Set Your Tivo: 12.28.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 28th, 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.

Monday was a good night for Pennsylvania as Pittsburgh handed Connecticut its first loss and Penn State knocked off Indiana on the road. Conference play rolls on today with two key Big Ten matchups in the upper Midwest. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#11 Purdue @ Michigan – 2 pm on Big Ten Network (***)

Purdue Handled Michigan Last Season (Mich Daily/T. Sharman)

This Tuesday matinee is a great opportunity for Michigan to put itself back on the Big Ten map. The Wolverines are 9-2 against D1 competition and had a very close loss to a top five Syracuse squad. This game pits two guard heavy teams against one another, though Purdue has JaJuan Johnson in the paint. Michigan is vulnerable inside making Jordan Morgan and Evan Smotrycz important players for John Beilein this afternoon. They have to defend Johnson well but more importantly they must grab rebounds. Purdue is not a tremendous rebounding team and neither team shoots all that well so there are going to be plenty of chances for the Wolverines to pick up extra possessions. Michigan is #210 in offensive rebounding percentage and they’ll have to do a much better job than that in order to score inside. As was the case with his West Virginia teams, Beilein loves the three ball. Michigan launches an average of 24 treys per game but connects on just a third of them. Still, the three pointer is the great equalizer in college basketball and when you shoot that often, a lot of shots are going to go through the net. The problem for Michigan is that Purdue ranks #4 in the nation in three point defense and third in defensive efficiency. It’s going to be difficult for the Wolverines to score but Darius Morris will try to make things happen. Michigan’s dynamic guard is averaging 16 PPG and almost eight assists as well while shooting over 50% from the floor. He needs to have a good game and set the table for others like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Zack Novak, a tremendous rebounder for his position and size. Hardaway is shooting just 30% from deep and must get going for Michigan to take the next step up and into the middle of the Big Ten pack. For Purdue, Matt Painter has hinted he’d like to go big but expect a lot of four guard sets with Lewis Jackson and E’Twaun Moore running the show. Outside of Johnson, Purdue’s bigs have averaged just over four PPG and six RPG in 25 minutes of play combined, clearly not getting it done. In order to win, Michigan has to shoot the ball well, control the boards and play solid defense. Beilein loves his 1-3-1 zone and it can work wonders against a team that doesn’t see it often. Expect him to use it in this game and adjust if Johnson does damage underneath the basket. Smotrycz is a key player because he can pull Johnson away from the basket, possessing the capability of knocking down a triple here and there. If the Wolverines can get Johnson into foul trouble early, they’ll have a great chance to pull the upset at home. Purdue is the better team but this should be a very close game today in Ann Arbor.

#13 Minnesota @ #14 Wisconsin – 7 pm on ESPN2 (****)

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Set Your Tivo: 12.15.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 15th, 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.

We told you last night’s games would be very interesting and boy were they ever. Louisville and Tennessee were upset victims at home but neither upset was shocking given the matchups we discussed in this space yesterday, plus both teams were due for a letdown. Tonight’s slate is not good at all so don’t expect much action this evening.  All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

Akron @ #19 Minnesota – 8:30 pm on Big Ten Network (*)

Akron was blasted by Temple in their last game and really struggles offensively. The Zips don’t stand much of a chance in this game so one strategy may be to live or die by the three as Minnesota’s opponents get a lot of points courtesy of the trifecta. However, Akron is not a good three point shooting team to begin with, #221 in the country, but taking a page out of Virginia’s playbook could make this game somewhat competitive, at least for a while. The Cavaliers bombed away from the arc in a stunning second half turnaround against the Golden Gophers en route to a surprising win at the Barn. Akron’s Brett McClanahan and Darryl Roberts are the biggest threats but McClanahan is just seven for his last 23 (30%) from deep. The senior Roberts shoots it well at 42% and also connects 92% of the time at the foul line. Minnesota will look to take advantage with their superior size and skill inside led by Trevor Mbakwe (14/10). Mbakwe is shooting 61% overall, scoring in double figures each game so far and is clearly the most athletic of the Minnesota big men. Akron opponents get 58% of their scoring from two point range so expect Tubby Smith to exploit this early and often to build up a lead. Minnesota also has an outside threat with Blake Hoffarber at 41% from three, now hot after a little slump to start the season. Akron is also a poor rebounding team with only one major contributor taller than 6’8, center Zeke Marshall. Even without point guard Al Nolen (probably won’t play), Minnesota is too deep and too talented for Akron to compete with. The Gophers should win this game easily.

Auburn @ South Florida– 9 pm on ESPNU (*)

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Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 7th, 2010

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

A Look Back

The Big Ten went out and got the necessary victories to win the ACC/Big Ten Challenge 6-5 for the second season in a row. While Minnesota almost screwed things up by losing to Virginia, Purdue winning in overtime over Virginia Tech and Michigan upsetting Clemson on the road bailed out the Gophers. Also, Michigan State acquitted itself well against Duke, making the power rankings even more of a jumble.

Team of the Week

IllinoisThe Fighting Illini got two good victories this week over North Carolina and Gonzaga. Both teams are talented, but Bruce Weber got his team prepared for the young Tar Heels team and then got them back up for a game in Spokane with the Bulldogs. Illinois started bombing threes in the game against Gonzaga (12-23 from three-point range), which probably has future opponents a bit worried.

Player of the Week

John Leuer, F, Wisconsin – Sometimes, Leuer’s stats don’t look so great because he plays for Bo Ryan, but this week, they were off the charts no matter how you measure them. The 6’10 senior forward had 22 points and 11 boards in a blowout of North Carolina State and then added 29 points, including 6-11 from three-point range, and nine boards against South Dakota.

Newcomer of the Week

Tim Hardaway, Jr., G, Michigan – Hardaway scored 15 points, including 7-9 from the free throw line, in Michigan’s road upset over Clemson. He then followed it up with a 1-7 shooting, three-point performance against Harvard, So he’s still got quite a bit to learn. For the season, he’s averaging 10.7 points per game.

Power Rankings

  1. Ohio State (6-0) – Another week, another victory. This time, it was a 58-44 win at Florida State. There’s not much left to challenge the Buckeyes on the non-conference slate; A home game against South Carolina on December 18 is the toughest one left before Big Ten play begins.
  2. Illinois (8-1) – See the Team of the Week section. Mike Davis had two good games in the victories with 20 points and 10 boards against North Carolina and 10 points and six boards against Gonzaga.
  3. Michigan State (6-2) – Give credit to the Spartans for hanging with Duke in an 84-79 loss. It was a “good” loss if there ever was one. Tom Izzo’s team then went out and shellacked Bowling Green, for whatever that’s worth. Draymond Green had two solid games with 16 points, six boards, three steals and three blocks against the Blue Devils and then 10 points and 12 boards against the Falcons.
  4. Wisconsin (6-2) – Bo Ryan’s team delivered an absolute shellacking to North Carolina State in the challenge, 87-48. Now a more experienced Marquette team is waiting at the Bradley Center as the Badgers begin the Wisconsin part of their schedule.
  5. Purdue (7-1) – The Boilermakers got some rough news when they found out that John Hart is going to be out for a month with an injured foot. The sophomore guard was averaging 8.4 points per game this season, third best on the team. The team has played stifling defense thus far this season, including locking down the perimeter. Opponents are shooting just 25 percent from beyond the arc, which will be very helpful in conference play.
  6. Minnesota (7-1) – Al Nolen was missing for the week as the Golden Gophers went 1-1 overall, including a surprising loss to Virginia in the challenge and an escape against Cornell. He’ll probably miss another week at least, so Tubby Smith needs to find a way around the problem. Trevor Mbakwe had one the oddest double-doubles you’ll ever see against Cornell, with 12 points and 16 boards. Why is that so weird? All 12 points came from the free throw line as he shot 12-20 from the charity stripe and 0-3 from the field.
  7. Northwestern (5-0) – The Wildcats shot the lights out in the first half against Georgia Tech and had everyone raving about the NCAA Tournament. Since then, Northwestern hasn’t played a game. Bill Carmody’s squad doesn’t play again until Monday, December 13, against Long Island.
  8. Indiana (7-1) – The Hoosiers are ranked 60th overall in Ken Pomeroy, but after losing to Boston College on the road by 12, they sort of look like paper tigers. Tom Crean’s team has built up a nice record against really soft competition. Indiana gets another test on Saturday when it takes on Kentucky at Rupp Arena.
  9. Michigan (5-2) – The Wolverines pulled off the surprise of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge by winning at Clemson, 69-61. Michigan then came back to Ann Arbor and survived an upset bid by former head coach Tommy Amaker’s Harvard squad 65-62. It’s possible that John Beilein’s team might be better than people thought coming into the season. Sophomore Darius Morris is one of the top five point guards in the league. He’s averaging 13.7 points and 6.9 assists per game this season.
  10. Penn State (6-2) – Once thought to be an NCAA Tournament bubble team, the Nittany Lions are looking more like an also-ran. Maryland went to University Park and rocked Penn State, holding them to just 39 points. Talor Battle scored 31 points to make sure the Nittany Lions didn’t lose to Duquesne. They get another chance to prove they’re legit with a game at Virginia Tech on Sunday.
  11. Iowa (4-4) – Iowa actually plays two of the more interesting games this week. Tuesday, the Hawkeyes take on last season’s NCAA Tournament darlings, Northern Iowa, and then on Friday, Iowa State comes to visit.

A Look Ahead (all times EST)

  • 12/7 – Michigan State vs. Syracuse, Jimmy V. Classic from Madison Square Garden, 9 p.m., ESPN
  • 12/7 – Purdue at Valparaiso, 9 p.m., ESPNU
  • 12/7 – Iowa vs. Northern Iowa, 8 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 12/8 – Illinois vs. Oakland, 8 p.m.
  • 12/8 – Minnesota at St. Joseph’s (PA), 7 p.m.
  • 12/10 – Michigan vs. Utah, 6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 12/10 – Iowa vs. Iowa State, 8:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 12/11 – Wisconsin at Marquette, 2:30 p.m., ESPN2
  • 12/11 – Indiana at Kentucky, 5:15 p.m., ESPN
  • 12/12 – Penn State at Virginia Tech, 1 p.m.

Fun with Efficiency Margin and KenPom: Conference play is just a few weeks away, but Ken Pomeroy’s numbers are already singing the praises of the Big Ten. The conference has five of the Top 20 teams overall, five of the Top 20 offenses and five of the Top 20 defenses. Most of those are the Top 5 teams in the Power Rankings, but Northwestern has the #11 offense in the country.

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ATB: ACC Takes Early Lead 1-0

Posted by rtmsf on November 30th, 2010

We’re Back.  These After the Buzzers dropped off a little bit over the long holiday weekend, and for that we apologize.  Still, we’re working through some ideas as to how we want to set them up, so if you have any suggestions for improvement or additions/deletions, we’re all ears.  So long as it doesn’t take us all night to do and it sounds reasonably interesting, we’ll consider it.  Hit us up in the comments.

The Minnesota Defense Wasn't Tight Tonight (MST/R. Tsong-Taatarii)

Your Watercooler MomentACC 1, Big Ten 0.  Don’t be fooled by the fact that Minnesota was without defensive stalwart Al Nolen tonight — the Gophers still came into this home game as a fifteen-point Vegas favorite, and Tony Bennett’s Virginia team hadn’t exactly shown any signs of breaking through after a 1-2 trip to Maui last week.  A 39-18 second-half run by the Wahoos fueled by 77% three-point shooting  (10-13) erased a ten-point halftime deficit and had Tubby Smith fuming after the game about his team’s shoddy defense.  So what is the teachable moment here?  Perhaps that Minny wasn’t quite as good as their 6-0 record with wins over a UNC team in disarray and a West Virginia team still finding itself would have led us to believe?  Or that ACC teams just find ways to win these ACC/Big Ten Challenge games year after dastardly year?  Well, that’s certainly true, and the Big Ten now finds itself in a serious hole going into Day Two of the event considering that this game was a supposed lock for the midwestern league.  In looking at the remaining ten games, Ohio State on the road (@ FSU) and Illinois/Northwestern at home (vs. UNC and Georgia Tech, respectively) become must-wins, with the hope that Iowa and/or Michigan can break through versus Wake Forest or Clemson on the road.  If we were laying odds at this point as to which league will win this challenge, we’d go heavily on the ACC — that’s how important the Minnesota loss tonight at home was.

Tonight’s Quick Hits…

  • Jacob Pullen’s 241st Trey.  With Pullen’s second three of the evening tonight in an easy win against D2 Emporia State, Pullen became the all-time leader in made threes at the school.  He already has 1,618 points in his career and is well on his way to becoming the all-time leading scorer at the school (he needs to average 17.8 PPG the rest of the way, assuming 28 more games).  Here’s the question, though — is Pullen the greatest player in program history?  The greatest guard?  Mitch Richmond and Rolando Blackman were awfully good players at K-State, but Pullen could eclipse both of them with a first-team all-American type of a season and a deep Tournament run.
  • LaceDarius Dunn’s Return.  In two games back from suspension against admittedly weak competition, LD has averaged 22 PPG, 5 RPG, 4 APG, and 4 SPG while shooting 10-19 from deep.  We know that Dunn can bomb away, but only seven of his shots have been from within the circle; he may want to mix it up a little more as we get into the heart of the season.
  • Blake Hoffarber’s Jumper.  He shoots them in volume like JJ Redick once did down on Tobacco Road, but every time he puts one up, we think it’s going in.  He’s been somewhat “off” so far this year, but after a 5-11 performance tonight, he’s still at 38.7% on the season.  Of course, this is down from last year’s nearly-automatic 46.7% from deep, but we figure he’ll catch fire soon enough.
  • 8-0 Before December.  There are only thirty D1 teams remaining with a flawless record, but did you know that Cleveland State has already racked up eight wins before November is out?  The Vikings have mostly feasted on a steady diet of mid-level teams, but with a win already against Iona (who beat Richmond), CSU may be looking at a strong season in the Horizon League.
  • Wichita State’s Balance.  One of the most effective shooting teams that you’ll find, Gregg Marshall’s Shockers utilize a cadre of ten players who average between 14-25 minutes per game, nine of whom tally at least four points per contest.  Even though WSU came out of Maui with a 2-1 record, it was the Shockers who arguably played tournament champion UConn the toughest among their three wins.

… and Misses.

  • Those Ridiculous-Looking McDonald’s Stairs at The Barn.  Minnesota’s Williams Arena is a grand old barn, the fourth oldest building currently in use in Division 1 basketball.  And we certainly understand that sponsorships will happen and must happen, even at grand old barns.  But those McDonald’s stairs in the camera view on each side of the scoring table look ridiculous and are embarrassing for a program of this stature.  Maybe it would be ok if the “M”  used was the same configuration as the Gophers’ “M,” but it’s not.  Please, please get rid of this travesty.
  • USC Basketball.  With four losses to the likes of Rider, Bradley, Nebraska and TCU already under its belt, Kevin O’Neill’s team is already in serious trouble this season.  The Trojans have games coming against #20 Texas, #4 Kansas and #15 Tennessee in the next three weeks, and even with Jio Fontan returning on Dec. 18 for the KU game, we’re not sure that this dysfunctional unit will recover.

Tweet of the Night.  Yeah, this is more or less what we thought too when told that TCU was becoming the seventeenth Big East basketball school.

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Set Your Tivo: 11.29.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 29th, 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 tivobut 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.

Some folks may be going through college basketball withdrawal today as the Thanksgiving tournaments have ended and the action is extremely light tonight. Fear not however, great games make a comeback tomorrow. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

Virginia @ #16 Minnesota – 7 pm on ESPN2 (**)

Blake Hoffarber Has Been Up/Down This Season

Minnesota is still riding high after their tournament win in Puerto Rico as they open the ACC-Big Ten Challenge against the Virginia Cavaliers this evening. The Golden Gophers are dealing with some injuries tonight as starting point guard Al Nolen (foot) and Rodney Williams (ankle) are unlikely to play. Coach Tubby Smith still has plenty of weapons to turn to and may get Devoe Joseph back from suspension tonight. Smith has said he’s undecided but there’s a chance that Joseph could make his first appearance of the season against Virginia. The Cavaliers went 1-2 in Maui, defeating Oklahoma while losing to Washington and Wichita State. They’re 3-3 overall and are expected to finish near the bottom of the ACC this season. Tony Bennett’s team has been, well, unlike a typical Tony Bennett team so far. Virginia has struggled on the defensive end, ranking #135 in efficiency. They’ve given up an average of 70 PPG and are #330 in defensive effective FG%. UVA doesn’t force turnovers due to Bennett’s deliberate, slow pace and have been terrible at defending the three. Virginia is almost dead last in defensive three point percentage, allowing opponents to shoot 47% from behind the arc. As you might expect, Virginia’s opponents get the largest percentage of their points from the three point line, #1 in the nation. To put this in perspective, Bennett’s last team at Washington State (2008-09) finished #6 in the country in defensive efficiency. Minnesota will look to take advantage of this weakness with Blake Hoffarber, who broke out of his early slump with 24 points on 10-16 shooting against North Dakota State on Wednesday. With Nolen out and the status of Joseph still up in the air, Hoffarber is more than capable of running the offense (2.82 assist/turnover ratio). The Gophers should dominate this game in the low post with plenty of scoring and good rebounding behind Trevor Mbakwe (14/9, 69% FG) and Ralph Sampson III (13/7, 3 blocks), but Virginia has a star of its own in 6’8 Mike Scott. The senior forward is averaging 17/9, Virginia’s only player in double figures so far this season. He’ll have his hands full with Minnesota’s stellar frontcourt but the Cavaliers are counting on him to keep them competitive tonight. 6’9 Will Sherrill can stretch the defense and he’ll need to do a lot of that by pulling Mbakwe and Colton Iverson away from the basket where they can’t get into a comfort zone. Minnesota may struggle a bit to start the game with the uncertainty of their rotation but expect a steady diet of Hoffarber from deep along with dishes to Mbakwe and Sampson III. That will allow Minnesota to pull away and win this one comfortably.

USC @ TCU – 8 pm on The Mtn. (**)

This clash between Pac-10 and Mountain West schools features a USC team coming off a bad loss at Nebraska on Saturday and a TCU club playing second fiddle to the school’s football team in the hunt for a BCS national championship. Expect this to be a low scoring game as both teams struggle offensively, each ranking outside the top 100 in offensive efficiency. The Trojans are a much better defensive club, though you wouldn’t know it based on their performance against Nebraska (50% FG for the Cornhuskers). USC still ranks #29 in defensive efficiency and #7 in opponents’ offensive rebounding percentage, essentially controlling the defensive glass. Kevin O’Neill has two totally different players leading the team with his 5’7 point guard Maurice Jones (13/4/4) and 6’10 F/C Nikola Vucevic (16/11), each having a great start to the season. As you might imagine, Jones struggles shooting the trey due to his height. He still finds a way to score and get others involved making the freshman a nice piece to build around in the coming years. Vucevic is an experienced junior who teams with Alex Stepheson to create a better than average frontcourt. Stepheson, a transfer from North Carolina, had 14/9 against Nebraska and is shooting 56% from the floor this year. The Horned Frogs of TCU are led by another small point guard, 5’9 Hank Thorns. He’s averaging seven assists per game while grabbing four rebounds, pretty good for a guard of his height. TCU’s leading scorer is Ronnie Moss (16 PPG), a threat from behind the arc against a Trojan defense that ranks #237 against the trey. It’s been a struggle for TCU when it comes to rebounding the basketball as they’re really undersized. They’ve been outrebounded in all but two of their games, averaging only 31 RPG. TCU is #300 in offensive rebound percentage and #293 in two point percentage defense. Put those two stats together and you have a recipe ripe for putbacks for scores off missed shots. USC will look to take advantage of that behind Stepheson and Vucevic. The Trojans should get the ball inside early and often to utilize their size and rebounding strength in this matchup. The Trojans must get to the free throw line more often as they rank poorly in that area and only attempted two free throws against Nebraska. A more aggressive style would cure this problem but with a very slow tempo (#262), don’t expect that to change anytime soon. Well played games from Moss, Thorns or J.R. Cadot will keep TCU in this game to the end. USC is the better team but the Horned Frogs are at home so we see this as a toss-up game that may come down to the last few possessions.

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Morning Five: 11.29.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on November 29th, 2010

  1. Here’s hoping everyone out there in college basketball land had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday weekend.  The next five weeks will be a blur between now and the new year, but by the time the calendar moves into 2011 we should have a pretty good idea as to who the half-dozen legitimate contenders for the crown are (and the multitudes of pretenders vying to be taken seriously).  Even though exams loom and the interminable bowl season kicks off in earnest soon (featuring 2-6 SEC teams!), we’ll happily plod along with our college hoops addiction and of course, invite you all to join us along for the ride.
  2. The scariest news of the weekend was at the 76 Classic on Sunday where Stanford star Jeremy Green collapsed as a result of dizziness and stomach pain after the Cardinal’s 81-74 overtime win over DePaul.  RTC’s Andrew Murawa was on the scene there in Anaheim and reported as to what he saw and heard there.  The great news is that after Green was hospitalized and received IV fluids, it appears that he will be fine.  Always great to see that word “fine” associated with something like this.
  3. Mike DeCourcy breaks down the upcoming ACC/Big Ten Challenge, which tips off on Monday night with an oddly placed Virginia at Minnesota game.  You probably recall that the Big Ten won its first-ever challenge last season, 6-5, and comes into this year’s tilt with a decided claim as the top conference in America.  DeCourcy decides to get a little crazy with his prediction that the ACC will actually re-take the crown this year.  As for the first game tonight, Minnesota will be without Al Nolen, who is nursing a foot injury, and Rodney Williams, who has an ankle injury.  It seems as if Tubby Smith’s team there can never get everybody on the floor at the same time (Devoe Joseph has been held out for a rules violation).
  4. President Obama, recovering well from twelve stitches he took to the mug during a Friday pickup game, showed up with family in tow to watch the First Bro-in-Law, Craig Robinson, lead his Oregon State team to a victory over DC-based Howard on Sunday.  While there’s nothing particularly novel about Obama’s love for hoops, especially the collegiate variety, we feel compelled to mention this in the unlikely scenario that he’s a closeted RTC reader and wants to offer us a chance to interview him prior to next year’s Tournament.
  5. You may have missed this among all the weekend’s action, but nothing gets past the crack crew around here.  It was just a few short days ago that California was getting some love as a possible Pac-10 contender this season after beating Temple on Thursday (after all, who isn’t a contender in the Pac-10?).  But that talk died down after the five-point stinker of a half that Mike Montgomery’s team threw up against Notre Dame in a  57-44 loss on Saturday.  Yeah, you read that correctly : five points.  The Bears went the final 10:44 of the first half without a single point, but amazingly, that’s still not the record for fewest points in a half of a D1 game — Savannah State produced only four points in a game two years ago against Kansas State.  Still, Cal is a long way from SSU in terms of resources and expectations; but those may need to be tempered somewhat after a weekend filled with struggling offense in Orlando (Cal also lost to Boston College on Sunday, scoring only 46 points).
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Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 23rd, 2010

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

A Look Back:

  • Hot Start: According to Ken Pomeroy’s early season rankings, which are open to a lot of fluctuation, the Big Ten doesn’t have a single team ranked outside the top 100. The Big Ten and the Big 12 are the only conferences that can claim such a feat. With a 36-5 record out of the gate, the Big 10 has made a huge impression whether you go by Pomeroy’s advanced stats or simply wins and losses.
  • Team of the Week: Minnesota: All the Golden Gophers did last week was go to a neutral site and beat Western Kentucky, North Carolina and West Virginia. Those last two wins are going to be critical if Tubby Smith’s team finds itself on the bubble come Selection Sunday. Though after two wins like that, maybe it is time to consider the fact that the Gophers might actually compete for the Big Ten title. Marquette transfer Trevor Mbakwe has been a revelation in the post this season and is averaging 14.0 points per game and 9.4 rebounds per game. Ralph Sampson III has improved his game as well. Teams also have to contend with Blake Hoffarber and Al Nolen. At 5-0 this team is off to a roaring start.
  • Player of the Week: Demetri McCamey, G, Illinois: While Illinois lost a game at Madison Square Garden, it certainly wasn’t McCamey’s fault. He was the best player on the court for the Illini in both games. Against Maryland, he was absolutely deadly, as he scored 20 points on just nine shots and dished out seven assists.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Jared Sullinger, C, Ohio State: The highly recruited freshman has made his mark during the opening of the season. In Ohio State’s three games thus far he’s averaged 18.7 points per game and 10.7 rebounds per game. That includes a 26 point, 10 board performance in the Buckeyes’ victory over Florida.

Power Rankings

  1. Ohio State (3-0) – This team isn’t just Sullinger, currently five Buckeyes are averaging at least 10 points. The rotation, which was very short last season, has been loosened a bit by Thad Matta and eight players have played at least 10 minutes per game this season. William Buford, essentially Evan Turner’s replacement at point guard, has performed very well averaging 13.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 1.7 steals per game.
  2. Michigan State (3-0) – The Spartans took it easy before heading off to the Maui Invitational this week. They’ll take on Connecticut and one other high-profile program during the week, so it should be a good test. An 82-73 victory over South Carolina was the team’s warmup for the tournament.
  3. Minnesota (5-0) – See the Team of the Week section, but the Gophers are rolling.
  4. Illinois (4-1) – Give the Illini credit as they went to New York and played two very competitive games against Texas, losing in overtime, and Maryland. Demetri McCamey showed more athleticism than in the past and looks prepared to carry this team. Brandon Paul is also giving this team a spark off the bench and averaging 11.8 points per game. Interior defense might be this team’s Achilles’ heel and freshman Jereme Richmond, just 7.8 points per game, should be looking to do more on the offensive end.
  5. Purdue (3-0) – The record might suggest that Purdue is going to be just fine without Robbie Hummel, but Oakland was the first decent team that the Boilermakers played and they led by just four points at the break. E’Twaun Moore has picked up the slack on offense averaging 20.3 points per game. JaJuan Johnson is averaging almost a double-double with 15.7 points per game and 9.0 rebounds per game. Purdue is in the Chicago Invitational Challenge this week and a possible game against Richmond might be a good early season test.
  6. Wisconsin (2-1) – Credit the Badgers for playing a tough road game at UNLV, but the loss isn’t the result that Bo Ryan wanted. Freshman Josh Gasser is starting for Wisconsin and averaging 11.7 points per game and 7.3 rebounds per game. The Badgers are already dictating tempo, averaging 64 possessions per game through the first three games.
  7. Northwestern (3-0) – The Wildcats survived a strange trip to Texas-Pan American then came home and crushed Arkansas-Pine Bluff and now are taking 10 days off before playing against Creighton. Bill Carmody will have the team working on defense, because the offense is just fine. John Shurna is averaging 22.7 points per game and Drew Crawford is averaging 20.7. Another worry is that the minutes for point guard Michael Thompson are already starting to build up. He averaged 35.0 minutes per game as Northwestern took down three very easy teams.
  8. Indiana (4-0) – The Hoosiers, like the Wildcats, really haven’t played anyone yet, so it’s hard to judge this team. The trio of Christian Watford, with 17.8 points per game and 7.8 rebounds per game, Verdel Jones III, 14.3 points per game, and Maurice Creek, 12.0 points per game, is going to help Indiana put a lot of points on the board. This team does have a bad habit of letting bad teams hang around, so that’s something to watch moving forward.
  9. Penn State (4-0) – Talor Battle has a competent wingman in Jeff Brooks it appears and the Nittany Lions might be more dangerous than people expect. Senior forward Brooks is averaging 17 points and 7.5 rebounds per game as Penn State has racked up four easy home victories thus far. To his credit, Battle has continued his outstanding play and is averaging 16.3 points per game even though he’s shooting just 26.9 percent from beyond the arc.
  10. Michigan (3-0) – Three terrible opponents has resulted in three home victories for the Wolverines. Things though are about to get much tougher, as Michigan takes on Syracuse in the Legends Classic on Friday.  After averaging just 4.4 points per game last season, sophomore guard Darius Morris is averaging 14.7 points per game and 8.3 assists per game this season. Freshman Tim Hardaway, Jr., has made an immediate impact as well, averaging 14.3 points per game.
  11. Iowa (2-2) – The Hawkeyes lost to South Dakota State in their season opener, but have since righted the ship. Iowa got a victory over a decent Alabama squad in the Paradise Jam Tournament on Saturday.

A Look Ahead

Two big games for the conference include the Spartans taking on Michigan State in Maui and Michigan tipping off against Syracuse in Atlantic City, but the conference is otherwise quiet until the ACC-Big 10 challenge comes.

  • Nov. 23 – Michigan State vs. Connecticut in the Maui Invitational, Lahaina, HI
  • Nov. 23 – Ohio State vs. Morehead St., Columbus, Ohio
  • Nov. 26 – Penn State vs. Ole Miss, Oxford, Miss.
  • Nov. 26 – Michigan vs. Syracuse, Legends Classic, Atlantic City, NJ
  • Nov. 26-27 – Purdue vs. Southern Illinois and someone else, Chicago Invitational Challenge, Hoffman Estates, Ill.
  • Nov. 28 – Northwestern vs. Creighton, Evanston, Ill.

Fun With Efficiency Margin

There’s not much in this space right now, but once conference play begins expect to see tempo-free efficiency margins for in conference play in the Big Ten. Last season Wisconsin won the efficiency crown. We’ll see if the Badgers can repeat or if another team takes the title.

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles

Posted by zhayes9 on November 23rd, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

Pitt has a team capable of reaching that elusive Final Four

1. I had an opportunity to attend the consolation and championship games of the 2K Sports Classic last Friday and learned a great deal about the four teams participating- Pittsburgh, Texas, Illinois and Maryland. The Panthers were one of my preseason Final Four teams and did nothing to give me second thoughts on that prediction. Ashton Gibbs is a true playmaker at the end of the shot clock, Jamie Dixon has an incredibly deep frontcourt and the Panthers play heady, smart, hard-nosed basketball for 40 minutes. It’s possible we overrated Illinois a bit coming into the year. They lack a bruiser down low that can post up on the block and demand the basketball. Mike Tisdale’s the same player he’s been his entire career at Illinois, a capable mid-range jump shooter that lacks any sort of physicality and is often mired in foul trouble because opposing power forwards constantly out-muscle him. Maryland looks like a middle-of-the-pack ACC team that should sneak into the NCAA Tournament because Gary Williams always receives max effort from his teams and Jordan Williams is a force in the post, although he needs to avoid silly fouls and demand the basketball more often. The team that needed to convince me they were a contender after last season’s disaster is Texas. The Longhorns are a top-20 team with a duo of physical, lockdown defenders on the perimeter in Dogus Balbay and Cory Joseph, an athletic low-post presence in Tristan Thompson and an explosive scorer in Jordan Hamilton. A shortened rotation and accepted roles has helped Rick Barnes develop improved chemistry, as well.

2. The story of the first two weeks of college basketball might just be Minnesota. The Big Ten was the best conference coming into the season with Michigan State and Ohio State shaping up to be Final Four frontrunners, Purdue and Illinois mainstays in the polls and Wisconsin as solid as ever. Minnesota was a team that nobody could quite get a handle on, especially considering it was impossible to predict just how much the additions of Trevor Mbakwe and Al Nolen would help Tubby Smith.  After three statements wins in Puerto Rico over Western Kentucky, North Carolina and West Virginia, the Gophers appear to be yet another contender primed for a deep March run out of the absolutely loaded Big Ten. Al Nolen was superb in the championship game against West Virginia locking down the Mountaineer’s point guard duo of Joe Mazzulla and Darryl Bryant on defense and splitting the West Virginia defense with dribble penetration that either resulted in free throws (11-12 on the night) or open looks for sharpshooting teammate Blake Hoffarber. Where the Gophers have forged their identity, though, is inside with a plethora of size and length. Ralph Sampson, Colton Iverson, Mbakwe and big bodied Mo Walker provide Smith a frontline that can go toe-to-toe with any in the nation. Just wait till they get Devoe Joseph back.

3. The most crippling defeat for any team with NCAA Tournament aspirations could have come Monday afternoon at the Maui Invitational for Wichita State. The Shockers inability to contain Kemba Walker (29 second half points) cost them a chance to pick up a quality win over a Big East opponent and a shot at potential #1-seed Michigan State in the semifinals. Why is this so devastating? One, Wichita just blew their best chance for an RPI/SOS booster. The only other challenging non-conference game on the slate is a road trip to San Diego State, where it’s extremely unlikely the Shockers leave with a victory. Merely the addition of the Spartans on their schedule would improve Wichita’s power rating dramatically. Instead, it’s increasingly likely Gregg Marshall’s team will have to win the MVC Tournament. This task is very possible; after all, the Shockers are the prohibitive favorite, a senior-laden squad with talents like Toure Murry, David Kyles and J.T. Durley. Marshall’s goal in Maui was to pick up two quality wins for the resume in March. That chance has gone by the wayside.

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Set Your Tivo: 11.19.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 19th, 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.

All five of these games come from tournaments. Here are your brackets: Puerto Rico Tip Off, 2K Sports Classic and the Paradise Jam. Rankings as per the latest RTC Top 25. All times eastern.

Vanderbilt vs. West Virginia – 12:30 pm on ESPNU (***)

This is a really good under the radar game between two teams that were overlooked in the preseason discussion that went on in their respective conferences. Vanderbilt struggled a bit against a physical and plodding Nebraska team in a low scoring affair on Thursday. Today they’ll face another, even more physical (and talented) team in West Virginia. Vandy’s John Jenkins needs to get going in terms of shooting the three. Jenkins, one of the better shooters in the nation, has averaged 16 points in Vanderbilt’s first two games but he’s just 1-11 from three. Kevin Stallings needs a big game out of his star, as well as Jeffery Taylor and Brad Tinsley (triple-double against Presbyterian). The Commodores need to shoot it well and adjust to the pace and physicality of West Virginia in order to come out victorious. For Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers, they should take a page out of Nebraska’s playbook. If they can get Vanderbilt into a tough grind it out game, they stand a good chance of winning. WVU is obviously much more talented than Nebraska so the same type of game with better players should cause a lot of problems for Vandy. John Flowers has been a pleasant surprise so far while Kevin Jones has yet to really get his game going. Huggins is going to need production out of Deniz Kilicli, who fouled out in only six minutes of action against Davidson. These teams will likely be in the NCAA Tournament but a quality non-conference neutral court win will help whoever comes out on top today with seeding come March.

Texas vs. #5 Pittsburgh – 7:30 pm on ESPN2 (****)

Texas is loaded with talent and has played up to their potential so far this year. It seems when the pressure is off a bit, Texas and Rick Barnes excel. They won a terrific battle with Illinois on Thursday night with tough defense and big shots down the stretch. Though he only scored five points, Dogus Balbay was the story for Texas. The senior held Illinois star Demetri McCamey in check at the end of regulation and into overtime which forced the younger Illini players into very poor shot selection and eventually cost them the game. As a unit, the Longhorns limited Illinois to 38% shooting, held their own on the boards and blocked ten Illini shots. They’re going to need another superb defensive effort to knock off a physical Pittsburgh team that loves to grind games out. The Panthers killed Maryland on the boards, 43-25, to make up for a weaker than usual Pitt defense that allowed the Terps to shoot 48% from the floor. Texas will have a chance to win if Balbay can repeat his second half performance against McCamey and lock down Ashton Gibbs. Gibbs is the creator and leader for Jamie Dixon so shutting him down should significantly hamper the Pitt offense. The Panthers will counter that with excellent passing wings and big men like Gilbert Brown and Talib Zanna who are smart basketball players that always seem to be in the right place at the right time. Texas has been very efficient on defense so far this season, a nice improvement from last year’s dysfunctional group. If their defense continues to hold firm, this game could come right down to the wire. If that’s the case, players like Tristan Thompson are going to have to step up from the free throw line. Thompson had a great game everywhere else but his free throw shooting was abysmal. For Pitt, Gary McGhee and the aforementioned Brown must control Thompson and Jordan Hamilton in order to win comfortably. Pittsburgh is very good but Texas is a much better team than last year. We have a feeling this game could be another tight one at Madison Square Garden.

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Set Your Tivo: 11.12.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 12th, 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.

Although the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer was granted an exception, tonight is the NCAA-mandated start of the college basketball season. Here are five games to keep an eye on this evening. Rankings as per the latest RTC Top 25. All times eastern.

#18 Georgetown @ Old Dominion – 7 pm on Comcast-D.C. and WSKY Hampton Roads (VA) (****)

Georgetown & ODU Re-Convene a Solid Rivalry Tonight (WaPo/J. McDonnell)

 Perhaps the most anticipated game of the night features two teams starting a new era without their best players. Gone are Greg Monroe of Georgetown and Gerald Lee of Old Dominion, but each team returns its four other starters. Both teams are known for playing excellent defense and a slower tempo style, so tonight’s game figures to be in the 50s or low 60s as a consequence of that. Among the Georgetown returnees are Austin Freeman, the Big East preseason POY, and senior point guard Chris Wright. Freeman is a terrific all-around player and a major threat from the three-point line for the Hoyas. If you’re looking for a good indication of the final result during the game, look no further than the enigmatic Wright. In games where he scored ten points or less last year, Georgetown was just 3-7. When he had at least 11 points, the Hoyas were 20-3. In contrast to past Georgetown teams, this group of Hoyas will run their offense almost exclusively through their backcourt. Freeman, Wright and Jason Clark are arguably Georgetown’s best players and none of them happen to be taller than 6’3. That isn’t to say Georgetown has nobody up front. Julian Vaughn returns for his senior season after transferring from Florida State at the conclusion of his freshman year. Last year against Old Dominion, Vaughn had 13 points on 5-8 FG. Gerald Lee was saddled with foul trouble and thus a non-factor in the game (six points and only one rebound). With Lee now departed, Vaughn may have another good game in the paint for Georgetown. For the Monarchs of ODU, four starters return from a 27-win team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Their key players in this game will be Frank Hassell battling inside with Vaughn, point guard Kent Bazemore and Ben Finney who had 13/6/5 assts the last time these teams met. That last meeting was on campus at Georgetown, a game won by the Monarchs. In fact, the visiting team has won every game in this series since it started in the 2006-07 season. Bazemore is an interesting player. He’s a lefty point guard (there are actually two other lefties on the ODU roster) who shot the exact same percentage from the floor and the free throw line last year (48.6%). For Blaine Taylor’s team, free throw and three-point shooting could cause major problems in this game, especially against a defense as tight as Georgetown’s. Keyon Carter is Old Dominion’s best returning three-point shooter and he only shot 34.7% from behind the arc last season. This should be a hard fought, close game that may come down to the final possession. Georgetown was a difficult team to prepare for last year as they had the talent to beat both NCAA finalists Duke and Butler, but also lost games to the likes of Ohio, Rutgers and South Florida. Good guard play and a solid effort from Vaughn should allow Georgetown to grab a nice road win to start the season. For ODU, Hassell must contain Vaughn while Finney and Bazemore have to hold their own against Georgetown’s vaunted backcourt. If Taylor’s team can hold the Georgetown backcourt in check, look for the Monarchs to pull out a win. We hate to go cliché but that’s easier said than done.

Northern Iowa @ #11 Syracuse – 7 pm on ESPN3.com (***)

The last time Northern Iowa won a game, this happened. Times have changed as Ali Farokhmanesh, Adam Koch and Jordan Eglseder have graduated. This is Kwadzo Ahelegbe’s team now. The senior averaged 10.6 PPG last season and now anchors a relatively young team. Against Syracuse’s strong 2-3 zone tonight, Northern Iowa must work the ball into the paint and free throw line area effectively. To do that, sophomore Jake Koch must start to become the impact player coach Ben Jacobson hopes he’ll be. Playing largely behind Eglseder last year, the Ashwaubenon, WI, native only played 13.6 minutes a game last year. He’ll be counted on for much more this time around, along with Johnny Moran and Lucas O’Rear. For UNI to win tonight the guards must be on fire shooting over the zone and Koch has to avoid foul trouble. The Panthers have nobody else on the roster 6’8 or taller who saw any significant action last season. Look for Syracuse to take advantage of that and eat Northern Iowa alive in the paint. The player most likely to do just that is freshman stud Fab Melo. At 7’0 and 265 lbs, Melo is a force inside for which UNI has no answer. You could see a really big freshman debut for Mr. Melo this evening. Syracuse just has too much up front for Northern Iowa to contend with. Rick Jackson, Melo and everybody’s favorite breakout candidate Kris Joseph should dominate at home for the Orange. The backcourt tandem of Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine only adds to the ‘Cuse’s talent and depth (we haven’t even mentioned their bench). Both can play the point and shoot it well from the arc. All in all, Jim Boeheim’s club just has too much talent for Northern Iowa tonight. We’d be surprised if the final margin was less than ten points.

Oakland @ West Virginia – 9 pm on ESPN3.com (***)

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Big Ten Tournament Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 10th, 2010

The big thing from the past week. Big Ten season ends in three way tie. Exciting as the seesaw race was all year, it ended in melodramatic fashion as both Purdue and Michigan State hung on after Ohio State had already won out several days prior. The Boilers and Spartans took care of business, beating teams they were supposed to beat. Michigan State racked up back to back banners, but the big story is that this was the first title for Purdue since 1996. Now to see how many teams can go to the dance based on their performance in the Big Ten tournament.  Four Big Ten teams are in the top 25: #5 Ohio State, #6 Purdue, #11 Michigan State, and #13 Wisconsin.

Power Rankings (final)

  1. Ohio State 24-7, 14-4
  2. Purdue 26-4, 14-4
  3. Michigan State 24-7, 14-4
  4. Wisconsin 23-7, 13-5
  5. Illinois 18-13, 10-8
  6. Minnesota 18-12, 9-9
  7. Northwestern 19-12, 7-11
  8. Michigan 14-16, 7-11
  9. Iowa 10-21, 4-14
  10. Indiana 10-20, 4-14
  11. Penn State 11-19, 3-15

Big Ten Tournament – Indianapolis – March 11th-14th

First Round

  • #9 Iowa vs. #8 Michigan – March 11 – 2:30 ET – ESPN2 – This game could really go either way. The first game was a 14-point victory for Michigan at home, whereas the second game was a two-point victory in OT for Michigan on the road. For Michigan, Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims both had at least 20 in each game, so look for that to continue. For Iowa, Aaron Fuller played well in the first game, but went crazy for 30 in the second game. Matt Gatens was absent in the first game, but exploded for 21 in the second game. Michigan comes in having lost four of six games while Iowa has lost the past five of six games. Iowa should do well inside in this game, but I think Michigan has finally figured out that they can’t rely totally on threes, so I am going with Michigan in this one.
  • #10 Indiana vs. #7 Northwestern – March 11 – 4:55 ET – ESPN2 – This game will most likely go to Northwestern. It is just too difficult to win two games against the same team within a week’s time, especially for a team as inconsistent as Indiana has been all year. The big thing Indiana has going for itself in this game and for this tournament is that they are essentially the home town team, especially if they are able to fill Lucas Oil Stadium with Indiana fans. If not, I think Northwestern has too much John Shurna and too much Michael Thompson for IU to handle. I also think Northwestern will make the adjustments on Jordan Hulls to stop his flurry of threes.
  • #11 Penn State vs. #6 Minnesota – March 11 – 7:30 ET – I am going with Minnesota in this one. They have really come on strong to close out the season, winning four of their last six games, including a 35-point drubbing of Iowa. Both of the matchups between these teams during the regular year were close victories for Minnesota, so I expect this one to be close because it is on neutral ground, and I wouldn’t expect either of the team’s fans to come out in droves. Penn State will need Chris Babb to have a big game along with Talor Battle and David Jackson, while Minnesota needs a consistent performance from Westbrook, Sampson, Hoffarber, and Johnson. The X-factor for Minnesota is Devoe Joseph who struggled in both contests. If he can step up then Minnesota wins easily;  if not they will win in a close battle.

Quarterfinals (projected)

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Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by jstevrtc on February 4th, 2010

Jason Prziborowski is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.

Three things from the past week:

  • Michigan State suffers first defeat in the Big Ten – Michigan State has won a lot of close games lately, but this one wasn’t close at all. Wisconsin not only had a 15 point lead at half, but they closed it out with an 18 point victory. This was Michigan State’s lowest scoring night of the year with only 49 points. Durrell Summers might have turned the corner though, with 11 points, but he was the only Spartan in double figures. I admit that I didn’t expect quite this level of thumping, but give it to Wisconsin and their fans. Kalin Lucas also had to leave the game with a sprained ankle, so MSU will be holding its breath to see if he is back in action soon. For those who missed the game, RTC Covered It Live: RTC Live: Michigan State @ Wisconsin
  • Ohio State is turning it on – Wow, what a difference a week can make. Ohio State suffered a close loss to West Virginia, a game in which they had the lead at halftime. They clearly learned from that defeat, and poured it on, especially against Minnesota. What a contrast to the game earlier in the year when they didn’t have Evan Turner, and lost by 11 on the road. They turned that around to produce a 22 point thumping of the Gophers at home. Ohio State had a very complete game against Minnesota, a great sign for them that Evan Turner doesn’t need to carry the load. William Buford has been tearing it up, especially his career high 26/5/5 asst game against Minnesota. And the Penn State game was a foregone conclusion.
  • Is Illinois’s scheduling the result of most of its success? – Illinois is 7-3 and tied for second in the Big Ten, but who have and haven’t they beaten? Fortunate for Illinois, they have had a great schedule up until this point. They have beaten Northwestern, Indiana twice, Iowa twice, and Penn State twice. They have lost to Purdue, Northwestern, and Michigan State. Essentially, they have beaten the bottom teams in the conference, and lost to two of the top teams. That doesn’t bode well for Illinois, as they gear up to take on Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and then Purdue. I don’t think they are strong enough to get through that gauntlet.

Now four Big Ten teams are in the top 25: Michigan State #5, Purdue #8, Ohio State #13, and Wisconsin #16.

Power Rankings

  1. Michigan State                  19-4, 9-1
  2. Purdue                                 18-3, 6-3
  3. Wisconsin                            17-5, 7-3
  4. Ohio State                           17-6, 7-3
  5. Illinois                                   15-8, 7-3
  6. Minnesota                          13-8, 4-5
  7. Northwestern                   15-7, 4-6
  8. Michigan                              11-11, 4-6
  9. Indiana                                 9-11, 3-5
  10. Iowa                                      8-15, 2-8
  11. Penn State                          8-14, 0-10

Coming Up

  • Michigan State @ Illinois – February 6th – 9:00 ET – ESPN – Illinois took care of Iowa, and even with the Spartans’ loss to Wisconsin, this is a big chance for Illinois to give the tournament committee a high quality conference win on which they can hang their hats, and it is a way for the Spartans to further distance themselves from the rest of the Big Ten. Illinois needs to play almost perfect to win this game, and both Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale need to step up big time. Last game was a 10 point defeat for Illinois. Let’s see what happens.
  • Wisconsin @ Michigan – February 6th – 4:00 ET – CBS – Michigan doesn’t have a whole lot to lose at this point, so that makes them dangerous. The other thing going for them in this game is that they are playing at home. Up at the Kohl Center I would think it would be all Wisconsin, but in Ann Arbor it could be a different story as far as Michigan playing spoiler. Last game was a six point defeat for Michigan. For the Wolverines to win this game it will have to be more than the Harris and Sims show.
  • Purdue @ Michigan State – February 9th – 9:00 ET ESPN – This is the biggest game in the Big Ten this year, hands down. Both of these teams are going to the tournament, now it’s all about seeding. Purdue played extremely well early on this year, and then slipped at the beginning of the Big Ten, whereas Michigan State struggled a little bit early, but has been pouring it on in conference. This is eight versus five at home. This is what it’s all about. I am very interested to see how Purdue does on the boards, if they’re able to handle MSU’s speed and power, and if they can somehow neutralize its bench.
  • Illinois @ Wisconsin – February 9th – 7:00 ET – Illinois is a bubble team at best right now; the nice Big Ten record helps, but they need to build a stronger case for themselves. Clearly a win against Michigan State would make that statement, and this game would, too. Not sure just a win against Wisconsin would make a strong enough case, especially knowing that many of their wins in the Big Ten have been against lower ranked teams.

Breaking It Down

  • The Spartans are back in the top five, but not for long. I have already mentioned the loss against Wisconsin, so what everyone should be watching for now is how they respond. They are at Illinois and then have Purdue at home, so they won’t get much of a break to reflect on the Wisconsin loss. This loss and subsequent games will show what kind of team this is, especially if it turns out that Kalin Lucas can’t play next game.
  • Purdue is streaking again. Much had been made about Purdue losing three in a row, mostly because they hadn’t lost any for the first eighteen games of the year. Well, guess what? They’ve just reeled off four in a row. They are also #8 in the land, so it’s not like they are going away anytime soon. I am not completely sure that Purdue is playing its best basketball right now, but they are winning in spite of that. They gear up to take on the cross-state rival in Indiana, a matchup that right now is more symbolic in nature. They have almost another week to go before taking on Michigan State on the road, the marquee matchup in the Big Ten this year. I am hoping for a close game in Flint, but we’ll see.
  • Wisconsin beats up on Michigan State. It’s no secret that Wisconsin is comfortable at the Kohl Center in Madison, but nobody knew exactly how comfortable until Michigan State arrived. I guess Bo Ryan didn’t want to lose his undefeated record at home to Tom Izzo. Four players scored in double figures, but who really shined for me was Jordan Taylor. He had a 17/4/2 asst game against the Spartans, but what impressed me was how he stepped up when Trevon Hughes had to sit because of foul trouble. Next up they are at Michigan, a team that just suffered a pretty convincing defeat against Northwestern.
  • Ohio State jumps into the rankings. The Buckeyes jumped seven spots in the past week. True, it was mostly because of their recent results, but it is also as a result of other teams slipping. I have already talked enough about Ohio State above, so I will keep it brief. They have reached the easier part of their schedule, taking on the likes of Penn State, Iowa, and then Indiana. They have to make sure not to play down to the competition.
  • Where is Minnesota heading, and how did they get there? Minnesota got torched by Ohio State. It is fairly easy to see why. Lawrence Westbrook disappeared, as did Devoe Joseph, combining for only 12 points against the Buckeyes. They have provided a lot of scoring power of late, but Ohio State clearly flustered them. It is probably due to OSU’s big guards, but there’s something else. They need Westbrook to lead; when he does, they win, but lately he has been inconsistent. They knocked off Northwestern, but that was an exception. Losing point guard Al Nolen to academic ineligibility has definitely hurt the Gophers as well, as he led the team in assists and steals. To read the press release of Nolen’s academic appeal being denied, check out here: Nolen’s reinstatement appeal denied by the NCAA
  • Can Illinois make the tournament? Maybe. I already wrote about who Illinois has and hasn’t beaten, so this section will detail the Indiana game, and what Illinois will need to do to beat better teams. Illinois let Indiana back into the game, something they can’t do against better teams. Indiana actually had plenty of opportunities to win the game, but threw away the ball in crucial spots. What is most worrisome for Illinois has to do with the two Mikes. Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale disappear in big games. Davis has been benched to send a message, and Tisdale scores against undersized teams like Indiana. They can’t rely on Demetri McCamey to carry them again. He had a 19/8 asst game and the game winner against Indiana. Who else is going to step up for Illinois? The status quo won’t get them to the tournament.
  • Northwestern can’t beat the big dogs in the Big Ten. Congrats to Northwestern for taking down Michigan. Michigan is a streaky and dangerous team, despite their overall struggles. Northwestern turned the dynamic duo of Sims and Harris into a very limited solo showing by Manny Harris and a non-existent one by DeShawn Sims. That was really a must-win for the Wildcats. It looks like the Wildcats do very well when they have a balanced scoring attack. John Shurna lit it up for 31 in their loss to Michigan State, but then had only 17 in their win against Michigan. They have Indiana at home and Iowa on the road, two games they must win to make the tournament. If you missed the Northwestern  game, RTC Live was there: RTC Live: Michigan @ Northwestern
  • Michigan’s two man scoring squad can take care of the bottom of the Big Ten. Michigan has done well beating some of the lower ranked teams in the Big Ten and, every once in a while, surprising some of the top teams without key players.  For the most part, they can’t beat the top teams in the Big Ten. They lost in successive games to Wisconsin, Purdue, and Michigan State. Sure, they knocked off Iowa, but then struggled against Northwestern. I guess it is as much as you can ask for from two guys.
  • Indiana still not doing the little things. Indiana lost a heartbreaker to Illinois after a solid thumping at home against Iowa. The good thing for Indiana against Illinois was they got back their characteristic energy they have been playing with all year. They also clawed away at the end on defense and forced some big turnovers on Illinois. Looking at the stats, they are similar in almost all areas except for field goal percentage. They even outshot Illinois from the charity stripe. That hasn’t happened often this season. Where Indiana broke down, though, was at the end of the game.  They had a chance to win, and turned it over.  Verdell Jones has been a solid leader since Maurice Creek went down, but sometimes Jones takes too long to turn it on. He has scored a lot of his points during the comebacks of games, but they need him the rest of the time as well.
  • Iowa’s streak finally ends. I was almost joking that Iowa looked like they would be picking off Big Ten opponents in sequential order from bottom to top, but that didn’t play out for the Hawkeyes. The Wolverines were just too much for Iowa in their last matchup. When you only score 17 in the first half, that’s just too much of a hole to overcome. Aaron Fuller continues to be solid, but the rest of the team didn’t help out.  Especially the bench and their nine point contribution. The key to Iowa’s victories was its rebounding, as they were hitting the boards hard. Against Michigan, a team with a four guard lineup, they were outrebounded by six on the offensive end, and by 11 overall. That’s just too much Windex for a team near the bottom of the Big Ten to overcome, especially on the road.
  • Penn State is still winless. Well, Michigan State had the Big Ten streak snapped, but Penn State hasn’t been able to say the same for their version. Penn State is viewed as the assumed win for everyone in the Big Ten. The only thing they have going for them now is that other teams might not to take them seriously. I think that is the only reason that they were able to take the Wisconsin game to overtime, especially on the road. There is no way the same team that torched Michigan State showed up for that game. Out of their upcoming games, I think the only team that they might be able to catch sleeping is Minnesota. They had a five point loss earlier against the Gophers on the road, so maybe a home game will provide just enough energy to get them over the hump and break their streak.
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