ACC/Big Ten Challenge Preview: Part IV

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 30th, 2017

For the first time in its 19-year history, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge is being played over four days. With high profile schools such as Duke, Michigan State and North Carolina participating in last weekend’s PK80 tournament in Portland — which involved a handful of late Sunday night games — ESPN and the two leagues decided to push the event out an extra day rather than put all the marquee matchups on Wednesday. After three days of action, the ACC leads the challenge 11-2, clinching the overall event for the second year in a row in dominant fashion. Still, tonight’s finale between Notre Dame and Michigan State in East Lansing (ESPN – 7:00 PM ET) has a lot on the line for both teams. Here are some key storylines to follow.

Strength Against Strength: Notre Dame Offense vs. Michigan State Defense

Senior point guard Matt Farrell leads a talented Notre Dame offense into East Lansing to face the imposing Michigan State defense. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

The Fighting Irish come into this game with the fifth-best effective field goal percentage (60.4%) in college basketball, while the Spartans’ defensive rate (39.9%) ranks third nationally. Something’s got to give, right? It’s a little early in the season to make any sweeping statistical judgments, but perhaps it’s fair to gather predictive data from the few challenging games each school has played thus far. Notre Dame has faced one elite defense already — Wichita State in the Maui Invitational finals — and the Shockers held the Irish to a 52.9 percent effective field goal rate. Michigan State’s defense has faced two of the nation’s top-15 offenses (Duke and North Carolina) so far, holding both under 40 percent shooting on two-point shots. With that kind of rim-protection exhibited by Tom Izzo’s big men, expect the Irish to struggle to reach its normal shooting acumen.

Key Stat to Watch: Shot Volume

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Inside the PK80 From a Fan Perspective: Heaven & Hell

Posted by Joshua Lars Weill on November 28th, 2017

It’s raining. No surprise there. Oregon in late November seems a bit odd for a destination basketball tournament, but when the King of Sneakers lives down the road, what better place to be, eh? For three days, you’ve called the Rose Garden home. No, it’s not the Moda Center; it’s the Rose Garden. One sounds like a classic hoops venue. The other like a place you get your pancreas checked out.

With this simple piece of plastic, three days of hoops madness was upon you.

It’s Day 3, and again you and your cager-obsessed cohort play seat roulette, scouting for lower-bowl seats with much better views than your upper-bowl budgets allowed. A winner! Row N, Section 101. Just behind the home bench. You avoid the usher by hiding behind your bag.

Sweater-clad North Carolina fans stroll in late, hands full of outrageously priced snacks. Chicken fingers (a cool $13), pizza (just $7 a slice!), and tacos ($13 for two. Seriously.). How anyone could get tipsy on $12 beers is beyond you, but then again you drive a 1997 Saturn, so what do you know?

You look across the floor and Bill Walton is calling the game for ESPN. You wonder what he could be saying. Because he could be saying anything. “Have you ever taken a trip down the mighty Deschutes river?” “I met the chief of the reservation when I was lost, in 1971, and he changed my life.” “When you’re struggling you have to think of life as a single stream and find your way upriver.” You ponder whether Walton actually remembers playing here in 1978 or not.

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On an Amazing Weekend of Basketball in Portland…

Posted by RJ Abeytia on November 27th, 2017

Nike’s goal was to get the best in college basketball together for Phil Knight’s 80th birthday, and a sport that has badly needed an on-court distraction from its off-court shambles absolutely put its best foot forward in Portland over the holiday weekend. The quality of the performances by many of the 16 teams in the double-bracket event has led me to a number of conclusions about the state of the game and this season. First of all, nobody who watched or attended Duke vs. Texas or Gonzaga vs. Florida OR Duke vs. Florida should have any time for arguments against the quality of the college basketball product being undermined in comparison with college football’s regular season. Both the electric atmosphere of the games in the Moda Center and the Veterans Memorial Coliseum and the quality thereof easily passed for elite March-caliber. Everything was great, and it’s still over three months before the first rounds ofthe NCAA Tournament.

Duke Used Consecutive Comebacks to Take Its Bracket of the PK80 (USA Today Images)

This of course begs a question about one-and-dones. Duke‘s Marvin Bagley III — who averaged 27.3 PPG and 10.0 RPG over the weekend — was every bit as good as advertised. After the championship game on Sunday night, Mike Kryzyzewski called the versatile freshman the “most unique player I’ve ever coached at Duke.” I don’t want this piece to digress into a debate on the merits of one-and-dones in college basketball, but suffice it to say that having talents like Bagley, Michael Porter, Jr. (injury notwithstanding) and DeAndre Ayton (Arizona’s Bahaman Nightmare notwithstanding) is great for college basketball. The Duke head coach went on to say in his postgame presser to support the larger point here: There are amazing things happening on the court these days, and the PK80 event played a far more vital role in spotlighting what’s good about the game than anyone could have anticipated. In the other bracket, sophomore “old man” Miles Bridges led Michigan State into a classic lockdown of defending national champion North Carolina, a team with which Coach K has some familiarity.

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Michigan State Needs More From Miles Bridges

Posted by Chris Hatfield on November 23rd, 2017

By many accounts, Michigan State sophomore Miles Bridges should no longer be in college. The body, the athleticism, the talent — it’s all there and screams one-and-done. That’s why so many observers were shocked when Bridges opted to forgo the NBA Draft over the summer. Never mind that now, though. It’s in the past. He is here and we have arrived at a point of pristine clarity. Whether fair or not, anything other than a 2018 National Championship for Michigan State will be viewed as a disappointment. Tom Izzo‘s seething six-word response of “I’m sick of holding my own” and discussion of embarrassment after losing to consensus #1 Duke last week at the Champions Classic make that obvious. The Spartans, however, will not get there without more production from their superstar. That’s not necessarily a statistical knock on him — after all, he’s nearly averaging a double-double with 19.5 PPG and 7.5 rebounds per game. You have to dig a little deeper, and Izzo hinted at it: “When they [Duke] were so good, a senior rose up.” Indeed.

Miles Bridges is Fantastic but He Needs to Take Over at the End (USA Today Images)

This may seem harsh. We have limited data points but an initial review is quite revealing. With 3:24 remaining in last week’s Duke game, everything was knotted up and Duke held possession of the ball. From that point, senior All-American Grayson Allen scored eight of Duke’s final 13 points while his counterpart Bridges only took two shots and scored a single meaningless bucket. That can’t happen in those spots. He can’t shy away from shouldering the weight of performing during crunch time.  He can’t defer to others. He’s too special and the Spartans don’t have a better alternative. They didn’t for Mateen Cleaves, a Spartan who put the team on his shoulders whenever necessary on the way to delivering Izzo his only National Championship. “The experienced guys have to take over at the end and let the freshmen fall behind us,” Bridges told the Big Ten Network after the game.

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The Models vs. the People: Who Is Right So Far?

Posted by William Ezekowitz on November 21st, 2017

With the rise of KenPom’s preseason rankings and the ratings of other models like it (SI and T-Rank, for example), projection models have become increasingly important in college basketball. But there is still a long way to go before these metrics-based systems replace the good old-fashioned eye test as represented in the national polls. The two varieties of projection mechanisms, both valid in their own right, disagreed about a few teams coming into this year. In this article, we will evaluate the differences on a few relevant teams to determine if we can settle on which method has been accurate so far. We’ll start by analyzing a couple of squads from the Big Ten before considering a couple others.

Minnesota. AP Rank: #15; KenPom Rank: #36

Jordan Murphy has helped Minnesota live up to expectations in the early season (Getty)

  • What the people thought: Minnesota spent the offseason as one of the most hyped teams in college basketball, as Nate Mason received plenty of all-Big Ten buzz and Amir Coffey appeared ready to make a huge leap. Richard Pitino’s Gophers were also expected to play their particular brand of stifling defense, bolstered by possibly the best shot blocker in college basketball, Reggie Lynch. There was a lot to like.
  • What the models saw: Neither Mason nor Coffey were especially efficient for the nation’s 77th-best offense, which meant this year’s outfit was set to improve on that end. The defense, while stifling, was below average in both turnovers forced and defensive rebounding, limiting its potential to become a top-10 unit.
  • Who has been right so far: The people. Jordan Murphy has been unexpectedly dominant through four games, putting up 23 points and 14 rebounds, for example, in a very impressive 12-point victory at Providence. The Gophers are humming along at 18th nationally in offensive efficiency, and if they can stay in that range they will certainly live up to their poll projection as the 15th-best team in the country.

Michigan State. AP Rank #2. KenPom Rank: #10

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Duke 88, #2 Michigan State 81

Posted by Walker Carey on November 14th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage of the Champions Classic in Chicago.

Three Key Takeaways.

Duke’s Grayson Allen Led the Blue Devils to a Marquee Victory (USA Today Images)

  1. This should be a game we all want to see again in San Antonio. While not always the most fundamentally sound contest, tonight’s clash between the Blue Devils and Spartans certainly lived up to the hype in terms of star power and excitement. Even though it was played in mid-November, it most certainly had a big game feel. Both the Duke and Michigan State fans that journeyed to the United Center for the showdown made their presence known throughout what was a hotly-contested affair. The only real bummer from the game was that Duke star freshman big man Marvin Bagley III left the game just prior to the 10-minute mark of the first half after taking an inadvertent poke to the eye from teammate Javin DeLaurier. Both squads feature many young contributors, so it is fair to assume they will each get better as the season progresses. At this point, it is difficult to argue that a Final Four or National Championship game between Duke and Michigan State would not once again be appointment viewing. These could be the best two teams in college basketball.
  2. Grayson Allen is once again going to be headline the news all season long. The player a majority of college basketball fans love to hate is back for his senior season — and, if tonight’s performance serves as any indication, that senior season is going to be rather noteworthy. While playing all 40 minutes, Allen led the Blue Devils to victory with a game-high 37 points (11-of-20 FG, 7-of-11 3FG) and came up with big shot after big shot down the stretch when his team needed them most. After a junior year that was marred by another tripping controversy, some nagging injuries and overall inconsistent play, the senior guard is beginning this season by letting his play garner the headlines. Considering Duke’s otherwise young roster, it would be beneficial for Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils if that trend continues throughout the season.
  3. Even in defeat, Michigan State can still take away some positives. The Spartans are certainly disappointed by tonight’s result, but disappointment should not be the only thing they take from this evening’s defeat. Even though he struggled to get in the lane for much of the night against Duke’s size and length, star sophomore Miles Bridges still finished the game with 19 points, five rebounds, four assists and four blocks. Michigan State also received a lift from its interior, as both freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. and sophomore Nick Ward battled valiantly with Duke’s frontcourt all night. Jackson finished with 19 points and seven rebounds while showcasing the reasons why he is considered an elite NBA prospect. Ward also chipped in 19 points while using his wide frame to force Duke’s young front line into some foul trouble. A loss is a loss, but this was one that left the Spartans with things they can build upon moving forward.

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Big Ten Preview Part VII: Key Questions for Minnesota & Michigan State

Posted by Chris Hatfield on November 10th, 2017

With the season almost here, Rush the Court’s Big Ten preview will tip off its coverage by posing season-defining key questions for each team. Today we address Minnesota and Michigan State.

#2 Minnesota – How will Richard Pitino handle elevated expectations?

Was Richard Pitino really on the hot seat last year? Maybe. After coming off an eight-win season the year prior, there was certainly pressure to be better. Just how much better is difficult to quantify, but it’s in the rear-view mirror now. The Gophers were improved, much improved last season, notching a 24-10 overall record (11-7 Big Ten) despite ending the season on a sour note with a First Round NCAA Tournament loss to Middle Tennessee State. Things are different now. Minnesota was picked to finish third in the Big Ten this preseason, is ranked 15th in the USA Today/Coaches Poll, and you would have to think making it past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is a reasonable expectation.

Amir Coffey has the chance to be special. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

Guard Amir Coffey — arguably the catalyst of the offense for the Gophers last year — could be the star. As a first-year starter, he ranked second on the team in scoring at 12.2 points per game while leading the team with a true shooting percentage of 55 percent. You would expect him to take another step forward this year. If that leap includes getting more shots right around the basket, that would be huge benefit for a Minnesota team that finished 77th in adjusted offensive efficiency last season. Freshman Isaiah Whitehead will join the fold and figures to impact things immediately as well. He’s a first-year talent the likes of which hasn’t been around Minneapolis for some time. Senior guard Nate Mason was voted preseason all Big-Ten along with inclusion on the Bob Cousy preseason watch list. All the pieces are in place for Pitino this season, but it will be for naught if Minnesota cannot adapt to the unfamiliar role of favorite. The head coach’s challenge will be ensuring that the Gophers are not overlooking teams and losing games they shouldn’t. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Michigan State 78, #8 Miami (FL) 58

Posted by Chris Stone on March 17th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament for the next three weeks.

Miles Bridges led Michigan State into the Round of 32. (AP)

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. This was a different Michigan State team. The Spartans came into their meeting with Miami tonight as a slight underdog and 42nd-best team in KenPom. They had lost three of their last four games and for the most part had put together a disappointing season. During the Big Ten Tournament, however, head coach Tom Izzo made it clear that some of those struggles related to growing pains with his freshmen. Well, something flipped on Friday as Michigan State dominated the Hurricanes for much of the contest. The Spartans scored 1.24 points per possession, stifled Miami’s best offensive pieces, and set up an exciting matchup with Kansas in Sunday’s Round of 32. Izzo also moved to a 14-10 record as the lower seed in the NCAA Tournament.
  2. The Spartans did well to weather the early storm. Michigan State didn’t dominate the entire contest. In fact, for a while, it looked like the Spartans were going to get run off the floor by Miami. The Hurricanes opened the game by bounding out to a 10-0 lead before Michigan State closed the first half on a 38-17 run where it scored 1.23 points per possession. Miami was dogged by turnovers and gave up six offensive rebounds during the half. For the Spartans to weather such a storm while largely relying on the composure of freshmen was extremely impressive.
  3. Nick Ward powered Michigan State. Freshman forward Nick Ward has become a stabilizing presence on Izzo’s interior. When the Spartans need to find a bucket in a one-on-one situation, it’s easy for them to dump it down low to the 6’8″ forward and let him go to work. Ward put it all together against Miami tonight, scoring 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the field and grabbing three offensive rebounds. Ward’s performance was symptomatic of a larger issue for the Hurricanes as Michigan State managed to shoot 72.7 percent on its two-pointers in the contest.

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Spartan Swap: Will Josh Langford Seize Eron Harris’ Role?

Posted by Jim Root on February 22nd, 2017

“Will Eron Harris step up and become a leader for a young Michigan State team?” After waiting almost the entire season to learn the answer to this question, the issue was rendered meaningless over the weekend as Harris suffered a season-ending knee injury during the Spartans’ road loss at Purdue (for the record, the evidence was pointing toward a resounding ‘no’). The question now becomes who will step up in his absence? Tom Izzo’s team is still very much in the thick of the bubble battle, and losing a skilled (if inconsistent) scorer is a tough pill to swallow. Sixty percent of the Spartans’ potential preseason starting lineup now sits in street clothes (Harris joins center Gavin Schilling and forward Ben Carter), and Izzo is left with little choice but to embrace the youth movement on his roster.

Josh Langford drives against Florida Gulf Coast in East Lansing on November 20th. (247 Sports)

The burden to replace Harris will fall most heavily on the shoulders of freshman wing Josh Langford, a consensus five-star prospect who has mostly flown under the radar while deferring to Harris and fellow freshmen Miles Bridges and Nick Ward. His usage while on the floor is only 14.8 percent this season, per KenPom, a ratio that Pomeroy’s data refers to as filling a “Limited Role.” To wit: In a four-game stretch several weeks ago, these were Langford’s usage rates: 8%, 13%, 10%, 4%. He’s essentially wearing an invisibility cloak! Prior to Harris’ injury, Langford was playing only three fewer minutes per game than the redshirt senior, yet he’d taken 106 fewer shots. Langford has hit a higher percentage of his threes (42% vs Harris’ 39%) and twos (58% vs 47%), and with nine new shots available per game, the Spartans could really benefit from Langford embracing a higher-usage role while maintaining those pristine percentages. Read the rest of this entry »

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Can Michigan’s Flashes of Dominance Carry It to March?

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 9th, 2017

There are blowouts, and then there’s what Michigan did to Michigan State on Tuesday night. Not four days removed from a home loss to Ohio State, the Wolverines pummeled the Spartans 86-57, shooting 21-of-28 from the field in the first half, grabbing a quick 26-point lead and never looking back. The final margin tied Michigan State’s largest defeat in the rivalry’s long and illustrious history, a beatdown so thorough that Tom Izzo was hard-pressed to find any silver lining (“a complete meltdown,” he said). And it’s not the first time Michigan has crushed an NCAA Tournament-caliber opponent this season. On January 30, John Beilein’s club beat Indiana by 30 points; back in November, it toppled Marquette and SMU by 18 and 22 points, respectively. This team has proven capable of excellence when everything clicks. That “when,” though, has also been a major “if” this season, with the Wolverines just as prone to laying an egg as they are to winning by double-figures. With less than a month left in the regular season, the question now isn’t whether Michigan has the potential to do damage in the Big Dance; it’s whether it can remain consistent enough to get there.

On Tuesday, Michigan point guard Derrick Walton was a man on a mission. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)

For as superb as Michigan’s offense was earlier this week, its dominance was ignited and sustained on the defensive end. The Wolverines’ played with a clear sense of urgency on the perimeter, preventing Michigan State—a three-point-reliant team—from creating open looks behind the arc. The Spartans attempted just five threes in the first half and looked completely bewildered in their half-court sets, evidenced by three (and nearly five) shot-clock violations in the first 20 minutes alone. “We got late and lost. We just didn’t execute,” Izzo said afterward. All told, Michigan forced Izzo’s group into 21 turnovers at a whopping 31.8 percent turnover rate—by far the highest of any Wolverines’ opponent this season. Spartan super-freshman Miles Bridges alone accounted for five mishaps. The suffocating defensive effort was reminiscent of the Wolverines’ dominant performances against Illinois and Indiana in late January—and noticeably better than Saturday’s showing against the Buckeyes. “They understand there’s another level we can play at,” Beilein said, later adding, “When we show the video of this, it will be the defense that led to the fast break. The steals that led to the fast break.”

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