Michigan Continues Rolling Despite Key Personnel Losses

Posted by Ryan O'Neil on December 18th, 2018

Michigan’s Ignas Brazdeikis Has Been a Huge Surprise (USA Today Images)

Michigan is just 11 games into the season but this is already turning out to be John Beilein’s magnum opus. It was reasonable to expect that the Wolverines would take a step back from last season’s national runner-up performance, but Michigan — fueled by an elite defense (third nationally, per KenPom) — has just continued chugging along. A team that lost three starters has already locked up a trio of top-15 offenses (Villanova, North Carolina and Purdue), and when necessary, has also shown that it can dictate tempo. In the Wolverines’ ACC/Big Ten Challenge win over the Tar Heels last month, Michigan struggled with the pace of the game early until settling down and holding the Heels to just 46 points over the final 33 minutes.

Some of Michigan’s defensive success is attributable to how the Wolverines defend ball screens. Beilein teaches his players to “surf” ball screens, where the guard gets over the screen while the big man forces the ball-handler to move sideways or retreat. But the most vital part of any ball-screen defense comes with off-ball rotations, and the Wolverines are particularly adept at rotating and guarding in mismatches. Long and athletic players like Ignas Brazdeikis, Charles Matthews and Jordan Poole give Beilein great defensive versatility: all three can guard the wing, and Matthews and Brazdeikis in particular can defend the post too. Jon Teske has also developed into a defensive force; the anchor in the post has already logged four games this season in which he has recorded three or more blocks.

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2018-19 RTC16: Week Two

Posted by Walker Carey on December 3rd, 2018

Right around the beginning of December, the college basketball world begins to really notice which teams may have been severely underrated in the preseason. This year, #5 Michigan is the most glaring example of a team whose significant early season success has been wholly unexpected. The Wolverines began the year with several question marks stemming from the loss of significant production from last season’s national runner-up squad. Because of that looming uncertainty, John Beilein‘s team did not receive even a single vote in the preseason RTC16. So far, that has turned out to be a big omission, as Michigan sits at 8-0 following a week in which it laid waste to both #11 North Carolina and a solid Purdue team. Sophomore guard Jordan Poole and junior forward Jon Teske have taken crucial steps forward this season, and freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis has emerged as a viable offensive weapon. Their development has aided veteran guards Zavier Simpson and Charles Matthews in leading the Wolverines to their unbeaten start. It should be a requirement to not overlook a Beilein team in the preseason because he has proven time and time again that the Wolverines are usually going to surpass expectations. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Thoughts.

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What’s Trending: The ACC/Big Ten Challenge & More…

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 3rd, 2018

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

Two weeks ago, college basketball fans were treated to a Feast Week that featured Gonzaga vs. Duke in Maui, Virginia vs. Wisconsin in the Bahamas and Kansas vs. Tennessee in Brooklyn. This past week brought us the perfect dessert to the meal with the 20th annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge. This season’s event, as always, included a plethora of quality match-ups…

https://twitter.com/accmbb/status/1067103946186067968

The challenge this year included Michigan soundly beating North Carolina by 17 points, as Wolverines’ freshman Iggy Brazdeikis scored a season-high 24 points in a dominant performance. Michigan’s elite defense stifled the Tar Heels all game long, as the below sequence shows…

https://twitter.com/BigTenNetwork/status/1068000299506225152

The challenge this year included Wisconsin making plays in crunch time. The Badgers overcame a 12-point second half deficit to beat NC State. The below sequence sealed things…

The challenge this year included last-second drama. Pittsburgh was down a point with the ball in the closing seconds against Iowa. Unfortunately for the Panthers, the final few seconds included nothing more than these two airballs….

The challenge this year included an ACC team draining a game-winning shot in the final seconds. Leonard Hamilton‘s Florida State club trailed Purdue by eight points with under four minutes to go, but the deficit was just one point with ten seconds remaining. Then, the Seminoles’ Trent Forrest stepped up…

https://twitter.com/theACCDN/status/1068003704312233984

The challenge this year featured 14 games and each conference walked away with seven victories. Thank you ACC, thank you Big Ten, for another terrific challenge.

https://twitter.com/theACCDN/status/1068007237413732352

The challenge this year featured a number of individual efforts and plays as well. There was Zion doing #Zionthings in Duke‘s win over Indiana…

https://twitter.com/br_CBB/status/1067633045904199681

The challenge this year featured Wisconsin‘s Brad Davison taking five charges….

https://twitter.com/espn/status/1067663730316636161

Outside of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge last week, college basketball also experienced a rather sizable lowlight. Despite having access to countless respected advanced analytics platforms and plenty of smart people offering to help the NCAA develop its system, it decided to handle the job on its own. The organization unveiled its initial NET Rankings on Wednesday morning…

https://twitter.com/marchmadness/status/1067105577661276160

And well, within a half-hour Twitter ripped apart the new system. Whether that meant Nate Silver offering this opinion…

The NET rankings also gave us the least talked about upset of a “#1” team ever…

This past week also featured March Madness darling Sister Jean jumping back into our lives as she was given a Final Four ring at Loyola (Chicago)

This past week also featured two plays that flew under the radar. First, Western Kentucky’s Josh Anderson registered this dunk which could be up against any dunk of the week…

And finally, Eastern Kentucky’s Nick Mayo found the ball in his hands in the waning seconds against High Point…

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Ten Questions to Consider: Early Conference Action? Edition

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 30th, 2018

As November comes to a close, we are starting to have an idea of what teams will look like this season. Here are 10 questions I have for a group heading into this weekend’s action.

Michigan and Purdue Meet in an Early Monster Big Ten Match-Up (USA Today Images)

  1. Can the Badgers end their skid against the Hawkeyes? (Wisconsin @ Iowa, Friday 8 PM EST, Big Ten Network) Wisconsin begins Big Ten play on the last day of November with a trip to Iowa. The Badgers come to Iowa City having lost two straight to the Hawkeyes. In last season’s defeat, the trio of Ethan Happ, Khalil Iverson and the seldom used Charles Thomas made 20-of-35 shots while the rest of the Badgers went 6-of-30 from the field.
  2. Can San Francisco continue its hot start in Northern Ireland? (San Francisco vs. Stephen F. Austin, Friday 8 AM EST) The Hall of Fame Belfast Classic will give four mid-majors an opportunity to pick up a pair of quality wins this weekend. While the WCC is often Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and everyone else, USF is making its presence felt so far this seaon. The Dons are a perfect 5-0 to date and have a chance to pick up quality wins against Stephen F. Austin and potentially Buffalo. A pair of victories here could further the WCC’s notion of becoming a three-bid league next March.
  3. How will Gonzaga fare in its first true road game of the season? (Gonzaga @ Creighton, Saturday 2 PM EST, Fox) Gonzaga hits the road for its first true road game of the year in Omaha against Creighton. The Bulldogs must deal with an elite shooting team in the Bluejays, which have made at least nine three-pointers in every game while Gonzaga has allowed that many only once.
  4. Can Purdue’s offense be effective against Michigan’s elite defense? (Purdue @ Michigan, Saturday 3:30 PM, ESPN) In Purdue’s recent two losses, star guard Carsen Edwards committed 14 turnovers while handing out 11 assists. This early blockbuster Big Ten match-up will be interesting as Michigan’s defensive focus is staying in front of its opponent and making every shot difficult — more so than creating turnovers.
  5. Can USC get a resume-building win over Nevada? (Nevada @ USC, Saturday 4:30 PM EST, Fox) USC sits at 5-2 with all five of its wins against teams with a KenPom ranking outside of the top 200. With Nevada coming into the Galen Center on Saturday afternoon, the Trojans have an opportunity to add a marquee win to their resume. In order to have a chance, USC will need Bennie Boatwright to shine and for Kevin Porter Jr. to play after missing the last two games with a quad bruise. Read the rest of this entry »
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2018-19 RTC 16: Week One

Posted by Walker Carey on November 26th, 2018

The college basketball season really got cooking during a Feast Week that featured two top-five match-ups that could easily be played again at the Final Four in Minneapolis. #1 Gonzaga and #3 Duke tipped things off Wednesday evening in what was an extremely entertaining Maui Invitational title game. The veteran Bulldogs led by as many as 16 points before withstanding a furious Blue Devils rally to escape with a thrilling 89-87 victory. Not to be outdone, #2 Kansas and #5 Tennessee turned in their own early season classic on Friday in the title game of the Preseason NIT. The Jayhawks used a dynamite performance from star forward Dedric Lawson — coupled with the good fortune of Tennessee star big man Grant Williams fouling out prior to overtime — to emerge victorious with an 87-81 result. The college hoops regular season is much more of a marathon than a sprint, but these early season treats serve as a good reminder of how compelling it can be when we have the pleasure of watching some of the best teams in the country face off against one another.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

  • Gonzaga is the new #1 team. Following its impressive win over #3 Duke in the Maui Invitational title game, Gonzaga is the new #1 team in this week’s RTC16. Mark Few‘s squad is loaded with the talent all over the court, highlighted by sophomore guard Zach Norvell Jr. and junior forward Rui Hachimura. What might be the most impressive aspect of the current Bulldogs is that they have emerged to these heights without the services of excellent junior forward Killian Tillie, who remains sidelined with an ankle injury. Gonzaga’s non-conference slate does not get much easier this week, as it faces a good North Dakota State program on Monday before hitting the road to play in what will be a raucous environment at Creighton on Saturday.

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Is the Big Ten Better Than Expected?

Posted by Ryan O'Neil on November 20th, 2018

Before the season began, there was a lot of skepticism nationally about the Big Ten, a conference that placed only three teams in the preseason AP Top 25: Michigan State (#10), Michigan (#19), and Purdue (#24). After Michigan State was thoroughly dominated by Kansas at the Champions Classic, the rhetoric only became more harsh. The conference’s presumed best team had been outplayed in every aspect by the Jayhawks, so experts and fans alike were left to wonder if the Big Ten was even worse than previously thought. Two weeks into the season, however, has introduced a different narrative — one of depth and quality rather than shallowness and despair.

Michigan is Rolling Again (USA Today Images)

Although Michigan State began the year as the highest-ranked team in the Big Ten, it appears as if its intrastate rival, Michigan, might just be the best team in the league. In the Wolverines’ Gavitt game, they dominated Villanova from start to finish en route to a 73-46 road win. John Beilein‘s squad, which has been led so far by freshman Ignas Brazdeikis and junior point guard Zavier Simpson, has the best defense in the country (per KenPom), and the Wolverines are particularly adept at turning turnovers (14.9% TO Rate) into points. Michigan’s next big test will be in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge next week against North Carolina.

Indiana also beat a ranked team when the Hoosiers easily knocked off #24 Marquette at home. While the Hoosiers took a one-point loss to Arkansas on Sunday, Archie Miller’s squad is already showing flashes of the team that it could become. The freshman backcourt of Rob Phinisee and Romeo Langford is talented and dynamic, serving as a better complement to Juwan Morgan than he’s had in the past. The biggest question for Indiana will be whether they can consistently win away from Assembly Hall.

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Ten Questions: Mid-November Intrigue

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 16th, 2018

While this weekend’s schedule is a little light as teams prepare for the nonstop action of Feast Week, here are 10 questions to consider as the season settles in.

Is Michigan Due For a Letdown? (USA Today Images)

  1. How will St. John’s fare in its only road non-conference game? (St. John’s at Rutgers, Friday 7 PM EST, BTN) St. John’s only road non-conference game takes place just down the road in New Jersey against local rival Rutgers. In Mustapha Heron‘s  first two games as a member of the Red Storm, he is averaging over 20 points per game.
  2. Will Arizona State avoid an upset in a potential trap game? (ed. note: this game was canceled last night because of smoke issues related to wildfires) (Arizona State @ San Francisco, Friday 10 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) Before Arizona State heads to Las Vegas to take on a ranked Mississippi State team, they will take on the Dons in San Francisco. After falling behind by 15 points early, San Francisco was only outscored by three points in the final 30 minutes of last season’s match-up in the desert.
  3. Has Stanford found Reid Travis 2.0 in KZ Okpala? (Wofford at Stanford, Friday 10 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) When Reid Travis decided to transfer to Kentucky, Stanford had to fill a large gap in its offense. Sophomore KZ Okpala has seen his scoring average explode from 10.0 as a freshman to 22.7 PPG through the first three games of the season.
  4. Will early season turnover woes be the deciding factor? (South Carolina vs. Providence, Saturday 2:30 PM EST, ESPN 3) Through three games South Carolina has committed 44 turnovers while Providence has committed 46 turnovers. Both the Gamecocks and Friars are forcing turnovers at a rate better than the national average, so winning the turnover battle will be crucial in this game.
  5. Can Charleston stay perfect with a win in Stillwater? (Charleston @ Oklahoma State, Sunday 4 PM EST) Coming off a 26-8 record last season, Charleston was picked second in the preseason CAA media poll. The Cougars feature two of the conference’s best players in Jarrell Brantley and Grant Riller. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State is struggling, having lost to #299 Charlotte already this season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Ten Questions to Consider: Weekend Hoops Are Back

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 9th, 2018

Move over college football, make room for the first weekend of college basketball! Here are 10 questions to consider heading into this weekend’s slate of games from Friday through Sunday.

Arkansas vs. Texas in the Armed Forces Classic is the Best Game of the Weekend (USA Today Images)

  1. Can Arkansas start another season with a win? (Armed Forces Classic, Arkansas vs. Texas, Friday 7 PM EST, ESPN) The Razorbacks have won 23 consecutive season openers, with their last loss coming against a top-five UMass team coached by none other than John Calipari to start the 1994-95 season. Mike Anderson’s squad will have to find a way to replace the 34.7 points per game left behind by Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon.
  2. After a disappointing 2017-18 season, will the Pac-12 pick up an early impressive road win for the conference resume? (Washington @ Auburn, Friday 9:30 PM EST, SEC Network) In their season-opening win against Western Kentucky, the Huskies shot 29.7 percent in the first half and trailed by nine points before getting it together in the second stanza. Washington will need to avoid a slow start against an Auburn team that shot 18-of-38 beyond the arc in its season opener.
  3. How will West Virginia look without Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles? (Buffalo at West Virginia, Friday 9 PM EST, ESPNU) While West Virginia returns a defensive stalwart in the form of shot-blocking machine Sagaba Konate, the Mountaineers will of course no longer have Jevon Carter around to pester opposing ball-handlers. Bob Huggins’ team opens against a Buffalo squad that returns four of five starters from a 26-win squad that took out Arizona in the NCAA Tournament last season.
  4. What will Kentucky look like against a team with less talent than Duke? (Southern Illinois @ Kentucky, Friday 7 PM EST, SEC Network) While a 34-point loss is never a good thing, Kentucky can at least take away the offensive successes of Reid Travis (22 points) and Keldon Johnson (23 points) against the Blue Devils. It’s also worth remembering that the Wildcats struggled to put away both Utah Valley and Vermont at Rupp Arena to start last season.
  5. Just how good will Carsen Edwards be for Purdue? (Ball State @ Purdue, Saturday 8 PM EST, Big Ten Network) Carsen Edwards began this season by scoring 30 points and making 7-of-11 shots from distance against Fairfield. Edwards, the Big Ten preseason Player of the Year, will be up against a Ball State team that won at Notre Dame a season ago and returns its top four scorers. Read the rest of this entry »
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Where 2018-19 Happens: Reason #2 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 5th, 2018

As RTC heads into its 12th season covering college hoops, it’s time to begin releasing our annual compendium of YouTube clips that we like to call Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball. These 30 snippets from last season’s action are completely guaranteed to make you wish the games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on Tuesday, November 6. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#2 – Where Surgical Efficiency Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-142014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17  and 2017-18 preseasons.

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Where 2018-19 Happens: Reason #3 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 4th, 2018

As RTC heads into its 12th season covering college hoops, it’s time to begin releasing our annual compendium of YouTube clips that we like to call Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball. These 30 snippets from last season’s action are completely guaranteed to make you wish the games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on Tuesday, November 6. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#3 – Where Splayed Out Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-142014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17  and 2017-18 preseasons.

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