Ohio State’s Experience and Defensive Urgency Make Buckeyes a Tough NCAA Tournament Out

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 16th, 2014

Ohio State is a flawed basketball team. The Buckeyes don’t have anyone that shoots over 40 percent from three. They don’t have a consistent back-to-the-basket big man. Their point guard sometimes looks like he’s throwing a shot put when he takes an outside shot. They played an adequate non-conference schedule, and then had their share of struggles within the Big Ten. And yet, they are also going to be a very dangerous team in the next couple of weeks, no matter what seed they receive. Although they ended up losing in the Big Ten semifinals to Michigan on Saturday, their performance during their three-day stay in this tournament proved as much.

If Shannon Scott builds upon his play in the Big Ten Tournament, Ohio State is infinitely more dangerous. (Andy Manis, AP)

If Shannon Scott builds upon his play in the Big Ten Tournament, Ohio State is infinitely more dangerous. (Andy Manis, AP)

The Buckeyes did not put forth a steady 40-minute performance in any of their three games this week. They had to hang on to beat first round opponent Purdue; needed to come back from an 18-point deficit against Nebraska; and started their game against Michigan down 15-2. What they did show, however, was the fortitude that a veteran team should play with. They competed with a sense of urgency in mounting comebacks that left them with a win over the Cornhuskers and a close loss to potential #1 seed Michigan. When things got bad and they got into a hole, the combination of their outstanding pressure defense coupled with an increasingly active LaQuinton Ross got them back on track.

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Big Ten All-Tournament Team: Quarterfinal Friday

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 15th, 2014

After the second day of action, the most unpredictable league in the country got kind of predictable. The four semifinalists are the the four teams that we on the microsite picked to finish in the top four of league play this season. It sets up some tremendous match-ups for Saturday, but first, here are five standouts from Friday’s quarterfinals in Indy.

LaQuinton Ross posted another double-double as Ohio State knocked off Nebraska. (Lucy Nicholson, Reuters)

LaQuinton Ross posted another double-double as Ohio State knocked off Nebraska. (Lucy Nicholson, Reuters)

  • LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State: Ross makes an appearance on the honor roll for the second day in a row because he had a double-double for the second day in a row. He shot the ball better yesterday, (9-of-18 from the field), snagged 13 rebounds, and also contributed two steals. He also picked up a technical foul for shoving Walter Pitchford at the 14:58 mark in the second half while his team was down 13 points. He scored 16 of his 26 points from that point forward, almost outscoring Nebraska (21 points) all by himself.
  • Ben Brust, Wisconsin: If someone had told me that Ben Brust scored 29 points in a game, I would have had to assume that he went nuts from behind the three-point line and hit something like six or seven bombs. His scoring last night, however, was a little more diversified. He hit all nine of his free throws, went 4-of-10 from deep, and was able to get to the basket after some nifty shot fakes. Brust also chipped in a trio of steals, doing a nice job pressuring Minnesota’s guards.

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Big Ten All-Tournament Team: First Round Thursday

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 14th, 2014

There were some extraordinary performances during the first day of action in the Big Ten Tournament. There are still seven games left to be played, and many more outstanding games are likely going to be put forth. Here, however, is a brief look at the five tournament standouts from day one.

Tracy Abrams played with a renewed confidence in Illinois' first-round win over Indiana.  (B.Tse)

Tracy Abrams played with a renewed confidence in Illinois’ first-round win over Indiana. (B.Tse)

  • Tracy Abrams, Illinois: Abrams went for a season-high 25 points and also tied for a team-high seven rebounds. He was active defensively, and showed tremendous poise and leadership by only turning the ball over once as the primary ball-handler. This was the best game he’s played in quite some time after going through a horrible stretch where he only averaged 6.6 PPG and shot 23.2 percent from the field. This was the Abrams that Illinois needs to keep playing.
  • LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State: This was a slightly different version of the normally smooth forward with a lethal mid-range game. Ross instead was a monster on the boards, as he ended up with 15 (six offensive) caroms. He struggled to make shots out of his normal repertoire, but made up for it by being hyper-aggressive in retrieving his misses. He also added 19 points and two blocks on the afternoon. The junior is not always known for his toughness, but he earned his points in this one.

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The RTC All-Big Ten Team: Nik Stauskas

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 13th, 2014

We gave reached the end of our week long unveiling of our RTC All-Big Ten team. The head of our seven-man squad is none other than the player also selected as Player of the Year by both the coaches and the media. Michigan sophomore Nik Stauskas takes home top honors here as well. Stauskas went from a complementary shooter, to the main option on a team that many thought would struggle when preseason All-American Mitch McGary was lost for the season due to injury.

Nik Stauskas is our Player of the Year at RTC. (Gregory Shamus, Getty)

Nik Stauskas is our Player of the Year at RTC. (Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Why Nik Stauskas is the best player in the Big Ten: The simple answer would be because he’s the best player on the team that won the regular season championship, but it goes much deeper than that. In his freshman year, he averaged 11.0 points and 1.3 assists per game on 44.0% three-point shooting. These are very good numbers for a freshman on a team that went to the National Championship game, but Stauskas masterfully handled the transition from a complementary role to a primary one. He went from a usage rate of 16.2% to 23.5%, and his offensive rating went up from 122.8 to 126.0. He had the ball in his hands on a much more frequent basis with the defense focusing on him and still was more efficient. He proved that he can still shoot the ball with the best of them, but added a nice mid-range game, showcased an ability to get to the rim, and to set up his teammates. He led the Wolverines with 3.4 assists per game while also leading them in scoring at 17.4 points per game.

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Big Ten Tournament X-Factors for Round One

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 13th, 2014

Without going into full-fledged preview mode for all four games set to tip off on Thursday in Indianapolis, here are some under-the-radar players to keep an eye on in round one. Some are more obscure than others, but all the players I’m highlighting were not named to any of the All-Conference teams on Monday. They all have a specific skill set, however, that can be used to exploit a weak spot on the team they are playing against in the first round.

Tracy Abrams' ability to get steals will go a long way toward determining if Illinois can beat Indiana on Thursday. (Stephen Haas, Lee News Service)

Tracy Abrams’ ability to get steals will go a long way toward determining if Illinois can beat Indiana on Thursday. (Stephen Haas/Lee News Service)

Illinois: Tracy Abrams — Indiana turns the ball over 21.7% of the time, and Abrams averages 1.2 pilfers a game. Abrams had 5 steals in the two teams previous games, and if he can be the defensive catalyst that leads to 23 Indiana turnovers — like what happened on December 31 when the Illini beat the Hoosiers in overtime — Illinois will move on to the second round.

Indiana: Devin Davis The Illini are only mediocre at getting their own misses (165th nationally), and Davis has been productive with increased minutes recently. He’s gotten 20 MPG in his last two games, and has a robust 21.6% defensive rebound rate in limited minutes for the season. That would be good for 6th in the conference had he played enough minutes to qualify, and if Crean gives him the playing time in this game, he’ll prevent Illinois from getting any second chance buckets. Read the rest of this entry »

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A Quality Performance Today in Indianapolis is a Must For Iowa

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 13th, 2014

You could make a case for any number of Big Ten teams really needing to show out at the Big Ten Tournament if they hope to make a run in the bigger March tournament. Minnesota is situated squarely on the bubble after finishing with a conference record of 8-10. Nebraska was inhabiting the same patch of bubble real estate until their win over Wisconsin. They should be in the field of 68 now, but another win would be nice for their collective peace of mind. Michigan State wants to prove that they are worthy of the preseason hype they generated with their team all back from their different injuries. Indiana and Illinois need to win four games in four days to get there. But Iowa has the most to prove out of anybody in the field. They’ve plummeted from a potential #3 or #4 seed, to a team that with an early loss, could be looking at double-digit territory. So how do the Hawkeyes fix things to get back on track?

Gabriel Olaseni and Josh Ogelsby need big games for Iowa to advance in the Big Ten Tournament. (John Schultz/Quad City Times)

Gabriel Olaseni and Josh Ogelsby need big games for Iowa to advance in the Big Ten Tournament. (John Schultz/Quad City Times)

  • Fix the Defense Immediately: Here’s a quick breakdown of what the Hawkeyes have given up in their last six games in terms of points per possession: 1.22, 1.32.1.12, 1.06, 1.26, and 1.12. Even in their lone victory in the bunch over Purdue, they still allowed the Boilermakers to shoot 49.1% from the field. On their KenPom page under defensive footprint, it says inconclusive. Nothing sums up their lack of a defensive identity better than that. They do a decent job blocking shots and Roy Devyn Marble and Mike Gesell do a pretty good job getting into the passing lanes and getting steals. But in their recent rough patch they’ve given up far too many easy baskets in the paint. Whether it means extending their zone press and getting more aggressive with it (which they have the depth to do), or just hanging back and sticking to either a man-to-man or a zone, Iowa needs to pick a style and go with it. I don’t know if their is confusion about what their responsibilities are, or that they just don’t care because they think they can outscore people. Either way, what they’re doing right now isn’t working, and hasn’t for a number of games. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 03.12.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 12th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Nik Stauskas of Michigan was named Big Ten Player of the Year on Monday by both the coaches and the media. He went from primarily a spot-up shooter to someone who put in a tremendous amount of work to become the best player in the league. It’s been documented often about the strength training that he and fellow sophomore Caris LeVert went through in the off-season, and it quite obviously paid off for both. Stauskas managed to still be able to knock down plenty of three-pointers, yet added the ability to drive and distribute on a much higher level than many expected. He is a worthy Big Ten POY.
  2. Playing in the shadow of a famous father is never easy. Playing in the shadow of a father that not only played in the NBA for 14 years, but also serves as an analyst for the network that covers your conference is borderline impossible. But Wisconsin point guard Traveon Jackson has made things work both on and off the court due to a renewed sense of spirituality. Jackson struggled with the responsibilities after unexpectedly having to take the reigns from Josh Gasser once the guards tore his ACL. He turned to drinking and partying as a way to escape from the stress on the court, but has found that things like scripture reading and attending church services have helped him on and off the court.
  3. It’s the eve of the Big Ten Tournament, and not many people within the college basketball community can figure out Michigan State. Coach Tom Izzo feels the importance of the tournament this year more so than in past seasons because, as he says, “we’re just trying to bring back some of the magic we had early in the year when we had everybody playing together.” It will be extremely interesting over the course of the weekend to see if the team can start clicking like they did early on before injuries ruined any sense of flow and cohesion the team had.
  4. The main architect for the Nebraska basketball facelift was named Coach of the Year by his coaching peers on Monday. Coach Tim Miles worked his way up from coaching Division II in obscurity, to potentially coaching in the Big Dance next week. He credits his players for keeping a positive attitude, not letting the porous basketball history of the program prohibit them from changing things.  If they can win three games this weekend, the change will be even further magnified.
  5. After seeing him play in the non-conference part of the season, no one would have guessed that Kendrick Nunn would earn a spot on the Big Ten All-Freshman team. Nunn did just that however, and Illinois has gone 5-3 since he and fellow freshman Malcolm Hill were inserted into the starting five. Indiana Coach Tom Crean has taken notice, as he likened Nunn to Victor Oladipo when asked about preparing for the Illini on Thursday when the two teams square off in first-round play of the Big Ten Tournament.  Nunn has averaged double-figures in those 8 games, and can enhance his ever-growing reputation even more if he continues his solid play, and Illinois wins a game or two in Indianapolis.
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Big Ten Weekend in Review: Senior Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 11th, 2014

Throughout many campuses within the conference this weekend there were some sort of Senior Day festivities. In honor of this, and the fact that many seniors submitted some top-notch performances which lead to victories for their teams, the weekend in review will have a different format this time around. Before we get to some of these key performances, something else has to be discussed.

Terran Petteway(right) celebrates during Nebraska's 77-68 win over Wisconsin that could have clinched a spot in the field of 68 for the Cornhuskers. ( Bryan Anderson/Omaha World-Herald)

Terran Petteway celebrates during Nebraska’s 77-68 win over Wisconsin that might have clinched a spot in the field of 68 for the Cornhuskers. (Bryan Anderson/Omaha World-Herald)

Biggest Win: Nebraska continued with their incredible streak of home performances with their victory over Wisconsin on Sunday night. The atmosphere was probably one of the best in all of college basketball this season, as the BTN announcers literally had an app at their disposal where they were periodically checking the decibel level throughout the telecast. Shavon Shields and Terran Petteway essentially got to the basket whenever they wanted, and they both finished up with 26 points. They also got some timely shooting from Walter Pitchford and Ray Gallegos and were able to get the signature win of the Tim Miles era. Most bracket predictions have the team solidly into the field and off of the bubble for now. A win against either Purdue or Ohio State in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament would make it inevitable.

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Big Ten M5: 03.07.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 7th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Indiana more than likely saw their already slim NCAA Tournament hopes dashed by losing to Nebraska 70-60 on Wednesday night. Despite some flashes of quality play in some of their impressive wins they have gotten at home, this has really been a puzzling team to figure out through most of the season. Mediocre is a strong word to use for a team that lost two NBA lottery picks and two other senior starters, yet still has a 17-13 record. Inconsistent and unpredictable might be more apt terms to describe the 2013-14 Hoosiers. Their poor non-conference schedule hasn’t done them any favors as far as their resume goes, and it’s also lead to a team not being prepared for Big Ten play.
  2. Minnesota unexpectedly is losing a player who started 23 of their 30 games this season. Oto Osenieks is ending his basketball career after it was determined that a knee injury that he’s had multiple surgeries on simply is too damaged for him to continue on. Joey King has taken over the starting power forward spot, so look for he and Charles Buggs to continue getting the majority of the minutes at that spot.
  3. Ohio State faces a crucial test Sunday afternoon when they take on Michigan State. The game is significant because it’s Senior Day for Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. But Shannon Scott says that it’s more important to get the win “to get (us) into the best situation we can for the tournament.” Scott also said in the interview that he likes his role coming off the bench due to the fact that he can “fit in where (he) can and figure out what the team needs at the time and try and do it.” With Keith Appling of Michigan State having his best game in quite some time last night against Iowa, the Buckeyes will need big efforts from both Craft and Scott on Sunday night to make Senior Day a memorable one.
  4. Michigan’s sophomore class- especially Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, Glenn Robinson III, and the injured Mitch McGary- garner most of the headlines and publicity for the recently-crowned Big Ten regular season champions. But you can’t overlook the contributions of freshmen Derrick Walton Jr, and Zak Irvin. They both have showed much more consistency as the season has gone along, and Coach John Beilein believes their improvement has been the key to turning things around after a shaky non-conference part of their season. Both have had played really well and they have both blended in seamlessly as the season has gone along. Michigan has had some outstanding players make substantial jumps between their first and second seasons in Ann Arbor, and if this trend continues, Walton and Irvin will be Big Ten mainstays for as long as they are donning the maize and blue.
  5. Switching over to the other Michigan school in the league, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling played their last game in East Lansing for Michigan State last night when they beat Iowa 86-76. The pair are victims of the program’s past success, as they and fellow senior Dan Chapman will have been the first senior class under Tom Izzo to have not played in a Final Four. It hardly seems fair that many will view their time with the program to have been unsuccessful unless they advance four spots into the bracket without taking a loss. The Spartans took a small step toward that goal however by impressively beating the Hawkeyes. Appling looked to be much more comfortable, and if he really is healthy finally, this team can be just as good as everyone thought in the preseason.
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Introducing the RTC All-Big Ten Team: Michigan’s Caris LeVert

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 5th, 2014

In the eight days leading up to the start of the Big Ten Tournament, we here at the Big Ten microsite have decided to unveil our all-Big Ten team. Since we aren’t doing a second team, third team or honorable mention, we went with a seven-member squad based on what we have seen at this point in the season. We all voted over the weekend, and after tabulating the results have come up with our list. Check back over the next week as we will be releasing the team members in ascending order, one by one. Our seventh selection is Michigan sophomore Caris Levert.

The improvement in the play of Caris LeVert through the course of the season has helped Michigan rise to the top of the Big Ten standings. (AP)

The improvement in the play of Caris LeVert through the course of the season has helped Michigan rise to the top of the Big Ten standings. (AP)

  • Why Caris LeVert is the seventh best player in the league: In a recent post, our own Deepak Jayanti highlighted some specifics about Levert’s offensive abilities, noting how smoothly and efficiently LeVert plays in John Beilein’s offensive system. His individual statistics aren’t eye-popping nor are they as good as some of the players left off of our list. But anybody who has seen Michigan play this season knows the impact that LeVert has had on a team that wrapped up its first outright conference regular season championship in nearly three decades on Tuesday night. He’s kind of like a top-shelf glue guy. That means that he does a lot of things to fill up the stat sheet like a normal x-factor or glue guy, but he also is talented enough to take over the game if he needs to. LeVert is one of only three Big Ten players to average over 13.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.5 APG, and 1.0 SPG this season (Gary Harris and Tim Frazier are the other two), but the star sophomore is the only one in that group who is making over 40 percent of his threes. After averaging only 10.8 MPG in his freshman year playing in a loaded rotation, he has taken huge strides this campaign, so much so that he’s on the short list for most improved player in the both the Big Ten and nationally.

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Big Ten M5: 03.05.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 5th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Credit Indiana senior forward Will Sheehey for having some self-awareness when he was asked about his team’s NCAA Tournament chances. The reigning Big Ten Player of the Week said it feels like the team is in the midst of making a run, but that they still have plenty of work left to do. With how bad Indiana’s non-conference schedule was and the fact that the Hoosiers had a 4-8 conference record as recently as February 15, it’s a small miracle that they’ve even put themselves in the position to talk about landing a spot in the field of 68.
  2. In what has become sort of a running M5 tradition, here’s more talk of Michigan State and its latest injury news. While head coach Tom Izzo isn’t going to have Keith Appling miss anymore games, it is possible that he may cut the senior point guard’s minutes if he continues to be ineffective. It’s kind of a lose-lose situation for Izzo. On one hand, he has to let Appling continue to get reps so he’s not rusty for the postseason; on the other hand, if he’s not the same player he was prior to getting hurt (which he clearly is not), then do you take the chance of having a senior leader only playing limited minutes? The Spartans have until the middle of March to figure it out, but time is running out on this team.
  3. Ben Brust has been recognized as one of the best shooters in the Big Ten and for his ability as an undersized rebounder. But when Bo Ryan likens the Wisconsin senior to a mosquito, it’s hard not to scoff. The comparison makes sense, however, as Ryan explained how Brust can frustrate bigger opponents on the defensive end. The Badgers possess a certain grittiness on that side of the ball, and it all starts with Brust and fellow guard Josh Gasser both being able to take on players who are bigger and more athletic than they are.
  4. Many think that Michigan wrapping up the regular season Big Ten crown last night is enough to give John Beilein the Coach of the Year award. That’s not to say that Nebraska head coach Tim Miles doesn’t also offer a compelling argument. It is Miles who deserves the award if the Huskers make the NCAA Tournament, according to the Omaha World-Herald‘s Lee Barfknecht. It will be interesting to see how this and many of the other postseason honors play out. Miles has sped up the Nebraska rebuilding plan and then some, but Beilein dealt with the loss of a potential lottery pick in addition to losing two others starters now playing in the NBA.
  5. Things just keep getting worse for Purdue. First Sterling Carter tore his ACL and will miss the rest of the season, and now promising redshirt freshman Jay Simpson has also seen his Purdue career come to an end. Simpson was recently diagnosed with the heart ailment hypertrophic cardiomyotrophy (HCM). This is the same disease that ended the lives of players such as Hank Gathers and Reggie Lewis. Simpson had to be taken out of the game on February 23 against Nebraska despite not appearing to have suffered an injury, but very luckily the disease was discovered before tragedy struck.
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Big Ten Weekend in Review: Illinois and Indiana Mount Late Charges

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 3rd, 2014

With the drama pretty much settled at the top of the Big Ten standings, the biggest storyline to emerge from the weekend was the fact that Illinois and Indiana have rallied back to the point of respectability. Illinois shocked Michigan State 53-46 in East Lansing and has now won four of their last six games. Indiana was missing its Freshman of the Year candidate Noah Vonleh, yet still won over Ohio State 72-64 in a game that wasn’t really as close as the final score indicated. The Hoosiers have now won three of their last four contests and sit at 17-12 (7-9 in the Big Ten) on the season. Illinois is also 17-12 overall, with a 6-10 league mark. It’s still unlikely that either team will make its way to the right side of the bubble, but they’re inching closer and have meaningful games left this week that could help their respective causes. Iowa got back on track with a win over Purdue; Michigan continued to roll; and Wisconsin won its seventh game in a row. Here’s some of the rest from the weekend that was.

Roy Devyn Marble once again took over offensively as Iowa beat Purdue to stop a three game losing streak. (Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports).

Roy Devyn Marble once again took over offensively as Iowa beat Purdue to stop a three game losing streak. (Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports).

Player of the Weekend: Roy Devyn Marble: Marble continues to be slightly overlooked as a defensive player, as his length and wingspan are vital in Iowa’s 1-2-2 trapping half-court zone. Marble reached four or more steals for the fourth time this season, as Iowa forced 16 Purdue turnovers in its win on Sunday. He also did his normal damage on the offensive end as well, scoring 13 of his 21 points in the first half. He needed 18 shots from the field to get there, but this was more a function of Purdue’s defense as opposed to Marble forcing anything. He ended the game with team highs in points (21), assists (five), and steals (four).

Super Sub of the Weekend: Evan Gordon: Gordon and fellow senior Will Sheehey have really played well in the past week as Indiana won two out of three games. Gordon did nothing spectacular on Sunday, but he was really steady as a secondary ball-handler along with Yogi Ferrell. He knocked down pressure free throws in the late stages of the game once again, scoring nine points on the afternoon. He also got three steals as the Hoosiers were able to frustrate Aaron Craft into another horrible offensive game where the senior went 2-of-11 from the field with three turnovers. It looks as though Tom Crean is starting to lean on his seniors in the closing stages of games, as Gordon, Sheehey, and Jeff Howard saw time down the stretch in the win.

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