Big Ten M5: 11.26.13 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 26th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. Minnesota, under the leadership of first-year head coach Richard Pitino, has had a hot start to the season. They have won their first five games which includes an impressive road game at Richmond. As nice as their start has been, the Gophers ran into reality when they lost 75-67 to #8 ranked Syracuse in their first-round game at the Maui Invitational. As we mentioned in yesterday’s M5, the term “good loss” gets thrown around a lot, but if there is such a thing, then this game might classify as such for Pitino’s squad. The Gophers were competitive throughout the contest and only down a basket with less than three minutes to go to a top-ten team on national television in one of the premier non-conference tournaments. If they can beat Arkansas today and win the next game, they’ll leave the Maui 2-1;  a successful tournament for Minnesota by any measure.
  2. We have had some big performances from some notable Big Ten players this season thus far – players like Gary Harris, Andre Hollins, Nik Stauskas, etc. So when Frank Kaminksy was named Big Ten Player of the Week yesterday, it stuck out since most haven’t heard of the junior big man from Wisconsin before his offensive outburst last week. Kaminsky is, at best, the fourth best scoring option for the Badgers – behind Sam Dekker, John Gasser, and Ben Brust. Bo Ryan was merely hoping Kaminsky would be able to improve his rebounding enough to make up for the loss Jared Berggren. But Kaminsky averaged 26 points and 4.7 rebounds last week, which includes a 43-point showing against North Dakota. If you can believe it, Wisconsin is averaging over 80 PPG. There’s no doubt that having four players who can possibly fill it up is a major reason for their new high-powered offense.
  3. The rubber is about to meet the road for Iowa. Since the preseason, they have had a lot of hype because of all their returning players. Thus far, they have lived up to the hype behind a high-powered offense and for their troubles, they were ranked in the AP poll (#25) this week, the first time since 2006. But all of their wins have come against inferior mid-major opponents. Yesterday, they flew to down to the Bahamas where they will participate in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. Fran McCaffery says they are treating this like a business trip. They will need to be all business when they meet undefeated Xavier on Thursday. The Musketeers will be Iowa’s first real test against a high-major team with an NBA-level stud in Semaj Christon. Last year, Iowa was punished by the NCAA selection committee for not having a challenging non-conference schedule. With other teams like Kansas, Tennessee, and Villanova also in the Battle 4 Atlantis, that will not be the case this year.
  4. Purdue is desperately trying to avoid missing consecutive NCAA tournaments since 2004-2006. They are not off to the steadiest of starts despite their undefeated record. One facet of their game where the Boilermakers are steady is leadership. Senior guard Terone Johnson is the leader of this team and is setting the right tone for Purdue. He just recently scored 1,000 career points which makes him the 47th player to do so in the school’s history. But Johnson has never measured success in personal accomplishments. He wants the Boilermakers to challenge for the Big Ten title in his final season. While most don’t see this as a realistic goal, in order to at least make the tournament, Johnson is going to need to exercise some of his leadership on his younger teammates. Specifically, he will need to motivate sophomore big man A.J. Hammons to exert full effort throughout the game and avoid foul trouble if they are to return to being Big Ten contenders.
  5. Just three years ago, Jereme Richmond was being billed as the key component to returning Illinois back to Big Ten contenders. He had just finished a prolific high school career and was about to take Champaign by storm before heading to the NBA. Now, Richmond is about to spend significant time in jail. Yesterday, he was sentenced to three years for threatening his parole officer. His downward spiral has been as fast as it has been sad. Richmond does not come from a typical broken home. He has two parents who have, at least stated publicly, wanted to keep a level head on him in the face of his recruitment by universities since before he started high school. The only takeaway from this sad story may be that no matter how talented someone may be, it can all come apart with a handful of bad decisions.
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Is Tonight a Must Win for Bruce Weber (And Illinois)?

Posted by EJacoby on February 15th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. 

The Fighting Illini may be playing for more than just their NCAA Tournament lives in the next three weeks. Multiple news outlets continue to speculate that Bruce Weber’s tenure as Illinois head coach may also be on shaky ground. Illinois was ranked in the Top 25 one month ago after knocking off Ohio State at home, and it looked like the team’s young talent was starting to come together. But since that game, the Illini are back in a familiar struggling position, having lost six of their last seven. Pressure continues to mount on Weber to turn this talented team around in a hurry, something he has been unable to do for several consecutive seasons. Tonight’s home game against Purdue is crucial for the coach to put the team in position to make a late-season run.

Bruce Weber is Firmly on the Hot Seat; How Will his Team Respond? (AP Photo/M. Conroy)

Illinois won consecutive Big Ten titles in Weber’s first two years at the helm in 2003-04 and 2004-05, and the ’05 team that advanced to the National Championship game before losing a close game to North Carolina was one of the decade’s best teams. But Weber has never been able to build on that initial success and the players that got him to the Final Four were Bill Self’s recruits from the previous regime. Self’s winning percentage from 2000-03 was .765 compared to Weber’s .688 in the nine years since, which includes the Final Four run with a 34-2 team. Since that title game appearance, Weber’s teams are 60-56 in the Big Ten and 2-4 in the NCAA Tournament.

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Morning Five: 08.10.11 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on August 10th, 2011

  1. So many teams are either on or about to go on international trips, so the question that logically follows is…how much do they really help? Our stance has always been that any benefit is more a result of the broadening of minds and the improved camaraderie that international travel usually entails, and the ten days of extra practice time don’t hurt either. Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy took a look at how much these trips help in terms of the effect on a squad’s record from one season to the next. We think the result might surprise you.
  2. Speaking of international trips, incoming Duke freshman Quinn Cook will be making the trip to China with his teammates this weekend, but he won’t be playing in any of the games. Cook played his senior year of high school with strained ligaments in his right knee, and Mike Krzyzewski doesn’t think Cook has had enough time to get himself fully fit for the games in China. He’s expected to be ready for preseason practices, but this delay puts Cook behind in the battle for minutes within that loaded platoon of  Blue Devil guards.
  3. Wasn’t it just a couple years ago that people were talking about how Rick Pitino looked like he had aged several years in just a few months, that rumors swirled about his health and, of course, how long it would therefore be before he left his post as Head Cardinal? The new five-year extension he just signed at Louisville ought to quell any remaining speculation on such matters. That white suit will continue to make its appearance during so-called white-out games through the 2017 season, so get used to it if you’re not already. Pitino detractors will be quick to point out that just because he signs doesn’t mean he’ll stay. We’d respond that if you think that’s exclusive to Rick Pitino, you’re nuts.
  4. Mr. Basketball in the state of Illinois for 2009-10. McDonald’s All-American. Promising Illini freshman. Former Illinois guard Jereme Richmond probably longs for the days when such terms were used to describe him, and it was only about a year ago. Now, after a freshman season filled with disappointing play, a couple of suspensions, and a bad decision to leave school for the NBA Draft (unsuccessfully) after his single campaign, Richmond currently sits in a Lake County, Illinois jail on a weapons charge, among several others, after threatening a 17-year old girl. The Chicago Tribune has the full details.
  5. An official for the town described last year’s regional in Newark as “a catalytic event.” That appears an apt description, since the three East region games there produced $6.3 million for the local economy, and that doesn’t include transportation costs, ticket sales, or parking. That amount wasn’t all due to the RTC correspondent’s food and (mostly) beverage bill, but was rather comprised by $1.5 million in hotel room costs and the remaining $4.8 million covering restaurant bills and merchandise. Not a big surprise, when you think back to it. If you want to provide a jolt to your local economy, you’d want four fanbases that travel well and spend even better, right? Last year’s Newark regional: Ohio State, Kentucky, Marquette, and North Carolina.
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NBA Draft Thoughts From a College Perspective

Posted by rtmsf on June 27th, 2011

The NBA Draft has come and gone with one of the most boring evenings in its televised history.  Maybe it was the arena setting, maybe it was the lack of marquee names, maybe it was the fact that none of the draftees wore anything particularly ridiculous, but the league’s capstone summer event was so uninspiring that even Bill Simmons’ usually-hilarious draft diary felt trite and mailed in.  Still, the draft represents to every major college basketball player the culmination of a lifelong dream to hear one’s name called by David Stern, and it’s worth a quick reflection on how things went last Thursday for many of the players we’ve been watching and tracking for years.

The 1-and-Dones Did Well in This Year's Draft (AP)

The 1-and-Dones.  Generally speaking, the NBA Draft went well for the seven 1-and-done players who declared after their freshman season.  Excluding Enes Kanter, who never played a minute at Kentucky, from the discussion, six of the seven players who left school after one season were drafted, and five of those went in the first round.  Duke’s Kyrie Irving, Texas’ Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph, Kentucky’s Brandon Knight, and Tennessee’s Tobias Harris were chosen in the first thirty selections, while Kansas’ Josh Selby was taken in the next thirty picks.  The lone holdout was Illinois’ Jereme Richmond, a player who clearly had a much higher opinion of himself than did NBA general managers (although if you listen to his uncle, delusions of grandeur may extend beyond Richmond to his extended family).  Whether any of the others are “ready” for the NBA is an irrelevant notion in this day and age, but seeing Thompson jumping up to the #4 selection despite not being able to shoot the ball, and Joseph going at #29 despite averaging only 10.4 PPG as a “scorer” has us raising our eyebrows. 

Sneaking Into the First Round... Not Exactly.  We heard time and time again in April that the impetus behind numerous marginal players deciding to enter the NBA Draft this year was because players like Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger, Perry Jones and Terrence Jones were not coming out.  The logic was that their staying in school opened up more first round spots for lesser talents, a statement certainly true in theory but in no way a sane justification for a dozen additional players to declare for the draft.  Four doesn’t equal twelve the last time we checked.  Interestingly, three of the four beneficiaries to earn guaranteed first round money were college seniors: Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson, Cleveland State’s Norris Cole, and Marquette’s Jimmy Butler (Texas freshman Cory Joseph was the fourth player to benefit).  As for the players who came out early in an attempt to sneak into the first round of this year’s weaker draft, it didn’t really work out for them.  We’re looking at second rounders like Shelvin Mack (Butler), Jordan Williams (Maryland), Trey Thompkins (Georgia), Darius Morris (Michigan), Malcolm Lee (UCLA), Travis Leslie (Georgia), DeAndre Liggins (Kentucky), and Isaiah Thomas (Washington), as well as undrafted guys like Scotty Hopson (Tennessee), Jeremy Green (Stanford), Terrence Jennings (Louisville), Greg Smith (Fresno State) and Carleton Scott (Notre Dame).  What’s going to be awesome is in future years when underclassmen have roughly two weeks to gauge their draft prospects before having to commit to the draft or heading back to school — we’re sure this will result in nothing but great decisions.

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Dissecting the Law of Unintended Consequences, Early Entry Style

Posted by rtmsf on May 9th, 2011

Welcome to the law of unintended consequences, folks.

Starting with Jared Sullinger’s surprising decision to return to school in the aftermath of #1 Ohio State’s upset loss at the hands of Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament last month, a number of projected top draft picks have similarly shocked the world by deciding to stick around their college campuses for another season.  Subsequent to Sullinger, Baylor’s Perry Jones — another top five pick — followed that up with his own shocker.  Next, UNC’s Harrison Barnes and John Henson — both projected lottery picks this June — each decided that another year in Chapel Hill was to their liking.  On Saturday, Kentucky’s Terrence Jones was the latest projected lottery pick to spurn guaranteed millions in favor of playing as an amateur for another season (ok, stop your snickering about the word “amateur”).

Counting up the number of lottery pick slots that opened up in the June draft, we come up with a total of five (of 14) and certainly the following early entrants will be this summer’s beneficiaries: Arizona’s Derrick Williams, Duke’s Kyrie Irving, Kentucky’s Brandon Knight, UConn’s Kemba Walker, and Kansas’ Marcus Morris.  Five additional slots in the first round, though, isn’t the same as a floodgate opening, and we fear that the oft-repeated mantra of “weak draft” combined with a lack of an opportunity for players to get good evaluation feedback (thanks, ACC coaches!) has led to a bunch of poor decisions at the back end this year.  Like we said, the law of unintended consequences.

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Morning Five: 04.14.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on April 14th, 2011

  1. Add Illinois forward Jereme Richmond to the group of disappointing freshmen exhibiting their selfishness by skipping the year-end team banquet in favor of “preparing” for the NBA Draft.  As if spending two to three hours eating, laughing and commiserating with your teammates will derail that dream.  Kansas guard Josh Selby did the same thing last week, as he was “working out” in Las Vegas during the KU banquet and couldn’t be bothered with celebrating a 35-3 season with his team.  Interestingly, both players routinely found themselves in their head coach’s doghouse this season, and each at times seemed to think he was a lot better than he was actually performing — Richmond averaged 7/5 RPG in 22 MPG, while Selby went for 8/2 APG in roughly the same amount of time last season.  This is yet another reason why the one-and-done rule needs to go; it gives players like these two prima donnas a false sense of their talent based on high school rankings made not even a year ago.  Speaking of Selby in particular, Gary Parrish deconstructs the Rivals #1 recruit’s draft prospects (being compared to Willie Warren, ouch!) and how he got there — very instructive stuff.
  2. Of course, the biggest NBA Draft news of Wednesday was Arizona’s Derrick Williams taking his prodigious talents to the League.  Thanks to a great March including a game-saving plays against Memphis and Texas and a statement performance against Duke in the Sweet Sixteen, Williams has shot up most draft boards to the point where he’s considered one of the top two picks in the draft.  He will sign with an agent, leaving no doubt that his fantastic two-year career in Tucson is now over.  He will also undoubtedly go down as one of the players who led Arizona back into the national consciousness, something that probably didn’t seem possible so soon a couple of short  years ago.
  3. And a couple more…  Butler’s Shelvin Mack has decided to test the waters but will not sign with an agent, while Memphis’ Wesley Witherspoon announced that he will return for his senior year.  Mack in particular is an interesting case — he performed extremely well last summer against both professional players and his peers, and although he struggled with his shot for much of last season, he came on very strong in the Bulldogs’ run in this year’s NCAA Tournament.  He’s considered a late first round/early second round pick.  Witherspoon is making a good decision, as he had an injury-plagued junior year that didn’t allow him to show the true talent that he possesses — coming back healthy for a senior season will do him a lot of good.  One other note with respect to testing the waters, John Calipari is encouraging all three of his draftable players — Terrence Jones, Brandon Knight and DeAndre Ligginsto explore their professional options over the next few weeks.
  4. Note we said “weeks” with respect to the UK players exploring their options above.  The actual deadline for a player to return to school is May 8 this year, which gives players some, but not a lot, of time to assess their prospects before making a final decision.  Yet with today’s shameful ruling by the NCAA Legislative Council to further reduce the amount of time players have to make such a life-altering decision, it begs the question as to who these people are actually working for — the student-athletes that need valid information about their prospects, or the coaches who want to get out onto the golf course (as Mike DeCourcy eloquently argues)?  MD is much more tactful than we’ll be here, but in case you’re wondering where this all came from, a certain ACC coach got very annoyed by having to wait until the very last day of the deadline in 2008 (which was then mid-June) to see what his players would do.  The irony is that Ty Lawson, Danny Green and Wayne Ellington ultimately stayed in school, and that coach won a national title the next season because of their late decisions.  Makes sense, right?
  5. Enough about that.  How about a little post-championship analysis from Luke Winn to finish things off?  The Brooklyn Bohemian comes strong as always with a put-it-to-rest analysis of whether Butler’s miserable shooting night in the title game was a result of an off night or great defense.  You’ll need to read it to see his conclusion, but you should open the link assured that he leaves very little room for debate about the correct one.
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Conference Report Card: Big Ten

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 13th, 2011


John Templon is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten conference. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that got multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap

  • Coming into the season, the Big Ten was considered the best conference in America. Michigan State was expected to be in the Final Four again and Purdue, Ohio State, and Illinois were expected to be among the nation’s elite. Then the season started and the conference slipped a bit. The Big Ten didn’t live up to its lofty billing, with the exception of Ohio State, which sat at #1 in the polls for a large part of the season. Of course, Robbie Hummel’s knee injury didn’t help Purdue. Illinois wilted under the weight of too much talent and not enough leadership, whereas Michigan State just never seemed to find its footing against a difficult schedule.
  • As conference play went on, all the teams beat up on each other, creating a mess in the middle and leading to four teams (Michigan, Illinois, Michigan State and Penn State) receiving seeds between 8-10 in the NCAA Tournament. The conference went 2-2 in those games. But the disappointment in the NCAA Tournament came from the top seeds that failed to live up to expectations. Ohio State, the #1 overall seed, was dispatched by Kentucky in the Sweet 16 in Newark. Then again, that was better than Purdue managed to do, as the Boilermakers fell to VCU in Chicago. Wisconsin made it to New Orleans, but Brad Stevens outcoached Bo Ryan and the Badgers lost to a lower-seeded team once again.
  • Those losses meant the Big Ten finished a season of much promise with zero teams in the Elite Eight. Much like the conference’s well-publicized bowl game problems, the postseason left a sour taste after many teams played good basketball during the regular season.

The postseason was a struggle for everyone in the Big Ten, even Final Four regular Tom Izzo and his Spartans, which had to make a late run to even crack the field.

Team-by-Team Grades

A’s:

  • Michigan (A): Before the season the Wolverines were expected to compete with Iowa and Indiana to avoid the basement in the Big Ten standings. By the end of it, they were scaring #1 seed Duke in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. It was a remarkable job by JohnBeilein to get a young team ready to play. Darius Morris was the engine of the turnaround. The sophomore point guard scored 15.0 points per game and dished out 6.7 assists per game while leading a team composed of mostly freshman and sophomores. Tim HardawayJr., a freshman, was the team’s only other double-digit scorer at 13.9 points per game. Michigan didn’t have a single senior on its roster this season and, with two more talented backcourt recruits in CarltonBrundidge and TreyBurke coming in, it appears to be ready to be a big player in the conference moving forward although they are still waiting on Morris to officially decide on whether he will enter the NBA Draft.
  • Ohio State (A-): The Buckeyes didn’t get it done in the NCAA Tournament, but they were the #1 team in the polls for most of the season and had the best freshman in the country in Jared Sullinger. The loss to Kentucky certainly put a damper on the season. Still, Ohio State went 34-3 with its only two regular season losses being at Purdue and Wisconsin in conference play. David Lighty, DallasLauderdale, and JonDiebler all graduate, but if Sullinger is serious about sticking around the Buckeyes will be a national title favorite again next season. Especially considering they have two McDonald’s All-Americans in point guard ShannonScott and center AmirWilliams coming in along with small forwards SamThompson and LaQuintonRoss. It’s Thad Matta’s typical reload instead of rebuild plan.
  • Penn State (A-): Qualifying for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade makes the Nittany Lions’ season a success. Even though they lost to in-state rival Temple in the second round, 66-64, it was a thrilling game to end a satisfying season that included victories over Wisconsin (twice), Illinois, and Michigan State (twice). Oh, and a loss to Maine. Talor Battle finally got his chance to go to the NCAA Tournament and finished his career with 2,213 points, 624 rebounds, and 517 assists. He’ll certainly be missed next season along with frontcourt veterans David Jackson and JeffBrooks. Thus, Penn State has some size coming in with two 6’11 centers in PatAckerman and PeterAlexis, but the program is probably due for a bit of a backslide.

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Morning Five: 04.06.11 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 6th, 2011

  1. It looks like the offseason just got a little more interesting as Debbie Yow decided to use NC State‘s press conference announcing its hiring of Mark Gottfried to lash out at Gary Williams, whom she blamed for spreading rumors that she was difficult to work with and made the coaching search more difficult. Williams issued a statement essentially he had nothing to do with the NC State coaching search or any of the difficulties they may have had. For those of you who may not be as familiar with the frosty relationship between the two, it dates back to Yow’s time at Maryland and is described in this post, but goes back further. Honestly, it is probably worth another post that we will do in the near future if Yow and Williams manage to keep this in the news for a couple more days. By the way, it was nice of Yow to keep the focus on Gottfried and the basketball team instead of making this about her.
  2. If there was one thing this offseason that was more shocking than Missouri hiring Frank Haith and NC State hiring Gottfried (with the ensuing Yow-Williams circus) it was the news that Miami apparently hasn’t even contacted Frank Martin about becoming their next head coach. Here’s one of the premier coaches in the country who happens to have strong connections to the area where they’re located and could absolutely dominate recruiting within a 100-mile radius of the school and they have an opening, but Miami doesn’t even contact him?!? Miami has always been a football school (ok, the fans can be a little fair-weather), but Martin could actually make basketball matter in the area and he wouldn’t have huge, unrealistic expectations on him. It seems like the perfect fit, so the ball is in Miami’s court and they need to make a move fast.
  3. Meanwhile, Kansas fans are getting worked up over the report by Bill Self that freshman guard Josh Selby was working out in Las Vegas trying to gauge his draft status. You may remember Selby as the hyped guard who was suspended by the NCAA for receiving improper benefits before becoming eligible again and having a huge opening game against USC that had everybody thinking that he might be the next big thing before flaming out and only playing sparingly in the last month and a half of the season. Selby has the talent to be taken in the first round, but for both his sake and that of Kansas fans we hope he returns and develops some consistency before he heads to the NBA.
  4. Illinois fans have no such hope for Jereme Richmond, who announced that he was leaving the school and exploring his NBA Draft status. Richmond has not hired an agent so he could return to college basketball and, although the article doesn’t explicitly state it, we are assuming that he is not planning on returning to the Illini even if he were to return to college.
  5. Finally, reviews of TV ratings for the championship game were mixed. While the ratings were among the highest since 2005, they were lower than last year’s championship game (featuring Duke, which always moves the needle). Ratings for the NCAA Tournament were solid when you looked at all four networks and even better when you considered the online viewers. Obviously the shooting from the championship game hurt as did the lack of a marquee name (sorry, UConn, but you still don’t qualify). We can’t help but think that the NCAA should move up the start of the game by an hour to keep East Coast viewers in play even if it means not having the West Coast for the first few minutes of the game.
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Big Ten Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 10th, 2011

John Templon is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten. With action set to tip from Indianapolis on Thursday, get set for the postseason with RTC’s regular season wrap-up and postseason outlook.

Postseason Preview

The Big Ten Tournament should prove to be quite the entertaining tournament. With so many teams on the bubble, every game is going to have a do-or-die atmosphere to it. Three of the four quarterfinal games, excluding the one in which Ohio State is playing, could propel teams to NCAA Tournament at-large bids. Another important matchup to watch is Northwestern vs. Minnesota in Round 1 – where they’ll probably be playing for an NIT berth.

  • Cold Teams: Minnesota, Illinois, and Indiana
  • Is Battle Ready For last Stand?: The Nittany Lions’ Talor Battle will try to finally make the NCAA Tournament. Can he shoot Penn State off the bubble and into the field?
  • Is Nolen Healthy?: Al Nolen hasn’t played January 22 against Michigan, but he could return this week. Would it be enough to get the Gophers rolling?
  • Can Anyone Stop Ohio State?: The Buckeyes look like a juggernaut, and this isn’t the time to be putting big decisions in the hands of the selection committee. In order to feel comfortable about its #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, OSU probably needs to win the Big Ten’s first. Northwestern played them close at Welsh-Ryan Arena – is a big upset in the making?
  • Will Izzo’s Tournament Touch Get Going?: Of the teams playing in the first round, Michigan State seems like the most likely candidate to reach the tournament finals. It seems like Tom Izzo just has a knack for this kind of thing by now.
  • Is The Next Generation Ready?: There are nine seniors on the three All-Big Ten teams selected by the coaches, and just one freshman. Are players like Ohio State’s Aaron Craft, Illinois’ Jereme Richmond, Northwestern’s JerShon Cobb and Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr. ready to play significant crunch time roles? Or will they wilt under the bright lights in Indianapolis?

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Set Your Tivo: 02.10.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 10th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

It’s another big night with post-season implications, as Connecticut and Vanderbilt look to improve their seeding while the other six teams need wins to make their cases or avoid falling farther towards the bubble. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#10 Connecticut @ St. John’s – 7 pm on ESPN (***)

St. John’s is an interesting case when it comes to the possibility of inclusion in the NCAA Tournament. They’ve beaten a bunch of quality teams, but the record isn’t anything special, just 13-9 (5-5) coming into tonight’s game. A loss would give the Johnnies double-digit losses, not something you want to brag about before the Selection Committee. More importantly, they’d dip under .500 in conference play and would obviously need to win plenty of games down the stretch — and they’ve got a few tough ones left.

Lavin's First Year Has Been Better Than Expected, Though We're Sure He's Nowhere Near Content

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Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 25th, 2011

John Templon is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.

A Look Back

The national narrative about the Big Ten has been about the “tiers” in the conference. Last week, those tiers were even more pronounced as the top teams kept on winning and the middle and bottom ones battled it out. In the process, Illinois – a classic example of this philosophy – escaped with a solid home win over Michigan State, but a disappointing loss to Ohio State and Iowa got its first conference win of the season over Indiana. The top teams will start battling it out this week, as Ohio State welcomes Purdue on Tuesday for what will be the “Game of the Year” thus far in conference.

Those middle teams are ones you have to know come March. That’s when the true depth of the conference will be on display and teams like the Illini, Michigan State, Minnesota and maybe a Penn State or Northwestern will be trying to prove they belonged in the discussion all along.

  • Team of the Week: Ohio State: A big victory over Illinois on the road was the best win by any Big Ten team last week. The Buckeyes also took care of business against Iowa and now just have to beat Purdue at home and Northwestern on the road to enter February with a shot at perfection intact.
  • Player of the Week: Jared Sullinger, F, Ohio State: With his team facing a tough situation at Illinois, the freshman put Ohio State on his back and carried them to an important road victory. He scored 27 points, including 13-15 shooting from the free throw line, grabbed 16 boards and blocked three shots. That was the follow-up to a ho-hum game against Iowa where he notched just 13 points and nine boards. It’s becoming hard to describe Sullinger’s day-to-day work. This Tweet from Monday afternoon summed up his ranks amongst NCAA freshmen very succinctly.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Josh Gasser, G, Wisconsin: I’m cheating a bit here by not giving both weekly awards to Sullinger, since he is technically a freshman even if he doesn’t play like one, but I wanted to highlight Gasser’s triple-double against Northwestern. In the 78-46 victory on Sunday at Welsh-Ryan Arena he had ten points, 12 rebounds and ten assists. That’s a heck of a day, and the first in Badger history.

Power Rankings

1. Ohio State (20-0, 7-0) – Jon Diebler is second in the nation in offensive rating according to Ken Pomeroy at 138.5. He’s shooting 47.6 percent from three-point range and is committing just 1.1 fouls per 40 minutes. No one has benefited more from DeShaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger patrolling the middle than this 6’6 senior shooting guard.

2. Wisconsin (15-4, 5-2) – After Sunday’s demolition of Northwestern, the Badgers have the second best offense in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy. Wait, let’s repeat that: Wisconsin has the second best offense in the country. Bo Ryan knows his offense is built upon solid principles, which is what made this article all the more amusing. Can we all agree the Wisconsin offense isn’t “struggling” anymore? (Not that it ever really was.)

3. Purdue (17-3, 6-1) – How Penn State lost a 6’10 forward that was the best player on the court at the end of a critical game, I’ll never know, but JaJuan Johnson knocked down the game-winner and Purdue got two home victories last week. Johnson has scored 20-plus points in each of his last four games and hasn’t scored fewer than 15 since December 7 against Valparaiso. Oddly, his rebounding totals are down lately. He grabbed seven boards combined against Penn State and Michigan State last week.

4. Michigan State (12-7, 4-3) – Tom Izzo must have an ear-to-ear grin on his face now, because while his team lost two games last week, they’ll get healthy with a three-game stretch against the bottom third of the conference. Of course if they lose one of those games I don’t want to be anywhere near that locker room.

5. Illinois (14-6, 4-3) – Oh, what might’ve been for the Illini. Illinois was up eight with under 13 minutes to play against Ohio State, but it failed to contain Jared Sullinger down the stretch. Demetri McCamey was 2-11 from the floor in the game and scored five points to go along with five assists and four turnovers. It’s a good thing Jereme Richmond and Bruce Weber have straightened things out, because it was the superstar freshman’s play that kept the Illini in it with 18 points, on 9-12 shooting, and 10 boards.

6. Minnesota (15-4, 4-3) – While Minnesota won its only game on the court last week it came at a terrible price. The Gophers will be without starting point guard Al Nolen for at least four weeks due to a foot injury, and possibly the rest of the season. Nolen is going to have surgery on Wednesday and will do anything to get back on the court, but for now, Tubby Smith is going to have to deal with this latest blow to his backcourt. The team was already thin at the guard spot after the transfer of Devoe Joseph.

7. Penn State (10-8, 3-4) – The Nittany Lions were the odd team out on Saturday, so they haven’t played since Wednesday, January 19. What a game that was. JaJuan Johnson had to hit a shot on the Boilermakers’ final possession to eek out the one-point win. That game showed the fight that Penn State has and no team can take them lightly during the rest of conference play. Still, the final play that Ed DeChellis drew up seemed designed for a lot less time. You’d hope to at least get a look at the basket on the final possession.

8. Northwestern (13-6, 3-5) – The Wildcats found out what both sides of a blowout feel like last week against SIU Edwardsville and Wisconsin. Even without star John Shurna, who was resting his injured ankle, and the third string playing the majority of the second half Northwestern ran past the overmatched Cougars, 98-55. Bill Carmody had his players run out the clock the final two possessions rather than score 100 on the obviously overmatched visitors. On Sunday though it was the home team that struggled. Northwestern got down early and never recovered against Wisconsin as the team’s NCAA Tournament hopes were dealt another crippling blow. Teams that blow out the Wildcats take away Drew Crawford. When the sophomore forward doesn’t score Northwestern’s offense struggles a lot and he didn’t score a point in 27 minutes against the Badgers.

9. Michigan (11-9, 1-6) – Tim Hardaway, Jr. has been given the green light for the Wolverines. In two losses last week the freshman attempted 28 shots, an even 14 in each game. He struggled against Northwestern, making three and scoring eight points, but on Saturday he exploded for 20 points against Minnesota in a five-point loss.

10. Iowa (8-11, 1-6) – Freshman Melsahne Basabe’s third 20-point game of the season was enough to carry the Hawkeyes to a 91-77 victory over Indiana and get them out of the conference cellar. This team still doesn’t look like it’ll bother anyone but the bottom tier of the conference, but players like Basabe are pieces to build on for the program’s future.

11. Indiana (10-10, 1-6) – A loss at Iowa probably wasn’t Tom Crean’s idea of a good time. While Christian Watford scored 30 points, Jordan Hulls was held under 10 points for the first time in seven games. Hulls is Indiana’s most efficient scorer and a three-point gunner that has connected on 49.4 percent of his attempts this season. Maurice Creek’s right knee can no longer elude surgery, and he’ll again miss a big chunk of conference play as he gets shut down.

A Look Ahead (all times EST):

  • 1/25 – Purdue at Ohio State, 9 p.m., ESPN
  • 1/26 – Northwestern at Minnesota, 8:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 1/27 – Michigan at Michigan State, 7 p.m., ESPN
  • 1/29 – Minnesota at Purdue, 1 p.m., CBS
  • 1/29 – Wisconsin at Penn State, 4 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 1/30 – Iowa at Michigan, 4 p.m., Big Ten Network

Fun with Efficiency Margin and KenPom: We’re starting to see some trends develop in the tempo-free statistics. A couple might be surprising and here are some of the highlights:

  • Wisconsin has joined the elite tier of the conference.  The Badgers play slowly, so sometimes you don’t see their blowouts as the great feats they are, but Bo Ryan has his team playing at peak efficiency in conference. After Sunday’s blowout Wisconsin is right in the middle of the upper tier behind Purdue (+0.18 efficiency margin per possession) and Ohio State (+0.14) at +0.16 points per possession in conference. That’s a very impressive mark.
  • Michigan State’s offense is in trouble as the Spartans rank 10th in the Big Ten in conference offensive efficiency at 1.04 points per possession. The fact that they’re scoring more than a point per possession and still near the bottom also tells you how deadly efficient every team has been this season. Still, Tom Izzo has to find a way to coax some more points out of his team or they’re going to struggle during the rest of conference play.
  • You might think that those great offensive efficiencies in Big Ten play are because of teams like Indiana and Iowa, but that’s not true. No Big Ten team is allowing less than a point per possession in conference play. Ohio State leads the way at 1.002.
  • The numbers indicate that Ohio State is really lucky to still be undefeated, not just overall but also in conference. Maybe the other shoe drops on Tuesday night against Purdue? On the other side you’ve got Wisconsin and Indiana as the unluckiest. All that said, it seems like this is related to two teams that are moving in different directions. The Hoosiers are playing worse lately and the Badgers better, which is skewing both of their respective numbers.
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Set Your Tivo: 01.18.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 18th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

A few teams face key road tests tonight, one night after the home squads went 3-1 in the season debut of ESPN’s Big Monday. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#19 Michigan State @ #18 Illinois – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

A Top 50 Rebounder, Green Has Been Solid Of Late For MSU (Excepting That 2-10 Against Penn State)

The Spartans needed overtime to dispatch their last two opponents at home, Wisconsin and Northwestern. Michigan State is doing just enough to get by as Korie Lucious and Durrell Summers have struggled lately. Lucious went 0-8 from the floor against Northwestern while Summers has scored just seven points in the last two games. For MSU to have any sustained success going forward, Tom Izzo must get these two players going somehow. Luckily for them, Draymond Green has stepped up, averaging 21/8.5 over the last two games.

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