Ten Questions to Consider: MLK Weekend Hoops

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 13th, 2018

Last weekend 11 of the 25 teams in the AP Poll lost a game. As we already know, in conference play, anything is possible. Here are 10 things to watch for this weekend.

Mike Brey Really Needs His Point Guard Back (USA Today Images)

  1. Can a short-handed Notre Dame find a way to stay close against North Carolina? Without the injured Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell available in its last two games, Notre Dame has shot 38.2 percent on two-point attempts and 23.1 percent on three-point attempts (yet still managed to beat Syracuse — go figure). With Farrell’s status still unclear heading into this weekend, the Irish will need production from T.J. Gibbs, Rex Pflueger, and Martinas Geben.
  2. Will the Cintas Center be the difference for Xavier? After dropping two straight games on the road, Xavier returns home to play Creighton. The Musketeers allowed both of their opponents last week (Providence and Villanova) to shoot the ball considerably better than what they typically allow.
  3. Can Texas A&M avoid an 0-5 start in the SEC?  Since starting the year 11-1, Texas A&M has lost its first four SEC games. The Aggies are coming off of a pair of one-point losses and need to find a way to turn its fortunes around very quickly. A&M hosts a Tennessee team that has struggled to keep its opponents off the offensive glass all season long, an area in which Texas A&M has shined.
  4. Is this an early “must-win” if Michigan State plans on winning the Big Ten? At 4-1 in the Big Ten, Michigan State is off to a fine start. That said, with the only loss coming to Ohio State and only a single game against Purdue to come, the Spartans could find themselves on the short end of several tie-breakers if they lose some games at home. Michigan State barely defeated Rutgers this week and now intrastate rival Michigan comes to town. Last season, star forward Miles Bridges shot over 54 percent on two-point attempts in conference play, but so far this year he is shooting just 37 percent on those same shots. Read the rest of this entry »
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What’s Trending: Entering December

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 4th, 2017

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

Feast Week ended with a fantastic close to the PK80 with Duke’s comeback against Florida. Monday marked the start of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge with Wisconsin traveling to Virginia. The game ended up going just as everyone imagined it would…

Thursday night alley-oops made a pair of headlines.  First there was Michigan State’s Miles Bridges doing this….

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ACC/Big Ten Challenge Preview: Part IV

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 30th, 2017

For the first time in its 19-year history, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge is being played over four days. With high profile schools such as Duke, Michigan State and North Carolina participating in last weekend’s PK80 tournament in Portland — which involved a handful of late Sunday night games — ESPN and the two leagues decided to push the event out an extra day rather than put all the marquee matchups on Wednesday. After three days of action, the ACC leads the challenge 11-2, clinching the overall event for the second year in a row in dominant fashion. Still, tonight’s finale between Notre Dame and Michigan State in East Lansing (ESPN – 7:00 PM ET) has a lot on the line for both teams. Here are some key storylines to follow.

Strength Against Strength: Notre Dame Offense vs. Michigan State Defense

Senior point guard Matt Farrell leads a talented Notre Dame offense into East Lansing to face the imposing Michigan State defense. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

The Fighting Irish come into this game with the fifth-best effective field goal percentage (60.4%) in college basketball, while the Spartans’ defensive rate (39.9%) ranks third nationally. Something’s got to give, right? It’s a little early in the season to make any sweeping statistical judgments, but perhaps it’s fair to gather predictive data from the few challenging games each school has played thus far. Notre Dame has faced one elite defense already — Wichita State in the Maui Invitational finals — and the Shockers held the Irish to a 52.9 percent effective field goal rate. Michigan State’s defense has faced two of the nation’s top-15 offenses (Duke and North Carolina) so far, holding both under 40 percent shooting on two-point shots. With that kind of rim-protection exhibited by Tom Izzo’s big men, expect the Irish to struggle to reach its normal shooting acumen.

Key Stat to Watch: Shot Volume

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On an Amazing Weekend of Basketball in Portland…

Posted by RJ Abeytia on November 27th, 2017

Nike’s goal was to get the best in college basketball together for Phil Knight’s 80th birthday, and a sport that has badly needed an on-court distraction from its off-court shambles absolutely put its best foot forward in Portland over the holiday weekend. The quality of the performances by many of the 16 teams in the double-bracket event has led me to a number of conclusions about the state of the game and this season. First of all, nobody who watched or attended Duke vs. Texas or Gonzaga vs. Florida OR Duke vs. Florida should have any time for arguments against the quality of the college basketball product being undermined in comparison with college football’s regular season. Both the electric atmosphere of the games in the Moda Center and the Veterans Memorial Coliseum and the quality thereof easily passed for elite March-caliber. Everything was great, and it’s still over three months before the first rounds ofthe NCAA Tournament.

Duke Used Consecutive Comebacks to Take Its Bracket of the PK80 (USA Today Images)

This of course begs a question about one-and-dones. Duke‘s Marvin Bagley III — who averaged 27.3 PPG and 10.0 RPG over the weekend — was every bit as good as advertised. After the championship game on Sunday night, Mike Kryzyzewski called the versatile freshman the “most unique player I’ve ever coached at Duke.” I don’t want this piece to digress into a debate on the merits of one-and-dones in college basketball, but suffice it to say that having talents like Bagley, Michael Porter, Jr. (injury notwithstanding) and DeAndre Ayton (Arizona’s Bahaman Nightmare notwithstanding) is great for college basketball. The Duke head coach went on to say in his postgame presser to support the larger point here: There are amazing things happening on the court these days, and the PK80 event played a far more vital role in spotlighting what’s good about the game than anyone could have anticipated. In the other bracket, sophomore “old man” Miles Bridges led Michigan State into a classic lockdown of defending national champion North Carolina, a team with which Coach K has some familiarity.

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Michigan State Needs More From Miles Bridges

Posted by Chris Hatfield on November 23rd, 2017

By many accounts, Michigan State sophomore Miles Bridges should no longer be in college. The body, the athleticism, the talent — it’s all there and screams one-and-done. That’s why so many observers were shocked when Bridges opted to forgo the NBA Draft over the summer. Never mind that now, though. It’s in the past. He is here and we have arrived at a point of pristine clarity. Whether fair or not, anything other than a 2018 National Championship for Michigan State will be viewed as a disappointment. Tom Izzo‘s seething six-word response of “I’m sick of holding my own” and discussion of embarrassment after losing to consensus #1 Duke last week at the Champions Classic make that obvious. The Spartans, however, will not get there without more production from their superstar. That’s not necessarily a statistical knock on him — after all, he’s nearly averaging a double-double with 19.5 PPG and 7.5 rebounds per game. You have to dig a little deeper, and Izzo hinted at it: “When they [Duke] were so good, a senior rose up.” Indeed.

Miles Bridges is Fantastic but He Needs to Take Over at the End (USA Today Images)

This may seem harsh. We have limited data points but an initial review is quite revealing. With 3:24 remaining in last week’s Duke game, everything was knotted up and Duke held possession of the ball. From that point, senior All-American Grayson Allen scored eight of Duke’s final 13 points while his counterpart Bridges only took two shots and scored a single meaningless bucket. That can’t happen in those spots. He can’t shy away from shouldering the weight of performing during crunch time.  He can’t defer to others. He’s too special and the Spartans don’t have a better alternative. They didn’t for Mateen Cleaves, a Spartan who put the team on his shoulders whenever necessary on the way to delivering Izzo his only National Championship. “The experienced guys have to take over at the end and let the freshmen fall behind us,” Bridges told the Big Ten Network after the game.

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The Models vs. the People: Who Is Right So Far?

Posted by William Ezekowitz on November 21st, 2017

With the rise of KenPom’s preseason rankings and the ratings of other models like it (SI and T-Rank, for example), projection models have become increasingly important in college basketball. But there is still a long way to go before these metrics-based systems replace the good old-fashioned eye test as represented in the national polls. The two varieties of projection mechanisms, both valid in their own right, disagreed about a few teams coming into this year. In this article, we will evaluate the differences on a few relevant teams to determine if we can settle on which method has been accurate so far. We’ll start by analyzing a couple of squads from the Big Ten before considering a couple others.

Minnesota. AP Rank: #15; KenPom Rank: #36

Jordan Murphy has helped Minnesota live up to expectations in the early season (Getty)

  • What the people thought: Minnesota spent the offseason as one of the most hyped teams in college basketball, as Nate Mason received plenty of all-Big Ten buzz and Amir Coffey appeared ready to make a huge leap. Richard Pitino’s Gophers were also expected to play their particular brand of stifling defense, bolstered by possibly the best shot blocker in college basketball, Reggie Lynch. There was a lot to like.
  • What the models saw: Neither Mason nor Coffey were especially efficient for the nation’s 77th-best offense, which meant this year’s outfit was set to improve on that end. The defense, while stifling, was below average in both turnovers forced and defensive rebounding, limiting its potential to become a top-10 unit.
  • Who has been right so far: The people. Jordan Murphy has been unexpectedly dominant through four games, putting up 23 points and 14 rebounds, for example, in a very impressive 12-point victory at Providence. The Gophers are humming along at 18th nationally in offensive efficiency, and if they can stay in that range they will certainly live up to their poll projection as the 15th-best team in the country.

Michigan State. AP Rank #2. KenPom Rank: #10

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Duke 88, #2 Michigan State 81

Posted by Walker Carey on November 14th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage of the Champions Classic in Chicago.

Three Key Takeaways.

Duke’s Grayson Allen Led the Blue Devils to a Marquee Victory (USA Today Images)

  1. This should be a game we all want to see again in San Antonio. While not always the most fundamentally sound contest, tonight’s clash between the Blue Devils and Spartans certainly lived up to the hype in terms of star power and excitement. Even though it was played in mid-November, it most certainly had a big game feel. Both the Duke and Michigan State fans that journeyed to the United Center for the showdown made their presence known throughout what was a hotly-contested affair. The only real bummer from the game was that Duke star freshman big man Marvin Bagley III left the game just prior to the 10-minute mark of the first half after taking an inadvertent poke to the eye from teammate Javin DeLaurier. Both squads feature many young contributors, so it is fair to assume they will each get better as the season progresses. At this point, it is difficult to argue that a Final Four or National Championship game between Duke and Michigan State would not once again be appointment viewing. These could be the best two teams in college basketball.
  2. Grayson Allen is once again going to be headline the news all season long. The player a majority of college basketball fans love to hate is back for his senior season — and, if tonight’s performance serves as any indication, that senior season is going to be rather noteworthy. While playing all 40 minutes, Allen led the Blue Devils to victory with a game-high 37 points (11-of-20 FG, 7-of-11 3FG) and came up with big shot after big shot down the stretch when his team needed them most. After a junior year that was marred by another tripping controversy, some nagging injuries and overall inconsistent play, the senior guard is beginning this season by letting his play garner the headlines. Considering Duke’s otherwise young roster, it would be beneficial for Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils if that trend continues throughout the season.
  3. Even in defeat, Michigan State can still take away some positives. The Spartans are certainly disappointed by tonight’s result, but disappointment should not be the only thing they take from this evening’s defeat. Even though he struggled to get in the lane for much of the night against Duke’s size and length, star sophomore Miles Bridges still finished the game with 19 points, five rebounds, four assists and four blocks. Michigan State also received a lift from its interior, as both freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. and sophomore Nick Ward battled valiantly with Duke’s frontcourt all night. Jackson finished with 19 points and seven rebounds while showcasing the reasons why he is considered an elite NBA prospect. Ward also chipped in 19 points while using his wide frame to force Duke’s young front line into some foul trouble. A loss is a loss, but this was one that left the Spartans with things they can build upon moving forward.

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Big Ten Opening Week: A Primer

Posted by Chris Hatfield on November 13th, 2017

Honestly, there’s not much good about winter as a season. If you live in a city like Chicago, for example, the only good thing about the cold is that college basketball has returned. That’s it. There is nothing else. Your face may freeze off outside but it’s a trade-off we have to make. What do you have to look forward to in the world of the Big Ten? Well, I’m glad you asked. Here are three things this week.

1. Duke vs. Michigan State, a Final Four Preview?

Two titans of the game set to go at it again this week. (Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports)

This is the first thing that has to be addressed. I don’t make the rules. It just has to happen this way. It’s the biggest game of the opening week in college basketball and, in all likelihood, the biggest of the opening month. We know nothing about these teams. We think we know things. We know some things, but others are educated guesses. Things go awry, outliers exist — that’s why we love the sport. I’ll be 100 percent there for Rush the Court preseason All-Americans like Miles Bridges and Nick Ward on the Michigan State side and Grayson Allen and Marvin Bagley on Duke’s. Beyond that, it seems a little different than just an early season game. It’s difficult to imagine a scenario where either team falls off the top two seed lines. You’re looking at the two teams with arguably the most talent in the country, and we could easily see them match up again in San Antonio next April. Will Michigan State, the less proven of the two teams, be ready for the moment? If so, I’ll certainly feel better about picking Sparty to cut down the nets. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten Preview Part VII: Key Questions for Minnesota & Michigan State

Posted by Chris Hatfield on November 10th, 2017

With the season almost here, Rush the Court’s Big Ten preview will tip off its coverage by posing season-defining key questions for each team. Today we address Minnesota and Michigan State.

#2 Minnesota – How will Richard Pitino handle elevated expectations?

Was Richard Pitino really on the hot seat last year? Maybe. After coming off an eight-win season the year prior, there was certainly pressure to be better. Just how much better is difficult to quantify, but it’s in the rear-view mirror now. The Gophers were improved, much improved last season, notching a 24-10 overall record (11-7 Big Ten) despite ending the season on a sour note with a First Round NCAA Tournament loss to Middle Tennessee State. Things are different now. Minnesota was picked to finish third in the Big Ten this preseason, is ranked 15th in the USA Today/Coaches Poll, and you would have to think making it past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is a reasonable expectation.

Amir Coffey has the chance to be special. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

Guard Amir Coffey — arguably the catalyst of the offense for the Gophers last year — could be the star. As a first-year starter, he ranked second on the team in scoring at 12.2 points per game while leading the team with a true shooting percentage of 55 percent. You would expect him to take another step forward this year. If that leap includes getting more shots right around the basket, that would be huge benefit for a Minnesota team that finished 77th in adjusted offensive efficiency last season. Freshman Isaiah Whitehead will join the fold and figures to impact things immediately as well. He’s a first-year talent the likes of which hasn’t been around Minneapolis for some time. Senior guard Nate Mason was voted preseason all Big-Ten along with inclusion on the Bob Cousy preseason watch list. All the pieces are in place for Pitino this season, but it will be for naught if Minnesota cannot adapt to the unfamiliar role of favorite. The head coach’s challenge will be ensuring that the Gophers are not overlooking teams and losing games they shouldn’t. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ten Questions to Consider: Opening Weekend Edition

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 10th, 2017

As the regular season tips off a little later today, here are 10 things worth asking about this weekend and beyond.

  1. Who takes a step forward for North Carolina? With Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley all gone — not to mention Joel Berry injured — North Carolina will be looking to replace a total of 64.4 points per game. The Tar Heels begin the season against a Northern Iowa team that likes to slow the pace and limit possessions. North Carolina cannot afford to be careless with the ball tonight.

    All eyes will be on Michael Porter Jr. this season. (Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports)

  2. What will Gonzaga be this season? The ‘Zags have won at least a share of the WCC regular season title in each of the past five seasons, yet they received only one of the 10 first place votes in the WCC preseason coaches poll. Three of its four double-figure scorers from last season are now gone — who will step up?
  3. How far can Michael Porter Jr. carry Missouri?: Missouri finished last season 3-20 against teams ranked in the KenPom top 100. The Tigers get an immediate chance to reverse that trend against Iowa State tonight with freshman sensation Michael Porter, Jr., who recently became only the fifth true freshman voted on to the preseason AP All-American team. Read the rest of this entry »
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