Big Ten Non-Conference Schedule Analysis: Northwestern Wildcats

Posted by KTrahan on October 19th, 2012

The Big Ten microsite will be analyzing the non-conference schedules for all of the Big Ten teams in the coming weeks. Today, we continue with the Northwestern Wildcats. Check out their full schedule here.

Where we left off: Last year, Northwestern coach Bill Carmody thought he had put together a solid non-conference schedule. There weren’t any marquee wins, but there were good wins against Seton Hall, Tulsa and LSU, respectable losses to Baylor and Creighton, and no bad losses. That didn’t turn out to be a winning formula, as the NCAA selection committee favored teams that had some marquee wins and forgave their bad losses. This year, there is a chance for several marquee wins — some even in Evanston — and NU must take advantage of those opportunities in order to finally make the NCAA Tournament.

Northwestern Wants to See More of These

Major tournaments: Last year, Northwestern won the Charleston Classic, which isn’t a huge tournament but a respected one nonetheless. This year, NU heads to the South Padre Island Invitational to face TCU, and then either UAB or Illinois State. That’s…um, well… a terrible schedule. Luckily for the Wildcats, they’ll have other chances pick up big wins, but that set of games certainly won’t be the most entertaining group we’ll see this season.

Toughest opponent: Last year, Northwestern was utterly embarrassed at home by Baylor, and this year, the Wildcats have to go to Waco for what will undoubtedly be their toughest non-conference game. Last year’s game was probably the biggest mismatch NU faced all year, as Baylor was dominant on the boards and has athleticism down low, while the Cats couldn’t do anything in the paint offensively or defensively. This NU team will be better inside and Baylor isn’t quite as talented as it was last season, so it shouldn’t be as much of a blowout but it will still be NU’s toughest non-league game by far, especially coming on the road.

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Big Ten Team Previews: Northwestern Wildcats

Posted by KTrahan on October 18th, 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 Northwestern Wildcats.

Where we left off: The NIT. Again. For yet another year, Northwestern inched closer to the NCAA Tournament — this year closer than ever — and the Wildcats fell short again. NU’s season was defined by close losses to Michigan (twice), Ohio State, Indiana and Illinois. Had the Cats won just one more of those games, they could have potentially made the Tournament. Heck, if they had just beaten Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament — another close loss — maybe they could have gotten there. Now, with a number of new faces, they begin this season firmly on the bubble once again.

Positives: I did an interview with coach Bill Carmody earlier in the offseason and he remarked that, with its new lineup, NU will “have some scoring inside.” That will be a much-needed addition after last year’s centers — Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti — struggled mightily. This year, 7’0″ freshman Alex Olah is expected to start at center and the Wildcats will also have 7’2″ freshman center Chier Ajou, who provides depth, even if he doesn’t play much initially. Additionally, senior Drew Crawford returns and Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire is expected to make a big impact right away. It will be a very big frontcourt for NU, something that has seemingly happened overnight and hasn’t occurred in Evanston for a long time.

Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire (ball) will be a key player to watch for Northwestern fans this season (Chicago Tribune)

Negatives: Can this team play defense? The Wildcats have added a lot of potential inside scoring with Swopshire and Olah, but the jury is out on whether the team can defend and grab rebounds, unlike last year’s squad. The perimeter defense is questionable, as well, as the team’s best perimeter defender — JerShon Cobb — was suspended for the year. And can this team find someone to take the last shot? Last year it was Crawford, and even though that didn’t work very well, this year it seems likely to be either Crawford or Swopshire. The Big Ten will be very strong again this year, meaning NU will be involved in a lot of close games. It must find a way to make big shots and play good defense in crunch time.

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Big Ten Summer Check In: Northwestern Wildcats

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on July 25th, 2012

The Northwestern Wildcats play their home games at the Welsh-Ryan Arena which is located about 10 miles north of Wrigley Field — home of the “lovable losers,” the Chicago Cubs. Over the last two seasons, Wildcats and Cubs fans have something in common: Both fan bases are used to the phrase, “there is always next year.” The Cubs have not been to the World Series in over six decades and Northwestern hasn’t received a bid to the NCAA Tournament in 74 years. Despite being competitive for three seasons runnin, the Wildcats have not been able to seal the deal during key stretches of February and March, and as a result have left their fans second guessing several key possessions or officiating decisions at the end of the season.

John Shurna’s graduation creates huge holes for the Wildcats next season.

Evaluating Last Year: Last season stung the Northwestern fan base more than ever before because they had their chances, especially at home. Bill Carmody’s crew lost three games at home by fewer than four points — to Illinois, Purdue and Ohio State. Their two losses to Michigan might have singlehandedly cost them a bid to the NCAA Tourney. During both of games against Michigan, the Wolverines came from behind to tie the game in regulation and hammered the Wildcats during the overtime period. On February 21, the Wildcats were 16-10 with five games remaining in the conference season. Three of those games were at home and included tough but winnable games against Michigan and Ohio State. But an overtime loss to Michigan and a two-point loss to Ohio State essentially popped their bubble as they finished the season 18-12. The phrase “control your destiny” might be cliché in the world of sports, but the Wildcats had their shot over the final several games but couldn’t take advantage, which resulted in an NIT bid and a second round loss to Washington to finish the season at 19-14.

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Morning Five: 03.23.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 23rd, 2012

  1. Despite failing to get Northwestern to the NCAA Tournament again (they still have never gotten there), Bill Carmody will be back in Evanston next season. Carmody, who has had the Wildcats on the verge of the NCAA Tournament several times in the past few years was unable to get the team over a fairly weak bubble when they lost in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament to Minnesota. While plenty of Northwestern fans were looking for a new face to lead their program the school’s administration felt otherwise. Carmody has actually made it to the NCAA Tournament  twice while at Princeton including winning a game in the first round in 1998 with one of the better Ivy League teams in recent memory, but he has only been able to compile a  179-189 record at Northwestern and only made it to the NIT four times in twelve seasons though to be fair it has been in all of his last four seasons.
  2. We did not even know that he was a serious candidate for the job to begin with, but yesterday Dana Altman formally took his name out of consideration for the head coaching vacancy at Nebraska. While Oregon has not been a great basketball program recently, we are not sure why someone would leave Oregon with its solid recruiting base and Phil Knight/Nike money to go to a place where basketball is probably the third most important sport behind college football and spring football. In any event, the Huskers will continue searching for their next head coach and we suspect it will be someone from the mid-major ranks or an assistant coach at a major program looking for his first head coaching opportunity.
  3. After a solid sophomore season at MemphisWill Barton will be declaring for the NBA Draft signing with an agent. Despite Barton’s obvious talents–chief among them is his athleticism and ability to score–there are still some concerns including his strength and decision-making. As a result he will likely remain a borderline first round pick (more likely a second round pick). Conversely, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will have no problem finding himself a spot in the first round as he is a certain top 10 pick and possibly a top 5 pick. While there are some reports indicating that he will also be entering the NBA Draft, the Kentucky freshman is denying those reports for the time being. We would not expect any reasonable reports until the Wildcats finish their season.
  4. If you are confused by all the new rules and stipulations for the early entry process, Jonathan Giovany of Draft Express has the rundown of what you need to know about the early entry rules and how they could affect your team. The new process is convoluted, but according to Giovany’s analysis if a player (or his family or coach) is smart they could potentially wait until April 29 instead of the previously assumed April 10 deadline before deciding whether or not to leave school even with the NCAA’s attempt “to help keep student-athletes focused on academics” still intact.
  5. Wednesday was a very bad for two seniors in the CAA as Kent Bazemore was arrested before Old Dominion‘s CIT quarterfinal game on Wednesday for what is believed to be failure to fulfill the conditions of a sentence he was given for a DUI conviction last summer and Andre Cornelius, who has had his share of legal issues recently at George Mason, was arrested on the same day for possession of marijuana. While both players are seniors and have exhausted their eligibility they certainly left their basketball programs with a blaze of glory.
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Big Ten Morning Five: 03.22.12 Edition

Posted by jnowak on March 22nd, 2012

  1. The Fighting Illini, it seems, will not be getting their man. Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas has been throwing everything at VCU coach Shaka Smart — it turned out to be a contract offer of $2.5 million a year to succeed Bruce Weber — and Smart turned him down, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. With the most high-profile candidate out of the picture (and others like Cuonzo Martin and Anthony Grant reportedly also not showing interest), what other options will Thomas have?
  2. Is John Beilein sitting somewhere wondering, “Is it something I said?” In a matter of hours Wednesday, it was announced that three Michigan players — including Evan Smotrycz, who started 18 games this season for the Wolverines — were leaving the program and that freshman phenom Trey Burke was testing the NBA draft waters. Those departures would leave some gaping holes but, with the way Beilein has been recruiting lately, there is potential for a silver lining.
  3. In other offseason news, there’s another coaching situation in the state of Illinois drawing some attention. The Chicago Tribune‘s Teddy Greenstein notes that the silence surrounding Bill Carmody‘s performance evaluation is leading some to speculate that there may be something bubbling in Evanston. Carmody has failed to lead Northwestern to that elusive NCAA Tournament berth. Is it time for a change?
  4. Back to teams who are actually still playing basketball, the Lansing State Journal‘s Joe Rexrode does not mince words when discussing the honors Draymond Green deserves this season. Rexrode says Green has been the best player in the country, particularly in the last month or two, and he knows he’s not the only one that feels that way. Green has already been named to multiple All-American first teams. But he’s got a few tall trees in Kansas and Kentucky uniforms to topple before being recognized as the country’s best.
  5. Throughout Will Sheehey‘s high school career, there may have been questions about whether he could compete at the highest college level. Tom Crean never had doubts. And now, the Indianapolis Star‘s Terry Hutchens writes, Indiana fans feel the same way. The Indiana guard’s jumper sealed the win against VCU to send the Hoosiers to the Sweet 16 and he has had 12 double-digit scoring games despite missing five games early in the season with an ankle injury.
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Big Ten Morning Five: 03.12.12 Edition

Posted by jnowak on March 12th, 2012

  1. Michigan State is the Big Ten Tournament champion and Draymond Green is the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. And with that, the Spartans are also the #1 seed in the West region of the NCAA Tournament. But to get there, a multitude of things needed to go right. Michigan State got important help down low from Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne, as well as crucial contributions from senior wings Brandon Wood and Austin Thornton. Without Branden Dawson, there were questions about how far this team could go. What about now? And how about this great photo of Green hoisting the Big Ten Tournament trophy via The State News photographer Justin Wan?
  2. On the other end of that championship game spectrum falls Ohio State, which got a #2 seed in the East region of the tournament. The Buckeyes, who were shooting for an unprecedented third straight Big Ten tournament championship in their fourth consecutive title game, were hindered by foul trouble to Jared Sullinger in the first half and Aaron Craft in the second. The Buckeyes stumbled in conference play, but certainly showed they are capable of playing in New Orleans in a few weeks.
  3. Michigan State and Ohio State aren’t the only two teams dancing. Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Purdue also made the tournament field. BTN.com’s Tom Dienhart takes a look at those Big Ten teams in the field — who’s hot, who’s not, who has the easiest road, who’s likely to be upset, and more.
  4. Notice that none of those teams mentioned above was Northwestern? Once again, the Wildcats are on the outside looking in on the Big Dance, missing out on yet another golden opportunity to break through into the tournament field. The Big Ten Network‘s Tim Doyle chats here with Northwestern coach Bill Carmody about his squad being left out of the NCAA Tournament.
  5. As the Indianapolis Star‘s Bob Kravitz points out, the state of Indiana is full of good stories as it relates to the NCAA Tournament. (The fact that there’s basketball-related excitement coming out of Indiana should come as a shock to no one). From Purdue‘s successes and the determination of Robbie Hummel to the rejuvenation of the Hoosiers under Tom Crean, there is plenty to cheer for at this time of year in the Hoosier State.
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Four Game Recaps: Big Ten Tournament First Round

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 9th, 2012

Here’s a breakdown on how things went down in the Big Ten tournament’s first day of action:

Matt Gatens led Iowa to a big win over Illinois (Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

Iowa 64 – Illinois 61

The skinny: It’s been a tough season for Illini fans, and now (some would say thankfully) it is over. Myers Leonard was a force down low for Illinois, scoring 18 points and grabbing six boards, but Brandon Paul struggled his way to four points on 2-11 shooting. Meanwhile, Matt Gatens continued his solid senior season with 20 points to lead the Hawkeyes, but it was his defense on Paul that really was the difference in this contest for Iowa. Head coach Fran McCaffery complained earlier this week about Gatens not being included on the all-Big Ten defensive team, and the senior looked every bit an elite-level stopper in this match-up. All-Big Ten freshman Aaron White had 13 points and 9 rebounds including a key offensive board with about 40 seconds left after a missed free throw by Roy Devyn Marble that helped seal the game for Iowa.

Up next: The #8-seed Hawkeyes will face #1-seed Michigan State at noon today. Iowa only played the Spartans once this season, falling 95-61 in a game at East Lansing on January 10.

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ATB: Power Conference Round Up – All Leagues Now in Tournament Action, Big East Works Overtime

Posted by EJacoby on March 9th, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. Thursday was a transition night during Championship Week from small-conference finishes to power league beginnings. Most mid-major tournaments are now completed, as the automatic bids came flying in over the past five days. Check our Bracket Prep posts to get the scoop on all of the lesser-known teams that have qualified for the Big Dance and will fill out the lower seeds in the bracket. But Thursday night included no tournament finals and instead was a jam-packed day of mostly power league teams dueling to keep their seasons alive, work their way off the ‘bubble,’ or jockey for NCAA Tournament seeding. There were also a few other smaller league tournaments that produced notable results as well. If you missed anything (with 49 games, you probably did), we’ve got you covered…

Your Watercooler Moment. Cincinnati Spectacle – Bearcats Victorious in Double-Overtime

Cincinnati is All Smiles After Thursday's Clutch OT Victory (AP Photo)

The Big East Tournament has been catching some flak for the fairly boring games taking place during the nightcaps on ESPN, but the NYC tourney produced fantastic results during the afternoon on Thursday. Following a hard-fought game between Connecticut and Syracuse, the Bearcats and Hoyas did battle for 40+ minutes, extending all the way into two overtimes in what looked like could have been an even longer game. Georgetown led for most of regulation in the game, but Cincy stormed back in the second half with a strong defensive effort and plenty of big plays, many by the veteran forward Yancy Gates. Although being played at a low-scoring, slow pace, this game was full of clutch shots and crisp basketball plays at the end of regulation and both overtimes. In order to extend the game both times, Georgetown needed to make shots on a final possession while down by two points. First, Otto Porter tied the game in regulation and then it was Henry Sims in the first overtime with a beautiful swooping layup as time expired. But in double-OT, the Hoyas were down two once again with the ball and this time went for the win. Sims’ three-pointer wouldn’t go down and the Bearcats were victorious behind Gates’ 23 points and eight boards. They move on to play Syracuse tomorrow in the Big East semifinals.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Marshall and Tulsa Play Three! If you thought the Cincinnati-Georgetown game was crazy, you’ll want to hear about this one in Conference USA. Marshall was the lower-seeded team and had played yesterday but is probably the more talented squad than Tulsa, who was higher-seeded thanks to a better record in the C-USA season by one game. These two teams did not want to go home empty handed, as they combined to score 205 points in 55 total minutes of play. In three overtimes, Marshall star DeAndre Kane went for a career-high 40 points including nearly all of the big plays down the stretch of the extra sessions. Kane also piled up seven rebounds, three assists, and three steals and played all but one minute of the entire game. Four Tulsa players scored at least 14 points and the Golden Hurricane led by at least three points in all three overtimes, but they could not contain the Thundering Herd’s desperate comeback efforts that resulted in the win from sheer passion and effort. Marshall lives to play another day, but who knows how much it has left in the tank for Friday.
  • Jamaal Franklin For the Win. San Diego State struggled to put away pesky Boise State in the first round of the Mountain West Tournament, but the Aztecs happen to have the conference Player of the Year who’s made great plays all season long. Franklin had 19 points in the game but it was his incredible long-range heave at the buzzer that stole the show and won the game for SDSU. Head coach Steve Fisher described this final play call as, “Give him [Franklin] the ball and let him make a play.” Check out the footage below.

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Big Ten Morning Five: 03.08.12 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 8th, 2012

  1. College Basketball coaches are used to selling their program all the time.  Marketing is usually geared towards recruits but March can be a time for lobbying for an NCAA bid if you live on the bubble.  But Northwestern Head Coach Bill Carmody refuses to do that this week.  He understand that the Wildcats control their own destiny if they can beat Minnesota on Thursday.  That won’t make them a shoe-in but should certainly help their case especially if they also give Michigan a great game on Friday. Carmody’s team split the season series against Minnesota as each team held server on its home court.  If Drew Crawford continues to be a force offensively — 23 points against Ohio State and 18 against Iowa — the Wildcats might finally make it to the NCAA Tournament.
  2. With Branden Dawson out for the season, Tom Izzo needs every other Spartan to be healthy and ready to step up over the next few weeks.  Travis Trice re-injured his ankle during practice on Wednesday and had to be carried from practice by a trainer. Trice should get more than 17 minutes per game which has been his average this season.  Look for Izzo to use Brandon Wood as the primary ball-handler and run more offensive plays for Keith Appling.  Whatever it may be, the veteran coach will be trying out a few rotations during the B1G tournament before the Big Dance.
  3. Has any other Big Ten coach received more national coverage over the last month than Bruce Weber? Sports Illustrated published an article about the Illinois coach on Wednesday. Michael Rosenberg makes the case that Weber is being forced out despite having a solid record in the Big Ten (albeit skewed towards the early years).  He also makes a great point that the Big Ten has been a “coaches league,” so the best of the best are going against each other which makes the job very stressful and as a result, programs expect consistent titles in the conference.
  4. Michigan fans have been celebrating all season long, all the way until its shared Big Ten title on Sunday. Whatever happens over the next few weeks, Wolverines fans will be happy for what they got this year.  But they would ask only one more thing from their sophomore star, Tim Hardaway Jr. — to come back for a junior season. Hardaway, Jr., dodged the question about his future in an interview with Grantland, but if he does come back, the trio of himself, Trey Burke and the highly recruited Mitch McGary, the Wolverines might just have their sights set on the 2013 Final Four.
  5. Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger came back for one more season to make something happen in March.  Winning the regular season championship is just one of his checklist items but he has been waiting for postseason play ever since the Buckeyes’ loss to Kentucky a year ago.  Sullinger is anxious to go further than the Sweet Sixteen round, and the sophomore definitely put in the work during the offseason. Thad Matta hopes it will continue to pay off as Ohio State looks to get back to the Final Four for the first time since 2007.
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Big Ten Writer Roundtable: A look at the Big Ten Tourney

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 7th, 2012

Big Ten contributors Joey Nowak (@joeynowak), Ryan Terpstra (@terphimself), and Deepak Jayanti (@10thyearseniors) put their heads together and discussed some key questions heading into the Big Ten Tournament.  Here are their thoughts:

1.) What school playing on Thursday has the best shot to win the Big Ten Tournament?

Joey:  I really think any team besides Nebraska and Penn State (though if Tim Frazier heats up, Penn State could have a repeat of last year) has a chance to do damage. Minnesota and Illinois both have talent and nothing to lose. Purdue is playing better, with the experienced Robbie Hummel at the helm, and has a bit of a chip on its shoulder. Iowa has a guy in Matt Gatens they can ride to a win or two. And Northwestern should come in as focused as any team in the tournament, given what’s at stake for the Wildcats.

But the team I would least like to play this weekend is Indiana. The Hoosiers have won four in a row (the last three against quality Big Ten opponents) and seven of their last eight. They should handle Penn State before taking a great shot at Wisconsin on Friday. They are better on defense than they were early in the Big Ten schedule, and can still score with the best of them, thanks to a solid inside-out game. But the intangible of playing in front of a friendly Indianapolis crowd could be a huge boost. It won’t give them the same advantage they’ve held at Assembly Hall this season, but if the last few years are any indication (when they were terrible), the Hoosier faithful will be out in full force. Don’t be surprised to see them playing Sunday.
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Big Ten Writer Roundtable: Four Questions As the Regular Season Winds Down

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 1st, 2012

Big Ten contributors Joey Nowak (@joeynowak) and Ryan Terpstra (@terphimself) give their thoughts on four conference questions as just a few more games remain in the regular season, and the Big Ten champion has yet to be decided.

1) Will we see an outright Big Ten champion?  Or is the conference title possibly going to be shared?

Joey:  In other words, will Michigan State beat Ohio State this weekend? I think the answer is yes. It’s hard to watch the Spartans, after how badly they tanked last season, and try to avoid becoming too enamored with them this year. But time and time again they have proven that this really is a special squad that gets it and is tune with so many important factors required to win.

They are one of  just 12 teams in Division I that is undefeated at home (three in the power conferences) and there are too many intangibles working in their favor this weekend: playing at home, Senior Day honoring Draymond Green, Austin Thornton and Delvon Roe, and the motivation to win a title outright while denying Michigan and Ohio State, of all teams. Not to mention how entirely out of sorts Ohio State has seemed lately. It will be a dogfight, but I think the Spartans beat the Buckeyes and claim a completely unexpected Big Ten title all for themselves.

Can Ohio State stop Michigan State's quest for an outright Big Ten Title? (Associated Press)

Ryan:  As much as people in Ann Arbor are hoping to sneak in and grab a share of a conference title (wow, Michigan fans rooting for Ohio State?  Can it be true?), I think that Michigan State is going to get to job done because they are so potent at the Breslin Center. The only thing I would worry about for the Spartans is getting TOO hyped up, which can happen when young men are trying so hard to defeat a quality opponent. The Spartans obviously don’t lack for motivation, and the bigger question to me is what’s going on with the Buckeyes? Jared Sullinger had to bail them out against Northwestern; a team that is very tough this season, but on paper can’t handle Ohio State’s frontcourt. With Sullinger admitting that he has been thinking out the referees and how they are officiating his post game, I’m wondering if that will come back into play in what I would expect to be a very physical game in East Lansing. I think Michigan State hangs another Big Ten banner for Tom Izzo.

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Northwestern’s Lack of Rebounding Becoming a Huge Factor

Posted by rtmsf on March 1st, 2012

Bill Hupp is an RTC correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp). He filed this report following Northwestern’s last-second loss to Ohio State on Wednesday night.

Purple Pain

It was hard to tell if the cheers erupting from Northwestern students after consecutive rebounds by the Wildcats on Wednesday night were sarcastic or an ironic roar acknowledging the event’s rarity. As has been the case in most games this season, Northwestern was dominated on the backboards in their 75-73 last-second loss to Ohio State. At the half, the Buckeyes were outrebounding the ‘Cats 22-5, as interior beasts DeShaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger had 25 of the Buckeyes’ 39 points (and OSU had poured in 20 points in the paint). “They killed us on a second-chance shots in the first half,” Northwestern coach Bill Carmody admitted. “They destroyed us on the backboards.” With Northwestern employing their trademark 1-3-1 zone, OSU used their superior size and athleticism to outrebound the Wildcats 44-18, grab 20 offensive boards (11 by Sullinger) and score 20 second chance points.

Drew Crawford And Northwestern Are Sitting Right On The Bubble (AP)

Still, Ohio State Coach Thad Matta dismissed the gaudy rebounding differential as largely irrelevant. “That’s misleading because a lot of teams do that and don’t beat them,” Matta said. “[But] we felt we could do a heck of a job rebounding if they played their 1-3-1 zone.” If the NCAA Tournament bubble upon which Northwestern firmly sits does burst, the Wildcats will look back and point to poor post play this season as a major reason. It’s not a question of work ethic as Davide Curletti, Luka Mirkovic, John Shurna, and Drew Crawford all battle and scrap down low. But the foursome are finer, more finesse players, athletes not equipped to sustain success against the rigors of conference post play.

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