Set Your DVR: Week of 01.14.13

Posted by bmulvihill on January 14th, 2013

setDVR

Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Conference season has leveled the playing field as the remaining unbeaten teams have all lost. The Big Ten schedule is proving to be an absolute gauntlet and the Mountain West is nothing to sneeze at. Both leagues have stellar games this week along side a few other notable match-ups from around the nation. Let’s get to the breakdowns:

#1 Louisville at Connecticut – 7:00 PM EST, Monday on ESPN (****)

kevin ollie napier

  • The Louisville Cardinals are moved into the top spot in the nation after losses this weekend by Duke and Michigan and a loss by Arizona earlier last week. Their first game as #1 will be no easy contest as they head to Connecticut in a tough Big East road match-up. The Huskies are coming off a significant win at Notre Dame, which rarely loses at home, but it looks like UConn has their number, as they account for ND’s only two losses at home in the last two and a half years. UConn guards Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier will be the focus of this game, as they face intense pressure from the Louisville defense. Up to this point in the season, both players have protected the ball quite well, particularly Napier who is only giving it up on 11% of his possessions. They must be able to handle the press however in order to give the team a chance to win this game. Also, keep an eye on UConn’s Tyler Olander. He went 8-9 from the field against Notre Dame going for 16 points and 7 rebounds. He will be surrounded by very athletic big men on Louisville. UConn needs him to produce against Gorgui Dieng and company to take some pressure off the guards. The difference in this game may actually be Louisville on the offensive boards. The Huskies rank 298th in defensive rebounding percentage. With the Cardinals throwing Dieng, Chane Behanan, and Wayne Blackshear at the glass on the offensive end, it’s going to be tough for UConn to prevent second chance points. However, if they can limit turnovers, they have a shot to win at home.

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Minnesota Proves it has Staying Power; Illinois Continues Consistency Struggles

Posted by KTrahan on January 10th, 2013

Any remaining doubts about Minnesota’s ability to be a contender in the Big Ten were put to rest Wednesday night as the Gophers took down Illinois 84-67 in Champaign. On paper, it should have been a close game — #8 at #12 — but in reality, Wednesday’s game proved that Minnesota has staying power while Illinois could struggle to keep up its early-season pace.

The Gophers Have Proven To Be Much More Than Just Trevor Mbakwe

Statistically, Minnesota looks very likely to continue its early-season success. The Gophers are incredibly balanced with top players Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe in the frontcourt and the emergence of Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins, and Joe Coleman in the backcourt. That has led to an offensive efficiency rating that ranks 1oth in the nation and a defensive efficiency rating that ranks #14 nationally according to KenPom.com. Minnesota ranks only #51 in effective field goal percentage, but the Gophers are the best in the nation at offensive rebounding, getting a second shot off a ridiculous 48.5 percent of the time. Add in a defensive block percentage that ranks sixth and a steal percentage that ranks eighth nationally, and Minnesota is getting many more possessions than its opponents. So even on an “off” shooting night, the Gophers will always be in the game because they get so many more chances to shoot than their opponents.

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Can Minnesota Win a Big Ten Title With No Discernible Three-Point Attack?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on January 8th, 2013

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

After two months of basketball, there are six B1G teams ranked in the Top 25 and they can be viewed as the main contenders for the conference title at this juncture – Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio State and Michigan State. The Gophers were one of the sleeper picks to compete for the conference title during the preseason but they are now one of the favorites. They have great depth at the guard position (Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins, and Joe Coleman), an athletic wing (Rodney Williams) and a solid post presence (Trevor Mbakwe). But their offense does not rely on the three-point shot at all and they don’t really have a consistent three-point shooter. Can Tubby Smith’s Gophers win the Big Ten title without a discernible three-point attack?

Andre Hollins is the only Gopher that shoots over 40% from beyond the arc. (USA Today)

Andre Hollins is the only Gopher that shoots over 40% from beyond the arc. (USA Today)

Let’s examine how the Gophers’ long-range shooting compares to the rest of the contenders:

Team

3FG

eFG

Michigan

42%

59%

Indiana

41%

58%

Minnesota

33%

52%

Illinois

37%

52%

Ohio State

37%

52%

Michigan State

34%

52%

The Wolverines and the Hoosiers have clearly shoot the ball well because they have several guards who can fill it up from beyond the arc. John Beilein has Trey Burke (41% 3FG) and Nik Stauskas (54% 3FG) available, arguably the best shooter in the country at the halfway point of the season. Tom Crean’s crew can shoot lights-out because Jordan Hulls (51% 3FG) has a quick and accurate release on his jumper. But Dre Hollins is the only Gopher who is shooting over 40% this season. Austin Hollins shoots 37% from beyond the arc but he rarely looks to take the perimeter jumper. Maverick Ahanmisi has shot 38% this year but he only plays 11.6 MPG. Smith’s offense is very effective in its own right but the Gophers rely on moving the ball around in the half-court sets to find the open cutter (usually Coleman or Williams). There are very few plays that are drawn specifically for the guards to hoist a shot from beyond the arc, and as a matter of fact, only 20% of the Gophers’ total points come via the three-point shot.

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Big Ten M5: 12.17.12 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on December 17th, 2012

morning5_bigten

  1. Michigan redshirt sophomore Jon Horford injured himself again during the Wolverines’ game with West Virginia game on Saturday. Horford, who had already missed 25 games last season because he broke his foot, dislocated his knee cap against the Mountaineers and had to be helped off the court into the locker room. The Michigan coaching staff hopes that Horford can return to action within three weeks, but because of his history with injuries, John Beilein may take his time to put his big man back into the rotation. Horford has averaged 2.1 RPG in 8.7 MPG so far this season, but he is experienced and his injury puts more pressure on freshman forwards Mitch McGary and Max Bielfeldt to continue to produce.
  2. More injury news, as Bill Carmody and the Northwestern coaching staff believe that Drew Crawford will be granted a fifth year of eligibility by the NCAA after being sidelined this season. Crawford described his back and neck injury as “searing pain” and will not have an opportunity to push the Wildcats towards their first NCAA Tournament bid this year. The Wildcats are 7-3 and will need seniors Reggie Hearn (14.1 PPG) and Jared Swopshire (9.1 PPG) to step up in Crawford’s absence. Without Crawford on the floor, Carmody needs a go-to guy who will take the clutch shots and provide leadership, and besides his seniors, sophomore Dave Sobolewski (11.4 PPG) also has the potential to step into that role.
  3. Indiana head coach Tom Crean was not in a good mood after the Butler Bulldogs upset his team on Saturday, 88-86. The Bulldogs’ Alex Barlow drove the ball into the lane during the final 10 seconds for the go-ahead basket but the Hoosiers did not have their big man, Cody Zeller, in the paint to alter the shot. Crean had substituted Remy Abell for Zeller and said that they were in a defensive set where everybody “switches up” and made it clear that he does not regret his decision to keep Zeller on the bench. Zeller scored 18 points in 37 minutes against the Bulldogs and shot 10-of-14 from the charity line. But without Butler’s Andrew Smith in the game (he fouled out), Zeller would have had to defend quicker players on the switches during the final seconds, making it a tough call for Crean. When a #1 ranked team loses to a smaller school from the same state, it is likely that the coach’s decisions will be questioned afterward by the assembled pundits and writers.
  4. After 12 games this season, it is increasingly obvious that Tubby Smith’s guards – Austin Hollins (11.2 PPG), Andre Hollins (13.5 PPG) and Joe Coleman (10.0 PPG) - can score with the best of them. But Austin Hollins has grown into a very tough defensive player for the Gophers as well and cherishes his role as a defensive stopper while his fellow guards carry the offensive load against tougher competition. Hollins has the length that allows him to guard opposing point guards and also taller wings in the half court as Smith’s Gophers continue to impress with an 11-1 record heading into conference play.
  5. Speaking of guards who understand their role and are intense on the defensive end, Michigan State’s Brandan Kearney has quickly become one of Tom Izzo’s favorite players this season. The sophomore guard has averaged 18.2 MPG and even though he only scores a couple of points per contest, he plays within the offense and has the “team-first” attitude which Izzo appreciates. With the recent injuries to guards Gary Harris and Travis Trice, Kearney has stepped into every spot as needed and done all of the little things such as grabbing a key offensive rebound or taking the wide-open shot off the double team. Kearney may not carry the scoring load for MSU this season, but he will continue to grow in Izzo’s system as long as he improves his game and stays committed to defense.
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Gophers Show Their Depth And Maturity Against Florida State

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 28th, 2012

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

Non-conference games on neutral courts are tough but they don’t present the same challenges as true road games. Tubby Smith’s Gophers had a great run during the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament last weekend but hot players can ride a streak when playing three games in three nights. Even though winning two games in three nights is very impressive, the Gophers had yet to play on the road until last night’s game against Florida State, so there were still a few questions about their composure away from Minneapolis. The Seminoles are a defensive-oriented team that would fit perfectly well in the B1G because of their grind-it-out style of play. Factoring in their fatigue (fourth game in six nights) and a road contest against an opponent that had not played a game in six days could have meant that the Gophers would have trouble, but Minnesota showed no signs of slowing down. Not only did they convincingly win in Tallahassee, 77-68, but they proved that their depth and maturity will be their greatest assets this year.

Andre Hollins leads a quartet of guards that provide great depth for the Gophers. (USA Today)

  • Depth at the Guard Position: Both of the Hollins, Austin and Andre, have a common last name but provide great diversity to Smith’s offense in the half-court. Andre Hollins showed that he can score from anywhere on the floor as he went off for 41 points against Memphis last week but he also showed that he can facilitate last night by dishing out five assists against FSU. He was the primary ballhandler and had some nice passes in transition to the other wings. Austin Hollins, on the other hand, has a great wingspan and consistently cuts to the basket. Even though he was only 1-4 from beyond the arc last night, he muscled his way into the paint for eight free throw attempts. The third guard in the starting rotation, Joe Coleman, has a great mid-range jumper. He is strong enough (6’4″, 200 lbs.) to set hard screens out top and roll off to drain 15-footers from the mid-range. If this trio of guards isn’t enough, Julian Welch can fill in perfectly for any of them if they get into foul trouble. Because Welch can score off the bench, Coleman or Austin Hollins can afford to take chances on the defensive end and be a bit more physical against the best wing on the opposing team. The starters played FSU sharpshooter Michael Snaer very closely Tuesday night and held him to just 33% shooting from the field. Minnesota might have one of the best guard combinations in the Big Ten. Read the rest of this entry »
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Minnesota Proved Its Worth at Atlantis, But Must Make Improvements to Reach Elite Status

Posted by KTrahan on November 27th, 2012

Minnesota has yet to prove that it can be an elite team, but after a strong three-game stretch in the Battle 4 Atlantis over the weekend, the Gophers proved they can be an awfully good one that can contend for the Big Ten title. After losing to Duke in the opening game, Minnesota came back to defeat Memphis and Stanford to close out the tournament. Of course, preseason tournament wins aren’t all that meaningful, but if anything, the Battle of Atlantis showed us one very good thing for the Gophers: They can score from anywhere.

Tubby May Have His Best Team at Minnesota (AP)

This isn’t a guard-dominated team or a forward-dominated team; players at both positions stepped up in each of the games. The guards — particularly point guard Andre Hollins — are good. Hollins scored a career-high 41 points against Memphis and was a pivotal player in the Stanford game. He had been considered a possible breakout player in the preseason, and so far, he has shown that he is certainly worth the hype. The Gophers’ two other stars — forwards Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe — have also been impressive, as has the frontcourt that out-rebounded every opponent at Atlantis. Minnesota’s ability to be successful at all five positions makes the Gophers very difficult to defend, given how many scoring options are on the floor.

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Big Ten Team Previews: Minnesota Golden Gophers

Posted by KTrahan on October 24th, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the Big Ten microsite will be rolling out these featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the Minnesota Golden Gophers. 

Where We Left Off: Minnesota’s 2011-12 season can best be described as streaky. The Gophers started the year 12-1, but lost their first four conference games before a three-game winning streak that included a good win at Indiana. Minnesota then traded wins and losses before ending the regular season on a 1-6 slide. However, the Gophers got hot in the Big Ten Tournament, knocking off Northwestern and nearly doing the same to Michigan. They then made a great run in the NIT, including a win against Washington before losing in the championship game to Stanford. It certainly was an up-and-down year, but it ended with plenty of promise.

Tubby’s Minnesota Teams Can Never Seem to Get Healthy and Eligible at the Same Time (AP)

Positives: This could be one of the most talented teams that Tubby Smith has had in Minnesota, and some — including yours truly — see the Gophers as a sleeper in the Big Ten title race. Sixth-year senior Trevor Mbakwe will be the face of the team, and the Gophers got a huge break when he avoided jail time after a parole violation for a summer DUI. This is a versatile team, which will allow the Gophers to play several big or small lineups. Talented young players such as Andre Hollins, Joe Coleman and Elliott Eliason will be complemented by more experienced players, such as Julian Welch, Rodney Williams, and Mbakwe.

Negatives: Can this team be consistent? Of course, a lot of last year’s on-court issues can be blamed on Mbakwe’s injury before conference play. The Gophers were forced to throw a number of talented freshmen into action, and while there were bright spots early — particularly the win against Indiana — it took awhile for things to come together. Can Minnesota take advantage of the experience gained by its younger players last year, or will inconsistency continue to be the story of a team that can’t get over the hump?

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Set Your TiVo: 02.22.12

Posted by EJacoby on February 22nd, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

There are a lot of good teams in action on Wednesday, but most of them are strong favorites in their games. The two best matchups of the night are taking place in the Big East and Big Ten.

Here’s the breakdown and what else to watch for:

West Virginia at #17 Notre Dame – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN2 (****)

Mike Brey's Team Has Won Eight in a Row and Looks Really Strong (AP Photo/J. Raymond)

  • It seems like every game that West Virginia plays is a toss-up, and this one is no different. The Mountaineers have lost five of their last seven but are coming off a big win at Pittsburgh where they were slight underdogs. They are once again slight underdogs in South Bend to take on the red-hot Fighting Irish. WVU usually plays strong perimeter defense, which will force the Irish guards into running more difficult offense, but will the Mountaineers’ own guards provide enough scoring punch? Truck Bryant has been a good secondary scorer at 16.6 PPG in Big East play, but no other guard averages more than eight points per night. They need someone else to step up to complement Bryant and Kevin Jones. Jones remains a stud this season and you can all but lock up 20 points and 10 rebounds from him. The Mountaineers will try to out-tough the Irish by controlling the boards with their 54.1% rebounding percentage in Big East games, tops in the conference.
  • Notre Dame hasn’t lost in over a month, winning eight straight games and all in impressive fashion. They didn’t look great in their Saturday night game at Villanova, but the Irish still came back from a 20-point deficit and closed out a road game in overtime. Five different Notre Dame players have led the team in scoring during its winning streak, and the offense has been tremendously well-rounded. They can pound the ball inside to Jack Cooley (12.2 PPG, 9.3 RPG), find surging Pat Connaughton from the outside (12.6 PPG in his last five games), or use strong guard duo Eric Atkins (13.0 PPG) and Jerian Grant (12.9 PPG) to make plays. The question will be whether Mike Brey‘s team can execute against WVU’s tough defense or grab any offensive boards against the strong defensive rebounding team.
  • West Virginia is the best rebounding team in the Big East while Notre Dame’s 49.4% rebound percentage is just 13th in the conference. The Mountaineers could control this game if they dominate the boards, but otherwise the Irish should find a much easier time scoring with their diverse offensive sets. Notre Dame is just a three-point favorite in what is expected to be a tight matchup.

#5 Michigan State at Minnesota – 8:30 PM ET on Big Ten Network (***)

  • Michigan State has won five straight, seven of its last eight, and looks like a strong candidate for an NCAA #1 seed. Draymond Green is fully healthy and continues to state his case for Big Ten Player of the Year, but it’s the secondary players that have come along. Freshman Branden Dawson continues to improve and has massive upside as a swing forward, while bigs Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix continue to play better and better as the season progresses. The Spartans remain one of the strongest defensive teams in the country and seem incredibly difficult to score on during stretches. There’s no reason to expect anything different against a struggling Golden Gophers offense. Tom Izzo‘s team is peaking yet again in the late stage of the season.
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Checking In On… the Big Ten Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 17th, 2012

Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference. Follow him on Twitter @Bill_Hupp for his thoughts on hoops, food, Russian nesting dolls and life.

Reader’s Take 

 

The Week That Was:

  • Gophers Golden Again: Not only did Minnesota win its first two conference games of the season this week, it’s the first time since 2009 that the Golden Gophers have won back-to-back conference road games.  UM was led by freshman and Minneapolis native Joe Coleman, whom Tubby Smith inserted into the starting lineup three games ago.  This week, Coleman hit four free throws in the final minute to help Minnesota hang on for a 77-74 upset at No. 7 Indiana, then exploded for a career-high 23 points in a win over Penn State. Nobody thought the Gophers were as bad as their original 0-4 Big Ten mark indicated, but learning how to win close games can build a young team’s confidence quickly.
  • Brandon Paul Pops Off in Champaign: Illinois junior guard Brandon Paul came into the Ohio State game averaging 12.1 points per game, but he earned Big Ten Player of the Week honors after he dropped a career-high 43 points out of nowhere on the Buckeyes. Paul’s 28 points in the second half included some very tough, contested shots near the end of a close game (full video highlights below). His 43 points were the third-most in a game in school history and the most since Andy Kaufmann went for 46 against Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1990.

Brandon Paul's Game To Remember Against Ohio State Stole The Headlines From The Big Ten Race (Heather Coit/AP)

  • Back in Black: Wearing black jerseys at home in a must-win game against No. 7 Michigan State, the Wildcats got an inspired effort from backup center Davide Curletti, who made his first start of the season and finished with season-high 17 points and six rebounds. He gave great energy for Bill Carmody while starting in place of the ineffective Luka Mirkovic. Teams had been averaging just 59.6 points against the Spartans through the first 17 games, but MSU allowed Northwestern to shoot 54 percent in the second half to pull away for an 81-74 win.  We’ve said before that the Wildcats would pull off an upset or two in conference play if they shot the ball well, and that’s exactly what happened in Evanston.

Power Rankings

  1. Ohio State (16-3, 4-2) – It’s doesn’t seem fair for opposing teams when Lenzelle Smith Jr., a.k.a. “Ohio State’s forgotten starter” can hit 10-of-12 from the field, score 28 points and grab seven rebounds on a whim.  It’s really a “pick your poison” scenario when you are playing a team with so many potential offensive threats.
  2. Michigan State (15-3, 4-1) – Draymond Green may be a bruising power forward at 6’7’’ and 230 pounds, but he has shown a nice touch from the outside this season.  Besides being a force down low, Green leads the Spartans with 24 triples on the season. It’s an offensive skill that has “Day-Day” (as Tom Izzo calls him) a virtual lock for first-team All-Big Ten honors.
  3. Indiana (15-3, 3-3) – Some uncharacteristically poor three-point shooting this week spelled doom for the Hoosiers, who dropped games to Minnesota and Ohio State. A team that averages nearly 50% from beyond the arc was a combined 11 for 39 (28%). They feel behind early in both games and couldn’t shoot their way back into either contest.  One positive this week was that Cody Zeller averaged 19.5 points in the losses.
  4. Illinois (14-3, 4-1) – With his imposing size and impressive array of skills, the Illini should have the premier go-to scorer in the conference in center Meyers Leonard. Yet too often, it seems like he is catching the ball facing the basket, instead of posting up on the block where he could turn and score over his left shoulder or kick it out to three-pointer shooters like Brandon Paul or D.J. Richardson. Leonard needs to park himself down low where he can maximize his offensive efficiency.
  5. Michigan (14-4, 4-2) – Michigan barely survived Northwestern at home in OT, then got blasted by 16 at Iowa. In both games, it seemed like the Wolverines stopped attacking the basket and were content to settle for threes, jacking up 30 against NU and 31 against Iowa. Their motion offense, cutting and dribble penetration gets them easy buckets at the rim, so they struggle to score when they get too willing to fire from long range.
  6. Wisconsin (14-5, 3-3) – It wasn’t especially pretty against Purdue or Nebraska, but the Badgers earned a pair of hard-fought five-point wins to even their conference mark at 3-3.  Needing a win to snap a three-game losing streak, Wisconsin blitzed Purdue early hitting five of their first six threes to build a 22-4 lead. They came back to earth after that, however, shooting 2 of 18 from distance against the Cornhuskers.
  7. Purdue (13-5, 3-2) – Purdue faced a desperate Wisconsin team and dug themselves a 22-4 first half hole at Mackey Arena a before battling back and eventually falling. It’s not a good sign for the Boilers when Lewis Jackson finishes with two points and the team only hits 33% of their three-point field goal attempts.
  8. Minnesota (14-5, 2-4) – With star Trevor Mbawke sidelined, the Gophers needed other players to step up and help Rodney Williams shoulder the scoring load. Well, it looks like Joe Coleman, Austin Hollins and Julian Welch are starting to come of age. You knew Tubby Smith had plenty of athleticism and talent at The Barn, it was just a matter of fitting the right pieces together. Now he has five starters who are averaging between 8.3 and 12.5 points per game in conference play.
  9. Northwestern (12-5, 2-3) – Teams often struggle once conference play begins because their young point guard takes a few steps back. Not Northwestern, where starting guard Dave Sobolewski leads the Big Ten and is near the top of the nationally with a 4. 2 assist-to-turnover ratio, and really excels at backdoor feeds.
  10. Iowa (11-8, 3-3) – Talk about an enigma of a team. After getting destroyed by an average of 32.5 points in road losses to Ohio St. and Michigan St., the Hawks turned around and cruised past Michigan, 75-59 at home on Saturday. Iowa can light up the scoreboard when its shots are falling, which is why they’ve scored 75 points or more in nine of their 11 wins this season.
  11. Nebraska (9-8, 1-5) – Where were you when Nebraska won their first Big Ten game in school history? Since getting pasted by Ohio State, the Cornhuskers sandwiched their lone conference triumph over Penn State between narrow five-point road losses at Illinois and Wisconsin, holding all three opponents under 60 points. They don’t score much, but NU seems to be a natural fit for the conference in terms of their grinding, methodical style of play.
  12. Penn State  (9-10, 1-5) – One of the most difficult, but important things to teach a young team is how to defend on a nightly basis. The Nittany Lions have dropped three straight, and in each loss, allowed their opponent to shoot over 50%. That’s not going to cut it in any conference, let alone the deepest and toughest in the country.

Lenzelle Smith, Jr., Showed The Nation That The Buckeyes Go Beyond Sullinger, Craft And Buford (Getty)

Looking Ahead

  • Tuesday, 1/17: No. 9 Michigan State @ No. 19 Michigan – One of the most underrated rivalries in college hoops has added significance this season with each team being in the hunt for a Big Ten title.  State is looking to rebound after having their 15-game winning streak snapped at Northwestern, while the Wolverines are trying to remain unbeaten at home (11-0).  Look for whoever wins the intriguing PG battle between emerging Spartans sophomore Keith Appling and Michigan’s stud freshman Trey Burke to win the game.
  • Wednesday, 1/18: Northwestern @ Wisconsin– An important game between two teams with similar styles each desperate to continue the momentum built this past weekend. Both are pretty reliant on the three-point shot (NU first, Wisconsin fourth in three-pointers per game), so whoever has the hotter hand should emerge victorious.
  • Saturday, 1/21: Purdue @ No. 9 Michigan State – The Boilers could use a signature win (Butler and Illinois don’t count) to impress the Selection Committee.  As always, Ryne Smith and co. will have to knock down treys, but that’s a tall order against MSU, which is stingy on the perimeter (second in conference allowing 30.2% from three).

Caught on Film

It’s amazing how a player’s success on offensive end can carry over to his defensive performance. Brandon Paul poured in 43 points, the highest single-game point total in the Big Ten in 20 years.  But he also made his presence felt defensively, grabbing a couple steals and swatting four emphatic shots. As you can see from the below video, he was on fire from distance and a monster on the defensive end.

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Night Line: Indiana’s Weak Defense Can’t Make Up for Poor Shooting Performances

Posted by EJacoby on January 13th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist and contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.

With a huge game upcoming this weekend at Ohio State, it appears as if No. 6 Indiana overlooked its opponent on Thursday night. The Hoosiers were defeated at home, 77-74, by Minnesota, a team that was previously winless in the Big Ten (0-4) and in true road games (0-2). Indiana had its worst offensive performance of the season, and the Hoosiers do not have an efficient enough defense that can make up for a poor offensive outing. They allow nearly 77 points per game against conference opponents, which is far too much to be a serious contender. IU has been able to cover up its mediocre defense this season with tremendous shooting, but their defensive woes finally caught up to them and led to Thursday night’s upset.

Indiana Allowed Too Many Easy Buckets vs. Minnesota (AP Photo/D. Cummings)

Indiana (15-2, 3-2 Big Ten) has been the nation’s darling this year and has put together some incredible offensive performances, especially at home. Tom Crean’s team, ranked third in the nation with a 1.18 points per possession average, has already beaten a #1 and #2 team (Kentucky and Ohio State) on its home floor this season. That’s why it was so surprising that Indiana, in front of another raucous Bloomington crowd, went ice cold on Thursday night and fell to a seemingly inferior opponent. Christian Watford came in averaging 13.5 points per game but scored only six in the game. Jordan Hulls came in shooting 58% from three on the year and went 1-5 tonight. Verdell Jones III averages about nine points and four assists, but went scoreless tonight with just one dime. While every team is capable of a stinker or two during the season, it’s still alarming that the Hoosiers could not win at home against a team at the bottom of the conference. They gave up way too many open looks to their opponent and allowed Minnesota to run its offense comfortably on the road, which is not a formula for success in the tough Big Ten Conference.

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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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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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