Eight Questions for the Final Four: Michigan State vs. Texas Tech

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on April 5th, 2019

The other side of the bracket features the East Region champion Michigan State and West Region champion Texas Tech. In a match-up of the Big Ten and Big 12, here are four questions I have for each team regarding the upcoming game.

Michigan State

Michigan State Has Its Eyes Set on One More Celebration (USA Today Images)

1) Will Michigan State limit its turnovers? On the season, Michigan State has turned the ball over at nearly the national average. The Spartans ranked 12th in Big Ten play in turnover rate, however, and they logged a 22-turnover performance in the Second Round against Minnesota. During the regional, Texas Tech pestered Michigan and Gonzaga into turning the ball over at a much higher rate than which they were accustomed.

2) Might the Spartans look to push the pace? While Michigan State’s pace of play ranks slightly below the national average, the Spartans tend to score with great success when they run. According to Hoop-Math, Tom Izzo’s squad owns the ninth-best effective field goal conversion rate while in transition. Texas Tech, on the other hand, has the second-best non-transition effective field-goal percentage defense in the country. A strategy that centers on beating Texas Tech in the half-court could make for a long night for Sparty.

3) Can Michigan State’s bench provide help for the Spartans offensively? The Spartans will be up against a Texas Tech defense that allowed just six total bench points in its two regional wins against Gonzaga and Michigan. Throughout the NCAA Tournament, Michigan State’s bench has primarily consisted of contributions from Nick Ward and Gabe Brown. Ward could provide second-chance opportunities against a Red Raiders’ defense that at times can be suspect in cleaning up its defensive glass.

4) Will the rest between the Elite Eight and Final Four be enough time to help Nick Ward return to his earlier form? In Michigan State’s first 15 Big Ten games, Nick Ward averaged 15.3 points per game. Since returning from an injury late in the year, however, the junior has averaged just 5.9 points per game. Ward, now coming off of the bench, has the potential to give Cassius Winston some much needed offensive help against the stout Texas Tech defense.

Texas Tech

Chris Beard is on the Fast Track to Coaching Superstardom (USA Today Images)

1) Will Texas Tech be vulnerable against Michigan State’s offensive rebounding ability? Through four NCAA Tournament games to date, Texas Tech has surrendered 46 offensive rebounds to its opponents. This weekend’s game against Michigan State will be the Red Raiders’ seventh game against an opponent with an offensive rebounding ranking of 25th or better. In those six games, the Red Raiders went just 3-3.

2) Can Texas Tech’s bigs stay out of foul trouble? In Saturday’s win over Gonzaga, Texas Tech’s Norense Odiase picked up two quick fouls within the opening three minutes. Fellow big Tariq Owens went on to pick up a pair of fouls in the first half as well. Michigan State’s trio of Cassius Winston, Xavier Tillman and Nick Ward all draw fouls at a high rate. After Odiase and Owens, Chris Beard is very limited in available bigs to put on the floor.

3) Which Davide Moretti shows up for the Red Raiders? The sophomore guard from Italy is shooting 46.3 percent from beyond the three-point line and led the Big 12 by shooting 53.5 percent in league play. Moretti made five of his eight attempts during the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight, but he had gone 0-for-7 in the opening two rounds.

4) Will Jarrett Culver bring his A-game to the table? Culver, a second-team AP All-American, is averaging 21.5 points per game in the NCAA Tournament. A year after shooting a robust 38.2 percent on three-point attempts, Culver is converting just 31.6 percent this season. In Texas Tech’s six losses this year, Culver has made only 20.6 percent of his attempts.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big Ten Edition

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 17th, 2019

Below is a review of how the selection process concluded for each Big Ten team and what they should expect in the first few rounds of the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Michigan State looks to carry its momentum into the Dance. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
  • Michigan State, #2 seed, East Region. Michigan State backed up its regular season conference co-title by beating Michigan on Sunday en route to the Big Ten Tournament title. It was the Spartans’ third win over the Wolverines in three weeks, giving them more Quadrant 1 wins than any team in America. Their reward? A potential date with #1 overall seed Duke in the Elite Eight. Of course, Tom Izzo’s club will have to get there first, which is easier said than done. Assuming it gets past #15 Bradley (and it’s never safe to assume), Michigan State would play either Louisville — a team it lost to in November — or Big Ten foe Minnesota in the Round of 32. Still, the Spartans are superior to both teams and should reach Washington, DC. Once there, a win over #3 LSU or #6 Maryland (or Cinderella) would set up a highly-anticipated matchup with the Blue Devils. With Cassius Winston at the helm and forward Nick Ward back in the lineup, Michigan State has enough depth and physicality to hang with the Blue Devils for 40 minutes. Whether it’s enough to beat a trio of top-5 NBA Draft picks remains to be seen.
  • Michigan, #2 seed, West Region. The Wolverines hung on to a #2 seed despite dropping five of their last 13 games, setting up a rematch with Montana, which they played in the First Round as well just last March. Like that contest, Michigan’s elite defense should have no problem shutting down the sharp-shooting Grizzlies. A Second Round date with #7 Nevada or #10 Florida — both inconsistent down the stretch — also poses little danger to last season’s National Runner-Up. A trip to Anaheim, however, would be a different story. Assuming #3 Texas Tech avoids another bizarre upset, Michigan would likely face the Red Raiders in a Sweet Sixteen matchup between the nation’s two stingiest defenses. Are the Wolverines capable of winning that game and knocking off #1 seed Gonzaga for another trip to the Final Four? Absolutely. But their up-and-down offense will have to start scoring more consistently for that to happen.
  • Wisconsin, #5 seed, South Region. What are we to make of the Badgers? Always beloved by advanced metrics, Wisconsin finished the season ranked #12 overall in KenPom thanks to a rock-solid defense that led the Big Ten in efficiency during conference play. Not to mention Ethan Happ (17.1 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 4.6 APG), who ranked among the league’s best in nearly every statistical category known to man. One category not worthy of praise, of course, is free throw shooting (46.5% FT), which has proved to be Happ’s — and perhaps the team’s — kryptonite this season. That could be an issue against a red-hot Oregon team that has size, length, and fouls at a high rate. The #12 Ducks are good enough to beat Wisconsin and may well do so if they grab an early lead. If the Badgers can control the game flow, though, wins against both Oregon and an equally methodical, defensive-minded Kansas State team in the Round of 32 are also within the realm of possibility. For a team with only one consistent offensive threat, a fourth Sweet Sixteen berth in five seasons is probably Wisconsin’s ceiling.
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Ten Questions to Consider: Regular Season Comes to a Close

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 8th, 2019

With several conferences already in the midst of tournament action and others still wrapping up regular season play, this weekend is setting up to be a great warm-up for the upcoming wall-to-wall action. Here are 10 questions I have for a set of games that could set the tone for the next few weeks.

Will He or Won’t He? (USA Today Images)
  1. If Zion Williamson is held out against North Carolina, will Duke be looking at a similar result? (Duke @ North Carolina, Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN) Duke’s defense surrendered 58 points to the Tar Heels’ duo of Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson a few weeks ago. The Blue Devils allowed a total of 88 points despite North Carolina shooting a season-worst 10 percent from deep.
  2. Will Michigan have any luck slowing down Cassius Winston? (Michigan @ Michigan State, Saturday 8 PM EST, ESPN) In Michigan State’s win in Ann Arbor, Cassius Winston scored 27 points, with 19 of those coming in the second half. In that particular match-up, the Spartans turned the ball over at a season low rate of just 9.6 percent.
  3. Which Carsen Edwards shows up for Purdue as the Boilermakers look for a share (or more) of the Big Ten regular season title? (Purdue @ Northwestern, Saturday 2:30 PM EST, Big Ten Network) After shooting a robust 41.7 percent on his three-point attempts last season in league play, Purdue’s Carsen Edwards is shooting just 30.2 percent in Big Ten games this season. In Purdue’s four league losses, Edwards has shot an icy 19.6 percent from beyond the arc.
  4. Can San Diego State get the best of Nevada again? (Nevada @ San Diego State, Saturday 10:30 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) The Aztecs have won three consecutive games against Nevada, including an inspiring victory in San Diego two weeks ago. Brian Dutcher’s team forced 10 first half turnovers in that game, which led to a 17-3 edge in points off turnovers over the opening 20 minutes.
  5. Is Anthony Cowan the barometer of success for Maryland? (Minnesota @ Maryland, Friday 7 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) In Maryland’s 21 wins this season, Anthony Cowan is shooting 41.8 percent from beyond the arc; but in the Terrapins nine losses, Cowan is shooting just 28.6 percent. The junior has shot a mere 1-of-11 from distance in the Terps’ last two games, both losses.
  6. Will the Big South’s best get revenge in the conference’s semifinal match-up? (Radford vs. Charleston Southern, Friday 6 PM EST, ESPN+) The Big South’s top seed Radford trailed at the half in its opening round win against Presbyterian, but the Highlanders take on Charleston Southern next, a team that recently beat Radford by a single point. Made shots were far from plentiful in that game, however, as Charleston Southern went 5-of-25 from inside the arc and Radford was just 5-of-28 on its three-point attempts.
  7. How will Virginia Tech respond to its midweek collapse at Florida State? (Miami @ Virginia Tech, Friday 7 PM EST, ESPN2) The Hokies led by 14 points in the second half at Florida State before ultimately losing to the Seminoles in overtime. Virginia Tech’s bench was outscored 28-0 in regulation and has tallied just 31 points combined in the team’s six conference losses.
  8. Can Louisville put together a full 40-minute effort against Virginia? (Louisville @ Virginia, Saturday 4 PM EST, ESPN) While Louisville was +30 from behind the arc in its February loss to Virginia, the Cavaliers owned a 38-4 advantage in the paint. The Cardinals held Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome without a single three-point make, but the duo of De’Andre Hunter and Mamadi Diakite put together a 40-point performance.
  9. Will Arizona State avoid disaster against Arizona? (Arizona State @ Arizona, Saturday 4 PM EST, CBS) While the Pac-12 is likely going to be given no favors come Selection Sunday, a conference record of 12-6 with non-conference wins against Kansas and Mississippi State would seemingly put the Sun Devils in good shape. A loss against struggling intrastate rival Arizona, however, could easily send Bobby Hurley’s squad to the wrong side of the bubble.
  10. Where will conference tournament chaos break out? With nine conferences in tournament action this weekend, it’s not a matter of if chaos will ensue, but when and where. Four tournament tickets will be punched over the weekend, but will the top seeds prevail? A potential Ohio Valley Conference title game between Belmont and Murray State would be must-see mid-major television.
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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 2nd, 2018

With the season tipping off next Tuesday, there’s no better time to roll out our 2018-19 RTC Preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of 10 RTC writers provided their ballots over the last week and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

  • Carsen Edwards, Purdue (unanimous) – Purdue has plenty to replace this season with former mainstays Vincent Edwards and Isaac Haas now gone from West Lafayette. Luckily for Matt Painter’s Boilermakers, Edwards opted to return to Purdue for his junior season. The standout point guard will look to build on what has been a dynamic collegiate career. Following a freshman season where Edwards showed he belonged in the Big Ten, he took a big step forward in his sophomore campaign, averaging 18.5 points per game and shooting a commendable 40.6 percent from the three-point line. The Boilermakers lose nearly 50 points per game from last season’s Sweet Sixteen team, but it would not be surprising to see the play-making floor general take Purdue back to the second weekend next March. Factoid: Edwards participated in the NBA Draft combine last spring before deciding to return to Purdue. A noticeable change since his return has been in his physical stature, as he added around 10 pounds to his frame. Purdue men’s basketball strength and conditioning coach Gavin Roberts attributes Edwards’ strength gain to a “professional” demeanor in the weight room.
  • R.J. Barrett, Duke – Duke bringing in a star-studded recruiting class is certainly nothing new, but you would be hard-pressed to find another time when such a unique talent as Barrett descended on Durham. At 6’7″, the incoming freshman can handle the ball, create his own shot and relentlessly attack the basket. His size and athleticism will also allow him to effectively defend multiple positions and contribute on the boards.  The Blue Devils figure to once again be an offensive juggernaut, and it is fair to speculate that Barrett will be their most productive component. Factoid: Hailing from Canada, Barrett has a unique connection to basketball lore. He is the godson of two-time NBA MVP — and fellow Canadian — Steve Nash.
  • Caleb Martin, Nevada – Nevada exploded onto the scene last season, as the Wolf Pack won the regular season Mountain West title and earned the program’s first Sweet Sixteen berth since 2004. Expectations are now sky high for Eric Musselman’s group entering this season, as his team is already ranked #8 in the preseason AP Top 25. A major reason for all the lofty hopes in Reno is that Martin decided to put the NBA on hold in returning for his senior season. The rangy forward will look to build on a junior campaign when he averaged 18.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. If Martin can once again put up dominant numbers, the preseason hype encompassing the Wolf Pack will likely prove to be warranted. Factoid:In addition to the RTC All-America team, Martin was named a preseason first team All-American by the AP, becoming the first player in program history to receive the honor.
  • Luke Maye, North Carolina – There might not be a player in the country that has had as unique of a collegiate career as the North Carolina senior. Recall that Maye did not have a guaranteed scholarship in place when he originally committed to the Tar Heels in high school, and while playing time was difficult to earn through a majority of his first two seasons in Chapel Hill, his breakout finally came in the 2017 Elite Eight when he scored 17 points and buried a game-winning jumper to beat Kentucky. Maye followed up those heroics with a junior season averaging 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds per contest while earning first team All-ACC honors. The Tar Heels have a lot of new faces in place this season, but the transition should be relatively seamless with double-double machine Maye on the blocks. Factoid: Maye joined rarefied North Carolina air last season with a 32-point, 18-rebound performance against Boston College and a 33-point, 17-rebound effort against NC State. Those two performances made him only the fourth player in program history with multiple 30/15 games in a season.
  • Ethan Happ, Wisconsin – Last March represented the first time since 1998 that Wisconsin did not earn an NCAA Tournament bid. The young Badgers battled injuries and inconsistency throughout the season as they sputtered their way to a 15-18 overall record. Despite the lost season, Happ still managed to contribute very productive numbers. Building on impressive freshman and sophomore campaigns, the junior forward tallied 17.9 points and 8.0 rebounds per game on his way to becoming a first team all-Big Ten player. Assuming Happ takes another step forward during his final season in Madison, it is likely Wisconsin will find its way back to the NCAA Tournament. Factoid: Happ was so distraught about Wisconsin not making the NCAA Tournament lats year that he kept the TV in his apartment from showing anything about March Madness.

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What We Learned From a Wild Week in the Big Ten

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 19th, 2018

From massive upsets to historic comebacks and some ridiculous individual performances in-between, it was one heck of a week in the Big Ten. Let’s examine a few key takeaways.

Purdue should be just fine, assuming Vincent Edwards returns to action. (John Terhune/Journal & Courier)

  • Purdue fans need not panic (unless, of course, Vincent Edwards’ injury lingers). Entering its game against Ohio State on February 7, Purdue had won 19 straight, sat undefeated in the Big Ten (12-0), and looked seemingly unbeatable — especially in Mackey Arena, where it had crushed its opponents by 27 points per game. Then the Boilermakers stumbled against the Buckeyes. Then they dropped a nail-biter at Michigan State, which was followed by a stunning defeat at Wisconsin on Thursday. Suddenly, there were deep concerns about Matt Painter‘s crew. “Something just feels different,” senior Vincent Edwards said of the team’s struggles last Thursday. Take a step back and examine the losses, though, and it’s clear that bad luck was partially at play. Were it not for a last second tip-in against Ohio State and a last second three-pointer versus Michigan State, perhaps the Boilermakers would have gone 3-1 in their last four games. Maybe even 4-0. Their close win over red-hot Penn State on Sunday shows just how fine the line is between a quality win and a “problematic” loss. If there is real cause for concern, it’s this: Edwards (14.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG) missed the game against the Nittany Lions with an injured ankle. Assuming he doesn’t miss extended time down the stretch, Purdue should still be considered a Final Four contender. If his injury lingers, then the Boilers can panic.

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Michigan State’s Turnover Bug is a Real Problem

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 26th, 2018

If you glance only at the final score, Michigan State’s performance at Illinois on Monday was an unqualified success: The Spartans won by 13 points and trailed for only 1 minute and 51 seconds of game time. Dig deeper, though, and it’s clear that the preseason Big Ten favorite should have probably won by more — perhaps a lot more. The Spartans shot a ridiculous 68 percent from the floor (to Illinois’ 43 percent) and doubled up the Illini at the free throw line. They also crashed the offensive glass at their highest rate yet in conference play (60% OReb). Unfortunately, turnovers — a whopping 25 of them — prevented Michigan State’s ‘good’ performance from being great. It’s been a recurring issue this season, and one that could wind up the Achilles’ Heel for an otherwise complete National Championship hopeful.

Tom Izzo and Miles Bridges Have to Clean Up the Turnover Issue (USA Today Images)

To be sure, the Spartans’ eye-popping turnover figure on Monday — their most since 2005 — was in part due to Illinois’ aggressive style — the Illini force miscues at the sixth-highest rate in college basketball. But it was also the result of Michigan State’s often-stagnant half-court offense. When the Spartans don’t score in transition (where they’re especially lethal), their attack often devolves into a lot of dribbling around the three-point line with limited off-ball movement. For point guards Cassius Winston and Tum Tum Nairn, that’s often been a recipe for disaster. Case in point:

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ACC/Big Ten Challenge Preview: Part IV

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 30th, 2017

For the first time in its 19-year history, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge is being played over four days. With high profile schools such as Duke, Michigan State and North Carolina participating in last weekend’s PK80 tournament in Portland — which involved a handful of late Sunday night games — ESPN and the two leagues decided to push the event out an extra day rather than put all the marquee matchups on Wednesday. After three days of action, the ACC leads the challenge 11-2, clinching the overall event for the second year in a row in dominant fashion. Still, tonight’s finale between Notre Dame and Michigan State in East Lansing (ESPN – 7:00 PM ET) has a lot on the line for both teams. Here are some key storylines to follow.

Strength Against Strength: Notre Dame Offense vs. Michigan State Defense

Senior point guard Matt Farrell leads a talented Notre Dame offense into East Lansing to face the imposing Michigan State defense. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

The Fighting Irish come into this game with the fifth-best effective field goal percentage (60.4%) in college basketball, while the Spartans’ defensive rate (39.9%) ranks third nationally. Something’s got to give, right? It’s a little early in the season to make any sweeping statistical judgments, but perhaps it’s fair to gather predictive data from the few challenging games each school has played thus far. Notre Dame has faced one elite defense already — Wichita State in the Maui Invitational finals — and the Shockers held the Irish to a 52.9 percent effective field goal rate. Michigan State’s defense has faced two of the nation’s top-15 offenses (Duke and North Carolina) so far, holding both under 40 percent shooting on two-point shots. With that kind of rim-protection exhibited by Tom Izzo’s big men, expect the Irish to struggle to reach its normal shooting acumen.

Key Stat to Watch: Shot Volume

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Four Big Ten Offseason Storylines to Follow

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 27th, 2017

Now that the 2016-17 college basketball season has been put to bed, it’s time for hoopheads to peer into the future and prepare for the 2017-18 season. There is a fair amount of intrigue attached to how the Big Ten will look next season, so here’s a quick look at the biggest stories to consider within the league over the next several months.

The draft decision of Miles Bridges set the bar for the 2017-18 Big Ten championship. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

  • The Return of Miles Bridges: Michigan State’s uber-talented forward decided to stay in school for his sophomore season, making the Spartans the clear favorite to win the Big Ten and enter next season ranked among the nation’s top five. Plenty of solid pieces were already slated to return to East Lansing next season — sophomores Nick Ward, Cassius Winston, and Joshua Langford — but having the future lottery pick back means Tom Izzo is smiling this offseason.

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Race for a Top NCAA Seed Begins Early in the Big Ten

Posted by Shane McNichol on November 29th, 2016

At least one team has represented the Big Ten at the Final Four in six of the last nine NCAA Tournaments and seeding is a big part of that. Big Ten teams have been awarded a #1 seed in four of those nine tourneys with seven more conference teams receiving #2 seeds over that period. Being projected among the mix to win the conference title usually means that the jockeying for March begins right away. In the season’s first two weeks, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Indiana all had great chances to put themselves in the Big Ten pole position before conference play even begins. Yes, the NCAA Tournament is still three and a half months away, but the Selection Committee weights all games the same regardless of when they are played. Parsing through the first handful of games among this trio allows us a chance to see which, if any, teams took an early head start in the race for a top-two NCAA Tournament seed.

Michigan State

Tom Izzo needs to make sure his team gains confidence before the NCAA tournament.

Tom Izzo needs to make sure his team gains confidence before the NCAA tournament. (AP)

The Spartans’ early struggles have been well-documented so there’s no reason to re-hash them here. With three losses already on the books and a very difficult game at Cameron Indoor Stadium tonight, dreams of a #1 seed have been all but dashed in East Lansing. In the past 10 NCAA Tournaments, only one school has been awarded a top seed with seven or more regular season losses — Michigan State in 2012. With games at Minnesota, Ohio State, Indiana, Michigan, Purdue and Maryland still to come (not to mention several other potentially tricky road tilts as well as home games against Purdue, Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin), the Spartans are very likely to surpass that loss figure. The loss of Denzel Valentine and his 28.9 percent usage rate has proven difficult to replace, as the capable role players around him last season have so far failed to step up. Instead, it has been freshmen like Miles Bridges, Joshua Langford, and Cassius Winston who have sparked the Spartans during their better moments. Tom Izzo hasn’t yet found the right combinations but history suggests that he will do so. Whether he can manage to turn things around quickly enough to push Michigan State into the discussion for a #2 seed is an open question.

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Big Ten Conference Preview: Purdue, Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 11th, 2016

The ballots have been revealed and the results have been tabulated. Unlike another round of voting that took place this week, there isn’t as much shock value in seeing these results. We at the Big Ten microsite have voted and determined how the league will shake out this season. The last of three segments lists our top four teams (the bottom tier can be found here and the middle tier can be found here).

4. Purdue: The Boilermakers enjoyed their best season since 2010-11 by winning 26 games and finishing 12-6 in conference play. They lost two All-Defensive Team members, including the Defensive Player of the Year AJ Hammons, but expectations are still high in West Lafayette. This is mainly because there just aren’t many teams nationally that can unleash a frontcourt with a trio of players as talented as Vince Edwards, Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas. With this trio in place, Purdue can expect the defense and interior scoring to comparable to last season. If PJ Thompson and Dakota Mathias can also consistently knock down shots from the perimeter, Purdue should equal, or surpass last season’s success.

Caleb Swanigan leads a deadly Purude frontcourt that is one of the best in the nation. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Caleb Swanigan leads a deadly Purude frontcourt that is one of the best in the nation. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Best-Case Scenario: Elite Eight

3. Michigan State: A brutal early schedule and some nagging injuries on the interior makes Sparty’s preseason ranking a little fluid, but it’s difficult to not give Tom Izzo a well-earned benefit of the doubt. A star freshman crew of Miles Bridges, Josh Langford, Cassius Winston and Nick Ward will all have to contribute early, but they have the skill sets to do so. Bridges (26.5 PPG, 4.0 BPG) in particular dominated in Michigan State’s two exhibition wins and could be a First-Team Big Ten talent. Also keep an eye on Eron Harris and Matt McQuaid. They will have to make many of the shots that Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes took last season. If Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter can return well at some point from their injuries, this will be one of the best and deepest teams in college basketball.

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