Even in Defeat, Northwestern Offers Hope for the Future

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 23rd, 2015

Northwestern’s NCAA Tournament drought will not be ending this season. It’s not as if inclusion in this March’s field of 68 was ever an expectation for this group of Wildcats (because it wasn’t), but Thursday night’s loss to Ohio State dropped Chicago’s Big Ten team to what will almost certainly be an insurmountable 1-5 in conference play (10-9 overall). D’Angelo Russell (33 points, seven rebounds, six assists) may have been superior to any player the ‘Cats have faced this season (head coach Chris Collins admitted as much afterwards), but the defeat was just another in a string of excruciatingly close Northwestern losses. In overtime at Michigan State. By five to intrastate rival Illinois. A two-point defeat at Michigan. And then Thursday night, where Ohio State needed every point of its best player’s career game to eke out a two-point victory. The Wildcats haven’t gotten over the hump yet, but they have been consistently close. Right now, that seems to be good enough for Collins.

Chris Collins Displeasure With The Officiating Thursday Night Did Not Stop Him From Appreciating His Wildcats' Efforts

Chris Collins Displeasure With The Officiating Thursday Night Did Not Stop Him From Appreciating His Team’s Effort (AP)

You wouldn’t expect the head coach of a team that has won just one of its first six conference games to be especially optimistic after a loss, but Collins exuded confidence. In the postgame presser he repeatedly talked about how hard his guys had played, even saying, “It was so tough that they are not getting the results they deserve.” It was the opposite of a woeful mentality; this was a coach who believes in his players and everything they put on the floor last night. In his mind, they wholeheartedly deserved to win, and maybe after another season of close calls, he feels that they will turn the corner. Even while complaining about a controversial (and incorrectly called) blocking foul in the final minutes, Collins aired his postgame grievances with a knowing, almost-cocky smile across his face. He wanted the win for his guys (if you need it, here’s proof, via his in-game reaction to that missed call), but that steady confidence from trusting the system he’s developing belied contentment with the final result. Close was okay on this night; his team had played well enough to win.

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Big Ten M5: New Year’s Eve Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 31st, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Purdue faces an important test in trying to right its crumbling season when the Boilermakers take on Minnesota today in West Lafayette. One of the major aspects of the game that the Boilermakers have to watch for is the Gophers’ keen ability to turn teams over. They lead the Big Ten in turnover margin, meaning that despite the fact that they play at a much faster tempo, they aren’t making too many miscues on the offensive end. Purdue would be wise to feed Isaac Haas and AJ Hammons repeatedly in order to slow things down, making this one a contest that’s instead decided in the half-court.
  2. Another one of the three games on the Big Ten slate today will also feature an extreme contrast in styles. Nebraska wants to play at a slow pace and take advantage of its ability to defend. Meanwhile, Indiana is averaging 86.4 points per game and would love nothing more than to turn things into a track meet. Despite the fact that Leslee Smith and Moses Abraham still aren’t ready to return from their injuries, Indiana doesn’t have anyone who can really punish the Cornhuskers on the interior. Whoever can control the tempo in this one will more than likely have a great chance at starting out 1-0 in conference play today.
  3. Rutgers senior forward Kadeem Jack was benched on Tuesday as the Scarlet Knights lost their Big Ten opener to Northwestern, 51-47. Jack missed a team breakfast, which caused head coach Eddie Jordan to give his starting spot to freshman DJ Foreman. After an 0-of-8 effort from the field, Jack stated that, “I think I was a big distraction,” in seemingly agreeing with Jordan’s decision to bench him. The coach has largely been positive with the media despite the uneven play of his team, but he seems to be losing patience with how things are going, especially on the offensive end. This was a must-win game for his team, and as the schedule progresses, it remains an open question how many Big Ten wins this team can muster in its first season in the league.
  4. Northwestern was dealing with some issues too coming into the game against Rutgers, but it was able to prevail despite several players dealing with the flu. Freshman stater Victor Law Jr. was one of those affected players, but Jershon Cobb returned to action and contributed six points and seven rebounds in the victory. This was a good start for the Wildcats, but they won’t have much time to celebrate a 1-0 start, as their next opponent is versus Wisconsin on Sunday in Evanston.
  5. Whether people really noticed or not in Ann Arbor after some guy named Jim Harbaugh stole all of the headlines, Michigan’s basketball team got off to a solid Big Ten start by knocking off Illinois on Tuesday. The unlikely hero in the contest was freshman Aubrey Dawkins, who canned six out of seven three-pointers on his way to 20 points. Coincidentally, Harbaugh and Dawkins are both alumni of Palo Alto High School in California. The son of Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins had by far his best game of the season, and Michigan way have just found their next formerly unheralded star to turn things around.
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Big Ten Feast Week Recap

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 1st, 2014

After 38 games in seven days, Big Ten teams had some noteworthy performances of both the good and bad variety. In all, three teams came away with championships in the tournaments they played in. Illinois won the Las Vegas Invitational, Maryland took first in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic, and Wisconsin won the stacked Battle 4 Atlantis field. While it was impossible to watch absolutely everything, especially with the whole pesky, “hang out with relatives on Thanksgiving” getting in the way of hoop watching, here’s a brief recap of what went down during the last seven days.

Bronson Koenig keyed a second half rally as Wisconsin came back to beat Georgetown in the Battle 4 Atlantis. (Reuters)

Bronson Koenig keyed a second half rally as Wisconsin came back to beat Georgetown in the Battle 4 Atlantis. (Reuters)

  • Wisconsin Shows Off Depth That Matters: Many times when announcers or others cite depth when discussing a certain team, it simply means that the coach plays a lot of players. A team with true depth has players coming off the bench that can win a game for them. This is exactly what happened in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis, as Bronson Koenig and Duje Dukan combined to score 18 of the team’s 33 points in the second stanza, with the Badgers holding off a pesky Georgetown team in the process. With Frank Kaminsky struggling and Traveon Jackson and Josh Gasser in foul trouble, they just found a way to win with other guys doing the heavy lifting. Things were back to normal in the championship game, as Kaminsky and Jackson led the way. This team has so many weapons, and is off to a 7-0 start that is making preseason projections look really solid right now.

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Big Ten Feast Week Primer

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 24th, 2014

Seven Big Ten teams will be competing in tournaments during Feast Week. Some are expected to do well, while others are looking to pick up some quality wins and defy preseason expectations. Here’s a primer for those hoops-obsessed fans who want to schedule some Big Ten basketball watching around their annoying relatives. The fun gets started later today in Maui, New York and Kansas City.

Progressive Legends Classic: (Monday and Tuesday)

Caris LeVert needs to continue to fill up the stat sheet if Michigan wants to win the Legends Classic. (Getty)

Caris LeVert needs to continue to fill up the stat sheet if Michigan wants to win the Legends Classic. (Getty)

  • Teams: Michigan, Oregon, VCU, Villanova
  • Favorite: Villanova
  • TV: ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPNU
  • Outlook: Michigan will face its first big-name opponents of the season when the Wolverines take on Oregon in the first game. Should they win, they’ll face off against the winner of the VCU-Villanova game after that. The perimeter trio of Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin and Caris LeVert will have to continue to score at a high level, as the trio is producing a robust 67.5 percent of Michigan’s points thus far this season.
  • Predicted Finish: First if they play Villanova; second if they play VCU.

CBE Hall of Fame Classic: (Monday and Tuesday)

  • Teams: Maryland, Arizona State, Iowa State, Alabama
  • Favorite: Iowa State
  • TV: ESPNU, ESPN2

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Big Ten M5: 10.29.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 29th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Northwestern surprised many people last season with the transformation it made halfway through conference play, leading to road wins against Indiana, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Drew Crawford was the most important player on that team, so it should be shocking to no one that head coach Chris Collins is still trying to figure out how the Wildcats are going to replace him. Two likely candidates are JerShon Cobb and freshman Vic Law. Cobb topped 20 or more points four times as a junior, while Law is one of the most gifted players coming into the program in quite a while. Northwestern has more depth than last season, but whether the Wildcats can collectively replace one of the best players in the Big Ten is worth watching.
  2. Purdue received its first Class of 2016 pledge on Tuesday, as Indianapolis Tech point guard CJ Walker chose the Boilermakers over Butler and Cincinnati. Walker won a class 4A championship as a sophomore, where he shot 51 percent from the field and averaged 3.2 assists per game. Walker should join Bryson Scott and fellow Indianapolis native PJ Thompson at the point guard spot for the 2016-17 campaign.
  3. Illinois and head coach John Groce have gotten some highly-rated players from Chicago and elsewhere in the state of Illinois. Kendrick Nunn, Jaylon Tate and Malcom Hill are three that come to mind, for example, from his first recruiting class. But one former Illini great thinks that Groce has more work to do. Deon Thomas – the school’s all-time leading scorer and the state’s Mr. Basketball in 1989 from Chicago’s Simeon High School — says that talents like Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander would have stayed home and played for Illinois in the past. He cites AAU culture as a leading factor for Chicago kids choosing to play outside the state. Groce has made some nice headway with in-state kids, but it will take a top-15 type of player from Chicago staying close to home for many Illini fans to truly believe in his recruiting abilities.
  4. Ken Pomeroy released his preseason rankings to the masses on Sunday night and the Big Ten put 13 of its 14 teams among the top 80 in the country. One theme in the ratings is how balanced and equal teams #2 through #11 in the standings could be this season. As an example of how tight things are, Michigan State comes in at second in the league and 12th nationally while Purdue is 11th in the conference but 40th nationally. Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, Minnesota and Illinois are all ranked between #32-#38 in the nation. The equality of the teams in the middle of the pack makes predicting the Big Ten race largely a guessing game, and the first set of Pomeroy numbers seem to show that, outside of Wisconsin, he feels that the rest of the league is wide open.
  5. Tis the season for lists and preseason superlatives, and the Big Ten was well represented in SBNation‘s list of the top 100 college basketball players. Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky (#8) and Michigan’s Caris LeVert (#9) both cracked the top 10 nationally, while Nebraska’s Terran Petteway (#15) and Michigan State’s Branden Dawson (#26) made it into the top 30. All told, 15 B1G players made the cut, which left the league tied for second among power conferences with the Big 12. The SEC had the most players on this list with 16, six of whom play for Kentucky alone. The post also listed 50 more players who just missed the cut, which included Penn State senior guard DJ Newbill and Wisconsin sophomore Nigel Hayes.
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Big Ten Season Grades: Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on April 16th, 2014

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.

Indiana

Yogi Ferrell had a great 2013-14 campaign and will need to replicate that for Indiana to be successful next year. (Darron Cummings, AP)

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.

Northwestern

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.

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Big Ten M5: 02.28.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 28th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. For the first time in quite a while, Michigan State should have its full roster intact on Saturday when the Spartans take on Illinois. Branden Dawson will return to action for the first time in nine games, although head coach Tom Izzo doesn’t know how much he’ll be able to play. Dawson will have to wear a brace on his injured hand, but as long as said brace doesn’t hinder his ability to rebound and play defense, it shouldn’t be an issue. Even with players not necessarily playing at 100 percent health-wise, the Spartans will gain a lot of credibility with the selection committee by winning their last three with their lineup fully in place.
  2. Ben Brust has been slightly off shooting the ball as of late. He turned things around last game in the second half against Indiana however, and in the process became the 38th player in Wisconsin history to hit the 1,000-point plateau. Brust credited his teammates for this accomplishment saying, noting that “he was lucky to have good players when I got here to set an example for me.” Brust is shooting a slightly lower percentage (37.0%) on threes this season than in his last two (38.9% in both his sophomore and junior seasons), but he’s posting a much higher offensive rating and is knocking down almost 90 percent of his free throws. He could garner even more space in Wisconsin basketball lore with a hot shooting streak come March.
  3. Illinois is starting to turn things around after the Illini lost eight games in a row during conference play. They’ve now won three out of five games since they switched their starting lineup, putting Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn into the starting unit in place of seniors Jon Ekey and Joseph Bertrand. With their win against Nebraska on Wednesday night, the Illini guaranteed themselves a .500 record for the regular season. If they can miraculously win out against the likes of Michigan State, Michigan and Iowa, they may even have a remote opportunity to play themselves back onto the bubble. In this year’s Big Ten, you never know.
  4. That last statement could definitely also be applied to what happened with Minnesota forward Charles Buggs and his performance Tuesday night at The Barn. In this year’s Big Ten, you never know, and no one would have imagined or thought that someone who had played a grand total of 21 minutes all season could score 13 points and ignite a rally that may have saved the Gophers season. Buggs almost transferred in the midst of the coaching transition, but stick around because he thought his athleticism would work well in their up-tempo system. With Oto Osenieks hobbled with a knee problem, Buggs may have won himself extended time the rest of the season at the power forward spot.
  5. Anyone who saw the transition and success Northwestern had during their mid-season turnaround had to have noticed that JerShon Cobb was a huge part of their efforts. It was announced on Thursday afternoon that due to lingering knee and foot problems, Cobb will not play the rest of the season. Cobb will be heard from again as a senior leader for the 2014-15 version of the Wildcats, but for now they will struggle to win games for the rest of the 2013-14 campaign. This makes an already short bench even shorter, and hurts them defensively by losing Cobb’s length at the guard spot.
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Northwestern Showing Signs of Life But Still Has Problems

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 22nd, 2013

On Wednesday night, Northwestern went into the UIC Pavilion and ran Illinois-Chicago out of its own building. They won by 35 points, outdoing their expected KenPom outcome by 30 points. It was a much-needed win, considering up until then the Wildcats had been the most disappointing team in the Big Ten. Along with the losses of Jared Swopshire and Reggie Hearn, the team is still adjusting to Chris Collins’ new system and has reverted to throwing up threes when their half-court sets have fallen apart. Up until that game, nearly 44 percent of their total shots have been from the three-point line — most in the conference — and when they drove the ball to the basket, they weren’t finishing the play either (42.5 percent). On Wednesday the Wildcats finally began to attack the rim and couldn’t miss – hitting 64.5 percent of their two-point field goals. However, Northwestern’s blowout was more a product of a vulnerable opponent rather than any long-term fix.

Baylor's Athletic Size and Length Confounded Northwestern (AP Photo/C. Cherney)

Dave Sobolewski went for a career high 25 points on Wednesday (AP Photo/C. Cherney)

UIC, a team expected to finish in the middle of the Horizon League, has also underperformed relative to their already mediocre expectations. The Flames started the preseason ranked 262nd in the country, according to KenPom, but has since fallen to 302nd. Their defense has been less than stellar (giving up 106.4 points per 100 possessions) and their weaknesses played right into the Wildcats’ hands: poor perimeter defense and a stark lack of rim protection. For the season, UIC has allowed teams to shoot 46.7 percent from deep (342nd in the country). The Flames didn’t fare any better on Wednesday when they allowed the Wildcats to make 55 percent of their three-point shots. UIC has also allowed its opponents a free pass when they’ve been beaten off the dribble by only blocking 3.2 percent of all possible shots. Once Northwestern cleared space in the lane by sinking some threes, they were able to get to the rim easily. So as it turns out, UIC was a perfect match for the Wildcats to get the team’s confidence going.

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Morning Five: 01.11.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 11th, 2013

morning5

  1. After the RPI came out most people spent the next few days picking it apart for which teams were ranked too high and too low. Seth Davis took a different tact as he opted instead to look at which teams benefited the most from their nonconference schedule and which were hurt the most by their nonconference schedule. The results are probably about what you would expect if you pair the teams that played the toughest nonconference schedules with those that many thought were ranked too highly by the RPI and vice versa, but it does stress the point that coaches don’t seem to get–if you want to work the system you have to play good teams. When Selection Sunday rolls around don’t be surprised to see those that played tough nonconference schedules getting the benefit of the doubt over those that didn’t.
  2. We still have a couple of months left in the season, but Michael Rothstein is already looking forward to the National Player of the Year race and is back with his straw poll where he gets 63 individuals who have voters for the various national awards and asks them to fill out ballots. The first straw poll of the season has Mason Plumlee leading by a fairly comfortable margin. Now we are going to have a hard time ever calling someone who plays for Duke as a bit of an underdog, but coming into the season you would not have found many college basketball analysts willing to put Plumlee in the discussion of top contenders (and that is including some of the notable Duke homers), but thanks to a significantly improved game Plumlee is currently ahead of his more hyped peers. As Rothstein notes Anthony Davis was only fourth in the initial straw poll last season before running away with the award at the end of the season so there is still plenty of time (the entire conference season) for these rankings to change.
  3. You will not be seeing any ridiculous box scores from Grinell gunner extraordinaire Jack Taylor in the near future as he is out for the rest of the season after breaking his right radius in a game on Wednesday night. Taylor, who gained national notoriety when he scored 138 points in a single game on 52-108 from the field including 27-71 from three-point range (and having zero assists). While Taylor has not come close to that total again (the next highest in NCAA history is “only” 113 points) he was still leading the nation at 36.3 points. Fortunately for Taylor he still has at least two more years of eligibility left and although his overall professional prospects are somewhat limited he should see some action overseas if for nothing more than a marketing tool as the guy who scored 138 points in one game.
  4. Coming into the season most observers expected the two powerhouses on Tobacco Road to have relatively down years, but while Duke has managed to exceed expectations so far their rivals at North Carolina have continued to struggle and have failed to even live up to those lowered expectations. While there are plenty of potential explanations for why the Tar Heels have struggled so much this season Mike DeCourcy thinks three things–having talented players commit to them too early, the effect of the Kentucky recruiting monster, and the early departure of Kendall Marshall–are to blame for their struggles this season. While the last two points are things that almost everybody agrees upon (especially the Marshall point), the first reason is somewhat novel and not something I have heard others complain about although it is intriguing. Of course, given how successful the Tar Heels have been during the Roy Williams era we would not be the least bit shocked to see them in the Final Four in a few years.
  5. After several years of dreaming of NCAA Tournament glory-not winning it just making it–Northwestern will not have to worry about a late season collapse to keep them out of the NCAA Tournament as they have no chance of making it. However, help is on the way and it comes in the form of the individual who is probably most responsible for their disappointing play this season: JerShon Cobb. Cobb, who was suspended for the season due to a variety of issues most notably poor grades, has returned to the team, but you won’t see him leading the Wildcats against Big Ten opposition as he is only on the scout team. As much as we are interested to see what these games look like particularly if Bill Carmody lets Cobb loose. With Cobb having supposedly improved his grades and presumably taken care of whatever “team rules” issue he had, Northwestern fans have two more seasons with Cobb to look forward and dream the impossible dream–making the NCAA Tournament.
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Morning Five: 09.24.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on September 24th, 2012

  1. Andy Katz reported on Friday that the Saint Mary’s men’s basketball program is currently under investigation by the NCAA for potential recruiting violations of an as-yet unknown variety. Few additional details were forthcoming over the weekend, but what little smoke that there appears to exist is surrounding former assistant coach David Patrick (currently an assistant at LSU), an Australian who was instrumental in recruiting former star guard Patty Mills to the campus. The tiny school that is coached by Randy Bennett has become one of the pre-eminent mid-major programs in America in large part due to its Australian talent pipeline — defending WCC POY and Olympian Matthew Dellavedova is only the latest and greatest Gael product of Oz — it makes you wonder if the attraction to Moraga, California, involved incentives beyond a beautiful campus surrounded by verdant hills. We’ll have more on this topic later this morning.
  2. Now that the Billy Gillispie era has officially ended at Texas Tech, the university is left picking up the pieces of its reputation and trying to figure out what to do next. It’s not like there’s a lot of tradition or much fan support for the basketball program anyway, but the danger of making a poor decision now is that it could realistically embed the program at the bottom of the Big 12 for the next half-decade. Nevertheless, the school hopes to name an interim head coach for the upcoming season within the next two weeks, and assistant head coach Chris Walker by virtue of his association with Gillispie’s antics may not be the choice for the permanent job. Andy Katz suggested three viable candidates last week — Rob Evans, Doc Sadler, and Reggie Theus — all of whom have significant and successful head coaching experience along with ties to the region that would help the program transition to a new, and hopefully, better era.
  3. Oregon received great news over the weekend as Dana Altman’s program reportedly has received a transfer commitment from former Rice star Arsalan Kazemi, a double-double machine who will apply for a hardship waiver to play immediately. Kazemi is notable as the first Iranian to play Division I NCAA basketball, but the “Beast of the Middle East” is certainly more than a demographic footnote — the 6’7″, 220-pounder consistently pounds the glass as one of the best defensive rebounders in America, and his free throw rate is annually one of the best in the nation. We’re not sure the basis for Kazemi’s waiver request to play this season, but if approved, an all-senior front line of Tony Woods, EJ Singler, and Kazemi would be one of the best in the Pac-12, if not the nation.
  4. It’s not very often that you’ll read a piece from a national columnist encouraging his readers to rise up as one and not let an issue drop out of the collective consciousness. And yet, that’s exactly what CBSSports.com‘s Gregg Doyel does when he outlines what he calls the “hypocrisy of the NCAA” in predicting that absolutely nothing will happen to Duke as a result of the Lance Thomas jewelry loan situation. Doyel is a flashpoint writer — pretty much every major fan base thinks he has a specific beef with them, when in reality being critical is his style — but he has the status to make something his crusade if he chooses to do so. We’re guessing that many of the enemies he’s made over the years would turn on a dime and become his biggest fans if he actually was capable of nailing the Blue Devil program on this one.
  5. We’re willing to root for Northwestern to finally make the NCAA Tournament as much as the next guy, but the storyline gets a little tiresome when every piece of news surrounding the program is viewed through that particular prism. Still, the weekend news that junior guard JerShon Cobb has been suspended for the entire 2012-13 season because of a violation of team policy has to be disconcerting to Wildcat fans. Cobb has been a part-time starter who offers solid offensive production (career 7.3 PPG) in around 20 minutes per contest; his removal from the lineup changes the complexion of a team already anticipating the replacement of the offense of its former star, John Shurna. In a loaded Big Ten conference where a .500 record is a reasonable goal, Bill Carmody will need to find additional offense from unexpected places if his team is to have any shot at getting the NCAA albatross off its back.
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Four Game Recaps: Big Ten Tournament First Round

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 9th, 2012

Here’s a breakdown on how things went down in the Big Ten tournament’s first day of action:

Matt Gatens led Iowa to a big win over Illinois (Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

Iowa 64 – Illinois 61

The skinny: It’s been a tough season for Illini fans, and now (some would say thankfully) it is over. Myers Leonard was a force down low for Illinois, scoring 18 points and grabbing six boards, but Brandon Paul struggled his way to four points on 2-11 shooting. Meanwhile, Matt Gatens continued his solid senior season with 20 points to lead the Hawkeyes, but it was his defense on Paul that really was the difference in this contest for Iowa. Head coach Fran McCaffery complained earlier this week about Gatens not being included on the all-Big Ten defensive team, and the senior looked every bit an elite-level stopper in this match-up. All-Big Ten freshman Aaron White had 13 points and 9 rebounds including a key offensive board with about 40 seconds left after a missed free throw by Roy Devyn Marble that helped seal the game for Iowa.

Up next: The #8-seed Hawkeyes will face #1-seed Michigan State at noon today. Iowa only played the Spartans once this season, falling 95-61 in a game at East Lansing on January 10.

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Checking In On… the Big Ten Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 8th, 2012

Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference. Follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp) for his thoughts on hoops, food, PR, various city river walks and life.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was:

  • Halfway Home: As of this week, the regular season conference schedule is officially more than halfway done. And – with apologies to Dennis Green– teams are pretty much who we thought they were at the beginning of the season. Ohio State is the class of the conference; Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Indiana are solid NCAA Tournament teams; Purdue, Minnesota, Illinois, and Northwestern are fighting for seeding while Iowa, Nebraska, and Penn State pick up the rear. Of course, there have been some upsets and many compelling games, but now that the dust is starting to settle, the cream of the crop has risen to the top.
  • Super Shurna: Leave it to a savvy veteran to catch fire at just the right time. With Northwestern’s hopes of making its first NCAA Tournament fading fast, John Shurna won co-Big Ten Player of the Week honors after he shot a blistering 71% from the field and averaged 26 points, four rebounds, and two steals to lead the injury-depleted Wildcats to a home win over Nebraska and a road victory over Illinois. Shurna is up there with Michigan State’s Draymond Green and Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor as the most valuable players to their respective teams.
  • Close Calls: Illinois may be struggling at the moment, but they aren’t getting blown out. Each of the Illini’s last six games has been decided by five points or less. Unfortunately for the Orange Crush, they are just 2-4 in those games. Now they get to go on the road for four of their next five, starting with a doozy of a week with games at Indiana and at Michigan.

Will Draymond Green And The Spartans Snap Ohio State's Impressive Winning Streak In Columbus Saturday? (Al Goldis/AP)

Power Rankings

  1. Ohio State (21-3, 9-2) – With the amount of scoring options Thad Matta has, it’s really just a matter of if Ohio State wants to defend you. They didn’t do that against Indiana or Brandon Paul (though he was just on fire that day), and sure enough, they lost both games. Purdue gave the Scarlet-and-Gray all they could handle before OSU escaped with an 84-81 win. Buckeyes face an interesting test when Michigan State comes calling to Columbus on Saturday. A win would put them in a comfortable position to win the regular season crown.
  2. Michigan State (18-5, 7-3) – All of East Lansing waited with baited breath to learn the results of Draymond Green’s MRI. After Green left the game with a minor knee injury, Michigan State struggled mightily in a 42-41 upset loss. They bounced back nicely against their in-state rivals, and sure enough, Green led them with 14 points and 16 boards. As good a season as State has had, it could be even better: Two of the three conference losses have been by a single point on the road. Read the rest of this entry »
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