1 Potential Trap Game for Each Top-25 College Basketball Team
The phrase "trap game" means different things to different people, especially in college basketball. The way it's most often applied is to describe a game that a team may overlook in favor of something else on the schedule.
At times, it can also simply describe a game where a team, especially one ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, could lose a game it simply shouldn't. Whether the opponent matches up well or just has a talented player who can carry it to a win, the ranked team should be on upset alert.
These games may end in ugly blowouts with the ranked team coasting to victory, but if an upset occurs, you read it here first.
All statistics through games of January 29.
All KenPom.com links should be assumed to require subscription.
Prior Meeting: Texas 80, West Virginia 69 at Morgantown
UT blew the first meeting open with a 19-4 run that started late in the first half. So why is the rematch—in Austin, no less—laden with danger?
Look at what comes next on Texas' schedule. The Longhorns must take the Big 12's resident road trip from hell in playing back-to-back road games at Iowa State and Kansas. Texas already owns a win over ISU in Austin, which will motivate the Cyclones and their fans to stir up an even larger dose of Hilton Magic.
Meanwhile, like Texas, KU has shown it can win at any tempo and in any setting. The Jayhawks have already won at Iowa State and Oklahoma.
But back to the Mountaineers. Texas did a great job of slowing WVU shooting guard Eron Harris in the first matchup, holding him to 3-of-11 from the floor and 0-of-7 from long range. Oklahoma State had similar success against Harris once, but the rematch saw him make six of seven from three in another narrow defeat.
Texas isn't ordinarily a great perimeter defensive team, ranking in the 130s nationally against the three-pointer, per Ken Pomeroy. If Harris can get untracked in his second look at the Horns, coach Bob Huggins' crew will make Texas earn every stop.
Prior Meeting: None
Ohio State gets only one shot at Indiana this season, and it comes in the season's penultimate game at Assembly Hall.
By the time March rolls around, IU is likely to be fighting for its postseason life, trying to pull itself onto the right side of the NCAA bubble. Ohio State should be battling for seed position, because it would currently take a red-hot win streak to pull the Buckeyes back into the Big Ten title race.
IU freshman Noah Vonleh is crushing nearly every opponent on the glass, and the Buckeyes aren't exactly a big team with potent rebounding forces.
Beyond the Hoosiers, though, an even bigger fish awaits in Ohio State's season finale—the return bout with Michigan State. The Spartans started OSU's four-game slide with a tense overtime win in East Lansing, and the Buckeyes will be anxious to get revenge on their own home court.
Ohio State should be the last team overlooking anyone after suffering a brutal loss against a Nebraska team it had previously demolished by 31 points. Coach Thad Matta will undoubtedly drill his players on such dangers, but how well will they listen?
Prior Meeting: Oklahoma 74, Texas Tech 65 at Lubbock
The Sooners were in control of the first meeting nearly from wire to wire, but Tech did fight back from a 14-point deficit to pull within four as the minutes wound down.
The trick for the rematch will be for the Red Raiders to get some support for forward duo Jordan Tolbert and Jaye Crockett. The two combined for 28 points, almost half of Texas Tech's scoring in the first game. Tech still has a size advantage, which it must figure out how to press over the Sooners.
Besides, Oklahoma will have other things to look forward to. After they conduct business with Texas Tech, the Sooners face a road rematch with Oklahoma State, a home game against Kansas State, a trip to Kansas and a home game with Texas. All of that comes in the span of two weeks.
OU will be looking forward to that gauntlet of games, which could push them into a very solid NCAA tournament seed. Of course, it could all go for naught if they're caught off guard by a hungry, Tubby Smith-coached team.
Prior Meeting: Memphis 82, Houston 59 at Memphis
Not to get all transitive on everybody, but Houston did once beat UConn, and then UConn won at Memphis, so...
OK, it's hard to call a trap game for anyone in the American. The top half of that league is very good, with five potential tournament teams. On the other hand, the bottom half is absolute dreck. Rutgers, UCF, South Florida and Temple may all rank among the 10 worst major-conference teams in the nation, if one even considers the American a "major" conference.
Houston may be the only bottom-half team that should even be considered dangerous to the Tigers. Forward TaShawn Thomas is an All-AAC candidate, and point guard L.J. Rose dished out 10 assists in the teams' first meeting. Can Memphis shoot 60 percent from the floor again?
Prior Meeting: UMass 88, George Mason 87 at Fairfax, Va.
Don't let the Patriots' 0-6 Atlantic 10 start fool you. VCU is the only conference foe to defeat GMU by more than six points. Mason also toppled St. Mary's, handing the Gaels one of their three losses during their ill-fated Christmas trip to Hawaii.
UMass, conversely, won its first three A-10 games—including over GMU—by a combined 10 points. It needed five points in the final 26 seconds to even win in Fairfax.
In the nine days following the rematch with Mason, UMass will face what could be its most pivotal pair of conference games—a trip to George Washington and the lone matchup between the Minutemen and VCU. UMass' shaky ball security (14 turnovers in the first meeting) and foul shooting (12-of-19) could come back to bite it in what would be the most damaging league loss it could possibly take.
Prior Meeting: Creighton 76, Georgetown 63 at Omaha, Neb.
The Hoyas are among the nation's top teams at defending the three-point shot, which is a great place to start when trying to slow the explosive Bluejays. In the teams' first meeting, Creighton made only seven of 21 long jumpers, which qualifies as a frigid evening by its lofty standards.
In conference play, Georgetown is second in the Big East against the triple, behind only Providence. On a potentially related note, Providence is the only conference team to defeat Creighton, holding the Jays to 21 percent shooting from long range.
The rematch with Georgetown comes four days before Creighton's rematch with Providence. By early March, the Bluejays could be contending for a No. 1 or 2 seed if they maintain their current control over the Big East.
The Hoyas have the backcourt to score points on Creighton, with Markel Starks and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera combining for 39 points in the first game. Georgetown may be fighting for one of the last NCAA bids as well, so motivation will be plentiful.
Prior Meeting: None
The St. Louis Billikens are the practitioners of America's most potent defense according to Ken Pomeroy. They're in the national top 100 of nearly every category KenPom tracks. Their opponents simply don't get good shots.
St. Joseph's, however, has had some success getting its baskets this season. The Hawks are among the national top 25 in both three-point shooting percentage and effective field-goal percentage, all while playing against a schedule ranking 53rd in defensive efficiency.
The matchup between Billikens playmaker Jordair Jett (pictured) and St. Joe's gunner Langston Galloway will be worth the price of admission in itself. Jett is among the Atlantic 10 leaders in steals, while Galloway leads the league in three-point shooting and sits fifth in scoring.
The magic number will be 70. St. Joe's is 2-5 when being held below 70 points this season, but 11-1 when it cracks that mark. Wichita State and—oddly enough—A-10 bottom-feeder Duquesne are the only opponents to crack 70 against St. Louis all season.
Prior Meeting: None
Since Miami coach Jim Larranaga installed a matchup zone defense to muck games up and compensate for a lack of potent scorers, the Hurricanes are 5-4. The losses have all been conference affairs, coming to Florida State, No. 17 Duke and No. 2 Syracuse (twice). The U has allowed an average of 57 points per game over its past six, showing that the tinkering is working well.
Pitt has largely crushed man defenses this season, but it staggered to 54 points against Syracuse's veteran zone. Not to compare the two aside from both wearing orange, but Miami also became only the fourth team to hold Duke under 70 points this season. Pitt could not manage that feat.
The Panther offense is staggering a bit at the moment, enduring its three worst offensive efficiency games of the ACC campaign in its past four. A meeting with Virginia on Sunday is similarly unlikely to produce offensive fireworks. By Feb. 5, the Panthers could be in something akin to a slump by their elevated standards.
Prior Meeting: None
By early March, Duke will be fighting for seed position. North Carolina may be fighting to get off the bubble and into the NCAA tournament at all. The Devils will relish the opportunity to finish the regular season by sticking a dagger in their archrivals' postseason hopes.
They'll need to make sure they don't start looking forward to March 8 until they finish business with Wake Forest on March 5, however.
Duke's shooters are some of the most dangerous in America, ranking fifth in the nation from the arc. Wake doesn't care. It ranks 10th in three-point defense and 28th in eFG% defense.
The Demon Deacons have muzzled the likes of UNC and Notre Dame, but struggled against Virginia and Pitt. It's anyone's guess which Wake team will show up against Duke, but if it's the good one, don't be surprised about a tight game.
Prior Meeting: None
Both Iowa State and West Virginia struggled against Texas, and that offers some frame of reference for their upcoming head-to-head matchups.
The Cyclones committed an uncharacteristic 18 turnovers, while WVU missed a surprising 21 of 25 from long range. Normally, West Virginia has a plethora of dangerous shooters, which can keep it in the game against the smaller Cyclones.
Like UT, the Mountaineers will have an impressive size advantage over ISU, but that didn't stop State from out-rebounding Texas. West Virginia freshman Devin Williams (7.5 rebounds per game) will need support on the glass to pull his share against Melvin Ejim, Dustin Hogue and Georges Niang.
Prior Meeting: None
Indiana is a team that wants to play uptempo basketball, but can't quite manage to speed anyone up. The Hoosiers' overtime loss to Illinois is their only Big Ten game to break 70 possessions.
In that regard, IU can find a kindred spirit in the Iowa Hawkeyes. The two rank among the top 30 in Pomeroy's adjusted tempo standings, while no other Big Ten team ranks in the top 60. The Hawkeyes' first five conference games all boasted 70-plus possessions, with Iowa winning four.
Over the past three games, the Hawkeyes have lost to Michigan and Michigan State and beaten Northwestern in games averaging 66.3 possessions. So, they're perfectly fine if Indiana wants to quicken the pace.
These are two teams that will be very willing to attack the basket, and the proceedings may grind to a halt under a constant progression to the foul line. Still, only two of Indiana's first seven Big Ten games were decided by 10 points or more, so the Hoosiers know they can keep a game close.
Iowa could get caught looking ahead to a home meeting with Wisconsin, and it's possible the Hawkeyes will still need a signature win to enhance their tournament resume. Xavier and Minnesota haven't been top-25 teams yet, and the luster is being knocked off the Ohio State victory by the day. Iowa overlooks the hungry Hoosiers at its peril.
Prior Meeting: Wisconsin 95, Illinois 70 at Madison, Wis.
A home loss to Northwestern now has Wisconsin fans scratching their heads. A run of games against Purdue, Northwestern, a staggering Ohio State and Illinois was supposed to get the Badgers back on track after a three-game losing streak.
UW needs to compile wins like these, because immediately after the Illinois rematch, it has a major gauntlet to run. Games against Big Ten contenders Michigan State, Minnesota, Michigan and Iowa loom after the trip to Champaign.
Illinois has struggled to score for a couple of weeks, but forwards Rayvonte Rice and Joseph Bertrand are capable of going for 20 any night. The Illini duo would need the kind of support it hasn't gotten recently to knock off the Badgers, but if the shots fall, the upset is still attainable.
After all, if Northwestern could do it...
Prior Meeting: Cincinnati 61, Houston 60 at Houston
Cincinnati's defense appeared to turn it on and off at will during its first meeting with Houston. The Cougars rallied from a 19-point second-half deficit to pull within three, only to surrender an 8-0 run to stretch the lead to 11 with 1:57 remaining. UH then scored 13 points in that remaining time, with the game only being put out of reach when Kevin Johnson knocked in a pair of free throws with 11 seconds left.
Houston played without guards L.J. Rose and Danuel House, absences that took 22 points, seven rebounds and seven assists out of the lineup. House alone scored 22 points against SMU, while Rose put up 18 combined assists in games against Rutgers and Memphis.
The Cougars have talented players, but other than the upset over UConn, there hasn't been a moment where they put it together against a quality opponent. Cincinnati's offense can stage some major disappearing acts (see 29 percent shooting against New Mexico), and doing so against Houston could result in a damaging loss.
Prior Meeting: Louisville 71, SMU 63 at Louisville
In only Larry Brown's second season, he has the SMU Mustangs firmly in the NCAA tournament conversation. Defensively, the Mustangs are playing at an elite level, holding opponents to a nation-leading 40 percent on two-point shots per Ken Pomeroy.
Louisville shrugged at that statistic in the teams' first meeting, making 15 of 30 shots inside the arc. The Cards were, however, forced into 15 turnovers, making the SMU game one of only two times this season that Louisville has put up a 20-plus turnover percentage.
SMU's pack of lengthy big men owned a formidable 48-35 advantage on the glass, including pulling 20 on the offensive end. A similar performance in Dallas could give SMU a second signature conference win to pair with its first American victory over UConn.
Prior Meeting: None
Results have been shaky when Kentucky's gone on the road against current NCAA bubble teams. A loss to Arkansas boiled down to shaky ball-handling (17 turnovers) and ill-timed mental lapses, such as Andrew Harrison's failure to box out on Michael Qualls' now-legendary tip dunk.
Against LSU, big man Johnny O'Bryant bowled over the Wildcats' young 7-footers en route to 29 points and nine rebounds.
Missouri has neither a fierce pressure defense or a big man who could push the 30-point barrier. What it does have is a veteran backcourt trio that will make UK's freshman guards work on both ends. Jabari Brown, Jordan Clarkson and Earnest Ross average a combined 52.7 points per game.
Freshman Johnathan Williams is no O'Bryant by any means, but he's carded five double-figure rebounding games, two in conference and one against UCLA. So, if Kentucky's bigs aren't prepared to scrap for boards, Williams can get his teammates a lot of extra looks. And those guards, Brown in particular, don't usually miss twice.
Prior Meeting: Michigan 71, Nebraska 70 at Lincoln, Neb.
The new Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln could soon become a fortress if early results are any indication. Michigan only escaped when the Huskers missed two looks in the final seconds, and Nebraska has since toppled Ohio State and Minnesota in its new building.
Results may differ wildly when Nebraska comes to Crisler Arena, but the Huskers know they can play with the Wolverines, even on a hot shooting night. Michigan shot 62 percent from the floor, including better than 75 percent on two-pointers, and still only survived by one point.
The Nebraska game will be the last before UM hits a gauntlet that will be pivotal to its Big Ten title hopes. Road games against Iowa and Ohio State and home encounters with Wisconsin and Michigan State make for a brutal two weeks, and the Wolverines have to avoid looking ahead.
Prior Meeting: Villanova 91, Providence 60 at Philadelphia
After a 31-point thrashing in their first meeting, why exactly should Villanova fear a depleted Providence team? Look at the schedule.
The stop in Providence is the third leg of a road swing that will take the Wildcats from Chicago to Omaha before coming back to the East Coast. The Providence game comes only two days after what promises to be an intense rematch with Creighton. Finally, Providence provided the spanking that fired up Creighton before the Jays delivered their beating to Villanova.
The Friars are somewhat of a surprise package in Big East play, currently riding a five-game win streak that includes victories over Creighton and Xavier. They held Creighton's explosive shooters to a mere 21 percent from deep. And if there's one thing that Villanova can do, it's rain three-pointers.
Nova shot a sizzling 60 percent from the field—including 53 percent from three—in the first meeting, but can it do that again on the road with only two days' rest?
Prior Meeting: None
Similar to Villanova when it pulls into Providence, Oklahoma State will be playing on only two days' rest when it travels to Waco, Texas. The meeting with Baylor will come on the heels of two crucial games, a trip to Austin to battle Texas and the home rematch with archrival Oklahoma.
Baylor's NCAA tournament hopes are already on the rocks, and by the time this game rolls around, the Bears could be fighting merely to stay out of the Big 12 cellar. That's a shame, because there is too much talent on that team to struggle this hard.
The Bears' size and bulk should allow them to control the glass, but making shots will be a basic essential that Baylor doesn't always manage. The Cowboys, for their part, have struggled to stop Kansas and Oklahoma in recent road games, including putting the Sooners on the foul line a whopping 42 times.
Prior Meeting: Michigan State 79, Penn State 63 at University Park, Pa.
File this one under "best we could do." Michigan State continues beating Big Ten contenders like Iowa without key cogs like Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson. That's akin to winning in the UFC with one hand tied behind your back.
The Nittany Lions' trip to the Breslin Center has been targeted by ESPN reports as Payne's potential return date, going on comments made by Spartan coach Tom Izzo.
During the teams' first meeting, Penn State was still integrating a pair of brand-new midseason transfers, former Pitt guard John Johnson and ex-SMU center Jordan Dickerson. Since then, both have played key roles in surprising PSU victories. Johnson scored 13 points off the bench to beat Nebraska, while Dickerson swatted five shots in the Lions' upset win at Ohio State.
Penn State big men Brandon Taylor and Donovon Jack have enough shooting range to spread out a defense, which will test the mobility of not just Payne, but also his understudy Matt Costello. Guards Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill are both very willing to attack and draw contact. That's helped them become the Big Ten's second-highest scoring duo, behind only Payne and Gary Harris.
The Nittany Lions aren't a big team, nor a particularly athletic one. That makes a win over Michigan State highly doubtful, especially in East Lansing. Still, among Big Ten "upset" possibilities, this game is the best we could do.
Prior Meeting: Kansas 90, Oklahoma 83 in Norman, Okla.
Yes, it's a stretch to call a meeting with another top-25 team a "trap game." However, two factors allow Oklahoma's trip to Lawrence, Kan., to qualify.
For one, KU has a busy February. The visit from the Sooners will be the Jayhawks' eighth game in 23 days, a schedule that will begin preparing Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid for what they'll face next year in the NBA.
Secondly, it's Allen Fieldhouse. The Harlem Globetrotters would open as a three-point underdog in the Phog.
By the start of March, Kansas could be looking to sew up its 10th straight Big 12 title. If the game against OU isn't the potential clincher, a March 1 trip to Stillwater to battle Oklahoma State could be.
What kept the first meeting close was OU containing KU's aforementioned freshman superstars, Wiggins and Embiid. Embiid produced only six points and four rebounds, while Wiggins had more fouls than baskets at the night's end. If the Sooners can come anywhere close to duplicating those results, they can stay close enough for a late win.
But, considering those two players' recent runs of form, that's much easier said than done.
Prior Meeting: None
As of right now, it looks like New Mexico may be the only team equipped to stop San Diego State's roll through the Mountain West. UNLV doesn't have the scorers and Boise State doesn't have the defense to hang with the Aztecs, at least on paper.
New Mexico's defense isn't all that hot itself, but the Lobos can score. Post players Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk combine for approximately 34 points and 16 rebounds per game, giving Aztec bigs Josh Davis and Skylar Spencer a lot to handle.
The Lobos will need one more scorer to step up behind the two bigs and guard Kendall Williams (18.0 PPG). In six of New Mexico's first eight conference games, players like Cullen Neal, Hugh Greenwood and Deshawn Delaney have stepped up with double-digit scoring. None does it consistently, though, making them wild cards against a defense as rugged as San Diego State's.
Prior Meeting: Wichita State 68, Indiana State 48 at Wichita, Kan.
Again, "best we could do."
The odds of Wichita State getting to the postseason undefeated increase by the day. As of today, KenPom.com lists the Shockers' chance of perfection at 40.9 percent. Indiana State and Northern Iowa are the only teams given more than an eight percent chance of winning.
Five different Sycamores score in double figures on average, but only Dawon Cummings managed it in the teams' first meeting. ISU has three regulars knocking down more than 38 percent of their three-point shots, and getting all of them loose—not just Cummings—will be the key to hanging tough with the Shockers.
Wichita State's game Tuesday against Loyola (Ill.) was the first of the season to see the Shockers average less than a point per possession. That happens when you shoot 36 percent and turn the ball over 16 times. The former has happened to Wichita three times and the latter twice, never in the same game.
Indiana State will need to force both conditions, plus make its own shots. It can happen, but would you put money down on it?
Prior Meeting: Florida 67, Tennessee 41 at Gainesville, Fla.
Tennessee's visit to Florida couldn't have gone any worse unless a star like Jordan McRae or Jarnell Stokes had seen his leg bitten off by a real, live alligator. The Vols shot a sickly 26 percent from the floor, including missing 18 of 19 three-point shots. So the rematch shouldn't pose too much threat to the Gators, right?
It shouldn't—except we've seen this script from Tennessee before. Last season, disheartening early conference losses gave way to the Vols getting scalding hot, winning eight of their last nine regular-season games, including a 30-point crushing of Kentucky and a win over Florida.
This season's Vols have suffered in fits and starts, balancing losses both expected (at Kentucky and Florida) and unexpected (home to Texas A&M). An 86-70 win over Ole Miss was convincing enough to potentially signal the onset of another hot streak, but the Vols will need wins like this one to secure their postseason lives.
Florida's Patric Young struggled to keep Stokes off the glass both this year and last. The Gators won the first meeting by totally stifling McRae, holding him to an ugly 1-of-15 from the floor. To do it again in Knoxville, the Gators have to make sure they're not looking ahead to the impending date with Kentucky at Rupp Arena.
Prior Meeting: None
If you're looking for an offensive shootout, it's best to bypass any game involving Clemson. The Tigers have played defense at an elite level this season, but have scored more than 62 points only once in their first seven ACC games.
It's unlikely that Clemson will put a lot of strain on Syracuse's vaunted 2-3 zone. But the Tigers have slowed down strong scorers like Jabari Parker and Lamar Patterson, so Syracuse's prime producers like C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant won't have easy times.
Clemson will be the final game of a three-game home stand that precedes a trip to Pittsburgh. The Panthers were only the third opponent this season to play the Orange within 10 points at the Carrier Dome.
A victory at Syracuse would be tremendous for Clemson's RPI, making the game a do-or-die moment for the Tigers' NCAA tournament hopes. Orange coach Jim Boeheim isn't likely to tolerate anyone looking ahead, but it's always a possibility that the players will harbor extra excitement for another shot at the ancient Big East rivals.
Prior Meeting: Arizona 65, Utah 56 at Tucson, Ariz.
Take a look at the current Arizona schedule page on KenPom.com if you can. There is not a single team left on the Wildcats' schedule sitting outside of Pomeroy's overall top 100. That includes the surprising 46th-ranked Utah Utes.
Utah held the normally efficient Arizona offense to 40 percent from the floor in the teams' first meeting, but was held below 60 points itself for the third time in the last six games. Scoring leaders Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge combined for 32 points, almost exactly their season average, but there wasn't much support from the rest of the squad.
The Utes don't hit many three-pointers, but they're among the most effective two-point shooting teams in America. Wright, in particular, is a dangerous penetrator who draws more than one free throw for every two field-goal attempts. That mentality to play through contact will be key against an Arizona team that only gives extensive minutes to seven players.
Utah is the second stop on a three-game road trip for Arizona, coming on the heels of a trip to Tempe to face in-state rival Arizona State. Like so many of the games on this list, the underdog will be playing for its tournament life, with Utah needing multiple major upsets to salvage its RPI after a puny nonconference schedule.
For more from Scott on college basketball, check out The Back Iron.