NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen Friday

Posted by EJacoby on March 23rd, 2012

RTC Region correspondents Kevin Doyle (South) and Evan Jacoby (Midwest) contributed to this preview.

#3 Baylor vs. #10 Xavier – South Regional Semifinal (at Atlanta, GA) – 7:15 PM ET on CBS

Baylor was supposed to be here, Xavier was not. That is the beauty of March Madness and the NCAA Tournament though: play it out on the floor. One can review all the matchups, crunch the numbers, and look at past tournament history, but sometimes simply getting hot at the right time is a more important factor than anything else. The Xavier Musketeers, an up-and-down team all year following the brawl against Cincinnati back in December, are peaking at just the right time. After a 21 game stretch in the middle of the year that saw Xavier go 10-11, they rebounded by winning five of six; the melee seems like a thing of the distant past right now. What teams should now begin to take notice of: Tu Holloway is back to playing at the level of an All-American. Not to mention, Kenny Frease is looking like one of the most dominant big men in the country after dismantling the Lehigh front line last Sunday. Despite all of this, Baylor is a downright scary team to be playing this weekend, especially with the shooting prowess of Brady Heslip who is a combined 14-22 from downtown. Xavier’s three-point defense is one of the best in the nation as they allow opponents to shoot just 30% from the outside, but can they contain the hot shooting Heslip and the steady Pierre Jackson? Consequently, if Heslip and Jackson are not connecting from distance, the onus will be on Perry Jones III. The Jones-Frease matchup down low is one to keep an eye on, and if we are to take any stock in the first two games, Frease is the one playing better of the two as Jones has combined to score just nine points on 4-14 shooting against South Dakota State and Colorado. A streaky scorer throughout the year, Jones has scored in single digits nine times and double digits 19 times; the Bears will need the latter of Jones’ scoring efforts to keep Xavier honest on defense. Baylor’s only losses this year have come against Big 12 opponents, and I expect this trend to continue as the Bears hold off Holloway and the Musketeers.

The RTC Certified Pick: Baylor

#1 North Carolina vs. #13 Ohio – Midwest Region Semifinals (at St. Louis, MO) – 7:47 PM ET on TBS

The storylines leading up to this game have been completely taken over by Kendall Marshall’s “wrist watch”, but once the ball tips off on Friday night and Marshall is presumably unable to play, then we can finally focus on the matchups in-game. Of course, Marshall’s expected absence will then be the main factor to watch in the game. How will North Carolina distribute minutes at the point guard position against the harassing perimeter defense of D.J. Cooper? Expect Roy Williams to explore several different options, including seldom-used reserves Stilman White and Justin Watts. Both White and Watts average under seven minutes per game and were never expected to be significant factors for the team, but they are the only players with experience at the lead guard spot. But since neither guy is likely to make much of an impact offensively, UNC also could experiment by placing Harrison Barnes at the position in a point-forward role. Barnes has the size to see over any defenders but has never been asked to run an offense. P.J. Hairston and Reggie Bullock, two primary wing shooters, could help Barnes bring the ball up in a point guard by-committee approach, as well.

Regardless, as long as the point guard replacements or by-committee members don’t turn the ball over at an alarming rate, then Carolina should still have the advantage in this game on both ends because of its tremendous forwards. Ohio’s regular rotation only includes two bangers in the post in Reggie Keely and Jon Smith, and while Keely is a solid post defender with bulk at 265 pounds, neither of those players is taller than 6’8”. It will be an adventure trying to defend the most talented front line in the country. Tyler Zeller, John Henson, and James Michael McAdoo should have a field day in the paint, and the lack of a point guard means that every UNC possession should include an early paint touch. Expect big numbers from this trio. But if Ohio is somehow able to key on the UNC bigs and stop the domination in the paint, then the Bobcats can pull another upset by gaining an advantage on the perimeter. Nick Kellogg and Walter Offutt must hit a high percentage of shots from the outside and D.J. Cooper will need another breakout performance to carry this team. It just seems unlikely that Ohio has enough firepower to hang with Carolina’s athletes on the interior. With or without Marshall, roll with North Carolina in this one.

The RTC Certified Pick: North Carolina

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Morning Five: 03.12.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 12th, 2012

  1. The decision by Illinois to fire Bruce Weber  (his press conference reaction here) was probably the most speculated on move this season, but when the school did so it was met with swift reaction. The most notable was Michigan State coach Tom Izzo who said that he and his wife shed tears over the firing although we aren’t clear if they were actual or symbolic tears. The firing was also probably the most significant so far this season as it opens up one of the premier jobs in the country, which could lead to a cascade of movement on the annual coaching carousal.
  2. After putting up with three seasons of relatively futility this was supposed to be a glorious March for Verdell Jones, but those dreams came to a crashing halt as he tore his right ACL during Indiana‘s win over Penn State. The loss of Jones, who finishes his career at #23 on the all-time scoring list at the school, appears to have hit the Hoosiers hard and will make their path through the South Region even more difficult. The Hoosiers have the talent to cover up for Jones over brief periods of time, but the experience he gained from his 103 starts will be hard to recreate late in games.
  3. Over the next three weeks you are going to be seeing plenty of video of Christian Laettner, but the one thing you would see or hear mentioned much is that the Duke great will appear in court this week along with his former teammate Brian Davis in the ongoing case regarding loans they took out on real estate investments. Looking through some of the names involved in this case (including Johnny Dawkins) this could turn into a college basketball media circus as more details come out.
  4. While Weber garnered the majority of the headlines over the weekend, two more coaches were fired over the weekend. At NebraskaDoc Sadler was fired after going 12-18 this season leading Tom Osbourne, the school’s athletic director, to decide to move in a new direction. Meanwhile, Tulsa fired Doug Wojcik, who was the school’s all-time leader in wins, citing a 35% decline in season ticket sales among the reasons. To us, the biggest reason for his firing and the one that probably most directly impacted season ticket sales was the lack of a NCAA Tournament appearance in seven seasons despite a 139-89 record including two 25-win seasons.
  5. We tried to keep the selection of NCAA Tournament teams out of this Morning Five, but Miami and Durand Scott would not let us. Late on Friday, the school announced that the NCAA had declared Durand ineligible for taking impermissible benefits. The time of the suspension, the third for the Hurricanes this season (all for different players), could not have come at a worse time for the team as they were just about to play a game against Florida State, which they lost. Although we cannot definitely say that they would have made the NCAA Tournament had they won that game, they were one of the first four teams left out and a win over a team that would have been a #5 seed at worst probably would have put them over the top. Instead, they are let with nobody to blame, but themselves (and possibly their former head coach).
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Checking In On… the Big Ten Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 28th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take


The Week That Was:

  • Spartan Success: Despite losing guys like Korie Lucious, Kalin Lucas and Delvon Roe, the Michigan State express rolled on. Perhaps no other coach in the country teaches a system and its principles quite like Tom Izzo. Surprise losses on Sunday by both Ohio State and Michigan, however, meant that MSU’s weekend destruction of Nebraska clinched them of the at least a share of the Big Ten title. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
  • Chicago (Evanston) Hope: That wind you felt coming from Chicago might have been a collective sigh of relief from Northwestern fans after senior leader John Shurna sank two free throws with mere seconds to play to help the Wildcats escape Happy Valley with a 67-66 win. Two straight gut-wrenching losses in one week might have been more than Northwestern could have overcome as they sweat out life on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
  • Lousy in Lincoln: It’s no secret that Nebraska has struggled on offense this year. But not since 1961 has Nebraska been so putrid on offense as they were when they were embarrassed by Michigan State, 61-34, at home over the weekend. The Huskers shot under 30% for the game and the loss of leading scorer Bo Spencer to an injured ankle near halftime only hampered their scoring efforts.

The Perennial Lesson In College Basketball 101 Is To Never Count Out The Michigan State Spartans.

Power Rankings

  1. Michigan State (24-5, 13-3) – As good as Michigan State has been this season, how would the Spartans be if Delvon Roe hadn’t been forced to drop basketball due to chronic knee problems? Roe’s presence would have given them more depth and would have taken the load off of Draymond Green at certain points. But it also forced youngsters like Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne to grow up quickly. While they’ve struggled with consistency, those guys are a big part of why the Spartans are Big Ten champs.
  2. Ohio State (23-6, 11-5) – Strange times in Columbus. After riding a 39-game winning streak and destroying most visitors who dared enter Value City Arena, the Buckeyes have now lost two of their last three games at home. Jared Sullinger has seemingly disappeared in big games and crucial moments this season. Read the rest of this entry »
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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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Around The Blogosphere: January 7, 2011

Posted by nvr1983 on January 7th, 2011

If you are interested in participating in our ATB2 feature, send in your submissions to We will add to this post throughout the day as the submissions come in so keep on sending them.

Top 25 Games

  • #17 Illinois 88, Northwestern 63: “Conan the Barbarian had it right, there is nothing greater in life than a total, demoralizing, suffocating victory over one’s enemies, and the Illini may finally have developed the taste for blood after their performance against Northwestern tonight. The shooting for the game was so good, that the team set a school record for percentage from the field, going an astonishing 70.5% capped by Crandall Head’s breakaway jam in final minute of the game.” (Hail to the Orange)

Other Games of Interest

  • Temple 70, Fordham 51: “[Temple] showed the reason, or reasons, they are the front runner in the Atlantic Ten.” (Villanova by the Numbers)

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Around The Blogosphere: December 17, 2010

Posted by nvr1983 on December 17th, 2010

Things have been a little slow in the college basketball world with finals and the Blogosphere has reflected that, but we’re back with another edition of ATB2. If you are interested in participating in our ATB2 feature, send in your submissions to

Top 25 Games

  • #2 Ohio State 83, Florida Gulf Coast 55: “It was the Jon Diebler show as the senior sharp shooter tied a school record by making nine three-point baskets. He also scored a career-high 29 points. Diebler was 9-of-13 (all threes) from the field and actually connected on nine consecutive threes. He missed his first two before making the next nine and missing his last three attempts. Jay Burson held the three-point record by himself for 22 years. Burson made nine threes against Florida in 1988 at Madison Square Garden.” (Eleven Warriors)
  • #19 Minnesota 66, Akron 58: “Despite a slow start that saw them down 32-27 at halftime against an inferior opponent, the Gophers re-established their inside presence and utilized their athletic ability to take down the Akron Zips 66-58 in their last game before an eight-day finals break.” (From the Barn)

Other Games of Interest

  • Gonzaga 103, Lewis-Clark State 61: “Six Gonzaga players scored in double figures tonight as the Bulldogs dominated Lewis-Clark State, an NAIA Division I team.  Elias Harris led all scorers with an efficient 19 points in 19 minutes played.  The German forward only missed on one shot attempt all night.  Rob Sacre, David Stockton, Kelly Olynyk, Mathis Monninghoff, and Sam Dower all hit double figures in the 103-61 victory. The only noteworthy item from tonight’s game is that Steven Gray’s toe injury is not serious and he was merely held out because, well, the opponent was an NAIA team.” (The Slipper Still Fits)

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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Lower Midwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 21st, 2010

For the second October in a row, we’re bringing you our RTC Impact Players series.  The braintrust has gone back and forth on this and we’ve finally settled on a group of sixty players throughout ten geographic regions of the country (five starters plus a sixth man) to represent the who and where of players you should be watching this season.  Seriously, if you haven’t seen every one of these players ball at least once by the end of February, then you need to figure out a way to get a better television package.  As always in a subjective analysis such as this, some of our decisions were difficult; many others were quite easy.  What we can say without reservation is that there is great talent in every corner of this nation of ours, and we’ll do our best to excavate it over the next five weeks in this series that will publish on Mondays and Thursdays.  Each time, we’ll also provide a list of some of the near-misses as well as the players we considered in each region, but as always, we welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments.

You can find all previous RTC 2010-11 Impact Players posts here.

Lower Midwest Region (OH, IN, IL)

  • Shelvin Mack – Jr, G – Butler. There were times during Butler’s superb run to the national championship game last season where you’d be excused if you thought Shelvin Mack, a 6’3 guard with icewater in his veins, was the best player on the floor.  In BU’s first round NCAA game against  UTEP, his explosive 18-point second half where he drained five threes in the first eleven minutes fueled a 22-4 blitz that awakened his sleepwalking team and drove the Bulldogs into the second round (and beyond).  He also added four boards, four assists and a couple of steals in that one just for kicks, but it was seemingly like that all season long.  While Horizon League POYs Gordon Hayward (2010) and Matt Howard (2009) garnered most of the publicity, Mack quietly went about his business of doing whatever was needed to win games — 25 points against UW-Milwaukee; 7 rebounds against K-State; 8 assists against Northwestern and Green Bay; sticky defense every night out.  And win Butler did, to the tune of 25 victories in a row and an unprecedented march to play Duke for the title.  Neither the Bulldogs nor Mack will sneak up on anyone this year, especially after a summer with USA Basketball where the stocky junior opened the eyes of NBA scouts and his peers by earning a spot on the USA Select team ahead of such notable guards as Jimmer Fredette, Jacob Pullen, LaceDarius Dunn, Scoop Jardine, William Buford and Scotty Hopson.  Go ahead — check any preseason all-american list and you’re likely to see quite a few of those names on it.  If anyone actually believes that Butler was a one-year flash in the pan, they haven’t been paying attention.  It’s very difficult for any school to make the Final Four in a given year, but the Bulldogs with Mack leading the way along with Howard and a cast of other returning players, will once again be in that conversation.  Sometimes you just know  when a player is a winner — he has that little extra something that doesn’t always show up in the box score yet you know he’ll find a way to get it done?  That’s Mack, a true example of the “Butler Way” if ever there was one.  All-American forward Gordon Hayward will be missed, but  we have absolutely no doubt that Butler will again be a top ten caliber program in 2010-11 in large part due to the heretofore overlooked glue player whose time has come to take the spotlight.

Butler's Heart & Soul Returns to Indy (AP/P. Sakuma)

  • E’Twaun Moore – Sr, G – Purdue. Less than a week ago Purdue was one of the three favorites along with Duke and Michigan State to win the national title this coming April, but a Robbie Hummel ACL injury later and everyone has been talking about another lost season for Matt Painter and the Boilermakers. However there is still some hope in West Lafayette that comes in the form of E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson (Moore, Hummel, and Johnson were part of a loaded Boilermaker recruiting class in 2007). As talented as Johnson is it will be Moore and his all-around brilliance that will have to be driving force behind the Boilermakers if they are to make a push for the Final Four, of which they are still capable even with the loss of Hummel (to injury) and Chris Kramer (to graduation). Coming off a season where he was first team All-Big Ten and honorable mention AP All-American and an off-season where both he and Johnson briefly flirted with entering the NBA Draft before deciding to come back for their senior year, Moore will be expected to increase his scoring load and pick up some of the defensive slack created by the departure of Kramer. On the offensive end, Moore averaged 16.6 points per game providing the Boilermakers with their most explosive offensive threat since the days of Glenn Robinson while adding 2.7 assists per game, a figure that may not need to increase as the Boilermakers should be bolstered by the full-time return of Lewis Jackson. However it is the other side of the ball where Moore will really have to step up. Although he averaged a respectable 1.5 steals per game Moore was not expected to exert himself significantly on the defensive end as he had Kramer taking on the tougher defensive assignments and being an all-around Steve Wojciechowski-like pest to help create opportunities and cover up for the mistakes of others on the defensive end. To get the Boileramakers back to the Sweet 16, which they got to last year without Hummel, and beyond Moore will have to step around his all-around game while still maintaining his scoring even as teams continue to put an increased focus on him during their game-planning.

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Big Ten Tournament Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 10th, 2010

The big thing from the past week. Big Ten season ends in three way tie. Exciting as the seesaw race was all year, it ended in melodramatic fashion as both Purdue and Michigan State hung on after Ohio State had already won out several days prior. The Boilers and Spartans took care of business, beating teams they were supposed to beat. Michigan State racked up back to back banners, but the big story is that this was the first title for Purdue since 1996. Now to see how many teams can go to the dance based on their performance in the Big Ten tournament.  Four Big Ten teams are in the top 25: #5 Ohio State, #6 Purdue, #11 Michigan State, and #13 Wisconsin.

Power Rankings (final)

  1. Ohio State 24-7, 14-4
  2. Purdue 26-4, 14-4
  3. Michigan State 24-7, 14-4
  4. Wisconsin 23-7, 13-5
  5. Illinois 18-13, 10-8
  6. Minnesota 18-12, 9-9
  7. Northwestern 19-12, 7-11
  8. Michigan 14-16, 7-11
  9. Iowa 10-21, 4-14
  10. Indiana 10-20, 4-14
  11. Penn State 11-19, 3-15

Big Ten Tournament – Indianapolis – March 11th-14th

First Round

  • #9 Iowa vs. #8 Michigan – March 11 – 2:30 ET – ESPN2 – This game could really go either way. The first game was a 14-point victory for Michigan at home, whereas the second game was a two-point victory in OT for Michigan on the road. For Michigan, Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims both had at least 20 in each game, so look for that to continue. For Iowa, Aaron Fuller played well in the first game, but went crazy for 30 in the second game. Matt Gatens was absent in the first game, but exploded for 21 in the second game. Michigan comes in having lost four of six games while Iowa has lost the past five of six games. Iowa should do well inside in this game, but I think Michigan has finally figured out that they can’t rely totally on threes, so I am going with Michigan in this one.
  • #10 Indiana vs. #7 Northwestern – March 11 – 4:55 ET – ESPN2 – This game will most likely go to Northwestern. It is just too difficult to win two games against the same team within a week’s time, especially for a team as inconsistent as Indiana has been all year. The big thing Indiana has going for itself in this game and for this tournament is that they are essentially the home town team, especially if they are able to fill Lucas Oil Stadium with Indiana fans. If not, I think Northwestern has too much John Shurna and too much Michael Thompson for IU to handle. I also think Northwestern will make the adjustments on Jordan Hulls to stop his flurry of threes.
  • #11 Penn State vs. #6 Minnesota – March 11 – 7:30 ET – I am going with Minnesota in this one. They have really come on strong to close out the season, winning four of their last six games, including a 35-point drubbing of Iowa. Both of the matchups between these teams during the regular year were close victories for Minnesota, so I expect this one to be close because it is on neutral ground, and I wouldn’t expect either of the team’s fans to come out in droves. Penn State will need Chris Babb to have a big game along with Talor Battle and David Jackson, while Minnesota needs a consistent performance from Westbrook, Sampson, Hoffarber, and Johnson. The X-factor for Minnesota is Devoe Joseph who struggled in both contests. If he can step up then Minnesota wins easily;  if not they will win in a close battle.

Quarterfinals (projected)

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Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by jstevrtc on February 10th, 2010

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

The big thing from the past week:

  • The Big Ten is wide open – So much for Michigan State being in the driver’s seat. The Big Ten has now split itself almost completely in half. There are the teams in the top who have a legitimate shot at winning the conference, and the rest that have absolutely no shot except for the role of spoiler. Michigan State has lost three straight, Ohio State has won five straight, Purdue has won six straight, and Illinois has won five straight. Now the race is on. There are few head-to-head matchups of top teams in the next week, so be on the lookout for upsets as the only way to continue the conference shakedown.

Now four Big Ten teams are in the top 25: Purdue #6, Michigan State #10, Wisconsin #11, and Ohio State #13.

Power Rankings

  1. Purdue                                 20-3, 8-3
  2. Michigan State                  19-6, 9-3
  3. Wisconsin                            17-5, 8-4
  4. Ohio State                           18-6, 8-3
  5. Illinois                                   17-8, 9-3
  6. Minnesota                          14-8, 5-5
  7. Northwestern                   16-7, 5-6
  8. Michigan                              11-12, 4-7
  9. Indiana                                 9-13, 3-7
  10. Iowa                                      8-16, 2-9
  11. Penn State                          8-15, 0-11

Coming Up

  • Michigan @ Minnesota – February 11th – 7:00 ET – ESPN – This is really the battle of the two teams in the Big Ten with some of the most unfulfilled potential, at least as far as the pre-season rankings are concerned. Rather surprisingly, these two teams have yet to meet this season, but at home, I am leaning toward a victory for the Gophers, but I look forward to seeing what Team Sims & Harris have to say about that for the Wolverines.
  • Ohio State @ Illinois – February 14th – 1:00 ET – CBS – This is the first of two great Valentine’s Day games in the Big Ten. I know it might get you in trouble to watch this game instead of doing some more traditional things that won’t get you in trouble. For the single guys, or those who are married and who want to get in trouble, this should be a great game, especially in terms of how the Big Ten standings will shake out. It is very likely that, as of press time, Illinois and Ohio State will be tied with Michigan State for the top of the Big Ten. This will be the first matchup for these two teams, so it will be interesting to see what Illinois does to compensate for their lack of size and strength against the Buckeyes. I think OSU is playing too well right now to lose this game, even though Demetri McCamey is going toe to toe with anyone in the Big Ten right now for Illinois.
  • Minnesota @ Northwestern – February 14th – 5:00 ET – This game means more to Northwestern than for Minnesota, at least as far as postseason hopes are concerned. Minnesota won the last matchup by 4 points at home, but it should be a different game on the road. The Gophers have struggled on the road this year, especially against decent teams, so the edge goes to Northwestern, especially if the Big Ten hopes to have five or six teams in the tournament this year, which might be a stretch, based on the conference’s RPI ranking.

Breaking It Down

  • Oh where, oh where have the Spartans gone? Michigan State’s leadership is firmly vested in Kalin Lucas.  Unfortunately for Michigan State, three games ago, when taking on Wisconsin on the road, Lucas sprained his ankle, and the Spartans haven’t been the same since. The Spartans with Lucas don’t lose against Illinois, but I am not sure he could have overcome Purdue at 100%. The problem area for MSU has been their defense and the inconsistent play of Durrell Summers. In their first matchup, Wisconsin shot 33.3% for the game against MSU’s 38.1%. In the second matchup, Wisconsin shoots 50.9% to MSU’s 37.0%. Same with the Illinois games. In the first matchup, Illinois shoots 34.9% compared with their 52.5% for the second. Durrell Summers was good for double figures in losses to Illinois and Wisconsin, but only 2 against Purdue. Summers can’t be that inconsistent for the Spartans to win, especially with Lucas not back at full strength yet.
  • Purdue has now established itself as the top team in the conference again. The Big Three for Purdue are really playing well right now, and that has turned the Boilers around. At times during their losing streak not all three cylinders were firing at the same time, but now they are. E’Twaun Moore just had a season high against Michigan State with a 25/6 asst game. Robbie Hummel is always solid, but now JaJuan Johnson is now much more consistent as well. Johnson averaged 6 PPG during their slide, but has been averaging just shy of 19 PPG in this six game winning streak. Purdue will take care of Iowa, but winning against Ohio State on the road is something that the senior class has never done.
  • Wisconsin loses at home. Wisconsin had an 18-game winning streak and a 51-game winning streak against unranked opponents in the Big Ten under coach Bo Ryan snapped in the past week. I would have expected someone like Purdue or Michigan State to pull off the upset, but instead it was Illinois. Wisconsin actually blew out Michigan State at home, so it is even more surprising that Wisconsin lost this game. There are some interesting differences between the Michigan State and Illinois games. The first has to do with bench minutes. Against the Spartans, the Badgers were able to rest their starters a little bit more with Rob Wilson playing for 24 minutes and putting up 10 points. Against Illinois, the Wisconsin bench only played a combined 18 minutes and contributed 7 points. Keaton Nankivil also had a deep drop in production and shooting percentage against Illinois, once again relying too much on the long range bomb, and only having one drop. The good news for Wisconsin is that their schedule only includes two games that might be tough in the future in Minnesota and Illinois on the road.
  • Ohio State might be the second best team in the Big Ten, if not the best. Ohio State has only lost one game in the Big Ten since Evan Turner has been back, and only two games overall. Ohio State was #13 nationally before Turner went down, #18 the week after, #17 the week after that, then #13, and then dropping from the Top 25 following losses to Wisconsin and Michigan. They are back where they started, but I believe they are a much stronger team now. I don’t think Turner will let this team lose, at this point. The rest of the team didn’t do a ton against Iowa, so Turner went off for a 32/7/5/4 steals game, matching his career high in points. Did we mention this guy is only a junior? Talk about simply amazing. Ohio State has games ahead with Illinois, Purdue and Michigan State that will ultimately determine who wins the Big Ten.
  • Minnesota wins on the road behind Lawrence Westbrook. Minnesota got blown out on the road against Evan Turner and Company, and almost blew another game against Penn State, but some last second heroics by Lawrence Westbrook, helped to dash the Nittany Lions hopes as well as preserve Minnesota from being the first team to lose to Penn State this year in the Big Ten. Four of the five starters have been playing well as of late, with the exception of Devoe Joseph. Where has this guy gone? I saw him at Indiana, and was very impressed, but his production has fallen off a cliff. It might be due to confidence, or something else, but without Joseph, they can’t win the big games. The Michigan game could go either way, and they could take off Northwestern’s glass slipper if they are able to win on the road.
  • Illinois is tied for the lead in the Big Ten, really? I wrote last week that I thought most of Illinois’s success in the Big Ten was due to their scheduling. I don’t think I wrong on that assessment up until a week ago, but the reason Illinois is tied for the lead in the Big Ten is that they have really stepped it up as of late. Beating Michigan State and Wisconsin were huge wins, and really demonstrated the parity in the Big Ten this year. Demetri McCamey has turned himself into an animal in the Big Ten, and making the case that he should be a first team All-Big Ten guy at the end of the year if he keeps this up. He beat Indiana at the buzzer, took over against Wisconsin, and destroyed Michigan State from long range. Give it to Mike Tisdale for exploiting Wisconsin’s lack of height, as he can’t play with the big boys, which has been shown all year. Illinois is atop the Big Ten, but is far from out of the woods. They still have OSU twice, Purdue, and Wisconsin. If they can survive that gauntlet they might be able to prove that they are a tournament team.
  • Northwestern needs to continue to win the must-wins. Northwestern did a great job against Indiana at home, especially with a very balanced scoring attack, with all five starters in double figures. They took the game early and never looked back. They will need to do the same against Iowa, Minnesota, Penn State, and Indiana. They really only have one game left that could get them into trouble, and that’s Wisconsin. I look forward to seeing how Northwestern does when they’re in control of their own tournament destiny.
  • Can Michigan be a spoiler? Michigan has hit the skids in the Big Ten. Ever since their win against UConn, they’ve gone straight downhill. Sure, they beat Iowa, but that’s not really news. At this point, Michigan can only settle for spoiler. The games I see on their schedule in which they would most likely fill that role are Illinois at home, and Ohio State and Michigan State on the road. I am not sure they have enough firepower to beat either OSU or MSU, but they could have a shot against Illinois. Sure, they beat OSU earlier, but that was sans Evan Turner, so I heavily discount that win. Let’s see what Michigan can do.
  • Indiana’s slide continues. Indiana can’t seem to perform with the same level of energy in back-to-back games these days. They brought everything they could against Purdue and took it to the wire against the sixth-ranked team in the nation at home. Then they came out flat against Northwestern on the road and got blown out. Now they have lost four straight with maybe only one game that they should win left in Big Ten play. That could be a good sign for the Hoosiers who tend to play much better as underdogs, anyway. Verdell Jones continues to put up big numbers, but it looks like Christian Watford might have solved his scoring slump against Northwestern, which is a good sign for the Hoosiers.
  • Will Iowa win another game in the Big Ten? Iowa has now lost four straight in the Big Ten, and it doesn’t look good for the foreseeable future. Their best shot is Indiana at home, and that might be the only other game they win this year. Of course, Indiana doesn’t want to repeat what happened to them at home at Iowa, so it is hard to predict what will happen with that game. The good news for Iowa — more for next year than this year — is that they aren’t getting blown out. The bad news is that they are only scoring in the high 40s and low 50s in their games, clearly not enough offensive production to hang with the big boys who are used to putting up a lot more points. To add insult to injury, Iowa is shooting in the 30%-range, and having to rely on offensive put-backs for offense. The Hawkeyes gear up for Northwestern at home before taking on Purdue on the road.
  • Penn State is still winless. It is unfortunate that when looking at the headlines about Penn State games, it is usually about the other team’s heroics in pulling out the big games. The fact is that the Nittany Lions have yet to win a game this year. Their last win goes back to December 21st against American. Maybe Penn State should have been as clever as Iowa to schedule an easy non-conference game in the middle of the year to make sure their confidence doesn’t wane. One would hope that they could pull out one of these close games, but so far they continue to come up empty, with the latest disappointment coming from Lawrence Westbrook’s heroics at the buzzer. Talor Battle continues to be the best player to play on a losing team. Penn State takes on Michigan State at home before hitting the road to take on Northwestern and Michigan.
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Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by jstevrtc on February 4th, 2010

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

Three things from the past week:

  • Michigan State suffers first defeat in the Big Ten – Michigan State has won a lot of close games lately, but this one wasn’t close at all. Wisconsin not only had a 15 point lead at half, but they closed it out with an 18 point victory. This was Michigan State’s lowest scoring night of the year with only 49 points. Durrell Summers might have turned the corner though, with 11 points, but he was the only Spartan in double figures. I admit that I didn’t expect quite this level of thumping, but give it to Wisconsin and their fans. Kalin Lucas also had to leave the game with a sprained ankle, so MSU will be holding its breath to see if he is back in action soon. For those who missed the game, RTC Covered It Live: RTC Live: Michigan State @ Wisconsin
  • Ohio State is turning it on – Wow, what a difference a week can make. Ohio State suffered a close loss to West Virginia, a game in which they had the lead at halftime. They clearly learned from that defeat, and poured it on, especially against Minnesota. What a contrast to the game earlier in the year when they didn’t have Evan Turner, and lost by 11 on the road. They turned that around to produce a 22 point thumping of the Gophers at home. Ohio State had a very complete game against Minnesota, a great sign for them that Evan Turner doesn’t need to carry the load. William Buford has been tearing it up, especially his career high 26/5/5 asst game against Minnesota. And the Penn State game was a foregone conclusion.
  • Is Illinois’s scheduling the result of most of its success? – Illinois is 7-3 and tied for second in the Big Ten, but who have and haven’t they beaten? Fortunate for Illinois, they have had a great schedule up until this point. They have beaten Northwestern, Indiana twice, Iowa twice, and Penn State twice. They have lost to Purdue, Northwestern, and Michigan State. Essentially, they have beaten the bottom teams in the conference, and lost to two of the top teams. That doesn’t bode well for Illinois, as they gear up to take on Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and then Purdue. I don’t think they are strong enough to get through that gauntlet.

Now four Big Ten teams are in the top 25: Michigan State #5, Purdue #8, Ohio State #13, and Wisconsin #16.

Power Rankings

  1. Michigan State                  19-4, 9-1
  2. Purdue                                 18-3, 6-3
  3. Wisconsin                            17-5, 7-3
  4. Ohio State                           17-6, 7-3
  5. Illinois                                   15-8, 7-3
  6. Minnesota                          13-8, 4-5
  7. Northwestern                   15-7, 4-6
  8. Michigan                              11-11, 4-6
  9. Indiana                                 9-11, 3-5
  10. Iowa                                      8-15, 2-8
  11. Penn State                          8-14, 0-10

Coming Up

  • Michigan State @ Illinois – February 6th – 9:00 ET – ESPN – Illinois took care of Iowa, and even with the Spartans’ loss to Wisconsin, this is a big chance for Illinois to give the tournament committee a high quality conference win on which they can hang their hats, and it is a way for the Spartans to further distance themselves from the rest of the Big Ten. Illinois needs to play almost perfect to win this game, and both Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale need to step up big time. Last game was a 10 point defeat for Illinois. Let’s see what happens.
  • Wisconsin @ Michigan – February 6th – 4:00 ET – CBS – Michigan doesn’t have a whole lot to lose at this point, so that makes them dangerous. The other thing going for them in this game is that they are playing at home. Up at the Kohl Center I would think it would be all Wisconsin, but in Ann Arbor it could be a different story as far as Michigan playing spoiler. Last game was a six point defeat for Michigan. For the Wolverines to win this game it will have to be more than the Harris and Sims show.
  • Purdue @ Michigan State – February 9th – 9:00 ET ESPN – This is the biggest game in the Big Ten this year, hands down. Both of these teams are going to the tournament, now it’s all about seeding. Purdue played extremely well early on this year, and then slipped at the beginning of the Big Ten, whereas Michigan State struggled a little bit early, but has been pouring it on in conference. This is eight versus five at home. This is what it’s all about. I am very interested to see how Purdue does on the boards, if they’re able to handle MSU’s speed and power, and if they can somehow neutralize its bench.
  • Illinois @ Wisconsin – February 9th – 7:00 ET – Illinois is a bubble team at best right now; the nice Big Ten record helps, but they need to build a stronger case for themselves. Clearly a win against Michigan State would make that statement, and this game would, too. Not sure just a win against Wisconsin would make a strong enough case, especially knowing that many of their wins in the Big Ten have been against lower ranked teams.

Breaking It Down

  • The Spartans are back in the top five, but not for long. I have already mentioned the loss against Wisconsin, so what everyone should be watching for now is how they respond. They are at Illinois and then have Purdue at home, so they won’t get much of a break to reflect on the Wisconsin loss. This loss and subsequent games will show what kind of team this is, especially if it turns out that Kalin Lucas can’t play next game.
  • Purdue is streaking again. Much had been made about Purdue losing three in a row, mostly because they hadn’t lost any for the first eighteen games of the year. Well, guess what? They’ve just reeled off four in a row. They are also #8 in the land, so it’s not like they are going away anytime soon. I am not completely sure that Purdue is playing its best basketball right now, but they are winning in spite of that. They gear up to take on the cross-state rival in Indiana, a matchup that right now is more symbolic in nature. They have almost another week to go before taking on Michigan State on the road, the marquee matchup in the Big Ten this year. I am hoping for a close game in Flint, but we’ll see.
  • Wisconsin beats up on Michigan State. It’s no secret that Wisconsin is comfortable at the Kohl Center in Madison, but nobody knew exactly how comfortable until Michigan State arrived. I guess Bo Ryan didn’t want to lose his undefeated record at home to Tom Izzo. Four players scored in double figures, but who really shined for me was Jordan Taylor. He had a 17/4/2 asst game against the Spartans, but what impressed me was how he stepped up when Trevon Hughes had to sit because of foul trouble. Next up they are at Michigan, a team that just suffered a pretty convincing defeat against Northwestern.
  • Ohio State jumps into the rankings. The Buckeyes jumped seven spots in the past week. True, it was mostly because of their recent results, but it is also as a result of other teams slipping. I have already talked enough about Ohio State above, so I will keep it brief. They have reached the easier part of their schedule, taking on the likes of Penn State, Iowa, and then Indiana. They have to make sure not to play down to the competition.
  • Where is Minnesota heading, and how did they get there? Minnesota got torched by Ohio State. It is fairly easy to see why. Lawrence Westbrook disappeared, as did Devoe Joseph, combining for only 12 points against the Buckeyes. They have provided a lot of scoring power of late, but Ohio State clearly flustered them. It is probably due to OSU’s big guards, but there’s something else. They need Westbrook to lead; when he does, they win, but lately he has been inconsistent. They knocked off Northwestern, but that was an exception. Losing point guard Al Nolen to academic ineligibility has definitely hurt the Gophers as well, as he led the team in assists and steals. To read the press release of Nolen’s academic appeal being denied, check out here: Nolen’s reinstatement appeal denied by the NCAA
  • Can Illinois make the tournament? Maybe. I already wrote about who Illinois has and hasn’t beaten, so this section will detail the Indiana game, and what Illinois will need to do to beat better teams. Illinois let Indiana back into the game, something they can’t do against better teams. Indiana actually had plenty of opportunities to win the game, but threw away the ball in crucial spots. What is most worrisome for Illinois has to do with the two Mikes. Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale disappear in big games. Davis has been benched to send a message, and Tisdale scores against undersized teams like Indiana. They can’t rely on Demetri McCamey to carry them again. He had a 19/8 asst game and the game winner against Indiana. Who else is going to step up for Illinois? The status quo won’t get them to the tournament.
  • Northwestern can’t beat the big dogs in the Big Ten. Congrats to Northwestern for taking down Michigan. Michigan is a streaky and dangerous team, despite their overall struggles. Northwestern turned the dynamic duo of Sims and Harris into a very limited solo showing by Manny Harris and a non-existent one by DeShawn Sims. That was really a must-win for the Wildcats. It looks like the Wildcats do very well when they have a balanced scoring attack. John Shurna lit it up for 31 in their loss to Michigan State, but then had only 17 in their win against Michigan. They have Indiana at home and Iowa on the road, two games they must win to make the tournament. If you missed the Northwestern  game, RTC Live was there: RTC Live: Michigan @ Northwestern
  • Michigan’s two man scoring squad can take care of the bottom of the Big Ten. Michigan has done well beating some of the lower ranked teams in the Big Ten and, every once in a while, surprising some of the top teams without key players.  For the most part, they can’t beat the top teams in the Big Ten. They lost in successive games to Wisconsin, Purdue, and Michigan State. Sure, they knocked off Iowa, but then struggled against Northwestern. I guess it is as much as you can ask for from two guys.
  • Indiana still not doing the little things. Indiana lost a heartbreaker to Illinois after a solid thumping at home against Iowa. The good thing for Indiana against Illinois was they got back their characteristic energy they have been playing with all year. They also clawed away at the end on defense and forced some big turnovers on Illinois. Looking at the stats, they are similar in almost all areas except for field goal percentage. They even outshot Illinois from the charity stripe. That hasn’t happened often this season. Where Indiana broke down, though, was at the end of the game.  They had a chance to win, and turned it over.  Verdell Jones has been a solid leader since Maurice Creek went down, but sometimes Jones takes too long to turn it on. He has scored a lot of his points during the comebacks of games, but they need him the rest of the time as well.
  • Iowa’s streak finally ends. I was almost joking that Iowa looked like they would be picking off Big Ten opponents in sequential order from bottom to top, but that didn’t play out for the Hawkeyes. The Wolverines were just too much for Iowa in their last matchup. When you only score 17 in the first half, that’s just too much of a hole to overcome. Aaron Fuller continues to be solid, but the rest of the team didn’t help out.  Especially the bench and their nine point contribution. The key to Iowa’s victories was its rebounding, as they were hitting the boards hard. Against Michigan, a team with a four guard lineup, they were outrebounded by six on the offensive end, and by 11 overall. That’s just too much Windex for a team near the bottom of the Big Ten to overcome, especially on the road.
  • Penn State is still winless. Well, Michigan State had the Big Ten streak snapped, but Penn State hasn’t been able to say the same for their version. Penn State is viewed as the assumed win for everyone in the Big Ten. The only thing they have going for them now is that other teams might not to take them seriously. I think that is the only reason that they were able to take the Wisconsin game to overtime, especially on the road. There is no way the same team that torched Michigan State showed up for that game. Out of their upcoming games, I think the only team that they might be able to catch sleeping is Minnesota. They had a five point loss earlier against the Gophers on the road, so maybe a home game will provide just enough energy to get them over the hump and break their streak.
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