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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Rushed Reactions: Michigan State 76, Ohio State 67

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 13th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Denzel Valentine (USA Today Images)

Denzel Valentine (USA Today Images)

  1. Michigan State locked down on D’Angelo Russell. Lourawls ‘Tum Tum” Nairn, despite being slightly undersized to deal with the Buckeyes freshman star, did an admirable job staying on him and limiting his space to operate tonight. Russell also simply didn’t have his best night. He shot 7-of-16 from the field and finished with 19 points and three assists, but much of that production came late when the game was already somewhat out of reach. In fact, after Ohio State had gone down by 17 points, Russell was on the bench or playing off the ball for the mini-run that got the Buckeyes back in it. With Russell for the most part held in check, Shannon Scott (13 points, nine assists) picked up some of the slack . But the Buckeyes go as Russell goes, and Friday they both went slowly.
  2. Michigan State’s frontcourt players won their matchups. Aside from Branden Dawson, none of Tom Izzo’s big men will ever play like stars. But guys like Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling got the better of Ohio State’s frontcourt tonight. Though unspectacular, the pair combined for 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting, quietly contributing to the win. Dawson was also impressive in his return from injury. He doesn’t have a refined offensive game but his combination of size and athleticism was unmatched and he gave the Spartans something that the Buckeyes didn’t have. Dawson finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in this one.
  3. Michigan State shared the ball really well. The Spartans had 23 assists on 29 made field goals tonight. They don’t have a team full of players who can break opponents down off the dribble, but they are extremely well-coached and always put themselves in great position off the ball. Additionally, a number of Michigan State’s regulars are upperclassmen who have played with each other for several years now. They have an innate sense of where teammates are going to be when they get in trouble, and it’s why they are able to get so many good looks without individual offensive stars. That’s also how they have put together a top-10 assist rate in the country this season.

Player of the Game. Denzel Valentine. You could really name three players of the game for the Spartans — Valentine, Dawson and Trice — but it was Valentine who was steadily efficient all game. Valentine took just 14 shots, but had 23 points, and, identical to Dawson, chipped in with eight rebounds and seven assists to complete a great all-around performance.

Sights and Sounds. Tom Izzo and Thad Matta had an unpleasant exchange in the postgame handshake line. Matta was furious with the referees toward the end of the game and was still livid as he walked over to Izzo. Perhaps Izzo took exception to that. Izzo dodged the question in the postgame press conference by saying, “We were just talking about how hard this job is.” He called it “a friendly exchange.” Matta said he and Izzo “were both kind of in agreement about what we saw out there tonight,” perhaps again talking about the refereeing.

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News & Notes: Day Two at the Big Ten Tourney

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 13th, 2015

An afternoon of upsets (Michigan and Penn State both toppled higher-seeded foes) gave way to a more predictable evening at day two of the Big Ten Tournament. Meanwhile, the two bubble teams in action may have each punched tournament tickets… to different, less-prestigious tournaments. Indiana may be good to dance after defeating Northwestern, but Illinois is surely NIT-bound after its decisive loss to Michigan. A few other news and notes on Thursday’s action from the United Center:

John Groce’s Seat Warming Up: Thursday’s loss to Michigan means Illinois is almost certainly headed to the NIT, where the Illini will seek to salvage some shred of meaning from a disappointing season. John Groce has recruited well since arriving in Champaign, but the former Ohio University head man has yet to finish a season with a winning Big Ten record. His only NCAA Tournament appearance at Illinois came in 2012-13, and that happened with a team largely constructed by his predecessor, Bruce Weber. Groce is going nowhere this offseason, but if the Illini find themselves in a similar spot next postseason, his job status will be far less certain. The good news for Illinois is that the return of Tracy Abrams and another talented incoming freshman class could, and maybe even should, lead to a happier result in Champaign a year from now. It will be interesting to see how much the Illini miss Rayvonte Rice next year. On the one hand, he was a legitimately efficient volume scorer – a player prototype that doesn’t exactly grow on trees. But Illinois’ 6-3 record without Rice this season raise the question of whether his ball-dominating nature might have often been counterproductive. We’ll find out in a critical 2015-16 campaign for Groce and the Illini.

John Groce, Rayvonte Rice And The Illini Saw Their Tournament Hopes All But Die Thursday Afternoon

John Groce, Rayvonte Rice And The Illini Saw Their Tournament Hopes All But Die Thursday Afternoon (Getty Images)

Nittany Lions Drop Hawkeyes: Iowa was a trendy sleeper pick heading into the action yesterday, but Penn State quickly and effectively ended the Hawkeyes’ Big Ten Tournament. The loss changes little for the Hawkeyes except for the fact that Fran McCaffery’s team is now squarely staring down the barrel of a dreaded #8/#9 game. Things could be worse, though – they seem to be safely in the field, and unlike last year, shouldn’t be headed to Dayton. On the other side, Penn State won its third straight Big Ten game — no small feat considering the Nittany Lions had won just three of 17 league games before embarking on their recent surge. More good news for Penn State fans: Purdue awaits the Lions in the next round. No disrespect to the Boilers and their impressive 12-6 Big Ten season, but they are clearly the easiest option among the four teams that received double-byes. Penn State pushed Purdue to overtime in State College in their only meeting of the season; can the tournament’s most unexpected quarterfinalist find a way to extend its stay in Chicago for at least another day?

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Big Ten Tournament Preview

Posted by Henry Bushnell & Bennet Hayes on March 11th, 2015

Henry Bushnell and Bennet Hayes will be in Chicago all week delivering coverage of the Big Ten tournament. In advance of the action tipping off Wednesday night, they sat down to tackle a few questions on the week that lies ahead.

Wisconsin is the clear favorite, but could an upset be in the works for the Badgers?

Wisconsin is the clear favorite, but could an upset be in the works for the Badgers?

Wisconsin enters the Big Ten Tournament as a heavy favorite. Which team besides the Badgers has the best shot at winning it all this week

  • Bennet: Michigan State‘s regular season was no exemplar of consistency, but with Branden Dawson expected to return to the lineup for Friday’s quarterfinal game, they’ve officially made it to March in one piece. Betting against Tom Izzo this month is always a dicey operation — particularly with the experienced Valentine/Trice/Dawson core once again intact. Furthermore, snagging the #3 seed and delaying a potential rematch with Wisconsin until the championship game is another nice coup. The double-bye should also minimize the impact of depth issues that have at times proved troublesome. Michigan State never got the Badgers on its home floor this season; here’s guessing Sparty wouldn’t mind a crack at them in neutral territory. Izzo’s bunch has the chops to win three games in Chicago this week.
  • Henry: I like the Sparty pick, but I’ll take Ohio State. I know a lot of people will be scared off by the beatdown Wisconsin put on the Buckeyes in Columbus in the regular season finale, but that result was a lot more about the Badgers than Ohio State. Thad Matta still has a very talented team, and one that on a per-possession basis has far outperformed its record. And if there’s one player in this tournament who can take over a game and engineer an upset of Wisconsin in the final, it’s D’Angelo Russell.
D'Angelo Russell And Ohio State Could Make A Run In Chicago This Week

D’Angelo Russell And Ohio State Could Make A Run This Week In Chicago. (USA TODAY Sports)

Which player are you most looking forward to watching?

  • Henry: I can’t wait to see Branden Dawson. I know he’s had an up-and-down year with some recent injury issues, but he should be ready to go on Friday. He’s one of those players where a television screen simply doesn’t do his game justice. I’ve seen him play live twice this year from the upper levels and he wowed me both times with his athleticism and sheer power. At the United Center, we should have a front row seat, and I expect his game up close to be even more eye-popping.

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Big Ten M5: 02.27.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 27th, 2015

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  1. It looks like Jim Delany is going full steam ahead in promoting the idea of implementing freshmen ineligibility. The Big Ten commissioner has assured fans that the conference won’t move alone on this plan, but he is trying to build national consensus around the idea. This comes after Thad Matta was recently quoted as saying that he’s received negative feedback from recruits who are worried that if they commit to a Big Ten team, they won’t be able to play right away. This all goes to show how unbelievably ill-conceived this whole strategy is. Why Delany felt compelled to walk the plank on this issue is something many can’t comprehend. We’ll see if this endeavor starts hurting Big Ten teams on the recruiting trail this summer, but if it does, you may see the issue of freshmen ineligibility die altogether.
  2. In statistics, you hear the phrase “regression to the mean” often used, which is just an elitist way of saying “everything evens out.” This theory seems to be playing out before our eyes with Northwestern. After countless heartbreaking losses — everything from blown leads to comebacks that fell just short — the Wildcats have finally gotten some breaks and have managed to win four straight, including a 72-65 victory over Indiana on Wednesday, the first such streak for Northwestern since 1967. This finish is a real boon for Chris Collins, whose second season was going as disastrous as he could have imagined when the team’s Big Ten record was 1-10 a couple of weeks ago. Now, as it turns out, Northwestern may have created some momentum to build for next season.
  3. Also on Wednesday, Iowa got a nice 68-60 home win over Illinois. Aaron White, the Hawkeyes’ dark horse candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year, was dominant in contributing 29 points. His latest performance increased his career total to 1,726 points, moving him past B.J. Armstrong into fourth place on the program’s all-time scoring list. White has had a storied career in Iowa City, but this year he is averaging 15.2 PPG, 7.2 RPG and is carrying a PER of 28.4, good enough for second in the league. If it weren’t for names like Frank Kaminsky and D’Angelo Russell, the media would be talking more about the certain Big Ten first-teamer as one of the best players in the country.
  4. One of the big stories around the Big Ten this week was Wisconsin suffering its third loss of the season when the Badgers came up short at Maryland. The team already had the tough loss in their minds on its flight back to Madison, but that was quickly forgotten when the plane was forced to make an emergency landing due to an engine malfunction in Pittsburgh. What a scary moment that probably just adds to the feeling that Wisconsin’s trip to Maryland is a forgettable event from start to finish. Hopefully the Badgers can put all of this behind them and get back to their winning ways on Sunday against the Spartans.
  5. Speaking of Michigan State, the Spartans took a surprising 96-90 home loss to Minnesota in overtime on Thursday. This is a considerable setback for what was one of the hottest teams in the league before last night — the team had won four straight including two on the road at Michigan and Illinois. Things don’t get any easier for the Spartans as they travel to face Wisconsin in Madison this weekend. Losing that game could now mean Tom Izzo’s team is in serious jeopardy of losing its place in the top four of the Big Ten standings and having to play an extra game in the Big Ten Tournament.
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Big Ten M5: 01.26.15 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on January 26th, 2015

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  1. Illinois has dealt with a multitude of injuries this season, and Andy Patterson of Big Ten Powerhouse has broken down how the Illini have performed since they lost their star, Rayvonte Rice. Illinois’ best win of the season came the day after Rice’s inury was announced, a 64-57 home upset of Maryland. Since that point, though, they’ve gone 3-3 with losses to Nebraska, Indiana and Purdue. Kendrick Nunn’s scoring has skyrocketed but the team is getting little production from Nnanna Egwu. If Illinois wants to ultimately make the NCAA Tournament, he’s got to turn his season around; but with a loss in any of their two upcoming games against Penn State and Rutgers, they should consider themselves toast.
  2. Northwestern had a program-defining win over Maryland in College Park slip right through its fingers on Sunday night, blowing an 11-point lead in the final 4:32 of game action. The Wildcats are no strangers to close losses, having dropped their last three games by a total of five points. With such a young team, head coach Chris Collins should be worried that all of these heartbreaking defeats are killing his team’s morale. This team has shown several flashes of brilliance, but those moments have rarely occurred in the final minutes of the second half.
  3. Ohio State notched its first win over a ranked opponent this season on Sunday, topping No. 23 Indiana, 82-70. The Buckeyes used an unconventional method to grab their most impressive victory of the season by employing a smaller-than-usual lineup, replacing starting lineup mainstays Amir Williams and Marc Loving with smaller forwards Anthony Lee and Jae’Sean Tate. While Lee would only log six minutes, Tate scored 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting from the field. The smaller lineup came in part as a response to Indiana’s lack of center Hanner Mosquera-Perea – and head coach Thad Matta said his future lineups would hinge on the unique match-ups presented by other Big Ten foes, despite the success of this weekend’s lineup.
  4. Michigan took Wisconsin to the brink on Saturday night, eventually falling 69-64 to the Badgers in overtime. The loss, though, came with many positives for the Wolverines. Freshmen Mark Donnal, Ricky Doyle, and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman all showed obvious improvement against a team likely to grab one of four No. 1 seeds in March’s NCAA Tournament. Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin led Michigan on the scoring front, but seemed to run out of gas in overtime. John Beilein’s team is showing solid improvement after losing players to both injury and the NBA, and this team should be very, very good in the near future.
  5. Nebraska’s Walter Pitchford was ejected during the Cornhuskers’ win over Michigan State on Sunday after throwing a punch at Matt Costello, but he won’t be looking at mandatory bench time meted by the Big Ten. At the time, the loss of Pitchford was seen as a major blow to Nebraska’s chances of beating the Spartans – he dropped 18 points in last season’s win – but the Huskers would prevail without him by a score of 79-77.
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Minnesota Already in Rough Shape in the Big Ten Race

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on January 7th, 2015

Some might have considered the Ohio State vs. Minnesota game on Tuesday night an interesting match-up but not necessarily one with postseason implications. The new year has just begun. Teams have barely played 15 games, and the conference season is just picking up. So why would it matter? Well, for a Gophers’ team that hasn’t earned a quality win yet despite an 11-5 start to the season, an 0-3 beginning to Big Ten play doesn’t bode well for the future. A home win against Ohio State is exactly what the team needed, but the Gophers, despite a valiant second half comeback, just couldn’t finish it off. Here are three thoughts from the overtime thriller:

Richard Pitino's Gophers blew a golden opportunity at the Barn on Tuesday night.

Richard Pitino’s Gophers blew a golden opportunity at the Barn on Tuesday night.

  1. Credit Andre Hollins for his defense against D’Angelo Russell in the second half. Russell was on fire in the first half, scoring 25 points including 5-of-6 from beyond the arc and making Hollins look like a tired senior trying to keep up with a stud freshman. The second half, however, was a completely different story, as Hollins hit a big three-pointer in the first minute and showed that he was ready to lock down Russell by pressuring him full-court. His improved intensity allowed him to fight over the screens, bumping Russell off balance as he tried to turn the corner. This defensive tweak along with pushing him to the corners worked perfectly, as Russell was held scoreless during the rest of regulation (he finished with 27 points). If Hollins had played with half of his second half intensity from the start, the Gophers probably wouldn’t be left with with an 0-3 Big Ten record. Read the rest of this entry »
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Three Takeaways as North Carolina Bests Ohio State

Posted by Walker Carey on December 20th, 2014

Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s game between North Carolina and Ohio State at the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago.

North Carolina entered Saturday’s game against Ohio State looking to salvage what had so far been an uneven December. The Tar Heels kicked off the month by suffering a pretty surprising home defeat at the hands of Iowa in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. That defeat was especially alarming because it illustrated North Carolina’s offensive struggles, as the Tar Heels were an ice cold 27.9% from the field and an abysmal 17.4% from behind the three-point line. After a strong 44-point victory over East Carolina on December 7, North Carolina ran into the Kentucky buzzsaw in Lexington last Saturday. The Tar Heels struggled with Kentucky’s defensive pressure all afternoon, and turned the ball over 18 times in a 14-point loss. Against Ohio State on Saturday, Roy Williams‘s squad was finally able to put together a consistent 40 minutes of basketball against top competition, as North Carolina emerged with a 82-74 win. The following are three takeaways from Saturday’s action.

UNC (USA Today Images)

UNC Played a Strong Game in Chicago Today (USA Today Images)

  1. North Carolina came out strong. The Tar Heels were able to race out to a 12-point halftime lead due to a strong first half performance on both ends of the court. Led by Brice Johnson‘s eight points on 4-of-4 shooting, North Carolina scored 43 points in the opening stanza on 17-of-33 (51.5%) shooting from the field. The first half scoring was a very balanced effort as Johnson, Marcus Paige, Justin Jackson, J.P. Tokoto, Kennedy Meeks, and Joel Berry II all scored at least five points in the opening 20 minutes. On the defensive end of the court, North Carolina’s hard-nosed defense forced Ohio State into a very pedestrian 12-of-32 (37.5%) shooting in the first half. The backcourt of Shannon Scott and D’Angelo Russell was held to just seven first half points on 3-of-11 shooting. The Tar Heels also dominated the rebounding glass in the opening half, as they held a 23-15 advantage on the boards at the half. Ohio State was able to make this game a little closer than it probably should have been late in the second half, but the strong first half turned in by North Carolina created enough distance that the outcome was really never in question. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 12.16.14 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on December 16th, 2014

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  1. Indiana had a solid weekend, destroying Grand Canyon by 28 points and turning the ball over only four times in the process. Prior to that win, the Hoosiers had been averaging 12.9 turnovers per game. Their relative lack of turnovers this season has been a godsend for head coach Tom Crean, as Indiana ranked 330th in the country in turnover percentage last year. This year, they’re turning the ball over on only 17 percent of their possessions, which ranks among the top 40 teams in the country.
  2. Iowa’s offensive limitations were exposed against Iowa State on Friday night as the Hawkeyes took a 15-point thumping at home against the Cyclones. Jordan Garretson of STATS.com reported that Iowa’s Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons rank 49th and 50th, respectively, in field goal percentage among Big Ten guards who have played at least eight games. There are only 65 guards that qualify for this metric, thus demonstrating the Hawkeyes’ poor performance from its backcourt so far this season. Iowa has leaned heavily on Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff and has had trouble establishing reliable threats from the three-point line — the Hawkeyes are shooting a chilly 30.3 percent from long-range, ranking 259th in the country.
  3. Graham Couch of the Lansing State Journal wrote a column about Michigan State freshman Tum Tum Nairn’s performance so far this season, comparing him favorably to Kentucky guard Tyler Ulis. Ignoring their scoring totals – Nairn has played over 20 minutes in seven games this season, yet his highest point total of the year is only three — the two are most comparable when considering their per-minute assist and turnover rates. The only thing hindering Nairn from becoming the Big Ten’s next big thing is confidence in his shooting, but he is going to have to become a scoring threat for the Spartans to reach their potential this season.
  4. It’s hard to find any positives in Michigan’s abysmal play over a two-week period that culminated in the Wolverines laying an egg on Saturday at Arizona, losing by 27 in a game that the Wildcats thoroughly dominated. John Beilein has essentially turned over the center position to the trio of Ricky Doyle, Mark Donnal and Max Bielfeldt, and it worked fairly well until the end of November. In the Wolverines’ last three games, however, they have averaged fewer than 10 points and five rebounds combined, a big reason for the team’s current slide. Beilein hopes that this current skid will help motivate his big men to perform more consistently, because the Wolverines need something from them on a nightly basis.
  5. Ohio State defeated Morehead State, 87-71, on Saturday, but head coach Thad Matta found plenty of deficiencies in the Buckeyes’ play regardless. His team turned the ball over 17 times and allowed the Eagles to shoot 61.3 percent from the floor, becoming the first team to shoot over 50 percent from the field against the Buckeyes this season. Outside of the team’s nine-point loss to Louisville, Thad Matta’s squad has blown through its early season schedule with all eight wins coming by double figures. The only glaring deficiency in Ohio State’s game right now is its free throw shooting, ranking 278th nationally in getting to the line and converting their chances. It’s safe to say that we don’t really know what kind of team Ohio State is right now – and we probably won’t find out until the first week of January at the start of Big Ten play.
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Three Thoughts on Ohio State’s Win Over Marquette

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 19th, 2014

Ohio State cruised to a 74-63 win over Marquette on Tuesday night in a game that wasn’t quite that close. It doesn’t take long to see that Thad Matta’s team is clearly a different team stylistically than last year’s unit, as the Buckeyes played differently on both the defensive and offensive ends of the floor. With an abundance of shooters at its disposal, Ohio State got out in transition and shot the ball very well from the perimeter (53.3% from three). The defense was also a much different look from the Aaron Craft-led pressure man-to-man of the past several years. Here are some other quick observations from the win.

Thad Matta has made tweaked his system a bit as 2014-15 has started. (AP)

Thad Matta has tweaked his system a bit as this season has started. (AP)

  • Shannon Scott Looks Comfortable as the Primary Ball-handler: The senior has started off passing the ball on fire, as he’s hit double figures in assists in both Ohio State games — good for an astonishing 56.0 percent assist rate. Against Marquette, the Buckeyes showed tremendous spacing all night, making things very easy for Scott to simply pick his options to find the open man. Without having to share the point guard spot this season, he finally looks like he’s free to be himself out there. He’s never been a knock-down shooter, but he’s quick and can get to the basket. He and Craft were great together defensively, but they weren’t the best offensive options on the other end of the floor. Now with only one point guard to direct things, there is room for a shooter like D’Angelo Russell or Kam Williams for Scott to find on his drive-and-kicks.

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RTC Big Ten Preseason Rankings: #4 to #1

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 14th, 2014

RTC finishes our preseason Big Ten rankings today with spots #4 through #1. The bottom tier of teams, #14 to #10, released earlier this week, and the mid-tier teams, also released earlier this week, provide depth to the conference. But it’s these four squads in the top tier that will likely be fighting to win the conference title and lock down high seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

4. Ohio State

  • What they do well: A little bit of everything, is that too vague? There is nothing that sticks out as special about these Buckeyes, but they will play the solid all-around basketball of Thad Matta. Shannon Scott will push the tempo and control the offense while D’Angelo Russell could be the offensive spark that it needs this season. Overall, the Buckeyes will minimize mistakes and play good defense.
  • What they don’t do well: Score during crunch time. The Buckeyes had trouble finding key buckets during the last two minutes of games last season and unless Russell becomes a true go-to guy, they will have the same issues again.

    Mark could be a key contributor in the frontcourt for Ohio State this season. (thelantern.com)

    Mark Loving could be a key contributor in the frontcourt for Ohio State this season. (thelantern.com)

  • Get to know: Mark Loving. Russell will be the highlight during the non-conference season but Loving could be the super sophomore that helps this team get off to a good start and compete for the conference crown. He has the ability to rebound and stretch the floor from the four position.
  • Why they’ll finish 4th: They don’t have enough talent to leapfrog into the top three, but they should win 10 to 12 Big Ten games this year.
  • Why they’ll finish higher: If Russell, Scott and Loving can each average 12 PPG or more, the Buckeyes can push themselves into a real contending spot. Loving’s contributions will very important because Matta’s team has struggled to find consistent offense over the past two seasons. Read the rest of this entry »
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D’Angelo Russell: RTC Big Ten’s Preseason Freshman of the Year

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 11th, 2014

Thad Matta has been the most successful coach at Ohio State since the Fred Taylor era in the sixties. As he enters his eleventh season in Columbus, his Big Ten resume reads as follows: Five regular-season conference championships, four tournament championships, and two Final Four appearances including a trip to the National Championship game. One of the pillars to his success has been his ability to lure superbly talented recruits who are able to have an immediate impact in their freshman season. Players like Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Jared Sullinger, and Aaron Craft have fit this bill and are a big part of why the Buckeyes have had sustained success for almost a decade. D’Angelo Russell is the next player to follow in these footsteps. He’s a prolific scorer who joins an Ohio State squad in need of someone to take the reins of their offense. For these reasons, he’s our Big Ten Preseason Freshman of the Year.

d'angelo russell

D’Angelo Russell is set up to lead his team in scoring in his first year at Ohio State (Danny Wild).

Although Russell is originally from Louisville, he finished his high school career in Montverde Academy in Florida where played point guard and led his prep team to win the Dick’s Sporting Goods High School National Tournament. He was also selected to the McDonald’s All American team where he scored 11 points (5-10 FG) in 15 minutes. The 6’5”, 180 lbs. combo guard has a remarkable ability to put the ball in the basket due to his effective shooting, ball handling ability, and natural feel for the game. But what impressed Matta most about the young guard is “… his demeanor on the court at this point just in terms of, he can take a court over”.

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