Big Ten M5: 10.21.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on October 21st, 2014

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  1. Preseason lists for this award and watch lists for that honor are being released in earnest. When it comes to a very specific list, plenty of Big Ten players are honored on the All-Indiana College Basketball Team, consisting of players from the Hoosier State who compete at the collegiate level. The first team includes Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell and Michigan State’s Branden Dawson, and perhaps a debatable player to some in Purdue’s AJ Hammons. The second team includes Michigan’s Zak Irvin, while three Honorable Mentions in Indiana’s James Blackmon, Jr. and Purdue’s Basil Smotherman and Raphael Davis. The team exhibits all the Indiana talent that is scattered across Big Ten rosters beyond just those playing for the in-state Hoosiers and Boilermakers.
  2. Minnesota is a team with some intrigue surrounding it entering this season. The Golden Gophers return four starters from its NIT Championship squad and it has raised some hopes and created high expectations for this year’s team. Some of these projections make sense and seem legitimate, such as Andre Hollins making an All-Big Ten team; but others, like Elliot Eliason leading the conference in rebounds and blocks, are a little more unrealistic. The biggest question to answer for Minnesota fans is whether the Gophers can make the NCAA Tournament and push forward to the second weekend of action. To accomplish such a feat, the team will need Hollins to really improve with the losses of Malik Smith and Austin Hollins. He has the skill set and talent to do so, but it will take a very strong campaign for Minnesota to rise to become a player at the top of the Big Ten and nationally.
  3. With the loss of Noah Vonleh to the NBA, it is no secret that Indiana has some major question marks on its interior this year. One player hoping to provide an answer, however, is Devin Davis. He is one of the few interior players the Hoosiers have returning with experience. The best thing going for Davis may just be that he isn’t a dominant offensive force but he is a strong rebounder. With this year’s team likely looking to rely on its perimeter play to propel the offense, a solid defender underneath who can also attack the boards fits very well. While Davis will likely sit behind Hanner Mosquera-Perea in Tom Crean’s rotation, his style could be beneficial and result in a significant number of minutes throughout the season.
  4. There are high hopes in Wisconsin this season, so to get ready for the year, why not start debating the past? What would you rate as the Badgers’ top play of the past 10 years? While this list goes with Bo Ryan making his first Final Four, personally the Ben Brust half-courter against Michigan would top my list. The real question for Wisconsin fans is whether this list will include more big plays from the upcoming season, and at what stakes? Certainly there could be a few leading to Big Ten and national accolades.
  5. Ever wondered what was in Lebron James’ locker? How about what is in his locker at Ohio State? Yes, Lebron James has a locker inside Ohio State’s locker room, right next to Amir Williams. He doesn’t use it, given that he’s a 29-year old professional and all, but the Buckeyes display Nike gear with his name on it to help appeal to recruits when they come to visit Columbus. Not a bad ploy to use despite King James never playing at Ohio State, or college anywhere, for that matter.
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Big Ten M5: Microsite Relaunch Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 15th, 2014

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  1. Freshmen are always the great unknown this time of year, as we never know who is going to come into the college game ready to light the world on fire and who will take more time to develop. Two Big Ten freshmen were named on CollegeBasketballTalk‘s list of the top 20 x-factors heading into the season this week, Ohio State’s D’angelo Russell, and Michigan’s Marc Donnal. Russsell, a 6’5″ guard, was ranked 30th by 247sports.com in the class of 2014, and he comes in with a reputation as someone who can fill it up from the perimeter. Donnal redshirted last season in Ann Arbor, but he needs to step in and contribute for a Wolverines’ squad that lost their top four players in the post. Ohio State and Michigan will probably be picked in the top five of the league by most pundits, but both of these newcomers will determine whether they stay there once the season tips off.
  2. Sticking to the motif of figuring out the unknown in the month before regular season play begins, Maryland and Rutgers are set to make their basketball debuts in the Big Ten. Maryland comes off an offseason where it had multiple players leave the program, but one where the Terps also brought in an elite recruiting haul (top 10, according to some experts). One of their prized recruits is Slovakian Michal Cekovsky, a 7-footer who apparently wouldn’t crack the starting lineup right now because holdover Damonte Dodd has impressed Mark Turgeon in the preseason. With Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell now gone from the program, Dodd and Cekovsky need to become heavy post contributors as the Terrapins deal with the rigors of playing in the Big Ten for the first time.
  3. Frank Kaminsky became a bit of an overnight celebrity last season for Wisconsin, leading the Badgers in scoring as they made their way to the Final Four. He’s on everyone’s radar now, but it’s not widely known how much of a role his father has played in his rapid development. Kaminsky’s father was a similarly skilled big man who simply blossomed too late to have much of a playing career in the 1970s and ’80s. He passed along a good deal of his skill set to his son, however, developing many of his perimeter skills before ever setting foot in the paint like a normal 7-footer.
  4. Indiana picked up its second verbal commitment from the Class of 2015 on Tuesday, as late-rising wing Ogugua “OG” Anunoby pledged his services to the Hoosiers. Anunoby is only ranked as the 194th best player in his class, according to consensus rankings, but scouts see a good deal of upside from the wing from Jefferson City, Missouri. Tom Crean and his staff like to have their pick of long, rangy, wings on the bench, so this makes sense even if he’s seen as a bit of a project who primarily played in the post on his AAU and high school teams. Anunoby joins forces with power forward Juwan Morgan as the team’s two signees from thus far from next year’s class.
  5. We will be breaking out our own preseason all-conference teams along with other assorted predictions in the upcoming weeks here on the Big Ten microsite. In the meantime, though — and in advance of Big Ten Media Day in Chicago on Thursday — BTN.com voted for its preseason all-conference teams on Tuesday. Michigan junior Caris LeVert, Nebraska junior Terran Petteway, and Wisconsin’s Kaminsky all were unanimous first-team selections. The Badgers’ junior Sam Dekker and Michigan State senior Branden Dawson rounded out the first team. Sorry, Northwestern and Rutgers fans, no players from either squad received any votes for any of the superlatives listed.
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Digging Deeper Into ESPN’s Future Power Rankings

Posted by Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) on September 16th, 2014

The 2014-15 college basketball season may be creeping ever closer, but the folks over at ESPN are already thinking well beyond Indianapolis and the 2015 Final Four. Last week, ESPN’s group of college basketball insiders released their take on what Top 25 polls could look like over the next three seasons in a column entitled “Future Power Rankings.” The panel evaluated and rated programs on a 1-10 scale in five different categories — Coaching, Current Talent, Recruiting, Program Power, and Stability — then pooled the results to extract a singular score (out of 100) for each program. Coaching, Current Talent and Recruiting each counted for 25% of that final tally, while Program Power made up another 15%. Stability counted for just 10%.

Rankings and lists may seem particularly interesting on the slog through these college basketball-less months, but the exercise in responding is the same now as it will be in January, February and March: We will always have our gripes. Highlighted below are a few of the more controversial decisions — some method-based, others result-oriented — that ESPN’s committee of experts produced.

Coach K Should Have Plenty Of Reasons To Keep Smiling; His Program Graded Out On Top In ESPN's Future Power Rankings

Coach K Should Have Plenty Of Reason To Keep Smiling, As His Program Graded Out On Top In ESPN’s Future Power Rankings

  • Redundancy Within Formula: In many ways, this list would have wound up more accurate, honest and interesting if the esteemed panel hadn’t been forced to break down each program into five components. The gimmicky, algorithmic path that they followed may offer more individual points of discussion (Is John Thompson III really that bad a coach? Is the power of Xavier’s program ACTUALLY significantly stronger than Villanova?) , but there’s significant overlap across many of the categories. The delineation between coaching and recruiting is often a difficult one — as Mike Francesa and John Calipari recently discussed — and stability also strongly correlates with a successful, entrenched head coach. In fact, save for Kentucky, every team in the top 10 of the rankings had a stability score that measured within four points of their coaching score (UK received a 98 for coaching and an 88 for stability). Looking elsewhere, recruiting and program power are another pair of categories with predictable overlap, as growth in either category inevitably fuels the other.

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Big Ten Season Grades: Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on April 16th, 2014

With the end of the season comes a chance to look back at what happened and look ahead to next year. Here we have broken the conference into three corresponding tiers based on this year’s finish and will give each a final grade and look at a key question for 2014-15. Today we’ll examine four teams that are hoping they don’t replicate this year’s bottom four finish: Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue.

Indiana

Yogi Ferrell had a great 2013-14 campaign and will need to replicate that for Indiana to be successful next year. (Darron Cummings, AP)

Yogi Ferrell had a great 2013-14 campaign and will need to replicate that for Indiana to be successful next year. (Darron Cummings, AP)

Grade: D. The Hoosiers lost so much with the departures of two lottery picks that maybe we all expected too much. Still, with Noah Vonleh (another likely lottery pick), Yogi Ferrell, Will Sheehey and “The Movement,” quite a bit more was expected from this group. Failure to make the NCAA Tournament (or even the bubble) and falling to the bottom tier of the Big Ten represents a very bad year for the Hoosiers. The program’s one bright spot was the emergence of Ferrell as not only the team’s best player but also one of the best in the conference.

Key 2014-15 Question: Who plays inside? Indiana will have plenty of guards on its roster next season. It brings back Ferrell and Stanford Robinson and its recruiting class includes McDonalds All-America shooting guard James Blackmon Jr. and shooting guard in Robert Johnson. With Vonleh and Jeremy Hollowell now gone, though, this team will lack an inside presence. Hanner Mosquera-Perea hasn’t really panned out and Troy Williams is a wing who doesn’t dominate inside the paint. Tom Crean is still recruiting in the hopes of filling this hole with a late commitment, but as of now, the Hoosiers could be looking at a four-guard lineup next year.

Northwestern

Grade: B. A “B” may seem high for a team at the bottom of league but this group of Wildcats was expected to do absolutely nothing in the Big Ten this season. Recall that at one point the question was if they could win a single Big Ten game. Chris Collins did plenty to change that notion quickly, as he made the team’s identity about defense and pushed it to win six games in conference play (and at one point had pundits wondering if it could make its way onto the NCAA bubble). It was a big and unexpected turnaround that has the Wildcats looking to break the NCAA drought sooner than later.

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Houston’s Smartest Move: Hiring Kelvin Sampson

Posted by Mike Lemaire on April 4th, 2014

It has been rumored for some time but multiple reports have seemingly confirmed it – former Oklahoma and Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson is making his return to the college basketball ranks as the head coach for Houston. Sampson doesn’t even have to change area codes for his new job as he has spent the past three seasons as an assistant coach right across town with the Houston Rockets. Why was he coaching in the NBA when he has such a proven track record at the collegiate level? Well, if you are a college basketball fan, you should have at least some idea how to answer that question.

Kelvin Sampson is a Strong Hire for Houston

Kelvin Sampson is a Strong Hire for Houston

Sampson made headlines in 2008 when he was hit with a five-year show-cause penalty for basically calling and texting recruits even after the NCAA had repeatedly told him to stop doing so. He was also at the center of the Eric Gordon recruiting saga after bringing the star to Indiana despite Gordon’s verbal commitment to Illinois. There may be some hand-wringing over Houston’s decision to bring a repeated NCAA felon on board, but he has served his time away from the collegiate ranks and if other coaches like Bruce Pearl are being given second chances, there is no reason Sampson doesn’t deserve one as well. Frankly, the marriage looks like a savvy move from both parties.

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Big Ten M5: 04.03.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on April 3rd, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Frank Kaminsky wasn’t always a star at Wisconsin, so it’s easy to forget that he rarely saw heavy minutes behind a loaded Badgers’ frontcourt in his first two seasons. This year the junior burst on to the scene when he set the school’s single game record with 43 points against North Dakota. His progression into a star didn’t surprise his athletic family that knew it was just a matter of time before he got there. He has now certainly reached their expectations, as he won the West Region’s Most Outstanding Player award last weekend. Kaminsky’s on-court success lies in his ability to play both inside and outside the paint, causing nightmares for opposing teams and representing a big key to Wisconsin’s potential of winning a national championship this weekend.
  2. One of the Big Ten teams facing the most turnover this offseason is Michigan State. Sparty is for sure losing two starting seniors in Adreian Payne and Keith Appling, and is likely to also lose Gary Harris to the NBA. Add in the potential of Branden Dawson also going league and the Spartans could be looking at four new starters next season. This makes starting lineup projections interesting, with Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine, Kenny Kaminski, Matt Costello and probably Javon Bess or a three-guard lineup if Dawson leaves. Michigan State will be a very interesting team next season, having lost a great amount of talent and on paper appearing to be a middle of the pack conference team. Then again, while all the injuries hurt Tom Izzo’s team this season, it gave these reserves minutes that they wouldn’t have otherwise gotten.
  3. Another team facing plenty of questions right now is the other major school sharing the state. Michigan has three potential guys who could bolt to the NBA this spring, which creates quite a distinguishable best and worst case scenario for next season for the Wolverines. If Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary all return, John Beilein’s team won’t just be a favorite to win the Big Ten, but also a national title favorite. If all three leave school, Michigan will still be solid and likely to battle for a top four spot in the conference standings, but its national contender status would certainly be very different barring huge jumps from the remaining players.
  4. The Big Ten had three players in the McDonald’s All-American Game last night. With this in mind the Big Ten Network‘s Shawn Merriman evaluated the top former Big Ten players who participated in the game. Players were rated solely based on their collegiate careers and the winner is none too surprising. Not only is Michigan State’s Magic Johnson the best former Big Ten McDonald’s All-American to play in the game, but he could easily be argued as the best Big Ten player of all-time. Others on the list include plenty of big names like Purdue’s Glenn Robinson and Indiana’s Isiah Thomas and then some college stars like Michigan State’s Mateen Cleaves and Illinois’ Dee Brown. Will any of this year’s three participants have careers similar to what these guys accomplished? Probably not, but you never know until they show up on campus.
  5. Northwestern may have not gotten to play in the postseason again this year, but senior Drew Crawford still has another game to go. Crawford will play for the West in the Reese’s Division I College All-Star Game in Dallas this week. He is one of two Big Ten players invited to the game along with Indiana‘s Will Sheehey, who will play for the East. It is a solid career-ending honor for two seniors who were major contributors for their teams this season. Neither may have made the NCAA or NIT this season, but getting one more game will be good for them to showcase their skills.
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Big Ten M5: 03.19.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 19th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Plenty of Purdue fans were unhappy with their team after a last-place season filled with inconsistent play. The Boilermakers were already slated to lose four seniors, and had just lost the promising career of a redshirt freshman from a heart ailment. Their sophomore center, a player as inconsistent as he is talented, is contemplating entry into the NBA Draft. Now, starting point guard Ronnie Johnson has decided to transfer. Johnson does not know where he’s headed yet, but the latest departure makes an already volatile situation in West Lafayette even worse. The Boilermakers just signed point guard P.J. Thompson, so it looks like it will be up to the freshman or Bryson Scott to run Matt Painters’ offense in 2014-15.
  2. Another less-heralded sophomore is also leaving the Big Ten this week. Northwestern forward Kale Abrahamson has decided to play his final two years of basketball elsewhere. Abrahamson was never a great fit for Chris Collins’ system, so it’s not too terribly shocking that he’s leaving. Known mostly for his ability to stretch the floor, his shot wasn’t as consistent as it needed to be. He shot a solid 34.6 percent from behind the three-point line this season, but that percentage needs to be considerably higher if it is his primary skill on the floor. With five new recruits on the way to Evanston, look for this to be a much different Northwestern squad next season.
  3. Minnesota played about how you might expect a team to play when they’re given an NIT bid after residing on the bubble for the better part of two months. In their opening round victory over High Point Wednesday night, the major story to come out of the game was an early injury to Deandre Mathieu, who took a hard fall after being fouled on a layup attempt. Should this be a significant injury, the Gophers’ chances of getting to New York City for the semifinals look quite slim.
  4. Indiana didn’t win enough basketball games this season, and the Hoosiers certainly aren’t ringing in the offseason by winning any trophies in Public Relations 101. Shortly after athletic director Fred Glass made headlines with his quote about playing in the CBI, head coach Tom Crean said that people could say whatever they want to him on Twitter, because he doesn’t read it anyway.He went on to tweet: ” I receive a lot of good advice through the years and some is really good. I love the passion of the fans. I just don’t read my twitter.” You can interpret things however you wish, but it’s probably best that the staff of Indiana probably just stays quiet for a while.
  5. The fruits of Nebraska’s run are starting to help them on the recruiting trail, as the Huskers recently picked a commitment from point guard Tarin Smith. The guard plays for legendary high school coach, Bob Hurley, Sr., of the fabled St. Anthony’s program in New Jersey. This leaves Tim Miles with a good problem to have on his roster next year, with multiple options in the backcourt between Smith, Tai Webster, and Benny Parker.
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Big Ten: NIT and CBI Analysis

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 18th, 2014

The Big Ten ended up getting seven NCAA Tournament bids for their 12 schools once the field of 68 was announced on Sunday night. This ended up bursting the bubble for Minnesota, who was really the only team that didn’t get in that had an outside chance of doing so. They did, however, manage to receive a #1 seed in the NIT. The Gophers will host High Point on Wednesday night. Illinois received a #2 seed and will travel to Boston to take on Boston University on Wednesday night. It’s also worth noting that Indiana did not get into the field due to the fact that their RPI was not high enough. Their season is done after they declined an invitation to the CBI while Penn State will continue on in the CBI.

Here’s a little of what these teams have to look forward to as their seasons continue in the shadow of the bigger tournament:

Richard Pitino will look to build for the future as a number one seed in the NIT. (AP)

Richard Pitino will look to build for the future as a number one seed in the NIT. (AP)

  • Minnesota: The Gophers take on High Point in their first-round game. The Panthers went 16-14 in the Big South, and they are led by 6’8″ sophomore John Brown. They do not have anyone over 6’9″, so look for the Gophers to try and pound the ball inside and get plenty of points in the paint. If they win that one, they’ll play either St. Mary’s or Utah. St. Mary’s would be interesting because former Minnesota starting guard Joe Coleman transferred there in the after Tubby Smith was fired. Utah was on the bubble for a little while and they boast wins over UCLA, Colorado, and Arizona State. They could get a match-up with Missouri in the quarterfinals if they take care of their first two opponents, which would set up a great point guard battle between Deandre Mathieu and Jordan Clarkson. Read the rest of this entry »
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Morning Five: 03.18.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 18th, 2014

morning5

  1. The coaching carousel has continued to turn with two spots opening up yesterday. The big opening was at Virginia Tech where they fired James Johnson after he won just 22 games in two seasons. Johnson was hired to replace current ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg after serving as an assistant under Greenberg. We will not try to make excuses for the Hokies’ performance under Johnson, but he was not helped by Dorian Finney-Smith and Montrezl Harrell leaving the school after Greenberg was fired. On a much smaller level, Southeastern Louisiana fired Jim Yarbrough after nine seasons in which Yarbrough went 133-135. Being two games under .500 might not be that bad, but most of Yarbrough’s success was early as he was over .500 in five of his first six seasons.
  2. One of the interesting things with gambling scandals in sports is that they largely tend to be forgotten (Pete Rose being the obvious exception). This issue has made headlines recently at several schools where players may have been involved with point-shaving. The most famous case in college basketball history involved City College of New York between 1949 and 1951, but the one involving Boston College would probably be a close second. The Boston Globe has a phenomenal story on the background and aftermath of the scandal. The most amusing thing about this scandal was how poorly it worked for the people trying to fix the games.
  3. Most of you are aware of how obsessed with basketball some members of Big Blue Nation are, but the level that some of them go to is beyond what you might imagine. To be fair this could happen with any fan group. Former Kentucky legend Rex Chapman recently told the story of one such fan, who befriended Chapman’s mother, and became friends with Chapman. This was fine until Chapman gave the fan his number and the fan has been harassing him ever since. The fan appears to be good-natured about it and is bugging Chapman the way that a teenage girl would probably bother Justin Bieber is they got his number, but Chapman has decided to put the fan “on blast” as a means to get him to stop. Somehow we don’t think it will work.
  4. The Selection Committee may not put much value in Louisville, but Forbes certainly does. According to Forbes the Cardinals are the most valuable college basketball team at a valuation of $39.5 million. While the Cardinals being the most valuable team in the country might surprise some the others on the list are not a surprise (the Cardinals being on list is not a surprise just their place a top the list is). What we find more interesting is how far off the valuation is from that of pro sports teams and how close some coaching contracts come to the reported value of the teams (obviously we would need to discount the value of salaries for future years).
  5. Indiana might not be a top-tier team this year, but don’t tell that to tell. After missing out on the NCAA and NIT Tournament, the Hoosiers were offered a spot in the CBI and not so politely declined the offer. Indiana’s AD issued a statement saying, “We’re Indiana. We don’t play in the CBI.” When programs pull power plays like this we often wonder about the repercussions including players having their career ending early and coaches missing out on bonuses. One interesting aspect of this decision was that it may have been influenced by Kentucky’s opening round NIT loss to Robert Morris last year.
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Joking Aside, Indiana Makes the Wrong Move in Turning Down the CBI

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 17th, 2014

Indiana was at the top of the list of the most-discussed NIT snubs once the field of 32 was announced in the aftermath of the NCAA Tournament bracket reveal yesterday. The Hoosiers fell from a #1 seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament to one that couldn’t even make the NIT this season. Word was also released that Indiana had been invited to compete in the even less prestigious CBI, but had declined the invitation. Athletic Director Fred Glass said, “Finances wouldn’t be an issue if we thought it made sense, but we’re Indiana, we don’t play in the CBI.” This is the certainly the wrong approach to take, and there are several reasons why turning down the chance to play more games is the wrong move here for Indiana.

The momentum that was built up over the last two seasons came crashing to a halt this season for Tom Crean's Indiana team. (Getty)

The momentum that was built up over the last two seasons came crashing to a halt this season for Tom Crean’s Indiana team. (Getty)

First, in the interest of complete fairness, several other schools such as Maryland, Marquette, Washington and UNLV reportedly turned down the CBI as well. But those schools didn’t spout off about how they were essentially too good to try to improve in a postseason tournament that very few people notice. Indiana has an outstanding basketball history, as everyone knows. The school is one of a handful of “blue-blood” programs with an extended legacy and multiple national championships. But the days of Bob Knight heading a national contender every season are long gone. The program under Tom Crean has gone 101-97 in his six years at the helm. It is true that he inherited an absolute mess upon arrival, but it’s not like the Hoosiers have been at the top of the sport for a significant amount of time only to have one bad season. The horrific teams of Verdell Jones and Tom Pritchard would have killed to have had an opportunity to play in whatever postseason tournament they could get into. You’re not all the way back to complete relevancy by simply having two good seasons out of six.

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Big Ten Tournament: The Future Looks Bright For Illinois

Posted by Walker Carey on March 13th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday’s first round Big Ten Tournament game between Illinois and Indiana in Indianapolis.

Both Illinois and Indiana entered Thursday afternoon’s match-up with winning the conference tournament as their only hope of earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament, so Illinois’ 64-54 victory might be viewed as a ticket to play top-seeded Michigan in the quarterfinals on Friday. While true at some level, it’s misleading at another — Illinois showed in today’s win through a variety of signs that it will once again be a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten as soon as next season. The player of the game for the Illini on Thursday afternoon was junior guard Tracy Abrams. Abrams, who entered the game averaging 10.5 points per contest, exploded for a game-high 25 points (17 of which came in the second half). The Chicago native also showcased his ability to hit big shots by nailing a huge three-pointer with 2:06 to play that increased the Illini’s lead to four and all but secured the victory, as Indiana scored just two more points over the remainder of the game.

Abrams and the Illini Appear to Have a Bright Future (B.Tse)

Abrams and the Illini Appear to Have a Bright Future (B.Tse)

While Abrams led the charge in the scoring column for Illinois, John Groce’s squad also received contributions from several other underclassmen. Junior big man Nnanna Egwu was limited offensively – he managed just two points on 1-of-8 shooting – but he found a way to impact the game in other facets by collecting seven rebounds and blocking five shots. Redshirt junior guard Rayvonte Rice added 13 points and helped key the defensive effort that forced Indiana into an 0-of-10 performance from behind the arc in the second half. Freshmen guards Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn showed a bit of why John Groce felt comfortable inserting them into the starting lineup back in early February. Hill finished Thursday’s win with eight points and four rebounds, while showcasing his outside shooting prowess by knocking down both of his three-point attempts. Nunn added 10 points to the winning effort and was primarily responsible for the outstanding defensive effort on Indiana star guard Yogi Ferrell. Ferrell finished the afternoon just 3-of-13 from the field and 2-of-9 from three.

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Big Ten Tournament X-Factors for Round One

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 13th, 2014

Without going into full-fledged preview mode for all four games set to tip off on Thursday in Indianapolis, here are some under-the-radar players to keep an eye on in round one. Some are more obscure than others, but all the players I’m highlighting were not named to any of the All-Conference teams on Monday. They all have a specific skill set, however, that can be used to exploit a weak spot on the team they are playing against in the first round.

Tracy Abrams' ability to get steals will go a long way toward determining if Illinois can beat Indiana on Thursday. (Stephen Haas, Lee News Service)

Tracy Abrams’ ability to get steals will go a long way toward determining if Illinois can beat Indiana on Thursday. (Stephen Haas/Lee News Service)

Illinois: Tracy Abrams — Indiana turns the ball over 21.7% of the time, and Abrams averages 1.2 pilfers a game. Abrams had 5 steals in the two teams previous games, and if he can be the defensive catalyst that leads to 23 Indiana turnovers — like what happened on December 31 when the Illini beat the Hoosiers in overtime — Illinois will move on to the second round.

Indiana: Devin Davis The Illini are only mediocre at getting their own misses (165th nationally), and Davis has been productive with increased minutes recently. He’s gotten 20 MPG in his last two games, and has a robust 21.6% defensive rebound rate in limited minutes for the season. That would be good for 6th in the conference had he played enough minutes to qualify, and if Crean gives him the playing time in this game, he’ll prevent Illinois from getting any second chance buckets. Read the rest of this entry »

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