Ten Questions To Consider: Bumps in the Road Lead to Weekend of Opportunity

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on January 17th, 2020

With each passing week, familiarity breeds competitive action everywhere one looks. This weekend provides opportunities for players and teams to overcome some of their recent struggles. Here are 10 questions I have for this weekend’s action.

  1. How does Cassius Winston respond following his subpar game against Purdue? (Wisconsin @ Michigan State, Friday, 7 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) After averaging 24.8 points per game through his first five Big Ten outings, Cassius Winston was held to just 10 points in Michigan State’s blowout loss at Purdue. Winston failed to make any of his five three-point attempts and tied his career-high by committing nine turnovers.
  2. Will turnovers help Eric Musselman pick up his first marquee SEC win? (Kentucky @ Arkansas, Saturday, 4 PM EST, ESPN) Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks squad ranks among the top 20 in opponents’ turnover rate, having forced 86 more turnovers than they have committed through 16 games. Kentucky comes in after a loss at South Carolina, a game in which the Wildcats were -6 in the turnover battle. On the season, Kentucky has forced just one more turnover than they have committed.
  3. “No Place Like Home” – Will returning home be what fixes Maryland’s recent struggles? (Purdue @ Maryland, Saturday, 2 PM EST, ESPN2) Maryland returns to College Park where the Terps are a perfect 10-0 on the season. As Mark Turgeon’s seat heats up, Maryland will need more scoring from someone other than Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith. On the most recent 0-2 road-trip, Maryland’s three other starters totaled just 20 points on 7-of-33 shooting in 144 minutes of game action.
  4. After struggling to slow Clemson’s Tevin Mack and Aamir Simms, how will Duke fare against ACC Preseason POY Jordan Nwora and Steven Enoch? (Louisville @ Duke, Saturday, 6 PM EST, ESPN) Duke’s top-10 defensive efficiency ranking has been aided by blocking 15.2 percent of its opponents’ shots, as their opponents have taken 46.3 percent of their field goal attempts at the rim (7th nationally). In its recent loss at Clemson, Duke only managed to block two shots.
  5. Can BYU make enough from beyond the arc to challenge Gonzaga in Spokane? (BYU @ Gonzaga, Saturday, 10 PM EST, ESPN2) A finger injury will keep BYU’s Yoeli Childs from playing against Gonzaga. Without Childs, the Cougars will look to rain threes against the Zags. BYU enters action Thursday night with five players who have made 20 or more three-pointers and a team three-point percentage that ranks well inside the top 10 nationally (39.6% 3FG).
  6. Can Auburn be the latest team to end a lengthy losing streak at a certain venue? (Auburn @ Florida, Saturday, 1:30 PM EST, CBS) Last weekend it was Baylor winning at Kansas and Clemson overcoming history at North Carolina. This weekend, Auburn has a chance to end a 12-game losing streak at Florida. During this streak, the Gators have won eight of those games by 15 or more points.
  7. Is it time to start taking Stanford seriously as both an NCAA team and Pac-12 threat? (Stanford @ USC, Saturday, 6:30 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) Behind a top-20 defensive efficiency ranking and a top-10 effective field goal percentage, Stanford sits at 15-2 (4-0 Pac-12). When the Cardinal avoid turning the ball over, they have been lethal from the floor, led by the outstanding play of freshman guard Tyrell Terry and the sharpshooting of Spencer Jones (46-of-102 from beyond the arc on the season).
  8. Can Minnesota ends its struggles on the road and pick up a quality win against Rutgers? (Minnesota @ Rutgers, Sunday, 1 PM EST, Big Ten Network) The Golden Gophers are 1-6 away from home so far this season as they head to Piscataway to take on a Rutgers team that is a perfect 12-0 there. While Rutgers owns a top-10 defensive efficiency, the Knights can struggle offensively, especially from deep. Minnesota, on the other hand, comes in with Marcus Carr and Daniel Oturu combining for 104 points over their last two games,
  9. Can Arizona find scoring beyond its “Big Three” freshman? (Colorado @ Arizona, Saturday, 2:30 PM EST, FOX) The freshman trio of Zeke Nnaji, Nico Mannion and Josh Green are averaging 43.8 points per game and are the the only three Wildcats averaging more than nine points per game. Seniors Dylan Smith and Chase Jeter continue to be plagued by bouts of inconsistent play.
  10. Can St. Louis find its interior defense that was present in the non-conference season? (Dayton @ Saint Louis, Friday, 7 PM EST, ESPN2) The Billikens have held opponents to a two-point field-goal percentage of 42.1 percent on the season, a rate that ranks among the top 20 in the nation. That said, through four Atlantic 10 contests, Saint Louis opponents have managed to shoot a healthy 49.2 percent from inside the arc. The recent lull will be tested by the nation’s best shooting team from inside the arc, Dayton, at 62.1 percent.

Share this story

Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 1st, 2019

With the season tipping off next Tuesday, there’s no better time to roll out our 2019-20 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

  • Cassius Winston, Michigan State (unanimous) – The reigning Big Ten Player of the Year raised some eyebrows when he bypassed early entry into the 2019 NBA Draft to return to East Lansing for his senior season, but the NBA’s loss is Michigan State’s gain. Winston’s return gives a loaded Spartans roster a proven floor general as it tries to repeat as Big Ten champions and return to the Final Four. While Winston’s greatest strengths are probably his leadership and basketball IQ, he also possesses a knack for being an elite playmaker in huge moments. This was never more evident than in both of Michigan State’s regular season victories over intrastate rival Michigan last year. Winston averaged 25 points per game in those wins and got the best of Michigan point guard Zavier Simpson, who has a well-earned reputation as one of the county’s best defenders. The Spartans have sky high expectations this season, but with Winston back to lead the squad, it would not be surprising to see Michigan State once again be among the nation’s top teams. Factoid: Michigan State defeating Division III Albion by 35 in its exhibition opener will be a footnote in its 2019-20 season, but it will certainly be much more memorable for Winston, as his younger brothers Khy and Zach suit up for Albion. When Spartans’ head coach Tom Izzo heard about the possibility of setting up the game with Albion, he jumped at the chance, knowing it would give the Winston family a memory that will last a lifetime.
  • Myles Powell, Seton Hall – Seton Hall begins this season with as much hype surrounding the program as it has in decades. The biggest reason for all the hoopla is Powell returning to the Pirates for his final go-around. The senior guard is an elite scorer — 23.1 points per game as a junior — who has a great ability to punish opponents from both the perimeter and by taking the ball to the basket. Powell’s best performance as a junior came in a March home win over Marquette — on a night when Seton Hall needed a marquee win to confirm its status as a lock to make the NCAA Tournament. The playmaking guard finished the victory with 34 points and contributed 10 of those to the 18-0 run the Pirates used to overpower the Golden Eagles and leave the game with the important result. Factoid: At Big East Media Day, Powell was named the Big East Preseason Player of the Year — becoming the first Seton Hall player to earn that honor since Terry Dehere prior to the 1992-93 season.
  • Markus Howard, Marquette – Marquette was dealt a blow early in the offseason when forwards Sam and Joey Hauser decided to leave the team. Losing two key contributors would be debilitating for most programs, but most programs do not return a player like Markus Howard. Howard returns to the Golden Eagles for his senior season after completing a junior campaign that saw him average 25 points per game and tally 40+ points in a game three separate times, highlighted by a 53-point performance in a January win at Creighton. If Marquette is to return to the NCAA Tournament in 2020, it will need Howard to once again shoulder the scoring load. Judging on past experience, he seems more than capable. Factoid: It was a mild surprise when Powell was named the Big East Preseason Player of the Year over Howard, but the senior took it in stride, stating, “I think it is definitely unique to have a conference with two of the really prolific players in the country. For us to be in the same conference and able to compete two or three times every year is something unique to have as competitors.”
  • Jordan Nwora, Louisville – It is possible that no player in the country elevated his play as much last season as Nwora did for the Cardinals. The standout forward went from averaging just 5.7 points and 2.2 rebounds in only 12 minutes per game to putting up 17 points and 7.6 rebounds in 31.9 minutes per game. For the time being, it appears the tumultuous times at Louisville have come to an end and the Cardinals look primed to have a big season. Chris Mack has brought steadiness to the sideline and players like Nwora stayed committed to the program when it would have been understandable to seek greener pastures. Factoid: Nwora spent his summer playing for Nigeria in the FIBA World Cup. His father, Alex, serves as the team’s coach. This made history, as they were the first father-son player-coach to represent Nigeria at such a high level in any sport.
  • James Wiseman, Memphis – There may not be a more intriguing team in the country this season than Memphis. Penny Hardaway begins his second season at his alma mater with the number one recruiting class in the country enrolled. The crown jewel of that group is Wiseman. The Memphis native enters the Tigers program, fresh off a senior season at Memphis East High School that saw him average 25.8 points and 14.8 rebounds per game en route to being named the 2018-19 Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year. Memphis is projected to earn its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2014 and if it is able to make good on that projection, it will likely be due to the star power provided by Wiseman and the rest of the much ballyhooed freshman class. Factoid: Wiseman has yet to take the floor for Memphis. He was sidelined for both exhibition games with a right ankle injury. Hardaway hopes his star freshman will be able to play when the Tigers open their regular season on November 5 against South Carolina State.

Second Team All-Americans

  • Devon Dotson, Kansas – Last season marked the first season since 2004 where a team other than Kansas won the Big 12 regular season title, as the Jayhawks were plagued by injuries, inexperience and inconsistent play. Despite the disappointing season, Kansas discovered Dotson has the tools to be potentially become the next great Jayhawks point guard. That was never more evident than when Dotson tallied 25 points to go with 10 rebounds and five assists as Kansas overcame a blown second half lead to notch a road win over TCU. Bill Self’s group projects to get back to the top of the Big 12 this season and having who figures to be the best point guard in the league should greatly assist in making that a reality. Factoid: The sophomore point guard gave Kansas fans a bit of a scare in the preseason when he showed up at Big 12 Media Day in a walking boot and missed the first exhibition game nursing an ankle injury. Self put that all to rest though when responding, “He’s fine. He’ll be ready to go,” after being asked about Dotson’s status.
  • Cole Anthony, North Carolina – Anthony arrives at North Carolina following a decorated prep career that saw him average a triple double as a senior at Oak Hill Academy and be named the MVP of the 2019 McDonald’s All-American Game. The super athletic point guard who can drive, pass, shoot, dunk and defend will use what will likely be his only season in Chapel Hill to try to go down as a legendary Tar Heels’ point guard. The freshman got off to a solid start in North Carolina’s annual “secret scrimmage” where he poured in 28 points as the Tar Heels split four separate periods of play against Villanova. Factoid: The hype surrounding Anthony appears to be warranted, as North Carolina guard Garrison Brooks noted at the team’s media day, “He [Anthony] is already one of the best players in the country and he hasn’t played a game. I think that’s a lot to say.”
  • Tre Jones, Duke – Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish all left Duke for the NBA after a freshman season that culminated in an Elite Eight appearance. After much consideration, Jones decided not to join that group and returned to Durham for a second tour as point guard of the Blue Devils. Known as a defensive stalwart — with an ACC All-Defensive honor already in hand — Jones has also shown capable as an offensive weapon, most notably by tallying a career-high 22 points in Duke’s win over Virginia Tech in the Sweet Sixteen. Factoid: Jones’ introduction at Duke’s Midnight Madness last month took on a special meaning when he brought his mother Debbie Jones onto the court with him to honor her fight to ultimately becoming cancer-free earlier in October.
  • Kerry Blackshear Jr., Florida – The most sought-after graduate transfer of this offseason will begin his lone season at Florida after a very successful run at Virginia Tech. The skilled big man did a little bit of everything for the Hokies. He is a load in the paint; he can step out and hit a jump shot; and he has enough of a handle to effectively drive to the basket. The Gators figure to be strong on the perimeter with sophomore Andrew Nembhard being joined by star recruits Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann, but Blackshear will give Mike White’s squad a legitimate post presence who will provide the physicality necessary for SEC play. Factoid: White’s recruiting strategy when convincing Blackshear Jr. to go to Gainesville revolved around how the forward would instantly become a key leader for the Gators. This resonated with Blackshear, as he noted, “Just understanding I had a big role was really fun for me. It made me understand I had to be one of the leaders this year.”
  • Udoka Azubuike, Kansas – The Kansas big man returns to Lawrence for a senior season where he will look to avoid the injury bug that has plagued much of his collegiate career. Azubuike was limited to just 11 games as a freshman in the 2016-17 season and only nine games as a junior last season. When healthy, Azubuike has been a load in the paint for opponents and he has showcased an elite ability to finish around the rim. In the 2017-18 season – Azubuike’s only healthy season – the big man led the county with a 77 percent field goal percentage. Factoid: Even with all the time Azubuike has missed, the Big 12 coaches still tabbed the big man as the league’s preseason player of the year. If that holds and Azubuike puts up the numbers to earn the postseason player of the year honor, he will be the first Kansas big man to win the award since Thomas Robinson took it home following the 2011-12 season.

Third Team All-Americans

  • Tyrese Haliburton, Iowa State – Haliburton did not light the world on fire during his freshman season in Ames — he only averaged 6.8 points, 3.6 assists, and 3.4 rebounds per game — but with Talen Horton-Tucker and Mariel Shayok now departed, the sophomore guard will likely expand his production and play a bigger role for the Cyclones. Even in his limited role last season, Haliburton showcased a two-way ability that made him a player to watch for NBA scouts. Factoid: Haliburton saw his stock rise this summer when competing for the United States. In victories over New Zealand and Lithuania, the guard averaged 14.5 points, eight assists, and three steals.
  • Jarron Cumberland, Cincinnati – It is a new era of Bearcats basketball with Mick Cronin departed for UCLA and John Brannen coming up from Northern Kentucky to take over the Cincinnati program. Amid all the chaos that can come with a coaching change, though, is Cumberland returning to the fold following a junior season where he was named AAC Player of the Year. The honor was greatly deserved as Cumberland averaged 18.8 points per game and was a big part of the Bearcats earning a ninth straight NCAA Tournament bid. Factoid: Memphis has been the most talked about AAC team of the preseason, but Tigers coach Penny Hardaway maintains Cincinnati is still the team to beat in the conference with his reasoning being, “It doesn’t hurt to have Jarron Cumberland. When does he graduate anyway?”
  • Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – Entering last season, it seemed like it was Tillie’s turn to become the next great Gonzaga big man. He averaged 12.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game as a sophomore and shot a very strong 47.9 percent from the perimeter. Unfortunately for Gonzaga and Tillie, he was limited to just 15 games during his junior campaign with a stress fracture and a tear in his ankle. Mark Few has built a spectacular program in Spokane, so the Bulldogs were able to overcome Tillie’s shaky health, but if Tillie is able to be fully healthy this season, Gonzaga’s ceiling will be even higher. Factoid: The start of Tillie’s senior season might be delayed, as he underwent a minor knee procedure in early October and is currently listed as questionable for the season opener.
  • Jalen Smith, Maryland – The Terrapins received good news early in the offseason when Smith decided to bypass the NBA Draft and return to College Park for his sophomore season. The decision to go back to school came as a bit of a surprise, as Smith was very good in the NCAA Tournament, averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds in the Terrapins’ two games. Expectations are high for Maryland this season and if Smith can replicate what he did last March, the Terrapins could very well challenge Michigan State in the Big Ten race. Factoid: Smith goes by the nickname “Stix,” which is a reference to his slim 6’10”, 225 pound figure.
  • Kaleb Wesson, Ohio State – The Buckeyes lost their final three games of the 2018-19 regular season. That was notable because those defeats were suffered without Wesson, who was serving a brief suspension for violation of an athletic department policy. Those three defeats resulted in Ohio State’s NCAA Tournament seed taking a hit. Luckily for Chris Holtmann’s team though, Wesson was back for the NCAA Tournament, and riding his 21 points and 12 rebounds, the 11th-seeded Buckeyes were able to knock off sixth-seeded Iowa State in the first round. Factoid: Wesson approached this offseason with a much more serious approach and that resulted in the junior big man dropping 34 pounds in an effort to increase his athleticism and endurance.

Honorable Mentions: Ayo Dosunmu (Illinois), Anthony Edwards (Georgia), Anthony Cowan (Maryland), Andrew Nembhard (Florida), Tyrese Maxey (Kentucky), Ashton Hagans (Kentucky), Xavier Tillman (Michigan State), Lamar Stevens (Penn State), Isaiah Stewart (Washington), Charles Bassey (Western Kentucky), Anthony Lamb (Vermont), Reggie Perry (Mississippi State), Yoeli Childs (BYU), Kellan Grady (Davidson).

Share this story

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.

Share this story

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.
Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

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.
Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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:

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story