Checking in on the… Big Ten

Posted by nvr1983 on February 3rd, 2009

Josh & Mike from Big Ten Geeks are the RTC correspondents for the Big Ten Conference.

Looking Back
It’s hard to believe, but Wisconsin now sits in 9th place in the conference after losing six games in a row. There’s a lot of hemming and hawing up in the Badger State right now with some pointing to a “recruiting hiccup”, but the truth is that the Badgers have just lost a lot of close games including two overtime contests. In fact, this team is 8 points away from being in first place in the Big Ten. They probably aren’t that good, but they’re better than 9th place as they have the league’s 2nd best offense and 6th best efficiency margin. Take them lightly at your own peril.

Illinois was blitzed by Minnesota in Williams Arena this past week, held to the team’s lowest point total in 24 years. It was a fine defensive performance by Tubby Smith‘s team, which had been struggling on the defensive end up until that point. Freshman Ralph Sampson III continues to impress, and has even outplayed the more highly-touted Delvon Roe in conference play.

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Set Your Tivos: 01.20.09-01.22.09

Posted by nvr1983 on January 20th, 2009

Set Your TivosIn light of the weak set of games this week, we’re bringing you a midweek (Tuesday-Thursday) Set Your Tivos before the weekend edition (Friday night’s games are awful so go out and do something that night).

Tuesday (01.20.09)
- Ohio State at #24 Illinois, 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Illinois has been one of the most surprising teams in the first half of the college basketball season. Bruce Weber‘s team came into the season without a single vote in either major poll and now they sit in the top 25. Although they are only 3-2 in the Big Ten this year, the Fighting Illini have shown everyone that they will contend for the conference title this year with their performance in the early season. All three of their losses this year have been against respectable competition: Clemson (by 2 points), at Michigan (avenged last week), and at Michigan State (by 6). On the other hand, Ohio State has been disappointing since the loss of David Lighty and has went 6-3 since his injury after starting 7-0 including a win over Notre Dame.

Illinois’s strength this year has been their balanced scoring attack with 4 players averaging between 11.3 and 11.8 PPG. They are led by Dmeteri McCamey (11.8 PPG and 4.9 APG) at the point and Mike Davis (11.3 PPG and 7.3 RPG) on the inside. They are a potential Sweet 16 team if Kentucky transfer Alex Legion can become more consistent and play like he did against Michigan State (15 points on 6/13 FG).

The key to this game will be Weber’s ability to limit Evan Turner, who is averaging 15.9 PPG and 7.0 RPG this season. While Thad Matta has two other players (Jon Diebler and William Buford) who average double figures along with the highly touted B.J. Mullens, Turner is the most consistent scorer that Matta has. If Weber can get Davis to slow down Turner, Illinois should be able to pull this one out.

Wednesday (01.21.09)
- #21 Villanova at #3 UConn, 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Yet another ridiculous Big East battle. Even though I am fairly certain that UConn and Pittsburgh are the best teams in the conference (unless Louisville keeps playing at this level), I have a feeling that the regular season title will be determined by which team wins its other conference games. Quite frankly (sorry Stephen A.), Villanova shouldn’t beat UConn in Storrs if the Huskies play up to their potential.

Calhoun’s talented, but enigmatic backcourt of A.J. Price, Jerome Dyson, and Kemba Walker will have to contend with Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher, and Corey Stokes. The match-up is pretty close, but I’d give the edge to the Huskies here unless Reynolds goes off. On the inside, the Huskies also have the advantage, but will need to contain Dante Cunningham, who comes in averaging 17.4 PPG and 7.4 RPG. If they can prevent him from having a monster game, UConn will have a decided edge on the inside. One of Jim Calhoun‘s on-going challenges will be getting Stanley Robinson to play consistently after his unusual sabatical. If Calhoun can get consistent play out of Robinson to go along with the surprisingly consistent Hasheem Thabeet (except for the Gonzaga game) and the explosive slasher Jeff Adrien, he might just find himself in Detroit in April.

- #9 Clemson at #6 UNC, 9 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Will Clemson ever win a game at Chapel Hill? The Tigers’ losing streak in Chapel Hill currently stands at a NCAA record 53 games dating back to their first visit there on January 15, 1926. After Saturday’s loss to current #1 Wake Forest, Clemson will be looking to rebound and avoid their annual ACC slide. Unfortunately for Clemson, UNC is probably stronger than them at every position and has the previously mentioned home court edge.

Oliver Purnell will also need solid play out of his 9-deep rotation (all averaging over 13.2 MPG), which is led by Trevor Booker and K.C. Rivers. Booker will likely be matched up against reigning POY Tyler Hansbrough. It will be a tough match-up for Booker and even matching Hansbrough will likely mean a 54th consecutive loss for Tigers at Chapel Hill. Clemson’s best hope is to use their depth and pressure defense to rattle Ty Lawson, who has been playing well this year except for the Tar Heels two losses (9 assists and 8 TOs in those games).

Roy Williams will need to focus on keeping his stars out of foul trouble because the Tigers are one of the few teams in the country that can match UNC’s depth although not necessarily with the same quality that the Tar Heels have. Even though this is a conference match-up against a top 10 team UNC should be able to handle the Tigers relatively easily particularly if Wayne Ellington continues his hot shooting from the 2nd half of the Miami game.

Thursday (01.22.09)
- West Virginia at No. 14 Georgetown, 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: After losing consecutive games to UConn and Marquette, the Mountaineers feasted on a break in their schedule with back-to-back wins over Marshall and USF. Unfortunately for Bob Huggins, if West Virginia wants to make the NCAA tournament they will have to start stealing a few wins against the upper tier teams in the conference. On the other sideline, John Thompson III will need to focus on his team’s energy level after a hard-fought win against Syracuse and a tough loss at Duke on Saturday.

This game will likely come down to whether Huggins can find somebody inside to battle Greg Monroe and DaJuan Summers. The Mountaineers match-up well on the outside with Alex Ruoff and Darryl Bryant going up against Austin Freeman and Chris Wright, but Da’Sean Butler will have his hands full against Monroe and Summers assuming Monroe can stay out of foul trouble and the “fans behind the bench” keep quiet. I expect the Hoyas to pull away in this one midway through the second half after struggling to find their focus in the first half.

- #18 Purdue at #20 Minnesota, 7 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: This one looks like it will be a battle of teams fighting for a #2 seed in the Big Ten tournament (the Spartans look like a strong #1 in the conference). The Boilermakers have rebounded well from an 0-2 start in the Big Ten and have won 3 straight. Matt Painter‘s club relies on its own Big Three (sorry Boston fans) of E’Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel, and JaJuan Johnson. If Hummel is back to 100%, they are one of the better trios in the Big Ten. Purdue’s problem is the big drop-off after that as their 4th leading scorer averages 8.0 PPG (respectable) on 34.1% FG (not so respectable).

Tubby Smith will be looking for his club to bounce back after a bad loss at Northwestern on Sunday. Lawrence Westbrook is the unquestioned star of this team, but we’re more curious about Ralph Sampson III (yes, that’s his son). I’m expecting this one to be a hard-fought game, but I think Purdue will be able to pull this one out against the Gophers, who I believe may be getting too much credit by the media for their win against the suddenly resurgent Louisville Cardinals earlier in the year.

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Set Your Tivos: New Year’s Eve Spectacular

Posted by nvr1983 on December 30th, 2008

I’ll be honest with you. This doesn’t even come close to Super Saturday from a couple weekends ago, but it’s certainly better than watching all the specials about how your retirement account fell apart this year or some mediocre college football teams play in a meaningless bowl games that nobody has ever heard of. It certainly should be enough to distract Big Ten fans away from their teams getting blown out in the bowl games. In any event it will get the rest of you ready for Dick Clark at midnight. . .

http://www.museum.tv/
Credit: http://www.museum.tv/

Noon ET
#15 Michigan State at #21 Minnesota on the Big Ten Network: Both teams are riding high after impressive victories on Super Saturday. The Spartans (9-2) have rebounded from a slow start including a blowout loss to UNC (doesn’t seem that bad any more. . .ok losing by 35 in a virtual home game is really bad) to reel off 5 straight wins including a win against Texas on the 20th. Meanwhile, Minnesota (12-0) has been playing consistently good basketball–quality wins over Virginia and an overrated Louisville team–all year despite coming into the season with modest expectations from the media. While the Spartans are more of a known quantity with a number of marquee players, the Gophers are more of an unknown as their soft early season schedule (only Louisville was a RPI top 100) is the reason they are 12-0 yet only ranked #21 in the country. The key to this game will likely be Spartan sophomore PG Kalin Lucas who comes into the game boasting a better than 6.5:1 assist to turnover ratio. If he continues to play at that level, Tubby Smith will have a tough time matching Tom Izzo and the Spartans.

2 PM ET
#3 Pittsburgh at Rutgers on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com: The Panthers are heavy favorites in this game, but we’ll be more interested in how the Scarlet Knights are performing in the middle of the toughest 3 game stretch in college basketball history (#1 UNC then #3 Pitt then current #2 UConn in the same week). Jamie Dixon should have his guys ready for this game after UConn’s loss to Georgetown a couple night earlier, but you never know with college kids particularly ones who probably went home for the holidays and spent time around people who praised them even more than what they normally hear at school. This is definitely an “upset alert” game, but we think the UConn loss should be enough to keep Levance Fields and the Panthers on their toes.

- Wisconsin at #24 Michigan on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: At first glance this would appear to be a mismatch with the Badgers being unranked and the Wolverines receiving a lot of attention from the media this year, but this game should be very close. Most of you know about the Wolverines (10-2) with losses to Duke (avenged) and Maryland, but the Badgers (9-3) come in with a pretty strong resume too–a blowout loss against UConn along with 2 close losses to Marquette and Texas (by a combined 8 points). Despite their strong starts, both teams still have work to do if they want to guarantee themselves a ticket to the NCAA tournament. As usual the Badgers come in without a true superstar, but have a very balanced attack with 5 players averaging between 7.8 and 12.6 PPG. The Wolverines rely on their stars–Manny Harris (19.8 PPG, 7.8 RPG, and 5.1 APG) and DeShawn Sims (17.2 PPG and 9.2 RPG). I figure the Wolverine fans (and Manny Harris) should be enough to put their team over the top in the Big Ten opener.

4 PM ET
– Iowa at #23 Ohio State on the Big Ten Network: Unfortunately we don’t think we will be seeing Mr. Trillion (Mark Titus) make an on-court appearance because this also figures to be a close game. The Hawkeyes (10-3) haven’t been world-beaters, but they should put up a pretty good fight if Anthony Tucker can rebound from his recent suspension and play up to his early-season form. The Buckeyes looked absolutely awful in their last game a 76-48 loss to West Virginia, which dropped them 10 spots in the polls. If the Buckeyes expect to rebound and contend for a Big Ten title, which they have the potential to do, they will need freshman B.J. Mullens to start playing like the big-time recruit he was out of high school. At the very least, Thad Matta needs Mullens to start playing like the 7-footer that he reportedly is. Seriously, 4.0 RPG in 17.7 minutes per game against mediocre competition isn’t going to cut it for someone who has been hyped as a potential lottery pick. If Mullens can raise his game, he and Evan Turner should be enough to make them contenders for the Big Ten title.

6 PM ET
– UNLV at #18 Louisville on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: I would use an “upset alert” on this one, but with the way Rick Pitino’s boys have been playing this year they haven’t played well enough for me to consider another loss an upset. Louisville has the talent to blow out UNLV, but to date they haven’t shown the ability to translate that talent into performance this season. UNLV certainly hasn’t been playing great this year, but their pressing defense has started to pay dividends recently with a big win over Arizona. Normally a team as talented as Louisville shouldn’t have trouble with a trapping defense of the level of UNLV’s (saw it on Christmas Eve on a replay of the Southern Utah game on Mountain TV–don’t ask), but it might just be enough pressure to rattle a team that appears to be as mentally weak as Louisville. My prediction: Let’s just say I have a strong suspicion that Rick will be giving another long speech after this one.

8 PM ET
#17 Gonzaga at Utah on CBS College Sports: As much as I would like to make this a game about 2 teams (sorry Utah), this game is really all about Gonzaga. The Bulldogs, who were ranked 4th in the nation a couple weeks ago, have lost 3 of 4. We’re willing to let the loss to UConn go (we called it the “Game of the Year (to date)” at the time, but neither team has done much lately to help with that claim), but losses to Arizona and Portland State have basically knocked Gonzaga out of contention for a #1 seed this year. However, Mark Few still has a chance at a #2 seed and spot in the West Region if Jeremy Pargo, Matt Bouldin, and company can get back in gear.

10 PM ET

-#1 UNC at Nevada on ESPN2. This is a true road test for the Heels, but it looked better on paper a month ago than it probably will be tonight.  The Wolfpack, with Luke Babbit, Armon Johnson and Brandon Fields, appeared to be ready to compete for another WAC championship and an NCAA bid coming into the season, but they have been nothing short of a disappointment so far, losing to pretty much every good team they’ve played.  Still, there is talent here, and if UNC is looking ahead to hanging out in the seedy casinos afterwards, Nevada could use their homecourt advantage to make a game of this one.  It’s worth keeping an eye on as you lift your glass to toast the new year in the east.

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2008-09 Conference Primers: #6 – Big Ten

Posted by rtmsf on November 5th, 2008

Josh & Mike at Big Ten Geeks are the RTC correspondents for the Big Ten Conference.  

  1. Michigan State  (29-6, 16-2)
  2. Purdue  (27-7, 15-3)
  3. Wisconsin  (24-8, 13-5)
  4. Ohio State  (20-12, 10-8)
  5. Illinois  (18-13, 9-9)
  6. Minnesota  (21-10, 9-9)
  7. Michigan  (16-14, 8-10)
  8. Penn State  (18-12, 7-11)
  9. Northwestern  (13-17, 6-12)
  10. Iowa  (12-18, 4-14)
  11. Indiana  (8-20, 2-16)

big-10-logoWYN2K.  This is not your father’s Big Ten, or rather, it’s not your older brother’s Big Ten.  Gone are dominating big men of the past, such as Greg Oden, DJ White, Kosta Koufos, and James Augustine.  They’ve been replaced by guards such as Manny Harris, Kalin Lucas, E’Twaun Moore and Demetri McCamey.  A solid big man (such as the perennially-underrated Goran Suton and incoming freshman B.J. Mullens) is a luxury that most Big Ten teams will not enjoy.  You’ll see a lot of lineups featuring one player at 6’7 or taller.  Some might hope this will spur the Big Ten into faster play, but, as Northwestern proved last season, guard-oriented teams can be every bit as slow as tall teams.

Predicted Champion.  Michigan St.  (NCAA #2).  There are two things everyone can agree on for season predictions: Michigan State and Purdue promise to be the two toughest teams, and Indiana promises to finish in the basement.  Beyond that, there’s a lot of uncertainty here.  We like the Spartans to take the title.  Part of that is talent (the roster features ten top 100 RSCI players), and part of that is schedule (MSU gets one game against the formidable Wisconsin, while Purdue has only one game against lowly Indiana).  Also, in a guard-heavy conference, picking the team with the best frontline (Suton, Diaper Dandy Delvon Roe, and conference Player of the Year candidate Raymar Morgan – see below) isn’t a bad strategy.  Sort of a “land of the blind” kind of thing.  In our estimation, the Boilermakers feature the best starting five, but they have depth issues.  Still though, it would not be a shock if Purdue came out on top.

NCAA/NIT Teams.  We think this is a 4-bid league, but that fourth bid is hardly a shoe-in.  Yes, the Big Ten is down (again), but we see a lot more parity in the middle of the conference.  Fourth place through seventh is really up for grabs, and we think that makes for a lot of NIT teams.  In fact, the Big Ten could send more teams to the NIT than to the NCAA tourney.  We think the top 3 teams (MSU, Purdue (NCAA #4), and Wisconsin (NCAA #8)) are near-locks for the NCAA Tourney, the next three (Ohio St. (NCAA #11), Illinois, and Minnesota) promise to be bubbilicious, and the next three (Michigan, PSU, and Northwestern) figure to be in the NIT hunt. 

Others.  Iowa and Indiana almost certainly aren’t going anywhere, at least this season.  Both teams are in the rebuilding mode, with Todd Lickliter still working to get “his players” into his system (does he really have a system though?).  Indiana is sort of like how we look after a three-day weekend in Vegas – humbled, confused, full of regrets, and ready to move on.  Coach Tom Crean already has several impressive recruits lined up for the next season – so get your licks in now, Big Ten, because IU will be back sooner rather than later.

Important Games.  The biggest non-conference game on the schedule, without question, is on December 3rd, when UNC faces Michigan St. at Ford Field, site of this year’s Final Four.  It might be the first of two meetings between those teams at that venue.  We’re also interested to see the Davidson-Purdue matchup on December 20th (that Steph Curry is fun to watch), and the December 2nd Duke-Purdue contest that might be the best game between teams with so much talent concentrated on the perimeter.  In conference, the two meetings between Purdue and MSU are the must-see events that likely will determine the conference champ.

Neat-o Stats. 

  • Since 1980, no conference has had more NCAA Tournament appearances than the Big Ten (144).
  • In each of the past 4 seasons, Indiana has a better winning percentage as the underdog than as the favorite.
  • Since 1998, the Big Ten is the 3rd best conference by RPI.
  • The Big Ten is 30-56 in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and has never actually “won” the event in nine tries.  The only team not playing in the challenge this season is NC State – which finished dead last in the ACC last season.

(h/t to Statfix.com for some of these)

65 Team Era.  The Big 10 during this era has earned more NCAA bids than any other conference (133), and its record is fourth-best of the period (194-130, .599), including 18 #1 seeds (2d), 47 Sweet Sixteens (4th), 16 Final Fours (2d), and 3 titles (4th).  Even in the 2000s, when there’s been a perception that the league has been ‘down’ relative to the 80s and 90s, the Big Ten has put six teams into the F4, including two in 2005.  We’ve been guilty of ragging the B10 for its ‘boring’ style of basketball, but we can’t argue with its results – and there’s a strong likelihood of seeing another Big Ten team in the F4 this year. 

Final Thought.  The Big Ten will not be the best conference in college basketball, but it should be home to some of the best guards in the country.  The conference received a big infusion of point guards last season, and the best of the bunch, Kalin Lucas, is one of the ten best PGs in the country.  And while super sophomore Manny Harris gets a lot of deserved praise (a lot), we think an even better sophomore shooting guard plays in West Lafayette.  And he might not even be the best sophomore on his team.  We also like last-second-shot-specialist Blake Hoffarber’s chances to become a household name.  Also, the increased parity should make for a lot of close games.  Expect to see very few blowout wins.  Except against Indiana (sorry, Hoosiers).

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