The case of Bubu Palo is one of the more unique ones that we can remember. Palo was charged with second-degree sexual assault in May 2012, but the charges were eventually dropped. Iowa State’s Office of Judicial Affairs determined that Palo had violated student conduct rules and he was dismissed from the team. Last week a district court ruled that Palo should be able to rejoin the team. Now Iowa’s attorney general, on behalf of school’s Board of Regents, filed a motion to essentially prevent Palo from rejoining the team. Palo’s case will likely be heard by Iowa’s Supreme Court as the Board of Regents is claiming that the district court decision essentially stripped the school of its power to decide who can represent its university. There have been several other cases like this (Dez Wells and Michael Dixon come to mind), but we cannot remember one where the school had to go to such extreme lengths to prevent a player from coming back to a team.
In the past few weeks we have seen quite a few coaches have loud outbursts both on and off the court. This is nothing new and coming at this point in the season it should not be too surprising. What is new is the contrition that some coaches are showing. John Groce is only the latest example to come out and apologize for his outburst. And he is not alone as Frank Martin, Fran McCaffery, and others have come out in the past month and publicly apologized for their outbursts some of which may have cost their teams games. Are we seeing a kinder, gentler coach or just a more politically correct one?
Yesterday the Wooden Award Advisory Board released its Midseason Top 25 featuring the front-runners for the end of the year award. The usual suspects are on there (McDermott, Parker, etc.), but most of the focus for lists like this is on who got snubbed. In this case, the names that jump out are Nik Stauskas, Gary Harris, and Joel Embiid not to mention Xavier Thames and Sean Kilpatrick. We have no idea how anybody could put together a group of the 25 best players in the country and not include those five, but the one saving grace of this list is that being absent from it doesn’t eliminate the players from consideration for end of the season awards.
As we have pointed out before the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week award continues to confuse us as it has been almost exclusively awarded to players who have no shot of receiving any postseason honors. Obviously this award is meant to reflect a single week’s work rather than a season’s contribution, but it is striking to see that just two of the seven winners (Doug McDermott and DeAndre Kane) this season will even be in contention for any national honors at at the end of the season. This week’s winner was Naadir Tharpe, who at this point is not even assured of having his starting point guard job secure at Kansas.
We are not sure what to make of Mark Titus’ newest power rankings. Gone is the usual ridiculous non sequiturs and instead we have an interesting set of rankings that is backed up by actual analysis (still a little light on the numbers). The thing is looking at these rankings it is pretty clear how big of a mess it is after the top two teams because we would totally rearrange the next ten spots on the list, but we don’t necessarily have any significant issues with Titus’ rankings because we can see his reasoning too.
Two desperate teams will meet in Columbus tomorrow night. In advance of this crucial game between Ohio State and Illinois, head coach John Groce gave his team a much-needed day off on Sunday. The Illini had just come off of a stretch of three games in seven days, all of which resulted in losses and a drop from being ranked to completely off of the NCAA bubble. Maybe getting a chance to rest up and hit the reset button will be the cure for what ails this team.
Speaking of bubble teams, Minnesota is going to need both Andre and Austin Hollins to be at full strength for the Gophers to make a run to the NCAA Tournament. That’s why it has to be moderately disturbing to learn that Andre Hollins has been playing through a toe injury. Head coach Richard Pitino said that the injury is probably why he has had some trouble with effectiveness in the second half of recent games. There really isn’t much margin for error if Minnesota wants to let him rest and fully recover. Unlike Michigan State — a team boasting a deeper roster that enables the Spartans to rest injured star Adreian Payne — the Gophers need every win they can get. Hollins is just going to have to play through the pain of the injury for the team to get to the postseason in Pitino’s first season in Minneapolis.
Iowa has been somewhat hit or miss with its shooting from the three-point line despite the Hawkeyes’ 15-3 overall record. They have a pretty good percentage on the year (38.2%), however, and this number has risen lately thanks to the hot shooting of junior Josh Oglesby. The junior went 5-of-7 from deep as the Hawkeyes turned a close game into a blowout against Minnesota on Sunday. Oglesby, Jared Uthoff, Roy Devyn Marble, and Mike Gesell can all get hot and knock down a handful of threes in a given game. They’re all somewhat streaky, but the ability to get this kind of production from multiple players is just one of many reasons why Iowa remains extremely dangerous in the long run.
Illinois’ loss to Northwestern on Sunday night was eerily similar to a horrible stretch for the Illini last season. On January 12, 2013, John Groce’s squad was thumped in Madison by the Badgers — a 23-point loss where its offense had no answers for Bo Ryan’s defensive schemes. That was followed up by a home loss to an injury-plagued Northwestern squad, which along with a previous home loss to Minnesota, represented an early three-game losing streak in conference play. On Wednesday of last week, Groce’s offense again could not find a decent shot in Madison, losing 95-70 to the Badgers, and the team looked completely off in scoring just 15 points in the first 24 minutes of the game in Evanston. Losing to an unimpressive Wildcats squad puts the Illini in a tough spot because they are about to enter a tough seven-game stretch where they will be favored to win just one of those games — a home contest against Purdue. The Illini really needed to enter that stretch with at least three Big Ten wins and the most recent loss very well could put a dent in their ultimate postseason plans.
John Groce’s Team is Slumping in Early January Again This Season (AP)
According to Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, the Illini have a 73 percent chance of beating Purdue tonight. But the next few games include match-ups against Michigan State, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio State and Wisconsin. And their “winnable” game after that stretch is a road game against Penn State in Happy Valley — not necessarily a guaranteed win, either. Extrapolating over the next few weeks, the Illini could easily end up with 3-7 league record by February 9, with a must-win game coming against the Nittany Lions to salvage their season. They were in a similar spot a year ago, but were able to dig themselves out with a home buzzer-beater against Indiana and a tough win over Minnesota on the road (thanks largely to D.J. Richardson’s scorching shot). Is there a reason to panic yet in Champaign? Absolutely. It is troubling that Rice felt no sense of urgency over the first 20 minutes of the game in Evanston, as he was held to zero shots from the field. When he was able to eventually find his offense, he forgot to play defense by letting the Wildcats’ Tre Demps hit a couple of wide-open shots from beyond the arc. Not to pick on Rice, but as the best offensive player on the team, he needs to set the tone by driving to the basket and assuming a leadership role over the next few weeks if the Illini hope to win road games at Indiana or Penn State.
Indiana’s center, Luke Fischer, will be transferring to Marquette – a move that will get him closer to home. “I am excited to say I will be transferring to Marquette University to play for Coach (Buzz) Williams and the Golden Eagles,” Fischer said on Twitter. Even though he only averaged 2.8 points per game this season, he will be missed over the next three years in Bloomington. It is likely that Noah Vonleh will enter the NBA Draft after his freshman season, which could have opened the door for Fischer to step into the role as the starting center for Tom Crean. Without Fischer, Hanner Perea will likely take a bigger role next season after the potential departure of Vonleh.
As if Gary Harris‘ 26 points against Indiana in Bloomington wasn’t enough, Tom Izzo promises that the fans can expect more from the sophomore over the next three months. “He’s a special player, and I promise he’s not even close to where he’s going to be,” Izzo said. Harris, who has been plagued with health issues, may slowly be coming back to 100% health, but should eventually improve his game with more practice. His offensive versatility was on full display at Bloomington as he shot 5-10 from beyond the arc and was active defensively with five steals. A healthy and active Harris will be the main offensive option in March when Michigan State needs to put up points against tougher competition.
Before Illinois‘ game against Penn State in Champaign on Saturday, the Flyin’ Illini were honored because it is their 25th anniversary of their Final Four run in 1989. They are, arguably, the best team in Illini history, but the 2005 squad with Dee Brown, Deron Williams and Luther Head could give them a run for their money. Mark Tupper discusses which team might be the best team in Illini history. My stance on this topic: the 2005 team was about 30 seconds (close losses to Ohio State and North Carolina) away from being the first undefeated team since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers squad, so I’ll take them over the electrifying Flyin’ Illini. Regardless, it will be tough to surpass either of these teams in the history books.
After disappointing decisions by Quentin Snider and Cliff Alexander, John Groce‘s recruiting took a brief hit over the last two months. However, he landed a commit from four-star guard, Aaron Jordan, for the 2015 recruiting class. The 6’4″ guard will provide much needed three-point shooting for an Illini squad that doesn’t have a designated gunner on their roster. Even though Jon Ekey is shooting 38% from beyond the arc, the Illini need at least one guard to shoot 42% from the long-range to diversify their offensive sets in the future.
Jarrod Uthoff‘s transfer issues have been documented fairly well over the past year and half or so. In brief, he wanted to transfer to Iowa, but there were a few issues in getting the transfer approved by head coach Bo Ryan. Uthoff is averaging 10.9 points per game as a Hawkeye, but one has to wonder if there is any friction between Ryan and Fran McCaffery over the transfer. When asked about this topic on Big Ten Media Day, Ryan responded, “I don’t even know why that would be a question, I don’t understand the question.” Setting this topic aside, both of these teams match up fairly well and both of the games should be excellent match-ups this season. Uthoff’s entrance into the game on Sunday night in Madison didn’t really trigger many boos from the crowd.
Transferring to another basketball program required a lot of effort until a few years ago when the NCAA relaxed the rules which resulted in a growing flood of transfers. Even after these changes, few players have an immediate impact on their new teams because they have to learn a new system and establish chemistry with players that have already been playing together for a while. Adapting and shaping a role in the lineup of the new team requires a tremendous amount of maturity. Jon Ekey, a 6’7 senior forward for Illinois, is a perfect example of how a player can insert himself into the rotation by identifying the necessary voids and making an immediate contribution. After transferring from Illinois State, Ekey is averaging 9.1 PPG and 6.3 RPG through 12 games with the Illini. The following are two specific aspects of his game that have helped the Illini during the non-conference season.
Jon Ekey has been the best long-range shooter for the Illini.
Offensive Rebounding: It has been over a year since Meyers Leonard left Illinois for the NBA, but there hasn’t yet been a dominant rebounding forward to fill his shoes. Other than Nnanna Egwu (5.3 RPG), John Groce has not had any forwards who could hold their own on the defensive glass against tough competition. Ekey’s 10.1 percent offensive rebounding rate ranks in the top 10 among Big Ten players, and without his 6.3 RPG this season, the Illini would probably have lost a couple more games so far this season. What’s most impressive about his rebounding ability is his skill at tipping it around in the paint. There is no good statistic to measure tips, but by keeping the ball alive on the offensive end, he provides an opportunity for teammates to pick up loose balls and earn an extra possession. The primary wing players for the Illini – Joseph Bertrand and Rayvonte Rice – average at least 5.0 RPG themselves, which wouldn’t be possible without Ekey’s persistence in keeping the ball alive on the offensive end. Considering that Egwu struggles to stay out of foul trouble, Ekey’s presence on the glass is even more important to keep the Illini from getting dominated underneath. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on December 21st, 2013
If one were to grade Illinois’ season performance before heading into Saturday’s Braggin’ Rights game against Missouri, they would probably have to give the Illini an “I” for incomplete. John Groce’s team is 9-2 with no especially bad losses, but no significantly good wins either. Their two losses against Georgia Tech and Oregon were on the road and down to the wire; a free throw made or different bounce of the ball and the Illini might currently sit undefeated with a different season trajectory. But Illinois is where it is and today’s game against Missouri provides the last chance for the Illini to notch a non-conference resume win.
Nnanna Egwu and the Illini are hoping to get their first win against Missouri since 2008 on Saturday.
The Tigers have won braggin’ rights for four seasons in a row, but before that run the Illini had won nine years straight. If John Groce is going to start a new streak in the rivalry today, here are three things he’ll need his team to do:
Keep charging the glass and getting offensive rebounds. Unlike last season, this year’s team is not effective at scoring beyond the arc (33.8 percent from deep). The way they’ve countered their lack of long-range shooting is by creating additional scoring opportunities from the offensive glass. The Illini have an offensive rebounding percentage of 37.1 percent (which ranks in the top 50 nationally) and three of their starters are averaging two or more offensive boards per game. They’ll need to keep this up against a Missouri team that so far has been excellent at minimizing its opponents’ offensive rebounds. Since the Illini do not rely on a perimeter attack from behind the arc, there should be fewer long rebounds for guards like Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross to grab. Illinois should stick to what it does best — drive to the rim and have others follow behind for putbacks. Read the rest of this entry »
The Oregon Ducks have gotten off to their undefeated start in 2013-14 primarily on the strength of their staggeringly efficient offense. The Ducks ranked third in the nation in effective field goal percentage and were seventh in the nation in free throw rate before Saturday night’s game against Illinois at the former Rose Garden in Portland.
Oregon Stayed Unbeaten on Saturday Night in Portland
Aspects of Oregon’s defense are also strong, including a top-50 steal rate and a top-75 block rate. But one thing stands out in the Ducks’ statistical profile: a lack of proficiency on the defensive glass. Despite only playing one top-25 offensive rebounding team this season (San Francisco), Oregon ranks a pedestrian 235th in defensive rebounding rate. Against the Illini, that vulnerability showed up early – six offensive rebounds surrendered in the first half, which ended tied at 32 – and late, when they got a rebound putback from Joseph Bertrand to close the game within three points with less than a minute to go. But Oregon’s scoring was able to again cover for its defensive rebounding deficiency in a 71-64 win.
Oregon (9-0) certainly misses graduated senior transfer Arsalan Kazemi, who led the nation in defensive rebounding rate in 2012-13, but another senior transfer is attempting to fill that void. Mike Moser – a Portland native who previously played at both UCLA and UNLV – has led the Ducks on the defensive glass all season, including a team-high eight Saturday night, which also came with 14 points, tied for the team lead with fellow senior transfer Joseph Young. The performance of the 6’8” power forward Saturday is made more impressive when considering that Illinois’ starting frontcourt of Nnanna Egwu, Jon Ekey and Joseph Bertrand each gather eight percent or more of available offensive rebounds, and the Illini ranked 36th nationally in offensive rebound rate before the game.
Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on December 5th, 2013
The game was over. The picture was clear — with a 12-point lead at Georgia Tech and less than seven minutes left, the Illini were going to move to 8-0 on the season and make it five straight wins against the ACC in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. And it was all going to be because of Rayvonte Rice. He had built the big lead for Illinois from a three-point halftime deficit by scoring 15 points in the second half, including a 10-0 run of his own making. He was his usual aggressive self: driving to the basket, getting to the line, and creating fast breaks from steals. But once the Yellow Jackets adjusted their defense to take away those scoring opportunities for the redshirt junior, Rice’s teammates put on a show themselves — one of passivity and fecklessness that would snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. From that point, Georgia Tech went on a 19-4 run to close out the game and notch its first Challenge win since 2006. In order for the Illini to put this collapse behind them and eventually get back to the NCAA Tournament in March, someone other than Rice will have to evolve into a consistent second option.
Rayvonte Rice went off for 24 points, but was unable to get help from his teammates to secure a win.
In the final six minutes of the game, the Illlini (at least those without Rice on the back of their jersey) went 1-of-9 from the field, including an oh-fer from deep, and committed two poorly-timed turnovers. With Rice unable to affect the game, this left the door open for players like Tracy Abrams, Joseph Bertrand and Jon Ekey to carry the load and seal the win. None of this group were aggressive in trying to find their own shot and it seemed as if the team’s game plan was to simply run out the clock. Particularly disappointing was Abrams who was instrumental in willing Illinois to a win over IPFW last Friday, scoring eight of his 15 points in crucial moments of the second half. As the player with the most big game experience (he leads the Illini in career minutes), and as someone known for his toughness and moxie, he managed only to take one shot (not including the final prayer at the buzzer) while Georgia Tech was storming back.
In previous outings, it has been either Abrams, Bertrand or Ekey who has stepped up to complement the steady hand, Rice. But none of these three players have proven they can be consistent scoring threats on any given night — all three players have had multiple single-figure scoring outings this season. Therefore, the scouting report is out on the Illini — focus on stopping #24 and let someone else beat you. In order to get to the other side of the bubble by March, John Groce is going to need to motivate one of his other talented but inconsistent players to become this year’s D.J. Richardson to Rice’s Brandon Paul.
The Big Ten and ACC played to a 6-6 tie after last night’s game, but the conference appears to win in one way. Some of of USA Today’s college basketball writers got together and almost all of them put the Big Ten ahead of the ACC and every other conference in terms of supremacy. With the loss of talent from the B1G last year and the ACC adding Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, it seemed like the conference power rankings may switch back to the coast. From top-to-bottom, though, the Big Ten seems to once again be the best in the country. Every team in the conference has a chance to beat almost anyone. Minnesota, Purdue and Northwestern have players, Penn State has a great guard duo and even Nebraska has shown life with wins over mediocre Georgia and Miami teams. The top of the conference may not have two or three national championship contenders, but the conference season will be a grind for Big Ten teams with no nights of an almost assured win.
It wasn’t a pretty ending for Indiana in its 69-52 loss to Syracuse, and Tom Crean certainly wasn’t happy about it either. He called it the worst performance by one of his teams in his coaching career and said that it “sickened my stomach.” Point noted, Crean, as the Hoosiers were blown out in the second half after being tied 33-33. This is a young Hoosiers team, so the issues of “youth, inexperience and lack of leadership” make sense. Specifically put this on Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey, the latter of whom had as many fouls as points and rebounds combined with three. For Indiana to go beyond just a middle of the pack Big Ten team it will need these two players to take over as leaders on and off the court. Most troubling is Ferrell saying there were Hoosier players in the locker room who seemed like they didn’t believe the team could win. Ferrell and Sheehey will need to stop that talk if Indiana has any intention of competing for the top of the Big Ten going against competition like Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin.
Tom Crean wasn’t the only one calling something terrible after a Big Ten team’s loss in the B1G/ACC Challenge. Illinois‘ John Groce also called his team’s execution “absolutely pathetic” following its lose to Georgia Tech 67-64. He is likely referring to his team only making one basket in the last nine minutes of the game as it blew a 12-point lead. One big question for this team coming into the year was who would take over when most needed. Rayvonte Rice still performed well with 24 points, but once he stopped scoring no one on the team could pick up the slack. This is something to keep an eye on throughout the year, because the team needs more than just Rice to come up in need.
In the age of celebrity scandals and Twitter arguments, sometimes it’s nice to see a basketball with a “good guy” perception seem to, well, legitimately be a good guy. Aaron Craft is an absolute menace on the court, as he was last night in with 10 points and five steals in Ohio State’s 76-60 win over Maryland. Off the court, though, his biggest vice according to his roommates is a “scoop.” A scoop of ice cream that is. This behind-the-scenes look at Craft’s life on campus and through talking to his roommates hits on a lot of good points. We’ve all heard about his academics, but also noting that he doesn’t go to bars or curse, and that his roommates “Taco Tursday” tradition drew 1000 people in an Ohio State event is enjoyable. If you want to read about a college athlete not dealing with a rape scandal or public intoxication, you’ll enjoy this story.
That’s the Wisconsin we have grown accustomed to seeing. This year, the Badgers scoring has been up thanks to slightly faster play and terrific shooting, but last night they got back to winning a low-scoring game against Virginia 48-38. Wisconsin shot 28.8 percent from the field, which is the lowest a Bo Ryan coached team has shot and still won the game since 2001. For a team that had been shooting lights out this season, it’s a good sign to know the defense can still carry the Badgers to victory. It won’t always be able to hit 43.6 percent of threes in games. The Badgers will have to win some of these low-scoring affairs once the Big Ten season rolls around and this showed it hasn’t forgotten how to win ugly.
Minnesota took a tough loss in Maui on Tuesday afternoon, falling 87-73 to Arkansas. It was a somewhat unique match-up for the Gophers because Arkansas is also a team that likes to employ pressure defense and force turnovers. The Razorbacks essentially beat the Gophers at their own game, causing 16 miscues. Minnesota also had trouble with Arkansas’ size, which is something that could be a problem down the road. What the loss showed is that the team will have to get much more out of Joey King, Oto Osenicks, and the recently reinstated Maurice Walker to really get anywhere significant in the postseason.
College Basketball Talk announced its Player of the Year power rankings, and Keith Appling came in ninth in their 10-person list. He was the only B1G player selected, with Aaron Craft making it in the “others” category. While trying to avoid doing things like blasting Rob Dauster on Twitter, asking him if he’s ever seen Tim Frazier play, this list shows that Appling is making an impact nationally and people are starting to take notice. Averaging 16.8 points and 5.7 assists per game, all the while shooting 57.1 percent from three for the top-ranked team in the country, should definitely put Appling in the running for postseason superlatives if those numbers stay consistent.
It’s far too early to talk about next season with the present one only being less than three weeks old, but apparently a Louisville-Minnesota tilt is being lined up for the beginning of the 2014-15 season. Furthermore, Rick Pitino said that things are being finalized to play the game on an aircraft carrier (let’s hope indoors). One takeaway was how eager he sounded to play against his son. Usually coaches don’t like playing against someone they are close to, but maybe the Pitino family is wired differently than most others in the coaching fraternity. One thing for sure is that the game would be entertaining, as both high-pressure defenses would make for a chaotic thrill ride for 40 minutes.
The visiting Virginia Commonwealth Rams have the ball under their own basket with 9.8 seconds to go, moments after a free throw from Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon tied the game at 56.
“C’mon, you guys, you can do this,” former Navy SEAL John McGuire thought as he sat directly behind VCU’s bench. “Focus.”
Rams point guard Rob Brandenburg brings the ball past halfcourt, cuts to his right and passes to shooting guard Treveon Graham above the top of the key. Graham launches a three-pointer from nearly 30 feet away, snapping the net with just three seconds remaining. The Cavaliers miss a final-second heave.
Just like McGuire taught them.
McGuire, who rode on the Rams’ bus to Charlottesville and gave the pregame speech, has worked with coach Shaka Smart’s team since just after the Final Four run in 2011. The former sniper instructor now runs SEAL Team Physical Training, a Richmond, Virginia, business that focuses on fitness and team-building exercises, including for athletic teams. Smart found out about SEAL Team PT through word of mouth and called McGuire in November 2010, asking about his philosophies on teamwork and building leaders. “I think he liked what he heard,” McGuire said.
Since beginning work with VCU, SEAL Team PT has worked with nine Division I men’s basketball programs, along with college football, lacrosse, women’s basketball and baseball teams. Last offseason, McGuire personally worked with VCU, Toledo and Illinois, teams that are a combined 10-0 in 2013-14.
“Get comfortable being uncomfortable.”
McGuire prides himself on taking people out of their comfort zones with his drills, many of them taken from his Navy SEAL training. Working on an unfamiliar task levels the playing field. It forces the people taking part to work together, lead, be confident and communicate. Players are usually divided into teams for their tasks, which can include anything from push-ups and running to carrying a sandbag or rowing a boat together. Given the limited time constraints afforded McGuire by NCAA rules – sometimes his training sessions are as short as three one-hour sessions within a week – cultivating chemistry and rapport is at the top of his task list.
Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 18th, 2013
It’s been over a week since the season started and all 12 teams have at least three games under their belts. Michigan State is as good as advertised after beating #1 Kentucky (even if they followed it up with a lackluster performance against Columbia). But what can we conclude from the other teams’ performances, where most games have been lopsided victories against inferior opponents? This makes it difficult to gauge which team has under- or overperformed so early in the year, but we here at the RTC Big Ten microsite are always up for a challenge. Prior to the first tip, we recorded each team’s predicted outcome using KenPom.com. To measure how teams have performed thus far, we will now compare their season performances against their preseason expected outcomes.
The table below illustrates each team’s performance in games already played against what they were expected to do, helping us evaluate their consistency and long-term projections.
The table above displays each team’s performance for each game relative to their expected preseason expected outcome. For example, if a team was expected to win by 10 points, but ended up winning by only five points, then that team underperformed by five points (shown as -5 in the table). If that same team had won by 20 points, then that team would have overperformed by 10 points. Underperformances are marked in red and overtperformances are marked in green. The average and standard deviation of each teams’ differential performances are calculated to measure their overall consistency so far. Finally, the far-right column in the table shows the change in total wins for the season that KenPom is projecting. For example, if a team was initially expected to win 18 games, but is now expected to win 21 games, their record difference is shown as +3. This metric not only takes into account each individual team’s season performance thus far, but also the performance of all its opponents.