Big Ten Season Wrap-Up: Michigan

Posted by jnowak on April 25th, 2012

John Beilein continues to bring Michigan basketball back into the upper echelon of the Big Ten, and this past season was another major step forward. The Wolverines had a group that included important upperclassmen (Stu Douglass and Zack Novak), as well as steady, talented young players (Tim Hardaway, Jr., and Trey Burke). Things are only getting better for the Wolverines, who will be lucky enough to have Burke returning for another season (he flirted with the NBA Draft) and established a strong home-floor advantage this year during Big Ten play. A first-round NCAA Tournament exit is a tough pill to swallow given that the Wolverines were Big Ten regular season co-champions, but Ohio proved to be more than a flash in the pan. To take the next step, though, those postseason games have to be victories.  Before looking ahead to next year, here’s an evaluation of the year that was:

Trey Burke has been key in bringing Michigan to the upper echelon of the Big Ten. (AP)

  • In a nutshell: This was a talented Big Ten team that could give opponents inside or outside the conference fits with its style of play. The Wolverines had leadership, scoring and could defend. Their Achilles heel was consistent interior play and their play on the road never matched their performance in Ann Arbor. They didn’t have as difficult a schedule as co-Big Ten champs Michigan State and Ohio State, but the bottom line is that they did everything that was asked of them to share the title and that can not be taken away.
  • Overachievement: Burke was highly touted coming out of high school but few thought he could immediately become an All-Big Ten type of player who could take over late in games. He ran Michigan’s offense well and knew when to take it upon himself to create for himself. The Wolverines should consider themselves lucky he snubbed the NBA Draft, because they could be looking at a contender for Big Ten Player of the Year sometime in the near future.
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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Second Round – Friday Evening

Posted by EJacoby on March 16th, 2012

RTC Region correspondents Brian Otskey (East), Kevin Doyle (South), Evan Jacoby (Midwest) and Andrew Murawa (West) contributed to this preview.

#8 Memphis vs. #9 Saint Louis – West Region Second Round (at Columbus, OH) – 6:50 PM ET on TBS

Nice to See Rick Majerus Back in the Dance (AP)

It may be an 8/9 game, but according to advanced metrics, this is anything but your typical 8/9 game. Both teams are among the top 15 teams in the country according to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, outscoring opponents by about 0.2 points per possession over the course of the season. Still, looking back over the schedules, the Billikens’ only have four wins over NCAA Tournament teams (Vermont, St. Bonaventure and two over Xavier), while the Tigers have just three (Belmont, Southern Miss and Xavier) – not exactly stunning resumes. However, SLU head coach Rick Majerus is no stranger to NCAA Tournament success, and his ability to scout and gameplan for an opponent is legendary. And while Memphis is used to playing at a fast tempo, you can bet Majerus will effectively slow this game down, using 25 seconds or more on every offensive possession, mostly forgoing any attempts at offensive rebounds in an effort to get back on defense, and making Memphis score over a stingy SLU defense. While Memphis has been killing teams over the past month or so, the two games they’ve lost have been down-tempo affairs (UTEP and Southern Miss), and if they get frustrated against the deliberate Billiken pace, it could spell an early end to the Memphis season. Still, the Tigers will have a significant athletic advantage and while Majerus has a decent matchup for lightning quick guard Joe Jackson in the form of Kwamain Mitchell (and Jordair Jett), it remains to be seen how effective they will be against sophomore win Will Barton. If Barton can find space inside the SLU perimeter defense, he could create serious problems. Of course, that’s a big if.

The RTC Certified Pick: Saint Louis

#2 Duke vs. #15 Lehigh – South Region Second Round (at Greensboro, NC) – 7:15 PM ET on CBS

Located less than an hour’s drive from Cameron Indoor, Duke will do battle with Patriot League champion Lehigh in what is practically a home game for the Blue Devils. Duke is limping into the NCAA Tournament have lost two of their last three games, one of these losses coming in blowout fashion against arch rival North Carolina. Despite having many holes on the defensive end and Ryan Kelly uncertain for the game against Lehigh, Duke does have one of the more potent offensives in the tournament. Austin Rivers and Seth Curry can score from virtually anywhere on the floor, and the Plumlee brothers make for a formidable frontcourt. It is not often that a Patriot League team can put a player on the floor that has the ability to go shot-for- with one of the best teams in the nation, but C.J. McCollum will prove he belongs running side by side with Austin Rivers. The junior guard from Canton, OH ranks top ten nationally in scoring and has the ability to take over a game for long stretches. Although Duke will no doubt focus much of their effort on the defensive end on McCollum, it is no secret that the Blue Devils struggle guarding around the perimeter. McCollum will get his points, but it is just a question if his teammates will be able to follow suit. If Lehigh gets production from Gabe Knutson and Holden Greiner, don’t be surprised if the Mountain Hawks hang with Duke for much of the game.

The RTC Certified Pick: Duke

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Big Ten Tournament Preview & Season Wrap-Up

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 8th, 2012

Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.

Conference Tournament Preview

After a thrilling regular season, it’s on to Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Despite being a three-seed, Ohio State has to be considered the favorite given how well they ended the regular season. If either Michigan State or OSU wins the Big Ten Tournament, they will get strong consideration for a one-seed. Teams like Wisconsin, Indiana and Purdue can all improve their NCAA Tournament seeds with strong showings this weekend.

Northwestern is the only clear bubble team in the conference, and as such is under the most pressure to string some wins together. If the Wilcats can beat Minnesota in the first round, they’ll face a Michigan team that they only lost to twice this season, though both losses came in overtime. Two wins in the Big Ten tournament should make them a virtual lock for their first-ever tournament birth, but it’s much easier said than done with this level of competition.

A Look Back

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Seniors That Will Not Be Forgotten

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 4th, 2012

Senior Week is a big deal in the Big Ten.  “One and Done” is a rare term used around the 12 programs because the players typically stick around longer than 1-2 seasons. They embrace the conference and the fans bring them into their lives during the cold winters. As all the teams play their home games over the weekend, the seniors will be honored.  Some of the seniors already have well documented and recognized careers – Michigan State’s Draymond Green, Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor, Ohio State’s William Buford, and Northwestern’s John Shurna are just a few examples.

But Senior Night is not just about star players. It is also about the players who stuck with the program’s ups and downs over the years. It is about the guys that stuck through coaching changes and losing seasons. These kids played their last conference game with the same intensity as the first one despite their record or place in the standings. The seniors who are used to the spotlight will get their well-deserved dues this weekend but let’s take some time to recognize a few players who finish their careers after making an impact. The following are a few seniors that will be remembered as one of the toughest players over their careers.

Verdell Jones III helped Tom Crean put Indiana back in the right direction.

Verdell Jones III

Eight. That’s how many wins Jones had in conference action during his first three years. If you are reaching out for your calculator to check the winning percentage, that ends up being approximately 15%! Jones knew that his career in Bloomington would not be a walk in the park after the mess created by Kelvin Sampson, but he didn’t expect it to be that bad, especially considering Tom Crean’s ability to recruit quality talent. Jones averaged 11 points per game as a freshman and 14.9 during his sophomore season. The Hoosiers expected him to lead early in his career and he did not shy away from the responsibility. Jones had to do everything during games because of the lack of talent around him. Tom Crean remained positive and tried to keep the team’s spirits up but he couldn’t have done it without mature leaders such as Jones. Jones easily could have transferred after an excellent sophomore campaign, but he stayed with the team through the rough times. He could have been demoralized after Maurice Creek got hurt last season, but he continued to play hard. Creek was supposed to be a running mate for Jones but that never materialized.

All the patience paid off for Jones this season. Indiana beat three top 5 teams at home and they could not have done it without his leadership. He has taken a lesser role with the emergence of Christian Watford and the star freshman, Cody Zeller. But the numbers are the only aspect of his game that went down in his fourth year because he continues to be the strong pillar on the young squad. Indiana basketball is back and Jones has been an extremely key piece of the rebuilding project along with his head coach. Crean and the Hoosiers fans are thankful for his contributions.

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Checking In On… the Big Ten Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 28th, 2012

Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference. Follow him on Twitter at @Bill_Hupp for his thoughts on hoops, food, box fans and life.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was:

  • Spartan Success: Despite losing guys like Korie Lucious, Kalin Lucas and Delvon Roe, the Michigan State express rolled on. Perhaps no other coach in the country teaches a system and its principles quite like Tom Izzo. Surprise losses on Sunday by both Ohio State and Michigan, however, meant that MSU’s weekend destruction of Nebraska clinched them of the at least a share of the Big Ten title. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
  • Chicago (Evanston) Hope: That wind you felt coming from Chicago might have been a collective sigh of relief from Northwestern fans after senior leader John Shurna sank two free throws with mere seconds to play to help the Wildcats escape Happy Valley with a 67-66 win. Two straight gut-wrenching losses in one week might have been more than Northwestern could have overcome as they sweat out life on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
  • Lousy in Lincoln: It’s no secret that Nebraska has struggled on offense this year. But not since 1961 has Nebraska been so putrid on offense as they were when they were embarrassed by Michigan State, 61-34, at home over the weekend. The Huskers shot under 30% for the game and the loss of leading scorer Bo Spencer to an injured ankle near halftime only hampered their scoring efforts.

The Perennial Lesson In College Basketball 101 Is To Never Count Out The Michigan State Spartans.

Power Rankings

  1. Michigan State (24-5, 13-3) – As good as Michigan State has been this season, how would the Spartans be if Delvon Roe hadn’t been forced to drop basketball due to chronic knee problems? Roe’s presence would have given them more depth and would have taken the load off of Draymond Green at certain points. But it also forced youngsters like Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne to grow up quickly. While they’ve struggled with consistency, those guys are a big part of why the Spartans are Big Ten champs.
  2. Ohio State (23-6, 11-5) – Strange times in Columbus. After riding a 39-game winning streak and destroying most visitors who dared enter Value City Arena, the Buckeyes have now lost two of their last three games at home. Jared Sullinger has seemingly disappeared in big games and crucial moments this season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Game On: 02.25.12 Edition

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on February 25th, 2012

Six games this weekend in the Big Ten, and tonight features two of the conference leaders.  Let’s get to it.

Purdue @ #11 Michigan, 6 PM, BTN

Michigan's Senior Night against Purdue will be a big game for Zach Novak and Stu Douglass (US Presswire)

  • The Boilermakers need a win over a ranked opponent really bad.  Like, really, REALLY bad.  That’s because Purdue is 1-5 against teams in the RPI Top 25 and 4-7 against the Top 50.  A win would obviously help those stats out, and possibly put an end to the bubble talk surrounding the Boilermakers’ chances for an invite to the NCAA Tournament.  Robbie Hummel is doing his part, shooting 50% from the field and averaging 24.8 PPG over his last four contests. He also dropped a stat line of 16 points, five boards, and six assists the last time these two teams met, and will be expected to lead again.  Matt Painter will have to devise a plan to slow down the smoking-hot Wolverines, who have won five of their last six and have yet to lose at home this season.  It will be an emotional Senior Night in Ann Arbor, as fan favorites Zach Novak and Stu Douglass will be honored.  Douglass hasn’t missed a game in his Michigan career, while Novak was named the program’s first Academic All-American since 1984.

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Big Ten Morning Five: 02.23.12 Edition

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on February 23rd, 2012

  1. No one was surprised that Indiana was able to easily handle their non-league match-up with North Carolina Central last night.  Cody Zeller had another solid game, as the freshman dropped in 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead the way.  The victory gave IU 21 wins on the year, and with their NCAA ticket punched, the fan base is one again rabid for Hoosier basketball.  There is no question that Indiana has great fans, but with some lean years in the first few seasons under Tom Crean, the Crimson and Cream faithful are glad that their program is once again back to meeting expectations.
  2. One team still looking for a guaranteed invite to the Big Dance is Purdue.  Matt Painter is trying to lead the Boilermakers to their 6th straight tournament appearance, but it will be more difficult after the recent dismissal of Kelsey Barlow.  The versatile Barlow often guarded the opposing team’s best scoring option, and now Purdue will have to adjust its defensive schemes.  One player who has picked up his game recently is Robbie Hummel, who torched Nebraska for 29 points in the team’s 83-65 win last night.  With 18 wins and three games left to play, Purdue has to win two of its next three to get to that magic 20-win plateau that many believe will get the team into the NCAA Tournament.
  3. Michigan’s rise to the top of the Big Ten has been a story worth watching this season.  But while young players like freshman point guard Trey Burke and sophomore shooting guard Tim Hardaway, Jr., have been getting the most press, the reason the program has been able to rise back up is also due to the efforts of two seniors.  Zach Novak and Stu Douglass were two unheralded recruits that have bought into the John Beilein system, and have made big plays and big shots throughout their careers.  The 6’4″ Novak has played out of position (at power forward) his entire career, and still has managed over 1,000 career points. Novak and Douglas also each rank in the Top 10 all-time in minutes played and three-pointers made in Michigan history.  They are a big reason why Michigan could win its first Big Ten title in 26 years.
  4. In a game that probably drew an audience of opposing fans as well as Michigan State fans, the Spartans were able to avoid an upset at the hands of Minnesota last night, 66-61.  The Gophers built a big second-half lead but were unable to hang on down the stretch, committing several turnovers and not finding good looks offensively.  For MSU, it was another example of being able to adjust and overcome in a difficult situation.  Keith Appling had two brutal fouls late in the game, sending a jump-shooter to the free throw line both times, but he atoned, going 6-for-6 from the foul line down the stretch to squash any Gopher comeback attempt.
  5. The Big Ten regular season has just a few games left and for seniors like Penn State’s Cam Woodyard that means only a few more guaranteed chances to play before the Big Ten Tournament.  Woodyard has experienced a lot of ups and downs in his Nittany Lion career; winning an NIT championship as a freshman, and also losing 12 games in a row his sophomore season.  He’s stepped his game up this season, and will be a key for Pat Chambers as Penn State tries to mount some late-season magic these next couple weeks.
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Michigan Bombs Away Toward a Big Ten Title

Posted by rtmsf on February 22nd, 2012

Bill Hupp is an RTC correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp). He filed this report following No. 13 Michigan’s OT win over Northwestern on Tuesday.

For as much as Michigan and Northwestern engaged in a classic Big Ten battle on Tuesday night in a rugged, seesaw affair, it was over with breathtaking offensive efficiency.

Point Guard Trey Burke Has Been Tremendous This Season (AP)

First, Trey Burke stepped into a three from the top of the key after a Wolverines offensive rebound to start the overtime period. Then Zach Novak buried one from the right corner. Finally, Stu Douglass turned out the lights on the Wildcats with a gut-punch from three feet beyond the left wing that sent the purple-clad faithful streaming toward the exits. The win means the Wolverines (21-7, 11-4 Big Ten) kept pace with Ohio State and moved to within a half-game of Michigan State for the conference lead, a place few could have predicted after Darius Morris left for the NBA and handed the reins to a relatively unknown freshman point guard.

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Set Your TiVo: 02.17.12 – 02.19.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 17th, 2012

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.

While BracketBusters is always solid, the overall slate over the next few days is full of good, but not great, games. Still, tune in to these games as conference races head down the stretch and the NCAA Tournament field begins to take shape.

#13 St. Mary’s at #24 Murray State – 6:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN (****)

  • Since losing to Tennessee State, Murray State has rebounded with two wins over Austin Peay and Southeast Missouri State. On Saturday night the Racers will get their chance to show the nation they are for real. Playing at home in front of a juiced up crowd on national television, there is no excuse for Murray State to come out anything less than fired up. The three point line is this team’s best friend on both ends of the floor and it will be important against St. Mary’s. Murray State shoots 41% from deep (#8 nationally) and defends the arc very well. Against a St. Mary’s team that ranks a putrid #305 against the triple, that’s a huge advantage for the Racers at home. Steve Prohm should do everything in his power to ensure Isaiah Canaan (47.3%) and Donte Poole(39.3%) get quality shots from the arc against the porous Gaels’ defense. Defensively, the Racers must lock down the arc as they usually do. St. Mary’s shoots a lot of threes and while they don’t make a great percentage they do get just a shade under 30% of their total points from the arc.

    Isaiah Canaan And Company Could Have A Big Day From Behind The Arc Against St. Mary's Average 3-Point Defense (Getty)

  • St. Mary’s has lost two of its last three games after starting the season 22-2. The Gaels are still a likely NCAA Tournament team, but a win here would ensure their place in the field of 68 for sure. In order to win on the road in a tough environment against a good team, St. Mary’s must use its edge on the offensive glass, make threes and get to the foul line. With strong rebounders like Rob Jones and Brad Waldow, St. Mary’s has a clear size edge over Murray State. Only Ivan Aska and Ed Daniel see significant minutes for the Racers inside, two of only three players on the roster who are at least 6’7” tall. While the Gaels have a huge edge inside, they’re going to have to overcome Murray State’s strong perimeter defense. Matthew Dellavedova and Clint Steindl are going to have to hit threes for Randy Bennett’s team to come out on top. Thirdly, St. Mary’s should look to take advantage of a Murray State defense that ranks in the bottom half of Division I in defensive free throw rate. The Gaels get to the line fairly well and make 71.9% of their free throws. It’s so important to control tempo and keep the crowd out of the game and getting to the charity stripe while controlling the boards definitely helps in achieving that goal.
  • This should be a very close game but the edge has to go to the home team. St. Mary’s is struggling a bit right now and Murray State seems to have righted the ship since suffering its first loss. One concern for the Racers is their turnovers (14 per game). If Murray State controls the ball, plays well on the perimeter and gets to the free throw line at its usual clip, this will be the Racers’ game to lose.
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Set Your TiVo: 02.03 – 02.05

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 3rd, 2012

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.

There are lots of good games on Saturday, highlighted by the big one in Columbia. Overall it’s a very nice day of hoops despite only a handful of truly terrific games.

#4 Kansas @ #6 Missouri – 9:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN (*****)

KU Needs Taylor To Be Good Tyshawn on Saturday (credit: Missourian)

  • It doesn’t get much better than this. Two teams that don’t particularly like each other and a Border War rivalry with roots in the Civil War era. Missouri enters this game after surviving Texas in Austin on Monday. The Tigers have perhaps the best offense in the nation with incredible balance at the guard and wing positions. The question for Frank Haith and his team will be how effective Ricardo Ratliffe can be against Thomas Robinson inside. Ratliffe shoots almost exclusively in the paint and converts an astounding 75.1% of the time. However, Ratliffe will be going up against a front line of Robinson and Jeff Withey (3.1 BPG) in this one and needs to utilize his patented pick-and-roll more in this game. Ratliffe won’t have great success going one-on-one against either Robinson or Withey inside. Kansas’ defense ranks #4 in two-point percentage against but the Jayhawks are vulnerable to the three-ball. That’s where Missouri and snipers Marcus DenmonKim English and Michael Dixon can really take advantage of Bill Self’s team.
  • The Jayhawk offense is essentially a two-man operation. While players like Withey and Travis Releford contribute offensively, Kansas’ fortunes depend on Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor. Taylor has taken his game to another level over the last month, highlighted by the back to back 28-point efforts against Iowa State and Baylor. The Kansas senior hasn’t shot under 40% from the floor since January 4 but will be the focus of Haith’s perimeter defense. Taylor is prone to turnovers and you can bet the Missouri guards will be ball hawking him all night long. If Taylor has a good ball handling night, Kansas will be in very good position to grab a road win. Robinson will get his points but it’s up to Taylor to put the Jayhawks in a position to win this game.
  • It’s hard to pick against Missouri at home but if any team is going to win in Columbia, Kansas is the one. With ESPN in the house for the top two teams in the Big 12, this will be as charged an environment as you will see all year in college basketball. Despite Ratliffe’s stellar shooting percentage, Kansas should win the battle inside. The duo of Robinson and Withey is incredibly difficult to score against and Robinson is obviously a load on the offensive end as well. However, the friendly confines of Mizzou Arena and the Tigers’ perimeter attack and balance should be enough to put Missouri over the top.

#3 Ohio State @ #23 Wisconsin – 2:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN (****)

  •  Ohio State can take command of the Big Ten with a win in this game. The Buckeyes hold a one game lead over Wisconsin in the loss column heading into Saturday’s matchup. If Ohio State has one weakness, it’s three-point shooting. Thad Matta is not going to beat Wisconsin, a team that shoots well over 20 threes a game, from outside. Matta has the best player on the floor in Jared Sullinger and he needs to use him early and often in order to set the tone. Ohio State is not going to turn Wisconsin over and fast break points will be at a minimum. The Buckeyes must execute their half court offense in order to win this game and the way to do that is through the big man in the middle.
  • The Badgers have righted the ship with six straight wins but will need a big game out of their supporting cast if they are going to make it a seventh. Jared Berggren in particular must contain Sullinger on the low block or else Aaron Craft can feed him all day long with no consequences. Offensively, Wisconsin will run everything through Jordan Taylor but guys like Josh Gasser and Ben Brust need to be hot from deep in order for the Badgers to pull off the win. Wisconsin will be limited to one shot per possession most of the time as it loves to run the shot clock down and shoot threes. Ohio State ranks fourth in defensive rebounding percentage, mostly thanks to Sullinger.
  • This game features the top two defensive teams in the nation in terms of efficiency. It’s likely to be a low scoring, low possession affair that comes down to the final minutes. Players like Ryan Evans for Wisconsin and Ohio State’s Lenzelle Smith could be the determining factors. The battle at the point guard position between Taylor and Craft will be phenomenal but the complementary players usually put a team over the top in matchups like these. We think that’s what will happen at the Kohl Center on Saturday.
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Big Ten Morning Five: 02.02.12 Edition

Posted by jnowak on February 2nd, 2012

  1. Both Purdue and Michigan have been trying some lineup experiments over the last few days, and one team is seeing immediate benefits while the other may still be trying to work out the kinks. The Wolverines are now 3-2 with senior guard Stu Douglass in the starting lineup after beating Indiana on Wednesday night, and sophomore forward Evan Smotrycz starting on the bench. Purdue, meanwhile, is a perfect 1-0 with a smaller lineup that features basically Robbie Hummel and four guards. The new-look Boilermakers will surely be tested this weekend against Indiana’s Cody Zeller down low.
  2. Jordan Taylor receives a bulk of the credit when it comes to Wisconsin‘s backcourt — and rightfully so — but Taylor knows fully well that he wouldn’t have his level of success without a lesser-known Badger: George Marshall. The freshman, a redshirt this season, has been instrumental on the scout team, writes Jim Polzin of the Wisconsin State Journal, particularly in imitating opposing teams’ best backcourt player. This week, that meant Penn State’s Tim Frazier. Marshall must have done his job well, as the Badgers rattled off their sixth straight win with a victory against the Nittany Lions.
  3. Nebraska coach Doc Sadler has a simple explanation for why his club’s free throw percentage is at 75%, considerably higher than the average of 69.1% in his first five seasons. “The right guys are getting fouled, I guess,” he told the Omaha World-Herald. Nebraska leads the conference in free throw shooting and is 21st in the country in that statistic. The Huskers only have three Big Ten wins to their credit, but if they keep up that performance from the charity stripe, it could help account for a few more.
  4. Michigan State fans are surely thrilled with the news that senior Draymond Green‘s knee injury does not appear to be serious and that he could practice this week before a big Sunday showdown against Michigan. Green tweaked his left knee in the final minutes of Tuesday night’s loss to Illinois and did not return to the game. The versatile forward is averaging 14.9 points, 10.3 rebounds (tops in the conference), 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game this season for the Spartans.
  5. Minnesota, which is capitalizing on every spark it can find as the Golden Gophers try to bounce back from a discouraging Big Ten start, is relying heavily on the burst of Chip Armelin. “He’s one of our worst three-point shooters, but now since we’ve been playing in the Big Ten he’s been one of our better three-point shooters and he’s got a lot of confidence,” coach Tubby Smith said of the sophomore, who had six points and four rebounds Wednesday against Iowa.
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Set Your TiVo: 02.01.12

Posted by EJacoby on February 1st, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC correspondent and regular contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Two previously Top 10 teams (UConn and Indiana) are in major slides right now and have a chance to regain confidence with road wins tonight, though both are in very difficult spots. Also, perhaps the biggest game of the C-USA season takes place this evening. Here’s what to look for:

#22 Indiana at #20 Michigan – 6:30 PM ET on Big Ten Network (****)

Can Indiana Stop Trey Burke's Dribble Drive Tonight? (AP Photo)

  • The Hoosiers have lost four of six games and are rapidly descending in the rankings. However, they are coming off a 103-point scoring performance in a win over Iowa and they hung tough at Wisconsin in their previous game before coming up short. If Tom Crean’s team is really turning the corner in the Big Ten, then they need to prove it tonight with nothing other than a victory. Cody Zeller has been outstanding in conference play and will be the go-to man tonight against a suspect Wolverines interior defense that allowed the freshman to go 8-10 with 18 points in their first meeting, a slim Indiana win at home. IU has been efficient offensively lately without being overly reliant on the three-point shot, which is a good formula on the road. But their chances at winning tonight really boil down to  their ability to stop Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.’s penetration, as both players have the ability to carve up soft defenses. Indiana has an insanely high 110.4 defensive efficiency in conference, which will not cut it tonight. An improved defensive effort, however, will give them a great chance to win.
  • The Wolverines have held serve at home this season at 12-0 and will look to feed off the Ann Arbor crowd. As discussed above, this game is all about Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. for Michigan. The two guards are the only players in double-figure scoring (14.1 PPG and 15.2 PPG, respectively) and should have plenty of opportunities to penetrate a weak Indiana half-court defense. If they are making plays and setting up Zack Novak, Stu Douglass, and Evan Smotrycz for open threes, UM is right where they want to be. Michigan has played much better defense at home this season and should not allow Indiana to shoot the lights out like they have been able to in some games.
  • It’s probably getting repetitive, but this game completely comes down to Indiana’s defensive intensity in the half-court. Michigan has the advantage at home and is a four-point favorite, but this would be no upset if Indiana won. If early in the game you see Burke bouncing the ball for 20 seconds during possessions and struggling to get into the paint, you’ll know IU is doing a good job on the perimeter. Prediction: Michigan comes through with a slim victory.

Connecticut at #15 Georgetown – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN2 (****)

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