The Best Of 2013 In College Basketball

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 31st, 2013

With 2013 winding to a close, it’s time to take a look back at the year that was in college basketball. There were too many memorable moments to recount ‘em all, but here’s our honor roll for the last calendar year — a list laced with games, plays, and performances that will long struggle to escape our memory banks.

Best Game: Michigan vs. Kansas, NCAA Tournament, Sweet Sixteen

Trey Burke's Last-Gasp Sweet-16 Heroics Will Surely Be One Of 2013's Prevailing Memories

Trey Burke’s Last-Gasp Sweet-16 Heroics Will Surely Be One Of 2013’s Prevailing Memories

Gonzaga-Butler may have given us the best final seconds of regulation (see below), and Louisville-Notre Dame definitely donated the most riveting 25 minutes of action after regulation, but when talking games of the year, Michigan vs. Kansas was simply unmatched when it came to elevated stakes and elite talent. We won’t soon forget Trey Burke’s comeback-capping, game-tying three to force overtime, but it would be a shame if that’s all that lived on from this classic. Sweet Sixteen match-ups between national title contenders don’t come around every March; would you have bet against Kansas to get to Championship Monday if Burke’s three hadn’t found the bottom of the net on that Friday night?

Honorable Mention: Gonzaga at Butler, Louisville at Notre Dame.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Miami 63, #7 Illinois 59

Posted by WCarey on March 24th, 2013

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Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 32 NCAA Tournament game between #2 Miami and #7 Illinois in Austin.

Three Key Takeaways.

Miami Outlasted the Surging Illini Sunday (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Miami Outlasted the Surging Illini Sunday (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

  1. The way Miami won this game was important. The Hurricanes have received a great deal of national attention due to the fact that their roster had zero NCAA Tournament experience before this year’s event. Miami coasted to an easy win over Pacific in its first game, but as a two-seed, that type of win is expected. Needing a test to prove its NCAA Tournament toughness, the Hurricanes definitely received one from Illinois. The Illini took a 55-54 lead with 1:24 to play and Miami kept its collective cool and was able to come back and grab the victory. On the possession after Illinois took the lead, Miami sophomore guard Shane Larkin nailed a ridiculously difficult step back three-pointer at the 1:04 mark to give the Hurricanes a two-point lead. Miami was able to maintain that lead and earn the victory by calmly going 6-of-6 from the free throw line down the stretch and not allowing Illinois to get anything easy on the offensive end of the court.
  2. Illinois deserves a lot of credit for the way it played. The Illini did not shoot the ball very well all night – just 37.7% from the field and 25.9% from three – but it fought hard all game and pushed Miami to the brink. In his postgame remarks, Illini coach John Groce spoke of how his team has battled hard all season and that they have gotten contributions from everyone all season. That was definitely the case against Miami, as different guys stepped up in different spots to make an impact. On a night where the usually solid D.J. Richardson was just 1-of-11 from the field, senior forward Tyler Griffey stepped up for the Illini with 12 huge points on a 4-of-6 performance from deep. Sophomore forward Nnanna Egwu was a force inside all night, as he finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds while playing very rugged defense against the Miami frontline. Senior guard Brandon Paul struggled at-times with his shot, but he certainly showcased his ability to take over a game with his performance Sunday night. The Illini might not have been victorious, but their effort and the way they played was certainly admirable.
  3. A blown call definitely had an impact on the game. When Richardson missed a three-point attempt with 43 seconds to play in what was a 57-55 game at the time, it clearly looked like the ball last touched the hand of Miami forward Kenny Kadji before going out-of-bounds. The ball was incorrectly rewarded to Miami, which resulted in guard Durand Scott nailing two clutch free throws to give the Hurricanes a four-point lead. While the Illini were able to trim the lead down to two again with 22 seconds to play, they never again had the chance to tie. There were many other reasons why Miami won and Illinois lost, but this call certainly had an impact on the last 43 seconds of what was a thrilling game.

Star(s) of the Game. Rion Brown and Shane Larkin, Miami. The junior Brown was outstanding for the Hurricanes off the bench. He finished with 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field and 5-of-10 shooting from deep. In a game where every shot was crucial, it seemed like every one Brown made was of great importance to the outcome of the game. Larkin turned in a normal stellar performance – 17 points and five assists – but the reason he makes this category is due to the ridiculous step back three-pointer he nailed to give his team a lead it would never relinquish with one minute to play.

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D.J.Richardson Has Been The Key To Illinois’ Turnaround

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on February 18th, 2013

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

About a month ago, Illinois was reeling in the Big Ten because they were upset by Northwestern in Champaign. The 68-54 loss came at the worst time after they were hammered by the Badgers in Madison four day earlier by 23 points. The loss to Purdue to kick off the Big Ten season could have been put aside as an aberration, but the loss to the Wildcats proved that the Illini would have to earn every one of their wins in the Big Ten. But a month later, optimism may be back again in Champaign as they returned the favor to the Wildcats in Evanston with a 62-41 route last night. John Groce‘s team hasn’t really changed their offensive philosophy during the last month – they still depend on the deep shot for most of their offense but senior D.J. Richardson has turned it up over the past four weeks, regardless of the outcome of the game. He has averaged 17.5 PPG and 4 RPG over the last eight games and has clearly asserted himself as the leader of the team during the tough stretch.

Senior guard D.J.Richardson has been the key to Illinois' turnaround over the past few weeks.

Senior guard D.J.Richardson has been the key to Illinois’ turnaround over the past few weeks.

Fellow senior guard Brandon Paul is still the best scoring option but Richardson is their best shooter from beyond the arc and has been their best defender on the perimeter. During the 1-4 start in conference play, the Illini went cold from the long range and appeared clueless on defense. Something had to change and it started with defense as Richardson led the charge. The same Wildcats team that shot 8-15 (53% 3FG) from beyond the arc in Champaign couldn’t find the rim last night as they shot just 5-27 (18% 3FG) from deep. Richardson’s efforts were not fruitful immediately because they lost three more games to Michigan, Michigan State, and Wisconsin, but the perseverance paid off as he scored 23 points against Indiana and the Illini finally cracked through in the Big Ten against a top team to save their season. Tyler Griffey‘s last second layup has been well publicized but without Richardson’s intensity, the game wouldn’t have been tied at the end.

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Big Ten M5: 01.15.13 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on January 15th, 2013

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  1. Every Spartan fan gasped when they saw Michigan State wing Branden Dawson holding his knee as he lay on the court against the Cornhuskers on Sunday. But head coach Tom Izzo has confirmed that everything is fine with his knee and he will be ready to play against Penn State on Wednesday. The sophomore has averaged 10.5 PPG and 6.1 RPG this season but is very instrumental on the defensive end of the court. Dawson can guard multiple positions including the wing or the power forward slots because of his 230-pound frame. His teammates needs his intensity as the Spartans will host Ohio State on Saturday in East Lansing.
  2. We tend to forget that freshmen can get frazzled on the road during big games and Michigan’s loss to Ohio State on Sunday has reminded us that even the best freshmen such as Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III can have a tough time. Even Wolverines’ head coach John Beilein admitted that the game might have been too big for his newcomers. Stauskas, who has averaged 13.5 PPG this season, was held scoreless in the game and missed all three of his shots from beyond the arc. The freshmen played well against Kansas State and Arkansas but a true road atmosphere against a rival team can throw a curve at the best of them. Robinson (12.3 PPG) scored eight points but shot just 3-of-9 from the field and was exposed defensively while guarding Deshaun Thomas and Lenzelle Smith Jr.
  3. Speaking of Ohio State, the Buckeyes rose to the occasion to prevent their arch-rival from claiming the top national ranking. The rivalry between both programs is much bigger in football but the basketball players still care about the big game. Senior forward Evan Ravenel was very happy that he contributed in the huge win. The forward had a big-time dunk off the baseline during the final few minutes of the game, and ended up with six points. Deshaun Thomas also torched the Wolverines for 20 points and constantly attacked the basket during the second half.
  4. Indiana head coach Tom Crean has seen the Hoosiers program at its lowest point but now has them playing great basketball by following a disciplined but patient approach to the game. As the Hoosiers get ready to face Wisconsin at home tonight, Crean talked about how the “process” is finally paying off. The “process” this week is to understand how to put teams away after building a big lead. Jordan Hulls (53% 3FG) and his teammates ran out to a massive lead against the Gophers in the first half but only beat them by seven points because they couldn’t stop Minnesota from scoring in the second half. When asked about the game, Crean added, “We got complacent. We have to have that same edge, that same burst, we had in the first half.”
  5. After getting outplayed in every aspect of the game against Wisconsin (74-51), Illinois head coach John Groce is open to making several changes with his offense. One of the players who might be replaced in the starting lineup is senior forward Tyler Griffey. Griffey has averaged 7.8 PPG this season but hasn’t been effective since the team’s loss to Missouri, during which he scored 14 points. Groce needs consistent rebounding because once Nnanna Egwu (4.3 PPG) gets into foul trouble as he did against Wisconsin, the Illini simply get dominated on the boards. Mike Shaw, a 6’8″ forward who has played a total of 20 minutes all season long, saw 19 minutes of action against Wisconsin and impressed his coach with his effort. Groce complimented Shaw’s performance when asked about a bright spot from the game: “Mike Shaw played like his head was held under water. That’s what I’m looking for.”
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Tyler Griffey Looks Like a Brand New Player In John Groce’s Offense

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on December 4th, 2012

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

Illinois head coach John Groce talked at length about instilling confidence into the Illini during the offseason. He talked about pushing the tempo. He talked about making the players tougher specifically during the late stretches of the game. After an 8-0 start, it is very clear that there is a change to these Illini when compared to last season. Winning the Maui Invitational and pulling out gutsy wins against Gardner-Webb and Georgia Tech in Champaign proves that Groce’s coaching style is beginning to work. No other player has benefited the most from the new coaching staff after the first three weeks than senior forward Tyler Griffey. An overall offensive philosophy that includes a reliance on the three-point shot helps Griffey because of his inherent strengths, including great range on his jumper and also the ability to handle the ball in half-court sets. Let’s examine how the new coaching staff has affected Griffey’s performance on the court.

Tyler Griffey has been extremely effective under the new coaching staff in Champaign

  1. Groce won’t bench him for a shooting slump: Griffey likes to shoot and the best shooters always try to shoot their way out of slumps. Confidence is huge for perimeter-oriented players and they shouldn’t be penalized for taking an ill-advised shot once in a while. Groce’s offensive schemes rely on guards who can handle the ball but who also can shoot from multiple spots on the floor. Griffey is no longer afraid to take a good shot and miss because he isn’t looking over his shoulder to the bench hoping that he isn’t pulled from the game. Over the past couple of seasons, if Griffey missed a few consecutive shots, it was likely that ex-coach Bruce Weber would bench him and make him think about those misses for an extended period of time. Sure, Griffey isn’t the greatest defender because he has a tough time against bigger forwards, but his offensive skills can outweigh his defensive drawbacks when he catches fire from beyond the arc. By riding the bench for a while, a shooter’s confidence gets rattled and Griffey felt like he could never get into a consistent rhythm during his first three seasons. But under the new coaching regime, he can afford to miss a couple of wide-open shots here and there before finding his rhythm. A perfect example was his performance in the Gardner-Webb game. A few days beforehand, Griffey was absolutely on fire in Maui as he shot 7-9 from beyond the arc and scored a total of 34 points. During the G-W game, he was 1-7 at one point in the second half, but Groce stuck with him even when the game was down to the wire and it paid off as he drilled a three-pointer to take the lead with two seconds left. Shooting yourself out of a slump and hitting the big shot is just as much of a confidence booster as it is to shoot over 75% during a three night stretch at Maui. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 11.30.12 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 30th, 2012

  1. Tubby Smith’s Gophers are rolling and have shown great depth but Trevor Mbakwe’s playing time has been limited. Gopher fans might wonder why Mbakwe isn’t starting but Smith is trying to shape the other players’ roles as Mbakwe returns to 100% game shape. Elliott Eliason has earned his spot at the forward position during Mbakwe’s recovery and plays a bruising style of basketball that Smith appreciates. Mbakwe will eventually return to the starting lineup and his athleticism will certainly improve the Gophers, but Eliason provides a different type of game that can complement Mbakwe”s skill set. Eliason pulled down 10 rebounds against a tough Florida State squad on Tuesday night and showed why he can add value. Regardless of when Mbakwe returns to the starting lineup, Eliason’s development will only help Minnesota as they appear to be one of the top five teams in the B1G this season.
  2. Tom Izzo prefers to play a traditional lineup with a center and a power forward rather than four guards and a center. He has played Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne together for most of the Spartans’ games this season but he might move away from that lineup soon. Nix has great post moves and Payne can run the floor with the best of them; together, they can cause unique match-up problems to opposing teams but it could also lead to spacing issues on the floor with both of them cloggin the lane inside. Nix and Payne struggled on the road against Miami earlier this week and Izzo might try to experiment by playing four guards on the court at the same time to mix things up over the next few games.
  3. Is there a “Free Laquinton Ross” movement waiting to happen? Ohio State played an excellent game for 34 minutes on the road against Duke on Wednesday night but fans might be wondering when the sophomore wing will get more playing time. Ross only played 11 minutes but scored nine points against the Blue Devils while another sophomore wing, Sam Thompson, played 25 minutes. Thompson is a bit more mature on the defensive end but Ross can put up points quickly if given a chance. If Ross improves defensively, Matta might give him more minutes but it is only a matter of time before he has a big impact on games. The Duke game proved that the Buckeyes will be a very competitive team throughout the season in large part due to their depth at the wing position.
  4. Speaking of players who have been let loose this season, Illinois’ Tyler Griffey looks like a brand new player in Champaign. Griffey is not a traditional forward who likes to play in the paint but he has a great jumpshot and the new coaching staff has convinced him to pull the trigger from beyond the arc whenever he wants this season. Griffey has been shooting a whopping 56% from beyond the arc thus far and he hit the game winning shot against Gardner-Webb at home last Sunday afternoon. He will continue to play a significant role in the Illini resurgence as head coach Johen Groce’s offense relies on players who can consistently shoot the ball from anywhere on the floor.
  5. Michigan’s Trey Burke could have entered last year’s NBA Draft and probably would have been picked in the first round but he decided to come back for another season in Ann Arbor to lead his team to a Final Four. After a hot start during the first two weeks of the season, he is quickly rising up the NBA Draft boards as one of the best point guards eligible for next year’s draft. Burke has been shooting 48% from the field but his assists have gone up from 4.5 to 7.6 APG as well this year. The sophomore has adapted very well to playing as a true point guard and it should continue to bolster his position on the draft boards especially if Michigan makes a deep run in March.
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Two Key Observations From Illinois’ Win Over USC in Maui

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 20th, 2012

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

In case you did not stay up until the wee hours on Monday night to watch the Maui Invitational, you probably missed Illinois’ dominating 30-point win over Southern California. The Trojans brought in a slew of talented transfers this season and are expected to be competitive in the Pac-12 and potentially make a run at an NCAA bid. The game was supposed to a close contest between two good teams but John Groce’s Illini took off with the game immediately from the tip-off. The Illini shot 45% from beyond the arc on their way to building a 30-point lead during the first half. Illinois fans are cautiously optimistic about their team because they have been used to late season slumps after a hot start, but last night’s group had a different feel to them. There was an extra hop to the steps of DJ Richardson and Brandon Paul and company that was non-existent during the last two months of the 2011-12 season. Keeping in mind that it is just one game against a team that is not a juggernaut, the following are two key takeaways from last night’s game:

D.J. Richardson and the Illini look like a revamped group so far this season.

  1. Defensive Intensity: When Illinois played three guards (D.J. Richardson, Brandon Paul and Tracy Abrams) along with a wing (Myke Henry or Joe Bertrand), they were very quick on defense in disrupting the passing lanes. They lack the depth in the frontcourt and may be exposed in the paint but the guards caused a ruckus by being extremely active and pressing the ball-handlers in the half court sets. The Illini big men – Nnanna Egwu and Tyler Griffey, may not be able to defend the post effectively which means that the opponents can push the ball inside but this strategy will backfire if the Illini guards make it very tough for the guards to make an effective entry pass. The USC forwards — Aaron Fuller and Eric Wise -– were never truly comfortable in the paint because their guards could not settle down. During most of the Trojans’ inbound plays, Egwu jumped up and down in front of the  player who was trying to inbound the ball which forced him to throw the pass to the other end of the court and a reset of their offense all over again. Paul, Bertrand and Abrams were all over the USC guards and forced 16 turnovers including 11 steals. Every Illini fan is expecting the guards to push the tempo offensively but Groce might have convinced them to make a difference on the defense immediately. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Big Ten Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 21st, 2012

Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference. Follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp) for his thoughts on hoops, food, box fans and life.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Boiling Over: Give credit to Matt Painter for making a difficult decision in the stretch run of a season. Painter kicked Kelsey Barlow off the team and suspended D.J. Byrd for the Michigan State game for a “violation of team rules.” They’ll miss Barlow’s experience and slashing ability, but sometimes this kind of incident can galvanize a team.
  • Lincoln > Land of Lincoln: Any doubts about whether Illinois was still playing for embattled head coach Bruce Weber were answered when Nebraska used a 52-12 run to bury the Illini, 80-57, on Sunday. Brandon Paul and Meyers Leonard combined for 11 total points. You just can’t let the worst offensive team in the Big Ten put up 80 on you. Illinois has now lost eight of its last nine games and Weber seems resigned to his likely fate (see video below).
  • Shurna Can Score: Congrats to John Shurna, a nice kid and a fantastic (if unorthodox) scorer who is now the all-time leading scorer in Northwestern history. His deep three-pointer midway through the second half against Minnesota gave him 18 points to surpass Billy McKinney (1,900 points).  More importantly to Shurna, the Wildcats picked up a win to stay in the hunt for first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.

The Spartans And Buckeyes Have Company At The Top Of The Standings. (AP/Carlos Osorio)

Power Rankings

  1. Michigan State (22-5, 11-3) – Not since Tim Duncan in 1997-98 has a player averaged more than 15 points per game, 10 rebounds a game and three assists per game. But Draymond Green has done just that, and he continued to show his versatility on Sunday at Purdue with a 20-point, 10 rebound and seven-assist performance to lead the Spartans to a road win. He has to be the Big Ten POY if MSU wins the conference.
  2. Ohio State (22-5, 10-4) – William Buford has had big games for Ohio State this season, but his struggles late in the regular season may cost Ohio State a Big Ten crown. He shot a combined 5-for-24 in the Buckeyes’ losses to Michigan State and Michigan, and just hasn’t shown the big game leadership that you would expect out of a senior. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Big Ten Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 3rd, 2012

Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference. Follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp) for his thoughts on hoops, food, Russian nesting dolls and life.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was:

  • B1G is the Country’s Deepest Conference: With nine teams ranked 52nd or higher in the RPI, the Big Ten is the deepest and best conference – top-to-bottom – in the nation this season. The depth of the conference was never more evident than on Saturday, when Iowa hung 75 in a win at Wisconsin and Nebraska hung close with Michigan State deep into the second half. If you don’t come to play on nightly basis in this conference, even the league’s bottom-feeders can pop you with a loss. Expect the conference’s lofty records (and rankings) to diminish some over the next couple of months as the league beats each other up in Big Ten play.
  • Michigan State – So Hot Right Now: Few teams in the country are rolling like Michigan State. The Big Ten leaders sit atop the standings and are currently riding a 13-game winning streak after opening up conference play with an emphatic win over Indiana and a resilient effort at Nebraska. They have their normal interior size and strength with Draymond Green, Derrick Nix, and Adreian Payne, but Keith Appling – a player that Tom Izzo has called “the fastest point guard he’s ever coached” – is really starting to assert himself. The 6’1’’ sophomore had 25 points and seven assists against Indiana then contributed 14 point and six dimes against the Huskers.
  • Giant Killers: For the first time in its illustrious program’s history, Indiana has defeated the No. 1- and 2-ranked teams in the country in the same season. Assembly Hall has always been an intimidating place to play for opponents, with its combination of raucous fans and rich tradition. The key for the Hoosiers to make this a special season will be to duplicate that success on the road.

Tom Crean Tells Us How Many Wins His Hoosiers Have Over Top Five Teams This Season.

Power Rankings

  1. Ohio State (13-2, 1-1) – It might not have seemed like much at the time, but the dubious call that wiped out Jared Sullinger’s lay-up and sent him to the bench in the first half with his second foul against Indiana proved to be enormous. That early foul trouble limited the OSU center’s playing time (nine minutes) and production (five points, two rebounds) in the first half. William Buford was as absent against the Hoosiers (eight points and four rebounds) as he was dominant against Northwestern (28/9) in the conference opener.
  2. Michigan State (13-2, 2-0) – How do you respond when you’ve built a 19-point lead at home, only to watch it disappear after a 25-2 run by your opponent? You go on a 20-0 spurt of your own to regain control of the game. Coming off an emotional victory against Indiana in East Lansing on Wednesday, it’s no surprise that Michigan State came out flat against Nebraska and trailed at halftime. They righted the ship in the second half though, and ended up beating the Cornhuskers by 13. When Michigan State is on their game and playing the kind of hard-nosed, physical brand of basketball that Tom Izzo loves, they are as good as anyone in the Big Ten. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your TiVo: New Year’s Weekend Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 30th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the official RTC Star System.

A quality Friday night Big East game leads us into a Saturday full of terrific matchups. There are a couple good games on Sunday, but if you’re going to watch any basketball around the New Year’s holiday, make sure you are in front of a television on Saturday.

West Virginia @ Seton Hall – 9:00 PM EST Friday on ESPN2 (***)

Kevin Jones Has His Mountaineers Surging

  • Since losing at Mississippi State four weeks ago, West Virginia has reeled off six wins in seven tries with the only loss coming in overtime to a top 10 Baylor squad. The Mountaineers have an imposing trio of Kevin Jones, Truck Bryant and Deniz Kilicli but the timely contributions of freshmen such as Jabarie Hinds, Gary Browne, and Aaron Brown have pushed West Virginia over the top in a few of these close games. Bob Huggins runs the vast majority of his offensive sets through Bryant and Jones with Kilicli chipping in as well. West Virginia is not a good outside shooting team but it should be able to take advantage of Seton Hall’s interior defense, rated #258 in two-point percentage.
  • Seton Hall ran out to a hot 11-1 start but the reality check came at the hands of Fab Melo and top-ranked Syracuse on Wednesday night. Melo blocked 10 Pirate shots in the blowout win, a game that got out of hand shortly after the opening tip for Seton Hall. Kevin Willard’s team needs to rebound in a big way tonight, the second of three difficult games to open their Big East schedule. Going up against Jones, Herb Pope has to stay on the floor and play a strong game. After a strong start to his season, Pope has averaged only 8.7 PPG over his last three outings. If he doesn’t get well into double figures, Seton Hall will have a hard time winning. Jordan Theodore needs to be a pass-first point guard in this game rather than a guy who shoots 15+ times. Getting Pope, Fuquan Edwin and three point specialist Aaron Cosby involved will be important for the senior Pirate point guard.
  • It’s likely that Pope/Jones and Bryant/Theodore cancel each other out meaning the game will be decided by the supporting casts. Kilicli could be that guy for West Virginia while Seton Hall will look to Edwin and/or Cosby to make a winning impact. Edwin had an awful game against Syracuse but he should rebound nicely in front of the home folks and a less imposing front line. These teams have played five overtime games between them and another could be in the offing here. West Virginia is probably the better team but the Hall playing at home evens this contest up. Neither team shoots the ball well from the charity stripe but it’s something that just may decide this game.

#10 Louisville @ #3 Kentucky – 12:00 PM EST Saturday on CBS (*****)

Jones and Company Invite Louisville to Rupp Saturday Afternoon

  • Kentucky has blasted every inferior team it has played this season but the Wildcats have played closer games against Kansas, North Carolina and Indiana. Louisville is the fourth good team Kentucky will see so far, and given the passion in this rivalry, another relatively close game should be expected. The Wildcats are the better team but you can throw rankings and records out in rivalries as bitter as this one. Kentucky must use its superior offensive talent to its advantage, namely Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb. Louisville is highly vulnerable to the deep shot making Lamb a key player. Jones is the best player on the floor and needs to use his versatility to rack up fouls on Louisville’s interior players or step out and knock down a deep ball. Six Kentucky players average double figures and Louisville just can’t match the Wildcats offensively.
  • Where Rick Pitino’s team can match Kentucky is on the defensive end. Louisville’s game plan has to be intense full court defense, making Marquis Teague work for every dribble and every pass. Teague averages 3.2 turnovers per game and Louisville is one of the better teams in the nation at forcing turnovers. Offensively, this is not a typical Pitino team. Louisville doesn’t shoot the three-ball well but Gorgui Dieng, Russ Smith and Kyle Kuric can put the ball in the basket. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they don’t do it consistently enough to be an offensive force as a team. Peyton Siva has to be the catalyst in this game. The quick Louisville point guard has good vision but must cut down on turnovers. If Kentucky is getting runouts, it’s lights out for Louisville.
  • It’ll be hard for Louisville to score points on the road against the elite Kentucky defense but the Cardinals can force turnovers and get easy buckets. Both coaches don’t mind speeding up the game but that would favor John Calipari in this particular matchup. Pitino has to design a game plan that adeptly probes the Kentucky defense and gets quality shots. Siva is the key to execute that, plus the Cardinals must crash the boards and get second chance opportunities. That’s easier said than done against Jones and Anthony Davis. Davis has the potential to neutralize Dieng and anyone else who dares enter the paint for Louisville. The Cardinals will defend but they simply lack the offensive firepower needed to win this game at Rupp. We would be surprised if Kentucky loses at home for the first time under Calipari but this will be a fun game to watch regardless.
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Set Your TiVo: 12.16.11 to 12.18.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 16th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

With Dead Week mercifully over, we finally have some good games to enjoy this Saturday despite Sunday being a very slow day in the hoops world.

#6 Baylor @ BYU – 2:00 PM EST Saturday on BYU TV (****)

Perry Jones Leads Baylor into Provo Saturday (AP)

  • The Bears have had difficulty on the road in past seasons but they already passed one important test, demolishing Northwestern in Chicago a couple weeks ago. This game, however, will be an even better measure to see where the highly-rated Bears are really at. The Marriott Center is a notoriously difficult place to play but Baylor has a clear talent edge in this game. BU welcomes Gary Franklin, now eligible after the first semester, to an already highly skilled roster. Franklin didn’t play all that well at California last season but he was a four star recruit out of high school. He should help the Bears out at the point guard position, a place where turnovers are still an issue. Baylor averages 16 turnovers a game and that will be dangerous playing on the road against a team like BYU that likes to push the pace. 5.8 of those 16 turnovers come from the point guard position so Scott Drew is hoping that Franklin can help handle the ball. How Franklin will fit in alongside Pierre Jackson and A.J. Walton remains a question mark.
  • BYU’s top six scorers are all 6’5” or taller, an important factor against the length and athleticism of Baylor’s front line. Noah Hartsock, Brandon Davies and Charles Abouo do the bulk of the damage for Dave Rose, as those three are his top scorers and rebounders. Hartsock in particular has been outstanding, scoring in double figures in every game thus far. All three will have to play well in order for BYU to pull the upset because Baylor’s front court is strong, deep and talented. With Quincy Acy blocking 3.3 shots a game, BYU’s big men should find it more difficult to score inside on Saturday. The Cougars have to get their outside game going as well. Baylor’s defense is very average against the three and BYU has three big deep threats, Abouo, Stephen Rogers and Brock Zylstra. Going up against the top-ranked interior defense in the nation, BYU needs its outside shots to fall in order to win. However, the Cougars can’t afford to settle for threes if they aren’t falling. They must get something going in the paint, even against such a strong defense, in order to balance out their offense.
  • This is an important game for both clubs. Baylor has played only two teams of note so far while BYU’s best win is over a mediocre Oregon team. Baylor shoots well (49.1% FG) but the biggest difference this season has been its defense. The Bears allow only 33.3% shooting inside the arc and their defensive efficiency has been terrific. Both teams get most of their offense from their respective front courts but Baylor may have the ultimate edge with Cory Jefferson off the bench. He adds some scoring punch and, more importantly, rebounding and depth for the Bears. For the Cougars to win, they’ll have to force turnovers to get points in transition because it’ll be awfully tough to score inside in the half court. In addition to making its threes, BYU must rebound well and get to the line while putting the Baylor big men in foul trouble. However, BYU ranks #295 in free throw rate and Baylor doesn’t foul too often. Although BYU rarely loses at home, this is a game Baylor can win. There are some who still doubt the Bears but a win here would put them on their way towards legitimate national recognition.

Texas A&M vs. #10 Florida (at Sunrise, FL) – 2:30 PM EST Saturday on FSN (***)

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Set Your TiVo: 12.02.11 – 12.04.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 2nd, 2011

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

As we move into December, the first big Saturday of the year (highlighted by the battle in Lexington) is now upon us. Not to mention we get a nice preview of things to come on Friday evening.

#6 Florida @ #3 Syracuse – 7 PM EST Friday on ESPN (*****)

  • Syracuse has three distinct advantages in this game despite playing a top ten opponent. One is home court, two is height, and three is depth. The Orange have taller players at every position, one through five, and Jim Boeheim can go a legitimate ten deep into his bench. Against a Florida team that will be without forward Erik Murphy, Syracuse may be able to overwhelm the guard-heavy Gators. The key for the Orange will be defense. The 2-3 zone creates a fantastic match-up given Florida’s preferred style of offense, shooting lots of threes. If the Orange can be active and extend the perimeter of the zone, Florida will have a tough time.
  • The key for Florida is simple: make threes. To do that however, the Gators must establish Patric Young early and often. Playing without Murphy, Young is Florida’s only reliable post player. If he can’t get going, Syracuse won’t have to worry about extending the zone and leaving holes in the middle. If Young gets off to a fast start, the Orange will have to respect his presence by packing its defense in a bit more inside the arc. That will give Florida’s dynamic guards the opportunity to make shots. With Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario both shooting almost 50% from deep and two other Gators lurking as potential snipers, Syracuse doesn’t want to be forced to do that.

Can UF Establish Patric Young Inside To Give Its Shooters Room?

  • It’s always fun when a team that relies heavily on guards and the three point shot gets together with a team that plays almost exclusively zone. The Syracuse defense will tempt Florida to shoot the deep ball all night but Florida must work for open shots by establishing Young and some sort of an inside-out game. Keeping the zone off balance and moving the ball effectively are always keys to finding open shots. Defensively, Florida has to do better. Syracuse is much more efficient on that end of the floor while the Gators rank a pedestrian 52nd in the nation. Although three point shooting is the big key in this game, Florida’s defense could cost them in a tight game.
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