Set Your Tivo: 12.22.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 22nd, 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.

Tonight you’ll catch three really good games (including two heavyweight Big 12/Big Ten clashes) if you sit down, relax, and watch ESPN2 all night. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#25 Texas @ #12 Michigan State – 7 pm on ESPN2 (****)

Like It or Not, Izzo and the Spartans Need This One

It’s always fun when two name-brand programs go at it and this one is no exception. This is a big game for both teams but especially so for the homestanding Spartans. A loss here would drop Michigan State to 7-4 against D1 competition and once again ignite the questions about this team’s ability over the long haul, regardless of Tom Izzo’s history. Speaking of Mr. Izzo, he’s back after serving a one-game suspension for employing someone connected to a recruit at his basketball camp. Sparty had no problems against Prairie View A&M but Texas poses a stern test for State. The Longhorns look like a better team this year, playing with good chemistry and stronger defense. Both of these teams rank in the top 15 nationally in defensive efficiency with Texas in the top three in defensive effective field goal percentage. Rick Barnes has a cohesive unit this year that can score as well. With Jordan Hamilton draining threes and Cory Joseph taking over at the point, Texas may just be starting to hit their stride. The key matchups in this ballgame are Hamilton against Durrell Summers and Joseph versus Korie Lucious. When he’s on, Summers can match Hamilton shot for shot. Izzo has moved Lucious to the point many times while shifting Kalin Lucas off the ball. It is essential that each point guard control the ball and get others involved, plus we’re curious to see how the freshman Joseph reacts to the intense environment of the Breslin Center. Each team is deep and talented so the point guards cannot expect to be the stars of the show. The problem for Michigan State all season has been turnovers, something Texas will be eager to force. The Longhorns are deadly when they get out in transition and Michigan State just can’t afford another game chock full of giveaways. Pay attention to the three point line tonight. Michigan State is a very good three-point shooting team, the least we’d expect from what Izzo called a “pretty-boy jump shooting team” after their loss to Syracuse. However, Texas is very good at defending the arc and even better inside it, ranked seventh in two-point defense. The Spartans have three legitimate deep threats and will look to put Texas on notice early and often. On the other end, Michigan State is not good at defending the three. That’s a potentially lethal situation when you have a gunner like Hamilton on the other side. This would seem to be a great time for Michigan State to turn the corner and re-establish itself as a contender with a convincing win over a solid Texas team. We see this game as a closer contest however and Texas can put themselves on the map for good this year with a strong road win. Michigan State is the favorite at home and we’ll take the Spartans by single digits.

#10 Missouri vs. #21 Illinois (in St. Louis) – 9 pm on ESPN2 (****)

The annual Braggin’ Rights game between these two border state rivals is always a must-watch, especially when the teams are good as they are this season. Plus, don’t you love seeing that dividing line right in the middle of the arena separating black and gold from orange? Each team is in the top 25 for the first time in seven years but both programs are dealing with a bit of adversity. The Illini are coming off a brutal loss to Illinois-Chicago while Missouri lost freshman Phil Pressey to a broken hand and will welcome Michael Dixon back from suspension in his place. The story of this game will be pace, essentially who establishes their style of play. Everyone knows Missouri loves to get out and run but Illinois can control this game by protecting the ball against the aggressive Mizzou defense, running efficient half court sets and playing to their strength, defense. Ranked #18 in efficiency, the Illini defense needs to always have a man between Missouri and the basket to stop the ball, otherwise the Tigers will carve them up in both the half court and in transition. Illinois will have success if they force Missouri to play half court offense, taking time off the shot clock and limiting possessions. The most important player in this game is Demetri McCamey. The Illinois senior runs their offense and can shoot the lights out from three. He has to take advantage of Missouri jumping the passing lanes and make good passes to his teammates leading to open looks. Bruce Weber’s team has to take advantage of the mismatch on the perimeter when they have the ball. Illinois ranks #19 in three point shooting while the Tigers are #215 in defending the trey. Meanwhile, Missouri can exploit a weak spot in the Illinois defense inside with Ricardo Ratliffe. Illinois’ interior defense is ranked #118 and the Missouri big man should be able to get Mike Tisdale and/or Mike Davis into foul trouble. Missouri has a bunch of scorers on its roster but, remarkably, they don’t get to the foul line often. Illinois is even worse when it comes to free throw rate but they may get there more often against the foul-prone Tigers. Expect a very close game between two fierce rivals with the outcome in doubt late into the second half. We wouldn’t be surprised to see a determined and focused Illinois team rebound from the UIC loss by knocking off Missouri this evening.

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One Man’s Opinion: Contenders After One Month

Posted by zhayes9 on December 6th, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

After engulfing myself in a nightly binge of college basketball over the first month of the season- taking in games from the Big Apple to the Little Apple and from Cancun to Maui- here is one man’s evaluation on some of the top teams in the country and where they stand heading into the final weeks of non-conference play:

Kyrie Irving has surpassed expectations thus far

Duke- It’s going to take a near perfect effort to beat Duke this season. Being able to lure Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler back to campus coinciding with a severe down year in the ACC was truly the perfect storm of circumstance. One chance a team may have to dethrone Duke is if they lure Mason Plumlee into two early fouls, keep them in the halfcourt and the Blue Devils become three-happy, but Duke does have five players who can catch fire from deep at any time. Kyrie Irving has surpassed any and all expectations during the first month of the season. His court awareness is reminiscent of a 10-year NBA veteran rather than an 18-year old college freshman. His use of the hesitation dribble, ability to split screens, explode to the basket and display innate court awareness has vaulted Irving to stardom. What makes Duke so lethal is that they have a plethora of options that can explode for 25 points on any given night, just as Plumlee did against Marquette or Singler against Oregon or Irving against Michigan State.  There’s three potential lottery picks on this team, but selfishness is never an issue and they flow together seamlessly on the court. I have a hard time pointing out exactly where Duke slips up this season; after all, they don’t face a currently ranked team the rest of the slate.

Ohio State- Here’s the one team I feel would have a good shot at knocking off Duke on a neutral floor right now. They can come close to matching the Blue Devils at every position on the floor if William Buford runs the point. Jared Sullinger has been overrated a bit in the early going. Most of his production has come off easy dunks and layups and I haven’t seen an array of post moves quite yet, although I trust that they exist in his arsenal. It’s his fellow freshmen that should be receiving more attention. DeShaun Thomas is scoring 13 PPG in just over 17 MPG of play and shooting 56% from the floor. I’ve also been wildly impressed with the headiness and intelligence of Aaron Craft at the point. He’s compiled a near 2/1 assist/turnover ratio in the early going and has done a fantastic job finding shooters Diebler and Lighty off screens or Sullinger in low post position. David Lighty is this team’s MVP. He’s a lockdown defender and has really improved his outside jumper, while Buford may have the best mid-range game in the Big Ten. One should always anticipate Tom Izzo’s team to improve as the season wears on, but the Buckeyes have to be the odds-on favorite to win this conference as of now.

Pittsburgh- I know it’s horribly cliché when talking about Pittsburgh, but “tough” is the first word that comes to mind. Jamie Dixon’s teams are never outworked and currently lead all of college basketball is offensive rebounding percentage. Pitt seemingly has an assembly line of big men they can trot off the bench to give Gary McGhee, Nasir Robinson and Talib Zanna breathers. Dixon loves to run Ashton Gibbs off screens for open looks and the junior sharpshooter is connecting better than ever, although he still lacks true point guard skills. Although the rotation will eventually be trimmed down, Dixon has the luxury of digging 10-deep into his bench that Big East rivals like Georgetown and Connecticut simply do not have. McGhee is the type of bruiser inside that every team would love to throw out there for 20 MPG. He gives Pitt’s offense extra shot opportunities and shuts down opposing big men inside. Pitt doesn’t necessarily have the star power of other Final Four contenders, but their toughness and execution as a unit may be enough to carry them to Houston.

Kansas- I think we all need to take a moment to applaud the job Bill Self has done in Lawrence. This program lost two lottery picks and an All-American and have taken maybe one step back. This is a credit to the tremendous depth Self has compiled at Kansas and his staff’s ability to develop players. When Josh Selby is eligible on December 18, this team becomes Final Four good. He could be lumped into the same category as Irving, Walker and McCamey come March. I’ve been wildly impressed with how well the Jayhawks know their roles. The Morris brothers complement each other with Marcus as the inside-outside scoring threat (18.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 65% FG, 9/15 from deep) and Markieff perfectly content with doing the dirty work on the boards and in the paint. In and out of Self’s doghouse during his tenure at Kansas, Tyshawn Taylor has done a quietly solid job filling in for Selby at the point distributing the basketball.  A player who also flies under the radar is Brady Morningstar. Most just view him as a spot-up shooter, but he’s a valuable cog for Self ushering the fast break and setting up teammates for open looks.

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RTC Conference Primers: #1 – Big Ten

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 8th, 2010

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.

Predicted Order of Finish

  • 1. Michigan State (15-3)
  • 2. Ohio State (13-5)
  • 3. Illinois (12-6)
  • 4. Wisconsin (11-7)
  • T5. Purdue (9-9)
  • T5. Minnesota (9-9)
  • T5. Northwestern (9-9)
  • 8. Penn State (7-11)
  • 9. Indiana (6-12)
  • 10. Michigan (5-13)
  • 11. Iowa (3-15)

All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)

  • G: Demetri McCamey, Illinois (15.1 PPG, 6.8 APG)
  • G: Kalin Lucas, Michigan State (14.9 PPG, 3.9 APG)
  • F: Jon Leuer, Wisconsin (15.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG)
  • F: John Shurna, Northwestern (18.3 PPG, 6.4 RPG)
  • C: JaJuan Johnson, Purdue (15.2 PPG, 7.1 RPG)

6th Man

G: E’Twaun Moore, Purdue (16.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG)

Jared Sullinger (above) and three returning double-figure scorers succeed Evan Turner in Columbus, but Michigan State is the team to beat in the Big Ten.

Impact Newcomer

C: Jared Sullinger, Ohio State: Sullinger is a consensus top-five recruit. The 6’9 post player from Columbus played his high school basketball at Northland High School and won three national AAU championships with the All-Ohio Red team. He was named Ohio’s Mr. Basketball his junior and senior seasons and the Naismith National High School Boy’s Basketball Player of the Year in 2010. While some have compared him to Greg Oden, scouts say that Sullinger has a better face-up offensive game than the former Buckeye, but isn’t as intimidating on the defensive end. The hype reached epic proportions when Gary Parrish named Sullinger to his Preseason All-America team along with Harrison Barnes.

What You Need to Know

The Big Ten is one of the best conferences in college basketball, potentially the best this season. The pace is typically slower (eight of the 11 teams played at an adjusted tempo that ranked lower than 200th in the nation last season) and the play might be a little rougher (the top seven teams in the conference had a defensive efficiency that ranked 53rd or better last season), but there are a lot of teams that are a tough out come tournament time. Michigan State always seems to overachieve in the NCAA Tournament and there’s seldom a shortage of talent. Northwestern is the oddball in the conference, as the Wildcats are the only major conference team to have never been to the Big Dance.

Predicted Champion

Michigan State (NCAA Seed: #1): The Spartans took a five-seed in the NCAA Tournament last season and ran with it all the way to Final Four before falling to Butler in the National Semifinals. Most of that team returns this season. Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers will drive the backcourt, but there is also depth behind those two to help counter the conference grind. Up front, Draymond Green is an underrated force in the paint that should be able to absorb the minutes left behind from Raymar Morgan, the biggest loss from Michigan State’s Final Four team. Adreian Payne and Keith Appling are two high-profile recruits that can only help bolster the Spartans’ rotation. The Spartans have the look of a team that will be in the top five all season. Read the rest of this entry »

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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Upper Midwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 25th, 2010

For the second October in a row, we’re bringing you our RTC Impact Players series.  The braintrust has gone back and forth on this and we’ve finally settled on a group of sixty players throughout ten geographic regions of the country (five starters plus a sixth man) to represent the who and where of players you should be watching this season.  Seriously, if you haven’t seen every one of these players ball at least once by the end of February, then you need to figure out a way to get a better television package.  As always in a subjective analysis such as this, some of our decisions were difficult; many others were quite easy.  What we can say without reservation is that there is great talent in every corner of this nation of ours, and we’ll do our best to excavate it over the next five weeks in this series that will publish on Mondays and Thursdays.  Each time, we’ll also provide a list of some of the near-misses as well as the players we considered in each region, but as always, we welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments.

You can find all previous RTC 2010-11 Impact Players posts here.

Upper Midwest Region (MI, WI, MN, IA, NE, SD, ND)

  • Kalin Lucas – Sr, G – Michigan State.  Few elite players and certainly no other senior elite players will enter this season as more of an unknown quantity than Kalin Lucas. Coming off a solid junior season where he averaged 14.8 points and 4.0 assists per game, Lucas and the Spartans were poised for yet another run at the Final Four before a torn Achilles tendon in the second round against Maryland supposedly ended those hopes along with the possibility that Lucas might declare for the 2010 NBA Draft, already lacking in depth at the point guard position. We all know what happened instead (MSU rallied to yet another Final Four even without their starting point guard).  All indications point to Lucas having recovered from the untimely injury to near 100%, but we can’t help but wonder if his explosiveness, which already was a concern for NBA teams, might be compromised. Lucas is certainly fast enough when he gets going in the open court, but his first step has never been at the level of the other elite point guards he has been compared to and a potential reluctance to push off that torn left Achilles tendon may hinder that more. Despite the questions, Tom Izzo is certainly happy to have Lucas and his all-around skills and intangibles back in East Lansing—there are very few All-American point guards in BCS conferences that stick around for their senior season—and if Michigan State is going to make a push to yet another Final Four it will be Lucas who will again be the driving force. Having lost the enigmatic but explosive Raymar Morgan and equally enigmatic but troublesome Chris Allen, Izzo will expect Lucas to carry an increased offensive load while still distributing the ball to wings Durrell Summers and Draymond Green along with the talented Delvon Roe, who has yet to fulfill the promise he showed coming out of high school. If Lucas is able to meet those expectations, he could have a senior season much like one of his Spartan predecessors (Mateen Cleaves) that results in the Spartans cutting down the nets in Houston next April.

Lucas Returns For a Last Final Four Shot

  • Blake Hoffarber – Sr, G – Minnesota. Here’s the thing about Blake Hoffarber: he’s probably not the best player on this Minnesota team, maybe not even the third or fourth best player, but he is absolutely critical to their success, perhaps the most important player on the team in that regard. Guys like Al Nolen and Devoe Joseph, Ralph Sampson, III, and Colton Iverson, are all probably more talented and more complete players than Hoffarber, but last year’s Golden Gopher results tell the tale of a team that succeeded when Hoffarber succeeded and failed when he failed. In the 15 games in which Hoffarber scored ten or more points last season, Minnesota went 13-2; in the remaining 20 games when he scored less than ten, they were 8-12. The lesson is simple: Hoffarber needs to score for this team to be successful. And given that Hoffarber’s offensive game is almost entirely predicated on hitting spot-up threes, maybe the true impact player here should be Joseph or Nolen, getting Hoffarber good looks on drive-and-dish. Or maybe it should be Sampson and Iverson for sucking in defenders in the post or kicking out offensive rebounds that eventually find their way into Hoffarber’s hands. But the point remains, Hoffarber needs to get and hit threes for the Gophers to be successful. His offensive numbers tell the story well, as last season Hoffarber was the most efficient offensive player in the nation, but only used 14% of all Gopher possessions when he was in the game. He scored a total of 351 points last season, 255 of which came from behind the arc (at an impressive 46% clip, leading to an effective field goal percentage of 67.3%, good for fourth in the nation). Of the remaining 96 points, 28 came from the line, meaning he scored just 34 hoops inside the arc, less than one point per game. Basically, Hoffarber is the very essence of a pure shooter – you really don’t need to worry about him going around anybody and the only open looks he’ll create for teammates is when he draws defenders to him at the line and rotates the ball around the arc. Sure, he contributes a handful of rebounds a game and rarely turns the ball over, he passes pretty well and is a decent if unspectacular defender, but when it comes right down to it, he’s “just a shooter” – one of the best in the nation upon whom the Golden Gophers’ chances depend, but in the end, still “just a shooter.”

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2010-11 RTC Class Schedule: Michigan State Spartans

Posted by zhayes9 on September 2nd, 2010

Zach Hayes is a editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.  To see the entire group of 2010-11 Class Schedules, click here.

If there’s one guarantee when it comes to Michigan State on an annual basis, it’s this: more often than not, the Spartans are playing their best basketball in March when the chips are down and the spotlight shines all that brighter. Since the 1997-98 season, Tom Izzo’s team is an extraordinary 98 games over .500 in Big Ten play and have notched five regular season conference titles, so it’s not as if the Spartans go through the motions for four months before kicking it into high gear in the NCAA Tournament. Still, when Izzo and his program are mentioned on a national scale, it’s normally their spring success that defines the last 13 years at the helm: 9 Sweet 16 berths, 7 Elite 8 appearances, 5 Semifinal Saturday’s and that glorious national title in 2000. Prognosticating is never easy, but judging by the talent returning for Izzo in 2010-11, the Breslin Center rafters may have to clear room for another banner.

Tom Izzo's teams get the job done in March

Team Outlook: Whether Kalin Lucas would have made the difference in Michigan State upending Butler and Duke in last season’s Final Four is up for contentious debate, but one silver lining Spartan fans realized when Lucas tore his Achilles was that they’d have their former Big Ten Player of the Year back for his senior season. While it should take Lucas weeks into the season to regain full health and confidence, he’s surrounded by a supporting cast that can pick up the slack. Draymond Green will be thrust into a starting role he should handle, a unique point-forward with tremendous court vision that can also score inside. A focused Durrell Summers can explode for three-point binges bordering on unstoppable, although he must mold himself into a stronger and more consistent perimeter defender in the absence of transfer Chris Allen. Delvon Roe may finally prove healthy for an entire campaign and Izzo brought in freshman Adreian Payne to aid him in the post. Pending Izzo’s decision on how to handle a recent drunk driving incident, Korie Lucious proved a capable sub for Lucas in State’s tournament push while Keith Appling is another guard with a bright future off the Spartan bench. Michigan State is talented, deep, phenomenally coached and will play in March atmospheres every night in the rugged Big Ten. A preseason #2 ranking will likely follow when October rolls around for a program and a coach that’s used to winning under the brunt of sky-high expectations and a challenging schedule.

Non-Conference Schedule Rank (ranked 1 thru 10, 10 being the most difficult): 9.5. Combine Izzo’s always-aggressive scheduling strategy with a loaded Big Ten and Michigan State’s slate for the 2010-11 season rivals any Big East death march since that conference expanded. A home date in ESPN’s Tip-Off against South Carolina shouldn’t prove too dramatic of a challenge but the Spartans voyage to Maui will be if a championship goal is met. Believe it or not, Wichita State is a tougher semifinal matchup than Connecticut this season, the preseason Missouri Valley favorite that returns a good chunk of their balanced scoring output. A potential finals meeting with either Kentucky or Washington is waiting should State avoid a “shocking” upset (get it? Wichita State Shockers? Never mind). As a much-needed break a week following Maui, Michigan State gets to face Duke in Cameron Indoor, the loaded preseason #1 team in the nation for what should be the highlight game before the calendar turns to 2011. A week later? The Jimmy V Classic against Syracuse. I’m not done- in late December the Spartans continue their series with Texas on their home floor in East Lansing. That’s the potential to face plenty of stiff competition heading into a treacherous Big Ten.

Cupcake City: As any Divison I coach would at this high of a level, Izzo managed to sneak in a few cupcakes to give his Spartans brief reprieves around those hyped matchups. As the team projected to do the most damage this season, State draws Division II Chaminade in their quarterfinal Maui game. The Spartans open the regular season against Eastern Michigan on November 12 and will face Tennessee Tech in their first game back from the islands. One team that could give the Spartans a bit of a scare is Oakland, last year’s Summit champions that received the tremendous news this spring that Keith Benson would be returning for his senior season. If the Golden Grizzlies secondary pieces can step up following the losses of Johnathon Jones and Derick Nelson, this battle at Auburn Hills could be a sneaky one for Izzo. The only other semi-soft team on the docket is Bowling Green. Combine this non-conference schedule with what’s expected to be a strong in-conference slate and it’d be shocking if the Spartans didn’t finish the season with a top-three SOS, which is always a welcomed RPI booster.

Toughest Early Season Test: This one is fairly obvious, no? One year after being thrown to the wolves at what ended up being an underachieving North Carolina squad, it’s Michigan State once again making the trek to Tobacco Road to face likely-#1 Duke on December 1. When Izzo received the news that Lucas was returning to go with an already established core, he had to know the ACC/Big Ten Challenge would likely pit his Spartans in the most marquee contest possible. I can easily envision Duke pulling off similar to what Kansas accomplished last season- nearly a wire-to-wire spot atop the rankings with two or three slip-ups all season long. Although I’m of the opinion they’ll miss Jon Scheyer, Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek more than anticipated given how challenging it is to find a team that played their roles so effectively as last season’s Blue Devil squad mastered, there’s truly an unfair amount of talent returning to the defending champs. Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith are both ACC Player of the Year candidates, Coach K lured the top incoming guard in the nation to Durham in Kyrie Irving, they boast the Plumlee brothers in the post and Seth Curry is quite the weapon off the bench. The Spartans will have their hands full in Durham especially if Lucas isn’t playing at 100% to limit Duke’s dynamic frosh.

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2010-11 RTC Class Schedule: Kentucky Wildcats

Posted by zhayes9 on August 27th, 2010

Zach Hayes is a editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.  To see the entire group of 2010-11 Class Schedules, click here.

After dissecting a trio of Big 12 teams in prior weeks, more and more elite programs are releasing their 2010-11 schedules to the masses. Let’s continue with Kentucky, a squad that reloaded following the departure of an astounding five first round draft picks.

With so much turnover, Calipari has another tough coaching job on his hands

Team Outlook: A fan base as rabid and fanatical as Kentucky’s surely awaited this week’s announcement with tremendous anticipation. Big Blue Nation has expectations for their Wildcats that perennially surpass any other program in the nation. Their point guard and this April’s #1 overall pick in the NBA Draft, John Wall, will be replaced by Brandon Knight, whose high school accolades and ranking matches those of his predecessors under John Calipari. If deemed eligible by the NCAA, Enes Kanter will fill the post presence left by the ultra-productive DeMarcus Cousins. Similarly to Kanter, Terrence Jones spurned Washington and headed to Kentucky, a 6’9 wing very capable of matching the offensive production provided by Eric Bledsoe a season ago. The key word for Kentucky and Calipari since he took the helm: replenish. And if Knight, Kanter and Jones are history next April, three more top-ten recruits will fill the void. It’s a tall task for Knight and Kanter to match the contributions of Wall and Cousins, two of the top three players in the sport last season. Still, with such talent abounding, a wide open SEC, and the true dribble-drive offense back into high gear, to expect a giant step back from Big Blue and underestimating the coaching prowess of Calipari would be a grave mistake.

Non-Conference Schedule Rank (ranked 1 thru 10, 10 being the most difficult): 7.5. A program with the visibility and significance of Kentucky should challenge themselves at every chance. Forced out of necessity more than choice to load up in November and December at Memphis, Calipari has utilized that same strategy in Lexington. The potential is there to face fellow powerhouses at least in terms of college basketball history: North Carolina, Michigan State, Louisville, Indiana, Notre Dame, Washington and Oklahoma, although these teams remain at varying degrees of competitiveness. Kentucky will surely attract an enormous contingent to Maui where they could face a top-ten team in the semifinals in Washington and a top-two team in the finals, Michigan State. North Carolina is still working its way back up to elite status following last year’s NIT berth, but the young Wildcats’ trip to the Dean Dome won’t be any sort of cakewalk. The same theory applies to Louisville on New Year’s Eve, the next chapter of one of the fiercest rivalries the sport knows. A matchup with possible NCAA squad Notre Dame should also prove competitive. Kentucky gets everyone’s best shot, and it’s no relief for Calipari that up to seven non-conference contests will be either on true road or neutral floors.

Cupcake City: Two notable cupcakes travel to Lexington when Mississippi Valley State and Coppin State make the trip for what should be 40-point blowouts, but other than that Calipari did a solid job limiting the scrubs. East Tennessee State returns their top three scorers from an NCAA Tournament team that was blown out in the first round by, you guessed it, Kentucky. I’m not saying the Wildcats are vulnerable to lose to the Buccaneers, but they will not be a total walkover. Winthrop rode a Big South Cinderella run to an NCAA bid and is on the slate. Boston University with John Holland and Jake O’Brien is halfway decent, while a Maui tune-up in Portland against the rebuilding Pilots will provide a raucous atmosphere. Last season, Kentucky did struggle a bit early in the campaign against Miami (OH), Stanford and Sam Houston State while Calipari determined roles and rotations for a plethora of new players. If the same holds true a year later, Portland and BU could be pesky opponents.

Toughest Early Season Test: It’s far from a guarantee that Kentucky downs Washington in the Maui semifinals. After all, the Huskies return the majority of their backcourt led by Isaiah Thomas, Venoy Overton and Abdul Gaddy with a frontcourt anchored by Matthew Bryan-Amaning and a talented newcomer in Terrence Ross. Plus, they should have plenty of motivation to knock Kentucky down a few pegs following the Kanter and Jones situations that have been rehashed continuously. If the Wildcats can survive Washington, and I have a sneaking suspicion they will, Michigan State awaits in the final if the Spartans can knock off Connecticut or Wichita State (unless they pull a Virginia against Chaminade). The Spartans return their entire Final Four squad with the exception of Raymar Morgan and Chris Allen. Containing Kalin Lucas is baptism by fire for green Brandon Knight, while wing Darius Miller may have the unenviable task of chasing around three-point bomber Durrell Summers. The Spartans will likely be ranked number two in the nation behind Duke at this point. Win or lose, the learning experience will certainly be valuable for the young Wildcats.

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20 At The Top: Big 10 Player Rankings

Posted by zhayes9 on July 30th, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.

For the entire 20 At The Top series, click here.

Just two seasons ago, the Big Ten was far from the premiere conference in college basketball. Yet Midwesterners that follow the conference religiously could be optimistic about the future. A number of super-talented sophomores permeated the eleven teams and those loyal fans knew that when this crop of players became seniors- should they stick around for four years- the Big Ten would be special again. A combination of  injuries keeping kids in school, consistently improving talent and teams looking for one last shot at cutting down the nets have created what should be the nation’s most competitive conference in 2010-11.

If healthy, Lucas is the best the Big 10 has to offer

1. Kalin Lucas, Michigan State– Last season was a mixed bag for Lucas, who battled leadership issues part of the season, excelled early in Big Ten play with clutch shots and witnessed his Spartans advance to another Final Four with the All-America candidate watching from the sidelines. Lucas is again dealing with a Michigan State squad that has aspirations of playing on the first weekend in April. A blur in the open floor that excels in transition, Lucas performs well in the team-oriented Spartan attack, although it might take a month or so for Lucas to ease back into tip-top shape. He’s a gifted floor general with outstanding court vision that loves finding teammates Durrell Summers and Chris Allen off screens for open threes. He’s also capable defensively and last year posted a career high 45% FG. There’s no debate who is the captain of this Michigan State ship, and both Izzo and Lucas would much prefer a smoother ride as a senior. If Lucas has an outstanding season and leads his team to a national title, expect the Mateen Cleaves comparisons to begin.

2. Robbie Hummel, Purdue– With Chris Kramer graduating, Robbie Hummel now takes the role as the heart and soul of a Purdue team that has similar expectations as rival Michigan State. Hummel’s ACL tear last February at Minnesota devastated the Boilermakers, and although they rallied to reach the Sweet 16, Hummel’s loss was a crushing blow on all fronts- scoring, rebounding, defense and leadership. Hummel could be cleared for full-contact basketball as soon as August, meaning he’ll soon team with JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore for another shot at glory. Hummel isn’t the most athletic forward on the planet, but he makes up for that with constant toughness, intelligence and effort on both ends. He excels in catch-and-shoot situations around the perimeter, generating good lift with a smooth stroke that can lead to first half performances like Ohio State witnessed last January. Hummel is a very productive rebounder grabbing almost seven boards a game at just 6’8 and only turned the ball over once every 30 minutes during his junior season. The Boilermakers need Hummel’s back and knees at 100% to cross the rugged terrain of the Big Ten and emerge as a favorite to cut down the nets in Houston.

3. Jon Leuer, Wisconsin– Leuer is another typical developed Wisconsin star in the making. He’s a tall, versatile, inside/outside scoring threat who rarely played as a freshman while learning the swing offense, yet gradually develops into an all-Big Ten player by his senior season. Jay Wright raved about Leuer’s game while coaching him at USA Basketball this summer, exclaiming he can shoot, pass, put it on the floor and has great size. Sounds like a complete player to me, and one that Bo Ryan is expecting to take on a larger role with Trevon Hughes no longer patrolling the Kohl Center hardwood. By all accounts, Leuer posted a very impressive junior season, nearly doubling his PPG production, grabbing six boards a game, shooting 52% overall and featuring a solid mid-range jumper. And in typical Wisconsin fashion, Leuer almost never turns the ball over or makes mental mistakes on the floor. His 43 points on 16-28 FG in Wisconsin’s two NCAA Tournament games showed the world his fractured wrist was a thing of the past. Much like Lucas and Hummel, if Leuer stays healthy, he’ll be a candidate for Player of the Year honors in the conference.

4. JaJuan Johnson, Purdue– The Indianapolis native enters his senior season looking to help lead Purdue to a national title and impress NBA scouts in the process. Johnson dabbled with the NBA Draft before electing to return to a loaded Boilermaker team as their anchor in the paint. When Johnson is motivated like he was during the NCAA Tournament, he’s an absolute force. Johnson has utilized his long wingspan and superb instincts to mold into one of the best pure shot blockers in the nation. His offensive repertoire has expanded significantly since arriving on campus both on the low block and in the mid-range game. He also picks up a good chunk of his points by attacking the glass and finishing pick-and-rolls. During a mid-January slump that included three straight Big Ten losses where Johnson scored a total of 18 points and took 19 shots, Matt Painter made it clear the team had to go back to the drawing board and re-evaluate. Most of that frustration was intended for Johnson, who would finally screw his head on straight and peak with a 24/7 at Ohio State and a 23/15 against Siena in March. The allure of capturing an NCAA title in his senior year should be sufficient for Johnson to play motivated.

5. Talor Battle, Penn State– Other than an NIT run as a sophomore, Battle’s name hasn’t been nationally recognized throughout his career, mostly because the Nittany Lions have mostly been mired in losing seasons. Big Ten followers know Battle all too well, probably because he’s torched their own team at one point or another the last three years. Battle will need some more help from his supporting cast if Penn State wants to shock the world and contend in what should be an ultra-competitive Big Ten. He’s a prototypical scoring point guard- evident by his 16.7 and 18.5 PPG the last two seasons- but does a capable job distributing the ball and finding open teammates. Ranking third in the Big Ten behind Evan Turner and Manny Harris in possessions used last season and playing 92% of his teams’ minutes, Battle is the focal point for Ed DeChellis’ offensive attack. When Battle has to put on the Superman cape and do everything, rarely do the Nittany Lions have the same success as when his teammates are also performing at a high level.

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Final Four Game Analysis

Posted by rtmsf on April 2nd, 2010

RTC will break down the Final Four games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses.  Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds.  Here are Saturday evening’s national semifinals…aka…THE FINAL FOUR!

6:07 pm – #5 Michigan State vs. #5 Butler The winner of this game will have a built-in motivational mechanism, since this game is popularly considered the “Who will lose to West Virginia or Duke on Monday?” game.  Best be careful, because as we know, there’s almost no better way to get your guys ready to play than to tell them that it’s them against the world.  That nobody respects them.  That everyone expects them to lose and lose big.  In the case of Butler, I know I wouldn’t want to face a team playing in their home city and with that motivational tool.  A lot is being made of the home crowd advantage that Butler supposed to enjoy this weekend, but I ask you: because people love the storyline of a mid-major getting to the Final Four, in what city could you play this thing where Butler wouldn’t have most of the fans in the arena rooting for them?  I’ll tell you — East Lansing, Durham, and Morgantown (or anywhere else in West Virginia).  Well, we’re not in any of those towns.  Let me just add this…walking around this downtown area, I see mostly Butler fans, which is understandable.  But it’s not like the Duke, Michigan State, and West Virginia fans stayed home.  It’s Lucas Oil Stadium, people.  It seats over 70,000 (it must, to qualify to host this thing).  The freakin’ Colts play here.  The Butler cheers might be loud, but the other squads will have their supporters, too.  As to what’s going to happen on the floor, watch the boards.  This will be a rebounding battle for the ages, because it’s the biggest disparity between the two teams.  It’s not something Butler does particularly well, and it’s Michigan State’s greatest strength.  Brad Stevens knows his boys have to swarm the glass to have a chance.  They’ve done everything else he’s asked of them in each tournament game, not to mention the rest of the season, and I wouldn’t doubt that you’ll see them turn in their biggest effort on the boards this whole year on Saturday evening. Can Butler do it but still stay out of foul trouble?

We only picked against you three times, Coach Izzo. And we're sorry. (AP/Al Goldis)

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RTC Final Four Tidbits: 03.30.10

Posted by rtmsf on March 31st, 2010

Each day this week during the regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at

Butler (Andrew Murawa)

Duke (Patrick Sellars)

  • The Bleacher Report puts their own spin on a preview of the Duke Blue Devils.
  • An article from the Star Tribune discusses how Duke ruined the Final Four because they are the only unlikable team in the mix.
  • Here’s an article from the Miami-Herald on why people despise Duke, and apparently it starts with Coach K. I suppose the rest of the ACC hating on Duke continues into the offseason.
  • Want to know who the best white Duke player of all time was? Well now you can! Thank God Josh McRoberts missed the list.

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RTC Final Four Tidbits: 03.29.10

Posted by rtmsf on March 30th, 2010

Each day this week during the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each team still alive.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at

Michigan State (Tom Hager)

  • Big Surprise: Tom Izzo will not be leaving Michigan State for an Oregon team that finished 7-11 in the Pac-10.
  • Butler may have the advantage of the home crowd in Indianapolis, but Bulldogs coach Brad Stevens believes that MSU may have a large portion of the crowd pulling for the Spartans as well.
  • According to the New York Times, the harder Durrell Summers worked on his defensive game, the easier his offensive production has come by.
  • Seth Davis says that toughness, a category that MSU excels in given their rebounding ability, is the most important asset to have on a team at this time of the season.
  • Delvon Roe is expected to be in the starting lineup despite a knee injury.  According to the team trainer, Roe has an unbelievable pain tolerance.

West Virginia (Ryan Restivo of SienaSaintsBlog)

  • West Virginia, the Wall Street Journal noted, overcame a slow start to make the Final Four.
  • Are there any stars in this year’s Final Four?
  • Bob Huggins is not sure if Truck Bryant will be ready to go on Saturday. “I don’t have any idea,” Huggins said. “We’re not going to go today and we really won’t know until we see what he can do (Tuesday) and Wednesday and how he progresses.” However, Huggins told USA Today that they will explore every opportunity to play Bryant.
  • West Virginia’s odds are interesting for this year’s Final Four.
  • Mike DeCourcy writes that John Beilein’s holdovers and Huggins’ players combined to take this team to the next level.

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