Big Ten Season Wrap-Up: Illinois

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on April 12th, 2012

It has been a long season for the Fighting Illini basketball fans around the Midwest. Most realistic fans knew that they would have a tough time with a younger team but few expected the talent to come out firing during the non-conference season. Wins against Gonzaga and Maryland showed that Bruce Weber’s team had the talent to compete in the Big Ten and beyond. But it was a red herring for the most part because Weber could not control the team and did not necessarily use the player’s skill-sets in an efficient fashion. Illinois lost ten out of 12 games to finish the season at 17-15 and were not even invited to the NIT. Most other Big Ten teams such as Iowa and Purdue improve towards later part of conference season but it was very obvious that Weber’s time was done in Champaign after road losses to lower tier programs such as Nebraska. The fans couldn’t fathom missing the NCAA Tournament for the third time in five years and Bruce Weber was let go. It is a new era in Champaign with John Groce taking charge but let’s look back at what can only be classified as a trying season for Illinois basketball.

Meyers Leonard and the Illini fell significantly short of expectations.

  • In a nutshell: Even during the first five games of the Big Ten season, Bruce Weber’s team did not always win efficiently. They needed overtime to beat Minnesota at home and needed a thunderous block by Meyers Leonard to beat Northwestern on the road. The whole nation turned their eyes onto Brandon Paul after his 43-point performance against Ohio State at home but it is easy to forget that the Buckeyes were still in the game during the final two minutes. When you win, everything is forgotten but Illinois’ offensive problems caught up after the win against Thad Matta’s group. Weber couldn’t figure out how to use consistently use Leonard in his offensive sets and relied too much on the three-point shooting of D.J. Richardson. Leonard did not have a smooth 15-footer so he couldn’t fit into Weber’s jump shot oriented offense most of the time. Weber played Sam Maniscalco during the early games but he couldn’t keep up defensively during the Big Ten due to lack of quickness and injuries. Because of Weber’s inability to make adjustments during the mid-season along with a losing slump led to the demise of Illini season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… The Big Ten Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 31st, 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

  • Tom Izzo is a Big Ten Legend: The emotional Michigan native won his 400th career game this week when Tom Izzo guided the Spartans to a comfortable 68-52 home win over Minnesota. No matter who leaves, the guy simply gets the most out of his teams year in and year out by emphasizing selflessness, defense, rebounding and toughness. There’s a reason that Michigan State always seems to be playing its best ball by the time March rolls around.
  • Up Comes Frazier!: Raise your hand at home if you had Penn State’s Tim Frazier as a likely first-team All-Big Ten candidate in February. If you did, you are a basketball savant and should be writing this column [Ed. Note: Or you are a Penn State homer.]. The 6’2” junior dominated against Penn State’s soft non-conference schedule, but hasn’t slowed down in Big Ten play. In league games, he is leading the conference in scoring (18.7 PPG), assists (5.3 APG), and steals (2.5. SPG). Admittedly, wins have been hard to come by for the Nittany Lions this season, but Frazier has been a bright spot in Happy Valley.
  • Welcome Back, Wisco: With Bo Ryan still at the helm, nobody thought Wisconsin would be down for long, and while it hasn’t always been pretty, the Badgers ran their current winning streak to five games after they downed Indiana at the Kohl Center this week. During this streak, they ground out tough road wins over Purdue and Illinois and claimed home victories over Nebraska, Northwestern and Indiana.

After a 3-2 start to conference play, Ohio State Has Won Its Last Four Games By A Combined 90 Points. (Al Messerschmidt/Getty)

Power Rankings

  1. Ohio State (19-3, 7-2) – Value City Arena isn’t the first Big Ten gym to come to mind when you think of fearsome places to play in the conference, but teams that have entered “The Grey” recently haven’t had much success. The students are passionate and the place is big and cavernous, more of a professional arena than a cozy college gymnasium. There’s a reason why the Buckeyes have won 38 straight at VCA and are winning their home Big Ten games in the nation’s best conference (according to the RPI) by an average of 24 points.
  2. Michigan State (17-4, 6-2) – Perhaps the most encouraging thing about Michigan State’s win over Minnesota was that it proved that point guard Keith Appling can go 1-8 from the field and score seven points … and the Spartans can still win by double digits. Freshman Branden Dawson continues to show flashes of brilliance, as he stepped up to score 16 points in Appling’s stead. Someone needs to provide a second scoring option to Draymond Green and if it can’t be Appling that day, it falls to Dawson or Valpo transfer Brandon Wood. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your TiVo: New Year’s Weekend Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 30th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the official RTC Star System.

A quality Friday night Big East game leads us into a Saturday full of terrific matchups. There are a couple good games on Sunday, but if you’re going to watch any basketball around the New Year’s holiday, make sure you are in front of a television on Saturday.

West Virginia @ Seton Hall – 9:00 PM EST Friday on ESPN2 (***)

Kevin Jones Has His Mountaineers Surging

  • Since losing at Mississippi State four weeks ago, West Virginia has reeled off six wins in seven tries with the only loss coming in overtime to a top 10 Baylor squad. The Mountaineers have an imposing trio of Kevin Jones, Truck Bryant and Deniz Kilicli but the timely contributions of freshmen such as Jabarie Hinds, Gary Browne, and Aaron Brown have pushed West Virginia over the top in a few of these close games. Bob Huggins runs the vast majority of his offensive sets through Bryant and Jones with Kilicli chipping in as well. West Virginia is not a good outside shooting team but it should be able to take advantage of Seton Hall’s interior defense, rated #258 in two-point percentage.
  • Seton Hall ran out to a hot 11-1 start but the reality check came at the hands of Fab Melo and top-ranked Syracuse on Wednesday night. Melo blocked 10 Pirate shots in the blowout win, a game that got out of hand shortly after the opening tip for Seton Hall. Kevin Willard’s team needs to rebound in a big way tonight, the second of three difficult games to open their Big East schedule. Going up against Jones, Herb Pope has to stay on the floor and play a strong game. After a strong start to his season, Pope has averaged only 8.7 PPG over his last three outings. If he doesn’t get well into double figures, Seton Hall will have a hard time winning. Jordan Theodore needs to be a pass-first point guard in this game rather than a guy who shoots 15+ times. Getting Pope, Fuquan Edwin and three point specialist Aaron Cosby involved will be important for the senior Pirate point guard.
  • It’s likely that Pope/Jones and Bryant/Theodore cancel each other out meaning the game will be decided by the supporting casts. Kilicli could be that guy for West Virginia while Seton Hall will look to Edwin and/or Cosby to make a winning impact. Edwin had an awful game against Syracuse but he should rebound nicely in front of the home folks and a less imposing front line. These teams have played five overtime games between them and another could be in the offing here. West Virginia is probably the better team but the Hall playing at home evens this contest up. Neither team shoots the ball well from the charity stripe but it’s something that just may decide this game.

#10 Louisville @ #3 Kentucky – 12:00 PM EST Saturday on CBS (*****)

Jones and Company Invite Louisville to Rupp Saturday Afternoon

  • Kentucky has blasted every inferior team it has played this season but the Wildcats have played closer games against Kansas, North Carolina and Indiana. Louisville is the fourth good team Kentucky will see so far, and given the passion in this rivalry, another relatively close game should be expected. The Wildcats are the better team but you can throw rankings and records out in rivalries as bitter as this one. Kentucky must use its superior offensive talent to its advantage, namely Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb. Louisville is highly vulnerable to the deep shot making Lamb a key player. Jones is the best player on the floor and needs to use his versatility to rack up fouls on Louisville’s interior players or step out and knock down a deep ball. Six Kentucky players average double figures and Louisville just can’t match the Wildcats offensively.
  • Where Rick Pitino’s team can match Kentucky is on the defensive end. Louisville’s game plan has to be intense full court defense, making Marquis Teague work for every dribble and every pass. Teague averages 3.2 turnovers per game and Louisville is one of the better teams in the nation at forcing turnovers. Offensively, this is not a typical Pitino team. Louisville doesn’t shoot the three-ball well but Gorgui Dieng, Russ Smith and Kyle Kuric can put the ball in the basket. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they don’t do it consistently enough to be an offensive force as a team. Peyton Siva has to be the catalyst in this game. The quick Louisville point guard has good vision but must cut down on turnovers. If Kentucky is getting runouts, it’s lights out for Louisville.
  • It’ll be hard for Louisville to score points on the road against the elite Kentucky defense but the Cardinals can force turnovers and get easy buckets. Both coaches don’t mind speeding up the game but that would favor John Calipari in this particular matchup. Pitino has to design a game plan that adeptly probes the Kentucky defense and gets quality shots. Siva is the key to execute that, plus the Cardinals must crash the boards and get second chance opportunities. That’s easier said than done against Jones and Anthony Davis. Davis has the potential to neutralize Dieng and anyone else who dares enter the paint for Louisville. The Cardinals will defend but they simply lack the offensive firepower needed to win this game at Rupp. We would be surprised if Kentucky loses at home for the first time under Calipari but this will be a fun game to watch regardless.
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Big 12 Thursday Night Preview: Braggin’ Rights and Tricky Road Games

Posted by dnspewak on December 22nd, 2011

GAME OF THE NIGHT

  • Missouri vs. Illinois, 8 p.m. CST in St. Louis (ESPN2)
From 2000 to 2008, Illinois owned Missouri in the Braggin’ Rights series. Year after year, the Tigers found new ways to lose by mishandling a potential game-tying attempt (2006), slipping on watery residue from the Scottrade Center’s hockey rink on the final possession (2007), and shooting 11% from three-point range (2008). One winter, embarrassed MU fans even dumped popcorn on Quin Snyder‘s head. Yes, the series was that ugly. But two years ago, fate shifted to the Tigers’ side. Missouri dominated from start to finish in 2009, and last season, the Tigers edged Illinois thanks to a late-game collapse by Bruce Weber‘s team. The losing streak is a distant memory and the Tigers own this series now.

That brings us to 2011. No matter how confident MU fans may be with their top-10 ranking, undefeated record and two consecutive series victories, the 24th-ranked Illini will provide Frank Haith with his stiffest test of the season. Missouri has not seen size like this before, and it will need to be creative in guarding 7’1” center Meyers Leonard. The Tigers have handled players like Harper Kamp (California) and Mouphtaou Yarou (Villanova), but Leonard is one of the better forwards the Tigers will see all year. He commands respect in the paint, and he’s also a decent passer with the ability to burn Missouri’s double-teams. As usual, Haith’s team will need to use its speed to burn a slower Illinois team. Against one of the fastest rosters in the country, the Illini have to slow the tempo and let Leonard go to work. Bradley transfer Sam Maniscalco, no stranger to Scottrade after visiting the arena four years in a row for the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, will also need to settle this young team down as the point guard. He’s been a difference-maker this season as one of the most experienced players on Weber’s team, and it is imperative for him to lead by example.

Phil Pressey Will Lead Missouri Against The Illini Tonight

On Missouri’s side, Phil Pressey will have to serve as the catalyst. He’ll never have a strength advantage against any point guard, but he could run into some trouble with Maniscalco (6’0” but strong), Brandon Paul (6’4”) and D.J. Richardson (6’3”). Again, though, his quickness is unmatched by just about everybody in college basketball, and as the Big 12’s assists leader, he can control the game without scoring a point. That’s what Marcus Denmon is for. The senior All-American candidate struggled against William and Mary over the weekend, but he’s allowed an off night every once in awhile. When he’s set, he almost never misses from three-point land, and if he’s on his game, he will be the best player on the floor tonight.

Unless you’ve attended a Braggin’ Rights game in St. Louis, you have no idea how intense the environment is. Haith may have watched last year’s game on tape, but not even he is ready for this atmosphere. There is no non-conference matchup quite like it — the arena is evenly split between Missouri and Illinois fans, and on each basket, one side erupts as if it has won the National Championship. Luckily for the Tigers, they have a more grizzled roster with five seniors, four of whom are now playing in their fourth Braggin’ Rights game.

The key individual matchup is… Meyers Leonard vs. Ricardo Ratliffe. Leonard is the key to this entire contest. Although St. Louis native Tyler Griffey is a starter and key contributor, Leonard is the centerpiece of this team — especially against a smaller opponent in Missouri. If he gets into early foul trouble, Illinois will have a lot of problems since it lacks depth in the frontcourt. Leonard will see double-teams all night when he touches the ball, and Ratliffe will be at least one of those defenders tugging on his jersey for 40 minutes. When Ratliffe has the ball, it will also be interesting to watch how he handles the match-up with Leonard. He scores a lot of his buckets on layups, putbacks and turnaround hook shots off the backboard, but he’s not the kind of player that can always take a 7’1” defender off the dribble and create his own shot. Ratliffe must find a way to utilize his quickness against Leonard, and Phil Pressey must find him on screen-and-rolls since Haith’s offense calls for that play on almost every possession.

Missouri will win if… It scores in transition and forces turnovers. That sounds like a key to the game for a Mike Anderson team, but it’s true for Haith’s team as well. MU is actually converting better in transition than it did a year ago, and that’s what it has to do against Illinois. In his first three wins against Mike Anderson, Bruce Weber did a great job of controlling the tempo and letting his team go to work in the halfcourt. The Tigers don’t utilize full-court pressure anymore, but the basic principles remain: they want to get out and run, and they want to disrupt the opponent defensively. That’s how they dismantled Notre Dame, California and Villanova, and it’s how they must beat Illinois.

Illinois will win if… It makes this game a Big Ten fist fight and stays level-headed. Illinois is bigger and stronger than Missouri at almost every position. It has more physical guards, and it has a more physical frontcourt. If Weber can concoct another game plan to use the shot clock and limit turnovers, the Illini should be able to score at will in the paint and win the rebounding battle. That all hinges on this team’s ability to keep its cool. MU’s defenders will fly all over the place with active hands, trying to deflect every pass in their vicinity. These Illinois guards can counter that by staying poised, and Maniscalco needs to be especially steady here. He’s the guy that everything depends on, even though he’s in his first season playing for Weber. At Bradley, he earned a reputation as a leader and a winner, and he cannot get rattled in the spotlight tonight.

OTHER GAMES TO WATCH
  • Texas Tech at Oral Roberts, 7:05 PM CST
Fresh off a blowout victory at Xavier, Oral Roberts is flying high and should be favored in this game against Tech tonight. ORU is used to knocking off Big 12 foes: in the last decade, it has beaten both Missouri and Kansas. Scott Sutton’s program is the class of the Summit League, and it looks like a contender once against this season at 8-4. Billy Gillispie is still trying to figure things out with this Texas Tech team, as it has failed every test presented to it. Without consistent point guard play and a slump from senior Robert Lewandowski, the Red Raiders must find a way to execute better offensively. Otherwise, it could be a long night in Tulsa.
  • St. Mary’s at Baylor, 9 PM CST in Las Vegas
After winning at BYU, we’re pretty sure Baylor is an elite basketball team. There’s a lot of time for that to change, of course, but Pierre Jackson and A.J. Walton have been lifesavers at the point guard position. This team is finally playing the kind of selfless basketball Scott Drew has been waiting for, and Perry Jones III has lived up to expectations after returning from a suspension. In five games, Jones is averaging more than 16 per game in the scoring department, and he’s shooting nearly 70 percent from the field. If only the Bears could rebound better– BYU’s forwards embarrassed Jones, Quincy Miller and the rest of the crew by grabbing 16 offensive boards. On paper, a team with this size should not allow that to happen. Baylor can redeem itself by keeping Rob Jones off the glass, as he’s averaging 11 rebounds per game for 10-1 St. Mary’s. Jones, the former transfer from San Diego, is undersized at 6’6” but still tenacious on the court. He has grabbed at least 10 boards in all but one game this season, but it’s important to remember that the Gaels’ schedule has not been challenging. They have played only a handful of decent teams: Northern Iowa (win), Denver (loss) and Weber State (win). That’s why this game may actually be more of a test for St. Mary’s than for Baylor.
  • Kansas at USC, 10 PM CST
In a relatively surprising result, USC actually knocked off an improved TCU team by 24 points on Monday, thanks in large part to a 25-point, seven-assist effort by point guard Maurice Jones. With Jio Fontan out for the season, Jones is the most important player on Kevin O’Neill’s roster. Jones is a 5’7” sparkplug with a lot of quickness, so Tyshawn Taylor and his recovering knee better watch out. Still, this Kansas team is too good to lose this game. And the Jayhawks should have a newfound focus after the debacle against Davidson earlier this week. Taylor gets a lot of grief for his high turnover rate this season, but he wasn’t the only problem against the Wildcats. This team just does not execute like most Bill Self teams do, and that has to improve in a Pac-12 road environment tonight. USC does not have a ton of offensive firepower, and it hardly has any threats from beyond the arc. Still, O’Neill’s a good coach who can gameplan against anybody, and his team will have the home crowd in its favor. This won’t be a cakewalk for Kansas.
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Set Your TiVo: 12.16.11 to 12.18.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 16th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

With Dead Week mercifully over, we finally have some good games to enjoy this Saturday despite Sunday being a very slow day in the hoops world.

#6 Baylor @ BYU – 2:00 PM EST Saturday on BYU TV (****)

Perry Jones Leads Baylor into Provo Saturday (AP)

  • The Bears have had difficulty on the road in past seasons but they already passed one important test, demolishing Northwestern in Chicago a couple weeks ago. This game, however, will be an even better measure to see where the highly-rated Bears are really at. The Marriott Center is a notoriously difficult place to play but Baylor has a clear talent edge in this game. BU welcomes Gary Franklin, now eligible after the first semester, to an already highly skilled roster. Franklin didn’t play all that well at California last season but he was a four star recruit out of high school. He should help the Bears out at the point guard position, a place where turnovers are still an issue. Baylor averages 16 turnovers a game and that will be dangerous playing on the road against a team like BYU that likes to push the pace. 5.8 of those 16 turnovers come from the point guard position so Scott Drew is hoping that Franklin can help handle the ball. How Franklin will fit in alongside Pierre Jackson and A.J. Walton remains a question mark.
  • BYU’s top six scorers are all 6’5” or taller, an important factor against the length and athleticism of Baylor’s front line. Noah Hartsock, Brandon Davies and Charles Abouo do the bulk of the damage for Dave Rose, as those three are his top scorers and rebounders. Hartsock in particular has been outstanding, scoring in double figures in every game thus far. All three will have to play well in order for BYU to pull the upset because Baylor’s front court is strong, deep and talented. With Quincy Acy blocking 3.3 shots a game, BYU’s big men should find it more difficult to score inside on Saturday. The Cougars have to get their outside game going as well. Baylor’s defense is very average against the three and BYU has three big deep threats, Abouo, Stephen Rogers and Brock Zylstra. Going up against the top-ranked interior defense in the nation, BYU needs its outside shots to fall in order to win. However, the Cougars can’t afford to settle for threes if they aren’t falling. They must get something going in the paint, even against such a strong defense, in order to balance out their offense.
  • This is an important game for both clubs. Baylor has played only two teams of note so far while BYU’s best win is over a mediocre Oregon team. Baylor shoots well (49.1% FG) but the biggest difference this season has been its defense. The Bears allow only 33.3% shooting inside the arc and their defensive efficiency has been terrific. Both teams get most of their offense from their respective front courts but Baylor may have the ultimate edge with Cory Jefferson off the bench. He adds some scoring punch and, more importantly, rebounding and depth for the Bears. For the Cougars to win, they’ll have to force turnovers to get points in transition because it’ll be awfully tough to score inside in the half court. In addition to making its threes, BYU must rebound well and get to the line while putting the Baylor big men in foul trouble. However, BYU ranks #295 in free throw rate and Baylor doesn’t foul too often. Although BYU rarely loses at home, this is a game Baylor can win. There are some who still doubt the Bears but a win here would put them on their way towards legitimate national recognition.

Texas A&M vs. #10 Florida (at Sunrise, FL) – 2:30 PM EST Saturday on FSN (***)

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by AMurawa on December 13th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.

Reader’s Take

 

A Look Back

This week marked the start of a relatively quiet time in the Mountain West schedule. With the MW/MVC Challenge and early season tournaments a thing of the past, and with the combination of finals, holidays and a late start to conference play, we’re treated to almost a month worth of sleepy matchups. We’ve still got a handful of interesting games, however, like the UNLV-Wisconsin matchup this past week, or the upcoming Rebels’ matchups with Illinois and Cal (other games of note include New Mexico-Oklahoma State and Boise State-Iowa). But for every one of those types of games, we’ve got a UC Riverside-San Diego State or Sioux Falls-Wyoming snoozefest to keep us in check. Despite the fact that the Mountain West currently ranks fourth among all conferences in RPI, you can expect that the anticipated dive in strength of schedule over the next month will hurt the conference’s member institutions when it comes to selection and seeding for the NCAA Tournament.

Team of the Week

Michael Lyons, Air Force

Air Force, Led By Michael Lyons, Won Both Their Games This Week By An Average Of 16 Points (Julie Jacobson/AP)

  • Air Force – The Falcons are my team of the week, almost by default. They are the only team in the conference to win two games this week, and they did so in convincing fashion, knocking off Wright State by 21, then taking care of Arkansas-Pine Bluff by 12. The Falcons used suffocating defense to limit WSU to just 9-of-46 shooting from the field and coasted enough to allow a whopping 17 players to get playing time in the game. Senior guard Michael Lyons led the way in both games, and is now averaging 19 points (best in the conference) and 5.4 rebounds per game (#11 in the conference), while Mike Fitzgerald busted out with six threes on his way to a career-high 19 against UAPB. The Academy is now 5-2 on the season, with the two losses (to Colorado and Drake) coming by a combined total of just five points.

Player of the Week

  • DeShawn Stephens, Jr, San Diego State – In a week where there was no runaway winner, we’re going to take this opportunity to recognize Stephens, a junior college transfer in his first year on Montezuma Mesa. With the Aztecs woefully thin up front to begin with, more minutes opened up for Stephens when senior big man Tim Shelton was limited to just seven minutes by yet another knee injury in their game against cross-town foe San Diego. Stephens, a quick learner who didn’t play basketball in high school, responded with 16 points and nine rebounds in the Aztecs win, and should be in line for more minutes from here on out, as he is already arguably the best SDSU big man.

Newcomer of the Week

  • Stephens – The 6″8″, 215-pound Los Angeles native is also converted 7-of-8 shots in the victory over San Diego.
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Set Your TiVo: 12.02.11 – 12.04.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 2nd, 2011

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

As we move into December, the first big Saturday of the year (highlighted by the battle in Lexington) is now upon us. Not to mention we get a nice preview of things to come on Friday evening.

#6 Florida @ #3 Syracuse – 7 PM EST Friday on ESPN (*****)

  • Syracuse has three distinct advantages in this game despite playing a top ten opponent. One is home court, two is height, and three is depth. The Orange have taller players at every position, one through five, and Jim Boeheim can go a legitimate ten deep into his bench. Against a Florida team that will be without forward Erik Murphy, Syracuse may be able to overwhelm the guard-heavy Gators. The key for the Orange will be defense. The 2-3 zone creates a fantastic match-up given Florida’s preferred style of offense, shooting lots of threes. If the Orange can be active and extend the perimeter of the zone, Florida will have a tough time.
  • The key for Florida is simple: make threes. To do that however, the Gators must establish Patric Young early and often. Playing without Murphy, Young is Florida’s only reliable post player. If he can’t get going, Syracuse won’t have to worry about extending the zone and leaving holes in the middle. If Young gets off to a fast start, the Orange will have to respect his presence by packing its defense in a bit more inside the arc. That will give Florida’s dynamic guards the opportunity to make shots. With Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario both shooting almost 50% from deep and two other Gators lurking as potential snipers, Syracuse doesn’t want to be forced to do that.

Can UF Establish Patric Young Inside To Give Its Shooters Room?

  • It’s always fun when a team that relies heavily on guards and the three point shot gets together with a team that plays almost exclusively zone. The Syracuse defense will tempt Florida to shoot the deep ball all night but Florida must work for open shots by establishing Young and some sort of an inside-out game. Keeping the zone off balance and moving the ball effectively are always keys to finding open shots. Defensively, Florida has to do better. Syracuse is much more efficient on that end of the floor while the Gators rank a pedestrian 52nd in the nation. Although three point shooting is the big key in this game, Florida’s defense could cost them in a tight game.
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RTC Conference Primers: #2 – Big Ten Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2011

John Templon of Big Apple Buckets is an RTC contributor. You can find him on Twitter at @nybuckets.

Reader’s Take I

 

Top Storylines

  • Mid-Majors Newcomers Will Make Major Impact – Two graduate student transfers from mid-major schools are going to make an instant impact in the Big Ten. Brandon Wood could start in Michigan State’s backcourt after scoring 16.7 points per game last season for Valparaiso. Sam Maniscalco averaged 9.7 points per game for Bradley last season and might end up scoring even more for Illinois. Both players give their teams veteran pieces at positions that would’ve otherwise been dominated by youth.
  • Healthy Living – Robbie Hummel returns for Purdue and has the opportunity to make a big impact for the Boilermakers now that his former classmates have graduated. While Matt Painter couldn’t get Hummel on the court with JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore, he does get the added bonus of having an All-America caliber forward to help shepherd this team into the postseason. Injuries also delivered a blow to Indiana, as Maurice Creek is going to miss the entire 2011-12 season. That’s after missing all but 18 games last season, and it’s a big blow to the Hoosiers’ NCAA hopes.
  • A New Head Coach In University Park – After leading Penn State to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2001, and falling to in-state rival Temple, Ed DeChellis saw the writing on the wall and left PSU for a more stable job at Navy. His replacement is former Boston University head coach Pat Chambers, who has a big rebuilding job on his hands after graduation of star guard Talor Battle.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Ohio State (16-2) 
  2. Wisconsin (12-6)
  3. Michigan (12-6)
  4. Michigan State (10-8)
  5. Purdue (10-8)
  6. Illinois (9-9)
  7. Minnesota (9-9)
  8. Northwestern (8-10)
  9. Indiana (8-10)
  10. Iowa (6-12)
  11. Nebraska (4-14)
  12. Penn State (3-15)

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RTC Conference Primers: #12 – Missouri Valley Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 25th, 2011

Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.  You can find him on Twitter @wildjays.

Reader’s Take I


Top Storylines

  • Back to Multiple Bids?: The Missouri Valley Conference is getting a little more attention entering this season than in the past, and rightfully so.  Six of the top ten scorers in the league are back along with four of the top five rebounders.  The league is looking to have the impact it had back in the 2005-06 season, when it sent four teams to the NCAA Tournament.  Since then, only the automatic qualifier from the MVC Tournament has advanced to The Dance. With so many talented upperclassmen, there could be an opportunity for The Valley to get closer to that status of six years ago.
  • Kyle Weems or Doug McDermott?: There are a lot of people that have probably forgotten that Kyle Weems of Missouri State was the MVC Player of the Year last season with all the buzz that Creighton’s Doug McDermott received over the summer.  Going into 2011-12, one hotly-debated topic is whether Weems can repeat or if McDermott will build upon his MVC Freshman of the Year performance.  McDermott was only the second freshman in the 100-year-plus history of the MVC to get first team all-conference honors.  Weems tried to lead Missouri State to the NCAA Tournament, but came up just short.  Due to the personnel losses by the Bears, including their coach, and all of the returning players for the Bluejays, can Weems surprise the “experts” and have even better success to repeat?

Kyle Weems May Be The Best Player In A Resurgent MVC This Season. (MVC-Sports.com)

  • New Ford Center: Evansville will start the season in a new downtown arena, the Ford Center.  They open it in style with in-state powers Butler and Indiana visiting to start the season.  This building represents the continual facility improvements for the Missouri Valley Conference member schools.  Creighton started the trend with the Qwest Center (recently renamed CenturyLink Center).  Northern Iowa followed suit with its own basketball building in the McLeod Center.  Missouri State opened JQH Arena a couple years later and in Wichita, a new arena was built to complement Koch Arena as a place where the Shockers can play a game or two a year.  Southern Illinois spent almost $30 million to renovate SIU Arena.  So if you are looking for a conference that keeps upgrading the basketball environment like a major conference, this is where you should go.
  • Scheduling Philosophies: In the past, the MVC member schools would hold back a game on their schedules to try to get a home-and-home series against a high-major school.  Although this has worked out in the past, it sort of backfired this season.  As a result, many of the final games scheduled for each team will come against a non-Division I school, and in other cases, a game was not even scheduled, leaving a gap between the end of the regular season slate and the conference tournament.  Creighton and Illinois State chose to schedule one game fewer than the number of games they could have scheduled while the rest of the schools scheduled the likes of Loras College, Emporia State, Upper Iowa, Maryville and others as a regular season game on the schedule.  With almost 350 teams in Division-I, that isn’t a good sign for a non-major, major conference.

Predicted Order of Finish

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RTC Summer Updates: Missouri Valley Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 27th, 2011

With the the NBA Draft concluded and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. The latest update comes courtesy of our MVC correspondent, Patrick Marshall.

The summer has been a busy one for the Missouri Valley Conference. They are hoping the 2011-12 season will be one that sees the conference become a multiple-bid league again.  They haven’t had multiple bids to the NCAA Tournament since the 2006-07 season.

Reader’s Take

Summer Storylines

  • Coaching Changes: The MVC only had two coaching changes in the offseason.  First, after leading Missouri State to its first MVC regular season title, Cuonzo Martin was lured away from the Bears to Tennessee.  He was replaced by Purdue assistant Paul Lusk, who weeks earlier might have been in line to succeed Matt Painter had Painter left Purdue to become the new head coach at Missouri.  He has Valley ties as a player at Southern Illinois in his college days, where he helped the Salukis to three straight NCAA Tournament appearances.  On the flip-side, Bradley head coach Jim Les was fired after nine seasons with the Braves.  After taking Bradley to the Sweet Sixteen in the 2005-06 season, he had trouble getting the team back to that level.  Les was replaced by Kent State head coach Geno Ford.  These moves have caused a bit of a frenzy as Kent State filed a lawsuit against Bradley due to the way they hired Ford.  Les has since been named the new head coach at UC Davis (where his son currently plays), and he too has filed a lawsuit of his own against his former school disputing the settlement he was paid from his dismissal.  Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall and Northern Iowa’s Ben Jacobson were speculated for many jobs over the summer, but they both chose to stay with their respective schools.
  • Creighton’s International Duo: Creighton’s Doug McDermott and Gregory Echenique have had a summer to remember.  McDermott spent the end of June through the middle of July playing for the Team USA U-19 squad helping the team to a fifth place finish in Latvia.  McDermott led the team in three-pointers made, was second in minutes, and third in scoring for the American team during the FIBA Championships.  McDermott’s frontcourt counterpart Echenique is currently in Venezuela as a member of his nation’s national team.  Echenique and his teammates will try to qualify for the 2012 Olympics in Argentina at the beginning of September before he returns to Creighton for the fall semester.
  • League Talent: There have been several different examples of decisions made by the league’s top talent this offseason.  First off is the 2011 MVC Player of the Year, Kyle Weems.  Weems earned his degree from Missouri State, and with a year of eligibility remaining, he could have easily decided to transfer to a different school to play right away, especially with a new coach coming into town.  Instead, he decided to stay in Springfield for his senior season.  In an opposite move, Bradley’s Sam Maniscalco was a senior last season for the Braves, but he spent much of it recovering from an ankle injury.  Early last season it was decided that he would shut things down and apply for a medical redshirt, which he received.  Then came the firing of Les.  During Maniscalco’s redshirt season, he was able to complete his degree.  With a year of eligibility still remaining and a new coach coming to town, the all-MVC player decided to transfer and finish his college career at Illinois.  Finally, you have Drake’s Ravonte Rice.  A runner-up for the MVC Freshman of the Year last season, Rice has not kept it secret that he isn’t necessarily happy at Drake, but that he isn’t going to transfer… at least not yet.  This is a pivotal year for the Bulldogs, as two years worth of the conference’s best recruiting classes are now sophomores and juniors that have had marginal success.  How Drake does this year could determine whether Rice stays or goes.

Despite a coaching transition going into his senior year, 2011 MVC Player of the Year Kyle Weems will stick it out for the Bears. (Missouri State University)

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Morning Five: 03.28.11 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 28th, 2011

  1. With all the firings over the past two weeks there has been a lot of speculation about which opening would be the ideal one to step into a new coach. One job that has consistently been mentioned at the top is Georgia Tech, which opened up after Paul Hewitt was fired. There have been several reports that current Dayton coach Brian Gregory may be in line to take the coveted position as he has been offered the position and is currently mulling the offer.
  2. On the other end of the spectrum is the Tennessee job, which offers the appeal of a large university in a power conference without the stress associated with other positions (read: it is still a football school), but also is in line for sanctions related to the Bruce Pearl fiasco. While many people expected the coaching search to last at least a month, the Volunteers have already grabbed a coach as they hired Cuonzo Martin to be their new coach. While Martin has limited experience as a head coach (only three seasons at Missouri State) he has been very successful turning the program around from 11-20 in his first season to 26-9 and a Missouri Valley Conference regular season title two years later. Martin will be able to attract more high-level talent to Knoxville than he did at his previous job, but he will have his work cut out for him in the SEC given what will likely be harsh sanctions from the NCAA.
  3. In more coaching news (busy day for coaches and ADs), Bradley announced that it had hired Kent State coach Geno Ford to replace Jim Les who was fired earlier this month. Ford is coming off two consecutive MAC regular season titles (and Coach of the Year awards) and will need to work his magic turning around a Braves team that was 11-20 last season and saw Sam Maniscalco, its star player, transfer to Illinois after Les was fired.
  4. One name that had been mentioned as a possible replacement at many schools with vacancies was Chris Mooney, but we can take his name out of the running for any opening as Richmond signed him to a 10-year extension yesterday. Although Mooney struggled in his first four seasons with the Spiders he rebounded to make two consecutive NCAA Tournaments including a Sweet 16 appearance this year.
  5. Getting back on the court (sort of), Las Vegas has installed Kentucky as the favorite to cut down the nets in Houston in a week. We are sure that the relative “passion” of Kentucky fans may also have something to do with them being the favorites over UConn although the Huskies come in as the higher seed. We are also somewhat perplexed by the 1371-1 odds on VCU reaching the Final Four compared with the 175-1 odds on VCU winning the title. We understand that the former was for individual games, but it seems like a sophisticated gambler would have found a way to exploit an arbitrage opportunity there. We also find it hard to believe that the 11th seeded Rams were the first “field” team to make the Final Four. We would have assumed that other #11 seeds (LSU in 1986 or George Mason in 2006) would have been “field” teams as well.
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Morning Five: 03.16.11 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 16th, 2011

  1. Every year there are a few lucky individuals who beat the odds and end up on top of national pools through a variety of reliable methods (based on team color, mascots, or personal allegiance) for picking their bracket. Other individuals get their brackets analyzed just because of who they are. Two individuals who fall in that latter category are LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Barack Obama. While James and Wade announced their brackets already (picking Ohio State and Marquette, respectively), President Obama will reveal his on the noon edition of SportsCenter today although it has already been revealed that he has gone with chalk again selecting all four #1 seeds to make it to Houston.
  2. If you are looking for a more intellectual way of filling out your bracket we highly suggest that you check out the latest from Luke Winn who goes through each region looking at the offensive and defensive efficiency stats for the top four seeds in each region with a particular focus on the top seed in each region.
  3. For nearly every event there is an individual who spends most of their time ripping apart the way things are because they prefer the way things were. Despite being one of the most beloved events in American sports the NCAA Tournament is not immune to this phenomenon as Michael Wilbon uses his new platform on ESPN.com to take plenty of shots at the NCAA and college basketball in general. Wilbon actually used the same exact argument(s) on both PTI and The Tony Kornheiser Showso much so that it feels like certain passages are lifted directly from one of those appearances. Or is it the other way around? While Wilbon makes a few valid points (who wouldn’t love to have had John Wall or Blake Griffinhang around for all four years?) he lacks any reasonable arguments for how to turn things “back to the way they were” without infringing on the liberties of the individual players that he defends so vigorously on-air. What drives us even more crazy is the argument by Jay Bilas that so many 11+ loss teams making the field is clear evidence that this is the weakest field ever. It seems pretty clear to us that Bilas hasn’t been spending much time in court (and if he has his clients probably haven’t been winning much) as that argument would fall apart in any Logic 101 class. Let’s just move on…
  4. Most of the news in the past few days has been about the NCAA Tournament and coaching firings, but we also expect to see quite a few fairly big names transfer schools. These are often hyped recruits who failed to live up to expectations and are looking for a fresh start. In other cases it is a player who performed well at a smaller school and is looking to try his talents at a higher level of college basketball. Sam Maniscalco appears to fall into the latter category. Although he will graduate from Bradley in May, the 6′ guard, who averaged 13.1 points, 2.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.1 steals per game last season still has another year of eligibility left. Following the firing of coach Jim Les10 days earlier, Maniscalco opted to transfer to Illinois although he refused to explicitly state that as the reason. Maniscalco’s toughness and experience could be a big boon for Bruce Weber, who will enter next season without an experienced point guard following the graduation of the enigmatic Demetri McCamey. Maniscalco is expected to be eligible to play for the Illini next season because he will be transferring into a master’s program at Illinois.
  5. For those of you who have a few extra dollars, you may want to keep your eyes out for an upcoming auction that will feature the original round center section of Pauley Pavilionthat was used between 1965 and 1982. During that period UCLA won 8 men’s national championships. The section is currently owned by a UCLA alum and was signed in 1998 by John WoodenKareem Abdul-Jabbar Lew Alcindor, Bill Walton, Sidney WicksWalt Hazzard, and many other UCLA legends. The auction is expected to run between April 15th and 30th (likely found on the company’s website at that time) with the majority of the proceeds going towards medical research.
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