Big Ten Key Offseason Questions: Part IV

Posted by Patrick Engel on April 11th, 2016

In three parts over the last week, we’ve examined a key offseason question for 10 of the 14 Big Ten teams. Part I reviewed Rutgers, Minnesota and Illinois; Part II featured Nebraska, Penn State and Northwestern; Part III examined Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa. The fourth and final part today examines the Big Ten’s top four teams from this season: Purdue, Maryland, Michigan State and Indiana. (Note: Scout.com used for all player and class ranks).

Purdue (26-9, 12-6 Big Ten)

Dakota Mathias (31) needs to be a productive three-point shooter again for Purdue. (Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar)

Dakota Mathias (#31) needs to be a productive three-point shooter again for Purdue. (Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar)

Can Purdue find consistent offensive production from its guards?

The Boilermakers this season possessed one of the most productive frontcourts but one of the least productive backcourts in college basketball. P.J. Thompson boasted a 4.8-to-1 assist-turnover ratio, but the group of Dakota Mathias, Ryan Cline and Kendall Stephens (if he returns) and himself are mainly three-point shooters, none of whom attempted more than 16 percent of his shots at the rim. This group of guards shouldn’t experience much turnover outside of senior Raphael Davis and possibly Stephens, if he transfers, meaning that freshman point guard Carsen Edwards should have every chance to become the starter from day one next year. He’s not very big (5’11”, 175 pounds), but he’s aggressive, mature and a good passer. If he can play well enough to earn major minutes, he’ll mitigate one of Purdue’s clear weaknesses. Matt Painter’s frontcourt should again be a strength, assuming Vince Edwards and Caleb Swanigan return to complement Isaac Haas, whose touches should increase substantially. This team’s Big Ten ceiling, though, might depend on the readiness of its lone freshman.

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Starting Five: Five Big Ten Teams Feeling Good About Feast Week

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 30th, 2015

The non-conference portion of the schedule hasn’t been great to the Big Ten so far this season, but Feast Week gave some of the league’s teams positive feelings about the future. Here are five schools that can feel good about themselves after the week that was.

John Groce got his lineup back in full, and his squad looked much better. (USAT Images)

John Groce got his full lineup back and his squad looked much better as a result. (USAT Images)

  1. Illinois: The Illini have a lot of extra dead weight to shed from their 3-4 start to the season, but anyone who watched their win against UAB and the first 30 minutes against Iowa State saw that this is a different and better team with a full complement of players. Kendrick Nunn looked rusty but he averaged 18.5 PPG in the two games — a healthy Nunn, Leron Black and Jaylon Tate showed the potential that exists here. The knee injury to Mike Thorne, Jr., however, is a real downer.
  2. Maryland: After struggling with teams that they shouldn’t have struggled with, the Terps finally put it all together against Rhode Island on Wednesday night in the championship game of the Cancun Classic. It appears as though Maryland’s on-court chemistry and offensive movement are improving with the realization that they any member of the starting unit can carry them for stretches — Rasheed Suliamon and Robert Carter Jr., for example, had moments where they looked like the best players on the floor. Read the rest of this entry »
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Is Michigan State Being Overlooked?

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 9th, 2015

It was supposed to happen with the group led by Adreian Payne, Gary Harris, and Keith Appling two seasons ago — that was the team that was supposed to end Tom Izzo‘s four-year Final Four ‘drought.’ Instead, that Michigan State squad lost to Connecticut in the Elite Eight and it was his follow-up group — led by leftovers like Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice — that recovered from a shocking early home loss to Texas Southern to play in the season’s final weekend. Most of that team returns this season, and some high-impact newcomers are also on board. Shouldn’t Izzo’s Spartans be ranked higher to start the season? Isn’t another March run a distinct possibility?

Denzel Valentine will look to lead Michigan State to bigger and better things in his senior season (Getty).

Denzel Valentine will look to lead Michigan State to bigger and better things in his senior season (Getty).

Sparty begins the season ranked #13 in both major polls. It returns eight of its top 10 scorers from last season and adds West Virginia transfer Eron Harris (17.2 PPG in 2013-14) to the mix. The freshman class includes McDonald’s All-American Devonta Davis along with a couple more knockdown shooters in Kyle Ahrens and Matt McQuaid. Perimeter shooting definitely appears to be a major positive for this team. Multiple shooters could hit close to 40 percent from deep, as Valentine, Bryn Forbes and Harris have all reached that benchmark in recent seasons. Sharing the ball is another positive aspect of what should be an elite offense. Michigan State logged the seventh best team assist rate in the nation last year, assisting on 63.7 percent of its field goals. Valentine in particular has shown an ability to find the open man as a point forward, ranking eighth in the Big Ten in assist rate (26.9 percent) last year and cutting down his turnover rate by two percent despite much higher usage. Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn also notched an assist rate above 20 percent, and that number should increase if he gets added minutes with the departure of Trice. This could be an elite Spartans’ offense once the season gets rolling. Read the rest of this entry »

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How Can Michigan State Keep Things Rolling Against Oklahoma?

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 27th, 2015

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Michigan State has made yet another Sweet Sixteen appearance under Tom Izzo and it did so by surprising a very good Virginia team in the Third Round. The Spartans are now 6-2 since March 1, with both losses coming at the hands of Wisconsin. With the two highest seeds now removed from the East Region, it’s looking like another Final Four run for Coach Tom Izzo is a realistic possibility. But first things first. Tonight the Spartans will have to get through an Oklahoma team with the sixth-best defensive efficiency in college baskeball. Here are several ways for Sparty to get the job done and advance to the Elite Eight.

Branden Dawson needs to continue to be a factor for Michigan State to advance Friday night.  (Al Goldis/AP)

Branden Dawson needs to remain a factor for Michigan State to advance. (Al Goldis/AP)

  • Bryn Forbes > Frank Booker: Both teams have a sniper coming off the bench who can swing things simply by knocking down outside shots. Forbes has been more consistent, as he led the Big Ten in eFG (60.0%) and shot 43.0 percent from behind the three-point line on the season. Booker has only shot 31.3 percent from behind the arc, but he’s been hot since mid-February in making six of 12 attempts in Oklahoma’s two NCAA Tournament wins. Forbes needs to enter the game and be more of a factor than Booker here. If he can make shots and give Michigan State another scoring option outside of Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice on the perimeter, the Spartans have the tools to offset Oklahoma’s stellar defense.
  • Keep Spangler off the Glass: Ryan Spangler would be a perfect fit as a Spartan. He’s physical and he crashes the boards with a zeal that many players under Tom Izzo have exhibited. Unfortunately, he plays for Oklahoma. This means that Gavin Schilling and Matt Costello need to do their best in preventing the junior banger from notching his 15th double-figure rebounding game tonight. Spangler and TaShawn Thomas cannot be the tougher duo here, and the two Michigan State post players have the ability to make Oklahoma pay for surrounding their inside pair with three guards.

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Branden Dawson Leading a Michigan State Resurgence

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 22nd, 2015

One of the teams that no one wants to see on their side of the bracket next month is getting better. Michigan State has managed to keep its efficiency rating high (currently #19 on KenPom) despite being classified as a bubble team by many bracketologists (Sparty is a #8 seed at Bracket Matrix). A shaky non-conference slate along with two early Big Ten losses to Maryland suggested that this might turn out to be a very disappointing season in East Lansing. Not so fast. The Spartans have quietly won four out of their last five games and have worked their way up to a three-way tie in the loss column (four) at second place in the league. The primary reason for this team hitting its stride at just the right time is senior forward Branden Dawson. The 6’6″ workhorse leads the league in rebounding and has been wreaking havoc all overt the floor defensively. His scoring touch around the rim has also returned, reminiscent of his postseason numbers from last year when he averaged 15.7 PPG and 8.1 RPG on 68.1 percent shooting from the floor.

Branden Dawson is making a push to be a First-Team All Big-Ten selection. (Maddie Meyer, Getty Images)

Branden Dawson is making a push to be a First-Team All Big-Ten selection. (Maddie Meyer, Getty Images)

Dawson struggled early this season before missing two games right before conference play. In looking at his statistical splits on a month-by-month basis, it’s easy to see that he’s playing his best ball at just the right time.

  • November: (10.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 52.8% FG)
  • December: (11.2 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 42.4% FG)
  • January: (13.1 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 1.6 BPG, 58.0% FG)
  • February: (15.2 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 3.0 BPG, 66.7% FG)

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 13th, 2015

The Big Ten unthinkable happened in the form of bottom-feeder Rutgers knocking off Wisconsin in Piscataway on Sunday night. The Scarlet Knights went crazy on the offensive end in the second half against a Badgers squad that is now reeling with the news that senior point guard Traveon Jackson could miss significant time with a foot injury that he suffered in the second half. Maryland, Michigan State and Michigan all won games over the weekend to move into a four-way tie for first place, while Minnesota continued to struggle in losing its fourth straight contest in conference play. Just ahead of a big Tuesday night of action, here’s the rest of the happenings around the weekend in the B1G.

Terran Petteway once again lead Nebraska in scoring when they beat Illinois Sunday night. (AP)

Terran Petteway once again lead Nebraska in scoring when they beat Illinois Sunday night. (AP)

  • Player of the Weekend: Nebraska’s Terran Petteway narrowly edges out Rutgers’ Myles Mack here, and he did so by being much more efficient than he has been this season. He did turn the ball over five times on Sunday against Illinois, but he didn’t force shots en route to 18 points on 4-of-7 shooting from behind the arc. He also did a nice job as a facilitator, leading the team with four assists. It was mentioned on the broadcast, but Petteway and Shavon Shields look more comfortable now that the Huskers have their whole roster finally intact. Moses Abraham and Leslee Smith only combined to play 11 minutes in this game, but Petteway moved like the weight of the world was off of his shoulders so that he could concentrate exclusively on scoring and passing. Pay attention to Nebraska in the next couple of weeks to see if the Huskers get it together and make a run.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: Maryland’s Richaud Pack is not usually a substitute (starting 15 games), but Pack made a cameo appearance off the bench in the Terps’ Saturday game against Purdue as the Terps went with more size (Jared Nickens) against Purdue. The senior scored 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting, including eight in the second half that were essentially rally-killers — each time he scored, it was immediately after Purdue had cut the Maryland lead to under five points. Pack didn’t lead the team in scoring on this day, but his poise under pressure to quell Purdue’s momentum transcend the box score. Credit the transfer for responding to a short-term demotion to still make a large contribution in the win.

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Michigan State Frontcourt Finding Itself Ahead of Crucial Stretch

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 25th, 2014

Michigan State’s narrow victory against Navy in its season opener raised a few serious concerns for Spartans fans, not the least of which was the team’s frontcourt play outside of Branden Dawson. Not only did forwards Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling combine for just 10 points in that win, but the Midshipmen found surprising offensive success near the basket, unearthing countless easy looks on their way to 56 percent shooting inside the arc. After showing some positive flashes in a loss to Duke, however, and playing markedly better against Loyola (Chicago) in its home opener, the Michigan State big men seem to be taking incremental steps in the right direction. On Monday night, in a 79-52 victory over Santa Clara – an evening in which Dawson was sidelined with the flu – those small steps turned into even bigger strides, as Schilling, Costello and Dawson-fill-in Marvin Clark Jr. demonstrated a level of assertiveness and production that was largely missing 10 days ago. With the Spartans’ most crucial week of non-conference play looming just ahead, it’s a sign of improvement that may have come in the nick of time.

Michigan State's Gavin Schilling had a big night against Santa Clara on Monday. (Photo: Mike Carter, Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports)

Michigan State’s Gavin Schilling had a big night against Santa Clara on Monday. (Photo: Mike Carter, Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports)

Tom Izzo mentioned the 6’9’’ Schilling as a possible breakout player before the season began, and he fully looked the part – in terms of production, aggression and physique. After playing somewhat tentatively against Navy, Schilling was at times dominant against the smaller Broncos, scoring 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting and securing 11 rebounds in just 18 minutes on the court – his first career double-double. “He’s so strong and athletic… he’s got a nice jump-hook, he can use both hands,” Izzo said of the big man afterwards. Interestingly, Schilling’s outing was statistically similar to Costello’s night against Loyola, wherein the junior scored a career-high 13 points and notched 11 boards. While he didn’t near that scoring production against Santa Clara, tallying just two points, Costello did log nine rebounds and a pair of blocks, at times demonstrating the same ball-commanding assertiveness he did against the Ramblers (and subsequently earning three trips to the free throw line). More importantly, both he and Schilling were defensive enforcers in the paint, helping limit Santa Clara to a 32 percent two-point shooting mark that would have been even lower if not for a few late buckets. Likewise, the pair combined for 13 of the team’s 21 offensive rebounds, keeping possessions alive and enabling Michigan State to put the game away early. “Costello and Schilling have been bright spots,” Izzo put simply after the game.

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First Weekend Observations From the Big Ten

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 17th, 2014

The Big Ten tipped things off along with the rest of the country this weekend in the form of a whopping 18 games in three days. Minnesota and Rutgers were the only two conference teams that lost, but they also played two teams in Louisville and George Washington, respectively, that should make some noise nationally. While it would be next to impossible to have seen all 18 games in some capacity, here’s some of what we observed on this end.

James Blackmon Jr lead the way offensively in Indiana's huge opening win. (Matt Detrich, Indy Star)

James Blackmon Jr lead the way offensively in Indiana’s huge opening win. (Matt Detrich, Indy Star)

  • Indiana Could be Fun to Watch: A team effective field goal percentage of 75.4 percent will not be duplicated for the whole season, but the Hoosiers played a really fun brand of offensive basketball in their throttling of Mississippi Valley State, 116-65, on Friday night. Freshman James Blackmon, Jr looks to be the real deal, and Robert Johnson (15 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals) might not be far behind. Max Hoetzel also was impressive, displaying the versatility at times to serve as a point forward. The Hoosiers did a really nice job moving without the ball and creating offensive spacing, which lead to many of their 23 three-point attempts being wide-open looks. They will get tested playing SMU at home on Thursday night (after tonight’s Mike Davis reunion with Texas Southern), but the contrast in styles and the return of Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson to the lineup will make it worth watching.
  • Michigan State Needs to Find a Post Presence: Michigan State seemed to be sleepwalking through a good chunk of its five-point win over Navy on Friday night, and it wasn’t just from turning the ball over 18 times. The Spartans allowed Navy to score way too easily inside the paint, causing the game to be much closer than it should have been given the size and talent differential on display. With Jahlil Okafor and Duke looming for Tom Izzo’s team on Tuesday night, Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling will have to be much bigger factors on the defensive end of the floor. Denzel Valentine won’t play as poorly as he did that night, but the Spartans’ offense looked disjointed other than the times when Travis Trice got open looks (5-of-6 from three). Michigan State will eventually get things right and still be a factor in the B1G race, but it might take some time if they can’t prevent those easy inside looks.

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Three Keys for Michigan State’s Trip to Texas Today

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 21st, 2013

In what many thought would be a mismatch coming into the season, Michigan State will travel to Texas today in a game that has turned into an interesting battle of one-loss teams. In beating North Carolina in Chapel Hill Wednesday night, the basketball discourse surrounding Texas has taken a turn from the topic of when will Rick Barnes get fired to one more reasonably assessing the legitimacy of the group that he has assembled in Austin this year. That said, the Longhorns have only beaten one other top 100 team (Stephen F. Austin), so this game will give us an inkling as to whether Texas should be taken seriously. Michigan State has a good deal of question marks itself due to health problems and that the Spartans have come back to earth after strong start to the season. What follows are three keys for Michigan State to come away with the win later today (4:00 PM EST, CBS).

Tom Izzo might have this same look on his face on Saturday if Michigan State doesn't beat Texas(AP)

Tom Izzo might have this same look on his face on Saturday if Michigan State doesn’t beat Texas(AP)

  1. Take advantage of Texas’ Perimeter Defense. This will much easier if Gary Harris comes back strong from his ankle injury, as he will probably be the biggest key if he’s in the lineup. Right now, Michigan State really does not have much in the way of depth, so the return of one of the best players in the B1G obviously adds to that. It’s also important because Texas doesn’t do a great job in defending the three. The Longhorns are ranked 250th in the country in three-point defense, so with Harris back in action they’ll be able to find more spots to take advantage of this. Keith Appling has shot the ball really well this year too, but Travis Trice could play a huge role. He’s shooting 39.4 percent from deep, and if he gets some open looks with Texas paying more attention to Appling and/or Harris, he has a chance to blow up his 7.0 PPG average. Read the rest of this entry »
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Michigan State’s Loss to North Carolina: Three Questions Sparty Must Answer

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 5th, 2013

Michigan State’s run as the number one team in the land is likely over after losing convincingly to North Carolina in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge Wednesday night. The Spartans went down 79-65 in a game in which they were outrebounded, outhustled, and just generally beaten down by the enigmatic Tar Heels. While not an excuse, the Spartans’ three best players all suffered some sort of ailment in the contest, as Gary Harris tweaked his injured ankle, Keith Appling suffered a hip pointer from a nasty spill, and Adreian Payne had a muscle cramp that he couldn’t shake. But nobody else stepped up, as the team shot only 35.9 percent from the field, allowed the Tar Heels to score 1.09 points per possession, and were whipped on the defensive glass (UNC grabbed 39 percent of its offensive rebounding opportunities). None of this will happen to Tom Izzo’s team very often as the season plays out. To answer the titular question, though, the loss isn’t all that meaningful in that it was to a team that very well may spend a good portion of the season in the Top 25. But questions remain that Michigan State will have to answer if it is really to prove that it is a serious national title contender. Here are three in particular.

Roy Williams got the last laugh Wednesday night against Tom Izzo and Michigan State

Roy Williams got the last laugh Wednesday night against Tom Izzo and Michigan State

  1. Does Michigan State have the depth it needs to contend for a national title? This game would have been the perfect opportunity for someone like Branden Dawson, Travis Trice, or Denzel Valentine to take over, but it didn’t happen. Dawson was silent to the tune of scoring only two points and more importantly grabbing only three rebounds. Trice had five steals, but along with only two assists and four turnovers. Valentine shot 1-of-4 from the field and didn’t do anything else to make an impact. If your three best players are struggling with injuries or just off nights, someone else has to come through and none of these likely candidates stepped up. This team is built on the big three of Harris, Payne and Appling, a trio that might be the best group in terms of combined talent and experience of any team in the country, but the others will have to contribute more consistently if Sparty is to reach the final weekend of the season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Three Takeaways from Michigan State’s Champions Classic Performance

Posted by Max Jakubowski on November 13th, 2013

Youth or experience? It was the key question posed going into Tuesday night’s showdown between Michigan State and Kentucky, and the Spartans’ experience won out after holding on for a 78-74 win over Kentucky. The Spartans will presumably be the new #1 in the polls next week, but before that, here are a few takeaways from the huge Michigan State win:

Gary Harris knows his Spartans are the new number one.

Gary Harris knows his Spartans are the new number one.

  • Michigan State will only go as far as its point guard play this season, and boy, did Keith Appling silence the critics with an incredible stat line of 22 points, seven assists, seven rebounds, four steals, and only three turnovers. Appling has been known to have turnover issues and a showing like last night will go a long way to raising the senior ‘s confidence with the ball and running the team effectively. Appling’s backcourt mate Gary Harris also contributed a huge 15-point first half performance. Along with the combined 42 points from the two Michigan State guards, both were active in intercepting the passing lanes of Kentucky and causing a total of 17 turnovers. After Kentucky had tied the game with 4:48 left, Appling hit a huge three from the corner and then Harris stole the ball and finished with a layup to put MSU up for good. Guard play in March wins championships, and if Appling and Harris can continue to make major plays like those, Tom Izzo’s squad has as good a chance as any team to make it to Dallas for the Final Four.

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Big Ten M5: 10.31.13 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on October 31st, 2013

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  1. With the loss of Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State has a big scoring void to fill. Thomas averaged 19.8 points, which was nearly double that of the Buckeyes next leading scorer in Aaron Craft. Ohio State is hoping without just one scorer, though, everyone will get involved forcing opposing teams to guard everyone on the floor. Everyone already knows Craft will have to add some offense to his well-known defense, but LaQuinton Ross, Lenzelle Smith, Sam Thompson, and Amir Williams are the keys to the Buckeyes. If the team gets consistent scoring from all of those players, it will certainly cause opponents bigger headaches than last season when taking away Thomas meant shutting down Ohio State.
  2. Michigan State has plenty of strength returning to its starting lineup in Gary Harris, Keith Appling, Branden Dawson, and Adreian Payne. There’s still one open spot, though, and it appears freshman forward Gavin Schilling is making his case to seize it. In the Spartans first exhibition, a 101-52 win against Grand Valley State, Schilling played the most minutes and scored four points with five rebounds coming off the bench behind sophomore Matt Costello. This position will be an important one to keep an eye on for Michigan State as it tries to make a national title run. The four returning starters already make them a strong team, but if Schilling can continue to prosper and make every position on the Spartans starting five strong, it only makes their chances for a national title better. If he doesn’t get into the starting lineup, it at least makes it a small drop-off if Schilling has to play minutes for Costello or Payne at the forward positions.
  3. There’s plenty of hope surrounding the Purdue basketball program following a disappointing campaign last year. A big key to that will be what the newcomers provide to the Boilermakers, one of which is 5th year transfer Errick Peck. The 6-foot-6, 223 pound forward was in the starting lineup for Purdue in its 80-73 exhibition win over University of Indianapolis last night as he scored five points, had six rebounds and even attempted a 3-pointer. This versatility is something that Matt Painter has noticed and hopes to utilize in the Cornell transfer this season. Peck will likely find himself getting plenty of minutes with AJ Hammons still serving his three-game suspension and could very well find himself playing all over the court for Purdue. His ability to play with his back to the basket or from the outside allows Painter to use a big lineup with Peck at the three alongside Jay Simpson and Hammons or smaller with Peck at the four.
  4. With Mitch McGary and other post players returning to Michigan, John Beilein has a decision coming up soon. According to MLive’s Brendan Quinn, the Wolverines coach will have to decide whether he wants to redshirt freshman Mark Donnal. The 6′ 9″ forward played just more than five minutes and scored three points in Michigan’s 117-44 exhibition win over Concordia, which was more than only the walk-ons. With fellow freshmen Zak Irvin and Derrik Walton, Jr. filling the roles left by Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr., Donnal is the only freshman with plenty of upperclass experience ahead of him. Whether Beilein does redshirt Donnal or not is interesting because, as Quinn points out, Michigan only has 11 scholarship players this season. If he uses a redshirt, that makes the Wolverines very thin with only 10 total scholarship players.
  5. It’s always great to see when a head coach uses his position to help the greater good. Iowa’s Fran McCaffery has certainly done his best to help fight cancer after losing both his parents to colon cancer. Tuesday, McCaffery hosted his second annual Coaches vs. Cancer event where he was hoping to raise more than the $52,000 that was raised a year ago. It’s also given the coach a chance to touch a few people who have dealt with the deadly disease, including the one this story highlights in Wil Roling who joined Iowa on the team’s trip to Indiana last year. Now, Roling has had a going-away party from his hospital and was back at the Coaches vs. Cancer event, but this time he was healthy and playing with McCaffery’s two oldest sons. That’s something we can all celebrate.
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