Ten Questions to Consider: Early Conference Action? Edition

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 30th, 2018

As November comes to a close, we are starting to have an idea of what teams will look like this season. Here are 10 questions I have for a group heading into this weekend’s action.

Michigan and Purdue Meet in an Early Monster Big Ten Match-Up (USA Today Images)

  1. Can the Badgers end their skid against the Hawkeyes? (Wisconsin @ Iowa, Friday 8 PM EST, Big Ten Network) Wisconsin begins Big Ten play on the last day of November with a trip to Iowa. The Badgers come to Iowa City having lost two straight to the Hawkeyes. In last season’s defeat, the trio of Ethan Happ, Khalil Iverson and the seldom used Charles Thomas made 20-of-35 shots while the rest of the Badgers went 6-of-30 from the field.
  2. Can San Francisco continue its hot start in Northern Ireland? (San Francisco vs. Stephen F. Austin, Friday 8 AM EST) The Hall of Fame Belfast Classic will give four mid-majors an opportunity to pick up a pair of quality wins this weekend. While the WCC is often Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and everyone else, USF is making its presence felt so far this seaon. The Dons are a perfect 5-0 to date and have a chance to pick up quality wins against Stephen F. Austin and potentially Buffalo. A pair of victories here could further the WCC’s notion of becoming a three-bid league next March.
  3. How will Gonzaga fare in its first true road game of the season? (Gonzaga @ Creighton, Saturday 2 PM EST, Fox) Gonzaga hits the road for its first true road game of the year in Omaha against Creighton. The Bulldogs must deal with an elite shooting team in the Bluejays, which have made at least nine three-pointers in every game while Gonzaga has allowed that many only once.
  4. Can Purdue’s offense be effective against Michigan’s elite defense? (Purdue @ Michigan, Saturday 3:30 PM, ESPN) In Purdue’s recent two losses, star guard Carsen Edwards committed 14 turnovers while handing out 11 assists. This early blockbuster Big Ten match-up will be interesting as Michigan’s defensive focus is staying in front of its opponent and making every shot difficult — more so than creating turnovers.
  5. Can USC get a resume-building win over Nevada? (Nevada @ USC, Saturday 4:30 PM EST, Fox) USC sits at 5-2 with all five of its wins against teams with a KenPom ranking outside of the top 200. With Nevada coming into the Galen Center on Saturday afternoon, the Trojans have an opportunity to add a marquee win to their resume. In order to have a chance, USC will need Bennie Boatwright to shine and for Kevin Porter Jr. to play after missing the last two games with a quad bruise. Read the rest of this entry »
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Where 2018-19 Happens: Reason #15 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 23rd, 2018

As RTC heads into its 12th season covering college hoops, it’s time to begin releasing our annual compendium of YouTube clips that we like to call Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball. These 30 snippets from last season’s action are completely guaranteed to make you wish the games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on Tuesday, November 6. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#15 – Where Whatever It Takes Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-142014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17  and 2017-18 preseasons.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Texas Tech 78, #2 Purdue 65

Posted by Matt Patton on March 24th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Matt Patton (@pattonm08) is in Boston for the East Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Texas Tech’s depth is a big part of their run. (Photo credit: Lubboc Avalanche Journal)

  1. Texas Tech is deep. The Red Raiders outscored Purdue’s bench 33-6 tonight. Four players wound up in double figures, and Niem Stevenson had nine of those points. For most of the game All-American Keenan Evans was ineffective (he was 1-of-6 from the field at the under-eight media timeout in the second half), but Texas Tech remained in control. Somehow he still ended up Texas Tech’s leading scorer, but his points mostly served to maintain rather than build the lead. In contrast to the injury-hampered Boilermakers, only Evans finished with more than 30 minutes. That bodes well for the quick turnaround coming before Sunday.
  2. Carsen Edwards versus Jalen Brunson was the matchup we’ll never get to see. With the rest of his team ineffective and hesitant, Edwards was poetry in motion tonight. He finished with 30 points on 20 shots and, amazingly, only one turnover. Edwards has a nose for the ball and like Brunson always finds a way to carve up double-teams. Edwards kept the Boilermakers within striking distance until the last five minutes of the game when an 11-0 Red Raiders run sealed it. The backup matchup of Brunson and Evans should still be must-see basketball, but their styles of play are much more distinct.
  3. Injuries bite. Without Isaac Haas, Purdue had no viable inside presence to combat Texas Tech with tonight. Matt Haarms and Vincent Edwards were non-factors. Edwards’ four offensive boards were more than cancelled out by his six turnovers. Haas’ absence hurt Purdue’s presence on the defensive boards and probably contributed to the team’s turnovers. Without being able to play inside-out, the offense sputtered for long stretches at a time. After the game, Purdue head coach Matt Painter noted, “Empty possessions really hurt us where we weren’t getting a shot at all, and that was probably the hardest thing for us, where they were getting in transition, getting the layups and the dunks.” In addition to dominating the bench points, Texas Tech owned a 15-2 advantage in points off turnovers. Had Purdue not hit nearly 40 percent of its threes this evening, this game could have been incredibly ugly.

Stars of the Game: Justin Gray and Zhaire Smith played like stars in finishing a combined 13-of-18 from the field for 26 points and 12 boards (five offensive) collectively. They’ll need to continue their excellence on Sunday and Beard will need a lot out of Gray in particular against Villanova’s more intact frontline.

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NCAA Regional Reset: East Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 20th, 2018

Rush the Court is providing comprehensive coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks. Today and tomorrow we reset each of the four regions. 

New Favorite: #1 Villanova (32-4). The Wildcats did nothing to put their ‘favorite’ status into question over the weekend. In fact, they may have actually established themselves as the new odds-on favorite to win the whole thing. After handling #16 seed Radford by 27 points in the First Round, Villanova put on a second half clinic against #9 Alabama in the Round of 32, outscoring the Crimson Tide 49-21 over the final 20 minutes and finishing the game with 17 made three-pointers. On the weekend, in fact, Villanova shot a combined 31-of-68 (46%) from long range, its spread offense looking more lethal than ever. Now ranked #1 by KenPom with the most efficient offense in America, the Wildcats roll into Boston looking Final Four ready — especially considering the season-ending injury to Purdue center Isaac Haas in the other half of this bracket.

Meet the new favorite, same as the old favorite. (Yahoo Sports)

Horse of Darkness: #5 West Virginia (26-10). We had to put someone here, right? In an overall bracket riddled with chaos, the East Region remained more uniform than most, leaving #5 West Virginia as the “dark horse” if there is one. Entering the NCAA Tournament, KenPom gave the Mountaineers only a 42.6 percent chance of reaching the Sweet Sixteen, odds that changed dramatically once Marshall upset #4 Wichita State on Friday. West Virginia now heads to Boston where it will be a clear underdog against #1 Villanova, which is probably just how Bob Huggins and his aggressive group likes it.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #13 Marshall (25-11). Hunter became the hunted in San Diego, where #4 Wichita State — usually the one busting brackets — fell victim to Marshall’s high-powered attack. Entering Friday, the Shockers had won at least one game as a lower-seeded team in five of the last six NCAA Tournaments, including a run to the Final Four as a #9 seed in 2013. Simply put, Wichita State feels comfortable wearing the underdog hat — even in games in which it is favored, like that 2014 classic against #8 seed Kentucky. But this time around, Gregg Marshall’s group felt like Goliath, and perhaps that unfamiliar pressure wore on the Shockers down the stretch. While Wichita State tightened in the second half, the Thundering Herd just kept on shooting. The result was an upset we did not see coming.

Completely Expected (First Weekend): #2 Purdue. We fully expected Purdue to reach the Sweet Sixteen. What we did not expect was how much uncertainty it would endure to get there. After pounding Cal State Fullerton in the First Round, the team announced that senior Isaac Haas — the Boilermakers’ second-leading scorer and premier post-threat — would miss the remainder of the NCAA Tournament with a fractured elbow. Subsequent reports revealed that he might see limited action. Finally, his arm brace failed to clear NCAA safety standards, meaning the Boilermakers would have to beat Butler without him. They did, thanks in large part to the brilliance of Vincent Edwards (20 points), but not before two days filled with doubt.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Purdue 76, #10 Butler 73

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 18th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) is in Detroit this weekend. 

Three Key Takeaways.

Vincent Edwards came up big for the shorthanded Boilermakers. (Photo: Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Without Isaac Haas in the lineup, Vincent Edwards stepped up. Purdue suffered a devastating blow on Friday when 7’2″ center Isaac Haas, the team’s second-leading scorer (14.7 PPG) and premier post threat, fractured his elbow against Cal State Fullerton. First reports indicated that he would miss the entire NCAA Tournament; subsequent reports revealed he might see limited minutes. But after his arm brace failed to clear NCAA safety standards over the weekend, the Boilermakers were officially left having to fill the void. Vincent Edwards did exactly that. In just 27 minutes of action because of foul trouble, the senior forward scored 20 points on 6-of-8 shooting — including a couple of timely triples — and came up with a lead-preserving block on Butler’s Kamar Baldwin in the closing minutes. After a late-season ankle injury and two subpar performances in the Big Ten Tournament, Edwards stepped up in a big way for the shorthanded Boilermakers.
  2. Matt Haarms and Purdue’s frontcourt reserves exceeded expectations. No Haas in the lineup meant more minutes for freshman Matt Haarms and the rest of Purdue’s frontcourt reserves. And they made good on that extra playing time. Haarms, a 7’3″ Dutchman, was a defensive force in the paint, blocking a couple shots, drawing a charge and preventing easy Butler looks around the rim (especially in the first half). Junior Grady Eifert — who played sparingly during the regular season — tracked down five rebounds in 17 high-energy minutes. Forwards Nojel Eastern and Jacquil Taylor, who had played just four minutes total since January 20, also helped fill the void. “I’m proud of those other guys who had to increase their roles,” Purdue head coach Matt Painter said afterwards.
  3. Kelan Martin did not get enough help. As he did against Arkansas, Kelan Martin — an all-Big East first teamer and Butler’s top offensive weapon — did his part (and then some) on Sunday, scoring 29 points on 9-of-18 shooting. During the second half especially, his ability to attack the rim at-will proved to be the Bulldogs’ best and most consistent form of offense. Painter called him “fantastic” afterwards, and he was. But unlike on Friday, he did not receive enough help from his teammates — most notably Kamar Baldwin. After putting on a show against Arkansas (24 points on 9-of-17 FG), the sophomore guard scored just 14 points on 5-of-16 shooting. And his teammates weren’t much better, considering no other Bulldog finished in double figures. In a game that was decided by a few key possessions, Butler needed someone other than Martin to step up offensively.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Purdue 74, #15 Cal State Fullerton 48

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 16th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) is reporting from Detroit. 

Three Key Takeaways.

Purdue dominated Cal State Fullerton in Detroit. (Image from Purdue University/Twitter)

  1. Purdue looked elite in the second half. There was a time earlier this season when Purdue looked as dominant as any team in the country. Then the Boilermakers lost three straight games in February, the defense regressed and tired legs appeared to take hold. Above all, they seemed to lose their confidence. Friday’s effort against Cal State Fullerton might have represented a big first step towards regaining that edge, as Purdue’s defense — which dropped to 32nd nationally in efficiency after once ranking among the top-10 — completely shut down the Titans’ attack-first offense. The Boilermakers held the Big West champs to just 36 percent shooting while rediscovering their shooting stroke in the second half (6-of-11 3PT). If Matt Painter’s group can repeat its second half effort against Arkansas/Butler and beyond, Purdue very much has a chance to reach San Antonio.
  2. Carsen Edwards is Purdue’s most important weapon. This might seem counterintuitive considering how much attention Isaac Haas receives, but not only is Edwards Purdue’s leading scorer (18.5 PPG), he’s also perhaps its only player capable of getting to the rim at will. When the Boilermakers couldn’t buy a shot in the first half — including several Haas rim-outs — the sophomore took it upon himself to attack the lane and either force help, draw a foul or make a bucket. Edwards, who accounted for 13 of his team’s 30 first half points, showed once again why he’s the player who takes Purdue’s offense from good to great.
  3. The long layover seemed to help. After struggling to find its shooting stroke in the first half, Purdue overwhelmed Fullerton with its size and shooting ability in the final 20 minutes. Senior forward Vincent Edwards, who suffered an ankle sprain in late February that sidelined him for two games, looked especially fresh, logging 15 points and seven rebounds while playing outstanding defense — including one of the best transition blocks you’ll see all tournament. Even while Painter acknowledged that the layoff may’ve slowed his team down early, there’s no denying that fresh legs helped the Boilermakers maintain their dominance down the stretch. When it’s all said and done, the week-early Big Ten Tournament may’ve been the best possible scenario for Purdue.

Star of the Game. Vincent Edwards, Purdue. While Carsen Edwards was key to Purdue’s first half lead, it was the senior Edwards — who finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and one huge block — who played the best all-around game. His two-way effort was an encouraging sign for Purdue, considering the ankle injury he suffered in February.

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RTC Bracket Prep: East Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 12th, 2018

Today and tomorrow we will be rolling out our region-by-region analysis for the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Here, Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates over the next two weeks (@RTCEastRegion).

East Region

Favorite: #1 Villanova (30-4, 14-4 Big East). Sound familiar? Villanova enters the NCAA Tournament as a #1 or #2 seed for the fifth straight season, a remarkable run that has included great success (see: 2016 National Championship) and bitter disappointment, with the Wildcats failing to reach the Sweet Sixteen in 2014, 2015 and 2017. This year, expect something closer to the former. While less defensively stout than in recent seasons, Villanova boasts the second-most efficient offense in the KenPom era behind only Wisconsin in 2014-15. Big East Player of the Year Jalen Brunson (19.4 PPG) might be the most reliable late-game scorer in college basketball, while 6’7″ wing Mikal Bridges (18 PPG, 1.6 SPG, 1.1 BPG) — a projected lottery pick — is among the sport’s premier two-way players. Jay Wright’s club may not be deep, but its 7-to-8 man rotation is cohesive and often blisteringly lethal. A potential Sweet Sixteen match-up with West Virginia could present some challenges, but it’s hard to see the Wildcats stumbling until a possible Elite Eight game with Purdue.

Villanova Adds Some More Hardware to Its Trophy Case (USA Today Images)

Should They Falter: #2 Purdue (28-6, 15-3 Big Ten). As recently as early February, Purdue ranked among the top 10 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency while arguably looking like the best team in America. Then it lost three games in a row, battled injury concerns and looked prone to fatigue. Lucky for the Boilermakers, this year’s early Big Ten Tournament means they will have had a full 11 days of rest by the time they tip off against Cal State Fullerton on Friday. That bodes well for an offense — the country’s second-most efficient behind Villanova —predicated on lights-out three-point shooting (42% 3FG) and pounding it underneath to 7’2″ center Isaac Haas (14.9 PPG). The extra rest should also help Purdue’s struggling defense clamp down more like it did for the first three months of the season. Between the match-up problems Haas and guard Carsen Edwards (18.5 PPG) present in addition to a manageable bottom half of the bracket, Matt Painter’s group is the next best bet after the Wildcats.

Grossly Overseeded: #9 Alabama (19-15, 8-10 SEC). There was nothing too egregious in the East Region, but it’s still hard to look at Alabama’s 15 (15!) losses and sub-.500 conference record and feel good about the Crimson Tide as a #9 seed. On Thursday, they were one Collin Sexton missed-layup away from the NIT. Two SEC Tournament wins later — albeit against quality opponents — and they are seeded higher than a Butler team that’s been an NCAA Tournament lock for weeks (with wins over Villanova and Ohio State to boot).

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big Ten Teams

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 11th, 2018

Below is a review of how the selection process concluded for each Big Ten team and what they should expect in the first few rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

Can Michigan stay red-hot in the Big Dance? (SI.com)

  • Purdue, #2 seed, East Region. Fatigue played a role in Purdue’s late-season slide, which makes its first-round draw — a Friday match-up against Cal-State Fullerton — especially beneficial. While the Titans are the most aggressive squad in the country, scoring nearly 25 percent of their points at the free throw line, no team in the NCAA Tournament surrenders fewer points at the charity stripe than the Boilermakers. Isaac Haas and the rest of his front line should have no problem limiting Fullerton’s paint production. A potential second-round game with Arkansas could be a different story. The Razorbacks play an uptempo brand of basketball and have the size up front — 6’11” freshman Daniel Gafford (11.9 PPG, 2.1 BPG), in particular — to compete. Still, whether it winds up being Arkansas or Butler, expect Purdue to reach the East Regional in Boston.
  • Michigan State, #3 seed, Midwest Region. Despite a 29-4 record and regular season Big Ten title, Michigan State fell to the #3 line because of its dearth of Quadrant 1 wins. As a consolation prize, the Spartans get to play in Detroit, where they’ll take on Patriot League champion Bucknell. The Bison are a balanced, cohesive group that nearly upset #4 West Virginia in last year’s Dance. They also have size up front (namely 6’10” all-league center Nana Foulland) and considerable depth. Michigan State’s size and talent should ultimately overwhelm the Bison, but a harder-than-expected match-up could make the Spartans’ Second Round game a bit more interesting. Arizona State and TCU are two of the best offensive units in the country, while Syracuse boasts the tallest lineup in college hoops.

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The Big Ten Tournament’s Most Burning Questions

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 28th, 2018

It’s not even March yet and here we are, Day One of the Big Ten Tournament. It’s a strange feeling. Perhaps the only stranger feeling will be watching these predominantly Midwestern schools battle it out in Madison Square Garden, the venue where Willis Reed was immortalized and Frazier beat Ali and no Big Ten school outside of Rutgers sits within easy driving distance. Jim Delaney be damned, let’s examine the most important questions to be answered this week in Manhattan.

Crazy as it sounds, the Big Ten Tournament is in the Big Apple. (scarletknights.com)

  • Can Nebraska do enough to earn an NCAA Tournament bid? After losing to Illinois on February 18, Nebraska took care of business by beating Indiana and hammering Penn State on Sunday in a veritable NCAA Tournament elimination game. Which is to say, the Cornhuskers — currently among Joe Lunardi’s First Four Out — still have life. Yet, with a 1-5 record against Quadrant 1 opponents and a 2-3 record against Quadrant 2, they will probably need to beat at least one NCAA Tournament-bound opponent this week in order to have a legitimate case come Selection Sunday. Luckily, Tim Miles’ group should get that opportunity on Friday against Michigan — the lone Quadrant 1 opponent they managed to beat this season. Another win over the Wolverines will give the Huskers an argument; a victory over Michigan State in the semifinals would probably make them a lock. Key number: 29.7% 3FG. Nebraska did a masterful job taking away the three-point line this season, holding opponents to a Big Ten-best 29.7 percent mark from behind the arc — among the best of any power conference team in America.

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What We Learned From a Wild Week in the Big Ten

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 19th, 2018

From massive upsets to historic comebacks and some ridiculous individual performances in-between, it was one heck of a week in the Big Ten. Let’s examine a few key takeaways.

Purdue should be just fine, assuming Vincent Edwards returns to action. (John Terhune/Journal & Courier)

  • Purdue fans need not panic (unless, of course, Vincent Edwards’ injury lingers). Entering its game against Ohio State on February 7, Purdue had won 19 straight, sat undefeated in the Big Ten (12-0), and looked seemingly unbeatable — especially in Mackey Arena, where it had crushed its opponents by 27 points per game. Then the Boilermakers stumbled against the Buckeyes. Then they dropped a nail-biter at Michigan State, which was followed by a stunning defeat at Wisconsin on Thursday. Suddenly, there were deep concerns about Matt Painter‘s crew. “Something just feels different,” senior Vincent Edwards said of the team’s struggles last Thursday. Take a step back and examine the losses, though, and it’s clear that bad luck was partially at play. Were it not for a last second tip-in against Ohio State and a last second three-pointer versus Michigan State, perhaps the Boilermakers would have gone 3-1 in their last four games. Maybe even 4-0. Their close win over red-hot Penn State on Sunday shows just how fine the line is between a quality win and a “problematic” loss. If there is real cause for concern, it’s this: Edwards (14.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG) missed the game against the Nittany Lions with an injured ankle. Assuming he doesn’t miss extended time down the stretch, Purdue should still be considered a Final Four contender. If his injury lingers, then the Boilers can panic.

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