Otskey’s Observations: Episode VIIIPosted by Brian Otskey on January 15th, 2014
RTC national columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) gives his weekly observations on the game in his column, Otskey’s Observations.
A Cause for Concern or Just a Speed Bump for Wisconsin?
Wisconsin’s 75-72 loss at Indiana on Tuesday night was surprising in many ways. For one, it marked the first time since the 1995-96 season that the Badgers have given up at least 70 points in three consecutive games (h/t @nickfasuloSBN). It was an uncharacteristically poor defensive effort from a historically good defensive team under the tutelage of Bo Ryan. Wisconsin could never seem to get a stop when it needed one and allowed Indiana to shoot 51.6 percent from the floor for the game. Coming into the contest, Bo Ryan was 14-3 all-time in head-to-head matchups against Indiana head coach Tom Crean. Crean had never beaten Ryan while at Indiana and the Hoosiers had dropped 12 consecutive games to the Badgers dating back to 2007. In a strange twist of fates, perhaps Ryan’s best team ever fell to Crean’s least talented team in the last three seasons. While Frank Kaminsky and Traevon Jackson did yeoman’s work for Wisconsin, Sam Dekker and Ben Brust had off nights. Dekker, Wisconsin’s leading scorer and rebounder, totaled only 10 points and three rebounds in 35 minutes of action. Brust was cold all night from the three-point line, but tried to adjust, attempting a season-high seven shots from inside the arc, most of those curling to the basket off screens. It was a strange night in Bloomington and something just didn’t feel right. I am inclined to think this is just a bump in the road for Wisconsin and I would expect a much more focused defensive performance at home against Michigan this coming Saturday.
Creighton Ascending in the Polls Despite Grant Gibbs’ Injury
A team that has flown under the radar for the bulk of this college basketball season is Creighton. Now at 15-2 overall and 5-0 in the Big East after a 28-point throttling of Butler last night, the Jays are showing no signs of slowing down despite losing sixth-year senior Grant Gibbs to a dislocated kneecap in last week’s win at DePaul. The initial prognosis keeps Gibbs out of action from four to six weeks, meaning a late February return just in time for the season’s stretch run is still possible. The loss of Gibbs is important because he is a key cog in the nation’s top-ranked offense. While Doug McDermott deservedly gets the headlines, Creighton is more than a one-man team. Greg McDermott has a solid backcourt in place, including perhaps the nation’s best pure shooter in Ethan Wragge, who teams with Jahenns Manigat, Devin Brooks and Austin Chatman to form a highly experienced perimeter lineup whose players understand their roles and pick their spots to score. Perhaps the most overlooked component of this Creighton team is its defense, something that has held it back from a deeper run in March over the last two seasons. The Bluejays’ defensive efficiency is now in the top 50, a major improvement over No. 190 in 2011-12 and No. 80 last season. Defense is what will make or break this offensive juggernaut in March. While the Jays have not played a tough Big East schedule to date, they will most definitely contend for the Big East championship.
Kansas is Maturing
Was Kansas’ home loss to San Diego State a wake-up call for the nation’s fourth least experienced team? All signs since then indicate that it was. Bill Self’s club has responded with three impressive wins against the top half of the Big 12: a gut check win at Oklahoma; a complete annihilation of Kansas State; and, its best win of the season at Hilton Coliseum. Kansas won in Norman by beating Oklahoma at its own game, offense (1.27 points per possession), destroyed Kansas State on both ends, and defied Hilton Magic with a suffocating defense that yielded just 0.89 PPP against one of the nation’s top 20 offenses. The most impressive win of the three was certainly Monday night in Ames. Kansas held Iowa State to 9-of-37 shooting in the second half and 4-of-25 from beyond the arc. While Joel Embiid got all the press, it was Kansas’ defense that won the Jayhawks the game. Embiid and his five blocks were certainly a major part of that, as KU used a huge height advantage to stifle the Cyclones in the paint but also pestered them at the three-point line. Andrew Wiggins was unbelievable on the glass and it was great to see him get after it. In order to win a national championship, Kansas has to become elite defensively because its offense is too inconsistent at the moment. Playing great defense without fouling is one area where the Jayhawks still need to improve, though. Free throws kept Iowa State in a game that it otherwise had no business being in given the way it played out. Just don’t count out Kansas as a contender to win it all in April. Despite their inexperience, the Jayhawks are not far off from becoming great. Are there questions in the back court, specifically at the point guard position? Sure. But continuing to improve defensively while taking care of the ball along with shooting better from the perimeter could be all that separates Self and the Jayhawks from another deep NCAA Tournament run.
Iowa is Not Only a Big Ten Contender
This may be a minority opinion but I don’t feel that Iowa *needed* to win Sunday’s game over Ohio State to prove it is a contender for the Big Ten title and a top three seed in the NCAA Tournament. I have been greatly impressed by the Hawkeyes all year, even in very close losses to top 15 teams Villanova, Iowa State and Wisconsin (all away from Carver-Hawkeye Arena). Even if the Hawkeyes had lost to the Buckeyes, I would still have ranked them in the top 15 and considered them a Big Ten contender. Luckily, that is not something we need to discuss. Iowa’s experience in close games away from Iowa City against elite competition paid dividends as it took control in the final minutes and put away the Buckeyes on their home floor. I have watched a bunch of Iowa games and Fran McCaffery runs offensive sets that are as good as any I have seen from any team this year. Iowa has a good floor general in Mike Gesell and it uses Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White marvelously. There is so much movement in the Iowa offense, but it is smart it its execution, not just movement for the sake of movement. Iowa’s players are always in good position to score and it’s no coincidence that Iowa is ranked No. 4 in offensive efficiency. This is a team with a couple of star players and a solid collection of guys who understand what they have to do for the betterment of the team, such as Melsahn Basabe and Zach McCabe. This is a tough team too, with the personality of its coach reflected in this team’s play on the court (minus the infamous McCaffery Meltdown at Wisconsin). The Hawkeyes may not have the name recognition but they have the talent, coaching and intangibles to finish at the top of the Big Ten and do some serious damage in March. Quite simply, Iowa is for real and I wouldn’t be surprised if this team makes it to Arlington. The Hawkeyes are that good.