Big Ten Key Offseason Questions: Part III

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on April 8th, 2016

We continue to address key questions for each Big Ten team as they head into the offseason. Today we will tackle Michigan, Iowa, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Parts I and II can be found here and here.

Michigan (23-13, 10-8 Big Ten)

John Beilein will need a dominant presence in the paint to compete for the Big Ten title. (Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)

John Beilein will need a dominant presence in the paint to compete for the Big Ten title. (Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)

Will the Wolverines have any presence at all in the paint?

With the unexpected departure of Ricky Doyle, John Beilein suddenly has a dearth of big men on his roster. The Wolverines ranked 12th in the Big Ten in offensive rebounding percentage and badly need a big man who can consistently hold his own on the defensive glass. Michigan returns a lineup of athletic wings with excellent range on their jumpers, but it won’t rise to the top of the Big Ten standings without better rebounding — particularly on the defensive end of the floor.

Iowa (22-11, 12-6 Big Ten)

Can the Hawkeyes fill the huge void left by their four well-traveled seniors?

Jarrod Uthoff, Mike Gesell, Anthony Clemmons and Adam Woodbury were the foundation of a Hawkeyes’ squad that spent over a third of this season ranked among the top 10. Peter Jok will be the team’s primary offensive weapon next season, but the rest of the roster will be very inexperienced. Dom Uhl showed good range in shooting 45 percent from beyond the arc; he is in line for a big increase in minutes and production.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Three Statistics That Favor Wisconsin Over Notre Dame

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 25th, 2016

January 12, 2016, was a low point for Wisconsin basketball. Not only did the Badgers lose to a sub-par Northwestern squad on the road, but they also appeared to have dug themselves into a dangerous and perhaps irrevocable hole with a 1-4 record in the Big Ten. Nobody then would have expected that team to have a legitimate chance of making the Elite Eight two months later. Ken Pomeroy’s model predicts a one-point win for the #7 seed in its regional semifinal versus #6 Notre Dame tonight. The oddsmakers in Vegas, however, originally pegged Notre Dame as a one-point favorite, although that appears to have moved toward Wisconsin as well since then. Here are three statistics that indicate that KenPom is accurate in considering Wisconsin tonight’s favorite.

Bronson Koenig should have plenty of good looks from beyond the arc against a porous Irish defense. (AP)

Bronson Koenig should have plenty of good looks from beyond the arc against a porous Irish defense. (AP)

  • Opponents shot 38.7 percent from three against the Irish during ACC conference play. Notre Dame ranked 12th of 15 ACC teams in this defensive category this season, so poor perimeter defense will be an issue against a hot Bronson Koenig, who went 6-of-12 from behind the arc against Xavier last weekend. As a team, the Badgers shot 38 percent from three-point range during conference play, and Koenig’s long-range efforts have been complemented effectively by Vitto Brown‘s 40 percent shooting. Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia will have their hands full in keeping up with Wisconsin’s hot-shooting backcourt.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Key Matchups Loom Large in UNC-Indiana Battle

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 25th, 2016

During a postgame interview after Indiana’s tough win over Kentucky, Indiana head coach Tom Crean said that he “didn’t want to stop coaching this team.” His sentiment makes sense. Crean has a fun and talented team, led by one of the best players in Hoosiers history. But while Yogi Ferrell played his heart out (18 points, five rebounds, four assists) against Tyler Ulis and the Wildcats, he can’t do it by himself against North Carolina. The Hoosiers should be in good shape on the offensive end, especially if freshman Thomas Bryant continues to stay out of foul trouble; however, expect Indiana to be challenged in different ways by the Tar Heels. For Crean to get his wish and continue coaching this team, the Hoosiers will have figure out the answers to tonight’s following matchups.

Tom Crean's defense will have its work cut out against Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige in the Sweet 16 round. (Getty)

Tom Crean’s defense will have its work cut out against Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige in the Sweet Sixteen. (Photo: Getty)

  • Brice Johnson vs. Troy Williams or Thomas Bryant. Johnson has been arguably the best forward in the country over the course of a season in which he averaged 16.8 PPG and 10.5 RPG. His athleticism around the rim will definitely demand double-teams from the Hoosiers’ defense. Indiana’s help defense against Kentucky’s big men was successful because neither Alex Poythress nor Marcus Lee are comfortable with their backs to the basket; Johnson, however, has the exact opposite skill set. Bryant has the weight to push Johnson away from the paint but the Tar Heels big man could run circles around him if he chooses to face the basket. Williams, on the other hand, has the wingspan to defend Johnson but will be susceptible to picking up easy fouls against him. Those would hurt the Hoosiers considerably on the other end of the floor. Even if they end up letting Johnson get his 20 points in the paint, protecting the defensive glass is paramount. It will not be a close contest if Johnson ends up with multiple second chances on the offensive end.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Three Scenarios That Could Hurt Big Ten Teams This Weekend

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 16th, 2016

The spectacular odds of correctly predicting a perfect bracket during the NCAA Tournament has been well-documented over the years. Put simply, it is next to impossible. It is incredibly tough to predict the idiosyncrasies of 18-22 year olds during a 40-minute game multiplied 63 times, and any number of scenarios can tilt the game toward the underdog. In order to evaluate each Big Ten team’s chances of making it to the Final Four, it is crucial to understand what kinds of matchups can hurt them. Below, we examine scenarios that could be an Achilles Heel for Michigan State, Indiana and Purdue in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Michigan State will be in trouble if Bryn Forbes slumps from beyond the arc.

Michigan State will be in trouble if Bryn Forbes slumps from beyond the arc. (AP)

  • Cutting Bryn Forbes out of Michigan State’s offense. At this juncture of the season, it is safe to assume that Denzel Valentine cannot be stopped in the pick-and-roll. A defense has to cover him no matter where he roams, but it can choose where to focus its help defense. Either it lets Matt Costello cut through the paint for easy layups or it allows Bryn Forbes to nail daggers from beyond the arc. A hot Forbes — currently shooting a whopping 48 percent from three-point range — takes Michigan State’s offense to a different level and allows Valentine to save his offense for crunch time. Costello (10.4 PPG) isn’t used to high levels of production so it is better to force him to carry the burden.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Reflecting on Denzel Valentine’s Versatile Career

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 3rd, 2016

In Fall 2012 Denzel Valentine was an overlooked freshman guard in a class defined by top-25 recruit Gary Harris. Four years of growth later, Valentine leaves East Lansing with an impressive skill set and leadership skills that represents an excellent case study in player development. Since his freshman year, his scoring has nearly quadrupled (from 5.0 PPG to 19.6 PPG); his long-range shooting has significantly improved (from 28 percent to 45 percent); and his assists have tripled (from 2.4 APG to 7.2 APG). While his improvement in several major statistical categories over his career is impressive, his ability to do so without forcing his way into Tom Izzo’s system is worthy of discussion.

Denzel Valentine (right) had to carve his own identity after Keith Appling (left) graduated (AP Photo/D. Martin)

Denzel Valentine (right) had to carve his own identity after Keith Appling (left) graduated (AP Photo/D. Martin)

Being the third option in an offense that traditionally highlights only two guards in the backcourt isn’t easy, yet Valentine was that guy for two seasons behind Harris and Keith Appling. When he was on the floor, he had to learn how to both play off the ball and without screens because Appling controlled the offense and Harris was the designated three-point gunner. Despite the lack of offense run for him, he found other ways to actively contribute, such as grabbing six rebounds per game as a sophomore. Valentine’s first two seasons highlight his perseverance and efforts to impact the game despite not having an integral role within Michigan State’s offense.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Evaluating Iowa’s Recent Slump

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on February 25th, 2016

In a home loss to surging Wisconsin last night, Iowa again refused to control its own destiny on the way to a Big Ten title. Every time Indiana or Maryland slips up and leaves the Hawkeyes with a big opening, Fran McCaffery’s team just can’t seem to string together a consistent 40 minutes. The loss to the Badgers is Iowa’s third in its last four outings, with the only win coming against cellar-dwelling Minnesota. The perplexing part of the Hawkeyes’ recent slide is that there hasn’t been a clear statistical reason for it — rebounding and turnovers, for example, have been within normal ranges. Rather, a consistent theme in the losses seems to be a relative lack of leadership and a diverse offensive tool kit which doesn’t expand much beyond the three-point shot. Let’s evaluate both of these concerns.

McCaffery's Hawkeyes need to prove they can win out-score their opponents in the half-court. (AP/C. Neibergall)

McCaffery’s Hawkeyes need to prove they can win out-score their opponents in the half-court. (AP/C. Neibergall)

  • Limited offensive game plan. A three-point percentage of 27.8 percent last night from a team that relies so heavily on the three-point shot is a troubling sign, but the bigger concern is limited shot selection from its sharp-shooters, Jared Uthoff and Peter Jok. While Jok prefers to be set up for this threes, Uthoff likes to create his own shot in isolation. Both of these maneuvers have become too predictable. The formula for defensive success here includes initially cutting off the corners and the trailing Hawkeye during transition. Once Iowa settles into the half-court, Mike Gesell usually tries to take his defender off the dribble, but smart defenders give him space to shoot a long two. Gesell is reluctant to shoot the three, so limiting his options to a shot at the top of the key is a much better strategy than letting him draw and dish to Jok or Uthoff in the corners. Putting Uthoff in isolation is another worthy defensive gamble because it typically extends the length of the offensive possession. Iowa’s average offensive possession length is 16.3 seconds, but isolation tends to slow down activity for everyone else without the ball. Uthoff shot a paltry 6-of-23 from beyond the arc during the recent three losses so he needs to be more mindful of defenses challenging him to put the ball on the floor rather than allowing him to line up open jump shots.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Indiana’s Relying On Yogi Ferrell Too Much

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on February 17th, 2016

While it has been a sensational season for Yogi Ferrell (16.8 PPG, 5.7 APG), Indiana may need to find ways to beat teams without its point guard playing so prominent a role in the offense. In recent weeks opposing teams have been forcing Ferrell’s supporting cast to beat them by taking the senior guard out of the equation. Look no further than the Hoosiers’ last two games against Iowa and Michigan State, where Ferrell struggled mightily, shooting 2-of-12 from the field against the Hawkeyes and 3-of-10 against the Spartans. This may not necessarily represent a slump, but it could be a nice recipe for success for future opponents: limit Ferrell’s perimeter shots and force him to use his teammates in the half-court. Barring a monumental collapse during the last few weeks, the Hoosiers will be in the #4-#6 seed range in the NCAA Tournament. But their success once they get there will depend on how they answer two critical questions:

Opposing defenses will take Yogi Ferrell's three-point shot out of his game over the next few weeks.

Opposing defenses may try to take Yogi Ferrell’s three-point shot out of his game over the next few weeks. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

  • Can Ferrell continue to get to the free throw line? Against Iowa, a younger Ferrell would have doubled down on perimeter shooting when his long-range game was rendered ineffective (he shot 2-of-9 from beyond the arc). A more experienced Ferrell, however, showed tremendous maturity in attacking the paint to earn and nail all eight of his free throws. Rarely does he pick up his dribble off ball screens when he doesn’t have sufficient space to fire away from the perimeter, but his defenders will continue to shadow him closely until one of his teammates can consistently make a mid-range jumper. Indiana’s big men don’t have the best mid-range game or great ability to make the extra pass; as a result, most pick-and-roll sets involving Ferrell include Troy Williams or Thomas Bryant. Bryant is a true big man and has excellent footwork in the paint, but he isn’t comfortable driving to the basket. Williams, on the other hand, is nifty with his moves around the basket, but help defense dares him to shoot a jumper. Given that the bulk of Williams’ points come from dunks, tip-ins or layups, this scenario isn’t especially advantageous for Indiana. As a result of this and the other weaknesses of teammates, Ferrell has limited options off of screens and will often have no choice but to dribble around aimlessly and search for his own open look. At some point, his teammates’ lack of shot-making ability stymies the Indiana offense.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Wisconsin Slowly Finding Its New Identity

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on February 1st, 2016

The first half of January wasn’t kind to Wisconsin. Losing its first three games by an average of just three points per contest to Indiana, Maryland and Northwestern put the Badgers behind the Big Ten eight-ball. As we now head into February, however, Greg Gard‘s new team seems to be slowly recovering just in time for the back half of the league schedule. Four straight wins to finish January has delivered some hope of making a run toward an NCAA Tournament bid, but to make that a reality, the Badgers will need to find answers to the following three questions.

Nigel Hayes will need to mix up his game to be effective with Ethan Happ.

Nigel Hayes will need to mix up his game to be effective with Ethan Happ.

  • Can Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes continue to effectively share the low post? The Badgers’ freshman star, Happ, isn’t a secret anymore. After averaging almost 20 PPG in wins over Michigan State, Penn State and Indiana, he drew consistent double teams from Illinois on Sunday. While he was able to pass the ball capably out of the post yesterday, there is a risk that Happ could slow down the offense if he starts to force bad shots in those situations. He and Hayes have been clicking inside together during the winning streak, but that trend will continue into the stretch run only if Hayes can remain active without the ball. The junior has struggled from the perimeter this season, making only 30 percent of his three-point attempts, so having him stand on the wing looking for jumpers while Happ works inside isn’t the long-term solution.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

How Will Traevon Jackson’s Return Impact the Badgers?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 26th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

There isn’t much stopping Wisconsin’s offensive stride right now. The Badgers won the Big Ten regular season and tournament championships by averaging a whopping 1.21 points per possession despite playing the last 17 games of the season without senior point guard Traevon Jackson, who broke his foot on January 11. Some observers thought that the injury would set the Badgers back on both ends of the court but Wisconsin instead has held strong with its only loss since coming at Maryland. Sophomore replacement Bronson Koenig has done a terrific job of running the offense by hanging on to the ball, distributing it in the right spots and shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc.

Traevon Jackson's confidence to take big shots during the final minutes of key games will be needed over the Sweet 16 weekend of Wisconsin.

Traevon Jackson’s confidence to take big shots for Wisconsin during the final minutes of key games will be needed in the Sweet Sixteen and possibly beyond. (Getty)

Jackson said yesterday that he has confidence in his foot and he is “100 percent” ready to play against North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen. With two more wins needed to reach the program’s second consecutive Final Four, it is an intriguing dilemma for Bo Ryan to determine how many minutes Jackson should play. The argument against inserting him completely back into the rotation is that the move could disturb the seamless rhythm of what has been an offensive juggernaut. The argument for playing him is that he was the starter of last season’s Final Four squad and it’s not as if the Badgers were doing poorly before he was injured (15-1 with the sole loss coming to Duke). Ryan will definitely play his senior point guard some minutes tonight, but the question is how much and in what spots? The reason that this is a particularly difficult decision for the head coach is because Koenig has been a more effective player than Jackson.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Evaluating Rayvonte Rice’s Career at Illinois

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 8th, 2015

Despite averaging 16.0 PPG over two seasons in Champaign, Rayvonte Rice’s Illinois career has had several bumps along the way. There is no argument about his offensive ability but his leadership could be called into question because the Illini — depending on the next seven days — have not made an NCAA Tournament on his watch. He struggled during Big Ten competition last season as the Illini lost eight straight at one point, and although the team has been better during his senior season, he hasn’t been able to close out some games because he was too predictable. If the Illini get back to the NCAAs next week, all may be forgiven; but assuming they do not after a tough loss to Purdue yesterday, let’s examine the three primary reasons why Rice’s game didn’t translate to more wins at Illinois.

Rayvonte Rice Has Had an Up and Down Illinois Career (USA Today Images)

Rayvonte Rice Has Had an Up and Down Illinois Career (USA Today Images)

  1. Over-reliance on the long-range shot and predictable moves. Rice’s athleticism is too much to handle during the non-conference season because most of those teams don’t have defenders with enough strength to prevent him from getting to the rim. Big Ten defenders, however, are just as strong as him, and the coaches are too smart to allow him to get to the basket off of screens. Double-teams are common when he comes off screens to his right as opposing defenders force him to shoot from beyond the arc. His junior season was plagued with horrible shot selection, attempting 156 threes and only making 30 percent of them. Frustrations mounted during his slumps as he continued to force shots instead of sharing the ball with his younger teammates. The insertions of Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn into the starting lineup last season helped to ease the burden somewhat, but it came a bit too late. Rice should have let the game come to him and relied more on his teammates. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Minnesota Already in Rough Shape in the Big Ten Race

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on January 7th, 2015

Some might have considered the Ohio State vs. Minnesota game on Tuesday night an interesting match-up but not necessarily one with postseason implications. The new year has just begun. Teams have barely played 15 games, and the conference season is just picking up. So why would it matter? Well, for a Gophers’ team that hasn’t earned a quality win yet despite an 11-5 start to the season, an 0-3 beginning to Big Ten play doesn’t bode well for the future. A home win against Ohio State is exactly what the team needed, but the Gophers, despite a valiant second half comeback, just couldn’t finish it off. Here are three thoughts from the overtime thriller:

Richard Pitino's Gophers blew a golden opportunity at the Barn on Tuesday night.

Richard Pitino’s Gophers blew a golden opportunity at the Barn on Tuesday night.

  1. Credit Andre Hollins for his defense against D’Angelo Russell in the second half. Russell was on fire in the first half, scoring 25 points including 5-of-6 from beyond the arc and making Hollins look like a tired senior trying to keep up with a stud freshman. The second half, however, was a completely different story, as Hollins hit a big three-pointer in the first minute and showed that he was ready to lock down Russell by pressuring him full-court. His improved intensity allowed him to fight over the screens, bumping Russell off balance as he tried to turn the corner. This defensive tweak along with pushing him to the corners worked perfectly, as Russell was held scoreless during the rest of regulation (he finished with 27 points). If Hollins had played with half of his second half intensity from the start, the Gophers probably wouldn’t be left with with an 0-3 Big Ten record. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Three Takeaways from Maryland’s Huge Win Over Michigan State

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on December 31st, 2014

Despite entering its conference opener against Michigan State with a 12-1 record, Vegas listed Maryland as a six-point underdog in its Big Ten debut. A potential reason for this could have been that Tom Izzo had never lost a Big Ten opener at the Breslin Center and Mark Turgeon’s squad was expected to struggle against a defensive-minded team such as Michigan State. Despite these doubts, the Terps pulled out a gutsy win in double-overtime — a victory cementing the notion that Maryland can survive a tough Big Ten schedule and potentially challenge Wisconsin for the conference title. Here are three key takeaways that explain some of what happened in last night’s game:

Dez Wells led the Terps to a huge win over the Spartans on Tuesday.  (Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

Dez Wells led the Terps to a huge win over the Spartans on Tuesday. (Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

  1. Maryland outrebounded Michigan State by 16 boards. Mark Turgeon’s squad is generally considered weak on the rebounding front because the Terps have a bunch of stretch forwards attempting to hold their own on the glass. Jake Layman and Evan Smotrycz weren’t expected to outdo Michigan State’s more durable big men like Branden Dawson and Gavin Schilling, but the pair came up with 17 boards, same as their Michigan State counterparts. The small-ball lineup could hurt the Terps in the long run, but its versatility helped them in East Lansing: Dez Wells and Richaud Pack combined for 12 rebounds from the wings and they came up with a number of key offensive boards during overtime. If they can depend on Smotycz for outside shooting and still rely on Layman or Wells to crash the boards, that gives Turgeon plenty of options. Damonte Dodd also did an excellent job neutralizing Dawson in the final minutes of the game — a key substitution that worked out well. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story