Big Ten M5: Opening Day Edition

Posted by Max Jakubowski on November 8th, 2013


  1. The dawn of a new season is finally upon us. Friday marks the first game for nine Big Ten teams, plus three other teams will begin their seasons on Saturday. Here is a schedule for your viewing pleasure. The biggest game Friday in the Big Ten will be Wisconsin’s contest with St. John’s. A win would be a résumé builder for either of these teams, as both are expected to make the NCAA Tournament. A player to watch in this game for the Badgers is John Gasser. He missed all of last season with an ACL injury.
  2. Speaking of injuries, Michigan’s Mitch McGary has been officially ruled out for Friday’s game and his future status is still unknown. McGary has been dealing with a lower back injury since September, and there are rumblings that the preseason First Team All-American could be sidelined until conference play. If that turns out to be true, the Wolverines will be extremely shorthanded in the frontcourt for the next two months. Non-conference games against Iowa State, Arizona, Duke, Stanford and the Puerto Rico Tipoff could provide Michigan with some major problems.
  3. It’s never too early for bracketology. Both CBS and ESPN released their preseason brackets this week, and ESPN included Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Iowa from the league while CBS had the same six plus Purdue. The Big Ten is expected to get anywhere between six and eight bids this year. Also noteworthy was that Michigan State was a projected #1 seed in both brackets. A number one seed for Tom Izzo and the Spartans would mean they would most likely go through the Midwest Regional in Indianapolis.
  4. Illinois was in neither of the bracketology projections and may not get back there again this season, but they are surely headed in the right direction. Head coach John Groce has a great group of transfers who will be eligible next year and also brings in another nationally-ranked recruiting class. That recruiting class may climb even higher if Groce can land Chicago product Cliff Alexander, a five-star power forward who is expected to choose among a small group that includes the Illini. Illinois may regress this season, but the long-term future does look extra bright in Champaign.
  5. Five-star prospect Reid Travis will announce his college destination today with Duke, Stanford, and Minnesota as his finalists. Duke had long been considered the front-runner, but the Golden Gophers have had a huge momentum swing lately.  Travis, an extremely athletic power forward, would be a huge pickup for coach Richard Pitino and his staff. Scouts have likened his game to C-list celebrity Kris Humphries, who by the way, played his collegiate ball at Minnesota after de-committing from Duke. Coincidence? I think not.
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NCAA Tournament Tidbits 03.19.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 19th, 2012

The NCAA Tournament is here and there’s more news, commentary and analysis than any of us can possibly keep up with. To make things a little easier, we’ll bring you a list of daily links gathered about teams in each of the four regions all the way through the Final Four.


  • After an atrocious opening game where they nearly became the first #1 seed to a #16 seed, Syracuse rebounded with a solid performance that helped remind some people why they were a #1 seed in the first place.
  • One of the keys to Wisconsin‘s consistent play in the postseason has been there tendency to never be satisfied. The Badgers should not have much difficulty finding motivation on Thursday against what should be a pro-Syracuse crowd in Boston.
  • John Gasser was feeling the effects of a gastrointestinal illness on Saturday, but that did not prevent him giving the Badgers what they needed to beat Vanderbilt despite playing limited minutes.
  • With their win on Sunday night Cincinnati advanced to the Sweet Sixteen and set up one of the more intriguing match-ups with an in-state showdown against Ohio State. The Buckeyes hold a 5-4 series edge, but outside of a game in 2006 the last game between the two schools was in 1962 when they played for the second year in a row in the National Championship Game.
  • Hardcore college basketball fans have known about the importance of Aaron Craft all season, but that point was driven home with his actions on and off the court over the weekend.
  • Of course, glossing over the play of Jared Sullinger in the team’s win over Gonzaga would be a major oversight. When the Buckeyes needed big plays it was their big man who came up with exactly what the team needed.


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Rushed Reaction: #4 Wisconsin 60, #5 Vanderbilt 57

Posted by AMurawa on March 17th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Players making plays. Down the stretch, it seemed just about all of the star players in this game made significant plays. There was Festus Ezeli with a giant swat on one end followed up by a soft lay-in on the other. There was a great play by Jeff Taylor to bring Vanderbilt back within one possession. There was the John Jenkins dish to Ezeli to put the Commodores up a point just before Jordan Taylor answered with a dagger three-pointer. And then, down the stretch, Wisconsin ran down two straight long offensive rebounds, allowing them to take over a minute off the clock. Still, after Josh Gasser missed the front-end of a one-and-one, Jenkins had a pretty good look at a three with six seconds left, but it was not to be.
  2. Starting strong, finishing strong. Ryan Evans scored ten points right out of the gate, including eight in the first four minutes of the game, then disappeared for about 20 minutes after picking up his second foul with four minutes remaining in the first half. But, with the game in the balance, Evans soared above bigger Vanderbilt players to snatch a huge rebound following that missed Jenkins three in the closing seconds, then proceeded to hit a free throw to extend the Badger lead to three, which was the final margin.
  3. Balance. In a game like this, with solid fundamental defensive teams, no one player was able to stay hot for long, which led to balanced scoring all the way around. Five different Badgers scored in double figures, led by Jordan Taylor’s 14, but with players like Jarred Berggren, Mike Bruesewitz, and even freshman guard Ben Brust stepping up and making plays. Brust wound up with 11, all in the second half, including three big three-pointers.

Star of the GameFestus Ezeli, Vanderbilt. In a tight game that went down to the wire, Ezeli was the one unstoppable force in the game. Despite not starting, he wound up with 14 points and 11 rebounds and had a hand in three of the final four Commodore hoops (two baskets and one assist). While his career ends, Ezeli was the one athlete who stood out among a company of equals.

Sights & Sounds. While some portions of the Baylor and Colorado section did not fill up until halftime of this game, just about every other seat in this arena was filled early. And with two excellent bands, filling up the pregame, halftime and extended timeouts, the environment inside The Pit was every bit as electric as you would hope March basketball would be. As the game went down to a wire, all the neutral fans in the arena seemed to wind up just rooting for whoever was behind in the game, making for a loud and exciting conclusion.

Wildcard. For much of the final stretch in crunch time, Vanderbilt senior guard Brad Tinsley watched from the bench as freshman Kedren Johnson ran the point. While other lesser leaders might be hurt by such a perceived slight, Tinsley was there ready to give the youngster advice on leaving the timeouts. Call it a passing of the torch, as the quartet of Commodore seniors wraps up their careers with just one NCAA Tournament win to their names.

What’s Next? Wisconsin will face Syracuse in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night. While the Orange looked excellent in advancing to the Sweet 16, the ineligibility of sophomore center Fab Melo may leave them susceptible on the inside where the Badgers interior tandem Bruesewitz and Berggren can make an impact.

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North Carolina Looks to Bounce Back Against Wisconsin

Posted by KCarpenter on November 30th, 2011

After a tough loss to UNLV, North Carolina faces a tough match-up if it wants to bounce back: a slow, methodical, and lethal Wisconsin Badgers. Though Bo Ryan‘s team has yet to be truly tested, with the best win on its résumé a neutral court win over the Jimmer-less Brigham Young University, Wisconsin’s style seems tailor-made to challenge the Tar Heels.

The two teams are diametrically opposed in terms of pace with the Badgers plying at the slowest pace in Division I and North Carolina playing at the fifth quickest. North Carolina’s primary struggle against the Rebels was difficulty defending the three-point line; Wisconsin has shot 47.2% from beyond the arc on the season. The Badgers aren’t shy about shooting the long ball either, shooting 42.6% of all field goals from long range. North Carolina was exposed on Saturday as a team that wasn’t prepared to adequately defend the perimeter and if Roy Williams hasn’t corrected this issue, the Tar Heels are in for a long night.

Jordan Taylor Leads A Wisconsin Team With Few Weaknesses

Defensively, Wisconsin has been stout. For the past few years, Wisconsin has had a reputation as an incredible defensive club, and while the Badgers have been good, the defensive prowess of the team has been overrated because of an over reliance on “points per game” and “scoring margin.” Since 2009, Wisconsin has combined a sloth-like pace with brutally efficient offense  and good, but not great defense. Folks see the low final score and the impressive scoring margin and figure that the team locked down their opponent. In recent history, that’s not really been the case. This year, however, the defensive reputation has been earned albeit against an extremely weak schedule.

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Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 25th, 2011

John Templon is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.

A Look Back

The national narrative about the Big Ten has been about the “tiers” in the conference. Last week, those tiers were even more pronounced as the top teams kept on winning and the middle and bottom ones battled it out. In the process, Illinois – a classic example of this philosophy – escaped with a solid home win over Michigan State, but a disappointing loss to Ohio State and Iowa got its first conference win of the season over Indiana. The top teams will start battling it out this week, as Ohio State welcomes Purdue on Tuesday for what will be the “Game of the Year” thus far in conference.

Those middle teams are ones you have to know come March. That’s when the true depth of the conference will be on display and teams like the Illini, Michigan State, Minnesota and maybe a Penn State or Northwestern will be trying to prove they belonged in the discussion all along.

  • Team of the Week: Ohio State: A big victory over Illinois on the road was the best win by any Big Ten team last week. The Buckeyes also took care of business against Iowa and now just have to beat Purdue at home and Northwestern on the road to enter February with a shot at perfection intact.
  • Player of the Week: Jared Sullinger, F, Ohio State: With his team facing a tough situation at Illinois, the freshman put Ohio State on his back and carried them to an important road victory. He scored 27 points, including 13-15 shooting from the free throw line, grabbed 16 boards and blocked three shots. That was the follow-up to a ho-hum game against Iowa where he notched just 13 points and nine boards. It’s becoming hard to describe Sullinger’s day-to-day work. This Tweet from Monday afternoon summed up his ranks amongst NCAA freshmen very succinctly.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Josh Gasser, G, Wisconsin: I’m cheating a bit here by not giving both weekly awards to Sullinger, since he is technically a freshman even if he doesn’t play like one, but I wanted to highlight Gasser’s triple-double against Northwestern. In the 78-46 victory on Sunday at Welsh-Ryan Arena he had ten points, 12 rebounds and ten assists. That’s a heck of a day, and the first in Badger history.

Power Rankings

1. Ohio State (20-0, 7-0) – Jon Diebler is second in the nation in offensive rating according to Ken Pomeroy at 138.5. He’s shooting 47.6 percent from three-point range and is committing just 1.1 fouls per 40 minutes. No one has benefited more from DeShaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger patrolling the middle than this 6’6 senior shooting guard.

2. Wisconsin (15-4, 5-2) – After Sunday’s demolition of Northwestern, the Badgers have the second best offense in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy. Wait, let’s repeat that: Wisconsin has the second best offense in the country. Bo Ryan knows his offense is built upon solid principles, which is what made this article all the more amusing. Can we all agree the Wisconsin offense isn’t “struggling” anymore? (Not that it ever really was.)

3. Purdue (17-3, 6-1) – How Penn State lost a 6’10 forward that was the best player on the court at the end of a critical game, I’ll never know, but JaJuan Johnson knocked down the game-winner and Purdue got two home victories last week. Johnson has scored 20-plus points in each of his last four games and hasn’t scored fewer than 15 since December 7 against Valparaiso. Oddly, his rebounding totals are down lately. He grabbed seven boards combined against Penn State and Michigan State last week.

4. Michigan State (12-7, 4-3) – Tom Izzo must have an ear-to-ear grin on his face now, because while his team lost two games last week, they’ll get healthy with a three-game stretch against the bottom third of the conference. Of course if they lose one of those games I don’t want to be anywhere near that locker room.

5. Illinois (14-6, 4-3) – Oh, what might’ve been for the Illini. Illinois was up eight with under 13 minutes to play against Ohio State, but it failed to contain Jared Sullinger down the stretch. Demetri McCamey was 2-11 from the floor in the game and scored five points to go along with five assists and four turnovers. It’s a good thing Jereme Richmond and Bruce Weber have straightened things out, because it was the superstar freshman’s play that kept the Illini in it with 18 points, on 9-12 shooting, and 10 boards.

6. Minnesota (15-4, 4-3) – While Minnesota won its only game on the court last week it came at a terrible price. The Gophers will be without starting point guard Al Nolen for at least four weeks due to a foot injury, and possibly the rest of the season. Nolen is going to have surgery on Wednesday and will do anything to get back on the court, but for now, Tubby Smith is going to have to deal with this latest blow to his backcourt. The team was already thin at the guard spot after the transfer of Devoe Joseph.

7. Penn State (10-8, 3-4) – The Nittany Lions were the odd team out on Saturday, so they haven’t played since Wednesday, January 19. What a game that was. JaJuan Johnson had to hit a shot on the Boilermakers’ final possession to eek out the one-point win. That game showed the fight that Penn State has and no team can take them lightly during the rest of conference play. Still, the final play that Ed DeChellis drew up seemed designed for a lot less time. You’d hope to at least get a look at the basket on the final possession.

8. Northwestern (13-6, 3-5) – The Wildcats found out what both sides of a blowout feel like last week against SIU Edwardsville and Wisconsin. Even without star John Shurna, who was resting his injured ankle, and the third string playing the majority of the second half Northwestern ran past the overmatched Cougars, 98-55. Bill Carmody had his players run out the clock the final two possessions rather than score 100 on the obviously overmatched visitors. On Sunday though it was the home team that struggled. Northwestern got down early and never recovered against Wisconsin as the team’s NCAA Tournament hopes were dealt another crippling blow. Teams that blow out the Wildcats take away Drew Crawford. When the sophomore forward doesn’t score Northwestern’s offense struggles a lot and he didn’t score a point in 27 minutes against the Badgers.

9. Michigan (11-9, 1-6) – Tim Hardaway, Jr. has been given the green light for the Wolverines. In two losses last week the freshman attempted 28 shots, an even 14 in each game. He struggled against Northwestern, making three and scoring eight points, but on Saturday he exploded for 20 points against Minnesota in a five-point loss.

10. Iowa (8-11, 1-6) – Freshman Melsahne Basabe’s third 20-point game of the season was enough to carry the Hawkeyes to a 91-77 victory over Indiana and get them out of the conference cellar. This team still doesn’t look like it’ll bother anyone but the bottom tier of the conference, but players like Basabe are pieces to build on for the program’s future.

11. Indiana (10-10, 1-6) – A loss at Iowa probably wasn’t Tom Crean’s idea of a good time. While Christian Watford scored 30 points, Jordan Hulls was held under 10 points for the first time in seven games. Hulls is Indiana’s most efficient scorer and a three-point gunner that has connected on 49.4 percent of his attempts this season. Maurice Creek’s right knee can no longer elude surgery, and he’ll again miss a big chunk of conference play as he gets shut down.

A Look Ahead (all times EST):

  • 1/25 – Purdue at Ohio State, 9 p.m., ESPN
  • 1/26 – Northwestern at Minnesota, 8:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 1/27 – Michigan at Michigan State, 7 p.m., ESPN
  • 1/29 – Minnesota at Purdue, 1 p.m., CBS
  • 1/29 – Wisconsin at Penn State, 4 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • 1/30 – Iowa at Michigan, 4 p.m., Big Ten Network

Fun with Efficiency Margin and KenPom: We’re starting to see some trends develop in the tempo-free statistics. A couple might be surprising and here are some of the highlights:

  • Wisconsin has joined the elite tier of the conference.  The Badgers play slowly, so sometimes you don’t see their blowouts as the great feats they are, but Bo Ryan has his team playing at peak efficiency in conference. After Sunday’s blowout Wisconsin is right in the middle of the upper tier behind Purdue (+0.18 efficiency margin per possession) and Ohio State (+0.14) at +0.16 points per possession in conference. That’s a very impressive mark.
  • Michigan State’s offense is in trouble as the Spartans rank 10th in the Big Ten in conference offensive efficiency at 1.04 points per possession. The fact that they’re scoring more than a point per possession and still near the bottom also tells you how deadly efficient every team has been this season. Still, Tom Izzo has to find a way to coax some more points out of his team or they’re going to struggle during the rest of conference play.
  • You might think that those great offensive efficiencies in Big Ten play are because of teams like Indiana and Iowa, but that’s not true. No Big Ten team is allowing less than a point per possession in conference play. Ohio State leads the way at 1.002.
  • The numbers indicate that Ohio State is really lucky to still be undefeated, not just overall but also in conference. Maybe the other shoe drops on Tuesday night against Purdue? On the other side you’ve got Wisconsin and Indiana as the unluckiest. All that said, it seems like this is related to two teams that are moving in different directions. The Hoosiers are playing worse lately and the Badgers better, which is skewing both of their respective numbers.
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