Big Ten Tournament X-Factors for Round One

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 13th, 2014

Without going into full-fledged preview mode for all four games set to tip off on Thursday in Indianapolis, here are some under-the-radar players to keep an eye on in round one. Some are more obscure than others, but all the players I’m highlighting were not named to any of the All-Conference teams on Monday. They all have a specific skill set, however, that can be used to exploit a weak spot on the team they are playing against in the first round.

Tracy Abrams' ability to get steals will go a long way toward determining if Illinois can beat Indiana on Thursday. (Stephen Haas, Lee News Service)

Tracy Abrams’ ability to get steals will go a long way toward determining if Illinois can beat Indiana on Thursday. (Stephen Haas/Lee News Service)

Illinois: Tracy Abrams — Indiana turns the ball over 21.7% of the time, and Abrams averages 1.2 pilfers a game. Abrams had 5 steals in the two teams previous games, and if he can be the defensive catalyst that leads to 23 Indiana turnovers — like what happened on December 31 when the Illini beat the Hoosiers in overtime — Illinois will move on to the second round.

Indiana: Devin Davis The Illini are only mediocre at getting their own misses (165th nationally), and Davis has been productive with increased minutes recently. He’s gotten 20 MPG in his last two games, and has a robust 21.6% defensive rebound rate in limited minutes for the season. That would be good for 6th in the conference had he played enough minutes to qualify, and if Crean gives him the playing time in this game, he’ll prevent Illinois from getting any second chance buckets. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Reviewing the Big Ten’s Bubble Teams Before Indy

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on March 12th, 2014

The Big Ten Tournament commences on Thursday and teams are either hoping to improve their seeding, resume, or win it outright. But these conference tournaments are always of most consequence to the bubble teams. It’s their final chance to rack up a quality win or two in order to impress the selection committee and see their name announced on Selection Sunday. Four Big Ten teams are on the bubble to varying degrees: Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana, and Illinois. The Cornhuskers and Gophers are squarely on it, while the Hoosiers and Illini are longshots at this point. According to bracketmatrix.com, the consensus view has Nebraska in the tourney as an #11 seed while most have Minnesota in their “first four out.” The table below displays the current profile for all four teams.

b1g bubble resumes 2014

Here’s what lies ahead for each of these teams heading into Indianapolis:

Indiana and Illinois. As it turns out, the two longshots face each other in the first round in the #8/#9 match-up on Thursday afternoon. So while one team will be automatically eliminated from bubble talk in its first game, the other will move on to face Michigan on Friday. Beating Michigan will be a tall task, as the outright Big Ten champs have won five straight — the last two of which were against Indiana and Illinois — and at 15-3 have been the hands-down best team in the league. That said, Michigan won a close game against the Hoosiers last Saturday and went to overtime against last-place Purdue a few weeks back, so they are not infallible. The Wolverines are #10 in the RPI and have an SOS of #9, so a win over Michigan here would be a significant boost to either team’s RPI and could advance that team on to the bubble.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten M5: 03.07.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 7th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Indiana more than likely saw their already slim NCAA Tournament hopes dashed by losing to Nebraska 70-60 on Wednesday night. Despite some flashes of quality play in some of their impressive wins they have gotten at home, this has really been a puzzling team to figure out through most of the season. Mediocre is a strong word to use for a team that lost two NBA lottery picks and two other senior starters, yet still has a 17-13 record. Inconsistent and unpredictable might be more apt terms to describe the 2013-14 Hoosiers. Their poor non-conference schedule hasn’t done them any favors as far as their resume goes, and it’s also lead to a team not being prepared for Big Ten play.
  2. Minnesota unexpectedly is losing a player who started 23 of their 30 games this season. Oto Osenieks is ending his basketball career after it was determined that a knee injury that he’s had multiple surgeries on simply is too damaged for him to continue on. Joey King has taken over the starting power forward spot, so look for he and Charles Buggs to continue getting the majority of the minutes at that spot.
  3. Ohio State faces a crucial test Sunday afternoon when they take on Michigan State. The game is significant because it’s Senior Day for Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. But Shannon Scott says that it’s more important to get the win “to get (us) into the best situation we can for the tournament.” Scott also said in the interview that he likes his role coming off the bench due to the fact that he can “fit in where (he) can and figure out what the team needs at the time and try and do it.” With Keith Appling of Michigan State having his best game in quite some time last night against Iowa, the Buckeyes will need big efforts from both Craft and Scott on Sunday night to make Senior Day a memorable one.
  4. Michigan’s sophomore class- especially Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, Glenn Robinson III, and the injured Mitch McGary- garner most of the headlines and publicity for the recently-crowned Big Ten regular season champions. But you can’t overlook the contributions of freshmen Derrick Walton Jr, and Zak Irvin. They both have showed much more consistency as the season has gone along, and Coach John Beilein believes their improvement has been the key to turning things around after a shaky non-conference part of their season. Both have had played really well and they have both blended in seamlessly as the season has gone along. Michigan has had some outstanding players make substantial jumps between their first and second seasons in Ann Arbor, and if this trend continues, Walton and Irvin will be Big Ten mainstays for as long as they are donning the maize and blue.
  5. Switching over to the other Michigan school in the league, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling played their last game in East Lansing for Michigan State last night when they beat Iowa 86-76. The pair are victims of the program’s past success, as they and fellow senior Dan Chapman will have been the first senior class under Tom Izzo to have not played in a Final Four. It hardly seems fair that many will view their time with the program to have been unsuccessful unless they advance four spots into the bracket without taking a loss. The Spartans took a small step toward that goal however by impressively beating the Hawkeyes. Appling looked to be much more comfortable, and if he really is healthy finally, this team can be just as good as everyone thought in the preseason.
Share this story

Big Ten’s 2014-15 Schedule Brings Back the Rivalries

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on March 3rd, 2014

The Big Ten released its schedule of 2014-15 games late last week and it appears that the rivalries are back. The conference has said it won’t be protecting basketball rivalries in the long run, but at least next season all the major rivalries will have home-and-homes: Indiana-Purdue, Michigan-Ohio State, Michigan-Michigan State, Wisconsin-Minnesota, Iowa-Minnesota, Northwestern-Illinois, and it even gives newcomers Maryland and Rutgers a home-and-home against each other. Before we fully focus on March Madness, here are a few thoughts on next season’s Big Ten schedule.

John Beilein and Michigan are competing for a conference championship this season and appear to have an advantage next year with the release of the 2014-15 B1G schedule. (Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)

John Beilein and Michigan are competing for a conference championship this season and appear to have an advantage next year with the release of the 2014-15 B1G schedule. (Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)

  • It is great to see the return of home-and-home rivalries next season. Indiana-Purdue and Ohio State-Michigan should never only play once, so hopefully next year’s effort to have them play twice continues or we could be in for a series of bland regular seasons in the near future. Rivalry games add intrigue and excitement for the fans even when the teams aren’t all that great (a good case in point was Mackey Arena for Purdue-Indiana a few weeks ago).
  • While it may be foolhardy to argue which teams will benefit from next season’s schedule as of today, the early winners appear to be Michigan, Wisconsin, Purdue and Rutgers. The Wolverines will certainly be happy to see two of its away games at Maryland and Penn State while avoiding trips to Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nebraska. Wisconsin must feel a similar way by seeing its home-and-home includes Northwestern and Penn State with only away games to Maryland and Rutgers — the Badgers also avoid a trip to the state of Indiana entirely, as well as Michigan State and the Izzone. Purdue is ecstatic to see two of the worst home court advantages in the conference are on its away slate in Northwestern and Penn State. While Rutgers’ road games aren’t the friendliest, it could certainly be worse, and its home-and-home schedule with Maryland, Penn State and struggling Purdue and Indiana squads looks promising for an inaugural campaign.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Some Key Questions Heading into Minnesota vs. Michigan

Posted by Brendan Brody and Alex Moscoso on March 1st, 2014

Minnesota traveling to Ann Arbor for a rematch with Michigan highlights the slate of the games this weekend in the Big Ten. There is a great deal on the line for both teams, as the Gophers look to pick up what would be an enormous resume boost that would come from beating the league’s first place team in their building. Michigan would inch that much closer toward picking up at least a share of the Big Ten regular season crown with a victory. RTC’s Big Ten correspondents Brendan Brody and Alex Moscoso  look at some of what to watch for if you’re tuning in (BTN 6:oo EST).

Jordan Morgan must keep Elliott Eliason off the glass Saturday when Michigan plays Minnesota. (Adam Hunger, Getty Images).

Jordan Morgan must keep Elliott Eliason off the glass Saturday when Michigan plays Minnesota. (Adam Hunger, Getty Images).

Brendan Brody: Michigan showed how dangerous they can be when they hit threes and play at a quicker tempo in their last win over Iowa. Does Michigan try and run with them, or do they try and play at a slower pace?

Alex Moscoso: I’ve coached exactly zero minutes of organized basketball, but it would seem to me that deviating from what you do best is a recipe for disaster. And what Michigan does best is offense. Granted, Minnesota has also shown it’s at its best when they are getting up and down the court-relying on the sharpshooting of Andre Hollins and Deandre Mathieu’s ability to get to the rim. However, if I was John Beilein, I would be ecstatic if Minnesota wanted to get in a track meet with his squad on Saturday. Michigan scores more efficiently (1.21 to 1.14 points per possession), shoots the ball better (55.2% to 51.4% eFG), and virtually runs the same pace as the Gophers (63 to 64.7 adjusted tempo). The question may be, are the Gophers going to be able to run with Michigan. I mentioned Hollins earlier, and he clearly hasn’t been the same since hurting his ankle against Wisconsin. How can Minnesota still win this game if Hollins isn’t effective offensively?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten M5: 02.28.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 28th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. For the first time in quite a while, Michigan State should have its full roster intact on Saturday when the Spartans take on Illinois. Branden Dawson will return to action for the first time in nine games, although head coach Tom Izzo doesn’t know how much he’ll be able to play. Dawson will have to wear a brace on his injured hand, but as long as said brace doesn’t hinder his ability to rebound and play defense, it shouldn’t be an issue. Even with players not necessarily playing at 100 percent health-wise, the Spartans will gain a lot of credibility with the selection committee by winning their last three with their lineup fully in place.
  2. Ben Brust has been slightly off shooting the ball as of late. He turned things around last game in the second half against Indiana however, and in the process became the 38th player in Wisconsin history to hit the 1,000-point plateau. Brust credited his teammates for this accomplishment saying, noting that “he was lucky to have good players when I got here to set an example for me.” Brust is shooting a slightly lower percentage (37.0%) on threes this season than in his last two (38.9% in both his sophomore and junior seasons), but he’s posting a much higher offensive rating and is knocking down almost 90 percent of his free throws. He could garner even more space in Wisconsin basketball lore with a hot shooting streak come March.
  3. Illinois is starting to turn things around after the Illini lost eight games in a row during conference play. They’ve now won three out of five games since they switched their starting lineup, putting Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn into the starting unit in place of seniors Jon Ekey and Joseph Bertrand. With their win against Nebraska on Wednesday night, the Illini guaranteed themselves a .500 record for the regular season. If they can miraculously win out against the likes of Michigan State, Michigan and Iowa, they may even have a remote opportunity to play themselves back onto the bubble. In this year’s Big Ten, you never know.
  4. That last statement could definitely also be applied to what happened with Minnesota forward Charles Buggs and his performance Tuesday night at The Barn. In this year’s Big Ten, you never know, and no one would have imagined or thought that someone who had played a grand total of 21 minutes all season could score 13 points and ignite a rally that may have saved the Gophers season. Buggs almost transferred in the midst of the coaching transition, but stick around because he thought his athleticism would work well in their up-tempo system. With Oto Osenieks hobbled with a knee problem, Buggs may have won himself extended time the rest of the season at the power forward spot.
  5. Anyone who saw the transition and success Northwestern had during their mid-season turnaround had to have noticed that JerShon Cobb was a huge part of their efforts. It was announced on Thursday afternoon that due to lingering knee and foot problems, Cobb will not play the rest of the season. Cobb will be heard from again as a senior leader for the 2014-15 version of the Wildcats, but for now they will struggle to win games for the rest of the 2013-14 campaign. This makes an already short bench even shorter, and hurts them defensively by losing Cobb’s length at the guard spot.
Share this story

Big Ten M5: 02.27.13 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on February 27th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. It’s common to think about Michigan State‘s numerous injury woes this season when discussing Sparty. With a rotation that relies so heavily on its starters, the losses of players throughout the regular season have been critical. Tom Izzo will get a chance to put a full and healthy lineup on the floor, though, with Branden Dawson due back in action soon, and his return will be critical for the Spartans to get back on track defensively. Dawson has been a strong defender for the team when he has played and his ability to limit the need for switching on ball screens will be helpful. Adreian Payne has struggled with that adjustment, so Dawson’s return means fewer issues for him and the whole team on the defensive end of the floor.
  2. There may not be a tougher way for Purdue to lose a game than it did last night against Michigan. The Boilermakers never trailed in regulation but lost in overtime by a single point on  buzzer-beater. Matt Painter’s team was perfect from the free throw line (a huge shock for the league’s worst foul shooting team) until its very last free throw, the front end of a one-and-one that left them ahead by only one. Finally, it was Glenn Robinson III, the son of one of Purdue’s all-time greats, who hit the tough baseline drive that rolled in for the win as the buzzer expired. It can only be described accurately as a “level one” stomach punch for Purdue fans. The ending was certainly troublesome, but maybe worse is that the team blew a 19-point lead in about 20 minutes of action. At home. Purdue now has to find two wins somewhere to make it to .500 on the season, which is no guarantee given its remaining schedule (away games at Iowa and Wisconsin followed by a home game vs. Northwestern).
  3. It has become a familiar trend for Indiana fans this season. The Hoosiers show flashes of brilliance on the road only to have it all come crashing down defensively in the second half. For the third time this season, Indiana held a double-figure lead on a road opponent (Wisconsin) and lost. Most troubling for the Hoosiers was Yogi Ferrell’s admission that nothing changed for the Badgers offensively; rather, the team just simply stopped defending as well in the second half. It is understandable that after a 19-point first half that the Badgers weren’t going to continue to shoot so poorly, but Indiana went from a 10-point halftime lead to an 11-point loss in relatively short order. That’s why Tom Crean’s team is headed to the NIT this season.
  4. Wisconsin has certainly had some big swings this season. It went from undefeated and No. 3 in the national polls to not being ranked at all in a matter of weeks. Now, the Badgers appear to be back in the neighborhood of being considered a Final Four contender. The big reason for this change is that its shooting and scoring have returned from the brief  hiatus. The persuasive number to consider here is that in the Badgers’ recent six-game winning streak they are scoring 1.18 points per possession, up from 1.04 points per possession during its five losses. This observation makes the answer on whether Wisconsin can run to the Final Four pretty simple. If the Badgers are hitting their shots, then their offensive versatility certainly makes it a potential team to see in North Texas.
  5. The bubble is always a scary place for a team. Minnesota certainly helped its NCAA Tournament case by getting a statement win over Iowa on Tuesday. The Golden Gophers aren’t yet off the bubble, but they helped their case tremendously by beating the Hawkeyes. At 18-11 with games against Michigan and Penn State remaining (plus the Big Ten Tournament), it has a good chance to reach the 20-win plateau. If the Golden Gophers win both of these games and their opening conference tournament game, they should be safely in the Dance. But in order to leave nothing up to chance, it wouldn’t be recommended to drop both games and hope for a run through what will be one of the nation’s most competitive conference tournaments.
Share this story

Big Ten M5: 02.26.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 26th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Ohio State has gone 6-1 since it put Sam Thompson into the starting lineup. Thompson’s production didn’t change too much at the beginning of the switch, but he’s been significantly better over his last couple of games including a team-high 19 points in Ohio State’s 64-46 win over Minnesota on Saturday. This effort drew the praise of Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino, saying Thompson “is what college basketball is all about.” Pitino, interestingly enough, had recruited Thompson when he was an assistant coach at Florida under Billy Donovan. Thompson has always been an elite athlete, and if his improved offense isn’t just an aberration, he’ll be on the NBA’s radar very soon if he’s not already.
  2. Another wing who has been raising eyebrows with his play of late has been Michigan’s Caris LeVert. Unlike Thompson, however, LeVert has been playing well all season long. Dylan Burkhardt does a tremendous job breaking down the specifics of how well LeVert has played on the offensive end this season. You can see with some of the raw data that he is a multi-dimensional scorer who can beat defenses in a number of ways. He’s underrated as a spot-up shooter, but he is equally adept at breaking his man down off of the dribble. Tim Hardaway, Jr., is having a really good season in the NBA with the Knicks, yet LeVert has numbers as a sophomore that are comparable to Hardaway’s junior year statistics.
  3. Kendrick Nunn was the most highly-rated member of John Groce’s first Illinois recruiting class, but the freshman had his fair share of struggles in non-conference play, causing many Illinois fans to question what all the hype was all about. Nunn has quieted his critics with his play of late, showing why he was so well-regarded in the first place. He’s shown a keen ability to drive and finish, and has also shot the ball from the outside much better than scouting reports would lead you to believe. He’s hit 37.3 percent of his three-pointers on the year, going 11-of-22 in the four games when he’s been a starter.
  4. There have not been too many (if any) Big Ten players to come out of the basketball hotbed known as Chadron, Nebraska, but this is where Minnesota pivot man Elliott Eliason hails from, forging an unlikely path for someone on a Big Ten roster. Eliason has dealt with quite a bit of skepticism about his talent after not playing against quality competition in high school, and he seems to be his own worst critic, which is why some of his on-court reactions can be a bit too much to handle sometimes. Despite a lack of productivity lately, he was still third in the conference in rebounding coming into Tuesday night’s games. He’s also averaging 2.2 BPG, and will be a main cog if Minnesota gets things back on track closing out the season.
  5. Nebraska has one objective closing out the year if it wants to defy expectations and get to the program’s first NCAA Tournament since 1998. They simply need to win one game at a time and then let everything play out accordingly. Coach Tim Miles has the team believing in the mantra, “avoid the noise,” tuning out all of the talk about bubbles and RPI and instead focusing on the things it can control. This all starts with their game tonight against an Illinois team that is playing somewhat better lately. Sitting at 8-6 right now, it would be interesting to see what the selection committee would do with a Big Ten team that has an 11-7 or even a 10-8 record in conference play.
Share this story

Big Ten Weekend in Review: A Champion is Crowned?

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 24th, 2014

I’m not privy to what the exact numbers were in terms of Vegas odds of Michigan winning the Big Ten once Mitch McGary went down with a back injury, but they probably weren’t very favorable. With their 79-70 win on Sunday afternoon over Michigan State, however, the Wolverines are now looking like they have things close to wrapped up with four games left against teams with a combined conference record of 20-36. Meanwhile, Michigan State still has tough games to come against Iowa and at Ohio State. Michigan would have to lose twice to teams it should beat, while Michigan State would have to win out to notch the outright regular season crown. So now the drama shifts to spots #3-#6 in the standings, with the emphasis on getting into the top four positions and wrapping up a bye for the first round of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. Wisconsin got another RPI-enhancing win at Iowa Saturday, while Ohio State and Nebraska took care of their home court with wins over Minnesota and Purdue, respectively. There is now exactly one game separating each of these spots in the standings. Here’s the rest of what happened in the weekend slate.

Nik Stauskas returned to his earlier form as Michigan dispatched Michigan State on Sunday. (Gregory Shamus, Getty)

Nik Stauskas returned to his earlier form as Michigan dispatched Michigan State on Sunday. (Gregory Shamus, Getty)

Player of the Weekend: Nik Stauskas: This was the Nik Stauskas who had played himself into consideration for Big Ten Player of the Year earlier in the season. After struggling some in recent games, he came out and made another strong statement on Sunday. He ended up dropping 25 points on Sparty, and also added five assists for good measure. Stauskas didn’t float around the perimeter and let himself be easily guarded; instead he aggressively moved without the ball and was able to unleash a barrage of points from all over the floor. After a slow start in the first half, he scored 21 of his 25 points in the second by getting to the basket, finding space in the mid-range, and from his customary spot behind the arc. He made some phenomenal passes out of the pick-and-roll, including a late-game back-breaker on a lob to Glenn Robinson III in the closing minutes. If this was a one-on-one battle between the Canadian sharpshooter and Michigan State’s Gary Harris for B1G Player of the Year, Stauskas may have wrapped it up with his performance over the weekend.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten M5: 02.21.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 21st, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Minnesota did some severe damage to their NCAA Tournament chances with a loss at home to bottom-feeder Illinois Wednesday night. There were almost too many problems to name for the Gophers if one were to catalog exactly what went wrong. A good starting point would be the fact that they shot 4-for-25 from three-point range. Deandre Mathieu did not have a good game at all, as his point total matched his turnover total with 3 of each. He fouled out in 24 minutes, showing that Minnesota will only finish strong in their last 4 games if he’s on his game.
  2. East Lansing has loosely resembled a soap opera for much of the season, but all was well for Michigan State Thursday night. They simply went nuts on Purdue from the perimeter in beating them 94-75 in West Lafayette. The Spartans hit 17 three’s on the game, and 13 of them came in the first half. Gary Harris was the ringleader, as he continued to make schools in his home state of Indiana pay. Harris has shot an absurd 56.9 percent from three in his career against Indiana and Purdue.  If this game is the beginning of a hot streak for the future lottery pick, then much of the drama surrounding the program due to injury concerns could very easily go away.
  3. Harris was one high school star from the Hoosier state that went elsewhere, but James Blackmon Jr. will be donning the cream and crimson next season for Indiana. Blackmon Jr. based part of his choice on going somewhere that he can fit in right away, and he feels as though he can help the Hoosiers immediately with his perimeter shooting abilities. If he is as good as advertised, he will play heavy minutes immediately alongside Yogi Ferrell next season, giving IU a sorely-needed shooter from the perimeter that they are currently lacking.
  4. Ohio State has won 5 of their last 6 games, but questions still remain about their viability or ceiling in March. The main questions still are the fact that they can’t get consistent play in the paint, and that they are prone to shooting slumps. Each player on the team has some sort of hole in their respective games, but their defensive pressure and athleticism, and experience could still lead to a deep tournament run. They’ve looked better as of late, and with Aaron Craft starting to attack the basket with a little more aggressiveness, they could very well be peaking at the right time.
  5. Nikola Cerina is normally a fairly under the radar member of the Northwestern basketball team. He generally plays about 10 MPG to spell Alex Olah. Cerina made news Wednesday night however, as it was determined that he threw a punch at Ohio State’s Amir Williams which resulted in his being ejected from the game. Cerina will now have to miss the Wildcats’ next game against Indiana on Saturday. With next to no depth already, this suspension could be a huge problem if Olah gets into foul trouble against the Hoosiers.
Share this story

RTC Bracketology: February 20 Edition

Posted by Daniel Evans (@bracketexpert) on February 20th, 2014

Daniel Evans (@bracketexpert) is Rush the Court’s resident bracketologist. He will update his brackets at least twice a week through the rest of the regular season here at RTC, but his updated brackets can be viewed daily at Bracketology Expert. As we approach March Madness, he’ll also provide occasional blind resumes. Evans has been ranked by the Bracket Matrix as the nation’s 11th-best bracketologist out of hundreds of entries. 

With Syracuse‘s surprising loss to Boston College Wednesday night, the Orange are still a top seed but they are no longer the top overall seed. I now have Florida, which has won 18 straight games after last night’s overtime victory over Auburn, as the top overall seed. The Gators have not lost this season while at full strength and their worst loss is at Connecticut on a buzzer-beater. Compared with a loss to a bad BC team in the Carrier Dome, that sounds very forgiving. Arizona also survived at Utah on Wednesday night  and remains on the top line,  although the Wildcats are playing with fire recently.

The biggest loser Wednesday night was Minnesota, which lost to Illinois at home. The Gophers remain in the bracket, but barely. Baylor enters the field after a win over Oklahoma State, and the Cowboys hung on to their slot, although I’m not confident either one of those Big 12 teams will be in the field come Selection Sunday.

Last Four In: Oklahoma State, Saint Joseph’s, Baylor, Tennessee (note: #12 Georgetown was slotted down for bracketing reasons)
First Four Out: Dayton, BYU, West Virginia, Oregon

Bids by Conference: Big 12 (7), Pac-12 (6), Big East (6), Big Ten (6), Atlantic 10 (5), ACC (5), SEC (4), AAC (4), Mountain West (2)

bracketfeb20

Share this story

Two Questions About Illinois vs. Minnesota

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) & Jonathan Batuello on February 19th, 2014

Two teams that are heading in opposite directions will face off on Wednesday night in Minneapolis. Illinois enters the game having lost nine out of the last ten games while Minnesota is trying to keep their NCAA hopes alive. The Big Ten microsite writers – Deepak Jayanti and Jonathan Batuello – discuss two important questions about the game:

Richard Pitino's Gophers can't afford to drop the game against Illinois if they want to keep their NCAA hopes alive.

Richard Pitino’s Gophers can’t afford to lose against Illinois if they want to keep their NCAA hopes alive.

How critical is Andre Hollins continued progression in his return from the ankle injury to Minnesota?

JB: The Gophers took a major skid without him when it lost three of four games. Since coming back he has had good and bad outings. He dropped 22 on Wisconsin, but was barely noticeable against Northwestern. It needs him to be in good form to win and continue on its path from bubble to NCAA Tournament team. What he does in comparison to Rayvonte Rice in this game will be instrumental in who wins. The importance of this game for Minnesota also can’t be understated. It’s three-game stretch after Illinois is at Ohio State, Iowa, and at Michigan, so it needs this win to avoid a potentially disastrous losing streak. Get this one, win one of those three and close out the season with a win against Penn State and it is at 20 wins and likely in the NCAA Tournament. Andre Hollins playing better and getting back to potentially All-Big Ten form will decide that fate.

DJ: Do the Gophers need a healthy Hollins to win a game in the NCAA Tournament? Yes. But they don’t really need him at 100% health to make the NCAAs because the offense runs through Deandre Mathieu and Maurice Walker now. Mathieu’s ability to get into the paint off the screens is a fierce weapon that defenses have struggled to stop over the past four games, as he averaged over 14 points per game during that stretch. Hollins’ three-point shooting will help the Gophers spread the floor but he doesn’t need to carry the offensive burden like he had to during the first few months of the season. Richard Pitino’s squad will make the tourney by pressing hard on defense with their depth, attacking the basket with Mathieu and finishing strong around the hoop with their big men.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story