Big Ten M5: 11.26.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 26th, 2014

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  1. Frank Kaminsky has emerged as the early clubhouse leader in CollegeBasketballTalk’s player of the year rankings. The Wisconsin senior has showed off a much more complete game this season, as he is leading the Badgers in field goal percentage, points, rebounds, steals and blocks. He’s also at or near the top of all of of these categories in the Big Ten so far as well. We’ll find out more about whether these numbers are sustainable starting today when the Badgers start to play some better competition in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament this week.
  2. Michigan State has looked impressive since their loss to Duke in the Champions Classic, and a big part of that has been their ball movement on offense. On Monday night in their win against Santa Clara, the team notched 22 assists on 29 field goals The ring leader passing the ball was Travis Trice, who had a team-high eight to bring his average to an even 7.0 per game on the season. After setting a program record with 637 helpers last season, they once again have an unselfish team this year with great passers like Trice, Denzel Valentine, and Lourawls Nairn Jr. Without boatloads of NBA-caliber talent at their disposal. having players with high basketball IQ’s on offense will help this team overachieve.
  3. After starting the season averaging 100.3 points per game in their 3-0 start, Illinois struggled on that end of the floor- at least in the first half- in their win Monday night over Brown. The Illini were actually down 35-31 at the halftime break, but went on to shoot a scorching 73.1 percent from the field in scoring 58 points in the second half. Aaron Cosby lead the way with 18 points, and actually pulled off a rare feat by netting seven points in two possessions. Cosby is the team’s leader in threes thus far, as he and fellow transfer Ahmad Starks have been the catalysts for a team that plays much differently on the offensive end as they did last year.
  4. Purdue is off to a 4-1 start, and one of early takeaways from their early play has been just how much of a physical presence 7’2″ freshman center Isaac Haas has been. Haas had a huge impact against Kansas State in a losing effort, scoring 19 points and drawing countless fouls on the Kansas State big men. His sheer size made defending him without fouling almost impossible. Haas followed up Monday’s effort with six points and eight rebounds Tuesday as Purdue soundly defeated Missouri.
  5. Rutgers lost to an 0-4 St. Peter’s team by 18 at home Tuesday night. For those B1G fans who are not that familiar with the program other than last year’s 12-21 record and that they were picked unanimously to finish last in the conference in the preseason, this won’t register much on the shock and awe scale. For some that are more invested in the program, it is another crushing new low point. SBNation’s Dave White has had enough, saying nights like these continue to happen because of continuous failings of the administration in their commitment, or lack there of, to the basketball program. If this team loses to a team without their best player in their own building that hadn’t won a game yet, things could very get pretty dicey once Big Ten play starts.
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Daquien McNeil Indefinitely Suspended From Minnesota

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 25th, 2014

News broke early Tuesday morning that Minnesota will be without one of their guards during their two-game stretch, and possibly for much longer than that. Sophomore Daquien McNeil has been suspended indefinitely as he is being investigated in a domestic violence case. The guard from Baltimore is averaging 3.3 points and 2.5 assists in 18.8 minutes per game so far this season. Gopher athletic director Norwood Teague said: “We are currently gathering information and cooperating with the authorities. This athletics department values respect and positively impacting the lives of others and will not tolerate any form of domestic assault from its staff or student-athletes.”

Daquien McNeil has been suspended indefinitely by Minnesota. (AP)

Daquien McNeil has been suspended indefinitely by Minnesota. (AP)

This will test the back court depth of Minnesota, leaving more playing time for freshman Nate Mason. Having the combination of Mason and McNeil off the bench allowed the Gophers to incorporate their pressure defense a little more in the early games than they had last season. The team has good overall depth, but this will put a strain on Deandre Mathieu and Andre Hollins. They will now likely have to play more minutes and will have to avoid getting into any foul problems. With this being an indefinite suspension, and in light of how justifiably serious anything involving domestic violence is after the Ray Rice situation in the NFL, it could be expected that the Gophers will be without McNeil’s services for quite a while.

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Nebraska’s Loss to Rhode Island Exhibits Some Danger Signs

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 24th, 2014

It’s not as though Nebraska was going to waltz through the season undefeated or anything. The Cornhuskers cracked the preseason Top 25 because of the finishing run they went on last season and because they brought back pretty much every significant player in the rotation other than Ray Gallegos. That said, Saturday’s overtime loss to an unranked Rhode Island team exhibited several potential trouble spots for the Cornhuskers if they don’t immediately fix some things. We outline three of those problem areas below.

Walter Pitchford is off to a slow start this season for Nebraska. (AP)

Walter Pitchford is off to a slow start this season for Nebraska. (AP)

  • Walter Pitchford is Struggling: The former Florida forward emerged as a quality deep shooting big man last season, hitting 41.0 percent on nearly 50 makes from three. He’s off to a 1-of-11 start from behind the arc this season. One of the most difficult things to do if you’re a good shooter whose shots are not falling is to find other ways to contribute. It’s clear that he’s struggling in other facets of his game, but Pitchford could work through his slump by becoming a better presence on the boards and staying out of foul trouble. Right now the offense is pretty much limited to the Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields show, but last year’s team really took off when the secondary options improved. Rhode Island outrebounded Nebraska by 16, and Pitchford’s lack of activity inside is a big part of the reason why. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Feast Week Primer

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 24th, 2014

Seven Big Ten teams will be competing in tournaments during Feast Week. Some are expected to do well, while others are looking to pick up some quality wins and defy preseason expectations. Here’s a primer for those hoops-obsessed fans who want to schedule some Big Ten basketball watching around their annoying relatives. The fun gets started later today in Maui, New York and Kansas City.

Progressive Legends Classic: (Monday and Tuesday)

Caris LeVert needs to continue to fill up the stat sheet if Michigan wants to win the Legends Classic. (Getty)

Caris LeVert needs to continue to fill up the stat sheet if Michigan wants to win the Legends Classic. (Getty)

  • Teams: Michigan, Oregon, VCU, Villanova
  • Favorite: Villanova
  • TV: ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPNU
  • Outlook: Michigan will face its first big-name opponents of the season when the Wolverines take on Oregon in the first game. Should they win, they’ll face off against the winner of the VCU-Villanova game after that. The perimeter trio of Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin and Caris LeVert will have to continue to score at a high level, as the trio is producing a robust 67.5 percent of Michigan’s points thus far this season.
  • Predicted Finish: First if they play Villanova; second if they play VCU.

CBE Hall of Fame Classic: (Monday and Tuesday)

  • Teams: Maryland, Arizona State, Iowa State, Alabama
  • Favorite: Iowa State
  • TV: ESPNU, ESPN2

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Penn State Outlook in the Charleston Classic

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 20th, 2014

Penn State heads to South Carolina this weekend to play in the Charleston Classic. The eight-team field doesn’t have any Top 25 teams attending, but it will give the Nittany Lions a few chances to notch wins that could end up being significant if they want to make a postseason tournament. Of course which team they play will be determined by how the bracket works out, but regardless of their opponents, one has to look no further than what Nebraska did last season as to how a holiday tournament like this can help teams figure things out. Despite the fact that they Cornhuskers only won one of three games in this event last season, Nebraska played eventual NCAA Tournament team UMass close and got a decent win over Georgia. Here’s a brief look at what Penn State has in store for them in this season’s edition.

Penn State will need big games from DJ Newbill this weekend in the Charleston Classic. (GoPSUsports.com)

Penn State will need big games from DJ Newbill this weekend in the Charleston Classic. (GoPSUsports.com)

Their first round opponent is Charlotte, a team that could contend for the Conference USA crown along with the likes of Louisiana Tech and UTEP. Both teams look to be structured similarly in terms of their size and makeup. Penn State will need to keep Mike Thorne Jr and Willie Clayton off of the boards, as the pair combined for 23 rebounds in their first game of the season, a win over Elon. Ross Travis and Brandon Taylor will need to keep them in check, especially to keep Clayton from giving the 49ers extra possessions. Florida transfer Braxton Ogbueze is Charlotte’s point guard, which will be a nice test for freshman Shep Garner. Penn State should win this one, but it will be a quality match-up.

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Could Indiana Upset SMU Tonight?

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 20th, 2014

Indiana was routinely called to task last season (mainly by Dan Dakich) for playing an underwhelming non-conference schedule. There was some evidence that loading up on cupcakes seemed to hurt the Hoosiers, as they clearly weren’t ready for the arduous nature of the Big Ten slate once conference play started. This season Tom Crean’s team is challenging itself by taking on SMU tonight in Assembly Hall. The Mustangs are coming off a beatdown at the hands of Gonzaga in Spokane, but bring excellent size and experience to Bloomington.

Yogi Ferrell has to run the show and score frequently for Indiana to improve this season. (Darron Cummings, AP)

Yogi Ferrell needs to get the better of SMU’s Nic Moore in the point guard battle on tonight. (Getty)

Here’s how the Hoosiers can get a quality non-conference win tonight:

  • Keep up the Hot Three-Point Shooting: The Hoosiers have started the season shooting the deep ball at an insane 21-of-38 clip (55.3%). Gonzaga overwhelmed SMU on Monday night with size in its 72-56 win, but the Zags also hit 10 three-pointers to create some distance. Indiana has similar weaponry on the perimeter with its trio of Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon Jr., and Robert Johnson, and will have to get by with what they’ve been doing in their first two wins– primarily spreading the floor with shooters, using the drive-and-kick game, and getting out in transition. As always with Indiana, turnovers will be a key. If the Hoosiers get too sloppy, SMU has the ability to take advantage of those opportunities.

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Three Thoughts on Ohio State’s Win Over Marquette

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 19th, 2014

Ohio State cruised to a 74-63 win over Marquette on Tuesday night in a game that wasn’t quite that close. It doesn’t take long to see that Thad Matta’s team is clearly a different team stylistically than last year’s unit, as the Buckeyes played differently on both the defensive and offensive ends of the floor. With an abundance of shooters at its disposal, Ohio State got out in transition and shot the ball very well from the perimeter (53.3% from three). The defense was also a much different look from the Aaron Craft-led pressure man-to-man of the past several years. Here are some other quick observations from the win.

Thad Matta has made tweaked his system a bit as 2014-15 has started. (AP)

Thad Matta has tweaked his system a bit as this season has started. (AP)

  • Shannon Scott Looks Comfortable as the Primary Ball-handler: The senior has started off passing the ball on fire, as he’s hit double figures in assists in both Ohio State games — good for an astonishing 56.0 percent assist rate. Against Marquette, the Buckeyes showed tremendous spacing all night, making things very easy for Scott to simply pick his options to find the open man. Without having to share the point guard spot this season, he finally looks like he’s free to be himself out there. He’s never been a knock-down shooter, but he’s quick and can get to the basket. He and Craft were great together defensively, but they weren’t the best offensive options on the other end of the floor. Now with only one point guard to direct things, there is room for a shooter like D’Angelo Russell or Kam Williams for Scott to find on his drive-and-kicks.

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Big Ten M5: 11.19.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 19th, 2014

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  1. Michigan will have an advantage on the perimeter with the trio of Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin, and Derrick Walton Jr in many of the games it plays this season. The question marks mainly lie with the Wolverines’ inside play, but overlooked forward Max Bielfeldt could provide some answers. Bielfeldt only had 38 career points before Michigan’s game against Bucknell on Monday night, but after not even making an appearance in the team’s opening game, he went off for 18 points. Bielfeldt has never had much of a chance other than some spot cameos throughout his career, but if he can continue to consistently provide scoring in the post, then the Wolverines’ prospects for another deep NCAA Tournament run just got much better.
  2. Anthony Clemmons became something of a forgotten man last season, as the sophomore struggled to find court time even with Iowa playing a bunch of players. He has cracked this year’s starting lineup for the 2-0 Hawkeyes, however, by bringing a newfound confidence in his outside shot. After going only 6-of-16 through all of last season, Clemmons has already hit 5-of-6 from behind the arc and is averaging 11.5 points per game. His hustle plays are what’s keeping him in the lineup, though, as Fran McCaffery noted that “it’s infectious to the rest of the team.” Iowa and Clemmons will be tested going up against Texas and standout guard Isaiah Taylor on Thursday night in Madison Square Garden.
  3. Maryland has gotten off to a 2-0 start in its first season in the B1G, and the Terrapins are doing so with heavy contributions from their freshmen class. In their Monday night win over Central Connecticut State, Melo Trimble, Dion Wiley, and Michel Cekovsky all performed well. Trimble surprisingly led the team in rebounds with eight; Cekovsky had three blocks in 18 minutes; and Wiley managed to score 10 points and snag five rebounds in 19 minutes of action. Many freshmen in the league have come in and made an impact, but Maryland is a team that definitely needs big support from their first-year players if they hope to remain competitive with the mid-tier of the league in their first B1G season.
  4. Among the takeaways from Indiana‘s win over Texas Southern on Monday night was the fact that certain players are stepping into bigger roles and contributing in a number of different ways. Freshman Robert Johnson is at the top of that list, as he’s played with a level of maturity that belies his first-year status. Johnson is a year older than the typical college freshman due to a reclassification during his junior year of high school. While it’s doubtful he’ll sustain a stat line of 18.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG and 5.5 APG all season, he’s shown that Tom Crean did valuable work in getting Johnson and fellow freshman James Blackmon Jr. into an Indiana uniform.
  5. Fresh off of a disappointing loss in its season opener against Louisville, Minnesota has the chance to get a needed confidence boost in the form of three home games in five days. These contests are all against teams that the Gophers should beat, but the quick turnaround between them could really test their depth. Minnesota passed its first test on Tuesday night against Western Kentucky, and head coach Richard Pitino should have a chance over the next few nights to give his newcomers a great chance to get comfortable in his defensive system.
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First Weekend Observations From the Big Ten

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 17th, 2014

The Big Ten tipped things off along with the rest of the country this weekend in the form of a whopping 18 games in three days. Minnesota and Rutgers were the only two conference teams that lost, but they also played two teams in Louisville and George Washington, respectively, that should make some noise nationally. While it would be next to impossible to have seen all 18 games in some capacity, here’s some of what we observed on this end.

James Blackmon Jr lead the way offensively in Indiana's huge opening win. (Matt Detrich, Indy Star)

James Blackmon Jr lead the way offensively in Indiana’s huge opening win. (Matt Detrich, Indy Star)

  • Indiana Could be Fun to Watch: A team effective field goal percentage of 75.4 percent will not be duplicated for the whole season, but the Hoosiers played a really fun brand of offensive basketball in their throttling of Mississippi Valley State, 116-65, on Friday night. Freshman James Blackmon, Jr looks to be the real deal, and Robert Johnson (15 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals) might not be far behind. Max Hoetzel also was impressive, displaying the versatility at times to serve as a point forward. The Hoosiers did a really nice job moving without the ball and creating offensive spacing, which lead to many of their 23 three-point attempts being wide-open looks. They will get tested playing SMU at home on Thursday night (after tonight’s Mike Davis reunion with Texas Southern), but the contrast in styles and the return of Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson to the lineup will make it worth watching.
  • Michigan State Needs to Find a Post Presence: Michigan State seemed to be sleepwalking through a good chunk of its five-point win over Navy on Friday night, and it wasn’t just from turning the ball over 18 times. The Spartans allowed Navy to score way too easily inside the paint, causing the game to be much closer than it should have been given the size and talent differential on display. With Jahlil Okafor and Duke looming for Tom Izzo’s team on Tuesday night, Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling will have to be much bigger factors on the defensive end of the floor. Denzel Valentine won’t play as poorly as he did that night, but the Spartans’ offense looked disjointed other than the times when Travis Trice got open looks (5-of-6 from three). Michigan State will eventually get things right and still be a factor in the B1G race, but it might take some time if they can’t prevent those easy inside looks.

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Big Ten Opening Night: Three Things to Watch For

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 14th, 2014

Eleven Big Ten Teams will make their season debuts tonight. While the only true marquee game on the schedule is the Minnesota-Louisville clash in Puerto Rico, here are three things to watch for if you’re checking out the league as the season begins.

  • Hampton vs. Iowa: Hampton went 18-13 last year, and the Pirates hung with Penn State in the first round of the CBI before ultimately losing by four points. They return eight players from their top 10 in minutes played for a team that ran at the 11th-fastest tempo in the country last season. They did a tremendous job in blocking shots and holding teams to a low percentage on two-point attempts, and have good front line size to match up with the Hawkeyes on the interior. Iowa no longer has Roy Devyn Marble to handle the ball and take all of its big shots, so Mike Gesell and Josh Oglesby will have to be hitting from long range because points in the paint will not be easy to find. This game bears watching because it will be a track meet up and down the court, and because there is also some small upset potential here if Iowa doesn’t come to play.
Mike Geselll will have to take care of the ball Friday night against Hampton. (Getty).

Mike Geselll will have to take care of the ball Friday night against Hampton. (Getty)

  • Michigan State vs. Navy: The Midshipmen went 9-21 last year, so thinking that they will push Sparty tonight might be something of a stretch. But they do return almost everybody from that team, and they did a solid job forcing turnovers last season. Michigan State, of course, has a new floor general, and although Travis Trice has gotten plenty of reps in his three years in East Lansing, he’s never been the guy. Denzel Valentine has a tendency to cough up the ball on occasion, and Lourawls Nairn will be making his much-anticipated collegiate debut. Keep an eye on whether Michigan State can avoid making silly mistakes here. A sloppy effort against a clearly inferior opponent might be a bad sign as the team gets set to take on Duke in the Champions Classic in four days.
  • Minnesota vs. Louisville: This game is the obvious call if you’re looking for opening night intrigue. Minnesota has an early chance to grab a huge non-conference win by playing a top 10 team. Richard Pitino will coach against his dad, who probably knows the Gophers about as well as his son does. Richard, of course, served as an assistant at Louisville just a few seasons ago, so the same likely holds true with the younger Pitino’s knowledge about the Cardinals. If you like guard play, you will get a chance to watch Andre Hollins and Deandre Mathieu take on Chris Jones and Terry Rozier. If the battle in the post is more your cup of tea, then check out Elliott Eliason and Maurice Walker trading haymakers with potential All-American Montrezl Harrell. This one sells itself.
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Introducing the RTC All-Big Ten First Team

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 14th, 2014

As I write this, the first regular season games are about to get underway, so it’s time to unleash our All-Big Ten first team to the masses. We’ve already released our third team and second team selections, along with our other various award winners this week. So now here’s the best five players in the league as voted by our five-man writing staff.

RTC All-Big Ten First Team

Branden Dawson, senior, Michigan State 6’6″, 225 lbs. (11.2 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 61.3 % FG). Dawson is now one of the top offensive options for the Spartans after largely playing a secondary role in his previous three seasons in East Lansing. After a breakout NCAA Tournament where he averaged 16 points and nine boards, it’s reasonable to believe that the Gary, Indiana native will produce more games like that as he steps into a much larger role. He has elite athleticism and the tools to be a force on the defensive end, and finishing in transition. If he can develop any consistency shooting the ball away from the basket, he could play himself into the lottery.

Branden Dawson (left) could be dominant for Michigan State in his final season in East Lansing. (Al Goldis/AP)

Branden Dawson (left) could be dominant for Michigan State in his final season in East Lansing. (Al Goldis/AP)

Terran Petteway, junior, Nebraska 6’6″, 215 lbs. (18.1 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 0.8 BPG). The rise of Petteway’s status as one of the best players in the Big Ten coincided with Nebraska becoming an NCAA Tournament team. The Texas Tech transfer was an unknown commodity for the most part until putting up 30 points against UMass. He then continued to pretty much score at will all season. He’s equally adept at taking the ball to the rim and oftentimes getting to the free throw line, or hitting shots from deep. Questionable decision-making and shot selection issues are about the only negatives to his game, but with the emerging talent around him, he should cut down the mistakes. This will lead to gaudy numbers, but better efficiency as the Cornhuskers look to make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament.

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Sam Dekker: RTC Big Ten’s Preseason Player of the Year

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 13th, 2014

Many of you who read this site probably held basketball playing dreams of your own. You played ball in the driveway until mom called you in for supper, trying to hit 10 more free throws before giving up on daylight and heading in for dinner. As your dreams of basketball glory likely petered out at the end of your junior high or high school career, you made the argument in your head, saying to yourself: “What if I just had been a few inches taller.” Sam Dekker ended his sophomore season in college at the height of 6’7″. He was already a probable future NBA player given his size and skill set for the wing position — and then he was gifted two additional inches of height over the summer. How is that fair? Already one of the best players in the Big Ten, Dekker looks poised for an even better junior season on a loaded Wisconsin squad, making him our preseason pick for B1G Player of the Year.

Sam Dekker will surpass teammate Frank Kaminsky as the Big Ten's best player this season. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Sam Dekker will surpass teammate Frank Kaminsky as the Big Ten’s best player this season. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Dekker is the kind of player who does a number of things well; he can fill up the box score in a many different ways. After playing 22..3 MPG as a freshman and averaging 9.6 PPG on 39.1 percent shooting from three, many expected a bigger statistical jump in his sophomore campaign. Her performed well, leading or tying for the team-high in scoring eight times, rebounding 15 times, and steals 11 times.. And although his scoring average only rose to 12.4 PPG, Bo Ryan’s offense didn’t require much more than that. The Badgers used its balanced offensive attack to go 30-8 and make a run to the Final Four, so clearly it was working. Four Badgers took an average of more than seven shots from the field per game, with no player averaging more than 10. Dekker used the fourth-most number of possessions (22.3 %) on the team, and ranked 23rd in the whole conference. He would like to see improvement in shooting the ball better from both the foul line (69%) and behind the arc (33%), but a couple extra inches of height will allow him to do more in the paint. From a team perspective, more interior play from Dekker means that Kaminsky can leak out to the perimeter more often, where the All-American center shoots 38 percent from distance. Dekker converted a healthy 55 percent of his two-point attempts last season, so it is likely more efficient for the Badgers for him to take fewer threes anyway.

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