Big Ten Summer Check In: Northwestern Wildcats

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on July 25th, 2012

The Northwestern Wildcats play their home games at the Welsh-Ryan Arena which is located about 10 miles north of Wrigley Field — home of the “lovable losers,” the Chicago Cubs. Over the last two seasons, Wildcats and Cubs fans have something in common: Both fan bases are used to the phrase, “there is always next year.” The Cubs have not been to the World Series in over six decades and Northwestern hasn’t received a bid to the NCAA Tournament in 74 years. Despite being competitive for three seasons runnin, the Wildcats have not been able to seal the deal during key stretches of February and March, and as a result have left their fans second guessing several key possessions or officiating decisions at the end of the season.

John Shurna’s graduation creates huge holes for the Wildcats next season.

Evaluating Last Year: Last season stung the Northwestern fan base more than ever before because they had their chances, especially at home. Bill Carmody’s crew lost three games at home by fewer than four points — to Illinois, Purdue and Ohio State. Their two losses to Michigan might have singlehandedly cost them a bid to the NCAA Tourney. During both of games against Michigan, the Wolverines came from behind to tie the game in regulation and hammered the Wildcats during the overtime period. On February 21, the Wildcats were 16-10 with five games remaining in the conference season. Three of those games were at home and included tough but winnable games against Michigan and Ohio State. But an overtime loss to Michigan and a two-point loss to Ohio State essentially popped their bubble as they finished the season 18-12. The phrase “control your destiny” might be cliché in the world of sports, but the Wildcats had their shot over the final several games but couldn’t take advantage, which resulted in an NIT bid and a second round loss to Washington to finish the season at 19-14.

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Bidding Them Farewell: Paying Homage to the Undrafted College Seniors

Posted by EJacoby on July 2nd, 2012

The NBA Draft is only two rounds long, so it’s quite difficult to crack the top 60 eligible draftees into the league in a given year. It’s even more challenging for graduating seniors, who not only compete with younger collegians but also foreign prospects from around the world who possess greater ‘upside’ in the minds of NBA evaluators. Constantly in search of the next hidden gem, general managers tend to overlook the players they’ve watched over the past four seasons in college. Only four seniors were picked in the first round during last Thursday’s draft, and while another 17 made it into the second there was still a large pool of graduates who didn’t hear their names called. There were far more than 21 impactful seniors in college basketball last season, and we’re here to honor the careers of those who didn’t get selected. We won’t forget the contributions of these following players, and with hard work and a little luck they should have a strong chance of cracking an NBA roster in the future.

Kevin Jones had a brilliant college career but wasn’t recognized on draft night (Getty Images)

  • Kevin Jones, West Virginia – A career that included a trip to the Final Four as a sophomore and leading the Big East in scoring and rebounding as a senior wasn’t enough to merit consideration by the NBA. Jones averaged 19.9 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks last season on 50.9% shooting from the field and 78.0% shooting from the line while also making a three-pointer per game. He also led the conference in Offensive Rating, this all coming on a squad with little offensive help elsewhere.
  • William Buford, Ohio State – Buford was a McDonald’s All-American guard with prototypical 6’6″ size who averaged double figures every season at Ohio State, making two Sweet Sixteens and a Final Four. He shoots it well and has shown a strong tendency to fit into an offensive scheme with other talented scorers, but his inability to take over games perhaps made him overlooked by scouts.
  • Scott Machado, Iona – Machado led the country in assists last season (9.9 per game) while also reaching career highs in points, rebounds, steals, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and free throw percentage as the leader of an at-large NCAA Tournament team. Even in a weak point guard draft, no team pulled the trigger on Machado, but he’ll have a great chance to dazzle in Summer League as one of the more polished floor leaders. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Season Wrap-Up: Northwestern

Posted by jnowak on May 10th, 2012

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: It was another season of close but no cigar for Northwestern. Another year gone, another year in which the Wildcats narrowly missed out on an NCAA Tournament bid. At this point, it’s hard to judge this team based on anything but a bid to the Big Dance, as a Tourney berth is the clear-cut next step in this program’s growth. Things won’t get any easier next year, when the team loses Luka Mirkovic, Davide Curletti and first-team All-Big Ten player John Shurna. But before we get ahead of ourselves, a look back at this past year.

John Shurna gave it a good shot, but couldn't lead Northwestern to it first-ever NCAA Tournament. (Anthony Gruppuso / US Presswire)

  • In a nutshell: Statistically speaking, two things led to the Wildcats’ demise this season: defense and free throw shooting. It’s hard to remain competitive when you’re one of the worst defensive units in the Big Ten (11th in the conference, ahead of only Iowa) and it’s really difficult to pull out those all-important close games when you can’t shoot free throws (10th in the conference, ahead of Penn State and Purdue). To see just how narrowly Northwestern missed the Tournament, you need look no further than all the close losses: a one-point loss to Illinois, two overtime losses to Michigan, a two-point loss to Purdue, a five-point loss to Indiana, a two-point loss to Ohio State, and a devastating overtime loss to Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament. Read the rest of this entry »
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Four Game Recaps: Big Ten Tournament First Round

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 9th, 2012

Here’s a breakdown on how things went down in the Big Ten tournament’s first day of action:

Matt Gatens led Iowa to a big win over Illinois (Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

Iowa 64 – Illinois 61

The skinny: It’s been a tough season for Illini fans, and now (some would say thankfully) it is over. Myers Leonard was a force down low for Illinois, scoring 18 points and grabbing six boards, but Brandon Paul struggled his way to four points on 2-11 shooting. Meanwhile, Matt Gatens continued his solid senior season with 20 points to lead the Hawkeyes, but it was his defense on Paul that really was the difference in this contest for Iowa. Head coach Fran McCaffery complained earlier this week about Gatens not being included on the all-Big Ten defensive team, and the senior looked every bit an elite-level stopper in this match-up. All-Big Ten freshman Aaron White had 13 points and 9 rebounds including a key offensive board with about 40 seconds left after a missed free throw by Roy Devyn Marble that helped seal the game for Iowa.

Up next: The #8-seed Hawkeyes will face #1-seed Michigan State at noon today. Iowa only played the Spartans once this season, falling 95-61 in a game at East Lansing on January 10.

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Big Ten Tournament Preview & Season Wrap-Up

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 8th, 2012

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

Conference Tournament Preview

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

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

A Look Back

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

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 7th, 2012

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

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

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

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

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 1st, 2012

Big Ten contributors Joey Nowak (@joeynowak) and Ryan Terpstra (@terphimself) give their thoughts on four conference questions as just a few more games remain in the regular season, and the Big Ten champion has yet to be decided.

1) Will we see an outright Big Ten champion?  Or is the conference title possibly going to be shared?

Joey:  In other words, will Michigan State beat Ohio State this weekend? I think the answer is yes. It’s hard to watch the Spartans, after how badly they tanked last season, and try to avoid becoming too enamored with them this year. But time and time again they have proven that this really is a special squad that gets it and is tune with so many important factors required to win.

They are one of  just 12 teams in Division I that is undefeated at home (three in the power conferences) and there are too many intangibles working in their favor this weekend: playing at home, Senior Day honoring Draymond Green, Austin Thornton and Delvon Roe, and the motivation to win a title outright while denying Michigan and Ohio State, of all teams. Not to mention how entirely out of sorts Ohio State has seemed lately. It will be a dogfight, but I think the Spartans beat the Buckeyes and claim a completely unexpected Big Ten title all for themselves.

Can Ohio State stop Michigan State's quest for an outright Big Ten Title? (Associated Press)

Ryan:  As much as people in Ann Arbor are hoping to sneak in and grab a share of a conference title (wow, Michigan fans rooting for Ohio State?  Can it be true?), I think that Michigan State is going to get to job done because they are so potent at the Breslin Center. The only thing I would worry about for the Spartans is getting TOO hyped up, which can happen when young men are trying so hard to defeat a quality opponent. The Spartans obviously don’t lack for motivation, and the bigger question to me is what’s going on with the Buckeyes? Jared Sullinger had to bail them out against Northwestern; a team that is very tough this season, but on paper can’t handle Ohio State’s frontcourt. With Sullinger admitting that he has been thinking out the referees and how they are officiating his post game, I’m wondering if that will come back into play in what I would expect to be a very physical game in East Lansing. I think Michigan State hangs another Big Ten banner for Tom Izzo.

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Northwestern’s Lack of Rebounding Becoming a Huge Factor

Posted by rtmsf on March 1st, 2012

Bill Hupp is an RTC correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp). He filed this report following Northwestern’s last-second loss to Ohio State on Wednesday night.

Purple Pain

It was hard to tell if the cheers erupting from Northwestern students after consecutive rebounds by the Wildcats on Wednesday night were sarcastic or an ironic roar acknowledging the event’s rarity. As has been the case in most games this season, Northwestern was dominated on the backboards in their 75-73 last-second loss to Ohio State. At the half, the Buckeyes were outrebounding the ‘Cats 22-5, as interior beasts DeShaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger had 25 of the Buckeyes’ 39 points (and OSU had poured in 20 points in the paint). “They killed us on a second-chance shots in the first half,” Northwestern coach Bill Carmody admitted. “They destroyed us on the backboards.” With Northwestern employing their trademark 1-3-1 zone, OSU used their superior size and athleticism to outrebound the Wildcats 44-18, grab 20 offensive boards (11 by Sullinger) and score 20 second chance points.

Drew Crawford And Northwestern Are Sitting Right On The Bubble (AP)

Still, Ohio State Coach Thad Matta dismissed the gaudy rebounding differential as largely irrelevant. “That’s misleading because a lot of teams do that and don’t beat them,” Matta said. “[But] we felt we could do a heck of a job rebounding if they played their 1-3-1 zone.” If the NCAA Tournament bubble upon which Northwestern firmly sits does burst, the Wildcats will look back and point to poor post play this season as a major reason. It’s not a question of work ethic as Davide Curletti, Luka Mirkovic, John Shurna, and Drew Crawford all battle and scrap down low. But the foursome are finer, more finesse players, athletes not equipped to sustain success against the rigors of conference post play.

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Big Ten Morning Five: 03.01.12 Edition

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 1st, 2012

  1. This season for Northwestern, heartbreak seems as associated with the team as purple and white.  The school has suffered four losses by two points or less after falling to Ohio State 75-73 last night.  It was a win the Wildcats desperately needed, and down 13 points in the second half, it looked like one they would not get.  But a furious rally, capped by a Alex Marcotullio three-pointer with 7.7 seconds remaining, gave the fans at Welsh-Ryan Arena hope. But then, Jared Sullinger banked in a shot on the other end with 3.3 seconds left, and once again, Northwestern came up a little short.  The Wildcats still have an outside chance at an NCAA tournament berth, but they need to take care of business at Iowa and make some noise in the Big Ten Tournament.  Opponents know that John Shurna and company will be coming into every game from now on with a must-win mentality.
  2. No Buckeye came up bigger in that win against Northwestern than Jared Sullinger, who tallied 22 points, 18 rebounds and two blocks in 37 minutes of play. Most of all, Sullinger has said he won’t worry about the way his play is officiated anymore.  After admitting that Big Ten officials had been on his mind in a loss against Wisconsin, he only picked up three personal fouls against the Wildcats.  He said the lack of mental focus had been affecting his game, and head coach Thad Matta has helped him pull out of that funk.  His re-found aggressiveness couldn’t have come at a better time for Ohio State.
  3. There are more bubble teams than just Northwestern in the Big Ten, and Illinois has a chance to make some noise as they host #13 Michigan tonight.  Bruce Weber’s seat is very hot right now in Champaign, but a late NCAA Tournament push would definitely help his case.  It’s up to Weber to keep hope alive and push the right buttons for his Illini team to keep winning and finish strong enough to merit consideration to the Big Dance.  For motivation, Weber has already played the tape of Illinois overcoming a 15-point defecit in four minutes to beat Arizona in the 2005 NCAA regional that sent his team to the Final Four.
  4. Indiana basketball has experienced a big surge this season under Tom Crean.  The Hoosiers have beaten three top-five teams for the first time since 1975-76, and have beaten the #1 and #2-ranked teams in the same season for the first time in program history.  Among Hoosier fans, the debate can begin: Was beating Kentucky or Michigan State the bigger victory?  Many fans would be quick to say Kentucky, but if you dig deeper into the discussion, the history between IU and MSU makes it a much more interesting argument.
  5. After losing its first game on their home court this season to Purdue last Saturday, Michigan was thought to be on the outside looking in on the Big Ten race.  After Michigan State’s loss to Indiana, though, the Wolverines still have a chance to share the title with their in-state rivals.  While an outright championship is always nice, a chance to share a conference crown is certainly one the Wolverines will embrace. Michigan hasn’t hung a conference championship banner in 26 years, and for a fan base that has bemoaned seeing its banners removed from the rafters, it would be a good feeling to see John Beilein signal the return of Michigan hoops by raising a new one.
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Set Your TiVo: 02.29.12

Posted by EJacoby on February 29th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

It’s another big Wednesday night in college hoops. Three bubble teams have home games against top 15 opponents, so we will see who really wants to earn their way into an at-large bid. Let’s jump into the breakdowns:

#8 Marquette at Cincinnati – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN2 (****)

Cincinnati Will be Fired Up at Home Against #8 Marquette (AP Photo/A. Behrman)

  • Buzz Williams’ team continues to impress. Even a suspension of four of its best players for at least one half couldn’t stop Marquette from winning at West Virginia last Friday. Now the Golden Eagles will look to add another quality road win to an already sparkling resume. Jae Crowder’s campaign for Big East Player of the Year is gaining steam as he ranks in the top 10 in the conference in points per game (17.6), rebounds per game (7.7), steals per game (2.9), field-goal percentage (52.4%), and offensive rating (123.9). He and Darius Johnson-Odom are the most potent and consistent one-two punch in the league, and they both have versatile games that should thrive against the Cincinnati zone defense. Marquette leads the conference in scoring but must adapt to the Bearcat attack that plays at a slow pace and limits turnovers.
  • The last time the Bearcats were on national television, they had another ranked Big East foe at home in what Rick Pitino called the best home court advantage his team had faced all season. Cincinnati will look to mimic that environment in this game, facing the high-flying Golden Eagles. To slow down Marquette, Cincinnati needs a big game from its veteran guards who can control pace and hit shots. As a team, the Bearcats commit just 9.6 turnovers per game, best in the conference, and they score 31.5% of their points from the three-point line. Dion Dixon, Cashmere Wright, and Sean Kilpatrick will win or lose this game for Cincy. It will be up to Yancy Gates to keep the Marquette defense honest inside as well as trying to shut down Crowder in the paint.
  • This game is a pick’em in Vegas, which feels accurate. Cincinnati will be fired up on Senior Night and a win over a top 10 opponent will guarantee its entrance into the Big Dance, but Marquette has been simply fantastic in Big East play, winning 12 of its last 13 games in a variety of fashions. As a believer in this Bearcats team, I think they pull this one out and lock up a postseason bid.
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Checking In On… the Big Ten Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 28th, 2012

Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference. Follow him on Twitter at @Bill_Hupp for his thoughts on hoops, food, box fans and life.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was:

  • Spartan Success: Despite losing guys like Korie Lucious, Kalin Lucas and Delvon Roe, the Michigan State express rolled on. Perhaps no other coach in the country teaches a system and its principles quite like Tom Izzo. Surprise losses on Sunday by both Ohio State and Michigan, however, meant that MSU’s weekend destruction of Nebraska clinched them of the at least a share of the Big Ten title. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
  • Chicago (Evanston) Hope: That wind you felt coming from Chicago might have been a collective sigh of relief from Northwestern fans after senior leader John Shurna sank two free throws with mere seconds to play to help the Wildcats escape Happy Valley with a 67-66 win. Two straight gut-wrenching losses in one week might have been more than Northwestern could have overcome as they sweat out life on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
  • Lousy in Lincoln: It’s no secret that Nebraska has struggled on offense this year. But not since 1961 has Nebraska been so putrid on offense as they were when they were embarrassed by Michigan State, 61-34, at home over the weekend. The Huskers shot under 30% for the game and the loss of leading scorer Bo Spencer to an injured ankle near halftime only hampered their scoring efforts.

The Perennial Lesson In College Basketball 101 Is To Never Count Out The Michigan State Spartans.

Power Rankings

  1. Michigan State (24-5, 13-3) – As good as Michigan State has been this season, how would the Spartans be if Delvon Roe hadn’t been forced to drop basketball due to chronic knee problems? Roe’s presence would have given them more depth and would have taken the load off of Draymond Green at certain points. But it also forced youngsters like Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne to grow up quickly. While they’ve struggled with consistency, those guys are a big part of why the Spartans are Big Ten champs.
  2. Ohio State (23-6, 11-5) – Strange times in Columbus. After riding a 39-game winning streak and destroying most visitors who dared enter Value City Arena, the Buckeyes have now lost two of their last three games at home. Jared Sullinger has seemingly disappeared in big games and crucial moments this season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Morning Five: 02.27.12 Edition

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on February 27th, 2012

  1. To win on the road in the Big Ten, someone is going to have to give a special performance. That’s exactly what Purdue got from sophomore Terone Johnson as the Boilermakers handed Michigan their first home loss of the season.  Johnson dropped a career-high 22 points on the Wolverines, and was supported by Robbie Hummel and his 17 points.  The Boilermakers have now won four out of their last five, and at 19-10, have probably wrapped up their case for an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
  2. Michigan State hit plenty of milestones in its win Saturday over Nebraska.  The Spartans are now guaranteed at least a share of the Big Ten crown after Michigan and Ohio State’s losses.  Draymond Green also became only the third player in MSU history to score 1,000 points and grab 1,000 rebounds, joining Jumping Johnny Green and Greg Kelser.  Besides those accomplishments, the Spartan defense was the star of the game as it held the Cornhuskers to only 34 total points.  It was the fewest amount a Tom Izzo team had allowed since a win over Brown in 2006-07.
  3. Once again it is Bubble Watch time in Evanston, and Northwestern had its fans biting their nails in a 67-66 win over Penn State.  John Shurna was sent to the line, and calmly knocked down two free throws to give the Wildcats an enormous win in that a loss could have been a death blow to their tournament chances.  Now Northwestern embarks on a tough two-game stretch (vs. Ohio State, @ Iowa) to finish out the year and will hopefully do enough to make its first NCAA Tournament in program history. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi currently has Northwestern “in” the tournament, but the hopes of the Wildcats and their fans rest on their performance in those final two games.
  4. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.  Just a couple of weeks ago, Ohio State was the toast of the Big Ten and many pundits were asking “who can beat the Buckeyes?”  Michigan State answered that question in Columbus, then Michigan did it in Ann Arbor, and now Wisconsin has stolen a 63-60 victory in Value City Arena.  Instead of worrying about a conference championship, now OSU has to be concerned about their seeding in the Big Ten Tournament and where they may end up in the NCAA Tournament as well.  All is not well for the scarlet and gray as they try to right their ship before postseason play begins.
  5. And Bruce Weber thought HE had it bad.  Frustrated Nebraska basketball booster Neal Hawks decided to vent his grievances regarding the program in a full-page advertisement in The World Herald sports section.  He also took some time to support beleaguered head coach Doc Sadler.  It hasn’t been a very fun season for Husker fans, but plenty of things need to be addressed before the program can move forward.  Remedies such as spending more money and finding more support for the program from the fan base have been suggested.  There is simply no easy transition when you enter one of (if not the) toughest conferences in college basketball.
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