Daily Word: Virginia's last chance?
Every weekday, Andy Katz leads a panel of our college hoops experts in a discussion of the biggest issues, trends and themes happening in and around college basketball.
1. Virginia hasn't notched a marquee nonconference win. Would beating Tennessee on the road qualify?
Andy Katz: Yes. Even though the Vols are devoid of quality wins themselves, Virginia needs a road win to justify the preseason hype. This Virginia team still has the goods to make noise in the ACC, but now will need to do the work in-conference to convince the committee. Beating Tennessee would at least signify momentum is on its side.
Dana O'Neil: Meh. It would be better than what the Cavaliers have, and a good road win does carry bonus points, but Virginia is going to have to make hay in the ACC to really improve its résumé. Even with a win against the Vols, the nonconference slate will be one of missed opportunities.
C.L. Brown: Considering the Cavaliers lost their only true road game to date at Green Bay, yes, a win over the Vols would qualify. They play a favorable ACC schedule with two of the games against the league's three ranked teams at home (North Carolina, Syracuse) and Duke on the road. Should they lose at Tennessee, they will still have other chances to make a statement, but there will be little reason to have confidence that they can.
2. Marcus Smart leads the charge for Oklahoma State, which faces Robert Morris tonight, but the Cowboys have three other players averaging double figures. Which of Smart's teammates has impressed you most?
Katz: Le'Bryan Nash. He has finally settled into being a complementary player to Smart. Nash is playing without anxiety and letting his game come to him, becoming even more effective and productive.
O'Neil: Nash is the perfect inside complement to Smart's outside game. He's averaging 13.9 points and 6.2 rebounds and is critical to the Cowboys' success. As good as Smart (and Markel Brown) are, they need to keep defenses honest and Nash makes that happen.
Brown: Brown has been everything you'd expect a senior guard to be for the Cowboys. He's averaging nearly a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He's been more selective with his shot, which has increased his field goal percentage from 43.6 last season to 50.8 currently.
3. The schedule hasn't been too tough, but Toledo is undefeated. Any chance the Rockets leave Allen Fieldhouse with an unblemished record?
Katz: Kansas has quite a week with the undefeated Rockets and then hosting one of the least-discussed Top 25 teams in the country in San Diego State. Toledo hasn't yet faced the defensive challenges they'll be forced to deal with Monday. The Rockets may end up being the best in the MAC (still debatable), but they won't be in the Top 25 since it's highly unlikely they'll get out of Phog Allen with a win.
O'Neil: On a neutral court in March, I'd fear the Rockets. At Allen in December? Tall ticket. No disrespect to Toledo, which is a good, legit team and mid-major threat, but beating Kansas at home is too much to ask.
Brown: The Rockets have just the right blend of veterans that will make a second-round opponent quiver in the NCAA tournament. While their schedule isn't impressive, you've got to respect the fact that they've already won four true road games. But ultimately, they don't defend well enough to pull off an upset at Kansas. There's always a chance in college basketball, but in this case it's a slim one.
Games To Watch
It's becoming quite clear that Oklahoma State is much more than Marcus Smart. The Cowboys have three other players scoring in double figures, including guards Markel Brown (16.3 points per game) and Le'Bryan Nash (13.9).
Virginia won a tight contest when the two teams met last season in Charlottesville and has a chance to claim an impressive road win if it can beat the Vols again on the road. The Cavs pride themselves on defense, allowing just 54.2 points per game.
Toledo is one of the few undefeated teams left in college basketball as the Rockets are off to their best start since 1966, but few expect their loss column to remain clean after their visit to Lawrence, Kan. The Jayhawks are looking to build upon their win over Georgetown, which marked one of their most complete performances of the season.
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