Big Ten M5: 01.08.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 8th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  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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Otskey’s Observations: Episode VI

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on December 18th, 2013

Battle For Iowa Lived Up To Its Billing

For my money, the best game in recent days was Iowa State’s thrilling win over Iowa on Friday night at Hilton Coliseum. This game was the true essence of what college basketball is all about. It was a heated in-state rivalry between two quality teams in a crazy atmosphere, smack dab in the middle of a basketball-crazed state. It is simple: This was a fun game, period. Although Fred Hoiberg’s Cyclones came away victorious, you may be somewhat surprised to find out that my biggest impression taken from this game was just how good Iowa is. I actually thought the Hawkeyes were the better team for most of this contest. Don’t get me wrong, Iowa State played really well. After all, it beat a team I thought was very impressive so that should tell you something about the Cyclones as well. I thought Iowa had a terrific game plan and evidence of top-notch coaching and scouting was present throughout the game.

Devyn Marble

Devyn Marble and his mates were outstanding. But Iowa State was just a little bit better. (AP)

One specific example of great scouting came late in the first half when Roy Devyn Marble got in the middle of a dribble hand-off by Georges Niang and broke it up, leading to two Iowa points on the other end. Marble read the play perfectly and it paid off for his team. Fran McCaffery’s squad excelled in transition and got almost anything it wanted offensively on the low block with Aaron White leading the charge. Iowa ran some beautiful half-court sets that resulted in plenty of clean looks, especially for White and Marble. The Hawkeyes dominated the glass (but did not take full advantage of it) and answered the bell nearly every time Iowa State put together a charge, except for the final minute where it wound up costing them the game. Iowa simply didn’t make the plays it needed to win late, highlighted by Mike Gesell’s two missed free throws. McCaffery and his team can learn a lot from this game but in the end it is on the players to step up and lead down the stretch. Whether that’s Marble (most likely), White, Gesell, or someone else, Iowa needs someone to be “the man” in order to take the next step and contend at the very highest level in the Big Ten.

Michigan Back On Track?

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Big Ten M5: 12.18.13 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 18th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. The up-and-down early part of Derrick Walton Jr.‘s college career took another turn on Saturday in Michigan’s loss to Arizona. Walton only played 14 minutes and contributed one point, one assist, and one turnover. John Beilein still has faith in his rookie point guard, though, and he will still be the starter when the Wolverines take on Stanford on Saturday. The fact that Walton hasn’t quite been what Michigan has expected so far is minimized by the play of Spike Albrecht, though. There’s no Darius Morris or Trey Burke to lead the way, but Michigan still has a chance to go far in March if the combination of Albrecht and Walton Jr. can be effective.
  2. The success Wisconsin has had so far has been the story of the B1G so far, and maybe the biggest story nationally in the first six weeks of the season. The major reason for this success is, of course, the coaching talent of Bo Ryan. Ryan runs one of the unique programs in the country, mainly because he preaches and practices the same fundamentals that many other coaches tend to gloss over. This is why the running joke in the preseason every year seems to be to avoid placing Wisconsin lower than fourth no matter who his players are. Ryan’s system and attention to detail is probably worth 18-20 wins a season by itself, but now that he has it in place and the talent on this year’s unit, you can see why the Badgers are 12-0 and the number-one ranked team in the RPI.
  3. Penn State blew a golden opportunity on Saturday, as the Nittany Lions let Princeton come back from a 20- point deficit to beat them in overtime. This overshadowed the team’s return to its old on-campus arena, the Rec Center. The Nittany Lions got a tremendous turnout at the gate, and the game seemed to bring some excitement to a program that hasn’t always been that popular in the shadow of a formerly dominant football program. The biggest takeaway from this game and some of the other losses B1G teams suffered on Saturday was that the middle pack of the league is still wide open. Minnesota, Illinois, Penn State, Nebraska  and Purdue are all pretty equal, and the games when they play against each will go a long way to determining which teams go where in the postseason.
  4. Despite the success Indiana has enjoyed in the last two seasons and the success he had previously at Marquette, Tom Crean still has his fair share of critics. But the Hoosiers’ head coach was his own worst critic after Indiana lost to Notre Dame in Indianapolis on Saturday. Crean mainly thought his team did a poor job of getting the ball inside to center Noah Vonleh. The Hoosiers are not a great or even a good long-distance shooting team, and with a lack of great big men in the league, a renewed emphasis on pounding the ball inside will lead to better looks for shooters that need clean looks. The Notre Dame loss could serve as something of a wake-up call in terms of strategy and potentially turn the Hoosiers’ season around.
  5. Ohio State is winning, and they are winning with one of the best defensive teams in the country. One of its key contributors has been Shannon Scott, who along with fellow point guard Aaron Craft, is averaging over two steals per game. The Buckeyes have already had some notable defensive performances, highlighted by holding Marquette to 19 percent shooting from the field in its own building. On Saturday the Buckeyes held North Dakota State’s Marshall Bjorkland, the NCAA’s active field goal percentage leader, to a ‘mere’ 50 percent shooting, which is significantly less than his career mark of 66.6 percent. Defense is the primary reason why Ohio State is ranked second in the country and will have as good of a chance as any team in the B1G to cut down the nets in April.
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Five Big Ten Players Who Need to Increase Their Production

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 16th, 2013

Late last week we took a look at seven Big Ten players who have put forth surprising performances over the first month of the season, so now it’s time to check in on five more Big Ten players who need to start playing up to the expectations they were afforded in the preseason. These five players were candidates for preseason accolades by various pundits, but none has played all that well to this point. If their respective teams want to enjoy deep NCAA Tournament runs in March, they will need to contribute at a much higher level than they have so far. Luckily, there’s still plenty of time to turn things around. It’s only mid-December.

Gary Harris needs to get healthy and start producing if Michigan State wants to get to a Final Four.

Gary Harris needs to get healthy and start producing if Michigan State wants to get to the  Final Four.

  • Glenn Robinson III, Michigan (13.0 PPG, 9.3 FGA, 32.4% 3FG, 3.9 FTA). Many thought that Robinson would have a breakout 2013-14 campaign, but Michigan’s close home loss to #1 Arizona on Saturday was the first time all season he looked like he might — 20 points and four rebounds on 8-of-9 shooting. For the most part, he has spent way too many possessions standing still on the perimeter instead of looking to attack the basket. Saturday’s game might be a start, but Michigan as a whole seems to still be figuring things out with the departures of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr., but they need Robinson to play like a star if they want to come close to duplicating last year’s success.
  • Will Sheehey, Indiana (10.2 PPG, 1.7 APG, 21.4% 3FG). To his credit, Sheehey has been really good defensively this year. For example, he absolutely locked down spectacular shooter Travis Bader last Tuesday in the Hoosiers’ win over Oakland. Where he needs to get his mojo back is on the other end of the floor. It was expected by many analysts that Sheehey would be able to pick up a good deal of the scoring slack. And although he put together his best offensive game of the season over the weekend with 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting, he’s having a horrible season putting the ball in the hole. On many possessions he seems to end with either a missed easy layup or a blocked shot. His shooting percentage has dropped nearly four percent and the career mid-30 percent three-point shooter is nowhere near that mark this season. If Sheehey can improve his scoring average by three or four points per game on good shooting in league play,  Indiana will be in much better shape come March.

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It’s Time to Discuss If Michigan Was Overrated Coming Into the Season

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on November 29th, 2013

One game doesn’t prove anything is drastically wrong with a team, but after Michigan‘s 63-61 loss to Charlotte last weekend, the preseason top 10 team’s struggles have already raised some eyebrows. The Wolverines now sit at 4-2, which could have very easily been 3-3 given its comeback overtime win over Florida State in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, but the loss certainly exposed plenty of issues across the board against an inferior opponent (Pomeroy had the 49ers rated 196th coming into the game). Michigan was outrebounded, it only had eight assists, and shot only 30 percent from the field and 22 percent from three-point range in the loss. The two players who everyone expected to lead this team were dismal, with Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary combining for 10 points. Robinson was particularly rough, failing to connect on any shot in his nine minutes of playing time. Nik Stauskas continued his season-long strong play with 20 points, but Zak Irvin’s 3-of-14 effort offset anything Stauskas was able to do.

Glenn Robinson III has struggled out the gate for Michigan. (US Presswire)

Glenn Robinson III has struggled out the gate for Michigan. (US Presswire)

So the real question is to wonder how much is this cause for concern for a team most analysts had picked to be second or third in the Big Ten? Does the Charlotte loss represent just one really bad night or was Michigan overrated as a top-10 team after losing two NBA draft picks and the reigning Player of the Year in Trey Burke? The easy answer is yes to both questions. Michigan likely had a really bad collective night to cause the loss, but the Wolverines haven’t really shown yet this season that it deserved to be so highly touted. Read the rest of this entry »

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode II

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on November 20th, 2013

Is there anyone out there who still thinks Marcus Smart made a poor decision in returning to Oklahoma State for his sophomore season? Smart is the star player on a team capable of making the Final Four and showed last night that he’s taking his commitment to improve all aspects of his game seriously. Remember, Smart was just a 40 percent shooter overall last season and an anemic 29 percent from three-point land. His talent is obvious but fine-tuning those skills are imperative if he wants to be successful at the next level of basketball. Consider last night’s 39-point performance against an overwhelmed Memphis squad a terrific start. Smart and his Cowboys blitzed the Tigers from the opening tip while the OSU guard enjoyed perhaps the hottest 10-minute stretch of basketball I have ever seen. Smart still has to prove he can hit jumpers with regularity and work on making better decisions, but he made significant progress last night, despite some ill-advised, quick shots and a couple of poor passes. Don’t forget about him: College basketball is not just all about Wiggins, Parker and Randle.

Marcus Smart was terrific against Memphis last night.  (AP Photo).

Marcus Smart was terrific against Memphis last night. (AP Photo).

It was interesting to note that John Beilein benched freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. down the stretch of Michigan’s 77-70 loss at Iowa State on Sunday. Instead, Beilein went with sophomore Spike Albrecht at the point as the Cyclones managed to pull away and pick up a big win. Beilein is a highly-regarded coach but this was a questionable decision. In a November game in a tough environment, I’d prefer to see the freshman in there to get that experience, good or bad. Nobody is going to be Trey Burke so what’s the harm of seeing what your young point man can do in a pressure spot? Yes, Albrecht is still young too but Walton Jr. seems like the point guard of the future for the Wolverines. I don’t think this decision cost Michigan the game but it was something I noticed immediately. Beilein should have let it ride with his promising freshman in that situation.

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