RTC Weekly Primer: SEC Squishy Middle, Love for Big 12, Coach 1K, More…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on January 20th, 2015

Okay, okay, we get it… the Big 12 is awesome. I’ve made that pretty clear in past columns, and you probably don’t need me to tell you something so obvious. Monday night offered up yet another prominent example, when a “Kansas is back to its dominant self” narrative in the first half against Oklahoma turned into one of the best games of conference play this season. But rather than raving about it, let’s think big picture: What do we make of the Big 12 race? A few teams will definitely be involved. One is Kansas, of course, which hasn’t missed out on at least a share of the regular season crown since Bill Self’s first year in Lawrence. Two more are Texas, which seems to have found its footing, and Iowa State, which finally cleared the Kansas hurdle over the weekend. Oklahoma should be in the running too, despite losing three of its last four. What other teams could have a say in the matter? How about Kansas State, which is tied for the conference lead at 4-1? What about West Virginia, currently 15-3 and a top-15 KenPom team? Or Baylor? Or Oklahoma State?

The Big 12 Will Remain a War Zone For Most of the Season (USA Today Images)

The Big 12 Will Remain a War Zone For Most of the Season (USA Today Images)

It’s probably safe to rule out those last two teams even though both are ranked among KenPom’s top 25, but neither is likely to beat the teams above them on a consistent basis. It’s also fair to exclude Kansas State from the discussion. The Wildcats are clearly much better than their non-conference performance suggested, but recent wins over Baylor and at Oklahoma don’t tell the full story either. They have some flaws. However, it’s probably a tad premature to rule out West Virginia. The Mountaineers play such a distinctly effective style this season, forcing turnovers on over 30 percent of opponents’ possessions, that will remain a problem to solve for all nine conference foes. They’re a possession away from a 4-1 Big 12 record and the upcoming schedule suggests that we shouldn’t be surprised if Bob Huggins has his team sitting at 6-2 when this column runs two weeks from now. It appears to be a five-team race. But whether you think the Big 12 has four, five, or even six or seven teams capable of winning the league crown, the takeaway here is that the race is wide open. And with Kansas’ astounding decade-long run in jeopardy, the next two months in Middle America are must-watch sports television.

Three for the Money

  • Iowa at Wisconsin | Tuesday, 9:00 PM EST, ESPN. Around this time last year, Iowa sat at 13-3 on the season and waltzed into Value City Arena to take on 15-1 Ohio State. The Buckeyes at the time were KenPom’s second-ranked team and their only loss had come earlier in the week at Michigan State. They also hadn’t given up more than 70 points in a game. The Hawkeyes delivered one of the more impressive Big Ten performances last season, winning by 10 points and vaulting themselves from seemingly out of nowhere into KenPom’s top five. They are presented with a similar opportunity tonight against Wisconsin. With the memory of last year’s collapse still fresh, many people remain unsure of what to make of Fran McCaffery’s team – the Hawkeyes have defeated a questionable Ohio State team twice and won at North Carolina, but the rest of their résumé is dubious. A win in Madison would force the nation to take notice. For Wisconsin, this is its first real test since the loss of senior point guard Traevon Jackson. It could provide a platform for replacement Bronson Koenig to step up his game, but it also could reveal a major midterm problem for Bo Ryan. Tonight’s game will tell us a lot about which it will be.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 20th, 2015

Points were relatively easy to come by in the Big Ten’s third weekend of play, as only three teams of the 12 with games failed to crack the 1.00 point per possession plateau. There were also some outstanding individual scoring games on display, with Penn State’s DJ Newbill (37 points) and Minnesota’s Andre Hollins (31 points) leading the way in that regard. From a team perspective, Purdue and Indiana got crucial road wins to stay among the top half of the league standings, while Maryland continued its outstanding start by dismantling Michigan State in College Park. Elsewhere, Minnesota is no longer winless in conference action, and Penn State remains the only team still looking for a conference win. Well, at least their freshman guard brings a celebrity cousin to the table.

Melo Trimble torched Michigan State as they knocked off the Spartans by 15 on Saturday. (David J. Philip/AP)

Melo Trimble torched Michigan State as his team knocked off the Spartans by 15 Saturday. (David J. Philip/AP)

Player of the Weekend: Melo Trimble has had issues at times in knocking down perimeter shots, but he had no such problems against Michigan State on Saturday. The freshman combo guard simply went off, scoring 24 points on 8-on-16 shooting from the field. He also hit six threes, five of which came in the first half. Trimble not only should be considered a c0-favorite with Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell for Big Ten Freshman of the Year, but he’s also making a legitimate case for First Team all-Big Ten consideration. Usually he’s a menace for opposing defenses with his keen ability to get to the free throw line, but he only shot two freebies in this game. Instead, he made nearly every shot from behind the arc that he took in the opening stanza. With Jake Layman scoring 23 himself and with Dez Wells capable of going off in any given game, Maryland is one of the few league teams with three legitimate threats on offense. That’s what makes the Terrapins so dangerous. Nothing I’ve said here can top watching this clip, so take a look for yourself. Rest in peace, Tum Tum.

Super Sub of the Weekend: AJ Hammons might win this award multiple times if Purdue keeps winning weekend games. The junior posted his second double-double in the last four games (and his third on the season) with 21 points and 12 rebounds against Penn State on Saturday. While those numbers are nice and all, the biggest takeaway from his effort was that his hustle essentially gave Purdue the opportunity to win the game in overtime. During the game the broadcasters raved about the game-tying three that Kendall Stephens made in the final seconds, but it was Hammons who spun through two Penn State defenders to somehow tip the ball on a missed free throw out to him so he could take the shot in the first place. It’s not a play he would have made in his first two seasons as a Boilermaker, but it shows how far he’s come. You don’t see it all statistically, but if you watch Purdue extensively, you can see all of the subtle improvements he’s made in his productiveness.

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Big Ten M5: 01.09.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 9th, 2015

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  1. On Wednesday night, two conference unbeatens met as Purdue went to the Kohl Center to battle Wisconsin, with the Boilermakers falling just short in a seven-point loss. Despite the defeat, Purdue took some positives from the game, such as their effort in outrebounding the Badgers by five. Matt Painter can take some level of pride as his team came close to upsetting a national title contender on the road, something not many figured it was capable of doing this season. The Boilermakers’ impressive 2-1 start to conference play means that their hopes of returning to the NCAA Tournament is within reach, but they shouldn’t get complacent because they have another tough match-up on Saturday hosting Maryland.
  2. It had been a rough week for Illinois going into Wednesday night’s game against #9 Maryland. The Illini were coming off an 0-2 start in conference play and had just lost their leading scorer and rebounder, Rayvonte Rice, to an injury for at least three weeks. So it’s only natural — given the way that Big Ten play has made so little sense this season — that they shock everyone with a 64-57 victory over the Terps. The Illini were down early but blew up late with a one-man show from Malcolm Hill taking over the game (Hill scored 18 of his 28 points in the second half). It was Illinois’ defense, though, that carried the day in holding Maryland to 36.5 percent shooting and limiting super frosh Melo Trimble to only three free throw attempts (five fewer than his season average). That defense is going to have to continue its newfound effectiveness for the Illini to stay afloat until their senior leader returns.
  3. After last night’s 75-61 defeat of Iowa at the hands of a can’t-miss Michigan State squad, Wisconsin remains the only undefeated team in conference play. This game was a tale of two halves, as the Spartans went into halftime down by 11 points but came surging back with a 25-9 run after the break. The difference was Michigan State’s perimeter game, in which the Spartans made 12 three-pointers and shot at a 70 percent clip — Travis Trice, in particular, was 7-of-8 from deep. This now makes it two blowout wins in a row for the Spartans, as they are starting to look more like the Tom Izzo teams we’re accustomed to seeing.
  4. Indiana will prepare for an important game in Bloomington hosting Ohio State this weekend, as a win over a ranked opponent will mitigate some of the effects from the drubbing Michigan State gave them. Given the Hoosiers’ up-and-down season to go along with the preseason off-court issues, chatter about Tom Crean‘s status on the hot seat has not subsided much. But The Crimson Quarry blog wrote an article using Nebraska football as an example to explain why removing Indiana’s head coach of six years may not be a wise decision. This could be sage advice, as we see every year that it is becoming more difficult to lure desirable coaches from comfortable situations. Look no further than the examples of Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens consistently spurning every college offer that was put in front of them over the past few years.
  5. Finally, the season premiere of The Journey will be on the BTN at 10:30 PM ET after this weekend’s games. If you follow this site, you most likely are already familiar with the program, but in case you’re not, it’s definitely worth watching or recording. It is as well-produced of a series as any other program on television and it takes you deep into off-court storylines of the coaches and players we watch every week. It is must-watch TV every Sunday night.
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Big Ten M5: 01.07.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 7th, 2015

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  1. Nebraska has gotten off to a sloppy start in conference play after dropping another game to Iowa on Monday night. A big part of the Cornhuskers’ problem is a lack of depth, as they currently play (mostly) seven players. Next season might be a different story, however, as Tim Miles’ squad recently received its fourth commitment from the Class of 2015 in Australian shooting guard Jack McVeigh. With recruits like Glynn Watson and Edward Morrow coming into the program from Chicago, and Kansas transfer Andrew White eligible after sitting out this season, depth will not be an issue with Nebraska next season. As for this year’s team, it might still be a bit premature to declare this a lost season in Lincoln, but at 8-6 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten, it’s getting rather close to that point.
  2. Maryland was considered questionable to contend for an NCAA Tournament bid before the season began, but after a 14-1 start including two wins in conference play, the Terps are now listed as no less than a #5 seed in various bracketologies on different sites. Dave Tucker of Testudo Times maintains that there’s still a long way to go before the Terps have proved anything yet, but pointed out that things have shifted quite a bit to where Maryland fans are complaining about mock seedings as opposed to worrying about an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
  3. Illinois has had a rough 24 hours given the recent news that Rayvonte Rice has been lost to a broken hand for up to six weeks. The show must go on, however, and the Illini won’t exactly start out with an easy grace period having to play Maryland in Champaign Wednesday night. Someone needs to replace Rice’s 17.2 PPG and 48 percent shooting from three, and the most likely candidates are Kendrick Nunn and Aaron Cosby, both of whom need to take advantage of the available shots with Rice out of the lineup. If they can’t hold down the fort beginning with this game against the rising Terps, things look bleak for the Illini going forward.
  4. Sam Dekker is back, and Wisconsin is reaping the benefits of his return. Dekker didn’t miss any games despite an ankle injury in the preseason, but he’s back in the sense that he’s returned to being the offensive weapon that many expected him to become. In his last six games, the junior forward has made 11-of-22 of his three-point attempts, bringing his overall field goal percentage for the season up to a sterling 54.2 percent. That balky ankle is finally healed, which has allowed him to get better lift and feel more comfortable in shooting the ball. Wisconsin can reasonably make a claim to having the best frontcourt in all of college basketball, and that case is bolstered when Dekker plays like he has been.
  5. Even after starting Big Ten play with a 2-0 record, Purdue head coach Matt Painter is still figuring things out with his rotation. Bryson Scott is perhaps the clearest example of this idea, after he went from starting against Minnesota to not playing at all against Michigan. The sophomore point guard has struggled to find consistency, but teammates like Raphael Davis and AJ Hammons still believe in him. He is a solid perimeter defender who has a knack for getting into the lane off the dribble, but Jon Octeus brings senior leadership and athleticism that Painter trusts in key situations. With a deep roster and two other point guards on hand, minutes aren’t always going to be readily available for the growing player.
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Big Ten M5: 01.06.15 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on January 6th, 2015

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  1. Michigan State seemed to get its mojo back in crushing Indiana on Monday night, holding the Hoosiers to just 20 percent shooting from long distance. Inside the Hall’s Ryan Corazza attributed Indiana’s loss to a poor first-half performance that amounted to a 19-point halftime deficit. The Spartans, six days removed from a heartbreaking double-overtime loss to Maryland, were able to stifle Tom Crean’s drive-and-dish offense by locking down the paint and effectively closing out on Indiana’s gunners. In fact, Yogi Ferrell and Emmitt Holt were the only Hoosiers to make a shot in the first half while the rest of the team went 0-of-19. This is the first time all season we’ve seen such a poor offensive performance from Indiana, but the loss certainly highlights the team’s dependence on long-distance shooting. As Big Ten Powerhouse’s Scott Manning put it, Indiana will live and die by the three this year.
  2. Purdue stumbled – or rather, fell face-first – into the opening week of Big Ten play, entering last week having dropped three straight games to Notre Dame, Vanderbilt and Gardner-Webb. The Boilermakers turned things around by winning home games against Minnesota and Michigan to start conference play, but they now travel to face arguably the two hottest teams in the league on the road this week in Wisconsin and Maryland. Purdue’s success in Madison will hinge heavily on its ability to defend Frank Kaminsky, who is currently ranked first in KenPom’s Player of the Year rankings. The Wisconsin center is noticeably more mobile this year, providing Matt Painter with the dubious task of deciding to defend him with either shot-blocker extraordinare AJ Hammons or leaving him on Wisconsin’s four to better defend the paint. KenPom predicts the Badgers will win by 17 points on Wednesday.
  3. Minnesota freshman Gaston Diedhiou could make his college basketball debut tonight in the Gophers’ home Big Ten opener versus Ohio State, writes Marcus Fuller of the Pioneer Press. Diedhou, a 6’9″, 230-pounder, could help solidify Minnesota’s depth at the forward positions. After Joey King, the Gophers have gotten little to no production from reserves Charles Buggs and Bakary Konate. Citing the Senegal native’s raw offensive game, head coach Richard Pitino said that he doubts Diedhiou will have an impact against the Buckeyes, but his athleticism and rebounding skill may force Pitino’s hand if the Gophers continue to struggle down low.
  4. Michigan does not look much like the outstanding John Beilein teams of the past few years, as evidenced by their disappointing 8-6 record. The head coach is doing his best to keep the team’s struggles in perspective, though, stressing patience to fans and praising the improvement of freshman big man Ricky Doyle. That improvement hasn’t been universal among all Wolverines’ freshmen, as Aubrey Dawkins and Kameron Chatman have been very inconsistent. As it stands, Michigan fans will have to bear with Beilein’s group this year, as he’s been very open and honest about it being a relative rebuilding year with the squad – but don’t expect the slump to last much longer than one season.
  5. Iowa is off to its best start in the Big Ten since the 2002-03 season, standing at 2-0 in conference play after topping Nebraska in Iowa City last night. In the win, Aaron White scored 23 points and became Iowa’s all-time leader in made free throws, a mark currently standing at 524. Scott Dochterman of the Cedar Rapids Gazette said White’s ability to get to the free throw line has made him an all-time Hawkeyes great, but the Strongsville, Ohio, native canned an uncharacteristic three-pointer to push Iowa’s lead to seven points in the waning minutes to seal last night’s victory. Fans and media alike had hoped White would develop a better perimeter game this season, but the senior is only shooting the ball from distance at a 22.7 percent clip. That statistic won’t matter, though, if gunners Peter Jok, Jarrod Uthoff and Josh Oglesby step their games up like they did on Monday night.
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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 5th, 2015

The opening weekend of Big Ten play resulted in three teams remaining undefeated in conference action, with the trio of Maryland, Purdue and Wisconsin sitting atop the standings. Indiana and Iowa are both 1-0, with games to come tonight to see if they can also keep their unblemished records. Conversely, Illinois, Minnesota, and Penn State are all off to shaky 0-2 starts. Even Rutgers notched its first-ever Big Ten win when it held on to beat a cold-shooting Penn State unit on Saturday night. Here’s the rest of the weekend lowdown from an interesting opening slate of games in the wildly unpredictable Big Ten.

AJ Hammons notched a double-double in Purdue's home court win over Michigan on Saturday. (Purdue Exponent)

AJ Hammons notched a double-double in Purdue’s home win over Michigan on Saturday. (Purdue Exponent)

  • Player of the Weekend: Purdue’s AJ Hammons would have definitely been in the mix for Sixth Man of the Year when I listed my non-conference Big Ten superlatives a week ago, but he’s started more games than he’s come off the bench so he didn’t make the cut. On Saturday afternoon against Michigan, however, the junior center was a substitute for the seventh game in a row and it seems as if he’s getting the hang of it. With Isaac Haas in foul trouble, he played a season-high 31 minutes en route to his second double-double of the year. Aside from the fact that he led or tied for the team-high in rebounds, steals and blocks, one noticeable takeaway from the game was the fact that he seems to have really embraced his new role. He appeared more engaged in terms of talking to his teammates, showing emotion when making a play, and genuinely caring about his team and winning, than probably at any time during his first two seasons at Purdue. He won this weekend’s award because of his statistics, but if he can team with Raphael Davis to give this extremely young team some necessary veteran leadership, Purdue could easily turn things around and make a run at a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

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Big Ten M5: New Year’s Eve Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 31st, 2014

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  1. Purdue faces an important test in trying to right its crumbling season when the Boilermakers take on Minnesota today in West Lafayette. One of the major aspects of the game that the Boilermakers have to watch for is the Gophers’ keen ability to turn teams over. They lead the Big Ten in turnover margin, meaning that despite the fact that they play at a much faster tempo, they aren’t making too many miscues on the offensive end. Purdue would be wise to feed Isaac Haas and AJ Hammons repeatedly in order to slow things down, making this one a contest that’s instead decided in the half-court.
  2. Another one of the three games on the Big Ten slate today will also feature an extreme contrast in styles. Nebraska wants to play at a slow pace and take advantage of its ability to defend. Meanwhile, Indiana is averaging 86.4 points per game and would love nothing more than to turn things into a track meet. Despite the fact that Leslee Smith and Moses Abraham still aren’t ready to return from their injuries, Indiana doesn’t have anyone who can really punish the Cornhuskers on the interior. Whoever can control the tempo in this one will more than likely have a great chance at starting out 1-0 in conference play today.
  3. Rutgers senior forward Kadeem Jack was benched on Tuesday as the Scarlet Knights lost their Big Ten opener to Northwestern, 51-47. Jack missed a team breakfast, which caused head coach Eddie Jordan to give his starting spot to freshman DJ Foreman. After an 0-of-8 effort from the field, Jack stated that, “I think I was a big distraction,” in seemingly agreeing with Jordan’s decision to bench him. The coach has largely been positive with the media despite the uneven play of his team, but he seems to be losing patience with how things are going, especially on the offensive end. This was a must-win game for his team, and as the schedule progresses, it remains an open question how many Big Ten wins this team can muster in its first season in the league.
  4. Northwestern was dealing with some issues too coming into the game against Rutgers, but it was able to prevail despite several players dealing with the flu. Freshman stater Victor Law Jr. was one of those affected players, but Jershon Cobb returned to action and contributed six points and seven rebounds in the victory. This was a good start for the Wildcats, but they won’t have much time to celebrate a 1-0 start, as their next opponent is versus Wisconsin on Sunday in Evanston.
  5. Whether people really noticed or not in Ann Arbor after some guy named Jim Harbaugh stole all of the headlines, Michigan’s basketball team got off to a solid Big Ten start by knocking off Illinois on Tuesday. The unlikely hero in the contest was freshman Aubrey Dawkins, who canned six out of seven three-pointers on his way to 20 points. Coincidentally, Harbaugh and Dawkins are both alumni of Palo Alto High School in California. The son of Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins had by far his best game of the season, and Michigan way have just found their next formerly unheralded star to turn things around.
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Big Ten Viewers’ Guide For Conference Play

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 30th, 2014

As you well know, the Big Ten starts off conference play with four games today. While some of the luster has been lost due to several teams’ non-conference struggles, that doesn’t mean that things won’t be entertaining with so many teams relatively close to each other in talent level. Can disappointing teams like Michigan and Purdue turn things around? Will Wisconsin dominate as much as everyone seems to think? Can Penn State keep winning? Some of these questions and more will be answered over the next two and a half months. With that in mind, here’s a look at five key dates during conference play that will be appointment viewing if you’re a true B1G fan.

Dez Wells and his Maryland squad taking on Michigan State in College Park highlights a slew of games on January 17 .(Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

Dez Wells and Maryland vs. Michigan State in College Park highlights a slew of good games on January 17 .(Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

January 17 (five games)

  • Rutgers-Minnesota 12:00 EST (BTN)
  • Purdue-Penn State 1:0o (ESPNU)
  • Ohio State-Iowa 2:00 (ESPN)
  • Michigan State-Maryland 4:00 (CBS)
  • Northwestern-Michigan 8:15 (BTN)

You may be able to skip the opener at Minnesota, but the meat of this five-game Saturday slate is right in the middle. Iowa and Ohio State split their games last season, which each team winning on the other’s home floor. Both teams once again have legitimate NCAA hopes, but this one will be important for setting the tone early in conference play. After today’s season opener in East Lansing, Maryland and Michigan State will run it back just 17 days later. The Terps are known for bringing a raucous atmosphere to the Xfinity Center — how will Michigan State handle the chaos in playing there for the first time as a league opponent? Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten M5: Christmas Eve Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 24th, 2014

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  1. Things have changed remarkably for the Big Ten in just the span of two weeks. It all started on December 6 when Michigan lost at home to NJIT and Purdue lost to North Florida in West Lafayette. Now, the league has lost a bunch of games to teams ranked below #150 on KenPom’s efficiency ratings, and it is losing much of its credibility in the process. Nebraska’s loss on Monday night to Hawaii was just the latest in a string of embarrassing defeats the league has suffered. The question that these teams will face is whether losses to the likes of Texas Southern and the rest could do so much damage to their resumes that a typical Big Ten 10-8 or 9-9 record becomes dicey on Selection Sunday (when in years past it was virtually a lock).
  2. It’s not often that an opposing coach becomes critical of a team that has just defeated his own team. But that’s just what North Florida head coach Matthew Driscoll did when asked about Iowa after it beat his squad on Saturday. Driscoll referred to a confidence problem with the Hawkeyes that Fran McCaffery echoed when he was asked about Driscoll’s remarks. “I guarantee he’s watched every one of our games, probably twice. So he is qualified to make those remarks. But, I mean, so are you. You’ve seen it.” This team is obviously missing Roy Devyn Marble in more ways than just his scoring ability this season.
  3. In happier Big Ten-related news, Wisconsin moved to 11-1 on the season by notching a solid and methodical road win at California on Monday night. Frank Kaminsky contributed another solid effort with 14 points and eight rebounds, and he kept his spot in second place in CollegeBasketballTalk’s Player of the Year rankings. One thing pointed out that could hurt Kaminsky when gunning for this season’s postseason honors is the fact that there will be times when the relative effectiveness of Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker might limit his touches. The senior has done a great job, however, in doing more than just scoring this season, as he leads the team in steals and blocks and is second in assists.
  4. Tom Crean and Mark Turgeon have both been discussed as Big Ten coaches with tenuous holds on their jobs. But with both Indiana and Maryland getting off to better-than-expected starts in the 2014-15 campaign, their jobs appear to be safer. With many of the league powers showing signs of trouble, the Terps (11-1) and Hoosiers (10-2) are in reasonable positions to make the NCAA Tournament this season. On the other hand, one conference coach who could be in trouble if things don’t turn around soon is Purdue’s Matt Painter. After playing reasonably well at the Maui Invitational, the Boilermakers have since slipped tremendously. They now sit at 8-5 with an RPI of #154. Barring a significant turnaround, Painter could very well find himself in trouble at season’s end.
  5. Turnovers doomed Nebraska in its loss to Hawaii Tuesday morning in its first game at the Diamond Head Classic. Hawaii forced the Cornhuskers into 18 miscues, which, combined with a 7-of-23 shooting night from stars Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields, was simply too much to overcome. Now the team sits at 7-4 after last night’s overtime win against Loyola Marymount, but it lost a golden opportunity for a marquee neutral site win by missing on a battle with Wichita State. Nebraska will play Ohio to finish its trip to the Islands on Thursday, and then starts Big Ten play on December 31 against Indiana at home.
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Big Ten M5: 12.17.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 17th, 2014

 

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  1. Michigan has struggled more than people thought coming off of a National Championship game appearance and an Elite Eight run in the last two seasons. One of the reasons for this season’s struggles has been the loss of key inside players Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford. “Morford,” as the duo was nicknamed throughout Big Ten telecasts a year ago may have not been flashy, but they were consistent and did a good job defensively down low. The season is not a lost one yet for the Wolverines, but things will have to get much better on the defensive end of the floor with freshmen Marc Donnal and Ricky Doyle for this unit to even sniff the postseason success they have had recently.
  2. Michigan State plays four games in the next nine days, and they will look to avoid falling prey to an Eastern Michigan team that knocked off state-rival Michigan recently. How the Spartans attack Eastern’s 2-3 zone is just one of the interesting subplots to monitor in the coming days for Sparty. Freshman Javon Bess should make his debut tonight, which will give Tom Izzo some different looks as far as how he can set his rotation.
  3. Ohio State will get tested Saturday when they play North Carolina in Chicago. They have to play North Carolina A&T first on Wednesday, but playing on a neutral floor will be the last real test the team gets in non-conference play against a quality opponent. It will be worth noting whether the Buckeyes can handle a big team that makes its living on the offensive glass, especially since Marcus Paige has been struggling to shoot the ball. Amir Williams and Trey McDonald will have to have good days on the boards for Ohio State to prevail.
  4. Illinois already has more non-conference losses than they did last season, and Saturday’s loss to Oregon at the United Center in Chicago wasn’t exactly their best performance. Should Illini fans really be worried that this team might be destined for another NIT berth? Some disturbing trends from the loss to the Ducks were the fact that Rayvonte Rice had to resort to carrying the offense like he did for a good chunk of 2013-14, and the fact that Oregon was able to score in the paint seemingly at will. Losses to Villanova and Miami (Florida) weren’t bad losses from a resume perspective, but there were signs in those losses as well that this team might struggle later on. Illinois may need quite a few conference wins against Big Ten heavyweights to make the field of 68 for the second time in John Groce‘s tenure.
  5. Joe Lunardi hasn’t released anything yet, but Jerry Palm of CBS has seven Big Ten teams currently in his NCAA Tournament field. One surprise would have to be Penn State coming in as a number ten seed. Despite their 10-1 record, the Nittany Lions only win against a team projected to be in the field was against George Washington. It’s also worth noting that Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, and Purdue were left out of the field at this time. This saga will be an ongoing one all season, with the national perception of the league not nearly being as strong as it has been in recent seasons. The wins that would have carried more weight in the last couple of years might not mean as much as 2014 turns to 2015.
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RTC Weekly Primer: Don’t Sleep on Mid-December Games

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 16th, 2014

Every Monday (sometimes Tuesday), Henry Bushnell will provide a look ahead at the week to come. He’ll discuss the week’s top storylines, preview the three most prominent and compelling games, put a giant or two on upset alert, and decide which teams are in desperate need of a big week.

It’s a cold, dark Monday night in December. The holiday scent is in the air. Subpar football unwillingly seeps out of a TV. Winter threatens to envelop us – if it hasn’t already done so. On this cold, dark Monday night in December, college basketball doesn’t really matter. Or at least it seems like it doesn’t. The Monday evening slate is tinged with irrelevance. Duke sleepwalks over Elon, and not many take note. The sport still lurks in the distance. Lenses are still out of focus.

Exam Weeks Around the Nation Building Young Minds

Exam Weeks Around the Nation Building Young Minds

But this, my friends, is a time as important as any in college basketball. When the final weekend of February rolls around, we’ll be scrutinizing teams inside and out, but December matters too. Just ask a team like Cal, which barely missed out on the NCAA Tournament a year ago. Analysts rued their March losses to Arizona State and Utah, but how about that December loss to UC Santa Barbara? That hurt too. Or ask Southern Miss, which built up a solid résumé, but was left to wonder what might have been if it hadn’t slipped up against Western Kentucky during the week before Christmas. On that same day, December 18, 2013, NC State toppled Tennessee. The Wolfpack made the field as one of the last four teams in. That’s not a coincidence.

Don’t ignore this week. Even with those lenses somewhat out of focus, the results will come into plain sight soon enough. It doesn’t matter how you win; your performance doesn’t have to be aesthetic. Just get the job done. Statements can be made. They will not be forgotten.

Three for the Money

North Carolina vs. Ohio State | Saturday, 1:00 PM, CBS

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Big Ten M5: 12.10.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 10th, 2014

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  1. Michigan did it again Tuesday night, as the Wolverines once again fell victim to an unheralded foe at home. Eastern Michigan knocked off John Beilein’s team, 45-42, and offensive woes were the culprit in this one after issues on the defensive end caused the loss to NJIT on Saturday. Michigan shot 4-of-21 from the three-point line against EMU’s zone, and put up a pedestrian 0.70 points per possession as a result. They also turned the ball over 13 times, and now, after notching good wins against Oregon and Syracuse, Michigans has two pretty bad losses on its resume that could burn it come NCAA Tournament time.
  2. Speaking of tournaments, it was announced earlier this week that the Big Ten will hold its conference tournament in New York City’s Madison Square Garden in 2018. After firmly planting its flag on the East Coast with the additions of Maryland and Rutgers this season, the league’s new foothold along the coast got much stronger with plans to hold its postseason showcase at the Mecca of college basketball. One interesting note about how things will play out is that the tourney will be held a week early to accommodate a pre-existing agreement that MSG has with the Big East. That means conference play will need to start a week earlier during the 2017-18 season in order to have the postseason tournament a week before the rest of the other power conferences.
  3. Want to find a holiday gift for the Michigan hater in your life? Look no further than the NJIT bookstore. Management of the retail outlet says that the bookstore has been “flooded” with calls from fans of Michigan State, Ohio State, and Indiana looking for some NJIT gear to poke fun at the Michigan fans in their lives. “Typically on a Monday morning we’ll come in and have four or five orders, if that many, and this Monday we had 90,” said manager Pete Maranzano. No word yet on what will happen at the Eastern Michigan bookstore on Wednesday morning.
  4. Purdue made a lineup change on Monday night by putting freshmen Isaac Haas and PJ Thompson in the starting five in place of AJ Hammons and Kendall Stephens. The move seemed to work well, as both Hammons and Stephens had productive games with the change. Hammons put up a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds, while Stephens also produced 13 points from the bench. It remains to be seen whether head coach Matt Painter will stick with that lineup, but given Purdue’s depth, tweaking the lineup to get more out of his players remains an option should he choose to tinker for right combinations.
  5. Minnesota is down to just nine scholarship players after freshman forward Josh Martin decided to leave the program, as the athletic freshman struggled to earn minutes behind Joey King and Charles Buggs at the power forward spot. Martin was only averaging 5.4 MPG through seven games, contributing 1.3 PPG and 1.0 RPG in his little time on the floor. As Minnesota presses more than it did last season, the loss of Martin could harm its depth should King and Buggs get into foul trouble. The team has to hope that freshman Gaston Diedhiou is cleared to return in January after experiencing some problems gaining admission to the school.
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