Big Ten Observations: Ohio State at Northwestern

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 7th, 2016

Ohio State moved to 3-0 in Big Ten play in an ugly win over Northwestern last night. The Wildcats moved to 1-2 in dropping another important home game that could come back to bite them on Selection Sunday. Here are four quick observations from the Buckeyes’ convincing 65-56 win in Evanston.

Kam Williams was the spark Ohio State needed from the bench Wednesday night. (USAT Images)

Kam Williams was the spark Ohio State needed from the bench Wednesday night. (USAT Images)

  • Kam Williams Looms as a Potential Game-Changer: In a game where neither team could make perimeter shots (11-of-43 combined from three-point range), Williams knocked in five buckets from beyond the arc. The sophomore guard was off to a nondescript start to this season (6.3 PPG in 17.2 MPG during non-conference games), but on a team where the next best outside shooter hits only 34 percent from deep, Williams’ development as a scoring option could allow the Buckeyes to make a run at a top four finish.
  • Ohio State’s Defense Keeps Improving: Ohio State is currently ranked 19th in defensive efficiency and much of that success can be attributed to their size — the Buckeyes don’t have anyone smaller than 6’4″ in their starting five. That length allows Thad Matta‘s group to defend at an elite level, and this was on full display last night. The Buckeyes blocked eight shots, holding Northwestern to 0.82 points per possession and 35.7 percent from two-point range. And despite some offensive limitations, Trevor Thompson and Daniel Giddens are becoming defensive menaces.

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Big Ten M5: New Year’s Day Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on January 1st, 2016

morning5_bigten

  1. With Alex Olah out indefinitely, Joey van Zegren started at center for Northwestern in its Wednesday Big Ten opener at Nebraska. But freshman Dererk Pardon stole the show in his college debut, with 28 points and 12 rebounds off the bench. Originally slated to redshirt this year, Chris Collins burned Pardon’s redshirt as a result of Olah’s injury. The Cleveland, Ohio, native made a case that he, not van Zegren, should carry the load at center while Olah is out.
  2. Illinois signed wing Kipper Nichols in November as part of its 2016 recruiting class, and the former Tulane signee officially joined and started practicing with the Fighting Illini earlier this week. Nichols, an Ohio native, enrolled and briefly attended class at Tulane this fall. He did not play a game, but he will still likely have to wait until December 2016 to play and will have three and a half years of eligibility left. In addition to Tulane, Nichols held offers from Northwestern, Maryland, Nebraska, Xavier and Butler out of high school. Scout.com originally rated him a three-star prospect in the 2015 class.
  3. Rutgers forward Deshawn Freeman hasn’t played since Nov. 30 because of a knee injury, and was scheduled to be re-evaluated around the start of Big Ten play. Now, he won’t be re-evaluated until the second week of January, keeping him out for at least the first three of Rutgers’ conference games. The junior was averaging 13.1 points per game before his injury.
  4. Indiana guard James Blackmon Jr. missed Wednesday’s 79-72 win over Rutgers with a right knee injury suffered in Monday’s practice. Head coach Tom Crean said it was a non-contact injury suffered during a drill, and is still in the “evaluation stage.” Right now, it’s unclear how serious the injury is or how much time he will miss. The sophomore was averaging 15.8 points per game prior to sustaining the injury.
  5. Illinois is down yet another player after point guard Khalid Lewis missed Wednesday’s loss to Michigan with the mumps, leaving Jaylon Tate as the Illini’s only healthy true point guard. Lewis was kept away from the team with the contagious disease and won’t practice again until healthy. Tate played a career-high 34 minutes in the 78-68 loss, scoring six points and handing out four assists. Illinois’ next game is Sunday at Ohio State.
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Morning Five: 12.28.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 28th, 2015

morning5

  1. It seems like we have been saying this could be the year that Northwestern makes the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever for several years now. The hopes this year took a massive hit yesterday when they announced that senior center Alex Olah would be out indefinitely with an injury to his foot. Olah, who had been averaging 12.8 points (on 59.8% FG), 6.5 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game, helped lead the Wildcats to an 11-1 record (they sit at 12-1 after a win last night over Loyola) with their only loss coming against North Carolina. Northwestern will rely on freshman Dererk Pardon, who had 6 points (3-3 FG) and 4 rebounds last night, to fill in for Olah, but if they have any realistic hope of making the NCAA Tournament this year they will need Olah back pretty soon.
  2. With several conference tournaments being played every year in Las Vegas the NCAA’s refusal to have any of its postseason events there has always seemed strange to us. Now that the NCAA has expressed some interest in softening its stance and considering Las Vegas as a potential postseason site some within the city are beginning to push hard for inclusion. While including Las Vegas in NCAA postseason tournaments probably wouldn’t do much to affect the city’s bottom line (it is basically hosts multiple conventions every single day of the year) it would help lend a sense of legitimacy to the city and also be used as a springboard into talking to the NCAA and other states about increasing the reach of legalized gambling.
  3. Over the past few years we have noted the proliferation of cable networks dedicated to conferences and in some cases teams (we will get to the latter in a minute). These networks have been cited as one of the driving forces behind conference realignment as network contracts in addition to the ones they sign with established networks help drive large sums of money into the pockets of the schools within the conference. The most unique of these arrangements is The Longhorn Network, which as its name suggests is dedicated to Texas. While Texas is undoubtedly one of the biggest brands in college sports (it tops most lists in terms of licensing revenue) the school’s revenue-producing sports (basketball and football) have struggled recently and the network itself has not been doing well financially. While the details behind those struggles are more complex than just the school’s on-field/-court struggles (those details are in the article), it does serve to underscore the tenuous nature of some of these television contracts.
  4. Former Cincinnati assistant coach Al Hmiel decided to come clean recently regarding his history as a college basketball “slimeball”. Hmiel says his decision to “come clean” was the result of hearing about Louisville’s ongoing scandal and how some people were trying to use the recruits as scapegoats. Hmiel basically admits to doing just about every conceivable thing you could imagine to make a player eligible or, in some cases, ineligible. Hmiel’s comments will probably generate a fair amount of reaction over the next few weeks particularly from former players and/or coaches who were mentioned or were at the school when Hmiel was there, but based on the response we have seen online the accusations might not be that ridiculous.
  5. Normally the suspensions of student-athletes for impermissible benefits lead to a bunch of media outrage so we were a bit surprised to see the eight-game suspension of Vermont guard Dre Wills for reselling his textbooks didn’t generate more ridiculous headlines (ok, it did from some of the usual suspects). Wills, a junior who was averaging 6.8 points and 5 rebounds per game, apparently violated his athletic scholarship by selling back his textbooks. It’s not really clear how much money Wills got from reselling those books (from personal experience we can tell you it was probably very little), but since his scholarship almost certainly paid for those books we can understand why he can’t just resell the books and collect the profit.
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CBE Hall Of Fame Classic: Reactions From Night Two

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 25th, 2015

Brian Goodman is the lead Big 12 correspondent for Rush The Court. He’s in Kansas City this week for the CBE Hall of Fame Classic. You can follow Brian on Twitter @BSGoodman or the RTC Big 12 Twitter account @b12hoops.

The CBE Hall Of Fame Classic wrapped in Kansas City on Tuesday night, with North Carolina overcoming a hot night from Kansas State to take the title by a score of 80-70. In the consolation round, Northwestern withstood a second half Missouri run to topple the Tigers 67-62.

  • North Carolina’s late run deflates Kansas State. The Tar Heels and Wildcats traded jabs for most of the night, with Kansas State pulling ahead for a prolonged stretch in the second half. In the closing minutes, however, North Carolina reeled off a 21-3 run to put Bruce Weber’s team away. It was a collective effort down the stretch for North Carolina, but one specific play turned the tide in the Tar Heels’ favor. Coming out of a media timeout with a touch under four minutes left, Roy Williams drew up a baseline out-of-bounds designed play for Joel Berry, who found himself open thanks to a pair of screens to bury a three-pointer off a pass from Brice Johnson. The Tar Heels were soft on offense for the better part of 35 minutes, allowing Kansas State to keep up on the glass and get some steals, but they tightened their game up when it mattered most and showed some toughness to close things out.
Down the stretch, Kennedy Meeks and UNC had just enough to hold off hometown Kansas State. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Down the stretch, Kennedy Meeks and UNC had just enough to hold off hometown Kansas State. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Kamau Stokes puts on a show as the young Wildcats put a scare into UNC. We talked yesterday about Dean Wade‘s great effort on the blocks on Monday, but it was a different Kansas State newcomer who grabbed the attention of everyone in the Sprint Center last night. Stokes came into Tuesday’s final shooting a paltry 3-of-14 from distance on the season, but caught fire against North Carolina with a 6-of-8 effort from distance. With each passing bucket, Stokes grew more confident, firing up the crowd and his teammates. Stokes’ hot stretch even drew a double-team from the Tar Heels at one point. His night was made even more unexpected by the fact that he required an extra year at prep school just to get a Division-I scholarship offer. It’s just unfortunate that the rest of the Wildcats shot just 36 percent from the floor and couldn’t buy a stop late in the game. Tonight served as a reminder that even though Bruce Weber has a young team full of guys that want to play for him, it’s still going to be a process. Stokes will continue to get opportunities as Weber figures out his rotation, but while we wouldn’t expect him to be this hot regularly, even decent three-point shooting would be a big lift to Kansas State as it retools.

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CBE Hall of Fame Classic: Reactions From Night One

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 24th, 2015

Brian Goodman is the lead Big 12 correspondent for Rush The Court. He’s in Kansas City this week for the CBE Hall of Fame Classic. You can follow Brian on Twitter @BSGoodman or the RTC Big 12 Twitter account @Big12Hoops.

The CBE Hall Of Fame Classic tipped off in Kansas City on Monday night, with Kansas State walloping Missouri in the opener and North Carolina taking care of Northwestern in the nightcap. Here are the most important takeaways from each team’s performance last evening.

Bruce Weber's crew had a good night in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Bruce Weber’s crew had a good night in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Dean Wade steps up inside for Kansas State. Post production on both ends of the court was a massive struggle for Kansas State a year ago, but it’s been a different story this year thanks to Bruce Weber‘s most important newcomer. Wade overwhelmed Missouri’s undersized lineup all night long, finishing with 14 points and 13 rebounds to register his first career double-double. The 6’10 freshman doesn’t yet have a ton of polish around the rim, but he showed impressive range all the way out to the three-point line and made all six of his free throws. Weber was very pleased with his big man’s play on Monday, telling media after the game that his rookie “responded against probably bigger, more athletic guys than we had played in the previous games.” Wade faces his biggest test of his young career today (7:00 PM PT, ESPN2) when he’ll go up against North Carolina’s formidable back line of Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson.
  • Missouri has an all-around rough night. After last weekend’s gritty loss to Xavier, Missouri was only able to keep up with Kansas State for the first 10 minutes of the game. From that point, the Wildcats clamped down defensively and the wheels just fell off for the Tigers. Kim Anderson’s team was aggressive and played hard, particularly on one occasion where freshman Terrence Phillips leaped out of bounds to save a loose ball, but its execution otherwise couldn’t have been much worse. Missouri’s lack of size made things easy for Kansas State on the interior, and an ice-cold 4-of-18 night from three-point range did little to reduce the gap. This is an important year for the second-year head coach, who is not only working for an athletic director who didn’t hire him, but is also surrounded by SEC coaches who are far more accomplished. Monday night’s game was an opportunity to build on a solid effort against Xavier but the Tigers fell hard instead.

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Feast Week Previews: Maui, Legends, CBE & Cancun Tourneys

Posted by Andrew Gripshover on November 23rd, 2015

There are talented tournament fields everywhere this Feast Week. The Gulf Coast Showcase has a relatively strong mid-major field headlined by Murray State, Duquesne (which absolutely BLASTED Penn State on Friday) and Texas Southern. Four capable teams — Clemson, UMass (already a winner over Harvard), Creighton and Rutgers — will tussle in another four-team field in Vegas. Looking further ahead, Atlantis tips off on Wednesday before a handful of other events kick off on Thanksgiving Day and beyond. As we did with Puerto Rico and Charleston last week, here’s a look at the event favorite, a dark horse, and the teams who have the most on the line this week. We’ll also highlight a player and a storyline to watch.

Maui Invitational

Despite some early season struggles, Bill Self and Kansas are still the clear favorite in Maui. (Getty)

Despite some early struggles, Bill Self and Kansas are still the clear favorite in Maui. (Getty)

  • Favorite: Kansas. Even with no Cheick Diallo or Brannen Greene for the week and the second half collapse to Michigan State in Chicago notwithstanding, the Jayhawks are still the clear favorite in Maui as the only top 10 team in this tournament. Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor are seniors. Frank Mason and Wayne Selden are juniors. This is an experienced team that might be going on its last ride together. As usual, there’s chatter about this being the year the Big 12 title streak is broken. Winning the Maui title would probably pump the brakes on that notion, at least for the time being.
  • Darkhorse: UCLA. In terms of talent and potential, the Bruins are a clear sleeper. Aaron Holiday, Bryce Alford, Tony Parker  you could easily see a team with talented pieces like these upsetting a still-not-quite-right Kansas in the semifinal and then taking out Indiana or Vanderbilt the next night. Of course, they’re flaky enough that they could brick the last Maui quarter to UNLV, especially after that whole Monmouth thing.

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Is This Finally the Year for Northwestern?

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 4th, 2015

It’s legendary throughout the North Side of Chicago for its pure length of futility. It’s one of the longest streaks in sports, and dogged followers have hoped for decades that the drought would soon be over. Now, here in 2015, it appears that better days are finally coming. For the fans that have stuck around, the imminent snap of the curse will only be sweeter for their having endured decades of losing. And while the Chicago Cubs may soon end their 107-year World Series championship drought, we are not talking about the boys from Wrigley Field here. Rather, Northwestern hoops and its string of 77 seasons without an NCAA Tournament appearance (the Wildcats are the only original Division I school in a power conference that has never made the field) could very well come to an end this season. They’ve been close before and there are some extremely positive signs appearing in Evanston as we approach tipoff. Here are three reasons why Northwestern — yes, those Wildcats — could indeed go dancing this March.

Tre Demps and fellow senior Alex Olah will be team leaders for Northwestern(Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports)

Tre Demps will be a key leader for Northwestern (Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports)

  • Experienced Leadership: Two seniors who have been in Evanston through thick and thin over the last three seasons have steadily improved throughout their careers. Alex Olah and Tre Demps were both honorable mention all-B1G selections last season and are without question two of the league’s top returnees. Olah in particular has made leaps and bounds since his freshman season, improving his scoring from 6.1 PPG as a freshman to 11.7 PPG as a junior. His offensive rating went from 88.8 to 106.2 in the same period despite the fact that he is also using more possessions (21.8 to 24.1 percent). Notwithstanding the math, the eye test confirms that Olah has come a long way and it’s tough to find any player in the Big Ten who has improved as much over the same timeframe as he has. Demps has also become a more complete player, having evolved from a modest scoring option off the bench into a high-usage, heavy minutes offensive leader. He’s increased his assists every season and has also seen a spike in both his scoring (from 7.6 PPG as a freshman to 12.5 PPG last season), and offensive rating (94.3 to 102.6). Quality backups for Olah and Demps are also in place this season, with Virginia Tech transfer Joey van Zegeren prepared to spell the former and freshman combo guard Jordan Ash ready to supply good minutes for the latter. In general, Chris Collins has more talented depth at his disposal than he’s ever had in Evanston. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Storylines Heading Into Next Season

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 17th, 2015

There are still some dominoes to fall in terms of Big Ten roster turnover in coming weeks but we already have a pretty good idea of how the league will look next year. Here are a few things to ponder as Big Ten fans brace themselves for seven months without any games with which to occupy their time.

Melo Trimble could be a first team All-American next season for Maryland. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Melo Trimble could be a first team All-American next season for Maryland. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

  • Return to Multiple Conference Championship Contenders: Wisconsin essentially went wire-to-wire this season, going from the unanimous preseason favorite to winning both the conference regular season and postseason titles. Next season should be a bit more like the 2013-14 campaign with several teams with a realistic shot to win the league. Maryland is rightfully getting a good deal of love in the preseason “way-to-early” top 25 lists. The Terps will return two of their top three players in Melo Trimble and Jake Layman and will add a bruiser down low in freshman Diamond Stone. Indiana (assuming both Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. return to Bloomington), and Michigan State could also very well start the season in the top 15 nationally. Thomas Bryant will give the Hoosiers someone to keep defenses honest inside, while Sparty adds Eron Harris, Devonta Davis, and Caleb Swanigan to a nucleus of eight players who were contributors on a Final Four squad. These three should all challenge for the top spot in Big Ten play next season.
  • Wisconsin Rebuild: It will be fun to observe how Bo Ryan replaces the multiple talented pieces that he is losing from a group that went to back-to-back Final Fours. He has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt so as to figure that players like Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter will break out with more playing time next season. Getting key starters Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig back is also a pretty decent starting point. How far will the Badgers actually fall, and how long will it take for the newcomers to make an impact?

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RTC All-Big Ten Teams

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 9th, 2015

With the end of the regular season now here, it’s time to reveal our award winners for the 2014-15 campaign. Over the next couple of days we’ll be unveiling our all-conference teams and superlatives for a number of individual awards. We’ll start today with our three all-Big Ten teams and Honorable Mentions. With 14 teams to choose from, these 15 players separated themselves in numerous different ways. Let us know where you disagree in the comments.

First Team

Frank Kaminsky is on our First Team All B1G team, and may well pick up a National Player of the Year award as well. (Espn.com)

Frank Kaminsky is on our First Team, and may well pick up a National Player of the Year award as well. (Espn.com)

  • Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin (18.4 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 55.9% FG)
  • D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State (19.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 5.2 APG, 1.6 SPG)
  • Aaron White, Iowa (15.9 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 81.4% FT)
  • Melo Trimble, Maryland (16.1 PPG, 3.1 APG, 1.3 SPG, 87.6% FT)
  • AJ Hammons, Purdue ( 11.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 2.8 BPG, 53.5% FG)

Hammons anchored a defensive resurgence for Purdue, blocking 88 shots in the middle while developing from a leadership standpoint. Trimble was outstanding from day one for Maryland, becoming the best Maryland point guard since Greivis Vasquez in the process. His abilities to shoot from deep and get to the free throw line were primary reasons why Maryland finished the regular season ranked among the top 10. White went nuts at the end of the season, adding a three-pointer to his offensive arsenal to supplement everything else he does for the Hawkeyes. As Iowa finished the season on a 6-0 tear, the senior forward averaged 21.2 PPG and 9.2 RPG while knocking down 8-of-13 three-pointers. Russell was quite simply one of the best players in the country all season long, becoming the first Ohio State player to record a triple-double since Evan Turner. If the Buckeyes make an NCAA Tournament run later this month, it will be because Russell explodes for a stretch. Kaminsky took the improvements he made during his junior year and built on them this year. He finished the season with the best offensive rating in the country for any player who used more than 28 percent of his teams possessions, and did so by a wide margin. Once Traveon Jackson was injured, he refined his game to average 3.1 APG from the center position. He blocks shots, scores from all over the court, and helped the Badgers rack up the third-best defensive rebounding rate in the nation (25.5%). He’s on the short list of many National Player of the Year awards, and deservedly so.

Second Team

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Northwestern and Michigan Show in Instant Classic the Future Appears Bright

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 4th, 2015

Given all the talk about the Big Ten’s bubble teams, there wasn’t much hype for a game between two squads with losing conference records. But Michigan and Northwestern played a double-overtime classic in Evanston on Tuesday night, exhibiting that both programs are clearly trending upward with young rosters and an eye on 2015-16. Here are some quick observations from last night’s game that echo the larger point.

Tre Demps is one of the best late-game shooters in the B1G. (Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports)

Tre Demps is one of the best late-game shooters in the Big Ten. (Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports)

  • Alex Olah could be one of the most improved players in the league, as he has become a solid low post threat for the Wildcats. Other than Frank Kaminsky, he might have the best footwork in the conference. He is fundamentally sound with the ball, keeping it high when he makes the catch after establishing his position in the lane. Olah murdered Michigan on the low blocks last night and also displayed an ability to knock down an open 15-footer as well. He went for 25 points and 12 rebounds, his seventh double-double of the season.
  • Tre Demps has evolved into a much more complete player this season. Mainly just a bench option last season, he’s become a much better all-around offensive threat. He’s still a bit streaky, but he has the mentality to take and make big shots in late-clock situations. In Northwestern’s last six games, Demps has averaged 15.5 points along with 3.8 assists per contest. His ability to get into the lane makes the Wildcats’ offense much more diverse, as he’s shown that he can either finish at the rim or kick the ball out without turning it over.

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Big Ten M5: 03.04.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 4th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. What once looked like a promising season for Indiana is now fizzling, as the Hoosiers dropped another conference game Tuesday night to Iowa. The late-season swoon where the team has lost seven of their last 11 games has moved them dangerously close to the bubble. Even when things were going well, their was a bit of a gimmicky element with the large dependency on the three ball, and the lack of size. Now home fans are booing, and Tom Crean’s job security is once again going to be a hot topic of discussion. Indiana plays in front of their home audience again Saturday against Michigan State. It will get ugly if they produce another lackluster and uninspired effort.
  2. Neither team is playing for an NCAA Tournament bid so the exciting Michigan-Northwestern game on Tuesday evening got lost in the shuffle a bit. Those who missed it however missed the most entertaining game of the regular season in the league, where the Wildcats hung on to win in two overtimes. The list of heroes was a large one for Chris Collins’ hard luck team on Senior Night. JerShon Cobb came back after missing six games to play 33 minutes, Alex Olah posted a double-double, and Tre Demps made some of the most clutch shots of the season. If you were busy watching the Kentucky or Kansas games, do yourself a favor and watch the replay of this one. It’s well worth it simply for entertainment value.
  3. Three Big Ten players made the list of the ten Waymon Tisdale Award finalists announced earlier this week. It’s no surprise that the three named were D’Angelo Russell, Melo Trimble, and James Blackmon Jr. All three players are currently leading their teams in scoring, and all have had vast impacts throughout most of the season. The award is probably going to go to either Jahlil Okafor from Duke, or Russell. It’s still a distinctive honor to make the final list of ten, as many of the names on the list will more than likely be lottery picks in the 2015 NBA Draft.
  4. Many Purdue fans once thought Indiana native Branden Dawson would be playing for Matt Painter instead of Tom Izzo. Ever since then, the two sides have had an unfriendly relationship. Dawson has put up killer numbers against the West Lafayette school, and he even got into an altercation with Painter during his freshman season. So there is a great deal of vitriol coming from Purdue fans as the one that got away torments them in a different colored uniform. The two teams meet in East Lansing tonight, with plenty on the line. Maybe seeing the Purdue uniform guarding him will get Dawson back on track after recent struggles.
  5. Jarvis Johnson is probably the most important incoming recruit for Minnesota. An incredible athlete, the guard has been in and out of the top 100 of the Class of 2015. He’ll look to come in and take some of the minutes that will need to be replaced with the departures of Andre Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu. Adapting to life in the B1g shouldn’t be a problem for Johnson however, as he almost didn’t live long enough to play high school ball. In 2010, he collapsed on the basketball court, where paramedics determined he didn’t have a pulse. Amazingly enough, he was able to get back on the court and contribute as a high school freshman, where he won a state championship. Much like the Austin Hatch story, Johnson will be another Big Ten player that will be difficult to root against.
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Handing Out the Big Ten Non-Conference Awards

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 30th, 2014

Before passing out the imaginary hardware for the Big Ten’s best performers in the non-conference season, let’s make it clear that these awards come solely from my brain. All of our Big Ten preseason awards and the predicted order of finish were voted on by the entire group of writers here at the Big Ten microsite. These non-conference honors, however, are all on me, so please direct any kudos and/or criticism this way (@berndon4). So with the non-conference portion of the Big Ten schedule thankfully done, here are the honors from the first half of the season.

Frank Kaminsky has stepped his game up to even greater levels this season after a standout season in 2013-14.  (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Frank Kaminsky has stepped his game up to even greater levels this season after a standout season in 2013-14. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • Player of the Year: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: Kaminsky has been so good that advanced metrics guru Ken Pomeroy has him listed as his current National Player of the Year. He leads the Badgers in points, rebounds, steals, and blocks, and he’s also third on the team in assists. Where he’s made a major leap this season has been in his ability to put the ball on the floor and beat his man off of the dribble. Instead of morphing into full Pittsnogle mode of just launching threes as a 7-footer and falling in love with his perimeter game, he’s scoring from all over the court. Defensively, he’s leading the conference in defensive rebounding, grabbing 25.1 percent of all caroms when the other team puts up a shot. He’s also averaging 2.2 blocks per game, and has been a legitimate rim-protector for the Badgers’ outstanding defense. (Others Considered: Rayvonte Rice, DJ Newbill, D’Angelo Russell)
  • Freshman of the Year: D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State: You honestly couldn’t go wrong with any of the three Big Ten freshmen who have been spectacular thus far. Russell gets the nod over Maryland’s Melo Trimble and Indiana’s James Blackmon Jr., but just barely. The gifted guard from Louisville has led the Buckeyes in scoring nine times, but he’s also led them in assists five times to boot. His 17.7 PPG and 5.3 APG are great, but his 46.7 percent shooting from deep is even better. If his numbers stay anywhere close to where they are now and Ohio State finishes near the top of the league standings, he’ll edge out Trimble and Blackmon for the season award like he has done here. (Others Considered: Melo Trimble, James Blackmon Jr, Vince Edwards)

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