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.
Posted by Brendan Brody on January 17th, 2014
- Wisconsin’s Ben Brust hit one of the most memorable shots in Big Ten history last season against Wisconsin. This memory has come into the light once again as the Wolverines head to Madison this Saturday. When asked about his shot, the senior sharp-shooter talked about how he really is only focused on the present. Brust stated that, “I just want to stay focused on the task at hand. Because I know that after these three months, I’ll have the rest of my life to think about how special of a play it was.” With the way the Badgers are playing, there could be many more memorable games for Brust to look back upon if things break right for the team in the next three months.
- CBSSports.com‘s Gary Parrish makes an interesting argument in talking about how the B1G is really more of a basketball league than a football league. This flies in the face of the perceptions of many at the schools in the conference, which despite a recent lack of success on the gridiron, still cling to the notion that the league is a dominant football conference. It can’t be denied that the conference has arguably been the best basketball league for quite some time now. In the era of one-and-dones dotting the landscape, teams in the Big Ten seem to have found a happy medium where they still bring in talent that sticks around for several years. While some may scoff because of the lack of national championships, the B1G once again has the most depth top-to-bottom in the country on almost a yearly basis.
- After an 0-4 start in league play, Nebraska coach Tim Miles has decided to shake things up a little bit. This means more playing time for the forgotten David Rivers. Rivers started a little more than half of his team’s games last season, but has hardly played at all over the last 10 contests due to an injury and ineffectiveness. Miles hopes that Rivers, who leads the team in steals at 1.4 per game, will bring more defensive intensity for the Huskers.
- With their win over Ohio State, Iowa has climbed in both the national rankings and in the amount of people taking them seriously. Interest in the program is the highest it has been in a while, and the Hawkeyes will have sell-out crowds for the remainder of their home games. This could prove to be crucial, as Iowa will play games against Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State in Carver-Hawkeye Arena in the next couple of weeks. Protecting your home court is a must every season in a league as deep as the Big Ten, so the support of the crowd will be more than welcomed by Iowa players as they battle the heavyweights in games that could determine who wins the conference.
- AJ Hammons gets most of the hype and publicity whenever anyone discusses Purdue, but whether the guards are hitting outside shots can be just as important for the team if it wants to play in the postseason. Ronnie Johnson and Kendall Stephens knocked down some huge triples in their win against Illinois, which ultimately led to the Boilermakers coming away with the win. Terone and Ronnie Johnson also hit 6-of-6 free throws in the final minute, despite both of them shooting poorly from the line for most of their careers. Hammons has been coming along in his own right, but steady guard play might decide how good of a season Purdue has.
Posted by Brendan Brody on January 15th, 2014
- Ohio State head coach Thad Matta isn’t exactly known for utilizing a deep bench. But players like freshman Marc Loving have enabled Matta to play up to nine players this season instead of his usual six or seven. Loving has taken advantage of the opportunity he’s been given, especially in recent games. He was part of the group that helped the Buckeyes come back and force overtime in their close loss to Michigan State, showing the trust that Matta has in keeping him on the floor for long stretches. With five upperclassmen starters in the lineup, he also has the advantage of coming in without the expectations that other freshman in the league are saddled with.
- Keith Appling has gotten incrementally better through his four seasons at Michigan State. This is why some media members like ESPN‘s Dan Dakich believe that he’s in the driver’s seat for B1G Player of the Year honors. With fellow senior Adreian Payne out indefinitely with a sprained foot, head coach Tom Izzo needs Appling and his leadership now more than ever. He’s delivered to the tune of 16.4 PPG, 4.6 APG, and 48 percent shooting from three so far. If he continues to put up those numbers and the Spartans finish in the top three in league play, there’s no reason why he couldn’t come away with such postseason honors.
- As Minnesota jumps into an extremely arduous stretch of their schedule, questions have been raised about how the Gophers can get more production from stretch fours Oto Osenieks and Joey King. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune‘s Amelia Bayno broke down how each player has performed in advanced statistical categories in order to answer the question about which player should start. The numbers show that there isn’t a significant difference between the two. In watching the Gophers play, King seems like he could make more of an impact if given more minutes, but for now Richard Pitino is going to stick with the same lineup he’s been going with.
- After playing reasonably well in the non-conference part of the schedule, the Illinois bench that consists of five freshman has essentially hit a bit of a “rookie wall.” Players like Jaylon Tate and Malcolm Hill have both showed flashes of players who can contribute all season, but they’ve been non-factors thus far in league play. Tate looked like he was going to challenge the then-struggling Tracy Abrams for the starting point guard spot in the first 10 games, but has now gone to getting only three minutes in the loss to Northwestern Sunday night. If Illinois continues to fail to get any production from these first-year players, they will continue to struggle in Big Ten play.
- Glenn Robinson III did not get off to the greatest of starts this season, which resulted in him as the scapegoat for Michigan losing some early games. He’s turned things around quite nicely as of late, averaging 16.2 PPG on 59.5 percent shooting in his last eight games. So what’s the secret to Robinson’s successful turnaround? In letting him tell it, he’s been playing better because he’s smiling more. After talking to his high school coach, Robinson decided that if he played more relaxed and with more positive energy, he would contribute more. It’s hard to argue with the results, as Michigan won again Tuesday night to move to 4-0 in conference play.
Posted by Brendan Brody on January 8th, 2014
- Bronson Koenig came to Wisconsin despite having offers from Duke, North Carolina and Virginia. Needless to say, he had a decent amount of hype attached to his game, but he hasn’t made a huge impact yet despite some good moments in his 14 games of action. One of the biggest things he’s dealing with in Bo Ryan’s offense is knowing when to score and when to pass. Koenig doesn’t really need to do much more than what he’s doing right now, however, on a team with veterans Ben Brust, Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson ahead of him in the rotation. He provides the Badgers with a someone to play 10 to 15 minutes per game at either the point or on the wing, and the experience he gains this season will pay off much more next year after Brust graduates.
- Purdue is in trouble after an 0-2 start that saw the Boilermakers give up 78 points to an offensively challenged Ohio State team and 82 points to Minnesota on Sunday. One of the major catalysts to their struggles has been the defensive end of the floor. Minnesota hit 11-of-24 shots from behind the arc, and Purdue does not rank higher than eighth in the B1G in scoring defense, three-point defense, field goal defense and defensive rebounding. This goes against the blueprint that Matt Painter laid out in the early part of his tenure in West Lafayette, where his teams were mostly known for their defensive intensity. The Boilermakers almost came back and beat Minnesota largely because of the late success of their defensive pressure, but they need to start performing for 40 minutes to get some wins in this difficult conference.
- Northwestern lost a transfer on Tuesday afternoon, as 7’2″ Chier Ajou has decided to pursue other opportunities. To date, Ajou had only played in one game and two minutes this season. This frees up a roster spot for next season when head coach Chris Collins can pick up someone who will make for a better fit in his system. It’s a credit to Collins that the transition over from Bill Carmody has gone relatively smoothly, with only two players (Ajou and Mike Turner) transferring so far.
- The play of Derrick Walton Jr. has mostly been up and down, but both Michigan head coach John Beilein and Walton himself seem to think that things will become easier for the freshman point guard. He has already cut down on his turnovers — with only six in the last five games — and it’s taken a while for him to learn the complexities of Beilein’s offense, but he is starting to get more comfortable. If Walton Jr. can at a minimum limit his turnovers and knock down an open jumper here and there, the Wolverines will be in decent shape at the point with he and Spike Albrecht splitting time there.
- Ohio State almost pulled off another thrilling comeback on Tuesday night, but instead lost its first game of the season to Michigan State in overtime, 72-68. The game showed much of what is already known about the Buckeyes. They are an elite defensive team, especially at the guard spots, but they are still and probably will continue to be a mediocre offensive team. Just like in the Notre Dame game a few weeks ago, this comeback was essentially fueled with tremendous on-ball pressure that created turnovers. The Buckeyes got almost nothing in their half-court offense last night, and unless LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith can develop more consistency on this end of the floor (or Marc Loving morphs from potential superstar to superstar), this will be how it is all season for Thad Matta’s team.
Posted by Brendon Brody on December 11th, 2013
- Though he’s slightly lost in the shuffle due to Iowa‘s outstanding depth, Melsahn Basabe is starting to come on and is contributing a lot more for the 10-1 Hawkeyes. His career has been a bit of a roller coaster in terms of how his production has been up and down, but to date this season he’s averaging 7.7 PPG and 6.3 RPG in only 18 minutes of action per contest. In his last two games, he’s hit for an average of 14 points and 10 boards per outing. Iowa needs selfless players like Basabe to continue to contribute in limited minutes in order to take advantage of their depth without a drop in production.
- Northwestern has had a shaky beginning to the Chris Collins regime in Evanston. His former college coach and colleague, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, watched the team’s recent 51-35 win over Western Michigan, and then spoke to the team afterward. His message was for the team to stay together and fight through adversity. Coach K served as a decent good luck charm, as the Wildcats held the Broncos to 24.4 percent shooting from the field on the night. Collins may have found something with his switch to starting James Montgomery and Nikola Cerina in his lineup, emphasizing the need for tougher defense in order to get things on track from the start of the game.
- Penn State is right around the middle of the pack in rebounding in the B1G, but the Nittany Lions may have turned a corner in the second half of their win Saturday against Marshall. The team only allowed three offensive rebounds in the second half after giving up 12 in the first 20 minutes. They attributed this turnaround simply to a renewed emphasis on being tougher and getting to more loose balls. Without the talent that many other league teams possess, intangibles and hustle stats like rebounding will be vital if Penn State hopes to exceed expectations and make a run at an NCAA berth.
- Indiana knocked off Oakland 81-54 on Tuesday night, as the Hoosiers got another strong outing from senior transfer Evan Gordon. Gordon has now gone 17-of-21 from the field in his last two games. He had looked like he wouldn’t be able to contribute much offensively before those last two contests, despite the fact that he came in from Arizona State with a pretty good reputation as a scorer. If he can continue this production as an instant threat off the bench, the Hoosiers may solve some of their problems with inconsistency in their half-court production that they’ve been struggling with.
- NBC Sports’ College Basketball Talk released their list of the 10 most disappointing players of the first month, and they listed both Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III in their rankings. McGary seems to be playing his way into shape, with averages of 9.7 PPG, 8.9 RPG, and 2.1 SPG on the season. Robinson has been an enigma, however — disappearing for numerous key stretches and hardly noticeable at times as the team has struggled through an uneven start. My other occupation aside from writing for this website is that of a adjunct English professor, so in honor of it being finals week, McGrady gets a B- for his play thus far, while Robinson gets a D — both players are passing, but they could stand to really show some improvement.