Big Ten Opening Night: Three Things to Watch For

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 14th, 2014

Eleven Big Ten Teams will make their season debuts tonight. While the only true marquee game on the schedule is the Minnesota-Louisville clash in Puerto Rico, here are three things to watch for if you’re checking out the league as the season begins.

  • Hampton vs. Iowa: Hampton went 18-13 last year, and the Pirates hung with Penn State in the first round of the CBI before ultimately losing by four points. They return eight players from their top 10 in minutes played for a team that ran at the 11th-fastest tempo in the country last season. They did a tremendous job in blocking shots and holding teams to a low percentage on two-point attempts, and have good front line size to match up with the Hawkeyes on the interior. Iowa no longer has Roy Devyn Marble to handle the ball and take all of its big shots, so Mike Gesell and Josh Oglesby will have to be hitting from long range because points in the paint will not be easy to find. This game bears watching because it will be a track meet up and down the court, and because there is also some small upset potential here if Iowa doesn’t come to play.
Mike Geselll will have to take care of the ball Friday night against Hampton. (Getty).

Mike Geselll will have to take care of the ball Friday night against Hampton. (Getty)

  • Michigan State vs. Navy: The Midshipmen went 9-21 last year, so thinking that they will push Sparty tonight might be something of a stretch. But they do return almost everybody from that team, and they did a solid job forcing turnovers last season. Michigan State, of course, has a new floor general, and although Travis Trice has gotten plenty of reps in his three years in East Lansing, he’s never been the guy. Denzel Valentine has a tendency to cough up the ball on occasion, and Lourawls Nairn will be making his much-anticipated collegiate debut. Keep an eye on whether Michigan State can avoid making silly mistakes here. A sloppy effort against a clearly inferior opponent might be a bad sign as the team gets set to take on Duke in the Champions Classic in four days.
  • Minnesota vs. Louisville: This game is the obvious call if you’re looking for opening night intrigue. Minnesota has an early chance to grab a huge non-conference win by playing a top 10 team. Richard Pitino will coach against his dad, who probably knows the Gophers about as well as his son does. Richard, of course, served as an assistant at Louisville just a few seasons ago, so the same likely holds true with the younger Pitino’s knowledge about the Cardinals. If you like guard play, you will get a chance to watch Andre Hollins and Deandre Mathieu take on Chris Jones and Terry Rozier. If the battle in the post is more your cup of tea, then check out Elliott Eliason and Maurice Walker trading haymakers with potential All-American Montrezl Harrell. This one sells itself.
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The Five Best Big Ten Non-Conference Games

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 11th, 2014

We’re just a few days away from the first official tip-offs of the season, which will mean that the non-conference portion of the season has begun. Most fans will watch their team play some little-known school for an easy win over the weekend, but there is an excellent slate of non-conference games involving Big Ten teams on the horizon. The five best of those games are listed below. A couple caveats: (1) no games from the Big Ten/ACC Challenge were included because we’ll cover that event in full later this month; and (2) the annual rivalry match-ups (e.g., Illinois-Missouri, Iowa-Iowa State, etc.) were also removed, since those games have already been discussed ad nauseam. This list represents the best of the rest.

The following list is in chronological order and displays each team’s expected record (according to Kenpom) at the time of the game.

Minnesota (0-0) vs Louisville (0-0)

Armed Forces Classic – Aguadilla, PR – Friday, November 14: Minnesota fans will be in for a treat on opening night as the Gophers will headline ESPN’s coverage against the Cardinals at U.S Air Station Borinquen in Puerto Rico. This will arguably be the best match-up of the night, pitting two teams from power conferences in a father/son battle with Richard Pitino taking on his dad, Rick, for the second time in his short career. The Golden Gophers play a similar style as Louisville — including the Pitino family’s patented pressing defense — but they are outmatched in talent. Still, with returning starters such as Deandre Mathieu, Andre Hollins and Elliott Eliason available, young Pitino could be poised to catch his father’s team by surprise and make it interesting. Honestly, just be happy that this game is not taking place on an aircraft carrier.

Michigan State (1-0) vs Duke (2-0)

These two legends face off again as Michigan State battles Duke in their early non-conference schedule. (AP)

These two legends face off again as Michigan State battles Duke. (AP)

Champions Classic – Indianapolis, IN – Tuesday, November 18: The Champions Classic has become an early-season staple as the unofficial marquee event to tip off college basketball. It’s been a successful series as four elite programs — Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, and Michigan State — have rotated match-ups to play each other over a three-year period. This season the Spartans draw Duke and their trio of super freshmen — Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow. But what the Blue Devils have in talent, they lack in experience. An early game like this gives Michigan State a golden opportunity to notch a resume-building win against a team that could end up as a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Read the rest of this entry »

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Can Minnesota’s Andre Hollins Regain His Scoring Touch?

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 6th, 2014

Despite his excellence for three seasons, the collegiate career of Andre Hollins has arguably flown under the radar. He has been a heavy contributor at Minnesota since day one, topping the 20-point plateau five times as a freshman and leading the Gophers in scoring in both his sophomore and junior seasons. He even has an outside chance at cracking 2,000 points for his career if his team makes a deep run in the postseason this year. He’s played under two coaches utilizing vastly different systems, yet still managed to thrive. Last season was his most challenging in Minneapolis — after suffering an ankle injury, he came back too soon and proceeded to look like a shell of his former self. He went from averaging 16.2 PPG before the injury to 11.3 PPG in the 16 games afterward, and he just looked tentative and unsure of himself in February and March. Now in his second year under Richard Pitino, he is flanked by a core of experienced seniors. Can Hollins recapture his scoring touch and lead the Gophers back to the Big Dance?

Andre Hollins needs to regain his scoring touch if Minnesota wants to rise in the B1G standings. (Getty)

Andre Hollins needs to regain his scoring touch if Minnesota wants to rise in the B1G standings. (Getty)

At his best, Hollins is a scorer who does most of his damage from the outside. He’s made quite a few three-pointers in his career, topping out at a superb 41.8 percent in his junior season from behind the arc. He also does a nice job getting to the free throw line, and converts when he’s there, with a career free throw percentage of 84.4 percent. For someone that gets so much of his scoring output from the outside, he still managed to rank ninth in the league in free throw rate, getting to the charity stripe at a 49.7 percent clip. He’s capable of playing both guard spots, as he led the team in assists (3.4 APG) as the primary facilitator in 2012-13. When Deandre Mathieu took over the point guard duties last season, Hollins played off the ball where he was able to get quality looks on kickouts from the speedy Mathieu. The Gophers’ backcourt tandem might be the best in the league this season, and it will need to be if Minnesota hopes to avoid another trip to the NIT.

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NIT Preview: Three Keys for Minnesota Against Florida State

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 1st, 2014

Minnesota has made the most out of its experience in the NIT, as the Gophers have made it to New York City to take on Florida State in the semifinals of the event this evening. This is a rematch of an earlier meeting in December’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge, when Richard Pitino’s team defeated the Seminoles 71-61 at Williams Arena. Despite a lack of prestige and eyeballs on this game, Minnesota is the only Big Ten team still playing basketball other than Wisconsin. In order to advance to Thursday night’s championship game, here are three things for Minnesota to concentrate on to beat FSU again.

With Elliott Eliason probably not playing due to an injury, Minnesota needs a big night Tuesday from Maurice Walker. (Pioneer Press, Ben Garvin)

With Elliott Eliason probably not playing due to an injury, Minnesota needs a big night Tuesday from Maurice Walker. (Pioneer Press, Ben Garvin)

  1. Create turnovers: Florida State turns the ball over slightly less often than Indiana, and anyone who watched any Big Ten basketball this season knows what that means. The Seminoles turn the ball over on over 21 percent of their possessions, and out of the 92 ACC players who played over 40 percent of their team’s available minutes, Devin Bookert and Ian Miller rank fourth and fifth from the bottom. Miller also uses 25.6 percent of the team’s possessions, so taking advantage of his propensity to give the ball away is a must. Minnesota needs to remain aggressive on the perimeter, forcing turnovers instead of letting the  guards — both of whom shoot over 40 percent from deep — get hot from the outside. Read the rest of this entry »
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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: 02.26.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 26th, 2014

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  1. Ohio State has gone 6-1 since it put Sam Thompson into the starting lineup. Thompson’s production didn’t change too much at the beginning of the switch, but he’s been significantly better over his last couple of games including a team-high 19 points in Ohio State’s 64-46 win over Minnesota on Saturday. This effort drew the praise of Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino, saying Thompson “is what college basketball is all about.” Pitino, interestingly enough, had recruited Thompson when he was an assistant coach at Florida under Billy Donovan. Thompson has always been an elite athlete, and if his improved offense isn’t just an aberration, he’ll be on the NBA’s radar very soon if he’s not already.
  2. Another wing who has been raising eyebrows with his play of late has been Michigan’s Caris LeVert. Unlike Thompson, however, LeVert has been playing well all season long. Dylan Burkhardt does a tremendous job breaking down the specifics of how well LeVert has played on the offensive end this season. You can see with some of the raw data that he is a multi-dimensional scorer who can beat defenses in a number of ways. He’s underrated as a spot-up shooter, but he is equally adept at breaking his man down off of the dribble. Tim Hardaway, Jr., is having a really good season in the NBA with the Knicks, yet LeVert has numbers as a sophomore that are comparable to Hardaway’s junior year statistics.
  3. Kendrick Nunn was the most highly-rated member of John Groce’s first Illinois recruiting class, but the freshman had his fair share of struggles in non-conference play, causing many Illinois fans to question what all the hype was all about. Nunn has quieted his critics with his play of late, showing why he was so well-regarded in the first place. He’s shown a keen ability to drive and finish, and has also shot the ball from the outside much better than scouting reports would lead you to believe. He’s hit 37.3 percent of his three-pointers on the year, going 11-of-22 in the four games when he’s been a starter.
  4. There have not been too many (if any) Big Ten players to come out of the basketball hotbed known as Chadron, Nebraska, but this is where Minnesota pivot man Elliott Eliason hails from, forging an unlikely path for someone on a Big Ten roster. Eliason has dealt with quite a bit of skepticism about his talent after not playing against quality competition in high school, and he seems to be his own worst critic, which is why some of his on-court reactions can be a bit too much to handle sometimes. Despite a lack of productivity lately, he was still third in the conference in rebounding coming into Tuesday night’s games. He’s also averaging 2.2 BPG, and will be a main cog if Minnesota gets things back on track closing out the season.
  5. Nebraska has one objective closing out the year if it wants to defy expectations and get to the program’s first NCAA Tournament since 1998. They simply need to win one game at a time and then let everything play out accordingly. Coach Tim Miles has the team believing in the mantra, “avoid the noise,” tuning out all of the talk about bubbles and RPI and instead focusing on the things it can control. This all starts with their game tonight against an Illinois team that is playing somewhat better lately. Sitting at 8-6 right now, it would be interesting to see what the selection committee would do with a Big Ten team that has an 11-7 or even a 10-8 record in conference play.
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Big Ten Weekend in Review: A Champion is Crowned?

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 24th, 2014

I’m not privy to what the exact numbers were in terms of Vegas odds of Michigan winning the Big Ten once Mitch McGary went down with a back injury, but they probably weren’t very favorable. With their 79-70 win on Sunday afternoon over Michigan State, however, the Wolverines are now looking like they have things close to wrapped up with four games left against teams with a combined conference record of 20-36. Meanwhile, Michigan State still has tough games to come against Iowa and at Ohio State. Michigan would have to lose twice to teams it should beat, while Michigan State would have to win out to notch the outright regular season crown. So now the drama shifts to spots #3-#6 in the standings, with the emphasis on getting into the top four positions and wrapping up a bye for the first round of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. Wisconsin got another RPI-enhancing win at Iowa Saturday, while Ohio State and Nebraska took care of their home court with wins over Minnesota and Purdue, respectively. There is now exactly one game separating each of these spots in the standings. Here’s the rest of what happened in the weekend slate.

Nik Stauskas returned to his earlier form as Michigan dispatched Michigan State on Sunday. (Gregory Shamus, Getty)

Nik Stauskas returned to his earlier form as Michigan dispatched Michigan State on Sunday. (Gregory Shamus, Getty)

Player of the Weekend: Nik Stauskas: This was the Nik Stauskas who had played himself into consideration for Big Ten Player of the Year earlier in the season. After struggling some in recent games, he came out and made another strong statement on Sunday. He ended up dropping 25 points on Sparty, and also added five assists for good measure. Stauskas didn’t float around the perimeter and let himself be easily guarded; instead he aggressively moved without the ball and was able to unleash a barrage of points from all over the floor. After a slow start in the first half, he scored 21 of his 25 points in the second by getting to the basket, finding space in the mid-range, and from his customary spot behind the arc. He made some phenomenal passes out of the pick-and-roll, including a late-game back-breaker on a lob to Glenn Robinson III in the closing minutes. If this was a one-on-one battle between the Canadian sharpshooter and Michigan State’s Gary Harris for B1G Player of the Year, Stauskas may have wrapped it up with his performance over the weekend.

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Key Questions in Advance of Minnesota vs. Michigan State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Minnesota 83, #6 UCLA 63

Posted by WCarey on March 22nd, 2013

RTC_final4_atlanta

Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 64 NCAA Tournament game between #6 UCLA and #11 Minnesota in Austin.

Three Key Takeaways.

Did Ben Howland Coach His Last Game in Westwood?

Did Ben Howland Coach His Last Game in Westwood?

  1. Minnesota’s effort was outstanding. For a team that was woefully inconsistent in the regular season, the Golden Gophers put together a very strong performance in its victory over UCLA. In last week’s loss to Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament, Minnesota only managed to score 49 points and looked horrible on offense for almost the entire game. Friday night was a completely different story for the Golden Gophers as they took advantage of a very poor UCLA defense and exploded for 83 points. Minnesota got a ton of good looks throughout the game, which is evident by its 50% shooting mark from the field and its 60% mark from three. UCLA was not exactly top-notch competition, but the Minnesota team that won Friday night looked much more like the Minnesota team that had beat Michigan State and Indiana than the Minnesota team that put up 49 points against Illinois last weekend.
  2. UCLA played like it wanted its season to end. When Jordan Adams went down with a broken foot in the Pac-12 Tournament, it was huge blow to the Bruins. Many national pundits believed UCLA would struggle against Minnesota without Adams, as he was the team’s best defender all season. There is no way the pundits thought that the Bruins would struggle as bad as they did in the blowout loss. Minnesota came into the game averaging 68.4 points per game on the season and it scored 83 against the Bruins. Minnesota came into the game shooting 44.2% from the field on the season, it shot 50% against the Bruins. Tubby Smith‘s squad was able to reach these figures due to the countless open looks that were afforded them by the UCLA defense. Golden Gophers guard Andre Hollins finished with 28 points and was 5-of-8 from deep. UCLA did not make a single adjustment when Hollins started to get hot. There were also several instances of where Minnesota big men Trevor Mbakwe and Elliott Eliason just outworked the Bruins’ interior players to grab offensive boards to help their team retain possession. UCLA’s offense was also horrible, as it shot just 31.7% from the field including a ghastly 18.2% from three. While it is understandable that teams do have poor shooting night, what was so dumbfounding about UCLA’s is that it continued to take horrible shots on bad looks until the final buzzer. The Bruins played like they did not want to be in the NCAA Tournament and it showed on both ends of the court in their pathetic loss to Minnesota.
  3. It might be time for a coaching change in Westwood. While the Bruins did finish 25-10 and win the outright regular season Pac-12 title, with the riches of talent the team has possessed over the years, the team just has not won enough. UCLA has missed the tournament in two of the last four seasons and only has two tournament wins since 2008. Considering that Steve Lavin was let go by UCLA after making the tournament in six of his seven seasons in Westwood and taking the Bruins to five Sweet 16s, it should be to the surprise of no one if UCLA decides to make a coaching change after this flameout against Minnesota. Another thing that works against Howland is that according to a Chris Foster story in Tuesday’s Los Angeles Times, “he had received no indication from his bosses about his status or what his team had to accomplish for him to stay on the job.”

Star of the Game. Andre Hollins, Minnesota. The sophomore guard put forth quite the offensive performance for the Golden Gophers. He tallied 28 points on 8-of-16 from the field and knocked back 5-of-8 from deep. Hollins was Minnesota’s go-to guy all night and he responded with a very good offensive performance. If Minnesota wants any chance at beating Florida on Sunday, it is going to need a similar performance from Hollins.

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Big Ten Team Previews: Minnesota Golden Gophers

Posted by KTrahan on October 24th, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the Big Ten microsite will be rolling out these featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the Minnesota Golden Gophers. 

Where We Left Off: Minnesota’s 2011-12 season can best be described as streaky. The Gophers started the year 12-1, but lost their first four conference games before a three-game winning streak that included a good win at Indiana. Minnesota then traded wins and losses before ending the regular season on a 1-6 slide. However, the Gophers got hot in the Big Ten Tournament, knocking off Northwestern and nearly doing the same to Michigan. They then made a great run in the NIT, including a win against Washington before losing in the championship game to Stanford. It certainly was an up-and-down year, but it ended with plenty of promise.

Tubby’s Minnesota Teams Can Never Seem to Get Healthy and Eligible at the Same Time (AP)

Positives: This could be one of the most talented teams that Tubby Smith has had in Minnesota, and some — including yours truly — see the Gophers as a sleeper in the Big Ten title race. Sixth-year senior Trevor Mbakwe will be the face of the team, and the Gophers got a huge break when he avoided jail time after a parole violation for a summer DUI. This is a versatile team, which will allow the Gophers to play several big or small lineups. Talented young players such as Andre Hollins, Joe Coleman and Elliott Eliason will be complemented by more experienced players, such as Julian Welch, Rodney Williams, and Mbakwe.

Negatives: Can this team be consistent? Of course, a lot of last year’s on-court issues can be blamed on Mbakwe’s injury before conference play. The Gophers were forced to throw a number of talented freshmen into action, and while there were bright spots early — particularly the win against Indiana — it took awhile for things to come together. Can Minnesota take advantage of the experience gained by its younger players last year, or will inconsistency continue to be the story of a team that can’t get over the hump?

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