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.‘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 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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Checking In On The ‘Other’ Tournaments – NIT, CBI, and CIT Championships Get Decided This Week

Posted by EJacoby on March 27th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.

Only four teams out of 345 are truly happy with how their seasons have turned out, and they’re the four headed to New Orleans this weekend for the Final Four. But there are hundreds of other schools that didn’t even get a chance to compete in the NCAA Tournament that need to work that much harder to get their shot next season. That’s what the NIT, CBI, and CIT tournaments are for – not all teams are motivated to compete (see: Seton Hall’s second round NIT loss as a #1-seed), and these tourneys may not draw many casual fans, but they’re important for players, coaches, and fans who want to see their teams finish strong and work on reaching the Big Dance next season. The beauty of March Madness is that a CBI team this season could be in the Sweet Sixteen next year. You never know who that’s going to be. Let’s take a look at who’s left in the ‘other’ postseason tournaments, which all come to a conclusion this week before the Final Four…

NIT (Semifinals)

The 32-team NIT tournament draws intrigue as the best teams that got ‘snubbed’ by the NCAA Tournament with a chance to validate their seasons with a championship in Madison Square Garden. We’re down to four teams and the semifinals begin tonight (Tuesday).

Tony Wroten, Jr. and Washington Still Have Plenty to Play For (Getty Images/N. Laham)

#1 Washington vs. #6 Minnesota. Call the Pac-12 the kings of mediocrity this season. The conference only sent two teams to the Big Dance (who combined to go 1-2) but it has two teams remaining in the NIT semis and one of the two teams competing in the CBI finals. Washington might be the single most talented team in the country that didn’t get a chance to play in the Big Dance, and the Huskies are proving it in the NIT. Led by several talented athletes looking to build towards next season or perhaps even boost their NBA stocks, UW is the favorite here. Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross are two of those players with NBA thoughts and both are playing exceptional basketball right now, with Ross being the NIT’s leading scorer at 26.3 points per game. Minnesota, meanwhile, has had to play all three games on the road to get here, grinding out victories in typical Big Ten fashion. The Golden Gophers have been motivated by the news that their leader Trevor Mbakwe (injured all season) has been granted a sixth year of eligibility to play next season, so there is plenty of hope for the future. Explosive forward Rodney Williams has been leading this team and will also be back next season. Tubby Smith’s team has been playing hard but will be underdogs against this loaded UW squad.

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Big Ten Morning Five: 03.26.12 Edition

Posted by jnowak on March 26th, 2012

  1. While Illinois continues to look further and further down on its list of candidates for the head coach vacancy, Nebraska has found its man: (now former) Colorado State coach Tim Miles. Omaha World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel already likes what he sees in Miles. As Shatel points out, this is a moment of optimism for Nebraska fans everywhere and Miles has already delivered his first victory — at his introductory press conference this weekend.
  2. Now with more on the Illinois coaching search: The Fighting Illini and athletic director Mike Thomas — stop me if this sounds familiar — were turned down by another rising star that Thomas had hoped to see come to Champaign. This time it was Butler coach Brad Stevens. According to the Chicago Tribune, Stevens released a statement Sunday announcing he had declined Thomas’ offer and would be staying at Butler.
  3. And so it’s on to the next one. With Stevens (and Shaka Smarta and, apparently, the list goes on) having passed on Thomas’ offer, the Tribune looks to the next possible candidate. Ohio’s John Groce is a hot name after leading the Bobcats to a Sweet Sixteen berth by beating South Florida and upsetting Michigan. Groce, whose contract runs through 2014-15, is in his first head coaching job. He spent four years on Thad Matta’s staff at Ohio State and has led the Bobcats to two first-round upsets of high seeds, but it still feels like Illinois is digging around the bottom of the barrel at this point.
  4. Back to the school from Ohio that is still dancing — Ohio State, the lone Final Four representative from the Big Ten — what can we make of this rematch of the Buckeyes and national semifinal opponent Kansas? The Jayhawks knocked off No. 1 seed North Carolina on Sunday night, setting up an encore of the December 10 meeting, in which Kansas beat a Jared Sullinger-less Ohio State team. How much will the big man in the middle make a difference the second time around? Sully is averaging 18 PPG and 8.3 RPG over four NCAA Tournament games, but will have a tall task going up against Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson.
  5. Don’t forget — Minnesota is still playing, too. The Golden Gophers are getting set to take on Washington in the NIT semifinals on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden in New York. With the three straight victories — sans forward Trevor Mbakwe, who could come back from injury for another season if he so chooses — the Gophers are starting to generate some buzz again.  “I think there is a bit more buzz around this team because they’re still playing,” former Gopher and current FSN Sports commentator Kevin Lynch told the Star Tribune. “People want to know, ‘Did you watch the game last night?’ And ‘What do you think of Rodney Williams?’ Hey, let’s face it. I think it’s significant what they’re doing.”
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Big Ten Morning Five: 03.20.12 Edition

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 20th, 2012

  1. Normally, when players work hard and earn individual accolades, it’s an enjoyable accomplishment and a vindication for the sacrifices that they’ve made to reach that point.  But for Draymond Green, all the talk surrounding his outstanding season actually had the opposite effect.  Green admitted to reading media articles, listening to what folks had to say on Twitter, and it affected his game.  Instead of making things happen, he was worrying about what could happen, and that’s no way to lead a team through the NCAA Tournament.  Fortunately, the Michigan State senior has been able to lean on his coach, Tom Izzo, as he’s learning how to handle all his personal success.
  2. Plenty of attention is being paid to the Illinois coaching search, but there is another seat open in the Big Ten, and that belongs to Nebraska.  After parting ways with Doc Sadler, the Huskers are taking their time trying to find a new man to lead the program.  While it’s not the most high-profile job in college basketball, there still are expectations, and any viable candidate is going to be expected to compete and win in the Big Ten.  The latest coach to interview for the job is Oral Roberts head man Scott Sutton.
  3. While fading down the stretch and ultimately losing to Kansas was certainly disappointing enough for Purdue fans, watching Robbie Hummel play his last game as a Boilermaker was equally tough. Hummel’s career may be most remembered by outside fans because of the injuries he suffered while at Purdue, but the legacy he leaves is one of hard work and passion for the game. Hummel’s commitment to the program and to his teammates is unmatched, and that will be what he’ll be remembered for by Purdue fans, in addition to being a pretty good player when healthy.
  4. With all the talk of brackets, matchups, and dreams of Sweet Sixteen success, it can be pretty tough to remain a student-athlete.  Travel during the NCAA Tournament is hard enough from a physical standpoint, but add in school work, and you’ve got a lot of things weighing on young men’s minds. For Wisconsin, keeping up with their studies is obviously a priority for the players, and the coaching staff has been crafting practice schedules in order to accommodate the extra workload.
  5. Minnesota remains alive in the NIT, and the Gophers came out REALLY ready to play against Miami last night. Minny came out on a 12-0 run, and never trailed throughout the contest. Star forward Rodney Williams led the attack with 21 points.  Up next for the Gophers, they’ll head to Middle Tennessee on Wednesday night to try and continue its run toward an NIT championship.
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Big Ten Morning Five: 03.15.12 Edition

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 15th, 2012

  1. If the NIT is any indication of how the Big Ten will fare in today’s NCAA Tournament games, then I think the conference will be happy.  Minnesota traveled to Philadelphia to take on LaSalle, and came away with a 70-61 win.  While Tubby Smith’s crew didn’t have the season some wanted in Gopher-land, they have been playing better over the past couple weeks, and last night they showed off those improvements.  One of the main reasons is the play of star forward Rodney Williams, who took control with 17 of his 21 points coming in the second half, including a monstrous dunk that showed off his athleticism.
  2. There is plenty to worry about when it comes to the NCAA Tournament.  Travel, preparation, an unfamiliar opponent, and… altitude???  That’s exactly what Wisconsin has to deal with, as its game in Albuquerque is about 4,500 feet higher above sea level than Madison.  The Badgers arrived Tuesday, and have been working on getting adjusted so that it doesn’t become a factor in its game against Montana.  At this point, it’s not a matter of the team not being in shape; it’s being able to catch your breath in the heat of battle when the air is a little thinner.
  3. When you start four sophomores, many would say that your team lacks experience.  But when all four of those sophomores suffered an early exit last year in the NCAA Tournament, they have enough experience to know that they don’t want to go through something like that again.  Such is the case at Ohio State, who outside of William Buford, has four sophomores who watched Kentucky’s Brandon Knight hit a jumper with five seconds left last year to knock the Buckeyes out of the Tournament.  It is a memory that guys like Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft don’t want to repeat.
  4. It’s the time of year when changes are made in both the coaching ranks and in player personnel, and Penn State is suffering some attrition as sophomore guard Matt Glover has decided to transfer.  Originally from California, the defensive stopper will move on to other opportunities for his basketball future.
  5. As Illinois moves on to find a replacement for Bruce Weber, the program still needs someone to lead it, and that someone is Jerrance Howard.  The Illini assistant is currently the interim coach until a new one is named, and it’s his job to keep things in order until athletic director Mike Thomas makes a new hire.  Whether that decision is made in a week or in a month, Howard will keep plugging along, doing his best to keep things running smoothly in Champaign.
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Tubby Smith Needs To Catch A Break

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on February 24th, 2012

Winters in Minnesota are all about highs and lows not just temperature wise, but also with their basketball team. The Golden Gophers had their lows during the Dan Monson era from 2000 to 2007 because they only made it to one NCAA tournament. It wasn’t all Monson’s fault as he was trying to rebuild a program dealing with probation assessed due to the actions of Clem Haskins, the prior coach. But when Tubby Smith was brought in from Kentucky to replace Monson, the fans had certain expectations.  Smith did not disappoint as he led the Gophers to the Big Dance three out of the first four seasons in Minneapolis. The fan base could feel the momentum shift at the turn of the decade after some tough winters. Smith recruited a top 25 class and the athleticism of the players was very obvious on the court. But similar to the temperatures, the program dropped again after those high points over the last couple seasons. Arguments could be made that Tubby Smith’s coaching has not been up to par but several events that led to the Gopher letdown were out of his control– on and off the court. Let’s examine a couple of those factors and understand how Smith dealt with them.

Tubby Smith Has Had A Rough Time With Injuries To His Star Players


The stage was set for potential disappointment in 2010 when 6’8″ forward Royce White transferred to Iowa State. White joined other transfers such as Michigan State’s Chris Allen to play for Fred Hoiberg and the Cyclones. White is having a fantastic season – 12.9 PPG, 9.1 RPG, and 5.0 APG. In addition to White, the list of transfers includes Devoe Joseph to Oregon and Colton Iverson to Colorado State.  Joseph has Oregon sitting on the bubble for an NCAA tournament bid in a weak Pac-12 conference but his services would have certainly helped Tubby Smith’s team. He is averaging 16.3 PPG and Smith caught a fair amount of heat in 2011 when Joseph chose to leave Minnesota. Royce White’s case was a little different because of several off the court issues but nonetheless, Smith was counting on him to have a good career in Minneapolis and it fell short. Smith’s recruiting classes were very good and the performance of his ex-players shows that he knew what he was doing but for several other reasons, he couldn’t hold the team together. Is he to blame for all of the transfers? Not necessarily. Players don’t always pan out the way you expect them to, but the best you can do is bring them into the program and try to keep them away from trouble and focused on basketball.

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Checking In On… the Big Ten Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 8th, 2012

Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference. Follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp) for his thoughts on hoops, food, PR, various city river walks and life.

Reader’s Take


The Week That Was:

  • Halfway Home: As of this week, the regular season conference schedule is officially more than halfway done. And – with apologies to Dennis Green– teams are pretty much who we thought they were at the beginning of the season. Ohio State is the class of the conference; Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Indiana are solid NCAA Tournament teams; Purdue, Minnesota, Illinois, and Northwestern are fighting for seeding while Iowa, Nebraska, and Penn State pick up the rear. Of course, there have been some upsets and many compelling games, but now that the dust is starting to settle, the cream of the crop has risen to the top.
  • Super Shurna: Leave it to a savvy veteran to catch fire at just the right time. With Northwestern’s hopes of making its first NCAA Tournament fading fast, John Shurna won co-Big Ten Player of the Week honors after he shot a blistering 71% from the field and averaged 26 points, four rebounds, and two steals to lead the injury-depleted Wildcats to a home win over Nebraska and a road victory over Illinois. Shurna is up there with Michigan State’s Draymond Green and Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor as the most valuable players to their respective teams.
  • Close Calls: Illinois may be struggling at the moment, but they aren’t getting blown out. Each of the Illini’s last six games has been decided by five points or less. Unfortunately for the Orange Crush, they are just 2-4 in those games. Now they get to go on the road for four of their next five, starting with a doozy of a week with games at Indiana and at Michigan.

Will Draymond Green And The Spartans Snap Ohio State's Impressive Winning Streak In Columbus Saturday? (Al Goldis/AP)

Power Rankings

  1. Ohio State (21-3, 9-2) – With the amount of scoring options Thad Matta has, it’s really just a matter of if Ohio State wants to defend you. They didn’t do that against Indiana or Brandon Paul (though he was just on fire that day), and sure enough, they lost both games. Purdue gave the Scarlet-and-Gray all they could handle before OSU escaped with an 84-81 win. Buckeyes face an interesting test when Michigan State comes calling to Columbus on Saturday. A win would put them in a comfortable position to win the regular season crown.
  2. Michigan State (18-5, 7-3) – All of East Lansing waited with baited breath to learn the results of Draymond Green’s MRI. After Green left the game with a minor knee injury, Michigan State struggled mightily in a 42-41 upset loss. They bounced back nicely against their in-state rivals, and sure enough, Green led them with 14 points and 16 boards. As good a season as State has had, it could be even better: Two of the three conference losses have been by a single point on the road. Read the rest of this entry »
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Night Line: Indiana’s Weak Defense Can’t Make Up for Poor Shooting Performances

Posted by EJacoby on January 13th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist and contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.

With a huge game upcoming this weekend at Ohio State, it appears as if No. 6 Indiana overlooked its opponent on Thursday night. The Hoosiers were defeated at home, 77-74, by Minnesota, a team that was previously winless in the Big Ten (0-4) and in true road games (0-2). Indiana had its worst offensive performance of the season, and the Hoosiers do not have an efficient enough defense that can make up for a poor offensive outing. They allow nearly 77 points per game against conference opponents, which is far too much to be a serious contender. IU has been able to cover up its mediocre defense this season with tremendous shooting, but their defensive woes finally caught up to them and led to Thursday night’s upset.

Indiana Allowed Too Many Easy Buckets vs. Minnesota (AP Photo/D. Cummings)

Indiana (15-2, 3-2 Big Ten) has been the nation’s darling this year and has put together some incredible offensive performances, especially at home. Tom Crean’s team, ranked third in the nation with a 1.18 points per possession average, has already beaten a #1 and #2 team (Kentucky and Ohio State) on its home floor this season. That’s why it was so surprising that Indiana, in front of another raucous Bloomington crowd, went ice cold on Thursday night and fell to a seemingly inferior opponent. Christian Watford came in averaging 13.5 points per game but scored only six in the game. Jordan Hulls came in shooting 58% from three on the year and went 1-5 tonight. Verdell Jones III averages about nine points and four assists, but went scoreless tonight with just one dime. While every team is capable of a stinker or two during the season, it’s still alarming that the Hoosiers could not win at home against a team at the bottom of the conference. They gave up way too many open looks to their opponent and allowed Minnesota to run its offense comfortably on the road, which is not a formula for success in the tough Big Ten Conference.

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ATB: Weekend Edition — A. Davis, Boeheim, Tu, Big East/SEC & Dunkdafied…

Posted by rtmsf on December 5th, 2011

This Weekend’s Lede. Every Week a Playoff… Until It Isn’t. No matter your opinion on whether Oklahoma State or Alabama should have the right to play LSU for the BCS national championship next month, can we at least come to an agreement that college football’s tired meme of “every week a playoff” has once again been blown out of the water as farcical? Look, we all know that the NCAA Tournament system is far from perfect in terms of anointing the best team as the champion, but like every other major American sport, at least every team that has a reasonable claim to the crown gets a chance to prove its worth on the hardwood. The old saying goes, “in order to be the best, you have to beat the best,” but as this comical CFB playoff scenario shows, at least one deserving school will get no such chance to do that. On to basketball…

Your Watercooler Moment. Anthony Davis’ Game-Saving Block.

Kentucky vs. North Carolina. North Carolina vs. Kentucky. What else could it be? Saturday afternoon’s tilt in Lexington was one of those rare fulfilling games where the action on the floor not only lived up to the hype, but exceeded it. And the hype for this game was extraordinary, especially considering that it took place on the first Saturday in December rather than sometime deep in March. Our post-game takes on what we’d seen in the one-point Kentucky win are located here, but the long and short of it is this: Carolina should feel as if they were only a play away from winning a difficult road game that didn’t cater to its strengths (61% on threes, but only 33% on twos), while Kentucky should feel that its extremely young but talented team stood toe-to-toe with the other most talented team in America and didn’t blink. Both UNC and UK should be playing in New Orleans next Spring, and if we’re lucky they’ll tip off for the fourth time in just over 16 months with nothing less than the national championship on the line.

Five More Weekend Storylines.

  1. Big East Dominates SEC in Challenge. Coming into Friday, the SEC was tied with the Big East at 2-2 in this year’s Challenge. The Big East then won the next six games before dropping the final two Saturday evening to finish at 8-4. The most impressive wins over the weekend were Pittsburgh and Cincinnati’s road wins at Tennessee and Georgia, respectively(the Big East had four roadies), and as we noted in our commentary on Saturday, the Big East appears to be an eight- or nine-team NCAA Tournament conference, whereas the SEC seems to deserve roughly half that. Nothing too surprising here, just further confirmation that the Big East, along with the Big Ten, are the top two conferences in college basketball this season. Read the rest of this entry »
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