First Round Game Analysis: Friday Afternoon

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2010

Over the next two days in a series of separate posts, RTC will break down all 32 of the first round games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses.  Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds.  Here are the Friday afternoon games.


12:15 pm – #2 West Virginia vs. #15 Morgan State  (Buffalo pod)

West Virginia enters the NCAA Tournament as one of the hottest teams in the nation. They squeaked out an enormous road win at Villanova to end the regular season then swept through Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Georgetown en route to a Big East championship riding the heroics of Da’Sean Butler. The Mountaineers are an extremely gifted rebounding team; in fact, sometimes their best offense comes after a missed shot. They feature multiple weapons that can step out and shoot a mid-range jumper or three from Wellington Smith to Kevin Jones to the all-around dynamo Butler. Also, few teams can match West Virginia’s intensity in the halfcourt defensively. Morgan State head coach Todd Bozeman will need a gigantic scoring output from their own star, Baltimore native Reggie Holmes. Holmes scored 25 or more points fifteen times this season, averaging 21.3 PPG and ranking in the top-50 in percentage of shots taken. The Bears also feature a rugged forward named Kevin Thompson who comes in at fifth in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. In fact, Morgan State ranks 11th in the country as a team in that very category. Unfortunately for the underdogs, West Virginia is never outworked on the glass, not with Jones, Devin Ebanks and Bob Huggins prominently involved.

The Skinny: This one shouldn’t be close from the tip. Morgan State dominated the MEAC all season, but West Virginia is flying high at this point. Expect the Mountaineers to dominate by 25-30 points.

12:25 pm – #6 Xavier vs. #11 Minnesota  (Milwaukee pod)

The answer to which team will win this game depends entirely on which Gopher team shows up to play in Milwaukee.  Will it be the defensive juggernaut that held Purdue to 11 first  half points last Saturday, or will it be the team that got obliterated by Ohio State 52-29 in the second half on Sunday?  Tubby Smith’s team has been schizophrenic like that all year, following up strong wins with disastrous performances (two losses to Michigan?  really?), which probably explains why they were a bubble team up until Sunday evening.  Xavier comes into this one with the stronger resume, but it’s difficult to say if the Musketeers are the better team.  When he plays under control, XU’s Jordan Crawford is a talent, and his supporting case of Jason Love on the interior and Terrell Holloway running the show makes for nice balance throughout the Xavier lineup.  The question we have is who will win the defensive battle, though.  Xavier defends the three really well, while Minnesota behind Blake Hoffarber and Lawrence Westbrook both shoot it equally as well.  This game is essentially a tossup (Vegas agrees, setting Minny as a one-point favorite), and we really liked the first seven halves of basketball that the Gophers put up in Indianapolis on a neutral floor last week, so we’re going with the extremely mild 6/11 upset here, in a close game that comes down to the last possession. 

The Skinny: Despite the seedings, this is a tossup game and we like the Gophers to win it on the last possession. 

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Big Ten Tournament Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 10th, 2010

The big thing from the past week. Big Ten season ends in three way tie. Exciting as the seesaw race was all year, it ended in melodramatic fashion as both Purdue and Michigan State hung on after Ohio State had already won out several days prior. The Boilers and Spartans took care of business, beating teams they were supposed to beat. Michigan State racked up back to back banners, but the big story is that this was the first title for Purdue since 1996. Now to see how many teams can go to the dance based on their performance in the Big Ten tournament.  Four Big Ten teams are in the top 25: #5 Ohio State, #6 Purdue, #11 Michigan State, and #13 Wisconsin.

Power Rankings (final)

  1. Ohio State 24-7, 14-4
  2. Purdue 26-4, 14-4
  3. Michigan State 24-7, 14-4
  4. Wisconsin 23-7, 13-5
  5. Illinois 18-13, 10-8
  6. Minnesota 18-12, 9-9
  7. Northwestern 19-12, 7-11
  8. Michigan 14-16, 7-11
  9. Iowa 10-21, 4-14
  10. Indiana 10-20, 4-14
  11. Penn State 11-19, 3-15

Big Ten Tournament – Indianapolis – March 11th-14th

First Round

  • #9 Iowa vs. #8 Michigan – March 11 – 2:30 ET – ESPN2 – This game could really go either way. The first game was a 14-point victory for Michigan at home, whereas the second game was a two-point victory in OT for Michigan on the road. For Michigan, Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims both had at least 20 in each game, so look for that to continue. For Iowa, Aaron Fuller played well in the first game, but went crazy for 30 in the second game. Matt Gatens was absent in the first game, but exploded for 21 in the second game. Michigan comes in having lost four of six games while Iowa has lost the past five of six games. Iowa should do well inside in this game, but I think Michigan has finally figured out that they can’t rely totally on threes, so I am going with Michigan in this one.
  • #10 Indiana vs. #7 Northwestern – March 11 – 4:55 ET – ESPN2 – This game will most likely go to Northwestern. It is just too difficult to win two games against the same team within a week’s time, especially for a team as inconsistent as Indiana has been all year. The big thing Indiana has going for itself in this game and for this tournament is that they are essentially the home town team, especially if they are able to fill Lucas Oil Stadium with Indiana fans. If not, I think Northwestern has too much John Shurna and too much Michael Thompson for IU to handle. I also think Northwestern will make the adjustments on Jordan Hulls to stop his flurry of threes.
  • #11 Penn State vs. #6 Minnesota – March 11 – 7:30 ET – I am going with Minnesota in this one. They have really come on strong to close out the season, winning four of their last six games, including a 35-point drubbing of Iowa. Both of the matchups between these teams during the regular year were close victories for Minnesota, so I expect this one to be close because it is on neutral ground, and I wouldn’t expect either of the team’s fans to come out in droves. Penn State will need Chris Babb to have a big game along with Talor Battle and David Jackson, while Minnesota needs a consistent performance from Westbrook, Sampson, Hoffarber, and Johnson. The X-factor for Minnesota is Devoe Joseph who struggled in both contests. If he can step up then Minnesota wins easily;  if not they will win in a close battle.

Quarterfinals (projected)

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Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by rtmsf on March 3rd, 2010

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

The big thing from the past week:

Hummel-less Purdue headed for free fall? Robbie Hummel tore his ACL against Minnesota last week, and now he is out for the season. Purdue hasn’t been the same since. Hummel was the second leading scorer and the leader of the Boilermakers, a void that has yet to be filled. Purdue survived against Minnesota, but couldn’t repeat the same result against Michigan State. How will Purdue respond in the postseason to his injury?

Now four Big Ten teams are in the top 25: #6 Ohio State, #7 Purdue, #11 Michigan State, and #15 Wisconsin.

Power Rankings

  1. Ohio State 24-7, 14-4
  2. Purdue 24-4, 12-4
  3. Michigan State 22-7, 12-4
  4. Wisconsin 21-7, 11-5
  5. Illinois 18-12, 10-7
  6. Northwestern 18-11, 7-10
  7. Minnesota 17-12, 8-9
  8. Michigan 14-15, 7-10
  9. Iowa 10-19, 4-12
  10. Penn State 11-17, 3-13
  11. Indiana 9-19, 3-13

Coming Up

  • Indiana @ Purdue – March 3rd – 6:30 ET – Nobody expected their last matchup to be a 3-point thriller, but this is a cross-state rivalry that has endured no matter how each team is doing. Indiana has never really recovered from that last loss to Purdue, but maybe this is the game they need to salvage their season. Purdue is reeling from the loss of Robbie Hummel and this is the type of game they need to win to figure out just how good they will be come tournament time.
  • Michigan @ Michigan State – March 7th – 4:00 ET – Don’t underestimate this intrastate rivalry, even though Michigan State has dominated the series in recent years. Their first meeting was a one-point thriller won by Michigan State; this one is the end of the regular season for both teams, so this is their last chance to prove themselves before the Big Ten Tournament.
  • Wisconsin @ Illinois – March 7th – 12:00 ET – Their last matchup was a big Illinois upset over Wisconsin at the Kohl Center, but this one could be much different. Illinois has struggled of late, losing to Minnesota in addition to OSU and Purdue. Wisconsin, on the other hand, has been playing extremely well, especially with Jon Leuer starting to get his groove back. Illinois has played well at home this year, so that could be the advantage they need to win this one.

Breaking It Down

  • Ohio State downs Michigan State and Illinois, good enough to share. Ohio State has done everything they could lately by winning their last four in the Big Ten, including a big win at Michigan State. They got a little help of their own this past week when the Spartans took down the Boilers, leading to a possible three-way tie for first place in the Big Ten. Evan Turner joined forces with William Buford and Dallas Lauderdale to take down Michigan. Turner was his usual self, taking over at times, but also making the rest of the team better. Most impressive has been the play of Lauderdale, dunking his way to 14 points against the Wolverines. Jon Diebler hasn’t been too shabby either, pouring in 21 points all from long range against Illinois.
  • Purdue should get a share of the Big Ten, but what happens next? Purdue had just gotten its highest ranking of the year at #3 in the country when Robbie Hummel went down, so it is even more unfortunate that the top two teams (Kansas and Kentucky) lost this past weekend before Purdue did. Now they have been leapfrogged by Syracuse and others on the way to dropping to #7, right behind OSU. In watching the Michigan State game I was curious as to who would step up for Purdue, and I think I got my answer: Chris Kramer. Kramer poured in 11 points, 5 points above his average. The downside for Purdue though is that E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson both had off games. That led to their lowest point production of the year, but more importantly, I think it left Purdue wondering what their potential is now without Hummel. They have Indiana and Penn State, two teams that might not test Purdue, but once the Big Ten Tournament begins, a new Purdue must emerge or they will be exiting the Big Dance early.
  • Is Michigan State ready for the dance? Their last game was bittersweet for the Spartans. They beat Purdue at Mackey Arena, giving them a chance for a three-way tie in the Big Ten, but the way in which they won is a problem. It was rather fortunate that MSU could win a game in which they barely shot 40% from the field, 22% from long range, and committed 22 turnovers. It was partly their defense that held Purdue to 30% from the field, but it was also Purdue’s offense sans Hummel that was to blame. Raymar Morgan had a monster 16/11 game and Draymond Green’s 12/11 game wasn’t bad either. The problem for the Spartans had to do with Kalin Lucas and the rest of the team. Lucas was responsible for eight turnovers to go with his eight points, so he will need to cut down on that before the Spartans head into the postseason. MSU should handle Penn State and Michigan, but consistency is an issue with this team.
  • Wisconsin blowing away the bottom. Since their unexpected loss to Minnesota on the road, Wisconsin has been getting it done against teams they should be beating. It’s a little hard to say if they are back to their pre-Jon Leuer broken wrist shape or not, but all signs are pointing to yes. Jon Leuer himself is getting more comfortable and is close to putting up the same type of numbers as he was before the injury. Just tracking his games shows that he is getting close in terms of points: four against Minnesota, 11 against Northwestern, and 13 against Indiana. More impressively and demonstrating his impact on defense is his progression of blocks: one against Minnesota, three against Northwestern, and four against Indiana. Trevon Hughes hasn’t been a slouch either, taking over against Indiana while going 3-4 from long range. They have Iowa and then Illinois to close out the regular season before the Big Ten Tournament.
  • Can Illinois stop the slide and go to the dance? Illinois has now lost four out of their last five games, including two against OSU and Purdue. Those games were somewhat expected, but the real killer was the Minnesota game. They should have been beaten Minnesota, especially at home, but that was a game that really hurt their postseason chances and added a layer of pressure that they really didn’t need going into their last regular season game against Wisconsin. Demetri McCamey really struggled against Minnesota, but at least he showed the type of offensive aggressiveness that they need from him. I think he could lay off a couple of threes and take it to the basket a little more. He actually played very well against OSU, putting up the type of numbers they need from him. Unfortunately they couldn’t stop Evan Turner and that was the reason why they lost. They will need to bring everything to beat a team in Wisconsin that is starting to heat up.
  • Oh where, oh where, has Northwestern gone? Northwestern took care of business against Iowa behind a 29-point effort from John Shurna. The Iowa game was payback for an earlier loss that took away their tournament hopes. That was the high note for the past week, as they took a shellacking from Penn State and Talor Battle next. The question of that game was, John Shurna, where did you go? Shurna struggled from the field on his way to nine points, and fortunately for the Wildcats, Michael Thompson really picked it up on his way to 21 points and was the only player to score in double figures. That’s the type of consistency that has plagued Northwestern during their losses. Next up is Chicago State before closing out their regular season on the road against Indiana. They will be going somewhere in the postseason — it just won’t be the Big Dance.
  • The peaks and valleys of Minnesota’s season. Minnesota was making a strong push to finish out the season and maybe trying to surprise some teams in the Big Ten Tournament, but then the wheels just fell off against Michigan. Minnesota has proved they can play with the big dogs in Purdue and Wisconsin, but then they have also lost to the likes of Indiana and now Michigan twice, the second being a blowout. Devoe Joseph and Lawrence Westbrook led the Gophers against Illinois, but it was all Damian Johnson and Colton Iverson in their loss to Michigan. You just never know what you are going to get from this team, as they continue to prove. I am sure Tubby Smith is looking to next year so he can get some sleep at night.
  • Michigan snaps its third three game losing streak of the season. Michigan has struggled of late, not being able to get more than two guys on the scoreboard. That all changed during their blowout of Minnesota at home, putting up 83 points, their biggest total of the Big Ten season. It happened that Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims both lit it up on the same night, while getting help from Stu Douglass as well. The key to the win, though, was that Harris drove to the basket much more than normal, beating his man for easy layups. That high percentage and not relying on the long range shots led Michigan to a scorching 60.4% from the field. That’s what they should have been doing all year. They could be dangerous come Big Ten Tournament time. They close out at Michigan State before then.
  • Iowa sweeps Indiana. Iowa was supposed to be the team that Indiana should beat, but the Hawkeyes didn’t agree. They swept the Hoosiers and passed them in the standings, ensuring a good possibility of avoiding the bottom of the Big Ten to end the year. Matt Gatens was sensational for Iowa, dropping 25 points on the Hoosiers. They also got their usual performance from Aaron Fuller inside, and that’s all it took to take down Indiana. It will be a rough journey ahead for the Hawkeyes as they finish their season on the road against Wisconsin and Minnesota, as both teams that play very well at home.
  • The Lions bury the Cats. All I have to say here is, who knew? Penn State couldn’t win a game in the Big Ten all year, and now they have won three of four. They have distributed the scoring load which has really helped them not have to rely entirely on scoring from Talor Battle. They have two tough teams coming up in Michigan State and Purdue, but they could upset one of them, as their last matchup against MSU was close. They play a different Purdue team this time at home though, so maybe they could be a spoiler.
  • Indiana’s loses the fight along with their confidence. Count them, ten straight losses for Indiana, and the formula has been pretty clear lately. Indiana sticks around in the first half, or at least for the first 10 minutes, and then lets the other teams pull away, never to be seen again. Indiana is throwing the ball away close to 20 times a game, including a lot of unforced turnovers. The most exciting moment for Indiana in the past week is the first ejection of their coach, Tom Crean. The crowd loved it and was chanting Crean’s name. Too bad for the Hoosiers, Crean isn’t able to suit up, as it is now evident that he has a lot more passion than the young Hoosiers, who have packed it in since their game at home against Purdue. There is some hope that Indiana could come alive against Purdue, but most fans have given up on this team for the year.
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Set Your Tivo 02.18.10

Posted by THager on February 18th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2012
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

#5 Syracuse @ #10 Georgetown – 7 pm on ESPN (*****)

Wes Johnson Looks to Go 2-0 vs. the Hoyas (D. Nett)

We mentioned last week that Syracuse’s matchup against Louisville could be a trap game with Georgetown on the horizon, and the Orange responded with a 60-point performance in a home loss.  Now Syracuse will get their chance to play the Hoyas who are coming off an equally embarrassing defeat.  Although Georgetown had won three of their previous four games (with wins against Duke and Villanova), they then gave up an easy game at Rutgers who sits at just 4-8 in the Big East.  Both teams are safely in the NCAA Tournament, but a win here could help a team improve their tournament status as well as help build their confidence back up.  This game could be high scoring, as the Orange rank #1 in the country in field goal percentage, while Georgetown ranks third.  However, the last time these teams met at the Carrier Dome, the Orange scored just 73 points despite 53% shooting, while the Hoyas failed to score 30 points in either half.  Syracuse has a tall lineup, but they rank second in assists per game and can run the court with almost any team.  The biggest hindrance to the Orange is the lingering effect of Wesley Johnson’s injury to his back/hip.  He is now just 13-33 since the Providence game on February 2 when he flipped in mid-air and landed hard on the court.  To get a feel for how effective Johnson was before the injury, he was 33-61 in his previous five games.  The Hoyas have shown the ability to light up great teams at home this season, so they certainly have a great opportunity to end Syracuse’s undefeated road streak.

#16 Wisconsin @ Minnesota – 9 pm on ESPN (***)

Minnesota is now certainly on the outside looking in after a recent loss to Northwestern, and will need to go nearly 6-0 in the remaining games if they want to dance in a few weeks.  The Gophers are just 3-7 since January 5, and are eighth in the conference behind other probable NIT teams like Michigan.  Wisconsin missed a golden opportunity to jump atop the Big Ten standings with a loss against Illinois last week, but they are still just 1.5 games behind Michigan State for the conference lead.  Minnesota is going to have to play one of their best games of the season tonight, because the Badgers won’t beat themselves.  They are the best team in America in turnovers per game, and are in the top five in opponents’ points per game.  Thanks to solid efficiency on both ends of the court, the Badgers actually rank third in Ken Pomeroy’s overall standings.  Minnesota, on the other hand, ranks just #64 in offensive efficiency, and they have just three reliable threats on offense.  Although UM’s Lawrence Westbrook averages 13.4 points per game, he shoots over 42% from the three-point line and shoots 50% from all distances.  Look for him to get plenty of touches, especially when he is coming off a solid performance against the Wildcats.  Wisconsin is not the best road team, but leading scorer Jon Leuer will be playing for the first time since January 9 against Purdue.  He could be the spark the Badgers need to make a late-season run in the Big Ten and NCAA tournament.

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Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by rtmsf on February 18th, 2010

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

The big thing from the past week:

  • The Big Ten’s top four moved up as a group. Both Purdue and Ohio State reached their highest rankings of the year. The same can’t be said for Michigan State and Wisconsin, but as a group, this is the highest that the top four have been ranked. It is looking very likely that the Big Ten will send at least five teams to the Tournament this year.  Now four Big Ten teams are in the top 25: #4 Purdue, #9 Ohio State, #11 Michigan State, and #14 Wisconsin.

Power Rankings

  1. Purdue 22-3, 10-3
  2. Ohio State 20-7, 10-4
  3. Michigan State 21-6, 11-3
  4. Wisconsin 19-6, 9-4
  5. Illinois 17-9, 9-4
  6. Northwestern 17-9, 6-8
  7. Minnesota 14-10, 5-7
  8. Michigan 13-12, 6-7
  9. Indiana 9-16, 3-10
  10. Iowa 9-18, 3-11
  11. Penn State 9-16, 1-12

Coming Up

  • Wisconsin @ Minnesota – February 18th – 9:00 ET – ESPN – This game means a lot for Wisconsin, as another loss for the Badgers really takes them out of the race for the Big Ten regular season title. Minnesota has nothing to lose and everything to gain at this point. Add to the mix that Minnesota usually plays well at home, and it could spell defeat for Wisconsin. I am sure Trevon Hughes and company will have something to say about that though.
  • Illinois @ Purdue – February 20th – 4:00 ET – ESPN – Last game was a close one that ended Purdue’s losing streak, and since then, Illinois has been playing a lot better. This game definitely has big time potential impact in the Big Ten and as far as seeding goes in the tournament. Demetri McCamey had a monster game last time around, so Illinois will look for him to contribute once again. Mike Davis and DJ Richardson also played well. They will need more out of Mike Tisdale this time, as JaJuan Johnson dominated that matchup and got Tisdale in foul trouble. The Big Three for Purdue will have to lead once again. This should be a good one, although it is always tough to win at Mackey.
  • Ohio State @ Michigan State – February 21st – 12:00 ET CBS – This is another game that has direct Big Ten Title implications. Having seen both of these teams play in person as well as on TV now several times, this will be quite a battle of two very different teams. Michigan State has a much more traditional makeup to their team, with big post guys, shooting guards, and a quick high-scoring point guard. Ohio State on the other hand has oversized guards and an undersized post presence. The game is at Michigan State, so that should give the Spartans an edge. OSU has to be able to stop the post scoring of the Spartans and keep them off the boards, whereas MSU has been able to stop Evan Turner and the outside scoring of Jon Diebler and David Lighty.

Breaking It Down

  • Purdue cracks the top four. Purdue has now beaten all of the top teams in the Big Ten at least once after last night’s win at Ohio State. It is kind of amazing to look back now when Purdue went through their three-game slide at the beginning of conference play, and now they are ranked #4 nationally behind Kansas, Kentucky, and Villanova. Nova’s loss to UConn on Tuesday puts Purdue is in position to move up even higher next week after their big win at OSU (assuming they can get past Illinois over the weekend).
  • Ohio State had increased its Big Ten winning streak to nine games prior to the home loss to Purdue last night. All year everyone has been saying that if you can stop everyone else but Evan Turner, you should be able to beat Ohio State. Purdue was able to prove that notion correct, but Indiana didn’t have the scoring power to overcome it. Against Illinois, Turner had almost triple double numbers (16/11/8 asst), but even more impressively was the performance of Jon Diebler and David Lighty. OSU visits Michigan State on the road next, and they’ll need to win that one to have any remaining realistic shot at the conference title.
  • Michigan State is marching out of their mid-season valley. The problem during the Spartans’ losses was defense, and even though it appears like they have solved that problem, it’s still too early to tell. The reason I say it is too early to tell is because that improved defense has occurred against two of the bottom of the teams in the league in Penn State and Indiana. The other problem during the losses was the lack of Kalin Lucas. That problem has also disappeared as Lucas went off for 24 against Penn State and a much bigger than it seems 13 against Indiana. Michigan State has OSU and Purdue next, so there is no rest for the Spartans anytime soon.
  • Wisconsin’s destiny is in its own hands. The Badgers were upset by Illinois a week ago at home, something that never happens, due to great games by Demetri McCamey and Mike Tisdale. They bounced back at home trouncing Indiana behind Jason Bohannon, who lit it up from 3-point land on his way to dropping 30 on the Hoosiers. Wisconsin has the easiest schedule remaining of the top five teams in the Big Ten. They should win the next four easily, with the exception of their last game on the road against Illinois, which could prove difficult. Illinois will have battled the best in the Big Ten before taking on Wisconsin, so Wisconsin will need to make sure not to play down to the competition for the rest of the month of February.
  • Illinois’s gauntlet continues. Last week I mentioned that I thought Illinois had made great strides and proven that they weren’t gunning for the top of Big Ten just based on their scheduling. I may have underestimated Illinois’ talent and the way they have been playing lately, but I think I was redeemed a bit by watching the Ohio State game. Illinois was blown out early, and never really made much of a run against the Buckeyes. They actually did well in a couple of statistical categories, but really suffered on the shooting end and could never really stop OSU. I was very surprised that Demetri McCamey didn’t step up earlier, and it was unfortunate that Mike Tisdale got in foul trouble, because he was hurting OSU in the zone by keeping the ball high and being able to throw over the top to him near the basket. The tough thing for Illinois though, is that they don’t get to take any nights off, as they take on Purdue on the road this weekend.
  • Northwestern’s slipper came off against Iowa and got put in the closet last night agaisnt previously-winless Penn State. In the Iowa game, John Shurna and Michael Thompson combined for 36 of Northwestern’s 65. Unfortunately, nobody else was in double figures. Also dooming them was the fact that they shot under 45% from the field and 30% from deep, while Iowa shot 50% from both the field and 3 point land. Unfortunately, it was a similar story against Penn State.  The Wildcats did sandwich their two losses with an OT win against Minnesota where all of the aforementioned players were in double figures. I have heard many people say that Northwestern’s shot at the tournament is now over because of those two bad losses, but if they win at Wisconsin and the rest of their games, they might give the committee something else to think about.
  • Has Minnesota left the building? The month of January and now February hasn’t been kind for the Golden Gophers. They sandwiched a couple of wins against Northwestern and Penn State with a bunch of close losses and a blowout to Ohio State on the road. This team overall has just been too inconsistent. Lawrence Westbrook is playing well now, but where has Ralph Sampson III gone? He has been invisible the last couple of games. Devoe Joseph and Blake Hoffarber have been similarly inconsistent. What would make their season at this point is to score upsets against Wisconsin, Purdue, or Illinois.
  • Michigan wins two straight. Looks like DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris aren’t willing to ride off into the sunset just yet. These two have continued to put up huge numbers, with Sims going for 27 each of the past two games and Harris going for 20 each. All they need to win is for someone else to put in a couple buckets here and there, and they have been doing it recently. They also have three games left that they can really put a thorn in the sides of the better teams in the conference, potentially shuffling the standings at the end of the year.
  • Indiana’s streak goes to unlucky number seven. IU has turned into a two-man show lately, with Verdell Jones III and Christian Watford carrying the load. The problem is that these guys aren’t putting up Harris and Sims type of numbers. The Hoosiers need someone else to score, especially inside. The one good sign for the Hoosiers against the Spartans was how often and how many times they scored from the charity stripe. They haven’t shot 89% all year from the line, and certainly haven’t made close to 30 trips in a night either. The part where the Hoosiers really need work is on the defensive end. Everyone has been basically scoring at will, so once the Hoosiers can plug the big hole on defense, maybe their offense will come around.
  • Iowa steals Northwestern’s slipper. Iowa fulfilled its duty as a spoiler this year, or at least if Northwestern doesn’t end up making it into the tournament, they will have. There was some off the court news this past week for Iowa as well, with Anthony Tucker officially leaving the program. In their loss to Purdue, Iowa shot a frigid 30% and then stepped up to shoot 50% against Northwestern, while holding Northwestern to 44% in addition to taking 30 trips to the free throw line. Against Purdue, Aaron Fuller had an uncharacteristically bad game with only two points, but in their OT heartbreaker to Michigan, he exploded for 30. I would say that’s getting back on the right track. They go on the road against Northwestern again next, and something tells me that this result might be different.
  • Penn State finally won a game. The Nittany Lions picked apart Northwestern in Evanston last night by shooting 56%, putting all five starters in double figures and destroying the Cats on the boards (+17).  It was the kind of performance that makes you wonder where it’s been all year?  It was the Talor Battle show on Saturday against Michigan State. It was fortunate that he poured in 30 points against the Spartans. The unfortunate part was that he didn’t have a ton of help, and Kalin Lucas scored 24 points himself, thus minimizing the Battle Effect. This team has two scorers, and they both performed. Michigan State won the game on the boards, something that this Penn State team just doesn’t do well enough.
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Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by jstevrtc on February 10th, 2010

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

The big thing from the past week:

  • The Big Ten is wide open – So much for Michigan State being in the driver’s seat. The Big Ten has now split itself almost completely in half. There are the teams in the top who have a legitimate shot at winning the conference, and the rest that have absolutely no shot except for the role of spoiler. Michigan State has lost three straight, Ohio State has won five straight, Purdue has won six straight, and Illinois has won five straight. Now the race is on. There are few head-to-head matchups of top teams in the next week, so be on the lookout for upsets as the only way to continue the conference shakedown.

Now four Big Ten teams are in the top 25: Purdue #6, Michigan State #10, Wisconsin #11, and Ohio State #13.

Power Rankings

  1. Purdue                                 20-3, 8-3
  2. Michigan State                  19-6, 9-3
  3. Wisconsin                            17-5, 8-4
  4. Ohio State                           18-6, 8-3
  5. Illinois                                   17-8, 9-3
  6. Minnesota                          14-8, 5-5
  7. Northwestern                   16-7, 5-6
  8. Michigan                              11-12, 4-7
  9. Indiana                                 9-13, 3-7
  10. Iowa                                      8-16, 2-9
  11. Penn State                          8-15, 0-11

Coming Up

  • Michigan @ Minnesota – February 11th – 7:00 ET – ESPN – This is really the battle of the two teams in the Big Ten with some of the most unfulfilled potential, at least as far as the pre-season rankings are concerned. Rather surprisingly, these two teams have yet to meet this season, but at home, I am leaning toward a victory for the Gophers, but I look forward to seeing what Team Sims & Harris have to say about that for the Wolverines.
  • Ohio State @ Illinois – February 14th – 1:00 ET – CBS – This is the first of two great Valentine’s Day games in the Big Ten. I know it might get you in trouble to watch this game instead of doing some more traditional things that won’t get you in trouble. For the single guys, or those who are married and who want to get in trouble, this should be a great game, especially in terms of how the Big Ten standings will shake out. It is very likely that, as of press time, Illinois and Ohio State will be tied with Michigan State for the top of the Big Ten. This will be the first matchup for these two teams, so it will be interesting to see what Illinois does to compensate for their lack of size and strength against the Buckeyes. I think OSU is playing too well right now to lose this game, even though Demetri McCamey is going toe to toe with anyone in the Big Ten right now for Illinois.
  • Minnesota @ Northwestern – February 14th – 5:00 ET – This game means more to Northwestern than for Minnesota, at least as far as postseason hopes are concerned. Minnesota won the last matchup by 4 points at home, but it should be a different game on the road. The Gophers have struggled on the road this year, especially against decent teams, so the edge goes to Northwestern, especially if the Big Ten hopes to have five or six teams in the tournament this year, which might be a stretch, based on the conference’s RPI ranking.

Breaking It Down

  • Oh where, oh where have the Spartans gone? Michigan State’s leadership is firmly vested in Kalin Lucas.  Unfortunately for Michigan State, three games ago, when taking on Wisconsin on the road, Lucas sprained his ankle, and the Spartans haven’t been the same since. The Spartans with Lucas don’t lose against Illinois, but I am not sure he could have overcome Purdue at 100%. The problem area for MSU has been their defense and the inconsistent play of Durrell Summers. In their first matchup, Wisconsin shot 33.3% for the game against MSU’s 38.1%. In the second matchup, Wisconsin shoots 50.9% to MSU’s 37.0%. Same with the Illinois games. In the first matchup, Illinois shoots 34.9% compared with their 52.5% for the second. Durrell Summers was good for double figures in losses to Illinois and Wisconsin, but only 2 against Purdue. Summers can’t be that inconsistent for the Spartans to win, especially with Lucas not back at full strength yet.
  • Purdue has now established itself as the top team in the conference again. The Big Three for Purdue are really playing well right now, and that has turned the Boilers around. At times during their losing streak not all three cylinders were firing at the same time, but now they are. E’Twaun Moore just had a season high against Michigan State with a 25/6 asst game. Robbie Hummel is always solid, but now JaJuan Johnson is now much more consistent as well. Johnson averaged 6 PPG during their slide, but has been averaging just shy of 19 PPG in this six game winning streak. Purdue will take care of Iowa, but winning against Ohio State on the road is something that the senior class has never done.
  • Wisconsin loses at home. Wisconsin had an 18-game winning streak and a 51-game winning streak against unranked opponents in the Big Ten under coach Bo Ryan snapped in the past week. I would have expected someone like Purdue or Michigan State to pull off the upset, but instead it was Illinois. Wisconsin actually blew out Michigan State at home, so it is even more surprising that Wisconsin lost this game. There are some interesting differences between the Michigan State and Illinois games. The first has to do with bench minutes. Against the Spartans, the Badgers were able to rest their starters a little bit more with Rob Wilson playing for 24 minutes and putting up 10 points. Against Illinois, the Wisconsin bench only played a combined 18 minutes and contributed 7 points. Keaton Nankivil also had a deep drop in production and shooting percentage against Illinois, once again relying too much on the long range bomb, and only having one drop. The good news for Wisconsin is that their schedule only includes two games that might be tough in the future in Minnesota and Illinois on the road.
  • Ohio State might be the second best team in the Big Ten, if not the best. Ohio State has only lost one game in the Big Ten since Evan Turner has been back, and only two games overall. Ohio State was #13 nationally before Turner went down, #18 the week after, #17 the week after that, then #13, and then dropping from the Top 25 following losses to Wisconsin and Michigan. They are back where they started, but I believe they are a much stronger team now. I don’t think Turner will let this team lose, at this point. The rest of the team didn’t do a ton against Iowa, so Turner went off for a 32/7/5/4 steals game, matching his career high in points. Did we mention this guy is only a junior? Talk about simply amazing. Ohio State has games ahead with Illinois, Purdue and Michigan State that will ultimately determine who wins the Big Ten.
  • Minnesota wins on the road behind Lawrence Westbrook. Minnesota got blown out on the road against Evan Turner and Company, and almost blew another game against Penn State, but some last second heroics by Lawrence Westbrook, helped to dash the Nittany Lions hopes as well as preserve Minnesota from being the first team to lose to Penn State this year in the Big Ten. Four of the five starters have been playing well as of late, with the exception of Devoe Joseph. Where has this guy gone? I saw him at Indiana, and was very impressed, but his production has fallen off a cliff. It might be due to confidence, or something else, but without Joseph, they can’t win the big games. The Michigan game could go either way, and they could take off Northwestern’s glass slipper if they are able to win on the road.
  • Illinois is tied for the lead in the Big Ten, really? I wrote last week that I thought most of Illinois’s success in the Big Ten was due to their scheduling. I don’t think I wrong on that assessment up until a week ago, but the reason Illinois is tied for the lead in the Big Ten is that they have really stepped it up as of late. Beating Michigan State and Wisconsin were huge wins, and really demonstrated the parity in the Big Ten this year. Demetri McCamey has turned himself into an animal in the Big Ten, and making the case that he should be a first team All-Big Ten guy at the end of the year if he keeps this up. He beat Indiana at the buzzer, took over against Wisconsin, and destroyed Michigan State from long range. Give it to Mike Tisdale for exploiting Wisconsin’s lack of height, as he can’t play with the big boys, which has been shown all year. Illinois is atop the Big Ten, but is far from out of the woods. They still have OSU twice, Purdue, and Wisconsin. If they can survive that gauntlet they might be able to prove that they are a tournament team.
  • Northwestern needs to continue to win the must-wins. Northwestern did a great job against Indiana at home, especially with a very balanced scoring attack, with all five starters in double figures. They took the game early and never looked back. They will need to do the same against Iowa, Minnesota, Penn State, and Indiana. They really only have one game left that could get them into trouble, and that’s Wisconsin. I look forward to seeing how Northwestern does when they’re in control of their own tournament destiny.
  • Can Michigan be a spoiler? Michigan has hit the skids in the Big Ten. Ever since their win against UConn, they’ve gone straight downhill. Sure, they beat Iowa, but that’s not really news. At this point, Michigan can only settle for spoiler. The games I see on their schedule in which they would most likely fill that role are Illinois at home, and Ohio State and Michigan State on the road. I am not sure they have enough firepower to beat either OSU or MSU, but they could have a shot against Illinois. Sure, they beat OSU earlier, but that was sans Evan Turner, so I heavily discount that win. Let’s see what Michigan can do.
  • Indiana’s slide continues. Indiana can’t seem to perform with the same level of energy in back-to-back games these days. They brought everything they could against Purdue and took it to the wire against the sixth-ranked team in the nation at home. Then they came out flat against Northwestern on the road and got blown out. Now they have lost four straight with maybe only one game that they should win left in Big Ten play. That could be a good sign for the Hoosiers who tend to play much better as underdogs, anyway. Verdell Jones continues to put up big numbers, but it looks like Christian Watford might have solved his scoring slump against Northwestern, which is a good sign for the Hoosiers.
  • Will Iowa win another game in the Big Ten? Iowa has now lost four straight in the Big Ten, and it doesn’t look good for the foreseeable future. Their best shot is Indiana at home, and that might be the only other game they win this year. Of course, Indiana doesn’t want to repeat what happened to them at home at Iowa, so it is hard to predict what will happen with that game. The good news for Iowa — more for next year than this year — is that they aren’t getting blown out. The bad news is that they are only scoring in the high 40s and low 50s in their games, clearly not enough offensive production to hang with the big boys who are used to putting up a lot more points. To add insult to injury, Iowa is shooting in the 30%-range, and having to rely on offensive put-backs for offense. The Hawkeyes gear up for Northwestern at home before taking on Purdue on the road.
  • Penn State is still winless. It is unfortunate that when looking at the headlines about Penn State games, it is usually about the other team’s heroics in pulling out the big games. The fact is that the Nittany Lions have yet to win a game this year. Their last win goes back to December 21st against American. Maybe Penn State should have been as clever as Iowa to schedule an easy non-conference game in the middle of the year to make sure their confidence doesn’t wane. One would hope that they could pull out one of these close games, but so far they continue to come up empty, with the latest disappointment coming from Lawrence Westbrook’s heroics at the buzzer. Talor Battle continues to be the best player to play on a losing team. Penn State takes on Michigan State at home before hitting the road to take on Northwestern and Michigan.
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Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by jstevrtc on February 4th, 2010

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

Three things from the past week:

  • Michigan State suffers first defeat in the Big Ten – Michigan State has won a lot of close games lately, but this one wasn’t close at all. Wisconsin not only had a 15 point lead at half, but they closed it out with an 18 point victory. This was Michigan State’s lowest scoring night of the year with only 49 points. Durrell Summers might have turned the corner though, with 11 points, but he was the only Spartan in double figures. I admit that I didn’t expect quite this level of thumping, but give it to Wisconsin and their fans. Kalin Lucas also had to leave the game with a sprained ankle, so MSU will be holding its breath to see if he is back in action soon. For those who missed the game, RTC Covered It Live: RTC Live: Michigan State @ Wisconsin
  • Ohio State is turning it on – Wow, what a difference a week can make. Ohio State suffered a close loss to West Virginia, a game in which they had the lead at halftime. They clearly learned from that defeat, and poured it on, especially against Minnesota. What a contrast to the game earlier in the year when they didn’t have Evan Turner, and lost by 11 on the road. They turned that around to produce a 22 point thumping of the Gophers at home. Ohio State had a very complete game against Minnesota, a great sign for them that Evan Turner doesn’t need to carry the load. William Buford has been tearing it up, especially his career high 26/5/5 asst game against Minnesota. And the Penn State game was a foregone conclusion.
  • Is Illinois’s scheduling the result of most of its success? – Illinois is 7-3 and tied for second in the Big Ten, but who have and haven’t they beaten? Fortunate for Illinois, they have had a great schedule up until this point. They have beaten Northwestern, Indiana twice, Iowa twice, and Penn State twice. They have lost to Purdue, Northwestern, and Michigan State. Essentially, they have beaten the bottom teams in the conference, and lost to two of the top teams. That doesn’t bode well for Illinois, as they gear up to take on Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and then Purdue. I don’t think they are strong enough to get through that gauntlet.

Now four Big Ten teams are in the top 25: Michigan State #5, Purdue #8, Ohio State #13, and Wisconsin #16.

Power Rankings

  1. Michigan State                  19-4, 9-1
  2. Purdue                                 18-3, 6-3
  3. Wisconsin                            17-5, 7-3
  4. Ohio State                           17-6, 7-3
  5. Illinois                                   15-8, 7-3
  6. Minnesota                          13-8, 4-5
  7. Northwestern                   15-7, 4-6
  8. Michigan                              11-11, 4-6
  9. Indiana                                 9-11, 3-5
  10. Iowa                                      8-15, 2-8
  11. Penn State                          8-14, 0-10

Coming Up

  • Michigan State @ Illinois – February 6th – 9:00 ET – ESPN – Illinois took care of Iowa, and even with the Spartans’ loss to Wisconsin, this is a big chance for Illinois to give the tournament committee a high quality conference win on which they can hang their hats, and it is a way for the Spartans to further distance themselves from the rest of the Big Ten. Illinois needs to play almost perfect to win this game, and both Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale need to step up big time. Last game was a 10 point defeat for Illinois. Let’s see what happens.
  • Wisconsin @ Michigan – February 6th – 4:00 ET – CBS – Michigan doesn’t have a whole lot to lose at this point, so that makes them dangerous. The other thing going for them in this game is that they are playing at home. Up at the Kohl Center I would think it would be all Wisconsin, but in Ann Arbor it could be a different story as far as Michigan playing spoiler. Last game was a six point defeat for Michigan. For the Wolverines to win this game it will have to be more than the Harris and Sims show.
  • Purdue @ Michigan State – February 9th – 9:00 ET ESPN – This is the biggest game in the Big Ten this year, hands down. Both of these teams are going to the tournament, now it’s all about seeding. Purdue played extremely well early on this year, and then slipped at the beginning of the Big Ten, whereas Michigan State struggled a little bit early, but has been pouring it on in conference. This is eight versus five at home. This is what it’s all about. I am very interested to see how Purdue does on the boards, if they’re able to handle MSU’s speed and power, and if they can somehow neutralize its bench.
  • Illinois @ Wisconsin – February 9th – 7:00 ET – Illinois is a bubble team at best right now; the nice Big Ten record helps, but they need to build a stronger case for themselves. Clearly a win against Michigan State would make that statement, and this game would, too. Not sure just a win against Wisconsin would make a strong enough case, especially knowing that many of their wins in the Big Ten have been against lower ranked teams.

Breaking It Down

  • The Spartans are back in the top five, but not for long. I have already mentioned the loss against Wisconsin, so what everyone should be watching for now is how they respond. They are at Illinois and then have Purdue at home, so they won’t get much of a break to reflect on the Wisconsin loss. This loss and subsequent games will show what kind of team this is, especially if it turns out that Kalin Lucas can’t play next game.
  • Purdue is streaking again. Much had been made about Purdue losing three in a row, mostly because they hadn’t lost any for the first eighteen games of the year. Well, guess what? They’ve just reeled off four in a row. They are also #8 in the land, so it’s not like they are going away anytime soon. I am not completely sure that Purdue is playing its best basketball right now, but they are winning in spite of that. They gear up to take on the cross-state rival in Indiana, a matchup that right now is more symbolic in nature. They have almost another week to go before taking on Michigan State on the road, the marquee matchup in the Big Ten this year. I am hoping for a close game in Flint, but we’ll see.
  • Wisconsin beats up on Michigan State. It’s no secret that Wisconsin is comfortable at the Kohl Center in Madison, but nobody knew exactly how comfortable until Michigan State arrived. I guess Bo Ryan didn’t want to lose his undefeated record at home to Tom Izzo. Four players scored in double figures, but who really shined for me was Jordan Taylor. He had a 17/4/2 asst game against the Spartans, but what impressed me was how he stepped up when Trevon Hughes had to sit because of foul trouble. Next up they are at Michigan, a team that just suffered a pretty convincing defeat against Northwestern.
  • Ohio State jumps into the rankings. The Buckeyes jumped seven spots in the past week. True, it was mostly because of their recent results, but it is also as a result of other teams slipping. I have already talked enough about Ohio State above, so I will keep it brief. They have reached the easier part of their schedule, taking on the likes of Penn State, Iowa, and then Indiana. They have to make sure not to play down to the competition.
  • Where is Minnesota heading, and how did they get there? Minnesota got torched by Ohio State. It is fairly easy to see why. Lawrence Westbrook disappeared, as did Devoe Joseph, combining for only 12 points against the Buckeyes. They have provided a lot of scoring power of late, but Ohio State clearly flustered them. It is probably due to OSU’s big guards, but there’s something else. They need Westbrook to lead; when he does, they win, but lately he has been inconsistent. They knocked off Northwestern, but that was an exception. Losing point guard Al Nolen to academic ineligibility has definitely hurt the Gophers as well, as he led the team in assists and steals. To read the press release of Nolen’s academic appeal being denied, check out here: Nolen’s reinstatement appeal denied by the NCAA
  • Can Illinois make the tournament? Maybe. I already wrote about who Illinois has and hasn’t beaten, so this section will detail the Indiana game, and what Illinois will need to do to beat better teams. Illinois let Indiana back into the game, something they can’t do against better teams. Indiana actually had plenty of opportunities to win the game, but threw away the ball in crucial spots. What is most worrisome for Illinois has to do with the two Mikes. Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale disappear in big games. Davis has been benched to send a message, and Tisdale scores against undersized teams like Indiana. They can’t rely on Demetri McCamey to carry them again. He had a 19/8 asst game and the game winner against Indiana. Who else is going to step up for Illinois? The status quo won’t get them to the tournament.
  • Northwestern can’t beat the big dogs in the Big Ten. Congrats to Northwestern for taking down Michigan. Michigan is a streaky and dangerous team, despite their overall struggles. Northwestern turned the dynamic duo of Sims and Harris into a very limited solo showing by Manny Harris and a non-existent one by DeShawn Sims. That was really a must-win for the Wildcats. It looks like the Wildcats do very well when they have a balanced scoring attack. John Shurna lit it up for 31 in their loss to Michigan State, but then had only 17 in their win against Michigan. They have Indiana at home and Iowa on the road, two games they must win to make the tournament. If you missed the Northwestern  game, RTC Live was there: RTC Live: Michigan @ Northwestern
  • Michigan’s two man scoring squad can take care of the bottom of the Big Ten. Michigan has done well beating some of the lower ranked teams in the Big Ten and, every once in a while, surprising some of the top teams without key players.  For the most part, they can’t beat the top teams in the Big Ten. They lost in successive games to Wisconsin, Purdue, and Michigan State. Sure, they knocked off Iowa, but then struggled against Northwestern. I guess it is as much as you can ask for from two guys.
  • Indiana still not doing the little things. Indiana lost a heartbreaker to Illinois after a solid thumping at home against Iowa. The good thing for Indiana against Illinois was they got back their characteristic energy they have been playing with all year. They also clawed away at the end on defense and forced some big turnovers on Illinois. Looking at the stats, they are similar in almost all areas except for field goal percentage. They even outshot Illinois from the charity stripe. That hasn’t happened often this season. Where Indiana broke down, though, was at the end of the game.  They had a chance to win, and turned it over.  Verdell Jones has been a solid leader since Maurice Creek went down, but sometimes Jones takes too long to turn it on. He has scored a lot of his points during the comebacks of games, but they need him the rest of the time as well.
  • Iowa’s streak finally ends. I was almost joking that Iowa looked like they would be picking off Big Ten opponents in sequential order from bottom to top, but that didn’t play out for the Hawkeyes. The Wolverines were just too much for Iowa in their last matchup. When you only score 17 in the first half, that’s just too much of a hole to overcome. Aaron Fuller continues to be solid, but the rest of the team didn’t help out.  Especially the bench and their nine point contribution. The key to Iowa’s victories was its rebounding, as they were hitting the boards hard. Against Michigan, a team with a four guard lineup, they were outrebounded by six on the offensive end, and by 11 overall. That’s just too much Windex for a team near the bottom of the Big Ten to overcome, especially on the road.
  • Penn State is still winless. Well, Michigan State had the Big Ten streak snapped, but Penn State hasn’t been able to say the same for their version. Penn State is viewed as the assumed win for everyone in the Big Ten. The only thing they have going for them now is that other teams might not to take them seriously. I think that is the only reason that they were able to take the Wisconsin game to overtime, especially on the road. There is no way the same team that torched Michigan State showed up for that game. Out of their upcoming games, I think the only team that they might be able to catch sleeping is Minnesota. They had a five point loss earlier against the Gophers on the road, so maybe a home game will provide just enough energy to get them over the hump and break their streak.
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Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by jstevrtc on January 28th, 2010

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

Three things from the past week:

  • Spartans in the driver’s seat – Michigan State had a scare from Minnesota on national TV and another from Michigan, but being the experienced and tough-nosed team that they are, closed out the game, while Minnesota and Michigan let them get away. They are two games ahead of Wisconsin now, and even more ahead of Purdue, Ohio State, and Illinois. Will the Spartans run the table? They have to get by Purdue twice before the season is over, so I am not betting on it.
  • Superman shut down in the 2nd half Evan Turner was putting up big numbers in the first half against West Virginia, but then couldn’t get it going in the second half. He had 13 at intermission, and ended up with an 18/11/4 asst game. Anyone other than Evan Turner would be happy with those stats. West Virginia had the answer in the second half for Turner though, and his name is Da’Sean Butler, who ended up with a 21/8/5 asst, and won the game for the Mountaineers.
  • Iowa is on a roll – Looks like Iowa is picking off opponents in reverse order these days. First Penn State and now Indiana. Who’s next? Michigan? Northwestern? Who knows. Iowa is hitting the boards well and playing a very physical brand of basketball these days.

Now four Big Ten teams are in the top 25: Michigan State #5, Purdue #10, Wisconsin #16, and Ohio State #20.

Power Rankings

  1. Michigan State                  18-3, 8-0
  2. Purdue                                   16-3, 4-3
  3. Wisconsin                            16-4, 6-2
  4. Ohio State                            15-6, 5-3
  5. Illinois                                   13-8, 5-3
  6. Minnesota                           13-7, 4-4
  7. Northwestern                   14-6, 3-5
  8. Michigan                              10-10, 3-5
  9. Indiana                                  9-10, 3-4
  10. Iowa                                         8-13, 2-6
  11. Penn State                            8-12, 0-8

Coming Up

  • Wisconsin @ Purdue – January 28th – 7:00 ET – ESPN – This game is Purdue’s chance to get back at Wisconsin for starting Purdue’s three game slide. Wisconsin has a huge advantage at the Kohl Center, but given that Wisconsin should still be without Jon Leuer, this one could be all Purdue at Mackey Arena.
  • Michigan State @ Wisconsin – February 2nd – 9:00 ET ESPN – This could be the most likely game for Michigan State to lose prior to the matchup with Purdue. If Jon Leuer is back, it could be a closer game, but even without him, the home court advantage of Kohl’s Center could be the 6th man that Wisconsin needs.

Breaking It Down

  • The Spartans are beatable, but haven’t succumbed yet. Michigan State has won its last two games by a total of two points. Sure, one could say that it is luck, or maybe they are headed for a loss, but at the same time, to me it says that they are a team that has what it takes to close out games. The Spartans are solid across the board when it comes to scoring, even though they are led by Kalin Lucas. Raymar Morgan tore it up against Michigan with a 20/8 effort that is even more impressive because it came on 8-9 from the field and 4-5 from the line. I would give the ball to him all day long when he is shooting like that. I think the Spartans will take care of Northwestern at home as well as Wisconsin on the road, unless the Badgers can summon some big bodies to stop the Spartans in the lane.
  • What about Purdue’s bench play? Purdue has started to turn around its slide in the Big Ten, winning their last two games against Illinois and Michigan. What I find potentially troubling in their last game is their bench play, which was practically nonexistent from a statistical point of view. Last game their bench only contributed five points. Is that a problem? Well, not exactly, but when I looked at their losses, the same trend appears. The bench scored nine in their loss to Wisconsin, two in their loss to Ohio State, and five in their loss to Northwestern. This team needs to find a couple guys to come off the bench to contribute, or else any sign of foul trouble will spell doom for the Boilermakers. Let’s see what happens against Wisconsin at home, though.
  • Wisconsin almost loses to who? That’s right folks, Wisconsin needed a heroic effort by Jordan Taylor to escape an upset by winless Penn State. Credit Taylor for pouring it on with a 20/6 asst game, but still, how far has this Wisconsin team sunk? They escaped a close one at home against Michigan and then a nail-biter against Penn State. I think everyone will see what this team is made of in their next two at Purdue and then Michigan State at home. The results, in my opinion, probably will not be pretty for Wisconsin.
  • Ohio State evens it up for the Big Ten against West Virginia. The momentum had been building for Ohio State the whole week leading up to West Virginia. Each team claimed one of the two halves:  Ohio State won the first half, West Virginia the second. Like their respective teams, one player won the first half and the other won the game. Evan Turner was his usual self in the first half, and then disappeared in the second, whereas Da’Sean Butler was nowhere to be seen in the first, and then puller a superhero down the stretch to put it away. It proved that Ohio State is a tournament team, because West Virginia clearly is as well. The bad news for Ohio State is that they had to travel to Iowa last night to grind out a win against a much-improved Hawkeyes team, and then continue on the road in a tough battle at Michigan State.
  • Minnesota can’t close out the close ones. There are a couple trends that are easy to see with this year’s Minnesota team: they can’t win on the road and they can’t win close games. There are a couple exceptions to that: a win at Iowa and a close win against Penn State and Northwestern. Winning on the road and winning the close ones takes mental toughness and this team doesn’t have it. They have a lot of other things: great upside with Ralph Sampson, great scoring ability and athleticism from Devoe Joseph, and Lawrence Westbrook has had some great moments throughout the year. This team won’t be going to the tournament unless they shock everyone by winning the Big Ten Tournament.
  • Illinois’ scheduling luck has run out. Illinois came out for a quick start in the Big Ten, and looked like they might contend for a Big Ten title, until they started playing teams that were better than them, and they haven’t been able to stop their downhill slide yet. It’s interesting to compare the first Northwestern game with the second. In the first, Illinois won by six in OT; in the second, they lost by five in regulation. Digging deeper reveals what happened. In the first game the big men dominated. Mike Tisdale had a career night with 31 and Mike Davis was good for 20. That’s 51 of the team’s 89 points. Fast-forward to the second game: Tisdale with 14 and Davis with zero. Looks like we have a paint problem, here. Northwestern has gotten more aggressive, and Illinois has gotten less aggressive. There’s the season right there. Illinois beat Penn State on Wednesday, and needs to continue with wins against Indiana and Iowa to salvage this slide.
  • Northwestern bouncing around, but is that enough? Northwestern is definitely much-improved from last year, and is seen as a credible opponent in the Big Ten this year. But is that enough? How will the committee take into account what the Wildcats have done outside of the conference, as well as in it? I think they need to go over .500 in the Big Ten to make the tournament. They stand at 3-5 now, and with ten games left, they are going to have win six or seven of them. I think it might come down to the wire because as I see it, the teams that they have the best shots at beating are Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, and Penn State. If they win all of their games against those opponents, they will be 10-8 in the Big Ten.  With a win against Chicago State, that will get them to overall record of 22-9, and definitely good enough to make the tournament. Can they do it? I am not sure, as some of those road games will be tough.
  • Was the UConn game the peak of Michigan’s season? On Tuesday, Michigan lost a tough game against Michigan State at home, one they should have won. This team is erratic, and usually has to rely on the two man show of DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris. They continue to shoot too many threes, and miss more than their fair share. The upside is that they are continuing to hang with top teams, and have a nice break in their schedule if they wanted to go for a  big run late in the season. I feel that all of their games left are winnable with the exception of Ohio State and the regular season-ending rematch with Michigan State. Lets see what the Wolverines can do.
  • Indiana has to be the underdog. Indiana has surprised teams all year, in that they can hang around against just about anyone. They beat Pitt, they beat Michigan, Minnesota, etc. The theme with all of those games was the expectation that they shouldn’t have won, but they did. It has been said that Tom Crean is ahead of schedule as far as returning Indiana to its past glory, but the game against Iowa was an exception. Against Iowa, Indiana was actually the favored team. They didn’t play like it. They didn’t have any cockiness or swagger, no real energy at all. Seeing the Hoosiers play right after the Colts’ victory was a huge letdown. There was no fight in the team that time, but fortunately for Indiana, they have a whole week of practice to find some of that fighting ability before traveling to Illinois. They will need it, too, as Illinois is enduring its own freefall, and will look at this game as a must-win. Indiana needs to rebound better, and take both Davis and Tisdale out of the game. Tisdale destroyed Indiana in their past matchup.
  • Iowa has Hawkeyes. Iowa couldn’t buy a win earlier.  Throw in a sprinkle of their second leading scorer getting suspended, and you have the recipe for a disaster of a season. Someone didn’t inform Iowa, though, as they are actually picking it up each game, and had a chance to score a huge upset against Ohio State. Jarryd Cole destroyed Indiana with his 11/10 night, with eight of those rebounds on the offensive end. Aaron Fuller has been solid all year for the Hawkeyes, but the real surprise was Brennan Cougill, especially when the big man stepped out and knocked down two big threes against the Hoosiers. He literally played a perfect 13 minutes of basketball, not missing a field goal or free throw.
  • Penn State is still winless. OK, I haven’t had to change the title here for a while, and plan on keeping it this way until Penn State wins a game. With the exception of their first Wisconsin game, this squad has kept every Big Ten game close…and has still yet to find a W. I hate to say it, but after looking at their remaining schedule, I am not sure this team will win a game this year. Their best bets have already come and passed. Surprise me, Penn State. I will put you in the headlines if you do.
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Boom Goes The Dynamite: 01.23.10 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on January 23rd, 2010

Once again we find ourselves with another stacked weekend of college basketball.  142 games in Division I today, and quite a number of those are somewhere on the tube.  It’s getting interesting.  Some of the big names are starting to come back to the pack a little, and some teams we’d all forgotten about are starting to put some wins together.  We’ll be here all day, watching it, commenting on it, enjoying it.  We’d like to know what you’re watching and what you think of it all, too, which is why we’re back with another version of BGTD today.  We’ll start off checking out Michigan State vs Minnesota and Villanova vs St. John’s, and head for points south and west after that.  We’ve even got a man on the ground for RTC Live at the latter game, there, as well as a few more spots today.  By all means, join us for a bit.  We’ll kick it off in about 10-15 minutes!

12:11 PM ET: Greetings from us to you on this big hoops day.  JStev here, starting it off with you.  My goodness, Villanova sure has wasted no time in jumping on the Johnnies.  Up by seven early and they’ve already forced SJU into five turnovers.  We’re just now at the under-16 TVTO.  Over on the Big East Network we have Georgetown/Rutgers, with the Hoyas trying to avoid a letdown after their impressive performance at Pittsburgh a few nights ago.  Against Rutgers at home that should be no problem, and I’m thinking G’town will have quite a jump in the polls, come Monday.  Hoyas up by three early, and Rutgers is already standing straight up in their zone.  Minnesota has also shown up early and taken a quick nine-point lead against Michigan State…and ladies and gentlemen, say hello to MR. GUS JOHNSON on the call on CBS.  I’ve found my primary game.

12:28: Gus Johnson could comment on the progress of a slug slithering along a rain gutter and, if you heard it, it’d be the most exciting thing you did that day.  We’ve said that — or something similar — about a gazillion times on this site and it’s always the truth.  He’s showing you why in this game, even this early.  Minnesota’s kept their lead in this one despite a little comeback from MSU.  Still up seven under seven minutes to play.  Dwight Hardy has come out on fire, hitting 5-6 against the Hoyas, and the Johnnies have looked like a different team in the last ten minutes.  They’re up by TEN on ‘Nova, now!  It’s physical, and if St. John’s wants to have a shot at pulling this off, they better be ready to grind it out against Villanova.  They’re glad to bang it out with anyone.

12:46: Great point by Doris Burke as they go to commercial in the ‘Nova/SJU game.  When it comes to pulling an upset, you can’t expect to play on an equal footing in ANY aspect of the game.  You have to OUT-do your opponent in EVERY aspect of the game.  You can’t just hustle as much as them, you have to OUThustle them, etc.  That seems like an obvious point, but I bet coaches out there have a harder time getting that across to their teams than you might think.  Oh, and Scottie Reynolds just hit a running bank shot off glass that was so gorgeous it almost brought tears.  It’ll bring him millions of bucks.  Soon.

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Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by jstevrtc on January 23rd, 2010

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

Three things from the past week:

  • Purdue’s slide stops – After getting knocked off by Wisconsin on the road, Ohio State at home, and Northwestern on the road, Purdue stops the slide against Illinois on the road. It was Illinois’ first loss at home on the road. The big key in the victory was JaJuan Johnson, who poured in a 24/12 game against Illinois after struggling in their previous losses. Will Purdue continue its ascent in the Big Ten?
  • The Buckeyes  are back – The main reason why the Buckeyes are back isn’t only due to them knocking off Purdue, Wisconsin, and Northwestern in successive games, but more with the way they won. True, it was the Evan Turner show against Purdue, but with him in foul trouble against Wisconsin, the rest of the team stepped up in his absence to win the game. That’s why they are not only back, but I believe they are better than before Turner went down.
  • Iowa gets first win in the Big Ten – I was giving Iowa a bit of a hard time scheduling Tennessee State in the middle of Big Ten play, but it looks like it paid off. They not only won a close one at home against Tennessee State, but then they captured their first victory in the Big Ten against Penn State, both nail biters. I will talk more about that game when I talk about each team.

Now four Big Ten teams are in the top 25: Michigan State #6, Purdue #13, Wisconsin #18, and Ohio State #21.

Power Rankings

  1. Michigan State                  16-3, 6-0
  2. Purdue                                 15-4, 3-3
  3. Wisconsin                           15-4, 5-2
  4. Minnesota                          12-6, 3-3
  5. Ohio State                          14-5, 4-3
  6. Illinois                                  12-7, 4-2
  7. Northwestern                   13-5, 2-4
  8. Michigan                             10-8, 3-3
  9. Indiana                                  9-9, 3-3
  10. Iowa                                      7-12, 1-5
  11. Penn State                          8-10, 0-6

Coming Up

  • Michigan State @ Minnesota – January 23rd – 12:00 ET – CBS – The scheduling gods don’t have much of a sense of humor for Minnesota, as they just played Michigan State on the road last week, and lost by seven. Minnesota suffered another bruise against Indiana on the road, but Minnesota is tough at home, and I think they will give the Spartans a run for their money in this one. The Spartans are still undefeated in conference and playing very well, but the Gophers might be able to catch them off guard. Big game for both teams for different reasons. Plus it’s the first of a Big Ten double header on CBS, so how much better can this get?
  • Ohio State @ West Virginia – January 23rd – 2:00 ET – CBS – OK, so this isn’t totally a Big Ten double header on CBS, but both games feature at least one Big Ten team. That counts right? West Virginia just lost a nail biter to Syracuse at home, so you know their fans are going to be hungry to take down a Big Ten opponent, especially after losing to Purdue on the road earlier in the season. Evan Turner wants to show just how well the Buckeyes are playing right now, and this will be a great game to show it. This is assuming that Ohio State takes care of Northwestern prior to this game.

Breaking It Down

  • The Spartans take control in the Big Ten. The Spartans are sitting atop the Big Ten conference with a 6-0 record, and have been able to win both at home and on the game, a rarity in this conference. In watching the Illinois game, it was clear that even though Illinois started off hot, once the Spartans gained momentum they never let go, and didn’t let Illinois back in the game. Kalin Lucas led the team with a 20/4 assts game, but had quite the supporting cast, with Raymar Morgan coming off the bench for a 14/10/4 assts game. I was impressed with the unselfishness and physical play of the Spartans. They completely shut down Mike Tisdale like I thought they would. They get to feast on Iowa before traveling to Minnesota, which should be a battle.
  • Purdue starting to turn it around. I have already talked about Purdue’s woes earlier, so I won’t focus too much on it here. I guess the most surprising thing is the rebounding, though. Purdue is getting outrebounded by a margin of six in the Big Ten, and the Northwestern game had a 19-board differential. Rebounding is purely heart and effort, so that’s not a good sign for Purdue. They turned it around against Illinois, so I look forward to seeing if it continues. If you want to check out more on the Northwestern game, RTC was there: RTC Live: Purdue @ Northwestern
  • Wisconsin missing Leuer – Wisconsin stumbled a bit last week losing to a much improved Ohio State team. Wisconsin thrashed them at home earlier in the year without Evan Turner, but not this time. Both teams are different. Wisconsin is no longer at full strength and they’re without an inside presence, whereas Ohio State is a full strength. The reason why Wisconsin is missing Jon Leuer so much is because of what he does for the Badgers inside. They only shot five free throws against the Buckeyes, making four. Contrast that to their Duke game earlier in the season, when they shot 19 free throws and made 13. Jon Leuer shot eight of those free throws. Wisconsin did turn it around against Michigan, but still had troubles on the inside.
  • Ohio State has a huge week. This past week was supposed to be the week that took down Ohio State. Instead, this was the week that will most likely define the turning point in their season. The task of taking on Purdue at Mackey Arena is more than most teams could handle, but the Buckeyes staged a late rally that Purdue couldn’t stop. Wisconsin at home is more realistic than at the Kohl Center, but put Evan Turner in foul trouble and that would spell a loss. Not this time. Evan Turner decided to go for another triple-double against Northwestern, and came up just a bit short with 20/13/8 assts.
  • Minnesota stumbles on the road. It’s no secret that Minnesota would rather play at home, especially in the Big Ten, as they stumbled on the road this week against Michigan State and Indiana. The Michigan State game was expected to be close, but I am not sure many people expected Indiana to lead through much of regulation before staging a very late comeback to win in OT. Lawrence Westbrook and Blake Hoffarber weren’t even a factor in the Indiana game, so they will need to step up if Minnesota should reach their potential. This is a super-talented team that just isn’t quite getting it done. I expect that Tubby Smith will have a heart-to-heart with his team, and they will give Michigan State a run for their money on Saturday after a tough week of practice. If you want to see more about the Minnesota – Indiana game,  RTC was at the game (shameless plug alert): RTC Live: Minnesota @ Indiana
  • Illinois runs into the Spartans, literally. I talked a little bit about Illinois when mentioning the Spartans, so I will try to keep it a little brief here. Illinois apparently loves being on national TV, as they got off to a hot start against Michigan State, but couldn’t hold on once the momentum shifted. I kind of laughed when the announcers were wondering why Mike Tisdale wasn’t a factor in the game, because he was averaging 20 PPG in the Big Ten. He wasn’t a factor because he has done well against Big Ten teams without height in Indiana and Penn State, and once he finally had to muscle up against some true big men in the Spartans, he just got pushed out of the way. The same thing happened against Purdue. If Illinois wants to win against physical teams they are going to have to get it from someone other than Tisdale. The big bright spot for Illinois is Demetri McCamey, who had a 28/9 assts game against Purdue.
  • Northwestern gets board heavy. The big story for Northwestern was how they dominated the boards against Purdue, so it will be interesting to see if they can keep it up. Purdue has some physical and tough big guys like JaJuan Johnson, so I think they should do well against Illinois on the boards. Northwestern got manhandled by Ohio State, down by 21 points at half. They will have to keep from thinking about that game too much, or they will have recurring nightmares throughout the rest of the season.
  • Michigan takes two, and knocks out UConn. The great story for Michigan really is knocking UConn out of the Top 25, and finding a third player beyond DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris. They introduced the national television audience to Zack Novak, who made his only trey at a very crucial time. This was actually the first game I have seen where Sims and Harris didn’t lead the team in scoring. The same couldn’t be duplicated against Wisconsin, who held off the Wolverines’ late charge.
  • Indiana has a down then up week. Watching the Michigan game was disappointing, as everything that could be done wrong late in the game was done. The Hoosiers threw away the basketball at will, and turned what was a semi-close game into a 20+ point blowout. That was the ‘down’ part…now for the ‘up’ part. Indiana did a ton of maturing between the Michigan and Minnesota game. They continued to build on that maturity by winning their first road game of the season against Penn State. Indiana was lights-out in the first half, and then, unlike past games, they didn’t fade midway through the 2nd half. They took it to OT, and even when they started down six, they battled back and forced Minnesota to take a three with seconds remaining to tie. Verdell Jones stepped up with a career high 23 point effort, with Devan Dumes and Christian Watford rounding out the scoring. The usual suspects carried the load for Indiana as of late: Jones, Dumes, and Watford. If you want to see a more in-depth view of the Indiana-Minnesota game, RTC was there: RTC Live: Minnesota @ Indiana
  • Iowa’s scheduling pays off.  Aaron Fuller had a career night against Tennessee State that got him ready for a big game against Penn State. He was good for a 24/10 night against Tennessee State and a 20/10 night against the Nittany Lions. Things are looking up for the sophomore, and for Iowa. Both games were nail biters, so if they get another W this year, expect it to be close. They are in  for a rough haul though, with upcoming road games against Michigan State and Indiana.
  • Penn State is still winless. I feel bad for Talor Battle because he continues to put up big numbers, and almost all of their losses have been close, but they just can’t seem to finish one out. Battle had a 31/7 game against Iowa and a slight disappointing 9/4 game against Illinois in a low-scoring close one. Unfortunately for Penn State, their comeback came up short against Indiana. They will have to keep up their confidence at this point, or else it will be a long road ahead.
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RTC Live: Minnesota @ Indiana

Posted by rtmsf on January 17th, 2010

RTC Live will be coming to you this afternoon from cloudy Bloomington, Indiana, where the Gophers from Minnesota will visit the Indiana Hoosiers at historic Assembly Hall. While Indiana is in the 2nd year of a re-building campaign under Coach Tom Crean, Minnesota is looking to crack into the top echelon of the Big 10 under Coach Tubby Smith. Minnesota is led by Lawrence Westbrook with 13.7/2.6/1.6 asst and Blake Hoffarber with 11.8/3.5/1.6 assts. The Gophers were making more news earlier in the season with their off the court exploits, but have since compiled a 12-5 overall record and 3-2 in the Big Ten. Minnesota has lost to Purdue and Michigan State, both highly ranked nationally. Indiana has struggled with a 7-9 overall record and 1-3 in the Big Ten, having dropped 3 in a row. Indiana is led statistically by Verdell Jones and Christian Watford with 12.8 apiece.  Minnesota doesn’t play well on the road (1-3 on the year), but Indiana has struggled to deliver consistency even at home. This is RTC Live’s first (and hopefully the first of many to come) trip to historic Assembly Hall, and we expect it to be a great one.  Join us on a cloudy day in Bloomington…

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ATB: Big Ten Victorious on Comeback Wednesday

Posted by rtmsf on December 3rd, 2009

atb

Wisconsin: First RTC of the Season? If anyone knows of another one, let us know.  But this is the first one we’ve seen this year.  But c’mon Musberger, get it right!  RUSH.  THE.  COURT.  (Ed. note – apparently UNLV fans RTC’d on Saturday after defeating Louisville, which is about as unjustified of an RTC as we’ve ever heard of… goodness gracious, folks, it’s Vegas.  And beating an overrated Louisville team excites you?)

Story of the NightBig Ten Finally Gets Monkey Off Its Back.  It didn’t turn out the way we thought it would tonight, but it did end up as a 6-5 victory for the Big Ten schools over their ACC counterparts.  Two unexpected events conspired to make this possible — Illinois’ inspirational comeback win at Clemson after being down by as many as 23 points in the second half, and Wisconsin’s home victory over Duke in the type of game the Blue Devils always seem to win (because, well, they do — Duke was 10-0 in the ACC/B10 Challenge prior to tonight).  These two surprises combined with Ohio State’s expected win over Florida State at the end of the evening resulted in three straight victories at the end of the Challenge to put the midwesterners on top for the first time EVER.  So what does that mean?  Does it prove once and for all that the Big Ten is better than the ACC this year?  Well, not at all.  In fact, if anything, this year’s Challenge has shown us that the middle of the ACC might be a tad bit stronger than we thought it was (Wake, Miami, BC, Clemson).  Now… about our predictions for tonight.  Regression to the mean is the lesson here.  After a perfect 6-0 start over the first two evenings of play, it all crashed and burned with a 1-4 record tonight.  But yeah, at least we called it, baby!  That’s all that matters!  6-5 Big Ten over the ACC, just like we said!*

*note – our Caribbean friends disagree with this assessment.

Game of the Night #1. Wisconsin 73, #5 Duke 69. Duke took its first ever loss in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge tonight for two reasons as we saw them.  First, their big men other than Kyle Singler (28/6/3 assts) were virtually nonexistent.  Lance Thomas, Brian Zoubek and the Plumlee brothers combined for just six points and fourteen rebounds.  Compare that with 16/27 against UConn last week, and you’ll see that almost all of the scoring burden fell onto the Duke backcourt + Singler.  Second, Wisconsin’s Trevon Hughes was spectacular tonight.  The senior guard shredded the Duke defense for a career-high 26 pts, using an assortment of drives to the basket to go along with a solid outside stroke (4-7 threes).  After taking an 11-pt lead with five minutes to go, though, Duke guard Andre Dawkins nearly brought the Devils back all by himself, hitting three straight triples to cut the lead down to 2 with two minutes left.  It appeared that this was going to be one of those epic Duke comeback wins, but UW ran clock down the stretch (surprise) and when Singler missed a wild layup attempt off the bottom of the backboard with under thirty seconds left, it was clear the Badgers were going to take the win tonight.  One odd situation occurred in the very last few plays, when color commentator Bob Knight seemed to lose his mind for a moment as he stated that Wisconsin was “for sure” at worst going to overtime after only going up two with 4.9 seconds left (he clearly thought they were up three), and then contemplated whether Trevon Hughes should intentionally miss his second FT (again, thinking up three).  What’s that phrase coaches like to use?  Time and score? Can you imagine if one of Knight’s players had made a similar mistake at such a key juncture?  Maybe now we know why Texas Tech wasn’t nearly as good as Knight’s Indiana teams — he wasn’t paying attention!

Game of the Night #2Illinois 76, #19 Clemson 74. What can you say about Bruce Weber’s young backcourt of Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson tonight other than we’re extremely impressed.  There is absolutely no way that Clemson should have lost this game.  The Tigers ran out to a 20-pt halftime lead, pushed it up to 23 early in the second half, and had Littlejohn rocking.  But Weber’s kids dug deep, showed the kind of composure that belies their age, and dropped a combined five threes in the next ten minutes of a 35-10 run that got the Illini back into the game and ultimately allowed them an opportunity to steal this one away from Clemson and the ACC.  The Clemson players suggested that they relaxed after getting such a big lead, and from our viewpoint, there’s probably something to that.  It certainly appeared that Illinois was the team with the drive and moxie throughout most of the second half, and when it came down to Demontez Stitt’s driving layup attempt at the buzzer, we just had a feeling that it wasn’t going down.  It didn’t, and Illinois has a rallying cry for the rest of this season no matter how badly they’re playing.  Mike Davis had 22/9 for the Illini, but as mentioned above, it was the youthful backcourt of Paul and Richardson (34/8/5 assts) that made tonight happen.

Game of the Night #3.  #21 UNLV 74, Arizona 72 (2OT).  The Runnin’ Rebels justified their shiny new Top 25 ranking by taking to the road for the first time this season, heading down to Arizona, and knocking off the Wildcats in double-overtime.  Despite poor overall shooting from both teams (UNLV 39.7%, UA 36.5%; both teams less than 20% from three!) this one was neck-and-neck from the tip, as neither team ever led by more than six points the whole way.  Arizona got up three in the second OT but UNLV’s Derrick Jasper (12/7/5/3 stls) hit one from deep to tie it at 70, and the Wildcats never led after that.  Tre’Von Willis continued to carve his name out on the national scene with 25/4 for the Rebs, and Arizona got a huge game from freshman forward Derrick Williams with 28/5 on 10-15 shooting.  This kind of win in such a difficult and hostile setting can only help Lon Kruger’s club, which has a few easy ones coming up except for a home game against Kansas State thrown in there on 12/12.  If they can get by those Wildcats, there’s a very good chance UNLV will be 12-0 going into a pair of tough road games in early January at BYU and at (currently undefeated) New Mexico. 

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