Posted by Brendan Brody on February 4th, 2015
- It’s now the time of the season when the frantic checking of various bracketology updates becomes a daily must for college hoops junkies. It also marks the return of ESPN’s bubble watch column. In this week’s version, there are eight Big Ten teams with a reasonable chance to make it into the field of 68. This is obviously a fluid situation, but right now Wisconsin is the league’s only true lock. It will be worth watching to see if the conference can match last season’s six bids in what has to be considered a down season in terms of overall quality.
- There are only 14 American Indian college basketball players at the Division I level this season, but one of that group has been thrust into the spotlight by playing for a Wisconsin team that has Final Four aspirations. Given the brighter stage that he finds himself on, Bronson Koenig has used the opportunity to act as an inspiration for others like him. He’s attempted to learn more about his background as he’s gotten older, and he rails against sports nicknames (like the Redskins) that he feels degrade his people. Koenig had another outstanding game against Indiana on Tuesday night, and seeing the sophomore get an opportunity both on the floor and to become a powerful off-court spokesman might go a long way toward ending some of the more foolish nicknames in sports.
- Indiana was without the services of freshman James Blackmon Jr. last night, as the wing was sidelined with an ankle injury that he suffered in Saturday’s win over Rutgers. It may not have mattered all that much, though, as Wisconsin scored seemingly at will on its way to a lopsided 92-78 home victory. The Hoosiers now will take on Michigan on Sunday, and it is unknown whether Blackmon will be available for the key upcoming game against the Wolverines. Indiana has been a surprise team through the first half of Big Ten play, but Tom Crean will need the services of his star rookie in order to push on through to an unexpected NCAA Tournament berth.
- Penn State is now 2-7 in conference play, and one of the major reasons for that disappointing record has been an over-reliance on DJ Newbill on the offensive end. Newbill is being asked to make something out of nothing on a good number of the Nittany Lions’ possessions, which often leads to others standing around and essentially getting in the way. The lack of a true point guard on the team has hurt considerably, and despite returning most of their key contributors from last season, they’ve clearly regressed. Their assist rate sits at a paltry 42.3 percent, which is a byproduct of not having a serviceable distributor to make things happen. Newbill leads the team in assists and scoring, and Shep Garner plays shooting guard. This also explains some of the poor shot selection and late-game turnovers that have contributed to several of their close losses.
- Chemistry was questioned at Maryland after the Terrapins lost five players from last season’s team that underachieved in their final ACC season. This year’s edition has blended newcomers and veterans much better than in the past, and graduate transfer Richaud Pack has been a key component to that improvement. The senior has been a valuable presence in the Maryland locker room even as he’s seen his minutes cut back lately. The guard can do a little bit of everything, and he will be a needed to fill whatever role the Terps ask of him as they hit the home stretch.
Posted by Brendan Brody on December 24th, 2014
- Things have changed remarkably for the Big Ten in just the span of two weeks. It all started on December 6 when Michigan lost at home to NJIT and Purdue lost to North Florida in West Lafayette. Now, the league has lost a bunch of games to teams ranked below #150 on KenPom’s efficiency ratings, and it is losing much of its credibility in the process. Nebraska’s loss on Monday night to Hawaii was just the latest in a string of embarrassing defeats the league has suffered. The question that these teams will face is whether losses to the likes of Texas Southern and the rest could do so much damage to their resumes that a typical Big Ten 10-8 or 9-9 record becomes dicey on Selection Sunday (when in years past it was virtually a lock).
- It’s not often that an opposing coach becomes critical of a team that has just defeated his own team. But that’s just what North Florida head coach Matthew Driscoll did when asked about Iowa after it beat his squad on Saturday. Driscoll referred to a confidence problem with the Hawkeyes that Fran McCaffery echoed when he was asked about Driscoll’s remarks. “I guarantee he’s watched every one of our games, probably twice. So he is qualified to make those remarks. But, I mean, so are you. You’ve seen it.” This team is obviously missing Roy Devyn Marble in more ways than just his scoring ability this season.
- In happier Big Ten-related news, Wisconsin moved to 11-1 on the season by notching a solid and methodical road win at California on Monday night. Frank Kaminsky contributed another solid effort with 14 points and eight rebounds, and he kept his spot in second place in CollegeBasketballTalk’s Player of the Year rankings. One thing pointed out that could hurt Kaminsky when gunning for this season’s postseason honors is the fact that there will be times when the relative effectiveness of Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker might limit his touches. The senior has done a great job, however, in doing more than just scoring this season, as he leads the team in steals and blocks and is second in assists.
- Tom Crean and Mark Turgeon have both been discussed as Big Ten coaches with tenuous holds on their jobs. But with both Indiana and Maryland getting off to better-than-expected starts in the 2014-15 campaign, their jobs appear to be safer. With many of the league powers showing signs of trouble, the Terps (11-1) and Hoosiers (10-2) are in reasonable positions to make the NCAA Tournament this season. On the other hand, one conference coach who could be in trouble if things don’t turn around soon is Purdue’s Matt Painter. After playing reasonably well at the Maui Invitational, the Boilermakers have since slipped tremendously. They now sit at 8-5 with an RPI of #154. Barring a significant turnaround, Painter could very well find himself in trouble at season’s end.
- Turnovers doomed Nebraska in its loss to Hawaii Tuesday morning in its first game at the Diamond Head Classic. Hawaii forced the Cornhuskers into 18 miscues, which, combined with a 7-of-23 shooting night from stars Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields, was simply too much to overcome. Now the team sits at 7-4 after last night’s overtime win against Loyola Marymount, but it lost a golden opportunity for a marquee neutral site win by missing on a battle with Wichita State. Nebraska will play Ohio to finish its trip to the Islands on Thursday, and then starts Big Ten play on December 31 against Indiana at home.
Posted by Brendan Brody on November 19th, 2014
- Michigan will have an advantage on the perimeter with the trio of Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin, and Derrick Walton Jr in many of the games it plays this season. The question marks mainly lie with the Wolverines’ inside play, but overlooked forward Max Bielfeldt could provide some answers. Bielfeldt only had 38 career points before Michigan’s game against Bucknell on Monday night, but after not even making an appearance in the team’s opening game, he went off for 18 points. Bielfeldt has never had much of a chance other than some spot cameos throughout his career, but if he can continue to consistently provide scoring in the post, then the Wolverines’ prospects for another deep NCAA Tournament run just got much better.
- Anthony Clemmons became something of a forgotten man last season, as the sophomore struggled to find court time even with Iowa playing a bunch of players. He has cracked this year’s starting lineup for the 2-0 Hawkeyes, however, by bringing a newfound confidence in his outside shot. After going only 6-of-16 through all of last season, Clemmons has already hit 5-of-6 from behind the arc and is averaging 11.5 points per game. His hustle plays are what’s keeping him in the lineup, though, as Fran McCaffery noted that “it’s infectious to the rest of the team.” Iowa and Clemmons will be tested going up against Texas and standout guard Isaiah Taylor on Thursday night in Madison Square Garden.
- Maryland has gotten off to a 2-0 start in its first season in the B1G, and the Terrapins are doing so with heavy contributions from their freshmen class. In their Monday night win over Central Connecticut State, Melo Trimble, Dion Wiley, and Michel Cekovsky all performed well. Trimble surprisingly led the team in rebounds with eight; Cekovsky had three blocks in 18 minutes; and Wiley managed to score 10 points and snag five rebounds in 19 minutes of action. Many freshmen in the league have come in and made an impact, but Maryland is a team that definitely needs big support from their first-year players if they hope to remain competitive with the mid-tier of the league in their first B1G season.
- Among the takeaways from Indiana‘s win over Texas Southern on Monday night was the fact that certain players are stepping into bigger roles and contributing in a number of different ways. Freshman Robert Johnson is at the top of that list, as he’s played with a level of maturity that belies his first-year status. Johnson is a year older than the typical college freshman due to a reclassification during his junior year of high school. While it’s doubtful he’ll sustain a stat line of 18.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG and 5.5 APG all season, he’s shown that Tom Crean did valuable work in getting Johnson and fellow freshman James Blackmon Jr. into an Indiana uniform.
- Fresh off of a disappointing loss in its season opener against Louisville, Minnesota has the chance to get a needed confidence boost in the form of three home games in five days. These contests are all against teams that the Gophers should beat, but the quick turnaround between them could really test their depth. Minnesota passed its first test on Tuesday night against Western Kentucky, and head coach Richard Pitino should have a chance over the next few nights to give his newcomers a great chance to get comfortable in his defensive system.
Posted by Brendan Brody on November 10th, 2014
- After numerous key losses from last year’s team, Denzel Valentine has to have a big season for Michigan State if Sparty wants to avoid falling back into the Big Ten pack. If preseason exhibitions are any indication, then Valentine is definitely in line for a huge season. He went for 24 points and 12 rebounds on 6-of-9 shooting from behind the arc in the Spartans’ first preseason tilt, then topped that off with a 15-point, 11-rebound, 11-assist triple-double over the weekend. Should he notch one of these stat lines in the regular season, he would join a select group of Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Draymond Green and Charlie Bell as the only Michigan State players to register one in a regular season game.
- Another preseason standout has been Ohio State freshman guard D’Angelo Russell. Russell enters college basketball with plenty of expectations, and he showed the reason behind them by leading the Buckeyes in scoring in a win over Walsh College, 77-37, on Sunday. In addition to his 17 points, he also chipped in eight rebounds and six assists for an all-around fantastic performance. Four Buckeyes went for double figures, including fellow freshman Ja’Sean Tate with 10 points. With so much experience on the roster, it will be interesting to see how Thad Matta manages his team if Russell is the team’s best offensive weapon. Will the seniors allow him to take the big shots late in games?
- Eddie Jordan is quietly putting together a solid recruiting class for Rutgers with his growing haul in the Class of 2015. Highly-rated point guard Corey Sanders is already in the fold, and now combo guard Justin Goode has also pledged his services to the Scarlet Knights. Goode joins his teammate at Hargrave Military Academy, Kejuan Johnson, in becoming the second recruit from the school to verbally commit to Rutgers in just the last week. With Myles Mack leaving after this season, having as many guards on the roster to choose from will help Jordan rebuild this long-suffering program.
- Even though it was against a Division II opponent, it has to be a good sign for Northwestern to score 102 points in a game — which is the exact output the Wildcats put up in their 50-point Friday night win against McKendree. Alex Olah led the team in scoring with 18 points, eight rebounds and four blocks. The team shot an absurd 72 percent from the field, and head coach Chris Collins used garbage time to mix different combinations of lineups with all the new players on the roster. The coach was pleased with the effort, saying, “We have a lot of guys who are really good players. I am really proud of our group.”
- The image of Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery stalking the officials on to the court in the Hawkeyes’ loss at Wisconsin last year was one of the most memorable and infamous moments of the Big Ten season. Having a son diagnosed with cancer will change one’s perspective, however, and McCaffery acknowledges that each possession on the basketball floor is not going to get him quite as upset as it probably would have in the past. Patrick McCaffery, now 6’5″, is currently dunking in junior high games. Recent blood work shows that he is cancer-free, and this is obviously outstanding news for the entire Iowa basketball family.
Posted by Brendan Brody on March 19th, 2014
- Plenty of Purdue fans were unhappy with their team after a last-place season filled with inconsistent play. The Boilermakers were already slated to lose four seniors, and had just lost the promising career of a redshirt freshman from a heart ailment. Their sophomore center, a player as inconsistent as he is talented, is contemplating entry into the NBA Draft. Now, starting point guard Ronnie Johnson has decided to transfer. Johnson does not know where he’s headed yet, but the latest departure makes an already volatile situation in West Lafayette even worse. The Boilermakers just signed point guard P.J. Thompson, so it looks like it will be up to the freshman or Bryson Scott to run Matt Painters’ offense in 2014-15.
- Another less-heralded sophomore is also leaving the Big Ten this week. Northwestern forward Kale Abrahamson has decided to play his final two years of basketball elsewhere. Abrahamson was never a great fit for Chris Collins’ system, so it’s not too terribly shocking that he’s leaving. Known mostly for his ability to stretch the floor, his shot wasn’t as consistent as it needed to be. He shot a solid 34.6 percent from behind the three-point line this season, but that percentage needs to be considerably higher if it is his primary skill on the floor. With five new recruits on the way to Evanston, look for this to be a much different Northwestern squad next season.
- Minnesota played about how you might expect a team to play when they’re given an NIT bid after residing on the bubble for the better part of two months. In their opening round victory over High Point Wednesday night, the major story to come out of the game was an early injury to Deandre Mathieu, who took a hard fall after being fouled on a layup attempt. Should this be a significant injury, the Gophers’ chances of getting to New York City for the semifinals look quite slim.
- Indiana didn’t win enough basketball games this season, and the Hoosiers certainly aren’t ringing in the offseason by winning any trophies in Public Relations 101. Shortly after athletic director Fred Glass made headlines with his quote about playing in the CBI, head coach Tom Crean said that people could say whatever they want to him on Twitter, because he doesn’t read it anyway.He went on to tweet: ” I receive a lot of good advice through the years and some is really good. I love the passion of the fans. I just don’t read my twitter.” You can interpret things however you wish, but it’s probably best that the staff of Indiana probably just stays quiet for a while.
- The fruits of Nebraska’s run are starting to help them on the recruiting trail, as the Huskers recently picked a commitment from point guard Tarin Smith. The guard plays for legendary high school coach, Bob Hurley, Sr., of the fabled St. Anthony’s program in New Jersey. This leaves Tim Miles with a good problem to have on his roster next year, with multiple options in the backcourt between Smith, Tai Webster, and Benny Parker.
Posted by Brendan Brody on February 26th, 2014
- Ohio State has gone 6-1 since it put Sam Thompson into the starting lineup. Thompson’s production didn’t change too much at the beginning of the switch, but he’s been significantly better over his last couple of games including a team-high 19 points in Ohio State’s 64-46 win over Minnesota on Saturday. This effort drew the praise of Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino, saying Thompson “is what college basketball is all about.” Pitino, interestingly enough, had recruited Thompson when he was an assistant coach at Florida under Billy Donovan. Thompson has always been an elite athlete, and if his improved offense isn’t just an aberration, he’ll be on the NBA’s radar very soon if he’s not already.
- Another wing who has been raising eyebrows with his play of late has been Michigan’s Caris LeVert. Unlike Thompson, however, LeVert has been playing well all season long. Dylan Burkhardt does a tremendous job breaking down the specifics of how well LeVert has played on the offensive end this season. You can see with some of the raw data that he is a multi-dimensional scorer who can beat defenses in a number of ways. He’s underrated as a spot-up shooter, but he is equally adept at breaking his man down off of the dribble. Tim Hardaway, Jr., is having a really good season in the NBA with the Knicks, yet LeVert has numbers as a sophomore that are comparable to Hardaway’s junior year statistics.
- Kendrick Nunn was the most highly-rated member of John Groce’s first Illinois recruiting class, but the freshman had his fair share of struggles in non-conference play, causing many Illinois fans to question what all the hype was all about. Nunn has quieted his critics with his play of late, showing why he was so well-regarded in the first place. He’s shown a keen ability to drive and finish, and has also shot the ball from the outside much better than scouting reports would lead you to believe. He’s hit 37.3 percent of his three-pointers on the year, going 11-of-22 in the four games when he’s been a starter.
- There have not been too many (if any) Big Ten players to come out of the basketball hotbed known as Chadron, Nebraska, but this is where Minnesota pivot man Elliott Eliason hails from, forging an unlikely path for someone on a Big Ten roster. Eliason has dealt with quite a bit of skepticism about his talent after not playing against quality competition in high school, and he seems to be his own worst critic, which is why some of his on-court reactions can be a bit too much to handle sometimes. Despite a lack of productivity lately, he was still third in the conference in rebounding coming into Tuesday night’s games. He’s also averaging 2.2 BPG, and will be a main cog if Minnesota gets things back on track closing out the season.
- Nebraska has one objective closing out the year if it wants to defy expectations and get to the program’s first NCAA Tournament since 1998. They simply need to win one game at a time and then let everything play out accordingly. Coach Tim Miles has the team believing in the mantra, “avoid the noise,” tuning out all of the talk about bubbles and RPI and instead focusing on the things it can control. This all starts with their game tonight against an Illinois team that is playing somewhat better lately. Sitting at 8-6 right now, it would be interesting to see what the selection committee would do with a Big Ten team that has an 11-7 or even a 10-8 record in conference play.