Big Ten Season Grades: Ohio State, Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on April 18th, 2014

Continuing our season-ending analysis, we look at the performances of Ohio State, Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois. Earlier this week, we handed out grades for Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue.

Ohio State

Grade: C-

This season (25-10, 10-8): What would be a successful season for most programs was a relative disappointment for the Buckeyes. Ohio State did not capture a Big Ten regular season or tournament title for the first time since 2008-09, and similar to that season, they were also bounced out of the NCAA Tournament in their first game. The issue for the Buckeyes – which was a clear problem area in the preseason – was generating offense without Deshaun Thomas in the lineup. Thomas’ replacement, LaQuinton Ross, almost doubled his scoring average, but the Buckeyes failed to find reliable offensive firepower anywhere else. In the end, Aaron Craft and Ohio State’s excellent showing on defense wasn’t enough to overcome the team’s offensive woes.

Thad Matta had a let-down of a season relative to his own success. Don't expect it to continue next season. (Gettyl)

Thad Matta had a let-down of a season relative to his own success. Don’t expect it to continue next season. (Getty)

Next season: The Buckeyes lose Craft, Amedeo Della Valle, Ross, and Lenzelle Smith Jr. They welcome in an elite recruiting class that includes D’Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop, and Jae’Sean Tate; and they also will get graduate transfer Anthony Lee from Temple next year. These additions along with several talented players already on their roster should have no one worrying about the state of the program going forward. This season was merely a hiccup in the Thad Matta era.

Iowa: C

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Big Ten Tournament: The Future Looks Bright For Illinois

Posted by Walker Carey on March 13th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday’s first round Big Ten Tournament game between Illinois and Indiana in Indianapolis.

Both Illinois and Indiana entered Thursday afternoon’s match-up with winning the conference tournament as their only hope of earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament, so Illinois’ 64-54 victory might be viewed as a ticket to play top-seeded Michigan in the quarterfinals on Friday. While true at some level, it’s misleading at another — Illinois showed in today’s win through a variety of signs that it will once again be a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten as soon as next season. The player of the game for the Illini on Thursday afternoon was junior guard Tracy Abrams. Abrams, who entered the game averaging 10.5 points per contest, exploded for a game-high 25 points (17 of which came in the second half). The Chicago native also showcased his ability to hit big shots by nailing a huge three-pointer with 2:06 to play that increased the Illini’s lead to four and all but secured the victory, as Indiana scored just two more points over the remainder of the game.

Abrams and the Illini Appear to Have a Bright Future (B.Tse)

Abrams and the Illini Appear to Have a Bright Future (B.Tse)

While Abrams led the charge in the scoring column for Illinois, John Groce’s squad also received contributions from several other underclassmen. Junior big man Nnanna Egwu was limited offensively – he managed just two points on 1-of-8 shooting – but he found a way to impact the game in other facets by collecting seven rebounds and blocking five shots. Redshirt junior guard Rayvonte Rice added 13 points and helped key the defensive effort that forced Indiana into an 0-of-10 performance from behind the arc in the second half. Freshmen guards Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn showed a bit of why John Groce felt comfortable inserting them into the starting lineup back in early February. Hill finished Thursday’s win with eight points and four rebounds, while showcasing his outside shooting prowess by knocking down both of his three-point attempts. Nunn added 10 points to the winning effort and was primarily responsible for the outstanding defensive effort on Indiana star guard Yogi Ferrell. Ferrell finished the afternoon just 3-of-13 from the field and 2-of-9 from three.

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Big Ten M5: 03.12.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 12th, 2014

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  1. Nik Stauskas of Michigan was named Big Ten Player of the Year on Monday by both the coaches and the media. He went from primarily a spot-up shooter to someone who put in a tremendous amount of work to become the best player in the league. It’s been documented often about the strength training that he and fellow sophomore Caris LeVert went through in the off-season, and it quite obviously paid off for both. Stauskas managed to still be able to knock down plenty of three-pointers, yet added the ability to drive and distribute on a much higher level than many expected. He is a worthy Big Ten POY.
  2. Playing in the shadow of a famous father is never easy. Playing in the shadow of a father that not only played in the NBA for 14 years, but also serves as an analyst for the network that covers your conference is borderline impossible. But Wisconsin point guard Traveon Jackson has made things work both on and off the court due to a renewed sense of spirituality. Jackson struggled with the responsibilities after unexpectedly having to take the reigns from Josh Gasser once the guards tore his ACL. He turned to drinking and partying as a way to escape from the stress on the court, but has found that things like scripture reading and attending church services have helped him on and off the court.
  3. It’s the eve of the Big Ten Tournament, and not many people within the college basketball community can figure out Michigan State. Coach Tom Izzo feels the importance of the tournament this year more so than in past seasons because, as he says, “we’re just trying to bring back some of the magic we had early in the year when we had everybody playing together.” It will be extremely interesting over the course of the weekend to see if the team can start clicking like they did early on before injuries ruined any sense of flow and cohesion the team had.
  4. The main architect for the Nebraska basketball facelift was named Coach of the Year by his coaching peers on Monday. Coach Tim Miles worked his way up from coaching Division II in obscurity, to potentially coaching in the Big Dance next week. He credits his players for keeping a positive attitude, not letting the porous basketball history of the program prohibit them from changing things.  If they can win three games this weekend, the change will be even further magnified.
  5. After seeing him play in the non-conference part of the season, no one would have guessed that Kendrick Nunn would earn a spot on the Big Ten All-Freshman team. Nunn did just that however, and Illinois has gone 5-3 since he and fellow freshman Malcolm Hill were inserted into the starting five. Indiana Coach Tom Crean has taken notice, as he likened Nunn to Victor Oladipo when asked about preparing for the Illini on Thursday when the two teams square off in first-round play of the Big Ten Tournament.  Nunn has averaged double-figures in those 8 games, and can enhance his ever-growing reputation even more if he continues his solid play, and Illinois wins a game or two in Indianapolis.
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Illinois Freshmen Lead Their Turnaround and Earns Them Another Look at the Bubble

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on March 4th, 2014

It was February 4, and Illinois had just been dominated by Wisconsin for the second time this season in front of a fairly empty home crowd; severe weather had been an issue. The loss made it eight straight for John Groce’s team — which for a consecutive season was in the midst of a major losing streak in conference play – and found themselves at the bottom of league standings with a 2-8 record. But unlike last season, there were no talented seniors like Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson in place to lead a turnaround. This team seemed doomed for a miserable last place finish. That’s when Groce put up the white flag and inserted his top two freshmen — Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill — into the starting lineup, a signal that he was moving on from the current season and looking toward the next one. What has happened since has surprised even the most optimistic of Illini fans. Since the shakeup in the rotation, Illinois has won four of its last six games — including three in a row — which includes road wins at Minnesota and Michigan State. Odds are that they’re still likely to miss out on the NCAA Tournament, but their current body of work isn’t that far off from other bubble teams within the conference.

Kendrick Nunn entering the starting lineup has given the Illini hope. (Ruszkowski/USA TODAY)

Kendrick Nunn entering the starting lineup has given the Illini hope. (Ruszkowski/USA TODAY)

Defense has been Illinois’ strength all season as the Illini have held opponents to an adjusted 93.1 points per 100 possessions (14th in the nation), but their anemic offense, especially their complete inability to shoot the ball, wiped away the advantage their defense gave them. In the non-conference portion of their schedule, Rayvonte Rice was able to get to the rim effectively against less athletic teams or catch high-major teams off guard with his deceptive ability to use his strength while driving to the basket. But by the time Big Ten play started, there was enough tape on Illinois for opponents to adjust. Teams started packing the paint as a result, and Rice, who had averaged 18.7 PPG before the team’s slump, scored five points per game fewer during the eight-game skid. Tracy Abrams, Joseph Bertrand, Jon Ekey, and Nnanna Egwu all failed to prove that they could be relied upon for consistent scoring too, so Groce decided to give his freshmen a shot. It seemed the best Illini fans could hope for was that Nunn and Hill would show signs of improvement by season’s end. Instead, the game came to them immediately, as the two young wings have combined for 19.8 PPG since becoming starters. Almost as importantly, Illinois’ defensive performance did not drop with the change in rotation. In the team’s last four games, Illinois has held its opponents to fewer than 0.83 points per possession (h/t John Gassaway). The results have been an improvement on offense to a point where they can once again rely on their defensive prowess to dictate the tempo of the games and turn their season around.

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Big Ten M5: 03.04.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on March 4th, 2014

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  1. Indiana has not gotten the type of offensive breakout season, or consistency, they would have liked from Will Sheehey in his senior outing. But he’s been coming around as of late and was especially effective in their big win against Iowa on Sunday when he dropped a career-high 30 points. In a week where the Hoosiers played three games, the senior wing averaged 18.7 PPG and 4.3 RPG which was good enough to earn him Player of the Week honors. The Hoosiers are making a late push to get on the right side of the bubble, and they’ll need Sheehey to continue to play well, along with Yogi Ferrell and Noah Vonleh, if they are to have any shot at the NCAA Tournament.
  2. Another team making a late season push is Illinois. Unlike the Hoosiers, the Illini are not looking to a senior as a catalyst, but instead are relying on a pair of freshmen. Kendrick Nunn, one of the two rising stars for Illinois, has added the ability to shoot the deep ball to the Illinois rotation — an area where they were sorely lacking. In the six games since he’s become a starter, Nunn has hit on 16 of his 30 attempted three-point shots (53.3 percent). And for a consecutive week, Nunn has won Rookie of the Week honors in the league for his performances that helped the Illini beat both Nebraska and Michigan State. Nunn’s ascendancy bodes well for John Groce, as the visible success of a Chicago Public School product could open up more recruiting pipelines between Illinois and the Windy City hoops scene.
  3. Speaking of John Groce and recruiting, an interesting story came out yesterday telling the story of how one of Michigan’s most improved player, Caris Levert, was originally hoping to join Groce at Illinois. Levert, an unheralded recruit in high school, was originally committed to Groce when he was the coach at Ohio University. After making it to the Sweet Sixteen, Groce then accepted the head coaching position at Illinois. Levert was told he would receive a phone call from the head coach personally about what the move meant about his commitment — that call never came. Levert ended up committing to Michigan and the rest is history. It’s an interesting recruiting story among Big Ten programs and Groce probably wishes he made that phone call now, especially since he’ll have to take on Levert and the Big Ten champion Wolverines tonight.
  4. Lately, Iowa hasn’t seem like the same team it was earlier in the year — a team thought to have an outside chance to make a Final Four. On Sunday, the Hawkeyes snapped a three-game losing streak when they pulled out a win against Purdue. While a win is a win, the game did not really boost confidence in the team as they blew a big halftime lead in the second half. Iowa is safely in the NCAA Tournament as of right now, but they’ll need to find some sort of defense, which has been nonexistent recently, if they are to get back to playing at the high level that made us all believers in this team earlier in the season.
  5. Finally, Michigan State lost consecutive games for the first time this season when they were beaten at home to Illinois on Saturday. Tom Izzo was visibly frustrated after the loss and expanded on it yesterday, “I’ll have a bit of chip on my shoulder from here on out”. There’s been some talk that we will never see a fully healthy Spartan squad with Keith Appling and Adreian Payne continuing to play with nagging injuries. But Tom Izzo has gotten to Final Fours with lesser teams, and if he is able to transfer the chip on his shoulder to his squad, it may put in them the urgency needed to make a run in the NCAA Tournament. Otherwise, this team might be labeled as one of the bigger disappointments in Spartan history relative to their national championship expectations in the preseason.
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Big Ten M5: 02.28.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 28th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. For the first time in quite a while, Michigan State should have its full roster intact on Saturday when the Spartans take on Illinois. Branden Dawson will return to action for the first time in nine games, although head coach Tom Izzo doesn’t know how much he’ll be able to play. Dawson will have to wear a brace on his injured hand, but as long as said brace doesn’t hinder his ability to rebound and play defense, it shouldn’t be an issue. Even with players not necessarily playing at 100 percent health-wise, the Spartans will gain a lot of credibility with the selection committee by winning their last three with their lineup fully in place.
  2. Ben Brust has been slightly off shooting the ball as of late. He turned things around last game in the second half against Indiana however, and in the process became the 38th player in Wisconsin history to hit the 1,000-point plateau. Brust credited his teammates for this accomplishment saying, noting that “he was lucky to have good players when I got here to set an example for me.” Brust is shooting a slightly lower percentage (37.0%) on threes this season than in his last two (38.9% in both his sophomore and junior seasons), but he’s posting a much higher offensive rating and is knocking down almost 90 percent of his free throws. He could garner even more space in Wisconsin basketball lore with a hot shooting streak come March.
  3. Illinois is starting to turn things around after the Illini lost eight games in a row during conference play. They’ve now won three out of five games since they switched their starting lineup, putting Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn into the starting unit in place of seniors Jon Ekey and Joseph Bertrand. With their win against Nebraska on Wednesday night, the Illini guaranteed themselves a .500 record for the regular season. If they can miraculously win out against the likes of Michigan State, Michigan and Iowa, they may even have a remote opportunity to play themselves back onto the bubble. In this year’s Big Ten, you never know.
  4. That last statement could definitely also be applied to what happened with Minnesota forward Charles Buggs and his performance Tuesday night at The Barn. In this year’s Big Ten, you never know, and no one would have imagined or thought that someone who had played a grand total of 21 minutes all season could score 13 points and ignite a rally that may have saved the Gophers season. Buggs almost transferred in the midst of the coaching transition, but stick around because he thought his athleticism would work well in their up-tempo system. With Oto Osenieks hobbled with a knee problem, Buggs may have won himself extended time the rest of the season at the power forward spot.
  5. Anyone who saw the transition and success Northwestern had during their mid-season turnaround had to have noticed that JerShon Cobb was a huge part of their efforts. It was announced on Thursday afternoon that due to lingering knee and foot problems, Cobb will not play the rest of the season. Cobb will be heard from again as a senior leader for the 2014-15 version of the Wildcats, but for now they will struggle to win games for the rest of the 2013-14 campaign. This makes an already short bench even shorter, and hurts them defensively by losing Cobb’s length at the guard spot.
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Big Ten M5: 02.26.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 26th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Ohio State has gone 6-1 since it put Sam Thompson into the starting lineup. Thompson’s production didn’t change too much at the beginning of the switch, but he’s been significantly better over his last couple of games including a team-high 19 points in Ohio State’s 64-46 win over Minnesota on Saturday. This effort drew the praise of Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino, saying Thompson “is what college basketball is all about.” Pitino, interestingly enough, had recruited Thompson when he was an assistant coach at Florida under Billy Donovan. Thompson has always been an elite athlete, and if his improved offense isn’t just an aberration, he’ll be on the NBA’s radar very soon if he’s not already.
  2. Another wing who has been raising eyebrows with his play of late has been Michigan’s Caris LeVert. Unlike Thompson, however, LeVert has been playing well all season long. Dylan Burkhardt does a tremendous job breaking down the specifics of how well LeVert has played on the offensive end this season. You can see with some of the raw data that he is a multi-dimensional scorer who can beat defenses in a number of ways. He’s underrated as a spot-up shooter, but he is equally adept at breaking his man down off of the dribble. Tim Hardaway, Jr., is having a really good season in the NBA with the Knicks, yet LeVert has numbers as a sophomore that are comparable to Hardaway’s junior year statistics.
  3. Kendrick Nunn was the most highly-rated member of John Groce’s first Illinois recruiting class, but the freshman had his fair share of struggles in non-conference play, causing many Illinois fans to question what all the hype was all about. Nunn has quieted his critics with his play of late, showing why he was so well-regarded in the first place. He’s shown a keen ability to drive and finish, and has also shot the ball from the outside much better than scouting reports would lead you to believe. He’s hit 37.3 percent of his three-pointers on the year, going 11-of-22 in the four games when he’s been a starter.
  4. There have not been too many (if any) Big Ten players to come out of the basketball hotbed known as Chadron, Nebraska, but this is where Minnesota pivot man Elliott Eliason hails from, forging an unlikely path for someone on a Big Ten roster. Eliason has dealt with quite a bit of skepticism about his talent after not playing against quality competition in high school, and he seems to be his own worst critic, which is why some of his on-court reactions can be a bit too much to handle sometimes. Despite a lack of productivity lately, he was still third in the conference in rebounding coming into Tuesday night’s games. He’s also averaging 2.2 BPG, and will be a main cog if Minnesota gets things back on track closing out the season.
  5. Nebraska has one objective closing out the year if it wants to defy expectations and get to the program’s first NCAA Tournament since 1998. They simply need to win one game at a time and then let everything play out accordingly. Coach Tim Miles has the team believing in the mantra, “avoid the noise,” tuning out all of the talk about bubbles and RPI and instead focusing on the things it can control. This all starts with their game tonight against an Illinois team that is playing somewhat better lately. Sitting at 8-6 right now, it would be interesting to see what the selection committee would do with a Big Ten team that has an 11-7 or even a 10-8 record in conference play.
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Big Ten M5: 02.24.14 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on February 24th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Better late than never, but Michigan’s Caris LeVert is starting to get his due for his contributions to the Wolverines this season. After a 23-point performance against rival Michigan State on Sunday — his fourth 20+ game in the last four — he has catapulted his team to a one-game lead in the loss column of the Big Ten standings. His marked improvement, specifically on the offensive end, sets up the Wolverines to control their own destiny with four games left in pursuit of the conference championship. The LeVert-Nik Stauskas combo will be very dangerous in March, and has, at least for the moment, helped make Maize and Blue faithful forget about Mitch McGary.
  2. John Groce’s Illini are unlikely to make the NCAA Tournament, but the last few weeks of play should ultimately yield positive results for his young team. Against Minnesota, freshman guard Kendrick Nunn scored 19 points and showed that he has the makings of a future superstar. He has great form on his shot, and he is also excellent on the defensive end. He has proven to be a player with a knack for the ball during key possessions, and his experience and continued growth over the final few weeks will allow him to gain more confidence heading into next year.
  3. Indiana‘s season has gotten derailed over the past few weeks, but the Hoosiers snapped their recent three-game losing streak by beating Northwestern in Evanston over the weekend. At this juncture of the season, Tom Crean can only find several small moral victories in an otherwise disappointing season. His team was committed to feeding the post against the Wildcats, which led to a season-low seven turnovers in the game. Crean said, “These guys know if we get good looks and if we get a chance to get on that board and if we get to that foul line, we can be pretty good.” It is unlikely that the Hoosiers will surge towards the NCAAs in the final few weeks, but a confident young core should be pay dividends next season.
  4. It has been an up and down season for Wisconsin forward Frank Kaminsky. After pouring in 43 points against North Dakota early in the non-conference season, he struggled a bit in January during Big Ten play. However, he is making a strong comeback over the past three games, averaging 21.0 PPG in three wins to lead the Badgers into third place in the Big Ten standings. Already equipped with an excellent jumper from the beyond the arc, Kaminsky is challenging defenses by taking his game into the paint and utilizing a nice spin move to create angles for easy shots. If Kaminsky can keep up his recent offensive surge, the Badgers become a very interesting team at both the conference and national level.
  5. Injuries have been a persistent issue for Tom Izzo’s Spartans this season. First it was Adreian Payne who was sidelined; then it was Branden Dawson; and finally Keith Appling got bit by the injury bug a few weeks ago. Payne is now back and healthy, but Appling’s return against Michigan on Sunday was concerning. Playing with a sore right wrist, he scored just six points and clearly appeared to be banged up as the Spartans tried to prevent the Wolverines from running away with the Big Ten title. Dawson’s contributions are necessary for Michigan State to reach its potential, but yesterday’s game proved that Appling might be the most important player in the Izzo’s lineup.
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Big Ten M5: 02.12.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 12th, 2014

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  1. Michigan State point guard Keith Appling will miss another round of games this week due to his wrist injury. The Spartans play Northwestern and Nebraska at home, which are games that they should be able to win without him, even given the parity that the league has been defined by this season. Appling injured the wrist in December against North Carolina, and continued to play through the pain. Whether he should have kept playing, Appling showed a tremendous amount of leadership gutting it out while the Spartans were short-handed. If he and Branden Dawson can come back and regain healthy form when they return, the Spartans are a definite National Championship contender.
  2. Wisconsin needs a lot of things to break their way for them to win the Big Ten regular season crown. They sit at 6-5 right now, but they get a chance to avenge two earlier losses this week with games against Minnesota and at Michigan. The Badgers are back to shooting the ball better, and they withstood a horrible stretch of games defensively to make their way back into the AP top 25 after a one-week hiatus. These games could go a long way to cementing a first round bye in the Big Ten Tournament, along with helping their seeding in the NCAA Tournament.
  3. Many Illinois fans have been clamoring for a starting lineup change to get their improving freshmen more minutes. So when Coach John Groce finally pulled the trigger and put Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill into the starting unit, and this resulted in a win, it wasn’t a surprise that the coach decided to continue with this lineup at Nebraska tonight. Nunn especially has really come into to his own after struggling in the non-conference portion of the schedule. He’s gone from 2.9 PPG to 6.9 PPG, and it will be interesting to see if he continues to improve with the added minutes he’s playing.
  4. There’s a reason that Nebraska Coach Tim Miles is in the running for Big Ten Coach of the Year. Despite not having a bunch of top-100 recruits or a program with a great basketball history, he’s gotten his players to buy in and believe in his system. This can be seen in the fact that the Cornhuskers have come back from some rough defeats to win games that they weren’t supposed to win. One such game was at Northwestern on Saturday. The Wildcats do a tremendous job frustrating offenses, but Nebraska came back from 16-point first half to get their first road win of the season. Miles players haven’t quit, and could be in line for a postseason bid because of it.
  5. Amir Williams doesn’t look like or carry himself like Ohio State’s most important player, but the Buckeyes usually win when he plays well. What has to be maddening for Ohio State fans is the fact that they really don’t ever know which Williams will show up. The Buckeyes lost to Michigan Tuesday night and Williams did not have much of an impact. He got 7 rebounds in 29 minutes, but the Wolverines had 14 offensive rebounds. If Ohio State wants to do anything in March this season, Williams absolutely has have more of an impact and show more consistency.
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Big Ten M5: 02.11.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 11th, 2014

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  1. After losing five games in January, Ohio State has managed to right the ship this month and win its last three games with impressive wins at Wisconsin and at Iowa. Senior guard Aaron Craft has been leading the way and was named Big Ten Player of the Week on Monday after averaging 12.0 points, five assists, and 4.5 steals per game against Purdue and Iowa. Those numbers do not capture Craft’s most valuable attribute, of course — his lock-down defense. In the past three games, he helped lead the Buckeyes’ perimeter defense in holding Wisconsin, Iowa, and Purdue to a combined 11-of-50 from the three-point line (22 percent). The Buckeyes’ offense has been their season-long weakness, but as long as Craft gets near double-figures every game, Ohio State should be able to maintain their current winning trajectory.
  2. Wisconsin also had a big week as the Badgers managed to end their losing skid by winning at Illinois and then coming up with huge weekend win against Michigan State. It’s been an atypical season for the Badgers. They’re still on pace to make yet another an NCAA Tournament, but this season Wisconsin relies on its offense more than its defense, and Bo Ryan plays some of his freshmen substantial minutes. None of these first-year players have had a bigger impact than the big man from Toledo, Ohio, Nigel Hayes. He won his third Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor after chipping in 14 points in both games this week. Maybe more impressive is the fact that he ranks second in the league in field goal percentage (58.2%). This season may not look as promising as it did a month ago for Wisconsin, but with Hayes getting a ton of playing time this early in his career, he’ll pay dividends in the years to come.
  3. Continuing with the theme of breaking streaks, Illinois managed to end its eight-game losing streak against Penn State on Sunday. What may be the more lasting storyline was the emergence of the Illini’s freshmen guards, Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill, who combined to score 30 points. John Groce finally decided he had to switch things up and threw both freshmen into the starting lineup for the first time this season. The pair responded in kind and gave hope to a fan base that certainly needed it. Illinois is all but out of the NCAA Tournament picture at this point, but if his guards can continue to play well the rest of the season, it will set things up nicely for the program as early as next season when more talented transfers and recruits join the team.
  4. Tim Miles must be mostly pleased with the performance of his Cornhuskers after winning its first conference road game on Saturday against Northwestern. As he continues to build the program in Lincoln, he may owe a big thanks to his junior wingman Terran Pettaway, who is quickly becoming a household name around the Big Ten. Pettaway continues to rank in the top five in scoring and field goal percentage in the conference, but what is most impressive about the junior is his keen ability to affect the game even when things aren’t going his way. On Saturday, he kept the confidence to hit the game-winning shot despite a poor shooting performance (5-of-16) and committing five turnovers. If Pettaway can continue to play well, the Cornhuskers have a realistic chance of finishing the conference near .500, a major leap for the historically moribund basketball program.
  5. Win or lose, Minnesota is always fun to watch. A lot of it has to do with the Gophers’ style of play — a pressing defense and a hyperactive offense — but they also have entertaining players. The main draw might be Andre Hollins, but DeAndre Mathieu can also put up a show. He’s exciting because of the athleticism and motor he packs into his 5’9”, 165-pound frame. But he’s also vital to the success of the Golden Gophers. The split for Mathieu in a win compared to a loss are night and day (e.g., 57% vs 42% FG%). Mathieu seems to enjoy taking on the more important role and is comfortable taking big shots late in games.  He’ll need to have more good days then bad if Richard Pitino’s team wants to challenge for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
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Seven Sweet Scoops: Julius Randle Out Three Months, Andrew Wiggins Plans Visit To Florida State…

Posted by CLykins on November 30th, 2012

Seven Sweet Scoops is the newest and hottest column by Chad Lykins, the RTC recruiting analyst. Every Friday he will discuss the seven top stories from the week in the wide world of recruiting, involving offers, which prospect visited where, recent updates regarding school lists, and more chatter from the recruiting scene. You can also check out more of his work at RTC with his weekly column “Who’s Got Next?”, as well as his work dedicated solely to Duke Basketball at Duke Hoop Blog. You can also follow Chad at his Twitter account @CLykinsBlog for up-to-date breaking news from the high school and college hoops scene.

Note: ESPN Recruiting used for all player rankings.

1. Julius Randle To Miss Three Months. Julius Randle, the No. 4 overall ranked prospect in the class of 2013, is expected to miss three months after fracturing a bone on the top of his right foot. From Prestonwood Christian Academy (Texas), Randle suffered the injury during the Thanksgiving Hoopfest on November 24. He underwent surgery on Tuesday and is targeting a return to the court either during the high school playoffs for Prestonwood, or the postseason all-star games for the senior class at the latest. Among the schools pursuing the 6’9” power forward include Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina State, Oklahoma and Texas. Randle has already made visits to Florida, Kentucky and Oklahoma and has finalized visits to Texas (December 15-16), Kansas (December 28-30) and NC State (January 25-27), with a spring decision most likely. One day prior to his injury, Randle had notched a double-double in his first and possibly only game for Prestonwood this season with 27 points and 13 rebounds in their season-opener.

Julius Randle is considering Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina State, Oklahoma and Texas

 2. Andrew Wiggins Scheduling Florida State Visit. The No. 1 overall ranked prospect in the class of 2013 and widely regarded as the best high school basketball player in the nation, Andrew Wiggins is planning his first official visit to Florida State. Although the date has yet to be confirmed, it is likely that the visit will come in the first weekend of December. Since his reclassification into the senior class, Wiggins has received new interest from the likes of Kansas, North Carolina and Ohio State. However, throughout his entire recruitment two schools have been viewed as the leaders for the 6’8” small forward, Florida State and Kentucky. When speaking of the Seminoles, the Wiggins name is synonymous with their program as both of Andrew’s parents — former NBA player Mitchell Wiggins and former Canadian Olympic track star Marita Payne-Wiggins — attended Florida State. A member of Huntington Prep (West Virginia), Wiggins most recently participated alongside teammate and Florida State commit Xavier Rathan-Mayes at the Charlotte Hoops Challenge in front of Seminoles’ head coach Leonard Hamilton and associate head coach Stan Jones. With a hectic playing schedule ahead of him, Wiggins is expected to plan more visits when he can in the future with a spring decision targeted.

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Big Ten M5: 11.15.12 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 15th, 2012

  1. One of the main concerns for the Michigan Wolverines this season was their long-range shooting. After losing Zach Novak and Evan Smotrycz, two of their best shooters from last season, it was unclear if there would be a designated gunner this season. Freshman guard Nick Stauskas was expected to take on that role and his shooting after three games proves that he is ready for the big stage. On Tuesday night, Stauskas shot 3-of-4 from beyond the arc in scoring 15 points against Cleveland State. John Beilein’s offense requires at least one good shooter from long range and Stauskas might fit well within the system. He has been coming off the bench and will continue to provide a spark to lead the second unit on a very talented Wolverines roster.
  2. Indiana head Tom Crean was already getting paid well before this season but his contract was recently extended with a raise through 2020. The raise bumps his salary to $3.16 million per year, falling in place behind only John Calipari, Tom Izzo and Billy Donovan. Indiana’s athletic director Fred Glass has several reasons to keep Crean in Bloomington for the rest of the decade. He recognizes Crean’s work to make Indiana relevant again on the national stage and his top 20 recruiting class for the 2013-14 season cements the notion that he is not slowing down despite currently enjoying the top ranked team in the country. Glass believes that the next big project in Bloomington is to renovate the Assembly Hall and Crean will help him with the campaign over the next few years.
  3. Throughout the offseason, Michigan State assistant coaches described Branden Dawson’s recovery from his ACL injury ahead of schedule. They might not have been completely honest. His recovery should be described as more than “ahead of schedule” because he has surprised everybody with his progress after only two games this season. Dawson’s double-double in the season opener has caught NBA scouts’ attention, in particular, as he scored 15 points and pulled down 10 boards during 34 minutes of action against Connecticut. At this pace, Dawson may be at 100% game shape by conference season, if he isn’t already. He didn’t slow down against Kansas on Tuesday night either as he played 33 minutes en route to 12 points. With a healthy Dawson and Travis Trice moving forward, the Spartans may be poised to exceed expectations during the conference season.
  4. Illinois fans know better than anybody else that verbal commitments are not finalized until the recruits sign the letter of intent (sorry to bring up Eric Gordon). After just seven months on the job, John Groce has recruited a top 30 class for the 2013-14 season and all five players signed with Illinois on Wednesday. Kendrick Nunn, Malcolm Hill, Maverick Morgan, Jaylon Tate and Austin Colbert are his first official class in Champaign and they could easily become the starting five in Champaign after a couple of seasons. Rivals ranks the class at #10 but that might change over the next few months — nevertheless, Groce has already proven that he can recruit in the Big Ten.
  5. Early season match-ups may result in blowouts for some of the top-ranked teams but the coaches are always picking at the players about their intensity on the court. Ohio State beat Albany 82-60 on Sunday but Thad Matta was not impressed by his team’s defensive effort, especially in the first half. The Buckeyes got beat on several layups and thus Matta called a 30-second timeout to send a message about the Buckeyes’ lack of energy on the defensive end. After the game, Matta also discussed his rotation and said that there could be “20 different starting lineups” this season. Sophomore Sam Thompson started at the small forward position but Laquinton Ross may get a start at some point during the non-conference season as Matta tries to establish his rotations before Big Ten play.
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