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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Big Ten Tournament: Iowa’s Freefall Continues

Posted by Walker Carey on March 14th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday evening’s Big Ten Tournament action between Northwestern and Iowa in Indianapolis. 

On February 15, Iowa earned a 12-point victory at Penn State to get to 19-6 overall and 8-4 in the Big Ten standings. It was around that time that the prevailing opinion became that the Big Ten was going to come down to a three-team race between Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes, Michigan, and Michigan State. Sure, Iowa’s defense had given up a lot of points all season, but Hawkeyes guard Devyn Marble and forward Aaron White had emerged as one of the best scoring duos in the country. The Hawkeyes also had rightfully earned a reputation as one of the deepest teams in the country, as they were playing 10 or 11 players every night and experiencing a great deal of success with that robust rotation.

It Was That Kind of Night for Iowa. Again. (AP)

It Was That Kind of Night for Iowa. Again. (AP)

Fast forward nearly a month and Iowa’s current position represents a nearly complete reversal of fortunes. The Hawkeyes closed out their regular season Big Ten slate by dropping five of six. They went from a ranking of #15 in the AP poll to receiving just four votes in the final regular season poll. An already shaky defense became an even more significant problem, as in those five losses, the opposition averaged 83.8 points per game. Losses at Minnesota and at Indiana highlighted just how poorly the Hawkeyes were playing on the defensive end of the court, as they allowed Minnesota to score 95 points and shoot 61.2 percent from the field, and Indiana to score 93 points and shoot 51.7 percent from the field.

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A Quality Performance Today in Indianapolis is a Must For Iowa

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 13th, 2014

You could make a case for any number of Big Ten teams really needing to show out at the Big Ten Tournament if they hope to make a run in the bigger March tournament. Minnesota is situated squarely on the bubble after finishing with a conference record of 8-10. Nebraska was inhabiting the same patch of bubble real estate until their win over Wisconsin. They should be in the field of 68 now, but another win would be nice for their collective peace of mind. Michigan State wants to prove that they are worthy of the preseason hype they generated with their team all back from their different injuries. Indiana and Illinois need to win four games in four days to get there. But Iowa has the most to prove out of anybody in the field. They’ve plummeted from a potential #3 or #4 seed, to a team that with an early loss, could be looking at double-digit territory. So how do the Hawkeyes fix things to get back on track?

Gabriel Olaseni and Josh Ogelsby need big games for Iowa to advance in the Big Ten Tournament. (John Schultz/Quad City Times)

Gabriel Olaseni and Josh Ogelsby need big games for Iowa to advance in the Big Ten Tournament. (John Schultz/Quad City Times)

  • Fix the Defense Immediately: Here’s a quick breakdown of what the Hawkeyes have given up in their last six games in terms of points per possession: 1.22, 1.32.1.12, 1.06, 1.26, and 1.12. Even in their lone victory in the bunch over Purdue, they still allowed the Boilermakers to shoot 49.1% from the field. On their KenPom page under defensive footprint, it says inconclusive. Nothing sums up their lack of a defensive identity better than that. They do a decent job blocking shots and Roy Devyn Marble and Mike Gesell do a pretty good job getting into the passing lanes and getting steals. But in their recent rough patch they’ve given up far too many easy baskets in the paint. Whether it means extending their zone press and getting more aggressive with it (which they have the depth to do), or just hanging back and sticking to either a man-to-man or a zone, Iowa needs to pick a style and go with it. I don’t know if their is confusion about what their responsibilities are, or that they just don’t care because they think they can outscore people. Either way, what they’re doing right now isn’t working, and hasn’t for a number of games. Read the rest of this entry »
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Can Iowa Shore Up Its Shoddy Defense in Time?

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

After three seasons at the helm, Fran McCaffery will finally take Iowa back to the NCAA Tournament. That’s the good part about the Hawkeyes’ season. The next logical question is whether they can win more than one game there. With a 20-9 record and an RPI in the 30s, it is likely that the Hawkeyes will be on one of the top six seed lines, which could put them in a dreaded #5/#12 match-up against a decent team. Even if they get past that round, they’ll have to beat a Top 25 quality team that is likely to be offensively talented. At this late point in the season, it is still unclear if the Hawkeyes can defend well enough to beat a team that can run in a track meet with them. Over their last four games they have given up 1.21, 1.31, 1.12 and 1.06 points per possession, respectively, against Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana and Purdue. Those numbers do not bode well for a team looking to make some noise as we head into March.

McCaffery's Hawkeyes will need to get some stops if they hopse to get to the Sweet 16. (AP/C. Neibergall)

McCaffery’s Hawkeyes will need to get some stops if they hopse to get to the Sweet 16. (AP/C. Neibergall)

Defense has been an issue for Iowa all season long, and a lack of it is the main reason they have been unable to close out many games.  Their record is a bit deceiving because they have won all of the games that they were supposed to, but they really only have two quality wins on the year: at Ohio State and vs. Michigan in Iowa City — even in both of those games, the Hawkeyes gave up more than a point per possession to the Buckeyes and the Wolverines. A win against Xavier, another NCAA Tournament team, is impressive, but an argument can be made that the absence of Musketeers’ star Semaj Christan during the second half helped the Hawkeyes. These observations are not intended to take anything away from Iowa’s resume this season, but merely to point out that its stay in March Madness could be a short one unless they find some answers on defense, and soon.

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Three Key Questions for Ohio State at Iowa

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on February 4th, 2014

A month ago, Ohio State at Iowa seemed like a potential game for first place in the Big Ten. Instead we are now looking at a Buckeyes team hoping to just get back to .500 in conference play and a Hawkeyes group at 6-3 hoping to stay on the heels of the conference leaders. For both teams, though, this game could have a big impact on its potential NCAA seed next month, so plenty is still at stake this evening. With that in mind, here are three key questions heading into tonight’s game.

Can Roy Devyn Marble and Iowa control the pace and stay in the Big Ten hunt at home against Ohio State? (AP)

Can Roy Marble and Iowa control the pace and stay in the Big Ten hunt at home against Ohio State? (AP)

  1. Can Ohio State limit Iowa on the interior? It is no secret that the Buckeyes’ interior, and specifically Amir Williams, has been a big reason for their recent downswing. The offense has been an issue all season long, but during their recent losing streak the Buckeyes were getting dominated inside the paint. Iowa has plenty of strong interior and wing players itself and should control the inside by routinely going inside to Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff. The Hawkeyes’ rebounding ability (fourth in Big Ten in defensive rebounding percentage and second in offensive rebounding percentage) is likely to limit the Buckeyes to one shot and should create some second-chance points for themselves. Read the rest of this entry »
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Two Key Questions as Michigan State Visits Iowa Tonight

Posted by Jonathan Batuello and Deepak Jayanti on January 28th, 2014

Michigan State took its first conference loss as it tries to overcome numerous key injuries. Iowa has proven it is one of the best teams in the Big Ten. Now the second and third place teams in the conference are set to square off this evening in Iowa City. Two of our Big Ten writers – Deepak Jayanti and Jonathan Batuello – address a couple of key questions heading into the battle for second place in the Big Ten standings.

Devyn Marble

Devyn Marble Looks to Lead the Hawkeyes to Second Place in the Big Ten

With Branden Dawson out and Adreian Payne’s status still uncertain, how does Michigan State limit the Hawkeyes’ rebounding – where it averages 10 more a game than its opponents – and their inside play?

DJ: They can’t limit Iowa’s rebounding without Payne and Dawson in the lineup. Even with one of those two forwards, they’d have to put up a fight to contain the multiple big men that Fran McCaffery uses in the paint. Aaron White, Gabrial Olaseni and Melsahn Basabe are not only good rebounders, but they are also very nimble around the paint – they move very well for their size. It is unfortunate that we can’t see the Spartans’ bigs battle this Iowa front line because the Hawkeyes’ depth keeps their less talented big men fresh. And I am not even including Adam Woodbury, a seven-footer, in this discussion. The best case scenario for the Spartans tonight is to limit the Hawkeyes’ offensive boards to five; otherwise, it will be very tough for them to give up too many easy baskets and still outscore the Hawkeyes on the other end. Expect to see Denzel Valentine play over 30 minutes because his directive would be to hit the defensive glass on every possession to make up for the absence of Dawson.

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode VIII

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 15th, 2014

RTC national columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) gives his weekly observations on the game in his column, Otskey’s Observations. 

A Cause for Concern or Just a Speed Bump for Wisconsin?

Sam Dekker struggled on Tuesday but don't expect that to continue. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Sam Dekker struggled on Tuesday but don’t expect that to continue. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Wisconsin’s 75-72 loss at Indiana on Tuesday night was surprising in many ways. For one, it marked the first time since the 1995-96 season that the Badgers have given up at least 70 points in three consecutive games (h/t @nickfasuloSBN). It was an uncharacteristically poor defensive effort from a historically good defensive team under the tutelage of Bo Ryan. Wisconsin could never seem to get a stop when it needed one and allowed Indiana to shoot 51.6 percent from the floor for the game. Coming into the contest, Bo Ryan was 14-3 all-time in head-to-head matchups against Indiana head coach Tom Crean. Crean had never beaten Ryan while at Indiana and the Hoosiers had dropped 12 consecutive games to the Badgers dating back to 2007. In a strange twist of fates, perhaps Ryan’s best team ever fell to Crean’s least talented team in the last three seasons. While Frank Kaminsky and Traevon Jackson did yeoman’s work for Wisconsin, Sam Dekker and Ben Brust had off nights. Dekker, Wisconsin’s leading scorer and rebounder, totaled only 10 points and three rebounds in 35 minutes of action. Brust was cold all night from the three-point line, but tried to adjust, attempting a season-high seven shots from inside the arc, most of those curling to the basket off screens. It was a strange night in Bloomington and something just didn’t feel right. I am inclined to think this is just a bump in the road for Wisconsin and I would expect a much more focused defensive performance at home against Michigan this coming Saturday.

Creighton Ascending in the Polls Despite Grant Gibbs’ Injury

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Weekend Game To Watch: Iowa Looking For Its Signature Win At Wisconsin

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on January 5th, 2014

The game to watch this weekend is, without a doubt, today’s match-up of Iowa visiting Wisconsin. It’s the only Big Ten contest this weekend where both teams are ranked, and the Badgers are a robust eight-point favorite according to KenPom.com. This isn’t surprising given that the Badgers have been the most impressive team in the conference and Madison is a tough place for any team to visit. It would therefore seem as if this game is all upside for Fran McCaffery’s group as it has nothing to lose. Thus far, Iowa has been good enough to break into the AP Top 25 and steadily move up the rankings, but not great enough to convince skeptics that the Hawkeyes are poised to battle the likes of Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State for the conference title. Iowa needs an impressive road win to convert those doubters and start to make a case for a coveted high seed in the NCAA Tournament. Their best hope for doing just that today is to capitalize on the few defensive vulnerabilities of the Badgers.

Aaron White may need a big game on Sunday to get a win in Madison (Brian Ray, The Gazette via AP)

Aaron White may need a big game to get a win in Madison (Credit: Brian Ray/The Gazette via AP)

It will be no small task to get a win at Madison — both teams are highly efficient at scoring (Wisconsin scores 1.17 points per possession vs. Iowa’s 1.16) and the Badgers have the edge on defensive efficiency (0.92 PPP vs. 0.94). Bo Ryan relies on excellent man-to-man defense to deny the other team good looks at the basket; still, Iowa can look to exploit several facets of the Badgers’ defense. More specifically, the Badgers’ lack of a true shot blocker has resulted in a low block percentage of 8.6 percent (206th nationally). If McCaffery can set up Roy Devyn Marble and Jarrod Uthoff on cuts to the basket to draw weak side defenders, even slightly, they can dish it off to Aaron White, who is shooting a blistering 75 percent under the basket. Another flaw in Wisconsin’s defense is that it does not cause many turnovers. This is good for Iowa since it is not turnover-prone itself but does cause opponents to give up the ball at an above-average rate (19.5 percent of possessions).

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode VI

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on December 18th, 2013

Battle For Iowa Lived Up To Its Billing

For my money, the best game in recent days was Iowa State’s thrilling win over Iowa on Friday night at Hilton Coliseum. This game was the true essence of what college basketball is all about. It was a heated in-state rivalry between two quality teams in a crazy atmosphere, smack dab in the middle of a basketball-crazed state. It is simple: This was a fun game, period. Although Fred Hoiberg’s Cyclones came away victorious, you may be somewhat surprised to find out that my biggest impression taken from this game was just how good Iowa is. I actually thought the Hawkeyes were the better team for most of this contest. Don’t get me wrong, Iowa State played really well. After all, it beat a team I thought was very impressive so that should tell you something about the Cyclones as well. I thought Iowa had a terrific game plan and evidence of top-notch coaching and scouting was present throughout the game.

Devyn Marble

Devyn Marble and his mates were outstanding. But Iowa State was just a little bit better. (AP)

One specific example of great scouting came late in the first half when Roy Devyn Marble got in the middle of a dribble hand-off by Georges Niang and broke it up, leading to two Iowa points on the other end. Marble read the play perfectly and it paid off for his team. Fran McCaffery’s squad excelled in transition and got almost anything it wanted offensively on the low block with Aaron White leading the charge. Iowa ran some beautiful half-court sets that resulted in plenty of clean looks, especially for White and Marble. The Hawkeyes dominated the glass (but did not take full advantage of it) and answered the bell nearly every time Iowa State put together a charge, except for the final minute where it wound up costing them the game. Iowa simply didn’t make the plays it needed to win late, highlighted by Mike Gesell’s two missed free throws. McCaffery and his team can learn a lot from this game but in the end it is on the players to step up and lead down the stretch. Whether that’s Marble (most likely), White, Gesell, or someone else, Iowa needs someone to be “the man” in order to take the next step and contend at the very highest level in the Big Ten.

Michigan Back On Track?

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Will the Iowa Hawkeyes Complete Their Comeback Story?

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 8th, 2013

It’s been almost a decade since the Hawkeyes have had any preseason expectations. In those 10 years, Iowa chased away Steve Alford, a coach who enjoyed moderate success while at Iowa City, only to see him move on and have a successful run at New Mexico and subsequently take the head job at UCLA. Afterwards, they had to endure Todd Lickliter, who ushered in an era of hopelessness. Lickliter compiled the worst three-year record in Iowa history at 38-58. Aside from the losses, Iowa’s brand took a hit from dwindling attendance and rumors of player dissatisfaction with the coach. In 2010, they fired Lickliter and hired Fran McCaffery from Siena. Since then, McCaffery has steadily returned the program back to relevance. In his first season he won 11 games and has improved his record by seven wins the past two seasons. Now, coming off a year where the Hawkeyes went 25-13 and were NIT runners-up, the media and fans expect this squad in the NCAA Tournament come March. Anything less will be considered a disappointment and will ruin this comeback story.

Roy Devyn Marble leads an Iowa team that has expectations for the first time in almost a decade.

Roy Devyn Marble leads an Iowa team that has expectations for the first time in almost a decade.

The Hawkeyes were extremely effective on defense, especially away from the basket. Last season, they held opponents to 91.2 points per 100 possessions (22nd in the country) and only allowed opponents to shoot 29.5 percent from both the three-point line and jumpers inside the arc. If there is an area in which they can improve, it would be their interior defense where opponents shot 62.2 percent at the rim. While the Hawkeyes gave up a high percentage of buckets from down low, they managed to prevent opponents from getting in the paint. Less than three out of every 10 of their opponents’ shots came at the rim. McCaffery has always been more of an offensive-minded coach, but with virtually every player coming back, there is no reason to think the defense will slip.

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RTC Big Ten Preseason Rankings: #8 to #5

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on November 7th, 2013

With the basketball season set to tip off for some Big Ten teams tomorrow, the five of us at the Big Ten microsite took a poll to see how the 12 teams will finish this upcoming season. If you missed it, yesterday we previewed teams #12 to #9, and today we look at the teams we believe to be in the middle tier. These teams have a chance to finish higher if their freshmen play well and returnees develop, but these same question marks mean they could easily tumble lower too. Be sure to come back tomorrow to see the four teams we picked to land at the top of the conference. And feel free to debate, argue and discuss how much or how little we know what we’re talking about.

8. Illinois

John Groce

John Groce Starts His Second Season With Numerous Questions

  • What they do well: Let’s be honest, there are a lot of question marks with this team thanks to only five returnees. In Groce’s first season as head coach, though, the team took good care of the ball, averaging a turnover on only 14.7 percent of possessions. The new guards will need to continue this trend as Illinois was 25th in the country last year in this statistic.
  • What they don’t do well: Sharing the ball was a struggle for Illinois. It only averaged 10.1 assists per game last season, ranking 319th in the NCAA.
  • Get to know: Rayvonte Rice. The redshirt junior has been lighting it up for Illinois in the exhibition contests and could earn the starting spot at the shooting guard position. He appears to have drastically improved his outside shot and with five freshmen on this team, his play and leadership will be needed.
  • Why they’ll finish eighth: The team takes time to gel and the freshmen, while talented, aren’t quite ready to compete for a Big Ten championship. The loss of players like Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson are too much for the program to overcome.
  • Why they’ll finish higher: They get solid guard play from Tracy Abrams and Rice’s outside shot isn’t just strong in exhibitions. The youth is as talented as believed to be as it wins a lot of early games and has a confidence that carries into Big Ten play.

7. Purdue

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Introducing the RTC All-Big Ten Second Team

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 5th, 2013

In honor of the college season finally tipping off Friday in various locales, we at the Big Ten microsite decided to get together and vote for our preseason all-league teams. We will cover potential Sixth Man of the Year candidates and reveal our preseason Freshman of the Year later this week. We’ll also be revealing how the teams will finish in the league standings four at a time starting Wednesday. Today we introduce our preseason All-Big Ten Second Team; the First Team will be unveiled tomorrow.

Yogi Ferrell Leads a Strong Sophomore Group in the Big Ten

Yogi Ferrell Leads a Strong Sophomore Group in the Big Ten

RTC All-Big Ten Second Team

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