ATB: Wolters Is Going Dancing, Valpo Lives On and LIU-Brooklyn Earns Third Straight NCAA Bid…

Posted by Chris Johnson on March 13th, 2013

ATB

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Tonight’s Lede. More Tourney Tickets. Bids are flying in from the most distant precincts of college hoops common fandom. The casual onlookers among us look at, say, South Dakota State or Valparaiso and breathe a collective sigh. They see an undeserving population of lower-class programs free riding off a welfare-like system of automatic bids that prizes a days-long single-elimination conference tournament over a season’s body of work. No one said the current small conference arrangement was the silver bullet for competitive entry; it’s just the complex and maddeningly frustrating world we live in. Look, these small league teams may not stand the same chance of making deep March runs as your average power conference denizen, but you know what? Who cares? Yeah, yeah, laugh all you want now, poke fun at the hyphenated university names and obscure locales, but the fact of the matter is these teams, like it or not, will be in the field come Selection Sunday, and they might just wind up giving your [insert BCS conference school here] a brutal time in the early rounds of the Tourney.

Your Watercooler Moment. Horizon and Summit League Hand Out Bids.

Last year's NCAA Tournament trip for SDSU resulted in an opening-round loss to Baylor. Wolters and SDSU are back at it again this year (AP Photo).

Last year’s NCAA Tournament trip for South Dakota State resulted in an opening-round loss to Baylor. Wolters and SDSU are back at it again this year (AP Photo).

In case you missed out on Valparaiso’s stunning semifinal victory over Green Bay, and the utterly hilarious reaction it induced from head coach Bryce Drew, be aware that the Crusaders were one Ryan Broekhoff last-second heave away from never making the final in the first place. Alas, Valpo pulled through, fought off Wright State in the championship round and secured its first bid to the NCAA Tournament since 2004. The near-death semifinal experience gives Valpo’s inclusion a charmed quality, if you can call it that, but the biggest story from Tuesday night’s games comes straight out of Sioux Falls, where – you wanted it, you got it – Nate Wolters led South Dakota State to a second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance by knocking off league rival North Dakota State. Wolters shined, to the surprise of almost no one, scoring 27 points and dishing out six assists and making every big play in winning time to ensure the Jackrabbits would reach the sport’s grandest national stage once again. This Wolters fellow is an interesting story. Some have broached comparisons to Jimmer Fredette, but that’s really not an accurate description of Wolters’ game. He is a backcourt creative engine, not an electrifying, rhythm-garnering, pure jump shooter. His style is deliberate and cunning, smooth yet off-kilter, harmonious yet lethal. If you missed tonight’s game, circle SDSU’s first-round Tourney match-up, whoever arises, because it’s the final chance to behold one the sport’s most mysteriously alluring backcourt star. You won’t want to miss out.

Tuesday Night’s Quick Hits… 

  • Blackbirds Make It Official. Would you be surprised to learn the nation’s leading assist man, Jason Brickman, hails from a three-time defending NEC conference regular season and tournament champion, that Julian Boyd, LIU-Brooklyn’s best player, has been out since December with a knee injury, that the Blackbirds are – not just historically, but this year specifically – actually good? That’s the unit the NEC churned up and spewed out for its automatic NCAA bid this season, and unlike the countless cases where a “hot team” wins a few games to spoil another team’s dominant regular season work, the Blackbirds, who beat Mount Saint Mary’s in the NEC Tournament final Tuesday night, are here on merit, make no mistake. Even without Boyd, LIU-Brooklyn is attuned to the intensity and competition level of tourney games. If nothing else, experience should make the Blackbirds a tricky team to deal with. Read the rest of this entry »
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RTC Championship Previews: Summit League

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 9th, 2013

Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League.

Tournament Bracket

Untitled

Whos Hot, Whos Not

Looking at the last month of play, you would have to say that Fort Wayne and Oakland are coming in as the hottest teams. I wouldn’t expect too much from Fort Wayne, but Oakland may be a team to keep an eye on. As for who is cold? North Dakota State stumbled into the tournament, and in a way, South Dakota State doesn’t have it all together like they would hope, dropping back-to-back games to Murray State and Cal State Bakersfield. If you are a believer in momentum, then you may be leaning toward Western Illinois or Oakland for this championship. But if you think home court and, well, overall skill has something to do with it, then the Dakota teams will be the favorites in this tournament.

Possible NCAA Tournament Seeding

So if you’re like me, you will be watching this weekend wondering who you can scratch into the bottom half of your bracket as a possible Cinderella team. According to kenpom.com, SDSU has the best rank at 109, while Western Illinois is a distant 131st. If SDSU wins, they will probably pull a 14-seed, but I could even see a 13 depending on how the rest of the conference championships play out. If WIU wins, then expect a 15-seed. If anyone else decides to make a crazy run at this, then you can expect to see them in one of those first round games.

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CIO… the Summit League

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 28th, 2013

CIO header

Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League.

Top Storylines

  • Realignment Strikes Again: The Summit League isn’t the first conference one typically thinks of when they hear about conference realignment, but the conference isn’t immune either. UMKC will join the WAC next year, ending a 20-year relationship with the Summit League (formerly the Mid-Continent Conference) that could put the entire conference in jeopardy. According to The Kansas City Star, UMKC will not be the last team to pull the trigger on realignment. Oakland has been gunning for the Horizon League for years, and now not only do they have a spot available for them, but they could take IUPUI along as well. In fact, there is a good chance that pretty much everyone in the conference could be on the move sooner rather than later.
  • To The Nth Power: Nate Wolters is just about the only other piece of news getting national attention this year in the Summit League. He’s been incredible, averaging 22.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game, leaving plenty of room to become the first player in NCAA history to average 20/5/5 in a season since the NCAA started tracking assists in 1983. Wolters is also third in the nation in scoring, and holds the NCAA season-high scoring mark with 53 points against IPFW. If you haven’t seen him yet, you absolutely have to catch him before his run ends.
In over 20 years as a Division-I team, UMKC has yet to hang a conference championship banner. The 'Roos hope that will change as they join the WAC.

In over 20 years as a Division-I team, UMKC has yet to hang a conference championship banner. The ‘Roos hope that will change as they join the WAC.

Power Rankings

  1. South Dakota State (21-9, 12-3): They are poised to repeat as champions of the Summit League, and Nate Wolters is trying to make history. Wolters is once again carrying the Jacks in chapter two of their cinderella story. His season reminds me a lot of Ben Woodside’s senior season at North Dakota State. That team had a real chance at immortality, but couldn’t climb over Kansas. The Jacks feel like that kind of team. They are not invincible, and have showed some weaknesses in the last two weeks, but we know that it would take a major upset to prevent this team from reaching their second straight NCAA Tournament and their first regular season title. Read the rest of this entry »
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ATB: Canes Meet the Pain, the End of a Rivalry and a Bracketbusters Finale…

Posted by Chris Johnson on February 25th, 2013

ATB

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

The Weekend’s Lede. Reining in the Last Weekend of February. The end of two prized college basketball traditions came to pass this weekend. ESPN’s annual Bracketbusters event saw its last go-round feature a slate that, frankly, didn’t meet the occasion of the event’s last rendition. Meanwhile, a decades-old Big East feud between Georgetown and Syracuse came to a close, and unlike the mediocre Bracketbusters field, the game was a fitting send-off for one of the nation’s best rivalries. Those two events headlined another excellent weekend schedule, the rest of which included (per the usual) a massive upset, some grueling league match-ups and all kinds of bubble and seeding implications sprinkled throughout.

Your Watercooler Moment. Miami Goes Down. 

The notion of Miami going undefeated in the ACC always felt like a distant, almost untenable concept. The Hurricanes are, at the risk of paint a bleak picture, a basketball non-entity. They play in front of an apathetic fan base at a “football school,” in a city with fans that are — let’s just say -– selective about going to see their teams play. Neither me, nor most of the nation’s best college hoops minds, knew exactly what to think. Miami was good, sure, but how good?

Until Saturday’s loss at Wake Forest, Miami’s first in ACC play, the answer was unambiguously glowing: Miami was good enough to run the table, despite everyone’s early-conference season doubts. The Hurricanes were storming through league competition, barely breaking a sweat while doing it and slowly but surely grasping the country’s attention as they rose up the AP Poll and surfaced as a favorite to land a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament. The praise was well-earned; this team can really play. Not only do they have spiffy efficiency numbers to back up the results – which include a 27-point drubbing of Duke and wins over NC State and UNC – they also have the experience and senior leadership to complete the intangible component of a legitimate Final Four candidate. It’s never fun to be the subject of another team’s court storming, nor is it comforting to have your undefeated conference run come courtesy of one of the nation’s worst Power Six schools (Yes, Wake plays teams tough at home, but come on: these squads aren’t in the same league). But if you began the weekend pleasantly impressed and optimistic about Miami’s chances of making a deep March run this season, I don’t know why you’d lose faith now. Miami lost, and it didn’t look particularly good in recent games against Clemson and North Carolina, but does one game negate a 13-0 ACC start, a top-10 efficiency profile and a senior-laden team armed with the sideline guile of March-savvy coach? No, it doesn’t.

Also Worth Chatting About. Hoyas Soil Storybook Big East Exit.

Wins don’t get any bigger than Georgetown’s Saturday at the Carrier Dome at the Carrier Dome. (Getty)

Wins don’t get any bigger than Georgetown’s Saturday at the Carrier Dome at the Carrier Dome. (Getty)

All the elements of a ceremonial Syracuse smackdown were present. A raging pack of 35,000 + orange-clad maniacs, an eligible and re-ingratiated James Southerland, the jersey-hanging commemoration of one of the best players in program history (Carmelo Anthony). Saturday, at the Carrier Dome, this was about the Orange, about Jim Boeheim, about punishing a rival one very last time. Otto Porter and the victorious Georgetown Hoyas were having none of it. A defensive battle, as expected, stayed tight deep into the second half. Syracuse’s trademark 2-3 zone frustrated the Hoyas all afternoon, and Georgetown countered with smothering defense of their own. The deciding factor was Porter. In a game where points, assists and general offensive execution was hard to come by, Porter rose to the occasion in an impossibly tough road environment (before Saturday, Syracuse hadn’t lost at the Carrier Dome in 38 games, the nation’s longest streak). And so after a bumpy opening in conference play, and all the usual Hoyas-centric questions about season-long endurance being raised, Georgetown has rendered moot a once debatable subject: who’s playing the best basketball in the Big East these days? Georgetown is the only answer.

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The Other 26: Saturday’s Top Five Bracketbuster Games and More…

Posted by IRenko on February 22nd, 2013

other26

This weekend marks the end of the decade-long Bracketbuster era — or experiment, depending on your perspective. Sadly, if appropriately, it looks like the event will go out with more of a whimper than a bang. Not a single game features a top 25 team, resulting in little hype for this year’s slate. But for true mid-major basketball fans, no top 25 ranking, or lack thereof, is going to dissuade them from devouring the late season, inter-conference action among the country’s best, under-the-radar-until-March teams. Here’s a preview of the five Bracketbuster games we’re most looking forward to, followed by an updated Top 10, our weekly honor roll, and the most compelling non-Bracketbuster games of the coming week.

Can Matthew Dellavedova And His Prominent Mouthpiece Lead the Gaels to a Much-Needed Win Over Creighton? (Las Vegas Sun / Sam Morris)

Can Matthew Dellavedova And His Prominent Mouthpiece Lead the Gaels to a Much-Needed Win Over Creighton? (Las Vegas Sun / Sam Morris)

  1. Creighton at St. Mary’s (6 pm, ESPN) — Both teams enter what is perhaps the premier Bracketbuster matchup with a great deal to prove. Creighton’s hot 17-1 start has given way to a rough 5-5 stretch, as the depth of the MVC has taken its toll. In four of those five losses, Creighton’s once unstoppable offense slowed to a pace of less than a point per possession. An at-large Tournament bid remains a safe bet, even with a loss to St. Mary’s, but the Bluejays are no doubt looking to this game to reignite their offense and their season. St. Mary’s, on the other hand, is in desperate need of a quality win for its Tournament resume. Having been swept by Gonzaga, Saturday’s matchup is a virtual must-win for the Gaels. Both teams have highly efficient offenses that rely heavily on the three-point shot. Whichever defense can step up its game may emerge with the win.
  2. Ohio at Belmont (10 pm, ESPN) — This should be a really entertaining game between two teams who love to run and gun. But for the colors of their jerseys, it may be hard to tell the two apart, as the Bobcats and Bruins have remarkably similar statistical profiles. Both are high-possession squads that shoot more than 40 percent of their field goals from three-point range and rank in the top 20 nationally in forcing turnovers. Both have high effective field goal percentages, but rebound poorly and allow their opponents to shoot far more free throws than they do. Toss in a great point guard matchup between seniors D.J. Cooper and Kerron Johnson, and you have the ingredients for a great nightcap to the day’s action. 
  3. South Dakota State at Murray State (8 pm, ESPN2) — Neither team is as good as it was last season, but both returned their star player. And it’s their matchup at the point guard spot, with Nate Wolters squaring off against Isaiah Canaan, that makes this a must-see game. The two players are the heartbeats of their respective team’s offenses. Each uses roughly 30 percent of all possessions, ranking them in the top 50 in the country. Wolters has been on a particularly nasty tear of late, averaging more than 33 points over his last five games, though two of his 30-plus efforts in that stretch were in defeat. Canaan, meanwhile, is coming off his own 35-point outburst in a win over Morehead State.
  4. Detroit at Wichita State (4 pm, ESPN2) — Wichita State has bounced back from a recent three-game swoon with a four-game win streak that includes two close victories over Illinois State and Indiana State this past week. They’ll be the favorites against Detroit, but his game has definite upset potential. Detroit is on the upswing, winning six of their last seven, and developing a potent offensive attack with a multitude of options, from Ray McCallum’s attacking ability to Jason Calliste’s three-point shot to Nick Minnerath’s versatile inside-out game to Doug Anderson’s physical interior play. The Titans will try to push the tempo, while the Shockers will try to slow things down and pound the ball inside to their big men Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall, who may find success against Detroit’s mediocre interior defense.
  5. Denver at Northern Iowa (8 pm, ESPN3) — After a rough 4-6 start to MVC play, Northern Iowa has righted the ship and fought its way back to where we thought it would always be — at the top of the league standings, just a step behind Wichita State and Creighton. They face a Denver team that has flown a bit under the radar, recovering from a slow start to the season to win 13 of their last 14 games. A trip to Cedar Falls will be a test of just how far the Pioneers have come. Expect a low-possession, halfcourt-oriented game, with a steady barrage of three-point shots. The Panthers have a balanced attack, with five players averaging between 9 and 13 points. Denver will turn primarily to Chris Udofia, the versatile forward who is the hub of their Princeton offense.

And now on to our updated Top 10 rankings, weekly honor roll, and the (other) games we’re keeping an eye on …

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The Other 26: This Is Not Mark Few’s Best Team… Yet

Posted by IRenko on February 16th, 2013

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

After a 17-point win at St. Mary’s on Thursday night pushed Gonzaga’s record to 24-2 and cleared its biggest hurdle to a regular season record tainted with just two losses, some are wondering whether this is the best team that Mark Few has put together in his 14 years at the helm. It’s a fair question, given the way they’re playing. But the best ever? Sure, not since Adam Morrison was dragged off the court after a heartbreaking loss to UCLA ended his college career, have the Zags had a player with the combination of star power, All-American credentials, and curious hairstyle that Kelly Olynyk has brought this year. And, true, moreso than the Morrison-led team of 2006, this squad is a well-balanced offensive machine, with a multitude of frontcourt and backcourt options. They proved that on Thursday, when Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, who have deferred most of the scoring load this year to Olynyk and Elias Harris, dropped a combined 38 points on St. Mary’s.

This Gonzaga Team is Good, But Not Mark Few’s Best … Yet (James Snook / USA TODAY Sports)

This Gonzaga Team is Good, But Not Mark Few’s Best … Yet (James Snook / USA TODAY Sports)

But Few’s best team ever? They have a ways to go before they can claim such an honor. Take, for example, the 2004 team, which also dropped just two contests heading into the NCAA Tournament.  That squad was led by All-American senior guard Blake Stepp, and like Olynyk, he had lots of help. Junior Ronny Turiaf, sophomore Morrison, and senior Cory Violette shared the scoring load, with all four players averaging in double-digits. They coasted through league play undefeated, never winning a game by less than double digits, and ended the season on a 20-game win streak en route to a 2 seed in the Tournament, Gonzaga’s best ever. Their two pre-Tournament losses were to St. Joe’s and Stanford, both of which went on to earn 1 seeds that year. By contrast, this year’s Gonzaga team lost to Illinois, a bubble team, at home by 11 points.

Of course, this year’s squad could prove itself a superior to the 2004 team — or any team that Few has coached — if it can get past the Sweet Sixteen. Since Gonzaga burst onto the college hoops scene 14 years ago with a Cinderella run to the Elite Eight, they’ve yet to get reach the brink of a Final Four, much less a Final Four itself. The ballyhooed ’04 squad was upset by 10th-seeded Nevada in the second round, the ’05 team squandered a 3 seed with a second round loss to Texas Tech, and the ’06 Zags memorably collapsed against UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen (a game to which one cannot refer without remarking that it was perhaps the finest moment of Gus Johnson’s illustrious career). This Gonzaga team stacks up well with those predecessors, but unless it breaks through to the second game of the second weekend, it won’t prove to be their clear superior.

What’s undisputed, however, is that the Zags have been dominant enough to remain at the top of this year’s Top 10.  On to that, our Honor Roll, and this week’s games to watch  . . .

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ATB: Two Pac-12 Heavyweights Go Down, Zags Pass Big Test and Minnesota Nips Wisconsin…

Posted by Chris Johnson on February 15th, 2013

ATB

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Tonight’s Lede. West Coast Stand Up. The West Coast staged the best of Thursday night’s games. For those who enjoy the spoils of the Pacific Time Zone, that’s entirely positive. Nighttime hoops is a normal occurrence. West coast denizens are exposed to these teams and players as part of their usual television viewing habits. And for the diehard fans out there living on central and eastern time, staying up a few extra hours to either a) watch or b) write about college basketball isn’t the end of the world. The masses aren’t so willing, by and large, which means many of the nation’s best conferences and leagues are something like foreign entities. Getting caught up by reading, watching highlights or studying these teams isn’t difficult, but the national audience is doubtless downsized for these West Coast-heavy nights. This isn’t a personal problem – I’m speaking in generalities. I have no qualms eschewing sleep for the best of the west, which is nice, because otherwise you’d be left without a tidy nightly recap of all that late-night cant-miss hardwood drama.

Your Watercooler Moment. Hey Now, Pac-12.

A late-push from the Golden Bears could shake up the Pac 12 race (Photo credit: AP Photo).

A late-push from the Golden Bears could shake up the Pac-12 race (Photo credit: AP Photo).

I could spill boundless quantities of digital ink on the frustrating development of the UCLA Bruins – the inconsistency of Ben Howland’s team, the perplexing reality of his team playing better defense (0.95 points per-possession in conference play) than offense (1.00). Or I could rip the Arizona Wildcats, a team I staunchly defended against early-season claims of specious success and smoke-and-mirrors late-game fortune. I’ll stay off both subjects, because on Thursday night the floor belonged to Cal and Colorado. Huge bubble-shifting opportunities were on offer for both clubs – Cal getting UCLA at home and Colorado welcoming Arizona – and neither failed to pull through. I wouldn’t call this a revenge game for the Buffaloes (Arizona players didn’t waive off Sabatino Chen’s should-be game winner; referees did), but Tad Boyle’s club played with purpose and grit throughout, to the point where last-possession bank-shot heaves were completely beside the point. Cal’s win was similarly uninteresting, scoreline-wise, and it gave it another big Pac-12 win to go alongside recent victories over Arizona and Oregon. The Bears need every sliver of profile-boosting juice they can get; they missed on pretty much every big opportunity in the non-conference, and hadn’t beaten anyone of note before the February 2 win over the Ducks. Beating UCLA is another nice chip, and Mike Montgomery’s team is looking more and more like an at-large worthy group. Colorado’s win is icing on an already solid portfolio – but, boy, must it feel nice to get even with the Wildcats, even if that loss had as much to do with a blown lead and faulty officiating as it did Arizona itself. Anyway, the Pac-12, somewhat insanely (remember last year?), has some real, actual depth: Oregon, Arizona, UCLA, Cal, Stanford (eh), Arizona State (eh) and Colorado are all at least relevant talking points in the NCAA Tourney discussion.

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College Basketball By The Tweets: Cameron Crazy Chants, Notre Dame, Nerlens Noel, and Nate Wolters

Posted by Nick Fasulo on February 13th, 2013

bythetweets

Nick Fasulo is an RTC correspondent who writes the column College Basketball By the Tweets, a look at the world of college hoops through the prism of everyone’s favorite social media platform. You can find him on Twitter @nickfasuloSBN.

When NC State beat Duke in Raleigh back in January, fans rushed the court, C.J Leslie was deemed a hero, and we were all supposed to think it was an ACC power-shifting victory for the Wolfpack. Then Mark Gottfried’s club took a return trip to Durham, and were beaten decisively, restoring reality and balance to the top of the league. Following the game, this was the scene at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Yes that’s right, just another day in the office for the Blue Devils

A Faux Chant About Tyler Lewis’s Grandmother

There’s nothing worse than a baseless rumor that lives and dies on Twitter… but when one occurs in the college basketball world, we have to at least trace its arc. Following said loss to Duke last week, NC State Wolfpack fans, or alumni, or beat writers, or maybe just Blue Devil haters, started something nasty declaring that the Cameron Crazies started a chant about Tyler Lewis’s grandmother, who passed away just days before. Totally awful, right? Absolutely, but ultimately something totally awful that likely never actually happened. The seeds were planted after it got in front of a former Wolfpack star with a bit of clout and a few thousand followers.

Within minutes many had immediately jumped at how horrible it sounded, while some took a second to think that it was probably not true.

Checking their timelines, and neither seem confident enough to deliver an earnest and clear response. So from there, all the Dookie fans got defensive, and rightfully so, and pretty quickly it was clear that this was a Twitter troll with a very short life span.

And finally.

Sigh. Oh and, by the way. Rodney Purvis checked Twitter, saw what was going on, posted his thoughts completely based on hearsay, looked like a clown, then deleted his tweet. All in the span of 45 seconds.

Let’s face it, NC State was just bitter. This did not happen or it would have had legs in the general media over the following days.  The Cameron Crazies have hurled some not-so-flattering chants at opponents over the years, but rarely have they leapt over the line like this.

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The Other 26: It’s Nate Wolters’ World, and We’re Just Living In It

Posted by IRenko on February 9th, 2013

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

It wasn’t that long ago when we were musing in this space about whether an early December ankle injury was hindering Nate Wolters’ performance. After missing two games, Wolters registered three straight games with a sub-100 offensive rating (per Ken Pomeroy), decidedly mediocre performances by Wolters’ high standards. But those would be the only three games this year where Wolters fell below that mark, as he emerged from his funk with a 28-point performance in a big win over New Mexico. Since then, Wolters has been as productive as ever. But none of us could have expected what happened on Thursday night. Wolters exploded for an incredible 53-point performance.

Nate Wolters Owned the Court on Thursday Night (South Dakota State Athletics)

Nate Wolters Owned the Court on Thursday Night (South Dakota State Athletics)

Wolters shot 17-of-28 from the floor, including 9-of-14 from three-point range. He added 10 points from the free throw line. He outscored the entire opposing team, IPFW, in the second half, 38-37. He scored in every which way — step back threes, drives through the lane, catch-and-shoot threes, drives along the baseline, threes off ball screens, pull-up jumpers … you name it, he did it.

Wolters is now averaging 22.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game. He commits just 2.3 turnovers a game despite using more than 30 percent of the Jackrabbits’ possessions. He shoots over 80 percent from the free throw line and over 40 percent from the three-point line. And perhaps most important of all, he has led his team on an eight-game winning streak that has buried an uneven start to the conference season and put the Jackrabbits in a first-place tie with Western Illinois. If you’ve yet to catch the Wolters show, fret not as there are some high-profile opportunities in the coming weeks. Next Saturday, the Jackrabbits welcome Western Illinois to Brookings, and you can bet that the joint will be jumping. And a week later, Wolters will take his talents to Murray, Kentucky to square off against Isaiah Canaan and the Racers in a premier Bracketbuster matchup.

On to this week’s Top 10, our Honor Roll, and the games to watch this week …

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ATB: Illini Come Up Huge, Wolters Drops 53 Points, and Missouri’s Plight…

Posted by Chris Johnson on February 8th, 2013

ATB

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Tonight’s Lede. Stay Away From Number One. My best advice for teams trying to avoid losses: stay out of the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll. Every team should take the floor on a given night with that underlying objective – winning games is a generally good thing, I’d wager – which makes that logic a really interesting counterfactual. The only way to reach the top is by winning games, but if every team to inherit No. 1 dating back to January 7 (when Duke opened up the week at No. 1 for the fourth consecutive week) has gone on to surrender the ranking in the seven days that followed, it begs the question: are teams better off avoiding the coveted weekly AP crown? Of course not. That preamble was, in essence, a roundabout way to introduce you to the latest slain No. 1. On Monday, upon the AP poll’s customary afternoon release, it will be official – especially if Indiana falls at Ohio State Sunday. The Hoosiers were the main storyline from Thursday night, but they weren’t the only one.

Your Watercooler Moment. A Win Illinois Needed.

There is only one way to go about discussing Illinois’ win over No. 1 Indiana Thursday night. It is a season-defining moment. The Illini were fading fast in Big Ten play, descending into NIT territory far quicker than anyone could have imagined after an excellent nonconference season, but as we’ve seen time and again this time of year, one win can change everything. This win – which saw Illinois rip off a 13-2 run with under four minutes remaining after being down by double digits for most of the second half – changes the conversation around Illinois. It brings renewed optimism to a conference season that, up until Thursday night, had done more harm than good to the Illini’s Tournament chances. The road ahead doesn’t get any easier, and Illinois will need to improve its still-lacking 3-7 league record. But with a win of this magnitude in your back pocket, Illinois’ view on the rest of the season changes considerably. The final eight regular season games and Big Ten Tournament are no longer about hunting upset wins. The Illini got that Thursday night. From here on out, John Groce’s team needs to handle business against equal-to-inferior competition (Purdue, at Northwestern, Penn State, Nebraska, at Iowa), watch the bubble soften up around them and sit back as its solid computer figures and stable of marquee wins carry them over the finish line. Those above games aren’t guarantees – such games don’t exist in this year’s Big Ten. But Illinois is more than capable of handling all of them. Few wins will mean more on Selection Sunday than this one; Illinois is back in the discussion, at the very least, and depending on how the at-large picture shakes out over the next month, the Illini could look back to Thursday as the night they sealed their Tournament fate.

Your quick Hits…

  • Wolters Goes For 53. Few mid-to-low major players in today’s college game hold as much national appeal as Wolters. Not to the casual post-Superbowl Hoops crowd; rather, he is something of a college hoops nerd’s cult fascination, for reasons understandable and not. On Thursday night, he did something memorable. Something that will stick with Wolters for the rest of his basketball-playing career. He scored a Division-I season-high 53 points. He converted nine three point shots, and 17 total field goals. He expanded the Wolters legend into a tangible and largely appreciable concept for college hoops fans previously unaware of his brilliance. Wolters is an excellent basketball player, but no one – not even the most ardent Wolters’ supporters – saw this coming.

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