Can Any Big Ten Team beat Ohio State this Year?

braxton-miller-ohio-stateLast year was a perfect start to the Urban Meyer era at Ohio State.The Buckeyes went 12-0, capping their undefeated season with a 26-21 win over rival Michigan. Had it not been for a one-year ban from postseason play, they could’ve made a run at the BCS title.

Keeping all of this in mind, it’s scary for Big Ten opponents to think that OSU returns a good number of their offensive starters. This is nearly the same offensive unit that ranked 10th nationally with 242.3 rushing yards per game, and scored 37.2 PPG.

Star quarterback Braxton Miller is back after a season in which he passed for 2,039 yards and 28 TDs, and rushed for 1,271 yards and 13 TD’s. The junior will be the unquestioned leader of this offense and a major contender for the Heisman.

A couple of Miller’s favorite targets are back this year too, with Corey Brown (60 receptions, 669 yards, 3 TDs) and Devin Smith (30 rec, 618 yds, 6 TDs) leading the way. Tight ends Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett should also play a big role in the passing game.

carlos-hyde-running-backThe running game should once again be good too, with Carlos Hyde (970 rushing yards, 16 TD’s) anchoring the attack. But Hyde will serve a three-game suspension because of a nightclub altercation, which means Buckeye fans can expect to see plenty of Jordan Hall (5.4 YPC) and Bri’onte Dunn (5.3 YPC) in the early going.

The big question heading into this Big Ten season will be how well Ohio State can replace their defensive losses. They lost eight starters from last year’s squad, which ranked 14th nationally in rushing defense (116.1 YPG allowed). Meyer hit on this topic when he said, “Defense is where the issues are. We lost our entire front seven. I believe we recruited well.”

Junior linebacker Ryan Shazier is one key returner from this unit, and he racked up 115 tackles and three forced fumbles last year. Safety Christian Bryant and cornerback Bradley Roby are also going to play big roles for the Buckeyes’ defense this season. The latter is one of the nation’s top corners, having attained Second-Team All-America status in 2012. But like Hyde, Roby must serve a one-game suspension thanks to an off-field incident.

Despite all of the losses, OSU ranks second in the preseason pool, behind only Alabama. But this certainly doesn’t assure them of any waltz to the national title game. After all, the Big Ten boasts plenty of other strong teams besides just the Buckeyes.

james-white-wisconsinThe tough teams that Ohio State will have to contend with start in Madison, where Wisconsin is coming off back-to-back Big Ten championships. The Badgers need to replace Monte Ball, but their running game should be just as strong as ever with James White and Melvin Gordon carrying the pigskin. Plus their stout offensive line should make the transition much easier.

Northwestern should be a surprise contender since they have a very strong offense. Senior running back Venrick Mack will be all over the field for the Wildcats since he not only runs the ball, but also returns punts and kicks. QB Kain Colter should also have a strong year.

Assuming neither of these teams can knock off OSU, Michigan will be waiting for them at the end of the season. They won’t have speedster Denard Robinson leading the offense any longer. But QB Devin Gardner is hoping that he can keep the chains moving for the Wolverines when they face Ohio State.

Seeing as how the Buckeyes won half of their games last season by 7 points or less, we should be in for plenty of thrilling contests in Columbus. And if OSU can find a way to continue grinding these games out, they could be headed for a chance at the 2013 BCS Championship.

Louisville vs. Michigan in 2013 NCAA Championship

trey-burke-michiganJust a couple of hours ago, the Michigan Wolverines were able to hold off the scrappy Syracuse Orange to advance to their first NCAA title game since 1993. Interestingly enough, the ’93 title appearance no longer counts due to violations associated with former Michigan booster Ed Martin.

The Wolverine’s opponent in the 2013 NCAA Championship game will be the Louisville Cardinals, which advanced after surviving a tough 72-68 contest over the Wichita State Shockers. For Louisville, this will be their first title game since 1986, when Pervis Ellison led them to victory.

rick-pitinoSeeing as how neither of these teams have experienced a title game within the last two decades, it’ll definitely be interesting to see who ends the drought. Of course, if coaching experience has anything to do with the matter, the Cardinals definitely have an advantage in this department. Louisville coach Rick Pitino has been to six Final Fours with three different teams, and he guided the 1996 Kentucky Wildcats to the national championship. That said, if anybody can prepare Louisville for the title game, it’s Pitino.

Of course, this isn’t to say that Michigan coach Jim Beilein is chopped liver though. He’s guided teams to a collective eight NCAA tournament appearances, including an Elite Eight trip for the 2005 West Virginia Mountaineers.

This isn’t a game that’ll solely be won or lost based on coaching resumes though. Star players are going to shine in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, which makes it worth discussing some players to keep an eye on in this contest.

Michigan Wolverines to watch

Trey Burke (18.8 PPG, 6.8 APG) didn’t exactly have an outstanding game against the Orange after shooting 1-for-8 and scoring 7 points. However, the Wolverines wouldn’t be here if not for the super sophomore, who scored 23 second-half points against Kansas in the Sweet 16 – including a sensational 28-footer to tie the game in regulation. Likely a future NBA lottery pick, Burke will get another chance to improve his stock with an outstanding title game.

tim-hardaway-jrTim Hardaway Jr. (14.6 PPG) is another player who’ll be looking to shoot better after going 4-for-16 against Syracuse. The junior did hit three 3-pointers and dish out a team-high five assists though and should bounce back against Louisville.

Great shooting was not exactly a theme for Michigan last night since Nik Stauskas (11.5 PPG, 44.9 3P%) also went 0-for-5. He only played 18 minutes total, and backup Caris LeVert stole a lot of his minutes.

First-year player Glenn Robinson III (11.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG) looked anything but a freshman in his first Final Four. He connected on 5 out of 7 field goal attempts and added five offensive rebounds for the Wolverines. It’ll be interesting to see if he can keep this same poise in the championship.

Mitch McGary (7.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG) is another freshman who’s done well under the pressure. In fact, McGary has thrived in the NCAA tournament since he’s averaged 16.0 and 11.6 RPG – way up from his season averages. But can he keep this production up against Louisville’s 6’11” stud Gorgui Dieng?

russ-smith-louisvilleLouisville Cardinals to watch for

One of the best guards in the country, Russ Smith has definitely proved this in the Cardinals championship game run. He’s averaged 25 PPG in the NCAA tournament and hasn’t scored less than 21 points in any of the five games. But he’ll have to do better than his 6-for-17 shooting performance against Wichita State if he hopes to lead Louisville to victory one more time.

Lucky for Smith, junior G/F Luke Hancock hit 6 out of 9 of his shots and scored 20 points off the bench. He was a big part of helping Louisville overcome a 12-point second half deficit to Wichita State and could play another huge role in the title game.

gorgui-diengInterestingly enough, star center Gorgui Dieng (10.2 PPG, 9.5 RPG) was a non-factor in this contest. In 30 minutes of play, he took one shot and missed it, while chipping in six rebounds and two blocks. The Cardinals HAVE to get more production out of him against Michigan.

Sophomore forward Chane Behanan (9.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG) was pretty steady in last night’s contest – as he’s been throughout the tournament. Behanan scored 10 points on 3-for-5 shooting and pulled down nine rebounds.

Who will win the 2013 NCAA Championship?

When the NCAA tournament started, many picked Michigan to be an early upset because of their obvious youth. However, the three starting freshman have been quite mature up to this point, and sophomore Trey Burke has played like a seasoned senior.

Of course, they’ll face the ultimate test in Louisville since the Cardinals have a lineup full of sophomores, juniors and seniors. And this experience should do them well against a very young Michigan squad. Rush Smith should especially give the Wolverines fits, as he’s done to most other opponents.

But in the end, Michigan will have too many weapons for the Cardinals to deal with. McGary and Dieng will cancel each other out in the middle, while Burke, Hardaway Jr., Stauskas and Robinson III will overwhelm the rest of Louisville’s lineup.

Final Score: Michigan 76 – Louisville 68

College Basketball Power Rankings for February 27th, 2013

duke-basketballAfter starting out 15-1 and landing a top 10 ranking, the Minnesota Golden Gophers haven’t had much luck. They’d lost 8 out of the last 11 games and were on their way to a disappointing NIT bid. However, there may still be some life left in the Gophers after they pulled off a big upset over number one-ranked Indiana. And while this won’t land Minnesota a spot in our power rankings, it does have an effect on where the Hoosiers sit this week.

1. Duke Blue Devils (24-3) – It was pretty much a no-brainer for us to put Duke back on top. After all, the three teams ahead of them in last week’s power rankings lost while the Blue Devils pulled out a couple more ACC victories. But do note that we cautiously put Duke in this spot since they’ve had some difficulties on the road. In any case, mark your calendar for March 2nd when Duke gets a shot to avenge an earlier loss to the fifth-ranked Miami Hurricanes.

2. Gonzaga Bulldogs (27-2) – The West Coast Conference doesn’t exactly provide a lot of powerhouse teams to help Gonzaga boost their image. However, with all the other top-ranked teams losing games recently, you can’t exactly fault the Zags for continuing to win. They face their last tough test on the road against a 20-9 Brigham Young team. Assuming Gonzaga wins this contest, they should have no trouble beating Portland and setting themselves up for a number one NCAA tournament seed.

victor-oladipo3. Indiana Hoosiers (24-4) – In a month where no team has truly stepped into the nation’s number one ranking, Indiana took its turn being the top dog. Unfortunately, they fell at the hands of a desperate Minnesota team that’s fighting to make the NCAA tournament. Indiana center Cody Zeller had one of his worst games of the season (2-for-9 shooting), while Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe had the hot hand (8-for-10 shooting). The Hoosiers play Iowa on Saturday before closing out with tough games against Ohio State and Michigan (road).

4. Michigan Wolverines (23-4) – Michigan moves up a few spots to number four after beating Penn State and Illinois over the past couple of games. The Illinois victory was particularly nice as Michigan guard Trey Burke poured in 26 points on 8-for-11 shooting. Out of the four remaining Big-10 games for Michigan, Indiana and Michigan State figure to be pretty brutal battles.

5. Miami Hurricanes (22-4) – Just when the Hurricanes were on top of the college basketball world and looking unbeatable, they lose to a 12-15 Wake Forrest team by 15 points. Demon Deacons guard C.J. Harris was instrumental in this victory as he scored 21 points on 5-for-5 shooting from behind the three-point arc. As for Miami, they must go back and figure out why they’ve only scored totals of 45, 54 and 65 points against fairly mediocre teams lately.

elijah-johnson6. Kansas Jayhawks (22-4) – Kansas leaps back into our power rankings after winning five straight games. Of these wins, beating Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Iowa State will look particularly impressive to poll voters. Senior Elijah Johnson was spectacular in the 108-96 overtime victory over Iowa State as he scored 39 points and hit six three-pointers in this contest. That’s definitely stepping up when you consider that his season average is 10.2 PPG.

7. Michigan State Spartans (22-6) – The Spartans might be facing the most brutal three-game stretch of any team this season. They lost to number one-ranked Indiana and 16th-ranked Ohio State (road), and they still have to play fourth-ranked Michigan (road) and 17th-ranked Wisconsin. This being said, we can’t fault Michigan State too much for dropping a couple of tough games in a row. The question is, can they stop the losing streak any time soon?

8. Louisville Cardinals (22-5) – Louisville may only be sitting third in the Big East right now, but they’re number one in our minds. The Cardinals really get a chance to prove where they stand in the conference with upcoming games against Syracuse, Cincinnati and Notre Dame. If they’re going to pick up wins against these clubs, guard Russ Smith (18.4 PPG) is definitely going to need some scoring help.

9. Georgetown Hoyas (21-4) – The Hoyas are closing in on a Big East regular season title, but there are some difficult tests remaining. They have to travel to Connecticut and Villanova in addition to facing Syracuse one more time. Georgetown will go as far as do-it-all forward Otto Porter Jr. (15.9 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 2.0 SPG) will take them – which we expect to be pretty far in regard to the NCAA tournament.

10. Florida Gators (22-4) – Florida falls five places this week after dropping two out of the past three games. If there’s any solace to come out of these losses, it’s that the Gators were playing two tournament-hungry teams on the road in Missouri (19-8) and Tennessee (17-10). A top seed is probably out of the question for Billy Donovan’s club; however, they can definitely grab a nice NCAA tournament position by winning their final three conference games against Alabama, Vanderbilt and Kentucky.

College Basketball Power Rankings for Dec. 17th, 2012

While the Duke Blue Devils claimed the top spot in our college basketball power rankings last week, they had yet to wrestle the top ranking away from Indiana in the polls. However, the Hoosiers dropped an overtime game to their instate rivals – the Butler Bulldogs – and they’ve given way to Duke. With the spoilers out of the way, let’s cover NCAA basketball’s top 10 teams.

1. Duke Blue Devils (9-0) – We haven’t seen Duke on the court in a while, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less deserving of the top spot. The Blue Devils have defeated some of the nation’s best teams in Ohio State, Louisville and Kentucky.

2. Michigan Wolverines (11-0) – Michigan has quite a trio in Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas. These three have helped the Wolverines get off to their best start since the 1988-89 season, when Glen Rice led Michigan to a national title.

3. Syracuse Orange (9-0) – Thanks to Michael Carter-Williams, who’s averaging 10.8 APG, the Orange rank third in both points and assists. Syracuse is also quite good on the other side of the ball since they’re holding opponents to just 56.1 PPG.

4. Ohio State Buckeyes (8-1) – OSU is our favorite one-loss team at this point because their only loss involved blowing a second half lead at Duke. Currently they’re dominating teams like Northern Kentucky, UNC-Asheville and Long Beach State while readying for a big game against Kansas next week.

5. Illinois Fighting Illini (12-0) – The pollsters aren’t showing Illinois a lot of respect right now since they’re ranked 10th. However, a big win over previously-unbeaten Gonzaga still has us high on the Illini. They have a huge test coming up against 12th-ranked Missouri.

6. Arizona Wildcats (8-0) – Arizona leap-frogs a few teams after defeating unbeaten Florida in an amazing comeback. The Wildcats were down by 6 points with 55 seconds left, but forced three turnovers and eventually won on a Mark Lyons’ layup.

7. Louisville Cardinals (9-1) – Despite losing starting center Gorgui Dieng to injury, the Cardinals were able to defeat rival Memphis on the road. However, it wasn’t easy since they had to rally from a 16-point deficit. Russ Smith is playing excellent lately as he’s averaging 21.8 PPG over the past four games.

8. Indiana Hoosiers (9-1) – While some might say that Indiana doesn’t deserve to drop from number two to number eight in these power rankings, we just don’t like how the Hoosiers lost to Butler. They were thoroughly outrebounded and outplayed during the loss. But with freshman Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin now eligible to play, things figure to get better for this team.

9. Cincinnati Bearcats (10-0) – The Bearcats remain stagnant in our rankings simply because other teams won some big games and moved up. They have a huge game coming up against crosstown rival Xavier. Can junior shooting guard Sean Kilpatrick (19.3 PPG) lead Cincinnati past the Musketeers?

10. Florida Gators (7-1) – Florida should have moved up to the number two spot; but they couldn’t hold onto a 6-point lead against Arizona with less than a minute to go. It was definitely a pretty bad way to lose a game, and they’ve fallen quite a bit in our power rankings.