Big Ten Tournament X-Factors for Round One

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 13th, 2014

Without going into full-fledged preview mode for all four games set to tip off on Thursday in Indianapolis, here are some under-the-radar players to keep an eye on in round one. Some are more obscure than others, but all the players I’m highlighting were not named to any of the All-Conference teams on Monday. They all have a specific skill set, however, that can be used to exploit a weak spot on the team they are playing against in the first round.

Tracy Abrams' ability to get steals will go a long way toward determining if Illinois can beat Indiana on Thursday. (Stephen Haas, Lee News Service)

Tracy Abrams’ ability to get steals will go a long way toward determining if Illinois can beat Indiana on Thursday. (Stephen Haas/Lee News Service)

Illinois: Tracy Abrams — Indiana turns the ball over 21.7% of the time, and Abrams averages 1.2 pilfers a game. Abrams had 5 steals in the two teams previous games, and if he can be the defensive catalyst that leads to 23 Indiana turnovers — like what happened on December 31 when the Illini beat the Hoosiers in overtime — Illinois will move on to the second round.

Indiana: Devin Davis The Illini are only mediocre at getting their own misses (165th nationally), and Davis has been productive with increased minutes recently. He’s gotten 20 MPG in his last two games, and has a robust 21.6% defensive rebound rate in limited minutes for the season. That would be good for 6th in the conference had he played enough minutes to qualify, and if Crean gives him the playing time in this game, he’ll prevent Illinois from getting any second chance buckets. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten M5: 03.06.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on March 6th, 2014

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  1. The recent skid for Michigan State has plenty of people questioning if this team is still a top contender. First it was the defense, as the Spartans need to switch on screens without Branden Dawson was causing issues. With his return, though, a loss at Illinois still happened. That prompted the players to air their frustrations with each other in a “players-only” meeting this week. The interesting aspects are that the Spartans were blaming each other, showing a team divided instead of coming together. This late in the season that is never how a team wants to be interacting and playing. Tonight at home against Iowa provides a good chance to see if the issues really were put to bed or if what Tom Izzo calls “the biggest joke in athletics” is just that and the Spartans continue to struggle.
  2. It shouldn’t be news to anyone how big of a week is coming up for Nebraska. It certainly is known to head coach Tim Miles as he admitted he has been checking projections and RPI rankings the past three weeks as his team has began flirting with the bubble. Every game is important for the Cornhuskers right now as they need every possible win to get into the tournament. It certainly would help if they could push themselves up to fourth in the Big Ten as well. Miles may believe they are a tournament team, and now is the chance for them to prove it. Do that and they will have surprised everyone in the country by not just playing in March, but playing in the main event.
  3. Indiana‘s Will Sheehey won’t be a player that sits at the top of the Hoosier record books. Still, he did plenty for the program as he played his final home game last night against Nebraska. Sheehey hit the 1,000-point mark, but the biggest thing he will be remembered for is coming into the program along with Victor Oladipo and helping change the culture. He is a 4-year player that helped lead the transformation from desolation to its first Sweet 16 appearance in a decade (he hit the winning shot against VCU in 2012 to reach it). He helped set a work ethic for the change, and while his last campaign has had road bumps, Sheehey’s legacy will be part of leading the revival.
  4. Penn State has strong guard play this season, that’s no question, but its future may be in the frontcourt. Lately, Pat Chambers has been playing his big men together on the court in Jordan Dickerson and Donovon Jack. Chambers says he plans to use the line-up for the remainder of the season but it struggles with staying on the court due to endurance and match-up issues. It is still one we will likely see in the future and it will be quite the change from a guard-oriented team to one that pounds the ball down low.
  5. We always like to discuss players and All-American status. For coaches it is typically limited to individual conference coaches of the year and the overall national one. Well, Bleacher Report’s Jason King decided to expand his list and he has two Big Ten coaches on his “King’s Court Coaches All-American Team.” Michigan’s John Beilein made the second team and Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan made the third team. He also gave Tim Miles of Nebraska the “most-underrated” award. It’s tough to argue about the Big Ten coach positions, though Beilein could likely make a case for being on the First-Team after losing Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and then Mitch McGary midseason yet still winning an outright Big Ten title. Miles being omitted but listed as the “most underrated” also seems deserving and the right spot. Tom Izzo could make a case for an addition dealing with all the injuries, but for the most part, the Big Ten was represented accurately. This could also be seen as another nod for Beilein as the Big Ten Coach of the Year, which most have him or Miles winning it.
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Additions of Oglesby, Johnson & Dickerson Will Help Iowa and Penn State

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 31st, 2013

Iowa and Penn State both got better within the last couple of weeks, as each team welcomed back a player who had been out of the lineup. The Hawkeyes’ Josh Oglesby returned after missing about six weeks due to a foot injury. Meanwhile, in Happy Valley, the Nittany Lions debuted Pitt transfer John Johnson and SMU transfer Jordan Dickerson. Both players had to sit out the first semester due to transfer rules. The additions of these players to both programs will help tremendously as B1G conference play tips off later today.

Josh Ogelsby will add even more depth to the Iowa bench with his return from injury(AP).

Josh Oglesby will add even more depth to the Iowa bench with his return from injury(AP).

Oglesby had a memorable debut in an unremarkable game, hitting the first four three-pointers he took in Iowa’s last game, a blowout victory two Sundays ago against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. This was covered in a previous post on the microsite, but Oglesby simply makes a very deep team even deeper — Iowa has no worries of foul trouble becoming a concern because they can and will utilize 11 players. The Hawkeyes can already match up and play different lineup combinations depending on the opponent, but the return of the junior wing simply adds to their flexibility. The team can play big or small with an almost infinite amount of lineup combinations. The Hawkeyes are currently sixth in the league in three-point percentage at 36.4 percent, and although he won’t go 4-of-5 from deep every game, Oglesby’s shooting skill can push this number closer to 40 percent with enough playing time. If Fran McCaffery needs defense and speed, he can give Peter Jok more minutes; but if he wants to spread the floor in the half-court and get perimeter shooting, he can call Oglesby’s number. Oglesby looked like he was fully healed last Sunday, playing 20 minutes and not showing any real signs of rust from his injured foot. This Iowa team that is already off to an impressive 11-2 start just got quite a bit better.

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