RTC Top 25: Week Fifteen Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on February 29th, 2016

Another wild week of college basketball was accompanied by another helter-skelter poll in which each of our seven pollsters remain significantly divided on team placement within the RTC25. This week was notable in a Big East where #5 Xavier finally shook the monkey off its back to defeat #4 Villanova on Wednesday, only to follow that up with each team responding to the result in an equal and opposite way. Villanova recovered with a win at Marquette on Saturday while Xavier was dominated in a loss at Seton Hall on Sunday. Villanova still leads the Big East and is in good position to take home the regular season conference title. But with the parity in college basketball this season, the Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden could be defined by inherent uncertainty. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty is after the jump.

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Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Big Ten M5: 02.26.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) on February 26th, 2016

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  1. Nebraska’s Shavon Shields played for the first time since a February 6 game against Rutgers when he suffered a serious concussion on a nasty fall. As if nothing had ever happened, the senior returned to the lineup last night against Penn State and scored a game-high 25 points. It was not enough for the Cornhuskers to win the game, however, as Shields’ off-balance 15-footer at the buzzer misfired, giving the Nittany Lions a 56-55 win.
  2. Bracketology becomes increasingly popular as the calendar inches ever closer to March. ESPN’s February 25 NCAA Tournament bracket projections from Joe Lunardi lists seven Big Ten teams among his field of 68: Michigan State is a #2 seed; Iowa #3; Maryland #3; Indiana #5; Purdue #5; Wisconsin #7; and Michigan #9. CBS SportsJerry Palm’s latest projections differ only slightly: Iowa is a seed line lower at #4, while Wisconsin comes in as a #9 seed and Michigan a #10 seed.
  3. Michigan’s Duncan Robinson started the season as one of the nation’s best shooters, but his prolonged slump in Big Ten play is a growing concern. He is converting only 31 percent of his three-pointers in the second half of conference play, prompting head coach John Beilein to consider shortening his minutes. Fortunately for Michigan, sophomore Aubrey Dawkins has picked up the slack in knocking down a conference-best 51 percent of three-pointers in Big Ten play.
  4. Michigan State has used a deep bench all season and the latest player to get an extended look in the wake of Kenny Goins’ knee injury is sophomore forward Marvin Clark Jr. He was a useful reserve during Sparty’s run to the Final Four a year ago and is finding his confidence in an expanded role. Clark played 19 minutes against Ohio State on Tuesday and made both his three-point attempts for a total of six points. His shooting (35.3% 3FG) has kept him head of Javon Bess in the rotation.
  5. During Wisconsin’s admittedly slow start to the season, some believed that mediocre recruiting was a key reason for the team’s lack of quality depth this season. Now, however, with Wisconsin sitting at 10-5 in the Big Ten, that notion has dissipated. The Wisconsin State Journal reviewed Bo Ryan’s class of 2011, finding that it had considerable talent from top to bottom. Frank Kaminsky and Traevon Jackson led the program to consecutive Final Fours but played their final seasons in 2014-15. Jarrod Uthoff became a star after transferring to Iowa, and George Marshall, now at South Dakota State, is leading the 22-7 Jackrabbits in scoring.
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Big Ten M5: 02.24.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 24th, 2016

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  1. The Big Ten on Monday awarded Indiana forward Troy Williams its conference Player of the Week honors for averaging 18.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.5 assist and 2.5 steals per game in wins over Nebraska and Purdue last week. It was the second award of the year for a junior who has been instrumental in helping the Hoosiers move into contention for their second Big Ten title in four years. Williams may not have made the giant leap he had hoped — he averages fewer points and rebounds than last season — but he remains the team’s third-leading scorer and has improved on the defensive end. With his contributions leading the way, Tom Crean’s team hopes to win that regular season title as well as make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
  2. Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors went to Minnesota‘s Jordan Murphy for his 17 points and 11 rebounds against Maryland last Thursday. Although it wasn’t considered in the award, he forward followed up that performance with another terrific effort with 19 points and 14 rebounds in a win over Rutgers last night. His emergence is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal season at Minnesota. He, along with classmate Nate Mason, gives Richard Pitino a glimmer of hope for Minnesota basketball going into the next season.
  3. Michigan State earned its sixth win in its last seven contests last night when Sparty handled Ohio State, 81-62. The Buckeyes prevented Denzel Valentine from scoring 20 points or dishing out 10 assists (he finished with “only” 17 points and eight assists), but they were unable to stop Bryn Forbes 27 points on 7-of-10 shooting from behind the three-point line. While a regular season title is still a long shot for a team two games back in the standings, Tom Izzo’s team is playing as well as any team in the country and is certainly in the mix for a #1 or #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. As always, the Spartans appear to be peaking at just the right time.
  4. As Michigan makes a push to solidify its place in the NCAA Tournament with a game against Northwestern tonight, the Wolverines may again find themselves without the services of senior guard Caris Levert. In fact, the Wolverines’ two upperclassmen leaders, Levert and Spike Albrechthave been absent from John Beilein‘s lineup for a majority of the season. Despite those limitations, Michigan has managed to win enough games to remain competitive in the Big Ten race and appears poised to get back to the NCAA Tournament. It will come one step closer to that objective if it protects home court against the Wildcats this evening.
  5. The biggest conference game of the week will take place tonight when Wisconsin visits Iowa in a game that has major implications for both teams. The Hawkeyes need a victory to keep up with Indiana in the loss column in pursuit of a Big Ten title. The Badgers with a win could seal their place in the NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin has steadily climbed back from a 2-5 Big Ten record to likely being a big win away from its 18th consecutive trip to March Madness. That would make quite the case for the administration to permanently hire Greg Gard and continue the Bo Ryan legacy in Madison for years to come.
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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 23rd, 2016

There are now two weeks to go before the close of the 2015-16 Big Ten season. Senior night ceremonies and the conference tournament are on the horizon, and the NCAA Tournament not too far beyond them. It’s unfair to jump to the conclusion that the long season has taken its toll on Big Ten teams, but there was some flat out ugly offense in the league last weekend. Four teams were held under 1.00 point per possession, and three of the five teams that came away with victories failed to crack 50 percent eFG shooting. On the brighter side, Indiana was able to fight off a late Purdue rally, and Maryland held serve at home against Michigan. This means that the regular season tournament is still a three team race at the moment (with Ohio State and Michigan State lingering a couple games back). Here are some of the noteworthy and not-so-noteworthy performances from the weekend before the final sprint.

Ethan Happ controlled the paint as Wisconsin rallied to beat Illinois Sunday night. (Nick Lisi, AP)

Ethan Happ controlled the paint as Wisconsin rallied to beat Illinois Sunday night. (Nick Lisi, AP)

Player of the Weekend: Ethan Happ isn’t always the prettiest or most graceful post player in the Big Ten, but the Wisconsin freshman is having a sensational first go of it in the Big Ten. After going up against the likes of Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker in practices last season, Happ has played with a veteran edge that his former practice combatants would be proud of. He doesn’t shoot from the outside, nor does he dominate physically, but the “old guy at the YMCA” element to his game has proven valuable. He’s seemingly always in the right spot on the floor, and flashes a unique creativity in the shots he both attempts and makes in the post. Illinois had the Badgers in danger of enduring another bad resume loss at home, but Happ was there to notch his fourth double-double since conference play began. He also added a career-high six steals, bringing his average to 2.5 SPG in conference games. In a season where four other freshmen big men — all with much higher profiles than Happ — have also made large contributions to probable Big Ten NCAA Tournament teams, Happ could be the best freshman in the league.

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Big Ten M5: 02.19.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on February 19th, 2016

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  1. Illinois ended its long athletic director search when it formally introduced Josh Whitman as its next AD on Thursday morning (the news of his hire first broke on Wednesday). Whitman, 37, has been the athletic director at Division III Washington University in St. Louis since 2014. He also previously served as athletic director at Division III Wisconsin-La Crosse before that. His first full day on the job will be March 21, but that didn’t stop him from writing an immediate letter to Illinois donors.
  2. The “0-14 Game” won’t happen in the Big Ten after all. Many had been hyping up next Tuesday’s Rutgers at Minnesota matchup as a battle between the winless since both teams appeared headed into that game with zeros in the win column. Not anymore, as Minnesota stunned Maryland last night for its first Big Ten win of the season. The Terps were playing without freshman center Diamond Stone, who was suspended for the game after a technical foul on Wisconsin’s Vitto Brown last weekend. The win was the Gophers’ first of any kind since December 13 against Chicago State.
  3. Minnesota also played a man short on Thursday night, and it will do so for the rest of the season. Gophers head coach Richard Pitino announced on Wednesday that guard Carlos Morris had been dismissed from the program for conduct detrimental to the team. That conduct was later identified as a heated exchange between Morris and Pitino last Sunday. The senior was in his second season for Minnesota after transferring over from Chipola College (FL) and was averaging 9.8 PPG, the fourth-best mark on the team.
  4. Purdue point guard P.J. Thompson’s foot issues have persisted for more than a week, and while he has not yet missed any games, his practice routine is also not back to normal. He was in a walking boot for Thursday’s practice even though he still expects to play against Indiana this weekend. Thompson has committed just 11 turnovers in 585 minutes this season, and for a team that has had turnover issues in road games, he will need to be healthy and in the lineup on Saturday at Assembly Hall.
  5. Nebraska‘s Shavon Shields missed his third straight game after suffering a concussion against Rutgers two weeks ago, and the Huskers’ record dropped to 1-2 without their second-leading scorer in the lineup against Indiana. Nebraska misses his production as well as his leadership, as Robin Washunt of Rivals.com notes. Head coach Tim Miles had no update for Shields’ status for Saturday’s game vs. Ohio State, but suffice it to say that he’s needed back in the line up very soon.
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The Big Ten’s Biggest Surprises, Improvements & Disappointments

Posted by Patrick Engel on February 16th, 2016

Iowa is atop the Big Ten after Valentine’s Day, Indiana is (mostly) better defensively and Minnesota still hasn’t won a conference game. Those are typical of the team surprises, improvements and disappointments that appear over the course of every Big Ten season. The same thing happens on an individual level: some players seem to come out of nowhere, others take impressive leaps in production, and still others regress or plateau. With conference play now two-thirds finished, here are some of the biggest surprises, improvements and disappointments among this season’s Big Ten players.

P.J. Thompson's ball-handling has helped give Purdue stability in the backcourt (Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports).

P.J. Thompson’s ball-handling has helped give Purdue stability in the backcourt. (Sandra Dukes/USA TODAY Sports)

Biggest Surprises

  • O.G. Anunoby, F, Indiana: The least-heralded member of Indiana’s freshman class is now a crucial part of its rotation. The Hoosiers found the freshman forward from Jefferson City, Missouri, while scouting another player, but he has been their best defender and owns the second-highest effective field goal percentage (64.8%) on the team (minimum 60 FGAs).
  • Nicholas Baer, G/F, Iowa: An unknown freshman walk-on in November, Baer gives Iowa productive minutes off the bench. He makes 43 percent of his threes and 52 percent of his twos, but is also second on the team with 18 blocks. That versatility means that he can play the three or the four positions.

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Big Ten Seeding Forecast: 02.16.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 16th, 2016

It’s been a little under a month since our previous seeding forecast and that means it’s time for an update. While a lot has happened over the last four weeks, the race for the Big Ten title and NCAA at-large bids have remained relatively even. There are still six Big Ten teams that appear comfortably within the field of 68 while a seventh remains firmly entrenched on the bubble. There’s also a three-way race for the #4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and its accompanying double-bye. The table below shows each school’s updated likelihoods for finishing the regular season at each seed.

big ten seeding 14 feb 2016

Here are three takeaways from the data.

1. Iowa is the strong favorite to capture a regular season title. There was a three-way tie for first place between Iowa, Indiana and Maryland heading into last weekend. In fact, the Terrapins — which owns the tiebreaker over the Hawkeyes — had at the time almost a 50 percent chance of finishing in first place. But after Maryland lost to Wisconsin and Indiana lost to Michigan State, Iowa once again finds itself alone at the top. Along with its one-game lead, Iowa has a comparative advantage with its remaining schedule. The toughest games for the Hawkeyes in the final three weeks will be versus Indiana and at Michigan; Maryland, on the other hand, still has games against Michigan, at Purdue and at Indiana; Indiana must face Purdue and Maryland as well as travel to Iowa. With this kind of advantage in place, Iowa has sole possession of the Big Ten Championship within grasp for the first time in 36 years.
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Big Ten M5: 02.15.16 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 15th, 2016

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  1. Indiana lost badly to Michigan State on Sunday afternoon, going to 6-6 on the season away from Assembly Hall. The Hoosiers are only one game off of the Big Ten lead, but in allowing Michigan State to put up 48 points in the second half and 1.28 points per possession for the game resuscitated old questions about the Hoosiers’ competence on the defensive end of the floor. The game also was notable for the disappearing act pulled by a scoreless Troy Williams. The junior had been the best player on the floor in the team’s earlier win over Iowa, but he needs to play up to his talent level if the Hoosiers want to make a deep run in March.
  2. It wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops for Michigan State in the win over Indiana, though, as redshirt freshman Kenny Goins left the game in the first half with a knee injury. Tom Izzo fears that his post player will be out of action for the season. Goins had been playing well as a reserve big by taking minutes from Marvin Clark, but now it will be up to the sophomore to come in and produce in the same spots. Look for Gavin Schilling to also get more time, as depth is not a problem this year for Michigan State.
  3. Minnesota lost a close game to Iowa on Sunday night to move to 0-13 in Big Ten play, but there were several bright spots that could be taken away from the game. More specifically, the Gophers held the highly-efficient Hawkeyes to 42.1 percent shooting from the field, and the play of sophomore Bakary Konate. Konate led the team with nine rebounds and has shown increasingly frequent flashes of development. This team is clearly building for the future right now, so being able to hang with one of the best teams in the country shows that, despite a lack of victories, things could get better as early as next season with a core that is gaining experience and returning in 2016-17.
  4. Purdue has had a frightening propensity for blowing early leads this season, but its loss in the closing minutes to Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday may have set a new standard for late-game shoddy play. The Wolverines scored the final 11 points of the game after the Boilermakers had led by six with just a few minutes remaining. Purdue got a huge resume win earlier in the week in beating Michigan State, but the Boilermakers need to close strong with some damage in the Big Ten Tournament to move above the projected #4/#5 seed range they’ve been trapped in all the bracket projections.
  5. Things weren’t pretty earlier this season at Wisconsin. Slowly but surely, however, Greg Gard has kept his team’s focus and the Badgers have played their way back into NCAA Tournament contention with an 8-4 conference record. This gives athletic director Barry Alvarez an interesting decision to make with respect to Bo Ryan’s permanent successor. The Badgers have gone 9-4 since Gard took over, and has led some to believe that he should be named the permanent head coach going forward. It’s hard to argue against this notion considering how the team has turned things around and could very well make the NCAA Tournament in what was once appeared to be a lost season.
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Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: 02.13.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 13th, 2016

Finally! After two weekends of mediocre action, Big Ten fans are treated to a packed slate of games with the top six contenders playing against one another or facing teams nipping at their heels. These games will have tremendous implications on the regular season title race, Big Ten tournament seeding and NCAA Tournament at-large bids. So set up camp on that couch this weekend, because there’s plenty of ball to be watched. Here the top Big Ten games of the weekend.

Yogi Ferrell will try and keep his Hoosiers in the Big Ten title race with a win against the Spartans.

Yogi Ferrell will try and keep his Hoosiers in the Big Ten title race with a win against the Spartans.

#18 Purdue at Michigan (Saturday 2:00 PM ET, ESPN2): This is essentially a playoff game to remain in the race for the regular season title — although the winner would still be a considerable long shot. Michigan only has two top 50 KenPom wins this season (Texas and Maryland). Their poor performance against elite competition has typecast the Wolverines as a good-not-great team. If Caris Levert returns to the lineup today, he may provide a spark Michigan needs to get a win over a ranked team and garner some momentum going into the final few weeks of the regular season. The Boilermakers, on the other hand, are not only trying to compete for a Big Ten title but also vying for a protected seed in the NCAA Tournament. This game will be decided by one metric: three-pointers made by Michigan. If the Wolverines don’t get hot from outside the Boilermakers’ front line will simply eat them up. If Purdue can bother the Michigan shooters enough, though, they’ll add another excellent road win on their resume.

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Big Ten M5: 02.12.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on February 12th, 2016

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  1. Purdue announced on Thursday that athletic director Morgan Burke will retire when his contract expires on June 30, 2017. Burke, who has held the job in West Lafayette since 1993, is the longest-tenured athletic director in the Big Ten by 12 years. Michael Berghoff, former football player and current chairman of the Purdue Board of Trustees, will lead the search and gave no timetable for making a hire. The Lafayette (IN) Journal & Courier‘s Nathan Baird put together a list of possible candidates for the job.
  2. In more Purdue news, starting point guard P.J. Thompson has sprained ligaments in his left ankle, causing him to miss practice and wear a walking boot. His status for Saturday’s game at Michigan is unclear, although X-rays came back negative. Thompson said he suffered the injury in the second half of the Boilermakers’ overtime win versus Michigan State on Tuesday. The Indianapolis native is on pace to shatter Purdue’s record for assist-to-turnover ratio: The sophomore has 71 assists against 11 turnovers this season.
  3. The James Naismith Trophy released its midseason list for its men’s college basketball Player of the Year award. The list of 35 names includes five Big Ten players: Purdue center A.J. Hammons, Michigan State guard Denzel Valentine, Iowa forward Jarrod Uthoff, Maryland point guard Melo Trimble and Indiana point guard Yogi Ferrell. Trimble, a sophomore, is the only non-senior of the five Big Ten candidates.
  4. Rutgers is in the middle of a 23-game Big Ten losing streak and head coach Eddie Jordan is displeased with the fan base’s impatience. Responding to a question about their disappointment, Jordan’s frustration showed as he defended Rutgers’ direction, saying, “They just have to be more educated in what the real deal is. If they understand what this conference is about, what type of players and teams we’re going up against with injuries and being a young team. If they don’t understand that, I don’t need to read what the reaction is.” Rutgers’ average home game attendance of 4,483 is easily the worst in the Big Ten.
  5. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Wisconsin has won six straight games since a 1-4 start to Big Ten play. Forward Nigel Hayes is tied for fourth in the conference in scoring with 17.3 PPG and has scored at least 20 points in four of the six wins. But Hayes isn’t doing all the work. Junior forward/center Vitto Brown’s newfound consistency has given the Badgers a big lift too. He scored a career-high 18 points in Wednesday’s win over Nebraska and made all three of his three-point attempts. Brown is averaging 14.0 points and 3.5 rebounds per game in Wisconsin’s last four contests. He has made six three-pointers in that stretch after making only eight in the first 20 games of the season.
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Who Is Michigan? Inside The Inconsistent Wolverines

Posted by Patrick Engel on February 10th, 2016

Michigan entered last week’s games against Indiana and Michigan State with confidence. The Wolverines were 7-2 in Big Ten play and winners of four straight. Six of those conference wins had come without All-Big Ten guard Caris LeVert. A week later, two blowout losses on its home floor leave Michigan with a lot of questions at a pivotal point in its season. Thought to be a sneaky Big Ten title contender and a near-lock for the NCAA tournament just a over a week ago, Michigan now sits in fourth place in the Big Ten standings. The Wolverines schedule doesn’t ease up, either; after a Wednesday road game at Minnesota, Michigan hosts Purdue before traveling to Ohio State and Maryland.

Michigan coach John Beilein and his team are searching for answers after blowout home losses to Indiana and Michigan State. (Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)

Michigan coach John Beilein and his team are searching for answers after blowout home losses to Indiana and Michigan State. (Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)

John Beilein’s offense is designed around the three-pointer. During most of his tenure in Ann Arbor, Michigan has possessed the shooters to make a high percentage of three-point attempts. This year is no exception: the team shoots 40.3 percent on three-pointers and has four players who shoot at least 45 percent from long-range. But the Wolverines have made only 24 of 87 (28%) three-point attempts over their last three games. Duncan Robinson, who has made 48 percent of his three-point attempts on the season, has made just 29.7 percent (14-47) in his last six games. In the Michigan State loss, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman had three wide-open looks from three-point range and missed them all. Michigan can beat Penn State and Minnesota without hitting a lot of its threes, but against Michigan State and the rest of the Big Ten’s best, they absolutely need those shots to fall.

Teams and players go through shooting slumps, but Michigan’s offensive struggles don’t feel like just another slump. Part of Michigan’s ability to make threes derives from its ability to find clean looks beyond the arc. Beilein’s offense involves a lot of ball movement and demands time to create such shots. In its two losses last week, Michigan didn’t move the ball well at all, assisting on only 40 percent of made field goals – a clip well under its 57 percent season average. The decline in assists per field goal made and the larger shooting struggles may be partially a product of an offense where the ball-handler is the only player moving. The result of the stagnation, at least of late, has been more predictable, easier-to-guard three-point attempts. Without LeVert, Michigan simply doesn’t have enough players who will consistently win in iso situations to make up for the lack of ball movement. It also doesn’t have a big man capable of producing offense with their back to the basket. Post-ups have never been a big component of Beilein’s offense, but they are a good weapon for offenses struggling to space the floor and find open shots. The lack of execution has created long scoring droughts, too: Indiana, for instance, ended the first half on a nine-minute, 25-0 run against the Wolverines.

Defensively, Michigan hasn’t been good either. Indiana and Michigan State averaged 1.16 and 1.29 points per possession in scoring 80 and 89 points against the Wolverines, respectively. The 70 and 73 points the Wolverines have scored in the two losses are also misleading, as Michigan struggled to score until each game’s final, meaningless minutes. Still, even after last week, Michigan is very much in the thick of the NCAA tournament discussion. Better yet for Wolverine fans, it’s clear that this team has the talent to start winning again, especially with LeVert’s impending return. But if the stagnant offense persists, Michigan could find itself spending another March at home.

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The RTC Podcast: Ups and Downs Edition

Posted by rtmsf on February 5th, 2016

It might be Super Bowl week to everyone else, but to those of us around here it’s the beginning of the home stretch of the college basketball season. In this week’s RTC Podcast, hosted by Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114), the guys talk extensively about a few teams with their share of both supporters and detractors — Indiana, Louisville, and Texas A&M — as well as take a deep dive into last weekend’s Big 12/SEC Challenge and how the ACC is stacking up this season. The full rundown is below, and make sure to subscribe to the pod on iTunes so that you’ll have it as soon as it releases each week.

  • 0:00-7:25 – What to make of Texas A&M
  • 7:25-17:52 – Big 12/SEC Challenge review
  • 17:52-20:43 – Louisville’s ups and downs
  • 20:43-25:27 – ACC Power Rankings
  • 25:27-32:22 – Best Matchups of the season
  • 32:22-37:20 – Indiana’s Hot Streak
  • 37:20-48:45 – Weekend Preview
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