Will Wisconsin Make It Back to the Final Four? An Argument For No…

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on October 21st, 2014

Last week, the Big Ten microsite’s Alex Moscoso (@alexpmoscoso) tackled the key question posed here, and answered in the affirmative. Today Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) tackles the same question, ultimately finding a different result. 

If you saw the movie “Draft Day” over the summer, you would have noticed something odd about the NFL. In addition to horrible acting by Kevin Costner as the general manager of the Cleveland Browns, the #1 overall pick in the movie’s NFL Draft was a quarterback from Wisconsin. Any real college football fan would laugh out loud at the practicality of that occurrence because, clearly, Wisconsin football is known for its aerial strengths over the years, right? A couple of years ago, the same could have been said about Wisconsin basketball in the postseason: Never bet on the Badgers making any noise past the Sweet Sixteen. Sure, we can always count on a Bo Ryan team finishing in the top four during conference play, but can we really trust the Badgers to carry the Big Ten brand in March? Could they put up enough points when they hit a shooting slump? Time and time again, we’ve watched highly-seeded Badgers go cold from the field against mid-majors (Cornell in 2010 and Butler in 2011 come to mind) or not have an offensive closer to seal the deal in the final minutes (Syracuse in 2012).

Despite having a talented front-court, it is still tough to bet on Ryan's team to make it back to the Final Four.

Despite having a talented frontcourt, it is still tough to bet on Ryan’s team to make it back to the Final Four.

Is this year’s team really all that different just because the Badgers broke through to the Final Four last year? Sure, Bo Ryan has Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker ready to make shots from all over the floor, but something still just doesn’t feel right in betting on the Badgers to get back to the season’s final weekend. Here are three reasons why it is still not a good idea to gamble on Wisconsin in the postseason:

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Can Michigan State Get to the Final Four Without an Elite Point Guard?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on April 9th, 2014

About six months ago, when we kicked off RTC’s Big Ten microsite for the 2013-14 season, one of the first articles written was a discussion about Michigan State’s reliance on Keith Appling. “If Appling is effective, then the Spartans are arguably the best in the country, and without him, they lack the leadership to make the Final Four.” Fast-forward six months from that piece, and we saw Appling average two points per game during four games in the NCAA Tournament (that is not a typo). Tom Izzo’s offense looked completely lost during the final 10 minutes of its Elite Eight loss against Connecticut, and they were headed down a similar path against Virginia  before Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson muscled their way to a victory. This particular discussion is not about why Appling was so ineffective because it is likely that he was still hurting from his wrist injury and just could never get back to 100 percent. Instead, the last two weeks proves the importance of Izzo’s dependence on effective point guard play, because every one of his Final Four teams relied heavily on a true point guard who could lead the team during crunch time.

Tom Izzo's teams are at their best with an effective point guard.

Tom Izzo’s teams are at their best with an effective point guard. (Getty)

Let’s start with the late 1990s when Izzo raised Michigan State basketball to a whole new level on the national stage by taking them to three straight Final Fours. There was a guy named Mateen Cleaves who had a pretty good handle on running the point, essentially acting as an extension of Izzo on the court. Even after Cleaves graduated, Charlie Bell handled the point guard duties effectively in the half-court, while the emergence of Jason Richardson on the wing improved the overall offense. Following that three-year stretch of playing on the last weekend, Izzo couldn’t get them back to the Final Four even though he recruited some excellent guards – Chris Hill and Maurice Ager were excellent scorers, but they couldn’t command the offense because of their skill sets better suited for calling their own numbers. Then came Drew Neitzel, a true point guard who was comfortable dishing the ball and letting the talented wings produce the bulk of the offense. Without Neitzel, Hill and Alan Anderson would have been the first set of seniors that would have graduated under Izzo without making a Final Four (until this year of course). Consider the next two Final Four appearances by the Spartans and another effective point guard, Kalin Lucas, dominated on both ends of the floor. Lucas was hurt during the NCAA Tournament for one of those runs, but Korie Lucious was able to step in effectively to cover the point guard position.

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Three Lessons Wisconsin Should Leverage from the Michigan vs. Kentucky Game

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on April 5th, 2014

Wisconsin can’t score when needed in the postseason. Wisconsin can’t handle athletic teams in the postseason. Wisconsin tries to slow the game down too much, which doesn’t work in the postseason. In addition to not having great luck, the aforementioned reasons had conspired to keep Bo Ryan from a Final Four. But after the Badgers’ wins over powerhouses such as Arizona, Baylor and Oregon in the first two weekends of the NCAA Tournament, the Badgers have proved that they belong in the Final Four and can beat anybody. Having said that, a peaking Kentucky team took down the AAC and Big Ten champions on its way to North Texas, so they will pose issues for the Badgers. If it hopes to play on Monday night, Wisconsin could stand to leverage a few lessons from last Sunday’s Elite Eight thriller between Kentucky and Michigan.

The following are three areas where Wisconsin should have paid close attention to Kentucky’s win over Michigan.

Frank Kaminsky needs to take Julius Randle off the dribble.

Frank Kaminsky needs to take Julius Randle off the dribble. (AP)

  1. Force Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson to move laterally on defense. While these forwards can dominate the paint on the offensive end, they should be challenged on the defensive end. If both are on the court at the same time, one of them will have to defend Frank Kaminsky or Sam Dekker. During certain possessions when Michigan’s Glenn Robinson was aggressive with the ball, he comfortably drove into the lane, which forced Randle and Johnson to pick up a foul because the freshmen are not used to defending wings who can put the ball on the floor. Kaminsky has been masterful with his ball-handling over the past month and his main goal ought to be to put Randle into uncomfortable positions defensively. Pump-fakes off the pick-and-roll and driving the lane going to his right should be a play that will be easy for the Badgers to execute, but the key will be to stick to it consistently throughout the game. Robinson settled for the jumper too much and gave the Kentucky forwards a pass here, but this is an area of the half-court offense that Wisconsin can and should definitely try to exploit. Read the rest of this entry »
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John Beilein Continues to Prove Himself as a Players’ Coach

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on April 3rd, 2014

Before taking the Michigan job, John Beilein was known for running a fast-paced offense that can outscore anybody on a given night. His West Virginia team with Kevin Pittsnoggle and Mike Gansey surprised opposing defenses on its way to the Elite Eight in 2005. Based on his seven-year record in Ann Arbor, it is high time to recognize and appreciate his ability to coach players with diverse skill sets. Customizing the offense to accordingly cope with personnel turnover and injuries has been his forte in leading Michigan basketball back to relevance in the Big Ten and on the national stage.

John Beilein is more than just an offensive minded coach. He is a great players' coach.

John Beilein is more than just an offensive minded coach. He is a great players’ coach. (AP)

There was no specific game or season that started this transformation, but if we were forced to pick one, we should review the last six weeks of the 2010-11 Big Ten season. After losing six straight games in January, the Wolverines appeared to have only a slight shot of making the NCAA Tournament. But led by a sharpshooting freshman in Tim Hardaway Jr. and a relatively unknown point guard named Darius Morris, Beilein’s crew made a furious charge into the Big Dance and nearly upset Duke in the round of 32. That season showed how Beilein could string together young players to mesh with seasoned veterans like Stu Douglass and Zach Novak, slowly changing the culture of the long-dormant Michigan program.

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Versatile Guard Play Gives Michigan a Shot to Beat Kentucky

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 30th, 2014

Even though Jordan Morgan held his own against Jarnell Stokes during the Sweet 16 game, facing Kentucky’s Julius Randle in the Elite Eight is a whole another ballgame. As we try to evaluate the Michigan – Kentucky match-up, there are certain weaknesses on both sides that stick out immediately. If Randle was able to put up 15 points and 12 rebounds against Louisville’s lengthy frontline, he should have no problems going off for 25 points and 15 rebounds against Michigan’s depleted frontcourt. So, Kentucky dominates the paint, controls the glass and beats Michigan comfortably, right? Not so fast. Vegas has Michigan as a two-point underdog, but it has certain personnel that will force Kentucky to play out of their realm.

Caris LeVert, Glenn Robinson and Nik Stauskas will force the Kentucky defense to step up on Sunday.

LeVert, Robinson, and Stauskas will force Kentucky’s defense to step up.

Yes, we know that the Wildcats have played at a higher level in the postseason, but let’s not forget that they almost lost to the Shockers – a team with multiple guards that can handle the ball and shoot from beyond the arc. And what is Michigan’s strength? Not a complete coincidence, but similar to the Shockers, they have multiple guys who can handle the ball with ease and can drill the long-range shot if given a chance. Imagine Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert moving the ball horizontally in the half-court and forcing the Harrison twins to not only keep up with them, but also keep eye out for Derrick Walton and Glenn Robinson III on the perimeter.While Randle could dominate on the offensive end, his defensive skills will be tested against four guards who can dribble their way into the paint easily. Will he be able to stay out of foul trouble as Stauskas and LeVert drive the lane off the screens? Even if he gets into foul trouble in the first half and has to ride the pine for 5-6 minutes, it will give the Michigan guards an opportunity to stay ahead. Remember, against the Shockers, the Kentucky backcourt had no answer for Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker off the screens. That could happen again on this afternoon.

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Three Reasons Why Wisconsin Will Beat Arizona

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 29th, 2014

Nine years ago, as a clear underdog, Bo Ryan’s Badgers, led by Mike Wilkinson, almost took down Sean May’s North Carolina Tar Heels in the Elite Eight. Few expected the Badgers to hang in there against an athletic UNC team, but the Badgers proved to be a matchup nightmare for most of the game. At the end, pure talent won out against a disciplined team. As Ryan heads into the second Elite Eight game during his tenure, he faces a similar challenge – Arizona is arguably the most athletic team in the country, led by freshman Aarno Gordon. Overlooking the Badgers in this matchup is not a good idea especially after their offensive performances against Baylor and Oregon. Currently, the oddsmakers have the Wildcats as a three-point favorite, but let’s dig deeper to understand why the Badgers can win the game on Saturday:

Will Bo Ryan finally take the Wisconsin program to the Final Four?

Will Bo Ryan finally take the Wisconsin program to the Final Four?

  1. Frank Kaminsky’s spin moves in the paint will get Kaleb Tarzcewski into foul trouble. Lack of height or length is not an issue for the Wildcats, but their lateral movement on defense will be challenged by Kaminsky. While it is clear that Kaminsky can shoot the three effectively, his ability to drive into the paint off the pump-fake has been overlooked over the past few weeks. Against Baylor, he repeatedly faked the ball at the top of the key and was able to drive very easily against Isaiah Austin and if he continues to do that against Arizona, Brandon Ashley’s presence will be sorely missed because Sean Miller will have to dig deeper into the bench. Arizona is extremely stingy on defense, giving up just 0.9 points per possession in the PAC-12, but it hasn’t defended a talent like Kaminsky. As we look back to the Badgers’ game Elite Eight game in 2005, Wilkinson’s ability to hit the deep shot against UNC was extremely important. Along those lines, Kaminsky can definitely put up 20 points against the depleted Arizona frontline. Miller will have to consider assigning Aaron Gordon to guard the Wisconsin big man, but that’ll create a hole on the other side of the wing because Sam Dekker will have an easier matchup. Read the rest of this entry »
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Which Big Ten Program Needs The Final Four More This Season?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on March 27th, 2014

We know about the statistic that no Michigan State senior has left East Lansing without making it to the Final Four under Tom Izzo, which makes this weekend extremely crucial for Keith Appling and Adreian Payne. We also know that Bo Ryan hasn’t made an Elite Eight since 2005 and hasn’t had great success in the postseason, so this high-powered Wisconsin offense has a decent chance to make it to the Final Four. Nobody expected Michigan to be here after Mitch McGary’s injury, but we have learned not to doubt the Wolverines’ explosive offense because they could beat anybody on a given night. As we head into the next round of games, let’s try to understand which coach and program really needs the Final Four. Note that this is not a discussion about which coach would be on the “hot seat” if they don’t make the Final Four because Tom Izzo, Bo Ryan and John Beilein’s seat is as cold as it can get based on the credibility they have earned with their respective programs.

Tom Izzo's roster doesn't look great next year and the opportunity to make the Final Four may not come around for a couple more years.

Tom Izzo’s roster doesn’t look great next year and the opportunity to make the Final Four may not come around for a couple more years. (AP)

  • Michigan State: On the outset, an appearance in the Sweet 16 seems to be perfectly enough for Izzo because his program continues to uphold its reputation of being excellent in the postseason. But digging deeper and understanding his roster’s composition over the next two seasons emphasizes the importance of this weekend. Under the assumption that Gary Harris is headed to the NBA draft and considering that two key seniors graduate next year, the Spartans don’t really have a go-to scorer left on the roster. Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice are capable of possibly averaging 12 points per game next season but neither of them have proved that they can take over a game when needed. The freshman class isn’t great either because it doesn’t even rank in the top 30 according to Rivals. Izzo will still find a way to compete for the Big Ten title but he may not have enough horsepower to compete for a Final Four — at least not for another two seasons. This weekend is their chance to make an impact and get ahead before they take a step back at least for another year as they rebuild. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Teams in the Sweet Sixteen: Three Key Match-ups

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 26th, 2014

Considering Wisconsin and Michigan State both had tough match-ups in the round of 32, the Big Ten advancing three teams into the Sweet Sixteen is an accomplishment. In case you are keeping tabs, the Big Ten has done relatively well with its draw — #11 seeds Iowa and Nebraska weren’t expected to do much, and really only #6 Ohio State’s loss to Dayton was disappointing. Keeping in mind that only one ACC team is still alive (Virginia) and the Pac-12 and SEC also sent three teams to the second weekend, the Big Ten is in solid position right now. Now, each of the three teams remaining — Michigan, Michigan State, and Wisconsin — have very tough opponents in the next round, so the wheels could come off and the league could end it season with a mediocre 6-6 record; or, each of the three has a reasonable shot to make a run at the Final Four this weekend.

Let’s take a look at these three match-ups that are key to each team winning its next game.

Adreian Payne will be key inside for the Spartans as they meet the Virginia Cavaliers in the next round. (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

Adreian Payne will be key inside for the Spartans as they meet Virginia in the next round. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

  1. Adreian Payne vs. Virginia’s big guys: The blueprint for the Cavaliers is fairly clear: Everything starts with their excellent defense, as indicated by opponents averaging just 43.1% eFG against them during ACC play. They will try to smother Gary Harris and Keith Appling from the outside, forcing the Spartans to earn a win from inside the arc. That’s where Adreian Payne needs to help out Tom Izzo. He needs to abstain from using his jumper in favor of leveraging his post moves in the paint. Shooting jumpers off the pick-and-roll will be tough because Virginia’s wings — Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris — will be quick enough to cover those, so Payne needs to play well with his back to the basket. Payne has shown signs of brilliance with his moves in the paint at times, but he’ll have to provide some breathing room for his guards by picking up the offense early; otherwise, the game could be a defensive grind that favors the Cavaliers. Read the rest of this entry »
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Indiana’s Roster Changes Leads to Lack of Continuity and Chemistry

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 26th, 2014

Indiana’s offense will look very different next season because of a few key departures that were announced in the last couple of days. It isn’t surprising to see Noah Vonleh declare for the NBA Draft because he is an excellent prospect with great size (6’10″) who has a chance to become a good rebounder in the Association. But the news about Jeremy Hollowell and Austin Etherington transferring is a bit surprising and it will create a hole in the Hoosiers’ lineup next year. Even though neither player was a major contributor this season, their departures will hurt the continuity of an offense that averaged just 1.0 point per possession during conference play.

Noah Vonleh will be missed in Bloomington.

Noah Vonleh will be missed in Bloomington. (AP)

Talent was not an issue for Tom Crean this year, but Indiana’s starting five never meshed all that well together. The half-court offense mostly involved the guards trying to break down their defenders one-on-one, and when it didn’t work, passing it to another guard to score in isolation. This chaotic approach to offense led to numerous turnovers as Indiana ranked last in the Big Ten with a 21.9 percent turnover rate this season. Vonleh and Hollowell will probably be replaced with talented freshmen, but it also means that Crean will have to start over with the offense again next year.

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Keeping Up Appearances: This Postseason is Important For the Big Ten

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on March 20th, 2014

What a difference a year can make. On the morning of the opening of the 2013 NCAA Tournament there was considerable discussion about potentially seeing two or maybe even three Big Ten teams in the Final Four. There was plenty of buzz about the chances of several conference contenders like Michigan, Indiana and Michigan State making a deep run into April. Future lottery picks such as Trey Burke, Mitch McGary, Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller were household names. This year, on the same morning of the opening of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, the league is in a different place. Except for Michigan State, a team that finally appears to be healthy, Big Ten teams aren’t being touted very highly. The rest of the squads have the appearance of, at best, second weekend teams, and at worst, early upset victims. All of this leads to one question heading into the Round of 64: What are the reasonable expectations for Big Ten teams, and will the overall reputation of the conference be damaged with a poor performance over the next two weeks?

Tom Izzo's team will need to carry the Big Ten's image this March. (Justin Wan/The State News)

Tom Izzo’s team will need to carry the Big Ten’s image this March. (Justin Wan/The State News)

On paper, three teams – Wisconsin, Michigan, and Michigan State – appear to have a shot to make the Final Four. But let’s be honest here; each of these have exhibited their flaws throughout the regular season, and none have consistently proved  that they have the talent to compete for the national title. Neither the Badgers nor the Wolverines have great interior defense, a major weakness that will hurt them against bigger teams such as Arizona or Kansas. The Spartans have the requisite size to compete with those teams, but their sometimes lackadaisical attitude could lead to their demise against a team that just plays harder for 40 minutes. While Tom Izzo deserves the benefit of the doubt because of his multiple-Final Four track record, it remains quite possible that Sparty could fall short. If Michigan State and the other two teams fall short of the Final Four as well, an oh-fer will be a significant blow to the brand of Big Ten basketball.

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Evaluating the Big Ten Teams in the West Region

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on March 19th, 2014

Is the West region really up for grabs because Arizona might have a match-up against a dangerous Oklahoma State team? While Marcus Smart will cherish the challenge to prove that he can compete with the best teams on the national stage, the Wildcats are still the favorite out of this region because they have figured out how to play without Brandon Ashley. Under the assumption that Arizona makes it to the Elite Eight, is there a Big Ten team that can challenge them out west? Nebraska and Wisconsin could end up playing each other in the Sweet Sixteen, if both teams make it that far, meaning the one left standing could be poised for a shot at the Wildcats. The following are a few thoughts about both teams’ chances in this region.

Terran Petteway can't have an off-night against Baylor. (HallUniversity.com)

Terran Petteway can’t have an off-night against Baylor. (HallUniversity.com)

  • Can the Huskers keep up with Baylor? The Bears’ game plan is fairly straightforward: outscore the opponent using a dribble-drive offense that consists of athletic players such as Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson. Averaging 1.11 points per possession on the offensive end shows that they will challenge the Huskers to outscore them. Terran Petteway will need some help because he can’t win the game by himself. Shavon Shields will need to be that guy but all of the Huskers’ wings will be busy chasing around the Bears on defense. Austin should be able to dominate the paint because Tim Miles doesn’t have another big guy beyond Walter Pitchford who can hang with the future NBA center. Having said that, Miles may have a slight edge over the Bears in that his squad is a much more disciplined team after going through the rigors of the Big Ten. Haphazard offense has been an occasional issue for Drew’s team over the years and the Bears could find a tough time scoring when Nebraska cuts off the driving lanes and force the guards to beat them from distance. That gamble could ultimately pay off, but this is a tough first round match-up for the Huskers. Read the rest of this entry »
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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big Ten Teams

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on March 16th, 2014

Six Big Ten teams got into the NCAA Tournament; that’s not too bad. Compared to last year’s seven bids, the conference’s representation seems just OK this year. Over the next two days, debates will rage about which teams were penalized too harshly and which teams were slotted in favorable draws by the NCAA selection committee. Here are a few initial thoughts about the six Big Ten teams in this year’s NCAA field.

Gary Harris and Adreian Payne are finally healthy to lead the Spartans back to the Final Four.

Gary Harris and Adreian Payne are finally healthy to lead the Spartans back to the Final Four.

  • Tom Izzo is smiling again after winning the conference tournament. Three up and three down: the Spartans won the Big Ten Tournament convincingly to prove that when they are healthy, they are one of the best teams in the country. Their potential match-up against Virginia in the Sweet Sixteen should be an excellent game, but more importantly, a game that they can win. There is no team in their region — Iowa State and Villanova included — that has more talent than the Spartans.
  • It isn’t surprising to see Minnesota left out of the final 68. There was nothing special about the Gophers’ resume this year outside of their win over Iowa. They won the games that they were supposed t0, but never really impressed the committee with any big wins. Plus, their thumping loss (83-57) to the Badgers in the Big Ten Tournament certainly didn’t help their case. Regardless of the final outcome, Richard Pitino did a fine job leading the Gophers to 20 wins in his first campaign, especially considering that Andre Hollins was dealing with injuries for most of the conference season.

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