College Basketball Nation: Talor Battle

Talor Battle -- by any measure the best player in Penn State hoops history -- is graduating this spring. His half-brother, Taron Buie -- who many Penn State fans hoped would take the Nittany Lions' backcourt reigns in the post-Battle era -- was released from the team after an oft-troubled freshman season.

This spring, Penn State fans looking at their new, thinned-out backcourt had reason for serious concern. Did Nittany Lions coach Ed DeChellis have a guard capable of consistently competing at a Big Ten level? And if not, how much longer could the embattled DeChellis -- who reached his first NCAA tournament in eight years at the school in 2011 -- keep his job?

Those concerns will linger with DeChellis throughout the season, or at least until Penn State proves it can maintain whatever slight momentum was gained this past March. (Or, you know, until someone at Penn State actually notices basketball.) But there was some rather excellent long-term news for DeChellis and Penn State fans this weekend. According to the Harrisburg Patriot-News, former Dayton guard Juwan Staten will make his new home in State College, Pa., where he will transfer and sit out a year before retaining his final three years of eligibility beginning in 2012-13.

Staten, as you likely know, was the most highly touted prospect of former Dayton coach Brian Gregory's occasionally disappointing tenure. Staten was an ESPN top 100 recruit ranked No. 12 in the nation at the point guard position in the class of 2010. Despite those accolades, his freshman season was mostly mediocre. Staten averaged 8.5 points and 5.4 assists in 29.1 minutes per game. His shooting percentages -- 39 percent from the field, 60 percent from the free throw line, 15.4 percent from beyond the arc -- made him an inefficient scorer, and his reputation for chemistry issues with teammates and his coaching staff made the eventual separation an occasionally acrimonious one.

In other words: Staten is a talent. He's also a risk. This will not be new information to DeChellis, who was in desperate need of Staten's talent regardless of the rather sizable baggage the sophomore will pack for his arrival in Pennsylvania.

The question is whether Staten actually knows what he's in for when he arrives at Penn State. Speaking with the Patriot-News, Staten described Penn State's style as such:
“They play fast. It looked like the players play loose, like the coach allows them to play their game.”

Part of that statement is correct; DeChellis does allow his players, particularly his guards, to control much of the offensive action when the ball is in their hands. Part of that statement is also incredibly wrong: Penn State isn't fast. In fact, at 60.4 possessions per game, the Nittany Lions ranked No. 341 in the nation in adjusted tempo in 2011; only Cal Poly, Stephen F. Austin, Wisconsin and Denver were slower. (Remember Penn State's 36-33 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament? That score is what happens when two teams this brutally slow stop hitting their jump shots. It may or may not have set the game of basketball back 50 years.)

In other words, Staten may not be quite as familiar with Penn State's style as he thinks.

Still, it's far too early for the Penn State fan to fret over such things. At the end of the day, Staten is as talented a recruit as any the Nittany Lions have landed in the DeChellis era, if not more so, and he arrives at a crucially important time for the program. There's not much that can dampen this sort of good news, at least not yet. But when Staten finally takes the court in a year? Well, we'll see.

NCAA tournament crunch-time moments

March, 28, 2011
3/28/11
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The NCAA tournament had plenty of excitement when it came down to crunch time. Let's look back at some of the memorable late-possession moments from the first two weeks:

In the East:
  • Luke Hancock's 3-pointer with 21 seconds left capped a George Mason comeback win over Villanova in the second round.
  • Brandon Knight's driving layup with two seconds remaining gave Kentucky a two-point win over Princeton in the second round.
  • Darius Johnson-Odom's 3-pointer with 27 seconds left helped push Marquette past Syracuse in the second round.
  • Washington's meltdown against North Carolina in the final few possessions that prevented the Huskies from tying the Tar Heels at the end of regulation in the third round.
  • Knight's 15-foot shot that sent Kentucky past Ohio State in the Sweet 16.

In the West:
  • Tennessee quit on the game in the second half and lost by 30 to Michigan.
  • Duke's Kyrie Irving made his only field goal against Michigan with 32 seconds left as he gave the Blue Devils a lead before the Wolverines' Darius Morris missed a game-tying runner at the buzzer.
  • Arizona's Derrick Williams blocked a potential game-tying bucket by Memphis in the final seconds.
  • Williams converted a three-point play with 9.6 seconds remaining to upset Texas after the Longhorns committed a five-second violation on an inbounds play.
  • Temple's Juan Fernandez nailed an off-balance 18-foot shot to beat Penn State in the second round after Talor Battle hit a game-tying 3-pointer with 12.2 seconds left.

In the Southwest:
  • Down by two to Louisville, Morehead State's Demonte Harper went for the win and got it with a 3-pointer with 4.2 second left to beat the Cardinals in the second round.
  • VCU's Bradford Burgess converted a layup off an inbounds pass with 7.1 seconds left in overtime to knock off Florida State in the Sweet 16.

And in the Southeast:
  • Butler beat Old Dominion on a layup by Matt Howard at the buzzer.
  • Butler beat Pitt after Nasir Robinson fouled Howard on a rebound off a missed free-throw at the buzzer when the game was tied. Howard hits a free throw to win the third-round game.

And in the First Four:
  • UNC Asheville's Matt Dickey hit a 3-pointer with 10.5 seconds left that sent the game against Arkansas-Little Rock into overtime before Asheville won.


TUCSON, Ariz. -- Temple's Fran Dunphy doesn't do giddy. He's not going to pull a Dick Vermeil and cry you a rain forest. He is an ace with the occasional "harrumph." So it shouldn't be unexpected that he downplayed the dismissal of a bothersome monkey from his shoulders on Thursday in the McKale Center.

Monkey? An 11-game NCAA tournament losing streak is probably the equivalent, for a basketball coach, of a creature who would make King Kong scamper away in terror.

But after Dunphy's junior point guard Juan Fernandez feathered in a fall-away jumper just before the buzzer to beat state rival Penn State 66-64 in a second-round West Region game, that losing streak -- the worst in tournament history -- is over.

"I probably think about it less than others do," Dunphy said just before the slightest pause. "But you think about it."

It was a game befitting such a red-letter moment, featuring 20 lead changes. Just moments before Fernandez became the latest tournament hero to produce a shining moment that will be replayed endlessly over the coming years, it appeared Penn State's high-scoring guard Talor Battle might earn the honor. He drilled a long 3-pointer to tie the game with 14 seconds left.

While the Owls went bonkers after winning their first tournament game since 2001, Battle, Penn State's all-time leading scorer, sat on the floor for several moments and took in the celebration. His first trip to the tournament with the Nittany Lions ended suddenly, even though he scored 23 points.

"For the rest of my life, I'll know that we didn't just come out here and get beat," Battle said of the ending. "It took a heck of a shot from Fernandez to beat us. I bet you one thing. For the rest of our lives, we'll be able to watch the 2011 one shining moment and always have to see that shot."

Fernandez scored 17 of his 23 points in the first half. In fact, it was Ramone Moore who kept the Owls in the game, scoring 17 of his 23 in the second half.

"I kind of got on a roll," Moore said. "And I think my teammates noticed that. During the timeout, Coach said, 'Let's get the ball in Ramone's hands,' and running plays for me. And I think I capitalized."

Dunphy isn't above looking to his players for their thoughts. Guard Khalif Wyatt, who did a good job pressuring Battle much of the afternoon, piped in with a suggestion for the final play.

Said Dunphy, "We called timeout, we were discussing what to run and Khalif Wyatt, who I listen to all the time -- he's got sage advice for me often -- said, 'I think we need to just put it in Juan's hands. Then if he is not ready to do it, then Juan will give it to Ramone, and that's how we'll win the game.'"

Temple, the No. 7 seed, improved to 26-7. It advances to play the winner of the San Diego State-Northern Colorado game. Penn State finishes its season at 19-15.

Most of the numbers from the game were fairly even -- rebounding, turnovers, field goal percentage -- but two numbers stood out. The Temple bench outscored Penn State's 10-2, and the Owls connected on 13 of 15 free throws compared to just four of six for the Nittany Lions, who didn't go to the charity stripe in the second half.

Penn State also took a blow early in the second half when senior forward Jeff Brooks went down with a shoulder injury. He was the team's second-leading scorer and top rebounder.

"Jeff Brooks is a big part of what we do offensively; we try to give him the ball around the basket," Penn State coach Ed DeChellis said. "We really didn't get to the free throw line tonight at all. And he usually is the guy we try to get the ball to around the basket to get fouled and get to the free throw line and also rebound the basketball. So that got us a little sideways for awhile. But that's not an excuse."

Dunphy has 419 career wins, but only one before Thursday in the tournament. His 1-12 tournament record and .077 winning percentage were the all-time worst for a coach with at least eight games coached, according to STATS LLC.

The Penn State players looked stunned by the turn of events -- a season put to bed with a buzzer-beating shot. Of course, Dunphy knows about as well as anyone how they feel. So if he seemed a bit neutral about ending his losing streak, it might be because he's sympathetic. Or perhaps he just isn't sure what to feel just yet.

"So nice to see Juan make that shot," he said. "I had a good feeling when it left his hands that I thought it was going to go in. Might have been our time. That's all, just our time."
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Temple won its first NCAA tournament game since 2001, but it might be even bigger than that because Owls coach Fran Dunphy is no longer yoked with an 11-game tournament losing streak.

After a thrilling 66-64 win over Penn State in the second round of the West Region, Dunphy's winning streak sits at one, with potential to grow.

Turning point: Both teams produced clutch shots at the end, but Temple got the ball last. Just after a 3-pointer from Penn State's outstanding point guard Talor Battle tied the game at 64-64 with 14 seconds left, Owls guard Juan Fernandez answered with a short jumper in the lane just before the buzzer.

Key player: Fernandez ruled the first half, but Ramone Moore surged in the second half in the back-and-forth affair. Fernandez scored 17 of his 23 points in the first half, while Moore scored 17 of his 23 in the second half.

Key stat: Temple's bench outscored Penn State's 10-2.

Miscellaneous: The Owls were 13-of-15 from the charity stripe. Penn State was just 4-of-6 and didn't shoot a free throw in the second half... Dunphy entered the game 1-12 all-time in the tournament and 0-3 with the Owls.

What's next: On Saturday, Temple will play the winner of No. 2 San Diego State versus No. 15 Northern Colorado, which tips off at 4:40 p.m.

Penn State finds beauty in ugly win

March, 12, 2011
3/12/11
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The ugliest game in Big Ten history was still a thing of beauty to Penn State.

The score of the Nittany Lions’ victory over Wisconsin was 36-33. Yes, the final score. Jimmer Fredette scored as many points in a half as the Badgers scored all game.

[+] EnlargeDavid Jackson and Jordan Taylor
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesWisconsin's Jordan Taylor and Penn State's David Jackson participated in one of the ugliest games in Big Ten history.
Penn State shot 33 percent from the field. And won.

Penn State shot 25 percent form 3-point range. And won.

Penn State scored 22 points in the final 32:55. And won.

Why? Because Wisconsin was worse. The Badgers were a ghastly 15 of 51 from the field, 2 of 21 from 3-point range. Even by the aesthetically challenged standard of Bo Ryan basketball, this was spectacularly hideous.

But Wisconsin remains an NCAA tournament team -- and now maybe Penn State is one as well. The Nittany Lions were on the bubble coming in here, and their two wins give them an argument for inclusion into the field of 68.

Coach Ed DeChellis certainly believes his team is in.

“Yes,” was his emphatic answer when asked. “We’ve got enough top 50 wins, I think. We deserve to be in the tournament.”

They have four RPI top 50 wins now, against seven losses. And they’ve played a top-10 schedule. But they’ve also lost 13 times, which is why star guard Talor Battle says he isn’t taking anything for granted.

“If we win on Sunday [in the Big Ten final], our ticket is punched,” he said.

That’s probably the right attitude. In fact, Battle’s attitude was vital to winning this game.

Battle is a great shooter who has had a train-wreck tournament shooting the ball. Through two games he’s 6 for 30 from the field and 4 for 16 from 3-point range. But with Penn State clinging to a 32-30 lead in the final minutes, Battle lobbied point guard Tim Frazier for the ball.

“I promise I’ll make the shot,” he told Frazier.

He made the shot -- a 3-pointer with 2:24 left. That was an insurmountable five-point lead in this game, although Wisconsin got a wide-open look to tie with 15 seconds left. Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin’s best player, had a great look that thudded off the front iron.

“When that ball hit the rim I was so scared,” Battle admitted.

His fears were for naught. Penn State hung on, in a game that might have set the game back several decades but might have launched the Lions to their first NCAA bid in a long time.

Rapid Reaction: Penn St. 36, Wisconsin 33

March, 11, 2011
3/11/11
11:34
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In a flatly hideous display of basketball, Penn State shocked Wisconsin 36-33. Yes, that is the final score. The Nittany Lions keep their outside shot at a bid for an NCAA tournament berth alive with their second victory of the season over the Badgers. Wisconsin has recorded consecutive duds, being blown out at Ohio State to end the regular season and now this.

Turning point: Penn State took a 14-0 lead, as the Badgers failed to score for the first 7 1/2 minutes. Wisconsin battled back to tie at three different points in the second half but never led.

Star player: Guess you'd have to say Talor Battle, who led the Nittany Lions in scoring with, ahem, nine points.

Key stat: Wisconsin shot 29 percent from the field and 9.5 percent from 3-point range.

What's next: Penn State plays Michigan State in an all-underdog semifinal Saturday afternoon, and with a victory might just earn the Big Ten's seventh NCAA bid. Wisconsin can return to Madison to hide in shame after this performance.

Rapid Reaction: Penn State 61, Indiana 55

March, 10, 2011
3/10/11
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Penn State kept its outside hopes of an NCAA tournament berth alive with a must-win game against reeling Indiana. The Nittany Lions got balanced scoring instead of relying on star guard Talor Battle, played solid defense and avoided foul trouble in the 61-55 win, sending the Hoosiers into the offseason with their ninth straight defeat.

Turning point: In a consistently close game with few prolonged runs, Penn State pieced together a 17-8 push that started late in the first half and extended 5 1/2 minutes into the second half for a seven-point lead. From that point on the Nittany Lions led by at least three points the rest of the way.

Key player: With star guard Battle largely kept under wraps by Indiana defensive ace Jeremiah Rivers, senior forward Jeff Brooks stepped forward with 15 points and seven rebounds for Penn State. Brooks had a pair of difficult bank shots in the latter stages of the second half to help hold off the Hoosiers.

Key stat: Penn State was not whistled for a single foul in the second half until 2:36 remained, which might be the longest I've ever seen a team go without a foul. When the Nittanies finally did get called for one, the response was a half-sarcastic, half-outraged standing ovation from the IU fans.

Miscellaneous: Penn State basketball is the neglected stepchild of Penn State football, and it showed in the Conseco Fieldhouse stands. In the upper deck end zone, a hardy band of roughly 20 Nittany Lions fans stood the whole game and did their limited version of a white-out -- they whited out a couple of rows. They also had cards that spelled out "B-E-L-I-E-V-E." They'll be back to believe again Friday.

What’s next: The Nittany Lions get a rubber game with Wisconsin, a team it split with during the regular season. Indiana's season is over.


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- As he walked Thad Matta onto the court for the start of the game, the security guard leaned into the Ohio State coach’s ear.

“We’ll go out the back way when they rush the court,’’ he explained to Matta.

“So I said to my guys, you’re not going to believe this, but this guy just told me they’re going to storm the court,’’ Matta recounted.

The prediction here, by the security guard and the record crowd that packed the Bryce Jordan Center, was an upset of No. 1. And who really could blame the fans of a pedestrian Penn State team for thinking otherwise?

This is the season in which nothing is safe: not homecourt advantage, not a top ranking, not a seemingly secure spot on the No. 1 seed line.

Just last week, Duke assumed the mantle of the No. 1 ranking only to be court rushed by storming Virginia Tech fans who figured they had finally sewed up their NCAA hopes with the upset of the Blue Devils (and those same fans are back to chewing their nails now that the Hokies lost to Boston College).

In Louisville, a cheerleader was so excited that his Cardinals had beaten Big East-leading Pittsburgh that he grabbed the ball and hurled it toward the Yum Center rafters, putting Louisville’s victory in danger.

[+] EnlargeOhio State's Thad Matta and Jon Diebler
AP Photo/John BealeOhio State coach Thad Matta had a message for his team before its game with Penn State and Jon Diebler responded by making 10 of 12 3-pointers.
And at BYU, Jimmer Mania resurfaced anew after the Cougars topped San Diego State and earned some newfound respect with talk of a No. 1 seed. Three days later, starting center Brandon Davies was booted for violating the honor code and just like that the Cougars are presumed to be in trouble.

So who could blame the security guard for thinking ahead? He had the perfect storm -- senior night for the Lions’ all-everything guard Talor Battle, a chance to beat No. 1 and a chance to get to 9-8 in the Big Ten and at least start up some bubble talk.

One problem: No one planned on the Ohio State tsunami.

In a season in which no one wants to assert anything with much conviction, the Buckeyes certainly offered a definitive statement about their abilities in an 82-61 annihilation that wasn’t even as close as the 21-point difference would indicate.

The win assured Ohio State of at least a share of the Big Ten title, news the players greeted with the same enthusiasm they might greet news of an impending root canal.

“It’s like sharing your girlfriend or your husband,’’ freshman Jared Sullinger said. “You wouldn’t want to share your husband, would you? We don’t like to share.’’

If the greedy Buckeyes keep playing like this, they might not have to share anything for the rest of the season.

Critics might think Ohio State merely assumed the top ranking once again, a beneficiary of other teams’ mistakes. That, however, doesn’t give enough credit to the Buckeyes’ abilities.

What could make this team a hard out this month was in display in tenfold against the Lions. There is a natural tendency against Ohio State to pack in the inside thanks to the presence of Sullinger.

And that just means someone is waiting out on the wings.

This time it was Jon Diebler, who made his first 3-pointer at the 16:59 mark and his last with 2:38, all together connecting on an amazing 10-of-12 from beyond the arc. He didn’t even bother attempting a 2-point. Why would he?

“I think every shooter dreams of a night like that,’’ Diebler said. “It’s just hard to explain what it feels like.’’

Let Sullinger try.

“Freaking crazy,’’ he said. “I wish I could curse right now, because I don’t know how else to explain it.’’

Equally tough to explain was the absolute lackluster effort by Penn State. The game that was meant to serve as the Nittany Lions’ coming-out party instead will serve as its obit.

Barring an automatic bid, the Lions are out of the NCAA tournament, extending their dry spell to 10 years.

Battle, a player who will go down in history as perhaps the best to wear a Penn State uniform, was pulled from his last game in front of a half-full building to polite, but not raucous, applause.

“We didn’t practice well,’’ Battle said. “And we played like we practiced.’’

Meantime, Ohio State played like it was practice. The team that has been unbelievably relaxed, if not downright silly, has maintained both its confidence and its calm in what can be described as a turbulent season on the national front.

“It’s toughness,’’ Sullinger said. “We’re a tough team.’’

Some might put an asterisk to this game. The Lions aren’t Wisconsin or Purdue.

But in a season in which the frontrunners have been bullrushed, the only people rushing the court in this game were wearing Ohio State red. As the Penn State fans shuffled up the stairs and out the doors, it was the Buckeyes storming to the locker room, hooting and hollering the whole way.
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Illinois at No. 6 Purdue, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: Illinois is not the only bubble team with a chance to make itself heard Tuesday night. In fact, the Illini are -- despite a rather so-so profile that's only gotten worse in recent weeks -- still in much better shape than Penn State, Alabama, or Baylor, the three other bubble-bound teams with games of varying importance this evening.

But that doesn't make this game any less important for Bruce Weber's team. There's a difference, after all, between merely getting to the tournament and actually seeming like you belong there -- like you have as good a chance to make a late run as any of the teams seeded above you in your region. For much of 2011, the once-promising Illini have limped. Will they carry that limp through? Will they just be so-so? Or will they -- like Kansas State before them -- finally, once and for all, put all that talent and experience toward something cohesive, efficient and sustained? If ever there was a time to do just that, it's in a road game at Purdue. If ever there was a time to get blown out and look awful, it's in a road game at Purdue. How we feel about the Illini Wednesday is up to them.

No. 20 Vanderbilt at No. 23 Kentucky, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: This game doesn't have much to do with the bubble -- both of these teams are tourney locks by this point -- but it should be a thoroughly entertaining Top 25 conference battle all the same. The good news for the Wildcats? They don't have to travel. Kentucky never really figured out how to go on the road this season, and we won't get to see how that will affect this team in the NCAA tournament until, you know, the NCAA tournament.

Still, if you're a Kentucky fan looking for telltale signs about your team, how about watching it to see how it performs in a close game? Kentucky has struggled in such games; six of its losses this season, five of which have been in SEC play, have come by four points or less. Forget how the road woes will affect Kentucky in the tourney; there are no true road games in the tournament anyway. (There are no home games, either, of course. Really, who knows?) There are, however, close games in the NCAA tournament, and Kentucky's ability to win in those situations will be just as important to its success in March.

And if you're looking for a reason to watch Vanderbilt, start with John Jenkins. He's arguably the best shooter in the country. He's arguably the SEC player of the year. He's unarguably fun to watch.

No. 1 Ohio State at Penn State, 9 p.m. ET: Pretty simple stuff here. Penn State has been tough at home. Penn State is on the wrong side of the bubble. Penn State desperately needs a big win. On paper, no, you wouldn't give the Nittany Lions much of a chance here. But Ed DeChellis' team did take OSU to the wire in Columbus earlier this season, and this Talor Battle-led bunch has played top teams as tough as anyone in the Big Ten. All it takes is a few shots going down, a wacky 40 minutes of basketball and some Battle heroics, and Ohio State could -- could -- find itself in a dogfight with a desperate team on the road. Or OSU could roll. Like Kevin Garnett, anything is possible.

Alabama at No. 14 Florida, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU: You have some difficult remote-control decisions in front of you, dear reader, and no, I'm not talking about "Glee." While Illinois and Purdue go at it on the mothership, ESPNU features this game, which could be as good as any we'll get Tuesday night. Like Penn State-OSU, the stakes are pretty simple: After losing at Mississippi Saturday, Alabama almost certainly needs to win out. Or at least get this game and make a run in the SEC tournament -- if the Tide want to sneak in the NCAA tournament on the strength of their impressive performance in conference play. If Alabama loses here, a win over Georgia Saturday might not do the trick. Florida has been solid in the O-Dome all season, so this is tantamount to Illinois' challenge above. But I'd expect Anthony Grant's tough, defensively efficient team to give it a go.

Everywhere else: There wasn't time to fit this in the full-breakdown portions above, but Boston College and Virginia Tech (ESPNU, 9 p.m. ET) is perhaps the best true bubble showdown of the night. The Hokies are in much better shape after Saturday's win over Duke, but they could go right back to their previously shaky status with a home loss to the likewise-shaky Eagles in Blacksburg Tuesday. It's a game Boston College has to win and Virginia Tech can't really afford to lose. ... Nebraska fell off the Bubble Watch after its loss to Iowa State Saturday. I'm not sure the Cornhuskers can get back before the regular season is over, but if they want to, they almost have to beat a road-weary Missouri team in Lincoln Tuesday night. ... Nor can Baylor do much to improve its bid chances with a win at Oklahoma State. But the Bears can drastically damage them with a loss. ... Oh, and by the way, guess what: It's March 1. Which means it's conference tournament time. Which means the Horizon League and Big South tournaments kick off Tuesday. Words can not describe how awesome that feels to write. Postseason college hoops is upon us! Rejoice and be merry, and all that! Woooo!

Big Ten title contender: Penn State?

January, 20, 2011
1/20/11
11:21
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OK, OK, so I'm clearly exaggerating. The Penn State Nittany Lions are not Big Ten title contenders. But like all exaggerations, this one is born from at least a kernel of truth, which is the simple fact that in their past four games, if you couldn't read the name on the front of their jersey and had no access to their prior performance, you'd think Penn State was one of the best teams in the Big Ten.

No, seriously. It's true.

In their past four games, the Nittany Lions are 2-2. They've beaten No. 19 Michigan State and No. 16 Illinois. They've lost to No. 2 Ohio State and, last night, to No. 13 Purdue. Both of those losses came on the road -- against arguably the Big Ten's two best teams -- by a whopping combined margin of four points. More importantly, neither game was a get-close-after-a-last-ditch-comeback-attempt-and-some-missed-free-throws sort of affair. No, in both losses, as in those two huge home wins, the Nittany Lions played a Big Ten title contender close for an entire 40-minute period. In both losses, Penn State had last-second opportunities to win the game.

(On Wednesday night, Penn State fell victim to a rather questionable out-of-bounds call with five seconds remaining that gave the ball back to Purdue and allowed JaJuan Johnson to hit his game-winning jumper on the wing. That call goes the other way -- and it probably should have -- and PSU probably takes home the win.)

This is, well, surprising. Penn State's nonconference performance -- which included losses to Mississippi, Maryland (in which Penn State scored 39 points at home), Virginia Tech and Maine (a 10-point home loss, at that) -- gave us no reason to expect this sort of sudden peskiness. Nor did Penn State's first three Big Ten games -- a win at Indiana, a loss at suddenly fading Michigan and a home blowout to Purdue, the same team Penn State just took to the wire in Mackey Arena -- offer many hints. For most of the season, the Nittany Lions appeared to be who we thought they were. Which is to say, not very good.

What's been the difference? The Nittany Lions' improvement in their past four games doesn't exactly constitute a budding hoops revolution. Throughout the season, Penn State has scored 1.05 and allowed 1.03 points per possession. Over all seven conference games, Penn State has scored 1.09 and allowed 1.11 ppp. In its past four games, Penn State is scoring about 1.10 points per trip while allowing about 1.09. Clearly, the Nittany Lions' offense improved in conference play, but it has fallen victim to the Big Ten's efficient offenses more often than not. These past four games, then, can probably be credited to better defensive play. But it's not like the Nittany Lions have suddenly set the world ablaze.

Instead, it appears this team is just a bit better than we thought. It is not a conference doormat, as was the case last season. Instead, these Nittany Lions more closely resemble the squad that won the NIT in 2009. They're solid on offense -- Pomeroy has Penn State's offense ranked No. 27 in the nation in adjusted efficiency -- and suspect on defense. Still, as we've seen these past four games, if the Nittany Lions defend well enough to cause even a slight downtick in how frequently opponents score at their end of the floor, this team can score enough to hang with the best in its conference. Throw in some timely Talor Battle heroics, a healthy helping of contributions from Jeff Brooks and David Jackson, and intelligent defensive strategy against superior frontcourts, and it really does seem that simple.

Whether that defensive improvement is a fluke or something more real is a fact we'll determine in the next few weeks. In the meantime, no, kids, the Big Ten title ain't happenin'. But given how bad Penn State was last season, and how bad this season was supposed to be, and how generally depressing and apathy-inducing most Penn State basketball usually is ... well, maybe Penn State fans should get the bandwagon going anyway. It's been a pretty great two weeks, huh?
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  • It was safe to say Jimmer Fredette's return to Glens Falls, N.Y., was going to be a lovefest. Some fans even camped out for tickets. But the level of appreciation for Jimmer in his hometown was, according to the Glens Falls Post-Star, more than even Jimmer bargained for. Apparently, people really love Jimmer Fredette: "For nearly a minute, Jimmer Fredette let the sound wash over him. Standing a few feet onto the hardwood, he raised one arm, then the other. The noise of 6,300 fans enveloped him as he slowly spun to acknowledge all sides of the Glens Falls Civic Center. Before he could make his way down the bench, play resumed behind him. No one noticed. All eyes, as they'd been all night, were on Fredette. [...] Long after the score fades from memory, the moment, months in the making, will remain. 'I was expecting a pretty good ovation, but until you actually go through it, you don't know what emotions you're going to have,' Fredette said. 'And it was just pure joy. I loved it.'"
  • Kyle Whelliston was on hand for Purdue's hard-fought win at Valpo Wednesday night, where he saw the manic challenges of Valpo's dedicated but disappointed fan base first-hand.
  • Mythbuster time: Do the Michigan State Spartans really begin every season with lackluster nonconference performances? Actually, yes. Yes they do.
  • Penn State guard Talor Battle didn't like what he heard from NBA scouts this past summer when he tested the draft waters before pulling his name out and returning to Penn State for his senior year. The news hit him hard, and according to Battle, his game suffered as a result. "He couldn't get into the gym much, he said, and even when he could, he didn't feel right. When he came back to Penn State, he said he was feeling the same way and couldn't find a fix. 'I came back here and I was like, 'Man, my game, I'm just not liking it.' I don't know if I was just over-thinking. I think I just had a lot on my mind, so I wasn't really concentrating fully on basketball. But I knew it was time for me to get out of my comfort zone and go do something.'"
  • Rock Chalk Talk united three rival bloggers under one roof for a state-of-the-hoops discussion on Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri as all three prepare for the impending Big 12 season.
  • CAA Hoops "placates the stat hounds" and runs through some of the Colonial's funkier numbers so far this season.
  • Seth Davis explains to readers why Pittsburgh a) isn't getting as much "love" as some other top teams and b) why the Panthers can make the Final Four this season all the same.
  • Rob Dauster highlights a couple of under-the-radar freshmen.
  • Bylaw Blog's John Infante discusses the "Cam Newton loophole" in the wake of the dispiriting precedent set by the NCAA's decision to reinstate Newton because the player, Cam, didn't know what his father, Cecil, was doing behind his back. Before getting into the vagaries of the NCAA bylaws, though, Infante issues a worthwhile disclaimer: "I don’t share some of the doom and gloom regarding the impact of the decision going forward. Case precedent, NCAA or otherwise, extends only as far as its facts. And here, the facts are that no money changed hands, the student-athlete did not know about the activity, and the student-athlete did not enroll at the institution where the solicitation occurred. Case precedent can always be extended to logically similar cases, but that takes additional decisions, each of which is a chance to stop a trip down the slippery slope."
  • And be sure to check out Diamond's report from San Diego State's win over Cal. Try as he might, he couldn't get the Aztecs to start talking about their now-likely road to a 15-0 start.

Expert predictions: ACC/Big Ten Challenge

November, 29, 2010
11/29/10
7:24
PM ET
The ACC/Big Ten Challenge will be the dominant storyline in college basketball over the next few nights, so might as well put our writers and contributors on the spot with predictions, right?

For what it’s worth, the group consensus for each game adds up to a 6-5 Big Ten victory over the ACC. But it’s actually even closer than that. In the highly anticipated Iowa-Wake Forest matchup, our panel took the Hawkeyes by a 5-4 margin. If one of those five had picked the Deacons, we’d be projecting an ACC overall victory.

Sounds to us like an event worth tuning in to …

MONDAY

VIRGINIA AT MINNESOTA (ESPN2, 7 ET)

Jay Bilas: Minnesota -- Tubby Smith has depth and guard play, and Tony Bennett doesn't.
Eamonn Brennan: Minnesota – The Gophers are a complete and balanced team, even if Al Nolen and Rodney Williams miss the game due to injury; Tony Bennett's rebounding Virginia squad is, well, not.
Fran Fraschilla:
Minnesota -- The Gophers are one of the country's early-season surprises and they are at home in the friendly confines of Williams Arena. This will be ugly.
Doug Gottlieb:
Minnesota -- Despite not having Al Nolen, Minnesota is still loaded. Maverick Ahanmisi was a late signee who is a year older than most freshmen, and that maturity will come in handy.
Andy Katz:
Minnesota – The Gophers are depleted with injuries, but likely get Devoe Joseph back and are too strong, too tall and too deep for rebuilding Virginia.
Diamond Leung:
Minnesota -- Minnesota might be banged up, but Blake Hoffarber and Trevor Mbakwe should be able to dominate.
Joe Lunardi:
Minnesota -- The shorthanded Gophers are still too much for the Cavs at this point.
Dana O’Neil:
Minnesota -- Even without Al Nolen and Rodney Williams, the red-hot Gophers are too talented for the still struggling Cavaliers.
Jay Williams:
Minnesota -- Even though they won't have starters Al Nolen and Rodney Williams due to injuries, I expect Blake Hoffarber, Trevor Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson III to dominate.

TUESDAY

GEORGIA TECH AT NORTHWESTERN (ESPN2, 7 ET)

Bilas: Northwestern -- The Wildcats will spread the Jackets out and keep them on a string between open 3s and backdoor cuts.
Brennan: Northwestern -- Facing its first real "test" of the season, Northwestern's matchup zone and tricky Princeton offense will give Georgia Tech fits.
Fraschilla:
Northwestern -- Sadly, even a win over the Yellow Jackets won't mean much in March. Too much John Shurna in this one.
Gottlieb:
Northwestern -- Tech played well this weekend, but the travel and Juice Thompson will be too much.
Katz:
Northwestern -- If we’re going to take the Wildcats seriously, they have to win a game like this at home against the inferior Yellow Jackets.
Leung:
Northwestern -- The Wildcats should stay undefeated playing on their home court and with John Shurna playing well.
Lunardi: Northwestern -- A solid win over Creighton sets the Wildcats up nicely for another victory.
O’Neil: Northwestern -- John Shurna has been terrific all season for a Wildcat team dreaming of -- gasp! -- an NCAA bid.
Williams: Northwestern -- This is the year Northwestern makes the NCAA tournament because of Shurna and Thompson.

IOWA AT WAKE FOREST (ESPNU, 7 ET)

Bilas: Iowa -- Wake Forest will have a hard time beating anyone this season.
Brennan: Iowa -- Because as bad as Iowa is, Wake Forest is -- somehow -- worse.
Fraschilla: Wake Forest -- Someone has to win, right?
Gottlieb: Iowa -- Hawkeyes are coming off a win. Fran McCaffery will dial up something.
Katz: Wake Forest -- I can’t see the Demon Deacons losing four home games before Dec. 1.
Leung: Iowa -- Between the two, Iowa has shown a few more signs of life.
Lunardi: Wake Forest -- Neither team has played a true road game, so you have to go with Wake at home.
O’Neil: Wake Forest -- Because as bad as the Demon Deacons have looked early, the Hawkeyes have looked worse.
Williams: Iowa -- After watching Wake lose to Stetson, VCU and Winthrop, I give the edge to Iowa on the road.

OHIO STATE AT FLORIDA STATE (ESPN, 7:30 ET)

Bilas: Ohio State -- Florida State can really guard, but scoring efficiently is a problem the Seminoles have and the Buckeyes don't.
Brennan: Ohio State – FSU’s defense will keep this one close, but the interior offensive rebounding of Jared Sullinger and Dallas Lauderdale will be too much for the Noles to manage.
Fraschilla: Ohio State – The Leon County Civic Center is not the home court the Seminoles deserve.
Gottlieb: FSU's Chris Singleton has put up insane numbers with two triple-doubles, but OSU has the athletes to guard him and his compadres.
Katz: Ohio State -- The Buckeyes won at Florida and have a better inside game than Florida State, although FSU’s Chris Singleton will likely put up the best numbers.
Leung: Ohio State -- Despite the all-around talents of FSU's Chris Singleton, Ohio State has too many weapons, including Jared Sullinger in the middle.
Lunardi: Ohio State -- Buckeyes complete the Sunshine State sweep in Tallahassee.
O’Neil: Ohio State -- Tough follow for the Seminoles after an emotional, disappointing loss to the Gators. Plus, Jared Sullinger is the why to all questions about the Buckeyes.
Williams: Florida State -- Yes, I call the upset here. Xavier Gibson and Bernard James will give Mr. Sullinger a lot to deal with down low.

MICHIGAN AT CLEMSON (ESPN2, 9 ET)

Bilas: Clemson -- The Tigers are at home, and Michigan hasn't won away from home.
Brennan: Clemson -- Michigan might not be as bad as we thought, but it is not good enough to beat a capable Clemson team, whose only loss was a one-point neutral-court defeat to ODU.
Fraschilla: Clemson -- Early returns about new coach Brad Brownell are positive.
Gottlieb: Michigan -- Searching for an upset here, the 1-3-1 proves tough to tame. The Wolverines appear a bit better than expected, though they will suffer in conference.
Katz: Clemson -- The Tigers, regardless of coach, are too tough at home against similar-level teams.
Leung: Clemson -- Tigers coach Brad Brownell is fitting right in and has enough weapons to win this one.
Lunardi: Clemson -- The Wolverines are a long way from being able to win at Littlejohn.
O’Neil: Clemson -- The Wolverines have done little to prove they're over what ailed them last season.
Williams: Clemson -- After losses to both Syracuse and UTEP, I don't see the Wolverines bouncing back at Littlejohn Coliseum.

NORTH CAROLINA AT ILLINOIS (ESPN, 9:30 ET)

Bilas: Illinois -- North Carolina doesn't push the ball and get easy baskets, and Illinois is at home.
Brennan: Illinois -- The Illini have home-court advantage, but they also have the benefit of a veteran team that can match up with the athletic -- and as yet thoroughly disappointing -- Tar Heels.
Fraschilla: Illinois -- Are the Heels losing their mystique?
Gottlieb: Illinois -- Better guards, at home, and though Illinois does not have great strength inside, neither does UNC. Illini by more than 10.
Katz: Illinois -- The Tar Heels are still searching for a leader and the Illini need this game too much to prove their relevance.
Leung: Illinois -- It appears that catching the Tar Heels early is the way to go, and an Illini team with size can play with anyone.
Lunardi: Illinois -- What once looked like a toss-up should be a comfortable win for the Illini.
O’Neil: Illinois -- The Illini play with grit and determination, traits sorely lacking so far this season for the Tar Heels.
Williams: Illinois -- UNC does not have the poise or experience to win this one on the road.

WEDNESDAY

NC STATE AT WISCONSIN (ESPN2, 7:15 ET)

Bilas: Wisconsin -- The game is at the Kohl Center, isn't it? Next question.
Brennan: Wisconsin -- Besides the immense advantage provided by the Kohl Center, the Badgers are, for all their early-season warts, one of the better rebounding teams in the nation. The Wolfpack without senior forward Tracy Smith are one of the worst.
Fraschilla: Wisconsin -- Anywhere but the Kohl Center, I'd give the Wolfpack an even chance to win.
Gottlieb: Wisconsin -- NC State has better talent, but Wisconsin will use Jordan Taylor off ball screens and Jon Leuer is a great fit for what Wisconsin does and Bo Ryan is great at what he does. Frankly, the Wolfpack might become bored with the tedious pace of the Badgers.
Katz: Wisconsin -- The Wolfpack are without Tracy Smith and to beat the Badgers at the Kohl Center you have to be full strength.
Leung: Wisconsin -- Jon Leuer is just too much to handle, and the Badgers are playing at home.
Lunardi: Wisconsin -- The Badgers figure to be extra cranky after losing the Old Spice title game.
O’Neil: Wisconsin -- I’m guessing practice hasn't been fun for the Badgers since their uncharacteristic slide against Notre Dame. Someone will feel the brunt of that frustration.
Williams: Wisconsin -- The Badgers have compiled a 138-11 (.926) home record under coach Bo Ryan heading into the season. Enough said.

INDIANA AT BOSTON COLLEGE (ESPNU, 7:15 ET)

Bilas: Boston College – The Eagles are at home and Reggie Jackson can really score.
Brennan: Boston College -- Boston College has one awful loss (to Yale) and one solid win (over Texas A&M), so let’s give it a slight advantage over an Indiana team that has yet to leave Assembly Hall -- or play a non-cupcake opponent.
Fraschilla: Boston College -- Reggie Jackson hits it out of the park in the Eagles’ win.
Gottlieb: Boston College -- Reggie Jackson is the best player on the floor. The Eagles use the lessons learned in giving away leads in Orlando to help them beat IU.
Katz: Indiana -- The Eagles own more talent but lack focus in finishing games, something the Hoosiers seem to have now.
Leung: Boston College -- The easy part of Indiana's schedule is over.
Lunardi: Boston College -- BC is coming off a very good showing at the Old Spice and should win at home.
O’Neil: Indiana -- The recruiting good news for the Hoosiers spurs a much-needed good win on the court.
Williams: Boston College -- When Reggie Jackson is allowed to probe with the dribble and is on his game, BC is a tough team.

PURDUE AT VIRGINIA TECH (ESPN, 7:30 ET)

Bilas: Virginia Tech -- Purdue is not only missing Robbie Hummel, but really missing Chris Kramer.
Brennan: Purdue -- Both teams have played solid defense and both have had their struggles offensively, but JaJuan Johnson should provide too many matchup problems for a shallow Va. Tech front line.
Fraschilla: Virginia Tech -- Hokies are desperate for a quality nonconference win.
Gottlieb: Virginia Tech -- Virginia Tech struggles with pressure defense (see Purdue). Purdue struggles to score against legit defenses without Robbie Hummel. Hokies in a great game.
Katz: Virginia Tech -- The Boilermakers are still a formidable bunch, but winning in Blacksburg is hardly an easy task, especially when the Hokies are a top-three ACC team.
Leung: Virginia Tech -- The Boilers are showing they're not the same team without Robbie Hummel, and they'll have their hands full containing Malcolm Delaney.
Lunardi: Virginia Tech -- The Hokies want to stockpile every nonconference scalp they can get.
O’Neil: Virginia Tech -- Neither team has exactly been lighting it up offensively, but the Hokies have Malcolm Delaney, who can score, and the home court.
Williams: Virginia Tech -- Purdue simply doesn't have the same scoring punch like the Hokies' Malcolm Delaney, Dorenzo Hudson and Jeff Allen.

MARYLAND AT PENN STATE (ESPN2, 9:15 ET)

Bilas: Maryland -- Although a road game, the Terps have more talent.
Brennan: Maryland -- Maryland forward Jordan Williams is a budding star, and unless Talor Battle can sprout about 10 inches by Wednesday night, the Nittany Lions won’t be able to stop him.
Fraschilla: Maryland -- The Terps should grind out a road win in State College.
Gottlieb: Maryland -- The Terps are better inside with Jordan Williams and though Talor Battle can win a game on his own, Maryland's size and pressure in the backcourt should hurt his percentages.
Katz: Maryland -- Penn State is having a hard time being relevant while the Terps continue to play tougher, no matter the venue.
Leung: Maryland -- The Terrapins' only losses are single-digit ones to Pitt and Illinois, so Penn State should be no problem.
Lunardi: Maryland -- Penn State isn't the most athletic bunch and was already exposed by Ole Miss.
O’Neil: Maryland -- The Nittany Lions would need to borrow one of JoePa's linebackers to have a player to contend with Jordan Williams.
Williams: Maryland -- The Nittany Lions will have no answer inside for the Terps’ Jordan Williams.

MICHIGAN STATE AT DUKE (ESPN, 9:30 ET)

Bilas: Duke -- Michigan State is turning it over too much right now, and Duke's defensive pressure should capitalize.
Brennan: Duke -- After Duke’s dominant win over Kansas State and Michigan State’s sluggish start in Maui, the Blue Devils look miles ahead of the field. This early in the season, the Spartans won’t be able to close the gap in Cameron.
Fraschilla: Duke -- Tough place for ANYONE to win.
Gottlieb: Duke -- Derrick Nix is back and he should help with the depth of Michigan State inside, but MSU struggled with the quickness of Washington and UConn. Duke's pressure and athleticism are similar.
Katz: Duke -- The Spartans aren’t in March form yet, while the Blue Devils look like they’ve already made plans for Houston.
Leung: Duke -- In case you missed the CBE Classic, the Blue Devils are just better than everyone else right now.
Lunardi: Duke -- Won't make the same mistake of picking against Duke this week.
O’Neil: Michigan State -- I'll admit I'm not 100 percent in on this pick, especially with Duke playing at home. But after a few humbling visits to the other part of Tobacco Road in recent years, a disappointing loss to UConn and a tongue-lashing after a lackluster effort against Tennessee Tech, I think the Spartans are due for a show-me win.
Williams: Duke -- Duke is hands-down the best team in the country and the energy within Cameron will be too much for Michigan State to handle.


The ACC/Big Ten Challenge will be the dominant storyline in college basketball over the next few nights, so might as well put our writers and contributors on the spot with predictions, right?

For what it’s worth, the group consensus for each game adds up to a 6-5 Big Ten victory over the ACC. But it’s actually even closer than that. In the highly anticipated Iowa-Wake Forest matchup, our panel took the Hawkeyes by a 5-4 margin. If one of those five had picked the Deacons, we’d be projected an ACC overall victory.

Sounds to us like an event worth tuning into …

<strong>Monday</strong>

<strong>Virginia at Minnesota (ESPN2, 7 ET)</strong>
Jay Bilas: Minnesota -- Tubby has depth and guard play, and Tony Bennett doesn't.
Eamonn Brennan: Minnesota – The Gophers are a complete and balanced team, even if <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=36271">Al Nolen</a> and <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=45983">Rodney Williams</a> miss the game due to injury; Tony Bennett's rebounding Virginia squad is, well, not.
Fran Fraschilla: Minnesota -- The Gophers are one of the country's early-season surprises and they are at home in the friendly confines of Williams Arena. This will be ugly.
Doug Gottlieb: Minnesota -- Despite not having Al Nolen, Minnesota is still loaded. <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=51535">Maverick Ahanmisi</a> was a late signee who is a year older than most freshman, and that maturity will come in handy.
Andy Katz: Minnesota – The Gophers are depleted with injuries, but likely get <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=41567">Devoe Joseph</a> back and are too strong, too tall, too deep for rebuilding Virginia.
Diamond Leung: Minnesota -- Minnesota might be banged up, but <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=36270">Blake Hoffarber</a> and <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=36628">Trevor Mbakwe</a> should be able to dominate.
Joe Lunardi: Minnesota -- The shorthanded Gophers are still too much for the Cavs at this point.
Dana O’Neil: Minnesota -- Even without Al Nolen and Rodney Williams, the red-hot Gophers are too talented for the still struggling Cavaliers.
Jay Williams: Minnesota -- Even though they won't have starters Al Nolen & Rodney Williams due to injuries, I expect Blake Hoffarber, Trevor Mbakwe and <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=41568">Ralph Sampson III</a> to dominate.

<strong>Tuesday</strong>

<strong>Georgia Tech at Northwestern (ESPN2, 7 ET)</strong>
Bilas: Northwestern -- The Wildcats will spread the Jackets out and keep them on a string between open 3s and backdoor cuts.
Brennan: Northwestern -- Facing its first real "test" of the season, Northwestern's matchup zone and tricky Princeton offense will give Georgia Tech fits.
Fraschilla: Northwestern -- Sadly, even a win over the Yellow Jackets won't mean much in March. Too much Shurna in this one.
Gottlieb: Northwestern -- Tech played well this weekend, but the travel and Juice Thompson will be too much.
Katz: Northwestern -- If we’re going to take the Wildcats seriously they have to win a game like this at home against the inferior Yellow Jackets.
Leung: Northwestern -- The Wildcats should stay undefeated playing on their homecourt and with <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=41742">John Shurna</a> playing well.
Lunardi: Northwestern -- A solid win over Creighton sets the Wildcats up nicely for another victory.
O’Neil: Northwestern -- John Shurna has been terrific all season for a Wildcat team dreaming of -- gasp! -- an NCAA bid.
Williams: Northwestern -- This is the year Northwestern makes the NCAA tournament because of Shurna and Thompson.

<strong>Iowa at Wake Forest (ESPNU, 7 ET)</strong>
Bilas: Iowa -- Wake Forest will have a hard time beating anyone this season.
Brennan: Iowa -- Because as bad as Iowa is, Wake Forest is -- somehow -- worse.
Fraschilla: Wake Forest -- Someone has to win, right?
Gottlieb: Iowa -- Hawkeyes are coming off a win. Fran McCaffery will dial up something.
Katz: Wake Forest -- I can’t see the Demon Deacons losing four home games before Dec. 1.
Leung: Iowa -- Between the two, Iowa has shown a few more signs of life.
Lunardi: Wake Forest -- Neither team has played a true road game, so you have to go with Wake at home.
O’Neil: Wake Forest -- Because as bad as the Demon Deacons have looked early, the Hawkeyes have looked worse.
Williams: Iowa -- After watching Wake lose to Stetson, VCU and Winthrop, I give the edge to Iowa on the road.

<strong>Ohio State at Florida State (ESPN, 7:30 ET)</strong>
Bilas: Ohio State -- Florida State can really guard, but scoring efficiently is a problem the Seminoles have and the Buckeyes don't.
Brennan: Ohio State – FSU’s defense will keep this one close, but the interior offensive rebounding of <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=51405">Jared Sullinger</a> and <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=36134">Dallas Lauderdale</a> will be too much for the Noles to manage.
Fraschilla: Ohio State – The Leon County Civic Center is not the homecourt the Seminoles deserve.
Gottlieb: FSU's <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=40974">Chris Singleton</a> has put up insane numbers with two triple-doubles, but OSU has the athletes to guard him and his compadres.
Katz: Ohio State -- The Buckeyes won at Florida and have a better inside game than Florida State, although FSU’s Chris Singleton will likely put up the best numbers.
Leung: Ohio State -- Despite the all-around talents of FSU's Chris Singleton, Ohio State has too many weapons, including Jared Sullinger in the middle.
Lunardi: Ohio State -- Buckeyes complete the Sunshine State sweep in Tallahassee.
O’Neil: Ohio State -- Tough follow for the Seminoles after an emotional, disappointing loss to the Gators. Plus, Jared Sullinger is the why to all questions about the Buckeyes.
Williams: Florida State -- Yes, I call the upset here. <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=40971">Xavier Gibson</a> and <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=51353">Bernard James</a> will give Mr. Sullinger a lot to deal with down low.

<strong>Michigan at Clemson (ESPN2, 9 ET)</strong>
Bilas: Clemson -- The Tigers are at home, and Michigan hasn't won away from home.
Brennan: Clemson -- Michigan might not be as bad as we thought, but it is not good enough to beat a capable Clemson team, whose only loss was a one-point neutral-court defeat to ODU.
Fraschilla: Clemson -- Early returns about new coach Brad Brownell are positive.
Gottlieb: Michigan -- Searching for an upset here, the 1-3-1 proves tough to tame. The Wolverines appear a bit better than expected, though they will suffer in conference.
Katz: Clemson -- The Tigers, regardless of coach, are too tough at home against similar-level teams.
Leung: Clemson -- Tigers coach Brad Brownell is fitting right in and has enough weapons to win this one.
Lunardi: Clemson -- The Wolverines are a long way from being able to win at Littlejohn.
O’Neil: Clemson -- The Wolverines have done little to prove they're over what ailed them last season.
Williams: Clemson -- After losses to both Syracuse and UTEP, I don't see the Wolverines bouncing back at Littlejohn Coliseum.

<strong>North Carolina at Illinois (ESPN, 9:30 ET)</strong>
Bilas: Illinois -- North Carolina doesn't push the ball and get easy baskets, and Illinois is at home.
Brennan: Illinois -- The Illini have homecourt advantage, but they also have the benefit of a veteran team that can match up with the athletic -- and as yet thoroughly disappointing -- Tar Heels.
Fraschilla: Illinois -- Are the Heels losing their mystique?
Gottlieb: Illinois -- Better guards, at home, and though Illinois does not have great strength inside, neither does UNC. Illini by more than 10.
Katz: Illinois -- The Tar Heels are still searching for a leader and the Illini need this game too much to prove their relevance.
Leung: Illinois -- It appears that catching the Tar Heels early is the way to go, and an Illini team with size can play with anyone.
Lunardi: Illinois -- What once looked like a toss-up should be a comfortable win for the Illini.
O’Neil: Illinois -- The Illini play with grit and determination, traits sorely lacking so far this season for the Tar Heels.
Williams: Illinois -- UNC does not have the poise or experience to win this one on the road.

<strong>Wednesday</strong>

<strong>NC State at Wisconsin (ESPN2, 7:15 ET)</strong>
Bilas: Wisconsin -- The game is at the Kohl Center, isn't it? Next question.
Brennan: Wisconsin -- Besides the immense advantage provided by the Kohl Center, the Badgers are, for all their early-season warts, one of the better rebounding teams in the nation. The Wolfpack without senior forward <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=36377">Tracy Smith</a> are one of the worst.
Fraschilla: Wisconsin -- Anywhere but the Kohl Center, I'd give the Wolfpack an even chance to win.
Gottlieb: Wisconsin -- NC State has better talent, but Wisconsin will use <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=41152">Jordan Taylor</a> off ball screens and <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=36138">Jon Leuer</a> is a great fit got what Wisconsin does and Bo Ryan is great at what he does. Frankly, the Wolfpack might become bored with the tedious pace of the Badgers.
Katz: Wisconsin -- The Wolfpack are without Tracy Smith and to beat the Badgers at the Kohl Center you have to be full strength.
Leung: Wisconsin -- Jon Leuer is just too much to handle, and the Badgers are playing at home.
Lunardi: Wisconsin -- The Badgers figure to be extra cranky after losing the Old Spice title game.
O’Neil: Wisconsin -- I’m guessing practice hasn't been fun for the Badgers since their uncharacteristic slide against Notre Dame. Someone will feel the brunt of that frustration.
Williams: Wisconsin -- The Badgers have compiled a 138-11(.926) home record under head coach Bo Ryan heading into the season. Enough said.

<strong>Indiana at Boston College (ESPNU, 7:15 ET)</strong>
Bilas: Boston College – The Eagles are at home and <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=41460">Reggie Jackson</a> can really score.
Brennan: Boston College -- Boston College has one awful loss (to Yale) and one solid win (over Texas A&M), so let’s give it a slight advantage over an Indiana team that has yet to leave Assembly Hall -- or play a non-cupcake opponent.
Fraschilla: Boston College -- Reggie Jackson hits it out of the park in the Eagles’ win.
Gottlieb: Boston College -- Reggie Jackson is the best player on the floor. The Eagles use the lessons learned in giving away leads in Orlando to help them beat IU.
Katz: Indiana -- The Eagles own more talent but lack focus in finishing games, something the Hoosiers seem to have now.
Leung: Boston College -- The easy part of Indiana's schedule is over.
Lunardi: Boston College -- BC is coming off a very good showing at the Old Spice and should win at home.
O’Neil: Indiana -- The recruiting good news for the Hoosiers spurs a much-needed good win on the court.
Williams: Boston College -- When Reggie Jackson is allowed to probe with the dribble and is on his game, BC is a tough team.

<strong>Purdue at Virginia Tech (ESPN, 7:30 ET)</strong>
Bilas: Virginia Tech -- Purdue is not only missing Hummel, but really missing Chris Kramer.
Brennan: Purdue -- Both teams have played solid defense and both have had their struggles offensively, but <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=36150">JaJuan Johnson</a> should provide too many matchup problems for a shallow Va. Tech front line.
Fraschilla: Virginia Tech -- Hokies are desperate for a quality nonconference win.
Gottlieb: Virginia Tech -- Virginia Tech struggles with pressure defense (see Purdue). Purdue struggles to score against legit defenses without <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=36149">Robbie Hummel</a>. Hokies in a great game.
Katz: Virginia Tech -- The Boilermakers are still a formidable bunch, but winning in Blacksburg is hardly an easy task, especially when the Hokies are a top-three ACC team.
Leung: Virginia Tech -- The Boilers are showing they're not the same team without Robbie Hummel, and they'll have their hands full containing <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=36544">Malcolm Delaney</a>.
Lunardi: Virginia Tech -- The Hokies want to stockpile every nonconference scalp they can get.
O’Neil: Virginia Tech -- Neither team has exactly been lighting it up offensively, but the Hokies have Malcolm Delaney, who can score, and the homecourt.
Williams: Virginia Tech -- Purdue simply doesn't have the same scoring punch like the Hokies' Malcolm Delaney, <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=40725">Dorenzo Hudson</a> and <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=31599">Jeff Allen</a>.

<strong>Maryland at Penn State (ESPN2, 9:15 ET)</strong>
Bilas: Maryland -- Although a road game, the Terps have more talent.
Brennan: Maryland -- Maryland forward <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=45916">Jordan Williams</a> is a budding star, and unless <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=36465">Talor Battle</a> can sprout about 10 inches by Wednesday night, the Nittany Lions won’t be able to stop him.
Fraschilla: Maryland -- The Terps should grind out a road win in State College.
Gottlieb: Maryland -- The Terps are better inside with Jordan Williams and though Talor Battle can win a game on his own, Maryland's size and pressure in the backcourt should hurt his percentages.
Katz: Maryland -- Penn State is having a hard time being relevant while the Terps continue to play tougher, no matter the venue.
Leung: Maryland -- The Terrapins' only losses are single-digit ones to Pitt and Illinois, so Penn State should be no problem.
Lunardi: Maryland -- Penn State isn't the most athletic bunch and was already exposed by Ole Miss.
O’Neil: Maryland -- The Nittany Lions would need to borrow one of JoePa's linebackers to have a player to contend with Jordan Williams.
Williams: Maryland -- The Nittany Lions will have no answer inside for the Terps’ Jordan Williams.

<strong>Michigan State at Duke (ESPN, 9:30 ET)</strong>
Bilas: Duke -- Michigan State is turning it over too much right now, and Duke's defensive pressure should capitalize.
Brennan: Duke -- After Duke’s dominant win over Kansas State and Michigan State’s sluggish start in Maui, the Blue Devils look miles ahead of the field. This early in the season, the Spartans won’t be able to close the gap in Cameron.
Fraschilla: Duke -- Tough place for ANYONE to win.
Gottlieb: <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=46227">Derrick Nix</a> is back and he should help with the depth of Michigan State inside, but MSU struggled with the quickness of Washington and UConn. Duke's pressure and athleticism is similar.
Katz: Duke -- The Spartans aren’t in March form yet, while the Blue Devils look like they’ve already made plans for Houston.
Leung: Duke -- In case you missed the CBE Classic, the Blue Devils are just better than everyone else right now.
Lunardi: Duke -- Won't make the same mistake of picking against Duke this week.
O’Neil: Michigan State -- I'll admit I'm not 100 percent in on this pick, especially with Duke playing at home. But after a few humbling visits to the other part of Tobacco Road in recent years, a disappointing loss to UConn and a tongue-lashing after a lackluster effort against Tennessee Tech, I think the Spartans are due for a show-me win.
Williams: Duke -- Duke is hands-down the best team in the country and the energy within Cameron will be too much for Michigan State to handle.

NCAA coaches got what they wanted: a mostly stress-free May and early June.

No one can whine anymore about an early-entrant testing the draft process and holding the program hostage for two months. The NCAA's deadline passed Saturday, and the with the official early-entry list forthcoming from the NBA this week, the uncertainty of rosters -- save a few late recruits -- is no longer an issue for 2010-11.

Some of the programs either hit or salvaged from the decisions had obvious consequences. Earlier in the blog, I discussed the impact on Kentucky and the rising programs at NC State and Richmond. Here are some quick takes on 10 other schools affected in some way by the draft process:

  • Purdue is now a Big Ten co-favorite along with Michigan State and a realistic team to reach the Final Four now that JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore have decided to stay in school and join Robbie Hummel to give the Boilermakers three senior studs.
  • BYU will remain a Mountain West title contender with the return of Jimmer Fredette. New Mexico will have to be in reload mode with the early departure of Darington Hobson and the graduation of Roman Martinez.
  • Butler is still the clear favorite to win the Horizon, but no longer a projected Final Four repeat visitor with Gordon Hayward's decision to stay in the draft.
  • Ole Miss lost Terrico White, a likely first-round pick, but the Rebels still have leading scorer and fellow guard Chris Warren, who didn't flirt with the NBA draft.
  • Mississippi State lost its point guard (Dee Bost), but got back its shooter (Ravern Johnson) and will at the very least be back on the NCAA bubble again.
  • Illinois hopes to get off that bubble and in the NCAA tournament with the return of Mike Davis and Demetri McCamey.
  • Virginia Tech has a chance to be an ACC contender with Malcolm Delaney's sensible decision to return. The Hokies return essentially their entire roster.
  • With Alex Tyus listening to reasoned minds and returning to school (his father and uncle thought he should leave Florida because he wasn't playing the 3 position), the Gators can now claim they have all five starters back for the first time since starting the season as the preseason No. 1 in 2006.
  • Xavier lost its best player in Jordan Crawford and won't be the A-10 preseason favorite that it probably would've been. Meanwhile, Temple remains a contender in that conference with the return of Lavoy Allen.
  • Penn State wasn't going to be an NCAA team either way, but at least it has its marquee player returning in Talor Battle.
There's no question that the NCAA's decision to cut back from two months to 10 days had a positive affect for coaches. Players who normally may have had time to work out and move up on the second- or first-round board didn't have a chance. There were barely any workouts to be had, so the players didn't get a true chance to test the draft process.

For some likely first-round players, it didn't matter as they were leaving anyway with the fear of a lockout and a lower rookie salary scale in 2011 and beyond. For many others, however, the lack of workout opportunities and inability to go to the NBA-sponsored Chicago draft camp probably forced them to return to school.

That's good for the coaches and their nerves, but is it good for the players and the overall process? That's debatable.

What's not is that it's the new reality.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Point guard Devoe Joseph carried Minnesota through 20 minutes. After halftime, Minnesota's other guards got involved in a big way.

And with the Gophers' three-headed backcourt clicking, Penn State had no chance to rally. Joseph, Lawrence Westbrook and Blake Hoffarber combined for 31 points as No. 6 seed Minnesota stomped No. 11 seed Penn State 76-55. Minnesota led the entire game but really opened things up early in the second half with a 20-10 run.

The Gophers' NCAA tournament hopes remain alive as they advance to Friday's quarterfinals, where they'll face No. 3 seed Michigan State (Big Ten Network, approximately 9 p.m. ET).

This qualifies as an impressive performance for Minnesota, especially given the way Penn State had been playing the last few weeks. The Nittany Lions split their final six Big Ten contests and gave league co-champs Purdue and Michigan State all they could handle.

After a sloppy end to the first half, Minnesota made almost no mistakes in the final 20 minutes. Hoffarber and Westbrook got it going from long range, and Ralph Sampson III, Damian Johnson and Colton Iverson beat up Penn State in the post. I'm really impressed with the leadership Joseph has showed at point guard.

Penn State had a season of near misses, but tonight's blowout loss has to be extremely tough for Ed DeChellis and his team. Star guard Talor Battle (10 points, 3-for-10 shooting) was a nonfactor for most of the game, and while he got some help from Andrew Jones, Chris Babb and David Jackson, it came too late.

The 2009 NIT champs certainly backslid this season, and it'll be interesting to see what happens with DeChellis in the coming days.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Minnesota is playing defense with the purpose of a team that needs a good week here to make the field of 65. Penn State came out looking ready for the offseason, though the Nittany Lions picked things up toward the end of the half.

Quick halftime thoughts:

  • Penn State arguably came in as the hotter team, but Minnesota was the aggressor from the start, jumping out to a 7-0 lead. Penn State's greatest strength -- aside from star guard Talor Battle -- is its length, but Minnesota is even longer and has shown it so far. Gophers senior forward Damian Johnson, who was snubbed from the All-Big Ten Defensive team earlier in the week, has been tremendous with nine points and two rebounds in the first half.
  • Battle has been relatively quiet for Penn State (4 points, 2 assists), but sophomore guard Chris Babb is providing a big lift. Babb engineered a 5-0 run to end the half all by himself and has eight points. Penn State is at its best when Battle gets help from his supporting cast. Babb has provided some so far, but other players like David Jackson and Jeff Brooks need to become more involved.
  • Speaking of involved, Minnesota's starting guards Lawrence Westbrook and Blake Hoffarber were virtually invisible in the first half. They were a combined 0-for-4 from the field for no points. Westbrook and Hoffarber combine to average 23.6 points a game, so they really need to pick things up after the half. Fortunately for them, point guard Devoe Joseph stepped up with 10 first-half points on 4 of 7 shooting.

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