Big Ten Season Grades: Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Nebraska

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on April 30th, 2014

To close out the season for good, we’re finishing our official Big Ten grades with the four top tier teams: Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Nebraska. Yes, take that in one last time – Nebraska ended the season in the top four of the standings in the best conference in the country. For our previously-published grades on the eight other teams in the Big Ten, here are Part I and Part II.

Michigan

Grade: A

This season (28-9,15-3): Last year, Michigan broke through to make it all the way to the National Championship game. And while that was an impressive run, the coaching job that John Beilein did this season — leading the Wolverines to their first outright B1G title since 1986, and finishing just one play from another Final Four appearance — may be even more impressive. It’s important to note where this program was two years ago to fully appreciate the leap that Beilein has guided Michigan basketball through. In 2012, the Wolverines hadn’t yet been able to escape the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament under his direction, and Beilein’s squads were thought of as good but not great. This season, he proved that his success was not just the product of a special player like 2013 NPOY, Trey Burke; it is fundamentally anchored in player development and buy-in from his kids. This season was a successful one by any standard and it looks like the head coach in Ann Arbor has gone and rebuilt himself an elite program in Ann Arbor.

John Beilein has cemented himself as a premier coach after winning the outright title. (Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)

John Beilein has cemented himself as a premier coach after winning the outright title. (Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)

Next season: The Wolverines lose a lot of their roster: Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford, and Mitch McGary. They will bring in heralded recruit Kameron Chatman with returning players like Caris Levert, Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin, and Spike Albrecht joining him. In short, Michigan loses all of its frontcourt experience and its two best backcourt players. The Wolverines seemed poised to fall back a notch, but that was also the popular thought when McGary went out for the rest of this season. The bottom line is that Beilein will find a way to get this team competitive and back to the NCAA Tournament — and he has enough returning talent to get there.

Wisconsin

Grade: A+

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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Colorado

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 29th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Colorado.

What Went Wrong

On the morning of Sunday, January 12, Colorado was getting ready to play Washington in its fourth Pac-12 conference game. Up to that point, the Buffaloes had gone 14-2 on the season, won all three of their previous conference games, and were rated 31st in KenPom, down a bit from their season high of 28th (following their non-conference finale against Georgia). And then, late in the first half against the Huskies, junior point guard Spencer Dinwiddie took a false step on a fast break, his left knee buckled, and everyone’s worst fears were confirmed as a torn ACL was later verified. The Buffaloes went on to lose four of their next five games, and posted a middling 9-10 record the rest of the way, stumbling ever-steadily to a KenPom low of #68 by the end of the year. Tad Boyle and company could never truly recover from the loss of their best player and team leader.

Colorado Was Never The Same After "The Mayor" Went Down With An Injury

Colorado Was Never The Same After “The Mayor” Went Down With An Injury

What Went Right

Following the loss of Dinwiddie, the team did its best to rally together, with junior guard Askia Booker in particular deserving extra praise. Booker had been known as  an inveterate gunner who had never seen a shot he didn’t like with Dinwiddie alongside him. But down the stretch of the season, Booker took over the bulk of the point guard duties and played the part of good teammate, looking to get everybody involved. Sure, he wasn’t always particularly effective in that new role, but the Buffs fought the good fight the rest of the season with him in the lead.

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Pac-12 Early Entry Decisions: Winners and Losers

Posted by AMurawa on April 28th, 2014

With Sunday night’s early-entry deadline come and gone, programs have now gotten past one potential source of damage to their rosters. Kids can still announce their transfers or get in trouble or get hurt, so the names on these rosters can still remain in a state of flux, but below we’ll discuss the winners and losers in the conference after the going pro pothole has passed.

Winners

Arizona – It’s not often that you can call a team that lost two players to early entry a winner, but the fact is, the Wildcats lose Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson, but guys like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley passed on the temptation of the NBA to return for another year in the desert. Of the two who left, there was little surprise, as Gordon is a sure-fire lottery pick while Johnson played well enough this season to probably maximize his attractiveness to NBA scouts (he’s projected as a second-rounder). Meanwhile, Hollis-Jefferson in particular was a serious threat to leave early, with a likely first-round selection awaiting. However, with his return to Tucson, he’ll have a chance to not only improve his draft stock, but also keep the Wildcats near the top of the national conversation.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson's Decision to Return To School Keeps Arizona Among The National Favorites (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s Decision to Return To School Keeps Arizona Among The National Favorites (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Oregon – Joseph Young considered forgoing his final season of eligibility for a run at the NBA dream, but the 6’3” shooter likely got word back from scouts to return to school, work on his ballhandling and start playing some defense. As a result, Young will again be a part of what should be a high-flying Duck offense and have a chance to legitimately work himself into NBA Draft consideration next season.

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Digging Into Next Year’s ACC Match-ups

Posted by Brad Jenkins on April 28th, 2014

Late last week the ACC released its 18-game conference match-ups for each of the 15 men’s basketball teams in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. Here’s a link to the announcement, which includes ACC commissioner John Swofford’s comments on the changes. With Louisville replacing Maryland as a member next season, ACC leadership wisely chose to move away from a scheduling model that set games years in advance with little to no regard for attractive television match-ups. As the clearest example, the ratings success of both Duke-Syracuse games last season ensured that those programs will play twice again in 2014-15. Good move! The league will also reward a newcomer (Louisville) with a first year bonus of home games against all three tradition-rich Triangle programs. Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State each visited Syracuse and Notre Dame in their first seasons as new members, while Pittsburgh hosted Duke and N.C. State. In another smart move, the league will match Louisville and North Carolina twice in 2014-15. In 2015-16, the four highest profile programs will swap doubles partners, as Duke will face Louisville twice and North Carolina will meet Syracuse two times. For a league vying to become a dominant basketball force in coming seasons, these are all smart long-term moves.

Pitino Has Louisville Easily on Top of This Group (Getty Images).

Rick Pitino and Louisville Will Have a Tough First Year ACC Schedule (Getty Images).

Let’s now take a look at which schools may have the easiest or toughest conference schedules next season. Before we can compare them in any meaningful way, we must first rank the teams in groups based on how good we think they will be next year. Of course it’s all guesswork at this point, but without doing too much detailed analysis, here are the four different groupings of teams (“A” being the best) as we see them right now.

AllGroups1

To compare schedules we will just look at the teams each school plays twice, as that really represents the main difference in these schedules. For each team in Group A, we will assign four toughness-points, Group B teams are worth three, and so on. We’ll do our comparisons by group to see which teams have it better or worse compared to teams of the same relative strength. Each group table lists the teams in order of easiest schedule, showing the teams they play twice and the toughness-points that total in the far right column.

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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Arizona

Posted by AMurawa on April 25th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Arizona.

What Went Right

With freshmen Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson stepping into roles as big-time contributors right away, with Nick Johnson taking his game to a higher – and more consistent – level, with sophomores Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Gabe York making huge strides in their second seasons, and with T.J. McConnell tying everything together as the team’s consummate floor general, this vintage of the Wildcats came together about as well as Sean Miller could have hoped. Sure, there was plenty of talent on this team. But what made this group a great unit is their ability to function together seamlessly. Defensively, they always had one another’s backs, combining to form the year’s most fearsome defensive squad. And on the offensive end, everybody bought into their roles and found ways to complement each other. Indeed, this 2013-14 group of Wildcats exemplified the word “team” as well as any college basketball squad in the country.

The 2013-14 Wildcats Exemplified The Word Team (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

The 2013-14 Wildcats Exemplified The Word Team (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

What Went Wrong

A whole lot went right in Tucson this season, but if we wanted to pinpoint one thing that went wrong, we’d jump straight to February 1st in Haas Pavilion, where in the opening minutes of a clash with California, Ashley landed awkwardly following a shot and wound up with a broken foot that ended his season. While Miller was able to rejigger his lineup on the fly and keep the Wildcats among the best teams in the nation, there will forever be questions about what could have been without that simple twist of fate in Berkeley.

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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Washington

Posted by AMurawa on April 25th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Washington.

What Went Right

For the fifth consecutive season, Washington started off Pac-12 play in strong fashion, winning three of their first four after the calendar flipped. But, just like the previous two seasons, the Huskies had dug themselves enough of a hole in non-conference play to make the second-half of the season an uphill climb. Still, Lorenzo Romar’s club definitely played its best ball of the season in Pac-12 play, with freshman point guard Nigel Williams-Goss developing into a promising prospect down the stretch and combining with vets C.J. Wilcox and Perris Blackwell to make Washington an often fearsome offensive squad, especially at Alaska Airlines Arena.

Nigel Williams-Goss Developed Into A Fine Point Guard In His Freshman Year (Getty Images)

Nigel Williams-Goss Developed Into A Fine Point Guard In His Freshman Year (Getty Images)

What Went Wrong

As alluded to above, the Huskies again struggled in non-conference play. This year there was a 14-point home loss to UC Irvine and a pair of neutral-site losses to Indiana and Boston College that made those mediocre squads look a whole lot better than they really were. Over the past three seasons, the Huskies are 22-15 in games before conference play, with at least one embarrassing home loss per year. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Stanford

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 24th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Stanford.

What Went Right

It wasn’t always pretty, and you probably still can’t say that this Stanford team ever consistently played up to its potential, but Johnny Dawkins and his senior class finally got to the NCAA Tournament. And they didn’t stop there, beating two solid teams – New Mexico and Kansas – in the Big Dance in order to earn an unlikely Sweet Sixteen appearance. The team was well-balanced on both ends of the court; Chasson Randle took that long-awaited next step in his personal development; and Dwight Powell eventually slid into a new role in order to begin potentially a new era for Stanford basketball.

Chasson Randle Had A Breakout Season In Leading The Cardinal To The Sweet Sixteen (Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP Photo)

Chasson Randle Had A Breakout Season In Leading The Cardinal To The Sweet Sixteen (Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP Photo)

What Went Wrong

One major problem plagued the Cardinal all year: team-wide inconsistency. We saw it early in the season when the team decided to forgo any inkling of defense in a loss to BYU while giving up 112 points; or a couple weeks later when they were unable to come up with any more than a half worth of good basketball in Brooklyn in the Legends Classic; or in conference play where they backed up their non-conference accomplishments with an 0-2 start in the Pac-12. Nowhere was this more evident than in the Sweet Sixteen where, coming off of a win over Kansas, the Cardinal had a beatable Dayton team between them and a date with the Elite Eight. What happened? The Flyers scored at will against the Cardinal; Randle was at his brick-tastic worst; and Dawkins and company let a big opportunity slip away without much of a fight.

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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: UCLA

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 23rd, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, UCLA.

What Went Right

Although it took some time to get there, this Bruins team coalesced nicely as the season wore on. Kyle Anderson turned into an All-American talent while the pieces around him were, by and large, rock solid. Team chemistry was light years better than under the previous administration, and eventually Steve Alford’s first team in Westwood won over a wary fan base. While a Sweet Sixteen appearance is not going to earn accolades from the most jaded fans, the first year of the Alford era was definitely a step forward for the program.

Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams Were Vital To UCLA's Success (Don Liebig/ASUCLA Photography)

Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams Were Vital To UCLA’s Success (Don Liebig/ASUCLA Photography)

What Went Wrong

Honestly, for this program and with this team, a loss in the Sweet Sixteen to a #1 seed isn’t exactly an underachievement. Sure, maybe a better performance by the Bruins’ frontcourt against Florida could have extended their season, and maybe Alford made some substitution errors in dealing with some minor foul trouble in that game. Certainly there were some defensive breakdowns too (how does Michael Frazier get that wide open that often?). But all told, Alford got about what he should have gotten out of this season’s UCLA club.

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Baylor’s Frontcourt Depth Takes a Hit With Loss of Isaiah Austin

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 23rd, 2014

This year’s round of early entry decisions has almost come to a close. On Tuesday afternoon, Julius Randle announced that he was leaving Kentucky, and while we wait for official word from a few of his former teammates, we can officially say goodbye to another accomplished collegiate big man. Last week, Jason King of Bleacher Report reported that Baylor center Isaiah Austin planned to declare himself eligible for this summer’s NBA Draft, and on Tuesday night, Austin confirmed that he would leave Baylor to take the next step in his career.

Austin came to Waco in 2012 as a highly-touted recruit and put forth a solid freshman campaign. While Baylor as a team fell flat and missed the NCAA Tournament despite fielding a talented group, Austin was hardly the problem. He averaged 13.0 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, and while he did most of his damage down low, he also stretched defenses by hitting 33 percent of his three-point attempts.

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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Oregon

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 21st, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Oregon.

What Went Right

Bringing in offense-first transfers like Joseph Young, Jason Calliste and Mike Moser, it became clear that this was going to have to be a team that outdid opponents with relentless offense before the Ducks even played a game. And, for the most part, Dana Altman’s squad did just that. With little in the way of an offensive post player and few on the roster interested in hard-nosed defense, this became a team that wanted to get up and down the floor, find early looks for any number of shooters, get to the line on a regular basis, and score, score, score. When it worked, which it did often, the result was an entertaining, if at times frustrating, display of basketball.

Joseph Young Led The Way For The Offensive-Minded Ducks (AP Photo)

Joseph Young Led The Way For The Offensive-Minded Ducks (AP Photo)

What Went Wrong

As good as this team was offensively, the Ducks were pretty bad defensively. In 21 of 34 games, the Ducks allowed their opponent to score better than a point per possession and Oregon went just 11-10 in those games. Only five times all year did it hold a top-100 KenPom team under a point per possession. Part of this was a result of the make-up of the roster – undersized players and offense-first (if not –only) mindsets – but part of it also had to do with circumstance. Sophomores Dominic Artis and Ben Carter were suspended for the first nine games of the season for receiving improper benefits, and those two guys, particularly Artis, may have been among the team’s three best defensive players. In the end, while the Ducks poured in a superb 1.18 points per possession against a good Wisconsin defense in the NCAA Tournament, their own lack of defense was their downfall, as they allowed the Badgers to score 1.31 points per possession to win the game. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten Season Grades: Ohio State, Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on April 18th, 2014

Continuing our season-ending analysis, we look at the performances of Ohio State, Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois. Earlier this week, we handed out grades for Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue.

Ohio State

Grade: C-

This season (25-10, 10-8): What would be a successful season for most programs was a relative disappointment for the Buckeyes. Ohio State did not capture a Big Ten regular season or tournament title for the first time since 2008-09, and similar to that season, they were also bounced out of the NCAA Tournament in their first game. The issue for the Buckeyes – which was a clear problem area in the preseason – was generating offense without Deshaun Thomas in the lineup. Thomas’ replacement, LaQuinton Ross, almost doubled his scoring average, but the Buckeyes failed to find reliable offensive firepower anywhere else. In the end, Aaron Craft and Ohio State’s excellent showing on defense wasn’t enough to overcome the team’s offensive woes.

Thad Matta had a let-down of a season relative to his own success. Don't expect it to continue next season. (Gettyl)

Thad Matta had a let-down of a season relative to his own success. Don’t expect it to continue next season. (Getty)

Next season: The Buckeyes lose Craft, Amedeo Della Valle, Ross, and Lenzelle Smith Jr. They welcome in an elite recruiting class that includes D’Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop, and Jae’Sean Tate; and they also will get graduate transfer Anthony Lee from Temple next year. These additions along with several talented players already on their roster should have no one worrying about the state of the program going forward. This season was merely a hiccup in the Thad Matta era.

Iowa: C

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Get to Know Cuonzo Martin: Cal’s New Head Coach

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 16th, 2014

With the sudden announcement on Tuesday that California had hired Cuonzo Martin – last seen taking Tennessee to the Sweet Sixteen – as their new head coach, the Pac-12 coaching carousel appears to be done for the year, barring a major surprise. After names like Chris Mooney, Chris Mack, Russell Turner, Eric Musselman and, last season’s associate head coach under Mike Montgomery, Travis DeCuire, were brought up and discarded, landing a talented young coach like Martin is a strong hire for Cal and its athletic director, Sandy Barbour. And Martin isn’t headed to Berkeley alone, as before he was even officially announced as the new guy, 7’1” recruit Kingsley Okoroh released the news that he would be changing his commitment from Tennessee to California. There’s a lot to get to, so let’s jump right in.

Cuonzo Martin's Name Came Out Of Nowhere As California's Choice For Head Coach (msn.foxsports.com).

Cuonzo Martin’s Name Came Out Of Nowhere As California’s Choice For Head Coach (msn.foxsports.com).

First, Martin hadn’t really even been on the radar for the Cal job until Tuesday morning, as the hot name had been primarily Mooney. But he was anxious to get away from Tennessee, where he was never embraced despite good success there: In three seasons, he logged three postseason appearances including one NCAA Tournament appearance (in which his team advanced to the Sweet Sixteen), and one year where the Volunteers were the first team left out of the Big Dance, all while taking over a program that Bruce Pearl had left in something of a mess. Still, Volunteers fans started an online petition (with 36,000+ signees) before the season was over to fire him and bring back Pearl, so his ducking out the door despite recently pledging his commitment to the program is no big surprise. In fact, the players who battled for Martin this season came out to publicly support his decision to move on. For Martin, really, this is a no-brainer. With the Vols losing seniors Jordan McRae, Jeronne Maymon and Antonio Barton, and with Jarnell Stokes heading to the NBA a year early, Martin gets out of town, signs a new, secure contract and gets a minimum of three or four years to prove that he is worthy of an extension at Cal.

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