Morning Five: 06.05.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 5th, 2013

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  1. In what turned out to be a rough Tuesday in terms of college basketball-related news, a federal grand jury in Alabama unsealed an indictment that alleges former Auburn guard Varez Ward of attempting to throw a game against Arkansas in the 2011-12 season. Ward, a junior at the time, is accused of two counts of sports bribery (or more commonly known as point-shaving) where he allegedly conspired with gamblers and tried to solicit other players to throw the game. (full indictment here) Ward only played 19 seconds in that contest against the Hawgs, suffering a thigh bruise very early that kept him on the bench for the rest of the game in an eventual three-point loss. Last year the FBI said that it was also looking into a February 2012 game against Alabama where Ward scored three points and committed six turnovers, but that game was not referred to in yesterday’s indictment. According to this report from last year, Ward was suspended by Auburn assistant coaches in late February after another player blew the whistle on him; another teammate originally under suspicion was later cleared. Ward never suited up for Auburn again, but he may very well be wearing the orange (jumpsuit) full-time if these charges stick. He faces five years in prison on each count. We’re not going to get preachy on this issue, but we will refer back to one of the first articles we ever wrote on this here website: This sort of thing happens a lot more than anyone cares to admit
  2. Meanwhile, more discouraging news from the great state of Alabama came out on Tuesday as Crimson Tide forward Devonta Pollard was charged by local authorities with conspiracy to commit kidnapping related to an April 30 abduction of a six-year old girl named Jashayla Hopson. The details are somewhat murky at this point, but it appears that Pollard may have been assisting his mother, Jessie Mae Pollard, in antagonizing the youngster’s mother who was caught up in a land dispute with her. But this is no trumped-up charge where someone was held against their will for a minute or two — if the allegations are true, Hopson was picked up at her elementary school and held for a full day before being dropped off on the side of a road unharmed. Pollard, his mother, and four others have been charged so far in this crime, with at least one other still pending. What a crazy world we live in.
  3. Ohio State president Gordon Gee has had himself quite a week, as reports of his insensitive comments made in December about Catholics, SEC schools, and Louisville have been making the rounds. The “pompous ass,” according to Cardinals’ head coach Rick Pitino, announced Tuesday that he is taking his volatile opinions into the sunset, choosing to retire from his post effective July 1. Gee says that he made his decision last week during a vacation, feeling that he needed time to “re-energize and re-focus.” Whether he was encouraged to retire or came to the decision on his own volition, the 69-year old president certainly has a fund-raising and bottom line resume that is unmatched within the industry, so if he chooses to continue his work elsewhere, we doubt he’ll have much trouble finding a place to land. He may not want to send any resumes out to Notre Dame, Louisville or any of those SEC schools, though.
  4. How about some better news? One of the problems with the John R. Wooden Classic played every December in Anaheim was that the stature of the lineup often didn’t seem to fit the stature of the name headlining the event. Naturally, UCLA was almost always involved, but usually the three other teams invited were a mixture of solid mid-majors (i.e., St. Mary’s, San Diego State) and some other mid-level programs (i.e., USC, Washington, Texas A&M). It was also just for one day, and it often fell during a period in the college basketball calendar in early to mid-December when viewers were getting much better match-ups during the same period (think: UNC-Kentucky or Kansas-Ohio State). The decision announced Tuesday to rebrand the event as the John Wooden Legacy and merge it with the Anaheim Classic during Thanksgiving weekend is a good one. Although the 2013 field is not great, featuring Marquette, Creighton, San Diego State and Miami (FL) as its marquee names, the four-year cycle of exempted events and ESPN’s coverage will no doubt encourage bigger-name programs to take the trip to SoCal in future years. We’d expect this to become one of the better such events during Feast Week starting in 2014 and beyond.
  5. Finally today, Andy Glockner at SI.com digs deeply through the KenPom statistical buffet and gives us what he calls “the extremists” — those returning players who are the best of the best in each of a number of key statistical categories. If you can name the top returnee in the nation in shot percentage at 40 percent, more power to you (answer: Wofford’s Karl Cochran), but certainly a couple of these names are on the short list for breakout seasons next year: Oregon State’s Eric Moreland (tops in defensive rebounding percentage at 28 percent); St. John’s Chris Obepka (tops in block percentage at 16 percent); and, VCU’s Briante Weber (tops in steal percentage at 7 percent). There’s more to the article than this, of course, so check it out on a lazy summer Wednesday.
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NCAA Game Analysis: Third Round, Sunday

Posted by CNguon on March 24th, 2013

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Here are the game breakdowns for Sunday’s slate. From 24 to 16…

#2 Ohio State vs. #10 Iowa State – West Regional Third Round (Dayton, OH) – 12:15 PM ET on CBS

Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft will likely have to be their usual stellar selves to get past Iowa State. (Getty)

Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft will likely have to be their usual stellar selves to get past Iowa State. (Getty)

Friday night against Notre Dame, Iowa State hit nine threes as they rolled over Notre Dame into the Round of 32. Maybe just as impressively, they turned it over just six times, forced 17 turnovers and limited a good three-point shooting Irish team to just four threes on the night. Let’s just go out on a limb and say that none of those things are likely to happen when they face Ohio State today. But that’s not to insinuate that the Cyclones don’t have a chance. This is a team that can get scoring from all eight of the players in their rotation and guys like Will Clyburn, Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang are all inside/outside threats that are capable of creating matchup problems for their opponents. The problem is, the Buckeyes have shown their ability defensively to deal with versatile offensive teams; Michigan and Indiana are the top two offensive teams in the nation, and the Buckeyes have held each below one point per possession on one occasion earlier in the season. Of course, the thing is, on the other occasion when the Buckeyes faced those teams, they allowed an average of 1.21 points per possession and gave up a total of 21 three-pointers in those two games. In other words, while OSU has the ability to turn off the water for good offensive teams, there are just nights when good offense beats good defense. If Iowa State has it going, they’ve got enough talent to score enough points to beat Ohio State. The problem is, the Buckeyes have been pretty darn efficient offensively themselves of late and the Cyclones, meanwhile, are the third-worst defensive efficiency team remaining in the tournament. Iowa State’s offense has the ability to give Ohio State trouble, but it is just as likely that the Buckeyes will exploit that soft Cyclone defense.

The RTC Certified Pick: Ohio State

#1 Indiana vs. #9 Temple — East Region Third Round (at Dayton, OH) — 2:45 PM ET on CBS.

Fran Dunphy's squad is known for defense, but lately the Owls have been putting up some major points. (Philly.com)

Fran Dunphy’s squad is known for defense, but lately the Owls have been putting up some major points. (Philly.com)

When you think of Fran Dunphy and Temple, you think of defense and a junkyard dog style of play. Not so much with this group. Since January 19, Temple has been an offensive juggernaut of sorts. The Owls have scored at least 70 points in their last 12 games and 16 of their last 17 games. Even in the one game they didn’t score 70, they fell only one point short of that mark. The point is the Owls can hang with Indiana offensively despite a talent disadvantage. The real question in this game is whether or not Temple can play the defense necessary to knock off the Hoosiers. Indiana is most vulnerable when teams slow the pace and get physical. Temple can surely get physical but we’re not sure the Owls can slow the pace against such a high-octane offense. For Indiana, the defensive key will be containing Khalif Wyatt. Although not a particularly great shooter, the Temple senior does it all. He gets others involved and averages 20.2 PPG with the potential to go for 30+ on any given night as he has done on six occasions this season, including in two of Temple’s last three games. Wyatt gets to the free throw line very well but one of Indiana’s many strengths is keeping opponents off the charity stripe. It’ll be very interesting to see if Wyatt can get to the line with regularity in this game. The Hoosiers have a significant talent advantage in this game but that was also the case with NC State, who Temple beat on Friday. Indiana can’t take this one for granted and must be focused defensively in the half court. Temple won’t turn the ball over often and Wyatt will be searching for contact all game.

The RTC Certified Pick: Indiana 

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Night Line: Buckeyes Find Signature Win In Bloomington

Posted by BHayes on March 6th, 2013

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Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

They don’t come much better than this. In fact, they might not come any better than this. Ohio State walked out of Assembly Hall with a convincing 67-58 victory over Indiana on Tuesday night, securing a resume-defining win that could easily be considered the scalp of the year in college basketball this season. Only Wisconsin can join the Buckeyes in saying they walked out of Bloomington victorious in 2012-13, but the Badgers didn’t have to do it on Senior Night, nor with the rights to a Big Ten title on the line. Neither factor seemed to matter much to the Buckeyes, who put together a near-flawless final 10 minutes to earn the win. The loss for the Hoosiers may raise questions about their presumptive status as the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, but it also may serve as a perception-changer for the Bucks. Crazy as it sounds, one massive win may be all it takes to erase from the memory banks a season’s worth of misses versus the Big Ten’s upper echelon. Ohio State suddenly feels like a March contender.

Aaron Craft And Ohio State Did Their Best To Spoil Senior Night At Indiana

Aaron Craft And Ohio State Did Their Best To Spoil Senior Night At Indiana

It’s been business as usual in Columbus in many ways this season — another 20-win campaign, 12 more Big Ten victories (after tonight), a high seed awaiting on Selection Sunday. But these Buckeyes have flown a course far further off the national radar than Thad Matta teams of years past. Tonight’s startling victory may change that trajectory, but a glance at the Buckeyes’ profile also begs the question of why it took us so long to notice. Sure, the Bucks whiffed in a lot of big spots this season. But when you take inventory of their schedule (a whopping nine games against teams in KenPom’s current top 11), it’s pretty evident that a lot of good teams might have suffered the same fate given the circumstances. A handful of those games were there for their taking, with contests at Duke, Michigan and Michigan State all fitting that bill, so it isn’t as if they did much to embarrass themselves in those defeats. Tonight’s win doesn’t erase all doubts about the Bucks, but it puts previous missteps in a far more forgivable light.

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Big Ten Morning Five: 02.28.13 Edition

Posted by jnowak on February 28th, 2013

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  1. ESPN.com‘s Eamonn Brennan gets right to the point: What’s the matter with Michigan? It’s been a strange few weeks for the Wolverines, who were ranked No. 1 in the country at one point this season but have now been blown out by Michigan State and upset by the only team in the conference who didn’t have a Big Ten win entering play Wednesday. Penn State gave the Wolverines a run for their money in Ann Arbor on February 17 and the Nittany Lions finally finished the deal on Wednesday in State College. Before that, Michigan snuck by Ohio State in overtime and was beaten by Wisconsin in overtime prior to the MSU loss. The problem, Brennan writes, has been their defense, which is giving up 1.11 points per possession over its last seven games. Michigan’s offense is and always has been there. But the defense is fading fast. Can they figure it out in time to play like a Final Four team when it matters most?
  2. All of Tubby Smith‘s naysayers have probably grown pretty quiet for the time being. The Minnesota head coach has had doubters ever since his time at Kentucky, and they were chattering pretty loudly when the Gophers experienced their fall from grace after beginning the season 15-1 and rising as high as No. 8 in the country. But Smith says he doesn’t really listen to what people are saying — good or bad — so whether the team is on a slide or they’ve just upset the No. 1 team in the national polls, it’s not something that gets to him.
  3. Almost every team has one player who sets the tone for the rest of the team. For Michigan State, that guy is Keith Appling. As Appling goes, so go the Spartans, and Appling hasn’t been going much of anywhere lately. He’s been a non-factor in both Indiana losses this season, and he hurt more than he helped against Ohio State this week by allowing Aaron Craft to dismantle the Spartans’ backcourt. If the Spartans have any fighting chance at working their way back into the Big Ten title chase, they’ve got to beat Michigan on Sunday in Ann Arbor. And to do that, they need Appling to play like an all-Big Ten-caliber player again. Tom Izzo is confident Appling will do just that, saying that Appling has done a good job of carrying this team all year long, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t find that in him again this weekend.
  4. As Ben Axelrod writes, Thad Matta had not made a midseason starting lineup change for anything other than an injury since the 2008-09 season — that is, until he moved Evan Ravenel to the bench in December. But that move has allowed Matta to bring an experienced senior off the bench and is working well for the Buckeyes. Ravenel had a career game against Michigan State, and he’s proven to be a guy who Ohio State wants on the floor at the end of games, despite losing his starting spot to Amir Williams. “That was kind of what we were looking for, a little bit more of what Evan had brought to the table last year when he would come in,” Matta said. “I thought he was pretty effective, especially down the stretch of the Big Ten season.”
  5. Last week, ESPN broadcasters spent some time during the Michigan State-Indiana game dissecting a play that officials were reviewing in which it appeared Derrick Nix hit Cody Zeller with a cheap shot. As further review took place on the web after the game, it appeared that Zeller may have staged the incident by grabbing Nix’s arm. Either way, it was hard to draw any real conclusions. Then there was another strangely similar incident in Tuesday’s Indiana-Minnesota game in which Indiana’s Will Sheehey fell to the ground clutching his face while defending Minnesota’s Andre Hollins in a trap on the baseline. Officials again went to the monitor to review it, and many on the Internet speculated again — is there something fishy going on at Indiana, with players trying to draw attention with these “dirty” plays? We’re used to flops on charges and blocks, but is this something else, something more?
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Previewing This Weekend’s Big Ten Games

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on February 15th, 2013

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

We have reached the point in the season where it feels like every game has conference implications of some kind, and there’s no better period of time to enjoy them all than Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Weekends through the end of the season will be packed with quality basketball, so let’s take a hard look at this weekend’s slate of games and what’s in store.

Aaron Craft and the Buckeyes have a tough game against the Badgers in Madison on Sunday.

Aaron Craft and the Buckeyes have a tough game against the Badgers in Madison on Sunday.

  • Purdue @ Indiana (2:00 PM EST on Saturday, ESPN): The Hoosiers might end up winning this one comfortably but the game features an excellent match-up in the low post between Cody Zeller and A.J.Hammons (11.2 PPG). It is easy to forget when you evaluate Zeller’s game that he is only a sophomore and Hammons, a freshman, has shown flashes of brilliance in the paint as well. During the first version of this match-up in West Lafayette, Hammons scored 30 points but picked up two early fouls due to poor defense. But if the Purdue big man can manage to stay on the floor, you could see his strong array of post moves – a hook shot, a 10-foot jumper, a nice turnaround – against Zeller tomorrow. This will also be a good test of Zeller’s defense if the game ends up being relatively close late into the second half.
  • Michigan State @ Nebraska (8:00 PM EST on Saturday, Big Ten Network): Nebraska head coach Tim Miles continues to motivate his team to compete against the top dogs in the conference despite many tough losses. The Cornhuskers hung tight with the Spartans in East Lansing on January 13, only to lose the game 66-56, but don’t expect them to roll over and hand the game to the Spartans on Saturday night. Gary Harris continues to play through his back spasms and even if Travis Trice suits up, his minutes may be limited because he is still recovering from an injury. Despite these issues, Tom Izzo has enough talent on his team to not let this game slip away on the road as he is trying to make a case for the #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and win the Big Ten title. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Power Rankings: February 15 Edition

Posted by jnowak on February 15th, 2013

In this week’s power rankings, we take a look at what each team’s biggest improvement has been this year. Voters this week were Deepak Jayanti, Joey Nowak and Kevin Trahan.

The Spartans are surging after dismantling Michigan on Tuesday. (Justin Wan/The State News)

The Spartans are surging after dismantling Michigan on Tuesday. (Justin Wan/The State News)

  1. Indiana Hoosiers — The loss to Illinois last week hurt a little, but Indiana bounced back nicely and was able to hang on to the No. 1 spot in the country (as well the PRs). The Hoosiers took down Nebraska in fairly unspectacular fashion, but were very impressive in a road game against Ohio State. The schedule gets tougher, with games at Michigan and Minnesota coming up, so the Hoosiers have to play well on the road, where they’ve been very inconsistent as of late. However, Indiana proved that when it’s playing well, it is one of the most dangerous teams in the country. Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo were both very impressive against the Buckeyes and IU was able to pull out a nice win. Most Improved: This is a tough decision. We’ll go with Oladipo because of just how much he’s improved since last year. Cody Zeller has actually improved a lot within the course of the season after a so-so start too, though. Still, Oladipo has been the Hoosiers’ star and has his name in NPOY talk. Who could have guessed that at the beginning of the season?
  2. Michigan State Spartans — There’s no team in the conference on a streak like the Spartans (they’ve won 10 of their last 11 with their only blemish coming in a tightly-contested game at Indiana), one of the hottest teams in the country. The problem is, they’re trying to keep up with the one team that dealt them their only loss since 2012. The Spartans are somehow finding a way to get on without Travis Trice, and they’re doing a fantastic job of it. The romp over Michigan was the biggest statement made in Big Ten play this season, but things are going to get really tough on the Spartans now. Indiana comes to town Tuesday, followed by trips to Ohio State and Michigan before Wisconsin hits East Lansing. We’ll definitely get to see what Tom Izzo’s group is made of. Most Improved: On an individual level, this honor would have to go to Denzel Valentine, who has always been one of the Spartans’ most promising young players, but also one who needed to be reined in. But as he’s helped to fill the void left by Trice and cut down his turnovers, the Spartans have improved in the same department. After turning it over 18 times against Indiana, the Spartans have averaged just over 10 per game (including only five against Minnesota and eight against Michigan). This has to be remain the case if the Spartans are to continue this run.
  3. Michigan — The questions about Michigan have started to come up again. Earlier in the season, people questioned the Wolverines’ frontcourt and whether the freshmen could continue to play as well as they did early on. Well, Michigan seems to have hit a little bit of a wall, losing a nail-biter at Wisconsin and then getting blown out at Michigan State. The game against Michigan State was particularly draining, as the Spartans controlled the contest from the opening tip and basically nobody else played well other than Trey Burke and Mitch McGary. The remainder of the schedule is tough — although MSU and Indiana still have to go to Ann Arbor — and Michigan needs to get back on track before things spiral out of control. Most Improved: Over the first part of the season, McGary took a back seat to fellow freshmen Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III. However, he has shown great improvement over the past few games. Michigan needs him to play well down the stretch, especially during Robinson’s current slump. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Power Rankings: Focus On Areas Needing Improvement

Posted by KTrahan on January 18th, 2013

This is the tenth installment of our weekly Big Ten Power Rankings which we will publish each Friday. This week’s voters were Deepak Jayanti, Joey Nowak and Kevin Trahan of the Big Ten Microsite.

In this week’s Big Ten power rankings we discuss each team’s week and look at the area each team needs to improve the most.

1. Michigan — After the loss to Ohio State, there were questions as to whether this young Michigan team could win big games on the road. That question was answered with a very impressive win at Minnesota. The Wolverines jumped out early and built on their lead in the second half, using stifling defense to turn the Gophers over and get points in transition. The loss to the Buckeyes was disappointing, but Michigan almost came back and won that game, and the Wolverines still looked like the better team at times. Wisconsin is technically leading the conference now, but Michigan looks to be in the best shape to win it. Area most needing improvement: It’s really tough to fault the Michigan frontcourt after how it played against Minnesota, but that group still needs to be more consistent after a weak showing against Ohio State. The Wolverines are guard-oriented and have a number of impressive shooters, but they still need to have stability inside.

John Beilein's Club Appears to be the Class of the Big Ten

John Beilein’s Club Appears to be the Class of the Big Ten

2. Minnesota — Should the Gophers be ranked ahead of Indiana despite losing to them in Bloomington? Minnesota’s three losses came to Duke, Michigan and IU, each of which definitely deserves to be ranked in the top 10 in the nation. But Indiana’s losses came to Butler and Wisconsin, two very good teams but not necessarily great at this point of the season. Because we are purely using that argument, the Gophers edge the Hoosiers slightly in this week’s power rankings. Area most needing improvement: Tough to pick a specific area of improvement for the Gophers but if we are really nitpicking, they could use more production from their bench. Maverick Ahanmisi (4.3 PPG) and Julian Welch (3.3 PPG) can give more breathing room to the starting guards during the tough Big Ten season by contributing more during the “easier” games. But most of it is out of their control because head coach Tubby Smith prefers a very tight rotation during the important games.

3. Wisconsin — The Badgers are rising  fast through the rankings. If you weren’t convinced with their dominant win over the Illini, you should be after the stunner that they pulled off in Bloomington. But we’ll still keep them ranked at No. 3 for now because of their losses early in the season. Having said that, if they beat Iowa on the road, we may bump them up over Indiana. Area most needing improvement: This one is easy for the Badgers — free throw shooting. Ryan Evans is shooting 38% from the line and as a team and the Badgers as a whole shoot 62%. That is just unacceptable and very unusual for a Bo Ryan-coached team that’s known for their disciplined approach to the game.

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The RTC Podblast: Episode 10.5

Posted by rtmsf on January 18th, 2013

Welcome to this week’s RTC Podblast, hosted by Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114). There has been no shortage of big games this week and there will be even more on a blockbuster Saturday this weekend. We review everything and give our takes on who needs to do what, and when. The outline is below.

Remember that our full podcasts (roughly 45 minutes to an hour long) will publish on Tuesdays during the season, while our shorter (~15-20 minutes) podblasts will drop on Fridays with a quick look at the intervening week’s worth of news and action. Feel free to jump around using the outline below.

  • 0:00-5:31 – Michigan Bounces Back with a Win Over Minnesota
  • 5:31-7:44 – NC State Fails in Follow-up
  • 7:44-11:03 – UNLV Putting It Together?
  • 11:03-12:21 – Louisville-Syracuse Preview
  • 12:21-13:22 – Gonzaga-Butler Preview
  • 13:22-14:40 – Missouri-Florida Preview
  • 14:40-15:46 – Ohio State-Michigan State Preview
  • 15:46-16:28 – Oregon-UCLA Preview
  • 16:28-19:36 – Rapid Fire Predictions

Also make sure to add theRTC Podcast to your iTunes lineup so that you’ll automatically upload it on your listening device after each recording. Thanks!

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The RTC Podcast: Episode Nine

Posted by rtmsf on January 8th, 2013

As we’re now back on a regular schedule with The RTC Podcast, we hope that those of you listening out there will continue to give us feedback in terms of some of the things you like and don’t like about our weekly venture. And definitely please feel free to continue to hit us up with commentary via Twitter and/or email if you have a good idea of something you’d like for us to discuss or add to the podcasts or end-of-week podblasts.

This week, as always, we’re hosted by Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114), where we took a hearty look back at the Big East’s blunderful weekend, talked over the new transfer rules and their possible downstream ramifications, and discuss some of the most indispensable players in college basketball. We’ll be back Friday afternoon with the shorter RTC Podblast, per the usual schedule. Thanks!

  • 0:00-8:58: Big East Blunders – Pitt, Georgetown and Cincinnati Lose
  • 8:58-15:22 Illinois Wins Big in Champaign Over Ohio State
  • 15:22-23:00 The Importance of Home Court Advantage
  • 23:00-31:50 What’s Right, What’s Wrong with the Proposed Transfer Rules
  • 31:50-37:21 Most Indispensable Players
  • 37:21-42:27 Is Kansas State as Good as Their Resume?
  • 42:27-45:18 UNLV Ranking Based Off Talent
  • 45:18-48:10 UNLV @ New Mexico Preview
  • 48:10-51:44 Minnesota @ Illinois Preview/Wrap

We welcome any and all feedback on these podcasts including topics for future discussion or if you want to send us any questions for our “May Not Be From Actual Listeners” segment. Hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com or @rushthecourt on Twitter.

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Big Ten Power Rankings: Week Eight

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on December 28th, 2012

This is the eighth installment of our weekly Big Ten Power Rankings which we will publish each Friday. This week’s voters were Deepak Jayanti, Joey Nowak and Kevin Trahan of the Big Ten Microsite.

John Beilein's Wolverines are the best team in the B1G heading into the conference season.(AnnArbor.com/Lon Horwedel)

John Beilein’s Wolverines are the best team in the B1G heading into the conference season.(AnnArbor.com/Lon Horwedel)

  1. #2 Michigan – The Wolverines took care of business in the non-conference season and head into the Big Ten slate in good position, ranking No. 2 in the country. The Michigan freshmen needed hardly any time to grow accustomed to the college game, and the backcourt — particularly Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. — is widely regarded as the best in the nation. There are still concerns about the frontcourt, however. Can Jordan Morgan improve his production in conference play this year? Can Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary continue their impressive starts with tougher teams looming? That remains to be seen, but the Wolverines certainly have the pieces in place for a special year. (Last week: No. 1)
  2. #5 Indiana – Indiana still plays Jacksonville Friday night before Big Ten play begins, but assuming no slip-up there, they’ll head into conference play with just one loss. The Hoosiers certainly have enough weapons to win a national title, but their failure to get their top weapons in the game for the full 40 minutes — like the failure to fully utilize Cody Zeller against Butler — could hurt them at some point. They’ll get a stern test to begin conference play as they head to Iowa City to take on an upstart Iowa team that could pose problems due to its depth. That game will be a good barometer to see just how much Indiana has improved since the Butler loss. (Last week: No. 2)
  3. #12 Minnesota – The Gophers make the big leap in this week’s power rankings because Ohio State and Illinois lost over the weekend. Tubby Smith’s crew has one loss to the top ranked team in the country (Duke) and has been very impressive in every other game. When you beat formidable opponents such as Memphis and Florida State but only lose to the best team in America, you’ve had a great non-conference season. But the Gophers can’t rest easy because they have a great opportunity to knock off a very good Michigan State squad at home on New Year’s Eve. At this point, the Gophers are a legitimate contender to win the Big Ten if they take care of business in Minneapolis. (Last week: No. 5)
  4. #11 Ohio State – We dropped the Buckeyes because they lost to Kansas and they may have trouble in the conference season if they can’t find a consistent second scoring option. Aaron Craft (8.9 PPG) impacts the game in other ways than just scoring, but one of Shannon Scott (7.2 PPG) or Laquinton Ross (9.1 PPG) needs to  step into that scoring role for Thad Matta. The first three games of their B1G schedule are winnable games – Nebraska, Purdue and Illinois – if the Buckeyes can manage to put up 60 points on the board. (Last week: No. 3) Read the rest of this entry »
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ATB: Oklahoma State’s Freshmen Rise Up, Ohio State’s Scoring Imbalance, and Colorado Flexes Some Muscle…

Posted by Chris Johnson on November 19th, 2012

Chris Johnson is an RTC National Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Your Weekend Lede. Nonleague Tournaments Offer Raw But Exciting Brand of Hoops. The best teams don’t peak in November. They use the non-conference season as a testing lab to kick around various formations and tactical tweaks. They fashion early judgments on rotation splits and playing time allotments. The college basketball season is a process that involves building and maturing over a four-month period, rounding into form around late February, then peaking in time for the postseason. Most squads are far from finished products. So the basketball you see being played in exempted tournaments across the country in recent days isn’t nearly as crisp or fundamentally sound as the fine-tuned brand of tourney hoops. Think of early-season tournaments as more as barometers for improvement: Based off its performance, each team gets a decent sense of the progress of its development, and how much tweaking needs to be done before conference play. Sloppy or not, nonleague play gives us no shortage of storylines. Here are a few that stuck out over this pre Feast-Week weekend.

Your Watercooler Moment. Another Big 12 Contender Throws Its Hat In Ring.

The Cowboys look invigorated by the arrival of Smart, and it showed in Sunday’s big win over NC State (Photo credit: AP)

Talent is the primary governing force of college basketball. It is the lifeblood of any successful team. Sure, you can do without it, but a marginally-talented team will only get you so far. We saw the tremendous implications of talent with last year’s Kentucky team, when three preternaturally-gifted freshmen carried the Wildcats to a national championship. And we saw it Sunday night, when Oklahoma State – led by sophomore forward Le’Bryan Nash and freshman guard Marcus Smart, both top-10 recruits in consecutive years – routed NC State to take first prize in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Much was made this preseason about NC State’s talent, and without doubt, the Wolfpack have it in droves. What separated the Cowboys Sunday was their defense. Travis Ford’s team held C.J. Leslie, Lorenzo Brown, Rodney Purvis and the rest of the Wolfpack to just 35.5 percent shooting. Leslie, a likely future first-round draft pick and a popular choice on preseason All American lists and top-player rankings, finished just 1-for-5 from the field with two points. Poor shooting helped doom the Wolfpack, to be sure, but for a team that entered this game missing several key players due to injuries (Brian Williams, John Paul Olukemi) and/or unsuspected departures (Cesar Guerrero), this counts as a massive victory over an ACC contender that the Cowboys can bank for the rest of the season. I’m not sure Ford could have drawn up a more favorable start to his tenure-defining season. If Nash and Smart continue to connect on this level, and the Cowboys can replicate Sunday’s defensive effort to any effect, the Big 12 title race could be more undecided than once believed.

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College Basketball By The Tweets: Opening Weekend

Posted by Nick Fasulo on November 12th, 2012

Nick Fasulo is an RTC correspondent who writes the column College Basketball By the Tweets, a look at the world of college hoops through the prism of everyone’s favorite social media platform. You can find him on Twitter @nickfasuloSBN.

The concept was exciting, the buildup palpable. Friday, the hard start to the 2012-2013 season, was supposed to be a grand way to officially tip off the new season by building off of last year’s success of playing a game on an aircraft carrier. But this time around, things went horribly wrong. Yeah Kentucky – Maryland was a good watch. Alabama provided a thrilling finish in their victory over a dangerous South Dakota State team. And UConn surprised many with an impressive victory over Michigan State.

But two games had to be canceled. Canceled because they were being played outdoors on an aircraft carrier in humid areas. Marquette – Ohio State (the Carrier Classic)  and Georgetown – Florida (Navy-Marine Corps Classic) were canceled due to excessive condensation on the court, an embarrassing pair of incidents that will likely put an end to this novel idea, or at least make organizers proceed far more cautiously when attempting to schedule a basketball game in a unique setting.

Naturally, fans took those responsible to task on Twitter. We’ll start with those directly affected, as Marquette blog “Paint Touches” was the first to state the obvious:

Then just under 24 hours later, he dropped some valuable empirical knowledge as San Diego State and Syracuse held their Saturday afternoon shootaround.

And while it seems as though the Orange would have handled the Aztecs if they played indoors, Steve Fisher’s team struggled to get to the rim, relying on perimeter shots that were likely affected by sun and wind.

Meanwhile, Marquette/Ohio State event organizer Morale Entertainment had a major PR crisis on their hands, tweeting out the following to a number of ticked off fans.

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