Sweet Sixteen Storylines: Midwest and West Regionals

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 26th, 2015

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As we move into the first half of the Sweet Sixteen tonight in Cleveland and Los Angeles, let’s take a look at the top five storylines in the Midwest and West Regions.

Midwest Storylines

1. Is West Virginia actually a difficult matchup for Kentucky? The NCAA Tournament is all about matchups. You’ve probably heard that refrain too many times already and you’ll hear it even more over the next 10 days. Some analysts have gone so far as to apply it to the Kentucky-West Virginia game that awaits us tonight. The thought is that the Mountaineers, which speed up opponents and force turnovers better than anybody else in the nation, will disrupt the Wildcats’ attack. But it’s almost as if that notion is more based on hope than supported by facts. The Wildcats take care of the ball – their opponents’ steal percentage ranks 19th nationally (that’s good), and the Wildcats have significantly cut down on silly turnovers as the season has progressed. Of course, they haven’t yet faced a team like West Virginia that is so relentless with its pressure either. But the Mountaineers also have their own flaws,particularly on the offensive end, and the idea that they present an especially difficult matchup for Kentucky because of its uniqueness is probably a fallacy.

Truth be told, Kentucky's contest against WVU might be a little easier than most expect. (AP Photo/David Stephenson)

Truth be told, Kentucky’s contest against WVU might be a little easier than most expect. (AP Photo/David Stephenson)

2. The history behind Calipari vs. Huggins. John Calipari and Bob Huggins first met as head coaches on January 7, 1993, when Huggins’ Cincinnati team beat Calipari’s UMass squad. They went on to do battle annually in Conference USA beginning in 2001, with Huggins still at Cincinnati and Calipari back from the NBA at Memphis. Huggins won the first five meetings between the two before Calipari broke through with is first win in 2003. To date, Huggins holds an 8-2 all-time record against the Kentucky coach, the best such record of any coach with a minimum three games against him. The most notable showdown between the two was exactly four years and 364 days ago, when Huggins’ Mountaineers upset Calipari’s group of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe in the 2010 East Regional Finals. Is there a takeaway from that night that pertains to this year? No, probably not. But the relationship between the two is a fun storyline heading into tonight. The two are reportedly close friends, and if that’s not enough, Huggins might not even be alive today if it wasn’t for Calipari’s cousin.

3. Which team in the Midwest Regional is the biggest threat to Kentucky? Despite all the West Virginia talk, it’s clear that Huggins’ team is the fourth best of the quartet remaining in the Midwest. Although Notre Dame barely survived Butler and Northeastern, both the Fighting Irish and Wichita State are hot. The Shockers took Indiana’s best shot and then thoroughly beat Kansas in Omaha to get to Cleveland. Which of the two would give Kentucky more problems? Probably Notre Dame, solely based on the possibility that the Fighting Irish could catch fire from the perimeter, just as they did in the ACC Tournament championship game against North Carolina. Plus, among players who receive meaningful minutes, Kentucky has five forwards taller than any Wichita State contributor.

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How Will Traevon Jackson’s Return Impact the Badgers?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 26th, 2015

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There isn’t much stopping Wisconsin’s offensive stride right now. The Badgers won the Big Ten regular season and tournament championships by averaging a whopping 1.21 points per possession despite playing the last 17 games of the season without senior point guard Traevon Jackson, who broke his foot on January 11. Some observers thought that the injury would set the Badgers back on both ends of the court but Wisconsin instead has held strong with its only loss since coming at Maryland. Sophomore replacement Bronson Koenig has done a terrific job of running the offense by hanging on to the ball, distributing it in the right spots and shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc.

Traevon Jackson's confidence to take big shots during the final minutes of key games will be needed over the Sweet 16 weekend of Wisconsin.

Traevon Jackson’s confidence to take big shots for Wisconsin during the final minutes of key games will be needed in the Sweet Sixteen and possibly beyond. (Getty)

Jackson said yesterday that he has confidence in his foot and he is “100 percent” ready to play against North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen. With two more wins needed to reach the program’s second consecutive Final Four, it is an intriguing dilemma for Bo Ryan to determine how many minutes Jackson should play. The argument against inserting him completely back into the rotation is that the move could disturb the seamless rhythm of what has been an offensive juggernaut. The argument for playing him is that he was the starter of last season’s Final Four squad and it’s not as if the Badgers were doing poorly before he was injured (15-1 with the sole loss coming to Duke). Ryan will definitely play his senior point guard some minutes tonight, but the question is how much and in what spots? The reason that this is a particularly difficult decision for the head coach is because Koenig has been a more effective player than Jackson.

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NCAA Regional Reset: West Region

Posted by Andrew Murawa 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 @rtcwestregion for reporting from Los Angeles this week. Check out all of the regional resets for the Sweet Sixteen here.

New Favorite: Arizona, #1, 33-3. We’re still going with the Wildcats by a hair over Wisconsin and we’re not just throwing darts; we have our reasons. First, they’re still slightly above Wisconsin in terms of KenPom rankings, especially on the defensive end of the court. Second, they’re going to have a significant home court advantage this week in Los Angeles. Third, instead of facing a #3 seed in the Sweet Sixteen, they “Cats got a slightly easier path with Xavier up next. And fourth, straight up: revenge. However, it will take a lot of work for any of these four teams to come out of this region.

With this guy running the point, you have to like Arizona's chances to get to the Final Four. (Greg Wahl-Stephens/AP)

With this guy running the point, you have to like Arizona’s chances to get to the Final Four. (Greg Wahl-Stephens/AP)

Horse of Darkness: Xavier, #6, 23-13. The only team that has outperformed its seed to advance to this point, the Musketeers aren’t going to just be happy to have made it this far and call it a day. They’ve got enough size along the front line to hang with Arizona, and with senior point guard Dee Davis playing the best ball of his career, crafty scorer Myles Davis and athletic freshman Trevon Bluiett, they’ve got the firepower to spring an upset… Or two.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): Georgia State. After 30 minutes of giving #3 seed Baylor all it wanted last Thursday, it looked like the Panthers had run out of gas. Over the course of six possessions starting at the under-12 media timeout, the Bears grabbed five offensive boards, cleaned the glass on the defensive end after forcing four straight missed field goal attempts and put together a 10-0 run to build a 10-point lead. Coming out of the under-four media timeout, Rico Gathers hit a pair of free throws and Baylor’s lead was then at 12. The Bears wouldn’t score again. Coach’s son R.J. Hunter scored 12 of Georgia State’s 13 points down the stretch, including a deep three with three seconds left that sent his dad, torn Achilles and all, sprawling onto the Veterans Memorial Arena floor. It’s the iconic moment of this year’s NCAA Tournament and a play we’ll see for many Marches to come. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reaction: #1 Wisconsin 86, #16 Coastal Carolina 72

Posted by Eric Clark on March 20th, 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.

Frank Kaminsky Dominated as Wisconsin Rolled Through Coastal Carolina. (USA Today Images)

Frank Kaminsky Dominated as Wisconsin Rolled Through Coastal Carolina. (USA Today Images)

  1. Coastal Carolina was not your typical #16 seed. The Chanticleers put up a decent fight in the first half on the offensive end, shooting 52 percent from the field while making 5-of-6 three-pointers, but they still trailed Wisconsin by 15 at the break. Coastal Carolina made plenty of athletic plays, with Shivaughn Wiggins and Josh Cameron combining for 21 of their 32 first half points. Seth Davis even said Coastal Carolina would have been a #15 seed in the 64-team format, making them a better-than-normal #16 seed. The Chanticleers went 24-9 this season, winning their conference tournament and dropping in at #141 in KenPom – four spots higher than fellow mid-major and #15 seed North Dakota State. Their decent play isn’t surprising, but neither is Wisconsin’s throttling of them either. All credit is due to the Badgers, who seem to have five legitimate play-makers on the court at the same time.
  2. Wisconsin’s entire roster is made up of shooters. Every Badger in the starting lineup nailed a three-pointer in the first half, and Wisconsin totaled 11 treys over the course of the win. Along with those shooters, almost every player is a threat to drive as well, forcing Coastal Carolina to respect each player on the ball, off the ball, in the post, on the perimeter, on the bench and on the bus. Wisconsin made it look easy in passing the ball around the perimeter and being maddeningly patient with its shot selection. And when Wisconsin doesn’t turn the ball over, they’re incredibly hard to beat. Add in the Badgers’ 36 total rebounds to the Chanticleers’ 25 and you’ve got a recipe for a classic Wisconsin beatdown. Coastal Carolina wasn’t the first and won’t be the last team to get pummeled by the Badgers’ fantastic shot selection and efficient rebounding.
  3. Coastal Carolina’s ability to get shots should concern Bo Ryan. If you were in CenturyLink Arena a couple hours before Wisconsin’s win, you were treated to a much sloppier shootout between Oregon and Oklahoma State. The Ducks emerged victorious, and despite turning the ball over 12 times, Joe Young and Elgin Cook regularly found open looks from both long range and in the paint. If Coastal Carolina can find good looks, rest assured that Oregon can too. And the Ducks won’t have only two scorers on the floor at once like Coastal Carolina – they’re a fully functioning scoring machine, albeit with a turnover problem, but they’re definitely apt to put up a ton of points.

Star of the game. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin. Frank the Tank went 10-of-14 from the field, doing his usual thing by scoring both inside and outside. The National Player of the Year candidate went for 27 points, 12 rebounds and four assists in leading his team to another NCAA Tournament victory.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Evening

Posted by RTC Staff on March 20th, 2015

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In what was certainly one of the most competitive and jam-packed “opening” days in NCAA Tournament history, Friday’s slate of games will have a hard time following Thursday’s remarkable act. However, today offers a fair share of fascinating matchups as well. Here is a preview of Friday’s evening games.

#8 Oregon vs. #9 Oklahoma State – West Region First Round (at Omaha, NE) – 6:50 PM ET on TBS.

The game plan is simple when playing Oregon: Stop Joe Young. (USA TODAY Sports)

The game plan is simple when playing Oregon: Stop Joe Young. (USA TODAY Sports)

For the Ducks, it all begins and ends with Pac-12 Player of the Year Joseph Young. A deadly shooter, Young is stroking it at 36.1% from three (a career-low), 50.3% from two and 92.6% from the free throw line. He’s adept as a pull-up shooter from deep, a catch-and-shoot guy coming off a screen or on the bounce and on the attack. He’s scored 20 or more 17 different times this season. In other words: stop Young, stop the Ducks. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, they don’t appear to have a ready-made matchup for Young, unless they put 6’6” Le’Bryan Nash – ostensibly a power forward on this team – on him. On the other end of the court, the Ducks can throw a combination of Dwayne Benjamin, Elgin Cook and Dillon Brooks at Nash – the ‘Pokes leading scorer – and feel relatively comfortable, while they’ll let Young, or any of their other fresh guards, chase Phil Forte off screens and try to limit his clean three-point looks. In the end, the Cowboys are more reliant on three-point shooting, while the Ducks can score in all three ranges. Unless Forte and senior Anthony Hickey get super hot from deep, the Ducks should have the edge

The RTC Certified Pick: Oregon

#1 Duke vs. #16 Robert Morris – South Region Second Round (at Charlotte, NC) – 7:10 PM ET on CBS.

Robert Morris sprung a mild upset in Dayton on Wednesday, knocking off favored North Florida in impressive fashion. To further extend their season, the Colonials will need another unexpected victory, but quite obviously, this upset may be slightly less attainable. Duke has had their share of recent struggles in the Tournament’s second round, but stubbed toes against foes such as Mercer and Lehigh can only offer RMU so much solace. Jahlil Okafor dominated small-conference foes in November and December – the Colonials, like almost every team in America, has no player capable of slowing Duke’s freshman star. Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones have proven virtually unstoppable as a duo: stopping one is possible, but forcing poor shooting nights from both is rare. The Colonials made only 4-of-16 three-point field goals against North Florida but have shot the three-ball well this season (37.7 percent). Getting hot from long range would be a great way for Andy Toole’s team to begin the task of hanging around in this game. To finish that chore — even if it ends in defeat — Robert Morris will need to pitch a perfect game. This is the life of a #16 seed, and while it’ll be Duke moving on to face the winner of San Diego State-St. John’s, Robert Morris should head home with heads held high, a proud season in the books.

The RTC Certified Pick: Duke Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: Wisconsin 71, Michigan 60

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 13th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

The Badgers Were All Smiles Today in Chicago (USA Today Images)

The Badgers Were All Smiles Today in Chicago (USA Today Images)

  1. Michigan Played With Great Confidence. Both Bennet Hayes and I, along with some other media members with whom I spoke before the game, thought Michigan had a real shot today. There was something about the swagger with which the Wolverines had dominated Illinois yesterday that made this seem like a distinct possibility. And early in the game, it appeared to be true. Zak Irvin and Spike Albrecht combined for 18 of Michigan’s first 22 points, each hitting two three-pointers in leading Michigan to an early nine-point lead. Even though Michigan’s shot-making wouldn’t continue at the same rate, the team’s intensity and focus certainly would, which is what kept this quarterfinal competitive throughout.
  2. Wisconsin Asserted Itself. The Badgers methodically climbed back into the game by clamping down defensively, especially on Albrecht. During a 10-0 Wisconsin run to end the first half, every Wolverines’ shot attempt was well-contested. The only way that Michigan was able to regain a second half lead was by getting out in transition — something Wisconsin uncharacteristically let them do — but as usual, the Badgers’ half-court defense was tough to solve.
  3. Wisconsin Has Too Many Weapons. While Michigan had one or two players doing things to keep the Wolverines in the game, so many Wisconsin players made plays down the stretch that it was simply too much for Michigan to overcome. Josh Gasser hit a big three; Duje Dukan was awesome off the bench; and Nigel Hayes was a pain in Michigan’s rear end all day long. Then, with about 3:40 to go, there was a single play emblematic of Wisconsin’s victory. Frank Kaminsky missed a shot at the rim, got his own rebound, and then, while falling to the floor, found Gasser on the perimeter. Gasser immediately penetrated, kicked the ball out to Bronson Koenig, who made the extra pass to Sam Dekker as he stepped into and drilled a three. The Badgers were too solid at all five spots on the floor to be beaten by a valiant but short-handed Michigan team today.

Player of the Game. Zak Irvin, Michigan. He was on the losing side of today’s ledger, but Irvin had a tremendous game. He scored 21 points on 9-of-18 shooting, pulled down 11 rebounds and was the only Michigan player who stayed in attack mode for all 40 minutes.

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Big Ten Coach of the Year: Mark Turgeon

Posted by Alex Moscoso on March 10th, 2015

Whenever it’s time to decide a Coach of the Year award, there’s always a debate on the approach. Should we give it to the coach with the most successful team or should we give it to the coach who outperformed expectations? More often than not, we associate excellent coaching with those who overachieve. That’s because we also associate the concept of “coaching” with those who excel in game strategy and player development — if your team is perceived as better than the sum of its talented parts, you’re labeled a “good coach.” This notion, however, discounts some of the other important aspects of modern college coaching like recruiting, scheduling and fundraising — which lays the foundation for dominant programs to have such high expectations. Our Big Ten Coach of the Year, Maryland’s Mark Turgeon, has had a successful year because of the excellent recruiting and in-game coaching that he’s done, but also because of his ability to successfully lead Maryland through a number of obstacles all season long.

Mark Turgeon's Terps could get off to a rocky start in the Big Ten.

Mark Turgeon led his Terps to a big splash in their first Big Ten year.

First, some praise to our two runner-ups: Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan and Purdue’s Matt Painter. Despite the highest of national and regional expectations on his team, Ryan delivered. The Badgers’ season wasn’t flawless in that they were easily handled in Madison by a younger Duke team and suffered an inexplicable January loss to Rutgers on the road (even without Frank Kaminsky). But make no mistake, Ryan has readied his team to make another legitimate run at the Final Four. Painter, our second runner-up, started the season on the hot seat after two consecutive campaigns below .500. Some smart offseason additions in the forms of Vince Edwards and Jon Octeus, coupled with the development of A.J. Hammons and Raphael Davis, catapulted the Boilermakers to a surprising 12-6 Big Ten record. But as impressive as Ryan and Painter were this season, Turgeon is the coach whose team best exhibited on-court success and overcame significant hurdles to do so. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten M5: 03.06.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on March 6th, 2015

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  1. Indiana’s Tuesday night loss to Iowa marks another defeat in the Hoosiers’ recent skid, where they’ve only won four times in their last eleven games. After the latest loss, fans could be heard heckling Tom Crean. This prompted Indiana athletic director, Fred Glass, to come out and give a statement of support, “He has my full support. I have a great deal of confidence in Tom’s body of work. This team overachieved early and then hit a tough patch”. Glass has a point. Crean is a victim of his early success this season, but the Hoosiers are still in a much better position than many thought they would be at the start of the season. This season — unlike other Crean campaigns in Bloomington — Indiana has overachieved.
  2. Illinois eeked out a win in its final home game of the season against Nebraska on Wednesday. It was also senior night where both Rayvonte Rice and Nnanna Egwu were honored. Egwu was recruited by Bruce Weber to play for Illinois, but the head coach he thought he would be playing for was fired after his freshman year. But the native-born Nigerian quickly won over the new coaching staff with his work ethic and model behavior off the court. Egwu may have not have fully developed on offense like Illini fans had hoped, but he’s proven himself to be a well-rounded student-athlete — something fans should be proud of.
  3. On Thursday, Wisconsin defeated Minnesota 76-63 in Minneapolis to claim its first Big Ten championship since 2008. Like seven years ago, it was an outright title and guarantees the Badgers the #1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. The win caps off what’s been an amazing season that’s met the lofty expectations placed upon the Badgers in the preseason. With Frank Kaminsky as the slight favorite for National Player of the Year, this season is one for the ages for both Wisconsin and Bo Ryan . And it should be recognized as such no matter what happens in the NCAA Tournament.
  4. The regular season is coming to an end, which means soon all the end-of-the-year accolades by different media sites will start being published. BTN kicked it off with a poll of Big Ten beat writers asking “Which teams were the most surprising and disappointing this season?” Purdue was the hands-down winner for most surprising team as they turned their season around after going 8-5 in the non-conference with two bad losses. Both Minnesota and Nebraska were chosen as the most disappointing teams. I described earlier this week what a disappointment the Cornhuskers have been, but the Gophers have also suffered a severe setback this season. After barely missing the NCAA Tournament and winning the NIT championship last season, Minnesota is now fighting just to stay out of the bottom four in the league.
  5. With Selection Sunday only nine days away, the bracketologists have been out in full force with their predictions. And the most popular one, Joe Lundari, just put out his most recent projections. Wisconsin (#2 seed), Maryland (#3), Iowa (#7), Michigan State (#7), and Ohio State (#8) all seem to be safely in the field. Illinois, Indiana, and Purdue, however, are squarely on the bubble. The Boilermakers and Hoosiers are currently in the field, while the Illini have some work to do.
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Big Ten M5: 02.25.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 25th, 2015

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  1. Iowa lost a member of its deep roster earlier this week, as sophomore point guard Trey Dickerson decided to leave the program. The junior college transfer simply wasn’t seeing much time with Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons ahead of him in the rotation, playing in only 15 games (9.7 MPG). He did flash some athleticism and the ability to get to the rim in his brief cameos on the floor, but with those two upperclassmen ahead of him, he wasn’t likely to get much of a shot at substantial playing time in Iowa City.
  2. After a 12-1 start to the season inspired questions as to whether Penn State could make a “Nebraska-type run” to the postseason this year, things have since fallen apart for Pat Chambers’ squad. Perhaps rock bottom for the campaign took place in losing by 21 points to fellow bottom-dweller Northwestern on Saturday. Chambers is still on solid footing in terms of his job security, however, as athletic director Sandy Barbour recently said that the coach “deserves more opportunity than he’s gotten.” Penn State’s recruiting class for next year looks promising, so it makes sense to give the fourth-year coach at least another season to put things together. Another lost season in 2015-16 might make things a little dicier for him in State College, however.
  3. Wisconsin has a difficult final stretch to the season that was revealed in last night’s loss to Maryland in College Park. The Big Ten title seemed like a given for the Badgers up to this point, but things just got a bit more interesting. If Michigan State can win its game on Thursday against Minnesota and Purdue can beat a hapless Rutgers unit, there will be three teams within two games of the regular season crown. Bo Ryan‘s group still has road trips to Minnesota and Ohio State during the last week of the regular season, and they will have to beat Michigan State at home this weekend. The Badgers will still probably come away with the crown, but it won’t be easy.
  4. Containing Jarrod Uthoff, holding Iowa to under 64 points, and shaking off its dismal 2-of-16 performance from three against Michigan State are some of the keys for Illinois as the Illini take on Iowa in a bubble battle tonight in Iowa City. Illinois is currently listed as a “Last Four In” team, according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, so obviously winning tonight’s game on the road against a team with similar RPI numbers would be a significant boost to their Tourney hopes.
  5. CBS’ Sam Vecenie broke down the Big Ten Player of the Year race, and his assessment is that Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky should get the nod over Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell. He lists Iowa’s Aaron White, Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell and Maryland’s Melo Trimble as the rest of his First Team. The argument is one that may not get settled until the very last game of the season when Kaminsky and Russell’s teams go head-to-head in Columbus. In almost any other year, Russell would probably be a shoe-in to win the honor — anyone who has seen him play knows what he brings to the table. But while his game is not necessarily flashy, the main point that Vecenie and many others make about Kaminsky is that he’s done everything this season. His defense has improved and he can beat teams offensively in a multitude of ways. It doesn’t hurt that Wisconsin is clearly the better team than Ohio State. That should matter to the extent of whether any ties need to be broken.
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Big Ten M5: 02.13.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 13th, 2015

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  1. For every step forward Iowa takes, the Hawkeyes seem to follow it up with another step back. That was the case again on Thursday night when Fran McCaffery’s team lost at home to Minnesota. The Golden Gophers are in the bottom third of the Big Ten standings and have been a major disappointment since league play started. The Hawkeyes, on the other hand, were coming off a statement game where they demolished second-place Maryland — and yet somehow, Minnesota earned its first road win in conference play. Iowa still has a favorable remaining schedule the rest of the way, but if it somehow drops this weekend’s game at Northwestern, it might be time to hit the panic button.
  2. Thursday night also marked the return of Rayvonte Rice to the court in Illinois’ overtime win over Michigan. It was initially an awkward reunion, as the Illini looked uncomfortable in their sets and sputtered to a 20-point first half — their worst offensive half of the year. Rice didn’t score until the overtime period, but his defense and rebounding helped Illinois put together an amazing 21-0 run to overcome an eight-point deficit in the dwindling minutes. If John Groce’s team works out some of the kinks in the integration process, this could still become a very dangerous team in March.
  3. This year is shaping up to be the most successful season for Wisconsin in the Bo Ryan era. And while the head coach is no doubt enjoying his current success, part of his set of responsibilities includes planning for the future of the program as well. That future got a little brighter for the Badgers on Thursday when Ryan secured a commitment from Khalil Iverson — a small forward from Delaware, Ohio. Iverson adds to an already solid Class of 2015 for Wisconsin, but the big prize Ryan is seeking is five-star Wisconsin-native Diamond Stone. Landing a player of that caliber would help the Badgers again compete for a Big Ten championship and Final Four despite several expected personnel losses.
  4. Wisconsin wasn’t the only Big Ten program adding talent this week, as Indiana picked up freshman Jordan Fuchs, who also plays tight end for the school’s football team. Fuchs is not a typical two-sport player who excels in one sport and simply holds his own in the other. The Queens native was considered a top 10 basketball player in New York last year, and he’s already started practicing with the team and made the trip to Maryland. At 6’6″ and 230 pounds, Tom Crean may be looking to add any size he can get down into the post.
  5. Finally, we’ve talked extensively here at the Big Ten microsite about how phenomenal this season’s freshmen class has been. The highlight has been Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell, who is making a run at the Big Ten and National POY awards with his 19.4 PPG, 5.9 RPG, and 5.5 APG averages. But other players like Maryland’s Melo Trimble, Indiana’s James Blackmon Jr., Northwestern’s Bryant McIntosh, Purdue’s Vince Edwards, Minnesota’s Nate Mason, and Ohio State’s Ja’Sean Tate, have also made a big impact on their respective teams. BTN decided to compare these seven players against freshmen classes of previous years, and the conclusion? This year’s rookies are the best of the bunch. While theirs is certainly a subjective analysis, it is high praise for all the young talent in this league.
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How Wisconsin Can Use Sam Dekker Better Offensively

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on December 4th, 2014

Even though Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker grew to 6’9″ during the summer and brought two full years of experience into his junior season, there remained concerns about his assertiveness during big games. He is extremely talented with a quick trigger and excellent form on his jumper, but Dekker seems to consistently struggle against superior competition and has a tendency to go through long stretches of the game when you wonder if he is even on the court. Last night’s loss to Duke was no different: In 24 minutes of action, Dekker shot only 2-of-5 from the field and scored five points. More concerning than his low scoring output was his sheer number of shot attempts — how could a player with so much talent take only five shots? While it is easy to blame him for laziness in hanging around the three-point line on the offensive end, it may be worth discussing if Wisconsin’s offense instead needs to better structured around him. A closer examination of last night’s game hints how his specific skill set within the offensive scheme is being ineffectively used.

Bo Ryan needs to find more ways to keep Sam Dekker engaged in the half-court offense (Jim Polzin, Wisconsin State Journal)

Bo Ryan needs to find more ways to keep Sam Dekker engaged in the half-court offense (Jim Polzin, Wisconsin State Journal)

The heralded Badgers offense that averaged upwards of 1.1 points per possession last season is packed with scoring talent. Frank Kaminsky is as good as advertised (17 points) and Bo Ryan makes a conscious effort to give the big guy the ball for many of the team’s possessions. Senior guard Traevon Jackson has consistently proven that he can control the offense in the half-court and is not afraid to take a big shot during crunch time (25 points). Ryan called isolation plays for Kaminsky in the low post during the second half, and when double-teamed, he kicked the ball out for Jackson to penetrate the lane. This two-man combination worked well for much of the game, but it stifled the offense over the last six minutes when Duke finished off the Badgers. It is easy to blame Dekker for not actively wanting the ball, but every time he had it, he had no choice but to dump it back into the low post or swing it from one side to the other. Expecting him to take the ball into a one-on-one situation at the top of the key is unfair and could also disturb the overall offensive rhythm. Keeping this in mind, Ryan should consider supplementing his offense by running specific plays for Dekker in the half-court.

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Tonight’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge Main Event: Previewing Duke at Wisconsin

Posted by Alex Moscoso and Brad Jenkins on December 3rd, 2014

As the ACC and the Big Ten teams get together on the hardwood this week, ACC and Big Ten microsites writers Alex Moscoso and Brad Jenkins have teamed up to break down the match-up between Wisconsin and Duke, the main event on the final night of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Frontcourt

Alex Moscoso: Duke has a special player in center Jahlil Okafor, the likely #1 overall pick in next year’s NBA Draft. But as far as the best frontcourt in basketball, I submit there’s no unit with a better combination of talent and experience than the Badgers’ group of Frank Kaminsky, Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker. All three will play in the Association and are familiar with one another’s tendencies from a full year together on the floor. For the season, they’re combining to average 42.9 PPG (57.5 percent of the team’s output) and 20.6 RPG. While Kaminsky and Dekker are likely to be Naismith finalists, Hayes has also garnered widespread acclaim for his improved play as a sophomore – specifically, his newfound ability to hit the deep ball on occasion (35.7%) and better defensive play in the post. His transformation from talented prospect to contributing factor has made this frontcourt almost invulnerable. The trio will certainly have its hands full with the athletic duo of Okafor and Justise Winslow, but the Wisconsin big men should wear these young Blue Devils out by hitting some threes and forcing them to guard the entire half-court – from the rim out to the three-point line.

Frank Kaminsky (yes, it's true) exploded for 43 points on Tuesday. (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky  and the Badgers “are coming” for Duke on Wednesday night, in what is one of the best non-conference games this season. (Getty)

Brad Jenkins: To say this is a match-up of Duke’s young talent versus Wisconsin’s veteran frontcourt is an oversimplification. The Badgers’ big guys are not only experienced but they are extremely skilled and more athletic than most realize. Duke’s two freshman starters up front, Okafor and Winslow, are both considered one-and-doners, and they play the game with a physical and mental maturity rarely seen in college rookies. On the one hand, Okafor has good footwork around the basket that should force Wisconsin into more double-teaming than normal. On the other hand, Winslow is a bit of a wild card in this game, as the Badgers don’t have a player who can match his combination of size and athleticism on the wing. The veteran Dekker, a tall forward with decent lateral quickness, will probably get the assignment, but he has been nursing a nagging ankle injury and may not be at 100 percent. Look for Winslow to aggressively attack the Badgers off the dribble as a way to create offense when the Blue Devils are otherwise stymied. Wisconsin normally protects the defensive glass as well as any team in the country, but watch out for Amile Jefferson on the weak side if Okafor demands major attention. So far this season, the 6’9” junior ranks third nationally with a 21.9 percent offensive rebounding rate. Read the rest of this entry »

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