Key Questions For Michigan State at Ohio State Today

Posted by Alex Moscoso & Brendan Brody on March 9th, 2014

It’s the final weekend of the regular season and teams are either jockeying for seeding or trying to get on the right side of the bubble. Later this afternoon, Michigan State will travel to Ohio State and, with both teams clearly in the NCAA Tournament field already, this game will be about building momentum for the Big Ten Tournament and beyond. Once again, RTC Big Ten writers Alex Moscoso and Brendan Brody preview the game as they each ask one another a question about the today’s match-up.

Keith Appling and the Spartans' offense try to keep the momentum going against Ohio State on Sunday. (Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)

Keith Appling and the Spartans’ offense try to keep the momentum going against Ohio State on Sunday. (Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)

AM: In its last two games, Ohio State’s defense (#2 in KenPom) has underperformed against two inferior teams (Indiana and Penn State). Meanwhile, Michigan State’s offense (#18 in KenPom) has been inconsistent since the beginning of February. In the match-up between the Buckeyes’ defense vs the Spartans’ offense today, which comes out on top, and why?

BB: It’s hard to say whether Michigan State’s performance Thursday night against Iowa was simply the result of Iowa’s porous defense or a sign that the Spartans are once again fully healthy and clicking on all cylinders. Numbers like 1.26 points per possession, 58.3 percent shooting from the field, and 20 assists on 28 made fields goals, aren’t anything to take lightly, whether they were accomplished against the league’s third-worst defense in conference play or otherwise. Part of the problem for Ohio State in its two losses is that the Buckeyes let their opponents shoot 38.7 percent from three even though they forced an average of 17 turnovers. The Spartans hit 11 threes the first time these two teams played, and after witnessing Thursday’s offensive clinic, I think they’re going to get the best of the Ohio State defense. Thad Matta’s team wins on defense by eliminating the three, but Michigan State is a bad match-up because of the way they share the ball (11th in the country in assist rate), and how they can spread things out in transition with multiple shooters that can burn you. Kenny Kaminski, Travis Trice, Adreian Payne and Appling all shoot over 40 percent from distance for the season, and Gary Harris is 16-of-33 in his last four games from that distance. I think the Iowa game showed what everyone thought at the beginning of the season. Michigan State is about to go on a run, and Ohio State won’t stop them this afternoon.

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The RTC All-Big Ten Team: Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on March 6th, 2014

Continuing today with our countdown of the RTC all-Big Ten team, the sixth best player in the league as voted upon by our writers, is Kevin ‘Yogi’ Ferrell. Ferrell came in with high expectations from the media and fans this year, and he hasn’t disappointed from an individual perspective. He was Indiana’s top recruiting prize in 2012 – ranked #25 overall, according to RSCIhoops.com – and, after the NBA exodus by Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo last spring, it was Yogi’s turn to step up and become the focal point of Tom Crean’s offense. And step up he did.

Yogi Ferrell has been the brightest star for the disappointing Hoosiers.

Yogi Ferrell has been the brightest star for the disappointing Hoosiers.

Why Yogi Ferrell is the sixth-best player in the league: Ferrell has been the only elite and consistent scoring threat for Indiana this season. The team has had a relatively disappointing year and it’s scary to think how much further the Hoosiers would have fallen without him in the lineup. In the preseason, there was some uncertainty about whether Ferrell could transform into an full-time scorer (he averaged 7.6 PPG his freshman season), especially given his woeful shooting from deep (30.3 percent). But he’s answered questions about his game affirmatively by coming into the last game of the Big Ten regular season fourth in scoring (17.7 PPG) and leading the league in three-pointers made (81) and three-point shooting (42 percent). This has resulted in a top six Big Ten standing in effective field goal percentage (53.1 percent), true shooting percentage (58.2 percent), and offensive efficiency (1.19 points per possession). And even though he’s stepped his game on the scoring side of thing, he’s been able to maintain his solid assist rate from last season — at around four per game. He’s been clearly the best player on a team that would be in dire straits without him this season.

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Markel Starks Leaves Senior Night Fighting, As Always

Posted by Alex Moscoso on March 5th, 2014

On Tuesday night in Washington DC, Markel Starks sat in the press conference room inside the Verizon Center for the final time. In one of the final questions from reporters, Starks was asked if he had mixed feelings about his final home game, specifically coping with the fact that Georgetown has had a disappointing season under his stewardship as the senior leader. His (and John Thompson III’s) response: “there’s still time”. After Georgetown’s surprising 75-63 upset of Creighton, where Starks himself had 17 points and 11 assists, they indeed bought themselves more time. More time to reconcile this season as they now have a puncher’s chance at an NCAA Tournament bid; which would be the appropriate send off for the fiesty senior point guard.

Markel Starks is a major reason the Hoyas have not fallen apart.

Markel Starks is a major reason the Hoyas have not fallen apart.

While Starks, and JTIII, tried to put a positive spin things, the essence of the reporter’s question was true; this is probably not how Starks played out his senior season in his mind. Outside events occurred, that were well out of his control, and took a toll on the Hoyas’ season. First, Greg Whittington, probably the most talented player on the roster, tore his ACL last summer and was dismissed from the team at the end of November. In January, the Hoyas lost their lone scoring option down low, Joshua Smith, for the remainder of the season due to academic issues. Finally, as if they weren’t thin enough already, they also lost the services of Jabril Trawick for a couple of weeks from a broken jaw. So their season suffered, and it was up to the backcourt, Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, to make lemonade and carry the team on their backs.

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Illinois Freshmen Lead Their Turnaround and Earns Them Another Look at the Bubble

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on March 4th, 2014

It was February 4, and Illinois had just been dominated by Wisconsin for the second time this season in front of a fairly empty home crowd; severe weather had been an issue. The loss made it eight straight for John Groce’s team — which for a consecutive season was in the midst of a major losing streak in conference play — and found themselves at the bottom of league standings with a 2-8 record. But unlike last season, there were no talented seniors like Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson in place to lead a turnaround. This team seemed doomed for a miserable last place finish. That’s when Groce put up the white flag and inserted his top two freshmen — Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill — into the starting lineup, a signal that he was moving on from the current season and looking toward the next one. What has happened since has surprised even the most optimistic of Illini fans. Since the shakeup in the rotation, Illinois has won four of its last six games — including three in a row — which includes road wins at Minnesota and Michigan State. Odds are that they’re still likely to miss out on the NCAA Tournament, but their current body of work isn’t that far off from other bubble teams within the conference.

Kendrick Nunn entering the starting lineup has given the Illini hope. (Ruszkowski/USA TODAY)

Kendrick Nunn entering the starting lineup has given the Illini hope. (Ruszkowski/USA TODAY)

Defense has been Illinois’ strength all season as the Illini have held opponents to an adjusted 93.1 points per 100 possessions (14th in the nation), but their anemic offense, especially their complete inability to shoot the ball, wiped away the advantage their defense gave them. In the non-conference portion of their schedule, Rayvonte Rice was able to get to the rim effectively against less athletic teams or catch high-major teams off guard with his deceptive ability to use his strength while driving to the basket. But by the time Big Ten play started, there was enough tape on Illinois for opponents to adjust. Teams started packing the paint as a result, and Rice, who had averaged 18.7 PPG before the team’s slump, scored five points per game fewer during the eight-game skid. Tracy Abrams, Joseph Bertrand, Jon Ekey, and Nnanna Egwu all failed to prove that they could be relied upon for consistent scoring too, so Groce decided to give his freshmen a shot. It seemed the best Illini fans could hope for was that Nunn and Hill would show signs of improvement by season’s end. Instead, the game came to them immediately, as the two young wings have combined for 19.8 PPG since becoming starters. Almost as importantly, Illinois’ defensive performance did not drop with the change in rotation. In the team’s last four games, Illinois has held its opponents to fewer than 0.83 points per possession (h/t John Gassaway). The results have been an improvement on offense to a point where they can once again rely on their defensive prowess to dictate the tempo of the games and turn their season around.

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Big Ten M5: 03.04.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on March 4th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Indiana has not gotten the type of offensive breakout season, or consistency, they would have liked from Will Sheehey in his senior outing. But he’s been coming around as of late and was especially effective in their big win against Iowa on Sunday when he dropped a career-high 30 points. In a week where the Hoosiers played three games, the senior wing averaged 18.7 PPG and 4.3 RPG which was good enough to earn him Player of the Week honors. The Hoosiers are making a late push to get on the right side of the bubble, and they’ll need Sheehey to continue to play well, along with Yogi Ferrell and Noah Vonleh, if they are to have any shot at the NCAA Tournament.
  2. Another team making a late season push is Illinois. Unlike the Hoosiers, the Illini are not looking to a senior as a catalyst, but instead are relying on a pair of freshmen. Kendrick Nunn, one of the two rising stars for Illinois, has added the ability to shoot the deep ball to the Illinois rotation — an area where they were sorely lacking. In the six games since he’s become a starter, Nunn has hit on 16 of his 30 attempted three-point shots (53.3 percent). And for a consecutive week, Nunn has won Rookie of the Week honors in the league for his performances that helped the Illini beat both Nebraska and Michigan State. Nunn’s ascendancy bodes well for John Groce, as the visible success of a Chicago Public School product could open up more recruiting pipelines between Illinois and the Windy City hoops scene.
  3. Speaking of John Groce and recruiting, an interesting story came out yesterday telling the story of how one of Michigan’s most improved player, Caris Levert, was originally hoping to join Groce at Illinois. Levert, an unheralded recruit in high school, was originally committed to Groce when he was the coach at Ohio University. After making it to the Sweet Sixteen, Groce then accepted the head coaching position at Illinois. Levert was told he would receive a phone call from the head coach personally about what the move meant about his commitment — that call never came. Levert ended up committing to Michigan and the rest is history. It’s an interesting recruiting story among Big Ten programs and Groce probably wishes he made that phone call now, especially since he’ll have to take on Levert and the Big Ten champion Wolverines tonight.
  4. Lately, Iowa hasn’t seem like the same team it was earlier in the year — a team thought to have an outside chance to make a Final Four. On Sunday, the Hawkeyes snapped a three-game losing streak when they pulled out a win against Purdue. While a win is a win, the game did not really boost confidence in the team as they blew a big halftime lead in the second half. Iowa is safely in the NCAA Tournament as of right now, but they’ll need to find some sort of defense, which has been nonexistent recently, if they are to get back to playing at the high level that made us all believers in this team earlier in the season.
  5. Finally, Michigan State lost consecutive games for the first time this season when they were beaten at home to Illinois on Saturday. Tom Izzo was visibly frustrated after the loss and expanded on it yesterday, “I’ll have a bit of chip on my shoulder from here on out”. There’s been some talk that we will never see a fully healthy Spartan squad with Keith Appling and Adreian Payne continuing to play with nagging injuries. But Tom Izzo has gotten to Final Fours with lesser teams, and if he is able to transfer the chip on his shoulder to his squad, it may put in them the urgency needed to make a run in the NCAA Tournament. Otherwise, this team might be labeled as one of the bigger disappointments in Spartan history relative to their national championship expectations in the preseason.
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Why Not Frank Kaminsky as Big Ten Player of the Year?

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on February 25th, 2014

As the saying goes, “basketball is a game of runs.” This season’s Wisconsin team is a prime example of that notion. The Badgers started the season with 16 straight wins, including impressive victories over Florida and Virginia. Then they hit a midseason lull to lose five of six games, dropping their conference record to a middling 4-5 by the start of February. After winning its last five games, Wisconsin appears to have righted the ship. Through it all, it has been seven-foot junior Frank Kaminsky who has remained consistently effective during the ups and downs. Lately, he’s also added “clutch performer” to his resume. On Saturday, the junior big man scored 20 points at Iowa, including two key baskets to build a lead and some clutch free throws to seal the game away. Kaminsky has not only led his team back to a placement in the top three of the standings, he’s also leading the league in terms of overall efficiency.

Frank Kaminsky is the most efficient player in the league. (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky is the most efficient player in the league. (Getty)

Back in November, fellow Big Ten microsite writer Brendan Brody wrote that Kaminsky could follow in the footsteps of former Badger Jared Berggren and other bigs in Bo Ryan’s system by taking a significant leap in production with his expanded role. Hopes were already high because of returning starters Traevon Jackson, Ben Brust, Josh Gasser, and Sam Dekker; but Kaminsky, a three-star prospect who had provided spot duty for two seasons in Madison, was regarded as the unknown commodity in the starting lineup. He had shown some indications that he was capable of taking on a bigger role, but his capabilities were regarded as suitable for a “pick-and-pop” forward most typical of Wisconsin’s big men. With the departures of Berggren and Mike Bruesewitz from last year’s team, there was also significant concern that Kaminsky would not be a reliable rebounding presence on the blocks. He’s done nothing but blown all of these misconceptions out of the water, exhibiting a developed footwork skill set that has allowed him to score either directly under the basket or create a layup from 10 feet away. When Bo Ryan needs a bucket now, he instructs his players to get the ball to Kaminsky on the blocks.

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Big Ten M5: 02.25.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 25th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Last week, I stated Terran Pettaway was probably not going to win Big Ten POTY because he plays for a team unlikely to make the NCAA Tournament and his efficiency numbers were considerably lower than other contenders like Nik Stauskas. Well that might be changing as Nebraska keeps winning and Pettaway keeps dropping 20+ points, like he has in his last three games. He’s impressed so much that BTN.com’s Player of the Year Tracker now has him ranked as the front-runner for the award. Pettaway will need to keep up the strong performances, since the award is mostly given to a player from a top-tier team. While Nebraska has been as impressive as any team in the last few weeks, they are at best a bubble team. So Pettaway will really need to separate himself if he is to make his case against other players.
  2. It seems like we may never see a fully healthy Michigan State. Tom Izzo stated on Monday he would continue to play Keith Appling throughout the regular season. Appling is recovering from a wrist injury and did not play particularly inspiring basketball at Michigan on Sunday — finishing with only six points and two assists in twenty-five minutes. The Spartans have been trading wins and losses for almost four weeks now and Izzo needs all the men who are able to play out on the court to challenge for top seeding in the NCAA Tournament. For Izzo’s sake, Appling will need to either mend while playing or learn to live with the pain in order to get to this team’s goal of a Final Four appearance.
  3. It’s always tough to see players go down with season-ending injuries, but it’s even tougher when it happens to a senior. This is exactly what happened to Purdue’s Sterling Carter when he tore his ACL in Sunday’s game at Nebraska. Carter transferred from Seattle University to finish his career playing in the bright lights of the Big Ten. And while his season was cut short, Carter did get to finish his career, and play over twenty games, at a level he was not recruited at coming out of high school. There have been debates about whether the graduate transfer rule is beneficial or harmful to the game on the whole. But one of the positives are players like Carter who get the experience of playing big time basketball after proving himself in the low major levels –even if it is short lived.
  4. After a dominating performance on Saturday, Nik Stauskas may be back to his dominating ways. That’s good news for Michigan, but bad news for the rest of the league. He put on a show against Michigan State, scoring 25 points, 21 of which came in the second half. If Stauskas has indeed awoken from his February slump, he may run away with both the Big Ten regular season championship and the Big Ten POTY. That’s an amazing jump in performance from last season when he was thought of simply as a shooter. In the beginning of the season, most pundits though it impossible that any Wolverine could replace Trey Burke. And while Stauskas can’t run a team like Burke, he has a chance to give Michigan a consecutive Final Four appearance and Big Ten POTY.
  5. If you wanted to tweet at your favorite Iowa player this week, well, you can forget it now. Fran McCaffery has instructed his players to shut down their twitter accounts for the remainder of the season after Zach McCabe reacted to some negative comments made to him on the social media platform. Coaches are free to manage their team as they see fit and if McCaffery believes shutting down Twitter will help his team’s performance, more power to him. But perhaps it’s not by coincidence that shutting down Twitter (or removing names on the back of jerseys, etc.) always occurs after a tough loss. No coach seems to ban Twitter after a win. This appears like a reactionary maneuver from a coach trying to find any edge he can as the season comes to a close.
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Weekend Preview in the Big Ten

Posted by Alex Moscoso & Brendan Brody on February 22nd, 2014

Typically, RTC Big Ten microwriters Alex Moscoso and Brendan Brody preview the weekend’s most important or interesting conference game. This week the problem is — and it is a good problem we might add — that all the games on this weekend’s slate have some level of significance. So we decided instead of focusing on just one to quickly preview and analyze each of the five weekend match-ups in this single post. Enjoy.

Wisconsin at Iowa (Saturday, 12:oo PM ET, ESPN2)

Fran McCaffery Was Not Happy About His Previous Ejection (AP)

Fran McCaffery Was Not Happy About His Previous Ejection (AP)

AM: This is one of the most consequential games this weekend as it pits the current third and fourth place teams against one another. If Wisconsin loses, the Badgers will likely be out of contention for a regular season championship as they’ll find themselves three games back of the Michigan-Michigan State winner with only five games remaining. In their previous meeting, Iowa came firing out of the gates and built an 11-point lead at half before blowing it as Fran McCaffery was ejected for an incensed outburst towards the officials. Look for Iowa to try to set the pace once again, but this time get players other than Roy Devyn Marble involved. It would also help to defend the three-point line better than they did at the Kohl Center, where Wisconsin shot a tidy 45.5 percent.

Minnesota at Ohio State (Saturday, 6:oo PM ET, BTN)

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Nebraska on the Bubble: Big Ten Schedule Both Helps and Hurts Huskers

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on February 20th, 2014

In Tuesday’s Morning Five, I stated matter-of-factly that it was unlikely Nebraska would make the NCAA Tournament. I based this off the fact that, despite their current three-game winning streak and impressive 6-6 record in the Big Ten, they already have 10 losses (including some bad ones) and six more games to go in one of the toughest leagues in America. But after reading CBSSports’ Gary Parrish article that further examined the Cornhuskers’ record, I think I may have been too quick to dismiss their hopes. The crux of Parrish’s article is that, despite the Cornhuskers’ high number of losses, Nebraska has as many quality wins as most bubble teams, and a majority of their losses are against elite competition. He points out that Tim Miles’ team has as many top-50 RPI wins (three) as some other surefire NCAA Tournament teams: Ohio State, Virginia, Louisville, Memphis, and Connecticut. In this post, I will illustrate Nebraska’s resume, analyze Parrish’s findings, and identify what may be the main point of contention working against the Cornhuskers on Selection Sunday.

The infographic below illustrates the makeup of Nebraska’s resume against teams grouped by RPI bins. Teams with an “(N)” next to their name represent a game played on a neutral court. Not shown are Nebraska’s four wins against teams with an RPI of #200 or more.

nebraska bid

From the illustration above, we see that Nebraska’s conference affiliation has been both advantageous and hurtful this season. Because the Cornhuskers are part of the Big Ten, they’ve had multiple chances to face elite competition. By the same token, Miles’ team has been able to upset a number of top-50 teams, but they’ve also stacked up a heavy number of losses against very good teams (the Huskers carry a 3-7 record against top-50 competition). By way of a comparison, all but one of the teams mentioned in Parrish’s article that also has three top-50 wins have four or less losses against the same group — Memphis has six losses against the top-50 but no losses outside that group.

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Big Ten M5: 02.18.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 18th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Tom Izzo deserves credit for his team’s success throughout all the injuries. Sparty is still atop the Big Ten standings and a legitimate threat to reach the Final Four despite — at times — losing the services of Keith Appling, Gary Harris, and Adreian Payne. Appling’s recent injury puts him in jeopardy of missing the remainder of the regular season and returning for the postseason. With Appling, Harris, and Payne most likely gone after this season, Izzo is no doubt thinking long-term. He has the most Final Four-ready team in years, and a national championship, not another regular season championship, is the prize.
  2. Indiana may have said goodbye to its NCAA Tournament prospects after its 82-64 loss at Purdue on Saturday. That loss was its third in a row from a slate of games which were thought to be one of the Hoosiers’ easiest stretches of the season. Now, they find themselves with a 4-8 conference record with upcoming games against Iowa, at Wisconsin, Ohio State, and at Michigan still in its schedule. Tom Crean has stated that his players need to block out “unneeded pressure”. Crean further explains that some players on his young team are dealing with adversity for the first time as they were mostly winners on their respective high school and prep school teams. That may be true, but it’s also true that what plagued them in December plagues them today: too many turnovers and inconsistency on offense (outside of transition).
  3. It’s high time we start grouping Terran Pettaway in with other elite Big Ten players. On Sunday, he led his team in minutes and points to register a huge win at Michigan State. Thanks to Pettaway, who earned co-Player of the Week honors, the Cornhuskers are now back to .500 in the conference. Pettaway’s efforts, which have also propelled him into being second in the league in scoring (17.7 points per game), beg the question: shouldn’t he be in contention for Big Ten Player of the Year? However, there are some issues working against him. First, he’s playing for a team that will most likely miss the NCAA Tournament. Second, he is not as efficient as other elite scorers in the league; he averages around 1 point per possession while other top scorers are usually around 1.2 or greater. Despite these facts, we should recognize and appreciate the impact he is having on his team.
  4. Another player who should be recognized for his unexpected impact is Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky. The junior forward chipped in 25 points in the Badgers’ Sunday win at Michigan, scoring most of his points in the second half, including a three-point dagger that all but put the game away. He was also named co-Player of the Week on Monday and has helped put the Badgers back into the conversation of Big Ten regular season champions, now that they are only two games back. Unlike Pettaway and the Cornhuskers, Kaminsky has an arsenal of other teammates who can step up and have big scoring nights of their own. However, Kaminsky’s improvement this season has given Bo Ryan the most potent offense of his coaching career.
  5. One of the players Kaminsky has to rely on is freshman sensation Nigel Hayes. The young big man scored 15 points and grabbed 4 rebounds in their win against Minnesota this week. Hayes has now won his fourth Freshman of the Week award, only trailing Indiana’s Noah Vonleh with seven.  Vonleh will most likely win the Freshman of the Year honors due to his absurd rebounding numbers, and he is also projected to be a better NBA prospect than Hayes. But since conference play, Hayes has stepped up his game and is averaging 10.4 points per game, not too far off of Vonleh’s 11.3 points per game mark. Regardless of whoever people consider the best, it’s nice to see the tradition of talented big men continue in the Big Ten.
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Georgetown’s Revenge Tour Will Make or Break Its Season

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on February 12th, 2014

The up-and-down nature of Georgetown’s season is enough to give people vertigo. Let’s recap. The Hoyas went into Big East play at 8-3 with a good, not great, non-conference resume. A month later, Georgetown would lose five straight conference games, dropping their overall record to 11-9 (3-6 Big East), clearly listing, and headed into a seemingly unwinnable match-up agasinst Big Ten leader and Final Four contender Michigan State. John Thompson III miraculously found a way to beat the Spartans a couple of Saturdays ago, and since then has led the Hoyas to wins in their next three games. Fast forwarding to today, the Hoyas are back to .500 in conference play and hanging around the “Last Four Out” line of the NCAA Tournament according to ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi. Their latest win, an 83-72 home victory against Providence on Monday, was the first step in a crucial streak of four games where they’ll need to come away with victories in order to seal a bid on Selection Sunday.

Trawick's Return is Huge for the Hoyas

Trawick’s Return is Huge for the Hoyas

The Hoyas are coming up on a crucial stretch of games which will make or break their season. These games are at St. John’s, at Seton Hall, Xavier and at Marquette. All four teams are middle-of-the pack conference foes and, it’s also probably worth mentioning, these are three of the four same teams that already defeated Georgetown in their January five-game skid. If the Hoyas want to prove to the selection committee that they have indeed turned a corner, they are going to need to win most of these games. The road to redemption began on Monday night in DC when Georgetown’s offense went off on Providence and the defense withstood an outstanding shooting night from Bryce Cotton, who scored 31 points on 14 shots. It was only last month that Georgetown had lost to the Friars for the first time since 2005. A second half run by the Friars marked the beginning of the Hoyas’ skid – which was further compounded by Joshua Smith’s academic issues becoming permanent and Jabril Trawick’s absence for a few games due to a broken jaw. But with Trawick now back and the big win over Providence boosting the Hoyas’ confidence, Georgetown will look to exact revenge at the same time as trying to save their season.

It can’t be overstated just how important these next two weeks are for JTIII’s team. The four rivals are in similar positions and are looking to distinguish themselves from the middle tier in the Big East. Georgetown’s offense has steadily improved throughout the last four games, and they’ve managed fewer than seven turnovers in their last three games. They’ve seemed to finally figure out the offense without Smith and will need to keep this cohesion going throughout this important stretch. Next up:  a surging St. John’s team that was also left for dead in January. The Big East drama is heating up and looks to continue simmering for the remainder of the regular season.

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Big Ten M5: 02.11.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 11th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. After losing five games in January, Ohio State has managed to right the ship this month and win its last three games with impressive wins at Wisconsin and at Iowa. Senior guard Aaron Craft has been leading the way and was named Big Ten Player of the Week on Monday after averaging 12.0 points, five assists, and 4.5 steals per game against Purdue and Iowa. Those numbers do not capture Craft’s most valuable attribute, of course — his lock-down defense. In the past three games, he helped lead the Buckeyes’ perimeter defense in holding Wisconsin, Iowa, and Purdue to a combined 11-of-50 from the three-point line (22 percent). The Buckeyes’ offense has been their season-long weakness, but as long as Craft gets near double-figures every game, Ohio State should be able to maintain their current winning trajectory.
  2. Wisconsin also had a big week as the Badgers managed to end their losing skid by winning at Illinois and then coming up with huge weekend win against Michigan State. It’s been an atypical season for the Badgers. They’re still on pace to make yet another an NCAA Tournament, but this season Wisconsin relies on its offense more than its defense, and Bo Ryan plays some of his freshmen substantial minutes. None of these first-year players have had a bigger impact than the big man from Toledo, Ohio, Nigel Hayes. He won his third Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor after chipping in 14 points in both games this week. Maybe more impressive is the fact that he ranks second in the league in field goal percentage (58.2%). This season may not look as promising as it did a month ago for Wisconsin, but with Hayes getting a ton of playing time this early in his career, he’ll pay dividends in the years to come.
  3. Continuing with the theme of breaking streaks, Illinois managed to end its eight-game losing streak against Penn State on Sunday. What may be the more lasting storyline was the emergence of the Illini’s freshmen guards, Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill, who combined to score 30 points. John Groce finally decided he had to switch things up and threw both freshmen into the starting lineup for the first time this season. The pair responded in kind and gave hope to a fan base that certainly needed it. Illinois is all but out of the NCAA Tournament picture at this point, but if his guards can continue to play well the rest of the season, it will set things up nicely for the program as early as next season when more talented transfers and recruits join the team.
  4. Tim Miles must be mostly pleased with the performance of his Cornhuskers after winning its first conference road game on Saturday against Northwestern. As he continues to build the program in Lincoln, he may owe a big thanks to his junior wingman Terran Pettaway, who is quickly becoming a household name around the Big Ten. Pettaway continues to rank in the top five in scoring and field goal percentage in the conference, but what is most impressive about the junior is his keen ability to affect the game even when things aren’t going his way. On Saturday, he kept the confidence to hit the game-winning shot despite a poor shooting performance (5-of-16) and committing five turnovers. If Pettaway can continue to play well, the Cornhuskers have a realistic chance of finishing the conference near .500, a major leap for the historically moribund basketball program.
  5. Win or lose, Minnesota is always fun to watch. A lot of it has to do with the Gophers’ style of play — a pressing defense and a hyperactive offense — but they also have entertaining players. The main draw might be Andre Hollins, but DeAndre Mathieu can also put up a show. He’s exciting because of the athleticism and motor he packs into his 5’9”, 165-pound frame. But he’s also vital to the success of the Golden Gophers. The split for Mathieu in a win compared to a loss are night and day (e.g., 57% vs 42% FG%). Mathieu seems to enjoy taking on the more important role and is comfortable taking big shots late in games.  He’ll need to have more good days then bad if Richard Pitino’s team wants to challenge for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
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