NIT Preview: Three Keys for Minnesota Against Florida State

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 1st, 2014

Minnesota has made the most out of its experience in the NIT, as the Gophers have made it to New York City to take on Florida State in the semifinals of the event this evening. This is a rematch of an earlier meeting in December’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge, when Richard Pitino’s team defeated the Seminoles 71-61 at Williams Arena. Despite a lack of prestige and eyeballs on this game, Minnesota is the only Big Ten team still playing basketball other than Wisconsin. In order to advance to Thursday night’s championship game, here are three things for Minnesota to concentrate on to beat FSU again.

With Elliott Eliason probably not playing due to an injury, Minnesota needs a big night Tuesday from Maurice Walker. (Pioneer Press, Ben Garvin)

With Elliott Eliason probably not playing due to an injury, Minnesota needs a big night Tuesday from Maurice Walker. (Pioneer Press, Ben Garvin)

  1. Create turnovers: Florida State turns the ball over slightly less often than Indiana, and anyone who watched any Big Ten basketball this season knows what that means. The Seminoles turn the ball over on over 21 percent of their possessions, and out of the 92 ACC players who played over 40 percent of their team’s available minutes, Devin Bookert and Ian Miller rank fourth and fifth from the bottom. Miller also uses 25.6 percent of the team’s possessions, so taking advantage of his propensity to give the ball away is a must. Minnesota needs to remain aggressive on the perimeter, forcing turnovers instead of letting the  guards — both of whom shoot over 40 percent from deep — get hot from the outside. Read the rest of this entry »
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Versatile Guard Play Gives Michigan a Shot to Beat Kentucky

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 30th, 2014

Even though Jordan Morgan held his own against Jarnell Stokes during the Sweet 16 game, facing Kentucky’s Julius Randle in the Elite Eight is a whole another ballgame. As we try to evaluate the Michigan – Kentucky match-up, there are certain weaknesses on both sides that stick out immediately. If Randle was able to put up 15 points and 12 rebounds against Louisville’s lengthy frontline, he should have no problems going off for 25 points and 15 rebounds against Michigan’s depleted frontcourt. So, Kentucky dominates the paint, controls the glass and beats Michigan comfortably, right? Not so fast. Vegas has Michigan as a two-point underdog, but it has certain personnel that will force Kentucky to play out of their realm.

Caris LeVert, Glenn Robinson and Nik Stauskas will force the Kentucky defense to step up on Sunday.

LeVert, Robinson, and Stauskas will force Kentucky’s defense to step up.

Yes, we know that the Wildcats have played at a higher level in the postseason, but let’s not forget that they almost lost to the Shockers – a team with multiple guards that can handle the ball and shoot from beyond the arc. And what is Michigan’s strength? Not a complete coincidence, but similar to the Shockers, they have multiple guys who can handle the ball with ease and can drill the long-range shot if given a chance. Imagine Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert moving the ball horizontally in the half-court and forcing the Harrison twins to not only keep up with them, but also keep eye out for Derrick Walton and Glenn Robinson III on the perimeter.While Randle could dominate on the offensive end, his defensive skills will be tested against four guards who can dribble their way into the paint easily. Will he be able to stay out of foul trouble as Stauskas and LeVert drive the lane off the screens? Even if he gets into foul trouble in the first half and has to ride the pine for 5-6 minutes, it will give the Michigan guards an opportunity to stay ahead. Remember, against the Shockers, the Kentucky backcourt had no answer for Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker off the screens. That could happen again on this afternoon.

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Three Reasons Why Wisconsin Will Beat Arizona

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 29th, 2014

Nine years ago, as a clear underdog, Bo Ryan’s Badgers, led by Mike Wilkinson, almost took down Sean May’s North Carolina Tar Heels in the Elite Eight. Few expected the Badgers to hang in there against an athletic UNC team, but the Badgers proved to be a matchup nightmare for most of the game. At the end, pure talent won out against a disciplined team. As Ryan heads into the second Elite Eight game during his tenure, he faces a similar challenge – Arizona is arguably the most athletic team in the country, led by freshman Aarno Gordon. Overlooking the Badgers in this matchup is not a good idea especially after their offensive performances against Baylor and Oregon. Currently, the oddsmakers have the Wildcats as a three-point favorite, but let’s dig deeper to understand why the Badgers can win the game on Saturday:

Will Bo Ryan finally take the Wisconsin program to the Final Four?

Will Bo Ryan finally take the Wisconsin program to the Final Four?

  1. Frank Kaminsky’s spin moves in the paint will get Kaleb Tarzcewski into foul trouble. Lack of height or length is not an issue for the Wildcats, but their lateral movement on defense will be challenged by Kaminsky. While it is clear that Kaminsky can shoot the three effectively, his ability to drive into the paint off the pump-fake has been overlooked over the past few weeks. Against Baylor, he repeatedly faked the ball at the top of the key and was able to drive very easily against Isaiah Austin and if he continues to do that against Arizona, Brandon Ashley’s presence will be sorely missed because Sean Miller will have to dig deeper into the bench. Arizona is extremely stingy on defense, giving up just 0.9 points per possession in the PAC-12, but it hasn’t defended a talent like Kaminsky. As we look back to the Badgers’ game Elite Eight game in 2005, Wilkinson’s ability to hit the deep shot against UNC was extremely important. Along those lines, Kaminsky can definitely put up 20 points against the depleted Arizona frontline. Miller will have to consider assigning Aaron Gordon to guard the Wisconsin big man, but that’ll create a hole on the other side of the wing because Sam Dekker will have an easier matchup. Read the rest of this entry »
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Previewing Michigan State vs. Virginia in the Sweet Sixteen

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on March 28th, 2014

It’s been an enigmatic season for Michigan State due to a host of injuries and resulting inconsistent play. For seniors Keith Appling and Adreian Payne, it’s been four years without a Final Four, a relative disappointment. Stress the word “relative” here, because compiling a record of 103-40 over four years would be roundly successful in 99 percent of other programs. But in East Lansing, a team that starts the season ranked #2 and ends up as a #4 seed in the NCAA Tournament is viewed as disappointing. As for those seniors — despite two Elite Eight and one Sweet Sixteen appearance — failure to make the Final Four this year would earn this group the distinction of being the only class in the Tom Izzo era without a trip to the NCAA Tournament’s final weekend. Tonight Sparty looks to remove that monkey off its back as it meets Virginia in the Sweet Sixteen.

Adreian Payne has made his presence known in the NCAA Tournament thus far. Virginia stands in his way as he vies for a trip to the Final Four. (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

Virginia stands in Adreian Payne’s way as he vies for a trip to the Final Four. (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

The Cavaliers are not regulars in the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend; it’s the school’s first appearance in the Sweet Sixteen since 1995. This run marks the culmination of all that was expected of head coach Tony Bennett when he was hired from Washington State five years ago. While he had only made one NCAA Tournament appearance in the previous four seasons, a trip back to the Big Dance and a top four finish in the ACC was expected from this squad due to its top five scorers returning. Bennett’s team far surpassed expectations by sweeping the ACC regular season and tournament, which garnered the Cavaliers a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. What may be most shocking is that Bennett accomplished all of this with a system traditionally more tailored for the Big Ten than the up-and-down ACC (although in some ways that is changing there too). Their slow-paced – averaging 61 possessions per game, near the very bottom nationally – and defensive-focused system has stifled some high-powered offenses in that league.

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Which Big Ten Program Needs The Final Four More This Season?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on March 27th, 2014

We know about the statistic that no Michigan State senior has left East Lansing without making it to the Final Four under Tom Izzo, which makes this weekend extremely crucial for Keith Appling and Adreian Payne. We also know that Bo Ryan hasn’t made an Elite Eight since 2005 and hasn’t had great success in the postseason, so this high-powered Wisconsin offense has a decent chance to make it to the Final Four. Nobody expected Michigan to be here after Mitch McGary’s injury, but we have learned not to doubt the Wolverines’ explosive offense because they could beat anybody on a given night. As we head into the next round of games, let’s try to understand which coach and program really needs the Final Four. Note that this is not a discussion about which coach would be on the “hot seat” if they don’t make the Final Four because Tom Izzo, Bo Ryan and John Beilein’s seat is as cold as it can get based on the credibility they have earned with their respective programs.

Tom Izzo's roster doesn't look great next year and the opportunity to make the Final Four may not come around for a couple more years.

Tom Izzo’s roster doesn’t look great next year and the opportunity to make the Final Four may not come around for a couple more years. (AP)

  • Michigan State: On the outset, an appearance in the Sweet 16 seems to be perfectly enough for Izzo because his program continues to uphold its reputation of being excellent in the postseason. But digging deeper and understanding his roster’s composition over the next two seasons emphasizes the importance of this weekend. Under the assumption that Gary Harris is headed to the NBA draft and considering that two key seniors graduate next year, the Spartans don’t really have a go-to scorer left on the roster. Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice are capable of possibly averaging 12 points per game next season but neither of them have proved that they can take over a game when needed. The freshman class isn’t great either because it doesn’t even rank in the top 30 according to Rivals. Izzo will still find a way to compete for the Big Ten title but he may not have enough horsepower to compete for a Final Four — at least not for another two seasons. This weekend is their chance to make an impact and get ahead before they take a step back at least for another year as they rebuild. Read the rest of this entry »
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How The Remaining Big Ten Teams Can Make the Elite Eight

Posted by Brendan Brody (@berndon4) on March 27th, 2014

Three Big Ten teams have been eliminated and three are still standing after one of the most memorable second and third rounds in NCAA Tournament history. It’s obvious that the three teams that are still around took my expert advice, so here’s some more for Bo Ryan, Tom Izzo and John Beilein completely free of charge. Michigan, Wisconsin, and Michigan State can all very well reach the Elite Eight but they are facing really good teams that are playing some of their basketball of the season. Here’s how they can get the best of each of those teams and continue to move forward in the bracket.

Jordan Morgan will have his hands full trying to keep Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon off the boards in Michigan's Sweet 16 contest against Tennessee. (Getty)

Jordan Morgan (right) will have his hands full trying to keep Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon off the boards in Michigan’s Sweet 16 contest against Tennessee. (Getty)

  • Michigan needs to spread the floor and crash the boards to beat Tennessee: Michigan does a good job with this but they need to make either Jeronne Maymon or Jarnell Stokes guard someone on the perimeter. Tennessee has a clear-cut size advantage, but Michigan presents  its own set of unique match-up problems with their skill on the wings. Glenn Robinson III has to have a big game for the Wolverines to advance, as he will have to mix it up down low at times. But he also can utilize his quickness and mid-range game to take one of Tennessee’s big men off the bounce and pull one of the two out of the paint. Robinson and Caris LeVert have to make rebounding a priority against the fourth-best offensive rebouding and 18th-best defensive rebounding team in the country. If they can combine for 12-15 rebounds between the two of them, and Jordan Morgan continues his outstanding play down low, Michigan has a great chance to beat a team quite similar to the Texas team it just defeated. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 03.27.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on March 27th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Wisconsin is certainly used to the Sweet Sixteen and plenty of success under Bo Ryan. Part of the reason for that is how Ryan instills the “method of deception” into his players from the moment they arrive on campus. For a team that is often talked about as athletically outmatched, the idea of Ryan preaching the use of ball fakes and shot fakes during every practice makes sense. This could be important in creating opportunities against Baylor’s zone tonight. The Badgers may also use these fakes to get Isaiah Austin into the air and create foul trouble for the athletic big man. If Wisconsin can remove Austin from the center of that zone, their chances of finding open shots everywhere on the floor improves substantially.
  2. Nik Stauskas certainly was one of the biggest surprises this season in the Big Ten. After he was named first team All-America by the National Association of Basketball Coaches this week, you can add that he is one of the nation’s biggest surprises as well. Stauskas was certainly a good player as a freshman last season but expecting him to be one of the five best players in America this year was on nobody’s radar. With this award, he has put himself in elite company at Michigan, becoming just the 13th Wolverine to be named to at least one All-America team in program history. Now the question is whether he, like last year’s Michigan All-American Trey Burke, can lead his team to a Final Four?
  3. Michigan State has played plenty of big games in almost all the major venues across the country. Tom Izzo has taken the Spartans around the world and even played a game on an aircraft carrier. For all of this talent and history of success, the one place that Izzo’s Spartans have struggled is exactly where they are headed this weekend: Madison Square Garden. When Michigan State takes on Virginia in New York City Friday night, it does so with a 2-10 all-time record there (2-6 under Izzo). Sparty hasn’t won at MSG since 2006 and already lost there once this year to Georgetown. While it is obviously foolish to think the arena itself is causing losses, it is an interesting trend to think about. Izzo says he isn’t superstitious but if the losses keep piling up at MSG maybe he will avoid the arena the best he can in the future.
  4. With three Big Ten teams left in the NCAA Tournament it is easy to forget that Minnesota is still playing basketball as well. The Golden Gophers are headed to New York next Tuesday night where they will take on Florida State in the NIT semifinals, thanks in large part to a massive game from Austin Hollins. For a team playing in the NIT rather than the NCAAs, they are still plenty focused on the games ahead and getting to 25 wins this season. While there is no guaranteed correlation between NIT success and the next season, Richard Pitino’s Gophers are playing well and could easily take home some postseason hardware by the end of the season.
  5. It is easy to forget that Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan has never reached the final weekend in college basketball despite everything he has accomplished while at Wisconsin. Having never reached the Final Four gives him the dubious honor of being named the Athlon Sports Top Coach Without a Final Four Appearance. He wasn’t the lone representative from the conference, either. Iowa’s Fran McCaffery came in 11th, Purdue’s Matt Painter at 14th and even Nebraska’s Tim Miles cracked the top 20 at #17. This is certainly not a list any coach wants to reside on and Ryan has a great opportunity to leave it in his wake this weekend.
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Big Ten Teams in the Sweet Sixteen: Three Key Match-ups

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 26th, 2014

Considering Wisconsin and Michigan State both had tough match-ups in the round of 32, the Big Ten advancing three teams into the Sweet Sixteen is an accomplishment. In case you are keeping tabs, the Big Ten has done relatively well with its draw — #11 seeds Iowa and Nebraska weren’t expected to do much, and really only #6 Ohio State’s loss to Dayton was disappointing. Keeping in mind that only one ACC team is still alive (Virginia) and the Pac-12 and SEC also sent three teams to the second weekend, the Big Ten is in solid position right now. Now, each of the three teams remaining — Michigan, Michigan State, and Wisconsin — have very tough opponents in the next round, so the wheels could come off and the league could end it season with a mediocre 6-6 record; or, each of the three has a reasonable shot to make a run at the Final Four this weekend.

Let’s take a look at these three match-ups that are key to each team winning its next game.

Adreian Payne will be key inside for the Spartans as they meet the Virginia Cavaliers in the next round. (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

Adreian Payne will be key inside for the Spartans as they meet Virginia in the next round. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

  1. Adreian Payne vs. Virginia’s big guys: The blueprint for the Cavaliers is fairly clear: Everything starts with their excellent defense, as indicated by opponents averaging just 43.1% eFG against them during ACC play. They will try to smother Gary Harris and Keith Appling from the outside, forcing the Spartans to earn a win from inside the arc. That’s where Adreian Payne needs to help out Tom Izzo. He needs to abstain from using his jumper in favor of leveraging his post moves in the paint. Shooting jumpers off the pick-and-roll will be tough because Virginia’s wings — Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris — will be quick enough to cover those, so Payne needs to play well with his back to the basket. Payne has shown signs of brilliance with his moves in the paint at times, but he’ll have to provide some breathing room for his guards by picking up the offense early; otherwise, the game could be a defensive grind that favors the Cavaliers. Read the rest of this entry »
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Indiana’s Roster Changes Leads to Lack of Continuity and Chemistry

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 26th, 2014

Indiana’s offense will look very different next season because of a few key departures that were announced in the last couple of days. It isn’t surprising to see Noah Vonleh declare for the NBA Draft because he is an excellent prospect with great size (6’10″) who has a chance to become a good rebounder in the Association. But the news about Jeremy Hollowell and Austin Etherington transferring is a bit surprising and it will create a hole in the Hoosiers’ lineup next year. Even though neither player was a major contributor this season, their departures will hurt the continuity of an offense that averaged just 1.0 point per possession during conference play.

Noah Vonleh will be missed in Bloomington.

Noah Vonleh will be missed in Bloomington. (AP)

Talent was not an issue for Tom Crean this year, but Indiana’s starting five never meshed all that well together. The half-court offense mostly involved the guards trying to break down their defenders one-on-one, and when it didn’t work, passing it to another guard to score in isolation. This chaotic approach to offense led to numerous turnovers as Indiana ranked last in the Big Ten with a 21.9 percent turnover rate this season. Vonleh and Hollowell will probably be replaced with talented freshmen, but it also means that Crean will have to start over with the offense again next year.

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Big Ten “Other” Postseason Recap: Minnesota Pushes for a Trip to NYC

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 25th, 2014

The Big Ten has three teams still playing in the Sweet Sixteen, and after Penn State’s loss to Siena on Monday night, it now has one team still alive to win one of the other three postseason tournaments. Here’s a brief rundown on what’s been going on with Illinois, Minnesota, and Penn State as they finished out their seasons in the NIT and the CBI over the course of the last week.

Despite not getting much production from leading scorer Andre Hollins, Minnesota has made it to the Final 8 of the NIT. (AP)

Despite not getting much production from leading scorer Andre Hollins, Minnesota has made it to the Final 8 of the NIT. (AP)

Illinois: The Illini got a raw deal in the fact that they had to play both of their NIT games on the road despite being a #2 seed. They started things out last week with an ugly win at Boston University, getting down 30-13 early but managing to go on a 53-32 run over the last 24 minutes to finish off a four-point win. Illinois shot 8-of-17 from three and were +12 on the boards in the victory. This did not carry over to Illinois’ second contest on Sunday against Clemson. In a defensive struggle, the Illini were outrebounded by seven and shot only 14 percent from behind the arc (3-of-21). Clemson is a strong defensive team, but this game summed up the Illinois season. They struggled to make any shots, didn’t have a good option on the low block, and despite forcing 15 turnovers, couldn’t close things out in the end in losing by one point, 50-49.

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What Does the Loss of LaQuinton Ross Mean for Ohio State Next Season?

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 25th, 2014

On Monday afternoon, Ohio State’s LaQuinton Ross decided to forgo his final year of eligibility in Columbus to head for the NBA. Ross had a tremendous Big Ten Tournament and some other outstanding performances in his career, starting with the team’s 2012-13 run to the Elite Eight. But this season was marred by inconsistency in that he was expected to give the Buckeyes a reliable scorer from the wing to take the place of Deshaun Thomas. While Ross had his moments this year, he never did really replace the production of Thomas and the Buckeyes underachieved as a whole. He also didn’t fit well into the defensive-minded approach spearheaded by Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott on the perimeter. Right now Ross is projected as the 56th pick in this year’s draft by NBADraft.net, while DraftExpress lists him at 48th overall. So now the key question for the Buckeyes heading into 2014-15 is how does Ohio State replace him?

LaQuinton Ross is taking his 15.2 PPG and 5.9 RPG to the NBA, leaving Ohio State with some question marks heading into the offseason (AP)

LaQuinton Ross is taking his 15.2 PPG and 5.9 RPG to the NBA, leaving Ohio State with some question marks heading into the offseason (AP)

Ohio State isn’t in full rebuilding mode by any stretch, but they do have some significant players to replace in addition to Ross. They are also losing Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr., and Amadeo Della Valle has decided to return to Europe to play professionally there. This leaves Thad Matta with five players from a rotation of nine slated to return. will take over at the point guard slot for Craft, while Sam Thompson is expected to be the starting small forward. Amir Williams and Trey McDonald will continue to provide a post presence. The most logical replacement for Ross’ position would have to be rising sophomore Marc Loving. Loving showed flashes of potential throughout the season, with 13 points in 17 minutes against Nebraska and 10 in a season-high 23 minutes at Michigan State. Matta lost confidence in him down the stretch, however, as he didn’t crack double-figure minutes in any of the team’s last eight games. It remains to be seen if Loving can match Ross’ ability to rebound but he has shown a decent touch from outside. He’s listed at 6’7″ and 215 pounds, so he’s already built similarly to Ross.

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Michigan State Appears Back on Track: Delaware Its Latest Test

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on March 20th, 2014

If you had said you were tired of hearing one phrase in the Big Ten this season, it likely would have revolved around Michigan State. It was repeated nearly every game: “When Michigan State is healthy, the Spartans are one of the best teams in the country.” Well, after an injury-plagued regular season, we finally got the chance to see what the Spartans can do at full strength in last weekend’s Big Ten Tournament. Two wins later over teams that came into Indianapolis in the conversations as potential No. 1 seeds, America was fully back on board with the Spartans. As of this writing, Michigan State is considered the favorite to make it to the Final Four out of the East region and one of a handful of teams considered likeliest to win it all. Even President Obama is picking the Spartans. The question, of course, is whether the Big Ten Tournament revealed the true answer to that original statement, and whether Sparty’s opening round game against Delaware today is just the first step on its way to Arlington.

The Spartans may finally be healthy but Michigan State needs Keith Appling to play back to his pre-injury level for a deep March run. (Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)

The Spartans may finally be healthy but Michigan State needs Keith Appling to play back to his pre-injury level for a deep March run. (Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)

Perhaps the best sign that Michigan State is back to an elite level is that it seemed to get better as the Big Ten Tournament went along. Over the Spartans’ three games, it appeared that they were slowly but surely getting back on track. In its first game against Northwestern, it methodically took care of business against an outmatched Wildcats team. In the semifinal against Wisconsin, Michigan State showed its offensive flair by shooting 53.8 percent from three and 56.9 percent overall. Most notably was its performance in the championship game against Michigan, as Sparty held the one of the nation’s best offenses to 31 percent shooting and 26 percent from three-point range. This is a sea change for a team that had been struggling defensively prior to the return of Dawson.

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