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What’s Wrong With Arizona?: Why the preseason No. 2 team in the country is already in a tailspin

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Arizona is on the verge of making history in the worst kind of way.

The Wildcats entered Thanksgiving week sitting at 3-0 on the season and No. 2 in the AP poll and proceeded to put together the worst week that any team ranked No. 2 in the AP poll has ever produced. The Wildcats went 0-3 in the Battle 4 Atlantis. They lost to an N.C. State team that was picked to finish 12th in the ACC and that lost to Northern Iowa in their next game. They lost to an SMU team that was picked to finish fourth in the AAC and that lost to Northern Iowa in the tournament opener. And, finally, they lost to No. 18 Purdue, which doesn’t seem so bad until you realize that: A) Purdue was in the seventh-place game because they lost to Tennessee and Western Kentucky, and B) that Purdue team beat Arizona by 25 points.

The only way this trip could have been a bigger disaster was if the FBI had walked on the court and arrested Sean Miller, but at least then Miller wouldn’t have had to watch his team get embarrassed. That might not have been a negative.

So we know the what.

But what about the why?

How did a team that common sense told us was one of the nation’s very best and that still features the potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft and a candidate to win the 2018 National Player of the Year award manage to drive off a cliff?

I broke down the tape and spoke to people that scouted Arizona to try and figure it all out.

ARIZONA IS NOT A GOOD DEFENSIVE TEAM

This isn’t exactly breaking news. Giving up 90 points (on 73 possessions) to N.C. State and 89 points (on 69 possessions) to Purdue is a pretty clear indication that there are a number issues that need to be worked out.

The biggest problem that Arizona is facing is with their biggest players. Simply put: Right now, Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic should not be on the floor together. Ayton is a five, and at the college level, he is more or less everything you want out of a five defensively. The height, the length, the athleticism. You want him to be the guy that protects the rim and hedges on ball-screens.

In theory, he also should be able to cover fours, but at this point in his development, he just is not there yet. Ayton is a 19-year old 7-footer. How many times in his life has he had to defend someone on the perimeter? How many times has he had to close-out on a shooter or chase someone like Purdue’s Vince Edwards or SMU’s Ethan Chargois off the three-point line? Two decades ago, Ayton would have been fine covering fours, but the concept of small-ball was quite literally built around the idea of making bigger defenders uncomfortable by pulling them away from the basket.

Watch these clips. In the first, you’ll see Ayton get sucked into the paint, over-helping and leaving Edwards wide open for a three:

Arizona’s pick-and-roll coverage in general has been awful, and there is plenty of blame to spread around. Parker Jackson-Cartwright quite simply is not big enough to be the point of Arizona’s defense. Sean Miller’s best teams came when he had great on-ball defenders in his back court, particularly at the point guard spot. T.J. McConnell and Nick Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Kadeem Allen. These guys are NBA-level perimeter defenders, and Jackson-Cartwright just is not.

And he doesn’t get much help, either. Ristic is about as mobile as birch tree, and neither of Arizona’s bigs coming off the bench seem all that adept at defending in space. Even Ayton has his issues in this area. Watch how easy it is to get open threes and layups:

It’s more than just an issue with ball-screens.

Arizona cannot seem to stop anyone from getting into the paint. Allonzo Trier is not a defender, and he’s not on the floor to be. Emmanuel Akot has the potential to be sensational on that end of the floor, but he’s a freshman that was pulled out of high school a year early. Brandon Randolph is another freshman that just isn’t ready. Neither is Alex Barcello. Part of the reason that you saw Dylan Smith start twice in the Bahamas is that he actually defends.

For a team that plays the Pack-Line defense, Arizona has no line and they have no pack. Penetration is too easy. Help is too often non-existent, and when it is, lacking rotations lead to far too many wide open threes:

Watch the last clip in that video again.

That is just atrocious.

Four Arizona players make defensive mistakes on one possession:

  1. Keanu Pinder gets beaten on a straight-line drive all the way to the rim.
  2. Instead of cutting off Edwards’ drive and forcing a kick0ut, Trier, who was out of position as it is, takes a lazy swipe at the ball.
  3. Ayton — who, to his credit, is trying like hell to do the right thing by fronting the post and not letting a 7-foot-3 Isaac Haas duck-in — is pinned on the wrong side of Haas, completely eliminating him as a rim protector.
  4. Jackson-Cartwright doesn’t get to the charge spot and instead stays connected to Nojel Eastern, who is 1-for-4 from three in seven games this season.
  5. I’m being kind to Dylan Smith, because he’s hugging Carsen Edwards in the weak-side corner. If Ayton is able get around Haas and challenge that shot, Edwards has a dump-off to Haas for a dunk because Smith didn’t rotate down.

The proper way of playing Pack-Line defense is the exact opposite of everything that happens on this possession with the exception of what Pinder did. He’s a power forward trying to guard an all-league wing. The expectation is that he gets beat off the bounce, and at the very least, Pinder does his job and forces Edwards middle. But Trier isn’t there to cut off the drive, Ayton isn’t there to block the shot an Jackson-Cartwright isn’t there to take the charge.

So Pinder is the one left looking bad when the guys on his team are the ones that didn’t do their job, either.

And, if you go watch the tape, you’ll see that’s hardly an isolated incident.

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THERE ARE SOME ISSUES ON THE OFFENSIVE SIDE OF THE BALL AS WELL

The biggest problem that Arizona has is at the point guard spot. Jackson-Cartwright just isn’t the kind of offensive weapon that opposing defenses are going to worry about. When you have to deal with Ayton in the paint and you have to try and keep Trier from going for 30 points, you are perfectly OK with Jackson-Cartwright being the one that tries to beat you. The same can be said for Barcello and Smith.

Jackson-Cartwright is a good shooter, but he doesn’t shoot a lot of them. He’s a capable creator off the dribble. He would be fine as a back-up point guard, but when coupled with the issues that he has on the defensive end of the floor, he’s a liability for this team in a position where they lack depth to begin with.

Then there is the issue of who is Arizona’s best weapon offensively. Ayton is quite clearly the most talented player on the roster, but Trier has emerged as the go-to guy. That could, in theory, create some issues, but as long as Ayton gets his touches and the offense runs through him, this probably isn’t all that big of a deal; I’m not sure how many better scorers there are in the country than Trier, and in a late-clock situation, he’s the guy that should have the ball in his hands.

Frankly, I think anyone blaming the offense for what happened in the Bahamas can’t see the forest for the trees.

Trying to navigate egos and shots around Trier and Ayton is a good problem to have. Any questions about offensive balance will be answered assuming that Rawle Alkins is cleared to play when he’s healthy. Determining roles and minutes and rotations are things that most teams have to work through during non-conference play. They clearly must shoot the ball better than they did in this event. They have room to improve.

But at the end of the day, Arizona is still putting up points.

They just can’t stop anyone.

Sean Miller (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

ABOUT THAT FBI INVESTIGATION …

I don’t think that’s playing too much of a role in how the Arizona players are performing once they actually get out onto the court.

But I think it would be naïve to say that it isn’t affecting the team in some way.

It starts with the coaching staff. Book Richardson is no longer there, which means that the guy that recruited so many of these kids to Tucson, the man that presumably had the best relationship with them on the staff, is gone. The dynamic within a team is that head coaches are the ones to break a player down and assistant coaches build them back up. Miller has never exactly been known as Mr. Congeniality and that was before the stress of the last two months started weighing on him, and now the guy that helped smooth things over is gone? Not ideal.

In Book’s place, Austin Carroll has been asked to step into an on-court role for the first time in his career from a staffer position. Then Mark Phelps was suspended for five days earlier this year.

Sean Miller might not be in trouble yet, but I’m sure he’s had plenty on his mind over the course of the last two months. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that Miller is probably a sociopath if he’s not distracted by the fact that his right-hand man, his assistant for the last 11 years, was facing years in jail over federal criminal charges. If Book decided to talk, he would have all the goods on anything Miller has done outside NCAA rules.

Imagine trying to do your job with that in the back of your mind.

Those are the men that are tasked with getting this Arizona team prepared to play. Scouting reports, game-plans and, frankly, simply teaching the principles of their offense and defense to a bunch of freshmen. It would make sense if the players aren’t getting coached up the way that they have in the past, especially when you consider that the big offseason change Miller made on his staff was to bring in Lorenzo Romar, whose Washington teams were known for their inability to even pretend to play defense.

To me, that’s where you see the effects of the FBI investigation. Arizona has not been coached the way that they need to be coached.

SO IS IT FIXABLE?

I think it is, but only to a point.

I don’t think that Trier is ever going to be a plus-defender. I don’t think that Jackson-Cartwright or Ristic will ever be plus-defenders. If and when Alkins makes his return, I don’t think that he’s ever going to be a plus-defender.

Miller can put together the best defensive scheme in the history of basketball and it’s only going to be so good when the players executing that defense just aren’t all that good.

But that doesn’t mean that this team can’t win games. They can. I don’t think a Pac-12 title is out of the question given just how questionable that conference has looked through three weeks. And I don’t think that a trip to the Final Four is a lost cause, either. How many times will Arizona take the floor this season in a game where they don’t have the two best players?

Play Ayton at the five. Get Akot to a point where he is actually able to contribute positive minutes. Utilize Pinder and Ira Lee at the four. Get these guys to learn how the Pack-Line defense actually works.

The truth is that Arizona is probably not the second-best team in the country. But you don’t have to be the second-best team in the country to win the things they want to win. They just have to be the best team in the Pac-12 and get hot for three weeks in March.

They can still do that.

Sean Miller will have his work cut out for him now, but there is still a lot of season left to play.

Arizona State rising fast beyond the desert

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TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona State has taken college basketball by devilish hurricane, running and gunning its way into the national consciousness while igniting an often-blase local fan base.

Even the Sun Devils’ rivals down south have taken notice.

“Bobby Hurley, he’s en route right now to be one of the coaches talked about for national coach of the year because of what he’s done with their program,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said of the coach of his biggest rival. “He’s played a tough nonconference schedule. It shows some guts to play who they play. Their results speak really clearly. They might be underrated where they’re at right now.”

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, at least not yet.

The Sun Devils were expected to be better in Hurley’s third season in the desert. They returned three senior guards and finally got them some front-court help with the addition of Romello White and De’Quon Lake.

Kodi Justice, ASU’s 6-foot-5 guard, would no longer have to guard 7-footers. Arizona State would be better defensively and on the glass. The guards would not have to carry the entire load.

Even so, the Sun Devils were projected to be at the middle of the Pac-12, picked to finish sixth.

The big jump was supposed to be next season, when a trio of transfers will be eligible and could possibly lead the Sun Devils to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2014.

This breakneck band of Devils spun the narrative forward a year early.

Playing with a confidence bordering on cocky and with an offensive freedom afforded them by their coach, the Sun Devils have pushed their way into the national spotlight.

They made a blip by beating Xavier, No. 15 at the time but now No. 10 in the AP Top 25 . Blew the Musketeers away, actually, turning a 15-point first-half deficit into a 102-86 rout with an onslaught of fast breaks and 3-pointers.

Arizona State next moved into the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2008-09, coming in at No. 20 after the win over Xavier. The Sun Devils climbed four spots the next week.

The catapult launched last Sunday: Arizona State 95, No. 2 Kansas 85. At Allen Fieldhouse.

One of the biggest wins in program history led to another bit of history: A No. 5 ranking this week, ASU’s highest since reaching No. 3 in 1980-81. The Sun Devils even garnered the first No. 1 votes as a program. Five of ’em, actually.

Now Arizona State is 9-0 and being mentioned as a possible national-title contender. Yeah, really.

“I knew the success was going to be better, but you don’t expect necessarily when you look at a schedule to run the table up to this point, and beat the type of teams we’ve beaten,” Hurley said. “So you just appreciate it and then you kind of move on and get ready for the next battle.”

Arizona State’s success starts with its quartet of fearless guards, turning Arizona State into “Guard U.”

With carte blanche from Hurley to shoot from anywhere at almost any time, they’ve gone from carrying the load last season to ferrying the Sun Devils closer to college basketball’s upper echelon.

Tra Holder has transformed himself from steady freshman to unquestioned, sometimes nasty senior floor leader. He scored 40 points against Xavier and leads Arizona State with 21.2 points per game. He also grabs 5.6 rebounds, dishes out 5.2 assists and won consecutive Pac-12 player of the week honors, a first by a Sun Devil since James Harden in 2008.

Shannon Evans II followed Hurley from Buffalo, had to sit out a season as a transfer and was solid as a junior, averaging 15 points per game. The 6-1 guard had become go-to guy 1-A this season, second on the team with 19 points while matching Holder in assists. Big shots? He’s go those, too, including a clutch 3 to kill a Kansas rally in one of the loudest atmospheres in the game.

Justice plays with Pete Maravichian flair, has a range that seems to extend to the opposing team’s free-throw line.

Then there’s Remy Martin. The freshman guard is more spiced rum than cognac, playing with a confidence and intensity well beyond his years.

Martin treats irritation by the opposing team’s point guard as the highest honor, often nodding his bouncy hair in approval when he officially finds his way under their skin. He was the spark off the bench against Kansas, finishing with 21 points and five steals.

“They are now freed up to be who they are more,” Hurley said. “I think they would have shown that on a more regular basis last year if I had done my job a little better and sooner and gotten them some help.”

That help is here and the Sun Devils are running and gunning with it.

Follow John Marshall on Twitter @jmarshallap

Oklahoma State dismisses two players

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STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma State has dismissed junior Davon Dillard and freshman Zack Dawson from the team for failing to meet unspecified standards set by the program.

Coach Mike Boynton says he could not “make compromises in our core values when it comes to individual players.” Dillard and Dawson were suspended before the season for reasons the school has not disclosed. Dawson missed one game and Dillard missed the first five.

Oklahoma State (7-2) faces No. 19 Florida State (9-0) in Sunrise, Florida, on Saturday.

UCLA basketball moving on past Ball family era

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Ball family was one and done at UCLA. However, the ramifications of doing business with Lonzo, LiAngelo, LaMelo and father LaVar could have a lasting impact on the program.

LiAngelo Ball — the younger brother of Lakers rookie guard Lonzo Ball — was pulled out of school by LaVar months after the shoplifting scandal in China and signed with the professional team Vytautas Prienai in Lithuania. LaMelo Ball, the youngest of the three brothers still in high school, signed with the same team thus giving up his eligibility to play in college.

LaMelo had committed to play for UCLA as did his two older brothers. Lonzo is the only one who played in a UCLA uniform and he was an All-America as a freshman.

“Well, I really had one,” coach Steve Alford said of the Ball era. “Lonzo, obviously, was terrific. The time I coached Lonzo was incredible. Very respectful young man. Somebody that didn’t miss class. On court, off court was incredible. Became a good leader by the time it was over with. Knew what you’d get out of him. Made people better. Knew he was one-and-done the day he stepped on campus and never acted that way. You didn’t see entitlement that sometimes you see in kids like that. He was a complete joy to coach.”

No one knew the Ball family impact in Pauley would be so short-lived. LiAngelo Ball worked out with his teammates in the summer and for five weeks of practice but never played in a game because of the indefinite suspension over the shoplifting that caused an international incident that went all the way to President Trump.

LaVar pulled him out of UCLA recently because he wanted him to play basketball. LiAngelo and his teammates — Jalen Hill and Cody Riley — were all serving indefinite suspensions. Alford believes that could be resolved soon, whether Hill and Riley could rejoin the team this season or not.

“It’s not done, but we’ve heard the process is nearing an end,” Alford said Thursday. “My hope is we’ll hear something if not the end of this week by early next week.”

The UCLA Office of Student Conduct has done the review and deciphering that code will determine the players’ fates. Alford said he wasn’t involved in the interview process as part of that review and didn’t have input on what decision is made. Once the decision is relayed, he’ll have input in how things are handled moving forward.

“It’s just one more of those distractions we get behind us,” Alford said. “The guys in the locker room have had nothing to do with any of it … This young team has had to deal with a lot and yet they’re 7-2 and playing well.”

Because of NCAA recruiting rules, Alford wasn’t able to talk about LaMelo Ball and the fact he no longer will play for the Bruins.

“It’s just the way it is,” Alford said. “It’s something that happened. It’s the 2019-2020 class. There’s all kinds of time. Right now, all of our attention is finishing the ’18 class. … Even trying to project what the 2019 class is going to look like is hard for a lot of reasons. One, the one-and-done. And two, on the table and looks like something is going to pass relatively soon, eliminate one-and-dones. … The 2019 class is two years out from playing here, so that gives us plenty of time.”

LiAngelo wasn’t at UCLA long enough to have an impact or even show up in career statistics.

“When Gelo was here, he was terrific,” Alford said. “Through the summer, through his academics and through coaching him on the court. He was tremendous. He was late one time, and he came in in frantic, apologizing and took his responsibility of it. Those are things you appreciate as a coach. I have no issues that way. Obviously, with Gelo and Melo, just wishing them the very best of luck. I hope things really work out well for them. Just like Lonzo, I hope they have terrific careers.”

Asked what he knew about the Baltic League, Alford said: “I have no idea about the Baltic League or where that city is or anything about it.”

GG Goloman of the Bruins, who is from Hungary and played on its national team over the summer, knows a thing or two about professional basketball overseas.

“It’s a little bit similar,” Goloman said of Hungary. “It’s a good league. I’m not sure about the team they went to. They should be OK. I’m not sure what the team is like, though.”

Hill and Riley are already finished with their finals, but some UCLA players won’t be done until Friday. The Bruins host No. 25 Cincinnati on Saturday in a nationally televised game. They could have more depth by the time Pac-12 Conference play starts in January. Or they could continue with a short bench.

“It would be nice to know,” Goloman said. “The past couple of months have been up in the air. We don’t really know what’s going on. It will definitely be nice to know when they’ll be back.”

But what’s known is none of the Ball brothers will be back.

CBT Podcast: Creighton’s Greg McDermott, plus a preview of the weekend

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Rob Dauster was joined on Thursday by Creighton head coach Greg McDermott to discuss, among other things, how his philosophy as a head coach has changed since he made it to Omaha from Northern Iowa as well as what it’s like being an NBA dad with a program of his own to run. We also attempted to re-cast White Men Can’t Jump. The second half of the podcast, Rob is joined by Sam Vecenie of The Athletic and the Game Theory Podcast to roll through the weekend’s games and betting lines.

College Basketball Futures Watch Part III: Syracuse through Xavier

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Over the course of the next three days, we at College Basketball Talk will be cruising through the best, the most surprising and the most disappointing teams in college basketball.

As of today, how should we view the 45 most interesting teams in the country based on preseason expectation? 

Are we more confident in them? Less confident? Still unsure?

We used five different labels here to help define how we feel about each of the 45 teams mentioned:

  • Bet The Mortgage
  • Raise
  • Check
  • Fold
  • Get Your Stuff And Go Home

Today, we go through everyone from Syracuse to Xavier.

Let’s get into it.

SYRACUSE: Check

I thought Syracuse was going to be awful this year. They are decidedly not awful … but I’m not quite sure if they are good, at least not yet anyway. Matthew Moyer has been a pleasant surprise, as has Oshae Brissett, but are we sure their centers are any good? Can Tyus Battle actually make his teammates better? I’m not sure. So I’m saying let’s wait and see what happens. (Rob Dauster)

TCU: Raise

The Horned Frogs are barreling toward conference play with an undefeated record and a juggernaut offense. Jamie Dixon has transformed his alma mater into a Big 12 contender in just year two on the strength of an offense that makes 43.7 percent of its threes and 58.9 percent of its twos. The defense isn’t elite, but it may be good enough to make TCU a true threat to Kansas in the Big 12. (Travis Hines)

TENNESSEE: Check

I was high on this Tennessee team entering the year, and they’ve made me look smart for saying they could push for an NCAA tournament berth. Grant Williams is a problem, but the rest of the guys on this roster are talented try-hards. Put another way, I think that the Vols are punching above their weight right now, and while I think the way they play works for them – they are going to out-effort and out-tough just about everyone – the reality is that they’re at something of a talent deficit. They’re a good team, but at No. 20 in the AP Poll, they’re right at their ceiling. (RD)

TEXAS: Check

The loss to Michigan at home last night was bad, but that loss also came without Andrew Jones on the floor. He’s their most important piece offensively. Until he’s back in the lineup, it’s really hard to get a full sense of what this team is moving forward. I was very high on them at the start of the year, but Mo Bamba has not quite had the impact I expected him to have defensively. We’ll see. (RD)

Tyler Davis (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

TEXAS A&M: Raise

The Aggies slipped up against a wounded Arizona team last week, but there’s a lot to like with Billy Kennedy’s team. The defense is among the best in the country with Robert Williams and Tyler Davis patrolling the paint, and the offense is steady as well. (TH)

TEXAS TECH: Fold

Texas Tech blasted Northwestern last month by 36 points, but lost to Seton Hall and needed OT to beat a solid Nevada team at home. Chris Beard has his team playing a lot of defense, but they’re not making a lot of shots. The defense should translate against a tougher schedule, but getting more buckets seems unlikely. (TH)

UCLA: Check

I certainly wouldn’t say that UCLA won’t be an NCAA tournament team; they should be. But this season was thrown for a loop from the start thanks to some “sticky fingers” in China, and that may have upset the Bruins’ routine during the first month. Now that a personnel move has been made, maybe Steve Alford’s team can use this time to refocus as they prepare for conference play. There’s some good young talent, most notably Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes, and Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh are two experienced options who can earn all-conference honors at season’s end. This isn’t a “fold” or “run away before you blow your mortgage payment” situation, but it’s isn’t one where you throw more money into the pot or go all-in, either. (RJ)

UCONN: Get Your Stuff And Go Home

This is rough to say as someone that grew up a UConn fan, but at this point there are no more excuses for Kevin Ollie and the Connecticut program. They’re just not good enough. If the 35-point blowout against Arkansas wasn’t enough of a sign, it was struggling to overtime wins against 1-10 Columbia and Monmouth at home. It’s hard to think that less than four years ago, the Huskies were in the process of winning their second national title in four years. (RD)

USC: Check, but I’m ready to fold

The reason why I’d check when it comes to the Trojans is the sheer amount of talent on the roster. Jordan McLaughlin, Chimezie Metu, Bennie Boatwright, Elijah Stewart, etc. Andy Enfield has a host of options who can get the job done offensively, making USC a tough team for opponents to defend. That being said, if anything we’ve learned just how important DeAnthony Melton is. On a roster filled with guys who seemingly fill one particular role, Melton was the guy who served as the “mixing agent” on both ends. He can play with or without the ball in his hands on offense, and defensively he can take on a variety of assignments as well. When (or if) he returns USC becomes a better team immediately, but with there being no set time frame who knows if Melton will suit up. And if he were to be ruled out for the rest of the season as the school looks to stay in the NCAA’s good graces, that would be the time to get out. (RJ)

VILLANOVA: Bet The Mortgage

They’re the best team in the country, particularly is Mikal Bridges is going to continue to be a go-to scorer for them. If he’s a guy that can get Jay Wright 17-19 points a night, Villanova is scary. The one place where I think they can be taken advantage of is up front. I’m not totally sold on Omari Spellman as a defender yet, and I don’t think that they’ve been fully-tested with the schedule they’ve played. (RD)

VIRGINIA: Raise

I’ll take the L on this one. I did not see a way for the Cavaliers to be able to continue to be as good as they’ve been defensively with the number of young guys on this roster, and I did not think that Kyle Guy was ready to be a go-to scorer in the ACC just yet. I was wrong. KenPom, who has them ranked 3rd nationally, is way too high on this group – I think Virginia is the new Wisconsin, where there’s something weird about the formula that makes them pop in his metric – but they might be better than where they are sitting in both polls (16th). Wa-Hoo-Wa. (RD)

Kyle Guy (Chet Strange/Getty Images)

VIRGINIA TECH: Check

It’s hard to tell if Virginia Tech is legitimate since their schedule has been so weak. Sporting the No. 340 non-conference strength of schedule in the country, the Hokies have only played one true road game, an unimpressive OT win over Ole Miss. This team might be good, but it’s hard to tell since the schedule is so bad. (SP)

WEST VIRGINIA: Raise

The Mountaineers have come a long way since getting worked by Texas A&M in their season opener. West Virginia has won nine-straight since that drubbing, including a victory over Virginia. Press Virginia has been as good as ever with a 27.9 percent defensive turnover percentage. The question will be if the offense can shoot it well enough to not depend solely on those takeaways. (TH)

WICHITA STATE: Bet The Mortgage

The Shockers are really, really good. A one-point loss to Notre Dame is the only thing keeping them from a clean sheet, and they look to have a team as capable as any Gregg Marshall has fielded in Wichita. Now in the AAC, the Shockers are going to be more battle-tested then ever and should be in line for a high seed, making them a threat to return to the Final Four – and maybe even win the whole thing. (TH)

WISCONSIN: Fold

I just don’t think it’s going to happen for the Badgers this year. They have too many young guards and not enough reliable shooting or playmaking around Ethan Happ. The biggest issue that the Badgers now face is that they did not do anything in the non-conference and now enter the Big Ten season, where the conference as a whole is down. Forget finishing top four in the league, will they be able to rally like they did in 2016 and make the NCAA tournament? (RD)

XAVIER: Bet The Mortgage

Besides for a loss against red-hot Arizona State, the Musketeers are 9-0 with night double-digit wins this season. With a star in senior Trevon Bluiett and a rotation that goes nine deep, Xavier has capable players at every position and a ton of March experience from last season’s Elite Eight run. (SP)