Big East Storylines
1. Can Villanova get past the first weekend?
For the past few years, really since their 2009 final four run, while ranked highly, Villanova has not lived up to expectations in the NCAA tournament. Following their absence from the tournament in a rebuilding 2012 season, the Wildcats have failed to advance further than the round of 32. A loss to UConn two years ago is acceptable now knowing their fate as National Champions, but others, like falling to the eight ranked N.C. State just last year, are not satisfactory for top seeds in the tournament with final four expectations.
This notion that Jay Wright is not a "tournament coach" may seem ridiculous considering his history in Philadelphia, but will not evaporate until he consistently performs at a high level in late March. Sundays matchup against Iowa in Brooklyn may be a step towards altering this reputation.
2. Will Xavier be slowed down by Wisconsin's pace?
Entering the round of 32 as the 18th ranked offense in terms of points per game, the Musketeers will look to employ a high-paced and quick-flowing offense against the methodical and deliberate Wisconsin Badgers. Since taking over for Bo Ryan in the middle of the season, Greg Gard has rejuvenated the Badgers' season by utilizing the swing offense once again. Emphasizing long possessions and ball rotation, Wisconsin looks to make the most of each and every possession. Contrasting the up-tempo speed of Xavier, this matchup is the ordinary clash of styles. While it is tough to hasten the Badgers, the Musketeers have two options: attempt to beat Wisconsin in the half court, or try and run out create more possessions. Whatever Chris Mack attempts to do, it will dictate whoever controls the overall tempo of the matchup.
3. Can Josh Hart rebound offensively?
In a disappointing outing against UNC Asheville, junior Josh Hart shot 40 percent from the field and 20 percent from beyond the 3-point line. His four accompanying turnovers and nine total points were significant of a disappointing outing for the all Big East first team member. Facing an Iowa team that struggles to defend dribble penetration and wing scoring, Hart will need to provide a key role for the Wildcats in their second round matchup. His ability to comeback from a disappointing outing may dictate their ability to get back to the Sweet 16.
4. How will Xavier stop Nigel Hayes from getting to the free throw line?
In a low scoring Badger offense, one statistic that stands out is junior Nigel Hayes' ability to draw fouls and shoot free throws. His astounding 7.6 attempts per game are indicative of his true ability on the offensive end. He is able to create contact in the post by either utilizing his length and muscle to power through or finesse his speed to maneuver by the opposing defender. While either Jalen Reynolds or James Farr will be tasked with guarding the mobile big man, it will be imperative that they keep their feet steady when defending to stay out of foul trouble.
5. Will the Big East get a team to the Sweet 16?
While Butler and Providence fell to the two top seeds in their bracket, Xavier and Villanova remain as the only two Big East conference schools in the NCAA tournament. As both are favored in their round of 32 matchup, it is up to these two to maintain the conference prestige. If both are unable to defeat the two lower seeded Big Ten schools (Iowa and Wisconsin), the critiques of the conference's inability to perform in the infamous third month of the year will gain volume. On day four of the NCAA tournament, only Villanova and Xavier can defend the conference from falling into the trap of one who can not succeed in March.
1. Can Thomas Walkup continue his stellar performance?
One of the more entertaining stories of the first round, Stephen F. Austin senior, Thomas Walkup, electrified third seeded Bob Huggins and West Virginia with 33 points, nine rebounds, and four assists en route to 14 point victory. His unprecedented 19-20 free throws introduced many non ardent Southland basketball fans to the exhilarating Lumberjack offense. Now facing a similarly built Notre Dame team, Walkup may need to provide a similar offensive production for the Lumberjacks to reach the third round. It will be interesting to see how he responds to another high-paced and large volume shooting team.
2. How will Oklahoma respond to VCU's defense?
After struggling with Cal-State Bakersfield for the first 33 or so minutes, Oklahoma returned to their mid-season form and shot their way towards a 14 point victory. Buddy Hield's 27 points were eventually enough for the Sooners to overcome a potential upset bid from the Roadrunners. Now opposing Will Wade and up-tempo VCU, the Sooners will need to perform better than their 13 turnovers per game average. See, the Rams love to utilize a full-court press throughout the entire game to slow down the opposing offense. With a turnover prone offense, Oklahoma may be at risk for the VCU trap.
After struggling with Cal-State Bakersfield for the first 33 or so minutes, Oklahoma returned to their mid-season form and shot their way towards a 14 point victory. Buddy Hield's 27 points were eventually enough for the Sooners to overcome a potential upset bid from the Roadrunners. Now opposing Will Wade and up-tempo VCU, the Sooners will need to perform better than their 13 turnovers per game average. See, the Rams love to utilize a full-court press throughout the entire game to slow down the opposing offense.
With a turnover prone offense, Oklahoma may be at risk for the VCU trap.
3. Will Middle Tennessee state continue their improbable run?
As is always consistent with March, improbable upsets have created near mayhem in the NCAA Tournament. With that said, Middle Tennessee State dethroning Tom Izzo, Denzel Valentine, and the No. 2 seeded Michigan State proved to be more surprising than most. As many had projected the Spartans to reach the final four, their demise in the first round is inexplicable. But as the Blue Raiders progress through to the second round to face Syracuse, their momentum may carry them past the Jim Boeheim Retirement Tour™.
4. Will Maryland finally play up to their supposed potential?
Entering the season ranked in the Top 5 in the AP poll, expectations were soaring for the Terrapins. Ordinary nonconference results and midseason falters saw Mark Turgeon's group fall to a No. 5 seed on Selection Sunday. The enormous potential for a Final Four contender remains though with dominant guards penetrating the lane in Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon, 3-point shooting from Jake Layman and Jared Nickens, and interior offense from Diamond Stone. Maryland has the tools for a deep run, and it is purely their decision to whether they wish to play together as one in order to do so.
5. Can Hawaii dethrone another giant?
The urgency for the Rainbow Warriors is obvious. Facing a post season ban for the 2016-17 season, Hawaii raced towards an NCAA title bid and a first round upset of California. Even while the Bears played without senior point guard Tyrone Wallace, their victory is impressive. Now facing talented Maryland, Hawaii has a chance to unseat another major conference power.