Tag Archives: Big Ten Basketball

Some thoughts on the Big Ten tournament

Well the weekend in Indianapolis was certainly an interesting one.

I have enjoyed covering the women’s Big Ten tournament there for the past six years, but this was my first trip for the men’s version, and I liked just about everything about it.

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The tipoff between Ohio State and Purdue at Bankers Life Fieldhouse

The whole thing was run very well, and the teams played their parts as well from Michigan’s comeback against Minnesota on Friday night to Ohio State’s big run to put away Purdue. Ohio State and Michigan State both dispatched of semifinal opponents then staged a classic in the championship game.

What do we think of the Buckeyes now?

Despite the loss to Michigan State, I feel better about their chances to do some damage in the NCAA Tournament.

However, I think we know who they are without question now. That’s both good and bad. There is without a doubt a lot of talent on the roster, but there are serious flaws that aren’t going to be fixed.

On the bright side, Aaron Craft and Jared Sullinger were great mentally and physically all three days. Craft was really in his zone defensively, driving the opponents nuts and getting his hands on everything. He ran the show better than he has at times this year, too, and looked more aggressive on the drives. It’s big for him to look to score more than he was a couple of weeks ago. He got to the basket several times and finished at the rim, adding an important weapon to the attack.

Sullinger was frustrated a few times – he was far from the only one – by the officiating in the Michigan State game, but he really seemed locked in. He took advantage of mismatches against Purdue and Michigan, dominating those teams like a player of his talent and stature should, and then he dealt with Michigan State’s size better than he had the first two times the teams played this season.

Odds are those two will continue to excel in the next phase of the season, but how do we know what kind of help they will get? The other three starters all have the capability to do very good things, but I think it’s time to conclude William Buford, Deshaun Thomas and Lenzelle Smith Jr. are not going to be consistent threats. Some nights they are great, some nights they are liabilities one way or another. When they are good, the Buckeyes are very tough. When they aren’t, the team struggles. It is what it is.

Overall, covering the tournament was a heck of a lot of fun.

The two teams in the final went after each other for 40 minutes, and more than 17,000 fans were locked in throughout. The atmosphere was great, as was the building (too bad they’re moving it back to Chicago next year).

It made me realize a lot of the talk of the meaninglessness of the college basketball regular season and postseason tournaments is garbage. Putting aside the fact that the winner ended up being awarded a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, there were clearly 10 guys going at it full speed on every possession. Thousands of people were rising and falling with every bounce of the basketball, and my Twitter feed was stuffed with people doing the same thing from home.

Did the game have a direct effect on the national championship? Maybe not, although I would think Ohio State would rather see an undersized Missouri team in a regional final than Syracuse and it’s famous zone defense. How the brackets shake out with Michigan State awarded a top seed in the West and Ohio State sent East as a No. 2 remains to be seen, but it really doesn’t matter.

For a couple of hours a bunch of guys worked hard and one side sweated out a win. There were a lot of people admiring how they did it while others took their thrills from watching it unfold.

There’s time to figure out who the national champion will be. In fact, that time is now. I’m glad we got to watch two teams with a claim on that title try one more time to top each other. I’m certainly better for it.

I walked out of Bankers Life Fieldhouse with the conclusion Michigan State is the better team at this point even though Ohio State probably has more raw talent. The pieces just complement each other better in the green and white uniforms than in the scarlet and gray.

When Ohio State is making shots, it can beat anyone, but I haven’t seen the Buckeyes make shots consistently enough to think it will happen this month. But that’s why they play the games.

NCAA tourney: Regarding the Lady Volunteers…

Pat Summitt’s team has four double-digit scorers, all of whom were McDonald’s All-Americans in high school.

Junior forwards Shekinna Stricklen and Glory Johnson go 6-2 and 6-3, respectively, and both made the All-SEC first team. Stricklen averages 12.6 points and 7.3 assists per game. She shoots 38.5 percent from three-point range and has 73 assists.

Johnson averages 12.1 points per and 9.5 rebounds per game. She has 47 steals and shoots 54.6 percent from the field.

The team’s leading scorer is 5-9 freshman Meighan Simmons, who averages 13.7 points per game and has a team-high 98 assists.

The only senior starter is 6-0 guard Angie Bjorkland, the team’s best shooter from long range. She is hitting 45.9 percent of her treys while averaging 11.0 points per game.

The fifth starter for a little more than half the season was 6-6 junior Kelley Cain, but 6-1 sophomore Taber Spani started both NCAA tournament games last weekend as Summitt opted for a smaller lineup (Both of them are also McDonald’s All-Americans, in case you wondered.)

The 33-2 Volunteers went undefeated in the SEC and won the conference tournament. They have not lost since a setback at Baylor on Dec. 14, and they finished the season ranked No. 2 in the RPI.

 

Summitt had a teleconference Wednesday morning that was not terribly enlightening, but here’s a summary anyway:

“Marquette gave us pretty much all that we wanted,” she said of the Vols’ second round game. “I thought they did a great job. Thank goodness we had halftime and that gave us a chance to regroup.”

She felt perhaps being at home her team might have felt some anxiety, which is not all bad, and she was pleased to get a win in front of a great home crowd.

Asked about facing Ohio State head coach Jim Foster, she said, “Obviously I think Coach Foster has done a great job with this team. It will be kind of like old home week from being at Vanderbilt and going to Ohio State. He’s got a really good solid team. Jantel Lavender obviously is the go-to inside. The guard play is pretty solid too. They do a great job of getting the ball inside.

“They’ll push when they can, but just from watching them I think they prefer more of a half-court because they execute so well in the half court. They’re very, very schooled in that and do a great job with ball movement.”

She said 6-1 junior forward Alicia Manning (another McDonald’s All-American) is an X-factor for UT off the bench.

“She’s the one who comes in and can play multiple positions. She’s got a toughness to her game and I really like what she brings to our team. She’s just got a lot of grit and a lot of focus and I think she’s a very strong vocal leader as well.”

Asked if she might consider using a taller lineup against Ohio State, who starts 6-4 Jantel Lavender and 6-5 Ashley Adams, she said maybe.

Regarding Lavender, Summitt said, “She likes the paint. It’s not like she’s going to step way out but she’s really good at running the floor and getting paint points. We’re going to have to match up early and avoid transition.

“She’s got a good skill set and she does take things simple but she’s also very aggressive.”

Then the local reporters harped on the “anxiety and expectations” thing for a while, but she kept saying she didn’t think it was a big deal, and she sounded pretty convincing.

Her players seem to have taken it upon themselves to put the focus where it needs to be, but they are deep enough they don’t have to rely on any certain person.

“I don’t mind shortening the bench this time of the year. The bench has been a plus, but we’ll wait and see.”

She acknowledged the SEC has been down this year.

“What goes around comes around, but unfortunately we haven’t been as strong in the SEC. Hopefully in the future that will change. I think it’s all about getting the players and getting them to play together. We’ve had our struggles with that but I think we’re in a pretty good place right now.”

Asked about tourney games being more physical, she laughed and said, “They let you play in the postseason. Watching some games, it was pretty brutal at times. I do feel like it’s more physical at this time of the season than the regular season, by far.”

Individuals must adjust to that on their own.

“At this point in time you’ve got to have that mental attitude and not worry about anything but getting your job done.”

In case you missed them: Ohio State interview notes

NCAA tourney – Ohio State women’s basketball interview notes

Ohio State head coach Jim Foster said this is not a typical Tennessee team because it is more offense-oriented. The Lady Vols shoot more threes as opposed to pounding the ball inside.

He liked seeing the emotion his team showed after Georgia Tech pushed them early in the game (recap), and he enjoyed the role reversal with normally combustible point guard Samantha Prahalis playing a calming figure to Jantel Lavender when the latter was part of a double technical foul in the first half.

Asked for a comment on head coach Pat Summitt’s record-setting tenure at Tennessee, he said she has done a great job getting great players. Tennessee was the first place to get serious about women’s basketball and everyone has been playing catchup every since.

He doesn’t think the aura is the same around programs like Tennessee and Connecticut as it was five years ago because of developments like the Big Ten Network. Ohio State led the nation in national television appearances this year (he said this, and I believe it to be true, but I haven’t double-checked it), and many more games are available for kids to watch as they grow up.

Foster said there was no love lost with Summitt while he was head coach at Vanderbilt in Nashville from 1991 through 2002 (Not surprisingly, the Vols dominated the series then, winning 24 of 27 matchups, including Foster’s last game with the Commodores, an NCAA tournament regional final contest). He didn’t seem to want to elaborate any more on that. Asked if anything has changed since he left the state, he seemed to indicate he wasn’t sure how it could since they haven’t played since then.

He did joke that he doesn’t own anything orange or even eat orange M&Ms.

He doesn’t look at facing Tennessee the same way he did UConn in December because UConn is the two-time defending champion. There are 16 teams left, and 15 are chasing the Huskies. He feels like the Buckeyes have as good a chance of catching them as anyone else left in the field.

All four teams – Ohio State, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Notre Dame – headed to Dayton for the regional semifinals and final are strong offensively, so defense could be a deciding factor in who gets the Final Four bid (Ohio State beat Oklahoma in December in Columbus, BTW)

Ohio State star forward Jantel Lavender said she expects Tennessee to be physical but not “physical slash dirty” like Georgia Tech was in round two.

She went to Tennessee on an official visit in high school but did not enjoy it much. She didn’t think the team was that close knit (They won the national championship her freshman year, for what it’s worth).

She sees the team very focused right now, and she likes the combination of weapons and leaders they have…

Fellow senior Brittany Johnson thinks Tennessee will try to push the ball up the floor and push the Buckeyes around on the court, so they have to be ready for it.

She’s enjoying being able to focus on basketball alone right now during spring break instead of having to go to class after practice.

Johnson said the Buckeyes should be in good shape as long as they bring it defensively.

Ohio State-Michigan women’s basketball pregame notes

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Interview notes from 1-26-2011

For the 24th-ranked Buckeyes, the key to success on offense is getting back to the bread and butter.

The attack has started to come alive with the emergence of freshman Ashley Adams. She replaced the injured Sarah Schulze in the starting lineup and helped power an 81-67 throttling of Iowa on Monday night.

Adams has teamed with All-American Jantel Lavender to create a formidable high-low double-post attack for which Iowa had no answers.

It looks more like the way they did things in Lavender’s first two seasons with All-Big Ten forward Star Allen and Tamarah Riley as opposed to what they were doing with Schulze, who mostly played on the perimeter and tried to stretch the defense with the three. That worked well early last season but Schulze had been inconsistent the second half of the year and that was still the case through the first half of this one.

As a bonus, Lavender is more effective away from the basket than she was in her younger days. She’s developed a deadly jumper out to the foul line or a little farther, so she can play the 4 or the 5 whereas she only played the 5 at the beginning of her career. They sometimes did the “twin tower” thing with Andrea Walker last season, but Adams is a better passer and shooter than Walker.

Foster said he had Adams in the plans all around and was targeting her for a larger role beginning with the Illinois game last week because of matchups.

Lavender said she really likes playing with another ‘big’, as she did in AAU (Ayanna Dunning of Columbus, who went to LSU then transferred to West Virginia).

The ball has been moving much better lately, and the offense has benefited. Defense has gotten a bump with the guards able to play more aggressively since they have some shotblockers behind them protecting the basket.

He said look for a pick-and-roll with Tayler Hill and Jantel Lavender with Lavender able to pass the ball to Adams if she gets it.

Schulze, by the way, has a completely torn ACL and partially torn MCL but is hoping for a return by the end of the season. She thinks she can strengthen up the muscles around the joint and let the MCL heal to be able to contribute in some way. She does not plan on playing basketball after college so this is kind of her last hurrah.

They say she could be ready to go in about five weeks, which would be the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.

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