Big Ten M5: 01.25.13 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on January 25th, 2013

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  1. Full disclosure, when I’m not writing for RTC or going to school, I run a site called InsideNU along with RTC columnist Chris Johnson. I don’t typically plug my own articles, but after Northwestern’s win over Minnesota I wrote this feature breaking down the Wildcats’ 1-3-1 defense. NU was getting dominated on the boards by Trevor Mbakwe and the Gophers in the first half and the beginning of the second half, so the Wildcats switched to the zone, stifling Minnesota’s offense and helping Northwestern get into transition. NU ended up holding the Gophers, whose previous season-low was 66 points, to a paltry sum of 48 in that game. The 1-3-1 also helped NU keep things close with Indiana, and suddenly, it appears as if the Wildcats may be able to make things interesting with respect to postseason play.
  2. A victory over Nebraska isn’t all that impressive of a win, but Illinois’ 20-point blowout against the Huskers was just what the doctor ordered. The Illini had been reeling since a win a couple of weeks ago against Ohio State — suffering losses to Wisconsin and Northwestern — so the win over Nebraska was a much-needed confidence booster. Now comes a five-game stretch that could define Illinois’ season: vs. Michigan, at Michigan State, vs. Wisconsin, vs. Indiana, at Minnesota. The Illini may not be favored in any of those five games, but it’s important that they fight through to get at least a couple of wins in order to avoid a collapse similar to last season.
  3. It doesn’t take much offense to beat Penn State this year, and Indiana’s 72 points earlier this week were more than enough to take down the Nittany Lions. Still, the Hoosiers found their offense in unexpected places. Cody Zeller finished with just two points on 0-of-4 shooting — a career low. However, IU got other players to step up, including Will Sheehey, who has struggled with consistency at times this year. Sheehey came into the game with IU up just 23-14, but he hit two threes and helped the Hoosiers eventually increase their lead to 41-19, essentially putting the game away.
  4. In Tuesday’s game against Michigan State, Wisconsin lived and died by the three-point shot. When the Badgers were hot, they were tough to stop, but there were too many cold stretches and low percentage shots for UW to escape with a win. The Badgers came out strong in the first half, but struggled to keep up that pace throughout the game. Wisconsin shot a season-low 29.6 percent from the field, mainly because half of those shots were threes. The three-point shot can be the great equalizer if it’s working, but on days that it’s not, the Badgers must find another way to score through high-percentage shots.
  5. After years of enduring second half collapses, you can’t blame Minnesota fans for getting restless in the midst of a three-game losing streak, especially following a loss to Northwestern. This year, Minnesota has enough talent to earn consideration as a top four seed or better in the NCAA Tournament, but the Gophers must be more consistent in order to reach that goal. In fear of yet another collapse, some Minnesota fans are already calling for coach Tubby Smith’s head on Twitter. It’s just a three-game losing streak and the Gophers will still be ranked, but a few more bad losses could cause Smith’s seat to get a little bit warmer.
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Big Ten M5: 12.06.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on December 6th, 2012

  1. Michigan State doesn’t have any commitments yet for the class of 2013 and only has one — three-star guard Drake Harris — for the class of 2014, but Tom Izzo still has a chance to pull in some very impressive classes in both years. MSU is still after top recruit Jabari Parker in 2013, but the 2014 class is expected to be much bigger (and presumably, better). This week, Izzo was in Chicago to see five-star center Jahlil Okafor and Apple Valley, Minnesota, to see five-star point guard Tyus Jones. Parker and Jones have both visited East Lansing and MSU is in their top five and top eight schools, respectively. If Izzo can snag even one of those three, he’ll have a star in the making, and he has MSU very well in the mix for each of these players.
  2. Illinois is 9-0 and went on a surprising run to win the Maui Invitational, but the Illini still have a lot to work on if they want to keep up their hot start. John Groce’s team nearly lost to Gardner-Webb and Hawaii and struggled again with Western Carolina this week. It might be too early to judge these Illini, who Loren Tate of IlliniHQ reminds us started last year with a 10-0 record. Illinois’ shooting has been erratic and it must be more consistent for the Illini to make a big run, but we’ll find out what this team is made of soon enough, with games against Gonzaga and Missouri coming up. This is a crucial point in the season, with some tough non-conference games remaining and a very difficult Big Ten slate coming up. Now is the time for the Illini to prove this team is actually different than last year’s group that collapsed down the stretch.
  3. Since it’s still only December, rankings are relatively meaningless right now. However, a debate has been raging about whether Indiana or Duke deserves to be No. 1. Of course, this isn’t college football; it’s doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. But it’s a very interesting question. Do the Hoosiers deserve to stay at the top of the polls for not yet faltering from its preseason perch, or should the Blue Devils pass them after what can only be described as a remarkable non-conference run? Since we don’t even have a chance of seeing this match-up until March (or, more likely, April), Hoosier State of Mind gave its opinion on which team has the edge. Obviously, HSOM is an Indiana blog, but it’s a very interesting breakdown on which team matches up better. Will IU fall because of the Big Ten’s depth? Can Duke continue to be successful with such a short rotation? Which frontcourt would ultimately prevail? A potential meeting is still four months away, so why not have some fun with the speculation?
  4. Football has been a sore topic for Nebraskans this week, but for the first time in awhile, Huskers fans can actually turn to some basketball for relief. First-year coach Tim Miles has Nebraska off to its best start since the 2008-09 season and can now boast back-to-back wins against Wake Forest and USC. Fans have taken notice as Miles tries to create some momentum for the program heading into next year’s unveiling of a new 16,000-seat arena. It’s tough to imagine this team, which has just nine scholarship players, doing much damage in the Big Ten, but we’ll get a good barometer of where the Huskers stand when they play Creighton, without question the flagship basketball program in the state.
  5. Coming into the season, freshman Mike Gesell was supposed to be Iowa’s point guard of the future. However, just a month into this year, another freshman, Anthony Clemmons, has taken over that spot, pushing Gesell to the shooting guard position. Some Iowa players have noted that Clemmons is a good defender, but his command of the offense has been impressive in the two games he has started. He was particularly impressive in the Hawkeyes’ recent win over South Dakota, and while he only scored four points, he also had eight assists and zero turnovers. Iowa now has the flexibility to start three players at the point — Clemmons, Gesell and junior Devyn Marble — and all three have seen time there so far. The Hawkeyes already had tremendous depth up and down the roster, so adding Clemmons to the point guard rotation gives coach Fran McCaffery even more options.
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Big Ten M5: 11.29.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on November 29th, 2012

  1. Defense seemed optional for last year’s Iowa Hawkeyes squad, but this year, coach Fran McCaffery and his team claimed things would be different. A week ago, Iowa staged a comeback against Gardner-Webb that was led primarily by defense, and the Hawkeyes had yet to give up more than 75 points. That was before Tuesday, when Iowa gave up 95 points in a loss in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge to Virginia Tech. It looked like last year’s Iowa team all over again, but McCaffery claimed that his team simply didn’t follow the game plan. The game plan certainly needs to be defense, and lots more of it, if Iowa wants to go dancing in March. With big games against in-state rivals Iowa State and Northern Iowa coming in December, we’ll find out soon if Tuesday’s game was a fluke or a possible warning sign that not enough has improved on the defensive end.
  2. Teams often underachieve following a coaching change, but Illinois has exceeded expectations this year under first-year coach John Groce. The Illini are undefeated and ranked No. 22 in the latest poll, and a big reason for that is how well the current players have bought in. That’s especially true of seniors Brandon Paul and Tyler Griffey, who have both improved their offensive outputs this season. Despite being picked ninth in the Big Ten during the preseason, enough unexpected players have stepped up for Illinois to certainly make a run at the NCAA Tournament.
  3. Michigan has been a guard-oriented team for a long time, and that’s no different this year, as Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. are the Wolverines’ two leaders. However, coach John Beilein says that this team has a different feel to it — it can also play with anyone in the post. Finally, in addition to good outside shooting, the Wolverines can compete inside and have solid athleticism down low too. Freshmen Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III are leading the way for UM’s frontcourt, and with that increased inside presence, Beilein’s offensive system has been able to change for the better. That all adds up to a No. 3 national ranking and a marquee ACC/Big Ten Challenge win over NC State.
  4. Nebraska figures to have some growing pains this year under new coach Tim Miles, but the Cornhuskers got a big win on Tuesday by defeating Wake Forest 79-63 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. It was also a win for the record book, writes Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World Herald. The 16-point win was the Huskers’ largest margin of victory in a true road game in nine years, and Miles became the first Nebraska coach to win his first road game since Paul Schlisser in the 1919-20 season. It was also just the Huskers’ sixth true road win in the last four seasons. It’s too early to call this a turnaround in Lincoln, but there are some bright spots for a team that was picked to finish last in the Big Ten.
  5. Minnesota finished up a long road trip with a win over Florida State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and the Gophers proved why they’re considered a sleeper in the conference this year. In fact, they showed exactly how they need to play, writes Amelia Rayno of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Minnesota put together a clean and balanced offensive game, getting help from both its frontcourt and the backcourt. They got up early on Florida State and put the game out of reach fairly quickly. Defensively, the Gophers pressured the Seminoles and forced them into 14 turnovers. If Tubby Smith’s team plays like that all year, Minnesota will be very dangerous — and, of course, it will help if forward Rodney Williams continues to do things like this.
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Austin Colbert Adds to Already Impressive Class for Illinois

Posted by KTrahan on November 13th, 2012

We still don’t know how John Groce will pan out as a head coach at Illinois, but one thing is for sure as his first offseason wraps up — he can recruit. Groce closed out his 2013 class Monday with the signing of three-star power forward Austin Colbert. Colbert, a Gladstone, NJ, native, ranks as the No. 30 power forward in the country. He’s the fifth commitment of this class, joining four-star guard Kendrick Nunn, four-star guard Malcolm Hill, three-star center Maverick Morgan and three-star point guard Jaylon Tate. Scout ranks the class at No. 22 in the country.

Colbert Adds to an Impressive Haul for John Groce

While Colbert is a New Jersey recruit, this class as a whole puts to bed the myth that Groce cannot recruit Chicago. Nunn was a huge get for the Illini, and while Tate isn’t as highly regarded, the Simeon teammates established Illinois’ ability to recruit their area. The Illini were also in the top 10 for Simeon forward Jabari Parker, who is the nation’s top player, even though he has taken them off his list by now. They’re hitting Chicago hard in the 2014 class, too, with offers out to stars Jahlil Okafor, Cliff Alexander and Paul White. Groce also proved he could recruit the rest of the state, retaining Malcolm Hill after he got to Illinois and looking at Kieta Bates-Diop and Larry Austin for the class of 2014.

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Set Your TiVo: 12.27.11

Posted by bmulvihill on December 27th, 2011

Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @themulv on Twitter.  See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

As we head into conference season, we will focus on two games that feature four teams that need a quality win to kick off the “second season”.

Jamie Dixon Needs Someone To Step Up Against Notre Dame

Pittsburgh @ Notre Dame – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN2 HD (***)
  • Without point guard Travon Woodall (currently listed as a game-time decision), Pitt is a two-man team.  Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson have taken 41% of the teams field goal attempts. Luckily, the level of competition the team has faced since the Woodall injury has not been stellar. However, they ran into a tough Wagner team last Friday that gave the Panthers their second home loss to a mid-major team this season. Gibbs is only shooting 38.5% from two-point range and shoots an equal amount of two-point and three-point attempts (just over 100 from each). Robinson is shooting much better from inside the arc, hitting 68.9% of his two-point attempts. To grind out a few more wins prior to Woodall’s return, Jamie Dixon’s team will need to get help from someone other than Gibbs and Robinson. Keep an eye on who steps up against Notre Dame. If a third scorer does not emerge, the pressure on those two may be too much.
  • Notre Dame is in desperate need of a win against a quality opponent. Through 13 games this season, they have zero wins against a school from a major conference. They have lost to Missouri, Georgia, Gonzaga, Maryland, and Indiana. While the Notre Dame offense ranks in the top 50 in efficiency, they have managed to shoot 50% eFG or under in 7 of their 13 games – going 2-5 in those games. Pitt has only allowed three of its opponents to shoot over 50% eFG. In more bad news for Mike Brey’s team, the Panthers are #1 in the country in offensive rebounding percentage and 29th in defensive rebounding percentage. Both areas are weak spots for the Irish. Since the Irish may be catching Pitt in one of its last gamess without its point guard, it is a perfect time for them to pick up a quality win at home. However, they will have to play a lot better than they have played all season.
  • Notre Dame must figure out a way to hit more shots and grab more rebounds. Unfortunately, Pitt is stronger in both areas. Keep a close eye on the Panthers’ rebounding numbers and field goal defense. If they win in those areas and get some contribution from another source than Gibbs and Robinson, they will win. The Irish must keep Pitt a two-man show, if they are to have a shot in this one.

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