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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ACC Stock Report: Volume II

Posted by Matt Auerbach on January 16th, 2019

With #1 Duke’s home loss to Syracuse Monday night — and more significantly the injury and extended absence of Tre Jones — some of the luster of this weekend’s highly-anticipated match-up with conference-leading Virginia has eroded. Or perhaps Tony Bennett’s squad just appears like it will inevitably run roughshod through the ACC for the second consecutive campaign.

Stock Rising:

Jeff Capel is Making a Mark in Pittsburgh Already (USA Today Images)

Jeff Capel: While he wasn’t Pittsburgh’s first choice, Capel has left little doubt that he was the right choice to clean up the mess of the two-year failed marriage with Kevin Stallings. Capel entered the program last spring having to do yeoman’s work just to construct a playable roster. But now, after Monday night’s victory over Florida State, the feisty Panthers have already vanquished two NCAA Tournament likelies (Louisville), and in doing so, have brought back some of the energy that used to be synonymous with the Peterson Events Center.

Behind the precocious freshman trio of Xavier Johnson, Trey McGowens and Au’Diese Toney, Capel’s crew has already exceeded last season’s win total by four, and in so doings has risen from 138th in KenPom to start the season to a current standing of 68th. Pitt’s upcoming schedule is arduous, however, as three of the Panthers’ next four games are away from home (and the home game vs. Duke), but it is undeniable that a basketball trajectory is veering upward again in the Steel City.

Stock Zig Zagging:

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ACC/Big Ten Challenge: Tuesday Preview

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 27th, 2018

After Monday’s games, the 2018 Big Ten/ACC Challenge is tied with a pair of surprising results — Nebraska won at Clemson and Boston College outlasted Minnesota. ACC microsite writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) previews tonight’s heavy slate of action. (All rankings via KenPom as of Tuesday, November 26.)

Clemson Gave up a Home Game Last Night Against Nebraska (USA Today Images)

  • #16 Virginia Tech at #38 Penn State. Buzz Williams has another terrific offense brewing this season in Blacksburg. The Hokies currently rank seventh in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency and are making 41.4 percent (26th nationally) of their shots from long distance. They’ve also gotten the start of a breakout season from sophomore Nickeil Alexander-Walker (29.8 PER, 60.6% eFG). Their hot shooting will be tested tonight by a Penn State defense that is allowing its opponents to make just 22.9 percent (fourth nationally) of their attempts from three-point range. While excellent on the perimeter, Virginia Tech lacks size and could be vulnerable to Nittany Lions forward Lamar Stevens (26.6 PER, 24.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG).
  • #95 Illinois at #52 Notre Dame. Mike Brey’s club currently ranks just 51st in offensive efficiency, which is an odd sight to see. The last time a Brey team finished outside the top 50 in that category was all the way back in 2004-05. Part of the struggles this season have laid at the feet of T.J. Gibbs, the expected star of this team who has shot just 32.4 percent from the field and 21.1 percent from three-point range. Notre Dame will need to make some shots tonight to get a win, as the Illini feature a talented young backcourt of sophomore Trent Frazier (17.6 PPG, 58.3% eFG) and freshman Ayo Dosunmu (14.5 PPG, 57.6% eFG).
  • #8 Michigan State at #58 Louisville. Hello, Jordan Nwora. It hasn’t taken long for the talented Cardinals’ sophomore to break out this season, already the team’s leading scorer (18.4 PPG) despite coming off the bench. Nwora (29.4 PER, 57.6% eFG) is not simply a scorer, however. He’s posting a 27.8 defensive rebounding percentage and his turnover percentage is much improved this season despite more usage. While Nwora is actively turning into an ACC star, the Cardinals still have issues on the defensive end. They’re allowing opponents to shoot 43.8 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from long distance. They’ll have a tough task scoring tonight against Michigan State (eighth in KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency).

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ACC Opening Week: Three Up, Three Down

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 9th, 2018

After a busy opening week that has so far resulted in a perfect 12-0 record for ACC teams, Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) takes a look at three positives and three negatives from around the conference. (Brad Jenkins covered Duke in his Opening Night takeaways)

THREE UP

Ty Jerome Continues to Show His Importance to Virginia (USA Today Images)

  • Let the Ty Jerome hype begin. Kyle Guy is the All-American and De’Andre Hunter gets the NBA love, but Ty Jerome is still the engine for this Virginia team. On Tuesday night, Jerome notched 20 points in the Cavaliers’ win over Towson, making six of his nine shots from three-point range. His 70.9 Defensive Rating will obviously trend toward normal as the competition improves, but his size allows him to bother smaller guards and is the key to Tony Bennett’s defense.
  • Florida State’s shooting. While Leonard Hamilton’s team defense was impressive in the Seminole’s blowout win over Florida, it was their shooting against the Gators that was even more intriguing. A team that shot just 35 percent from long distance a year ago and lost its top two shooters (CJ Walker and Braian Angola-Rodas) probably shouldn’t be expected to make 11-of-23 three-pointers against another high-major team, but Florida State did just that. It appeared as if Hamilton’s team might be lacking a knock-down outside shooter this season, but if PJ Savoy (5-of-7 3FG) can fill that role, the Seminoles could become something special.
  • Jeff Capel’s freshmen. Yes, it was only one game against Youngstown State, but it’s clear that this is a new era at Pittsburgh. Three freshmen guards started for Jeff Capel’s team on Tuesday night, and it is already obvious that they are the future of the Panthers’ program. Point guard Xavier Johnson scored 16 points and added six assists and five rebounds; Trey McGowens poured in 17 points and shot 6-of-11 from the field; Au’Diese Toney added 12 points and nine rebounds. The Panthers will still struggle in the ACC this year, but their rookie trio will at least give Pittsburgh fans a reason to tune in each night.

THREE DOWN

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: Can Colorado’s Offense Be Better Than Awful?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 28th, 2016

Here is a factoid that might surprise Pac-12 fans: Colorado, a team that won 22 games last season and made the NCAA Tournament, did so despite having the worst offense in the conference —  a conference that also included the putrid offense that Washington State trotted out. Apologies to the folks in Pullman, but there is strong evidence to support this assertion. You might even want to shield your eyes. In Pac-12 play, the Buffaloes finished 11th in adjusted offensive efficiency (100.5), 12th in effective field goal percentage (45.8%) and 12th in turnover percentage (19.2%). Zoom out from the conference-only statistics and it’s not much better. Colorado ranked 229th overall in turnover percentage (18.8%) and 242nd in effective field goal percentage (48.4%). The latter number is particularly futile when you consider that the Buffaloes were one of the 25 most accurate teams in the country from behind the three-point arc (38.4% 3FG). It makes more sense when you also consider that there were just 20 teams in the country that shot a worse percentage than the Buffs from inside the three-point line (43.9% 2FG). It is amazing how Colorado managed to rank as high as 100th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency.

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Tad Boyle, despite some offensive woes, is still one of the best in the Pac-12. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Almost everyone is back from last season’s clank-fest except, of course, the team’s most efficient offensive player and one of the best offensive rebounders in the country, Josh Scott. What Scott left behind is a hodgepodge of talented but inconsistent guards, a pair of potentially electric wing players with big question marks, and a host of able-bodied big men without a refined offensive move between them. It doesn’t sound like a recipe for drastic improvement but there are the makings of an excellent offensive team here. There is also a reasonable chance that, if the offense improves and the defense remains suffocating, Colorado could compete for the conference title. Even though Scott was arguably one of the best frontcourt players in program history, head coach Tad Boyle should feel good about his team’s depth up front. Senior Wesley Gordon will anchor the unit as an arguably better rebounder and shot-blocker than Scott, albeit without the offensive upside. Junior Tory Miller is an offensive liability but he is another athletic big body who played meaningful minutes, and freshman seven-footer Dallas Walton could be a special defensive player with his length and athleticism. But none of the trio are offensive-minded players and if Boyle wants his offense to have a fighting chance, he would be smart to only play one of those three at a time. Read the rest of this entry »

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Six Injuries Affecting Pac-12 Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 28th, 2015

Here we are, counting down the final few weeks until the start of the college basketball regular season. Everything’s great. We get to read about new players making their marks, possible breakout players and teams, and we get to dream of the season that is about to unfold before us. And then, in the middle of it all, we get bummed out with news like that which broke over the weekend: Arizona freshman Ray Smith, recently off a torn ACL in his left knee that caused him to miss his senior season of high school, has now torn the ACL in his right knee and will miss the entire upcoming season. Horrible, terrible, stupid no-good, **expletive deleted**. Unfortunately, these things are a part of the game and they’ll have an impact on the year ahead of us. Below we’ll review six injuries to Pac-12 players that occurred during the offseason, and later today we’ll take a look at five players who will (hopefully) return from an injury suffered last season.

Ray Smith, Arizona – We’ll start with Smith, who in all likelihood was going to start the season as a reserve. However, since he was playing a position of scarcity on the Arizona roster, he had the potential to work his way into the starting lineup as an athletic defender at the three with excellent open court abilities. Now, after successfully rehabilitating his left knee for the past year, he’s got to do it all over again with the right leg. Best wishes go out to Smith in the hopes that he’ll be back in time to have an impact on the 2016-17 season.

Xavier Johnson's Achilles Injury Will Likely Cost Him The 2015-16 Season (Jeremy Papasso, Daily Camera)

Xavier Johnson’s Achilles Injury Will Likely Cost Him The 2015-16 Season (Jeremy Papasso, Daily Camera)

Xavier Johnson, Colorado – Johnson tore his Achilles in June. With that kind of injury, you typically just figure: “Okay, he’s out for the year.” But in September Jon Rothstein reported that Johnson has not yet been entirely ruled out and that the program would re-assess his condition in December. After playing at least 24 minutes per game and averaging 10.2 PPG and 5.3 RPG over his first three seasons in Boulder, Johnson is as big piece to the puzzle for the Buffaloes, especially if paired alongside fellow senior Josh Scott in the frontcourt. More likely, however, a redshirt season is the likely outcome for Big X this year. As a result, sophomore George King (himself coming off a redshirt season, although for player development rather than from an injury) is the most likely candidate to spend time at the three for the Buffs.

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Colorado’s Dilemma and Bad Offensive Basketball

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 9th, 2014

With Colorado’s 64-57 loss at Georgia on Sunday morning, Tad Boyle’s club has now played two games against teams ranked in KenPom’s top 100. Both of those games were on the road, so take that into account, but the Buffaloes have looked absolutely terrible, especially on the offensive end, and are now 0-2 in those games. In 114 offensive possessions, Colorado has scored 90 points, good for 0.79 points per possession. In easy terms: not good. One bad performance early in the season can be written off (Stanford and Michigan, take note), but two of those hints a trend. And we’re deep enough into the season now to start taking some long-term lessons from what we’ve seen. And my first lesson about the state of Colorado basketball is that this offense needs some serious medicine.

A Month Into The Season, Tad Boyle Has Plenty To Be Upset About On The Offensive End (Jeremy Papasso, AP Photo)

A Month Into The Season, Tad Boyle Has Plenty To Be Upset About On The Offensive End. (Jeremy Papasso, AP Photo)

You can look at the box score from the Georgia game and jump right to one statistic: 2-0f-17 on three-point attempts. Hey, maybe if the Buffs had a bit better luck from three, they’re right in the game with the Bulldogs, right? Well, not so fast. This offense is not built around three-point shooting. As it is, those 17 three-point attempts show up as just 28.8 percent of the team’s field goal attempts, lower than their percentage of three-point field goal attempts on the season, already a low number by national standards. Furthermore, seven of those three-point attempts came in the games’ final four minutes as the Buffaloes were in scramble mode trying to get back into the game. Sure, this isn’t a particularly great three-point shooting team, and that is an issue. But it is not the issue.

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Pac-12 First Weekend Notebook

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 17th, 2014

After a single weekend of games against generally lesser competition, I feel like I could write a book about all the different things I saw this weekend around the Pac-12. But, we’ll let these teams get a few more games – preferably against better competition – before we make any grand proclamations. Still, you have to come away from this weekend pretty impressed with the level of play out of the gates. We saw a lot of teams look better than we had any reason to expect. And we also had USC. Below, we’ll take a look at a few of the bigger non-Arizona takeaways from the first weekend of play around the conference.

Utah

Let’s save a more in-depth look at the Utes until after they play San Diego State on Tuesday afternoon, but a couple new names to keep an eye on in that game: First, freshman Jakob Poeltl is going to be a huge factor for the Utes this year. He’s an active and skilled seven-footer who, frankly, is not long for the college game. Because he runs the floor well and is aggressive and confident, he is going to be a challenge for opposing defenses all year long. Then there’s his frontcourt starting partner, JuCo transfer Chris Reyes, a strong and active power forward who is a great combination of skill, athleticism and motor. A lot of the reason people were high on the Utes coming into this year were returnees and maybe freshman Brekkot Chapman, but Poeltl and Reyes are a couple of new elements that may push Utah over the top. And Jordan Loveridge? His body looks better than it ever has before; he’s quicker than he’s been in his first two seasons; and he looks far more comfortable in his role. Let’s put it this way: If I were filling in a Top 25 poll right now, I’d probably have the Utes in the top 15. I think a lot of people are going to have their eyes opened tomorrow afternoon.

Jakob Poeltl's Double-Double Debut Should Raise Eyebrows Across the Conference (Utah Basketball)

Jakob Poeltl’s Double-Double Debut Should Raise Eyebrows Across the Conference (Utah Basketball)

Colorado

Given the level of competition they were playing against (Drexel is a pretty solid mid-major), what the Buffaloes did to the Dragons was impressive. Josh Scott looks like he took another step forward in his development during the offseason, looking stronger and more aggressive on the glass and on defense while showing more comfort with the face-up jumper (he even hit a three). Pairing him alongside Wesley Gordon in the middle makes for an intimidating one-two punch. Head coach Tad Boyle went with a strange starting lineup due to some disciplinary measures, and Xavier Johnson and Askia Booker as a result never really got in the flow when they entered the game, with Booker in particular looking pretty bad with a 2-of-14 effort. As far as the big question about the point guard spot, one guy that we routinely overlooked in trying to come up with an answer there was junior Xavier Talton. For now, at least, he appears to be the leader for that job. He’s a facilitator who isn’t going to wow anybody with his athleticism or play-making ability, but he’s very good at making the easy play, keeping the offense moving, and playing solid defense. Whether he’ll lock down that spot for good remains to be seen, but he’ll be a big part of the Colorado rotation all year long. Freshman Tory Miller also deserves a mention. His body and athleticism are already Pac-12 ready and as the game slows down for him, he’s got a good chance to become a solid defender and rebounder off the pine this year, with upside for the rest of his career in Boulder as his offensive game develops.

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Pac-12 Season Preview: Colorado Buffaloes

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 12th, 2014

The Pac-12 microsite will preview each of its league teams over the next few weeks, continuing today with Colorado.

Colorado Buffaloes

Strengths: Experience can carry Colorado a long way in a Pac-12 with so much turnover. Spencer Dinwiddie is out the door, but the Buffaloes got a head start on life without The Mayor after a midseason knee injury hastened the transition. A combined 157 starts from last season returns to this Tad Boyle‘s roster, headlined by senior guard Askia Booker and junior forward Josh Scott.

Josh Scott Was Snubbed It The Preseason In Favor Of More Hyped Players From Arizona and UCLA, But Has Been One Of The Leagues' Best Newcomers (US Presswire)

Josh Scott returns as the leading scorer on a Colorado team with plenty to like in the starting lineup. (US Presswire)

Weaknesses: While Dinwiddie’s injury caused Boyle to accelerate the future of the program at point guard, questions remain at the position. The team finished 11th in the league in assists (11.3 per game) and sported the worst assist-to-turnover ratio (0.85) in the conference. The narrative necessarily flips from the replacement of a missing star to a program looking for stability at the point. No excuses in Boulder this year.

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One on One: A Pac-12 Preview With Jon Wilner

Posted by Walker Carey on November 7th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the Pac-12, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with a Pac-12 expert in San Jose Mercury News college basketball scribe, Jon Wilner (@wilnerhotline).

Rush the Court: Even with losing Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon from last season’s squad, Arizona is once again loaded. What makes the Wildcats so well rounded, and do you see them as one of the favorites to take home the national title?

Wilner: They certainly have to be in the very top tier of contenders for the national title. I that that their depth again is their biggest strength. They have so many good players that they are not just reliant on one or two guys. I think they are going to have more options to score this year. They should be a little bit better on offense. There might be a slight drop-off on the defensive end of the court, but it will not be enough to really hurt them. They should be right in the mix nationally. Sean Miller does a great job of getting his guys to play hard all the time. They have a huge homecourt advantage and they have a lot of experience of being able to go win on the road. A lot of success comes from the ability to go win on the road and this group has done just that.

Arizona (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

Arizona Brings Back Enough Talent to Win a National Title This Year (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

RTC: Colorado brings back a lot of experience from last season’s NCAA Tournament squad. With key players Josh Scott, Xavier Johnson, and Askia Booker returning for the Buffaloes, can Tad Boyle make it three NCAA Tournaments in three years?

Wilner: I think so. I expect them to be an NCAA Tournament team. I think Colorado is the best bet to finish second behind Arizona in the conference standings. It might be three or four games behind Arizona, but second place is second place. Tad Boyle is a terrific coach. He is as good as there is in the league. I think the fact that they played so much of last season without Spencer Dinwiddie will help them now that he is officially gone. There is not going to be the transition that you would normally find with a team that loses its best player to the NBA because Colorado did not have Dinwiddie for the last couple months of last season.

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