NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Thursday Afternoon

Posted by Andrew Murawa, Bennet Hayes, Brian Otskey & Walker Carey on March 20th, 2014

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And so it begins. Today at exactly 12:15 PM in Buffalo, New York, the 2014 NCAA Tournament as we all know it will officially tip off, setting in motion a chain of events that will undoubtedly bust most people’s brackets by mid-afternoon. Nevertheless, the anticipation for the best two weekdays in all of sports is over. Savor it. Embrace it. Respect it. Let’s get things started with an analysis of all of today’s games, beginning with the afternoon slate of eight contests.

#6 Ohio State vs. #11 Dayton — South Region Second Round (at Buffalo, NY) — 12:15 PM ET on CBS.

Aaron Craft And The Buckeyes Have Had A Difficult Time Putting The Ball In The Hoop This Season; Can They Score Often Enough To Knock Off In-State Foe Dayton?

Aaron Craft And The Buckeyes Have Had A Difficult Time Putting The Ball Through The Hoop This Season; Can They Score Often Enough To Knock Off In-State Foe Dayton On Thursday? (AP)

You could ignore the fact that Dayton and Ohio State are separated by 70 miles of Ohio interstate, that the Flyer’s leading scorer is an Ohio State transfer, that Thad Matta has never had any interest in scheduling a regular season game with UD, and this game would still be one of the most intriguing matchups of the first round. Or you could, of course, take account of all those things and declare this the game to watch in the round of 64. Former Buckeye Jordan Sibert will be a marked man on Thursday afternoon, and not just because he used to don the scarlet and gray. Sibert (43% 3PT) leads a proficient Flyer offense that excels beyond the arc; Dayton has made 38% of their three-point attempts this season. Aaron Craft receives plenty of recognition for his defensive abilities on the perimeter, but Shannon Scott is nearly Craft’s equal when it comes to on-ball defense, and both will strive to make Sibert and the rest of the Flyers’ life difficult. Similar resistance is unlikely to be provided by a Dayton defense that is less than elite, but can the Buckeyes take advantage? Ohio State’s scoring struggles this season have been well documented, but look for LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith to get just enough done offensively for the Buckeyes to seize this battle for Ohio. Either way though, subplots abound.

The RTC Certified Pick: Ohio State

#2 Wisconsin vs #15 American – West Regional Second Round (at Milwaukee, WI) – 12:40 PM ET on truTV

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The Curious Case of Lenzelle Smith’s Offense

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on March 2nd, 2014

Have you ever seen glimpses of talent from an underclassman and begin to extrapolate his talent over the next two or three years? Of course you have. The freshman may only play a supporting role at the time, but he shows enough in those flashes that you expect him to take off once the upperclassmen in front of him move on. Ohio State senior Lenzelle Smith, Jr., reminds me of one such player, who, for some reason or another, has never been able to take that next step. Over the last several years, Ohio State has lost one of its best offensive players and expected Smith to step up in his wake, but it just hasn’t happened. It was first Jared Sullinger, followed by Deshaun Thomas, but Smith wasn’t able to become that necessary second best scoring option on the Buckeyes. This discussion is not about whether Smith has underachieved to this point in his career — after all, averaging 11.8 PPG for a Top 25 squad is not a bad thing — but given his obvious talent and athleticism, we’re left wanting more from him. Let’s try to understand if there were other structural reasons why he hasn’t yet become the player that we all thought he could become.

Lenzelle Smith's (right) offense never really took off as expected.

Lenzelle Smith’s (right) offense never really took off as expected.

It is no secret that since Sullinger left Columbus, the Buckeyes have struggled to consistently score points. Averaging 1.03 points per possession during conference play isn’t too shabby, but there really isn’t a go-to player in Thad Matta’s offense. When Sullinger was still around, the guards always had the option to dump the ball inside and expect a kick-out pass for a wide open shot from the perimeter, but since his departure, they have been forced to find shots without the luxury of a low post presence. It took a while last season for Thomas to figure out that he could score in the paint, so most of Smith’s junior year was spent throwing up long-range shots (he made a solid 37 percent of those attempts). This year, the Buckeyes average 34.0 percent from beyond the arc (32.6 percent against B1G teams), and Smith in particular is shooting a career-low 35.3 percent.

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Three Key Questions for Ohio State at Iowa

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on February 4th, 2014

A month ago, Ohio State at Iowa seemed like a potential game for first place in the Big Ten. Instead we are now looking at a Buckeyes team hoping to just get back to .500 in conference play and a Hawkeyes group at 6-3 hoping to stay on the heels of the conference leaders. For both teams, though, this game could have a big impact on its potential NCAA seed next month, so plenty is still at stake this evening. With that in mind, here are three key questions heading into tonight’s game.

Can Roy Devyn Marble and Iowa control the pace and stay in the Big Ten hunt at home against Ohio State? (AP)

Can Roy Marble and Iowa control the pace and stay in the Big Ten hunt at home against Ohio State? (AP)

  1. Can Ohio State limit Iowa on the interior? It is no secret that the Buckeyes’ interior, and specifically Amir Williams, has been a big reason for their recent downswing. The offense has been an issue all season long, but during their recent losing streak the Buckeyes were getting dominated inside the paint. Iowa has plenty of strong interior and wing players itself and should control the inside by routinely going inside to Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff. The Hawkeyes’ rebounding ability (fourth in Big Ten in defensive rebounding percentage and second in offensive rebounding percentage) is likely to limit the Buckeyes to one shot and should create some second-chance points for themselves. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Weekend in Review: Iowa Sparkles While Illinois Falters

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 14th, 2014

The second weekend of the B1G conference season was considerably more exciting than the first, featuring two of the biggest upsets of the early season schedule. Northwestern won a game well before anyone would have predicted, and Iowa got the quality road win that it needed down the line. Meanwhile, Indiana, Michigan State and Purdue all survived nail-biters. Here’s some other highlights from the second weekend in Big Ten play.

Roy Devyn Marble led his team in scoring with 22 points in their upset of Ohio State (Joe Camporeale-USA Today Sports).

Roy Devyn Marble led his team in scoring with 22 points in their upset of Ohio State (Joe Camporeale-USA Today Sports).

Player of the Weekend: Roy Devyn Marble: Noah Vonleh and Denzel Valentine were both worthy candidates here as well, but Marble had a tremendous game against the Buckeyes. The main takeaway from his effort on Sunday afternoon was that he didn’t force anything. In the other losses this season for Iowa, Marble tried a little too hard to take over the game. He scored 27 points in the loss against Wisconsin a week earlier, but needed 24 shots to do it. In this game, he only needed 13 attempts to get to 22 points. He also added four rebounds, three assists, three steals, and two blocks to his all-around floor game. His size was a problem for Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott all day, as he did most of his damage on cuts and drives into the lane. He also was disruptive defensively, using his long arms to get into the passing lanes for steals. When Marble plays within himself and lets the game come to him, Iowa is just that much more dangerous.

Super Sub of the Weekend: Tre Demps: No Dave Sobolewski meant more minutes for Northwestern’s Demps, and he more than took advantage of the opportunity. He was simply an assassin in the second half, hitting three huge three-pointers in the last 6:32 of the game that proved to be the difference in the Wildcats’ 49-43 upset win over Illinois. Demps also chipped in eight rebounds and five assists in 33 minutes of action. The Big Ten’s third leading scorer off the bench might have triggered a permanent move of JerShon Cobb to the point, freeing up more minutes for the sophomore to make more of an impact in future games.

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Three Ways For Ohio State to Beat Marquette

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 15th, 2013

After starting off the season 2-0, Ohio State will get its first big test on Saturday afternoon when it travels to Milwaukee to take on #17 Marquette. The Buckeyes struggled at home against Ohio University on Tuesday night, and will be in for a tough contest in taking on the preseason Big East favorites in their gym. The game is winnable, though, and here’s the three ways in which they can come away with a victory that should look really good in March:

Aaron Craft will need to have a big day defensively if Ohio State wants to steal a road win at Marquette.  (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Aaron Craft will need to have a big day defensively if Ohio State wants to steal a road win at Marquette. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

  1. Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott need to be absolute pests on the defensive end: With the Buckeyes employing a dual point guard starting lineup early with Scott stepping in for Sam Thompson, Thad Matta has chosen to go with a lineup he used quite a bit last year at the end of games. What this does is allow for two of the best perimeter defenders in all of a college basketball a chance to harass the opposing team’s point guard into turnovers. This is especially important Saturday because Derrick Wilson is stepping in for the graduated Junior Cadoughan. Wilson has been a 10-minute per game bench player, and this will be his first real test in dealing with elite ball pressure. I haven’t really acquainted myself with the guards of Southern or Grambling but I can safely assume they aren’t as good as what Wilson will see Saturday in Craft and Scott. If Ohio State can turn Wilson over, the Buckeyes will be able to get easy buckets in transition and eliminate a potential mismatch on the inside trying to handle Marquette’s post players. Read the rest of this entry »
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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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Night Line: Buckeyes Hold Serve at Purdue, But Plenty Left To Prove

Posted by BHayes on January 9th, 2013

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Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

Any Big Ten road win accrued this season holds value, as the conference is an especially treacherous version of its normally solid self here in 2012-13. So kudos Ohio State; you went into West Lafayette tonight and gave the home team only a few sniffs of the upset they sought, and in the process earned your first Big Ten road victory of the year. Purdue may be young and a year or two away from Big Ten relevancy, but good teams will exit Mackey Arena losers this winter; this game was far from an automatic W. Praise the workmanlike effort tonight from Thad Matta’s bunch, but do not mistake it for a cure-all to the recent ails of the Buckeyes. For Ohio State to live up to both preseason expectations and the standard set by Buckeye squads of years past, the performances in the statement games must improve – beginning on Saturday, when arch-rival and undefeated #2 Michigan arrives in Columbus. But does this Ohio State team have it in them?

Deshaun Thomas Is Averaging 20 A Game, But Are Other Buckeyes Ready To Help Shoulder The Load?

Deshaun Thomas Is Averaging 20 PPG, But Are Other Buckeyes Ready To Help Shoulder The Load?

Like it or not Buckeyes, the recent success of your program has created a standard of significant height, one that can really only be matched by a handful of programs across the country. That recent excellence, combined with the returns of starters Aaron Craft, Deshaun Thomas, and Lenzelle Smith prompted pollsters to rank Ohio State fourth this preseason, and few blinked an eye. The Buckeyes have done nothing that ranks as truly cringe-worthy thus far, but they also can’t lay claim to a victory over a team likely to make the NCAA Tournament field (unless you are bullish on Washington winning some games in the Pac-12). Ohio State has also whiffed on their three big-time chances for statement Ws (at Duke, Kansas, at Illinois). The polarizing nature of the schedule is partially to blame here, as Craft and company have had no opportunities to prove their worth against solid Tournament teams (giving Illinois the benefit of the doubt here as “elite,” partially because that game was in Champaign). Still, we are comfortably into the New Year and Ohio State, a team some still consider to be among the nation’s best, has absolutely nothing of major substance on that resume.

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The Ultimate Breakdown: Ohio State vs. Kansas

Posted by zhayes9 on March 28th, 2012

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court. You can read his Louisville-Kentucky breakdown here.

It was clear from the first game of the season that everyone’s favorite breakout player, Kansas’ Thomas Robinson, was going to live up to the hype. At the same time, Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, a first team All-American as a freshman and preseason All-American as a sophomore, was widely viewed as the premier big man in the country. It only took a quick glance at the calendar for December 10 to stand out: Ohio State at Kansas. Or more accurately: Sullinger at Robinson. Unfortunately, Sullinger’s body would spoil all our fun. The Buckeyes’ leading scorer sat out the visit to Allen Fieldhouse with painful back spasms and Ohio State limped to an 11-point loss.

Barring a freak accident in the next three-plus days, the Ohio State-Kansas sequel won’t lack one of its biggest stars. Sullinger is healthy and Robinson is ready, two exceptional talents and future lottery picks banging bodies in the post with a trip to the sport’s brightest stage on the line: Monday night at the Final Four. Of course, Ohio State-Kansas is about much more than two players. It’s about Tyshawn Taylor trying to take Aaron Craft off the dribble. It’s about Travis Releford chasing William Buford all over the floor. It’s about Bill Self and Thad Matta matching wits on the sidelines. Heck, I’m sure Jeff Withey will be matched up with Sullinger for a good portion of Saturday’s game.

Louisville-Kentucky may be the Final Four main event, but you may want to stick around for the after party.

Sullinger and Robinson will finally go toe-to-toe. Oh, and it's at the Final Four.

Backcourt- The much-maligned Tyshawn Taylor posted a redemptive senior season, staying out of Bill Self’s doghouse, limiting turnovers and shooting a robust 39 percent from three. Taylor is a tough cover due to his blazing speed, swift crossover and irrepressible confidence, a characteristic never more evident than when Taylor pulled up for a 3-on-1 three-pointer late in Kansas’ Elite Eight win over North Carolina despite the fact he hadn’t made a shot from behind the arc in the entire tournament. His running mate is the much-improved Elijah Johnson, a bit player turned double-digit scorer and clutch shot-maker. We might be talking about Robbie Hummel’s unprecedented run to the Final Four if Johnson didn’t bail out the Jayhawks during a Robinson/Taylor no-show in Kansas’ second-round escape against Purdue. Travis Releford is Bill Self’s go-to perimeter defender. He’ll receive the challenging task of chasing William Buford around screens for 40 minutes. Buford underachieved relative to inflated expectations this season, coming off an extremely efficient junior campaign, but ask Michigan State if he’s capable of exploding at any moment. Lenzelle Smith is essentially Johnson’s clone, a 6’4” glue guy who’s canned his fair share of clutch shots this tournament. The matchup to track is Aaron Craft, far and away best perimeter defender in the country, and Taylor with his athleticism and quickness. Taylor went 1-of-4 from the floor with six turnovers guarded by Craft in their December meeting. Slight Edge: Ohio State.

Frontcourt- Equally tantalizing are the frontcourt matchups: DeShaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger vs. Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson. Thomas is the leading scorer in this year’s NCAA Tournament, a versatile southpaw who shot a phenomenal 61 percent from two and has never met a shot he didn’t love. That irrational confidence is to Thad Matta’s benefit on the offensive end, but the kindest way to describe Thomas’ defensive effort is the anti-Aaron Craft. It’ll be interesting to see if Self shows some triangle-and-2 or zone so Robinson or Withey don’t have to chase Thomas around the floor. The scenario is similar to when Kansas faced Missouri’s four-guard attack, but there’s no Matt Pressey on Ohio State you can leave unguarded. The one-on-one scrap we all want to witness is Sullinger vs. Robinson. According to Synergy and Luke Winn’s tournament blog, Sullinger is much more efficient away from the block than Robinson. The Buckeye star is fully capable of utilizing the mid-range jumper he perfected last summer, while Robinson is a superior overall rebounder. Withey actually posted a higher block percentage than Anthony Davis, but isn’t much of a low-post scoring threat outside of dunks and put-backs. Slight Edge: Ohio State.

Bench- Much like Louisville and Kentucky, the bench simply isn’t a major factor for either side. Remember 2012 the next time somebody denounces a team’s Final Four chances because of their lack of depth. While Matta has always rejected using more than six or seven players, backup big men Evan Ravenel and Amir Williams simply holding the fort while Sullinger was on the bench for 13 minutes during the first half of Ohio State’s regional final win over Syracuse may have saved their season. It’s doubtful that Williams, backup point Shannon Scott or backup wing Sam Thompson will see more than a few minutes combined because of the stakes, unless of course foul trouble is a factor. Kansas doesn’t have a bench due to a combination of early entries, recruiting whiffs and graduation, an obstacle that renders the job Self did this season even more remarkable. Connor Teahan has the reputation of a solid shooter, but he’s canned only 34 percent from deep on the season. Kevin Young will spell Robinson or Withey. His 6’8” frame is actually a better matchup opposite Thomas. Slight Edge: Kansas.

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Set Your TiVo: 02.03 – 02.05

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 3rd, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

  •  Ohio State can take command of the Big Ten with a win in this game. The Buckeyes hold a one game lead over Wisconsin in the loss column heading into Saturday’s matchup. If Ohio State has one weakness, it’s three-point shooting. Thad Matta is not going to beat Wisconsin, a team that shoots well over 20 threes a game, from outside. Matta has the best player on the floor in Jared Sullinger and he needs to use him early and often in order to set the tone. Ohio State is not going to turn Wisconsin over and fast break points will be at a minimum. The Buckeyes must execute their half court offense in order to win this game and the way to do that is through the big man in the middle.
  • The Badgers have righted the ship with six straight wins but will need a big game out of their supporting cast if they are going to make it a seventh. Jared Berggren in particular must contain Sullinger on the low block or else Aaron Craft can feed him all day long with no consequences. Offensively, Wisconsin will run everything through Jordan Taylor but guys like Josh Gasser and Ben Brust need to be hot from deep in order for the Badgers to pull off the win. Wisconsin will be limited to one shot per possession most of the time as it loves to run the shot clock down and shoot threes. Ohio State ranks fourth in defensive rebounding percentage, mostly thanks to Sullinger.
  • This game features the top two defensive teams in the nation in terms of efficiency. It’s likely to be a low scoring, low possession affair that comes down to the final minutes. Players like Ryan Evans for Wisconsin and Ohio State’s Lenzelle Smith could be the determining factors. The battle at the point guard position between Taylor and Craft will be phenomenal but the complementary players usually put a team over the top in matchups like these. We think that’s what will happen at the Kohl Center on Saturday.
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Set Your TiVo: 11.29.11

Posted by bmulvihill on November 29th, 2011

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

The ACC/Big Ten Challenge kicks off tonight with several outstanding games.  There are two games in particular that every college hoops fan should enjoy thoroughly.  Let’s go ahead and break down the action.

Can Jared Sullinger get Ohio State a marquee win against Duke in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge? (Al Messerschmidt/Getty)

#15 Michigan at Virginia – 7 PM EST on ESPN2 HD (****)

  • The biggest take away from Maui for the Wolverines was freshman point guard Trey Burke’s ability to run the Wolverine offense. Michigan will need Burke to continue to drive the offense against a very good Virginia defense. John Beilein’s team currently is the #1 team in the country in two-point field goal percentage (62.8%). However, the team is struggling from beyond the arc and at the free throw line. They are also struggling to get to the line. This is probably a result of their frequent three-point attempts (39% of their shots come from downtown). In what may shape up to be a half-court battle, Michigan must find a way to get to the line more frequently. If Michigan is able to reduce their three-point shots like they did against UCLA and drive the ball to the lane with Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr., the team will be on its way to a win against the Cavaliers.
  • Virginia’s defense has been nothing short of spectacular this year. They are holding teams to an effective field goal percentage of 37%, which is good for fifth in the nation. Expect the Cavalier’s defense to force the Wolverines to shoot from the outside by playing zone. On the other side of the ball, the Virginia offense runs on free throws. If they are not getting to the line, they will have a difficult time winning the game. This is mostly because Tony Bennett’s team is struggling on the offensive glass and is turning the ball over on almost 22% of their possessions. Since the Cavaliers play at a slow pace, poor offensive rebounding and turnovers result in empty possessions and offensive inefficiency. They will have to improve in both areas to beat Michigan.
  • The Cavaliers have the best defense that Michigan has faced thus far and the Wolverines have the best offense Virginia has faced thus far. The game will come down to which team executes its strength in the half-court more effectively. If you see Virginia forcing Michigan to shoot a lot from the outside, they will have a better shot at winning. If the Maize and Blue is finding smart shots from inside the arc and pulling down the offensive boards, expect them to win in a slugfest.
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Kentucky Cleans Up To Open Spring Signing Period

Posted by jstevrtc on April 14th, 2010

It’s the first day of the spring signing period, and we saw a few of the top remaining undecided high school seniors choose a cap (or jersey) and commit to a college today.  Two of them were surprises only insofar as they’re big-time recruits who decided to attend mid-major schools, but it was Kentucky that made the most noise today.  This info came mostly from the ESPN-U broadcast, so we’re showing each player’s overall rating in the ESPNU-100 Class of 2010 in parentheses:

The biggest verbal of the day was no surprise, since the buzz about it had long preceded the actual announcement.  Point guard Brandon Knight (4), a 6’5 lightning bolt who can score as well as he leads, pulled out a blue cap and committed to play for John Calipari at Kentucky.  He joins Enes Kanter (25) and Stacey Poole (51) in a Wildcat class for next year that might not yet be complete.  The bill of Knight’s UK baseball cap already had a major curve to it, confirming what everyone already knew — this decision was made a long time ago.  Later in the day, the top prospect in the class of 2011, 6’7 small forward Michael Gilchrist also verballed to Kentucky, further ensuring that there will be virtually no hangover after the honeymoon season of Wall/Cousins/Patterson/Bledsoe.

Knight follows another blue-clad wearer of #11.

In a class top-heavy with excellent point guards, two mid-majors scored fine floor-leaders this afternoon.  6’1 PG Ray McCallum (17) decided to stay home and play for his father at Detroit, and 6’5 SG Trey Zeigler (33) — sporting the greatest full windsor knot we’ve ever seen, with apologies to ESPN-U workhorse Lowell Galindo — continued the father-son trend in the state of Michigan by donning a Central Michigan cap.  Zeigler’s father Ernie is the coach for the Chippewas.  Zeigler specifically cited Butler’s run to the championship game this past season as one of the reasons he was comfortable in playing for a mid-major program.  There’s no question that the chance to play for their respective fathers was an incentive for these gentlemen to commit where they did, but it will be an interesting thing to watch over the next couple of years as to whether or not other top-flight recruits pull the trigger on staying close to home at other mid-major schools, especially if another small program can equal or even surpass Butler’s achievements from 2009-2010.

Speaking of the Bulldogs, we should note here that Gordon Hayward has decided to submit his name for consideration in this year’s NBA Draft, but he won’t be hiring an agent anytime soon.  Butler supporters — and there are definitely legions more, after this past season — will be sweating out Hayward’s decision-making process this summer; the Bulldogs will lose Willie Veasley and Avery Jukes to graduation, which is substantial.  Hayward’s departure would make a trip to Houston next April all but impossible.  If he comes back, though, that means the Hayward/Shelvin Mack/Matt Howard/Ronald Nored nucleus would all be returning, and we’re confident that coach Brad Stevens can groom players to fill the spaces left by Veasley and Jukes.  Butler has no commitments within the top 100, but we doubt Stevens is sweating.

Sullinger, a Columbus native, already has the Buckeye staff smiling. (G. Housteau)

Marquette took a step in replacing the graduated Lazar Hayward today by signing 6’6 SF/PF Jae Crowder, the junior college player of the year.  Crowder averaged almost 19 PPG and led Howard College (TX) to the juco title this year.  This one had been known for some time, but Marquette coach Buzz Williams made the official announcement today.

Despite Kentucky’s recruiting haul today, as it pertains to the class of 2010, the top rating still belongs to Ohio State.  They’re extremely excited about getting 6’8 PF Jared Sullinger (2) on campus (as well they should be), in addition to 6’8 SF Deshaun Thomas (12), 6’4 SG Lenzelle Smith, Jr. (80), and 6’4 SG Jordan Sibert (82).  North Carolina isn’t far behind, with Roy Williams bringing in the top-ranked player in the class in 6’8 SF Harrison Barnes (1), 6’6 SG Reggie Bullock (18), and 6’4 PG Kendall Marshall (22).  With Kentucky rumored to be leading for at least two other players within the top 30, and eight players in the top 100 still undecided, the matter of who has the best recruiting class could be altered as soon as this Saturday at the Jordan Brand Classic in New York City, where more players are expected to announce their college intentions.

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