Big Ten M5: 01.25.13 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on January 25th, 2013

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  1. Full disclosure, when I’m not writing for RTC or going to school, I run a site called InsideNU along with RTC columnist Chris Johnson. I don’t typically plug my own articles, but after Northwestern’s win over Minnesota I wrote this feature breaking down the Wildcats’ 1-3-1 defense. NU was getting dominated on the boards by Trevor Mbakwe and the Gophers in the first half and the beginning of the second half, so the Wildcats switched to the zone, stifling Minnesota’s offense and helping Northwestern get into transition. NU ended up holding the Gophers, whose previous season-low was 66 points, to a paltry sum of 48 in that game. The 1-3-1 also helped NU keep things close with Indiana, and suddenly, it appears as if the Wildcats may be able to make things interesting with respect to postseason play.
  2. A victory over Nebraska isn’t all that impressive of a win, but Illinois’ 20-point blowout against the Huskers was just what the doctor ordered. The Illini had been reeling since a win a couple of weeks ago against Ohio State — suffering losses to Wisconsin and Northwestern — so the win over Nebraska was a much-needed confidence booster. Now comes a five-game stretch that could define Illinois’ season: vs. Michigan, at Michigan State, vs. Wisconsin, vs. Indiana, at Minnesota. The Illini may not be favored in any of those five games, but it’s important that they fight through to get at least a couple of wins in order to avoid a collapse similar to last season.
  3. It doesn’t take much offense to beat Penn State this year, and Indiana’s 72 points earlier this week were more than enough to take down the Nittany Lions. Still, the Hoosiers found their offense in unexpected places. Cody Zeller finished with just two points on 0-of-4 shooting — a career low. However, IU got other players to step up, including Will Sheehey, who has struggled with consistency at times this year. Sheehey came into the game with IU up just 23-14, but he hit two threes and helped the Hoosiers eventually increase their lead to 41-19, essentially putting the game away.
  4. In Tuesday’s game against Michigan State, Wisconsin lived and died by the three-point shot. When the Badgers were hot, they were tough to stop, but there were too many cold stretches and low percentage shots for UW to escape with a win. The Badgers came out strong in the first half, but struggled to keep up that pace throughout the game. Wisconsin shot a season-low 29.6 percent from the field, mainly because half of those shots were threes. The three-point shot can be the great equalizer if it’s working, but on days that it’s not, the Badgers must find another way to score through high-percentage shots.
  5. After years of enduring second half collapses, you can’t blame Minnesota fans for getting restless in the midst of a three-game losing streak, especially following a loss to Northwestern. This year, Minnesota has enough talent to earn consideration as a top four seed or better in the NCAA Tournament, but the Gophers must be more consistent in order to reach that goal. In fear of yet another collapse, some Minnesota fans are already calling for coach Tubby Smith’s head on Twitter. It’s just a three-game losing streak and the Gophers will still be ranked, but a few more bad losses could cause Smith’s seat to get a little bit warmer.
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Big Ten M5: 01.02.13 Edition

Posted by jnowak on January 2nd, 2013

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  1. We’ve seen Minnesota get off to hot starts before, but this year is starting to feel a little different. The Gophers got a signature win at home on Monday against Michigan State — which had tormented Minnesota at The Barn in years past — and as Trevor Mbakwe gets back into the mix, the Gophers will only get stronger. Tubby Smith has taken his time to ease Mbakwe back into the playing rotation after he tore his right ACL just over a year ago. Playing without a knee brace for the first time this season, Mbakwe showed off the skills we’ve become used to seeing in the Big Ten the last few years — turning in a double-double and giving the Spartans trouble on both ends of the floor. As ESPN‘s Myron Medcalf wrote afterward, Mbakwe is an emotional guide for this team, which could very well compee for a Big Ten title in the toughest conference in the country.
  2. As the guys at CBSSports.com look at the Big Ten at the midway point of the season, Jeff Goodman says the conference is the most loaded in America. Illinois and Minnesota have been much better than we ever expected, Michigan and Indiana are surefire national title contenders, and Ohio State and Michigan State are expected to do their usual damage. Goodman takes a good look at the conference with this reset, looking at best match-ups ahead, some of the conference’s top players, and several other interesting news and notes.
  3. All players have their own unique ways of getting motivated before big games. Some turn to scripture, others use music. Athletes are famously superstitious and their habits are endless. Indiana’s Will Sheehey, for one, takes the bad and turns it into good. Sheehey told the Indianapolis Star that he uses criticism, chants from opposing fans, and negative things he reads about his game to motivate himself. It clearly worked on New Year’s Even in Iowa City, as Sheehey went for 13 points, five rebounds and two assists coming off the bench in a nice Big Ten opener road win for the Hoosiers.
  4. When it comes to criticism for Wisconsin sophomore Frank Kaminsky, he admits that no one is tougher than himself. Wisconsin players are expected to play hard, and the Badgers are one of those teams that give the Big Ten a bruising reputation. So when Kaminsky feels like he isn’t playing tough enough, he’s usually the first person to tell… himself. “I know that sometimes I play soft,” Kaminsky told Madison.com earlier this week, “and after I make a soft play I kind of mumble to myself about being stupid and how I need to play harder.” He’s an up-and-comer in the program and a guy Bo Ryan points to as one of the most improved in his short time in Madison.
  5. Once Big Ten play rolls around for Nebraska, the Cornhuskers are going to need as much scoring as they can find from all parts of the bench. If that means more scoring from David Rivers, that could be a huge plus for Tim Miles’ team. The sophomore wing dropped 20 points in the Huskers’ win against Central Michigan last week, after tallying only 20 points his entire freshman season. So the Omaha World-Herald asks, where has that been all this time? “It’s just been bottled up,” Rivers said with a smile. “I hope there are more of those to come.” If Nebraska is to make a reasonable showing in the Big Ten this year, Miles should hope so, too.
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Night Line: Indiana Displays Just Some Of Its Potential In 24-Point Blowout of UNC

Posted by EJacoby on November 28th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @EJacobyRTC on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that evening’s games.

So this is why Indiana garnered the #1 preseason ranking for the 2012-13 season. Despite coming into Tuesday night’s game with a 6-0 record and 32-point average margin of victory, the AP poll’s top-ranked Hoosiers had yet to produce a statement performance to legitimize their candidacy as the best squad in all of college hoops. It took overtime to dispose of previously unranked Georgetown last week, and Tom Crean’s team faced another tough test with the Tar Heels coming to town for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Indiana did not fool around this time, easily disposing of North Carolina, 83-59, in a game that showcased a tantalizing display of offensive basketball by the Hoosiers from start to finish. All doubts about IU’s true “top-seed upside” are quelled for the time being after it ran a young-but-explosive UNC team off the floor in Bloomington by out-executing and out-smarting the Tar Heels; even in an imperfect shooting night.

Cody Zeller and Indiana soared past North Carolina on Tuesday night (AP Photo)

For long stretches of Tuesday night’s game, the Hoosiers – ranked #2 in this week’s RTC Top 25 – played a completely flawless brand of unselfish basketball. Crisp passes flew around the Assembly Hall floor at seemingly light speed, leaving the Carolina defense with no chance to rotate quick enough to challenge IU’s knockdown outside shooters or strong post finishers. Strong outlet passes from forwards reached lead guards Yogi Ferrell and Jordan Hulls before UNC could catch up, and the Hoosiers converted time and time again in transition. Indiana totaled 21 assists on 33 made field goals through its balanced attack. The game film of this 24-point blowout ought to become its own best-selling clinic video in ball movement, as IU converted at 1.12 points per possession against the #14-ranked team in the country. Tonight’s IU assist total (21) outpaced that of the leading team in that category nationally (Maryland, 19.3 per game), and the performance boosted IU up to the top offensive efficiency rating (125.5) in the nation.

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Big Ten Team Previews: Indiana Hoosiers

Posted by jnowak on November 5th, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the Big Ten microsite will be rolling out the featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the Indiana Hoosiers.

Where We Left Off: The Hoosiers had what many figured would be this year, last year. (That confusing enough for ya?) Meaning, Indiana overreached moderate expectations for a young squad that was expected to round into a Top-10 squad this season with a more mature Cody Zeller and a highly-touted recruiting class to be mixed in with a couple veterans. But when Zeller and Tom Crean revived Assembly Hall with thrilling home victories against then-No. 1 Kentucky and then-No. 2 Ohio State (not to mention a victory against Crean’s mentor, Tom Izzo, and No. 5 Michigan State), the basketball world realized that Indiana is finally back. And they are here to stay. The Hoosiers are the consensus No. 1 team in the country, with Zeller a near unanimous preseason All-America selection and a favorite for college basketball’s player of the year. Then, couple seniors Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford with Rivals.com’s fifth-ranked incoming freshman class, and this team is loaded from top to bottom. The Hoosiers ended last season with a Sweet Sixteen loss to eventual champion Kentucky, but Indiana has its sights set on much more this year.

Cody Zeller is the face of the Hoosiers this season. And for good reason.

Positives: When talking about the positives, you have to start with Zeller. He’s the best big man in the country heading into his sophomore campaign, after averaging 15.6 PPG and 6.6 RPG as a freshman. He has good footwork, runs the floor exceptionally well, and has a great nose for the ball. There’s no reason the Indiana offense shouldn’t move through him on every possession. And that brings us to the roles of Hulls and Watford. As seniors on team that will get a lot of its scoring from underclassmen — namely Zeller and freshman Yogi Ferrell, and though Victor Oladipo is a junior, he doesn’t exactly have three years of solid game experience — Watford and Hulls should have the know-how and the presence of mind to get the ball in and out of the post and through Zeller every trip downcourt. This depth and balance of scoring talent and Big Ten experience will do wonders for the Hoosiers this season.

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How Will Derek Elston’s Injury Impact The Hoosiers?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on October 25th, 2012

Every prediction about the upcoming college basketball season ought to be made with a disclaimer: “assuming they are healthy.” This disclaimer definitely applies to the Indiana Hoosiers this year. Just a few days after being ranked as the best team in the country by the coaches, Tom Crean’s squad already has experienced its first major obstacle of the season. Forward Derek Elston will be sidelined with a knee injury for 6-8 weeks according to several sources. No team is immune to injuries and Elston’s absence for possibly the first 10-12 games will certainly impact the Hoosiers.

Elston’s knee injury will open up some minutes to the younger Hoosiers’ forwards.

Even though Elston only played 12.3 MPG last season, he was expected to provide an important role off the bench for Crean’s group this year. Averaging 2.4 RPG is definitely not all-conference worthy but he brings several intangibles to the team with his size (6’9, 216 lbs) and experience (senior). Elston, Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls have been around Bloomington for a few seasons now, and their experience will help younger guys like Yogi Ferrell get up to pace very quickly amidst the intense media spotlight on the Hoosiers. Elston is another key body in the paint and would have taken the bulk of the defensive load to help keep All-America candidate Cody Zeller out of potential foul trouble. Senior forwards who have been around the Big Ten for four seasons know a thing or two about defending the paint and he will be definitely be missed during the non-conference season. Elston’s injury obviously means some shuffling within the Indiana rotation but that could also have a positive impact on the younger players in the long run.

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Breaking Down a Potential UCLA-Indiana Final in the Legends Classic

Posted by Chris Johnson on August 7th, 2012

Christopher Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Playing formidable competition in early season invitational tournaments is the best way to build a solid RPI foundation upon which to base the rest of your non-conference schedule. In recent years, as teams have adjusted to the notion that non-league scheduling does, in fact, have an appreciable affect on the bubble cut line come Selection Sunday, these tournaments have provided some intriguing matchups featuring national title contenders. The Legends Classic, one of the more anticipated tournaments in the early season college hoops calendar, released its bracket Monday. The 12-team field, on the whole, is a bit underwhelming, but tournament organizers did do us the favor of setting up a potentially epic finale on November 20 at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Indiana and UCLA, after staging two regional round games on their respective home courts, will need to win only one game against a power conference team before meeting in the tournament’s final game. If UCLA can sneak by Georgetown and Indiana takes care of business against Georgia, the two surefire preseason top-five outfits will put it all on the line for the Legends Classic crown.

Joshua Smith, UCLA

The Legends Classic bracket features two national championship contenders in Indiana and UCLA (Credit: Associated Press).

That’s must-see viewing for any college hoops fan, a tantalizing early season matchup of Final Four-worthy opponents. With more than three months remaining before the bracket kicks off, there’s plenty of time to salivate over this enticing showdown. But in these news-bereft late summer months, where Midnight Madness can’t come soon enough, I’m bringing you a way-too-early positional breakdown of what figures to be one of the best non-league fixtures in the upcoming season. To take this a step further, I’ll provide a prediction, score included, as a way of sparking the debate for which team is better positioned to make good on their considerable preseason hype. Remember, Georgetown or Georgia could knock off UCLA and/or Indiana in the semifinals and thus prevent the more favorable and altogether more entertaining finals matchup. But if the Hoosiers and Bruins are indeed what most preseason prognosticators are making them out to be, they should both advance to the championship round. Still, there’s no guarantee, so take this predictive exercise at face value.

Point guard: Yogi Ferrell/Jordan Hulls vs. Kyle Anderson/Larry Drew II

If Ferrell outplays hulls in preseason practice, Crean likely will insert him into the starting lineup in time for this highly-touted matchup. Ferrell is a true point guard who penetrates and finishes at the rim, but scoring won’t be his primary responsibility this season; facilitating the group of talented finishers around him—guys like Victor Oladipo, Will Sheehey, Christian Watford and Cody Zeller—is the first order of business. Hulls has been around long enough to remember discernibly darker days in Bloomington, the pre-Kentucky upset era—faraway as it may seem—and can make up for his deficiencies on defense with experience, leadership and pinpoint three-point marksmanship. He may ultimately start alongside Ferrell at the two. Countering the Hoosiers’ duo is Anderson, one of the more intriguing skills-to-size prospects in the 2012 class. At 6’7″, Anderson poses a major athletic and size advantage over most every point guard, yet he also boasts the shrewd ball handling, court vision and mid-range touch to excel at the position. He functions efficiently on the low block, posting up defenders and finding open shooters on the perimeter. Drew II, a year after transferring from North Carolina, will challenge Anderson for the starting job. Both players should see significant floor time this season, and they could split minutes in this early nonleague tournament.

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Big Ten Summer Check-In: Indiana Hoosiers

Posted by jnowak on July 10th, 2012

Miss basketball yet, Big Ten fans? We know you do. And we do, too. Summer is great and all, but we’ve got to get our Big Ten hoops fix somehow. So we’re bringing you a 12-part series catching up with each conference squad, looking back and looking ahead to the season that will be here before we know it. We start today with Indiana and will wrap it up in a few weeks with Ohio State. So whether you’re reading this at the beach, on the back porch by the grill, or in your cool air conditioning, don’t forget — just because the season’s over (or hasn’t started yet) doesn’t mean we aren’t still talking about it.

Now, on to the Hoosiers …

Think Indiana fans are happy Cody Zeller chose to stick around another year? (Andy Lyons/Getty)

  • Evaluating Last Year: It was already no secret that the Indiana program has been on the upswing since Tom Crean took over and rescued it from the pits of despair. The recruits were starting to come in — none bigger than Cody Zeller — and fans could start to feel the excitement returning to Assembly Hall. The NCAA Tournament drought was certain to end soon, but it was unsure if last season was going to be the year. Well, the Hoosiers erased any doubts early on by tearing through their (albeit, pretty easy) non-conference schedule before putting up a good fight in the Big Ten. The season was headlined by a dramatic upset of Kentucky, as well as an NCAA Tournament run that ended in a Sweet Sixteen rematch at the hands of those same Wildcats (who eventually went on to win it all). There’s no doubt that Indiana was headed for big things, but it was hard to foresee the Hoosiers getting back to national prominence this quickly. Certainly an overachievement.
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Big Ten Morning Five: 03.22.12 Edition

Posted by jnowak on March 22nd, 2012

  1. The Fighting Illini, it seems, will not be getting their man. Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas has been throwing everything at VCU coach Shaka Smart — it turned out to be a contract offer of $2.5 million a year to succeed Bruce Weber — and Smart turned him down, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. With the most high-profile candidate out of the picture (and others like Cuonzo Martin and Anthony Grant reportedly also not showing interest), what other options will Thomas have?
  2. Is John Beilein sitting somewhere wondering, “Is it something I said?” In a matter of hours Wednesday, it was announced that three Michigan players — including Evan Smotrycz, who started 18 games this season for the Wolverines – were leaving the program and that freshman phenom Trey Burke was testing the NBA draft waters. Those departures would leave some gaping holes but, with the way Beilein has been recruiting lately, there is potential for a silver lining.
  3. In other offseason news, there’s another coaching situation in the state of Illinois drawing some attention. The Chicago Tribune‘s Teddy Greenstein notes that the silence surrounding Bill Carmody‘s performance evaluation is leading some to speculate that there may be something bubbling in Evanston. Carmody has failed to lead Northwestern to that elusive NCAA Tournament berth. Is it time for a change?
  4. Back to teams who are actually still playing basketball, the Lansing State Journal‘s Joe Rexrode does not mince words when discussing the honors Draymond Green deserves this season. Rexrode says Green has been the best player in the country, particularly in the last month or two, and he knows he’s not the only one that feels that way. Green has already been named to multiple All-American first teams. But he’s got a few tall trees in Kansas and Kentucky uniforms to topple before being recognized as the country’s best.
  5. Throughout Will Sheehey‘s high school career, there may have been questions about whether he could compete at the highest college level. Tom Crean never had doubts. And now, the Indianapolis Star‘s Terry Hutchens writes, Indiana fans feel the same way. The Indiana guard’s jumper sealed the win against VCU to send the Hoosiers to the Sweet 16 and he has had 12 double-digit scoring games despite missing five games early in the season with an ankle injury.
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ATB: Sweet Sixteen Set – #1 Seeds Roll, Cinderellas Emerge, and It’s Good to be From Ohio

Posted by EJacoby on March 19th, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. After one of the craziest nights in recent Big Dance history on Friday, perhaps we all needed a bit of a break from the chaos this weekend. Fortunately, that didn’t exactly happen. Most of the higher seeds advanced in the round of 32, but the Midwest Region led the way with some crazy results. Almost every season, we see a double-digit seed reach the Sweet Sixteen; this year, we have three, and it easily could have been five. Of the 16 teams remaining, four come from the Big East, four are of the Big Ten, and four represent the state of Ohio, including both of the guilty parties from the Crosstown Shootout Brawl back in December. It’s the first time ever that one single state sends four teams to the Sweet Sixteen. Let’s go over the great moments from the weekend…

Your Watercooler Moment. #13 Ohio University is This Year’s Cinderella Story

D.J. Cooper Hasn't Allowed #13 Ohio to Lose (AP Photo/B. Rucker)

What would the NCAA Tournament be without a mid-major, double-digit seed in the Sweet Sixteen? This year it’s Ohio, the #13 seed of the Midwest Region that had a fairly favorable draw in terms of matchups but still had to defeat two power conference teams on the way. A victory over #12 seed South Florida on Sunday sent the Bobcats to the second weekend of the Big Dance, pretty amazing considering they finished third in the MAC conference this season. But Ohio is no joke, as D.J. Cooper continues to prove himself as one of the best lead guards in the entire tourney. Cooper outplayed USF’s Anthony Collins in the round of 32 and tallied 19 points, six rebounds, and seven assists with several big shots late in the game to help his team advance. The other recognizable name from this squad is Nick Kellogg, the sophomore guard who is the son of CBS analyst and former collegiate star Clark Kellogg. Clark’s son is a terrific shooter at 41.8% from three and 89.2% from the foul line, giving the Bobcats a nice one-two punch from the perimeter. Interestingly enough, Ohio now draws #1 North Carolina in the Regional Semifinal in what most would expect to be a blowout, but the Tar Heels just lost their indispensible point guard to a wrist injury, which will make things interesting next weekend. Could Ohio’s perimeter attack lead to a truly incredible Cinderella story with a win over UNC? Stay tuned.

Also Worth Chatting About. Kendall Marshall Suffers Broken Wrist for #1 Seed North Carolina

The single biggest storyline from the past weekend was not anything that happened in the box score or even in between the lines on the court. But when North Carolina’s star point guard and the nation’s leader in assists, Kendall Marshall, got fouled and pushed on a layup and landed on his right wrist in the out-of-bounds baseline, the entire dynamic of this NCAA Tournament changed. Marshall suffered a fractured wrist on this play with 10:55 remaining in the second half of Carolina’s game against #8 seed Creighton. Marshall continued to play in this game for a few minutes and wasn’t immediately in so much pain that he had to leave. It’s also an injury to his non-shooting hand, so it could have been worse. In addition, the sophomore is set for surgery on Monday which will leave him in a position to play shortly thereafter if he is able to tolerate the pain. Unfortunately, it’s a huge long shot to think that Marshall will be back and effective going forward. The injury he suffered usually requires three-plus weeks of a cast and rest, and even bracing the hand and tolerating pain to play will make for a huge liability on the floor. Already a weak defender, Marshall would be even less effective on that end and he would surely be forced to his right hand on offense by opposing teams. There’s just as strong of a chance that he’d be a detriment to UNC by being on the court than he would be a benefit, depending on the true impact of the injury. As things stand, Carolina needs to start preparing for a Championship run without its point guard, leaving that position to be filled by either unused backup Stilman White (4.2 minutes per game) or by a player like P.J. Hairston or Harrison Barnes in some sort of point-forward role. One of the most irreplaceable players in the country, Marshall’s injury leaves a giant question mark surrounding the Tar Heels’ title hopes.

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Rushed Reaction: #4 Indiana 63, #12 VCU 61

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2012

Three key takeaways.

  1. Indiana Never Stopped Believing. Even when Bradford Burgess, a career 76% shooter from the foul line, stepped up with a three-point lead and two shots coming, it was clear that Indiana still believed that it was going to win the game. After Burgess missed both, Victor Oladipo’s drive to the left to get to the rim and-one was a game-winning kind of play. At that point, with VCU having only scored four minutes in the previous 12 minutes, it was just a matter of IU finding the way to win. After another missed three from VCU, Will Sheehey’s shot was almost destined to go down.
  2. Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey Were the Heroes, But Christian Watford Saved the Day. Oladipo and Sheehey will probably get most of the ink for their two game-changing offensive plays for Indiana in the last minute of action, but it was Watford’s mini-explosion near the tail of the first half that brought IU back from the brink. Down 42-33 and looking very much like a team on wobbly legs, Watford took it upon himself to steady his team by hitting back-to-back threes and a couple of free throws to cap an 8-0 run to close the half and get IU back in the ball game.
  3. Is This It For Shaka? We’ve had the benefit of observing Shaka Smart in the NCAA Tournament for the better part of both last year’s and this year’s runs, and there’s absolutely no question that he is incredibly driven. Whether he’ll continue that drive at VCU or another school like Illinois is up for debate, but the way his players are fully committed to him and buy in completely to his game plans highly suggests that he will be successful no matter where he ends up. Is Illinois the right place — so much of success there depends on the Chicago pipeline, but it’ll certainly be interested to see him courted in the next month or so.

Star(s) of the game. Christian Watford, Indiana. As mentioned above, it was Watford’s personal 8-0 run that brought his Hoosiers back from the brink of being in big trouble heading into the halftime break. He ended the game with 16/5 with four threes and two steals, but in terms of stifling momentum, his contributions were invaluable.

Quotable. “Forever, I don’t get over games like this.” VCU head coach Shaka Smart, responding to a question about how it felt to lose this game in the way that the Rams did.

What’s Next? Indiana will move on to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in a decade (2002, under Mike Davis), where the Hoosiers at that time took down overall #1 Duke in a classic battle. Will IU have the chops to bring down another #1 in Kentucky.

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Big Ten Tournament Preview & Season Wrap-Up

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 8th, 2012

Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.

Conference Tournament Preview

After a thrilling regular season, it’s on to Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Despite being a three-seed, Ohio State has to be considered the favorite given how well they ended the regular season. If either Michigan State or OSU wins the Big Ten Tournament, they will get strong consideration for a one-seed. Teams like Wisconsin, Indiana and Purdue can all improve their NCAA Tournament seeds with strong showings this weekend.

Northwestern is the only clear bubble team in the conference, and as such is under the most pressure to string some wins together. If the Wilcats can beat Minnesota in the first round, they’ll face a Michigan team that they only lost to twice this season, though both losses came in overtime. Two wins in the Big Ten tournament should make them a virtual lock for their first-ever tournament birth, but it’s much easier said than done with this level of competition.

A Look Back

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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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