Anonymous Nate Mason Fitting in Nicely at Minnesota

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 11th, 2014

After winning the NIT last year, Minnesota‘s fortunes this season were widely believed to be keyed by their veterans. Seniors Andre Hollins, Deandre Mathieu, Maurice Walker and Elliott Eliason all played large roles in last season’s transition from Tubby Smith to Richard Pitino’s NIT championship squad. They are in fact doing so this season, with Hollins leading the team in scoring, Walker leading the team in rebounds and blocks, and Mathieu leading the team in assists. But it has also been freshman Nate Mason who has made his presence felt as the first guard off the bench. His importance has been necessary with the loss of Daquien McNeil to his ongoing legal issues, and Mason has shined with all of the extra responsibility.

Nate Mason (right) has been a key cog for Minnesota in the early season so far. (Kathy Willens, AP)

Nate Mason (right) has been a key cog for Minnesota in the early season so far. (Kathy Willens, AP)

On Monday night, the Gophers forced North Dakota into a whopping 25 turnovers (33.8 percent of their possessions). Most of the damage was done with their pressure defense, with Mason serving as the catalyst with six steals. Mason also ended the game with eight assists, which along with his steals output were career bests for the first-year player. On Wednesday night, the Gophers forced Southern into another 20 miscues, logging 11 of those in the form of steals. Mason has been excellent in Pitino’s pressure style, showing the athleticism necessary to recover when other teams beat the press. The precocious freshman is averaging 9.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.7 steals per game, while hitting 46.7 percent of his threes. This comes from a player who was ranked only 135th in his class, according to 24/7 sports composite rankings.

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Big Ten Feast Week Recap

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 1st, 2014

After 38 games in seven days, Big Ten teams had some noteworthy performances of both the good and bad variety. In all, three teams came away with championships in the tournaments they played in. Illinois won the Las Vegas Invitational, Maryland took first in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic, and Wisconsin won the stacked Battle 4 Atlantis field. While it was impossible to watch absolutely everything, especially with the whole pesky, “hang out with relatives on Thanksgiving” getting in the way of hoop watching, here’s a brief recap of what went down during the last seven days.

Bronson Koenig keyed a second half rally as Wisconsin came back to beat Georgetown in the Battle 4 Atlantis. (Reuters)

Bronson Koenig keyed a second half rally as Wisconsin came back to beat Georgetown in the Battle 4 Atlantis. (Reuters)

  • Wisconsin Shows Off Depth That Matters: Many times when announcers or others cite depth when discussing a certain team, it simply means that the coach plays a lot of players. A team with true depth has players coming off the bench that can win a game for them. This is exactly what happened in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis, as Bronson Koenig and Duje Dukan combined to score 18 of the team’s 33 points in the second stanza, with the Badgers holding off a pesky Georgetown team in the process. With Frank Kaminsky struggling and Traveon Jackson and Josh Gasser in foul trouble, they just found a way to win with other guys doing the heavy lifting. Things were back to normal in the championship game, as Kaminsky and Jackson led the way. This team has so many weapons, and is off to a 7-0 start that is making preseason projections look really solid right now.

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Daquien McNeil Indefinitely Suspended From Minnesota

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 25th, 2014

News broke early Tuesday morning that Minnesota will be without one of their guards during their two-game stretch, and possibly for much longer than that. Sophomore Daquien McNeil has been suspended indefinitely as he is being investigated in a domestic violence case. The guard from Baltimore is averaging 3.3 points and 2.5 assists in 18.8 minutes per game so far this season. Gopher athletic director Norwood Teague said: “We are currently gathering information and cooperating with the authorities. This athletics department values respect and positively impacting the lives of others and will not tolerate any form of domestic assault from its staff or student-athletes.”

Daquien McNeil has been suspended indefinitely by Minnesota. (AP)

Daquien McNeil has been suspended indefinitely by Minnesota. (AP)

This will test the back court depth of Minnesota, leaving more playing time for freshman Nate Mason. Having the combination of Mason and McNeil off the bench allowed the Gophers to incorporate their pressure defense a little more in the early games than they had last season. The team has good overall depth, but this will put a strain on Deandre Mathieu and Andre Hollins. They will now likely have to play more minutes and will have to avoid getting into any foul problems. With this being an indefinite suspension, and in light of how justifiably serious anything involving domestic violence is after the Ray Rice situation in the NFL, it could be expected that the Gophers will be without McNeil’s services for quite a while.

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Big Ten Opening Night: Three Things to Watch For

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 14th, 2014

Eleven Big Ten Teams will make their season debuts tonight. While the only true marquee game on the schedule is the Minnesota-Louisville clash in Puerto Rico, here are three things to watch for if you’re checking out the league as the season begins.

  • Hampton vs. Iowa: Hampton went 18-13 last year, and the Pirates hung with Penn State in the first round of the CBI before ultimately losing by four points. They return eight players from their top 10 in minutes played for a team that ran at the 11th-fastest tempo in the country last season. They did a tremendous job in blocking shots and holding teams to a low percentage on two-point attempts, and have good front line size to match up with the Hawkeyes on the interior. Iowa no longer has Roy Devyn Marble to handle the ball and take all of its big shots, so Mike Gesell and Josh Oglesby will have to be hitting from long range because points in the paint will not be easy to find. This game bears watching because it will be a track meet up and down the court, and because there is also some small upset potential here if Iowa doesn’t come to play.
Mike Geselll will have to take care of the ball Friday night against Hampton. (Getty).

Mike Geselll will have to take care of the ball Friday night against Hampton. (Getty)

  • Michigan State vs. Navy: The Midshipmen went 9-21 last year, so thinking that they will push Sparty tonight might be something of a stretch. But they do return almost everybody from that team, and they did a solid job forcing turnovers last season. Michigan State, of course, has a new floor general, and although Travis Trice has gotten plenty of reps in his three years in East Lansing, he’s never been the guy. Denzel Valentine has a tendency to cough up the ball on occasion, and Lourawls Nairn will be making his much-anticipated collegiate debut. Keep an eye on whether Michigan State can avoid making silly mistakes here. A sloppy effort against a clearly inferior opponent might be a bad sign as the team gets set to take on Duke in the Champions Classic in four days.
  • Minnesota vs. Louisville: This game is the obvious call if you’re looking for opening night intrigue. Minnesota has an early chance to grab a huge non-conference win by playing a top 10 team. Richard Pitino will coach against his dad, who probably knows the Gophers about as well as his son does. Richard, of course, served as an assistant at Louisville just a few seasons ago, so the same likely holds true with the younger Pitino’s knowledge about the Cardinals. If you like guard play, you will get a chance to watch Andre Hollins and Deandre Mathieu take on Chris Jones and Terry Rozier. If the battle in the post is more your cup of tea, then check out Elliott Eliason and Maurice Walker trading haymakers with potential All-American Montrezl Harrell. This one sells itself.
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RTC Big Ten Preseason Rankings: #9 to #5

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 13th, 2014

We continue our preseason Big Ten rankings today with spots #9 through #5. The bottom tier of teams, #14 to #10, released earlier this week. These middle tier teams will be fighting to be on the right side of the bubble — and providing us with great drama — all season long.

9. Maryland

  • What they do well: Defense. Mark Turgeon has had a top 40 squad in adjusted defensive efficiency the past couple seasons and it’ll likely be his area of focus once again.
  • What they don’t do well: Retention. Seth Allen, Charles Mitchell, Nick Faust, Roddy Peters and Shaquille Cleare all transferred out of the program in the offseason — not exactly inconsequential players.
Dez Wells is one of the few familiar faces in College Park this year. (Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

Dez Wells is one of the few familiar faces in College Park this year. (Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

  • Get to know: Melo Trimble. The top 40 recruit will need to use his offensive skill set to help replace all the lost scoring from last season.
  • Why they’ll finish 9th: The exodus of key players and unfamiliarity in the Big Ten will cause some very sharp growing pains for the Terrapins.
  • Why they’ll finish higher: This team still has talent and is used to playing top-notch competition. If they can get all their new pieces to gel together, they can compete in a relatively down Big Ten.

8. Iowa

  • What they do well: Offense. Last season, the Hawkeyes were fifth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and they bring a majority of that roster back this year.
  • What they don’t do well: Mental toughness. Last season, Iowa wilted in close games against Villanova and Iowa State. Things really spiraled out of control at the end of the season when they lost seven of their last eight contests.

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-Big Ten Second Team

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 13th, 2014

We continue our preseason superlatives this week with the introduction of our Preseason All-Big Ten Second Team. To review our Preseason All Big Ten Third Team, check out Eric Clark’s post from Wednesday. It’s important to point out with this group that, while we stuck to five players, we weren’t completely married to a true team concept and ended up with two point guards on this team. Instead, you should interpret this as the next best five players after our Preseason All-Big Ten First Team, which will release on Friday.

RTC All-Big Ten Second Team

  • Yogi Ferrell, Junior, Indiana, 6’0”, 178 lbs. (17.3 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 3.9 APG). Ferrell made a huge leap last season by adding almost 10 points to his per game average in becoming the primary scoring option for Indiana. This year, the junior point guard will have some additional scoring help with freshman Justin Blackmon Jr. joining the Hoosiers. This should relieve some of the pressure to score from Ferrell and allow him to concentrate on running the offense and improving on his mediocre 1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Yogi Ferrell is a Lone Bright Spot at Indiana Right Now

Yogi Ferrell is a Lone Bright Spot at Indiana Right Now

  • D.J. Newbill, Senior, Penn State, 6’4”, 210 lbs. (17.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.7 APG). Last season, Newbill was the primary scorer and Tim Frazier played the role of distributor. Now that Frazier has graduated, it will be solely on Newbill to run the Penn State offense. Because of the transition in his role, his scoring may drop as he tries to involve teammates like John Johnson and Jordan Dickerson in the offense. Still, Newbill will be the one with the ball in his hands during crunch time — as he goes, so will the Nittany Lions.

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The Five Best Big Ten Non-Conference Games

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 11th, 2014

We’re just a few days away from the first official tip-offs of the season, which will mean that the non-conference portion of the season has begun. Most fans will watch their team play some little-known school for an easy win over the weekend, but there is an excellent slate of non-conference games involving Big Ten teams on the horizon. The five best of those games are listed below. A couple caveats: (1) no games from the Big Ten/ACC Challenge were included because we’ll cover that event in full later this month; and (2) the annual rivalry match-ups (e.g., Illinois-Missouri, Iowa-Iowa State, etc.) were also removed, since those games have already been discussed ad nauseam. This list represents the best of the rest.

The following list is in chronological order and displays each team’s expected record (according to Kenpom) at the time of the game.

Minnesota (0-0) vs Louisville (0-0)

Armed Forces Classic – Aguadilla, PR – Friday, November 14: Minnesota fans will be in for a treat on opening night as the Gophers will headline ESPN’s coverage against the Cardinals at U.S Air Station Borinquen in Puerto Rico. This will arguably be the best match-up of the night, pitting two teams from power conferences in a father/son battle with Richard Pitino taking on his dad, Rick, for the second time in his short career. The Golden Gophers play a similar style as Louisville — including the Pitino family’s patented pressing defense — but they are outmatched in talent. Still, with returning starters such as Deandre Mathieu, Andre Hollins and Elliott Eliason available, young Pitino could be poised to catch his father’s team by surprise and make it interesting. Honestly, just be happy that this game is not taking place on an aircraft carrier.

Michigan State (1-0) vs Duke (2-0)

These two legends face off again as Michigan State battles Duke in their early non-conference schedule. (AP)

These two legends face off again as Michigan State battles Duke. (AP)

Champions Classic – Indianapolis, IN – Tuesday, November 18: The Champions Classic has become an early-season staple as the unofficial marquee event to tip off college basketball. It’s been a successful series as four elite programs — Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, and Michigan State — have rotated match-ups to play each other over a three-year period. This season the Spartans draw Duke and their trio of super freshmen — Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow. But what the Blue Devils have in talent, they lack in experience. An early game like this gives Michigan State a golden opportunity to notch a resume-building win against a team that could end up as a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Read the rest of this entry »

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Can Minnesota’s Andre Hollins Regain His Scoring Touch?

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 6th, 2014

Despite his excellence for three seasons, the collegiate career of Andre Hollins has arguably flown under the radar. He has been a heavy contributor at Minnesota since day one, topping the 20-point plateau five times as a freshman and leading the Gophers in scoring in both his sophomore and junior seasons. He even has an outside chance at cracking 2,000 points for his career if his team makes a deep run in the postseason this year. He’s played under two coaches utilizing vastly different systems, yet still managed to thrive. Last season was his most challenging in Minneapolis — after suffering an ankle injury, he came back too soon and proceeded to look like a shell of his former self. He went from averaging 16.2 PPG before the injury to 11.3 PPG in the 16 games afterward, and he just looked tentative and unsure of himself in February and March. Now in his second year under Richard Pitino, he is flanked by a core of experienced seniors. Can Hollins recapture his scoring touch and lead the Gophers back to the Big Dance?

Andre Hollins needs to regain his scoring touch if Minnesota wants to rise in the B1G standings. (Getty)

Andre Hollins needs to regain his scoring touch if Minnesota wants to rise in the B1G standings. (Getty)

At his best, Hollins is a scorer who does most of his damage from the outside. He’s made quite a few three-pointers in his career, topping out at a superb 41.8 percent in his junior season from behind the arc. He also does a nice job getting to the free throw line, and converts when he’s there, with a career free throw percentage of 84.4 percent. For someone that gets so much of his scoring output from the outside, he still managed to rank ninth in the league in free throw rate, getting to the charity stripe at a 49.7 percent clip. He’s capable of playing both guard spots, as he led the team in assists (3.4 APG) as the primary facilitator in 2012-13. When Deandre Mathieu took over the point guard duties last season, Hollins played off the ball where he was able to get quality looks on kickouts from the speedy Mathieu. The Gophers’ backcourt tandem might be the best in the league this season, and it will need to be if Minnesota hopes to avoid another trip to the NIT.

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Big Ten M5: 10.23.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 23rd, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Expectations for Illinois are reasonably high despite the fact that starting point guard Tracy Abrams was lost for the season with a torn ACL. One reason for such optimism has to be the fact that the team should shoot the ball much better with the additions of transfers Aaron Crosby and Ahmad Starks. The two newcomers have both shot over 36 percent from behind the arc in their careers, and the Illini offense should benefit the ability to spread the floor and burn teams from deep. It should also take the onus off of Rayvonte Rice, whose offensive numbers dropped significantly once conference play started last season.
  2. Wisconsin has been picked to finish high both nationally and in the Big Ten largely because of the experience it has coming back to Madison. Several other schools in the league also have a good deal of returning talent, though, and Minnesota is one such team. The Gophers will feature four seniors who should get heavy minutes, including all-Big Ten candidates Deandre Mathieu and Andre Hollins. The senior class has taken their roles as leaders to heart, as they’ve been in constant communication with one another as the opening of the season grows closer. There have been many instances where teams that made a deep NIT run (Minnesota won the tournament last season) came back to progress to the NCAA Tournament the following year. Richard Pitino’s squad may well be the next such example of a team, much like Iowa a year ago, to use its NIT experience as a springboard to a better season.
  3. In looking at Indiana’s roster, guard play and perimeter strength look to be its strengths. Yogi Ferrell is back at point guard and freshmen James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson are top 100 wings who should contribute right away. The Hoosiers didn’t exactly feature Noah Vonleh in the post last season and he still ended up getting drafted by Charlotte in the lottery. Now junior Hanner Mosquera-Perea will more than likely step into a starting role on the blocks despite an uneven first two years in Bloomington. Both Mosquera-Perea and Tom Crean realize that now is the time for the Colombia native to show the tools that made him one of the top big men in the Class of 2012.
  4. Maryland guard Melo Trimble has quickly become the talk of the highly-touted freshman class that Mark Turgeon has assembled in College Park for his first B1G campaign. Trimble is getting rave reviews for his defensive abilities, and much of that is due to his work with Director of Basketball Performance coach, Kyle Tarp. Trimble has lost 18 pounds since arriving on campus, leading Turgeon to comment that “he’s further along defensively than I expected.” With Seth Allen gone to Virginia Tech, Trimble will have a much greater initial responsibility than he would have had if Allen had stuck around. The combination of Maryland’s experience and youth make this year’s team an intriguing Big Ten sleeper.
  5. Headliners like Jahill Okafor, Cliff Alexander and Stanley Johnson making CollegeBasketballTalk’s list of top 20 impact freshmen should come as no surprise, but the Big Ten was also well-represented with Indiana’s James Blackmon Jr, Maryland’s Melo Trimble, and Northwestern’s Vic Law all making the cut. A questionable omission would have to be Ohio State guard D’angelo Russell, who may very well lead his team in scoring this season. The three who were honored should all play big minutes from the start though, with Law having a chance to step right into the slot once held by the departed Drew Crawford.
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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 Season Grades: Ohio State, Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on April 18th, 2014

Continuing our season-ending analysis, we look at the performances of Ohio State, Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois. Earlier this week, we handed out grades for Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue.

Ohio State

Grade: C-

This season (25-10, 10-8): What would be a successful season for most programs was a relative disappointment for the Buckeyes. Ohio State did not capture a Big Ten regular season or tournament title for the first time since 2008-09, and similar to that season, they were also bounced out of the NCAA Tournament in their first game. The issue for the Buckeyes – which was a clear problem area in the preseason – was generating offense without Deshaun Thomas in the lineup. Thomas’ replacement, LaQuinton Ross, almost doubled his scoring average, but the Buckeyes failed to find reliable offensive firepower anywhere else. In the end, Aaron Craft and Ohio State’s excellent showing on defense wasn’t enough to overcome the team’s offensive woes.

Thad Matta had a let-down of a season relative to his own success. Don't expect it to continue next season. (Gettyl)

Thad Matta had a let-down of a season relative to his own success. Don’t expect it to continue next season. (Getty)

Next season: The Buckeyes lose Craft, Amedeo Della Valle, Ross, and Lenzelle Smith Jr. They welcome in an elite recruiting class that includes D’Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop, and Jae’Sean Tate; and they also will get graduate transfer Anthony Lee from Temple next year. These additions along with several talented players already on their roster should have no one worrying about the state of the program going forward. This season was merely a hiccup in the Thad Matta era.

Iowa: C

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NIT Preview: Three Keys for Minnesota Against Florida State

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 1st, 2014

Minnesota has made the most out of its experience in the NIT, as the Gophers have made it to New York City to take on Florida State in the semifinals of the event this evening. This is a rematch of an earlier meeting in December’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge, when Richard Pitino’s team defeated the Seminoles 71-61 at Williams Arena. Despite a lack of prestige and eyeballs on this game, Minnesota is the only Big Ten team still playing basketball other than Wisconsin. In order to advance to Thursday night’s championship game, here are three things for Minnesota to concentrate on to beat FSU again.

With Elliott Eliason probably not playing due to an injury, Minnesota needs a big night Tuesday from Maurice Walker. (Pioneer Press, Ben Garvin)

With Elliott Eliason probably not playing due to an injury, Minnesota needs a big night Tuesday from Maurice Walker. (Pioneer Press, Ben Garvin)

  1. Create turnovers: Florida State turns the ball over slightly less often than Indiana, and anyone who watched any Big Ten basketball this season knows what that means. The Seminoles turn the ball over on over 21 percent of their possessions, and out of the 92 ACC players who played over 40 percent of their team’s available minutes, Devin Bookert and Ian Miller rank fourth and fifth from the bottom. Miller also uses 25.6 percent of the team’s possessions, so taking advantage of his propensity to give the ball away is a must. Minnesota needs to remain aggressive on the perimeter, forcing turnovers instead of letting the  guards — both of whom shoot over 40 percent from deep — get hot from the outside. Read the rest of this entry »
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