Big Ten M5: 02.21.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 21st, 2014

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  1. Minnesota did some severe damage to their NCAA Tournament chances with a loss at home to bottom-feeder Illinois Wednesday night. There were almost too many problems to name for the Gophers if one were to catalog exactly what went wrong. A good starting point would be the fact that they shot 4-for-25 from three-point range. Deandre Mathieu did not have a good game at all, as his point total matched his turnover total with 3 of each. He fouled out in 24 minutes, showing that Minnesota will only finish strong in their last 4 games if he’s on his game.
  2. East Lansing has loosely resembled a soap opera for much of the season, but all was well for Michigan State Thursday night. They simply went nuts on Purdue from the perimeter in beating them 94-75 in West Lafayette. The Spartans hit 17 three’s on the game, and 13 of them came in the first half. Gary Harris was the ringleader, as he continued to make schools in his home state of Indiana pay. Harris has shot an absurd 56.9 percent from three in his career against Indiana and Purdue.  If this game is the beginning of a hot streak for the future lottery pick, then much of the drama surrounding the program due to injury concerns could very easily go away.
  3. Harris was one high school star from the Hoosier state that went elsewhere, but James Blackmon Jr. will be donning the cream and crimson next season for Indiana. Blackmon Jr. based part of his choice on going somewhere that he can fit in right away, and he feels as though he can help the Hoosiers immediately with his perimeter shooting abilities. If he is as good as advertised, he will play heavy minutes immediately alongside Yogi Ferrell next season, giving IU a sorely-needed shooter from the perimeter that they are currently lacking.
  4. Ohio State has won 5 of their last 6 games, but questions still remain about their viability or ceiling in March. The main questions still are the fact that they can’t get consistent play in the paint, and that they are prone to shooting slumps. Each player on the team has some sort of hole in their respective games, but their defensive pressure and athleticism, and experience could still lead to a deep tournament run. They’ve looked better as of late, and with Aaron Craft starting to attack the basket with a little more aggressiveness, they could very well be peaking at the right time.
  5. Nikola Cerina is normally a fairly under the radar member of the Northwestern basketball team. He generally plays about 10 MPG to spell Alex Olah. Cerina made news Wednesday night however, as it was determined that he threw a punch at Ohio State’s Amir Williams which resulted in his being ejected from the game. Cerina will now have to miss the Wildcats’ next game against Indiana on Saturday. With next to no depth already, this suspension could be a huge problem if Olah gets into foul trouble against the Hoosiers.
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Big Ten M5: 02.11.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 11th, 2014

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  1. After losing five games in January, Ohio State has managed to right the ship this month and win its last three games with impressive wins at Wisconsin and at Iowa. Senior guard Aaron Craft has been leading the way and was named Big Ten Player of the Week on Monday after averaging 12.0 points, five assists, and 4.5 steals per game against Purdue and Iowa. Those numbers do not capture Craft’s most valuable attribute, of course — his lock-down defense. In the past three games, he helped lead the Buckeyes’ perimeter defense in holding Wisconsin, Iowa, and Purdue to a combined 11-of-50 from the three-point line (22 percent). The Buckeyes’ offense has been their season-long weakness, but as long as Craft gets near double-figures every game, Ohio State should be able to maintain their current winning trajectory.
  2. Wisconsin also had a big week as the Badgers managed to end their losing skid by winning at Illinois and then coming up with huge weekend win against Michigan State. It’s been an atypical season for the Badgers. They’re still on pace to make yet another an NCAA Tournament, but this season Wisconsin relies on its offense more than its defense, and Bo Ryan plays some of his freshmen substantial minutes. None of these first-year players have had a bigger impact than the big man from Toledo, Ohio, Nigel Hayes. He won his third Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor after chipping in 14 points in both games this week. Maybe more impressive is the fact that he ranks second in the league in field goal percentage (58.2%). This season may not look as promising as it did a month ago for Wisconsin, but with Hayes getting a ton of playing time this early in his career, he’ll pay dividends in the years to come.
  3. Continuing with the theme of breaking streaks, Illinois managed to end its eight-game losing streak against Penn State on Sunday. What may be the more lasting storyline was the emergence of the Illini’s freshmen guards, Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill, who combined to score 30 points. John Groce finally decided he had to switch things up and threw both freshmen into the starting lineup for the first time this season. The pair responded in kind and gave hope to a fan base that certainly needed it. Illinois is all but out of the NCAA Tournament picture at this point, but if his guards can continue to play well the rest of the season, it will set things up nicely for the program as early as next season when more talented transfers and recruits join the team.
  4. Tim Miles must be mostly pleased with the performance of his Cornhuskers after winning its first conference road game on Saturday against Northwestern. As he continues to build the program in Lincoln, he may owe a big thanks to his junior wingman Terran Pettaway, who is quickly becoming a household name around the Big Ten. Pettaway continues to rank in the top five in scoring and field goal percentage in the conference, but what is most impressive about the junior is his keen ability to affect the game even when things aren’t going his way. On Saturday, he kept the confidence to hit the game-winning shot despite a poor shooting performance (5-of-16) and committing five turnovers. If Pettaway can continue to play well, the Cornhuskers have a realistic chance of finishing the conference near .500, a major leap for the historically moribund basketball program.
  5. Win or lose, Minnesota is always fun to watch. A lot of it has to do with the Gophers’ style of play — a pressing defense and a hyperactive offense — but they also have entertaining players. The main draw might be Andre Hollins, but DeAndre Mathieu can also put up a show. He’s exciting because of the athleticism and motor he packs into his 5’9”, 165-pound frame. But he’s also vital to the success of the Golden Gophers. The split for Mathieu in a win compared to a loss are night and day (e.g., 57% vs 42% FG%). Mathieu seems to enjoy taking on the more important role and is comfortable taking big shots late in games.  He’ll need to have more good days then bad if Richard Pitino’s team wants to challenge for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
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Big Ten M5: 01.29.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 29th, 2014

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  1. We were treated to another great match-up last night when Michigan State came into Iowa and defeated the Hawkeyes 71-69 in overtime. For the Spartans, it was another impressive performance as they registered a big road win with many of their key players out or playing injured. As for the Hawkeyes, this loss may reintroduce some concerns that basketball opinion makers have about this team. As of today, Iowa’s best win is against Ohio State – a win that looked better two weeks ago than it does today. Against top tier teams, the Hawkeyes have consistently fallen short. However, they have performed extremely well against teams they are supposed to beat, which is an accomplishment in and of itself. The bottom line is that we may not have a good handle on how good the Hawkeyes are until the end of the season.
  2. In their 80-75 win at Michigan State this past Saturday, Michigan put the country on notice that they had no plans in making this a rebuilding year after losing several key players from last season’s National Championship runner-up squad. Now, the Wolverines are alone atop the Big Ten standings and have college basketball experts revising their expectations of them. But, don’t expect John Beilien to buy into the hype; he’s already moved on from their big win and is looking ahead to Thursday’s game against Purdue. “We’ve basked enough, no more basking,” Beilien told a local Ann Arbor radio station on Monday. Michigan’s head man may not want to concentrate on what he’s accomplished this season, but Big Ten fans should. With him at the helm, there is no reason to think Michigan can’t be a dominant force for years to come.
  3. Another surprising team in conference play has been Minnesota. Despite having a first-year coach, Richard Pitino, and losing some significant pieces from last year’s team, the Golden Gophers have kept their own in league play and have impressive wins against Ohio State and Wisconsin. But on Sunday, Minnesota lost some of its momentum when it dropped a game at Nebraska. A major reason for the loss may have been the poor play of DeAndre Mathieu who had 13 points, but also had 9 of the Gophers’ 13 turnovers. While he is not Minnesota’s best player, Mathieu’s steady point guard play has allowed other players, such as likely All-Conference teammate Andre Hollins, to be productive on the offensive side which has led the team to have an adjusted offensive efficiency of 1.18 points per possession (top 15 in the nation). With Hollins out indefinitely, Mathieu will get a lot more attention from defenses and he’ll need to improve his play for Minnesota to continue battling for an NCAA Tournament bid.
  4. Speaking of the Cornhuskers, bad news came out of Lincoln on Monday: Deverell Biggs, Nebraska’s third leading scorer, was dismissed from the team. Although no specific incident or cause was given for  his release, Biggs has had disciplinary issues in the past including a DUI in 2012. The Cornhuskers had been playing the role of spoiler throughout conference play, upsetting both Ohio State and Minnesota within six days. Without Biggs, upsets will be more difficult to come by which could rob Tim Miles of some needed momentum going into the next few seasons as he continues to try and build a respectable program in Lincoln. If either Ray Gallegos or Tai Webster can step up their production, there may still be a shot for Nebraska to make some noise in the conference.
  5. After a six-game losing streak, one thing is apparent in Champaign: this Illinois team is not like last season’s squad. Last year’s team was able to come back from a poor start in conference play because of talented senior guards that led them back to postseason form. This year, Illinois’ offensive woes do not appear fixable. They are last in the conference in eFG percentage (40.5%) and second-to-last in adjusted offensive efficiency (0.92 point per possession) and three-point shooting (25.8%). Despite all this, John Groce admires the fight his team has put up through its slump. While Groce’s enthusiasm is admirable, this can’t be where he thought his team would be when they were 2-0 in the conference and had wins against Missouri and UNLV. He’s been playing his freshmen more often in games, which may be a sign that he is looking towards the future as he grips with the reality his team faces in the present.
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Key Questions in Advance of Minnesota vs. Michigan State

Posted by Brendan Brody and Alex Moscoso on January 11th, 2014

One of the best games of the Big Ten weekend slate should be in East Lansing this afternoon. Minnesota (13-3, 2-1) takes on Michigan State (14-1, 3-0) in a game that pits a team looking to climb into the the top half of the league against a team looking to get healthy and find some consistency on its way to a national title. RTC Big Ten microsite columnists Brendan Brody and Alex Moscoso decided to take a look at some key questions heading into this interesting match-up.

Andre Hollins needs a big game for Minnesota to pull off an upset in East Lansing.

Andre Hollins needs a big game for Minnesota to pull off an upset in East Lansing.

1. Both teams are relatively equal nationally with Minnesota ranking 44th in offensive rebounding rate, and Michigan State checking in at 45th in defensive rebounding. Who wins the battle of the boards?

Alex Moscoso: For once, I’m going to disregard the numbers and predict that Michigan State wins the rebounding battle under its own basket. When it comes to rebounding, I’m not betting against Tom Izzo, especially when the Spartans are at home. While Michigan State has Adreian Payne as its only consistent low-post presence, wings Branden Dawson and Denzel Valentine have stepped up and are accounting for 5.7 and 4.3 defensive rebounds per game, respectively, as well. This should work to their advantage against Minnesota, who shoots a ton of threes (12th in the nation in attempts), and allow them to go after long rebounds. Add to the fact that Payne’s ankle is getting healthier every day, and I think Sparty wins the battle of the boards in this game.

Brendan Brody: Rebounding for Minnesota starts and ends with Elliott Eliason. He’s been pivotal in the Gophers’ efforts on the glass, and with Payne still struggling with some foot issues, look for Eiliason to continue to clean up Minnesota’s misses at a high level. He’s second in the league in grabbing offensive rebounds (13.5%), and he along with Maurice Walker will enable the Gophers to get second-chance opportunities if the Gophers aren’t hitting from deep.

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The Seven Most Surprising Big Ten Players So Far This Season

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 13th, 2013

With the season now a little over a month old, it’s time to take a look at how different players are performing in accordance with their preseason expectations. I’m always more of a good news first kind of guy, so I’ll start with the guys who are making a better-than-expected impact first, with the disappointments coming next week. Many of these players are transfers, although some are simply just producing more in additional minutes. The common thread with all seven of these Big Ten breakout players is that they are heavily contributing to wins in more than one way, and doing so at a high level.

Frank Kaminsky has played his way into B1G Player of the Year consideration (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky has played his way into B1G Player of the Year consideration (Getty)

  • Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin (14.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.1 BPG, 1.1 SPG, 42.9% 3FG, 55.4% FG). “Frank the Tank” is leading the Badgers in scoring, steals and blocks. People thought that he’d be able to have an impact with more minutes due to the graduation of Jared Berggren, but no one thought he’d be capable of dropping 43 points in a single game. Kaminsky leads a balanced attack on the offensive end that has five different players capable of scoring 20 on a given night, and he’s a defensive presence to the tune of blocking 7.06 percent of all opponents’ field goal attempts. Wisconsin in general has been a surprise, but Kaminsky has been an even bigger one.
  • Eliott Eliason, Minnesota (5.7 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 2.5 BPG). Eliason got lost in the shuffle last season with Trevor Mkakwe and Rodney Williams getting most of the frontcourt minutes in 2012-13. This year he has emerged as a major rebounding and shot-blocking threat for the Gophers. Eliason is currently third in the league in defensive rebounding rate (26.5%), sixth in offensive rebounding rate (12.6%), and third in block rate (11.74%). On a team that frequently features a three-guard attack, it is vital that someone can clear the glass and protect the rim, which Eliason is doing at an elite level in the early going.

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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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