Big Ten M5: 02.20.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 20th, 2015

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  1. After a miserable 0-5 start in the Big Ten, Minnesota was always a long shot to make a run at an at-large bid. Despite the terrible start, Richard Pitino’s team managed to fight back and win five of its next seven games. But the Golden Gophers’ postseason dreams effectively came to an end on Wednesday night when they suffered their worst lost of the season to Northwestern at home. For the second straight game, Minnesota let a team get hot from the perimeter as the Wildcats hit 15 three-pointers in the game. Now, at 5-9 in the conference, the Gophers are likely headed for the NIT or worse. Pitino will need to figure out what went wrong during the offseason and fix it quick as he’ll enter year three in Minnesota with no NCAA Tournament appearances.
  2. On Thursday, Purdue got its best win of the season when the Boilermakers topped its intrastate rival, Indiana, by four points in Bloomington. A.J. Hammons was tremendous in the game on both sides of the court, evidenced by his 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting and four blocks. Purdue’s guards were able to aggressively blanket Indiana’s shooters because of the rim protection Hammons provided all night. The result was that the usually deadly-from-deep Hoosiers were held to 31 percent from the three-point line and one of the best offenses in the country only managed 0.96 points per possession. While the Boilermakers are still on bubble, they finally have a signature win to counter some bad losses from earlier in the season.
  3. With 14 teams and 18 games, unbalanced schedules are a part of life in the new and super-sized Big Ten. Because of this, and the fact that rivalries are not protected for basketball, we as fans miss out on some great home-and-home battles against historic foes. Matt Brown from SBNation makes the argument that the Big Ten should forego the rotating schedule and lock in key games each and every year. It would make sense from the Big Ten’s perspective too, as these games would bring in more impressive ratings and demand better TV slots. It’s tough to argue with the logic, but the greater expansion of leagues throughout the sport has made that just short of impossible in this framework.
  4. Don’t let anyone tell you bad decisions aren’t contagious. After Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott trotted out the idea of reinstating freshmen ineligibility, the Big Ten followed suit saying it’s gauging the interests of its members about the possibility of implementing the rule once again. On Thursday, Maryland’s president, Wallace Loh, said “If they do well because they spend more time, get more academic advising … their freshman year, they’re going to graduate”. That’s quite a lot of hypocrisy to choke down from the president of a university who left their historic (and geographically sensible) conference for a more lucrative one in the Midwest. Next time Maryland flies 1,200 miles to Nebraska on a school night to play a 9:00 PM ET game, they should ask themselves if that may be negative factor for the student-athletes’ academics.
  5. Finally, on Thursday ESPN released Joe Lunardi’s newest brackets, and seven Big Ten schools are projected to make the Big Dance. Wisconsin (#2 seed), Maryland (#5), Ohio State (#7), Indiana (#7), Michigan State (#8), Iowa (#10), and Illinois (#11). Purdue is missing from the field as of right now, but this projection does not include the Boilermakers’ big win at Indiana on Thursday night. By the next time Lunardi updates his brackets, there may be eight teams in the field, which would undoubtedly make this another successful season for the league.
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Big Ten M5: 02.18.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 18th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. With injuries to Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, Michigan has gotten inexperienced very quickly. While the team’s freshmen and sophomores have shown signs that they could become heavy contributors at some point in the future, the young Wolverines are going through some growing pains right now. This mostly manifests itself on the defensive end of the floor and was quite evident in Michigan’s loss to Michigan State on Tuesday night. The Spartans shot 62.0 percent from the field and did so by seemingly scoring at will in the paint and through second-chance buckets. The Wolverines tried multiple defenses to slow down Sparty, but in the end they had no way of corralling the inside-outside combination of Branden Dawson and Travis Trice.
  2. It was mentioned in this space on Monday morning that Penn State head coach Pat Chambers wasn’t too happy with a late call against Jordan Dickerson in his team’s Saturday loss to Maryland. He’s now been publicly reprimanded for his comments on the game’s officiating and Penn State has been fined $10,000 as a result. Chambers was also frustrated with the fact that the Terps’ Melo Trimble managed to get to the free throw line 12 times in the game. The Nittany Lions have been plagued by foul trouble in many of their games this season — it’s obvious that Chambers doesn’t think his team is getting a fair shake.
  3. The Michigan State-Michigan game last night had some famous recent alumni in attendance due to this year’s extended NBA All-Star break. Draymond Green and Nik Stauskas were in Ann Arbor for the festivities and they had some entertaining social media discussion in advance of the rivalry game. It’s looking like Stauskas will be donning some green in the near future after his Wolverines lost to Sparty at home for the first time since 2010.
  4. Indiana added another player to the mix last week when football player Jordan Fuchs joined the roster. The 6’6″ tight end from New York City was good enough to have received a basketball scholarship offer from Iowa State, among other Division I programs, coming out of high school. Fuchs gives the Hoosiers some additional depth on the bench in anticipation of Purdue’s bulk in Thursday night’s game. He played two minutes in the Hoosiers’ win over Minnesota on Sunday, but he didn’t register any meaningful statistics. It will be worth noting whether this addition pans out for the team, as by all accounts the New York native was a legitimate high school prospect in both sports.
  5. ESPN’s latest bubble watch now only has two Big Ten teams listed as locks for the NCAA Tournament. Maryland joins Wisconsin as the two most probable entries with Indiana close to sewing things up. Ohio State, Michigan State, Illinois, Iowa and Purdue fall into the category of “still having work left to do.” It’s looking right now like the league will get as many as seven teams into the tourney, which means that someone from the group with work to do could end up on the outside looking in. Purdue has the most non-conference damage for which to compensate while Iowa way be in the midst of another late-season collapse. The next three weeks of Big Ten action will definitely be worth monitoring.
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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 17th, 2015

Valentine’s Day weekend in the Big Ten was dominated by love for the three-pointer. Indiana showed its affection for the trifecta by bombing away to the tune of a school-record 18 makes against Minnesota. Purdue was able to nail eight threes of its own in a key win against Nebraska, including four from a struggling Kendall Stephens. Northwestern hit on nine attempts from long distance in its surprising upset of Iowa. Finally, Michigan State’s aptly-named Denzel Valentine broke hearts all over the Buckeye State by hitting a game-winning three in the waning seconds of its win. Here are the rest of the highs and lows from an interesting weekend around the league.

Troy Williams led Indiana in reboudning as they dominated the glass against Minnesota.  (Chris Howell/Herald Times)

Troy Williams led Indiana in reboudning as the Hoosiers dominated the glass against Minnesota. (Chris Howell/Herald Times)

  • Player of the Weekend: In a weekend full of great performances, Indiana’s Troy Williams gets this weekend’s nod in that he managed to do his usual work on the glass (nine boards) while also scoring 19 points on a very efficient 10 field goal attempts. The sophomore also tripled his three-point output for the season, hitting both of his attempts after entering the game only 1-of-6 on the year. If Williams can add a long-range shot to his offensive arsenal, he will be a certain first-round pick whenever he chooses to leave Bloomington for the professional ranks.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: Chicago Catholic League alumnus and Northwestern freshman Scottie Lindsey has largely struggled to adapt to Big Ten play. Heralded as a knockdown outside shooter, the lanky swingman didn’t hurt Iowa over the weekend with his shooting prowess. Instead, Lindsey subbed for fellow freshman Vic Law (foul trouble) and played a season-high 38 minutes off the bench. He contributed seven points, six rebounds, a couple assists and three of his team’s 13 blocks as the Wildcats notched a win that they desperately needed.

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Big Ten M5: 02.13.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 13th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. For every step forward Iowa takes, the Hawkeyes seem to follow it up with another step back. That was the case again on Thursday night when Fran McCaffery’s team lost at home to Minnesota. The Golden Gophers are in the bottom third of the Big Ten standings and have been a major disappointment since league play started. The Hawkeyes, on the other hand, were coming off a statement game where they demolished second-place Maryland — and yet somehow, Minnesota earned its first road win in conference play. Iowa still has a favorable remaining schedule the rest of the way, but if it somehow drops this weekend’s game at Northwestern, it might be time to hit the panic button.
  2. Thursday night also marked the return of Rayvonte Rice to the court in Illinois’ overtime win over Michigan. It was initially an awkward reunion, as the Illini looked uncomfortable in their sets and sputtered to a 20-point first half — their worst offensive half of the year. Rice didn’t score until the overtime period, but his defense and rebounding helped Illinois put together an amazing 21-0 run to overcome an eight-point deficit in the dwindling minutes. If John Groce’s team works out some of the kinks in the integration process, this could still become a very dangerous team in March.
  3. This year is shaping up to be the most successful season for Wisconsin in the Bo Ryan era. And while the head coach is no doubt enjoying his current success, part of his set of responsibilities includes planning for the future of the program as well. That future got a little brighter for the Badgers on Thursday when Ryan secured a commitment from Khalil Iverson — a small forward from Delaware, Ohio. Iverson adds to an already solid Class of 2015 for Wisconsin, but the big prize Ryan is seeking is five-star Wisconsin-native Diamond Stone. Landing a player of that caliber would help the Badgers again compete for a Big Ten championship and Final Four despite several expected personnel losses.
  4. Wisconsin wasn’t the only Big Ten program adding talent this week, as Indiana picked up freshman Jordan Fuchs, who also plays tight end for the school’s football team. Fuchs is not a typical two-sport player who excels in one sport and simply holds his own in the other. The Queens native was considered a top 10 basketball player in New York last year, and he’s already started practicing with the team and made the trip to Maryland. At 6’6″ and 230 pounds, Tom Crean may be looking to add any size he can get down into the post.
  5. Finally, we’ve talked extensively here at the Big Ten microsite about how phenomenal this season’s freshmen class has been. The highlight has been Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell, who is making a run at the Big Ten and National POY awards with his 19.4 PPG, 5.9 RPG, and 5.5 APG averages. But other players like Maryland’s Melo Trimble, Indiana’s James Blackmon Jr., Northwestern’s Bryant McIntosh, Purdue’s Vince Edwards, Minnesota’s Nate Mason, and Ohio State’s Ja’Sean Tate, have also made a big impact on their respective teams. BTN decided to compare these seven players against freshmen classes of previous years, and the conclusion? This year’s rookies are the best of the bunch. While theirs is certainly a subjective analysis, it is high praise for all the young talent in this league.
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Maryland’s Big Three Leads the Way

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 12th, 2015

Maryland‘s three best players have all struggled at various times in recent games — one might be hitting shots while the other two disappear. But on Wednesday night the Terps received double-figure scoring from each of Melo Trimble, Dez Wells, and Jake Layman, and as a result of a two-point win over Indiana, were able to move into a tie for second place in the Big Ten. The trio combined for 50 points, and did so on a highly-efficient 18-of-31 clip from the field. Granted, the Hoosiers won’t be confused with the ’85 Bears in defensive prowess anytime soon, but after a dreadful effort against Iowa on Sunday, Mark Turgeon has to be pleased with this performance.

Dez Wells tallied 18 points as Maryland moved to 8-4 in conference play with their win Wednesday night over Indiana. (Getty)

Dez Wells tallied 18 points as Maryland moved to 8-4 in conference play with its win Wednesday night over Indiana. (Getty)

Trimble, Wells and Layman each took turns making plays on the offensive end, exhibiting why Maryland is at its best when they spread the floor offensively. Because all three have a knack for getting to the basket when things aren’t too clogged up inside, the Terps’ offense is at its best when there are abundant driving lanes. There is some size in the interior with Damonte Dodd and Jon Graham manning the post, but neither is much of a threat to score from anything other than putbacks and broken plays. The primary issue this season has occurred when Wells and Trimble get into the habit of taking too many contested twos and Layman has simply disappeared for long stretches. Last night, by contrast, they mixed things up nicely and got much better perimeter looks because the realistic threat of the drive had been established. In turn, Maryland made 10-of-21 shots from behind the arc (six from the trio) and shot 49.0 percent from the field.

Maryland is now 9-0 when its best players reach double-figures, and the Terps have won those games by an average margin of 14.8 points. Granted, that group includes some bad non-conference competition, but it also includes wins over Arizona State, Iowa State, Purdue, Minnesota and now Indiana. Expecting freshmen like Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens to suddenly morph into major scoring threats at this point is wishful thinking, so the ultimate success of Maryland’s season will hinge on whether they can consistently play like they did against Indiana for the rest of the way.

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Big Ten M5: 02.05.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 6th, 2015

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  1. On Wednesday night, Purdue got an important 60-58 win over Ohio State. Why was it important? Not only did it stretch the Boilermakers’ winning streak to four games, it also moved their conference record to 7-3, their best start since the 2007-08 season. If Purdue can win the rest of its home games (Nebraska, Rutgers, and Illinois), they’ll guarantee themselves at least 10 wins in conference play. To get serious consideration in March for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid, they’ll need to compensate for their two bad losses against Vanderbilt and Gardner-Webb. A win against the ranked Buckeyes goes a long way toward eliminating some of the stink on their resume.
  2. One factor that may have played into Ohio State’s loss was that sophomore forward Marc Loving was not on the court. The sophomore and second-leading scorer did not make the trip to West Lafayette, as he has been suspended indefinitely for disciplinary reasons. The specifics of his cause for suspension were not released by the school, but his absence threatens the Buckeyes’ pursuit for a protected seed in the NCAA Tournament. Loving was beginning to emerge as one of the the best shooters in the Big Ten, as evidenced by his 53.2% shooting from deep. But now that he’s on the sidelines, Ohio State will become even more of a one-man show, starring D’Angelo Russell, than it’s already been.
  3. Also on Wednesday, Maryland managed to fend off Penn State in College Park. While the Terrapins are still hovering near the top of the Big Ten standings, stud freshman Melo Trimble has hit a bit of a slump with only seven combined points in his last couple games. It’s lucky for Mark Turgeon that he has a senior leader like Dez Wells, who contributed 23 points and seven rebounds, to pick up the slack. He also managed to get the home crowd off its feet with this monster dunk. On Sunday, Maryland heads to Iowa City for a key game with the Hawkeyes. They’ll need Wells to continue to make big plays and for Trimble to wake up out of his slumber if they hope to notch their third conference road win.
  4. On Thursday, Iowa snapped its three-game losing streak with a 72-54 victory at Michigan. The Hawkeyes were able to take advantage of the shallow depth of the injury-ridden Wolverines and walked out of Ann Arbor with an important road win. This bodes well for Fran McCaffery’s group, as his team has a favorable schedule the rest of the way. It’s too early to predict that Iowa is over the hump, but a strong finish would certainly be a departure from what last season when the Hawkeyes imploded and exited the NCAA Tournament in the First Four. This year, the Hawkeyes could actually enter the postseason with some real momentum.
  5. After Indiana started off Big Ten play at 5-1, the Hoosiers have dropped three of their last four games and are coming off an embarrassing loss to Wisconsin. Alex Bozich from Inside the Hall takes a deep dive into the makeup of this up-and-down team with a player-by-player breakdown. Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon Jr., and Troy Williams lead the way when it comes to filling out the stat sheets, but given the fact Indiana has allowed over 1.2 points per possession in each of their last three losses, they may need Hanner Mosquera-Perea back from injury to provide some semblance of a defensive presence inside.
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Big Ten M5: 02.04.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 4th, 2015

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  1. It’s now the time of the season when the frantic checking of various bracketology updates becomes a daily must for college hoops junkies. It also marks the return of ESPN’s bubble watch column. In this week’s version, there are eight Big Ten teams with a reasonable chance to make it into the field of 68. This is obviously a fluid situation, but right now Wisconsin is the league’s only true lock. It will be worth watching to see if the conference can match last season’s six bids in what has to be considered a down season in terms of overall quality.
  2. There are only 14 American Indian college basketball players at the Division I level this season, but one of that group has been thrust into the spotlight by playing for a Wisconsin team that has Final Four aspirations. Given the brighter stage that he finds himself on, Bronson Koenig has used the opportunity to act as an inspiration for others like him. He’s attempted to learn more about his background as he’s gotten older, and he rails against sports nicknames (like the Redskins) that he feels degrade his people. Koenig had another outstanding game against Indiana on Tuesday night, and seeing the sophomore get an opportunity both on the floor and to become a powerful off-court spokesman might go a long way toward ending some of the more foolish nicknames in sports.
  3. Indiana was without the services of freshman James Blackmon Jr. last night, as the wing was sidelined with an ankle injury that he suffered in Saturday’s win over Rutgers. It may not have mattered all that much, though, as Wisconsin scored seemingly at will on its way to a lopsided 92-78 home victory. The Hoosiers now will take on Michigan on Sunday, and it is unknown whether Blackmon will be available for the key upcoming game against the Wolverines. Indiana has been a surprise team through the first half of Big Ten play, but Tom Crean will need the services of his star rookie in order to push on through to an unexpected NCAA Tournament berth.
  4. Penn State is now 2-7 in conference play, and one of the major reasons for that disappointing record has been an over-reliance on DJ Newbill on the offensive end. Newbill is being asked to make something out of nothing on a good number of the Nittany Lions’ possessions, which often leads to others standing around and essentially getting in the way. The lack of a true point guard on the team has hurt considerably, and despite returning most of their key contributors from last season, they’ve clearly regressed. Their assist rate sits at a paltry 42.3 percent, which is a byproduct of not having a serviceable distributor to make things happen. Newbill leads the team in assists and scoring, and Shep Garner plays shooting guard. This also explains some of the poor shot selection and late-game turnovers that have contributed to several of their close losses.
  5. Chemistry was questioned at Maryland after the Terrapins lost five players from last season’s team that underachieved in their final ACC season. This year’s edition has blended newcomers and veterans much better than in the past, and graduate transfer Richaud Pack has been a key component to that improvement. The senior has been a valuable presence in the Maryland locker room even as he’s seen his minutes cut back lately. The guard can do a little bit of everything, and he will be a needed to fill whatever role the Terps ask of him as they hit the home stretch.
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Analyzing the Remaining Big Ten Schedule

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 3rd, 2015

Now that this Big Ten season is at its midpoint, it gives us a chance to gauge teams’ performances to date and analyze what’s to come. Besides a surprising second half hiccup in New Jersey, Wisconsin has been the dominant team in the league everyone expected. Ohio State, Indiana, and (surprisingly) Maryland are the consensus contenders for second place, and each could make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament if conditions are right. Nebraska, Penn State and Northwestern have had disappointing seasons. The rest of the league is in a slog to find an address on the right side of the bubble. But given uneven schedules, comparing teams by their record in conference play alone may hide the actual favorability of their schedules. Because of this — and the overall relative parity throughout the league — a good number of people in the media have been using “true” standings. This approach ranks teams by penalizing them for a home loss and rewarding them for a road win. Below, I’ve illustrated the true Big Ten standings and attached each team’s upcoming schedule and their predicted finish according to KenPom. By looking at the table, we can make some assumptions about what the second half of the Big Ten season has in store for us.

midseason big ten standings

Here are my three main takeaways from the table above:

  • Wisconsin should cruise to an outright regular season title. While I’ve previously commented on the overall parity of the league, I’m really talking about every team except for the Badgers. Wisconsin has been dominant — both nationally and within the Big Ten. Its sole loss to Rutgers was flukish given that it came while Frank Kaminsky and Traevon Jackson were sidelined (Jackson for the second half). Looking forward, it’s unlikely that another team will enter the Kohl Center this season and leave with a win, and three of their five remaining road games come against struggling teams like Nebraska, Penn State and Minnesota. With a two-game lead already in hand, the Badgers are headed to a regular season title and a possible #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 3rd, 2015

In a league defined by chaos this season, last weekend was fairly uneventful and arguably almost normal. There were no upsets, although there were a couple close calls as an undermanned Illinois squad had to sweat it out against Penn State at home, while Rutgers hung with Indiana thanks to the heroics of Myles Mack. Michigan State needed overtime to knock off a gritty Michigan team that once again was without the services of point guard Derrick Walton Jr. Meanwhile, Minnesota avenged an earlier loss to Nebraska by forcing an obscene 20 turnovers and holding the Cornhuskers to just 42 points. It would be obscene not to read the rest of this, so here’s the best and worst of weekend number five in the B1G.

Maurice Walker was unstoppable in the post in Minnesota's 60-42 victory over Nebraska on Saturday. (Ben Garvin, Pioneer Press)

Maurice Walker was unstoppable in the post in Minnesota’s 60-42 victory over Nebraska on Saturday. (Ben Garvin, Pioneer Press)

  • Player of the Weekend: Maurice Walker essentially stole Walter Pitchford’s lunch money, gave him a swirly, and then forged a note making fun of the teacher to get him in trouble. Cheesy elementary school metaphors aside, Walker was dominant on the low blocks for Minnesota, scoring at will on his way to a 19-point effort on 7-of-10 shooting from the field. The rest of the Gophers’ offense was nonexistent for most of the contest, so give the guards credit for pounding the ball inside to him. The fifth-year senior also added eight rebounds, two blocks and three steals. Minnesota is great at taking the ball away ( 14.8% steal rate, third nationally), but Walker is actually fourth in the Big Ten with a steal rate of 3.99 percent. He has really quick hands and does a nice job poking the ball away from post players without fouling. He had three first-half steals in this game as Nebraska coughed the ball up a total of 14 times before halftime.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: Tom Crean wasn’t happy with the way Indiana had been playing, so he shook things up a bit on Saturday against Rutgers. The change meant that Troy Williams -- despite the fact that he’s had a really good season with some outstanding performances — came off of the bench. He had some silly turnovers but the sophomore also contributed a double-double in the form of 14 points and 10 rebounds. He scored on his usual array of drives and dunks, but one thing slightly unique about this performance was that he was led the break after grabbing a defensive rebound. This led to a faster break out in transition, and it also gave the Hoosiers an ability to have Yogi Ferrell spot up on the perimeter with the rest of the shooters. Don’t expect Williams to become a point forward  at Indiana anytime soon, but this was a neat look that takes advantage of Williams’ outstanding ability in the open court while giving Ferrell more looks.

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Big Ten Post-Super Bowl Reset

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 3rd, 2015

New England knocked off Seattle in one of the most thrilling Super Bowls of the last 20 years on Sunday night. Ohio State shocked the world in the first-ever College Football Playoff by barely making the field and then defeating the two favorites. All of you pigskin- obsessed sports fans now have a clear void in your life until next August. Have no fear, though, as Big Ten basketball is the elixir for your post-football withdrawal. Here’s a quick look at what’s happened through the first couple months of the regular season to get you up to speed.

Frank Kaminsky (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky Has Played Like an All-American This Year (Getty)

  • Wisconsin’s Dominance: If the last time you checked in with Wisconsin was while watching last year’s Final Four, you’ll find that the Badgers have shown that they have all the pieces in place to make a return trip. Bo Ryan’s team has only suffered two losses (to Duke and Rutgers) en route to a 19-2 overall mark (7-1 Big Ten), and the most efficient offensive team in America boasts likely Big Ten Player of the Year (and All-American), Frank Kaminsky. The Badgers are currently missing point guard Traveon Jackson with an injury until the end of the month, but Bronson Koenig has stepped in admirably and there’s a realistic chance the Badgers are headed for a 17-1 Big Ten record and a #1 NCAA Tournament seed.

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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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