How Can Michigan State Keep Things Rolling Against Oklahoma?

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 27th, 2015

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Michigan State has made yet another Sweet Sixteen appearance under Tom Izzo and it did so by surprising a very good Virginia team in the Third Round. The Spartans are now 6-2 since March 1, with both losses coming at the hands of Wisconsin. With the two highest seeds now removed from the East Region, it’s looking like another Final Four run for Coach Tom Izzo is a realistic possibility. But first things first. Tonight the Spartans will have to get through an Oklahoma team with the sixth-best defensive efficiency in college baskeball. Here are several ways for Sparty to get the job done and advance to the Elite Eight.

Branden Dawson needs to continue to be a factor for Michigan State to advance Friday night.  (Al Goldis/AP)

Branden Dawson needs to remain a factor for Michigan State to advance. (Al Goldis/AP)

  • Bryn Forbes > Frank Booker: Both teams have a sniper coming off the bench who can swing things simply by knocking down outside shots. Forbes has been more consistent, as he led the Big Ten in eFG (60.0%) and shot 43.0 percent from behind the three-point line on the season. Booker has only shot 31.3 percent from behind the arc, but he’s been hot since mid-February in making six of 12 attempts in Oklahoma’s two NCAA Tournament wins. Forbes needs to enter the game and be more of a factor than Booker here. If he can make shots and give Michigan State another scoring option outside of Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice on the perimeter, the Spartans have the tools to offset Oklahoma’s stellar defense.
  • Keep Spangler off the Glass: Ryan Spangler would be a perfect fit as a Spartan. He’s physical and he crashes the boards with a zeal that many players under Tom Izzo have exhibited. Unfortunately, he plays for Oklahoma. This means that Gavin Schilling and Matt Costello need to do their best in preventing the junior banger from notching his 15th double-figure rebounding game tonight. Spangler and TaShawn Thomas cannot be the tougher duo here, and the two Michigan State post players have the ability to make Oklahoma pay for surrounding their inside pair with three guards.

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Five Keys For Wisconsin Against North Carolina Tonight

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 26th, 2015

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Lost in the anticipation of a Wisconsin vs. Arizona rematch in the Elite Eight is the fact that the Badgers still have to get there by beating a North Carolina unit that has played its best ball of the season since the calendar turned to March. While the Badgers are favored to win the game, it won’t be an walk in the park for a number of reasons. Here’s are five ways that Bo Ryan’s squad can keep things rolling against the Tar Heels in Los Angeles.

Bronson Koenig needs to help Wisconsin control the tempo if they want to beat North Carolina.  (AP)

Bronson Koenig needs to help Wisconsin control the tempo if they want to beat North Carolina. (AP)

  1. Control the Tempo: North Carolina likes to push the ball upcourt and get easy baskets in transition. They don’t necessarily do so by forcing a bunch of turnovers; rather, the Heels like to grab the ball off of either a make or a miss and run their patented secondary break. Wisconsin doesn’t get sped up too often but the Badgers still need to ensure that this remains a half-court game rather than a track meet. The days are gone when Wisconsin cannot keep up with the Tar Heels athletically, but it still doesn’t make sense to try to run with them. Half-court execution and good shot selection will win the day; the leadership and facilitation of Bronson Koenig and Traevon Jackson (assuming he plays) will be the keys here.
  2. Win the Battle of the Boards: Wisconsin ranks fourth in the nation in defensive rebounding while North Carolina comes in fifth on the offensive glass. Roy Williams may be without its leader in this department with Kennedy Meeks and his 12.9 percent offensive rebounding rate potentially sidelined with a knee injury, but backup Isaiah Hicks (11.3%) is no slouch here either. Without anyone who can shoot consistently from deep, the Tar Heels’ best offense on many possessions is just to hit the boards. If the Badgers control the glass tonight, they can force a bunch of one-possession trips from the Heels and effectively shut down their offense. Read the rest of this entry »
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Sweet Sixteen Reset: Big Ten Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 23rd, 2015

We’re now down to only two B1G teams left playing in the 2014-15 season, as Michigan State and Wisconsin are the only two teams that won both their games this weekend. This is one less team that made the Sweet 16 one season ago, as these two along with Michigan were still alive one year ago. Here are some other quick takeaways from the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament as it relates to the B1G.

Sam Dekker had 17 points to lead to Wisconsin past Oregon and into the Sweet 16 Sunday night. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Sam Dekker had 17 points to lead to Wisconsin past Oregon and into the Sweet 16 Sunday night. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

  • They are Who We Thought They Were: Having two teams left in the field sounds about right for a league that was down a bit this season. As ludicrous as it is to completely bemoan a conference for being overrated (Big 12), or underrated (Pac 12) based simply off the small sample size that is the Big Dance, the Big Ten generally did about as well as expected. They had five teams in the round of 32, which is about the same number of teams that were in or around the top 25 all year. Maryland got a tough break with being a bit underseeded, and paid the price in losing to West Virginia. Iowa and Ohio State played about to expectations, as they would have had to pull off outstanding performances to get the best of Gonzaga and Arizona respectively. Michigan State was a bit of a surprise, but anyone who has seen Coach Tom Izzo‘s March resume, or saw how Sparty played in the Big Ten Tournament knows that this team was geared up to potentially make another March run.

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What Are Big Ten Teams Seeking This Weekend?

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 19th, 2015

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While it’s unlikely that all seven Big Ten teams will still be around at the end of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, each has something to gain from even just one win. None of the matchups on Thursday and Friday are overly imposing, and in actuality, many of them seem to be pretty equal. The Round of 32 could be a different story, but here’s what each team has on the line with a quality opening weekend performance:

Troy Williams will need to play well for IU to advance.   (Chris Howell/Herald Times)

Troy Williams will need to play well for Indiana to advance. (Chris Howell/Herald Times)

  • Indiana: This NCAA Tournament appearance is all about showing that the program hasn’t hit a wall under head coach Tom Crean and it’s about quieting the critics that have been out in full force this year. A win over a Wichita State squad with plenty of excellent experience in four starters who made the Final Four two seasons ago would be a nice victory for a team with no seniors and almost no size. Winning a second game against fellow blue-blood Kansas would give the Hoosiers valuable March experience to build upon with a great majority of the team scheduled to return next season.
  • Iowa: Iowa can regain some of the credibility it lost from last season’s nosedive. The Hawkeyes still have some problems with consistency although they’ve been slightly better in closing out the 2014-15 campaign. Fran McCaffery‘s team avoided the First Four this time around but it still has a difficult opener against the Atlantic 10 regular season champion, Davidson. Just being back in March Madness, though, isn’t good enough for Hawkeyes fans. Mostly the same cast of characters played significant minutes in last season’s opening round loss to Tennessee, so winning a game or two here will show that this talented crew didn’t underachieve during its time in Iowa City. McCaffery doesn’t have to face the same amount of pressure that someone like Crean does at Indiana, but losing early in March once again won’t exactly help him either.
  • Maryland: The Terrapins were ranked for most of the season, eventually making their way into the top 10 at the end of the year. Despite how Maryland fared in the polls, they ended up with only a #4 seed and have a challenging road to the Sweet Sixteen. This means that they need to get to the second weekend to show the committee and others that they were justifiably ranked where they were. They were the second best team in the conference for much of the season, but an early flame-out in March would give the critics of Big Ten basketball plenty of ammunition in saying that the league didn’t deserve seven bids. The Terps need to avoid the upset bug and make a solid run.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big Ten Teams

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 15th, 2015

Seven teams from the Big Ten made it into the field of 68 after the selections were announced late Sunday afternoon. There were some surprises in terms of seeding and matchups which will be covered later in this post, but all in all there wasn’t anything too earth-shattering in terms of where the seven conference teams ended up. Here are five quick takeaways from this year’s bracket.

Frank Kaminsky and Wisconsin ended up getting a one seed and avoiding Kentucky for now. ( USA Today Images)

Frank Kaminsky and Wisconsin ended up getting a one seed and avoiding Kentucky for now. ( USA Today Images)

  1. Wisconsin Avoided Kentucky But.…: There is a good news/bad news element with Wisconsin’s draw. The good news is that because the Badgers navigated their way through the Big Ten Tournament to get to 31-3, they secured a #1 seed. The bad news is that they procured that seed in an absolutely loaded West Region. The Badgers will potentially face a rematch of last season’s wild Round of 32 game against #8 seed Oregon followed by a battle with Arkansas or North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen. Then perhaps another southern California regional final against Arizona in the Elite Eight. Avoiding Kentucky after everyone thought the Badgers might be the #2 seed in the Wildcats’ region is obviously a positive, but this is by no means an easy road to Indianapolis.
  2. Maryland Gets Shafted?: The second-best team in the league ended up as a #4 seed in Kentucky’s Midwest Region despite its strong 27-6 overall record (15-5 in the Big Ten). It’s surprising that the Terps ended up with a seed similar to that of Georgetown, a team that lost 10 games on the year. The Terps have to play #13 Valparaiso in their first game, which is not a gimme by any stretch. They then would have to play either of West Virginia or Buffalo in the round of 32. It can definitely be argued that Maryland should have been given more respect and a better seed line for such a successful regular season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 03.11.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 11th, 2015

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  1. After a junior season that saw him dip from a first-team all B1G performer to a third-team selection this season, Terran Petteway still has a decision to make about whether or not to declare for the NBA Draft after the season is over. Nebraska is on Spring Break March 22-30, and with him on pace to graduate in May, look for a decision after the break is over. An argument could be made that he probably should have left after last season when his stock was at its highest. But with what the Huskers were returning this season, one can’t blame the wing for wanting to come back and take Nebraska even further.
  2. Illinois has a great deal to accomplish in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament, as they are essentially trying to play their way off of the bubble in trying to avoid a second consecutive season in the NIT. The Chicago Tribune’s Shannon Ryan took a look at five keys for the Illini in advance their opening game Thursday against Michigan, and to keep winning in the tournament at large. Some of the things listed included getting more out of sophomore guards Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate, and simply making shots. The Illini have a tough road ahead of them, and may need to upset Wisconsin. A win over Michigan in the second round simple might not be enough.
  3. Another looming NBA Draft decision could happen at Indiana, as junior first-team All Big Ten point guard Yogi Ferrell might have a decision to make as well. His father said that Yogi is leaning towards coming back, but some factors that could play a role in whether he does so include getting some size added to the roster in the offseason, and whether or not Tom Crean remains the coach. The Ferrell family remain some of Crean’s biggest supporters, so that’s an added variable to all the drama in Bloomington right now. Right now, the Hoosiers need to concentrate on taking care of Northwestern on Thursday, because losing that one will make their NCAA Tournament hopes faint.
  4. It’s been a game of musical chairs at the backup point guard position for Purdue this season. PJ Thompson and Bryson Scott have seemingly fallen in and out of favor with Coach Matt Painter. It was Thompson’s turn on Saturday against Illinois, and the freshman didn’t disappoint. He sparked a rally at the end of the first half with a steal and a basket, and ended things with a crucial three-pointer near the end of the proceedings. Octeus will get most of the minutes from here on out this season, but whether it’s Thompson or Scott that emerges as a starter next season is going to be one of the biggest stories that plays itself out before 2015-16.
  5. Minnesota has not had quite the season that it hoped for after finishing with a 6-12 record in conference play. Despite the fact that they’re 61st on KenPom- which is within striking distance of Big Ten bubble squads like Purdue (48), Illinois (53), and Indiana (55)- the Gophers would need a miracle finish to get into the NCAA Tournament. While bad luck played a role, the Gophers really didn’t get the production they needed from their senior class this season. Coming off of the momentum from winning the NIT last year, the senior class just simply didn’t perform many times as they lost multiple close games.
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Big Ten Player of the Year & Defensive Player of the Year

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 10th, 2015

After making appearances on the RTC First Team All-Big Ten squads, it should come as no surprise that two members of that team will receive additional individual honors here. Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky is our choice for Big Ten Player of the Year and Purdue’s AJ Hammons is our Defensive Player of the Year.

AJ Hammons and his ability to alter and block shots makes him the RTC Defensive Player of the Year. (Darrell Hoemann, AP)

AJ Hammons’ ability to alter and block shots makes him the RTC Defensive Player of the Year. (Darrell Hoemann, AP)

Anyone who’s followed college basketball at all this season knows that Kaminsky has had an outstanding year. His breakout campaign last season resulted in the Badgers running all the way to the Final Four, but he’s elevated his game this season with even greater versatility. Mostly just a spot-up shooter during his first two seasons in Madison, the Illinois native has expanded his last season’s more developed post game to finish better at the rim and do so in a number of ways — he closed out the regular season shooting 60.0 percent on two-point shots. He’s also continued to shoot well from the outside, closing the year with marks of 41.0 percent from three and an effective field goal rate of 60.3 percent, best in the Big Ten. Two major gains in production this season that haven’t gotten as much attention are his improvements on the defensive boards and as a passer. He sports a 25.5 percent defensive rebounding rate, up from 18.4 percent a season ago, helping his team prevent extra possessions by holding its opponents to just one shot. His passing has also picked up by necessity in light of Traveon Jackson’s midseason injury, turning Kaminsky into a more willing passer adept at finding the open man out of a double-team. There aren’t too many other centers who can lead an offense at the top of the key, but Kaminsky has no problem doing just that. The NPOY candidate can beat teams in so many different ways that it makes him a logical selection for our top player honor in this season’s Big Ten.

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Big Ten All-Freshman Team

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 10th, 2015

In a year when the Big Ten’s freshman class made much more of an impact than last season, picking a five-man outfit of rookie players was an arduous process. That difficulty exhibits that the future of the league is in good hands if the majority of these players stick around for several years at their respective schools. That’s probably wishful thinking for a couple of them, but here’s our RTC Big Ten All-Freshman Team.

D'Angelo Russell was the best freshman in the B1G this season. (Kyle Robertson, Columbus Dispatch)

D’Angelo Russell was the best freshman in the Big Ten this season. (Kyle Robertson, Columbus Dispatch)

  • D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State (19.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 5.2 APG, 42.2% 3FG)
  • Melo Trimble, Maryland (16.1 PPG, 3.1 APG, 1.3 SPG, 87.6% FT)
  • James Blackmon Jr., Indiana (15.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 82.1% FT, 38.5% 3FG)
  • Bryant McIntosh, Northwestern (11.4 PPG, 4.7 APG, 84.8% FT, 36.4% 3FG)
  • Jae’Sean Tate, Ohio State (8.9 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 59.8% FG)

Tate really came on once he became a starter, as his numbers jumped to 12.1 PPG and 5.5 RPG over the last 12 games. An undersized power forward, the Ohio native plays much bigger than his listed height of 6’4″. McIntosh was not the most highly-touted member of Northwestern’s five-man recruiting class this season but he admirably assumed the point guard duties right away. He has some defensive issues to improve but he is an adept passer with the ability to make shots from deep and score in a variety of other ways. Blackmon Jr. was one of many three-point bombers on an Indiana team that ranked third in the nation in shooting the three (41.0%). His numbers dipped late in the season ( 22-of-68 from three in his last 11 games), but he still led the Hoosiers in scoring 12 times on the year. In many seasons Trimble would have been the clear Freshman of the Year as he led Maryland to a highly-surprising 26-5 regular season mark. He’s not a pure point guard in terms of his passing abilities but his skill in finishing plays coupled with a respectable 39.1 percent mark from three-point land makes him a major reason why the Terps are back on the national scene.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 10th, 2015

The regular season is finally complete, and the Big Ten looks to have a solid six NCAA Tournament teams with Indiana and Illinois still with work left to do. With a busy seven-game slate from the weekend to cover, there’s really not else in the form of an introductory paragraph needed. Here is the final Big Ten Weekend in Review of the season.

DJ Newbill scored 31 points and hit a buzzer-beating three to give Penn State a win at Minnesota. (GoPSUsports.com)

DJ Newbill scored 31 points and hit a buzzer-beating three to give Penn State a win at Minnesota. (GoPSUsports.com)

  • Player of the Weekend: DJ Newbill would get a bunch more recognition if Penn State hadn’t finished the season with just a 4-14 league record. He’s basically put the Nittany Lions on his back for much of the season, and he did so once again as Penn State nipped Minnesota by three. It was looking like it was going to be the Andre Hollins show early on as the Gophers were celebrating Senior Night for the Memphis native and his four fellow seniors. Newbill simply took over the game in the second half, as he scored 2o points in the final 15:01 of the game. He did so in his usual fashion, combining three-point shooting with a kind of old man game which consists of mid-range pull-ups, and drives to the rack. All told, the senior ended up with 31 points on 11-for-22 shooting from the floor. He made five threes, and made all four of his shots at the line. He also led Penn State with four assists and two steals. Another stellar effort from a player who should probably get more love than he does.

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RTC All-Big Ten Teams

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 9th, 2015

With the end of the regular season now here, it’s time to reveal our award winners for the 2014-15 campaign. Over the next couple of days we’ll be unveiling our all-conference teams and superlatives for a number of individual awards. We’ll start today with our three all-Big Ten teams and Honorable Mentions. With 14 teams to choose from, these 15 players separated themselves in numerous different ways. Let us know where you disagree in the comments.

First Team

Frank Kaminsky is on our First Team All B1G team, and may well pick up a National Player of the Year award as well. (Espn.com)

Frank Kaminsky is on our First Team, and may well pick up a National Player of the Year award as well. (Espn.com)

  • Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin (18.4 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 55.9% FG)
  • D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State (19.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 5.2 APG, 1.6 SPG)
  • Aaron White, Iowa (15.9 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 81.4% FT)
  • Melo Trimble, Maryland (16.1 PPG, 3.1 APG, 1.3 SPG, 87.6% FT)
  • AJ Hammons, Purdue ( 11.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 2.8 BPG, 53.5% FG)

Hammons anchored a defensive resurgence for Purdue, blocking 88 shots in the middle while developing from a leadership standpoint. Trimble was outstanding from day one for Maryland, becoming the best Maryland point guard since Greivis Vasquez in the process. His abilities to shoot from deep and get to the free throw line were primary reasons why Maryland finished the regular season ranked among the top 10. White went nuts at the end of the season, adding a three-pointer to his offensive arsenal to supplement everything else he does for the Hawkeyes. As Iowa finished the season on a 6-0 tear, the senior forward averaged 21.2 PPG and 9.2 RPG while knocking down 8-of-13 three-pointers. Russell was quite simply one of the best players in the country all season long, becoming the first Ohio State player to record a triple-double since Evan Turner. If the Buckeyes make an NCAA Tournament run later this month, it will be because Russell explodes for a stretch. Kaminsky took the improvements he made during his junior year and built on them this year. He finished the season with the best offensive rating in the country for any player who used more than 28 percent of his teams possessions, and did so by a wide margin. Once Traveon Jackson was injured, he refined his game to average 3.1 APG from the center position. He blocks shots, scores from all over the court, and helped the Badgers rack up the third-best defensive rebounding rate in the nation (25.5%). He’s on the short list of many National Player of the Year awards, and deservedly so.

Second Team

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Northwestern and Michigan Show in Instant Classic the Future Appears Bright

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 4th, 2015

Given all the talk about the Big Ten’s bubble teams, there wasn’t much hype for a game between two squads with losing conference records. But Michigan and Northwestern played a double-overtime classic in Evanston on Tuesday night, exhibiting that both programs are clearly trending upward with young rosters and an eye on 2015-16. Here are some quick observations from last night’s game that echo the larger point.

Tre Demps is one of the best late-game shooters in the B1G. (Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports)

Tre Demps is one of the best late-game shooters in the Big Ten. (Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports)

  • Alex Olah could be one of the most improved players in the league, as he has become a solid low post threat for the Wildcats. Other than Frank Kaminsky, he might have the best footwork in the conference. He is fundamentally sound with the ball, keeping it high when he makes the catch after establishing his position in the lane. Olah murdered Michigan on the low blocks last night and also displayed an ability to knock down an open 15-footer as well. He went for 25 points and 12 rebounds, his seventh double-double of the season.
  • Tre Demps has evolved into a much more complete player this season. Mainly just a bench option last season, he’s become a much better all-around offensive threat. He’s still a bit streaky, but he has the mentality to take and make big shots in late-clock situations. In Northwestern’s last six games, Demps has averaged 15.5 points along with 3.8 assists per contest. His ability to get into the lane makes the Wildcats’ offense much more diverse, as he’s shown that he can either finish at the rim or kick the ball out without turning it over.

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Big Ten M5: 03.04.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 4th, 2015

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  1. What once looked like a promising season for Indiana is now fizzling, as the Hoosiers dropped another conference game Tuesday night to Iowa. The late-season swoon where the team has lost seven of their last 11 games has moved them dangerously close to the bubble. Even when things were going well, their was a bit of a gimmicky element with the large dependency on the three ball, and the lack of size. Now home fans are booing, and Tom Crean’s job security is once again going to be a hot topic of discussion. Indiana plays in front of their home audience again Saturday against Michigan State. It will get ugly if they produce another lackluster and uninspired effort.
  2. Neither team is playing for an NCAA Tournament bid so the exciting Michigan-Northwestern game on Tuesday evening got lost in the shuffle a bit. Those who missed it however missed the most entertaining game of the regular season in the league, where the Wildcats hung on to win in two overtimes. The list of heroes was a large one for Chris Collins’ hard luck team on Senior Night. JerShon Cobb came back after missing six games to play 33 minutes, Alex Olah posted a double-double, and Tre Demps made some of the most clutch shots of the season. If you were busy watching the Kentucky or Kansas games, do yourself a favor and watch the replay of this one. It’s well worth it simply for entertainment value.
  3. Three Big Ten players made the list of the ten Waymon Tisdale Award finalists announced earlier this week. It’s no surprise that the three named were D’Angelo Russell, Melo Trimble, and James Blackmon Jr. All three players are currently leading their teams in scoring, and all have had vast impacts throughout most of the season. The award is probably going to go to either Jahlil Okafor from Duke, or Russell. It’s still a distinctive honor to make the final list of ten, as many of the names on the list will more than likely be lottery picks in the 2015 NBA Draft.
  4. Many Purdue fans once thought Indiana native Branden Dawson would be playing for Matt Painter instead of Tom Izzo. Ever since then, the two sides have had an unfriendly relationship. Dawson has put up killer numbers against the West Lafayette school, and he even got into an altercation with Painter during his freshman season. So there is a great deal of vitriol coming from Purdue fans as the one that got away torments them in a different colored uniform. The two teams meet in East Lansing tonight, with plenty on the line. Maybe seeing the Purdue uniform guarding him will get Dawson back on track after recent struggles.
  5. Jarvis Johnson is probably the most important incoming recruit for Minnesota. An incredible athlete, the guard has been in and out of the top 100 of the Class of 2015. He’ll look to come in and take some of the minutes that will need to be replaced with the departures of Andre Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu. Adapting to life in the B1g shouldn’t be a problem for Johnson however, as he almost didn’t live long enough to play high school ball. In 2010, he collapsed on the basketball court, where paramedics determined he didn’t have a pulse. Amazingly enough, he was able to get back on the court and contribute as a high school freshman, where he won a state championship. Much like the Austin Hatch story, Johnson will be another Big Ten player that will be difficult to root against.
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