Three Thoughts on Ohio State’s Win Over Marquette

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 19th, 2014

Ohio State cruised to a 74-63 win over Marquette on Tuesday night in a game that wasn’t quite that close. It doesn’t take long to see that Thad Matta’s team is clearly a different team stylistically than last year’s unit, as the Buckeyes played differently on both the defensive and offensive ends of the floor. With an abundance of shooters at its disposal, Ohio State got out in transition and shot the ball very well from the perimeter (53.3% from three). The defense was also a much different look from the Aaron Craft-led pressure man-to-man of the past several years. Here are some other quick observations from the win.

Thad Matta has made tweaked his system a bit as 2014-15 has started. (AP)

Thad Matta has tweaked his system a bit as this season has started. (AP)

  • Shannon Scott Looks Comfortable as the Primary Ball-handler: The senior has started off passing the ball on fire, as he’s hit double figures in assists in both Ohio State games — good for an astonishing 56.0 percent assist rate. Against Marquette, the Buckeyes showed tremendous spacing all night, making things very easy for Scott to simply pick his options to find the open man. Without having to share the point guard spot this season, he finally looks like he’s free to be himself out there. He’s never been a knock-down shooter, but he’s quick and can get to the basket. He and Craft were great together defensively, but they weren’t the best offensive options on the other end of the floor. Now with only one point guard to direct things, there is room for a shooter like D’Angelo Russell or Kam Williams for Scott to find on his drive-and-kicks.

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RTC Big Ten Preseason Rankings: #4 to #1

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 14th, 2014

RTC finishes our preseason Big Ten rankings today with spots #4 through #1. The bottom tier of teams, #14 to #10, released earlier this week, and the mid-tier teams, also released earlier this week, provide depth to the conference. But it’s these four squads in the top tier that will likely be fighting to win the conference title and lock down high seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

4. Ohio State

  • What they do well: A little bit of everything, is that too vague? There is nothing that sticks out as special about these Buckeyes, but they will play the solid all-around basketball of Thad Matta. Shannon Scott will push the tempo and control the offense while D’Angelo Russell could be the offensive spark that it needs this season. Overall, the Buckeyes will minimize mistakes and play good defense.
  • What they don’t do well: Score during crunch time. The Buckeyes had trouble finding key buckets during the last two minutes of games last season and unless Russell becomes a true go-to guy, they will have the same issues again.

    Mark could be a key contributor in the frontcourt for Ohio State this season. (thelantern.com)

    Mark Loving could be a key contributor in the frontcourt for Ohio State this season. (thelantern.com)

  • Get to know: Mark Loving. Russell will be the highlight during the non-conference season but Loving could be the super sophomore that helps this team get off to a good start and compete for the conference crown. He has the ability to rebound and stretch the floor from the four position.
  • Why they’ll finish 4th: They don’t have enough talent to leapfrog into the top three, but they should win 10 to 12 Big Ten games this year.
  • Why they’ll finish higher: If Russell, Scott and Loving can each average 12 PPG or more, the Buckeyes can push themselves into a real contending spot. Loving’s contributions will very important because Matta’s team has struggled to find consistent offense over the past two seasons. Read the rest of this entry »
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2014-15 RTC Top 25: Preseason Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on November 14th, 2014

And so it begins — the time of year when we hear familiar voices on the television, see the faces on the floor, and our favorite teams again playing games that count in the standings. It is a beautiful time, indeed. With a large slate of games commencing this evening, we officially unveil RTC’s 2014-15 Preseason Top 25. This poll will hold for about 10 days, but starting November 24, you can expect our weekly poll to come out every Monday morning throughout the rest of the season. Along with the rankings will be the usual quick and dirty analysis that dives deeper into how the teams shake out from top to bottom. To see how we did last year, check out our 2013-14 preseason poll — we nailed some (Louisville, Michigan, Florida, Kansas), and missed on others (Oklahoma State, Marquette, Notre Dame, Georgetown). We promise to do better this time around.

rtc25 preseason

Quick n’ Dirty Thoughts.

  • A Strong Majority Like Kentucky – Six of our seven pollsters were in agreement that Kentucky is the top team in the country, while the lone dissenter went with #2 Arizona. It is very difficult to argue with either selection, but Kentucky reigned supreme with John Calipari bringing another star-studded recruiting class (Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns) to play alongside a formidable returning unit (Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Alex Poythress, Marcus Lee, Dakari Johnson, and Willie Cauley-Stein). Calipari has so much talent at his disposal that he is planning on starting the season with two separate “platoons” of six players that will roughly play the same number of minutes. Will this strategy work? That certainly remains to be seen, but it will be an interesting narrative to follow. After advancing to the Elite Eight last spring, Arizona is once again loaded with talent. T.J. McConnell, Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson all return, and the other Wildcats are joined by much-balleyhooed freshman Stanley Johnson.
  • After The Top Four, Everything Is Fairly Close – Kentucky, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Duke are well-established by our pollsters as the four top teams in the country. After that, there was not a ton of agreement on the remaining 21 teams. For example, #7 North Carolina was voted as high as #5 by three pollsters, but the Tar Heels also drew two votes at #12. This much uncertainty regarding the placement of the #5 through #25 teams in the country should make for a fun early season stretch where some teams will undoubtedly distinguish themselves as bona fide contenders while others will fade out of the RTC25.

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Introducing the RTC All-Big Ten Third Team

Posted by Eric Clark on November 12th, 2014

College basketball makes its return on Friday, and the Big Ten microsite’s writing crew has come together and formally voted on their preseason All-Big Ten teams. Having already released our pick for Big Ten Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, we’ll release the rest of our preseason projections later this week.

RTC All-Big Ten Third Team

Shavon Shields, junior, Nebraska 6’7”, 221 lbs. (12.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 44.3% FG). Terran Petteway is the obvious catalyst for the Huskers, but Shields, a Big Ten honorable mention selection last year, will be his primary sidekick. Standing at 6’7”, Shields can pose significant match-up problems at the two-guard spot. The Olathe, Kansas, native ranked 11th in the Big Ten in defensive rebounding last season, pulling down over four caroms per game while leading Nebraska with 5.8 boards per game. His ability to get to the basket is what makes him truly indispensible, while all his work on the boards from the wing positions are gravy.

Shavon Shields Leads the RTC Big Ten Preseason Third Team  (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Shavon Shields Leads the RTC Big Ten Preseason Third Team (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Rayvonte Rice, senior, Illinois 6’4”, 230 lbs. (15.9 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.66 SPG). Rice made waves in his first season of play at Illinois (he redshirted the 2012-13 campaign due to NCAA transfer rules), leading the team in points and pulling down 210 rebounds, just one shy of the team high. Rice will be counted on even more this season after Tracy Abrams was lost for the season with a knee injury. If Rice can improve upon his three-point percentage (29.5%), he’ll be a far more dangerous player this season. Pairing a solid long-range game with his size, strength and overall toughness would serve the Illini well come postseason crunch time.

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D’Angelo Russell: RTC Big Ten’s Preseason Freshman of the Year

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 11th, 2014

Thad Matta has been the most successful coach at Ohio State since the Fred Taylor era in the sixties. As he enters his eleventh season in Columbus, his Big Ten resume reads as follows: Five regular-season conference championships, four tournament championships, and two Final Four appearances including a trip to the National Championship game. One of the pillars to his success has been his ability to lure superbly talented recruits who are able to have an immediate impact in their freshman season. Players like Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Jared Sullinger, and Aaron Craft have fit this bill and are a big part of why the Buckeyes have had sustained success for almost a decade. D’Angelo Russell is the next player to follow in these footsteps. He’s a prolific scorer who joins an Ohio State squad in need of someone to take the reins of their offense. For these reasons, he’s our Big Ten Preseason Freshman of the Year.

d'angelo russell

D’Angelo Russell is set up to lead his team in scoring in his first year at Ohio State (Danny Wild).

Although Russell is originally from Louisville, he finished his high school career in Montverde Academy in Florida where played point guard and led his prep team to win the Dick’s Sporting Goods High School National Tournament. He was also selected to the McDonald’s All American team where he scored 11 points (5-10 FG) in 15 minutes. The 6’5”, 180 lbs. combo guard has a remarkable ability to put the ball in the basket due to his effective shooting, ball handling ability, and natural feel for the game. But what impressed Matta most about the young guard is “… his demeanor on the court at this point just in terms of, he can take a court over”.

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The Five Best Big Ten Non-Conference Games

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 11th, 2014

We’re just a few days away from the first official tip-offs of the season, which will mean that the non-conference portion of the season has begun. Most fans will watch their team play some little-known school for an easy win over the weekend, but there is an excellent slate of non-conference games involving Big Ten teams on the horizon. The five best of those games are listed below. A couple caveats: (1) no games from the Big Ten/ACC Challenge were included because we’ll cover that event in full later this month; and (2) the annual rivalry match-ups (e.g., Illinois-Missouri, Iowa-Iowa State, etc.) were also removed, since those games have already been discussed ad nauseam. This list represents the best of the rest.

The following list is in chronological order and displays each team’s expected record (according to Kenpom) at the time of the game.

Minnesota (0-0) vs Louisville (0-0)

Armed Forces Classic – Aguadilla, PR – Friday, November 14: Minnesota fans will be in for a treat on opening night as the Gophers will headline ESPN’s coverage against the Cardinals at U.S Air Station Borinquen in Puerto Rico. This will arguably be the best match-up of the night, pitting two teams from power conferences in a father/son battle with Richard Pitino taking on his dad, Rick, for the second time in his short career. The Golden Gophers play a similar style as Louisville — including the Pitino family’s patented pressing defense — but they are outmatched in talent. Still, with returning starters such as Deandre Mathieu, Andre Hollins and Elliott Eliason available, young Pitino could be poised to catch his father’s team by surprise and make it interesting. Honestly, just be happy that this game is not taking place on an aircraft carrier.

Michigan State (1-0) vs Duke (2-0)

These two legends face off again as Michigan State battles Duke in their early non-conference schedule. (AP)

These two legends face off again as Michigan State battles Duke. (AP)

Champions Classic – Indianapolis, IN – Tuesday, November 18: The Champions Classic has become an early-season staple as the unofficial marquee event to tip off college basketball. It’s been a successful series as four elite programs — Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, and Michigan State — have rotated match-ups to play each other over a three-year period. This season the Spartans draw Duke and their trio of super freshmen — Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow. But what the Blue Devils have in talent, they lack in experience. An early game like this gives Michigan State a golden opportunity to notch a resume-building win against a team that could end up as a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten M5: 11.10.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 10th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. After numerous key losses from last year’s team, Denzel Valentine has to have a big season for Michigan State if Sparty wants to avoid falling back into the Big Ten pack. If preseason exhibitions are any indication, then Valentine is definitely in line for a huge season. He went for 24 points and 12 rebounds on 6-of-9 shooting from behind the arc in the Spartans’ first preseason tilt, then topped that off with a 15-point, 11-rebound, 11-assist triple-double over the weekend. Should he notch one of these stat lines in the regular season, he would join a select group of Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Draymond Green and Charlie Bell as the only Michigan State players to register one in a regular season game.
  2. Another preseason standout has been Ohio State freshman guard D’Angelo Russell. Russell enters college basketball with plenty of expectations, and he showed the reason behind them by leading the Buckeyes in scoring in a win over Walsh College, 77-37, on Sunday. In addition to his 17 points, he also chipped in eight rebounds and six assists for an all-around fantastic performance. Four Buckeyes went for double figures, including fellow freshman Ja’Sean Tate with 10 points. With so much experience on the roster, it will be interesting to see how Thad Matta manages his team if Russell is the team’s best offensive weapon. Will the seniors allow him to take the big shots late in games?
  3. Eddie Jordan is quietly putting together a solid recruiting class for Rutgers with his growing haul in the Class of 2015. Highly-rated point guard Corey Sanders is already in the fold, and now combo guard Justin Goode has also pledged his services to the Scarlet Knights. Goode joins his teammate at Hargrave Military Academy, Kejuan Johnson, in becoming the second recruit from the school to verbally commit to Rutgers in just the last week. With Myles Mack leaving after this season, having as many guards on the roster to choose from will help Jordan rebuild this long-suffering program.
  4. Even though it was against a Division II opponent, it has to be a good sign for Northwestern to score 102 points in a game — which is the exact output the Wildcats put up in their 50-point Friday night win against McKendree. Alex Olah led the team in scoring with 18 points, eight rebounds and four blocks. The team shot an absurd 72 percent from the field, and head coach Chris Collins used garbage time to mix different combinations of lineups with all the new players on the roster. The coach was pleased with the effort, saying, “We have a lot of guys who are really good players. I am really proud of our group.”
  5. The image of Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery stalking the officials on to the court in the Hawkeyes’ loss at Wisconsin last year was one of the most memorable and infamous moments of the Big Ten season. Having a son diagnosed with cancer will change one’s perspective, however, and McCaffery acknowledges that each possession on the basketball floor is not going to get him quite as upset as it probably would have in the past. Patrick McCaffery, now 6’5″, is currently dunking in junior high games. Recent blood work shows that he is cancer-free, and this is obviously outstanding news for the entire Iowa basketball family.
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Unbalanced Schedules Create Difficult Paths to Big Ten Title

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 7th, 2014

With a 14-team league and an 18-game conference schedule, the path to a Big Ten regular season title is not equitable. A 26-game round robin is out of the question, so that means that by a simple luck of the draw, certain teams will end up with “easier” schedules than others. The easier comes with the tongue-in-cheek quotation marks because all we have right now are preseason projections. Last year, for example, a preseason review of a game in Lincoln would have seemed like a relatively easy projected win for a team like Wisconsin. So in crunching some numbers and considering how we at the microsite voted in our yet-to-be-released preseason poll, here’s a cursory look at three Big Ten teams that look like they will have the toughest slate of conference games, followed by two teams who appear to owe the scheduling gods a thank-you note.

Chris Collins have many more moments of frustration with the way the B1G schedule breaks for the Wildcats. (Getty).

Chris Collins have many more moments of frustration with the way the B1G schedule breaks for the Wildcats. (Getty).

Toughest Schedules

  • Northwestern. The Wildcats have the unenviable task of playing Wisconsin, Michigan State and Michigan twice. They also have to play at Nebraska in their only meeting against the Cornhuskers. The other two opponents they play twice are Illinois and Iowa, a pair of teams that have an excellent chance to make the NCAA Tournament if things go their way. After Northwestern travels to New Jersey to play Rutgers in its first league game, a slate that features Wisconsin, Michigan State, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio State awaits them next. Starting on February 3, they have a week of games that includes a trip to Nebraska, followed by another one to Wisconsin, and then Michigan State at home. This team could be much better than last year’s group, yet end up with a similar or worse record in conference play.

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Back and Forth: Eight Memorable Exhibition Upsets

Posted by Judson Harten on November 4th, 2014

Each week, RTC columnist Judson Harten will profile some of the week’s biggest upcoming games by taking a look back at some relevant history relating to the match-ups. This is Back And Forth.

Exhibitions are a tease, really. College basketball fans wait with great anticipation for the first practices of the season, sure, but what they really want are games. Live game action… that’s what counts. Exhibitions don’t really provide the same juice. But as we wait for games that count to get started, two things are almost certain:

  1. Your team is “coming along well” this season, per every team’s coach.
  2. Exhibition games are all we have to go on until the season actually tips off in about 10 days.
Even the great Jim Boeheim isn't immune to the curious upset from time-to-time. (Getty)

Even the great Jim Boeheim isn’t immune to the curious upset from time to time. (Getty)

Most of the time, the games aren’t even close. The completely outmatched D-II/D-III/NAIA team that took the big paycheck to come get its whoopin’ is just a preseason sacrificial lamb for most of the elite programs. Sometimes the games are a bit closer than anticipated because it obvious that the coaching staff wants to test some new wrinkles in their game plan — strategies, lineups, etc. Rarely do these teams suffer losses, but they do pop up from time to time. This week Back And Forth takes a look at some of the few exhibition upsets in recent years, and what, if anything, they meant for the season ahead.

1. November 3, 2009: LeMoyne 82, #25 Syracuse 79

THE SKINNY: When I set out to find some of the better exhibition upsets of recent years, this was the first one that I found in the search engines and websites I checked. Christopher Johnson’s three-pointer with 8.3 seconds left pushed the Division II Dolphins past the Orange. A newly-eligible Wes Johnson – in his lone season playing for coach Jim Boeheim – finished with a game-high 34 points in the loss. Read the rest of this entry »

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Thoughts on the Big Ten in the Preseason Polls

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 3rd, 2014

Both preseason polls have now been released as the AP Poll officially made its appearance on Halloween. The Big Ten placed five teams in the AP and six teams in the the USA Today/Coaches Poll. Here’s how all of the teams ranked in each poll, followed by some quick analysis as to what this means going forward.

Bo Ryan and Wisconsin are ranked inside the top 4 of both preseason polls. (AP)

Bo Ryan and Wisconsin are ranked in the top four of both major preseason polls. (AP)

(AP ranking followed by USA Today/Coaches Poll ranking)

  • Wisconsin (#3) (#4)
  • Michigan State (#18) (#18)
  • Ohio State (#20) (#20)
  • Nebraska (#21) (#21)
  • Michigan (#24) (#23)
  • Iowa (#28) (#25)
  • Minnesota (#31) (#32)
  • Maryland (#46) (NR)
  • Illinois (#46) ( #42)

Wisconsin is Getting a Good Deal of Love

The Badgers have already been named a unanimous favorite to win the B1G by both the coaches and the writers, and they are also getting a good deal of respect nationally. Wisconsin received eight first-place votes in the AP Poll, and it also garnered three more in the USA Today/Coaches Poll. Returning four starters from a Final Four team along with the fact that Bo Ryan’s teams are typically better when they have experienced players played a key role in how these writers and coaches voted. But as we saw last season when Michigan State was ranked in the top five to start the season, it’s wise to not crown the Badgers as the Big Ten champs just yet. Even with Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig poised to take bigger roles in the rotation, depth could hinder the Badgers if they get hit with key injuries. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten M5: Halloween Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on October 31st, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. It was always going to be a rough introduction into the Big Ten for Rutgers, given that last year the Scarlet Knights weren’t competitive in a mediocre American Athletic Conference. If they are going to turn things around, the effort will need to be led by one of their senior leaders, Kadeem Jack. So head coach Eddie Jordan must be more than a little concerned that last year’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer has been unable to practice due to a wrist injury. Jack is expected to be healthy by the first game of the season against George Washington, but Jordan needs to hope that’s the case as his team is going to need all the wins it can get for a shot at a postseason tournament.
  2. In East Lansing, Michigan State is also dealing with the injury bug. Tom Izzo’s team will lose freshman Javon Bess for at least a month as he will have surgery on his injured foot. Though not a heralded recruit, he seemed to have already earned some respect from his fellow teammates and coach. Izzo called him a “diamond in the rough” while Denzel Valentine said his loss is “gonna be big [to us].” His injury chips at the Spartans’ depth, something the Spartans would like to have as they make their way through another tough non-conference schedule with opponents like Duke, Georgia Tech, Kansas and Notre Dame slated.
  3. The season hasn’t even started, but Richard Pitino is already dealing with some off-the-court issues, as Minnesota dismissed junior Zach Lofton on Wednesday with no specific explanation given for his cause for dismissal. The 6’4″ wing had transferred to Minnesota from Illinois State, where he averaged 11.3 PPG and 3.0 RPG last season. His dismissal has no effect with respect to this season, as Lofton would have had to redshirt this year anyway. But it’s certainly not ideal and leaves a hole in Pitino’s lineup for the 2015-16 season that he will need to fill. Not a great start for the Golden Gophers.
  4. Earlier in the week, SBNation released its Top 100 players list. Yesterday, CBSSports.com did likewise. One big difference between the two lists was with the ranking of Sam Dekker, who came in at #5 on the latter as opposed to #33 on the former. Another huge difference in ranking was Ohio State’s freshman D’Angelo Russell, who was listed all the way up at #44 on CBS and was left off the list altogether on SBNation. They reached some consensus, however, with Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Michigan’s Caris Levert as top 10 players. Finally, while SBNation put 15 B1G players on its list, CBS was more bearish on the conference’s talent with only 11 players. These lists make for fun fodder, but honestly, it’ll be nice just to get through all this and focus on the games.
  5. Lastly, Indiana’s Tom Crean is trying to get his Hoosiers squad ready for game shape this week. The Hoosiers lost some key players from last year’s squad, such as Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Noah Vonleh, four-year contributor Will Sheehey, and a bunch of transfers. This lack in continuity is showing as the coach has to impress upon his squad to avoid “defensive fatigue”. While the Hoosiers lost a bunch of talent, they also brought in a quality freshmen class. Crean will need to get his star point guard, Yogi Ferrell, to whip those youngsters in shape if they’re to avoid another disappointing season.
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Ohio State Seniors Must Take on New Roles This Season

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 23rd, 2014

This will be the first Ohio State basketball team without Aaron Craft on the roster since 2010, despite the fact that it seems like he was the Buckeyes’ point guard since the turn of the century. He and Lenzelle Smith Jr. started on teams that reached the Final Four and Elite Eight in consecutive seasons and manned the backcourt in Columbus for the last three years. Combine this with the loss of leading scorer LaQuinton Ross and the Buckeyes have numerous question marks heading into this year’s campaign. Freshmen like D’angelo Russell and JaSean Tate will certainly help offensively and returnee Marc Loving showed signs last year that he could become a double-figure scorer at some point in his Buckeyes’ career. But this team will only go as far as its senior class — Shannon Scott, Amir Williams, Sam Thompson, Trey McDonald and Anthony Lee — will take them. After a disappointing 25-10 mark as a result of a questionable offense (10th in the B1Gin offensive efficiency), the seniors need to prove that they can continue to defend at an elite level without the services of the best on-ball defender in the country, and that they can actually find better ways to put some points on the board.

Shannon Scott will take over the primary ball-handling duties for Ohio State this season.  (Andy Manis, AP)

Shannon Scott will take over the primary ball-handling duties for Ohio State this season.
(Andy Manis, AP)

At this point it’s probably safe to say that Williams will never be a dominant force on the offensive end. He is, however, useful as a rim-protector, finishing fourth  in the league last season in blocks. McDonald made strides last season as a backup big man, showing that even though he too lacks offensive polish, he can contribute on the defensive end and on the glass. Both players foul far too often (a combined 11.1 fouls per 40 minutes),  but if the pair can stay on the court long enough to combine for about 15 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks per game, then they’ll have done their job as a tandem. Thompson saw his numbers drop across the board last season, and much like with Williams, it’s tempting to just assume that he is who he is at this point in his career. Even if he does nothing to improve his offensive numbers, Thompson can improve his team if he becomes a lockdown perimeter defender (which he has the athleticism to do) and if he increases his rebounding output. At 6’7″, only two conference players at the same size or taller (Will Sheehey and Joey King) had a lower defensive rebounding rate than Thompson last season. He did shoot 40.4 percent from deep as a sophomore, but he slipped back down to 35.5 percent last year. If he can knock down about 38 percent of his attempts from three and add to his rebounding totals, he should be on the floor for Thad Matta at crunch time.

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