NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big Ten Edition

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 17th, 2019

Below is a review of how the selection process concluded for each Big Ten team and what they should expect in the first few rounds of the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Michigan State looks to carry its momentum into the Dance. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
  • Michigan State, #2 seed, East Region. Michigan State backed up its regular season conference co-title by beating Michigan on Sunday en route to the Big Ten Tournament title. It was the Spartans’ third win over the Wolverines in three weeks, giving them more Quadrant 1 wins than any team in America. Their reward? A potential date with #1 overall seed Duke in the Elite Eight. Of course, Tom Izzo’s club will have to get there first, which is easier said than done. Assuming it gets past #15 Bradley (and it’s never safe to assume), Michigan State would play either Louisville — a team it lost to in November — or Big Ten foe Minnesota in the Round of 32. Still, the Spartans are superior to both teams and should reach Washington, DC. Once there, a win over #3 LSU or #6 Maryland (or Cinderella) would set up a highly-anticipated matchup with the Blue Devils. With Cassius Winston at the helm and forward Nick Ward back in the lineup, Michigan State has enough depth and physicality to hang with the Blue Devils for 40 minutes. Whether it’s enough to beat a trio of top-5 NBA Draft picks remains to be seen.
  • Michigan, #2 seed, West Region. The Wolverines hung on to a #2 seed despite dropping five of their last 13 games, setting up a rematch with Montana, which they played in the First Round as well just last March. Like that contest, Michigan’s elite defense should have no problem shutting down the sharp-shooting Grizzlies. A Second Round date with #7 Nevada or #10 Florida — both inconsistent down the stretch — also poses little danger to last season’s National Runner-Up. A trip to Anaheim, however, would be a different story. Assuming #3 Texas Tech avoids another bizarre upset, Michigan would likely face the Red Raiders in a Sweet Sixteen matchup between the nation’s two stingiest defenses. Are the Wolverines capable of winning that game and knocking off #1 seed Gonzaga for another trip to the Final Four? Absolutely. But their up-and-down offense will have to start scoring more consistently for that to happen.
  • Wisconsin, #5 seed, South Region. What are we to make of the Badgers? Always beloved by advanced metrics, Wisconsin finished the season ranked #12 overall in KenPom thanks to a rock-solid defense that led the Big Ten in efficiency during conference play. Not to mention Ethan Happ (17.1 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 4.6 APG), who ranked among the league’s best in nearly every statistical category known to man. One category not worthy of praise, of course, is free throw shooting (46.5% FT), which has proved to be Happ’s — and perhaps the team’s — kryptonite this season. That could be an issue against a red-hot Oregon team that has size, length, and fouls at a high rate. The #12 Ducks are good enough to beat Wisconsin and may well do so if they grab an early lead. If the Badgers can control the game flow, though, wins against both Oregon and an equally methodical, defensive-minded Kansas State team in the Round of 32 are also within the realm of possibility. For a team with only one consistent offensive threat, a fourth Sweet Sixteen berth in five seasons is probably Wisconsin’s ceiling.
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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: SEC Teams

Posted by David Changas on March 17th, 2019

The days of the SEC getting only three or four teams into the NCAA Tournament appear to be over. After getting a record eight bids last season, the league will send seven teams to the Big Dance this year, including a pair of #2 seeds, a #3 seed, and a couple of #5 seeds. The league hopes for a bit more success this year, however, when none of those eight squads advanced past the Sweet Sixteen a year ago. Here are our instant impressions on each team’s draw:

Grant Williams and Tennessee have a potentially dangerous second-round matchup ahead with Cincinnati in the Bearcats’ back yard (USA Today Sports/Randy Sartin)

Tennessee

  • Seed: # 2, South
  • Quick First Round Preview: Colgate is a relatively dangerous #15 seed that shoots 39 percent from deep. Tennessee struggles to defend the perimeter at times and will need to recover from Sunday’s debacle against Auburn to do a better job guarding the three.
  • Intriguing Potential Match-up: Virginia in the regional final. Tennessee would seem to match up better against the Cavaliers than the other #1 seeds based on athleticism alone. A game between the region’s top two teams would be a tremendous display of offensive efficiency.
  • Final Word: Assuming the Volunteers beat Colgate, a Second Round battle against an under-seeded Cincinnati team in the Bearcats’ backyard (Columbus, Ohio) would be a tall order. Another early exit is a real possibility for a team that has spent the entire season ranked among the nation’s top 10.

Kentucky

  • Seed: #2, Midwest
  • Quick First Round Preview: A battle of Wildcats will take place, with Kentucky facing Abilene Christian. On talent alone, Kentucky should coast to a victory here.
  • Intriguing Potential Match-up: North Carolina in the regional final. The Wildcats handled the Tar Heels in Chicago just before Christmas, holding North Carolina to just 0.87 points per possession, one of its worst offensive outputs of the year. The Tar Heels have improved immensely since that game, however, although Kentucky could probably make the same case. This is a late March game that everyone who loves college basketball should want to see.
  • Final Word: Kentucky is good enough to win it all, and we will be mildly surprised if the Wildcats do not make it to Minneapolis with a somewhat favorable draw ahead in the Midwest region.

LSU

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Rushed Reactions: Michigan State 65, Michigan 60

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 2019

Much like 2019’s third installments of the Duke/North Carolina and Kentucky/Tennessee trilogies, this season’s third chapter of the Michigan/Michigan State rivalry was an epic that went down to the wire. The Spartans fought back from an 13-point second half deficit and used a ridiculous Cassius Winston drive and lay-in with 29 seconds remaining to ensure they finished the season 3-0 against their biggest rival. The following are three key takeaways from Sunday afternoon’s Big Ten Tournament championship game.

Michigan State Beat Michigan for the Third Straight Time This Season (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Cassius Winston willed Michigan State to victory. Some special points guards have come through the Michigan State program during Tom Izzo‘s 24 seasons in East Lansing, and it is becoming increasingly cleare that this season’s Big Ten Player of the Year should be considered among that group. Winston was incredible throughout the second half of today’s championship game, as he led the Spartans back from a 13-point deficit by tallying 11 points and seven assists in the game’s second stanza. Michigan State could have packed it in and preserved its energy for the NCAA Tournament when it faced the significant uphill climb, but a player like Winston does not have “pack it in” in his DNA. Michigan State has not advanced past the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend since 2015, but with Winston at the controls and his teammates fully receptive to his leadership, it will be truly surprising if the Spartans do not advance to this year’s Sweet Sixteen and perhaps beyond.
  2. This season has been one of Tom Izzo’s best coaching jobs. It is not unusual for the Spartans to enter the NCAA Tournament as both the Big Ten regular season and tournament champion, as Michigan State is one of the country’s strongest programs year in and year out. That said, Michigan State had every reason to take a step back this season. For starters, the Spartans lost two lottery picks from last year’s team, so their roster was simply not as talented as it was a season ago. Then once the season commenced, the injury bug hit the team with an unrelenting fury. Scoring guard Joshua Langford was lost for the season in late December with an ankle injury. Forward Nick Ward suffered a hand injury in February. Winston himself battled through knee and toe ailments throughout the final portion of conference play. Role player Kyle Ahrens was hampered by a bad back during Big Ten play before suffering what appeared to be a serious ankle injury in the win over Michigan. Despite the locker room sometimes resembling a MASH unit, Izzo adjusted with what he had available and led his team, once again, to the top of the Big Ten.
  3. Michigan’s inability to close out Michigan State this season will keep John Beilein awake at night. Michigan is headed to the NCAA Tournament with a 28-6 overall record, which, by every measure represents an excellent resume in one of the country’s toughest conferences. Even with that sterling mark, the Wolverines must be driving themselves crazy over the fact they blew three leads against Michigan State this season that led to three losses. On February 24 in Ann Arbor, Michigan led 51-45 with 15:57 to play and ended up losing 77-70. On March 9 in East Lansing, Michigan State pulled out a 75-63 victory after it trailed by 12 in the first half. In Sunday’s title game, the Wolverines led by 13 with 17:12 to play before the Spartans rallied to once again earn a victory. One has to believe that John Beilien and his group making deep run in the NCAA Tournament will be the only thing that will eliminate the bad taste left in their mouths by those defeats.

Player of the Game. Matt McQuaid, Michigan State. The senior sharpshooter saved his best Big Ten Tournament performance for his final Big Ten Tournament game. McQuaid finished with a career-high 27 points on 8-of-15 shooting (7-of-13 from behind the three-point line) and it seemed like each time Michigan State needed a big basket during its comeback, the senior from Texas stepped up and buried one from the perimeter. McQuaid’s defense on Michigan guard Jordan Poole was also noteworthy, as Poole was limited to just 3-of-11 shooting and had to work hard for every one of his attempts. Role players stepping up in March is crucial to a team’s success and McQuaid certainly filled that role in the victory today.

What’s Next. Michigan State earned the #2 seed in the East Region and will be playing #15 Bradley in Des Moines on Thursday. Michigan also earned a #2 seed in the Des Moines pod, where the Wolverines will do battle with #15 Montana.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: ACC Edition

Posted by Mick McDonald on March 17th, 2019

The ACC received seven bids to the NCAA Tournament today, down from the nine invitations that the conference garnered in 2017 and 2018. Those seven selections completely mirrored the overall season for the ACC. It was impressive at the top, with three teams earning #1 seeds for the first time since the Big East performed the trick a decade ago, but it was a disappointment at the bottom, with both NC State and Clemson missing out on trips to the tournament. The Wolfpack have very little to be upset about, frankly, having played the worst non-conference schedule in college basketball this season — but even if you aren’t a fan of that metric, their best win over Auburn while also finding ways to lose to both Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. Here is a quick look at the best and worst case scenarios for the seven ACC teams that did qualify for the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

The Zion Williamson Show Moves to the NCAA Tournament as the Overall #1 Seed (USA Today Images)

Duke (#1 East)

Best Case: The Blue Devils win the National Championship. However, the truest best cast would be four straight blowouts (including a payback win over Virginia Tech and a showdown with Michigan State along the way) as they waltz to Minneapolis as the prohibitive favorite.

Worst Case: Virginia Tech has beaten the Blue Devils before, and with Justin Robinson now back in action, the Hokies get hot from long range and take down Duke in the Sweet Sixteen.

Virginia (#1 South)

Best Case: Tony Bennett leads his best offensive team to his first Final Four and silences a whole lot of doubters, including plenty of loud voices who thought last year’s loss to UMBC proved that his program and his style of playe was “fraudulent.”

Worst Case: I mean… lightning can’t strike the same place twice, right? Right?

North Carolina (#1 Midwest)

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With SEC Tournament Title, Bruce Pearl Has Auburn All The Way Back

Posted by David Changas on March 17th, 2019

Sometimes things really do come full circle in sports, and Auburn’s thrashing of Tennessee in Sunday’s SEC Tournament championship game is evidence of that. In Bruce Pearl’s fifth season at Auburn, he has brought the Tigers program — the absolute dregs of the SEC when he took over five years ago — all the way back. Today’s win gave Auburn its first SEC Tournament title since 1985, and only its second in history. And in getting the program to this point, he has also completed the rehabilitation of a career that appeared dead on more than one occasion. There is certainly poetic justice in that he reached the pinnacle of his accomplishment at the Loveliest Village on the Plains against the school that was forced to fire him eight years ago.

Bruce Pearl was all smiles after beating his old team to claim the SEC Tournament Championship on Sunday (David Changas/Rush the Court)

In winning the SEC Tournament, Pearl was able to accomplish something he never did at Tennessee. Although he guided the Volunteers to the NCAA Tournament in each of his six seasons in Knoxville — including the university’s only Elite Eight appearance in 2010 — he was never able to secure the SEC Tournament trophy, losing his only chance in 2009 when the Volunteers lost to Mississippi State. But now, Pearl can bask in the glow of an unexpected four-games-in-four-days title that came from the middle of the pack. And whatever happens in the NCAA Tournament – the consensus is that 26-9 Auburn will be a #4 seed – nothing will take this accomplishment away. “The championship means so much because it might have been the best the SEC has been in so many years. We feel very blessed to be where we are,” Pearl said after the game.

Pearl resurrected a moribund Tennessee program when he arrived in Knoxville in 2005. The transformation of Thompson-Boling Arena into one of the nation’s nicest arenas is largely a result of his doing, and the six consecutive NCAA appearances remains the longest streak in school history. But the challenge he faced at Auburn was an entirely different animal. In the Tigers’ four seasons under Tony Barbee prior to Pearl’s arrival, they won just 49 games. Worse, he inherited a fan base that was beyond apathetic — even for SEC standards. And after losing 20 games in each of Pearl’s first two seasons, it was clear that this turnaround was not like what he encountered at Tennessee. But three years later, he has a program for which “also ran” status would have been a generous descriptor at the top of the SEC mountain. Only a year and a half ago, an FBI investigation swirled around his program – and just this week, former assistant Chuck Person pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges related to the scandal – and it was not clear whether Pearl would survive. He weathered that storm last season and led his club to a share of the SEC regular season championship, but a first-round SEC Tournament loss and a blowout at the hands of Clemson in the NCAA Tournament put a damper on that accomplishment. Now, after doing something that has not been done at the school in 34 years, he has proved that he has more than survived.

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Rushed Reactions: Duke 73, Florida State 63

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 16th, 2019

RTC’s Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is providing on-site coverage of the ACC Tournament all week long.

Three Key Takeaways.

Duke’s RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson celebrate after winning the program’s 15th ACC Championship of the Mike Krzyzewski era. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
  1. Duke’s defense was the difference. With all the attention generated by Zion Williamson’s spectacular scoring plays, it is easy to forget what he means to Duke on the other end of the floor. With his return to the lineup this week in Charlotte, the Blue Devils seem to have regained their defensive mojo. In tonight’s title game, Florida State led for most of the first half and was tied with Duke at the break. But after intermission, the Blue Devils tightened up their defense, holding the Seminoles to 25.0 percent shooting from the floor. And this was a Florida State team that had just shot 56 percent against the mighty Virginia defense in Friday’s semifinals. The Duke running game got going as a result of getting those stops, leading to transition dunks for Williamson and RJ Barrett that gave the Blue Devils a working margin that they would never relinquish.
  2. Florida State is going to be a tough out in the Big Dance. The Seminoles may have surprised the college basketball world by beating top-seeded Virginia in this ACC Tournament, but it’s not like they came out of nowhere this season. Leonard Hamilton’s club closed regular season play by winning 12 of their last 13 games and have already set a school record with 27 wins. They’re athletic, experienced and deep. Their best player is probably Mfiondu Kabengele, who may be the best sixth man in the nation. Kabengele kept the Seminoles within striking distance tonight. finishing with 14 points and making 3-of-5 from beyond the arc. Additionally, Florida State’s size and length will make the Seminoles one of the most unique defensive teams in the NCAA Tournament — one that nobody should look forward to facing in the coming weeks.
  3. Duke may have locked up the overall #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. There’s little doubt that Duke will be on the top line when the brackets are presented Sunday evening, but conference tournament losses by Virginia and Gonzaga have opened up the overall top spot for the Blue Devils. The Selection Committee is expected to judge Duke with Zion Williamson in the lineup, and that Duke team went 23-2 with a 4-1 record against the other six programs in contention for the #1 seed line. Mike Krzyzewski’s squad is not without flaws — once again tonight they triumphed despite a cold shooting night from distance (2-14 3FG) — but they can overwhelm opponents in several other ways. Against the tall and imposing frontline of Florida State, the Blue Devils managed to post a decisive 42-18 edge in points in the paint, and had a solid advantage (+7) in fast break points. Point guard Tre Jones’ assertiveness (18 points) also gave the Blue Devils a boost tonight, and was reminiscent of the play of his older brother Tyus in leading Duke to the national title in 2015.

Player of the Game. Zion Williamson, Duke. The college game’s brightest star completed a successful return from injury by scoring 81 points in three days and winning the ACC Tournament MVP award. Tonight he scored a game-high 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the floor, grabbed five boards, and helped Duke’s defense hold Florida State to 31.7 percent shooting.

Quotable.

  • “He’s a world class athlete. He changes things.” – Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton on going against Zion Williamson.
  • “To start 1-and-4 in the league and end up in fourth place… it’s outstanding.” – Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski praising the coaching job of Leonard Hamilton this season.
  • “When he’s able to score, it definitely opens it up for the rest of it.” – Duke’s RJ Barrett on the aggressive play tonight from Tre Jones.

Sights and Sounds. It was not nearly the same atmosphere in the Spectrum Center tonight as it was for the Duke-North Carolina semifinal clash, but it was a pretty full house tonight even if the energy level was merely good, not great.

What’s Next. Duke and Florida State have each improved their NCAA Tournament resumes this week in Charlotte and they will hear their paths to Minneapolis revealed on Sunday night.

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Rushed Reactions: Villanova 74, Seton Hall 72

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 16th, 2019

RTC’s Justin Kundrat (@justinkundrat) is providing on-site coverage of the Big East Tournament all week long.

Villanova Survived Seton Hall to Win Another Big East Championship (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. The Big East Tournament continues to be the best postseason conference event in the country. It is undoubtedly a down year for the Big East conference, but the last 24 hours featured three of the most entertaining games of the entire season. Between a Villanova comeback victory against Xavier, a technical foul and ejection-fest for Seton Hall and Marquette, and a two-point championship game, the event did not disappoint.
  2. Villanova’s balanced offense was on full display tonight. At its worst, the Wildcats over-relied on its senior duo of Phil Booth and Eric Paschall to generate offense. But tonight, Saddiq Bey tallied 16 points and Jermaine Samuels had 12 of his own, punishing the Pirates when they committed too many of their defensive resources to the Villanova stars. This balanced attack led to 18 points in the paint and 19 from the foul line, offsetting yet another sub-par three-point shooting performance. Having role players contributing offensively is the difference between Villanova losing in the First Round next week and making a run to the second weekend of the Tournament.
  3. Seton Hall’s tremendous run snaps back to reality, but the attention has now shifted to a bigger stage. One of the hottest teams in the country put on a show these last few weeks, but their accumulation of wins served a bigger purpose than just a point of pride — it put the Pirates in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight year. Now, all eyes will be on whether they can carry some momentum into next week and earn a win or two. Willard has yet to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in his coaching career and doing so would mean turning a major corner for the program.

Star of the Game. Saddiq Bey didn’t win the Big East Tournament’s MVP award, but he was the biggest difference maker of all tonight. The freshman forward chipped in 16 points in numerous ways while leading his team in rebounds (10) while recording two blocks and two steals. On the biggest stage he has experienced to date, Bey put up the best two-way performance of his young career.

Quotable.

  • Jay Wright, on the difference his newcomers made tonight: “I think this really helped us. Swider coming back from six weeks off… Cremo gave us good minutes. Saddiq Bey, his first two or three shots were air balls and then he gave us great games.”
  • Wright on the importance of his seniors and their impact on the team: “In our program, the older you get, the more responsibility is put on you. And it doesn’t get easier, it gets harder… Josh Hart was here and he took great pride in these two [Phil and Eric] because he was the one teaching them.”
  • Kevin Willard on his expectations for his team this postseason:
    “I’ve learned a lot from last year… I have so much confidence in this group.”
  • Eric Paschall on he and Phil Booth being the first players to win three consecutive Big East championships: “Oh yeah, it’s pretty cool…”

Sights & Sounds. It’s getting hard to put into words just how electric MSG is during the Big East Tournament, particularly when local teams are competing. Part of what makes the venue such an ideal location is its proximity to most of the conference’s participants. So when Villanova and Seton Hall square off in the championship, there’s no doubt it will be a sell-out with back-and-forth chants throughout the contest.

What’s Next? Both Villanova and Seton Hall will say goodbye to New York, the former with a trophy and the latter with feelings of bitterness and disappointment. But both teams also have a big day ahead of them as they will learn of their respective NCAA Tournament seedings and locations for the coming week.

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Rushed Reactions: Iowa State 78, Kansas 66

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 16th, 2019

Coming into Saturday’s Big 12 championship game, this had not been a tournament to remember for a small but important number of reasons. Most notably, this year’s edition didn’t include a team pushing for a #1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, and the conference’s two biggest NBA Draft prospects (Texas Tech‘s Jarrett Culver and TexasJaxson Hayes) were bounced in the quarterfinals. West Virginia‘s upset over Texas Tech was important at the moment, but it also birthed a laugher of a semifinal game against Kansas. In Friday’s other semifinal match-up, Kansas State couldn’t overcome the loss of Dean Wade, leaving fans with a title tilt between two very talented teams weighed with inconsistencies (and in Kansas’ case, roster limitations) that make them unlikely bets for deep NCAA Tournament runs.

Talen Horton-Tucker and Iowa State kept their lead over the Jayhawks at arm’s length, capturing the Big 12 Tournament crown and transforming Sprint Center into Hilton Coliseum South in the process. (Getty)

Still, the Kansas-Iowa State series has consistently generated juice throughout the decade and the last edition of the 2010s was no different. And if you can’t hold a conference tournament on campus, the next-best place is Kansas City, where both Kansas and Iowa State fanbases are more than happy to pack the joint and get loud. And the teams held up their end of the bargain too, delivering a fun, high-level championship game resulting in Steve Prohm‘s club coming out on top for its fourth Big 12 tournament crown in six seasons. Here are a few thoughts on tonight’s game.

  • Iowa State takes advantage of extra reps. I mentioned in this week’s preview that Iowa State had plenty for which to play this weekend. The Cyclones ended the regular season on a disastrous 1-5 skid and the intensity with which they played had started to get the best of them, embodied by confrontations among players and then between players and their head coach. This team is still very tough to predict, but its worst days appear to be behind them. The Cyclones were stellar offensively this week at the Sprint Center, but they were outstanding on defense, allowing 0.95 points per possession for the tournament (compared with 1.05 points per possession in Big 12 play). The most impressive part of their weekend came in Saturday’s final as the Cyclones’ bigs stymied Kansas’ Dedric Lawson into an inefficient 8-of-21 shooting night, even drawing a technical on the typically cool-headed big man. Better Iowa State teams have fallen early in the NCAA Tournament, so caution should be exercised before pegging the Cyclones for a deep run, but there’s no denying that they took complete advantage of the opportunity presented to them in Kansas City this week.
  • Kansas needs better production from its X-factors in order to reach its ceiling. The Jayhawks beat West Virginia on Friday evening thanks in large part to a terrific stretch from Quentin Grimes, but he couldn’t follow it up, finishing with only 10 points on 5-of-12 shooting on Saturday. Marcus Garrett pulled down some big rebounds, but otherwise experienced a horrible night on the offensive end, and Ochai Agbaji and David McCormack didn’t play the way they’re capable of playing. It’s not reasonable to expect those two freshman to produce on a consistent basis, but unexpected contributions from complementary players are what is necessary for a team like Kansas to make a run in next week’s bracket. You see it all the time. Lawson and Devin Dotson will get their numbers and impact the game more often than not, but who steps up to fill in the gaps is the question Kansas will have to answer if it’s going to end the season on high note.
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Rushed Reactions: Big Ten Semifinal Saturday

Posted by Walker Carey on March 16th, 2019

While Minnesota‘s upset victory over Purdue on Friday night prevented the Big Ten’s top four seeds from all advancing to the conference tournament semifinals, Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin making it through to Saturday encapsulated how much of the conference season was dominated by the league’s top teams. The league will still likely send at least six teams to the NCAA Tournament — depending on your feelings about bubble teams Ohio State and Indiana — but this weekend’s action further illustrated that the class of the league possesses the necessary firepower necessary to make a significant run in the main bracket. Tomorrow’s Michigan State vs. Michigan final will crown a Big Ten Tournament champion, but it will also give the national audience a glimpse at two of the few Big Ten teams that can make some noise when NCAA Tournament play commences. Here are some of the key takeaways from Saturday afternoon’s action in Chicago.

Michigan State Advances to the Big Ten Tournament Final Where It Will Face Rival Michigan (USA Today Images)
  1. Cassius Winston is Michigan State’s star, but the Spartans need their role players to continue their strong play. The Big Ten Player of the Year turned in another star effort on Saturday afternoon, finishing the semifinal game with 21 points and six assists. While Winston’s heroics are mostly expected at this point, it has been the emergence of Michigan State’s role players that has been an important component in the team winning nine of its last 10. That was on full display in today’s win over Wisconsin. Veteran forwards Kenny Goins and Xavier Tillman were outstanding against the Badgers, combining for 30 points and 19 rebounds while providing the Spartans with stout defense in the post. Freshman swingman Aaron Henry also turned in a noteworthy performance, as he continued to make strides in his all-around game by collecting 11 rebounds. For the Spartans to get to Minneapolis, they are going to need the team’s complementary players to continue to turn in impressive efforts — Winston is a terrific player, but he cannot take Michigan State to the Final Four on his own. The role players Tom Izzo has developed seem capable of making sure Winston has the necessary help to put together a deep run.
  2. Wisconsin’s plodding offense could be its downfall. Throughout most of Wisconsin’s 20+ years of sustained success, the Badgers have been synonymous with a low-tempo offensive attack that limits possessions and aims to take as many high percentage shots as possible. That strategy has served Wisconsin very well in the past, but Saturday’s loss to Michigan State showed this Badgers team may have to make a few tweaks if they want to advance in the NCAA Tournament. The Spartans ran out to a 15-4 lead to begin the game and Wisconsin’s lack of offensive prowess made that early deficit nearly impossible to overcome. The Badgers finished the game shooting just 35.3 percent from the field and a ghastly 10.5 percent from the three-point line. Starters D’Mitrik Trice, Brad Davison, and Nate Reuvers combined to shoot just 5-of-26 from the field and their inability to get anything going resulted in Michigan State putting more of an emphasis on containing standout forward Ethan Happ in the post. Greg Gard will need to scheme a plan to get his offense back in rhythm or there will likely be a repeat of the Michigan State loss awaiting the Badgers in the NCAA Tournament.
  3. Postseason Michigan is back and looks to be dangerous as ever. John Beliein‘s program went a combined 15-2 in the 2017 and 2018 postseason — the Wolverines are the two-time defending Big Ten Tournament champions, and they went to the Sweet Sixteen and National Championship game in successive seasons. If this week’s results are any indication, Michigan seems bound for another successful postseason run. After a convincing win over Iowa in Friday’s quarterfinal, the Wolverines destroyed Minnesota in Saturday’s semifinal. Like in most of its victories this season, Michigan was led Saturday by junior floor general Zavier Simpson, who contributed 15 points and nine assists to the dominant effort. Sophomore forward Isaiah Livers came off the bench and poured in a career-high 21 points on an 8-of-10 shooting performance. The Wolverines entered the game second in the country in defensive efficiency and their suffocating effort on that end of the floor set the tone in the first half which allowed Michigan to go into halftime with an insurmountable 38-19 lead.
  4. Tomorrow’s Michigan State vs. Michigan championship game should be a dandy. Sunday’s title game will be the third time the Spartans and Wolverines will meet on the hardwood this season. Michigan State won the first two match-ups against its intrastate rival by using strong second half charges to emerge victorious. Tom Izzo and John Beliein are two of college basketball’s most talented tacticians and respected leaders. Cassius Winston and Zavier Simpson are two of the country’s most valuable point guards. If you are a college basketball fan, you will be well served to catch Sunday afternoon’s battle for the Big Ten Tournament title.

Quotable.

  • “Kenny (Goins) has probably been the guy that has changed our team throughout the last two and a half months. He is one of our best defenders. He is our best rebounder. He is maybe our best-conditioned guy, and he has really figured out how to shoot the ball and does it with high percentage.” – Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, commenting on the emergence of senior forward Kenny Goins.
  • “They obviously came out and they were knocking down almost every shot. They were hitting every three, getting to the rim, and things like that. I think we just have to start faster with a different mindset, especially on the defensive end.” – Wisconsin guard D’Mitrik Trice, acknowledging how Michigan State’s quick start ultimately sealed his team’s fate.
  • “I am going to throw it in the green river.” – Minnesota coach Richard Pitino, describing what he is going to do with the game tape from his team’s blowout loss.
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Rushed Reactions: Seton Hall 81, Marquette 79

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 16th, 2019

RTC’s Justin Kundrat (@justinkundrat) is providing on-site coverage of the Big East Tournament all week long.

Three Key Takeaways.

Seton Hall Continued Its Run at MSG Tonight (USA Today Images)
  1. It was a battle of attrition that featured more technical fouls than you can count on one hand. Just when things started getting interesting in the second half, Seton Hall forward Sandro Mamukelashvili was issued a technical foul. Just minutes later, we had a quick exchange that featured a hard foul on Myles Powell, some choice words, and a 10-second pushing match. What followed was a referee review period that lasted at least 10 minutes and featured the ejection of three players: Mamukelashvili, along with Marquette’s Theo John and Sacar Anim, with Powell heading to the locker room while under the impression that he had also been ejected. Suffice it to say, no fans were happy with the result given the tremendous amount of time that had been taken to come to a decision. When all was said and done, though, the excitement and tension remained…
  2. But wait, there’s more! With two minutes left, Quincy McKnight got a technical for a fairly mild reaction to a foul call. And with 42 seconds remaining, Jared Rhoden got another technical foul for hanging on the rim. These technicals don’t account for the four players that fouled out, excluding all of the aforementioned ejections. With a whistle seemingly every other possession, the total game spanned over three hours, with a combined 85 free throw attempts between both teams.
  3. In two weeks, Seton Hall has played its way from fringe tournament team to a #8 seed. The Pirates have had the best two-week stretch of any team in the country, beating Villanova, Georgetown and Marquette twice. Myles Powell has been terrific throughout, collecting 22 points tonight on some timely three-pointers, but the real story has been the growth of the Pirates’ role players. Mamukelashvili (pre-ejection) logged 10 points and 10 rebounds, while senior big man Michael Nzei posted 15 points and 14 rebounds on his own. It’s worth noting that neither of these players were significant offensive contributors throughout the season, so the incremental attention they draw goes a long way in easing Powell’s burden.

Star of the Game. Myles Powell (22 points, seven assists) hit countless step-back three-pointers and his signature move is basically unguardable. Marquette threw numerous defenders at him and couldn’t succeed in slowing him down. And if his scoring wasn’t enough, the seven assists were the second-most he had logged all season.

Quotable.

  • Steve Wojciechowski immediately addressed reporters with the following: “I’ve never been a part of a basketball game like that before. It’s unexplainable.”
  • And his frustration showed throughout:
  • Reporter: “Coach, with everything that’s happened in this game…” Wojo: “It’s hard for me to keep track of everything that’s happened, you’re going to have to be more specific.”
  • Myles Powell, on his thoughts and emotions following the ejection confusion: “Coach just said to come back out. It was crazy, I was wiping my tears.”

Sights & Sounds. Boos and whistles were the predominant sounds for most of the second half, but don’t be mistaken, the game was plenty exciting. Both teams’ fan bases showed well and most stuck it out until the very end, which was after midnight local time.

What’s Next? Seton Hall will try to get some sleep before tomorrow’s Big East championship game against Villanova. Marquette will pack its bags, or not. Maybe they’ll just leave everything behind and burn it.

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