Morning Five: 10.28.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 28th, 2010

  1. For some strange reason, the preseason all-SEC first team has nine players on it and Kentucky’s Brandon Knight is not a member.  Here’s your list, as voted on by the coaches: Dee Bost (Mississippi State); JaMychal Green (Alabama); Scotty Hopson (Tennessee); Travis Leslie (Georgia); Chandler Parsons (Florida); Marshawn Powell (Arkansas); Jeffery Taylor (Vanderbilt); Trey Thompkins (Georgia); Chris Warren (Ole Miss).  We won’t list the second team, but it had another eight players on it, amounting to a total of seventeen all-SEC preseason players.  Is it really so hard, SEC brass, to do three five-person teams?  Who is the genius who thought of this and why does it continue to happen?
  2. Pitt junior forward Nasir Robinson had surgery on Wednesday for a torn meniscus in his right knee after injuring it in practice on Monday of this week.  There was no long-term damage and the prognosis is that Robinson will be back in action in the next three to six weeks.  He was a full-time starter last season in his role as a mop-up man to the tune of 7/6 per game.  The best case scenario is that he would be back in the Panther lineup against Maryland at MSG in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic on November 18.  Luckily for Jamie Dixon, he has plenty of frontcourt depth (Gary McGhee, Dante Taylor) to lean on in the interim.
  3. Things just got a lot tougher for new Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery, as his star player Matt Gatens injured his left hand and had surgery on Wednesday to repair a torn tendon.  His layoff is currently indeterminate in length, but goodness, the Hawkeyes, coming off a 10-22 (4-14 B10) disaster last season, surely could have used some better news going into the start of the year.
  4. It appears that current WAC members Nevada and Fresno State will not bail from the conference in 2011 to go to the Mountain West as they’ve repeatedly threatened to do — it will instead happen in 2012.  A teleconference has been announced for today and the WAC is expected to declare that the feuding parties have come to an agreement where they will pay reduced walkaway fees in exchange for sticking around an additional year.  We’re actually kind of excited to see some of the clever signage that students at some of the remaining WAC schools might come up with this year and next when the Wolf Pack and Bulldogs visit town.
  5. We mentioned that this would ultimately happen in a M5 over the summer, and it’s now come to fruition — John Wooden’s den is now on permanent display at the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame, just a few paces away from the House that Wooden Built, Pauley Pavilion.  This is something that we’re most definitely planning on visiting the next time were down in LA.  When we do, expect a full report on the place.
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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Upper Midwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 25th, 2010

For the second October in a row, we’re bringing you our RTC Impact Players series.  The braintrust has gone back and forth on this and we’ve finally settled on a group of sixty players throughout ten geographic regions of the country (five starters plus a sixth man) to represent the who and where of players you should be watching this season.  Seriously, if you haven’t seen every one of these players ball at least once by the end of February, then you need to figure out a way to get a better television package.  As always in a subjective analysis such as this, some of our decisions were difficult; many others were quite easy.  What we can say without reservation is that there is great talent in every corner of this nation of ours, and we’ll do our best to excavate it over the next five weeks in this series that will publish on Mondays and Thursdays.  Each time, we’ll also provide a list of some of the near-misses as well as the players we considered in each region, but as always, we welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments.

You can find all previous RTC 2010-11 Impact Players posts here.

Upper Midwest Region (MI, WI, MN, IA, NE, SD, ND)

  • Kalin Lucas – Sr, G – Michigan State.  Few elite players and certainly no other senior elite players will enter this season as more of an unknown quantity than Kalin Lucas. Coming off a solid junior season where he averaged 14.8 points and 4.0 assists per game, Lucas and the Spartans were poised for yet another run at the Final Four before a torn Achilles tendon in the second round against Maryland supposedly ended those hopes along with the possibility that Lucas might declare for the 2010 NBA Draft, already lacking in depth at the point guard position. We all know what happened instead (MSU rallied to yet another Final Four even without their starting point guard).  All indications point to Lucas having recovered from the untimely injury to near 100%, but we can’t help but wonder if his explosiveness, which already was a concern for NBA teams, might be compromised. Lucas is certainly fast enough when he gets going in the open court, but his first step has never been at the level of the other elite point guards he has been compared to and a potential reluctance to push off that torn left Achilles tendon may hinder that more. Despite the questions, Tom Izzo is certainly happy to have Lucas and his all-around skills and intangibles back in East Lansing—there are very few All-American point guards in BCS conferences that stick around for their senior season—and if Michigan State is going to make a push to yet another Final Four it will be Lucas who will again be the driving force. Having lost the enigmatic but explosive Raymar Morgan and equally enigmatic but troublesome Chris Allen, Izzo will expect Lucas to carry an increased offensive load while still distributing the ball to wings Durrell Summers and Draymond Green along with the talented Delvon Roe, who has yet to fulfill the promise he showed coming out of high school. If Lucas is able to meet those expectations, he could have a senior season much like one of his Spartan predecessors (Mateen Cleaves) that results in the Spartans cutting down the nets in Houston next April.

Lucas Returns For a Last Final Four Shot

  • Blake Hoffarber – Sr, G – Minnesota. Here’s the thing about Blake Hoffarber: he’s probably not the best player on this Minnesota team, maybe not even the third or fourth best player, but he is absolutely critical to their success, perhaps the most important player on the team in that regard. Guys like Al Nolen and Devoe Joseph, Ralph Sampson, III, and Colton Iverson, are all probably more talented and more complete players than Hoffarber, but last year’s Golden Gopher results tell the tale of a team that succeeded when Hoffarber succeeded and failed when he failed. In the 15 games in which Hoffarber scored ten or more points last season, Minnesota went 13-2; in the remaining 20 games when he scored less than ten, they were 8-12. The lesson is simple: Hoffarber needs to score for this team to be successful. And given that Hoffarber’s offensive game is almost entirely predicated on hitting spot-up threes, maybe the true impact player here should be Joseph or Nolen, getting Hoffarber good looks on drive-and-dish. Or maybe it should be Sampson and Iverson for sucking in defenders in the post or kicking out offensive rebounds that eventually find their way into Hoffarber’s hands. But the point remains, Hoffarber needs to get and hit threes for the Gophers to be successful. His offensive numbers tell the story well, as last season Hoffarber was the most efficient offensive player in the nation, but only used 14% of all Gopher possessions when he was in the game. He scored a total of 351 points last season, 255 of which came from behind the arc (at an impressive 46% clip, leading to an effective field goal percentage of 67.3%, good for fourth in the nation). Of the remaining 96 points, 28 came from the line, meaning he scored just 34 hoops inside the arc, less than one point per game. Basically, Hoffarber is the very essence of a pure shooter – you really don’t need to worry about him going around anybody and the only open looks he’ll create for teammates is when he draws defenders to him at the line and rotates the ball around the arc. Sure, he contributes a handful of rebounds a game and rarely turns the ball over, he passes pretty well and is a decent if unspectacular defender, but when it comes right down to it, he’s “just a shooter” – one of the best in the nation upon whom the Golden Gophers’ chances depend, but in the end, still “just a shooter.”

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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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Checking in on the… Big Ten

Posted by nvr1983 on February 3rd, 2009

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

Looking Back
It’s hard to believe, but Wisconsin now sits in 9th place in the conference after losing six games in a row. There’s a lot of hemming and hawing up in the Badger State right now with some pointing to a “recruiting hiccup”, but the truth is that the Badgers have just lost a lot of close games including two overtime contests. In fact, this team is 8 points away from being in first place in the Big Ten. They probably aren’t that good, but they’re better than 9th place as they have the league’s 2nd best offense and 6th best efficiency margin. Take them lightly at your own peril.

Illinois was blitzed by Minnesota in Williams Arena this past week, held to the team’s lowest point total in 24 years. It was a fine defensive performance by Tubby Smith‘s team, which had been struggling on the defensive end up until that point. Freshman Ralph Sampson III continues to impress, and has even outplayed the more highly-touted Delvon Roe in conference play.

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