Big Ten M5: 01.26.15 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on January 26th, 2015

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  1. Illinois has dealt with a multitude of injuries this season, and Andy Patterson of Big Ten Powerhouse has broken down how the Illini have performed since they lost their star, Rayvonte Rice. Illinois’ best win of the season came the day after Rice’s inury was announced, a 64-57 home upset of Maryland. Since that point, though, they’ve gone 3-3 with losses to Nebraska, Indiana and Purdue. Kendrick Nunn’s scoring has skyrocketed but the team is getting little production from Nnanna Egwu. If Illinois wants to ultimately make the NCAA Tournament, he’s got to turn his season around; but with a loss in any of their two upcoming games against Penn State and Rutgers, they should consider themselves toast.
  2. Northwestern had a program-defining win over Maryland in College Park slip right through its fingers on Sunday night, blowing an 11-point lead in the final 4:32 of game action. The Wildcats are no strangers to close losses, having dropped their last three games by a total of five points. With such a young team, head coach Chris Collins should be worried that all of these heartbreaking defeats are killing his team’s morale. This team has shown several flashes of brilliance, but those moments have rarely occurred in the final minutes of the second half.
  3. Ohio State notched its first win over a ranked opponent this season on Sunday, topping No. 23 Indiana, 82-70. The Buckeyes used an unconventional method to grab their most impressive victory of the season by employing a smaller-than-usual lineup, replacing starting lineup mainstays Amir Williams and Marc Loving with smaller forwards Anthony Lee and Jae’Sean Tate. While Lee would only log six minutes, Tate scored 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting from the field. The smaller lineup came in part as a response to Indiana’s lack of center Hanner Mosquera-Perea – and head coach Thad Matta said his future lineups would hinge on the unique match-ups presented by other Big Ten foes, despite the success of this weekend’s lineup.
  4. Michigan took Wisconsin to the brink on Saturday night, eventually falling 69-64 to the Badgers in overtime. The loss, though, came with many positives for the Wolverines. Freshmen Mark Donnal, Ricky Doyle, and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman all showed obvious improvement against a team likely to grab one of four No. 1 seeds in March’s NCAA Tournament. Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin led Michigan on the scoring front, but seemed to run out of gas in overtime. John Beilein’s team is showing solid improvement after losing players to both injury and the NBA, and this team should be very, very good in the near future.
  5. Nebraska’s Walter Pitchford was ejected during the Cornhuskers’ win over Michigan State on Sunday after throwing a punch at Matt Costello, but he won’t be looking at mandatory bench time meted by the Big Ten. At the time, the loss of Pitchford was seen as a major blow to Nebraska’s chances of beating the Spartans – he dropped 18 points in last season’s win – but the Huskers would prevail without him by a score of 79-77.
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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 20th, 2015

Points were relatively easy to come by in the Big Ten’s third weekend of play, as only three teams of the 12 with games failed to crack the 1.00 point per possession plateau. There were also some outstanding individual scoring games on display, with Penn State’s DJ Newbill (37 points) and Minnesota’s Andre Hollins (31 points) leading the way in that regard. From a team perspective, Purdue and Indiana got crucial road wins to stay among the top half of the league standings, while Maryland continued its outstanding start by dismantling Michigan State in College Park. Elsewhere, Minnesota is no longer winless in conference action, and Penn State remains the only team still looking for a conference win. Well, at least their freshman guard brings a celebrity cousin to the table.

Melo Trimble torched Michigan State as they knocked off the Spartans by 15 on Saturday. (David J. Philip/AP)

Melo Trimble torched Michigan State as his team knocked off the Spartans by 15 Saturday. (David J. Philip/AP)

Player of the Weekend: Melo Trimble has had issues at times in knocking down perimeter shots, but he had no such problems against Michigan State on Saturday. The freshman combo guard simply went off, scoring 24 points on 8-on-16 shooting from the field. He also hit six threes, five of which came in the first half. Trimble not only should be considered a c0-favorite with Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell for Big Ten Freshman of the Year, but he’s also making a legitimate case for First Team all-Big Ten consideration. Usually he’s a menace for opposing defenses with his keen ability to get to the free throw line, but he only shot two freebies in this game. Instead, he made nearly every shot from behind the arc that he took in the opening stanza. With Jake Layman scoring 23 himself and with Dez Wells capable of going off in any given game, Maryland is one of the few league teams with three legitimate threats on offense. That’s what makes the Terrapins so dangerous. Nothing I’ve said here can top watching this clip, so take a look for yourself. Rest in peace, Tum Tum.

Super Sub of the Weekend: AJ Hammons might win this award multiple times if Purdue keeps winning weekend games. The junior posted his second double-double in the last four games (and his third on the season) with 21 points and 12 rebounds against Penn State on Saturday. While those numbers are nice and all, the biggest takeaway from his effort was that his hustle essentially gave Purdue the opportunity to win the game in overtime. During the game the broadcasters raved about the game-tying three that Kendall Stephens made in the final seconds, but it was Hammons who spun through two Penn State defenders to somehow tip the ball on a missed free throw out to him so he could take the shot in the first place. It’s not a play he would have made in his first two seasons as a Boilermaker, but it shows how far he’s come. You don’t see it all statistically, but if you watch Purdue extensively, you can see all of the subtle improvements he’s made in his productiveness.

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Big Ten M5: 01.16.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 16th, 2015

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  1. Given the Big Ten’s balance this season, it’s widely accepted that if a team can hold home court and win just a few road games, it will likely finish in the top third of the league. On Wednesday night, Illinois got its needed road win at Northwestern with a 72-67 victory. They were led by Kendrick Nunn (25 points) and Aaron Cobsy (19), each of whom gave their most impressive performances of the season. This is an especially encouraging sign for Cosby, who before this game had been nothing short of awful in the shooting department (18-of-74 in the last 10 games). With leading scorer Rayvonte Rice out with an injury until at least February, the Illini need one or more of their guards to produce in each and every game. If Nunn, Cosby and Malcolm Hill can become more consistent, this team can still be on the bubble when Rice gets back.
  2. In case there was any doubt about Frank Kaminsky’s impact after Wisconsin’s loss to Rutgers without him in the lineup, we were reminded of his greatness once again when he returned from concussion symptoms to lead the Badgers to a 70-55 win over Nebraska Thursday night. The senior center scored 22 points and grabbed five rebounds while providing an effective presence on defense. The Badgers will still be shorthanded for several more weeks while point guard Traevon Jackson heals from a foot injury, but Bronson Koenig was able to slide into Jackson’s spot effectively with 11 points against the Cornhuskers. As long as Wisconsin has Kaminsky in the lineup, the Badgers should have no serious challenger for the Big Ten championship.
  3. The Wooden Award Midseason list was released on Wednesday, and four players from the Big Ten made the cut: Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell and Maryland’s Melo Trimble. Three of the four players were expected to be national names in the preseason, but the freshman Trimble’s inclusion highlights just how integral the dynamic point guard has been to the Terrapins’ success. The snubs include the Big Ten’s two leading scorers: Penn State’s D.J. Newbill and Nebraska’s Terran Pettaway. Both players were likely hurt because of their teams’ disappointing play this season, underscoring how team success ultimately factors into decisions about individual awards. It’s also why the Big Ten’s best chance to win the Wooden Award lies with Kaminsky as he leads the Badgers to a possible conference and National Championship.
  4. One of the biggest surprises of the season has been Maryland’s impressive play leading to a 16-2 record and the an early lead with Wisconsin at 4-1 in the conference standings. Like all Mark Turgeon-coached teams, the Terps’ strength lies in their defense (19th in the nation). Not nearly talked about enough, though, has been Maryland’s rebounding performance during conference play. It made a big statement by outrebounding Michigan State two weeks ago, a program that prides itself in how hard it gets after the boards. The secret has been getting players like Jake Layman to commit to rebounding, regardless of position. Thus far, the Terps have won the rebounding battle in three of their first five conference games and all three ended in wins. They’ll have to keep it up this weekend as they once again face a Spartans team that will be looking to redeem themselves.
  5. Finally, Joe Lunardi updated his brackets on ESPN.com yesterday. According to his projections, the Big Ten has six teams currently in the field: Wisconsin (#2 seed), Maryland (#3), Iowa (#8), Michigan State (#8), Ohio State (#8), and Indiana (#9). This would land the conference fourth in bids, with the ACC, Big 12, and Big East each getting more. Given the Big Ten’s lackluster performance in the non-conference schedule and the likelihood that they will continue to beat up on one another, things are unlikely to change much in this regard by Selection Sunday. Bummer.
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Big Ten M5: 01.07.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 7th, 2015

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  1. Nebraska has gotten off to a sloppy start in conference play after dropping another game to Iowa on Monday night. A big part of the Cornhuskers’ problem is a lack of depth, as they currently play (mostly) seven players. Next season might be a different story, however, as Tim Miles’ squad recently received its fourth commitment from the Class of 2015 in Australian shooting guard Jack McVeigh. With recruits like Glynn Watson and Edward Morrow coming into the program from Chicago, and Kansas transfer Andrew White eligible after sitting out this season, depth will not be an issue with Nebraska next season. As for this year’s team, it might still be a bit premature to declare this a lost season in Lincoln, but at 8-6 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten, it’s getting rather close to that point.
  2. Maryland was considered questionable to contend for an NCAA Tournament bid before the season began, but after a 14-1 start including two wins in conference play, the Terps are now listed as no less than a #5 seed in various bracketologies on different sites. Dave Tucker of Testudo Times maintains that there’s still a long way to go before the Terps have proved anything yet, but pointed out that things have shifted quite a bit to where Maryland fans are complaining about mock seedings as opposed to worrying about an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
  3. Illinois has had a rough 24 hours given the recent news that Rayvonte Rice has been lost to a broken hand for up to six weeks. The show must go on, however, and the Illini won’t exactly start out with an easy grace period having to play Maryland in Champaign Wednesday night. Someone needs to replace Rice’s 17.2 PPG and 48 percent shooting from three, and the most likely candidates are Kendrick Nunn and Aaron Cosby, both of whom need to take advantage of the available shots with Rice out of the lineup. If they can’t hold down the fort beginning with this game against the rising Terps, things look bleak for the Illini going forward.
  4. Sam Dekker is back, and Wisconsin is reaping the benefits of his return. Dekker didn’t miss any games despite an ankle injury in the preseason, but he’s back in the sense that he’s returned to being the offensive weapon that many expected him to become. In his last six games, the junior forward has made 11-of-22 of his three-point attempts, bringing his overall field goal percentage for the season up to a sterling 54.2 percent. That balky ankle is finally healed, which has allowed him to get better lift and feel more comfortable in shooting the ball. Wisconsin can reasonably make a claim to having the best frontcourt in all of college basketball, and that case is bolstered when Dekker plays like he has been.
  5. Even after starting Big Ten play with a 2-0 record, Purdue head coach Matt Painter is still figuring things out with his rotation. Bryson Scott is perhaps the clearest example of this idea, after he went from starting against Minnesota to not playing at all against Michigan. The sophomore point guard has struggled to find consistency, but teammates like Raphael Davis and AJ Hammons still believe in him. He is a solid perimeter defender who has a knack for getting into the lane off the dribble, but Jon Octeus brings senior leadership and athleticism that Painter trusts in key situations. With a deep roster and two other point guards on hand, minutes aren’t always going to be readily available for the growing player.
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John Groce’s January Drearier Than Usual With Rice Injury

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 6th, 2015

It appears safe to say that January may not be John Groce’s favorite month. In the two and a half seasons he’s spent as the head coach at Illinois, the 43-year old Indiana native has gone 3-13 in the first month of the year, including Saturday’s loss to Ohio State. Things will not get any easier for him in coming weeks as news was released today that his leading scorer, Rayvonte Rice, will be sidelined for five to six weeks with a broken hand that he sustained during Monday’s practice. This is a devastating blow to Groce and his already-struggling offense as the Illini now have to slog through much of the rest of Big Ten play without their best offensive player.

John Groce's Illinois faces a pivotal game against Indiana to kick off the conference season.

John Groce faces his most difficult challenge yet with Rice out for the remainder of Big Ten play.

Rice’s injury may turn out to be the final wave that capsizes the boat on the Illini’s unfortunate and disappointing season. While a quick look at their resume may not visibly show a sinking team, this squad has not lived up to preseason expectations. With the introduction of two sharpshooting transfers in Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby and an additional year of development for the sophomore duo of Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill, this season’s Illini were supposed to have resolved last season’s offensive inadequacies. Things initially went according to plan early, but Starks and Cosby have gone cold from the field since December (a combined 31 percent from the field in the last eight games), and Nunn, who started the season injured, has never returned to the same level of play he showed at the end of last season. Hill may be the only player who has lived up to his expected billing, but he too has managed to disappear in a few games.

The only constant for Illinois had been Rice, and now they are without their rock. The Illini will miss more than his scoring, as the senior guard provides contributions all over the court — 6.9 RPG, 1.8 SPG, and 48.3% 3FG — but perhaps the most telling statistic that shows his impact is the gulf between his Player Efficiency Rating (31.9) and the next best player, Hill’s (22.5). Now, midway through a trying season, Groce will need to reinvent his roster with the same players who have disappointed him all season. In order to salvage something out of it, someone will have to emerge in the next six weeks to help mitigate the loss of Rice. Otherwise, this winter of Illini discontent will last a lot longer than just January in Champaign.

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Illinois’ Point Guard Conundrum Continues

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on December 17th, 2014

Remember when the Illini had three guards who could man the offense with no trouble from 2003-05? Luther Head, Deron Williams and Dee Brown could set up the offense without any confusion, move the ball around with confidence, and pull up for a three without any issues if the shot clock was winding down. Yep, that was about 10 years ago. Since the trio left Champaign, though, Illinois has struggled to find a consistent point guard comfortable with both distributing the ball and creating his own shot. Chester Frazier didn’t really have a consistent jumper. Demetri McCamey was versatile on the offense but he couldn’t consistently involve his teammates. Brandon Paul was a combo guard, and while Tracy Abrams commanded respect from his teammates, he just didn’t have enough quickness to utilize his offensive moves and still carry a consistent assist rate. With Abrams now gone, there was a glimmer of hope that incoming transfer Ahmad Starks could be the efficient point guard to finally lead an offense that could launch the program back into the Big Ten elite. But after the first month of the season, the situation appears as bad as the last few seasons in that regard.

Ahmad Starks hasn't been able to exceed Tracy Abrams' performance from last season so far this year.

Ahmad Starks hasn’t been able to exceed Tracy Abrams’ performance from last season so far this year.

Starks’ game has several positives: He is quick to get around screens and has a much better looking three-point shot than Abrams. While a 35 percent mark from three isn’t all that impressive, his average is more a result of poor shot selection than mechanics. He also hasn’t been able to connect with his teammates during the second half of important games. Let’s take the latest loss to Oregon as an example. Even though Illinois assisted on 17 of its successful field goals, the offense looked completely clueless when it mattered. If the ball went inside to the low post, it never came back out. There was no lateral movement. If Starks couldn’t break his defender down, he dumped it over to Malcolm Hill who did the same – scoring only six points. The same goes for Aaron Cosby and Kendrick Nunn. Illini shot a respectable 37 percent from beyond the arc but taking 19 shots from there is concerning. There is no point guard who can set up plays that require ball movement and could actually result in a decent-looking shot in the waning minutes. Read the rest of this entry »

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Battle of Unbeatens: Key Questions in Illinois vs. Miami

Posted by Brendan Brody and Lathan Wells on December 2nd, 2014

As the ACC and the Big Ten teams get together on the hardwood this week, the ACC and Big Ten microsites (Brendan Brody and Lathan Wells, specifically) have also decided to team up to break down some of the key questions for a few of the games. What follows is a look at tonight’s Top 25 battle between two unbeatens: the 6-0 Illini and the 7-0 Hurricanes.

Brendan Brody: After a mediocre 17-16 mark last year, Miami is back in the Top 25 with Big 12 transfers Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State) and Sheldon McClellan (Texas) deservedly getting most of the credit. Let’s talk about how other key players like Tonyi Jekiri and Manu Lecomte have also had an impact, and how they will affect the outcome of this game.

Tonye Jekiri has been a defensive force so far for Miami. (Gerry Broome, AP)

Tonye Jekiri has been a defensive force so far for Miami. (Gerry Broome, AP)

Lathan Wells: Lecomte looks much more comfortable playing off the ball and allowing Rodriguez to run the show this season. The result is enormously efficient basketball, as he is averaging 13.3 PPG and shooting 56.7 percent from the field. If Rodriguez and McClellan are being stifled, he offers a third excellent perimeter scoring option. Jekiri, to his credit, has blossomed into a force around the basket, averaging just shy of 11 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. For a team relying on consistent guard and perimeter play, he has helped to keep the Hurricanes balanced. While it’s true Rodriguez and McClellan are driving Miami’s hot start, don’t be surprised if Lecomte comes up with a few key baskets or if Jekiri helps keep Miami on the plus-side of the rebounding margin. Illinois hangs its hat on defense first, but the Illini rank fifth in the country in averaging 90 points per game. How will they handle a lower scoring contest if Miami is able to slow things down?

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John Groce May Finally Have His Flexible Backcourt

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on November 25th, 2014

Four games up and four games down for the Illini. Yes, we know it is early but it is really tough not to wonder if this is the best backcourt John Groce has had during his time in Champaign. He was hired from Ohio after a surprising run to the Sweet 16 when the Bobcats’ offense, led by D.J.Cooper, burst through the first two rounds in March by running a high-powered offense with multiple ball-handlers and shooters. Groce’s first two seasons have been sub-part at Illinois but his track record shows that his offensive system can raise havoc, given the right type of talent. That talent includes ball-handling skills from at least three positions on the floor. After three straight games of scoring 100 games, albeit against weaker competition, the Illini offense looks very promising because of five combo guards who can be dangerous with the rock. The rotation includes Ahmad Starks, Aaron Cosby, Rayvonte Rice, Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn. Five of them have been playing at least 20 minutes game and they provide Groce with multiple options.

John Groce has five wings that should be fun to watch this season.

John Groce has five wings that should be fun to watch this season.

Both incoming transfers, Starks and Cosby, shot at least 40% from beyond the arc in their prior lives away from Champaign. Shooting skill doesn’t hurt but it is their ball-handling ability that’s more impressive. Tracy Abrams’ loss for the season could have hurt the Illini because he had a good understanding of the offense after two seasons but Starks and Cosby aren’t too far behind. Let’s not forget that they sat out a whole season after the transfer to Illini and practiced with the team, waiting and chomping at an opportunity to showcase their skills in front of the Orange Krush. Remember last season when Rice was terrific during the first 10 games because he was fully prepared after training with the team? Same goes for Starks and Cosby. Speaking of Rice, he doesn’t have to worry about carrying the offense this season because he is surrounded by shooters. Instead, he can play the wing position and take advantage of backdoor cuts and fast-break opportunities. He was a volume scorer last season which hurt his rhythm during key stretches of the conference season – that doesn’t need to happen this year because Groce can save him for crunch time.

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Big Ten M5: Opening Night Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on November 14th, 2014

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  1. Jarrod Uthoff is set to make his first start as a Hawkeye on Friday night as Iowa begins life after Devyn Marble. Most of the media has tabbed Aaron White to succeed Marble as “the man” in Iowa City, but Uthoff has some serious potential as a top contributor as well. He admitted that insecurity regarding his role on the team led to some of last year’s struggles, but said that he’s playing with more confidence now. Head coach Fran McCaffery wants Uthoff to think less and shoot more, a theme that seems to follow many of Iowa’s forwards. If a recent exhibition against Northwood was any indication of how Uthoff will fare this season (15 points and seven boards in just 17 minutes), Hawkeyes fans should be extremely excited about this team’s potential.
  2. There’s plenty of early fanfare surrounding Melo Trimble‘s first season at Maryland, and head coach Mark Turgeon said he thinks Trimble is feeling but handling the pressure. With senior Dez Wells and junior Jake Layman as two of the team’s more experienced leaders, Trimble feels comfortable in a situation that would make almost any freshman’s knees shake – starting at the point guard position on opening night. The Terrapins aren’t exactly facing an elite college basketball power tonight in Wagner, but the Seahawks were fairly competitive with Penn State and St. John’s last year. Maryland’s first real test will come against Arizona State on November 24.
  3. Minnesota’s Joey King will have his hands full tonight as he’s been tasked with the unenviable job of guarding Louisville’s behemoth power forward, Montrezl Harrell. King, who added 15 pounds to his frame this summer, will guard Harrell, but stopping him will be a complete team effort, according to head coach Richard Pitino. The Gophers’ other options include Mo Walker, who was the expected starting center before a hamstring injury sidelined him, and Elliot Eliason. Harrell’s likely going to get a handful of points, but limiting his rebounds is what may prove more difficult for the Gophers.
  4. Kendrick Nunn has been cleared for action in Illinois’ opener tonight versus Georgia Southern after he received a plasma injection to relieve tendinitis in his right knee. Head coach John Groce said the training staff would be extra attentive to Nunn’s knee early on, especially as the Illini play six games in the first 15 days of the season. But Illinois has no legitimate reason to rush Nunn back into the lineup for the first four games of the season. Its priority should instead be to get Nunn rested for a November 28 match-up versus either Baylor or Memphis and beyond. The Illini will then face Miami, Oregon, Villanova and Missouri in December, and with the loss of Tracy Abrams to injury and their relatively unproven body of guards, Nunn can make a big difference in the team’s non-conference success.
  5. Sam Dekker tweaked an ankle in October, leading him to miss Wisconsin’s open-scrimmage and exhibition game versus Wisconsin-Parkside. Dekker downplayed the injury, saying that his ankle “feels good” and “nothing else really needs to be said about that.” The Badgers will be without Duje Dukan after the NCAA required that he miss the first two games of the season, but Dekker is expected to be in the lineup tonight against Northern Kentucky. Besides the absence of Dukan, Wisconsin will look much like last season’s Final Four squad, as their only loss from that team is Ben Brust.
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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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