Rushed Reaction: #2 Ohio State 81, #6 Cincinnati 66

Posted by nvr1983 on March 22nd, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Aaron Craft struggles, but still came up big. Craft has become a hero for the fans of advanced metrics and hard-nosed defense, but he struggled tonight for a large part of the game. He played his usual excellent defense, but the shots were not falling and he made several ill-advised passes and missed his first five shots before getting his shot to fall. His totals were not impressive (11 points, four rebounds, and five assists) he provided the defensive pressure that kept the Bearcats from breaking through when they came on strong in the second half.
  2. Give credit to Cincinnati for rebounding. They may have come up short in the second half against the Buckeyes, but Bearcat fans should look back on the second half of this season fondly. After the team could have (and probably should have) imploded following their brawl against Xavier, the team struggled while it was getting players back from suspension, but then rebound to finish the season impressively going from close to the bubble to becoming a #6 seed with an impressive run that saw them knock off a #1 seed (Syracuse), a #2 seed (Marquette), and a #3 seed (Georgetown) before losing to a Louisville team that will be playing in the Elite Eight on Saturday. Mick Cronin and his players took a lot of heat in the aftermath of the event, but now they deserve some praise.
  3. Where was William Buford? Several key players came up big for the Buckeyes, but their senior guard was not one of them. He finished with just four points on 1-8 shooting. In fact, you could point to him picking up his fourth foul with 9:16 left as the turning point in the game. After that point the Buckeyes took over and never looked back. Everybody is allowed to have a bad game, but when you get this far into the NCAA Tournament you need to be able to rely on your seniors for somewhat consistent play. The Buckeyes will need more out of him if they are going to beat the Orange on Saturday.

Star of the Game. Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State. The third most lauded of the Buckeye sophomore, exploded in the first half with 20 points on 8-12 from the field including 3-5 from 3-point range. While he cooled off considerably in the second half finishing with 26 points on 10-17 from the field it was his first half explosion that helped carry the Buckeyes at the beginning of this game. With the way that Thomas has been playing, do not be shocked if you hear his name mentioned as a potential early entry.

Sights & Sounds. Neither coach was as demonstrative as Bo Ryan was in the last game, but the Buckeye fans were seated directly behind us. What was unusual about them (or at least the ones behind me) was that they were not as loud and boisterous as I would expect, but instead were more analytical. Maybe I just got lucky, but all game long they kept on commenting on great Craft was on defense.

What’s Next?  The Buckeyes get the matchup that everybody was pointing to when the brackets came out. Syracuse may not be quite as formidable as many had thought now that Fab Melo is off the team, but as they proved tonight they are a more than worth adversary. Jared Sullinger should have his way on the inside without a great defensive presence to disrupt him, but the Orange have a variety of perimeter players to throw at Craft, Thomas, and company. We cannot imagine any way that it does not turn out to be a great game.

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen Thursday

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 22nd, 2012

RTC Region correspondents Brian Otskey (East) and Andrew Murawa (West) contributed to this preview.

#1 Syracuse vs. #4 Wisconsin – East Region Semifinals (at Boston, MA) – 7:15 PM ET on CBS

Bo Ryan Is Looking For His Second Trip to the Elite Eight at Wisconsin

Perhaps the most fascinating matchup to date in the entire NCAA Tournament will take place in tonight’s first game from Boston. Wisconsin, the most patient and deliberate team in the country, takes on a Syracuse team that has won 33 games due in large part to a lethal transition attack. While Syracuse ranks #202 in tempo, the Orange thrive on the fast break. You hear a lot about Jim Boeheim’s team struggling on the defensive glass and some of that is due to the fact that his guards already start out on the break when a shot goes up, taking them completely out of position to rebound. Without Fab Melo around to man the middle, Syracuse’s rebounding issues could be a major problem against the physical and deliberate Badgers. It’s always easier to slow a game down than to speed it up and that’s what Wisconsin is going to do. Syracuse will be forced to score in the half court against one of the strongest defenses in the entire nation. The big question will be whether Syracuse, already not one of the better half court teams, can get the ball inside and avoid settling for jump shots. At times this season the Orange have been frustrated and forced into shooting contested jumpers. Syracuse needs to utilize strong ball screening action in order to free up shooters. Wisconsin’s players will fight through screens and stick with you so using the pick-and-roll also wouldn’t be a bad idea. As for Wisconsin, the Badgers match up very well on the defensive end. The question for them will be whether they can score enough to win. Syracuse obviously has more offensive weapons but Bo Ryan has Jordan Taylor to take control of the game for his team. Taylor is the only player on Wisconsin capable of creating his own shot and that will be critical against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone. Wisconsin shoots a bunch of three-pointers and it will have to make quite a few in order to knock off the top-seeded Orange. Syracuse’s zone encourages opposing teams to shoot over it but Wisconsin can actually make them, a major difference from Kansas State last week. If Boeheim chooses to extend his zone out on Wisconsin’s shooters, that will free up the Melo-less middle for Jared Berggren to go to work off screen and rolls in addition to opening up driving lanes for Taylor. Expect Jim Boeheim to adjust how his defense attacks Wisconsin as the game goes along, something he certainly has experience with. This will be a clean game between two teams with great defenses and terrific ball protection. Should it come down to free throws, Wisconsin has the edge. Syracuse is the better team and has many more offensive threats but the Tournament is all about matchups. We think the Badgers will make just enough shots to pull off the upset.

The RTC Certified Pick: Wisconsin

#1 Michigan State vs. #4 Louisville – West Regional Semifinal (at Phoenix, AZ) – 7:47 PM ET on TBS

One of the things we college basketball fans tend to really like about this time of year are the surprises. Not just the obvious ones like Butler running to the national title game or Villanova playing the perfect game against Georgetown, but more subtle ones like teams unveiling a new wrinkle to their offense or players making plays that you hadn’t known they were able to make. As for this game, however, don’t expect many surprises; we all more or less know how this is going to go down. We’ve seen Tom Izzo and Rick Pitino enough over the years to know what they want to do, and we’ve seen the 2012 vintages of both of these clubs to know what they are capable of. Michigan State is going to defend like crazy in the halfcourt, pound the glass on both ends of the court and try to knock Louisville around enough so that the Cards will be forced into submission late in the game. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are going to turn up the pressure defensively, try to force turnovers, rely on Gorgui Dieng to block shots in the middle and watch Peyton Siva get penetration and create offense off the bounce. It is likely going to be a low-scoring game that is still in doubt late into the second half and it will come down to which of these teams is capable of making the most plays down the stretch. While Siva’s numbers on the season are not great, he has been a different player since the Big East Tournament started, getting into the lane seemingly at will, creating opportunities for himself and for others and pitching in everywhere on the floor on his way to 13 points, 5.7 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game over the six-game stretch. He does a lot of damage in the pick-and-roll game, so not only will Spartan guard Keith Appling have to be on his game defensively, but whichever big man gets involved in the screen needs to do a good job of keeping Siva out of the lane. Draymond Green is clearly the big factor for Michigan State, and he too has been on fire of late, averaging 20 points, 12.5 rebounds, 8.0 assists and shooting it at a 64.3% eFG in the NCAA Tournament. Freshman Chane Benahan appears to be the most obvious individual matchup for Green, but it is going to have to be a full team effort for the Cards to slow the All-American down. Louisville will need to pressure the Spartan guards, keeping them from getting into their halfcourt offense easily and, perhaps more importantly, dedicate themselves to keeping Spartans like Green, Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix off the offensive glass. However, given their relative lack of size (only Dieng is taller than 6’8”) and struggles with defensive rebounding, this could be the eventual downfall of the Cards. While they’ll certainly get their share of stops and turnovers, allowing Green and company second opportunities is a recipe for disaster.

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Tournament Thoughts From Third Round B1G Action

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 18th, 2012

Did somebody mention a potential letdown? Michigan‘s loss to Ohio on Friday night may have sent some signals across the tournament that the rest of the B1G teams may be vulnerable, but Saturday turned out to be great for the historical conference. Three Big Ten teams flexed their muscle to prove to the nation that they might not always be flashy in their winning ways, but they are definitely the toughest, both mentally and physically. Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio State faced adversity during their games, but they showed great composure to pull out with a huge wins as they advance to the Sweet 16. The following are a few thoughts from Saturday’s action.

Jared Sullinger and Ohio State earned their win against Gonzaga on Saturday.

Ohio State over Gonzaga (73-66)

Mark Few had the frontline to challenge Ohio State. Robert Sacre and Elias Harris have the physical tools to hang with Jared Sullinger and they certainly did that during the first half of the game. Gonzaga owned the glass during the first 20 minutes which resulted in a 52.9% offensive rebounding rate. Matta’s crew did a great job of hitting the boards in the second half which led to a bruising win. Sullinger scored on two key possessions during the final minutes from the post, and that’s exactly what Matta expects from his star player in the clutch. Aaron Craft and William Buford were committed to feeding the post.  When Ohio State is patient with their shots from beyond the arc and go through Sullinger consistently, they are a handful for rest of the teams in the tournament. The guards need to be persistent including Deshaun Thomas.  If Sullinger doesn’t get a good position the first time, the ball needs to come back out and Craft needs to find him again until he gets a good position in the post. Sullinger ended up with 18 points for the game and he earned every one of them. Aaron Craft was able to control the tempo during the second half by locking down Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos. Craft assisted or scored on 44 of the 73 points during the game but as usual, his defense was a more important key to the victory. Pangos was stifled on the perimeter as he missed six out of the eight three-point attempts. Craft’s defense limited him to 3-13 from the field and just ten points. Thad Matta‘s Buckeyes took a few jabs throughout the game and punched back to make the Sweet 16.

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Big Ten Morning Five: 03.15.12 Edition

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 15th, 2012

  1. If the NIT is any indication of how the Big Ten will fare in today’s NCAA Tournament games, then I think the conference will be happy.  Minnesota traveled to Philadelphia to take on LaSalle, and came away with a 70-61 win.  While Tubby Smith’s crew didn’t have the season some wanted in Gopher-land, they have been playing better over the past couple weeks, and last night they showed off those improvements.  One of the main reasons is the play of star forward Rodney Williams, who took control with 17 of his 21 points coming in the second half, including a monstrous dunk that showed off his athleticism.
  2. There is plenty to worry about when it comes to the NCAA Tournament.  Travel, preparation, an unfamiliar opponent, and… altitude???  That’s exactly what Wisconsin has to deal with, as its game in Albuquerque is about 4,500 feet higher above sea level than Madison.  The Badgers arrived Tuesday, and have been working on getting adjusted so that it doesn’t become a factor in its game against Montana.  At this point, it’s not a matter of the team not being in shape; it’s being able to catch your breath in the heat of battle when the air is a little thinner.
  3. When you start four sophomores, many would say that your team lacks experience.  But when all four of those sophomores suffered an early exit last year in the NCAA Tournament, they have enough experience to know that they don’t want to go through something like that again.  Such is the case at Ohio State, who outside of William Buford, has four sophomores who watched Kentucky’s Brandon Knight hit a jumper with five seconds left last year to knock the Buckeyes out of the Tournament.  It is a memory that guys like Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft don’t want to repeat.
  4. It’s the time of year when changes are made in both the coaching ranks and in player personnel, and Penn State is suffering some attrition as sophomore guard Matt Glover has decided to transfer.  Originally from California, the defensive stopper will move on to other opportunities for his basketball future.
  5. As Illinois moves on to find a replacement for Bruce Weber, the program still needs someone to lead it, and that someone is Jerrance Howard.  The Illini assistant is currently the interim coach until a new one is named, and it’s his job to keep things in order until athletic director Mike Thomas makes a new hire.  Whether that decision is made in a week or in a month, Howard will keep plugging along, doing his best to keep things running smoothly in Champaign.
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Five Bold Big Ten Predictions For the NCAA Tournament

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 14th, 2012

It’s my favorite sports time of year!  The NCAA Tournament is here!!!  While we all feverishly try and figure out with first round upset to pick, I have some thoughts on how the Big Ten will perform.  Will the best conference in the country find success in the Big Dance?  Here are Five Bold Predictions

Will Draymond Green have a chance to cut down the nets in another Final Four? (photo: Reuters)

#1 – Hello, Big Ten.  Allow me to embrace you:  The Big Ten was the best conference in college basketball this year, and while the league only got six teams into the Tournament, it has five teams seeded as a #4 seed or higher.  Purdue is the only seed not “favored” in their game, but don’t be surprised if Purdue is favored in Vegas against St. Mary’s.  If you are participating in a pool in Big Ten country, don’t listen to those who call you a homer.  All six Big Ten teams will win in their opening game matchups, and I believe that two of them are headed to the Final Four.

#2 – Don’t buy all this Memphis stuff when it comes to MSU:  Michigan State earned its #1 seed with a great Big Ten tournament performance, and now everyone’s feathers are all ruffled because they think Memphis could upset the Spartans early.  I watched Memphis play earlier this year when they lost to Michigan, and did not come away impressed.  They have great athletes, but I have no faith in Josh Pastner as a big-time coach.  When it comes to quick turnarounds, no one can scout and adjust like Tom Izzo.  It’s almost an art form how well Izzo and his staff prepares MSU for their next NCAA game in less than 48 hours.  Finally, Conference USA is no Big Ten, and when Memphis played outside of their conference they lost to Georgetown (twice), Murray State, Louisville, and Michigan.  Their best win over a tournament team is against Xavier. Michigan State, meanwhile, just won the Big Ten tournament by beating Wisconsin and Ohio State, two wins much more impressive than anything the Tigers have on their resume.  Why should the Spartans be scared again???

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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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Big Ten Writer Roundtable: A look at the Big Ten Tourney

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 7th, 2012

Big Ten contributors Joey Nowak (@joeynowak), Ryan Terpstra (@terphimself), and Deepak Jayanti (@10thyearseniors) put their heads together and discussed some key questions heading into the Big Ten Tournament.  Here are their thoughts:

1.) What school playing on Thursday has the best shot to win the Big Ten Tournament?

Joey:  I really think any team besides Nebraska and Penn State (though if Tim Frazier heats up, Penn State could have a repeat of last year) has a chance to do damage. Minnesota and Illinois both have talent and nothing to lose. Purdue is playing better, with the experienced Robbie Hummel at the helm, and has a bit of a chip on its shoulder. Iowa has a guy in Matt Gatens they can ride to a win or two. And Northwestern should come in as focused as any team in the tournament, given what’s at stake for the Wildcats.

But the team I would least like to play this weekend is Indiana. The Hoosiers have won four in a row (the last three against quality Big Ten opponents) and seven of their last eight. They should handle Penn State before taking a great shot at Wisconsin on Friday. They are better on defense than they were early in the Big Ten schedule, and can still score with the best of them, thanks to a solid inside-out game. But the intangible of playing in front of a friendly Indianapolis crowd could be a huge boost. It won’t give them the same advantage they’ve held at Assembly Hall this season, but if the last few years are any indication (when they were terrible), the Hoosier faithful will be out in full force. Don’t be surprised to see them playing Sunday.
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It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume XIII

Posted by jbaumgartner on March 7th, 2012

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED….pureness. Some would argue that there’s nothing better than a last-second buzzer-beater. FALSE. There’s nothing better than a last-second buzzer beater that also touches zero iron on the way down. Ohio State’s William Buford gave us one of those on Sunday against Michigan State for a huge win, and for me the swish adds even a little bit more to the drama. I’m thinking back to Isaiah Thomas’ Pac-10 conference tourney walk-off last year, and some others, too – maybe I’m just an absurdly picky fan, but nothing beats the twine tickler with the clock ticking down.

I LOVED…..Buford. The senior has had some subpar games during this conference season, and he’s the main reason why I’ve started to sour a bit on the Buckeyes. But if he plays like he can, he can take this OSU team to a different level on both ends of the floor. They need his long-range shooting to diversify their O, and his freakish athleticism on the defensive side, too. If he’s that guy in March, the Buckeyes could be there at the end.

If William Buford Can Play Like He Can, Ohio State Becomes That Much Better (USA Today)

I LOVED….the tables being turned. My UNC loyalty has been mentioned before, and I’ve truly never been as heartbroken as when Austin Rivers’ three dropped into the Dean Dome net back in February as time expired. I wondered if anything could make up for that painful disappointment, and I have to say, this might have done it. Absolutely demolishing, obliterating, dominating, embarrassing, and – oh yeah – BEATING Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Senior Night was heavenly (and I can’t say that watching Mason Plumlee cry didn’t give me some sick sort of pleasure). You make the pick though – comparing the two outcomes, which would you prefer?

I LOVED….Florida State following through. The 33-point win over Carolina, the buzzer-beater at Duke, it would been easy for these overachieving Seminoles to be happy with what they did and settle for another ho-hum conference season. But Leonard Hamilton kept FSU focused, and they’re fully deserving of their impressive 12-4 conference record and a guaranteed NCAA tourney berth. Well done down in Tallahassee.

I LOVED….Murray State both keeping pace and getting some cred in the rankings, even after that one loss. With their clutch tourney title finish, the Racers head into March Madness at 30-1 and have to start drawing some comparisons to last year’s San Diego State squad.

Five Things I Hated This Week

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ATB: Wild Weekend Full of Tournament Tickets Punched And Regular Season Finales

Posted by EJacoby on March 5th, 2012

This Weekend’s Lede – What makes the official start of March Madness? Saturday, March 3, which included 105 total games, three conference tournament championships, and 15 ranked teams playing their regular season finales definitely felt like the appropriate start date. Sunday saw eight more ranked teams play and one more conference tournament decided. It was a wonderful start to Championship Week that included both the usual (Murray State won the OVC) and the unexpected (Wichita State, Iona, and Middle Tennessee all lost before the title game) that makes our sport so much fun to watch. All regular season games but one Ivy contest are now completed, so the power leagues start up their own conference tournaments in the next couple of days. Over the course of the next week we will find out 27 more automatic bid winners and the 37 at-large teams to fill out the NCAA Tournament bracket. Let’s start by rehashing what took place over the weekend, and who looks good to go dancing. We start in the Big Ten…

Your Watercooler Moment. Buckeyes Victory Means a Three-Way Tie for Big Ten Supremacy 

Who said that Ohio State blew its chance at a Big Ten title last week with its loss to Wisconsin? Well, we were actually guilty of thinking the same, as Michigan State had built a two-game lead with two games to play in the conference season. But after losing at Indiana, the Spartans needed to defend their home court and defeat Ohio State in Sunday’s regular season finale if they wanted the outright Big Ten championship. The Buckeyes had other ideas, as they came back from down double-digits in the second half to eventually win on a game-winner with one second remaining. William Buford’s jumper not only evened Ohio State with Michigan State at 13-5 in the conference, but it also means that Michigan’s 13-5 record holds up as a third team atop the Big Ten. These three teams all slipped up at home late in the season, but none was more costly than this Michigan State loss with the outright title and a likely NCAA Tournament #1 seed on the line. The Big Ten Tournament will be as great to watch as ever before, with so many teams jockeying for postseason inclusion or seeding position, and three teams all as co-favorites. In the tiebreaker scenarios, Michigan State comes out victorious as the regular-season champion and #1 seed, but all three split their season series and can stake a legitimate claim as league champ.

Top Storyline – North Carolina Exacts Revenge on Duke. If it weren’t for Austin Rivers’ buzzer-beating three on February 8, then North Carolina would currently be on a 13-game winning streak in ACC play with a +13.6 average scoring margin in those games. The Tar Heels got revenge on Duke for that shot and made sure everyone remembers how great this team is as UNC throttled Duke from the outset of Saturday night’s regular season finale. The Tar Heels jumped out to an 18-5 lead in under four minutes, wound it all the way up to a 24-point advantage at halftime, and finished it off with an 88-70 blowout victory going away. Duke has struggled in Cameron Indoor Stadium this season, but nothing like this, in which the road team was superior in every facet of the game. The Tar Heels’ entire starting lineup finished with at least 12 points, Kendall Marshall dished out his usual 10 assists, and John Henson and Tyler Zeller each had 10 rebounds. Carolina is the ACC champion and peaking at the right time of year.

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Big Ten Morning Five: 03.05.12 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 5th, 2012

  1. William Buford stole Draymond Green’s spotlight on Senior Day in East Lansing on Sunday. Buford drilled a jumper during the final seconds to lead Ohio State to a Big Ten title tie with Michigan State and Michigan. He scored 25 points during the pivotal road win. Thad Matta‘s team had a huge week with tough wins at Northwestern and Michigan State. The Buckeyes have finally shown that they have the mental toughness to do well in March.
  2. Draymond Green can deal with losing the final home game of his career at Michigan State. But Branden Dawson‘s injury during the game is more concerning for Green and the Spartans as they head into postseason play. Reports state that Dawson tore the ACL of his left knee and might be out for rest of the season. Not only will Tom Izzo miss Dawson’s 8.5 points per game and 4.6 rebounds per game; but his defense will be sorely missed as the Spartans look forward to the NCAA Tournament.
  3. Even though Bruce Weber might not be wanted in Champaign, sources indicate that his prior employer, Southern Illinois might be interested in hiring him back to coach in Carbondale, Illinois.  Southern Illinois fired their coach and Weber’s protege, Chris Lowery, after two frustrating seasons that resulted in no tournament appearances. Illinois finished the Big Ten season by losing 11 out of the last 13 games as they got crushed in Madison, 70-56 on the road to a Wisconsin team that is surging at the right time.
  4. Speaking of Wisconsin, Bo Ryan continued his streak of wins on Senior Day in Madison as they beat Illinois.  Ryan has never lost a game on Senior Day during his time with the Badgers. Seniors Rob Wilson and Jordan Taylor chipped in 8 points and 16 points respectively during their win on Sunday. After their big win against Ohio State on the road last weekend, Bo Ryan’s squad seems to be getting their act together as they prepare for postseason action.
  5. John Beilein is a hero in Ann Arbor today. Michigan won their first Big Ten regular season title for the first time since the 1985-1986 season. The Wolverines were in transit from State College during the pivotal Ohio State – Michigan State game on Sunday afternoon.  They watched the final minutes of the game after reaching Ann Arbor including William Buford’s cold-blooded shot that gave them a share of the Big Ten championship.
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Big Ten Morning Five: 02.29.12 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on February 29th, 2012

  1. Regardless of how Indiana performs in the postseason, Tom Crean can assure the Hoosier faithful that their season tickets are worth something.  Indiana continues to be a monster in Assembly Hall as they took down the third team ranked in the top five this season as they rocked Michigan State 70-55 last night.  Crean finally got his former mentor, winning his first game against Tom Izzo’s Spartans after nearly four seasons in Bloomington. The win is a huge boost to his team’s confidence as they prepare for their season-ending matchup against in-state rival Purdue over the weekend.
  2. William Buford, Thad Matta is looking for you to lead over the next two games. There are several theories about Ohio State’s recent slump (the Buckeyes have lost three out of their last five games) but these are the times when a veteran guard steps up for his team.  Buford struggled in two of the losses as he scored in single digits — six points against Michigan and four points against Michigan State.  Look for Buford to be aggressive when Matta’s team travels to Evanston to face a hungry Northwestern team who could lock up an NCAA bid with a win on Wednesday night.
  3. Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith is showing signs of tiredness. He admits that team morale is down as a result of the Gophers’ recent losing skid and their loss to Wisconsin last night did not help make anything better. The Gophers had a strong first half as they led 23-16 but could not contain a hot shooting Badger squad in the second half.  Senior center Ralph Sampson, III, crossed 1,000 points for his career and should receive a good sendoff against Nebraska in Minneapolis over the weekend.
  4. Even though Iowa’s senior guard Matt Gatens has never made the NCAA Tournament, he is getting well-deserved recognition during his final few weeks of college.  Gatens was named the player of the week in the Big Ten because he averaged 27.5 points over two games last week.  Regardless of what happens over the next 10 days, Gatens ought to be happy for leaving Iowa on a high note as Fran McCaffery’s squad has shown great resilience throughout the season.
  5. Bo Ryan knows when to loosen up around his players.  He has a grin on his face during most of his press conferences after Big Ten games.  But after Wisconsin’s upset victory over Ohio State on Sunday, Ryan decided to do his version of the electric slide in the locker room.  The Badgers played an excellent game against the Buckeyes and the win should give them the credibility to make a case for a great seed in March.
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Set Your TiVo: 02.24.12 – 02.26.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 24th, 2012

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

Somewhat unbelievably, the second-to-last regular season Saturday is upon us. Plenty of big time and bubble games are on the schedule as the stretch run really heats up.

#3 Missouri @ #4 Kansas – 4:00 PM EST Saturday on CBS (*****)

  • The final Border War game promises to be another terrific display of basketball between two top five teams that really don’t care for one another. Missouri won the first meeting between these teams, but to do it again it will have to defend at a higher level. Both teams shot over 50% at Mizzou Arena three weeks ago, but Kansas has been the better defensive team all season long. Now playing at home in virtually impenetrable Allen Fieldhouse, the Jayhawks have to like their chances in this one. Kansas has a huge rebounding and size advantage in the paint with Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey going up against Ricardo Ratliffe. While Ratliffe is a great finisher around the bucket, he was held to six points in the first meeting, limited by foul trouble in only 20 minutes of action. Kansas can neutralize Ratliffe and force Missouri to make shots. Missouri hit 10 threes in the first meeting, led by Marcus Denmon’s six. Kansas will have to tighten up a three point defense that ranks #173 nationally in order to prevent that from happening again.

    Can Denmon & The Tigers Rebound?

  • Denmon’s 29-point effort against Kansas on February 4 lifted him out of a slump and his high level of play has continued since then. Denmon and Kim English have to make shots or else Kansas will have a significant edge in this game. The Jayhawks should be dominant inside with Robinson going against Ratliffe with Withey by his side. Kansas is one of the best teams in the nation in two point percentage. Defensively, Bill Self has to be worried about the three point line. While Kansas is a very efficient defensive team, they can be beaten from the arc. Missouri is certainly a team capable of doing that as it moves the ball well and has a multitude of deep threats lining the perimeter. Frank Haith needs a good game at point guard out of Phil Pressey, otherwise Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor could take over the game quickly as they did against Baylor at the Phog. Taylor has had an outstanding senior season but is vulnerable to turnovers. Look for Missouri to target him defensively in order to prevent him from getting into a rhythm and setting up the Jayhawk offense.
  •  The big question mark here is can Missouri defend at a high level against an elite opponent on the road? The Tigers are last in the Big 12 in three point defense and their overall efficiency rating leaves a lot to be desired. Kansas is going to get its points inside but is not a particularly great outside shooting team. However, Taylor poses a big threat and must be held in check if Missouri is going to beat Kansas in a place where almost nobody wins. Until proven otherwise, we can’t pick against the Jayhawks in such an emotionally charged game as this one.

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