Sweet Sixteen Reset: Big Ten Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 23rd, 2015

We’re now down to only two B1G teams left playing in the 2014-15 season, as Michigan State and Wisconsin are the only two teams that won both their games this weekend. This is one less team that made the Sweet 16 one season ago, as these two along with Michigan were still alive one year ago. Here are some other quick takeaways from the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament as it relates to the B1G.

Sam Dekker had 17 points to lead to Wisconsin past Oregon and into the Sweet 16 Sunday night. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Sam Dekker had 17 points to lead to Wisconsin past Oregon and into the Sweet 16 Sunday night. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

  • They are Who We Thought They Were: Having two teams left in the field sounds about right for a league that was down a bit this season. As ludicrous as it is to completely bemoan a conference for being overrated (Big 12), or underrated (Pac 12) based simply off the small sample size that is the Big Dance, the Big Ten generally did about as well as expected. They had five teams in the round of 32, which is about the same number of teams that were in or around the top 25 all year. Maryland got a tough break with being a bit underseeded, and paid the price in losing to West Virginia. Iowa and Ohio State played about to expectations, as they would have had to pull off outstanding performances to get the best of Gonzaga and Arizona respectively. Michigan State was a bit of a surprise, but anyone who has seen Coach Tom Izzo‘s March resume, or saw how Sparty played in the Big Ten Tournament knows that this team was geared up to potentially make another March run.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Arizona 73, #10 Ohio State 58

Posted by rtmsf on March 21st, 2015

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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.

All Smiles at Arizona as the Wildcats Outlasted the Buckeyes Today (USA Today Images)

All Smiles at Arizona as the Wildcats Outlasted the Buckeyes Today (USA Today Images)

  1. TJ McConnell Has Great Poise and Intangibles. And blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. That’s code language for “white point guard” in college basketball. And even if it’s completely 100 percent true, the bigger truth is that McConnell also has a spectacularly well-developed skill set. When Arizona couldn’t figure out the Ohio State zone at all in the first half, it was McConnell’s repeated breaking down of the defense that kept the Wildcats from digging themselves a substantial early hole. When the Arizona frontcourt was shooting itself into obliviion, it was his four steals that led to the majority of Arizona’s 10 first-half points off of turnovers — the only offense that was really working for the ‘Cats at the time. McConnell ended the game with 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting, six rebounds, six assists and five steals in an all-around performance befitting a senior leader.
  2. Battle of the Freshmen. Yeah, so about that. What was billed as a chance for star freshmen D’Angelo Russell and Stanley Johnson to do battle in a heated Round of 32 game didn’t really work out as planned. Russell never looked comfortable as he had trouble shaking the length of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and the relentlessness of TJ McConnell on his way to a rough 3-of-19 (1-of-7 from three) shooting performance. Johnson wasn’t any better in shooting the ball, throwing up a horrific 1-of-12 shooting night of his own. Both players contributed in other ways, however, which proves that they’re more than one-dimensional scorers — Russell grabbed seven boards and dropped six dimes (a few of which were drop dead gorgeous) while Johnson collected 10 rebounds and a couple of steals. Luckily for Arizona
  3. The Upside of Arizona. Nothing changed opinions about the potential upside of Arizona after seeing them win twice here in Portland this weekend. Texas Southern was an obvious mismatch, but Ohio State’s athleticism and length created an interesting Round of 32 matchup for a team that can sometimes struggle to put the ball in the basket. The Arizona frontcourt ended up shooting a terrible 9-of-37 from the field, but the backcourt of McConnell and York ensured that the Wildcats were able to pull away in the second half. One reason Miller’s bigs were able to take (and miss) so many shots is because they were also relentless on the offensive glass, grabbing 18 rebounds on that end (vs. Ohio State’s entirety of 26) and giving themselves multiple extra chances to convert. This was especially true in the second half as the Buckeyes’ frontcourt players clearly got gassed with the continuous pressure. Arizona didn’t play great today, but it still looked Final Four good. We’ll see whether Los Angeles has any trouble in store for the Wildcats.

Player of the Game: Gabe York. York’s instant offense off the Arizona bench ensured that Arizona was going to win today’s game. Arizona’s legion of forwards could not figure out the Ohio State zone until York entered the game in the first half and hit a three. He added four more bombs during a seven-minute stretch in the second half when Arizona built its lead from two to 13 points, essentially never looking back from there. He finished the game with 19 points and a career-high five threes. Arizona fans will love this assessment — McConnell was definitely the more valuable player today, but York was the bigger star.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Third Round, Saturday

Posted by RTC Staff on March 21st, 2015

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The last time this crew of programs laced up the sneakers, they provided us with a slate to remember. From last-second thrillers to overtime upsets that came out of left field, Thursday was quite simply one of the most electric opening days in NCAA Tournament history. Could history repeat itself? Here are eight previews of Saturday’s games.

#11 UCLA vs. #14 UAB — South Region Third Round (at Louisville, KY) — 12:10 PM ET on TBS.

Regardless of how they did it, Thomas Welch and UCLA are one step away from the Sweet 16. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Regardless of how they did it, Thomas Welch and UCLA are one step away from the Sweet Sixteen. (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Steve Alford has finally figured out this NCAA Tournament thing. All you have to do is put together an entirely mediocre season, inexplicably make the Tournament field (and avoid the First Four while you are at it), have the refs blow a call in the final 20 seconds of your opener that propels your team to victory, then find a #14 seed waiting for you in the third round. That’s all! What a charmed five days it was for the Bruins, whose season suddenly has meaning. Thursday wasn’t so bad for UAB, either, as the Blazers toppled Iowa State in what should go down as the biggest upset of the second round (apologies to Georgia State). Two double-digit seeds now face off with a bid to the Sweet Sixteen on the line. UCLA does not play as quickly as Iowa State does (the Bruins are 113th in the country in possessions per game), but UAB will try to recreate the muddle that was Thursday’s game with the Cyclones. The Blazers dominated the glass (outrebounding Iowa State by 15), enabling them to survive their unimaginative offensive (41% field goal shooting and 3-of-18 shooting from three-point range). UCLA’s Kevon Looney and Tony Parker are unlikely to submit to a similar assault on the backboards in this game, so Jerod Haase’s team may have to promote other strengths. The problem for the Blazers is that there really aren’t many. They don’t shoot the ball well from the field, turnovers are frequently an issue, and their work on the defensive end has been average at best this season. All this isn’t intended to make UCLA out to be an unbeatable monster of a team (they aren’t), but at least on paper, UAB just is not that great a team. They did find a way to get it done against a team better than UCLA on Thursday, and the Bruins, as mentioned, are very far from perfect themselves. But while anything is possible, a return to expectation (albeit a smaller one than we had two days ago) should be in the cards here. Steve Alford and UCLA, say hello to the Sweet Sixteen.

The RTC Certified Pick: UCLA

#1 Kentucky vs. #8 Cincinnati – Midwest Region Round of 32 (in Louisville, KY) – at 2:40 PM EST on CBS

Karl-Anthony Towns was an absolute force to be reckoned with Thursday evening. Will Cincinnati's frontline fair any better? (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Karl-Anthony Towns was an absolute force to be reckoned with Thursday evening. Will Cincinnati’s frontline fair any better? (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Unbeaten Kentucky was not at its best Thursday, but it did not really matter as it still cruised to a 79-56 victory over Hampton. While Kentucky — as a whole — was a bit uneven against the Pirates, freshman forward Karl-Anthony Towns turned in a phenomenal performance. Towns was clearly the best player on the court all evening, finishing with 21 points (8-of-12 FG), 11 rebounds, and three blocks in just 25 minutes of action. Sophomore guard Andrew Harrison and freshman guard Tyler Ulis were also very good in the victory, as they totaled a combined 25 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. Even though Hampton is not considered an offensive juggernaut, Kentucky’s defensive performance was still impressive. The Pirates were held to just a 17-of-59 (28.8%) shooting performance, and only one player converted more than two field goals. Meanwhile, Cincinnati showcased its great resiliency in its win over Purdue on Thursday. The Bearcats trailed by seven with with 48.5 seconds to play before going on a 10-3 run to force overtime where they ultimately prevailed with a 66-65 victory. Cincinnati does not have any stars, but it received strong contributions from sophomore guard Troy Caupain (10 points and four assists), junior guard Farad Cobb (14 points), and junior forward Coreontae DeBerry (13 points). The Bearcats frustrated Purdue with tenacious defense all night, as the Boilermakers were just 26-of-72 (36.1%) from the field, including 4-of-26 (15.4%) from the perimeter. Cincinnati has played hard all season under some less than ideal circumstances, and its coaches and players deserve credit for making it this far. Unfortunately for them, this run will come to an end at the hands of Kentucky on Saturday. The Wildcats just have way too much talent across the board for this to really even be all that close. Expect Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein to establish themselves early and lead Kentucky to the Sweet 16 with a comfortable victory.

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What Are Big Ten Teams Seeking This Weekend?

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 19th, 2015

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While it’s unlikely that all seven Big Ten teams will still be around at the end of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, each has something to gain from even just one win. None of the matchups on Thursday and Friday are overly imposing, and in actuality, many of them seem to be pretty equal. The Round of 32 could be a different story, but here’s what each team has on the line with a quality opening weekend performance:

Troy Williams will need to play well for IU to advance.   (Chris Howell/Herald Times)

Troy Williams will need to play well for Indiana to advance. (Chris Howell/Herald Times)

  • Indiana: This NCAA Tournament appearance is all about showing that the program hasn’t hit a wall under head coach Tom Crean and it’s about quieting the critics that have been out in full force this year. A win over a Wichita State squad with plenty of excellent experience in four starters who made the Final Four two seasons ago would be a nice victory for a team with no seniors and almost no size. Winning a second game against fellow blue-blood Kansas would give the Hoosiers valuable March experience to build upon with a great majority of the team scheduled to return next season.
  • Iowa: Iowa can regain some of the credibility it lost from last season’s nosedive. The Hawkeyes still have some problems with consistency although they’ve been slightly better in closing out the 2014-15 campaign. Fran McCaffery‘s team avoided the First Four this time around but it still has a difficult opener against the Atlantic 10 regular season champion, Davidson. Just being back in March Madness, though, isn’t good enough for Hawkeyes fans. Mostly the same cast of characters played significant minutes in last season’s opening round loss to Tennessee, so winning a game or two here will show that this talented crew didn’t underachieve during its time in Iowa City. McCaffery doesn’t have to face the same amount of pressure that someone like Crean does at Indiana, but losing early in March once again won’t exactly help him either.
  • Maryland: The Terrapins were ranked for most of the season, eventually making their way into the top 10 at the end of the year. Despite how Maryland fared in the polls, they ended up with only a #4 seed and have a challenging road to the Sweet Sixteen. This means that they need to get to the second weekend to show the committee and others that they were justifiably ranked where they were. They were the second best team in the conference for much of the season, but an early flame-out in March would give the critics of Big Ten basketball plenty of ammunition in saying that the league didn’t deserve seven bids. The Terps need to avoid the upset bug and make a solid run.

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Bracket Prep: West Region Analysis

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 17th, 2015

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

West Region

Stanley Johnson And His Arizona Teammates Have To Be Considered Co-Favorites In The West Region

Stanley Johnson And His Arizona Teammates Have To Be Considered Co-Favorites In The West Region. (Getty)

Favorite: Arizona, #2, 31-3. Wisconsin fans won’t like this, so let me first cover my butt: The Wildcats are the second-best team nationally according to KenPom and the Badgers are the third-best. Still, for my money, they’re co-favorites and the spread will likely not be larger than a point if they meet in the regional final. The other advantage that the Wildcats will have in a potential meeting with the Badgers is that their fans will make the easy drive from Tucson to Los Angeles and pack the Staples Center, giving Arizona a relative home court advantage. And then there’s this: Arizona is very, very good. Senior point guard T.J. McConnell is Aaron Craft with an offensive game. Junior power forward Brandon Ashley is finally back at the top of his game after breaking his foot last year. Freshman phenom Stanley Johnson is among the best first-year guys in the nation and is a grown man physically. And his fellow wing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a dynamic individual defender capable of taking even the best offensive players – from point guards to power forwards – out of their games. If the Wildcats have a weakness, it is that they can at times go for long stretches at a time without scoring. UCLA held them without a single point for six minutes at the start of their matchup in mid-February. It’s certainly true that the Wildcats have improved since then, and even given that handful of struggles, they are still rated as the 11th-most efficient offensive team in the nation. It will take a near-Herculean effort for anybody in Arizona’s half of the bracket to beat them prior to the regional final. But assuming the two favorites get there, it is a toss-up.

Should They Falter: Wisconsin, #1, 31-3. Let’s throw out the Badgers’ head-scratching loss to Rutgers without National Player of the Year favorite Frank Kaminsky in the lineup. Aside from that, the Badgers lost at home to Duke (another #1 seed) and at Maryland in late February. On Sunday, they were taken to overtime in the Big Ten championship game by Michigan State before turning it on in the extra period and taking out the Spartans. Beyond that, they’ve been on cruise control throughout most of this season. Kaminsky has put together one of the most stupendous offensive seasons in recent history. Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker have taken huge leaps forward. And even after losing senior point guard Traevon Jackson to a foot injury in that same mid-January loss to Rutgers, sophomore Bronson Koenig stepped in and may have even improved upon Jackson’s level of play. The senior could be back for the Badgers as early as their opening round matchup with Coastal Carolina, providing quality veteran depth. But even if that never happens, this is the best offensive team in the nation and a group, as Michigan State learned on Sunday, very capable of turning into a very tough defensive team at the drop of a hat as well.

Grossly Overseeded: Oklahoma State, #9, 17-13. Okay, the RPI is flawed, that’s a given. But the Selection Committee uses it. And at #48 in the RPI with an 8-11 record against top 100 teams that includes losses to sub-100 RPI teams in both TCU and Texas Tech, the Cowboys are one of several examples of major conference teams with lousy records getting in over mid-major teams. Sure, the fact that the Cowboys were able to sweep Baylor and handle Kansas at Gallagher-Iba Arena means that they’re still a team that probably deserved to be in this NCAA Tournament. But their resume looks a lot more like a team that should have been headed to Dayton rather than in an #8/#9 game with a very favorable geographical placement.

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Rushed Reactions: Michigan State 76, Ohio State 67

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 13th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Denzel Valentine (USA Today Images)

Denzel Valentine (USA Today Images)

  1. Michigan State locked down on D’Angelo Russell. Lourawls ‘Tum Tum” Nairn, despite being slightly undersized to deal with the Buckeyes freshman star, did an admirable job staying on him and limiting his space to operate tonight. Russell also simply didn’t have his best night. He shot 7-of-16 from the field and finished with 19 points and three assists, but much of that production came late when the game was already somewhat out of reach. In fact, after Ohio State had gone down by 17 points, Russell was on the bench or playing off the ball for the mini-run that got the Buckeyes back in it. With Russell for the most part held in check, Shannon Scott (13 points, nine assists) picked up some of the slack . But the Buckeyes go as Russell goes, and Friday they both went slowly.
  2. Michigan State’s frontcourt players won their matchups. Aside from Branden Dawson, none of Tom Izzo’s big men will ever play like stars. But guys like Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling got the better of Ohio State’s frontcourt tonight. Though unspectacular, the pair combined for 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting, quietly contributing to the win. Dawson was also impressive in his return from injury. He doesn’t have a refined offensive game but his combination of size and athleticism was unmatched and he gave the Spartans something that the Buckeyes didn’t have. Dawson finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in this one.
  3. Michigan State shared the ball really well. The Spartans had 23 assists on 29 made field goals tonight. They don’t have a team full of players who can break opponents down off the dribble, but they are extremely well-coached and always put themselves in great position off the ball. Additionally, a number of Michigan State’s regulars are upperclassmen who have played with each other for several years now. They have an innate sense of where teammates are going to be when they get in trouble, and it’s why they are able to get so many good looks without individual offensive stars. That’s also how they have put together a top-10 assist rate in the country this season.

Player of the Game. Denzel Valentine. You could really name three players of the game for the Spartans — Valentine, Dawson and Trice — but it was Valentine who was steadily efficient all game. Valentine took just 14 shots, but had 23 points, and, identical to Dawson, chipped in with eight rebounds and seven assists to complete a great all-around performance.

Sights and Sounds. Tom Izzo and Thad Matta had an unpleasant exchange in the postgame handshake line. Matta was furious with the referees toward the end of the game and was still livid as he walked over to Izzo. Perhaps Izzo took exception to that. Izzo dodged the question in the postgame press conference by saying, “We were just talking about how hard this job is.” He called it “a friendly exchange.” Matta said he and Izzo “were both kind of in agreement about what we saw out there tonight,” perhaps again talking about the refereeing.

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Big Ten Tournament Preview

Posted by Henry Bushnell & Bennet Hayes on March 11th, 2015

Henry Bushnell and Bennet Hayes will be in Chicago all week delivering coverage of the Big Ten tournament. In advance of the action tipping off Wednesday night, they sat down to tackle a few questions on the week that lies ahead.

Wisconsin is the clear favorite, but could an upset be in the works for the Badgers?

Wisconsin is the clear favorite, but could an upset be in the works for the Badgers?

Wisconsin enters the Big Ten Tournament as a heavy favorite. Which team besides the Badgers has the best shot at winning it all this week

  • Bennet: Michigan State‘s regular season was no exemplar of consistency, but with Branden Dawson expected to return to the lineup for Friday’s quarterfinal game, they’ve officially made it to March in one piece. Betting against Tom Izzo this month is always a dicey operation — particularly with the experienced Valentine/Trice/Dawson core once again intact. Furthermore, snagging the #3 seed and delaying a potential rematch with Wisconsin until the championship game is another nice coup. The double-bye should also minimize the impact of depth issues that have at times proved troublesome. Michigan State never got the Badgers on its home floor this season; here’s guessing Sparty wouldn’t mind a crack at them in neutral territory. Izzo’s bunch has the chops to win three games in Chicago this week.
  • Henry: I like the Sparty pick, but I’ll take Ohio State. I know a lot of people will be scared off by the beatdown Wisconsin put on the Buckeyes in Columbus in the regular season finale, but that result was a lot more about the Badgers than Ohio State. Thad Matta still has a very talented team, and one that on a per-possession basis has far outperformed its record. And if there’s one player in this tournament who can take over a game and engineer an upset of Wisconsin in the final, it’s D’Angelo Russell.
D'Angelo Russell And Ohio State Could Make A Run In Chicago This Week

D’Angelo Russell And Ohio State Could Make A Run This Week In Chicago. (USA TODAY Sports)

Which player are you most looking forward to watching?

  • Henry: I can’t wait to see Branden Dawson. I know he’s had an up-and-down year with some recent injury issues, but he should be ready to go on Friday. He’s one of those players where a television screen simply doesn’t do his game justice. I’ve seen him play live twice this year from the upper levels and he wowed me both times with his athleticism and sheer power. At the United Center, we should have a front row seat, and I expect his game up close to be even more eye-popping.

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Big Ten All-Freshman Team

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 10th, 2015

In a year when the Big Ten’s freshman class made much more of an impact than last season, picking a five-man outfit of rookie players was an arduous process. That difficulty exhibits that the future of the league is in good hands if the majority of these players stick around for several years at their respective schools. That’s probably wishful thinking for a couple of them, but here’s our RTC Big Ten All-Freshman Team.

D'Angelo Russell was the best freshman in the B1G this season. (Kyle Robertson, Columbus Dispatch)

D’Angelo Russell was the best freshman in the Big Ten this season. (Kyle Robertson, Columbus Dispatch)

  • D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State (19.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 5.2 APG, 42.2% 3FG)
  • Melo Trimble, Maryland (16.1 PPG, 3.1 APG, 1.3 SPG, 87.6% FT)
  • James Blackmon Jr., Indiana (15.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 82.1% FT, 38.5% 3FG)
  • Bryant McIntosh, Northwestern (11.4 PPG, 4.7 APG, 84.8% FT, 36.4% 3FG)
  • Jae’Sean Tate, Ohio State (8.9 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 59.8% FG)

Tate really came on once he became a starter, as his numbers jumped to 12.1 PPG and 5.5 RPG over the last 12 games. An undersized power forward, the Ohio native plays much bigger than his listed height of 6’4″. McIntosh was not the most highly-touted member of Northwestern’s five-man recruiting class this season but he admirably assumed the point guard duties right away. He has some defensive issues to improve but he is an adept passer with the ability to make shots from deep and score in a variety of other ways. Blackmon Jr. was one of many three-point bombers on an Indiana team that ranked third in the nation in shooting the three (41.0%). His numbers dipped late in the season ( 22-of-68 from three in his last 11 games), but he still led the Hoosiers in scoring 12 times on the year. In many seasons Trimble would have been the clear Freshman of the Year as he led Maryland to a highly-surprising 26-5 regular season mark. He’s not a pure point guard in terms of his passing abilities but his skill in finishing plays coupled with a respectable 39.1 percent mark from three-point land makes him a major reason why the Terps are back on the national scene.

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Big Ten M5: 03.04.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 4th, 2015

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  1. What once looked like a promising season for Indiana is now fizzling, as the Hoosiers dropped another conference game Tuesday night to Iowa. The late-season swoon where the team has lost seven of their last 11 games has moved them dangerously close to the bubble. Even when things were going well, their was a bit of a gimmicky element with the large dependency on the three ball, and the lack of size. Now home fans are booing, and Tom Crean’s job security is once again going to be a hot topic of discussion. Indiana plays in front of their home audience again Saturday against Michigan State. It will get ugly if they produce another lackluster and uninspired effort.
  2. Neither team is playing for an NCAA Tournament bid so the exciting Michigan-Northwestern game on Tuesday evening got lost in the shuffle a bit. Those who missed it however missed the most entertaining game of the regular season in the league, where the Wildcats hung on to win in two overtimes. The list of heroes was a large one for Chris Collins’ hard luck team on Senior Night. JerShon Cobb came back after missing six games to play 33 minutes, Alex Olah posted a double-double, and Tre Demps made some of the most clutch shots of the season. If you were busy watching the Kentucky or Kansas games, do yourself a favor and watch the replay of this one. It’s well worth it simply for entertainment value.
  3. Three Big Ten players made the list of the ten Waymon Tisdale Award finalists announced earlier this week. It’s no surprise that the three named were D’Angelo Russell, Melo Trimble, and James Blackmon Jr. All three players are currently leading their teams in scoring, and all have had vast impacts throughout most of the season. The award is probably going to go to either Jahlil Okafor from Duke, or Russell. It’s still a distinctive honor to make the final list of ten, as many of the names on the list will more than likely be lottery picks in the 2015 NBA Draft.
  4. Many Purdue fans once thought Indiana native Branden Dawson would be playing for Matt Painter instead of Tom Izzo. Ever since then, the two sides have had an unfriendly relationship. Dawson has put up killer numbers against the West Lafayette school, and he even got into an altercation with Painter during his freshman season. So there is a great deal of vitriol coming from Purdue fans as the one that got away torments them in a different colored uniform. The two teams meet in East Lansing tonight, with plenty on the line. Maybe seeing the Purdue uniform guarding him will get Dawson back on track after recent struggles.
  5. Jarvis Johnson is probably the most important incoming recruit for Minnesota. An incredible athlete, the guard has been in and out of the top 100 of the Class of 2015. He’ll look to come in and take some of the minutes that will need to be replaced with the departures of Andre Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu. Adapting to life in the B1g shouldn’t be a problem for Johnson however, as he almost didn’t live long enough to play high school ball. In 2010, he collapsed on the basketball court, where paramedics determined he didn’t have a pulse. Amazingly enough, he was able to get back on the court and contribute as a high school freshman, where he won a state championship. Much like the Austin Hatch story, Johnson will be another Big Ten player that will be difficult to root against.
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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 3rd, 2015

On the penultimate weekend of Big Ten conference play, the heavy hitters came up with some large performances.Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell, Iowa’s Aaron White, and Illinois’ Rayvonte Rice all stated their cases for all-Big Ten inclusion in leading their teams to key wins. The quartet combined for 99 points over the weekend, showing that they are ready to go as the calendar has flipped to March. Nothing too earth-shattering happened in terms of results from the weekend games, but as always, here are some of the highlights.

Frank Kaminsky managed to put up 31 points in his final home game in Madison Sunday. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Frank Kaminsky managed to put up 31 points in his final home game in Madison Sunday. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • Player of the Weekend: As he’s done for the majority of the season, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky lit up the stat sheet against Michigan State in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. If you thought that the Spartans’ front line may have given the Badgers a tough time down low, think again. Rather, Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes had their way inside with Tom Izzo’s team, combining for 28 points in the first half. Kaminsky, quiet from the outside lately, nailed 3-of-4 attempts from deep en route to 31 points for the game. He led the Badgers in scoring, steals and blocks, and tied for the team lead in assists — just a typical game from a senior who’s having an absolutely tremendous season.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: Iowa’s Josh Oglesby hasn’t had a very good senior season. Considered one of the better outside shooters in the Big Ten, he is only shooting 31.4 percent from behind the arc, even after his 4-of-8 effort in Iowa’s 81-77 overtime win over Penn State on Saturday. That number won’t matter if Oglesby can find his stroke to give the Hawkeyes a consistent perimeter threat from here on out. He managed 12 points off the bench, combining with fellow senior Gabriel Olaseni to produce 24 of Iowa’s 27 bench points for the game. The Hawkeyes are still one of the most difficult teams in the country to figure out, but the riddle will be easier to answer if Oglesby can give his team some consistent outside scoring.

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Big Ten M5: 02.25.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 25th, 2015

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  1. Iowa lost a member of its deep roster earlier this week, as sophomore point guard Trey Dickerson decided to leave the program. The junior college transfer simply wasn’t seeing much time with Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons ahead of him in the rotation, playing in only 15 games (9.7 MPG). He did flash some athleticism and the ability to get to the rim in his brief cameos on the floor, but with those two upperclassmen ahead of him, he wasn’t likely to get much of a shot at substantial playing time in Iowa City.
  2. After a 12-1 start to the season inspired questions as to whether Penn State could make a “Nebraska-type run” to the postseason this year, things have since fallen apart for Pat Chambers’ squad. Perhaps rock bottom for the campaign took place in losing by 21 points to fellow bottom-dweller Northwestern on Saturday. Chambers is still on solid footing in terms of his job security, however, as athletic director Sandy Barbour recently said that the coach “deserves more opportunity than he’s gotten.” Penn State’s recruiting class for next year looks promising, so it makes sense to give the fourth-year coach at least another season to put things together. Another lost season in 2015-16 might make things a little dicier for him in State College, however.
  3. Wisconsin has a difficult final stretch to the season that was revealed in last night’s loss to Maryland in College Park. The Big Ten title seemed like a given for the Badgers up to this point, but things just got a bit more interesting. If Michigan State can win its game on Thursday against Minnesota and Purdue can beat a hapless Rutgers unit, there will be three teams within two games of the regular season crown. Bo Ryan‘s group still has road trips to Minnesota and Ohio State during the last week of the regular season, and they will have to beat Michigan State at home this weekend. The Badgers will still probably come away with the crown, but it won’t be easy.
  4. Containing Jarrod Uthoff, holding Iowa to under 64 points, and shaking off its dismal 2-of-16 performance from three against Michigan State are some of the keys for Illinois as the Illini take on Iowa in a bubble battle tonight in Iowa City. Illinois is currently listed as a “Last Four In” team, according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, so obviously winning tonight’s game on the road against a team with similar RPI numbers would be a significant boost to their Tourney hopes.
  5. CBS’ Sam Vecenie broke down the Big Ten Player of the Year race, and his assessment is that Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky should get the nod over Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell. He lists Iowa’s Aaron White, Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell and Maryland’s Melo Trimble as the rest of his First Team. The argument is one that may not get settled until the very last game of the season when Kaminsky and Russell’s teams go head-to-head in Columbus. In almost any other year, Russell would probably be a shoe-in to win the honor — anyone who has seen him play knows what he brings to the table. But while his game is not necessarily flashy, the main point that Vecenie and many others make about Kaminsky is that he’s done everything this season. His defense has improved and he can beat teams offensively in a multitude of ways. It doesn’t hurt that Wisconsin is clearly the better team than Ohio State. That should matter to the extent of whether any ties need to be broken.
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Big Ten M5: 02.13.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 13th, 2015

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  1. For every step forward Iowa takes, the Hawkeyes seem to follow it up with another step back. That was the case again on Thursday night when Fran McCaffery’s team lost at home to Minnesota. The Golden Gophers are in the bottom third of the Big Ten standings and have been a major disappointment since league play started. The Hawkeyes, on the other hand, were coming off a statement game where they demolished second-place Maryland — and yet somehow, Minnesota earned its first road win in conference play. Iowa still has a favorable remaining schedule the rest of the way, but if it somehow drops this weekend’s game at Northwestern, it might be time to hit the panic button.
  2. Thursday night also marked the return of Rayvonte Rice to the court in Illinois’ overtime win over Michigan. It was initially an awkward reunion, as the Illini looked uncomfortable in their sets and sputtered to a 20-point first half — their worst offensive half of the year. Rice didn’t score until the overtime period, but his defense and rebounding helped Illinois put together an amazing 21-0 run to overcome an eight-point deficit in the dwindling minutes. If John Groce’s team works out some of the kinks in the integration process, this could still become a very dangerous team in March.
  3. This year is shaping up to be the most successful season for Wisconsin in the Bo Ryan era. And while the head coach is no doubt enjoying his current success, part of his set of responsibilities includes planning for the future of the program as well. That future got a little brighter for the Badgers on Thursday when Ryan secured a commitment from Khalil Iverson — a small forward from Delaware, Ohio. Iverson adds to an already solid Class of 2015 for Wisconsin, but the big prize Ryan is seeking is five-star Wisconsin-native Diamond Stone. Landing a player of that caliber would help the Badgers again compete for a Big Ten championship and Final Four despite several expected personnel losses.
  4. Wisconsin wasn’t the only Big Ten program adding talent this week, as Indiana picked up freshman Jordan Fuchs, who also plays tight end for the school’s football team. Fuchs is not a typical two-sport player who excels in one sport and simply holds his own in the other. The Queens native was considered a top 10 basketball player in New York last year, and he’s already started practicing with the team and made the trip to Maryland. At 6’6″ and 230 pounds, Tom Crean may be looking to add any size he can get down into the post.
  5. Finally, we’ve talked extensively here at the Big Ten microsite about how phenomenal this season’s freshmen class has been. The highlight has been Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell, who is making a run at the Big Ten and National POY awards with his 19.4 PPG, 5.9 RPG, and 5.5 APG averages. But other players like Maryland’s Melo Trimble, Indiana’s James Blackmon Jr., Northwestern’s Bryant McIntosh, Purdue’s Vince Edwards, Minnesota’s Nate Mason, and Ohio State’s Ja’Sean Tate, have also made a big impact on their respective teams. BTN decided to compare these seven players against freshmen classes of previous years, and the conclusion? This year’s rookies are the best of the bunch. While theirs is certainly a subjective analysis, it is high praise for all the young talent in this league.
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