Fran McCaffery’s Temperament Could Cause Him Problems Someday

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 12th, 2015

Fran McCaffery is an excellent coach. That notion should be widely accepted given the job he’s done in bringing Iowa back from the disastrous Todd Lickliter era. In his fifth season at the helm, he has managed to elevate the Hawkeyes’ program from the Big Ten cellar to the upper tier in a state that isn’t exactly a hotbed of prep basketball talent. The 55-year old clearly knows how to develop players and build a program, but like everyone, he has some flaws. And McCaffery’s most visible flaw — his general temperament — was on full display during last weekend’s standoffish press conference following a 71-55 win over Maryland. When asked about Adam Woodbury‘s much-discussed eye poke of the Terps’ Melo Trimble (his third such incident in the prior two weeks), the head coach dismissed the reporter by asking for an “intelligent question.” When queried as to why the previous question wasn’t intelligent, he responded with a condescending, “because I said so.” In a vacuum, an ornery response from a coach in a press conference is no big deal. But in McCaffery’s case, last weekend’s incident is just the latest example in a pattern of poor behavior that one day may come back to haunt him.

Fran McCaffery Isn't Pleased With His Team's Play (AP)

Fran McCaffery’s temperament can only hurt, not help.  (AP)

Let’s further examine Sunday’s incident. For the third time this season, Woodbury did his best Three Stooges impersonation by poking Trimble’s eye. He had done the same thing to Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes and Frank Kaminsky in Iowa’s January 31 game against Wisconsin. Even if we give the junior center the benefit of the doubt and assume that all three incidents were accidents, the trend has now gone well past the point of inaction so that Woodbury must remedy the situation by altering how he uses his hands in a defensive stance. That much should be clear, and it seemed to be to everyone except Iowa’s head coach. On the contrary, McCaffery dismissed any question about it in kind, exhibiting himself as someone who is, at best, irrationally hostile to the media and, at worst, someone unconcerned with the well-being of opposing players. His reaction was an unnecessary gaffe, one that’s been skewered by national media and mocked on numerous blogs.

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Mike Lonergan Has GW in the Mix for an A-10 Title

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 8th, 2015

When someone says that a game in early February is a “must-win,” they’re almost certainly guilty of hyperbole. But George Washington’s overtime win over Dayton at the end of last week had the feeling of such a game. Coming into the night on a two-game losing streak, the Colonials were in danger of falling out of the bubble picture, but now they remain in the running for an at-large bid and perhaps an Atlantic 10 championship. The moment almost got away from them, though, as they let victory slip from their hands twice in the final seven minutes. First, GW allowed Jordan Sibert to send the game to overtime by giving him enough space to knock down a three. That was followed by a blown five-point overtime lead and unlikely win after Joe McDonald put back Kethan Savage’s blocked shot at the last second. It was an exciting game that now puts Mike Lonergan‘s Colonials within striking distance of a regular season A-10 championship — something his program hasn’t experienced in nine long years.

Mike Lonergan has the Colonials In contention for an A-10 championship (GW Hatchet / Jordan Emont)

Mike Lonergan has the Colonials in contention for an A-10 championship. (GW Hatchet/Jordan Emont)

The DC area native cut his teeth as an assistant at Maryland before becoming the head coach at Catholic University and later Vermont. George Washington hired him to return to the District in 2011 after dismissing Karl Hobbs following a stretch of disappointing seasons. During Lonergan’s four-season tenure in Foggy Bottom, his trajectory mirrors his previous stops. A 10-win opening season led to 13 victories the next, followed by 24 with an NCAA Tournament appearance — the school’s first since 2007 — last season. Lonergan has had to deal with a top-heavy Atlantic 10 this year — Davidson, Rhode Island, and UMass have joined Dayton and VCU among the top tier – and the loss of two critical seniors from last year’s team, Maurice Creek and Isaiah Armwood. But with one month left in the season, his team is once again closing in on 20 wins, sits just on the verge of the bubble, and is only one game behind the Rams (both VCU and Rhode Island) for first place in the conference. If George Washington can get past a bad Duquense team on Wednesday night, that will set up a Valentine’s Day match-up at home against a vulnerable VCU squad with first place on the line. Lonergan was able to get the better of Shaka Smart’s group last season at home, and hopes to do it again in pursuit of his first A-10 regular season championship.

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Big Ten M5: 02.05.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 6th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. On Wednesday night, Purdue got an important 60-58 win over Ohio State. Why was it important? Not only did it stretch the Boilermakers’ winning streak to four games, it also moved their conference record to 7-3, their best start since the 2007-08 season. If Purdue can win the rest of its home games (Nebraska, Rutgers, and Illinois), they’ll guarantee themselves at least 10 wins in conference play. To get serious consideration in March for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid, they’ll need to compensate for their two bad losses against Vanderbilt and Gardner-Webb. A win against the ranked Buckeyes goes a long way toward eliminating some of the stink on their resume.
  2. One factor that may have played into Ohio State’s loss was that sophomore forward Marc Loving was not on the court. The sophomore and second-leading scorer did not make the trip to West Lafayette, as he has been suspended indefinitely for disciplinary reasons. The specifics of his cause for suspension were not released by the school, but his absence threatens the Buckeyes’ pursuit for a protected seed in the NCAA Tournament. Loving was beginning to emerge as one of the the best shooters in the Big Ten, as evidenced by his 53.2% shooting from deep. But now that he’s on the sidelines, Ohio State will become even more of a one-man show, starring D’Angelo Russell, than it’s already been.
  3. Also on Wednesday, Maryland managed to fend off Penn State in College Park. While the Terrapins are still hovering near the top of the Big Ten standings, stud freshman Melo Trimble has hit a bit of a slump with only seven combined points in his last couple games. It’s lucky for Mark Turgeon that he has a senior leader like Dez Wells, who contributed 23 points and seven rebounds, to pick up the slack. He also managed to get the home crowd off its feet with this monster dunk. On Sunday, Maryland heads to Iowa City for a key game with the Hawkeyes. They’ll need Wells to continue to make big plays and for Trimble to wake up out of his slumber if they hope to notch their third conference road win.
  4. On Thursday, Iowa snapped its three-game losing streak with a 72-54 victory at Michigan. The Hawkeyes were able to take advantage of the shallow depth of the injury-ridden Wolverines and walked out of Ann Arbor with an important road win. This bodes well for Fran McCaffery’s group, as his team has a favorable schedule the rest of the way. It’s too early to predict that Iowa is over the hump, but a strong finish would certainly be a departure from what last season when the Hawkeyes imploded and exited the NCAA Tournament in the First Four. This year, the Hawkeyes could actually enter the postseason with some real momentum.
  5. After Indiana started off Big Ten play at 5-1, the Hoosiers have dropped three of their last four games and are coming off an embarrassing loss to Wisconsin. Alex Bozich from Inside the Hall takes a deep dive into the makeup of this up-and-down team with a player-by-player breakdown. Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon Jr., and Troy Williams lead the way when it comes to filling out the stat sheets, but given the fact Indiana has allowed over 1.2 points per possession in each of their last three losses, they may need Hanner Mosquera-Perea back from injury to provide some semblance of a defensive presence inside.
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Analyzing the Remaining Big Ten Schedule

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 3rd, 2015

Now that this Big Ten season is at its midpoint, it gives us a chance to gauge teams’ performances to date and analyze what’s to come. Besides a surprising second half hiccup in New Jersey, Wisconsin has been the dominant team in the league everyone expected. Ohio State, Indiana, and (surprisingly) Maryland are the consensus contenders for second place, and each could make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament if conditions are right. Nebraska, Penn State and Northwestern have had disappointing seasons. The rest of the league is in a slog to find an address on the right side of the bubble. But given uneven schedules, comparing teams by their record in conference play alone may hide the actual favorability of their schedules. Because of this — and the overall relative parity throughout the league — a good number of people in the media have been using “true” standings. This approach ranks teams by penalizing them for a home loss and rewarding them for a road win. Below, I’ve illustrated the true Big Ten standings and attached each team’s upcoming schedule and their predicted finish according to KenPom. By looking at the table, we can make some assumptions about what the second half of the Big Ten season has in store for us.

midseason big ten standings

Here are my three main takeaways from the table above:

  • Wisconsin should cruise to an outright regular season title. While I’ve previously commented on the overall parity of the league, I’m really talking about every team except for the Badgers. Wisconsin has been dominant — both nationally and within the Big Ten. Its sole loss to Rutgers was flukish given that it came while Frank Kaminsky and Traevon Jackson were sidelined (Jackson for the second half). Looking forward, it’s unlikely that another team will enter the Kohl Center this season and leave with a win, and three of their five remaining road games come against struggling teams like Nebraska, Penn State and Minnesota. With a two-game lead already in hand, the Badgers are headed to a regular season title and a possible #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

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Big Ten M5: 01.23.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 23rd, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. On Tuesday night, Iowa suffered an embarrassing 32-point loss at Wisconsin. While that certainly wasn’t the outcome the Hawkeyes were hoping for, it didn’t hurt their postseason aspirations in the grand scheme of things. However, an incident that occurred during the game has escalated into an off-court dispute between head coach Fran McCaffery and ESPN analyst Dan Dakich. The issue in question was whether Iowa center Adam Woodbury intentionally poked two different Wisconsin players in the eyes. Dakich felt his actions were intentional and called the Hawkeyes junior “cowardly” and “gutless” as a result. On his weekly radio show, McCaffery responded to Dakich’s accusation by saying that “It’s absolutely inexcusable that his network would allow him to say those things” and later demanded an apology. Dakich is known for being boisterous but he may have crossed the line with his harsh criticism here.
  2. On Wednesday night, Michigan State eked out a win at home against Penn State. The Spartans have been unusually mediocre this season and are right now headed for a relatively low seed in the NCAA Tournament — or worse yet, the bubble. A major issue has been the poor performance from their veteran backcourt of Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice. Despite being Tom Izzos’ top two scorers, they haven’t been aggressive of late and are shooting 45 percent and 39 percent from the field on the season, respectively. The frontcourt has been picking up the slack, but if history is any indication, the Spartans will need to have their guards play well to have any kind of late-season success.
  3. A battered Illinois team managed to fend off Purdue and get a much-needed win in Champaign on Wednesday night. Before the game the school announced that Aaron Cosby would be out for two weeks due to an eye injury he sustained in the Illini’s previous contest against Indiana. This meant that freshman Leron Black would get an opportunity to showcase the potential many saw in him at the beginning of the season. And boy did he ever. Black had a breakout night, registering his first career double-double (15 points and 13 rebounds) and hitting the dagger three to seal the game. If the Memphis native can turn his seemingly endless energy level into consistent production, the Illini will have yet another backcourt weapon at their disposal when they get back to full health.
  4. No team may be having a better week than Indiana. After getting an important road win at Illinois on Sunday, the Hoosiers backed it up with a statement win by blowing out Maryland in Assembly Hall on Thursday night. Currently, Mark Turgeon and Bo Ryan are the front-runners for B1G Coach of the Year, but Tom Crean should also be considered for the job he’s done this season. This program was thought to be on the decline — and the firing of its head coach imminent — after a turbulent offseason and dubious loss to Eastern Washington in November. But Crean has managed to keep his team together and now has the Hoosiers tied for first place in the conference standings.
  5. Finally, as we found out last weekend, Michigan’s Caris LeVert is done for the season because of a fractured foot. But last Saturday’s game against Northwestern may have also been Levert’s last game in a Michigan jersey given that the junior LeVert is projected to be a first-round pick. If he declares himself eligible for the NBA Draft in April, that would mean John Beilein has turned a once-unheralded recruit into a first round pick going on three years in a row (Trey Burke and Nik Stauskas are the others). That might be a nice thing to brag about, but all of the attrition from unexpected sources has to be frustrating on some level and possibly make it more difficult to get Michigan back into contention for Final Fours.
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After a Long Climb, Georgetown Once Again Atop the Big East

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on January 22nd, 2015

Monday night was it, “it” being the capstone moment of Georgetown’s slow rise to the Big East mountain top that began when the Florida Gulf Coast debacle happened and was followed by Otto Porter’s subsequent departure to the NBA. What made that night so special? The Hoyas hosted #4 Villanova – an original Big East member, longtime conference rival, and the unquestioned dominant team in the league – with first place in the conference standings at stake. Just two days before, Georgetown had fended off pesky Butler from giving the Hoyas their second home loss of the season (the first was to Kansas), avenging an earlier loss to the Bulldogs in the Battle 4 Atlantis. In Monday night’s dominant 20-point win over the Wildcats, Georgetown notched the program’s best victory in over three years and showed once and for all that Hoyas basketball is indeed back.

Students celebrate after Georgetown routed Villanova for first place in the Big East.

Students celebrate after Georgetown routed Villanova for first place in the Big East (USATSI).

After a successful 2012-13 regular season when Georgetown won a share of the Big East regular season title, head coach John Thompson III had to regroup with Porter leaving to become a lottery pick and it becoming clear that Greg Whittington would not remain a part of the program. To kickstart the rebuilding process, Thompson convinced Joshua Smith to transfer from UCLA and also inked a top-15 recruiting class full of talented players who are likely to stay within the program for several years. What’s been the result two years hence is that four of the five players among that group of freshmen play significant minutes for a team that is now evenly dependent on veterans and young players. Thompson has done a laudable job in meshing the roles between the two and has his team improving with each passing game.

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State of the Conference: Big Ten Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 20th, 2015

Tonight, the leader of the free world will address Congress in his annual State of the Union. The President will describe the condition of the United States and his agenda for the year to the bicameral legislative body and millions of Americans watching at home. This got me thinking. What would the equivalent from Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany sound like? Would he be happy with this season’s performance from the Big Ten? Is there any more conference expansion on the horizon? I decided to put on my speechwriter hat and give it a whirl. For the first time ever, a fictional Delany is ready to address millions of Big Ten fans across the country in his inaugural State of the Conference. Enjoy.

What Does Jim Delany's Latest Move Mean For The Big 12? (US Presswire)

Jim Delany has turned the Big Ten into a dominant conference in basketball for the long term. (US Presswire)

The transcript of Jim Delany’s fictional State of the Conference is below:

My fellow Big Ten fans, the state of the Big Ten is good. While good may be satisfactory for some, it falls short of the level of excellence this conference has come to expect. But I remain confident that, come Selection Sunday and the NCAA Tournament, the Big Ten will surprise many, and I would remind everyone that we have a team in Wisconsin that is still considered a top tier team capable of bringing home the Big Ten’s first national championship since 2000. Likewise, we also have a player who is on the short list for National Player of the Year in Frank Kaminsky. On the matter of Wisconsin, there’s been much talk about inequality in our conference. That there is one team above all, and the rest of the league is mediocre. But a little over a week ago, I saw this same squad lose to a team most expected to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten. Rutgers’ defeat of Wisconsin shows us that no game is a gimme. And as a result, we are getting high drama each and every week, which is generating some of the most exciting basketball in the country.

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Big Ten M5: 01.16.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 16th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. Given the Big Ten’s balance this season, it’s widely accepted that if a team can hold home court and win just a few road games, it will likely finish in the top third of the league. On Wednesday night, Illinois got its needed road win at Northwestern with a 72-67 victory. They were led by Kendrick Nunn (25 points) and Aaron Cobsy (19), each of whom gave their most impressive performances of the season. This is an especially encouraging sign for Cosby, who before this game had been nothing short of awful in the shooting department (18-of-74 in the last 10 games). With leading scorer Rayvonte Rice out with an injury until at least February, the Illini need one or more of their guards to produce in each and every game. If Nunn, Cosby and Malcolm Hill can become more consistent, this team can still be on the bubble when Rice gets back.
  2. In case there was any doubt about Frank Kaminsky’s impact after Wisconsin’s loss to Rutgers without him in the lineup, we were reminded of his greatness once again when he returned from concussion symptoms to lead the Badgers to a 70-55 win over Nebraska Thursday night. The senior center scored 22 points and grabbed five rebounds while providing an effective presence on defense. The Badgers will still be shorthanded for several more weeks while point guard Traevon Jackson heals from a foot injury, but Bronson Koenig was able to slide into Jackson’s spot effectively with 11 points against the Cornhuskers. As long as Wisconsin has Kaminsky in the lineup, the Badgers should have no serious challenger for the Big Ten championship.
  3. The Wooden Award Midseason list was released on Wednesday, and four players from the Big Ten made the cut: Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell and Maryland’s Melo Trimble. Three of the four players were expected to be national names in the preseason, but the freshman Trimble’s inclusion highlights just how integral the dynamic point guard has been to the Terrapins’ success. The snubs include the Big Ten’s two leading scorers: Penn State’s D.J. Newbill and Nebraska’s Terran Pettaway. Both players were likely hurt because of their teams’ disappointing play this season, underscoring how team success ultimately factors into decisions about individual awards. It’s also why the Big Ten’s best chance to win the Wooden Award lies with Kaminsky as he leads the Badgers to a possible conference and National Championship.
  4. One of the biggest surprises of the season has been Maryland’s impressive play leading to a 16-2 record and the an early lead with Wisconsin at 4-1 in the conference standings. Like all Mark Turgeon-coached teams, the Terps’ strength lies in their defense (19th in the nation). Not nearly talked about enough, though, has been Maryland’s rebounding performance during conference play. It made a big statement by outrebounding Michigan State two weeks ago, a program that prides itself in how hard it gets after the boards. The secret has been getting players like Jake Layman to commit to rebounding, regardless of position. Thus far, the Terps have won the rebounding battle in three of their first five conference games and all three ended in wins. They’ll have to keep it up this weekend as they once again face a Spartans team that will be looking to redeem themselves.
  5. Finally, Joe Lunardi updated his brackets on ESPN.com yesterday. According to his projections, the Big Ten has six teams currently in the field: Wisconsin (#2 seed), Maryland (#3), Iowa (#8), Michigan State (#8), Ohio State (#8), and Indiana (#9). This would land the conference fourth in bids, with the ACC, Big 12, and Big East each getting more. Given the Big Ten’s lackluster performance in the non-conference schedule and the likelihood that they will continue to beat up on one another, things are unlikely to change much in this regard by Selection Sunday. Bummer.
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Minnesota Finds Itself in the Big Ten Cellar

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 15th, 2015

Minnesota is in a bind. After a strong 11-2 showing in the non-conference schedule — with losses to only Louisville and St. John’s – the Gophers are now 0-5 in conference play after losing to Iowa on Tuesday night. In case you missed it, Minnesota came back from a 17-point deficit in the second half only to lose when DeAndre Mathieu’s game-tying layup came a tenth of a second too late. Now more than a quarter of the way through conference play, Minnesota is one of only two Big Ten teams (Penn State is the other) without a conference win; even lowly Rutgers already has two. To be fair, the rough start can partially be explained by an unfortunate schedule where three of the Gophers’ first four Big Ten games came on the road. This week’s home game against Iowa, however, marked the beginning of a seven-game series that includes five home games. Their hope was to start making up some of that lost ground during the friendly part of their schedule. That will get tougher now, as Minnesota’s offense has proved inefficient and fixing its scoring woes will need to be addressed immediately to find any hope left.

Despite not getting much production from leading scorer Andre Hollins, Minnesota has made it to the Final 8 of the NIT. (AP)

Minnesota needs the elite version of Andre Hollins to show up — and soon — if they want to turn their season around. (AP)

In Tuesday night’s game, Minnesota’s offense was a tale of two halves. In the first session, the Gophers were unable to find any rhythm and only managed to shoot 30 percent from the field. In the second half, however, they surged back by shooting over 62 percent from the field and putting together a 29-9 run that just fell short. But does a successful 20 minutes mean that the offense has started to click? The second-half outpouring was driven by two players – Nate Mason and Carlos Morris (37 points combined) — both of whom caught fire rather than the offense running any great sets. A major reason for the team’s offensive struggles has been inconsistency from their veteran leaders. Andre Hollins is not having an all-Big Ten senior season. He chipped in only seven points against Iowa and was a non-factor for the majority of the game. Mathieu has also been unreliable, witnessed by the fact that he went scoreless against Michigan State and only managed four points against Maryland. This duo’s scoring average has dropped by a combined 3.5 PPG from last season, and this decline in production and inconsistency from their veterans has severely and negatively impacted Minnesota’s offense. Richard Pitino, to his credit, is trying just about anything to fix the problem. He removed Morris from the starting lineup against Iowa and he responded by leading all scorers (20 points) in his first game as the sixth man. But time has run out for experimentation — if this offense can’t click during the next three weeks that are mostly at home, the Gophers will be permanently stuck in the Big Ten cellar. That’s something no one saw coming as recently as two short weeks ago.

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Big Ten M5: 01.09.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 9th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. On Wednesday night, two conference unbeatens met as Purdue went to the Kohl Center to battle Wisconsin, with the Boilermakers falling just short in a seven-point loss. Despite the defeat, Purdue took some positives from the game, such as their effort in outrebounding the Badgers by five. Matt Painter can take some level of pride as his team came close to upsetting a national title contender on the road, something not many figured it was capable of doing this season. The Boilermakers’ impressive 2-1 start to conference play means that their hopes of returning to the NCAA Tournament is within reach, but they shouldn’t get complacent because they have another tough match-up on Saturday hosting Maryland.
  2. It had been a rough week for Illinois going into Wednesday night’s game against #9 Maryland. The Illini were coming off an 0-2 start in conference play and had just lost their leading scorer and rebounder, Rayvonte Rice, to an injury for at least three weeks. So it’s only natural — given the way that Big Ten play has made so little sense this season — that they shock everyone with a 64-57 victory over the Terps. The Illini were down early but blew up late with a one-man show from Malcolm Hill taking over the game (Hill scored 18 of his 28 points in the second half). It was Illinois’ defense, though, that carried the day in holding Maryland to 36.5 percent shooting and limiting super frosh Melo Trimble to only three free throw attempts (five fewer than his season average). That defense is going to have to continue its newfound effectiveness for the Illini to stay afloat until their senior leader returns.
  3. After last night’s 75-61 defeat of Iowa at the hands of a can’t-miss Michigan State squad, Wisconsin remains the only undefeated team in conference play. This game was a tale of two halves, as the Spartans went into halftime down by 11 points but came surging back with a 25-9 run after the break. The difference was Michigan State’s perimeter game, in which the Spartans made 12 three-pointers and shot at a 70 percent clip — Travis Trice, in particular, was 7-of-8 from deep. This now makes it two blowout wins in a row for the Spartans, as they are starting to look more like the Tom Izzo teams we’re accustomed to seeing.
  4. Indiana will prepare for an important game in Bloomington hosting Ohio State this weekend, as a win over a ranked opponent will mitigate some of the effects from the drubbing Michigan State gave them. Given the Hoosiers’ up-and-down season to go along with the preseason off-court issues, chatter about Tom Crean‘s status on the hot seat has not subsided much. But The Crimson Quarry blog wrote an article using Nebraska football as an example to explain why removing Indiana’s head coach of six years may not be a wise decision. This could be sage advice, as we see every year that it is becoming more difficult to lure desirable coaches from comfortable situations. Look no further than the examples of Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens consistently spurning every college offer that was put in front of them over the past few years.
  5. Finally, the season premiere of The Journey will be on the BTN at 10:30 PM ET after this weekend’s games. If you follow this site, you most likely are already familiar with the program, but in case you’re not, it’s definitely worth watching or recording. It is as well-produced of a series as any other program on television and it takes you deep into off-court storylines of the coaches and players we watch every week. It is must-watch TV every Sunday night.
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Steve Wojciechowski Quietly Rebuilding Marquette With Young Talent

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 7th, 2015

The path to a head coaching position at a high major university is not a beaten one; many of today’s coaches ascended different ladders to get to their current positions. Some coaches got there by taking little-known schools to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament; others took an open position at the same school when their boss moved on; while still others first served as high-profile assistants to established coaches in more prestigious programs. Marquette’s first-year head coach, Steve Wojciechowski, falls into the latter category with a pedigree few others can boast. After a successful four-year playing career at Duke, he spent 15 years apprenticing for one of the best to ever coach the sport, Mike Krzyzewski. But despite the unimpeachable regard everyone holds for his former coach and mentor, success at the highest levels has not been guaranteed for Krzyzewski’s acolytes. Now that Wojciechowski is the leader of one of the most tradition-rich programs in the country, he’s hoping to start a tradition of his own in Milwaukee. On Tuesday night in Washington, DC, he came very close to getting the first truly big win of his young career when Marquette battled the Hoyas to a tight six-point loss.

Steve Wojciechowski's first job as a head coach is to rebuild a proud Marquette program.

Steve Wojciechowski’s first job as a head coach is to rebuild a proud Marquette program (Gary Porter).

When the 38-year old accepted the Marquette job last spring, the program was not in the same shape as it had been when it made eight straight NCAA Tournaments from 2006-13. After a disappointing 17-15 season, former head coach Buzz Williams downgraded to Virginia Tech because of the uncertainty of the athletic director’s position (currently being filled by interim AD, Bill Cords), and a general concern about the new Big East’s visibility in moving from ESPN to Fox Sports 1 as its primary television carrier. Another factor in his departure may have been the stark realization that his current roster simply was not all that competitive. After Shaka Smart and Cuonzo Martin passed on the Marquette job, this opened the door for Wojciechowski to become a first-time head coach at a respected basketball program with an opportunity to rebuild it in his own image.

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John Groce’s January Drearier Than Usual With Rice Injury

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 6th, 2015

It appears safe to say that January may not be John Groce’s favorite month. In the two and a half seasons he’s spent as the head coach at Illinois, the 43-year old Indiana native has gone 3-13 in the first month of the year, including Saturday’s loss to Ohio State. Things will not get any easier for him in coming weeks as news was released today that his leading scorer, Rayvonte Rice, will be sidelined for five to six weeks with a broken hand that he sustained during Monday’s practice. This is a devastating blow to Groce and his already-struggling offense as the Illini now have to slog through much of the rest of Big Ten play without their best offensive player.

John Groce's Illinois faces a pivotal game against Indiana to kick off the conference season.

John Groce faces his most difficult challenge yet with Rice out for the remainder of Big Ten play.

Rice’s injury may turn out to be the final wave that capsizes the boat on the Illini’s unfortunate and disappointing season. While a quick look at their resume may not visibly show a sinking team, this squad has not lived up to preseason expectations. With the introduction of two sharpshooting transfers in Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby and an additional year of development for the sophomore duo of Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill, this season’s Illini were supposed to have resolved last season’s offensive inadequacies. Things initially went according to plan early, but Starks and Cosby have gone cold from the field since December (a combined 31 percent from the field in the last eight games), and Nunn, who started the season injured, has never returned to the same level of play he showed at the end of last season. Hill may be the only player who has lived up to his expected billing, but he too has managed to disappear in a few games.

The only constant for Illinois had been Rice, and now they are without their rock. The Illini will miss more than his scoring, as the senior guard provides contributions all over the court — 6.9 RPG, 1.8 SPG, and 48.3% 3FG — but perhaps the most telling statistic that shows his impact is the gulf between his Player Efficiency Rating (31.9) and the next best player, Hill’s (22.5). Now, midway through a trying season, Groce will need to reinvent his roster with the same players who have disappointed him all season. In order to salvage something out of it, someone will have to emerge in the next six weeks to help mitigate the loss of Rice. Otherwise, this winter of Illini discontent will last a lot longer than just January in Champaign.

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