Big Ten M5: 02.01.13 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on February 1st, 2013

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  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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New Years Eve Date with Indiana Offers Iowa Basketball a Grand Stage for its Return

Posted by KTrahan on December 28th, 2012

The loudest I’ve ever heard a crowd at a sporting event was at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It was Big Ten-leading Iowa vs. #20 Michigan on February 20, 2006, and I was a seventh-grader who put tickets to an Iowa basketball game at the top of my Christmas list. Those days in Carver-Hawkeye were special; they were the beginning of my love of college basketball. The Hawkeyes walloped Michigan 94-66 on that particular day en route to a Big Ten Championship season. I sat there taking in the atmosphere, preaching to my dad — a Syracuse fan — that nowhere in the country could top the Carver-Hawkeye experience.

Nearly seven years later, a lot has changed for Iowa basketball. The Hawkeyes’ decline has been well-documented, marked by the Steve Alford soap opera and the failed Todd Lickliter era. By the end of the Lickliter era, local high school games rivaled the atmosphere at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Now, the healing has begun in Iowa City, as Fran McCaffery enters year three of his rebuilding project. Iowa has gone from cellar dweller to a program on the rise, and as Big Ten play approaches, Iowa is back in the NCAA Tournament conversation for the first time since, well, that season in 2006.

Fran McCaffery has C rocking again (Cliff Jette photography)

Fran McCaffery has Carver-Hawkeye Arena rocking again (Cliff Jette photography)

Iowa has been eating up the “on the rise” slogan — in fact, it’s the team’s official slogan this year — and the fans seem to be buying in. The Hawkeyes have been on the rise for awhile, and considering the steady progress that McCaffery has made, the fans have been patient with what they knew would be a painstaking rebuilding process. But nobody has mistaken the rise of the program with being “back.” That’s the next step for this program, and could come in the waning hours of 2012, as the Hawkeyes host #5 Indiana Monday in the first game of the Big Ten season.

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The 10 Biggest CBB Stories of 2012 — #8: Indiana’s Resurgence

Posted by Chris Johnson on December 28th, 2012

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

College basketball gave us plenty of memorable moments and stories in 2012. After sorting through the main headlines, we’ve come up with the 10 most consequential items and, for the sake of maintaining publishing sequence symmetry, releasing two per-day over the next five days to lead into the New Year. It was an excellent year for the sport, though I can’t promise you won’t regret reliving at least one or two of the choices. In any case, here’s to summing up a great year and to hoping that 2013 is better than the 365 days that preceded it.

Parity is the force used to describe equality in college basketball. It inheres the sport in every conference in cyclical and sometimes predictable ways, and it allows mid-major teams to dream and perform big in the NCAA Tournament. But there’s no disputing the obvious: College basketball is just plain better when its historically great programs are challenging for conference and national championships. In 2010 and 2011, as Tom Crean methodically reconstructed Indiana’s basketball strength after the Kelvin Sampson mess, college basketball didn’t feel normal without one of its traditional giants. The Hoosiers won 10 and 11 games, respectively, as a nearby program, Butler, ruled the state with consecutive National Championship game appearances.

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Big Ten M5: 12.26.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on December 26th, 2012

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  1. It’s been hard to convince anyone who has watched or covered Hawkeye basketball for much of the past decade to jump onto the “Iowa is back” bandwagon just yet, and for good reason; the Hawkeyes have been inconsistent at best. But this year, after an 11-2 start, Mike Hlas of the Cedar Rapids Gazette is ready to jump on the bandwagon. The Hawkeyes have a very young team and have been inconsistent at times, but they have impressive wins against Iowa State and Northern Iowa, and they’ll be a tough out at home this year. The Big Ten slate starts off against Indiana at home and then with two on the road against Michigan and Michigan State, so it certainly won’t be an easy task to get to March. Still, with a Big Ten slate that is easier than most teams’ schedules in the conference, this may finally be the year Iowa returns to the NCAA Tournament.
  2. Non-conference basketball means cupcake season for the most part, and that has led to criticism of top teams like Indiana that play so many guarantee games in November and December. However, Terry Hutchins of the Indianapolis Star said that the criticism is misguided, because much of the reason for the easy schedule is revenue-driven. The Hoosiers need to make sure that they have 18 to 20 home games per year, and an easy way to do that is to pay teams a fee to come to Assembly Hall for a beatdown. That leads to more home games and more ticket sales, which is what non-conference games are all about. The Hoosiers always go to some early season non-conference tournament, play an ACC/Big Ten Challenge game, and, this year, will have a very difficult Big Ten schedule. Playing a few cupcakes in the first two months of the season certainly isn’t something to get up in arms about.
  3. Minnesota has a history of starting fast in the non-conference season and then slumping at the start of Big Ten play, but this year’s Gophers have put together an impressive resume and look like the real deal. The Minneapolis Star Tribune recently handed out a report card on Minnesota’s non-conference schedule, and a lot of the focus is on Trevor Mbakwe, a player who is starting to look like he did before last year’s ACL injury. He is gaining strength and could potentially re-enter the starting lineup which already features stars Andre Hollins and Rodney Williams. The Gophers have so much depth that this certainly looks like Tubby Smith’s best team yet in Minnesota. Now, with conference play about to start, we’ll get some more answers about a team that has a lot of potential but still also some unknowns.
  4. When eight-year-old Mackenzie Kelley found out that her favorite player, Penn State star Tim Frazier, might not be able to play next year if he isn’t granted a medical hardship waiver, she decided to take the matter up with Santa by asking him to put a good word in with the NCAA. Kelley is a diehard Penn State fan and has met Frazier a couple of times. After she met him initially at a preseason event, she met him again and was excited to find out that “out of all the people he meets he remembered me.” Frazier got a hold of the letter and thanked Mackenzie on Facebook; luckily for Mackenzie — and Frazier — the injury happened early enough in the season that Frazier should be back on the court next year, a gift from old St. Nick indeed.
  5. Derrick Nix has been asked to take on more of a leadership role for Michigan State this year after the departure of Draymond Green, and he’s still improving, as exhibited by a career high 25 points to go along with 11 rebounds in a win on Saturday against Texas. However, the area in which Nix has improved the most isn’t something you would expect from a man his size — free throws. Nix was a bad free throw shooter when he first got to MSU, but endless hours of practice has helped him become much better, improving from a 27 percent free throw shooter as a freshman to a 70 percent free throw shooter this season. Nix said that coach Tom Izzo would rather he was moving around more before practice, but he’s always at the free throw line practicing his shot, and it’s paid off for the Spartans in the long run.
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Award Tour: Anthony Bennett is the New No. 1 Freshman, the Five Worst D-I Teams, and an Ode to the Big East Conference…

Posted by DCassilo on December 14th, 2012

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David Cassilo is an RTC columnist who also writes about college basketball for SLAM magazine. You can follow him at @dcassilo.

Farewell, Big East. As a Villanova grad who grew up in New Jersey, you were always close to my heart. I’ll miss the prime time Saturday night final. I’ll miss the coaching legends. I’ll miss the physical play that would be called for a foul in any other league. I’ll miss the afternoon games of the Big East Tournament. I’ll miss being sponsored by Aeropostale. I’ll miss record crowds at the Carrier Dome. I’ll miss seeing Carnesecca and his sweater sitting behind the St. John’s bench. I’ll miss Mick Cronin being displeased with his team. I’ll miss West Virginia fans throwing stuff. I’ll miss looking at the newspaper and saying, “Wow, DePaul won.” I’ll miss Madison Square Garden. I’ll miss the weird dimensions of the RAC. I’ll miss Seton Hall thinking its good. I’ll miss Providence’s mascot. I’ll miss UConn breaking the rules. I’ll miss Pitt’s illegal screens and 30-year old point guards. I’ll miss Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami. I’ll miss Pitino’s press conferences. I’ll miss people saying Villanova is Guard U when it rarely sends a guard to the NBA. I’ll miss Georgetown running the Princeton offense. I’ll miss the overachievers at Notre Dame and Marquette. I’ll miss that time South Florida was good. I’ll even miss the double bye, Burr and Higgins. Now let’s end this league in style.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

10. Brandon Paul – Illinois (Last Week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 19 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 3.5 APG

Illinois is going to need a big effort out of Brandon Paul at Indiana. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

Brandon Paul tore apart Gonzaga. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

With 35 points at Gonzaga last Saturday, Paul officially declared his candidacy in the Player of the Year race. The major improvement in his game this year comes down to his shooting. He never cracked 40 percent from the field in his first three years but is up to 46.8 percent this season.This week: December 16 vs. Eastern Kentucky

9. Michael Carter-Williams – Syracuse (Last Week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 12.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 10.4 APG, 3.8 SPG

There’s no doubt that Carter-Williams does more to fill up the stat sheet than any player in the country, but it’s his passing that has been second to none. He leads the nation in APG and has 37 dimes in his last three games. A high turnover rate (3.8 per game) and poor three-point shooting (22.2 percent) hold him back from challenging for the top spot. This week: December 15 vs. Canisius, December 17 vs. Temple

8. Jeff Withey – Kansas (Last Week – 7)
2012-13 stats: 13.8 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 5.6 BPG

After blocking five shots against Colorado last Saturday, Withey has swatted the ball at least that many times in six of his team’s eight games. His defensive dominance coupled with the rise of freshman Ben McLemore has the Jayhawks thinking of a return to the title game. This week: December 15 vs. Belmont, December 18 vs. Richmond

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Award Tour: The Struggles of Ranking Cody Zeller

Posted by DCassilo on December 7th, 2012

David Cassilo is an RTC columnist who also writes about college basketball for SLAM magazine. You can follow him at @dcassilo.

What do we do about Cody Zeller? That’s what we’re asking after his second game this season with fewer than 10 points. The preseason pick for Player of the Year has simply not been the monster in the middle that was expected, but he hasn’t been a disappointment either. We’ll start with the bad. He’s scored 20 or more points just twice in eight games and is averaging a pedestrian 15 PPG and 7.6 RPG this season. You’ll find about 100 players with numbers like that. Now the good. He’s shooting 63.2 percent from the field and his numbers are almost identical to his stellar freshman season. To be honest though, Zeller is likely staying as high as he is on this list based on expectation. But now we’re giving him one final chance. If he doesn’t break out by the end of December, he’ll be off the top 10 list.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

10. Elias Harris – Gonzaga (Last Week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 16.8 PPG, 8.1 RPG

Harris has Gonzaga thinking national title. (AP)

As a senior, Harris is finally coming into his own in all areas of the game. That has especially been true for his offense. After a slow start, he’s scored at least 16 points in five of his last six games. As Gonzaga continues to win, his candidacy will pick up steam. This week: December 8 vs. Illinois

9. Isaiah Canaan – Murray State (Last Week – 7)
2012-13 stats: 21.4 PGG, 3.7 RPG, 3.9 APG

With one game this past week against an NAIA opponent, Canaan essentially had an off week. His slight fall down the rankings has more to do with the other players on the list than with himself. Canaan’s biggest challenge for the rest of the season will be playing well enough to overshadow his weak competition. This week: December 8 at Evansville

8. C.J. McCollum – Lehigh (Last Week – 3)
2012-13 stats: 24.4 PPG, 5.0 RP, 3.2 APG

We’ve said all season that if a player from a conference like the Patriot League is going to win this, he needs to be beyond spectacular. McCollum has been close to that, but performances like the 13 points he put up against Fordham in his last game won’t cut it. Chances are we’ll see another 30-point game from him soon enough, though. This week: December 8 vs. St. Francis (Pa.)

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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: 11.02.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on November 2nd, 2012

  1. Exhibition season has officially begun in college basketball and Minnesota kicked off the year with an 81-56 victory over Minnesota State-Mankato Thursday night. The Gophers started the exhibition with the same starting five as the end of last year — Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins, Joe Coleman, Rodney Williams and Elliot Eliason — because that group has performed well in practice together, but coach Tubby Smith also mixed in star forward Trevor Mbakwe, who was injured last season, and Mo Walker, who redshirted last season. Walker had eight points in 11 minutes, while Mbakwe had four points and three rebounds. Minnesota has another scrimmage against Southwest Baptist on Monday before opening the regular season on November 9 against American.
  2. If Michigan is going to have the season many media members predict — challenging for the conference crown — then the Wolverines’ freshmen are going to have to step up. They did just that in Thursday’s 83-47 exhibition win against Northern Michigan, as Nik Stauskus, Spike Albrecht and Glenn Robinson III led Michigan with 17, 16 and 13 points, respectively, along with junior Tim Hardaway Jr.’s 13 points. At one point, coach John Beilein had five freshmen in the game at the same time and he said he didn’t even realize it. Of course, there’s a long way to go before we crown his team as the next Fab Five, but these freshmen certainly didn’t disappoint in their first time on a college court. The Wolverines have another exhibition, this time against Saginaw Valley State, on Monday before opening the regular season on November 9 against Slippery Rock.
  3. Like Minnesota’s Mo Walker, Indiana’s Maurice Creek shined in his exhibition game following a redshirt year. Creek, who had to sit all of last year with a ruptured Achilles’, had 12 points to lead the Hoosiers in their 86-57 win over Indiana Wesleyan. Indiana also received contributions from preseason national player of the year Cody Zeller and Will Sheehey, who both had 11 points and five rebounds. Christian Watford had 11 points and six rebounds, while Victor Oladipo had 10 points and seven rebounds. This is a deep team, and while a win against Indiana Wesleyan proves nothing, IU certainly showed it has plenty of options and can spread the ball around.
  4. Wisconsin has yet to play a game this year, but it has already dealt with injuries to two key players — Mike Bruesewitz and Josh Gasser. Bruesewitz will be back in the non-conference season, but Gasser is out for the season with a torn ACL. CBS Sports has a first-hand account of Gasser’s injury from guest blogger Zach Bohannon, a Badgers forward. Bohannon gives an emotional account of Gasser’s injury and the effect of an ACL injury on teams in general. It was a shocking injury for the Wisconsin players, as Bohannon said they saw Gasser as “indestructible.” It’s a humanizing account of “the face of the program” and puts the careers of college basketball players into perspective.
  5. The Big Ten is known for its low-scoring games and its defense, so it’s not surprising that two of the top 10 scariest defenders in the game, according to ESPN.com, play in the conference. ESPN ranks Ohio State’s Aaron Craft as the scariest defender in the country, citing his one-on-one defensive skills on the perimeter and his ability to steal the ball. Indiana’s Victor Oladipo checks in at No. 5, due to his versatility and ability to defend on the perimeter and in the post. Craft has a reputation throughout the nation as a top defender and he has an effect beyond standard statistics, as laid out by the Aaron Craft Turnometer created by Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn. Only a junior, Big Ten teams likely have two more years of dealing with Craft’s spectacular defensive skills.
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How Will Derek Elston’s Injury Impact The Hoosiers?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on October 25th, 2012

Every prediction about the upcoming college basketball season ought to be made with a disclaimer: “assuming they are healthy.” This disclaimer definitely applies to the Indiana Hoosiers this year. Just a few days after being ranked as the best team in the country by the coaches, Tom Crean’s squad already has experienced its first major obstacle of the season. Forward Derek Elston will be sidelined with a knee injury for 6-8 weeks according to several sources. No team is immune to injuries and Elston’s absence for possibly the first 10-12 games will certainly impact the Hoosiers.

Elston’s knee injury will open up some minutes to the younger Hoosiers’ forwards.

Even though Elston only played 12.3 MPG last season, he was expected to provide an important role off the bench for Crean’s group this year. Averaging 2.4 RPG is definitely not all-conference worthy but he brings several intangibles to the team with his size (6’9, 216 lbs) and experience (senior). Elston, Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls have been around Bloomington for a few seasons now, and their experience will help younger guys like Yogi Ferrell get up to pace very quickly amidst the intense media spotlight on the Hoosiers. Elston is another key body in the paint and would have taken the bulk of the defensive load to help keep All-America candidate Cody Zeller out of potential foul trouble. Senior forwards who have been around the Big Ten for four seasons know a thing or two about defending the paint and he will be definitely be missed during the non-conference season. Elston’s injury obviously means some shuffling within the Indiana rotation but that could also have a positive impact on the younger players in the long run.

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Big Ten M5: 10.24.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on October 24th, 2012

  1. Last year’s Northwestern team had so little depth that at times it was forced to use just six players all game and play John Shurna at the center spot. This year, the Wildcats will be fine depth-wise as they bring in nine new players. Yes, nine. Three of them are redshirts — freshmen Tre Demps and Mike Turner both sat out last year, as did junior Nikola Cerina, who transferred in from TCU. The Wildcats also added two seven-footers — freshmen Alex Olah and Chier Ajou — at center and graduate transfer forward Jared Swopshire, who came to Evanston from Louisville and is expected to make a major impact on the court. Chris Johnson, a Rush the Court contributor who also runs InsideNU.com with me, sat down with coach Bill Carmody to preview all nine freshmen. Carmody seems very excited about Swopshire and added some insight into the center situation, saying Olah has the upper hand on Ajou right now. He was also high on Sanjay Lumpkin, a freshman guard/forward combo who fits nicely in NU’s system and should see significant playing time.
  2. Wisconsin forward Mike Bruesewitz was injured in a workout on October 9, running into the bottom of the hoop and gashing his leg. He could see his bone through the gash and needed over 40 stitches to close it up, but luckily, it was just a flesh wound. Bruesewitz is still recovering, but he finally opened up about the injury that he initially feared could be much worse. He said he first thoughts were if he could ever play — or even ever walk — again. Bruesewitz will play again this year, though the timeline for his return is unclear. ESPN.com’s Andy Katz reported that Bruesewitz likely won’t be available for the Badgers’ November 14 game at Florida, but could be back for a November 23 contest against Creighton in Las Vegas.
  3. The Big Ten basketball media poll was released yesterday, and not surprisingly, Indiana ended up in first place. The poll included 24 writers — two from each team — and the Hoosiers received 21 first place votes, with Michigan, the second-place team, taking the remaining first-place votes. Interestingly, Ohio State was picked behind the Wolverines in the Big Ten, despite being ranked No. 4 in the USA Today Coaches Preseason Top 25. You can see the whole poll at the link above. Look out for No. 6 Minnesota and No. 10 Northwestern as sleepers, while No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 9 Illinois might be susceptible to a fall. Obviously, preseason rankings aren’t that important, but it’s an interesting look at how deep the league is and how far down some good teams are buried.
  4. Michigan State is the first school to land a visit from top recruit Jabari Parker, who will make the trip to East Lansing this weekend. The Spartans are in the top five finalists for Parker, who also lists Duke, Florida, BYU and Stanford as possibilities. MSU has yet to secure a commitment in the Class of 2013, losing out on James Young to Kentucky and Jonathan Williams III to Missouri. However, ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep tells the Lansing State Journal that Parker is the Spartans’ top priority, and now they’re shifting their focus to underclassmen since most other top 2013 recruits have already committed.
  5. The common refrain for coaches whose teams receive high rankings typically goes something like this: “We aren’t worried about preseason rankings. We have to take care of business on the court or else that doesn’t matter.” But not Tom Crean. The Indiana coach had a very different response to his team being preseason No. 1, writes Bob Kravitz in the Indianapolis Star. “How cool is that?” Crean said. Some people will see that comment as cocky or misguided, but it’s refreshing to see a coach who doesn’t pretend to ignore the media and preseason rankings. As Kravitz wrote, Crean knows the ranking is meaningless in terms of how IU will fare this season, but it’s an important stepping stone for a coach whose team went 6-25 in his first year in Bloomington.
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