Big Ten Key Offseason Questions: Part III

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on April 8th, 2016

We continue to address key questions for each Big Ten team as they head into the offseason. Today we will tackle Michigan, Iowa, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Parts I and II can be found here and here.

Michigan (23-13, 10-8 Big Ten)

John Beilein will need a dominant presence in the paint to compete for the Big Ten title. (Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)

John Beilein will need a dominant presence in the paint to compete for the Big Ten title. (Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)

Will the Wolverines have any presence at all in the paint?

With the unexpected departure of Ricky Doyle, John Beilein suddenly has a dearth of big men on his roster. The Wolverines ranked 12th in the Big Ten in offensive rebounding percentage and badly need a big man who can consistently hold his own on the defensive glass. Michigan returns a lineup of athletic wings with excellent range on their jumpers, but it won’t rise to the top of the Big Ten standings without better rebounding — particularly on the defensive end of the floor.

Iowa (22-11, 12-6 Big Ten)

Can the Hawkeyes fill the huge void left by their four well-traveled seniors?

Jarrod Uthoff, Mike Gesell, Anthony Clemmons and Adam Woodbury were the foundation of a Hawkeyes’ squad that spent over a third of this season ranked among the top 10. Peter Jok will be the team’s primary offensive weapon next season, but the rest of the roster will be very inexperienced. Dom Uhl showed good range in shooting 45 percent from beyond the arc; he is in line for a big increase in minutes and production.

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Michigan State Grows Stronger Ahead of Selection Sunday

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 12th, 2016

Tom Izzo’s disappointment in the first half against Ohio State on Friday might be the best indication yet of just how well his Spartans are playing. Less than a week after beating the Buckeyes in East Lansing, Michigan State controlled the opening 20 minutes from start to finish, taking a seven-point lead into the locker room and holding its bubble-bound opponent to just 26 points on 27 shots. “I thought we got off to a bit of a sluggish start,” Izzo said. “We didn’t feel like we were in sync the whole first half.” His team went on to dominate, of course, winning by 27 points and completing a three-game season sweep of the Buckeyes by an average margin of 20.3 PPG. The victory was more than just a necessary step toward a Big Ten Tournament title, though. On a night when the threes weren’t falling, Michigan State – in one of its best defensive performances of the year – took an important stride toward invulnerability heading into the NCAA Tournament.

Denzel Valentine and the Spartans continue improving. (http://247sports.com/)

Denzel Valentine and the Spartans continue to get better. (http://247sports.com/)

Guard Bryn Forbes entered Friday as the nation’s best individual three-point shooter on the nation’s best three-point shooting team, having knocked down more than 50 percent of his 200 attempts from behind the arc. On nights that he and Denzel Valentine (a top 50 three-point shooter in his own right) get hot, Michigan State is incredibly difficult to beat. Friday was not one of those nights; the Spartans shot just 8-of-23 on three-point field goals, and Forbes never got going. For Izzo, it could not have worked out any better. “The best thing that happened was Bryn struggled, best thing for our future, because we had to learn to play without,” he said. Instead of blowing out the Buckeyes with lights-out perimeter shooting, the #2 seeded Spartans blew them out by pounding the glass and finding easy looks inside. Already a top 20 offensive and defensive rebounding team, Michigan State ripped down 14 offensive boards (41.2% OReb) and prevented many Ohio State second-chances on the other end. To score, the Spartans used a combination of high-percentage transition looks, easy put-backs and well-run set plays to blow open the lead after halftime, opening the final 20 minutes on a 14-2 run and never looking back. Spartan big men Deyonta Davis, Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling complemented Valentine’s predictably excellent play by combining for 27 points on 12-of-19 shooting. Junior guard Eron Harris, playing in his hometown for the first time since high school, poured in 13 points of his own. College basketball’s most efficient offense was as efficient as ever (1.27 points per possession), even without its usual perimeter prowess.

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Big Ten Tournament Takeaways: Friday Night

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 12th, 2016

After Purdue’s blowout victory over Illinois in Friday’s afternoon session, Michigan State and Maryland followed suit with a pair of drubbings of their own. The Spartans used a 14-2 run early in the second half to ease past Ohio State, 81-54, while the Terrapins shot the lights out against Nebraska on their way to an 11-point victory in the late game. Here are four takeaways from quarterfinal Friday in the Big Ten Tournament.

Maryland took care of business against Nebraska on Friday (Kiichiro Sato, Lincoln Journal Star)

Maryland took care of business against Nebraska on Friday. (Kiichiro Sato, Lincoln Journal Star)

Michigan State: The Spartans won by 27 points despite shooting poorly for a large stretch of the contest – which probably says something about just how good they are right now. Denzel Valentine was his usual versatile self, scoring 19 points to go along with nine rebounds and eight assists, but it was the play of Deyonta Davis (12 points, seven rebounds), Matt Costello (10 points) and Eron Harris (13 points) – along with stellar defense from start to finish – that made the difference. Watching Iowa and Indiana go down early in the tournament may have also had something to do with the Spartans’ dominant victory: “We saw that those two teams didn’t come out with as much fire as they had throughout the season… we had to be ready to play today,” Costello said afterwards. Next up for Michigan State is a rematch of last season’s Big Ten semifinal against Maryland.

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Big Ten M5: 01.06.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 6th, 2016

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  1. On Monday, the Big Ten awarded both its Player and Freshman of the Week to the same person for the first time this season: Maryland’s Diamond Stone. The Milwaukee native shot a scorching 73.7 percent from the floor in two games last week, with his coming-out party (39 points and 12 rebounds) occurring last Wednesday in the Terps’ comeback win against Penn State. As Stone continues to improve, so too do the Terps’ Final Four prospects.
  2. Indiana received some devastating news hours before its tipoff against Wisconsin last night when it learned that James Blackmon, Jr. — the team’s second-leading scorer — would miss the remainder of the season after surgery on his right knee. The sophomore guard has been out since the start of conference play, and although it has not yet affected the Hoosiers record, Tom Crean’s team will miss his prolific scoring and elite defense.
  3. Despite the bad news, Indiana protected its home court and earned a tough 59-58 win over the Badgers to move to 3-0 in conference play. Yogi Ferrell led all players with 19 points as Indiana has now won eight straight games with two of their next three against teams outside of the KenPom top 100 (Illinois and Minnesota). This scheduling gift should allow Indiana some time to recalibrate its rotation now that the Hoosiers know Blackmon won’t be returning.
  4. In the late game on Tuesday night, Iowa comfortably beat Nebraska behind Jarrod Uthoff’s 25 points, eight rebounds, and four blocks. The Hawkeyes have put together the most impressive start to conference play at 3-0 with wins over Michigan State and at Purdue. Those performances have garnered Iowa a place back in the Top 25 and strong consideration as a legitimate contender for the Big Ten championship. Iowa will take this coming weekend off before it faces a hungry Michigan State squad that is expecting Denzel Valentine back in the lineup next Thursday.
  5. Finally, Indiana and Iowa aren’t the only Big Ten teams riding winning streaks. Ohio State has now won six straight games, including a victory against #9 Kentucky, that puts the Buckeyes at 10-5 on the season. The Buckeyes have played a weaker schedule to date — including conference wins over Illinois and Minnesota — but will be tested in the next couple weeks as four of their next five games are on the road (including trips to Maryland and Purdue). Then we’ll know whether Thad Matta’s team has really turned a corner this season or simply took advantage of a soft schedule to put some wins together. Their first exam will come tonight at Northwestern.
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Let’s Play Big Ten Secret Santa…

Posted by Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) on December 25th, 2015

Your class, company, or family probably plays Secret Santa during the holidays. To get in the giving spirit this Christmas, we’ll play Secret Santa with the Big Ten’s 14 teams and coaches. As much fun as it would be to give Richard Pitino more hair gel or Tom Izzo some stilts, we’ll stick to practical basketball-related gifts that each Big Ten coach would be thrilled to unwrap.

Santa has a variety of interesting presents for Big Ten teams to unwrap

Santa has a variety of interesting presents for Big Ten teams to unwrap

Here are the gifts we gave each coach and team (in alphabetical order):

  • Illinois (John Groce): This is one of the easier teams to shop for: The injury bug has cursed Illinois, so it gets healthy players from Santa. The Fighting Illini are playing this season without their starting point guard (Tracy Abrams), power forward (Leron Black) and center (Mike Thorne, Jr.).
  • Indiana (Tom Crean): Another easy team to shop for. If you haven’t heard of Indiana’s horrific defensive efforts, you’ve been living under a rock. The Hoosiers gave up 70 points to Kennesaw State and 72 to Alcorn State, respectively. Those teams rank 322 and 349 in the KenPom ranks, and average 64.1 and 60.3 PPG, respectively. Crean needs to start thinking of new ways to get his players to play better defense. Santa gives him a “D-Fense” sign that he can throw at players after bad defensive efforts. Better loosen up your arm, Tom.
  • Iowa (Fran McCaffery): The Hawkeyes aren’t elite in any one area, but don’t have a lot of gaping holes. They do struggle to get to the foul line, with a 25.8 free throw rate, which ranks 337th in the nation, per KenPom. Santa gives Iowa more free throw chances, especially to Peter Jok. The junior wing is Iowa’s second-leading scorer, but has attempted just 23 free throws.
  • Maryland (Mark Turgeon): The one knock on the Terps has been turnovers. They turn it over on 20 percent of their possessions and have six players who turn the ball over at least 19 percent of their used possessions. Maryland finds sturdy handles under its tree this year.

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Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: 12.19.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 19th, 2015

After a quiet week for the league, this weekend storms in with some great games. The centerpiece of the next two days will be the Crossroads Classic, an event that takes the four most prestigious programs from the country’s most basketball-rich state and pairs them together in Indianapolis. It’s turned into one of the premier events before conference plays begins. Here is your weekend preview:

The Crossroads Classic

The Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis is upon us once again this Saturday.

  • Northwestern at Depaul (Saturday, 2:00 PM ET, FS1). People may not have noticed, but Northwestern is 9-1 with its sole loss against North Carolina–a game which was at least competitive in the first half. Not many have jumped on the Wildcats’ bandwagon because their schedule as of today has been laughable. Only two of their wins have come from teams ranked higher than #175 on KenPom and both those wins came in overtime. A win at DePaul (5-5) wouldn’t convert many to be believers, but it would represent Northwestern’s best win of the season (given their light schedule thus far).
  • Notre Dame vs Indiana (Saturday, 2:00 PM ET, ESPN2). This is the opener to the Crossroads Classic and Mike Brey decided to turn up the heat to it when he said yesterday that Notre Dame was the most consistent program in the state, “and it isn’t close”. It’s not certain whether his statement was a direct shot at their upcoming opponents, the only blueblood program in the state, or it was just innocuous praise for himself and assistant coaches. Either way, it should be a highly entertaining and frenetic game as both these teams have Top 5 offenses paired with pedestrian defenses. The game might come down to whoever makes the most threes or who has the most transition points. Grab the popcorn before you watch this one.

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Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: 12.11.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 11th, 2015

The college football championships are now in the books, which means basketball has center stage for a while. There are just under three weeks left in the non-conference portion of the schedule, so teams are still looking to notch a few resume-enhancing wins before conference play begins at the end of the month. Luckily for Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Nebraska this weekend, they will have those opportunities against top 100 teams this weekend. Here is your weekend preview of those four games.

Mark Loving (left) leads a very mediocre Buckeyes unit into Stoors on Saturday.

Mark Loving (left) leads a mediocre Buckeyes unit into Storrs on Saturday.

  • Ohio State at Connecticut (Saturday, 12:00 PM ET, CBS). The Huskies are coming off a tough loss at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, possibly because their coach, Kevin Ollie, received an ill-timed technical in the latter stages of the game. They’ll get another shot against a Big Ten team when the Buckeyes visit Gampel Pavilion on Saturday afternoon. Thad Matta’s young squad has looked its age as the Buckeyes commit a turnover in one out of every five possessions so far this season. If Ohio State can’t protect the ball against a very good Connecticut defense, they’ll slip below .500 with a record of 4-5, something that hasn’t happened this late in the season during the Matta era.
  • Marquette at Wisconsin (Saturday, 1:30 PM ET, ESPN2). If you haven’t yet heard, this version of Wisconsin isn’t your typical Bo Ryan team. Rather, this team, to the consternation of its head coach, shies away from three-pointers in favor of mid-range jumpers. Therefore, this rivalry game may rely on which player wins the battle in the paint between the Badgers’ Nigel Hayes and the Golden Eagles’ Henry Ellenson. While the freshman is bigger and more naturally gifted, the upperclassman knows how to take over a game — Hayes scored 32 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a recent loss to Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Look for whoever wins this individual battle to set the tone for the rest of his team.

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Big Ten M5: 12.07.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 7th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. Newcomers have made a huge impact this season for Ohio State. Freshmen have accounted for 37.9 percent of the team’s total minutes played and 29.4 percent of the team’s total scoring. One prominent freshman hasn’t yet made his way onto the court, though, as Mickey Mitchell is still waiting to be cleared by the NCAA. Mitchell is allowed to practice, but the Buckeyes are “just sort of waiting it out,” according to coach Thad Matta. Ohio State is off to a disappointing 3-4 start, and they could definitely use the services of another wing to complement Marc Loving and Keita Bates-Diop.
  2. Better communication and a more focused effort were two keys in Indiana’s defensive improvement in their win Saturday against Morehead State. After getting embarrassed by Duke last Wednesday, the Hoosiers were able to force 23 turnovers in winning 92-59. The question going forward is whether the defensive uptick is sustainable. Indiana stuck mostly to man-to-man is this game, and the aggressiveness could be seen in the fact that the team logged 62 deflections. Everyone knows that this team can score at will when they don’t turn the ball over, but if they can get things clicking on the other end of the floor, they have a chance to become the team many expected when the season started.
  3. On a day when Purdue’s high-scoring offense wasn’t at its best, senior graduate transfer Johnny Hill made an impact off the bench in Saturday’s win over New Mexico. The guard scored 13 points, but his biggest impact came on the defensive end of the floor. He ended up with three steals, but also caused two turnovers in the second half that went a long way toward swinging the momentum in the favor of the Boilermakers. Hill lost his starting job to PJ Thompson, but much like Jon Octeus last season, has come in and been a difference maker thus far in the beginning stages of the season.
  4. Wisconsin put together a nice week in beating Syracuse on Wednesday and Temple on Saturday. The Badgers have four freshmen in their rotation, and each came through in different ways against the Owls. Charlie Thomas and Alex Illikainen both were key parts of a 19-2 run in the first half that put the Badgers up by 18 points. Ethan Happ and Khalil Iverson have both also had their moments as they get more comfortable. After not looking so great in losing to Oklahoma, the Badgers look to be improving as non-conference play is coming to an end. The improvement of the freshmen heading into Big Ten play will be crucial if the Badgers want to finish in the running for the conference title.
  5. With Derrick Walton Jr missing in action due to a sprained ankle, Spike Albrecht had to play a bit more than usual for Michigan on Saturday. The senior playmaker is still trying to get back to full strength after having hip surgery after last season. Albrecht is slowly rounding back into form, although it may take longer for him to return to the lineup. Both he and coach John Beilein are pointing to the start of Big Ten play as the marker. With Walton’s health always a concern, this would be a welcome development for the Wolverines.
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Big Ten M5: Thanksgiving Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 26th, 2015

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  1. Coming into this week’s Maui Invitational, Indiana was selected among the favorites to win the whole thing. But what was once a highly-anticipated event for the Hoosiers has turned into an early season meltdown as they finished 1-2 which for a sixth place finish. This has reignited dour discussions about the direction of the program and Tom Crean’s future. Indiana started the first round with a shocking four-point loss to Wake Forest, came back with a 10-point win over St. John’s, but ended the event on Wednesday with a three-point loss to UNLV. This is a devastating blow Indiana’s hope for a Final Four, as their resume has taken a hit with losses to two marginal opponents.
  2. To add injury to insult, the Hoosiers have also had to deal with some offcourt issues as well. After Indiana’s loss to Wake Forest, Crean decided to change his lineup and bench Troy Williams. While this adjustment may have worked in its goal of motivating the players — they defeated St. John’s after the change — it did not sit well with Williams’ mother, who shared her displeasure on Facebook. She later apologized for the incident, but the whole situation was embarrassing for all involved and just added more publicity to what seems to be a deteriorating situation in Bloomington.
  3. This has been a season full of early upsets, but a few Big Ten teams have already racked up two. Ohio State lost its second consecutive game of the season when they were defeated 82-74 by Louisiana Tech on Wednesday to move the Buckeyes to 2-2. This has been the worst start for Thad Matta in his entire 12 seasons at Columbus and follows what was a pretty middling season last year (at least compared to the usual lofty standard of Matta and Ohio State). All of the sudden, the trajectory for this program seems to be pointing downward after a long period of Big Ten success in the earlier half of this decade. The Buckeyes will have a chance to turn things around when they play Memphis on Friday.
  4. On Wednesday, Maryland defeated Rhode Island, 86-63, to win the Cancun Challenge. The Terrapins may be 5-0 but they didn’t get there in dominating fashion; in fact, this was the first time since the opener that Maryland won with a comfortable lead. I’ve pointed out before how their defense has become an issue, but another major factor has been their pedestrian shooting from the three-point line — 30.1 percent before Wednesday’s game. The Terps may have turned the corner on their poor shooting against the Rams as they hit 10-of-17 attempts from long distance. Next they’ll see if they can keep up the good play versus Cleveland State on Saturday.
  5. Finally, many believed this year’s Michigan team would bounce back from the disappointing and injury-plagued 2014-15 season, but things have not played out exactly as hoped. In addition to losing to Xavier on Friday, the Wolverines were easily handled by Connecticut in a 74-60 loss. While Caris Levert has been good as advertised, the rest of his teammates have yet to catch up. As of right now, this team looks closer to squad that lost to NJIT last year as opposed to the Michigan teams that won consecutive Big Ten titles a couple years ago.
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Ohio State Showcases Plenty of Good, Plenty of Bad in Opener

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 16th, 2015

On paper, Ohio State came into this season with one of the youngest and most intriguing rosters in the Big Ten. On one hand, the Buckeyes have a great coach in Thad Matta and plenty of talent on the team; on the other hand, they have one upperclassmen who has played significant minutes and plenty of questions about how all the new pieces will mesh together. On Sunday afternoon Ohio State won its lid lifter in disposing of Mount St. Marys by a score of 76-54. They held the Mountaineers to 33.3 percent shooting from the floor and won the battle of the boards by a hefty 50-22 margin. Turnovers and defensive lapses, however, show that while parts of this win were impressive, Matta’s team still has a lot of work to do.

Jae'Sean Tate led Ohio State with 21 points in their season-opening win over Mt. St. Mary's. (Dispatch Photo by Barbara J. Perenic)

Jae’Sean Tate led Ohio State with 21 points in their season-opening win over Mt. St. Mary’s. (Dispatch Photo by Barbara J. Perenic)

Trotting out a lineup no player shorter than 6’4″, this game was a physical mismatch. As a result, the Buckeyes shot 22-for-38 in the paint and snagged 44.8 percent of the available offensive rebounds. Junior Marc Loving and freshman Daniel Giddens were the ringleaders here, combining for nine offensive caroms by themselves. Offensively, Jae’sean Tate scored a game-high 21 points in a much more diverse way than he did a year ago, and Keita Bates-Diop notched a double-double with ten points and ten rebounds. Despite not scoring with great frequency, the latter showed enough versatility to do a little bit of everything down the line. Lastly, JaQuan Lyle was able to seemingly get into the lane at will. At 6’5″ and 230 pounds, he will be a physical nightmare for opposing point guards.

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Thad Matta Has Tough but Doable Task: Winning with Youth

Posted by Patrick Engel on November 2nd, 2015

Thad Matta’s entire career can be summed up in one word — winner. Think of it this way: The 48-year old has won at least 20 games in each of his 15 seasons as a head coach. He’s missed the NCAA tournament only twice, and he ended up as the NIT champion in one of those two years. In the other year — his first season at Ohio State — he took over a team that finished below .500 in Big Ten play and was ineligible for the 2005 postseason and led it to a 20-12 record that included an upset of top-ranked and then-undefeated Illinois on the regular season’s final weekend. Doubt him if you dare.

Thad Matta is a proven winner, but leading a freshmen and sophomore-laden team through the Big Ten is a tough task. (USA TODAY Sports)

Thad Matta is a proven winner, but leading a freshmen and sophomore-laden team through the Big Ten is a tough task. (USA TODAY Sports)

While Matta has proven his knack for winning year in and year out, he has a big challenge ahead of him this season. He’s got plenty of talent but not much experience on this year’s team. Seven of Ohio State’s scholarship players have never played a minute of college basketball in Columbus; six are freshmen; one is a junior. There are no seniors. Departed players from last year’s Round of 32 squad accounted for 65 percent of the scoring, 87 percent of the assists and 61 percent of the rebounding. The bottom line is that Matta will have to rely on a group of freshmen and sophomores to replace star guard D’Angelo Russell and four seniors.

Russell is the glaring loss. The wunderkind freshman accounted for 26 percent of the team’s scoring, took 26 percent of the shots and logged a usage rate of 30.2 percent, per KenPom. He was the go-to scorer for a team that didn’t have a consistent second scoring option and really hasn’t since the Jared Sullinger/William Buford days. The good news for Ohio State is that beside Russell (and Shannon Scott’s terrific on-ball defense), no one else did anything completely irreplaceable. No other player averaged more than 10.2 points per game and no departing player had a usage rate higher than Scott’s 21 percent, a relatively average rate. Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Game Analysis: Third Round, Saturday

Posted by RTC Staff on March 21st, 2015

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The last time this crew of programs laced up the sneakers, they provided us with a slate to remember. From last-second thrillers to overtime upsets that came out of left field, Thursday was quite simply one of the most electric opening days in NCAA Tournament history. Could history repeat itself? Here are eight previews of Saturday’s games.

#11 UCLA vs. #14 UAB — South Region Third Round (at Louisville, KY) — 12:10 PM ET on TBS.

Regardless of how they did it, Thomas Welch and UCLA are one step away from the Sweet 16. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Regardless of how they did it, Thomas Welch and UCLA are one step away from the Sweet Sixteen. (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Steve Alford has finally figured out this NCAA Tournament thing. All you have to do is put together an entirely mediocre season, inexplicably make the Tournament field (and avoid the First Four while you are at it), have the refs blow a call in the final 20 seconds of your opener that propels your team to victory, then find a #14 seed waiting for you in the third round. That’s all! What a charmed five days it was for the Bruins, whose season suddenly has meaning. Thursday wasn’t so bad for UAB, either, as the Blazers toppled Iowa State in what should go down as the biggest upset of the second round (apologies to Georgia State). Two double-digit seeds now face off with a bid to the Sweet Sixteen on the line. UCLA does not play as quickly as Iowa State does (the Bruins are 113th in the country in possessions per game), but UAB will try to recreate the muddle that was Thursday’s game with the Cyclones. The Blazers dominated the glass (outrebounding Iowa State by 15), enabling them to survive their unimaginative offensive (41% field goal shooting and 3-of-18 shooting from three-point range). UCLA’s Kevon Looney and Tony Parker are unlikely to submit to a similar assault on the backboards in this game, so Jerod Haase’s team may have to promote other strengths. The problem for the Blazers is that there really aren’t many. They don’t shoot the ball well from the field, turnovers are frequently an issue, and their work on the defensive end has been average at best this season. All this isn’t intended to make UCLA out to be an unbeatable monster of a team (they aren’t), but at least on paper, UAB just is not that great a team. They did find a way to get it done against a team better than UCLA on Thursday, and the Bruins, as mentioned, are very far from perfect themselves. But while anything is possible, a return to expectation (albeit a smaller one than we had two days ago) should be in the cards here. Steve Alford and UCLA, say hello to the Sweet Sixteen.

The RTC Certified Pick: UCLA

#1 Kentucky vs. #8 Cincinnati – Midwest Region Round of 32 (in Louisville, KY) – at 2:40 PM EST on CBS

Karl-Anthony Towns was an absolute force to be reckoned with Thursday evening. Will Cincinnati's frontline fair any better? (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Karl-Anthony Towns was an absolute force to be reckoned with Thursday evening. Will Cincinnati’s frontline fair any better? (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Unbeaten Kentucky was not at its best Thursday, but it did not really matter as it still cruised to a 79-56 victory over Hampton. While Kentucky — as a whole — was a bit uneven against the Pirates, freshman forward Karl-Anthony Towns turned in a phenomenal performance. Towns was clearly the best player on the court all evening, finishing with 21 points (8-of-12 FG), 11 rebounds, and three blocks in just 25 minutes of action. Sophomore guard Andrew Harrison and freshman guard Tyler Ulis were also very good in the victory, as they totaled a combined 25 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. Even though Hampton is not considered an offensive juggernaut, Kentucky’s defensive performance was still impressive. The Pirates were held to just a 17-of-59 (28.8%) shooting performance, and only one player converted more than two field goals. Meanwhile, Cincinnati showcased its great resiliency in its win over Purdue on Thursday. The Bearcats trailed by seven with with 48.5 seconds to play before going on a 10-3 run to force overtime where they ultimately prevailed with a 66-65 victory. Cincinnati does not have any stars, but it received strong contributions from sophomore guard Troy Caupain (10 points and four assists), junior guard Farad Cobb (14 points), and junior forward Coreontae DeBerry (13 points). The Bearcats frustrated Purdue with tenacious defense all night, as the Boilermakers were just 26-of-72 (36.1%) from the field, including 4-of-26 (15.4%) from the perimeter. Cincinnati has played hard all season under some less than ideal circumstances, and its coaches and players deserve credit for making it this far. Unfortunately for them, this run will come to an end at the hands of Kentucky on Saturday. The Wildcats just have way too much talent across the board for this to really even be all that close. Expect Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein to establish themselves early and lead Kentucky to the Sweet 16 with a comfortable victory.

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