Big Ten M5: 02.12.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 12th, 2014

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  1. Michigan State point guard Keith Appling will miss another round of games this week due to his wrist injury. The Spartans play Northwestern and Nebraska at home, which are games that they should be able to win without him, even given the parity that the league has been defined by this season. Appling injured the wrist in December against North Carolina, and continued to play through the pain. Whether he should have kept playing, Appling showed a tremendous amount of leadership gutting it out while the Spartans were short-handed. If he and Branden Dawson can come back and regain healthy form when they return, the Spartans are a definite National Championship contender.
  2. Wisconsin needs a lot of things to break their way for them to win the Big Ten regular season crown. They sit at 6-5 right now, but they get a chance to avenge two earlier losses this week with games against Minnesota and at Michigan. The Badgers are back to shooting the ball better, and they withstood a horrible stretch of games defensively to make their way back into the AP top 25 after a one-week hiatus. These games could go a long way to cementing a first round bye in the Big Ten Tournament, along with helping their seeding in the NCAA Tournament.
  3. Many Illinois fans have been clamoring for a starting lineup change to get their improving freshmen more minutes. So when Coach John Groce finally pulled the trigger and put Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill into the starting unit, and this resulted in a win, it wasn’t a surprise that the coach decided to continue with this lineup at Nebraska tonight. Nunn especially has really come into to his own after struggling in the non-conference portion of the schedule. He’s gone from 2.9 PPG to 6.9 PPG, and it will be interesting to see if he continues to improve with the added minutes he’s playing.
  4. There’s a reason that Nebraska Coach Tim Miles is in the running for Big Ten Coach of the Year. Despite not having a bunch of top-100 recruits or a program with a great basketball history, he’s gotten his players to buy in and believe in his system. This can be seen in the fact that the Cornhuskers have come back from some rough defeats to win games that they weren’t supposed to win. One such game was at Northwestern on Saturday. The Wildcats do a tremendous job frustrating offenses, but Nebraska came back from 16-point first half to get their first road win of the season. Miles players haven’t quit, and could be in line for a postseason bid because of it.
  5. Amir Williams doesn’t look like or carry himself like Ohio State’s most important player, but the Buckeyes usually win when he plays well. What has to be maddening for Ohio State fans is the fact that they really don’t ever know which Williams will show up. The Buckeyes lost to Michigan Tuesday night and Williams did not have much of an impact. He got 7 rebounds in 29 minutes, but the Wolverines had 14 offensive rebounds. If Ohio State wants to do anything in March this season, Williams absolutely has have more of an impact and show more consistency.
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Big Ten Postseason Watch: 02.08.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on February 8th, 2014

Conference play has hit the midway point. The top of the Big Ten is already a two team contest contained to the state of Michigan, but the middle of the conference is as muddled as ever with 10th place a mere game and a half back of fourth. With that in mind we examine where the conference’s teams are at in terms of postseason play. All teams currently have a shot of playing somewhere after the conference tournament concludes and RTC’s Daniel Evans currently lists six Big Ten teams in the NCAA Tournament (as does ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, who adds Indiana in his first four out). The teams will be put into tiers depending on where they currently stand, and we will give you a look at what’s coming up in terms of importance along with the KenPom rankings and RPI according to ESPN. Feel free to tell us how wrong we are in the comments and through social media or how your team’s fortunes will change in the final five weeks of the season.

Fighting for a No. 1 seed

Adreian Payne's return is huge for a Michigan State team wanting to claim a No. 1 seed in March (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

Adreian Payne’s return is huge for a Michigan State team wanting to claim a No. 1 seed in March (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

  • Michigan State (KenPom #12, RPI #10): The injuries to Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson have put the Spartans in a bind inside, but it also has let other players develop their games. Payne’s return comes at the perfect time for the team as it makes the final push for a Big Ten championship and a top seed in March. This team can’t afford to lose many more if it hopes to take a top spot, but with everyone back, even a No. 2 or 3 seed would work just fine for a healthy squad that can contend for the national title.
  • Michigan (KenPom #14, RPI #15): This team is far from dead after the injury to Mitch McGary. The development of freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. has been instrumental to the Wolverines becoming stronger in conference play. The potential for John Beilein’s team to grab a No. 1 seed could be decided this week with two massive tests at Iowa and at Ohio State. Win both and it looks reasonable; lose either and it will be battling for a top four protected seed.

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Big Ten Weekend In Review: Things Just Keep Getting Weirder

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 4th, 2014

In the first half of the B1G slate, one team has proven to be more consistent that everyone else. While all of the puzzling final scores have rolled in, Michigan has been rolling over the competition, rising to #10 in the country and sitting at 8-0 in conference play. That of course all changed on Sunday when the Wolverines inexplicably lost to Indiana at Assembly Hall. With that result, there are now eight Big Ten teams within one game of each other (with five or six losses) in the conference standings. Here’s an attempt at summing up what turned out to be another batty weekend around the league.

Yogi Ferrell spearheaded another big home court win against Michigan. (Brian Spurlock, USAT)

Yogi Ferrell spearheaded another big home court win against Michigan. (Brian Spurlock, USAT)

Player of the Weekend: Yogi Ferrell: If you take a glance at the box score and see that Ferrell went for 27 points on 7-of-8 shooting from behind the arc, you would assume that’s the sole reason why he was the best player of the weekend. But he was also primarily responsible for holding fellow B1G POY candidate Nik Stauskas to only six points on Sunday. The Hoosiers game planned for Michigan’s best player brilliantly, placing Ferrell on him one-on-one and never leaving to help. Ferrell marked him all over the court, and while Stauskas wasn’t his normal aggressive self in Bloomington, the sophomore guard deserves a good deal of the credit for holding him in check. He topped off a tremendous game by grabbing a key rebound in the closing minutes when he simply outhustled everyone as the Wolverines were frantically clawing back. Ferrell put the Hoosiers on his back Sunday, and they earned a huge resume boost in large part because of his efforts.

Super Sub of the Weekend: Gabriel Olaseni: The British big man gets the nod for bench production for the second weekend in a row. He tallied a double-double again, doing so by dominating the offensive glass in Iowa’s survival of the Illini. The Hawkeyes have been going through a malady lately where they go for long stretches at a time without a field goal. During those dry spells, they survive by living at the free throw line. Olaseni was active and at the forefront of this trend in the first half, as he went to the line 10 times (making nine) on his way to an efficient 15 points. He also led the way with 12 rebounds in 26 minutes.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review: Injuries Catch Up with Contenders

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 27th, 2014

It’s been enough of an ordeal for Michigan State to try to win B1G games and stay in the top five of the national polls without injured superstar Adreian Payne. The combination of Payne and Branden Dawson (broken hand) out of the lineup, coupled with a scorching hot Michigan team, led to the Spartans’ first conference loss on Saturday evening. Meanwhile Nebraska proved that it is going to be a tough out any time teams have to travel to Lincoln this season. The Cornhuskers moved to 9-1 at home with their Sunday night win over a Minnesota squad playing its first game without an injured Andre Hollins (ankle). Despite the loss, Malik Smith stepped in for Hollins and put up 29 points on 8-of-12 shooting from behind the arc. Here arethe rest of the peaks and valleys from weekend number four of Big Ten play.

Terran Petteway put up 35 points in Nebraska's upset win over Minnesota Sunday night. (AP)

Terran Petteway put up 35 points in Nebraska’s upset win over Minnesota Sunday night. (AP)

Player of the Weekend: Terran Petteway: The season Petteway is getting greatly overlooked due to Nebraska’s mediocre record. The transfer from Texas Tech has been getting buckets in a variety of ways all season long, and this was fully evident over the weekend against the Gophers. He went for a career-high 35 points, shooting 10-of-15 from the field, including 4-of-6 from three, six boards, three assists, a steal and a block. Minnesota had no answer for him, as he continually burned the Gophers from deep and by getting into the lane whenever he wanted. Nebraska has a nice core to build around for future years, and Petteway has the chance to be at the forefront of this renaissance.

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Big Ten M5: 01.22.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 22nd, 2014

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  1. When Michigan head coach John Beilein refers to a schedule that includes three games against top 10 opponents consecutively as an “incredible opportunity,” some might claim that the rigors of Big Ten play have made him slightly insane. If the Wolverines can somehow win all three of these games against Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan State, however, his quote will prove rather prophetic. Winning against Iowa tonight won’t be an easy task though, and Beilein acknowledges as much when he states that the Hawkeyes’ length, versatility, and experience make for a opponent different from any team his Wolverines have seen so far. It will certainly be interesting to see how they match up with the waves of players Iowa can throw at them.
  2. Two desperate teams will meet in Columbus tomorrow night. In advance of this crucial game between Ohio State and Illinoishead coach John Groce gave his team a much-needed day off on Sunday. The Illini had just come off of a stretch of three games in seven days, all of which resulted in losses and a drop from being ranked to completely off of the NCAA bubble. Maybe getting a chance to rest up and hit the reset button will be the cure for what ails this team.
  3. Speaking of bubble teams, Minnesota is going to need both Andre and Austin Hollins to be at full strength for the Gophers to make a run to the NCAA Tournament. That’s why it has to be moderately disturbing to learn that Andre Hollins has been playing through a toe injury. Head coach Richard Pitino said that the injury is probably why he has had some trouble with effectiveness in the second half of recent games. There really isn’t much margin for error if Minnesota wants to let him rest and fully recover. Unlike Michigan State — a team boasting a deeper roster that enables the Spartans to rest injured star Adreian Payne — the Gophers need every win they can get. Hollins is just going to have to play through the pain of the injury for the team to get to the postseason in Pitino’s first season in Minneapolis.
  4. Iowa has been somewhat hit or miss with its shooting from the three-point line despite the Hawkeyes’ 15-3 overall record. They have a pretty good percentage on the year (38.2%), however, and this number has risen lately thanks to the hot shooting of junior Josh Oglesby. The junior went 5-of-7 from deep as the Hawkeyes turned a close game into a blowout against Minnesota on Sunday. Oglesby, Jared Uthoff, Roy Devyn Marble, and Mike Gesell can all get hot and knock down a handful of threes in a given game. They’re all somewhat streaky, but the ability to get this kind of production from multiple players is just one of many reasons why Iowa remains extremely dangerous in the long run.
  5. Wisconsin is coming off of a two-game losing streak, and the Badgers’ lack of production from the bench has been a key part of that. Freshmen Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig now realize with the intensity of the conference season in full swing that they can’t play like rookies anymore. They both have learned what to expect after dealing with the crowd at Indiana’s Assembly Hall last week. Hayes is needed to provide frontcourt depth, and Koenig needs to be able to come in and spell the Badgers’ guards. The quicker these two can morph into consistent bench options, the better the chances for the Badgers to go on another long winning streak.
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Big Ten M5: 01.16.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on January 16th, 2014

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  1. Rushing the court debates are always fun in college basketball. It’s what the name of this website comes from, after all, so after Indiana rushed the court after knocking off Wisconsin Tuesday night, it sparked some outrage and debate among, well, basically everyone who follows college basketball. The reaction piece linked by ESPN.com‘s Eamonn Brennan may be the best way to look at it, too. Sure, maybe Indiana has too much tradition and the win last night didn’t “deserve” a court rush. But really, of all things to get riled up and worried about, the “rules” of when and when not to do so may be the most silly. Frankly, it’s college students enjoying a big win and carrying their emotions out onto the court. Who cares if it doesn’t fit your “rules,” because as Brennan says it, “They aren’t lisning (sic) to your rules. They’re too busy having fun.”
  2. Here we go again with Illinois. Last season the Illini came out of the gate strong and had everybody wondering if they could squeeze their way into discussion for the Big Ten title race before collapsing. This season, they once again started the year surprsingly well, but after a loss to Purdue last night, it’s a three-game losing streak that has everyone wondering if they will be making a slide just like last season. The key to the loss last night was specifically in the starters not producing enough outside of a slightly hobbled Rayvonte Rice. Nnanna Egwu, Jon Ekey and Joseph Betrand combined for 17 points against the Boilermakers and this is following a total team disaster offensively against Northwestern. For Illinois to get back on track and keep its potential for the NCAA Tournament alive this will have to change quickly.
  3. Northwestern was hopeful it could pull off “deja vu” against Michigan State. Not only did it want to replicate an upset from two years ago, but also the upset it pulled over Illinois this past week. With Michigan State hobbled, the Wildcats hung around before ultimately falling by 14, but it did get some high praise from Tom Izzo after the game. The Spartans head coach said it was the best defense he had seen from a Northwestern team in years, marking that’s the sign of a good coach. That’s pretty high praise for Chris Collins.
  4. On the other side of the Illinois loss was what we have all come to expect from Purdue‘s AJ Hammons. The center has constantly been called a potential lottery pick and dominant player in the conference. Yet, despite all the physical tools he hasn’t put it together and been consistent enough. Last night, though, he reminded everyone why the high praise is there as he helped Purdue to its best win of the season. Hammons final stat line of 17 points, eight rebounds and three blocks shows the key to Purdue’s win and potentially it’s NCAA Tournament hopes. If he can play like that every game, the Boilermakers may not be dead and NIT bound just yet.
  5. It wasn’t a good week for Ohio State. Two losses to two of the top teams in the Big Ten certainly isn’t what the Buckeyes had in mind. Still, despite the bad week, Thad Matta realizes there is still plenty of season left to play. This reaction is certainly the best possible one (at least publicly) the head coach can have with his team. It’s a veteran group that will need to respond quickly with its trip to Minnesota tonight, and it should understand two back-to-back losses don’t derail its hopes for a high seed in the NCAA Tournament or even the hopes for competing in the Big Ten. It is unlikely the conference winner will finish with just two losses, so the Buckeyes have plenty of season left to turn it around.
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Big Ten M5: 01.15.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 15th, 2014

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  1. Ohio State head coach Thad Matta isn’t exactly known for utilizing a deep bench. But players like freshman Marc Loving have enabled Matta to play up to nine players this season instead of his usual six or seven. Loving has taken advantage of the opportunity he’s been given, especially in recent games. He was part of the group that helped the Buckeyes come back and force overtime in their close loss to Michigan State, showing the trust that Matta has in keeping him on the floor for long stretches. With five upperclassmen starters in the lineup, he also has the advantage of coming in without the expectations that other freshman in the league are saddled with.
  2. Keith Appling has gotten incrementally better through his four seasons at Michigan State. This is why some media members like ESPN‘s Dan Dakich believe that he’s in the driver’s seat for B1G Player of the Year honors. With fellow senior Adreian Payne out indefinitely with a sprained foot, head coach Tom Izzo needs Appling and his leadership now more than ever. He’s delivered to the tune of 16.4 PPG, 4.6 APG, and 48 percent shooting from three so far. If he continues to put up those numbers and the Spartans finish in the top three in league play, there’s no reason why he couldn’t come away with such postseason honors.
  3. As Minnesota jumps into an extremely arduous stretch of their schedule, questions have been raised about how the Gophers can get more production from stretch fours Oto Osenieks and Joey King. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune‘s Amelia Bayno broke down how each player has performed in advanced statistical categories in order to answer the question about which player should start. The numbers show that there isn’t a significant difference between the two. In watching the Gophers play, King seems like he could make more of an impact if given more minutes, but for now Richard Pitino is going to stick with the same lineup he’s been going with.
  4. After playing reasonably well in the non-conference part of the schedule, the Illinois bench that consists of five freshman has essentially hit a bit of a “rookie wall.” Players like Jaylon Tate and Malcolm Hill have both showed flashes of players who can contribute all season, but they’ve been non-factors thus far in league play. Tate looked like he was going to challenge the then-struggling Tracy Abrams for the starting point guard spot in the first 10 games, but has now gone to getting only three minutes in the loss to Northwestern Sunday night. If Illinois continues to fail to get any production from these first-year players, they will continue to struggle in Big Ten play.
  5. Glenn Robinson III did not get off to the greatest of starts this season, which resulted in him as the scapegoat for Michigan losing some early games. He’s turned things around quite nicely as of late, averaging 16.2 PPG on 59.5 percent shooting in his last eight games. So what’s the secret to Robinson’s successful turnaround? In letting him tell it, he’s been playing better because he’s smiling more. After talking to his high school coach, Robinson decided that if he played more relaxed and with more positive energy, he would contribute more. It’s hard to argue with the results, as Michigan won again Tuesday night to move to 4-0 in conference play.
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Big Ten Weekend in Review: Iowa Sparkles While Illinois Falters

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 14th, 2014

The second weekend of the B1G conference season was considerably more exciting than the first, featuring two of the biggest upsets of the early season schedule. Northwestern won a game well before anyone would have predicted, and Iowa got the quality road win that it needed down the line. Meanwhile, Indiana, Michigan State and Purdue all survived nail-biters. Here’s some other highlights from the second weekend in Big Ten play.

Roy Devyn Marble led his team in scoring with 22 points in their upset of Ohio State (Joe Camporeale-USA Today Sports).

Roy Devyn Marble led his team in scoring with 22 points in their upset of Ohio State (Joe Camporeale-USA Today Sports).

Player of the Weekend: Roy Devyn Marble: Noah Vonleh and Denzel Valentine were both worthy candidates here as well, but Marble had a tremendous game against the Buckeyes. The main takeaway from his effort on Sunday afternoon was that he didn’t force anything. In the other losses this season for Iowa, Marble tried a little too hard to take over the game. He scored 27 points in the loss against Wisconsin a week earlier, but needed 24 shots to do it. In this game, he only needed 13 attempts to get to 22 points. He also added four rebounds, three assists, three steals, and two blocks to his all-around floor game. His size was a problem for Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott all day, as he did most of his damage on cuts and drives into the lane. He also was disruptive defensively, using his long arms to get into the passing lanes for steals. When Marble plays within himself and lets the game come to him, Iowa is just that much more dangerous.

Super Sub of the Weekend: Tre Demps: No Dave Sobolewski meant more minutes for Northwestern’s Demps, and he more than took advantage of the opportunity. He was simply an assassin in the second half, hitting three huge three-pointers in the last 6:32 of the game that proved to be the difference in the Wildcats’ 49-43 upset win over Illinois. Demps also chipped in eight rebounds and five assists in 33 minutes of action. The Big Ten’s third leading scorer off the bench might have triggered a permanent move of JerShon Cobb to the point, freeing up more minutes for the sophomore to make more of an impact in future games.

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Big Ten Postseason Watch: 01.10.14 Edition

Posted by Jonahtan Batuello on January 10th, 2014

Selection Sunday is always on everyone’s minds as conference season gets underway. So, with 10 days of Big Ten play already done, now is a good time to start a weekly look at where conference teams’ postseason chances are currently sitting. Joe Lunardi has released a new Bracketology (as well as RTC’s Daniel Evans) so why shouldn’t we start putting out our own thoughts as well? The teams will be put into tiers depending on where they currently stand, and we will give you a look at what’s coming up in the next week that’s of importance (along with the KenPom rankings and RPI according to ESPN (it should be noted these rankings do not include last night’s games even though the commentary does). Feel free to tell us how wrong we are in the comments and through social media, but here is your first Big Ten Postseason Watch of the conference season.

Fighting for a No. 1 seed

The Badgers are well on their way to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament (AP)

The Badgers are well on their way to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament (AP)

  • Michigan State (KenPom #9; RPI #10): The thrilling home win over Ohio State puts the Spartans in line to earn a No. 1 seed. This next week is mainly about getting healthy as Tom Izzo’s team depth is severely lacking. If Sparty is healthy, games versus Minnesota and at Northwestern shouldn’t be too much trouble.
  • Ohio State (KenPom #1; RPI #7): Losing its first game of the conference season certainly hurts the Buckeyes when angling for a top seed. Its best chance for a statement win is now gone but Ohio State doesn’t have much time to relax. Iowa comes to Value City Arena this week and then a trip to The Barn isn’t a guaranteed win with the Golden Gophers needing a marquee win for its NCAA Tournament hopes.
  • Wisconsin (KenPom #3; RPI #1): The Badgers are well on their way to a top seed come March if it can continue to take care of business. Fran McCaffery helped them win at home, and then they easily took care of Illinois. Now, Wisconsin heads to Bloomington where Bo Ryan has owned Tom Crean. With its favorable schedule, Wisconsin looks like the best bet to become a top NCAA seed from the conference.

Playing to improve its seed

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Big Ten M5: 01.10.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 10th, 2014

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  1. Much like fellow freshman Nigel Hayes, Ohio State’s Marc Loving has the advantage of coming into a situation where he can blend in on a top-5 team with plenty of upperclassmen. Loving has been getting more extended looks from Thad Matta in terms of playing time, and has been taking advantage of the opportunity. Loving stayed on the floor through much of the Buckeyes’ furious comeback the other night against Michigan State over veterans LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith Jr. Loving has averaged 11.5 points per game in his last two, and is part of the reason why Matta is taking advantage of having a deeper bench then in previous years.
  2. Tom Izzo really still doesn’t know what to think after the Spartans held off Ohio State on Tuesday night. “We survived, great teams have to survive. I think we’re a damn good team. But I don’t know where we are right now,” stated the coach. Injuries have continued to hamper the team, as seniors Adreian Payne and Keith Appling both battled lingering foot problems and muscle cramps respectively. This win could be the type of close-call victory that makes championship-caliber teams tougher, or it could be a sign that this preseason national championship contender will struggle to hit its ceiling because of injury problems.
  3. Illinois made their first appearance of the season in the top 25 this week, but it might be a short stay after they were thoroughly dismantled by Wisconsin on Wednesday night in Madison. The team really is ahead of schedule in the John Groce tenure however, as they still sit at 13-3. Perspective is needed as this unit that features a bench filled with freshman, and two transfers in their starting five has done a really good job just getting to the level they’re at right now. The Illini should still make the NCAA Tournament, but the game on Wednesday showed that they still have a ways to go to get back to the upper level of the conference.
  4. John Beilein deserve a tremendous amount of credit for honoring the letter of intent signed by Austin Hatch. Hatch survived two plane crashes and was in a coma for two months. He made his triumphant return to the court recently at his new high school in Los Angeles. And in Hollywood fashion, he drilled his first shot, causing his team to rush the court to congratulate him. Whether or not Hatch ever has an impact on the floor for Michigan, his story should be told to everyone.
  5. Wisconsin continued to roll on Wednesday night, and in the process secured their place in the history books. They officially have now gotten off to the best start in school history with their 16-0 mark. Despite the total curb-stomping they put on the Illini, Bo Ryan still wasn’t pleased with the fact that Illinois grabbed 25 offensive rebounds. This illustrates part of the reason why this program under Ryan consistently overachieves. There isn’t any danger of this, or any of his teams getting caught up in the hype or starting to enjoy their press clippings too much. Ryan will make sure they stayed motivated and focused on the fact that there is still a lot of basketball left to be played this season.
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Buy, Sell, or Hold: Big Ten Stock Analysis

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 8th, 2014

CBS studio analyst and SI.com columnist Seth Davis wrote his annual article on Monday treating 63 teams as though they were stock market commodities. He gave each squad a designation where he chose to either buy, sell, or hold the stock of each team. When buying, it means that the team may be struggling right now, or struggled at some point recently, but he thinks it has a chance to play much better going forward. When holding, it means he thinks the team is likely to stay where they are, or that he’s unsure about what they will do going forward. When selling, it means that the team appears to have hit its ceiling and can only get worse, or that it doesn’t have much of a chance in his eyes. For example, Wisconsin and Indiana are both in his sell category, but for different reasons. Most of Davis’ takes involving Big Ten teams are spot on, but here’s how each of the eight B1G teams were listed, followed by a few takes about teams that could be classified differently.

Nik Stauskas will play a major role as Michigan attempts to prove to people that they can thrive without Mitch McGary (USA TODAY Sports)

Nik Stauskas will play a major role as Michigan attempts to prove to people that they can thrive without Mitch McGary (USA TODAY Sports)

Seth Davis’ Selections

Buy: Michigan State
Hold: Illinois, Minnesota
Sell: Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin 

RTC Big Ten Microsite Changes

Michigan: (from Sell to Buy). Everyone has written off Michigan with Mitch McGary’s back injury, but Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan have stepped in and done a nice job in his absence. Davis mainly talks about how brutal the Michigan schedule looks, but 10 or more conference wins is still a real possibility. The win at Minnesota last week already helps quite a bit, and they could very well start 4-0 in the league before they go to Wisconsin on January 18. The stock on Michigan has been low since the team’s early struggles, and it plummeted to great depths when the McGary news broke. But there is still too much talent on this roster to believe that John Beilein’s team can’t finish in the top four of the conference. This could definitely be a value buy if you get the Wolverines now.

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Big Ten M5: 01.07.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 7th, 2014

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  1. For the second year in a row and the first time this season, Illinois has cracked the AP Top 25. John Groce was lauded for turning around the Illini last season, but what he has been able to do this year with this roster is more impressive. This is a deeply flawed team. They do not shoot the ball well from deep, have no semblance of an inside scoring threat, and do not get to the free throw line very often. They do, however, play excellent defense and get offensive rebounds, which, along with Groce’s philosophy of Toughness and Togetherness (T-N-T), have kept the Illini competitive against more talented teams. A huge test awaits them on Wednesday when they head up to Madison to play undefeated Wisconsin.
  2. In the preseason, everyone named Gary Harris as the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year. But the sophomore star has been hampered by injuries and has not made the impact most of us thought he would by this point of the season. Despite these setbacks, Harris has managed to lead the Spartans in scoring and appears poised to live up to the expectations we all placed on him. This past weekend, the Indiana native returned to his home state to play the Hoosiers and scored 26 points. After the game, Harris made it clear he’s ready to take off, saying about his performance: “I was more aggressive with my shot. I was ready to shoot more.”
  3. For college basketball diehards like us, we know how impressive the job Thad Matta has done at Ohio State has been. But for most of the sports-watching general public, Ohio State will always be associated with football dominance. Matta knows this and is OK with it. In ESPN.com‘s Dana O’Neil’s interview with him, the Buckeyes’ head coach made it known that he is concentrated on his players and becoming the best basketball program Ohio State can be. That’s not always true for an occupation as eg0-driven as coaching high level sports, as some coaches would prefer to be the main attraction at their respective school. But Matta seems to know his place in the grand scheme of things in Columbus and that suits him just fine.
  4. Michigan‘s season has not gone as it had hoped. In addition to having four losses already, they also lost Mitch McGary to back surgery for an indefinite amount of time. While no one on the roster can replicate what McGary does when he’s 100 percent, Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan have managed to fill the role admirably with their two very different styles. Horford has a more advanced offensive game, while Morgan commands the defense. What both players provide that McGary may not have had, is the leadership that comes with experience. Both upperclassmen have been with the program not just during its very successful season in 2012-13, but with some of the missed opportunities from seasons past. Their tenure gives them the perspective needed to lead this team through adversity.
  5. On Monday, Fran McCaffery once again apologized for his Sunday outburst when his Hawkeyes were playing Wisconsin. It’s not the first such explosion for the Iowa head coach, as he has had a previous episode of slamming chairs. Apparently, this latest incident was a step too far for McCaffery’s boss, athletic director Gary Barta, who made a strong statement where he said that his coach “crossed the line of acceptable behavior” with his conduct. It’s unclear whether McCaffery’s ejection had any real effect on Sunday’s game (besides the five immediate free throws) or the season going forward, but not angering your boss should be reason enough for him to change his behavior and keep his cool on the sidelines going forward.
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