Posted by Alex Moscoso & Brendan Brody on November 21st, 2014
Anyone who watched the Wisconsin game on Wednesday night saw what could have been the dunk of the season from Wisconsin-Green Bay guard Keifer Sykes. Sykes almost went full “Deandre Jordan on Brandon Knight” in his missed dunk attempt over preseason All-American Frank Kaminsky, causing the preseason All-American to take to Twitter after the game to talk about how the dunk “would have ruined my confidence as a basketball player.” This led to a very lighthearted exchange between the two players that you can read here. It’s nice to see two great players who both hail from Chicago being supportive and recognizing the skills that each of them possesses.
Many of us here at the microsite had written off Indiana after a tumultuous offseason, but after their 74-68 win over #22 SMU in Bloomington last night, we may need to reevaluate this group. Freshman sensation James Blackmon Jr. led the way with 26 points. This game also marked the return of three players from their suspensions — Troy Williams, Stanford Robinson, and Emmett Holt. What once looked like a bleak future for Tom Crean may be turning brighter thanks to the outstanding play of Blackmon Jr. — who has now proven he can play at a high level against nationally relevant teams. The freshman may singlehandedly pull the Hoosiers from the valley it found itself in just a couple weeks back.
In the midst of all the holiday tournaments going on either this weekend and next week, Michigan State announced that it will be part of the Wooden Legacy tournament next season. The other headliner in the field will be Arizona. Providence and Boise State also will be playing in Anaheim along with Boston College, Evansville, Santa Clara, and UC Irvine. The Spartans will lose two of their top three players from this year’s squad, but should return Denzel Valentine and Matt Costello next season.
It’s not always going to be pretty basketball, but if you’re into watching a player just go completely “Kobe” and chuck shot after shot, look no further than Penn State and D.J. Newbill. The prolific scorer put up 35 points on 33 shots in the Nittany Lions’ 97-106 double-overtime loss to Charlotte. Newbill had a chance to score the game winner with an open lane to the basket in the dwindling seconds of the first overtime, but it was blocked by Charlotte. The 35-point total was the most for a Penn State player since 1995, but without many other options on this team — especially with Tim Frazier graduated — look for more nights like these from Newbill. It’ll be entertaining if nothing else.
Maryland also struggled in its quest to stay undefeated, yet managed to pull away from Fordham to notch a win on Thursday night. Unlike Northwestern, their struggles were on the offensive end. This is what senior leader Dez Wells wanted however, as he spoke to wanting to see how the young team handled things when they weren’t hitting shots. They ended up winning this one on the defensive end, holding the Rams to only eight free throw attempts and to 30.6 percent shooting from the field. A game like this should help them, especially once conference play hits. They now know that they can still get a win even if things aren’t clicking on the offensive end of the court.
Indiana was routinely called to task last season (mainly by Dan Dakich) for playing an underwhelming non-conference schedule. There was some evidence that loading up on cupcakes seemed to hurt the Hoosiers, as they clearly weren’t ready for the arduous nature of the Big Ten slate once conference play started. This season Tom Crean’s team is challenging itself by taking on SMU tonight in Assembly Hall. The Mustangs are coming off a beatdown at the hands of Gonzaga in Spokane, but bring excellent size and experience to Bloomington.
Yogi Ferrell needs to get the better of SMU’s Nic Moore in the point guard battle on tonight. (Getty)
Here’s how the Hoosiers can get a quality non-conference win tonight:
Keep up the Hot Three-Point Shooting: The Hoosiers have started the season shooting the deep ball at an insane 21-of-38 clip (55.3%). Gonzaga overwhelmed SMU on Monday night with size in its 72-56 win, but the Zags also hit 10 three-pointers to create some distance. Indiana has similar weaponry on the perimeter with its trio of Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon Jr., and Robert Johnson, and will have to get by with what they’ve been doing in their first two wins– primarily spreading the floor with shooters, using the drive-and-kick game, and getting out in transition. As always with Indiana, turnovers will be a key. If the Hoosiers get too sloppy, SMU has the ability to take advantage of those opportunities.
The Big Ten tipped things off along with the rest of the country this weekend in the form of a whopping 18 games in three days. Minnesota and Rutgers were the only two conference teams that lost, but they also played two teams in Louisville and George Washington, respectively, that should make some noise nationally. While it would be next to impossible to have seen all 18 games in some capacity, here’s some of what we observed on this end.
James Blackmon Jr lead the way offensively in Indiana’s huge opening win. (Matt Detrich, Indy Star)
Indiana Could be Fun to Watch: A team effective field goal percentage of 75.4 percent will not be duplicated for the whole season, but the Hoosiers played a really fun brand of offensive basketball in their throttling of Mississippi Valley State, 116-65, on Friday night. Freshman James Blackmon, Jr looks to be the real deal, and Robert Johnson (15 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals) might not be far behind. Max Hoetzel also was impressive, displaying the versatility at times to serve as a point forward. The Hoosiers did a really nice job moving without the ball and creating offensive spacing, which lead to many of their 23 three-point attempts being wide-open looks. They will get tested playing SMU at home on Thursday night (after tonight’s Mike Davis reunion with Texas Southern), but the contrast in styles and the return of Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson to the lineup will make it worth watching.
Michigan State Needs to Find a Post Presence: Michigan State seemed to be sleepwalking through a good chunk of its five-point win over Navy on Friday night, and it wasn’t just from turning the ball over 18 times. The Spartans allowed Navy to score way too easily inside the paint, causing the game to be much closer than it should have been given the size and talent differential on display. With Jahlil Okafor and Duke looming for Tom Izzo’s team on Tuesday night, Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling will have to be much bigger factors on the defensive end of the floor. Denzel Valentine won’t play as poorly as he did that night, but the Spartans’ offense looked disjointed other than the times when Travis Trice got open looks (5-of-6 from three). Michigan State will eventually get things right and still be a factor in the B1G race, but it might take some time if they can’t prevent those easy inside looks.
With college basketball’s regular season finally tipping off on Friday, the time has come for the Big Ten microsite writers to make their predictions public. We’ll begin by showcasing the five projected bottom-feeders of the Big Ten, the teams we forecast to finish from 14th to 10th.
What they do well: There won’t be many positives for Rutgers in its inaugural Big Ten season — especially after three would-be seniors transferred during the offseason – but it looks like head coach Eddie Jordan brought in a solid recruiting class. His prized recruit is junior Bishop Daniels, a transfer from ASA College in New York City. Daniels, a former Miami player, will help solidify Rutgers’ backcourt with last year’s leading scorer, Myles Mack.
What they don’t do well: Rebound. The Scarlet Knights only had two players average more than six rebounds per game last season (Kadeem Jack and Wally Judge), and Judge is no longer with the team. Rutgers was eighth in the AAC last season in rebounding margin, averaging 1.8 fewer rebounds per game than their opponents. Ten of the 12 Big Ten teams, on the other hand, had positive margins.
Myles Mack will be one of the lone bright spots in Rutgers’ inaugural Big Ten season.
Get to know: Kadeem Jack. Jack is Rutgers’ lone established presence in the post on an otherwise young and inexperienced roster. The 6’9″ senior grabbed almost seven rebounds per game last year and shot 50 percent from the field. He’s likely the only Big Ten-caliber forward on the team.
Why they’ll finish 14th: Rutgers lost three senior players via transfer and has only two players, Mack and Jack, who have proven that they’re ready for Big Ten basketball. Defenses will key on those two, leaving an inexperienced cast to do – or rather, try to do – most of the heavy lifting. Eddie Jordan will overuse the phrase “growing pains” this season.
Why they’ll finish higher: Bishop Daniels has no problem adjusting back to Division I basketball, and freshman Mike Williams establishes himself as one of the best long-range shooters in the conference. Kadeem Jack thrives down low with the outside presence of Jack, Daniels and Williams.
What they do well: Defend – at least, better than the Wildcats used to. Head coach Chris Collins made a concerted effort to move away from the “open door policy” defense that plagued Northwestern in Bill Carmody’s final years at the helm. Collins’ team held opponents to a 41.1 percent field goal shooting last year, good enough for third in the conference.
What they don’t do well: Score. The Wildcats ranked last in the Big Ten in scoring last season, averaging 59.5 points per game. Illinois, which ranked second-to-last, averaged almost five more points per game. The Wildcats also were last in the Big Ten in field goal percentage.
Yogi Ferrell has to run the show and score frequently for Indiana to improve this season. (Darron Cummings, AP)
The Hoosiers owned the 33oth worst turnover percentage in the country last season, and it would be easy to blame their point guard for those numbers. But in reality, Ferrell possessed an 18.0 percent turnover rate on 25.0 percent usage. To put that into context, other lead guards around the conference, such as Derrick Walton, Keith Appling, Aaron Craft and Traveon Jackson, turned the ball over at a higher rate than Ferrell despite a lower usage rate. He also led the team in scoring (17.3 PPG) and assists (3.9 APG) last season. His shooting numbers weren’t great around the rim, but he drilled 40.0 percent of his shots from behind the arc and converted 82.4 percent from the foul line. One could reasonably argue that he should have done a better job getting another lottery pick, Noah Vonleh, involved in the offense, but there were also times when the big man simply wasn’t assertive enough or in foul trouble. With shooters on the wing this year like freshmen James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson, Ferrell shouldn’t have to feel like he has to score quite so much. The Hoosiers appear to be thin in the post on the defensive end, so Ferrell and the wings like Stanford Robinson and Troy Williams will have to fly around the perimeter to hassle opposing ball-handlers. This team should strive to play up-tempo on both ends of the court to counteract its relative lack of size in the pivot. Read the rest of this entry »
Wisconsin has been picked to finish high both nationally and in the Big Ten largely because of the experience it has coming back to Madison. Several other schools in the league also have a good deal of returning talent, though, and Minnesota is one such team. The Gophers will feature four seniors who should get heavy minutes, including all-Big Ten candidates Deandre Mathieu and Andre Hollins. The senior class has taken their roles as leaders to heart, as they’ve been in constant communication with one another as the opening of the season grows closer. There have been many instances where teams that made a deep NIT run (Minnesota won the tournament last season) came back to progress to the NCAA Tournament the following year. Richard Pitino’s squad may well be the next such example of a team, much like Iowa a year ago, to use its NIT experience as a springboard to a better season.
Maryland guard Melo Trimble has quickly become the talk of the highly-touted freshman class that Mark Turgeon has assembled in College Park for his first B1G campaign. Trimble is getting rave reviews for his defensive abilities, and much of that is due to his work with Director of Basketball Performance coach, Kyle Tarp. Trimble has lost 18 pounds since arriving on campus, leading Turgeon to comment that “he’s further along defensively than I expected.” With Seth Allen gone to Virginia Tech, Trimble will have a much greater initial responsibility than he would have had if Allen had stuck around. The combination of Maryland’s experience and youth make this year’s team an intriguing Big Ten sleeper.
Preseason lists for this award and watch lists for that honor are being released in earnest. When it comes to a very specific list, plenty of Big Ten players are honored on the All-Indiana College Basketball Team, consisting of players from the Hoosier State who compete at the collegiate level. The first team includes Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell and Michigan State’s Branden Dawson, and perhaps a debatable player to some in Purdue’s AJ Hammons. The second team includes Michigan’s Zak Irvin, while three Honorable Mentions in Indiana’s James Blackmon, Jr. and Purdue’s Basil Smotherman and Raphael Davis. The team exhibits all the Indiana talent that is scattered across Big Ten rosters beyond just those playing for the in-state Hoosiers and Boilermakers.
Minnesota is a team with some intrigue surrounding it entering this season. The Golden Gophers return four starters from its NIT Championship squad and it has raised some hopes and created high expectations for this year’s team. Some of these projections make sense and seem legitimate, such as Andre Hollins making an All-Big Ten team; but others, like Elliot Eliason leading the conference in rebounds and blocks, are a little more unrealistic. The biggest question to answer for Minnesota fans is whether the Gophers can make the NCAA Tournament and push forward to the second weekend of action. To accomplish such a feat, the team will need Hollins to really improve with the losses of Malik Smith and Austin Hollins. He has the skill set and talent to do so, but it will take a very strong campaign for Minnesota to rise to become a player at the top of the Big Ten and nationally.
With the loss of Noah Vonleh to the NBA, it is no secret that Indiana has some major question marks on its interior this year. One player hoping to provide an answer, however, is Devin Davis. He is one of the few interior players the Hoosiers have returning with experience. The best thing going for Davis may just be that he isn’t a dominant offensive force but he is a strong rebounder. With this year’s team likely looking to rely on its perimeter play to propel the offense, a solid defender underneath who can also attack the boards fits very well. While Davis will likely sit behind Hanner Mosquera-Perea in Tom Crean’s rotation, his style could be beneficial and result in a significant number of minutes throughout the season.
There are high hopes in Wisconsin this season, so to get ready for the year, why not start debating the past? What would you rate as the Badgers’ top play of the past 10 years? While this list goes with Bo Ryan making his first Final Four, personally the Ben Brust half-courter against Michigan would top my list. The real question for Wisconsin fans is whether this list will include more big plays from the upcoming season, and at what stakes? Certainly there could be a few leading to Big Ten and national accolades.
Ever wondered what was in Lebron James’ locker? How about what is in his locker at Ohio State? Yes, Lebron James has a locker inside Ohio State’s locker room, right next to Amir Williams. He doesn’t use it, given that he’s a 29-year old professional and all, but the Buckeyes display Nike gear with his name on it to help appeal to recruits when they come to visit Columbus. Not a bad ploy to use despite King James never playing at Ohio State, or college anywhere, for that matter.
With the end of the season comes a chance to look back at what happened and look ahead to next year. Here we have broken the conference into three corresponding tiers based on this year’s finish and will give each a final grade and look at a key question for 2014-15. Today we’ll examine four teams that are hoping they don’t replicate this year’s bottom four finish: Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue.
Yogi Ferrell had a great 2013-14 campaign and will need to replicate that for Indiana to be successful next year. (Darron Cummings, AP)
Grade: D. The Hoosiers lost so much with the departures of two lottery picks that maybe we all expected too much. Still, with Noah Vonleh (another likely lottery pick), Yogi Ferrell, Will Sheehey and “The Movement,” quite a bit more was expected from this group. Failure to make the NCAA Tournament (or even the bubble) and falling to the bottom tier of the Big Ten represents a very bad year for the Hoosiers. The program’s one bright spot was the emergence of Ferrell as not only the team’s best player but also one of the best in the conference.
Key 2014-15 Question: Who plays inside? Indiana will have plenty of guards on its roster next season. It brings back Ferrell and Stanford Robinson and its recruiting class includes McDonalds All-America shooting guard James Blackmon Jr. and shooting guard in Robert Johnson. With Vonleh and Jeremy Hollowell now gone, though, this team will lack an inside presence. Hanner Mosquera-Perea hasn’t really panned out and Troy Williams is a wing who doesn’t dominate inside the paint. Tom Crean is still recruiting in the hopes of filling this hole with a late commitment, but as of now, the Hoosiers could be looking at a four-guard lineup next year.
Grade: B. A “B” may seem high for a team at the bottom of league but this group of Wildcats was expected to do absolutely nothing in the Big Ten this season. Recall that at one point the question was if they could win a single Big Ten game. Chris Collins did plenty to change that notion quickly, as he made the team’s identity about defense and pushed it to win six games in conference play (and at one point had pundits wondering if it could make its way onto the NCAA bubble). It was a big and unexpected turnaround that has the Wildcats looking to break the NCAA drought sooner than later.
Indiana was at the top of the list of the most-discussed NIT snubs once the field of 32 was announced in the aftermath of the NCAA Tournament bracket reveal yesterday. The Hoosiers fell from a #1 seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament to one that couldn’t even make the NIT this season. Word was also released that Indiana had been invited to compete in the even less prestigious CBI, but had declined the invitation. Athletic Director Fred Glass said, “Finances wouldn’t be an issue if we thought it made sense, but we’re Indiana, we don’t play in the CBI.” This is the certainly the wrong approach to take, and there are several reasons why turning down the chance to play more games is the wrong move here for Indiana.
The momentum that was built up over the last two seasons came crashing to a halt this season for Tom Crean’s Indiana team. (Getty)
First, in the interest of complete fairness, several other schools such as Maryland, Marquette, Washington and UNLV reportedly turned down the CBI as well. But those schools didn’t spout off about how they were essentially too good to try to improve in a postseason tournament that very few people notice. Indiana has an outstanding basketball history, as everyone knows. The school is one of a handful of “blue-blood” programs with an extended legacy and multiple national championships. But the days of Bob Knight heading a national contender every season are long gone. The program under Tom Crean has gone 101-97 in his six years at the helm. It is true that he inherited an absolute mess upon arrival, but it’s not like the Hoosiers have been at the top of the sport for a significant amount of time only to have one bad season. The horrific teams of Verdell Jones and Tom Pritchard would have killed to have had an opportunity to play in whatever postseason tournament they could get into. You’re not all the way back to complete relevancy by simply having two good seasons out of six.
Minnesota did some severe damage to their NCAA Tournament chances with a loss at home to bottom-feeder Illinois Wednesday night. There were almost too many problems to name for the Gophers if one were to catalog exactly what went wrong. A good starting point would be the fact that they shot 4-for-25 from three-point range. Deandre Mathieu did not have a good game at all, as his point total matched his turnover total with 3 of each. He fouled out in 24 minutes, showing that Minnesota will only finish strong in their last 4 games if he’s on his game.
East Lansing has loosely resembled a soap opera for much of the season, but all was well for Michigan State Thursday night. They simply went nuts on Purdue from the perimeter in beating them 94-75 in West Lafayette. The Spartans hit 17 three’s on the game, and 13 of them came in the first half. Gary Harris was the ringleader, as he continued to make schools in his home state of Indiana pay. Harris has shot an absurd 56.9 percent from three in his career against Indiana and Purdue. If this game is the beginning of a hot streak for the future lottery pick, then much of the drama surrounding the program due to injury concerns could very easily go away.
Harris was one high school star from the Hoosier state that went elsewhere, but James Blackmon Jr. will be donning the cream and crimson next season for Indiana. Blackmon Jr. based part of his choice on going somewhere that he can fit in right away, and he feels as though he can help the Hoosiers immediately with his perimeter shooting abilities. If he is as good as advertised, he will play heavy minutes immediately alongside Yogi Ferrell next season, giving IU a sorely-needed shooter from the perimeter that they are currently lacking.
Nikola Cerina is normally a fairly under the radar member of the Northwestern basketball team. He generally plays about 10 MPG to spell Alex Olah. Cerina made news Wednesday night however, as it was determined that he threw a punch at Ohio State’s Amir Williams which resulted in his being ejected from the game. Cerina will now have to miss the Wildcats’ next game against Indiana on Saturday. With next to no depth already, this suspension could be a huge problem if Olah gets into foul trouble against the Hoosiers.
Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitments of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Fouldedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s been a whirlwind two months for four-star forward small forward Trevon Bluiett. On September 3, the No. 12 ranked small forward and No. 41 overall in the class of 2014, announced his commitment to UCLA. One month later on October 3, Bluiett decided to re-open his recruitment and look for a college closer to his hometown of Indianapolis. On Saturday, Bluiett ended his recruitment for a second time and chose to play for the Xavier Musketeers. The commitment gives Xavier one of its top overall recruiting classes along with a big-time scorer.
Bluiett stands at 6’5” and 185 pounds and is one of the top wing scorers in the class of 2014. This past summer, Bluiett played on the Nike EYBL AAU circuit and averaged 19.3 points per game while shooting 38.4 percent from the three-point line and 80.4 percent from the free throw line. He scored 20-plus points in 10 of his 22 games; including one where he went off for 41 points. Not only can Bluiett put the ball in the basket but he also contributes in other ways shown by his 4.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game.
With Bluiett’s announcement, Xavier now has five commitments from the senior class. Bluiett is the headliner, but the class also includes four-star power forward Makinde London (#71 overall, #17 PF) and four-star shooting guard J.P. Macura (#89 overall, #20 SG) to go along with three-star center Sean O’Mara (#25 center) and three-star shooting guard Edmond Summer (#27 SG). The additions of Bluiett, Macura, and Summer will help tremendously with the Musketeers’ outside shooting. Last season only three Musketeers hit 10 or more three-pointers, and only one of those, junior guard Dee Davis will be around when this renowned recruiting class arrives on campus.
Looney Heading West to UCLA
While Steve Alford might have lost four-star recruit Trevon Bluiett just one month after his commitment in September, he offset that loss this past week with another player from the Midwest in five-star forward Kevon Looney. Just last Thursday, Looney committed to UCLA from his Hamilton (WI) High School in a decision that caught most everyone by surprise. The No. 14 ranked player in the country chose the Bruins over Tennessee, Duke, Florida, Michigan State, and Wisconsin.
It is clear that Michigan State‘s upcoming season will be something special. Anything short of a Final Four will be considered a disappointment because Tom Izzo’s roster is loaded with stars such as Gary Harris and Adreian Payne. But what about next year? It appears that the 2014-15 season may not be able to meet high expectations because the incoming freshmen class doesn’t have elite talent. There are a couple of players ranked in the top 100, such as Javon Bess, but Izzo will need some offensive talent after departure of Payne and the potential exit of Harris. It is likely that Harris will leave for the NBA and after the graduation of Keith Appling, Spartans will need some young talent to pick up the pieces.
Speaking of Tom Izzo, he has a very interesting relationship with Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan. Over the years, both of the coaches have been very close in head-to-head match-ups and they compete for the Big Ten title every season. At the Big Ten Media Day, Ryan was asked about his conversation with Izzo before the day had begun, and Ryan was fairly humorous with his response. When asked about their breakfast together, Ryan responded, “I ate scrambled eggs. I watched him, he ate the potatoes and bacon. I didn’t know if it was a Northern Michigan thing or what. “The Badgers may not be a Final Four favorite, but they’ll give Michigan State a run for their money during the conference season. It is a known fact that Ryan’s squads have never finished worse than fourth in the conference standings and this year won’t be any different.
Recruiting has been smooth for Tom Crean over the past two years. After commits from Cody Zeller and Noah Vonleh, it appears that the Hoosier recruiting machine was on a roll, but he did not have a signature recruit for the 2014-15 season. James Blackmon Jr.committed to Indiana and he will be an excellent guard for Crean next season. With Blackmon, Crean has his fourth straight class with a McDonald’s All-American in Bloomington – a streak that should continue if Indiana makes the NCAA Tournament again this year. With Vonleh and Yogi Ferrell, the Hoosiers should return to the postseason again and Crean will pick up where he left with with regards to recruiting as well.
More on the recruiting front, top-5 forward for the 2014-15 class, Cliff Alexander, eliminated Michigan State as a potential candidate. After this recent move, his final list is down to Illinois, Kansas, DePaul, and Memphis. Alexander is a 6’8″ forward who would immediately make either Kansas or Illinois a contender for the Final Four. John Groce already has two top-40 recruits for next season and if Alexander were to pick Illinois, they will not just make the Tournament, but they will make a serious run at the Final Four. Alexander is the third top-five recruit to reject Michigan State; Jahil Okafor and Tyus Jones being the other ones who considered the Spartans at one point.
Tyus Jones did not seriously consider Minnesota because the program is in transition, as new head coach, Richard Pitino, is trying to make his mark in Minneapolis. His similarities to his father, Rick, continue to be documented and will be analyzed further as he coaches at the big stage in the Big Ten. “People ask me all the time, ‘Was it tough being Rick Pitino’s son?’ ” Richard said. “And it’s not. I’m extremely proud to be his son. I’m extremely fortunate to be his son. I embrace it every single day. I would be silly to hide from it.” Pitino will create his own identity in Minnesota, but will have to figure out a way to stay relevant in the Big Ten this year. Andre Hollins will be one of the best scoring guards in the league, but outside of his contribution, Pitino will have to find other ways to put up some points.