Big Ten M5: 11.19.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 19th, 2014

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  1. Michigan will have an advantage on the perimeter with the trio of Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin, and Derrick Walton Jr in many of the games it plays this season. The question marks mainly lie with the Wolverines’ inside play, but overlooked forward Max Bielfeldt could provide some answers. Bielfeldt only had 38 career points before Michigan’s game against Bucknell on Monday night, but after not even making an appearance in the team’s opening game, he went off for 18 points. Bielfeldt has never had much of a chance other than some spot cameos throughout his career, but if he can continue to consistently provide scoring in the post, then the Wolverines’ prospects for another deep NCAA Tournament run just got much better.
  2. Anthony Clemmons became something of a forgotten man last season, as the sophomore struggled to find court time even with Iowa playing a bunch of players. He has cracked this year’s starting lineup for the 2-0 Hawkeyes, however, by bringing a newfound confidence in his outside shot. After going only 6-of-16 through all of last season, Clemmons has already hit 5-of-6 from behind the arc and is averaging 11.5 points per game. His hustle plays are what’s keeping him in the lineup, though, as Fran McCaffery noted that “it’s infectious to the rest of the team.” Iowa and Clemmons will be tested going up against Texas and standout guard Isaiah Taylor on Thursday night in Madison Square Garden.
  3. Maryland has gotten off to a 2-0 start in its first season in the B1G, and the Terrapins are doing so with heavy contributions from their freshmen class. In their Monday night win over Central Connecticut State, Melo Trimble, Dion Wiley, and Michel Cekovsky all performed well. Trimble surprisingly led the team in rebounds with eight; Cekovsky had three blocks in 18 minutes; and Wiley managed to score 10 points and snag five rebounds in 19 minutes of action. Many freshmen in the league have come in and made an impact, but Maryland is a team that definitely needs big support from their first-year players if they hope to remain competitive with the mid-tier of the league in their first B1G season.
  4. Among the takeaways from Indiana‘s win over Texas Southern on Monday night was the fact that certain players are stepping into bigger roles and contributing in a number of different ways. Freshman Robert Johnson is at the top of that list, as he’s played with a level of maturity that belies his first-year status. Johnson is a year older than the typical college freshman due to a reclassification during his junior year of high school. While it’s doubtful he’ll sustain a stat line of 18.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG and 5.5 APG all season, he’s shown that Tom Crean did valuable work in getting Johnson and fellow freshman James Blackmon Jr. into an Indiana uniform.
  5. Fresh off of a disappointing loss in its season opener against Louisville, Minnesota has the chance to get a needed confidence boost in the form of three home games in five days. These contests are all against teams that the Gophers should beat, but the quick turnaround between them could really test their depth. Minnesota passed its first test on Tuesday night against Western Kentucky, and head coach Richard Pitino should have a chance over the next few nights to give his newcomers a great chance to get comfortable in his defensive system.
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The RTC Podblast: Opening Weekend Edition

Posted by rtmsf on November 14th, 2014

College hoops has arrived! To get you ready for an opening weekend of action that admittedly is more for show than anything else, RTC Podblast host Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) leads the guys through our first regular season pod of the year. In this 16-minute explosion of information, the guys talk about their ambivalence about the weekend, a few of the key games to keep an eye on while surfing through all the channels, and generally congratulate each other for making it through another preseason. Give it a listen!

Make sure to add the RTC Podcast to your iTunes lineup so that you’ll automatically upload it on your listening device after we record, and feel free to contact us through Twitter or email — we’re listening.

  • 0:00-5:59 – How CBB Should Approach Opening Night
  • 5:59- 8:18 – VCU vs Tennessee Preview
  • 8:18-11:10 – Pitino Bowl Preview
  • 11:10-16:10 – Other Opening Weekend Match-ups
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ACC M5: Opening Weekend Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 14th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Louisville Courier-Journal: The top game of the weekend for entertainment value has to be tonight’s father-son coaching matchup between Rick Pitino and Richard Pitino as Louisville and Minnesota meet in the Armed Forces Classic at U.S. Air Base Borinquen, in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. The two Pitinos have met before in 2012 when Richard was in his first year at Florida International, in a game arranged to help out the younger Pitino’s program with exposure and a nice paycheck. Obviously this is a somewhat different situation, with both schools in power leagues focusing on trips to the NCAA Tournament next March. Instead of money and exposure as the main motivators, this is a chance to honor the U.S. Armed Forces, share a little family time, and get an early look at how each squad stacks up against good competition. With all that in play, whichever Pitino wins may not feel too bad about beating the other.
  2. DailyProgress.com: Credit should be given to Tony Bennett as Virginia is the lone ACC school that will open its season on an opponent’s home court. The Cavaliers will make the one-hour trip up to Harrisonburg, Virginia, to play intrastate rival James Madison tonight. As this article points out, last year’s Virginia performance was the classic case of the sum being greater than the parts. Four of those parts will be missing tonight, counting graduated starters Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell along with suspended players London Perrantes and Evan Nolte. But as this game preview points out, the Dukes will also be without two suspended players because of an off-campus altercation with each other in October. One of those suspended was James Madison’s leading scorer from last year, so, even on the road, the Cavaliers may not face too tough of an opener after all.
  3. WRALSportsFan: After a second consecutive year of negative preseason issues surrounding his program, at least Roy Williams doesn’t have to face the same roster uncertainty that he had to deal with in 2013-14. It remains to be seen if the dark cloud of scandal will have a major effect on a North Carolina team that appears poised for a special 2014-15 campaign, but expect Williams to continue to field questions after tonight’s game against North Carolina Central that are unrelated to on-court performance. UNC’s opponent is coming off its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, so this may not be a total mismatch, but as NCCU coach LaVelle Moton indicated at a recent press conference, he is not sure how good team is with so many transfer players and preseason injuries. We will be on press row for opening night at the Smith Center, so follow us on Twitter (@rtcACC) for live updates during the game, and more importantly, for reports from Williams’ postgame press conference.
  4. Greensboro News & Record: Duke is the only ACC team that will play back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday, as the Blue Devils host Presbyterian and then Fairfield as part of the Coaches vs. Cancer preliminary round. This article notes that freshman Tyus Jones looks to have already established himself as Duke’s starting point guard. The writer goes on to say Jones will be the first rookie starting as a Duke point guard since Austin Rivers began there in 2011-12, a common misconception. Rivers was never a point guard in his one year at Duke although he was often mentioned as one, perhaps in part because of his famous father, Doc Rivers, who was a longtime NBA point guard. Anyway, it will be interesting to see how Duke’s team chemistry works in these first two tune-up games before heading to Indianapolis to face Michigan State on Tuesday night. We will be in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday night to see how Duke’s veteran guards, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon, adjust to coming off the bench, so follow us on Twitter (@rtcACC) for additional live in-game and postgame coverage.
  5. BostonUSA.com: On Sunday, Boston College will take on Massachusetts in the middle game of the second annual Coaches vs. Cancer Tripleheader in Boston’s TD Garden, home of the NBA’s Celtics. The Minutemen only return two starters from last season’s NCAA Tournament team, but they have three others who played at least 30 games in 2013-14, so there’s some decent experience available for Derek Kellogg. It will be the second game of the season for both teams, as Boston College opens with New Hampshire in Conte Forum tonight, while UMass hosts Siena. It will be interesting to see if new coach Jim Christian’s Eagles display improvement on the defensive end, an area where ex-coach Steve Donahue’s teams always struggled. Probably the best team at Sunday’s event will be Harvard, which plays Holy Cross in the last game of the day.
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Big Ten M5: 11.12.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 12th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. What do NBA starters Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bradley Beal, and Michigan State’s Branden Dawson all have in common? They were a few of the highest-rated recruits in the Class of 2011. While the first three players mentioned all moved on to the NBA after just one season of college ball, Dawson is still playing in college, something he didn’t necessarily envision when he committed to the Spartans four years ago. After receiving a second-round grade from the NBA’s Draft Advisory Board, he decided to return for his final season hoping to both increase his stock and get a college degree. If he has a big senior year as the focal point of Tom Izzo’s offense, sticking around might very well have paid off.
  2. Many including myself assumed that Nebraska forward Leslee Smith would be sidelined for the whole upcoming season after suffering a torn ACL over the summer. Well, Smith is actually recovering so far ahead of schedule that head coach Tim Miles recently said that “we’re hoping to have him ready in mid-January, about a week or two into Big Ten play.” This is huge news for the Cornhuskers, as Smith will give the team another beefy inside presence to battle with some of the size the other B1G squads will bring to bear.
  3. Michigan freshman Austin Hatch isn’t on any top 100 recruiting lists, but his backstory is arguably more inspirational than that of any college basketball player in recent memory. After surviving two plane crashes that took the lives of both his parents and left him in a coma for eight weeks, it’s simply amazing that he’s shown such perseverance to stay after his basketball dreams. On Monday night, Hatch scored his first collegiate point in Michigan’s exhibition win over Wayne State. He then received a standing ovation after being removed from the contest, and there probably wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Here’s hoping Hatch has many more nights in Ann Arbor like the one he experienced earlier this week.
  4. Richard Pitino’s battle against father Rick Pitino will undoubtedly mark one of the national and Big Ten highlights of the opening set of games Friday night. Minnesota is looking to prove that it deserves to be in the Top 25, while Louisville wants to defend its top 10 preseason ranking. In advance of the season opener, the duo staged an entertaining press conference in Puerto Rico with the elder Pitino cracking jokes while both coaches sharing just how fond they are of each other’s programs.
  5. Indiana has not had much good news as of late, but Collin Hartman returning to the lineup and playing well in the team’s two exhibitions definitely qualifies as some happier news. Hartman tore his ACL in March, but he’s already back in the fold and looks no worse for the wear. With a depleted roster because of suspensions and injuries, Hartman played nearly 20 minutes in each of the two preseason contests, burying a couple of threes in Monday’s game. If Hartman can continue to shoot the ball well, the Hoosiers will possess some of the best perimeter shooting in the B1G with James Blackmon Jr, Robert Johnson, Nick Zeisloft and Yogi Ferrell also capable deep shooters.
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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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Can Minnesota’s Andre Hollins Regain His Scoring Touch?

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 6th, 2014

Despite his excellence for three seasons, the collegiate career of Andre Hollins has arguably flown under the radar. He has been a heavy contributor at Minnesota since day one, topping the 20-point plateau five times as a freshman and leading the Gophers in scoring in both his sophomore and junior seasons. He even has an outside chance at cracking 2,000 points for his career if his team makes a deep run in the postseason this year. He’s played under two coaches utilizing vastly different systems, yet still managed to thrive. Last season was his most challenging in Minneapolis — after suffering an ankle injury, he came back too soon and proceeded to look like a shell of his former self. He went from averaging 16.2 PPG before the injury to 11.3 PPG in the 16 games afterward, and he just looked tentative and unsure of himself in February and March. Now in his second year under Richard Pitino, he is flanked by a core of experienced seniors. Can Hollins recapture his scoring touch and lead the Gophers back to the Big Dance?

Andre Hollins needs to regain his scoring touch if Minnesota wants to rise in the B1G standings. (Getty)

Andre Hollins needs to regain his scoring touch if Minnesota wants to rise in the B1G standings. (Getty)

At his best, Hollins is a scorer who does most of his damage from the outside. He’s made quite a few three-pointers in his career, topping out at a superb 41.8 percent in his junior season from behind the arc. He also does a nice job getting to the free throw line, and converts when he’s there, with a career free throw percentage of 84.4 percent. For someone that gets so much of his scoring output from the outside, he still managed to rank ninth in the league in free throw rate, getting to the charity stripe at a 49.7 percent clip. He’s capable of playing both guard spots, as he led the team in assists (3.4 APG) as the primary facilitator in 2012-13. When Deandre Mathieu took over the point guard duties last season, Hollins played off the ball where he was able to get quality looks on kickouts from the speedy Mathieu. The Gophers’ backcourt tandem might be the best in the league this season, and it will need to be if Minnesota hopes to avoid another trip to the NIT.

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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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Big Ten Season Grades: Ohio State, Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on April 18th, 2014

Continuing our season-ending analysis, we look at the performances of Ohio State, Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois. Earlier this week, we handed out grades for Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue.

Ohio State

Grade: C-

This season (25-10, 10-8): What would be a successful season for most programs was a relative disappointment for the Buckeyes. Ohio State did not capture a Big Ten regular season or tournament title for the first time since 2008-09, and similar to that season, they were also bounced out of the NCAA Tournament in their first game. The issue for the Buckeyes – which was a clear problem area in the preseason – was generating offense without Deshaun Thomas in the lineup. Thomas’ replacement, LaQuinton Ross, almost doubled his scoring average, but the Buckeyes failed to find reliable offensive firepower anywhere else. In the end, Aaron Craft and Ohio State’s excellent showing on defense wasn’t enough to overcome the team’s offensive woes.

Thad Matta had a let-down of a season relative to his own success. Don't expect it to continue next season. (Gettyl)

Thad Matta had a let-down of a season relative to his own success. Don’t expect it to continue next season. (Getty)

Next season: The Buckeyes lose Craft, Amedeo Della Valle, Ross, and Lenzelle Smith Jr. They welcome in an elite recruiting class that includes D’Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop, and Jae’Sean Tate; and they also will get graduate transfer Anthony Lee from Temple next year. These additions along with several talented players already on their roster should have no one worrying about the state of the program going forward. This season was merely a hiccup in the Thad Matta era.

Iowa: C

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big Ten Teams

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on March 16th, 2014

Six Big Ten teams got into the NCAA Tournament; that’s not too bad. Compared to last year’s seven bids, the conference’s representation seems just OK this year. Over the next two days, debates will rage about which teams were penalized too harshly and which teams were slotted in favorable draws by the NCAA selection committee. Here are a few initial thoughts about the six Big Ten teams in this year’s NCAA field.

Gary Harris and Adreian Payne are finally healthy to lead the Spartans back to the Final Four.

Gary Harris and Adreian Payne are finally healthy to lead the Spartans back to the Final Four.

  • Tom Izzo is smiling again after winning the conference tournament. Three up and three down: the Spartans won the Big Ten Tournament convincingly to prove that when they are healthy, they are one of the best teams in the country. Their potential match-up against Virginia in the Sweet Sixteen should be an excellent game, but more importantly, a game that they can win. There is no team in their region — Iowa State and Villanova included — that has more talent than the Spartans.
  • It isn’t surprising to see Minnesota left out of the final 68. There was nothing special about the Gophers’ resume this year outside of their win over Iowa. They won the games that they were supposed t0, but never really impressed the committee with any big wins. Plus, their thumping loss (83-57) to the Badgers in the Big Ten Tournament certainly didn’t help their case. Regardless of the final outcome, Richard Pitino did a fine job leading the Gophers to 20 wins in his first campaign, especially considering that Andre Hollins was dealing with injuries for most of the conference season.

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Rushed Reactions: #12 Wisconsin 83, Minnesota 57

Posted by Walker Carey on March 14th, 2014

rushedreactions

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday evening’s Big Ten Tournament action between Minnesota and Wisconsin in Indianapolis. 

wisky minny

Wisconsin Continues to Look Like a #1 Seed Candidate

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. This was a one-sided thumping. Wisconsin dominated this game from the opening tip and never looked back on its way to a 26-point victory. Minnesota never led and was thrown off its rhythm all night long by the Badgers’ suffocating defensive attack. Golden Gophers guard Andre Hollins – the team’s leading scorer at 14.4 points per game –  had a nightmarish night, as he finished with just eight points on 2-of-14 shooting. The Golden Gophers as a team only managed to shoot 32.8 percent from the field for the game and its 29 percent mark in the first half greatly contributed to Richard Pitino’s team falling behind early. Minnesota also experienced issues with its defense, as Wisconsin was allowed solid looks all night and shot 54.5 percent from the field for the game.
  2. Minnesota did not do itself any favors with the selection committee. Richard Pitino’s group was squarely on the bubble entering the game, and while a loss to a good team like Wisconsin is probably not enough to completely kill their NCAA Tournament chances, one would think a 26-point shellacking does not bode well either. An argument can certainly still be made that Minnesota belongs in the field of 68, but when the committee decides its selections, its last impression of Minnesota will be Friday night’s embarrassing defeat.
  3. Wisconsin has the look of a potential one-seed. Minnesota certainly deserves plenty of blame for its embarrassing loss, but it must be noted just how well Wisconsin played. The Badgers led the entire game and it never even appeared as though Minnesota had any chance. Wisconsin starting guards Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson went scoreless for the night, but the Badgers were able to get past that due to a career performance from fellow starter Ben Brust and a 14-point performance from reserve guard Bronson Koenig. Starting big man Frank Kaminsky also struggled a bit offensively, but reserve forward Nigel Hayes contributed 15 points and six rebounds to the winning effort. Great teams find a way to keep things going when they may not get the expected output from key players and that is exactly what Wisconsin did Friday night. There is a lot of conversation nationally right now over which team will be getting the fourth #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and on Friday night, Bo Ryan‘s Badgers definitely looked like they belong in those conversations.

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Big Ten Tournament: Minnesota Still Living on the Bubble

Posted by Walker Carey on March 13th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday evening’s Big Ten Tournament action between Penn State and Minnesota in Indianapolis.

Entering the conference tournament season on the NCAA Tournament bubble is always a precarious endeavor. Teams have to make sure they don’t drop a game they shouldn’t and even that sometimes is not enough. Minnesota is among those unlucky several on the bubble this week, as the Golden Gophers are striving to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season, this year with a new head coach leading the charge. Prior to the start of Thursday’s opener against Penn State, Minnesota was among the “first four out” in ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s latest bracket. The Golden Gophers finished the regular season with a 19-12 overall record, but just an 8-10 record in Big Ten play. Strangely enough, Minnesota also possessed an 8-10 mark in league play last season when the school found itself on the right side of the bubble. Last season’s Golden Gophers were the first Big Ten team with a losing conference record to earn an NCAA Tournament bid since Iowa garnered one with a 7-9 league record back in 2005.

It Was a Good Day for the Pitinos

It Was a Good Day for the Pitinos

Part of Minnesota’s résumé that will be looked at positively by the committee will be its strength of schedule, as Richard Pitino’s squad has played the fifth most difficult schedule in the country. An area where the team may lose some favor with the committee is in that it suffered a few questionable setbacks. There was the home loss to 13-18 Northwestern, the triple-overtime defeat at 15-17 Purdue, and a home setback to an Illinois squad that finished the regular season with a 7-11 Big Ten record. While there are some troubling defeats on the Gophers’ résumé, there are also several impressive victories over NCAA Tournament locks Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Iowa.

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Two Questions About Illinois vs. Minnesota

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) & Jonathan Batuello on February 19th, 2014

Two teams that are heading in opposite directions will face off on Wednesday night in Minneapolis. Illinois enters the game having lost nine out of the last ten games while Minnesota is trying to keep their NCAA hopes alive. The Big Ten microsite writers – Deepak Jayanti and Jonathan Batuello – discuss two important questions about the game:

Richard Pitino's Gophers can't afford to drop the game against Illinois if they want to keep their NCAA hopes alive.

Richard Pitino’s Gophers can’t afford to lose against Illinois if they want to keep their NCAA hopes alive.

How critical is Andre Hollins continued progression in his return from the ankle injury to Minnesota?

JB: The Gophers took a major skid without him when it lost three of four games. Since coming back he has had good and bad outings. He dropped 22 on Wisconsin, but was barely noticeable against Northwestern. It needs him to be in good form to win and continue on its path from bubble to NCAA Tournament team. What he does in comparison to Rayvonte Rice in this game will be instrumental in who wins. The importance of this game for Minnesota also can’t be understated. It’s three-game stretch after Illinois is at Ohio State, Iowa, and at Michigan, so it needs this win to avoid a potentially disastrous losing streak. Get this one, win one of those three and close out the season with a win against Penn State and it is at 20 wins and likely in the NCAA Tournament. Andre Hollins playing better and getting back to potentially All-Big Ten form will decide that fate.

DJ: Do the Gophers need a healthy Hollins to win a game in the NCAA Tournament? Yes. But they don’t really need him at 100% health to make the NCAAs because the offense runs through Deandre Mathieu and Maurice Walker now. Mathieu’s ability to get into the paint off the screens is a fierce weapon that defenses have struggled to stop over the past four games, as he averaged over 14 points per game during that stretch. Hollins’ three-point shooting will help the Gophers spread the floor but he doesn’t need to carry the offensive burden like he had to during the first few months of the season. Richard Pitino’s squad will make the tourney by pressing hard on defense with their depth, attacking the basket with Mathieu and finishing strong around the hoop with their big men.

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