Big Ten Feast Week Primer: Part Three

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 24th, 2016

Eight of the 14 Big Ten teams have already started, finished or will play in early-season tournaments this week. The festivities began Monday afternoon with Wisconsin in the Maui Invitational, but continue for much of the week as turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce commingles with basketball in far-flung locales. Here’s the third of a three-part breakdown that discusses what each participating Big Ten team faces this week.

NIT Season Tip-Off

Malcolm Hill will need to display the form that made him a Preseason All Big-Ten player in New York City this weekend. (USA Today Sports)

Malcolm Hill will need to display the form that made him a Preseason All-Big Ten player in New York City this weekend. (USA Today Sports)

  • Teams: Illinois, West Virginia, Florida State, Temple
  • Capsule: Things were looking relatively good for Illinois as it got off to a 4-0 start… and then the Illini lost to Winthrop at home. In what might be a make-or-break season for John Groce, a couple of wins against quality teams in the Big Apple would definitely ease some stress. Illinois squares off today against the national leader in creating turnovers and steals when it plays West Virginia. Those same 22 turnovers against Winthrop will end this game quickly.
  • Key Player: Tracy Abrams will be the key here. The sixth -year senior not only needs to break the Mountaineers’ press, but unlike the offensively-challenged Jaylon Tate, he can also be a threat to score. Abrams needs to max out his experience and ability for Illinois to come away with two wins in New York this week.
  • Prediction: The West Virginia game will be an ugly loss, but expect the Illini to respond and beat Temple in the consolation game on Friday.

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Amir Coffey is Leading Minnesota’s Early Resurgence

Posted by Jim Root on November 23rd, 2016

Entering this season Minnesota basketball appeared to be facing a tall task. After a dismal season in which the Gophers finished 8-23, fans were getting restless and whispers about Richard Pitino’s job security began to surface. Now, coming off their second straight win over a Power 6 school (yes, we are counting the Big East here), optimism reigns in Minneapolis. After all, Minnesota only won three games against Power 6 teams during the entirety of last year (and yes, that includes 19 Big Ten games)!  One of the biggest reasons for the Gophers’ resurgence is because of a silky-smooth lefty freshman, local boy Amir Coffey. A highly-rated recruit from Hopkins, Minnesota, Coffey has already shown the ability to score at a high level, and his performances against St. John’s and Arkansas – his best two games of the young year – indicate that he is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential.

Amir Coffey (USA Today Images)

Amir Coffey Has Already Driven Minnesota to Greater Success Than Last Year (USA Today Images)

Part of what makes Coffey’s game so impressive on the offensive end is his versatility. He has shown that he can score from all three areas of the floor (at the rim; from the midrange; from the three-point line), and it is that versatility and lethal shooting stroke that makes him such a tough individual match-up. He’s a legitimate 6’7” who can play shooting guard, which creates significant size mismatches on the perimeter. In the below frame, St. John’s Federico Mussini (just 6’2”, 170 pounds) desperately tries to front the much taller and longer Coffey, but he ends up gambling on the play and Coffey as a result finishes strong over a would-be shot-blocker:

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Big Ten Feast Week Primer: Part Two

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 21st, 2016

Eight of the 14 Big Ten teams will play in early-season tournaments over the next seven days. The festivities begin this afternoon with Wisconsin in the Maui Invitational, but continue for much of the next week as turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce commingles with basketball in far-flung locales. Here’s the first of a two part-breakdown that discusses what each participating Big Ten team faces this week.

Nigel Hayes needs to have a productive stretch of games in Maui for Wisconsin to win it. (Getty).

Nigel Hayes needs to have a productive stretch of games in Maui for Wisconsin to win the event. (Getty).

Maui Jim Maui Invitational

  • Teams: Wisconsin, Tennessee, Georgetown, Oregon, Oklahoma State, UConn, North Carolina, Chaminade
  • Capsule: Wisconsin is 2-1 and looking to gain some momentum after losing a road game to Creighton and not playing well in a win over Chicago State. The Badgers’ offense is attempting a robust 29 three-pointers per game, so establishing Ethan Happ in the paint should help. Top 10 teams like Oregon and North Carolina potentially await later in the week if Wisconsin can get past Tennessee.
  • Key Player: Nigel Hayes hasn’t shot the ball well this season (38.7% FG), only scoring three points in 16 minutes of action against Chicago State. The preseason Big Ten Player of the Year needs to start producing for Wisconsin to earn some big wins on the islands.
  • Prediction: Wisconsin will go 2-1 in Maui. They will win their first game against Tennessee; lose to an Oregon squad that expects to have Dillon Brooks back; and then beat either UConn or Oklahoma State on Wednesday.

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Thad Matta Trading Offense For Defense Determines Ohio State’s Fate

Posted by Jim Root on November 18th, 2016

The annual late-October release of KenPom’s preseason rankings is a sneaky-big holiday for college basketball fans. Though Ken Pomeroy himself admits that his system takes up to a month to work out the kinks and accumulate enough data to be reliable, it is still fun to see where teams fall given the effectiveness of his past rankings. One Big Ten team that turned heads this preseason was Ohio State, which came in at #13 despite not making the NCAA Tournament last year. A primary reason for that ranking was Pomeroy projecting the Buckeyes’ defense as the eighth-best in college basketball. The Buckeyes finished last season at 43rd in that metric, but KenPom heavily weighs coaching history and continuity of minutes. To those points: Thad Matta’s average defensive ranking at Ohio State in the last 12 years is #21, and the Buckeyes returned their top six players in minutes from last season. Still, jumping from a solid-not-spectacular 43rd to among-the-elite eighth would be a major leap. Is this group of Buckeyes capable of that level of defensive improvement?

matta-and-lyle

Matta needs Lyle to step up in order for the Buckeyes’ defense to truly thrive (Mike Carter, USA Today Sports).

Matta’s best defenses have come in various forms over the years. The 2011-12 squad, led by Jared Sullinger, dominated the defensive glass, while the 2013-14 team utilized the inimitable peskiness of Aaron Craft and the quick hands of Shannon Scott to force turnovers and harass perimeter shooters. This exhibits that Matta will mold his defense to the talent of his roster, and the strength of this year’s squad is definitely in its length and athleticism up and down the lineup. In the backcourt, JaQuan Lyle is a 6’5” point guard capable of guarding multiple positions, while Jae’Sean Tate, Keita Bates-Diop and Marc Loving are interchangeable parts on the wings and at the four. Up front, Trevor Thompson is one of the Big Ten’s best shot-blockers (7.3% block rate last season), or Matta can play freshman Micah Potter, who is more of a positionally-sound defender that can switch screens with the wings without much issue. On paper, using that length and versatility to switch almost every screen and bother drivers and shooters, the Buckeyes’ defense absolutely has top-10 potential.

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Big Ten Feast Week Primer: Part One

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 18th, 2016

Ten of the 14 Big Ten teams will play in early-season tournaments over the next 10 days. Most of the action will occur in the heart of Feast Week between November 21-28, but a pair of teams will get things started this weekend. Michigan is already in New York City for the 2K Classic while Penn State will travel to Connecticut on Saturday to play in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off. Here’s a quick guide to this weekend’s festivities.

Zak Irvin will try to lead Michigan to a 4-0 start in the 2K Classic this weekend. (Getty).

Zak Irvin will try to lead Michigan to a 4-0 start in the 2K Classic this weekend. (Getty).

2K Classic Benefiting Wounded Warrior Project

  • Teams: Michigan, Marquette, SMU, Pittsburgh
  • Capsule: Michigan beat Marquette convincingly last night and has started the year 3-0. The Wolverines are getting excellent balance in scoring across its starting lineup, with four players averaging double figures but only one instance of an individual breaking 20 points (Derrick Walton hit for exactly 20 against Howard). Michigan advances to play SMU, also 3-0 after a surprising win over Pittsburgh, in the 2K Classic championship game tonight.
  • Key Player: Duncan Robinson: Robinson needed to find his shooting stroke and a 3-of-4 performance from three-point range last night could set him on his way. As a whole Michigan hasn’t shot the ball all that well yet from the perimeter (36.8 percent from three), but expect this team of excellent shooters to eventually push that number toward 40 percent.
  • Prediction: The Wolverines will win this event. SMU notched a nice win over Pitt, but Michigan utterly dismantled a Marquette team that looked great last week against Vanderbilt.

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It’s Time to See What Ohio State’s JaQuan Lyle Is All About

Posted by Jerry Scherwin Jr. on November 17th, 2016

When JaQuan Lyle signed on the dotted line for Ohio State that cold January day back in 2015, I thought the Buckeyes were on the verge of doing something really special — yet again. Lyle was the last shoe to drop in a top-10 class (according to ESPN) that included four other four-star recruits, but there was never a question as to who was most important. The point guard just had that look to him. He was one of the most versatile point guards in the country with great size, plus-side athleticism, hidden strength and an innate ability to make things happen with the ball in his hands. If Frank Sinatra has the world on a string, Lyle has every Spalding. Admittedly, I fell in love with Lyle’s recruiting profiles and mix tapes. Despite the rocky road to get to Columbus, the kid looked like the next evolution of the Buckeyes’ point guard.

JaQuan Lyle (USA Today Images)

It’s Becoming JaQuan Lyle’s Time to Put Up or Shut Up (USA Today Images)

His freshman season was inconsistent. There were moments that reminded me of why I was the self-proclaimed captain of the Lyle hype machine. And then there were moments when Lyle looked lost, unhappy and uninterested. In a sport where prospects become stars by staying connected to that fine line that is consistency, Lyle’s play more closely resembled a kindergartner’s idea of mountains and hills. He was both infuriating and electric. And you could tell that it was getting to Thad Matta and the coaching staff (remember the Michigan State game in the Big Ten Tournament?). Despite the red flags that became rather prevalent, most of the media that surrounded the Ohio State basketball program kept their Lyle blinders on. I did too. That’s not to say that we all weren’t going into this season being cautious, but the agreed-upon ceiling for Lyle was just too high to fail.

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Purdue Enhances Its Reputation Despite a Loss

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 15th, 2016

Aside from not coming away with a hard-fought victory, Purdue‘s Monday night loss at home against the reigning National Champion Villanova went about as well as possible. The Boilermakers proved that they can play at a roughly equivalent level to a top five team in coming back from double-figure deficits twice to tie the game before falling late. Matt Painter would undoubtedly argue that a loss is still a loss, but there are some things that Purdue should take away from this game that represent encouraging signs for the rest of the season.

Purdue Gave Villanova Nearly All It Could Handle (USA Today Images)

Purdue Gave Villanova Nearly All It Could Handle (USA Today Images)

  • Physical Mismatches: Villanova is not a big team at all but few teams in college basketball will be able to match Purdue’s size down low. Seeing how the Boilermakers’ front line played against the gritty Wildcats, though, proves that Purdue should be able to run its offense through the paint. When Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan are both on the floor together, they can run some beautiful high-low action to take advantage of Swanigan’s exceptional abilities as a passer. Both players can also get to the free throw line at will, so expect many more nights where the pair combines to shoot 70 percent (14-of-20) on two-point field goals as they did on Monday night.

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Big Ten’s Opening Night Debut a Win For All

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 15th, 2016

It’s been a few days since the sensational opening-night doubleheader that featured both Michigan State and Indiana, but the attention the Armed Forces Classic in Honolulu brought to the Big Ten deserves further discussion. Unlike most other sports, college basketball rarely opens its season with a number of truly marquee match-ups. Coaches instead typically opt for easy wins against low-majors out of fear of being exposed. This strategy may make sense for individual programs, but it hardly does the sport any favors. This year, however, we were treated to two compelling bouts featuring a quartet of top 15 teams. Each game was action-packed and came down to the wire, as the Spartans lost to Arizona on a last-second layup and the Hoosiers eked out a 103-99 overtime win over Kansas. Kudos should be given to Tom Izzo and Tom Crean for ignoring the “risk” of being exposed early. These coaches instead saw the event as an opportunity to showcase their programs to a captive Friday night national audience, in addition to supporting the brave men and women of the armed forces on Veterans Day.

Miles Bridges' team may have lost the game, but he was the star of opening night (Fansided photo).

Miles Bridges (#22) may not have been on a winning team, but he was the star of opening night (Fansided photo).

In the first game, Michigan State charged to a big early lead before eventually giving up a coast-to-coast layup to lose at the buzzer. While the Spartans missed an opportunity for a nice early resume win, they did get to showcase their celebrated freshmen class. Miles Bridges was especially spectacular, contributing 21 points, seven rebounds and an early candidate for the dunk of the year. In the second game, Indiana outlasted Kansas in a back-and-forth contest that went to overtime. The impressive win against the perennial Big 12 favorite was propelled by a 26-point performance from James Blackmon, Jr., who looked completely healthy after last year’s season-ending surgery.

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Michigan Starts Finding Answers on Opening Weekend

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 14th, 2016

When Michigan was again forced to adjust to life without star shooting guard Caris LeVert — whose college career ended after suffering a season-ending leg injury last December — it posed two silver linings. On the one hand, it was a blessing in disguise. The Wolverines still snuck into the NCAA Tournament, and the increased workload for guards Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin gave the experienced duo more to build on entering 2016-17. LeVert’s exit, however, also marked the first in a series of unforeseen departures which have created more questions than answers entering this season, even with the team’s starting five fully intact. If its opening weekend victory over IUPUI is any indication, Michigan’s questions will take some time to fully answer—but the blueprint for progress is there.

Derrick Walton and the Wolverines looked sharp over the final 30 minutes vs. IUPUI. (Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

Derrick Walton and the Wolverines looked sharp over the final 30 minutes vs. IUPUI. (Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports)

Emerging Frontcourt Depth

The Wolverines’ chief concern is depth, and not just because LeVert is gone. 2013 Final Four hero Spike Albrecht briefly retired last December because of a hip injury before eventually heading to Purdue. In April, guard Aubrey Dawkins (6.5 PPG) transferred to Central Florida to play for his father. A month later, frontcourt role players Ricky Doyle and Kameron Chatman—whose clutch triple against Indiana last March helped Michigan reach the Dance—also departed. The spate of transfers has left John Beilein with a short and inexperienced bench; on Sunday, only seven players saw meaningful minutes. The good news? One of those players, forward D.J. Wilson, looked like a breakout star. After barely seeing the floor last season, the springy sophomore scored seven points and ripped down 14 rebounds in a career-high 30 minutes against the Jaguars, providing a much needed spark off the bench. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten Preseason Superlatives: POY, COY, FrOY

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 11th, 2016

The season-opening tip-offs are set for tonight and the RTC Big Ten microsite has arrived at our predictions for the coming year. We’ve huddled our clairvoyant minds together and selected our conference preseason Player of the Year, Newcomer of the Year, and Coach of the Year. Some of these predictions are likely to miss, but the three individual profiled below are definitely worth keeping a close eye on during the regular season.

Thomas Bryant is the RTC Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year (USA Today Images).

Thomas Bryant is the RTC Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year (USA Today Images).

Player of the Year: Thomas Bryant, Indiana. This was by no means a unanimous choice among our group. While we believe our other two Badger candidates — Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ — will each also have a terrific season, we settled on Bryant for a couple of reasons. First, he is one of the nation’s most talented big men in an offense full of second options — expect him to significantly improve on his 11.9 PPG and 5.8 RPG freshman tallies with an added a year of experience. Second, he is the anchor of a reigning Big Ten champion that is expected to contend for a second consecutive title and a deep NCAA Tournament run. Given the talent and opportunity here, we believe that Bryant is ready for a monster year.

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