Minnesota’s Press is Somewhat Unique in the Big Ten

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 16th, 2013

Minnesota has gotten off to a pretty successful start in the Richard Pitino era, as the Gophers have beaten two not-so-horrible mid-majors in Lehigh and Montana so far. The Gophers were one of the more enigmatic Big Ten teams to try to figure out in the preseason. They are playing a much different system, and although they have some players back with experience, they’re incorporating several new pieces that make this a team to keep an eye on going forward. Everybody knows that two games does not a sample size make, but since it’s all we have to go with so far as Minnesota heads into its game today with Richmond, here’s are a few things I’ve observed in those two opening games.

Andre Hollins  is off to a good start for Minnesota.

Andre Hollins is off to a good start for Minnesota.

One question mark about Minnesota was its obvious lack of size, and the Gophers have started the year by going with a three-guard lineup in DeAndre Mathieu, Andre Hollins, and Austin Hollins. But whether this will hurt them once they hit the league schedule remains to be seen. One of their potential options in the low post, Maurice Walker, is suspended for six gamesEliott Eliason has shown early on, however, that he can be a force by altering shots and hitting the glass. So far he’s been the only true big man on the floor, and if he can continue to come close to getting 23.8 percent of the Gophers’ offensive rebounds and blocking shots at a 17.9 percent clip, he will go a long way toward alleviating these concerns (unsustainable numbers, but good ones nevertheless). He’ll never be Kevin McHale on the low block, but he’s shown so far that he can mix it up and get after the Gopher misses. Joey King and Oto Osenieks are more European-type big men, so while they’ll help some, it will be interesting to see what comes about from the Walker-Eliason combination once the suspended player comes back.

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Big Ten M5: 11.06.13 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 6th, 2013

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  1. Illinois head coach John Groce has done it again, as he picked up another recruit from the city of Chicago on Tuesday. D.J. Williams, a 6’7″ junior from Simeon High School, verbally committed to the Illini, making him the third Simeon player to commit there in the last year — Groce already has freshmen Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate on board this season. Simeon is the alma mater of Derrick Rose and Nick Anderson, just to name a few. They are a power in the city of Chicago hoops scene on a yearly basis, and with another Windy City prep superstar named Cliff Alexander potentially also getting ready to put on an Illinois hat when he announces his college decision on November 15, Groce is looking at turning the Illini into a future national powerhouse.
  2. Michigan has a lot coming back from what ended up being a phenomenal season last year, but someone is going to have to step in and try to replicate the production that Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. provided on the perimeter. Freshman point guard Derrick Walton has gotten more publicity, but fellow freshman Zak Irvin has contributed some of what Hardaway did last season in Michigan’s two scrimmages. To wit, Irvin has gone 4-of-7 from deep in these two scrimmages. With veterans Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary garnering more attention from other teams’ scouting reports when taking on the Maize and Blue, Irvin will provide a huge lift if he can knock down outside shots at that kind of level as teams pay attention to his more highly publicized teammates.
  3. Mo Walker has spent the better part of three seasons playing behind players like Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams at Minnesota, but after he slimmed down by 60 pounds in the offseason, he’s shown a commitment to stepping in and picking up some of the slack left behind by these graduated starters. Walker led the team in points and rebounds in the Gophers’ 101-67 win over Concordia on Monday night, tallying 17/13 in the victory. Minnesota’s biggest 2013-14 question mark has to be what kind of production Richard Pitino will get down low, and Walker seems to be off to an outstanding start in providing some answers for a team that is predicted to finish in the bottom half of the league.
  4. Yogi Ferrell only averaged 7.6 points and 4.1 assists per game last year, but he provided a steady hand in leading a team that spent essentially the whole season in the top five nationally. With Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls all now gone, this is now Ferrell’s team and he’s taken this added leadership role to heart, doing things like diagramming game-winning plays in practice scrimmages to show his development. Ferrell is arguably the most important player in the league this season — with expectations ramped up because of the Hoosiers’ two-year renaissance, all momentum will be lost if the team drops off this season. With eight freshman on the roster, it goes without saying that Ferrell and Will Sheehey have to do more than just produce on the court for Indiana to stay near the top of the B1g standings.
  5. With Minnesota losing three starters and its head coach from last year’s team, the Gophers need to plug some new pieces to fit new coach Richard Pitino’s up-tempo system. It’s looking like one of these pieces is going to be JuCo transfer Deandre Mathieu. Mathieu has impressed to the point where the Gophers are considering penciling him into the lineup with two other guards, Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins. Playing with a three-guard lineup will allow Minnesota to play at a much faster tempo, with the 5’9″ Mathieu pushing Andre Hollins to play off the ball and essentially taking on the role of a scorer. In the team’s two scrimmages, Mathieu averaged 10 points, eight assists, and two steals per game, which if duplicated once the games start for real, would put him in the running for Big Ten Newcomer of the Year.
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Big Ten M5: 10.23.13 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on October 23rd, 2013

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  1. Regardless of Ohio State’s postseason performance this year, Aaron Craft will go down as one of the best guards in the school’s history. He will be remembered for not necessarily his offensive skills, rather, his ability to impact the game on the defensive end. But after averaging 10 PPG last season, he has proved that he can score when needed. Does that mean he has a future in the NBA? Thad Matta thinks he can, as he said: “I think he can play in the NBA, yes. A lot of teams like to carry three point guards.” If Craft can improve his three-point shooting, specifically from the corners, he will find a way onto an NBA team because of his defensive abilities.
  2. Tom Izzo is no stranger to Final Fours – he has been to six of them during his tenure at East Lansing. Yet, he remains hungry to take his team back to the Final Four after two straight Sweet Sixteen appearances. At Michigan State’s media day, Izzo talked about his team’s chances to get back to the Final Four and cited a “great summer in terms of chemistry” as one of the reasons why this team could be special. If Gary Harris lives up to the hype as an effective scorer and Keith Appling can create his own shot during crunch time, the Spartans have the defensive talent to make a run at the Final Four and beyond. While most of the favorites – Kentucky, Kansas and Duke – have star freshmen, the Spartans have experience on their side, which could pay off in March.
  3. Speaking of Final Four appearances, there is no way Michigan’s Derrick Walton can fill Trey Burke’s shoes in Ann Arbor. But that doesn’t seem to be his main concern for the season. John Beilein said, “I don’t think he sees replacing Trey Burke as his challenge. I think think he sees, ‘How can I help this team win?’ as the challenge.” Walton will have plenty of opportunities to control Beilein’s offense, alongside wings such as Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III. While Burke had to carry the team during the final minutes of the game, Walton can rely on the super sophomores to pick up the scoring load. As long as he can limit the turnovers and hit the wide-open shot, he will help the Wolverines make a run at the Final Four.
  4. Even though Illinois may not be a clear favorite to make the NCAA Tournament this season, John Groce still has Champaign excited because of his accomplishments on the recruiting trail. This summer, he got two top-40 players – Quentin Snyder and Leron Black – to commit to Illinois for the 2014-15 season. His next target is top-5 recruit Cliff Alexander, who will visit Champaign this weekend. Alexander is also considering Kansas in addition to Illinois, but Groce has proven that he can compete against the best recruiters in the business because he is very “sincere in his message.” Regardless of Alexander’s decision, Illinois will have a top-20 recruiting class next season and if they can stay competitive on the court this season, Groce’s recruiting will not miss a beat for the 2015-16 season.
  5. While Groce has impressed the Illinois fan base, Minnesota’s new head coach, Richard Pitino, has his work cut out over the next year or so. He will rely on Andre Hollins to carry the offensive load this season, but could use some help from other players to pick up the scoring slack. Transfer guard Deandre Mathieu may just be that guy who steps up. He scored 26 points in the scrimmage on Friday and Pitino said after the scrimmage, “He’s really good. He’s so quick. He’s so aggressive.” The Gophers could have a tough time keeping up with rest of the Big Ten, but if Mathieu can provide double-digit scoring in the backcourt, the opposing defenses won’t be able to just zone in against Hollins.
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