Ten Questions To Consider: Early Conference Play Action

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 11th, 2019

While teams are now just a couple of games into conference play, this weekend features a number of opportunities for some to stay perfect, for others to bounce back from tough loses, and for several resume statements to be made. Here are 10 questions I have in advance of this weekend’s action.

Ethan Happ is Playing like an All-American
  1. Will Ethan Happ’s hot start to conference play continue? (Purdue @ Wisconsin, Friday 9 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ is averaging a career high 19.3 points per game and is coming off of a 22-point outing against Penn State in which he took 24 shots from the field.
  2. Can Indiana find a way to win on the road? (Indiana @ Maryland, Friday 7 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Indiana is 1-3 in true road games this season, with its only win being by two points at Penn State. In the Hoosiers’ recent road loss at Michigan, they fell behind 32-19 midway through the first half.
  3. Will Tennessee start SEC play 3-0 for just the second time in the last decade? (Tennessee @ Florida, Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN) The Volunteers are currently the only SEC team with both an adjusted offensive and deficiency ranking among the top 25 nationally. Tennessee has dropped three games in a row at Florida, however, having lost each game by 13 or more points.
  4. Can the inconsistent Texas offense show up against the elite defense of Texas Tech? (Texas Tech @ Texas, Saturday 2 PM EST, Longhorn Network) Shaka Smart’s Longhorns have been wildly inconsistent on the offensive end this season. In their last six games, Texas has scored at a clip of 1.1 points per possession or better four times but twice have failed to score at least 0.9 points per possession.
  5. How can Florida State find a way to beat Duke (Duke @ Florida State, Saturday 2 PM EST, ESPN) Florida State has won its last two home match-ups when both the Seminoles and Blue Devils were ranked. Led by Christ Koumadje, Florida State has had tremendous success grabbing misses on the offensive end all season — keep in mind that the Blue Devils surrendered 19 offensive rebounds to Wake Forest in their last outing.
  6. Can San Francisco compete with the King of the WCC? (Gonzaga @ San Francisco, Saturday 10 PM EST, ESPN2) San Francisco entered the week with a NET ranking of #37, even though the Dons currently feature just two wins against top 100 KenPom opponents. In order to enter the discussion of an eventual at-large bid, USF must perform well against Gonzaga this weekend. The Dons need to find a way to slow down a Zags’ attack that made 61.8 percent of its two-point attempts against the Dons a season ago.
  7. Is Virginia’s offense not getting enough attention this season? (Virginia @ Clemson, Noon EST, ACC Network) Virginia is coming off of a game on Wednesday night in which it scored 83 points in regulation against Boston College. It was the first time a Cavaliers’ team had scored 80 or more points in regulation of an ACC game since February 24, 2013. After shooting 39.2 percent from behind the arc as a sophomore, Kyle Guy is making 47.3 percent of his three-point attempts this season.
  8. How does Louisville respond to its loss against Pittsburgh against North Carolina? (Louisville @ North Carolina, Saturday Noon EST, ESPN) In Louisville’s loss against Pittsburgh this week, the Panthers shot 56.1 percent from inside the arc. The Cardinals are now 3-4 when their opponents shoot above 50 percent from inside the line. Louisville also needs to see Jordan Nwora respond positively after a miserable 2-of-14 game from the field.
  9. Who will come out on top in a match-up of strengths between the TCU offense and the Oklahoma defense? (TCU @ Oklahoma, Saturday 2 PM EST) Jamie Dixon’s TCU squad heads to Norman with one of the best two-point shooting teams in the nation. On the other side of the ball, Oklahoma’s two-point field goal defense is among the best in the nation. The Sooners have the 10th best field-goal defense at the rim, according to Hoop-Math, holding opponents to 50.5 percent in those attempts, nearly nine points better than the national average.
  10. Will Syracuse’s Frank Howard turn a corner and return to his old self this weekend? (Georgia Tech @ Syracuse, Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN2) After missing the first four games with a leg injury, Syracuse’s Frank Howard has scored in single-digits in 9 of his 11 games this season. This comes just a season removed from Howard scoring in fewer than 10 points in just five games last year.

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Ten Questions To Consider: Mid-season Questions as Non-Conference Play Comes to a Close

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on December 29th, 2018

Sandwiched between the holidays and the New Year is a weekend slate of games that includes a bitter rivalry, several rematches of early season games, and individual matchups that fans and scouts will want to see. Here are ten questions to consider while enjoying games over the next few days.

  1. Can Chris Mack beat Kentucky in his first matchup against the Wildcats as Louisville coach? (Kentucky @ Louisville, Saturday 2 PM EST, ESPN2) In their first game against Kentucky as head coach of Louisville, both David Padgett and Rick Pitino lost by 20 or more points. Chris Mack’s Lousville team is led by Jordan Nwora who comes into this game having made 16-of-28 three-pointers over the last five games.
  2. Will Florida’s defense be able to create turnovers at a higher rate against Butler this go around? (Butler @ Florida, Saturday 4 PM EST, ESPNU) This is a rematch of the Battle 4 Atlantis fifth-place game in which Butler beat Florida 61-54. In that game, Florida’s defense forced turnovers at a season worst rate of just 17.4%. On the season, the Gators force turnovers at a rate of 24.7%, which ranks among the top ten in the nation.
  3. Will one of the easiest non-conference schedules in the country have St. John’s ready for its Big East opener? (St. John’s @ Seton Hall, Saturday 8:30 PM EST, Fox Sports Net) St. John’s has played one of the ten easiest non-conference schedules in the country according to KenPom rankings. The Red Storm begin Big East play against a Seton Hall team that has won five straight.
  4. Will Oregon avoid disaster in a trap-game at Boise State? (Oregon @ Boise State, Saturday 7:30 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) Oregon beat Boise State by 12 points just two weeks ago at Matthew Knight Arena. The Broncos led the Ducks at halftime of that game. This game is sandwiched between a loss at Baylor and Oregon’s conference-opener next week against in-state rival Oregon State.
  5. Does Purdue have a bad matchup on its hands with Belmont coming to West Lafayette? (Belmont @ Purdue, Saturday 4:30 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Opponents have shot 38% from beyond the arc against Purdue on the season, which puts Purdue’s three-point defensive ranking outside of the top 300. Belmont enters this game as a team that shoots 36.4% from distance and has six players who have made double-digit threes while shooting at least 33% for the season.
  6. Will North Carolina continue its recent trend of following a loss with a dominating performance? (Davidson @ North Carolina, Saturday Noon EST, ESPN2) North Carolina has lost consecutive non-conference games just once (November 2010) with Roy Williams as coach. Following loses to Texas and Michigan earlier in the season, the Tar Heels came out and won the next games by 16 and 28 points.
  7. What will Markus Howard do next? (Southern @ Marquette, Friday 8 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Marquette’s leading scorer Markus Howard is one of five players in the nation who is averaging 25 or more points per game. Howard is averaging 32.8 points this month and is coming off of his second 45 point game of December. Southern’s defensive efficiency ranks among the bottom five in the nation.
  8. Is beating Lipscomb a must for the sake of Clemson’s resume? (Lipscomb @ Clemson, Sunday 3:00 PM EST, ESPN3) Clemson is 0-3 against KenPom top 100 teams on the season. The Tigers get one more opportunity at a top 100 non-conference win with Lipscomb. If Brad Brownell’s squad does not get the win, early conference games against Duke and Virginia could turn into must-win games.
  9. Which big-man will shine brighter between Ethan Happ and Charles Bassey? (Wisconsin @ Western Kentucky, Saturday 5:30 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) Western Kentucky’s five-star freshman big man Charles Bassey will be put to the test against Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ. Both Bassey and Happ do a tremendous job of drawing fouls. With WIsconsin’s offense running through Happ, Bassey’s ability to stay out of foul trouble will be key in this game.
  10. Just how good is the MAC’s second best team? (Penn @ Toledo, Saturday 2 PM EST, ESPN+) While Buffalo has rightfully been a team that has been in the spotlight, Toledo continues to also perform at a high level. The Rockets are 11-1 with a NET ranking in the top 70. Tod Kowalczyk’s squad’s next three games are all against KenPom top 100 teams, including a January 8th matchup with Buffalo.

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2018-19 RTC16: Week Two

Posted by Walker Carey on December 3rd, 2018

Right around the beginning of December, the college basketball world begins to really notice which teams may have been severely underrated in the preseason. This year, #5 Michigan is the most glaring example of a team whose significant early season success has been wholly unexpected. The Wolverines began the year with several question marks stemming from the loss of significant production from last season’s national runner-up squad. Because of that looming uncertainty, John Beilein‘s team did not receive even a single vote in the preseason RTC16. So far, that has turned out to be a big omission, as Michigan sits at 8-0 following a week in which it laid waste to both #11 North Carolina and a solid Purdue team. Sophomore guard Jordan Poole and junior forward Jon Teske have taken crucial steps forward this season, and freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis has emerged as a viable offensive weapon. Their development has aided veteran guards Zavier Simpson and Charles Matthews in leading the Wolverines to their unbeaten start. It should be a requirement to not overlook a Beilein team in the preseason because he has proven time and time again that the Wolverines are usually going to surpass expectations. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Thoughts.

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 2nd, 2018

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

First Team All-Americans

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

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The Big Ten’s Biggest Early Surprises

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 19th, 2018

Now that we’re roughly one-third of the way through the Big Ten slate, let’s take a look at the biggest surprises and storylines taking shape in the Midwest.

Who had Ohio State pegged as a Big Ten title contender? (Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Chris Holtmann, Keita Bates-Diop, and the Buckeyes. Forget the Big Ten for a moment — Ohio State might be the biggest surprise in the entire country. The Buckeyes began the season ranked 74th overall by KenPom and picked to finish 11th — yes, 11th — in the conference. And after getting blasted by Gonzaga in the PK80 on Thanksgiving Day, those projections appeared to make sense. That is, until Big Ten play rolled around. Since losing to Clemson on November 29, Ohio State has gone 11-1 overall and 5-0 in league play, including a 25-point road drubbing of Wisconsin and dominant win against top-ranked Michigan State. Its KenPom ranking has skyrocketed as a result to 12th overall nationally. Junior forward Keita Bates-Diop (19.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG) has emerged as the frontrunner for Big Ten Player of the Year — highlighted by a 32-point effort against the Spartans — while his coach, Chris Holtmann, may be on track for conference (if not national) honors in his own right. Perhaps Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith put it best: “None of us, including me, expected to be here.”
  • Purdue is the clear Big Ten favorite. Who would have expected to be saying that in mid-January? It’s not that Purdue wasn’t expected to be good — the Boilers were picked to finish second, after all — it’s just that Michigan State was supposed to be that much better. Roughly one-third of the way through Big Ten play, however, that’s clearly not the case. Whereas Michigan State has lost two of its last three games, both by double-figures, Matt Painter’s club has been on an absolute tear. Since November 24, Purdue is 14-0 (7-0 in Big Ten play) with eight wins by 25 or more points — including wins against Arizona, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Boilermakers rank among the top six nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency while boasting the third-highest three-point shooting mark (42.6%) in America. 7’2″ center Isaac Haas has been more efficient than ever (122.7 ORtg); sophomore guard Carsen Edwards (17 PPG) has been the breakout player some thought he could be; put simply, Purdue has looked infallible. With home games against Ohio State and Michigan left, Painter’s group is in great position to win the conference outright — even if it were to stumble in East Lansing on February 10.

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Five Key Questions as Big Ten Play Begins (In Earnest)

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 2nd, 2018

With the New Year upon us and conference play picking up for good this evening, let’s consider a few of the most burning questions that could dictate how the Big Ten plays out.

  • Will Bryant McIntosh return in time for Northwestern to preserve its season? Northwestern dodged a bullet when it announced on Sunday that Bryant McIntosh, who went down with an injury against Brown over the weekend, suffered no structural damage to his knee. The initial situation looked much worse. Still, the all-league point guard is listed as day-to-day, with the expectation being that he will miss some time. Perhaps no player on the Wildcats’ roster is as important as McIntosh, who serves as the catalyst for Chris Collins’ pick-and-roll offense. Not only does he lead the team in assists (5.5 APG) and rank third in scoring (13.3 PPG), no one else on the roster possesses his ability to create off the dribble and break down defenders. If he’s sidelined for even a few games, it could spell trouble for a team already lacking in quality wins. While backup guards Isiah Brown and Jordan Ash looked solid on Saturday, upcoming contests against Penn State (Friday) and Minnesota (January 10) will present an entirely new challenge.

Will Bryant McIntosh suffer any lasting effects from his knee scare? (FOX Sports)

  • Does Maryland have enough depth to overcome key frontcourt injuries? Maryland suffered an enormous blow last Thursday when it announced that forward Justin Jackson, a preseason all-Big Ten selection, will miss the rest of the season with a torn labrum. “It is tough, because we set up a lot of our offense for Justin. A lot of things were playing through him,” head coach Mark Turgeon told the Baltimore Sun. As if losing its best two-way player weren’t bad enough, the Terrapins took another lump on Friday when junior Ivan Bender — expected to help fill the void left by Jackson — tore his meniscus against UMBC. The good news is that Maryland is especially deep in the frontcourt, with Jared Nickens (5.4 PPG), Joshua Tomaic and Sean Obi (Duke transfer) all capable of stepping in for Jackson and Bender (in addition to centers Michal Cekovsky and Bruno Fernandez (10.1 PPG, 6.1 RPG), one of the league’s best freshmen). The bad news is that Jackson, widely considered a first-round NBA Draft prospect, will be awfully hard to replace. Small forward Kevin Huerter (14.1 PPG) pointed out that Jackson “allowed us to play a lot of different ways. Some of our best lineups were with him at the four [power forward], where he could take advantage of mismatch problems.” The extent to which Nickens and the others can pick up Jackson’s slack will determine whether Maryland can compete for an NCAA Tournament bid.

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Big Ten Christmas Wish List: Buckets, Defense & a Little Good Fortune

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 21st, 2017

As Santa’s elves wrap presents and non-conference play comes to an end, let’s examine which Big Ten hopefuls could use a little magic from the jolly man in the big red suit.

The defensively-stout Scarlet Knights need guys like Geo Baker to make more shots. (Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Rutgers (10-3): All I want for Christmas is… a shooter (or two). The Scarlet Knights picked up their biggest win in years on Saturday, upsetting intrastate rival Seton Hall, 71-65, at the RAC. Steve Pikiell called it “a very good day for Rutgers Nation” as his team held the Pirates to just 0.89 points per possession, their worst offensive performance of the year. Now if only Pikeill’s group could put the ball in the basket. While the Scarlet Knights rank 27th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, their offense is by far the Big Ten’s worst, ranking 219th in efficiency despite a low turnover rate. The problem? Shooting, plain and simple. Rutgers ranks 334th in effective field goal percentage (44% eFG), including paltry numbers from outside the arc (29.4% 3FG), inside the arc (44% 2FG), and at the free throw line (65% FT). More than anything else this holiday season, Pikiell could use some consistent shooting, whether it be from top-scorer Corey Sanders — who shot a very good 9-of-16 FG against Seton Hall — or fellow guard Geo Baker, who’s quietly been one of the league’s best freshmen. If the Scarlet Knights can improve those shooting numbers, their days in the Big Ten cellar might soon be over. Especially considering their stout defense. 

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Despite Four Losses, It’s Far Too Early to Lose Faith in Wisconsin

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 29th, 2017

Wisconsin’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge loss to Virginia on Monday — its fourth defeat of the young season — rounds out the program’s worst month of November since 2002, when the Devin Harris-led Badgers lost to Weber State and Hawaii en route to a 3-6 start. This season, close defeats at the hands of Xavier, Baylor and UCLA, along with this week’s poor showing in Charlottesville, has left some wondering whether Wisconsin simply doesn’t have the firepower to remain a top-tier challenger in the Big Ten. After all, most programs don’t lose four heavily-used seniors and simply bounce right back. But Wisconsin isn’t like most programs. With Ethan Happ looking every bit the Big Ten Player of the Year candidate he was pegged to be and a key freshman emerging in the backcourt, the Badgers — one of the most consistent programs in college basketball — should still be viewed as a contender. Especially with the history that’s on their side. 

Ethan Happ and Brad Davison should keep the Badgers competitive. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

The prevailing narrative for Wisconsin entering 2017-18 was that Happ, its ultra-skilled big man, would have to shoulder a massive load for the Badgers to be successful. “Now he’ll have to be even better,” the Wisconsin State Journal recently said, referencing the fact that Happ would need to improve upon his already-great 2016-17 campaign. Luckily, early results suggest the junior is more than up to the task. Through seven games, Happ is averaging 17.6 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per night, posting an offensive rating (111.8) and shooting percentages on par with last year despite playing more minutes and using more possessions. He currently ranks third in KenPom’s Player of the Year standings, and his second-half scoring surges against Xavier and Baylor were key to the Badgers staging late-game (if ultimately unsuccessful) comebacks. Perhaps most impressive so far has been Happ’s ability to distribute the basketball. Often serving as a point forward in and around the paint, Happ currently boasts an assist rate (26.5%) that would make most point guards jealous. The notion that “Wisconsin will only go as far as Happ takes them” sounds far less scary now that the junior appears fully capable of carrying that heavy load. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #22 Baylor 70, Wisconsin 65

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 21st, 2017

RTC is providing coverage of The Hall Of Fame Classic in Kansas City.

Three Key Takeaways.

Baylor Was Just Too Much For Wisconsin Tonight (USA Today Images)

  1. Baylor survived a scare. Baylor asserted its experience, athleticism and range in the early going over Wisconsin tonight, leading by as many as 19 points before letting up in the second half and allowing the Badgers’ Ethan HappBrad Davison and Brevin Pritzl to get loose. While the Bears ultimately prevailed and will advance to the Hall of Fame Classic championship game, it felt more like Wisconsin simply ran out of time in its comeback attempt. Baylor is a highly formidable team and is fortunate to have one of the country’s best free throw shooters in Manu Lecomte (93.9% this season) to put close games on ice the way he did Monday night, but the Bears might not be so lucky the next time they take their foot off the gas.
  2. Wisconsin had the right game plan, but a lack of early execution early did them in. Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard had the right idea in how to attack Baylor’s aggressive 1-3-1 zone, running side pick-and-roll actions to open up backdoor passing lanes and baseline drives. The problem was that the Badgers couldn’t get a number of close looks to go down early. As Baylor built up its lead, the Badgers fell out of sorts and started to panic. Wisconsin certainly didn’t give up after a difficult start, though, narrowing that 19-point gap to just two in the final two minutes, but its early mistakes were just too much to overcome. Still, as the new core develops and Gard learns who he can trust, it became increasingly clear that Wisconsin will return to Big Ten contention before long.
  3. Jo Lual-Acuil flashed some seldom-seen range. To this point in his career, the Australian senior’s game has been all about defense and low post play. But tonight, Lual-Acuil nailed a couple threes and showed a comfort level with the shot that you don’t often see from a seven-footer. He’ll never be mistaken for a sharpshooter, but he’ll certainly be an increasingly frustrating big man to guard if he continues to show a serviceable face-up game.

Player Of The Game. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin. Though his team came up short tonight, Happ led by example, pacing his team in points (23), rebounds (13), assists (4) and blocks (3). The junior All-America candidate utilized an impressive array of back cuts and post moves in frustrating Baylor’s more athletic frontcourt, almost single-handedly willing the Badgers back into the contest.

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 8th, 2017

With the season tipping off on Friday, there’s no better time to roll out our 2017-18 RTC Preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of 10 writers provided their ballots over the last week and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

  • Jalen Brunson, Villanova – There are few things more daunting in college basketball than a talented team with a heady, veteran playmaker at the point guard position. Brunson certainly fits that bill, as he enters the season with great expectations following a sophomore campaign where the point guard earned unanimous all-Big East honors while averaging 14.7 points and 4.1 assists per game. Villanova is the preseason favorite to win the Big East title — and if that prediction comes true, it will be Brunson’s third in three years running the show for Jay Wright’s squad. Factoid: Many players with Brunson’s pedigree would at least test the NBA Draft waters either after their freshman or sophomore seasons, but Brunson is different, stating, “The NBA is not going anywhere. I can wait. I can still get better. I can still get my degree. That’s the approach I had. I talked it over with my parents, and they’re just 100 percent fully supporting me. So that’s where I am.”
  • Allonzo Trier, Arizona – Arizona experienced some offcourt drama late in the offseason when longtime assistant Book Richardson was arrested by the FBI on charges of bribery, corruption, conspiracy, and fraud stemming from improper conduct on the recruiting trail. That news figures to overshadow much of Arizona’s early season — which is a real shame, as the Wildcats are projected to be among the nation’s best teams. A major reason for that is the return of Trier for his junior year. The talented wing returned from a 19-game performance enhancing drug suspension during his sophomore season to lead the Wildcats to the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles. Many were surprised when Trier opted to return to Tucson in lieu of entering the NBA Draft, but he has acknowledged that last season’s suspension definitely factored in his decision to come back to school. Factoid: Trier was the subject of a New York Times Magazine feature when he was in sixth grade that highlighted his precocious basketball ability at a young age with an introduction to the AAU scene.
  • Michael Porter Jr., Missouri – A coaching change can often make a massive difference in a program’s fortunes. That was definitely the case with Missouri when the Tigers fired Kim Anderson in March after an underwhelming tenure and replaced him with Cal’s Cuonzo Martin, a coach who has long enjoyed a sterling reputation for his ability to recruit at a high level. Martin hiring paid off almost immediately when he secured the services of Porter, who was listed by 247Sports as the third-best player in the Class of 2017. The 6’10” forward will provide Missouri with scoring on the wing and has the versatility to defend a variety of positions. The Tigers are projected as one of the most improved teams in the country — and with Porter now in the fold, it will be intriguing to see just how far they can advance in the postseason. Factoid: It is a family affair for the Porters in Columbia this year, as Michael Porter, Sr. is an assistant coach, Jontay Porter reclassified to play with his brother, sisters Bri and Cierra Porter play for the women’s team, and aunt Robin Pingeton is the head coach of that women’s team.
  • Miles Bridges, Michigan State – Michigan State was the recipient of one of the best offseason surprises when the sure-fire lottery pick Bridges decided to return to East Lansing for his sophomore year. Once the national shock of the decision wore off, it became clear the Spartans would be one of the teams to beat in college basketball this season. Bridges will look to build on a terrific freshman year where he averaged 16.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. With a strong supporting cast in tow and uncertainty with many teams in the Big Ten, the star sophomore should lead the Spartans to a prosperous season on both the conference and national landscapes. Factoid: Like most of us, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo assumed Bridges would be a one-and-done player, going so far as to joke about how Bridges will have to carry bags this year as an NBA rookie. In response, Bridges may have hinted at his ultimate decision by questioning, “Coach, why you always trying to get rid of me?”
  • Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame – It is not a stretch for anyone to reference Colson as the most unique player in college basketball. After a turn as a significant role player on Notre Dame’s Elite Eight teams in 2015 and 2016, Colson became The Man in South Bend during his junior season. Standing at just 6’6″, Colson was the only ACC player last year to average a double-double — 17.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. Notre Dame currently finds itself in one of the most successful stretches the program has ever had, and with the talented and experienced Colson as its go-to guy, look for the Irish to continue that run this season. Factoid: Throughout Colson’s career, he has stayed true to two beliefs: play hungry and stay humble. The ACC Preseason Player of the Year vows that will not change as he enters his senior season as one of the country’s top players.

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