Rushed Reactions: #4 Purdue 80, #5 Iowa State 76

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 19th, 2017

Purdue advanced to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2012 by beating Iowa State in one of the best games of the NCAA Tournament so far.

Biggie Swanigan Dominated the Inside For Purdue (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways. 

  1. Purdue was large and in charge, and this carried the day. It was fairly well-known by anybody who watches the sport that Purdue was going to have an advantage in the post this evening, and it did so by scoring 40 points against the undersized Cyclones in the paint. Caleb Swanigan, Vincent Edwards and Isaac Haas were the team’s top three players in scoring, combining for 55 of the team’s 80 points on 56.1 percent shooting for the game.
  2. Tournament Vincent is the best Vincent. Edwards has yet to have a poor effort in thefour NCAA Tournament appearances over his career — the junior forward now boasts averages of 20.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG, and 3.8 APG on 54.2 percent shooting from the floor. He led the Boilermakers in scoring again tonight, doing most of his damage at the rim. Were it not for Swanigan’s heroics at the end of the game, Edwards would have easily been deserving as the best player on the floor.
  3. This was a brutal way for the career of Iowa State’s seniors to end. Even as a neutral party on press row, watching the careers of four seniors end with such a tough loss was difficult to watch. The foursome of Monte’ Morris, Matt Thomas, Nazareth Mitrou-Long and Deonte Burton will go down as one of the best senior classes in Iowa State history, and they deserve to be commended for the way they fought back to put the heat on Purdue in the second half.

Star of the Game. Edwards was extremely good in this game, but it’s hard not to give Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan the nod here. It wasn’t his best or most efficient offensive game, but he still scored 20 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, and offered a team-leading seven assists. He’s been a solid passer all season long for the Boilermakers, but he really did a nice job feeding Edwards and Haas from either the high post or down on the blocks.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Butler 74 ,#12 Middle Tennessee 65

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 18th, 2017

Butler started the game off perfect on its first four threes and ended up shooting 8-of-15 for the game, keying its 74-65  victory over Middle Tennessee tonight in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.

Butler Pulled Away From MTSU to Advance to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. It truly is a” make or miss” game . The major difference in the result of tonight’s game was that Butler simply shot the ball from distance at a much better rate than Middle Tennessee. The Bulldogs shot 53.3 percent from three-point range while Middle Tennessee was only able to muster 21.1 percent. The Blue Raiders ran their offense effectively in getting a number of quality looks, but they simply couldn’t get anything to fall. Most of the other stats on the day were relatively even, but shooting — makes and misses — was the difference-maker.
  2. Butler played like an experienced team. With three graduate transfers in its rotation and a starting lineup that starts all upperclassmen but one — freshman Kamar Baldwin — Butler doesn’t lack for experience. The Bulldogs played like a team that doesn’t easily rattle tonight, taking every punch that Middle Tennessee threw at them and combating it with a key play or basket. The Blue Raiders made several short runs, but Butler and its bevy of veterans always had a counter.
  3. Antwain Johnson was the best player on the floor. Despite the loss, Antwain Johnson put together an outstanding effort tonight. Without getting big games from its three best players except for JaCorey Williams, Johnson kept the Blue Raiders in the game with his ability to get to the basket and attack from the mid-range. It was almost enough to offset a goose egg in the scoring column from Giddy Potts.

Star of the Game. Kelan Martin gets most of his recognition for being Butler’s best offensive player. He contributed a team-high 19 points today, grabbing six rebounds and dishing four assists to boot. He also did a quality job in guarding both Williams and Reggie Upshaw. The junior was mostly quiet in the First Round, so getting more games from him like this one bodes well for the rest of the NCAA Tournament.

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Rushed Reactions: #5 Iowa St 84, #12 Nevada 73

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 17th, 2017

Iowa State won the most entertaining of the four-game session today in Milwaukee, doing so behind the stellar play of its senior class. Every time Nevada made a run, one of the Cyclones’ four senior starters had an answer.

Iowa State (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. This was the highest level and most fun game of the day. It actually wasn’t even close. Between the multiple comeback attempts from Nevada every time the Wolf Pack would get behind by double-figures to the high level plays above the rim, it was the most entertaining game by a landslide. There were multiple tweets that went out from this writer telling people at home to switch over and watch.
  2. Iowa State is going to be a really difficult team to beat. The team that ends up removing Iowa State from the bracket (and this is certainly not meant to rule them out of the National Championship picture) will have to figure out how to bend the will of four extremely mentally tough seniors — Monte Morris, Naz Mitrou-Long, Matt Thomas and Deonte Burton — who simply do not crumble in the face of pressure. This team has confidence and experience in spades right now, which is a dangerous combination in March.
  3. Nevada lived up to its billing. Nevada’s talented trio of Cam Oliver, Marcus Marshall and Jordan Caroline exhibited their talent and resilience in how they kept coming back. Had the Wolf Pack not missed a number of easy shots in the first half, things might have turned out differently in the end. This was a fun team with several multi-skilled athletes who played at a fast tempo.

Star of the Game. Monte’ Morris didn’t have his best game of the season, but he nearly notched a triple-double tonight on his way to 19 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. As mentioned at the top, his quartet of Cyclone seniors were there to get a key bucket each and every time Nevada made some kind of run. A seven-point working margin was officially stretched and finished off when the floor general drew a foul shooting a three with 2:00 remaining.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Purdue 80, #13 Vermont 70

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 16th, 2017

Purdue did not play its best game of the season this evening, but the Boilermakers did enough things right to hold off a pesky Vermont team that was still within five points in the last five minutes. Turnovers and shaky defense are still a concern for Matt Painter’s team going forward, though.

BIggie Swanigan Notched His 27th Double-Double of the Season (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1.  Purdue still has a dangerous offense. The final numbers made things look much nicer for Purdue’s offense than it actually played tonight — at times, the Boilermakers really struggled to get anything going. All in all, though, Purdue finished the game scoring well over 1.10 points per possession, solid shooting percentage numbers, and only two turnovers after halftime. The first half was somewhat uglier, so there’s plenty for Matt Painter to focus on cleaning up with his team before Saturday.
  2. Purdue still has issues to fix. This isn’t the time of year for Painter to deal with things like inadequately closing out on three-point shooters or improperly feeding the post. It is possible that the Boilermakers slightly overlooked the Catamounts, but that too is problematic because this team simply isn’t good enough to hit an on and off switch like that.
  3. Vermont could have grabbed the upset but lost the game in the paint. If a couple of three-pointers hadn’t rolled in-and-out, this game was there for the Catamounts’ taking, having received tremendous performances from Anthony Lamb and Trae Bell-Haynes. Tonight wasn’t a very good defensive performance from Purdue, but a +11 rebounding edge and a +14 advantage in the paint ensured the victory.

Star of the Game. Purdue’s Vincent Edwards experienced a similar scoring stretch similar to Reggie Upshaw for Middle Tennessee earlier today. Edwards scored the first eight Purdue points in the second half, while adding five rebounds, three assists, a steal and two blocks. The junior didn’t need to carry the whole offense tonight, but his early second half scoring punch perhaps prevented a fatal lull.

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Rushed Reactions: #12 Middle Tennessee 81, #5 Minnesota 72

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 16th, 2017

Middle Tennessee proved that last year was not a fluke in knocking off a higher-seeded Big Ten team for the second consecutive year. The Blue Raiders enjoyed a balanced attack with four players scoring in double-figures. Minnesota made a nice second half run to cut the lead to four points before Middle Tennessee eventually pulled away.

Middle Tennessee Beat a Big Ten Team in the First Round for the Second Year in a Row (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways. 

  1. Foul trouble and a lack of depth killed Minnesota. It’s apparent at this point for anyone that Minnesota center Reggie Lynch is an elite shot blocker who is the reason why this team performed so well in a multitude of defensive categories this year. If Lynch picks up quick early fouls, Gophers’ defense becomes merely adequate. Lynch, Jordan Murphy and Eric Curry all had three fouls, so multiply this effect threefold. There was little defensive aggressiveness on the Minnesota side for the rest of the game, and therefore no comeback.
  2. Middle Tennessee can make the Sweet Sixteen. This was not a fluke result by any stretch of the imagination. The Blue Raiders were athletic, smart and tough in a game against a power conference team that didn’t play that poorly. They aggressively attacked the rim and got mostly whatever they wanted over the last 17 minutes. They looked just as good if not better than Butler earlier today, which should make for a very interesting match-up on Saturday.
  3. Minnesota will be back next year. The Gophers’ core aside from Akeem Springs is expected to return next season. A First Round NCAA Tournament loss obviously hurts now, but Richard Pitino‘s club — assuming it stays together and makes a normal level of improvement —  should be just as good, if not much better, in 2017-18.

Star of the Game. Middle Tennesseee’s Brandon Walters saved the day for the Blue Raiders in the first half with eight points and six rebounds seemingly out of nowhere, but Reggie Upshaw was dominant in the second half en route to 19 points and nine rebounds. The senior saved his best work for when Minnesota had cut the Blue Raiders lead to four with about 6:30 remaining — Upshaw went on a personal 5-0 run, scoring seven points in a row for his team and basically cementing away the victory. He was bold and aggressive all night, setting the tone throughout the game with his clutch play.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Butler 76, #13 Winthrop 64

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 16th, 2017

Butler never really had to sweat in its 76-64 victory over Winthrop in the First Round today, playing like the higher-seeded team in holding the Eagles to 27 first-half  points on 34.5 percent shooting. After Winthrop got the neutral members of the crowd on its side by cutting the Butler lead to seven with 13:28 left, Butler took control of the game and never looked back.

Butler Was Never Really Threatened in Today’s First Round Game with Winthrop (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1.  The seniors showed up for Butler. Whether it was Avery Woodson putting on his own personal three-point shooting contest by going 5-of-7 in the first half, Andrew Chrabascz simply being solid in a number of areas on both sides of the floor, or Tyler Lewis doling out eight assists and only committing one turnover, Butler’s upperclassmen all played really well today without any particular lulls in production or intensity.
  2. Xavier Cooks and Keon Johnson were fun to watch. It wasn’t enough to carry Winthrop to a win today against a Big East opponent with a burgeoning postseason pedigree, but it’s easy to see how Winthrop won the Big South. Cooks and Johnson didn’t maintain their level of production all game, but they both had a couple of “wow” moments apiece. Cooks showed a versatile inside-out game with some nifty and crafty moves in getting to the rim and finishing; Johnson meanwhile was obviously the fastest man on the court, exhibiting this attribute when he went on a personal 7-0 run early in the second half.
  3. Kelan Martin needs to do more. What happened in today’s game was fine for Butler because the Bulldogs held a 28-9 advantage in bench points. But in future games, Kelan Martin must be more aggressive. He was barely noticeable in the opening stanza before contributed something late. Another no-show from the Bulldogs’ leading scorer might lead to the end of the season.

Star of the Game. Avery Woodson, Butler. Woodson broke things open early with his hot shooting, making it difficult for Winthrop to put much pressure on the Bulldogs. The senior graduate transfer entered the game shooting 41.7 percent from behind the arc, but he finished by making 6-of-10 on the afternoon. He also added a respectable five rebounds from the guard spot and committed zero turnovers. Sometimes a hot shooter can carry a team a round or two in March, and Woodson showed he has that capability.

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Big Ten Survival Guide: The Keys For Each Squad’s First Round Survival

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 16th, 2017

The brackets have been set and all of the Big Ten teams left dancing will begin seven separate quests to bring home the league’s first National Championship since Michigan State did so in 2000. Before anything approaching that level of success can take place, however, each team must win its First Round game. Here’s a brief look at how all seven Big Ten teams can get past their first opponent.

Reggie Lynch has to stay on the floor for Minnesota against Middle Tennessee on Thursday. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

  • Minnesota: The Gophers have almost no depth now with the season-ending injury to senior wing Akeem Springs, which means Reggie Lynch has to stay on the floor and out of foul trouble. As a result, Minnesota will have to win this game with defense. If Lynch suffers early foul issues, Middle Tennessee and its 54.3 percent eFG rate will be able to score in the paint at will.
  • Northwestern: Northwestern has a dangerous tendency to go through long scoring droughts. For the most part the Wildcats runs their offense well, but when they go cold, they go frigid. This cannot happen against Vanderbilt because a three-minute drought will feel like five or more with in a one-and-done format. Vanderbilt shoots 37.7 percent from three-point range on the season, so long dry spells could be disastrous against a team that can effectively bomb away from the perimeter.

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Five Key Storylines in This Week’s Big Ten Tournament

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 8th, 2017

The Big Ten Tournament begins this afternoon in Washington, D.C., when Penn State takes on Nebraska. It will end Sunday afternoon presumably with a postseason picture looking much closer to clarity. In anticipation of the proceedings, here are a handful of quick potential storylines to keep an eye on over the next five days.

Whether or not Malcolm Hill can lead Illinois to a couple of Big Ten victories is one of many questions heading into the B1G Tournament. (Getty)

Bubble Teams: Two of the more fascinating games in the early portion of the Big Ten Tournament will be Illinois vs. Michigan and Iowa vs. Indiana. With late-season surges, both the Illini and the Hawkeyes have moved into bubble consideration. Illinois has improved defensively over the past month but will be tested by Michigan’s sixth-most efficient offense in the country. Iowa has won four in a row (including a win over the Hoosiers) on the strength of 10.5 made three-pointers per game at a 46.7 percent clip. If both teams lose early this week, the number of Big Ten teams heading to the NCAA Tournament will essentially be set. Two wins, however, will keep the debate alive.

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Big Ten Tournament Mission Sheet: What Can Each Team Get From the Event?

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 8th, 2017

There are 14 teams in the Big Ten and although each team is ultimately playing to win a conference championship on Sunday afternoon, there are smaller, somewhat more realistic goals for each school involved in the five-day hoops extravaganza. Here’s a closer look at what each Big Ten team should look to gain from the event.

  • Illinois: The goal for the Illini is fairly obvious. After losing its regular season finale to Rutgers, Illinois likely has to get to Saturday’s semifinals in order to feel truly confident about its chances.
  • Indiana: Indiana needs to find a way to bottle its offense during the first 10 minutes — wherein the Hoosiers scored 32 points — of last weekend’s win over Ohio State. If Tom Crean’s offense can play at that level in Washington, DC, this weekend, Indiana can legitimately win the Big Ten Tournament.
  • Iowa: The Hawkeyes have the same goal as Illinois but with less urgency because of the youth of their roster. The longer Iowa stays in this weekend’s tournament, the more quality experience their underclassmen will have heading into next season.
  • Maryland: Maryland has taken a whopping 24 three-pointers per contest over its last nine games, making only 33.8 percent of those attempts. The key for the Terrapins is to return to attacking the rim for easy looks and foul shots. Continued over-reliance on the three-ball from a team that requires greater balance could spell an early postseason exit in DC and beyond.

Derrick Walton Jr. will look to lift Michigan to multiple wins in the Big Ten Tournament. (Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

  • Michigan: The metrics suggest that Michigan is better than its 20-11 overall record. This means that the Wolverines have a golden opportunity to win the Big Ten tournament and jump a couple of seed lines prior to Sunday’s bracket release.

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Four Big Ten Storylines to Follow in the Final Week of Regular Season

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 28th, 2017

There are now 14 games left in a Big Ten regular season that has been marked by numerous highs and lows throughout. The major takeaway at this point of the season is that almost nothing in terms of the conference standings has yet been settled. That means that every game over the next six days has considerably more meaning than in other conferences where much is already determined. Here are four other Big Ten storylines worth monitoring during the final week of the regular season.

Scottie Lindsey needs to find his scoring touch in the final week for Northwestern to be as though its safely in the NCAA Tournament (USA Today).

  1. Can Northwestern Earn One More Win? The Wildcats appeared to be a near-lock for the NCAA Tournament after knocking off Wisconsin on February 12, but they’ve since lost three of four and are really struggling to put points on the board. Northwestern closes out the Big Ten season with two home games this week against Michigan and Purdue, where a victory in either contest would likely be enough to certify things. Two more losses, however, would result in a 9-9 record in conference play, creating a teetering mountain of pressure on Chris Collins‘ team to win a game or two in the Big Ten Tournament. Read the rest of this entry »
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