Tubby Smith Needs To Catch A Break

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on February 24th, 2012

Winters in Minnesota are all about highs and lows not just temperature wise, but also with their basketball team. The Golden Gophers had their lows during the Dan Monson era from 2000 to 2007 because they only made it to one NCAA tournament. It wasn’t all Monson’s fault as he was trying to rebuild a program dealing with probation assessed due to the actions of Clem Haskins, the prior coach. But when Tubby Smith was brought in from Kentucky to replace Monson, the fans had certain expectations.  Smith did not disappoint as he led the Gophers to the Big Dance three out of the first four seasons in Minneapolis. The fan base could feel the momentum shift at the turn of the decade after some tough winters. Smith recruited a top 25 class and the athleticism of the players was very obvious on the court. But similar to the temperatures, the program dropped again after those high points over the last couple seasons. Arguments could be made that Tubby Smith’s coaching has not been up to par but several events that led to the Gopher letdown were out of his control– on and off the court. Let’s examine a couple of those factors and understand how Smith dealt with them.

Tubby Smith Has Had A Rough Time With Injuries To His Star Players

Transfers

The stage was set for potential disappointment in 2010 when 6’8″ forward Royce White transferred to Iowa State. White joined other transfers such as Michigan State’s Chris Allen to play for Fred Hoiberg and the Cyclones. White is having a fantastic season – 12.9 PPG, 9.1 RPG, and 5.0 APG. In addition to White, the list of transfers includes Devoe Joseph to Oregon and Colton Iverson to Colorado State.  Joseph has Oregon sitting on the bubble for an NCAA tournament bid in a weak Pac-12 conference but his services would have certainly helped Tubby Smith’s team. He is averaging 16.3 PPG and Smith caught a fair amount of heat in 2011 when Joseph chose to leave Minnesota. Royce White’s case was a little different because of several off the court issues but nonetheless, Smith was counting on him to have a good career in Minneapolis and it fell short. Smith’s recruiting classes were very good and the performance of his ex-players shows that he knew what he was doing but for several other reasons, he couldn’t hold the team together. Is he to blame for all of the transfers? Not necessarily. Players don’t always pan out the way you expect them to, but the best you can do is bring them into the program and try to keep them away from trouble and focused on basketball.

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Conference Report Card: Big Ten

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 13th, 2011


John Templon is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten conference. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that got multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap

  • Coming into the season, the Big Ten was considered the best conference in America. Michigan State was expected to be in the Final Four again and Purdue, Ohio State, and Illinois were expected to be among the nation’s elite. Then the season started and the conference slipped a bit. The Big Ten didn’t live up to its lofty billing, with the exception of Ohio State, which sat at #1 in the polls for a large part of the season. Of course, Robbie Hummel’s knee injury didn’t help Purdue. Illinois wilted under the weight of too much talent and not enough leadership, whereas Michigan State just never seemed to find its footing against a difficult schedule.
  • As conference play went on, all the teams beat up on each other, creating a mess in the middle and leading to four teams (Michigan, Illinois, Michigan State and Penn State) receiving seeds between 8-10 in the NCAA Tournament. The conference went 2-2 in those games. But the disappointment in the NCAA Tournament came from the top seeds that failed to live up to expectations. Ohio State, the #1 overall seed, was dispatched by Kentucky in the Sweet 16 in Newark. Then again, that was better than Purdue managed to do, as the Boilermakers fell to VCU in Chicago. Wisconsin made it to New Orleans, but Brad Stevens outcoached Bo Ryan and the Badgers lost to a lower-seeded team once again.
  • Those losses meant the Big Ten finished a season of much promise with zero teams in the Elite Eight. Much like the conference’s well-publicized bowl game problems, the postseason left a sour taste after many teams played good basketball during the regular season.

The postseason was a struggle for everyone in the Big Ten, even Final Four regular Tom Izzo and his Spartans, which had to make a late run to even crack the field.

Team-by-Team Grades

A’s:

  • Michigan (A): Before the season the Wolverines were expected to compete with Iowa and Indiana to avoid the basement in the Big Ten standings. By the end of it, they were scaring #1 seed Duke in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. It was a remarkable job by JohnBeilein to get a young team ready to play. Darius Morris was the engine of the turnaround. The sophomore point guard scored 15.0 points per game and dished out 6.7 assists per game while leading a team composed of mostly freshman and sophomores. Tim HardawayJr., a freshman, was the team’s only other double-digit scorer at 13.9 points per game. Michigan didn’t have a single senior on its roster this season and, with two more talented backcourt recruits in CarltonBrundidge and TreyBurke coming in, it appears to be ready to be a big player in the conference moving forward although they are still waiting on Morris to officially decide on whether he will enter the NBA Draft.
  • Ohio State (A-): The Buckeyes didn’t get it done in the NCAA Tournament, but they were the #1 team in the polls for most of the season and had the best freshman in the country in Jared Sullinger. The loss to Kentucky certainly put a damper on the season. Still, Ohio State went 34-3 with its only two regular season losses being at Purdue and Wisconsin in conference play. David Lighty, DallasLauderdale, and JonDiebler all graduate, but if Sullinger is serious about sticking around the Buckeyes will be a national title favorite again next season. Especially considering they have two McDonald’s All-Americans in point guard ShannonScott and center AmirWilliams coming in along with small forwards SamThompson and LaQuintonRoss. It’s Thad Matta’s typical reload instead of rebuild plan.
  • Penn State (A-): Qualifying for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade makes the Nittany Lions’ season a success. Even though they lost to in-state rival Temple in the second round, 66-64, it was a thrilling game to end a satisfying season that included victories over Wisconsin (twice), Illinois, and Michigan State (twice). Oh, and a loss to Maine. Talor Battle finally got his chance to go to the NCAA Tournament and finished his career with 2,213 points, 624 rebounds, and 517 assists. He’ll certainly be missed next season along with frontcourt veterans David Jackson and JeffBrooks. Thus, Penn State has some size coming in with two 6’11 centers in PatAckerman and PeterAlexis, but the program is probably due for a bit of a backslide.

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BGTD: Thursday Afternoon Tourney Sessions

Posted by rtmsf on March 10th, 2011

Throughout conference tournament weekend, we’re going to pop in with some BGTD-style analysis at least twice a day.

  • Kemba’s Childress Moment.  He may not win the NPOY award due to a bit of a slump in the middle of the season, but there is no other player in America who we’d rather have with the ball in his hands and the clock winding down.  Like the former Wake Forest assassin, Randolph Childress, Kemba Walker has built a reputation this season for making the big shot down the stretch, and his double-crossover move into a step-back jumper that found the bottom of the net was a thing of beauty.  Somewhere Pitt’s Gary McGhee is still trying to figure out how to untangle his legs after getting twisted and turned into a spinning mess of fall-down — Fran Fraschilla’s call that Walker “has a mismatch” is comedic in just how prophetic he was.  UConn has now won three in a row in the Big East Tournament so you start to wonder about fatigue, but if anybody has the stones and wherewithal to do something crazy like win five games in five days, it would be Walker.

  • Pitt’s Presumptive #1 Seed.  The great thing about the Big East Tournament is that there are so many good teams beyond the first round that when a top team loses, as Pitt did today, it’s considered a “good” loss and will only marginally impact that team’s NCAA seeding.  As the regular season champions of the toughest and deepest conference in America, Jamie Dixon’s Panthers probably could have lost to South Florida or DePaul and still been a strong favorite for a #1 seed, but it says here that the Selection Committee is unlikely to hold a loss to UConn, a name program with a NPOY candidate, against it.  Pitt will still be a top seed come Sunday evening.
  • Miami’s Absurd Comeback. It was overlooked because the game involves two teams that are going nowhere this postseason, but the Miami comeback against Virginia this afternoon was one of the best we’ve ever seen.  With 42.5 seconds remaining, the Canes were down 53-43 before hitting a Durand Scott three-pointer.  Two missed Wahoo FTs led to another Miami three, which was followed up by two consecutive steals and layups to tie the game at 53-all with 13.9 seconds left.  To those of you at home, that’s a 10-0 run in a mere 28.6 seconds, a remarkable achievement.  UM actually stole the ball again with under a second to go and had a shot at the buzzer to win, but it was off.  Capitalizing on their momentum, though, they took care of the Cavaliers in overtime and will move on to face UNC on Friday.
  • Fabulous Melo.  Has Jim Boeheim been holding his freshman center back all season so as to unleash him on an unsuspecting Big East Tournament in March?  Doubtful, of course, but there’s no question that Boeheim’s usage of the big man is now paying dividends.  After a ten-point game against DePaul on Wednesday, Melo came back with a 12-pointer today, including two gigantic layups down the stretch that effectively won the game for his team.  His point total and minutes (22) are both career highs, and he’s yet to miss a field goal attempt in two games in the postseason (10-10).  This is a big if, as freshman bigs are notoriously inconsistent, but if Melo can continue to play substantial minutes and make these kinds of contributions, Syracuse suddenly vaults from a top twenty team to a top ten caliber team.  Let’s see how he handles UConn on Friday.
  • Kansas Sleepwalks But Escapes.  Speaking of presumptive #1 seeds, KU acted like they were already settled in for Selection Sunday today, as they sleepwalked through a game that they probably should have lost this afternoon in Kansas City.  Had Marcus Morris’ long three at the end of the shot clock not found the bottom, we think the Jayhawks would have been upset today.  Travis Ford agreed, saying that the shot was the biggest of the game, even bigger than the terrible 30-footer that his team attempted to win the game at the buzzer (rather than driving the ball to the hole).  For KU fans intent on getting back to the Final Four and winning another title, though, today had to have been reminiscent of last year’s Northern Iowa debacle; a game where for all intents and purposes it appeared that the Jayhawks simply weren’t mentally into it.  Bill Self better get his team’s attention or another meltdown might be imminent.
  • BYU Appears Shaky.Against a team that in TCU that only won a single Mountain West regular season game this year, we’d have liked to see BYU shake off some of the residual tentativeness from losing its big man, Brandon Davies, to the Mormon code.  Didn’t happen.  In fact, TCU hung around until the final few minutes as The Jimmer had trouble finding his shot, going only 7-21 from the field.  Maybe it was some of the same first-game doldrums that Kansas experienced today against an inferior opponent, or maybe this is a serious signal that the Cougars are not going to be able to recover from the loss of Davies.  We know this much — BYU will need to bring  a much better game to play tomorrow against New Mexico or Colorado State.
  • Minnesota’s Train Wreck of a Season.  With today’s Gopher loss to Northwestern, Minnesota’s train wreck of a second half of the season mercifully came to an end.  The team that had beaten UNC, West Virginia and Purdue earlier this season finished up by losing ten of its last eleven games, essentially becoming a shell of its former self when point guard Al Nolen went down with a broken foot in late January.  With Tubby Smith’s seemingly endless cattle call of injuries, suspensions and transfers over the last few years, we’re starting to wonder if he’ll ever put together the kind of sustained success that the Golden Gopher program expected when they hired him out of Kentucky a few years ago.  How bad is it?  This year is only the third in eighteen seasons that a Smith-coached team did not win at least one conference tournament game.  Ouch.
  • DJ Kennedy’s Knee.  Hate, hate, hate to see this.  In a play somewhat reminiscent of Da’Sean Butler’s injury against Duke in the Final Four last season, St. John’s guard DJ Kennedy crumpled down in pain after twisting his knee on an early drive in today’s game against Syracuse.  At this point, the injury is described as a “serious knee injury,” but the lingering sense surrounding this is that Kennedy might be out for the rest of his senior season.  If so, Steve Lavin would be without one of his best players and team leaders in the NCAA Tournament, a real shame considering how far he and his team have come this year.
  • And Then There’s This.  From the Big East Tournament…
  • Bubbling Up.  Memphis, after hanging on against Southern Miss…  Colorado, after knocking out Kansas State… USC, after ripping apart Cal… BC, by virtue of taking care of business against Wake Forest…  Georgia, ditto against Auburn…  Michigan State, outlasting Iowa (anyone surprised?)…
  • Bubble Popping.  UAB, after dropping a terrible overtime game against East Carolina…
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Big Ten Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 10th, 2011

John Templon is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten. With action set to tip from Indianapolis on Thursday, get set for the postseason with RTC’s regular season wrap-up and postseason outlook.

Postseason Preview

The Big Ten Tournament should prove to be quite the entertaining tournament. With so many teams on the bubble, every game is going to have a do-or-die atmosphere to it. Three of the four quarterfinal games, excluding the one in which Ohio State is playing, could propel teams to NCAA Tournament at-large bids. Another important matchup to watch is Northwestern vs. Minnesota in Round 1 – where they’ll probably be playing for an NIT berth.

  • Cold Teams: Minnesota, Illinois, and Indiana
  • Is Battle Ready For last Stand?: The Nittany Lions’ Talor Battle will try to finally make the NCAA Tournament. Can he shoot Penn State off the bubble and into the field?
  • Is Nolen Healthy?: Al Nolen hasn’t played January 22 against Michigan, but he could return this week. Would it be enough to get the Gophers rolling?
  • Can Anyone Stop Ohio State?: The Buckeyes look like a juggernaut, and this isn’t the time to be putting big decisions in the hands of the selection committee. In order to feel comfortable about its #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, OSU probably needs to win the Big Ten’s first. Northwestern played them close at Welsh-Ryan Arena – is a big upset in the making?
  • Will Izzo’s Tournament Touch Get Going?: Of the teams playing in the first round, Michigan State seems like the most likely candidate to reach the tournament finals. It seems like Tom Izzo just has a knack for this kind of thing by now.
  • Is The Next Generation Ready?: There are nine seniors on the three All-Big Ten teams selected by the coaches, and just one freshman. Are players like Ohio State’s Aaron Craft, Illinois’ Jereme Richmond, Northwestern’s JerShon Cobb and Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr. ready to play significant crunch time roles? Or will they wilt under the bright lights in Indianapolis?

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Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 1st, 2011

John Templon is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.

A Look Back

The NCAA Tournament is right around the corner and the middle of the Big Ten doesn’t know what to do about it. This week features a bunch of big games for teams like Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State and Minnesota as they make a last-ditch attempt to get into the field of 68. Last week, there wasn’t much separation because few games were played and teams continued to play right into their current three-tier stratosphere.

  • Team of the Week: Ohio State: With none of the bubble teams doing anything particularly impressive, the Buckeyes went about their business and dispatched of Illinois at Value City Arena and Indiana at Assembly Hall. The two wins helped the Buckeyes reclaim top dog status after their loss at Purdue.
  • Player of the Week: JaJuan Johnson, F, Purdue: Johnson scored 20 points in two Purdue road victories last week. He also had nine boards against Indiana and then followed it up by adding 17 rebounds and 7 blocks against Michigan State. The game against the Spartans was a performance that put him right back in the middle of the National Player of the Year and Big Ten Player of the Year conversations.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Tim Hardaway, Jr., G, Michigan: Hardaway had another excellent week as he continues to come on late and help drive Michigan towards an unexpected NCAA Tournament berth. He’s scored in double-figures in his past 11 games and scored 16 points against Wisconsin and 22 points at Minnesota as the Wolverines split a pair.

Power Rankings

This week’s power rankings focus a bit on what the Big Ten teams need to do to get prepared for the NCAA Tournament, or what they might be thinking about come the off season.

1. Ohio State (27-2, 14-2) – The Buckeyes have been in the NCAA Tournament since about the first day of the season. They’re concentrating on grabbing a #1 seed and possibly the #1 overall seed. To do it, they’ll have to beat Wisconsin at home and then make a deep run into the Big Ten Tournament. Star freshman Jared Sullinger seems to be slowing down. He only played 12 minutes against Indiana and scored five points, his lowest total of the season. That’s okay though, because Ohio State has another talented freshman, Deshaun Thomas, who isn’t afraid to shoot. He stepped right in and scored 22 points against the Hoosiers.

2. Purdue (24-5, 13-3) – Matt Painter’s crew hasn’t felt losing since February 1, six games ago. Purdue hasn’t really been challenged during that time period either, with the hardest game being an eight-point win over Wisconsin at home. The Boilermakers look to be in a solid position for a #2 or #3 seed come Selection Sunday.

3. Wisconsin (22-6, 12-4) – This is the best offense in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy, but the Badgers can’t seem to put people away. Still, it’s been an impressive run for Bo Ryan’s club. Jon Leuer’s 26 points against Northwestern helped the Badgers seal that victory. Wisconsin looks in line to be a protected seed as well come Selection Sunday and a team nobody should want to face.

4. Michigan (18-12, 8-9) – The Wolverines weren’t expected to contend for an NCAA berth this season, but a young team has grown up quickly, and with a win on Saturday over rival Michigan State, John Beilein’s team would definitely have a case. Most bracket projections have the Wolverines in the tournament or just barely out at the moment. If they miss, two recent close losses at Illinois (54-52) and versus Wisconsin (53-52 on Josh Gasser’s miracle three) will be cruel deciding factors. Of course, beating Michigan State on Saturday and securing at least one victory in the Big Ten Tournament would do a lot.

5. Michigan State (16-12, 8-8) – Another team from Michigan that has played an incredibly difficult schedule and now finds itself on the edge of the NCAA Tournament bubble. The Spartans could use the road win in Ann Arbor, but they first have to get past a trap game versus Iowa. There’s no way a team that finishes 10-8 in the Big Ten would get left out, but with such a soft bubble, even 9-9 might be enough for Tom Izzo to get a chance to work his magic. Michigan State’s biggest problem? It’s second-best win is against a quickly fading Washington squad.

6. Illinois (18-11, 8-8) – The Illini are who they are; they blow out anything up to mediocre teams at home and struggle against everyone on the road. Thus, it’s pretty easy to project that Illinois will finish 9-9 in conference. Non-conference wins over North Carolina and Gonzaga will help get them safely into the tournament, but their seed line will be determined by how they play in the Big Ten Tournament.

7. Penn State (15-12, 8-8) – It was a festive day on Thursday for Talor Battle as he became the first player in Big Ten history with 2,000 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists. He said after the Nittany Lions beat Northwestern that he’d give it all back if Penn State could make the NCAA Tournament. Well, two winnable games remain as Ohio State comes to the Bryce Jordan Center and then Penn State finishes on the road at Minnesota. What it really comes down to is the game against the Buckeyes. Penn State has been close against good teams, but only has a home win over Wisconsin to carry their resume. Adding Ohio State to that list would be a clincher.

8. Northwestern (16-12, 6-11) – The Wildcats have no chance of making the NCAA Tournament as an at-large. They’re barely hanging on to NIT status right now. Bill Carmody has a number of juniors and there are a lot of seniors in the league, so next year should be brighter. Unfortunately, Northwestern will say goodbye to the player that always did show up in the big games, Michael “Juice” Thompson. He’ll play his final home game at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Wednesday against Minnesota.

9. Minnesota (17-11, 6-10) – Minnesota has lost seven of its last eight games and has dropped off the bubble. The Gophers haven’t been able to weather the loss of senior guard Al Nolen. You can’t play basketball without a point guard, and while Blake Hoffarber has tried admirably to fill in, he can’t play both backcourt positions at once. Minnesota has two winnable games remaining at Northwestern and home against Penn State, but 8-10 in the conference won’t be enough for an NCAA berth.

10. Iowa (10-18, 3-13) – The Hawkeyes are looking to play spoiler now. Their best chance to really throw a wrench into someone’s plans is on Wednesday when Michigan State comes to town.

11. Indiana (12-14, 3-10) – Tom Crean will be lucky to escape the conference basement as the Hoosiers finish with two difficult games. A last-place finish in the conference might make his seat awfully hot.

A Look Ahead (all times EST):

  • 3/1 – Illinois at Purdue, 7 p.m., ESPN
  • 3/1 – Ohio State at Penn State, 9 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 3/2 – Minnesota at Northwestern, 8:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 3/3 – Wisconsin at Indiana, 9 p.m., ESPN
  • 3/5 – Michigan State at Michigan, 2 p.m., CBS
  • 3/5 – Purdue at Iowa, 4 p.m., ESPN
  • 3/6 – Penn State at Minnesota, 1 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 3/6 – Wisconsin at Ohio State, 4 p.m., CBS

Fun with Efficiency Margin and KenPom: I’d actually like to use this space this week to posit a few thoughts about other random topics around the conference.

  • There are four coaches in the conference whose names have come up as being on the “Hot Seat” at some point this season: Bruce Weber at Illinois, Bill Carmody at Northwestern, Tom Crean at Indiana and Ed DeChellis at Penn State. DeChellis will obviously be safe if the Nittany Lions make the NCAA Tournament, but I also expect at least two of the three others will be back next season as well.
  • The top five teams in the Big Ten receive automatic byes to the quarterfinals. 6 plays 11, 7 plays 10 and 8 plays 9. That 8-9 game is the one that intrigues me. Right now it would be Minnesota vs. Northwestern. But if you were the 6 or 7 seed, a loss in the first round would almost certainly kill your NCAA Tournament hopes. The 4-5 game is in the second round. Right now that’d be Illinois versus Penn State, giving the Nittany Lions another chance for a good win. Just some things to think about.
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Set Your Tivo: 02.04-02.06

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 5th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

On paper, this isn’t the best weekend of games. However, this is college basketball where anything can happen. You just never know what could happen and it may end up being a thrilling couple of days, anyway. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

West Virginia @ #12 Villanova – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

Yet another big game in the Big East features two teams tied for third place at 6-3 in league play. The winner will tie second place Notre Dame, just a game and a half behind first place Pittsburgh. West Virginia has won seven of nine games and rebounding has been a big reason why. The Mountaineers have not been out-rebounded by an opponent since a New Year’s Day game at Marquette, plus their defense has been solid. West Virginia has scored only 58 PPG over their last four games (three of them without leading scorer Casey Mitchell) but has held opponents to an average of 50 PPG over the same stretch, culminating in holding Seton Hall to 44 points on Wednesday. Bob Huggins’ team is #5 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage but will have to bring their A-game on the glass against Villanova. The Wildcats rank 20th in keeping opponents off the offensive boards and were led by the interior duo of Antonio Pena and Mouphtaou Yarou in their most recent win over Marquette. They combined for 32/15 and have been huge factors this season as Jay Wright isn’t counting exclusively on his guards to win games anymore. Although West Virginia has rebounded the ball extremely well of late, they still rank only #291 in opponent’s offensive rebounding percentage, allowing teams to grab 35.6% of their misses. Villanova will likely miss a lot of long range shots against West Virginia’s #2 ranked three point defense (allowing 27%) so offensive rebounding will be important for both teams, especially the Wildcats, in this game. Coach Huggins used 6’7 John Flowers on Seton Hall’s Jeremy Hazell in their last game and he successfully shut down the Pirates’ gunner. Might we see the same thing on Villanova’s Corey Stokes? It’s a good possibility, though Flowers may be needed inside more often to double Pena and Yarou. Flowers leads the Big East in blocked shots and needs to have another good defensive game against a Villanova team that can score in bunches. The Wildcats score 25.6% of their points from the foul line and attempted 33 free throws against Marquette. Villanova is very difficult to beat when they get to the stripe because they shoot 78% and get there so often. Dribble penetration from Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns leads to good looks inside and plenty of free throw opportunities. West Virginia has to do a good job defending the dribble drive and Kevin Jones will be a key player in doing so. Jones is a taller player who, along with Flowers, will form the second line of defense if the Wildcat guards are able to get into the lane. Jones is also a warrior on the glass, going for 13/12 in his last game. With the status of Casey Mitchell still uncertain, West Virginia will have to stick to typical “Huggy-ball” more than ever, and that’s physical defense and great rebounding. Villanova is 16-0 when they score at least 70 points but only 2-4 when they fail to do so. With the way West Virginia is rebounding and playing defense right now, it’s very possible that this game could be in the 50’s or 60’s. We’re going to go with the upset and take the Mountaineers on the road in this game.

#10 Kentucky @ Florida – 9 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

With a win on Saturday night, Florida can really create some separation between themselves and Kentucky. With a win against the Wildcats, Florida will hold a two and a half game lead over UK and remain ahead of Tennessee, a team they beat on the road already. Quite simply, a win here puts Florida in a commanding position in the SEC East. Of course, that won’t be so easy against the nation’s fourth ranked team in eFG% defense. The Gators have won 9 of 11 games but Kentucky will be their toughest test since a meeting with Ohio State back in November. The Wildcats are coming off a loss at Ole Miss earlier this week, a game in which they committed 18 turnovers and didn’t defend the three point line well at all. Freshman point guard Brandon Knight had six of those turnovers and needs to do a better job tonight. Young teams can’t turn it over and expect to win on the road no matter how talented they are and Kentucky is finding out the hard way. With a 2-4 record in true road games, the Wildcats need to grow up quick if they want to play deep into March. Knight needs to create shots for himself and others, taking advantage of UK’s 40% shooting from deep. With Doron Lamb shooting the ball very well recently, Kentucky has plenty of threats to win this game. A key battle in this game will be at the forward spot as Kentucky’s freshman Terrence Jones goes up against Florida senior Chandler Parsons. Jones averages 18/9 and had 22/12 at Ole Miss while Parsons has been on an absolute tear on the glass of late. Controlling the boards will be critically important in a game that could be all about pace. The Gators would like to slow the game down and work in the half court while the Wildcats are comfortable at a quicker pace. To keep the tempo in their favor, Florida has to win the rebounding battle and make shots. The Gators are #10 in offensive rebounding percentage but the matchup between Jones and Parsons, as well as Vernon Macklin and Josh Harrellson at the center position, will likely determine who controls the glass in this game. If Harrellson can shut down Macklin (Festus Ezeli of Vanderbilt did a good job of this in the last game), the onus will be on Parsons to carry the Gators yet again. With Erving Walker hitting only 7 of his last 33 threes (21%), Florida will work the ball inside even more than they already do. The Gators get 56.8% of their points from two point range but will face the #4 interior defense in the country. Kentucky allows opponents to shoot only 41% from two point range while Florida is making 50.5% of their two point shots. This should be a physical game and whoever controls the interior will likely come out on top. Despite their road woes, we think John Calipari’s team will be ready to play tonight and hand the Gators their fourth home loss, disappointing the big crowd sure to be at the O-Dome for ESPN Game Day.

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Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 1st, 2011

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.

A Look Back

This look back is better summed up in three short lists.

  • Rising: Ohio State, Penn State, Indiana, Michigan
  • Falling: Illinois, Michigan State, Northwestern
  • Steadying: Minnesota, Purdue, Wisconsin, Iowa

It seems like very few teams have found their level thus far in the Big Ten. Every week brings some notable surprises and last week was no different. One point can be the difference between an awesome week and a tough one as Northwestern, Ohio State, Indiana and Michigan State all found out this week.

Team of the Week: Indiana: The Hoosiers look much improved recently. A victory over Illinois was followed up by a heart-wrenching one-point loss at Michigan State in overtime. Tom Crean’s squad was left as an afterthought at the beginning of the season, but they’re starting to prove the mantra that there will be no easy games during conference play this season. Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford are taking over the offense for the Hoosiers and it’s proving to be an effective strategy. Hulls missed the final shot against Michigan State, but he scored 18 points against the Illini on nine shots, and followed it up with 15 against the Spartans.

Player of the Week: Darius Morris, G, Michigan: Morris scored 17 points dished out eight assists in Michigan’s victory over rival Michigan State and then against Iowa he recorded a triple-double, the third in Michigan history, with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists.

Newcomer of the Week: Jared Sullinger, F, Ohio State: Sullinger had 17 points and seven boards against Purdue and then 21 points and eight boards, including the game-winning free throw, against Northwestern. Sullinger is the best player on the nation’s best team and is incredibly impressive in person. His steal, behind-the-back dribble, fast break dunk against Northwestern was one of the more nimble plays you’ll see a power forward make.

Power Rankings

1. Ohio State (22-0, 9-0) – The number one team in the nation and only undefeated left, the Buckeyes sure do like to make things interesting. After blowing out Purdue and essentially staking their claim as the biggest bully in the Big Ten, the Buckeyes needed a Jared Sullinger free throw with 3.2 seconds remaining to escape Welsh-Ryan with a hard earned victory. It was Ohio State’s sixth conference victory by five points or less this season.

2. Purdue (18-4, 7-2) – Purdue went 1-1 last week and firmly solidified its place as the second-best team in the conference. The Boilermakers, though, need to figure out what’s happened to E’Twaun Moore’s shot. The senior guard from Chicago shot 4-13 against Ohio State and 3-13 against Minnesota. He’s had a few of these clunkers this season, including a 2-10 performance against Penn State and a 2-14 game in Purdue’s other Big Ten loss at Minnesota.

3. Wisconsin (15-5, 5-3) – The Badgers are a much better home team than they are road team. All three of their conference losses have come away from the Kohl Center, with the most recent being a 56-52 loss to an improving Penn State team. Wisconsin went just seven deep in the rotation in that loss.

4. Penn State (12-8, 5-4) – When the Nittany Lions lost to Maine I don’t think anyone would’ve fathomed they’d put it back together like this. Talor Battle isn’t going to let this team fall behind by too much ever. Penn State hasn’t lost a game by more than three points since a January 15 drubbing by Purdue and is 4-2 in the conference during that stretch. This is a team on the rise and one that is starting to put together a good NCAA bubble resume.

5. Minnesota (16-5, 5-4) – The Golden Gophers survived their first test without Al Nolen against Northwestern relatively comfortably, but against Purdue on Saturday both Lewis Jackson and Ryne Smith found room on the perimeter scoring 13 and 15 points respectively to carry the Boilermakers to the win. Perimeter defense is a place where Tubby Smith is going to definitely miss his senior point guard.

6. Michigan State (13-8, 5-4) – After Sunday’s one-point overtime escape against the Hoosiers, the Spartans maintain an above .500 conference record, but it’s a mirage of sorts. The team turns the ball over too much and doesn’t shoot many free throws and opponents are able to find clean looks beyond the three-point arc. Michigan State has picked up its last four conference victories by a total of 11 points and three of those were against teams in the bottom tier of the conference. Now Korie Lucious has been suspended for the rest of the season and Tom Izzo has a lot of work to do in East Lansing.

7. Illinois (14-7, 4-4) – There is a ton of talent in Champaign, but the results just aren’t there. A perplexing loss to Indiana led to a court storm for the Hoosiers. Unfortunately Bruce Weber’s team had an extra day or two to ponder the loss too, because they were the odd team out in the Big Ten’s weekend schedule of games. One of Illinois’ big problems is that they’re not getting to the foul line. The Illini rank 320th in the nation in free throw rate, and even against the hack-happy Hoosiers, the Illini attempted only eight free throws against 59 field goal attempts.

8. Michigan (13-9, 3-6) – The Wolverines went into the Breslin Center and got a big upset victory in a rivalry game thanks to some hot shooting. Michigan shot 10-21 from three-point range to get its first victory in East Lansing since 1997. Then on Sunday against Iowa there was no letdown thanks to Darius Morris’ outstanding effort. His triple-double helped lead Michigan, which had all five starters score at least 12 points in the victory.

9. Northwestern (13-8, 3-7) – It was another moment of coming so close, but falling short for the Wildcats against Ohio State on Saturday night. Playing without John Shurna, who suffered a concussion when his head bounced against the basket support after a nasty tumble against Minnesota, Northwestern did everything right for about 39 minutes, but it couldn’t figure out a way to get the victory. With a tough schedule remaining, Bill Carmody’s squad might be hard pressed to qualify for the NIT. Northwestern has a week off to regroup before a nationally televised game against Illinois on CBS on Saturday. Northwestern has picked up the tempo this season, but after almost upsetting Ohio State playing the old 35-second routine, you might see slower games in its future as well.

10. Indiana (11-11, 2-7) – See the “Team of the Week” mention above.

11. Iowa (8-13, 1-8) – The Hawkeyes are playing competitive basketball, but lost a close one to Penn State and played Michigan tough before succumbing to Morris’ triple-double. One of the more interesting players to watch in the Big Ten is on Iowa. That’s freshman Melsahn Basabe. He alternates between great games, 25 points on 11 shots, eight boards, two blocks against Michigan, and poor ones, four points on 1-4 shooting against Penn State. It typically has to do with the experience of the front line he’s playing against.

A Look Ahead (all times EST):

  • 2/1 – Purdue at Wisconsin, 7 p.m., ESPN
  • 2/1 – Penn State at Illinois, 9 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 2/3 – Michigan at Ohio State, 7 p.m., ESPN
  • 2/5 – Illinois at Northwestern, 1 p.m., CBS
  • 2/5 – Iowa at Indiana, 4 p.m., ESPN2
  • 2/6 – Michigan State at Wisconsin, 1 p.m., CBS
  • 2/6 – Ohio State at Minnesota, 2 p.m., ESPN

Fun with Efficiency Margin and KenPom: There is no defense in the Big Ten. None. It’s crazy, but every team is scoring above a point per possession in league play and every team is allowing more than a point per possession as well. Ohio State slipped over the mark after allowing Northwestern to score 57 points in 49 possessions, which also happened to be the second slowest game in the NCAA this season behind Notre Dame’s effort against Pittsburgh. Iowa slipped over the point per possession mark in scoring due to the Hawkeyes’ 65-possession shootout against Michigan, which ended 87-73. Michigan shot 50 percent from three during the game (14-28) and finished with an effective field goal percentage of 71.4 percent. Of course that’s nothing compared to the 80.7 percent mark Illinois put up against Northwestern earlier this season or even the 80.2 percent mark it hit against the Hawkeyes on December 29.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.28-01.30

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 28th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor

This weekend brings us yet another great slate of games with plenty of ranked teams heading out on the road to face unranked opponents. How many will go down this time? All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#21 Georgetown @ #6 Villanova – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

Despite their win at the Carrier Dome over Syracuse last week, Villanova has lost two of its last three games and now welcomes their rival Georgetown Hoyas to the Wells Fargo Center. The Hoyas have won three straight over the New York-area schools to climb back to 4-4 in Big East play. Georgetown has won four true road games but none of those wins were against teams the caliber of Villanova.

If Freeman and the Hoyas Plan On Finishing Strong, Tonight's a Good Night To Start

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Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 25th, 2011

John Templon is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.

A Look Back

The national narrative about the Big Ten has been about the “tiers” in the conference. Last week, those tiers were even more pronounced as the top teams kept on winning and the middle and bottom ones battled it out. In the process, Illinois – a classic example of this philosophy – escaped with a solid home win over Michigan State, but a disappointing loss to Ohio State and Iowa got its first conference win of the season over Indiana. The top teams will start battling it out this week, as Ohio State welcomes Purdue on Tuesday for what will be the “Game of the Year” thus far in conference.

Those middle teams are ones you have to know come March. That’s when the true depth of the conference will be on display and teams like the Illini, Michigan State, Minnesota and maybe a Penn State or Northwestern will be trying to prove they belonged in the discussion all along.

  • Team of the Week: Ohio State: A big victory over Illinois on the road was the best win by any Big Ten team last week. The Buckeyes also took care of business against Iowa and now just have to beat Purdue at home and Northwestern on the road to enter February with a shot at perfection intact.
  • Player of the Week: Jared Sullinger, F, Ohio State: With his team facing a tough situation at Illinois, the freshman put Ohio State on his back and carried them to an important road victory. He scored 27 points, including 13-15 shooting from the free throw line, grabbed 16 boards and blocked three shots. That was the follow-up to a ho-hum game against Iowa where he notched just 13 points and nine boards. It’s becoming hard to describe Sullinger’s day-to-day work. This Tweet from Monday afternoon summed up his ranks amongst NCAA freshmen very succinctly.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Josh Gasser, G, Wisconsin: I’m cheating a bit here by not giving both weekly awards to Sullinger, since he is technically a freshman even if he doesn’t play like one, but I wanted to highlight Gasser’s triple-double against Northwestern. In the 78-46 victory on Sunday at Welsh-Ryan Arena he had ten points, 12 rebounds and ten assists. That’s a heck of a day, and the first in Badger history.

Power Rankings

1. Ohio State (20-0, 7-0) – Jon Diebler is second in the nation in offensive rating according to Ken Pomeroy at 138.5. He’s shooting 47.6 percent from three-point range and is committing just 1.1 fouls per 40 minutes. No one has benefited more from DeShaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger patrolling the middle than this 6’6 senior shooting guard.

2. Wisconsin (15-4, 5-2) – After Sunday’s demolition of Northwestern, the Badgers have the second best offense in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy. Wait, let’s repeat that: Wisconsin has the second best offense in the country. Bo Ryan knows his offense is built upon solid principles, which is what made this article all the more amusing. Can we all agree the Wisconsin offense isn’t “struggling” anymore? (Not that it ever really was.)

3. Purdue (17-3, 6-1) – How Penn State lost a 6’10 forward that was the best player on the court at the end of a critical game, I’ll never know, but JaJuan Johnson knocked down the game-winner and Purdue got two home victories last week. Johnson has scored 20-plus points in each of his last four games and hasn’t scored fewer than 15 since December 7 against Valparaiso. Oddly, his rebounding totals are down lately. He grabbed seven boards combined against Penn State and Michigan State last week.

4. Michigan State (12-7, 4-3) – Tom Izzo must have an ear-to-ear grin on his face now, because while his team lost two games last week, they’ll get healthy with a three-game stretch against the bottom third of the conference. Of course if they lose one of those games I don’t want to be anywhere near that locker room.

5. Illinois (14-6, 4-3) – Oh, what might’ve been for the Illini. Illinois was up eight with under 13 minutes to play against Ohio State, but it failed to contain Jared Sullinger down the stretch. Demetri McCamey was 2-11 from the floor in the game and scored five points to go along with five assists and four turnovers. It’s a good thing Jereme Richmond and Bruce Weber have straightened things out, because it was the superstar freshman’s play that kept the Illini in it with 18 points, on 9-12 shooting, and 10 boards.

6. Minnesota (15-4, 4-3) – While Minnesota won its only game on the court last week it came at a terrible price. The Gophers will be without starting point guard Al Nolen for at least four weeks due to a foot injury, and possibly the rest of the season. Nolen is going to have surgery on Wednesday and will do anything to get back on the court, but for now, Tubby Smith is going to have to deal with this latest blow to his backcourt. The team was already thin at the guard spot after the transfer of Devoe Joseph.

7. Penn State (10-8, 3-4) – The Nittany Lions were the odd team out on Saturday, so they haven’t played since Wednesday, January 19. What a game that was. JaJuan Johnson had to hit a shot on the Boilermakers’ final possession to eek out the one-point win. That game showed the fight that Penn State has and no team can take them lightly during the rest of conference play. Still, the final play that Ed DeChellis drew up seemed designed for a lot less time. You’d hope to at least get a look at the basket on the final possession.

8. Northwestern (13-6, 3-5) – The Wildcats found out what both sides of a blowout feel like last week against SIU Edwardsville and Wisconsin. Even without star John Shurna, who was resting his injured ankle, and the third string playing the majority of the second half Northwestern ran past the overmatched Cougars, 98-55. Bill Carmody had his players run out the clock the final two possessions rather than score 100 on the obviously overmatched visitors. On Sunday though it was the home team that struggled. Northwestern got down early and never recovered against Wisconsin as the team’s NCAA Tournament hopes were dealt another crippling blow. Teams that blow out the Wildcats take away Drew Crawford. When the sophomore forward doesn’t score Northwestern’s offense struggles a lot and he didn’t score a point in 27 minutes against the Badgers.

9. Michigan (11-9, 1-6) – Tim Hardaway, Jr. has been given the green light for the Wolverines. In two losses last week the freshman attempted 28 shots, an even 14 in each game. He struggled against Northwestern, making three and scoring eight points, but on Saturday he exploded for 20 points against Minnesota in a five-point loss.

10. Iowa (8-11, 1-6) – Freshman Melsahne Basabe’s third 20-point game of the season was enough to carry the Hawkeyes to a 91-77 victory over Indiana and get them out of the conference cellar. This team still doesn’t look like it’ll bother anyone but the bottom tier of the conference, but players like Basabe are pieces to build on for the program’s future.

11. Indiana (10-10, 1-6) – A loss at Iowa probably wasn’t Tom Crean’s idea of a good time. While Christian Watford scored 30 points, Jordan Hulls was held under 10 points for the first time in seven games. Hulls is Indiana’s most efficient scorer and a three-point gunner that has connected on 49.4 percent of his attempts this season. Maurice Creek’s right knee can no longer elude surgery, and he’ll again miss a big chunk of conference play as he gets shut down.

A Look Ahead (all times EST):

  • 1/25 – Purdue at Ohio State, 9 p.m., ESPN
  • 1/26 – Northwestern at Minnesota, 8:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 1/27 – Michigan at Michigan State, 7 p.m., ESPN
  • 1/29 – Minnesota at Purdue, 1 p.m., CBS
  • 1/29 – Wisconsin at Penn State, 4 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 1/30 – Iowa at Michigan, 4 p.m., Big Ten Network

Fun with Efficiency Margin and KenPom: We’re starting to see some trends develop in the tempo-free statistics. A couple might be surprising and here are some of the highlights:

  • Wisconsin has joined the elite tier of the conference.  The Badgers play slowly, so sometimes you don’t see their blowouts as the great feats they are, but Bo Ryan has his team playing at peak efficiency in conference. After Sunday’s blowout Wisconsin is right in the middle of the upper tier behind Purdue (+0.18 efficiency margin per possession) and Ohio State (+0.14) at +0.16 points per possession in conference. That’s a very impressive mark.
  • Michigan State’s offense is in trouble as the Spartans rank 10th in the Big Ten in conference offensive efficiency at 1.04 points per possession. The fact that they’re scoring more than a point per possession and still near the bottom also tells you how deadly efficient every team has been this season. Still, Tom Izzo has to find a way to coax some more points out of his team or they’re going to struggle during the rest of conference play.
  • You might think that those great offensive efficiencies in Big Ten play are because of teams like Indiana and Iowa, but that’s not true. No Big Ten team is allowing less than a point per possession in conference play. Ohio State leads the way at 1.002.
  • The numbers indicate that Ohio State is really lucky to still be undefeated, not just overall but also in conference. Maybe the other shoe drops on Tuesday night against Purdue? On the other side you’ve got Wisconsin and Indiana as the unluckiest. All that said, it seems like this is related to two teams that are moving in different directions. The Hoosiers are playing worse lately and the Badgers better, which is skewing both of their respective numbers.
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Morning Five: 01.25.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on January 25th, 2011

  1. You may have heard that Wisconsin destroyed Northwestern by thirty points on Sunday afternoon in Evanston.  But did you also hear that a little-known freshman named Josh Gasser pulled a trip-dub (10 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) for the first time in Badger history?  Well, he did.  The 6’3 guard came into the game averaging only 5/4/3 APG, but he put together a fantastic all-around floor game that day which represented the first triple-double by a Big Ten freshman since a guy named Earvin “Magic” Johnson announced his presence to the world at Michigan State in 1977.  Considering the number of phenomenal players who have passed through that league in the interim, that’s rather impressive.
  2. The San Diego Union-Tribune ran an article over the weekend discussing all of the inherent disadvantages that hometown school San Diego State suffers in comparison to other schools in the top ten in America.  Or the top fifty.  Maybe even the top 100.  Whether facilities, coaching salaries, guarantee games or charter flights, SDSU pales when matched up versus the other basketball powerhouses.  The good thing about sports, though, is that games are won on the court, not in the conference room (although we’d be foolish to suggest those things are unimportant).
  3. If you thought it was a little funny that The Jimmer seems to do most of his big-time damage on the road (or, at least, away from home), BiaH broke down Fredette’s season splits and ultimately concludes that he’s got some serious stones that enjoys stepping up in the face of adversity.  We’re always reminded of the old Larry Bird trick where he would show up at NBA All-Star Weekend’s Three-Point Contest still wearing his warmup jersey: OK, fellas, who’s playing for second?  That kind of mentality seems to be woven into the DNA of all the great shooters (Reggie Miller; Steve Kerr; etc.).
  4. This Thomas Robinson story is simply tragic.  His mother, all of 37 years old, died of a heart attack on Friday night, and the Kansas sophomore found out about it when his 9-year old sister called him because she didn’t know what else to do.  That horrific news, of course, came on the heels of the deaths of two of Robinson’s grandparents in the last month, presenting a question of what will now happen to his younger sister without a family guardian to raise her.  Robinson has already headed home to Washington, DC, to be with his sibling, and the rest of the team will play Colorado tonight before chartering to DC on Friday for the funeral services of Lisa Robinson.  There’s really no right way to handle these sorts of things, but the team solidarity that Kansas is showing in support of their teammate seems genuine and heartfelt, and we here at RTC applaud them for it.
  5. If it’s not one thing, it’s another for the Minnesota Gophers this season.  Tubby Smith revealed during his weekly teleconference that his point guard Al Nolen, the same player who missed the entire spring semester last year, will miss as few as four weeks and as much as the rest of the season again because he needs surgery to repair a bone in his left foot.  This is potentially a huge blow to the 15-4 (4-3) Gophers, as Nolen provides a steady influence and defense in addition to his 8/4/4 APG.  Smith’s depth at the perimeter is especially thin this year, as Devoe Joseph (last year’s replacement) transferred last month, leaving Minnesota with a couple of freshman guards to withstand the rigors of Big Ten play.
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Set Your Tivo: 01.13.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 13th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Last night’s games didn’t disappoint as #1 Duke went down and a host of other competitive games made Wednesday a night to savor. The schedule is lighter tonight but a few important conference matchups are on tap. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#8 Purdue @ #21 Minnesota – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

Purdue Obviously Misses Hummel, But Johnson and the Boilermakers Have Proven They Can Hang Without Him

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Set Your Tivo: 12.31.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 31st, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

A really good schedule awaits college basketball fans today on your New Year’s Eve. The Battle of the Bluegrass gets things going right away with an early noon tip, a game tailor made for Gus Johnson. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#12 Kentucky @ Louisville — 12 pm on CBS (*****)

Louisville will be shorthanded in this game but is favored according to the Vegas odds. The Cardinals, still without Jared Swopshire, will also be missing the services of Rakeem Buckles and Mike Marra this afternoon. Still, this is a game you must watch with Gus Johnson on the call. It is a unique rivalry that doesn’t get enough press and has only heated up with the addition of John Calipari and the switch of Rick Pitino from Kentucky blue to Louisville red. It started almost 100 years ago in 1913 but the teams have only met 41 times prior to today with Kentucky holding a 27-14 edge. These teams did not meet for 24 years from 1959 until an elite eight NCAA Tournament game on March 26, 1983. They have met every year since then with UK leading 18-11 in the modern era. One interesting fact is that Kentucky has never failed to win at least two games in a row after winning one throughout the entire history of this series. With the Wildcats on a one game winning streak entering the game today, that statistic, though ultimately meaningless, would suggest a UK win. Expect this game to feature a lot of threes, a big part of each team’s offense. Kentucky actually has five guys who can knock down a triple, much more than the average team. Doron Lamb and Preston Knowles are the big shooters for their respective teams with Lamb being the better of the two so far this year. The freshman has connected on 54% of his treys including a seven for eight performance against Winthrop, a large part of Kentucky’s #13 three point percentage. Knowles is Louisville’s leading scorer and a good defender who teams with Peyton Siva to really disrupt opponents on the defensive end. That will be a big factor against Kentucky point guard Brandon Knight, averaging almost four turnovers per game. Rick Pitino loves the zone press so expect a lot of trapping and aggressive on-ball defense from the Cardinals, trying to get Knight out of a rhythm and make him turnover-prone. As a whole, Kentucky takes remarkably good care of the ball with only 11 turnovers as a team. Calipari needs a good point guard to run his dribble drive offense and Knight is often the key to their success. He had an awful game in a loss to Connecticut and fouled out after committing six turnovers in UK’s loss to North Carolina. In the front court, Kentucky has the best player on the floor in Terrence Jones. The 6’8 freshman can score from almost anywhere on the floor and uses his superior athleticism effectively to create space. Another T.J., Terrence Jennings, has to have a good game defensively for Louisville. He’s a good shot blocker and must neutralize Jones inside. Despite their reliance on the three pointer, the Cardinals get a lot of points inside as well, the seventh best two point shooting team in the country. With Buckles out however, Louisville may turn even more towards the trey in order to win. Kentucky lacks a true scoring center as Josh Harrellson rebounds well but doesn’t look to score much, attempting just four field goals per game. Expect Kyle Kuric to step up in the absence of Marra and Buckles. He’s played more minutes lately and scored 25 points against Morgan State on Monday. Quite simply, this game is going to be a war. The fans hate each other, the coaches do too and even the players got into it right away last year. Most rivalry games are close and despite Louisville’s personnel issues, we expect this one to be as well. However, depth could rear its ugly head if the Cardinals get into foul trouble. Louisville fouls a lot and Pitino has to ensure that doesn’t become an issue. Even though they’re on the road, Kentucky is the better team and has to get the edge here. Take the Wildcats and the points today.

#13 Minnesota @ #18 Michigan State – 4 pm on Big Ten Network (****)

A critical game for both teams, the loser will face some tough questions going forward. With a loss today, Minnesota faces the real possibility of starting Big Ten play at 1-3 with a game at Ohio State next Sunday and Indiana in between. Michigan State would drop to 8-5 overall with a loss today, making Monday’s game at Northwestern a huge one for the Spartans. For Tom Izzo’s team, the three point line is critical in this matchup. Minnesota doesn’t defend it well at all (#260) and the Spartans shoot 40% behind a trio of capable long range bombers. Durrell Summers leads Michigan State in scoring and is arguably their best shooter from deep while Kalin Lucas and Korie Lucious can also knock down the trifecta. Tubby Smith likes to play a zone but that may hurt the Gophers in this matchup. Unless Minnesota extends their defense beyond the line, Michigan State can easily shoot right over it. Of course when you extend a zone there will be holes inside. Minnesota’s big men must lay down the law in the paint and force MSU to beat them from the outside. A strong defensive game will really limit the Spartans offensively and turn this into a rebounding battle, one Minnesota should feel confident in their ability to win. Michigan State has not been a vintage Izzo team in terms of defense and rebounding, a bad sign against a tall and talented Minnesota team. Trevor Mbakwe could be deadly against the Spartans today with his quickness and long arms around the tin. With Mbakwe inside and Blake Hoffarber outside, the Gophers will keep Michigan State on their toes all game long. Al Nolen must play better for Minnesota. Wisconsin shut him down on Tuesday night held the Minnesota offense in check en route to a victory. Turnovers will again be the story for the Spartans, averaging 16 per game. Extra possessions only enhance the Gophers chances. Michigan State looked awful against Syracuse and the Gopher bigs are even taller than Syracuse’s. Despite the KenPom prediction and the Vegas odds, we’re going against the grain and feel this game will come right down to the very end. This is anyone’s ballgame in East Lansing this afternoon.

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