Big Ten Sophomore Spotlight: Indiana’s Troy Williams

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 19th, 2014

Many sophomores in the Big Ten have a significantly greater role this season than they did as freshmen. That is to be expected, of course, as the second year is often when players make their biggest strides in development. Some highly-recruited guys, however, continue to disappoint, while others who may not have been so highly regarded have by now become viable contributors for their teams. This series of posts is meant to check in on a few of the different sophomores in the league to determine whether they’ve improved in their first year-plus and what it means for their teams going forward. Next up in the series is Indiana forward Troy Williams. 

Troy Williams has played well after returning from a two-game suspension at the beginning of the season. (Chris Howell/Herald Times)

Troy Williams has played well after returning from a two-game suspension at the beginning of the season. (Chris Howell/Herald Times)

  • 2013-14: 7.3 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 0.8 SPG, 50.9% FG, 67.5 % FT, 21.5 MPG, 19.4% Usage, 100.1 Offensive Rating
  • 2014-15:  12.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 57.6 % FG, 72.4 % FT, 23.9 MPG, 23.3% Usage, 119.0 Offensive Rating

Williams really hasn’t been mentioned much since his suspension for the first two games of the season along with fellow sophomore Stanford Robinson. As a result, his improved play has gone mostly unnoticed due to the hype surrounding freshmen James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson. His numbers are up across the board, though, and he’s been especially effective as this year’s team incorporates a good deal of their transition offense without the scourge of last season’s turnovers. Williams has also been really consistent, reaching double-figure scoring in all eight of his games and pulling down four rebounds or more in every game but one (the Hoosiers’ Jimmy V Classic loss to Louisville). He’s also cut the long jumpers out of his game in favor of more shots at the rim after making only 20.7 percent of his three-point attempts last season. This is the root cause of his significant jump in field goal percentage. He’s still flying around and making a lot of plays based on his athleticism, but this season he is doing so in a much more efficient manner.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Sorting Through the Big Ten’s Murky Middle

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 17th, 2014

There have been 142 non-conference games involving Big Ten teams thus far, and yet it can be reasonably argued that we really don’t know much more than we did before the games tipped off on November 14. What we do know is that Wisconsin is still the clear-cut favorite and Rutgers will probably struggle to stay out of the league basement. That means that the other 12 teams are still clustered together into a large pack. Some have bigger wins than others; some have better offenses than others; while some have a marquee player who can get hot and carry them for a while. This exercise is meant to rank those other teams based on a number of different categories to see which is performing as the best and worst of the bunch right now . I’m no math major, so I simply took a look at twelve key categories and ranked each team accordingly. Some are subjective, some are objective, and it’s by no means perfect. But the categories on which I ranked each team are as follows:

Denzel Valentine is leading an efficient Michigan State offense in scoring so far. (Getty)

Denzel Valentine is leading an efficient Michigan State offense in scoring so far. (Getty)

  • Best Win
  • Worst Loss
  • Point Differential in home games against teams ranked #150 or above
  • Eye Test
  • Schedule Strength
  • Best Player
  • Offensive Efficiency
  • Defensive Efficiency
  • Assist Rate
  • Turnovers
  • Rebounding
  • Three Point Shooting

After crunching the numbers, here are the results.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten M5: 12.17.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 17th, 2014

 

morning5_bigten

  1. Michigan has struggled more than people thought coming off of a National Championship game appearance and an Elite Eight run in the last two seasons. One of the reasons for this season’s struggles has been the loss of key inside players Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford. “Morford,” as the duo was nicknamed throughout Big Ten telecasts a year ago may have not been flashy, but they were consistent and did a good job defensively down low. The season is not a lost one yet for the Wolverines, but things will have to get much better on the defensive end of the floor with freshmen Marc Donnal and Ricky Doyle for this unit to even sniff the postseason success they have had recently.
  2. Michigan State plays four games in the next nine days, and they will look to avoid falling prey to an Eastern Michigan team that knocked off state-rival Michigan recently. How the Spartans attack Eastern’s 2-3 zone is just one of the interesting subplots to monitor in the coming days for Sparty. Freshman Javon Bess should make his debut tonight, which will give Tom Izzo some different looks as far as how he can set his rotation.
  3. Ohio State will get tested Saturday when they play North Carolina in Chicago. They have to play North Carolina A&T first on Wednesday, but playing on a neutral floor will be the last real test the team gets in non-conference play against a quality opponent. It will be worth noting whether the Buckeyes can handle a big team that makes its living on the offensive glass, especially since Marcus Paige has been struggling to shoot the ball. Amir Williams and Trey McDonald will have to have good days on the boards for Ohio State to prevail.
  4. Illinois already has more non-conference losses than they did last season, and Saturday’s loss to Oregon at the United Center in Chicago wasn’t exactly their best performance. Should Illini fans really be worried that this team might be destined for another NIT berth? Some disturbing trends from the loss to the Ducks were the fact that Rayvonte Rice had to resort to carrying the offense like he did for a good chunk of 2013-14, and the fact that Oregon was able to score in the paint seemingly at will. Losses to Villanova and Miami (Florida) weren’t bad losses from a resume perspective, but there were signs in those losses as well that this team might struggle later on. Illinois may need quite a few conference wins against Big Ten heavyweights to make the field of 68 for the second time in John Groce‘s tenure.
  5. Joe Lunardi hasn’t released anything yet, but Jerry Palm of CBS has seven Big Ten teams currently in his NCAA Tournament field. One surprise would have to be Penn State coming in as a number ten seed. Despite their 10-1 record, the Nittany Lions only win against a team projected to be in the field was against George Washington. It’s also worth noting that Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, and Purdue were left out of the field at this time. This saga will be an ongoing one all season, with the national perception of the league not nearly being as strong as it has been in recent seasons. The wins that would have carried more weight in the last couple of years might not mean as much as 2014 turns to 2015.
Share this story

How Can Iowa Fix Its Offensive Problems? A Few Ideas…

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 16th, 2014

Iowa has gotten off to an 8-3 start this season, with what should be an important road win over North Carolina already on its resume. The Hawkeyes also don’t have any bad losses (unless Syracuse ends up faltering in the ACC), using their depth and size to bully the teams that they should beat — winning those games by an average of 25.9 points. While last year’s bugaboo, the defense, has improved significantly, the offense has faltered, going from the fifth best offensive efficiency nationally to 64th. If it’s not one thing; it’s another — that might be the mantra around Iowa City this season. What has caused Iowa’s offensive problems this season, and what can the team do to fix them?

Iowa (Photo Credit: AP)

Iowa Has Traded Better Defense for Worse Offense This Season (Photo Credit: AP)

The Hawkeyes have worse offensive numbers pretty much across the board this season. Losing go-to scorer Roy Devyn Marble has hurt considerably, but the loss of Melsahn Basabe and his 11.7 percent offensive rebounding rate hasn’t helped. Iowa is playing at a slower tempo (two fewer possessions per game), but it’s also taking more threes (25 percent vs. 21 percent). They also have a tendency to settle for long twos, leading to fewer free throw attempts and a drop in effective field goal percentage from 51.2 to 47.0 percent this year. Aaron White is still doing Aaron White things, meaning he gets to the line and scores in transition; and Gabriel Olaseni is also still putting up numbers consistent with his production from last season. But Mike Gesell, Jarrod Uthoff, Adam Woodbury and Josh Oglesby have all seen their offensive ratings take a dip without a corresponding increase in usage rates. Losing Marble has obviously caused a strain across the board, as he not only took a high volume of shots but could also create for himself when things got tough.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten Sophomore Spotlight: Illinois’ Malcolm Hill

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 11th, 2014

Many sophomores in the Big Ten have a significantly greater role this season than they did as freshmen. That is to be expected, of course, as the second year is often when players make their biggest strides in development. Some highly-recruited guys, however, continue to disappoint, while others who may not have been so highly regarded have by now become viable contributors for their teams. This series of posts is meant to check in on a few of the different sophomores in the league to determine whether they’ve improved in their first year-plus and what it means for their teams going forward. First, here’s a look at Illinois sophomore Malcolm Hill.

Malcolm Hill has shined in an expanded role for Illinois this season.(Mark Jones, Illinois Athletics)

Malcolm Hill has shined in an expanded role for Illinois this season.(Mark Jones, Illinois Athletics)

  • 2013-14: 4.4 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 38.3% FG, 34.1% 3FG, 77.0% FT, 14.1 MPG, 19.8% usage, 99.4 Offensive Rating
  • 2014-15: 14.6 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 54.8% FG, 43.8$ 3FG, 71.1% FT, 25.4 MPG, 26.3% usage, 120.1 Offensive Rating

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Anonymous Nate Mason Fitting in Nicely at Minnesota

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 11th, 2014

After winning the NIT last year, Minnesota‘s fortunes this season were widely believed to be keyed by their veterans. Seniors Andre Hollins, Deandre Mathieu, Maurice Walker and Elliott Eliason all played large roles in last season’s transition from Tubby Smith to Richard Pitino’s NIT championship squad. They are in fact doing so this season, with Hollins leading the team in scoring, Walker leading the team in rebounds and blocks, and Mathieu leading the team in assists. But it has also been freshman Nate Mason who has made his presence felt as the first guard off the bench. His importance has been necessary with the loss of Daquien McNeil to his ongoing legal issues, and Mason has shined with all of the extra responsibility.

Nate Mason (right) has been a key cog for Minnesota in the early season so far. (Kathy Willens, AP)

Nate Mason (right) has been a key cog for Minnesota in the early season so far. (Kathy Willens, AP)

On Monday night, the Gophers forced North Dakota into a whopping 25 turnovers (33.8 percent of their possessions). Most of the damage was done with their pressure defense, with Mason serving as the catalyst with six steals. Mason also ended the game with eight assists, which along with his steals output were career bests for the first-year player. On Wednesday night, the Gophers forced Southern into another 20 miscues, logging 11 of those in the form of steals. Mason has been excellent in Pitino’s pressure style, showing the athleticism necessary to recover when other teams beat the press. The precocious freshman is averaging 9.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.7 steals per game, while hitting 46.7 percent of his threes. This comes from a player who was ranked only 135th in his class, according to 24/7 sports composite rankings.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten M5: 12.10.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 10th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Michigan did it again Tuesday night, as the Wolverines once again fell victim to an unheralded foe at home. Eastern Michigan knocked off John Beilein’s team, 45-42, and offensive woes were the culprit in this one after issues on the defensive end caused the loss to NJIT on Saturday. Michigan shot 4-of-21 from the three-point line against EMU’s zone, and put up a pedestrian 0.70 points per possession as a result. They also turned the ball over 13 times, and now, after notching good wins against Oregon and Syracuse, Michigans has two pretty bad losses on its resume that could burn it come NCAA Tournament time.
  2. Speaking of tournaments, it was announced earlier this week that the Big Ten will hold its conference tournament in New York City’s Madison Square Garden in 2018. After firmly planting its flag on the East Coast with the additions of Maryland and Rutgers this season, the league’s new foothold along the coast got much stronger with plans to hold its postseason showcase at the Mecca of college basketball. One interesting note about how things will play out is that the tourney will be held a week early to accommodate a pre-existing agreement that MSG has with the Big East. That means conference play will need to start a week earlier during the 2017-18 season in order to have the postseason tournament a week before the rest of the other power conferences.
  3. Want to find a holiday gift for the Michigan hater in your life? Look no further than the NJIT bookstore. Management of the retail outlet says that the bookstore has been “flooded” with calls from fans of Michigan State, Ohio State, and Indiana looking for some NJIT gear to poke fun at the Michigan fans in their lives. “Typically on a Monday morning we’ll come in and have four or five orders, if that many, and this Monday we had 90,” said manager Pete Maranzano. No word yet on what will happen at the Eastern Michigan bookstore on Wednesday morning.
  4. Purdue made a lineup change on Monday night by putting freshmen Isaac Haas and PJ Thompson in the starting five in place of AJ Hammons and Kendall Stephens. The move seemed to work well, as both Hammons and Stephens had productive games with the change. Hammons put up a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds, while Stephens also produced 13 points from the bench. It remains to be seen whether head coach Matt Painter will stick with that lineup, but given Purdue’s depth, tweaking the lineup to get more out of his players remains an option should he choose to tinker for right combinations.
  5. Minnesota is down to just nine scholarship players after freshman forward Josh Martin decided to leave the program, as the athletic freshman struggled to earn minutes behind Joey King and Charles Buggs at the power forward spot. Martin was only averaging 5.4 MPG through seven games, contributing 1.3 PPG and 1.0 RPG in his little time on the floor. As Minnesota presses more than it did last season, the loss of Martin could harm its depth should King and Buggs get into foul trouble. The team has to hope that freshman Gaston Diedhiou is cleared to return in January after experiencing some problems gaining admission to the school.
Share this story

Big Ten/ACC Challenge: What Did We Learn?

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 5th, 2014

In the aftermath of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, we might have expected to learn a great deal about Big Ten teams as they matched up against foes that were generally their peers. In the big picture, however, what that means to the Big Ten race remains a mystery. Wisconsin appears to be a notch or two above everyone else despite losing to Duke. Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State each has its fair share of issues. There are seven or eight other teams that have decent chances to become NCAA Tournament teams. As we head into the slowdown of finals and the Christmas holiday season, here’s a brief snapshot of one takeaway per squad after their Challenge contests.

Ahmad Starks had a horrible shooting night against Miami. (Stephen Haas, Lee News Service)

Ahmad Starks had a horrible shooting night against Miami. (Stephen Haas, Lee News Service)

  • Illinois: Taking 30 three-pointers probably isn’t a good idea for this team. Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby won’t combine to shoot 15.4 percent very often, but Nnanna Egwu shooting three bombs by himself probably isn’t a good idea for future success.
  • Indiana: Emmitt Holt has been a borderline revelation, leading the team in scoring and giving Tom Crean another solid freshman to rely upon. Having only nine turnovers is something the Hoosiers should try to bottle for use all season.
  • Iowa: Telling Mike Gesell that his former AAU teammate Marcus Paige is on the other team every single game might just get him to play like a First Team All-B1G selection.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten M5: 12.03.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 3rd, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. It looks like Michigan State will get a needed boost in terms of depth for their game against Notre Dame tonight. That’s because sophomore guard Alvin Ellis III will likely be back from the ankle injury that has sidelined him for the last six games. Ellis wasn’t a huge contributor last season, but he gives the Spartans some necessary backcourt depth as they play a pretty good Notre Dame squad in South Bend. This will give Tom Izzo more options defensively to try to stop Notre Dame senior guard Jerian Grant, who ranks among the top 15 players in America in Offensive Rating (147.9).
  2. Maryland is still trying to figure out its rotation in the wake of losing Dez Wells to a broken wrist. The Terps have played several different lineups, depending on the opponent, so players like Jon Graham have had to stay ready depending on the situation. Graham could be a key piece against Virginia tonight, however, as Mark Turgeon comes up with a strategy to defend forwards Anthony Gill and Darion Atkins. Graham had a nice game as a starter against Iowa State, playing great defense against Cyclones star Georges Niang (10 points on 4-of-14 shooting). It will be interesting to see if he can have the same impact against the Terps’ former ACC rival this evening.
  3. Iowa has a huge chance to get a win that will look awfully nice come March should it knock off North Carolina in Chapel Hill tonight. The Hawkeyes need to limit their turnovers against an athletic and deep squad, and they have to hold their own on the inside against the Tar Heels’ prodigious size. After missing out on a couple of good opportunities in New York when they lost to Texas and Syracuse, the Hawkeyes need a big win before heading into conference play. This one is also interesting because of the individual match-up between former AAU teammates Marcus Paige and Mike Gesell.
  4. National Player of the Year candidates Frank Kaminsky and Jahlil Okafor are the headliners for the Wisconsin vs. Duke clash tonight, but Duke has a number of other weapons that the Badgers need to shut down if they want to beat another elite opponent. The Blue Devils’ entire starting five has been very impressive thus far, so taking Okafor’s offense away will likely not be enough to get the home win. The match-up in the backcourt between veterans Traveon Jackson and Josh Gasser against Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook will also be vitally important in this early season blockbuster game.
  5. Purdue has gotten off to a great 6-1 start keyed by newcomers Jon Octeus, Vince Edwards, and Isaac Haas, but the efforts of junior captain Rapheal Davis have been just as important. Davis was especially clutch in the last two games Purdue played in the Maui Invitational, which he described as ” everything we put in this summer, it showed in the end.” What he meant with that statement was that Purdue fought off a disappointing opening round loss to Kansas State by bouncing back to win its last two games against Missouri and BYU. That positive play continued last night against North Carolina State, as the Boilermakers beat the Wolfpack, 66-61. Davis was held to just three points in that one, but he notched a team-high six assists continuing to provide just what Purdue needs to win games.
Share this story

Tonight’s ACC/Big Ten Feature: Previewing Ohio State vs. Louisville

Posted by Brendan Brody and Brett Thompson on December 2nd, 2014

As the ACC and the Big Ten teams get together on the hardwood this week, the ACC and Big Ten microsites (Brendan Brody and Brett Thompson, specifically) have also decided to team up to break down some of the key questions for a few of the games. What follows is a look at tonight’s featured battle between two power programs: the Buckeyes and the Cardinals.

Brendan Brody: Louisville’s defensive numbers have been absurd this season, but Ohio State brings in eight rotation players who are currently shooting over 50 percent from the floor. Why will Louisville’s defense shut down these Buckeyes?

Brett Thompson: Despite the strong play of Louisville’s defense thus far, Rick Pitino is concerned with how well Ohio State has shot the ball on the offensive end (63.5% eFG). Look for the Cards to implement several zone looks along with their patented pressure to confuse the Buckeyes, but if Ohio State continues to knock down threes at a superb 41.8 percent clip, Louisville will be forced to man up on the shooters. How have the Buckeyes been so efficient offensively this season, and will that continue against a Louisville defense that ranks first in defensive efficiency nationally?

Shannon Scott is leading the Big Ten in assists, but will be tested by Louisville's pressure. (AP)

Shannon Scott is leading the Big Ten in assists, but he will be tested by Louisville’s pressure. (AP)

BB: It begins and ends with the play of Shannon Scott. And it’s not just the fact that he’s averaging an ungodly 10.4 assists per game, but it’s also that he’s been magnificent at getting everyone quality looks. The team is shooting such a high percentage because Scott is putting everyone in great position to make shots well within their respective comfort zones. If Scott can handle the Louisville pressure well enough to avoid turning the ball over excessively, Ohio State can make the Cardinals pay for it in the half-court. On the other end of the floor, the Buckeyes don’t really have anyone to match up with the Cardinals’ Montrezl Harrell, but the Louisville perimeter players (Chris Jones, Terry Rozier and Wayne Blackshear) have struggled shooting the ball this season. Which of these three is most likely to break out and help Harrell score?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Battle of Unbeatens: Key Questions in Illinois vs. Miami

Posted by Brendan Brody and Lathan Wells on December 2nd, 2014

As the ACC and the Big Ten teams get together on the hardwood this week, the ACC and Big Ten microsites (Brendan Brody and Lathan Wells, specifically) have also decided to team up to break down some of the key questions for a few of the games. What follows is a look at tonight’s Top 25 battle between two unbeatens: the 6-0 Illini and the 7-0 Hurricanes.

Brendan Brody: After a mediocre 17-16 mark last year, Miami is back in the Top 25 with Big 12 transfers Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State) and Sheldon McClellan (Texas) deservedly getting most of the credit. Let’s talk about how other key players like Tonyi Jekiri and Manu Lecomte have also had an impact, and how they will affect the outcome of this game.

Tonye Jekiri has been a defensive force so far for Miami. (Gerry Broome, AP)

Tonye Jekiri has been a defensive force so far for Miami. (Gerry Broome, AP)

Lathan Wells: Lecomte looks much more comfortable playing off the ball and allowing Rodriguez to run the show this season. The result is enormously efficient basketball, as he is averaging 13.3 PPG and shooting 56.7 percent from the field. If Rodriguez and McClellan are being stifled, he offers a third excellent perimeter scoring option. Jekiri, to his credit, has blossomed into a force around the basket, averaging just shy of 11 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. For a team relying on consistent guard and perimeter play, he has helped to keep the Hurricanes balanced. While it’s true Rodriguez and McClellan are driving Miami’s hot start, don’t be surprised if Lecomte comes up with a few key baskets or if Jekiri helps keep Miami on the plus-side of the rebounding margin. Illinois hangs its hat on defense first, but the Illini rank fifth in the country in averaging 90 points per game. How will they handle a lower scoring contest if Miami is able to slow things down?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten Feast Week Recap

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 1st, 2014

After 38 games in seven days, Big Ten teams had some noteworthy performances of both the good and bad variety. In all, three teams came away with championships in the tournaments they played in. Illinois won the Las Vegas Invitational, Maryland took first in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic, and Wisconsin won the stacked Battle 4 Atlantis field. While it was impossible to watch absolutely everything, especially with the whole pesky, “hang out with relatives on Thanksgiving” getting in the way of hoop watching, here’s a brief recap of what went down during the last seven days.

Bronson Koenig keyed a second half rally as Wisconsin came back to beat Georgetown in the Battle 4 Atlantis. (Reuters)

Bronson Koenig keyed a second half rally as Wisconsin came back to beat Georgetown in the Battle 4 Atlantis. (Reuters)

  • Wisconsin Shows Off Depth That Matters: Many times when announcers or others cite depth when discussing a certain team, it simply means that the coach plays a lot of players. A team with true depth has players coming off the bench that can win a game for them. This is exactly what happened in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis, as Bronson Koenig and Duje Dukan combined to score 18 of the team’s 33 points in the second stanza, with the Badgers holding off a pesky Georgetown team in the process. With Frank Kaminsky struggling and Traveon Jackson and Josh Gasser in foul trouble, they just found a way to win with other guys doing the heavy lifting. Things were back to normal in the championship game, as Kaminsky and Jackson led the way. This team has so many weapons, and is off to a 7-0 start that is making preseason projections look really solid right now.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story