Can Michigan Survive This Storm?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 10th, 2014

Last weekend was not a good weekend for John Beilein’s Michigan team. Most notable among the afflicting issues was a ground-shaking loss to NJIT, the biggest upset by point spread (NJIT was a 24.5-point underdog) in college basketball in over seven years. If that wasn’t bad enough, Oregon and Syracuse both lost convincingly at home, rendering the Wolverine’s two biggest wins of the young season that much smaller. It was about as traumatizing as a December weekend can get for a Big Ten team in the Top 25, but come Monday, it was only the pain of the weekend that was over. We found out on Tuesday night that the mini-nightmare was in fact just beginning when the Wolverines sputtered to 42 points and yet another embarrassing home loss, this time to Eastern Michigan. The second loss was the lowest point total submitted by a Michigan team since the season finale in Beilein’s first season at the helm. With many things clearly unsettled and a trip to #3 Arizona on tap for this weekend, the Wolverines find themselves at a crossroads. Will this unsightly string of four days prove to be nothing more than a surprising blip on the radar, or is it the first sign of a team incapable of matching the standard set by its recent predecessors?

After A Weekend Loss To NJIT, Caris LaVert And Michigan Didn't Think Things Could Get Any Worse. They Did On Tuesday.

After A Weekend Loss To NJIT, Caris LaVert And Michigan Didn’t Think Things Could Get Any Worse. They Did On Tuesday. (AP)

At some point, personnel losses have to take their toll. In the last two offseasons, Michigan has waved goodbye to all five players who took to the Georgia Dome floor for the opening tip of the 2013 National Championship game. Trek Burke, Nik Stauskas, Tim Hardaway, Glenn Robinson, Mitch McGary: all gone, all with eligibility to spare. That gives the Wolverines more early entrants in the last two drafts than any other program in America, Kentucky included. Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton currently form a nice perimeter-based nucleus for Beilein’s squad, but there isn’t a program in America that wouldn’t feel the effect of those unplanned defections.

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Don’t Discount John Beilein’s Ability to Recharge the Michigan Offense

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on November 12th, 2014

Four years ago, John Beilein’s crew nearly took down Duke in the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 32 with Darius Morris and Tim Hardaway Jr. leading the way. The following year without Morris, Beilein inserted a precocious freshman named Trey Burke into the lineup and led the Wolverines to the top of the Big Ten. The following year he added three more freshmen into the starting lineup and improved to the point of a National Championship game appearance. Last year, when everybody thought the run was finally done and Beilein couldn’t keep up with lost personnel, the Wolverines were an implausible three-pointer away from a return trip to the Final Four. For the past four seasons, Michigan’s offense has ranked among the top 25 teams in the nation in offensive efficiency. Producing at least 1.1 points per possession over such a long period of time doesn’t occur by chance — it happens because of an open-minded approach to adjusting the offense to players’ strengths and controlled experimentation with the available personnel. While the Wolverines do not appear to be a Final Four favorite this season, discounting their chances to challenge Wisconsin for the league title is probably not a good idea.

The following are three reasons why Michigan should have an elite offense again this year:

Never underestimate John Beilein's ability to design an extremely potent offense.

Never underestimate John Beilein’s ability to design an extremely potent offense. (Getty)

  1. The Wolverines have plenty of long-range shooters. It shouldn’t be a news flash to Big Ten fans that Beilein’s teams consistently move the ball to find long-range shots — 35 percent of their field goal attempts last season came from beyond the arc. Last year alone, they hoisted a robust 700 threes between their top six scorers. Ball-handlers dribbling off screens and kicking the ball to to the corners is a signature play within Beilein’s offense. Burke ran it to find Stauskas two years ago. Stauskas ran the same play last year with Glenn Robinson and Derrick Walton. Walton will take over that baton this year and he will not lack for shooters. A Michigan small-ball lineup would include Spike Albrecht, Zak Irvin Caris Levert and Walton — all of these players shot at least 38 percent from distance a year ago. There will be plenty of shots from long-range and luckily the Wolverines have a bunch of guys who shoot pretty jumpers.
  2. Irvin could be an effective version of Hardaway. Irvin and Hardaway are both 6’6” and can pull up on a dime off the dribble to shoot a jumper. The knock against Hardaway was his poor shot selection, but the jury is still out on Irvin’s efficiency because he didn’t play enough minutes last season. If the sophomore doesn’t force shots, he has the talent to become a very good scorer in this league. He is big enough at the wing position to grab a couple of offensive boards per game and keep the defenses guessing. Beilein will definitely try to use him on pick-and-rolls with Walton because both of them are effective from the mid-range. If Irvin works well within the construct of Belein’s game plan, he could be a super sophomore.
  3. Robinson’s departure could lead to better overall efficiency. Robinson was extremely talented but was also consistently flat-footed and didn’t try to attack the basket enough. Instead, he often crippled the Wolverines’ offensive flow by hoisting ill-advised shots from the corner when he easily could have used the back-door cut instead. And despite shooting 147 three-pointers, he made only 31 percent of them, the worst such mark on the squad. Take those shots and distribute them across players such as Walton and Levert, each of whom tends to make better offensive decisions with the ball, and now you have an offense that could actually be more efficient than last season’s top-ranked group.
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Three Big Ten Point Guards Named to Cousy Watch List

Posted by Eric Clark on November 6th, 2014

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame released its watch list for the 2015 Bob Cousy Collegiate Point Guard of the Year Award on Tuesday, tabbing 36 players including junior Yogi Ferrell of Indiana, sophomore Derrick Walton Jr. of Michigan and freshman Melo Trimble of Maryland.  Michigan’s Trey Burke was the last Big Ten player to win the award, doing so after leading the Wolverines to a runner-up finish in the 2012-13 season. Prior to Burke, Illinois’ Dee Brown last nabbed the honor In the 2005-06 campaign. A list of 20 Cousy Award finalists will be released in early February, and that will be trimmed down to five lucky players in early March. The 2015 winner will be announced during Final Four week.

Derrick Walton will see an increased role in Michigan's offense in 2014-15.

Derrick Walton will see an increased role in Michigan’s offense in 2014-15.

As a sophomore, Ferrell led the Big Ten in three-pointers made per game (2.8) and was sixth in the Big Ten in assists per contest (3.9). On a roster that features no seniors, Ferrell’s effectiveness as a leader will be tested early and often, especially after the Hoosiers’ horrific offseason. Sophomore Devin Davis remains in the hospital after getting hit by a vehicle driven by freshman Emmit Holt, and sophomores Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson were suspended for failing drug tests. If Ferrell can handle the pressure and successfully guide Indiana through a tough non-conference slate that includes SMU, Pitt, Louisville, Butler and Georgetown, he can showcase himself as an early favorite to be named as a Cousy finalist in February.

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Versatile Guard Play Gives Michigan a Shot to Beat Kentucky

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 30th, 2014

Even though Jordan Morgan held his own against Jarnell Stokes during the Sweet 16 game, facing Kentucky’s Julius Randle in the Elite Eight is a whole another ballgame. As we try to evaluate the Michigan – Kentucky match-up, there are certain weaknesses on both sides that stick out immediately. If Randle was able to put up 15 points and 12 rebounds against Louisville’s lengthy frontline, he should have no problems going off for 25 points and 15 rebounds against Michigan’s depleted frontcourt. So, Kentucky dominates the paint, controls the glass and beats Michigan comfortably, right? Not so fast. Vegas has Michigan as a two-point underdog, but it has certain personnel that will force Kentucky to play out of their realm.

Caris LeVert, Glenn Robinson and Nik Stauskas will force the Kentucky defense to step up on Sunday.

LeVert, Robinson, and Stauskas will force Kentucky’s defense to step up.

Yes, we know that the Wildcats have played at a higher level in the postseason, but let’s not forget that they almost lost to the Shockers – a team with multiple guards that can handle the ball and shoot from beyond the arc. And what is Michigan’s strength? Not a complete coincidence, but similar to the Shockers, they have multiple guys who can handle the ball with ease and can drill the long-range shot if given a chance. Imagine Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert moving the ball horizontally in the half-court and forcing the Harrison twins to not only keep up with them, but also keep eye out for Derrick Walton and Glenn Robinson III on the perimeter.While Randle could dominate on the offensive end, his defensive skills will be tested against four guards who can dribble their way into the paint easily. Will he be able to stay out of foul trouble as Stauskas and LeVert drive the lane off the screens? Even if he gets into foul trouble in the first half and has to ride the pine for 5-6 minutes, it will give the Michigan guards an opportunity to stay ahead. Remember, against the Shockers, the Kentucky backcourt had no answer for Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker off the screens. That could happen again on this afternoon.

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Derrick Walton Jr. is Coming Into His Own at Michigan

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on February 15th, 2014

During the era of super freshmen in college basketball, we rarely try to understand how much they can grow over the course of the season. After all, 18- and 19-year-olds will take some time to adjust to the tempo and athleticism of the game. With Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Tyler Ennis dominating the headlines with their regularly impressive performances, it is easy to forget about some of the other freshmen who have stepped up their games during conference play after an initial period of adjustment. Derrick Walton Jr., Michigan’s rookie point guard, is one such example. Forget filling Trey Burke’s shoes in the Michigan offense; Walton doesn’t need to be the same player. But he has shown glimpses of his ability to run the team in recent weeks, averaging a solid 10.6 PPG and 4.o APG in the Wolverines’ last five games. We wrote back in November about the need for Nik Stauskas to step up as the lead guard because the offense was flailing during the non-conference season, but Walton now appears to be firmly in control as the primary initiator of the offense and a sparkplug in the open court.

Derrick Walton Jr. has been impressive during the past two weeks. (credit: ap.org)

Derrick Walton Jr. (left) has been impressive during the past two weeks. (credit: ap.org)

Before we begin to understand his growth as a player, it is essential to recognize that Walton is a talented scorer, and compared to Burke, he actually has a quicker release on his jumper. Shooting 40 percent from long range is not too shabby, but the main difference with Burke is that he likes to be set up for shots instead of creating them off the dribble. The most impressive part of his game is his ability to get to the basket off of screens. He’s always had great talent, but it has taken him a while to understand his role in the offense considering the strengths and versatility of Michigan’s wings, Stauskas and Caris LeVert.

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Evaluating Devyn Marble’s Offense: This Season Versus Last

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on February 11th, 2014

On Saturday, Iowa did not waste any time in jumping out to an 11-4 lead on its way to a huge win over Michigan. Thanks to Devyn Marble’s scorching start — he nailed three shots from beyond the arc to begin the game — the senior forward ended up with 27 points and has been one of the best scorers in the country this season. Averaging 16.5 PPG is impressive on its own, but we have access to more informative statistics to understand the improvements that Marble has made in his offensive game from last year to this one. The table below shows some key differences between seasons, so let’s use the data to understand how he could turn into of the most explosive players of the postseason.

Marble Comparison

Let’s start with the easy one: Marble’s offensive rating has increased a tick from his junior season, and one of his most notable improvements is better confidence from distance. Last season, he took way too many shots from beyond the arc — 150 attempts — while only hitting an inefficient 33 percent. This season, his 38 percent shooting is a huge weapon in his arsenal, which has led to an overall increase in his effective field goal percentage as well. Putting aside those statistics, the diversity of his attempts from deep are even more impressive. Against the Wolverines, he shot 6-of-10 from three but those six shots came from all over the floor: he pulled up in transition; he came off of screens; and he was able to pull up off the dribble. His release is significantly quicker and smoother compared with last year, which shows he put in the requisite time and focus on it during the offseason. In February of his junior year, Marble hit a prolonged two-week slump because opposing defenses were able to cut off his dribble-drive ability and force him to beat them from pull-ups in the mid-range. That defensive option will not work this season based on what we have seen, which only makes him more dangerous with the ball in his hands.

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Big Ten M5: 01.27.14 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on January 27th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. On the eve of the Grammys, Bruce Hornsby, a Grammy-winning musician and a huge basketball fan,visited Bloomington for the Illinois vs. Indiana game. Hornsby and Indiana head coach Tom Crean discussed music after the game in which the Hoosiers pulled off a tough 10-point win against the Illini. Both offenses had a tough time finding points during a 26-24 first half, but Crean’s squad was able to hold the Illini to just 22 more points during the second half. Noah Vonleh continues to impress with this rebounding skills by pulling down 14 boards, but the Hoosiers need to continue to hold down the home court in upcoming games against Michigan and Penn State if they want to remain in contention for an NCAA Tournament bid this season.
  2. Speaking of the Illini, they can’t seem to buy a jumper nowadays, as John Groce’s unit lost its sixth straight Big Ten game on Sunday in Bloomington. Illinois has one week before its next game in Champaign against Iowa, and it could use every day of practice to figure out how to refine their offensive sets. They shot 5-of-23 from beyond the arc, but the problem goes well beyond just a shooting slump — Groce can’t seem to find two scorers who can have good games on the same day. While Rayvonte Rice finished with 20 points yesterday, none of his teammates complemented his scoring (Nnanna Egwu was next in scoring with eight points). Similarly, against Ohio State, Joe Bertrand had 17 points but Rice was held scoreless. Without two scorers consistently putting up decent scoring numbers, it is almost impossible to beat most of the teams in this conference.
  3. The losing streak had to stop at some point for Wisconsin, and the first half of Saturday’s game against Purdue wasn’t easy as the Boilermakers were only down by three at halftime. The Badgers needed to get back to the free-flowing offense that has averaged 1.16 points per possession in conference play and freshman forward Nigel Hayes should continue to help in that regard off the bench. Hayes provides a solid post presence on the block as a nice change of pace from Frank Kaminsky or Sam Dekker, and his solid post game can help slow down the offense when the starters are out, ensuring that they will be fresh for the final few minutes of the game.
  4. Without Branden Dawson or Adreian Payne available on Saturday night, Michigan State could have folded in the second half of their game against Michigan once the Wolverines made a run, but thanks to Keith Appling, they even held the lead with four minutes left. The senior guard was extremely efficient in scoring 10 points and dishing 10 dimes, but more importantly, turning the ball over just once. After the loss, the senior point guard and Tom Izzo were both emotional, considering the injury toll on their team over the past few weeks. When Dawson and Payne comes back, Appling’s efficiency combined with Gary Harris’ scorching shooting (27 points against Michigan) will definitely make the Spartans a great contender for the national title.
  5. While the Spartans are dealing with injuries, it seems that Michigan has figured out how to deal with the loss of Mitch McGary with wins over Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan State despite his absence. Without McGary in the lineup, the Wolverines need every starter to be on the ball and freshman guard Derrick Walton may be the newest member to join the party. He scored 19 huge points against the team’s biggest rival and seems to be gaining confidence with each and every game. “I was just the guy called upon tonight and just tried to do it for my teammates,” Walton said. Not much is needed from him when Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III are going off, but if he can chip in some timely buckets and push the ball effectively in transition, the offense will continue to click on all cylinders.
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ACC/Big Ten Challenge Presents Giant Opportunity For Michigan

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 2nd, 2013

What to Make of Michigan Heading to Duke in the Headliner of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge

Nobody ever said life after Trey Burke was going to be easy. Despite entering the season with both a top 10 ranking and preseason All-American (again) to lead the way, John Beilein had to know that this group of Wolverines would be a work in progress. Gone was not only the transcendent Burke, but also backcourt mate Tim Hardaway, Jr., a highly accomplished player in his own right. Also of concern: The fact that this year’s preseason All-American, Mitch McGary, entered the season on the mend. The bruising sophomore is recovering from a back injury, and even with a (relatively) healthy back a season ago, he had averaged only 7.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game as he got acclimated to college basketball. Was he really ready to deliver All-American type production? Every team entered this season with question marks, but Michigan faced as many as any of their preseason top-10 cohabitants.

Michigan And Mitch McGary Will Attempt To Reassert Themselves At Cameron Indoor On Tuesday Night

Michigan And Mitch McGary Will Attempt To Reassert Themselves At Cameron Indoor On Tuesday Night

The Wolverines are now seven games into the season, and the top-10 ranking is gone. The same cannot be said for those pesky preseason questions. Michigan is 5-2 on the year, with an overtime victory over Florida State ranking as its lone victory of consequence (seriously, the average Pomeroy rating for the other four Wolverine conquests is 297). The back injury ultimately caused McGary to miss just two games, but his production since returning has hardly been like that of an All-American: 8.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.0 BPG in 25 minutes per game. I’m not in the habit of judging a guy off of five post-injury games, but the jury remains out on whether McGary can live up to those expansive preseason expectations.

Nor has a verdict been offered on the Michigan point guard situation. Nobody expected Derrick Walton to become Trey Burke, but the freshman has averaged nearly as many turnovers (2.4 per game) as assists (3.3 per game), while also ceding crunch time minutes to backup Spike Albrecht. In the two Michigan losses (to Iowa State and Charlotte), Walton has averaged just 19 minutes a game. Clearly John Beilein is not ready to fully hand over the reins to the talented youngster, but like McGary, there’s still plenty of time for Walton to grow into his expected role.

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Previewing the Holiday Tournaments: A Big Ten Perspective

Posted by Max Jakubowski on November 21st, 2013

The holiday tournaments tip off today and college coaches are huge fans of their teams participating in these events. With the quick turnarounds and neutral court sites, the events give players a glimpse of what their conference and postseason tournaments will feel like. From the prestigious eight-team Maui Invitational to the four-team Barclays Center Classic, each tournament provides valuable experience for teams and coaches alike to prepare for a postseason atmosphere. Along with gaining that precious experience, teams can also improve their non-conference resumes just by showing up. A couple of good performances or a holiday tournament championship looks pretty attractive to the selection committee in March. This year, the Big Ten has nearly the entire league competing in some sort of holiday tournament (Illinois and Ohio State are the two absentees). Let’s break down each of them, starting with the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, Charleston Classic and 2kSports Classic, beginning today.

NCAA Basketball: Maui Invitational-Butler vs Illinois

Illinois Jump Started its NCAA Tournament Season A Year Ago in Maui

Puerto Rico Tip off: November 21-24

  • Teams: Michigan vs. Long Beach State, VCU vs. Florida State, Georgetown vs. Northeastern, Charlotte vs. Kansas State
  • Favorite: VCU
  • Projected Michigan Finish: 3rd
  • Michigan Player to WatchDerrick Walton Jr.
  • The Skinny: In the eight-team field, Georgetown, VCU, and the Wolverines are the clear front-runners. Georgetown lucked out as they are on the opposite side of the bracket of both Michigan and VCU. This means that a match-up of last year’s NCAA Tournament third round game between the two schools is likely in the semifinals. Last year, Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. shredded Shaka Smart’s “Havoc” defense on its way to a huge victory. Now, Walton is set to run the offense for Michigan and go up against a veteran VCU backcourt. This game could spell major trouble for John Beilein and his staff, but could also be an important teaching moment.

Charleston Classic: November 21-24

  • TeamsNebraska vs. UMass, UAB vs. New Mexico, Georgia vs. Davidson, Clemson vs. Temple
  • Favorite: New Mexico
  • Projected Nebraska Finish: 5th
  • Nebraska Player to WatchTai Webster
  • The Skinny:  The Cornhuskers play UMass and then either New Mexico or UTEP in the next round. New Mexico is a top 20 team while UMass is expected to compete for a NCAA bid out of the Atlantic 10. Chaz Williams for UMass is an explosively fast guard who can distribute the ball well and shoot lights out from three. Tim Miles will have his work cut out to try and stop Williams, and the freshman Webster will get a nice welcoming from the “Chaz Master.”

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Can the Michigan Offense Be Efficient Despite a Low Free Throw Rate?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on October 31st, 2013

During the 2012-13 Big Ten season, Michigan ranked second in offensive efficiency – scoring 1.12 points per possession. This statistic is even more impressive if you consider the Wolverines’ low free-throw rate as a team: according to Ken Pomeroy, only 29.2 percent of their field goal attempts resulted in a free throw, ranking 11th in the Big Ten in this category. Despite that poor free throw rate, they were efficient on offense because they shot lights out (54.1% eFG) and took care of the ball (14.1% turnover rate). The low free throw rate is not new under John Beilein, as his Wolverines have ranked almost last in this category (averages of 28.0%, 28.4%, and 29.2% since 2011). With the loss of Trey Burke, the Wolverines will have some key issues to address:

How Will Michigan’s Offense Perform Under New Direction?

  • Beilein needs a guard who can penetrate and kick out to the wings. The low free throw rate does not mean that the Michigan guards were standing around the perimeter firing up shots from beyond the arc. Rather, Trey Burke’s ability to beat his defender off the pick-and-roll to penetrate and kick out passes to the wings resulted in effective team long-range shooting (37.2% 3FG). Burke was able to get to the basket consistently, but also found shooters on the wing or used his floater to score. Going back to the 2011 season, Darius Morris, another crafty Michigan point guard, was fully capable of getting to the basket as well. But it appears that Beilein’s offense is ideally geared around drawing the wing defender to open easy looks in the corner, not just attack the basket to draw fouls on every possession. This strategy works well with talented and physical point guards such as Burke or Morris. Do the Wolverines have a guard who can draw defenders off the dribble this season? The answer is that there are only two guards capable of filling that role: Derrick Walton and Nik Stauskas. Walton certainly has the quickness to penetrate, but he may not be in full control just yet, which could result in a high turnover rate. Burke’s time in Ann Arbor was special because he created looks by taking care of the ball. Assuming that Walton makes standard freshman mistakes during the first couple of months, Beilein may turn to Stauskas to attack the basket and look for Glenn Robinson III on the wing. We know Stauskas has the handle to get into the paint, but his passing abilities haven’t truly been tested yet. Until Walton or Stauskas can prove that they can handle the ball effectively in traffic, the Wolverines’ offense will need to find other way to improve their free throw rate. Read the rest of this entry »
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What is Spike Albrecht’s Role This Season?

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 25th, 2013

If someone missed the first half of last season’s National Championship Game and was posed the following question — which Michigan player went 4-of-4 from the three-point line and scored 17 points in the first half, the most common guesses would more than likely have been Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., or Nik Stauskas. But the answer surprisingly turned out to be Spike Albrecht. The 5’11” sophomore guard only averaged 2.2 points and 8.1 minutes per game last year for the national runner-ups, but he turned in a memorable performance that kept Michigan in the game even after consensus National Player of the Year Trey Burke was saddled with first half foul trouble. After losing Burke and bringing in highly-rated recruit Derrick Walton, the question that remains to be answered is, how does Albrecht fit in this season?

Spike Albrecht will look to prove he is more than a one-hit wonder this season. (Getty)

Spike Albrecht will look to prove he is more than a one-hit wonder this season. (Getty)

By all accounts Walton is going to be very good. He averaged 26 points, seven assists and seven steals per game last season at Detroit’s Chandler Park High School. One would have to assume he will handle the majority of the play-making duties, using his quickness to get to the basket and dish to outside shooters. John Beilein‘s offensive philosophy has always been pretty reliant on shooting the three, so Albrecht could be one of the major perimeter weapons along with fellow sophomore Stauskas. Going small with a lineup of Walton, Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary, and Albrecht could be very effective offensively with Walton penetrating and working with ball screens and McGary drawing double teams in the high post and kicking it out to open shooters. One would think having Albrecht on the court when the Wolverines need shooting and floor spacing would be optimal. He also proved in short spurts last year that he can handle running the show when he took over for Burke in limited minutes. He will need to cut down on his 21.4 percent turnover rate, but with another year of familiarity and experience, this could very easily happen.

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Big Ten M5: 10.24.13 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on October 24th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. The last time Michigan State won the national title, they had a big man named Andre Hutson, who was assertive in the paint, especially on the defensive end. This season, his squad is one of the favorites to win the title, and he has a freshman – Gavin Schilling – who is drawing comparisons to Hutson. The 6’9″, 240 lb forward, said his focus is to “run, rebound and defend” this season. Schilling will start out as a backup to Adreian Payne and Alex Gauna, but he may be able to provide some serviceable minutes in case one of the forwards gets into foul trouble going up against a rugged conference in January or February. If he ends up being as good as advertised, then he could be another piece that helps Michigan State make a run at another national title.
  2. Speaking of freshmen having an impact, Michigan has two terrific guards – Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin – who could contribute within John Beilein’s rotation. Both of them have the offensive skillset to help the Wolverines, but Beilein has enough scorers in Ann Arbor – he needs them to help on the defensive end as well. According to the coaching staff, both of them are quickly picking up the defensive principles, which should help them gain significant playing time this season. Irvin’s 6’6″ frame will help him guard the combo guards such as Gary Harris and Lenzelle Smith Jr during conference play. The Wolverines can score effectively, but if Irvin steps up on defense, he could elevate them to compete for a Final Four or beyond.
  3. The Hoosier fan base is very familiar with Eric Gordon’s offensive skills as he led Indiana to an NCAA Tournament during his freshman season in Bloomington. Gordon could score with the best of them, but his brother, Evan Gordon, is ready to show his skills to the Hoosier faithful. Gordon, a transfer guard, can provide an offensive spark and complement Yogi Ferrell’s production in the backcourt, as Tom Crean needs an experienced scorer on a team full of talented freshmen such as Noah Vonleh. Crean said, “He has to take his game to another level. He’s got to see his game rise on both sides of the court, offensively and defensively, and see that leadership rise. “
  4. Gordon is not the only transfer who can help his team in the Big Ten this year. Iowa’s Jared Uthoff sat out last year after transferring from Wisconsin, and will be ready to help the Hawkeyes return to the NCAA Tournament. Uthoff, a former Mr. Basketball in Iowa, is excited about the opportunity to play for the Hawkeyes. “It’s going to be a very special moment for me when I can step out on the court with this Hawkeye uniform on,’’ Uthoff said. Devyn Marble (15 PPG) will be the primary scoring option for the Hawkeyes, but if Uthoff can chip in offensively to back him up, that’ll be a huge boost this season.
  5. Scoring won’t be an issue for the Penn State backcourt of Tim Frazier and D.J.Newbill. Both of them can fill up the stat sheet, even though Frazier is coming from an injury. Penn State’s basketball program may not make any headlines but head coach, Pat Chambers, is doing his best to keep an upbeat attitude entering into his third season at Happy Valley. It is very likely that Chambers may not lead the Nittany Lions back to the NCAA Tournament over the next two years, but his ability to connect with the players will help on the recruiting trail and eventually lead the program back to relevancy in the Big Ten.
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