ATB: Purdue Loses Hummel for Game or Season?

Posted by rtmsf on February 25th, 2010

Hummel’s Knee Buckles — Did Purdue’s Season? #3 Purdue 59, Minnesota 58.  Thirteen minutes into this game, Purdue star forward Robbie Hummel drove to his right into the paint, stopped, and squared his shoulders to the rim.  Simultaneously, his right leg slipped a little causing his knee to buckle and give out from underneath him.  It wasn’t a gruesome injury, but it was certainly forboding.  People say they hate to speculate about someone’s injury, but they proceed to do it anyway, so we’ll avoid those niceties here.  It looked like and his reaction certainly belied what we believe was an ACL injury in his knee:  The inability to initially put weight on the knee; the severe pain immediately after the fact, yet the ability to stay on the bench for the remainder of the game; the crutches; the need for an MRI as soon as possible.  We really hope we’re wrong about this, but as someone who has had a couple of these tears ourselves, we sorta think we know it when we see it.  If Hummel is out for the rest of the season (and Gary Parrish reports that there’s not much optimism to the contrary coming out of the Boilermaker camp), then despite the heart and grit and skill we saw on display tonight at Minnesota, a phenomenal season will without question reach a premature conclusion.  There is absolutely no way that Purdue can go to the Final Four without Hummel in the lineup.  It’s not as if he’s a dominant player in the mold of Kenyon Martin (broken leg in 2000) or Derek Anderson (torn ACL in 1997), but he’s an extremely important piece of what Purdue does, and there simply isn’t enough time (or elite talent) to re-craft a plan for life post-Hummel.   As a microcosm of this unfortunate truth, look at what happened tonight.  Purdue was leading 26-14 when Hummel got hurt.  After his injury the Boilermakers scored two more FGs in the next twelve minutes of action.  Obviously, Matt Painter will have time to adjust his game plan in coming days and the recent emergence of Keaton Grant (10/5/4 assts) doesn’t hurt, but Hummel is such a multifaceted piece of the Purdue attack that someone like him cannot just be plugged in overnight.  The aforementioned Grant was huge down the stretch tonight, and we expect that more will be asked from the talented duo of E’Twaun Moore (11/3) and JaJuan Johnson (14/10), but it’s going to take some really good luck in the form of tomorrow’s diagnosis for Purdue to have a chance to fulfill its lofty goals this season.

Let's All Hope For the Word "Sprain" for Hummel (AP/J. Wheeler)

No Harangody, No ProblemNotre Dame 68, #16 Pittsburgh 53. The Irish came off the schneid in a big way tonight even with its star Luke Harangody still sitting on the bench with a knee bruise injury.  The high-scoring offense slowed down its attack, finding that running down the shot clock resulted in better looks from three, of which the Irish nailed 10-18 this evening.  Pitt, on the other hand, was never able to find the mark from deep, going 4-18 from three and even getting killed on the boards (-10), unusual for a Jamie Dixon-coached team.  Perhaps the Panthers were a little worn out from playing and beating WVU, Marquette and Villanova in their last three games, but it was to ND’s benefit as the Irish took control early and never relented.  Mike Brey’s team still has significant work to do before we start talking about NCAA again, but this was a big step in the right direction.

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Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by rtmsf on February 24th, 2010

Jason Prziborowski is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.

The big thing from the past week:

  • The race is on. Purdue moved into first place in the Big Ten and #3 nationally this past week with victories over OSU and Illinois. MSU slipped a bit with its own loss against OSU. Purdue is now in the driver’s seat, looking very closely into the rear view mirror where MSU and OSU are hanging on. I am looking for a spoiler to step in to shake things up a bit, but I am not sure who it will be.

Now four Big Ten teams are in the top 25: #3 Purdue, #9 Ohio State, #14 Michigan State, and #17 Wisconsin.

Power Rankings

  1. Purdue                                 23-3, 11-3
  2. Ohio State                           21-7, 11-4
  3. Michigan State                  21-7, 11-4
  4. Wisconsin                            20-7, 10-5
  5. Illinois                                   18-10, 10-5
  6. Northwestern                   17-10, 6-9
  7. Minnesota                          16-10, 7-7
  8. Michigan                              13-14, 6-9
  9. Indiana                                 9-17, 3-11
  10. Iowa                                      9-18, 3-11
  11. Penn State                          10-16, 2-12

Coming Up

  • Purdue @ Minnesota – February 24 – 8:30 PM ET – Minnesota is coming on strong lately, blowing out both Wisconsin and Indiana at home. This game should be interesting because Minnesota plays very well at home even though Purdue is playing its best basketball of the year. Last game was a 17-point loss for the Gophers, but it was only the second game in conference play. Would be a big upset for Minnesota, and a game that Purdue should win.
  • Michigan State @ Purdue – February 28 – 4:00 PM ET – The way the season is shaping up, if Purdue beats Minnesota they will have a one-game lead on both OSU and MSU. This game, if Purdue wins, will most likely be enough to win the Big Ten outright. The last matchup was a 12-point victory for Purdue, but Kalin Lucas did come off the bench for the Spartans. The edge should go to Purdue in this one, especially at Mackey Arena. 
  • Illinois @ Ohio State – March 3 – 9:00 PM ET – This is the last regular season game for OSU and second to last for the Illini. In the grand scheme of things, this game could be meaningless, but it would matter more for Illini than OSU for a couple of reasons: this gives Illinois a chance to redeem themselves from their earlier blowout at home and it helps them make a case for the tournament, especially after racking up two losses lately against top 10 teams. Illinois will need to figure out the 1-3-1, and improve their shooting percentage to win this one.

Breaking It Down

  • Purdue is alone in First. Purdue’s Big Three has now morphed into a Big Four with Keaton Grant starting to pour in the points where Chris Kramer has been unable to do so all year. In the past two games Grant has averaged 14 points a game, besting his season average by almost 8 points. If the Big Three continue to do their thing, Kramer continues to be a beast on defense, and they get a solid offensive contribution from Grant, they could be off to the races. Purdue has Minnesota on the road, which could be tough if Minnesota comes to play. The following game against Michigan State at Mackey could prove to be the deciding game for the Big Ten Championship. I give the edge to Purdue, especially since they have Indiana and Penn State to end the season.
  • Ohio State loses then wins big. In the past week two different Ohio State teams showed up to play. Against Purdue, Evan Turner came to play, but the supporting cast didn’t pull their weight. The two OSU-Purdue games were eerily similar. Ohio State was down double figures in both games. Evan Turner played big in both games. One Purdue big man dominated in each game: the first game it was Hummel and the second it was Johnson. The difference for Purdue was Keaton Grant, but Ohio State didn’t have the same difference maker, and couldn’t get a big enough run in the second half to win. The Buckeyes went straight after Michigan State in their other game, and didn’t let up. Turner got his numbers, but William Buford had a double-double also, and David Lighty and Dallas Lauderdale were both close as well. Jon Diebler did what he does best: hit big threes when it counts. Even though OSU did what they had to do against MSU, their destiny is not in their own hands the rest of the way. They have to rely on MSU knocking off Purdue, and hope for another spoiler to be able to get a share of the Big Ten Title. They might have to settle for second place though. 
  • Michigan State suffers a big setback at home. Michigan State has slipped of late. They don’t seem to be able to win the big games like they were able to earlier in the year. During their three-game slide it was a defensive problem, and now the woes have shifted to offense. During the OSU game, the Spartans came roaring back by pounding the ball inside, but then they went away from their game plan, and started launching from outside again. Shooting 33% from long range isn’t going to do it in most Big Ten games. I am still not convinced that Kalin Lucas is completely healthy. I saw him limping visibly against Indiana, and then again versus OSU. His 3-13 performance isn’t indicative of the way he plays when he is healthy and aggressive. MSU as a team needs to get back to basics, and use the big bodies they have to take it to Purdue. That is the deciding game in the Big Ten. If MSU wins they will most likely tie for the share of the Big Ten Title. If not, the Boilermakers will roll.
  • Wisconsin blown out on the road but wins at home. It’s not often that the only starter not in double figures for Minnesota is Lawrence Westbrook, but that’s exactly what happened against Wisconsin. Fortunately for the Gophers, everyone else stepped up. Wisconsin buried itself by not being able to hit from long range against Minnesota. The big question mark for Wisconsin is whether Jon Leuer came back too early. He struggled in his first outing, but then put up respectable numbers in his second game back. It’s tough to get back into rhythm in general, but at this level, and this deep into conference play, I have to give it up for Leuer for being able to make much of an impact at all. Wisconsin bounced back against Northwestern for the win, but more disconcerting is their defense right now. They are letting their opponents shoot too well from the field. Minnesota was close to 50% and Northwestern was right at 50%. They need to D it up better to close out games down the stretch, especially at Illinois.
  • Illinois drops two straight before taking down Michigan. Illinois stopped the bleeding against Michigan in a high school score of a game in Ann Arbor. It is hard to call the game a defensive battle inasmuch that both teams shot poorly. Michigan had only 18 points at half and shot a dreadful 24.6% from the field for the game. Give it to Illinois for taking down one of the duo in DeShawn Sims, limiting him to seven points. After watching Illinois play now numerous times, the difference between a win and a loss for this team is Demetri McCamey. Against Ohio State and Purdue he wasn’t really looking to score. Unlike Talor Battle, where if he doesn’t score a ton his team wins, Illinois needs McCamey to look for his shot to draw defenders, and then that is when he is really good. In my opinion he was too unselfish in their loss to Purdue. He had an amazing 16 assists, but only shot the ball six times and went to the line twice. Against Wisconsin he took 17 shots, and against Michigan State he took 12. In both games he had over 20 points, and in both games, Illinois won. They need McCamey the scorer-distributor, not the distributor-scorer. They will need him in all three of their remaining games to be ready for the tournament.
  • Northwestern is drifting quietly into the sunset. Northwestern was once the darling of the Big Ten. Now I think they have found where they stand in the conference, and on the national scene as well. Northwestern started their stumble at Iowa, and had a momentary breath of life against Minnesota before falling to a team in Penn State that has struggled all year. Northwestern just isn’t defending that well, and isn’t scoring enough to withstand their defensive weaknesses. They let Penn State shoot over 55% from the field and then followed it up with another plus 50% game against Wisconsin. The Wisconsin game came down to the Badgers hitting a couple more threes and taking a couple more trips to the line than the Wildcats. John Shurna is still filling up the stat sheet but didn’t get much help against Wisconsin. Northwestern looks to avenge their loss to Iowa at home, and really has a fairly easy rest of the season if they can play better. Northwestern’s only shot at the tournament now is by winning the Big Ten Tournament and getting an automatic bid. That is going to take some kind of playing though, especially for a team that has relied on home court to win the majority of its games.
  • Minnesota finishing strong. Somebody has awakened this Minnesota team, and I am betting that it is Tubby Smith. They have won two straight now, including an impressive won at home against Wisconsin and a blowout at home against Indiana. Minnesota is a dangerous team at home, and I am very curious to see what they are able to do against Purdue. I have already talked about the game in the upcoming games section, so I won’t mention it much here, but I am thinking that if this Minnesota team wants to make some noise this year, this will be the game.
  • Michigan upset by Penn State before dropping one to Illinois. Yes, this is a two-man team that occasionally has a third, but lately, the big two just aren’t getting enough points for Michigan. In any other game on the planet, if you hold your opponent to 37%, you win the game. The problem for the Wolverines is that they managed to shoot around 25%, and you just can’t win a game when that happens. It is also tough to win a game when half of your shots are from three-point range, another scenario that happened in the Illinois game. Both teams shot dreadfully in the game; Illinois just happened to shoot less dreadfully. I have to give a hat’s off to this Michigan team for not turning the ball over. I think what is happening though is that instead of passing the ball, especially inside, they don’t have a chance to turn it over when they are chucking up three-pointers as soon as they get across half court. If this team wants an upset in any of their remaining games, they will either have to get red hot from three-point range, or start penetrating like I said at the beginning of the year.
  • Indiana’s losses continue to pile up. With this Indiana team, it is always hard to imagine what you are going to get. For most of conference play they have relied on two guys to carry the offensive load, and for the most part one of them has: Verdell Jones III. The first time around in conference it worked quite well because Jones was overlooked, and continued to rack up 20-point games. The second time around hasn’t been so kind to him though. The defenses have keyed on Jones, and his shooting percentage has plummeted even though he is consistently in double figures and gets to the charity stripe often. The player that has come on lately has been Devan Dumes, who is trying to close out his career at Indiana in aggressive fashion. Dumes took over at the end of the Michigan State game, and then exploded for 20 against Minnesota. The problem is that Christian Watford had a bad night against Minnesota, and once again, the Hoosiers are struggling to put points on the board. Add the fact that offenses are consistently shooting over 50% against them, and that is a recipe for eight straight losses. I am not sure at this point that Indiana can emerge from its tailspin and regain some confidence, but they will need to feel good about the next couple of years.
  • Iowa takes time off. Not much to report on for Iowa, as they haven’t played since February 16 in a close loss against Michigan at home. They gear up to take on Northwestern, a team they have already beaten this season at home. Iowa has only won one game on the road this year, so they are looking for the second.
  • Penn State with two in a row. Looks like all Penn State needed this year was for Talor Battle to not score as many points. Every article this year talked about the Talor Battle Show, but it turns out that the show wasn’t producing any wins in the Big Ten until he called in the cavalry. Battle scored ten against Northwestern and two other guys scored 20 apiece, and the Lions won by 11. Then he had 14 against Michigan, and one other guy was in double figures with two others close, and they won again. Looks like the recipe for success all along. Just wish these guys could have figured it out earlier in the year.
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(Elite) Eight Tuesday Scribbles…

Posted by zhayes9 on February 23rd, 2010

RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver permeating thoughts every week as the season progresses.

This week’s Scribbles column will take on a new twist- which eight teams I’d select to reach the four regional final games in late March. Now, I realize individual matchups within the bracket will determine the fate of these teams, but these are the eight clubs I feel like have an excellent chance of winning three games to reach the Elite 8 regardless of the teams that stand in their way. Some of these teams are the favorites, those expected to reach this level or their season will be labeled a colossal disappointment. The others are mild sleepers that certainly have the capabilities to make a serious run. Without further ado:

1. Kansas- One screaming commentator keeps telling me there’s not one clear favorite heading into March Madness this season. There’s no one team that stands above the rest akin to last year’s North Carolina entering the field as the favorite to hoist the championship trophy on that Monday night in April. This claim continues to baffle me for two reasons: 1) North Carolina was NOT the clear favorite to win the national championship last season. They entered the NCAA Tournament coming off a semifinal loss in the ACC Tournament to Florida State and were chosen as the #3 overall seed in the Dance behind Louisville and Pittsburgh. They were also dealing with question marks around Ty Lawson’s playing status. For a sample, I checked back to the NCAA Tournament pool I conducted last season and North Carolina was picked to win it all less than both Pitt (the most frequent) and Louisville. Even though the Heels featured the most pure talent, let’s put an end to this false claim. I also vehemently disagree that one team doesn’t stand alone this season ahead of the pack. To me, Kansas is the clear cut #1 favorite to win their second title in three years. Bill Self has the second most efficient offense and the third most efficient defense. He’s slowly but surely cut down his rotation and found a perfect balance. Most great teams start with a dominant point guard and center and Self has both of those covered. Even the enigma known as Tyshawn Taylor received a jolt from a surprising start by Self last Saturday and responded. I haven’t even mentioned the scorching hot Xavier Henry. The Jayhawks are an obvious Elite 8 team.

Taylor and Self finally on the same page?

2. Kentucky- If any team can hold a candle to Kansas at this stage of the season, it’s Kentucky. The Wildcats have matched Kansas’ road triumphs in the Big 12 with impressive wins away from Lexington against Florida, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. John Calipari has blended complicated personalities to perfection and found the ideal concoction to finally win a national title. I mentioned Kansas has a tremendous starting point with Collins and Aldrich; they’re actually topped by the inside-outside duo of John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. Wall has emerged from a mid-season turnover slump to play more like the December John Wall the entire college basketball world fell in love with. He’s absolutely deadly in transition and continues to make clutch plays down the stretch. Cousins will be the single most difficult player to guard in the entire NCAA Tournament, evident by his top-five rank in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. He has guard skills in a 6’11 body and is the most effective rebounder in the nation. The real question is if Kentucky can play a halfcourt game against the likes of Purdue and West Virginia should they run into either team. The Wildcats are much more ordinary than spectacular when they play a game in the 60s and are forced to settle for outside jump shots. Still, this team has the goods and the talent to reach a regional final.

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Boom Goes the Dynamite: 02.20.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on February 20th, 2010

Hello everybody, welcome back to another thrilling edition of Boom Goes the Dynamite.  If you haven’t noticed, we’re at the point of the season where every game has a little more intensity, a little more pressure, a little more edginess, as each team tries to attract the eye of the fickle Selection Committee.  Whether in an attempt to lock up a high seed or simply to make the darn thing, the next three weeks will present ample opportunities for every team to make its case, for better or worse.  As always, we’ll be right there with you throughout the day, checking in on the big games and others of varying importance.  While today isn’t a blockbuster day in terms of key games, there are always going to be a good number at this time of year.  Below are the ones we’ll be keeping an eye on…

11 AM: Siena @ #13 Butler on ESPN2 – RTC Live
12 PM: Florida @ Ole Miss on CBS
12 PM: Seton Hall @ #8 West Virginia on ESPN
12 PM: Morgan State @ Murray State on ESPNU
1 PM: Louisiana Tech @ Northeastern on ESPN2
1:30 PM: #22 Baylor @ Oklahoma State on ESPN360
2 PM: #17 Texas @ Texas Tech on ESPN
2 PM: Georgia Tech @ Maryland on ESPN360 – RTC Live
2 PM: Xavier @ Charlotte on CSS
4 PM: Illinois @ #4 Purdue on ESPN
4 PM: UTEP @ Tulsa on CBS CS – RTC Live
4 PM: Colorado @ #1 Kansas on ESPN360
6 PM: #2 Kentucky @ #19 Vanderbilt on ESPN
6 PM: #7 Kansas State @ Oklahoma on ESPNU
8 PM: Charleston @ George Mason on ESPN2
9 PM: UCLA @ Washington on ESPN
12 AM: Wichita State @ Utah State on ESPN2 – RTC Live

11:02: And we’re live with another BGTD. Interesting decision by ESPN to keep GameDay at 11 AM with the Siena-Butler game on ESPN2. We already have someone doing a RTC Live for the Siena-Butler game so we’ll focus more on GameDay than we otherwise would. Definitely check out our RTC Live of the game though.

11:07: The ESPN analysts are really going out on a limb saying the Big East Tournament will be the best of the conference tournament. Digger breaks with the group and goes with the Big Ten. Surprisingly Bobby Knight calls out the Big Ten saying the Big East would beat them head-to-head.

11:09: In another surprise, Jay Bilas goes against Coach K by saying that the conference tournaments effectively act as a huge NCAA Tournament and if you win you are into the real NCAA Tournament. Digger agrees with him while Hubert Davis attempts to make a ridiculous argument against the automatic bid saying it penalizes teams like Siena that dominate their conferences, but might choke in the conference tournament. Personally I think if you’re that good you can earn an at-large bid with your play throughout the season. Knight holds the coaching fraternity party line saying that he wants to expand the tournament. Translation: Nobody gets fired ever.

11:15: Just flipped over to ESPN2 where the announcers were comparing Gordon Hayward to Mike Dunleavy Jr. I’m not sure if they are talking about their games or the way they look. Where is the college basketball Spike Lee who will call out these announcers for comparing the two only because they are white guys who look fairly similar? For the record their games are pretty similar. Feel free to call me out in the comment section. . .

11:20: Knight wants “The Committee” to get an ex-coach on there (like him?) and the team’s last 18 games. I have no idea how he decided on 18. Why not 20? The other talking heads rip the RPI. Davis wants to take the strength of schedule component out of the RPI and wants to use an “eye test” to replace it. I’d like to see Professor Davis come up with a quantitative way to come up with the “eye test” score.

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles… (With a Wednesday Twist)

Posted by zhayes9 on February 3rd, 2010

RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver ten permeating thoughts every week as the season progresses.

This week’s Scribbles column will look ahead to a couple months down the road in Indianapolis, where 65 deserving teams will be whittled down to just four, and to that blissful Monday night in April when one lucky group will be dancing at mid-court to the tune of One Shining Moment. In my estimation, there are ten squads with a promising-to-slight chance of hoisting a 2010 National Champions banner during their home opener next season. I’m here to tell you those ten teams, why they have hopes of winning a national title, what’s holding them back, and the most realistic scenario as I see it come late March or beginning of April. These teams are ranked in reverse order from 10-1 with the #1 school holding the best cards in their deck.

10. Duke

Why they can win it all: Their floor leader and senior stalwart Jon Scheyer is the steadiest distributor in all of college basketball, evident from his incredibly stellar 3.28 A/T ratio and a 5.6 APG mark that ranks third in the ACC and 23d in the nation. Scheyer is also a deadly shooter coming off screens when he has time to square his body to the basket, nailing a career-high 39% from deep to go along with 44% from the floor overall. Duke is also a tremendous free-throw shooting team as a whole and Coach K has the ability to play a group of Scheyer-Kyle Singler-Nolan Smith-Mason Plumlee-Lance Thomas that doesn’t feature one player under 70% from the charity stripe. Duke also features a ton more size in the paint than during previous flameouts in the NCAA Tournament. When Singler plays small forward, Coach K can rotate Miles and Mason Plumlee, the glue guy Thomas, rebounding force Brian Zoubek and even Ryan Kelly at two positions with no player under 6’8. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more efficient backcourt in the nation than Scheyer and Smith. And it’s widely known that exceptional guard play is the ultimate key to winning in March.

What Makes Duke 2010 Different than Duke 2006-09?

Why they won’t win it all: Depth could certainly be an issue for the Blue Devils’ chances of raising their first banner since 2001. Andre Dawkins has fallen almost entirely out of the rotation and Coach K has started to limit Mason Plumlee’s minutes during important games. Also, Brian Zoubek’s tendency to immediately step into foul trouble limits his availability. It wouldn’t shock me to see Duke play Scheyer, Smith and Singler 40 minutes per game during their time in the NCAA Tournament. That could cause those key players, who rely primarily on their jump shot, to lose their legs and start throwing up bricks. Kyle Singler isn’t quite the superstar he was last season, either. Singler’s numbers are down across the board — scoring, rebounding, FG%, 3pt% — and he’s been dealing with a nagging wrist injury that may not improve in the weeks and months ahead. Duke also lacks the athleticism of teams like Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse and Texas. They could struggle with quicker guards like John Wall and athletic rebounders of the Damion James mold.

Likely scenario: I see Duke reaching the Sweet 16 as a #2 seed where they fall to a more athletic, quick group of guards that can explode to the rim and draw fouls. Duke may have height, but most of that height just isn’t a threat offensively by any stretch of the imagination. Eventually getting into a jump shooting contest could be the Blue Devils’ downfall if two of Smith, Scheyer and Singler go cold.

9. West Virginia

Why they can win it all: Da’Sean Butler is one of the best players in the nation when the chips are on the table. If the Mountaineers need a big shot to keep their season alive, Butler will demand the basketball and more than likely deliver. He’s downed Marquette and Louisville on game-deciding jumpers and led the second half charge against Ohio State. West Virginia is also supremely athletic and Bob Huggins’ teams always crash the boards with a tremendous ferocity. No contender can match the height across the board that West Virginia touts other than Kentucky. Huggins has experimented with lineups in which all of his players are 6’6 or taller, including 6’9 Devin Ebanks acting as a point-forward and 6’7 Da’Sean Butler capable of posting up smaller two-guards. Sophomore Kevin Jones is an incredible talent and a rebounding machine (7.7 RPG) that hits 55% of his shots from the floor and 44% from deep. West Virginia has the luxury of any of their forwards being able to step out and drain a mid-range jumper, from Ebanks to Jones to Wellington Smith to John Flowers every once in a full moon.

Ebanks is the X-factor for West Virginia

Why they won’t win it all: Let’s face it: Bob Huggins doesn’t have exactly the best track record when it comes to NCAA Tournament success. Huggins hasn’t reached the Elite 8 since 1995-96 with Cincinnati and only one Sweet 16 in the last ten years. In 2000 and 2002, his Bearcats lost just four games all season and yet didn’t reach the second weekend of March both times. Most also question whether the Mountaineers can hit outside shots on a consistent basis. They’ve struggled mightily in the first half of Big East games and can’t afford to fall behind against elite competition in March like they did against Dayton last season. Point guard play is a prudent question for West Virginia, as well. Joe Mazzulla is a quality perimeter defender and a capable distributor, but he’ll never be the offensive threat he was two seasons ago due to that shoulder injury. Darryl Bryant can certainly catch a hot streak shooting-wise, but in all honestly he’s more suited as an undersized two-guard. Bryant is averaging just 3.6 APG in 25+ MPG of action.

Likely scenario: I’m still fairly high on this team. I love Butler at the end of games and Ebanks can do anything for Huggins — from score to rebound to run the point — and Kevin Jones is one of the most underappreciated players in the Big East. In the end, I see a clankfest from outside ultimately costing West Virginia their season. And for all their rebounding history, the Mountaineers are in the mid-60s in the nation. The Elite Eight seems like a proper place for their season to conclude.

8. Texas

Why they can win it all: No team boasts better perimeter defenders than Texas. Anyone that watched Dogus Balbay completely shut down James Anderson in the second half Monday night knows he’s the best perimeter defender in the nation, even stronger than Purdue’s Chris Kramer. Avery Bradley came in with the reputation as an elite defender and he’s certainly lived up to that billing. Even J’Covan Brown off the bench is a capable defensive player and Justin Mason is a plus defender. When Dexter Pittman stays out of foul trouble, Texas boasts a legitimate shot-blocking presence that can negate quick guards on the rare occasion they slip past Balbay or Bradley. Texas is also the deepest team in the nation and Rick Barnes has the capability of playing 10 or 11 men on any night if he feels the need. The preserved minutes could pay dividends in the form of fresh players come March. Damion James should also be on a mission come March as a senior. He’s never reached a Final Four during his Longhorns career and came back for a fourth year in Austin to accomplish that very feat.

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles…

Posted by zhayes9 on January 5th, 2010

RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver ten permeating thoughts every Tuesday as the season progresses.

1. More than the countless Big East tournament runs at the Garden, or the contention for conference regular season titles on a yearly basis, or reaching upper-echelon status in college basketball playing with no flashy All-American recruits, Jamie Dixon is proving his worth as a coach this year more than ever. Few teams lost as much talent, leadership, and production as senior point guard Levance Fields, dominating big man DeJuan Blair and outside threat Sam Young. The departure of these three mainstays plus two projected starters for 2009-10, Jermaine Dixon and Gilbert Brown, beginning the year MIA prompted many preseason prognosticators (including myself) to deem Pittsburgh a non-contender in the rugged Big East. My mistake, Jamie. The Panthers just finished one of their most difficult Big East road stretches of the year with two statement victories at previously undefeated Syracuse and at fringe-ranked Cincinnati. Sophomore Ashton Gibbs is taking his experience from playing under Dixon at the U19 Games to good use, running the Pitt offense with superb efficiency, shooting the ball lights out from deep and breaking the all-time Pitt record for consecutive free throws made in the process. Brown has his academics in order and used his athleticism to make a few back-breaking baskets against Cincy last night. Dixon provides stellar defense and outside shooting. It remains to be seen whether Pitt can stay at the top of the Big East with less talent than the other squads, but we do know that Dixon’s team will play smarter and tougher than any opponent. And that always gives them a fighting chance.

2. The most significant win this New Year’s week had to be Purdue running away from West Virginia to remain unblemished and surpass the Mountaineers as a projected #1 seed at this stage of the season. Purdue and coach Matt Painter have constructed their program unlike many of their other counterparts atop the rankings on a weekly basis. There’s no Xavier Henry, Avery Bradley, Devin Ebanks or John Wall walking through the doors of Mackey Arena to play for the Boilers for one or two years; instead, their 2009-10 highly ranked squad features a group of players that have been together for three straight seasons, such a rarity in the age of one-and-done players and the glorification of NBA riches. This specific group of players- Robbie Hummel, Chris Kramer, JaJuan Johnson, E’Twaun Moore, Keaton Grant- have practiced and played together for three straight years now, stepping up the ladder slowly but surely in the college hoops landscape. They took the Big Ten by surprise in 2007-08 before falling in the second round to Xavier and climbed up another step by reaching the Sweet 16 a season ago. This year they hope to reach the top and cut down the nets in nearby Indianapolis with a group of kids that have been through the ups and downs of a college basketball season together more than once- a group of lightly-recruited but tough-minded individuals that will utilize defensive intensity and offensive efficiency to reach the ultimate goal Hummel, Johnson, Moore and others been striving for since arriving in West Lafayette.

3. Think about this for a second: Despite losing three four-year starters that all played 30+ MPG and notched 10+ PPG, Marquette coach Buzz Williams would probably tell you that his Golden Eagles should be staring at a 12-2 (2-0) record with wins over top-ten Villanova and West Virginia and another top-25 team in Florida State. Typical of young, inexperienced squads, Marquette has simply been unable to close games this season against stellar competition. If Darius Johnson-Odom and Jimmy Butler don’t miss two front ends of 1-and-1 opportunities, Da’Sean Butler’s game-winning shot never happens and Marquette has the second most impressive road win in the country this season (just behind Pitt stunning Syracuse). Up two Saturday against Villanova, Johnson-Odom again stepped to the line up two points and 2:35 left on the clock. Both of those attempts bricked, and, couple that with a bunny missed by Butler at the buzzer, the Golden Eagles again fell just short. Rewind back to November in the Old Spice Classic where Marquette held a 30-18 lead at half against FSU and a 10-point cushion midway through the second half, but squandered the lead. I haven’t even included the NC State game where Marquette lead by 11 at the intermission. Closing out games has been a devastating problem for Buzz Williams’ squad this season, and these close losses could very well cost Marquette a spot in the field come March if they’re sitting on the bubble.

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RTC 2009-10 Top 65 Games: January

Posted by zhayes9 on October 22nd, 2009

seasonpreview

Last Monday we broke down the top games of November and December as part of our season preview here at Rush the Court. As we examine the best games of the month of January, keep in mind what games during this crucial portion of the season usually represent: separating the contenders from the pretenders. With conference play heating up, the true top-seed players emerge from the pack and leap up their conference standings, while teams that may have overachieved or floated along on a cupcake-filled slate during the first two months begin to fall apart. Here are the games of great importance to circle on your calendar for January:

Ed. Note: we are not including projected matchups from the preseason tournaments in these 65 games because those will be analyzed separately.

January 1- West Virginia at Purdue (#7 overall)- The top game in the entire month of January will be played on the first day of 2010. You won’t find a more bruising, rugged and intense contest played all year with Bob Huggins and Matt Painter’s teams battling it out in East Lafayette. West Virginia is led by the shooting ability of Da’Sean Butler, the super-athletic Devin Ebanks, the two headed point-guard combo of Joe Mazzulla and Darryl Bryant and impact JC transfer Casey Mitchell. Purdue will be entering their third full season with the core of E’Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson and Keaton Grant intact.

January 2- Louisville at Kentucky (#23 overall)- This game has been circled for fans of Big Blue since the details emerged of Rick Pitino’s affair and subsequent extortion mess. They’ll be on Pitino relentlessly for these transgressions because they know their ultra-talented Wildcats can back up the berating on the court. Kentucky fans will also be eager for revenge after Edgar Sosa’s stunning game-winning three a season ago crushed Kentucky in Freedom Hall. Sosa will have to handle sensational freshman John Wall this time around.

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January 9- Kansas at Tennessee (#12 overall)- If Tennessee gets into an offensive rhythm, they can hang with the Jayhawks. Look for Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism to utilize their versatility to move Cole Aldrich, Marcus Morris, Thomas Robinson and other Kansas bigs away from the basket while allowing their wings — Scotty Hopson, J.P. Prince -- to penetrate inside and draw fouls while Kansas has to recover. This could be an electric, high-scoring affair that may be decided at the foul line.

January 9- West Virginia at Notre Dame (#24 overall)- How about four top-25 games to kick off the month of January? This Big East clash is one of West Virginia’s toughest road tests in their quest of a conference title. Notre Dame recently had a long home court winning streak and the West Virginia forwards Devin Ebanks, Wellington Smith and Deniz Kilici have to deal with the likely BE POY Luke Harangody. Whether the Irish can receive production from their guards is the key.

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RTC Class Schedule 2009-10: Purdue Boilermakers

Posted by zhayes9 on September 7th, 2009

seasonpreview 09-10

Ed. Note: for all of the posts in the RTC 09-10 Class Schedule series, click here.

The Final Four in Indianapolis sets up a dream scenario for Purdue coach Matt Painter. Much like Michigan State last season, who cruised through Minneapolis, Indianapolis and Detroit en route to the national title game, Purdue has the potential to set a goal of playing in front of their Indiana faithful at Lucas Oil Stadium for Final Four 2010. With a first/second round site in Milwaukee and the Midwest Regional located in St. Louis, Purdue could go the route of their Big Ten rivals a year ago by garnering a #1 seed on Selection Sunday.

Does Purdue have the tools to reach such lofty goals? Absolutely. For the second straight season, the core of the Boilermakers return to try and make the next step in March after falling in the second round in 2008 and in the Sweet 16 in 2009. You know the names by now- 6’10 forward JaJuan Johnson, whose numbers improved drastically from his rookie campaign, Chicago scoring guard E’Twaun Moore, team leader and potential Big Ten POY Robbie Hummel, defensive stalwart Chris Kramer and the emerging young point Lewis Jackson to compliment Keaton Grant. In addition, Painter lured in four talented Indiana recruits.

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In order to reach Indianapolis, the Boilermakers must trek through this challenging schedule:

Non-Conference Schedule Rank: 7.5. The non-conference schedule is fairly demanding for the Boilermakers. One of the best non-conference games of the year takes place on New Year’s Day between two of the most rugged teams in the nation- Purdue and West Virginia. The Mountaineers return Devin Ebanks, Da’Sean Butler and Darryl Bryant for a team that could contend for a Big East crown.  Purdue also plays in the Wooden Tradition on December 19 against an unknown opponent (it’s getting late, kids) and takes on Wake Forest at home in the ACC/Big Ten challenge a year after Duke entered West Lafayette and dominated. Painter and Co. must also travel to Tuscaloosa to take on new coach Anthony Grant and Alabama. The real tests could come in November at the Paradise Jam.

Cupcake City: Not too many cupcakes for Matt Painter this non-conference season which makes sense given his team’s talent level. Purdue faces Memphis’ favorite team, Cal State Northridge, to open the campaign with an easy first round Paradise Jam game and Central Michigan rounding out November. Ball State, Valparaiso and SIU-Edwardsville rounds out the cupcake list.

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RTC 09-10 Class Schedule: Michigan State Spartans

Posted by zhayes9 on August 20th, 2009

seasonpreview 09-10

Ed. Note: for all of the posts in the RTC 09-10 Class Schedule series, click here.

As we continue our ongoing feature RTC’s Class Schedule for the upcoming 2009-10 season, let’s delve into the slate for the national runner-up of a season ago out of the Big 10: Michigan State. The Spartans entered last season with expectations to win their first regular season conference title since 2000-01 and accomplished said feat with a 15-3 Big 10 record, overcoming two stunning losses at home to Penn State and Northwestern along the way. The Spartans entered the tournament with high hopes as a #2 seed and, after dodging two bullets from USC and Kansas, smoked #1 seed Louisville and edged past Connecticut in the national semifinals before running into the buzzsaw known as North Carolina. With 2008-09’s successful season in the past, Tom Izzo is moving on with his point guard (Kalin Lucas), sharpshooter (Durrell Summers), enigma (Raymar Morgan), sophomore stud (Delvon Roe) and emerging big man (Draymond Green) all in the fray. Michigan State fans will accept nothing less than Tom Izzo’s sixth Final Four appearance this season in East Lansing.

Let’s take an in-depth look at the game-by-game journey Michigan State will have to endure if they wish to meet such lofty expectations. The official schedule can be found here:

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Non-Conference Schedule Rank: 9.5. Tom Izzo never backs down from a challenge. Last season, Izzo traveled to the loaded Old Spice Classic, a trip halted by a stunning defeat at the hands of Maryland. He also faced Texas in Houston and North Carolina at Ford Field for the ACC/Big Ten challenge. Both the latter contests will also be featured in the 2009-10 edition of Michigan State’s non-conference slate, but this time as true road games rather than semi-neutral floors. That’s right, on December 1 the Spartans will play UNC in Chapel Hill and, on December 22, Texas in Austin. Rarely do you see a team with the status of Michigan State play such challenging road contests in non-conference play. Victories in either venue will provide Izzo with a significant quality win to tout during arguments for top seeds in March. Izzo also signed up his Spartans for the Legends Classic in November in Atlantic City where he’ll face Florida and either Rutgers or Massachusetts in the final (you’d think it would be Florida-Michigan State in the final, but I digress). Another program with a perennially loaded non-conference slate is Gonzaga. Mark Few’s team will travel to East Lansing for one of the top November contests, even with Austin Daye, Jeremy Pargo and Josh Heytvelt departed.

Cupcake City: In between the two road games in North Carolina and Texas, Michigan State packed in some much-deserved cupcakes. The challengers will be Wofford, The Citadel (that game being played in Charleston, oddly enough), Oakland and IPFW. While The Citadel had a surprising 20-win campaign last year, the only team that may be able to stay on the floor with Michigan State is Oakland, a 23-13 squad from a year ago that nearly toppled North Dakota State in the Summit final. Michigan State will also face Florida Gulf Coast and Texas-Arlington at home.

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Big 10 Wrapup & Tourney Preview

Posted by nvr1983 on March 11th, 2009

Josh & Mike from Big Ten Geeks are the RTC correspondents for the Big Ten Conference.

The Season That Was
Politicians often talk about “Two Americas” – there’s the super-rich, lighting Cuban cigars with $100 bills, and then there’s the rest of us. Well, this year, there were “Three Big Tens.” First, there was Michigan State, who won the conference title in a walk by four games. That’s the largest margin in a very long time (over 10 years). And just like this little credit crisis hasn’t forced Warren Buffett to fly coach [Ed. Note: Having read about Warren, he might fly coach anyways.], Raymar Morgan‘s long bout with pneumonia didn’t slow down the Spartans one bit. We predicted Michigan State to win, we just didn’t know it would be this easy.

Then there’s the middle, which was filled with parity. Second place through ninth place was separated by 3 games. Call it the Big Ten’s middle class. Purdue didn’t develop into the team everyone thought they would. Sure, Robbie Hummel‘s extended absence hurt, but it was really the big steps back taken by E’Twuan Moore and Keaton Grant that made the biggest difference. Illinois actually overachieved this season, after last year’s debacle. The truth is that the Illini weren’t that bad last year, but suffered a lot of close losses. A big turnaround was to be expected. But to go from 16 wins to 23 (and counting) without adding a single player of significance was beyond optimistic. That’s exactly what Bruce Weber‘s team did though. Wisconsin will see their streak of 30-win seasons come to an end this year, and despite what you might read or hear about this team, it was the defense that let them down. In fact, the Badgers sported the league’s best offense on a per possession basis. But without twin towers Brian Butch and Greg Steimsma, opponents shot much better from inside the arc.

Penn State continued its happy-go-lucky ways, going 10-8 in conference play despite being outscored (handily) by its opponents. But good for the Nittany Lions, it’s wins that punch Dance tickets, not scoring margins. Ohio State might have had the most talent in the league, but finished right in the middle of the pack. We said that before the season started that Ohio State would be hard-pressed to improve on last year’s performance. We were right – Thad Matta is finding out that landing All American Recruits isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Speaking of attrition, Northwestern had virtually none, and that went a long, long way into fueling their best post-war season. The Wildcats will come up short for landing an NCAA Tourney bid unless they win the conference tournament, but that shouldn’t diminish the job Bill Carmody‘s done. Another turnaround was present in Ann Arbor, where John Beilein has Michigan on the brink of their first NCAA Tournament appearance in over 10 years. The Wolverines have looked like giant killers that took down Duke, UCLA, and nearly UConn; but this is also the same team that was outscored by opponents in conference play. They need to find that early-season magic for the stretch run. Minnesota has been somewhat of an oddball team as well this year in that this is the worst field goal shooting team in the conference, but they’re also tied for the best free throw shooting team in the conference. Clearly they have the talent to score more, but it just hasn’t happened.

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Checking in on the… Big 10

Posted by rtmsf on December 25th, 2008

Josh & Mike of Big Ten Geeks are the RTC correspondents for the Big Ten Conference.

Looking Back

The Big Ten had a big week, taking down two top 10 opponents and several other strong teams.  Minnesota had the most impressive and surprising win so far this season, taking down Louisville 70-64 on a neutral floor.  The Gophers were in control the entire game, with their most important offensive player, Lawrence Westbrook, limited because of foul trouble.  Up to that point so far this season, we didn’t know much about this team because of the inferior competition.  I’m not sure this win defines them (Louisville played 2 days prior almost 2,000 miles away – “the trip from hell” according to Rick Pitino), but it’s a signature win for a team that figures to be on the bubble this season.  If they’re going to make the dance, Minnesota will need forward Damian Johnson to keep up his solid play.  If it weren’t for the poor rebounding, Johnson might be an early-entry candidate after this season.  He makes his shots (59.7 eFG), has a healthy shot diet (22.6 shot percentage), and he’s a fearsome defensive player (11.2 block percentage, 4.7 steal percentage).  Oh, and he creates and handles the ball like a point guard (26.3 assist percentage, 16.8 turnover percentage). also posted a quality win over Texas this past Saturday.

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