NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Evening

Posted by KDoyle on March 22nd, 2013

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#2 Georgetown vs. #15 Florida Gulf Coast – South Region Second Round (at Philadelphia) – 6:50 PM ET on TBS

Florida Gulf Coast is one of the better stories in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Only in their sixth year as a Division 1 program, the Eagles are riding their first winning season in history thanks to the hiring of former Florida State assistant Andy Enfield. In Enfield’s first year, they finished 15-17, but were a game away from the NCAA Tournament as they lost to Belmont in the Atlantic Sun finals. This year, Florida Gulf Coast has been the team to beat, and it began with an early season win over Miami (FL). FGCU’s style of play greatly differs from today’s opponent, the Georgetown Hoyas. The Hoyas are predicated on a stingy zone defense that rarely allows for clean looks at the basket, and they play at a snail’s pace. Led by Otto Porter, Georgetown has a legitimate star that can carry them deep into the NCAA Tournament. FGCU very much likes to get up and down the floor with Sherwood Brown and Bernard Thompson leading the attack. If FGCU is able to get out in the open floor and score in transition, they’ll keep it close for much of the game. Problem is that not many teams control the pace of a game quite like Georgetown—that’s what makes them such a difficult opponent as they force the opposition to play their style of game. Historically, Georgetown has struggled in the NCAA Tournament under John Thompson III as they’ve failed to reach the second weekend in four of six appearances under him, but many believe this is a different Hoya team. FGCU is playing with house money and expect them to make a game of this, but in front of a heavy Georgetown crowd in Philadelphia the Hoyas are simply too much in the end.

Andy Enfield has his FGCU squad playing great basketball. (AP)

Andy Enfield has his FGCU squad playing great basketball. (AP)

The RTC Certified Pick: Georgetown

#2 Ohio State vs. #15 Iona – West Regional Second Round (at Dayton, OH) – 7:15 p.m. ET on CBS
One of the nation’s most balanced teams, the knock on the Buckeyes for the longest time this season was that they didn’t have a secondary scorer to help out junior DeShaun Thomas. We’ll get to that in a second, but let’s just say that Iona never had such a problem. Senior guard Lamont “Momo” Jones has always been the main offensive weapon on this team, never afraid to look for his own shot, but the Gaels have always trusted guard Sean Armand and forward David Laury to chip in heavily in the scoring column. And as a result, the Gaels have one of the most efficient offenses in the mid-major ranks. The problem for Tim Cluess’ team is the complete inability to stop teams on defense; only nine times all season have they held an opponent below one point per possession in a game. Given that Ohio State is one of the best defensive teams in the nation (sixth in defensive efficiency per KenPom.com), you can expect the Buckeyes to at least slow Iona’s prolific offense. And given that Thad Matta has been getting significantly improved offensive play out of guys like Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith, LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson, you can expect the Bucks to take advantage of that buttery soft Gael defense. While Momo Jones, et al. have the ability to make some exciting plays when they’ve got the ball, their inattention to details defensively will allow the Buckeyes to have more than their share of exciting offensive plays as well.

The RTC Certified Pick: Ohio State Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten M5: 01.29.13 Edition

Posted by jnowak on January 29th, 2013

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  1. CBSSports.com‘s Jeff Goodman had an especially busy Sunday, watching Michigan State-Indiana in Bloomington before driving to Champaign to catch Michigan-Illinois. He got to see arguably the Big Ten’s top three teams live in a matter of hours, and here’s what he came away with: Michigan is #1 for the first time since 1992, and deservedly so; while Indiana, which was ranked in that top spot at the beginning of the season, is not playing to its full potential because its star, Cody Zeller, is not asserting himself. After watching both games Sunday — Zeller was a no-show for most of the Hoosiers’ close win against the Spartans, and the Wolverines handled sputtering Illinois at Assembly Hall — it’s hard to argue with either point.
  2. Just as soon as Minnesota‘s Trevor Mbakwe was working his way back to full health, the Gophers forward has been bothered by a right wrist injury in recent games against Northwestern and Wisconsin. But ESPN.com‘s Andy Katz said that the Minnesota staff expects Mbakwe to be available for tonight’s game against Nebraska. The Gophers, who have lost four in a row (three of which were on the road), need Mbakwe now more than ever. Four of their next five contests are at home.
  3. For years, Wisconsin has been associated with slow, grind-it-out basketball and low-scoring games. But, as Jim Polzin writes for the Wisconsin State Journal, the Badgers haven’t been winning many games this season by playing that way. Their victories against Minnesota and Nebraska marked the first occasion in the last 16 years in which the Badgers won two consecutive games without scoring 50 points. “It’s how this team has to win right now,” associate head coach Greg Gard said Sunday. It’s hard to believe, given some of the performances, but the Badgers remain right in the thick of things for a Big Ten title.
  4. For most of the early season, Minnesota was one of the biggest surprises of the season, looking much like a Big Ten title contender and possibly even a Final Four team. But then the Big Ten schedule hit, and the Gophers have been free-falling ever since. Marcus Fuller of the St. Paul Pioneer Press writes that Minnesota needs Rodney Williams to regain his previous form as soon as possible if the Gophers stand any chance of picking themselves up off the mat. According to Fuller’s story, Williams was leading the team with 13.0 PPG and 6.0 RPG while shooting 56 percent from the field and 69 percent from the line during non-conference play. But since Big Ten play started, he’s the team’s fifth-leading scorer at 9.0 PPG, while shooting 37 percent from the field and 57 percent from the foul line.
  5. If you tuned in to Indiana’s win Sunday against Michigan State, you likely heard the “Gary sucks!” taunts targeted at Michigan State freshman Gary Harris — unless they were targeting Branden Dawson, who hails from Gary, Indiana, but I seriously doubt that — and saw the way Harris responded. Battling through a bit of a freshman slump the last few games, Harris nearly helped the Spartans pull the upset by knocking down five three-pointers and totaling 21 points. This led the Lansing State Journal‘s Graham Couch to wonder whether taunting opposing players can only come back to bite home fans. It has certainly fueled the likes of Jalen Rose and Dawson over the years, and Tom Izzo chimed in with a story of his own.
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Set Your DVR: Week of 01.14.13

Posted by bmulvihill on January 14th, 2013

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Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Conference season has leveled the playing field as the remaining unbeaten teams have all lost. The Big Ten schedule is proving to be an absolute gauntlet and the Mountain West is nothing to sneeze at. Both leagues have stellar games this week along side a few other notable match-ups from around the nation. Let’s get to the breakdowns:

#1 Louisville at Connecticut – 7:00 PM EST, Monday on ESPN (****)

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  • The Louisville Cardinals are moved into the top spot in the nation after losses this weekend by Duke and Michigan and a loss by Arizona earlier last week. Their first game as #1 will be no easy contest as they head to Connecticut in a tough Big East road match-up. The Huskies are coming off a significant win at Notre Dame, which rarely loses at home, but it looks like UConn has their number, as they account for ND’s only two losses at home in the last two and a half years. UConn guards Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier will be the focus of this game, as they face intense pressure from the Louisville defense. Up to this point in the season, both players have protected the ball quite well, particularly Napier who is only giving it up on 11% of his possessions. They must be able to handle the press however in order to give the team a chance to win this game. Also, keep an eye on UConn’s Tyler Olander. He went 8-9 from the field against Notre Dame going for 16 points and 7 rebounds. He will be surrounded by very athletic big men on Louisville. UConn needs him to produce against Gorgui Dieng and company to take some pressure off the guards. The difference in this game may actually be Louisville on the offensive boards. The Huskies rank 298th in defensive rebounding percentage. With the Cardinals throwing Dieng, Chane Behanan, and Wayne Blackshear at the glass on the offensive end, it’s going to be tough for UConn to prevent second chance points. However, if they can limit turnovers, they have a shot to win at home.

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Minnesota Proves it has Staying Power; Illinois Continues Consistency Struggles

Posted by KTrahan on January 10th, 2013

Any remaining doubts about Minnesota’s ability to be a contender in the Big Ten were put to rest Wednesday night as the Gophers took down Illinois 84-67 in Champaign. On paper, it should have been a close game — #8 at #12 — but in reality, Wednesday’s game proved that Minnesota has staying power while Illinois could struggle to keep up its early-season pace.

The Gophers Have Proven To Be Much More Than Just Trevor Mbakwe

Statistically, Minnesota looks very likely to continue its early-season success. The Gophers are incredibly balanced with top players Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe in the frontcourt and the emergence of Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins, and Joe Coleman in the backcourt. That has led to an offensive efficiency rating that ranks 1oth in the nation and a defensive efficiency rating that ranks #14 nationally according to KenPom.com. Minnesota ranks only #51 in effective field goal percentage, but the Gophers are the best in the nation at offensive rebounding, getting a second shot off a ridiculous 48.5 percent of the time. Add in a defensive block percentage that ranks sixth and a steal percentage that ranks eighth nationally, and Minnesota is getting many more possessions than its opponents. So even on an “off” shooting night, the Gophers will always be in the game because they get so many more chances to shoot than their opponents.

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Big Ten M5: 01.07.13 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on January 7th, 2013

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  1. Gophers’ forward Rodney Williams reached a career milestone of 1000 points on Sunday night’s win against the Northwestern Wildcats. Williams has been an effective forward since his sophomore season when he averaged 6.8 points per game, but has seen his production nearly double the next two seasons. The 6’7″ forward has also been on several highlight reels as he is known for his athleticism around the basket. Even though he is not a true power forward, he has been a good rebounder as he averaged 5.6 RPG last season and has pulled down 6.1 RPG so far this year. Williams gives Tubby Smith plenty of flexibility on defense because he is athletic enough to guard either a wing or a true forward.
  2. After the loss to Purdue to open the Big Ten season, Illinois head coach John Groce stressed defensive intensity and mental toughness. The Illini turned it around and thumped the Ohio State Buckeyes 74-55 on Saturday afternoon. Loren Tate of the News-Gazette adds that Assembly Hall, also known as “House of Paign,” was rocking again as Groce took on his mentor Thad Matta. Sophomore center Nnanna Egwu led the charge with 16 points and 8 rebounds as the Illini dominated for most of the game. When asked about the Purdue game during the post-game press conference, Groce said, “We can’t get too low or too high. Today the guys responded.” The Illini can’t rest easy because they play another top 20 team as the Gophers visit Champaign on Wednesday.
  3. The Michigan State Spartans had some trouble against Purdue on Saturday for 30 minutes but pulled away to beat the Boilermakers 84-61. Despite the win, head coach Tom Izzo remains level-headed and understands that the conference season is just getting started. Izzo said after the game, “We didn’t lose by 13 at Minnesota. It was a two-, three-point game with a couple of minute left. We didn’t win by 20 today either.” The Boilers kept the game very close and freshman center A.J. Hammons scored 20 points in addition to pulling down 7 boards. Even though the Spartans pulled away, Izzo and the rest of his team understand that there is plenty of room to improve especially on defense.
  4. It is one thing to have a lot of depth on a roster but it is not always easy to efficiently incorporate every valuable player into the rotation. The Hoosiers’ depth was one of their key strengths this season but with injuries and suspensions, Tom Crean hasn’t had time to set his rotations after two months of basketball. Now that Derek Elston is back from his injury and Hanner Perea along with Jeremy Hollowell are not sidelined due to violations, Crean is trying to slowly move them into the flow of the conference season. Perea (2.4 PPG and 2.6 RPG) was supposed to compliment Cody Zeller in the frontcourt, but has been rusty since returning from his nine-game suspension. Elston on the other hand has been through the rigors of the conference season and can certainly help on the defensive end by keeping Zeller from defending the best big man on the opposition.
  5. Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan is one of the highest paid coaches across the University of Wisconsin system. Ryan’s 2011-12 salary was $2.1 million and while there were 39 coaches that made at least $100,000. Former football head coach Bret Bielema earned $2.8 million, but left for Arkansas after leading the Badgers to three straight Rose Bowls. Ryan’s boss and the athletic director Barry Alvarez made $1.1 million last year. Ryan is arguably the best head coach in the conference and has never finished worse than fourth in conference play. He has transformed the Badgers into a formidable basketball program and has been rewarded by the University over the years.
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Rushed Reactions: #14 Minnesota 71, USC 57

Posted by AMurawa on December 9th, 2012

Drew Murawa is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from tonight’s Minnesota-USC game in Los Angeles.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. 500 Wins. Tonight’s win was Tubby Smith’s 500th victory in his career and he becomes the 19th active head coach to reach that mark. Despite a national title, a National Coach of the Year award, and numerous other accomplishments under his belt, Smith gets overlooked regularly since he left Kentucky, but despite some offseason distractions, he looks like he has put together his best team at his current stop. After the game, he paused to reflect briefly and typically understated his accomplishment: “I have been in good situations and on programs who have been committed to basketball. Not everyone has that opportunity.”
  2. Golden Gophers For Real. Balanced scoring, superb athleticism up front, talented and savvy guards, depth and great coaching. Yup, that’s a pretty good recipe for a Top 25 team. Eight players saw seven minutes or more for Smith and seven of those guys scored at least six points. In the early moments of the game, it was clear that one of these teams was ready to go from the opening tip and one was not — Minnesota looked crisp, moving the ball around quickly and getting enough open looks to send USC looking for cover in a 2-3 zone. As it is now, Minnesota has a 10-1 record with wins over Memphis, Stanford, Florida State, and USC, and a loss to #1 Duke the only blemish. We knew teams like Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State were going to be a load, but coupled with Illinois’ big win at Gonzaga on Saturday, it looks like we can throw another pair on the Big Ten pile.
  3. Working Things Out. We’re a month into the season and Kevin O’Neill has no idea what he has here. His rotation seems to be little more than subbing guys in and out based on a whim. Eleven guys played in the first half, and while O’Neill tightened up his rotation to great effect in the second half, it just isn’t feasible to generate a brand new rotation every night out. Guys need to know their roles in order to give the coaching staff what they want. Start with the players you absolutely need to have on the floor (e.g., Byron Wesley, Jio Fontan, and Omar Oraby) and build an eight or nine-man rotation from there. There is enough talent here for the Trojans to make some noise in conference play, but O’Neill’s got to cobble together some type of coherent plan for that to happen. He certainly knows that, as he discussed after the game trimming his rotation based on effort.
Tubby Smith, Minnesota

Tubby Smith Earned His 500th Win Saturday Night With What Appears To Be His Best Minnesota Team

Star of the GameOmar Oraby. You hate to name a player on the losing team the star of the game, but in the second half at least, Oraby was the best player on the floor. He scored 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting, the Trojan offense ran smoothly through him in the post, he crashed the boards and challenged many shots at the rim, including a dunk attempt by Trevor Mbakwe on a breakaway that wound up with both players crashing to the floor. The whistle went against Oraby, but he maintained his innocence, even after the game. Oraby got 14 minutes in the second half and O’Neill sang his praises (except for his woeful free throw shooting) after the game, noting, “he’s gonna have to get a ton of time.”

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On Kentucky, Florida, Minnesota, Canadian Imports, and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 4th, 2012

Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. When the AP Top 25 was released Monday afternoon, Kentucky wound up unranked for the first time in the John Calipari era after a blowout loss to Notre Dame and a home setback to Baylor, UK’s first loss at Rupp Arena under Calipari (UK remains ranked at #20 here at RTC). Kentucky’s drop from #8 to unranked was the largest in AP poll history since the poll expanded to include 25 teams in 1990. Now we all know college basketball polls don’t really matter (unlike a certain other collegiate sport) so this is just something to discuss among basketball junkies. But seriously, do people really believe this isn’t one of the Top 25 teams in the country? I guess it depends on your philosophy when it comes to filling out a ballot. If you’re going purely by record, sure the Wildcats shouldn’t be ranked at 4-3. But a deeper inspection reveals a team with a win over Maryland, one that could turn into a very good win if the Terrapins sustain their early season level of play, and three losses to very good basketball teams (Duke, Notre Dame and Baylor). The Wildcats aren’t anywhere near last year’s juggernaut but until they lose to a bad team or the losses to good teams keep piling up, I’ll continue to rank Kentucky and won’t overreact. What are the issues Calipari faces? Number one, Ryan Harrow has proven not to be the answer at point guard. Archie Goodwin has been forced to be the primary ballhandler and is turning the ball over more than three times per game. Second, Kentucky’s rebounding and defense has taken a dip from last year but who didn’t expect that? Anthony Davis is in New Orleans now, not Lexington. Third, the team is relying exclusively on freshmen, one sophomore (Kyle Wiltjer, who does need to pick his game up) and two transfers. There is no veteran presence who has been through the SEC wars like Doron Lamb and Darius Miller had been last season. While Cal’s teams have had tremendous freshmen talent, the presence of Miller and Lamb pushed the team over the top last year. Without that crucial element, Kentucky will continue to struggle with immature plays and poor decision-making. However, I’m sure that Calipari will find a way to make things work eventually. Let’s not panic in early December because Kentucky lost three games to Top 25 teams.

    Coach Cal’s Team Is Now Unranked, But Don’t Panic Yet

  2. With Kentucky struggling to find its way right now, Florida has emerged as the early favorite in the SEC. The Gators are 6-0 with a pair of blowout wins over Wisconsin and Marquette and a nice “neutral” court win over a good Middle Tennessee team. It’s pretty clear that Florida is for real but the schedule ramps up in a big way this month with tomorrow’s road trip to rival Florida State followed 10 days later by a visit to Arizona and a quasi-road game against Kansas State in Kansas City on December 22. Everyone knows about Florida’s high-powered offensive attack but the most astonishing thing about this team has been its defense. This could very well be Billy Donovan’s best defensive team in Gainesville. Florida leads the nation in scoring defense, giving up just 48.5 PPG to date. The Gators are fourth in defensive efficiency and have also improved their rebounding from a year ago with Patric Young and Will Yeguete doing most of the work on the boards but even UF’s guards are contributing to that effort as well. Florida is just as efficient on the offensive end of the floor with balanced scoring and depth. Seven Gators are averaging at least seven points per game, led by Kenny Boynton. Donovan has to be thrilled with senior Erik Murphy, someone who is an absolute match-up nightmare for almost every opponent because of his length, versatility and ability to stretch defenses. When Murphy hangs out on the perimeter he can hit shots or open up gaps for his teammates to drive and score, or get to the line as Florida has done so well this year. His numbers don’t jump off the stat sheet at you but he’s such a valuable asset to this team. Murphy has had his share of off-court problems and here’s to hoping he’s learned from that and takes on a leadership role for his team as a senior. He’s off to a great start and it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see Florida in the top 10 all year long. Read the rest of this entry »
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Gophers Show Their Depth And Maturity Against Florida State

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 28th, 2012

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

Non-conference games on neutral courts are tough but they don’t present the same challenges as true road games. Tubby Smith’s Gophers had a great run during the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament last weekend but hot players can ride a streak when playing three games in three nights. Even though winning two games in three nights is very impressive, the Gophers had yet to play on the road until last night’s game against Florida State, so there were still a few questions about their composure away from Minneapolis. The Seminoles are a defensive-oriented team that would fit perfectly well in the B1G because of their grind-it-out style of play. Factoring in their fatigue (fourth game in six nights) and a road contest against an opponent that had not played a game in six days could have meant that the Gophers would have trouble, but Minnesota showed no signs of slowing down. Not only did they convincingly win in Tallahassee, 77-68, but they proved that their depth and maturity will be their greatest assets this year.

Andre Hollins leads a quartet of guards that provide great depth for the Gophers. (USA Today)

  • Depth at the Guard Position: Both of the Hollins, Austin and Andre, have a common last name but provide great diversity to Smith’s offense in the half-court. Andre Hollins showed that he can score from anywhere on the floor as he went off for 41 points against Memphis last week but he also showed that he can facilitate last night by dishing out five assists against FSU. He was the primary ballhandler and had some nice passes in transition to the other wings. Austin Hollins, on the other hand, has a great wingspan and consistently cuts to the basket. Even though he was only 1-4 from beyond the arc last night, he muscled his way into the paint for eight free throw attempts. The third guard in the starting rotation, Joe Coleman, has a great mid-range jumper. He is strong enough (6’4″, 200 lbs.) to set hard screens out top and roll off to drain 15-footers from the mid-range. If this trio of guards isn’t enough, Julian Welch can fill in perfectly for any of them if they get into foul trouble. Because Welch can score off the bench, Coleman or Austin Hollins can afford to take chances on the defensive end and be a bit more physical against the best wing on the opposing team. The starters played FSU sharpshooter Michael Snaer very closely Tuesday night and held him to just 33% shooting from the field. Minnesota might have one of the best guard combinations in the Big Ten. Read the rest of this entry »
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Minnesota Proved Its Worth at Atlantis, But Must Make Improvements to Reach Elite Status

Posted by KTrahan on November 27th, 2012

Minnesota has yet to prove that it can be an elite team, but after a strong three-game stretch in the Battle 4 Atlantis over the weekend, the Gophers proved they can be an awfully good one that can contend for the Big Ten title. After losing to Duke in the opening game, Minnesota came back to defeat Memphis and Stanford to close out the tournament. Of course, preseason tournament wins aren’t all that meaningful, but if anything, the Battle of Atlantis showed us one very good thing for the Gophers: They can score from anywhere.

Tubby May Have His Best Team at Minnesota (AP)

This isn’t a guard-dominated team or a forward-dominated team; players at both positions stepped up in each of the games. The guards — particularly point guard Andre Hollins — are good. Hollins scored a career-high 41 points against Memphis and was a pivotal player in the Stanford game. He had been considered a possible breakout player in the preseason, and so far, he has shown that he is certainly worth the hype. The Gophers’ two other stars — forwards Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe — have also been impressive, as has the frontcourt that out-rebounded every opponent at Atlantis. Minnesota’s ability to be successful at all five positions makes the Gophers very difficult to defend, given how many scoring options are on the floor.

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Big Ten Summer Check In: Minnesota Golden Gophers

Posted by jnowak on July 18th, 2012

There may not be a program in the Big Ten with more optimism this summer surrounding one key component than Minnesota, which has another season with star forward Trevor Mbakwe to look forward to. The 6’8″ bruiser is spending his summer working back from ACL surgery after he went down just seven games into his senior year, leaving the Golden Gophers to pick up the pieces in a season that had more ups and downs than a Cedar Point rollercoaster ride. These warm months are about taking the momentum from a late-season NIT run, mixing the team’s star player back into things, and getting things rolling for the 2012-13 campaign.

Having this guy back in 2012-13 could mean a world of difference for Minnesota.

  • Evaluating Last Year: Not a whole lot stands out about Minnesota’s season if you look at it as a whole, but when broken down into phases, there’s plenty to pull out. The Gophers were undefeated until the Dayton game, which is when Mbakwe suffered his injury. They managed to plough through the early non-conference schedule still with a 12-1 mark. But things cooled off  considerably in Big Ten play, when the club went 0-4 to start and had another six-game losing streak mixed in there. Tubby Smith salvaged the season by running to the NIT championship game in New York, putting youngster Andre Hollins on display. Ralph Sampson III is gone after yet another underwhelming season, but there’s some young talent on this club that Minnesota fans have to look forward to.
  • State of the Program: That young talent, mixed in with the return of Mbakwe, could leave Minnesota with an interesting inside-out game that could really give people fits in the conference this season. But one thing that would really provide the program with some stability and allow Smith to sink his teeth in would be the contract extension the university has been promising him for some time. There was some turnover in the athletic department as Norwood Teague was hired, but he said a month ago when he was formally introduced that negotiations with Smith were in the “11th hour.” What’s happened since then? No doubt Smith wants to get the deal done, and when you’re trying to recruit and lay the groundwork for the future, it’s most important to know what the school has invested in for the long run. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Morning Five: 04.03.12 Edition

Posted by jnowak on April 3rd, 2012

  1. The changes at Illinois keep coming. The Fighting Illini will have a new coach in John Groce roaming the sidelines next season, but won’t have the same big man roaming the paint. Sophomore center Meyers Leonard announced Tuesday he is declaring for the NBA Draft and will leave college early. “This was a very difficult decision because I love the University of Illinois,” Leonard said in a statement. “But I feel the timing is right for me to follow my dream of playing in the NBA and having the opportunity to provide for my mom and family.” It shouldn’t really come as a huge shock. He averaged 13.6 PPG, 8.2 RPG and 1.9 BPG this year.
  2. Minnesota’s season ended on an ugly note, but that should not take away from the optimism some fans were generating the last few weeks. FOXSports.com‘s Tyler Mason writes that Andre Hollins and Rodney Williams gave fans something to cheer about during the NIT run and that should be the case again next year.
  3. Back to Illinois, we can talk about some personnel coming into the program instead of leaving it. John Groce is starting to round out his staff and has tapped former Ohio assistant Jamall Walker, a source confirmed to the Chicago Tribune on Monday. Walker is the first addition to Groce’s staff in Champaign; he played at St. Louis, and has a strong reputation for working with point guards and could be the guy to help Groce tap into Chicago recruiting.
  4. The clock is ticking for college players to make their decision about whether to stay in school or opt for the NBA Draft — they must declare that they are looking into the NBA by April 3 and must declare or withdraw by April 10, according to NCAA rules — but the Indianapolis Star‘s Bob Kravitz says this situation puts too much pressure on the players. Kravitz is talking about players like Christian Watford, who only have a small window of time to make a critical decision and give NBA evaluators just a small sample size. Is that fair?
  5. Things are looking up with the Iowa basketball program, but the program’s history got a little bit of a boost this weekend in New Orleans. Former Iowa player and coaching great Don Nelson was elected into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Monday morning. According to the Gazette, Nelson led Iowa in scoring and rebounding all three seasons he was eligible to play and ranks 11th all-time in scoring with 1,522 points. He is also now the NBA’s all-time winningest coach with 1,335 wins.
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Big Ten Morning Five: 03.30.12 Edition

Posted by jnowak on March 30th, 2012

  1. Thursday night was going to be the end of the road no matter what for Minnesota, but the Golden Gophers certainly didn’t want to see their season come to an end this way: Stanford 75, Minnesota 51 in the NIT Championship in New York. Minnesota had 22 turnovers, didn’t have a player score more than 12 points (Rodney Williams), and missed 16 of its last 19 shots of the first half as Stanford began to take control. The future is bright for Tubby Smith and Co. — particularly if Trevor Mbakwe returns next season — and perhaps a brutal loss like this to end the year could serve as a jump-off point for next.
  2. One season comes to end for Minnesota, and a new chapter begins for Illinois. The Fighting Illini finally got around to hiring and introducing a new head coach on Thursday with a press conference to welcome former Ohio coach John Groce. He was brought to Champaign with a five-year contract worth $1.4 million annually after spending the last four seasons in Athens. The expectations are high at Illinois, and Groce knows it. He will be charged with recruiting Chicago heavily, and bringing Illinois back to the Big Ten forefront.
  3. Of the many people skeptical of the Groce hiring and how it all went down over the last few weeks, Jon Greenberg of ESPNChicago.com is not one of them. Greenberg admits that Groce was not the Illini’s first choice but Illinois fans will be pleased to have him once Groce settles in. Greenberg writes: “At 40, Groce is the perfect coach to take over the University of Illinois. He’s young, hungry and aggressive. He recruits point guards and gives them the keys to his offense. His teams play fast, shooting 3s and causing turnovers.”
  4. Back  to Minnesota, which was in the position to win a postseason title on Thursday but may not have a chance at winning the big one — the NCAA Tournament — unless the athletic department makes some major moves. NIT chairman C.M. Newton, who also hired Tubby Smith at Kentucky and watched him win a title there, said Minnesota’s facilities are not on par with Ohio State, Michigan State, or other teams that can compete annually for national championships. “He’s not had the chance at Minnesota yet,” Newton told the Pioneer Press. “They’re going to have to make some decisions facilitywise in order for him to do that, in my opinion. They’re behind Michigan State and Ohio State and others.”
  5. Alex Dragicevich, who spent the last two seasons at Notre Dame, wasn’t a fit for Northwestern during the recruiting process. Now that he is looking to transfer, could things be different the second time around? The Chicago Tribune‘s Teddy Greenstein reports that there appears to be mutual interest between the two parties, and things could evolve over the next few weeks. He averaged 20.9 minutes and 6.6 points per game last season with the Fighting Irish.
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