25 Burning Questions in College Basketball (and Our Answers)

Doug BrodessCorrespondent IFebruary 9, 2013

25 Burning Questions in College Basketball (and Our Answers)

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    Selection Sunday is a mere five weeks away (March 17), and so many the questions remain unanswered about the 2012-13 college basketball season.

    Conference races are still very much up for grabs. Several teams need to play well down the stretch to qualify for March Madness.

    If you love security and stability in your sports world, this college basketball season has been cruel and unusual punishment.

    But if you are a fan of uncertainty and upheaval, you are loving this year in college hoops.

    Here are 25 burning questions (and 25 red-hot answers) going into Week 15.

25. What the Heck Happened to Kansas Against TCU?

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    When the dust settled on Wednesday night in Fort Worth, TCU beat Kansas 62-55 in one of the most improbable upsets in a long time.

    How bad was this loss? ESPN Stats and Information provided the answer: 

    As of Wednesday, Kansas' BPI ranking was 6 and TCU's BPI ranking was 246. Before the Jayhawks' loss, no other BPI Top 10 team has lost to an opponent outside the BPI Top 100 this season.

    KU head coach Bill Self stated it as clearly as he possibly could:

    It was the worst team that Kansas ever put on the floor, since Dr. Naismith was there. I think he had some bad teams when he lost to Topeka YMCA and things like that in the first couple years. But for the first half, there hasn't been a team play worse than that offensively.

    The Jayhawks shot 29.5 percent (18-for-61) from the field and 13.6 percent (3-for-22) from beyond the arc.

    Credit TCU's defense and indict Kansas' mental preparation for this game.

    If you are a team as good as KU, you don't play this poorly without plainly and simply blowing off your opponent.

24. How Good Is No. 23 Pitt?

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    One of the hottest teams in college basketball right now is the Pitt Panthers.

    After starting off their Big East slate going 1-3, Pitt has turned it around winning six of their last seven conference games, which includes wins over Villanova, UConn and Syracuse.

    The Panthers (19-5, 7-4 in the Big East) are playing at a very high level.

    Offensively, Jamie Dixon's squad is taking care of the ball (No. 3 in the nation in Assist Turnover Ratio) and shooting the ball well (48.4 percent from the field).

    No one player is scoring a truckload of points. Senior guard Tray Woodall (pictured) leads the team, averaging 10.8 ppg.

    Defensively, they are one of the best rebounding teams in the country (No. 11 in rebound margin), limiting their opponents' second-chance shots as well as just about anyone.

    With their toughest conference games remaining coming at Cincinnati (this Saturday) and at home against Notre Dame on Feb. 18, it is possible that the Panthers could win their final seven conference games.

    I'm sticking with my statement made at the beginning of the season: Pitt is a Final Four dark horse.



23. What's Up with N.C. State?

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    The expression on C.J. Leslie's face here couldn't be more descriptive of the Wolfpack's current funk.

    On January 12th, N.C. State beat Duke, and the future looked bright.

    Since that victory, the Pack has lost five of their last seven ACC games, including head-scratchers to Wake Forest and Virginia.

    With all of the improvements that Mark Gottfried has brought to the program, N.C. State still struggles on the road (1-5 this season) and seems to lack focus and a killer instinct when playing anyone other than North Carolina and Duke.

22. Can UNLV Get It Back Together?

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    Early this season, UNLV was flying high and winning games.

    More recently, the Rebels are tripping through their Mountain West schedule, losing three of their last five games, including back-to-back road losses to Boise State and Fresno State.

    Coming into this season, Mike Moser (pictured) was a double-double dude who was one of the top combo forwards in the country.

    After his early season elbow injury, Moser has only put up one double-double and has struggled to make much of a contribution to his team's output.

    Dave Rice and the Rebels have more than enough talent  tear through the remaining eight conference games.

    But, unless things change drastically, someone other than Moser is going to have to carry a bigger load in the last month of the season.

21. Will Miami Win the ACC Regular-Season Championship?

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    The Miami Hurricanes (18-3, 9-0) are sitting on top of the Atlantic Coast Conference, having already beaten North Carolina, Duke and N.C. State in their first pass through the league slate.

    With the return of Reggie Johnson (pictured), the Canes are a force to be reckoned with.

    No one outside of Coral Gables even gave Miami a chance at winning the ACC. But they are two games ahead of second-place Duke and are playing great as they head into the final nine games of the regular season.

    Even though as a conference the ACC recognizes the tournament champion the official league winner, I think it will be a huge accomplishment when the Canes close out the regular season by being in first place ahead of the Blue Devils, the Wolfpack and the Tar Heels.

20. Is Ole Miss Back on Track?

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    Ole Miss had a tough couple days last week, losing back-to-back games against Kentucky (87-74) and Florida (78-64).

    Rather than allowing those two "quality losses" to derail their season, the Rebels took down their state rivals, Mississippi State, and cleared out any residual effect from their third and fourth defeats of 2012-13. 

    Ole Miss only has one game left in the regular season against a ranked team (this Saturday on the road at Missouri). If the Rebels can get out of Columbia with a W, it is not far-fetched to think they could win the rest of their regular-season games.

19. Where Does Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart Rank Among CBB PG's?

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    OSU's PG Marcus Smart is having an outstanding freshman season, bringing top-level production in so many statistical categories.

    He's averaging 14.2 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 4.7 APG and 3 SPG (No. 4 in the nation).

    After Smart led the Cowboys over KU last weekend, Jayhawks head coach Bill Self said this:

    You have a (6-4) guard that is a man playing against boys. Let's just put it how it is. That's what it is, and he kicked our butt. He is good, and we knew it. We didn't compete for loose balls and felt sorry for ourselves and acted like little babies.

    Wow!

    ESPN's Chad Ford chose Smart as the college point guard (over Trey Burke and Michael Carter-Williams) with the brightest NBA future. He said that Smart "has virtually everything a pro scout is looking for in an NBA guard. Size? Check. Elite athletic ability? Check. NBA body? Check. High basketball IQ? Check. A leader? Check. Two-way player? Double-check.''

    We will have to wait a few years to see if Ford's prediction comes true. But we know right now that PG from Flower Mound, Texas, is the driving force on an emerging OSU team that has won five of its last six games.

18. Is This the Year for Gonzaga to Make It Past the Elite Eight?

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    Gonzaga has made one appearance in the Elite Eight (1999 under Dan Monson) and four trips to the Sweet 16 (2000, 2001, 2006 and 2009 under Mark Few).

    The Bulldogs (22-2, 9-0 in the WCC) are ranked No. 6 in both major polls.

    With seven-foot center Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris (pictured) patrolling the Zags' frontcourt, Few's crew definitely could make a deep March Madness run.

    With a little mid-major magic, Gonzaga could advance to the Final Four for the first time in school history. 

17. Can Illinois Claw Its Way Back into the March Madness Picture?

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    Illinois beat No. 1 Indiana, putting an end to a three-game conference skid.

    Even with this monster upset, the Fighting Illini (16-8, 3-7 in the Big Ten) are still very much a bubble team.

    Illinois has enough regular-season games (8) to course correct, but it may need to win almost every remaining contest, including road games with Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio State.

     

16. Could Doug McDermott Win the 2013 Wooden Award?

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    Creighton's Doug McDermott is having another outrageous season, averaging 23.3 PPG (No. 2 in the nation) and 7.3 RPG.

    The 6'8" throw-back forward is knocking down 50.5 percent of his shots from beyond the arc (No. 8 in the nation).

    So, how could he not be a strong contender to win the Wooden Award?

    AP Sports writer Eric Olson thinks he should be.

    Creighton's No. 16 AP rating doesn't help his case. Neither does the fact that the Bluejays have some "less-than-quality" losses.

    In the most recent CU loss against Indiana State, the Sycamores held McDermott to eight points and six rebounds.

    The spirit of former Indiana State Sycamore Larry Bird at work? Hmmm?

15. Could a Late Surge Send Duke's Rasheed Sulaimon into the 2013 NBA Draft?

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    Rasheed Sulaimon seems to have worked his way through a midseason shooting slump.

    The 6'4" SG has been on fire the last five games (prior to Duke's Thursday night game against N.C. State).

    He has averaged 15 PPG and shot 13-for-24 (54.1 percent) from beyond the arc.

    Sulaimon has also become a dynamic defender and is developing into a versatile wing player with NBA potential.

    However, it would take a massive March for the freshman from Houston to jump up into a mid-to-upper tier of the 2013 draft.

    Recommendation: Return to Durham, Rasheed, and play a year with Jabari Parker. Then, you can both go into the 2014 draft.

14. How Much Will Florida Miss Will Yeguete?

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    Florida's Will Yeguete will undergo arthoscopic knee surgery that will keep him out of the rest of the regular season.

    The 6'7" forward is the Gators' second-leading rebounder (6.3 RPG).

    UF's head coach Billy Donovan says this about Yeguete:

    He's obviously made a huge impact on our team. He's a guy that does things for our team that not a lot of guys do. He's a great defender, great rebounder. He gives you a lot of flexibility on the defensive end of the floor of things you can do from pressing to half-court defense to switching to having him guard certain players. That's going to be definitely a loss.

    The Gators still face Kentucky twice (Feb. 12 and March 9), Missouri (Feb. 19) and Alabama (March 2). While they may drop an extra game or two, Yeguete's injury should have a minimal impact on their overall season.

13. Will Boise State Be Dancing in March

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    Boise State (15-7, 3-5 in the MWC) has some impressive wins (Creighton, Wyoming and UNLV). The Broncos have already won two more games than they did all of last season.

    Even though they still have eight games left before the conference tournament, Boise would almost have to win every game left on their schedule to be celebrating on Selection Sunday.

    Not likely.

12. Is Anyone Surprised That Butler Is on Top of the Atlantic 10?

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    Butler's move from the Horizon League to the Atlantic 10 was supposed to be present a challenge to the Bulldogs. So far, Brad Stevens' squad leads the conference, posting a 19-4 record, 6-2 in league play.

    Did this take anyone off-guard? It shouldn't have. Butler has more than proven itself against top-level programs over the last few years.

    Circle March 2nd on your CBB calendar. That’s when Butler goes to Richmond to face VCU. That will be mid-major hoops at its best.

11. Will Notre Dame Be on the Outside of March Madness Looking In?

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    Notre Dame has had a roller-coaster season, even though its 18-5 record says otherwise.

    The Fighting Irish are currently eighth in the Big East and are very much a bubble team.

    They have a brutal final eight games that include matchups against five ranked teams (Louisville, Pitt, Cincinnati, Marquette and Louisville).

    Unless Mike Brey’s team goes on a tear, Notre Dame will be looking in from the outside of the Big Dance.  

10. Has Nerlens Noel Surpassed Anthony Davis' Defensive Dominance?

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    As scary as Anthony Davis was last year on defense, he has nothing on Nerlens Noel.

    Davis and Noel's shot-blocking numbers are almost identical. Both blocked roughly 4.7 shots per game.

    But the place where Noel adds to his defensive resume is in his success making steals.

    Noel, averaging 2.2 SPG (compared to Davis' 1.4 SPG), has great anticipation in the passing lanes to go with a non-stop motor that makes him a menace all over the floor.

9. Will North Carolina Have to Win the ACC Tourney to Get into the Dance?

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    Over the last month, North Carolina has played itself into a much better position in regard to the NCAA Tournament.

    The Tar Heels (16-6; 6-3) have won six of their last seven games, but five of their final nine contests are on the road, with Miami (Feb. 9) and Duke (Feb 13) coming up immediately.

    To get off the bubble, UNC will need to win all of the games in which it is favored and a couple in which it is not to secure its Selection Sunday fate.

    The Tar Heels may not have to run the table in the ACC Tournament, but they could really be helped by winning their first couple of games.

8. Does Michigan Have the Best Perimeter Trio in CBB?

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    They sure do.

    Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas create a matchup nightmare for their opponents.

    Together, they score more than 46 points per game and dominate just about everyone they face.

    While Burke may be a national player of the year contender, Hardaway Jr. and Stauskas are no slouches.

    If Michigan makes a deep run in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, it will primarily be on the accomplishments of this trio.

7. Does It Matter That Arizona's Mark Lyons Is Still Not a PG?

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    Even though Mark Lyons transferred to Arizona to demonstrate that he could play the point at the next level, he has still played the role of combo guard.

    He is the Wildcats' leading scorer (15.4) and assists leader (3.0), and legitimately shares the PG responsibilities with sophomore guard Nick Johnson (12.5 PPG; 2.8 APG).

    Not too many Arizona fans are complaining about the setup. With the Wildcats going 20-2 (8-2 in Pac-12) and sitting on top of the conference standings, that Lyons is more scorer than distributor is a non-issue in Tucson.

6. Can Oregon Pull out of This Midseason Tailspin?

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    For the first two months of this season, Oregon was one of the surprise teams of college basketball.

    The Ducks won 18 of their first 20 games, and after they knocked off Arizona and UCLA, they were in the Pac-12 driver’s seat.

    But now, they have lost three games in a row to Stanford, Cal and Colorado, and the Ducks are scrambling.

    After they play Utah at home this weekend, they will travel north to play the Washington schools in a very important pair of games.

    If it drops both of those games, Oregon could be headed toward some late-season “must wins” just to secure its place in the NCAA Tournament.

5. Is Michigan State Right Where It Wants to Be in the Big Ten Race?

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    With everyone’s Big Ten attention being focused mostly on Indiana and Michigan, Tom Izzo’s Spartans have been able to quietly go about their business, winning eight of their last nine games.

    Michigan State (19-4, 8-2 in the Big Ten) is in a three-way tie with the Hoosiers and Wolverines, and they will have two chances to take down their state rivals in head-to-head matchups in the weeks ahead, as well as a home contest against IU on Feb. 19.

    This Spartans team will not back down against anyone. It will continue to play its brand of tenacious and tough Izzo Ball.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the Big Ten regular season goes all the way down to the wire, with MSU being in the mix.

4. Is Louisville's Defense Good Enough to Cover Its Inconsistent Offense?

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    Louisville not only has the best defense in the Big East, it is one of the best in the CBB nation.

    The Cardinals are No. 3 in both turnover margin (6.5) and steals (11.2).

    Rick Pitino’s pack is greedy on the defensive end, never satisfied until its opponents surrender.

    But the story is different on offense. Watching U of L attempt to score, especially from the outside, can be painful.

    No one on the team shoots at least 40 percent from beyond the arc. As a team, the Cardinals are only connecting on 33.1 percent of their three-point attempts. That’s No. 205 in the nation, tied with Sienna and St. Peter’s.

    Because Louisville’s defense is so suffocating, it will be able to advance further than most. But Cards’ fans better hope for some good shooting days come March Madness. Otherwise, this could be a disappointing NCAA Tournament.

3. Will Ben Howland Get Fired If UCLA Doesn't Make the NCAA Tourney?

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    Ben Howland  could be on the hot seat again if UCLA doesn't make it into the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year.

    After losing to Cal Poly at home early in the season, the Bruins seemed to shake themselves and start to get it together.

    But they are in another rough patch, losing three of their last five, needing last-minute heroics from Larry Drew II to pull out a home win against Washington.

    During Thursday night's television broadcast, UCLA legend Bill Walton took multiple shots at Howland as he called out the coach and held him completely responsible for the state of Bruins basketball. Scott Gleason of USA Today Sports provided the full on-air dialogue between Walton and play-by-play announcer Dave Pasch:

    Walton: I'm not in charge. If I were, things would be different. ...They should just announce that everybody can come down closer and fill in the empty seats."

    Pasch: "You've criticized the attendance now five times. Give me a solution. How do you fix it?"

    Walton: "Play better basketball."

    Pasch: "OK, well, that's obvious. How do you play better basketball?"

    Walton: "Better style."

    Pasch: "Alright, so, is that the coach? Is that the players?"

    Walton: "It's the coach.

    Pasch: "So you're not a Ben Howland fan?"

    Walton: "No."

    Later on the ESPN broadcast, Walton took his final jab at the program.

    Pasche: "What's the next best option there for UCLA?

    Walton: "Do they look like they're having a good time? Are they playing great basketball? Are they selling tickets? Is this an atmosphere that you would say, 'Yeah.' This looks like people are getting ready to go to the dentist."

    Things aren't going too well if one of the best players in school history goes public with his disgust about how you are doing as a coach.

2. Does Syracuse Have What It Takes to Make It to the Final Four?

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    Syracuse is doing what the Orange usually do in the first three months of the season: Dominate the  pre-conference schedule and run through the Big East with a certain degree of ease.

    Yes, I know that Syracuse lost back-to-back road games against Villanova and Pitt. But, with those beatings in the rearview mirror, the 'Cuse is moving full speed ahead.

    Sure, it may stumble again, maybe even a couple of times.

    But Jim Boeheim's bunch is defensively daunting and offensively impressive.

    Michael Carter-Williams (pictured) is one of the best PGs in the nation. He leads the nation in assists (8.5 APG) and is fourth in steals (3 SPG). Brandon Triche (14.5 PPG) and C.J. Fair (13.9 PPG) provide the Orange's primary scoring punch.

    There's no reason why Syracuse shouldn't be able to work its way through the opening rounds of this year's NCAA Tournament.

    With a little March Madness magic, the Orange could end up playing for it all in Atlanta.

1. If the Final Four Were This Weekend, Who Would Be Playing in It?

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    With all of the ups and downs and upsets of the 2012-13 college basketball season, it's hard to be confident about any game or any program.

    Top-ranked teams lose on a weekly basis. No. 1 teams don't stay there for very long.

    But someone is going to make it to the Final Four in Atlanta.

    Here are my picks as of February 9:

    1. Indiana

    2. Syracuse

    3. Gonzaga

    4. Miami

    Out of these teams, Indiana may be the only No. 1 seed.

    If the Zags make it, it will be their first time to the Final Four.

    Miami is on a magical run, going through the first half of its ACC slate undefeated.

    Syracuse is nasty at both ends of the court and may be ready to give Jim Boeheim a shot at another title.