Rushed Reactions: Michigan State 62, Maryland 58

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 14th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

Michigan State Has Put Things Together (USA Today Images)

Michigan State Appears to Have Put Things Together (USA Today Images)

  1. Melo Trimble was borderline unstoppable early. The freshman was on fire from the opening jump and Michigan State’s defense struggled to contain him. When Trimble is knocking down threes off the dribble, he’s a considerable problem. His first three triples and five shots all found the bottom of the net, helping Maryland jump out to a quick and commanding 23-7 lead. However, after that initial spurt, two things slowed him down. Michigan State’s help defense improved on his touches and the Spartans also got a bit more physical with the youngster. That clearly threw him off his game — and after starting 5-of-5, Trimble made just two of his final 11 shots on the afternoon. This was the single biggest reason that Michigan State was able to climb back into the game.
  2. Michigan State’s frontcourt was great. Matt Costello was at it again and Marvin Clark got in on the act too. Izzo said in the postgame press conference that Clark “idolizes” Branden Dawson, and while Dawson struggled for long periods of the game, Clark came in and brought great energy. He and Costello combined for 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting, and after allowing Maryland to hit the offensive boards early, they dominated the paint late. When Dawson finally got going, his athleticism took over the game late. He’s the most physically dominant player in the conference with his combination of size, strength and leaping ability, and he used it proficiently down the stretch. Dawson finished with 17 points and eight rebounds.
  3. Maryland finally lost a close game. These teams were about as evenly matched as possible. When that had been the case previously this season, the Terps had won every single time. They came into today with an 11-0 record in games decided by six points or fewer, and that’s why KenPom rated them as the luckiest team in the nation. That record was unsustainable though, and as a result, Maryland finally picked up its first close-game blemish.

Player of the Game. Travis Trice. His statistics — 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting — tell some of the story, but it was how and when he got those numbers that made him so important. The two most crucial periods of the game were a first half stretch when Michigan State recouped some of the points it spotted Maryland right off the bat, and then an early second half run that ultimately gave the Spartans the lead. Trice was the best player on the floor during both of those stretches. The diminutive guard is never going to overpower his opponents, especially not against guards as strong as those at Maryland, but he was Sparty’s catalyst all afternoon long.

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Rushed Reactions: Michigan State 76, Ohio State 67

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 13th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Denzel Valentine (USA Today Images)

Denzel Valentine (USA Today Images)

  1. Michigan State locked down on D’Angelo Russell. Lourawls ‘Tum Tum” Nairn, despite being slightly undersized to deal with the Buckeyes freshman star, did an admirable job staying on him and limiting his space to operate tonight. Russell also simply didn’t have his best night. He shot 7-of-16 from the field and finished with 19 points and three assists, but much of that production came late when the game was already somewhat out of reach. In fact, after Ohio State had gone down by 17 points, Russell was on the bench or playing off the ball for the mini-run that got the Buckeyes back in it. With Russell for the most part held in check, Shannon Scott (13 points, nine assists) picked up some of the slack . But the Buckeyes go as Russell goes, and Friday they both went slowly.
  2. Michigan State’s frontcourt players won their matchups. Aside from Branden Dawson, none of Tom Izzo’s big men will ever play like stars. But guys like Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling got the better of Ohio State’s frontcourt tonight. Though unspectacular, the pair combined for 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting, quietly contributing to the win. Dawson was also impressive in his return from injury. He doesn’t have a refined offensive game but his combination of size and athleticism was unmatched and he gave the Spartans something that the Buckeyes didn’t have. Dawson finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in this one.
  3. Michigan State shared the ball really well. The Spartans had 23 assists on 29 made field goals tonight. They don’t have a team full of players who can break opponents down off the dribble, but they are extremely well-coached and always put themselves in great position off the ball. Additionally, a number of Michigan State’s regulars are upperclassmen who have played with each other for several years now. They have an innate sense of where teammates are going to be when they get in trouble, and it’s why they are able to get so many good looks without individual offensive stars. That’s also how they have put together a top-10 assist rate in the country this season.

Player of the Game. Denzel Valentine. You could really name three players of the game for the Spartans — Valentine, Dawson and Trice — but it was Valentine who was steadily efficient all game. Valentine took just 14 shots, but had 23 points, and, identical to Dawson, chipped in with eight rebounds and seven assists to complete a great all-around performance.

Sights and Sounds. Tom Izzo and Thad Matta had an unpleasant exchange in the postgame handshake line. Matta was furious with the referees toward the end of the game and was still livid as he walked over to Izzo. Perhaps Izzo took exception to that. Izzo dodged the question in the postgame press conference by saying, “We were just talking about how hard this job is.” He called it “a friendly exchange.” Matta said he and Izzo “were both kind of in agreement about what we saw out there tonight,” perhaps again talking about the refereeing.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Maryland 75, Indiana 69

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 13th, 2015

RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes is covering the Big Ten Tournament this week in Chicago.

Three Key Takeaways.

Melo Trimble And Dez Wells Spearheaded Maryland's Quarterfinal Victory Friday Night (USAT Sports)

Melo Trimble And Dez Wells Spearheaded Maryland’s Quarterfinal Victory Friday Night (USAT Sports)

  1. Maryland In Control. This game was tight throughout, with the Terrapins’ lead never extending beyond seven points until the final seconds. But despite maintaining shouting distance, Indiana’s last lead came with 14 minutes to go in the first half. Maryland’s steady march to the free throw line (33 attempts) was one key factor in Indiana never getting over the hump. More generally, failing to stop its opponent from scoring tends to cause teams to relinquish control of a basketball game: This was the story of Indiana’s night and season. Maryland never felt like they were ready to lose control of this one.
  2. Hoosiers Shooting Struggles. Indiana entered tonight having made 40.7 percent of their three-point field goal attempts, the sixth-best mark in the country. The Hoosiers converted just 7-of-24 of their long-range efforts in defeat tonight – a slight downtick in both production and efficiency from January 22, when they buried 15-of-22 long range attempts in a rout of Maryland. Distilling Indiana’s offensive strategy into making threes is oversimplifying things, but it’s no secret that the Hoosiers heavily rely on making long-range shots. It was their downfall tonight.
  3. Attack Mode. This game began at a frantic pace (20 points in the first three-and-a-half minutes), and while the pace of scoring eventually slowed down (only a bit), both teams’ aggression levels never did. They explored transition opportunities, attacked the rim in both the half- and full-court, and were fearless in pulling the trigger from three-point range. No player attacked more aggressively than Maryland’ Dez Wells, who supplied multiple tomahawk jams in the first period. Both of these squads are accustomed to producing more efficient offense than they did this evening, but neither let that prevent them from continuing their relentless attacks.

Star of the Game. Melo Trimble, Maryland. A case could easily be made for Trimble’s running mate Wells (22 points, six rebounds), but the freshman coolly dictated action on both ends of the floor for the Terps. He scored 17 points (on just nine shots), chipped in three assists (against just one turnover), and held Indiana star Yogi Ferrell to 6-of-16 field goal shooting. Trimble’s matchup with the Hoosiers’ lead guard was a much-discussed element of these teams’ first two games and in the lead-up to tonight’s quarterfinal. Any postgame conversation on the topic would have to describe Trimble as the clearly better player on this night.

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Rushed Reactions: Wisconsin 71, Michigan 60

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 13th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

The Badgers Were All Smiles Today in Chicago (USA Today Images)

The Badgers Were All Smiles Today in Chicago (USA Today Images)

  1. Michigan Played With Great Confidence. Both Bennet Hayes and I, along with some other media members with whom I spoke before the game, thought Michigan had a real shot today. There was something about the swagger with which the Wolverines had dominated Illinois yesterday that made this seem like a distinct possibility. And early in the game, it appeared to be true. Zak Irvin and Spike Albrecht combined for 18 of Michigan’s first 22 points, each hitting two three-pointers in leading Michigan to an early nine-point lead. Even though Michigan’s shot-making wouldn’t continue at the same rate, the team’s intensity and focus certainly would, which is what kept this quarterfinal competitive throughout.
  2. Wisconsin Asserted Itself. The Badgers methodically climbed back into the game by clamping down defensively, especially on Albrecht. During a 10-0 Wisconsin run to end the first half, every Wolverines’ shot attempt was well-contested. The only way that Michigan was able to regain a second half lead was by getting out in transition — something Wisconsin uncharacteristically let them do — but as usual, the Badgers’ half-court defense was tough to solve.
  3. Wisconsin Has Too Many Weapons. While Michigan had one or two players doing things to keep the Wolverines in the game, so many Wisconsin players made plays down the stretch that it was simply too much for Michigan to overcome. Josh Gasser hit a big three; Duje Dukan was awesome off the bench; and Nigel Hayes was a pain in Michigan’s rear end all day long. Then, with about 3:40 to go, there was a single play emblematic of Wisconsin’s victory. Frank Kaminsky missed a shot at the rim, got his own rebound, and then, while falling to the floor, found Gasser on the perimeter. Gasser immediately penetrated, kicked the ball out to Bronson Koenig, who made the extra pass to Sam Dekker as he stepped into and drilled a three. The Badgers were too solid at all five spots on the floor to be beaten by a valiant but short-handed Michigan team today.

Player of the Game. Zak Irvin, Michigan. He was on the losing side of today’s ledger, but Irvin had a tremendous game. He scored 21 points on 9-of-18 shooting, pulled down 11 rebounds and was the only Michigan player who stayed in attack mode for all 40 minutes.

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Beauty in Eye of Beholder for Tom Crean & Indiana

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 13th, 2015

Minutes after Indiana defeated Northwestern to advance to the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament, Tom Crean was asked if he thought his team was now in the NCAA Tournament. “Well, I don’t know,” Crean said. “You know, I really don’t know. And no one knows. That’s the beauty of it all.”

It was an insight tinged with a bit of both insanity and brilliance. If you have watched Crean coach basketball for the last month, you do not believe he could possibly find any “beauty” in the uncertainty of his team’s current predicament. The cheeks have been too red; the forehead vein too prominent; and most importantly, the Indiana wins too infrequent. And yet, thinking as a college basketball fan, it made too much sense. The beauty is there. We are just two days from Selection Sunday, and in reality, so much has yet to be decided. It’s an uncertainty that catalyzes Championship Week drama every single year; in many ways, it defines the lead-in to the NCAA Tournament. And here was Crean, who in 2015 has been as negatively affected as anyone by the pre-Tournament unpredictability, telling us about the beauty of it all.

Tom Crean, Yogi Ferrell And The Rest Of The Hoosiers Will Take On Maryland Friday Night In A Game That Could Define Their Season

Tom Crean, Yogi Ferrell And The Hoosiers Will Take On Maryland Friday Night In A Game That Could Define Their Season (USATSI)

In the minds of many, Thursday’s victory over Northwestern put Indiana into the field of 68. That belief is founded partially in the strength of the Hoosiers’ profile, which undoubtedly improved by dispatching a Wildcats team that had entered the night winners of five of their last seven. But it’s also a result of bubble carnage elsewhere: Texas A&M, Illinois, Texas, Ole Miss, Miami, Old Dominion and Stanford all suffered crippling losses on Thursday. All in all, it was a day that could not have gone much better for the Hoosiers. That doesn’t mean that they are safely there yet, or that they couldn’t REALLY use a quarterfinal victory over Maryland tonight. But for a team that hadn’t won a game of any kind since February 22, Thursday was a good day.

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News & Notes: Day Two at the Big Ten Tourney

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 13th, 2015

An afternoon of upsets (Michigan and Penn State both toppled higher-seeded foes) gave way to a more predictable evening at day two of the Big Ten Tournament. Meanwhile, the two bubble teams in action may have each punched tournament tickets… to different, less-prestigious tournaments. Indiana may be good to dance after defeating Northwestern, but Illinois is surely NIT-bound after its decisive loss to Michigan. A few other news and notes on Thursday’s action from the United Center:

John Groce’s Seat Warming Up: Thursday’s loss to Michigan means Illinois is almost certainly headed to the NIT, where the Illini will seek to salvage some shred of meaning from a disappointing season. John Groce has recruited well since arriving in Champaign, but the former Ohio University head man has yet to finish a season with a winning Big Ten record. His only NCAA Tournament appearance at Illinois came in 2012-13, and that happened with a team largely constructed by his predecessor, Bruce Weber. Groce is going nowhere this offseason, but if the Illini find themselves in a similar spot next postseason, his job status will be far less certain. The good news for Illinois is that the return of Tracy Abrams and another talented incoming freshman class could, and maybe even should, lead to a happier result in Champaign a year from now. It will be interesting to see how much the Illini miss Rayvonte Rice next year. On the one hand, he was a legitimately efficient volume scorer – a player prototype that doesn’t exactly grow on trees. But Illinois’ 6-3 record without Rice this season raise the question of whether his ball-dominating nature might have often been counterproductive. We’ll find out in a critical 2015-16 campaign for Groce and the Illini.

John Groce, Rayvonte Rice And The Illini Saw Their Tournament Hopes All But Die Thursday Afternoon

John Groce, Rayvonte Rice And The Illini Saw Their Tournament Hopes All But Die Thursday Afternoon (Getty Images)

Nittany Lions Drop Hawkeyes: Iowa was a trendy sleeper pick heading into the action yesterday, but Penn State quickly and effectively ended the Hawkeyes’ Big Ten Tournament. The loss changes little for the Hawkeyes except for the fact that Fran McCaffery’s team is now squarely staring down the barrel of a dreaded #8/#9 game. Things could be worse, though – they seem to be safely in the field, and unlike last year, shouldn’t be headed to Dayton. On the other side, Penn State won its third straight Big Ten game — no small feat considering the Nittany Lions had won just three of 17 league games before embarking on their recent surge. More good news for Penn State fans: Purdue awaits the Lions in the next round. No disrespect to the Boilers and their impressive 12-6 Big Ten season, but they are clearly the easiest option among the four teams that received double-byes. Penn State pushed Purdue to overtime in State College in their only meeting of the season; can the tournament’s most unexpected quarterfinalist find a way to extend its stay in Chicago for at least another day?

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Sleeping on a Darling From a March Past

Posted by Bennet Hayes on February 19th, 2015

The return to anonymity was as swift as the introduction had been sudden. When Ali Farokhmanesh unleashed his ill-advised three-point attempt with 36 seconds to play in a 2010 round of 32 match-up with Kansas, Northern Iowa was a little known Missouri Valley outfit that had scrapped its way to 29 wins. But seconds later, after the brave long distance attempt found the bottom of the net and the Panthers were done toppling top-seeded Kansas, Ben Jacobson‘s team was a national sensation. It didn’t matter that his team’s season would end six days later against Michigan State — with that one shot, Northern Iowa had suddenly become the story of the 2010 NCAA Tournament.

Seth Tuttle May Be College Basketball's Most Unassuming Star. His Northern Iowa Panthers are now 25-2. (Photo: Associated Press)

Seth Tuttle May Be College Basketball’s Most Unassuming Star. His Northern Iowa Panthers are now 25-2. (Photo: Associated Press)

The Panthers’ 15 minutes of fame extended a bit beyond March that year – they won ‘Best Upset’ at the 2010 ESPYs several months later – but it wasn’t too long before most of the world (and this includes the segment that eats, sleeps and breathes college basketball) had forgotten about them. They won no more than 21 games in any of the four seasons that followed, with a 2012 first-round NIT loss standing as the most successful postseason run since ‘the shot.’ Like so many March darlings before them, they had been forced back to their post in the obscure outer regions of college hoops.

They’re now back. Most college basketball fans have taken note of this season’s Northern Iowa renaissance, but lets take a full inventory of what they have done to this point. After Wednesday night’s 58-39 victory at Loyola (IL), Jacobson’s team has won 14 in a row and sits at 25-2 on the season. On January 31, the Panthers handed Wichita State its worst loss (70-54) in over six years. Their two losses came in double-overtime at VCU and by three points at Evansville. They rank in the top 25 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and the AP poll and Ken Pom’s rankings list them as the 11th best team in the country. Things are not going badly for this group.

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Oregon Showing Signs of Life

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 15th, 2014

It’s very much still football season for Oregon fans, but the basketball team offered Ducks’ faithful a reason Saturday night to also pay attention to them. While Marcus Mariota was busy accepting college football’s highest individual honor at the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York City, Dana Altman’s band of Ducks was carving out their best win of the season against a solid Illinois team playing in its home state. The end result in Chicago – a 77-70 Oregon victory – had to generate minimal buzz back in Eugene (the school’s first Heisman winner casts a substantial shadow), but it represented an important first step for a young team. Nobody should expect the Ducks to become any more predictable than they have been over the course of an up-and-down first month of the season, but consider Oregon’s upside flashed. The good news is that in this year’s wide-open Pac 12 – a league with no proven teams outside of Arizona and Utah — a little potential might go a long way.

Joseph Young Is Known As A Scorer, But His 2014 Assist Rate Of 26.2 Also Reveals An Able And Willing Passer

Joseph Young Is Known As A Scorer, But His 2014 Assist Rate Of 26.2% Also Reveals An Able And Willing Passer

It’s always been about offense in Eugene. Whether discussing the gridiron or the hardwood, Oregon’s success has classically been predicated on dynamic offenses. The recipe should remain the same for the Ducks this season. They haven’t been terrible on the offensive end (51st nationally in offensive efficiency), but both Dana Altman and John Groce agreed that Saturday featured their crispest execution to date. Altman said that decisions to pass up good shots for great ones on three early second-half possessions set the tone for a selflessly efficient half of basketball. Joseph Young (who didn’t start due to a violation of team rules) garnered praise from Groce for his passing, while Dillon Brooks scored an effortless 24 points to lead the Ducks. The freshman will be a key player moving forward. Young is willing and able to shoulder the bulk of the offensive load, but finding a capable second option is imperative. Brooks has yet to display the consistency needed to fill that full-time role, but the stocky forward’s inside (10.1% offensive rebound percentage)-outside (45% three-point) game could make him a nice complement to a gunner like Young.

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Big 12 M5: 12.11.2014 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 12th, 2014

morning5_big12

 

  1. Thursday was a long day for Bryce Dejean-Jones and Iowa State. It began early in the morning when the UNLV transfer was arrested at his apartment on three minor drug-related charges. Later on, one of the charges was dismissed, but with the other charges still outstanding, Fred Hoiberg decided the best course of action was to hold Dejean-Jones out of tonight’s game against in-state rival Iowa. For all of Hoiberg’s work with transfers over the years, there’s a reason why Iowa State has been referred to as college hoops’ Island Of Misfit Toys. While Dejean-Jones’ indiscretions aren’t very egregious in the grand scheme of things, they do underscore some of the concerns that came with his departure from Dave Rice’s program. We’ll have more on the impact his suspension will have on Iowa State’s chances of scoring a big road win later today.
  2. Jesse Newell of The Topeka Capital-Journal has an interesting analysis of the impact of luck in close games played by Kansas through the years (upon closer examination, we should probably have a disclaimer advising Iowa State fans to skip today’s edition of the M5…). Newell’s study concludes that there isn’t a strong correlation between winning close games during the regular season and advancing deep into the NCAA Tournament, which isn’t very surprising, but it’s always good to have the data fleshed out when it comes to explaining the deciding factors in close games.
  3. Former Baylor standout Brady Heslip‘s name has resurfaced as something of an NBDL freak. Now with the Reno Bighorns, the Canadian sniper is regularly given at least 15 three-point attempts per game, and is connecting on a staggering 54.7 percent of those tries. Heslip spoke with Dan Patrick and touched on his time with the Bears. Recalling that part of his junior year was spent trying to learn the nuances of being a distributor, Heslip lamented that he could have been an even better shooter had he been given the freedom he’s currently enjoying in the NBDL. If called up to the Sacramento Kings, Heslip would definitely be one of the Big 12’s least likely pros, so we’ll be pulling for him.
  4. Speaking of Big 12 snipers, Oklahoma State guard Phil Forte talked about his expanding role with the Cowboys and the importance of tomorrow’s road against Memphis. The computers like the Cowboys to bounce back some after their tumultuous 2013-14 campaign, but they don’t have any especially impressive wins to date and took a shellacking last weekend at South Carolina. While Iowa State-Iowa and Kansas-Utah are getting most of the attention (deservedly so) this weekend, the most important game on the calendar for any one team may be tomorrow’s meeting between Travis Ford and Josh Pastner.
  5. We haven’t talked much about Texas Tech, but the good fortune up and down the Big 12 has applied to them as well. Wednesday, the Red Raiders took down Fresno State, 73-56, using a big second half and 17 points from Devauntagh Williams to move to 6-1 on the year. Granted, all of Tech’s wins have come against cupcakes, but they did take an admittedly disappointing LSU team to overtime on the road a few weeks ago before dropping that tilt to to the Tigers. Tubby Smith‘s team should be able to inflate its schedule with five mostly easy games before conference play revs up, but their bad offense isn’t likely to get it done come Big 12 play. Enjoy it while you can, Red Raiders fans.
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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by AMurawa on December 3rd, 2014

This space could be used to write about how San Diego State looks to be clearly the class of the conference. Or how Colorado State and Wyoming are positioning themselves nicely for possible NCAA Tournament bids. Or how New Mexico and UNLV are in transition mode. Or how terrible the bottom of the conference is. But instead, how about that San Diego State/BYU game? Man, there were a lot of fanbases around the conference that enjoyed hating on BYU. And honestly, Cougar fans seemed to enjoy that a bit themselves. But you sure have to miss that type of rivalry. It will probably never happen because of some of the animosity between these schools and fanbases and BYU’s decision to bail on the Mountain West, but if I could have one wish for any change to be made in college basketball, well, it wouldn’t be to reignite this rivalry, it would be more along the lines of getting rid of the ten thousand timeouts per game that coaches get to call. But, if you gave me like 20 wishes? I’d make sure to include a yearly SDSU/BYU game in the mix there. It sure would be fun if these programs could do something like that in the interests of what is good for the game.

Team of the Week

San Diego State – They’ll hold this spot often this season, and we could certainly break rank and give this to Wyoming for its win over Colorado or to Colorado State for their Great Alaska Shootout win. But in the early going, the Mountain West is all about San Diego State as its flagship program. Sure, the Aztecs lost by two to Arizona in the Maui Invitational title, but while the other teams in the conference that aspire to national brands (that would be UNLV and New Mexico) struggle through transition periods, the Aztecs are carrying the banner proudly for the Mountain West. With Steve Fisher ready to keep things going on Montezuma Mesa, this Aztec team could be the school’s best. And, that’s saying something.

Steve Fisher Has Re-Upped With San Diego State And The Aztecs Are Rolling (Lenny Ignelzi, AP)

Steve Fisher Has Re-Upped With San Diego State And The Aztecs Are Rolling (Lenny Ignelzi, AP)

 

Player of the Week

Larry Nance, Sr, Wyoming – Now ten months removed from an ACL tear, Nance is having his minutes limited early, but his production is still strong. Out of the gates, he’s averaged 14.7 points, 6.2 boards and solid numbers all the way across the rest of the stat sheet, with national ranks littering his KenPom profile. Yeah, the numbers are nice. And the wins are piling up. And the story is great. But any chance we get to honor one of the conference’s most likable players, we’ll take it.

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Is Baylor Overrated? Of Course!

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 16th, 2014

The Baylor Bears are currently the 12th best team in the land (says the Associated Press), and are considered by many to be both a Big 12 title contender and Final Four threat. The Bears are deep and talented (as usual), and Kenny Chery has been remarkable enough to make Bears fan already forget their preseason fears of a life without Pierre Jackson. But after Wednesday night’s discouraging no-show of an 82-72 loss to Texas Tech – a game in which Baylor trailed by 21 at halftime – I think it’s high time we reassess Scott Drew’s team. They are a talented bunch, no doubt; but are the Bears as good as we first thought?

Cory Jefferson And The Defensively Challenged Bears Would Be Well-Suited To Replicate Their Offensive Efficiency On The Other End Of The Floor

Cory Jefferson And The Defensively Challenged Bears Would Be Well-Suited To Replicate Their Offensive Efficiency On The Other End Of The Floor

Baylor had already risen all the way to seventh in the polls this season, but another decisive Big 12 road loss (at Iowa State) knocked them down to their current spot. The Bears followed the standard prescription for reaching the upper realms of the poll: Enter the season ranked, possess a solid reputation of recent success, and then it doesn’t really matter who you beat — just win a bunch of games. Twelve of 13 did the trick for Scott Drew’s team, and that one loss was commendable – a seven-point defeat to second ranked Syracuse in Maui. But if we reevaluate Baylor’s current list of victories, the rise in profile that accompanied its jaunt up the polls may feel a bit hasty. Wins over Kentucky and Colorado are nice, but Arkansas and Washington can also claim that. Furthermore, make sure to note that those two games – both played in Dallas/Fort Worth — should be considered far friendlier for Baylor than the attached “neutral site” title would suggest – especially as the Bears struggle on the road here early in conference play.

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Georgetown is Replacing Otto Porter by Committee

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 14th, 2013

Alex Moscoso is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Georgetown-Wright State game on Wednesday evening.

The Georgetown Hoyas are dealing with some changes this season. For starters, they are in a “new” Big East conference. While they still play many of the same opponents, the Hoyas will have new teams and a round-robin format to adjust to. Secondly and more significantly, they are trying to replace superstar Otto Porter, who left early to become the third overall pick in last summer’s NBA Draft. Porter led the team in points (16.2 PPG) and rebounds (7.5 RPG) last season, and helped them win a share of the Big East Championship. Now, with Porter gone, they are in search of a new identity. It was thought that Greg Whittington would be the next player in line to take the reins. But Whittington tore his ACL over the summer and will most likely not play this season. After two games, Joshua Smith, D’Vauntes Rivera-Smith and Markel Starks have emerged as the candidates most likely to fill Porter’s shoes, even if by committee. In order to do so, they will need to foster enough chemistry between them to become a consistently effective offense.

D'Vauntes Rivera-Smith will be part of a triumvirate leading the Hoyas offense this season.

D’Vauntes Rivera-Smith will be part of a triumvirate leading the Hoyas offense this season.

In his first game for the Hoyas, a loss to Oregon in South Korea, Smith made his presence known on the block by erupting for 25 points on 10-of-13 shooting. But in last night’s game against Wright State, Smith looked more like his old UCLA self — slow and uninterested. He ended his night with only six points. What may be more worrisome is that in both contests he only managed to grab four rebounds per game and was a liability on defense. Rivera-Smith, on the other hand, had the inverse problem. Against Oregon, his shooting was ice-cold as he went 2-of-10 from the field and 0-of-5 from deep. Last night, he was simply unconscious. Smith-Rivera scored 25 points by shooting 8-of-12 from the field including three bombs from deep. However, it has been the senior point guard Starks who has been the Hoyas’ steady hand. Starks has scored 16 and 23 points and dished out four and six assists in both games, respectively.

The loss of Whittington and Smith’s weaknesses on the defensive end means this team will have to rely on their offense to win games. This should not be a problem as the trio complements each other well. Smith’s soft touch and great hands not only make him effective on the block, but they also make him a superb passer for a big man. When he is double-teamed, he is easily able to kick the ball out to Smith-Rivera in the perimeter or hit Starks running the baseline from the weak side. If these three can find their timing and rhythm with one another to the point where they’re all consistently producing in the scoring column, they have enough pieces around them to get John Thompson III his fourth Big East title this season.

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