Big Ten M5: 02.27.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 27th, 2015

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  1. It looks like Jim Delany is going full steam ahead in promoting the idea of implementing freshmen ineligibility. The Big Ten commissioner has assured fans that the conference won’t move alone on this plan, but he is trying to build national consensus around the idea. This comes after Thad Matta was recently quoted as saying that he’s received negative feedback from recruits who are worried that if they commit to a Big Ten team, they won’t be able to play right away. This all goes to show how unbelievably ill-conceived this whole strategy is. Why Delany felt compelled to walk the plank on this issue is something many can’t comprehend. We’ll see if this endeavor starts hurting Big Ten teams on the recruiting trail this summer, but if it does, you may see the issue of freshmen ineligibility die altogether.
  2. In statistics, you hear the phrase “regression to the mean” often used, which is just an elitist way of saying “everything evens out.” This theory seems to be playing out before our eyes with Northwestern. After countless heartbreaking losses — everything from blown leads to comebacks that fell just short — the Wildcats have finally gotten some breaks and have managed to win four straight, including a 72-57 blowout of Indiana on Wednesday, the first such streak for Northwestern since 1967. This finish is a real boon for Chris Collins, whose second season was going as disastrous as he could have imagined when the team’s Big Ten record was 1-10 a couple of weeks ago. Now, as it turns out, Northwestern may have created some momentum to build for next season.
  3. Also on Wednesday, Iowa got a nice 68-60 home win over Illinois. Aaron White, the Hawkeyes’ dark horse candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year, was dominant in contributing 29 points. His latest performance increased his career total to 1,726 points, moving him past B.J. Armstrong into fourth place on the program’s all-time scoring list. White has had a storied career in Iowa City, but this year he is averaging 15.2 PPG, 7.2 RPG and is carrying a PER of 28.4, good enough for second in the league. If it weren’t for names like Frank Kaminsky and D’Angelo Russell, the media would be talking more about the certain Big Ten first-teamer as one of the best players in the country.
  4. One of the big stories around the Big Ten this week was Wisconsin suffering its third loss of the season when the Badgers came up short at Maryland. The team already had the tough loss in their minds on its flight back to Madison, but that was quickly forgotten when the plane was forced to make an emergency landing due to an engine malfunction in Pittsburgh. What a scary moment that probably just adds to the feeling that Wisconsin’s trip to Maryland is a forgettable event from start to finish. Hopefully the Badgers can put all of this behind them and get back to their winning ways on Sunday against the Spartans.
  5. Speaking of Michigan State, the Spartans took a surprising 96-90 home loss to Minnesota in overtime on Thursday. This is a considerable setback for what was one of the hottest teams in the league before last night — the team had won four straight including two on the road at Michigan and Illinois. Things don’t get any easier for the Spartans as they travel to face Wisconsin in Madison this weekend. Losing that game could now mean Tom Izzo’s team is in serious jeopardy of losing its place in the top four of the Big Ten standings and having to play an extra game in the Big Ten Tournament.
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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 27th, 2015

Two things that stuck out from a busy seven-game weekend in the B1G both involved Iowa. Fran McCaffery’s squad reentered last week’s Top 25 only to drop two games and potentially lose Aaron White to a shoulder stinger. Luckily, the team does not play again until Saturday in a rematch against Wisconsin. But the star senior may miss some time, becoming the fourth key upperclassmen to get injured once conference play has started. They may have lost to Purdue on Saturday anyway, but with White only playing seven minutes, things were made a bit more difficult for the Hawkeyes to steal a game in West Lafayette. Because of this result and that Nebraska beat Michigan State, there are now four teams tied for sixth place with identical 4-3 records and eight teams sit only two games behind first-place Wisconsin. While the league is down from the last couple years, there is still a great deal of parity within its midsection. Things have gotten even more equal with the injuries, making the last six weeks of conference play that much more interesting.

D'Angelo Russell continues notched a double-double on Sunday as Ohio State beat Indiana. (Kyle Robertson, Columbus Dispatch)

D’Angelo Russell continues notched a double-double on Sunday as Ohio State beat Indiana. (Kyle Robertson, Columbus Dispatch)

Player of the Weekend: D’Angelo Russell had just an all-around outstanding week, but Sunday was special in the fact that it didn’t seem so special. There was no dynamic outside shooting like the first half of the Minnesota game, nor were there any highlight reel no-look passes.Instead the freshman has become so good that he can quietly put up a line that includes 22 points and ten assists against a ranked team without it being much of a surprise anymore. He was able to get to the basket at will, he continued to be really proficient at helping the team on the boards (six rebounds), and he even chipped in with two steals. It also appeared that with the emergence of fellow first-year player Jae’Sean Tate, Thad Matta has decided that in order for this Buckeye unit to advance deep into March, he needs the freshmen more than his quintet of seniors who have failed to be consistent. With a 25.8 PPG average in his last four games, Russell has shown that he’s peaking at the just the right time.

Super Sub of the Weekend: Basil Smotherman had gotten lost in the rotation at Purdue, with Vince Edwards taking the majority of the minutes at the power forward slot. After starting 16 games as a freshman last season, Smotherman had only averaged a paltry 6.2 MPG in Big Ten games prior to Saturday’s matchup against Iowa. This changed as he notched an extremely productive 25 minutes Saturday. He scored a season-high 13 points on 5-for-6 shooting. He also added six rebounds, two of which came in the last minute of the game on the defensive backboards with Iowa attempting a furious comeback. Purdue has one of the deepest rosters in the whole league, and if they could ever get everyone playing well at the same time and contributing in different ways, this could still be a NCAA Tournament team.

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Big Ten M5: 01.19.15 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on January 19th, 2015

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  1. Michigan’s NCAA tournament chances took a major hit on Sunday when it learned that junior Caris LeVert would miss the remainder of the season with a left foot injury. With non-conference losses to NJIT and Eastern Michigan, the Wolverines needed a stellar conference record to impress the selection committee. With their leading scorer and rebounder sidelined, Michigan’s youth-laden roster will be further tested by the heart of the Big Ten schedule. The next week-plus could be particularly rough for them, as a chunk of their squad is suffering from some sort of illness or injury.
  2. Indiana got the best of Illinois on Sunday despite squandering double-digit leads in both halves. Zach Osterman of the Indy Star said the Hoosiers’ resiliency shown today is a sign that they’re headed in a direction that many thought impossible after their tumultuous offseason and non-conference slate. Osterman said that while Indiana has been impressive thus far, they aren’t a contender for the Big Ten title – but given the circumstances they faced in October and November, their recent play is worthy of praise.
  3. Northwestern’s stellar freshman Bryant McIntosh was inconsolable after suffering a two-point loss to Michigan – but according to Henry Bushnell of Inside NU, McIntosh’s miss didn’t matter. What is important, Bushnell said, is that Northwestern is playing well against decent teams. The losses the Wildcats have suffered aren’t in vain, because their improvements are evident. Head coach Chris Collins understands the frustrations surrounding the team’s last three losses, but he stressed that the team’s improvement is an ongoing process.
  4. D’Angelo Russell wowed a national audience on Saturday, dropping 27 points and gathering 14 rebounds in the Buckeyes’ 76-67 loss to Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Despite Russell’s performance, Ohio State was familiarly inconsistent and Thad Matta found few positives to take after the Hawkeyes completed their sweep of his squad. According to Shannon Scott, the Buckeyes’ recent losses are more indicative of their play and not of the strength of their opponents. With a starting lineup that features three seniors, it’s a bad sign that a freshman (albeit a future NBA lottery pick) is proving to be the most consistent player on the team. If the Buckeyes want to maintain a position at the top of the conference standings, they’ll need more out of their experienced players to complement him.
  5. Minnesota defeated Rutgers on Saturday, picking up their first conference win of the season. Their 0-5 start in conference play was the worst since 2005-2006. A loss to Rutgers would have killed the Gophers’ NCAA Tournament hopes, but Andre Hollins dropped in 31 points to save the season for the time being. Amelia Rayno of the Star Tribune said the win brought a jovial feeling back to the locker room, a good sign for a team that was very apparently feeling the pressure in its last few games. The Gophers next five games are all very winnable as they face Nebraska twice in addition to matchups with Penn State, Illinois and Purdue.
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Big Ten M5: 10.29.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 29th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Northwestern surprised many people last season with the transformation it made halfway through conference play, leading to road wins against Indiana, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Drew Crawford was the most important player on that team, so it should be shocking to no one that head coach Chris Collins is still trying to figure out how the Wildcats are going to replace him. Two likely candidates are JerShon Cobb and freshman Vic Law. Cobb topped 20 or more points four times as a junior, while Law is one of the most gifted players coming into the program in quite a while. Northwestern has more depth than last season, but whether the Wildcats can collectively replace one of the best players in the Big Ten is worth watching.
  2. Purdue received its first Class of 2016 pledge on Tuesday, as Indianapolis Tech point guard CJ Walker chose the Boilermakers over Butler and Cincinnati. Walker won a class 4A championship as a sophomore, where he shot 51 percent from the field and averaged 3.2 assists per game. Walker should join Bryson Scott and fellow Indianapolis native PJ Thompson at the point guard spot for the 2016-17 campaign.
  3. Illinois and head coach John Groce have gotten some highly-rated players from Chicago and elsewhere in the state of Illinois. Kendrick Nunn, Jaylon Tate and Malcom Hill are three that come to mind, for example, from his first recruiting class. But one former Illini great thinks that Groce has more work to do. Deon Thomas – the school’s all-time leading scorer and the state’s Mr. Basketball in 1989 from Chicago’s Simeon High School — says that talents like Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander would have stayed home and played for Illinois in the past. He cites AAU culture as a leading factor for Chicago kids choosing to play outside the state. Groce has made some nice headway with in-state kids, but it will take a top-15 type of player from Chicago staying close to home for many Illini fans to truly believe in his recruiting abilities.
  4. Ken Pomeroy released his preseason rankings to the masses on Sunday night and the Big Ten put 13 of its 14 teams among the top 80 in the country. One theme in the ratings is how balanced and equal teams #2 through #11 in the standings could be this season. As an example of how tight things are, Michigan State comes in at second in the league and 12th nationally while Purdue is 11th in the conference but 40th nationally. Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, Minnesota and Illinois are all ranked between #32-#38 in the nation. The equality of the teams in the middle of the pack makes predicting the Big Ten race largely a guessing game, and the first set of Pomeroy numbers seem to show that, outside of Wisconsin, he feels that the rest of the league is wide open.
  5. Tis the season for lists and preseason superlatives, and the Big Ten was well represented in SBNation‘s list of the top 100 college basketball players. Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky (#8) and Michigan’s Caris LeVert (#9) both cracked the top 10 nationally, while Nebraska’s Terran Petteway (#15) and Michigan State’s Branden Dawson (#26) made it into the top 30. All told, 15 B1G players made the cut, which left the league tied for second among power conferences with the Big 12. The SEC had the most players on this list with 16, six of whom play for Kentucky alone. The post also listed 50 more players who just missed the cut, which included Penn State senior guard DJ Newbill and Wisconsin sophomore Nigel Hayes.
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Vic Law Might be the Most Important Freshman in the Big Ten

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on October 28th, 2014

Here’s a familiar scene. A heralded freshman joins a veteran-laden team. His older teammates are a bit jaded by all the hype and media attention that their younger counterpart receives, but they’re also intrigued with what the young star can do on the floor. Eventually the team is won over by all the potential embedded in their new teammate, and the season-long process of integration takes its first step. This scene usually takes place with elite freshmen and the blue-chip college programs at which they enroll, but at some level, a similar story also involves a four-star recruit in Evanston, Illinois. Vic Law is not the most talented freshman in the Big Ten this season, but he might be the most important. His ability to succeed may change the trajectory of the perennially bottom-dwelling Northwestern program, head coach Chris Collins’ career, and the future pecking order of the Big Ten.

Vic Law is the most heralded freshman at Northwestern in a long time.

Vic Law is the most heralded freshman at Northwestern in a long time.

The first thing you need to know about Law is that he doesn’t look like a typical Northwestern basketball player. The Chicago native is a 6’7”, 185 lb. string bean, but he’s remarkably athletic with a versatile game that makes him a threat from both the outside or in the mid-range. In short, he looks like a top-100 prospect. Compare him with several recent Northwestern stars such as Drew Crawford, John Shurna and Kevin Coble, and the gap in their upside becomes even more apparent. No offense to those former players, but they were successful Wildcats as much from their basketball IQ and guile than from their athleticism and talent. During former head coach Bill Carmody’s tenure, that was the formula that successfully got the Wildcats as close to making the NCAA Tournament as they had ever been. But eventually, that approach simply wasn’t able to get over the hump, and a coaching change was made.

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Big Ten M5: 10.24.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on October 24th, 2014

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  1. Obviously, the biggest change this season is the addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the league as the Big Ten made the final chess move in this round of conference expansion. Tom Dienhart wrote a nice piece about how expansion may reclaim some east coast favorability for the conference. Now that the as-currently-constructed Big East is no longer the dominant college hoops brand, it leaves a vacuum in the most populous corner of the country. It’s no coincidence that the Big Ten is having their conference tournament in Washington, DC in 2017. They are battling the ACC for the Northeast’s eyes and recruits. And now that they have three teams in the area — and added even more markets to their TV network — they have the footprint to compete.
  2. The Terrapins and Scarlet Knights may be the freshest faces in the league this season, but Chris Collins is still pretty new as he enters his second season as Northwestern‘s head coach. ESPN‘s Myron Metcalf spent some time with the former Duke assistant in Evanston, and asked him when he thought the Wildcats would make the NCAA Tournament. “I definitely think it is [around the corner]. When that happens I don’t know.” That’s as optimistic as you can be for something that’s never happened, EVER. But Collins has reasons to be optimistic, they were a Top 15 team in the country in adjusted defensive rating last season, they return four of their five starters, and Top 100 recruit Vic Law joins their squad. Pair that with everyone besides Wisconsin being a little bit down from last season, there just might be an opening for these Wildcats to make history.
  3. Michigan lost a good amount of its backcourt from last season. This year, all eyes will be on Caris Levert to make up for the loss in scoring and for Derrick Walton Jr. to run the team’s offense. But not as much attention has been paid to the other likely backcourt starter, Zak Irvin. The sophomore and former Mr. Indiana was extremely effective from the outside in limited minutes, but provided little of anything else. However, Wolverine fans had to be happy to hear that he was dominant on the offensive end in Michigan’s European summer tour. If he can expand his game to inside the perimeter, it’ll give this team another dynamic scorer and make our predictions of Michigan basketball taking a step back seem foolish.
  4. I’ve never been to a Midnight Madness, but I’ve heard from those who have attended that after the pomp and circumstance, it’s not really anything to write home about. If there was an exception to this rule, I bet it would lie in Bloomington with Hoosier Hysteria. Indiana has the crazy fan base and history to electrify such an event. One thing that may have me watching is the slam dunk contest with their ridiculous athletes. Now, if only Tom Crean can get those athletes to play as one offensive unit, the Hoosiers may be celebrating at end of the season like they’ll be celebrating on Friday.
  5. Finally, it was rumored that Tom Izzo had the opportunity to leave Michigan State this past offseason and coach an NBA team. He ended up staying for many reasons, but perhaps one of them is the job Mark Dantonio is doing with the football team.  As much of a legend Izzo is in East Lansing, the money will always follow football. So it’s probably not a coincident that Michigan State received its largest single donation of $10 million while the football team seems to be on its way to a consecutive conference championship. Basketball will actually get a plurality of that money for capital improvement in the Breslin Center, but there should be no doubt that the money comes in easier when you have a successful football program that excites big donors.
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Big Ten Tournament: Iowa’s Freefall Continues

Posted by Walker Carey on March 14th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday evening’s Big Ten Tournament action between Northwestern and Iowa in Indianapolis. 

On February 15, Iowa earned a 12-point victory at Penn State to get to 19-6 overall and 8-4 in the Big Ten standings. It was around that time that the prevailing opinion became that the Big Ten was going to come down to a three-team race between Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes, Michigan, and Michigan State. Sure, Iowa’s defense had given up a lot of points all season, but Hawkeyes guard Devyn Marble and forward Aaron White had emerged as one of the best scoring duos in the country. The Hawkeyes also had rightfully earned a reputation as one of the deepest teams in the country, as they were playing 10 or 11 players every night and experiencing a great deal of success with that robust rotation.

It Was That Kind of Night for Iowa. Again. (AP)

It Was That Kind of Night for Iowa. Again. (AP)

Fast forward nearly a month and Iowa’s current position represents a nearly complete reversal of fortunes. The Hawkeyes closed out their regular season Big Ten slate by dropping five of six. They went from a ranking of #15 in the AP poll to receiving just four votes in the final regular season poll. An already shaky defense became an even more significant problem, as in those five losses, the opposition averaged 83.8 points per game. Losses at Minnesota and at Indiana highlighted just how poorly the Hawkeyes were playing on the defensive end of the court, as they allowed Minnesota to score 95 points and shoot 61.2 percent from the field, and Indiana to score 93 points and shoot 51.7 percent from the field.

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode XI

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 5th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

Early Returns on Chris Collins Look Great

When former Duke associate head coach Chris Collins was hired at Northwestern this past spring, many felt it was only a matter of time before the local guy from Northbrook, Illinois, would build up the program to a level where it could achieve its first-ever NCAA Tournament bid. After a 7-9 (0-3 Big Ten) start to the season, Collins and Northwestern have righted the ship with wins in five of their past seven games. Most impressive have been the three consecutive wins away from Evanston: at Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota. How have the Wildcats done it? Collins has done what any good coach would do — analyze the strengths and weaknesses of his team and implement a style of play that showcases the strengths while minimizing the weaknesses. Northwestern obviously does not have the same talent level as most other teams in the Big Ten so the way to win games is to slow it down, muck it up and play great defense in low possession games. And that is exactly what the Wildcats have done.

Chris Collins is starting to get it done in Evanston.

Chris Collins is starting to get it done in Evanston.

Collins has gotten this team to buy in defensively as Northwestern is currently ranked No. 10 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. In Big Ten play, the Wildcats lead the conference with a 44.6 percent defensive effective field goal percentage. Since allowing 93 points in a loss at Iowa on January 9, Northwestern has allowed only one opponent (also Iowa) to score more than 56 points in regulation time (Purdue scored 60 in a double-overtime loss to the Wildcats but posted just 46 points in regulation). Northwestern’s games in Big Ten play have averaged only 61.2 possessions with an average possession length of 20.4 seconds, both statistics ranking as the slowest in the Big Ten. Last year’s Northwestern team was dead last in defensive efficiency (in league play) under Bill Carmody which shows you how absolutely remarkable it is that Collins has gotten this group to defend at a high level in such a short period of time. While you never want to get ahead of yourself, at this point it would be a surprise if Northwestern doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament over the next five years when you also consider how well Collins is already doing on the recruiting trail.

Syracuse and Duke Exceeds the Hype

Syracuse’s thrilling overtime victory over Duke last Saturday was one of the best regular season college basketball games I can remember in quite some time. It had everything you would want in a big game: a terrific atmosphere with over 35,000 fans in attendance; two Hall of Fame coaches; league title implications (Syracuse entered the game at 7-0, Duke at 6-2); tons of talent on the floor; and an extremely high level of play. Consider this: Syracuse won an overtime game by two points on its home floor and posted an outrageously high offensive efficiency of 1.34 points per possession. It took that good of an offensive performance to stave off the Blue Devils, which posted 1.31 PPP themselves. It is going to be very difficult to top that game but I am very excited for the rematch at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 22. Duke and North Carolina will always be the best rivalry in the ACC and arguably in all of college basketball, but Duke and Syracuse appear to be on their way to another terrific rivalry in what has become a bloated ACC. This new rivalry has the potential to exceed what Duke and Maryland had going for some time as a secondary ACC rivalry now that Maryland will be moving on to the Big Ten next season.

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B1G Award Spotlight: Breaking Down the Coach of the Year Candidates

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 5th, 2014

Picking a Coach of the Year in the Big Ten right now would be nearly impossible. Because of the see-saw nature of the standings that will more than likely continue until the last league games are played on March 9, most any candidate is in danger of going on a several-game losing streak that would drastically alter the final picture. This post is meant as a brief look at the top candidates right now, with the extremely important caveat focusing on the phrase RIGHT NOW. Chances are this will change considerably over the next six weeks.

John Beilein has his team atop the Big 10 standings, and has to be considered a Coach of the Year candidate.

John Beilein has his team atop the Big 10 standings, and has to be considered a Coach of the Year candidate.

John Beilein: Michigan has turned things around after an 8-4 non-conference record dropped the Wolverines out of the Top 25 and without their preseason All-American Mitch McGary in the lineup. They’ve proceeded to go 8-1 since then, with wins over Michigan State, Iowa and Wisconsin to bolster their resume. Beilein has replaced McGary with “Morford,” the moniker given to the two-headed monster at center consisting of Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford. Both players have been highly effective, and Beilein deserves credit for bringing Horford off the bench after some trouble with early fouls. Kudos are also in order for his patience with freshman Derrick Walton Jr, who really struggled in November and December. Beilein could have panicked and gone instead with veteran Spike Albrecht, but sticking with Walton has paid off to the tune of a 55.6 percent mark from three-point land and only 1.7 turnovers per game in league action.

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Defense is the Key For the Unpredictable Northwestern Wildcats

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on February 5th, 2014

Going into conference play, the Big Ten was once again touted as the premiere league in the country. With pundits citing its exceptional depth as proof of elite status, we often heard the clichéd phrase “in any given game…,” which has turned out to ring true halfway through league play. But Northwestern was never in those conversations, as the Wildcats (along with Nebraska) were projected as the league’s doormat based upon their weak performance in the non-conference schedule. Things looked to be heading that way when Chris Collins’ team lost its first four conference games by an average of 19.3 points. Now, after having won five of their last seven and four of their last five contests, the Wildcats find themselves in a very strange position — tied for fourth place at 5-5 in the Big Ten.

Drew Crawford, Kelsey Barlow

Drew Crawford

The one constant with Northwestern is that the Wildcats have been terribly inconsistent throughout the season, even during their current winning ways. For example, while they have a defense ranked in the top 10 nationally in efficiency (giving up 0.92 points per possession), they also have experienced games where their defense completely collapses (as evidenced by four games where the Wildcats gave up more than 1.20 points per possession). Also perplexing is the fact that Northwestern appears to have turned its season around as soon as Collins lost the services of the injured David Sobolewski, a player who averaged more than 85 percent of available minutes the last two seasons. So what’s changed over the last couple of weeks to cause the turnaround? The answer seems to lie in the team’s elite defense, despite some of those marked inconsistencies.

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College Basketball by the Tweets: #BBN Whining, Berkeley Celebrating, Marcus Smart Flopping, and More…

Posted by Nick Fasulo on February 4th, 2014

Nick Fasulo is an RTC correspondent who writes the column College Basketball By the Tweets, a look at the world of college hoops through the prism of everyone’s favorite social media platform. You can find him on Twitter @nickfasuloSBN.

Our latest College Basketball by the Tweets piece opens up again in Lincoln, Nebraska, where a young Cornhuskers fan is really excited to receive a headband from sophomore forward Terran Petteway following the team’s win over Indiana.

As the #BBN Turns

The so-called perfect recruiting class John Calipari brought to Lexington this season has been exposed to have a handful of imperfections. To make it worse, some of those issues may be that of the intangible kind (i.e., lack of effort, team chemistry) than pure talent. Following a rather ugly road loss to LSU last week, the #BBN whine train was chugging along quite nicely.

And then the ultimate jab from the in-state rival:

The ‘Cats did right the ship a bit over the weekend with a nice road win over Missouri, but signs point to continued road inconsistency for the rest of the regular season.

A Sea Of Yellow As No. 1 Goes Down

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Big Ten M5: 01.23.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on January 23rd, 2014

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  1. When people think of Big Ten basketball, most tend to associate the league with defense, ugly play and low-scoring games. Northwestern has certainly gotten that formula down pat lately. In its last four games — including its double-overtime victory over Purdue — the Wildcats have played ugly and won three of them. It’s quite the change from earlier in the year, as Northwestern all of a sudden has a chance to push for a .500 overall record and a possible NIT berth. Chris Collins came to Evanston wanting to build a defensive-oriented squad and this team is starting to buy in and take on that identity. Its brutal offense may still be lacking, but if Northwestern can limit possessions and hold every team to under 60 points, it has a chance to make some kind of a postseason tournament this year. Would anyone have predicted that just a few short weeks ago?
  2. It is without question that Michigan State is a better team with Adreian Payne on the floor. Despite not playing in the last four games and remaining unbeaten in league play, Tom Izzo still has a tough decision to make on Saturday. With first place in the conference on the line, Sparty hosts Michigan and Izzo does not yet know whether Payne will play. This obviously can’t be an easy decision, but even a slightly hobbled Payne would be huge for the team. The biggest issue is the potential risk involved — if Payne plays and further aggravates the injury, how big of a blow could that be for a team aspiring to win not only a Big Ten title but a national championship?
  3. This wasn’t the start Indiana wanted to its Big Ten conference season. The Hoosiers now sit at 2-4, but that includes games against three teams that were ranked in the top five at the time. Indiana only faces two more current top 10 team in the rest of the conference season (at home against Iowa; away against Wisconsin) so the push for the NCAA Tournament is on. The Hoosiers likely would not be invited as of today, so it can’t afford to lose too many more games. The positive of not playing as many elite teams is obvious in that wins will be easier to come by; the drawback, of course, is that the chance for another marquee win is also diminished.
  4. Richard Pitino has had plenty of experience with big-time programs, but his inaugural Big Ten experience has been  exceptional for the first-year Minnesota head coach. The quotes in the story bring an interesting perspective on the league and how it compares to other conferences. He highlights how Big Ten arenas create a unique experience: “Not every place had home courts like Iowa had, like Nebraska had last night against Ohio State, or like we have. These are the best home courts in all of college basketball.” The arena experience is certainly something that gives additional credence to the idea that the Big Ten is one of the toughest conferences to win in all of college basketball.
  5. It was unreasonable to think Nebraska would go winless in the Big Ten this season. The Cornhuskers had been close in nearly every game to start the conference season, but nobody saw its first victory coming against the likes of Ohio State as it did on Monday night. Tim Miles’ team sprung the upset to land its first win against the Buckeyes since Thad Matta got to Columbus 10 years ago. It did so with strong inside play and contributions from nearly the entire team, which was especially prevalent on the foul line as the Cornhuskers went 20-of-26 there. With all the close losses and a big confidence-building win over the Buckeyes, don’t be surprised if Nebraska pulls another big upset before the conference season is over. Minnesota and Indiana will both visit Lincoln in the coming week.
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