Big Ten Wrap-Up: Lasting Impressions and an Early Top Five

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on April 6th, 2018

Has Donte DiVincenzo stop hitting shots yet? Okay, good. Now that Monday is behind us, let’s take a moment to reflect on the season that was and look ahead to 2018-19.

Michigan had another year to remember. (PHOTO BY AP/DAVID J. PHILLIP)

  • Michigan is an elite basketball program. Before John Beilein took over in Ann Arbor in 2007, Michigan hadn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 1998, a nine-year drought that made the historically great football school seem like just that — a football school. But that’s changed. Since the drought ended in 2009, Beilein has led the Wolverines to eight NCAA Tournaments, including finishes in the Sweet Sixteen (2017), Elite Eight (2016), and twice in the National Championship game (2013, 2018). After years of mediocrity, Michigan basketball now represents offensive efficiency, outstanding player development and clutch play in March. This season, Beilein — always considered an offensive mastermind — took an unproven collection of talent and won big with his defense, suggesting that the 65-year old coach is still evolving both as a tactician (he recently moved away from the 1-3-1 zone) and manager: His hiring of Illinois State assistant Luke Yaklich as “defensive coordinator” was crucial to the Wolverines’ run. With a decade of excellence under its belt and plenty of talent returning next season, Michigan has firmly established itself among the Big Ten’s elite programs.
  • This season will forever sting for Michigan State and Purdue fans. Michigan State went 30-5 and won the outright regular season Big Ten championship. Purdue finished at 30-7, at one point winning 19 straight games. And yet, this season will probably leave a bad taste in both programs’ mouths for some time. For the Spartans, 2017-18 was a Final-Four-or-bust kind of year, with the return of Miles Bridges alongside future NBA lottery pick Jaren Jackson ostensibly giving Tom Izzo his best chance at a National Championship from a talent perspective since 2000. Instead, a season of offensive inconsistency led to an offensively-inept loss to Syracuse in the Round of 32. For the Boilermakers, bad luck prevailed when 7’2″ center Isaac Haas fractured his elbow in the First Round against Cal State Fullerton, his absence proving too much for Purdue to overcome against Texas Tech in the Sweet Sixteen. On paper, both seasons appear successful. In actuality, postseason disappointment will likely overshadow their 60 combined wins.

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Michigan State’s Turnover Bug is a Real Problem

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 26th, 2018

If you glance only at the final score, Michigan State’s performance at Illinois on Monday was an unqualified success: The Spartans won by 13 points and trailed for only 1 minute and 51 seconds of game time. Dig deeper, though, and it’s clear that the preseason Big Ten favorite should have probably won by more — perhaps a lot more. The Spartans shot a ridiculous 68 percent from the floor (to Illinois’ 43 percent) and doubled up the Illini at the free throw line. They also crashed the offensive glass at their highest rate yet in conference play (60% OReb). Unfortunately, turnovers — a whopping 25 of them — prevented Michigan State’s ‘good’ performance from being great. It’s been a recurring issue this season, and one that could wind up the Achilles’ Heel for an otherwise complete National Championship hopeful.

Tom Izzo and Miles Bridges Have to Clean Up the Turnover Issue (USA Today Images)

To be sure, the Spartans’ eye-popping turnover figure on Monday — their most since 2005 — was in part due to Illinois’ aggressive style — the Illini force miscues at the sixth-highest rate in college basketball. But it was also the result of Michigan State’s often-stagnant half-court offense. When the Spartans don’t score in transition (where they’re especially lethal), their attack often devolves into a lot of dribbling around the three-point line with limited off-ball movement. For point guards Cassius Winston and Tum Tum Nairn, that’s often been a recipe for disaster. Case in point:

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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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Projecting This Season’s Breakout Players

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on November 14th, 2017

After spending the preseason hyping certain guys, some players we don’t expect to steal the spotlight does just that. If history tells us anything, there are a number of players who are flying under the radar right now that will be commanding headlines in February. It is my humble task to give those players some of the love they will eventually deserve right now, before the rest of the nation catches on. I’ll give myself credit for projecting the rises of Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan and Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans last year, but I’ve been honing my craft this offseason and hope to do even better this time around. So let’s get started. Here are five breakout players in college basketball this season.

  • Nick Ward, Sophomore, Michigan State — Nick Ward averaged 8.8 fouls drawn per game last season, becoming the first major conference player to average more than 8.0 since Kentucky’s DeMarcus Cousins in 2010. He also owned the second highest offensive rebounding rate in the country at 17.5 percent. Sure, he fouls a bit too much and turns the ball over more than head coach Tom Izzo would like, but post players this dominant are very hard to come by. If Ward can play closer to 30 minutes per game this season — which would itself be a feat considering the talent of the Spartans frontcourt — watch out. His tools suggest he could become a First Team All-American. Sophomore forward Miles Bridges gets all the hype, but if the Spartans reach their potential this year, Ward will be a big reason why they did so.

Nick Ward is on his way to possible stardom. (Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Markus Howard, Sophomore, Marquette — America, are you ready to fall in love with a small point guard who puts up ridiculous numbers? Well, the 5’11” Howard is your man. He shot 54.7 percent — FIFTY-FOUR POINT SEVEN PER CENT!!! — from three-point range last year, on almost five shots per game in the Big East! That’s a mind-numbingly good shooting season. More importantly, with Marquette having graduated some ball-dominant seniors, Howard and fellow diminutive scorer Andrew Rowsey will get the keys to Steve Wojciechowski’s uptempo offense. Marquette started the senior Rowsey in the season opener, but I’m betting on Howard and his ridiculous shooting and efficiency forcing his way into the starting lineup in due time. A season scoring average of 20 points per game is not out of the question for the sophomore.

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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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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 8th, 2017

With the season tipping off on Friday, there’s no better time to roll out our 2017-18 RTC Preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of 10 writers provided their ballots over the last week and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

  • Jalen Brunson, Villanova – There are few things more daunting in college basketball than a talented team with a heady, veteran playmaker at the point guard position. Brunson certainly fits that bill, as he enters the season with great expectations following a sophomore campaign where the point guard earned unanimous all-Big East honors while averaging 14.7 points and 4.1 assists per game. Villanova is the preseason favorite to win the Big East title — and if that prediction comes true, it will be Brunson’s third in three years running the show for Jay Wright’s squad. Factoid: Many players with Brunson’s pedigree would at least test the NBA Draft waters either after their freshman or sophomore seasons, but Brunson is different, stating, “The NBA is not going anywhere. I can wait. I can still get better. I can still get my degree. That’s the approach I had. I talked it over with my parents, and they’re just 100 percent fully supporting me. So that’s where I am.”
  • Allonzo Trier, Arizona – Arizona experienced some offcourt drama late in the offseason when longtime assistant Book Richardson was arrested by the FBI on charges of bribery, corruption, conspiracy, and fraud stemming from improper conduct on the recruiting trail. That news figures to overshadow much of Arizona’s early season — which is a real shame, as the Wildcats are projected to be among the nation’s best teams. A major reason for that is the return of Trier for his junior year. The talented wing returned from a 19-game performance enhancing drug suspension during his sophomore season to lead the Wildcats to the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles. Many were surprised when Trier opted to return to Tucson in lieu of entering the NBA Draft, but he has acknowledged that last season’s suspension definitely factored in his decision to come back to school. Factoid: Trier was the subject of a New York Times Magazine feature when he was in sixth grade that highlighted his precocious basketball ability at a young age with an introduction to the AAU scene.
  • Michael Porter Jr., Missouri – A coaching change can often make a massive difference in a program’s fortunes. That was definitely the case with Missouri when the Tigers fired Kim Anderson in March after an underwhelming tenure and replaced him with Cal’s Cuonzo Martin, a coach who has long enjoyed a sterling reputation for his ability to recruit at a high level. Martin hiring paid off almost immediately when he secured the services of Porter, who was listed by 247Sports as the third-best player in the Class of 2017. The 6’10” forward will provide Missouri with scoring on the wing and has the versatility to defend a variety of positions. The Tigers are projected as one of the most improved teams in the country — and with Porter now in the fold, it will be intriguing to see just how far they can advance in the postseason. Factoid: It is a family affair for the Porters in Columbia this year, as Michael Porter, Sr. is an assistant coach, Jontay Porter reclassified to play with his brother, sisters Bri and Cierra Porter play for the women’s team, and aunt Robin Pingeton is the head coach of that women’s team.
  • Miles Bridges, Michigan State – Michigan State was the recipient of one of the best offseason surprises when the sure-fire lottery pick Bridges decided to return to East Lansing for his sophomore year. Once the national shock of the decision wore off, it became clear the Spartans would be one of the teams to beat in college basketball this season. Bridges will look to build on a terrific freshman year where he averaged 16.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. With a strong supporting cast in tow and uncertainty with many teams in the Big Ten, the star sophomore should lead the Spartans to a prosperous season on both the conference and national landscapes. Factoid: Like most of us, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo assumed Bridges would be a one-and-done player, going so far as to joke about how Bridges will have to carry bags this year as an NBA rookie. In response, Bridges may have hinted at his ultimate decision by questioning, “Coach, why you always trying to get rid of me?”
  • Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame – It is not a stretch for anyone to reference Colson as the most unique player in college basketball. After a turn as a significant role player on Notre Dame’s Elite Eight teams in 2015 and 2016, Colson became The Man in South Bend during his junior season. Standing at just 6’6″, Colson was the only ACC player last year to average a double-double — 17.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. Notre Dame currently finds itself in one of the most successful stretches the program has ever had, and with the talented and experienced Colson as its go-to guy, look for the Irish to continue that run this season. Factoid: Throughout Colson’s career, he has stayed true to two beliefs: play hungry and stay humble. The ACC Preseason Player of the Year vows that will not change as he enters his senior season as one of the country’s top players.

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Four Big Ten Offseason Storylines to Follow

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 27th, 2017

Now that the 2016-17 college basketball season has been put to bed, it’s time for hoopheads to peer into the future and prepare for the 2017-18 season. There is a fair amount of intrigue attached to how the Big Ten will look next season, so here’s a quick look at the biggest stories to consider within the league over the next several months.

The draft decision of Miles Bridges set the bar for the 2017-18 Big Ten championship. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

  • The Return of Miles Bridges: Michigan State’s uber-talented forward decided to stay in school for his sophomore season, making the Spartans the clear favorite to win the Big Ten and enter next season ranked among the nation’s top five. Plenty of solid pieces were already slated to return to East Lansing next season — sophomores Nick Ward, Cassius Winston, and Joshua Langford — but having the future lottery pick back means Tom Izzo is smiling this offseason.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 90, #9 Michigan State 70

Posted by Chris Stone on March 19th, 2017

Rush the Court will be covering the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks. 

Miles Bridges and Josh Jackson battled it out on Sunday. (Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press).

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Nick Ward’s foul trouble played an important role. Michigan State found success against Kansas by dumping the ball inside to the freshman big man. Over the second half of the season, Ward had evolved into a go-to post threat for the Spartans and it was no different today as he finished with 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting. The problem is that Ward was on the floor for just 20 minutes as he spent much of the game saddled with fouls. In those 20 minutes, Michigan State outscored the Jayhawks by five points. In the 20 minutes with Ward’s replacement, Ryan Goins, on the court, the Spartans were outscored by 25 points. That’s the difference.
  2. Kansas hit its free throws. The Jayhawks have struggled from the foul line all season long, shooting just 67.1 percent (284th nationally) from the charity stripe — still, there always seemed to be some unshaken faith that the team would make them when they needed to. Well, Kansas today finished 14-of-15 from the free throw line with senior guard Frank Mason going a perfect 8-of-8. Even freshman Josh Jackson, a 55.9 percent free throw shooter, made all three of his attempts, including converting a crucial one-and-one late in the contest.
  3. The threes eventually fell for the Jayhawks. Michigan State kept this game close in large part because the Spartans held Kansas in check from behind the arc. They did well fighting over screens and getting out to challenge shooters on the perimeter, but eventually, the shots started falling and Kansas pulled away. The Jayhawks finished 8-of-20 from behind the arc as they nailed several threes down the stretch. Guard Devonte’ Graham led the way, scoring 12 of his 18 points from deep. The Jayhawks are at their best when they’re knocking down outside shots. It just took them a bit more time to get that part of their game going against Michigan State.

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Michigan State 78, #8 Miami (FL) 58

Posted by Chris Stone on March 17th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament for the next three weeks.

Miles Bridges led Michigan State into the Round of 32. (AP)

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. This was a different Michigan State team. The Spartans came into their meeting with Miami tonight as a slight underdog and 42nd-best team in KenPom. They had lost three of their last four games and for the most part had put together a disappointing season. During the Big Ten Tournament, however, head coach Tom Izzo made it clear that some of those struggles related to growing pains with his freshmen. Well, something flipped on Friday as Michigan State dominated the Hurricanes for much of the contest. The Spartans scored 1.24 points per possession, stifled Miami’s best offensive pieces, and set up an exciting matchup with Kansas in Sunday’s Round of 32. Izzo also moved to a 14-10 record as the lower seed in the NCAA Tournament.
  2. The Spartans did well to weather the early storm. Michigan State didn’t dominate the entire contest. In fact, for a while, it looked like the Spartans were going to get run off the floor by Miami. The Hurricanes opened the game by bounding out to a 10-0 lead before Michigan State closed the first half on a 38-17 run where it scored 1.23 points per possession. Miami was dogged by turnovers and gave up six offensive rebounds during the half. For the Spartans to weather such a storm while largely relying on the composure of freshmen was extremely impressive.
  3. Nick Ward powered Michigan State. Freshman forward Nick Ward has become a stabilizing presence on Izzo’s interior. When the Spartans need to find a bucket in a one-on-one situation, it’s easy for them to dump it down low to the 6’8″ forward and let him go to work. Ward put it all together against Miami tonight, scoring 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the field and grabbing three offensive rebounds. Ward’s performance was symptomatic of a larger issue for the Hurricanes as Michigan State managed to shoot 72.7 percent on its two-pointers in the contest.

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Big Ten Survival Guide: The Keys For Each Squad’s First Round Survival

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 16th, 2017

The brackets have been set and all of the Big Ten teams left dancing will begin seven separate quests to bring home the league’s first National Championship since Michigan State did so in 2000. Before anything approaching that level of success can take place, however, each team must win its First Round game. Here’s a brief look at how all seven Big Ten teams can get past their first opponent.

Reggie Lynch has to stay on the floor for Minnesota against Middle Tennessee on Thursday. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

  • Minnesota: The Gophers have almost no depth now with the season-ending injury to senior wing Akeem Springs, which means Reggie Lynch has to stay on the floor and out of foul trouble. As a result, Minnesota will have to win this game with defense. If Lynch suffers early foul issues, Middle Tennessee and its 54.3 percent eFG rate will be able to score in the paint at will.
  • Northwestern: Northwestern has a dangerous tendency to go through long scoring droughts. For the most part the Wildcats runs their offense well, but when they go cold, they go frigid. This cannot happen against Vanderbilt because a three-minute drought will feel like five or more with in a one-and-done format. Vanderbilt shoots 37.7 percent from three-point range on the season, so long dry spells could be disastrous against a team that can effectively bomb away from the perimeter.

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