Rushed Reactions: #2 Michigan 79, #7 Texas 65

Posted by Walker Carey on March 22nd, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion@RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Stauskas Carried His Team for Another Round (Gregory Shamus, Getty)

Stauskas Carried His Team for Another Round (Gregory Shamus, Getty)

  1. Michigan’s three-point shooting carried it to victory. The Wolverines have been a very good three-point shooting team all season, and that carried over to Saturday afternoon. John Beilein’s squad used 14 three-pointers – on 28 attempts from behind the arc – to pace itself to a comfortable victory over Texas.  Starters Derrick Walton Jr., Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, and Glenn Robinson III combined to hit 11 from behind the arc and this forced the Longhorns to make defensive adjustments throughout the game. Hot three-point shooting has been known to carry teams deep into the NCAA Tournament. Michigan has shown repeatedly that its long-range shooting is about as good as it gets this season, so you should not be surprised if the Wolverines keep advancing as long as they are hitting shots from deep.
  2. Offensive rebounding and free throw shooting kept Texas in the game. The Longhorns did not have their best game on either side of the court Saturday afternoon. They shot just 37.1 percent from the field and starting guards Isaiah Taylor, Demarcus Holland, and Javan Felix finished a combined 11-of-34. Rick Barnes’ group also had a long night defensively, as they allowed Michigan way too many open looks from the perimeter, resulting in the Wolverines’ hot shooting performance. Two areas where Texas excelled were on the offensive glass and at the free throw line. The Longhorns collected an astounding 21 offensive boards and used those to record 19 second-chance points. They also took advantage of their 16 attempts from the charity stripe by knocking back all but one of them. Texas probably should have been put away shortly after the commencement of the second half, but due to its performance on the offensive glass and at the free throw line, it was able to keep the pressure on Michigan well into the final minutes.
  3. Jordan Morgan has been the interior presence Michigan needs. When Mitch McGary went down with a season-ending back injury in late December, many question arose regarding if Michigan’s inside play would be good enough for the team to have a successful season. Those questions were certainly answered in the Big Ten, as the team’s inside play was not an issue en route to a 15-3 conference record and an outright league title. Entering the NCAA Tournament, however, it still seemed as if there were doubts if the team’s inside play would be enough for it to advance far into the bracket. Senior forward Jordan Morgan’s play in the first two games of this Tournament has shown that those doubts were unwarranted. The big man has tallied 25 points and 20 rebounds over the first two games and has provided the team with a much-needed interior defensive presence. Morgan has already played a lot of minutes in his Michigan career and if he can continue to produce in the post, he is going to likely play quite a few more before his Wolverines career is over.

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The Blueprints: How Each Big Ten Team Can Advance Past Its First Opponent

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 19th, 2014

The Big Ten is largely known as one of the best, if not the best, basketball conferences in all of the land. This hasn’t necessarily equated to great success in the postseason, however. In fact, it’s been 14 long years since one of the league members has cut down the nets on the first Monday night in April (Michigan State – 2000). The first key to winning it all, obviously, is to win your first game. As we head into the league’s six openers over the next two days, here is what each Big Ten team needs to accomplish in order to get into the next round.

Aaron Craft must create turnovers for Ohio State to beat Dayton. (Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire)

Aaron Craft must create turnovers for Ohio State to beat Dayton. (Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire)

  • Ohio State must create turnovers to beat Dayton: This holds true for almost every game that the Buckeyes play, but it’s especially important here because Dayton plays a slower pace and they turn the ball over 18.1% of the time. Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott, Lenzelle Smith Jr. and the rest of the rangy, athletic Buckeyes need to realize that their best offense here is their defense. If they get some live-ball turnovers that will allow them to get out and run, they’ll have Dayton right where they want them.
  • Michigan State must stop the triple threat to beat Delaware: Delaware has three legitimate offensive weapons in Jarvis Threatt, Devon Saddler, and Davon Usher. All three average at least 18.0 PPG for a team that plays at the 10th fastest tempo in the country. Michigan State has their own big three, however, in Adreian Payne, Gary Harris, and Keith Appling. If the Spartans’ trio can outscore the group of Blue Hens, with Branden Dawson locking down the 6’6″ Usher in the process, Sparty should move on. Read the rest of this entry »
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Bracket Prep: Midwest Region Analysis

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 2014

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Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), Midwest (11:00 AM), South (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCmwregion).

You should also check out our upcoming RTC Podblast with Walker breaking down the Midwest Region, which will drop both on the site and on iTunes Tuesday.

Midwest Region

Louisville dominated UConn on Saturday. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Louisville dominated UConn on Saturday. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Favorite: #4 Louisville (29-5, 15-3 AAC). Not to take anything away from the fantastic seasons completed by #1 seed Wichita State, #2 seed Michigan and #3 seed Duke, but Louisville is one of the hottest teams in the country entering the NCAA Tournament. The Cardinals were likely dropped to a #4 seed due to their weak non-conference schedule and the fact that some of their wins in AAC play were over vastly inferior competition. However, when you have the talent and winning experience that Louisville possesses, seeding does not really matter all that much. Guard Russ Smith is one the nation’s elite scorers and he has shown throughout his collegiate career that he can go off for a monster night in any game against any team. Forward Montrezl Harrell has taken a huge step forward during his sophomore season and his 14.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game give the Cards an outstanding post presence. Toss in the fact that Louisville’s defense only allows 61 points per game and averages 10.1 steals per game and it should be clear why Rick Pitino’s squad is the favorite to return to the Final Four to defend its national title.

Should They Falter: #1 Wichita State (34-0, 18-0 MVC). If favorite Louisville is to stumble before reaching the Final Four, the undefeated Shockers are the team that is most equipped to do the job. While Wichita State has caught a ton of unnecessary criticism for its “easy” schedule, it is impossible to discount the fact that the team completed the nearly impossible task of finishing the regular season and conference tournament with an unscathed record. Throughout all the monotonous discussion about Wichita State’s merit as a top seed, it was often forgotten that Gregg Marshall’s squad has a solid nucleus that was on the team that advanced to the Final Four last April. Guards Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, and Tekele Cotton, along with forward Cleanthony Early, played big minutes for the team last season and all four have experienced even more success in greater roles this season. Not only is Wichita State talented enough to return to the Final Four, it is also talented enough to cut down the nets at Cowboys Stadium on the first Monday in April.

Grossly Overseeded: #6 Massachusetts (24-8, 10-6 A-10). Derek Kellogg’s Minutemen had a fine season, but their résumé does not suggest that they were worthy of a #6 seed. After winning 16 of its first 17 games, Massachusetts went 8-7 over its final 15. Those seven losses included setbacks to non-Tournament teams Richmond, Saint Bonaventure and George Mason. The Minutemen were a middle-of-the-pack Atlantic 10 team as a result, and that was evident by the fact that they were the #6 seed in their conference tournament. What really makes the placement here a headscratcher is that George Washington and Saint Joseph’s finished ahead of them in the conference and they were given a #8 and a #10 seed, respectively.

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Rushed Reactions: #22 Michigan State 69, #8 Michigan 55

Posted by Walker Carey on March 16th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Sunday’s Big Ten Tournament title game between Michigan and Michigan State in Indianapolis.

Three Key Takeaways.

MSU is Playing Like the Spartans We All Expected

MSU is Playing Like the Spartans We All Expected

  1. “THIS” version of Michigan State is very dangerous. Tom Izzo‘s squad was very popular Final Four pick in the preseason. As the season progressed, the Spartans lost their popularity due to a variety of injuries. Floor leader Keith Appling missed time. Standout scorer Gary Harris missed time. Versatile forward Branden Dawson missed time. Stretch big man Adreian Payne missed time. The question changed from, “Will Michigan State get to the Final Four?” to, “Will Michigan State ever get healthy?” The Spartans finally played with a full roster for the final three games of the regular season, but they only went 1-2 in those games. This prompted national pundits to question if the team will be able to shake off the rust in time to make a serious run in the postseason. Michigan State just may have answered that question this week, as it ripped off three relatively easy victories en route to the Big Ten Tournament title. As the NCAA Tournament is set to begin later this week, Michigan State finally appears to be the team that many thought it would be.
  2. Michigan’s offense was out of sorts all afternoon. The biggest factor in Michigan winning the regular season conference title by three game was its marvelous offensive attack. Sophomore guards Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert bursted onto the scene as two of the elite shot makers in the conference, sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III used his versatility and great athleticism to be a legitimate threat from both the inside and outside, and freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. showcased a natural ability to distribute the basketball. All four were thrown off their games Sunday afternoon, as Michigan State’s defense was tenacious from start to finish. The Wolverines finished with their second-lowest scoring output of the season and that can be majorly attributed to its shooting struggles all afternoon. Michigan finished shooting just 31.5% from the field and it could never get anything going from behind the three-point line, finishing at just 26.1% from distance. Every team goes through poor shooting games, but for a team that relies so much on its outside shooting, Michigan is going to need to make better adjustments when up against a tenacious defense if it wants to advance deep into the NCAA Tournament.
  3. These are two teams to keep an eye on in the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State is as talented as any team that will be in the Field of 68. Now that they are at full health, the Spartans will be a popular pick to advance deep into the bracket. While it did not play well Sunday afternoon, Michigan is still an extremely good team that won the regular season Big Ten title for a reason. This year’s NCAA Tournament seems like it is wide open and the two teams that played Sunday afternoon in Indianapolis each have a chance to – at the very least – make a run to the Final Four.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Michigan 72, #24 Ohio State 69

Posted by Walker Carey on March 15th, 2014

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Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s Big Ten Tournament semifinal between Michigan and Ohio State in Indianapolis.

Aaron Craft Couldn't Quite Get it Done on Saturday Afternoon

Aaron Craft Couldn’t Quite Get it Done on Saturday Afternoon

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Michigan’s hot starts to both halves were instrumental to it earning this victory. Michigan started the game in an absolute flurry, as it scored 15 of the game’s first 17 points. Shots were falling from everywhere for the Wolverines, as they made six of their first eight attempts from behind the three-point line. Ohio State was able to gain its composure and go on a 15-4 run over the final 6:02 of the first half to make it a four-point game, but the Michigan offense was once again ready to explode when the second half started. In the first four minutes of the second half, John Beilein‘s squad aggressively ran its lead from four points to 12 points and was once again showing its outside shooting prowess. Like in the first half, Ohio State recovered from this onslaught and turned the game into a hotly-contested affair. Consequently, it can be inferred that if Michigan did not get off to such hot starts in each half, it would not have been able to grab the victory over its archrival.
  2. Ohio State’s fight was admirable. Thad Matta’s squad was down 15-2 not even four minutes into the game, but instead of sulking and letting Michigan continue its thermonuclear start, the Buckeyes found it within themselves to fight back and make it a battle to the very end. Ohio State is not known as an offensive powerhouse, but the Buckeyes used their offense to key their march back into the game. Junior forward LaQuinton Ross and junior guard Shannon Scott led the offensive attack, finishing the afternoon with 19 and 18 points, respectively. The Buckeyes were also able to shore up their defensive effort. After allowing Michigan to shoot a smoldering 64 percent in the first half, Ohio State tightened the screws and held the Wolverines to a 40.9 percent shooting clip in the second half. While Ohio State ultimately only has a loss to show for its performance Saturday afternoon, the toughness and desire it showed are things the team can build on as it moves into the NCAA Tournament. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Tournament: Friday Recap/Saturday Preview

Posted by Walker Carey on March 15th, 2014

With the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament in the books, we take a look at a few of the big takeaways from Friday, as well as storylines to keep in mind on Friday.

What went down on Friday:

The Top-Seeded Wolverines Survived an Upset Bid by Illinois Friday

The Top-Seeded Wolverines Survived an Upset Bid by Illinois Friday

  • Top-seeded Michigan survived a scare from a tenacious Illinois squad. The Wolverines saw a 13-point lead completely disappear before senior forward Jordan Morgan converted a layup with seven seconds left to give Michigan the 64-63 victory. The Wolverines were able to build their 13-point lead thanks to great assertiveness from sophomore Glenn Robinson III and the play-making ability of Big Ten Player of the Year, Nik Stauskas. The team’s fortunes, however, changed in the second half when Illinois dropped into a 2-3 zone that utterly frustrated Michigan throughout a majority of the second half.
  • Ohio State advanced to the semifinals with an epic 71-67 comeback victory over Nebraska. The Buckeyes trailed by 18 points with just over 13 minutes to play, but junior forward LaQuinton Ross and their suffocating defense took over and allowed Thad Matta’s squad to come all the way back to earn the victory. Senior guard Aaron Craft did not have the best game statistically, but he once again showed how valuable it is to have a confident, heady leader at the controls.
  • Wisconsin was very impressive in its 26-point mauling of a Minnesota team that could not find its way off the bubble. Senior guard Ben Brust turned in a career-best performance for the Badgers, finishing with a game-high 29 points. Bo Ryan’s squad also received a significant contribution from its bench, as guard Bronson Koenig and forward Nigel Hayes combined for 29 points. There have been questions all season about Wisconsin’s defense, but the Badgers were outstanding on that end of the court, limiting Minnesota to just 32.8 percent shooting for the game. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #8 Michigan 64, Illinois 63

Posted by Walker Carey on March 14th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday afternoon’s Big Ten Tournament action between Michigan and Illinois in Indianapolis.

Michigan and Levert Survived Friday Afternoon

Michigan and Levert Survived Friday Afternoon

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Illinois showcased great resilience. When the Illini fell behind by 13 at the 16:13 mark of the second half, they could have easily wilted under the pressure that was being strongly applied by top-seeded Michigan. Instead Illinois switched up its defense, made some timely shots, and battled to the very end. After Michigan shot 52 percent in the first half and made its first four shot attempts of the second against Illinois’ straight man-to-man defense, Illini coach John Groce switched into a 2-3 zone for nearly the rest of the game. This switch caused major issues for the Michigan offense, as it only made four of its final 18 shot attempts. The strong defense led to an effective offense and those coupled together led to Illinois being in the game until the final buzzer sounded.
  2. Michigan is terrific at keeping its composure in late-game situations. When Michigan has needed to make a winning play this season, it has succeeded and that is one of the major reasons why John Beilein‘s squad took home the regular season outright Big Ten title. For example, Michigan needed to make a winning play with 2.9 seconds left in overtime at Purdue in late February and the team executed a play to perfection that resulted in a game-winning buzzer-beating shot from Glenn Robinson III. Michigan needed a winning play again Saturday when it trailed 63-62 with 19 seconds left. Out of a timeout, Wolverines sophomore guard Nik Stauskas drove the lane before dishing a gorgeous pass to senior forward Jordan Morgan for what turned out to be the game-winning field goal. Read the rest of this entry »
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Introducing the RTC All-Big Ten Team: Michigan’s Caris LeVert

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 5th, 2014

In the eight days leading up to the start of the Big Ten Tournament, we here at the Big Ten microsite have decided to unveil our all-Big Ten team. Since we aren’t doing a second team, third team or honorable mention, we went with a seven-member squad based on what we have seen at this point in the season. We all voted over the weekend, and after tabulating the results have come up with our list. Check back over the next week as we will be releasing the team members in ascending order, one by one. Our seventh selection is Michigan sophomore Caris Levert.

The improvement in the play of Caris LeVert through the course of the season has helped Michigan rise to the top of the Big Ten standings. (AP)

The improvement in the play of Caris LeVert through the course of the season has helped Michigan rise to the top of the Big Ten standings. (AP)

  • Why Caris LeVert is the seventh best player in the league: In a recent post, our own Deepak Jayanti highlighted some specifics about Levert’s offensive abilities, noting how smoothly and efficiently LeVert plays in John Beilein’s offensive system. His individual statistics aren’t eye-popping nor are they as good as some of the players left off of our list. But anybody who has seen Michigan play this season knows the impact that LeVert has had on a team that wrapped up its first outright conference regular season championship in nearly three decades on Tuesday night. He’s kind of like a top-shelf glue guy. That means that he does a lot of things to fill up the stat sheet like a normal x-factor or glue guy, but he also is talented enough to take over the game if he needs to. LeVert is one of only three Big Ten players to average over 13.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.5 APG, and 1.0 SPG this season (Gary Harris and Tim Frazier are the other two), but the star sophomore is the only one in that group who is making over 40 percent of his threes. After averaging only 10.8 MPG in his freshman year playing in a loaded rotation, he has taken huge strides this campaign, so much so that he’s on the short list for most improved player in the both the Big Ten and nationally.

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Big Ten M5: 03.04.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on March 4th, 2014

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  1. Indiana has not gotten the type of offensive breakout season, or consistency, they would have liked from Will Sheehey in his senior outing. But he’s been coming around as of late and was especially effective in their big win against Iowa on Sunday when he dropped a career-high 30 points. In a week where the Hoosiers played three games, the senior wing averaged 18.7 PPG and 4.3 RPG which was good enough to earn him Player of the Week honors. The Hoosiers are making a late push to get on the right side of the bubble, and they’ll need Sheehey to continue to play well, along with Yogi Ferrell and Noah Vonleh, if they are to have any shot at the NCAA Tournament.
  2. Another team making a late season push is Illinois. Unlike the Hoosiers, the Illini are not looking to a senior as a catalyst, but instead are relying on a pair of freshmen. Kendrick Nunn, one of the two rising stars for Illinois, has added the ability to shoot the deep ball to the Illinois rotation — an area where they were sorely lacking. In the six games since he’s become a starter, Nunn has hit on 16 of his 30 attempted three-point shots (53.3 percent). And for a consecutive week, Nunn has won Rookie of the Week honors in the league for his performances that helped the Illini beat both Nebraska and Michigan State. Nunn’s ascendancy bodes well for John Groce, as the visible success of a Chicago Public School product could open up more recruiting pipelines between Illinois and the Windy City hoops scene.
  3. Speaking of John Groce and recruiting, an interesting story came out yesterday telling the story of how one of Michigan’s most improved player, Caris Levert, was originally hoping to join Groce at Illinois. Levert, an unheralded recruit in high school, was originally committed to Groce when he was the coach at Ohio University. After making it to the Sweet Sixteen, Groce then accepted the head coaching position at Illinois. Levert was told he would receive a phone call from the head coach personally about what the move meant about his commitment — that call never came. Levert ended up committing to Michigan and the rest is history. It’s an interesting recruiting story among Big Ten programs and Groce probably wishes he made that phone call now, especially since he’ll have to take on Levert and the Big Ten champion Wolverines tonight.
  4. Lately, Iowa hasn’t seem like the same team it was earlier in the year — a team thought to have an outside chance to make a Final Four. On Sunday, the Hawkeyes snapped a three-game losing streak when they pulled out a win against Purdue. While a win is a win, the game did not really boost confidence in the team as they blew a big halftime lead in the second half. Iowa is safely in the NCAA Tournament as of right now, but they’ll need to find some sort of defense, which has been nonexistent recently, if they are to get back to playing at the high level that made us all believers in this team earlier in the season.
  5. Finally, Michigan State lost consecutive games for the first time this season when they were beaten at home to Illinois on Saturday. Tom Izzo was visibly frustrated after the loss and expanded on it yesterday, “I’ll have a bit of chip on my shoulder from here on out”. There’s been some talk that we will never see a fully healthy Spartan squad with Keith Appling and Adreian Payne continuing to play with nagging injuries. But Tom Izzo has gotten to Final Fours with lesser teams, and if he is able to transfer the chip on his shoulder to his squad, it may put in them the urgency needed to make a run in the NCAA Tournament. Otherwise, this team might be labeled as one of the bigger disappointments in Spartan history relative to their national championship expectations in the preseason.
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Who Won The Week? Louisville, Marcus Smart, Michigan and The Citadel…

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) on February 28th, 2014

wonweekWho Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

We’ve got more to get to here than usual, so we’ve got a special extended-yet-abbreviated edition of WWTW on tap today.

WINNER: Louisville

Russ Smith won Louisville's game over Cincinnati on Saturday with a late jumper. (AP)

Russ Smith won Louisville’s game over Cincinnati on Saturday with a late jumper. (AP)

Your defending national champions – remember them? – are rolling at just the right time in the season. They went into Cincinnati and handed the Bearcats their first home loss of the season Saturday, 58-57, with a Russ Smith dagger – remember him? – then followed that up by blowing out woebegone Temple 88-66 on Thursday.

Sophomore Cardinals forward Montrezl Harrell thrived this past week, as he has since the dismissal of Chane Behanan, scoring 21 points in both games. Going forward, the Cardinals have games left at Memphis and SMU, followed by a home game against Connecticut. Though they’re tied with Cincinnati at the top of the American and on a seven-game winning streak, we’ll know much more about Louisville by the time the conference tournament rolls around.

(Related winners: Smith; Harrell. Related losers: Cincinnati, which squandered its chance at an outright AAC championship by losing at home; Temple, which had its first 20-loss season in school history thanks to Louisville.)

LOSER: Saint Louis

The Billikens, which had been one of America’s last four teams undefeated in conference, took one of the most befuddling losses of the whole season, falling 71-64 on Thursday to a Duquesne team that had won four Atlantic 10 games in Jim Ferry’s two seasons in Pittsburgh. What had been one of the nation’s top 10 shooting defenses gave up an effective field goal rate of 50.7 percent, including 14-0f-18 shooting and 7-of-9 three-pointers by Dukes guards Micah Mason and Jerry Jones. And against one of the nation’s 10 worst defenses vs. three-point shooting, Saint Louis only made 4-of-23 shots from beyond the arc. The Billikens have a top-five defense nationally according to KenPom.com, but their offense ranks 169th in efficiency. Then again, defense wins championships, right?

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Big Ten M5: 02.26.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 26th, 2014

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
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Big Ten M5: 02.24.14 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on February 24th, 2014

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  1. Better late than never, but Michigan’s Caris LeVert is starting to get his due for his contributions to the Wolverines this season. After a 23-point performance against rival Michigan State on Sunday — his fourth 20+ game in the last four — he has catapulted his team to a one-game lead in the loss column of the Big Ten standings. His marked improvement, specifically on the offensive end, sets up the Wolverines to control their own destiny with four games left in pursuit of the conference championship. The LeVert-Nik Stauskas combo will be very dangerous in March, and has, at least for the moment, helped make Maize and Blue faithful forget about Mitch McGary.
  2. John Groce’s Illini are unlikely to make the NCAA Tournament, but the last few weeks of play should ultimately yield positive results for his young team. Against Minnesota, freshman guard Kendrick Nunn scored 19 points and showed that he has the makings of a future superstar. He has great form on his shot, and he is also excellent on the defensive end. He has proven to be a player with a knack for the ball during key possessions, and his experience and continued growth over the final few weeks will allow him to gain more confidence heading into next year.
  3. Indiana‘s season has gotten derailed over the past few weeks, but the Hoosiers snapped their recent three-game losing streak by beating Northwestern in Evanston over the weekend. At this juncture of the season, Tom Crean can only find several small moral victories in an otherwise disappointing season. His team was committed to feeding the post against the Wildcats, which led to a season-low seven turnovers in the game. Crean said, “These guys know if we get good looks and if we get a chance to get on that board and if we get to that foul line, we can be pretty good.” It is unlikely that the Hoosiers will surge towards the NCAAs in the final few weeks, but a confident young core should be pay dividends next season.
  4. It has been an up and down season for Wisconsin forward Frank Kaminsky. After pouring in 43 points against North Dakota early in the non-conference season, he struggled a bit in January during Big Ten play. However, he is making a strong comeback over the past three games, averaging 21.0 PPG in three wins to lead the Badgers into third place in the Big Ten standings. Already equipped with an excellent jumper from the beyond the arc, Kaminsky is challenging defenses by taking his game into the paint and utilizing a nice spin move to create angles for easy shots. If Kaminsky can keep up his recent offensive surge, the Badgers become a very interesting team at both the conference and national level.
  5. Injuries have been a persistent issue for Tom Izzo’s Spartans this season. First it was Adreian Payne who was sidelined; then it was Branden Dawson; and finally Keith Appling got bit by the injury bug a few weeks ago. Payne is now back and healthy, but Appling’s return against Michigan on Sunday was concerning. Playing with a sore right wrist, he scored just six points and clearly appeared to be banged up as the Spartans tried to prevent the Wolverines from running away with the Big Ten title. Dawson’s contributions are necessary for Michigan State to reach its potential, but yesterday’s game proved that Appling might be the most important player in the Izzo’s lineup.
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