North Carolina’s Big Upset Over Sparty Only Begs More Questions

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 5th, 2013

College basketball fans, welcome to the most perplexing team in the nation. North Carolina pulled off the stunning upset last night in East Lansing, besting the top team in the nation, Michigan State. A team beset by ongoing suspensions, inconsistent play and horrendous foul shooting went into a hostile road environment following an ugly loss to UAB and promptly outplayed and outhustled the nation’s top team. A confounding team? Absolutely. A team that can be pegged as playing to its competition thus far? Perhaps. But most importantly, this might be a team with just a short enough memory to continue to make noise as the season progresses.

UNC Was Quicker to the Ball All Night Long Versus Michigan State (DFP/J. Gonzalez)

UNC Was Quicker to the Ball All Night Long Versus Michigan State (DFP/J. Gonzalez)

What might be most striking thus far in the Tar Heels’ season is this squad’s resiliency. This is a team that has been forced to juggle lineups with a lot of young players forced to play significantly larger roles than they’d anticipated. Freshmen Nate Britt and Kennedy Meeks were supposed to play complementary roles while their elders carried the torch early.Instead, the suspensions of PJ Hairston and Leslie McDonald have forced a lineup shift that saw UNC running 11 players in just the first half against the Spartans. Britt was invaluable, playing perhaps his best game thus far. His ability to handle the ball without turning it over as the Michigan State team pressed out of necessity in the closing minutes was huge for this team. He was also a solid 7-of-8 from the line (UNC’s Achilles heel, 61.8 percent on the season), most of which was in crunch time when the Spartans turned to fouling in the hopes of mounting a comeback. Meeks’ passing ability and impressive touch down low was again on display; despite facing taller big men most of the game, he still finished with an impressive line of 15 points and seven rebounds off the bench and made numerous gorgeous passes to facilitate the team’s half-court sets. Not to be outdone was the continually impressive Brice Johnson. His 14 points, six rebounds and two blocks helped North Carolina control the paint.

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Big Ten M5: 12.05.13 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on December 5th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. The Big Ten and ACC played to a 6-6 tie after last night’s game, but the conference appears to win in one way. Some of of USA Today’s college basketball writers got together and almost all of them put the Big Ten ahead of the ACC and every other conference in terms of supremacy. With the loss of talent from the B1G last year and the ACC adding Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, it seemed like the conference power rankings may switch back to the coast. From top-to-bottom, though, the Big Ten seems to once again be the best in the country. Every team in the conference has a chance to beat almost anyone. Minnesota, Purdue and Northwestern have players, Penn State has a great guard duo and even Nebraska has shown life with wins over mediocre Georgia and Miami teams. The top of the conference may not have two or three national championship contenders, but the conference season will be a grind for Big Ten teams with no nights of an almost assured win.
  2. It wasn’t a pretty ending for Indiana in its 69-52 loss to Syracuse, and Tom Crean certainly wasn’t happy about it either. He called it the worst performance by one of his teams in his coaching career and said that it “sickened my stomach.” Point noted, Crean, as the Hoosiers were blown out in the second half after being tied 33-33. This is a young Hoosiers team, so the issues of “youth, inexperience and lack of leadership” make sense. Specifically put this on Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey, the latter of whom had as many fouls as points and rebounds combined with three. For Indiana to go beyond just a middle of the pack Big Ten team it will need these two players to take over as leaders on and off the court. Most troubling is Ferrell saying there were Hoosier players in the locker room who seemed like they didn’t believe the team could win. Ferrell and Sheehey will need to stop that talk if Indiana has any intention of competing for the top of the Big Ten going against competition like Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin.
  3. Tom Crean wasn’t the only one calling something terrible after a Big Ten team’s loss in the B1G/ACC Challenge. IllinoisJohn Groce also called his team’s execution “absolutely pathetic” following its lose to Georgia Tech 67-64. He is likely referring to his team only making one basket in the last nine minutes of the game as it blew a 12-point lead. One big question for this team coming into the year was who would take over when most needed. Rayvonte Rice still performed well with 24 points, but once he stopped scoring no one on the team could pick up the slack. This is something to keep an eye on throughout the year, because the team needs more than just Rice to come up in need.
  4. In the age of celebrity scandals and Twitter arguments, sometimes it’s nice to see a basketball with a “good guy” perception seem to, well, legitimately be a good guy. Aaron Craft is an absolute menace on the court, as he was last night in with 10 points and five steals in Ohio State’s 76-60 win over Maryland. Off the court, though, his biggest vice according to his roommates is a “scoop.” A scoop of ice cream that is. This behind-the-scenes look at Craft’s life on campus and through talking to his roommates hits on a lot of good points. We’ve all heard about his academics, but also noting that he doesn’t go to bars or curse, and that his roommates “Taco Tursday” tradition drew 1000 people in an Ohio State event is enjoyable. If you want to read about a college athlete not dealing with a rape scandal or public intoxication, you’ll enjoy this story.
  5. That’s the Wisconsin we have grown accustomed to seeing. This year, the Badgers scoring has been up thanks to slightly faster play and terrific shooting, but last night they got back to winning a low-scoring game against Virginia 48-38. Wisconsin shot 28.8 percent from the field, which is the lowest a Bo Ryan coached team has shot and still won the game since 2001. For a team that had been shooting lights out this season, it’s a good sign to know the defense can still carry the Badgers to victory. It won’t always be able to hit 43.6 percent of threes in games. The Badgers will have to win some of these low-scoring affairs once the Big Ten season rolls around and this showed it hasn’t forgotten how to win ugly.
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Key Questions in the Wednesday Big Ten/ACC Challenge Early Games

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on December 4th, 2013

The first day of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge is over and the ACC sports a 4-2 lead. Now, we’re on to day two. With that in mind, Matt Patton and Lathan Wells from the ACC microsite and Jonathan Batuello and Brendan Brody from the B1G microsite got together earlier this week to answer some key questions concerning this year’s Challenge. This post will preview the three early Wednesday night games, with a second post previewing the late games coming later this afternoon. Also be sure to check out both microsites over the next few days for further reaction and analysis as the Challenge finishes up.

Maryland @ Ohio State, 7:00 p.m., ESPN

Aaron Craft (Photo credit: Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire).

Aaron Craft Will Lead His Team Against Maryland (Photo credit: Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire).

B1G: This isn’t Maryland’s last year in the Challenge, but it will be the Terps’ last time playing as a member of the ACC. Maybe they will go ahead and try to help their new conference out, or they could just struggle against Ohio State’s suffocating defense no matter what. The Buckeyes have the top adjusted defense according to Ken Pomeroy, so how is Maryland going to score against Thad Matta’s team?

ACC: The three most important things for Maryland offensively are: Dez Wells needs to have an efficient and productive day; Charles Mitchell has to continue crashing the offensive boards; and someone (read: Jake Layman) needs to make some threes to space the floor. That’s a lot to ask of the Terrapins, but don’t let their mediocre start obscure the talent on the roster. This team is also very good at rebounding, which is Ohio State’s lone “weakness” on the defensive end. How do you expect the Buckeyes to break even on the boards?

B1G: Ohio State does give up a good amount of offensive rebounds and that’s a concern (148th in opponents’ offensive rebounding). The Buckeyes will try to combat this like they do everything else — by playing team-oriented ball. They will need Amir Williams, LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson to crash the boards, but also the guards will need to get involved. The team has six guys averaging more than three rebounds a game, so that collaborative approach must continue. A question for Maryland is if the Terps can handle its defensive end as the Buckeyes have four player averaging over 11 PPG?

ACC: Truthfully, probably not. That said, Maryland probably has to hope this turns into a shootout and that its shots are falling. In a grinding halfcourt game, the Buckeyes will win nine times out of 10 and maybe more. One thing to watch will be if Shaquille Cleare can snap out of his early-season funk. Mark Turgeon keeps insisting that he’s been a much better player in practice, but his disappointing play is becoming a constant. Maryland also needs Dez Wells to continue playing well, and now he will match up against Aaron Craft. Will the new rules limit Craft’s ability to guard him?

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Key Questions in the Tuesday Big Ten/ACC Challenge Late Games

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on December 3rd, 2013

As we mentioned in this morning’s post previewing the early games, the Big Ten/ACC Challenge gets underway tonight with six key match-ups. But it is the evening set, featuring a blockbuster in Cameron Indoor Stadium at 9:15 PM that has everyone excited on this Tuesday. Let’s jump into the late games.

Michigan @ Duke, 9:15 PM, ESPN

Mitch McGary will need to use his height advantage for Michigan to have a chance against Duke in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge (Getty Images).

Mitch McGary will need to use his height advantage for Michigan to have a chance against Duke in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge (Getty Images).

B1G: One of the marquee games before the season even started, this one has lost a little bit of luster with Michigan’s slow start and Duke experiencing two losses (albeit good losses). Still its the national runner-ups going to Cameron Indoor Stadium, and one reason Michigan has struggled early is  because Mitch McGary has been slowed with injuries, but who does Duke have that can guard him inside?

ACC: In short, this will be defense by committee. Amile Jefferson and Josh Hairston are the true big men who earn minutes on this team, and both are defensive specialists. But Duke often employs a small lineup that sees Rodney Hood playing the four. This could be problematic if Hood struggles with fouls, as he did against Alabama. The best case for the Blue Devils would be forcing McGary into mismatches that cause him to guard smaller players on one end of the floor while Duke’s bigs use their fouls on him at the other end. On the flip side of the coin, who guards Jabari Parker for Michigan?

B1G: This is going to be tricky for Michigan on the defensive end, not only with Parker but also with Hood. They will probably go with some combination of Glenn Robinson and Caris LaVert playing Duke’s two standout wings. Freshman Zak Irvin has the size to also guard them when called upon. As for what you said about the offensive end, honestly Robinson isn’t doing much there right now anyway. He’s taking fewer than 10 shots a game, so in reality in might be best for John Beilein to tell him to concentrate primarily on stopping the wing he’s assigned to guard. These won’t be the only two Michigan struggles, though, with Duke’s Quinn Cook having a clear advantage at the point guard position. How will he exploit Michigan’s weakness at that spot?

ACC: Cook is off to an outstanding start on the offensive end, shooting close to 50 percent from the field and dishing out six assists per game. His main role is as a facilitator, but when teams collapse on Parker and Hood he has made them pay. Consistency has always been the issue with Cook, but he’s done well in his opportunities this season. If he can score enough points to keep Michigan’s point guards on edge, Duke’s offense as a whole will flourish. Since we are touching on the Wolverines’ point guard issues, who will Beilein go to to jumpstart the offense in a tight game in the last four minutes?

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The RTC Podcast: Feast Week Hangover Edition

Posted by rtmsf on December 3rd, 2013

Here’s hoping everyone out there in College Basketball Nation had a tryptophantastic Feast Week of hoops, hops and holiday cheer (please, take the keyboard away from us now). With so much great action around the western hemisphere last week, the RTC Podcast crew (hosted by Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114)) had a lot to catch up on this week. We think we did our best, as you can see below with the long laundry list of topics that we tried to cover.

Dan Dakich Joins Us on This Week's RTC Podcast

ESPN Analyst Dan Dakich Joins Us on This Week’s RTC Podcast

We also welcomed ESPN analyst Dan Dakich to the Rush the Takes segment of the show this week, as he gave us some takes on Feast Week as well as some of the upcoming Big Ten/ACC Challenge match-ups set to tip off later tonight (he’ll be in Syracuse for the Orange and Hoosiers). The rundown is below if you’d like to skip around to the most interesting parts. Make sure to add the RTC Podcast to your iTunes lineup so that you’ll automatically upload it on your listening device after we record. And feel free to contact us through Twitter or email — we’re listening.

  • 0:00-4:10 – UConn Beats Florida/Feast Week Excitement
  • 4:10-5:41 – Villanova wins the Battle 4 Atlantis
  • 5:41-6:42 – Arizona Downs Duke At the Garden
  • 6:42-7:46 – Syracuse Validates Their Rank in Maui
  • 7:46-8:35 – Wichita State Wins Pulls Some Quality Under The Radar Wins
  • 8:35-9:42 – Memphis Gets Revenge
  • 9:42-10:31 – Dayton Makes a Statement in Maui
  • 10:31-11:21 – UMass Still Getting Love For Early Tournament Win
  • 11:21-12:35 – San Diego State: The Only Winner in a Messy Wooden Legacy
  • 12:35-14:05 – Creighton Lets Down After Good Start In Anaheim
  • 14:05-15:11 – Marquette Still Can’t Score
  • 15:11-16:41 – Arizona State Goes From Good to Bad to Worse
  • 16:41-17:44 – Oklahoma State’s Flaws Finally Show
  • 17:44-18:47 – Gonzaga’s Missed Opportunity in Maui
  • 18:47-20:39 – Kansas and Andrew Wiggins Backlash Part 2
  • 20:39-22:14 – Duke Can’t Get Their Statement Win
  • 22:14-32:27 – Rush The Takes With Dan Dakich
  • 32:27-34:18 – Memphis Wants Randy’s Respect
  • 34:18-36:47 – UNC????
  • 36:47-38:49 – Atmosphere In Early Games
  • 38:49-41:19 – Ranking Villanova After Their Great Week
  • 41:19-46:27 – Big 10/ACC Challenge Preview/Wrap
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Night Line: Mason Plumlee’s Post Dominance Keying Duke’s Phenomenal Start

Posted by EJacoby on November 29th, 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 day’s games.

Plenty of elite teams have impressed in the opening month of this season, but Duke is in a tier by itself when it comes to a complete resume. After exacting revenge on Ohio State from last season’s drubbing with a 73-68 victory over the Buckeyes on Wednesday night, Mike Krzyzewski’s team has now defeated three top-five teams in November. That doesn’t even include victories over Minnesota and VCU, as well, two other likely NCAA Tournament squads. In Wednesday’s win, Duke trailed by eight points at halftime to a tougher-looking Buckeyes squad while itself looking fatigued, and it needed a significant second half spark to change the tone of the game. That’s where it turned to Mason Plumlee, who turned momentum back on Duke’s side with two monster alley-oops from point guard Quinn Cook. Blue Devil fans have waited three long years for Plumlee to become a dominant post force who successfully harnessed all of his athletic potential, and tonight’s 21-point, 17-rebound effort in a comeback win over an elite opponent shows just how far the big man has come.

Mason Plumlee has Duke soaring up the rankings through victories over elite opponents (AP Photo)

We knew Duke had the depth, shooting, and coaching to remain an ACC contender this season, but Plumlee’s transformation into a dominant, All America-caliber forward gives the team a chance to reach greater heights than almost anyone imagined. Through seven games, the 6’10” senior is now averaging 19.9 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game on 65% shooting from the field; all good for top-five rankings in the ACC. But what’s most astonishing about Plumlee’s stats is his free throw percentage, which at 79% is an exponential improvement over his career 50% shooting coming into this season. Never mind the massive 8.8 PPG  jump; an increase of 30 points on a go-to player’s free throw percentage is enough to change the entire dynamic of an offense. As Jay Bilas consistently pointed out during Wednesday’s ESPN broadcast, Plumlee plays with improved aggressiveness near the basket this season now that he’s not afraid to get fouled. The senior converted 9-12 freebies tonight while also producing a game-high in scoring and rebounding.

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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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Handicapping Next Season’s Best Big Ten/ACC Challenge Matchups

Posted by EJacoby on May 15th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.

With the announcement of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge schedule for next season, fans now have some important dates to circle on their calendars. The 14th annual competition between power conference heavyweights will take place on November 27 and 28 with all games televised on ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU. Eight of the teams in competition are currently slotted in the RTC preseason Top 25, and there are several enticing matchups between big-time teams. Given that it’s mid-May, it’s far too early to break down the individual strategic matchups, but we’ll give you the best games to look forward to, and why. The Big Ten has won three consecutive challenges after the ACC was victorious in the first 10. Here’s what the 2012 ACC/Big Ten Challenge presents us.

Last Season, Aaron Craft and Ohio State Punked Duke in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge (Getty Images/J. Robbins)

Prestige and Intrigue, North Carolina at Indiana (Nov. 27) – Two of the top five or six programs in college basketball history square off in the headline event of this challenge, and it’s going to be one of the biggest games of the non-conference season. North Carolina loses its four top players from last season, but don’t count out the Tar Heels next year. James Michael McAdoo returns along with a bevy of talented perimeter players in Reggie Bullock, Dexter Strickland, Marcus Paige, and Leslie McDonald. However, UNC has the task of playing in Bloomington against a Hoosiers squad that might be the top team in the country next season. With a lineup full of talented scorers and the experience of last season’s spotlight, Indiana will be a title contender and a strong favorite in this game. The battle between Cody Zeller and McAdoo inside is a matchup of perhaps the two most talented low post prospects in the country.

The Best of the Bunch, NC State at Michigan (Nov. 27) - While UNC at IU presents the greatest national intrigue, a game on the same night presents a better overall matchup. When NC State hits the floor at Michigan, we’ll be seeing two likely Top 10 teams meet with experienced talent. Lorenzo Brown against Trey Burke pits two of the nation’s best point guards going at it, with two different styles at the position. Tim Hardaway, Jr., and C.J. Leslie are each talented juniors for their respective teams that flirted with the NBA but are back to lead their contenders. Throw in strong recruiting classes for each squad and we’ve got a doozy. Lucky for the Big Ten, they once again have the home court advantage in this one.

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