Ten Offseason Storylines From the Big Ten

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 15th, 2014

We’re about a month away from Big Ten basketball once again being a part of our lives. Things at the B1G microsite have been quiet since then, but that doesn’t mean nothing has happened since last April. So here’s a quick refresher to get everybody back up to speed since we last saw Wisconsin lose a heart-breaker to Kentucky in the Final Four. These 10 offseason storylines are in no particular order, but they will impact what will happen this season.

Frank Kaminsky came back to school for his senior season to lead a veteran Wisconsin team with a chance to go back to the  Final Four. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Frank Kaminsky came back to school for his senior season to lead a veteran Wisconsin team with a chance to go back to the
Final Four. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker Returned to School: Postseason souting reports had Kaminsky going everywhere from #15 to #45 in the NBA Draft, even after a regular season where he led the Badgers in scoring and contributed NCAA Tournament averages of 16.4 PPG and 5.8 RPG on 55 percent shooting from the field. Dekker probably could have pursued NBA riches as well, but they both came back to Madison, making the Badgers — with two other returning starters in Josh Gasser and Traveon Jackson — an almost unanimous conference favorite.
  • Gary Harris and a Quartet of Michigan Players Didn’t: Things aren’t quite as rosy in East Lansing or Ann Arbor as far as preseason outlooks go. That’s because to the surprise of almost no one Gary Harris departed for the NBA after his sophomore year. This means that the Spartans will be without three of their four double-figure scorers from last season’s Elite Eight team. Meanwhile, Michigan is rebuilding things from scratch after the early NBA departures of sophomores Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, and Mitch McGary. None of the trio was ever a sure thing to jump to the pros, but things got especially wonky when it was learned that McGary would be suspended for the entire 2014-15 season due to a positive drug test during the NCAA tournament. Another Michigan gut punch was the transfer of Jon Horford to Florida, leaving the Wolverines with almost no experience on the front line heading into this season.

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Morning Five: 05.02.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on May 2nd, 2014

morning5

  1. Just when you thought that the coaching carousel was done, Mike D’Antoni announced that he was resigning as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night. Although there are reports that the Lakers are interviewing Tom Thibodeau there are other reports that they have expressed interest in both John Calipari and Kevin Ollie. While we have not heard anything to suggest that either is actively looking for this job (Calipari actually tweeted that he was committed to his Kentucky team) it would not be shocking if a college coach (even a Hall of Famer) jumped at this job if offered. You may remember that Mike Krzyzewski seriously considered the Lakers offer back in 2004. Obviously, the Lakers were in much better position then than they are now, but it is still one of the most prominent positions in sports so it would be hard for some to turn down.
  2. Naadir Tharpe may never have been the type of point guard that Kansas needed to put itself over the top and win a national title, but his departure for Kansas will leave a void in their backcourt that they will need to fill. Tharpe’s time in Lawrence was marked by inconsistent play and culminated in a very-NSFW tweet, but his stated reason for leaving is to be closer to his daughter who he says has been dealing with medical issues that requires her to have regular office visits. Tharpe will likely be headed to somewhere close to Massachusetts and his departure should mean that the starting job should be Frank Mason’s to lose and it does theoretically increase the likelihood that they land Devonte Graham.
  3. The schedule for this year’s Big Ten- ACC Challenge was released yesterday. The marquee game is clearly Duke at Wisconsin in what should be a matchup of top five teams. Outside of that there are a handful of interesting games–Syracuse at MichiganOhio State at Louisville, and Iowa at North Carolina–but the overall quality might be down because the ACC is so much better at the top of the conference. This will probably correct itself in a few years and the Big Ten might even win the event this year because of their depth, but in our eyes the main appeal of this event in its ability to pair up top teams in non-conference matchups that we might otherwise not see.
  4. Washington transfer Desmond Simmons announced that he was transferring to Saint Mary’s yesterday. Simmons averaged 5.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game this season after coming back from a knee injury, which forced him to miss the first ten games of this past season. Simmons is set to graduate so he will be able to play for Saint Mary’s next season, which will be a sort of homecoming for him as he grew up about 30 miles away from the school. Although Simmons headed to Washington after high school he reports having had a good relationship with Randy Bennett during his initial recruitment and actually had the Gaels in his final three coming out of high school.
  5. Former North Carolina State guard Tyler Lewis has found a new home at Butler. The sophomore point guard averaged 4.4 points and 3.8 assists per game this past season and his move into the starting lineup late in the season was cited as one of the reasons that NC State made the NCAA Tournament. However, Lewis never lived up to his McDonald’s All-American pedigree and with Trevor Lacey coming in we are sure that Lewis could see the writing on the wall. At Butler, Lewis will have to help rebuild a program that fell off hard with Brad Stevens’ departure, which was compounded by a loss of a lot of talent. In the end, this will probably be a better situation for Lewis in terms of playing time and level of his opposition.
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Big Ten Season Grades: Ohio State, Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on April 18th, 2014

Continuing our season-ending analysis, we look at the performances of Ohio State, Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois. Earlier this week, we handed out grades for Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue.

Ohio State

Grade: C-

This season (25-10, 10-8): What would be a successful season for most programs was a relative disappointment for the Buckeyes. Ohio State did not capture a Big Ten regular season or tournament title for the first time since 2008-09, and similar to that season, they were also bounced out of the NCAA Tournament in their first game. The issue for the Buckeyes – which was a clear problem area in the preseason – was generating offense without Deshaun Thomas in the lineup. Thomas’ replacement, LaQuinton Ross, almost doubled his scoring average, but the Buckeyes failed to find reliable offensive firepower anywhere else. In the end, Aaron Craft and Ohio State’s excellent showing on defense wasn’t enough to overcome the team’s offensive woes.

Thad Matta had a let-down of a season relative to his own success. Don't expect it to continue next season. (Gettyl)

Thad Matta had a let-down of a season relative to his own success. Don’t expect it to continue next season. (Getty)

Next season: The Buckeyes lose Craft, Amedeo Della Valle, Ross, and Lenzelle Smith Jr. They welcome in an elite recruiting class that includes D’Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop, and Jae’Sean Tate; and they also will get graduate transfer Anthony Lee from Temple next year. These additions along with several talented players already on their roster should have no one worrying about the state of the program going forward. This season was merely a hiccup in the Thad Matta era.

Iowa: C

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Big Ten M5: 03.27.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on March 27th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Wisconsin is certainly used to the Sweet Sixteen and plenty of success under Bo Ryan. Part of the reason for that is how Ryan instills the “method of deception” into his players from the moment they arrive on campus. For a team that is often talked about as athletically outmatched, the idea of Ryan preaching the use of ball fakes and shot fakes during every practice makes sense. This could be important in creating opportunities against Baylor’s zone tonight. The Badgers may also use these fakes to get Isaiah Austin into the air and create foul trouble for the athletic big man. If Wisconsin can remove Austin from the center of that zone, their chances of finding open shots everywhere on the floor improves substantially.
  2. Nik Stauskas certainly was one of the biggest surprises this season in the Big Ten. After he was named first team All-America by the National Association of Basketball Coaches this week, you can add that he is one of the nation’s biggest surprises as well. Stauskas was certainly a good player as a freshman last season but expecting him to be one of the five best players in America this year was on nobody’s radar. With this award, he has put himself in elite company at Michigan, becoming just the 13th Wolverine to be named to at least one All-America team in program history. Now the question is whether he, like last year’s Michigan All-American Trey Burke, can lead his team to a Final Four?
  3. Michigan State has played plenty of big games in almost all the major venues across the country. Tom Izzo has taken the Spartans around the world and even played a game on an aircraft carrier. For all of this talent and history of success, the one place that Izzo’s Spartans have struggled is exactly where they are headed this weekend: Madison Square Garden. When Michigan State takes on Virginia in New York City Friday night, it does so with a 2-10 all-time record there (2-6 under Izzo). Sparty hasn’t won at MSG since 2006 and already lost there once this year to Georgetown. While it is obviously foolish to think the arena itself is causing losses, it is an interesting trend to think about. Izzo says he isn’t superstitious but if the losses keep piling up at MSG maybe he will avoid the arena the best he can in the future.
  4. With three Big Ten teams left in the NCAA Tournament it is easy to forget that Minnesota is still playing basketball as well. The Golden Gophers are headed to New York next Tuesday night where they will take on Florida State in the NIT semifinals, thanks in large part to a massive game from Austin Hollins. For a team playing in the NIT rather than the NCAAs, they are still plenty focused on the games ahead and getting to 25 wins this season. While there is no guaranteed correlation between NIT success and the next season, Richard Pitino’s Gophers are playing well and could easily take home some postseason hardware by the end of the season.
  5. It is easy to forget that Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan has never reached the final weekend in college basketball despite everything he has accomplished while at Wisconsin. Having never reached the Final Four gives him the dubious honor of being named the Athlon Sports Top Coach Without a Final Four Appearance. He wasn’t the lone representative from the conference, either. Iowa’s Fran McCaffery came in 11th, Purdue’s Matt Painter at 14th and even Nebraska’s Tim Miles cracked the top 20 at #17. This is certainly not a list any coach wants to reside on and Ryan has a great opportunity to leave it in his wake this weekend.
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Morning Five: 03.20.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 20th, 2014

morning5

  1. In a twist on his usual Power Rankings, Luke Winn decided to rank the eight most likely bracketbusters. Winn’s criteria were that a team had to be an 11 seed or higher with only two could be from power conferences and two had to be seeded between 13 and 16. His top two picks are Tennessee and Iowa, which should not be too surprising although Iowa was already eliminated last night after losing to Tennessee in the play-in game last night. We are not sure how much the first round opponent factored into it. The top six teams in these rankings are all teams that we considered as legitimate threats of advancing when we made up our bracket earlier this week.
  2. As great as the TV highlights of magical March moments are we sometimes forget how great the writing about it can be. One example of that is SI’s longform piece on the 1989 Georgetown-Princeton game. For those who do not remember the game or were not aware of its significance it was one of the most memorable games in NCAA Tournament history. The recent piece does contain a bit of hyperbole, but does an excellent job recounting many of the more important details. If you are looking for a great account out of that game from the scene, check out Alexander Wolff’s column on it from the March 27, 1989 issue of Sports Illustrated.
  3. Jeff Eisenberg has a great article on Bill Frieder, who announced just before the 1989 NCAA Tournament that he would be leaving Michigan for Arizona State after the season. Rather than wait for the season to end, Michigan athletic director Bo Schembechler fired Frieder immediately and replaced him with Steve Fischer, who went on to lead the Wolverines to the national title. Can you imagine the circus there would be today if something similar happened?
  4. There has been a lot of talk about fans rushing the court recently, but we had not heard of anybody infiltrating the court. That is until we heard about a Virginia fan, who worked his way into the Cavalier bench and became part of their celebration the ACC Tournament title game (more detailed version here). On the surface this is certainly an amusing story, but we are guessing that the officials at Virginia and the ACC find it much less so. We would guess that security will be tighter at future ACC Tournaments.
  5. Everybody is focused on the NCAA Tournament, but Oregon picked up a significant piece for next season when JaQuan Lyle announced that he was committing to play at Oregon next season. With Lyle committed, Myles Turner is the only significant recruit who has yet to commit (Turner is #2 in ESPN’s rankings and the only other uncommitted player in the top 100 is ranked 99th overall). As Jeff Borzello notes, Lyle’s recruitment has been complicated (involving him backing out of a commitment to Louisville) and there are still some academic questions that need to be answered, but Lyle should fit in well at Oregon.
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Rushed Reactions: #11 Tennessee 78, #11 Iowa 65

Posted by Chris Nguon on March 19th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion, @RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways in Tennessee’s First Four win.

Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin speaks with #52 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the first round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Iowa Hawkeyes at UD Arena on March 19, 2014 in Dayton, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin speaks with Jordan McRae during the Vols’ seesaw victory over Iowa State. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

  1. Per the norm, the numbers are usually right. Going into Wednesday’s contest, virtually all advanced metrics revealed that these two teams were evenly matched and that certainly played out on the court. When one team looked as if it was going to pull away, the other team found a way to gather itself and stave off absorbing of the knock-out blow. Tennessee’s performance was absolutely gritty to the fullest effect and I am sure Cuonzo Martin is very proud of his guys. The Volunteers trailed (albeit only by a small margin) for the majority of the second half but Martin’s squad simply refused to take “no” for an answer. Tennessee was down by as much as five points in the second half but finally took the lead with 3:12 left when Antonio Barton nailed a trey. Two minutes later, the Vols re-took the lead with a bucket from Jeronne Maymon. And even though Roy Devyn Marble put the crowd in a tizzy with his game-tying jumper with 18 seconds left, the Volunteers stayed poised and controlled the entire five minutes of overtime to earn a very impressive victory.
  2. Marble’s teammates picked him up big-time, but it wasn’t enough. With the season on the line and their star standout struggling from the field, the other Hawkeyes didn’t sulk or tighten up like many teams have been known to do. Instead, players like Adam Woodbury, Peter Jok and Zach McCabe picked up the slack in the grandest of styles – keeping Iowa afloat with an array of gutty plays down the stretch until their senior leader finally found the bottom of the net. For all the hair-pulling that Iowa fans experienced this season, watching Marble’s definitive answer after the Volunteers took a two-point lead with 3:12 left must have been a sight to see. For good measure, Marble added a handful of other big plays in the final two minutes – none bigger than his jumper with 18 seconds remaining to tie the game. However, if Marble had shot better than 3-of-15 from the field (0-of-6 from three), I think even he would admit that his Iowa team wouldn’t have found itself anywhere near overtime. Read the rest of this entry »
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The Blueprints: How Each Big Ten Team Can Advance Past Its First Opponent

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 19th, 2014

The Big Ten is largely known as one of the best, if not the best, basketball conferences in all of the land. This hasn’t necessarily equated to great success in the postseason, however. In fact, it’s been 14 long years since one of the league members has cut down the nets on the first Monday night in April (Michigan State – 2000). The first key to winning it all, obviously, is to win your first game. As we head into the league’s six openers over the next two days, here is what each Big Ten team needs to accomplish in order to get into the next round.

Aaron Craft must create turnovers for Ohio State to beat Dayton. (Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire)

Aaron Craft must create turnovers for Ohio State to beat Dayton. (Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire)

  • Ohio State must create turnovers to beat Dayton: This holds true for almost every game that the Buckeyes play, but it’s especially important here because Dayton plays a slower pace and they turn the ball over 18.1% of the time. Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott, Lenzelle Smith Jr. and the rest of the rangy, athletic Buckeyes need to realize that their best offense here is their defense. If they get some live-ball turnovers that will allow them to get out and run, they’ll have Dayton right where they want them.
  • Michigan State must stop the triple threat to beat Delaware: Delaware has three legitimate offensive weapons in Jarvis Threatt, Devon Saddler, and Davon Usher. All three average at least 18.0 PPG for a team that plays at the 10th fastest tempo in the country. Michigan State has their own big three, however, in Adreian Payne, Gary Harris, and Keith Appling. If the Spartans’ trio can outscore the group of Blue Hens, with Branden Dawson locking down the 6’6″ Usher in the process, Sparty should move on. Read the rest of this entry »
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NCAA Game Analysis: First Four – Wednesday Night

Posted by Walker Carey on March 19th, 2014

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The First Round/Opening Round/Play-In Games/Mild Annoyance of the NCAA Tournament continues tonight, getting under way at 6:40 PM tonight on truTV (go ahead, try to remember where that channel is again). From 68 to 16 in the next six days… let’s analyze the next two games this evening.

#16 Cal Poly vs. #16 Texas Southern — Midwest Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) — 6:40 pm ET on truTV.

Losing Record, No Problem: Cal Poly is Dancing

Losing Record, No Problem: Cal Poly is Dancing

Battling for the right to face one-seed Wichita State in St. Louis on Friday are Big West Tournament champion, Cal Poly, and SWAC Tournament champion, Texas Southern. Cal Poly enters Wednesday evening’s action with an uninspiring 13-19 record, but it should be noted that five of those 19 setbacks came on the road against fellow NCAA Tournament teams (at Arizona, at Oregon, at Pittsburgh, at Stanford, and at Delaware). The team caught fire in the Big West Tournament and won three games in three days to punch its ticket to the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament. The Mustangs are led by senior forward Chris Eversley, who averages a team-best 13.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. While the Mustangs are 327th in the country in scoring average, their defense is fairly stout, as the opposition only averages 63.4 points per contest – good for 36th nationally. Texas Southern is nearly the polar opposite of Cal Poly, as it has scored well all season but has failed to defend with any regularity. The well-traveled Aaric Murray (formerly of La Salle and West Virginia) leads the way for the similarly well-traveled Mike Davis (formerly of Indiana and UAB) and the Tigers. Murray averages 21.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game and will create a significant match-up problem for the Mustangs on the interior. Look for Murray to lead the way for Texas Southern, as it will advance to battle #1 seed Wichita State on Friday.

The RTC Certified Pick: Texas Southern

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Evaluating Big Ten Teams in the Midwest Region

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 18th, 2014

When the field of 68 was revealed to the masses on Sunday night, the Midwest region was the one that got the most attention. It was called the “Group of Death” on a number of occasions by different media members — borrowing from soccer terminology, and used to describe what normally is the hardest group in the World Cup. The Big Ten has two of the 18 spots in this grouping, with Michigan earning a #2 seed and Iowa getting a #11 seed. Iowa’s late-season swoon caused the Hawkeyes to drop to the “opening” round, where they’ll take on a surging Tennessee team from the SEC on Wednesday night. Here’s an outline of what the Wolverines and the Hawkeyes are up against this week as they try to navigate their way to North Texas.

 John Beilein and Michigan will have their work cut out for them if they were to make it to their second straight Final Four.(Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)


John Beilein and Michigan will have their work cut out for them if they were to make it to their second straight Final Four.(Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)

Michigan has an easier road than Iowa, but the Wolverines will still have to navigate through a treacherous path to get back to the championship game. They start out with SoCon conference champion Wofford on Thursday evening. The Terriers hold opponents to 32.5 percent shooting from the three-point line, so if Michigan were to become only the fourth #2 seed to go down in the first round since 2002, it would probably because they simply couldn’t hit any outside shots. The next round will give them a different set of challenges in a game against either Arizona State or Texas. The Sun Devils have the necessary perimeter athletes to counter the strength of Michigan’s trio of wing superstars, with an elite scoring point guard (Jahii Carson) backed up by a 7’2″ shot-blocking maestro in Jordan Bachynski. Texas offers a different set of challenges with its rugged inside play offering a marked contrast to the free-flowing motion of Michigan’s offense. Should Michigan make it to the Sweet Sixteen, that’s when things really could get insane. If the bracket holds, the Wolverines will get a rematch with Duke that would allow Nik Stauskas a chance at redemption from his previous four-point performance in Durham. An Elite Eight appearance could net a national title game rematch with Louisville, a chance to take down an undefeated Wichita State team, or even a battle with a Kentucky team that could very well break the Internet should the Wildcats make it that far. Prediction: Elite Eight loss to Louisville.

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RTC Bracketology: March 14 Edition

Posted by Daniel Evans (@bracketexpert) on March 14th, 2014

Daniel Evans (@bracketexpert) is Rush the Court’s resident bracketologist. He will update his brackets at least twice a week through the rest of the regular season here at RTC, but his updated brackets can be viewed daily at Bracketology Expert. As we approach March Madness, he’ll also provide occasional blind resumes. Evans has been ranked by the Bracket Matrix as the nation’s 11th-best bracketologist out of hundreds of entries.

Here’s what changed on Thursday:

  • After big wins Thursday, I have moved both Colorado and Stanford into lock status.  That brings us to 37 total locks, meaning we are running out of spots for bubble teams in a hurry.
  • Iowa better be glad it doesn’t have another game to play. Another bad loss to a team like Northwestern and I think the Hawkeyes might have been sitting out this dance. Instead, Iowa is likely to be a #10 or #11 seed on Selection Sunday.
  • Wisconsin is back on the No. 1 line after Villanova’s loss Thursday. The Badgers will likely only stay there if they win the Big Ten Tournament, though.

The NCAA Tournament Picture (full bracket after the jump)

  • NCAA Tournament Locks (37): Arizona, Florida, Syracuse, Wisconsin, Kansas, Duke, Villanova, Virginia, Creighton, Michigan, San Diego State, Iowa State, Michigan State, Louisville, North Carolina, Saint Louis, Cincinnati, UCLA, Texas, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Kansas State, Vcu, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Iowa, Ohio State, George Washington, Memphis, Arizona State, New Mexico, Oregon, Baylor, SMU, Oklahoma State, Colorado, Stanford
  • Clinched NCAA Tournament Auto-Bids (13): Harvard (Ivy), Eastern Kentucky (OVC), Wichita State (MVC), Mercer (ASUN), Coastal Carolina (Big South), Manhattan (MAAC), Wofford (SOCON), Milwaukee (Horizon), Mount St. Mary’s (NEC), North Dakota State (Summit), Gonzaga (WCC), Delaware (CAA), American (Patriot)

Bracket Math

How many spots are still available for bubble teams hoping to win their way into the NCAA Tournament? Let’s break it down with a little bit of simple math.

I have 37 locks above, but when you consider nine conferences figure to have at least three bids or more (American, ACC, A-10, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Mountain West, Pac-12, SEC) it’s fair to assume that in MOST — if not all — of those leagues, the automatic bid will also come from an already “locked in” team. Therefore, we subtract nine from 37, which leaves us with 28 “true locks”. Add in the 32 automatic bids awarded to teams that win their conference tournament (which is where the nine conference champs we discounted a second ago will end up) and you’ve got a total of 60 locks. 

Since 68 teams make the NCAA Tournament, that leaves us with 8 spots remaining for bubble teams. Now, let’s take a look at the bubble:

Projected Bubble Spots Left: 8

  • Probably In (3): Nebraska, Saint Joseph’s, Dayton
  • Bubble In (5):  Xavier, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Tennessee, BYU
  • Bubble Out: Arkansas,  Providence, California, Green Bay, Florida State, St. John’s, Belmont, Missouri

Potential Bid Thieves Left: 20

  • American (1): Houston
  • ACC (3): N. C. State, Florida State, Georgia Tech
  • A-10 (4): Dayton, St. Joseph’s, Richmond, St. Bonaventure
  • Big East (3): Xavier, Seton Hall, Providence
  • Big Ten (3): Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern
  • Mountain West (2): UNLV, Boise State
  • SEC (6): Georgia, Tennessee, Missouri, LSU, Ole Miss,  South Carolina

The Projected NCAA Tournament Field (March 14, 2014 at 10:39 AM CT)

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Big Ten Tournament: Iowa’s Freefall Continues

Posted by Walker Carey on March 14th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday evening’s Big Ten Tournament action between Northwestern and Iowa in Indianapolis. 

On February 15, Iowa earned a 12-point victory at Penn State to get to 19-6 overall and 8-4 in the Big Ten standings. It was around that time that the prevailing opinion became that the Big Ten was going to come down to a three-team race between Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes, Michigan, and Michigan State. Sure, Iowa’s defense had given up a lot of points all season, but Hawkeyes guard Devyn Marble and forward Aaron White had emerged as one of the best scoring duos in the country. The Hawkeyes also had rightfully earned a reputation as one of the deepest teams in the country, as they were playing 10 or 11 players every night and experiencing a great deal of success with that robust rotation.

It Was That Kind of Night for Iowa. Again. (AP)

It Was That Kind of Night for Iowa. Again. (AP)

Fast forward nearly a month and Iowa’s current position represents a nearly complete reversal of fortunes. The Hawkeyes closed out their regular season Big Ten slate by dropping five of six. They went from a ranking of #15 in the AP poll to receiving just four votes in the final regular season poll. An already shaky defense became an even more significant problem, as in those five losses, the opposition averaged 83.8 points per game. Losses at Minnesota and at Indiana highlighted just how poorly the Hawkeyes were playing on the defensive end of the court, as they allowed Minnesota to score 95 points and shoot 61.2 percent from the field, and Indiana to score 93 points and shoot 51.7 percent from the field.

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Big Ten Tournament X-Factors for Round One

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 13th, 2014

Without going into full-fledged preview mode for all four games set to tip off on Thursday in Indianapolis, here are some under-the-radar players to keep an eye on in round one. Some are more obscure than others, but all the players I’m highlighting were not named to any of the All-Conference teams on Monday. They all have a specific skill set, however, that can be used to exploit a weak spot on the team they are playing against in the first round.

Tracy Abrams' ability to get steals will go a long way toward determining if Illinois can beat Indiana on Thursday. (Stephen Haas, Lee News Service)

Tracy Abrams’ ability to get steals will go a long way toward determining if Illinois can beat Indiana on Thursday. (Stephen Haas/Lee News Service)

Illinois: Tracy Abrams — Indiana turns the ball over 21.7% of the time, and Abrams averages 1.2 pilfers a game. Abrams had 5 steals in the two teams previous games, and if he can be the defensive catalyst that leads to 23 Indiana turnovers — like what happened on December 31 when the Illini beat the Hoosiers in overtime — Illinois will move on to the second round.

Indiana: Devin Davis The Illini are only mediocre at getting their own misses (165th nationally), and Davis has been productive with increased minutes recently. He’s gotten 20 MPG in his last two games, and has a robust 21.6% defensive rebound rate in limited minutes for the season. That would be good for 6th in the conference had he played enough minutes to qualify, and if Crean gives him the playing time in this game, he’ll prevent Illinois from getting any second chance buckets. Read the rest of this entry »

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