Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 1st, 2011

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

A Look Back

The NCAA Tournament is right around the corner and the middle of the Big Ten doesn’t know what to do about it. This week features a bunch of big games for teams like Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State and Minnesota as they make a last-ditch attempt to get into the field of 68. Last week, there wasn’t much separation because few games were played and teams continued to play right into their current three-tier stratosphere.

  • Team of the Week: Ohio State: With none of the bubble teams doing anything particularly impressive, the Buckeyes went about their business and dispatched of Illinois at Value City Arena and Indiana at Assembly Hall. The two wins helped the Buckeyes reclaim top dog status after their loss at Purdue.
  • Player of the Week: JaJuan Johnson, F, Purdue: Johnson scored 20 points in two Purdue road victories last week. He also had nine boards against Indiana and then followed it up by adding 17 rebounds and 7 blocks against Michigan State. The game against the Spartans was a performance that put him right back in the middle of the National Player of the Year and Big Ten Player of the Year conversations.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Tim Hardaway, Jr., G, Michigan: Hardaway had another excellent week as he continues to come on late and help drive Michigan towards an unexpected NCAA Tournament berth. He’s scored in double-figures in his past 11 games and scored 16 points against Wisconsin and 22 points at Minnesota as the Wolverines split a pair.

Power Rankings

This week’s power rankings focus a bit on what the Big Ten teams need to do to get prepared for the NCAA Tournament, or what they might be thinking about come the off season.

1. Ohio State (27-2, 14-2) – The Buckeyes have been in the NCAA Tournament since about the first day of the season. They’re concentrating on grabbing a #1 seed and possibly the #1 overall seed. To do it, they’ll have to beat Wisconsin at home and then make a deep run into the Big Ten Tournament. Star freshman Jared Sullinger seems to be slowing down. He only played 12 minutes against Indiana and scored five points, his lowest total of the season. That’s okay though, because Ohio State has another talented freshman, Deshaun Thomas, who isn’t afraid to shoot. He stepped right in and scored 22 points against the Hoosiers.

2. Purdue (24-5, 13-3) – Matt Painter’s crew hasn’t felt losing since February 1, six games ago. Purdue hasn’t really been challenged during that time period either, with the hardest game being an eight-point win over Wisconsin at home. The Boilermakers look to be in a solid position for a #2 or #3 seed come Selection Sunday.

3. Wisconsin (22-6, 12-4) – This is the best offense in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy, but the Badgers can’t seem to put people away. Still, it’s been an impressive run for Bo Ryan’s club. Jon Leuer’s 26 points against Northwestern helped the Badgers seal that victory. Wisconsin looks in line to be a protected seed as well come Selection Sunday and a team nobody should want to face.

4. Michigan (18-12, 8-9) – The Wolverines weren’t expected to contend for an NCAA berth this season, but a young team has grown up quickly, and with a win on Saturday over rival Michigan State, John Beilein’s team would definitely have a case. Most bracket projections have the Wolverines in the tournament or just barely out at the moment. If they miss, two recent close losses at Illinois (54-52) and versus Wisconsin (53-52 on Josh Gasser’s miracle three) will be cruel deciding factors. Of course, beating Michigan State on Saturday and securing at least one victory in the Big Ten Tournament would do a lot.

5. Michigan State (16-12, 8-8) – Another team from Michigan that has played an incredibly difficult schedule and now finds itself on the edge of the NCAA Tournament bubble. The Spartans could use the road win in Ann Arbor, but they first have to get past a trap game versus Iowa. There’s no way a team that finishes 10-8 in the Big Ten would get left out, but with such a soft bubble, even 9-9 might be enough for Tom Izzo to get a chance to work his magic. Michigan State’s biggest problem? It’s second-best win is against a quickly fading Washington squad.

6. Illinois (18-11, 8-8) – The Illini are who they are; they blow out anything up to mediocre teams at home and struggle against everyone on the road. Thus, it’s pretty easy to project that Illinois will finish 9-9 in conference. Non-conference wins over North Carolina and Gonzaga will help get them safely into the tournament, but their seed line will be determined by how they play in the Big Ten Tournament.

7. Penn State (15-12, 8-8) – It was a festive day on Thursday for Talor Battle as he became the first player in Big Ten history with 2,000 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists. He said after the Nittany Lions beat Northwestern that he’d give it all back if Penn State could make the NCAA Tournament. Well, two winnable games remain as Ohio State comes to the Bryce Jordan Center and then Penn State finishes on the road at Minnesota. What it really comes down to is the game against the Buckeyes. Penn State has been close against good teams, but only has a home win over Wisconsin to carry their resume. Adding Ohio State to that list would be a clincher.

8. Northwestern (16-12, 6-11) – The Wildcats have no chance of making the NCAA Tournament as an at-large. They’re barely hanging on to NIT status right now. Bill Carmody has a number of juniors and there are a lot of seniors in the league, so next year should be brighter. Unfortunately, Northwestern will say goodbye to the player that always did show up in the big games, Michael “Juice” Thompson. He’ll play his final home game at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Wednesday against Minnesota.

9. Minnesota (17-11, 6-10) – Minnesota has lost seven of its last eight games and has dropped off the bubble. The Gophers haven’t been able to weather the loss of senior guard Al Nolen. You can’t play basketball without a point guard, and while Blake Hoffarber has tried admirably to fill in, he can’t play both backcourt positions at once. Minnesota has two winnable games remaining at Northwestern and home against Penn State, but 8-10 in the conference won’t be enough for an NCAA berth.

10. Iowa (10-18, 3-13) – The Hawkeyes are looking to play spoiler now. Their best chance to really throw a wrench into someone’s plans is on Wednesday when Michigan State comes to town.

11. Indiana (12-14, 3-10) – Tom Crean will be lucky to escape the conference basement as the Hoosiers finish with two difficult games. A last-place finish in the conference might make his seat awfully hot.

A Look Ahead (all times EST):

  • 3/1 – Illinois at Purdue, 7 p.m., ESPN
  • 3/1 – Ohio State at Penn State, 9 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 3/2 – Minnesota at Northwestern, 8:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 3/3 – Wisconsin at Indiana, 9 p.m., ESPN
  • 3/5 – Michigan State at Michigan, 2 p.m., CBS
  • 3/5 – Purdue at Iowa, 4 p.m., ESPN
  • 3/6 – Penn State at Minnesota, 1 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 3/6 – Wisconsin at Ohio State, 4 p.m., CBS

Fun with Efficiency Margin and KenPom: I’d actually like to use this space this week to posit a few thoughts about other random topics around the conference.

  • There are four coaches in the conference whose names have come up as being on the “Hot Seat” at some point this season: Bruce Weber at Illinois, Bill Carmody at Northwestern, Tom Crean at Indiana and Ed DeChellis at Penn State. DeChellis will obviously be safe if the Nittany Lions make the NCAA Tournament, but I also expect at least two of the three others will be back next season as well.
  • The top five teams in the Big Ten receive automatic byes to the quarterfinals. 6 plays 11, 7 plays 10 and 8 plays 9. That 8-9 game is the one that intrigues me. Right now it would be Minnesota vs. Northwestern. But if you were the 6 or 7 seed, a loss in the first round would almost certainly kill your NCAA Tournament hopes. The 4-5 game is in the second round. Right now that’d be Illinois versus Penn State, giving the Nittany Lions another chance for a good win. Just some things to think about.
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Checking in on… the Big 10

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 22nd, 2011

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

A Look Back

  • The Big Ten bubble picture is so muddled that it’s not worth even trying to sort through it at this point. Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Minnesota have all thought they were assured of dancing this season before some difficult events transpired. Right now, the Fighting Illini look to be at the top of the heap, but it’s almost guaranteed that some middling Big Ten team will end up on the outside looking in.
  • Thankfully, the conference will have three heavyweights waiting to defend it in the NCAA Tournament. Purdue vs. Wisconsin and Purdue vs. Ohio State showcased the quality of the upper tier teams in this league. They’re built for March and all three have contributors that can have a big night.

Team of the Week: Purdue – You can’t have a better week than Purdue had last week. The Boilermakers beat Wisconsin on Wednesday and then followed it up with a victory over Ohio State on national television. Lewis Jackson had a big game against the Badgers with 18 points and five assists and JaJuan Johnson had 20 points and ten boards. Sunday, though, belonged to the guy named Player of the Week.

Player of the Week: E’Twaun Moore, G, Purdue: Moore scored 19 points against Wisconsin, but with his team playing the #2 team in the country on Sunday, he really delivered. He scored 38 points. He did it efficiently too, shooting 13-18 from the field, 7-10 from three-point range and committing three turnovers. The senior shooting guard also had five assists and two steals.

Newcomer of the Week: Jared Sullinger, F, Ohio State: After an off night against Michigan State – during which he had 11 points, Sullinger went out and dominated the Purdue front line on the way to 25 points on 9-14 shooting. His rebounding totals have slipped a bit lately, but he’s still averaging almost a double-double at 18 points and 9.9 boards per game on the season.

Power Rankings

1. Ohio State (25-2, 12-2) – Thad Matta keeps shortening his rotation, but if he does it much more, he won’t be able to put five players on the court. In the victory over Michigan State, DeShaun Thomas played three minutes. While he logged 12 against the Boilermakers, a lot of that was due to foul trouble from Dallas Lauderdale. Can the Buckeyes make a deep tournament run with only six players?

2. Purdue (22-5, 11-3) – Purdue beat the team above it and the team below it in the Power Rankings this week. So why are the Boilermakers ranked below Ohio State? Through a full season of work, the Buckeyes have been slightly more consistent and both of Purdue’s victories came at home. Maybe Matt Painter’s team will get a chance to even the score in the Big Ten Tournament final?

3. Wisconsin (20-6, 10-4) – Purdue showed that Jon Leuer can get his points and Wisconsin can still lose. He scored 23 against the Boilermakers, but it wasn’t enough. At home versus, Penn State Keaton Nankivil went 5-5 from three and scored 22 points and Josh Gasser added 11 in a much more balanced effort that ended in a 10-point victory. The Badgers are going to need to have players step up on the road moving forward.

4. Illinois (17-10, 7-7) – If Illinois follows its up-and-down pattern, the Illini are in for a huge victory at Ohio State on Tuesday. Their last seven games have evenly alternated between wins and losses. The latest, a loss at Michigan State, may have helped the Spartans jump back onto the NCAA bubble.

5. Michigan (17-11, 7-8) – The Wolverines needed overtime and 30 points from freshman guard Tim Hardaway, Jr., to beat Iowa. Still, they got the win and that’s all that matters right now. Darius Morris had 20 points and nine assists in the victory and Jordan Morgan continued to build on his strong play of late with 18 points and eight boards.

6. Michigan State (15-11, 7-7) – The chances just keep on coming for Michigan State to prove it deserves to be in the NCAA Tournament. The Spartans played well but faded down the stretch against Ohio State on the road before beating Illinois at home. Kalin Lucas has been playing great basketball as of late. He scored 25 points against the Illini and was the only Michigan State player in double-figures.

7. Penn State (14-12, 7-8) – Talor Battle is always going to get his points. The senior guard scored 28 against Minnesota to keep the Nittany Lions in the NCAA discussion. A tough schedule makes their overall record a bit deceiving, but a loss to Maine and zero road wins are pretty tough sells. Penn State gets another chance for a road victory when it goes to Welsh-Ryan Arena on Thursday.

8. Minnesota (17-9, 6-8) – In-season strife has hit the Gophers harder than any other team in the Big Ten. Minnesota will now essentially play four straight bubble elimination games down the stretch of the regular season. Three of them are home games, though, which should give the Gophers a leg up on the competition.

9. Northwestern (16-10, 6-9) – After beating Iowa and winning at Indiana, the Wildcats’ record looks somewhat respectable. Now comes the hard part. Northwestern has to win at the Kohl Center in Wisconsin to have any chance of finishing .500 in league play, but before that comes a tough test against a Penn State team that just seems to have Bill Carmody’s number.

10. Iowa (10-17, 3-12) – Two close losses against Michigan and Northwestern don’t help the Hawkeyes. They want victories. Melsahn Basabe and Jarryd Cole both scored in double-figures in both games this week. Cole’s 17 points against Northwestern tied a season-high that he set in the very first game against South Dakota State.

11. Indiana (12-15, 3-11) – The Hoosiers allowed Northwestern to come into Assembly Hall and win for just the second time ever even with a week to prepare and the Wildcats coming off a two-day turnaround. The Wildcats shot 21-25 from the free throw line compared to 14-19 for the Hoosiers in the six-point game. With four really tough games to end the season, Tom Crean could be looking at some angry fans come March.

A Look Ahead (all times EST):

  • 2/22 – Illinois at Ohio State, 7 p.m., ESPN
  • 2/22 – Michigan State at Minnesota, 9 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 2/23 – Wisconsin at Michigan, 6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 2/24 – Penn State at Northwestern, 9 p.m., ESPN
  • 2/26 – Michigan at Minnesota, 4:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 2/27 – Purdue at Michigan State, 1 p.m., ESPN
  • 2/27 – Indiana at Ohio State, 4 p.m., CBS

Fun with Efficiency Margin and KenPom:

  • Ohio State is no longer the #1 team in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. Duke passed the Buckeyes after their loss to Purdue. The game against the Boilermakers was Ohio State’s worst per possession offensive output in conference play this season.
  • The Wisconsin-Penn State game featured some spectacular offense, and not much defense. 76-66 on 55 possessions is one high-scoring affair. It was Penn State’s second best showing of the conference season, just behind its opener against Indiana.
  • The metrics don’t believe in Michigan or Ohio State at the moment. Both teams have suffered from difficult schedules. It should be noted that the Buckeyes (+0.11) are third in efficiency margin in the conference behind Wisconsin (+0.13) and Purdue (+0.12).
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Set Your Tivo: 02.16.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 16th, 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 a big night all across the college basketball landscape but two games featuring teams all ranked in the top 12 lead the way. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#9 Wisconsin @ #11 Purdue – 6:30 pm on Big Ten Network (****)

We Don't Expect a Post-Buckeye Hangover From Leuer and the Badgers, But You Never Know

It’ll be interesting to see how the Badgers respond on the road after taking down #1 Ohio State on Saturday. Wisconsin is 3-4 in true road games and needed overtime to turn away Iowa last week. We expect this to be a very clean game with few turnovers played at a slow pace.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.11-02.13

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 11th, 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.

So many games, so little time to talk about them. Here are the biggest games of the weekend and why you should pay attention to them. Fair warning: it’s a long list. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#12 Syracuse @ #19 Louisville – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

The Cards Need Knowles To Catch Fire Over the Angry Syracuse Zone

With Rakeem Buckles and Gorgui Dieng practicing again for Louisville, the Cardinals are starting to get some of their depth back. Their status for this game is unknown but there’s a chance at least one of them will play. The Cardinals beat Syracuse twice last season and they’ll look to do it again in what is an important separation game for both teams. Only one game in the loss column separates third and eleventh place in the Big East with both of these teams in the thick of that jumbled mess.

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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: 02.01.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 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.

As we move into February, the games become more critical and the pressure increases. It’s getting towards crunch time now and tonight’s games feature a few teams trying to enhance their resumes. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#13 Purdue @ #16 Wisconsin – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

When you look at these two teams, it’s harder than you might think to differentiate between them. Both are led by 6’10 players who don’t play exclusively in the paint, both take great care of the basketball and both need a third scoring option among other things. Best of all, these squads are rated right next to each other in Ken Pomeroy’s latest ratings (UW #8, Purdue #9). Each team has won three of four games, but Wisconsin is coming off a loss to Penn State this past Saturday. The Badgers return home to the Kohl Center tonight where they are 147-11 under Bo Ryan.

Johnson Has No Time For POY Considerations -- He Has Higher Pursuits

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Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 18th, 2011

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.

A Look Back

It’s hard to figure out exactly what’s going on in the Big Ten this season. Ohio State has risen to No. 1 in the country in both polls, but after that it’s tough to tell which team is next. Purdue stumbled on the road at West Virginia, giving the conference yet another black eye in the non-conference, and Illinois had a bit of dysfunction. Those things allowed an old standby, Michigan State, to once again rise to second with two close overtime wins at home. That just goes to show the tightrope act that is conference play this season.

  • Team of the Week: Michigan State – The Spartans managed to pull off two dramatic comebacks on their home court in conference in the span of less than a week. Coming back to beat Wisconsin and Northwestern – both in overtime – helps put Tom Izzo’s team right back in the middle of the conference race and might help alleviate some of the concerns about this team playing close games in March.
  • Player of the Week: Draymond Green, F, Michigan State: The big reason why Michigan State won both games last week is that Green stepped up, averaging 21.0 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. He also went 17-19 (89.4 percent) from the free throw line, which helped the team in the close ones.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Aaron Craft, G, Ohio State: Craft also won the official Freshman of the Week award in the Big Ten and thus became the third Buckeye to win the award. Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas and Craft have swept the award this season. Craft won his after scoring 19 points to help Ohio State hold off Penn State.

Power Rankings

  • 1. Ohio State (18-0, 5-0) – Behind a trio of Diaper Dandies, the Buckeyes have ascended to the top spot in the conference and the country. They’re playing good basketball, but hanging onto the top spot requires them going into Champaign and pulling out a victory. The play of the freshman has been impressive, but just as notable is how Thad Matta has gotten David Lighty and Jon Diebler to acquiesce to Deshaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger on offense and play important supporting roles.
  • 2. Michigan State (12-5, 4-1) – See the Team of the Week and the Player of the Week sections for more on a very successful Big Ten week for the Spartans.
  • 3. Wisconsin (13-4, 3-2) – Jon Leuer struggled as the Badgers lost at Michigan State, scoring just ten points on nine shots, but Wisconsin still had a chance to win. Jordan Taylor just needed to get a better look at the basket late. Leuer rebounded though to score 26 points on 16 shots against Illinois. Other player to watch is Keaton Nankivil. The 6’8 senior forward has scored in double figures each of his past five games.
  • 4. Purdue (15-3, 4-1) –A poor shooting week from E’Twaun Moore doomed Purdue on the road. He shot 6-18 at West Virginia and scored 14 points and went 2-14 for five points against Minnesota. What has to be more concerning for Matt Painter though was the defense that allowed the Gophers to shoot 52.9 percent from the field.
  • 5. Illinois (13-5, 3-2) – Two losses have brought back the dysfunctional team chemistry that plagued the Fighting Illini last season. Freshman Jereme Richmond was held out of the loss to Wisconsin because of missed practice time. Mike Miller over at Beyond the Arc had a bit more to say about it here, though judging by a statement from Richmond on Monday, there shouldn’t be any lingering issues regarding his status.
  • 6. Minnesota (14-4, 3-3) – Two wins got Minnesota back on track, but both were at home, and one was against Iowa. Let’s see if Tubby Smith’s team can go on the road and beat someone. No matter where they play, controlling the pace is going to be important. The Gophers haven’t played a game at a pace of more than 65 possessions since Big Ten play started. Last week, the game against Purdue was 70-67 in 58 possessions. On a night when Blake Hoffarber and Trevor Mbakwe both play well, the Gophers will look unstoppable. Hoffarber went off for 26 points against the Boilermakers, but was held to nine points on 2-10 shooting against the Hawkeyes. That’s when Mbakwe picked things up though with 16 points and 12 rebounds off the bench. It doesn’t appear that Mbakwe’s violation of a restraining order has slowed him down at all.
  • 7. Penn State (10-7, 3-3) – The Nittany Lions are going through a brutal stretch of four games, but making the most of it. Wins over Michigan State and Illinois instantly boosted their at-large profile and made them a contender in the conference. It hasn’t all been Talor Battle either, the frontcourt of Jeff Brooks, Andrew Jones and David Jackson are forcing opponents to pay attention to them. Jones showed what happens if you don’t against the Illini with a game-winning put-back slam after four players went at Battle.
  • 8. Northwestern (11-5, 2-4) – What might have been? Losing in overtime to Michigan State is a big blow to the Wildcats’ NCAA Tournament hopes. Northwestern had a chance to win the game even though John Shurna scored just six points. Drew Crawford has been hot lately with 19 points at Iowa and 16 against the Spartans. Because of an extra game on Thursday against SIU-Edwardsville, Northwestern plays three games in six days this week. The Green Bay-Chicago NFC Championship game also upended the schedule and the Wildcats will play Wisconsin at 11:30 a.m. CT.
  • 9. Indiana (10-8, 1-4) – Michigan figured out you have to guard Indiana in order to beat them. Jordan Hulls was a perfect 4-4 from the field, including 3-3 from beyond the arc, and scored 13 points and Verdell Jones III went 9-10 from the field and scored 24 points in the Hoosiers’ 80-61 victory over the Wolverines.
  • 10. Michigan (11-7, 1-4) – The Wolverines exhibit all the signs of a young team. They play up for the good ones and down to the bad ones. Unfortunately the numbers suggest that the games against the good teams might just be the kids playing over their heads. It’s the defense that’s been the problem lately.
  • 11. Iowa (7-10, 0-5) – The Hawkeyes are struggling to score points in Big Ten play. While Fran McCaffery has tried to spruce up the offense, Iowa still needs more talent. When Indiana comes to town on Sunday it might be the Hawkeyes’ best chance to steal a conference victory.

A Look Ahead (all times EST):

  • 1/18 – Michigan State at Illinois, 7 p.m., ESPN
  • 1/19 – Penn State at Purdue, 8:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 1/22 – Ohio State at Illinois, 12:00 p.m., CBS
  • 1/22 – Michigan State at Purdue, 9 p.m., ESPN
  • 1/23 – Wisconsin at Northwestern, 12:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 1/23 – Indiana at Iowa, 3 p.m., Big Ten Network

Fun with Efficiency Margin and KenPom

  • You might be surprised to learn that Purdue still leads the conference in efficiency margin during Big Ten play. Of course that has a bit to do with scheduling. The Boilermakers have feasted on an easy schedule and have avoided Michigan State, Ohio State, Illinois and Wisconsin during their first five games. Ohio State is second with Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan State coming up behind them. The Spartans are the second luckiest team in conference according to my count, with undefeated Ohio State being the first.
  • Before Iowa’s loss at Minnesota, there wasn’t a single team in the Big Ten that was scoring less than a point per possession, but the Hawkeyes have dipped below that minimum standard of competency again. On the other hand, Purdue and Michigan State are both allowing less than a point per possession in conference play. The Spartans are winning in conference on the strength of their defense.
  • Finally, the Bubble Battle between Penn State, Northwestern and Minnesota should be fascinating to watch all season. The Gophers did more than the other two during non-conference play, but the three of them have very similar efficiency margins in conference play.
  • After next week, every team in the conference will have played one-third of its conference schedule and I’ll provide a full rundown with all the numbers and predictions moving forward.
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Set Your Tivo: 01.14-01.16

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 14th, 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.

Another action-packed weekend awaits grateful hoop fans as we’re about two months away from March Madness. Conference play is really heating up and races are beginning to take shape. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#23 Vanderbilt @ Tennessee – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (***)

Often Overlooked, Ezeli Is A Workhorse For the Commodores.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.11.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 11th, 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.

Three key conference clashes from different leagues take place tonight with two of the home clubs desperately needing a win. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#17 Wisconsin @ #20 Michigan State – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

Leuer Made the Midseason Top 30 Wooden Award List, Yet Many Fans Couldn't Pick Him Out of a Lineup.

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Checking in On… The Big Ten

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 11th, 2011

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten conference.

RTC is interested in learning how to improve our Checking In On… series in each conference.  Let us know in the below poll where we can improve this weekly piece (feel free to add specific comments).  Thanks.

A Look Back

  • The Big Ten powers continued to dominate this week, as Illinois, Purdue and Ohio State are a combined 10-0 in conference. The other teams though are starting to look very vulnerable. Michigan State’s loss at Penn State revealed some problems with the Spartans’ attack, while Minnesota doesn’t seem to have the firepower to hang with the top teams in the conference. And where is Wisconsin going to be when this all shakes out? The Badgers are the conference’s biggest enigma.
  • Oh and Northwestern’s NCAA Tournament hopes? They were probably dealt their deathblow on national television at Assembly Hall in Champaign, Illinois. Matt Norlander wrote a lovely obituary over on CBS’ new college basketball blog. That said, maybe life support is the better analogy as the Wildcats did beat a reeling Indiana team on Sunday night.
  • Team of the Week: Purdue – Two blowouts over inferior opponents get the Boilermakers the team of the week award this week. If Saturday showed us anything it’s that winning on the road in conference isn’t easy and Purdue won at Penn State, where Michigan State went on to lose, and also blew out Iowa at home. This team is really coming together and looks to be a dangerous NCAA Tournament style squad.
  • Player of the Week: Rhyne Smith, G, Purdue: Smith scored a team-high 18 points on 6’9 three-point shooting in Purdue’s victory over Iowa. He also was leading scorer in the Boilermakers’ victory over Penn State with 20 points on 5-5 three-point shooting and 5-7 free throw shooting. He’s a catch-and-shoot scorer who thrives off the open looks that come from playing with two All-Americans.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Melsahn Basabe, F, Iowa – Basabe went for 22 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks on Tuesday against Ohio State. He was held to eight points, with four turnovers, against Purdue.

Power Rankings

  1. Ohio State (16-0, 3-0) – The Buckeyes are showing a disturbing trend of letting teams back into games. Iowa and Minnesota both played them close before falling late. This could come back to haunt Thad Matta’s team at some point. Jared Sullinger had a double-double in both games this week with 24 and 12 against Iowa and 15 and 12 against Minnesota. The first team to stop him is going to have a legitimate chance to knock off the Buckeyes.
  2. Purdue (15-1, 4-0) – Check out the player of the week section about Ryne Smith. Players like Smith, Lewis Jackson and Terone Johnson are starting to step up for Purdue and are making this team even harder to beat.
  3. Illinois (13-3, 3-0) – If the Illini continue to shoot as well as they have in Big Ten play, they’re going to be unbeatable. Northwestern got shellacked at Assembly Hall as Illinois shot 70.5 percent from the field. The one weakness for Bruce Weber’s squad is that they turn the ball over too much. Even in the 25-point victory, it was evident, as the Illini turned it over 22 times. Of course, Mike Davis and Demetri McCamey both had seven assists on the way to a team total of 25.
  4. Wisconsin (12-3, 2-1) – Jon Leuer gets a lot of the press, but Jordan Taylor is the guy that drives the Badgers’ offense. He’s in the mold of other Wisconsin point guards like Devin Harris and Trevon Hughes where he just gets his points. Taylor scored 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds in Wisconsin’s 66-50 victory over Michigan. That’s 66 points in 54 possessions, by the way. This offense is absolutely deadly.
  5. Michigan State (10-5, 2-1) – It’s time to accept that this Michigan State team isn’t that good right now. The Spartans barely escaped at Northwestern and then lost to Penn State. Kalin Lucas had an okay week scoring the basketball, but the assists aren’t there right now. If he doesn’t have more games like the one against Minnesota where he had seven assists and two turnovers, the Spartans are going to struggle in league play.
  6. Minnesota (12-4, 1-3) – While a three-point loss to Ohio State isn’t a big deal, the Golden Golphers suffered a bigger loss off the court when Devoe Joseph, who started 25 of 76 games in his Minnesota career, was granted his release by the team on Wednesday. Joseph clashed with head coach Tubby Smith. The versatile guard had averaged 11.2 points per game this season and his departure will prove to be a big loss moving forward. The team needs a lot of depth to play Smith’s system and doesn’t really have it right now. One player benefitting is freshman Maverick Ahanminsi, who had a total of 25 minutes of time in the games versus Indiana and Ohio State after just three total minutes in the games against Wisconsin and Michigan State.
  7. Michigan (11-5, 1-2) – Man are the Wolverines going to be wishing they beat Kansas come Selection Sunday, but still, a 67-60 overtime loss to the No. 3 team in the country isn’t bad. Zack Novak played a strong game with 12 points and 11 boards to follow up on a 15-point performance in the loss to Wisconsin earlier in the week.
  8. Penn State (9-6, 2-2) – Penn State seems to be a dangerous team in league play. The Nittany Lions really struggled in the non-conference, but they’re slowly getting better. Even though Talor Battle didn’t have his best game against Michigan State, Penn State still won because Jeff Brooks stepped up with 17 points and 12 boards. Of course, Battle eventually hit the clutch shots down the stretch that allowed Ed DeChellis to get a big league win. Big Ten teams are locking in on Battle, who shot 6-22 against Purdue and 3-14 against Michigan State, so someone else will have to continue to step up for the Nittany Lions.
  9. Northwestern (10-4, 1-3) – John Shurna’s ankle is still bothering him, but he did manage to drop 24 on Indiana. I’m sure all the Wildcats want to forget the game against Illinois, but freshman JerShon Cobb did score 18 points in that game and followed it up with 11, on 3-4 three-point shooting, against the Hoosiers.
  10. Iowa (7-8, 0-3) – While the Hawkeyes can be dangerous at home, they’re going to struggle on the road, especially when teams like Purdue can shut down Matt Gatens and force other players to score points. Before Penn State’s victory over Michigan State, Iowa near miss, 73-68, against Ohio State was the most shocking score of the week.
  11. Indiana (9-8, 0-4) – Not much is going right for Indiana right now. The Hoosiers were down big to Northwestern before making the margin more respectable. Freshman Will Sheehey played well against the Wildcats with nine points and another freshman Victor Oladipo started and scored 13, but it’s hard to win Big Ten conference games relying on freshmen. The game against Northwestern was Oladipo’s fifth in a row in double-figures.

A Look Ahead

While every game is big in conference play, here are the key match-ups to keep an eye on in the upcoming week (all times EST). It also includes one special non-conference CBS Sunday afternoon treat.

  • 1/11 – Wisconsin at Michigan State, 7 p.m., ESPN
  • 1/12 – Ohio State at Michigan, 6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 1/12 – Northwestern at Iowa, 8:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 1/13 – Purdue at Minnesota, 7 p.m., ESPN
  • 1/15 – Illinois at Wisconsin, 3 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 1/15 – Michigan at Indiana, 8 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 1/16 – Purdue at West Virginia, 1:30 p.m., CBS

Fun with Efficiency Margin and KenPom: Three teams, Purdue (0.27), Illinois (0.18) and Ohio State (0.13) have efficiency margins greater than 0.10 during conference play. That’s very impressive.  Of course, those numbers will come down once they start playing each other, but each has been dominant thus far. The Boilermakers are just tearing things up on a per possession level.  On the other end of the spectrum are three teams: Indiana (-0.17), Michigan (-0.18) and Iowa (-0.19), all below -0.10 per possession. Michigan is at the level even with a win because of two blowout losses. The Wolverines’ game against Wisconsin is especially troublesome because the 16-point loss came in just 54 possessions as the offense disappeared in the second half. Michigan has shown in non-conference play that it can be very competitive against elite teams, so maybe this is a hiccup that will be corrected as the conference plays some more games and things even out.

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That’s Debatable: Mid-Season Awards

Posted by rtmsf on January 6th, 2011

That’s Debatable is back for another year of expert opinions, ridiculous assertions and general know-it-all-itude.  Remember, kids, there are no stupid answers, just stupid people.  We’ll try to do one of these each week during the season.  We’re fairly discerning around here, but if you want to be included, send us an email with your take telling us why at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

This Week’s Topic: Unbelievably, we’re already halfway through the regular season.  Who are your mid-season award winners for POY, COY and FrOY, and who is your surprise team for the second half of the season?

Brian Otskey, RTC contributor

I still have to go with Kemba Walker for POY at this point. The Connecticut guard just about single-handedly won the Maui Invitational for the Huskies and poured in 20+ points in every game from November 17 to December 31. Big East teams undoubtedly are going to defend him better but if the season ended today, he’s my choice. Staying in the Big East, my mid-season COY is Notre Dame’s Mike Brey. The Irish coach, now in his eleventh (!) year in South Bend, has made a contender out of a team picked to finish seventh in the league. Notre Dame has a great chance for a double-bye at MSG in March and has already knocked off Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Georgetown and Connecticut. Freshman of the year has to go to Jared Sullinger and it’s not even close. Sorry, I’m not taking Kyrie Irving who’s missed almost half of Duke’s games (through no fault of his own mind you). I just can’t do it. As for my sleeper, I’m with Seth Davis. Watch out for North Carolina in the second half. Provided they stay healthy, the Tar Heels will roll to second place in the down ACC and get back in the top 25 at some point.

Kellen Carpenter, RTC contributor

Half-way through and I feel like things have barely even started. That said, the season could last until May and I still doubt I would change my mind about Jared Sullinger. I just love watching him get crafty around the basket. He is a rare talent and the clear choice in my mind for Player of the Year, and I guess that means I have to give him Freshman of the Year too. Sorry, Kyrie: just bad luck. As for Coach of the Year, I’d give it to Steve Donahue. Though Boston College’s defense has gotten worse, he has supercharged the offense and when the players are rolling, it is a thing of terrifying and undeniable beauty. Seldom have I seen a team so completely and suddenly transformed. And for the second half of the season, I’d urge everyone to stay up a little bit later than usual and take in some Arizona games. Don’t let the loss to Oregon State fool you: This team is for real. Derrick Williams is a terrific player and I have a feeling that the Wildcats are going to be dangerously underestimated in March.

Matt Patton, RTC contributor

Player of the Year is totally up in the air, but right now I like Jon Leuer from Wisconsin.  Without him the Badgers are a low-end Big 10 team with a good point guard (think Penn State with Talor Battle).  With him they’re a sleeper contender and top 25 team.  I think I’d give Coach of the Year to Mike Brey of Notre Dame with San Diego State’s Steve Fisher coming in a close second.  I think Brey has taken a team with very little buzz to a place not many people outside South Bend were expecting.  He’s done a terrific job getting the most out of his players so far, and after their win over Georgetown I think the Fighting Irish are for real.  Freshman of the Year goes to Jared Sullinger.  Kyrie Irving would have a shot if he wasn’t hurt, but with him sidelined and Terrence Jones’ recent struggles I think Sullinger is a no brainer.  He makes Ohio State a truly elite team and is arguably the most polished interior force in college basketball.

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Set Your Tivo: New Year’s Weekend Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 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.

A lot of the college basketball world was in action on Friday and we have just 27 games tipping off on New Year’s Day. However, a handful involve some pretty good teams. A number of games are on Sunday but not many happen to be compelling matchups.  All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

West Virginia @ Marquette – 11 am Saturday on ESPN2 (***)

An important game for both clubs, this one tips at a strange time (10 am local) on New Year’s Day. West Virginia suffered a surprising loss to St. John’s at home earlier this week and doesn’t look like a vintage Bob Huggins team. The Mountaineers have struggled a bit with defense and rebounding, two staples of Huggins’ coaching career. They rank just #278 in defensive rebounding percentage and aren’t as strong inside as they have been. West Virginia fouls a lot, leading to foul problems and many free throws for the opposition. Marquette will look to take advantage of that with their free throw rate against, ninth in the nation. Look for the Golden Eagles to have a significant edge at the line as a result. A big part of WVU’s struggles has been the reluctance of Kevin Jones and Deniz Kilicli to explode and become big time players. Jones is still a good player but he hasn’t improved to the point where most expected him to. One player who has is Casey Mitchell, averaging 17 PPG which leads the team. The Mountaineer offense is very efficient (#9 in the country) due to effective point guard play from Darryl Bryant. “Truck” sets the tone for a very good half court unit. West Virginia does rebound well on their end, resulting in a lot of second chance points, but their defense and rebounding on the other end of the floor has let them down. St. John’s put up 81 points against them, a stunning number for a team that isn’t considered an offensive powerhouse by any stretch. Marquette will look to push the ball and work it inside in order to get easier looks and be fouled. Buzz Williams has an undersized team but they do a great job of using their athleticism by getting in the paint and creating good looks. MU gets 62% of their points inside the arc and is #11 in the country in two point percentage. They have a good turnover margin as well and will look to get points in the paint through lots of transition opportunities.  Jae Crowder has added another dimension to the Marquette attack, giving them a good scorer inside and out as well as a solid rebounder. He and Jimmy Butler will be key players for the home folks today. Perhaps the most encouraging sign for Williams is the play of Darius Johnson-Odom over the last two games. His struggles from three have been well documented this season but he’s hit seven of his last eleven trifectas. Keeping that hot shooting going will be tough against West Virginia’s #4 rated three point defense but you have to think DJO has some good vibes now. Marquette’s three point defense isn’t very good but they must try to contain Mitchell on the wing. This should be a fairly close game but we like the Golden Eagles to win at home. Nobody knows how the players will react to such an early start but Marquette is playing better right now and should take this one.

#16 Notre Dame @ #4 Syracuse – 3:30 pm Saturday on ESPNU (****)

This matchup has turned into a really good one with the surprising success of Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish picked Georgetown apart (no small feat) earlier this week and will look to grab a big time road win on Saturday afternoon. The keys here are Notre Dame’s rebounding and three point shooting. The Irish run a great offense at a relatively slow pace and will have to get comfortable in the half court against the Syracuse zone. If the three’s are not falling, this will be a long game for Mike Brey. However, we think they will and Notre Dame has an excellent chance to go into Syracuse and grab a win. Notre Dame is an experienced squad and knows what they need to do here. Tim Abromaitis and Ben Hansbrough will look to shoot over the 2-3 zone while Tyrone Nash will play a big role inside against Syracuse’s Rick Jackson. Nash is the best player in the country at drawing fouls, an important statistic against Jackson and Kris Joseph (52 points in his last two games) inside. If the Syracuse bigs are in foul trouble, Notre Dame has a tremendous chance to win. As a team, the Irish are one of the best at getting to the line and keeping their opponent off it. Their free throw rates are very good on both ends so Syracuse will have to get it done shooting the ball from the floor. That’ll be tough against a Notre Dame team coming off a tremendous defensive performance against the Hoyas. Each team takes good care of the ball so turnovers don’t figure to be a huge factor in this game. The rebounding battle may decide the outcome. Both teams do a nice job on the glass but Jim Boeheim has the best rebounder on the floor with Jackson in the middle. He averages 12 RPG and can single handedly carry the Orange to victory. Getting the ball to Jackson on offense falls to Scoop Jardine, a very good point guard averaging six assists per outing. This is a great matchup between two teams that should contend for a double-bye at the Big East Tournament in March. Syracuse will be favored and obviously has a good chance to win but we’re going to go out on a limb here and take the Irish in an upset on the road.

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