Big Ten M5: 02.17.14 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on February 17th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Over the years, we’ve grown accustomed to getting Tom Izzo’s take on various subjects. He was very vocal when Illinois had fired head coach, Bruce Weber, and he usually doesn’t hesitate to offer his opinion about the general state of college basketball. So what’s the newest topic that Izzo has been sounding off about? Twitter. “We used to be able to go to a game and have a bad game, leave the game and you never heard about it,” Izzo said this week, when asked about his take on Twitter, during a post-game press conference. Generally speaking, Izzo’s players haven’t really gotten into trouble with their usage of their 140 characters on Twitter, but that doesn’t stop their coach from sharing his opinion.
  2. John Groce is trying his best to make changes in Champaign, but they haven’t yielded any results over the past few weeks, as the Illini have lost nine out of ten games. Having said that, the players appear to be hanging in there with their coach through the tough times. “The effort that they continue to give, the way they’ve fought, the fact that they come with their hard hat on every day, that motivates me,” Groce said. The offense has stumbled since early January, after they started the conference season with a 2-0 record. At this point, the best they can really do is show some improvement with their younger core of players – Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill – over the next few weeks. By doing that, at least the Illini could set themselves up for a decent season next year.
  3. The hits keep on coming for the Hoosiers. After getting pummeled by the Boilermakers on the road, Tom Crean indefinitely suspended sophomore forward, Hanner Perea over the weekend. Crean said, “The first things I told him were that we loved him and wanted to support him. We are disappointed in him but also disappointed for him. He knows he made some terrible choices which have turned into big mistakes.” Even though Perea has only averaged 3 PPG, the loss might affect the Hoosiers team more negatively off the court, than on the court. With the loss at Purdue, the Hoosiers need a couple of big wins over the next three weeks if they hope to make a run at the NCAAs.
  4. Nik Stauskas had only averaged 10 PPG over four games leading up to the big game against Wisconsin on Sunday. Before the game, John Beilein was urging Stauskas to increase his shot attempts to make sure he could shoot out of his slump. “He can do this,” Beilein said on Friday of Stauskas dealing with aggressive defenses. Against the Badgers, Stauskas struggled early on against the staunch defense from Josh Gasser and ended up with just 11 points from 11 shot attempts. This slump could very well only last a few more games before the sophomore sharpshooter heats up again in March, just in time for the NCAA tournament.
  5. After four years in the Big Ten, Aaron Craft may have thought that he had seen it all, but he might have seen something different during his last trip to Champaign on Saturday. The Orange Krush tried to make fun of Craft by adding, what they might have considered funny, details to the flyer that was handed out to the students before the game. It was a failed attempt because he scored 14 points in just 25 minutes as the Buckeyes continue to keep their hopes alive of receiving a top-5 seed in the NCAAs.
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Derrick Walton Jr. is Coming Into His Own at Michigan

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on February 15th, 2014

During the era of super freshmen in college basketball, we rarely try to understand how much they can grow over the course of the season. After all, 18- and 19-year-olds will take some time to adjust to the tempo and athleticism of the game. With Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Tyler Ennis dominating the headlines with their regularly impressive performances, it is easy to forget about some of the other freshmen who have stepped up their games during conference play after an initial period of adjustment. Derrick Walton Jr., Michigan’s rookie point guard, is one such example. Forget filling Trey Burke’s shoes in the Michigan offense; Walton doesn’t need to be the same player. But he has shown glimpses of his ability to run the team in recent weeks, averaging a solid 10.6 PPG and 4.o APG in the Wolverines’ last five games. We wrote back in November about the need for Nik Stauskas to step up as the lead guard because the offense was flailing during the non-conference season, but Walton now appears to be firmly in control as the primary initiator of the offense and a sparkplug in the open court.

Derrick Walton Jr. has been impressive during the past two weeks. (credit: ap.org)

Derrick Walton Jr. (left) has been impressive during the past two weeks. (credit: ap.org)

Before we begin to understand his growth as a player, it is essential to recognize that Walton is a talented scorer, and compared to Burke, he actually has a quicker release on his jumper. Shooting 40 percent from long range is not too shabby, but the main difference with Burke is that he likes to be set up for shots instead of creating them off the dribble. The most impressive part of his game is his ability to get to the basket off of screens. He’s always had great talent, but it has taken him a while to understand his role in the offense considering the strengths and versatility of Michigan’s wings, Stauskas and Caris LeVert.

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Evaluating Devyn Marble’s Offense: This Season Versus Last

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on February 11th, 2014

On Saturday, Iowa did not waste any time in jumping out to an 11-4 lead on its way to a huge win over Michigan. Thanks to Devyn Marble’s scorching start — he nailed three shots from beyond the arc to begin the game — the senior forward ended up with 27 points and has been one of the best scorers in the country this season. Averaging 16.5 PPG is impressive on its own, but we have access to more informative statistics to understand the improvements that Marble has made in his offensive game from last year to this one. The table below shows some key differences between seasons, so let’s use the data to understand how he could turn into of the most explosive players of the postseason.

Marble Comparison

Let’s start with the easy one: Marble’s offensive rating has increased a tick from his junior season, and one of his most notable improvements is better confidence from distance. Last season, he took way too many shots from beyond the arc — 150 attempts — while only hitting an inefficient 33 percent. This season, his 38 percent shooting is a huge weapon in his arsenal, which has led to an overall increase in his effective field goal percentage as well. Putting aside those statistics, the diversity of his attempts from deep are even more impressive. Against the Wolverines, he shot 6-of-10 from three but those six shots came from all over the floor: he pulled up in transition; he came off of screens; and he was able to pull up off the dribble. His release is significantly quicker and smoother compared with last year, which shows he put in the requisite time and focus on it during the offseason. In February of his junior year, Marble hit a prolonged two-week slump because opposing defenses were able to cut off his dribble-drive ability and force him to beat them from pull-ups in the mid-range. That defensive option will not work this season based on what we have seen, which only makes him more dangerous with the ball in his hands.

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Big Ten M5: 02.10.14 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on February 10th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Spartan fans barely had any time to enjoy Adreian Payne’s return, when they got the news that point guard, Keith Appling, will be out for a “couple of weeks.” Backup point guard, Travis Trice, stepped up against Wisconsin by scoring 13 points and hitting a clutch three-pointer during the final minute of the game. Trice’s offense ought to be adequate as long as Gary Harris doesn’t go through a cold shooting slump, but Appling’s health could be concern if he doesn’t come back after two to three weeks because his experience will be pivotal for the Spartans in March.
  2. Speaking of adequate offense, Ohio State‘s struggles with regards to scoring have been well-documented, but when they do put up points in the 60s, they are a tough team to beat. Stating the obvious, when the the “shots fall,” they are an excellent team because their defensive intensity goes up by that much more. Over the past week, Lenzelle Smith Jr. has averaged 14 points per game against Iowa and Purdue, as the Buckeyes are trying to make their way back into the top-25 rankings. Smith is certainly the wildcard because LaQuinton Ross’ 14.2 points per game will need a consistent complement over the next six weeks as Thad Matta’s team hopes to return to the Sweet 16 again in the NCAAs.
  3. Not sure if you have heard, but Michigan’s Nik Stauskas is the team’s best offensive player and the Big Ten defenses have decided to lock him down and force other Wolverines to beat them. Over hte past three games, Stauskas’ has barely averaged 9 points per game because defenses are double-teaming him all over the perimeter, forcing him to pass the ball to the open man on the weak side. Against Iowa, the defensive intensity caused him to turn the ball over four times and he ended up with zero assists. The last three games are not just an anomaly because every team, especially in the NCAAs, will try to force Stauskas to give up the ball, which will not only test his passing abilities but also test Caris Levert and Glenn Robinson’s ability to hit the clutch shots during the final minutes of the game.
  4. More on Iowa‘s defensive intensity, they did not waste any time trying to establish a lead over the Wolverines and were able to shut down Nik Stauskas for most of the game. Their depth on the roster is a strength on the offensive side but can be even more valuable on the defensive end because they can use fresh legs, specifically in the frontcourt, because Melsahn Basabe, Gabriel Olaseni, and Adam Woodbury are formidable defenders in the paint. Roy Devyn Marble, has stepped up defensively too, by guarding Stuaskas for most of the game. Saturday’s win may be a turning point for the Hawkeyes as they continue to gain confidence about their ability to compete with the top teams in the country.
  5. Continuing on the defensive theme, Indiana can’t seem to be get stops when they need to, over the past two weeks. Ten days ago, they lost to the Huskers and they couldn’t hold onto a lead against Minnesota over the weekend either – mainly because of a lackluster defensive effort. “We had some awareness issues at the end of possessions,” Tom Crean said, referring to a handful of defensive breakdowns late in the shot clock Saturday. Crean’s team is technically still on the bubble, but will need to defend, especially against the middle-of-the-pack teams such as Penn State, Purdue or Nebraska.
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A Closer Look at Michigan State’s Game Without Adreian Payne & Branden Dawson

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on February 6th, 2014

According to the East Lansing Journal, Michigan State’s senior forward, Adreian Payne, will play against Penn State on Thursday night. After missing seven games with a foot injury, his return couldn’t come at a better time for the injury-riddled Spartans, who are also playing without their leading rebounder, Branden Dawson. Dawson will be out for at least more three weeks with a broken hand. Losing two out of three games without two of their best players isn’t completely surprising, but let’s take a closer look at why Tom Izzo needs at least one of them to be healthy by March to maintain any aspirations of contending for the national title. Specifically, let’s examine three statistics that generally show how Dawson and Payne’s absence has affected the Spartans on both ends of the floor.

Michigan State PPP

Per possession, the points allowed and the points scored give us an indication of Michigan State’s efficiency over the last three games. So far this season, the Spartans have only allowed 0.96 points per possession (PPP), and without the forwards, they have allowed, on average, a whopping 1.1 PPP on defense. Getting out-rebounded in each game will do that to you because offensive rebounds will lead to significantly easier buckets than jumpers. Even Denzel Valentine, one of the better rebounding guards in the country, isn’t enough to fill Dawson’s shoes because he is too busy chasing guards around the screens to come back to the defensive glass on every possession. Losing the rebounding edge is an obvious reason for the drop-off in defensive performance, but the Spartans have also been weak on transition defense because they continue to attack the offensive glass, despite a shorter lineup. This metric is tough to measure with the data available, but generally speaking, sending your forwards to the offensive glass on every possession means that the guards will need to run back immediately to cover any transition plays. That’s one area where they specifically miss Dawson because he would often sneak into the paint off the baseline to grab offensive rebounds. And when he did, there was no reason for Valentine to attack the glass, allowing him to run back down the floor to prevent any transition opportunities. Without Dawson and Payne, the Spartans have to change their philosophy of consistently picking up offensive boards – a change that’s tougher to implement because such a move would reduce their overall energy on the court.

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Big Ten M5: 01.27.14 Edition

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

morning5_bigten

  1. On the eve of the Grammys, Bruce Hornsby, a Grammy-winning musician and a huge basketball fan,visited Bloomington for the Illinois vs. Indiana game. Hornsby and Indiana head coach Tom Crean discussed music after the game in which the Hoosiers pulled off a tough 10-point win against the Illini. Both offenses had a tough time finding points during a 26-24 first half, but Crean’s squad was able to hold the Illini to just 22 more points during the second half. Noah Vonleh continues to impress with this rebounding skills by pulling down 14 boards, but the Hoosiers need to continue to hold down the home court in upcoming games against Michigan and Penn State if they want to remain in contention for an NCAA Tournament bid this season.
  2. Speaking of the Illini, they can’t seem to buy a jumper nowadays, as John Groce’s unit lost its sixth straight Big Ten game on Sunday in Bloomington. Illinois has one week before its next game in Champaign against Iowa, and it could use every day of practice to figure out how to refine their offensive sets. They shot 5-of-23 from beyond the arc, but the problem goes well beyond just a shooting slump — Groce can’t seem to find two scorers who can have good games on the same day. While Rayvonte Rice finished with 20 points yesterday, none of his teammates complemented his scoring (Nnanna Egwu was next in scoring with eight points). Similarly, against Ohio State, Joe Bertrand had 17 points but Rice was held scoreless. Without two scorers consistently putting up decent scoring numbers, it is almost impossible to beat most of the teams in this conference.
  3. The losing streak had to stop at some point for Wisconsin, and the first half of Saturday’s game against Purdue wasn’t easy as the Boilermakers were only down by three at halftime. The Badgers needed to get back to the free-flowing offense that has averaged 1.16 points per possession in conference play and freshman forward Nigel Hayes should continue to help in that regard off the bench. Hayes provides a solid post presence on the block as a nice change of pace from Frank Kaminsky or Sam Dekker, and his solid post game can help slow down the offense when the starters are out, ensuring that they will be fresh for the final few minutes of the game.
  4. Without Branden Dawson or Adreian Payne available on Saturday night, Michigan State could have folded in the second half of their game against Michigan once the Wolverines made a run, but thanks to Keith Appling, they even held the lead with four minutes left. The senior guard was extremely efficient in scoring 10 points and dishing 10 dimes, but more importantly, turning the ball over just once. After the loss, the senior point guard and Tom Izzo were both emotional, considering the injury toll on their team over the past few weeks. When Dawson and Payne comes back, Appling’s efficiency combined with Gary Harris’ scorching shooting (27 points against Michigan) will definitely make the Spartans a great contender for the national title.
  5. While the Spartans are dealing with injuries, it seems that Michigan has figured out how to deal with the loss of Mitch McGary with wins over Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan State despite his absence. Without McGary in the lineup, the Wolverines need every starter to be on the ball and freshman guard Derrick Walton may be the newest member to join the party. He scored 19 huge points against the team’s biggest rival and seems to be gaining confidence with each and every game. “I was just the guy called upon tonight and just tried to do it for my teammates,” Walton said. Not much is needed from him when Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III are going off, but if he can chip in some timely buckets and push the ball effectively in transition, the offense will continue to click on all cylinders.
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Illinois Will Continue to Slump Without More Consistent Offense

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on January 26th, 2014

After a 12-2 non-conference record and a 2-0 start to the conference season, Illinois was considered a likely candidate to make the postseason. However, with an offense that has sputtered to average just 0.95 points per possession in Big Ten play, it appears that the Illini don’t stand a chance against the rest of the conference. Opposing defenses have figured out John Groce’s predictable offense this season and have exposed the team’s biggest weaknesses – a lack of consistent three-point shooting and a play-maker who can create offense in the half-court. An inside scoring presence wouldn’t hurt as well, as Nnanna Egwu has regressed after a decent sophomore season.

Big Ten defenses may have figured out Rice's offensive game. (John Dixon/The News-Gazette)

Big Ten defenses may have figured out Rice’s offensive game. (John Dixon/The News-Gazette)

During the first two months of the season, Rayvonte Rice appeared to be what Illinois fans wanted Brandon Paul to become during his four years in Champaign – a freak athlete who could punish defenses in the paint with his body. In order to understand their offensive issues, let’s review Rice’s slide during the recent four-game losing streak. Against Ohio State, he couldn’t buy a shot and finished without a single point in what was a must-win game. He is good at what he does — penetrate the paint off of screens going to his right — but the same play has become predictable. Egwu and Jon Ekey have the ability to hit an open jumper, but neither is very effective in setting screens to free the ball-handler. In fact, most of the time their screening technique is so flawed that it could be considered an illegal pick. Even without an effective screen, Rice is quick enough to get around most defenders but he needs to have the option to kick out a pass to the corner if the opposing big man bites. The scouting reports have forced teams to back off and simply wait for Rice to barrel through the lane, often forcing him to put up an off-balance and low percentage floater.

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Two Questions About Michigan vs. Iowa This Evening

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) & Jonathan Batuello on January 22nd, 2014

Nik Stauskas’ pull-up jumper to stun Wisconsin on the road has raised eyebrows around the Big Ten because it appears that Michigan has figured out how to play without Mitch McGary in the lineup. Iowa, on the other hand, doesn’t have any injury issues of its own and appears to be one of the best teams in the country. Two of our Big Ten writers – Deepak Jayanti and Jonathan Batuello – address a couple of key questions heading into Wednesday night’s big game in Ann Arbor.

Both and Nik have been awfully impressive to start the season. These two meet up tonight in Ann Ar

Both Devyn Marble and Nik Stauskas have been awfully impressive to start the season. These two meet up this evening in Ann Arbor.

Both Devyn Marble and Nik Stauskas have been scorching hot from the field lately. Do you expect them to continue their hot shooting in this game, or is there any way one of them and their teams can be slowed down by the opposing defense?

JB:  It isn’t just recently these two have been shooting and scoring well. Both have been the stars for their teams all season and have put themselves squarely in the Big Ten Player of the Year conversation. Granted, their play in the conference season has been particularly superb — in the past two games alone, Stauskas has scored 44 points and Marble 38 of his own. It seems safe to say they both will continue their strong play tonight as it is doubtful the other team can slow them down (Iowa and Michigan are both significantly better offensive teams than defensive ones). The only way they won’t be scoring much is if either team moves its offensive game plan away from them, an unlikely scenario.

DJ: I don’t disagree that both Marble and Stauskas have been carrying the offensive burden from day one, but I’d be a bit concerned if the former falls in love with his three-pointer. Shooting 37 percent from beyond the arc is impressive, but his strength is really his ability to get to the basket. Sometimes when a player is hot from long range, he develops a false confidence that will backfire against tougher competition, especially in games on the road. If Marble attempts more than five three-pointers, that’s cause for concern because instead of going inside-out with his offensive game, he’ll waste possessions without forcing Jordan Morgan or Jon Horford to defend him in the paint. On the other hand, it is equally likely that Stauskas could go cold from the field, but he has shown some maturity during this season in that he’s willing to beat defenders off the dribble when his shot isn’t dropping. He was excellent in pulling up from the mid-range off of picks against Wisconsin over the weekend, so he has proved that he can find a different scoring angle if his three-point jumper isn’t falling.

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Gary Harris is Proving That the Spartans Won’t Struggle to Score in the Postseason

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

With less than 10 weeks left until Selection Sunday, we can begin to look at how each team is addressing their weaknesses that could become a roadblock on their way to winning a national title in March. The biggest concern with Michigan State was their ability to consistently generate offense, specifically, whether they have a go-to guy scorer that isn’t afraid to carry them over the last five minutes of the game. The contenders usually have one such player, which is why Kansas, Kentucky, and Duke are still considered to be a force in March because Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, and Jabari Parker can manufacture points regardless of double teams against formidable competition. During the preseason, Gary Harris was tagged to be that guy for Michigan State, and he is making a strong case for his ability to lead the Spartans in March based on his performance over the past two weeks.

Gary Harris has averaged 19 PPG over the last five games. (Getty)

Gary Harris has averaged 19 PPG over the last five games. (Getty)

Harris has averaged 19 PPG during January, but more importantly, he has shown that he can score without just relying on the three-pointer. He has one of the prettiest looking jumpers from beyond the arc, but he hasn’t been very consistent, as indicated by a so-so 32% shooting. However, when his shot doesn’t fall, he has shown the maturity to move into the mid-range and leverage his jumper from the elbow around the free-throw line in the half-court. Against a hungry Illini team on Saturday night, Harris drilled a couple of clutch shots off the pick-and-roll from the mid-range. These types of shots will be available to him as long as he doesn’t settle for the three because the Spartans have a decent frontcourt that can run pull up from the mid-range in case the defender forgets to switch away from Harris. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten M5: 01.20.14 Edition

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

morning5_bigten

  1. Terone and Ronnie Johnson don’t necessarily receive the glare of a national spotlight like the Harrison twins from Kentucky, but they are a formidable combination of brothers themselves. While Terone has averaged 13.4 PPG to help the Boilermakers with the offense, Ronnie has averaged 3.7 APG to set the tone in the half-court. The brothers have come through in the clutch lately, loggin recent wins over Illinois and Penn State. After the win over the Nittany Lions, older brother Terone said of his younger sibling, “But at the end of the game, he made a big steal for us, which we thought was great and we congratulate him for that.” With a 13-5 overall record, it is uncertain if the Boilers have the juice to make the NCAA Tournament, but they will need the brothers to win a couple of road games if they hope to be considered by the committee in March.
  2. Sometimes the certainty of not having your best player around can benefit a team in a positive way. With Mitch McGary sidelined for at least a few more weeks, the Wolverines may have finally found their identity, now clearly under the leadership of sophomore Nik Stauskas. Stauskas went off for 23 points over Wisconsin, nailing a pull-up three to win the game on the road in Madison. With the win, John Beilein’s squad now sits at the top of the Big Ten with a perfect 5-0 record, but more importantly, the Wolverines are clicking on the offensive end. Even Bo Ryan was impressed with the sophomore’s performance when he said: “Any time a guy steps back like that, you try to cover ground like that with that quick a release? … That step-back’s so fast and that release is so fast, you’re not going to (defend it). He’s quick. He’s like a cat.”
  3. Speaking of injuries helping a team improve, Adreian Payne’s sore foot is giving an opportunity for Matt Costello to take advantage of additional playing time and gain confidence in his offensive game. With Payne out for three games, Costello has been actively involved in the half-court, specifically running the pick-and-roll with Gary Harris. Harris was on fire from the field against Illinois on Saturday night, scoring 23 points with most of them coming off the pick-and-roll with Costello. Costello chipped in with eight points and showed off his excellent jumper away from the hoop. These minutes will help Tom Izzo once Payne comes back because Costello’s confidence will be very high based on his performances while Payne was out.
  4. When Wisconsin was still unbeaten, we were raving about their offensive versatility, and specifically the fact that all five of their starters could shoot from the perimeter and score with anybody. But we may have slightly overlooked some of their defensive flaws and the two losses last week showed why they are not a lock to win the conference title. During both games, the Baddgers experienced numerous defensive breakdowns, which could haunt them over the next few weeks when they face Iowa, Michigan State and Ohio State. Michigan’s Nik Stauskas had a field day against their backcourt with 23 points, and during the late minutes against Indiana, Yogi Ferrell and Stanford Robinson found their way into the paint rather easily against the porous Wisconsin defense.
  5. Indiana‘s loss to Northwestern at home on Saturday is a primary example of a “letdown game.” Just a few days after their fans rushed the court because they ended Wisconsin’s unbeaten season, the Hoosiers sleptwalked for most of the game against the Wildcats. They shot a dismal 25 percent from the field instead of relying on Noah Vonleh to take them to a win. Vonleh ended up with 17 points, but he should have taken more shots because the IU backcourt of Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey shot an icy 3-of-21 from the field. Inconsistent shooting has been a concern for the Hoosiers, but they need to recognize that Vonleh is good enough to carry the team in the paint if their long-range shooting is off on a given night.
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Deja Vu: John Groce’s Illini Slumping in Early January Again

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on January 15th, 2014

Illinois’ loss to Northwestern on Sunday night was eerily similar to a horrible stretch for the Illini last season. On January 12, 2013, John Groce’s squad was thumped in Madison by the Badgers — a 23-point loss where its offense had no answers for Bo Ryan’s defensive schemes. That was followed up by a home loss to an injury-plagued Northwestern squad, which along with a previous home loss to Minnesota, represented an early three-game losing streak in conference play. On Wednesday of last week, Groce’s offense again could not find a decent shot in Madison, losing 95-70 to the Badgers, and the team looked completely off in scoring just 15 points in the first 24 minutes of the game in Evanston. Losing to an unimpressive Wildcats squad puts the Illini in a tough spot because they are about to enter a tough seven-game stretch where they will be favored to win just one of those games — a home contest against Purdue. The Illini really needed to enter that stretch with at least three Big Ten wins and the most recent loss very well could put a dent in their ultimate postseason plans.

John Groce's Team is Slumping in Early January Again This Season (AP)

John Groce’s Team is Slumping in Early January Again This Season (AP)

According to Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, the Illini have a 73 percent chance of beating Purdue tonight. But the next few games include match-ups against Michigan State, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio State and Wisconsin. And their “winnable” game after that stretch is a road game against Penn State in Happy Valley — not necessarily a guaranteed win, either. Extrapolating over the next few weeks, the Illini could easily end up with 3-7 league record by February 9, with a must-win game coming against the Nittany Lions to salvage their season. They were in a similar spot a year ago, but were able to dig themselves out with a home buzzer-beater against Indiana and a tough win over Minnesota on the road (thanks largely to D.J. Richardson’s scorching shot). Is there a reason to panic yet in Champaign? Absolutely. It is troubling that Rice felt no sense of urgency over the first 20 minutes of the game in Evanston, as he was held to zero shots from the field. When he was able to eventually find his offense, he forgot to play defense by letting the Wildcats’ Tre Demps hit a couple of wide-open shots from beyond the arc. Not to pick on Rice, but as the best offensive player on the team, he needs to set the tone by driving to the basket and assuming a leadership role over the next few weeks if the Illini hope to win road games at Indiana or Penn State.

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Unbeaten Watch: Will Wisconsin’s Winning Streak End in Bloomington?

Posted by Jonathan Batuello & Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on January 14th, 2014

The unbeaten watch continues on Tuesday night as the Badgers visit Bloomington to handle Yogi Ferrell and company. No game is a gimme in the Big Ten and Bo Ryan’s teams have traditionally given fits to Tom Crean’s offense. Jonathan Batuello and Deepak Jayanti from the Big Ten microsite address two key questions about this week’s Tuesday night special.

Can Tom Crean's Hoosiers end the Badgers' winning streak? (AP).

Can Tom Crean’s Hoosiers end the Badgers’ winning streak? (AP).

When the Badgers visited Bloomington last year, they held a potent Hoosiers’ offense to just 59 points and dominated the game defensively. Can Indiana figure out a way to score against the Ben Brust/Josh Gasser/Traevon Jackson backcourt? If not, where will they find offense?

JB:  We’ve all heard about Tom Crean’s struggles against Wisconsin, but  it isn’t just his Indiana teams that Wisconsin has held down. The Badgers are going for their 13th straight win against the Hoosiers (the most for any program consecutively against them ever) and have held them to 60 or fewer points in eight of those 12 losses. It seems Bo Ryan’s defense causes fits for this squad and the trio of guards will certainly cause issues again (even with Yogi Ferrell having a great year). Wisconsin has held opponents to an effective field goal rate of 44.3 percent and Indiana isn’t superb shooting the ball anyway (50.5%). So, quite frankly, Indiana won’t be scoring a lot. To get some baskets against the Badgers’ defense, it will need to corral some offensive rebounds (it ranks in the top 10 with 12.8 offensive boards per game) and use its athleticism in transition. If it doesn’t do those two things, the Hoosiers will struggle to break 60 points once again this year.

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