Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 3rd, 2015

In a league defined by chaos this season, last weekend was fairly uneventful and arguably almost normal. There were no upsets, although there were a couple close calls as an undermanned Illinois squad had to sweat it out against Penn State at home, while Rutgers hung with Indiana thanks to the heroics of Myles Mack. Michigan State needed overtime to knock off a gritty Michigan team that once again was without the services of point guard Derrick Walton Jr. Meanwhile, Minnesota avenged an earlier loss to Nebraska by forcing an obscene 20 turnovers and holding the Cornhuskers to just 42 points. It would be obscene not to read the rest of this, so here’s the best and worst of weekend number five in the B1G.

Maurice Walker was unstoppable in the post in Minnesota's 60-42 victory over Nebraska on Saturday. (Ben Garvin, Pioneer Press)

Maurice Walker was unstoppable in the post in Minnesota’s 60-42 victory over Nebraska on Saturday. (Ben Garvin, Pioneer Press)

  • Player of the Weekend: Maurice Walker essentially stole Walter Pitchford’s lunch money, gave him a swirly, and then forged a note making fun of the teacher to get him in trouble. Cheesy elementary school metaphors aside, Walker was dominant on the low blocks for Minnesota, scoring at will on his way to a 19-point effort on 7-of-10 shooting from the field. The rest of the Gophers’ offense was nonexistent for most of the contest, so give the guards credit for pounding the ball inside to him. The fifth-year senior also added eight rebounds, two blocks and three steals. Minnesota is great at taking the ball away ( 14.8% steal rate, third nationally), but Walker is actually fourth in the Big Ten with a steal rate of 3.99 percent. He has really quick hands and does a nice job poking the ball away from post players without fouling. He had three first-half steals in this game as Nebraska coughed the ball up a total of 14 times before halftime.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: Tom Crean wasn’t happy with the way Indiana had been playing, so he shook things up a bit on Saturday against Rutgers. The change meant that Troy Williams -- despite the fact that he’s had a really good season with some outstanding performances — came off of the bench. He had some silly turnovers but the sophomore also contributed a double-double in the form of 14 points and 10 rebounds. He scored on his usual array of drives and dunks, but one thing slightly unique about this performance was that he was led the break after grabbing a defensive rebound. This led to a faster break out in transition, and it also gave the Hoosiers an ability to have Yogi Ferrell spot up on the perimeter with the rest of the shooters. Don’t expect Williams to become a point forward  at Indiana anytime soon, but this was a neat look that takes advantage of Williams’ outstanding ability in the open court while giving Ferrell more looks.

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Big Ten Post-Super Bowl Reset

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 3rd, 2015

New England knocked off Seattle in one of the most thrilling Super Bowls of the last 20 years on Sunday night. Ohio State shocked the world in the first-ever College Football Playoff by barely making the field and then defeating the two favorites. All of you pigskin- obsessed sports fans now have a clear void in your life until next August. Have no fear, though, as Big Ten basketball is the elixir for your post-football withdrawal. Here’s a quick look at what’s happened through the first couple months of the regular season to get you up to speed.

Frank Kaminsky (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky Has Played Like an All-American This Year (Getty)

  • Wisconsin’s Dominance: If the last time you checked in with Wisconsin was while watching last year’s Final Four, you’ll find that the Badgers have shown that they have all the pieces in place to make a return trip. Bo Ryan’s team has only suffered two losses (to Duke and Rutgers) en route to a 19-2 overall mark (7-1 Big Ten), and the most efficient offensive team in America boasts likely Big Ten Player of the Year (and All-American), Frank Kaminsky. The Badgers are currently missing point guard Traveon Jackson with an injury until the end of the month, but Bronson Koenig has stepped in admirably and there’s a realistic chance the Badgers are headed for a 17-1 Big Ten record and a #1 NCAA Tournament seed.

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Big Ten M5: 02.03.15 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on February 3rd, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. Injured Illinois players Rayvonte Rice and Aaron Cosby were suspended by head coach John Groce on Saturday, just hours before the Illini’s match-up with Penn State. Cosby, who is currently sitting out after suffering a retinal tear to his left eye, was recently medically cleared to practice, while Rice had been participating in non-contact drills. Groce said that the two weren’t ready to play, and Bryce Smith of The Champaign Room hopes that the suspensions were due to minor transgressions such as the pair not working out while they were injured – but Groce has declined to mention specifics. If Rice and Cosby miss any more games than they otherwise would have with their injuries, though, the Illini, 4-5 in Big Ten play, are in serious trouble.
  2. Iowa has now lost three games in a row, but Aaron White claims the Hawkeyes are just as confident as they were before their recent skid. They’ve dropped to 4-4 in Big Ten play and will head to Ann Arbor on Thursday for a crucial game with Michigan before hosting Maryland on Sunday. Those are arguably two of the toughest games left on Iowa’s schedule, as the subsequent eight teams have a combined winning percentage of 31.9 percent in league play. In comparison, Iowa’s first 10 Big Ten opponents had a combined league winning percentage of 63.3 percent. The Hawkeyes aren’t where they thought they would be at this point of the season, but they shouldn’t be panicking yet either.
  3. Joe Lunardi released his latest version of Bracketology on Monday, tabbing six Big Ten teams into the field (Wisconsin, Maryland, Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Iowa) while dropping Michigan and Purdue into the “next four out” section. Michigan stands to gain the most ground in the final month of the regular season, but the Wolverines will face one of the toughest remaining schedules in the Big Ten. KenPom predicts that the team will lose six of its final eight games, but keep in mind this is a group that’s playing without star Caris LeVert and is devoting a ton of minutes to its freshmen. Those newcomers played well in Michigan’s weekend loss to Michigan State, but according to John Beilein, they ‘panicked’ in the final minutes. The key is that they’re improving and could surprise enough teams in February to eventually land a coveted spot in the Big Dance.
  4. The Wolverines will also be without Derrick Walton Jr. for the “foreseeable future,” according to Beilein. Walton has both a sore foot and a strained toe but does not require surgery at this point. His injury makes Michigan’s already brutal final stretch even tougher – and it forces the formerly redshirted sophomore Andrew Dakich into a more substantial role. Dakich unselfishly burned his redshit in order to play in a reserve role for the injury-laden Wolverines, sacrificing a year of eligibility to give Michigan’s guards some occasional rest. He received 16 minutes of play on Sunday, though, and will likely see plenty more with Walton remaining on the shelf.
  5. Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell is dominating the Big Ten Freshman of the Week awards this season, earning the honor for the third consecutive week and fifth time overall on Monday. Russell was unsurprisingly crucial in the Buckeyes’ win over Maryland last week, grabbing 18 points, 14 rebounds and dishing six assists. There is no doubt that the rookie will be a high pick in this summer’s NBA Draft – DraftExpress.com recently projected him as the No. 2 overall pick as he has progressively moved up the list. Buckeye nation should cherish what it has, says Doug Lesmerises of Cleveland.com, arguing that Russell is a star who can elevate a program to new heights. The unfortunate part is that his surrounding cast has let him down multiple times this season, but for Russell to truly shine on the national stage of March Madness, he will need the rest of the squad to pick up some slack.
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Big Ten Point Guard Title Belt: Update #1

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 28th, 2015

On January 10, the B1G point guard title belt was introduced in an effort to determine (unofficially) which player is the best floor general in the league. Since then, a series of injuries and inconsistent play have resulted in the mythical belt already changing hands four times. Volatility is enhanced by the fact that one-game sample sizes lend themselves to frequent changes, but only one player has been able earn the belt and keep it. Here’s a brief rundown on how the belt changed hands over the past couple of weeks and which point guard presently holds the title.

After taking over the primary point guard responsibilities from the injured Traveon jackson, Bronson Koenig has been solid. (AP)

After taking over the primary point guard responsibilities from the injured Traveon jackson, Bronson Koenig has been solid. (AP)

  • January 10: Michigan 62, Minnesota 57. In his first game as the belt-holder, Minnesota’s Deandre Mathieu struggled to the tune of a disastrous individual offensive rating of 30.0 — going scoreless and turning the ball over five times in 29 minutes. Meanwhile, Michigan’s Derrick Walton, Jr went 3-of-4 from behind the arc en route to a 15-point performance. The sophomore only notched three assists against two turnovers, but his 136.0 offensive rating was the highest on his team in the victory.
  • January 13: Ohio State 71, Michigan 52. Walton’s reign at the top was a short one, as Ohio State convincingly beat the Wolverines in their Super Tuesday match-up in Columbus. The Buckeyes’ Shannon Scott notched seven points and eight assists to go along with only one turnover, and even though he didn’t shoot the ball very well (3-of-9 from the field), he outplayed Walton, who posted a dismal offensive rating of 43.0 with two points (1-of-7 shooting) and two assists.

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Big Ten Sophomore Spotlight: Michigan’s Zak Irvin

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 23rd, 2015

Many sophomores in the Big Ten have a significantly greater role this season than they did as freshmen. That is to be expected, of course, as the offseason between their first and second years is often when players make their biggest strides in development. Some highly-recruited guys, however, continue to disappoint, while others who may not have been so highly regarded have by now become viable contributors for their teams. This series of posts is meant to check in on a few of the different sophomores in the league to determine whether they have improved and what it means for their teams going forward. Next up in the series is Michigan forward Zak Irvin.

Zak Irvin has to produce now more than ever with Caris LeVert done for the season due to an injury. (Leon Halip, Getty)

Zak Irvin has to produce now more than ever with Caris LeVert done for the season due to an injury. (Leon Halip, Getty)

  • 2013-14: 15.4 MPG, 6.7 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 0.2 SPG, 43.4% FG, 42.5% 3FG, 59.2% eFG, 19.4% Usage, 117.8 Offensive Rating
  • 2014-15: 34.6 MPG, 13.7 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 0.8 SPG, 39.6% FG, 35.9% 3FG, 48.4% eFG, 21.6% Usage, 100.6 Offensive Rating

Things just got real for Irvin. Caris LeVert is now out for the rest of the season with a foot injury, so in following the “next man up” theorem throughout sports when a superstar gets injured, all the signs point to Irvin as the new main option for the Wolverines. To this point in the season, however, Irvin’s play has to be considered a mild disappointment. His general offensive productivity has declined as he has significantly increased his minutes and shot attempts commensurate with the team’s focus. Like Michigan as a team, things started out pretty well this season for the Indiana native, as he averaged 20.4 PPG on 43.4 percent shooting from deep in the first seven games of the season. Beginning with the Wolverines’ catastrophic loss to NJIT, however, his numbers dropped to 11.3 PPG on 30.8 percent shooting from three. Five of his first seven games exhibited offensive ratings above 100, but he has only managed to hit that number three times in his last 12 outings. He has somewhat made up for it in Big Ten play with better rebounding (4.7 RPG), and getting to the free throw line (3.4 FTA), but Irvin is on the floor to make shots from the perimeter, which he hasn’t been doing nearly enough lately.

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Caris LeVert’s Injury Could be Season-Ending for Michigan Too

Posted by Eric Clark on January 19th, 2015

Michigan head coach John Beilein is an outstanding head coach, and if he can lead his current group of Wolverines back to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth consecutive season, he should be dubbed a miracle worker. In Saturday’s 56-54 win over Northwestern, Beilein lost his best player, junior Caris LeVert, for the remainder of the season after he suffered an injury to his left foot. LeVert had surgery on the same foot last May and will undergo another operation on it this week.

Caris LeVert suffered a season-ending foot injury in Michigan's 56-54 win over Northwestern (Gregory Shamus, Getty).

Caris LeVert suffered a season-ending foot injury in Michigan’s 56-54 win over Northwestern (Gregory Shamus, Getty).

LeVert’s injury is devastating to Michigan’s already-slim chances of making the NCAA Tournament, as the junior leads the team in scoring (14.9 PPG), rebounding (4.9 RPG) and steals (1.8 SPG). His experience, on-court leadership and productivity are virtually irreplaceable for a program that has lost so much talent in the last two years. Junior Spike Albrecht along with sophomores Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. will now be asked to pick up the scoring slack, but they’ll have more to worry about than just getting buckets. LeVert played in 89.3 percent of Michigan’s minutes this year and carries a team-high 24.7 percent usage rate. Finding a new offensive rhythm will prove difficult for the rest of the team, especially with the injury coming in the midst of the Big Ten season.

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Introducing the Big Ten Point Guard Title Belt

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 8th, 2015

Point guard play has been the difference in many games involving Big Ten teams this season, but if fans who follow the league were asked to name its best floor general, several different answers would be given. Do you value a scoring guard like Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell or do you fancy a pass-first type like Ohio State’s Shannon Scott. Each team around the conference has a point guard who impacts the team’s bottom line by how or well or poorly they play on a given night, so how do you determine which player is the best? It’s a tricky question, but one that I’ve decided to tackle here. Per KenPom’s metrics, considering all point guards who have played at least 50.0 percent of their teams’ available minutes, there are 18 eligible Big Ten players. That group was then rank-ordered into five categories: free throw percentage; assist-to-turnover ratio; assist rate; effective field goal percentage; and steal rate.

Shannon Scott is one of the best point guards in the B1G, but is he the best?(AP)

Shannon Scott is one of the best point guards in the B1G, but is he the best?(AP)

These five metrics could arguably be tweaked or weighted by importance, but each represents a valuable commodity for someone who has the ball in his hands for a good portion of the game. Good point guards need to make free throws; they are expected to get their teammates involved; and they have to either be a capable shooter from behind the arc or get into the lane for high percentage shots. Defensively, a point guard needs to be able to pressure and irritate their assignments, and while steal rate isn’t a perfect indicator, individual defensive metrics are notoriously difficult to compare. Keeping in mind that statistics are only one part of the equation in evaluating players, after compiling the rankings, the top five came out as follows (in no particular order):

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Big Ten Feast Week Primer

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 24th, 2014

Seven Big Ten teams will be competing in tournaments during Feast Week. Some are expected to do well, while others are looking to pick up some quality wins and defy preseason expectations. Here’s a primer for those hoops-obsessed fans who want to schedule some Big Ten basketball watching around their annoying relatives. The fun gets started later today in Maui, New York and Kansas City.

Progressive Legends Classic: (Monday and Tuesday)

Caris LeVert needs to continue to fill up the stat sheet if Michigan wants to win the Legends Classic. (Getty)

Caris LeVert needs to continue to fill up the stat sheet if Michigan wants to win the Legends Classic. (Getty)

  • Teams: Michigan, Oregon, VCU, Villanova
  • Favorite: Villanova
  • TV: ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPNU
  • Outlook: Michigan will face its first big-name opponents of the season when the Wolverines take on Oregon in the first game. Should they win, they’ll face off against the winner of the VCU-Villanova game after that. The perimeter trio of Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin and Caris LeVert will have to continue to score at a high level, as the trio is producing a robust 67.5 percent of Michigan’s points thus far this season.
  • Predicted Finish: First if they play Villanova; second if they play VCU.

CBE Hall of Fame Classic: (Monday and Tuesday)

  • Teams: Maryland, Arizona State, Iowa State, Alabama
  • Favorite: Iowa State
  • TV: ESPNU, ESPN2

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RTC Big Ten Preseason Rankings: #9 to #5

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 13th, 2014

We continue our preseason Big Ten rankings today with spots #9 through #5. The bottom tier of teams, #14 to #10, released earlier this week. These middle tier teams will be fighting to be on the right side of the bubble — and providing us with great drama — all season long.

9. Maryland

  • What they do well: Defense. Mark Turgeon has had a top 40 squad in adjusted defensive efficiency the past couple seasons and it’ll likely be his area of focus once again.
  • What they don’t do well: Retention. Seth Allen, Charles Mitchell, Nick Faust, Roddy Peters and Shaquille Cleare all transferred out of the program in the offseason — not exactly inconsequential players.
Dez Wells is one of the few familiar faces in College Park this year. (Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

Dez Wells is one of the few familiar faces in College Park this year. (Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

  • Get to know: Melo Trimble. The top 40 recruit will need to use his offensive skill set to help replace all the lost scoring from last season.
  • Why they’ll finish 9th: The exodus of key players and unfamiliarity in the Big Ten will cause some very sharp growing pains for the Terrapins.
  • Why they’ll finish higher: This team still has talent and is used to playing top-notch competition. If they can get all their new pieces to gel together, they can compete in a relatively down Big Ten.

8. Iowa

  • What they do well: Offense. Last season, the Hawkeyes were fifth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and they bring a majority of that roster back this year.
  • What they don’t do well: Mental toughness. Last season, Iowa wilted in close games against Villanova and Iowa State. Things really spiraled out of control at the end of the season when they lost seven of their last eight contests.

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Introducing the RTC All-Big Ten Third Team

Posted by Eric Clark on November 12th, 2014

College basketball makes its return on Friday, and the Big Ten microsite’s writing crew has come together and formally voted on their preseason All-Big Ten teams. Having already released our pick for Big Ten Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, we’ll release the rest of our preseason projections later this week.

RTC All-Big Ten Third Team

Shavon Shields, junior, Nebraska 6’7”, 221 lbs. (12.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 44.3% FG). Terran Petteway is the obvious catalyst for the Huskers, but Shields, a Big Ten honorable mention selection last year, will be his primary sidekick. Standing at 6’7”, Shields can pose significant match-up problems at the two-guard spot. The Olathe, Kansas, native ranked 11th in the Big Ten in defensive rebounding last season, pulling down over four caroms per game while leading Nebraska with 5.8 boards per game. His ability to get to the basket is what makes him truly indispensible, while all his work on the boards from the wing positions are gravy.

Shavon Shields Leads the RTC Big Ten Preseason Third Team  (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Shavon Shields Leads the RTC Big Ten Preseason Third Team (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Rayvonte Rice, senior, Illinois 6’4”, 230 lbs. (15.9 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.66 SPG). Rice made waves in his first season of play at Illinois (he redshirted the 2012-13 campaign due to NCAA transfer rules), leading the team in points and pulling down 210 rebounds, just one shy of the team high. Rice will be counted on even more this season after Tracy Abrams was lost for the season with a knee injury. If Rice can improve upon his three-point percentage (29.5%), he’ll be a far more dangerous player this season. Pairing a solid long-range game with his size, strength and overall toughness would serve the Illini well come postseason crunch time.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Michigan 79, #7 Texas 65

Posted by Walker Carey on March 22nd, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion@RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Stauskas Carried His Team for Another Round (Gregory Shamus, Getty)

Stauskas Carried His Team for Another Round (Gregory Shamus, Getty)

  1. Michigan’s three-point shooting carried it to victory. The Wolverines have been a very good three-point shooting team all season, and that carried over to Saturday afternoon. John Beilein’s squad used 14 three-pointers – on 28 attempts from behind the arc – to pace itself to a comfortable victory over Texas.  Starters Derrick Walton Jr., Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, and Glenn Robinson III combined to hit 11 from behind the arc and this forced the Longhorns to make defensive adjustments throughout the game. Hot three-point shooting has been known to carry teams deep into the NCAA Tournament. Michigan has shown repeatedly that its long-range shooting is about as good as it gets this season, so you should not be surprised if the Wolverines keep advancing as long as they are hitting shots from deep.
  2. Offensive rebounding and free throw shooting kept Texas in the game. The Longhorns did not have their best game on either side of the court Saturday afternoon. They shot just 37.1 percent from the field and starting guards Isaiah Taylor, Demarcus Holland, and Javan Felix finished a combined 11-of-34. Rick Barnes’ group also had a long night defensively, as they allowed Michigan way too many open looks from the perimeter, resulting in the Wolverines’ hot shooting performance. Two areas where Texas excelled were on the offensive glass and at the free throw line. The Longhorns collected an astounding 21 offensive boards and used those to record 19 second-chance points. They also took advantage of their 16 attempts from the charity stripe by knocking back all but one of them. Texas probably should have been put away shortly after the commencement of the second half, but due to its performance on the offensive glass and at the free throw line, it was able to keep the pressure on Michigan well into the final minutes.
  3. Jordan Morgan has been the interior presence Michigan needs. When Mitch McGary went down with a season-ending back injury in late December, many question arose regarding if Michigan’s inside play would be good enough for the team to have a successful season. Those questions were certainly answered in the Big Ten, as the team’s inside play was not an issue en route to a 15-3 conference record and an outright league title. Entering the NCAA Tournament, however, it still seemed as if there were doubts if the team’s inside play would be enough for it to advance far into the bracket. Senior forward Jordan Morgan’s play in the first two games of this Tournament has shown that those doubts were unwarranted. The big man has tallied 25 points and 20 rebounds over the first two games and has provided the team with a much-needed interior defensive presence. Morgan has already played a lot of minutes in his Michigan career and if he can continue to produce in the post, he is going to likely play quite a few more before his Wolverines career is over.

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Rushed Reactions: #22 Michigan State 69, #8 Michigan 55

Posted by Walker Carey on March 16th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Sunday’s Big Ten Tournament title game between Michigan and Michigan State in Indianapolis.

Three Key Takeaways.

MSU is Playing Like the Spartans We All Expected

MSU is Playing Like the Spartans We All Expected

  1. “THIS” version of Michigan State is very dangerous. Tom Izzo‘s squad was very popular Final Four pick in the preseason. As the season progressed, the Spartans lost their popularity due to a variety of injuries. Floor leader Keith Appling missed time. Standout scorer Gary Harris missed time. Versatile forward Branden Dawson missed time. Stretch big man Adreian Payne missed time. The question changed from, “Will Michigan State get to the Final Four?” to, “Will Michigan State ever get healthy?” The Spartans finally played with a full roster for the final three games of the regular season, but they only went 1-2 in those games. This prompted national pundits to question if the team will be able to shake off the rust in time to make a serious run in the postseason. Michigan State just may have answered that question this week, as it ripped off three relatively easy victories en route to the Big Ten Tournament title. As the NCAA Tournament is set to begin later this week, Michigan State finally appears to be the team that many thought it would be.
  2. Michigan’s offense was out of sorts all afternoon. The biggest factor in Michigan winning the regular season conference title by three game was its marvelous offensive attack. Sophomore guards Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert bursted onto the scene as two of the elite shot makers in the conference, sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III used his versatility and great athleticism to be a legitimate threat from both the inside and outside, and freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. showcased a natural ability to distribute the basketball. All four were thrown off their games Sunday afternoon, as Michigan State’s defense was tenacious from start to finish. The Wolverines finished with their second-lowest scoring output of the season and that can be majorly attributed to its shooting struggles all afternoon. Michigan finished shooting just 31.5% from the field and it could never get anything going from behind the three-point line, finishing at just 26.1% from distance. Every team goes through poor shooting games, but for a team that relies so much on its outside shooting, Michigan is going to need to make better adjustments when up against a tenacious defense if it wants to advance deep into the NCAA Tournament.
  3. These are two teams to keep an eye on in the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State is as talented as any team that will be in the Field of 68. Now that they are at full health, the Spartans will be a popular pick to advance deep into the bracket. While it did not play well Sunday afternoon, Michigan is still an extremely good team that won the regular season Big Ten title for a reason. This year’s NCAA Tournament seems like it is wide open and the two teams that played Sunday afternoon in Indianapolis each have a chance to – at the very least – make a run to the Final Four.

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