College Basketball Nation: Colton Iverson


 
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- A few observations from Louisville's 82-56 rout of Colorado State on Saturday at Rupp Arena ...

Overview: Well, the NCAA gave the No. 1 overall seed Louisville a virtual home game, and the fans and Cardinals alike embraced Rupp Arena as if it were the KFC Yum! Center. This was Russdiculous, Lou-nacy, and flat-out Siva-licious for the Cards. Louisville took a few shots from Colorado State early -- and I stress early -- in the first five minutes. And then the Cardinals' press, and crowd, woke up and swallowed the Rams whole. The equally seasoned and mature, coffee-drinking Rams needed some sort of fix to get out from under Louisville's pressure. It was too much, and UL busted out to a double-digit lead and didn't look back.

This is a tournament of matchups, more than anything else. And while eighth-seeded CSU (26-9) handled the atmospheres of those legitimately fierce Mountain West arenas without wilting much, it was not in position to handle the blur of Louisville's clutching, grabbing, bumping and pestering press.

UL coach Rick Pitino was relentless in pushing the Cardinals to finish the job. He didn't let up as Louisville (31-5) teased the Rams at times, allowing them to hang around. Louisville has been simply sensational since halftime of the Big East tournament title game against Syracuse. The Cards have put the clamps on the Orange for 20 minutes, North Carolina A&T for 40 minutes and Colorado State for 35.

Turning point: The Cardinals trailed early but quickly caught up to tie the game at 8. But I'll go with the charge Montrezl Harrell took on Colton Iverson as the turning point. Iverson charged into the lane like a bull, going for a flush dunk that would have brought the Rams to within two at 20-18. Instead, Harrell stood there and got slammed, his head smashing against the court. The freshman forward stayed down for a second or two, then got up and tried to say he was OK. He went to the bench, chilled and ultimately returned. But that play seemed to ignite the Cardinals even more, and they raced to a 45-31 halftime lead.

Key player: Russ Smith finished with 27 points as he was able to get to the basket to draw fouls (after which he made 9 of 10 free throw attempts), kept the Rams guessing and also pulled up on the break for back-breaking big shots. Smith could be the MVP of this entire tournament when he's hot. He's on a roll right now, which should be danger for anyone ahead of Louisville in the Midwest Region.

Key stat: The 11 first-half turnovers were a major danger sign for the Rams. The one thing they couldn't do was give the ball away. Some of the turnovers were unforced, as CSU made a few passes across the top of the perimeter that were cut off. Just the slight hedge by Louisville had Colorado State guessing wrong.

What's next: Louisville is off to Indianapolis to the Sweet 16, where the Cards will have a decided advantage again over Oregon on Friday night.

Elder statesmen front Rams squad

March, 22, 2013
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LEXINGTON, Ky. -- The coaching staff shouldn't have been surprised to see fifth-year senior forward Colton Iverson drinking coffee and taking notes Friday morning during a Colorado State tape session.

Iverson is one of five senior starters on a team that is a rare breed in college basketball. Miami has fifth- and sixth-year players. But the norm for most teams is to have a sprinkle of underclassmen in the top five or six.

This Colorado State team is anything but traditional. This new coffee habit is a symbol of the maturity the Rams have shown and will need to display when they play top-seeded Louisville Saturday night at Rupp Arena.

Iverson transferred from Minnesota to play for Tim Miles and he sat out last season.

While Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk has been receiving praise for his work during a redshirt year, some of the love should also be shifted to Iverson. He changed his body during the year off. He's lighter on his feet. Tubby Smith taught him to play defense at Minnesota. Miles schooled him on how to become more of an offensive threat. Miles left for Nebraska so when Larry Eustachy was hired he molded him into being an all-around player.

[+] EnlargeColton Iverson
AP Photo/James CrispColton Iverson is the oldest player on a Colorado State team that starts five seniors.
"I've been able to take away from all three coaches and learn a lot," said Iverson. "The year off gave me a lot of confidence. I took that year off and used it to my advantage."

Louisville coach Rick Pitino said he followed Iverson due to his close association with Smith. He now sees an all-around player and an outstanding rebounder who can score over either shoulder.

But it wasn't until this year that Iverson took on the odd habit for a high-level college basketball player.

"It actually started over Christmas break this year," said Iverson. "I used to hate coffee but Wes Eikmeier and Jesse Carr got me hooked and ever since I have to have it every day."

And here's the twist. He drinks it right before practice. By Friday afternoon, Iverson had already had a few cups.

"The younger guys on the team give us crap about it when we show up drinking coffee every day and they're drinking Powerade," said Iverson. "They joke we're the old guys."

Carr said he tries to get Iverson to drink water as well so he doesn't get dehydrated. That was Steve Barnes' plea, too. The longtime Eustachy assistant, who is the director of player personnel, said he found it odd that Iverson, Carr and Elmeier would drink it right before practice. But it has worked for them and they're not about to stop.

Carr said he started drinking coffee the last 10 games of the season and he played well. So he has become superstitious about it. The three players will stop at McDonald's and get coffee before practice and games.

"We were about to start practice here (Wednesday) and I see him (Iverson) drinking a McDonald's coffee on the side before we started running,'' said Carr. "We've all accepted it that we're old for college basketball at 22-23 years old."

Barnes had to do a double take when he saw Iverson jotting down notes with his coffee as if he was attending a seminar.

"I felt bad I wasn't taking notes," said Barnes. "They're an older mature group."

And that's why the Rams won't get rattled against the Cardinals, even if they get flustered by the pressure. They can score. They can board. They can handle the ball. This CSU team has been in games at UNLV, New Mexico and San Diego State and have not been flummoxed by the atmosphere.

"This is our last go-round and with five seniors we are looking at every game, taking notes and what to make sure we know what their capabilities are," said Iverson.

Iverson credits Eustachy with putting everything together in his game. Eustachy said he has never had a player improve as much as Iverson.

Now the two, along with the other seniors on this team, will try to shock the tournament and knock off the Cards.


If there is one sidebar to watch during the Butler-Marquette game Saturday night it will be the two coaches' demeanors.

Butler players relish Brad Stevens' calm approach. Stevens can get upset. But he never gets too wild.

Marquette's Buzz Williams is animated, but he reads his team's needs. When the Golden Eagles hit game winners to beat St. John's and Davidson in the past two weeks -- both by Vander Blue -- Williams didn't jump around like Steve Lavin. He stood firm, saw the ball go in and calmly walked down to shake hands with the opposing coach.

"He brings energy to the team and that's good," said Davante Gardner. "It's really funny. Sometimes when I'm on the court, I peek over to see what he's doing."

Trent Lockett and Chris Otule said they don't notice Williams as much during the game but when they see the tape of one they are immediately drawn to him. Williams sweats quite a bit and that's why he shows up in postgame news conferences with a different shirt. Otule disclosed a secret about Williams -- he has to wear a Dri-Fit shirt underneath due to the sweat.

"At the end of the game his Dri-Fit looked like he actually played in the game since it's so sweaty," said Otule. "He's just a really energetic person. It's an honor to play for him."

Williams doesn't hide his emotions. He pushes when he has to and holds back on other occasions.

"I understand that it's emotional most of the time but so much of what we do is based on energy," said Williams. "I don't think that you can have great energy without great emotion."

Conference Power Rankings: MWC

March, 8, 2013
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The Mountain West Conference is poised to send an unprecedented percentage of teams to the NCAA tournament. If Boise State can beat San Diego State and avoid a flop in the conference tournament next week in Las Vegas, it's hard to see the Broncos missing the cut. That would give the MWC five out of nine teams in the field, one of the best showings ever by a conference.

On to the final rankings before the selection committee has its say:

1. New Mexico. The Lobos have been the most consistent team from beginning to end. Steve Alford is a legitimate candidate for national coach of the year. UNM got pushed by Nevada in Wednesday's first half, only to find a second gear when it mattered most. The Lobos finish up on the road against pesky Air Force. This won't affect the Lobos' seeding in Vegas, but a loss to the Falcons would ruin any outside shot at a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs.

2. UNLV. I'm comfortable putting the Runnin' Rebels back near the top of the MWC, where they were projected in the preseason. UNLV seems to have finally found its rotation and might be peaking at the right time. The Rebels should beat Fresno State at home -- where they'll have the rare treat of remaining for two straight weeks, since UNLV hosts the conference tournament. But that doesn't always translate into a tournament title. UNLV is hardly a lock to cut down the nets.

3. San Diego State. The Aztecs should end up in the third spot. I'm not sold on San Diego State being able to win at Boise State on Saturday, but the Aztecs still have one of the best players in the league in Jamaal Franklin. I still consider San Diego State a tournament title contender and a tough out in the NCAAs. I'm putting a bit more faith in this team by keeping the Aztecs in the top three, where I projected them in the preseason.

4. Colorado State. The Rams have the experience, but have come up short in a few key games of late. CSU needs some momentum going into the NCAAs. The Rams should beat Nevada to close the season and be a tough out in Las Vegas. This team won't get rattled at all. If Colton Iverson can dominate his position, or at the very least hold his own, Colorado State has a chance.

5. Boise State. Last Saturday, Derrick Marks lit up Colorado State with 38 points. The Broncos then nearly beat UNLV on the road. Now they are on the verge of a program-changing win. If Boise State were to beat San Diego State Saturday afternoon, it should be in the NCAA field. If that happens, Leon Rice would have the Broncos way ahead of schedule.

6. Air Force. The Falcons are playing for a possible NIT berth when they host New Mexico on Saturday. Michael Lyons is also looking to secure his spot on the all-conference first team. Air Force should be proud of its efforts. This team overachieved and was in contention throughout the conference race.

7. Wyoming. Injuries and off-court issues have crushed the Cowboys' momentum. Wyoming, which finished its conference season Wednesday, has slid back into the pack, but can still play spoiler in the MWC tournament. Larry Shyatt had this team as one of the last four unbeatens in the country -- but the margin of error was always thin.

8. Fresno State. Rodney Terry has the Bulldogs heading in the right direction. Fresno State has been relevant this season in the conference race. I'll be surprised if this team isn't moving up in the standings in the next two seasons. The key will be for Terry to ensure Save Mart Center is a tough stop for every opponent.

9. Nevada. The Wolf Pack looked as though they were going to get a signature victory against New Mexico but lost 75-62. The problem this season for Nevada has been sustained effort, finding the 40 minutes to finish off games. This has to be addressed.
It's like our Saturday observations, but on Wednesday instead! A few end-of-day thoughts from another tremendous evening of college hoops:

1. Kansas stole one at Oklahoma State. Don't get it twisted: I'm not saying the Jayhawks didn't deserve to win in Stillwater on Wednesday night, because they did. All I'm saying is they managed to get out of that suffocating arena with a 68-67 double overtime win and are back in charge of the Big 12 title race without playing their best basketball.

How so? You can start with Ben McLemore, Kansas's surefire lottery pick, one of the most complete and dangerous offensive weapons in the country. McLemore finished 3-of-12 from the field for seven points in 49 minutes, and usually looked tentative and unwilling to attack. Or you can focus on the huge role played by Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe, who never met a long early-clock jumper he didn't like. He finished 2-for-11 total and 0-of-6 from 3. Or you can look at Kansas's 1-for-11 mark from behind the arc. Or you can look at Oklahoma State's 4-of-21 from 3, or its 32.8 percent shooting overall, or that Cowboys stars Marcus Smart and LeBryan Nash combined to shoot 5-of-24 from the field.

Or maybe you want to chalk all of that up to defense. That would be fair: For all of their other issues, the Jayhawks remain a very difficult team to break down on the defensive end (Kansas has allowed just .90 points per trip in Big 12 play) and Oklahoma State's isn't all that far behind (.95). When two teams finish a double-overtime game with fewer than 70 points, that is slow, hard-fought, defensive basketball, no question about it.

The Jayhawks caught a few breaks, including a tough fifth foul (on a nondescript positional call) on Michael Cobbins and a overtime charge on Smart that sent him to the bench for the rest of the game. After a night of mostly abominable choices, Tharpe's overtime penetration helped Kansas get great looks at crucial times. And Travis Releford -- the lone player on his team to play well for almost all of his minutes -- tip-toed the sideline with just a few seconds left in the second overtime, saving possession and preventing Oklahoma State from one final crack.

But none of that should diminish the Jayhawks' accomplishment. There was a lot on the line Wednesday night, not least of all pole position in the Big 12 title chase. Oklahoma State's defense did its work, Kansas helped out with some ugly offense, and still the Jayhawks were able to get out of Gallagher-Iba with a win.

For as frantic and frustrated as he was all night, when Releford saved the final possession, KU coach Bill Self pumped his fist as violently as he could without spraining something. Most Kansas fans were right there with him.

2. The Mountain West is awesome. Regular readers won't need this reminder; they've been well aware of the conference's numerous merits since November. But for those of you just tuning in to college basketball -- show of hands, it's OK, we know you're out there, don't be shy -- please be advised: You really need to be watching the Mountain West.

Wednesday night was just the latest example. Colorado State -- by my reckoning the best and most well-rounded team in the league, but we'll get to that in a second -- traveled to the Thomas and Mack Center for a huge matchup with UNLV, one the Rebels desperately needed to maintain any pace with CSU and New Mexico at the top of the league standings. And in what has become a seemingly nightly occurrence in the MWC, we got another great tight game with the Rebels winning 61-59. UNLV opened with an early lead, and controlled the game 32-21 at the half, but Colorado State -- led by former Minnesota transfer Colton Iverson (playing the best basketball of his life) -- came roaring back in the second half not once, but twice. With less than four minutes left, it looked like CSU was going to get this one: Wes Eikmeier was getting to the rim, Iverson was scoring buckets, Colorado State's bench was erupting in celebratory grunts, and it just felt like all the momentum, all the swagger, was on the visitors' side.

Then Bryce Dejean-Jones took over. He dropped a pretty pass off to UNLV center Khem Birch, who dunked over Iverson for a three-point play, and followed that up with a follow-and-foul of his own. CSU's Dorian Green missed a 3 on the other end. UNLV senior Anthony Marshall -- part of the backcourt that has often been the Rebels' biggest weakness this season -- made a game winner with just seven seconds left.

The RPI has shone brightly on Colorado State yet again this year, but unlike in 2012, the gap between the Rams' actual performance and their RPI performance hasn't been that wide. This is a really good team -- the best rebounding team in the country. (Colorado State clears its own misses at the second highest rate in college basketball, and no one corrals more defensive rebounds.) In other words, UNLV's win is not only a sign of the power of a good home court, or a nice victory for a group still putting it all together -- though it is all of those, too -- but also practically an official one-way ticket to the NCAA tournament.

And it was all just another night in the Mountain West. I'm telling you, noobs. Get on it.

3. Minnesota can't miss the tournament ... right? The simple answer is no, they can't. Their numbers are too good. They have a top-15 RPI and the second-strongest schedule in the country, (according to the RPI); their nonconference SOS ranks No. 14. When you actually look around the country, and take even a passing glance at the résumés of teams actually on the bubble, you realize how comparatively strong Minnesota's position really is.

Having said that ... the Gophers are not playing good basketball right now. Wednesday night's 71-45 loss at Ohio State was every bit as bad as that score. Minnesota never looked engaged, let alone capable. And this is starting to become a pattern. The Gophers are 4-8 in their past 12 games, the only wins coming at Illinois (back on Jan. 9, when Illinois was playing terrible), at home vs. Nebraska and Iowa, and in overtime at home against Wisconsin last week. On Sunday, the Gophers lost 72-51 at Iowa.

In other words, everything about Minnesota appears to be heading in the wrong direction ... except their NCAA tournament chances. How this ends is anyone's guess.

4. Ole Miss is apparently uninterested in dancing, too. That's the best explanation for the way the Rebels played at South Carolina on Wednesday night. Yes, you read that right: Marshall Henderson and company fell, 63-62, to a team with a 13-13 record and a 3-10 mark in a bad SEC. A team that, after last week's 64-46 home loss to LSU, led coach Frank Martin to say the following: "If you take Bruce Ellington off our team, you probably have 12 leading candidates for the Walking -- what’s that movie called? -- the Return of the Living Dead. The zombie movie. If you took Bruce off our team, our guys would probably win an Academy for their performance in that movie. I’ve been doing this for 28 years, nine of which was a junior varsity high school coach. That means I dealt with 14-year-olds. I’ve never been more embarrassed to call myself a basketball coach than I am today." Right. The Return of the Living Dead, as dubbed by their own head coach -- that team beat Ole Miss Wednesday night.

Ole Miss was already squarely on the bubble beforehand; the Rebels began the night with the No. 52 RPI, a 1-4 mark against the top 50, a mere 5-6 mark against the top 100, some really paltry strength of schedule numbers (133 overall; 280 nonconference) and their only "marquee" win coming at home against Missouri, who destroyed the Rebels on the return visit. Needless to say, the Zombie Gamecocks' No. 205 RPI won't help matters. If you're on the bubble, and you want to go to the tournament, you can't lose that game. Of course, that assumes Ole Miss actually wants to go to the tournament. Which, again, remains an open question.

5. That other Big 12 game was pretty good, too. I'm referring, of course, to Iowa State's 87-82 road win at Baylor. No, the Cyclones and Bears weren't waging the league's marquee matchup Wednesday night, but this game was still important to both team's tournament hopes, and had the effect you might expect on both.

For Iowa State, it is a solid road win to buttress a decent-but-still-incomplete NCAA tournament profile; for Baylor, it's yet another understandable but disappointing loss in a season that has been filled with them. At this point, a team expected to contend for the Big 12 title (and not unreasonably, with Isaiah Austin and the rest of the talent) has settled in to relative mediocrity, and an uncertain bubble fate, at least to date.
More observations from Saturday’s evening slate:

  1. Welcome to the SEC title conversation, Ole Miss: Andy Kennedy’s program was an enigma as SEC play began. The Rebels’ numbers have been impressive (83.7 points per game, top 40 in Ken Pomeroy’s offensive and defensive efficiency ratings) all season. But their nonconference strength of schedule was so mediocre (242nd, per ESPN.com’s RPI) that it was difficult to know if those stats were valid indicators of their potential. Losses to Middle Tennessee State and Indiana State only complicated the assessment process. But Saturday’s 64-49 home victory over No. 10 Missouri was a statement victory for the program. The Rebels are legit. Yes, Laurence Bowers’ absence (knee injury) affected the Tigers, but they lost because Ole Miss’ defense pressured them into costly mistakes (19 turnovers, 2-for-18 from beyond the arc and a season-low 49 points). And they couldn’t stop Murphy Holloway (22 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals and a block). Ole Miss is officially an SEC contender.
  2. Colorado State overcomes 18-point halftime deficit in overtime thriller: I know No. 16 San Diego State’s 79-72 overtime victory over Colorado State says a lot about its standing in the Mountain West. It’s tough to argue that the Aztecs aren’t the best team in this deep league. They have one of the best defenses in the country (22nd in Pomeroy’s ratings). Plus, Jamaal Franklin leads SDSU’s talented and versatile offense. But I loved this game because of the heart that the Rams showcased. Colorado State was down 41-23 at halftime in this matchup. Colton Iverson (18 points, 11 rebounds and 2 blocks), however, helped his team close the gap in the second half. He sent this one into overtime with a putback in the final seconds. CSU’s surge was more evidence of the depth in the MWC. And I actually thought this was the game of the day. So much action. Such an amazing comeback.
  3. [+] EnlargeChase Tapley
    Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsChase Tapley scored 12 of his 19 in overtime as San Diego State beat back Colorado State's charge.
  4. Arizona bounces back: I’m not saying this would have changed the outcome, but I’m disappointed that Oregon State’s Eric Moreland (10.8 ppg, 11.1 rpg and 2.7 bpg) did not participate due to a suspension. But I still give the No. 4 Wildcats credit for their 80-70 win in Corvallis, two days after they’d suffered their first loss of the year at Oregon on Thursday. Arizona was not flawless (16 turnovers), but it was too good (47.5 percent from the field) for Craig Robinson’s program, an average Pac-12 team at best. Mark Lyons (16 points) helped the Wildcats put together a performance that should help them put the Oregon loss behind them. Next up: Arizona State and then UCLA, two of the Pac-12's top teams.
  5. Temple wins, but Atlantic 10 still confusing: Before suffering a 64-54 loss at Temple, Saint Louis had won nine consecutive games. The Billikens were rolling entering the matchup, but Temple was aggressive in this crucial victory. Khalif Wyatt (24 points) led an Owls squad that shot 47.9 percent from the floor. Temple, however, lost to Xavier in its A-10 opener. And Saint Louis defeated UMass. So there’s still some confusion about the hierarchy in the Atlantic 10. I think Virginia Commonwealth and Butler are the two best teams in the conference, but what’s the order from there? I believe there are multiple teams in the league that could compete for the league title (VCU, Butler, Temple, Saint Louis, Saint Joseph’s). At this point, though, the sample size is too small to establish a true pecking order. The Owls certainly proved that they’re one of the best teams in the league with the win over the Billikens.
Other notes:

  • Leonard Washington (16 points, 13 rebounds) helped Wyoming rebound from its first loss of the season with a 59-48 victory at Nevada. The Cowboys were coming off a 63-61 loss to Boise State by way of a buzzer-beating 3-pointer on Wednesday.
  • I feel for Buffalo. The Bulls were down 54-33 to Miami (Ohio) before they launched a 24-2 run to take a 57-56 lead, but Allen Roberts’ free throws in the final seconds gave the Redhawks the 58-57 win. Heartbreaking for Buffalo.
  • Need more proof that the Mountain West is legit? Air Force nearly upset No. 24 UNLV in a 76-71 overtime loss in Las Vegas. This league is potent top to bottom.

Conference Power Rankings: MWC

November, 30, 2012
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I was convinced the Mountain West could have the highest percentage of teams in the NCAA tournament. I'm not backing down from that statement. The depth is unprecedented and it might only get better. So let's dive into the inaugural power rankings for the MWC.

1. New Mexico. The Lobos are off to a 7-0 start with quality wins against Connecticut and George Mason in the Virgin Islands and Davidson at home. Coach Steve Alford was bullish on his backcourt, and with good reason. Tony Snell and Kendall Williams can hang with any pair of guards in the country.

2. San Diego State. The Aztecs fell to Syracuse to start the season but their defense has been solid ever since. San Diego State can make another statement this weekend by knocking off UCLA in the Wooden Classic in Anaheim.

3. Boise State. Yes, I'm going with the Broncos over UNLV and Colorado State after the most impressive true road win so far for the conference. Boise State won handily at Creighton behind an outstanding effort from Derrick Marks. BSU also was within two possessions of taking out Michigan State in East Lansing. Leon Rice has the Broncos as a major factor in the last season in the MWC.

4. UNLV. The Runnin' Rebels were stunned at home by Oregon last week, but rebounded to knock off Iowa State. UNLV needs to work on its shot selection and overall offensive patience. This team is still figuring out how to play with a host of newcomers blending with veterans. Coach Dave Rice gets another one in a few weeks when Khem Birch is eligible.

5. Colorado State. Tim Miles left his best team for Larry Eustachy. He made the NCAA tournament last season and the Rams have every reason to believe they'll make it again. CSU won easily at struggling Washington. Minnesota transfer Colton Iverson has lived up to his hype and has been well worth the wait.

6. Wyoming. The Cowboys are 7-0 with a schedule that’s been about as soft as a light snow in Laramie. But Wyoming is defending and showing signs that it will be a major pest in the MWC this season.

7. Air Force. The Falcons have a veteran crew that's only loss was in a fairly competitive game at Colorado. Air Force has a chance to build credibility within the league against Wichita State this weekend in the MWC-MVC Challenge. A number of coaches in the preseason said the Falcons' experience made them an intriguing watch this season.

8. Nevada. The Wolf Pack were supposed to be a threat to get to the NCAA tournament. But Nevada has been slow out of the gate, losing at UC Irvine and Marshall and beating Cal State Fullerton, Green Bay and UC Davis by a combined six points. Deonte Burton is scoring as expected but the overall defense has been highly suspect.

9. Fresno State. The Bulldogs are still in rebuilding mode under Rodney Terry. Their offense has been erratic. The problem for Fresno State is that there's no place to hide. There are only nine teams, meaning this improved group might have a hard time climbing.
For more on Missouri's four incoming transfers, click here. In the meantime, a look at some other transfers set to begin play at their new schools in 2012-13.

Malcolm Armstead, Wichita State (from Oregon): The point guard will be a huge boost to a Shocker backcourt that loses leading scorer Joe Ragland and Toure' Murry. Armstead, who played two seasons at Chipola College under Wichita assistants Greg Heiar and Dana Ford, will be a senior. He averaged 8.6 points and 4.4 assists in his last season with the Ducks (2010-11).

Khem Birch and Bryce Jones, UNLV (from Pittsburgh and USC): Birch, the former McDonald’s All-American, scorched a path from Pittsburgh to Las Vegas, lambasting his former team on the way out the door. Now he’s got a more up-tempo style and a ready-made scoring partner in the form of Mike Moser. Jones, who left USC with similar ill will after reports of an altercation with a teammate followed him out of town, is already a proven scorer -- he averaged 11 points per game before his minutes dropped following the addition of Jio Fontan.

Rotnei Clarke, Butler (from Arkansas): For a Bulldog team that struggled to score and shoot, Clarke is like a Christmas present. Arguably one of the best perimeter shooters in the game, he averaged 15 points and shot 44 percent from the arc before leaving Arkansas. Butler shot a woeful 28 percent from the 3-point line last season.

Will Clyburn and Korie Lucious, Iowa State (from Utah and Michigan State): Fred Hoiberg’s Ellis Island recruiting methods paid huge dividends this past season as the Cyclones' coach was able to meld a group of transfers into an NCAA tournament team. Now it’s time for more tinkering with the additions of Clyburn and Lucious. Lucious, a true point guard, brings two Final Four berths and an early dismissal from Michigan State to Ames. Clyburn left Utah as the team’s leading scorer (17.1 points) and rebounder (7.8).

Jamal Coombs-McDaniel and Taran Buie, Hofstra (from UConn and Penn State): If the risks reap the rewards, then Mo Cassara could right Hofstra’s downward blip quickly. The Pride won just three CAA games this past season, but with Coombs-McDaniel and Buie, he now has two high-caliber players and two terrific scorers on the bench. Both, however, need to embrace real change at Hofstra. Coombs-McDaniel left UConn in search of more playing time, but also after being arrested for marijuana possession. Buie, the most highly ranked recruit to land at Penn State, was suspended indefinitely in his final year there for a violation of team rules.

Larry Drew II, UCLA (from North Carolina): One of the most talked about transfers in recent memory, the Tar Heels' former piñata gets his do-over at Westwood. Certainly he has good timing. After a dismal and fractured season for UCLA, the Bruins landed top recruit Shabazz Muhammad, who, along with the Wear twins, give Drew plenty of options. Just how he handles them, and whether he can cut down on his turnovers, will be the biggest question mark -- one no doubt watched by folks in Los Angeles and Chapel Hill, with marked curiosity.

Luke Hancock, Louisville (from George Mason): The Cardinals rode their defensive tenacity all the way to the Final Four this past season -- mostly because their offense couldn’t take them out of Kentucky. Bringing in Hancock will help change that. He’s not a bona fide superstar, but he’s a solid and efficient scorer who most will remember for the 3-point dagger he dropped on Villanova two seasons ago in the NCAA tournament.

Ryan Harrow, Kentucky (from NC State): Harrow’s addition will go largely unnoticed amid the celebratory din with the arrival of Nerlens Noel, but Harrow could be the most critical part of the Wildcats’ rebuilding. Kentucky went 4-for-4 in recruiting -- four players signed, four ESPNU Top 100 players -- but none of those guys are point guards. Harrow is. More important, he’s a point guard with major minutes under his belt, having started 10 of his final 15 games at NC State.

Colton Iverson, Colorado State (from Minnesota): You have to feel for a kid like Iverson, who opted for Colorado State a year ago in part because Tim Miles recruited him out of high school. Now Miles is gone, off to Nebraska, and Iverson, with one season of college basketball left, has a new coach to adjust to in Larry Eustachy. Eustachy should be thrilled, of course, to have Iverson, a solid big man who averaged 5.4 points and 5.0 boards despite sharing time with Ralph Sampson III in his final season at Minnesota.

Wally Judge, Rutgers (from Kansas State): A former McDonald’s All American who chafed under Frank Martin, Judge gets a second chance with Mike Rice. He’s another feather in Rice’s recruiting cap, but will need to play hard without the disciplinary issues that rendered him ineffective at Kansas State. The Scarlet Knights could use a big body with experience like Judge’s in the Big East wars.

Aaric Murray and Juwan Staten, West Virginia (from La Salle and Dayton): Bob Huggins made no secret about his frustration with his young Mountaineer team this past season, bemoaning after they lost to Gonzaga in March about the team’s lack of defensive pride and offensive ability. And that was before Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant left. Murray and Staten could change that. Murray, a highly touted prospect out of high school, averaged 15.2 points and 7.7 rebounds for La Salle. Staten, meantime, is a solid, tough-minded point guard who averaged 5.4 assists in his one season at Dayton.

D.J. Newbill, Penn State (from Southern Miss): Here’s why Newbill is huge for coach Patrick Chambers: He’s from Philly. If Chambers is going to turn the Nittany Lions around, he has to make recruiting inroads in the state’s biggest city. Newbill helps with that. The fact that he’s also talented -- averaging 9.2 points and 6.2 rebounds in his one season with Eustachy -- is a huge bonus for a Penn State team in dire need of skill infusion.

J.J. O’Brien and Dwayne Polee, San Diego State (from Utah and St. John’s): O’Brien, who elected to leave Utah after Jim Boylen was fired, is a solid scorer who averaged 6.4 points despite missing nine games with a broken foot. Polee, a gifted athlete, started 27 games for Steve Lavin as a freshman, but he was on the wrong coast. Polee is from Los Angeles, and the pull to be closer to home, where his mother has an undisclosed illness, was too much to overcome. Now Steve Fisher, who already had an impressive would-be mulligan season, has even more talent to keep the Aztecs moving forward.

Stacey Poole, Georgia Tech (from Kentucky): Poole, whose playing time headed south as the Wildcats brought in more talented freshmen, made the smart decision to head elsewhere where he will be needed. And Georgia Tech needs him. Poole, a top-50 player out of high school, will help Brian Gregory turn Tech in the right direction. An added plus: Poole’s younger brother, Solomon, 25th in the ESPNU top 60, has the Yellow Jackets on his short list.

Eric Wise, USC (from UC Irvine): Wise was looking to up his future stock, and Southern Cal, to up its future. Call this a match made in heaven. Wise averaged 16.3 points and 8.1 rebounds for the Anteaters, and will be a much welcomed shot in the arm for the Trojans, who averaged an offensive 53 points in winning one Pac 12 game all season.
INDIANAPOLIS -- After a sluggish start from both teams, things picked up toward the end of the half, and Devoe Joseph's 3-pointer at the buzzer keeps things close entering the break.

Quick thoughts at halftime:

  • Evan Turner is a tough defensive assignment for just about anybody, and Minnesota's Lawrence Westbrook is no exception. Westbrook is giving up seven inches to Turner, who tallied seven points and eight rebounds in the first half. The Gophers senior likely will need some help on Turner in the second half.
  • Turner actually hasn't been Ohio State's top weapon today. His backcourt mates Jon Diebler (10 points), William Buford (6 points) and David Lighty (6) are all playing well so far. Diebler really came on strong toward the end of the half with a steal and slam, followed by a 3-pointer.
  • Westbrook is certainly pulling his weight on the offensive end so far. Minnesota's inside game has been so-so aside from Colton Iverson, so the Gophers are settling for jump shots. He already has hit two 3-pointers from the left corner. Westbrook never shies away from taking big shots, and today he's making them. The Gophers need Blake Hoffarber (0 points) to start stepping up.
  • Minnesota will need more after halftime from center Ralph Sampson III, who looks very tentative so far. Sampson has only two points and three turnovers and seems bothered by Ohio State's pressure defense. If he emerges and Paul Carter starts finishing better around the rim, Minnesota should be in this thing the whole way.
INDIANAPOLIS -- After an entertaining week of games at Conseco Fieldhouse, top seed Ohio State and No. 6 seed Minnesota meet today to decide the Big Ten tournament championship.

Here's a quick look at the matchup:

No. 1 seed Ohio State vs. No. 6 seed Minnesota (CBS, 3:30 p.m. ET)

Records: Ohio State (26-7), Minnesota (21-12)

Season series: Minnesota beat the Buckeyes 73-62 on Jan. 9 in Evan Turner's second game back from a back injury. Gophers sharpshooter Blake Hoffarber scored a career-high 27 points with six 3-pointers in the second half at Williams Arena. Ohio State crushed Minnesota 85-63 three weeks later in Columbus, as William Buford scored a career high 26 points and the Buckeyes shot a blistering 73 percent from the floor in the first half.

Big Ten tournament history: Ohio State is making its sixth appearance -- and second straight -- in the tournament championship game. The Buckeyes won the title in 2002 and 2007 and lost in 2009, 2006 and 2003. Minnesota makes its first appearance in the tournament final.

What to watch for Ohio State: The Buckeyes are still alive (barely) for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, although they likely would need a dominant win today, plus a Duke loss in the ACC tournament final. And even then, it probably wouldn't be enough. Ohio State hasn't been dominant this week at Conseco, but Turner and his teammates keep finding ways to win. Turner is well on his way to winning Most Outstanding Player at the tournament, having averaged 24.5 points, seven assists and 6.5 rebounds in two games. The junior guard has played well in both games against the Gophers, but he'll need help today from Buford, who comes off of a strong performance (22 points, 10 rebounds) against Illinois. Buford was dealing with some bad cramps as he walked off the news conference podium Saturday, but he should be fine today. The Buckeyes got some valuable minutes off the bench from Kyle Madsen on Saturday and will need him again against Minnesota's big men, who are playing really well in the tournament.

What to watch for Minnesota: The Gophers certainly look like an NCAA tournament team right now, but they don't want to leave their fate to the selection committee. A victory today completes a stellar four-game win and clinches a tournament berth for Tubby Smith's team. Bracketolgist Joe Lunardi has the Gophers as one of his last two teams in the field. A No. 6 seed has won the Big Ten tournament only once, as Iowa pulled it off in 2001, but Minnesota has been the most impressive team in this event. The Gophers have really turned up the heat on defense and need another great effort today against Turner, who looks unstoppable. Smith continues to gush about senior forward Damian Johnson, who got snubbed from the Big Ten's All-Defense team last week. "Damian Johnson is the most versatile defensive player I've ever coached at any level," Smith said. Johnson could be a huge factor today. Point guard Devoe Joseph has been terrific for Minnesota this week, and big men Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson turned in great performances Saturday against Purdue. No Gophers player logged more than 26 minutes Saturday, so this team will be rested. Do these Gophers have one more upset left in them?
INDIANAPOLIS -- Of all the close losses Minnesota endured this season, two stand out.

[+] EnlargeRalph Sampson III
AP Photo/Michael ConroyRalph Sampson III had 13 points and five rebounds to help lift Minnesota past Purdue and into the Big Ten final.
The Gophers endured 1-point losses to both Michigan State and Purdue on their home court in Minneapolis. When quality wins mean everything, falling just short against two top 10 teams can make all the difference on Selection Sunday.

In a span of less than 24 hours at the Big Ten tournament, Minnesota has redeemed itself.

After upsetting Michigan State in overtime Friday, the No. 6 seed Golden Gophers crushed Purdue 69-42 to advance to Sunday's tournament championship against top seed Ohio State (CBS, 3:30 p.m. ET). The Gophers (21-12) held Purdue to a historically bad 11 first-half points and a miserable shooting percentage in the runaway victory.

Purdue clearly misses injured forward Robbie Hummel against opponents with any real size or length, and Minnesota boasts plenty of both.

Minnesota's big men really stepped up today, particularly Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson. Sampson came off of a scoreless performance against Michigan State to tally 13 points and five rebounds, while Iverson continued his strong Big Ten tournament with 11 points and six boards. Paul Carter (8 points, 10 rebounds) also provided a boost in the paint.

Minnesota was all smiles in the closing minutes, and for good reason. Back-to-back wins against ranked opponents gives the Gophers a very good chance at earning an NCAA tournament berth, regardless of what happens Sunday against Ohio State. Minnesota athletics director Joel Maturi told me before Friday's game that if the Gophers were still playing on Sunday, they stood an excellent chance of making the NCAAs.

The Boilers got nothing from star guard E'Twaun Moore, who went 1-for-14 from the floor. Center JaJuan Johnson (17 points) was Purdue's only scoring option. After surviving a 1-for-11 start Friday against Northwestern, Purdue couldn't stay competitive with the Gophers.

Purdue shot 18.5 percent in the first half and finished with its lowest scoring total since at least 1950 (records before 1950 don't appear in the team's media guide, but the next fewest was 13 against Minnesota in 1982). According to ESPN Stats & Information, Purdue had the fourth lowest first-half total by a Big Ten team since 1996-97.

Boilermakers head coach Matt Painter said his team came here playing for a No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 seed, with the latter two more likely. It'll be interesting to see how this performance impacts the selection committee's decision, as Purdue clearly isn't the same team without Hummel.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Here's all you need to know about the first half of today's second semifinal.

Purdue center JaJuan Johnson had a nifty hook shoot fall through the net just before the buzzer. It gave his team double digits in points for the half. Just brutal basketball by Purdue, and great defense by Minnesota.

Man, I wouldn't mind being in Purdue's locker room right now.

A few thoughts:
  • Barring a huge collapse, Minnesota will notch another win against a top 25 RPI opponent, although Purdue hardly looks like one today. Wins here against Michigan State and Purdue should be enough to push the surging Gophers into the NCAA tournament field. Athletic director Joel Maturi told me before Friday's game that Minnesota would get in if it reaches the final. Minnesota finally seems to have figured things out on defense, and the Gophers are suffocating Purdue with their length.
  • Purdue did a nice job winning three straight games without star guard Robbie Hummel, but if today's first half is any indication, the Boilers won't be around very long in March. They simply don't have enough firepower against teams with both size and length like Minnesota. Settling for outside shots, Purdue shot a pathetic 5-for-27 from the field (18.5 percent), and that was with a mini hot streak at the end of the half. Only three Boilers have scored, and star guard E'Twaun Moore is 1-for-12 from the floor.
  • Minnesota, meanwhile, is getting contributions from throughout its roster. Center Colton Iverson continues to have a terrific tournament, and Ralph Sampson III bounced back from a poor performance Friday with six points and four rebounds in the first half. The Gophers shot a blistering 61.5 percent in the half, and they're killing Purdue inside with a 21-8 edge on the boards.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The 2010 Big Ten tournament has reached the semifinals. Here's a look at the two matchups on tap today at Conseco Fieldhouse.

No. 1 seed Ohio State vs. No. 5 seed Illinois (CBS, 1:40 p.m. ET)

Records: Ohio State (25-7), Illinois (19-13)

Season series: The Buckeyes swept two games from Illinois and did so in convincing fashion, pummeling the Illini 72-53 in Champaign and 73-57 in Columbus.

Advancement: Winner faces Purdue or Minnesota in the championship game Sunday (CBS, 3:30 p.m. ET).

What to watch for Ohio State: Evan Turner's legend grew Friday as the National Player of the Year frontrunner hit a 37-foot shot as time expired to lift the Buckeyes to a 69-68 victory over Michigan. Turner has been very good against Illinois this season, averaging 16 points, 11.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists in the two meetings. Ohio State called Friday's game a wake-up call after a 10-day layoff, and Turner and his teammates need to reclaim their defensive swagger. Illinois big men Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis turned in one of their best performances Friday against Wisconsin, and it'll be important for Buckeyes center Dallas Lauderdale to stay out of foul trouble. Buckeyes sharpshooter Jon Diebler was on fire in his last game against Illinois, swishing 7 of 14 attempts from 3-point range.

What to watch for Illinois: The Illini likely put themselves in the NCAA tournament with the Wisconsin win, but they can virtually guarantee a spot with a win today. Star guard Demetri McCamey comes off one of his more complete performances of the season (13 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds), and he'll need an even better effort against the Buckeyes and Turner, his former high school teammate in Chicago. Tisdale did a nice job of extending Wisconsin's defense Friday, hitting two 3-pointers and several long 2-pointers. If he can bring Lauderdale or David Lighty away from the bucket, it should free up opportunities for others. D.J. Richardson looked like a freshman for much of Friday's quarterfinal win, but he found his shooting stroke late and never lost confidence. He needs to be a factor today if Illinois plans to advance.

Quotable:

Ohio State forward David Lighty: "It's a wake-up call. Watching games [Thursday], watching Syracuse go down, watching Kansas go down to the wire almost and things like that, it's kind of like we almost did the same thing. We have to get our minds right. It's like second lift, second wind for us."

Illinois head coach Bruce Weber: "No matter what, [Ohio State has] to be feeling relieved about [Friday's win], and then second, 'We kicked Illini butt two times.' I hope we can have a little bit of a mental edge."

No. 2 seed Purdue vs. No. 6 seed Minnesota (CBS, 25 minutes after Ohio State-Illinois game)


Records: Purdue (27-4), Minnesota (20-12)

Season series: Purdue crushed Minnesota 79-60 in West Lafayette on Jan. 5 and found a way to escape Williams Arena with a 59-58 win Feb. 24 after losing star forward Robbie Hummel to a season-ending knee injury in the first half.

Advancement: Winner faces Ohio State or Illinois on Sunday in the championship.

What to watch for Purdue: The Boilermakers missed 10 of their first 11 shots Friday against Northwestern and likely can't afford another slow start against surging Minnesota. Juniors E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson are really answering the bell in Hummel's absence, and both men need strong performances again today. Johnson recorded a double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds) in the 1-point win at Minnesota, while Moore recorded 18 points and five assists in the teams' first meeting. The Boilers amped up their defensive intensity Friday and will try to fluster Gophers guards Devoe Joseph, Lawrence Westbrook and Blake Hoffarber. Purdue won Friday without much from senior guards Chris Kramer and Keaton Grant, who struggled with poor shooting and cramps. Both men need to be better today.

What to watch for Minnesota: The Gophers have put themselves firmly on the NCAA tournament bubble, and they probably will put themselves into the field of 65 by beating Purdue. Aside from an ugly loss at Michigan on March 2, Minnesota has played pretty good ball the last three and a half weeks. Minnesota already has avenged a 1-point home loss to Michigan State and looks to do the same against Purdue. The Gophers' interior defense needs to be good on Johnson, but Tubby Smith is getting very solid play from forward Damian Johnson and center Colton Iverson right now. Minnesota has more length from Purdue and needs center Ralph Sampson III to bounce back from a poor performance Friday (0 points, 2 rebounds). Remember that Sampson had the best game of his career against Purdue in Minneapolis, recording 21 points, seven rebounds and two assists.

Quotable:

Purdue coach Matt Painter: "Our next opponent, no matter who it is, we have to out rebound them, but if we don't, we have to shoot the ball better. We're not going to get out rebounded and shoot the way we did [Friday] and win basketball games. You've got to understand how you're going to win, but you've also got to understand how you're going to lose and be proactive about that as a coach and really drill that home to your players."

Minnesota coach Tubby Smith: "We're as talented as anybody when we play the right way. I think every coach in America feels that way about their team, especially when they get to this level. If you don't feel that way, you're not going to win any games. I've got as much confidence in this team as in any team I've ever coached."
INDIANAPOLIS -- Lawrence Westbrook wasn't sure how Minnesota's overtime upset of Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals would affect the Golden Gophers' NCAA tournament chances.

[+] EnlargeDevoe Joseph
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesDevoe Joseph scored 17 points during Minnesota's upset of Michigan State.
But the Minnesota senior guard planned to find out. Fast.

"I've got to watch ESPN and see," he said after the 72-67 win. "It can't hurt us. We helped ourselves. We have to be in the discussion, at least. We've just got to keep on playing."

ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi currently has the Gophers as the first team out of the NCAA field, but that's certainly an improvement from 48 hours ago, when Minnesota was simply an afterthought. The Gophers, who now have four wins against top 25 teams, likely will move onto the right side of the bubble with a win Saturday against No. 2 seed Purdue in the tournament semis.

"Our loss is hopefully Minnesota's gain," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.

They came to Indianapolis after a season of what-ifs and quality losses, which don't help much on the tournament résumé. Arguably no team in America has had a more frustrating string of losses: seven by five points or fewer, four by three points or fewer and 1-point home losses to then-No. 3 Purdue and then-No. 6 Michigan State.

It's why head coach Tubby Smith bristled at a suggestion late Friday that his team was an enigma.

"I didn't see ups and downs," he said. "I saw close losses where we didn't make plays. ... We haven't been far off, and I've been trying to stay positive, telling the guys, 'Don't listen to any garbage. Don't listen to the static. Don't listen to the people that disrespect you.'"

Smith's players might not be listening, but they're certainly aware of how they're perceived. The team dons T-shirts before and after games that contain one word: Respect.

Minnesota earned some on Friday night.

"Every one of these games is our last chance," said center Colton Iverson, with the "Respect" T-shirt hanging from his neck. "I feel like we came with more intensity [than Michigan State]. We had more to play for.

"I'm not on the committee, but I hope people are looking at us."

Those who tuned in Friday saw a talented team that seems to be clicking at the right time. They saw a team that out-toughed an Izzo-coached squad, which is never easy to do. They saw a team getting big contributions from Iverson (12 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks), forward Damian Johnson (8 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks) and guard Blake Hoffarber (14 points, 5 rebounds).

They also saw a team following a new leader, Devoe Joseph, who took over the point guard duties from Al Nolen after Nolen was ruled academically ineligible. Joseph racked up 17 points, four assists and six rebounds Friday, blending a shooting guard's mentality with his new role as floor leader. He hit two 3-pointers in the extra session, including a game-tying triple with 4:12 left.

"I was very composed and just very excited to win the game," Joseph said. "I was in the zone, to the point where I wasn't really thinking too much."

Added Smith: "He's a clutch performer."

Perhaps the same can start to be said about this Minnesota team, which was about as un-clutch as they come for most of the season. The Gophers are two wins away from a tournament title and an automatic berth, and they think they can get there.

"I have as much confidence in this team as any team I've ever coached," Smith said. "The sky's the limit."

In the post-game locker room, Joseph huddled with Iverson and several other players. They put their hands together and counted off, "1-2-3!" But instead of punctuating the cheer with "Win!" or "Big Ten champs!" they simply exhaled and started laughing.

They'd earned the right to breathe easy. At least for a night.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Forty-eight hours ago, the Big Ten seemed in danger of sending only four teams to the NCAA tournament.

Now the league might get six.

After Illinois upset Wisconsin earlier in the day, No. 6 seed Minnesota held on for a 72-67 overtime win against No. 3 seed Michigan State. The Gophers recorded their fourth win against a Top 25 opponent and now find themselves firmly on the bubble rather than the wrong side of it.

If Illinois is supposedly in the field of 65, how far behind are the Gophers?

The win wasn't easy, as Minnesota blew a 10-point, second-half lead and fell behind early in overtime.

Minnesota has endured a season of near misses, losing five games by three points or fewer, including 1-point home setbacks to both Michigan State and Purdue. Friday's game started to look like another one, as Michigan State closed regulation on a 15-5 run.

Then Devoe Joseph stepped in.

Joseph, who has been huge down the stretch in place of ineligible point guard Al Nolen, recorded 17 points, six rebounds and four assists to lead the Gophers (20-12). He swished two huge 3-pointers in overtime and provided tremendous leadership throughout.

The Gophers, who had forwards Colton Iverson (12 points) and Damian Johnson (8 points) both foul out, also received a big performance from guard Blake Hoffarber (14 points). Senior guard Lawrence Westbrook struggled but had a huge 3-point play in overtime.

Michigan State came out flat and struggled mightily at the foul line, hitting just 18 of 34 attempts. The Spartans really missed junior guard Chris Allen, suspended for the game for violating team policy. They needed Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers to carry a greater load, and both starters struggled for much of the game.

Things got heated in the closing minutes with several near fights, but Minnesota won the ultimate battle and will advance to face Purdue on Saturday.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Four quarterfinal matchups in the Big Ten tournament are on tap today.

Let's take a quick look at each one.

No. 1 seed Ohio State vs. No. 8 seed Michigan (ESPN, noon ET)

Records: Ohio State (24-7), Michigan (15-16)

Season series: The teams split two matchups, with Michigan winning 73-64 in Ann Arbor and Ohio State prevailing 66-55 in Columbus on Feb. 27.

Advancement: Winner faces Wisconsin or Illinois in Saturday's first semifinal (CBS, 1:40 p.m. ET)

What to watch for Ohio State: National Player of the Year front-runner Evan Turner makes his first appearance in the Big Ten tournament, as Ohio State eyes a possible No. 1 seed in next week's NCAA tournament. The Buckeyes could sneak in to the top line, but only if they win the Big Ten tournament. Turner had 18 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in the teams' last meeting after sitting out a Jan. 3 game at Michigan with a broken back. Ohio State ranks second in the Big Ten in scoring defense (60.4 ppg) and will try to contain Michigan star forward DeShawn Sims with Dallas Lauderdale.

What to watch for Michigan: The Wolverines need a complete performance to beat the surging Buckeyes, and they'll look for big things from guard Manny Harris, who looked good in Thursday's first-round win against Iowa (22 points, 9 rebounds). Michigan played stifling defense for most of the Iowa win and needs a similar effort against Turner, David Lighty and William Buford. The good news is U-M seems to match up decently with Ohio State this year. "We beat them for a whole game, beat them for a half," Wolverines forward Zack Novak said Thursday. "They got us for one half this year, so we’re confident going in."

No. 4 seed Wisconsin vs. No. 5 seed Illinois (ESPN, 25 minutes after Michigan-Ohio State)

Records: Wisconsin (23-7), Illinois (18-13)

Season series: The teams split two meetings, with each squad winning on the other's home floor. Illinois stunned Madison at the Kohl Center on Feb. 9, but Wisconsin surged to a 72-57 rout Sunday in Champaign.

Advancement: Winner plays Ohio State or Michigan in Saturday's first semifinal.

What to watch for Wisconsin: The Badgers might be the hottest team in this tournament, having won four consecutive games. It's no secret the surge has coincided with the healthy return of forward Jon Leuer, who won Big Ten Player of the Week honors last week. Leuer (14.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and forward Keaton Nankivil (8.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg) really balance out Wisconsin's offense and will put pressure on Illinois bigs Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis. The Badgers flustered Illinois star Demetri McCamey in Sunday's win and need a similar defensive effort from Jordan Taylor.

What to watch for Illinois: McCamey's sideline confrontation with head coach Bruce Weber generated plenty of national attention, and it will be interesting to see how the mercurial star responds today. Illinois needs its best player to be at his best against a jelling Badgers team. The Illini are only 1-5 since their win in Madison and need to find other ways to score if the outside shots aren't falling. They also must rebound better after Wisconsin crashed the offensive glass well in Sunday's game.

No. 2 seed Purdue vs. No. 7 seed Northwestern (Big Ten Network, 6:30 p.m. ET)

Records: Purdue (26-4), Northwestern (20-12)

Season series: Northwestern won the teams' only meeting, 72-64, on Jan. 16, which marked Purdue's last loss with a healthy Robbie Hummel.

Advancement: Winner faces Michigan State or Minnesota in Saturday's second semifinal (CBS, 25 minutes after first semifinal).

What to watch for Purdue: After a rough start in its first game without Hummel, Purdue rallied last week for two wins. The Boilers need a strong effort today from center JaJuan Johnson, who was a nonfactor before fouling out against Northwestern the last time the teams met. Senior guard Chris Kramer also had a rough outing in Evanston and needs to be a bigger factor on both ends of the floor. Purdue's suffocating man-to-man defense could be the difference tonight. "Instead of someone picking you up at 21 feet, they pick you up at 90 feet," Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said.

What to watch for Northwestern: The Wildcats actually match up well against Purdue. They have won two of the teams' last three meetings and choked away a big lead in the only defeat. Standout freshman wing Drew Crawford is very banged-up -- he had at least three ice packs on his body after Thursday's win -- so Northwestern needs production from other spots. Point guard Michael Thompson stepped up big against Indiana (16 points), but senior guard Jeremy Nash and sophomore center Luka Mirkovic need stronger performances today.

No. 3 seed Michigan State vs. No. 6 seed Minnesota (Big Ten Network, 25 minutes after Purdue-Northwestern game)

Records: Michigan State (24-7), Minnesota (19-12)

Season series: Michigan State won both meetings, but only by a combined eight points. After a 60-53 win in East Lansing, the Spartans needed a huge shot from Kalin Lucas to outlast Minnesota, 65-64, on Jan. 23 at Williams Arena.

Advancement: Winner faces Purdue or Northwestern in Saturday's second semifinal.

What to watch for Michigan State: The Spartans come off of a strong showing against Michigan on Sunday but will be without junior guard Chris Allen, who is suspended for the game. Allen ranks fourth on the team in scoring (9.1 ppg), and his absence will put a bigger burden on starting shooting guard Durrell Summers. Michigan State's front line has played better as of late and needs a strong performance against Minnesota bigs Damian Johnson, Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson. The Spartans haven't been great defensively this year, but they have held their last six opponents to just 57.2 points per game.

What to watch for Minnesota: After two blowout wins against bottom feeders, the Gophers can really boost their NCAA tournament hopes with a win today. They paced Michigan State in both games and endured one of several heartbreaking losses in the meeting at The Barn. If seniors Johnson and Lawrence Westbrook continue to answer the bell like they did Thursday, and if Devoe Joseph builds on a strong performance, Minnesota will be tough to beat. "Last time we played Michigan State we lost by one point," Joseph said, "and we made a lot of mistakes in the last four minutes, so I definitely think we can pull off the upset."

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