Introducing the RTC All-Big Ten First Team

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 14th, 2014

As I write this, the first regular season games are about to get underway, so it’s time to unleash our All-Big Ten first team to the masses. We’ve already released our third team and second team selections, along with our other various award winners this week. So now here’s the best five players in the league as voted by our five-man writing staff.

RTC All-Big Ten First Team

Branden Dawson, senior, Michigan State 6’6″, 225 lbs. (11.2 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 61.3 % FG). Dawson is now one of the top offensive options for the Spartans after largely playing a secondary role in his previous three seasons in East Lansing. After a breakout NCAA Tournament where he averaged 16 points and nine boards, it’s reasonable to believe that the Gary, Indiana native will produce more games like that as he steps into a much larger role. He has elite athleticism and the tools to be a force on the defensive end, and finishing in transition. If he can develop any consistency shooting the ball away from the basket, he could play himself into the lottery.

Branden Dawson (left) could be dominant for Michigan State in his final season in East Lansing. (Al Goldis/AP)

Branden Dawson (left) could be dominant for Michigan State in his final season in East Lansing. (Al Goldis/AP)

Terran Petteway, junior, Nebraska 6’6″, 215 lbs. (18.1 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 0.8 BPG). The rise of Petteway’s status as one of the best players in the Big Ten coincided with Nebraska becoming an NCAA Tournament team. The Texas Tech transfer was an unknown commodity for the most part until putting up 30 points against UMass. He then continued to pretty much score at will all season. He’s equally adept at taking the ball to the rim and oftentimes getting to the free throw line, or hitting shots from deep. Questionable decision-making and shot selection issues are about the only negatives to his game, but with the emerging talent around him, he should cut down the mistakes. This will lead to gaudy numbers, but better efficiency as the Cornhuskers look to make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten M5: Opening Night Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on November 14th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Jarrod Uthoff is set to make his first start as a Hawkeye on Friday night as Iowa begins life after Devyn Marble. Most of the media has tabbed Aaron White to succeed Marble as “the man” in Iowa City, but Uthoff has some serious potential as a top contributor as well. He admitted that insecurity regarding his role on the team led to some of last year’s struggles, but said that he’s playing with more confidence now. Head coach Fran McCaffery wants Uthoff to think less and shoot more, a theme that seems to follow many of Iowa’s forwards. If a recent exhibition against Northwood was any indication of how Uthoff will fare this season (15 points and seven boards in just 17 minutes), Hawkeyes fans should be extremely excited about this team’s potential.
  2. There’s plenty of early fanfare surrounding Melo Trimble‘s first season at Maryland, and head coach Mark Turgeon said he thinks Trimble is feeling but handling the pressure. With senior Dez Wells and junior Jake Layman as two of the team’s more experienced leaders, Trimble feels comfortable in a situation that would make almost any freshman’s knees shake – starting at the point guard position on opening night. The Terrapins aren’t exactly facing an elite college basketball power tonight in Wagner, but the Seahawks were fairly competitive with Penn State and St. John’s last year. Maryland’s first real test will come against Arizona State on November 24.
  3. Minnesota’s Joey King will have his hands full tonight as he’s been tasked with the unenviable job of guarding Louisville’s behemoth power forward, Montrezl Harrell. King, who added 15 pounds to his frame this summer, will guard Harrell, but stopping him will be a complete team effort, according to head coach Richard Pitino. The Gophers’ other options include Mo Walker, who was the expected starting center before a hamstring injury sidelined him, and Elliot Eliason. Harrell’s likely going to get a handful of points, but limiting his rebounds is what may prove more difficult for the Gophers.
  4. Kendrick Nunn has been cleared for action in Illinois’ opener tonight versus Georgia Southern after he received a plasma injection to relieve tendinitis in his right knee. Head coach John Groce said the training staff would be extra attentive to Nunn’s knee early on, especially as the Illini play six games in the first 15 days of the season. But Illinois has no legitimate reason to rush Nunn back into the lineup for the first four games of the season. Its priority should instead be to get Nunn rested for a November 28 match-up versus either Baylor or Memphis and beyond. The Illini will then face Miami, Oregon, Villanova and Missouri in December, and with the loss of Tracy Abrams to injury and their relatively unproven body of guards, Nunn can make a big difference in the team’s non-conference success.
  5. Sam Dekker tweaked an ankle in October, leading him to miss Wisconsin’s open-scrimmage and exhibition game versus Wisconsin-Parkside. Dekker downplayed the injury, saying that his ankle “feels good” and “nothing else really needs to be said about that.” The Badgers will be without Duje Dukan after the NCAA required that he miss the first two games of the season, but Dekker is expected to be in the lineup tonight against Northern Kentucky. Besides the absence of Dukan, Wisconsin will look much like last season’s Final Four squad, as their only loss from that team is Ben Brust.
Share this story

Sam Dekker: RTC Big Ten’s Preseason Player of the Year

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 13th, 2014

Many of you who read this site probably held basketball playing dreams of your own. You played ball in the driveway until mom called you in for supper, trying to hit 10 more free throws before giving up on daylight and heading in for dinner. As your dreams of basketball glory likely petered out at the end of your junior high or high school career, you made the argument in your head, saying to yourself: “What if I just had been a few inches taller.” Sam Dekker ended his sophomore season in college at the height of 6’7″. He was already a probable future NBA player given his size and skill set for the wing position — and then he was gifted two additional inches of height over the summer. How is that fair? Already one of the best players in the Big Ten, Dekker looks poised for an even better junior season on a loaded Wisconsin squad, making him our preseason pick for B1G Player of the Year.

Sam Dekker will surpass teammate Frank Kaminsky as the Big Ten's best player this season. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Sam Dekker will surpass teammate Frank Kaminsky as the Big Ten’s best player this season. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Dekker is the kind of player who does a number of things well; he can fill up the box score in a many different ways. After playing 22..3 MPG as a freshman and averaging 9.6 PPG on 39.1 percent shooting from three, many expected a bigger statistical jump in his sophomore campaign. Her performed well, leading or tying for the team-high in scoring eight times, rebounding 15 times, and steals 11 times.. And although his scoring average only rose to 12.4 PPG, Bo Ryan’s offense didn’t require much more than that. The Badgers used its balanced offensive attack to go 30-8 and make a run to the Final Four, so clearly it was working. Four Badgers took an average of more than seven shots from the field per game, with no player averaging more than 10. Dekker used the fourth-most number of possessions (22.3 %) on the team, and ranked 23rd in the whole conference. He would like to see improvement in shooting the ball better from both the foul line (69%) and behind the arc (33%), but a couple extra inches of height will allow him to do more in the paint. From a team perspective, more interior play from Dekker means that Kaminsky can leak out to the perimeter more often, where the All-American center shoots 38 percent from distance. Dekker converted a healthy 55 percent of his two-point attempts last season, so it is likely more efficient for the Badgers for him to take fewer threes anyway.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Big Ten Preseason Rankings: #9 to #5

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 13th, 2014

We continue our preseason Big Ten rankings today with spots #9 through #5. The bottom tier of teams, #14 to #10, released earlier this week. These middle tier teams will be fighting to be on the right side of the bubble — and providing us with great drama — all season long.

9. Maryland

  • What they do well: Defense. Mark Turgeon has had a top 40 squad in adjusted defensive efficiency the past couple seasons and it’ll likely be his area of focus once again.
  • What they don’t do well: Retention. Seth Allen, Charles Mitchell, Nick Faust, Roddy Peters and Shaquille Cleare all transferred out of the program in the offseason — not exactly inconsequential players.
Dez Wells is one of the few familiar faces in College Park this year. (Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

Dez Wells is one of the few familiar faces in College Park this year. (Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

  • Get to know: Melo Trimble. The top 40 recruit will need to use his offensive skill set to help replace all the lost scoring from last season.
  • Why they’ll finish 9th: The exodus of key players and unfamiliarity in the Big Ten will cause some very sharp growing pains for the Terrapins.
  • Why they’ll finish higher: This team still has talent and is used to playing top-notch competition. If they can get all their new pieces to gel together, they can compete in a relatively down Big Ten.

8. Iowa

  • What they do well: Offense. Last season, the Hawkeyes were fifth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and they bring a majority of that roster back this year.
  • What they don’t do well: Mental toughness. Last season, Iowa wilted in close games against Villanova and Iowa State. Things really spiraled out of control at the end of the season when they lost seven of their last eight contests.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Introducing the RTC Preseason All-Big Ten Second Team

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 13th, 2014

We continue our preseason superlatives this week with the introduction of our Preseason All-Big Ten Second Team. To review our Preseason All Big Ten Third Team, check out Eric Clark’s post from Wednesday. It’s important to point out with this group that, while we stuck to five players, we weren’t completely married to a true team concept and ended up with two point guards on this team. Instead, you should interpret this as the next best five players after our Preseason All-Big Ten First Team, which will release on Friday.

RTC All-Big Ten Second Team

  • Yogi Ferrell, Junior, Indiana, 6’0”, 178 lbs. (17.3 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 3.9 APG). Ferrell made a huge leap last season by adding almost 10 points to his per game average in becoming the primary scoring option for Indiana. This year, the junior point guard will have some additional scoring help with freshman Justin Blackmon Jr. joining the Hoosiers. This should relieve some of the pressure to score from Ferrell and allow him to concentrate on running the offense and improving on his mediocre 1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Yogi Ferrell is a Lone Bright Spot at Indiana Right Now

Yogi Ferrell is a Lone Bright Spot at Indiana Right Now

  • D.J. Newbill, Senior, Penn State, 6’4”, 210 lbs. (17.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.7 APG). Last season, Newbill was the primary scorer and Tim Frazier played the role of distributor. Now that Frazier has graduated, it will be solely on Newbill to run the Penn State offense. Because of the transition in his role, his scoring may drop as he tries to involve teammates like John Johnson and Jordan Dickerson in the offense. Still, Newbill will be the one with the ball in his hands during crunch time — as he goes, so will the Nittany Lions.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Don’t Discount John Beilein’s Ability to Recharge the Michigan Offense

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on November 12th, 2014

Four years ago, John Beilein’s crew nearly took down Duke in the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 32 with Darius Morris and Tim Hardaway Jr. leading the way. The following year without Morris, Beilein inserted a precocious freshman named Trey Burke into the lineup and led the Wolverines to the top of the Big Ten. The following year he added three more freshmen into the starting lineup and improved to the point of a National Championship game appearance. Last year, when everybody thought the run was finally done and Beilein couldn’t keep up with lost personnel, the Wolverines were an implausible three-pointer away from a return trip to the Final Four. For the past four seasons, Michigan’s offense has ranked among the top 25 teams in the nation in offensive efficiency. Producing at least 1.1 points per possession over such a long period of time doesn’t occur by chance — it happens because of an open-minded approach to adjusting the offense to players’ strengths and controlled experimentation with the available personnel. While the Wolverines do not appear to be a Final Four favorite this season, discounting their chances to challenge Wisconsin for the league title is probably not a good idea.

The following are three reasons why Michigan should have an elite offense again this year:

Never underestimate John Beilein's ability to design an extremely potent offense.

Never underestimate John Beilein’s ability to design an extremely potent offense. (Getty)

  1. The Wolverines have plenty of long-range shooters. It shouldn’t be a news flash to Big Ten fans that Beilein’s teams consistently move the ball to find long-range shots — 35 percent of their field goal attempts last season came from beyond the arc. Last year alone, they hoisted a robust 700 threes between their top six scorers. Ball-handlers dribbling off screens and kicking the ball to to the corners is a signature play within Beilein’s offense. Burke ran it to find Stauskas two years ago. Stauskas ran the same play last year with Glenn Robinson and Derrick Walton. Walton will take over that baton this year and he will not lack for shooters. A Michigan small-ball lineup would include Spike Albrecht, Zak Irvin Caris Levert and Walton — all of these players shot at least 38 percent from distance a year ago. There will be plenty of shots from long-range and luckily the Wolverines have a bunch of guys who shoot pretty jumpers.
  2. Irvin could be an effective version of Hardaway. Irvin and Hardaway are both 6’6” and can pull up on a dime off the dribble to shoot a jumper. The knock against Hardaway was his poor shot selection, but the jury is still out on Irvin’s efficiency because he didn’t play enough minutes last season. If the sophomore doesn’t force shots, he has the talent to become a very good scorer in this league. He is big enough at the wing position to grab a couple of offensive boards per game and keep the defenses guessing. Beilein will definitely try to use him on pick-and-rolls with Walton because both of them are effective from the mid-range. If Irvin works well within the construct of Belein’s game plan, he could be a super sophomore.
  3. Robinson’s departure could lead to better overall efficiency. Robinson was extremely talented but was also consistently flat-footed and didn’t try to attack the basket enough. Instead, he often crippled the Wolverines’ offensive flow by hoisting ill-advised shots from the corner when he easily could have used the back-door cut instead. And despite shooting 147 three-pointers, he made only 31 percent of them, the worst such mark on the squad. Take those shots and distribute them across players such as Walton and Levert, each of whom tends to make better offensive decisions with the ball, and now you have an offense that could actually be more efficient than last season’s top-ranked group.
Share this story

Bo Ryan: RTC Big Ten’s Preseason Coach of the Year

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 12th, 2014

The only Big Ten team to reach last season’s Final Four has essentially the same team coming back this year. Wisconsin has potential All-Americans in senior Frank Kaminsky and junior Sam Dekker. They have two reliable seniors at the guard spots, one of whom (Josh Gasser) is in his fifth collegiate season and is one of the perimeter defenders in the country, the other of whom (Traevon Jackson) is a former bench player who has shined since given a chance to run the show. They also have two rising sophomores (Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig) who gained valuable experience during the run to Arlington last season. In addition to all that talent returning, Wisconsin still has its leader and basketball savant, Bo Ryan, leading the way. The veteran coach arguably has the most talent he’s ever had in Madison, which combined with his preparation and on-court acumen, leads us here at the Big Ten microsite to believe that he will be this season’s conference Coach of the Year.

Wisconsin and Coach Bo Ryan should be poised to make another deep March run this season. (AP)

Wisconsin and Coach Bo Ryan should be poised to make another deep March run this season. (AP)

This is not to say that it will be an easy award for Ryan to win. Anything less than a Big Ten championship this season will be viewed at as an underachievement. Given their revamped rosters, if Michigan State’s Tom Izzo or Michigan’s John Beilein can keep their teams among the top 10 or 15 teams nationally, or if a preseason middle-pack team like Minnesota or Illinois can make a substantial leap, Ryan could lose out even if he wins the league title.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Introducing the RTC All-Big Ten Third Team

Posted by Eric Clark on November 12th, 2014

College basketball makes its return on Friday, and the Big Ten microsite’s writing crew has come together and formally voted on their preseason All-Big Ten teams. Having already released our pick for Big Ten Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, we’ll release the rest of our preseason projections later this week.

RTC All-Big Ten Third Team

Shavon Shields, junior, Nebraska 6’7”, 221 lbs. (12.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 44.3% FG). Terran Petteway is the obvious catalyst for the Huskers, but Shields, a Big Ten honorable mention selection last year, will be his primary sidekick. Standing at 6’7”, Shields can pose significant match-up problems at the two-guard spot. The Olathe, Kansas, native ranked 11th in the Big Ten in defensive rebounding last season, pulling down over four caroms per game while leading Nebraska with 5.8 boards per game. His ability to get to the basket is what makes him truly indispensible, while all his work on the boards from the wing positions are gravy.

Shavon Shields Leads the RTC Big Ten Preseason Third Team  (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Shavon Shields Leads the RTC Big Ten Preseason Third Team (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Rayvonte Rice, senior, Illinois 6’4”, 230 lbs. (15.9 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.66 SPG). Rice made waves in his first season of play at Illinois (he redshirted the 2012-13 campaign due to NCAA transfer rules), leading the team in points and pulling down 210 rebounds, just one shy of the team high. Rice will be counted on even more this season after Tracy Abrams was lost for the season with a knee injury. If Rice can improve upon his three-point percentage (29.5%), he’ll be a far more dangerous player this season. Pairing a solid long-range game with his size, strength and overall toughness would serve the Illini well come postseason crunch time.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

AJ Hammons: RTC Big Ten’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 12th, 2014

AJ Hammons wasn’t supposed to still be playing basketball in West Lafayette this season — the junior was supposed to have taken his considerable size and skills to the NBA two seasons ago. And although he’s flashed snippets of what had NBA scouts drooling, uneven play and a questionable motor have been the more lasting images of his first two seasons at Purdue. Now with a deeper team surrounding him in what some are calling a make-or-break season for head coach Matt Painter, Hammons needs to produce at consistently high level. Still, even with the up-and-down nature to his play, Hammons managed to lead the Big Ten in blocks last season. We expect his development to result in greater maturity and drive this year, making him our Big Ten microsite Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.

AJ Hammons will once again hold the Boilermakers NCAA Tournament hopes in his hands this season. (Purdue Exponent)

AJ Hammons will once again hold the Boilermakers’ NCAA Tournament hopes in his hands. (Purdue Exponent)

Hammons has averaged 2.5 blocks per game in his two seasons in West Lafayette, including a whopping 3.1 rejections per contest despite only playing 25 MPG last season. Among power conference players, only St. John’s Chris Obekpa and UConn’s Amida Brimah logged a better block rate than Hammons’ 13.31 percent. He also finished fifth in the Big Ten in defensive rebounding rate, doing so at a 22.7 percent clip. He was able to manage these numbers without a capable backup, meaning that in many situations he had to worry about foul trouble inhibiting his aggressiveness. With another year of maturity and a security blanket behind him in the name of 7’2″ freshman reserve Isaac Haas, Hammons can finally play aggressively when he’s on the court. This will enable the burly center to contest even more shots at the rim and to hit the glass even harder. Even with his shot-blocking prowess inside, Purdue ranked 101st in defensive two-point field goal percentage at 46.6 percent a season ago. Look for this number to decrease quite a bit this year. Barring injury, Hammons should become the 17th member of the 200-block club within the non-conference part of the schedule, and he only needs 67 blocks to crack the Big Ten’s all-time top 1o.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten M5: 11.12.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 12th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. What do NBA starters Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bradley Beal, and Michigan State’s Branden Dawson all have in common? They were a few of the highest-rated recruits in the Class of 2011. While the first three players mentioned all moved on to the NBA after just one season of college ball, Dawson is still playing in college, something he didn’t necessarily envision when he committed to the Spartans four years ago. After receiving a second-round grade from the NBA’s Draft Advisory Board, he decided to return for his final season hoping to both increase his stock and get a college degree. If he has a big senior year as the focal point of Tom Izzo’s offense, sticking around might very well have paid off.
  2. Many including myself assumed that Nebraska forward Leslee Smith would be sidelined for the whole upcoming season after suffering a torn ACL over the summer. Well, Smith is actually recovering so far ahead of schedule that head coach Tim Miles recently said that “we’re hoping to have him ready in mid-January, about a week or two into Big Ten play.” This is huge news for the Cornhuskers, as Smith will give the team another beefy inside presence to battle with some of the size the other B1G squads will bring to bear.
  3. Michigan freshman Austin Hatch isn’t on any top 100 recruiting lists, but his backstory is arguably more inspirational than that of any college basketball player in recent memory. After surviving two plane crashes that took the lives of both his parents and left him in a coma for eight weeks, it’s simply amazing that he’s shown such perseverance to stay after his basketball dreams. On Monday night, Hatch scored his first collegiate point in Michigan’s exhibition win over Wayne State. He then received a standing ovation after being removed from the contest, and there probably wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Here’s hoping Hatch has many more nights in Ann Arbor like the one he experienced earlier this week.
  4. Richard Pitino’s battle against father Rick Pitino will undoubtedly mark one of the national and Big Ten highlights of the opening set of games Friday night. Minnesota is looking to prove that it deserves to be in the Top 25, while Louisville wants to defend its top 10 preseason ranking. In advance of the season opener, the duo staged an entertaining press conference in Puerto Rico with the elder Pitino cracking jokes while both coaches sharing just how fond they are of each other’s programs.
  5. Indiana has not had much good news as of late, but Collin Hartman returning to the lineup and playing well in the team’s two exhibitions definitely qualifies as some happier news. Hartman tore his ACL in March, but he’s already back in the fold and looks no worse for the wear. With a depleted roster because of suspensions and injuries, Hartman played nearly 20 minutes in each of the two preseason contests, burying a couple of threes in Monday’s game. If Hartman can continue to shoot the ball well, the Hoosiers will possess some of the best perimeter shooting in the B1G with James Blackmon Jr, Robert Johnson, Nick Zeisloft and Yogi Ferrell also capable deep shooters.
Share this story

D’Angelo Russell: RTC Big Ten’s Preseason Freshman of the Year

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 11th, 2014

Thad Matta has been the most successful coach at Ohio State since the Fred Taylor era in the sixties. As he enters his eleventh season in Columbus, his Big Ten resume reads as follows: Five regular-season conference championships, four tournament championships, and two Final Four appearances including a trip to the National Championship game. One of the pillars to his success has been his ability to lure superbly talented recruits who are able to have an immediate impact in their freshman season. Players like Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Jared Sullinger, and Aaron Craft have fit this bill and are a big part of why the Buckeyes have had sustained success for almost a decade. D’Angelo Russell is the next player to follow in these footsteps. He’s a prolific scorer who joins an Ohio State squad in need of someone to take the reins of their offense. For these reasons, he’s our Big Ten Preseason Freshman of the Year.

d'angelo russell

D’Angelo Russell is set up to lead his team in scoring in his first year at Ohio State (Danny Wild).

Although Russell is originally from Louisville, he finished his high school career in Montverde Academy in Florida where played point guard and led his prep team to win the Dick’s Sporting Goods High School National Tournament. He was also selected to the McDonald’s All American team where he scored 11 points (5-10 FG) in 15 minutes. The 6’5”, 180 lbs. combo guard has a remarkable ability to put the ball in the basket due to his effective shooting, ball handling ability, and natural feel for the game. But what impressed Matta most about the young guard is “… his demeanor on the court at this point just in terms of, he can take a court over”.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Addition by Subtraction: Tracy Abrams’ Injury Could Propel Illinois to the NCAA Tournament

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

Watching a senior point guard go down with a season-ending injury before his final year is always painful. Years of experience accumulate into something of a valuable commodity. Senior guards going up against younger hot-shots during conference season is a perennial story to watch year in and year out. IllinoisTracy Abrams could have been that that guard but his absence this season may actually help Illinois settle on a more effective rotation because Abrams’ minutes can be passed onto incoming transfer guards, Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby. While John Groce could rely on Abrams to run the team because he can trust his senior guard after two full seasons in Champaign, his offense should benefit with quicker, potentially more talented, guards such as the incoming transfers. The concept of “addition by subtraction” matters for teams that are on the cusp of making it into the NCAA Tournament with a few minor tweaks to the personnel. Illinois was a bubble team last year and Abrams’ loss combined with the infusion of new talent may just be enough to push them into the top five or six teams in conference.

Tracy Abrams' loss may actually help the Illini this season.  (Stephen Haas, Lee News Service)

Tracy Abrams’ loss may actually help the Illini this season.
(Stephen Haas, Lee News Service)

Before understanding how Abrams’ loss helps this season, it is crucial to understand the Illini’s key weakness from last season: long-range shooting. They shot 30.4% from the long-range, ranking tenth in the conference. Shooting from beyond the arc is not Abrams’ strength but that didn’t prevent him from hoisting 111 attempts and only making 27% of them. Pulling up from from the top of the key during crucial possessions in the second half was one of the worst traits of his game. He quickly gave up pushing the ball into the paint which resulted in a horrible free-throw rate — the Illini ranked dead last in the league averaging only 30.6% of free throw attempts per field goal attempts. Groce could count on Abrams to be calm during crunch time but his shot selection was questionable at best. Take these negatives out of the equation and add two excellent shooters, Starks and Cosby. Both Starks and Cosby shot 40% from beyond the arc at Oregon State and Seton Hall respectively and they will certainly boost the Illini offense that is desperate for outside shooting.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story