Can Indiana’s OG Anunoby Meet the Considerable Hype?

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 10th, 2016

If you’re searching the Indiana roster for the name of the best player, you can stop when you see Thomas Bryant’s. The 6’10” sophomore is one of the most, talented forwards in the country and could easily have been playing in a regular season NBA game right now instead of still residing in Bloomington. But if you’re looking for the most exciting Hoosier on this season’s roster, you’ll need to redirect your eyes to another sophomore, OG Anunoby. The 19-year old London-born but Missouri-raised athlete was thrown into the limelight last December after James Blackmon Jr.’s season-ending injury. From that point on, his role changed from that of an unheralded freshman to providing stellar perimeter defense for 17 minutes off the bench with some highlight dunks sprinkled in. Given his youth, athleticism and length, Anunoby is a fan favorite among the Hoosiers faithful – not to mention a number professional scouts – and is one of the reasons Indiana is expected to compete for a Big Ten title despite significant departures from a Sweet Sixteen team.

OG Anunoby has all the hype coming into this season that he was missing as a HS recruit. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images).

OG Anunoby has all the hype coming into this season that he was missing as a HS recruit. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

How unheralded was Anunoby going into his freshman season? According to RSCIhoops.com, there were 260 better players in the Class of 2015 than him — not exactly the pedigree of a typical freshman standout. But once Blackmon fell to injury, Tom Crean was forced to improvise and use a combination of Anunoby and Juwan Morgan to replace the veteran shooting guard. While neither freshman could adequately replace Blackmon’s prolific scoring, Indiana’s defense improved with the pair in the rotation. Anunoby particularly distinguished himself as a defensive specialist (97.6 defensive rating) with a keen ability to defend multiple positions. His contributions helped save the Hoosiers’ season after a devastating injury to one of its starters, ultimately resulting in sole ownership of the Big Ten regular season and a nice NCAA Tournament run that ended at the hands of #1 seed North Carolina. Read the rest of this entry »

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How Will Michigan State Adapt to Its Injuries?

Posted by Jim Root on November 9th, 2016

The losses Michigan State sustained after last year’s disappointing First Round NCAA Tournament exit would cripple most programs: a national Player of the Year (Denzel Valentine), the Big Ten’s best three-point shooter (Bryn Forbes), a stout senior interior presence (Matt Costello), and a one-and-done freshman (Deyonta Davis). Fortunately, Tom Izzo was able to reload with perhaps his best recruiting class ever, and along with some veteran returnees, it looks as if the Spartans once again have a team capable of winning the Big Ten and making a run in March.

Michigan State's excellent freshman will need to be good right away for Tom Izzo's short-handed squad. (Source: Detroit Free Press)

Michigan State’s excellent freshman class will need to be good right away for Tom Izzo’s short-handed squad. (Source: Detroit Free Press)

Not so fast. Injuries have already struck hard to the Spartans’ frontcourt, sidelining UNLV graduate transfer Ben Carter and senior Gavin Schilling with knee ailments before exhibition games even tipped off. Both figured to see extensive minutes at the four and five slots, and the loss of both leaves Izzo in a precarious position with his frontcourt rotation. Right now it basically consists of two true freshmen (albeit highly-regarded ones): 6’7” Miles Bridges, 6’8” Nick Ward, and 6’6” redshirt sophomore (and former walk-on) Kenny Goins.

The best version of this team’s lineup probably involves Bridges at the four and Ward at the five, although Izzo will likely go with Goins as the nominal center to start (for example, he started against Northwoods). Bridges will be a matchup nightmare up front, too quick for big men and too strong for wings. He has a smooth lefty stroke from the perimeter (going 5-of-5 from deep in the first exhibition game), and he can also grab a defensive rebound and push the ball up the floor by himself. Most of all, he’s an insane athlete – the height he gets when leaping and the sheer power with which he dunks are awe-inspiring. Ward, on the other hand, is a more traditional post player. He’s got great touch around the basket with his left hand and has proven capable of playing above the rim. Given his girth (listed at 250 pounds), he has the best chance of slowing opposing big men, but Izzo will still be forced to double-team against the likes of burly Big Ten bodies such as Ethan Happ, Isaac Haas and Thomas Bryant.

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Will Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Lead Michigan Back?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 8th, 2016

With the final member of the Fresh Five, Caris Levert, now gone from Ann Arbor, the burden shifts to seniors Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton to lead the Wolverines back to the top of the Big Ten. Since the 2012-13 season, there has been at least one Fresh Five player ready to position Michigan as a Big Ten contender. Mitch McGary and Spike Albrecht sparked a run to the National Title game in 2013 before handing the baton to Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III, who then left the program for Levert the last two seasons. Irvin and Walton were supposed to be next in line to support his charge but their performances, regardless of Levert’s injuries, haven’t lived up to expectations. A mediocre 16-16 season was followed by a decent 23-13 campaign last year, but the Wolverines haven’t been in serious contention among the Big Ten elite since 2014. As Irvin and Walton enter their senior campaigns, the overriding question is whether the duo can lead Michigan back to prominence.

Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton will have one last shot to bring Michigan back into the Big Ten Elite.

Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton will have one last shot to push Michigan back into the Big Ten elite. (AP)

While Irvin’s strength is in his long-range jumper, he shot a terrible 29 percent from beyond the arc last year. Despite his quick release off the dribble, Big Ten opponents have figured out that he regularly looks to go right for a pull-up at the top of the key. His other primary scoring option is to run pick-and-roll action with Walton for a corner three off the pick-and-roll. Two years ago, Levert’s dribble-drive penetration freed Irvin in the corners but Walton hasn’t been as successful in creating those same opportunities. As a result, Irvin experienced a big dip in offensive production — from 14.8 PPG during his sophomore season to 11.3 PPG last year. Unless Irvin has spent the summer really improving his game off the dribble, he could continue to struggle in finding his spots on that end of the floor. Unlike Burke, who had the gifted offensive services of Mitch McGary and Robinson available, Walton has not had an effective pick-and-roll partner over the last two seasons. Sure, Mark Donnal can set good picks but he doesn’t have the offensive skill set to make a play when the ball comes his way. Duncan Robinson simply hasn’t proven that he is strong enough to execute the pick-and-roll either. Defenders tend to therefore stick with Walton, which is a good strategic bet.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Is Maryland Really a Top 25 Team?

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 8th, 2016

After making the NCAA Tournament twice in the last two years, Maryland must now replace four starters from a 27-9 unit that earned a #5 seed and lost to Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen. The lone holdover, junior guard Melo Trimble, returns along with the addition of some key recruits, causing voters in both the AP (#25) and Coaches (#21) polls to rank the Terrapins among their Top 25s. While Trimble is a known commodity, much of the rest of the team is not, leading to the key question of whether this edition of Maryland Basketball is actually as good as many people obviously think. Let’s examine that question from three different components.

Melo Trimble will have to shake off a sophomore slump that plagued him late last season. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Melo Trimble needs to shake off a sophomore slump that plagued him late last season. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

  1. Can Trimble Return to His Freshman Form? As a precocious freshman, Trimble burst onto the scene two seasons ago by pacing Maryland in scoring (16.2 PPG) and leading the Terps back into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years. With more talent surrounding him last season, his assist rate rose to 28.7 percent (from 21.2 percent) but his Offensive Rating (116.5 to 110.7) and shooting percentages (53.4% eFG to 48.2%) decreased. Will he regain the shooting form from a stellar freshman season when he converted 41.2 percent of his attempts from the three-point line? Or will he struggle carrying the load of his inexperienced supporting cast? Maryland needs the first scenario to come to fruition if the Terrapins want to be as good as they were during the last two seasons. Read the rest of this entry »
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Shep Garner is Still Penn State’s Most Important Player

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 7th, 2016

Most of the headlines at Penn State coming into this season are centered around a trio of players from Philadelphia’s Roman Catholic High School. Head coach Pat Chambers‘ recruiting has been on the rise after landing two top 100 players last season (Josh Reaves and Michael Watkins) and prep teammates Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens and Nazeer Bostic this season. And while bringing in Big Ten-level talent certainly bodes well for the future of the Nittany Lions’ program, it will be up to junior guard Shep Garner to lead the school out of the B1G’s bottom tier.

Shep Garner is Penn State's leading returning scorer and most experienced player. (Mark Selders).

Shep Garner is Penn State’s leading returning scorer and most experienced player. (Mark Selders/Getty)

Garner has started 64 of his 66 games in a Penn State uniform, beginning his career in a point guard role while DJ Newbill led the way offensively. Last season, he acted as both the primary perimeter scoring threat and distributor. The addition of Carr this season will likely allow him to concentrate on scoring. His 36.6 percent shooting from three-point range last season belies his reputation as one of the streakiest shooters in the Big Ten, but he should get better looks (and a corresponding opportunity to improve his marksmanship) with a point guard locating him in his preferred spots. Where he needs some work are in the areas of getting to the free throw line and to the rim more often — his 33.1 percent free throw rate needs to improve, as does his 40.0 percent conversion rate on two-point field goals. Even with Brandon Taylor taking more than 30 percent of the team’s shots while on the floor, Garner managed to score more than 20 points seven times in Big Ten games last season. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Five Best Non-Conference Schedules in the Big Ten

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 3rd, 2016

The exercise to choose the five best non-conference schedules always involves a decent amount of speculation because we currently only know which Big Ten opponents we think are going to be good. We also don’t know how the various holiday tournament brackets will work out, but we can give it our best guesses. Here are the best five.

5. Purdue: The Boilermakers ease into things for exactly one game before they will play the reigning National Champion Villanova at Mackey Arena in their Gavitt Games match-up. Purdue will also be tested with a trip to Louisville in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, followed by a contest against Notre Dame in the Crossroads Classic. Furthermore, a potential showdown with Chris Beard — the head coach last seen leading Little Rock to an upset over Purdue in the NCAA Tournament — and his new team, Texas Tech, could be tasty if the bracket holds in the Cancun Classic.

Tim MIles and his Nebraska team will have a rough early schedule in 2016-17. (Getty).

Tim Miles and his Nebraska team will have a rough early schedule in 2016-17. (Getty).

4. Nebraska: This schedule might be a bit on the ambitious side for a team picked to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten standings. Start with a road game against former Big 12 foe Kansas followed by a home game against their intrastate rival Creighton. They also have to visit the newly renovated Littlejohn Coliseum at Clemson, a team that could very well be make the NCAA Tournament this season. The Cornhuskers also play Dayton in the First Round of the Wooden Legacy Tournament, with a bracket path that could involve games with some combination of UCLA, Virginia Tech, or Texas A&M.

3. Indiana: The Hoosiers play their usual slate of easier games where they don’t leave Bloomington (UMass-Lowell, Mississippi Valley State, Houston Baptist, etc.), but they also play three teams currently ranked among the top 15 of the preseason AP Poll, including two tough neutral site games against Kansas and Louisville. National runner-up North Carolina visits Assembly Hall for this year’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and Indiana will also play a solid Butler team in Indianapolis as the second part of the Crossroads Classic. An interesting road game to Fort Wayne could trip up Tom Crean’s group as well.

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Five Tweaks to the CBS 100 From a B1G Perspective

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 28th, 2016

CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander published their preseason top 100 (and one) list of the best players in college basketball on Wednesday. Fifteen Big Ten players made the list, with many of the usual suspects appearing at some point in the countdown. The full list is available here, with the stated premise being “it’s a huge game of pickup hoops, you keep picking guys in order of who you think is best.” Here are the five small revisions that one humble Big Ten basketball scribe would offer to Parrish and Norlander.

  • Too Low: Vince Edwards, Purdue (#84): Edwards is one of the most underappreciated players in the Big Ten and nationally. He made steady progress in numerous facets of the game during his sophomore season, specifically in increasing his three-point percentage by eight points to a legitimate 40.7 percent. He led the Boilermakers in assists from the forward spot and can guard both wings and post players. He should be 10 to 15 spots higher.
Vince Edwards is the 84th best player in the land according to CBS. (Jerry Schultheiss).

Vince Edwards is the 84th best player in the land according to CBS. (Jerry Schultheiss).

  • Too High: Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin (#32): It is certainly understandable that Koenig was selected this high because he has a pedigree of two Final Fours and a Sweet Sixteen to his credit. But with NPOY Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker gone from last year’s squad, he struggled shooting (39.2% FG) and distributing (15.1% assist rate) the ball. He belongs on the list as a top 100 player, but he should not have been listed as the sixth-best player in the Big Ten.

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Can Purdue’s (Isaac) Haas in the Middle Handle a Larger Role?

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 27th, 2016

Last season Purdue boasted a brawny, physical specimen in the pivot who began the season with averages of 13.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG and 1.6 BPG on 63.3 percent shooting from the floor. Sophomore Isaac Haas took excellent advantage of an early suspension to senior AJ Hammons and Boilermaker fans are anxious to see what he can now do as the primary interior player. The 7’2”, 282-pound junior is expected to lead a Purdue club looking to shake off a disappointing First Round upset to Arkansas Little-Rock in the NCAA Tournament. With many of the same pieces still on the roster, Matt Painter’s club has the tools to learn from last year’s mistakes and make a deep run in 2017. Haas will have to prove that he can handle both a larger role in the offense as well as providing a defensive anchor for his team to truly reach its full potential, but all indications suggest that he can handle it.

Isaac Haas is now the main man in the pivot for Purdue with the graduation of AJ Hammons. (Edwin Jacobson, Purdue Exponent)

Isaac Haas is now the main man in the pivot for Purdue with the graduation of AJ Hammons. (Edwin Jacobson, Purdue Exponent)

Haas has always been a productive player in the minutes he has received. He shoots the ball well, sporting a career mark of 56.8 percent from the field; and his 59.4 percent free throw rate would have ranked second in the Big Ten last year had he played enough minutes to quality. He’s simply too big of a physical mismatch for most college post defenders, which allows him to catch the ball wherever he wants and power through for a layup or a trip to the charity stripe. Despite some concerns about his stamina with the extra minutes, Haas should perform fine on the offensive end of the court. It’s the defensive end, rather, where he really needs to make an impression.

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Can Nigel Hayes Become the Face of Big Ten Basketball?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on October 26th, 2016

As we look ahead to the upcoming season, an immediate question arises about the Big Ten conference: Is there a dynamic personality among the league’s players who can represent the conference as well as Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine did last year? Or how Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell caught the league by surprise with his incredible poise and court vision two years ago? Who is that player this season? In several ways, Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes seems to be the most legitimate candidate to represent the Big Ten in 2016-17. After three years in college with two Final Four appearances to his credit, Hayes’ game should be more mature than ever. His team, with Bronson Koenig and Ethan Happ as his sidekicks, also appears ready to make some national noise. And based on his recent showing at ESPN’s College Gameday, Hayes seems poised to make a splash beyond just joking around with the media.

Hayes’ junior year wasn’t as much of a breakout season that many had expected. While he led the Badgers in scoring (15.7 PPG) and was selected First Team All-Big Ten, he faltered in the NCAA Tournament and it was clear to observers that the emergence of Happ alongside him required an adjustment. In an effort to create space in new head coach Greg Gard’s system, Hayes had a tendency to shoot too many three-pointers, only 29.3 percent of which found the mark. With NPOY Frank Kaminsky manning the post two seasons ago, Hayes shot a sterling 39.6 percent from three-point range. Now that Hayes has had a full offseason to learn the subtleties of Gard’s offense, expect improvement in that area this season. His ability to play both inside and out is a matchup nightmare for opposing forwards generally uncomfortable with that level of offensive versatility.. Read the rest of this entry »

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Michigan State’s Freshmen Will be This Season’s Catalysts

Posted by Alex Moscoso on October 25th, 2016

As another exciting Big Ten season approaches, Tom Izzo, the league’s most accomplished and celebrated figure, finds his program in the familiar position as the favorite. What’s different this year is that the longtime Michigan State head coach brings something he’s never had into this season – a top-five recruiting class (according to 247sports). While that fact may surprise some, it shouldn’t. Izzo has had his fair share of individual blue-chip prospects in the past, but he’s never snagged so many at once nor has he been considered a recruiting virtuoso like John Calipari or Mike Krzyzewski. Rather, he’s previously expressed his frustration with the seedier aspects of chasing commitments from 17-year olds but he’s since adjusted his recruiting approach which has culminated in an incoming group of four top 50 players – two of whom are McDonald’s All-Americans. This talented group joins enough returning veterans that the Spartans are once again poised to challenge for a Big Ten championship.

Tom Izzo has his highest-ranked recruiting class coming into a season with big expectations.

Tom Izzo has his highest-ranked recruiting class coming into a season with big expectations.

This year’s freshmen class includes four exceptional players: Miles Bridges (#12), Josh Langford (#20), Cassius Winston (#33), and Nick Ward (#41). Aside from that notable injection of talent, it is a balanced class with each player filling a specific position on the floor. As the crown jewel of the class, Bridges – a bouncy yet physical combo forward who can finish above the rim – is the freshman who will be ready to contribute from day one. Langford is a big-bodied combo guard who likes driving to the rim and proved he could play among elite players when he scored 12 points in 15 minutes of action at the McDonald’s All-American game. Winston is a prototypical point guard with a well-rounded offensive skill set, but what makes him most attractive are his intangibles — the Detroit product led his high school team to four state championships. Finally, Ward is the true big man of the class. The wide-bodied Gahanna, Ohio, native has exceptional hands, has dropped 20 pounds since his last high school season, and says “I’m in the best shape of my life.” Read the rest of this entry »

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