Big Ten M5: 10.21.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on October 21st, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Preseason lists for this award and watch lists for that honor are being released in earnest. When it comes to a very specific list, plenty of Big Ten players are honored on the All-Indiana College Basketball Team, consisting of players from the Hoosier State who compete at the collegiate level. The first team includes Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell and Michigan State’s Branden Dawson, and perhaps a debatable player to some in Purdue’s AJ Hammons. The second team includes Michigan’s Zak Irvin, while three Honorable Mentions in Indiana’s James Blackmon, Jr. and Purdue’s Basil Smotherman and Raphael Davis. The team exhibits all the Indiana talent that is scattered across Big Ten rosters beyond just those playing for the in-state Hoosiers and Boilermakers.
  2. Minnesota is a team with some intrigue surrounding it entering this season. The Golden Gophers return four starters from its NIT Championship squad and it has raised some hopes and created high expectations for this year’s team. Some of these projections make sense and seem legitimate, such as Andre Hollins making an All-Big Ten team; but others, like Elliot Eliason leading the conference in rebounds and blocks, are a little more unrealistic. The biggest question to answer for Minnesota fans is whether the Gophers can make the NCAA Tournament and push forward to the second weekend of action. To accomplish such a feat, the team will need Hollins to really improve with the losses of Malik Smith and Austin Hollins. He has the skill set and talent to do so, but it will take a very strong campaign for Minnesota to rise to become a player at the top of the Big Ten and nationally.
  3. With the loss of Noah Vonleh to the NBA, it is no secret that Indiana has some major question marks on its interior this year. One player hoping to provide an answer, however, is Devin Davis. He is one of the few interior players the Hoosiers have returning with experience. The best thing going for Davis may just be that he isn’t a dominant offensive force but he is a strong rebounder. With this year’s team likely looking to rely on its perimeter play to propel the offense, a solid defender underneath who can also attack the boards fits very well. While Davis will likely sit behind Hanner Mosquera-Perea in Tom Crean’s rotation, his style could be beneficial and result in a significant number of minutes throughout the season.
  4. There are high hopes in Wisconsin this season, so to get ready for the year, why not start debating the past? What would you rate as the Badgers’ top play of the past 10 years? While this list goes with Bo Ryan making his first Final Four, personally the Ben Brust half-courter against Michigan would top my list. The real question for Wisconsin fans is whether this list will include more big plays from the upcoming season, and at what stakes? Certainly there could be a few leading to Big Ten and national accolades.
  5. Ever wondered what was in Lebron James’ locker? How about what is in his locker at Ohio State? Yes, Lebron James has a locker inside Ohio State’s locker room, right next to Amir Williams. He doesn’t use it, given that he’s a 29-year old professional and all, but the Buckeyes display Nike gear with his name on it to help appeal to recruits when they come to visit Columbus. Not a bad ploy to use despite King James never playing at Ohio State, or college anywhere, for that matter.
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Big Ten M5: 10.20.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 20th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Maryland received some bad news over the weekend when it found out that starting forward Evan Smotrycz will be out of action from four to six weeks with a broken foot. Smotrycz averaged 11.0 PPG and 6.0 RPG last season after transferring from Michigan. He was expected to be a starter for Mark Turgeon’s team again this season, but now he will probably miss key non-conference games against Arizona State and Virginia if he misses the full six weeks. This puts Jon Graham and possibly freshman Michal Cekovsky in line to pick up some of his minutes, at least in the short term.
  2. Not many Big Ten teams had flashy Midnight Madness spectacles like the Kentuckys and UConns of the world, but a couple of schools held public intra-squad scrimmages over the weekend. Purdue was one such team that did so, and the Boilermakers put forth an intriguing lineup with giants AJ Hammons and freshman Isaac Haas on the floor together at the same time. While this unit would definitely lack in quickness if used during the regular season, it could potentially work in small stretches of game action. The major takeaway from this occurrence, however, is that should Hammons get into foul trouble during the season — a fair assumption, given that he had 12 games of four fouls or more last year — it looks as though Matt Painter won’t hesitate to spell him with the 7’2″ Haas.
  3. Nebraska is in the midst of a highly successful football season right now, as the Huskers currently sit at 6-1 with running back Ameer Abdullah sneaking up the list of Heisman favorites. Despite all of that, Cornhuskers basketball is generating a good deal of its own hype heading into the season. Preseason first team All-Big Ten forward Terran Petteway was quoted at media day as saying “now everybody is going to be coming for us.” The Huskers surpassed expectations and then some last year, so it will be interesting to see what happens when they go from being the hunter to the hunted in 2014-15.
  4. Branden Dawson has to have a great senior season if Michigan State hopes to exceed expectations after losing three talented starters, and playing summer ball against former All-American Draymond Green has helped prepare him to take on a greater burden during this year’s campaign. Head coach Tom Izzo stated that if Dawson can bring consistent energy to the lineup, then he’ll have a big year as a leader. One would think that an all-conference season from Dawson will answer many of the questions people have about Michigan State in a transition year.
  5. Another B1G senior who is under the microscope this season is Ohio State swingman Sam Thompson. Thompson has primarily been known for his highlight reel dunks and incredible athleticism during his previous three seasons in Columbus, but the Buckeyes need offense with their top three scorers no longer on the roster. Thompson’s shooting percentages dropped across the board from his sophomore to his junior season, and as a senior he needs to provide more than just athleticism on a team that ranked 128th in offensive efficiency last year. Fellow seniors Shannon Scott, Amir Williams and Trey McDonald all will have different roles on the team from last season, and whether Thompson in particular can blossom into a more complete player may determine if the Buckeyes are capable of making another deep NCAA Tournament run for Thad Matta.
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Big Ten Season Grades: Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on April 16th, 2014

With the end of the season comes a chance to look back at what happened and look ahead to next year. Here we have broken the conference into three corresponding tiers based on this year’s finish and will give each a final grade and look at a key question for 2014-15. Today we’ll examine four teams that are hoping they don’t replicate this year’s bottom four finish: Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue.

Indiana

Yogi Ferrell had a great 2013-14 campaign and will need to replicate that for Indiana to be successful next year. (Darron Cummings, AP)

Yogi Ferrell had a great 2013-14 campaign and will need to replicate that for Indiana to be successful next year. (Darron Cummings, AP)

Grade: D. The Hoosiers lost so much with the departures of two lottery picks that maybe we all expected too much. Still, with Noah Vonleh (another likely lottery pick), Yogi Ferrell, Will Sheehey and “The Movement,” quite a bit more was expected from this group. Failure to make the NCAA Tournament (or even the bubble) and falling to the bottom tier of the Big Ten represents a very bad year for the Hoosiers. The program’s one bright spot was the emergence of Ferrell as not only the team’s best player but also one of the best in the conference.

Key 2014-15 Question: Who plays inside? Indiana will have plenty of guards on its roster next season. It brings back Ferrell and Stanford Robinson and its recruiting class includes McDonalds All-America shooting guard James Blackmon Jr. and shooting guard in Robert Johnson. With Vonleh and Jeremy Hollowell now gone, though, this team will lack an inside presence. Hanner Mosquera-Perea hasn’t really panned out and Troy Williams is a wing who doesn’t dominate inside the paint. Tom Crean is still recruiting in the hopes of filling this hole with a late commitment, but as of now, the Hoosiers could be looking at a four-guard lineup next year.

Northwestern

Grade: B. A “B” may seem high for a team at the bottom of league but this group of Wildcats was expected to do absolutely nothing in the Big Ten this season. Recall that at one point the question was if they could win a single Big Ten game. Chris Collins did plenty to change that notion quickly, as he made the team’s identity about defense and pushed it to win six games in conference play (and at one point had pundits wondering if it could make its way onto the NCAA bubble). It was a big and unexpected turnaround that has the Wildcats looking to break the NCAA drought sooner than later.

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Weekend Preview in the Big Ten

Posted by Alex Moscoso & Brendan Brody on February 22nd, 2014

Typically, RTC Big Ten microwriters Alex Moscoso and Brendan Brody preview the weekend’s most important or interesting conference game. This week the problem is — and it is a good problem we might add — that all the games on this weekend’s slate have some level of significance. So we decided instead of focusing on just one to quickly preview and analyze each of the five weekend match-ups in this single post. Enjoy.

Wisconsin at Iowa (Saturday, 12:oo PM ET, ESPN2)

Fran McCaffery Was Not Happy About His Previous Ejection (AP)

Fran McCaffery Was Not Happy About His Previous Ejection (AP)

AM: This is one of the most consequential games this weekend as it pits the current third and fourth place teams against one another. If Wisconsin loses, the Badgers will likely be out of contention for a regular season championship as they’ll find themselves three games back of the Michigan-Michigan State winner with only five games remaining. In their previous meeting, Iowa came firing out of the gates and built an 11-point lead at half before blowing it as Fran McCaffery was ejected for an incensed outburst towards the officials. Look for Iowa to try to set the pace once again, but this time get players other than Roy Devyn Marble involved. It would also help to defend the three-point line better than they did at the Kohl Center, where Wisconsin shot a tidy 45.5 percent.

Minnesota at Ohio State (Saturday, 6:oo PM ET, BTN)

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Battle for Hoosier State Supremecy: A Preview By the Numbers

Posted by Brendan Brody & Alex Moscoso on February 15th, 2014

Heading into Saturday’s game in West Lafayette, Indiana and Purdue both currently sit in the bottom third of the Big Ten standings with matching 4-7 conference records. In addition to playing for state bragging rights in one of the best Big Ten rivalries, both teams are clinging to quickly fading NCAA Tournament hopes. Brendan Brody and Alex Moscoso decided to look at some key numbers for the upcoming game in the form of predicting some over/unders to try to figure out who will come away with the win on Saturday afternoon (4:00 PM EST, ESPN).

Yogi Ferrell needs to score and distribute for Indiana to beat their in-state rival. (Darron Cummings, AP)

Yogi Ferrell needs to score and distribute for Indiana to beat their in-state rival. (Darron Cummings, AP)

Yogi Ferrell over/under 25 points+assists

Alex Moscoso: I’m definitely taking the over. Ferrell is a fantastic college player because he comes up big when Indiana needs him the most. When the Hoosiers upset then-undefeated Wisconsin a few weeks ago, the sophomore put up 25 points and four assists. Against Michigan (undefeated at the time in Big Ten play), he put up 27 points and a couple of assists. Now, his team needs him to step up to get to the right side of the bubble, and I think he’ll deliver.

AJ Hammons over/under 10 rebounds

Brendan Brody: Hammons will have fewer than 10 rebounds in this one. Indiana has outrebounded its opponent in each of their last five games. They’ve also only allowed one player (Jordan Morgan) to grab double-figure boards against them in those games. Purdue does do a pretty good job cleaning the glass, especially on the offensive end, but the combination of Indiana’s rebounding prowess and the potential for Hammons to be in foul trouble at some point in the game makes the prediction 10+ boards too risky.

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Big Ten M5: 01.24.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 24th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. The trials and tribulations that have come to mark the 2013-14 Michigan State campaign took another turn on Thursday. Junior forward Branden Dawson broke a bone in his hand and will be out for a month. Dawson hurt his hand when reacting in frustration to a replay of the broadcast of Tuesday’s win against Indiana, and the details of the situation are a little bit hazy. Coach Tom Izzo was quoted as saying about the incident, ” This kid did not rob any stores, he didn’t do any drugs, there’s no alcohol involved.” Obviously Izzo has Dawson’s back despite the questionable timing and intelligence of breaking one’s hand in the middle of the season off the court. It will be interesting to see how long Sparty can survive the latest round of bad luck it’s been hit with this year.
  2. The Spartans will find out pretty quickly how they play without Dawson, as they will face rival Michigan for first place in the conference in East Lansing Saturday night. Last year, the Wolverines got thoroughly whipped in their visit to the Breslin Center, and they realize how intense they need to be right from the jump. Since that game, the core of Michigan’s roster has played in a National Championship game and three high-level road games this year. Look for this year’s group to be a bit better prepared for the scene this time around.
  3. Another significant injury occurred on Wednesday night, when Minnesota’s Andre Hollins sprained his left ankle on the first possession of the game against Wisconsin. He was diagnosed with a severe ankle sprain, and although Richard Pitino hasn’t yet ruled him out, it’s reasonable to presume he’ll probably miss Sunday’s tilt at Nebraska. The Gophers have to feel much better about this development than they would have a month ago, however. This is a considerably deeper team now, with bench players like Malik Smith, Maurice Walker and Joey King all looking much-improved over the last five games. Look for senior Maverick Amanmisi to also get plenty of minutes in Hollins’ absence.
  4. Aside from his seven turnovers against Northwestern, Purdue’s AJ Hammons led the team in scoring, rebounds, steals and blocks in the Boilermakers’ loss at Northwestern on Tuesday. That’s why it’s mildly surprising that he took full blame for the setback in Evanston. While his shooting from the field (3-of-10) and turnovers played a role in the defeat, he also played a season-high 44 minutes (double his average of 22 MPG on the season). Hammons is not Purdue’s problem right now, and after a rocky start to the season that resulted in his suspension for the opening game, taking the blame for a tough loss like this is a good sign that great things are still to come from the burly pivot man.
  5. The ghost of Hall of Famer Bob Knight will be around the Indiana program for quite some time, and that is partially why head coach Tom Crean has yet to be fully embraced by all the people who love the program. This is despite the fact that Crean was able to completely clean up the mess of the Kelvin Sampson era after his arrival in Bloomington. He has rebuilt the program from the ashes, but the naysayers aren’t happy with their 12-7 start. While some of his in-game strategy screams that this isn’t the most disciplined team in the country, Crean deserves a pass in large part due to how young his team is. They had to pretty much start over from scratch this year, and time is needed to let the young talent mature before calling for his head.
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Big Ten M5: 01.16.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on January 16th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Rushing the court debates are always fun in college basketball. It’s what the name of this website comes from, after all, so after Indiana rushed the court after knocking off Wisconsin Tuesday night, it sparked some outrage and debate among, well, basically everyone who follows college basketball. The reaction piece linked by ESPN.com‘s Eamonn Brennan may be the best way to look at it, too. Sure, maybe Indiana has too much tradition and the win last night didn’t “deserve” a court rush. But really, of all things to get riled up and worried about, the “rules” of when and when not to do so may be the most silly. Frankly, it’s college students enjoying a big win and carrying their emotions out onto the court. Who cares if it doesn’t fit your “rules,” because as Brennan says it, “They aren’t lisning (sic) to your rules. They’re too busy having fun.”
  2. Here we go again with Illinois. Last season the Illini came out of the gate strong and had everybody wondering if they could squeeze their way into discussion for the Big Ten title race before collapsing. This season, they once again started the year surprsingly well, but after a loss to Purdue last night, it’s a three-game losing streak that has everyone wondering if they will be making a slide just like last season. The key to the loss last night was specifically in the starters not producing enough outside of a slightly hobbled Rayvonte Rice. Nnanna Egwu, Jon Ekey and Joseph Betrand combined for 17 points against the Boilermakers and this is following a total team disaster offensively against Northwestern. For Illinois to get back on track and keep its potential for the NCAA Tournament alive this will have to change quickly.
  3. Northwestern was hopeful it could pull off “deja vu” against Michigan State. Not only did it want to replicate an upset from two years ago, but also the upset it pulled over Illinois this past week. With Michigan State hobbled, the Wildcats hung around before ultimately falling by 14, but it did get some high praise from Tom Izzo after the game. The Spartans head coach said it was the best defense he had seen from a Northwestern team in years, marking that’s the sign of a good coach. That’s pretty high praise for Chris Collins.
  4. On the other side of the Illinois loss was what we have all come to expect from Purdue‘s AJ Hammons. The center has constantly been called a potential lottery pick and dominant player in the conference. Yet, despite all the physical tools he hasn’t put it together and been consistent enough. Last night, though, he reminded everyone why the high praise is there as he helped Purdue to its best win of the season. Hammons final stat line of 17 points, eight rebounds and three blocks shows the key to Purdue’s win and potentially it’s NCAA Tournament hopes. If he can play like that every game, the Boilermakers may not be dead and NIT bound just yet.
  5. It wasn’t a good week for Ohio State. Two losses to two of the top teams in the Big Ten certainly isn’t what the Buckeyes had in mind. Still, despite the bad week, Thad Matta realizes there is still plenty of season left to play. This reaction is certainly the best possible one (at least publicly) the head coach can have with his team. It’s a veteran group that will need to respond quickly with its trip to Minnesota tonight, and it should understand two back-to-back losses don’t derail its hopes for a high seed in the NCAA Tournament or even the hopes for competing in the Big Ten. It is unlikely the conference winner will finish with just two losses, so the Buckeyes have plenty of season left to turn it around.
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Three Keys to Ohio State at Purdue Today

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on December 31st, 2013

Big Ten play is here and it gets started today with No. 3 Ohio State‘s trip to West Lafayette to take on Purdue at 1:00 PM ET. The Buckeyes are still undefeated and Purdue has had its struggles in the non-conference season, but the Boilermakers are coming off their most impressive win at West Virginia nine days ago. The match-up will be Ohio State’s second road game of the season, but the first since its trip to Marquette before Thanksgiving (although it should be noted that Purdue students will still be off campus on break, so the crowd may not be as raucous as normal). The Buckeyes need the win to stay near the top of the national rankings and make an early statement that it is the favorite to win the conference. Purdue needs any and all marquee wins to help boost its NCAA Tournament resume, which boasts an 11-3 record but no truly quality victories yet. Here are three keys to this year’s Big Ten season opener. Happy new year, everyone!

Shannon Scott and Ronnie Johnson open up Big Ten play this year against one another and the guards are both key to their team's success (Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports).

Shannon Scott and Ronnie Johnson open up Big Ten play this year against one another and the guards are both key to their team’s success (Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports).

  1. Can Purdue’s guards penetrate and score on Ohio State’s spectacular defense? The Buckeyes’ defense is one of the very best — if not the best — in the country. It leads the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, and is among the best in scoring defense and opponents’ field goal percentage. With Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott and Lenzelle Smith Jr. leading the charge, Purdue will have to manage to find some offense from its trio of slashing guards. The Johnsons and Bryson Scott need to get to the basket and take smart shots, not just go into the lane with reckless abandon to take a leaning, prayer of a floater that has no chance to drop in the basket. Such drives, if performed successfully, will open up lanes for dropoff passes to AJ Hammons, Jay Simpson and the other players cutting to the basket. Without good penetration opportunities today, Purdue’s offense will go stagnant and the Boilermakers will struggle to reach 50 points in the game (leaving almost no chance to win). Read the rest of this entry »
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Indiana and Purdue Both Face Questions Following Crossroads Classic

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on December 16th, 2013

It wasn’t a good day for the Big Ten contingent at the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis on Saturday. Indiana and Purdue both lost games they really needed to win, and now find themselves still without a marquee win on their NCAA resumes. The losses also gave Indiana (1-2 in Crossroads Classic history) and Purdue (0-3) losing records versus their in-state brethren Notre Dame (2-1) and Butler (3-0) in the event. So maybe the B1G schools don’t actually rule the state after all. Here are three keys from each of Saturday’s games and some questions facing the Hoosiers and Boilermakers following each.

Notre Dame 79, Indiana 72

Indiana's Will Sheehey battles with Notre Dame's Jerian Grant for a ball in the Crossroads Classic. Indiana faces plenty of questions following the loss to the Irish (AP Photo/Michael Conroy).

Indiana’s Will Sheehey battles with Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant for a ball in the Crossroads Classic. Indiana faces plenty of questions following the loss to the Irish (AP Photo/Michael Conroy).

  • Physicality Inside. Everyone thought it would be the Notre Dame guards who could lead the Irish to an upset victory, but everyone was pretty much wrong. Jerian Grant had a very good game (23 points), but it was the Irish’s inside play of Garrick Sherman (16/6) and bench players Tom Knight (yes, he still plays basketball) and Zach Auguste that killed Indiana inside. These players routinely went right at Vonleh and the other Hoosiers and just outmuscled them in the paint. The Hoosier freshman is very athletic and talented but he had no answer when they backed him down. This is an issue that could rear its head often for this team during Big Ten play if Vonleh doesn’t toughen up or the Hoosiers don’t find someone to match up defensively with the strong inside players in the conference.
  • Go-to Scorer. Indiana never took the lead in this game despite coming close over and over again. The Hoosiers would pull within a few points or tie the game and could never quite get over the hump. Each time, Indiana either froze on assessing its options or the leaders who tried to take charge didn’t come through. Examples included Will Sheehey quickly pulling up for a three-pointer and missing, or Yogi Ferrell taking an isolation drive that was rejected. These two or someone else needs to emerge for Indiana to close out games like these in the future. Read the rest of this entry »
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Previewing the Crossroads Classic

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on December 14th, 2013

In a state that considers itself the mecca for hoops, Indiana’s premiere college basketball programs are set to play in the Crossroads Classic’s third edition later today. In the past two years the event has brought buzzer-beaters and an upset over a No. 1 team, but this season, all four teams desperately need a win here to help their future NCAA hopes. It’s a day for state supremacy and bragging rights at Bankers Life Fieldhouse — on a Saturday afternoon of great basketball around the country, the Crossroads Classic is unlikely to disappoint. Below you will find three keys to both games for Indiana and Purdue to notch wins in this afternoon’s event.

The Crossroads Classic

The Crossroads Classic is Becoming a Hoosier State Tradition

Notre Dame vs. Indiana 3:15 PM, ESPN

  • Take care of the ball. The Irish are the more experienced team taking on the relatively young Hoosiers. This becomes especially important in the backcourt where Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell faces Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins. These two take care of and share the ball extremely well (Notre Dame is third in the country in assists per game). Ferrell will need to match their composure and not make mistakes if Indiana hopes to walk away with the victory here.
  • Use its athleticism. Indiana struggled against Syracuse’s zone with all of its tall, athletic and physical players. Notre Dame at least has the tall and physical part going for it. This means that the Hoosiers will need to use their athleticism to get out and run. If Indiana can turn this into a track meet game, it has a better chance of winning the contest where its athleticism can outmatch Notre Dame’s experience. This also helps alleviate the Irish having a strong starting five versus Indiana typically having to rely on a couple players to explode (read: Noah Vonleh, Jeremy Hollowell, Ferrell).

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Purdue Gets First Chance For Marquee Win Against Oklahoma State

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on November 28th, 2013

It hasn’t been an ideal start for Purdue, but none of that will matter against No. 5 Oklahoma State this Thanksgiving day. The Boilermakers haven’t been dominant yet this season, but they have overcome some early rebounding troubles to remain undefeated through five games. As turkeys are going into the ovens a bit later today, Matt Painter‘s team will take the floor in its first chance at a resume-building win in the first game of the Old Spice Classic. For a team hopeful to return the NCAA Tournament, a win over Oklahoma State would be a statement win by itself, and guarantee two other games against quality competition (Butler, Memphis, LSU and St. Joseph’s highlight the other top teams in the event). Travis Ford’s team has been very impressive early, averaging more than 100 PPG as the Cowboys have demolished every team it has faced, including Memphis by 21 in Stillwater. For the whole tournament, fellow RTC writer Max Jakubowski projects a seventh place finish for Purdue in the event. Second-to-last wouldn’t exactly be a strong performance for Purdue, but let’s look at some keys for Purdue to have any shot at pulling the stunning upset at Noon ET today.

Matt Painter's team has its first chance for a big win on Thanksgiving against No. 5 Oklahoma State.

Matt Painter’s team has its first chance for a big win on Thanksgiving against No. 5 Oklahoma State.

  • AJ Hammons and Jay Simpson Dominate Inside. It’d be easy to start with Marcus Smart, but realistically, Purdue isn’t going to stop him. So let’s focus first on Purdue’s biggest advantage with its height and big men inside. The Cowboys don’t have a particularly large front line and it’s top players are guards, which means that the Boilermakers need to go inside early and often in this game. If Hammons and Simpson don’t have big games, it could get out of hand very quickly. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 11.22.13 Edition

Posted by Max Jakubowski on November 22nd, 2013

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  1. Keith Appling has been off to a hot start this season for Michigan State, but make no mistake the heart of the Spartans’ offense is Gary Harris.  Tom Izzo wants him to take at least 15 shots a game.  If Harris is knocking down shots from the perimeter, it will open up more of the floor for Michigan State specifically Adreian Payne. Harris was voted the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year and will be under constant pressure to perform at a high level.
  2. A big question mark heading into this season for Ohio State was whether Amir Williams could finally step up and become an offensive threat on the post.  So far, Williams has performed well.  He is averaging 9.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks a game. Last year, the Buckeyes never really had a true post threat as Evan Ravenel saw time and even DeShaun Thomas would play some five.  It will be crucial to the Buckeyes’ success that Williams produces down low, especially against Big Ten foes.
  3. Losing 2014 point guard prospect Quentin Snider was a big blow to John Groce and his Illinois program.  Snider was deemed the point guard of the future once Tracy Abrams last.  However, Illinois may have found their future point guard internally already.  Jaylon Tate has played extremely well in backing up Abrams this season. Tate actually leads the conference in assist to turnover ratio.  The Chicago product may have gotten lost in the shuffle next year, with Oregon State transfer Ahmad Starks becoming eligible and Snider was also suppose to be on campus.  Now, Tate looks like the key guy to run Groce’s offense for future seasons.
  4. It’s a given that AJ Hammons is a valuable piece to Purdue.  So its understandable why Matt Painter wants his team to feed Hammons more on the post.  Purdue has been struggling with their three-point shooting, making Hammons low-post scoring even more crucial.  Purdue heads to Anaheim to take on Oklahoma State in the Old Spice classic next week.  Hammons will need to have one of his better scoring games to keep Purdue competitive in this one.
  5. Michigan handled Long Beach State easily in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in Thursday.  But the bigger news for Michigan may have been that their main competition in Puerto Rico lost. Both Georgetown and VCU fell in their first games, opening up the bracket significantly for the Wolverines.  Michigan will take on Florida State and a win would set up a date against either Charlotte or Northeastern. This may not have been the path Michigan envisioned, but the road to a tournament championship certainly seems brighter.
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