Big Ten M5: 11.13.13 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 13th, 2013

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  1. Indiana‘s Tom Crean may have been on to something when he questioned the consistency of his extremely young team shortly before the team barely escaped LIU-Brooklyn, 73-72, on Tuesday night. Crean believes that the Hoosiers are far from a finished product, but that he likes how the early-season schedule sets up as they play seven games in 19 days early on. Indiana is extremely long and athletic, but some of the younger players seem as though they will be prone to slumps and growing pains early on as they figure out their respective roles. Expect moments of brilliance combined with head-scratchers like Tuesday night from this extremely young squad.
  2. On a team filled with potential All-Americans and others who have been starters and been in the spotlight for a couple of years, Travis Trice often goes overlooked. That’s why news of the mysterious illness he was dealing with in the summer of 2012 never really made it into the national consciousness. It’s pretty amazing how he’s come back from not only that, but suffering two concussions and a broken nose last season as well. With Trice fully healthy again, Michigan State will be in great hands at the point guard spot with either Trice or Keith Appling on the court.
  3. Michigan has a decent sized leadership void to fill with Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. moving on to the NBA. They decided on Tuesday to try and fill their player leadership roles for 2013-14 with three players being named tri-captains: Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford, and Glenn Robinson III. On a team loaded with freshmen and sophomores, it makes sense that Horford and Morgan were given this honor since they’re the only upperclassmen they have. Robinson seems to be a little bit more of a reserved type who doesn’t get overly excited on the floor, so it remains to be seen whether he can handle this responsibility and both lead verbally and by example.
  4. A.J.Hammons was arguably the most talked about Purdue player in the buildup to the season tipping off. News of his suspension for the Boilermakers’ home opener was kind of glossed over, as it was assumed Purdue would handle Northern Kentucky with or without the burly center. Hammons felt like he let the team down as they struggled to pull out a win last Friday, however, and vows to come back and get on the same page with his teammates. Hammons being out was felt mainly on the glass, as Northern Kentucky matched Purdue’s 35 rebounds and generally played more physical. The suspension could really lead to Hammons coming back better than ever if he’s properly motivated from the benching.
  5. The preseason watch list for the John Wooden Award was released on Tuesday, and it included ten players from the B1G. This year was the first time that freshmen and transfers could appear on the preseason list, and Indiana’s highly-publicized Noah Vonleh made the cut. Other players from the league included players from Michigan State (Keith Appling, Gary Harris, and Adreian Payne), Ohio State (Aaron Craft and LaQuinton Ross), Michigan (Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III), Minnesota (Andre Hollins), Wisconsin (Sam Dekker), and Vonleh. One notable omission is Penn State’s senior guard Tim Frazier. Players can still get added to the watch list during the season, and Frazier made a claim to be one of these mid-season additions with his 25-point, 10-rebound effort in Penn State’s opening game victory against Wagner.
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2013-14 RTC Top 25: Preseason Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on November 7th, 2013

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And so it begins. The time of year where we hear familiar voices on the television, see the faces on the floor, and our favorite teams finally playing games that count in the standings. It is a beautiful time, indeed. With the games commencing on Friday evening, we officially unveil RTC’s 2013-14 Preseason Top 25. Starting November 18, you can expect our weekly poll to come out every Monday morning. Along with the rankings will be the usual quick and dirty analysis that dives deeper into how the teams shake out from top to bottom. To see how we did last year, check out our 2012-13 preseason poll — we nailed some (Louisville, Michigan, Indiana, Kansas), and swung and missed on others (Kentucky, NC State, Missouri, UCLA). We promise to do better this time around.

rtc 25 preseason 13-14

Quick n’ Dirty Thoughts.

  • A Majority Likes Kentucky – Four out of our seven pollsters are in agreement that Kentucky is the top team in the country, while the other two teams that were picked first were Louisville (one #1 vote) and Michigan State (two #1 votes). It is really difficult to argue with any of the three selections, but Kentucky reigned supreme due to the star-studded recruiting class of Julius Randle, James Young, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson that John Calipari was able to lure to Lexington. Do not forget that Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein also return for the Wildcats. Defending national champion Louisville is once again loaded with talent, led by preseason All-American Russ Smith and 2013 Final Four Most Outstanding Player Luke Hancock. Michigan State is a squad that was helped immensely when both sophomore Gary Harris and senior Adreian Payne bypassed the NBA Draft to return to East Lansing.

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Introducing the RTC All-Big Ten Second Team

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 5th, 2013

In honor of the college season finally tipping off Friday in various locales, we at the Big Ten microsite decided to get together and vote for our preseason all-league teams. We will cover potential Sixth Man of the Year candidates and reveal our preseason Freshman of the Year later this week. We’ll also be revealing how the teams will finish in the league standings four at a time starting Wednesday. Today we introduce our preseason All-Big Ten Second Team; the First Team will be unveiled tomorrow.

Yogi Ferrell Leads a Strong Sophomore Group in the Big Ten

Yogi Ferrell Leads a Strong Sophomore Group in the Big Ten

RTC All-Big Ten Second Team

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2013-14 RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 5th, 2013

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With the season tipping off Friday night, there’s no better time to roll out our preseason First, Second, and Third All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion. Our crack panel of eight national columnists provided ballots over the last week or so, and this, perhaps unsurprisingly, is where we ended up.

First Team All-America

team1Andrew Wiggins, Kansas (unanimous) – Wiggins begins his career in Lawrence as one of the more ballyhooed freshmen in recent memory. The 6’8″ swingman, who was unanimously considered the top player in the Class of 2013, committed to Kansas in April following a recruiting process that was primarily kept close to the vest. While some of the hype surrounding the dynamic freshman may be a bit overblown, it is impossible to deny Wiggins’ credentials, as he was named 2013 Naismith Prep Player of the Year, 2013 Gatorade National Player of the Year, and Mr. Basketball USA. Wiggins has already acknowledged that he would like to be a one-and-done and enter the 2014 NBA Draft, so it is logical to see why expectations are so high in Lawrence this season.

Factoid: It is not exactly a surprise that Wiggins is a top-flight athlete when you consider the fact that his father, Mitchell Wiggins, had a lengthy professional basketball career and his mother, Marita Payne-Wiggins, won two silver medals for Canada as a sprinter in the 1984 Summer Olympic Games.

Doug McDermott, Creighton (unanimous) – McDermott’s ability to score from anywhere on the court makes him one of the most feared offensive players in the country. It is rare for a two-time First Team All-American to return to school, but that is the case with McDermott, who spurned the NBA to return for his senior season in Omaha. With Creighton making the big move from the Missouri Valley to the Big East this season, the Bluejays are going to be counting on him to fill the stat line each night out – and McDermott is good enough to come through for them.

Factoid: Due to Creighton guard Grant Gibbs receiving a rare sixth-year of eligibility from the NCAA (and thus, needing a scholarship), McDermott will be an extremely talented walk-on for the 2013-14 season.

Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State – The reigning Big 12 Player of the Year shocked the basketball world when he announced in mid-April that he would return to Stillwater for his sophomore season. The Flower Mound, Texas, native is widely considered the best returning player in all of college basketball. Smart brings a little bit of everything to the floor. His 6’4″ frame is elite for the point guard position and he uses that size as well as any perimeter player in the country. The leadership and intangibles that Smart provides are also second to none. After Oklahoma State finished third in the Big 12 during Smart’s freshman season, it is projected to contend with perennial powerhouse Kansas for the conference crown this season.

Factoid: Making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010, Oklahoma State’s stay in the 2013 event was a short one. The Cowboys, a five-seed, were upset in the Round of 64 by 12-seed Oregon. This loss affected Smart’s decision to return to school, as the setback helped him realize he was not ready to be one-and-done in a Cowboy uniform.

Russ Smith, Louisville – Smith returns to Louisville for his senior season looking to lead the Cardinals to a repeat as national champions. “Russdiculous” is coming off a season that saw him average 18.7 points per game and take home the Most Outstanding Player of the Midwest Regional. While Smith gets a majority of his attention for his performance on the offensive end of the court, he is also a defensive stalwart who keys the relentless full court pressure of the Cardinals. Even though Smith certainly figures to be Louisville’s most explosive player this season, you better believe he will still at times do some things on the court that will drive Rick Pitino crazy.

Factoid: Smith spent his fall interning with WHAS-TV in Louisville, working local high school football games on some Friday nights.

Julius Randle, Kentucky – Kentucky coach John Calipari brought in one of the best recruiting hauls in history for this season and the star of the class is the ultra-athletic Randle. The Plano, Texas, native arrived in Lexington as the second-best prospect in the Class of 2013 – only behind Andrew Wiggins – and early returns on Randle as a Wildcat forward have been overwhelmingly positive. Randle’s talent level is so elite that ESPN‘s Jeff Goodman declared in late September that he would take Randle over Wiggins with the first pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.

Factoid: Randle missed three months of his senior season at Prestonwood Christian due to a fractured foot, but he was able to return in time to lead the school to a Texas state championship.

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Can the Michigan Offense Be Efficient Despite a Low Free Throw Rate?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on October 31st, 2013

During the 2012-13 Big Ten season, Michigan ranked second in offensive efficiency – scoring 1.12 points per possession. This statistic is even more impressive if you consider the Wolverines’ low free-throw rate as a team: according to Ken Pomeroy, only 29.2 percent of their field goal attempts resulted in a free throw, ranking 11th in the Big Ten in this category. Despite that poor free throw rate, they were efficient on offense because they shot lights out (54.1% eFG) and took care of the ball (14.1% turnover rate). The low free throw rate is not new under John Beilein, as his Wolverines have ranked almost last in this category (averages of 28.0%, 28.4%, and 29.2% since 2011). With the loss of Trey Burke, the Wolverines will have some key issues to address:

How Will Michigan’s Offense Perform Under New Direction?

  • Beilein needs a guard who can penetrate and kick out to the wings. The low free throw rate does not mean that the Michigan guards were standing around the perimeter firing up shots from beyond the arc. Rather, Trey Burke’s ability to beat his defender off the pick-and-roll to penetrate and kick out passes to the wings resulted in effective team long-range shooting (37.2% 3FG). Burke was able to get to the basket consistently, but also found shooters on the wing or used his floater to score. Going back to the 2011 season, Darius Morris, another crafty Michigan point guard, was fully capable of getting to the basket as well. But it appears that Beilein’s offense is ideally geared around drawing the wing defender to open easy looks in the corner, not just attack the basket to draw fouls on every possession. This strategy works well with talented and physical point guards such as Burke or Morris. Do the Wolverines have a guard who can draw defenders off the dribble this season? The answer is that there are only two guards capable of filling that role: Derrick Walton and Nik Stauskas. Walton certainly has the quickness to penetrate, but he may not be in full control just yet, which could result in a high turnover rate. Burke’s time in Ann Arbor was special because he created looks by taking care of the ball. Assuming that Walton makes standard freshman mistakes during the first couple of months, Beilein may turn to Stauskas to attack the basket and look for Glenn Robinson III on the wing. We know Stauskas has the handle to get into the paint, but his passing abilities haven’t truly been tested yet. Until Walton or Stauskas can prove that they can handle the ball effectively in traffic, the Wolverines’ offense will need to find other way to improve their free throw rate. Read the rest of this entry »
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Expectations on Sophomore Big Ten Stars Should Be Tempered

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on October 29th, 2013

This year’s sophomore class in the Big Ten includes a number of players who will have huge roles on their respective teams. Some are stepping into roles involving greater expectations, such as Yogi Ferrell at Indiana and Glenn Robinson III at Michigan, due to players leaving for graduation or the NBA. Others have a good bit of talent returning around them, like in the cases of Gary Harris at Michigan State and AJ Hammons at Purdue, and they will try to meld their skills into the team concept as they help their teams compete. There’s a common assumption that freshman college basketball players will make a “jump” in their learning curves between their first and second years in a program, but there’s a lot of dispute over just what that jump actually entails.

Yogi Ferrell Leads a Strong Sophomore Group in the Big Ten

Yogi Ferrell Leads a Strong Sophomore Group in the Big Ten

How big of a jump can a team expect from players who already produced plenty as freshmen? The best way to analyze this would be to look at all Big Ten freshmen’s changes in their statistical profiles from their first to second years, but without going overboard with too much analysis on this, it makes just as much sense to review the all-Big Ten Freshman teams. As you can see below on the attached Excel sheet (click through to open the entire document), the devil is in the details. For freshmen who already substantially produced in their first collegiate year, the “jump” that we were expecting doesn’t really show up during their sophomore seasons.

All-B1G Freshman to Sophomore Stats

Increases in production are minimal from these players: an addition of less than one point per game, less than half an assist and less than a third of a rebound. In terms of shooting percentages, there is a notable decrease both overall and from the three-point line. For teams like Indiana and Michigan that are expecting big bumps from their returnees playing larger roles, these trends could be a sign of worry. In terms of points production, no single player had a greater than four-point per game increase and only four out of the 21 who stayed for their sophomore seasons saw an increase of more than two points per game.

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Can Glenn Robinson III Become an Effective Scoring Option for Michigan?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on October 23rd, 2013

Deepak is a columnist for the RTC Big Ten microsite. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

NBA scouts salivate over Glenn Robinson III, a 6’6″ small forward who has a good jumper with great range and possesses the athletic ability to bring down the house with thunderous dunks. He could have been a top-20 pick in the NBA Draft last year, but he instead decided to come back for another season to polish his offensive skills. Robinson, along with his fellow sophomores, Mitch McGary and Nik Stauskas, will control John Beilein’s offense this season, but can he do it efficiently? We know about his athleticism and diverse offensive skill set, as shown in this clip, but can he handle the defensive pressure as the primary scoring option?

Glenn Robinson will certainly attempt more shots this season, but can he be an efficient scorer?

Glenn Robinson will certainly attempt more shots this season, but can he be an efficient scorer?

Robinson had the luxury of being the fourth and sometimes the fifth scoring option as Michigan marched towards the championship game last season. He parked himself in the corners and was the recipient of kick-out passes when Trey Burke broke his defender down off the pick-and-roll to penetrate the paint. Without Burke’s ability to penetrate this season, Robinson may not have as many easy looks on the perimeter unless he consistently moves into open space in Beilein’s half-court sets. He can still use his jumper to his advantage, but he will have to establish his game around the basket in order to be more effective this season. There is a small probability that he could end up mimicking Tim Hardaway’s sophomore campaign with regard to long-range shooting. Hardaway shot a dismal 28 percent on 187 attempts from beyond the arc last season. Robinson’s 32 percent shooting from beyond the arc by contrast was respectable, but that statistic needs to be around 38 to 40 percent this year, otherwise it could hurt the Wolverines’ offensive rhythm. With proper shot selection, Robinson can be a powerful stretch-four in the league because few Big Ten forwards have the size and quickness to match up with him on the perimeter.

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Evaluating Big Ten’s Sophomore Class of 2013-14: Nik Stauskas

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on August 8th, 2013

Deepak is a columnist for the Big Ten microsite of RTC. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

With approximately three months left until the college hoops season begins, Big Ten basketball fans can take two paths to fill the void of sports in their lives over the next few weeks: They could try to convince themselves that their football team is good enough to compete with the SEC until they get hammered again during bowl season; or, they could begin to entertain the idea that the conference will finally win the national title in basketball after a 14-year hiatus. Since Michigan lost to Louisville in mid-April, most of the news around the hoops world has revolved around all the incoming freshmen – Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins or the Kentucky All-Stars, to name a few – who chose to not take their talents to Big Ten country. Regardless of that lack of incoming star power, we at the RTC Big Ten Microsite are here to get you excited the stars who are returning and ready to take on the responsibility of leading their teams to conference glory.

Over the next few weeks, we plan to evaluate a number of key Big Ten sophomores who will have an impact on their team’s performance throughout the entire season. Today we start with Michigan shooting guard Nik Stauskas.

Nik Stauskas (left) won't disappoint next season.

Nik Stauskas Won’t Disappoint Next Season

Nik Stauskas’ rise to fame in Ann Arbor was quicker than expected because he came out of the gates firing on all cylinders, shooting over 50% from beyond the arc during November and December. Michigan’s “Fresh Five” may never have cemented its nickname if only Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III had led the charge offensively; as it turned out when the Wolverines steamrolled through its non-conference competition last season, it was Stauskas who added the most early value to the offense as a member of the starting rotation. If he decides to stay on campus for at least two more seasons, he could go down as one of the best sharp-shooters in Big Ten history. Beilein’s offense is built to enhance his impressive shot-making abilities, but let’s also evaluate the other parts of his game that could determine if he will hit a sophomore slump during the 2013-14 season.

What did we learn about his game from last year?

If 44% shooting from beyond the arc isn’t enough to convince you about Stauskas’ effectiveness as a shooter, this clip where he makes 45 out of 50 shots should seal the deal. The defensive scouting report is clear: Take the three-point shot away from him — especially in the corners — and you’ll make him earn his points the hard way. But Stauskas’ offensive game expands beyond an effective jumper; for example, he is excellent off the dribble especially in going to his left. Check out these highlights that showcase his ability to dribble off screens and use his left hand to get to the basket for easy layups and dunks. He is comfortable enough finishing around the basket with this left hand and can shift direction when his defender goes even a half step too far defending him off the screens. At the outset, he may look like just a shooter, but Stauskas has already shown that he can do more than bomb from long range in Beilein’s offense, setting himself up for high expectations after a full offseason of strength and weight training.

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Breaking Down This Year’s Five Biggest NBA Draft Refusals

Posted by Chris Johnson on April 29th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

The NBA Draft deadline can be a harrowing time for programs, coaches and their ever-vigilant fan bases. Player defections – particularly those of the lottery breed – not only control the fates of specific teams, they create massive rippling effects on college basketball writ large. Based on who does or doesn’t make their talents available to the most exclusively competitive sports league in North America, college basketball takes on a certain median composite talent distinction. Last season, that measure was low, and fans of all kinds made sure to scream and wail and cry foul about the dearth of “elite talent” and the oncoming barrenness of prospective upside on this year’s draft boards. “No dominant team” was a meme raised just as frequently, and by the end of the season, when two of the nation’s most talented teams navigated the predicted upset-laden waters of the NCAA Tournament and staged an epic final game – and when the nation’s “dominant team,” Louisville, actually won the whole thing – the conversation quickly turned to 2013-14.

With McDermott back, Creighton has every reason to be excited about its move into the Big East (Getty Images).

With McDermott back, Creighton has every reason to be excited about its move into the Big East (Getty Images).

That brings us to Sunday’s NBA Draft deadline, the real draft deadline, the one that actually forces players to make decisions about their professional futures, rather than the teethless NCAA-imposed early date created for the supposed benefit of coaches’ scholarship and recruiting calculations during the recruiting spring signing period. There were some notable departures this year, National Player of the Year award-sweeping point guard Trey Burke chief among them, but all in all the final count leaves college basketball with an immensely intriguing selection of returning players that – when mixed with one of the most highest-touted recruiting classes of the past 10 or so years – should produce a general quality of play that far exceeds last season’s occasionally-ugly level. I’ve come up with five players (or pairs of players) whose reappearance in the college ranks will contribute most directly to making this season not only hugely appealing for its freshmen stars – as is often the case in the one-and-done era – but experienced and deep and seasoned enough to produce a boundlessly exciting pool of players and teams. We are going to see a host of really good returning players in college basketball next season, and unlike last year, many of these guys won’t come off as totally unfamiliar. There’s some star power here – as in not in the NBA. Rejoice.

Doug McDermott – Creighton. The end of last season, brought upon by a Round of 32 NCAA Tournament loss to Duke, ushered Creighton into a programmatic transition: Beginning this season, the Bluejays will become members of the new Big East. They leave behind a good but measurably inferior Missouri Valley Conference, and the step up in competition promises to be fierce. It would have been a completely reasonable move for McDermott to stare down the present, understand the rigors of a more challenging conference schedule, the increased defensive attention from better athletes across a larger number of quality teams, and cut loose with program and father-coach after a successful three-year career. It would have made the most possible sense.

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Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary’s Returns Guarantee No Post-National Final Hangover

Posted by Chris Johnson on April 19th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Compared to the gutting four-man exodus that could have been, Michigan can breathe a collective sigh relief after Thursday’s news that starting forwards Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III will extend their college basketball careers for at least one more season. The alternative – McGary and Robinson turning their March spotlights and intriguing individual games into mid-to-late first round draft picks – would have necessitated a full-blown, revamped, freshmen-buoyed rebuilding project. Instead, the Wolverines won’t be rebuilding next season. They will be challenging, and quite possibly winning, a Big Ten championship.

Bringing back two key cogs like McGary and Robinson III gives Michigan enough firepower for a run at a Big Ten championship in 2013-14 (USA TODAY Sports).

Bringing back two key cogs like McGary and Robinson III gives Michigan enough firepower for a run at a Big Ten championship in 2013-14 (USA TODAY Sports).

But, wait, didn’t Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., two starters on Michigan’s national finalist squad, the former a consensus National Player of the Year, just declare their intentions to do the very thing we are celebrating McGary and Robinson for not doing, for entering the NBA Draft? How can Michigan possibly recover from losing two hugely important perimeter stars from its roster? Those are valid questions to ask for any team who waves goodbye to two pivotal starters, let alone the unanimously considered best player in the country. Not even in Kentucky’s annually warped recruit-draft-restock business is losing a player of Burke’s caliber, and a secondary scorer with Hardaway’s athletic talents and experience, a welcome experience.

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Morning Five: 04.19.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 19th, 2013

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  1. With his Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Playoffs (for now), Eddie Jordan appears to have reached a deal to become the next head coach at Rutgers, which is nice except the deal will not be finalized until the school’s governing body meets next week. Jordan has apparently agreed to a five-year deal worth a little over $1 million per year, but we have no idea on the bonus structure of the deal is as coaches can greatly increase their income through carefully crafted bonus structures. As for the issue of needing the Board of Governors to sign off on a basketball coach, normally we would say it is a massive waste of time, but given the public relations hit the school took as the result of its last coach they probably should be extra cautious with this hire.
  2. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. may not be walking through that door, but fortunately for John Beilein both Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III will be as they announced that they would be returning to Michigan in a joint press conference yesterday. The decision by those two to return is not quite as shocking as Marcus Smart’s decision was, but they are both lottery level picks so very few people will have offered them criticism for having left. Instead they will return to make Michigan a preseason top 10 team and a national title contender again next season.
  3. Not to be outdone by its in-state rival Michigan State also received good news yesterday when Gary Harris announced that he will be returning for his sophomore season. Harris, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, was also predicted to be a lottery pick and probably had less to prove  than either McGary or Robinson, but his return should make the Spartans the #2 team in the country going into next season and sets up a very intriguing early season match-up against Kentucky in the Champions Classic. At this point the only question remaining for the Spartans is whether Adreian Payne will also return. If he does the question of who should be the preseason #1 may get a little more interesting.
  4. The decision by C.J. Wilcox to return to Washington for his senior year may not have as big of an impact on the national scene as the moves in the state of Michigan will, but it could play a big role in determining who wins the Pac-12 next season. Unlike the three other players mentioned so far who announced that they would be returning Wilcox was by no means a guaranteed first round pick so it makes sense for him to return, but as we have seen that is by no means a guarantee that a player will come back.
  5. The grand jury hearing the case of former Kentucky star Richie Farmer (a former Mr. Basketball in the state and a member of “The Unforgettables”) will hear from former employees who worked with Farmer in his role as Kentucky’s Agriculture Commissioner. Farmer faces more than 40 counts of ethics violations while in his former role, but has not been called before the grand jury to testify. With the basketball-crazed culture and the cult-like hero status that Farmer once engendered within the state this is a trial that we expect to be hearing more about in the coming months.
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National Championship Game Analysis

Posted by Brian Otskey on April 8th, 2013

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Brian Otskey is an RTC Contributor and filed this preview of tonight’s game for all the marbles. Follow him on Twitter @botskey.

The National Championship Game: #1 Louisville (34-5) vs. #4 Michigan (31-7) – 9:23 PM ET on CBS. Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr will have the call live from the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia.

ncaa final four floor 2013

After five months and 5,744 regular season, conference tournament and NCAA tournament games, the college basketball season comes down to one game on one night in Atlanta. Top overall seed Louisville enters the game as the favorite but by no means will this be a walk in the park. The Cardinals are in search of their third national championship this evening and their first since 1986. On the other side, Michigan is looking for its second national title, having won it all once before in 1989. It is somewhat hard to believe given the strength of the two leagues over the years but this is the first national championship game between Big East and Big Ten schools since the aforementioned Wolverines held off Seton Hall in overtime to win it all at the Kingdome in Seattle 24 years ago.

Louisville has now won 15 straight games after surviving a major scare from Wichita State on Saturday night. In fact, the Cardinals have won 18 of their past 19 games since a three game losing streak in January and the one loss was in five overtimes to Notre Dame. This game features the nation’s best defense (Louisville) and the most efficient offensive team in the land (Michigan) going head to head in what should be a terrific basketball game. For the Cardinals to win, they must attack the rim and use their defense to fuel their offense. Rick Pitino’s team is no slouch offensively (#5 in efficiency), but its offense is largely predicated off its ability to create live ball turnovers and score in transition. Louisville is lethal in transition but not great in the half court unless it attacks the basket, either with its guards off the bounce or great athletes like Montrezl Harrell and Chane Behanan working the baseline and the low block. In Saturday’s national semifinal, Wichita State forced Louisville into way too many jump shots for Pitino’s liking and it almost cost the Cardinals dearly. The Shockers were rattled by a series of turnovers late in the second half and lost the game because of it. Louisville’s ball pressure is the best in the country and it starts with Peyton Siva and Russ Smith. Both play the passing lanes so well but Smith in particular is among the nation’s best defenders. After it scores, Louisville’s full court pressure takes full effect. The big question in this game will be whether the Cardinals (#2 in forcing turnovers) can turn over the Wolverines (#1 in ball protection) enough to fuel their offense. When Michigan played VCU in the round of 32, the Wolverines obliterated Shaka Smart’s “havoc.” There is, however, one major difference between VCU and Louisville. The Rams are not a great defensive team in the half court while Louisville plays the best half court defense of any team in America. Siva has to slow down Trey Burke, who picked up just about every imaginable award this week. Michigan showed just how good of a team it is by winning its semifinal game against Syracuse without its star sophomore point guard being a major factor. While it’s fair to say Michigan has never seen a defense like this all season long, Louisville hasn’t seen an offense with as many weapons as this one. When Michigan has the ball, the battle between the best offense and the best defense could be one of epic proportions.

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