Big Ten M5: 12.04.15 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on December 4th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. Riding a string of three straight losses, the wheels have predictably started to fall off at Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights got even worse news when head coach Eddie Jordan announced forward Deshawn Freeman will miss the next two weeks with a sore knee. It’s a tough blow for a team facing upcoming games against Seton Hall, George Washington and mid-major darling Monmouth in the next 17 days. The junior leads Rutgers in scoring (13.1 PPG) and field goal percentage (54.4 percent) while ranking second in rebounding (5.3 RPG).
  2. While the Big Ten tied or won its seventh straight Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Wednesday, Indiana’s abhorrent lack of defense was one of the Challenge’s biggest storylines. In a 94-74 loss to Duke, the Hoosiers allowed 1.52 points per possession while three Duke players posted an offensive rating of 160.0 or higher, per KenPom.com. The Blue Devils didn’t merely take advantage of a handful of bad matchups; they throttled a team that didn’t display much effort on defense all night. Since the start of last season, the Hoosiers have allowed at least 1.2 points per possession six separate times, and also allowed a terrible Alcorn State team to score 70 points against them on Monday.
  3. Perhaps the biggest win of the Challenge was Wisconsin’s 66-58 road victory at Syracuse. The Badgers’ offense isn’t nearly as efficient or high-scoring as it was the last two seasons, but freshman Ethan Happ’s 18-point, 15-rebound night is exactly what Bo Ryan’s team needs: a legitimate third scoring option to take some of the pressure off of Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes. Depth has been an issue as Wisconsin reboots its system this season, so Happ needs more performances like he had in the Carrier Dome. If Brevin Pritzl is ruled out for the season, the bench could be even shorter. He’s only played in just four minutes this season due to complications from a broken foot suffered in August and should learn his fate on Friday after undergoing additional tests.
  4. Despite its issues in the frontcourt, Michigan has shot the three-pointer well again this season. The Wolverines shoot 43.0 percent from three as a team, but Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton, Jr., and Duncan Robinson’s shooting numbers are the most impressive part. Robinson and Walton are each shooting over 60 percent from deep and have combined for 34 made threes on 55 attempts (62 percent). In Robinson’s last three games, he has made 14-of-20 three-point attempts. That makes LeVert’s own impressive 52 percent mark from beyond the arc seem rather insignificant. While these numbers won’t last all season, Michigan has proven it is capable of shooting its way to victory on any given night.
  5. We detailed Iowa’s depth on Wednesday, but Jarrod Uthoff’s fantastic start to the year shouldn’t be lost in the Hawkeyes’ deeper-than-expected offense. Uthoff ranks third in scoring in the Big Ten with 17.7 PPG, is second in blocked shots with 2.6 per game and is one of three players in the conference posting averages of at least 17 points and six rebounds per game (Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine and Ohio State’s Marc Loving are the others). His 8.1 percent turnover rate also ranks fifth in the conference. Don’t sleep on Uthoff — he’s playing like a shoo-in for First Team All-Big Ten.
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Finding Michigan’s Winning Formula In Spite of Frontcourt Troubles

Posted by Patrick Engel on November 30th, 2015

Michigan looked like the Michigan of old in a 78-72 win over Texas on Friday night, shooting 58 percent from the floor and scoring 1.26 points per possession. But in both losses to date this season — a loss last Wednesday to Connecticut and a November 20 loss to Xavier — Michigan struggled to rebound, score in the paint or find a reliable scorer outside of do-everything guard Caris LeVert. All of these were familiar struggles for those who watched much of Michigan’s 16-16 season last year. Here’s a closer look at Michigan’s first six games and the best way for the Wolverines to improve some of the maladies that appear to again ail them.

Caris LeVert needs consistency around him for Michigan to win consistently. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Caris LeVert needs consistency around him for Michigan to win consistently. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Let’s start with the team’s most obvious weakness: Michigan’s frontcourt has simply not been very good. There are several, but the most damning statistic is that no Wolverines’ big man is averaging more than 2.7 rebounds per game. To put this into perspective, Derrick Walton, Jr., Michigan’s 6’1″ point guard, has 14 more rebounds than any post player on the roster. Furthermore, Michigan’s offensive rebounding percentage comes in at just 25.8 percent (256th nationally, per KenPom.com). In the two losses that number was even lower — at 19.4 percent and 23.8 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, the Musketeers and Huskies posted respective offensive rebounding percentages of their own of 45.0 percent and 32.3 percent. The Wolverines had an easier time on the glass in wins against Charlotte, Elon and Northern Michigan, but none of those teams possess the length, size and athleticism that Xavier and Connecticut have; perhaps more importantly, none have the length, size and athleticism that Big Ten opponents will have.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten M5: 11.30.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 30th, 2015

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  1. Before the season started, Wisconsin was given the benefit of the doubt despite all of its personnel loses from the team a year ago. Things have not started out great for the Badgers, however, and they may have hit a new low on Sunday when they lost at Oklahoma by 17 after shooting a pedestrian 23.5 percent from the floor for the game. This has brought on some speculation as to whether Bo Ryan can get this year’s team rolling despite early struggles. If not, his string of top four finishes in Big Ten play, and a bid in the NCAA Tournament might be in jeopardy.
  2. Denzel Valentine has gotten the majority of the Michigan State publicity as the Spartans have rolled to a 7-0 start. But it can’t be ignored that Tom Izzo has one of the deepest rosters in the country. In their win in the Wooden Legacy Championship game Sunday night over Providence, the bench made a number of contributions to the win. Eron Harris was especially important, as the junior transfer from West Virginia made a number of key plays down the stretch. The potential for this team to get even better can be seen by the fact that Harris hasn’t been consistently good on offense yet. If he can get into a groove, this team could do some serious damage later on in the season.
  3. Having four seniors in your lineup makes the combination of playing a game at 9:00 AM local time and putting back-to-back losses in the rearview mirror a bit easier. Just ask Iowa, as the Hawkeyes shook off a disappointing start to the Advocare Invitational by beating Wichita State. The win was Fran McCaffery’s 100th career victory at the school. Iowa has more work to do in non-conference play, especially with a win over a depleted Wichita State team not looking particularly strong right now. Credit McCaffery and the senior leaders for being ready to play and gaining something from the event.
  4. Indiana is off to a staggering start this year in the turnover department. With some blown opportunities to pick up key non-conference wins in Maui, the Hoosiers need a quality win against Duke desperately. Tom Crean saw a silver lining in diagnosing what went wrong in islands, in that the problems with the offensive miscues came from “trying to make plays that weren’t there for others.” It did seem like the Hoosiers were trying too hard to play fast in their 1-2 trip to Hawaii. They were almost trying to make too many passes at times. This is an elite offense when they don’t turn the ball over, so it will be interesting to see what they can do on Wednesday night against the Blue Devils.
  5. Michigan started their trip to the Battle 4 Atlantis with a loss, but they ended the trip 2-1 after destroying Charlotte, and then hanging on against Shaka Smart and Texas Friday evening. The Maize and Blue are working in newcomers like Duncan Robinson and Moritz Wagner into the rotation, but holdovers like Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton Jr. made the key plays at the end of the Texas game when the Longhorns started to make a run. Michigan has to be given a pass with their three top players all coming off of either missing games last season, or having an injury in the off season. They could be a much better team once everyone regains full health, so starting 4-2 isn’t too shabby.
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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 3rd, 2015

In a league defined by chaos this season, last weekend was fairly uneventful and arguably almost normal. There were no upsets, although there were a couple close calls as an undermanned Illinois squad had to sweat it out against Penn State at home, while Rutgers hung with Indiana thanks to the heroics of Myles Mack. Michigan State needed overtime to knock off a gritty Michigan team that once again was without the services of point guard Derrick Walton Jr. Meanwhile, Minnesota avenged an earlier loss to Nebraska by forcing an obscene 20 turnovers and holding the Cornhuskers to just 42 points. It would be obscene not to read the rest of this, so here’s the best and worst of weekend number five in the B1G.

Maurice Walker was unstoppable in the post in Minnesota's 60-42 victory over Nebraska on Saturday. (Ben Garvin, Pioneer Press)

Maurice Walker was unstoppable in the post in Minnesota’s 60-42 victory over Nebraska on Saturday. (Ben Garvin, Pioneer Press)

  • Player of the Weekend: Maurice Walker essentially stole Walter Pitchford’s lunch money, gave him a swirly, and then forged a note making fun of the teacher to get him in trouble. Cheesy elementary school metaphors aside, Walker was dominant on the low blocks for Minnesota, scoring at will on his way to a 19-point effort on 7-of-10 shooting from the field. The rest of the Gophers’ offense was nonexistent for most of the contest, so give the guards credit for pounding the ball inside to him. The fifth-year senior also added eight rebounds, two blocks and three steals. Minnesota is great at taking the ball away ( 14.8% steal rate, third nationally), but Walker is actually fourth in the Big Ten with a steal rate of 3.99 percent. He has really quick hands and does a nice job poking the ball away from post players without fouling. He had three first-half steals in this game as Nebraska coughed the ball up a total of 14 times before halftime.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: Tom Crean wasn’t happy with the way Indiana had been playing, so he shook things up a bit on Saturday against Rutgers. The change meant that Troy Williams –– despite the fact that he’s had a really good season with some outstanding performances — came off of the bench. He had some silly turnovers but the sophomore also contributed a double-double in the form of 14 points and 10 rebounds. He scored on his usual array of drives and dunks, but one thing slightly unique about this performance was that he was led the break after grabbing a defensive rebound. This led to a faster break out in transition, and it also gave the Hoosiers an ability to have Yogi Ferrell spot up on the perimeter with the rest of the shooters. Don’t expect Williams to become a point forward  at Indiana anytime soon, but this was a neat look that takes advantage of Williams’ outstanding ability in the open court while giving Ferrell more looks.

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Big Ten Post-Super Bowl Reset

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 3rd, 2015

New England knocked off Seattle in one of the most thrilling Super Bowls of the last 20 years on Sunday night. Ohio State shocked the world in the first-ever College Football Playoff by barely making the field and then defeating the two favorites. All of you pigskin- obsessed sports fans now have a clear void in your life until next August. Have no fear, though, as Big Ten basketball is the elixir for your post-football withdrawal. Here’s a quick look at what’s happened through the first couple months of the regular season to get you up to speed.

Frank Kaminsky (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky Has Played Like an All-American This Year (Getty)

  • Wisconsin’s Dominance: If the last time you checked in with Wisconsin was while watching last year’s Final Four, you’ll find that the Badgers have shown that they have all the pieces in place to make a return trip. Bo Ryan’s team has only suffered two losses (to Duke and Rutgers) en route to a 19-2 overall mark (7-1 Big Ten), and the most efficient offensive team in America boasts likely Big Ten Player of the Year (and All-American), Frank Kaminsky. The Badgers are currently missing point guard Traveon Jackson with an injury until the end of the month, but Bronson Koenig has stepped in admirably and there’s a realistic chance the Badgers are headed for a 17-1 Big Ten record and a #1 NCAA Tournament seed.

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Big Ten M5: 02.03.15 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on February 3rd, 2015

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  1. Injured Illinois players Rayvonte Rice and Aaron Cosby were suspended by head coach John Groce on Saturday, just hours before the Illini’s match-up with Penn State. Cosby, who is currently sitting out after suffering a retinal tear to his left eye, was recently medically cleared to practice, while Rice had been participating in non-contact drills. Groce said that the two weren’t ready to play, and Bryce Smith of The Champaign Room hopes that the suspensions were due to minor transgressions such as the pair not working out while they were injured – but Groce has declined to mention specifics. If Rice and Cosby miss any more games than they otherwise would have with their injuries, though, the Illini, 4-5 in Big Ten play, are in serious trouble.
  2. Iowa has now lost three games in a row, but Aaron White claims the Hawkeyes are just as confident as they were before their recent skid. They’ve dropped to 4-4 in Big Ten play and will head to Ann Arbor on Thursday for a crucial game with Michigan before hosting Maryland on Sunday. Those are arguably two of the toughest games left on Iowa’s schedule, as the subsequent eight teams have a combined winning percentage of 31.9 percent in league play. In comparison, Iowa’s first 10 Big Ten opponents had a combined league winning percentage of 63.3 percent. The Hawkeyes aren’t where they thought they would be at this point of the season, but they shouldn’t be panicking yet either.
  3. Joe Lunardi released his latest version of Bracketology on Monday, tabbing six Big Ten teams into the field (Wisconsin, Maryland, Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Iowa) while dropping Michigan and Purdue into the “next four out” section. Michigan stands to gain the most ground in the final month of the regular season, but the Wolverines will face one of the toughest remaining schedules in the Big Ten. KenPom predicts that the team will lose six of its final eight games, but keep in mind this is a group that’s playing without star Caris LeVert and is devoting a ton of minutes to its freshmen. Those newcomers played well in Michigan’s weekend loss to Michigan State, but according to John Beilein, they ‘panicked’ in the final minutes. The key is that they’re improving and could surprise enough teams in February to eventually land a coveted spot in the Big Dance.
  4. The Wolverines will also be without Derrick Walton Jr. for the “foreseeable future,” according to Beilein. Walton has both a sore foot and a strained toe but does not require surgery at this point. His injury makes Michigan’s already brutal final stretch even tougher – and it forces the formerly redshirted sophomore Andrew Dakich into a more substantial role. Dakich unselfishly burned his redshit in order to play in a reserve role for the injury-laden Wolverines, sacrificing a year of eligibility to give Michigan’s guards some occasional rest. He received 16 minutes of play on Sunday, though, and will likely see plenty more with Walton remaining on the shelf.
  5. Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell is dominating the Big Ten Freshman of the Week awards this season, earning the honor for the third consecutive week and fifth time overall on Monday. Russell was unsurprisingly crucial in the Buckeyes’ win over Maryland last week, grabbing 18 points, 14 rebounds and dishing six assists. There is no doubt that the rookie will be a high pick in this summer’s NBA Draft – DraftExpress.com recently projected him as the No. 2 overall pick as he has progressively moved up the list. Buckeye nation should cherish what it has, says Doug Lesmerises of Cleveland.com, arguing that Russell is a star who can elevate a program to new heights. The unfortunate part is that his surrounding cast has let him down multiple times this season, but for Russell to truly shine on the national stage of March Madness, he will need the rest of the squad to pick up some slack.
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Big Ten Point Guard Title Belt: Update #1

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 28th, 2015

On January 10, the B1G point guard title belt was introduced in an effort to determine (unofficially) which player is the best floor general in the league. Since then, a series of injuries and inconsistent play have resulted in the mythical belt already changing hands four times. Volatility is enhanced by the fact that one-game sample sizes lend themselves to frequent changes, but only one player has been able earn the belt and keep it. Here’s a brief rundown on how the belt changed hands over the past couple of weeks and which point guard presently holds the title.

After taking over the primary point guard responsibilities from the injured Traveon jackson, Bronson Koenig has been solid. (AP)

After taking over the primary point guard responsibilities from the injured Traveon jackson, Bronson Koenig has been solid. (AP)

  • January 10: Michigan 62, Minnesota 57. In his first game as the belt-holder, Minnesota’s Deandre Mathieu struggled to the tune of a disastrous individual offensive rating of 30.0 — going scoreless and turning the ball over five times in 29 minutes. Meanwhile, Michigan’s Derrick Walton, Jr went 3-of-4 from behind the arc en route to a 15-point performance. The sophomore only notched three assists against two turnovers, but his 136.0 offensive rating was the highest on his team in the victory.
  • January 13: Ohio State 71, Michigan 52. Walton’s reign at the top was a short one, as Ohio State convincingly beat the Wolverines in their Super Tuesday match-up in Columbus. The Buckeyes’ Shannon Scott notched seven points and eight assists to go along with only one turnover, and even though he didn’t shoot the ball very well (3-of-9 from the field), he outplayed Walton, who posted a dismal offensive rating of 43.0 with two points (1-of-7 shooting) and two assists.

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Big Ten Sophomore Spotlight: Michigan’s Zak Irvin

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 23rd, 2015

Many sophomores in the Big Ten have a significantly greater role this season than they did as freshmen. That is to be expected, of course, as the offseason between their first and second years is often when players make their biggest strides in development. Some highly-recruited guys, however, continue to disappoint, while others who may not have been so highly regarded have by now become viable contributors for their teams. This series of posts is meant to check in on a few of the different sophomores in the league to determine whether they have improved and what it means for their teams going forward. Next up in the series is Michigan forward Zak Irvin.

Zak Irvin has to produce now more than ever with Caris LeVert done for the season due to an injury. (Leon Halip, Getty)

Zak Irvin has to produce now more than ever with Caris LeVert done for the season due to an injury. (Leon Halip, Getty)

  • 2013-14: 15.4 MPG, 6.7 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 0.2 SPG, 43.4% FG, 42.5% 3FG, 59.2% eFG, 19.4% Usage, 117.8 Offensive Rating
  • 2014-15: 34.6 MPG, 13.7 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 0.8 SPG, 39.6% FG, 35.9% 3FG, 48.4% eFG, 21.6% Usage, 100.6 Offensive Rating

Things just got real for Irvin. Caris LeVert is now out for the rest of the season with a foot injury, so in following the “next man up” theorem throughout sports when a superstar gets injured, all the signs point to Irvin as the new main option for the Wolverines. To this point in the season, however, Irvin’s play has to be considered a mild disappointment. His general offensive productivity has declined as he has significantly increased his minutes and shot attempts commensurate with the team’s focus. Like Michigan as a team, things started out pretty well this season for the Indiana native, as he averaged 20.4 PPG on 43.4 percent shooting from deep in the first seven games of the season. Beginning with the Wolverines’ catastrophic loss to NJIT, however, his numbers dropped to 11.3 PPG on 30.8 percent shooting from three. Five of his first seven games exhibited offensive ratings above 100, but he has only managed to hit that number three times in his last 12 outings. He has somewhat made up for it in Big Ten play with better rebounding (4.7 RPG), and getting to the free throw line (3.4 FTA), but Irvin is on the floor to make shots from the perimeter, which he hasn’t been doing nearly enough lately.

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Caris LeVert’s Injury Could be Season-Ending for Michigan Too

Posted by Eric Clark on January 19th, 2015

Michigan head coach John Beilein is an outstanding head coach, and if he can lead his current group of Wolverines back to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth consecutive season, he should be dubbed a miracle worker. In Saturday’s 56-54 win over Northwestern, Beilein lost his best player, junior Caris LeVert, for the remainder of the season after he suffered an injury to his left foot. LeVert had surgery on the same foot last May and will undergo another operation on it this week.

Caris LeVert suffered a season-ending foot injury in Michigan's 56-54 win over Northwestern (Gregory Shamus, Getty).

Caris LeVert suffered a season-ending foot injury in Michigan’s 56-54 win over Northwestern (Gregory Shamus, Getty).

LeVert’s injury is devastating to Michigan’s already-slim chances of making the NCAA Tournament, as the junior leads the team in scoring (14.9 PPG), rebounding (4.9 RPG) and steals (1.8 SPG). His experience, on-court leadership and productivity are virtually irreplaceable for a program that has lost so much talent in the last two years. Junior Spike Albrecht along with sophomores Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. will now be asked to pick up the scoring slack, but they’ll have more to worry about than just getting buckets. LeVert played in 89.3 percent of Michigan’s minutes this year and carries a team-high 24.7 percent usage rate. Finding a new offensive rhythm will prove difficult for the rest of the team, especially with the injury coming in the midst of the Big Ten season.

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Introducing the Big Ten Point Guard Title Belt

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 8th, 2015

Point guard play has been the difference in many games involving Big Ten teams this season, but if fans who follow the league were asked to name its best floor general, several different answers would be given. Do you value a scoring guard like Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell or do you fancy a pass-first type like Ohio State’s Shannon Scott. Each team around the conference has a point guard who impacts the team’s bottom line by how or well or poorly they play on a given night, so how do you determine which player is the best? It’s a tricky question, but one that I’ve decided to tackle here. Per KenPom’s metrics, considering all point guards who have played at least 50.0 percent of their teams’ available minutes, there are 18 eligible Big Ten players. That group was then rank-ordered into five categories: free throw percentage; assist-to-turnover ratio; assist rate; effective field goal percentage; and steal rate.

Shannon Scott is one of the best point guards in the B1G, but is he the best?(AP)

Shannon Scott is one of the best point guards in the B1G, but is he the best?(AP)

These five metrics could arguably be tweaked or weighted by importance, but each represents a valuable commodity for someone who has the ball in his hands for a good portion of the game. Good point guards need to make free throws; they are expected to get their teammates involved; and they have to either be a capable shooter from behind the arc or get into the lane for high percentage shots. Defensively, a point guard needs to be able to pressure and irritate their assignments, and while steal rate isn’t a perfect indicator, individual defensive metrics are notoriously difficult to compare. Keeping in mind that statistics are only one part of the equation in evaluating players, after compiling the rankings, the top five came out as follows (in no particular order):

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