Tracking The Four: Cuse Get Juiced and Leaves One Unbeaten Team Standing

Posted by EJacoby on January 24th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor & correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

Welcome back to TT4, where the lowest ranked team of the four in this week’s RTC Top 25 also happens to be the only undefeated squad left in the country. Will Murray State lose a game before the Big Dance? They continue to win in impressive fashion and are now getting a key cog back in the lineup for the stretch run. Meanwhile, our two major-conference teams are coming off poor weeks and UNLV keeps quietly handling their business. All four TT4 teams remained ranked in the Top 20 and have important games this week. Let’s look at what’s new:

Murray State Racers

Isaiah Canaan and Murray State Continue Pushing Towards Perfection (AP Photo/S. Dennee)

  • Trending UP Because… – They are the only undefeated team left in the country! After being down at halftime, the Racers climbed back to defeat Morehead State on Wednesday, 66-60, in a huge road win that was their toughest remaining test. Please raise your hand and leave a comment below if you had Murray State as the last team to lose this season. Not only is MSU unbeaten but they are getting their third-leading scorer Ivan Aska back any day now, as the senior forward has been cleared to play by doctors. All things are looking up for the Racers (20-0, 8-0 OVC), and all of their remaining games have suddenly become must-watch, or at least must-follow action as they try to make history.
  • This Week’s Key CogIsaiah Canaan. The star guard was named Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Week after going for 20 points in the win at Morehead State and 21 points, five rebounds, three assists, and two steals in a road win over SIU Edwardsville on Saturday night.
  • Play of the Week – The Racers were down by one against Morehead State until Canaan hit this deep three-pointer with 3:58 left to give Murray State a lead they would not relinquish.
  • Talking Point – The head coach of SIU-E, Lennox Forrester, was thoroughly impressed by the Racers on Saturday, and thinks they may have a special season ahead: “They carry a swagger about them. They’re at least a Sweet Sixteen team and maybe Elite Eight. They could be a so-called Butler.”
  • Coaching Tree of Life – The last time Murray State was ranked before this season (1998), Mark Gottfried was the head coach. The last Racers’ rookie head coach to win 20 games was Mick Cronin in 2003-04, and the in-jeopardy MSU single-season wins record of 31 came under Billy Kennedy’s watch in 2009-10. Gottfried, Cronin, and Kennedy are all major coaches at NC State, Cincinnati, and Texas A&M, respectively, today; perhaps coach Steve Prohm is next in line for a big-time job. Then again, Prohm could also be deserving of a major raise and extension there in Murray.
  • Stats Central – They’ve earned praise for proficient three-point shooting, but an underrated aspect of Murray State’s offensive game is their attacking prowess. The Racers have a season-long free throw rate (which measures FTA/FGA) of 45.1%, which ranks 19th nationally. But they’re even more outstanding in conference play, with a rate of 52.8% that ranks third in the country amongst all teams in their conference games.
  • What’s Next? – The Racers have just one game on tap for this week, at home against Eastern Illinois on Saturday (8:00 PM ET). EIU is 2-4 in OVC conference play and coming off three straight losses.

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels

  • Trending EVEN Because… – They took care of business this week by thrashing TCU at home before then opening up a big second-half lead and defeating New Mexico at home as well on Saturday. The Runnin’ Rebels continue to look the part of a consistent, elite team and they’ve even slid into the Top 10 of this week’s RTC Top 25. UNLV (18-3, 2-1 MWC) has only lost on the road to three teams that are either ranked (SDSU) or receiving votes (Wisconsin, Wichita State) this week. They are ranked sixth in the RPI and should get a very strong look at a top three NCAA Tournament seed if they continue to play this well.
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Tracking The Four: And Then There Were Two (Unbeatens)

Posted by EJacoby on January 17th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor & correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

In this second full edition of TT4, two of our teams have taken a step backward while the other two continue to roll along as the only unbeaten teams remaining in the country. Do Murray State and Syracuse both have a good chance to go undefeated in the regular season? All four of our teams remain ranked in the Top 20 of the major polls. Let’s take a look at the juxtaposition between the two pairs of teams that are making headlines for different reasons:

Murray State Racers

Isaiah Canaan and Donte Poole are Running Full Speed Ahead for Undefeated Murray State (AP Photo/L. Dennee)

  • Trending UP Because… – They’re still without injured starting forward Ivan Aska, who has a broken hand, and the Racers continue to take care of business. MSU (18-0, 6-0 Ohio Valley) remained undefeated after knocking off Jacksonville State and Tennessee Tech at home over the past week. The Racers’ unbeaten start extends the school record to open a season, and improving to 18-0 also set the school record for longest win streak overall at any point.
  • This Week’s Key CogDonte Poole. The senior guard has been the perfect complement to Isaiah Canaan all season, but it was Poole who did the heavy lifting this week. He averaged 24.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.5 steals in two games last week, including a career-high 28 points versus Tennessee Tech, to propel his team to those victories. The prolific three-point shooter was more aggressive attacking the basket, getting to the line a total of 23 times in the two games, converting 21 of those shots.
  • Play of the Week – Twenty-five seconds into this video clip, watch star guard Canaan split defenders on a high pick-and-roll before a crafty finish at the rim. The announcer pronounces his name wrong, so just let the highlight do the talking.
  • Talking PointSteve Prohm on improving to 18-0 despite missing their best forward: “Credit our guys’ resiliency. We’re having to play a lot of different ways and we’re just trying to figure things out and they’re doing things on the fly and making adjustments and I couldn’t be prouder of them.
  • Best Read – ESPN’s Dana O’Neil sat down with coach Steve Prohm for an interview Tuesday that discussed how the first-year coach has dealt with success, amongst other issues.
  • Stats Central – According to Ken Pomeroy’s numbers, the only currently ranked teams that played a more challenging non-conference schedule than Murray State were Duke, Kansas, and Gonzaga. The Racers were actually picked to finish third this season in the OVC by conference coaches in the preseason poll, behind Austin Peay and Tennessee Tech. Those two teams now don’t have as many wins combined (17) as the Racers currently do on the season.
  • What’s Next? – MSU has two road games this week against conference foes dreaming of ending a perfect season. First is a test at Morehead State on Wednesday (7:00 PM ET) against the defending champions of the OVC. Morehead, 3-3 in conference play thus far, is a tough team whose five best players are all upperclassmen. The Racers then head to play at SIU-Edwardsville against a Cougars team that is also 3-3 in conference. Murray will look to continue their undefeated streak again without their best big man as Aska has been ruled out for these games.

Syracuse Orange

  • Trending EVEN Because… – Already at the top of nearly every poll and rating, there’s not much higher to go. Syracuse remained undefeated and improved to 20-0 (7-0 Big East) after beating the three teams at the bottom of the Big East conference last week. The Orange handled their toughest task at Villanova last Wednesday without a problem, and it’s been weeks since SU played a game in which the outcome was ever in doubt after the first 10 minutes. Fast starts are becoming a staple of this team, and it holds leads easily with the most talented bench in the nation. Jim Boeheim’s team is beating Big East opponents by an average of 15.7 points per game, although five of their seven games have come against the bottom four teams in the conference.
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Night Line: Indiana’s Weak Defense Can’t Make Up for Poor Shooting Performances

Posted by EJacoby on January 13th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist and contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.

With a huge game upcoming this weekend at Ohio State, it appears as if No. 6 Indiana overlooked its opponent on Thursday night. The Hoosiers were defeated at home, 77-74, by Minnesota, a team that was previously winless in the Big Ten (0-4) and in true road games (0-2). Indiana had its worst offensive performance of the season, and the Hoosiers do not have an efficient enough defense that can make up for a poor offensive outing. They allow nearly 77 points per game against conference opponents, which is far too much to be a serious contender. IU has been able to cover up its mediocre defense this season with tremendous shooting, but their defensive woes finally caught up to them and led to Thursday night’s upset.

Indiana Allowed Too Many Easy Buckets vs. Minnesota (AP Photo/D. Cummings)

Indiana (15-2, 3-2 Big Ten) has been the nation’s darling this year and has put together some incredible offensive performances, especially at home. Tom Crean’s team, ranked third in the nation with a 1.18 points per possession average, has already beaten a #1 and #2 team (Kentucky and Ohio State) on its home floor this season. That’s why it was so surprising that Indiana, in front of another raucous Bloomington crowd, went ice cold on Thursday night and fell to a seemingly inferior opponent. Christian Watford came in averaging 13.5 points per game but scored only six in the game. Jordan Hulls came in shooting 58% from three on the year and went 1-5 tonight. Verdell Jones III averages about nine points and four assists, but went scoreless tonight with just one dime. While every team is capable of a stinker or two during the season, it’s still alarming that the Hoosiers could not win at home against a team at the bottom of the conference. They gave up way too many open looks to their opponent and allowed Minnesota to run its offense comfortably on the road, which is not a formula for success in the tough Big Ten Conference.

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Set Your TiVo: 12.28.11

Posted by EJacoby on December 28th, 2011

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist and contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See the bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Tonight’s action offers a variety of 4-star matchups, including some exciting conference openers and one of the last top-25 non-conference showdowns. Carve out some time tonight to catch these great games.

Perry Jones and Undefeated Baylor Face Their Final Non-Conference Test Tonight Against Mississippi State (AP/T. Gutierrez)

#12 Georgetown at #10 Louisville – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN2 (****)

  • One of the biggest surprises in the country thus far, Georgetown is now looking to prove it can hang with the top teams in the Big East. Given how the Hoyas have played recently, they should have a great chance to add another impressive win to their resume tonight in the KFC Yum! Center. Georgetown has already won a true road game over then-top-15 Alabama, and tonight it heads west looking to rely on a veteran big three that have been consistent all year. Hollis Thompson and Jason Clark are getting it done from the perimeter, each averaging about 15 points per game and hitting exactly two three-pointers per game to lead the team from deep. Henry Sims, the most unlikely assist man in the nation, has executed his point forward role to perfection in Coach Thompson III’s Princeton-style offense. Sims leads the team with 3.7 assists and 1.6 blocks per game while continuing his low-post impact to the tune of 12.5 points and 5.5 boards per contest. If Georgetown can continue its current pace of 1.16 points per possession, which is ninth best in the country, then they will have a shot to pull off the road win tonight.
  • Before taking on Kentucky later this week in a massive in-state powerhouse showdown, Louisville has this fierce test to begin Big East play. Rick Pitino’s team has been well-prepared all season leading to an undefeated record, but they have been vulnerable at home and have nearly been upset several times at the Yum! Center. The Cardinals, though, continue to collect wins thanks to a spectacular defensive effort. Louisville’s defensive efficiency of 83.0 is the fifth-best number in the nation, and they are also ranked top-10 defensively in field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, points per possession, and rebounding. Coach Pitino will run out a nine- or ten-man rotation and look to speed up the Hoyas’ efficient offense by implementing high pressure and different defensive looks throughout the night. How guards Kyle Kuric, Russ Smith, Chris Smith, and Peyton Siva shoot from behind the arc will be the key to the Cardinals’ offense.
  • This should be a tremendous game, as two red-hot conference foes do battle with their conflicting styles of play. Louisville is a five-point favorite at home, and their depth across the board will give them an advantage tonight. But the Hoyas are able to counteract any opponent’s strengths when their offense is clicking. Keep an eye on who can establish their style of play early in the game.
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RTC Conference Primers: #2 – Big Ten Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2011

John Templon of Big Apple Buckets is an RTC contributor. You can find him on Twitter at @nybuckets.

Reader’s Take I


Top Storylines

  • Mid-Majors Newcomers Will Make Major Impact – Two graduate student transfers from mid-major schools are going to make an instant impact in the Big Ten. Brandon Wood could start in Michigan State’s backcourt after scoring 16.7 points per game last season for Valparaiso. Sam Maniscalco averaged 9.7 points per game for Bradley last season and might end up scoring even more for Illinois. Both players give their teams veteran pieces at positions that would’ve otherwise been dominated by youth.
  • Healthy Living – Robbie Hummel returns for Purdue and has the opportunity to make a big impact for the Boilermakers now that his former classmates have graduated. While Matt Painter couldn’t get Hummel on the court with JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore, he does get the added bonus of having an All-America caliber forward to help shepherd this team into the postseason. Injuries also delivered a blow to Indiana, as Maurice Creek is going to miss the entire 2011-12 season. That’s after missing all but 18 games last season, and it’s a big blow to the Hoosiers’ NCAA hopes.
  • A New Head Coach In University Park – After leading Penn State to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2001, and falling to in-state rival Temple, Ed DeChellis saw the writing on the wall and left PSU for a more stable job at Navy. His replacement is former Boston University head coach Pat Chambers, who has a big rebuilding job on his hands after graduation of star guard Talor Battle.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Ohio State (16-2) 
  2. Wisconsin (12-6)
  3. Michigan (12-6)
  4. Michigan State (10-8)
  5. Purdue (10-8)
  6. Illinois (9-9)
  7. Minnesota (9-9)
  8. Northwestern (8-10)
  9. Indiana (8-10)
  10. Iowa (6-12)
  11. Nebraska (4-14)
  12. Penn State (3-15)

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Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 18th, 2011

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.

A Look Back

It’s hard to figure out exactly what’s going on in the Big Ten this season. Ohio State has risen to No. 1 in the country in both polls, but after that it’s tough to tell which team is next. Purdue stumbled on the road at West Virginia, giving the conference yet another black eye in the non-conference, and Illinois had a bit of dysfunction. Those things allowed an old standby, Michigan State, to once again rise to second with two close overtime wins at home. That just goes to show the tightrope act that is conference play this season.

  • Team of the Week: Michigan State – The Spartans managed to pull off two dramatic comebacks on their home court in conference in the span of less than a week. Coming back to beat Wisconsin and Northwestern – both in overtime – helps put Tom Izzo’s team right back in the middle of the conference race and might help alleviate some of the concerns about this team playing close games in March.
  • Player of the Week: Draymond Green, F, Michigan State: The big reason why Michigan State won both games last week is that Green stepped up, averaging 21.0 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. He also went 17-19 (89.4 percent) from the free throw line, which helped the team in the close ones.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Aaron Craft, G, Ohio State: Craft also won the official Freshman of the Week award in the Big Ten and thus became the third Buckeye to win the award. Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas and Craft have swept the award this season. Craft won his after scoring 19 points to help Ohio State hold off Penn State.

Power Rankings

  • 1. Ohio State (18-0, 5-0) – Behind a trio of Diaper Dandies, the Buckeyes have ascended to the top spot in the conference and the country. They’re playing good basketball, but hanging onto the top spot requires them going into Champaign and pulling out a victory. The play of the freshman has been impressive, but just as notable is how Thad Matta has gotten David Lighty and Jon Diebler to acquiesce to Deshaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger on offense and play important supporting roles.
  • 2. Michigan State (12-5, 4-1) – See the Team of the Week and the Player of the Week sections for more on a very successful Big Ten week for the Spartans.
  • 3. Wisconsin (13-4, 3-2) – Jon Leuer struggled as the Badgers lost at Michigan State, scoring just ten points on nine shots, but Wisconsin still had a chance to win. Jordan Taylor just needed to get a better look at the basket late. Leuer rebounded though to score 26 points on 16 shots against Illinois. Other player to watch is Keaton Nankivil. The 6’8 senior forward has scored in double figures each of his past five games.
  • 4. Purdue (15-3, 4-1) –A poor shooting week from E’Twaun Moore doomed Purdue on the road. He shot 6-18 at West Virginia and scored 14 points and went 2-14 for five points against Minnesota. What has to be more concerning for Matt Painter though was the defense that allowed the Gophers to shoot 52.9 percent from the field.
  • 5. Illinois (13-5, 3-2) – Two losses have brought back the dysfunctional team chemistry that plagued the Fighting Illini last season. Freshman Jereme Richmond was held out of the loss to Wisconsin because of missed practice time. Mike Miller over at Beyond the Arc had a bit more to say about it here, though judging by a statement from Richmond on Monday, there shouldn’t be any lingering issues regarding his status.
  • 6. Minnesota (14-4, 3-3) – Two wins got Minnesota back on track, but both were at home, and one was against Iowa. Let’s see if Tubby Smith’s team can go on the road and beat someone. No matter where they play, controlling the pace is going to be important. The Gophers haven’t played a game at a pace of more than 65 possessions since Big Ten play started. Last week, the game against Purdue was 70-67 in 58 possessions. On a night when Blake Hoffarber and Trevor Mbakwe both play well, the Gophers will look unstoppable. Hoffarber went off for 26 points against the Boilermakers, but was held to nine points on 2-10 shooting against the Hawkeyes. That’s when Mbakwe picked things up though with 16 points and 12 rebounds off the bench. It doesn’t appear that Mbakwe’s violation of a restraining order has slowed him down at all.
  • 7. Penn State (10-7, 3-3) – The Nittany Lions are going through a brutal stretch of four games, but making the most of it. Wins over Michigan State and Illinois instantly boosted their at-large profile and made them a contender in the conference. It hasn’t all been Talor Battle either, the frontcourt of Jeff Brooks, Andrew Jones and David Jackson are forcing opponents to pay attention to them. Jones showed what happens if you don’t against the Illini with a game-winning put-back slam after four players went at Battle.
  • 8. Northwestern (11-5, 2-4) – What might have been? Losing in overtime to Michigan State is a big blow to the Wildcats’ NCAA Tournament hopes. Northwestern had a chance to win the game even though John Shurna scored just six points. Drew Crawford has been hot lately with 19 points at Iowa and 16 against the Spartans. Because of an extra game on Thursday against SIU-Edwardsville, Northwestern plays three games in six days this week. The Green Bay-Chicago NFC Championship game also upended the schedule and the Wildcats will play Wisconsin at 11:30 a.m. CT.
  • 9. Indiana (10-8, 1-4) – Michigan figured out you have to guard Indiana in order to beat them. Jordan Hulls was a perfect 4-4 from the field, including 3-3 from beyond the arc, and scored 13 points and Verdell Jones III went 9-10 from the field and scored 24 points in the Hoosiers’ 80-61 victory over the Wolverines.
  • 10. Michigan (11-7, 1-4) – The Wolverines exhibit all the signs of a young team. They play up for the good ones and down to the bad ones. Unfortunately the numbers suggest that the games against the good teams might just be the kids playing over their heads. It’s the defense that’s been the problem lately.
  • 11. Iowa (7-10, 0-5) – The Hawkeyes are struggling to score points in Big Ten play. While Fran McCaffery has tried to spruce up the offense, Iowa still needs more talent. When Indiana comes to town on Sunday it might be the Hawkeyes’ best chance to steal a conference victory.

A Look Ahead (all times EST):

  • 1/18 – Michigan State at Illinois, 7 p.m., ESPN
  • 1/19 – Penn State at Purdue, 8:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 1/22 – Ohio State at Illinois, 12:00 p.m., CBS
  • 1/22 – Michigan State at Purdue, 9 p.m., ESPN
  • 1/23 – Wisconsin at Northwestern, 12:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 1/23 – Indiana at Iowa, 3 p.m., Big Ten Network

Fun with Efficiency Margin and KenPom

  • You might be surprised to learn that Purdue still leads the conference in efficiency margin during Big Ten play. Of course that has a bit to do with scheduling. The Boilermakers have feasted on an easy schedule and have avoided Michigan State, Ohio State, Illinois and Wisconsin during their first five games. Ohio State is second with Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan State coming up behind them. The Spartans are the second luckiest team in conference according to my count, with undefeated Ohio State being the first.
  • Before Iowa’s loss at Minnesota, there wasn’t a single team in the Big Ten that was scoring less than a point per possession, but the Hawkeyes have dipped below that minimum standard of competency again. On the other hand, Purdue and Michigan State are both allowing less than a point per possession in conference play. The Spartans are winning in conference on the strength of their defense.
  • Finally, the Bubble Battle between Penn State, Northwestern and Minnesota should be fascinating to watch all season. The Gophers did more than the other two during non-conference play, but the three of them have very similar efficiency margins in conference play.
  • After next week, every team in the conference will have played one-third of its conference schedule and I’ll provide a full rundown with all the numbers and predictions moving forward.
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RTC Conference Primers: #1 – Big Ten

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 8th, 2010

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.

Predicted Order of Finish

  • 1. Michigan State (15-3)
  • 2. Ohio State (13-5)
  • 3. Illinois (12-6)
  • 4. Wisconsin (11-7)
  • T5. Purdue (9-9)
  • T5. Minnesota (9-9)
  • T5. Northwestern (9-9)
  • 8. Penn State (7-11)
  • 9. Indiana (6-12)
  • 10. Michigan (5-13)
  • 11. Iowa (3-15)

All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)

  • G: Demetri McCamey, Illinois (15.1 PPG, 6.8 APG)
  • G: Kalin Lucas, Michigan State (14.9 PPG, 3.9 APG)
  • F: Jon Leuer, Wisconsin (15.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG)
  • F: John Shurna, Northwestern (18.3 PPG, 6.4 RPG)
  • C: JaJuan Johnson, Purdue (15.2 PPG, 7.1 RPG)

6th Man

G: E’Twaun Moore, Purdue (16.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG)

Jared Sullinger (above) and three returning double-figure scorers succeed Evan Turner in Columbus, but Michigan State is the team to beat in the Big Ten.

Impact Newcomer

C: Jared Sullinger, Ohio State: Sullinger is a consensus top-five recruit. The 6’9 post player from Columbus played his high school basketball at Northland High School and won three national AAU championships with the All-Ohio Red team. He was named Ohio’s Mr. Basketball his junior and senior seasons and the Naismith National High School Boy’s Basketball Player of the Year in 2010. While some have compared him to Greg Oden, scouts say that Sullinger has a better face-up offensive game than the former Buckeye, but isn’t as intimidating on the defensive end. The hype reached epic proportions when Gary Parrish named Sullinger to his Preseason All-America team along with Harrison Barnes.

What You Need to Know

The Big Ten is one of the best conferences in college basketball, potentially the best this season. The pace is typically slower (eight of the 11 teams played at an adjusted tempo that ranked lower than 200th in the nation last season) and the play might be a little rougher (the top seven teams in the conference had a defensive efficiency that ranked 53rd or better last season), but there are a lot of teams that are a tough out come tournament time. Michigan State always seems to overachieve in the NCAA Tournament and there’s seldom a shortage of talent. Northwestern is the oddball in the conference, as the Wildcats are the only major conference team to have never been to the Big Dance.

Predicted Champion

Michigan State (NCAA Seed: #1): The Spartans took a five-seed in the NCAA Tournament last season and ran with it all the way to Final Four before falling to Butler in the National Semifinals. Most of that team returns this season. Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers will drive the backcourt, but there is also depth behind those two to help counter the conference grind. Up front, Draymond Green is an underrated force in the paint that should be able to absorb the minutes left behind from Raymar Morgan, the biggest loss from Michigan State’s Final Four team. Adreian Payne and Keith Appling are two high-profile recruits that can only help bolster the Spartans’ rotation. The Spartans have the look of a team that will be in the top five all season. Read the rest of this entry »

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RTC Live: Wisconsin @ Indiana

Posted by rtmsf on February 25th, 2010

Welcome tonight from Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana, on the campus of Indiana University. Tonight’s matchup pits a team in Wisconsin near the top of the Big Ten against a team near the bottom in Indiana. This is the second meeting between these two teams this season. The last game was a blowout at the Kohl Center in Madison in Wisconsin’s favor. Indiana has now lost eight straight, while Wisconsin seems to be playing hop scotch in the win-loss column lately, and is coming off a win at home against Northwestern. The players to watch for Wisconsin are Trevon Hughes, Jason Bohannon, Jordan Taylor, and now Jon Leuer, who is back from a broken wrist that sidelined him for over a month. The players to watch for Indiana are Verdell Jones III, Christian Watford, and as of late, Devan Dumes, who is looking to close out his Indiana career on a positive note. This game will really come down to a couple of things: turnovers and three point shooting. Wisconsin only turns the ball over an average of nine times a game, whereas Indiana has struggled all year, giving away an average of 15 possessions a game. Each team shoots about 35% from long range, so it will just be a matter of how hot each team gets, and how many times they are willing to throw it up from long range. Get excited for what could either be a battle if Indiana shows up, or a game out of reach if they don’t. Wisconsin will definitely show up, that’s for sure.

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Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by rtmsf on February 24th, 2010

Jason Prziborowski is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.

The big thing from the past week:

  • The race is on. Purdue moved into first place in the Big Ten and #3 nationally this past week with victories over OSU and Illinois. MSU slipped a bit with its own loss against OSU. Purdue is now in the driver’s seat, looking very closely into the rear view mirror where MSU and OSU are hanging on. I am looking for a spoiler to step in to shake things up a bit, but I am not sure who it will be.

Now four Big Ten teams are in the top 25: #3 Purdue, #9 Ohio State, #14 Michigan State, and #17 Wisconsin.

Power Rankings

  1. Purdue                                 23-3, 11-3
  2. Ohio State                           21-7, 11-4
  3. Michigan State                  21-7, 11-4
  4. Wisconsin                            20-7, 10-5
  5. Illinois                                   18-10, 10-5
  6. Northwestern                   17-10, 6-9
  7. Minnesota                          16-10, 7-7
  8. Michigan                              13-14, 6-9
  9. Indiana                                 9-17, 3-11
  10. Iowa                                      9-18, 3-11
  11. Penn State                          10-16, 2-12

Coming Up

  • Purdue @ Minnesota – February 24 – 8:30 PM ET – Minnesota is coming on strong lately, blowing out both Wisconsin and Indiana at home. This game should be interesting because Minnesota plays very well at home even though Purdue is playing its best basketball of the year. Last game was a 17-point loss for the Gophers, but it was only the second game in conference play. Would be a big upset for Minnesota, and a game that Purdue should win.
  • Michigan State @ Purdue – February 28 – 4:00 PM ET – The way the season is shaping up, if Purdue beats Minnesota they will have a one-game lead on both OSU and MSU. This game, if Purdue wins, will most likely be enough to win the Big Ten outright. The last matchup was a 12-point victory for Purdue, but Kalin Lucas did come off the bench for the Spartans. The edge should go to Purdue in this one, especially at Mackey Arena. 
  • Illinois @ Ohio State – March 3 – 9:00 PM ET – This is the last regular season game for OSU and second to last for the Illini. In the grand scheme of things, this game could be meaningless, but it would matter more for Illini than OSU for a couple of reasons: this gives Illinois a chance to redeem themselves from their earlier blowout at home and it helps them make a case for the tournament, especially after racking up two losses lately against top 10 teams. Illinois will need to figure out the 1-3-1, and improve their shooting percentage to win this one.

Breaking It Down

  • Purdue is alone in First. Purdue’s Big Three has now morphed into a Big Four with Keaton Grant starting to pour in the points where Chris Kramer has been unable to do so all year. In the past two games Grant has averaged 14 points a game, besting his season average by almost 8 points. If the Big Three continue to do their thing, Kramer continues to be a beast on defense, and they get a solid offensive contribution from Grant, they could be off to the races. Purdue has Minnesota on the road, which could be tough if Minnesota comes to play. The following game against Michigan State at Mackey could prove to be the deciding game for the Big Ten Championship. I give the edge to Purdue, especially since they have Indiana and Penn State to end the season.
  • Ohio State loses then wins big. In the past week two different Ohio State teams showed up to play. Against Purdue, Evan Turner came to play, but the supporting cast didn’t pull their weight. The two OSU-Purdue games were eerily similar. Ohio State was down double figures in both games. Evan Turner played big in both games. One Purdue big man dominated in each game: the first game it was Hummel and the second it was Johnson. The difference for Purdue was Keaton Grant, but Ohio State didn’t have the same difference maker, and couldn’t get a big enough run in the second half to win. The Buckeyes went straight after Michigan State in their other game, and didn’t let up. Turner got his numbers, but William Buford had a double-double also, and David Lighty and Dallas Lauderdale were both close as well. Jon Diebler did what he does best: hit big threes when it counts. Even though OSU did what they had to do against MSU, their destiny is not in their own hands the rest of the way. They have to rely on MSU knocking off Purdue, and hope for another spoiler to be able to get a share of the Big Ten Title. They might have to settle for second place though. 
  • Michigan State suffers a big setback at home. Michigan State has slipped of late. They don’t seem to be able to win the big games like they were able to earlier in the year. During their three-game slide it was a defensive problem, and now the woes have shifted to offense. During the OSU game, the Spartans came roaring back by pounding the ball inside, but then they went away from their game plan, and started launching from outside again. Shooting 33% from long range isn’t going to do it in most Big Ten games. I am still not convinced that Kalin Lucas is completely healthy. I saw him limping visibly against Indiana, and then again versus OSU. His 3-13 performance isn’t indicative of the way he plays when he is healthy and aggressive. MSU as a team needs to get back to basics, and use the big bodies they have to take it to Purdue. That is the deciding game in the Big Ten. If MSU wins they will most likely tie for the share of the Big Ten Title. If not, the Boilermakers will roll.
  • Wisconsin blown out on the road but wins at home. It’s not often that the only starter not in double figures for Minnesota is Lawrence Westbrook, but that’s exactly what happened against Wisconsin. Fortunately for the Gophers, everyone else stepped up. Wisconsin buried itself by not being able to hit from long range against Minnesota. The big question mark for Wisconsin is whether Jon Leuer came back too early. He struggled in his first outing, but then put up respectable numbers in his second game back. It’s tough to get back into rhythm in general, but at this level, and this deep into conference play, I have to give it up for Leuer for being able to make much of an impact at all. Wisconsin bounced back against Northwestern for the win, but more disconcerting is their defense right now. They are letting their opponents shoot too well from the field. Minnesota was close to 50% and Northwestern was right at 50%. They need to D it up better to close out games down the stretch, especially at Illinois.
  • Illinois drops two straight before taking down Michigan. Illinois stopped the bleeding against Michigan in a high school score of a game in Ann Arbor. It is hard to call the game a defensive battle inasmuch that both teams shot poorly. Michigan had only 18 points at half and shot a dreadful 24.6% from the field for the game. Give it to Illinois for taking down one of the duo in DeShawn Sims, limiting him to seven points. After watching Illinois play now numerous times, the difference between a win and a loss for this team is Demetri McCamey. Against Ohio State and Purdue he wasn’t really looking to score. Unlike Talor Battle, where if he doesn’t score a ton his team wins, Illinois needs McCamey to look for his shot to draw defenders, and then that is when he is really good. In my opinion he was too unselfish in their loss to Purdue. He had an amazing 16 assists, but only shot the ball six times and went to the line twice. Against Wisconsin he took 17 shots, and against Michigan State he took 12. In both games he had over 20 points, and in both games, Illinois won. They need McCamey the scorer-distributor, not the distributor-scorer. They will need him in all three of their remaining games to be ready for the tournament.
  • Northwestern is drifting quietly into the sunset. Northwestern was once the darling of the Big Ten. Now I think they have found where they stand in the conference, and on the national scene as well. Northwestern started their stumble at Iowa, and had a momentary breath of life against Minnesota before falling to a team in Penn State that has struggled all year. Northwestern just isn’t defending that well, and isn’t scoring enough to withstand their defensive weaknesses. They let Penn State shoot over 55% from the field and then followed it up with another plus 50% game against Wisconsin. The Wisconsin game came down to the Badgers hitting a couple more threes and taking a couple more trips to the line than the Wildcats. John Shurna is still filling up the stat sheet but didn’t get much help against Wisconsin. Northwestern looks to avenge their loss to Iowa at home, and really has a fairly easy rest of the season if they can play better. Northwestern’s only shot at the tournament now is by winning the Big Ten Tournament and getting an automatic bid. That is going to take some kind of playing though, especially for a team that has relied on home court to win the majority of its games.
  • Minnesota finishing strong. Somebody has awakened this Minnesota team, and I am betting that it is Tubby Smith. They have won two straight now, including an impressive won at home against Wisconsin and a blowout at home against Indiana. Minnesota is a dangerous team at home, and I am very curious to see what they are able to do against Purdue. I have already talked about the game in the upcoming games section, so I won’t mention it much here, but I am thinking that if this Minnesota team wants to make some noise this year, this will be the game.
  • Michigan upset by Penn State before dropping one to Illinois. Yes, this is a two-man team that occasionally has a third, but lately, the big two just aren’t getting enough points for Michigan. In any other game on the planet, if you hold your opponent to 37%, you win the game. The problem for the Wolverines is that they managed to shoot around 25%, and you just can’t win a game when that happens. It is also tough to win a game when half of your shots are from three-point range, another scenario that happened in the Illinois game. Both teams shot dreadfully in the game; Illinois just happened to shoot less dreadfully. I have to give a hat’s off to this Michigan team for not turning the ball over. I think what is happening though is that instead of passing the ball, especially inside, they don’t have a chance to turn it over when they are chucking up three-pointers as soon as they get across half court. If this team wants an upset in any of their remaining games, they will either have to get red hot from three-point range, or start penetrating like I said at the beginning of the year.
  • Indiana’s losses continue to pile up. With this Indiana team, it is always hard to imagine what you are going to get. For most of conference play they have relied on two guys to carry the offensive load, and for the most part one of them has: Verdell Jones III. The first time around in conference it worked quite well because Jones was overlooked, and continued to rack up 20-point games. The second time around hasn’t been so kind to him though. The defenses have keyed on Jones, and his shooting percentage has plummeted even though he is consistently in double figures and gets to the charity stripe often. The player that has come on lately has been Devan Dumes, who is trying to close out his career at Indiana in aggressive fashion. Dumes took over at the end of the Michigan State game, and then exploded for 20 against Minnesota. The problem is that Christian Watford had a bad night against Minnesota, and once again, the Hoosiers are struggling to put points on the board. Add the fact that offenses are consistently shooting over 50% against them, and that is a recipe for eight straight losses. I am not sure at this point that Indiana can emerge from its tailspin and regain some confidence, but they will need to feel good about the next couple of years.
  • Iowa takes time off. Not much to report on for Iowa, as they haven’t played since February 16 in a close loss against Michigan at home. They gear up to take on Northwestern, a team they have already beaten this season at home. Iowa has only won one game on the road this year, so they are looking for the second.
  • Penn State with two in a row. Looks like all Penn State needed this year was for Talor Battle to not score as many points. Every article this year talked about the Talor Battle Show, but it turns out that the show wasn’t producing any wins in the Big Ten until he called in the cavalry. Battle scored ten against Northwestern and two other guys scored 20 apiece, and the Lions won by 11. Then he had 14 against Michigan, and one other guy was in double figures with two others close, and they won again. Looks like the recipe for success all along. Just wish these guys could have figured it out earlier in the year.
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Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by rtmsf on February 18th, 2010

Jason Prziborowski is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.

The big thing from the past week:

  • The Big Ten’s top four moved up as a group. Both Purdue and Ohio State reached their highest rankings of the year. The same can’t be said for Michigan State and Wisconsin, but as a group, this is the highest that the top four have been ranked. It is looking very likely that the Big Ten will send at least five teams to the Tournament this year.  Now four Big Ten teams are in the top 25: #4 Purdue, #9 Ohio State, #11 Michigan State, and #14 Wisconsin.

Power Rankings

  1. Purdue 22-3, 10-3
  2. Ohio State 20-7, 10-4
  3. Michigan State 21-6, 11-3
  4. Wisconsin 19-6, 9-4
  5. Illinois 17-9, 9-4
  6. Northwestern 17-9, 6-8
  7. Minnesota 14-10, 5-7
  8. Michigan 13-12, 6-7
  9. Indiana 9-16, 3-10
  10. Iowa 9-18, 3-11
  11. Penn State 9-16, 1-12

Coming Up

  • Wisconsin @ Minnesota – February 18th – 9:00 ET – ESPN – This game means a lot for Wisconsin, as another loss for the Badgers really takes them out of the race for the Big Ten regular season title. Minnesota has nothing to lose and everything to gain at this point. Add to the mix that Minnesota usually plays well at home, and it could spell defeat for Wisconsin. I am sure Trevon Hughes and company will have something to say about that though.
  • Illinois @ Purdue – February 20th – 4:00 ET – ESPN – Last game was a close one that ended Purdue’s losing streak, and since then, Illinois has been playing a lot better. This game definitely has big time potential impact in the Big Ten and as far as seeding goes in the tournament. Demetri McCamey had a monster game last time around, so Illinois will look for him to contribute once again. Mike Davis and DJ Richardson also played well. They will need more out of Mike Tisdale this time, as JaJuan Johnson dominated that matchup and got Tisdale in foul trouble. The Big Three for Purdue will have to lead once again. This should be a good one, although it is always tough to win at Mackey.
  • Ohio State @ Michigan State – February 21st – 12:00 ET CBS – This is another game that has direct Big Ten Title implications. Having seen both of these teams play in person as well as on TV now several times, this will be quite a battle of two very different teams. Michigan State has a much more traditional makeup to their team, with big post guys, shooting guards, and a quick high-scoring point guard. Ohio State on the other hand has oversized guards and an undersized post presence. The game is at Michigan State, so that should give the Spartans an edge. OSU has to be able to stop the post scoring of the Spartans and keep them off the boards, whereas MSU has been able to stop Evan Turner and the outside scoring of Jon Diebler and David Lighty.

Breaking It Down

  • Purdue cracks the top four. Purdue has now beaten all of the top teams in the Big Ten at least once after last night’s win at Ohio State. It is kind of amazing to look back now when Purdue went through their three-game slide at the beginning of conference play, and now they are ranked #4 nationally behind Kansas, Kentucky, and Villanova. Nova’s loss to UConn on Tuesday puts Purdue is in position to move up even higher next week after their big win at OSU (assuming they can get past Illinois over the weekend).
  • Ohio State had increased its Big Ten winning streak to nine games prior to the home loss to Purdue last night. All year everyone has been saying that if you can stop everyone else but Evan Turner, you should be able to beat Ohio State. Purdue was able to prove that notion correct, but Indiana didn’t have the scoring power to overcome it. Against Illinois, Turner had almost triple double numbers (16/11/8 asst), but even more impressively was the performance of Jon Diebler and David Lighty. OSU visits Michigan State on the road next, and they’ll need to win that one to have any remaining realistic shot at the conference title.
  • Michigan State is marching out of their mid-season valley. The problem during the Spartans’ losses was defense, and even though it appears like they have solved that problem, it’s still too early to tell. The reason I say it is too early to tell is because that improved defense has occurred against two of the bottom of the teams in the league in Penn State and Indiana. The other problem during the losses was the lack of Kalin Lucas. That problem has also disappeared as Lucas went off for 24 against Penn State and a much bigger than it seems 13 against Indiana. Michigan State has OSU and Purdue next, so there is no rest for the Spartans anytime soon.
  • Wisconsin’s destiny is in its own hands. The Badgers were upset by Illinois a week ago at home, something that never happens, due to great games by Demetri McCamey and Mike Tisdale. They bounced back at home trouncing Indiana behind Jason Bohannon, who lit it up from 3-point land on his way to dropping 30 on the Hoosiers. Wisconsin has the easiest schedule remaining of the top five teams in the Big Ten. They should win the next four easily, with the exception of their last game on the road against Illinois, which could prove difficult. Illinois will have battled the best in the Big Ten before taking on Wisconsin, so Wisconsin will need to make sure not to play down to the competition for the rest of the month of February.
  • Illinois’s gauntlet continues. Last week I mentioned that I thought Illinois had made great strides and proven that they weren’t gunning for the top of Big Ten just based on their scheduling. I may have underestimated Illinois’ talent and the way they have been playing lately, but I think I was redeemed a bit by watching the Ohio State game. Illinois was blown out early, and never really made much of a run against the Buckeyes. They actually did well in a couple of statistical categories, but really suffered on the shooting end and could never really stop OSU. I was very surprised that Demetri McCamey didn’t step up earlier, and it was unfortunate that Mike Tisdale got in foul trouble, because he was hurting OSU in the zone by keeping the ball high and being able to throw over the top to him near the basket. The tough thing for Illinois though, is that they don’t get to take any nights off, as they take on Purdue on the road this weekend.
  • Northwestern’s slipper came off against Iowa and got put in the closet last night agaisnt previously-winless Penn State. In the Iowa game, John Shurna and Michael Thompson combined for 36 of Northwestern’s 65. Unfortunately, nobody else was in double figures. Also dooming them was the fact that they shot under 45% from the field and 30% from deep, while Iowa shot 50% from both the field and 3 point land. Unfortunately, it was a similar story against Penn State.  The Wildcats did sandwich their two losses with an OT win against Minnesota where all of the aforementioned players were in double figures. I have heard many people say that Northwestern’s shot at the tournament is now over because of those two bad losses, but if they win at Wisconsin and the rest of their games, they might give the committee something else to think about.
  • Has Minnesota left the building? The month of January and now February hasn’t been kind for the Golden Gophers. They sandwiched a couple of wins against Northwestern and Penn State with a bunch of close losses and a blowout to Ohio State on the road. This team overall has just been too inconsistent. Lawrence Westbrook is playing well now, but where has Ralph Sampson III gone? He has been invisible the last couple of games. Devoe Joseph and Blake Hoffarber have been similarly inconsistent. What would make their season at this point is to score upsets against Wisconsin, Purdue, or Illinois.
  • Michigan wins two straight. Looks like DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris aren’t willing to ride off into the sunset just yet. These two have continued to put up huge numbers, with Sims going for 27 each of the past two games and Harris going for 20 each. All they need to win is for someone else to put in a couple buckets here and there, and they have been doing it recently. They also have three games left that they can really put a thorn in the sides of the better teams in the conference, potentially shuffling the standings at the end of the year.
  • Indiana’s streak goes to unlucky number seven. IU has turned into a two-man show lately, with Verdell Jones III and Christian Watford carrying the load. The problem is that these guys aren’t putting up Harris and Sims type of numbers. The Hoosiers need someone else to score, especially inside. The one good sign for the Hoosiers against the Spartans was how often and how many times they scored from the charity stripe. They haven’t shot 89% all year from the line, and certainly haven’t made close to 30 trips in a night either. The part where the Hoosiers really need work is on the defensive end. Everyone has been basically scoring at will, so once the Hoosiers can plug the big hole on defense, maybe their offense will come around.
  • Iowa steals Northwestern’s slipper. Iowa fulfilled its duty as a spoiler this year, or at least if Northwestern doesn’t end up making it into the tournament, they will have. There was some off the court news this past week for Iowa as well, with Anthony Tucker officially leaving the program. In their loss to Purdue, Iowa shot a frigid 30% and then stepped up to shoot 50% against Northwestern, while holding Northwestern to 44% in addition to taking 30 trips to the free throw line. Against Purdue, Aaron Fuller had an uncharacteristically bad game with only two points, but in their OT heartbreaker to Michigan, he exploded for 30. I would say that’s getting back on the right track. They go on the road against Northwestern again next, and something tells me that this result might be different.
  • Penn State finally won a game. The Nittany Lions picked apart Northwestern in Evanston last night by shooting 56%, putting all five starters in double figures and destroying the Cats on the boards (+17).  It was the kind of performance that makes you wonder where it’s been all year?  It was the Talor Battle show on Saturday against Michigan State. It was fortunate that he poured in 30 points against the Spartans. The unfortunate part was that he didn’t have a ton of help, and Kalin Lucas scored 24 points himself, thus minimizing the Battle Effect. This team has two scorers, and they both performed. Michigan State won the game on the boards, something that this Penn State team just doesn’t do well enough.
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