Daily Word: Michigan's resurgence
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. Did everyone write Michigan off too soon? How has it made up for the loss of Mitch McGary?
Andy Katz: Yes. Count me in that camp. But the guard/wing play of Michigan as well as the defense has been superb during Big Ten play. McGary was a key factor down the stretch last season but the Wolverines never relied on him this season. He was injured from the start. This team has had to learn from the outset how to adjust. This could be a critical week for Michigan's chances to win the Big Ten as it hosts Iowa and goes to Michigan State.
Myron Medcalf: I'm not sure the Wolverines were written off. They were just hard to assess as they adjusted to life without Trey Burke and the eventual loss of McGary. But John Beilein is getting a lot from Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Caris LeVert. Still a lot of talent on that roster.
C.L. Brown: After seeing the Wolverines look discombobulated against Duke, which hasn't been known for its defense this season, I thought they were done. Props to Beilein for figuring out a way to mentally keep his team together before turning things around on the court. It helps that Stauskas has been scoring at will after his season-low at Duke and Derrick Walton Jr. has shown some maturity at point guard.
2. Duke forced 21 NC State turnovers. Is defense the key to Duke's success?
Katz: Yes. The defense hasn't been the staple this season but it has emerged in spots. Duke made a couple of key stops in the win over Virginia and dominated NC State with its defense and punishing offense. But if Duke is going to mount a serious campaign to win the ACC and compete for a Final Four, its defense must be more lock-down going forward on the perimeter.
Medcalf: Well, that and more 23-point, 50-percent shooting efforts from Jabari Parker. But defense has to be a concern with this team. The Blue Devils are just 97th in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy. Those aren't promising numbers.
Brown: It's all about matchups for the Blue Devils, who will continue to struggle against teams with superior post players. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has taken to platooning his players early in games in order to keep his post players fresh. It's not all about defense, though. They still have enough offensive firepower to simply outscore teams on occasion too.
3. Is Providence turning into the Big East's sleeper team?
Katz: Suddenly the Friars are the one hope for the Big East to get a fourth team in the NCAA tournament field if we assume Xavier will join Creighton and Villanova in the field. Providence has one of the best players in the country in Bryce Cotton. The Friars have dealt with transfers and injuries and yet stayed together. They've gotten down in a number of key games, but they've never quit. This team is a threat to win the Big East tournament title, too.
Medcalf: A win over Xavier this weekend would make the Friars a surprising contender for the conference title. Four players, including Cotton, average double figures for Ed Cooley. Certainly sleepers.
Brown: I think the winner of Providence-Xavier on Saturday can officially call itself the Big East's sleeper. Then again, the Friars' 81-68 win over Creighton was an eye opener. My concern with Providence is what will it do away from home since, so far, all of its top wins have come in the Dunkin' Donuts Center.
Games To Watch
Two of the top three teams in the Big Ten get after it. This a stretch that will prove if Michigan is for real. The Wolverines went on the road and beat Wisconsin, have Iowa at home and then travel to play Michigan State.
After losses to Notre Dame and Clemson, Duke has righted the ship with a close win over Virginia and a blowout win over NC State. Miami isn't scoring at a high clip, but the Canes gave Syracuse a game and knocked off North Carolina.
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