Thursday, January 12, 2012
Roundtable: Four burning questions
By Eamonn Brennan, Jason King and John Gasaway
Editor’s note: ESPN.com writers Eamonn Brennan and Jason King are joined by ESPN Insider John Gasaway to discuss several burning questions in college basketball. Chief among them: what to make of Ohio State?
Which struggling team is more likely to turn it around: Wisconsin or Louisville?
Our panel expects Wisconsin and guard Jordan Taylor to rebound from a slow start this season.
Jason King: I'm not all that confident in either team's chances for a dramatic turnaround, but it wouldn't shock me if Wisconsin still managed to finish between third and fifth in the Big Ten. The Badgers' next six games -- at home against Nebraska, Northwestern and Indiana; on the road against Purdue, Illinois and Penn State -- are all winnable. So there are still plenty of opportunities to re-establish confidence in time for a nice run at the end. Jordan Taylor will snap out of his funk eventually. He has to, right?
John Gasaway: Louisville gets the gift of a home game against DePaul as its next test while Wisconsin has to go to Purdue, but long-term I'll still say the Badgers are in a better position to turn things around. Bo Ryan's team has been sleepwalking, but at some point I think their 3s will start falling again. The Cardinals, on the other hand, might be in something closer to a coma. They've scored just 0.95 points per trip in Big East play thus far.
Eamonn Brennan: Can I say both? I don't think either team is nearly as bad as it has appeared in its past three or four games. That said, I'm a little less worried about Wisconsin than Louisville. The Badgers have managed to play really solid per-possession defense, even in their cold-shooting losses. Louisville, meanwhile, is a much worse offensive team than Wisconsin and relies much more heavily on defense, and the Cardinals just gave up 90 points to Providence on the road. If that's a harbinger of future leniency to come, the Cardinals could be in for a long Big East ride.
Ohio State is healthy now, but is still just 2-2 in its past four. Any concern?
Brennan: Nah. Maybe Ohio State isn't quite the offensive juggernaut it was last season, when Jon Diebler was shooting insanely well from beyond the arc, but the Buckeyes still play very good defense, and their two losses both came on the road in Big Ten play. Indiana appears to be flat-out good. Illinois got a record-setting, historic-level outlier shooting performance -- to the tune of 8-of-10 from 3 and 43 points -- from the usually inefficient Brandon Paul. It happens. The Buckeyes will be fine.
King: I think it's foolish to overreact when a team drops a game or two, especially in early January. But I am a bit surprised that the Buckeyes fell at Illinois, which isn't that great of a team. Ohio State seems to have lost its swagger a bit. But I'm guessing Thad Matta's squad will get it back Sunday against Indiana.
Gasaway: None. Brandon Paul of Illinois had one of the best individual games of the 2000s against the Buckeyes, and the Illini still won by just five points on their home floor. Thad Matta's team resembles this year what Kentucky was last year: an unquestionably talented group that drops some close road games in-conference and gets people unnecessarily worried before mounting a Final Four run.
We practically handed OSU the Big Ten crown in the preseason. Do you still see the Buckeyes taking it? If not, who will it be?
Brennan: I still think the Buckeyes are favorites, but I'd call them co-favorites alongside Michigan State. Tom Izzo hasn't had a team this good on the defensive end in years, and Draymond Green, Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne have returned the Spartans to their all-encompassing identity as one of the nation's best rebounding teams. Those two factors could make the Spartans nearly impossible to beat at home, and very difficult to handle on the road.
Gasaway: They'll have to beat Michigan State, which is looking awfully strong. (Ask Indiana about how their Dec. 28 visit went.) Fortunately, the Spartans and Buckeyes face off against each other twice this season, including the regular-season finale in East Lansing. I'm guessing that game will have some implications for the Big Ten crown.
King: I think Ohio State will still win it. As I mentioned earlier, two road losses aren't enough to make me write off any team -- much less a squad that has enough talent and experience to win an NCAA title. The Buckeyes might have hit a minor dry spell, but they're not going to implode.
We also handed Xavier the Atlantic 10 crown in the preseason. The race appears wide-open now. Who do you see winning it?
Gasaway: Xavier. The Musketeers lost at La Salle (no shame there, by the way -- the Explorers are tough), but Chris Mack's team looks like it’s finally rounding into form after the suspensions stemming from the Cincinnati game on Dec. 10. Last night Xavier hammered Duquesne by 28 at home, and Tu Holloway finally made some shots. This is still the most talented team in the league.
King: Twelve of the league's 13 teams already have a conference loss. And that includes Xavier, which is 2-1 following Wednesday's 28-point win against Duquesne. The lopsided victory was just what the Musketeers needed as Atlantic 10 play heats up. Tu Holloway is too good of a player and Chris Mack is too good of a coach to let things fall apart completely. I think Xavier -- which plays three of its next four games at home -- bounces back and wins yet another conference crown.
Brennan: Believe it or not, I'm going to stick with Xavier. Don't get me wrong: The A-10 race is incredibly wide-open, and I wouldn't be surprised if Temple, Saint Louis, Dayton and even La Salle and St. Joe's all had a piece of the action in the final few weeks of the season. Temple seems to have turned a corner since the Duke win; from a tempo-free standpoint, SLU has been the best team in the league, despite losses to Dayton and Temple. But Xavier is still far and away the most talented team in the league, and as things settle down and this team settles into its conference comfort zone, I think they'll hold off the rest of the contending pack.