ATB: Who Wants to Play in This Tournament?

Posted by rtmsf on March 2nd, 2011

The Lede.  The story of this week so far appears to be just how difficult it is for us to find 37 at-large teams to fill out this year’s bracket.  Can you imagine how this would look if they NCAA had expanded to 96 teams?  We’d be discussing teams like New Mexico, Cal and Ole Miss as serious candidates for inclusion, a specter that nobody would want to face.  Memo to all the bubble teams — give us a reason to support your selection, will you?

Diebler Didn't Need to Drive Tonight (AP/J. Beale)

Your Watercooler MomentBubble, Bubble, Toil & Trouble.  On Saturday night, after Virginia Tech successfully vanquished the Dookies and RTC’d with reckless abandon, we wrote: “Did Virginia Tech Finally Get Over the NCAA Hump? Of course, it’s hard to say for certain with these guys.  After vanquishing #1 Duke for its most important win in years, the Hokies will probably turn around and lose to Boston College at home on Tuesday.  Let’s hope not.”  Sigh………  And Seth Greenberg dares to argue year after year why his team is left on the outside of the NCAA Tournament looking in?  His team didn’t show up tonight, falling behind by as much as 30-12 in the opening minutes and only making half-hearted runs the rest of the way — put simply, BC appeared to be a team that wanted to play in the NCAAs, while Tech seemed to play like they were already guaranteed a bid.  The Hokies now sit at 19-10 (9-6 ACC) with a tough trip to fellow bubbler Clemson over the weekend on the horizon.  It’s going to be another one of those Marches for the Virginia Tech fanbase, as even with a bubble softer than Greenberg’s midsection, the Hokies are no lock for the NCAAs and are generally unlikely to make things easy on the Selection Committee.

In other Bubble trouble, several teams hurt their case in what is rapidly becoming a race to the dirty bottom in terms of finding enough legitimate teams to fill out this year’s 68-team bracket.

  • Baylor – The Bears were already on a bit of life support with only a handful of bracketologists having Baylor as a part of the 68-team field based on their current resume.  Getting a road win against a middle-pack Big 12 team would have helped, but a terrible shooting night from their backcourt of LaceDarius Dunn and AJ Walton (combined 5-26 FGs) did them in.  The Bears host reeling Texas over the upcoming weekend, but it’s looking more and more that, with a weak RPI and few quality wins of substance, that the only way Baylor finds its way back into the Dance is by making a run in the Big 12 Tournament.
  • Alabama – For a half, it appeared that maybe, finally, inexorably, Anthony Grant’s team might get the kind of marquee win that would make all the bracketologists stand up and take notice that they’re playing some pretty good ball down in Tuscaloosa this winter.  It wasn’t to be.  Florida blistered the Tide with a 48-21 second half, breaking open a tied game at the half and clinching the Gators’ first SEC regular season title since the Oh-Fours left campus in 2007.  For Bama, its rough non-conference schedule is likely to act as an NCAA albatross two Sundays from now — the Tide needs to win the SEC Tournament, more than likely, to Dance this year.
  • Illinois – The Illini competed with Purdue tonight, but they simply weren’t going to beat the Boilermakers in their building where they were 16-0 this season.  This loss won’t hurt them much, but they do not want to enter the Big Ten Tournament next week with an 8-10 conference record and absolutely needing a win, do they?  Beating Indiana at home is a security blanket that they cannot afford to drop (Illinois lost to Indiana in Bloomington, remember).

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Louis Farrakhan as College Hoops Patron.  Yes, you read that correctly.  We don’t usually think of the elderly Nation of Islam leader and college basketball at the same time, ever, but Farrakhan attended tonight’s NC State-Virginia game to represent for his grandson, Cavalier guard Mustapha, during his Senior Night.  Farrakhan the Younger dropped 15/4/3 assts in an 11-point win for Virginia, a key victory as the Wahoos attempt to keep an overall winning record to become NIT-eligible this season.  The Cavs are currently 15-14 with a road game at Maryland and the ACC Tournament upcoming, so they still have some work to do.  We suppose this might be the first and only time that Farrakhan will ever attend a college hoops game.
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Set Your Tivo: 03.01.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 1st, 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.

Welcome to March, the best month of the year for all hoops fans. It’s a huge night for bubble teams across the country, with a few having a chance for that elusive marquee win that may put them over the top. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#19 Vanderbilt @ #22 Kentucky – 9 pm on ESPN (****)

Tonight, Josh Harrellson Will Be the Lone Kentucky Player Honored By the Senior Night Playing of "My Old Kentucky Home"

This is the only game in tonight’s preview that doesn’t feature a bubble team as both of these clubs are solidly in the field. They’re both projected to get 5-seeds and are actually right next to each other on the S-curve. The Commodores won the first meeting in Nashville by means of a strong shooting night on which they hit 55% from three. Kentucky held Vanderbilt to 41.2% shooting inside the arc in that game, however, and that’s something the Wildcats do very well on the whole. They rank fifth nationally in two point defense and block percentage, plus they rebound well with Terrence Jones and Josh Harrellson up front. Both teams have the ability to get silly from beyond the arc, so this game could very well come down to interior play.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.22.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 22nd, 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.

Illinois and Tennessee will look to lock up bids on the road tonight while Michigan State and Minnesota fight for survival. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

Illinois @ #1 Ohio State – 7 pm on ESPN (***)

We Have Weber And Illinois In...For Now

After starting the season 24-0, Ohio State has lost two of its past three games, both coming on the road. The Buckeyes return home to Columbus tonight to take on an Illinois team looking for that marquee road win that will push them off the bubble and into the NCAA Tournament. At 17-10 (7-7), Illinois is probably in the field as of now, but still has work to do. With a road game at Purdue still to follow, it seems the best the Illini can do is 9-9 in league play, although a win tonight would give them a great shot to go 10-8 while also locking up a bid.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.18-02.20

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 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.

With only two weeks left in the regular season, it’s time for teams to make their moves. This weekend provides ample opportunities for some to do so. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

VCU @ Wichita State – 7 pm Friday on ESPN2 (***)

Skeen Leads VCU In Scoring (14.6 PPG), But Is Also Top Ten In the CAA In Rebounding (7.7 RPG) And PP40 (19.0)

This could very well prove to be an elimination game. VCU has lost two straight games at home and now has to venture out of conference on the road. Wichita State has lost three games at home already this season, however, and probably has to win out and make a run in the MVC Tournament in order to have a chance at a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Shockers don’t have a win in the RPI top 50 and those three home losses are really holding them back. VCU was blasted on the boards by Old Dominion recently (40-21) and it’s going to be hard to avoid that again in this game. If the Rams can’t create extra possessions through turnovers, it’s going to be a very long night.

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Morning Five: 02.18.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on February 18th, 2011

  1. If you remember the name Pete Lisicky, a Penn State guard during the mid-90s, you’re probably either a Big Ten fan or some kind of stat nerd savant for college basketball.  Expect to hear his name a lot this weekend, as Ohio State’s Jon Diebler is set to break his Big Ten record for threes made (332) in a career.  Diebler currently sits one behind Lisicky, who spent the last eleven years draining treys in Europe before coming back to work in mutual funds in Arizona, for the record.  OSU plays Purdue on Saturday, so place your bets now on the times of the game when Diebler will both tie and pass the mark — he’s only made fewer than two treys in a game five times this year.
  2. Temple forward Michael Eric will miss the rest of the season with a fractured patella.  He suffered the injury earlier this week during practice when he ran into another player, but is expected to make a full recovery.  The 6’11 big man was averaging 7/6 in twenty minutes per game, but the Owls didn’t seem to miss him last night against Richmond, blowing out the Spiders, 73-53.
  3. This story from the Baltimore Sun revisits the “Jewish Jordan,” Tamir Goodman.  Goodman was a one-time Maryland recruit who never realistically could have lived up to the hype he received coming out of high school.  He played for a bit at Towson before heading overseas until injuries forced him to retire at the age of 28.  It’s a good read about a guy who is using his life lessons in a positive way.
  4. Of the various Billy Gillispie rumors that have floated around the past couple of seasons — Texas Tech, Houston, etc. — this one where he would take over for Oklahoma’s Jeff Capel seems the best fit.  OU is a top-tier basketball program when it wants to be but will never be confused with football in Norman, and with Gillispie’s pipeline into the fertile Texas recruiting landscape, this would appear to be a home run situation for both sides.  The question, of course, is whether the administration will give Capel another year to turn things around there.
  5. This is so amazing that we’re not sure whether to be scared of these two or ready to send them campaign contributions.  Henry Sims, a junior center at Georgetown, has decided to run for student body VP, and his campaign ad (along with presidential candidate, Jed Felman), is comedic gold.  Who shares a salad, and what’s going on with the Oprah joke?  Just bizarre, but hilarious.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.15.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 15th, 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.

Kansas State revived their Tournament chances (at least for now) with a big win last night. Can Michigan State do the same? Plus, first place is on the line in the Colonial. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

George Mason @ VCU – 7 pm on ESPNU (****)

Shaka Smart and VCU Can Even Things Up In the Patriot Tonight

Entering tonight, VCU sits one game behind George Mason as the teams meet for the only time in the regular season. The Patriots are one of the hottest teams in the nation, currently on an 11 game winning streak, while the Rams suffered their first home loss in over a year at the hands of Old Dominion on Saturday. To avoid a second straight home loss, VCU will have to contain George Mason’s potent guard-oriented attack.

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Alpha Dogs, Traffic Jams, and Derrick Williams

Posted by KCarpenter on February 10th, 2011

While we love to celebrate teamwork in college basketball, the truth is that the individual is much more fun. Balanced scoring is fine and tactically sound, but what we really love in college basketball is the virtuoso offensive performance, or as it is called in 2011, the Jimmer. And while the three-headed Devil from Durham may have won last season, perhaps this season, the one man show is back in style.  It’s Michael Jordan’s fault, really. His competitive nature and unbelievable personal narcissism motivated him to incredible heights and made him largely unbearable to most of his contemporaries. His success provided a model for greatness that was easy to recognize and hard to argue with. There are lots of different names for the Jordan model, but Bill Simmons’ version is probably the best known: The Alpha Dog.

Yeah, It's Safe to Call MJ an Alpha Dog

Simmons didn’t invent the concept or the term: lots of analysts, sportswriters, announcers and coaches have described the alpha dog model in one way or another over the years. The gist of it is this: A team needs an undisputed leader. The alpha dog is the go-to-guy on offense and is the guy who takes the game-winning shots. To win championships, you need an alpha dog. Jordan was an alpha dog (at least for the Bulls if not for North Carolina), and he is the primary reason his team won championships. Despite being a team game, you need an alpha dog to win, to demand the right to take the last shot. Guys who pass up the last shot aren’t alpha dogs: they are losers. At least, that’s the catechism. However, in the grand world of Simmon-isms, there may be another theory at play.

Specifically, I’m talking about the Ewing Theory, which in short, postulates that sometimes a team will play better without its star player, that the team will transcend the individual. Does this contradict the Alpha Dog theory? Well then it contradicts the Alpha Dog theory. Simmons, like Walt Whitman, contains multitudes. In any case, the Sports Guy has lots of examples, and anecdotally, lots of folks have seen this with their own eyes and believe it. It’s not too hard to imagine a scenario where this makes sense. The star is a volume scorer and fairly inefficient, and when the star is out of the game, the other players get more shots and more efficient shots. This is fairly intuitive and you can see the principle in action every Kentucky game. Terrence Jones is a sensational basketball player and undoubtedly incredibly skilled. That said, he is the fifth most efficient scorer on the team, but takes 30.5% of the shots. If he took fewer shots and his teammates took more, the team’s offensive efficiency would go up.

At Ohio State, Jared Sullinger uses, by far, the most possessions in each game, and for the most part, that’s fine. Sullinger is an incredibly efficient scorer with an offensive rating of 123.6 (points per hundred possessions). That said, Sullinger’s teammate Jon Diebler has an insane offensive rating of 139.1 and yet uses only 12.5% of Ohio State’s possessions. If I were to pretend you were naive here, you would then ask why Ohio State isn’t constantly feeding Jon Diebler. Fortunately, you aren’t naive and you understand that efficency is fleeting. Or if not exactly fleeting, curved.

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Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 8th, 2011

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

A Look Back

  • Is the Big Ten, the highest-rated conference according to Ken Pomeroy, a four-bid league? That’s the question facing teams right now as the middle of the pack continues to churn. The only definite teams right now are Ohio State, Wisconsin and Purdue, but some mix of the next six teams in the conference could make it if things were to go well. Still, whether due to injuries, inconsistent play or a lack of opportunities, there seems to be something holding every team back.
  • Team of the Week: Wisconsin: The Badgers staked their claim to being the second best team in the Big Ten with a victory over Purdue and a crushing victory over Michigan State on Sunday. The Spartans didn’t know what hit them as the Badgers rained down threes during the first half; it led to some pretty epic offensive production.
  • Player of the Week: Jon Leuer, F, Wisconsin: Leuer played a big role in both of Wisconsin’s wins this week. He scored 24 points and grabbed 13 rebounds against Purdue and then followed it up with 20 and six against the overmatched Spartans. One thing to watch, though, is his turnovers. He had four in each of the past two games, more than half the team’s total of 15.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Jared Sullinger, F, Ohio State: Sullinger had two double-doubles last week against Michigan and Minnesota. Days like 19 points and 15 boards against the Wolverines are becoming so typical it’s almost possible to lose sight of how good this freshman is. He’s consistent as well, as he scored 18 points and grabbed 13 boards against the Gophers. The weakness in the big man’s game is free throw shooting. Sullinger shot 7-19 from the line last week and is at 69% on the season.

Power Rankings

1. Ohio State (24-0, 11-0) – In another week of solid victories for the Buckeyes the most interesting thing with the program happened off the court. Luke Winn featured the Buckeyes’ assists to Jared Sullinger in his Power Rankings last week. That same graphic then appeared in an ESPN broadcast. ESPN gave credit to Winn after the game and has since apologized. The big takeaway? Jon Diebler gives 44.2 percent of the post feeds from guards to the big freshman, as the two of them play the two-man high-low game of pick your poison. Also, I think that Winn should get Subway to sponsor that feature in the future.

2. Wisconsin (17-5, 7-3) – This offense does some unbelievable things, including scoring 82 points in 54 possessions against Michigan State. That’s 1.5 points per possession and absolutely absurd. That’s what happens when a team shoots 64.7 percent from three, shoots 25-26 from the free throw line and turns the ball over just eight times. Jordan Taylor led the way with 30 points for the Badgers.

3. Purdue (18-5, 7-3) – Purdue played one game this week, a tough one at Wisconsin, and lost. There’s no shame in it. JaJuan Johnson continued his excellent season with 23 points and 3 blocks, but the secondary players from the Badgers just made more plays down the stretch.

4. Illinois (15-8, 5-5) – Bruce Weber’s team doesn’t deserve to be in this spot after losing on Saturday on CBS to Northwestern, but honestly, which other collapsing Big Ten squad would you put here? When in doubt, take the talent, even if they do have a propensity for losing close games.

5. Penn State (12-10, 5-6) – A shoulder injury to senior forward Jeff Brooks might have cost the Nittany Lions a key conference game agaist Michigan on Sunday. Brooks injured his shoulder in Penn State’s loss to Illinois and then sat out its 65-62 loss to the Wolverines. Coaches hope to have him back when the Nittany Lions travel to Michigan State on Thursday.

6. Minnesota (16-7, 5-6) – The Gophers have lost three games in a row. Two of them weren’t really a surprise (at Purdue, vs. Ohio State), but a 60-57 loss at Indiana isn’t good. Thankfully, not a single ranked team remains on the conference schedule and games against fellow bubble teams Illinois and Penn State are at home.

7. Northwestern (14-8, 4-7) – Michael “Juice” Thompson carried the Wildcats to a victory at home over in-state rival Illinois, 71-70, with some great three-point shooting (5-8 from distance) and clutch plays. The Wildcats are also starting to get a bit healthier as John Shurna returned from his concussion to play in the game against the Illini.

8. Michigan (14-10, 4-7) – 23 points from Darius Morris was enough to get a victory on the road at Penn State and help the Wolverines get a much-needed victory. With five winnable games left on the schedule Michigan has an outside shot at getting into the NCAA bubble (at 9-9 in conference with a very tough non-conference schedule) talk by the Big Ten Tournament, more likely the Wolverines are headed to the NIT.

9. Michigan State (13-10, 5-6) – The Spartans’ season is quickly spiraling out of control. Tom Izzo in the weekly conference call summed the past week up this way: “Definitely one of the most disappointing weeks of my coaching career.” Michigan State has lost five of its last six games, and suffered two blowout losses last week to Iowa (by 20 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena) and Wisconsin (by 28 in only 54 possessions at the Kohl Center).

10. Iowa (10-13, 3-8) – The Hawkeyes might be one of the hottest teams in the Big Ten. Their 20-point blowout of Michigan State was incredibly unexpected, but then they followed it up with a one-point victory over Indiana at Assembly Hall in Bloomington. Freshman Melsahne Basabe had 20 points and 13 rebounds against the Hoosiers.

11. Indiana (12-12, 3-8) – Just when it looked like the Hoosiers were turning things around a home loss to Iowa might’ve taken the wind out of their sails. Beating Minnesota was the highlight as Tom Pritchard scored 12 points on five shots and grabbed seven boards for Indiana. He also had a dunk-of-the-year nominee.

A Look Ahead (all times EST)

  • 2/8 – Indiana at Purdue, 7 p.m., ESPN
  • 2/9 – Northwestern at Michigan, 6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 2/10 – Illinois at Minnesota, 9 p.m., ESPN
  • 2/12 – Ohio State at Wisconsin, 2 p.m., ESPN
  • 2/12 – Indiana at Michigan, 4 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 2/13 – Purdue at Illinois, 1 p.m., CBS
  • 2/13 – Northwestern at Penn State, 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

Fun with Efficiency Margin and KenPom: As John Gasaway pointed out on Monday, there are no easy games in the Big Ten this season. The lowest rated team, Iowa, has an efficiency margin of -0.11 per possession. On the other hand, the conference leader, Wisconsin, is at +0.16. Yes, the Badgers, not Ohio State, have the best efficiency margin during conference play. The undefeated, #1 ranked Buckeyes are no slouches though at +0.14 points per possession. Seven of the 11 teams have a negative efficiency margin right now.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.04-02.06

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 5th, 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.

On paper, this isn’t the best weekend of games. However, this is college basketball where anything can happen. You just never know what could happen and it may end up being a thrilling couple of days, anyway. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

West Virginia @ #12 Villanova – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

Yet another big game in the Big East features two teams tied for third place at 6-3 in league play. The winner will tie second place Notre Dame, just a game and a half behind first place Pittsburgh. West Virginia has won seven of nine games and rebounding has been a big reason why. The Mountaineers have not been out-rebounded by an opponent since a New Year’s Day game at Marquette, plus their defense has been solid. West Virginia has scored only 58 PPG over their last four games (three of them without leading scorer Casey Mitchell) but has held opponents to an average of 50 PPG over the same stretch, culminating in holding Seton Hall to 44 points on Wednesday. Bob Huggins’ team is #5 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage but will have to bring their A-game on the glass against Villanova. The Wildcats rank 20th in keeping opponents off the offensive boards and were led by the interior duo of Antonio Pena and Mouphtaou Yarou in their most recent win over Marquette. They combined for 32/15 and have been huge factors this season as Jay Wright isn’t counting exclusively on his guards to win games anymore. Although West Virginia has rebounded the ball extremely well of late, they still rank only #291 in opponent’s offensive rebounding percentage, allowing teams to grab 35.6% of their misses. Villanova will likely miss a lot of long range shots against West Virginia’s #2 ranked three point defense (allowing 27%) so offensive rebounding will be important for both teams, especially the Wildcats, in this game. Coach Huggins used 6’7 John Flowers on Seton Hall’s Jeremy Hazell in their last game and he successfully shut down the Pirates’ gunner. Might we see the same thing on Villanova’s Corey Stokes? It’s a good possibility, though Flowers may be needed inside more often to double Pena and Yarou. Flowers leads the Big East in blocked shots and needs to have another good defensive game against a Villanova team that can score in bunches. The Wildcats score 25.6% of their points from the foul line and attempted 33 free throws against Marquette. Villanova is very difficult to beat when they get to the stripe because they shoot 78% and get there so often. Dribble penetration from Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns leads to good looks inside and plenty of free throw opportunities. West Virginia has to do a good job defending the dribble drive and Kevin Jones will be a key player in doing so. Jones is a taller player who, along with Flowers, will form the second line of defense if the Wildcat guards are able to get into the lane. Jones is also a warrior on the glass, going for 13/12 in his last game. With the status of Casey Mitchell still uncertain, West Virginia will have to stick to typical “Huggy-ball” more than ever, and that’s physical defense and great rebounding. Villanova is 16-0 when they score at least 70 points but only 2-4 when they fail to do so. With the way West Virginia is rebounding and playing defense right now, it’s very possible that this game could be in the 50’s or 60’s. We’re going to go with the upset and take the Mountaineers on the road in this game.

#10 Kentucky @ Florida – 9 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

With a win on Saturday night, Florida can really create some separation between themselves and Kentucky. With a win against the Wildcats, Florida will hold a two and a half game lead over UK and remain ahead of Tennessee, a team they beat on the road already. Quite simply, a win here puts Florida in a commanding position in the SEC East. Of course, that won’t be so easy against the nation’s fourth ranked team in eFG% defense. The Gators have won 9 of 11 games but Kentucky will be their toughest test since a meeting with Ohio State back in November. The Wildcats are coming off a loss at Ole Miss earlier this week, a game in which they committed 18 turnovers and didn’t defend the three point line well at all. Freshman point guard Brandon Knight had six of those turnovers and needs to do a better job tonight. Young teams can’t turn it over and expect to win on the road no matter how talented they are and Kentucky is finding out the hard way. With a 2-4 record in true road games, the Wildcats need to grow up quick if they want to play deep into March. Knight needs to create shots for himself and others, taking advantage of UK’s 40% shooting from deep. With Doron Lamb shooting the ball very well recently, Kentucky has plenty of threats to win this game. A key battle in this game will be at the forward spot as Kentucky’s freshman Terrence Jones goes up against Florida senior Chandler Parsons. Jones averages 18/9 and had 22/12 at Ole Miss while Parsons has been on an absolute tear on the glass of late. Controlling the boards will be critically important in a game that could be all about pace. The Gators would like to slow the game down and work in the half court while the Wildcats are comfortable at a quicker pace. To keep the tempo in their favor, Florida has to win the rebounding battle and make shots. The Gators are #10 in offensive rebounding percentage but the matchup between Jones and Parsons, as well as Vernon Macklin and Josh Harrellson at the center position, will likely determine who controls the glass in this game. If Harrellson can shut down Macklin (Festus Ezeli of Vanderbilt did a good job of this in the last game), the onus will be on Parsons to carry the Gators yet again. With Erving Walker hitting only 7 of his last 33 threes (21%), Florida will work the ball inside even more than they already do. The Gators get 56.8% of their points from two point range but will face the #4 interior defense in the country. Kentucky allows opponents to shoot only 41% from two point range while Florida is making 50.5% of their two point shots. This should be a physical game and whoever controls the interior will likely come out on top. Despite their road woes, we think John Calipari’s team will be ready to play tonight and hand the Gators their fourth home loss, disappointing the big crowd sure to be at the O-Dome for ESPN Game Day.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.25.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 25th, 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.

No matter how many games there are, no night is ever an off night in college basketball. Notre Dame legitimized itself as a Big East double-bye contender with a massive road win at Pittsburgh last night while Kansas State got their must win. What’s in store for us hoopheads tonight? All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#12 Purdue @ #1 Ohio State – 9 pm on ESPN (****)

It's a Battle of Player of the Year Candidates In Columbus Tonight

First place is on the line in the Big Ten as these two clubs meet tonight in Columbus. Ohio State has a one game lead over Purdue and can make it two plus the tiebreaker if they win. On the other hand, the Boilermakers can move into a first place tie and will hold the tiebreaker edge (for now) should they come out on top. Obviously the big-time matchup in this game is down inside as freshman Jared Sullinger goes up against senior JaJuan Johnson. Sullinger has a lot more bulk to push people around inside but Johnson has a game that extends out to mid range and even the three point arc on occasion. Look for Matt Painter’s big man to try and pull Sullinger away from the basket, opening up lanes for Purdue’s guards to get to the rim. Each team starts four guards, so Purdue won’t have as difficult of a time as you might think if Johnson is successful.

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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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The Week That Was: Jan. 17-Jan. 24

Posted by jstevrtc on January 25th, 2011

David Ely is an RTC Contributor

Get ready college hoops fanatics. Get ready for the stampede of casual fans that are about to crash the sports bars once the NFL season comes to a close. They’ll have to find something for their sports fix and they’ll turn to college basketball. So be prepared for people asking things like, “Who’s that big guy for Ohio State? He looks pretty good.” Or “San Diego State’s in the top five? Really?!?” Just try to smile and nod at those fools. No need to let them ruin the season’s stretch run.

What We Learned

TWTW Loves Jimmer and Kawhi, But Prefers E'Twaun and the Boilers Traveling to Columbus This Week

Even with SDSU and BYU squaring off on Wednesday, TWTW feels that if there’s only one game you watch this week, make sure it’s Purdue at Ohio State, tonight at 9pm ET. Matt Painter’s squad is one of our favorites and TWTW thinks they’re a good bet to pull off the upset. Purdue rebounded from back-to-back losses at Minnesota and West Virginia to grind out a win over a plucky Penn State squad and then took care of business against reeling Michigan State. It would have been easy for the Boilermakers to fold at the first sign of trouble this season. They have the built-in excuse of Robbie Hummel’s injury, and no one really believed they could sustain their early-season success once they hit the meat of their schedule, but seniors JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore wouldn’t let that two-game losing streak turn into a prolonged swoon. Johnson scored 25 points in the win over PSU, while Moore poured in 26 against the Spartans.

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