Otskey’s Observations: Wednesday at the Big East Tournament

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 13th, 2014

Brian Otskey will be reporting from the Big East Tournament all week.

While the makeup of the Big East has changed, much was the same on day one of the 2014 edition of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden. The crowd at the Garden was certainly not sold out but it exceeded expectations for what seemed, on paper at least, like a lackluster doubleheader featuring Seton Hall, Butler, Georgetown and DePaul. In fact, attendance was similar, if not better, than the Tuesday and Wednesday rounds in Big East tournaments past. The opening rounds have never drawn well so a decent crowd on hand Wednesday night has to be a positive sign going forward for the re-configured conference. The real test will come during Thursday’s quarterfinals with four games involving the league’s better teams.

Butler's Stay at the Big East Tourney Was Short and Sweet (C. Michael)

Butler’s Stay at the Big East Tourney Was Short and Sweet (C. Michael)

In game one, Seton Hall survived Butler in a match-up of two hard-luck teams. The Pirates had lost seven games either by one point or in overtime this year but finally put a one point game in the win column, holding by the count of 51-50. Butler had lost five games by either two points or in overtime entering tonight. Seton Hall looked to be in command as it built a 13-point lead with under ten minutes to play but the Bulldogs whittled the deficit to one with only 47 seconds to play but neither team scored again, resulting in the final margin. Seton Hall did a great job taking Kellen Dunham out of the game, especially when you consider Dunham went off for 29 points when these teams met in Indianapolis just four days ago. Dunham and Alex Barlow combined to shoot 3-of-21 from the floor but senior Khyle Marshall picked up the slack, pouring in a highly efficient 22 points. The Pirates came out strong on the defensive end and it carried them to victory. The Hall isn’t a bad team when it plays hard, but getting this team to bring it every night has seemed to be head coach Kevin Willard’s major problem in his four years with the program. With nothing to lose, Seton Hall may be a tougher than expected challenge for top-seeded Villanova tomorrow afternoon, although the Wildcats should end up prevailing.

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode XV, Player and Coach of the Year Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 6th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

As the college basketball regular season wraps up, I thought this would be a good time to run down my Coaches of the Year and Players of the Year in each of the major conferences. Here goes…

ACC

  • POY: T.J. Warren, NC State (24.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.8 SPG). Warren has been a tremendous bright spot on an otherwise mediocre Wolfpack squad. Since a rough four-point game against Virginia on January 11, Warren has scored at least 20 points in every game he has played (he missed one game due to injury). At 6’8” and an athletic 215 pounds, Warren is a match-up problem for nearly every opponent. He has had eight 30+ point games (only one fewer than Doug McDermott), including Monday’s 41-point explosion in a road win at Pittsburgh. Some may disagree because NC State is not at the top of the ACC, but a season like this where Warren brought it night after night deserves special recognition.
Tony Bennett has done a tremendous job at Virginia. (virginiasports.com)

Tony Bennett has done a tremendous job at Virginia. (virginiasports.com)

  • COY: Tony Bennett, Virginia (25-5, 16-1 ACC). Bennett’s teams have always been terrific defensively and this one is no exception. Ranked third nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, Virginia has allowed only four ACC opponents to score 60 or more points this season. Even in a league with a tempo as slow as this year’s ACC, that is a remarkable statistic. Virginia was a trendy surprise pick but I am not sure anyone thought it would turn out to be this good. The Cavaliers were picked fourth in the preseason ACC poll but currently hold a three-game lead over Syracuse and North Carolina with just one game to play.

American

  • POY: Russ Smith, Louisville (18.0 PPG, 4.5 APG, 2.0 SPG). This was a really close call between Smith and Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick but I am giving Smith the slightest of edges. Both mean so much to their respective teams but Smith’s decision to return to Louisville for his senior year has proven to be a wise one. Smith is enjoying the best shooting season of his career (46.8 percent) and has matured greatly. He is playing smarter and has led this Louisville team to a 25-5 overall record. The Cardinals again have the look of a Final Four contender and Smith is the primary reason why.

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode XIV

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on February 26th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

Wichita State Deserves a Number One Seed

There is a vocal group out there making it known that Wichita State should not receive a top seed in next month’s NCAA Tournament. They argue that the 30-0 Shockers “haven’t played anyone” and that alone should disqualify Gregg Marshall’s team from landing on the No. 1 seed line when the brackets are released two and a half weeks from now. We can debate the merits of the RPI all we want, but the fact is it remains one of many important selection criteria. Wichita State’s non-conference schedule ranks No. 34 in that metric, which is actually pretty good. By comparison, it is only four spots lower than Georgetown, a middling Big East team about whose schedule people have been raving. Perception is indeed a funny thing.

Ron Baker should be angry if his Shockers don't get a No. 1 seed. (photo courtesy rantsports.com).

Ron Baker should be angry if his Shockers don’t get a No. 1 seed. (photo courtesy rantsports.com).

Wichita State cannot control the strength of its own league, which also happened to lose Creighton to conference realignment this season. There is something to be said, however, for taking every team’s best shot each and every night and still winning with relative ease. The Shockers beat the second best team in the Missouri Valley, Indiana State, in convincing fashion in Wichita and won the return meeting in Terre Haute comfortably. Out of conference, the Shockers challenged themselves with games at Saint Louis, Tulsa and Alabama, along with a visit by Tennessee to Wichita (Note: Game was played off campus and not at the Roundhouse). Wichita State also played BYU in a two-day event at the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City. The Shockers have certainly not faced a murderer’s row type of schedule, but at 30-0 with a top 35 non-conference slate, that is good enough to be rewarded with a No. 1 seed. In the next two weeks you will hear a lot of pundits talk about tournament resumes, good wins and bad losses. Just remember, Wichita State doesn’t have any bad losses. It has NO losses, period. Dear Selection Committee: Do the right thing and give this team a No. 1 seed!

Jim Boeheim’s Meltdown Masks Syracuse’s Real Issue

Say the word “Syracuse” this week and most people will immediately think of Jim Boeheim’s classic meltdown at Cameron Indoor Stadium where the iconic Orange coach was ejected from a regular season or postseason game for the first time in 38 years as a head coach. While that was certainly a memorable moment, it masks the nosedive that Syracuse’s offense has taken over its last four games. Over the Orange’s first 24 contests, they recorded an offensive efficiency below 102.1 points per 100 possessions just twice (in wins over Miami and North Carolina). Over the last four games, Syracuse’s offensive efficiency has been 92.5, 94.3, 99.6 and 88.6. Ironically the 99.6 number was in the loss to Duke, but the Blue Devils are the best offensive team Syracuse has faced all season.

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode XIII

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 20th, 2014

North Carolina Flying Under the Radar

 Heading into tonight’s showdown with rival Duke, the North Carolina Tar Heels have won seven straight games since a 1-4 start to ACC play that had some folks wondering if this team would even make the NCAA Tournament. North Carolina has assuaged those concerns while ascending the ACC standings where it sits fourth entering tonight. Roy Williams’ team has done it with defense. Since allowing 1.23 points per possession in a January 20 loss at Virginia, North Carolina has held all but two opponents under 42 percent shooting with lower defensive efficiency numbers to match that effort. While the competition hasn’t been brutal, the Tar Heels are playing like the team that beat Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky in non-conference play. James Michael McAdoo seems to be finally asserting himself as a go-to guy but his free throw shooting remains a liability on one of the nation’s worst teams from the charity stripe. However, that can be misleading. When the game is on the line, Williams can put the ball in Marcus Paige’s hands and not worry too much. Paige is an 89.4 percent free throw shooter. The Tar Heels have two games with Duke left plus a tricky trip down the road to Raleigh to face NC State. Other than that, there isn’t a game North Carolina shouldn’t win left on the schedule. An 11-7 or 12-6 conference record is definitely possible for this group and I am not sure many people would have predicted that after the Tar Heels lost four of their first five ACC games.

Marcus Paige is a great guy to have on the foul line late in games. (Photo: Robert Willett/ Raleigh News & Observer)

Marcus Paige is a great guy to have on the foul line late in games.
(Photo: Robert Willett/ Raleigh News & Observer)

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode XII, Contenders and Pretenders Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 12th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

It is now mid-February which means Selection Sunday is only about a month away. The dog days of the college basketball season are upon us and it is time to separate the contenders from the pretenders. This week, I will take a look at a handful of teams in the national championship conversation as the NCAA Tournament creeps closer and closer.

You will notice some big names absent from this list but that simply means I have not formed a defensible position either way on that particular team. Arizona is one such example as I would like to see the Wildcats play some more games without Brandon Ashley before I declare them a contender or a pretender.

Syracuse – CONTENDER. Jim Boeheim’s Orange remains undefeated heading into tonight’s difficult road test at Pittsburgh. While Syracuse will very likely lose at some point before the NCAA Tournament, whether it is tonight or in another game, this team has all the pieces to make a run at a national title. While the play of freshman point guard Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney’s emergence as a reliable scorer grab most of the headlines, Syracuse a freak athlete in Jerami Grant and the rim protector in Rakeem Christmas that most championship teams have featured over the years. What makes Syracuse so dangerous is its ability to beat you in a variety of ways. The Orange rank No. 345 in average possessions per game, near the very bottom of Division I. They can wear you out in the half court but also pick their spots to run and score in transition. Syracuse has a terrific turnover margin, making live ball turnovers particularly lethal against this team. However, what makes the Orange so dangerous is Boeheim’s 2-3 zone. Other teams see occasional zones throughout the season but Syracuse’s zone is unique in its ability to extend beyond the three point line and apply incredible ball pressure. As we saw in last year’s NCAA Tournament, opponents were not prepared for what that zone brings to the table and it carried SU all the way to the Final Four. The tournament is all about match-ups and Syracuse has an inherent advantage because of how unfamiliar teams are with the way it plays defense.

Tyler Ennis is a major reason why Syracuse is a title contender. (credit: Dick Blume / Syracuse Post-Standard) - See more at: http://rushthecourt.net/?p=103220&preview=true#sthash.JQ8mJqDF.dpufBlume / Syracuse Post-Standard)

Tyler Ennis is a major reason why Syracuse is a title contender. (credit: Dick Blume / Syracuse Post-Standard)

Florida – PRETENDER. Florida’s gaudy record immediately jumps out when you talk about this team but a deeper inspection of its résumé reveals a lack of quality wins and an inability to overwhelm opponents with offense, two historical attributes of champions. Florida has a terrific home win over Kansas and a nice neutral court victory over Memphis but both of those came within one week of each other way back in December.  Since then, the Gators’ best wins were either a home triumph over Missouri or a sweep of Tennessee, you be the judge. Neither of those teams is top 25 quality but to be fair to the Gators, they have yet to play Kentucky. That changes this Saturday night when Florida heads to Lexington for their toughest test to date. I like Florida’s defense a lot and Billy Donovan’s best teams have always been elite on that end of the floor. What concerns me is their ability to score and win close games against quality competition. The Gators lost close games at Wisconsin and Connecticut while also looking shaky in the closing minutes against Kansas. Who is the player they can count on to come up with a big bucket? Outside shooting is a major concern for this team. Michael Frazier is its only reliable deep threat and the Gators are only connecting on 32.7% of their three point attempts in SEC play. Another area of concern is free throw shooting (66.4%). In a close, pressure-packed tournament game, free throws may become a liability. Of Florida’s regular rotation players, only Frazier (84.8%) and Scottie Wilbekin (72.6%) shoot over 70 percent from the charity stripe.

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode XI

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 5th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

Early Returns on Chris Collins Look Great

When former Duke associate head coach Chris Collins was hired at Northwestern this past spring, many felt it was only a matter of time before the local guy from Northbrook, Illinois, would build up the program to a level where it could achieve its first-ever NCAA Tournament bid. After a 7-9 (0-3 Big Ten) start to the season, Collins and Northwestern have righted the ship with wins in five of their past seven games. Most impressive have been the three consecutive wins away from Evanston: at Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota. How have the Wildcats done it? Collins has done what any good coach would do — analyze the strengths and weaknesses of his team and implement a style of play that showcases the strengths while minimizing the weaknesses. Northwestern obviously does not have the same talent level as most other teams in the Big Ten so the way to win games is to slow it down, muck it up and play great defense in low possession games. And that is exactly what the Wildcats have done.

Chris Collins is starting to get it done in Evanston.

Chris Collins is starting to get it done in Evanston.

Collins has gotten this team to buy in defensively as Northwestern is currently ranked No. 10 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. In Big Ten play, the Wildcats lead the conference with a 44.6 percent defensive effective field goal percentage. Since allowing 93 points in a loss at Iowa on January 9, Northwestern has allowed only one opponent (also Iowa) to score more than 56 points in regulation time (Purdue scored 60 in a double-overtime loss to the Wildcats but posted just 46 points in regulation). Northwestern’s games in Big Ten play have averaged only 61.2 possessions with an average possession length of 20.4 seconds, both statistics ranking as the slowest in the Big Ten. Last year’s Northwestern team was dead last in defensive efficiency (in league play) under Bill Carmody which shows you how absolutely remarkable it is that Collins has gotten this group to defend at a high level in such a short period of time. While you never want to get ahead of yourself, at this point it would be a surprise if Northwestern doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament over the next five years when you also consider how well Collins is already doing on the recruiting trail.

Syracuse and Duke Exceeds the Hype

Syracuse’s thrilling overtime victory over Duke last Saturday was one of the best regular season college basketball games I can remember in quite some time. It had everything you would want in a big game: a terrific atmosphere with over 35,000 fans in attendance; two Hall of Fame coaches; league title implications (Syracuse entered the game at 7-0, Duke at 6-2); tons of talent on the floor; and an extremely high level of play. Consider this: Syracuse won an overtime game by two points on its home floor and posted an outrageously high offensive efficiency of 1.34 points per possession. It took that good of an offensive performance to stave off the Blue Devils, which posted 1.31 PPP themselves. It is going to be very difficult to top that game but I am very excited for the rematch at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 22. Duke and North Carolina will always be the best rivalry in the ACC and arguably in all of college basketball, but Duke and Syracuse appear to be on their way to another terrific rivalry in what has become a bloated ACC. This new rivalry has the potential to exceed what Duke and Maryland had going for some time as a secondary ACC rivalry now that Maryland will be moving on to the Big Ten next season.

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode X

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on January 29th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

Michigan Proving the Doubters Wrong

No team in America had a better month of January than the Michigan Wolverines. Since the calendar flipped to 2014, Michigan has reeled off seven consecutive wins to start Big Ten play and has won nine straight since a two-point home loss to No. 1 Arizona on December 14. Of those seven wins, an astounding four have come on the road in ridiculously tough environments. Seriously, who wins at Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan State in just over a three-week span? Michigan has established itself as a Big Ten contender with a pretty favorable schedule the rest of the way. How have the Wolverines done it? Offense. Believe it or not, Michigan’s 2013-14 adjusted offensive efficiency is greater than the number posted by last year’s Trey Burke-led squad that reached the national championship game. A lot of that can be attributed to the increase in fouls called this season, but it is impressive nonetheless. The Wolverines are shooting the ball fantastically, putting up at least 71 points in all but one of their Big Ten games. Derrick Walton Jr.’s growth has been fun to watch, encapsulated in the and-one that essentially won the game at Michigan State last Saturday. Nik Stauskas’ game speaks for itself and he should be in the running for the National Player of the Year award. Yes, national. (Side note: I love how a guy like Stauskas can back up his trash talk and swag with his game on the court. There are some guys who just run their mouths for the heck of it but Stauskas actually backs it up on the floor. I have no problem with that whatsoever.) Glenn Robinson III has emerged as a steady presence and a fairly reliable scorer behind Stauskas, something that needed to happen for Michigan to take the next step.

Nik Stauskas is leading the way for the red-hot Michigan offense. (USA TODAY Sports)

Nik Stauskas is leading the way for the red-hot Michigan offense. (USA TODAY Sports)

I am a bit concerned about Michigan’s defense which is allowing an adjusted 105.3 points per 100 possessions in Big Ten play, good for eighth in a 12-team league. The Wolverines’ interior defense is not good at all and that’s the place where they miss Mitch McGary the most. That said, all the talk about McGary having such a negative effect on this team was a bunch of hot air from the media who became obsessed with him after last year’s NCAA Tournament. The fact is McGary bogged down Michigan’s offense (without Trey Burke feeding him) in addition to being not 100 percent healthy. We’ve seen the results without him and you cannot tell me Michigan isn’t better. Michigan has been criminally underrated all year long because of the McGary injury combined with a few close losses to very good teams. May I remind you of what I wrote in this very column a week before Christmas. Michigan has always been a factor and it has hit its stride against a strong schedule. The Wolverines are here to stay but really, they never went anywhere. Michigan has been at least top 20 good all year long, now it is a top 10 caliber team.

Do Not Sleep on Louisville

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode IX

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on January 22nd, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

Losing Streaks Not Uncommon This Time of Year

It is almost a yearly tradition: fans and the media freaking out over a previously undefeated or one-loss team losing a game or two, or three, or sometimes four, in January. This season has been no exception as the last few weeks have seen teams such as Ohio State, Oregon, Iowa State, Georgetown and Wisconsin hit the skids. The Buckeyes and Ducks have each lost four straight games after starting the season a combined 28-0. Iowa State was 14-0 before losing three straight over the course of the last week-plus. Georgetown was 3-1 in Big East play before suffering three consecutive defeats. Last but not least, Wisconsin, which had run out to an impressive 16-0 start, has suddenly dropped two in a row. There are a number of reasons why this happens. The first is statistical correction. Ohio State is a good team with a woefully inefficient offense; opponents were bound to begin figuring out the Buckeyes and hand them a few losses.

Joel Embiid and Kansas sent Iowa State to the second loss of its current three-game losing streak.

Joel Embiid and Kansas sent Iowa State to the second loss of its current three-game losing streak. (AP)

The same can be said for Oregon and its “Swiss cheese” defense getting exposed. The Ducks can score the ball for sure but it doesn’t matter much when you can’t stop quality opponents. Wisconsin is in the same boat, but not nearly to the same degree. The Badgers have not been defending nearly as well as they usually do and it cost them in recent losses to Indiana and Michigan. Speaking of scheduling, that is another reason why hot teams are prone to January slumps. As conference play takes hold, the opponents get better and there is so much more video to scout and expose teams. The schedule has caught up to Iowa State, which encountered a huge match-up problem in the frontcourt against Kansas and lost two road games to surprise Big 12 teams Oklahoma and Texas. Winning on the road is never easy, especially in conference play, as the Cyclones have found out. As for Georgetown, an injury to Jabril Trawick and an academic issue for Joshua Smith have picked apart the Hoyas’ rotation and made depth a major issue late in games. The Hoyas have blown second half leads in all three of their most recent losses. Read the rest of this entry »

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode VIII

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 15th, 2014

RTC national columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) gives his weekly observations on the game in his column, Otskey’s Observations. 

A Cause for Concern or Just a Speed Bump for Wisconsin?

Sam Dekker struggled on Tuesday but don't expect that to continue. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Sam Dekker struggled on Tuesday but don’t expect that to continue. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Wisconsin’s 75-72 loss at Indiana on Tuesday night was surprising in many ways. For one, it marked the first time since the 1995-96 season that the Badgers have given up at least 70 points in three consecutive games (h/t @nickfasuloSBN). It was an uncharacteristically poor defensive effort from a historically good defensive team under the tutelage of Bo Ryan. Wisconsin could never seem to get a stop when it needed one and allowed Indiana to shoot 51.6 percent from the floor for the game. Coming into the contest, Bo Ryan was 14-3 all-time in head-to-head matchups against Indiana head coach Tom Crean. Crean had never beaten Ryan while at Indiana and the Hoosiers had dropped 12 consecutive games to the Badgers dating back to 2007. In a strange twist of fates, perhaps Ryan’s best team ever fell to Crean’s least talented team in the last three seasons. While Frank Kaminsky and Traevon Jackson did yeoman’s work for Wisconsin, Sam Dekker and Ben Brust had off nights. Dekker, Wisconsin’s leading scorer and rebounder, totaled only 10 points and three rebounds in 35 minutes of action. Brust was cold all night from the three-point line, but tried to adjust, attempting a season-high seven shots from inside the arc, most of those curling to the basket off screens. It was a strange night in Bloomington and something just didn’t feel right. I am inclined to think this is just a bump in the road for Wisconsin and I would expect a much more focused defensive performance at home against Michigan this coming Saturday.

Creighton Ascending in the Polls Despite Grant Gibbs’ Injury

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode VII

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 8th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball. 

Baylor Fails To Live Up To The Hype

When I saw the national polls come out this week I was stunned to see Baylor ranked No. 7. Yes, the Bears were 12-1 heading into last night’s Big 12 opener at Iowa State, but I was surprised more pollsters were not able to see through their smoke and mirrors. I rated Baylor No. 19 in the latest RTC Top 25 and thought it was generous given its resume. Of the team’s 12 wins, just three have been quality: Two came in Dallas against Colorado and Kentucky (certainly very fine wins) and one in Maui against Dayton. In other words, Baylor had yet to beat a great team away from home and last night’s game was actually its first true road contest of the season. Scott Drew’s team didn’t exactly validate its lofty ranking after being torched in the second half at Hilton Coliseum last night. BU’s interior defense, normally a strength, was horrendous against the Cyclones, particularly in transition. It almost seems as if Baylor was unprepared for Iowa State’s up-tempo style of basketball. Baylor is not a bad team by any stretch but there just isn’t enough consistency from game to game to warrant such a high ranking. The Bears do a lot of things well and a handful of things poorly. That keeps their ceiling low, despite a ton of talent on the roster.

Kenny Chery and Baylor have some shortcomings to address

Kenny Chery and Baylor have some shortcomings to address

Iowa State is For Real, But Just How Good are the Cyclones?

Speaking of Iowa State, how about the job Fred Hoiberg has done in Ames? In only his fourth year he has made his alma mater relevant in leading it to a top 10 ranking this week. The Cyclones are legitimate and DeAndre Kane is a big reason why. The Marshall transfer is making the most of his one year in Ames as one of the country’s best all-around players. After a season-high 30 points against Baylor last night, Kane seems to be getting even better. Hoiberg really can’t ask for much more from a senior who can run the team, rebound and score efficiently. Iowa State is obviously terrific at home but I would like to see this team perform on the road against better competition before I fully buy in. Don’t get me wrong, the Cyclones are a sure fire top 20 team in my view. However, their toughest road test to date was against a 9-7 BYU team in Provo. With five of their next nine games on the road, the Cyclones will be challenged in a big way against the likes of Kansas and Oklahoma State, as well as upstarts Texas and Oklahoma. While I believe Iowa State is very good, we will know a heck of a lot more about it when the calendar flips to February.

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode VI

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on December 18th, 2013

Battle For Iowa Lived Up To Its Billing

For my money, the best game in recent days was Iowa State’s thrilling win over Iowa on Friday night at Hilton Coliseum. This game was the true essence of what college basketball is all about. It was a heated in-state rivalry between two quality teams in a crazy atmosphere, smack dab in the middle of a basketball-crazed state. It is simple: This was a fun game, period. Although Fred Hoiberg’s Cyclones came away victorious, you may be somewhat surprised to find out that my biggest impression taken from this game was just how good Iowa is. I actually thought the Hawkeyes were the better team for most of this contest. Don’t get me wrong, Iowa State played really well. After all, it beat a team I thought was very impressive so that should tell you something about the Cyclones as well. I thought Iowa had a terrific game plan and evidence of top-notch coaching and scouting was present throughout the game.

Devyn Marble

Devyn Marble and his mates were outstanding. But Iowa State was just a little bit better. (AP)

One specific example of great scouting came late in the first half when Roy Devyn Marble got in the middle of a dribble hand-off by Georges Niang and broke it up, leading to two Iowa points on the other end. Marble read the play perfectly and it paid off for his team. Fran McCaffery’s squad excelled in transition and got almost anything it wanted offensively on the low block with Aaron White leading the charge. Iowa ran some beautiful half-court sets that resulted in plenty of clean looks, especially for White and Marble. The Hawkeyes dominated the glass (but did not take full advantage of it) and answered the bell nearly every time Iowa State put together a charge, except for the final minute where it wound up costing them the game. Iowa simply didn’t make the plays it needed to win late, highlighted by Mike Gesell’s two missed free throws. McCaffery and his team can learn a lot from this game but in the end it is on the players to step up and lead down the stretch. Whether that’s Marble (most likely), White, Gesell, or someone else, Iowa needs someone to be “the man” in order to take the next step and contend at the very highest level in the Big Ten.

Michigan Back On Track?

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode V

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on December 11th, 2013

Baylor’s win over Kentucky late Friday night in Arlington was encouraging in many ways. The Bears picked up another quality win against what has been a fairly strong schedule (minus the two non-Division I opponents). Baylor scored 1.12 points per possession against a good Kentucky defense by utilizing classic pick-and-roll action all game long, much to the dismay of John Calipari. The Wildcats never got comfortable defending Baylor’s sets and went down in defeat as a result. Kentucky’s rotations and closeouts came very late and it seemed it was bothered by a team of comparable length. Perhaps the most important thing in this game was Baylor’s offensive rebounding. Overall, that was what won the game for Scott Drew’s team. I was particularly impressed with Isaiah Austin. Given the strength of the competition, the sophomore big man played his best game of the season. Austin put up an efficient 13 points, six rebounds and five blocks against the strong Wildcats’ frontcourt. Kentucky made some nice adjustments on him in the second half but overall it was great to see some aggressiveness from a player who can be really good if he remains assertive.

Isaiah Austin took a step forward in his development against Kentucky on Friday.

Isaiah Austin took a step forward in his development against Kentucky on Friday.

One team that is flying way under the radar has to be Missouri. This past week served as a reminder that the Tigers, holders of the nation’s longest home court winning streak (24 straight wins at Mizzou Arena), are still a team to be reckoned with. Mizzou dispatched West Virginia and UCLA in Columbia and looked impressive in doing so. In addition to the overall home court winning streak, Frank Haith’s team has now won 79 consecutive non-conference games at home. While I’d like to see this team go on the road and beat a quality opponent before I fully buy in, there are some encouraging signs that Mizzou may not be a fluke. The Tigers shoot the ball well overall and excel inside the arc where they’re shooting nearly 57 percent. Tulsa transfer Jordan Clarkson has taken his game to the next level but his play is bolstered by the balanced scoring of Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross. This three-headed monster accounts for two-thirds of Missouri’s scoring and they’re incredibly hard to match up with given their height. All three players are listed at 6’5” so most teams can’t guard the trio effectively at the same time. So far, Haith has done a nice job incorporating the newcomers with some returning players. We’ll see if it holds together but make sure you keep an eye on the Tigers. Two interesting tests await with the annual Braggin’ Rights game against Illinois and a road trip to NC State.

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