RTC Big Ten Preview: The Top Tier (#7 – #1)

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 11th, 2015

We continue our Big Ten microsite predictions and superlatives with the second half of our preseason standings. We presented our preseason standings with teams #14 – #8 on the microsite yesterday; today, we unveil the top half. These are the teams that we as a group believe will finish near or atop the league when all the dust settles and will result in the likely conference representatives in the NCAA Tournament.  Enjoy!

It's Jarrod Uthoff's turn to lead the Hawkeyes to another NCAA Tournament.

It’s Jarrod Uthoff’s turn to lead the Hawkeyes to another NCAA Tournament.

  • 7. Iowa: With Aaron White now graduated, all eyes turn to senior Jarrod Uthoff to take the baton and lead the Hawkeyes to a third consecutive NCAA Tournament— something this program hasn’t accomplished since the early 1990s. With players like Adam Woodbury, Peter Jok and an experienced backcourt to work with, Uthoff will have a supporting cast with enough talent to get it done.
  • 6. Michigan: The Wolverines are a talent-laden team with a number of players similar to Caris LeVert who fit perfectly into John Beilein’s prolific three-point offense. Both he and Derrick Walton were sidelined with injuries for the majority of last season, which gave the rest of the young roster experience to draw from this year. Now fully healthy, Michigan is set up for a comeback campaign pushing toward the top of the Big Ten.

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Can Perimeter Depth Carry Michigan?

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 2nd, 2015

After a run to the National Championship game in 2012-13 and an Elite Eight appearance a year later, Michigan slumped to a 16-16 record a season ago. Injuries were the biggest obstacle to another postseason jaunt last year, but in a roundabout way they may have helped set the Maize and Blue up for success this year. Aubrey Dawkins averaged 11.4 PPG and shot 46 percent from behind the arc in his last 14 games; Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman averaged 7.9 PPG in his last 14 contests; and leading the way, Zak Irvin scored 14.7 PPG, grabbed 5.6 RPG and dished 2.4 APG. With Derrick Walton Jr. and Caris LeVert both sidelined by injuries, Irvin stepped up and performed as the primary option for the first time in his collegiate career. His emergence along with that of the freshmen didn’t lead to much success a year ago, but it does set things up nicely for John Beilein‘s team this season. Michigan’s perimeter attack is one the most talented and deepest in the B1G; is it good enough for the Wolverines to contend for the league title and return to the NCAA Tournament?

Aubrey Dawkins emerged as a diamond in the rough for Michigan last season (Rick Osentoski, USA Today).

Aubrey Dawkins emerged as a diamond in the rough for Michigan last season (Photo: Rick Osentoski, USA Today).

When a Beilein-coached team (including stops at both Michigan and West Virginia) has finished the season with an adjusted offensive efficiency at 113.9 or greater, it has averaged 26.4 wins per season. It has happened five times now, with accompanying postseason results including a trip to the National Championship game, two Elite Eight appearances, a Sweet Sixteen appearance, and an NIT championship. KenPom projects the Michigan offense as the ninth-best outfit in the country this preseason. Last season, Indiana boasted the ninth-best offense in the country with an adjusted offensive efficiency of 116.7.  With Michigan’s injured set to return and their former backups now bolstered by the confidence and experience of playing featured roles last season, the pieces are in place for another Beilein offensive juggernaut. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: Wisconsin 71, Michigan 60

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 13th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

The Badgers Were All Smiles Today in Chicago (USA Today Images)

The Badgers Were All Smiles Today in Chicago (USA Today Images)

  1. Michigan Played With Great Confidence. Both Bennet Hayes and I, along with some other media members with whom I spoke before the game, thought Michigan had a real shot today. There was something about the swagger with which the Wolverines had dominated Illinois yesterday that made this seem like a distinct possibility. And early in the game, it appeared to be true. Zak Irvin and Spike Albrecht combined for 18 of Michigan’s first 22 points, each hitting two three-pointers in leading Michigan to an early nine-point lead. Even though Michigan’s shot-making wouldn’t continue at the same rate, the team’s intensity and focus certainly would, which is what kept this quarterfinal competitive throughout.
  2. Wisconsin Asserted Itself. The Badgers methodically climbed back into the game by clamping down defensively, especially on Albrecht. During a 10-0 Wisconsin run to end the first half, every Wolverines’ shot attempt was well-contested. The only way that Michigan was able to regain a second half lead was by getting out in transition — something Wisconsin uncharacteristically let them do — but as usual, the Badgers’ half-court defense was tough to solve.
  3. Wisconsin Has Too Many Weapons. While Michigan had one or two players doing things to keep the Wolverines in the game, so many Wisconsin players made plays down the stretch that it was simply too much for Michigan to overcome. Josh Gasser hit a big three; Duje Dukan was awesome off the bench; and Nigel Hayes was a pain in Michigan’s rear end all day long. Then, with about 3:40 to go, there was a single play emblematic of Wisconsin’s victory. Frank Kaminsky missed a shot at the rim, got his own rebound, and then, while falling to the floor, found Gasser on the perimeter. Gasser immediately penetrated, kicked the ball out to Bronson Koenig, who made the extra pass to Sam Dekker as he stepped into and drilled a three. The Badgers were too solid at all five spots on the floor to be beaten by a valiant but short-handed Michigan team today.

Player of the Game. Zak Irvin, Michigan. He was on the losing side of today’s ledger, but Irvin had a tremendous game. He scored 21 points on 9-of-18 shooting, pulled down 11 rebounds and was the only Michigan player who stayed in attack mode for all 40 minutes.

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Big Ten M5: 01.23.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 23rd, 2015

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  1. On Tuesday night, Iowa suffered an embarrassing 32-point loss at Wisconsin. While that certainly wasn’t the outcome the Hawkeyes were hoping for, it didn’t hurt their postseason aspirations in the grand scheme of things. However, an incident that occurred during the game has escalated into an off-court dispute between head coach Fran McCaffery and ESPN analyst Dan Dakich. The issue in question was whether Iowa center Adam Woodbury intentionally poked two different Wisconsin players in the eyes. Dakich felt his actions were intentional and called the Hawkeyes junior “cowardly” and “gutless” as a result. On his weekly radio show, McCaffery responded to Dakich’s accusation by saying that “It’s absolutely inexcusable that his network would allow him to say those things” and later demanded an apology. Dakich is known for being boisterous but he may have crossed the line with his harsh criticism here.
  2. On Wednesday night, Michigan State eked out a win at home against Penn State. The Spartans have been unusually mediocre this season and are right now headed for a relatively low seed in the NCAA Tournament — or worse yet, the bubble. A major issue has been the poor performance from their veteran backcourt of Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice. Despite being Tom Izzos’ top two scorers, they haven’t been aggressive of late and are shooting 45 percent and 39 percent from the field on the season, respectively. The frontcourt has been picking up the slack, but if history is any indication, the Spartans will need to have their guards play well to have any kind of late-season success.
  3. A battered Illinois team managed to fend off Purdue and get a much-needed win in Champaign on Wednesday night. Before the game the school announced that Aaron Cosby would be out for two weeks due to an eye injury he sustained in the Illini’s previous contest against Indiana. This meant that freshman Leron Black would get an opportunity to showcase the potential many saw in him at the beginning of the season. And boy did he ever. Black had a breakout night, registering his first career double-double (15 points and 13 rebounds) and hitting the dagger three to seal the game. If the Memphis native can turn his seemingly endless energy level into consistent production, the Illini will have yet another backcourt weapon at their disposal when they get back to full health.
  4. No team may be having a better week than Indiana. After getting an important road win at Illinois on Sunday, the Hoosiers backed it up with a statement win by blowing out Maryland in Assembly Hall on Thursday night. Currently, Mark Turgeon and Bo Ryan are the front-runners for B1G Coach of the Year, but Tom Crean should also be considered for the job he’s done this season. This program was thought to be on the decline — and the firing of its head coach imminent — after a turbulent offseason and dubious loss to Eastern Washington in November. But Crean has managed to keep his team together and now has the Hoosiers tied for first place in the conference standings.
  5. Finally, as we found out last weekend, Michigan’s Caris LeVert is done for the season because of a fractured foot. But last Saturday’s game against Northwestern may have also been Levert’s last game in a Michigan jersey given that the junior LeVert is projected to be a first-round pick. If he declares himself eligible for the NBA Draft in April, that would mean John Beilein has turned a once-unheralded recruit into a first round pick going on three years in a row (Trey Burke and Nik Stauskas are the others). That might be a nice thing to brag about, but all of the attrition from unexpected sources has to be frustrating on some level and possibly make it more difficult to get Michigan back into contention for Final Fours.
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Big Ten M5: 01.06.15 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on January 6th, 2015

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  1. Michigan State seemed to get its mojo back in crushing Indiana on Monday night, holding the Hoosiers to just 20 percent shooting from long distance. Inside the Hall’s Ryan Corazza attributed Indiana’s loss to a poor first-half performance that amounted to a 19-point halftime deficit. The Spartans, six days removed from a heartbreaking double-overtime loss to Maryland, were able to stifle Tom Crean’s drive-and-dish offense by locking down the paint and effectively closing out on Indiana’s gunners. In fact, Yogi Ferrell and Emmitt Holt were the only Hoosiers to make a shot in the first half while the rest of the team went 0-of-19. This is the first time all season we’ve seen such a poor offensive performance from Indiana, but the loss certainly highlights the team’s dependence on long-distance shooting. As Big Ten Powerhouse’s Scott Manning put it, Indiana will live and die by the three this year.
  2. Purdue stumbled – or rather, fell face-first – into the opening week of Big Ten play, entering last week having dropped three straight games to Notre Dame, Vanderbilt and Gardner-Webb. The Boilermakers turned things around by winning home games against Minnesota and Michigan to start conference play, but they now travel to face arguably the two hottest teams in the league on the road this week in Wisconsin and Maryland. Purdue’s success in Madison will hinge heavily on its ability to defend Frank Kaminsky, who is currently ranked first in KenPom’s Player of the Year rankings. The Wisconsin center is noticeably more mobile this year, providing Matt Painter with the dubious task of deciding to defend him with either shot-blocker extraordinare AJ Hammons or leaving him on Wisconsin’s four to better defend the paint. KenPom predicts the Badgers will win by 17 points on Wednesday.
  3. Minnesota freshman Gaston Diedhiou could make his college basketball debut tonight in the Gophers’ home Big Ten opener versus Ohio State, writes Marcus Fuller of the Pioneer Press. Diedhou, a 6’9″, 230-pounder, could help solidify Minnesota’s depth at the forward positions. After Joey King, the Gophers have gotten little to no production from reserves Charles Buggs and Bakary Konate. Citing the Senegal native’s raw offensive game, head coach Richard Pitino said that he doubts Diedhiou will have an impact against the Buckeyes, but his athleticism and rebounding skill may force Pitino’s hand if the Gophers continue to struggle down low.
  4. Michigan does not look much like the outstanding John Beilein teams of the past few years, as evidenced by their disappointing 8-6 record. The head coach is doing his best to keep the team’s struggles in perspective, though, stressing patience to fans and praising the improvement of freshman big man Ricky Doyle. That improvement hasn’t been universal among all Wolverines’ freshmen, as Aubrey Dawkins and Kameron Chatman have been very inconsistent. As it stands, Michigan fans will have to bear with Beilein’s group this year, as he’s been very open and honest about it being a relative rebuilding year with the squad – but don’t expect the slump to last much longer than one season.
  5. Iowa is off to its best start in the Big Ten since the 2002-03 season, standing at 2-0 in conference play after topping Nebraska in Iowa City last night. In the win, Aaron White scored 23 points and became Iowa’s all-time leader in made free throws, a mark currently standing at 524. Scott Dochterman of the Cedar Rapids Gazette said White’s ability to get to the free throw line has made him an all-time Hawkeyes great, but the Strongsville, Ohio, native canned an uncharacteristic three-pointer to push Iowa’s lead to seven points in the waning minutes to seal last night’s victory. Fans and media alike had hoped White would develop a better perimeter game this season, but the senior is only shooting the ball from distance at a 22.7 percent clip. That statistic won’t matter, though, if gunners Peter Jok, Jarrod Uthoff and Josh Oglesby step their games up like they did on Monday night.
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Can Michigan Survive This Storm?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 10th, 2014

Last weekend was not a good weekend for John Beilein’s Michigan team. Most notable among the afflicting issues was a ground-shaking loss to NJIT, the biggest upset by point spread (NJIT was a 24.5-point underdog) in college basketball in over seven years. If that wasn’t bad enough, Oregon and Syracuse both lost convincingly at home, rendering the Wolverine’s two biggest wins of the young season that much smaller. It was about as traumatizing as a December weekend can get for a Big Ten team in the Top 25, but come Monday, it was only the pain of the weekend that was over. We found out on Tuesday night that the mini-nightmare was in fact just beginning when the Wolverines sputtered to 42 points and yet another embarrassing home loss, this time to Eastern Michigan. The second loss was the lowest point total submitted by a Michigan team since the season finale in Beilein’s first season at the helm. With many things clearly unsettled and a trip to #3 Arizona on tap for this weekend, the Wolverines find themselves at a crossroads. Will this unsightly string of four days prove to be nothing more than a surprising blip on the radar, or is it the first sign of a team incapable of matching the standard set by its recent predecessors?

After A Weekend Loss To NJIT, Caris LaVert And Michigan Didn't Think Things Could Get Any Worse. They Did On Tuesday.

After A Weekend Loss To NJIT, Caris LaVert And Michigan Didn’t Think Things Could Get Any Worse. They Did On Tuesday. (AP)

At some point, personnel losses have to take their toll. In the last two offseasons, Michigan has waved goodbye to all five players who took to the Georgia Dome floor for the opening tip of the 2013 National Championship game. Trek Burke, Nik Stauskas, Tim Hardaway, Glenn Robinson, Mitch McGary: all gone, all with eligibility to spare. That gives the Wolverines more early entrants in the last two drafts than any other program in America, Kentucky included. Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton currently form a nice perimeter-based nucleus for Beilein’s squad, but there isn’t a program in America that wouldn’t feel the effect of those unplanned defections.

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Big Ten M5: 11.17.14 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on November 17th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Former Indiana coach Mike Davis will make his first return to Assembly Hall tonight since he resigned from the head coaching position at Indiana in 2006. Upon his hiring in 2000, Davis was immediately met with animosity from Bob Knight apologists, setting the tone for his tumultuous six-year tenure as the Hoosiers’ head coach. Indiana played for one national title under Davis in 2002 (losing to Maryland), but his teams went 42-38 in his final three seasons at the helm. Currently embattled head coach Tom Crean said he hopes Davis gets a “tremendous reception” tonight when he brings Texas Southern (0-1) to Bloomington – but Davis is guaranteed to be greeted with plenty of audible heckles as well.
  2. Michigan State skated by Navy on Friday night by a score of 64-59, raising a few eyebrows around the college basketball community. But according to Lansing State Journal‘s Graham Couch, that kind of close win could be beneficial for the Spartans in the long run. Tom Izzo inserted three new starters in his lineup (Travis Trice, Alvin Ellis III and Matt Costello), but he only got double-figure scoring from Trice and Branden Dawson. Head coach Tom Izzo said he needs to see more production from his returning starters, Denzel Valentine and Dawson, but it’s an absolute certainty that Izzo would much rather have the bump in the road come now than come later on in the season.
  3. Rutgers opened its season with a 17-point home loss to George Washington, getting beat in just about every relevant statistical category. Myles Mack led the Scarlet Knights with 14 points, but he didn’t get much help from his supporting cast. Freshman Mike Williams poured in 10 points off the bench, but no other Knights reached double figures. Junior Etou and newcomer Bishop Daniels went a combined 1-of-16 from the field and Kadeem Jack is on the mend, so there aren’t many positives for Rutgers fans right now – unless you count D.J. Foreman’s monstrous dunk. And that’s certainly worth something.
  4. Caris LeVert was excellent in Michigan’s season-opening win over Hillsdale on Saturday, notching 20 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in the Wolverines’ 92-68 victory. LeVert and point guard Spike Albrecht were both relatively unknown recruits coming out of high school, but the two are now Michigan’s permanent team captains for the 2014-15 season. LeVert was one of three Wolverines to score more than 20 points on Saturday, whereas Albrecht came off the bench to score four. Head coach John Beilein said Albrecht and starting point guard Derrick Walton Jr. will be on the court together a lot this season, a rare dual-point guard situation that you should keep your eye on.
  5. Purdue’s Vince Edwards, a true freshman, introduced himself to the Boilermakers faithful in a big way this weekend, scoring 13 points and grabbing eight rebounds in his debut before turning around and dropping 26 points in a win over IUPUI on Sunday. Kendall Stephens shined alongside Edwards on Sunday, pouring in 24 points with six three-pointers as Purdue shot 50 percent from the field. The Boilermakers host Grambling State on Thursday before facing Kansas State in Maui on November 24. Purdue’s going to need more out of A.J. Hammons sooner than later, as the talented but enigmatic big man gathered a total of seven rebounds and scored only 11 points in his first two games.
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Don’t Discount John Beilein’s Ability to Recharge the Michigan Offense

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on November 12th, 2014

Four years ago, John Beilein’s crew nearly took down Duke in the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 32 with Darius Morris and Tim Hardaway Jr. leading the way. The following year without Morris, Beilein inserted a precocious freshman named Trey Burke into the lineup and led the Wolverines to the top of the Big Ten. The following year he added three more freshmen into the starting lineup and improved to the point of a National Championship game appearance. Last year, when everybody thought the run was finally done and Beilein couldn’t keep up with lost personnel, the Wolverines were an implausible three-pointer away from a return trip to the Final Four. For the past four seasons, Michigan’s offense has ranked among the top 25 teams in the nation in offensive efficiency. Producing at least 1.1 points per possession over such a long period of time doesn’t occur by chance — it happens because of an open-minded approach to adjusting the offense to players’ strengths and controlled experimentation with the available personnel. While the Wolverines do not appear to be a Final Four favorite this season, discounting their chances to challenge Wisconsin for the league title is probably not a good idea.

The following are three reasons why Michigan should have an elite offense again this year:

Never underestimate John Beilein's ability to design an extremely potent offense.

Never underestimate John Beilein’s ability to design an extremely potent offense. (Getty)

  1. The Wolverines have plenty of long-range shooters. It shouldn’t be a news flash to Big Ten fans that Beilein’s teams consistently move the ball to find long-range shots — 35 percent of their field goal attempts last season came from beyond the arc. Last year alone, they hoisted a robust 700 threes between their top six scorers. Ball-handlers dribbling off screens and kicking the ball to to the corners is a signature play within Beilein’s offense. Burke ran it to find Stauskas two years ago. Stauskas ran the same play last year with Glenn Robinson and Derrick Walton. Walton will take over that baton this year and he will not lack for shooters. A Michigan small-ball lineup would include Spike Albrecht, Zak Irvin Caris Levert and Walton — all of these players shot at least 38 percent from distance a year ago. There will be plenty of shots from long-range and luckily the Wolverines have a bunch of guys who shoot pretty jumpers.
  2. Irvin could be an effective version of Hardaway. Irvin and Hardaway are both 6’6” and can pull up on a dime off the dribble to shoot a jumper. The knock against Hardaway was his poor shot selection, but the jury is still out on Irvin’s efficiency because he didn’t play enough minutes last season. If the sophomore doesn’t force shots, he has the talent to become a very good scorer in this league. He is big enough at the wing position to grab a couple of offensive boards per game and keep the defenses guessing. Beilein will definitely try to use him on pick-and-rolls with Walton because both of them are effective from the mid-range. If Irvin works well within the construct of Belein’s game plan, he could be a super sophomore.
  3. Robinson’s departure could lead to better overall efficiency. Robinson was extremely talented but was also consistently flat-footed and didn’t try to attack the basket enough. Instead, he often crippled the Wolverines’ offensive flow by hoisting ill-advised shots from the corner when he easily could have used the back-door cut instead. And despite shooting 147 three-pointers, he made only 31 percent of them, the worst such mark on the squad. Take those shots and distribute them across players such as Walton and Levert, each of whom tends to make better offensive decisions with the ball, and now you have an offense that could actually be more efficient than last season’s top-ranked group.
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Big Ten M5: 11.03.14 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 3rd, 2014

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  1. Can you believe that this upcoming year is Tom Izzo‘s 20th season in the Big Ten? Time certainly flies, doesn’t it? After this season he will become the third most-tenured coach in the nation after Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim. The Detroit Free Press recently asked the Michigan State head coach about the unexpected journey from when he first took the job in the mid-1990s to today. Regardless of when he retires from the game, Izzo will without question be one of the top four or five coaches in the history of Big Ten hoops. It is unlikely that he will get to his seventh Final Four this year without a true scoring threat on the roster, but it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to bet on him returning to the promised land before he retires in the next decade or so.
  2. Leadership is absolutely essential on a Final Four contender, and Michigan had two excellent ones over the past two seasons: Trey Burke during its run to the national championship game in 2012-13 and Nik Stauskas during its Elite Eight run last year. One of the reasons why the Wolverines aren’t likely to be a contender this season is their clear lack of leadership, but head coach John Beilein doesn’t seem to be worried about that too much. Junior wing Caris LeVert should carry most of the offensive load this year but he has long way to go before he can prove leadership similar to Stauskas or Burke. When asked about his ability to lead, LeVert said, “I think naturally, I’m kind of wanting to lead by example more, but the coaches have been pushing me and my teammates as well, to kind of talk more and be more vocal, on the court as well as off the court.”
  3. Indiana sophomore wing Devin Davis was seriously injured over the weekend in an accident involving a vehicle near Assembly Hall. According to his family, Davis is recovering very well, which should be positive news for Tom Crean’s squad. The following is the official statement: “As all parents can understand, the last 40+ hours have been difficult for us and for all of those who care about our son. Devin’s condition is improving and we know that there is a road to recovery ahead.” Davis only averaged 2.5 PPG last year and wasn’t expected to have a tremendous impact for the Hoosiers this season, but an event like this could have an adverse effect on the overall morale of a young team two weeks before the season tips off. His recovery is in all of our thoughts.
  4. With only two weeks left until season tip-off, scrimmages are useful for coaches to figure out their rotations. While Ohio State has a lot of question marks on offense with the departure of LaQuinton Ross, freshman D’Angelo Russell has provided some hope for the Buckeyes’ fans after his most recent performance. In addition to his scoring, he also comforted Thad Matta with his passing because he needs more ball-handlers to complement Shannon Scott. Speaking of Scott, he too had a good performance and should be one of the best guards in the Big Ten as a senior because he can push the pace faster than Aaron Craft.
  5. Continuing with the theme of scrimmages, Maryland‘s exhibition win on Saturday night provided more information about what to expect from the Terps in their first Big Ten season. The new-look team shot a whole bunch of perimeter jumpers — making 14 of 27 threes — which could be a consistent theme with this squad. Dez Wells in particular will need to be more consistent offensively if the Terps expect to have any shot of competing for an NCAA Tournament bid this season. He he shot a dismal 30.4 percent from deep last year, but he can do more damage in taking his man off the dribble than merely settling for deep jumpers.
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Big Ten M5: 10.17.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on October 17th, 2014

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  1. As Tom Izzo enters his 20th season as head coach at Michigan State, he’ll have to deal with the losses of three major contributors from last season — Keith Appling, Gary Harris, and Adreian Payne. With only an average recruiting class entering East Lansing, he’ll have to rely on players from last year’s roster to improve. Specifically, the Spartans will look to senior Branden Dawson to keep them competitive in the B1G and possibly challenge for a conference championship. On Thursday at the Big Ten Media Day in Chicago, Izzo said that he’s trying to get Dawson to mold his game like another former Spartan standout, Draymond Green. With the significant loss in production from last year, it would certainly help if Dawson played like Green — who averaged a double-double his final year — this season.
  2. As mentioned, yesterday was Big Ten Media Day, and these events usually produce some notable quotes from the assembled coaches. One comment that caught my attention was Michigan head coach John Beilein’s response to a question about the presumed gap between Wisconsin and the other teams in the conference, stating that “the rest of the league is not far behind on a national stage.” It seems like Beilein is confident that, by the end of the season, several other Big Ten teams will join the national conversation, and maybe Wisconsin won’t run away with the conference championship after all. It’s not an outlandish statement by any stretch, because with coaches like Beilein, Izzo, and Thad Matta in the league, it is always difficult for any team — no matter how talented or experienced — to run away with the conference title.
  3. Of all the familiar faces that left the Big Ten this offseason, the most recognizable of those was probably that of the Buckeyes’ Aaron Craft. The highly decorated four-year player’s strength were intangibles like leadership and tenacity that could not be measured in a stat line. Shannon Scott, a 6’1″ senior guard who averaged 26.9 MPG last season, will attempt to replace Craft at the point guard slot this season. Scott’s numbers weren’t too far removed from Craft’s contributions in 2013-14, so his ability to produce is not really in question. But taking a leadership role could be an issue for Craft’s replacement, as Thad Matta stated on Thursday, “he’s always played a supportive role from teams he’s been on in high school to AAU to here.” The Buckeyes have a nice group of talent once again this season, but if Scott can’t effectively take an on-court leadership role, the Buckeyes will struggle to regain national power status.
  4. One familiar face that did return was Purdue big man and conference-leading shot-blocker, A.J. Hammons. While Hammons improved his block and defensive rebounding percentages from his freshman to sophomore seasons, he did not improve nearly as much offensively. Therefore it must be reassuring to Matt Painter to hear Hammons say that he realizes he has to be more of a leader on offense or Purdue won’t go very far this year. If the Boilermakers have any shot of making a run at the NCAA Tournament — and possibly saving Painter’s job — it will require Hammons to be the focal point of the team on both ends of the court.
  5. Finally, Illinois fans received sad news on Wednesday when they learned former assistant coach and Peoria High School legend, Wayne McClain, had passed away. On Thursday we learned even more about what seemed like the coach’s sudden death. McClain had been diagnosed with lung cancer in 2013, but only he and his doctors knew about it — not even his wife nor his son Sergio, who played at Illinois from 1997-2001. The younger McClain only found out about his illness by looking through his late father’s smart phone and reading a journal he had written. Wayne McClain was apparently telling his family that he was going to regular doctor visits when he was actually receiving chemotherapy. When his options for treatment ran out, he still kept his illness a secret. It’s hard to imagine most people doing the same, but from reading interviews with his former players and colleagues, McClain seemed to be dedicated to selflessly helping others and not making things about himself. The basketball world seemed to lose a good one this week. Rest in peace, coach.
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