Big Ten M5 12.13.13 Edition

Posted by Max Jakubowski on December 13th, 2013


  1. It has been 26 years since there was a match-up of the two flagship programs in Iowa as members of the Top 25, but that’s exactly what we get tonight when #23 Iowa travels to take on rival and #17 Iowa State in Ames. These two programs were largely irrelevant five years ago, but the hiring of Fran McCaffery at Iowa and Fred Hoiberg at Iowa State has really changed everything in both programs. Each team has realistic expectations to make the NCAA Tournament and perhaps even go deep. Hopefully this intrastate rivalry continues to become must-see television each year (and kudos for the schedule makers for giving us this treat on an otherwise quiet Friday night).
  2. Speaking of the Hawkeyes, their bench play has been absolutely spectacular this year. Via @IowaHoops, the Hawkeyes’ bench is averaging 42.3 points, 24.9 rebounds and 4.2 blocks through 11 games. The two players fueling the bench are senior Zach McCabe and Gabriel Olaseni. McCabe is a tough-nosed forward who attacks rebounding fearlessly and can also knock down perimeter shots. Olaseni is seeing his first real playing time in his career and he is doing a great job protecting the rim for Iowa.
  3. Coming into the season, Ohio State’s LaQuinton Ross was expected to become the Buckeyes’ primary scoring threat this season. As the season got underway, though, Ross struggled by only averaging six points in his first five games. But it now looks like Ross could emerge into the type of scorer many had hoped he would become after Deshaun Thomas. Already Ross’ three-point and turnover percentage are better than that of Thomas, and Ohio State will need the gifted junior to take over offensively if the Buckeyes  and Thad Matta are to reach another Final Four.
  4. Michigan and Illinois are looking for their first big non-conference wins this year. Michigan gets #1 Arizona at the Crisler Center on Saturday, and the match-up to watch is in the backcourt. Arizona’s duo of TJ McConnell and Nick Johnson will go against a young tandem of Derrick Walton Jr. and Caris LeVert. If Michigan’s guards allow Arizona’s guards to go wherever they want on the floor, it will be a long day for Michigan. Illinois heads to Portland to take on #15 Oregon as well on Saturday. The Illini lost to Georgia Tech in the last minute but then rebounded nicely by destroying Auburn. Oregon will represent a major test for the Illini, as the Ducks have excellent pieces at all positions that can really expose the Illinois’ lack of length.
  5. Bo Ryan and his fourth-ranked Wisconsin squad easily defeated in-state opponent Milwaukee earlier this week. The Badgers have been steamrolling everyone so far but their biggest upcoming challenge may be next month when they go to Bloomington to take on Indiana. There are four games between now and then and they should all be wins for the Badgers. The one game Bo Ryan’s team can’t overlook before the Indiana game is when Iowa visits on January 5. Iowa has the depth to stay with Wisconsin on the perimeter and multiple players who can guard Frank Kaminsky.
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Big Ten Summer Check In: Illinois Fighting Illini

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on July 20th, 2012

Illini Nation awaits the 2012-13 season with mixed feelings. Even though most of the fans are relieved to see Bruce Weber leave after nine seasons, they are not overly excited about his replacement, John Groce. The Orange Krush and the majority of the fans expected (hoped?) Illinois to land a high-profile name such as VCU’s Shaka Smart but the coaching search was met with a couple of rejections before Groce was lured away from Ohio University. Nonetheless, everybody is eager to see how the former Ohio State assistant under Thad Matta will do in Big Ten country as a head coach.

Can John Groce bring Illinois back into the top half of the Big Ten?

Evaluating Last Year: Weber’s last season in Champaign can be described using one word – tiring. Even though top recruit Jereme Richmond left the program early for the NBA in spring 2011, there was still enough talent left on the Illini to finish in the top half of the conference last season. The emergence of Meyers Leonard as a formidable force in the paint (13.6 PPG) along with the return of versatile guard Brandon Paul (14.7 PPG) indicated that Illinois wouldn’t have any trouble on the offensive end. Despite their scoring talent, though, Illinois finished 11th in the conference in terms of offensive efficiency, at only 0.97 points per possession. Weber’s offense was not efficient, especially in the second half of the conference play, which led to 12 losses in the last 14 games. They shot only 29.5% from beyond the arc, but still took 35% of their total shots from deep. Weber lost complete control of the team down the stretch and the loss to Nebraska on the road by 23 points was definitely the lowest point of the season. Players looked dejected and there were numerous signs pointing towards Weber’s exit barring a surprising turnaround. Illinois ended with a 17-15 record after starting the season 15-3, which resulted in the coaching change.

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Coach Weber: Please Simplify Your Offense

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on February 9th, 2012

Bruce Weber’s life has been rough lately. Illini Nation is in a state of shock because the program went from winning four Big Ten titles during the first half of the 2000s to none over the past six years. The second half of the Big Ten conference season in particular has not been a strength since Dee Brown left Champaign. Currently, the Illini are 5-5 after starting 4-1 this season. They started conference play 3-0 last year but then stumbled to a 9-9 record. In 2010, they finished with a 10-8 record despite starting 3-0 in conference play. The motion offense that Illinois runs doesn’t always result in true motion or necessarily better looks at the basket. The problem continues to grow and the losses continue to mound. Their latest loss was to Northwestern at home – only their fifth defeat to the Wildcats in Assembly Hall since 1963. The road schedule looks brutal rest of the way – games at Indiana tonight, Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Playing on the road at Lincoln hasn’t been a cake walk either and Indiana can attest to that fact, so their road game at Nebraska is not a gimme by any means. Weber stays within his offensive system and usually doesn’t change direction midway through the season, but maybe that is something he ought to consider if he wants to avoid more losing streaks.

Bruce Weber is puzzled with his offense. (Daily Illini)

Illinois only averages 62 possessions per game during conference play. They rank ninth in the Big Ten in that category and they average less than one point per possession – 0.98 to be exact. Why not let the kids run a simplified offense? Weber should consider a few changes to his strict offensive schemes and it may loosen up the players. Here are a few reasons why Weber should consider a change to his offensive sets:

  1. Keep running: The Illinois guards are excellent defenders because they force turnovers. Opposing guards turn the ball over on about 20% of their possessions and the Illini rank in the top half of the league in that category. Despite the turnovers, Weber’s team don’t create consistent points off of those mishaps. After Tracy Abrams forces a turnover, the other guards don’t always run towards the hoop but rather settle for spot-up jumpers in transition. D.J. Richardson goes straight to the corners, which often forces the guard leading the fast break to dish it out rather than lead to an easy layup or dunk. Illinois’ opponents average 31.4% on the offensive glass and this implies that the Illini have strong defensive rebounding abilities. But the defensive boards should result in a quicker transition game. Another indicator of their slow pace is their overall free throw-attempts per game. Fast break opportunities should result in more trips to the free throw line but Weber’s crew ranks eighth in the Big Ten in this category – only 34% of their total field goal attempts result in a free throw. All that speed in the backcourt  is useless if the guards refuse to drive towards the hoop.
  2. Get rid of the designated shooters: Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson account for over 70% of Illinois’ total three-point attempts. Unlike Richardson, Paul would rather attack the hoop than settle for jumpers. Paul’s free throw rate is 46.7 compared to Richardson’s 16.9. Neither of them are efficient from long-range – Paul’s average is 35% while 38% of Richardson’s three-point shots go in. One way to cut down your offense’s reliability on the jump shot is to remove your best shooters from the lineup. Brandon Paul should continue to keep his minutes because he has the ability to attack, but Richardson’s minutes need to be limited. Joe Bertrand and Tracy Abrams would rather push the ball anyway – both of them have only attempted 26 attempts from the long-range this season. Substituting Mike Henry for Richardson might force the offense to move at a faster pace. Bertrand has shown great ability to penetrate and can shoot a consistent floater in the lane similar to Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs. There are at least 10 possessions during the game when Weber calls a play for Richardson, though. The play usually consists of Meyers Leonard or Bertrand setting screens for him to get an open look from the corners. Paul stays at the top of the key looking for him but the scouting report is too obvious and the opponents prepare for these specific plays. Weber should surprise the rest of the Big Ten teams by introducing a four-guard lineup with Paul, Henry, Abrams and Bertrand. This lineup also plays into the strengths of Leonard because he would rather not play in an offense that “grinds” it out.
  3. Meyers Leonard: Leonard is a star. Every Illini game on ESPN showcases Leonard as one of the best big men in the B1G. He deserves every bit of that attention but his skill-set is not maximized in Weber’s offensive schemes. The offensive system at Illinois stays away from the paint during most possessions as indicated by the low number of  free throw attempts. Weber’s offensive sets consist of post-up plays designed for Leonard but that’s not the best way to utilize his skills. Weber uses the talented sophomore in two ways – to post him up down low or to set screens for the guards. Leonard’s post moves are not very polished yet, though. Asking him to play with his back to the basket is not an efficient use of his existing skill set. Using him to set screens is underutilizing his talent. Once again, transition opportunities and a free-flowing offense where the guards penetrate will help Leonard’s overall efficiency. He has developed a nice 14-foot shot this season where Bertrand and Paul often draw double teams in the paint when they drive and that leaves him wide open to drain that 14-footer. He is also very quick to get up the court, so most fast break opportunities ought to go through him and not through Richardson.

Most players on Illinois can create their own shot… if they are allowed to do that. Bertrand had a coming-out party against Missouri when he hit 10-of-11 shots in a fast-paced game, most of which were on his way to the basket. Abrams is a gutsy kid who doesn’t turn the ball over and plays unselfish basketball despite his youth. Paul is their go-to guy who is a jack-of-all-trades, but Weber needs to trust them and understand that the kids have been playing basketball for over 10 years. Teaching them complicated offensive sets in the motion offense may confuse them especially in late-game situations. Clearly something hasn’t been working with their offense, so a change might not be such a bad idea after all.

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Checking In On… the Big Ten Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 3rd, 2012

Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference. Follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp) for his thoughts on hoops, food, Russian nesting dolls and life.

Reader’s Take


The Week That Was:

  • B1G is the Country’s Deepest Conference: With nine teams ranked 52nd or higher in the RPI, the Big Ten is the deepest and best conference – top-to-bottom – in the nation this season. The depth of the conference was never more evident than on Saturday, when Iowa hung 75 in a win at Wisconsin and Nebraska hung close with Michigan State deep into the second half. If you don’t come to play on nightly basis in this conference, even the league’s bottom-feeders can pop you with a loss. Expect the conference’s lofty records (and rankings) to diminish some over the next couple of months as the league beats each other up in Big Ten play.
  • Michigan State – So Hot Right Now: Few teams in the country are rolling like Michigan State. The Big Ten leaders sit atop the standings and are currently riding a 13-game winning streak after opening up conference play with an emphatic win over Indiana and a resilient effort at Nebraska. They have their normal interior size and strength with Draymond Green, Derrick Nix, and Adreian Payne, but Keith Appling – a player that Tom Izzo has called “the fastest point guard he’s ever coached” – is really starting to assert himself. The 6’1’’ sophomore had 25 points and seven assists against Indiana then contributed 14 point and six dimes against the Huskers.
  • Giant Killers: For the first time in its illustrious program’s history, Indiana has defeated the No. 1- and 2-ranked teams in the country in the same season. Assembly Hall has always been an intimidating place to play for opponents, with its combination of raucous fans and rich tradition. The key for the Hoosiers to make this a special season will be to duplicate that success on the road.

Tom Crean Tells Us How Many Wins His Hoosiers Have Over Top Five Teams This Season.

Power Rankings

  1. Ohio State (13-2, 1-1) – It might not have seemed like much at the time, but the dubious call that wiped out Jared Sullinger’s lay-up and sent him to the bench in the first half with his second foul against Indiana proved to be enormous. That early foul trouble limited the OSU center’s playing time (nine minutes) and production (five points, two rebounds) in the first half. William Buford was as absent against the Hoosiers (eight points and four rebounds) as he was dominant against Northwestern (28/9) in the conference opener.
  2. Michigan State (13-2, 2-0) – How do you respond when you’ve built a 19-point lead at home, only to watch it disappear after a 25-2 run by your opponent? You go on a 20-0 spurt of your own to regain control of the game. Coming off an emotional victory against Indiana in East Lansing on Wednesday, it’s no surprise that Michigan State came out flat against Nebraska and trailed at halftime. They righted the ship in the second half though, and ended up beating the Cornhuskers by 13. When Michigan State is on their game and playing the kind of hard-nosed, physical brand of basketball that Tom Izzo loves, they are as good as anyone in the Big Ten. Read the rest of this entry »
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