Key Questions for Michigan State at Wisconsin

Posted by Alex Moscoso and Brendan Brody on February 9th, 2014

Michigan State‘s visit to Wisconsin today might have been a possible match-up of the top two Big Ten teams a few weeks ago. Now, it’s a tale of two different teams. While the Spartans sit atop the league standings, the Badgers has lost five of their last seven and are hoping to avoid dipping below .500 in the conference. Big Ten microsite writers Alex Moscoso and Brendan Brody ask each other questions about this match-up in order to preview what may happen when they take the court.

Sam Dekker and the Badgers have need a big win against Michigan State to stop the bleeding. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Sam Dekker and the Badgers need a big win to stop the bleeding. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

AM: The Spartan’s offense stalled against Georgetown without Adreian Payne and Brandon Dawsen. On Sunday, Dawsen will be out, but Payne will be back in. Will the return of Payne be enough to get this offense back on track and put numbers up against the Badgers?

BB: It’s gotten to the point now where we really don’t know what roster the Spartans will have on a game-by-game basis. Just when they get Payne back, they decide to sit Keith Appling on Thursday night because of his nagging wrist injury. Even without their floor general, they still shot 12-23 from behind the arc against Penn State. Regardless of whether or not Appling plays Sunday, there’s no indication that Sparty won’t put points on the board against Wisconsin. The three-point shooting won’t be there like that every game obviously, but Payne and Matt Costello will be able to get plenty of points in the paint against a Badger unit that struggles to guard inside. In their last seven games, Wisconsin has allowed 51.5 % shooting on two-pointers. Payne will get more comfortable in his second game back, and Appling or Travis Trice should be able to get in the lane like a lot of point guards have been able to do recently against the Badgers.

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Big Ten M5: 02.07.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 7th, 2014

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  1. Everyone knows about Adreian Payne the basketball player, but unless you are a regular viewer of the BTN show “The Journey,” you may not know the story of his relationship with 8-year-old cancer patient Lacey Holsworth. He met her when he and his Michigan State teammates went on a hospital visit, and they’ve remained friends and have been a constant source of motivation for each other. In the wake of news that Lacey’s cancer has unfortunately returned, Bleacher Report’s Jason King does a tremendous job tracing their special bond and some of the off-the-court tragedies Payne has overcome to become a potential first-round draft pick.
  2. Minnesota has struggled defensively all season long, and it’s worth wondering whether a switch to man-to-man on a permanent basis might be a cure for what ails them on that side of the ball. On one side, the zone can be effective because there simply aren’t very many teams in the conference that consistently make teams pay from the outside. On the other side however, the Gopher man-to-man helped them have a much better second half defensively against Purdue. Playing man would allow Deandre Mathiue and Austin Hollins to potentially get more steals and allow the team to get easy buckets in transition. Either way, they can’t allow 23 offensive rebounds like they did against Purdue if they want to finish above .500 in league play.
  3. Mike Tyson quotes should be taken with grain of salt, but one of his more famous ones applied to Nebraska and their efforts in their 79-50 loss to Michigan on Wednesday night. “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” can easily be applicable to how quickly Michigan came out and leveled the Huskers with hay-makers to the tune of 9 made three pointers in the first half. This result reinforces the fact that Nebraska cannot really be taken seriously until they get a quality road win, or just a road win in general. They get another chance Saturday when they travel to Northwestern.
  4. Tim Frazier is the first name people generally think of when they think Penn State basketball. But the contributions of DJ Newbill, especially during their three game winning streak shows that Newbill could be equally, if not more important to the team. After averaging only 8 points per game in his first three Big Ten games, Newbill has upped that mark to 19.7 points per game in their last six games, and 20 points per game in their last three wins. He also does a nice job on the glass despite being only 6’4″. It will be interesting to see where Frazier and Newbill end up once post-season honors are announced.
  5. Thursday means another edition of ESPN releasing Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology predictions. The most interesting takeaway from this edition is that it does nothing to solve the question about which conference is the best. If you were to only use the amount of NCAA tournament teams per conference to figure that question out, you would be greeted with a four-way tie at the top. The ACC, Pac-12, Big 12, and the Big Ten all have six teams in his field right now. Minnesota is the lowest seeded team right now for the league, with Indiana lurking as the third team in his “first four out” category.
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Morning Five: 02.07.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 7th, 2014

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  1. If you have watched many Michigan State games this season you have probably heard about the friendship that Adreian Payne has developed with Lacey Holsworth, an eight-year-old who is being treated for a neuroblastoma. Jason King has a phenomenal story on not only the friendship that Payne and Holsworth have developed, but also the obstacles that Payne has overcome to get to where he is today. Outside of the stories regarding Payne and Holsworth our favorite part of the column is how Payne kept John Calipari waiting for an hour because Payne wanted to finish his tutoring session after Calipari had taken a helicopter there to meet him during Payne’s recruitment.
  2. We are nearly a month away from the NCAA Tournament, but we can already say that Creighton will be one of the most intriguing teams in the field. Not only do they have the National Player of the Year in Doug McDermott (you can already send him all the trophies and plaques) and one of the most ridiculous deep threats in the country in Ethan Wragge, but they also have one of the worst defenses among contenders in the country, which means they should be playing highly entertaining games. Now it appears that they may be on the verge of getting back starting point guard Grant Gibbs, who has been out since January 7 after injuring his knee. According to Gibbs there is a chance that he could play as early as tonight against DePaul. The addition of Gibbs, who was averaging 6.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game, would make the Bluejays an even more dangerous team in March.
  3. Tarik Black may not be producing the kind of numbers that one would have expected based on the attention his transfer to Kansas generated (for the record, we questioned Black’s utility when schools were chasing after him), but it appears that he has caught the eyes of some individuals as a pro prospect. Perhaps not surprisingly those individuals–Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in particular–are looking at Black as a potential NFL tight end. Given Black’s size and the success of former college basketball players Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, and Jimmy Graham (and Black’s lack of production on the basketball court) it certainly seems like a feasible option. We will be interested to see how many moderately successful college basketball players decide to pursue this path rather than head overseas to play professional basketball.
  4. Every week Luke Winn’s Power Rankings are filled with a veritable smorgasbord of useful statistics, but usually one or two jump out at us as particularly interesting. This week’s edition is no different as the stat that jumps out at us is how dependent Syracuse is on Trevor Cooney for its three-point shooting as he accounts for 57.1% of the team’s made three-pointers. Only Marcus Paige at North Carolina accounts for a higher percentage at 57.6%. As Winn notes it is risky to rely so heavily on one individual for three-point shooting and it could end up being one of Syracuse’s weaknesses in March that many have overlooked thus far.
  5. On our podcast a few weeks ago Ken Pomeroy talked about the growing influence of advanced metrics at the NBA level and how it is so far beyond anything we saw at the college level. As Kirk Goldberry details these metrics are promising to analyze every move a player makes on the court. If what Goldberry says is true this movement should revolutionize how we analyze players in much the same way that advanced metrics have revolutionized the way baseball players are evaluated. However, as Pomeroy also noted college basketball is pretty far behind the NBA so it will be a long time before we see it at the college level.
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A Closer Look at Michigan State’s Game Without Adreian Payne & Branden Dawson

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on February 6th, 2014

According to the East Lansing Journal, Michigan State’s senior forward, Adreian Payne, will play against Penn State on Thursday night. After missing seven games with a foot injury, his return couldn’t come at a better time for the injury-riddled Spartans, who are also playing without their leading rebounder, Branden Dawson. Dawson will be out for at least more three weeks with a broken hand. Losing two out of three games without two of their best players isn’t completely surprising, but let’s take a closer look at why Tom Izzo needs at least one of them to be healthy by March to maintain any aspirations of contending for the national title. Specifically, let’s examine three statistics that generally show how Dawson and Payne’s absence has affected the Spartans on both ends of the floor.

Michigan State PPP

Per possession, the points allowed and the points scored give us an indication of Michigan State’s efficiency over the last three games. So far this season, the Spartans have only allowed 0.96 points per possession (PPP), and without the forwards, they have allowed, on average, a whopping 1.1 PPP on defense. Getting out-rebounded in each game will do that to you because offensive rebounds will lead to significantly easier buckets than jumpers. Even Denzel Valentine, one of the better rebounding guards in the country, isn’t enough to fill Dawson’s shoes because he is too busy chasing guards around the screens to come back to the defensive glass on every possession. Losing the rebounding edge is an obvious reason for the drop-off in defensive performance, but the Spartans have also been weak on transition defense because they continue to attack the offensive glass, despite a shorter lineup. This metric is tough to measure with the data available, but generally speaking, sending your forwards to the offensive glass on every possession means that the guards will need to run back immediately to cover any transition plays. That’s one area where they specifically miss Dawson because he would often sneak into the paint off the baseline to grab offensive rebounds. And when he did, there was no reason for Valentine to attack the glass, allowing him to run back down the floor to prevent any transition opportunities. Without Dawson and Payne, the Spartans have to change their philosophy of consistently picking up offensive boards – a change that’s tougher to implement because such a move would reduce their overall energy on the court.

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Big Ten M5: 02.04.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 4th, 2014

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  1. Last week started off poorly for Ohio State with a loss to Penn State, but they managed to end on a positive note with a win at Wisconsin. Despite that, the Buckeyes found themselves unranked in this week’s AP Top 25 for the first time since 2010. This news highlights a fall from grace that has led the Buckeyes to a sub-.500 record in league play. They’ve been hurting themselves with an impotent offense, which ranks 163rd in points per game and 118th in offensive efficiency. The Buckeyes have a tough road game at Iowa tonight, but there is some reprieve after that as they are still favored to win all of their remaining games, according to KenPom. Ohio State has gotten itself into this mess, though, by losing games it was supposed to win all along. So a return to the Top 25 this season is certainly no guarantee.
  2. Up until Saturday, Michigan State had been getting by well enough without Adreian Payne in the lineup. But when the Spartans faced a sinking and equally depleted Georgetown squad at Madison Square Garden, they left Manhattan with their second loss in three games. Now, Tom Izzo is hoping to have his star big man back for Thursday night’s game against Penn State. He believes Payne will play at least some minutes, but how many will depend on how the senior is feeling in a couple of days. The Spartans need Payne back in a big way since losing wing Branden Dawson last week. Without either of the bigs available, Michigan State relied on making threes to get back in the game against the Hoyas. Obviously, that did not work out very well.
  3. They may be tied for first place in the Big Ten, but John Beilein and his Wolverines are not taking their game versus Nebraska on Wednesday night for granted. Michigan’s head coach has been paying attention to what’s happening in Lincoln, and he believes no team has been playing better in conference play than the Cornhuskers. Beilein is wise to be cautious, as his team is coming off its first conference loss to Indiana while the Cornhuskers have won two straight games and three of its last four. Michigan is battling for a Big Ten title, but Tim Miles is hungry to create momentum as he rebuilds the program. After a one-point win in Lincoln last month, Beilein certainly won’t be caught off guard.
  4. It’s been an up-and-down season for many teams in the Big Ten, and no squad may reflect that notion better than Indiana. After a slow start, the Hoosiers registered a huge win against a then-undefeated Wisconsin team, and at the time it seemed like Indiana may have been turning things around. But the Hoosiers then followed up that victory with three losses in its next four games. Last weekend, though, Tom Crean’s group registered its second big win of conference play by beating Michigan for its first loss in the Big Ten. Now, Indiana has its confidence back as it spends the week preparing to battle Minnesota on Saturday. This time the Hoosiers hope to continue the momentum gained over the weekend with the goal of pushing forward to another NCAA Tournament bid.
  5. While many teams in the conference have experienced bouts of disappointment in conference play, Wisconsin may being suffering through one of its worst stretches in the Bo Ryan era. Just a few short weeks ago, the Badgers were 16-0 and hoping to lock up a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Now, Wisconsin has lost five of its last six games and — what is most surprising of all — they have dropped their last three home games. Under Ryan, the Badgers were close to unbeatable at the Kohl Center, logging only 18 losses in over a decade there. They will have a good chance to get a much needed win at last-place Illinois on Tuesday night, but if they want to reverse the losing trend at home, they’ll have to do it against Michigan State on Sunday. With the way their defense has been playing lately, that will not be an easy task.
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Big Ten M5: 01.30.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on January 30th, 2014

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  1. Michigan State is obviously a better team with Adreian Payne on the floor. The big man had a realistic chance to win the Big Ten Player of the Year award given the way he started the season, but he hasn’t played in the Spartans’ last six games. With his pain still lingering, Tom Izzo has had to defend his cautious approach to playing his talented big man. It can’t be easy to see his team play without Payne, but let’s keep in mind that this Michigan State team has higher aspirations than just winning the conference. Going without him right now to avoid further aggravation of the injury seems well worth it if Payne will be (hopefully) 100 percent come NCAA Tournament time.
  2. Yogi Ferrell has been impressive. The Indiana sophomore went from role player to star and has seen his scoring shoot up quite a bit this season. His ability to stay at that level as Big Ten play wears on is just as important if Indiana is to go from bubble team back to the NCAA Tournament. Ferrell is the clear leader of a young team and has done admirably in guiding an up-and-down Hoosiers squad. He is also the only player who can routinely hit outside shots to help open things up for Noah Vonleh inside. With a softer part of the schedule coming up for Indiana, look for Ferrell to really dominate.
  3. It wasn’t the player who we thought would be the dominant one for Michigan. In fact, he wasn’t even one of the two players expected to be the star for the Wolverines. Yet, Nik Stauskas is learning to adjust on the fly to becoming the opponent’s top defensive focus. The strategies to try and stop him have almost all been ineffective, as Stauskas is the biggest reason Michigan has gone from what appeared to be a lost season with the Mitch McGary injury to sitting in first place by itself nearly halfway through conference play. It’s been an impressive run and one Stauskas will need to continue if his team is to stay on top .
  4. It doesn’t get much better than how Iowa had it coming into Tuesday night’s game against Michigan State. The Spartans were without Payne and wing player Branden Dawson. It was in front of a sold out and raucous home crowd. Yet Iowa could not close the deal, and the loss represents a huge blown opportunity. The defeat really sets the Hawkeyes back now, because Fran McCaffery’s group dropped to three games back of first place as result. It’s no wonder the head coach called them out for not being tough enough. If they are going to have any shot at winning the Big Ten title, they can’t afford any more home losses this season.
  5. It is never an easy decision for a coach when a player picks up multiple early fouls. In the last two games, Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan has had to deal with this decision regarding his interior star, Frank Kaminsky. If the decision were up to Kaminsky, he’d stay in the game despite the foul trouble. It is no surprise to hear a player wants to play no matter the circumstance, but the key issue in these coaching decisions is always the game situation. In the Badgers’ last game against Purdue, Wisconsin was able to utilize an offense/defense substitution pattern with Kaminsky. It also helped that the team never trailed so it never became imminent to have its better offensive player in the game. It will be interesting to see what happens when Kaminsky is in foul trouble, though, and the Badgers are losing.
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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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Big Ten M5: 01.28.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 28th, 2014

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  1. At this point it’s really not news when Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo says that injured senior Adreian Payne is unlikely to play before seemingly every contest. Izzo stated on Monday morning that “he [Payne] ran yesterday a little bit more, with more weight on it, but he’s very doubtful for tomorrow,” when asked about his big man’s injury. You have to give Izzo credit for not jeopardizing Payne’s future earnings by rushing him back into the lineup too quickly. You also have to wonder how many other coaches would have had the confidence to hold a star player out knowing that there’s a bigger prize to win starting in March. Sparty certainly has as good of a shot at winning the national championship as any team in America when playing at full strength.
  2. Despite the likelihood of not playing again this season due to back surgery, Mitch McGary is still helping Michigan in every way he can. McGary was seen on the sidelines providing motivation to his teammates any way he can. A recent example was picked up by the ESPN cameras on Saturday in East Lansing, where McGary was shown holding a whiteboard that said “win the game” during a timeout. He’s also been a great resource for Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford, as he can talk the same language with his fellow post teammates and give them constructive feedback from the sidelines.
  3. Indiana showed some signs of turning the corner in its win against Illinois on Sunday. The Hoosiers are far from a polished offensive machine, but they’ve continued to pound teams on the boards regardless. Some of the younger players are also starting to play better, such as freshman Stanford Robinson, who played 29 productive minutes against the Illini. An NCAA berth might still be a stretch, but continued improvement over the season’s last month will go a long way toward getting the program back to elite status in the future.
  4. LaQuinton Ross has taken a good chunk of the blame for Ohio State’s up-and-down season, but Lenzelle Smith Jr. has also been terribly inconsistent with his shooting. After starting B1G play by shooting an abysmal 16 percent from behind the arc, he played much better in the Buckeyes’ recent win against Illinois, hitting 4-of-8 from downtown after going 7-of-31 in the nine games before that. If Ohio State could ever get Ross and Smith going at the same time, they could still become a factor in the Big Ten race.
  5. Iowa could move to a half-game back of Michigan State when the two teams clash tonight in Iowa City. This is one of the biggest Iowa home games in years, as the Hawkeyes have become a player on the national scene for the first time in a decade or longer. Fran McCaffery’s team has already beaten Xavier and Ohio State in a pair of resume-enhancing win, erasing the memory of an 0-7 mark against Top 25 squads last year. With a limping Spartans team coming to town tonight, Iowa needs to capitalize on the fact they are playing the game on their home court against a team at less than full strength.
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Key Questions Heading into Michigan vs. Michigan State Today

Posted by Brendan Brody & Alex Moscoso on January 25th, 2014

Well, this is it. The final two undefeated teams in conference play will go head-to-head tonight in East Lansing. The Spartans will have the advantage of playing in the raucous Breslin Center, but they’ll be shorthanded since both Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson are expected to miss the game. Michigan, on the other hand, doesn’t have Mitch McGary to man the post, but Nik Stauskus has been red hot offensively and the team appear to have moved on from its early season troubles. Two of our Big Ten microsite writers, Brendan Brody and Alex Moscoso, tackle the big questions headed into the game.

All eyes are on the Big Ten this weekend, as Michigan and Michigan State face off for first place in the league.

All eyes are on the Big Ten this weekend, as Michigan and Michigan State face off for first place in the league.

Michigan State is a top 10 defensive unit but their two best defensive players (Dawson and Payne) are likely to be out for the game. Michigan, on the other hand, is an elite offensive team. Will the Spartans be able to slow down the Wolverines given their injuries?

BB: The Michigan offense has been really impressive lately, and Michigan State might have had problems slowing them down even with Dawson and Payne in uniform tonight. Without those two seeing action, I just don’t know how they can hinder the Wolverines from scoring essentially whenever they want. Stauskas has been the best player in the conference over the last several weeks, but this team has much more weaponry than their sophomore assassin to call upon. Caris LeVert and/or Glenn Robinson III should have a huge advantage as the Spartans are going to have to use either a small guard like Travis Trice or with some combination of Kenny Kaminski/Russell Byrd to defend them. Big men like Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford aren’t strong offensively, but everyone else that gets significant playing time can score the ball from a multitude of different spots on the floor. Unless they go into some horrific shooting funk where they can’t make anything, Michigan will not be slowed down offensively tonight.

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Big Ten M5: 01.23.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on January 23rd, 2014

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  1. When people think of Big Ten basketball, most tend to associate the league with defense, ugly play and low-scoring games. Northwestern has certainly gotten that formula down pat lately. In its last four games — including its double-overtime victory over Purdue — the Wildcats have played ugly and won three of them. It’s quite the change from earlier in the year, as Northwestern all of a sudden has a chance to push for a .500 overall record and a possible NIT berth. Chris Collins came to Evanston wanting to build a defensive-oriented squad and this team is starting to buy in and take on that identity. Its brutal offense may still be lacking, but if Northwestern can limit possessions and hold every team to under 60 points, it has a chance to make some kind of a postseason tournament this year. Would anyone have predicted that just a few short weeks ago?
  2. It is without question that Michigan State is a better team with Adreian Payne on the floor. Despite not playing in the last four games and remaining unbeaten in league play, Tom Izzo still has a tough decision to make on Saturday. With first place in the conference on the line, Sparty hosts Michigan and Izzo does not yet know whether Payne will play. This obviously can’t be an easy decision, but even a slightly hobbled Payne would be huge for the team. The biggest issue is the potential risk involved — if Payne plays and further aggravates the injury, how big of a blow could that be for a team aspiring to win not only a Big Ten title but a national championship?
  3. This wasn’t the start Indiana wanted to its Big Ten conference season. The Hoosiers now sit at 2-4, but that includes games against three teams that were ranked in the top five at the time. Indiana only faces two more current top 10 team in the rest of the conference season (at home against Iowa; away against Wisconsin) so the push for the NCAA Tournament is on. The Hoosiers likely would not be invited as of today, so it can’t afford to lose too many more games. The positive of not playing as many elite teams is obvious in that wins will be easier to come by; the drawback, of course, is that the chance for another marquee win is also diminished.
  4. Richard Pitino has had plenty of experience with big-time programs, but his inaugural Big Ten experience has been  exceptional for the first-year Minnesota head coach. The quotes in the story bring an interesting perspective on the league and how it compares to other conferences. He highlights how Big Ten arenas create a unique experience: “Not every place had home courts like Iowa had, like Nebraska had last night against Ohio State, or like we have. These are the best home courts in all of college basketball.” The arena experience is certainly something that gives additional credence to the idea that the Big Ten is one of the toughest conferences to win in all of college basketball.
  5. It was unreasonable to think Nebraska would go winless in the Big Ten this season. The Cornhuskers had been close in nearly every game to start the conference season, but nobody saw its first victory coming against the likes of Ohio State as it did on Monday night. Tim Miles’ team sprung the upset to land its first win against the Buckeyes since Thad Matta got to Columbus 10 years ago. It did so with strong inside play and contributions from nearly the entire team, which was especially prevalent on the foul line as the Cornhuskers went 20-of-26 there. With all the close losses and a big confidence-building win over the Buckeyes, don’t be surprised if Nebraska pulls another big upset before the conference season is over. Minnesota and Indiana will both visit Lincoln in the coming week.
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Gary Harris is Proving That the Spartans Won’t Struggle to Score in the Postseason

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on January 21st, 2014

With less than 10 weeks left until Selection Sunday, we can begin to look at how each team is addressing their weaknesses that could become a roadblock on their way to winning a national title in March. The biggest concern with Michigan State was their ability to consistently generate offense, specifically, whether they have a go-to guy scorer that isn’t afraid to carry them over the last five minutes of the game. The contenders usually have one such player, which is why Kansas, Kentucky, and Duke are still considered to be a force in March because Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, and Jabari Parker can manufacture points regardless of double teams against formidable competition. During the preseason, Gary Harris was tagged to be that guy for Michigan State, and he is making a strong case for his ability to lead the Spartans in March based on his performance over the past two weeks.

Gary Harris has averaged 19 PPG over the last five games. (Getty)

Gary Harris has averaged 19 PPG over the last five games. (Getty)

Harris has averaged 19 PPG during January, but more importantly, he has shown that he can score without just relying on the three-pointer. He has one of the prettiest looking jumpers from beyond the arc, but he hasn’t been very consistent, as indicated by a so-so 32% shooting. However, when his shot doesn’t fall, he has shown the maturity to move into the mid-range and leverage his jumper from the elbow around the free-throw line in the half-court. Against a hungry Illini team on Saturday night, Harris drilled a couple of clutch shots off the pick-and-roll from the mid-range. These types of shots will be available to him as long as he doesn’t settle for the three because the Spartans have a decent frontcourt that can run pull up from the mid-range in case the defender forgets to switch away from Harris. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten M5: 01.21.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 21st, 2014

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  1. The last time Adreian Payne logged official game minutes was two weeks ago in Michigan State’s thrilling overtime victory against Ohio State. Since then, Payne has been sidelined due to a nagging ankle injury, and yet, his Spartan teammates have managed to go 3-0 in his absence. Although the senior big man feels like he can play if needed, Tom Izzo is thinking about the long term and will most likely keep him out again for tonight’s game against Indiana. According to Izzo, we won’t see the injured senior back in the lineup until the pain in his ankle has been significantly mitigated. The Spartans have managed without Payne thus far, but they have tough matchups against Michigan and Iowa coming up next and if they want to maintain their undefeated conference record, they need their big man back.
  2. On Sunday, Iowa finally got the monkey off its back and beat Ohio State to get its first marquee win of the season. Any objective spectator or anyone who is familiar with advanced metrics knew that the Hawkeyes had been performing at high level throughout the season. Their only losses have been to Wisconsin, Villanova, and Iowa State: three teams that have been ranked in the top 10 at some point this season. But what their resume was missing was a win over a team where they were the underdog. That mission was accomplished on Sunday. ESPN.com’s Eamonn Brennan details how Iowa’s offense has been the important factor for this season’s success. With a significant win now added to their resume, Brennan makes the case that it’s now safe to let your guard down and trust in the Hawkeyes as a legitimate contender.
  3. Things have really gone sour for Illinois since it broke into the AP Top 25 two weeks ago. Since that time, John Groce’s team has dropped four straight games, including one each against Northwestern and Purdue in games where it was favored. Suddenly, a team that looked like it was on its way to consecutive NCAA Tournaments appears in danger of finishing in the bottom third of the league. As a result, John Groce is looking for more consistency from his team. Specifically, he’d like to see their performance on defense and rebounding return to the level it was before the turn of the year. Groce is willing to play some of his younger players like Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill if it means more intensity on the court. However, the second-year head coach needs to fix things quickly since finding wins in the Big Ten will be increasingly difficult.
  4. If there’s one thing we should take away from last weekend’s games, it’s that any preconceived notion of how things will develop in league play should be thrown out the window. A month ago, it looked like Michigan’s hopes of contending for another Big Ten championship were over based on their less-than-stellar non-conference play and the loss of Mitch McGary to injury. Despite these setbacks and their relative youth, the Wolverines are beginning to learn how to win games against upper echelon teams. Michigan reclaimed its position as a championship contender with Saturday’s win against Wisconsin which moved them into a 5-0 tie for first place with Michigan State. John Beilein will need to keep developing his team as the Wolverines have (statistically speaking) the most difficult schedule in the league.
  5. And continuing the trend of outcomes which make no sense in the Big Ten, Indiana followed up its outstanding win against Wisconsin with a surprising loss to Northwestern at home over the weekend. Now the Hoosiers will have to regroup on the road in East Lansing to face a Michigan State team that destroyed them on in Bloomington two weeks ago. Although the Spartans will be without Adreian Payne, Tom Izzo did not need a big contribution from his big man in their last match-up. Instead, Tom Crean will be focused on stopping Gary Harris, who scored 26 points in the previous game. Lucky for the Hoosiers, the middle of the Big Ten is muddy enough where they can make up ground even if they lose to the Spartans. This season, an 8-10 record in league play may be good enough to get a team on the bubble.
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