How Far Can Arizona Go?

Posted by AMurawa on March 28th, 2013

Three weeks ago, coming off an 0-2 road trip to Los Angeles, Arizona was just about ready to be left for dead. It’s not that a pair of conference road losses – one to a team in the middle of a 6-2 streak, the other to the eventual conference champion – were egregious, it’s that they were playing uninspired ball and none of the pieces were showing great cohesion. Mark Lyons was 6-of-24 that weekend with three assists while getting outplayed by Jio Fontan and Larry Drew II; Nick Johnson was in the midst of his regularly scheduled mid-season downturn; and Sean Miller could seemingly never get more than one of his freshman bigs – Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett – to play well at any given time.

Sean Miller, Arizona

Sean Miller Has His Wildcats In The Sweet Sixteen, But How Much Further Can They Go?

Flash forward to the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Against a pair of physically overmatched opponents, Lyons was among the best players in the nation, going for 25 points per game in a highly efficient manner. Johnson is now in the midst of a string of unbelievably good defensive performances (dating back to the season finale against Arizona State) and looks to have regained his confidence in his jumper. The freshman bigs have suddenly shown strides to the point where it looks like at least two out of the three can be counted on in any given game. In other words, Miller’s got this team coalescing at precisely the right time. But still, like we said, those two tournament wins were against seriously overmatched teams. Just how far can this Wildcats team go now that the strength of the opponents are about to undergo a serious uptick?

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Big Ten Morning Five: 02.28.13 Edition

Posted by jnowak on February 28th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. ESPN.com‘s Eamonn Brennan gets right to the point: What’s the matter with Michigan? It’s been a strange few weeks for the Wolverines, who were ranked No. 1 in the country at one point this season but have now been blown out by Michigan State and upset by the only team in the conference who didn’t have a Big Ten win entering play Wednesday. Penn State gave the Wolverines a run for their money in Ann Arbor on February 17 and the Nittany Lions finally finished the deal on Wednesday in State College. Before that, Michigan snuck by Ohio State in overtime and was beaten by Wisconsin in overtime prior to the MSU loss. The problem, Brennan writes, has been their defense, which is giving up 1.11 points per possession over its last seven games. Michigan’s offense is and always has been there. But the defense is fading fast. Can they figure it out in time to play like a Final Four team when it matters most?
  2. All of Tubby Smith‘s naysayers have probably grown pretty quiet for the time being. The Minnesota head coach has had doubters ever since his time at Kentucky, and they were chattering pretty loudly when the Gophers experienced their fall from grace after beginning the season 15-1 and rising as high as No. 8 in the country. But Smith says he doesn’t really listen to what people are saying — good or bad — so whether the team is on a slide or they’ve just upset the No. 1 team in the national polls, it’s not something that gets to him.
  3. Almost every team has one player who sets the tone for the rest of the team. For Michigan State, that guy is Keith Appling. As Appling goes, so go the Spartans, and Appling hasn’t been going much of anywhere lately. He’s been a non-factor in both Indiana losses this season, and he hurt more than he helped against Ohio State this week by allowing Aaron Craft to dismantle the Spartans’ backcourt. If the Spartans have any fighting chance at working their way back into the Big Ten title chase, they’ve got to beat Michigan on Sunday in Ann Arbor. And to do that, they need Appling to play like an all-Big Ten-caliber player again. Tom Izzo is confident Appling will do just that, saying that Appling has done a good job of carrying this team all year long, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t find that in him again this weekend.
  4. As Ben Axelrod writes, Thad Matta had not made a midseason starting lineup change for anything other than an injury since the 2008-09 season — that is, until he moved Evan Ravenel to the bench in December. But that move has allowed Matta to bring an experienced senior off the bench and is working well for the Buckeyes. Ravenel had a career game against Michigan State, and he’s proven to be a guy who Ohio State wants on the floor at the end of games, despite losing his starting spot to Amir Williams. “That was kind of what we were looking for, a little bit more of what Evan had brought to the table last year when he would come in,” Matta said. “I thought he was pretty effective, especially down the stretch of the Big Ten season.”
  5. Last week, ESPN broadcasters spent some time during the Michigan State-Indiana game dissecting a play that officials were reviewing in which it appeared Derrick Nix hit Cody Zeller with a cheap shot. As further review took place on the web after the game, it appeared that Zeller may have staged the incident by grabbing Nix’s arm. Either way, it was hard to draw any real conclusions. Then there was another strangely similar incident in Tuesday’s Indiana-Minnesota game in which Indiana’s Will Sheehey fell to the ground clutching his face while defending Minnesota’s Andre Hollins in a trap on the baseline. Officials again went to the monitor to review it, and many on the Internet speculated again — is there something fishy going on at Indiana, with players trying to draw attention with these “dirty” plays? We’re used to flops on charges and blocks, but is this something else, something more?
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Buckeyes Boost Postseason Resume With a Win Over the Spartans

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on February 25th, 2013

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

In addition to bubble talk over the next few weeks, bracketologists will consider teams’ resumes based on their quality wins even if they are a lock for an at-large bid. The most recent bracket prediction by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has Ohio State slated as a #5 seed in the East Region, but after Sunday’s 68-60 win over Michigan State, the Buckeyes can begin to make a case for an even higher seed. Other than their win in January over Michigan, OSU does not have many quality wins on their resume. They couldn’t keep up with Kansas at home and they were close but came up short against Michigan State on the road a few weeks ago. On the flip side, they don’t have any “bad” losses either, so they are just stuck in the middle of the road where they might have to settle for a mid-range seed unless they can rack up some wins over highly-ranked opponents soon. Aaron Craft willed his team to a huge win yesterday and it means more than just a boost to their resume because they did it on a day when Deshaun Thomas was not offensively effective.

Aaron Craft (left) made sure the Buckeyes sealed a win over the top-ranked Spartans on Sunday.

Aaron Craft (left) made sure the Buckeyes sealed a win over the top-ranked Spartans on Sunday.

Thad Matta‘s squad beat Tom Izzo‘s team in their own game — they won “ugly” by playing stingy defense and basically out-muscling their opponent during the second half. Thomas finished the game with 14 points but shot just 4-of-16 from the field. He was held scoreless for 15 minutes during the first half as the Spartans’ Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne hounded him with their length and intensity. To make matters worse, the Spartans outrebounded the Buckeyes by six, which didn’t help OSU in the paint either. But after 25 minutes of just hanging around the game, Matta urged his team to step up on defense and Craft executed on the court.

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Set Your DVR: Week of 01.28.13

Posted by bmulvihill on January 28th, 2013

setDVR

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

Things are a little quiet this week with mostly match-ups between top and bottom teams in the conferences.  However, there are a few games that mean a lot to certain teams, including those in some of the smaller conferences. Let’s get to the breakdowns!

Pittsburgh at #8 Louisville – 7:00 PM EST, Monday on ESPN (****)

Pitino looks to end a three game slide to in-state rival Kentucky on Saturday (AP)

Pitino needs to stop the bleeding at Louisville (AP)

  • Louisville is in an absolute must-win situation. They have lost their last three games and have struggled at crunch time with opportunities to win. Everyone keeps saying the Cardinals still could be the team to beat in March. However, history shows that teams that lose three games in a row during the regular season rarely win the title. Only four teams since 1980 have lost three games in a row and still managed to win the whole thing – 1982-83 North Carolina State, 1984-85 Villanova, 1987-88 Kansas, and 2005-06 Florida. Only one team in history has lost four games in a row and still won the tourney – Danny Manning and the Miracles (Kansas actually lost five straight at one point that season). The reality is that Rick Pitino‘s team is a poor shooting team and unless they get that corrected quickly, Louisville should not be considered a threat to win it all. Pittsburgh on the other hand seems to be turning things around. After starting 1-3 in conference play, they have managed to rattle off four straight wins. Both teams need a win to stay within two games of Syracuse and Marquette in the Big East. Pitt has improved their shooting and offensive rebounding in the last four contests and has been able to play tough defense without putting teams on the line. Keep a close eye on how Pitt does in the paint against Louisville shot blocker Gorgui Dieng. The Panthers are not a threat from three, so most of their points will come from inside the arc. For Louisville, they need to convert their turnovers into points by simply hitting shots. While Pittsburgh is not as long as Syracuse, Villanova, and Georgetown, they are not short. So Pitino’s crew needs to get to the basket for lay-ups and dunks. Shooting over the top is not a great way to break a shooting slump. Watch Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear, as their performance on the interior will be the key to Louisville breaking their losing streak.

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Big Ten M5: 01.18.13 Edition

Posted by jnowak on January 18th, 2013

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  1. The Columbus Dispatch‘s Bob Baptist writes that Ohio State senior center Evan Ravenel is excelling in a situation that the Buckeyes haven’t had much success from in recent years — the bench. Thad Matta has vowed all year to get his reserves more involved, and whether or not that has been the case, Ravenel has found a good place for himself. Ravenel started Ohio State’s first 11 games at center, but has since been replaced by Amir Williams, who is three inches taller. But it may be a win-win for OSU, as Ravenel came off the pine to help the Buckeyes respond to a loss at Illinois with good games against Purdue and Michigan. “When he was starting, I thought he had done some good things, [but] maybe not [with] the consistency we needed,” Matta said. “But I think he’s really, really played well the last few weeks.”
  2. Illinois’ new coach John Groce has certainly gotten a rude welcome to Big Ten play this year. After putting together an impressive 12-0 stretch to begin the season, we have learned the Illini do indeed have plenty of flaws and their Big Ten cohorts have exploited them. Granted, when three losses in four games come at Purdue, against Minnesota and at Wisconsin, it’s not much to be ashamed of. But nobody is feeling sorry for anybody in the conference this year, and the Illini don’t see any cause for alarm just yet[Ed. Note: This was written before last night's debacle against Northwestern.] Illinois still has wins against Gonzaga, Ohio State, and Butler on its resume, and Groce isn’t panicking. “We’re not changing,’’ he told the Chicago Sun-Times this week. “We’re not going to panic because we didn’t play well in one game. I know what the heck we’re doing. We just need to do what we’re doing a heck of a lot better. And we need to come out a lot more aggressively.’’
  3. If there’s one common thread linking all of Michigan State‘s Final Four teams in the Tom Izzo era — think of the Flintstones from 1999-2001, the 2009 Final Four team, and even last year’s No. 1 seed that fell short — it has been leadership. And Izzo knows when the leadership isn’t right, the team’s likelihood for success drops significantly. He’s not afraid to admit that this year’s group has been lacking in that department, which is why he’s compelled to “RG3 it” and make Keith Appling a captain, alongside Derrick Nix and Russell Byrd, midway through the season. Appling is arguably the Spartans’ best player, and on the floor at nearly all times. Nix is an up-and-down senior whose leadership has not impressed Izzo for much of the year, and Byrd’s play has been a disappointment and kept him on the bench lately. Appling is the Spartans’ top scorer, floor general and a natural choice to serve in a captain’s role.
  4. Fans who follow the Big Ten closely each year may not be surprised by what has come as a shock to others around the country: Wisconsin is entirely relevant in the Big Ten race despite how poorly they may have played during their non-conference schedule. This is always the case for the Badgers, but the constant has always been the man at the helm. Paul Fanlund knows better now than ever that it is difficult to doubt Bo Ryan, particularly after the monumental upset the Badgers pulled off at Assembly Hall this week. Given everything the Badgers have been through this year — the injuries, the players lost from last season, the losses during the non-conference — is this Bo Ryan’s best coaching job yet? Is it still too soon to tell?
  5. The Indianapolis Star sums it up perfectly: “to every fan (re) action, there is an equal, opposite reaction.” Meaning, for all the e-mails Terry Hutchens has received after a bad Indiana loss that blames the players, there will be just as many at some point blaming the coach. In this case, he’s been receiving more that say Tom Crean was outcoached by Bo Ryan at Assembly Hall, but Hutchens isn’t sure if that’s the case. Sure, the Badgers made some important in-game adjustments, but that doesn’t mean the Indiana players aren’t responsible for holding up their end of the bargain. And sometimes, good players — he references Ryan Evans’ shot late — make tough plays. But how about that hand shake?
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Big Ten Team Previews: Ohio State Buckeyes

Posted by KTrahan on October 30th, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the Big Ten microsite will be rolling out the featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Where We Left Off: Last season, Ohio State got off to an impressive start, beating No. 8 Florida in the second game of the season and blowing out No. 4 Duke by 22 points in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. However, a Jared Sullinger injury brought the Buckeyes back to earth in Lawrence, Kansas, and they dealt with some periodic inconsistency in the Big Ten. However, OSU still made a run in the NCAA Tournament, knocking off Cincinnati and Syracuse en route to a Final Four loss against that same Kansas team. The Buckeyes lost Sullinger and William Buford, but return a number of returning solid players, putting them in position for yet another deep NCAA Tournament run.

Thad Matta Has Gotten to the Point of Annual Final Four Expectations in Columbus

Positives: The biggest positive on Ohio State is how much talent the Buckeyes return. You know you’re a good team when you can bury top recruits on the bench and still have one of the best teams in the country. Junior forward DeShaun Thomas is a favorite to become this season’s breakout player of the year and OSU also returns top junior point guard and defensive dynamo Aaron Craft. The Buckeyes also have a lot of talent in junior guard Lenzelle Smith, Jr., who was somewhat inconsistent last year, but showed his potential at times. Add in sophomore forward Sam Thompson and sophomore center Amir Williams, and this could still be the most talented lineup in the Big Ten. If OSU can put things together by the end of the season, this will be a very dangerous team in March again.

Negatives: What this Ohio State team has in talent, it lacks in experience. Craft is experienced at his position by now, and while Thomas brings a lot of hype, he wasn’t a superstar last year. Then there are Smith and Thompson, who were at best inconsistent last season, and center Amir Williams, who is also talented but barely played last year. The story is the same on the bench, with players like LaQuinton Ross and Shannon Scott, both highly-touted recruits who have yet to prove themselves on a college floor. This team is full of talent but short on experience, and in college basketball, that’s not necessarily a good thing.

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The Ultimate Breakdown: Ohio State vs. Kansas

Posted by zhayes9 on March 28th, 2012

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court. You can read his Louisville-Kentucky breakdown here.

It was clear from the first game of the season that everyone’s favorite breakout player, Kansas’ Thomas Robinson, was going to live up to the hype. At the same time, Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, a first team All-American as a freshman and preseason All-American as a sophomore, was widely viewed as the premier big man in the country. It only took a quick glance at the calendar for December 10 to stand out: Ohio State at Kansas. Or more accurately: Sullinger at Robinson. Unfortunately, Sullinger’s body would spoil all our fun. The Buckeyes’ leading scorer sat out the visit to Allen Fieldhouse with painful back spasms and Ohio State limped to an 11-point loss.

Barring a freak accident in the next three-plus days, the Ohio State-Kansas sequel won’t lack one of its biggest stars. Sullinger is healthy and Robinson is ready, two exceptional talents and future lottery picks banging bodies in the post with a trip to the sport’s brightest stage on the line: Monday night at the Final Four. Of course, Ohio State-Kansas is about much more than two players. It’s about Tyshawn Taylor trying to take Aaron Craft off the dribble. It’s about Travis Releford chasing William Buford all over the floor. It’s about Bill Self and Thad Matta matching wits on the sidelines. Heck, I’m sure Jeff Withey will be matched up with Sullinger for a good portion of Saturday’s game.

Louisville-Kentucky may be the Final Four main event, but you may want to stick around for the after party.

Sullinger and Robinson will finally go toe-to-toe. Oh, and it's at the Final Four.

Backcourt- The much-maligned Tyshawn Taylor posted a redemptive senior season, staying out of Bill Self’s doghouse, limiting turnovers and shooting a robust 39 percent from three. Taylor is a tough cover due to his blazing speed, swift crossover and irrepressible confidence, a characteristic never more evident than when Taylor pulled up for a 3-on-1 three-pointer late in Kansas’ Elite Eight win over North Carolina despite the fact he hadn’t made a shot from behind the arc in the entire tournament. His running mate is the much-improved Elijah Johnson, a bit player turned double-digit scorer and clutch shot-maker. We might be talking about Robbie Hummel’s unprecedented run to the Final Four if Johnson didn’t bail out the Jayhawks during a Robinson/Taylor no-show in Kansas’ second-round escape against Purdue. Travis Releford is Bill Self’s go-to perimeter defender. He’ll receive the challenging task of chasing William Buford around screens for 40 minutes. Buford underachieved relative to inflated expectations this season, coming off an extremely efficient junior campaign, but ask Michigan State if he’s capable of exploding at any moment. Lenzelle Smith is essentially Johnson’s clone, a 6’4” glue guy who’s canned his fair share of clutch shots this tournament. The matchup to track is Aaron Craft, far and away best perimeter defender in the country, and Taylor with his athleticism and quickness. Taylor went 1-of-4 from the floor with six turnovers guarded by Craft in their December meeting. Slight Edge: Ohio State.

Frontcourt- Equally tantalizing are the frontcourt matchups: DeShaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger vs. Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson. Thomas is the leading scorer in this year’s NCAA Tournament, a versatile southpaw who shot a phenomenal 61 percent from two and has never met a shot he didn’t love. That irrational confidence is to Thad Matta’s benefit on the offensive end, but the kindest way to describe Thomas’ defensive effort is the anti-Aaron Craft. It’ll be interesting to see if Self shows some triangle-and-2 or zone so Robinson or Withey don’t have to chase Thomas around the floor. The scenario is similar to when Kansas faced Missouri’s four-guard attack, but there’s no Matt Pressey on Ohio State you can leave unguarded. The one-on-one scrap we all want to witness is Sullinger vs. Robinson. According to Synergy and Luke Winn’s tournament blog, Sullinger is much more efficient away from the block than Robinson. The Buckeye star is fully capable of utilizing the mid-range jumper he perfected last summer, while Robinson is a superior overall rebounder. Withey actually posted a higher block percentage than Anthony Davis, but isn’t much of a low-post scoring threat outside of dunks and put-backs. Slight Edge: Ohio State.

Bench- Much like Louisville and Kentucky, the bench simply isn’t a major factor for either side. Remember 2012 the next time somebody denounces a team’s Final Four chances because of their lack of depth. While Matta has always rejected using more than six or seven players, backup big men Evan Ravenel and Amir Williams simply holding the fort while Sullinger was on the bench for 13 minutes during the first half of Ohio State’s regional final win over Syracuse may have saved their season. It’s doubtful that Williams, backup point Shannon Scott or backup wing Sam Thompson will see more than a few minutes combined because of the stakes, unless of course foul trouble is a factor. Kansas doesn’t have a bench due to a combination of early entries, recruiting whiffs and graduation, an obstacle that renders the job Self did this season even more remarkable. Connor Teahan has the reputation of a solid shooter, but he’s canned only 34 percent from deep on the season. Kevin Young will spell Robinson or Withey. His 6’8” frame is actually a better matchup opposite Thomas. Slight Edge: Kansas.

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