The Four-Year Evolution of Derrick Nix

Posted by jnowak on March 7th, 2013

Tom Izzo said something interesting this week, which is neither strange nor rare, but it caught my attention as it pertains to Michigan State and the end of this season. As teams around the country get set to play their final home games of the year and bid farewell to their seniors, the only Spartan to be honored on Sunday afternoon after the Northwestern game will be center Derrick Nix. This means two things. First, it means the Spartans will return plenty of talent next year, and should be a contender to reach the Final Four and fight for the Big Ten title after playing a bit better than most expected this year. (Granted, there’s a chance — albeit a small one — that it could be the last home game for junior Adreian Payne and/or freshman Gary Harris, but that’s a different conversation for a different time.) Second, it means Nix’s time in green and white is drawing to a close. “You realize you get to this point of time and for the first time think, ‘What am I gonna do?’” Izzo said of what his lone senior is going through as his college career ends. It was an eventful four years for Nix, from Shaq-like free throws to being suspended to being a captain his senior year and his postgame tweets. It was nothing if not colorful.

Derrick Nix will be the only Michigan State player honored on Senior Day on Sunday against Northwestern. (

Derrick Nix will be the only Michigan State player honored on Senior Day on Sunday against Northwestern.

Nix arrived on campus fresh off a Class A state championship (alongside Keith Appling) and with Michigan Mr. Basketball honors. He also was not fit for the program he was entering. Nix topped out near 340 pounds in high school and arrived on campus with a body fat percentage of nearly 25 percent. He struggled to get up and down the floor, didn’t have much leaping ability and in watching his high school highlight tapes, you wondered how he would be able to run with the Spartans. At the time of Nix’s senior year at Detroit Pershing, Michigan State’s big men were far taller than they were wide — Tom Herzog and Idong Ibok made Goran Suton look like a bowling ball — and Delvon Roe was a freshman with plenty of athletic potential. Nix was set to be the odd man out. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten M5: 03.06.13 Edition

Posted by jnowak on March 6th, 2013

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  1. When your NCAA Tournament hopes went out the window months ago, and there’s only a teeny-tiny chance you’ll be playing any postseason basketball at all, you have to focus on other ways to get something out of the season. That’s an unfamiliar feeling for Purdue, but it’s becoming a reality during this rebuilding season. While searching for the smaller things to get excited about, Matt Painter has found pleasure in the Boilermakers’ stretch of three games following their off-week. They’ve won two of the three, including an improbable win in Madison on Sunday against Wisconsin. “I think anytime you get extra time in the gym to get shots up, it helps,” Painter said. “My point to them was this is something you should always do, and I think coming from a team standpoint, it helps us.” The Boilermakers can use all the good mojo they can muster with tough games against Michigan and Minnesota remaining before the Big Ten Tournament.
  2. Cody Zeller may not be the National Player of the Year, or even the Big Ten Player of the Year, that we thought he’d be at the beginning of this season. But Tom Crean believes what many others still believe to be true — Zeller’s time in Bloomington may still be short, so he advises Hoosier fans to enjoy watching the center in an Indiana jersey while they can.  The Hoosiers are likely to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and should make a good run at the school’s first national title since 1987. The closer they get, the more likely Zeller is to bolt for the NBA. He’ll almost certainly be a lottery pick. So as Assembly Hall honored the team’s seniors on Tuesday night against Ohio State, was it also the last time Zeller set foot on the floor as a player?
  3. It’s impossible to have the conversation about the Big Ten’s talented freshmen this year without talking about Wisconsin‘s Sam Dekker. It’s not often that Bo Ryan lands a high-profile recruit, and it’s not often that a freshman makes his way into the Wisconsin playing rotation, but Dekker is clearly a special player. He joins Josh Gasser, Alando Tucker, and Devin Harris as the only players to ever start for Ryan in their first year, and he leads all Big Ten sixth men with 9.6 PPG this year. He’s been blanketed at times in the rotation by Ryan Evans, but you can believe we will be seeing plenty of this young player for many years to come.
  4. Keith Appling has been known as Michigan State‘s closer, and one of the Spartans’ best defenders (and, at times, both). Now, he’s struggling in both of those departments. The junior guard was better against Michigan on Sunday, but is still mired in a bit of a funk that has gone on while the Spartans have dropped three straight. It’s no coincidence that as Appling’s play has declined, the Spartans have continued to lose. And the perception of them also has continued to slip. “Things just haven’t been going my way lately, but I’m a mentally tough person,” Appling said. “So, I don’t let it bother me too much. I just watch the film and try to grow from it.” It’s no secret that if the Spartans are going to make one of their patented March runs, they need Appling play more like himself.
  5. There were plenty of differences between Michigan State’s romp over rival Michigan a few weeks ago and the Wolverines’ close win on Sunday in Ann Arbor. But few were more significant than the play of Michigan freshman Mitch McGary, who had four points and four turnovers in the first meeting, then turned around and had 11 points and four boards (three offensive) in 21 minutes of the rematch. Derrick Nix dominated the Wolverines inside in the first meeting, either by scoring or kicking back out to find the Spartans’ guards, but the Michigan State big man was rendered mostly ineffective on Sunday and much of that credit has to go to McGary. The Wolverines have always had one of the best backcourts in the country, but if they can get consistent play from the freshman, they are back to being a national title contender.
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Big Ten M5: 03.05.13 Edition

Posted by jnowak on March 5th, 2013

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  1. Here’s an inspiring story from Yahoo!‘s Jeff Eisenberg about Nebraska assistant coach Chris Harriman and his son Avery, who suffers from leukemia and recently had a relapse after the family thought it was in the clear. When the Harrimans received the call about Avery’s relapse, it had been about three years since his initial diagnosis, and the survival rate in child patients who relapse drops significantly. The family draws inspiration from each other and elsewhere, confident that they can help Avery battle through the difficulty. 
  2. By now, would anyone be surprised to see Michigan State go a “long, long way” in the NCAA Tournament, like Tom Izzo believes his team can? Probably not. We know what any Izzo-coached team is capable of and, despite the Spartans’ current three-game losing streak, this group has shown it has what it takes to compete at the highest level. But if we’ve learned anything over the last two weeks or so, it’s that MSU also has plenty of flaws, so in order to make a serious March run, more things will have to click than have been lately. In the three losses, there have been problems with turnovers, Keith Appling and Branden Dawson, interior defense, closing games down the stretch and allowing lesser role players to have season-high games at inopportune times. If the Spartans are to make that run Izzo’s talking about, some of those issues will have to be shored up soon.
  3. If you didn’t get a good idea of how nasty a hit Nik Stauskas took on Sunday, this photo from the Associated Press will give you a better idea. But 12 stitches later, John Beilein says Stauskas seemed OK when he left the arena and could be back playing for the Wolverines soon, who managed to beat Michigan State without their sharpshooter in the lineup and without making a single three-pointer as a team. “All I can tell you is we had three doctors at the game, and the three doctors did a lot of examination on him,” Beilein said on the Big Ten coaches conference call Monday morning.
  4. Jordan Hulls has seen the entire spectrum of Indiana basketball over the last few years. Indiana, still reeling from sanctions put in place from Kelvin Sampson’s tenure as head coach, suffered losing seasons of 6-25, 10-21 and 12-20. But as Tom Crean helped rebuild the program, Hulls — a former Indiana Mr. Basketball with an unbeaten state championship at Bloomington South High School under his belt — was along for the entire ride. There was a time when conference championships at Indiana were an expectation, and it wasn’t that long ago when it seemed the program was never getting back to that level. Now the Hoosiers are back at that elite level and Hulls’ unlikely path has followed that arc.
  5. To stay on the floor in the Big Ten when you’re not contributing on the offensive end, you have to do a lot of other things right. Austin Hollins is that kind of player for Minnesota, doing his part on defense as the Gopher manage to keep winning without his scoring. Hollins is in a slump, shooting just 27 percent over the last two games while missing all eight of his three-point attempts. In his last seven games overall, he’s shot just under 35 percent from the field and 11.7 percent from long distance. The Minnesota coaches are doing their best to assure Hollins that every shooter goes through lulls like this, hoping it’s not something that will wear on his confidence as the team opens up its most important stretch of the year.
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Big Ten M5: 03.01.13 Edition

Posted by jnowak on March 1st, 2013

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  1. Penn State‘s win against Michigan takes the cake for easily the biggest upset and most puzzling game of the Big Ten season, and perhaps the single biggest upset in the nation this year. Much of the credit goes to the Nittany Lions, but some of the blame has to be directed toward Michigan guard Trey Burke, who committed a season-high six turnovers after playing exceptional basketball all year. Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said after the game that he had his team key on Burke, hoping it would slow down Michigan’s offense as a whole, and he was right. Michigan’s offense couldn’t generate enough to put the Nittany Lions away, and its defense faltered from the very start.
  2. We’ve been dissecting the Big Ten title race and even considering Trey Burke vs. Victor Oladipo for Big Ten Player of the Year, but there’s also an interesting race for Big Ten Coach of the Year brewing in these final weeks of conference play. Tom Crean certainly deserves to be in the running for keeping Indiana near the top of the polls and the conference all season, Michigan’s John Beilein has put forth one of the best Wolverine teams in recent memory, and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo has the Spartans primed once again for a March run. But certainly, no one expected Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin team to compete like this, especially considering the team’s early-season setbacks. Ian McCue makes the case that Ryan has never done so much at Wisconsin with so little, and it’s hard to disagree with him.
  3. Pete DiPrimio is convinced Indiana will not lose at Assembly Hall the rest of the way. “Ain’t gonna happen,” he writes. “Not with these stakes. Not with that crowd.” So, he says, the Big Ten race will come down to the Hoosiers’ season-finale date with Michigan in Ann Arbor. The Hoosiers still control their own fate in the Big Ten, leaving what many consider to be the conference’s best overall team with the chance to take home the title. Things could change for Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin along the way, but if the Hoosiers win out, nobody can stop them from hanging that banner in Bloomington.
  4. Things were probably going to be pretty difficult for Michigan State heading into Ann Arbor this weekend as soon as the Spartans blew out the Wolverines in East Lansing. Then Michigan went and lost to Penn State this weekend and the Spartans are guaranteed to run into an even angrier Michigan team this weekend. Tom Izzo knows he’s going to have some work to do to get his team prepared for the game. The Spartans are reeling a bit themselves, having dropped games against Indiana and Ohio State in somewhat disappointing fashion.
  5. It’s been a long road for Illinois’ Sam McLaurin, a fifth-year senior who earned his way on to the roster because of his ability to shoot the three-pointer. Now, the former Coastal Carolina player has the opportunity to realize his dream of playing in the NCAA Tournament. He was the first “recruit” of the John Groce era, and now Groce has the chance to help provide McLaurin with a memory he can hold on to for a lifetime.
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Big Ten Morning Five: 02.28.13 Edition

Posted by jnowak on February 28th, 2013

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  1. ESPN.com‘s Eamonn Brennan gets right to the point: What’s the matter with Michigan? It’s been a strange few weeks for the Wolverines, who were ranked No. 1 in the country at one point this season but have now been blown out by Michigan State and upset by the only team in the conference who didn’t have a Big Ten win entering play Wednesday. Penn State gave the Wolverines a run for their money in Ann Arbor on February 17 and the Nittany Lions finally finished the deal on Wednesday in State College. Before that, Michigan snuck by Ohio State in overtime and was beaten by Wisconsin in overtime prior to the MSU loss. The problem, Brennan writes, has been their defense, which is giving up 1.11 points per possession over its last seven games. Michigan’s offense is and always has been there. But the defense is fading fast. Can they figure it out in time to play like a Final Four team when it matters most?
  2. All of Tubby Smith‘s naysayers have probably grown pretty quiet for the time being. The Minnesota head coach has had doubters ever since his time at Kentucky, and they were chattering pretty loudly when the Gophers experienced their fall from grace after beginning the season 15-1 and rising as high as No. 8 in the country. But Smith says he doesn’t really listen to what people are saying — good or bad — so whether the team is on a slide or they’ve just upset the No. 1 team in the national polls, it’s not something that gets to him.
  3. Almost every team has one player who sets the tone for the rest of the team. For Michigan State, that guy is Keith Appling. As Appling goes, so go the Spartans, and Appling hasn’t been going much of anywhere lately. He’s been a non-factor in both Indiana losses this season, and he hurt more than he helped against Ohio State this week by allowing Aaron Craft to dismantle the Spartans’ backcourt. If the Spartans have any fighting chance at working their way back into the Big Ten title chase, they’ve got to beat Michigan on Sunday in Ann Arbor. And to do that, they need Appling to play like an all-Big Ten-caliber player again. Tom Izzo is confident Appling will do just that, saying that Appling has done a good job of carrying this team all year long, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t find that in him again this weekend.
  4. As Ben Axelrod writes, Thad Matta had not made a midseason starting lineup change for anything other than an injury since the 2008-09 season — that is, until he moved Evan Ravenel to the bench in December. But that move has allowed Matta to bring an experienced senior off the bench and is working well for the Buckeyes. Ravenel had a career game against Michigan State, and he’s proven to be a guy who Ohio State wants on the floor at the end of games, despite losing his starting spot to Amir Williams. “That was kind of what we were looking for, a little bit more of what Evan had brought to the table last year when he would come in,” Matta said. “I thought he was pretty effective, especially down the stretch of the Big Ten season.”
  5. Last week, ESPN broadcasters spent some time during the Michigan State-Indiana game dissecting a play that officials were reviewing in which it appeared Derrick Nix hit Cody Zeller with a cheap shot. As further review took place on the web after the game, it appeared that Zeller may have staged the incident by grabbing Nix’s arm. Either way, it was hard to draw any real conclusions. Then there was another strangely similar incident in Tuesday’s Indiana-Minnesota game in which Indiana’s Will Sheehey fell to the ground clutching his face while defending Minnesota’s Andre Hollins in a trap on the baseline. Officials again went to the monitor to review it, and many on the Internet speculated again — is there something fishy going on at Indiana, with players trying to draw attention with these “dirty” plays? We’re used to flops on charges and blocks, but is this something else, something more?
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Did Minnesota Save Its Season Tuesday night?

Posted by jnowak on February 27th, 2013

Minnesota has been at a karaoke bar for almost two months now, just belting out the chorus to Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin” on repeat, with Tubby Smith singing the lead vocals. But a team that is as frustrating as it is talented finally got its act together at just the right time on Tuesday night, upsetting #1 Indiana, 77-73, at The Barn. Perhaps it was the sports psychologist that Smith brought in this week. Perhaps it was the crowd and the team recognizing the opportunity of having a vulnerable #1 come to town in conference play. Or perhaps it was just this group of talented, athletic players finally figuring out how to play together. Whatever the case was, Minnesota needed this win, and badly. Fortunately for the Gophers, they’ve likely played their way safely into the NCAA Tournament field and only have games against Penn State, Nebraska and Purdue remaining before the Big Ten Tournament. Can they hold on? We’ll see. But here’s a few more thoughts on Tuesday night’s upset:

Minnesota needed the Big Ten Player of the Year-esque Trevor Mbakwe to show up on Tuesday, and that's what they got. (USA Today)

Minnesota needed the Big Ten Player of the Year-esque Trevor Mbakwe to show up on Tuesday, and that’s what they got. (USA Today)

  • The Gophers were clicking – There may not be a more athletic team in the country than the Gophers, which is exactly what made their recent struggles so puzzling. They didn’t seem to have any leadership, couldn’t find any chemistry on the floor, didn’t seem to be taking much direction from their coach and just weren’t appearing to be having all that much fun playing together. Funny what the No. 1 team coming to your house can do. What stood out most to me was that the Gophers did a great job of taking what the game and the Hoosiers gave them. If Indiana was going to get stuck with a smaller player on the red-hot Elliott Eliason, the Gophers kept feeding the post. If Minnesota needed a big basket, it would go to the stronger Trevor Mbakwe inside. And when Indiana refused to move away from its zone defense, the Gophers kept taking three-pointers. They weren’t always going in the basket early, but they were clean looks, and kudos to Minnesota for taking them. They eventually started to fall and were what allowed the Gophers to get over the hump midway in the second half. The Gophers have more than a handful of athletic, talented players who can beat you on any given night and that depth is hard to match in the conference. When they’re all on the same page, we saw what they’re capable of.

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Big Ten M5: 02.21.13 Edition

Posted by jnowak on February 21st, 2013

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  1. By now it seems fair to say that the Big Ten Player of the Year candidacy is a two-horse race. Michigan’s Trey Burke has been the front-runner since the Wolverines broke out of the gates. Victor Oladipo has been more of a dark horse because he was lesser-known at the beginning of the season, and because most of the Indiana NPOY attention had been focused on Cody Zeller. But a couple big games on the national stage — he’s almost singlehandedly won each game against Michigan State — has perhaps propelled Oladipo perhaps into the top spot for the award. The Big Ten Network‘s Brent Yarina and Tom Dienhart debate the matter, with Yarina voting for Oladipo and Dienhart giving the nod to Burke. What do you say?
  2. There were plenty of opportunities for Michigan State to put away Indiana on Tuesday night in East Lansing, and a few of them came at the charity stripe. Keith Appling, who has been one of the most clutch players in the Big Ten this season but has played horribly against Indiana, missed a few over the course of the game, and Gary Harris missed several as well, most importantly the first of three with the chance to tie the game with a couple of ticks left. But Tom Izzo and the Spartans say the missed free throws aren’t what determined the final outcome of the game. Adreian Payne pointed to a Christian Watford and-one, and Denzel Valentine pointed to Victor Oladipo’s crucial late put-back late. Whatever the final determining factor, those missed free throws sure didn’t help.
  3. With its win against Michigan State in East Lansing, Indiana became the prohibitive favorite to win the Big Ten and, perhaps, the national title. Bob Kravitz writes that the Hoosiers are the best team in the best conference in the country, and it’s hard to argue with that after the body of work they’ve put together over the course of the year. They’ve been impressive both on the road and at home — despite at times proving to be vulnerable — and have the most depth and weapons of any other title contender. People who saw them on Tuesday could see that they have the most pieces that you need to win a title, which is why they are where we thought they’d be at the beginning of the year — at the top. But will they be there in April?
  4. Not to put down a senior who has contributed a great deal to the Wisconsin program over the years, but one of the most puzzling things about watching the Badgers is seeing Bo Ryan sticking with Ryan Evans in favor of standout freshman Sam Dekker during crucial stretches. Wisconsin is in a title chase, after all, and Evans just is not having the type of season you’d expect from someone with so much experience under his belt. Ryan has made it clear he intends to stick with his guy, though, and Evans has said he’s remaining positive while working through his struggles. But as the games become more meaningful, can the Badgers afford to go to him in crunch time?
  5. We know John Groce is new to the Big Ten, so didn’t anybody tell him that the conference has a reputation for playing slower basketball? Perhaps not. And, really, Groce is just another in the line of Big Ten coaches who wants his players to push the basketball up and down the floor. Indiana, Michigan and Michigan State are all teams known to be lethal in the full-court game, and that’s the style Groce is trying to bring to Illinois. Mark Tupper writes that this is getting more players to expand their game, which can only mean good things for the Illini in the long run.
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Big Ten M5: 02.20.13 Edition

Posted by jnowak on February 20th, 2013

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  1. Once again, Indiana‘s Victor Oladipo was front and center for the Hoosiers on Tuesday night, solidifying himself on the national stage among the front-runners for Big Ten and National Player of the Year, as well. He’s widely considered one of the most improved players in all of college basketball, and CBSSports.com‘s Jeff Goodman has the story of Oladipo’s transformation. Ever since he was a teenager, Oladipo has had to prove doubters wrong, working to improve his dribbling and his shooting to round out a game that is large on speed and athleticism. He’s become one of the best all-around players in the Big Ten, and a huge reason the Hoosiers have had such success this year.
  2. There hasn’t been a more up-and-down team in the Big Ten this year than Illinois, which has always been dangerous and lately has been downright lethal. The Illini surprised just about everybody when they started off the season so well, then they fell off once Big Ten play started. They rebounded exceptionally well after that, and Brandon Paul says a lot of that credit goes to the coaches, who “never gave up on [them]“ this season. In the past, when things got bad at Illinois, they stayed that way — one bad loss would lead to another and so on. But this suggests a different culture in Champaign and it certainly seems to be for the better.
  3. Just because Wisconsin walk-on seniors Dan Fahey and J.D. Wise don’t find their names in the box score often doesn’t mean that they haven’t contributed to the Badgers’ exceptional run this season. The two rarely make it off the end of the bench, but some of the Badger regulars credit the two of them for helping keep Wisconsin in check during practice and in preparation for the grueling Big Ten schedule. As Wisconsin prepares to take on Northwestern and its Princeton offense tonight, the work of those walk-ons will be put to the test.
  4. If there’s a team you want to go up against with your NCAA Tournament chances on the line, you can’t do much better in this conference than facing Nebraska. That’s the case for Iowa, which still holds a slim hope at making the Big Dance. To do so, they absolutely have to sweep its remaining two meetings against the Cornhuskers. The Hawkeyes are on the outside looking in as far as the NCAA Tournament bubble is concerned right now, but they still have a chance. “You don’t want to pretend like it’s not out there,” Fran McCaffery said. “They turn on the TV and that’s all everybody is talking about.”
  5. Sometimes, when it rains, it pours. That seems to be the case for Ohio State, which can’t seem to do much right lately. The Buckeyes are slipping in the Big Ten standings, can’t find much scoring outside of Deshaun Thomas and don’t have much of an identity at this point late in the season. So Zac Jackson says they may just need a spark. Sometimes, though, all it takes is for one good thing to lead to another. There’s never been any doubt about the capability of this Ohio State group — it’s just a matter of them putting all the pieces together. Can just one thing jump-start them?
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Big Ten Power Rankings: February 15 Edition

Posted by jnowak on February 15th, 2013

In this week’s power rankings, we take a look at what each team’s biggest improvement has been this year. Voters this week were Deepak Jayanti, Joey Nowak and Kevin Trahan.

The Spartans are surging after dismantling Michigan on Tuesday. (Justin Wan/The State News)

The Spartans are surging after dismantling Michigan on Tuesday. (Justin Wan/The State News)

  1. Indiana Hoosiers — The loss to Illinois last week hurt a little, but Indiana bounced back nicely and was able to hang on to the No. 1 spot in the country (as well the PRs). The Hoosiers took down Nebraska in fairly unspectacular fashion, but were very impressive in a road game against Ohio State. The schedule gets tougher, with games at Michigan and Minnesota coming up, so the Hoosiers have to play well on the road, where they’ve been very inconsistent as of late. However, Indiana proved that when it’s playing well, it is one of the most dangerous teams in the country. Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo were both very impressive against the Buckeyes and IU was able to pull out a nice win. Most Improved: This is a tough decision. We’ll go with Oladipo because of just how much he’s improved since last year. Cody Zeller has actually improved a lot within the course of the season after a so-so start too, though. Still, Oladipo has been the Hoosiers’ star and has his name in NPOY talk. Who could have guessed that at the beginning of the season?
  2. Michigan State Spartans — There’s no team in the conference on a streak like the Spartans (they’ve won 10 of their last 11 with their only blemish coming in a tightly-contested game at Indiana), one of the hottest teams in the country. The problem is, they’re trying to keep up with the one team that dealt them their only loss since 2012. The Spartans are somehow finding a way to get on without Travis Trice, and they’re doing a fantastic job of it. The romp over Michigan was the biggest statement made in Big Ten play this season, but things are going to get really tough on the Spartans now. Indiana comes to town Tuesday, followed by trips to Ohio State and Michigan before Wisconsin hits East Lansing. We’ll definitely get to see what Tom Izzo’s group is made of. Most Improved: On an individual level, this honor would have to go to Denzel Valentine, who has always been one of the Spartans’ most promising young players, but also one who needed to be reined in. But as he’s helped to fill the void left by Trice and cut down his turnovers, the Spartans have improved in the same department. After turning it over 18 times against Indiana, the Spartans have averaged just over 10 per game (including only five against Minnesota and eight against Michigan). This has to be remain the case if the Spartans are to continue this run.
  3. Michigan — The questions about Michigan have started to come up again. Earlier in the season, people questioned the Wolverines’ frontcourt and whether the freshmen could continue to play as well as they did early on. Well, Michigan seems to have hit a little bit of a wall, losing a nail-biter at Wisconsin and then getting blown out at Michigan State. The game against Michigan State was particularly draining, as the Spartans controlled the contest from the opening tip and basically nobody else played well other than Trey Burke and Mitch McGary. The remainder of the schedule is tough — although MSU and Indiana still have to go to Ann Arbor — and Michigan needs to get back on track before things spiral out of control. Most Improved: Over the first part of the season, McGary took a back seat to fellow freshmen Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III. However, he has shown great improvement over the past few games. Michigan needs him to play well down the stretch, especially during Robinson’s current slump. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 02.13.12 Edition

Posted by jnowak on February 13th, 2013

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  1. It appears this almost certainly will not be that year for Northwestern. The Wildcats have come close to making their first-ever NCAA Tournament in the past few years, but they’ve experienced a number of setbacks over the course of this season. The latest is particularly troublesome: Jared Swopshire, a graduate student and Louisville transfer, underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Tuesday and will miss the remainder of the season. With senior Drew Crawford already suffering a season-ending injury (shoulder), the Wildcats are now even more shorthanded without their top scorer and top rebounder available. Offensively, this means more pressure on breakout player Reggie Hearn and Dave Soboloweski. As for rebounding, the Wildcats will need more of their bigs to step up and help Hearn (who by default becomes the team’s leading rebounder) on the glass.
  2. Nathan Palm writes that last year Ben Brust was somewhat of a bipolar player from the non-conference slate into Big Ten play. He was supposed to be a sharpshooter but he shot only 30 percent in Big Ten play. He impressed at times during Wisconsin’s non-conference schedule but fell off the map during conference games. This year has been a different story. Brust was the hero in a huge home win against Michigan last weekend, but he has come a long way in a number of different facets of the game. He’s started every Wisconsin game this season, averaging a team-high 34 minutes. His scoring average has risen by more than four points per game, and he trails only Jared Berggren in team scoring. Wisconsin’s strengths this season on paper are mostly in the frontcourt, but Brust has given the surprising Badgers another important offensive weapon.
  3. It’s been an up-and-down year for Illinois. The Fighting Illini surprised just about everybody by jumping out to a 12-0 start and beating Butler on its way to a Maui Invitational championship and Gonzaga in Spokane. But once Big Ten play hit, they took a serious dive. John Groce’s team lost six of seven games at one point before its latest resurgence, including wins against ranked foes in Indiana and Minnesota. So where do we place them now? Dave Wischnowsky says it’s still too soon to consider the Illini a lock for the NCAA Tournament, despite its slew of quality victories. The Illini have by and large fallen too far to compete for a Big Ten title, but can still do some major damage in the conference. Four of their last seven games are on the road, with contests remaining against Michigan and Ohio State. There’s more work for them to do.
  4. Here’s an unfamiliar role for Ohio State in recent years: the spoiler role. The Buckeyes may have fallen out of contention for a Big Ten title after their latest loss to Indiana over the weekend, but they can still manage to do plenty of damage. They’ve already got four conference losses, and the winner of the conference may have as few as three or four. It’s unlikely the Buckeyes will run the table, as they’ve proven to be quite vulnerable this year with games against Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan State remaining on the schedule. OSU may not be league title contenders this season, but this group is as talented as any in the league and it would not be wise for any team to take them lightly.
  5. Bob Knight is a legend of Indiana basketball. Yet the famed coach-turned-broadcaster doesn’t have a good relationship with the program, and he rubbed some salt in that wound when the Hoosiers traveled to Ohio State this weekend. “I used to coach a little bit,” Knight said in a taped recording before the game,”and there’s nothing like Ohio State basketball.” Sorry, Bob, but Ohio State doesn’t have anything on Indiana basketball. And your feud with the program is just plain silly. Grow up.
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Big Ten M5: 02.12.13 Edition

Posted by jnowak on February 12th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. There is no better indication of how tough this conference is than how often we have marquee games that draw major national attention. The latest in line is the significant rivalry game between Michigan and Michigan State tonight in East Lansing. It’s the first time the two teams have met while both ranked in the top 10, and it may very well be a must-win for both squads. The Spartans need it because with two losses already they have to defend home court in the Big Ten, and because the Wolverines’ schedule the rest of the way is more favorable. Michigan needs it because the Wolverines are the only one of the four primary contenders — including Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State, all of which have a minimum of two conference losses — without a road win against another. After Tuesday, the Wolverines have only two games remaining against those contenders (MSU and Indiana), and both are in Ann Arbor. Still, a fourth loss at this point could put their backs up against the wall.
  2. On the Michigan State side, the Spartans will be short-handed — yet again — as it appears unlikely that backup point guard Travis Trice will be healthy enough to play. Trice, who suffered a head injury for the second time this season when he took a shot on January 31 against Illinois, is one of the Spartans’ best three-point shooters and will be sorely missed on the defensive end against the talented Wolverines’ backcourt. This injury will, again, have a tremendous trickle-down effect — meaning more minutes for reserve players like Russell Byrd, Matt Costello and Alex Gauna, and more pressure on regular guards Denzel Valentine and Keith Appling. For the most part, the Spartans have survived the games in which Trice has missed this season, but none have come against such quality competition.
  3. For years now, when you think of the best of Big Ten basketball and even the country, Ohio State comes to mind. But are they “elite” this year? Columbus Dispatch columnist Bob Hunter writes that after another loss to a top program, the Buckeyes may just be closer to “good” than “great” this season. OSU is 1-4 against Michigan (with which it split games), Indiana, Duke and Kansas. Those are all quality losses, but at some point, you have to see enough consistency out of the Buckeyes to believe that they are as likely to reach a Final Four as any of those other teams. When it comes to championships, quality losses and “good” but not “great” just doesn’t cut it.
  4. There’s something to be said for the most challenging times also being the most rewarding. That could very well be the case at Wisconsin this season, where Bo Ryan has once again proven that you can never consider the Badgers out of Big Ten contention no matter what you see on paper. Ryan’s mentor, Ron Rainey, says that this might be Ryan’s best year at Wisconsin, rivaling his debut 2001-02 season when the Badgers were chosen to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten but won a share of the program’s first conference title in 55 years. With the early absence of Mike Bruesewitz and the season-ending injury to point guard Josh Gasser, few thought Wisconsin would find a way to be in such a position. Think again.
  5. Northwestern will need all the help it can get against Ohio State on Thursday, but it looks like the Wildcats will instead be short-handed. Neil Hayes writes that Bill Carmody is waiting on the final word from the medical staff, but the coach believes the team will be without the services of forward Jared Swopshire (knee) and center Alex Olah (concussion) in Columbus. Both were injured in Sunday’s loss to Iowa, and this will likely mean increased minutes for Kale Abrahamson, James Montgomery III, Mike Turner and Nikola Cerina.
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Previewing this weekend’s schedule of Big Ten games

Posted by jnowak on February 8th, 2013

We’ve reached the point in the season where it feels like every game has conference implications of some kind, and there’s no better period of time to enjoy them all than Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Weekends through the end of the season will be packed with quality basketball, so let’s take a look at this weekend’s slate of games and what’s in store:

  • Michigan at Wisconsin (Saturday, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN) – The Wolverines could have the misfortune of becoming the No. 1 team in the country this upcoming week if they take care of business in Madison. Yes, you read that right. Having the nation’s top ranking is obviously an honor, but it hasn’t boded well for those teams this year. The AP’s No. 1 team (including Michigan, once already) has lost already six times this season, and with a trip to East Lansing coming up for the Wolverines, that could be on the line yet again. But first, they have to get by Wisconsin. The Badgers have been unpredictable this season, suffering two home losses already (an extremely puzzling one to Virginia, and a conference loss to Michigan State). The Badgers have the frontcourt to give Michigan trouble, but the Wolverines have a backcourt that no one in the Big Ten can match. It’s the only meeting between these two teams this year, so the Badgers need to make it count if they’re going to make a run at the conference title.
Bo Ryan's defense is always a cause for concern (AP)

Bo Ryan’s defense is always a cause for concern (AP)

  • Northwestern at Iowa (Saturday, 4:30 p.m., Big Ten Network) – Iowa just cannot seem to get over the hump and they’re coming up against a team on Saturday who’s familiar with such a situation. As has been the case for Northwestern the past few years, the Hawkeyes are trying to do everything they can to sneak into the NCAA Tournament but can’t manage to pull off a significant upset or put together a stretch of outstanding games. If they want any chance at all of building some momentum and making a run at the Big Dance, games like this one have to be victories. They’ve got a favorable stretch of five very winnable games on the horizon, and it has to start here. As for Northwestern, they’ve got to find a way to defend better than they did in the first match-up this season, when Iowa hammered the Wildcats in Evanston.
  • Michigan State at Purdue (Saturday, 7 p.m., Big Ten Network) – The last time Michigan State traveled to Purdue, Boilermaker fans taunted then-freshman Branden Dawson and it backfired on them. Dawson was electric in a 76-62 win in West Lafayette, going for 15 points, 11 boards, two blocks and one emphatic slam dunk that silenced the home crowd. The Spartans will need him in a big way again on Saturday if they’re to overcome the recent slew of injuries and maintain their roll in the Big Ten. The Spartans’ 84-61 win against Purdue at Breslin Center on Jan. 5 was not as close as the final score indicated, and they’ll be in for a battle again, against a Purdue team that can be very dangerous when clicking on all cylinders. Purdue freshman A.J. Hammons going against Michigan State’s frontcourt will be an intriguing match-up to watch. Read the rest of this entry »
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