Big Ten M5: 11.16.12 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 16th, 2012

  1. Michigan State freshman Gary Harris came into this season a highly touted recruit for Tom Izzo. He was ranked in the top 30 by Rivals and proved his worth against Kansas by scoring 18 points on Tuesday night. But the other freshman Spartan, Denzel Valentine, may end up being just as valuable as Harris this season. Valentine has the ability to become a great guard in Izzo’s system with his passing skills (four assists against KU) and the zeal to buckle down on the defensive end. Both Harris and Valentine may end up being a dynamic duo for Izzo over the next couple of years assuming both of them stay in school.
  2. Bo Ryan may find guards to fill in the void created by Josh Gasser’s injury on the offensive end but the defensive side might suffer a bit this season. Shane Ryan of Grantland outlines the Badgers’ defensive issues based on the road game against Florida on Wednesday night. Gasser was a lockdown defender on defense last season and his freshman replacements, George Marshall and Traevon Jackson, may have issues keeping up with superior backcourts. Both of them are athletic enough but it takes a while for freshmen to understand and communicate properly about the defensive sets. Ryan’s teams have ranked in the top 10 defensively in the nation for a long time and will need to figure out their issues soon before conference play begins.
  3. After long discussions with Minnesota’s Charles Buggs‘ family, Tubby Smith and Buggs have decided that he will redshirt this season. The 6’9″ forward’s services may not be needed because Trevor Mbakwe will play a major role in the frontcourt for Tubby Smith. Buggs weighs about 195 lbs. right now, so one of his main goals during the redshirt year will be to add some size in order to compete in the rugged B1G. Smith compared him to forward Damian Johnson who redshirted as a true freshman and became a key defensive player for Smith in Minneapolis. Rodney Williams will mostly play at the power forward position once Mbakwe is back to 100% game shape over the next couple of months.
  4. Northwestern has signed point guard Jaren Sina and guard Nate Taphorn for the 2013-14 season. Sina was also considering Seton Hall, Alabama, Memphis and Pittsburgh, while Taphorn is supposed to have great range on his jumper and should contribute from the wing next season after Drew Crawford’s graduation. Head coach Bill Carmody continues to bring in quality guards to Evanston but he will have to recruit some athletic size who can hold their own in the paint if he wants to win more than nine or 10 games in the conference season. Forward Chier Ajou may end up being a valuable big man for Carmody as he gains more experience over the course of the season.
  5. After a 2-0 start, Illinois will play Hawaii on the road on Friday night. John Groce and his Illini took a trip to Pearl Harbor and met some World War II veterans while in Honolulu. The Illini could beat Hawaii convincingly but they will have a big challenge against USC on Monday night to kick off the Maui Invitational in Lahaina. This talented group of new Trojans may not compete with Arizona and UCLA for the Pac-12 regular season title but could very well end up among the top five teams in their conference. A win against USC would be a huge confidence booster for Illinois as it learns to adjust to Groce’s up-tempo offensive schemes.
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Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On November Rituals, Head-Scratchers, and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 13th, 2012

Brian Otskey is a regular contributor for RTC. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. In what seems to have become an annual November ritual, fans and members of the media tend to overreact in making bold statements about teams and players after just one or two games have been played. While I recognize that is the nature of the “what have you done for me lately?” society we live in, fans and the media alike must take a step back. While some early season wins may appear to be huge and some losses head-scratching, we all must remember that the college basketball season is a long, evolving process. The NCAA Tournament doesn’t begin for another four months. Most teams will play 12 non-conference games before they begin 16 or 18-game conference schedules.  It’s OK to say something nice about a team that came up with a great early season win or to be skeptical of a school coming off a loss you might never have expected, but making statements such as “Florida State is a bust because it lost to South Alabama!” is just plain foolish. While a loss like that certainly gives you pause, we’ve seen this movie before time and time again in November, especially as the college season has started earlier and earlier over the years. A loss to South Alabama is hardly a definitive indicator of how Florida State will perform in 2012-13. It’s just one of 30+ games the Seminoles will play this season. With that said, I do have a couple of questions about FSU. One, does the team miss the steady point guard presence of Luke Loucks from a season ago (nine assists, 17 turnovers against USA)? Two, is Leonard Hamilton’s defense not as strong as we are accustomed to seeing? South Alabama shot 9-of-15 from deep and Buffalo shot 50% overall from the floor in FSU’s second game on Monday. Those are examples of legitimate concerns, but not affirmative statements about how Florida State’s season will turn out. The Seminoles have plenty of time to come together and fix their weaknesses. Just don’t bury Florida State, or any other team for that matter, before Thanksgiving for crying out loud.

    How Much is FSU Missing Luke Loucks Right Now? (Reuters)

  2. There were quite a few of those aforementioned head-scratchers over the first four days of the season. In addition to Florida State, teams such as Mississippi State, Virginia, Rutgers, South Florida, Purdue, Drexel and Georgia all started the season on the wrong foot. Other schools including Oklahoma State, Texas and Providence struggled with inferior opponents but managed to hang on and win. In some circumstances like those faced at Mississippi State, Virginia, Georgia and Purdue, these are teams rebuilding after critical personnel losses. While it’s unfair to blast their November performance, these losses could be a sign of things to come. On the other hand, you could say a team like Drexel just had a bad night. The Dragons are a talented bunch and the overwhelming favorites in the depleted Colonial Athletic Association. Above all, however, the worst loss of them all belongs to North Texas. The Sun Belt favorites, who boast the talented Tony Mitchell, lost to Division II Alabama-Huntsville on Monday night. What does this mean? Not a whole lot in the grand scheme of things but it underscores how important it is for teams to put forth maximum effort every time out. The instances in which a team can get away with an off night have shrunk over the years due to parity and better talent assembled on non-power six rosters. When trying to analyze a team at this early stage of the season, don’t dismiss a disappointing loss but don’t throw the team under the bus at the same time. There is a very long way to go. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Team Previews: Wisconsin Badgers

Posted by jnowak on November 6th, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the Big Ten microsite will be rolling out the featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the Wisconsin Badgers.

Where We Left Off: We last saw the Badgers finish off what seemed like just another typical season — steady as she goes. They started the season ranked in most polls around No. 15 in the country and stayed there for most of last year, climbing into the Top 10 at one point. They won a game in the Big Ten Tournament before losing to eventual champion Michigan State and won two more in the NCAA Tournament before dropping a one-point heartbreaker to Syracuse in the third round. Finishing fourth in the conference felt just about right for a Badgers squad that weathered some early-season struggles from All-American guard Jordan Taylor to end the year with a good showing in a tough conference.

With Mike Bruesewitz out for at least a month, the Badgers will have some holes to fill in the early going. (Greg M. Cooper/US Presswire)

Positives: Even with the losses of two upperclassmen (Mike Bruesewitz – albeit temporary — and Josh Gasser, but we’ll get to that in a moment), this may be the most experienced team in the Big Ten. It will be anchored by senior center/forward Jared Berggren, and he’ll get a hand from senior Ryan Evans and junior Zach Bohannan (who transferred from Air Force) and Ben Brust. Experience comes into play most on the defensive end, and defense is arguably the important aspect of the game in the Big Ten (the Badgers led the conference in scoring defense last year). Also, the more time familiar with Bo Ryan‘s system, the more easily these guys can jump right in and hope to contend in a rough-and-tumble conference this year. And with the help of the upperclassmen, freshman point guard George Marshall should have plenty of assistance in the important area of floor leadership.

Negatives: Right now, Wisconsin is more of a “have-not” than a “have.” They’ll be without the senior forward Bruesewitz, who suffered a freak leg injury in practice in early October, until sometime around the Creighton game on November 23 (which means he’ll miss the Florida game on November 14). Then, when junior guard Gasser tore his ACL in practice later last month, that took away a second certain starter for the Badgers who were already going to be fighting to be in the top tier of a loaded conference. The pair of Bruesewitz and Gasser have combined to start 115 games for the Badgers. Those are two talented, veteran players the Badgers will be hard-pressed to replace, at least in the early going.

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Big Ten M5: 11.05.12 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 5th, 2012

  1. Exhibition games don’t mean much in the grand scheme of the season, but you get a good first look at the freshmen. Michigan State’s Gary Harris is arguably the most interesting freshman in the conference and will be scrutinized especially as Branden Dawson tries to get back to 100% after an ACL injury. After two exhibition games, Harris has impressed Tom Izzo on the offensive end of the court. He looked really good off the dribble in the game against Northwood and scored 14 points. However, he admits that he needs to be more effective on defense specifically against the pick-and-roll. Izzo will demand Harris’ improvement on defense but his offensive production will help the Spartans during the non-conference season.
  2. Speaking of freshmen in the league, Purdue has a couple of good guards who are expected to contribute immediately. Even though Ronnie Johnson and Rapheal Davis were not ranked in the top 30 by Rivals coming out of high school, both of them have the talent to be very good players in the league. Each of the freshman guards scored 16 points in Purdue’s exhibition win over Newberry with Davis scoring all of his points in the second half. Ronnie Johnson may be the primary point guard in the rotation after the departure of Lewis Jackson but Davis will play a significant role off the bench. Guard Terone Johnson (9.1 PPG last season) will carry the offensive load for the Boilermakers; he scored 18 points in the exhibition.
  3. As Matt Painter tries to incorporate new talent into the rotation, Bo Ryan has to figure out how to replace Josh Gasser at the point guard position. Every guard on the roster will need to help out with Gasser’s loss and the latest scrimmage in Madison has obviously led to more scrutiny of the guards. Redshirt freshman George Marshall has been impressive and appears to be the frontrunner to replace Gasser. Traevon Jackson‘s jumpers were a good sign and Ben Brust showed why his minutes will increase this season — Brust averaged 7.3 PPG in 21 MPG last season and is expected to play a key role in the backcourt. Ryan once again praised Frank Kaminsky, a forward who has a good jumper for a big guy which fits perfectly in the Ryan’s offensive system.
  4. The Iowa Hawkeyes are considered a sleeper in the Big Ten mainly due to their underclassmen such as Aaron White (11.1 PPG) and Adam Woodbury. Junior wing Roy Devyn Marble (11.5 PPG) will be their primary scorer offensively, but Fran McCaffery believes that Eric May, the only senior with a scholarship on the roster, needs to be effective for Iowa to meet their lofty expectations this season. May averaged 4.3 PPG in 14.7 PPG last year but wants to be a lock-down defender for the Hawkeyes during his final season. May is supposed to be in “great shape” according to the coaches and Iowa will definitely need somebody to set the tempo on the defensive end after losing Matt Gatens to graduation. They will push the tempo and play a fast brand of basketball but if they are not able to defend, McCaffery’s team will fall short of making the NCAA Tournament.
  5. Speaking of former Big Ten seniors, Illinois’ Mike Davis was drafted as the fifth overall player in the NBA Development League over the weekend. Davis had a solid career at Illinois as he averaged at least 11 PPG from his sophomore season on. He was not highly recruited out of high school but former Illini coach Bruce Weber appreciated his work ethic and intensity. Davis also averaged eight rebounds per game during the final three seasons, and he has the size (6’9″) to continue to play professional basketball at some level for a few years. He might not make the NBA but he can certainly work his way out of the Development League and possibly play in Europe for a few seasons.
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Big Ten M5: 11.02.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on November 2nd, 2012

  1. Exhibition season has officially begun in college basketball and Minnesota kicked off the year with an 81-56 victory over Minnesota State-Mankato Thursday night. The Gophers started the exhibition with the same starting five as the end of last year — Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins, Joe Coleman, Rodney Williams and Elliot Eliason — because that group has performed well in practice together, but coach Tubby Smith also mixed in star forward Trevor Mbakwe, who was injured last season, and Mo Walker, who redshirted last season. Walker had eight points in 11 minutes, while Mbakwe had four points and three rebounds. Minnesota has another scrimmage against Southwest Baptist on Monday before opening the regular season on November 9 against American.
  2. If Michigan is going to have the season many media members predict — challenging for the conference crown — then the Wolverines’ freshmen are going to have to step up. They did just that in Thursday’s 83-47 exhibition win against Northern Michigan, as Nik Stauskus, Spike Albrecht and Glenn Robinson III led Michigan with 17, 16 and 13 points, respectively, along with junior Tim Hardaway Jr.’s 13 points. At one point, coach John Beilein had five freshmen in the game at the same time and he said he didn’t even realize it. Of course, there’s a long way to go before we crown his team as the next Fab Five, but these freshmen certainly didn’t disappoint in their first time on a college court. The Wolverines have another exhibition, this time against Saginaw Valley State, on Monday before opening the regular season on November 9 against Slippery Rock.
  3. Like Minnesota’s Mo Walker, Indiana’s Maurice Creek shined in his exhibition game following a redshirt year. Creek, who had to sit all of last year with a ruptured Achilles’, had 12 points to lead the Hoosiers in their 86-57 win over Indiana Wesleyan. Indiana also received contributions from preseason national player of the year Cody Zeller and Will Sheehey, who both had 11 points and five rebounds. Christian Watford had 11 points and six rebounds, while Victor Oladipo had 10 points and seven rebounds. This is a deep team, and while a win against Indiana Wesleyan proves nothing, IU certainly showed it has plenty of options and can spread the ball around.
  4. Wisconsin has yet to play a game this year, but it has already dealt with injuries to two key players — Mike Bruesewitz and Josh Gasser. Bruesewitz will be back in the non-conference season, but Gasser is out for the season with a torn ACL. CBS Sports has a first-hand account of Gasser’s injury from guest blogger Zach Bohannon, a Badgers forward. Bohannon gives an emotional account of Gasser’s injury and the effect of an ACL injury on teams in general. It was a shocking injury for the Wisconsin players, as Bohannon said they saw Gasser as “indestructible.” It’s a humanizing account of “the face of the program” and puts the careers of college basketball players into perspective.
  5. The Big Ten is known for its low-scoring games and its defense, so it’s not surprising that two of the top 10 scariest defenders in the game, according to ESPN.com, play in the conference. ESPN ranks Ohio State’s Aaron Craft as the scariest defender in the country, citing his one-on-one defensive skills on the perimeter and his ability to steal the ball. Indiana’s Victor Oladipo checks in at No. 5, due to his versatility and ability to defend on the perimeter and in the post. Craft has a reputation throughout the nation as a top defender and he has an effect beyond standard statistics, as laid out by the Aaron Craft Turnometer created by Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn. Only a junior, Big Ten teams likely have two more years of dealing with Craft’s spectacular defensive skills.
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Weekend Wrap: Buckeyes to the Final Four; Spartans, Hoosiers, Badgers Fall

Posted by jnowak on March 25th, 2012

Four teams enter, one team leaves. The Big Ten had four representatives advance to the second weekend of NCAA Tournament play, but just Ohio State — considered by many to be the toast of the league for much of the season before Michigan State emerged as Big Ten Tournament champions and the conference’s lone #1 seed — will be suiting up in New Orleans next weekend. Here are a few thoughts from the weekend’s action:

Ohio State's Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Deshaun Thomas celebrate their team's win against Syracuse on Saturday. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

  • Tom Izzo was right — The esteemed Michigan State coach, who knows a thing or two about getting through March, has recognized all along that this is not his most talented team but it had as much capability as any other because of its intangible qualities. Because of this, Izzo has also said all along that the group’s margin for error was smaller than maybe ever before. That came to fruition against a red-hot Louisville group on Thursday, as the Spartans turned in one of the worst offensive performances of the tournament. The Cardinals never allowed the Spartans to get into a rhythm and it led to an early exit. If it’s any consolation, Michigan State has been eliminated by a Final Four team in six of the last eight seasons.
  • Does Ohio State have what it takes? — The Buckeyes are Bourbon Street-bound, but can they win two more games? They wouldn’t have to play the top team in the tournament (Kentucky) presumably until the national title game, and have shown that they can keep finding ways to win. They did it without Jared Sullinger for most of the first half Saturday, and William Buford and Deshaun Thomas were both pretty quiet. If everything clicks for this group, they can certainly hang with anybody.
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Big Ten Morning Five: 03.23.12 Edition

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 23rd, 2012

  1. Bad news for Big Ten fans last night, as Michigan State fell to Louisville, 57-44.  Not only were the Spartans the best chance for the conference to claim a national championship, they also became the first #1 seed to fall.  Michigan State looked sloppy and out of sync all game long, thanks to the swarming pressure defense of the Cardinals, and also the shot-blocking presence of Gorgui Dieng, who swatted 7 shots.  Many other stats were disappointing for Spartan fans to look at, including the final score, 44, which is the lowest total point output by a 1-seed in the college basketball shot clock era.
  2. One Spartan who had a game to forget was sophomore point guard Keith Appling.  Appling scored just one basket, and had four turnovers, struggling withe the Louisville pressure.  Following the game, Appling was dejected in the locker room, with the realization of how quickly fortunes can change in the NCAA tournament washing over him.  He’ll be expected to lead the transition out of the Draymond Green era next season, so hopefully Appling doesn’t keep his head down for long.
  3. Wisconsin came oh-so-close to upsetting Syracuse, but the Badgers fell just short, as Jordan Taylor and Josh Gasser could not covert last-second attempts.  Wisconsin was able to slow the pace down, as evidence by the 64-63 score, but the Badgers also ruled the three-point line, knocking down 14 of 27 for a stunning 52% from beyond the arc.  It wasn’t enough though, as Dion Waiters scored 13 points, and also had some key baskets down the stretch that helped the Orange hold on.
  4. The Big Ten only had one successful team on the evening, and that was Ohio State, who’s win over Cincinnati put the Big ten at 1-2 on the night (against the Big East no less), but more importantly sent the Buckeyes to the Elite Eight, a place they haven’t been since the school went to the Final Four in 2007.  Things looked dicey as Ohio State coughed up a 10-point halftime lead five minutes into the second half.  But Thad Motta’s crew collected themselves, and behind 26 points from Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State guaranteed the conference will have Elite Eight representation.
  5. As brackets continue to bust this weekend, Nebraska basketball fans are keeping tabs on a quiet coaching search taking place in Lincoln.  No big names are linked to the Husker jobs, but that doesn’t mean the search lacks for interesting candidates.  Colorado State head coach Tim Miles is a name that not many have talked about, but after taking his Rams to the NCAA tournament and helping turn around that program, he seems like a good fit for a struggling Nebraska.
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NCAA Tournament Tidbits 03.18.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 18th, 2012

The NCAA Tournament is here and there’s more news, commentary and analysis than any of us can possibly keep up with. To make things a little easier, we’ll bring you a list of daily links gathered about teams in each of the four regions all the way through the Final Four.

West Region

South Region

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Big Ten Morning Five: 03.09.12 Edition

Posted by jnowak on March 9th, 2012

  1. This is the end of the road for Bruce Weber at Illinois. Well, not quite yet, but it sure feels that way. All that’s left is the formality, writes Yahoo!‘s Pat Forde from Indianapolis. It seemed the only way for the amiable coach to keep his post with the Fighting Illini was for the team to rattle off a miracle run to win the Big Ten Tournament. But it won’t be so, after the Illini dropped their first-round game to Iowa on Thursday. “It’s very hard,” Weber said. “I’d be lying to you. I’m not sure why or what, but I’ll talk when it’s all … when it all settles down.” There are only two questions remaining and they are related: first, whether Illinois plays in the NIT; and second, how much longer Weber roams the sidelines in Champaign.
  2. If there’s anybody feeling as down in the dumps as Weber today, it’s certainly Northwestern fans. They have endured what seems like a lifetime’s worth of hardships this season alone with all of the season’s close losses. And Thursday, with an overtime loss to Minnesota, it looks like another season of NCAA Tournament hopes are down the drain for the Wildcats. Northwestern was forced to lean too heavily on JerShon Cobb and John Shurna, and it will likely relegate them to their fourth straight NIT.
  3. Indiana is a trendy pick in Indianapolis to at least reach the championship game on Sunday, largely thanks to the huge contingent of Hoosiers fans that made the trek north, but how are their title hopes affected by the loss of Verdell Jones III? The senior guard suffered a sprained knee in the first half of Indiana’s win against Penn State and the Hoosiers will have to figure out how to move on without his more than 25 minutes and nearly 8 PPG.
  4. Minnesota pulled out a nice win against Northwestern, but how much farther can the Golden Gophers go without much size down low? Without the presence of Ralph Sampson III on the block, Minnesota relies much more on its backcourt. It’ll be an interesting match-up against Michigan on Friday, because the Wolverines are not a great interior team in their own right. If anything, it might leave Minnesota fans wondering what might be if they had the big man down low.
  5. Wisconsin has been one of the most steady Big Ten teams over the last decade or so, but Jim Polzin of the Wisconsin State Journal points out that much of that success hasn’t transferred to the Big Ten Tournament. The Badgers will try to avoid their fourth straight one-and-done appearance in the tourney on Friday against Indiana. Wisconsin hasn’t even held a lead in a Big Ten Tourney game the last two years. “We’ve talked about it, that nobody on this roster has won a Big Ten tournament game,” Josh Gasser said. “So it’s definitely in the back of our minds that we want to go down there and have a little chip on our shoulder and hopefully come out with a few wins.”
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Big Ten Tournament Preview & Season Wrap-Up

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 8th, 2012

Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.

Conference Tournament Preview

After a thrilling regular season, it’s on to Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Despite being a three-seed, Ohio State has to be considered the favorite given how well they ended the regular season. If either Michigan State or OSU wins the Big Ten Tournament, they will get strong consideration for a one-seed. Teams like Wisconsin, Indiana and Purdue can all improve their NCAA Tournament seeds with strong showings this weekend.

Northwestern is the only clear bubble team in the conference, and as such is under the most pressure to string some wins together. If the Wilcats can beat Minnesota in the first round, they’ll face a Michigan team that they only lost to twice this season, though both losses came in overtime. Two wins in the Big Ten tournament should make them a virtual lock for their first-ever tournament birth, but it’s much easier said than done with this level of competition.

A Look Back

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They Are Who We Thought They Were: Revisiting Indiana and Wisconsin

Posted by jnowak on February 3rd, 2012

Remember when there was talk of Indiana as a Final Four-caliber team? And that Wisconsin wouldn’t even have a chance at dancing its way to New Orleans because there was an outside chance the Badgers would miss the NCAA Tournament? In calendar terms, those days aren’t that far behind us. But in basketball days, they seem light years away. In a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately society, we tend to get really, really excited about the here and now. Wisconsin loses a string of three games with a couple rare losses at home mixed in, and pundits are wondering what the heck has gone wrong in Madison. Indiana sends shock waves across basketball with a few early-season major upsets and lights up the first half of its schedule, and there seemed to be no limit to what the Hoosiers could do.

Cody Zeller and the young Hoosiers have struggled on the road this year. (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Well, about a month after Indiana was 15-1 and Wisconsin dropped three in a row, both clubs have returned to their mean. That is to say, both clubs have either regressed or progressed to just about where we expected them to be at season’s tipoff. Indiana has taken a tremendous step forward under Tom Crean and is showing signs that it will be contending for Big Ten titles soon enough. The Hoosiers are an NCAA Tournament team. Wisconsin, meanwhile, is back to competing for Big Ten championships, frustrating opponents (particularly at the Kohl Center), and dictating pace in the Big Ten.

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Set Your TiVo: 02.03 – 02.05

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 3rd, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

There are lots of good games on Saturday, highlighted by the big one in Columbia. Overall it’s a very nice day of hoops despite only a handful of truly terrific games.

#4 Kansas @ #6 Missouri – 9:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN (*****)

KU Needs Taylor To Be Good Tyshawn on Saturday (credit: Missourian)

  • It doesn’t get much better than this. Two teams that don’t particularly like each other and a Border War rivalry with roots in the Civil War era. Missouri enters this game after surviving Texas in Austin on Monday. The Tigers have perhaps the best offense in the nation with incredible balance at the guard and wing positions. The question for Frank Haith and his team will be how effective Ricardo Ratliffe can be against Thomas Robinson inside. Ratliffe shoots almost exclusively in the paint and converts an astounding 75.1% of the time. However, Ratliffe will be going up against a front line of Robinson and Jeff Withey (3.1 BPG) in this one and needs to utilize his patented pick-and-roll more in this game. Ratliffe won’t have great success going one-on-one against either Robinson or Withey inside. Kansas’ defense ranks #4 in two-point percentage against but the Jayhawks are vulnerable to the three-ball. That’s where Missouri and snipers Marcus DenmonKim English and Michael Dixon can really take advantage of Bill Self’s team.
  • The Jayhawk offense is essentially a two-man operation. While players like Withey and Travis Releford contribute offensively, Kansas’ fortunes depend on Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor. Taylor has taken his game to another level over the last month, highlighted by the back to back 28-point efforts against Iowa State and Baylor. The Kansas senior hasn’t shot under 40% from the floor since January 4 but will be the focus of Haith’s perimeter defense. Taylor is prone to turnovers and you can bet the Missouri guards will be ball hawking him all night long. If Taylor has a good ball handling night, Kansas will be in very good position to grab a road win. Robinson will get his points but it’s up to Taylor to put the Jayhawks in a position to win this game.
  • It’s hard to pick against Missouri at home but if any team is going to win in Columbia, Kansas is the one. With ESPN in the house for the top two teams in the Big 12, this will be as charged an environment as you will see all year in college basketball. Despite Ratliffe’s stellar shooting percentage, Kansas should win the battle inside. The duo of Robinson and Withey is incredibly difficult to score against and Robinson is obviously a load on the offensive end as well. However, the friendly confines of Mizzou Arena and the Tigers’ perimeter attack and balance should be enough to put Missouri over the top.

#3 Ohio State @ #23 Wisconsin – 2:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN (****)

  •  Ohio State can take command of the Big Ten with a win in this game. The Buckeyes hold a one game lead over Wisconsin in the loss column heading into Saturday’s matchup. If Ohio State has one weakness, it’s three-point shooting. Thad Matta is not going to beat Wisconsin, a team that shoots well over 20 threes a game, from outside. Matta has the best player on the floor in Jared Sullinger and he needs to use him early and often in order to set the tone. Ohio State is not going to turn Wisconsin over and fast break points will be at a minimum. The Buckeyes must execute their half court offense in order to win this game and the way to do that is through the big man in the middle.
  • The Badgers have righted the ship with six straight wins but will need a big game out of their supporting cast if they are going to make it a seventh. Jared Berggren in particular must contain Sullinger on the low block or else Aaron Craft can feed him all day long with no consequences. Offensively, Wisconsin will run everything through Jordan Taylor but guys like Josh Gasser and Ben Brust need to be hot from deep in order for the Badgers to pull off the win. Wisconsin will be limited to one shot per possession most of the time as it loves to run the shot clock down and shoot threes. Ohio State ranks fourth in defensive rebounding percentage, mostly thanks to Sullinger.
  • This game features the top two defensive teams in the nation in terms of efficiency. It’s likely to be a low scoring, low possession affair that comes down to the final minutes. Players like Ryan Evans for Wisconsin and Ohio State’s Lenzelle Smith could be the determining factors. The battle at the point guard position between Taylor and Craft will be phenomenal but the complementary players usually put a team over the top in matchups like these. We think that’s what will happen at the Kohl Center on Saturday.
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