Breaking Down Iowa’s Best Path to the Dance

Posted by KTrahan on February 13th, 2013

What can we make of Iowa right now? That’s a tough question to answer. Most people would probably agree that the Hawkeyes are better than their 4-7 Big Ten record. Some would say it’s impressive that Iowa has hung with so many good teams — such as Ohio State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan State. Some would say the fact that the Hawkeyes can’t get over the hump shows that they’re still a year away. Some would say both. As the schedule cools down, Iowa’s conference record will inevitably improve. That means the Hawkeyes will likely be inserted back into the bubble conversation and should be right on the cusp of the NCAA Tournament come March. But will Iowa have the resume necessary to make it back to the Big Dance for the first time since 2006? That’s up for debate.

Fran McCaffery Needs a Few Breaks But His Team Can Get There (AP)

Fran McCaffery Needs a Few Breaks But His Team Can Get There (AP)

There’s a lot of speculation that a 9-9 conference record is more than enough to get Iowa into the NCAA Tournament because of how good the Big Ten is this year. However, I don’t buy it. That’s not how the selection committee works. They don’t let teams with a certain conference record in just because that conference is good, nor do they only allow a certain number of teams in from each conference. Resumes are based mainly on quality wins compared with bad losses, and if a team from another conference has more quality wins and fewer bad losses than a 9-9 Iowa team, that team is going to get the nod over the Hawkeyes.

So the question is whether Iowa can improve its resume enough to get into the NCAA Tournament. If the season ended today, the Hawkeyes don’t have enough. Iowa is 4-7 in the Big Ten, but more importantly, they have just two quality wins: Wisconsin and Iowa State at home. The team is probably good enough to make the NCAA Tournament, but it hasn’t done enough to finish in close games yet, losing heart-breakers to all of Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Minnesota, Michigan State and Purdue. Any one of those losses — save for maybe the Boilermakers — could have counted as a quality win. However, Iowa fell short in all of them, so its postseason fate now sits in limbo.

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The Battle for Sixth Place in the Big Ten is More Important Than You Think

Posted by KTrahan on February 11th, 2013

The battle for the top of the Big Ten this season has been well-documented. Indiana and Michigan look like the front-runners right now, but Michigan State has a chance to threaten for the conference crown as well. Then there’s Ohio State and Wisconsin, both of which have knocked off and hung with the top tier teams this season. Unless there’s a major turn of events in the next few weeks, those five teams will occupy the #1-#5 seeds in the Big Ten Tournament, although the order is completely up in the air. The jockeying for position among those teams will certainly be interesting to watch, but after seeing this comment on Twitter last night, the battle for the #6 seed looks almost as compelling.

I hadn’t thought about it before, but that race should be extremely interesting and close the rest of the way. All four teams are either 4-7 or 5-6 in conference play right now, but the #6 seed figures to need to finish at 10-8 or 9-9. Purdue’s road to the position is the toughest — the Boilermakers have trips to Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin and visits from Michigan and Minnesota. Still, the jockeying among Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota with the Boilers should be very close. Right now, Iowa and Illinois sit at 4-7 while Minnesota is 5-6. Iowa has the toughest part of its schedule behind it, while Illinois has plenty of momentum looking forward.

First, it’s important to understand why this is important. The difference between being a #6 or #8 seed in the Big Ten Tournament this year really could mean the season for any of these teams. A top-half seed in the toughest conference in college basketball means that team would likely have a strong enough resume to make the NCAA Tournament. That isn’t to say the selection committee will necessarily choose a team based off of  its position in the conference standings — it doesn’t work that way — but it will take a number of quality wins to get to that slot in the Big Ten race, which enhances that team’s resume. It’s also important to draw the #6 seed for match-up and bubble reasons — it’s much easier to have to play #11 seed Nebraska than inconsistent but dangerous teams like possible #9 or #10 seeds Purdue and Northwestern. Let’s take a look at the road to get to the elusive #6 slot for the three teams we’re considering.

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Big Ten Power Rankings: February 8 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on February 8th, 2013

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

1. Michigan Wolverines: Last weekend’s Michigan-Indiana game was supposed to be the game of the year. However, the Michigan-Ohio State game later in the week may have taken the cake. The Wolverines fought off some early adversity in that game and came back to beat the Buckeyes in overtime. Michigan’s remaining schedule isn’t too tough — Indiana still has to come to the Crisler Arena — and the Wolverines should be able to retain the top spot as long as they don’t slip up too much, since the Hoosiers have a much tougher remaining schedule. Biggest concern: Michigan probably has the best backcourt in the country, and while the frontcourt may have been better than we’d anticipated — Jordan Morgan, Glenn Robinson III and now even Mitch McGary have stepped up nicely — but there are still questions as to whether they can compete against top big men. Cody Zeller had a very good game against the Wolverines at Assembly Hall, and Michigan is still unproven at guarding top big men.

2. Indiana Hoosiers: Indiana had the opportunity to grab the No. 1 spot in our power rankings after becoming the No. 1 team in the polls. However, Indiana failed to seize the moment, dropping to Illinois by collapsing in the final minutes Thursday night. It was quite the meltdown for a Hoosiers team that looked like it was in control early, but allowed the Illini to hang in the game for too long until the late run. This likely won’t be the last loss for Indiana, which has a tough schedule from here on out. Biggest concern: The biggest concern here has to be consistency. Indiana has so many weapons that it is perfectly capable of winning on any given night. However, it’s rare that all those weapons play well together — the Michigan game was an exception. The Hoosiers must be more consistent in order to make a run in the NCAA Tournament.

3. Michigan State: This is a team Tom Izzo and Michigan State fans can be proud of, and one that’s built from the Spartan basketball blueprint. They don’t rebound as well as past Izzo teams, but they’re tough on defense and they have a certain grittiness that’s allowed them to grind their way through this tough Big Ten schedule. When they’re healthy, they can beat anybody. The problem is, they’re never totally healthy. Biggest concern: This is easy — injuries. The Spartans can’t seem to make it through a game without someone getting hurt. Take Wednesday’s win against Minnesota for example. At one point, Adreian Payne, Branden Dawson, Gary Harris and Keith Appling all were visibly hurting and/or had to leave the game. And Travis Trice is already on the sidelined. The Spartans have no depth, but they’re managing to get by … for now.

4. Ohio State Buckeyes: It may not be showing immediately in the standings, but Ohio State is improving. Their game against Michigan, albeit a loss, was full of encouraging signs — most notably, the heavy scoring output and the distribution across the rotation. When the Buckeyes get scoring from players not named Deshaun Thomas, they’re in great shape. Biggest concern: The balance of scoring. It’s been well chronicled that the Buckeyes don’t have many go-to guys beyond Thomas, so if he has an off night, Ohio State is usually in trouble. This team is loaded with talent, but it’s just a matter of these players recognizing their capabilities and turning it on.

5. Minnesota Golden Gophers: The Gophers took advantage of the Hawkeyes’ inexperience with a clutch win at The Barn on Sunday but at some point, they will need to beat another ranked opponent to secure a good seed in the NCAA tournament. Trevor Mbakwe continues to dominate the glass as he pulled down 14 rebounds against a tough Spartans’ frontcourt of Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne. Biggest concern: Do the Gophers have a player that can consistently generate offense in the clutch? Andre Hollins (14 PPG) may be their closer but he needs to come up big against formidable competition such as Michigan State. Austin Hollins (11 PPG) can only feed off good ball movement but Dre Hollins may be the only guard that can create his own shot – a skill that will be needed over the last few weeks of the season of the Gophers were to lock up a good seed in the NCAA tournament.

6. Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers continue to hang around the top half of the conference standings but they might need another win or two against a top team in the conference in order to crack the top 25 polls and lock a good seed in the postseason. Bo Ryan’s team will have an opportunity on Saturday to take down Michigan. If Ben Brust and Traevon Jackson can limit Trey Burke to three-point shots, they may have a chance to sneak up on the Wolverines. Biggest concern: Badgers’ free throw shooting will be a concern because they don’t win by a huge margin and find themselves in several close games. For example, against Iowa, Ryan Evans (43% FT) was fouled and a miss could have proved costly in a close game. Fortunately for Badgers fans, Evans nailed both of the free throws but opposing teams will force the Badgers to close the games at the free throw line. As a team, the Badgers are shooting 62% from the charity line and this could be a factor down the homestretch in the conference season.

7. Illinois Fighting Illini: The Illini may be the most confusing team in the country right now. After pulling off a stunning upset over the top-ranked Indiana Hoosiers, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Illini lose to Minnesota on the road. But the win over Indiana will keep their NCAA hopes alive because it boosts their resume along with other “good” wins over Ohio State, Gonzaga and Butler. Biggest concern: Can they continue to stay motivated to play hard against Big Ten teams from the bottom tier of the conference? John Groce’s team shows up to compete against Michigan State and Indiana but they will need to consistently take care of business against Penn State, Purdue, Nebraska and Northwestern. They can’t lose one of those games and put themselves in a “must-win” situation against Ohio State or Iowa on the road.

8. Northwestern Wildcats: Northwestern blew out Purdue at home last Saturday, and while the Wildcats are far from an NCAA Tournament team, they’re progressing very well this year. Reggie Hearn turned it on for a career high 26 points against the Boilermakers, but perhaps more encouraging is the development of center Alex Olah. Olah really struggled early in Big Ten play, but he played well in games against Michigan and Purdue. If he continues to develop like this, along with the other freshmen, NU will have a solid team next year, with Drew Crawford and JerShon Cobb coming back. Biggest concern: While Olah is playing better, Northwestern has still really struggled inside, especially on the defensive end. Olah isn’t great rebounder and doesn’t alter a lot of shots in the lane, meaning forward Jared Swopshire has had to pick up the slack.

9. Purdue Boilermakers: The Boilermakers are a good team that can give any team in the conference fits on any given night, but they’re not much more than that. They either don’t play consistently well or they just can’t seem to get over the hump to consistently contend night and night out. When you have that much trouble scoring the ball, you’ll find that to be the case. Biggest concern: The problem with these team always has been, and always will be scoring. They can compete on the glass with anybody in the Big Ten, let alone the country, but when you rank 233rd nationall in PPG (65.2) and 261st in field goal percentage (41 percent), there’s a whole lot of room for improvement.

10. Iowa Hawkeyes: You have to feel for the Hawkeyes after two close losses to Minnesota and Wisconsin. Fran McCaffery’s team is trying their best to crack through the top half of the Big Ten but keep falling short but kudos to the head coach for keeping his team together. They can regain their confidence by beating teams that they are “supposed” to beat such as Penn State, Nebraska, Northwestern and Purdue over the next two weeks. Biggest concern: Devyn Marble’s recent slump is a big concern for the Hawkeyes. He was benched during critical minutes against Minnesota (0 points) and Wisconsin (2 points) on the road because he hasn’t been able to find any rhythm offensively. The offensive slump and lack of minutes is clearly affecting Marble and it shows during the games. He turned the ball over during the final minute against the Gophers and let Ben Brust cut towards the basket for a wide-open layup against the Badgers. The young Hawkeyes’ season is not done but they need Marble to play a role in their turnaround over the next few weeks.

11. Nebraska Cornhuskers: Nebraska has taken its lumps this year, but the Huskers have shown promise and hung with some solid teams. That was the case again this week, as Nebraska stayed close with Ohio State. The Huskers get Penn State this weekend in what could be their final chance to get a win; the last stretch of schedule — at Indiana, vs. Michigan State, vs. Iowa, at Wisconsin, at Illinois, vs. Minnesota, at Iowa — is brutal. However, Nebraska certainly has the ability to surprise some teams. Biggest concern: The Huskers have done a nice job defensively this year, but they’ve really struggled to score. They slow the game down, which keeps them close to more talented teams, but they don’t have the shooting to win at the end of games.

12. Penn State Nittany Lions: The Nittany Lions came dangerously close to that first Big Ten win with their last game at home against Purdue, but just couldn’t pull it out. But they’ve got another good chance at the first win when they travel to Nebraska this week. Otherwise, they may never see that win at all. Biggest concern: How about staying motivated? Patrick Chambers has to look for ways to keep his guys engaged despite getting beat every time they take the floor. They’re not competing for anything this year, but they have to find a way to make these games matter. Play the role of spoiler.

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Late Game Struggles Continue to Haunt Iowa

Posted by KTrahan on February 8th, 2013

With 20 seconds left in regulation of Wednesday night’s Iowa-Wisconsin game, Traevon Jackson’s three-pointer bounced off the rim, then the backboard, then fell into the hoop to tie the game up. Josh Ogelsby’s three-pointer just before the buzzer looked good, but then rimmed out. Thus has been the story of Iowa’s season so far, as the Hawkeyes went on to lose 74-70 in double overtime. Iowa certainly has a squad that looked capable of making the NCAA Tournament this year, but the script in every chance to get a marquee win has been the same — a blown late lead and a heartbreaking loss. The Hawkeyes have blown late leads to Indiana, Michigan State, Purdue, Minnesota and now Wisconsin. The only late leads that they’ve held onto against marquee opponents have come against Wisconsin (in the previous meeting this season) and Iowa State. Jon Rothstein and Ken Pomeroy both sympathized with Iowa fans after the loss:

Fake Fran McCaffery was clearly frustrated, as well (great Twitter follow, by the way):

Apparently it was possible to get closer to the hump without going over it. Dammit.

— Fran’s Red Face (@FransRedFace) February 7, 2013

It’s tough to know what to make of all of Iowa’s late-game collapses. The Hawkeyes have clearly had trouble figuring out how to play with a lead at the end of games — they nearly even blew the home lead to Wisconsin. It’s almost as if Iowa goes into prevent defense, to use a football term. And, as the saying goes, the only thing prevent defense does is prevent you from winning the game. The Hawkeyes try to avoid fouling and get very conservative, which allows the other team to get back into the game. Since Iowa isn’t a great shooting team, it’s tough for the Hawkeyes to make the last shot at the end of games.

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Big Ten M5: 02.01.13 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on February 1st, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. Before the season, Keith Appling wasn’t even a Michigan State captain. Tom Izzo was looking at the veteran point guard to become a leader on an off the court for the Spartans, who had lost last year’s emotional leader Draymond Green. Appling has now earned captain status and Izzo has noticed a big change from his junior point guard. Izzo said Appling is doing a better job of communicating on the floor and showing his confidence after sitting down with former MSU point guard Mateen Cleaves. Appling learned to fight through adversity after a rough past, and now he’s doing it on the court, becoming the leader Izzo had hoped for at the beginning of the season.
  2. Ohio State has had trouble finding players outside of Deshaun Thomas, Sam Thompson and Aaron Craft to step up this season. The Buckeyes certainly have talent, but its supporting players — Shannon Scott, Amir Williams and LaQuinton Ross, to name a few — haven’t been consistent. That has resulted in inconsistent playing time among that bunch. OSU has been searching for an alternative offensive option to Thompson and it appears it may have found its answer in Ross. Ross has seen the court much more recently, and part of that is due to his improved listening to coach Thad Matta. He’s taking in more direction from the coaching staff, and subsequently seeing more of the floor.
  3. There aren’t many legitimate criticisms of No. 1 Michigan right now, considering how the Wolverines have been playing. However, people are always trying to find something wrong with top teams, so the common criticism of UM in recent weeks is that its roster isn’t deep enough. After all, the Wolverines rank 326th in the country in bench minutes, according to Ken Pomeroy. But part of the reason the Wolverines don’t go to their bench much is that the starters have played so well. Now though, in the wake of Jordan Morgan’s injury, Michigan is proving that it has enough depth. Jon Horford started the Wolverines’ game against Northwestern earlier this week and gave his team solid minutes, while freshman Mitch McGary also played well. Michigan may not have a star big man, but its frontcourt has proven it can play well this year, even without Morgan manning the paint.
  4. The press has been Minnesota’s best friend and its worst enemy this season. After struggling with its execution earlier in non-conference play, the Gophers’ press worked very well against Nebraska, returning to the form we saw during the non-conference season. Minnesota struggled to press against teams that like to slow things down like Northwestern and Wisconsin, but the Gophers were able to be successful against Nebraska, which employs the same tempo strategy. The bigger issue against the Wildcats and Badgers was their failure to execute in other areas of the game, such as free throw shooting. That prevented the Gophers from ever going all out with the press in those contests.
  5. It’s tough to find a bright spot out of a 97-60 loss, especially a home loss to your rival when coming off a solid win. However, Purdue’s A.J. Hammons was a bright spot for the Boilermakers in their drubbing at the hands of Indiana earlier this week. Hammons was a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school, but like most freshman big men, he has been inconsistent in his first college season. However, he was exceptional against Indiana, scoring 30 points and blocking five shots in 28 minutes, showing the potential we’re likely to see from him down the road. While he didn’t get much help against the Hoosiers, his consistency will be key to how Purdue finishes its season.
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Analyzing Northwestern’s Ups and Downs with the 1-3-1

Posted by KTrahan on January 29th, 2013

In Northwestern’s last two games, we have seen the good and the bad of the 1-3-1 defense. Trailing Minnesota in the second half, the Wildcats rode the 1-3-1 to spark a run and upset the Gophers at home. Just three days later, Nebraska used hot three-point shooting against the zone to secure an upset win of its own against Northwestern. NU fans have a love-hate relationship with the 1-3-1. When it works, they love it. When it doesn’t work, well, Bill Carmody summed it up well: “You hit a three against the 1-3-1 and everyone is like, ‘Oh mom, the zone.’”

Sometimes the 1-3-1 doesn't have any answers (Credit: ChicagoNow)

Sometimes the 1-3-1 doesn’t have any answers (Credit: ChicagoNow)

I broke down the 1-3-1 earlier this week, so you can check that out if you want more info on what exactly it is. Basically, it’s a way for the defense to try to trap the ball on the wings and force turnovers or low-percentage shots. However, it’s not meant to be used for entire games or against certain match-ups. Minnesota was a perfect match-up for the 1-3-1, though. The Gophers turn the ball over a lot and struggle shooting from outside. They couldn’t get the ball inside, and thus came up with too many empty possessions which allowed Northwestern to get additional fast break points. Nebraska, on the other hand, was a bad match-up for the 1-3-1. The Huskers, despite all their shortfalls, only have a turnover percentage of 17.6 percent, which is good for #33 in the country. Carmody tired to use the 1-3-1 to create turnovers against the Huskers and simultaneously spark a stagnant Northwestern offense, but Nebraska’s effective ball movement prevented those mistakes. The Cornhuskers, led by Ray Gallegos, started knocking down threes, helping them execute against the 1-3-1’s weakness.

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Big Ten M5: 01.25.13 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on January 25th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. Full disclosure, when I’m not writing for RTC or going to school, I run a site called InsideNU along with RTC columnist Chris Johnson. I don’t typically plug my own articles, but after Northwestern’s win over Minnesota I wrote this feature breaking down the Wildcats’ 1-3-1 defense. NU was getting dominated on the boards by Trevor Mbakwe and the Gophers in the first half and the beginning of the second half, so the Wildcats switched to the zone, stifling Minnesota’s offense and helping Northwestern get into transition. NU ended up holding the Gophers, whose previous season-low was 66 points, to a paltry sum of 48 in that game. The 1-3-1 also helped NU keep things close with Indiana, and suddenly, it appears as if the Wildcats may be able to make things interesting with respect to postseason play.
  2. A victory over Nebraska isn’t all that impressive of a win, but Illinois’ 20-point blowout against the Huskers was just what the doctor ordered. The Illini had been reeling since a win a couple of weeks ago against Ohio State — suffering losses to Wisconsin and Northwestern — so the win over Nebraska was a much-needed confidence booster. Now comes a five-game stretch that could define Illinois’ season: vs. Michigan, at Michigan State, vs. Wisconsin, vs. Indiana, at Minnesota. The Illini may not be favored in any of those five games, but it’s important that they fight through to get at least a couple of wins in order to avoid a collapse similar to last season.
  3. It doesn’t take much offense to beat Penn State this year, and Indiana’s 72 points earlier this week were more than enough to take down the Nittany Lions. Still, the Hoosiers found their offense in unexpected places. Cody Zeller finished with just two points on 0-of-4 shooting — a career low. However, IU got other players to step up, including Will Sheehey, who has struggled with consistency at times this year. Sheehey came into the game with IU up just 23-14, but he hit two threes and helped the Hoosiers eventually increase their lead to 41-19, essentially putting the game away.
  4. In Tuesday’s game against Michigan State, Wisconsin lived and died by the three-point shot. When the Badgers were hot, they were tough to stop, but there were too many cold stretches and low percentage shots for UW to escape with a win. The Badgers came out strong in the first half, but struggled to keep up that pace throughout the game. Wisconsin shot a season-low 29.6 percent from the field, mainly because half of those shots were threes. The three-point shot can be the great equalizer if it’s working, but on days that it’s not, the Badgers must find another way to score through high-percentage shots.
  5. After years of enduring second half collapses, you can’t blame Minnesota fans for getting restless in the midst of a three-game losing streak, especially following a loss to Northwestern. This year, Minnesota has enough talent to earn consideration as a top four seed or better in the NCAA Tournament, but the Gophers must be more consistent in order to reach that goal. In fear of yet another collapse, some Minnesota fans are already calling for coach Tubby Smith’s head on Twitter. It’s just a three-game losing streak and the Gophers will still be ranked, but a few more bad losses could cause Smith’s seat to get a little bit warmer.
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Big Ten Power Rankings: Focus On Areas Needing Improvement

Posted by KTrahan on January 18th, 2013

This is the tenth installment of our weekly Big Ten Power Rankings which we will publish each Friday. This week’s voters were Deepak Jayanti, Joey Nowak and Kevin Trahan of the Big Ten Microsite.

In this week’s Big Ten power rankings we discuss each team’s week and look at the area each team needs to improve the most.

1. Michigan — After the loss to Ohio State, there were questions as to whether this young Michigan team could win big games on the road. That question was answered with a very impressive win at Minnesota. The Wolverines jumped out early and built on their lead in the second half, using stifling defense to turn the Gophers over and get points in transition. The loss to the Buckeyes was disappointing, but Michigan almost came back and won that game, and the Wolverines still looked like the better team at times. Wisconsin is technically leading the conference now, but Michigan looks to be in the best shape to win it. Area most needing improvement: It’s really tough to fault the Michigan frontcourt after how it played against Minnesota, but that group still needs to be more consistent after a weak showing against Ohio State. The Wolverines are guard-oriented and have a number of impressive shooters, but they still need to have stability inside.

John Beilein's Club Appears to be the Class of the Big Ten

John Beilein’s Club Appears to be the Class of the Big Ten

2. Minnesota — Should the Gophers be ranked ahead of Indiana despite losing to them in Bloomington? Minnesota’s three losses came to Duke, Michigan and IU, each of which definitely deserves to be ranked in the top 10 in the nation. But Indiana’s losses came to Butler and Wisconsin, two very good teams but not necessarily great at this point of the season. Because we are purely using that argument, the Gophers edge the Hoosiers slightly in this week’s power rankings. Area most needing improvement: Tough to pick a specific area of improvement for the Gophers but if we are really nitpicking, they could use more production from their bench. Maverick Ahanmisi (4.3 PPG) and Julian Welch (3.3 PPG) can give more breathing room to the starting guards during the tough Big Ten season by contributing more during the “easier” games. But most of it is out of their control because head coach Tubby Smith prefers a very tight rotation during the important games.

3. Wisconsin — The Badgers are rising  fast through the rankings. If you weren’t convinced with their dominant win over the Illini, you should be after the stunner that they pulled off in Bloomington. But we’ll still keep them ranked at No. 3 for now because of their losses early in the season. Having said that, if they beat Iowa on the road, we may bump them up over Indiana. Area most needing improvement: This one is easy for the Badgers — free throw shooting. Ryan Evans is shooting 38% from the line and as a team and the Badgers as a whole shoot 62%. That is just unacceptable and very unusual for a Bo Ryan-coached team that’s known for their disciplined approach to the game.

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Big Ten M5: 01.16.13 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on January 16th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. Despite a valiant comeback effort that nearly resulted in a win at Assembly Hall, Minnesota ended up falling to Indiana in its first Big Ten loss on Saturday. The Gophers fell behind by 23 at halftime due to a slow start, and Tubby Smith said part of that was due to a lack of aggressiveness. The Indiana game wasn’t the only slow start Minnesota has had. The Gophers also got into an early hole against Illinois before coming back for an impressive win. They did the same against some inferior competition in non-conference season. Minnesota has the talent to hang with anyone in the country, but in games against top teams,the Gophers must make sure they are strong from the start.
  2. The Big Ten has some fairly active coaches on Twitter. Indiana’s Tom Crean tweets a lot of biblical passages while Nebraska’s Tim Miles tweets about his games at halftime. But don’t expect Tom Izzo to join Twitter any time soon as the Michigan State coach hates the social media platform. There are a lot of good quotes in that article from Izzo, who said he thinks his players listen to criticism more because of it. He has also had conversations with Derrick Nix, who searches his name after every game to retweet fans who criticized him during the game.
  3. In Tim Miles’ first season in Lincoln, nobody expected Nebraska to make much noise in the Big Ten. And while the Huskers have still yet to win a conference game, they have kept things close with both Michigan and Michigan State on the road, thanks to stellar defensive play. Tom Izzo came away impressed with Miles’ squad and said, “I don’t think anybody wants to play them home or away.” Even more impressive, Nebraska held its own against Michigan State without top player Brandon Ubel.
  4. Ohio State has struggled to score this year, and that was very evident at Illinois in a lopsided loss. The Buckeyes have been able to score in transition and have gotten points in the paint at times, but they don’t have consistent shooters. However, the defense was outstanding in their win over Michigan on Sunday and the offense was good enough. Aaron Craft frustrated Trey Burke and the Buckeyes did the same to freshman stars Nick Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III. The Wolverines admitted to noticing the pressure. Considering how inconsistent the offense is, Ohio State’s season outlook could depend on how the defense plays from here on out.
  5. When Wisconsin arrives at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday, Iowa will be facing the Big Ten’s lone undefeated team. That plus the prospect of playing a rival makes the game a good one, but an added emotional dimension will be in play, as well. The Hawkeyes will be honoring the legacy of former player Chris Street, who died in a car accident 20 years ago. Rick Brown of The Des Moines Register has a nice story on Street’s legacy, his family, and the impact he has left on the University of Iowa.
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Big Ten M5: 01.11.13 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on January 11th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. Northwestern suffered through two straight blowouts to open Big Ten play, so the Wildcats were desperately in need of a confidence booster. They got that in by routing Penn State at the Bryce Jordan Center on Thursday night. NU had been struggling with its shooting and its freshmen had suffered some discouraging performances, as most freshmen do, but the shooting improved and the freshmen got involved in the win over the Nittany Lions. A blowout like that is just what the doctor ordered, writes Chris Emma of Scout.com. NU is still a longshot to make the NCAA Tournament this season, but this year is all about helping the freshmen gain confidence and improve, and they certainly showed as much against Penn State, which could carry over in the coming games.
  2. People keep wondering if this is finally the year that Iowa breaks through and makes the NCAA Tournament under Fran McCaffery, and while an NCAA berth is certainly coming soon, it may still be a year away. The Hawkeyes have had three chances for marquee wins in the Big Ten so far, with the latest coming Thursday night at home against Michigan State, but they’ve come up empty in each. Thursday’s game was there for the taking, but Iowa couldn’t close it out, which is the mark of a young and inexperienced team. The Hawkeyes need a big win to get over the top, says Mike Hlas of The Gazette, and a close game with the Spartants was an outstanding opportunity to do that to springboard into the rest of the Big Ten season. Now, Iowa is still searching for such a win, and Big Ten games are becoming much more important as its losses pile up.
  3. The “greatness” debate comes up whenever a very good team seems to be on the verge of a special season, and with Michigan undefeated and about to hit the toughest part of its schedule, that debate has arrived in Ann Arbor. There are some criticisms of this team that aren’t really fair, and given the outstanding talent the Wolverines have on hand, there’s no reason that John Beilein’s team can’t be special. Soon we’ll know for sure if Michigan can silence its critics, as the Wolverines go on the road to face Ohio State and Minnesota in the next week. It’s gut check time for this young group of players. Even losses in those games don’t mean Michigan can’t win in March, but two wins could certainly solidify this group as the top team in the country.
  4. When Michigan heads to Columbus for its game against Ohio State this weekend, it will be a homecoming for the Wolverines’ star point guard Trey Burke. It’s rare that a Columbus product would end up in Ann Arbor, but in this case it’s because Burke didn’t even have an offer from the Buckeyes. Thad Matta has to be regretting that decision now, as Burke could have given the Buckeyes just about everything they lack — a consistent, versatile scorer with the ability to burst for bunches of points. The Buckeyes already have a very good point guard in Aaron Craft, and it’s tough to know which recruits will pan out, but OSU has to wonder how different things might have been if Burke were wearing scarlet and gray rather than maize and blue this weekend.
  5. Recruiting never stops in college basketball, and thanks to an NCAA rule change that allows high school juniors to take official visits after January 1, Indiana will have a special visitor from halfway around the world coming to this weekend’s game against Minnesota. The Hoosiers will be hosting Dante Exum, who ranks as the No. 17 guard in the 2014 class by Rivals. He’s also being looked at Boise State, Georgetown, LSU, SMU, Tulsa and Vanderbilt. If there were ever a game for Exum to fly halfway around the world to see, it would be this one, as Assembly Hall will be packed and should have an electric atmosphere for a top 10 match-up.
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Minnesota Proves it has Staying Power; Illinois Continues Consistency Struggles

Posted by KTrahan on January 10th, 2013

Any remaining doubts about Minnesota’s ability to be a contender in the Big Ten were put to rest Wednesday night as the Gophers took down Illinois 84-67 in Champaign. On paper, it should have been a close game — #8 at #12 — but in reality, Wednesday’s game proved that Minnesota has staying power while Illinois could struggle to keep up its early-season pace.

The Gophers Have Proven To Be Much More Than Just Trevor Mbakwe

Statistically, Minnesota looks very likely to continue its early-season success. The Gophers are incredibly balanced with top players Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe in the frontcourt and the emergence of Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins, and Joe Coleman in the backcourt. That has led to an offensive efficiency rating that ranks 1oth in the nation and a defensive efficiency rating that ranks #14 nationally according to KenPom.com. Minnesota ranks only #51 in effective field goal percentage, but the Gophers are the best in the nation at offensive rebounding, getting a second shot off a ridiculous 48.5 percent of the time. Add in a defensive block percentage that ranks sixth and a steal percentage that ranks eighth nationally, and Minnesota is getting many more possessions than its opponents. So even on an “off” shooting night, the Gophers will always be in the game because they get so many more chances to shoot than their opponents.

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Big Ten Power Rankings: Week Nine

Posted by KTrahan on January 4th, 2013

This is the ninth installment of our weekly Big Ten Power Rankings which we will publish each Friday. This week’s voters were Deepak Jayanti, Joey Nowak and Kevin Trahan of the Big Ten Microsite.

1. Michigan – With a 14-0 start, Michigan is off to its second-best start in school history, and after Thursday night’s 94-66 win at Northwestern, the Wolverines look as strong as ever. The Trey Burke-Tim Hardaway Jr. duo looks like the best guard duo in the country right now and the freshmen are living up to their lofty expectations. While this is a guard-dominated team, the big men have also been extremely effective. A home game against Iowa could be a bit of a test, but it’s tough to pick against these Wolverines right now.

Trey Burke Has The Wolverines Rolling

2. Indiana – Indiana picked up a big road win at Iowa — its first win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in five years. The game was in doubt until the final minute, but the Hoosiers pulled away in the end thanks to Cody Zeller scoring 15 of his 19 points in the second half. While Zeller has been good, Victor Oladipo has been sensational. He’s versatile and extremely dangerous in the open court, and he made some big buckets against the Hawkeyes to help the Hoosiers go on some runs. Indiana gets an easy game at Penn State this week before a huge home match-up against Minnesota.

3. Minnesota - The Gophers made it clear to rest of the conference that The Barn will be a tough place to win with their first conference game against Michigan State. Tubby Smith’s squad is deep and they have been hot since their loss to Duke during Thanksgiving. Smith is still controlling Mbakwe’s minutes, but the forward has been extremely efficient by pulling down 7.5 RPG in just 18.8 MPG this season. One concern for the Gophers may be their three-point shooting – as a team they are shooting just 32% from the long range. It may be tough for them to play catch-up without a consistent long-range shooter, but they play such great defense it is unlikely they will fall behind by too much in a game.

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