20 Questions: Which Returning Player Makes The Leap?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 8th, 2013

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There has never been a more opportune time for the player waiting in the wings. With transfers more prevalent than ever, the one-and-done era in full swing, and each new college basketball season bringing a brand new landscape with it, we have become accustomed to seeing fresh faces starring in old places. Needless to say, that leaves a pretty sizable group of candidates to choose from when answering the question of which returning player will make the leap this year. LaQuinton Ross looks ready to shoulder the scoring load at Ohio State. Talented sophomore T.J. Warren could develop into a leader in the absence of Leslie, Brown and co. at NC State. A star turn seems in order for Sam Dekker at Wisconsin. The list could go on and on. But if we are taking just one crack at this, Kansas’ Perry Ellis very well could be the player who makes the most significant leap.

Perry Ellis' Will Find Himself With A Vastly Expanded Role For The Jayhawks In 2013-14

Perry Ellis Will Find Himself With A Vastly Expanded Role For The Jayhawks In 2013-14

Rumor has it that Kansas has a freshman by the name of Andrew Wiggins who figures to be a pretty integral piece to the Jayhawk puzzle (and a preseason First Team All-American), but don’t be shocked if Ellis winds up being nearly as valuable to the KU cause as the prodigiously gifted freshman. Ellis, a consensus top-40 recruit coming out of high school, averaged just 13.6 minutes per contest as a freshman. He still managed to post averages of 5.8 PPG and 3.9 RPG in limited minutes, and the only Jayhawks with a higher offensive rating (per KenPom) than Ellis’ 114.1 were Ben McLemore and Travis Releford. It’s no secret that the past six months have seen the Kansas roster undergo quite the transformation. Ellis will undoubtedly see a significant increase in minutes as a result. A simple extrapolation of last season’s numbers (to his expected minutes this year) would qualify as a solid leap for the sophomore, but we can expect even more. As Bill Self’s best post scoring option this season, Ellis will see much more of the offense run through him than a year ago, when Jeff Withey dominated those touches. Wiggins will clearly claim the featured role in the Jayhawk offense, but we have already seen an expanded role for Ellis in Kansas’ two preseason games, where he averaged 14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.

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Big Ten M5: 10.31.13 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on October 31st, 2013

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  1. With the loss of Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State has a big scoring void to fill. Thomas averaged 19.8 points, which was nearly double that of the Buckeyes next leading scorer in Aaron Craft. Ohio State is hoping without just one scorer, though, everyone will get involved forcing opposing teams to guard everyone on the floor. Everyone already knows Craft will have to add some offense to his well-known defense, but LaQuinton Ross, Lenzelle Smith, Sam Thompson, and Amir Williams are the keys to the Buckeyes. If the team gets consistent scoring from all of those players, it will certainly cause opponents bigger headaches than last season when taking away Thomas meant shutting down Ohio State.
  2. Michigan State has plenty of strength returning to its starting lineup in Gary Harris, Keith Appling, Branden Dawson, and Adreian Payne. There’s still one open spot, though, and it appears freshman forward Gavin Schilling is making his case to seize it. In the Spartans first exhibition, a 101-52 win against Grand Valley State, Schilling played the most minutes and scored four points with five rebounds coming off the bench behind sophomore Matt Costello. This position will be an important one to keep an eye on for Michigan State as it tries to make a national title run. The four returning starters already make them a strong team, but if Schilling can continue to prosper and make every position on the Spartans starting five strong, it only makes their chances for a national title better. If he doesn’t get into the starting lineup, it at least makes it a small drop-off if Schilling has to play minutes for Costello or Payne at the forward positions.
  3. There’s plenty of hope surrounding the Purdue basketball program following a disappointing campaign last year. A big key to that will be what the newcomers provide to the Boilermakers, one of which is 5th year transfer Errick Peck. The 6-foot-6, 223 pound forward was in the starting lineup for Purdue in its 80-73 exhibition win over University of Indianapolis last night as he scored five points, had six rebounds and even attempted a 3-pointer. This versatility is something that Matt Painter has noticed and hopes to utilize in the Cornell transfer this season. Peck will likely find himself getting plenty of minutes with AJ Hammons still serving his three-game suspension and could very well find himself playing all over the court for Purdue. His ability to play with his back to the basket or from the outside allows Painter to use a big lineup with Peck at the three alongside Jay Simpson and Hammons or smaller with Peck at the four.
  4. With Mitch McGary and other post players returning to Michigan, John Beilein has a decision coming up soon. According to MLive’s Brendan Quinn, the Wolverines coach will have to decide whether he wants to redshirt freshman Mark Donnal. The 6′ 9″ forward played just more than five minutes and scored three points in Michigan’s 117-44 exhibition win over Concordia, which was more than only the walk-ons. With fellow freshmen Zak Irvin and Derrik Walton, Jr. filling the roles left by Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr., Donnal is the only freshman with plenty of upperclass experience ahead of him. Whether Beilein does redshirt Donnal or not is interesting because, as Quinn points out, Michigan only has 11 scholarship players this season. If he uses a redshirt, that makes the Wolverines very thin with only 10 total scholarship players.
  5. It’s always great to see when a head coach uses his position to help the greater good. Iowa’s Fran McCaffery has certainly done his best to help fight cancer after losing both his parents to colon cancer. Tuesday, McCaffery hosted his second annual Coaches vs. Cancer event where he was hoping to raise more than the $52,000 that was raised a year ago. It’s also given the coach a chance to touch a few people who have dealt with the deadly disease, including the one this story highlights in Wil Roling who joined Iowa on the team’s trip to Indiana last year. Now, Roling has had a going-away party from his hospital and was back at the Coaches vs. Cancer event, but this time he was healthy and playing with McCaffery’s two oldest sons. That’s something we can all celebrate.
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Big Ten M5: 10.29.13 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on October 29th, 2013

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  1. Matt Painter needs A.J.Hammons to step up this season in order to compete in the Big Ten, but Hammons needs to show more maturity and his recent suspension will not help his case. Painter suspended his sophomore big man for the Boilermakers’ first two exhibition games and the season opener for violating team’s rules. “A.J. has been suspended for the first three games of this season for conduct not representative of this program or university,” Painter said in a news release. Hammons averaged 10 points per game last season, but is expected to increase his scoring average with an offseason of strength training and general skills improvement. If Hammons can stay healthy and disciplined, his physical talents will carry him through his sophomore season.
  2. New head coaches need help with several facets of the game, including recruiting, player development and strength training. Chris Collins hired former Notre Dame guard Chris Quinn to help him develop his talent in Evanston. Quinn averaged 17.7 points per game at Notre Dame and played six seasons in the NBA before moving into coaching. He was an excellent shooter who played in a disciplined offense under Mike Brey in South Bend. Collins is trying to change the culture at Northwestern and Quinn’s success should help him develop talented wings such as JerShon Cobb.
  3. Speaking of experienced guards, Ohio State has a veteran backcourt with Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. College hoops fans don’t need any introduction to Craft’s ability to influence the game on the defensive end, but Smith has the skill set in place to explode offensively for Thad Matta. Two years ago, the pair started in a Final Four game and they are ready to lead the Buckeyes back to the Final Four again. “You have to lead guys,” Smith says. “As senior leaders, a lot of teammates will come to us. Being the older guys, you have to be the one who knows what to do.” If Smith can provide an offensive spark and LaQuinton Ross can take the scoring load vacated by DeShaun Thomas, then Craft can focus on defense and use his leadership skills to help Matta get back to another Final Four.
  4. Experience is something that Tom Crean‘s Indiana squad will lack this season. Will Sheehey is incumbent leader returning, so the coach knows that he will have to rely on freshmen to step up on both ends of the floor. Crean remains patient about the freshmen this season and understands that there will be some necessary growing pains. Freshman forward Noah Vonleh impressed Hoosier fans in the exhibition games, but he will have to evolve his game throughout the season to perform well against Big Ten defenses. “The bottom line every day for us: Do you come in mentally prepared? Do you come in with great energy? Do you come in ready to not only work hard, but compete to win?” Crean asks. Vonleh and another talented forward, Troy Williams, will need to pick up easy points in transition to allow Yogi Ferrell to carry most of the burden in the half-court.
  5. If you haven’t heard the buzz in the Big Ten, Michigan State is the favorite to lock down the league title and contend for a national championship. Sophomore forward Matt Costello is looking to increase his contribution as a sophomore to help his team cut down the nets next April. He hopes to bring a “bad boy” attitude to the floor and help in the “hustle” aspects of the game. “If I can be a Dennis Rodman, I’ll be great with that,” Costello said, referencing the energetic, defensive standout on the Pistons’ “Bad Boy” squads of yesteryear. Tom Izzo’s squads are known as scrappy and Costello could end up being one of those guys who brings great intangibles to a team full of offensive talent with Gary Harris, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling.
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Evaluating Big Ten’s Sophomore Class of 2013-14: LaQuinton Ross

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on August 27th, 2013

Deepak is a columnist for the RTC Big Ten microsite. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

With less than three months left until the college season tips off, we at the RTC Big Ten Microsite are here to get you excited about the stars who are returning next season and ready to take on the responsibility of leading their teams to conference glory. Over the next few weeks, we plan to evaluate a number of key Big Ten sophomores who will have an impact on their team’s performance throughout the season. Today, we focus on Ohio State forward LaQuinton Ross.

(Note: We included Ross as part of the sophomore discussion even though he is officially listed as a junior because he barely played more than 30 minutes during his first season in Columbus due to academic issues.) 

Laquinton Ross (right) will fill up the stat sheet next season.

LaQuinton Ross (right) will fill up the stat sheet next season.

We live in a college hoops era where scouts determine if a player will have an immediate offensive impact on a team based purely on his physical attributes. LaQuinton Ross’ playing time last season was a conundrum to many pro scouts because a lean 6’8’’ forward who can shoot effectively from long range should average more than 17 MPG during Big Ten play. Yet, Thad Matta didn’t use Ross for much of the season because he preferred the experience and maturity of Shannon Scott and the defensive intensity of Sam Thompson over Ross’ obvious offensive firepower. Next season, however, should be an altogether different story because, without Deshaun Thomas in the Buckeyes’ lineup, Matta will need to depend on someone who can score with relative ease, and Ross should be able to fulfill that role. Let’s evaluate the parts of Ross’ game that will determine if he can become one of the primary weapons for the Buckeyes next season.

What did we learn from last year?

We learned that the incoming hype about Ross’ offensive game was legitimate. Despite his sporadic minutes, he averaged 8.3 PPG and shot 39% from beyond the arc last season. It was already a well-known fact that he could score, but we also witnessed during the NCAA Tournament that he can do so with ease against excellent competition. If he were allowed more minutes, he has the talent to approach an average of 18-20 PPG during the Big Ten season. So why didn’t he get more playing time? Because he also proved to be a defensive liability, and — this is the Big Ten, after all — Matta realized that he couldn’t afford to give up easy buckets on the defensive end just so he could use Ross to score. Last year’s Buckeyes relied on stalwart defense to succeed and with the NBA draftee Thomas picking up most of the scoring burden, Ross wasn’t going to get consistent playing time until he regularly covered his defensive assignments. Still, his talent was too much for Matta to ignore during the postseason and Ross took advantage of his meaningful minutes to average 18 PPG over the Buckeyes’ last three games against Iowa State, Arizona and Wichita State.

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Season In Review: Ohio State Buckeyes

Posted by jnowak on April 16th, 2013

For a while there, it was hard to know what to think about Ohio State. The Buckeyes had a pretty nice non-conference schedule that included a game against Marquette on a neutral floor (aircraft carrier), but it was canceled because of the condensation issue. They played at Duke in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and lost. They hosted Kansas, and lost. And then, suddenly, Big Ten play was here. The Buckeyes had no trouble beating up on the little guys, but then went to Illinois and lost. They went to Michigan State, and lost. Sensing a pattern? The Buckeyes looked good, but they never really looked great.

Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft were the straws that stirred the drink at Ohio State this year.

Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft were the straws that stirred the drink at Ohio State this year.

Until March. Then OSU looked like world-beaters. Ohio State went from a good team in a great conference to a great team in a great conference (one they were responsible for helping make great) when they rattled off 11 straight wins from February 20 to March 24. Along the way, they played their way back into the Big Ten title picture, a conference tournament championship, and an Elite Eight berth. For a while, they were the hottest team in the country. Let’s break it down:

  • The Good: Let’s start with the obvious. Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas were as good a 1-2 punch and complementary duo in the conference, if not the country, as anybody. Thomas is a pure, versatile scorer whose game will translate well to the NBA when he makes the leap. And Craft, with all due respect, is the perfect kind of player you’d want to lead your college team but who won’t likely have much of a (if any) future in pro ball. He’s a terrific student-athlete, someone Ohio State fans and alumni can be proud of, and he’s a bulldog on the court. He ran the Buckeyes’ offense very well, provided leadership, brought some of the best on-ball defense in the country, and showed by the final months of the season that he can fill it up too. When Craft was at his best, the Buckeyes looked unbeatable. That included two huge games against Michigan State, both at the end of the regular season and in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, as well as in the Big Dance. Ohio State was nearly dead in the water after losing three of four games early in February, but they turned it around to become the hottest team out of the best conference in the land. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #9 Wichita State 70, #2 Ohio State 66

Posted by AMurawa on March 30th, 2013

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Andrew Murawa is reporting from the West Regional in Los Angeles, CA this weekend.

  1. Tekele Cotton Ain’t Scared. To set the scene, a 20-point lead with 11 minutes left had turned into a three-point lead with under three minutes remaining. The Shockers had committed five turnovers on their previous six possessions and hadn’t made a field goal in nearly five minutes. Wichita State players were arguing with each other, looking over at the bench at every loose ball for some sort of help and checking the clock, which was moving far too slow for their liking, at every chance they got. A game that had once been a snoozer looked very much like one that was going to turn into a surprising Ohio State comeback. But after breaking through Buckeye pressure and getting the ball in the halfcourt, the ball found its way to Tekele Cotton with less than ten seconds on the shot clock. Primarily known as a defender and dirty work type of player, Cotton, however, stepped into the three as calm and as cool as you would want, as if the world around him weren’t going to hell. And it was pure. Nothing but net. In that moment, one player putting aside the enormity of the situation and handling his business as if he were all alone in the gym, much of that confusion and disorder disappeared. And he wasn’t done yet. On the next offensive possession, after Fred Van Vleet missed and end-of-shot-clock three on a possession where the Shockers never got the ball inside the three-point line , Cotton tracked down the offensive rebound and turned a wasted 35-second possession into a 1:10 possession that ended in a Van Vleet jumper. Suffice it to say that likely without Cotton, the Shockers may have gotten shocked themselves.

    Demetric Williams Spending Some Quality Time With The West Regional Trophy. Williams, Despite Seeing His Minutes Slashed, Hit A Big Three In The First Half

    Demetric Williams Spending Some Quality Time With The West Regional Trophy. Williams, Despite Seeing His Minutes Slashed, Hit A Big Three In The First Half

  2. Athletically Even. You look at the names of the front of the jerseys and the conferences in which these teams play and you expect, sight unseen, the Buckeyes to be the physically dominant team. That was very much not the case today: Wichita State was every bit the athletic equal of the Buckeyes, with all the height, strength, quickness and bounciness of the more familiar Buckeyes. And you got the feeling right from the start that the Shockers new that. But the Buckeyes are used to playing against their athletic equals on a regular basis, while this was all new for the Shockers. After dominating for 30-some minutes, when the Buckeyes turned up the energy, the Shockers got flustered for a bit, but their athleticism allowed them to recover and fend off a late charge.
  3. Aaron Craft Exposed. The game plan for the Shockers on Craft was pretty clear: go under ball screens, give him looks at jumpers over a chance at penetration and go at him with the ball. And their game plan paid off. Craft did his a couple of his seven three-point attempts, but he missed all five of his two-point attempts and was at times a liability offensively, allowing the Shockers to sag off and clog up the lane. And defensively, on more than a couple occasions, Armstead blew by him on the way to the hole. Even more shockingly, when the Buckeyes finally started to show some pop, it was when Craft was on the pine for a brief two minute stretch. He came back on to help harass the Shockers into turnovers late, but this certainly wasn’t a great performance from the Buckeye point.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.30.13 Edition

Posted by WCarey on March 30th, 2013

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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.

Midwest Region

West Region

  • Wichita State guard Malcolm Armstead transferred from Oregon to join the Shockers without a scholarship and that gamble is paying off as Wichita State preps for a chance to go to the Final Four.
  • Myron Medcalf of ESPN.com writes that Saturday’s game between Ohio State and Wichita State should not be viewed as a “David/Goliath” match-up.
  • Would Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall be the greatest catch of this year’s coaching carousel?
  • Ohio State sophomore forward LaQuinton Ross has matured during his second season in Columbus to become a playmaker for the Buckeyes.
  • Ohio State coach Thad Matta was unhappy with the way Buckeyes guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. performed defensively in the team’s Round of 32 victory over Iowa State, but the junior stepped up his play significantly in Thursday’s victory over Arizona.
  • Ohio State forward Deshaun Thomas has a well-earned reputation as a “bad shot taker and maker” and this moniker has not prevented him from becoming the Buckeyes’ most lethal weapon offensively.

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West Regional Final Game Analysis: #2 Ohio State vs #9 Wichita State

Posted by AMurawa on March 30th, 2013

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#2 Ohio State vs. #9 Wichita State – West Regional Regional Final (Los Angeles, CA) – 7:05PM ET on CBS

With Florida Gulf Coast’s magical run over, Wichita State is now left to carry the banner for Cinderella in the NCAA Tournament. Having already knocked off Gonzaga, the team that finished the season as the number one team in the polls, the Shockers have experience playing that role, but today they face a team in Ohio State that is as hot as any team in the country, having reeled off 11 straight victories with nine of those coming against NCAA Tournament teams. In other words, the Shockers are about to face a big step up in the level of competition. But, you know what? Wichita State belongs on the same floor as the Buckeyes. They’re not going to be over-matched athletically like so many underdogs are, if anything they have a slight height advantage and these Shockers are pretty darn hot themselves right now. They have a quintet of talented guards that as a group can attack the hoop, score from deep and play tremendous defense. And then up front they have a pair of 6’8” bulldogs, with Carl Hall more than willing to mix it up in the paint while Cleanthony Early can be a match-up problem with his inside/outside game.

Gregg Marshall Is One Win Away From Taking The Shockers To The Final Four

But, as well as Wichita State matches up with the Buckeyes, Ohio State matches up with them. While Early is a strong offensive threat and a tough rebounder, he’s not a real good match-up for Ohio State’s leading scorer DeShaun Thomas – not that very many people are. Thomas has faced far more fearsome defenders than Early, and Gregg Marshall probably knows that he’ll have to run additional defenders at Thomas to get the ball out of his hands. And if the ball is coming out of Thomas’ hands, if these last two games are any indication, that might mean it is going to wind up in LaQuinton Ross’ hands. Ross is Ohio State’s breakout star (he had 14 of the Buckeyes’ last 17 points in their Sweet 16 win over Arizona, including the game winner) and he has shown a versatile offensive game that very few teams in the nation have a great match-up for, and Wichita State is no exception. But, as good as Ross has been these last two games, two fine performances does not make a consistent offensive performer.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Ohio State 73, #6 Arizona 70

Posted by AMurawa on March 28th, 2013

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Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is reporting from the West Region semifinals in Los Angeles, California, this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

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It Was a Sea of Red in LA Tonight

  1. Madness. After 39 minutes, 40 seconds and change, these two teams were dead even subsequent to a wild exchange of runs. One team killed it for the first 15 minutes, the other controlled the next 20-plus. And then down the stretch it was two prizefighters standing in the middlle of the ring throwing haymakers. Arizona’s seniors Solomon Hill and Mark Lyons threw together a barrage of scoring. Ohio State responded with play-making from Aaron Craft and shotmaking from LaQuinton Ross. And both teams went at it defensively. There was a crazy late run for Arizona to tie things up, but for the second straight game with the clock running down in regulation, the Buckeyes got a huge three-point bucket, this one from the newly confident Ross in the waning seconds, to provide the difference.
  2. The Buckeyes Have Found Their Additional Scorers. Much of the year the talk was about “who can Ohio State find to be its second scorer?” DeShaun Thomas has regularly been the leading man for the Bucks, pacing the team in scoring all year long and again tonight. But down the stretch tonight, it was Ross who made play after play after play for them, and in a variety of ways. He scored 14 of the Buckeyes last 17 points and he did it both with the drive, the ability to get to the line and, shown most spectacularly on the final bucket, with deep three-point range. Once a highly regarded recruit, it has taken awhile, but Ross has blossomed in a hurry in March. Meanwhile, Thomas was largely silent late after scoring 20 points in the games’ first 31 minutes.
  3. Tale of Two Arizonas. For the first 15 minutes or so, the Wildcats looked like the best team on the court, with Lyons getting to the hole regularly and drawing a couple of fouls on Craft. The freshman bigs were contributing, Nick Johnson looked like the best player on the floor and the Arizona fans in attendance were confident. Then, over about an 11-minute stretch spanning the half, the Ohio State defense turned on the juice, the Cats got frustrated and they gave up a 22-6 run over an 11:24 period. To knock off a team as solid and experienced as the Buckeyes, you’ve really got to play well for all 40 minutes.

Star of the GameLaQuinton Ross, Ohio State. For the second straight game, Ross came up large for the Buckeyes, scoring 17 for the game. Fourteen of those came after the break and all of those came in the last eight minutes. As recently as March 10 against Illinois, he was earning just single-digit minutes, but as the Buckeyes forge ahead into the Elite Eight, Ross has become a major factor, a 6’8” match-up nightmare who can shoot over smaller, quicker defenders or blow by bigger defenders.

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How Far Can Arizona Go?

Posted by AMurawa on March 28th, 2013

Three weeks ago, coming off an 0-2 road trip to Los Angeles, Arizona was just about ready to be left for dead. It’s not that a pair of conference road losses – one to a team in the middle of a 6-2 streak, the other to the eventual conference champion – were egregious, it’s that they were playing uninspired ball and none of the pieces were showing great cohesion. Mark Lyons was 6-of-24 that weekend with three assists while getting outplayed by Jio Fontan and Larry Drew II; Nick Johnson was in the midst of his regularly scheduled mid-season downturn; and Sean Miller could seemingly never get more than one of his freshman bigs – Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett – to play well at any given time.

Sean Miller, Arizona

Sean Miller Has His Wildcats In The Sweet Sixteen, But How Much Further Can They Go?

Flash forward to the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Against a pair of physically overmatched opponents, Lyons was among the best players in the nation, going for 25 points per game in a highly efficient manner. Johnson is now in the midst of a string of unbelievably good defensive performances (dating back to the season finale against Arizona State) and looks to have regained his confidence in his jumper. The freshman bigs have suddenly shown strides to the point where it looks like at least two out of the three can be counted on in any given game. In other words, Miller’s got this team coalescing at precisely the right time. But still, like we said, those two tournament wins were against seriously overmatched teams. Just how far can this Wildcats team go now that the strength of the opponents are about to undergo a serious uptick?

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Set Your DVR: Week of 03.04.13

Posted by bmulvihill on March 5th, 2013

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Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

For some teams, the Championship Fortnight (as Kyle Whelliston would call it) begins this week. For most others, this is the final week of the regular season. Many teams sit squarely on the bubble and need to impress in their final two contests to show they deserve to be in the Tourney. We’ve waited all year for March. It’s finally here and all indications tell us it’s going to be a wild month. Let’s get to the breakdowns!

Illinois at Iowa – 7:00 PM EST, Tuesday on BTN (***)

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It looks like John Groce and Illinois are in but a couple more losses might change the equation

  • This is a hugely important game for both teams. At 7-9 in the Big Ten, Iowa is need of two wins to make its case for an at large tournament bid. They close the regular season at home against Illinois and Nebraska. If they can pick up the two victories and get to .500 in conference, Fran McCaffery and company make a decent case to get in. For Illinois, it looks like they will get in however they can ill afford to drop their next two games. In addition to this game at Iowa, they must travel too Ohio State. A loss against the Hawkeyes puts a ton of pressure on John Groce’s team heading into the last game of the season, so this one is critical. Look to see if Iowa’s size bothers the Illini. Illinois is a much better two-point shooting team than they are at three-point shooting team. However, getting points inside against Iowa’s length could be tough to come by. Regardless, Brandon Paul, Tracy Abrams, and D.J. Richardson must be aggressive in taking the ball to the basket and trying to get to the line. If Illinois is settling for jumpers on the outside, they will lose. Iowa needs to win this game with defense. Their offense just isn’t strong enough to win it for them. Protecting the ball and playing good defense without fouling are their top priorities. If they are turning the ball over and fouling, Illinois will win. The team that wins the free throw battle should come out on top in this match-up.

#13 Ohio State at #1 Indiana – 9:00 PM EST, Tuesday on ESPN (****)

  • In the first match-up this season between these two squads, Ohio State had no answer for Cody Zeller and Victor Olidipo. They combined to go 16-of-21 from the field and 17-of-21 from the line, grabbed 16 rebounds, and scored 50 of the 81 points. Throw in Christian Watford’s 20 points and IU’s front line obliterated OSU. If the Buckeyes want any chance to win this game in Bloomington, they must get way better defense from Evan Ravenel, Amir Williams, DeShaun Thomas, and LaQuinton Ross. Offensively, they can’t run with Indiana, however OSU’s half-court offense is suspect at best. So while their defense must create turnovers and get out on the break, they must be careful not to turn this game into a track meet. OSU’s ability to win this game sits squarely on the shoulders of their frontline. They need better defense and more scoring. If they can get that, they have a chance to win. Otherwise, this could be a blowout. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 02.01.13 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on February 1st, 2013

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  1. Before the season, Keith Appling wasn’t even a Michigan State captain. Tom Izzo was looking at the veteran point guard to become a leader on an off the court for the Spartans, who had lost last year’s emotional leader Draymond Green. Appling has now earned captain status and Izzo has noticed a big change from his junior point guard. Izzo said Appling is doing a better job of communicating on the floor and showing his confidence after sitting down with former MSU point guard Mateen Cleaves. Appling learned to fight through adversity after a rough past, and now he’s doing it on the court, becoming the leader Izzo had hoped for at the beginning of the season.
  2. Ohio State has had trouble finding players outside of Deshaun Thomas, Sam Thompson and Aaron Craft to step up this season. The Buckeyes certainly have talent, but its supporting players — Shannon Scott, Amir Williams and LaQuinton Ross, to name a few — haven’t been consistent. That has resulted in inconsistent playing time among that bunch. OSU has been searching for an alternative offensive option to Thompson and it appears it may have found its answer in Ross. Ross has seen the court much more recently, and part of that is due to his improved listening to coach Thad Matta. He’s taking in more direction from the coaching staff, and subsequently seeing more of the floor.
  3. There aren’t many legitimate criticisms of No. 1 Michigan right now, considering how the Wolverines have been playing. However, people are always trying to find something wrong with top teams, so the common criticism of UM in recent weeks is that its roster isn’t deep enough. After all, the Wolverines rank 326th in the country in bench minutes, according to Ken Pomeroy. But part of the reason the Wolverines don’t go to their bench much is that the starters have played so well. Now though, in the wake of Jordan Morgan’s injury, Michigan is proving that it has enough depth. Jon Horford started the Wolverines’ game against Northwestern earlier this week and gave his team solid minutes, while freshman Mitch McGary also played well. Michigan may not have a star big man, but its frontcourt has proven it can play well this year, even without Morgan manning the paint.
  4. The press has been Minnesota’s best friend and its worst enemy this season. After struggling with its execution earlier in non-conference play, the Gophers’ press worked very well against Nebraska, returning to the form we saw during the non-conference season. Minnesota struggled to press against teams that like to slow things down like Northwestern and Wisconsin, but the Gophers were able to be successful against Nebraska, which employs the same tempo strategy. The bigger issue against the Wildcats and Badgers was their failure to execute in other areas of the game, such as free throw shooting. That prevented the Gophers from ever going all out with the press in those contests.
  5. It’s tough to find a bright spot out of a 97-60 loss, especially a home loss to your rival when coming off a solid win. However, Purdue’s A.J. Hammons was a bright spot for the Boilermakers in their drubbing at the hands of Indiana earlier this week. Hammons was a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school, but like most freshman big men, he has been inconsistent in his first college season. However, he was exceptional against Indiana, scoring 30 points and blocking five shots in 28 minutes, showing the potential we’re likely to see from him down the road. While he didn’t get much help against the Hoosiers, his consistency will be key to how Purdue finishes its season.
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