Season In Review: Michigan Wolverines

Posted by KTrahan on April 22nd, 2013

Now that the season has wrapped up, we’ll do a quick look back at each Big Ten team’s season, as well as a look at the future. Next up are the Michigan Wolverines.

The Good

Michigan's Season Was a Resounding Success

Michigan’s Season Was a Resounding Success

What a roller coaster season it was for Michigan. The Wolverines headed into the season with a lot of hype, eventually vaulting to No. 1 in the rankings. After a short stint at the top spot in the polls, the team struggled to stay there — even falling to Penn State along the way — and dropping to a No. 5 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. However, John Beilein’s team hit its stride at just the right time, as freshman Mitch McGary became a superb interior presence to give Michigan the lift it needed in late March. It’s incredible how many offensive weapons this team had between McGary, Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III (lest we forget Spike Albrecht!). Ultimately, though, the Wolverines fell in the national championship game to a team that was simply better than them. However, it was a heck of a run through maybe the toughest path to the Final Four that any team had to face.

The Bad

It’s crazy how fast people will get over losses once you start winning. After another defeat to Wisconsin in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan was labeled a relative disappointment, considering its inability to close out big games and its fall from No. 1 to fifth place in the conference standings. However, once the Wolverines won their way to the Final Four, none of that talk mattered. So you could consider it “bad” that Michigan lost six of its final 12 games in the latter half of the Big Ten season, but that rough patch has already been largely forgotten. The other bad? The Wolverines finished No. 2 in the nation, not No. 1. That’s disappointing, but an incredible season for Beilein’s program nonetheless.

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Final 2012-13 Big Ten Power Rankings

Posted by KTrahan on April 19th, 2013

The Big Ten was the best conference in America this season, and as we close up shop here at the Big Ten microsite, it’s time to frame things with our final Power Rankings of the year.

Michigan Was the Second Team Left Standing This Season

Michigan Was the Second Team Left Standing This Season

  1. Michigan — After slumping for much of the end of the season and the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan finally played like the team it could be during March Madness. What’s amazing is how much the Wolverines benefited from players not named Trey Burke or Tim Hardaway, specifically Mitch McGary, who will be a favorite for Big Ten Player of the Year if he returns next season. Bottom line: Michigan lost to a better team, but the national runner-up has nothing to be ashamed of with its season performance.
  2. Ohio State —  The Buckeyes found a legitimate second scorer in Aaron Craft when they needed him most, but ran into the buzzsaw that was Wichita State in the Elite Eight. No team’s progress looking forward will be as interesting as Ohio State’s as it continues to look for replacement scoring with the departure of Deshaun Thomas to the NBA. Craft showed he can make offensive plays when he needs to, but he still doesn’t fit the mold of a go-to scorer. It’s hard to believe he’s got another year left in Columbus.
  3. Michigan State — The Spartans had the misfortune of getting placed in the toughest region of the NCAA Tournament, and would have had to beat both Duke and Louisville to reach another Final Four for Tom Izzo. Still, it was another Sweet Sixteen berth (11 since 1998) for a team that could return almost every important piece next year save for Derrick Nix.
  4. Indiana — By all accounts, this year’s postseason was a disappointment for Indiana. The Hoosiers were in the National Championship discussion all season long, but never fully put things together in the NCAA Tournament, nearly falling to Temple and eventually losing to Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen. That’s unfortunate, considering next year’s team won’t have nearly the potential that this one did. All-American recruit Noah Vonleh is arriving and Yogi Ferrell will be back, but the Hoosiers lose the core of the team: Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller, Jordan Hulls, and Christian Watford. Read the rest of this entry »
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Season in Review: Northwestern Wildcats

Posted by KTrahan on April 17th, 2013

Now that the 2012-13 college basketball season has come to a close, we’re doing a review of each Big Ten team’s season, as well as looking ahead to next year. Today’s team: the Northwestern Wildcats.

Bill Carmody Couldn't Find Enough Answers This Season (Credit: ChicagoNow)

Bill Carmody Couldn’t Find Enough Answers This Season (Credit: ChicagoNow)

The Good

It was tough to find much good in Evanston this year, mainly because just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong. This was supposed to be Northwestern’s most talented team ever, but a slew of injuries meant the Wildcats essentially had to play with mostly guards and freshmen all season. The result was a 4-14 Big Ten record. You can’t find much good from that, but there were a few silver linings to the injuries, particularly the development of this year’s freshmen. Those freshmen — center Alex Olah and forward Kale Abrahamson, in particular — were thrown into the mix right away and didn’t have time to adjust with a veteran supporting cast. That led to a rocky start, but the extra experience helped them develop, and their collective improvement showed down the stretch. Olah still needs to work on his defense and he’s limited athletically, but he showed much better instincts in the post and developed as a good passer. Abrahamson was overmatched by his opponents for much of the year, but he too showed an ability to drive to the hoop late in the year to complement solid three-point shooting. Both players have a ways to go, but they have built a solid foundation that will bode well for the future.

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Challenges Aplenty for Chris Collins at Northwestern

Posted by KTrahan on April 1st, 2013

Northwestern announced the hiring of Duke associate head coach Chris Collins as its new head coach last week, and on Tuesday, the Collins era will officially begin in Evanston with an introductory press conference. There was little drama in this coaching search — everyone knew all along the job was Collins’ if he wanted it, and he took it, citing the chance to come home (he’s a Northbrook, Illinois, native) and lead a high-major program. But Northwestern isn’t just any high-major program. Truthfully, it could be the toughest job in all of college basketball. The Wildcats have never been to the NCAA Tournament, and while their last coach, Bill Carmody — a terrific coach in his own right — got NU to heights it had never seen before, the program still lagged far behind most of the Big Ten as far as sustained success goes. Carmody was in Evanston for 13 years and the challenges got even tougher for him throughout his tenure, as he explained in his final press conference.

Collins Has Been a Fixture on the Duke Bench For Years

Collins Has Been a Fixture on the Duke Bench For Years

“There’s not much different now about what Northwestern offers than it was when Kevin O’Neill was here and (Ricky) Byrdsong and Bill Foster and all those,” he said. “So everyone knows, people have talked about it, it’s sort of like an arms race. So the gap might be widening that way.” These challenges — particularly the lack of good facilities and Northwestern’s stringent academic standards — will still be there for Collins. The question now is if NU is willing to do anything to change them, or if Collins will have to work around them. Facilities-wise, the football program is currently receiving its long-awaited face-lift, so it’s unlikely that basketball will get a similar upgrade in the near future. But what about academics, which could potentially be changed right away? Nobody is expecting NU to accept everyone who applies, but right now, the perception is that the Wildcats won’t bend for good players like Duke, and maybe even Harvard, will.

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Mitch McGary Impressive, More Thoughts on Michigan’s Win Over Penn State

Posted by KTrahan on March 14th, 2013

Kevin Trahan writes for the Big Ten Microsite and covers Northwestern sports for InsideNU.com. Follow him on Twitter at @k_trahan for Big Ten Tournament updates.

Michigan is off to the second round of the Big Ten Tournament for a date with Wisconsin after an 83-66 win over Penn State in the first round. The Wolverines’ struggles this season with the Nittany Lions continued in the first half, as they led by just two at halftime, but they pulled away in the second half for an easy win. Five UM players scored in double figures, led by Trey Burke with 21.

Here are three thoughts from courtside:

  1. Mitch McGary is going to be special: Big men typically take longer to develop as freshmen than guards to, so it’s no surprise that Mitch McGary wasn’t the most “fab” of Michigan’s star freshmen in the early going. However, over the past month, McGary has shown vast improvements and has arguably been the Wolverines’ best young player over that time span. McGary continued that dominance in the first half on Thursday afternoon, posting 10 points and 10 rebounds in 13 minutes of action. He had just one more rebound and no points in the second half, but the game broke open quickly and he wasn’t needed. McGary’s improvement is a great sign for a Michigan frontcourt that will need someone to step up next year. He’ll be helpful in this year’s UM postseason run, but next year is when he’ll ultimately be able to become a star, rather than just a role player. He has all the tools for stardom — he’s aggressive on the boards and has a great knack for the basket on second-chance opportunities — and as he gains experience, he’ll become even more of a threat.

    Michigan head coach John Beilein reacts during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big Ten tournament against Penn State. (AP)

    Michigan head coach John Beilein reacts during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big Ten tournament against Penn State. (AP)

  2. A good tune-up for Michigan: It’s kind of hard to believe that just a month ago, Michigan was the #1 team in the nation. Now, the Wolverines couldn’t even get a bye on the first day of the Big Ten Tournament. John Beilein’s team has struggled through a number of tough losses this season, none tougher than last Sunday’s home loss to Illinois, when a bad roll on the rim cost them a big win and a higher seed in the Big Ten Tournament. That can really mess with your psyche. In a way, Thursday’s result at United Center was the perfect one for the Wolverines as they enter postseason play. It offered some adversity — Penn State began the game up 14-3 — but once things settled down, it helped the Wolverines build their confidence. They were effective from beyond the arc and got the ball inside, the latter of which they’ve struggled to do down the stretch. Friday’s game against Wisconsin will be a much bigger test, but Thursday’s game against Michigan couldn’t have gone much better for Beilein and company.
  3. Penn State’s future is bright: Penn State just might be the best 2-16 conference team in history. Being the best at being the worst isn’t exactly encouraging in itself, but the Nittany Lions are vastly improved since the beginning of the year, and that’s without first team All-Big Ten point guard Tim Frazier. They own recent wins against Michigan and Northwestern and also nearly took down Wisconsin and Iowa. They’re starting to get more confident, and next year could be the year they put it all together. Penn State could potentially have the best backcourt in the Big Ten in 2013-14. Frazier will be back, along with D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall, who are both much better now than they were in January. The frontcourt, which has been a weakness all season, has started to improve. Forward Ross Travis has really started to come into his own, and he posted 12 points and 11 rebounds against the Wolverines. Four of those rebounds came in the early going, when he was arguably the best player on the floor for a stretch. As the pieces start to come together and players continue to improve, look out for Pat Chambers’ squad. Things are definitely looking up, even coming off a year with just two conference wins.
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Brandon Paul: Certified Gopher Killer

Posted by KTrahan on March 14th, 2013

Throughout his career, Brandon Paul has been touted as an ultra-talented player who struggles with inconsistency. Sometimes he showcases his impressive range and versatility, while other times he seems to disappear from the moment. In Thursday’s opening round Big Ten Tournament game, Paul rose to the moment, and then some. He scored 25 of the Illini’s 51 points on 10-of-16 shooting, and was 4-of-8 from beyond the arc in his team’s victory over Minnesota. But he saved his best for last, hitting a 15-footer at the buzzer to get his team a date with Indiana in the second round of the Big Ten Tourney on Friday.

Other than Paul, Illinois struggled mightily. Its next three leading scorers  — D.J. Richardson, Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu — each had just six points. Paul, a guard, was the second-leading rebounder with five, just one behind Egwu. And while Paul shot 50 percent from beyond the arc (4-of-8), the rest of the team was just 2-of-17 from long distance — Tyler Griffey was 0-of-4, Abrams was 0-of-3.

Illinois’ season has taken after Paul’s career, in a way. The Illini have lived and died by the three, which essentially means inevitable inconsistency. On nights when they’re firing on all cylinders, they’ve pulled out impressive wins against Butler, Gonzaga, Indiana and Ohio State. However, cold-shooting nights have led to bad games — a 14-point home loss to Northwestern and near losses to Gardner-Webb and Auburn. The good wins have offset the bad ones, and they’re why the Illini will surely be dancing next weekend.

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Big Ten M5: 03.13.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on March 13th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. Ohio State has had its struggles this season, particularly in finding a consistent offensive threat outside of Deshaun Thomas. However, the Buckeyes have gone on a hot streak as of late — ironically, they’ve done it in a stretch when Thomas has struggled — and surged to grab the No. 2 seed in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament. Late-season surges such as this are nothing new under coach Thad Matta. As the Columbus Dispatch points out, Matta’s teams have won 15 consecutive games in the final week of the regular season, a streak that dates back to 2005. This year — as we’ve seen before — OSU is peaking at the right time, right before the “win and advance” portion of the season.
  2. Finishing No. 8 in the country and getting a No. 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament is quite the accomplishment, especially for a team that lost its leader and best player from last season. However, it’s not enough for Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. MSU was on top of the conference a few weeks ago, but it lost two close games to Michigan and Indiana down the stretch, which ultimately kept the Spartans from winning the Big Ten regular season title. Not getting that championship is an extra incentive for Izzo and his team this weekend, as they try to claim a Big Ten Tournament championship. Not only that, but a run in Chicago would necessarily include some pretty impressive wins, which would give MSU great confidence heading into the NCAA Tournament.
  3. One of the reasons John Groce got the job at Illinois this season is because of the success he enjoyed at Ohio, particularly in the postseason. His Bobcats won the MAC last season and upset Michigan in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Now, he’s heading into his first postseason as a Big Ten coach, but the competition is much tougher here than it was in the MAC Tournament. Still, Groce is excited for his first opportunity to coach in the Big Ten Tournament, and he’s equally excited for his team, which will get the chance to regain some momentum after a bit of a slide to end the regular season.
  4. Sunday’s Michigan-Indiana game was one for the ages, coming down to the final seconds with a tough roll ending up as the difference between a win and a loss for the Wolverines. However, that game just about defined the season for John Beilein’s team, which has shown its incredible potential at times but has also struggled with consistency. The Wolverines have the talent to be the best team in the country, but Bill Simonson of MLive questions whether they have the toughness to make a serious run in the NCAA Tournament. Can UM shake its most recent loss to IU? The talent is there, but it might be tough to get over it.
  5. Iowa has played its last four games without freshman point guard Mike Gesell, but with do-or-die time looming in the Big Ten Tournament, Gesell expects to play on Thursday when the Hawkeyes suit up against Northwestern. Gesell has a stress reaction in his foot, but since it isn’t fractured, he’s been cleared to play despite the pain that limits his abilities. He said he should be able to go. Head coach Fran McCaffery said he will support whatever decision Gesell comes to, noting that the Hawkeyes could certainly use him this week if he’s able to play.
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Big Ten M5: 03.12.13 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on March 12th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. As if the end of Sunday’s Indiana-Michigan game wasn’t crazy enough, Tom Crean made it even more interesting when he approached Michigan assistant Jeff Meyer to confront him about his time as an assistant at IU. Crean told Meyer that he “helped wreck the program.” Meyer was a Hoosiers assistant under Kelvin Sampson and was partially responsible for some of the NCAA sanctions leveled against the program in the late 2000s. Crean said he later called to apologize and that his actions were inappropriate, but Michigan coach John Beilein wasn’t happy. “We’re never going to use victory or defeat as a platform for any frustrations we’re going to have,” he told MLive. I’m really proud of the way Jeff showed great poise and handled himself in the aftermath of the disappointment in that loss.
  2. It’s hard to dispute that the Big Ten is the best conference in college basketball right now, but what does that mean for the conference when it comes to the NCAA Tournament? Some would argue that it helps the Big Ten teams, because they’ve been tested so much during the season, but others would argue that it may have worn some teams down. Tom Izzo claims it’s the former. He says it gives him and his players confidence heading into the Big Dance knowing that there’s nothing they haven’t seen. He also said the upcoming Big Ten Tournament has the potential to be “maybe one of the great conference tournaments of all-time.”
  3. Wisconsin has lived and died by the three at times this season, and it barely stayed afloat thanks to a buzzer-beating three by Traevon Jackson to guide the Badgers past Penn State. Threes have led to late-game heroics for the Badgers a few times this season, but Wisconsin must do a better job of finding scoring options inside if it is going to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, or even the Big Ten Tournament. UW can’t afford to keep banking on the long ball, because for every game that the shots are falling, there is going to be a game when they aren’t. It’s going to be hard to win four games in four days if the three is Wisconsin’s only offensive weapon.
  4. As the season comes to a close, Bill Carmody’s seat has gotten even hotter, despite the injuries Northwestern has had to deal with this season. NU will miss the NCAA Tournament once again, and that’s enough for many fans to call for Carmody’s job, even considering all the team’s injuries. However, with or without Carmody, the NU program has some problems. There’s no reason to believe things will get easier for a new coach if the basketball facilities don’t receive an upgrade and the stringent academic requirements aren’t loosened.
  5. Iowa has a very young frontcourt this season, with freshman Adam Woodbury and center Gabe Olaseni splitting time at center; and while they’ve had their ups and downs, they’re playing their best basketball of the year right now. Woodbury scored 20 points combined in Iowa’s final two games, while Olaseni has shown improvement on both ends of the floor. He had seven blocks against Illinois and was also a force on the offensive end against the Illini and Nebraska, thanks to his athleticism in the post. Woodbury and Olaseni both should be much improved next season, but they still have a chance to make some noise in the Big Ten Tournament.
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Big Ten M5: 03.07.13 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on March 7th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. The postgame scene at Assembly Hall after Indiana’s loss to Ohio State on Tuesday night was… well, it’s tough to really describe it. “Odd” doesn’t really do it justice. Following the loss, The Hoosiers held a ceremony for their departing seniors and cut down the nets to celebrate clinching a share of the Big Ten title, thanks to a Michigan win over Michigan State two days earlier. IU won, but it lost. It was celebrating, but the scene was depressing. It’s strange that IU was so set on having a net-cutting ceremony that it didn’t wait until the Big Ten Tournament, when it would have made a lot more sense.
  2. Michigan State still has a lot to play for this season, including a Big Ten title and a subsequent run in March Madness. However, the Spartans got some good news for next season when they found out forward Branden Dawson plans on returning for his junior year. Dawson is likely a future NBA player and he has improved and lived up to his potential considerably since stepping on campus two falls ago. Staying an extra year gives him the chance to make the jump to elite and becoming a certain first round pick. This news potentially extends a long streak of MSU players not leaving early, dating back to Shannon Brown’s departure in 2006.
  3. Despite its early-season hype, Ohio State quickly dropped into the second tier of the Top 25 due to quite a bit of inconsistency from its young players. Outside of Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft, the Buckeyes have struggled to find contributors on both ends of the floor. Now, however, OSU is rolling on a four-game winning streak after taking down Indiana in Bloomington. The most encouraging sign is that the Buckeyes are doing it without dominance from Thomas, who has recently been in a scoring slump. If OSU can win without Thomas carrying them, who’s to say they can’t go on a run in March if he finds his groove?
  4. The Big Ten race is confusing. Five teams can potentially still win a share of the conference title, and depending on a number of different scenarios, we will likely see multiple-way ties for first place in the conference. This chart from The Only Colors is by far the best way to tell how any potential ties will be broken up. Since the Indiana-OSU and Michigan-Purdue games have already been played, the number of possibilities has since narrowed, but Indiana, Ohio State and Wisconsin still all have a chance to get the No. 1 overall seed, even though Indiana is far and away the favorite.
  5. Sunday’s loss to Purdue was a tale of two halves for Wisconsin, just as it was for Badgers’ guard Traevon Jackson. Jackson had been playing well recently, and he continued that trend in the first half against the Boilermakers. But he struggled in the second half, particularly with his passing the ball. While he had problems earlier in the year with his passing, he looked like he had gotten the issue fixed in recent games. Before the Purdue game, Jackson had three of his most efficient offensive games of the season, which also turned out to be some of Wisconsin’s most efficient games this year. In order for the Badgers to be effective down the stretch, Jackson can’t play like he did in the second half on Sunday.
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Big Ten Power Rankings: March 2 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on March 2nd, 2013

In this week’s power rankings, we give each team a grade for the month of February. This week’s voters were Deepak Jayanti, Joey Nowak and Kevin Trahan.

  1. Indiana Hoosiers: For awhile there, it looked like Indiana had secured itself as the top team in the country in a year when it’s been very difficult to figure out who the top team really is. However, the Hoosiers showed that they’re human this week, falling to Minnesota in Minneapolis. Victor Oladipo and Jordan Hulls played well, but IU was dominated inside by Minnesota’s stellar front court, led by Trevor Mbakwe. The Hoosiers certainly have the potential to win the National Championship, but they need to prove themselves against teams that rebound well. Grade: Before this game, Indiana likely deserved an A- for the month, with the loss to Illinois as the blemish. However, the Minnesota loss drops the Hoosiers to a B+ for February.

    IU on Top For Now (USA Today)

    IU on Top For Now (USA Today)

  2. Michigan State Spartans: The Spartans have dropped two straight but their performances against Indiana and Ohio State — while not impressive — are not entirely worth fretting about. They’ve been in position to win both games (one of them on the road) and if Keith Appling was playing the way he’s played all season, it’s highly likely that they would have. They’re going through the tough stretch of schedule that most every team in the conference has hit at some point. We’ll find out soon enough how they emerge. Grade: The Spartans get a B+ for February, given the way they climbed in the standings and in the polls by taking care of business all the way up to the Michigan blowout. Their performance against the Hoosiers and Buckeyes was good, but not enough so to win.
  3. Wisconsin Badgers: Bo Ryan’s team continues to take care of business in the Big Ten and wait for the showdown in East Lansing against Michigan State. If the Hoosiers drop another game in the conference, don’t be surprised to see the Badgers beat the Spartans win the conference title. If that happens, this season might be Ryan’s best since he arrived over a decade ago in Madison. Grade A Except for their loss to the Gophers, Ryan’s team has done very well in February. The win over Michigan will help them in terms of seeding in the NCAA tournament but they proved that they can hang with the top teams in the country. Nobody outside of the Big Ten can take them lightly in March just because they don’t have the star power that Michigan or Indiana has. Ben Brust continues to be a great rebounding guard and he can make a serious case for the best perimeter defender in the Big Ten.
  4. Ohio State Buckeyes: If Aaron Craft turns out to be the Buckeyes’ second scorer behind Deshaun Thomas, that could be a real good thing for Ohio State. To have scoring potential in your primary ballhandler and leader is a valuable thing, and Craft has been known to have great judgment on both ends of the floor. If he can perform the rest of the way like he did against Michigan State, the Buckeyes could have a reliable scorer and a floor general rolled into one. Grade: The Buckeyes were busy this month, with losses to Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin, but they got things back on track by the end with a couple necessary wins against Minnesota and Michigan State. They got a scare against Northwestern but took care of business when they had to. We’ll give them a B. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 02.15.13 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on February 15th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. It’s been a rough few weeks for Glenn Robinson III, one of Michigan’s highly-touted freshmen who started the season strong, but then fell into a cold stretch. As Robinson III has struggled, so has his team, which has dropped consecutive games after finding itself at No. 1 in the nation just a few weeks ago. Robinson III’s five-game struggle has resulted in lower shooting and rebounding numbers, and it’s affected the Wolverines’ entire offense. When he scores at least 10 points, Michigan is 15-0; when he scores less than 10, the Wolverines are 5-4. Over the past five games, he has averaged just 6.2 points per game. Other players need to step up, as well, but for Michigan to turn things around, Robinson III needs to regain the form he showed earlier this season.
  2. Illinois has been wildly inconsistent on offense this year. The Illini are guard-oriented, so they’ve relied a lot on outside shots. When those shots are falling, they’ve been good, but there have also been some bad losses, most notably a double-digit home loss to Northwestern. However, Illinois has been on a recent surge, with wins over Indiana, Minnesota and Purdue. The key for the Illini has been offensive efficiency, and they graded out nicely in that area in the win against Purdue. The effective field goal percentage wasn’t great, but the Illini did well with their points per possession and turnover rate. John Groce’s team must continue to put up solid tempo-free stats in order to finish out the season strong.
  3. Indiana’s depth heading into the year was pretty incredible and one of the main reasons the Hoosiers were considered one of the best teams in the nation. While Victor Oladipo has stepped up more than most expected, the rest of IU’s squad wasn’t all that consistent. However, things are starting to get put together, with Cody Zeller and others playing better. Christian Watford is one of those players who has stepped up, and that was evident in the Hoosiers’ blowout of Nebraska. Watford has scored in double figures in 17 straight Big Ten games dating back to last season, and he’s done so in the last 15 games this year. He gives an IU team full of weapons yet another scoring option, and that wealth of options is what makes the Hoosiers so dangerous.
  4. Matt Painter wasn’t happy with much Wednesday night. Not with his team, and certainly not with the officials. Purdue fell to Illinois and the Boilermakers were forced to finish the game without their coach, who was ejected with around eight minutes left in the game. The issue wasn’t in doubt at that point, so Painter was really just trying to light a fire under his team, which has lost five of its last seven games. The Boilermakers have a very young team and were expected to struggle, and now their streak of six consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances looks to be in serious jeopardy. Now, it’s about building momentum heading into next year, and Painter hopes Wednesday night’s loss ignites some sort of spark.
  5. Early this season, Minnesota looked like it could have been one of the top 10 teams in the country. However, a recent, long losing streak has started some talk of the Golden Gophers falling back onto the bubble. Tubby Smith still needs to get more consistency from his team, but Thursday night’s overtime win over Wisconsin has to be encouraging for a team that was desperate for a win. Minnesota’s star guard Andre Hollins got his mojo back and led to Gophers to the win in an overall gutsy team performance against the rival Badgers. Even after falling behind by 10 points — a tough deficit to come back from against Wisconsin — Minnesota stayed patient and used strong defense to crawl back into the game. It wasn’t pretty, but it ended up being a possible season-saving win for the Gophers.
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Big Ten M5: 02.14.13 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on February 14th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. Michigan State was always considered one of the better teams in the Big Ten, but it hadn’t been considered one of the favorites for the conference title to this point. The Spartans’ blowout win over Michigan on Tuesday night represented a shift in that thinking. MSU is peaking at just the right time after some inconsistency early in the season. Veterans Derrick Nix, Keith Appling and Branden Dawson are all stepping up, along with star freshmen Gary Harris and Denzel Valentine. Tom Izzo’s teams are notorious for their ability to turn things on at the end of the season and play well in March. MSU has to stay consistent, but if the Spartans play like they did against the Wolverines, they’ll be tough to beat many more times this season.
  2. Ohio State needed to fill a void in leadership and on-court production when it lost Jared Sullinger last year, and the most obvious player to fill that void was Deshaun Thomas. Thomas has lived up to the calling and become one of the most productive players in the Big Ten. However, he has changed a lot off the court, as well, thanks to his infant son. Deshaun Jr. was born the night Ohio State played Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament last March and it has changed Thomas’ perspective. Having a son has helped him become more responsible and made him realize that he now has someone looking up to him. That means less time for celebration of games, but it’s still rewarding for him to be able to go home and spend time with his son.
  3. When Fran McCaffery came to Iowa City, his fast-paced offensive style was a welcome change for a program that had just endured three years of slow, unexciting basketball under Todd Lickliter. However, while McCaffery has helped turn the Iowa program around, he recognized the need for better defense if the Hawkeyes were to take the next step. This year, his team has largely delivered on its promise to play better defense. Last year, Iowa gave up an average of 72 points per game through 24 games, but the Hawkeyes are down to 63.9 points per game this year through the same span. Iowa gave up 74.2 points per game through 11 Big Ten games last year, but has given up just 67.2 points per game through that same span this year — and this year’s schedule is far more front-loaded. That’s the largest drop in the conference and a big reason why Iowa is back in the conversation for NCAA Tournament contention.
  4. Over the past week, Illinois has regained the impressive form that it showed early in the season, and part of that is due to the contributions of Sam McLaurin. McLaurin, a fifth-year senior transfer from Coastal Carolina, earned himself a spot in the starting lineup this year and has provided a boost for the Illini on both ends of the floor. McLaurin did a nice job making plays off the ball against Indiana, but Illinois coach John Groce was especially impressed with his performance on defense against Minnesota. Groce said McLaurin received higher grades on defensive hustle stats in that game than any player he has ever coached. For a team that is a bit undersized in the frontcourt, McLaurin’s contributions will continue to be important down the stretch.
  5. Like every year it seems, this was supposed to be the year that Northwestern finally broke its NCAA Tournament curse. The Wildcats seemed to have the talent coming into the season, but they’ve been hit by a number of personnel losses, and two more hit recently. Jared Swopshire and Alex Olah both went down in NU’s loss to Iowa, and while Olah has a concussion and will return, Swopshire is done for the year after having arthroscopic knee surgery. The Wildcats now have very little depth in the frontcourt due to all of this year’s injuries. Sippin’ on Purple does a good job of rehashing all of NU’s injury struggles this year. First, JerShon Cobb was suspended for the season (not an injury, but still a problem), then Drew Crawford went down in December. Freshmen Sanjay Lumpkin and Chier Ajou also had season-ending injuries, while Nikola Cerina, Reggie Hearn and Alex Marcotullio have all dealt with injuries at one time or another this year.
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