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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RTC Weekly Primer: The Wait is Over, Conference Season is Here…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 30th, 2014

The wait is over. The wait is finally over. For a month and a half now, college basketball has kept us intermittently engrossed. There have been glimpses of the beauty, sniffs of the joy. But beginning today, we get to dive in. We get the full dosage. We get to bask in all the glory. The beginning of conference play is important, not just because attention ratchets up and the momentous games come in droves, but because these first few weeks are full of realizations. This is when we start to get a true feel for individual teams. This is when preseason “underrated” statements are validated and gaudy records against weak competition are exposed. It’s too early to make sweeping judgments about conferences as wholes, but at last, the balance of power within those leagues will start to reveal itself. We’ll learn a lot these next few weeks. Or at the very least, we’ll think we have. And right now, that’s good enough.

Three for the Money

We’re actually going to bypass this section for now because there aren’t many single games that stand out this week. There are no clashes between conference heavyweights. In fact, there are only a couple of contests between two ranked teams. Instead, this week is about collections of games. It’s about the Big Ten tip-off event on Tuesday. It’s about the quintet of Big East games on Wednesday. It’s about the first full west coast Friday night in the Pac-12. And it’s about a jam-packed Saturday all across the nation.

A Juicy Big Ten Triple-header

Maryland Begins Its Opening Big Ten Season Today (USA Today Images)

Maryland Begins Its Opening Big Ten Season Today (USA Today Images)

The two worst teams in the league, Northwestern and Rutgers, actually get things started today at Noon, but we can pretend that game isn’t happening. The real curtain-raiser is the afternoon tripleheader on ESPN2. First, Iowa travels to Columbus to take on Ohio State in a rematch of last year’s upset of the then-No. 3 Buckeyes. Without Roy Devyn Marble in the lineup, though, the Hawkeyes aren’t the same team they were a year ago, more closely resembling the team that closed last season on a 1-7 slide. They lack consistent scoring punch in the backcourt, and that could mean trouble against an Ohio State team of which perimeter defense is a legitimate strength. KenPom only gives the Hawkeyes a 19 percent chance to enter Value City Arena and get a win.

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Big Ten Viewers’ Guide For Conference Play

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 30th, 2014

As you well know, the Big Ten starts off conference play with four games today. While some of the luster has been lost due to several teams’ non-conference struggles, that doesn’t mean that things won’t be entertaining with so many teams relatively close to each other in talent level. Can disappointing teams like Michigan and Purdue turn things around? Will Wisconsin dominate as much as everyone seems to think? Can Penn State keep winning? Some of these questions and more will be answered over the next two and a half months. With that in mind, here’s a look at five key dates during conference play that will be appointment viewing if you’re a true B1G fan.

Dez Wells and his Maryland squad taking on Michigan State in College Park highlights a slew of games on January 17 .(Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

Dez Wells and Maryland vs. Michigan State in College Park highlights a slew of good games on January 17 .(Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

January 17 (five games)

  • Rutgers-Minnesota 12:00 EST (BTN)
  • Purdue-Penn State 1:0o (ESPNU)
  • Ohio State-Iowa 2:00 (ESPN)
  • Michigan State-Maryland 4:00 (CBS)
  • Northwestern-Michigan 8:15 (BTN)

You may be able to skip the opener at Minnesota, but the meat of this five-game Saturday slate is right in the middle. Iowa and Ohio State split their games last season, which each team winning on the other’s home floor. Both teams once again have legitimate NCAA hopes, but this one will be important for setting the tone early in conference play. After today’s season opener in East Lansing, Maryland and Michigan State will run it back just 17 days later. The Terps are known for bringing a raucous atmosphere to the Xfinity Center — how will Michigan State handle the chaos in playing there for the first time as a league opponent? Read the rest of this entry »

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Some Big Ten X-Factors That Will Shape the Conference Race

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 29th, 2014

It’s easy to sit here and write that players like Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell will be key factors in how the Big Ten race shapes up once conference play begins this week. It’s a little harder to dig deeper and find several of the league’s non-superstars who will also have significant roles in the final determinations. Is it the freshman who starts to understand the speed of the game and plays much better with a few games under his belt? Or is it the underachieving senior who plays with an increased urgency now that his career is coming to a close? Here’s a look at several non-household Big Ten players who will be key cogs for their teams over the next couple of months.

Bronson Koenig has played well after struggling early for Wisconsin. (Reuters)

Bronson Koenig has played well after struggling early for Wisconsin. (Reuters)

  • Bronson Koenig: The sophomore guard struggled in his first five games, only averaging 2.8 PPG on 33 percent shooting from the floor. Since then, he’s increased his output to 6.3 PPG on 40 percent shooting over seven games. The Badgers have not yet really replaced the three-point production of Ben Brust despite their 12-1 record, so Koenig will need to be a more consistent offensive option when he gets called upon.
  • Aaron Cosby: Illinois has done a good job in being less reliant on Rayvonte Rice this season. His usage rate has only dropped only a bit (from 26.6 to 25.8 percent), but his minutes are reduced as well (27.8 MPG). The Illini’s offense is therefore more balanced, and it will be even better if Aaron Cosby can regain his shooting touch. In Illini wins, Cosby has made 36.5 percent of his shots from distance. In three losses, he’s made only 20.0 percent. He’s done a good job contributing in other ways — like when he grabbed seven rebounds in a win against Missouri — but Cosby is in Champaign to make jump shots. If he can get things rolling and shoot like he did when he was at Seton Hall for his first two seasons (nearly 40 percent from three), Illinois will be hard to stop.

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Big Ten M5: 12.29.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 29th, 2014

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  1. On Saturday, Indiana lost its final non-conference match-up to Georgetown in Madison Square Garden. In the second half, the game became a duel between two former teammates and Indianapolis natives, the Hoosiers’ Yogi Ferrell and the Hoyas’ D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. Ferrell scored a team-high 27 points, including two three-pointers that helped the Hoosiers tie the game and send it to overtime. As Zach Osterman explains, there is no shame in losing to Georgetown on a neutral site — the disappointment stems from what would have been gained with a win. A win over a good Big East team would not only have given Indiana a big boost going into its conference schedule, but also earned them their first resume win and mitigated some of the stain from their bad loss to Eastern Washington. Now, the Hoosiers will have to overperform in Big Ten play in order to earn an NCAA bid.
  2. This weekend we also saw the return of Dez Wells when Maryland defeated Oakland. After missing five games with a wrist injury, Wells did not get the start but played 22 minutes, chipping in 10 points and four assists. The senior’s return adds to the momentum the Terrapins have built after going 12-1 in non-conference play. In Wells’ absence, Jake Layman has stepped up his production, emerging as a legitimate scoring option for Maryland; combine that with the standout play of freshman stud Melo Trimble and a healthy Wells and Evan Smotrycz, and Mark Turgeon now has a wealth of talent with which to develop his new rotation, shaping up Maryland to be a force in its first season in the Big Ten.
  3. The slate of Saturday games also included Minnesota’s convincing win against UNC-Wilmington. This was the Golden Gophers’ eighth victory in a row, and it caps off a nice finish to their non-conference schedule after starting 3-2 — they’re now 11-2 with losses only to Louisville and St. John’s (both in KenPom’s top 20). Richard Pitino’s pressure defense has once again been a big part of their success (defensive turnover rate of 28.0 percent, third in the country), but it’s their ability to share the ball that has really boosted the offense and overall play, as evidenced by the 66.2 percent of field goals made that come off of assists (fifth nationally). Minnesota will see if its collegial philosophy on offense will translate to a step up in competition when it starts Big Ten play Wednesday at Purdue.
  4. Now that the non-conference schedule season has wrapped up, it’s worth reviewing what has happened in the season thus far. We will have some look-back posts coming up here on the microsite, but the MaizeNBrew blog from SB Nation has compiled a pretty comprehensive version of its non-conference awards. Wisconsin was honored as the Best Team, while Northwestern shamefully beat out Rutgers to be named the Worst Team. Additionally, the Badgers’ Frank Kaminsky was awarded midseason MVP, Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell was Best Freshman, Maryland’s Jake Layman was Most Improved, Wisconsin/Duke was the best game of the non-conference season, Iowa over North Carolina was deemed the Best Win, and Michigan’s infamous defeat to NJIT was identified as the Worst Loss. There are many, many more awards in the article, and it serves as a good recap of the early part of the season for the Big Ten.
  5. Finally, fans have been grasping at straws to make sense of the “mushy middle”of this year’s Big Ten. It seems as if there is not much daylight between teams unless your name is Wisconsin (for good reason) or Northwestern and Rutgers (for not-so-good reasons). If you’re looking for some clarity, Jeff from the BasketballPredictions blog has updated his bracketology predictions to include Saturday’s results. His predictions and seedings reflect what he expects to occur by the end of the season. In it, he has eight Big Ten teams making the Dance: Wisconsin (#1 seed), Ohio State (#4), Maryland (#7), Illinois (#7), Iowa (#8), Michigan State (#9), Michigan (#11), and Minnesota (#12). This leaves out bubble-hopefuls Penn State (and their 12-1 record), Indiana, Nebraska and Purdue. These predictions seem to highlight how much uncertainty there is with any team’s record and/or performance in the non-conference, and that we’ll likely have a slugfest in the conference all season long for those precious NCAA Tournament bids. There are two exciting months of Big Ten play coming our way that will sort all of this out. Get excited!
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Dear Santa: Conference Season is Beginning, Please Bring Help

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 25th, 2014

The man in the red suit is a busy guy right about now, but more than a few college basketball teams should be hoping Santa has time to swing by campus before his work is done. No milk and cookies were left fireside in Lexington, KY, or Durham, NC (reinforcements not needed), and some programs need seek only a stocking stuffer or two (hey there, Virginia and Wisconsin). But most teams have wish lists that stretch far longer. Conference play is here, and the blissful ignorance of the non-conference season? Long gone. In its place arrive true days of reckoning – grinding tests against peers that won’t allow deficiencies to go unpunished any longer. With conference season looming, we take a look at a handful of college basketball teams in desperate need of a gift this Christmas.

Which College Basketball Teams Will Receive A Visit From Santa This Year? (Photo Credit: AP)

Which College Basketball Teams Will Receive A Visit From Santa This Year? (Photo Credit: AP)

Iowa: Last Season’s Shooting Touch

Shoddy defense destroyed the Hawkeye’s promising start a season ago, but things have changed this winter. The defense has been much improved (22nd nationally in defensive efficiency), but a sputtering offense has left Iowa just 9-4 heading into conference play. All eight of the Hawkeye returnees have seen their three-point percentage drop this year (team: 259th nationally in three-point percentage), while only Gabriel Olaseni has improved upon his 2013-14 two-point field goal percentage (team: 232nd nationally in two-point percentage). The widespread nature of the shooting epidemic would seem to indicate some sort of systemic explanation. No Roy Devyn Marble? A lack of comfort with a quicker tempo? A coaching staff that has lost its players? Any or all of these questions could be a dig at the root cause, but even if they are, expecting some reversion to the more efficient levels of 2013-14 is entirely fair. The defense has been there; can Santa bring back the Hawkeyes’ shooting strokes?

Arkansas: Road Victories

For most of Mike Anderson’s tenure at Arkansas, the New Year (and conference play) has brought two things in bunches: home wins, and road losses. The Razorbacks are well positioned to earn their first Tournament appearance under Anderson after a 9-2 start, even if old habits die hard. The Hogs are undefeated on the home hardwood (8-0) and less perfect on the road: Both of the Hogs’ losses (Iowa State and Clemson) have come in enemy arenas. A November win at SMU should not be overlooked, but Arkansas needs to prove they can win games away from Bud Walton Arena in 2015. A depleted SEC should play the role of enabler.

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Big Ten M5: Christmas Eve Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 24th, 2014

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  1. Things have changed remarkably for the Big Ten in just the span of two weeks. It all started on December 6 when Michigan lost at home to NJIT and Purdue lost to North Florida in West Lafayette. Now, the league has lost a bunch of games to teams ranked below #150 on KenPom’s efficiency ratings, and it is losing much of its credibility in the process. Nebraska’s loss on Monday night to Hawaii was just the latest in a string of embarrassing defeats the league has suffered. The question that these teams will face is whether losses to the likes of Texas Southern and the rest could do so much damage to their resumes that a typical Big Ten 10-8 or 9-9 record becomes dicey on Selection Sunday (when in years past it was virtually a lock).
  2. It’s not often that an opposing coach becomes critical of a team that has just defeated his own team. But that’s just what North Florida head coach Matthew Driscoll did when asked about Iowa after it beat his squad on Saturday. Driscoll referred to a confidence problem with the Hawkeyes that Fran McCaffery echoed when he was asked about Driscoll’s remarks. “I guarantee he’s watched every one of our games, probably twice. So he is qualified to make those remarks. But, I mean, so are you. You’ve seen it.” This team is obviously missing Roy Devyn Marble in more ways than just his scoring ability this season.
  3. In happier Big Ten-related news, Wisconsin moved to 11-1 on the season by notching a solid and methodical road win at California on Monday night. Frank Kaminsky contributed another solid effort with 14 points and eight rebounds, and he kept his spot in second place in CollegeBasketballTalk’s Player of the Year rankings. One thing pointed out that could hurt Kaminsky when gunning for this season’s postseason honors is the fact that there will be times when the relative effectiveness of Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker might limit his touches. The senior has done a great job, however, in doing more than just scoring this season, as he leads the team in steals and blocks and is second in assists.
  4. Tom Crean and Mark Turgeon have both been discussed as Big Ten coaches with tenuous holds on their jobs. But with both Indiana and Maryland getting off to better-than-expected starts in the 2014-15 campaign, their jobs appear to be safer. With many of the league powers showing signs of trouble, the Terps (11-1) and Hoosiers (10-2) are in reasonable positions to make the NCAA Tournament this season. On the other hand, one conference coach who could be in trouble if things don’t turn around soon is Purdue’s Matt Painter. After playing reasonably well at the Maui Invitational, the Boilermakers have since slipped tremendously. They now sit at 8-5 with an RPI of #154. Barring a significant turnaround, Painter could very well find himself in trouble at season’s end.
  5. Turnovers doomed Nebraska in its loss to Hawaii Tuesday morning in its first game at the Diamond Head Classic. Hawaii forced the Cornhuskers into 18 miscues, which, combined with a 7-of-23 shooting night from stars Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields, was simply too much to overcome. Now the team sits at 7-4 after last night’s overtime win against Loyola Marymount, but it lost a golden opportunity for a marquee neutral site win by missing on a battle with Wichita State. Nebraska will play Ohio to finish its trip to the Islands on Thursday, and then starts Big Ten play on December 31 against Indiana at home.
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Big Ten M5: 12.22.14 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on December 22nd, 2014

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  1. Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye narrowed his list of potential schools to six on Sunday, tabbing Big Ten schools Wisconsin and Illinois as possible destinations. The former four-star recruit also listed Creighton, Washington, SMU and Oregon as potential landing spots. The Ottawa, Kansas, native saw little playing time as a true freshman in 2013-14, averaging only 1.6 points and 0.9 rebounds per game while appearing in 17 contests. This year, Ojeleye averaged 10.5 minutes per game while tallying 3.0 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, but he found his playing time slipping as freshman Justise Winslow serving as the second power forward behind Amile Jefferson. Ojeleye’s athleticism is off the charts and he’s got a solid long-range game. A 6’7 stretch forward with those kind of abilities would fit in well at Illinois or Wisconsin – or any other Big Ten squad, for that matter.
  2. Iowa took another one on the chin this weekend, dropping a game to Northern Iowa by a score of 56-44. Losing to an in-state rival is tough enough, but the Hawkeyes’ shooting and guard play has been lackluster at best. Iowa shot 27.5 percent from the floor and they currently rank 220nd and 272nd in two and three-point field goal percentage, respectively. Head coach Fran McCaffery has been very calm in his response to the players’ struggles. He told the media that he knows his players are good shooters and he’ll continue to have confidence in them. Anthony Clemmons is shooting a less-than-impressive 35.7 percent from the field – the best from all guards playing significant minutes. The Hawkeyes are already hurting without departed Roy Devyn Marble’s playmaking ability, and they’re going to have to make up for the team’s lack of athleticism with more jump shots. If they continue to be off the mark, then Big Ten play and 2015 won’t be kind to them.
  3. Michigan State’s overtime loss to Texas Southern was surprising, but it helped identify exactly how important Branden Dawson is to this Spartan squad. Michigan State doesn’t have a go-to player to create shots and take the reigns in late-game possessions, writes Graham Couch. And even with Dawson in the lineup, the Spartans still lack a spark on the wing. No Keith Appling, no Kalin Lucas, and no Drew Neitzel (a blast from the past, for certain). Michigan State ranks 318th n the country in free throw efficiency according to KenPom, a prime effect of having no go-to rim runner. The loss to lowly Texas Southern may have come at the right time, Couch added, as it showed that Michigan State can’t beat anyone without giving it all they’ve got – with or without Dawson. One thing is certain, though – the Spartans are in the market for a playmaking guard.
  4. Michigan head coach handed the starting center job to true freshman Ricky Doyle, removing redshirt freshman Mark Donnal from the starting lineup. Beilein made the move a day before the Wolverines dropped their fourth consecutive game in a loss to SMU. The offensive results were good for both Doyle and Donnal, as the two held the highest offensive ratings of any Michigan player. Defense was a different story. SMU’s Yanick Moreira led the Mustangs with 19 points, and Michigan was outrebounded 44-27. The Wolverines have been struggling to find consistency from their big men and there’s no doubt that they miss Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan. Michigan is experiencing some excruciating growing pains right now, but they should be able to get back on track against 1-9 Coppin State tonight, barring a repeat of the NJIT debacle.
  5. Penn State closes up its non-conference schedule tonight against Dartmouth as it eyes the program record for most non-conference wins. The Nittany Lions are 11-1, tied for tops in the conference. Those 11 wins aren’t exactly against the cream of the college basketball crop, though. As Ben Jones of statecollege.com found, Penn State only plays one team with a sub-100 KenPom ranking in its non-conference slate. The one-loss record sure looks good on paper, but few pundits trust that the success will last in conference play. Penn State opens with Wisconsin on New Year’s Eve – and KenPom is predicting a 17-point loss for Pat Chambers’ squad.
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O26 Game of the Week: Hawkeye State Showdown, Harvard-Virginia & SDSU-Cincy…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 17th, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on.

Northern Iowa (9-1) vs. Iowa (8-3) – 7:30 PM ET, Big Ten Network, Saturday.

Northern Iowa has a knack for playing in really good basketball games this season. The Panthers upended Stephen F. Austin by two in overtime during last month’s Tip-Off Marathon, ending the Lumberjacks’ 33-game home winning streak; they squandered a big second-half lead against George Mason earlier this month before escaping in overtime; and on Saturday, Ben Jacobson’s group lost its first game in one of the best games of the season, a double-overtime thriller at VCU. So what does UNI have in store this week, bumping up against intrastate foe Iowa in Des Moines? Probably another barnburner.

Seth Tuttle and the Panthers look to take down Iowa on Saturday. (UNI Athletics Communications)

Seth Tuttle and the Panthers look to take down Iowa on Saturday. (UNI Athletics Communications)

KenPom currently ranks the Hawkeyes and Panthers 29th and 31st overall, respectively, which – on a neutral floor – results in a virtual coin-flip projection. Iowa is one of the nation’s top-30 fastest teams offensively (15.9 seconds per possession), while Northern Iowa is among the 30 slowest (20.4 seconds), yet the Hawkeyes’ strong suit has been its defense thus far this season, while the latter unit has been more offensively proficient. The Panthers, despite their preferred snail’s pace of play, demonstrated an ability to get out and run against VCU, so they should have no problem adjusting if Iowa’s uptempo pace wins out. The Hawkeyes’ most notable strength is its frontcourt, which provides much of the team’s scoring and prevents easy looks on the interior – which might actually suit Northern Iowa just fine, considering the majority of its points come from behind the arc and at the free throw line. This match-up may come down to Jacobson’s guys hitting perimeter shots – they went just 3-of-16 from distance in the game two years ago – and whether Fran McCaffery can get quality production from his backcourt. This should be a really good, really close contest either way.

More to Watch

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Big Ten M5: 12.17.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 17th, 2014

 

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  1. Michigan has struggled more than people thought coming off of a National Championship game appearance and an Elite Eight run in the last two seasons. One of the reasons for this season’s struggles has been the loss of key inside players Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford. “Morford,” as the duo was nicknamed throughout Big Ten telecasts a year ago may have not been flashy, but they were consistent and did a good job defensively down low. The season is not a lost one yet for the Wolverines, but things will have to get much better on the defensive end of the floor with freshmen Marc Donnal and Ricky Doyle for this unit to even sniff the postseason success they have had recently.
  2. Michigan State plays four games in the next nine days, and they will look to avoid falling prey to an Eastern Michigan team that knocked off state-rival Michigan recently. How the Spartans attack Eastern’s 2-3 zone is just one of the interesting subplots to monitor in the coming days for Sparty. Freshman Javon Bess should make his debut tonight, which will give Tom Izzo some different looks as far as how he can set his rotation.
  3. Ohio State will get tested Saturday when they play North Carolina in Chicago. They have to play North Carolina A&T first on Wednesday, but playing on a neutral floor will be the last real test the team gets in non-conference play against a quality opponent. It will be worth noting whether the Buckeyes can handle a big team that makes its living on the offensive glass, especially since Marcus Paige has been struggling to shoot the ball. Amir Williams and Trey McDonald will have to have good days on the boards for Ohio State to prevail.
  4. Illinois already has more non-conference losses than they did last season, and Saturday’s loss to Oregon at the United Center in Chicago wasn’t exactly their best performance. Should Illini fans really be worried that this team might be destined for another NIT berth? Some disturbing trends from the loss to the Ducks were the fact that Rayvonte Rice had to resort to carrying the offense like he did for a good chunk of 2013-14, and the fact that Oregon was able to score in the paint seemingly at will. Losses to Villanova and Miami (Florida) weren’t bad losses from a resume perspective, but there were signs in those losses as well that this team might struggle later on. Illinois may need quite a few conference wins against Big Ten heavyweights to make the field of 68 for the second time in John Groce‘s tenure.
  5. Joe Lunardi hasn’t released anything yet, but Jerry Palm of CBS has seven Big Ten teams currently in his NCAA Tournament field. One surprise would have to be Penn State coming in as a number ten seed. Despite their 10-1 record, the Nittany Lions only win against a team projected to be in the field was against George Washington. It’s also worth noting that Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, and Purdue were left out of the field at this time. This saga will be an ongoing one all season, with the national perception of the league not nearly being as strong as it has been in recent seasons. The wins that would have carried more weight in the last couple of years might not mean as much as 2014 turns to 2015.
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How Can Iowa Fix Its Offensive Problems? A Few Ideas…

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 16th, 2014

Iowa has gotten off to an 8-3 start this season, with what should be an important road win over North Carolina already on its resume. The Hawkeyes also don’t have any bad losses (unless Syracuse ends up faltering in the ACC), using their depth and size to bully the teams that they should beat — winning those games by an average of 25.9 points. While last year’s bugaboo, the defense, has improved significantly, the offense has faltered, going from the fifth best offensive efficiency nationally to 64th. If it’s not one thing; it’s another — that might be the mantra around Iowa City this season. What has caused Iowa’s offensive problems this season, and what can the team do to fix them?

Iowa (Photo Credit: AP)

Iowa Has Traded Better Defense for Worse Offense This Season (Photo Credit: AP)

The Hawkeyes have worse offensive numbers pretty much across the board this season. Losing go-to scorer Roy Devyn Marble has hurt considerably, but the loss of Melsahn Basabe and his 11.7 percent offensive rebounding rate hasn’t helped. Iowa is playing at a slower tempo (two fewer possessions per game), but it’s also taking more threes (25 percent vs. 21 percent). They also have a tendency to settle for long twos, leading to fewer free throw attempts and a drop in effective field goal percentage from 51.2 to 47.0 percent this year. Aaron White is still doing Aaron White things, meaning he gets to the line and scores in transition; and Gabriel Olaseni is also still putting up numbers consistent with his production from last season. But Mike Gesell, Jarrod Uthoff, Adam Woodbury and Josh Oglesby have all seen their offensive ratings take a dip without a corresponding increase in usage rates. Losing Marble has obviously caused a strain across the board, as he not only took a high volume of shots but could also create for himself when things got tough.

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