Thad Matta Trading Offense For Defense Determines Ohio State’s Fate

Posted by Jim Root on November 18th, 2016

The annual late-October release of KenPom’s preseason rankings is a sneaky-big holiday for college basketball fans. Though Ken Pomeroy himself admits that his system takes up to a month to work out the kinks and accumulate enough data to be reliable, it is still fun to see where teams fall given the effectiveness of his past rankings. One Big Ten team that turned heads this preseason was Ohio State, which came in at #13 despite not making the NCAA Tournament last year. A primary reason for that ranking was Pomeroy projecting the Buckeyes’ defense as the eighth-best in college basketball. The Buckeyes finished last season at 43rd in that metric, but KenPom heavily weighs coaching history and continuity of minutes. To those points: Thad Matta’s average defensive ranking at Ohio State in the last 12 years is #21, and the Buckeyes returned their top six players in minutes from last season. Still, jumping from a solid-not-spectacular 43rd to among-the-elite eighth would be a major leap. Is this group of Buckeyes capable of that level of defensive improvement?

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Matta needs Lyle to step up in order for the Buckeyes’ defense to truly thrive (Mike Carter, USA Today Sports).

Matta’s best defenses have come in various forms over the years. The 2011-12 squad, led by Jared Sullinger, dominated the defensive glass, while the 2013-14 team utilized the inimitable peskiness of Aaron Craft and the quick hands of Shannon Scott to force turnovers and harass perimeter shooters. This exhibits that Matta will mold his defense to the talent of his roster, and the strength of this year’s squad is definitely in its length and athleticism up and down the lineup. In the backcourt, JaQuan Lyle is a 6’5” point guard capable of guarding multiple positions, while Jae’Sean Tate, Keita Bates-Diop and Marc Loving are interchangeable parts on the wings and at the four. Up front, Trevor Thompson is one of the Big Ten’s best shot-blockers (7.3% block rate last season), or Matta can play freshman Micah Potter, who is more of a positionally-sound defender that can switch screens with the wings without much issue. On paper, using that length and versatility to switch almost every screen and bother drivers and shooters, the Buckeyes’ defense absolutely has top-10 potential.

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It’s Time to See What Ohio State’s JaQuan Lyle Is All About

Posted by Jerry Scherwin Jr. on November 17th, 2016

When JaQuan Lyle signed on the dotted line for Ohio State that cold January day back in 2015, I thought the Buckeyes were on the verge of doing something really special — yet again. Lyle was the last shoe to drop in a top-10 class (according to ESPN) that included four other four-star recruits, but there was never a question as to who was most important. The point guard just had that look to him. He was one of the most versatile point guards in the country with great size, plus-side athleticism, hidden strength and an innate ability to make things happen with the ball in his hands. If Frank Sinatra has the world on a string, Lyle has every Spalding. Admittedly, I fell in love with Lyle’s recruiting profiles and mix tapes. Despite the rocky road to get to Columbus, the kid looked like the next evolution of the Buckeyes’ point guard.

JaQuan Lyle (USA Today Images)

It’s Becoming JaQuan Lyle’s Time to Put Up or Shut Up (USA Today Images)

His freshman season was inconsistent. There were moments that reminded me of why I was the self-proclaimed captain of the Lyle hype machine. And then there were moments when Lyle looked lost, unhappy and uninterested. In a sport where prospects become stars by staying connected to that fine line that is consistency, Lyle’s play more closely resembled a kindergartner’s idea of mountains and hills. He was both infuriating and electric. And you could tell that it was getting to Thad Matta and the coaching staff (remember the Michigan State game in the Big Ten Tournament?). Despite the red flags that became rather prevalent, most of the media that surrounded the Ohio State basketball program kept their Lyle blinders on. I did too. That’s not to say that we all weren’t going into this season being cautious, but the agreed-upon ceiling for Lyle was just too high to fail.

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Big Ten Conference Preview: Iowa, Illinois, Maryland, Ohio State, Michigan

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 11th, 2016

The ballots have been revealed and the results have been tabulated. Unlike another round of voting that took place this week, there isn’t as much shock value in seeing these results. We at the Big Ten microsite have voted and determined how the league will shake out this season. The second of three segments lists our middle five teams (the bottom tier can be found here).

9. Iowa: The Hawkeyes arguably lost more than any other squad in the Big Ten, with four senior starters moving on from Iowa City. The good news, however, starts with guard Peter Jok staying put for his senior season. Jok will lead an inexperienced crew highlighted by freshman Tyler Cook, and jack-of-all-trades Dom Uhl. The point guard situation here is dicey, but if either Christian Williams or Jordan Bohannon can handle it, this team could still be in the mix for another NCAA Tournament bid. Jok needs to put up large numbers on the offensive end, though, and several secondary scorers need to emerge for this to happen.

Fran McCaffery and his Iowa Hawkeyes are predicted to finish in the middle of the Big Ten. (AP)

Fran McCaffery and his Iowa Hawkeyes are predicted to finish in the middle of the Big Ten. (AP).

Best-Case Scenario: NCAA Tournament Berth

8. Illinois: Things will be much better at Illinois this season if the Illini can simply keep their roster healthy for the first time in two years. The transfer of Kendrick Nunn will sting a bit, but six seniors make this the most experienced roster in the conference. Malcolm Hill is the team’s best player, but the key to the season will be the health of sixth- year seniors Tracy Abrams and Mike Thorne Jr. If that pair can stay on the floor, last season’s 135th ranked defense should be much better and that ugly 15-19 record should also improve.

Best-Case Scenario: 20+ wins and a return trip to the NCAA Tournament Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten Tournament Storylines: Quarterfinal Friday

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 11th, 2016

We’re now down to eight teams remaining in the Big Ten Tournament after a wild Thursday resulted in significant upsets to Iowa and Wisconsin. Today the top four seeds will take the floor at Bankers Life Fieldhouse hoping to avoid the same fate that befell the #5 and #6 seeds. As we head into the quarterfinals, here are four storylines to watch during the tournament’s third day in Indianapolis.

Malcolm Hill and the Illini will have to hope that the slipper still fits against Purdue Purdue on Friday. (USA Today Images)

Malcolm Hill and his Illini will have to hope that the slipper still fits against Purdue Purdue on Friday. (USA Today Images)

  1. Can Illinois Keep It Going?: Even with Iowa finishing the season with a whimper, #12 Illinois’ win over the Hawkeyes on Thursday might be the biggest Big Ten upset since Rutgers beat Wisconsin last season. An impressive game from Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn along with continued strong play from freshman Jalen Coleman-Lands could get the Illini into the tournament semifinals. Remember that John Groce’s unit — thanks to 52 points from Hill and Dunn — has already beaten Purdue once this year.  Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Tournament Storylines: First and Second Rounds

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 9th, 2016

This year’s Big Ten Tournament could very well have something for everyone. There are two teams that seem to be peaking at just the right time (Indiana and Michigan State), two others that have won 20 of their last 26 games (Purdue and Wisconsin), and two more that hope to find their way after recent struggles (Iowa and Maryland). Old rivals Michigan and Ohio State are both stuck squarely on the bubble, while Northwestern and Penn State can secure bids in some of the lower-level tournaments with a win or two. Here are three quick storylines to focus on during the first two days of games in Indianapolis.

Michigan needs quality play from Zak Irvin to get the wins they need in the Big Ten Tournament. (Getty).

Michigan needs quality play from Zak Irvin to get the wins it needs this postseason. (Getty)

  1. Bubble Boys: Michigan has a decent chance to make the field of 68 but it would be strongly advisable that the Wolverines avoid losing to Northwestern on Thursday afternoon. When the two teams played a couple weeks ago, the Wildcats were competitive throughout until Michigan pulled away at the very end. A Michigan loss here probably means John Beilein will punch his ticket to the NIT. Ohio State has a much more arduous task ahead with its first test against a Penn State team that has won five out of its final eight games, including victories over Indiana and Iowa. The Buckeyes are full of mercurial talents who don’t always play consistently, but if Thad Matta can get JaQuan Lyle, Marc Loving and Keita Bates-Diop clicking at the same time, Ohio State could make a run. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 01.20.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 20th, 2016

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  1. On Monday, the conference gave Peter Jok his first Big Ten Player of the Week award, which makes it two consecutive weeks that a Hawkeye has won the award. Jok becomes the third different Iowa player to earn the honor this season. Jok averaged 19.5 PPG on 58 percent shooting from the field in wins over Michigan and Michigan State last week. While not as efficient as Jarrod Uthoff or as versatile as Mike Gesell, the West Des Moines, Iowa native has emerged as a solid second scoring option for Fran McCaffery.
  2. Things are very different for Wisconsin these days: there’s no Bo Ryan, its record is 10-9, and the Badgers are likely headed to the NIT or worse for the first time in almost two decades. Down times for sure, but one promising development for the future has been the recent play of redshirt freshman Ethan Happ. The 6’8″ big man averaged 13.0 points and 7.0 rebounds last week against Northwestern and Michigan State and made the game winning basket against the Spartans. For his efforts, he was awarded a share of the Big Ten Freshman of the Week award. If Happ can continue to improve, Wisconsin may have a puncher’s chance at edging back towards the bubble.
  3. Happ shared the award with Ohio State freshman point guard Jaquan Lyle who registered a triple-double (16 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists) against Rutgers last Wednesday. Lyle’s recent positive play should be a good sign for the Buckeyes after the freshman’s slow start, but it has quixotically occurred during a stretch in which the team has lost two of its last three games by 25 points or more. It seems like the chemistry on Thad Matta’s talented but young needs to be fixed if the Buckeyes are to turn their season around.
  4. Last night, Maryland survived another scare when they eeked out a 62-56 overtime win against Northwestern at the Xfinity Center. Winning close games has been common for the Terrapins the past couple years and has left many wondering when their luck will run out. But it seems that “luck” tends to be on your side when you have players who thrive in the spotlight like Melo Trimble and Diamond Stone. As long as Maryland keeps winning – by whatever margin – they’ll be in the running for a Big Ten title and a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.
  5. Tonight, Michigan State will try to avoid a three-game losing streak when they host Nebraska. The Spartans find themselves at 3-3 in conference play and well behind in the race for the Big Ten title, a dramatic change in forecast from less than a month ago when they were undefeated and ranked #1 nationally. This slip has some in the media calling the game against the Cornhuskers is a must-win. A major issue for Michigan State has been health, as both Denzel Valentine and Tum Tum Nairn have missed multiple games. Valentine is back, but the Spartans will once again be without their diminutive point guard when Nebraska heads into the Breslin Center tonight.
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Big Men Standing Out Among Big Ten Freshmen

Posted by Patrick Engel on December 24th, 2015

Fall semesters have wrapped up across Big Ten campuses, and that means that league freshmen have now played 11 to 13 games and put a full semester of the collegiate experience behind them. As usual, their contributions run the gamut. Some have become invaluable parts of their teams; others are playing well but still going under-appreciated in fan circles; while a number of others haven’t yet cracked their teams’ rotations. As we enter the holiday break and look forward to league play starting on Tuesday next week, here is a look at how some of the Big Ten’s freshmen have performed so far this season.

Caleb Swanigan's addition to Purdue has taken this team to new heights in the early season. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Caleb Swanigan has been one of the Big Ten’s best freshmen and has helped make Purdue’s interior defense among the nation’s best. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Five Freshman Stars

(Note: Scout.com used for player ratings)

  • Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: This former five-star recruit has made Purdue’s front line even tougher than it already was. Purdue likes to play the 6’9″, 260-pounder alongside A.J. Hammons or Isaac Haas, which creates a special circle of hell for opposing teams and allows for more big-to-big passing on offense. Swanigan is averaging 11.2 PPG, 2.5 APG and a league-best 9.3 RPG, but he has exhibited a bit of a turnover problem (3.4 miscues per game).
  • Diamond Stone, Maryland: The No. 6 overall prospect in the class of 2015, Stone hasn’t been quite as good as fast as many thought he would be. Nevertheless, he has still put together a fine young season, averaging 10.7 PPG and 4.6 RPG as top-10 Maryland’s starting center. His 18.0 percent offensive rebounding percentage ranks ninth in the country, per KenPom.

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Ohio State Showcases Plenty of Good, Plenty of Bad in Opener

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 16th, 2015

On paper, Ohio State came into this season with one of the youngest and most intriguing rosters in the Big Ten. On one hand, the Buckeyes have a great coach in Thad Matta and plenty of talent on the team; on the other hand, they have one upperclassmen who has played significant minutes and plenty of questions about how all the new pieces will mesh together. On Sunday afternoon Ohio State won its lid lifter in disposing of Mount St. Marys by a score of 76-54. They held the Mountaineers to 33.3 percent shooting from the floor and won the battle of the boards by a hefty 50-22 margin. Turnovers and defensive lapses, however, show that while parts of this win were impressive, Matta’s team still has a lot of work to do.

Jae'Sean Tate led Ohio State with 21 points in their season-opening win over Mt. St. Mary's. (Dispatch Photo by Barbara J. Perenic)

Jae’Sean Tate led Ohio State with 21 points in their season-opening win over Mt. St. Mary’s. (Dispatch Photo by Barbara J. Perenic)

Trotting out a lineup no player shorter than 6’4″, this game was a physical mismatch. As a result, the Buckeyes shot 22-for-38 in the paint and snagged 44.8 percent of the available offensive rebounds. Junior Marc Loving and freshman Daniel Giddens were the ringleaders here, combining for nine offensive caroms by themselves. Offensively, Jae’sean Tate scored a game-high 21 points in a much more diverse way than he did a year ago, and Keita Bates-Diop notched a double-double with ten points and ten rebounds. Despite not scoring with great frequency, the latter showed enough versatility to do a little bit of everything down the line. Lastly, JaQuan Lyle was able to seemingly get into the lane at will. At 6’5″ and 230 pounds, he will be a physical nightmare for opposing point guards.

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Thad Matta Has Tough but Doable Task: Winning with Youth

Posted by Patrick Engel on November 2nd, 2015

Thad Matta’s entire career can be summed up in one word — winner. Think of it this way: The 48-year old has won at least 20 games in each of his 15 seasons as a head coach. He’s missed the NCAA tournament only twice, and he ended up as the NIT champion in one of those two years. In the other year — his first season at Ohio State — he took over a team that finished below .500 in Big Ten play and was ineligible for the 2005 postseason and led it to a 20-12 record that included an upset of top-ranked and then-undefeated Illinois on the regular season’s final weekend. Doubt him if you dare.

Thad Matta is a proven winner, but leading a freshmen and sophomore-laden team through the Big Ten is a tough task. (USA TODAY Sports)

Thad Matta is a proven winner, but leading a freshmen and sophomore-laden team through the Big Ten is a tough task. (USA TODAY Sports)

While Matta has proven his knack for winning year in and year out, he has a big challenge ahead of him this season. He’s got plenty of talent but not much experience on this year’s team. Seven of Ohio State’s scholarship players have never played a minute of college basketball in Columbus; six are freshmen; one is a junior. There are no seniors. Departed players from last year’s Round of 32 squad accounted for 65 percent of the scoring, 87 percent of the assists and 61 percent of the rebounding. The bottom line is that Matta will have to rely on a group of freshmen and sophomores to replace star guard D’Angelo Russell and four seniors.

Russell is the glaring loss. The wunderkind freshman accounted for 26 percent of the team’s scoring, took 26 percent of the shots and logged a usage rate of 30.2 percent, per KenPom. He was the go-to scorer for a team that didn’t have a consistent second scoring option and really hasn’t since the Jared Sullinger/William Buford days. The good news for Ohio State is that beside Russell (and Shannon Scott’s terrific on-ball defense), no one else did anything completely irreplaceable. No other player averaged more than 10.2 points per game and no departing player had a usage rate higher than Scott’s 21 percent, a relatively average rate. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten Storylines Heading Into Next Season

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 17th, 2015

There are still some dominoes to fall in terms of Big Ten roster turnover in coming weeks but we already have a pretty good idea of how the league will look next year. Here are a few things to ponder as Big Ten fans brace themselves for seven months without any games with which to occupy their time.

Melo Trimble could be a first team All-American next season for Maryland. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Melo Trimble could be a first team All-American next season for Maryland. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

  • Return to Multiple Conference Championship Contenders: Wisconsin essentially went wire-to-wire this season, going from the unanimous preseason favorite to winning both the conference regular season and postseason titles. Next season should be a bit more like the 2013-14 campaign with several teams with a realistic shot to win the league. Maryland is rightfully getting a good deal of love in the preseason “way-to-early” top 25 lists. The Terps will return two of their top three players in Melo Trimble and Jake Layman and will add a bruiser down low in freshman Diamond Stone. Indiana (assuming both Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. return to Bloomington), and Michigan State could also very well start the season in the top 15 nationally. Thomas Bryant will give the Hoosiers someone to keep defenses honest inside, while Sparty adds Eron Harris, Devonta Davis, and Caleb Swanigan to a nucleus of eight players who were contributors on a Final Four squad. These three should all challenge for the top spot in Big Ten play next season.
  • Wisconsin Rebuild: It will be fun to observe how Bo Ryan replaces the multiple talented pieces that he is losing from a group that went to back-to-back Final Fours. He has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt so as to figure that players like Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter will break out with more playing time next season. Getting key starters Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig back is also a pretty decent starting point. How far will the Badgers actually fall, and how long will it take for the newcomers to make an impact?

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