What’s Trending: NCAA Tournament Edition

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 25th, 2019

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

Looking back at the first two rounds of the 2019 NCAA Tournament has to begin with the opening weekend’s most memorable game. In Sunday afternoon’s UCF vs. Duke game, there was much more to it than the average #1 vs. #9 match-up. How would the battle of Zion Williamson vs. Tacko Fall unfold? How would the pupil (Johnny Dawkins) fare against his teacher (Coach K)? Williamson definitely had to earn his 32 points — the superstar freshman shot just 9-of-17 on his two-point attempts, representing the first time he has been under 60 percent inside the arc since a 4-of-7 performance on January 12 against Florida State.

Despite falling behind by as many as eight points in the second half, UCF rallied to take a four-point lead with under two minutes to go. The Knights were racing upcourt with a chance to extend the lead, but a failed alley-oop followed by a Cam Reddish three-pointer cut the lead to a single point.

Push off? Verticality? Down three points in the dying seconds, Duke put the ball in Williamson’s hands and he made a play.

Zion went on to miss the game-tying free-throw, but the ball ultimately ended up in the hands of R.J. Barrett, who put in a bunny to give Duke a one-point lead. While many were arguing that Barrett pushed off to get the rebound, the bigger grievance with a missed call on this play came with this missed hook and hold. An emphasis was placed on this call all season long, yet it appears to have been blatantly missed here. This is a call that would have all but ensured the end of Duke’s season…

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Michigan Starts Finding Answers on Opening Weekend

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 14th, 2016

When Michigan was again forced to adjust to life without star shooting guard Caris LeVert — whose college career ended after suffering a season-ending leg injury¬†last December¬†— it posed two silver linings. On the one hand, it was a blessing in disguise. The Wolverines still snuck into the NCAA Tournament, and the increased workload for guards Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin gave the experienced duo more to build on entering 2016-17. LeVert‚Äôs exit, however, also marked the first in a series of unforeseen departures which have created more questions than answers entering this season, even with the team‚Äôs starting five fully intact. If its opening weekend victory over IUPUI is any indication, Michigan‚Äôs questions will take some time to fully answer‚ÄĒbut the blueprint for progress is there.

Derrick Walton and the Wolverines looked sharp over the final 30 minutes vs. IUPUI. (Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

Derrick Walton and the Wolverines looked sharp over the final 30 minutes vs. IUPUI. (Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports)

Emerging Frontcourt Depth

The Wolverines‚Äô chief concern is depth, and not just because LeVert is gone. 2013 Final Four hero Spike Albrecht briefly retired last December because of a hip injury before eventually¬†heading to Purdue. In April, guard Aubrey Dawkins (6.5 PPG) transferred to Central Florida to play for his father. A month later, frontcourt role players Ricky Doyle and Kameron Chatman‚ÄĒwhose clutch triple against Indiana¬†last March helped Michigan reach the Dance‚ÄĒalso departed. The spate of transfers has left John Beilein with a short and inexperienced bench; on Sunday, only seven players saw meaningful minutes. The good news? One of those players, forward D.J. Wilson, looked like a breakout star. After barely seeing the floor last season, the springy sophomore scored seven points and ripped down 14 rebounds in a career-high 30 minutes against the Jaguars, providing a much needed spark off the bench. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten M5: 02.26.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) on February 26th, 2016

morning5_bigten

  1. Nebraska‚Äôs Shavon Shields played for the first time¬†since a February 6 game against¬†Rutgers¬†when he suffered a serious concussion on a nasty fall. As if nothing had ever happened, the senior¬†returned to the lineup last night¬†against Penn State and scored a game-high 25 points. It¬†was not¬†enough for the Cornhuskers to win the game, however, as¬†Shields’ off-balance 15-footer at the buzzer misfired, giving¬†the Nittany Lions a 56-55 win.
  2. Bracketology becomes increasingly popular as the calendar inches ever closer to March. ESPN’s February 25 NCAA Tournament bracket projections from Joe Lunardi lists seven Big Ten teams among his field of 68: Michigan State is a #2 seed; Iowa #3; Maryland #3; Indiana #5; Purdue #5; Wisconsin #7; and Michigan #9. CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm’s latest projections differ only slightly: Iowa is a seed line lower at #4, while Wisconsin comes in as a #9 seed and Michigan a #10 seed.
  3. Michigan’s Duncan Robinson started the season as one of the nation‚Äôs best shooters, but his prolonged slump in Big Ten play is a growing concern. He is converting only 31 percent of his three-pointers in the second half of conference play, prompting head coach John Beilein to consider shortening his minutes. Fortunately for Michigan, sophomore¬†Aubrey Dawkins has picked up the slack in¬†knocking down a conference-best 51 percent of three-pointers in Big Ten play.
  4. Michigan State has used¬†a deep bench all season and the latest player to get an extended look in the wake of Kenny Goins‚Äô knee injury¬†is sophomore forward Marvin Clark Jr. He was a useful reserve¬†during Sparty’s run to the¬†Final Four a year ago¬†and is finding his confidence in an¬†expanded role. Clark played 19 minutes against Ohio State on Tuesday and made both his three-point attempts for a total of six points. His shooting (35.3% 3FG) has kept¬†him head of Javon Bess in the rotation.
  5. During Wisconsin‚Äôs admittedly slow¬†start to the season, some believed that mediocre¬†recruiting was a key reason for the team’s lack of quality depth¬†this season. Now, however, with Wisconsin sitting at 10-5 in the Big Ten, that notion has dissipated. The Wisconsin State Journal¬†reviewed Bo Ryan’s class of 2011, finding that it had considerable talent from top to bottom. Frank Kaminsky and Traevon Jackson¬†led the program to consecutive Final Fours but¬†played their final seasons in 2014-15. Jarrod Uthoff¬†became a star after transferring to Iowa, and George Marshall, now at South Dakota State, is leading the 22-7 Jackrabbits in scoring.
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Three Keys For Michigan Against Purdue Tonight

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 7th, 2016

Michigan is one of five undefeated teams left in the early stages of Big Ten¬†play, but the Wolverines will face their biggest test of the young conference season when they head to West Lafayette tonight¬†to take on Purdue. The Boilermakers will be looking to bounce back from an upset home loss against Iowa where they had no answer for the Hawkeyes’ talented twosome of Jarrod Uthoff and Mike Gesell. Here are three keys for¬†John Beilein‘s club¬†to pull off what would be its¬†best win of the season.

Michigan will need Marc Donnal to continue his stellar play against Purdue Thursday night. (Getty)

Michigan will need Marc Donnal to continue his stellar play against Purdue tonight. (Getty)

  1. Keep Feeding Marc Donnal:¬†Things against Purdue’s elite front line almost assuredly won’t be as easy as they were¬†for Marc Donnal in wins over Illinois and Penn State where the redshirt sophomore went for 21.0 PPG and 8.5 RPG on 72 percent shooting from the floor. That doesn’t mean that Michigan should abandon a working strategy to get¬†the ball to Donnal for points in the paint. Michigan will have to make shots from the outside¬†(10+ threes would be ideal) to win, but finding some balance against¬†the best team in the country at defending two-point shots will be necessary. Donnal is the key to finding that offensive balance. Read the rest of this entry »
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Can Perimeter Depth Carry Michigan?

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 2nd, 2015

After a run to the National Championship game in 2012-13 and an Elite Eight appearance a year later, Michigan slumped to a 16-16 record a season ago.¬†Injuries were the biggest obstacle to¬†another postseason jaunt last year, but in a roundabout way they may have helped set the Maize and Blue up for success this year.¬†Aubrey Dawkins averaged 11.4 PPG and shot 46 percent from behind the arc in his last 14 games;¬†Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman¬†averaged 7.9 PPG in his last 14 contests; and leading the way,¬†Zak Irvin scored 14.7 PPG, grabbed 5.6 RPG and dished 2.4 APG. With¬†Derrick Walton Jr. and Caris LeVert¬†both sidelined by¬†injuries, Irvin stepped up and¬†performed¬†as the primary option for the first time in his collegiate career. His¬†emergence along with that of the freshmen didn’t lead to much success a¬†year ago, but it does set things up nicely for John Beilein‘s team this season. Michigan’s perimeter attack is one the most talented¬†and deepest in the B1G; is it good enough for¬†the Wolverines to contend for the league title and return¬†to the NCAA Tournament?

Aubrey Dawkins emerged as a diamond in the rough for Michigan last season (Rick Osentoski, USA Today).

Aubrey Dawkins emerged as a diamond in the rough for Michigan last season (Photo: Rick Osentoski, USA Today).

When¬†a¬†Beilein-coached team (including stops at both Michigan¬†and West Virginia)¬†has finished the season with an adjusted offensive efficiency at 113.9 or greater, it has averaged 26.4 wins per season. It has happened five times now, with accompanying postseason results including¬†a trip to the National Championship game, two Elite Eight appearances, a Sweet Sixteen appearance, and an NIT championship. KenPom¬†projects the Michigan offense as¬†the ninth-best outfit¬†in the country this preseason. Last season, Indiana boasted the ninth-best offense in the country with¬†an adjusted offensive efficiency of 116.7. ¬†With Michigan’s injured set to return and their former backups now bolstered by the confidence and experience of playing featured roles¬†last¬†season, the pieces are in place for another Beilein¬†offensive juggernaut. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 10th, 2015

The regular season is finally complete, and the Big Ten looks to have a solid six NCAA Tournament teams with Indiana and Illinois still with work left to do. With a busy seven-game slate from the weekend to cover, there’s really not else in the form of an introductory paragraph needed. Here is the final¬†Big Ten Weekend in Review of the season.

DJ Newbill scored 31 points and hit a buzzer-beating three to give Penn State a win at Minnesota. (GoPSUsports.com)

DJ Newbill scored 31 points and hit a buzzer-beating three to give Penn State a win at Minnesota. (GoPSUsports.com)

  • Player of the Weekend: DJ Newbill would get a bunch more recognition if Penn State hadn’t finished the season with just a 4-14 league record. He’s basically put the Nittany Lions on his back for much of the season, and he did so once again as Penn State nipped Minnesota by three. It was looking like it was going to be the Andre Hollins show early on as the Gophers were celebrating Senior Night for the Memphis native and his four fellow seniors. Newbill simply took over the game in the second half, as he scored 2o points in the final 15:01 of the game. He did so in his usual fashion, combining three-point shooting with a kind of old man game which consists of mid-range pull-ups, and drives to the rack. All told, the senior ended up with 31 points on 11-for-22 shooting from the floor. He made five threes, and made all four of his shots at the line. He also led Penn State with four assists and two steals. Another stellar effort from a player who should probably get more love than he does.

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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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Three Takeaways From Iowa’s Dominant Win at Michigan

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 6th, 2015

Iowa ended a three-game losing streak on Thursday night when it efficiently took care of an undermanned Michigan team, 72-54. The Hawkeyes shot 62.7 percent from the field and managed a commanding 42-14 advantage on points in the paint. All five starters scored in double-figures, and they held the Wolverines to 40.4 percent from the floor. Here are some quick observations from the lopsided road win for Iowa:

Adam Woodbury played maybe his best game of the season Thursday night as he had 11 points, seven boards, and six assists. (hawkeyesports.com)

Adam Woodbury played maybe his best game of the season Thursday night as he had 11 points, seven boards, and six assists. (hawkeyesports.com)

  1. Iowa’s Front Line Can be Dominant: Even with its full roster intact, Michigan’s strength does not come from its inside play. Injuries have limited the Wolverines’¬†depth, but give Iowa credit for taking full advantage of its¬†better inside players. The Hawkeyes put on an¬†offensive clinic last night, and it was spearheaded by junior center¬†Adam Woodbury. The seven-footer is known primarily for offensive rebounding and for drawing the ire of Dan Dakich, but in this game, he displayed an excellent passing touch by dishing¬†six assists¬†to go along with¬†11 points and seven rebounds. Jarrod Uthoff and Aaron White¬†also stepped up, combining to shoot 13-of-18 from the floor, proving that when Iowa plays¬†inside-out, the Hawkeyes can be pretty good. Outside shooting is not a strength on this team, but Peter Jok and Mike Gesell can knock down open looks well enough to keep defenses honest. In several¬†games this season, Iowa has looked like it has¬†the worst offense in the league¬†— this performance (1.38 points per possession), however,¬†proves that they can do a lot better. Read the rest of this entry »
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Fresh Faces Emerging as Big Ten Injuries Pile Up

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 28th, 2015

Big Ten training staffs have been working overtime this season, as many notable names have already missed significant time with¬†injuries. Just last weekend, Aaron White, Robert Johnson, Bishop Daniels, Brandon Taylor, and Mike Williams all suffered various ailments that could result in missed¬†action. This piles¬†on to the already large injury toll suffered by conference teams, with Illinois (Rayvonte Rice), Indiana (Hanner Mosquera-Perea), Michigan (Caris LeVert), and Wisconsin (Traveon Jackson) all losing key starters for multiple games. Injuries, of course, are a part of the game, but it means that others must¬†step in and make contributions in their absences. Here’s a look at how some of these Big Ten understudies have performed with the resulting boost in minutes¬†they’ve received.

Kendrick Nunn has stepped things up offensively in the wake of Rayvonte Rice being out of the lineup. (USA TODAY)

Kendrick Nunn has stepped things up offensively in the wake of Rayvonte Rice being out of the lineup. (USA TODAY)

  • Illinois has gone 3-3 since its star Rayvonte Rice went down in practice. The senior had been logging 11.1 shots per game before his¬†injury, and his primary replacement,¬†Kendrick Nunn, has¬†barely left the court since¬†(36.2 MPG in the six games that Rice hasn’t played). The sophomore¬†has¬†been productive in his absence, though, contributing¬†16.7 PPG along¬†with 4.5 RPG and 1.3 SPG. Rice’s biggest improvement had been shooting from deep, where he got off to an insane 29-for-60 start, but¬†Nunn has been equally adept from three-point range, making¬†18-of-39 attempts in six games. On balance, Nunn has effectively matched Rice’s production, but¬†Illinois’¬†main problem right now is depth. Without Rice and with Aaron Cosby (also sidelined), John Groce is pretty much running a seven-man rotation right now. Should Nunn or forward Malcolm Hill struggle offensively, there really aren’t many other options.

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Big Ten Sophomore Spotlight: Michigan’s Zak Irvin

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 23rd, 2015

Many sophomores in the Big Ten have a significantly greater role this season than they did as freshmen. That is to be expected, of course, as the offseason between their first and second years is often when players make their biggest strides in development. Some highly-recruited guys, however, continue to disappoint, while others who may not have been so highly regarded have by now become viable contributors for their teams. This series of posts is meant to check in on a few of the different sophomores in the league to determine whether they have improved and what it means for their teams going forward. Next up in the series is Michigan forward Zak Irvin.

Zak Irvin has to produce now more than ever with Caris LeVert done for the season due to an injury. (Leon Halip, Getty)

Zak Irvin has to produce now more than ever with Caris LeVert done for the season due to an injury. (Leon Halip, Getty)

  • 2013-14: 15.4 MPG, 6.7 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 0.2 SPG, 43.4% FG, 42.5% 3FG, 59.2% eFG, 19.4% Usage, 117.8 Offensive Rating
  • 2014-15: 34.6 MPG, 13.7 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 0.8 SPG, 39.6% FG, 35.9% 3FG, 48.4% eFG, 21.6% Usage, 100.6 Offensive Rating

Things just got real for Irvin. Caris LeVert is now out for the rest of the season with a foot injury, so in¬†following the “next man up” theorem throughout sports when a superstar gets injured, all the signs point to Irvin as the new main option for the Wolverines. To this point in the season, however, Irvin’s play has to be considered a mild disappointment. His general offensive productivity has declined as he has significantly increased his minutes and shot attempts commensurate with the team’s focus. Like Michigan as a team, things started out pretty well this season for the Indiana native, as he averaged 20.4 PPG on 43.4 percent shooting from deep in¬†the first seven games of the season. Beginning with the Wolverines’¬†catastrophic loss to NJIT, however, his¬†numbers dropped to 11.3 PPG on 30.8 percent shooting from three. Five of his first seven games exhibited¬†offensive ratings above 100, but he has only managed to hit that number three times in his last 12 outings. He has somewhat made up for it in Big Ten play with better¬†rebounding (4.7 RPG), and getting to the free throw line (3.4 FTA), but¬†Irvin is on the floor to make shots from the perimeter, which he hasn’t been doing nearly enough lately.

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