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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RTC Weekly Primer: SEC Squishy Middle, Love for Big 12, Coach 1K, More…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on January 20th, 2015

Okay, okay, we get it… the Big 12 is awesome. I’ve made that pretty clear in past columns, and you probably don’t need me to tell you something so obvious. Monday night offered up yet another prominent example, when a “Kansas is back to its dominant self” narrative in the first half against Oklahoma turned into one of the best games of conference play this season. But rather than raving about it, let’s think big picture: What do we make of the Big 12 race? A few teams will definitely be involved. One is Kansas, of course, which hasn’t missed out on at least a share of the regular season crown since Bill Self’s first year in Lawrence. Two more are Texas, which seems to have found its footing, and Iowa State, which finally cleared the Kansas hurdle over the weekend. Oklahoma should be in the running too, despite losing three of its last four. What other teams could have a say in the matter? How about Kansas State, which is tied for the conference lead at 4-1? What about West Virginia, currently 15-3 and a top-15 KenPom team? Or Baylor? Or Oklahoma State?

The Big 12 Will Remain a War Zone For Most of the Season (USA Today Images)

The Big 12 Will Remain a War Zone For Most of the Season (USA Today Images)

It’s probably safe to rule out those last two teams even though both are ranked among KenPom’s top 25, but neither is likely to beat the teams above them on a consistent basis. It’s also fair to exclude Kansas State from the discussion. The Wildcats are clearly much better than their non-conference performance suggested, but recent wins over Baylor and at Oklahoma don’t tell the full story either. They have some flaws. However, it’s probably a tad premature to rule out West Virginia. The Mountaineers play such a distinctly effective style this season, forcing turnovers on over 30 percent of opponents’ possessions, that will remain a problem to solve for all nine conference foes. They’re a possession away from a 4-1 Big 12 record and the upcoming schedule suggests that we shouldn’t be surprised if Bob Huggins has his team sitting at 6-2 when this column runs two weeks from now. It appears to be a five-team race. But whether you think the Big 12 has four, five, or even six or seven teams capable of winning the league crown, the takeaway here is that the race is wide open. And with Kansas’ astounding decade-long run in jeopardy, the next two months in Middle America are must-watch sports television.

Three for the Money

  • Iowa at Wisconsin | Tuesday, 9:00 PM EST, ESPN. Around this time last year, Iowa sat at 13-3 on the season and waltzed into Value City Arena to take on 15-1 Ohio State. The Buckeyes at the time were KenPom’s second-ranked team and their only loss had come earlier in the week at Michigan State. They also hadn’t given up more than 70 points in a game. The Hawkeyes delivered one of the more impressive Big Ten performances last season, winning by 10 points and vaulting themselves from seemingly out of nowhere into KenPom’s top five. They are presented with a similar opportunity tonight against Wisconsin. With the memory of last year’s collapse still fresh, many people remain unsure of what to make of Fran McCaffery’s team – the Hawkeyes have defeated a questionable Ohio State team twice and won at North Carolina, but the rest of their résumé is dubious. A win in Madison would force the nation to take notice. For Wisconsin, this is its first real test since the loss of senior point guard Traevon Jackson. It could provide a platform for replacement Bronson Koenig to step up his game, but it also could reveal a major midterm problem for Bo Ryan. Tonight’s game will tell us a lot about which it will be.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 20th, 2015

Points were relatively easy to come by in the Big Ten’s third weekend of play, as only three teams of the 12 with games failed to crack the 1.00 point per possession plateau. There were also some outstanding individual scoring games on display, with Penn State’s DJ Newbill (37 points) and Minnesota’s Andre Hollins (31 points) leading the way in that regard. From a team perspective, Purdue and Indiana got crucial road wins to stay among the top half of the league standings, while Maryland continued its outstanding start by dismantling Michigan State in College Park. Elsewhere, Minnesota is no longer winless in conference action, and Penn State remains the only team still looking for a conference win. Well, at least their freshman guard brings a celebrity cousin to the table.

Melo Trimble torched Michigan State as they knocked off the Spartans by 15 on Saturday. (David J. Philip/AP)

Melo Trimble torched Michigan State as his team knocked off the Spartans by 15 Saturday. (David J. Philip/AP)

Player of the Weekend: Melo Trimble has had issues at times in knocking down perimeter shots, but he had no such problems against Michigan State on Saturday. The freshman combo guard simply went off, scoring 24 points on 8-on-16 shooting from the field. He also hit six threes, five of which came in the first half. Trimble not only should be considered a c0-favorite with Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell for Big Ten Freshman of the Year, but he’s also making a legitimate case for First Team all-Big Ten consideration. Usually he’s a menace for opposing defenses with his keen ability to get to the free throw line, but he only shot two freebies in this game. Instead, he made nearly every shot from behind the arc that he took in the opening stanza. With Jake Layman scoring 23 himself and with Dez Wells capable of going off in any given game, Maryland is one of the few league teams with three legitimate threats on offense. That’s what makes the Terrapins so dangerous. Nothing I’ve said here can top watching this clip, so take a look for yourself. Rest in peace, Tum Tum.

Super Sub of the Weekend: AJ Hammons might win this award multiple times if Purdue keeps winning weekend games. The junior posted his second double-double in the last four games (and his third on the season) with 21 points and 12 rebounds against Penn State on Saturday. While those numbers are nice and all, the biggest takeaway from his effort was that his hustle essentially gave Purdue the opportunity to win the game in overtime. During the game the broadcasters raved about the game-tying three that Kendall Stephens made in the final seconds, but it was Hammons who spun through two Penn State defenders to somehow tip the ball on a missed free throw out to him so he could take the shot in the first place. It’s not a play he would have made in his first two seasons as a Boilermaker, but it shows how far he’s come. You don’t see it all statistically, but if you watch Purdue extensively, you can see all of the subtle improvements he’s made in his productiveness.

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Big Ten M5: 01.19.15 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on January 19th, 2015

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  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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Wisconsin Introduces Bronson Koenig Era Tonight

Posted by Eric Clark on January 15th, 2015

With point guard Traevon Jackson out for as many as six weeks with a broken foot, sophomore Bronson Koenig will be thrust into the starting lineup to lead Wisconsin for most of the remainder of the regular season. Koenig made his first career start in the Badgers’ surprising loss to Rutgers on Sunday, entering the lineup as another guard as center Frank Kaminsky sat with concussion-like symptoms. Koenig has been the acting point guard for Bo Ryan’s team 22 percent of the time this season, with Jackson picking up the rest of the minutes. He is undoubtedly the Badgers’ point guard of the future, and ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, among others, thinks that the pressure-packed experience he’ll gain at the helm will ultimately help the team in March. With 14 Big Ten games standing between Wisconsin and Selection Sunday, Koenig will have plenty of opportunities to adapt to his more demanding role as the floor general.

Bronson Koenig will make the second start of his career Thursday night against Nebraska. (Reuters)

Bronson Koenig will make the second start of his career Thursday night against Nebraska. (Reuters)

The La Crosse, Wisconsin, native will get his first run as the starter tonight in a home game against Nebraska, a team that he has only faced once before. In that meeting, the Cornhuskers topped the Badgers by nine, holding Jackson to eight points and four assists and forcing him into four turnovers. While the Badgers will miss Jackson’s proven play-making ability, Koenig is generally safer with the ball in his hands – and that will be a positive against a team that has forced a miscue on 21.9 percent of their opponents’ possessions this year. On the flip side, Nebraska ranks 225th in the nation in offensive turnover rate, handing the ball over to the opponent on 20.4 percent of their possessions. That weakness will be mitigated somewhat by the Badgers loss of Jackson, who is tied for second on the team in steal percentage (2.5%).

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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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Big Ten Sophomore Spotlight: Iowa’s Peter Jok

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 8th, 2015

Many sophomores in the Big Ten have a significantly greater role this season than they did as freshmen. That is to be expected, of course, as the offseason between their first and second years is often when players make their biggest strides in development. Some highly-recruited guys, however, continue to disappoint, while others who may not have been so highly regarded have by now become viable contributors for their teams. This series of posts is meant to check in on a few of the different sophomores in the league to determine whether they have improved and what it means for their teams going forward. Next up in the series is Iowa guard Peter Jok.

Peter Jok could be a huge piece for Iowa if he can be consistent during conference play. (Alyssa Hitchcock, The Daily Iowan)

Peter Jok could be a huge piece for Iowa if he can become more consistent during conference play. (Alyssa Hitchcock, The Daily Iowan)

  • 2013-14: 9.4 MPG, 4.4 PPG, 0.9 RPG, 0.7 APG, 40.0 % FG, 34.8% 3PT, 79.4% FT, 21.7% Usage, 111.5 Offensive Rating
  • 2014-15: 16.5 MPG, 5.5 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.1 APG, 30.2% FG, 29.3% 3PT, 100.0% FT, 21.0 Usage, 90.8 Offensive Rating

In a season where Iowa has struggled to find perimeter scoring to replace Roy Devyn Marble, Jok has stood out for more of what he hasn’t done. The 6’6″ sophomore showed enough potential last season to make him a likely candidate to step forward, but instead, Fran McCaffery went with an undersized backcourt — Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons –to start the season. Whether this was because of some lingering trust issues after Jok’s legal run-ins or because he simply wasn’t playing that well is unknown, but his average of 16.0 MPG in non-conference games approximates the 14.4 MPG he received during the same stretch as a freshman. In the Hawkeyes’ huge road win at North Carolina, Jok only saw nine minutes of action and failed to score. It’s not as if the guards getting minutes over him were playing all that well, but Jok was struggling too.

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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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Big Ten M5: 01.06.15 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on January 6th, 2015

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  1. Michigan State seemed to get its mojo back in crushing Indiana on Monday night, holding the Hoosiers to just 20 percent shooting from long distance. Inside the Hall’s Ryan Corazza attributed Indiana’s loss to a poor first-half performance that amounted to a 19-point halftime deficit. The Spartans, six days removed from a heartbreaking double-overtime loss to Maryland, were able to stifle Tom Crean’s drive-and-dish offense by locking down the paint and effectively closing out on Indiana’s gunners. In fact, Yogi Ferrell and Emmitt Holt were the only Hoosiers to make a shot in the first half while the rest of the team went 0-of-19. This is the first time all season we’ve seen such a poor offensive performance from Indiana, but the loss certainly highlights the team’s dependence on long-distance shooting. As Big Ten Powerhouse’s Scott Manning put it, Indiana will live and die by the three this year.
  2. Purdue stumbled – or rather, fell face-first – into the opening week of Big Ten play, entering last week having dropped three straight games to Notre Dame, Vanderbilt and Gardner-Webb. The Boilermakers turned things around by winning home games against Minnesota and Michigan to start conference play, but they now travel to face arguably the two hottest teams in the league on the road this week in Wisconsin and Maryland. Purdue’s success in Madison will hinge heavily on its ability to defend Frank Kaminsky, who is currently ranked first in KenPom’s Player of the Year rankings. The Wisconsin center is noticeably more mobile this year, providing Matt Painter with the dubious task of deciding to defend him with either shot-blocker extraordinare AJ Hammons or leaving him on Wisconsin’s four to better defend the paint. KenPom predicts the Badgers will win by 17 points on Wednesday.
  3. Minnesota freshman Gaston Diedhiou could make his college basketball debut tonight in the Gophers’ home Big Ten opener versus Ohio State, writes Marcus Fuller of the Pioneer Press. Diedhou, a 6’9″, 230-pounder, could help solidify Minnesota’s depth at the forward positions. After Joey King, the Gophers have gotten little to no production from reserves Charles Buggs and Bakary Konate. Citing the Senegal native’s raw offensive game, head coach Richard Pitino said that he doubts Diedhiou will have an impact against the Buckeyes, but his athleticism and rebounding skill may force Pitino’s hand if the Gophers continue to struggle down low.
  4. Michigan does not look much like the outstanding John Beilein teams of the past few years, as evidenced by their disappointing 8-6 record. The head coach is doing his best to keep the team’s struggles in perspective, though, stressing patience to fans and praising the improvement of freshman big man Ricky Doyle. That improvement hasn’t been universal among all Wolverines’ freshmen, as Aubrey Dawkins and Kameron Chatman have been very inconsistent. As it stands, Michigan fans will have to bear with Beilein’s group this year, as he’s been very open and honest about it being a relative rebuilding year with the squad – but don’t expect the slump to last much longer than one season.
  5. Iowa is off to its best start in the Big Ten since the 2002-03 season, standing at 2-0 in conference play after topping Nebraska in Iowa City last night. In the win, Aaron White scored 23 points and became Iowa’s all-time leader in made free throws, a mark currently standing at 524. Scott Dochterman of the Cedar Rapids Gazette said White’s ability to get to the free throw line has made him an all-time Hawkeyes great, but the Strongsville, Ohio, native canned an uncharacteristic three-pointer to push Iowa’s lead to seven points in the waning minutes to seal last night’s victory. Fans and media alike had hoped White would develop a better perimeter game this season, but the senior is only shooting the ball from distance at a 22.7 percent clip. That statistic won’t matter, though, if gunners Peter Jok, Jarrod Uthoff and Josh Oglesby step their games up like they did on Monday night.
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Handing Out the Big Ten Non-Conference Awards

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 30th, 2014

Before passing out the imaginary hardware for the Big Ten’s best performers in the non-conference season, let’s make it clear that these awards come solely from my brain. All of our Big Ten preseason awards and the predicted order of finish were voted on by the entire group of writers here at the Big Ten microsite. These non-conference honors, however, are all on me, so please direct any kudos and/or criticism this way (@berndon4). So with the non-conference portion of the Big Ten schedule thankfully done, here are the honors from the first half of the season.

Frank Kaminsky has stepped his game up to even greater levels this season after a standout season in 2013-14.  (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Frank Kaminsky has stepped his game up to even greater levels this season after a standout season in 2013-14. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • Player of the Year: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: Kaminsky has been so good that advanced metrics guru Ken Pomeroy has him listed as his current National Player of the Year. He leads the Badgers in points, rebounds, steals, and blocks, and he’s also third on the team in assists. Where he’s made a major leap this season has been in his ability to put the ball on the floor and beat his man off of the dribble. Instead of morphing into full Pittsnogle mode of just launching threes as a 7-footer and falling in love with his perimeter game, he’s scoring from all over the court. Defensively, he’s leading the conference in defensive rebounding, grabbing 25.1 percent of all caroms when the other team puts up a shot. He’s also averaging 2.2 blocks per game, and has been a legitimate rim-protector for the Badgers’ outstanding defense. (Others Considered: Rayvonte Rice, DJ Newbill, D’Angelo Russell)
  • Freshman of the Year: D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State: You honestly couldn’t go wrong with any of the three Big Ten freshmen who have been spectacular thus far. Russell gets the nod over Maryland’s Melo Trimble and Indiana’s James Blackmon Jr., but just barely. The gifted guard from Louisville has led the Buckeyes in scoring nine times, but he’s also led them in assists five times to boot. His 17.7 PPG and 5.3 APG are great, but his 46.7 percent shooting from deep is even better. If his numbers stay anywhere close to where they are now and Ohio State finishes near the top of the league standings, he’ll edge out Trimble and Blackmon for the season award like he has done here. (Others Considered: Melo Trimble, James Blackmon Jr, Vince Edwards)

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