Big Ten M5: 03.20.14 March Madness Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on March 20th, 2014

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  1. It is finally here. Not counting the play-in games (sorry Iowa), the NCAA Tournament is here and the Big Ten sees plenty of action. Four Big Ten teams are in action in the NCAA Tournament today. With this in mind the predictions are final and play begins, and Michigan State got a huge supporter on its already overflowing bandwagon. President Barack Obama made his picks and had the Spartans as the last team standing. With how the Spartans have played lately they have become a hot team to pick as the favorite to make it to the Final Four from its regional. The big question is if this team has finally gelled with everyone healthy. If it has, Obama and plenty of others will have made the correct pick on national champs.
  2. The Selection Committee had plenty of juicy second round (seriously, can we drop this first/second round game stuff already?) games and one certainly is Ohio State against Dayton. The instate match-up of little brother versus big brother with more than a few compelling storylines. There is the obvious state match-up implications of the major conference foe against the mid-major as Ohio State rarely schedules fellow Ohio schools (its last game against Dayton came in 2008 in the NIT). Then there is Thad Matta going against a former assistant coach in Archie Miller. Let’s also add in Dayton’s Jordan Sibert, who transferred from Ohio State. Not to mention this could be Aaron Craft‘s last collegiate basketball game. With all of this surrounding the opening game of the second round, it is plenty enough of a reason to take an extended lunch break.
  3. Bo Ryan is used to the NCAA Tournament. He’s been there plenty of times, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t understand its significance for Wisconsin‘s players. He makes sure to allow his guys to enjoy the moment and not just focus on the “business at hand” when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. It’s an interesting approach to hear, but also refreshing because Ryan is right. While he may go year after year, most of these players have at most four chances to make it here, so it means more to them to enjoy the atmosphere and chance to be there. Still, with its opening game against American the Badgers are focused on a team that plays a methodical style and pace. It likely helps Wisconsin having played Northwestern this year (who uses the same Princeton style offense as American), so don’t be surprised if the Badgers don’t struggle too much with this slower pace and get to enjoy the NCAA Tournament for at least one more game.
  4. Michigan certainly would love to make it back to the National Championship Game again this season. That chance starts by having to avoid the upset to a No. 15 seed in its opening round game, the same No. 15 seeds that have sprung three upsets in the past two tournaments. This is something the Wolverines are certainly aware of as they take on Wofford. It likely helps Michigan that it knows what it takes to make it back to the final and that it can’t overlook a single opponent on the way. Still, the most interesting perspective may be that the Wolverines are preaching not overlooking Wofford while using the belief they are being overlooked to the make the NCAA as motivation.
  5. While the future certainly looks bright for Illinois, that doesn’t mean the seniors want to see their careers end yet. The Fightin’ Illini got a huge game from Rayvonte Rice as they won their first round NIT game last night by coming back against Boston University. Rice dropped 28 points as he said after the game he wanted to make sure he extended seniors John and Joseph Bertrand’s careers. For a game that started terribly for Illinois as it trailed 30-13, Rice helped them respond and comeback. This extends the season at least one more game with the second round NIT date TBA against Clemson.
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Bracket Prep: South Region Analysis

Posted by Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) on March 17th, 2014

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Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), Midwest (11:00 AM), South (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) breaks down the South Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC South Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCsouthregion).

You should also check out our upcoming RTC Podblast with Bennet breaking down the South Region, which will drop both on the site and on iTunes Tuesday.

South Region

Favorite: #1 Florida (32-2, 21-0 SEC). The Gators are the clear front-runner to win the South region, and after winning their last 26 games, should also be the presumptive favorite to cut down the nets in Dallas. Winning four games in a row to reach the Final Four is never an easy chore, but the field’s #1 overall seed has all the necessary ingredients to make a fourth final four run under Billy Donovan.

Billy Donovan And Scottie Wilbekin Are Both Huge Reasons Why Florida Enters The NCAA Tournament As The #1 Overall Seed

Billy Donovan And Scottie Wilbekin Are Both Huge Reasons Why Florida Enters The NCAA Tournament As The #1 Overall Seed

Should They Falter: #2 Kansas (24-9, 15-5 Big 12). The Jayhawks’ case is a tricky one. With Joel Embiid, Kansas is easily the scariest #2 seed in the field and a serious threat to win it all; but the Jayhawks are far more difficult to quantify without their gifted freshman big man. Nothing is definite with Embiid’s prognosis, but if healthy and able to play, Kansas would only be the slightest of underdogs in an Elite Eight rematch with Florida. The outlook gets a little gloomier if the future trumps the present for the potential #1 overall pick in April’s NBA Draft (the one named Joel), but Andrew Wiggins’ recent offensive explosions still make Kansas a threat to run deep in this Tournament. Don’t forget that they will have a nice home court advantage in St. Louis for rounds two and three, and that crutch could help the Jayhawks advance to the second weekend without too much fuss – with or without Embiid. It’s still Bill Self and KU; don’t make the mistake of believing Joel Embiid’s health will be the sole determinant of the Jayhawk’s fate.

Grossly Overseeded: #8 Colorado (23-11, 12-9 Pac-12). There are no egregious examples of overseeding in this region, but Colorado stands out as the South’s most overvalued team. #3 Syracuse and #5 VCU may also have been generously awarded an extra seed line, but as currently constructed, the Buffs deserved to be closer to the cut-line than their #8 seed would suggest they actually were. Since Spencer Dinwiddie went down on January 12, Colorado managed only a .500 record in the Pac-12 and rarely looked competitive in outings against the upper echelon of the league. They are just 64th in KenPom’s rankings (only NC State is worse among at-large selections), and each of their three wins since February 19 was earned by the narrowest of margins (quirky note: all had final scores of 59-56). Askia Booker has remade himself in Dinwiddie’s absence and Tad Boyle deserves a ton of credit for navigating CU through the storm and into this field, but Colorado is just not one of the 32 best teams in college basketball.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Michigan 72, #24 Ohio State 69

Posted by Walker Carey on March 15th, 2014

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Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s Big Ten Tournament semifinal between Michigan and Ohio State in Indianapolis.

Aaron Craft Couldn't Quite Get it Done on Saturday Afternoon

Aaron Craft Couldn’t Quite Get it Done on Saturday Afternoon

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Michigan’s hot starts to both halves were instrumental to it earning this victory. Michigan started the game in an absolute flurry, as it scored 15 of the game’s first 17 points. Shots were falling from everywhere for the Wolverines, as they made six of their first eight attempts from behind the three-point line. Ohio State was able to gain its composure and go on a 15-4 run over the final 6:02 of the first half to make it a four-point game, but the Michigan offense was once again ready to explode when the second half started. In the first four minutes of the second half, John Beilein‘s squad aggressively ran its lead from four points to 12 points and was once again showing its outside shooting prowess. Like in the first half, Ohio State recovered from this onslaught and turned the game into a hotly-contested affair. Consequently, it can be inferred that if Michigan did not get off to such hot starts in each half, it would not have been able to grab the victory over its archrival.
  2. Ohio State’s fight was admirable. Thad Matta’s squad was down 15-2 not even four minutes into the game, but instead of sulking and letting Michigan continue its thermonuclear start, the Buckeyes found it within themselves to fight back and make it a battle to the very end. Ohio State is not known as an offensive powerhouse, but the Buckeyes used their offense to key their march back into the game. Junior forward LaQuinton Ross and junior guard Shannon Scott led the offensive attack, finishing the afternoon with 19 and 18 points, respectively. The Buckeyes were also able to shore up their defensive effort. After allowing Michigan to shoot a smoldering 64 percent in the first half, Ohio State tightened the screws and held the Wolverines to a 40.9 percent shooting clip in the second half. While Ohio State ultimately only has a loss to show for its performance Saturday afternoon, the toughness and desire it showed are things the team can build on as it moves into the NCAA Tournament. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Tournament: Friday Recap/Saturday Preview

Posted by Walker Carey on March 15th, 2014

With the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament in the books, we take a look at a few of the big takeaways from Friday, as well as storylines to keep in mind on Friday.

What went down on Friday:

The Top-Seeded Wolverines Survived an Upset Bid by Illinois Friday

The Top-Seeded Wolverines Survived an Upset Bid by Illinois Friday

  • Top-seeded Michigan survived a scare from a tenacious Illinois squad. The Wolverines saw a 13-point lead completely disappear before senior forward Jordan Morgan converted a layup with seven seconds left to give Michigan the 64-63 victory. The Wolverines were able to build their 13-point lead thanks to great assertiveness from sophomore Glenn Robinson III and the play-making ability of Big Ten Player of the Year, Nik Stauskas. The team’s fortunes, however, changed in the second half when Illinois dropped into a 2-3 zone that utterly frustrated Michigan throughout a majority of the second half.
  • Ohio State advanced to the semifinals with an epic 71-67 comeback victory over Nebraska. The Buckeyes trailed by 18 points with just over 13 minutes to play, but junior forward LaQuinton Ross and their suffocating defense took over and allowed Thad Matta’s squad to come all the way back to earn the victory. Senior guard Aaron Craft did not have the best game statistically, but he once again showed how valuable it is to have a confident, heady leader at the controls.
  • Wisconsin was very impressive in its 26-point mauling of a Minnesota team that could not find its way off the bubble. Senior guard Ben Brust turned in a career-best performance for the Badgers, finishing with a game-high 29 points. Bo Ryan’s squad also received a significant contribution from its bench, as guard Bronson Koenig and forward Nigel Hayes combined for 29 points. There have been questions all season about Wisconsin’s defense, but the Badgers were outstanding on that end of the court, limiting Minnesota to just 32.8 percent shooting for the game. Read the rest of this entry »
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The Curious Case of Lenzelle Smith’s Offense

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on March 2nd, 2014

Have you ever seen glimpses of talent from an underclassman and begin to extrapolate his talent over the next two or three years? Of course you have. The freshman may only play a supporting role at the time, but he shows enough in those flashes that you expect him to take off once the upperclassmen in front of him move on. Ohio State senior Lenzelle Smith, Jr., reminds me of one such player, who, for some reason or another, has never been able to take that next step. Over the last several years, Ohio State has lost one of its best offensive players and expected Smith to step up in his wake, but it just hasn’t happened. It was first Jared Sullinger, followed by Deshaun Thomas, but Smith wasn’t able to become that necessary second best scoring option on the Buckeyes. This discussion is not about whether Smith has underachieved to this point in his career — after all, averaging 11.8 PPG for a Top 25 squad is not a bad thing — but given his obvious talent and athleticism, we’re left wanting more from him. Let’s try to understand if there were other structural reasons why he hasn’t yet become the player that we all thought he could become.

Lenzelle Smith's (right) offense never really took off as expected.

Lenzelle Smith’s (right) offense never really took off as expected.

It is no secret that since Sullinger left Columbus, the Buckeyes have struggled to consistently score points. Averaging 1.03 points per possession during conference play isn’t too shabby, but there really isn’t a go-to player in Thad Matta’s offense. When Sullinger was still around, the guards always had the option to dump the ball inside and expect a kick-out pass for a wide open shot from the perimeter, but since his departure, they have been forced to find shots without the luxury of a low post presence. It took a while last season for Thomas to figure out that he could score in the paint, so most of Smith’s junior year was spent throwing up long-range shots (he made a solid 37 percent of those attempts). This year, the Buckeyes average 34.0 percent from beyond the arc (32.6 percent against B1G teams), and Smith in particular is shooting a career-low 35.3 percent.

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Big Ten M5: 02.17.14 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on February 17th, 2014

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  1. Over the years, we’ve grown accustomed to getting Tom Izzo’s take on various subjects. He was very vocal when Illinois had fired head coach, Bruce Weber, and he usually doesn’t hesitate to offer his opinion about the general state of college basketball. So what’s the newest topic that Izzo has been sounding off about? Twitter. “We used to be able to go to a game and have a bad game, leave the game and you never heard about it,” Izzo said this week, when asked about his take on Twitter, during a post-game press conference. Generally speaking, Izzo’s players haven’t really gotten into trouble with their usage of their 140 characters on Twitter, but that doesn’t stop their coach from sharing his opinion.
  2. John Groce is trying his best to make changes in Champaign, but they haven’t yielded any results over the past few weeks, as the Illini have lost nine out of ten games. Having said that, the players appear to be hanging in there with their coach through the tough times. “The effort that they continue to give, the way they’ve fought, the fact that they come with their hard hat on every day, that motivates me,” Groce said. The offense has stumbled since early January, after they started the conference season with a 2-0 record. At this point, the best they can really do is show some improvement with their younger core of players – Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill – over the next few weeks. By doing that, at least the Illini could set themselves up for a decent season next year.
  3. The hits keep on coming for the Hoosiers. After getting pummeled by the Boilermakers on the road, Tom Crean indefinitely suspended sophomore forward, Hanner Perea over the weekend. Crean said, “The first things I told him were that we loved him and wanted to support him. We are disappointed in him but also disappointed for him. He knows he made some terrible choices which have turned into big mistakes.” Even though Perea has only averaged 3 PPG, the loss might affect the Hoosiers team more negatively off the court, than on the court. With the loss at Purdue, the Hoosiers need a couple of big wins over the next three weeks if they hope to make a run at the NCAAs.
  4. Nik Stauskas had only averaged 10 PPG over four games leading up to the big game against Wisconsin on Sunday. Before the game, John Beilein was urging Stauskas to increase his shot attempts to make sure he could shoot out of his slump. “He can do this,” Beilein said on Friday of Stauskas dealing with aggressive defenses. Against the Badgers, Stauskas struggled early on against the staunch defense from Josh Gasser and ended up with just 11 points from 11 shot attempts. This slump could very well only last a few more games before the sophomore sharpshooter heats up again in March, just in time for the NCAA tournament.
  5. After four years in the Big Ten, Aaron Craft may have thought that he had seen it all, but he might have seen something different during his last trip to Champaign on Saturday. The Orange Krush tried to make fun of Craft by adding, what they might have considered funny, details to the flyer that was handed out to the students before the game. It was a failed attempt because he scored 14 points in just 25 minutes as the Buckeyes continue to keep their hopes alive of receiving a top-5 seed in the NCAAs.
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Can Ohio State Find Enough Offense to Stay Off the Bubble?

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on February 1st, 2014

Dear Ohio State fans, it is finally time to have this conversation. I didn’t want to have this talk because, well, with a decade of Big Ten dominance on his side, it seemed silly to doubt head coach Thad Matta. I just assumed he’d turn it around sooner than later because things tend to work out for him more often than not. But after the Buckeyes’ one-point overtime loss to Penn State in Columbus and losses in five of their last six games, it’s apparent that this Ohio State team is not very good right now, and they are a likely bubble team as of today. I know that statement stings; heck, a few weeks ago I even wrote this article on how the Buckeyes may have the best road to the Big Ten championship. And to be honest, I’m not sure that Matta doesn’t find a way to salvage this season. In his 10 seasons in Columbus, he has two Final Four appearances, five regular season championships, and four Big Ten Tournament championships. But at the moment, this offense, and therefore this team, seems incapable of competing with the Big Ten elites.

After their home loss to Penn State, Thad Matta and his Buckeyes may be sweating it out selection Sunday.

After their home loss to Penn State, Thad Matta and his Buckeyes may be sweating it out on Selection Sunday.

To say Ohio State’s resume is weak may be a bit too kind; the Buckeyes’ best win is against a Marquette team which is 12-9 and at .500 in the Big East. On the other side of the ledger, the Buckeyes now have bad losses against Nebraska and Penn State. Last week I pointed out that the team’s recent struggles can be traced back to its anemic offense. Before the Penn State game, their last five offensive performances were logged at 0.88, 0.96, 0.82, 0.90, and 1.02 points per possession. But lately, their defense — which has a current adjusted defensive efficiency of 0.89 points per possession and was #1 in the nation for most of the first half of the season — has not been nearly as dominant. In the same five games, Ohio State has allowed their opponents to score 1.01, 1.18, 0.99, 0.95, and 0.86 points per possession. The Buckeyes’ defense disappointed again on Wednesday night as they allowed 1.06 points per possession from Penn State — a team ranked eighth in the conference by offensive efficiency.

Buckeye fans, if you’re looking for hope, you may find it in the computer models that still think this team is among the top 25 in the country. Both KenPom and Sagarin have Ohio State ranked 21st and 17th in their national rankings, respectively. So if you’re of the belief that some of these latest losses are just the case of a slump combined with some bad luck, you aren’t completely without merit. But even if Matta’s defense rounds back into form, they’re going to need to upset a few of the better Big Ten teams to pad that resume and offset the bad losses. That’s a tall task to request from this offense.

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Ohio State’s Weak Inside Play Hurting the Buckeyes

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on January 21st, 2014

Maybe it is in fact time to wonder what is going on with Ohio State. Last week, this very B1G microsite said it wasn’t time to sound the alarm yet because the Buckeyes’ three losses were all to strong teams. After losing at Nebraska last night in a contest that gave the Cornhuskers their first win over a ranked opponent in two years and their Big Ten win of the season, the “good opponents” excuse necessarily flies out the window. The Buckeyes have now lost four straight games, and barring a perfect run for the rest of the conference season, they are likely out of the conference championship race. While the offense is still without question a struggle, Ohio State’s biggest concern is with its interior guys failing to contribute, specifically Amir Williams.

Amir Williams struggles in conference play have correlated with the Buckeyes' losing streak (Kirk Irwin, Getty).

Amir Williams struggles in conference play have correlated with the Buckeyes’ losing streak (Kirk Irwin, Getty).

Ohio State is already thin on the front line with Williams as the only known and trusted commodity, but in six Big Ten games he has not been strong. It is natural to expect some dropoff in his numbers against better competition, but his production has dropped significantly. He is scoring nearly two fewer points and rebounds per game and has only tallied seven total blocks. For a team that has to rely on him almost exclusively inside, this is a huge issue. Interior defense is another problem. Purdue’s AJ Hammons and Michigan State’s Adreian Payne killed the Buckeyes inside, but the primary reason the Cornhuskers were able to turn a 31-point loss into an eight-point win in just over two weeks is because they took advantage inside. Nebraska used 26 points in the paint to jump in front of the Buckeyes early, and as a result, Thad Matta was forced to switch to a smaller lineup with Williams on the bench in order to make a comeback push. It’s not exactly a good sign when you have to bench the only center on your team to give yourself a chance to win.

For a team that prides itself on defense and needs all the offensive production it can find, the struggles of Williams and stark lack of any suitable backup to him is concerning for Ohio State. Matta doesn’t need him to be an offensive star inside, but he needs to at least contribute defensively and grab some rebounds — where he has shown proficiency — to keep Ohio State in the game. Without his contributions, the narrative surrounding the Buckeyes’ struggles will quickly change to whether Matta can patch up things well enough to save the season.

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Ohio State’s Slow Big Ten Start Nothing to Worry About

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 17th, 2014

As Ohio State has surely found out, when you are considered a top-10 team and proceed to go out and lose three straight games, eyebrows will be raised. Heck, if the two-time defending NBA champions are going to be questioned for losing three in a row within an 82-game regular season, it’s hardly a shock that pundits will sound the alarm over a three-game Big Ten losing streak. Nevermind that any one of those three losses, in isolation, would be nowhere near concern-prompting, or that the Buckeyes are still owners of the second most efficient defense in all the land. If you listen to anyone outside of Columbus, Thad Matta’s team suddenly has questions to answer. The bleeding does need to stop (and soon), and even the most ardent of Buckeyes’ supporters will admit this team is far from perfectly constructed, but resist overreaction on this one. Today’s Buckeyes are the same team that ran out to that 15-0 start — Big Ten title contenders, still.

Wins Haven't Come As Easily In The Early Part Of The Big Ten Season For Aaron Craft And Ohio State

Wins Haven’t Come As Easily In The Early Part Of The Big Ten Season For Aaron Craft And Ohio State

There is no sugarcoating this fact: Ohio State is not a good offensive basketball team. Besides an impressively low steal percentage-against (helpful mainly for setting up that lethally efficient halfcourt defense), there is no true strength within its offensive statistical profile. When DeShaun Thomas and his prodigious offensive production departed for the professional ranks last offseason, most suspected the Buckeyes would struggle to score points as a result. There was hope that junior LaQuinton Ross might be ready to assume a good chunk of Thomas’ production, but while Ross is the Bucks’ leading scorer at 14.1 points per game, he has proven not to be another Thomas. Ross has shot the ball well from three-point range (41%), but a higher-than-preferred turnover rate (12.5%), paired with middling percentages on two-point field goals (44%) and from the charity stripe (68%) has left, for Thad Matta and his offensively challenged team, a lot to be desired. While the optimist would suggest Ross has some room for growth here in the back end of the season (he does have the natural tools to make it happen), the realist here will remind you that we aren’t talking about a player five games into his freshman season. To a large extent, Ross likely is what he is; namely, not DeShaun Thomas. With a dearth of offensive options elsewhere on the roster, that reality also means that the Buckeyes won’t be redefining themselves anytime soon. This isn’t, and won’t become, an elite offensive unit.

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Big Ten M5: 01.16.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on January 16th, 2014

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  1. Rushing the court debates are always fun in college basketball. It’s what the name of this website comes from, after all, so after Indiana rushed the court after knocking off Wisconsin Tuesday night, it sparked some outrage and debate among, well, basically everyone who follows college basketball. The reaction piece linked by ESPN.com‘s Eamonn Brennan may be the best way to look at it, too. Sure, maybe Indiana has too much tradition and the win last night didn’t “deserve” a court rush. But really, of all things to get riled up and worried about, the “rules” of when and when not to do so may be the most silly. Frankly, it’s college students enjoying a big win and carrying their emotions out onto the court. Who cares if it doesn’t fit your “rules,” because as Brennan says it, “They aren’t lisning (sic) to your rules. They’re too busy having fun.”
  2. Here we go again with Illinois. Last season the Illini came out of the gate strong and had everybody wondering if they could squeeze their way into discussion for the Big Ten title race before collapsing. This season, they once again started the year surprsingly well, but after a loss to Purdue last night, it’s a three-game losing streak that has everyone wondering if they will be making a slide just like last season. The key to the loss last night was specifically in the starters not producing enough outside of a slightly hobbled Rayvonte Rice. Nnanna Egwu, Jon Ekey and Joseph Betrand combined for 17 points against the Boilermakers and this is following a total team disaster offensively against Northwestern. For Illinois to get back on track and keep its potential for the NCAA Tournament alive this will have to change quickly.
  3. Northwestern was hopeful it could pull off “deja vu” against Michigan State. Not only did it want to replicate an upset from two years ago, but also the upset it pulled over Illinois this past week. With Michigan State hobbled, the Wildcats hung around before ultimately falling by 14, but it did get some high praise from Tom Izzo after the game. The Spartans head coach said it was the best defense he had seen from a Northwestern team in years, marking that’s the sign of a good coach. That’s pretty high praise for Chris Collins.
  4. On the other side of the Illinois loss was what we have all come to expect from Purdue‘s AJ Hammons. The center has constantly been called a potential lottery pick and dominant player in the conference. Yet, despite all the physical tools he hasn’t put it together and been consistent enough. Last night, though, he reminded everyone why the high praise is there as he helped Purdue to its best win of the season. Hammons final stat line of 17 points, eight rebounds and three blocks shows the key to Purdue’s win and potentially it’s NCAA Tournament hopes. If he can play like that every game, the Boilermakers may not be dead and NIT bound just yet.
  5. It wasn’t a good week for Ohio State. Two losses to two of the top teams in the Big Ten certainly isn’t what the Buckeyes had in mind. Still, despite the bad week, Thad Matta realizes there is still plenty of season left to play. This reaction is certainly the best possible one (at least publicly) the head coach can have with his team. It’s a veteran group that will need to respond quickly with its trip to Minnesota tonight, and it should understand two back-to-back losses don’t derail its hopes for a high seed in the NCAA Tournament or even the hopes for competing in the Big Ten. It is unlikely the conference winner will finish with just two losses, so the Buckeyes have plenty of season left to turn it around.
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Big Ten Competition Will Exceed Expectations

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on January 10th, 2014

Trey Burke is now running the pick-and-roll for the Utah Jazz. Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller are currently trying to improve the Orlando Magic and Charlotte Bobcats, a year removed from dominating college basketball. About a week ago, one of the biggest questions about the Big Ten was about the lack of star power in the league this season. The aforementioned trio of players dominated headlines last year and this season’s biggest returning star, Mitch McGary, will not be around for most of the season due to an injury. Still, after the first week of the conference schedule, it is safe to say that despite the lack of star power, the level of competition between teams in the league will not be any different than it has been. There might not be several NBA lottery picks on these 12 squads, but teams shouldn’t take any conference match-up for granted. A handful of key games over the last week-plus have shown everyone just how competitive this league will be over the next 10 weeks.

Aaron Craft and the Buckeyes almost pulled off an upset win in East Lansing.  (Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire)

Aaron Craft and the Buckeyes almost pulled off an upset win in East Lansing. (Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire)

If you turned off the Michigan State – Ohio State game Tuesday night because the Buckeyes were down by 17 late in the second half, you made a big mistake. Sure, the Buckeyes’ offense isn’t pretty in the least, but there is something to be said about the way they muscled their way back into the game. And yes, part of the comeback was allowed by the Spartans’ lackadaisical attitude during the final six minutes, but it was still impressive to see Thad Matta’s team storm back without their main offensive weapons on the court. Both LaQuinton Ross (13.7 PPG) and Lenzelle Smith Jr. (12.7 PPG) were on the bench with just 12 points combined while Aaron Craft and Sam Thompson tied the game by scoring in transition and playing tough defense. During last season’s game in East Lansing, Shannon Scott put up a horrible shot during the final possession of an incredible game. Ironically, he almost won the game this time with a steal and transition layup during the final five seconds of regulation. The star power for Ohio State may not be there right now, but players such as Mark Loving are growing up right in front of our eyes during these games and could end up as household names by the end of March.

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode VII

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 8th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball. 

Baylor Fails To Live Up To The Hype

When I saw the national polls come out this week I was stunned to see Baylor ranked No. 7. Yes, the Bears were 12-1 heading into last night’s Big 12 opener at Iowa State, but I was surprised more pollsters were not able to see through their smoke and mirrors. I rated Baylor No. 19 in the latest RTC Top 25 and thought it was generous given its resume. Of the team’s 12 wins, just three have been quality: Two came in Dallas against Colorado and Kentucky (certainly very fine wins) and one in Maui against Dayton. In other words, Baylor had yet to beat a great team away from home and last night’s game was actually its first true road contest of the season. Scott Drew’s team didn’t exactly validate its lofty ranking after being torched in the second half at Hilton Coliseum last night. BU’s interior defense, normally a strength, was horrendous against the Cyclones, particularly in transition. It almost seems as if Baylor was unprepared for Iowa State’s up-tempo style of basketball. Baylor is not a bad team by any stretch but there just isn’t enough consistency from game to game to warrant such a high ranking. The Bears do a lot of things well and a handful of things poorly. That keeps their ceiling low, despite a ton of talent on the roster.

Kenny Chery and Baylor have some shortcomings to address

Kenny Chery and Baylor have some shortcomings to address

Iowa State is For Real, But Just How Good are the Cyclones?

Speaking of Iowa State, how about the job Fred Hoiberg has done in Ames? In only his fourth year he has made his alma mater relevant in leading it to a top 10 ranking this week. The Cyclones are legitimate and DeAndre Kane is a big reason why. The Marshall transfer is making the most of his one year in Ames as one of the country’s best all-around players. After a season-high 30 points against Baylor last night, Kane seems to be getting even better. Hoiberg really can’t ask for much more from a senior who can run the team, rebound and score efficiently. Iowa State is obviously terrific at home but I would like to see this team perform on the road against better competition before I fully buy in. Don’t get me wrong, the Cyclones are a sure fire top 20 team in my view. However, their toughest road test to date was against a 9-7 BYU team in Provo. With five of their next nine games on the road, the Cyclones will be challenged in a big way against the likes of Kansas and Oklahoma State, as well as upstarts Texas and Oklahoma. While I believe Iowa State is very good, we will know a heck of a lot more about it when the calendar flips to February.

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