Can Michigan Survive This Storm?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 10th, 2014

Last weekend was not a good weekend for John Beilein’s Michigan team. Most notable among the afflicting issues was a ground-shaking loss to NJIT, the biggest upset by point spread (NJIT was a 24.5-point underdog) in college basketball in over seven years. If that wasn’t bad enough, Oregon and Syracuse both lost convincingly at home, rendering the Wolverine’s two biggest wins of the young season that much smaller. It was about as traumatizing as a December weekend can get for a Big Ten team in the Top 25, but come Monday, it was only the pain of the weekend that was over. We found out on Tuesday night that the mini-nightmare was in fact just beginning when the Wolverines sputtered to 42 points and yet another embarrassing home loss, this time to Eastern Michigan. The second loss was the lowest point total submitted by a Michigan team since the season finale in Beilein’s first season at the helm. With many things clearly unsettled and a trip to #3 Arizona on tap for this weekend, the Wolverines find themselves at a crossroads. Will this unsightly string of four days prove to be nothing more than a surprising blip on the radar, or is it the first sign of a team incapable of matching the standard set by its recent predecessors?

After A Weekend Loss To NJIT, Caris LaVert And Michigan Didn't Think Things Could Get Any Worse. They Did On Tuesday.

After A Weekend Loss To NJIT, Caris LaVert And Michigan Didn’t Think Things Could Get Any Worse. They Did On Tuesday. (AP)

At some point, personnel losses have to take their toll. In the last two offseasons, Michigan has waved goodbye to all five players who took to the Georgia Dome floor for the opening tip of the 2013 National Championship game. Trek Burke, Nik Stauskas, Tim Hardaway, Glenn Robinson, Mitch McGary: all gone, all with eligibility to spare. That gives the Wolverines more early entrants in the last two drafts than any other program in America, Kentucky included. Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton currently form a nice perimeter-based nucleus for Beilein’s squad, but there isn’t a program in America that wouldn’t feel the effect of those unplanned defections.

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Big Ten M5: 12.10.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 10th, 2014

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  1. Michigan did it again Tuesday night, as the Wolverines once again fell victim to an unheralded foe at home. Eastern Michigan knocked off John Beilein’s team, 45-42, and offensive woes were the culprit in this one after issues on the defensive end caused the loss to NJIT on Saturday. Michigan shot 4-of-21 from the three-point line against EMU’s zone, and put up a pedestrian 0.70 points per possession as a result. They also turned the ball over 13 times, and now, after notching good wins against Oregon and Syracuse, Michigans has two pretty bad losses on its resume that could burn it come NCAA Tournament time.
  2. Speaking of tournaments, it was announced earlier this week that the Big Ten will hold its conference tournament in New York City’s Madison Square Garden in 2018. After firmly planting its flag on the East Coast with the additions of Maryland and Rutgers this season, the league’s new foothold along the coast got much stronger with plans to hold its postseason showcase at the Mecca of college basketball. One interesting note about how things will play out is that the tourney will be held a week early to accommodate a pre-existing agreement that MSG has with the Big East. That means conference play will need to start a week earlier during the 2017-18 season in order to have the postseason tournament a week before the rest of the other power conferences.
  3. Want to find a holiday gift for the Michigan hater in your life? Look no further than the NJIT bookstore. Management of the retail outlet says that the bookstore has been “flooded” with calls from fans of Michigan State, Ohio State, and Indiana looking for some NJIT gear to poke fun at the Michigan fans in their lives. “Typically on a Monday morning we’ll come in and have four or five orders, if that many, and this Monday we had 90,” said manager Pete Maranzano. No word yet on what will happen at the Eastern Michigan bookstore on Wednesday morning.
  4. Purdue made a lineup change on Monday night by putting freshmen Isaac Haas and PJ Thompson in the starting five in place of AJ Hammons and Kendall Stephens. The move seemed to work well, as both Hammons and Stephens had productive games with the change. Hammons put up a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds, while Stephens also produced 13 points from the bench. It remains to be seen whether head coach Matt Painter will stick with that lineup, but given Purdue’s depth, tweaking the lineup to get more out of his players remains an option should he choose to tinker for right combinations.
  5. Minnesota is down to just nine scholarship players after freshman forward Josh Martin decided to leave the program, as the athletic freshman struggled to earn minutes behind Joey King and Charles Buggs at the power forward spot. Martin was only averaging 5.4 MPG through seven games, contributing 1.3 PPG and 1.0 RPG in his little time on the floor. As Minnesota presses more than it did last season, the loss of Martin could harm its depth should King and Buggs get into foul trouble. The team has to hope that freshman Gaston Diedhiou is cleared to return in January after experiencing some problems gaining admission to the school.
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Nnanna Egwu is the Defensive Linchpin for Illinois

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 9th, 2014

At 7-1 with only a road loss to Miami (FL), John Groce has Illinois once again playing well in its non-conference schedule. But one notable difference this year is how improved the Fighting Illini have been on offense. Due to the addition of a couple of offseason transfers, Illinois finds itself with a wealth of combo guards and wings who can score in bunches. While that revamped offense has gotten good publicity thus far, it’s been Illinois’ ongoing successes on the defensive end (91.0 adjusted defensive rating), that has Groce’s squad primed to make a return to the NCAA Tournament. The anchor of that defense, and the only reliable inside presence on the team, is senior big man Nnanna Egwu. Illinois faces #7 Villanova in Madison Square Garden tonight and it will need Egwu to lead the charge in slowing down the Wildcats’ top 15 offense (110.7 adjusted offensive rating).

Nnanna Egwu covers up a lot mistakes on defense for the Illini.

Nnanna Egwu covers for a lot of defensive mistakes for the Illini.

Egwu is the lone active senior this year – Illinois’ other senior, Tracy Abrams, is out for the season with a torn ACL – and he is averaging 7.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG, and 1.9 BPG in a shade under 30 minutes per contest. The native Nigerian didn’t start playing basketball until the eighth grade, but his quick development led to significant playing time on Groce’s first team in Champaign. The big man still does not have much of a back-to-the-basket game on offense, but he has nice touch and can step out and shoot from the perimeter (5-of-14 from three this season). Whatever his limits are in scoring, what he brings to Groce’s defense supersedes it. Egwu is one of the top rim-protectors in the country, serving as a safety net for guards who get beaten off the dribble. His presence inside allows Illinois’ guards to be more aggressive and gamble for steals, the proof being the Illini’s top 100 steal percentage (10.8%) despite not having the prototypical athletic and long players that dominate this category.

When the Illini play Villanova tonight at Madison Square Garden, Egwu will have his hands full guarding 6’11” center Daniel Ochefu, who converts on 63.6 percent of his attempts near the rim. In addition to Ochefu, he’ll also have to act as the eraser if Wildcats’ guards Darrun Hilliard and Dylan Ennis penetrate the lane to get to the bucket — where both are also shooting over 60 percent. With no capable replacement on the bench, Egwu must avoid fouling to stay on the court, otherwise it’ll be open season on the Illini inside the paint (Egwu to this point has avoided a disqualification on fouls this season). Illinois has relied on its center to provide a foundation to its high-quality defense, and to have any chance of walking out of the Mecca with a Top 10 scalp tonight, it will fall on Egwu to answer that call once again.

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Big Ten M5: 12.09.14 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on December 8th, 2014

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  1. Indiana began the season with little knowledge of how its big men would fare this season. After losing Noah Vonleh to the NBA and Luke Fischer to Marquette, all the pressure was on junior Hanner-Mosquera Perea to step up as the Hoosiers’ lone presence in the paint. But according to Zach Osterman of the Indy Star, freshmen Emmitt Holt and sophomore Collin Hartman are slowly solidifying Tom Crean’s frontcourt.
  2. The Big Ten Tournament will be held at Madison Square Garden in 2018 as the conference pushes its postseason event east in order to gobble up more television money. The 2015 and 2016 tournament will be held at locations within the league’s footprint, in Chicago and Indianapolis, respectively. The 2017 tournament, however, will be played in Washington D.C. An interesting facet of the 2018 plan is that the event won’t be played on its usual schedule. Because the Big East Tournament is scheduled for the traditional weekend of Selection Sunday, the Big Ten’s marquee event will be played during the weekend prior, which means teams will have nearly two full weeks off between the end of their season and the start of the NCAA Tournament.
  3. Minnesota is getting great defensive play out of junior college transfer Carlos Morris so far this season, writes Amelia Rayno of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. He came up one steal short of the Minnesota single-game record with eight pilfers against Wake Forest and is averaging 11.6 points per game – but according to head coach Richard Pitino, he’s still got a lot to work on.
  4. Nebraska fell to Creighton by 10 points on Sunday as Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields each turned in lackluster performances. Petteway had 21 points but was 8-of-20 from the field, while Shields only contributed seven points. The Bluejays’ game plan was to key on the two stars, forcing the likes of David Rivers and Benny Parker to beat them – and they didn’t.
  5. Maryland has turned its free throw shooting into a strength after ranking 241st in the nation with 21.2 attempts per game last year. Melo Trimble has been the guiding force behind that change, as the freshman has drawn an average of 7.2 fouls per 40 minutes played. Trimble already leads the team in offensive efficiency (125.0), free throw percentage (88.6%) and three-point percentage (43.2%). With Dez Wells out of the lineup for a couple more weeks with a wrist injury, the Terrapins need Trimble to keep it up.
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Big Ten/ACC Challenge: What Did We Learn?

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 5th, 2014

In the aftermath of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, we might have expected to learn a great deal about Big Ten teams as they matched up against foes that were generally their peers. In the big picture, however, what that means to the Big Ten race remains a mystery. Wisconsin appears to be a notch or two above everyone else despite losing to Duke. Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State each has its fair share of issues. There are seven or eight other teams that have decent chances to become NCAA Tournament teams. As we head into the slowdown of finals and the Christmas holiday season, here’s a brief snapshot of one takeaway per squad after their Challenge contests.

Ahmad Starks had a horrible shooting night against Miami. (Stephen Haas, Lee News Service)

Ahmad Starks had a horrible shooting night against Miami. (Stephen Haas, Lee News Service)

  • Illinois: Taking 30 three-pointers probably isn’t a good idea for this team. Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby won’t combine to shoot 15.4 percent very often, but Nnanna Egwu shooting three bombs by himself probably isn’t a good idea for future success.
  • Indiana: Emmitt Holt has been a borderline revelation, leading the team in scoring and giving Tom Crean another solid freshman to rely upon. Having only nine turnovers is something the Hoosiers should try to bottle for use all season.
  • Iowa: Telling Mike Gesell that his former AAU teammate Marcus Paige is on the other team every single game might just get him to play like a First Team All-B1G selection.

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Big Ten M5: 12.05.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 5th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. The Big Ten emerged victorious in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Wednesday night after Iowa secured the series-clinching eighth win by shocking North Carolina with a 60-55 road victory. It was Mike Gesell who carried the Hawkeyes to victory with his 16 points on 5-of-7 shooting. The victory for especially sweet for Iowa’s point guard, as it came against former AAU teammate Marcus Paige, an All-American and someone he considers “his brother.” Iowa’s center, Adam Woodbury, was also on that same AAU team and described what the win meant to Gesell: “I think this is great for Mike… He played really well in AAU, and for him to be compared to Marcus was unfair. I think he showed [Wednesday] that he’s his own player.” For one night at least, Gesell came away with the acclaim over his friend in Carolina Blue.
  2. While Iowa clinched the Challenge for the Big Ten, the game of the series was played later that night when Duke went to Madison and disposed of Wisconsin by 10 points. Evan Flood wrote a great summary on some of the lessons learned for the Badgers, including the continuing concern over the health of Sam Dekker’s ankle. Additionally, Flood shrewdly points out that the Badgers’ perimeter defense was sorely lacking, allowing the Blue Devils to shoot a blistering 58.7 percent from three and 67.6 percent from inside the arc. Defense was this team’s vulnerability last season and it could be the Badgers’ biggest weakness this year as well.
  3. One of the Big Ten’s wins on Wednesday came at State College, where Penn State protected home court against Virginia Tech in a three-point win. It was somewhat of a revenge game for the Nittany Lions’ senior leader, D.J. Newbill, who has a legitamite gripe against Hokies’ head coach, Buzz Williams. While at Marquette, Williams pulled a scholarship offer from Newbill after he got another commitment from Jamil Wilson, who was transferring over from Oregon. Williams’ familiarity with Newbill showed, as Virginia Tech packed the paint and used double teams to prevent the Penn State guard from getting to the rim, ending his five-game streak of scoring 20 points or more. Luckily for Penn State, Newbill was able to get enough of his teammates involved to notch the win and get some payback on someone who was, at one time, the coach he hoped to play for.
  4. Michigan State came up short in South Bend when they fell to Notre Dame by a point in overtime, but one of the bright spots in the game was the shooting of Cleveland State transfer Bryan Forbes. The 6’3″ junior guard scored 18 points, which included a 4-of-4 mark from deep. Forbes was not only accurate but timely, as he scored on a jumper at 9:03 in the second half that ended an 8-2 Irish run. Unfortunately for the Spartans, Forbes inexplicably did not take another shot after that. Moving forward, it’s going to be necessary to bring him more into the offense as Tom Izzo does not have as much offensive talent as he’s grown accustomed to having these last 15 years.
  5. Finally, another loss on Wednesday occurred when Maryland was defeated by Virginia in College Park. With the Terrapins short-handed because of injuries to Dez Wells and Evan Smotrycz, it was an expected outcome. And while this made the Terps even more of a long shot against the reigning ACC champions, it also presented an opportunity to for some of their freshmen to get invaluable experience playing elite competition. The Terps’ super frosh, Melo Trimble, was able to grind out 16 points — mostly at the free throw line — while Dion Wiley also chipped in 12. Mark Turgeon would rather have his veterans playing than not, of course, but in the long run, a game like this may end up benefiting the team as a whole. The young players on the team will be better suited for Big Ten play when their squad is expected to be at full health.
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Iowa Feeling Good Again After Big Road Win at UNC

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 4th, 2014

Albert Einstein once defined insanity as the act of “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Fans have called Fran McCaffery crazy before, but the way his Iowa team finished last season had to leave the Hawkeyes head man questioning his own sanity. After a 19-6 beginning to 2013-14, his team lost seven of its final eight games, and the lone win in that stretch came against Big Ten bottom-feeder Purdue. Time and time again, McCaffery sent out the same talented group that had racked up points and wins in bunches all the way through January, and time and time again they would retreat to the locker room defeated. The collapse came late enough so as not to prevent Iowa from making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006, but a bitter taste lingered. What happened to the Hawkeyes?

Mike Gesell (right), Adam Woodbury and Jared Uthoff All Played Key Roles In A Potentially Season-Shaping Win For The Hawkeyes Wednesday. (Photo Credit: AP)

Mike Gesell (right), Adam Woodbury and Jared Uthoff All Played Key Roles In A Potentially Season-Shaping Win For The Hawkeyes Wednesday. (Photo Credit: AP)

New seasons have a way of washing away the memories of the last one. Jubilant title runs dissolve into the tumult of the mixing and matching of a new group of players, while stinging too-soon-to-end Tournament stays are banished from memory banks by fast starts. The latter was supposed to be the case in Iowa City, where McCaffery returned another team talented enough to make some noise in the Big Ten. Unfinished business from last season was now finished; unanswered questions now irrelevant. This was a new band of Hawkeyes. And then the season started. Iowa dropped its only two games against reasonable competition in November, losing to Texas and Syracuse on back-to-back nights in New York. Sure, they handled their business elsewhere (5-0 in other games, but all against teams outside of KenPom’s top 125), but the doubts, the questioning – they were slowly creeping back. Even McCaffery and his team had to be wondering if there was just some very hidden fundamental flaw with the Iowa Hawkeyes.

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How Wisconsin Can Use Sam Dekker Better Offensively

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on December 4th, 2014

Even though Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker grew to 6’9″ during the summer and brought two full years of experience into his junior season, there remained concerns about his assertiveness during big games. He is extremely talented with a quick trigger and excellent form on his jumper, but Dekker seems to consistently struggle against superior competition and has a tendency to go through long stretches of the game when you wonder if he is even on the court. Last night’s loss to Duke was no different: In 24 minutes of action, Dekker shot only 2-of-5 from the field and scored five points. More concerning than his low scoring output was his sheer number of shot attempts — how could a player with so much talent take only five shots? While it is easy to blame him for laziness in hanging around the three-point line on the offensive end, it may be worth discussing if Wisconsin’s offense instead needs to better structured around him. A closer examination of last night’s game hints how his specific skill set within the offensive scheme is being ineffectively used.

Bo Ryan needs to find more ways to keep Sam Dekker engaged in the half-court offense (Jim Polzin, Wisconsin State Journal)

Bo Ryan needs to find more ways to keep Sam Dekker engaged in the half-court offense (Jim Polzin, Wisconsin State Journal)

The heralded Badgers offense that averaged upwards of 1.1 points per possession last season is packed with scoring talent. Frank Kaminsky is as good as advertised (17 points) and Bo Ryan makes a conscious effort to give the big guy the ball for many of the team’s possessions. Senior guard Traevon Jackson has consistently proven that he can control the offense in the half-court and is not afraid to take a big shot during crunch time (25 points). Ryan called isolation plays for Kaminsky in the low post during the second half, and when double-teamed, he kicked the ball out for Jackson to penetrate the lane. This two-man combination worked well for much of the game, but it stifled the offense over the last six minutes when Duke finished off the Badgers. It is easy to blame Dekker for not actively wanting the ball, but every time he had it, he had no choice but to dump it back into the low post or swing it from one side to the other. Expecting him to take the ball into a one-on-one situation at the top of the key is unfair and could also disturb the overall offensive rhythm. Keeping this in mind, Ryan should consider supplementing his offense by running specific plays for Dekker in the half-court.

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Tonight’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge Main Event: Previewing Duke at Wisconsin

Posted by Alex Moscoso and Brad Jenkins on December 3rd, 2014

As the ACC and the Big Ten teams get together on the hardwood this week, ACC and Big Ten microsites writers Alex Moscoso and Brad Jenkins have teamed up to break down the match-up between Wisconsin and Duke, the main event on the final night of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Frontcourt

Alex Moscoso: Duke has a special player in center Jahlil Okafor, the likely #1 overall pick in next year’s NBA Draft. But as far as the best frontcourt in basketball, I submit there’s no unit with a better combination of talent and experience than the Badgers’ group of Frank Kaminsky, Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker. All three will play in the Association and are familiar with one another’s tendencies from a full year together on the floor. For the season, they’re combining to average 42.9 PPG (57.5 percent of the team’s output) and 20.6 RPG. While Kaminsky and Dekker are likely to be Naismith finalists, Hayes has also garnered widespread acclaim for his improved play as a sophomore – specifically, his newfound ability to hit the deep ball on occasion (35.7%) and better defensive play in the post. His transformation from talented prospect to contributing factor has made this frontcourt almost invulnerable. The trio will certainly have its hands full with the athletic duo of Okafor and Justise Winslow, but the Wisconsin big men should wear these young Blue Devils out by hitting some threes and forcing them to guard the entire half-court – from the rim out to the three-point line.

Frank Kaminsky (yes, it's true) exploded for 43 points on Tuesday. (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky  and the Badgers “are coming” for Duke on Wednesday night, in what is one of the best non-conference games this season. (Getty)

Brad Jenkins: To say this is a match-up of Duke’s young talent versus Wisconsin’s veteran frontcourt is an oversimplification. The Badgers’ big guys are not only experienced but they are extremely skilled and more athletic than most realize. Duke’s two freshman starters up front, Okafor and Winslow, are both considered one-and-doners, and they play the game with a physical and mental maturity rarely seen in college rookies. On the one hand, Okafor has good footwork around the basket that should force Wisconsin into more double-teaming than normal. On the other hand, Winslow is a bit of a wild card in this game, as the Badgers don’t have a player who can match his combination of size and athleticism on the wing. The veteran Dekker, a tall forward with decent lateral quickness, will probably get the assignment, but he has been nursing a nagging ankle injury and may not be at 100 percent. Look for Winslow to aggressively attack the Badgers off the dribble as a way to create offense when the Blue Devils are otherwise stymied. Wisconsin normally protects the defensive glass as well as any team in the country, but watch out for Amile Jefferson on the weak side if Okafor demands major attention. So far this season, the 6’9” junior ranks third nationally with a 21.9 percent offensive rebounding rate. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten M5: 12.03.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 3rd, 2014

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  1. It looks like Michigan State will get a needed boost in terms of depth for their game against Notre Dame tonight. That’s because sophomore guard Alvin Ellis III will likely be back from the ankle injury that has sidelined him for the last six games. Ellis wasn’t a huge contributor last season, but he gives the Spartans some necessary backcourt depth as they play a pretty good Notre Dame squad in South Bend. This will give Tom Izzo more options defensively to try to stop Notre Dame senior guard Jerian Grant, who ranks among the top 15 players in America in Offensive Rating (147.9).
  2. Maryland is still trying to figure out its rotation in the wake of losing Dez Wells to a broken wrist. The Terps have played several different lineups, depending on the opponent, so players like Jon Graham have had to stay ready depending on the situation. Graham could be a key piece against Virginia tonight, however, as Mark Turgeon comes up with a strategy to defend forwards Anthony Gill and Darion Atkins. Graham had a nice game as a starter against Iowa State, playing great defense against Cyclones star Georges Niang (10 points on 4-of-14 shooting). It will be interesting to see if he can have the same impact against the Terps’ former ACC rival this evening.
  3. Iowa has a huge chance to get a win that will look awfully nice come March should it knock off North Carolina in Chapel Hill tonight. The Hawkeyes need to limit their turnovers against an athletic and deep squad, and they have to hold their own on the inside against the Tar Heels’ prodigious size. After missing out on a couple of good opportunities in New York when they lost to Texas and Syracuse, the Hawkeyes need a big win before heading into conference play. This one is also interesting because of the individual match-up between former AAU teammates Marcus Paige and Mike Gesell.
  4. National Player of the Year candidates Frank Kaminsky and Jahlil Okafor are the headliners for the Wisconsin vs. Duke clash tonight, but Duke has a number of other weapons that the Badgers need to shut down if they want to beat another elite opponent. The Blue Devils’ entire starting five has been very impressive thus far, so taking Okafor’s offense away will likely not be enough to get the home win. The match-up in the backcourt between veterans Traveon Jackson and Josh Gasser against Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook will also be vitally important in this early season blockbuster game.
  5. Purdue has gotten off to a great 6-1 start keyed by newcomers Jon Octeus, Vince Edwards, and Isaac Haas, but the efforts of junior captain Rapheal Davis have been just as important. Davis was especially clutch in the last two games Purdue played in the Maui Invitational, which he described as ” everything we put in this summer, it showed in the end.” What he meant with that statement was that Purdue fought off a disappointing opening round loss to Kansas State by bouncing back to win its last two games against Missouri and BYU. That positive play continued last night against North Carolina State, as the Boilermakers beat the Wolfpack, 66-61. Davis was held to just three points in that one, but he notched a team-high six assists continuing to provide just what Purdue needs to win games.
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Tonight’s ACC/Big Ten Feature: Previewing Ohio State vs. Louisville

Posted by Brendan Brody and Brett Thompson on December 2nd, 2014

As the ACC and the Big Ten teams get together on the hardwood this week, the ACC and Big Ten microsites (Brendan Brody and Brett Thompson, specifically) have also decided to team up to break down some of the key questions for a few of the games. What follows is a look at tonight’s featured battle between two power programs: the Buckeyes and the Cardinals.

Brendan Brody: Louisville’s defensive numbers have been absurd this season, but Ohio State brings in eight rotation players who are currently shooting over 50 percent from the floor. Why will Louisville’s defense shut down these Buckeyes?

Brett Thompson: Despite the strong play of Louisville’s defense thus far, Rick Pitino is concerned with how well Ohio State has shot the ball on the offensive end (63.5% eFG). Look for the Cards to implement several zone looks along with their patented pressure to confuse the Buckeyes, but if Ohio State continues to knock down threes at a superb 41.8 percent clip, Louisville will be forced to man up on the shooters. How have the Buckeyes been so efficient offensively this season, and will that continue against a Louisville defense that ranks first in defensive efficiency nationally?

Shannon Scott is leading the Big Ten in assists, but will be tested by Louisville's pressure. (AP)

Shannon Scott is leading the Big Ten in assists, but he will be tested by Louisville’s pressure. (AP)

BB: It begins and ends with the play of Shannon Scott. And it’s not just the fact that he’s averaging an ungodly 10.4 assists per game, but it’s also that he’s been magnificent at getting everyone quality looks. The team is shooting such a high percentage because Scott is putting everyone in great position to make shots well within their respective comfort zones. If Scott can handle the Louisville pressure well enough to avoid turning the ball over excessively, Ohio State can make the Cardinals pay for it in the half-court. On the other end of the floor, the Buckeyes don’t really have anyone to match up with the Cardinals’ Montrezl Harrell, but the Louisville perimeter players (Chris Jones, Terry Rozier and Wayne Blackshear) have struggled shooting the ball this season. Which of these three is most likely to break out and help Harrell score?

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Battle of Unbeatens: Key Questions in Illinois vs. Miami

Posted by Brendan Brody and Lathan Wells on December 2nd, 2014

As the ACC and the Big Ten teams get together on the hardwood this week, the ACC and Big Ten microsites (Brendan Brody and Lathan Wells, specifically) have also decided to team up to break down some of the key questions for a few of the games. What follows is a look at tonight’s Top 25 battle between two unbeatens: the 6-0 Illini and the 7-0 Hurricanes.

Brendan Brody: After a mediocre 17-16 mark last year, Miami is back in the Top 25 with Big 12 transfers Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State) and Sheldon McClellan (Texas) deservedly getting most of the credit. Let’s talk about how other key players like Tonyi Jekiri and Manu Lecomte have also had an impact, and how they will affect the outcome of this game.

Tonye Jekiri has been a defensive force so far for Miami. (Gerry Broome, AP)

Tonye Jekiri has been a defensive force so far for Miami. (Gerry Broome, AP)

Lathan Wells: Lecomte looks much more comfortable playing off the ball and allowing Rodriguez to run the show this season. The result is enormously efficient basketball, as he is averaging 13.3 PPG and shooting 56.7 percent from the field. If Rodriguez and McClellan are being stifled, he offers a third excellent perimeter scoring option. Jekiri, to his credit, has blossomed into a force around the basket, averaging just shy of 11 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. For a team relying on consistent guard and perimeter play, he has helped to keep the Hurricanes balanced. While it’s true Rodriguez and McClellan are driving Miami’s hot start, don’t be surprised if Lecomte comes up with a few key baskets or if Jekiri helps keep Miami on the plus-side of the rebounding margin. Illinois hangs its hat on defense first, but the Illini rank fifth in the country in averaging 90 points per game. How will they handle a lower scoring contest if Miami is able to slow things down?

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