Fresh Faces Emerging as Big Ten Injuries Pile Up

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 28th, 2015

Big Ten training staffs have been working overtime this season, as many notable names have already missed significant time with injuries. Just last weekend, Aaron White, Robert Johnson, Bishop Daniels, Brandon Taylor, and Mike Williams all suffered various ailments that could result in missed action. This piles on to the already large injury toll suffered by conference teams, with Illinois (Rayvonte Rice), Indiana (Hanner Mosquera-Perea), Michigan (Caris LeVert), and Wisconsin (Traveon Jackson) all losing key starters for multiple games. Injuries, of course, are a part of the game, but it means that others must step in and make contributions in their absences. Here’s a look at how some of these Big Ten understudies have performed with the resulting boost in minutes they’ve received.

Kendrick Nunn has stepped things up offensively in the wake of Rayvonte Rice being out of the lineup. (USA TODAY)

Kendrick Nunn has stepped things up offensively in the wake of Rayvonte Rice being out of the lineup. (USA TODAY)

  • Illinois has gone 3-3 since its star Rayvonte Rice went down in practice. The senior had been logging 11.1 shots per game before his injury, and his primary replacement, Kendrick Nunn, has barely left the court since (36.2 MPG in the six games that Rice hasn’t played). The sophomore has been productive in his absence, though, contributing 16.7 PPG along with 4.5 RPG and 1.3 SPG. Rice’s biggest improvement had been shooting from deep, where he got off to an insane 29-for-60 start, but Nunn has been equally adept from three-point range, making 18-of-39 attempts in six games. On balance, Nunn has effectively matched Rice’s production, but Illinois’ main problem right now is depth. Without Rice and with Aaron Cosby (also sidelined), John Groce is pretty much running a seven-man rotation right now. Should Nunn or forward Malcolm Hill struggle offensively, there really aren’t many other options.

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Big Ten M5: 01.28.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 28th, 2015

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  1. Since it was supposed to be played last night, people have probably figured out by now that the game featuring Michigan State and Rutgers was postponed due to the blizzard that decimated the northeastern part of the country over the last couple days. The game is being pushed to Thursday, which may give the Scarlet Knights some time to heal from a rash of injuries to their perimeter. Bishop Daniels is nursing a strained hip flexor, while freshman Mike Williams is dealing with a sprained ankle that will keep him out of action for up to two weeks. Whether or not Daniels plays or not, forward Junior Etou will be back in the lineup after missing a game due to a team disciplinary issue.
  2. Another freshman is dealing with an injury issue as well, although this one is a starter for a nationally ranked team. Indiana guard Robert Johnson suffered a knee injury in a rather unique fashion in Sunday’s tilt against Ohio State. Coach Tom Crean stated that the team’s fourth leading scorer still may play tonight when the Hoosiers travel to West Lafayette to face Purdue. Indiana has no chance against Purdue’s size, so it will have to bomb away from deep if they want to get a crucial road win. If Johnson can’t go, the onus will fall on Nick Zeisloft or Stanford Robinson to pick up the slack.
  3. The Purdue-Indiana game will feature as big of a contrast in terms of size that will be seen this season. Purdue will try to bang away inside with behemoths Isaac Haas and AJ Hammons. Indiana will counter with a much quicker lineup featuring no player taller than 6’7″. This makes what usually is one of the better rivalries in the league even more interesting this time around. Neither team really has an answer for the strong spots of the other team. It’s worth watching as well because a Hoosier loss would give each team an identical 5-3 conference mark.
  4. The other game tonight features two desperate teams looking to string together some wins to jump up from the bottom of the league standings. Minnesota travels to Penn State, where they’ll need another effort like his 12-point, 13-rebound from Maurice Walker. He’s one of the best post players in the league, albeit in a league where there aren’t many who can punish teams offensively on the block. He doesn’t always play with the aggressiveness the Gophers need, which made his efforts Saturday a big reason why they were able to beat Illinois. Penn State has some depth on the block, but Walker has the advantage over the trio of Donovon Jack, Jordan Dickerson, and Julian Moore. If the senior can continue to dominate on the low block, Minnesota can still make some noise before March.
  5. Nebraska continued to struggle on the road, as they lost by double-digits to a depleted Michigan team Tuesday night. Coach Tim Miles was succinct in his analysis, stating that ” they outcompeted us, they outexecuted us and we didn’t show much heart.” Whether or not the team was overconfident in seeing that Derrick Walton Jr would miss the game, they simply didn’t get anything done offensively. The Cornhuskers struggle sometimes even when Shavon Shields and Terran Petteway are at their offensive peak, but when they combine to go 5-for-23 from the field it’s a wrap. This team has to prove it can win on the road, and needs to do it quickly. It looked like things were starting to trend upward after winning four out of five games, but this result really makes it difficult to imagine them making a repeat NCAA Tournament appearance.
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Big Ten Bracketology Breakdown: January 22 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on January 23rd, 2015

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi released his latest Bracketology update on Thursday, tabbing six Big Ten teams in his projected field of 68. Lunardi had projected the Big Ten to snag eight spots back in November – but it’s no secret that the conference has underperformed against fairly lofty preseason expectations. Lunardi is usually spot-on with his predictions, nailing 67 of the 68 teams last season and correctly naming all 68 in 2013. Let’s take a deeper look at each of his relevant projections.

Wisconsin – No. 2 (East)

The Badgers have been pegged as a No. 2 seed for Lunardi’s last three editions of Bracketology, but they occupied the No. 1 seed in the East as late as January 5. That drop can be 100 percent attributed to the Badgers’ ugly loss to Rutgers, even without star Frank Kaminsky. While Kaminsky is now back in the lineup, point guard Traevon Jackson will be out for much of the remainder of the regular season. But in their first two games without him, Bronson Koenig has admirably filled in and alleviated some of Wisconsin’s worries at the point guard position with solid performances in easy wins over Nebraska and Iowa. The Badgers will face only four more teams ranked in KenPom’s top 50 in their last 12 games, so it appears that they’re essentially a lock for a No. 2 seed or better.

The Badgers struggled in their one game without Frank Kaminsky, but they've been dominant so far in the Big Ten. (Getty)

The Badgers struggled in their one game without Frank Kaminsky, but they’ve been dominant so far in the Big Ten. (Getty)

Maryland – No. 2 (South)

The Terrapins have been excellent in their first year in the Big Ten despite a blowout loss at Indiana on Thursday night. Lunardi had Maryland pegged as the No. 3 seed in the Midwest just over a week ago, but a dominant win over Michigan State in College Park earned them a bump up the ladder. While Lunardi didn’t tab the Terps as an NCAA Tournament team back in November, multiple players have stepped up for Mark Turgeon’s squad – Dez Wells has established himself as one of the conference’s premier defenders; freshman Melo Trimble has exceeded all expectations; and Jake Layman has cut back on his three-point attempts and instead established a solid inside and mid-range game. The Terps’ Big Ten championship dreams took a substantial hit in last night’s road loss, but they’re still a good pick for a top-three seed in any regional.

Indiana – No. 8 (Midwest)

The Hoosiers first entered Lunardi’s projections back on January 15 as a No. 9 seed following home victories over Ohio State and Penn State. Since then, they have won a tough away game at Illinois and thoroughly dominated Maryland last night at home. They’re bound to move up in Lunardi’s bracket if they can complete the season sweep of Ohio State on Sunday in a game that KenPom gives them a 22 percent chance to win. The Hoosiers have clearly recovered from a heavily publicized and troubling offseason as well as an early-season loss to Eastern Washington. Freshman James Blackmon has been fantastic and they’re now thriving under Yogi Ferrell’s leadership.

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Big Ten M5: 01.23.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 23rd, 2015

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  1. On Tuesday night, Iowa suffered an embarrassing 32-point loss at Wisconsin. While that certainly wasn’t the outcome the Hawkeyes were hoping for, it didn’t hurt their postseason aspirations in the grand scheme of things. However, an incident that occurred during the game has escalated into an off-court dispute between head coach Fran McCaffery and ESPN analyst Dan Dakich. The issue in question was whether Iowa center Adam Woodbury intentionally poked two different Wisconsin players in the eyes. Dakich felt his actions were intentional and called the Hawkeyes junior “cowardly” and “gutless” as a result. On his weekly radio show, McCaffery responded to Dakich’s accusation by saying that “It’s absolutely inexcusable that his network would allow him to say those things” and later demanded an apology. Dakich is known for being boisterous but he may have crossed the line with his harsh criticism here.
  2. On Wednesday night, Michigan State eked out a win at home against Penn State. The Spartans have been unusually mediocre this season and are right now headed for a relatively low seed in the NCAA Tournament — or worse yet, the bubble. A major issue has been the poor performance from their veteran backcourt of Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice. Despite being Tom Izzos’ top two scorers, they haven’t been aggressive of late and are shooting 45 percent and 39 percent from the field on the season, respectively. The frontcourt has been picking up the slack, but if history is any indication, the Spartans will need to have their guards play well to have any kind of late-season success.
  3. A battered Illinois team managed to fend off Purdue and get a much-needed win in Champaign on Wednesday night. Before the game the school announced that Aaron Cosby would be out for two weeks due to an eye injury he sustained in the Illini’s previous contest against Indiana. This meant that freshman Leron Black would get an opportunity to showcase the potential many saw in him at the beginning of the season. And boy did he ever. Black had a breakout night, registering his first career double-double (15 points and 13 rebounds) and hitting the dagger three to seal the game. If the Memphis native can turn his seemingly endless energy level into consistent production, the Illini will have yet another backcourt weapon at their disposal when they get back to full health.
  4. No team may be having a better week than Indiana. After getting an important road win at Illinois on Sunday, the Hoosiers backed it up with a statement win by blowing out Maryland in Assembly Hall on Thursday night. Currently, Mark Turgeon and Bo Ryan are the front-runners for B1G Coach of the Year, but Tom Crean should also be considered for the job he’s done this season. This program was thought to be on the decline — and the firing of its head coach imminent — after a turbulent offseason and dubious loss to Eastern Washington in November. But Crean has managed to keep his team together and now has the Hoosiers tied for first place in the conference standings.
  5. Finally, as we found out last weekend, Michigan’s Caris LeVert is done for the season because of a fractured foot. But last Saturday’s game against Northwestern may have also been Levert’s last game in a Michigan jersey given that the junior LeVert is projected to be a first-round pick. If he declares himself eligible for the NBA Draft in April, that would mean John Beilein has turned a once-unheralded recruit into a first round pick going on three years in a row (Trey Burke and Nik Stauskas are the others). That might be a nice thing to brag about, but all of the attrition from unexpected sources has to be frustrating on some level and possibly make it more difficult to get Michigan back into contention for Final Fours.
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Big Ten M5: 01.21.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 21st, 2015

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  1. Freshmen have made much more of an impact this season than last year. Because of this, it’s difficult to truly pick an All-Freshman Team. BTN’s Shon Morris took a stab at it anyway, as he named five guards to his list. Wooden Award Semi-Finalists Melo Trimble and D’Angelo Russell made the cut, along with Indiana guard James Blackmon Jr, Northwestern guard Bryant McIntosh, and Minnesota’s Nate Mason. If there was anything to quibble with here, it would potentially be the exclusion of Purdue first-year players Vince Edwards and Isaac Haas. Both have kind of tailed off as of late in terms of production however, as the quintet of guards have had more of an impact in conference play.
  2. Indiana coach Tom Crean doesn’t necessarily have many fans in the media, and articles written about him are usually slanted toward the negative. Things weren’t helped by the train wreck of a 2013-14 season, and the turmoil that surrounded the team before this season even started. The Hoosiers have exceeded expectations in starting 14-4, and Crean deserves a good deal of credit for the way his squad has performed. Indianan has a rough stretch of games coming up, but finishing in the top five in the league and making the NCAA Tournament should not only enable Crean to not have to worry about his job, but also could put him in contention for Big Ten Coach of the Year.
  3. Purdue can pick up another conference win tonight when they take on Illinois in West Lafayette. After a sluggish start against Penn State that took a miraculous shot to force overtime, the Boilermakers are trying to figure out how to get off to better starts. They’ve trailed in each Big Ten game so far, and the catalysts for the poor starts have been a lack of communication on defense and too many turnovers. With Illinois desperate to stay in the hunt until Rayvonte Rice returns, Purdue can’t afford to let Illinois shoot the lights out in the first stanza like they did against Indiana. Locking down on defense for 40 minutes like Purdue teams of old will determine how far this team can go.
  4. Michigan State has struggled at times this season, and whether or not they turn things around by March remains to be seen. That doesn’t mean that fans of the green and white should get too upset according to Graham Couch of the Lansing State-Journal. Being upset at this non-top 25 unit shows just how good the program has been under Tom Izzo. There’s been some recruiting misses of the highly-publicized variety (Jahlil Okafor, Cliff Alexander, Tyus Jones), and lesser-hyped players that have become really good (Monte Morris, Tyler Ulis). But the fact that this year’s team could still turn things around, combined with a 2015-16 team that has a chance to be really solid should be enough for fans to tolerate the struggles of this team.
  5. College Basketball Talk listed some of the surprises and disappointments so far this season, and B1G teams made the cut on both lists. Maryland made an appearance as one of bigger surprises, with Coach Mark Turgeon being mentioned as a possible National Coach of the Year candidate. As far as disappointments, both Michigan and Nebraska were considered. Both teams won last night, and have a combined 8-5 mark in conference play right now. But they both started the season in the top 25, losing that distinction by playing poorly in the early going. The B1G as a whole has been disappointing, and the dip from both of these squads has played a large role in its demise.
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Big Ten M5: 01.19.15 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on January 19th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. Michigan’s NCAA tournament chances took a major hit on Sunday when it learned that junior Caris LeVert would miss the remainder of the season with a left foot injury. With non-conference losses to NJIT and Eastern Michigan, the Wolverines needed a stellar conference record to impress the selection committee. With their leading scorer and rebounder sidelined, Michigan’s youth-laden roster will be further tested by the heart of the Big Ten schedule. The next week-plus could be particularly rough for them, as a chunk of their squad is suffering from some sort of illness or injury.
  2. Indiana got the best of Illinois on Sunday despite squandering double-digit leads in both halves. Zach Osterman of the Indy Star said the Hoosiers’ resiliency shown today is a sign that they’re headed in a direction that many thought impossible after their tumultuous offseason and non-conference slate. Osterman said that while Indiana has been impressive thus far, they aren’t a contender for the Big Ten title – but given the circumstances they faced in October and November, their recent play is worthy of praise.
  3. Northwestern’s stellar freshman Bryant McIntosh was inconsolable after suffering a two-point loss to Michigan – but according to Henry Bushnell of Inside NU, McIntosh’s miss didn’t matter. What is important, Bushnell said, is that Northwestern is playing well against decent teams. The losses the Wildcats have suffered aren’t in vain, because their improvements are evident. Head coach Chris Collins understands the frustrations surrounding the team’s last three losses, but he stressed that the team’s improvement is an ongoing process.
  4. D’Angelo Russell wowed a national audience on Saturday, dropping 27 points and gathering 14 rebounds in the Buckeyes’ 76-67 loss to Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Despite Russell’s performance, Ohio State was familiarly inconsistent and Thad Matta found few positives to take after the Hawkeyes completed their sweep of his squad. According to Shannon Scott, the Buckeyes’ recent losses are more indicative of their play and not of the strength of their opponents. With a starting lineup that features three seniors, it’s a bad sign that a freshman (albeit a future NBA lottery pick) is proving to be the most consistent player on the team. If the Buckeyes want to maintain a position at the top of the conference standings, they’ll need more out of their experienced players to complement him.
  5. Minnesota defeated Rutgers on Saturday, picking up their first conference win of the season. Their 0-5 start in conference play was the worst since 2005-2006. A loss to Rutgers would have killed the Gophers’ NCAA Tournament hopes, but Andre Hollins dropped in 31 points to save the season for the time being. Amelia Rayno of the Star Tribune said the win brought a jovial feeling back to the locker room, a good sign for a team that was very apparently feeling the pressure in its last few games. The Gophers next five games are all very winnable as they face Nebraska twice in addition to matchups with Penn State, Illinois and Purdue.
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Big Ten M5: 01.16.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 16th, 2015

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  1. Given the Big Ten’s balance this season, it’s widely accepted that if a team can hold home court and win just a few road games, it will likely finish in the top third of the league. On Wednesday night, Illinois got its needed road win at Northwestern with a 72-67 victory. They were led by Kendrick Nunn (25 points) and Aaron Cobsy (19), each of whom gave their most impressive performances of the season. This is an especially encouraging sign for Cosby, who before this game had been nothing short of awful in the shooting department (18-of-74 in the last 10 games). With leading scorer Rayvonte Rice out with an injury until at least February, the Illini need one or more of their guards to produce in each and every game. If Nunn, Cosby and Malcolm Hill can become more consistent, this team can still be on the bubble when Rice gets back.
  2. In case there was any doubt about Frank Kaminsky’s impact after Wisconsin’s loss to Rutgers without him in the lineup, we were reminded of his greatness once again when he returned from concussion symptoms to lead the Badgers to a 70-55 win over Nebraska Thursday night. The senior center scored 22 points and grabbed five rebounds while providing an effective presence on defense. The Badgers will still be shorthanded for several more weeks while point guard Traevon Jackson heals from a foot injury, but Bronson Koenig was able to slide into Jackson’s spot effectively with 11 points against the Cornhuskers. As long as Wisconsin has Kaminsky in the lineup, the Badgers should have no serious challenger for the Big Ten championship.
  3. The Wooden Award Midseason list was released on Wednesday, and four players from the Big Ten made the cut: Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell and Maryland’s Melo Trimble. Three of the four players were expected to be national names in the preseason, but the freshman Trimble’s inclusion highlights just how integral the dynamic point guard has been to the Terrapins’ success. The snubs include the Big Ten’s two leading scorers: Penn State’s D.J. Newbill and Nebraska’s Terran Pettaway. Both players were likely hurt because of their teams’ disappointing play this season, underscoring how team success ultimately factors into decisions about individual awards. It’s also why the Big Ten’s best chance to win the Wooden Award lies with Kaminsky as he leads the Badgers to a possible conference and National Championship.
  4. One of the biggest surprises of the season has been Maryland’s impressive play leading to a 16-2 record and the an early lead with Wisconsin at 4-1 in the conference standings. Like all Mark Turgeon-coached teams, the Terps’ strength lies in their defense (19th in the nation). Not nearly talked about enough, though, has been Maryland’s rebounding performance during conference play. It made a big statement by outrebounding Michigan State two weeks ago, a program that prides itself in how hard it gets after the boards. The secret has been getting players like Jake Layman to commit to rebounding, regardless of position. Thus far, the Terps have won the rebounding battle in three of their first five conference games and all three ended in wins. They’ll have to keep it up this weekend as they once again face a Spartans team that will be looking to redeem themselves.
  5. Finally, Joe Lunardi updated his brackets on ESPN.com yesterday. According to his projections, the Big Ten has six teams currently in the field: Wisconsin (#2 seed), Maryland (#3), Iowa (#8), Michigan State (#8), Ohio State (#8), and Indiana (#9). This would land the conference fourth in bids, with the ACC, Big 12, and Big East each getting more. Given the Big Ten’s lackluster performance in the non-conference schedule and the likelihood that they will continue to beat up on one another, things are unlikely to change much in this regard by Selection Sunday. Bummer.
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Big Ten M5: 01.14.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 14th, 2015

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  1. Northwestern has gotten off to a decent 10-6 start overall with an extremely young lineup. Vic Law came from Chicago’s famed Catholic League as what Wildcat fans hoped would be the beginning of a beautiful relationship between Chris Collins and the Windy City’s best high school players. Fellow freshman Bryant McIntosh has shined, while Law has struggled to adapt to the physicality of Big Ten basketball.  It’s too early to write him off as a bust, but Law needs to produce more than the 2.7 PPG and 4.0 RPG he has contributed in his first three B1G games.
  2. While things haven’t been great this season for Michigan, they have something to look forward to on January 24. Consensus top five wing Jaylen Brown will make an official campus visit on that Saturday when the team takes on Wisconsin at the Crisler Center. Brown would obviously be an enormous coup for the Wolverines. The team they have this season is mainly made up of underclassmen. Even if Caris LeVert were to leave early, having Brown to go along with most of the pieces that should return to Ann Arbor could make the 2015-16 Michigan unit one to be reckoned with in the league next season.
  3. Hanner Mosquera-Perea suffered a knee injury on Monday in practice, leaving Indiana and their already undersized frontline even smaller. The junior from Columbia is averaging 7.5 PPG and 5 RPG this season in a little under 21 minutes of court time. He had been in Tom Crean’s doghouse for getting into early foul trouble in recent games, and now it looks as though Emmitt Holt and Collin Hartman will get most of his minutes inside for the Hoosiers. Hartman played 23 minutes with Holt logging 13 in their win over Penn State last night, but it’s worth monitoring the situation to see how Indiana survives after going from very little size to no size at all.
  4. Frank Kaminsky will be back in the Wisconsin lineup Thursday night when they take on Nebraska in Madison. The senior who leads the team in four major categories (points, rebounds, steals, and blocks), missed the loss against Rutgers after suffering a concussion in the Purdue game last week. The Badgers will still be shorthanded as they will be missing Traveon Jackson due to injury, but with Nebraska playing better with their whole team now healthy, the return of Kaminsky is needed.
  5. Illinois faces a critical test when they travel to Evanston to face their in-state rivals tonight. Despite losing Sunday night against Nebraska, their defensive effort was pretty solid. The problem they’re having without Rayvonte Rice is that they simply can’t shoot the ball. Loren Tate of the Champaign News-Gazette broke down just how pedestrian the shooting numbers have been as of late. Two specifics he mentioned were the fact that Nebraska played off of Jaylon Tate, daring him to shoot from deep. He also mentioned the fact that Nnanna Egwu simply can’t score in the post when he isn’t facing up. If Aaron Cosby and/or Ahmad Starks can break out of their collective year-round slumps, then things might change. Otherwise this team will be buried before Rice returns to the lineup.
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Morning Five: 01.14.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 14th, 2015

morning5

  1. Wisconsin point guard Traevon Jackson is expected to miss six weeks after fracturing a bone in his right foot during their loss at Rutgers. Jackson, who was averaging 9.4 points and 2.9 assists per game, is scheduled to undergo surgerytomorrow and start rehab in 2-3 weeks. The Badgers have enough talent to weather Jackson’s absence (look for Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekkar to have a large burden placed on them) and will probably use Bronson Koenig to take some of Jackson’s minutes so the big thing for the Badgers is for Jackson to return healthy in time for March. In a way, this could turn out to be a blessing for the Badgers by forcing their younger players to develop more quickly and get them ready for March (and possibly April).
  2. We have seen a lot of strange contracts over the years, but the Jerod Haase‘s two-year extension with UAB that includes a clause that requires him to “keep public statements complimentary to the administrators of the athletic department and to UAB” is certainly unique. Based on what we know, this would appear to be a preemptive move to try to limit any criticism of the school which recently announced that it would be cutting its football program and not any history of Haase being critical of the school or administrators. We would be interested in hearing what the potential repercussions would be and how enforceable such measures would be.
  3. Syracuse freshman Chris McCullough will miss the remainder of the season after tearing his right ACL in the team’s win over FSU on Saturday. Tyler Roberson will replace McCullough (9.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game) in the starting lineup. The loss of McCullough, a McDonald’s All-American who was a top-25 recruit in the class of 2014, is a big blow to a team that was already clearly a level or two below the top tier in the ACC. As Mike Waters notes this is just one in a string of significant season-ending injuries Syracuse has suffered in recent year.
  4. Indiana junior Hanner Mosquera-Perea will be out indefinitely after injuring his right knee during a practice on Monday. Mosquera-Perea, who had been averaging 7.4 points, 5 rebounds, and a team-high 1.6 blocks per game this season, has had an inconsistent career in Bloomington prior to this season but appeared to have turned the corner in starting all 16 games this season. His absence will leave a void that will have to be filled by a committee that includes Emmitt Holt, who is probably best known for a November incident where he ran over teammate Devin Davis. Fortunately for the Hoosiers, the Big Ten is weaker than usual this year and they only have three games remaining on their schedule featuring ranked opponents (two against Maryland and one against Wisconsin).
  5. St. John’s picked up a big commitment on Monday when Brandon Sampson, one of the best guards remaining in the class of 2015, committed to play for the Red Storm. While the commitment might not make up for losing Isaiah Briscoe to Kentucky, it is a nice consolation prize and does help bolster what appeared to be a thin recruiting class for Steve Lavin as they beat out USC and California for Sampson. For a while it appeared that St. John’s might also lose Sampson after Briscoe decided to go elsewhere as Sampson had appeared to want to go to St. John’s to play with Briscoe. With St. John’s top guards graduating this year, it would not be a surprise for Sampson to be the starter his first day on campus. The bigger issue could be that Sampson might not have much talent around him particularly if Chris Obekpa and Rysheed Jordan decide to leave school this year, which would not be that big of a stretch, meaning the team would have lost its top six players from this season.
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Indiana Grinds Things Out in Battle of Leading Freshmen

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 10th, 2015

Coming into Saturday’s game between Ohio State and Indiana, both teams were the top two in terms of points per game in the B1G. So in a season that arguably makes less sense as time goes forward, of course these two perimeter juggernauts combined to shoot 7-for-39 from deep. Matchups between two top point guards, and between two of the best freshmen perimeter players in the land did not really materialize. Instead Indiana was able to forget the fact that their shots weren’t falling, by simply being the tougher team. Despite their small size, they enjoyed a 48-39 advantage on the boards. Unheralded bench contributors  like Emmitt Holt and Collin Hartman seemingly made all of the hustle plays that in the end added up to a great win for the Hoosiers. While some of the head-to-head battles never really came into play, here’s a couple of areas that Indiana was able to win on their way to a 69-66 victory.

Troy Williams notched a double-double as Indiana held off Ohio State Saturday in Bloomington.  (Chris Howell/Herald Times)

Troy Williams notched a double-double as Indiana held off Ohio State Saturday in Bloomington. (Chris Howell/Herald Times)

  • Troy Williams-Sam Thompson/Mark Loving: Williams was the best player on the floor, and it wasn’t just because he had 2-3 plays that could end up on Sportscenter’s top 10. The Hoosiers could have very well been lack-luster in the energy department with so many of their outside shots not falling. Instead, they kept up the intensity on the defensive end of the floor, and especially on the boards. Williams was the ringleader on both accounts, grabbing 12 rebounds on the day and not allowing Loving to really get going. Indiana switched in and out of zone all day, so he didn’t necessarily lock one specific person down. But the energy,hustle, rebounding, and timely passing (team-high three assists) swung the game.

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Big Ten M5: 01.09.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 9th, 2015

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  1. On Wednesday night, two conference unbeatens met as Purdue went to the Kohl Center to battle Wisconsin, with the Boilermakers falling just short in a seven-point loss. Despite the defeat, Purdue took some positives from the game, such as their effort in outrebounding the Badgers by five. Matt Painter can take some level of pride as his team came close to upsetting a national title contender on the road, something not many figured it was capable of doing this season. The Boilermakers’ impressive 2-1 start to conference play means that their hopes of returning to the NCAA Tournament is within reach, but they shouldn’t get complacent because they have another tough match-up on Saturday hosting Maryland.
  2. It had been a rough week for Illinois going into Wednesday night’s game against #9 Maryland. The Illini were coming off an 0-2 start in conference play and had just lost their leading scorer and rebounder, Rayvonte Rice, to an injury for at least three weeks. So it’s only natural — given the way that Big Ten play has made so little sense this season — that they shock everyone with a 64-57 victory over the Terps. The Illini were down early but blew up late with a one-man show from Malcolm Hill taking over the game (Hill scored 18 of his 28 points in the second half). It was Illinois’ defense, though, that carried the day in holding Maryland to 36.5 percent shooting and limiting super frosh Melo Trimble to only three free throw attempts (five fewer than his season average). That defense is going to have to continue its newfound effectiveness for the Illini to stay afloat until their senior leader returns.
  3. After last night’s 75-61 defeat of Iowa at the hands of a can’t-miss Michigan State squad, Wisconsin remains the only undefeated team in conference play. This game was a tale of two halves, as the Spartans went into halftime down by 11 points but came surging back with a 25-9 run after the break. The difference was Michigan State’s perimeter game, in which the Spartans made 12 three-pointers and shot at a 70 percent clip — Travis Trice, in particular, was 7-of-8 from deep. This now makes it two blowout wins in a row for the Spartans, as they are starting to look more like the Tom Izzo teams we’re accustomed to seeing.
  4. Indiana will prepare for an important game in Bloomington hosting Ohio State this weekend, as a win over a ranked opponent will mitigate some of the effects from the drubbing Michigan State gave them. Given the Hoosiers’ up-and-down season to go along with the preseason off-court issues, chatter about Tom Crean‘s status on the hot seat has not subsided much. But The Crimson Quarry blog wrote an article using Nebraska football as an example to explain why removing Indiana’s head coach of six years may not be a wise decision. This could be sage advice, as we see every year that it is becoming more difficult to lure desirable coaches from comfortable situations. Look no further than the examples of Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens consistently spurning every college offer that was put in front of them over the past few years.
  5. Finally, the season premiere of The Journey will be on the BTN at 10:30 PM ET after this weekend’s games. If you follow this site, you most likely are already familiar with the program, but in case you’re not, it’s definitely worth watching or recording. It is as well-produced of a series as any other program on television and it takes you deep into off-court storylines of the coaches and players we watch every week. It is must-watch TV every Sunday night.
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On Branden’s Dawson’s Importance to Michigan State

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 6th, 2015

Michigan State crushed Indiana on Monday night and there’s really no other way to describe it. The Spartans – in desperate need of something positive after closing out 2014 with losses to Texas Southern and Maryland – controlled nearly every aspect of the contest, out-rebounding the Hoosiers 50-28 (17-11 offensive), holding the visitors to 0.82 points per possession (their lowest of the season) and pushing the lead to as many as 30 in the second half. Can Tom Izzo’s club be this dominant on regular basis? Probably not. Indiana experienced one of its worst efforts of the season and opponents as offensively skilled as the Hoosiers won’t often shoot 5-of-24 from behind the arc and 28 percent from the field. But Michigan State’s formula for success in the blowout – using strong defense and rebounding to create transition offense – did help further confirm something we already suspected about the Spartans: Branden Dawson is by far the team’s most important player, and his week-to-week level of intensity on both ends of the court will dictate Sparty’s ceiling in the Big Ten.

Branden Dawson (right) had a huge hand in Michigan State's 70-50 win over Indiana on Monday. (Amanda Ray | MLive.com)

Branden Dawson (right) had a huge hand in the Spartans’ 70-50 win over Indiana on Monday. (Amanda Ray | MLive.com)

Michigan State likes to get out and run this year as much as any Izzo squad in recent memory, so the match-up with Indiana, one of the nation’s fastest and most transition-oriented teams, suited it just fine. What enabled the Spartans to open up such a wide margin, however, was not merely their ability to run-and-gun with the Hoosiers; it was their ability to stop them – Indiana was held to its lowest point total and fewest points per possession yet this season. And why couldn’t the Big Ten’s second most efficient offense find its groove? Because Dawson was as defensively aggressive as he’s been all season. The 6’6’’ senior blocked two shots, recorded a pair of steals, defended all five positions at various points in the night and took Indiana forward Troy Williams completely out of the game (zero points in 17 minutes). “We did a pretty good job on [Williams] and he’s been playing off the charts,” Izzo said afterwards. “It really helps when Dawson plays like he did. The rebounding, the running of the court.” Read the rest of this entry »

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