Reviewing the Big Ten’s Bubble Teams Before Indy

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on March 12th, 2014

The Big Ten Tournament commences on Thursday and teams are either hoping to improve their seeding, resume, or win it outright. But these conference tournaments are always of most consequence to the bubble teams. It’s their final chance to rack up a quality win or two in order to impress the selection committee and see their name announced on Selection Sunday. Four Big Ten teams are on the bubble to varying degrees: Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana, and Illinois. The Cornhuskers and Gophers are squarely on it, while the Hoosiers and Illini are longshots at this point. According to bracketmatrix.com, the consensus view has Nebraska in the tourney as an #11 seed while most have Minnesota in their “first four out.” The table below displays the current profile for all four teams.

b1g bubble resumes 2014

Here’s what lies ahead for each of these teams heading into Indianapolis:

Indiana and Illinois. As it turns out, the two longshots face each other in the first round in the #8/#9 match-up on Thursday afternoon. So while one team will be automatically eliminated from bubble talk in its first game, the other will move on to face Michigan on Friday. Beating Michigan will be a tall task, as the outright Big Ten champs have won five straight — the last two of which were against Indiana and Illinois — and at 15-3 have been the hands-down best team in the league. That said, Michigan won a close game against the Hoosiers last Saturday and went to overtime against last-place Purdue a few weeks back, so they are not infallible. The Wolverines are #10 in the RPI and have an SOS of #9, so a win over Michigan here would be a significant boost to either team’s RPI and could advance that team on to the bubble.

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Big Ten M5: 01.21.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 21st, 2014

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  1. The last time Adreian Payne logged official game minutes was two weeks ago in Michigan State’s thrilling overtime victory against Ohio State. Since then, Payne has been sidelined due to a nagging ankle injury, and yet, his Spartan teammates have managed to go 3-0 in his absence. Although the senior big man feels like he can play if needed, Tom Izzo is thinking about the long term and will most likely keep him out again for tonight’s game against Indiana. According to Izzo, we won’t see the injured senior back in the lineup until the pain in his ankle has been significantly mitigated. The Spartans have managed without Payne thus far, but they have tough matchups against Michigan and Iowa coming up next and if they want to maintain their undefeated conference record, they need their big man back.
  2. On Sunday, Iowa finally got the monkey off its back and beat Ohio State to get its first marquee win of the season. Any objective spectator or anyone who is familiar with advanced metrics knew that the Hawkeyes had been performing at high level throughout the season. Their only losses have been to Wisconsin, Villanova, and Iowa State: three teams that have been ranked in the top 10 at some point this season. But what their resume was missing was a win over a team where they were the underdog. That mission was accomplished on Sunday. ESPN.com’s Eamonn Brennan details how Iowa’s offense has been the important factor for this season’s success. With a significant win now added to their resume, Brennan makes the case that it’s now safe to let your guard down and trust in the Hawkeyes as a legitimate contender.
  3. Things have really gone sour for Illinois since it broke into the AP Top 25 two weeks ago. Since that time, John Groce’s team has dropped four straight games, including one each against Northwestern and Purdue in games where it was favored. Suddenly, a team that looked like it was on its way to consecutive NCAA Tournaments appears in danger of finishing in the bottom third of the league. As a result, John Groce is looking for more consistency from his team. Specifically, he’d like to see their performance on defense and rebounding return to the level it was before the turn of the year. Groce is willing to play some of his younger players like Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill if it means more intensity on the court. However, the second-year head coach needs to fix things quickly since finding wins in the Big Ten will be increasingly difficult.
  4. If there’s one thing we should take away from last weekend’s games, it’s that any preconceived notion of how things will develop in league play should be thrown out the window. A month ago, it looked like Michigan’s hopes of contending for another Big Ten championship were over based on their less-than-stellar non-conference play and the loss of Mitch McGary to injury. Despite these setbacks and their relative youth, the Wolverines are beginning to learn how to win games against upper echelon teams. Michigan reclaimed its position as a championship contender with Saturday’s win against Wisconsin which moved them into a 5-0 tie for first place with Michigan State. John Beilein will need to keep developing his team as the Wolverines have (statistically speaking) the most difficult schedule in the league.
  5. And continuing the trend of outcomes which make no sense in the Big Ten, Indiana followed up its outstanding win against Wisconsin with a surprising loss to Northwestern at home over the weekend. Now the Hoosiers will have to regroup on the road in East Lansing to face a Michigan State team that destroyed them on in Bloomington two weeks ago. Although the Spartans will be without Adreian Payne, Tom Izzo did not need a big contribution from his big man in their last match-up. Instead, Tom Crean will be focused on stopping Gary Harris, who scored 26 points in the previous game. Lucky for the Hoosiers, the middle of the Big Ten is muddy enough where they can make up ground even if they lose to the Spartans. This season, an 8-10 record in league play may be good enough to get a team on the bubble.
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Rebounding Work Key for Indiana When Facing a Zone

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on November 22nd, 2013

After watching two weeks of the regular season and reading at least a month of preseason coverage, it is a well known fact that the Hoosiers may not have a consistent shooting threat from beyond the arc. Even though Yogi Ferrell has improved his long-range shot in the early-going (41%), Will Sheehey has been ice cold (24%) and without Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford, there are few other options. Syracuse laid out a recipe for success against the Hoosiers during the NCAA Tournament last season, which is that Indiana struggles against an athletic zone. That specific game, combined with ongoing question marks about their long-range shooting, provides enough reason for opposing coaches to to use the strategy. But while a zone may serve to slow Indiana’s offense down, the Hoosiers will have a huge rebounding edge with their front line of Noah Vonleh and Troy Williams. For instance, Washington utilized a zone against the Hoosiers last night and it worked in one sense because Tom Crean’s squad shot just 3-of-14 from beyond the arc. However, the zone exposed the offensive glass and the Hoosiers nearly doubled up the Huskies on the boards, 47-27. This tradeoff should continue throughout the season because teams are likely to zone the Hoosiers, and Vonleh and Williams relentlessly attack the glass.

Noah Vonleh (right) is a rebounding machine.

Noah Vonleh (right) is a rebounding machine.

Vonleh was described as a “pogo stick” by the announcers during the game and it may be a fair description because he is proving his rebounding strength, especially on the offensive end. The freshman forward is averaging 12.5 RPG this season and grabbed four offensive boards against Washington. He has excellent footwork in the paint and uses his body to effectively to block out his defender. The Huskies did a good job of trapping Ferrell and Jeremy Hollowell in the high post, forcing them to shoot at the end of the shot clock, but Vonleh was in the right place at the right time to retrieve the caroms. In general, a zone defense leaves the offensive glass open because three defenders crowd the players around the free throw line, which leaves lanes to attack the glass. Even the mighty and athletic Syracuse zone has issues covering the offensive glass because the baseline or the weak side of the basket is usually wide open.

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Noah Vonleh: RTC Big Ten’s Preseason Freshman of the Year

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 6th, 2013

By all accounts, this is the year of the freshmen. Not since the 2007-08 class of Derrick Rose, O.J. Mayo, Michael Beasley and Kevin Love has an incoming rookie class had this much talent. Players like Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Jabari Parker and Aaron Gordon are expected to dominate college basketball for one year and then bolt for the NBA as lottery picks. Unfortunately for Big Ten fans, none of these top recruits chose one of its 12 schools as their destination.  However, this doesn’t mean the conference is devoid of incoming talent. According to RSCIhoops.com, 13 of the top 100 recruits entering college basketball will play in the Big Ten but only one freshman stands out from the rest. Noah Vonleh, the conference’s highest ranked recruit at #8, is a big man from New Hampshire who will play for Indiana. He, perhaps not coincidentally, is the most prepared freshman to have immediate success in the rugged Big Ten.

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Noah Vonleh may be young, but he is battle-ready for the Big Ten.

Vonleh gives the Hoosiers something they’ve lacked since DJ White was in crimson and cream — a physical, back-to-the-basket big man with pro talent. Though he only recently turned 18 years old, the 6’9″, 240-pound Vonleh already has a Big Ten body — add a 7’5″ wingspan to his size, and you realize that he is plenty big, long and strong. He’ll need all of these tools when conference play begins in order to handle the physical play of the Big Ten. He will need to get acclimated quickly to begin to replace what they lost in the frontcourt. Last year’s trio of Cody Zeller, Christian Watford, and Victor Oladipo contributed 47.4 PPG and 20.6 RPG — a rather tall order for the freshman and his colleagues. It could take a while — as a case in point, last year’s best freshman big man, Michigan’ s Mitch McGrary, didn’t start putting it all together until March.

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2012-13 Indiana and the Effect of Early NCAA Tournament Exits

Posted by Chris Johnson on July 11th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn. 

There is one timeless drawback to the NCAA Tournament that makes its otherwise awesome and utterly thrilling single-elimination format a little bit unfair. When teams enjoy successful regular seasons and earn prime NCAA Tournament seeds but, for one reason or another, see their March livelihoods ended earlier than expected, upset losses serve as a referendum on that team’s entire body of work. If a team doesn’t advance to the round its seed implies – #1-seed Gonzaga getting done in by a wicked 23-point-in-nine-possessions run from Wichita State, for example – it is labeled an underperformer. The regular season accomplishments persist through history as nice adornments to dress up a given program or coach’s CV, but in the wake of an upset loss, there is only one description to accurately assess the better-seeded team: underachiever. I’ve heard this appellation tossed in Indiana’s general direction more than a few times in the wake of its Sweet Sixteen loss to Syracuse (whose customarily suffocating 2-3 zone, perimeter length, and shotblocking prowess, amounted to a terrible match-up for IU), and I suppose you can argue, relative to seeding, this is a completely fair judgment. The Wall Street Journal’s Ben Cohen took it a step further in an article headlined “The Biggest Underachiever in NCAA History,” wherein he deems the Hoosiers’ 2012-13 season a massive failure due to their inability to turn two top-five NBA draft picks – a distinction shared by only 13 teams in the annals of the game – into Tournament-gauged success. According to WSJ, last season’s Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller-led IU team was one of only three teams with two top-five selections to lose as early as the Sweet Sixteen. The “Biggest Underachiever” designation owes to the other two Sweet Sixteen-losing teams, North Carolina in 1984 and Duke in 2002, having won national championships in seasons prior with those very same top-five picks on board.

A Tournament upset doesn't define an entire season (AP).

A Tournament upset doesn’t define an entire season (AP).

As you might suspect, Indiana coaches were none too pleased to read the ignominious title bestowed upon their newly-minted outright Big Ten conference championship team. Speaking of which, did I mention that? Indiana won the toughest league in basketball in a historically difficult year last season, posted 29 victories, groomed previously raw wing Oladipo into a lottery pick and saw its gradual ascent to the college basketball mountaintop (after the Kelvin Sampson wrecking ball that sent the Hoosiers into temporary hoops oblivion) realized in triumphant fashion. Tournament loss aside, it was a good year for Indiana basketball, and the coaches were going to make sure WSJ heard this message loud and clear. First came tweets from Tom Crean endorsing Oladipo and Zeller, their accomplishments at the school, and exclaiming the specifics of the well-compensated futures his two top-five picks are entitled to in their new professional basketball homes. Associate coach Tim Buckley followed up at the Hoosiers’ summer news conference Tuesday by highlighting his team’s perseverance.

“We’re pretty proud of this group,” Buckley said. “And we’re disappointed as much as anybody else with not going further in the NCAA Tournament. Our fifth-place team (Michigan) in the Big Ten played for the national championship. That’s how good this league was. And for us to do it night in and night out; I don’t think we ever lost two games in a row. “We had a resilient bunch. I’m really proud of what we’ve done, and I think everybody who’s associated with Hoosier Nation should be really proud of what we did.”

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Big Ten M5: 03.13.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on March 13th, 2013

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  1. Ohio State has had its struggles this season, particularly in finding a consistent offensive threat outside of Deshaun Thomas. However, the Buckeyes have gone on a hot streak as of late — ironically, they’ve done it in a stretch when Thomas has struggled — and surged to grab the No. 2 seed in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament. Late-season surges such as this are nothing new under coach Thad Matta. As the Columbus Dispatch points out, Matta’s teams have won 15 consecutive games in the final week of the regular season, a streak that dates back to 2005. This year — as we’ve seen before — OSU is peaking at the right time, right before the “win and advance” portion of the season.
  2. Finishing No. 8 in the country and getting a No. 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament is quite the accomplishment, especially for a team that lost its leader and best player from last season. However, it’s not enough for Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. MSU was on top of the conference a few weeks ago, but it lost two close games to Michigan and Indiana down the stretch, which ultimately kept the Spartans from winning the Big Ten regular season title. Not getting that championship is an extra incentive for Izzo and his team this weekend, as they try to claim a Big Ten Tournament championship. Not only that, but a run in Chicago would necessarily include some pretty impressive wins, which would give MSU great confidence heading into the NCAA Tournament.
  3. One of the reasons John Groce got the job at Illinois this season is because of the success he enjoyed at Ohio, particularly in the postseason. His Bobcats won the MAC last season and upset Michigan in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Now, he’s heading into his first postseason as a Big Ten coach, but the competition is much tougher here than it was in the MAC Tournament. Still, Groce is excited for his first opportunity to coach in the Big Ten Tournament, and he’s equally excited for his team, which will get the chance to regain some momentum after a bit of a slide to end the regular season.
  4. Sunday’s Michigan-Indiana game was one for the ages, coming down to the final seconds with a tough roll ending up as the difference between a win and a loss for the Wolverines. However, that game just about defined the season for John Beilein’s team, which has shown its incredible potential at times but has also struggled with consistency. The Wolverines have the talent to be the best team in the country, but Bill Simonson of MLive questions whether they have the toughness to make a serious run in the NCAA Tournament. Can UM shake its most recent loss to IU? The talent is there, but it might be tough to get over it.
  5. Iowa has played its last four games without freshman point guard Mike Gesell, but with do-or-die time looming in the Big Ten Tournament, Gesell expects to play on Thursday when the Hawkeyes suit up against Northwestern. Gesell has a stress reaction in his foot, but since it isn’t fractured, he’s been cleared to play despite the pain that limits his abilities. He said he should be able to go. Head coach Fran McCaffery said he will support whatever decision Gesell comes to, noting that the Hawkeyes could certainly use him this week if he’s able to play.
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Big Ten M5: 03.12.13 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on March 12th, 2013

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  1. As if the end of Sunday’s Indiana-Michigan game wasn’t crazy enough, Tom Crean made it even more interesting when he approached Michigan assistant Jeff Meyer to confront him about his time as an assistant at IU. Crean told Meyer that he “helped wreck the program.” Meyer was a Hoosiers assistant under Kelvin Sampson and was partially responsible for some of the NCAA sanctions leveled against the program in the late 2000s. Crean said he later called to apologize and that his actions were inappropriate, but Michigan coach John Beilein wasn’t happy. “We’re never going to use victory or defeat as a platform for any frustrations we’re going to have,” he told MLive. I’m really proud of the way Jeff showed great poise and handled himself in the aftermath of the disappointment in that loss.
  2. It’s hard to dispute that the Big Ten is the best conference in college basketball right now, but what does that mean for the conference when it comes to the NCAA Tournament? Some would argue that it helps the Big Ten teams, because they’ve been tested so much during the season, but others would argue that it may have worn some teams down. Tom Izzo claims it’s the former. He says it gives him and his players confidence heading into the Big Dance knowing that there’s nothing they haven’t seen. He also said the upcoming Big Ten Tournament has the potential to be “maybe one of the great conference tournaments of all-time.”
  3. Wisconsin has lived and died by the three at times this season, and it barely stayed afloat thanks to a buzzer-beating three by Traevon Jackson to guide the Badgers past Penn State. Threes have led to late-game heroics for the Badgers a few times this season, but Wisconsin must do a better job of finding scoring options inside if it is going to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, or even the Big Ten Tournament. UW can’t afford to keep banking on the long ball, because for every game that the shots are falling, there is going to be a game when they aren’t. It’s going to be hard to win four games in four days if the three is Wisconsin’s only offensive weapon.
  4. As the season comes to a close, Bill Carmody’s seat has gotten even hotter, despite the injuries Northwestern has had to deal with this season. NU will miss the NCAA Tournament once again, and that’s enough for many fans to call for Carmody’s job, even considering all the team’s injuries. However, with or without Carmody, the NU program has some problems. There’s no reason to believe things will get easier for a new coach if the basketball facilities don’t receive an upgrade and the stringent academic requirements aren’t loosened.
  5. Iowa has a very young frontcourt this season, with freshman Adam Woodbury and center Gabe Olaseni splitting time at center; and while they’ve had their ups and downs, they’re playing their best basketball of the year right now. Woodbury scored 20 points combined in Iowa’s final two games, while Olaseni has shown improvement on both ends of the floor. He had seven blocks against Illinois and was also a force on the offensive end against the Illini and Nebraska, thanks to his athleticism in the post. Woodbury and Olaseni both should be much improved next season, but they still have a chance to make some noise in the Big Ten Tournament.
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Big Ten M5: 03.07.13 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on March 7th, 2013

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  1. The postgame scene at Assembly Hall after Indiana’s loss to Ohio State on Tuesday night was… well, it’s tough to really describe it. “Odd” doesn’t really do it justice. Following the loss, The Hoosiers held a ceremony for their departing seniors and cut down the nets to celebrate clinching a share of the Big Ten title, thanks to a Michigan win over Michigan State two days earlier. IU won, but it lost. It was celebrating, but the scene was depressing. It’s strange that IU was so set on having a net-cutting ceremony that it didn’t wait until the Big Ten Tournament, when it would have made a lot more sense.
  2. Michigan State still has a lot to play for this season, including a Big Ten title and a subsequent run in March Madness. However, the Spartans got some good news for next season when they found out forward Branden Dawson plans on returning for his junior year. Dawson is likely a future NBA player and he has improved and lived up to his potential considerably since stepping on campus two falls ago. Staying an extra year gives him the chance to make the jump to elite and becoming a certain first round pick. This news potentially extends a long streak of MSU players not leaving early, dating back to Shannon Brown’s departure in 2006.
  3. Despite its early-season hype, Ohio State quickly dropped into the second tier of the Top 25 due to quite a bit of inconsistency from its young players. Outside of Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft, the Buckeyes have struggled to find contributors on both ends of the floor. Now, however, OSU is rolling on a four-game winning streak after taking down Indiana in Bloomington. The most encouraging sign is that the Buckeyes are doing it without dominance from Thomas, who has recently been in a scoring slump. If OSU can win without Thomas carrying them, who’s to say they can’t go on a run in March if he finds his groove?
  4. The Big Ten race is confusing. Five teams can potentially still win a share of the conference title, and depending on a number of different scenarios, we will likely see multiple-way ties for first place in the conference. This chart from The Only Colors is by far the best way to tell how any potential ties will be broken up. Since the Indiana-OSU and Michigan-Purdue games have already been played, the number of possibilities has since narrowed, but Indiana, Ohio State and Wisconsin still all have a chance to get the No. 1 overall seed, even though Indiana is far and away the favorite.
  5. Sunday’s loss to Purdue was a tale of two halves for Wisconsin, just as it was for Badgers’ guard Traevon Jackson. Jackson had been playing well recently, and he continued that trend in the first half against the Boilermakers. But he struggled in the second half, particularly with his passing the ball. While he had problems earlier in the year with his passing, he looked like he had gotten the issue fixed in recent games. Before the Purdue game, Jackson had three of his most efficient offensive games of the season, which also turned out to be some of Wisconsin’s most efficient games this year. In order for the Badgers to be effective down the stretch, Jackson can’t play like he did in the second half on Sunday.
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Big Ten M5: 02.15.13 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on February 15th, 2013

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  1. It’s been a rough few weeks for Glenn Robinson III, one of Michigan’s highly-touted freshmen who started the season strong, but then fell into a cold stretch. As Robinson III has struggled, so has his team, which has dropped consecutive games after finding itself at No. 1 in the nation just a few weeks ago. Robinson III’s five-game struggle has resulted in lower shooting and rebounding numbers, and it’s affected the Wolverines’ entire offense. When he scores at least 10 points, Michigan is 15-0; when he scores less than 10, the Wolverines are 5-4. Over the past five games, he has averaged just 6.2 points per game. Other players need to step up, as well, but for Michigan to turn things around, Robinson III needs to regain the form he showed earlier this season.
  2. Illinois has been wildly inconsistent on offense this year. The Illini are guard-oriented, so they’ve relied a lot on outside shots. When those shots are falling, they’ve been good, but there have also been some bad losses, most notably a double-digit home loss to Northwestern. However, Illinois has been on a recent surge, with wins over Indiana, Minnesota and Purdue. The key for the Illini has been offensive efficiency, and they graded out nicely in that area in the win against Purdue. The effective field goal percentage wasn’t great, but the Illini did well with their points per possession and turnover rate. John Groce’s team must continue to put up solid tempo-free stats in order to finish out the season strong.
  3. Indiana’s depth heading into the year was pretty incredible and one of the main reasons the Hoosiers were considered one of the best teams in the nation. While Victor Oladipo has stepped up more than most expected, the rest of IU’s squad wasn’t all that consistent. However, things are starting to get put together, with Cody Zeller and others playing better. Christian Watford is one of those players who has stepped up, and that was evident in the Hoosiers’ blowout of Nebraska. Watford has scored in double figures in 17 straight Big Ten games dating back to last season, and he’s done so in the last 15 games this year. He gives an IU team full of weapons yet another scoring option, and that wealth of options is what makes the Hoosiers so dangerous.
  4. Matt Painter wasn’t happy with much Wednesday night. Not with his team, and certainly not with the officials. Purdue fell to Illinois and the Boilermakers were forced to finish the game without their coach, who was ejected with around eight minutes left in the game. The issue wasn’t in doubt at that point, so Painter was really just trying to light a fire under his team, which has lost five of its last seven games. The Boilermakers have a very young team and were expected to struggle, and now their streak of six consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances looks to be in serious jeopardy. Now, it’s about building momentum heading into next year, and Painter hopes Wednesday night’s loss ignites some sort of spark.
  5. Early this season, Minnesota looked like it could have been one of the top 10 teams in the country. However, a recent, long losing streak has started some talk of the Golden Gophers falling back onto the bubble. Tubby Smith still needs to get more consistency from his team, but Thursday night’s overtime win over Wisconsin has to be encouraging for a team that was desperate for a win. Minnesota’s star guard Andre Hollins got his mojo back and led to Gophers to the win in an overall gutsy team performance against the rival Badgers. Even after falling behind by 10 points — a tough deficit to come back from against Wisconsin — Minnesota stayed patient and used strong defense to crawl back into the game. It wasn’t pretty, but it ended up being a possible season-saving win for the Gophers.
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Big Ten M5: 02.01.13 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on February 1st, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. Before the season, Keith Appling wasn’t even a Michigan State captain. Tom Izzo was looking at the veteran point guard to become a leader on an off the court for the Spartans, who had lost last year’s emotional leader Draymond Green. Appling has now earned captain status and Izzo has noticed a big change from his junior point guard. Izzo said Appling is doing a better job of communicating on the floor and showing his confidence after sitting down with former MSU point guard Mateen Cleaves. Appling learned to fight through adversity after a rough past, and now he’s doing it on the court, becoming the leader Izzo had hoped for at the beginning of the season.
  2. Ohio State has had trouble finding players outside of Deshaun Thomas, Sam Thompson and Aaron Craft to step up this season. The Buckeyes certainly have talent, but its supporting players — Shannon Scott, Amir Williams and LaQuinton Ross, to name a few — haven’t been consistent. That has resulted in inconsistent playing time among that bunch. OSU has been searching for an alternative offensive option to Thompson and it appears it may have found its answer in Ross. Ross has seen the court much more recently, and part of that is due to his improved listening to coach Thad Matta. He’s taking in more direction from the coaching staff, and subsequently seeing more of the floor.
  3. There aren’t many legitimate criticisms of No. 1 Michigan right now, considering how the Wolverines have been playing. However, people are always trying to find something wrong with top teams, so the common criticism of UM in recent weeks is that its roster isn’t deep enough. After all, the Wolverines rank 326th in the country in bench minutes, according to Ken Pomeroy. But part of the reason the Wolverines don’t go to their bench much is that the starters have played so well. Now though, in the wake of Jordan Morgan’s injury, Michigan is proving that it has enough depth. Jon Horford started the Wolverines’ game against Northwestern earlier this week and gave his team solid minutes, while freshman Mitch McGary also played well. Michigan may not have a star big man, but its frontcourt has proven it can play well this year, even without Morgan manning the paint.
  4. The press has been Minnesota’s best friend and its worst enemy this season. After struggling with its execution earlier in non-conference play, the Gophers’ press worked very well against Nebraska, returning to the form we saw during the non-conference season. Minnesota struggled to press against teams that like to slow things down like Northwestern and Wisconsin, but the Gophers were able to be successful against Nebraska, which employs the same tempo strategy. The bigger issue against the Wildcats and Badgers was their failure to execute in other areas of the game, such as free throw shooting. That prevented the Gophers from ever going all out with the press in those contests.
  5. It’s tough to find a bright spot out of a 97-60 loss, especially a home loss to your rival when coming off a solid win. However, Purdue’s A.J. Hammons was a bright spot for the Boilermakers in their drubbing at the hands of Indiana earlier this week. Hammons was a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school, but like most freshman big men, he has been inconsistent in his first college season. However, he was exceptional against Indiana, scoring 30 points and blocking five shots in 28 minutes, showing the potential we’re likely to see from him down the road. While he didn’t get much help against the Hoosiers, his consistency will be key to how Purdue finishes its season.
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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: 01.11.13 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on January 11th, 2013

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  1. Northwestern suffered through two straight blowouts to open Big Ten play, so the Wildcats were desperately in need of a confidence booster. They got that in by routing Penn State at the Bryce Jordan Center on Thursday night. NU had been struggling with its shooting and its freshmen had suffered some discouraging performances, as most freshmen do, but the shooting improved and the freshmen got involved in the win over the Nittany Lions. A blowout like that is just what the doctor ordered, writes Chris Emma of Scout.com. NU is still a longshot to make the NCAA Tournament this season, but this year is all about helping the freshmen gain confidence and improve, and they certainly showed as much against Penn State, which could carry over in the coming games.
  2. People keep wondering if this is finally the year that Iowa breaks through and makes the NCAA Tournament under Fran McCaffery, and while an NCAA berth is certainly coming soon, it may still be a year away. The Hawkeyes have had three chances for marquee wins in the Big Ten so far, with the latest coming Thursday night at home against Michigan State, but they’ve come up empty in each. Thursday’s game was there for the taking, but Iowa couldn’t close it out, which is the mark of a young and inexperienced team. The Hawkeyes need a big win to get over the top, says Mike Hlas of The Gazette, and a close game with the Spartants was an outstanding opportunity to do that to springboard into the rest of the Big Ten season. Now, Iowa is still searching for such a win, and Big Ten games are becoming much more important as its losses pile up.
  3. The “greatness” debate comes up whenever a very good team seems to be on the verge of a special season, and with Michigan undefeated and about to hit the toughest part of its schedule, that debate has arrived in Ann Arbor. There are some criticisms of this team that aren’t really fair, and given the outstanding talent the Wolverines have on hand, there’s no reason that John Beilein’s team can’t be special. Soon we’ll know for sure if Michigan can silence its critics, as the Wolverines go on the road to face Ohio State and Minnesota in the next week. It’s gut check time for this young group of players. Even losses in those games don’t mean Michigan can’t win in March, but two wins could certainly solidify this group as the top team in the country.
  4. When Michigan heads to Columbus for its game against Ohio State this weekend, it will be a homecoming for the Wolverines’ star point guard Trey Burke. It’s rare that a Columbus product would end up in Ann Arbor, but in this case it’s because Burke didn’t even have an offer from the Buckeyes. Thad Matta has to be regretting that decision now, as Burke could have given the Buckeyes just about everything they lack — a consistent, versatile scorer with the ability to burst for bunches of points. The Buckeyes already have a very good point guard in Aaron Craft, and it’s tough to know which recruits will pan out, but OSU has to wonder how different things might have been if Burke were wearing scarlet and gray rather than maize and blue this weekend.
  5. Recruiting never stops in college basketball, and thanks to an NCAA rule change that allows high school juniors to take official visits after January 1, Indiana will have a special visitor from halfway around the world coming to this weekend’s game against Minnesota. The Hoosiers will be hosting Dante Exum, who ranks as the No. 17 guard in the 2014 class by Rivals. He’s also being looked at Boise State, Georgetown, LSU, SMU, Tulsa and Vanderbilt. If there were ever a game for Exum to fly halfway around the world to see, it would be this one, as Assembly Hall will be packed and should have an electric atmosphere for a top 10 match-up.
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