Each weekday, our college hoops experts discuss the biggest issues, trends and themes in college basketball.
1. Indiana seems to have found its way. What happened?
Andy Katz: The schedule has helped. But this team has also bought into the concept of team defense. The ball is moving better offensively, according to Tom Crean. And it's clearly the diversity of scoring and sharing of the ball that's working well for the Hoosiers.
Eamonn Brennan: Through five games, Indiana has allowed the fewest points per possession of any team in the Big Ten. No, seriously! As Andy mentioned, this bizarre turn of events is absolutely a product of schedule (those five games: Rutgers, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Minnesota) and plain old collective improvement. There's also a third factor, though there's no joy in bringing it up: James Blackmon Jr.'s season-ending knee injury. That injury, one game before the B1G opener, robbed Crean of a well-liked player and a potent offensive weapon, but it also removed IU's most glaring defensive liability from the rotation. The trade-off -- marginally worse offense, significantly better defense -- is working thus far.
Myron Medcalf: No need to repeat the obvious answer. Indiana has fortified its defense against the league's basement. The Hoosiers are also connecting on nearly 44 percent of their 3-pointers. If you believe Ken Pomeroy, there's not much any opponent can do about that. Don't forget about the steady contributions from freshman Thomas Bryant. He's leading the nation with a 75 percent clip inside the arc. He helps, and he'll be a major factor in Indiana's ability to maintain this rhythm.
2. Butler and Providence have both had recent struggles. Which issues most need addressing as they play each other on Tuesday?
Katz: The onus is still more on Butler. Providence did lose two home games, but the Marquette game was on the last possession. Finishing games and executing in the final few minutes is still an issue. But it's one that can be solved with one of the top players in the country, point guard Kris Dunn. Butler doesn't have that one player who can create on his own with the game on the line. The Bulldogs need to ensure they have the necessary balance to be a consistent offensive threat. Providence still has two cracks at Villanova. Butler has already lost at home to the Wildcats, the top team in the Big East. That's another reason why Butler needs this game a bit more.
Brennan: The Friars' two recent losses (Marquette, Seton Hall, both at home) have featured unusually not-amazing performances from Dunn, the All-American point guard, which is a crazy thing to say about somebody who netted 36 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists in those two games. It's also a reasonable one, given the 11 turnovers Dunn coughed up in those games. Beyond Ben Bentil, Providence doesn't have enough to routinely survive merely human efforts from its point guard. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, are slumping from the field in conference play, which explains how their best defensive performance of the season (against Villanova) was for naught.
Medcalf: I hate to pin the struggles on individuals, but Butler and Providence were significantly impacted by what Kellen Dunham and Dunn did (or failed to do) in their recent losses. Dunn fouled out against Seton Hall, and his foul troubles ruined Providence's shot at a late comeback. His seven turnovers against Marquette didn't help matters, either. Dunham went 0-for-5 from the 3-point line in the first game against Providence. In losses to Villanova, Providence and Xavier, Dunham missed 16 of his 22 attempts inside the arc. Better nights from Dunham and Dunn -- which could be the name of a great Lite Jazz duo -- seem like the obvious elixirs for the two programs.
3. SMU is the last unbeaten. Is there any chance Houston puts an end to that?
Katz: A few weeks ago I would have said yes. But Houston didn't close well at all against UConn at home. That trend will likely continue against the Mustangs. I'll stick with SMU as the lone unbeaten through another week.
Brennan: Speaking of reactions lost to the sands of time: A few months ago I would have laughed at this question and refused to answer it on principle. I still don't think Houston has any real answer for SMU's smooth offensive machine -- or primary catalyst Nic Moore -- at Moody Coliseum. But give Kelvin Sampson and his merry band of former transfers credit: Their 13-4 start has made this idea seem a lot less ridiculous.
Medcalf: There's always a chance. But we're talking about the same Houston team that just lost to Cincy and UConn by double digits, right? The same team that lost to Grand Canyon? It's not likely.