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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Big Ten Coaches on the Not-So-Hot Seat, Part I

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on October 29th, 2013

It’s that time of the year when fans get their usual dose of preseason predictions. One of the usual mechanisms in this onslaught is the “Coaches on the Hot Seat” list where writers identify those coaches whose job status relies on the success of their upcoming season. Each preseason in the Big Ten, previously successful coaches routinely find themselves on this list and almost never escape it. The conference is widely considered to have the best head coaches of any league which makes wins tough to come by. This competition leads to very good coaches experiencing disappointing seasons, finding themselves on the hot seat, and then eventually being fired. Last year, it was Tubby Smith at Minnesota who found himself without a job in April.  A national championship-winning coach at Kentucky, Smith led the Golden Gophers to their first NCAA Tournament win in 16 years (and, actually, longer since the NCAA vacated the 1996-97 season after charging Minnesota with academic fraud). The year before that, it was Bruce Weber at Illinois standing in the unemployment line. A former National Coach of the Year and NCAA Tournament runner-up, Weber won 100 more games than he lost over a nine-year stint. And there are others. All this goes to show that in this league, being a talented head coach might get you in the door, but it won’t save you from the hot seat.

Relax, Coach Crean.  You many have lost two NBA lottery picks.  But you're not going anywhere.

Relax, Coach Crean. You may have lost two NBA lottery picks. But you’re not going anywhere.

This year is a little different.  Barring any unforeseen scandals, there seems to be no Big Ten coaches who are in immediate danger of losing their jobs. So here at the RTC Big Ten microsite, we have instead decided to look at the coaches around the league and examine their current situations: Why are they not in danger of having to endure a sad and uncomfortable final press conference at the end of the year? In the interest of brevity, we will not review the likes of Tom Izzo, John Beilein, Thad Matta or Bo Ryan. Their current situations can be summed up in these words: They are awesome at coaching college basketball and aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.  For the rest of the Big Ten’s eight coaches, things are a little more nuanced. Here’s why:

John Groce (Illinois): I listed in a previous post Groce’s accomplishments from last year. Those include a trip to the round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament from a roster that had all but given up the year before. But more importantly, Groce has secured quite a bit of outstanding talent for the future of his program. A bevy of promising transfers and recruits are set to join the Illini this year and next. His program is in a position to start challenging for Big Ten titles as early as 2014-15, and if Groce can land a commitment from Top 10 recruit Cliff Alexander next month, Illini fans can start dreaming even bigger. He’s in good shape.

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The Rise of Aaron White and the Iowa Hawkeyes

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 28th, 2013

College basketball junkies like myself stretch for almost anything hoops-related to keep us going in the offseason. The summer months can be especially cruel. So when we find out about things like the World University Games, we pay attention. We check the rosters when the tryouts are over and usually there are some surprises. Iowa’s Aaron White was one of these surprises. Outside of those that follow the B1G on a regular basis, not many casual fans know about White. But with Iowa getting its share of (justifiable) hype given how the Hawkeyes finished last season, and what they have coming back, White has a chance to become a household name with the program rejoining national relevance. He doesn’t have to be a superstar, but if he can make incremental improvements along with a couple of the other returnees, Iowa will no doubt challenge for a top quarter finish in the league, and with it, a high seed in the NCAAs.

Aaron White looks to lead Iowa back a regular spot in the top 25 (Brian Ray, AP)

Aaron White looks to lead Iowa back a regular spot in the Top 25 (Brian Ray, AP)

White had a nice sophomore year, but nothing to make someone think he was necessarily ready to stand alongside other World University Games players like Doug McDermott, Luke Hancock, and conference names like Yogi Ferrell and Adreian Payne. He led Iowa in rebounding at 6.2 boards per game, and was the second leading scorer with an average of 12.8 PPG. These are nice numbers, but not anything to get too excited about. Where he really shined last year, though, was in getting to the free throw line. He shot an astronomical 258 free throws last season, good for 6.8 attempts per game, and over 40 minutes per contest, he drew an average of 6.5 fouls per game.

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The ACC in the NIT: Previewing Maryland vs. Iowa

Posted by KCarpenter on April 2nd, 2013

Raise your hand if you had Maryland as the last ACC team still playing basketball in April. Sure, the Terrapins are only playing in the NIT, but for Mark Turgeon’s crew that means something. In Maryland’s most recent win against Alabama, the team showed flashes of the talent that many had predicted for it headed into the season. Specifically, Alex Len, who has disappeared for long stretches during the season, dominated the Crimson Tide on his way to a 15-point, 13-rebound and five-block performance to lead his team to a one-point win. The inconsistent Maryland that muddled its way through the conference schedule seems to have mostly disappeared. It’s a good thing too, because Iowa, the Terps’ next foe tonight in Madison Square Garden, is a bit of a ringer.

Alex Len, Maryland

Alex Len is Playing Good Basketball Again (AP Photo)

According to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, the Hawkeyes currently rate as the 21st best team in the country, largely on the basis of its 19th-ranked defense (Maryland ranks 48th and 33rd, respectively). By these measures, Iowa is head and shoulders above its NIT fellows, and easily the best team to not make the NCAA Tournament this season.  Like Maryland, Iowa sometimes struggles to shoot the ball consistently, but it plays such tough defense and rebounds so tenaciously that poor shooting is unlikely to sink the Hawkeyes. Unfortunately for the Terps, one of their greatest strengths is vulnerable to Iowa.

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Late Game Struggles Continue to Haunt Iowa

Posted by KTrahan on February 8th, 2013

With 20 seconds left in regulation of Wednesday night’s Iowa-Wisconsin game, Traevon Jackson’s three-pointer bounced off the rim, then the backboard, then fell into the hoop to tie the game up. Josh Ogelsby’s three-pointer just before the buzzer looked good, but then rimmed out. Thus has been the story of Iowa’s season so far, as the Hawkeyes went on to lose 74-70 in double overtime. Iowa certainly has a squad that looked capable of making the NCAA Tournament this year, but the script in every chance to get a marquee win has been the same — a blown late lead and a heartbreaking loss. The Hawkeyes have blown late leads to Indiana, Michigan State, Purdue, Minnesota and now Wisconsin. The only late leads that they’ve held onto against marquee opponents have come against Wisconsin (in the previous meeting this season) and Iowa State. Jon Rothstein and Ken Pomeroy both sympathized with Iowa fans after the loss:

Fake Fran McCaffery was clearly frustrated, as well (great Twitter follow, by the way):

Apparently it was possible to get closer to the hump without going over it. Dammit.

— Fran’s Red Face (@FransRedFace) February 7, 2013

It’s tough to know what to make of all of Iowa’s late-game collapses. The Hawkeyes have clearly had trouble figuring out how to play with a lead at the end of games — they nearly even blew the home lead to Wisconsin. It’s almost as if Iowa goes into prevent defense, to use a football term. And, as the saying goes, the only thing prevent defense does is prevent you from winning the game. The Hawkeyes try to avoid fouling and get very conservative, which allows the other team to get back into the game. Since Iowa isn’t a great shooting team, it’s tough for the Hawkeyes to make the last shot at the end of games.

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Devyn Marble Controls Iowa’s Chances of Making the NCAA Tournament

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on February 6th, 2013

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

We are approaching that time of the year when almost every conversation about college hoops will involve the word “bubble.” Every game means that much more for teams that are not a lock for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Iowa Hawkeyes are squarely on the bubble at this point and badly need quality wins against ranked opponents. Losers of two out of their last three games heading into last Sunday’s match-up against the Minnesota Gophers, the Hawkeyes let one slip away in Minneapolis. The Gophers’ Austin Hollins drilled a shot from beyond the arc as he came off a screen with 11 seconds left to put his team up by one, and then followed his shot with clutch defense on the other end as he forced Mike Gesell to turn the ball over. Except for home wins over Wisconsin and perhaps rival Iowa State, Iowa doesn’t have many other quality wins. They had their chances against Michigan State and the Gophers, and either win would have been a huge boost to their resume. We knew that they were a young team starting three freshmen but the key to an NCAA Tournament bid this year will be held by junior Devyn Marble. The seasoned wing has been out of rhythm offensively over the past two weeks, unable to deliver against formidable completion when his team has most needed a spark.

Devyn Marble (middle) has been very inconsistent offensively over the past two weeks.

Devyn Marble (middle) has been very inconsistent offensively over the past two weeks.

The 6’6″ wing has averaged just 7.0 PPG during the last four games (down from 13.6 PPG on the season), which is not enough if the Hawkeyes want to keep their bubble hopes alive. He wasn’t comfortable at all against the Gophers’ full-court press on Sunday, as he was held scoreless in addition to committing three turnovers. McCaffery kept him on the bench for most of the second half as his teammates Gesell (11 points) and Aaron White (10 points) built a small lead heading into the final minutes. But one of Marble’s miscues came at the worst possible time — during the last minute of play, he threw the ball over Gesell’s head because Hollins stopped him from going left into the paint. That single play is very indicative of Marble’s recent struggles because opposing defenders have been able to scout his tendencies and know his comfort zones. A gifted athlete nevertheless, Marble is comfortable breaking his man down in isolation but defenders have learned to cheat back so as to force him to pull up for a jumper off the dribble. For a right-handed player, going to the left after crossing the ball over and pulling up for an off-balance shot is a shot that most professionals, much less a player like Marble, don’t make consistently.

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Big Ten M5: 01.09.13 Edition

Posted by jnowak on January 9th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. Here’s something we don’t see coming out of Wisconsin very often: a player going too fast. The Badgers, known to slow the pace and get the most out of each and every shot clock, have a player in Ben Brust, who sometimes finds himself speeding things up a little bit. “There are times when you’re on the interstate, so to speak, and there are times when you’re in a residential neighborhood and you have to know when you can go faster,” associate head coach Greg Gard said of Brust, who has a 3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio, but can sometimes get into trouble when he dribbles into traffic. “Time and score of the game. Flow of game. Do we need a basket? Are we on a run? When is the time to slow things down and get a high-quality possession or make the other team guard? All those things come into play. He’s getting better and better at it.”
  2. Want an easy — and sometimes early — indicator for how Indiana might do on any given night? Watch Christian Watford. The Indiana Daily Student points out that any time Watford is a key contributor, the Hoosiers have rolled. To be more concise, Indiana’s 23-point win against Penn State this week was its smallest of the season in games in which Watford scored 15 points or more. Each of those previous wins were by at least 31 points. Watford has always been somewhat of an enigma, and an “as he goes, the team goes” type of player. So the Hoosiers would do well to get him involved early and often the rest of the way.
  3. Iowa got smoked when it traveled to Ann Arbor to take on No. 2 Michigan last week. So what is coach Fran McCaffery considering doing to remedy the problem? Possibly keeping arguably his two best players — Aaron White and Devyn Marble — off the floor. McCaffery told the Iowa Gazette he is considering changing some things with his rotation, pointing to the two aforementioned players as culprits in a Hawkeyes’ struggling defense that surrendered 95 points in each of its two true road games this year. Michigan State comes to town on Thursday, and is just the No. 7 scoring offense in the conference (71.1 PPG), but a big scoring output from the Spartans coupled with Michigan State’s typically-stingy defense could be a recipe for an 0-3 start to begin Iowa’s Big Ten campaign.
  4. One thing college basketball pundits love to debate is the importance of a loss over the course of the season — whether an undefeated team needs to lose at some point, or a team on the roll might want a wake-up call before the NCAA Tournament. Michigan, of course, has not lost a game this season, but with the Big Ten shaping up the way it has, they are almost assured to do so. And what happens then? AnnArbor.com‘s Nick Baumgardner explores that idea in this column, pointing out that Michigan has led in nearly 93 percent of the minutes of action of its contests this season and has not faced a great deal of adversity. This team is young — it relies on freshmen for scoring and as fantastic as he’s been this season, Trey Burke is only a sophomore — and when a problem hits, John Beilein might just welcome it at this point.
  5. We have posed this very question on this site a number of times since the season started, and the Big Ten Geeks would like to know the same thing — is Ohio State good? As we have mentioned, and as the NCAA-released RPI showed this week, the Buckeyes don’t have a real quality win this season (although they looked better at Purdue last night, certainly). The Big Ten Geeks point out that a strong second scoring option behind Deshaun Thomas hasn’t presented itself at this point and the Buckeyes will need that to contend in the Big Ten. They make a number of other interesting points about the rest of the conference as well. Be sure to check it out.
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Big Ten M5: 12.10.12 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on December 10th, 2012

  1. Indiana sophomore guard Austin Etherington is out for the remainder of the season due to a fractured patella. Etherington went down during the Hoosiers’ 100-69 win over the weekend against Central Connecticut State when he was carried off the court in front of a packed house at Assembly Hall. The sophomore has averaged 1.9 PPG during 6.7 MPG so far this season, but the loss is unlikely to hurt Tom Crean’s team because he probably would have seen fewer minutes once Hanner-Parea and Peter Jurkin come back from their suspensions. Nonetheless, getting some playing time during his sophomore season would have helped Etherington to build for next season, but his recovery will be the main focus over the next few months.
  2. The Minnesota Gophers’ win against USC on the road Saturday night, 71-57, was Tubby Smith’s 500th career victory. He becomes the 19th active head coach in Division I basketball to reach 500 wins, joining Bo Ryan and John Beilein as one of the three B1G coaches to be included in this exclusive list. Smith cited “longevity” as the main reason behind his milestone and said that he was “fortunate” to have coached at good programs such as Tulsa, Georgia, Kentucky and Minnesota. The Gophers have been very impressive so far this season (10-1) and it is very likely that Smith could add another 15 or more Ws this season to his career wins total.
  3. Ohio State sophomore wing Laquinton Ross is learning to be patient and efficiently use his playing time to impress head coach Thad Matta. Ross only played 11 minutes in the Buckeyes’ loss to Duke over a week ago but he scored nine points and pulled down three boards. Since then, he has seen more playing time and is proving his worth to Matta during his time on the court. Ross played 22 minutes in the Buckeyes’ rout against Long Beach State, 89-55, and scored 16 points along with nine rebounds. He will continue to come off the bench until he improves his on-ball defense and understands his assignments on the defensive end. Matta told Ross “not to take it for granted,” and the 6’8″ sophomore is utilizing any chance he gets to provide the offensive spark to the Buckeyes.
  4. The Michigan freshman class is more than Mitch McGary, Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III. Freshman guard Spike Albrecht has provided valuable minutes off the bench and his play allowed Trey Burke to get some much-needed rest against Arkansas over the weekend. Albrecht has been playing about seven minutes per game but gives Burke a breather as he handles the ball in the half court. Michigan is unbeaten and has plenty of talent on their roster, but John Beilein needs to make sure he rotates his players efficiently so that Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. stay healthy and fresh for a run in March. With Albrecht playing eight minutes against Arkansas and not turning the ball over during his time in the game, Beilein can afford to give Burke some rest and save him for crunch time.
  5. The Iowa Hawkeyes snapped their three-game losing skid to in-state rival Iowa State and head coach Fran McCaffery thinks it was their best game so far this season. The Hawkeyes won 80-71 with sophomore forward Aaron White scoring 18 points at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. McCaffery was very impressed with his team’s defensive effort as they held the Cyclones to 34% shooting during the second half. The Hawkeyes’ depth allowed him to rotate the players efficiently throughout the game which helped to maintain a very high defensive intensity. Freshman point guard Mike Gesell also impressed his head coach by turning his game around during the second half after a shooting slump during the first half. Gesell drove the lane more because his jumpers were not falling and he finished 6-6 at the free throw line for a total of 11 points in the win.
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Iowa Uses a Different Formula to Beat Gardner-Webb

Posted by KTrahan on November 19th, 2012

A nine-point win over Gardner-Webb is hardly something to be proud of, but the way Iowa took down the Runnin’ Bulldogs sure is cause for celebration in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes trailed 38-18 at halftime and were down by as many as 23 points at one point in the first half, before storming back to outscore Gardner-Webb 47-18 in the second half to escape with a 65-56 win on Saturday. Last year, this is a game Iowa surely would have lost. The Hawkeyes had a brutal non-conference season, which included a 16-point loss to Campbell. Iowa struggled with its defense last year, which hurt its resume and kept it off the NCAA Tournament bubble, but the Hawkeyes figure to be an NCAA Tournament contender this year, so this was the kind of game they couldn’t lose. They knew that, and they didn’t.

Fran McCaffery’s Group Appears to be Buying Into Defense This Year (credit: AP)

Perhaps the most encouraging part of Iowa’s win was how the Hawkeyes came back. We always knew they could score, but the question was whether they could stop anyone after last year’s abysmal defensive display. We got our answer over the weekend, as defense and the subsequent transition offense led Iowa’s comeback. “I think we buy into the defensive end a little bit more,” Iowa sophomore Aaron White said. “When you give up 18 points in the second half, that’s the difference. Last year we would have just tried to put 60 on them in the second half.”

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