<
>

Daily Word: What is wrong with Virginia?

Each weekday, our college hoops experts discuss the biggest issues, trends and themes in college basketball.

1. Are Virginia's two recent losses just a blip or a sign of something larger?

Andy Katz: A sign of something larger. This team has been playing with fire. Virginia is letting teams get too comfortable. And then the Cavs get burned. This team needs to find its knockout punch early.

Myron Medcalf: The Cavaliers need more from a group of reserves that registered just 16 points combined in those two losses to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. And Malcolm Brogdon has struggled from the 3-point line in the team's three road losses (3-for-19). Maybe Tony Bennett should just take every team with a "Tech" or "Georg-" in its name (Virginia also suffered a loss at George Washington earlier this season) off the schedule. That was a bad week for Virginia. But it's hard to support any doomsday theories about a squad that had previously outplayed Villanova, West Virginia, Ohio State, Cal and Notre Dame. The Cavs will figure things out.

C.L. Brown: It could be both. The Cavs aren't playing defense the way they've become accustomed to over the past few seasons, especially when it comes to defending the 3. Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech combined to make 17 of 35 (48.5 percent) of their 3-point attempts. Virginia's opponents are shooting an average of 35 percent from 3-point range, which is the highest allowed since Tony Bennett's second season at the helm in 2010-11.

2. Kentucky has issues, too. What is the biggest one?

Katz: Patience. Normally there would be a learning curve and it wouldn't be an issue. But normalcy is skewed at Kentucky. Losing three games is not a big deal. Getting more consistency out of the post would be a huge plus, too.

Medcalf: DeMarcus Cousins. Anthony Davis. Karl Anthony-Towns. Julius Randle. John Calipari's best Kentucky squads had big men who could snatch offensive rebounds, play with their backs to the basket, pass out of the post effectively and get buckets in the paint. He can't play through the post this season, at least not consistently, with Alex Poythress, Skal Labissiere and Marcus Lee. Without a dominant frontcourt, Kentucky is placing a heavy burden on a perimeter unit that has struggled with jump shots and 3s. Kentucky big men usually eat well inside. That's not happening this season.

Brown: I'll go with poor perimeter shooting. Outside of Jamal Murray, who is shooting 37 percent from 3-point range, the Wildcats don't have a consistent outside threat. Consider Tyler Ulis is shooting 28.8 percent from behind the arc and Isaiah Briscoe is just 4-of-22 from 3-point range.

3. West Virginia and Kansas both are in the top six in points per game. Which team will slow the other down?

Katz: Kansas is more likely to slow West Virginia than the other way around. But the Mountaineers will feed off the rocking crowd in Morgantown. West Virginia is highly confident entering Tuesday night's game against the Jayhawks, feeling they should have beaten them a year ago. This should be another late-possession Big 12 game.

Medcalf: Both teams are top-100 in tempo and they've played a combined 13 games that involved 75 or more possessions this season. So even with West Virginia's press, this could be a relatively fast game. But Kansas has done an excellent job with ballhandling in league play (14.7 percent turnover rate in Big 12 play, third in the league) through the two-point-guard system, which should help the Jayhawks break WVU's press. Kansas will dictate pace because the team is so effective from the arc (45.3 percent, third nationally) and they have scorers at every spot. West Virginia presses on 40 percent of its defensive possessions, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Let's see whether the Mountaineers maintain that against this dangerous, balanced Kansas squad.

Brown: Kansas actually plays faster than the Mountaineers in terms of average possession length on offense. And it has the depth that would allow it to play fast for an entire game. But I don't think the Jayhawks will run just for the sake of playing fast. If the opportunity presents itself, of course they will. Otherwise, they won't want to feed into the frenetic style West Virginia wants.