Big Ten M5: 11.21.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso & Brendan Brody on November 21st, 2014

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  1. Anyone who watched the Wisconsin game on Wednesday night saw what could have been the dunk of the season from Wisconsin-Green Bay guard Keifer Sykes. Sykes almost went full “Deandre Jordan on Brandon Knight” in his missed dunk attempt over preseason All-American Frank Kaminsky, causing the preseason All-American to take to Twitter after the game to talk about how the dunk “would have ruined my confidence as a basketball player.” This led to a very lighthearted exchange between the two players that you can read here. It’s nice to see two great players who both hail from Chicago being supportive and recognizing the skills that each of them possesses.
  2. Many of us here at the microsite had written off Indiana after a tumultuous offseason, but after their 74-68 win over #22 SMU in Bloomington last night, we may need to reevaluate this group. Freshman sensation James Blackmon Jr. led the way with 26 points. This game also marked the return of three players from their suspensions — Troy Williams, Stanford Robinson, and Emmett Holt. What once looked like a bleak future for Tom Crean may be turning brighter thanks to the outstanding play of Blackmon Jr. — who has now proven he can play at a high level against nationally relevant teams. The freshman may singlehandedly pull the Hoosiers from the valley it found itself in just a couple weeks back.
  3. In the midst of all the holiday tournaments going on either this weekend and next week, Michigan State announced that it will be part of the Wooden Legacy tournament next season. The other headliner in the field will be Arizona. Providence and Boise State also will be playing in Anaheim along with Boston College, Evansville, Santa Clara, and UC Irvine. The Spartans will lose two of their top three players from this year’s squad, but should return Denzel Valentine and Matt Costello next season.
  4. It’s not always going to be pretty basketball, but if you’re into watching a player just go completely “Kobe” and chuck shot after shot, look no further than Penn State and D.J. Newbill. The prolific scorer put up 35 points on 33 shots in the Nittany Lions’ 97-106 double-overtime loss to Charlotte. Newbill had a chance to score the game winner with an open lane to the basket in the dwindling seconds of the first overtime, but it was blocked by Charlotte. The 35-point total was the most for a Penn State player since 1995, but without many other options on this team — especially with Tim Frazier graduated — look for more nights like these from Newbill. It’ll be entertaining if nothing else.
  5. Maryland also struggled in its quest to stay undefeated, yet managed to pull away from Fordham to notch a win on Thursday night. Unlike Northwestern, their struggles were on the offensive end. This is what senior leader Dez Wells wanted however, as he spoke to wanting to see how the young team handled things when they weren’t hitting shots. They ended up winning this one on the defensive end, holding the Rams to only eight free throw attempts and to 30.6 percent shooting from the field. A game like this should help them, especially once conference play hits. They now know that they can still get a win even if things aren’t clicking on the offensive end of the court.
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Three Keys for Iowa to Beat Texas Tonight

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 20th, 2014

One of the Thursday night headliners will take place in Madison Square Garden where Iowa faces #10 Texas in the 2K Sports Classic. The Hawkeyes have gotten off to an impressive start by beating both their two opponents by an average of 32.5 points per game, but after last year’s late-season tanking, many are hesitant to jump back on the Iowa bandwagon. Fran McCaffery‘s squad is without question a talented bunch, so the Longhorns present a November opportunity to gain back some of that trust. An win Thursday night means the Hawkeyes would have a top 10 win before December, something they couldn’t muster at all last season. Here are three keys to the game that Iowa will need to address if they’re going to pull off the upset.

Adam Woodbury will look to use his size against Texas's big frontcourt on Thursday night

Adam Woodbury will look to use his size against Texas’s big frontcourt on Thursday night

  • Use their size. It won’t be very often this season that Texas looks across the floor and sees a team that has more size than them, but that will be the case tonight against Iowa. Three of the Longhorns’ starters are listed at 6’8”, 6’9”, and 6’9”, while the Hawkeyes have three starters at 6’9”, 6’9”, and 7’1”. Iowa will need to use its size advantage in the frontcourt — especially with Adam Woodbury — to defend under the basket. Through two games, 35.6 percent of Texas’ total shots have come at the rim, and they have been extremely effective from this spot (76.2% FG). The Hawkeyes need to challenge every shot and dare the Longhorns to hit that same rate over the arms of their big guys.

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Penn State Outlook in the Charleston Classic

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 20th, 2014

Penn State heads to South Carolina this weekend to play in the Charleston Classic. The eight-team field doesn’t have any Top 25 teams attending, but it will give the Nittany Lions a few chances to notch wins that could end up being significant if they want to make a postseason tournament. Of course which team they play will be determined by how the bracket works out, but regardless of their opponents, one has to look no further than what Nebraska did last season as to how a holiday tournament like this can help teams figure things out. Despite the fact that they Cornhuskers only won one of three games in this event last season, Nebraska played eventual NCAA Tournament team UMass close and got a decent win over Georgia. Here’s a brief look at what Penn State has in store for them in this season’s edition.

Penn State will need big games from DJ Newbill this weekend in the Charleston Classic. (GoPSUsports.com)

Penn State will need big games from DJ Newbill this weekend in the Charleston Classic. (GoPSUsports.com)

Their first round opponent is Charlotte, a team that could contend for the Conference USA crown along with the likes of Louisiana Tech and UTEP. Both teams look to be structured similarly in terms of their size and makeup. Penn State will need to keep Mike Thorne Jr and Willie Clayton off of the boards, as the pair combined for 23 rebounds in their first game of the season, a win over Elon. Ross Travis and Brandon Taylor will need to keep them in check, especially to keep Clayton from giving the 49ers extra possessions. Florida transfer Braxton Ogbueze is Charlotte’s point guard, which will be a nice test for freshman Shep Garner. Penn State should win this one, but it will be a quality match-up.

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Could Indiana Upset SMU Tonight?

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 20th, 2014

Indiana was routinely called to task last season (mainly by Dan Dakich) for playing an underwhelming non-conference schedule. There was some evidence that loading up on cupcakes seemed to hurt the Hoosiers, as they clearly weren’t ready for the arduous nature of the Big Ten slate once conference play started. This season Tom Crean’s team is challenging itself by taking on SMU tonight in Assembly Hall. The Mustangs are coming off a beatdown at the hands of Gonzaga in Spokane, but bring excellent size and experience to Bloomington.

Yogi Ferrell has to run the show and score frequently for Indiana to improve this season. (Darron Cummings, AP)

Yogi Ferrell needs to get the better of SMU’s Nic Moore in the point guard battle on tonight. (Getty)

Here’s how the Hoosiers can get a quality non-conference win tonight:

  • Keep up the Hot Three-Point Shooting: The Hoosiers have started the season shooting the deep ball at an insane 21-of-38 clip (55.3%). Gonzaga overwhelmed SMU on Monday night with size in its 72-56 win, but the Zags also hit 10 three-pointers to create some distance. Indiana has similar weaponry on the perimeter with its trio of Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon Jr., and Robert Johnson, and will have to get by with what they’ve been doing in their first two wins– primarily spreading the floor with shooters, using the drive-and-kick game, and getting out in transition. As always with Indiana, turnovers will be a key. If the Hoosiers get too sloppy, SMU has the ability to take advantage of those opportunities.

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Three Thoughts on Ohio State’s Win Over Marquette

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 19th, 2014

Ohio State cruised to a 74-63 win over Marquette on Tuesday night in a game that wasn’t quite that close. It doesn’t take long to see that Thad Matta’s team is clearly a different team stylistically than last year’s unit, as the Buckeyes played differently on both the defensive and offensive ends of the floor. With an abundance of shooters at its disposal, Ohio State got out in transition and shot the ball very well from the perimeter (53.3% from three). The defense was also a much different look from the Aaron Craft-led pressure man-to-man of the past several years. Here are some other quick observations from the win.

Thad Matta has made tweaked his system a bit as 2014-15 has started. (AP)

Thad Matta has tweaked his system a bit as this season has started. (AP)

  • Shannon Scott Looks Comfortable as the Primary Ball-handler: The senior has started off passing the ball on fire, as he’s hit double figures in assists in both Ohio State games — good for an astonishing 56.0 percent assist rate. Against Marquette, the Buckeyes showed tremendous spacing all night, making things very easy for Scott to simply pick his options to find the open man. Without having to share the point guard spot this season, he finally looks like he’s free to be himself out there. He’s never been a knock-down shooter, but he’s quick and can get to the basket. He and Craft were great together defensively, but they weren’t the best offensive options on the other end of the floor. Now with only one point guard to direct things, there is room for a shooter like D’Angelo Russell or Kam Williams for Scott to find on his drive-and-kicks.

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Big Ten M5: 11.19.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 19th, 2014

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  1. Michigan will have an advantage on the perimeter with the trio of Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin, and Derrick Walton Jr in many of the games it plays this season. The question marks mainly lie with the Wolverines’ inside play, but overlooked forward Max Bielfeldt could provide some answers. Bielfeldt only had 38 career points before Michigan’s game against Bucknell on Monday night, but after not even making an appearance in the team’s opening game, he went off for 18 points. Bielfeldt has never had much of a chance other than some spot cameos throughout his career, but if he can continue to consistently provide scoring in the post, then the Wolverines’ prospects for another deep NCAA Tournament run just got much better.
  2. Anthony Clemmons became something of a forgotten man last season, as the sophomore struggled to find court time even with Iowa playing a bunch of players. He has cracked this year’s starting lineup for the 2-0 Hawkeyes, however, by bringing a newfound confidence in his outside shot. After going only 6-of-16 through all of last season, Clemmons has already hit 5-of-6 from behind the arc and is averaging 11.5 points per game. His hustle plays are what’s keeping him in the lineup, though, as Fran McCaffery noted that “it’s infectious to the rest of the team.” Iowa and Clemmons will be tested going up against Texas and standout guard Isaiah Taylor on Thursday night in Madison Square Garden.
  3. Maryland has gotten off to a 2-0 start in its first season in the B1G, and the Terrapins are doing so with heavy contributions from their freshmen class. In their Monday night win over Central Connecticut State, Melo Trimble, Dion Wiley, and Michel Cekovsky all performed well. Trimble surprisingly led the team in rebounds with eight; Cekovsky had three blocks in 18 minutes; and Wiley managed to score 10 points and snag five rebounds in 19 minutes of action. Many freshmen in the league have come in and made an impact, but Maryland is a team that definitely needs big support from their first-year players if they hope to remain competitive with the mid-tier of the league in their first B1G season.
  4. Among the takeaways from Indiana‘s win over Texas Southern on Monday night was the fact that certain players are stepping into bigger roles and contributing in a number of different ways. Freshman Robert Johnson is at the top of that list, as he’s played with a level of maturity that belies his first-year status. Johnson is a year older than the typical college freshman due to a reclassification during his junior year of high school. While it’s doubtful he’ll sustain a stat line of 18.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG and 5.5 APG all season, he’s shown that Tom Crean did valuable work in getting Johnson and fellow freshman James Blackmon Jr. into an Indiana uniform.
  5. Fresh off of a disappointing loss in its season opener against Louisville, Minnesota has the chance to get a needed confidence boost in the form of three home games in five days. These contests are all against teams that the Gophers should beat, but the quick turnaround between them could really test their depth. Minnesota passed its first test on Tuesday night against Western Kentucky, and head coach Richard Pitino should have a chance over the next few nights to give his newcomers a great chance to get comfortable in his defensive system.
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Three More Big Ten Players to Consider for the Wooden Award Watch List

Posted by Eric Clark on November 18th, 2014

The Wooden Award Top 50 watch list was released on Monday, tabbing seven Big Ten players – Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky, Nebraska’s Terran Petteway, Michigan State’s Branden Dawson, Michigan’s Caris LeVert, Maryland’s Dez Wells and Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell. There were no surprises in those who were named to the list, but since only 50 total players received the honor in the first place, there are a number of other Big Ten players who could very well find themselves among the 25 finalists in January.

Denzel Valentine brings a veteran presence to an otherwise young MSU roster.

Denzel Valentine brings a veteran presence to an otherwise young MSU roster.

Denzel Valentine and Branden Dawson are the only two returning starters at Michigan State and the former is one of the most versatile players in the Big Ten. Tom Izzo was not pleased with Valentine’s performance in the Spartans’ season opener versus Navy, criticizing the 6’5” junior for being reckless (Valentine turned the ball over three times and shot 20 percent from the field.) However, the very recklessness shown by Valentine may have been more indicative of the inexperience of many of the players around him. There’s little doubt that Valentine will turn it around — it was only one game, after all — he’s been praised for the vast improvements he made during the offseason. With Dawson and Valentine as the drivers of the Spartan squad, it’s not a stretch to tab both as potential Wooden finalists.

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Purdue’s Hot Start Brings Hope to Program

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 18th, 2014

From a distance, this weekend seemed like a relatively unremarkable start for the Big Ten. The teams that were expected to win won, and those that were expected to lose lost. But if you take a closer look, you’ll find that one team, with the help of an especially impressive freshman, turned some heads with its dominant weekend play. Purdue looked nothing like the team picked to finish 11th in the Big Ten, as predicted in the Preseason Media Poll, easily disposing of both of its opponents by a combined 60 points. Outstanding performances from certain players, especially freshman guard Vince Edwards, fueled Purdue’s offense to an average of 78.5 points in the two games, giving Boilermakers fans and some prognosticators reevaluating the trajectory of their season.

Vince Edwards has led Purdue to their hot start. (Jerry Schultheiss).

Vince Edwards has led Purdue to their hot start. (Jerry Schultheiss).

Edwards, a little-known freshman, was awarded this season’s inaugural Big Ten Freshman of the Week – ahead of a number of other high-profile freshmen like Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell – after averaging 19.5 points (including a 26-point outing against IUPUI), 8.0 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in his first two games. The freshman was so unheralded as a recruit that he failed to make both Scout’s and Rivals’s Top 100 rankings. The Middletown, Ohio, native has been a stat stuffer so far, but he hasn’t been the only major contributor. Sophomore Kendall Stephens has been deadly from the outside, evidenced by his 9-of-13 shooting from deep and 17.0 PPG average. A.J. Hammons already has eight blocks, if little else, and sophomore Raphael Davis and freshman Isaac Haas brought excellent performances to the season opener – Davis chipped in 13 points, while Haas contributed 11 points and eight rebounds. The Boilermakers’ hot start has been an impressive team effort thus far, which is in stark contrast to the underachieving unit we saw come out of the gates last year.

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First Weekend Observations From the Big Ten

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 17th, 2014

The Big Ten tipped things off along with the rest of the country this weekend in the form of a whopping 18 games in three days. Minnesota and Rutgers were the only two conference teams that lost, but they also played two teams in Louisville and George Washington, respectively, that should make some noise nationally. While it would be next to impossible to have seen all 18 games in some capacity, here’s some of what we observed on this end.

James Blackmon Jr lead the way offensively in Indiana's huge opening win. (Matt Detrich, Indy Star)

James Blackmon Jr lead the way offensively in Indiana’s huge opening win. (Matt Detrich, Indy Star)

  • Indiana Could be Fun to Watch: A team effective field goal percentage of 75.4 percent will not be duplicated for the whole season, but the Hoosiers played a really fun brand of offensive basketball in their throttling of Mississippi Valley State, 116-65, on Friday night. Freshman James Blackmon, Jr looks to be the real deal, and Robert Johnson (15 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals) might not be far behind. Max Hoetzel also was impressive, displaying the versatility at times to serve as a point forward. The Hoosiers did a really nice job moving without the ball and creating offensive spacing, which lead to many of their 23 three-point attempts being wide-open looks. They will get tested playing SMU at home on Thursday night (after tonight’s Mike Davis reunion with Texas Southern), but the contrast in styles and the return of Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson to the lineup will make it worth watching.
  • Michigan State Needs to Find a Post Presence: Michigan State seemed to be sleepwalking through a good chunk of its five-point win over Navy on Friday night, and it wasn’t just from turning the ball over 18 times. The Spartans allowed Navy to score way too easily inside the paint, causing the game to be much closer than it should have been given the size and talent differential on display. With Jahlil Okafor and Duke looming for Tom Izzo’s team on Tuesday night, Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling will have to be much bigger factors on the defensive end of the floor. Denzel Valentine won’t play as poorly as he did that night, but the Spartans’ offense looked disjointed other than the times when Travis Trice got open looks (5-of-6 from three). Michigan State will eventually get things right and still be a factor in the B1G race, but it might take some time if they can’t prevent those easy inside looks.

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Big Ten M5: 11.17.14 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on November 17th, 2014

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  1. Former Indiana coach Mike Davis will make his first return to Assembly Hall tonight since he resigned from the head coaching position at Indiana in 2006. Upon his hiring in 2000, Davis was immediately met with animosity from Bob Knight apologists, setting the tone for his tumultuous six-year tenure as the Hoosiers’ head coach. Indiana played for one national title under Davis in 2002 (losing to Maryland), but his teams went 42-38 in his final three seasons at the helm. Currently embattled head coach Tom Crean said he hopes Davis gets a “tremendous reception” tonight when he brings Texas Southern (0-1) to Bloomington – but Davis is guaranteed to be greeted with plenty of audible heckles as well.
  2. Michigan State skated by Navy on Friday night by a score of 64-59, raising a few eyebrows around the college basketball community. But according to Lansing State Journal‘s Graham Couch, that kind of close win could be beneficial for the Spartans in the long run. Tom Izzo inserted three new starters in his lineup (Travis Trice, Alvin Ellis III and Matt Costello), but he only got double-figure scoring from Trice and Branden Dawson. Head coach Tom Izzo said he needs to see more production from his returning starters, Denzel Valentine and Dawson, but it’s an absolute certainty that Izzo would much rather have the bump in the road come now than come later on in the season.
  3. Rutgers opened its season with a 17-point home loss to George Washington, getting beat in just about every relevant statistical category. Myles Mack led the Scarlet Knights with 14 points, but he didn’t get much help from his supporting cast. Freshman Mike Williams poured in 10 points off the bench, but no other Knights reached double figures. Junior Etou and newcomer Bishop Daniels went a combined 1-of-16 from the field and Kadeem Jack is on the mend, so there aren’t many positives for Rutgers fans right now – unless you count D.J. Foreman’s monstrous dunk. And that’s certainly worth something.
  4. Caris LeVert was excellent in Michigan’s season-opening win over Hillsdale on Saturday, notching 20 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in the Wolverines’ 92-68 victory. LeVert and point guard Spike Albrecht were both relatively unknown recruits coming out of high school, but the two are now Michigan’s permanent team captains for the 2014-15 season. LeVert was one of three Wolverines to score more than 20 points on Saturday, whereas Albrecht came off the bench to score four. Head coach John Beilein said Albrecht and starting point guard Derrick Walton Jr. will be on the court together a lot this season, a rare dual-point guard situation that you should keep your eye on.
  5. Purdue’s Vince Edwards, a true freshman, introduced himself to the Boilermakers faithful in a big way this weekend, scoring 13 points and grabbing eight rebounds in his debut before turning around and dropping 26 points in a win over IUPUI on Sunday. Kendall Stephens shined alongside Edwards on Sunday, pouring in 24 points with six three-pointers as Purdue shot 50 percent from the field. The Boilermakers host Grambling State on Thursday before facing Kansas State in Maui on November 24. Purdue’s going to need more out of A.J. Hammons sooner than later, as the talented but enigmatic big man gathered a total of seven rebounds and scored only 11 points in his first two games.
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Big Ten Opening Night: Three Things to Watch For

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 14th, 2014

Eleven Big Ten Teams will make their season debuts tonight. While the only true marquee game on the schedule is the Minnesota-Louisville clash in Puerto Rico, here are three things to watch for if you’re checking out the league as the season begins.

  • Hampton vs. Iowa: Hampton went 18-13 last year, and the Pirates hung with Penn State in the first round of the CBI before ultimately losing by four points. They return eight players from their top 10 in minutes played for a team that ran at the 11th-fastest tempo in the country last season. They did a tremendous job in blocking shots and holding teams to a low percentage on two-point attempts, and have good front line size to match up with the Hawkeyes on the interior. Iowa no longer has Roy Devyn Marble to handle the ball and take all of its big shots, so Mike Gesell and Josh Oglesby will have to be hitting from long range because points in the paint will not be easy to find. This game bears watching because it will be a track meet up and down the court, and because there is also some small upset potential here if Iowa doesn’t come to play.
Mike Geselll will have to take care of the ball Friday night against Hampton. (Getty).

Mike Geselll will have to take care of the ball Friday night against Hampton. (Getty)

  • Michigan State vs. Navy: The Midshipmen went 9-21 last year, so thinking that they will push Sparty tonight might be something of a stretch. But they do return almost everybody from that team, and they did a solid job forcing turnovers last season. Michigan State, of course, has a new floor general, and although Travis Trice has gotten plenty of reps in his three years in East Lansing, he’s never been the guy. Denzel Valentine has a tendency to cough up the ball on occasion, and Lourawls Nairn will be making his much-anticipated collegiate debut. Keep an eye on whether Michigan State can avoid making silly mistakes here. A sloppy effort against a clearly inferior opponent might be a bad sign as the team gets set to take on Duke in the Champions Classic in four days.
  • Minnesota vs. Louisville: This game is the obvious call if you’re looking for opening night intrigue. Minnesota has an early chance to grab a huge non-conference win by playing a top 10 team. Richard Pitino will coach against his dad, who probably knows the Gophers about as well as his son does. Richard, of course, served as an assistant at Louisville just a few seasons ago, so the same likely holds true with the younger Pitino’s knowledge about the Cardinals. If you like guard play, you will get a chance to watch Andre Hollins and Deandre Mathieu take on Chris Jones and Terry Rozier. If the battle in the post is more your cup of tea, then check out Elliott Eliason and Maurice Walker trading haymakers with potential All-American Montrezl Harrell. This one sells itself.
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RTC Big Ten Preseason Rankings: #4 to #1

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 14th, 2014

RTC finishes our preseason Big Ten rankings today with spots #4 through #1. The bottom tier of teams, #14 to #10, released earlier this week, and the mid-tier teams, also released earlier this week, provide depth to the conference. But it’s these four squads in the top tier that will likely be fighting to win the conference title and lock down high seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

4. Ohio State

  • What they do well: A little bit of everything, is that too vague? There is nothing that sticks out as special about these Buckeyes, but they will play the solid all-around basketball of Thad Matta. Shannon Scott will push the tempo and control the offense while D’Angelo Russell could be the offensive spark that it needs this season. Overall, the Buckeyes will minimize mistakes and play good defense.
  • What they don’t do well: Score during crunch time. The Buckeyes had trouble finding key buckets during the last two minutes of games last season and unless Russell becomes a true go-to guy, they will have the same issues again.

    Mark could be a key contributor in the frontcourt for Ohio State this season. (thelantern.com)

    Mark Loving could be a key contributor in the frontcourt for Ohio State this season. (thelantern.com)

  • Get to know: Mark Loving. Russell will be the highlight during the non-conference season but Loving could be the super sophomore that helps this team get off to a good start and compete for the conference crown. He has the ability to rebound and stretch the floor from the four position.
  • Why they’ll finish 4th: They don’t have enough talent to leapfrog into the top three, but they should win 10 to 12 Big Ten games this year.
  • Why they’ll finish higher: If Russell, Scott and Loving can each average 12 PPG or more, the Buckeyes can push themselves into a real contending spot. Loving’s contributions will very important because Matta’s team has struggled to find consistent offense over the past two seasons. Read the rest of this entry »
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