Big Ten M5: New Year’s Day Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on January 1st, 2016

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  1. With Alex Olah out indefinitely, Joey van Zegren started at center for Northwestern in its Wednesday Big Ten opener at Nebraska. But freshman Dererk Pardon stole the show in his college debut, with 28 points and 12 rebounds off the bench. Originally slated to redshirt this year, Chris Collins burned Pardon’s redshirt as a result of Olah’s injury. The Cleveland, Ohio, native made a case that he, not van Zegren, should carry the load at center while Olah is out.
  2. Illinois signed wing Kipper Nichols in November as part of its 2016 recruiting class, and the former Tulane signee officially joined and started practicing with the Fighting Illini earlier this week. Nichols, an Ohio native, enrolled and briefly attended class at Tulane this fall. He did not play a game, but he will still likely have to wait until December 2016 to play and will have three and a half years of eligibility left. In addition to Tulane, Nichols held offers from Northwestern, Maryland, Nebraska, Xavier and Butler out of high school. Scout.com originally rated him a three-star prospect in the 2015 class.
  3. Rutgers forward Deshawn Freeman hasn’t played since Nov. 30 because of a knee injury, and was scheduled to be re-evaluated around the start of Big Ten play. Now, he won’t be re-evaluated until the second week of January, keeping him out for at least the first three of Rutgers’ conference games. The junior was averaging 13.1 points per game before his injury.
  4. Indiana guard James Blackmon Jr. missed Wednesday’s 79-72 win over Rutgers with a right knee injury suffered in Monday’s practice. Head coach Tom Crean said it was a non-contact injury suffered during a drill, and is still in the “evaluation stage.” Right now, it’s unclear how serious the injury is or how much time he will miss. The sophomore was averaging 15.8 points per game prior to sustaining the injury.
  5. Illinois is down yet another player after point guard Khalid Lewis missed Wednesday’s loss to Michigan with the mumps, leaving Jaylon Tate as the Illini’s only healthy true point guard. Lewis was kept away from the team with the contagious disease and won’t practice again until healthy. Tate played a career-high 34 minutes in the 78-68 loss, scoring six points and handing out four assists. Illinois’ next game is Sunday at Ohio State.
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Indiana Uses Different Approach to Pick Up Quality Win

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 20th, 2015

Things were looking bleak for Indiana at the Crossroads Classic, similar to how they looked in the Hoosiers’ three previous losses this season. Sloppy and ill-timed turnovers coupled with uninterested, passive defense had put the Hoosiers in a 56-40 hole with 15:11 left on Saturday against Notre Dame. But then something strange happened. Tom Crean’s squad held the Fighting Irish to 8-of-26 shooting for the rest of the contest, using contributions from throughout its roster to pull off an impressive 80-73 comeback win. A loss in Indianapolis — its fourth against a top-100 opponent this season — would have been catastrophic, but instead the Hoosiers found a new and different approach to earn the victory. Balanced scoring, crashing the boards, and — believe it or not — solid defense carried the day, showing that it’s far to early to give up on the Hoosiers making a deep run in March.

Indiana's Comeback Win Was Cause for Celebration in Indy (USA Today Images)

Indiana’s Comeback Win Was Cause for Celebration in Indy (USA Today Images)

One of the most important things to come from yesterday’s win was that Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. only combined for 19 of Indiana’s 80 points. All nine members of the rotation played at least seven minutes, and four players scored in double-figures. Robert Johnson, Collin Hartman, and Thomas Bryant all had their moments on the offensive end, scoring several key buckets in crunch time. Meanwhile, Troy Williams got to the rim at will. This type of offensive balance is important for the role players’ confidence as Big Ten play approaches. A nine-man rotation where each player is capable of making a difference is a great deal more formidable than an attack consisting primarily of Ferrell and Blackmon taking a high volume of shots.

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-Big Ten Second Team

Posted by Patrick Engel on November 12th, 2015

It’s the eve of the start of the college basketball season and we’re well into our preseason awards lists. We’ve already released our third team all-conference selections and our projected league standings (#14-#8 and #7-#1), so now it’s time to unveil our All-Big Ten second team. Here are the next five best players in the league, as voted on by our three-man staff.

A healthy Caris LeVert is poised for a big senior season (Gregory Shamus, Getty).

A healthy Caris LeVert is poised for a big senior season (Gregory Shamus, Getty).

  • Bronson Koenig (JR, Guard, Wisconsin). Koenig stepped into the starting point guard spot for the Badgers last January after Traeveon Jackson suffered an untimely foot injury. The sophomore started the remaining 24 games, averaging 11.5 points per contest and producing an offensive rating (120.7), turnover percentage (11.3%) and three-point percentage (40.5%) that were all better than those of Jackson. As a junior, Koenig is primed for an even bigger year in his first full season as the starting point guard.
  • Caris LeVert (SR, Guard, Michigan). LeVert led the Wolverines in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks through 18 games last year before suffering a season-ending foot injury. Michigan struggled to keep its head above water when he was healthy (11-7), but the team plummeted after his injury (5-9). Much like last season, the Wolverines have a deep and talented backcourt but an unproven and young frontcourt. John Beilein’s club should be better with Derrick Walton Jr. healthy and an improved Zak Irvin in the lineup, but LeVert will once again be this team’s leader. He can score many different ways and his length makes him a sturdy perimeter defender.

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RTC Big Ten Preview: The Top Tier (#7 – #1)

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 11th, 2015

We continue our Big Ten microsite predictions and superlatives with the second half of our preseason standings. We presented our preseason standings with teams #14 – #8 on the microsite yesterday; today, we unveil the top half. These are the teams that we as a group believe will finish near or atop the league when all the dust settles and will result in the likely conference representatives in the NCAA Tournament.  Enjoy!

It's Jarrod Uthoff's turn to lead the Hawkeyes to another NCAA Tournament.

It’s Jarrod Uthoff’s turn to lead the Hawkeyes to another NCAA Tournament.

  • 7. Iowa: With Aaron White now graduated, all eyes turn to senior Jarrod Uthoff to take the baton and lead the Hawkeyes to a third consecutive NCAA Tournament— something this program hasn’t accomplished since the early 1990s. With players like Adam Woodbury, Peter Jok and an experienced backcourt to work with, Uthoff will have a supporting cast with enough talent to get it done.
  • 6. Michigan: The Wolverines are a talent-laden team with a number of players similar to Caris LeVert who fit perfectly into John Beilein’s prolific three-point offense. Both he and Derrick Walton were sidelined with injuries for the majority of last season, which gave the rest of the young roster experience to draw from this year. Now fully healthy, Michigan is set up for a comeback campaign pushing toward the top of the Big Ten.

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Defense is the Only Thing Holding Indiana Back

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 6th, 2015

There’s not many programs out there that will be more interesting to follow this season than Indiana. For starters, Hoosiers’ head coach Tom Crean is on the hot seat. Given his team’s lofty preseason ranking (#15 in AP preseason poll) and icy relationship with a sizable portion of the Indiana fan base, the 49-year old head coach could find himself in the unemployment line in April if he fails to lead his team to an NCAA Tournament run this year. Luckily for him, Indiana is a team more than capable of doing such a thing, thanks to a high-powered offense (116.7 adjusted efficiency, ninth in the nation) that will be led by one of the best point guards in the country (Yogi Ferrell). Now entering his senior season, the two-time all-Big Ten performer looks to lead the Hoosiers back to how he found the program when he was freshman — capable of winning the Big Ten and becoming legitimate national title contenders.

Yogi Ferrell will need to improve his defense and his teammates to make a run in his senior year. (Darron Cummings, AP).

Yogi Ferrell will need to lead the Hoosiers to play better defensively if he is to make a serious run in the NCAA Tournament in his final year. (Darron Cummings, AP)

Ferrell (16.3 PPG last season) is lucky to have talented players like James Blackmon, Jr. (15.7 PPG) and Troy Williams (13.0 PPG) on his wings. The trio fuels a frenetic uptempo offense (77.4 PPG) that can score in bunches against any team, but even with the addition of five-star center Thomas Bryant to man the post, the Hoosiers won’t go anywhere next March if they don’t improve their atrocious defense. There’s no nice way to put it: Last year’s defense — ranked 214th nationally, per KenPom — was an unmitigated disaster. It was an inexcusable display of ineptitude in almost every defensive area from a power conference team, as only four other NCAA Tournament teams had a worse defensive rating last season (all were #13 seeds or higher). The table below illustrates Indiana’s woeful play on the defensive end of the court. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten Storylines Heading Into Next Season

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 17th, 2015

There are still some dominoes to fall in terms of Big Ten roster turnover in coming weeks but we already have a pretty good idea of how the league will look next year. Here are a few things to ponder as Big Ten fans brace themselves for seven months without any games with which to occupy their time.

Melo Trimble could be a first team All-American next season for Maryland. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Melo Trimble could be a first team All-American next season for Maryland. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

  • Return to Multiple Conference Championship Contenders: Wisconsin essentially went wire-to-wire this season, going from the unanimous preseason favorite to winning both the conference regular season and postseason titles. Next season should be a bit more like the 2013-14 campaign with several teams with a realistic shot to win the league. Maryland is rightfully getting a good deal of love in the preseason “way-to-early” top 25 lists. The Terps will return two of their top three players in Melo Trimble and Jake Layman and will add a bruiser down low in freshman Diamond Stone. Indiana (assuming both Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. return to Bloomington), and Michigan State could also very well start the season in the top 15 nationally. Thomas Bryant will give the Hoosiers someone to keep defenses honest inside, while Sparty adds Eron Harris, Devonta Davis, and Caleb Swanigan to a nucleus of eight players who were contributors on a Final Four squad. These three should all challenge for the top spot in Big Ten play next season.
  • Wisconsin Rebuild: It will be fun to observe how Bo Ryan replaces the multiple talented pieces that he is losing from a group that went to back-to-back Final Fours. He has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt so as to figure that players like Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter will break out with more playing time next season. Getting key starters Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig back is also a pretty decent starting point. How far will the Badgers actually fall, and how long will it take for the newcomers to make an impact?

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Sweet Sixteen Reset: Big Ten Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 23rd, 2015

We’re now down to only two B1G teams left playing in the 2014-15 season, as Michigan State and Wisconsin are the only two teams that won both their games this weekend. This is one less team that made the Sweet 16 one season ago, as these two along with Michigan were still alive one year ago. Here are some other quick takeaways from the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament as it relates to the B1G.

Sam Dekker had 17 points to lead to Wisconsin past Oregon and into the Sweet 16 Sunday night. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Sam Dekker had 17 points to lead to Wisconsin past Oregon and into the Sweet 16 Sunday night. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

  • They are Who We Thought They Were: Having two teams left in the field sounds about right for a league that was down a bit this season. As ludicrous as it is to completely bemoan a conference for being overrated (Big 12), or underrated (Pac 12) based simply off the small sample size that is the Big Dance, the Big Ten generally did about as well as expected. They had five teams in the round of 32, which is about the same number of teams that were in or around the top 25 all year. Maryland got a tough break with being a bit underseeded, and paid the price in losing to West Virginia. Iowa and Ohio State played about to expectations, as they would have had to pull off outstanding performances to get the best of Gonzaga and Arizona respectively. Michigan State was a bit of a surprise, but anyone who has seen Coach Tom Izzo‘s March resume, or saw how Sparty played in the Big Ten Tournament knows that this team was geared up to potentially make another March run.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Afternoon

Posted by RTC Staff on March 20th, 2015

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In what was certainly one of the most competitive and jam-packed “opening” days in NCAA Tournament history, Friday’s slate of games will have a hard time following Thursday’s remarkable act. However, today offers a fair share of fascinating matchups as well. Here is a preview of Friday’s afternoon games:

#2 Kansas vs. #15 New Mexico State – Midwest Region (from Omaha, NE) — 12:15 PM EST on CBS.

New Mexico State has not lost since January 17 and will enter Friday’s action looking to pull a stunner against the second-seeded Jayhawks. The Aggies are led by their freshman big man Pascal Siakam, who caused problems for WAC big men throughout the season. Siakam carries averages of 13 points and 7.7 rebounds per game and he will look to mix it up against the Kansas frontline. New Mexico State, as a team, has been a very formidable defensive unit throughout the season, as it is 18th in the country in points per game allowed. Unfortunately for Kansas, its frontline depth took a bit of a hit earlier this week when it became known that freshman forward Cliff Alexander would definitely miss the NCAA Tournament due to a pending NCAA investigation. Sans Alexander, the Jayhawks still have some talent in the post with the strong play of junior forward Perry Ellis and the late season emergence of redshirt sophomore Landen Lucas. While Siakam’s play in the post could keep things close for a little while, expect Kansas’ perimeter play, led by point guard Frank Mason and swingman Kelly Oubre, to be the key as the Jayhawks will comfortably advance to the Round of 32.

The RTC Certified Pick: Kansas

#7 Michigan State vs. #10 Georgia — East Region First Round (at Charlotte, NC) — 12:20 pm ET on truTV.

Michigan State will battle Georgia in Charlotte. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Michigan State will battle Georgia in Charlotte. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Michigan State comes in hot after rolling to the Big Ten Tournament championship game and nearly edging Wisconsin. The Spartans are ranked 17th overall by KenPom and have become a substantially better offensive team over the course of the season, especially with a healthy Branden Dawson (12 PPG, 9.1 RPG) in the lineup. The senior forward looked like his old self in the Big Ten Tournament, averaging nearly 16 points, eight rebounds per game and locking down on the defensive end. The Spartans are at their best in transition and should push the tempo against the defensively stingy Bulldogs, a lengthy team which held opponents to the nation’s 15th-lowest effective field goal percentage this season. Although Tom Izzo’s bunch has become less-reliant on three-pointers as the year’s progressed, it wouldn’t hurt for Denzel Valentine (41.8% 3PT), Bryn Forbes (42.4% 3PT) and Travis Trice (36.6% 3PT) to knock down some perimeter shots, considering Georgia’s especially-stout interior defense (43% 2PT). On the other end, the Bulldogs do one thing especially well – attack the basket – which should keep them afloat against a Michigan State team that sent teams to the free throw line at the Big Ten’s third-highest rate. Junior guard Charles Mann (highest free-throw rate in the SEC) and his backcourt mates will get to the stripe. The Spartans are more well-rounded and should win this one, but count on a slimmer margin than some have suggested.

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Bracket Prep: Midwest Region Analysis

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 2015

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Throughout Tuesday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), South (11:00 AM), Midwest (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCMWregion).

Midwest Region

Favorite: #1 Kentucky (34-0, 18-0 SEC). The unbeaten Wildcats enter the NCAA Tournament as not only the favorites in the Midwest Region but also for the entire tournament. John Calipari’s squad has been able to reach 34-0 due to its star power combined with its ability to play tremendously well as a unit. It will be utterly shocking if Kentucky is tripped up before reaching the Final Four. The reason why the Wildcats are such a lethal team is that they possess top-flight talent at each position. Their backcourt is loaded with sophomores Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison and freshmen Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis. The insanely long and athletic front line is led by junior Willie Cauley-Stein, sophomores Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee, and freshmen Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns. Toss in the fact that Kentucky’s veteran players have Final Four experience from a season ago and you will understand why the Wildcats are the overwhelming favorite to advance to Indianapolis.

Will John Calipari Be Smiling This Time Next Week? (AP)

John Calipari and the Wildcats have had a lot to smile about this season. (AP)

Should They Falter: #3 Notre Dame (29-5, 14-4 ACC). The ACC Tournament champion Fighting Irish enter the NCAA Tournament fresh off playing some of their best basketball of the year. Notre Dame possesses an elite offensive attack with multiple options that makes it a very tough team to defend. That attack is led by senior star guard Jerian Grant, an All-American senior who has the ability to take over a game each night out. Grant is the alpha dog star of Mike Brey’s team, but senior Pat Connaughton and sophomores Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia all strongly contribute to the Irish’s success. It will be a stunner if Kentucky loses at any point in this region, but if it does, look for Notre Dame to take home the Midwest Region trophy and advance to the Final Four.

Grossly Overseeded: #8 Cincinnati (22-10, 13-5 AAC). The Bearcats enjoyed a solid season but their résumé suggests that they should have been a double-digit seed. While Cincinnati had good victories over SMU (twice), San Diego State and NC State, it also had head-scratching losses to Nebraska, East Carolina and Tulane. The Bearcats finished the AAC season tied for third in the conference standings. Temple — the team they were tied with, and Tulsa, the team that finished one spot ahead of them — did not even earn bids to the NCAA Tournament. That’s not to suggest that Cincinnati didn’t deserve inclusion in the NCAA Tournament, but a #8 seed is very generous.

Grossly Underseeded: #7 Wichita State (28-4, 17-1 MVC). The Missouri Valley Conference does not provide many opportunities to pick up marquee victories, but Wichita State was able to pick up one on February 28 though when Gregg Marshall’s team got revenge from an early-season loss by topping Northern Iowa. The rest of the Shockers’ résumé was not very exciting, but they managed to win 28 games overall and only stumbled once in conference play prior to the MVC Tournament. Wichita State’s core is essentially the same (minus Cleanthony Early) as the one that started 34-0 last season. Gregg Marshall’s team is too talented and experienced to be a #7 seed and it would not be surprising at all to see it make a run to the second weekend.

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Big Ten All-Freshman Team

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 10th, 2015

In a year when the Big Ten’s freshman class made much more of an impact than last season, picking a five-man outfit of rookie players was an arduous process. That difficulty exhibits that the future of the league is in good hands if the majority of these players stick around for several years at their respective schools. That’s probably wishful thinking for a couple of them, but here’s our RTC Big Ten All-Freshman Team.

D'Angelo Russell was the best freshman in the B1G this season. (Kyle Robertson, Columbus Dispatch)

D’Angelo Russell was the best freshman in the Big Ten this season. (Kyle Robertson, Columbus Dispatch)

  • D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State (19.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 5.2 APG, 42.2% 3FG)
  • Melo Trimble, Maryland (16.1 PPG, 3.1 APG, 1.3 SPG, 87.6% FT)
  • James Blackmon Jr., Indiana (15.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 82.1% FT, 38.5% 3FG)
  • Bryant McIntosh, Northwestern (11.4 PPG, 4.7 APG, 84.8% FT, 36.4% 3FG)
  • Jae’Sean Tate, Ohio State (8.9 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 59.8% FG)

Tate really came on once he became a starter, as his numbers jumped to 12.1 PPG and 5.5 RPG over the last 12 games. An undersized power forward, the Ohio native plays much bigger than his listed height of 6’4″. McIntosh was not the most highly-touted member of Northwestern’s five-man recruiting class this season but he admirably assumed the point guard duties right away. He has some defensive issues to improve but he is an adept passer with the ability to make shots from deep and score in a variety of other ways. Blackmon Jr. was one of many three-point bombers on an Indiana team that ranked third in the nation in shooting the three (41.0%). His numbers dipped late in the season ( 22-of-68 from three in his last 11 games), but he still led the Hoosiers in scoring 12 times on the year. In many seasons Trimble would have been the clear Freshman of the Year as he led Maryland to a highly-surprising 26-5 regular season mark. He’s not a pure point guard in terms of his passing abilities but his skill in finishing plays coupled with a respectable 39.1 percent mark from three-point land makes him a major reason why the Terps are back on the national scene.

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