Big Ten M5: Halloween Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on October 31st, 2014

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  1. It was always going to be a rough introduction into the Big Ten for Rutgers, given that last year the Scarlet Knights weren’t competitive in a mediocre American Athletic Conference. If they are going to turn things around, the effort will need to be led by one of their senior leaders, Kadeem Jack. So head coach Eddie Jordan must be more than a little concerned that last year’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer has been unable to practice due to a wrist injury. Jack is expected to be healthy by the first game of the season against George Washington, but Jordan needs to hope that’s the case as his team is going to need all the wins it can get for a shot at a postseason tournament.
  2. In East Lansing, Michigan State is also dealing with the injury bug. Tom Izzo’s team will lose freshman Javon Bess for at least a month as he will have surgery on his injured foot. Though not a heralded recruit, he seemed to have already earned some respect from his fellow teammates and coach. Izzo called him a “diamond in the rough” while Denzel Valentine said his loss is “gonna be big [to us].” His injury chips at the Spartans’ depth, something the Spartans would like to have as they make their way through another tough non-conference schedule with opponents like Duke, Georgia Tech, Kansas and Notre Dame slated.
  3. The season hasn’t even started, but Richard Pitino is already dealing with some off-the-court issues, as Minnesota dismissed junior Zach Lofton on Wednesday with no specific explanation given for his cause for dismissal. The 6’4″ wing had transferred to Minnesota from Illinois State, where he averaged 11.3 PPG and 3.0 RPG last season. His dismissal has no effect with respect to this season, as Lofton would have had to redshirt this year anyway. But it’s certainly not ideal and leaves a hole in Pitino’s lineup for the 2015-16 season that he will need to fill. Not a great start for the Golden Gophers.
  4. Earlier in the week, SBNation released its Top 100 players list. Yesterday, CBSSports.com did likewise. One big difference between the two lists was with the ranking of Sam Dekker, who came in at #5 on the latter as opposed to #33 on the former. Another huge difference in ranking was Ohio State’s freshman D’Angelo Russell, who was listed all the way up at #44 on CBS and was left off the list altogether on SBNation. They reached some consensus, however, with Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Michigan’s Caris Levert as top 10 players. Finally, while SBNation put 15 B1G players on its list, CBS was more bearish on the conference’s talent with only 11 players. These lists make for fun fodder, but honestly, it’ll be nice just to get through all this and focus on the games.
  5. Lastly, Indiana’s Tom Crean is trying to get his Hoosiers squad ready for game shape this week. The Hoosiers lost some key players from last year’s squad, such as Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Noah Vonleh, four-year contributor Will Sheehey, and a bunch of transfers. This lack in continuity is showing as the coach has to impress upon his squad to avoid “defensive fatigue”. While the Hoosiers lost a bunch of talent, they also brought in a quality freshmen class. Crean will need to get his star point guard, Yogi Ferrell, to whip those youngsters in shape if they’re to avoid another disappointing season.
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Big Ten M5: 10.24.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on October 24th, 2014

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  1. Obviously, the biggest change this season is the addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the league as the Big Ten made the final chess move in this round of conference expansion. Tom Dienhart wrote a nice piece about how expansion may reclaim some east coast favorability for the conference. Now that the as-currently-constructed Big East is no longer the dominant college hoops brand, it leaves a vacuum in the most populous corner of the country. It’s no coincidence that the Big Ten is having their conference tournament in Washington, DC in 2017. They are battling the ACC for the Northeast’s eyes and recruits. And now that they have three teams in the area — and added even more markets to their TV network — they have the footprint to compete.
  2. The Terrapins and Scarlet Knights may be the freshest faces in the league this season, but Chris Collins is still pretty new as he enters his second season as Northwestern‘s head coach. ESPN‘s Myron Metcalf spent some time with the former Duke assistant in Evanston, and asked him when he thought the Wildcats would make the NCAA Tournament. “I definitely think it is [around the corner]. When that happens I don’t know.” That’s as optimistic as you can be for something that’s never happened, EVER. But Collins has reasons to be optimistic, they were a Top 15 team in the country in adjusted defensive rating last season, they return four of their five starters, and Top 100 recruit Vic Law joins their squad. Pair that with everyone besides Wisconsin being a little bit down from last season, there just might be an opening for these Wildcats to make history.
  3. Michigan lost a good amount of its backcourt from last season. This year, all eyes will be on Caris Levert to make up for the loss in scoring and for Derrick Walton Jr. to run the team’s offense. But not as much attention has been paid to the other likely backcourt starter, Zak Irvin. The sophomore and former Mr. Indiana was extremely effective from the outside in limited minutes, but provided little of anything else. However, Wolverine fans had to be happy to hear that he was dominant on the offensive end in Michigan’s European summer tour. If he can expand his game to inside the perimeter, it’ll give this team another dynamic scorer and make our predictions of Michigan basketball taking a step back seem foolish.
  4. I’ve never been to a Midnight Madness, but I’ve heard from those who have attended that after the pomp and circumstance, it’s not really anything to write home about. If there was an exception to this rule, I bet it would lie in Bloomington with Hoosier Hysteria. Indiana has the crazy fan base and history to electrify such an event. One thing that may have me watching is the slam dunk contest with their ridiculous athletes. Now, if only Tom Crean can get those athletes to play as one offensive unit, the Hoosiers may be celebrating at end of the season like they’ll be celebrating on Friday.
  5. Finally, it was rumored that Tom Izzo had the opportunity to leave Michigan State this past offseason and coach an NBA team. He ended up staying for many reasons, but perhaps one of them is the job Mark Dantonio is doing with the football team.  As much of a legend Izzo is in East Lansing, the money will always follow football. So it’s probably not a coincident that Michigan State received its largest single donation of $10 million while the football team seems to be on its way to a consecutive conference championship. Basketball will actually get a plurality of that money for capital improvement in the Breslin Center, but there should be no doubt that the money comes in easier when you have a successful football program that excites big donors.
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Can Michigan State’s Travis Trice Replace Keith Appling?

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 17th, 2014

Michigan State lost a lot of talent from last year’s Elite Eight team. Gary Harris and Adreian Payne both heard their names called in the first round of the NBA Draft. Kenny Kaminski had one offcourt problem too many and therefore transferred to Ohio University. Keith Appling also left town, going undrafted after a senior year marred by injuries. As far as replacements, the Spartans ended up with only the 32nd best incoming recruiting class, per ESPN.com. But all is not lost in East Lansing, however, as returnees Branden Dawson and Denzel Valentine are much of the reason Sparty has been slotted into the preseason Top 25 polls. But the success of the season may hinge on Appling’s replacement, Travis Trice, who is expected to take over the majority of the minutes at the lead guard spot and appears that he’ll be a more than capable substitute.

Travis Trice has to play a bigger role for Michigan State to make another run at the B1G title.(Leon Haiip, Getty Images)

Travis Trice has to play a bigger role for Michigan State to make another run at the B1G title.(Leon Haiip, Getty Images)

Trice should not be unfamiliar to Big Ten fans, as he enters his senior year having played no fewer than 34.9 percent of the available minutes in his three-year career. He started eight games last season, ranking 16th in the league with an assist rate of 18.8 percent. He also held a dazzling assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.3 to 1 (slightly better than Appling’s mark of 2.1 to 1). The Spartans were 6-2 in the games where he started, made possible in no small part by his averages of 9.3 PPG and 3.6 APG on sizzling 18-for-35 shooting from behind the arc. By the end of the season, over the Spartans’ last five games, Michigan State used a lineup that featured Appling and Trice on the floor at the same time 18.3 percent of the time, per kenpom.com, showing that Tom Izzo had developed great trust in Trice’s presence on the floor. These facts are not meant to bash Appling for the solid four years he gave to Michigan State; it’s only to show that Trice can handle a greater share of the responsibility, even if he’s necessarily more of a focus on opposing scouting reports this time around. Appling understandably struggled playing through pain last year, and it seemed as though dwindling confidence in what his body could do played a significant role in his lack of production down the stretch. Trice has struggled with various maladies throughout his career as well, so the obvious caveat with his pending role in the spotlight is of course staying healthy.

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Morning Five: 05.01.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on May 1st, 2014

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  1. Yesterday was a surprisingly busy day on the coaching carousel. The big news came out late last night when Southern Mississippi filled its coaching vacancy by hiring Doc Sadler. The Southern Miss spot opened up when Donnie Tyndall moved to Tennessee, but he did leave a fairly good program for Sadler as the team went 56-17 in the past two seasons although they did not make the NCAA Tournament either season. Sadler compiled a 149-107 record at UTEP and Nebraska, but was fired in 2012 at Nebraska after going 12-18. It was just yesterday that the job was reportedly offered to Brad Underwood, who “decided” to stay at Stephen F. Austin just a few hours before the Sadler hiring was announced so we suspect that his decision may have been impacted by Southern Mississippi’s decision. The other announcement was that Tom Izzo intends to stay at Michigan State rather than pursuing a NBA job. In our opinion, this really isn’t particularly newsworthy although with coaches of Izzo’s caliber we always assume that some NBA team will have interest in Izzo. While Izzo stated that he plans on staying at Michigan State he noted that if the right offer comes up he might reconsider and he did mention the Lakers as such a job. And Mike D’Antoni did resign yesterday…
  2. It wasn’t that long ago that Rick Barnes was on the “hot seat”. After a surprisingly good season last season, Barnes appeared to be in good shape heading into next season with most of last year’s team returning. On top of that, he added Myles Turner, who committed to Texas yesterday essentially ending this recruiting season (at least for high school recruits). Turner, the consensus #2 recruit in the class of 2014, announced that he was heading to Texas in a press conference that was televised on ESPNU. For a more thorough breakdown of what Turner’s commitment means, check out Jeff Borzello’s excellent breakdown.
  3. We aren’t sure if one coach needs to replace another on the hot seat, but if he does then we would nominate Mark Turgeon. He already lost three players to transfer this off-season (more on one below) and now according to some reports both Seth Allen and Charles Mitchell have both asked for their release from the program. Maryland is denying these reports, but if true we cannot imagine how much longer Turgeon can stay on board. It is too late in the coaching carousel cycle for the school to get rid of him and look for a new coach and with their upcoming move to the Big Ten they need some stability, but they need to be looking in another direction. Last season, Allen averaged 13.4 points, 3 assists, and 2 rebounds per game while Mitchell averaged 6.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. If they do leave, Maryland will have lost five of its top eight players from last season to transfer.
  4. With most of his production from last year leaving and an undistinguished freshman class coming in we knew that Craig Robinson needed to do something significant if he wanted to keep his job. It appears that he has in the transfer market. Yesterday, Maryland transfer Nick Faust announced that he would be headed to Oregon State. Faust, who averaged 9.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 2 assists per game, will have to sit out this season and has one more year of eligibility left. According to reports, Oregon State is also active in reaching out to several other prominent transfers. This method probably isn’t what Oregon State needs for long-term success, but it might be enough to let Robinson keep his job for a few more years.
  5. Danny Manning hasn’t had his first practice at Wake Forest, but his tenure is already off to a rough start. Yesterday, Shelton Mitchell, the team’s top incoming recruit, received his release from Wake Forest. Mitchell, a four-star point guard, is recovering from an ACL tear is reportedly still considering Wake Forest, but is keeping his options open now that Jeff Bzdelik, the coach who recruited him, is no longer there. At this point, the only class of 2014 commit that Manning has is two-star shooting guard Rondale Watson. Manning might turn out to be a better coach than Bzdelik, but with that recruiting class it will be very hard to prove it in the ACC.
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Can Michigan State Get to the Final Four Without an Elite Point Guard?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on April 9th, 2014

About six months ago, when we kicked off RTC’s Big Ten microsite for the 2013-14 season, one of the first articles written was a discussion about Michigan State’s reliance on Keith Appling. “If Appling is effective, then the Spartans are arguably the best in the country, and without him, they lack the leadership to make the Final Four.” Fast-forward six months from that piece, and we saw Appling average two points per game during four games in the NCAA Tournament (that is not a typo). Tom Izzo’s offense looked completely lost during the final 10 minutes of its Elite Eight loss against Connecticut, and they were headed down a similar path against Virginia  before Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson muscled their way to a victory. This particular discussion is not about why Appling was so ineffective because it is likely that he was still hurting from his wrist injury and just could never get back to 100 percent. Instead, the last two weeks proves the importance of Izzo’s dependence on effective point guard play, because every one of his Final Four teams relied heavily on a true point guard who could lead the team during crunch time.

Tom Izzo's teams are at their best with an effective point guard.

Tom Izzo’s teams are at their best with an effective point guard. (Getty)

Let’s start with the late 1990s when Izzo raised Michigan State basketball to a whole new level on the national stage by taking them to three straight Final Fours. There was a guy named Mateen Cleaves who had a pretty good handle on running the point, essentially acting as an extension of Izzo on the court. Even after Cleaves graduated, Charlie Bell handled the point guard duties effectively in the half-court, while the emergence of Jason Richardson on the wing improved the overall offense. Following that three-year stretch of playing on the last weekend, Izzo couldn’t get them back to the Final Four even though he recruited some excellent guards – Chris Hill and Maurice Ager were excellent scorers, but they couldn’t command the offense because of their skill sets better suited for calling their own numbers. Then came Drew Neitzel, a true point guard who was comfortable dishing the ball and letting the talented wings produce the bulk of the offense. Without Neitzel, Hill and Alan Anderson would have been the first set of seniors that would have graduated under Izzo without making a Final Four (until this year of course). Consider the next two Final Four appearances by the Spartans and another effective point guard, Kalin Lucas, dominated on both ends of the floor. Lucas was hurt during the NCAA Tournament for one of those runs, but Korie Lucious was able to step in effectively to cover the point guard position.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Connecticut 60, #4 Michigan State 54

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 30th, 2014

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Brian Otskey (@botskey) is RTC’s NCAA East Regional correspondent.

Three key takeaways.

  1. Vintage Connecticut. Kevin Ollie only took over the Connecticut job last season but he has wasted no time in carrying on Jim Calhoun’s legacy of hard-nosed defense. The Huskies limited Michigan State to 39.1 percent shooting and, more importantly, kept them out of the paint and off the free throw line. It was a game of runs with Connecticut jumping out to an early lead, Michigan State firing back and the Huskies eventually closing the door. The Huskies did a great job limiting any dribble penetration by the Spartans and swarmed Adreian Payne any time he touched the ball deep in the post. In the end, it was consistent defense and a great game plan by Kevin Ollie and his players that carried them to the win.
  2. Michigan State couldn’t get anything inside.  For the game, Michigan State was limited to six points in the paint. With Gary Harris (who had a great game) content to shoot jumpers and Keith Appling still bothered by a nagging injury, the Spartans got very little, if any, dribble penetration. When they looked for Payne in the post, he was double or even tripled teamed at times. After a great game against Virginia on Friday night, Branden Dawson (five points) was a non-factor against the physical Huskies. With Michigan State content on shooting jumpers (29 of its 46 shots were three pointers), it also had great difficulty getting to the free throw line. The inability to score inside and get to the line was Michigan State’s downfall in this game.
  3. The free throw line made the difference. Coming into the game, more focus was on the great perimeter shooting both teams featured. That proved not to be the deciding factor in any way as Michigan State was 15 percentage points better than Connecticut from deep. However, it was the free throw line that won this one for the Huskies. Connecticut made 21-of-22 free throws (95.5 percent) while Michigan State only made eight trips to the charity stripe. The Spartans, who entered today’s action ranked an abysmal No. 316 in free throw rate, simply shot too many jumpers and never adjusted to what the Huskies were doing defensively in the paint. With Appling’s injury still being a factor, Michigan State just could not get any dribble penetration and their half court offense looked rather stagnant. Give the Huskies credit for not fouling, too. They recorded only 12 fouls for the game.

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East Region Final Analysis: Michigan State vs. Connecticut

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 30th, 2014

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#4 Michigan State vs. #7 Connecticut – East Regional Final (at New York, NY) – 2:20 PM ET on CBS

Cinderella story Connecticut is on the precipice of its fifth Final Four in school history, but to get there the Huskies will have to get past a focused group of Spartans. Michigan State outlasted Virginia on Friday evening in what was a good old-fashioned slugfest. Should the Spartans get past the Huskies on Sunday afternoon in New York, Tom Izzo’s streak of sending every four-year player he has coached at Michigan State to a Final Four will continue.

Can Izzo Lead The Spartans To Another Final Four?

While Connecticut has rebounded the basketball very well in this tournament, it has to be a concern for Kevin Ollie ahead of this game. The statistics show Michigan State is a much better rebounding team and that will result in crucial bonus possessions for the Spartans if it proves to be the case. As always, Izzo’s teams pride themselves on toughness, defense and rebounding. On the boards, the athletic Spartans have a significant edge. The Huskies will need DeAndre Daniels to have a similar game to the one he had against Iowa State on Friday, although going up against Adreian Payne and company will be much more difficult than an undersized and shorthanded Iowa State group. Offensively, Connecticut must shoot the ball well from the perimeter and get good dribble penetration from Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier. A combination of those two things is the only way the Huskies can open up the floor and break down Michigan State’s defense. Napier, who has been turnover-prone over his career, must take good care of the basketball as to not fuel the lethal Spartans transition game.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Michigan State 61, #1 Virginia 59

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 28th, 2014

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Brian Otskey is RTC’s NCAA East Regional correspondent.

Three key takeaways.

Adreian Payne and Sparty advanced to Sunday in a hard fought game. (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

Adreian Payne and Sparty advanced to Sunday in a hard fought game. (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

  1. A heavyweight fight. It was a shame that one of these teams had to go home. This game seemed more like a national semifinal than a regional semifinal when you combine the quality of play and the atmosphere in the arena. The defense from both sides was incredible as neither team took a single play off. It was a great battle between two coaches who have instilled heart, toughness and a commitment to defense into their respective programs. The Spartans were down a possession or two most of the early part of the second half but never once packed it in. They kept going to what was working and that was Branden Dawson in the paint. This relentless attitude was also on display when looking at Virginia. All in all, what a tremendous regional semifinal this was. The Spartans earned this victory.
  2. Michigan State discovered the low post. In a game packed with bruising defense on both sides, the Spartans out-toughed the Cavaliers on the low block. Dawson and Adreian Payne in particular were phenomenal and threw down some thunderous dunks in the process. A second half 13-2 MSU run sparked the comeback and the Spartans guards found their forwards with terrific penetration and interior passing to boot. Sparty scored 30 points in the paint to Virginia’s 22.Tom Izzo’s team had the look of a determined team from the beginning of this game and came up big in a terrific 40-minute effort that looked like the vintage Izzo teams of the past.
  3. Defense is the name of the game in March. Countless times we have seen mediocre defensive teams get bounced out of the NCAA tournament early, including Creighton and Duke this season. There is a reason that, in the Ken Pomeroy advanced statistics era, elite defensive teams win the national championship. Both teams fit that bill tonight but Michigan State was just a little bit better for all 40 minutes. While Michigan State entered the game with an adjusted defensive efficiency ranked No. 40 nationally, the effort tonight shows that if the Spartans are to lose, it likely will not be because of failings on the defensive end.

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Previewing Michigan State vs. Virginia in the Sweet Sixteen

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on March 28th, 2014

It’s been an enigmatic season for Michigan State due to a host of injuries and resulting inconsistent play. For seniors Keith Appling and Adreian Payne, it’s been four years without a Final Four, a relative disappointment. Stress the word “relative” here, because compiling a record of 103-40 over four years would be roundly successful in 99 percent of other programs. But in East Lansing, a team that starts the season ranked #2 and ends up as a #4 seed in the NCAA Tournament is viewed as disappointing. As for those seniors — despite two Elite Eight and one Sweet Sixteen appearance — failure to make the Final Four this year would earn this group the distinction of being the only class in the Tom Izzo era without a trip to the NCAA Tournament’s final weekend. Tonight Sparty looks to remove that monkey off its back as it meets Virginia in the Sweet Sixteen.

Adreian Payne has made his presence known in the NCAA Tournament thus far. Virginia stands in his way as he vies for a trip to the Final Four. (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

Virginia stands in Adreian Payne’s way as he vies for a trip to the Final Four. (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

The Cavaliers are not regulars in the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend; it’s the school’s first appearance in the Sweet Sixteen since 1995. This run marks the culmination of all that was expected of head coach Tony Bennett when he was hired from Washington State five years ago. While he had only made one NCAA Tournament appearance in the previous four seasons, a trip back to the Big Dance and a top four finish in the ACC was expected from this squad due to its top five scorers returning. Bennett’s team far surpassed expectations by sweeping the ACC regular season and tournament, which garnered the Cavaliers a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. What may be most shocking is that Bennett accomplished all of this with a system traditionally more tailored for the Big Ten than the up-and-down ACC (although in some ways that is changing there too). Their slow-paced – averaging 61 possessions per game, near the very bottom nationally — and defensive-focused system has stifled some high-powered offenses in that league.

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen, Friday Night

Posted by Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) & Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 28th, 2014

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Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent, and Brian Otskey (@botskey) is the NCAA Tournament’s East Region correspondent. Make sure to also follow @RTCMidwestRegion and @RTCEastRegion for news and analysis from Indianapolis and New York City throughout the weekend.

#2 Michigan vs. #11 Tennessee – Midwest Region Sweet 16 (from Indianapolis, IN) – at 7:15 PM EST on CBS

Tennessee was not supposed to be in this position. It barely found its way into the NCAA Tournament. In fact, the Volunteers had to travel to Dayton last Wednesday to take on Iowa to even advance to the round of 64. Tennessee got by the Hawkeyes in overtime and that was only the beginning of its winning ways. In Raleigh, Cuonzo Martin’s squad was able to throttle Massachusetts and take advantage of Duke’s stunning loss to Mercer by dismantling Bob Hoffman’s Bears in the round of 32 to advance to the Sweet 16. Leading the way thus far for Tennessee has been the spectacular play of forward Jarnell Stokes. The junior has been nothing short of dominant in the team’s recent run, as he is averaging 20.3 points and 15 rebounds in his last three games. The Volunteers have also received a lift from guard Josh Richardson. The junior, who averaged 10.1 points per game in the regular season, has stepped up his play in the tournament, as he is averaging 19.3 points per contest. As a team, the Volunteers’ performance on the rebounding glass has aided tremendously in taking them to the Sweet 16. Tennessee has been an excellent rebounding team all season and its rebounding prowess was never more on display than in Sunday’s victory over Mercer. The Volunteers had a sensational 41-19 rebounding advantage over the Bears in the winning effort.

Expect plenty of fireworks between these two guys Friday night. (Getty & USA TODAY Sports)

Expect plenty of fireworks between these two guys Friday night. (Getty & USA TODAY Sports)

Michigan will take the court in Indianapolis after a relatively easy first weekend in Milwaukee. The Wolverines cruised to a 17-point victory in the round of 64 over an undermanned Wofford squad before wearing down Texas in a 14-point victory. John Beilein’s team has been an outstanding perimeter shooting offense and that has carried over into the postseason. The Wolverines hit a combined 21 three-pointers in the two victories. Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas hit seven of those 21 triples an was the team’s leading scorer in each victory. Michigan’s frontcourt has been seen as a concern since sophomore big man Mitch McGary was lost to a back injury in late December, but forward Jordan Morgan showed he is a capable post presence with his performances in Milwaukee. The senior averaged 12.5 points and 10 rebounds against Wofford and Texas, while living up to his reputation as a solid interior defender. In Friday’s game, it should be expected that both teams will play to their strengths. Tennessee will try to use its size advantage to the dominate the interior and Michigan will attempt to get its perimeter shooting going early and often. Texas had a great advantage over Michigan in size too, but the Wolverines were able to wear the Longhorn bigs down through a terrific transition effort and solid offensive spacing. It would be wise to expect Michigan to do the same Friday. Tennessee will keep close throughout much of the game, but the shot-making ability of Stauskas, Caris LeVert, and Glenn Robinson III will ultimately be too much for the Volunteers to overcome. Two-seed Michigan will win the game to advance to its second straight Elite Eight.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan

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Which Big Ten Program Needs The Final Four More This Season?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on March 27th, 2014

We know about the statistic that no Michigan State senior has left East Lansing without making it to the Final Four under Tom Izzo, which makes this weekend extremely crucial for Keith Appling and Adreian Payne. We also know that Bo Ryan hasn’t made an Elite Eight since 2005 and hasn’t had great success in the postseason, so this high-powered Wisconsin offense has a decent chance to make it to the Final Four. Nobody expected Michigan to be here after Mitch McGary’s injury, but we have learned not to doubt the Wolverines’ explosive offense because they could beat anybody on a given night. As we head into the next round of games, let’s try to understand which coach and program really needs the Final Four. Note that this is not a discussion about which coach would be on the “hot seat” if they don’t make the Final Four because Tom Izzo, Bo Ryan and John Beilein’s seat is as cold as it can get based on the credibility they have earned with their respective programs.

Tom Izzo's roster doesn't look great next year and the opportunity to make the Final Four may not come around for a couple more years.

Tom Izzo’s roster doesn’t look great next year and the opportunity to make the Final Four may not come around for a couple more years. (AP)

  • Michigan State: On the outset, an appearance in the Sweet 16 seems to be perfectly enough for Izzo because his program continues to uphold its reputation of being excellent in the postseason. But digging deeper and understanding his roster’s composition over the next two seasons emphasizes the importance of this weekend. Under the assumption that Gary Harris is headed to the NBA draft and considering that two key seniors graduate next year, the Spartans don’t really have a go-to scorer left on the roster. Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice are capable of possibly averaging 12 points per game next season but neither of them have proved that they can take over a game when needed. The freshman class isn’t great either because it doesn’t even rank in the top 30 according to Rivals. Izzo will still find a way to compete for the Big Ten title but he may not have enough horsepower to compete for a Final Four — at least not for another two seasons. This weekend is their chance to make an impact and get ahead before they take a step back at least for another year as they rebuild. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 03.27.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on March 27th, 2014

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  1. Wisconsin is certainly used to the Sweet Sixteen and plenty of success under Bo Ryan. Part of the reason for that is how Ryan instills the “method of deception” into his players from the moment they arrive on campus. For a team that is often talked about as athletically outmatched, the idea of Ryan preaching the use of ball fakes and shot fakes during every practice makes sense. This could be important in creating opportunities against Baylor’s zone tonight. The Badgers may also use these fakes to get Isaiah Austin into the air and create foul trouble for the athletic big man. If Wisconsin can remove Austin from the center of that zone, their chances of finding open shots everywhere on the floor improves substantially.
  2. Nik Stauskas certainly was one of the biggest surprises this season in the Big Ten. After he was named first team All-America by the National Association of Basketball Coaches this week, you can add that he is one of the nation’s biggest surprises as well. Stauskas was certainly a good player as a freshman last season but expecting him to be one of the five best players in America this year was on nobody’s radar. With this award, he has put himself in elite company at Michigan, becoming just the 13th Wolverine to be named to at least one All-America team in program history. Now the question is whether he, like last year’s Michigan All-American Trey Burke, can lead his team to a Final Four?
  3. Michigan State has played plenty of big games in almost all the major venues across the country. Tom Izzo has taken the Spartans around the world and even played a game on an aircraft carrier. For all of this talent and history of success, the one place that Izzo’s Spartans have struggled is exactly where they are headed this weekend: Madison Square Garden. When Michigan State takes on Virginia in New York City Friday night, it does so with a 2-10 all-time record there (2-6 under Izzo). Sparty hasn’t won at MSG since 2006 and already lost there once this year to Georgetown. While it is obviously foolish to think the arena itself is causing losses, it is an interesting trend to think about. Izzo says he isn’t superstitious but if the losses keep piling up at MSG maybe he will avoid the arena the best he can in the future.
  4. With three Big Ten teams left in the NCAA Tournament it is easy to forget that Minnesota is still playing basketball as well. The Golden Gophers are headed to New York next Tuesday night where they will take on Florida State in the NIT semifinals, thanks in large part to a massive game from Austin Hollins. For a team playing in the NIT rather than the NCAAs, they are still plenty focused on the games ahead and getting to 25 wins this season. While there is no guaranteed correlation between NIT success and the next season, Richard Pitino’s Gophers are playing well and could easily take home some postseason hardware by the end of the season.
  5. It is easy to forget that Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan has never reached the final weekend in college basketball despite everything he has accomplished while at Wisconsin. Having never reached the Final Four gives him the dubious honor of being named the Athlon Sports Top Coach Without a Final Four Appearance. He wasn’t the lone representative from the conference, either. Iowa’s Fran McCaffery came in 11th, Purdue’s Matt Painter at 14th and even Nebraska’s Tim Miles cracked the top 20 at #17. This is certainly not a list any coach wants to reside on and Ryan has a great opportunity to leave it in his wake this weekend.
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