RTC Summer Updates: Big Ten Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on August 8th, 2011

With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our latest update comes courtesy of our Big Ten correspondent, Will Green.

Readers’ Take

Summer Storylines 

  • Sully’s Back, But With Demands – In the year 2011, in the age of ‘now,’ in a profit-first educate-yourself-later society, amidst a flittering of teenage NBA draft picks, ferocious freshman phenomenon Jared Sullinger decided to stay in school. How quaint. Of course, there’s absolutely nothing quaint about Sullinger, his (rightly) assumed sense of on-court leadership, his brutally physical style of play, or that Ja Rule-esque snarl that makes him look like a squirrel who just ate a questionable nut. But seriously, it’s highly unlikely that anyone other than Jordan Taylor will stand in the way of Sullinger winning the Big Ten Player of the Year Award, and rightfully so. He has spent the better part of the off-season slimming down and getting faster. The best player on the best team in the conference simply can’t suffer a slump; he’s worked too hard and has clearly made a commitment to improving his game before leaving for the pros. The question is less about what Sullinger’s level of performance will be than it is about the effect his performance will have on other members of his team. Last year, his 17 /10 were a reflection of consistent contribution that was also part of a greater team-wide cohesion. Jon Diebler, David Lighty and even Dallas Lauderdale each had pronounced and vital roles on last year’s team. They’re all gone now. While some of the supporting cast and several new stars-in-the-making will join Sullinger, will increased reliance upon him make OSU more of a one-man show? Or will the Buckeyes continue to roll out a team-focused squad with four scorers in double figures and a core group of five guys who notch 30 minutes a game? Whatever happens, Sullinger will be back and he will be better than last year. Consider yourself warned.
  • Welcome, Nebraska – On July 1, Nebraska officially joined the B1G, an acronym whose ludicrousness we continue to subconsciously validate by pronouncing it ‘Bih-one-ggg’. If you’re scoring at home, UNL’s entry makes for 12 teams in the Big Ten, a conference that shouldn’t be confused with the Big 12, which only has ten teams now since Nebraska left it. Now that we’ve all scratched our heads for second, we should pause to consider how massive the amount of potential football revenue must have been to persuade the intransigent Big Ten to alter its ranks. The Cornhuskers’ inclusion marks only the second change in league makeup since the 1950s. So how will the other 11 schools adjust to the adjustment? Football-wise, they should all watch their backs. On the basketball court, though, it probably won’t have a big (or should we say, a ‘B1G’) impact. Sadly for Husker fans, their roundball team loses two of their top three scorers and has some major offensive issues to solve in a league whose tempo of play limits even the country’s very best offenses. Head coach Doc Sadler continues to recruit a healthy mix of transfers and high school players, but over his five-year tenure nine of them have left due to reasons other than matriculation or the NBA. Nebraska has had some encouraging moments in recent years, including a five game improvement in Big 12 play from 2009 to 2010 (from 2-14 to 7-9). The team’s defensive efficiency would’ve finished fourth and it’s adjusted tempo would’ve finished fourth slowest in last year’s Big Ten. In some respects, Nebraska feels like a perfect match for the conference. And yet, for many of those same reasons, it might be a little out-matched in its first few years.
  • Ed DeChellis Leaves For Navy – Nowadays, stories like these are rarer than that bloody slice of carpaccio you once had at a fancy restaurant: a coach leaving a higher paying, higher-infrastructure, higher strength-of-schedule situation for a middle of the pack team in a unambiguously low-major conference. Make no mistake: Ed DeChellis didn’t become the new head coach at Navy. He stopped being the head coach at Penn State. Unless they’re ousted via scandal or especially egregious results you simply don’t hear about power six coaches voluntarily leaving for a “lesser” job. And yet, that’s exactly what happened. Or is it? The answer to that question centers around just how much “less” of a job the Navy coaching position really is, and if anything DeChellis might have done warranted the move. The wink-wink nudge-nudge consensus is that while DeChellis didn’t necessarily knock anyone’s socks off, the school refuses to take basketball seriously. Some have lambasted the athletic department’s commitment to DeChellis and the program overall at a school that’s known best for intense linebackers and an 84 year-old Italian-American man. It will be interesting to observe new head coach Patrick Chambersin his first few seasons and see whether or not he runs into a similar set of struggles as DeChellis did during his tenure. If the holistic drawbacks of coaching in University Park really outweigh the benefits to the extent that someone would walk away from the position, then PSU has bigger problems to fix than figuring out how to win in the Big Ten this season. But if anyone can overcome whatever said “drawbacks” may or may not be, it’s Chambers.

    The Buckeyes, led by big man Jared Sullinger, are easy favorites in the Big Ten.

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Conference Report Card: Big Ten

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 13th, 2011


John Templon is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten conference. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that got multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap

  • Coming into the season, the Big Ten was considered the best conference in America. Michigan State was expected to be in the Final Four again and Purdue, Ohio State, and Illinois were expected to be among the nation’s elite. Then the season started and the conference slipped a bit. The Big Ten didn’t live up to its lofty billing, with the exception of Ohio State, which sat at #1 in the polls for a large part of the season. Of course, Robbie Hummel’s knee injury didn’t help Purdue. Illinois wilted under the weight of too much talent and not enough leadership, whereas Michigan State just never seemed to find its footing against a difficult schedule.
  • As conference play went on, all the teams beat up on each other, creating a mess in the middle and leading to four teams (Michigan, Illinois, Michigan State and Penn State) receiving seeds between 8-10 in the NCAA Tournament. The conference went 2-2 in those games. But the disappointment in the NCAA Tournament came from the top seeds that failed to live up to expectations. Ohio State, the #1 overall seed, was dispatched by Kentucky in the Sweet 16 in Newark. Then again, that was better than Purdue managed to do, as the Boilermakers fell to VCU in Chicago. Wisconsin made it to New Orleans, but Brad Stevens outcoached Bo Ryan and the Badgers lost to a lower-seeded team once again.
  • Those losses meant the Big Ten finished a season of much promise with zero teams in the Elite Eight. Much like the conference’s well-publicized bowl game problems, the postseason left a sour taste after many teams played good basketball during the regular season.

The postseason was a struggle for everyone in the Big Ten, even Final Four regular Tom Izzo and his Spartans, which had to make a late run to even crack the field.

Team-by-Team Grades

A’s:

  • Michigan (A): Before the season the Wolverines were expected to compete with Iowa and Indiana to avoid the basement in the Big Ten standings. By the end of it, they were scaring #1 seed Duke in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. It was a remarkable job by JohnBeilein to get a young team ready to play. Darius Morris was the engine of the turnaround. The sophomore point guard scored 15.0 points per game and dished out 6.7 assists per game while leading a team composed of mostly freshman and sophomores. Tim HardawayJr., a freshman, was the team’s only other double-digit scorer at 13.9 points per game. Michigan didn’t have a single senior on its roster this season and, with two more talented backcourt recruits in CarltonBrundidge and TreyBurke coming in, it appears to be ready to be a big player in the conference moving forward although they are still waiting on Morris to officially decide on whether he will enter the NBA Draft.
  • Ohio State (A-): The Buckeyes didn’t get it done in the NCAA Tournament, but they were the #1 team in the polls for most of the season and had the best freshman in the country in Jared Sullinger. The loss to Kentucky certainly put a damper on the season. Still, Ohio State went 34-3 with its only two regular season losses being at Purdue and Wisconsin in conference play. David Lighty, DallasLauderdale, and JonDiebler all graduate, but if Sullinger is serious about sticking around the Buckeyes will be a national title favorite again next season. Especially considering they have two McDonald’s All-Americans in point guard ShannonScott and center AmirWilliams coming in along with small forwards SamThompson and LaQuintonRoss. It’s Thad Matta’s typical reload instead of rebuild plan.
  • Penn State (A-): Qualifying for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade makes the Nittany Lions’ season a success. Even though they lost to in-state rival Temple in the second round, 66-64, it was a thrilling game to end a satisfying season that included victories over Wisconsin (twice), Illinois, and Michigan State (twice). Oh, and a loss to Maine. Talor Battle finally got his chance to go to the NCAA Tournament and finished his career with 2,213 points, 624 rebounds, and 517 assists. He’ll certainly be missed next season along with frontcourt veterans David Jackson and JeffBrooks. Thus, Penn State has some size coming in with two 6’11 centers in PatAckerman and PeterAlexis, but the program is probably due for a bit of a backslide.

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Season in Review: By the (Jersey) Numbers

Posted by rtmsf on April 7th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is an RTC contributor.  When he’s not traveling all night to get to Vegas, Los Angeles, Tucson or Anaheim to cover games in the southwestern quadrant of the country, he’s acting as the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences and writing about whatever strikes his basketball fancy.

When it comes to wrapping up a college basketball season, I have a hard time doing an All-American team, because, for one, it just seems hard to narrow down four and a half months of basketball to just five names (or even ten or 15 if I add a second or third team – although, I’ll probably do that too). Instead, in the interests of recognizing more of the players that filled up my brain this season, what I’ll do here today is take all 37 possible uniform numbers (only digits zero through five are possible uniform numbers in NCAA basketball, to aid referees in calling fouls and the foulers) and pick one player for each jersey number.  Note that I am not always going to pick just the best player here. My own prejudices and likes/dislikes will factor in, plus I want to be able to pick a guy that I will most remember from this season. And, in the case of a tie, a senior will get the nod. So without further ado, here is my list of Players of the Year by uniform number.

A Famous Man Once Said We're All Rooting For Laundry, Ultimately

0 – Jacob Pullen, Sr, Kansas State – As I said before, tie goes to the senior, and in this case, the freshman Jared Sullinger gets beat out by a guy who left his heart on the court in his final game as a Wildcat, scoring 38 amazing points in a loss to Wisconsin in the Third Round of the NCAA Tournament. Pullen goes down in history as the all-time leading scorer in Kansas State history, and his exploits in March will be talked about there for years to come.

00 – Rick Jackson, Sr, Syracuse – As far as the scorekeeper is concerned, there is no difference between 0 and 00, but I see two big zeroes on Jackson’s back, and opponents saw a double-double machine for the majority of the season. He posted 17 double-dips on the season and, despite fading a bit down the stretch, was one of the most improved seniors in the country this year.

1 – Kyrie Irving, Fr, Duke – Irving’s college career is complete as he declared for the NBA Draft on Wednesday.  You won’t find his name on any all-timer lists in Durham, as he played just 11 games in his time as a Blue Devil due to a toe injury. When he was on the court, however, he was among the handful of the best players in the nation, with quickness, awareness and maturity rarely seen among freshmen.

2 – Nolan Smith, Sr, Duke – His college career ended with one of the worst games of his career, but for huge swaths of this season, Smith was in the conversation for National Player of the Year. He took over the point guard role when Irving went down with his injury and did a fantastic job of balancing his team’s need for a creator with its need for Smith to score.

3 – Jeremy Lamb, Fr, Connecticut – Jim Calhoun’s precocious freshman earned this honor almost entirely in March. Sure, he had a streak of eight-straight double-digit scoring games in January and early February, but in March, Lamb took his game to a new level and became a consistent second option to Kemba Walker. From the start of the Big East Tournament straight through to the National Championship game, Lamb never failed to score in double figures and averaged 15.3 points per game over that stretch.

4 – Jackson Emery, Sr, BYU – Aaron Craft almost got the nod here, but once again we’ll give the upperclassman the benefit of the doubt. And make no mistake, Emery is very deserving on his own merits, regardless of class, averaging 12.5 points and 2.7 steals per game as Jimmer Fredette’s sidekick in the Cougars’ playmaking backcourt. Emery goes down in history as the career steals leader at BYU.

5 – Kendall Marshall, Fr, North Carolina – I’m not sure Marshall is the best player in the country wearing a single five on his back, but he was likely the most important one – and the biggest story at that. He took over the starting point guard position in Chapel Hill in mid-January and led the Tar Heels to a 17-3 record from there, averaging 7.7 often spectacular assists per game and kick-starting much-heralded freshman wing Harrison Barnes along the way.

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Big Ten Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 10th, 2011

John Templon is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten. With action set to tip from Indianapolis on Thursday, get set for the postseason with RTC’s regular season wrap-up and postseason outlook.

Postseason Preview

The Big Ten Tournament should prove to be quite the entertaining tournament. With so many teams on the bubble, every game is going to have a do-or-die atmosphere to it. Three of the four quarterfinal games, excluding the one in which Ohio State is playing, could propel teams to NCAA Tournament at-large bids. Another important matchup to watch is Northwestern vs. Minnesota in Round 1 – where they’ll probably be playing for an NIT berth.

  • Cold Teams: Minnesota, Illinois, and Indiana
  • Is Battle Ready For last Stand?: The Nittany Lions’ Talor Battle will try to finally make the NCAA Tournament. Can he shoot Penn State off the bubble and into the field?
  • Is Nolen Healthy?: Al Nolen hasn’t played January 22 against Michigan, but he could return this week. Would it be enough to get the Gophers rolling?
  • Can Anyone Stop Ohio State?: The Buckeyes look like a juggernaut, and this isn’t the time to be putting big decisions in the hands of the selection committee. In order to feel comfortable about its #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, OSU probably needs to win the Big Ten’s first. Northwestern played them close at Welsh-Ryan Arena – is a big upset in the making?
  • Will Izzo’s Tournament Touch Get Going?: Of the teams playing in the first round, Michigan State seems like the most likely candidate to reach the tournament finals. It seems like Tom Izzo just has a knack for this kind of thing by now.
  • Is The Next Generation Ready?: There are nine seniors on the three All-Big Ten teams selected by the coaches, and just one freshman. Are players like Ohio State’s Aaron Craft, Illinois’ Jereme Richmond, Northwestern’s JerShon Cobb and Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr. ready to play significant crunch time roles? Or will they wilt under the bright lights in Indianapolis?

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Set Your Tivo: 03.06.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 6th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

What a Saturday it was. The final day of the regular season for BCS teams is today while another ticket will be punched, this time out of the Missouri Valley. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#22 Kentucky @ Tennessee — 12 pm on CBS (****)

Knight Could ruin UT's Senior Day If He Gets Hot

Tennessee likely locked up a bid Thursday night at South Carolina but a loss today would drop them to 8-8 in the SEC. A win in the conference tournament would be advisable but their solid non-conference resume and strong schedule should probably be enough to push the Volunteers over the top.

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Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 1st, 2011

John Templon is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.

A Look Back

The NCAA Tournament is right around the corner and the middle of the Big Ten doesn’t know what to do about it. This week features a bunch of big games for teams like Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State and Minnesota as they make a last-ditch attempt to get into the field of 68. Last week, there wasn’t much separation because few games were played and teams continued to play right into their current three-tier stratosphere.

  • Team of the Week: Ohio State: With none of the bubble teams doing anything particularly impressive, the Buckeyes went about their business and dispatched of Illinois at Value City Arena and Indiana at Assembly Hall. The two wins helped the Buckeyes reclaim top dog status after their loss at Purdue.
  • Player of the Week: JaJuan Johnson, F, Purdue: Johnson scored 20 points in two Purdue road victories last week. He also had nine boards against Indiana and then followed it up by adding 17 rebounds and 7 blocks against Michigan State. The game against the Spartans was a performance that put him right back in the middle of the National Player of the Year and Big Ten Player of the Year conversations.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Tim Hardaway, Jr., G, Michigan: Hardaway had another excellent week as he continues to come on late and help drive Michigan towards an unexpected NCAA Tournament berth. He’s scored in double-figures in his past 11 games and scored 16 points against Wisconsin and 22 points at Minnesota as the Wolverines split a pair.

Power Rankings

This week’s power rankings focus a bit on what the Big Ten teams need to do to get prepared for the NCAA Tournament, or what they might be thinking about come the off season.

1. Ohio State (27-2, 14-2) – The Buckeyes have been in the NCAA Tournament since about the first day of the season. They’re concentrating on grabbing a #1 seed and possibly the #1 overall seed. To do it, they’ll have to beat Wisconsin at home and then make a deep run into the Big Ten Tournament. Star freshman Jared Sullinger seems to be slowing down. He only played 12 minutes against Indiana and scored five points, his lowest total of the season. That’s okay though, because Ohio State has another talented freshman, Deshaun Thomas, who isn’t afraid to shoot. He stepped right in and scored 22 points against the Hoosiers.

2. Purdue (24-5, 13-3) – Matt Painter’s crew hasn’t felt losing since February 1, six games ago. Purdue hasn’t really been challenged during that time period either, with the hardest game being an eight-point win over Wisconsin at home. The Boilermakers look to be in a solid position for a #2 or #3 seed come Selection Sunday.

3. Wisconsin (22-6, 12-4) – This is the best offense in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy, but the Badgers can’t seem to put people away. Still, it’s been an impressive run for Bo Ryan’s club. Jon Leuer’s 26 points against Northwestern helped the Badgers seal that victory. Wisconsin looks in line to be a protected seed as well come Selection Sunday and a team nobody should want to face.

4. Michigan (18-12, 8-9) – The Wolverines weren’t expected to contend for an NCAA berth this season, but a young team has grown up quickly, and with a win on Saturday over rival Michigan State, John Beilein’s team would definitely have a case. Most bracket projections have the Wolverines in the tournament or just barely out at the moment. If they miss, two recent close losses at Illinois (54-52) and versus Wisconsin (53-52 on Josh Gasser’s miracle three) will be cruel deciding factors. Of course, beating Michigan State on Saturday and securing at least one victory in the Big Ten Tournament would do a lot.

5. Michigan State (16-12, 8-8) – Another team from Michigan that has played an incredibly difficult schedule and now finds itself on the edge of the NCAA Tournament bubble. The Spartans could use the road win in Ann Arbor, but they first have to get past a trap game versus Iowa. There’s no way a team that finishes 10-8 in the Big Ten would get left out, but with such a soft bubble, even 9-9 might be enough for Tom Izzo to get a chance to work his magic. Michigan State’s biggest problem? It’s second-best win is against a quickly fading Washington squad.

6. Illinois (18-11, 8-8) – The Illini are who they are; they blow out anything up to mediocre teams at home and struggle against everyone on the road. Thus, it’s pretty easy to project that Illinois will finish 9-9 in conference. Non-conference wins over North Carolina and Gonzaga will help get them safely into the tournament, but their seed line will be determined by how they play in the Big Ten Tournament.

7. Penn State (15-12, 8-8) – It was a festive day on Thursday for Talor Battle as he became the first player in Big Ten history with 2,000 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists. He said after the Nittany Lions beat Northwestern that he’d give it all back if Penn State could make the NCAA Tournament. Well, two winnable games remain as Ohio State comes to the Bryce Jordan Center and then Penn State finishes on the road at Minnesota. What it really comes down to is the game against the Buckeyes. Penn State has been close against good teams, but only has a home win over Wisconsin to carry their resume. Adding Ohio State to that list would be a clincher.

8. Northwestern (16-12, 6-11) – The Wildcats have no chance of making the NCAA Tournament as an at-large. They’re barely hanging on to NIT status right now. Bill Carmody has a number of juniors and there are a lot of seniors in the league, so next year should be brighter. Unfortunately, Northwestern will say goodbye to the player that always did show up in the big games, Michael “Juice” Thompson. He’ll play his final home game at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Wednesday against Minnesota.

9. Minnesota (17-11, 6-10) – Minnesota has lost seven of its last eight games and has dropped off the bubble. The Gophers haven’t been able to weather the loss of senior guard Al Nolen. You can’t play basketball without a point guard, and while Blake Hoffarber has tried admirably to fill in, he can’t play both backcourt positions at once. Minnesota has two winnable games remaining at Northwestern and home against Penn State, but 8-10 in the conference won’t be enough for an NCAA berth.

10. Iowa (10-18, 3-13) – The Hawkeyes are looking to play spoiler now. Their best chance to really throw a wrench into someone’s plans is on Wednesday when Michigan State comes to town.

11. Indiana (12-14, 3-10) – Tom Crean will be lucky to escape the conference basement as the Hoosiers finish with two difficult games. A last-place finish in the conference might make his seat awfully hot.

A Look Ahead (all times EST):

  • 3/1 – Illinois at Purdue, 7 p.m., ESPN
  • 3/1 – Ohio State at Penn State, 9 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 3/2 – Minnesota at Northwestern, 8:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 3/3 – Wisconsin at Indiana, 9 p.m., ESPN
  • 3/5 – Michigan State at Michigan, 2 p.m., CBS
  • 3/5 – Purdue at Iowa, 4 p.m., ESPN
  • 3/6 – Penn State at Minnesota, 1 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 3/6 – Wisconsin at Ohio State, 4 p.m., CBS

Fun with Efficiency Margin and KenPom: I’d actually like to use this space this week to posit a few thoughts about other random topics around the conference.

  • There are four coaches in the conference whose names have come up as being on the “Hot Seat” at some point this season: Bruce Weber at Illinois, Bill Carmody at Northwestern, Tom Crean at Indiana and Ed DeChellis at Penn State. DeChellis will obviously be safe if the Nittany Lions make the NCAA Tournament, but I also expect at least two of the three others will be back next season as well.
  • The top five teams in the Big Ten receive automatic byes to the quarterfinals. 6 plays 11, 7 plays 10 and 8 plays 9. That 8-9 game is the one that intrigues me. Right now it would be Minnesota vs. Northwestern. But if you were the 6 or 7 seed, a loss in the first round would almost certainly kill your NCAA Tournament hopes. The 4-5 game is in the second round. Right now that’d be Illinois versus Penn State, giving the Nittany Lions another chance for a good win. Just some things to think about.
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Set Your Tivo: 02.22.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 22nd, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Illinois and Tennessee will look to lock up bids on the road tonight while Michigan State and Minnesota fight for survival. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

Illinois @ #1 Ohio State – 7 pm on ESPN (***)

We Have Weber And Illinois In...For Now

After starting the season 24-0, Ohio State has lost two of its past three games, both coming on the road. The Buckeyes return home to Columbus tonight to take on an Illinois team looking for that marquee road win that will push them off the bubble and into the NCAA Tournament. At 17-10 (7-7), Illinois is probably in the field as of now, but still has work to do. With a road game at Purdue still to follow, it seems the best the Illini can do is 9-9 in league play, although a win tonight would give them a great shot to go 10-8 while also locking up a bid.

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Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 15th, 2011

John Templon is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.

A Look Back

All eyes were on Madison, Wisconsin, on Saturday when undefeated and top-ranked Ohio State went into the Kohl Center to play Wisconsin in their toughest game of the regular season. The Buckeyes had a 15-point lead but watched it slip away thanks to heroics of Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor, which led to a very justified court rush from the Badger fans.

Elsewhere, though, the top of the conference was solidifying its reign. It’s now a definitive three-horse race between Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin at the top of the standings. Their games will continue to be must-see events. On the other hand, four teams are desperately clinging to bubble hopes below them.

  • Team of the Week: Wisconsin – Maybe the Badgers were looking ahead to Saturday, because they had to survive a game on Wednesday that went to overtime in Iowa City. The 62-59 victory, combined with 71-67 victory over the #1 team in the nation, is certainly a solid week’s worth of work.
  • Player of the Week: Jordan Taylor, G, Wisconsin – Taylor scored 27 points against the Buckeyes while making every big shot his team needed. He also had seven assists, four rebounds and shot 5-8 from distance. That was after going for 16 points and eight assists the game before against Iowa. Those types of performances get you noticed.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Jared Sullinger, F, Ohio State – It wasn’t Sullinger’s fault that Ohio State lost on Saturday. The freshman had a double-double with 19 points and 12 boards. Unfortunately, his claims of a spitting incident after the game grabbed a number of headlines.

Power Rankings

1. Ohio State (24-1, 11-1) – It was the Buckeyes’ defense not offense that let them down on Saturday. Still, it was going to be a tough game to win nonetheless. Ken Pomeroy saw it coming in the middle of the game. Before Taylor took over Aaron Craft had a chance to be the hero. The freshman point guard sparked the Buckeyes with eight points and six assists in 34 minutes.

2. Wisconsin (19-5, 9-3) – See the Team of the Week section.

3. Purdue (20-5, 9-3) – JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore got on a roll this week scoring a combined 84 points against Indiana and Illinois to lead the Boilermakers to two key victories. Lately it has been Lewis Jackson’s turn to be the third banana as he scored 13 points against the Hoosiers and 10 against the Illini.

4. Illinois (16-9, 6-6) – When Bruce Weber isn’t questioning his team’s motivation, he’s overseeing a thoroughly mediocre season. Illinois fans seem to think Demetri McCamey has one foot out the door already and his poor play against Purdue, four points on 1-10 shooting, didn’t help matters.

5. Michigan (16-10, 6-7) – A three-game winning streak has catapulted the Wolverines back into the middle of the conference race. Michigan still needs a quality victory to get into serious NCAA Tournament discussion. It was freshman week as Jordan Morgan scored a career-high 27 points against Northwestern and then Tim Hardaway, Jr. followed it up with a career-high 26 points against Indiana.

6. Minnesota (17-8, 6-7) – Minnesota broke a four-game losing streak on Sunday against Iowa and is desperately clinging to NCAA Tournament hopes. The Gophers are a depleted team and Tubby Smith keeps rolling out lineups with four forwards and Blake Hoffarber and crossing his fingers. Those are his most talented players, but if one of the freshman trio of Maverick Ahanmisi, Chip Armelin or Austin Hollins can give the team something they’ll see their role increase a lot. Ahanmisi played 11 strong minutes against Iowa with seven points, two dimes and a steal.

7. Michigan State (14-10, 6-6) – The Spartans got back on track this week with a blowout home victory over Penn State. Draymond Green joined Charlie Bell and Magic Johnson as the only Spartans to have a triple-double in a game when he went for 15 points, 14 boards and 10 assists.

8. Penn State (13-11, 6-7) – Talor Battle went over 2,000 points for his career against Northwestern and the Nittany Lions got a much needed victory to keep hanging around a weak NCAA Tournament bubble. Penn State, though, is still a long shot, especially because the remaining schedule is difficult with two games against Minnesota, at Ohio State and versus Wisconsin.

9. Northwestern (14-10, 4-9) – When a jump-shooting team goes 3-33 on jump shots during a game, things will get ugly. That’s exactly what happened with the Wildcats on Sunday. Northwestern shot 18-52 from the field against Penn State and scored .695 points per possession. It looks like the Wildcats will be waiting till next year, a common refrain in Chicago.

10. Iowa (10-15, 3-10) – Iowa did everything right except finish against Wisconsin. Melsahn Basabe and Jerryd Cole both had double-doubles against the Badgers, and four players were in double-figures, but Jordan Taylor hit the game-tying shot and then Wisconsin took control late in overtime to get the victory.

11. Indiana (12-14, 3-10) – Tom Crean’s squad will look to get a victory over a reeling Northwestern team at Assembly Hall on Saturday. It might be Indiana’s last chance to get a conference victory. Christian Watford returned from injury against Michigan and scored 14 points in 22 minutes.

A Look Ahead (all times EST)

  • 2/15 – Michigan State at Ohio State, 9 p.m., ESPN
  • 2/16 – Wisconsin at Purdue, 6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 2/16 – Michigan at Illinois, 8:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 2/17 – Minnesota at Penn State, 7 p.m., ESPN
  • 2/19 – Illinois at Michigan State, 9 p.m., ESPN
  • 2/20 – Ohio State at Purdue, 1 p.m., CBS
  • 2/20 – Penn State at Wisconsin, 6 p.m., Big Ten Network

Fun with Efficiency Margin and KenPom: Ken Pomeroy introduced the “Conference Only” check box (h/t RTC) to the statistics on his web site this week. It has opened up a plethora of new opportunities, but here are a few observations.

  • Wisconsin has the best offense in conference and it’s predicated on one thing, not turning the ball over. The Badgers rank first in the conference only turning the ball over 11.9% of possessions.
  • Everyone was talking about how great the Northwestern offense was coming into conference play, but in Big Ten play it seems like teams have caught up to Bill Carmody’s strategies. The Wildcats rank ninth in the Big Ten in offensive efficiency.
  • Ohio State has the second best offense in conference play and has been the best shooting team thus far. The Buckeyes rank first in two-point and three-point percentage, but 10th in free throw percentage. A lot of attempts by Jared Sullinger, a 69.6 percent shooter, and David Lighty, a 65.0 percent shooter, are weighing that average down.
  • I find it shocking that Illinois has the best defense in the Big Ten during conference play. Defense seems to be an “effort” statistic and that’s supposed to be the Illini’s downfall, but they’ve allowed barely over a point per possession in league play. The problem for Illinois is that it doesn’t force many turnovers, so it’s hard for Bruce Weber’s squad to get back into a game quickly.
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Set Your Tivo: 02.04-02.06

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 5th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

On paper, this isn’t the best weekend of games. However, this is college basketball where anything can happen. You just never know what could happen and it may end up being a thrilling couple of days, anyway. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

West Virginia @ #12 Villanova – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

Yet another big game in the Big East features two teams tied for third place at 6-3 in league play. The winner will tie second place Notre Dame, just a game and a half behind first place Pittsburgh. West Virginia has won seven of nine games and rebounding has been a big reason why. The Mountaineers have not been out-rebounded by an opponent since a New Year’s Day game at Marquette, plus their defense has been solid. West Virginia has scored only 58 PPG over their last four games (three of them without leading scorer Casey Mitchell) but has held opponents to an average of 50 PPG over the same stretch, culminating in holding Seton Hall to 44 points on Wednesday. Bob Huggins’ team is #5 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage but will have to bring their A-game on the glass against Villanova. The Wildcats rank 20th in keeping opponents off the offensive boards and were led by the interior duo of Antonio Pena and Mouphtaou Yarou in their most recent win over Marquette. They combined for 32/15 and have been huge factors this season as Jay Wright isn’t counting exclusively on his guards to win games anymore. Although West Virginia has rebounded the ball extremely well of late, they still rank only #291 in opponent’s offensive rebounding percentage, allowing teams to grab 35.6% of their misses. Villanova will likely miss a lot of long range shots against West Virginia’s #2 ranked three point defense (allowing 27%) so offensive rebounding will be important for both teams, especially the Wildcats, in this game. Coach Huggins used 6’7 John Flowers on Seton Hall’s Jeremy Hazell in their last game and he successfully shut down the Pirates’ gunner. Might we see the same thing on Villanova’s Corey Stokes? It’s a good possibility, though Flowers may be needed inside more often to double Pena and Yarou. Flowers leads the Big East in blocked shots and needs to have another good defensive game against a Villanova team that can score in bunches. The Wildcats score 25.6% of their points from the foul line and attempted 33 free throws against Marquette. Villanova is very difficult to beat when they get to the stripe because they shoot 78% and get there so often. Dribble penetration from Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns leads to good looks inside and plenty of free throw opportunities. West Virginia has to do a good job defending the dribble drive and Kevin Jones will be a key player in doing so. Jones is a taller player who, along with Flowers, will form the second line of defense if the Wildcat guards are able to get into the lane. Jones is also a warrior on the glass, going for 13/12 in his last game. With the status of Casey Mitchell still uncertain, West Virginia will have to stick to typical “Huggy-ball” more than ever, and that’s physical defense and great rebounding. Villanova is 16-0 when they score at least 70 points but only 2-4 when they fail to do so. With the way West Virginia is rebounding and playing defense right now, it’s very possible that this game could be in the 50’s or 60’s. We’re going to go with the upset and take the Mountaineers on the road in this game.

#10 Kentucky @ Florida – 9 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

With a win on Saturday night, Florida can really create some separation between themselves and Kentucky. With a win against the Wildcats, Florida will hold a two and a half game lead over UK and remain ahead of Tennessee, a team they beat on the road already. Quite simply, a win here puts Florida in a commanding position in the SEC East. Of course, that won’t be so easy against the nation’s fourth ranked team in eFG% defense. The Gators have won 9 of 11 games but Kentucky will be their toughest test since a meeting with Ohio State back in November. The Wildcats are coming off a loss at Ole Miss earlier this week, a game in which they committed 18 turnovers and didn’t defend the three point line well at all. Freshman point guard Brandon Knight had six of those turnovers and needs to do a better job tonight. Young teams can’t turn it over and expect to win on the road no matter how talented they are and Kentucky is finding out the hard way. With a 2-4 record in true road games, the Wildcats need to grow up quick if they want to play deep into March. Knight needs to create shots for himself and others, taking advantage of UK’s 40% shooting from deep. With Doron Lamb shooting the ball very well recently, Kentucky has plenty of threats to win this game. A key battle in this game will be at the forward spot as Kentucky’s freshman Terrence Jones goes up against Florida senior Chandler Parsons. Jones averages 18/9 and had 22/12 at Ole Miss while Parsons has been on an absolute tear on the glass of late. Controlling the boards will be critically important in a game that could be all about pace. The Gators would like to slow the game down and work in the half court while the Wildcats are comfortable at a quicker pace. To keep the tempo in their favor, Florida has to win the rebounding battle and make shots. The Gators are #10 in offensive rebounding percentage but the matchup between Jones and Parsons, as well as Vernon Macklin and Josh Harrellson at the center position, will likely determine who controls the glass in this game. If Harrellson can shut down Macklin (Festus Ezeli of Vanderbilt did a good job of this in the last game), the onus will be on Parsons to carry the Gators yet again. With Erving Walker hitting only 7 of his last 33 threes (21%), Florida will work the ball inside even more than they already do. The Gators get 56.8% of their points from two point range but will face the #4 interior defense in the country. Kentucky allows opponents to shoot only 41% from two point range while Florida is making 50.5% of their two point shots. This should be a physical game and whoever controls the interior will likely come out on top. Despite their road woes, we think John Calipari’s team will be ready to play tonight and hand the Gators their fourth home loss, disappointing the big crowd sure to be at the O-Dome for ESPN Game Day.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.28-01.30

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 28th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor

This weekend brings us yet another great slate of games with plenty of ranked teams heading out on the road to face unranked opponents. How many will go down this time? All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#21 Georgetown @ #6 Villanova – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

Despite their win at the Carrier Dome over Syracuse last week, Villanova has lost two of its last three games and now welcomes their rival Georgetown Hoyas to the Wells Fargo Center. The Hoyas have won three straight over the New York-area schools to climb back to 4-4 in Big East play. Georgetown has won four true road games but none of those wins were against teams the caliber of Villanova.

If Freeman and the Hoyas Plan On Finishing Strong, Tonight's a Good Night To Start

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Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 18th, 2011

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.

A Look Back

It’s hard to figure out exactly what’s going on in the Big Ten this season. Ohio State has risen to No. 1 in the country in both polls, but after that it’s tough to tell which team is next. Purdue stumbled on the road at West Virginia, giving the conference yet another black eye in the non-conference, and Illinois had a bit of dysfunction. Those things allowed an old standby, Michigan State, to once again rise to second with two close overtime wins at home. That just goes to show the tightrope act that is conference play this season.

  • Team of the Week: Michigan State – The Spartans managed to pull off two dramatic comebacks on their home court in conference in the span of less than a week. Coming back to beat Wisconsin and Northwestern – both in overtime – helps put Tom Izzo’s team right back in the middle of the conference race and might help alleviate some of the concerns about this team playing close games in March.
  • Player of the Week: Draymond Green, F, Michigan State: The big reason why Michigan State won both games last week is that Green stepped up, averaging 21.0 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. He also went 17-19 (89.4 percent) from the free throw line, which helped the team in the close ones.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Aaron Craft, G, Ohio State: Craft also won the official Freshman of the Week award in the Big Ten and thus became the third Buckeye to win the award. Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas and Craft have swept the award this season. Craft won his after scoring 19 points to help Ohio State hold off Penn State.

Power Rankings

  • 1. Ohio State (18-0, 5-0) – Behind a trio of Diaper Dandies, the Buckeyes have ascended to the top spot in the conference and the country. They’re playing good basketball, but hanging onto the top spot requires them going into Champaign and pulling out a victory. The play of the freshman has been impressive, but just as notable is how Thad Matta has gotten David Lighty and Jon Diebler to acquiesce to Deshaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger on offense and play important supporting roles.
  • 2. Michigan State (12-5, 4-1) – See the Team of the Week and the Player of the Week sections for more on a very successful Big Ten week for the Spartans.
  • 3. Wisconsin (13-4, 3-2) – Jon Leuer struggled as the Badgers lost at Michigan State, scoring just ten points on nine shots, but Wisconsin still had a chance to win. Jordan Taylor just needed to get a better look at the basket late. Leuer rebounded though to score 26 points on 16 shots against Illinois. Other player to watch is Keaton Nankivil. The 6’8 senior forward has scored in double figures each of his past five games.
  • 4. Purdue (15-3, 4-1) –A poor shooting week from E’Twaun Moore doomed Purdue on the road. He shot 6-18 at West Virginia and scored 14 points and went 2-14 for five points against Minnesota. What has to be more concerning for Matt Painter though was the defense that allowed the Gophers to shoot 52.9 percent from the field.
  • 5. Illinois (13-5, 3-2) – Two losses have brought back the dysfunctional team chemistry that plagued the Fighting Illini last season. Freshman Jereme Richmond was held out of the loss to Wisconsin because of missed practice time. Mike Miller over at Beyond the Arc had a bit more to say about it here, though judging by a statement from Richmond on Monday, there shouldn’t be any lingering issues regarding his status.
  • 6. Minnesota (14-4, 3-3) – Two wins got Minnesota back on track, but both were at home, and one was against Iowa. Let’s see if Tubby Smith’s team can go on the road and beat someone. No matter where they play, controlling the pace is going to be important. The Gophers haven’t played a game at a pace of more than 65 possessions since Big Ten play started. Last week, the game against Purdue was 70-67 in 58 possessions. On a night when Blake Hoffarber and Trevor Mbakwe both play well, the Gophers will look unstoppable. Hoffarber went off for 26 points against the Boilermakers, but was held to nine points on 2-10 shooting against the Hawkeyes. That’s when Mbakwe picked things up though with 16 points and 12 rebounds off the bench. It doesn’t appear that Mbakwe’s violation of a restraining order has slowed him down at all.
  • 7. Penn State (10-7, 3-3) – The Nittany Lions are going through a brutal stretch of four games, but making the most of it. Wins over Michigan State and Illinois instantly boosted their at-large profile and made them a contender in the conference. It hasn’t all been Talor Battle either, the frontcourt of Jeff Brooks, Andrew Jones and David Jackson are forcing opponents to pay attention to them. Jones showed what happens if you don’t against the Illini with a game-winning put-back slam after four players went at Battle.
  • 8. Northwestern (11-5, 2-4) – What might have been? Losing in overtime to Michigan State is a big blow to the Wildcats’ NCAA Tournament hopes. Northwestern had a chance to win the game even though John Shurna scored just six points. Drew Crawford has been hot lately with 19 points at Iowa and 16 against the Spartans. Because of an extra game on Thursday against SIU-Edwardsville, Northwestern plays three games in six days this week. The Green Bay-Chicago NFC Championship game also upended the schedule and the Wildcats will play Wisconsin at 11:30 a.m. CT.
  • 9. Indiana (10-8, 1-4) – Michigan figured out you have to guard Indiana in order to beat them. Jordan Hulls was a perfect 4-4 from the field, including 3-3 from beyond the arc, and scored 13 points and Verdell Jones III went 9-10 from the field and scored 24 points in the Hoosiers’ 80-61 victory over the Wolverines.
  • 10. Michigan (11-7, 1-4) – The Wolverines exhibit all the signs of a young team. They play up for the good ones and down to the bad ones. Unfortunately the numbers suggest that the games against the good teams might just be the kids playing over their heads. It’s the defense that’s been the problem lately.
  • 11. Iowa (7-10, 0-5) – The Hawkeyes are struggling to score points in Big Ten play. While Fran McCaffery has tried to spruce up the offense, Iowa still needs more talent. When Indiana comes to town on Sunday it might be the Hawkeyes’ best chance to steal a conference victory.

A Look Ahead (all times EST):

  • 1/18 – Michigan State at Illinois, 7 p.m., ESPN
  • 1/19 – Penn State at Purdue, 8:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 1/22 – Ohio State at Illinois, 12:00 p.m., CBS
  • 1/22 – Michigan State at Purdue, 9 p.m., ESPN
  • 1/23 – Wisconsin at Northwestern, 12:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 1/23 – Indiana at Iowa, 3 p.m., Big Ten Network

Fun with Efficiency Margin and KenPom

  • You might be surprised to learn that Purdue still leads the conference in efficiency margin during Big Ten play. Of course that has a bit to do with scheduling. The Boilermakers have feasted on an easy schedule and have avoided Michigan State, Ohio State, Illinois and Wisconsin during their first five games. Ohio State is second with Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan State coming up behind them. The Spartans are the second luckiest team in conference according to my count, with undefeated Ohio State being the first.
  • Before Iowa’s loss at Minnesota, there wasn’t a single team in the Big Ten that was scoring less than a point per possession, but the Hawkeyes have dipped below that minimum standard of competency again. On the other hand, Purdue and Michigan State are both allowing less than a point per possession in conference play. The Spartans are winning in conference on the strength of their defense.
  • Finally, the Bubble Battle between Penn State, Northwestern and Minnesota should be fascinating to watch all season. The Gophers did more than the other two during non-conference play, but the three of them have very similar efficiency margins in conference play.
  • After next week, every team in the conference will have played one-third of its conference schedule and I’ll provide a full rundown with all the numbers and predictions moving forward.
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ATB: Ow, My Eyes!

Posted by jstevrtc on January 14th, 2011

The Lede. Thursday night was angry because it had to follow Wednesday night’s ridiculous bounty of hoops and the Florida State upset of Duke. Still, there were some compelling storylines to follow on tonight’s slate, including a streak on the line at Minnesota, some serious glare coming off the Jackson Pollock painting that is Oregon’s new floor, and whether or not Seth Greenberg and Virginia Tech would have enough players to finish their game at North Carolina.

Your Watercooler Moment. For those in the East who stayed up long enough to see it, here’s a look at what people saw on the broadcast of the debut of Oregon’s Matthew Knight Arena:

The glare you see is not a product of taking a picture of a television with a camera. In reality, it looked even worse than this. The central part (the “non-tree” portion) of the floor is comprised of very light-colored wood, and as you can see, the light from the long strip of lights along the ceiling bounces right off of that wood, through the camera, and onto your screaming retinas. In high-def it was atrocious, and if the game was shown on HDTVs in sports bars around the country, it could aptly be described as a civic danger. During the game, everybody from Sports Illustrated writers to ESPN personalities were commenting on it through Twitter; one friend even said he had to wear sunglasses while watching the game. The hot shots who came up with the design for this court should be able to figure out some lighting scheme that will provide sufficient illumination for basketball while also letting home viewers enjoy the floor in all its, er…glory. Let’s hope so.

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