Rushed Reactions: #2 Miami 63, #7 Illinois 59

Posted by WCarey on March 24th, 2013

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Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 32 NCAA Tournament game between #2 Miami and #7 Illinois in Austin.

Three Key Takeaways.

Miami Outlasted the Surging Illini Sunday (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Miami Outlasted the Surging Illini Sunday (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

  1. The way Miami won this game was important. The Hurricanes have received a great deal of national attention due to the fact that their roster had zero NCAA Tournament experience before this year’s event. Miami coasted to an easy win over Pacific in its first game, but as a two-seed, that type of win is expected. Needing a test to prove its NCAA Tournament toughness, the Hurricanes definitely received one from Illinois. The Illini took a 55-54 lead with 1:24 to play and Miami kept its collective cool and was able to come back and grab the victory. On the possession after Illinois took the lead, Miami sophomore guard Shane Larkin nailed a ridiculously difficult step back three-pointer at the 1:04 mark to give the Hurricanes a two-point lead. Miami was able to maintain that lead and earn the victory by calmly going 6-of-6 from the free throw line down the stretch and not allowing Illinois to get anything easy on the offensive end of the court.
  2. Illinois deserves a lot of credit for the way it played. The Illini did not shoot the ball very well all night – just 37.7% from the field and 25.9% from three – but it fought hard all game and pushed Miami to the brink. In his postgame remarks, Illini coach John Groce spoke of how his team has battled hard all season and that they have gotten contributions from everyone all season. That was definitely the case against Miami, as different guys stepped up in different spots to make an impact. On a night where the usually solid D.J. Richardson was just 1-of-11 from the field, senior forward Tyler Griffey stepped up for the Illini with 12 huge points on a 4-of-6 performance from deep. Sophomore forward Nnanna Egwu was a force inside all night, as he finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds while playing very rugged defense against the Miami frontline. Senior guard Brandon Paul struggled at-times with his shot, but he certainly showcased his ability to take over a game with his performance Sunday night. The Illini might not have been victorious, but their effort and the way they played was certainly admirable.
  3. A blown call definitely had an impact on the game. When Richardson missed a three-point attempt with 43 seconds to play in what was a 57-55 game at the time, it clearly looked like the ball last touched the hand of Miami forward Kenny Kadji before going out-of-bounds. The ball was incorrectly rewarded to Miami, which resulted in guard Durand Scott nailing two clutch free throws to give the Hurricanes a four-point lead. While the Illini were able to trim the lead down to two again with 22 seconds to play, they never again had the chance to tie. There were many other reasons why Miami won and Illinois lost, but this call certainly had an impact on the last 43 seconds of what was a thrilling game.

Star(s) of the Game. Rion Brown and Shane Larkin, Miami. The junior Brown was outstanding for the Hurricanes off the bench. He finished with 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field and 5-of-10 shooting from deep. In a game where every shot was crucial, it seemed like every one Brown made was of great importance to the outcome of the game. Larkin turned in a normal stellar performance – 17 points and five assists – but the reason he makes this category is due to the ridiculous step back three-pointer he nailed to give his team a lead it would never relinquish with one minute to play.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Illinois 57, #10 Colorado 49

Posted by WCarey on March 22nd, 2013

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Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 64 NCAA Tournament game between #7 Illinois and #10 Colorado in Austin.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Colorado dug itself a hole in the first half. A major reason why the Buffaloes were unable to win this game was because they played terribly in the first half. Colorado should get credit for clawing back into the game – and briefly taking a lead – but it needs to be acknowledged that the first half was owned by Illinois. When Andre Roberson hit a jumper to trim Illinois’ lead to 24-21 at the 7:06 mark of the first half, that was the last time Colorado scored in the opening frame. The Illini went on a 13-0 run to finish the half and went into the half with what at the time seemed like a comfortable 16-point lead. The Buffaloes only shot 34.8% from the field in the first half and committed eight turnovers, which led to 15 points for the Illini.

    In a game defined by huge runs, Illinois ultimately tallied the biggest surge, giving its fans plenty to cheer about. (Getty)

    In a game defined by huge runs, Illinois ultimately tallied the biggest surge, giving its fans plenty to cheer about. (Getty)

  2. This was a game of pretty absurd runs. Illinois went on a 13-0 run to finish the first half. Colorado went on a 23-2 run to begin the second half. Illinois went on an 18-5 run to end the game. Usually it is pretty crazy when a game has one of the aforementioned runs, but this game had three of them and they occurred back-to-back-to-back. Both teams definitely deserve credit for fighting back from trends in the game that were extremely undesirable. Following the game Colorado coach Tad Boyle stated, “We ultimately just did not have enough,” which shows just how taxing the 23-2 run to get back into the game was for the Buffaloes.
  3. Illinois needs to play a lot better if it wants any shot of upsetting Miami on Sunday. The Illini were able to play with the fire and still get by Colorado, but if they want to pull the upset of a very good Miami team Sunday then they need to put forth a much more consistent effort. If Illinois allows Miami to go on a 23-2 run and only manages three field goals in one half, there is a very good chance it will be blown out by the Hurricanes. Guards Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson are Illinois’ most important players and they were just a combined 8-of-26 from the field and committed a combined seven turnovers against Colorado. Miami has very strong guard play, so both Paul and Richardson are going to need shoot better and take better care of the basketball if the Illini want any chance of pulling the stunner.

Star of the Game. Brandon Paul, Illinois. Paul was just 3-of-12 from the field on the afternoon, but his very strong free throw shooting is what clinched the victory for the Illini. Paul finished 9-of-10 from the charity stripe and made 5-of-6 in the last 1:06 of the game. Paul’s strong performance from the line put the game out of reach for Colorado. D.J. Richardson was also considered, as his 11-point performance in the first half was a huge reason why the Illini were able to build a 16-point halftime lead.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Indiana 80, Illinois 64

Posted by WCarey on March 15th, 2013

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Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from the Big Ten Tournament at the United Center following Friday’s matchup between Indiana and Illinois. You can follow him at @walkerRcarey.

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Cody Zeller was dominant. The All-American big man picked up where he left off after a sensational performance in Sunday’s victory over Michigan. Once again, Zeller was the go-to guy for the Indiana offense against Illinois, as he finished the afternoon with 24 points and nine rebounds. With the ball in his hands on the low block, the talented sophomore was able to do pretty much whatever he wanted against the Illini interior for the duration of the game. Zeller’s presence on the defensive end of the court was also quite notable as he anchored a Hoosiers’defense that did not let anything come easy for the Illinois offensive attack. There have been instances this season where Zeller’s production has not matched his level of talent, but if he can continue to put forth performances like he has in his last two games, there will be no ceiling on Indiana’s postseason hopes.
  2. Indiana’s defensive effort in the first half was phenomenal. ESPN analyst Dan Dakich tweeted at halftime that he and legendary Indiana radio announcer Don Fischer believed that the first half against Illinois was the best defensive half that the Hoosiers had played all year. The two men had a point as the Hoosiers were just suffocating on that end of the court for the first 20 minutes. The Illini were held to just 25.9% shooting in the first half and had to settle for many difficult looks due to the intense defensive pressure. The Hoosiers also forced Illinois into eight first half turnovers – many of which resulted in great transition opportunities. Illinois guards Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson were a combined 3-of-13 from the field and by containing the Illini’s two best scorers, Indiana was able to open up a 14-point halftime lead. Victor Oladipo rightfully gets most of the credit for Indiana’s strong defensive performances, but the Hoosiers have really made strides as a team in-terms of their defensive effort.
    Cody Zeller was all over the court Friday afternoon. (AP)

    Cody Zeller was all over the court Friday afternoon. (AP)

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D.J.Richardson Has Been The Key To Illinois’ Turnaround

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on February 18th, 2013

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

About a month ago, Illinois was reeling in the Big Ten because they were upset by Northwestern in Champaign. The 68-54 loss came at the worst time after they were hammered by the Badgers in Madison four day earlier by 23 points. The loss to Purdue to kick off the Big Ten season could have been put aside as an aberration, but the loss to the Wildcats proved that the Illini would have to earn every one of their wins in the Big Ten. But a month later, optimism may be back again in Champaign as they returned the favor to the Wildcats in Evanston with a 62-41 route last night. John Groce‘s team hasn’t really changed their offensive philosophy during the last month – they still depend on the deep shot for most of their offense but senior D.J. Richardson has turned it up over the past four weeks, regardless of the outcome of the game. He has averaged 17.5 PPG and 4 RPG over the last eight games and has clearly asserted himself as the leader of the team during the tough stretch.

Senior guard D.J.Richardson has been the key to Illinois' turnaround over the past few weeks.

Senior guard D.J.Richardson has been the key to Illinois’ turnaround over the past few weeks.

Fellow senior guard Brandon Paul is still the best scoring option but Richardson is their best shooter from beyond the arc and has been their best defender on the perimeter. During the 1-4 start in conference play, the Illini went cold from the long range and appeared clueless on defense. Something had to change and it started with defense as Richardson led the charge. The same Wildcats team that shot 8-15 (53% 3FG) from beyond the arc in Champaign couldn’t find the rim last night as they shot just 5-27 (18% 3FG) from deep. Richardson’s efforts were not fruitful immediately because they lost three more games to Michigan, Michigan State, and Wisconsin, but the perseverance paid off as he scored 23 points against Indiana and the Illini finally cracked through in the Big Ten against a top team to save their season. Tyler Griffey‘s last second layup has been well publicized but without Richardson’s intensity, the game wouldn’t have been tied at the end.

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A Closer Look At Illinois’ Issues During The Losing Streak

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on January 22nd, 2013

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

After a surprising 13-1 start to the season, Illinois has been in a funk over the last two weeks. Losing at Purdue to tip off the Big Ten season could be written off as an aberration because it was the first road game of the conference season but their recent three-game losing skid has raised several questions about the team’s future in the near term, specifically as to their quest for an NCAA Tournament bid. The main reason behind their hot start was their deadly long-range shooting but the good old saying, “You live by the three and you die by the three,” has certainly been true in the Illini’s recent losses to Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Northwestern. During those three games, Illinois as a team has shot just 8-of-58 (14% 3FG) from beyond the arc! It is no secret that they lack a true big man who could hold his own in the low post, and therefore the team has no choice but to depend on perimeter shooting in its offensive sets. But a closer look into these three losses reveals that there are two other aspects of their game that have hurt them in addition to their shooting woes, but the good news is that these areas can certainly be improved to get out of the slump.

Brandon Paul and the Illini need to improve their defense to remain competitive in the Big Ten (Joe Robbins/Getty)

Brandon Paul and the Illini need to improve their defense to remain competitive in the Big Ten (Joe Robbins/Getty)

  • Perimeter defense: Illini guards Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson, and Joseph Bertrand may have gone cold from beyond the arc recently, but they also need to do a better job of defending the three-point shot on the other end of the court. Their opponents have knocked down 51% (27-of-53) of their attempts from long range over the last three games. If you can’t find your jumper, the least you can do is to step up your defense and make the opposition earn its points. Bill Carmody’s Wildcats had a horrible game offensively against Iowa, but their wings drained five three-pointers in the first half in Champaign to build a 15-point lead which forced the Illini to play catch-up for the last 30 minutes of the game. Groce’s guards have also played poor transition defense and have given up open shots to opposing guards who prefer to drive rather than shoot, such as Minnesota’s Joe Coleman. Coleman torched the Illini by scoring 29 points from all over the floor – he shot 2-of-3 from beyond the arc and picked up three easy baskets in transition following a missed three-pointer by the Illini — and it was obvious that Paul or Richardson were more frustrated about their shooting slump than getting back on defense. The lackadaisical defensive effort by these players can clearly be attributed to their offensive struggles. When they can’t find their offensive rhythm, they often run back down the court without picking up their assigned man. The lack of good perimeter defense exacerbates these offensive woes because once they fall behind in the game, they have no choice but to rely on the trey even more to cut into the lead. Defensive issues can easily be corrected considering the team’s depth at the guard position. With Tracy Abrams, Paul, Richardson, and Bertrand at his disposal, Groce has four guards who can be part of an effective rotation. Even though 6’7″ wing Mike Henry has struggled with his defensive rotations, he still has the athleticism to become effective on the defensive end. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your DVR: Weekend Edition

Posted by bmulvihill on December 7th, 2012

Brendon Mulvihill is the head curator for @SportsGawker and an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

With a month to go in the non-conference season, we are starting to sort out the contenders from the pretenders. This weekend provides some additional match-ups that will give us a better indication of which teams we should watch out for come March. Let’s get to the breakdowns.

Colorado at #10 Kansas  2:00 PM EST, Saturday on ESPN2 (***)

This Weekend Colorado Tries to Beat Kansas for the First Time Since 2003

  • You might call this game a renewal of a Big 12 rivalry but the reality is that it has been far from a “rivalry.” Kansas has not lost to Colorado since the 2002-03 season. While this will be the first time that CU plays Kansas as a member of the Pac-12, coach Tad Boyle is 0-3 against the Jayhawks since taking the helm in Boulder two seasons ago. The big question for the Buffaloes will be how they handle KU center Jeff Withey. A few weeks ago, CU was able to slow down another seven-footer in Isaiah Austin when they defeated Baylor. However, Withey is not a freshmen trying to fit himself into “The Pierre Jackson Show.” He’s a senior who has proven to be a dominant force on defense and a capable offensive threat. Withey also cleans up on the glass, particularly on the defensive end. Colorado needs to figure out how to grab some of those misses lest it become a long night. Keep an eye on the three-point shooting of Colorado guards Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie. Both are threats from deep and both need to be on target to have a chance to win this one.

Temple vs. #1 Duke  3:15 PM EST, Saturday on ESPN (****)

  • Last season, Temple beat Duke in Philadelphia on the backs of Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson and Khalif Wyatt. Hollis-Jefferson and Wyatt combined to go 15-22 from the field in a somewhat surprising upset of the Blue Devils. The Owls also did it without this season’s leading scorer, Scootie Penn. However, when you compare this Duke team to last season’s team, they are more balanced and more patient without Austin Rivers dominating the ball. The Blue Devils have scoring threats all over the floor and point guard Quinn Cook is proving to be an excellent distributor. Additionally, Mason Plumlee has been superb. The key for the Owls will be figuring out a way to stop Plumlee in the paint. Unfortunately for Temple, scoring can come from anywhere when playing the Blue Devils. They are too balanced and too battle tested at this point to drop one to the Owls this year.
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Big Ten Summer Check In: Illinois Fighting Illini

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on July 20th, 2012

Illini Nation awaits the 2012-13 season with mixed feelings. Even though most of the fans are relieved to see Bruce Weber leave after nine seasons, they are not overly excited about his replacement, John Groce. The Orange Krush and the majority of the fans expected (hoped?) Illinois to land a high-profile name such as VCU’s Shaka Smart but the coaching search was met with a couple of rejections before Groce was lured away from Ohio University. Nonetheless, everybody is eager to see how the former Ohio State assistant under Thad Matta will do in Big Ten country as a head coach.

Can John Groce bring Illinois back into the top half of the Big Ten?

Evaluating Last Year: Weber’s last season in Champaign can be described using one word – tiring. Even though top recruit Jereme Richmond left the program early for the NBA in spring 2011, there was still enough talent left on the Illini to finish in the top half of the conference last season. The emergence of Meyers Leonard as a formidable force in the paint (13.6 PPG) along with the return of versatile guard Brandon Paul (14.7 PPG) indicated that Illinois wouldn’t have any trouble on the offensive end. Despite their scoring talent, though, Illinois finished 11th in the conference in terms of offensive efficiency, at only 0.97 points per possession. Weber’s offense was not efficient, especially in the second half of the conference play, which led to 12 losses in the last 14 games. They shot only 29.5% from beyond the arc, but still took 35% of their total shots from deep. Weber lost complete control of the team down the stretch and the loss to Nebraska on the road by 23 points was definitely the lowest point of the season. Players looked dejected and there were numerous signs pointing towards Weber’s exit barring a surprising turnaround. Illinois ended with a 17-15 record after starting the season 15-3, which resulted in the coaching change.

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Checking In On… the Big Ten Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 17th, 2012

Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference. Follow him on Twitter @Bill_Hupp for his thoughts on hoops, food, Russian nesting dolls and life.

Reader’s Take 

 

The Week That Was:

  • Gophers Golden Again: Not only did Minnesota win its first two conference games of the season this week, it’s the first time since 2009 that the Golden Gophers have won back-to-back conference road games.  UM was led by freshman and Minneapolis native Joe Coleman, whom Tubby Smith inserted into the starting lineup three games ago.  This week, Coleman hit four free throws in the final minute to help Minnesota hang on for a 77-74 upset at No. 7 Indiana, then exploded for a career-high 23 points in a win over Penn State. Nobody thought the Gophers were as bad as their original 0-4 Big Ten mark indicated, but learning how to win close games can build a young team’s confidence quickly.
  • Brandon Paul Pops Off in Champaign: Illinois junior guard Brandon Paul came into the Ohio State game averaging 12.1 points per game, but he earned Big Ten Player of the Week honors after he dropped a career-high 43 points out of nowhere on the Buckeyes. Paul’s 28 points in the second half included some very tough, contested shots near the end of a close game (full video highlights below). His 43 points were the third-most in a game in school history and the most since Andy Kaufmann went for 46 against Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1990.

Brandon Paul's Game To Remember Against Ohio State Stole The Headlines From The Big Ten Race (Heather Coit/AP)

  • Back in Black: Wearing black jerseys at home in a must-win game against No. 7 Michigan State, the Wildcats got an inspired effort from backup center Davide Curletti, who made his first start of the season and finished with season-high 17 points and six rebounds. He gave great energy for Bill Carmody while starting in place of the ineffective Luka Mirkovic. Teams had been averaging just 59.6 points against the Spartans through the first 17 games, but MSU allowed Northwestern to shoot 54 percent in the second half to pull away for an 81-74 win.  We’ve said before that the Wildcats would pull off an upset or two in conference play if they shot the ball well, and that’s exactly what happened in Evanston.

Power Rankings

  1. Ohio State (16-3, 4-2) – It’s doesn’t seem fair for opposing teams when Lenzelle Smith Jr., a.k.a. “Ohio State’s forgotten starter” can hit 10-of-12 from the field, score 28 points and grab seven rebounds on a whim.  It’s really a “pick your poison” scenario when you are playing a team with so many potential offensive threats.
  2. Michigan State (15-3, 4-1) – Draymond Green may be a bruising power forward at 6’7’’ and 230 pounds, but he has shown a nice touch from the outside this season.  Besides being a force down low, Green leads the Spartans with 24 triples on the season. It’s an offensive skill that has “Day-Day” (as Tom Izzo calls him) a virtual lock for first-team All-Big Ten honors.
  3. Indiana (15-3, 3-3) – Some uncharacteristically poor three-point shooting this week spelled doom for the Hoosiers, who dropped games to Minnesota and Ohio State. A team that averages nearly 50% from beyond the arc was a combined 11 for 39 (28%). They feel behind early in both games and couldn’t shoot their way back into either contest.  One positive this week was that Cody Zeller averaged 19.5 points in the losses.
  4. Illinois (14-3, 4-1) – With his imposing size and impressive array of skills, the Illini should have the premier go-to scorer in the conference in center Meyers Leonard. Yet too often, it seems like he is catching the ball facing the basket, instead of posting up on the block where he could turn and score over his left shoulder or kick it out to three-pointer shooters like Brandon Paul or D.J. Richardson. Leonard needs to park himself down low where he can maximize his offensive efficiency.
  5. Michigan (14-4, 4-2) – Michigan barely survived Northwestern at home in OT, then got blasted by 16 at Iowa. In both games, it seemed like the Wolverines stopped attacking the basket and were content to settle for threes, jacking up 30 against NU and 31 against Iowa. Their motion offense, cutting and dribble penetration gets them easy buckets at the rim, so they struggle to score when they get too willing to fire from long range.
  6. Wisconsin (14-5, 3-3) – It wasn’t especially pretty against Purdue or Nebraska, but the Badgers earned a pair of hard-fought five-point wins to even their conference mark at 3-3.  Needing a win to snap a three-game losing streak, Wisconsin blitzed Purdue early hitting five of their first six threes to build a 22-4 lead. They came back to earth after that, however, shooting 2 of 18 from distance against the Cornhuskers.
  7. Purdue (13-5, 3-2) – Purdue faced a desperate Wisconsin team and dug themselves a 22-4 first half hole at Mackey Arena a before battling back and eventually falling. It’s not a good sign for the Boilers when Lewis Jackson finishes with two points and the team only hits 33% of their three-point field goal attempts.
  8. Minnesota (14-5, 2-4) – With star Trevor Mbawke sidelined, the Gophers needed other players to step up and help Rodney Williams shoulder the scoring load. Well, it looks like Joe Coleman, Austin Hollins and Julian Welch are starting to come of age. You knew Tubby Smith had plenty of athleticism and talent at The Barn, it was just a matter of fitting the right pieces together. Now he has five starters who are averaging between 8.3 and 12.5 points per game in conference play.
  9. Northwestern (12-5, 2-3) – Teams often struggle once conference play begins because their young point guard takes a few steps back. Not Northwestern, where starting guard Dave Sobolewski leads the Big Ten and is near the top of the nationally with a 4. 2 assist-to-turnover ratio, and really excels at backdoor feeds.
  10. Iowa (11-8, 3-3) – Talk about an enigma of a team. After getting destroyed by an average of 32.5 points in road losses to Ohio St. and Michigan St., the Hawks turned around and cruised past Michigan, 75-59 at home on Saturday. Iowa can light up the scoreboard when its shots are falling, which is why they’ve scored 75 points or more in nine of their 11 wins this season.
  11. Nebraska (9-8, 1-5) – Where were you when Nebraska won their first Big Ten game in school history? Since getting pasted by Ohio State, the Cornhuskers sandwiched their lone conference triumph over Penn State between narrow five-point road losses at Illinois and Wisconsin, holding all three opponents under 60 points. They don’t score much, but NU seems to be a natural fit for the conference in terms of their grinding, methodical style of play.
  12. Penn State  (9-10, 1-5) – One of the most difficult, but important things to teach a young team is how to defend on a nightly basis. The Nittany Lions have dropped three straight, and in each loss, allowed their opponent to shoot over 50%. That’s not going to cut it in any conference, let alone the deepest and toughest in the country.

Lenzelle Smith, Jr., Showed The Nation That The Buckeyes Go Beyond Sullinger, Craft And Buford (Getty)

Looking Ahead

  • Tuesday, 1/17: No. 9 Michigan State @ No. 19 Michigan – One of the most underrated rivalries in college hoops has added significance this season with each team being in the hunt for a Big Ten title.  State is looking to rebound after having their 15-game winning streak snapped at Northwestern, while the Wolverines are trying to remain unbeaten at home (11-0).  Look for whoever wins the intriguing PG battle between emerging Spartans sophomore Keith Appling and Michigan’s stud freshman Trey Burke to win the game.
  • Wednesday, 1/18: Northwestern @ Wisconsin– An important game between two teams with similar styles each desperate to continue the momentum built this past weekend. Both are pretty reliant on the three-point shot (NU first, Wisconsin fourth in three-pointers per game), so whoever has the hotter hand should emerge victorious.
  • Saturday, 1/21: Purdue @ No. 9 Michigan State – The Boilers could use a signature win (Butler and Illinois don’t count) to impress the Selection Committee.  As always, Ryne Smith and co. will have to knock down treys, but that’s a tall order against MSU, which is stingy on the perimeter (second in conference allowing 30.2% from three).

Caught on Film

It’s amazing how a player’s success on offensive end can carry over to his defensive performance. Brandon Paul poured in 43 points, the highest single-game point total in the Big Ten in 20 years.  But he also made his presence felt defensively, grabbing a couple steals and swatting four emphatic shots. As you can see from the below video, he was on fire from distance and a monster on the defensive end.

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Set Your TiVo: 12.22.11

Posted by bmulvihill on December 22nd, 2011

Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @themulv on Twitter.  See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Tu Holloway is back from suspension to face Casper Ware and Long Beach State

There are too many three and four star games tonight to count, so in the interest of analyzing a few teams we have not touched on before, we picked three neutral court games that should be great.  Let’s get to the action.

Missouri vs. Illinois – 9:00PM EST on ESPN2 HD (****)

  • There are two reasons Missouri is flat-out destroying opponents this season — they shoot lights out and they protect the ball. The Tigers are first in the country in eFG% at 60% and first in the country in offensive turnover rate at 13.6%.  It is very difficult to beat a team that hits a majority of its shots and does not have empty possessions.  The Mizzou offense will be matched up against a solid Illinois defense. The Illini gets on the defensive boards and blocks shots.  Unfortunately, Bruce Weber’s guys are a little soft on their perimeter defense giving up 35.5% from three. Tiger guard Kim English, who shoots a ridiculous 53.2% (33-62) from beyond the arc, could have a field day tonight if not checked.
  • Illinois cannot try to outshoot Missouri tonight.  They will get blown off the court if they do.  They must focus on defense if they are to have a chance.  Keep an eye on 7’1” Illini center Meyers Leonard and what impact he has on the game against a small-ish Tigers team.  The tallest Mizzou starter is the 6’8” Ratliffe, who will have to check Meyers.  However, there is still a significant size difference.  Meyers will need to have a career game to lead Illinois to a victory.
  • Missouri’s shooting will dictate who wins this game.  If the Tigers shoot their average, they should take the victory.  Expect them to shoot a few more threes than normal against a weak Illini perimeter defense.  If Illinois is to keep this game close, Meyers will have to find a way to dominate on both ends of the floor.  Illinois needs to slow the game down and D.J. Richardson needs to continue to protect the ball against the Tiger press for the guys in orange to have a fighting chance.

Baylor vs. St. Mary’s – 10:30PM EST on ESPN3 (****)

  • In Baylor’s last game against a West Coast Conference team, it barely escaped 86-83 at BYU.  Despite being outshot by Baylor by a significant margin, the Cougars kept the game close by dominating the offensive boards.  St. Mary’s is a better offensive rebounding team than BYU, so keep an eye on how many offensive boards the Gaels grab in this game.  With Baylor blocking so many shots and creating steals on 13% of opponents possessions, their long and athletic front line makes scoring on them very difficult. Speaking of front lines, keep an eye on the Bears’ forwards Perry Jones, Quincy Miller, and Quincy Acy on offense as well.  St. Mary’s does not have the same level of athletes to match-up with the trio.
  • Baylor is by far the toughest test of the season for Randy Bennett’s team.  Keep an eye on how the Gaels handle the initial Baylor onslaught.  In order for the Gaels to stay in this game, they need to own the boards on both ends.  They are currently one of the top defensive rebounding teams in the country and solid on the offensive boards as well. St. Mary’s guard Matthew Dellavedova is going to have to shoulder the offensive load.  Keep an eye on how he responds to the pressure.
  • St. Mary’s appears to be outmanned in this game, so hustle will be the key for them.  The size of the Baylor frontcourt could be too much for the Gaels.  Rebounding will be the key factor.  Baylor shoots the ball very well, but SMC can keep in close if they hit the boards.  Baylor needs to hang on to the ball and take advantage of their athleticism and length to win.

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by AMurawa on December 13th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.

Reader’s Take

 

A Look Back

This week marked the start of a relatively quiet time in the Mountain West schedule. With the MW/MVC Challenge and early season tournaments a thing of the past, and with the combination of finals, holidays and a late start to conference play, we’re treated to almost a month worth of sleepy matchups. We’ve still got a handful of interesting games, however, like the UNLV-Wisconsin matchup this past week, or the upcoming Rebels’ matchups with Illinois and Cal (other games of note include New Mexico-Oklahoma State and Boise State-Iowa). But for every one of those types of games, we’ve got a UC Riverside-San Diego State or Sioux Falls-Wyoming snoozefest to keep us in check. Despite the fact that the Mountain West currently ranks fourth among all conferences in RPI, you can expect that the anticipated dive in strength of schedule over the next month will hurt the conference’s member institutions when it comes to selection and seeding for the NCAA Tournament.

Team of the Week

Michael Lyons, Air Force

Air Force, Led By Michael Lyons, Won Both Their Games This Week By An Average Of 16 Points (Julie Jacobson/AP)

  • Air Force – The Falcons are my team of the week, almost by default. They are the only team in the conference to win two games this week, and they did so in convincing fashion, knocking off Wright State by 21, then taking care of Arkansas-Pine Bluff by 12. The Falcons used suffocating defense to limit WSU to just 9-of-46 shooting from the field and coasted enough to allow a whopping 17 players to get playing time in the game. Senior guard Michael Lyons led the way in both games, and is now averaging 19 points (best in the conference) and 5.4 rebounds per game (#11 in the conference), while Mike Fitzgerald busted out with six threes on his way to a career-high 19 against UAPB. The Academy is now 5-2 on the season, with the two losses (to Colorado and Drake) coming by a combined total of just five points.

Player of the Week

  • DeShawn Stephens, Jr, San Diego State – In a week where there was no runaway winner, we’re going to take this opportunity to recognize Stephens, a junior college transfer in his first year on Montezuma Mesa. With the Aztecs woefully thin up front to begin with, more minutes opened up for Stephens when senior big man Tim Shelton was limited to just seven minutes by yet another knee injury in their game against cross-town foe San Diego. Stephens, a quick learner who didn’t play basketball in high school, responded with 16 points and nine rebounds in the Aztecs win, and should be in line for more minutes from here on out, as he is already arguably the best SDSU big man.

Newcomer of the Week

  • Stephens – The 6″8″, 215-pound Los Angeles native is also converted 7-of-8 shots in the victory over San Diego.
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Set Your Tivo: Opening Night Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 8th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

After 216 excruciating days, our long off-season national nightmare is over. College basketball is back! The 2010-11 season opens tonight with four opening round games in the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer.  Here’s your schedule/bracket, and here are the two games tonight that you should be tracking.  All times eastern.

Rhode Island @ #5 Pittsburgh – 7 pm on ESPNU (***)

Pitt Hopes to Have a Celebratory Season

Game one features a Pittsburgh team picked to win the Big East against a solid Rhode Island team selected fifth in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll behind the “big four” of Temple, Xavier, Richmond and Dayton. For Pitt, years of preseason optimism have almost always ended in disappointment relative to expectations. There should be no doubt that Jamie Dixon has built a top program there but they have yet to make the leap and get to the Final Four. Many are saying this could finally be the year. The Panthers return four starters from last year’s team that caught everybody by surprise and taught us all never to doubt him again. They are led by junior point guard Ashton Gibbs, the scoring leader last year at 15.7 PPG. Gibbs is an outstanding three-point shooter, connecting at a 40.4% clip from downtown for his collegiate career. Versatile Brad Wanamaker (12.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 4.7 APG), Gilbert Brown and Gary McGhee should also start for Pitt. With Nasir Robinson out due to injury, Dixon may turn to redshirt freshman Talib Zanna who started and played 22 minutes in an exhibition win over Indiana (PA) on Thursday night. For Rhode Island, Jim Baron’s team is coming off a successful 26-win year that ended with a loss to North Carolina in the NIT semifinals. Gone is leading scorer Keith Cothran as well as Lamonte Ulmer, but Delroy James returns for his senior campaign in Kingston. The 6’8 James saw his production drop towards the end of the regular season but broke out in the NIT against Nevada, scoring 34 points on 10-19 shooting, including 5-7 from deep. James can stretch the defense and that could cause some problems for Pitt in this game tonight. He scored 23 points against Temple and 22 at Dayton last year, teams that play a similar style to Dixon’s Panthers. Rhody will also miss 7’0 senior Will Martell (injury) in this game, presenting some depth issues for Baron. Pitt should be ready for this game as it’s certainly no cupcake while Rhode Island hopes to make a huge statement on the first night of the season. Rhody’s main problem may well be defense as the Rams were ranked #110 in defensive efficiency last year per Ken Pomeroy. A realistic expectation would be to play relatively close and show the rest of the A-10 that there may be another team to reckon with this season. That will be hard to do in the raucous Petersen Events Center.

UC Irvine @ #13 Illinois – 8 pm on ESPN3.com (**)

Bruce Weber’s Illinois team enters the season with their highest expectations since a trip to the 2005 championship game. The Fighting Illini return essentially everyone of significance from last year’s 21-win team. Of the players who averaged at least 10 minutes per game, only Dominique Keller and Jeff Jordan are not returning. Illinois has four seniors playing key roles this year, all of them determined to end their collegiate careers on a high note: Demetri McCamey(15.1 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 7.1 APG) is a rock at the point, leading the nation in assist rate last year; Mike Davis (10.7 PPG, 9.2 RPG) and Mike Tisdale (11.9 PPG, 6.0 RPG) anchor the frontcourt with Bill Cole serving as a glue guy inside off the bench. Freshman swing Jereme Richmond and returnee D.J. Richardson (10.5 PPG, 39% 3FG) are expected to complete the starting lineup. Illinois’ starting five is imposing and can go head to head with any team in the Big Ten and likely the nation. Weber has pretty good depth with Cole, Tyler Griffey, Brandon Paul and two good freshmen coming off the bench. Illinois’ freshman class of Richmond, Crandall Head (brother of Luther) and Meyers Leonard was rated #11 by Scout.com. This class, along with another year of experience for the returning players, should push the Illini from the NIT to well into the NCAA Tournament this year. Illinois struggled offensively at times last year but the firepower returning and coming in should allow them open it up more. With a dynamic play-making guard in McCamey, Illinois is poised for a big year and could contend with Michigan State and Ohio State at the top of the conference. UC Irvine went just 12-18 against D1 opponents last season. Led by junior forward and preseason first team all-Big West player Eric Wise (16.3 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 3.0 APG), the Anteaters have been tabbed sixth in the conference media preseason poll. Darren Moore can really stroke it from three point range (39.4%) but first year coach Russell Turner doesn’t have much else to work with. Michael Hunter and Zack Atkinson are gone so players like Patrick Rembert and Pavol Losonsky must improve for UC Irvine to move up in the Big West standings. UCI was not good defensively last year, giving up almost 70 points per game, and didn’t fare much better on the other side of the ball. While the game probably won’t be close, one thing fans should look for is how often Illinois gets to the free throw line. Last year the Illini ranked #337 out of 347 D1 teams in percentage of points from the line (16.3%). For a team that shot over 70% from the line last year, that’s an awfully low percentage. It could indicate a slow pace of play and/or a lack of aggressiveness which could hold them back somewhat this year outside of the Big Ten. Playing at home in the season opener, the deep and talented Illini should pick apart the Anteaters and win this game by a comfortable margin.

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