RTC Big Ten Preseason Rankings: #9 to #5

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 13th, 2014

We continue our preseason Big Ten rankings today with spots #9 through #5. The bottom tier of teams, #14 to #10, released earlier this week. These middle tier teams will be fighting to be on the right side of the bubble — and providing us with great drama — all season long.

9. Maryland

  • What they do well: Defense. Mark Turgeon has had a top 40 squad in adjusted defensive efficiency the past couple seasons and it’ll likely be his area of focus once again.
  • What they don’t do well: Retention. Seth Allen, Charles Mitchell, Nick Faust, Roddy Peters and Shaquille Cleare all transferred out of the program in the offseason — not exactly inconsequential players.
Dez Wells is one of the few familiar faces in College Park this year. (Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

Dez Wells is one of the few familiar faces in College Park this year. (Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

  • Get to know: Melo Trimble. The top 40 recruit will need to use his offensive skill set to help replace all the lost scoring from last season.
  • Why they’ll finish 9th: The exodus of key players and unfamiliarity in the Big Ten will cause some very sharp growing pains for the Terrapins.
  • Why they’ll finish higher: This team still has talent and is used to playing top-notch competition. If they can get all their new pieces to gel together, they can compete in a relatively down Big Ten.

8. Iowa

  • What they do well: Offense. Last season, the Hawkeyes were fifth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and they bring a majority of that roster back this year.
  • What they don’t do well: Mental toughness. Last season, Iowa wilted in close games against Villanova and Iowa State. Things really spiraled out of control at the end of the season when they lost seven of their last eight contests.

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Introducing the RTC All-Big Ten Third Team

Posted by Eric Clark on November 12th, 2014

College basketball makes its return on Friday, and the Big Ten microsite’s writing crew has come together and formally voted on their preseason All-Big Ten teams. Having already released our pick for Big Ten Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, we’ll release the rest of our preseason projections later this week.

RTC All-Big Ten Third Team

Shavon Shields, junior, Nebraska 6’7”, 221 lbs. (12.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 44.3% FG). Terran Petteway is the obvious catalyst for the Huskers, but Shields, a Big Ten honorable mention selection last year, will be his primary sidekick. Standing at 6’7”, Shields can pose significant match-up problems at the two-guard spot. The Olathe, Kansas, native ranked 11th in the Big Ten in defensive rebounding last season, pulling down over four caroms per game while leading Nebraska with 5.8 boards per game. His ability to get to the basket is what makes him truly indispensible, while all his work on the boards from the wing positions are gravy.

Shavon Shields Leads the RTC Big Ten Preseason Third Team  (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Shavon Shields Leads the RTC Big Ten Preseason Third Team (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Rayvonte Rice, senior, Illinois 6’4”, 230 lbs. (15.9 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.66 SPG). Rice made waves in his first season of play at Illinois (he redshirted the 2012-13 campaign due to NCAA transfer rules), leading the team in points and pulling down 210 rebounds, just one shy of the team high. Rice will be counted on even more this season after Tracy Abrams was lost for the season with a knee injury. If Rice can improve upon his three-point percentage (29.5%), he’ll be a far more dangerous player this season. Pairing a solid long-range game with his size, strength and overall toughness would serve the Illini well come postseason crunch time.

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

Posted by Walker Carey on March 22nd, 2014

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

Three Key Takeaways.

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

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

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

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

Posted by Walker Carey on March 16th, 2014

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

Three Key Takeaways.

MSU is Playing Like the Spartans We All Expected

MSU is Playing Like the Spartans We All Expected

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

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Big Ten M5: 03.07.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 7th, 2014

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  1. Indiana more than likely saw their already slim NCAA Tournament hopes dashed by losing to Nebraska 70-60 on Wednesday night. Despite some flashes of quality play in some of their impressive wins they have gotten at home, this has really been a puzzling team to figure out through most of the season. Mediocre is a strong word to use for a team that lost two NBA lottery picks and two other senior starters, yet still has a 17-13 record. Inconsistent and unpredictable might be more apt terms to describe the 2013-14 Hoosiers. Their poor non-conference schedule hasn’t done them any favors as far as their resume goes, and it’s also lead to a team not being prepared for Big Ten play.
  2. Minnesota unexpectedly is losing a player who started 23 of their 30 games this season. Oto Osenieks is ending his basketball career after it was determined that a knee injury that he’s had multiple surgeries on simply is too damaged for him to continue on. Joey King has taken over the starting power forward spot, so look for he and Charles Buggs to continue getting the majority of the minutes at that spot.
  3. Ohio State faces a crucial test Sunday afternoon when they take on Michigan State. The game is significant because it’s Senior Day for Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. But Shannon Scott says that it’s more important to get the win “to get (us) into the best situation we can for the tournament.” Scott also said in the interview that he likes his role coming off the bench due to the fact that he can “fit in where (he) can and figure out what the team needs at the time and try and do it.” With Keith Appling of Michigan State having his best game in quite some time last night against Iowa, the Buckeyes will need big efforts from both Craft and Scott on Sunday night to make Senior Day a memorable one.
  4. Michigan’s sophomore class- especially Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, Glenn Robinson III, and the injured Mitch McGary- garner most of the headlines and publicity for the recently-crowned Big Ten regular season champions. But you can’t overlook the contributions of freshmen Derrick Walton Jr, and Zak Irvin. They both have showed much more consistency as the season has gone along, and Coach John Beilein believes their improvement has been the key to turning things around after a shaky non-conference part of their season. Both have had played really well and they have both blended in seamlessly as the season has gone along. Michigan has had some outstanding players make substantial jumps between their first and second seasons in Ann Arbor, and if this trend continues, Walton and Irvin will be Big Ten mainstays for as long as they are donning the maize and blue.
  5. Switching over to the other Michigan school in the league, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling played their last game in East Lansing for Michigan State last night when they beat Iowa 86-76. The pair are victims of the program’s past success, as they and fellow senior Dan Chapman will have been the first senior class under Tom Izzo to have not played in a Final Four. It hardly seems fair that many will view their time with the program to have been unsuccessful unless they advance four spots into the bracket without taking a loss. The Spartans took a small step toward that goal however by impressively beating the Hawkeyes. Appling looked to be much more comfortable, and if he really is healthy finally, this team can be just as good as everyone thought in the preseason.
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Some Key Questions Heading into Minnesota vs. Michigan

Posted by Brendan Brody and Alex Moscoso on March 1st, 2014

Minnesota traveling to Ann Arbor for a rematch with Michigan highlights the slate of the games this weekend in the Big Ten. There is a great deal on the line for both teams, as the Gophers look to pick up what would be an enormous resume boost that would come from beating the league’s first place team in their building. Michigan would inch that much closer toward picking up at least a share of the Big Ten regular season crown with a victory. RTC’s Big Ten correspondents Brendan Brody and Alex Moscoso  look at some of what to watch for if you’re tuning in (BTN 6:oo EST).

Jordan Morgan must keep Elliott Eliason off the glass Saturday when Michigan plays Minnesota. (Adam Hunger, Getty Images).

Jordan Morgan must keep Elliott Eliason off the glass Saturday when Michigan plays Minnesota. (Adam Hunger, Getty Images).

Brendan Brody: Michigan showed how dangerous they can be when they hit threes and play at a quicker tempo in their last win over Iowa. Does Michigan try and run with them, or do they try and play at a slower pace?

Alex Moscoso: I’ve coached exactly zero minutes of organized basketball, but it would seem to me that deviating from what you do best is a recipe for disaster. And what Michigan does best is offense. Granted, Minnesota has also shown it’s at its best when they are getting up and down the court-relying on the sharpshooting of Andre Hollins and Deandre Mathieu’s ability to get to the rim. However, if I was John Beilein, I would be ecstatic if Minnesota wanted to get in a track meet with his squad on Saturday. Michigan scores more efficiently (1.21 to 1.14 points per possession), shoots the ball better (55.2% to 51.4% eFG), and virtually runs the same pace as the Gophers (63 to 64.7 adjusted tempo). The question may be, are the Gophers going to be able to run with Michigan. I mentioned Hollins earlier, and he clearly hasn’t been the same since hurting his ankle against Wisconsin. How can Minnesota still win this game if Hollins isn’t effective offensively?

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Big Ten M5: 02.20.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on February 20th, 2014

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  1. The Big Ten may not have a freshman who is as heralded as the numerous national ones like Tyler Ennis, Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and the others. Still, there have been plenty of impact rookies to talk about, including a likely top 10 pick should Indiana’s Noah Vonleh leave for the draft. The Big Ten Geeks took a look at the conference’s Freshman of the Year race, essentially narrowing it down to the trio of Vonleh, Michigan’s Derrick Walton Jr. and Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes. It’s hard to argue against those three being the best, although Illinois’ Kendrick Nunn has been impressive too. Overall, the Geeks give Vonleh the slight edge and I would agree with them unless Michigan wins the Big Ten title. If the Wolverines finish the season on top, it would be tough to argue against Walton given how much he has turned up his play in conference action. He is the biggest reason this team has responded so well to loss of Mitch McGary and overcome Nik Stauskas’ recent scoring slide.
  2. Everyone knows letdown games occur, but it is extremely rare to have a player candidly admit as much. Michigan State‘s Matt Costello did just that when discussing the Spartans’ recent struggles against Nebraska, and his candor is refreshing. Michigan State losing at home to a Cornhuskers team that had been dismal on the road was certainly a shocker, and the fact that Costello (and maybe in turn the rest of the team) didn’t respect Nebraska appears to have been a contributing factor. Outsiders can look to injuries as well, but this team has overcome injuries all season long. A lackadaisical attitude was the bigger factor and we’ll see if they learned to not overlook an opponent when the Spartans go to Mackey Arena to face Purdue tonight.
  3. Michigan has had plenty of players raise their games in Big Ten play, and recently it has been Caris Levert who has stepped up as the Wolverines’ scoring leader over the last five games. He has proven to have no problem attacking the basket to create his own shot while drawing the foul or stepping outside to shoot the three. Michigan will need to continue getting solid contributions from Levert with its massive intrastate rivalry game against Michigan State coming up this weekend. Also of note in this article — John Beilein discusses the Olympics and the sport of curling. Who doesn’t like curling?
  4. The postponement of the Iowa vs. Indiana game following a beam falling on Tuesday night was certainly a scary situation. It is very fortunate that it happened when no one was in the arena, but with the Indiana women at home last night, it appears the Hoosiers will still be able to host the Hawkeyes later this season. The question is when will it happen and how the team will respond? Tom Crean says it is just a matter of adjusting to changing circumstances and being ready to play no matter what. The two schools will still have another day to schedule the game before the Big Ten is obligated to step in and schedules it for them.
  5. Wisconsin has plenty of players that contribute every game, but this is news it certainly did not want to see. Senior guard Ben Brust left practice yesterday after he was hit from behind and knocked down. The injury appears to be to his back and he is currently listed as day-to-day. The Badgers have likely clinched an NCAA Tournament berth barring a complete collapse, but with a game at Iowa coming that could have big seeding implications, this injury is certainly not good news. Brust isn’t just a good scoring threat for the Badgers, but he is also one of the best leaders on Bo Ryan’s team. Not having him in a raucous Carver-Hawkeye Arena over the weekend could be a daunting task for the Badgers.
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Big Ten M5: 2.13.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on February 13th, 2014

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  1. It’s never easy having everyone’s eyes on you every time you play. Michigan State‘s Gary Harris has certainly had this coming into this season as a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate on a national championship contending team. After his worst performance of the season against Wisconsin he admitted part of his up-and-down play can be directly attributed to the pressure that comes with being in the spotlight. It’s an interesting perspective to hear Harris realize coming back would make it harder and some of the sacrifices he made this season, including not using Twitter. Harris hasn’t been as “great” as anticipated, but the expectations for a phenomenal player to take a big jump were unfair. It’s rare, if not impossible, for a player near the top of the college game last season to make an even bigger jump this year. He may not be the national player of the year, but his player overall has still been more than solid. Don’t expect that to change.
  2. It isn’t new a story. Ohio State‘s offense struggles. It’s become repetitive, but that doesn’t make it any less harmful for the Buckeyes. Once again in the loss to Michigan Tuesday night Ohio State had a terrible offensive night in every facet that cost it the recent momentum it had gained. In the loss the offense was struggling even more than normal, hitting only 11 field goals after the 13:35 mark of the first half. Even more troubling is that three of those came in the final few minutes when Michigan had built a lead that basically had the game out of reach. For the Buckeyes to win, everyone knows what matters. During its recent win streak the team shot 42 percent. In its losing streak earlier in Big Ten play and against Michigan, it was well under the mark.
  3. On the other side Ohio State-Michigan game was the play of Wolverines freshmen Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin. The two had plenty of struggles early in the season, enough that Michigan went from a preseason top 10 team to some wondering if it would make the NCAA Tournament. Since conference play start, though, the two have turned it on and continued that last night. They combined for 23 points against Ohio State to give Michigan its first win since 2003 at Ohio State, when they were 8-years-old. It’s obvious the Wolverines recent uptick in play has come from the freshmen starting to play up to their preseason hype. It may have take some time but with them playing like this Michigan will be in the thick of the NCAA Tournament race once again in March.
  4. Minnesota stopping its three-game losing streak with a win against Indiana was huge. The conference appears headed to six bids and with both teams on the bubble it put them on the inside track. Now, it appears the Golden Gophers need to reach 9-9 in the conference to get themselves in and the rest of the schedule makes this possible. It seems simple for Minnesota right now, realistically, looking at the schedule. It needs to beat the three teams not considered tournament teams in Illinois, Northwestern and Penn State. Out of the other four games, it needs to win at least one to be on the bubble and two likely guarantees it is in. The path is there, the Golden Gophers just need to capitalize.
  5. The past few weeks haven’t been the easiest for Wisconsin‘s Sam Dekker. His scoring percentage took a little bit of a drop as the Badgers started losing some games. For him, it just took thinking back to his dad’s comments to get back on track. Good thing he had that to think of as he got back on track and is now leading the Badgers to victories again. This leadership role is something important for the sophomore as he has had to learn to speak up and take charge, especially as the team began to falter. With a challenging three game stretch coming up at home against Minnesota and then on the road at Michigan and Iowa, Wisconsin needs Dekker to continue to lead and listen to his dad now more than ever.
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Big Ten M5: 02.06.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on February 6th, 2014

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  1. Michigan certainly responded well to its first Big Ten loss last night by simply crushing Nebraska. The Wolverines have come back well from adversity in general since conference play started, and a lot of that has to do with Derrick Walton Jr.‘s progression. The freshman point guard started the season slowly, but since Big Ten play began he has seen his scoring rise by nearly three points per game while reducing his turnovers. His jumper and decision-making have also improved dramatically as he has grown more accustomed to the college game. His play down the stretch needs to continue this way, and if it does, Michigan will remain in contention for the Big Ten title against bitter rival Michigan State.
  2. The dark horse status that many gave to Penn State coming into this season didn’t start out so well. The Nittany Lions are now on a three-game winning streak, however, thanks to plenty of impressive numbers. Some of the most notable statistics include that of Brandon Taylor, who in the winning streak has averaged 15 points per game and 46.7 percent from three-point range, and 20.0 PPG for DJ Newbill. With a tough test at Michigan State coming tonight, Penn State will need both players to continue their recent strong play. The Lions are unlikely to win in East Lansing, of course, but if Penn State stays close with Sparty it sends a message to the rest of a muddled Big Ten that this team will compete the rest of the way.
  3. There were multiple reasons for Wisconsin‘s recent skid. One prominent reason was Sam Dekker struggling offensively, but he seems to have came out of his slump after hitting 4-of-7 three-pointers against Illinois. While Wisconsin has plenty of players who can score and take over the game when needed, Dekker’s impact as a versatile forward is extremely important. The Badgers are much more effective when Dekker can exploit the match-up issues he causes by bombing away from the outside. For a team relying so much more on its offense this season, Bo Ryan’s team needs its star to make sure his struggles are completely done.
  4. If you wanted 55 minutes of, well, uninspiring basketball, then Purdue‘s triple-overtime win over Minnesota last night was a real treat. The Boilermakers got the victory despite nearly giving it away with multiple missed free throws in regulation and the first two overtimes. Part of this problem is the Boilermakers’ stark lack of leadership and that its best leader, Travis Carroll, rarely sees action. Carroll does his job well, working against AJ Hammons in practice and playing hard when called upon. But even if Purdue lacks a more productive on-court senior leader, there has been time for some of the underclassmen to mature and take over those duties. Plenty of teams rely on young talent to not only be competitive but win conference and national titles. Matt Painter needs to find his on-court leadership somewhere or there will be more games like last night where the Boilermakers nearly blow what appeared to be an assured win.
  5. Ohio State certainly needed things to start going well again. With a pair of wins against Wisconsin and Iowa this week, it appears the Buckeyes got the morale boost and confidence that they desired. It came at a critical time for Ohio State, too. With a few more losses, what seemed like a team competing for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament could have quickly found itself on the bubble. The players’ comments after beating Iowa seems to bear out that they believe they will win the close games coming down the stretch. For a team that relies so heavily on its defense, the confidence to believe it will score late in close games is absolutely crucial.
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Otskey’s Observations: Episode X

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on January 29th, 2014

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

Michigan Proving the Doubters Wrong

No team in America had a better month of January than the Michigan Wolverines. Since the calendar flipped to 2014, Michigan has reeled off seven consecutive wins to start Big Ten play and has won nine straight since a two-point home loss to No. 1 Arizona on December 14. Of those seven wins, an astounding four have come on the road in ridiculously tough environments. Seriously, who wins at Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan State in just over a three-week span? Michigan has established itself as a Big Ten contender with a pretty favorable schedule the rest of the way. How have the Wolverines done it? Offense. Believe it or not, Michigan’s 2013-14 adjusted offensive efficiency is greater than the number posted by last year’s Trey Burke-led squad that reached the national championship game. A lot of that can be attributed to the increase in fouls called this season, but it is impressive nonetheless. The Wolverines are shooting the ball fantastically, putting up at least 71 points in all but one of their Big Ten games. Derrick Walton Jr.’s growth has been fun to watch, encapsulated in the and-one that essentially won the game at Michigan State last Saturday. Nik Stauskas’ game speaks for itself and he should be in the running for the National Player of the Year award. Yes, national. (Side note: I love how a guy like Stauskas can back up his trash talk and swag with his game on the court. There are some guys who just run their mouths for the heck of it but Stauskas actually backs it up on the floor. I have no problem with that whatsoever.) Glenn Robinson III has emerged as a steady presence and a fairly reliable scorer behind Stauskas, something that needed to happen for Michigan to take the next step.

Nik Stauskas is leading the way for the red-hot Michigan offense. (USA TODAY Sports)

Nik Stauskas is leading the way for the red-hot Michigan offense. (USA TODAY Sports)

I am a bit concerned about Michigan’s defense which is allowing an adjusted 105.3 points per 100 possessions in Big Ten play, good for eighth in a 12-team league. The Wolverines’ interior defense is not good at all and that’s the place where they miss Mitch McGary the most. That said, all the talk about McGary having such a negative effect on this team was a bunch of hot air from the media who became obsessed with him after last year’s NCAA Tournament. The fact is McGary bogged down Michigan’s offense (without Trey Burke feeding him) in addition to being not 100 percent healthy. We’ve seen the results without him and you cannot tell me Michigan isn’t better. Michigan has been criminally underrated all year long because of the McGary injury combined with a few close losses to very good teams. May I remind you of what I wrote in this very column a week before Christmas. Michigan has always been a factor and it has hit its stride against a strong schedule. The Wolverines are here to stay but really, they never went anywhere. Michigan has been at least top 20 good all year long, now it is a top 10 caliber team.

Do Not Sleep on Louisville

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Big Ten M5: 01.14.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 14th, 2014

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  1. Injuries have plagued Michigan State throughout the season and have affected some of their most important players, including Gary Harris, Branden Dawson, and Adreian Payne. Payne did not play in Saturday’s win against Minnesota because of a nagging ankle injury. Now, Tom Izzo says he will keep his star big man on the bench until he’s 100 percent healthy. Michigan State has managed to keep winning despite its health misfortunes, but if this keeps being an issue, it could affect their chances of a Big Ten title and a protected seed in the NCAA Tournament. Sadly, this would deprive us of seeing the full potential of one of the better teams Izzo has put together during his tenure, a loss for fans of Big Ten basketball.
  2. It has not been the best of weeks for Ohio State. The Buckeyes are on a two-game losing skid after dropping games at Michigan State (in overtime) and at home versus Iowa. If the Buckeyes are to end this streak and insert themselves back into the Big Ten championship conversation, they’ll need to do it with their elite defense. LaQuinton Ross has been unable to replace last season’s Big Ten scoring leader, Deshaun Thomas (19.8 PPG), as many had projected. So the Buckeyes are left with focusing on their top-ranked defense (0.87 points per possession) to shore up their offensive inefficiencies. They failed to do this in the last two games when they gave up 0.96 and 1.14 points per possession, respectively, against the Spartans and Hawkeyes.
  3. Tom Crean‘s team isn’t where he hoped it would be at this point in the season. Indiana is 1-2 in conference play and 11-5 overall with no signature wins on its midseason resume. Things aren’t about to get any easier as an undefeated Wisconsin visits Assembly Hall tonight. Crean had high praise for Bo Ryan‘s squad on Monday: “I have tremendous respect for that program. That’s what a great team looks like. I think you can start with Bo, and that’s what a great coach looks like.” The Indiana head man has been at the receiving end of Ryan’s ‘greatness’ over the years, as he is 3-14 all-time in games against Ryan (0-10 while at Indiana). Given how the Badgers have been blowing out their lesser opponents, Crean will have to do one heck of a coaching job for his Hoosiers to earn his first Big Ten win over Ryan.
  4. Once the announcement came that Mitch McGary would opt to undergo back surgery and effectively end his season, most thought Michigan would struggle and might even fall apart. At least so far, the Wolverines have been able to tread water competently and are currently sit at 3-0 in the Big Ten. A big reason has been the aggressive play of freshman Derrick Walton, Jr., who had the tough duty of replacing last year’s National Player of Year, Trey Burke. Burke was a facilitator who made everyone on the team better, while Walton has focused more on getting his own shot because that is what his team needs right now. On the last possession of last Thursday’s game against Nebraska, Walton drove the ball for an and-one that secured the win. No one is expecting Michigan to compete for a Big Ten title this season, but Walton’s newfound confidence will keep the Wolverines competitive and set them up for high expectations next season.
  5. If you happened to catch Sunday night’s game of Illinois at Northwestern, you probably wished you had watched the Golden Globes instead, or even the Yule-Log channel. The Wildcats won an awkward, hard-to-watch, 49-43 affair where both teams shot below 40 percent from the field. While the game certainly didn’t help the overall brand of college basketball, it did get Northwestern’s first-year head coach, Chris Collins, his first Big Ten win. His father, former NBA head coach Doug Collins, was in Welsh-Ryan arena and was able to share the nice moment with him. It was a big moment in his early coaching career and is another step in the right direction for the rebuilding process in Evanston.
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Big Ten M5: 01.08.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 8th, 2014

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  1. Bronson Koenig came to Wisconsin despite having offers from Duke, North Carolina and Virginia. Needless to say, he had a decent amount of hype attached to his game, but he hasn’t made a huge impact yet despite some good moments in his 14 games of action. One of the biggest things he’s dealing with in Bo Ryan’s offense is knowing when to score and when to pass. Koenig doesn’t really need to do much more than what he’s doing right now, however, on a team with veterans Ben Brust, Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson ahead of him in the rotation. He provides the Badgers with a someone to play 10 to 15 minutes per game at either the point or on the wing, and the experience he gains this season will pay off much more next year after Brust graduates.
  2. Purdue is in trouble after an 0-2 start that saw the Boilermakers give up 78 points to an offensively challenged Ohio State team and 82 points to Minnesota on Sunday. One of the major catalysts to their struggles has been the defensive end of the floor. Minnesota hit 11-of-24 shots from behind the arc, and Purdue does not rank higher than eighth in the B1G in scoring defense, three-point defense, field goal defense and defensive rebounding. This goes against the blueprint that Matt Painter laid out in the early part of his tenure in West Lafayette, where his teams were mostly known for their defensive intensity. The Boilermakers almost came back and beat Minnesota largely because of the late success of their defensive pressure, but they need to start performing for 40 minutes to get some wins in this difficult conference.
  3. Northwestern lost a transfer on Tuesday afternoon, as 7’2″ Chier Ajou has decided to pursue other opportunities. To date, Ajou had only played in one game and two minutes this season. This frees up a roster spot for next season when head coach Chris Collins can pick up someone who will make for a better fit in his system. It’s a credit to Collins that the transition over from Bill Carmody has gone relatively smoothly, with only two players (Ajou and Mike Turner) transferring so far.
  4. The play of Derrick Walton Jr. has mostly been up and down, but both Michigan head coach John Beilein and Walton himself seem to think that things will become easier for the freshman point guard. He has already cut down on his turnovers — with only six in the last five games — and it’s taken a while for him to learn the complexities of Beilein’s offense, but he is starting to get more comfortable. If Walton Jr. can at a minimum limit his turnovers and knock down an open jumper here and there, the Wolverines will be in decent shape at the point with he and Spike Albrecht splitting time there.
  5. Ohio State almost pulled off another thrilling comeback on Tuesday night, but instead lost its first game of the season to Michigan State in overtime, 72-68. The game showed much of what is already known about the Buckeyes. They are an elite defensive team, especially at the guard spots, but they are still and probably will continue to be a mediocre offensive team. Just like in the Notre Dame game a few weeks ago, this comeback was essentially fueled with tremendous on-ball pressure that created turnovers. The Buckeyes got almost nothing in their half-court offense last night, and unless LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith can develop more consistency on this end of the floor (or Marc Loving morphs from potential superstar to superstar), this will be how it is all season for Thad Matta’s team.
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