Posted by Brendan Brody on October 15th, 2014
- Freshmen are always the great unknown this time of year, as we never know who is going to come into the college game ready to light the world on fire and who will take more time to develop. Two Big Ten freshmen were named on CollegeBasketballTalk‘s list of the top 20 x-factors heading into the season this week, Ohio State’s D’angelo Russell, and Michigan’s Marc Donnal. Russsell, a 6’5″ guard, was ranked 30th by 247sports.com in the class of 2014, and he comes in with a reputation as someone who can fill it up from the perimeter. Donnal redshirted last season in Ann Arbor, but he needs to step in and contribute for a Wolverines’ squad that lost their top four players in the post. Ohio State and Michigan will probably be picked in the top five of the league by most pundits, but both of these newcomers will determine whether they stay there once the season tips off.
- Sticking to the motif of figuring out the unknown in the month before regular season play begins, Maryland and Rutgers are set to make their basketball debuts in the Big Ten. Maryland comes off an offseason where it had multiple players leave the program, but one where the Terps also brought in an elite recruiting haul (top 10, according to some experts). One of their prized recruits is Slovakian Michal Cekovsky, a 7-footer who apparently wouldn’t crack the starting lineup right now because holdover Damonte Dodd has impressed Mark Turgeon in the preseason. With Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell now gone from the program, Dodd and Cekovsky need to become heavy post contributors as the Terrapins deal with the rigors of playing in the Big Ten for the first time.
- Frank Kaminsky became a bit of an overnight celebrity last season for Wisconsin, leading the Badgers in scoring as they made their way to the Final Four. He’s on everyone’s radar now, but it’s not widely known how much of a role his father has played in his rapid development. Kaminsky’s father was a similarly skilled big man who simply blossomed too late to have much of a playing career in the 1970s and ’80s. He passed along a good deal of his skill set to his son, however, developing many of his perimeter skills before ever setting foot in the paint like a normal 7-footer.
- Indiana picked up its second verbal commitment from the Class of 2015 on Tuesday, as late-rising wing Ogugua “OG” Anunoby pledged his services to the Hoosiers. Anunoby is only ranked as the 194th best player in his class, according to consensus rankings, but scouts see a good deal of upside from the wing from Jefferson City, Missouri. Tom Crean and his staff like to have their pick of long, rangy, wings on the bench, so this makes sense even if he’s seen as a bit of a project who primarily played in the post on his AAU and high school teams. Anunoby joins forces with power forward Juwan Morgan as the team’s two signees from thus far from next year’s class.
- We will be breaking out our own preseason all-conference teams along with other assorted predictions in the upcoming weeks here on the Big Ten microsite. In the meantime, though — and in advance of Big Ten Media Day in Chicago on Thursday — BTN.com voted for its preseason all-conference teams on Tuesday. Michigan junior Caris LeVert, Nebraska junior Terran Petteway, and Wisconsin’s Kaminsky all were unanimous first-team selections. The Badgers’ junior Sam Dekker and Michigan State senior Branden Dawson rounded out the first team. Sorry, Northwestern and Rutgers fans, no players from either squad received any votes for any of the superlatives listed.
Posted by Brendan Brody on March 12th, 2014
- Nik Stauskas of Michigan was named Big Ten Player of the Year on Monday by both the coaches and the media. He went from primarily a spot-up shooter to someone who put in a tremendous amount of work to become the best player in the league. It’s been documented often about the strength training that he and fellow sophomore Caris LeVert went through in the off-season, and it quite obviously paid off for both. Stauskas managed to still be able to knock down plenty of three-pointers, yet added the ability to drive and distribute on a much higher level than many expected. He is a worthy Big Ten POY.
- Playing in the shadow of a famous father is never easy. Playing in the shadow of a father that not only played in the NBA for 14 years, but also serves as an analyst for the network that covers your conference is borderline impossible. But Wisconsin point guard Traveon Jackson has made things work both on and off the court due to a renewed sense of spirituality. Jackson struggled with the responsibilities after unexpectedly having to take the reigns from Josh Gasser once the guards tore his ACL. He turned to drinking and partying as a way to escape from the stress on the court, but has found that things like scripture reading and attending church services have helped him on and off the court.
- It’s the eve of the Big Ten Tournament, and not many people within the college basketball community can figure out Michigan State. Coach Tom Izzo feels the importance of the tournament this year more so than in past seasons because, as he says, “we’re just trying to bring back some of the magic we had early in the year when we had everybody playing together.” It will be extremely interesting over the course of the weekend to see if the team can start clicking like they did early on before injuries ruined any sense of flow and cohesion the team had.
- The main architect for the Nebraska basketball facelift was named Coach of the Year by his coaching peers on Monday. Coach Tim Miles worked his way up from coaching Division II in obscurity, to potentially coaching in the Big Dance next week. He credits his players for keeping a positive attitude, not letting the porous basketball history of the program prohibit them from changing things. If they can win three games this weekend, the change will be even further magnified.
- After seeing him play in the non-conference part of the season, no one would have guessed that Kendrick Nunn would earn a spot on the Big Ten All-Freshman team. Nunn did just that however, and Illinois has gone 5-3 since he and fellow freshman Malcolm Hill were inserted into the starting five. Indiana Coach Tom Crean has taken notice, as he likened Nunn to Victor Oladipo when asked about preparing for the Illini on Thursday when the two teams square off in first-round play of the Big Ten Tournament. Nunn has averaged double-figures in those 8 games, and can enhance his ever-growing reputation even more if he continues his solid play, and Illinois wins a game or two in Indianapolis.
Posted by Brendan Brody on March 5th, 2014
- Credit Indiana senior forward Will Sheehey for having some self-awareness when he was asked about his team’s NCAA Tournament chances. The reigning Big Ten Player of the Week said it feels like the team is in the midst of making a run, but that they still have plenty of work left to do. With how bad Indiana’s non-conference schedule was and the fact that the Hoosiers had a 4-8 conference record as recently as February 15, it’s a small miracle that they’ve even put themselves in the position to talk about landing a spot in the field of 68.
- In what has become sort of a running M5 tradition, here’s more talk of Michigan State and its latest injury news. While head coach Tom Izzo isn’t going to have Keith Appling miss anymore games, it is possible that he may cut the senior point guard’s minutes if he continues to be ineffective. It’s kind of a lose-lose situation for Izzo. On one hand, he has to let Appling continue to get reps so he’s not rusty for the postseason; on the other hand, if he’s not the same player he was prior to getting hurt (which he clearly is not), then do you take the chance of having a senior leader only playing limited minutes? The Spartans have until the middle of March to figure it out, but time is running out on this team.
- Ben Brust has been recognized as one of the best shooters in the Big Ten and for his ability as an undersized rebounder. But when Bo Ryan likens the Wisconsin senior to a mosquito, it’s hard not to scoff. The comparison makes sense, however, as Ryan explained how Brust can frustrate bigger opponents on the defensive end. The Badgers possess a certain grittiness on that side of the ball, and it all starts with Brust and fellow guard Josh Gasser both being able to take on players who are bigger and more athletic than they are.
- Many think that Michigan wrapping up the regular season Big Ten crown last night is enough to give John Beilein the Coach of the Year award. That’s not to say that Nebraska head coach Tim Miles doesn’t also offer a compelling argument. It is Miles who deserves the award if the Huskers make the NCAA Tournament, according to the Omaha World-Herald‘s Lee Barfknecht. It will be interesting to see how this and many of the other postseason honors play out. Miles has sped up the Nebraska rebuilding plan and then some, but Beilein dealt with the loss of a potential lottery pick in addition to losing two others starters now playing in the NBA.
- Things just keep getting worse for Purdue. First Sterling Carter tore his ACL and will miss the rest of the season, and now promising redshirt freshman Jay Simpson has also seen his Purdue career come to an end. Simpson was recently diagnosed with the heart ailment hypertrophic cardiomyotrophy (HCM). This is the same disease that ended the lives of players such as Hank Gathers and Reggie Lewis. Simpson had to be taken out of the game on February 23 against Nebraska despite not appearing to have suffered an injury, but very luckily the disease was discovered before tragedy struck.
Posted by Brendan Brody on February 28th, 2014
- For the first time in quite a while, Michigan State should have its full roster intact on Saturday when the Spartans take on Illinois. Branden Dawson will return to action for the first time in nine games, although head coach Tom Izzo doesn’t know how much he’ll be able to play. Dawson will have to wear a brace on his injured hand, but as long as said brace doesn’t hinder his ability to rebound and play defense, it shouldn’t be an issue. Even with players not necessarily playing at 100 percent health-wise, the Spartans will gain a lot of credibility with the selection committee by winning their last three with their lineup fully in place.
- Ben Brust has been slightly off shooting the ball as of late. He turned things around last game in the second half against Indiana however, and in the process became the 38th player in Wisconsin history to hit the 1,000-point plateau. Brust credited his teammates for this accomplishment saying, noting that “he was lucky to have good players when I got here to set an example for me.” Brust is shooting a slightly lower percentage (37.0%) on threes this season than in his last two (38.9% in both his sophomore and junior seasons), but he’s posting a much higher offensive rating and is knocking down almost 90 percent of his free throws. He could garner even more space in Wisconsin basketball lore with a hot shooting streak come March.
- Illinois is starting to turn things around after the Illini lost eight games in a row during conference play. They’ve now won three out of five games since they switched their starting lineup, putting Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn into the starting unit in place of seniors Jon Ekey and Joseph Bertrand. With their win against Nebraska on Wednesday night, the Illini guaranteed themselves a .500 record for the regular season. If they can miraculously win out against the likes of Michigan State, Michigan and Iowa, they may even have a remote opportunity to play themselves back onto the bubble. In this year’s Big Ten, you never know.
- That last statement could definitely also be applied to what happened with Minnesota forward Charles Buggs and his performance Tuesday night at The Barn. In this year’s Big Ten, you never know, and no one would have imagined or thought that someone who had played a grand total of 21 minutes all season could score 13 points and ignite a rally that may have saved the Gophers season. Buggs almost transferred in the midst of the coaching transition, but stick around because he thought his athleticism would work well in their up-tempo system. With Oto Osenieks hobbled with a knee problem, Buggs may have won himself extended time the rest of the season at the power forward spot.
- Anyone who saw the transition and success Northwestern had during their mid-season turnaround had to have noticed that JerShon Cobb was a huge part of their efforts. It was announced on Thursday afternoon that due to lingering knee and foot problems, Cobb will not play the rest of the season. Cobb will be heard from again as a senior leader for the 2014-15 version of the Wildcats, but for now they will struggle to win games for the rest of the 2013-14 campaign. This makes an already short bench even shorter, and hurts them defensively by losing Cobb’s length at the guard spot.
Posted by Brendan Brody on February 21st, 2014
- Minnesota did some severe damage to their NCAA Tournament chances with a loss at home to bottom-feeder Illinois Wednesday night. There were almost too many problems to name for the Gophers if one were to catalog exactly what went wrong. A good starting point would be the fact that they shot 4-for-25 from three-point range. Deandre Mathieu did not have a good game at all, as his point total matched his turnover total with 3 of each. He fouled out in 24 minutes, showing that Minnesota will only finish strong in their last 4 games if he’s on his game.
- East Lansing has loosely resembled a soap opera for much of the season, but all was well for Michigan State Thursday night. They simply went nuts on Purdue from the perimeter in beating them 94-75 in West Lafayette. The Spartans hit 17 three’s on the game, and 13 of them came in the first half. Gary Harris was the ringleader, as he continued to make schools in his home state of Indiana pay. Harris has shot an absurd 56.9 percent from three in his career against Indiana and Purdue. If this game is the beginning of a hot streak for the future lottery pick, then much of the drama surrounding the program due to injury concerns could very easily go away.
- Harris was one high school star from the Hoosier state that went elsewhere, but James Blackmon Jr. will be donning the cream and crimson next season for Indiana. Blackmon Jr. based part of his choice on going somewhere that he can fit in right away, and he feels as though he can help the Hoosiers immediately with his perimeter shooting abilities. If he is as good as advertised, he will play heavy minutes immediately alongside Yogi Ferrell next season, giving IU a sorely-needed shooter from the perimeter that they are currently lacking.
- Ohio State has won 5 of their last 6 games, but questions still remain about their viability or ceiling in March. The main questions still are the fact that they can’t get consistent play in the paint, and that they are prone to shooting slumps. Each player on the team has some sort of hole in their respective games, but their defensive pressure and athleticism, and experience could still lead to a deep tournament run. They’ve looked better as of late, and with Aaron Craft starting to attack the basket with a little more aggressiveness, they could very well be peaking at the right time.
- Nikola Cerina is normally a fairly under the radar member of the Northwestern basketball team. He generally plays about 10 MPG to spell Alex Olah. Cerina made news Wednesday night however, as it was determined that he threw a punch at Ohio State’s Amir Williams which resulted in his being ejected from the game. Cerina will now have to miss the Wildcats’ next game against Indiana on Saturday. With next to no depth already, this suspension could be a huge problem if Olah gets into foul trouble against the Hoosiers.
Posted by Brendan Brody on February 19th, 2014
- As many know by now, the Iowa-Indiana game scheduled for Tuesday night was postponed due to a metal beam falling from the roof. It landed and damaged some seats in the upper corner of Assembly Hall. Thankfully, this didn’t happen while a game was taking place where a spectator could have been seriously injured or even worse. The women’s game between Michigan and Indiana also slated to take place at Assembly Hall will take place as scheduled Wednesday night. So now the question is, when will this game be made up? A decision is expected to be made by noon Wednesday, but it will be interesting to see what the teams decide to do with limited flexibility in their schedules at this point in the season.
- With losses in four of their last seven games, questions are starting to be raised about Michigan State. The three main questions would have to be: how should they be seeded with their recent struggles, are they still a viable national championship contender, and when will they actually play with their whole lineup intact? Questions two and three are still up in the air, but question one is a little easier. Even with all the injuries, the Spartans can’t truly be taken seriously if they keep losing. They sit at 10-3 in the Big Ten, and 21-5 overall with games at Michigan and at Ohio State left. They also have to play Iowa at home. Unless they win two of those games, and make at least the championship game of the Big Ten Tournament, they may drop as low as a four seed, even with all the injuries.
- Speaking of March Madness dreams, it’s almost unfathomable that Nebraska has played their way onto the bubble. Especially after they started out 0-4 in league play. The fact that Nebraska, Northwestern, and Penn State all have played much better than they were predicted could be the biggest storyline of the 2013-14 Big Ten campaign. People still may scoff at the Cornhuskers making the tournament field, even after they win in East Lansing Sunday afternoon. But their resume really is on a par with many of the heavyweights in the college game, many of whom are nationally ranked. With a manageable schedule going forward, they could legitimately sitting at 18-12 before the Big Ten Tournament. If they win a game there, they’ll have built a very solid case to make the field.
- Northwestern ranks 342nd out of 345 teams in scoring. They’ve gotten most of their wins-specifically in Big Ten play through their stingy defensive play. One player who’s been able to provide a huge chunk of their offensive output however has been Tre Demps. Demps ranks second in the country in scoring for players that have not started a game at 10.7 PPG. He still plays starters minutes despite starting the game next to Chris Collins, and has really done a nice job in recent games distributing as well. He’s averaging 3.4 APG in his last five games, and sports a 19.1 percent assist rate, good for 16th in the conference.
- Wisconsin has had quite the roller coaster of a season thus far after starting out 16-0, losing 5 out 6, then coming back recently and winning 4 in a row. Because of their recent hot streak, they have a legitimate chance at winning the regular season Big Ten title. Their biggest remaining challenge will probably be playing at Iowa on Saturday afternoon. They are projected by KenPom to win the rest of their games after that. The fourth-place Badgers could jump ahead of Iowa with a win against them, and if they won out from there, a 13-5 record could get the job done.
Posted by Brendan Brody on February 14th, 2014
- On a day where love is celebrated, Indiana fans are not feeling much of that emotion toward Tom Crean and his squad after they squandered a double-figure lead at home against Penn State Wednesday night. The Hoosiers were booed off their homecourt after playing as though they had never encountered a full-court press before. They turned the ball over 3 times in the last 2:06 against said press, and coughed it up 20 times total during the contest. Indiana fans have already been on edge due to some uneven performances this season, and now after this latest loss, things aren’t going to calm down anytime soon.
- People tend to forget that Michigan has a really young roster. That’s why head coach John Beilein admitted that they’ve had more success than he necessarily envisioned this season. The Wolverines are tied for first in the conference with 6 games left to play, despite losing Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr, and Mitch McGary. Nik Stauskas is a Player of the Year candidate, but it’s been a different player stepping forward every night that has lead to their 10-2 league record. The jury is still out as to how far they’ll go come March, but if they get their defense in order, they could be right back in the Final Four.
- Lost in the shuffle of Shavon Shields’ 33-point effort for Nebraska on Wednesday night was the play of backup point guard Benny Parker. Parker was an absolute nuisance of that side of the floor, as he had 4 steals and caused countless other disruptions for the Illinois offense in their 67-58 win. While not much of an offensive threat, Parker has seen his minutes increase in the wake of Deverell Biggs being dismissed from the team. Coach Tim Miles essentially counted him out in the preseason, but he’s definitely earned an increase in minutes going forward, especially with the ineffectiveness of Tai Webster in recent games.
- In the preseason many people thought that Ohio State would still be really good even with the loss of 2012-13 leading scorer Deshaun Thomas. It hasn’t necessarily worked out that way however, as the Buckeyes currently have a 6-6 conference record with 6 games left. The loss to Michigan Tuesday night highlighted an ongoing theme for this year’s team, the inability to make open shots. The Buckeyes slogged through a 3-for 20 effort against the Wolverines, and they proved that despite having a tenacious defensive unit, their lack of NBA-ready talent and their lack of offensive punch will probably be their undoing during the 2013-14 campaign.
- Illinois head coach John Groce are still left searching for answers in the wake of their most recent stumble at Nebraska Wednesday night. Tracy Abrams is one of the major culprits when looking at potential scapegoats for the team’s poor performance ever since Big Ten play started. The junior guard quietly went 0-for-4 from the field against the Cornhuskers, and committed 3 turnovers. Groce isn’t worried about the shooting, but he’s more worried about Abrams playing better defense and taking care of the ball. Veteran players like Nnanna Egwu are still bringing the effort and intensity, as are the five freshman that are on the roster. In watching the Illini however, you have to wonder whether some of the other upperclassmen like Abrams and Joseph Bertrand have already checked out once they realized that their season will not likely include an NCAA berth.
Posted by Brendan Brody on February 12th, 2014
- Michigan State point guard Keith Appling will miss another round of games this week due to his wrist injury. The Spartans play Northwestern and Nebraska at home, which are games that they should be able to win without him, even given the parity that the league has been defined by this season. Appling injured the wrist in December against North Carolina, and continued to play through the pain. Whether he should have kept playing, Appling showed a tremendous amount of leadership gutting it out while the Spartans were short-handed. If he and Branden Dawson can come back and regain healthy form when they return, the Spartans are a definite National Championship contender.
- Wisconsin needs a lot of things to break their way for them to win the Big Ten regular season crown. They sit at 6-5 right now, but they get a chance to avenge two earlier losses this week with games against Minnesota and at Michigan. The Badgers are back to shooting the ball better, and they withstood a horrible stretch of games defensively to make their way back into the AP top 25 after a one-week hiatus. These games could go a long way to cementing a first round bye in the Big Ten Tournament, along with helping their seeding in the NCAA Tournament.
- Many Illinois fans have been clamoring for a starting lineup change to get their improving freshmen more minutes. So when Coach John Groce finally pulled the trigger and put Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill into the starting unit, and this resulted in a win, it wasn’t a surprise that the coach decided to continue with this lineup at Nebraska tonight. Nunn especially has really come into to his own after struggling in the non-conference portion of the schedule. He’s gone from 2.9 PPG to 6.9 PPG, and it will be interesting to see if he continues to improve with the added minutes he’s playing.
- There’s a reason that Nebraska Coach Tim Miles is in the running for Big Ten Coach of the Year. Despite not having a bunch of top-100 recruits or a program with a great basketball history, he’s gotten his players to buy in and believe in his system. This can be seen in the fact that the Cornhuskers have come back from some rough defeats to win games that they weren’t supposed to win. One such game was at Northwestern on Saturday. The Wildcats do a tremendous job frustrating offenses, but Nebraska came back from 16-point first half to get their first road win of the season. Miles players haven’t quit, and could be in line for a postseason bid because of it.
- Amir Williams doesn’t look like or carry himself like Ohio State’s most important player, but the Buckeyes usually win when he plays well. What has to be maddening for Ohio State fans is the fact that they really don’t ever know which Williams will show up. The Buckeyes lost to Michigan Tuesday night and Williams did not have much of an impact. He got 7 rebounds in 29 minutes, but the Wolverines had 14 offensive rebounds. If Ohio State wants to do anything in March this season, Williams absolutely has have more of an impact and show more consistency.
Posted by Brendan Brody on February 5th, 2014
- Michigan head coach John Beilein made some interesting comments when asked about how strong the B1G is this season. The question of parity is not something that is easy to answer when discussing how the league stacks up against other conferences. This is especially true in the wake of how the first half of the conference season played out. Beilein seems to be in the camp that believes the league is stronger because of the fact that seemingly any team can beat any other team. Naysayers trumpet the notion that this just indicates that the league is mediocre.
- It appears as if Indiana fans are growing weary of head coach Tom Crean’s lineup shuffling. Audible boos were heard on Sunday against Michigan when at one point his lineup featured only one starter on the floor during a 6-0 Wolverines’ run. Crean was quoted as saying “we have to rest players… we’ve got to continue to build depth, and the only way to build depth is to get guys to be consistent.” Having depth is one thing, but playing 13 guys in a competitive game is a tad extreme. You have to wonder if the reason that players other than Yogi Ferrell and Noah Vonleh are so inconsistent in their play is because they never can get into the flow of the game with constant substitutions.
- Nebraska has taken some great strides in recent weeks, but the Huskers still have not won a true road game during the 2013-14 campaign and winning a couple of games away from Lincoln will go a long way toward securing some sort of postseason tournament berth for this team. Head coach Tim Miles has not brought the subject up with his squad, as he believes the key is will be playing solid defense and not turning the ball over. The team has clearly established that it will be really difficult to beat at Pinnacle Bank Arena, but they won’t truly be taken seriously as a legitimate basketball program until they knock a team off on the road.
- Branden Dawson proved by coming back from his 2012 ACL injury that he’s a quick healer, returning to the court in a mere seven-plus months. Because of his previous recovery, Michigan State’s leading rebounder returning to the team earlier than the one-month prognosis wouldn’t necessarily surprise anyone. And as it turns out, he might be able to do just that. According to head coach Tom Izzo, he thinks Dawson will be able to start running today, and a return at around the four-week mark when the Spartans play Purdue and Michigan could very well be in the cards.
- Penn State and its recent resurgence has gone slightly unnoticed with the simultaneous rise of Northwestern and its even more unexpected 5-5 conference record. The Nittany Lions have won three in a row, however, and one of the keys for the team has been the ability to close things out in the waning minutes. Head coach Pat Chambers credits the team’s ability to “play for each other,” especially when things earlier in the game didn’t go their way. Now they have a decent chance at playing in the NIT with a 5-5 or 6-4 record through the rest of conference play.
Posted by Brendan Brody on January 31st, 2014
- Michigan State sophomore Matt Costello has seen his role become much more important with Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson sidelined. He posted a double-double in the Spartans’ win against Iowa on Tuesday night, which led to Tom Izzo calling it “ the best game of his life.” Costello has done a great job blocking shots all season long, but it seems as though he’s getting more comfortable playing extended minutes. His rebounding will be sorely needed until the Spartans are back at full strength. It will be interesting to see if the former top-100 recruit can develop a back-to-the-basket game in his next two years in East Lansing.
- The B1G season went from strange to borderline wacky Wednesday night when supposed cellar dwellers (at least according to preseason rankings) Penn State and Northwestern won on the road against Ohio State and Wisconsin, respectively. Both of these teams were ranked in the top five nationally a mere three weeks ago. More on Ohio State in a moment, but Wisconsin’s issues can be traced to how well it’s letting other teams shoot the ball, and how poorly it’s shooting from behind the arc. Teams have been living in the paint in all four recent losses, and until the Badgers get that fixed, they’ll continue to hover around .500 in conference play.
- Ohio State also looked like a potential Final Four contender until recently, but they’ve arguably looked even worse than Wisconsin in the last couple of weeks. It’s disturbing that senior Lenzelle Smith Jr. was quoted as saying that the team “doesn’t care enough.” Maybe these quotes will spark something in the Buckeyes and they’ll play with more emotion going forward. But Smith and fellow senior Aaron Craft, who both started in the Final Four as sophomores, need to do more on the court in terms of providing senior leadership. Smith needs to shoot better and Craft — despite the free pass the national media seemingly gives him — needs to stop turning the ball over at what has been an alarming rate during their recent struggles.
- In happier news, Minnesota is one of the teams in the league that has outperformed against expectations so far. Everyone knows that the team has missed the inside presence and rebounding of the graduated Trevor Mbakwe, but that doesn’t mean that Oto Osenieks hasn’t played well as a stretch-four during his junior season. Osenieks isn’t ever going to average 10 rebounds a game, but he’s improved quite a bit since his last season under former coach Tubby Smith. This can mainly be viewed in his three-point shooting, as the lanky junior has gone from only hitting 2-of-26 as a sophomore, to 12-of-37 during the 2013-14 campaign.
- When Penn State jumped out to a 47-40 lead at halftime in its first league game against Michigan State, you could see that this team had the potential to jump up and bite some of the Big Ten heavyweights this season. And after an 0-6 start, the Nittany Lions have won their last two after Wednesday night’s victory in Columbus. They got this win despite many setbacks that should have doomed them to defeat, overcoming a huge free throw disparity and some questionable calls that went against them. After failing to close out the game in numerous close contests, it will be interesting to see whether getting this win can be a springboard for Penn State going forward.
Posted by Brendan Brody on January 24th, 2014
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Posted by Brendan Brody on January 22nd, 2014
- When Michigan head coach John Beilein refers to a schedule that includes three games against top 10 opponents consecutively as an “incredible opportunity,” some might claim that the rigors of Big Ten play have made him slightly insane. If the Wolverines can somehow win all three of these games against Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan State, however, his quote will prove rather prophetic. Winning against Iowa tonight won’t be an easy task though, and Beilein acknowledges as much when he states that the Hawkeyes’ length, versatility, and experience make for a opponent different from any team his Wolverines have seen so far. It will certainly be interesting to see how they match up with the waves of players Iowa can throw at them.
- Two desperate teams will meet in Columbus tomorrow night. In advance of this crucial game between Ohio State and Illinois, head coach John Groce gave his team a much-needed day off on Sunday. The Illini had just come off of a stretch of three games in seven days, all of which resulted in losses and a drop from being ranked to completely off of the NCAA bubble. Maybe getting a chance to rest up and hit the reset button will be the cure for what ails this team.
- Speaking of bubble teams, Minnesota is going to need both Andre and Austin Hollins to be at full strength for the Gophers to make a run to the NCAA Tournament. That’s why it has to be moderately disturbing to learn that Andre Hollins has been playing through a toe injury. Head coach Richard Pitino said that the injury is probably why he has had some trouble with effectiveness in the second half of recent games. There really isn’t much margin for error if Minnesota wants to let him rest and fully recover. Unlike Michigan State — a team boasting a deeper roster that enables the Spartans to rest injured star Adreian Payne — the Gophers need every win they can get. Hollins is just going to have to play through the pain of the injury for the team to get to the postseason in Pitino’s first season in Minneapolis.
- Iowa has been somewhat hit or miss with its shooting from the three-point line despite the Hawkeyes’ 15-3 overall record. They have a pretty good percentage on the year (38.2%), however, and this number has risen lately thanks to the hot shooting of junior Josh Oglesby. The junior went 5-of-7 from deep as the Hawkeyes turned a close game into a blowout against Minnesota on Sunday. Oglesby, Jared Uthoff, Roy Devyn Marble, and Mike Gesell can all get hot and knock down a handful of threes in a given game. They’re all somewhat streaky, but the ability to get this kind of production from multiple players is just one of many reasons why Iowa remains extremely dangerous in the long run.
- Wisconsin is coming off of a two-game losing streak, and the Badgers’ lack of production from the bench has been a key part of that. Freshmen Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig now realize with the intensity of the conference season in full swing that they can’t play like rookies anymore. They both have learned what to expect after dealing with the crowd at Indiana’s Assembly Hall last week. Hayes is needed to provide frontcourt depth, and Koenig needs to be able to come in and spell the Badgers’ guards. The quicker these two can morph into consistent bench options, the better the chances for the Badgers to go on another long winning streak.