Rushed Reactions: #7 Michigan State 62, #3 Oklahoma 58

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 28th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

The Spartans came up big down the stretch against Oklahoma. (Elsa / Getty Images North America)

The Spartans came up big down the stretch against Oklahoma. (Elsa / Getty Images North America)

  1. Michigan State did the little things down stretch – which isn’t always the case. Michigan State entered tonight’s contest ranked 339th nationally in free throw percentage (63%). Against Minnesota on February 26, the Spartans missed several key shots from the stripe, committed a number of silly fouls and blew a five-point lead with less than 20 seconds remaining. They nearly did the same thing at Indiana two weeks later. Late-game execution hasn’t exactly been their forte. But tonight was different. Branden Dawson and Matt Costello ripped down several huge offensive rebounds when Tom Izzo’s club needed them most. No one committed bone-headed fouls or careless turnovers. And despite going just 9-of-16 from the stripe as a team, Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine hit six free throws in a row in the game’s final two minutes to seal Michigan State’s four-point victory.
  2. Travis Trice carried the load (again); Denzel Valentine stepped up. After scoring 15 points against #10 Georgia and 23 points against #2 Virginia – including a late, dagger triple – senior guard Travis Trice once again carried the offensive load for Michigan State, pouring in 24 points on 50 percent shooting and knocking down several huge free throws down the stretch. Meanwhile, forward Denzel Valentine – who mustered just four points against the Cavaliers – finally woke up in the second half, scoring 13 of his 18 points in the final 20 minutes and keeping the Spartans on top late.
  3. Oklahoma went cold. Izzo said of Oklahoma, “They gave it to us in every way it could be gotten” early on. And he’s right. For the first eight-plus minutes of the game, the Sooners blasted Michigan State on both ends of the court, using a flurry of layups and dunks to jump out by a score of 18-8 before the Spartans even knew what hit them. Then, the offensive melee came to a halt. Dawson, Costello and the rest of Izzo’s frontcourt shored up the interior, and Oklahoma shot just 4-of-17 from behind the arc (including Buddy Hield’s 3-of-10 3FG). The Spartans weren’t exactly scorching the nets, either, but their offensive surge to start and end the second half proved enough to win.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen Friday

Posted by Bennet Hayes & Tommy Lemoine on March 27th, 2015

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The Sweet Sixteen continues with four more compelling games tonight in Houston and Syracuse. Here are this evening’s previews.

#2 Gonzaga vs. #11 UCLA – South Region Sweet Sixteen (at Houston, TX) – 7:15 PM ET on CBS

A new year brings new players like Kyle Wiltjer, who no doubt will play a huge role in Friday's matchup. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

A new year brings new players like Kyle Wiltjer, who no doubt will play a huge role in Friday’s matchup. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Nobody forgets the tears. Nine years and three days ago, UCLA induced a very public display of emotion from Adam Morrison. The circumstances that led to the devastation were far from ordinary – the Bruins erased a 17-point second half deficit and scored the final 11 points to down the Zags and advance to the Elite Eight – but it’s the singular image of Morrison, keeled over on the floor with blue Gonzaga jersey pulled over his face, that has persisted longest in the memory banks of March. Now, almost a decade later, the two teams renew March pleasantries for the first time since Morrison’s college career came to that tearful end. The differences between this matchup and the last are too numerous to list, but there is one key similarity: Gonzaga again has a team widely perceived to be capable of winning a national title.

Mark Few’s team has made just one Sweet Sixteen since 2006, and that team (in 2009) needed only to beat a #12 and a #13 to get there. Needless to say, Gonzaga Final Four prospects haven’t been this bright since Morrison was in uniform. This Bulldog team is nearly as explosive as the ’06 bunch (emphasis on nearly: that team was #1 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency), but points now originate from a wider variety of sources. Six Zags average at least eight points a game, and every Gonzaga regular owns an offensive rating in excess of 110. In the first two rounds, Gonzaga averaged 86.5 points per game and posted points per possession marks of 1.23 and 1.30 against North Dakota State and Iowa, respectively. Unlike in past years, the Zags we see this March look remarkably similar to the ones we watched all season. Good news for Mark Few; bad news for UCLA. Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Regional Reset: East Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 24th, 2015

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Your bracket is busted and the Sweet Sixteen is set. Let’s do a Regional Reset. Follow @rtceastregion for reporting from Cleveland this week. Check out all of the regional resets for the Sweet Sixteen here.

New Favorite: #3 Oklahoma. There was mayhem at the top, and now Oklahoma – the highest seeded team remaining – becomes the team to beat in Syracuse. The Sooners were in control from start to finish against #14 seed Albany on Friday, then flexed their defensive muscle in a comeback victory over #11 seed Dayton on Sunday, holding the close-to-home Flyers scoreless for a nine-minute stretch late in the game. Make no mistake – Lon Kruger’s group was never dominant – but it also didn’t rely on any one, dominant offensive performance in order to win. The contributions were across-the-board (Frank Booker even dropped 12 points off the bench on Sunday) and big men TaShawn Thomas and Ryan Spangler provided key physicality down low. Michigan State, Oklahoma’s upcoming foe, also made a good case for ‘favorite’ status after beating #10 seed Georgia and #2 seed Virginia, but it’s about time we give the Sooners their due.

Oklahoma is the new favorite in the East. (Jamie Sabau/Getty)

Oklahoma is the new favorite in the East. (Jamie Sabau/Getty)

Horse of Darkness: #8 North Carolina State. Dayton looked well on its way to becoming the Horse of Darkness (yet again) before Oklahoma laid down the defensive hammer in the second half in Columbus. So now we turn to North Carolina State, whose last-second, comeback victory over LSU on Thursday seemed to light a fire under a team that’s often struggled to play up to its potential. The Wolfpack didn’t merely ‘upset’ top-seeded Villanova on Saturday; it controlled the game. It played with confidence. Its modest frontcourt played as well as it has all year. It looked like the better team. Mark Gottfried’s group held the Wildcats – among the most explosive and efficient offenses in college hoops – to just 1.06 points per possession on 31.1 percent shooting (9-of-28 3FG), outmanning the Big East champs on the perimeter and outmuscling them in the paint. The effort was so rock-solid that it makes you wonder just how high this team’s ceiling is. With wins over Duke, North Carolina, Louisville and now Villanova under its belt, perhaps a trip to Indianapolis isn’t out of the question for Mark Gottfried’s Pack.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #8 North Carolina State. Look, we knew North Carolina State had talent – you don’t beat Duke and North Carolina without it – but I’m still not sure anyone saw this coming. The Wolfpack entered the Dance fresh off a 24-point beatdown against the Blue Devils in the ACC Tournament, just two weeks after losing by 16 points to Boston College. To call the team ‘mercurial’ would have been giving it too much credit; Gottfried’s bunch looked downright mediocre. And it looked something less than mediocre for the first 30 minutes against LSU, struggling to contain the Tigers’ loaded frontcourt and digging itself a big hole. Then Kyle Washington exploded with a flurry of points off the bench. And Abdul-Malik Abu went to work down low (13 points). And BeeJay Anya happened. Despite its heavily relied-upon guard trio of Cat Barber, Trevor Lacey and Ralston Turner combining on a 4-of-21 three-point shooting night, Noth Carolina State survived and advanced. Two nights later, it came out more confident than ever, jumped on #1 seed Villanova early and never conceded control, upending the Wildcats 71-68. And now the once-middling Wolfpack are just two wins away from reaching the Final Four. Where did that come from? Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #5 West Virginia 69, #4 Maryland 59

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 23rd, 2015

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

West Virginia's pressure was too much for Maryland tonight. (Joe Maiorana/USA TODAY Sports)

West Virginia’s pressure was too much for Maryland tonight. (Joe Maiorana/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. West Virginia’s pressure finally wore Maryland down. Maryland was going to turn the ball over – everyone does against West Virginia – but in the first half, it didn’t let those miscues (nine of them) deter it from scoring. The Terrapins shot 54.5 percent from the field and knocked down six threes, breaking the press with enough regularity to stay in the game. Over the final 20 minutes, however, the Mountaineers’ bruising style of play started to wear down Mark Turgeon’s club. Errant passes, five-second calls, rushed possessions – even injury [see below]. Maryland coughed it up 14 times in the second half and only made two shots from behind the arc, clearly suffering from mental and physical fatigue. “They kept throwing a lot of bodies at us,” Terrapins senior Dez Wells said afterwards.
  2. Melo Trimble took a beating, and his absence spelled the end for Maryland. Already struggling with injury after falling victim to a hard screen earlier in the game, Maryland’s star freshman was knocked out for good around the seven-minute mark of the second half; a teammate accidentally kneed him in the back of the head as he was falling down in transition. That probably finished off the Terrapins. Trimble is the team’s best offensive playmaker and most accurate three-point shooter, the one guy who could have realistically helped Maryland regain momentum at that point in the contest (still only down by seven). But the team doctors decided he didn’t pass enough concussion tests, and that just about sealed the deal – a brutal end to an otherwise excellent season.
  3. West Virginia probably won’t beat Kentucky, but it could give the Wildcats hell. West Virginia’s entire M.O. amounts to this: force turnovers, offensive rebound and out-shoot the opponent. Tonight, the Mountaineers accomplished all of that, forcing 23 turnovers, securing 14 offensive rebounds and attempting 16 more shots than Maryland. It’s an extremely aggressive, extremely simple formula that’s predicated on toughness, energy and the ability to send bodies in waves. But can it work against Kentucky? Maybe so, at least to some degree. One of the Wildcats’ most glaring ‘weaknesses’ (if they have any) is on the defensive glass, where the SEC champs rank 196th nationally in defensive rebounding rate. If Huggins’ group can force more turnovers than Arkansas (which also likes to press) was able to against Kentucky, its ability to crash the glass – in conjunction with that unmatched relentlessness – might be enough to keep it in the game.

Star Player: Devin Williams (16 points, 10 rebounds). For the second straight game, West Virginia’s goggle-wearing forward was a beast on both ends of the court. He hammered the offensive and defensive glass, played great defense around the rim, and led the team in scoring. Williams must keep that going on Thursday night if West Virginia has any designs on a trip to the Elite Eight.

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Rushed Reactions: #5 Wisconsin 80, Michigan State 69

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 15th, 2015

RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes was in Chicago this week for the Big Ten Tournament Championship.

Three Key Takeaways.

Josh Gasser May Have Saved Wisconsin's Big Ten Title (USA Today Images)

Josh Gasser May Have Saved Wisconsin’s Big Ten Title (USA Today Images)

  1. Hold On, Selection Show. The Spartans and Badgers needed extra time to decide the Big Ten championship game, temporarily preventing the NCAA Tournament committee from finalizing the bracket. Michigan State had briefly seized a double-figure lead with under eight minutes to play, but the separation didn’t last. Wisconsin quickly erased the Spartans’ edge with a 16-5 run, setting in motion a dramatic final three minutes of action. The first 25 minutes of the game had played out much like those final three and overtime did: back-and-forth fashion, as the teams took turns claiming and reclaiming the lead, much to the delight of a United Center divided in their patronage. After Wisconsin dominated overtime, the bracket could finally be completed, and one of the great college basketball games of this season had found its close.
  2. An Aggressive Branden Dawson. Tom Izzo spoke earlier in the week about encouraging Dawson to pick up his offensive aggressiveness. No such request needed to be made after tipoff this afternoon. True to reputation, Dawson terrorized the rim with vicious dunks on multiple occasions, also displaying a nice in-between game at times. He scored points out of both post-ups and dribble drives, finishing the afternoon with 16 points. Dawson also grabbed seven rebounds in one of his strongest performances of the season. His breakaway dunk with 7:44 to play gave Michigan State what would be its largest lead of the day, igniting the Spartans’ faithful in attendance.
  3. Unexpected Contributor. It’s been a challenging season for Duje Dukan, but the senior gave the Badgers a huge boost off the bench in the first half. He knocked down two threes as part of an eight-point effort in the first frame, ultimately finishing with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting. It capped off a very nice week in Chicago for Dukan. Contributions like today’s from the senior would be much appreciated in the NCAA Tournament, as Wisconsin’s thin bench remains a concern heading into the season’s final phase.

Star of the Game. Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin. The heroes were many for the Badgers. Frank Kaminsky was outstanding (19 points, five rebounds) and Nigel Hayes’ relentless aggression was a key part of the Badgers’ comeback, but Koenig may have made the two biggest plays of the game. The sophomore was fouled and made two free throws to tie the game with 15 seconds to play in regulation, then came up with the biggest bucket of the extra period, hitting a three to put Wisconsin up six with two minutes to play. That final bucket would prove back-breaking for the Spartans and it was delivered by a player who has grown increasingly comfortable in taking the big shot. Koenig finished with 18 points and nine assists.

Quotable.

  • “I thought we played one of the greatest games we’ve played for 32, 32 and a half minutes…And then we made a couple mistakes, and they made a couple of great shots.” –Tom Izzo
  • “He made us look around, look around the gym, and he wanted us to look at that and remember that feeling. Take that all in. That was we don’t want to feel that feeling again.” –Travis Trice, on why Izzo took a time-out with 3.7 seconds left in OT and the Spartans down 11
  • “To go out the way we did and fight back and really take the Big Ten title was awesome. Our fans were great, an awesome environment to play in and it was just a blast.” –Kaminsky, who was named Big Ten Tournament MOP
  • “That was a high level NCAA Tournament game right there, if you ask me, as far as the crowd, the intensity, the swings, the up-and-down. For us to get that one and get the No. 1 seed, these guys are extremely proud to represent the University in that way.” –Bo Ryan

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Maryland 75, Indiana 69

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 13th, 2015

RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes is covering the Big Ten Tournament this week in Chicago.

Three Key Takeaways.

Melo Trimble And Dez Wells Spearheaded Maryland's Quarterfinal Victory Friday Night (USAT Sports)

Melo Trimble And Dez Wells Spearheaded Maryland’s Quarterfinal Victory Friday Night (USAT Sports)

  1. Maryland In Control. This game was tight throughout, with the Terrapins’ lead never extending beyond seven points until the final seconds. But despite maintaining shouting distance, Indiana’s last lead came with 14 minutes to go in the first half. Maryland’s steady march to the free throw line (33 attempts) was one key factor in Indiana never getting over the hump. More generally, failing to stop its opponent from scoring tends to cause teams to relinquish control of a basketball game: This was the story of Indiana’s night and season. Maryland never felt like they were ready to lose control of this one.
  2. Hoosiers Shooting Struggles. Indiana entered tonight having made 40.7 percent of their three-point field goal attempts, the sixth-best mark in the country. The Hoosiers converted just 7-of-24 of their long-range efforts in defeat tonight – a slight downtick in both production and efficiency from January 22, when they buried 15-of-22 long range attempts in a rout of Maryland. Distilling Indiana’s offensive strategy into making threes is oversimplifying things, but it’s no secret that the Hoosiers heavily rely on making long-range shots. It was their downfall tonight.
  3. Attack Mode. This game began at a frantic pace (20 points in the first three-and-a-half minutes), and while the pace of scoring eventually slowed down (only a bit), both teams’ aggression levels never did. They explored transition opportunities, attacked the rim in both the half- and full-court, and were fearless in pulling the trigger from three-point range. No player attacked more aggressively than Maryland’ Dez Wells, who supplied multiple tomahawk jams in the first period. Both of these squads are accustomed to producing more efficient offense than they did this evening, but neither let that prevent them from continuing their relentless attacks.

Star of the Game. Melo Trimble, Maryland. A case could easily be made for Trimble’s running mate Wells (22 points, six rebounds), but the freshman coolly dictated action on both ends of the floor for the Terps. He scored 17 points (on just nine shots), chipped in three assists (against just one turnover), and held Indiana star Yogi Ferrell to 6-of-16 field goal shooting. Trimble’s matchup with the Hoosiers’ lead guard was a much-discussed element of these teams’ first two games and in the lead-up to tonight’s quarterfinal. Any postgame conversation on the topic would have to describe Trimble as the clearly better player on this night.

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Beauty in Eye of Beholder for Tom Crean & Indiana

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 13th, 2015

Minutes after Indiana defeated Northwestern to advance to the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament, Tom Crean was asked if he thought his team was now in the NCAA Tournament. “Well, I don’t know,” Crean said. “You know, I really don’t know. And no one knows. That’s the beauty of it all.”

It was an insight tinged with a bit of both insanity and brilliance. If you have watched Crean coach basketball for the last month, you do not believe he could possibly find any “beauty” in the uncertainty of his team’s current predicament. The cheeks have been too red; the forehead vein too prominent; and most importantly, the Indiana wins too infrequent. And yet, thinking as a college basketball fan, it made too much sense. The beauty is there. We are just two days from Selection Sunday, and in reality, so much has yet to be decided. It’s an uncertainty that catalyzes Championship Week drama every single year; in many ways, it defines the lead-in to the NCAA Tournament. And here was Crean, who in 2015 has been as negatively affected as anyone by the pre-Tournament unpredictability, telling us about the beauty of it all.

Tom Crean, Yogi Ferrell And The Rest Of The Hoosiers Will Take On Maryland Friday Night In A Game That Could Define Their Season

Tom Crean, Yogi Ferrell And The Hoosiers Will Take On Maryland Friday Night In A Game That Could Define Their Season (USATSI)

In the minds of many, Thursday’s victory over Northwestern put Indiana into the field of 68. That belief is founded partially in the strength of the Hoosiers’ profile, which undoubtedly improved by dispatching a Wildcats team that had entered the night winners of five of their last seven. But it’s also a result of bubble carnage elsewhere: Texas A&M, Illinois, Texas, Ole Miss, Miami, Old Dominion and Stanford all suffered crippling losses on Thursday. All in all, it was a day that could not have gone much better for the Hoosiers. That doesn’t mean that they are safely there yet, or that they couldn’t REALLY use a quarterfinal victory over Maryland tonight. But for a team that hadn’t won a game of any kind since February 22, Thursday was a good day.

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News & Notes: Day Two at the Big Ten Tourney

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 13th, 2015

An afternoon of upsets (Michigan and Penn State both toppled higher-seeded foes) gave way to a more predictable evening at day two of the Big Ten Tournament. Meanwhile, the two bubble teams in action may have each punched tournament tickets… to different, less-prestigious tournaments. Indiana may be good to dance after defeating Northwestern, but Illinois is surely NIT-bound after its decisive loss to Michigan. A few other news and notes on Thursday’s action from the United Center:

John Groce’s Seat Warming Up: Thursday’s loss to Michigan means Illinois is almost certainly headed to the NIT, where the Illini will seek to salvage some shred of meaning from a disappointing season. John Groce has recruited well since arriving in Champaign, but the former Ohio University head man has yet to finish a season with a winning Big Ten record. His only NCAA Tournament appearance at Illinois came in 2012-13, and that happened with a team largely constructed by his predecessor, Bruce Weber. Groce is going nowhere this offseason, but if the Illini find themselves in a similar spot next postseason, his job status will be far less certain. The good news for Illinois is that the return of Tracy Abrams and another talented incoming freshman class could, and maybe even should, lead to a happier result in Champaign a year from now. It will be interesting to see how much the Illini miss Rayvonte Rice next year. On the one hand, he was a legitimately efficient volume scorer – a player prototype that doesn’t exactly grow on trees. But Illinois’ 6-3 record without Rice this season raise the question of whether his ball-dominating nature might have often been counterproductive. We’ll find out in a critical 2015-16 campaign for Groce and the Illini.

John Groce, Rayvonte Rice And The Illini Saw Their Tournament Hopes All But Die Thursday Afternoon

John Groce, Rayvonte Rice And The Illini Saw Their Tournament Hopes All But Die Thursday Afternoon (Getty Images)

Nittany Lions Drop Hawkeyes: Iowa was a trendy sleeper pick heading into the action yesterday, but Penn State quickly and effectively ended the Hawkeyes’ Big Ten Tournament. The loss changes little for the Hawkeyes except for the fact that Fran McCaffery’s team is now squarely staring down the barrel of a dreaded #8/#9 game. Things could be worse, though – they seem to be safely in the field, and unlike last year, shouldn’t be headed to Dayton. On the other side, Penn State won its third straight Big Ten game — no small feat considering the Nittany Lions had won just three of 17 league games before embarking on their recent surge. More good news for Penn State fans: Purdue awaits the Lions in the next round. No disrespect to the Boilers and their impressive 12-6 Big Ten season, but they are clearly the easiest option among the four teams that received double-byes. Penn State pushed Purdue to overtime in State College in their only meeting of the season; can the tournament’s most unexpected quarterfinalist find a way to extend its stay in Chicago for at least another day?

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Big Ten Tournament Preview

Posted by Henry Bushnell & Bennet Hayes on March 11th, 2015

Henry Bushnell and Bennet Hayes will be in Chicago all week delivering coverage of the Big Ten tournament. In advance of the action tipping off Wednesday night, they sat down to tackle a few questions on the week that lies ahead.

Wisconsin is the clear favorite, but could an upset be in the works for the Badgers?

Wisconsin is the clear favorite, but could an upset be in the works for the Badgers?

Wisconsin enters the Big Ten Tournament as a heavy favorite. Which team besides the Badgers has the best shot at winning it all this week

  • Bennet: Michigan State‘s regular season was no exemplar of consistency, but with Branden Dawson expected to return to the lineup for Friday’s quarterfinal game, they’ve officially made it to March in one piece. Betting against Tom Izzo this month is always a dicey operation — particularly with the experienced Valentine/Trice/Dawson core once again intact. Furthermore, snagging the #3 seed and delaying a potential rematch with Wisconsin until the championship game is another nice coup. The double-bye should also minimize the impact of depth issues that have at times proved troublesome. Michigan State never got the Badgers on its home floor this season; here’s guessing Sparty wouldn’t mind a crack at them in neutral territory. Izzo’s bunch has the chops to win three games in Chicago this week.
  • Henry: I like the Sparty pick, but I’ll take Ohio State. I know a lot of people will be scared off by the beatdown Wisconsin put on the Buckeyes in Columbus in the regular season finale, but that result was a lot more about the Badgers than Ohio State. Thad Matta still has a very talented team, and one that on a per-possession basis has far outperformed its record. And if there’s one player in this tournament who can take over a game and engineer an upset of Wisconsin in the final, it’s D’Angelo Russell.
D'Angelo Russell And Ohio State Could Make A Run In Chicago This Week

D’Angelo Russell And Ohio State Could Make A Run This Week In Chicago. (USA TODAY Sports)

Which player are you most looking forward to watching?

  • Henry: I can’t wait to see Branden Dawson. I know he’s had an up-and-down year with some recent injury issues, but he should be ready to go on Friday. He’s one of those players where a television screen simply doesn’t do his game justice. I’ve seen him play live twice this year from the upper levels and he wowed me both times with his athleticism and sheer power. At the United Center, we should have a front row seat, and I expect his game up close to be even more eye-popping.

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Championship Week Primer: Bid-Stealers and Teams to Watch

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 10th, 2015

Championship Week is upon us. And while some mid-majors have already locked up their spots in the Big Dance, it’s time for the major conference tournaments to get under way. Here’s a brief look at each of those upcoming tournaments with a description of one team in each that is primed to use the postseason as the catalyst for a run and one potential bid-stealer.

AAC

SMU is Flying Under the Radar Somewhat (USA Today Images)

SMU is Somewhat Flying Under the Radar (USA Today Images)

  • Team to Watch: SMU – This one might seem obvious as SMU is the top seed and the best team in the conference. But such is the state of the AAC that the Mustangs are really the only team with a shot to make some noise in March. Temple is an NCAA Tournament team but isn’t anything special, and the same could be said for Cincinnati and Tulsa, if either cracks the field of 68.
  • Potential Bid-Stealer: UConn – Hey, we’ve certainly seen the Huskies get hot before. There haven’t been many indications that Kevin Ollie’s team can put together a run, but its draw is favorable — SMU is on the opposite side of the bracket — so a Sunday date with the Mustangs with an NCAA Tournament bid on the line is a distinct possibility.

ACC

  • Team to Watch: North Carolina – The Tar Heels have amazingly lost six of their last 10 games en route to a fifth-place finish in the ACC. But since an ugly loss to NC State a couple weeks ago, they’ve looked decent and are capable of exploding at any time. North Carolina has elite athleticism and a guard in Marcus Paige who is one of college basketball’s best when he’s locked in. The Heels — playing in front of the always-friendly Greensboro crowd — should be favored against Louisville in the quarterfinals before meeting a Virginia team that could still be at less than full strength.
  • Potential Bid-Stealer: Miami – Miami isn’t a bid-stealer, per se, because the Hurricanes don’t have to win the ACC Tournament to earn entry into the Dance. They probably only need two victories but they’ve been given an intriguing road as the #6 seed. Provided the Hurricanes win their Wednesday game against Wake Forest or Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and then potentially Duke await. Miami has already gone toe-to-toe with both this year in their buildings, and even beat Duke at Cameron. If Jim Larranaga’s team were to pull off those two upsets, anything could happen in the championship game.

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Big Ten M5: 02.27.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 27th, 2015

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  1. It looks like Jim Delany is going full steam ahead in promoting the idea of implementing freshmen ineligibility. The Big Ten commissioner has assured fans that the conference won’t move alone on this plan, but he is trying to build national consensus around the idea. This comes after Thad Matta was recently quoted as saying that he’s received negative feedback from recruits who are worried that if they commit to a Big Ten team, they won’t be able to play right away. This all goes to show how unbelievably ill-conceived this whole strategy is. Why Delany felt compelled to walk the plank on this issue is something many can’t comprehend. We’ll see if this endeavor starts hurting Big Ten teams on the recruiting trail this summer, but if it does, you may see the issue of freshmen ineligibility die altogether.
  2. In statistics, you hear the phrase “regression to the mean” often used, which is just an elitist way of saying “everything evens out.” This theory seems to be playing out before our eyes with Northwestern. After countless heartbreaking losses — everything from blown leads to comebacks that fell just short — the Wildcats have finally gotten some breaks and have managed to win four straight, including a 72-65 victory over Indiana on Wednesday, the first such streak for Northwestern since 1967. This finish is a real boon for Chris Collins, whose second season was going as disastrous as he could have imagined when the team’s Big Ten record was 1-10 a couple of weeks ago. Now, as it turns out, Northwestern may have created some momentum to build for next season.
  3. Also on Wednesday, Iowa got a nice 68-60 home win over Illinois. Aaron White, the Hawkeyes’ dark horse candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year, was dominant in contributing 29 points. His latest performance increased his career total to 1,726 points, moving him past B.J. Armstrong into fourth place on the program’s all-time scoring list. White has had a storied career in Iowa City, but this year he is averaging 15.2 PPG, 7.2 RPG and is carrying a PER of 28.4, good enough for second in the league. If it weren’t for names like Frank Kaminsky and D’Angelo Russell, the media would be talking more about the certain Big Ten first-teamer as one of the best players in the country.
  4. One of the big stories around the Big Ten this week was Wisconsin suffering its third loss of the season when the Badgers came up short at Maryland. The team already had the tough loss in their minds on its flight back to Madison, but that was quickly forgotten when the plane was forced to make an emergency landing due to an engine malfunction in Pittsburgh. What a scary moment that probably just adds to the feeling that Wisconsin’s trip to Maryland is a forgettable event from start to finish. Hopefully the Badgers can put all of this behind them and get back to their winning ways on Sunday against the Spartans.
  5. Speaking of Michigan State, the Spartans took a surprising 96-90 home loss to Minnesota in overtime on Thursday. This is a considerable setback for what was one of the hottest teams in the league before last night — the team had won four straight including two on the road at Michigan and Illinois. Things don’t get any easier for the Spartans as they travel to face Wisconsin in Madison this weekend. Losing that game could now mean Tom Izzo’s team is in serious jeopardy of losing its place in the top four of the Big Ten standings and having to play an extra game in the Big Ten Tournament.
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Big Ten M5: 02.20.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 20th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. After a miserable 0-5 start in the Big Ten, Minnesota was always a long shot to make a run at an at-large bid. Despite the terrible start, Richard Pitino’s team managed to fight back and win five of its next seven games. But the Golden Gophers’ postseason dreams effectively came to an end on Wednesday night when they suffered their worst lost of the season to Northwestern at home. For the second straight game, Minnesota let a team get hot from the perimeter as the Wildcats hit 15 three-pointers in the game. Now, at 5-9 in the conference, the Gophers are likely headed for the NIT or worse. Pitino will need to figure out what went wrong during the offseason and fix it quick as he’ll enter year three in Minnesota with no NCAA Tournament appearances.
  2. On Thursday, Purdue got its best win of the season when the Boilermakers topped its intrastate rival, Indiana, by four points in Bloomington. A.J. Hammons was tremendous in the game on both sides of the court, evidenced by his 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting and four blocks. Purdue’s guards were able to aggressively blanket Indiana’s shooters because of the rim protection Hammons provided all night. The result was that the usually deadly-from-deep Hoosiers were held to 31 percent from the three-point line and one of the best offenses in the country only managed 0.96 points per possession. While the Boilermakers are still on bubble, they finally have a signature win to counter some bad losses from earlier in the season.
  3. With 14 teams and 18 games, unbalanced schedules are a part of life in the new and super-sized Big Ten. Because of this, and the fact that rivalries are not protected for basketball, we as fans miss out on some great home-and-home battles against historic foes. Matt Brown from SBNation makes the argument that the Big Ten should forego the rotating schedule and lock in key games each and every year. It would make sense from the Big Ten’s perspective too, as these games would bring in more impressive ratings and demand better TV slots. It’s tough to argue with the logic, but the greater expansion of leagues throughout the sport has made that just short of impossible in this framework.
  4. Don’t let anyone tell you bad decisions aren’t contagious. After Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott trotted out the idea of reinstating freshmen ineligibility, the Big Ten followed suit saying it’s gauging the interests of its members about the possibility of implementing the rule once again. On Thursday, Maryland’s president, Wallace Loh, said “If they do well because they spend more time, get more academic advising … their freshman year, they’re going to graduate”. That’s quite a lot of hypocrisy to choke down from the president of a university who left their historic (and geographically sensible) conference for a more lucrative one in the Midwest. Next time Maryland flies 1,200 miles to Nebraska on a school night to play a 9:00 PM ET game, they should ask themselves if that may be negative factor for the student-athletes’ academics.
  5. Finally, on Thursday ESPN released Joe Lunardi’s newest brackets, and seven Big Ten schools are projected to make the Big Dance. Wisconsin (#2 seed), Maryland (#5), Ohio State (#7), Indiana (#7), Michigan State (#8), Iowa (#10), and Illinois (#11). Purdue is missing from the field as of right now, but this projection does not include the Boilermakers’ big win at Indiana on Thursday night. By the next time Lunardi updates his brackets, there may be eight teams in the field, which would undoubtedly make this another successful season for the league.
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