @ Florida, Saturday, 2:30 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) The Aggies were victorious over LSU earlier this season and now will get a shot at Florida. The Gators are a team that have struggled when unable to create turnovers from their opponents, which could prove a challenge against a Utah State squad that is ranked among the worst 50 teams nationally in turnover rate.
  6. How will Arizona State react to its midweek thrashing? (Creighton @ Arizona State, Saturday, 8:30 PM EST, Pac-12 Networks) Arizona State’s 40-point loss to Saint Mary’s on Wednesday was the Sun Devils’ worst loss since a Kentucky beatdown in 2016. In Wednesday’s defeat, only three Sun Devils scored, with 43 of the team’s 56 points coming from Alonzo Verge off the bench.
  7. Experience vs. Inexperience: Which backcourt shines brightest? (VCU @ Wichita State, Saturday, Noon EST, ESPN2) VCU starts a pair of senior guards in Marcus Evans and De’Riante Jenkins. Wichita State’s backcourt is made up of freshmen Grant Sheffield, Tyson Etienne and sophomore’s Jamarius Burton and Erik Stevenson. This VCU squad is forcing turnovers at a clip over nine percent better than the national average. How will the young Wichita State guards hold up against the pressure?
  8. Will San Diego State’s three-point defense keep them undefeated? (San Diego State vs. Utah, Saturday, 6:30 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) The Aztecs have a three-point defense that ranks among the top 20 in the nation, six percent better at 26.9 percent than last year’s mark that ranked 93rd nationally. Brian Dutcher’s team will be tested by a Utah team that made 8-of-15 from deep in its recent win over Kentucky.
  9. Can a St. John’s team looking to push the pace survive against a Nico Mannion led Arizona team? (Arizona vs. St. John’s, Saturday, 10 PM EST, ESPN2) St. John’s adjusted tempo of 75.4 possessions per game is the highest of any Mike Anderson coached team in the KenPom era. While the Red Storm have an effective field-goal percentage of 53.6 percent in transition, it falls short of Arizona’s even-better 59.4 percent field-goal percentage in transition.
  10. Will Markus Howard make Marquette history? (North Dakota State @ Marquette, Friday, 9 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) After making 6-of-10 from deep against Grambling State, Markus Howard has now made 349 three-pointers at Marquette. With just five more makes, Howard will tie Steve Novak for the most triples in Marquette history. North Dakota State has allowed an average of just five made three-pointers over its last five games.

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Maybe the Big East Really is Just Villanova and Everyone Else

Posted by Justin Kundrat on April 9th, 2019

It’s a painful narrative stemming from another painful season in the Big East. The conference as a whole battled all season long, collecting a number of impressive non-conference wins, amassing both longstanding and fleeting appearances in the Top 25, and ultimately achieving four NCAA Tournament bids. And yet again, come March, all that hard work failed to materialize. The best conference achievements might have been Xavier‘s run from 3-8 team to bubble team, the out-performance of Seton Hall and Creighton (picked eighth and ninth in the preseason poll, respectively), or DePaul‘s first postseason appearance since 2007 (it finished as the runner-up). But at the end of the day, the league’s attention disappeared as quickly as its several teams did from contention.

The Villanova East?

Given the exodus of talent from last offseason, most teams expected to struggle to adjust this year. But what hasn’t changed — not this year, last year, or the year before — is that the Big East continues to underwhelm in the NCAA Tournament. It’s a frustrating habit for conference supporters and it fuels the narratives that the league is no longer a top-tier conference, isn’t worth watching, is overrated, etc… So what gives? How many years will the non-Villanova Big East continue to languish in postseason play? And why is it even happening? There are a few schools of thought:

The first and most prominent is the sample size conundrum. The single elimination format of the NCAA Tournament allows for a wide variance in outcomes whereby a hot or cold shooting night, a few missed calls or a poor game plan will have an outsized effect on public perception of a team. The perfect example is last season’s Virginia club, which at 31-2 and an overall #1 seed, had one bad game at an inopportune time and received a shocking amount of criticism. Was it justified? Certainly not; a 33-game sample size greatly outweighs the one-game sample size of the NCAA Tournament. The same could be said for the postseason as it pertains to the Big East: single-game losses to equal or better teams should not outweigh the regular season as a barometer of success. But justly or not, it does, and it will continue to do so because the perceived point of the tournament in the first place is to crown the best team. One season might be a blip, but it remains perplexing that the Big East, aside from Villanova and an unexpected run by Xavier one year, has struggled for years.

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16 Questions About Thursday’s First Round Games

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 20th, 2019

With tip-off of the First Round of the NCAA Tournament just around the corner, here are 16 questions to get you ready for all the action on Thursday.

Here We Go… (USA Today Images)
  • 1) Gonzaga vs. 16) Fairleigh Dickinson: Will Gonzaga spring back to life after its surprising loss to Saint Mary’s? The Zags shot 2-of-17 from beyond the arc in the WCC championship game, but a deep Tournament run will require better shooting from the likes of Zach Norvell, Josh Perkins, and Corey Kispert (collectively, 37.3 percent on the season).
  • 2) Kentucky vs. 15) Abilene Christian: When Kentucky misses shots, will Abilene Christian be able to keep the Wildcats off of the glass? Abilene Christian’s leading rebounder is 6’6″ Jaren Lewis, who averaged 6.2 boards per game. Kentucky’s duo of PJ Washington and Reid Travis could be in line for huge games on the interior for the Wildcats.
  • 2) Michigan vs. 15) Montana: Will Michigan’s size dominate this game? Even without leading scorer Jamar Akoh down the stretch, Montana went 10-2 behind a balanced attack which includes three other players who average at least 13 points per game. For the Grizzlies to win, though, the size of Ignas Brazdiekis and Jon Teske will be a lot to overcome.
  • 2) Michigan State vs. 15) Bradley: Will Michigan State avoid the early exit it took the last time it was a #2 Seed? Bradley managed to beat a Big Ten team (Penn State) earlier this year, but the Braves are going to have their hands full with Michigan State’s Nick Ward in the post.
  • 3) LSU vs. 14) Yale: How focused will LSU be with all the distractions surrounding the Will Wade situation? The Tigers will be without head coach Will Wade as they begin their NCAA Tournament run against a Yale team that likes to get up and down the floor. Each squad has four players who average double-figure points per game.
  • 3) Purdue vs. 14 Old Dominion: Which Carsen Edwards shows up for the Boilermakers? While Edwards shot 33.5 percent from behind the arc on the season, he’s shooting just 22.5 percent in Purdue’s last 11 games. Another shaky performance from the Boilermakers’ star guard could send Purdue home early.
  • 4) Kansas vs. 13) Northeastern: While Northeastern’s Vasa Pusica is grabbing the buzz, is Shawn Occeus the Huskies’ most important player? Occeus was the CAA Defensive Player of the Year in 2018, so if he can lock down the Jayhawks’ perimeter options tomorrow, a lot of pressure will fall on to the shoulders of Dedric Lawson.
  • 4) Florida State vs. 13) Vermont: In a one-game setting, does depth and size win over star power? The Seminoles leading scorer is the 6’10” Mfiondu Kabengele, who puts in 12.9 points per game. In addition, Leonard Hamilton’s team has seven other players who average six or more points per game. Vermont is led by the 21.4 points per game of unanimous America East Player of the Year, Anthony Lamb. The Catamounts only have three other players who average six or more points and just one player in the rotation who stands 6’7″ or taller.
  • 5) Auburn vs. 12) New Mexico State: Which strength brings the bigger advantage? Auburn’s defense leads the nation in turnover rate, while New Mexico State is among the nation’s best in grabbing offensive rebounds. This game could come down to which side is able to get the most out of those two areas.
  • 5) Marquette vs. 12) Murray State: Will Marquette’s sometimes porous transition defense be a deciding factor? The Golden Eagles’ defense sits in the bottom 20 percent in college basketball when it comes to the percentage of shots an opponent takes in transition. The Racers are one of the nation’s best at getting and finishing in transition, led by none other than All-American Ja Morant.
  • 6) Maryland vs. 11) Belmont: Can Belmont’s duo of Nick Muszynski and Dylan Windler hold up against the Maryland frontcourt of Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith? While Windler struggled against Temple offensively, he was a force on the glass. Muszynski returned to the court after missing the OVC championship game and chipped in 16 points. They will be tested against the large Terrapins’ tandem that can wreak havoc on opponents.
  • 6) Villanova vs. 11) Saint Mary’s: Who wins the battle of the three-point line: Villanova’s offense or Saint Mary’s defense? Only three teams took three-point attempts at a higher rate than Villanova this season, while the Gaels sat in the top 10 nationally in terms of running teams off of the three-point line.
  • 7) Louisville vs. 10) Minnesota: Can Minnesota find enough points to get the Pitino family revenge against Louisville? The Golden Gophers averaged 14.3 fewer points per game on the road than they did at home this year. Minnesota’s offense could find it difficult to score against the highly-efficient Louisville defense.
  • 7) Nevada vs. 10) Florida: Which senior will make the biggest impact? In a sport dominated by freshmen, this game will include a plethora of seniors on both sides including the likes of Nevada’s Caleb Martin, Jordan Caroline and Florida’s Ke’Vaughn Allen and Jalen Hudson.
  • 7) Wofford vs. 10) Seton Hall: Will this game come down to which star has a better game? If Ja Morant vs. Markus Howard is must-see matchup #1A, this game’s battle of Fletcher Magee and Myles Powell is must-see match-up #1B. Both players average more than 20 points per game and have taken nearly 500 field goal attempts on the season.
  • 8) Syracuse vs. 9) Baylor: Will the “Boeheim zone” reign supreme again? The Syracuse zone once again led to plenty of three-point attempts for opponents, so Baylor will need a better showing than the 34 percent it shot from distance on the year. Syracuse must also find ways to slow a Bears’ team that finished the year with the second best offensive rebounding rate in college basketball.
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Big East Burning Questions: NCAA Tournament Edition

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 20th, 2019

If a down year for the conference means four bids, then the conference certainly has nothing to complain about. All four Big East clubs were slotted roughly in line with expectations heading into Sunday and each has a winnable First Round game (or a play-in game for St. John‘s). Below are the burning questions facing each team as it prepares for the NCAA tournament:

Marquette: Will Markus Howard get back on track?

Marquette Will Go as Far As Markus Howard Can Take Them (USA Today Images)

As good of shooters as the Hauser brothers and Sacar Anim are, there’s no question the Marquette offense runs through Markus Howard. His red-hot shooting (40.8% 3FG) and ability to draw fouls (seventh-highest fouls drawn per 40 minutes) keep the Golden Eagles humming and give much needed spacing to his teammates. Tertiary scorers such as Joey Hauser and Anim are less efficient when Howard is not on the floor and the Marquette offense as a whole scores 10 fewer points per 100 possessions without him. That drops Marquette from an elite offense (23rd nationally) to a strikingly average one. In the team’s recent six-game stumble, Howard’s effective field goal percentage plummeted to 42.2 percent, compared with 53.5 percent in the games preceding it. So it’s no surprise then that some of the team’s worst performances correlate directly with an off night from their 5’11” star. Coupling these recent struggles with news of Howard’s hand injury is definitely cause for concern.

Villanova: How will the Wildcats perform on an off shooting night?

By this point, everyone knows that Villanova relies heavily on the three-pointer, having ranked among the top 40 nationally in three-point attempt rate for each of the last six seasons. This season, Jay Wright has taken that ambition to an extreme, with three-pointers accounting for 53.5 percent of Villanova’s shot attempts, good for third nationally. When they connect, defenses are forced to adjust, which opens up driving lanes and creates better spacing. But Villanova is decidedly average in its long-range accuracy this season, making the slumps feel that much longer when the shots continue to be fired. In the Big East Tournament, the Wildcats did a good job generating points at the line and around the basket during those inevitable cold spells, but it wasn’t always pretty and felt somewhat unsustainable. Wins are wins, but in the NCAA Tournament, the question will be whether Wright’s club can find offense when their shooting dries up. The rim-attacking abilities of Saddiq Bey and Jermaine Samuels will be critical.

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What’s Trending: Conference Tournament Weekend

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 18th, 2019

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

The second week of conference tournaments began with many questions, the biggest of which focused on a certain 6’7″, 285-pound freshman in Durham, North Carolina. For the past few weeks, questions about Zion Williamson and whether he would — or should — return to play for Duke have been thrown around by nearly everyone. It took the superstar forward all of two minutes of game time to show everyone that he is indeed back…

https://twitter.com/si_ncaabb/status/1106368814206324736

The storylines involving Zion continued in Duke’s ACC Tournament quarterfinal match-up against Syracuse. In the past, it was Duke — paging Grayson Allen — as the centerpiece of any tripping story. This time, however, it was Syracuse’s Frank Howard taking his turn to extend his leg a little further than necessary…

“I love playing with Duke, I love my teammates.”

The Zion experience carried into the ACC Tournament semifinal match-up against North Carolina. The Tar Heels had dominated the first two Zion-less games, but after scoring 29 points and grabbing 10 rebounds through the first 39 minutes, it was Zion’s final two points and rebound that made the biggest difference…

https://twitter.com/espn/status/1106760367533780992

Scoring, rebounds, steals… oh, Zion can pass the ball pretty well too…

In the non-Zion Williamson category of the ACC Tournament, the basketball world was gifted a dancing Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams

…a frantic possession and game-winning basket by Florida State’s Terance Mann…

…and everyone’s favorite, allegations of NCAA violations…

On the topic of NCAA violations, the SEC Tournament included LSU’s Will Wade releasing a statement where he made a plea to get back on the sideline. LSU General Counsel Tom Skinner fired back with, “as a university and employer, we need to hear our employee say, ‘I didn’t do anything wrong,’ or explain the circumstances or admit he did not do something wrong. We’ve been unable to get to that point. We have no choice, in terms of institutional control, to not suspend someone.”

On the court, Tennessee’s Admiral Schofield began the Volunteers’ SEC Tournament action with a poster over Mississippi State…

https://twitter.com/SportsCenter/status/1106755627366391809

LSU’s Skylar Mays came up with a dunk that had LSU fans jumping for joy…

…but it was ultimately Florida’s Andrew Nembhard who allowed Florida to move on and send LSU home.

Florida’s run through the SEC Tournament came to an end on Saturday, literally at the hands of Auburn….

https://twitter.com/br_CBB/status/1106998122658582533

In the other semifinal, the SEC Tournament delivered a gem between Tennessee and Kentucky…

During Wednesday’s opening round of the Big Ten Tournament, Nebraska’s Tim Miles had the spotlight on him after his Huskers toppled Rutgers…

…after beating Maryland on Thursday, Miles got his shot at redemption…

After the second win in as many days, Big Ten Twitter was quick to point out this fact that fans in Bloomington, Indiana, were not happy to read…

The Big East Tournament will be remembered for this sequence in Seton Hall’s semifinal win over Marquette

https://twitter.com/CBBonFOX/status/1106760477718138881

Meanwhile, at the end of the tournament it was once again Villanova that walked away as the champion… AGAIN.

Tournament week in Las Vegas began with the West Coast Conference Tournament where St. Mary’s earned an automatic bid by getting the best of Gonzaga.

…and it continued with the Pac-12 Tournament where all eyes were on Bill Walton doing Bill Walton things…

…and it ended with Oregon winning the Pac-12 Tournament to steal a bid from a team on the bubble.

As players play for an opportunity to keep their season going, these tournaments bring up stories that need to be shared. The emotion in the face of Old Dominion headcoach Jeff Jones makes the Monarchs an easy team to root for…

While there is so much to love and appreciate with college basketball, there was one thing that continues to outshine the product on the floor. Officiating throughout tournaments leaves fans wondering…

And as painful as questionable calls can be, the monitor review process will almost assuredly come up time and time again next week. Getting the correct call is important, but too often these reviews kill any flow to a game. Add in the fact that they act as de facto timeouts for teams that often do not have any to call and you have a situation that creates more problems than it solves.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big East Edition

Posted by Brad Cavallaro on March 17th, 2019

Here are some early reactions to each of the four Big East teams’ draws in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Marquette Received the Highest Big East Seed in the NCAA Tournament (USA Today Images)

#5 Marquette. Marquette is slotted in the dreaded #5/#12 match-up and will face media darling Murray State as a result. The Racers are led by a future NBA lottery pick in point guard Ja Morant, an exceptional athlete, ambidextrous finisher, and elite passer. The backcourt match-up between he and Markus Howard will be worth the price of admission, but also look out for Shaq Buchanan and his 13.0 PPG on the wing. The Golden Eagles have limped to the finish, losing five of six games, but Steve Wojciechowski‘s bevy of impressive shooters should keep them in the game.

#6 Villanova. Villanova has received high seeds since the formation of the new Big East six years ago, but this year will be a different situation for the Wildcats. Matched up against WCC automatic qualifier St. Mary’s, the Gaels have relatively strong metrics despite their #11 seed. They are an intriguing team — they lost to every decent opponent on their schedule with one exception — last week’s dominant performance against #1 Gonzaga. Villanova’s supporting cast will be key to how much longer Marchc continues for Jay Wright‘s club. Seniors Eric Paschall and Phil Booth are the known commodities, but the recent strong play of Jermaine Samuels and Saddiq Bey must continue for Villanova to advance very far in the NCAA Tournament.

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Rushed Reactions: Villanova 74, Seton Hall 72

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 16th, 2019

RTC’s Justin Kundrat (@justinkundrat) is providing on-site coverage of the Big East Tournament all week long.

Villanova Survived Seton Hall to Win Another Big East Championship (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. The Big East Tournament continues to be the best postseason conference event in the country. It is undoubtedly a down year for the Big East conference, but the last 24 hours featured three of the most entertaining games of the entire season. Between a Villanova comeback victory against Xavier, a technical foul and ejection-fest for Seton Hall and Marquette, and a two-point championship game, the event did not disappoint.
  2. Villanova’s balanced offense was on full display tonight. At its worst, the Wildcats over-relied on its senior duo of Phil Booth and Eric Paschall to generate offense. But tonight, Saddiq Bey tallied 16 points and Jermaine Samuels had 12 of his own, punishing the Pirates when they committed too many of their defensive resources to the Villanova stars. This balanced attack led to 18 points in the paint and 19 from the foul line, offsetting yet another sub-par three-point shooting performance. Having role players contributing offensively is the difference between Villanova losing in the First Round next week and making a run to the second weekend of the Tournament.
  3. Seton Hall’s tremendous run snaps back to reality, but the attention has now shifted to a bigger stage. One of the hottest teams in the country put on a show these last few weeks, but their accumulation of wins served a bigger purpose than just a point of pride — it put the Pirates in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight year. Now, all eyes will be on whether they can carry some momentum into next week and earn a win or two. Willard has yet to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in his coaching career and doing so would mean turning a major corner for the program.

Star of the Game. Saddiq Bey didn’t win the Big East Tournament’s MVP award, but he was the biggest difference maker of all tonight. The freshman forward chipped in 16 points in numerous ways while leading his team in rebounds (10) while recording two blocks and two steals. On the biggest stage he has experienced to date, Bey put up the best two-way performance of his young career.

Quotable.

  • Jay Wright, on the difference his newcomers made tonight: “I think this really helped us. Swider coming back from six weeks off… Cremo gave us good minutes. Saddiq Bey, his first two or three shots were air balls and then he gave us great games.”
  • Wright on the importance of his seniors and their impact on the team: “In our program, the older you get, the more responsibility is put on you. And it doesn’t get easier, it gets harder… Josh Hart was here and he took great pride in these two [Phil and Eric] because he was the one teaching them.”
  • Kevin Willard on his expectations for his team this postseason:
    “I’ve learned a lot from last year… I have so much confidence in this group.”
  • Eric Paschall on he and Phil Booth being the first players to win three consecutive Big East championships: “Oh yeah, it’s pretty cool…”

Sights & Sounds. It’s getting hard to put into words just how electric MSG is during the Big East Tournament, particularly when local teams are competing. Part of what makes the venue such an ideal location is its proximity to most of the conference’s participants. So when Villanova and Seton Hall square off in the championship, there’s no doubt it will be a sell-out with back-and-forth chants throughout the contest.

What’s Next? Both Villanova and Seton Hall will say goodbye to New York, the former with a trophy and the latter with feelings of bitterness and disappointment. But both teams also have a big day ahead of them as they will learn of their respective NCAA Tournament seedings and locations for the coming week.

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