Big Monday Preview: NCAA Basketball Conference Showdowns
Well, football season is officially over. But don't be sad -- college basketball is here to turn this Monday right around.
Yes, the basketball gods have blessed us with a really, really Big Monday. What could be better than two nationally televised games between conference opponents? I'll tell you what. Two conference showdowns that feature four teams with a combined overall record of 70-13 and a combined conference record of 27-6.
In fact, each of these two matchups feature teams within one game of the top spot in their respective conferences. To say these games mean something would be an understatement.
And for that reason, we're going to break down these two pivotal matchups numberFire style.
Virginia at North Carolina
Just by looking at the breakdown above, it's easy to see how closely matched these teams are. Virginia and North Carolina are second and eighth in the nation in RPI, and second and eighth in the nation in nERD. (For those of you unfamiliar with nERD, it's our in-house metric used to calculate a ranking predictive of a team's ultimate winning percentage.)
But as close as these team's are, the Tar Heels come into tonight's matchup with five losses to the Cavaliers' one. However, North Carolina is 7-2 in their last nine, having lost to two of the top teams in the country in Notre Dame and Louisville. They're coming off an overtime loss at Louisville on Saturday, so they'll be looking to get back on track against another tough opponent in Virginia.
It won't be easy. North Carolina will want to come out firing with their high-powered offense and up-tempo pace. According to our metrics, they're 15th in the country in pace (0.964) -- helping them to a healthy 79.5 points per game (17th in the nation). Virginia sports a totally different style of play.
The Hoos are third in the nation in defensive rating, allowing only 85.2 points per possession. What's more telling is Tony Bennett's number-one ranked scoring defense, giving up a mere 50.2 points per game on the season. That tells you what kind of game they like to play -- they're tied for the third-slowest pace among all NCAA teams (0.005). It'll be interesting to see which style of play takes over the tempo of the game. It could be a direct indication of who comes out on top.
Iowa State at Kansas
Iowa State and Kansas are arguably the two best teams in the Big 12. They are separated by just a game in the Big 12 standings, and are 17th and 11th in the country in nERD, respectively. Those numbers proved true in the teams first meeting this season in Ames just over two weeks ago.
In their first meeting, the Cyclones bested the Jayhawks 86-81 in what was a high-scoring affair. Both teams scored at least 48 points in the second half alone and 11 players scored in double-figures. Iowa State ultimately outshot the Jayhawks, shooting just over 50% from the field and 45% from the three-point line. It was definitely a Fred Hoiberg style of game.
The Cyclones love up and down games where they can display their team athleticism and their ability to shoot the three. Iowa State is second in the Big 12 with a pace of 0.955 and average 80.3 points per game -- 13th in the nation. However, they welcome offensively-charged games not only with their own offensive ability, but with their lackluster defense. The Cyclones give up 68.5 points per game, which is in the bottom half of the country. Kansas can play up and down games and score points in bunches, as evidenced by their 71.8 points per game.
But it may not be their ideal game. Kansas' pace of 0.598 is much lower than Iowa State's up and down style and they are much better defensively. They give up 64.2 points per game to their opponents, and in their last three games, they've held their opponents to an average of 60 points per game. And this time, the two conference foes will be playing at Allen Fieldhouse, where the Jayhawks have won 18 straight Big 12 games. Let's see if Iowa State can bring that to an end with their high-powered offense or if the Jayhawks can protect their house with their much-improved defense. It should be a good one.