Ohio State’s Slow Big Ten Start Nothing to Worry About

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 17th, 2014

As Ohio State has surely found out, when you are considered a top-10 team and proceed to go out and lose three straight games, eyebrows will be raised. Heck, if the two-time defending NBA champions are going to be questioned for losing three in a row within an 82-game regular season, it’s hardly a shock that pundits will sound the alarm over a three-game Big Ten losing streak. Nevermind that any one of those three losses, in isolation, would be nowhere near concern-prompting, or that the Buckeyes are still owners of the second most efficient defense in all the land. If you listen to anyone outside of Columbus, Thad Matta’s team suddenly has questions to answer. The bleeding does need to stop (and soon), and even the most ardent of Buckeyes’ supporters will admit this team is far from perfectly constructed, but resist overreaction on this one. Today’s Buckeyes are the same team that ran out to that 15-0 start — Big Ten title contenders, still.

Wins Haven't Come As Easily In The Early Part Of The Big Ten Season For Aaron Craft And Ohio State

Wins Haven’t Come As Easily In The Early Part Of The Big Ten Season For Aaron Craft And Ohio State

There is no sugarcoating this fact: Ohio State is not a good offensive basketball team. Besides an impressively low steal percentage-against (helpful mainly for setting up that lethally efficient halfcourt defense), there is no true strength within its offensive statistical profile. When DeShaun Thomas and his prodigious offensive production departed for the professional ranks last offseason, most suspected the Buckeyes would struggle to score points as a result. There was hope that junior LaQuinton Ross might be ready to assume a good chunk of Thomas’ production, but while Ross is the Bucks’ leading scorer at 14.1 points per game, he has proven not to be another Thomas. Ross has shot the ball well from three-point range (41%), but a higher-than-preferred turnover rate (12.5%), paired with middling percentages on two-point field goals (44%) and from the charity stripe (68%) has left, for Thad Matta and his offensively challenged team, a lot to be desired. While the optimist would suggest Ross has some room for growth here in the back end of the season (he does have the natural tools to make it happen), the realist here will remind you that we aren’t talking about a player five games into his freshman season. To a large extent, Ross likely is what he is; namely, not DeShaun Thomas. With a dearth of offensive options elsewhere on the roster, that reality also means that the Buckeyes won’t be redefining themselves anytime soon. This isn’t, and won’t become, an elite offensive unit.

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode VII

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 8th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball. 

Baylor Fails To Live Up To The Hype

When I saw the national polls come out this week I was stunned to see Baylor ranked No. 7. Yes, the Bears were 12-1 heading into last night’s Big 12 opener at Iowa State, but I was surprised more pollsters were not able to see through their smoke and mirrors. I rated Baylor No. 19 in the latest RTC Top 25 and thought it was generous given its resume. Of the team’s 12 wins, just three have been quality: Two came in Dallas against Colorado and Kentucky (certainly very fine wins) and one in Maui against Dayton. In other words, Baylor had yet to beat a great team away from home and last night’s game was actually its first true road contest of the season. Scott Drew’s team didn’t exactly validate its lofty ranking after being torched in the second half at Hilton Coliseum last night. BU’s interior defense, normally a strength, was horrendous against the Cyclones, particularly in transition. It almost seems as if Baylor was unprepared for Iowa State’s up-tempo style of basketball. Baylor is not a bad team by any stretch but there just isn’t enough consistency from game to game to warrant such a high ranking. The Bears do a lot of things well and a handful of things poorly. That keeps their ceiling low, despite a ton of talent on the roster.

Kenny Chery and Baylor have some shortcomings to address

Kenny Chery and Baylor have some shortcomings to address

Iowa State is For Real, But Just How Good are the Cyclones?

Speaking of Iowa State, how about the job Fred Hoiberg has done in Ames? In only his fourth year he has made his alma mater relevant in leading it to a top 10 ranking this week. The Cyclones are legitimate and DeAndre Kane is a big reason why. The Marshall transfer is making the most of his one year in Ames as one of the country’s best all-around players. After a season-high 30 points against Baylor last night, Kane seems to be getting even better. Hoiberg really can’t ask for much more from a senior who can run the team, rebound and score efficiently. Iowa State is obviously terrific at home but I would like to see this team perform on the road against better competition before I fully buy in. Don’t get me wrong, the Cyclones are a sure fire top 20 team in my view. However, their toughest road test to date was against a 9-7 BYU team in Provo. With five of their next nine games on the road, the Cyclones will be challenged in a big way against the likes of Kansas and Oklahoma State, as well as upstarts Texas and Oklahoma. While I believe Iowa State is very good, we will know a heck of a lot more about it when the calendar flips to February.

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Three Questions on Ohio State at Michigan State

Posted by Jonathan Batuello & Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on January 7th, 2014

The Big Ten already gave us a Top 25 match-up over the weekend, but tonight it rewards us with a top five game, as No. 3 Ohio State travels to No. 5 Michigan State for a 9:00 PM tip at the Breslin Center. Both teams started the conference slate at 2-0 and this game could be instrumental in how the race eventually shakes out. This is especially important when you consider that both of these teams will play Wisconsin only once at the Kohl Center (Bo Ryan thanks the schedule-makers), so any loss is huge. To get ready for the Big Ten’s biggest game of the year so far, Big Ten microsite writers Deepak Jayanti and Jonathan Batuello got together to answer three key questions going into the game.

Adreian Payne will be key inside for the Spartans as they host Ohio State in the biggest game of the young Big Ten season tonight (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

Adreian Payne will be key inside for the Spartans as they host Ohio State in the biggest game of the young Big Ten season tonight (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

1. Michigan State likes to get into transition while Ohio State would prefer to win with its defense. So, who sets and controls the pace in this game?

  • Deepak Jayanti: Last season, the average number of possessions over the three games between these two teams was 60. The average number of possessions per game in Division I basketball was 65.1, so clearly things tend to slow down when these two defensive-minded teams face off. The Buckeyes’ depth at the guard position will create issues for Michigan State’s Keith Appling because there will be fresh legs guarding him throughout and preventing him from picking up the tempo in transition. Between Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson, Thad Matta will rotate his guards against the Michigan State backcourt to help dictate the overall tempo. Without those easy transition baskets, Appling will have to beat Craft off the dribble in the half-court which could be challenging and give an advantage to Ohio State in this game.
  • Jonathan Batuello: Michigan State would love to have its guards get out on the break to limit Ohio State’s defense getting set, but it’s likely that this game will slow down. The biggest reason for this is that both teams play smart offensive basketball that leads to highly efficient scoring. It is much more challenging for teams to get out in transition when your opponent converts, and Ohio State boasts an effective field goal percent of 53.7 percent (45th nationally) and Michigan State is even better at 55.2 percent (18th). For Sparty to push tempo it needs turnovers and missed shots, and Ohio State doesn’t commit many miscues (approximately 10 per game) nor have many ice cold shooting nights. Therefore, expect Michigan State to focus on winning the game using smart possessions instead of trying to create extra ones.

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Key Storylines About the Top Big Ten Teams

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on January 1st, 2014

Last season was one of the best Big Ten seasons in recent memory. The season had everything: games that went into overtime (Ohio State vs. Michigan), rivalry games (Michigan State vs. Michigan), and buzzer beaters (Tyler Griffey’s layup against Indiana). The cliché about conference season being a different level of competition than the non-conference play holds true in the Big Ten. Offensive powerhouses such as Michigan and Indiana scored with ease until December 31, but the opposing coaches within conference found ways to stifle their offenses. Similar intensity can be expected this season, with three teams ranked in the top ten – Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Michigan State – competing for the conference title.

The following are three key storylines about these teams which deserve your attention over the next three months:

Sam Dekker and the Wisconsin Badgers have a favorable Big Ten schedule ahead of them this season.

Sam Dekker and the Badgers have a favorable Big Ten schedule ahead of them this season.

  1. When will Wisconsin lose its first game? The Badgers have a fairly soft schedule by usual Big Ten standards: they don’t play Ohio State or Michigan State on the road, two games that they could have lost. Beating the Buckeyes or Spartans at Kohl Center is very likely, barring any shooting slumps from Bo Ryan’s backcourt. Road games at Indiana and Iowa are the next set of contenders to break their winning streak. Last season, Ryan’s defense stifled the Hoosiers on the road and considering that Tom Crean’s squad isn’t as versatile offensively, it is likely that they could lose that game. However, Iowa poses a tougher threat because their interior depth could give the Badgers some trouble. Melsahn Basabe and Aaron White are quick enough to move around Frank Kaminsky and could force Sam Dekker to buckle down in the paint. If Mitch McGary were healthier, Michigan could have given Ryan’s team a run for their money, but in his absence, Iowa appears to be the only legitimate team that could end Wisconsin’s run. Having said that, anything can happen during conference play, especially if Ben Brust and Dekker can’t hit their shots from beyond the arc. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 12.23.13 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on December 23rd, 2013

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  1. After a disappointing non-conference season, Michigan will need to have a healthy Mitch McGary in the lineup to compete for a Big Ten title. McGary, who was plagued with back issues throughout the offseason, did not play against Stanford over the weekend. He will visit the doctors to understand the reasons for his back’s continued soreness, but the timetable for his return is indefinite at this point. His team was able to eke out a win against the Cardinal, 68-65, but McGary’s presence will be a requirement against powerful Big Ten competition. Back problems can nag for a while and this situation may linger throughout this season, but Wolverines’ fans still have hopes that they can make another deep run in the postseason if McGary can play injury-free by March.
  2. Speaking of McGary’s much-needed presence, the Wolverines will especially need him when they play Michigan State, led by senior forward Adreian Payne. Payne is averaging 18.1 PPG and 8.0 RPG this season, but his improvement over the last three years is more impressive than his numbers this season. Two years ago, Payne was still learning his role, playing alongside star forward Draymond Green. But after exploding halfway through his junior season, Payne still continues to polish his game on both ends of the floor. Shooting 45.7 percent from beyond the arc this year shows his progression from a player reliant on his athleticism to a well-rounded offensive threat whose jumper must be respected.
  3. Is there any highly-ranked team more under the radar than Ohio State this season? The Buckeyes used a miraculous late comeback against Notre Dame on Saturday to remain undefeated despite still trying to figure out their offensive identity. After getting off to a slow start, LaQuinton Ross has averaged over 18 PPG over the last three games and appears to be on pace to find his offensive rhythm. He scored 19 against Notre Dame and the Buckeyes will need him his consistent offensive production to provide a solid foundation if they hope to remain ranked in the top 10 and compete for a Big Ten title.
  4. Speaking of consistent offensive production, Iowa needs to develop a consistent outside shooter if the team wants to achieve all of its goals this season. Josh Oglesby, one of the Hawkeyes’ designated gunners, will return to the lineup after missing some time due to an ankle injury. During non-conference play, Zach McCabe has provided a long-range spark from deep (43%), but the Hawkeyes need another deep threat and Oglesby should help in that department. Even though he only made a pedestrian 27 percent from deep last season, he has the ability to get hot and score in bunches which should only add to the offensive firepower of the Hawkeyes.
  5. Illinois’ Tracy Abrams can be frustrating to watch during late-game possessions, but John Groce has shown that he will stick with him when the game is on the line. Against Oregon, Abrams repeatedly tried to to do much with the ball and ended up turning it over several times during the final minutes of the game. But his toughness and gritty attitude — what Groce likes about the guard — were on display against Missouri over the weekend, when he nailed two free throws to win the game with just five seconds remaining. Abrams is not likely to ever turn into a true point guard who takes care of the ball first and foremost, but he has the support of his coach and his teammates during the final minutes of games and it paid off over the weekend.
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Ohio State’s Keys to Beating Notre Dame Tonight

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 21st, 2013

One of four battles between Big Ten teams and probable NCAA Tournament teams from power conferences will take place in Brooklyn on Saturday when Ohio State (11-0) takes on Notre Dame (8-3). After a disappointing loss to North Dakota State, the Irish righted their ship by knocking off Indiana last Saturday at the Crossroads Classic. Meanwhile, Ohio State is ranked as the #3 team in the country, but hasn’t really played anyone of merit since they bested Maryland about three weeks ago. This one will be highlighted by guard play, but here are a few other things to look for if you’re tuning in this evening after a day of Christmas shopping (7:30 PM EST, ESPN2).

Shannon Scott will be tested by the Notre Dame guards on Saturday night.

Shannon Scott will be tested by the Notre Dame guards on Saturday night.

  • Guard Play will be a key: The best of the individual battles will be in the form of Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins taking on Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott. The Craft and Scott duo will look to do what they do against everyone — pressure and harass. Craft (2.5 SPG) and Scott (2.3 SPG) are first and second, respectively, among Big Ten players in steals per game, but Grant and Atkins are the keys to the Irish protecting the ball at the 18th best rate in the country (14.5 turnovers per 100 possessions). Experience playing under pressure like this might unhinge freshman and sophomore perimeter players, but the Notre Dame duo has been through it before. If Craft and Scott can force a steady diet of turnovers from these veterans — no easy task whatsoever — they can set the tone for an uglier game that eliminates some of the clean looks Notre Dame got against Indiana.

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode VI

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on December 18th, 2013

Battle For Iowa Lived Up To Its Billing

For my money, the best game in recent days was Iowa State’s thrilling win over Iowa on Friday night at Hilton Coliseum. This game was the true essence of what college basketball is all about. It was a heated in-state rivalry between two quality teams in a crazy atmosphere, smack dab in the middle of a basketball-crazed state. It is simple: This was a fun game, period. Although Fred Hoiberg’s Cyclones came away victorious, you may be somewhat surprised to find out that my biggest impression taken from this game was just how good Iowa is. I actually thought the Hawkeyes were the better team for most of this contest. Don’t get me wrong, Iowa State played really well. After all, it beat a team I thought was very impressive so that should tell you something about the Cyclones as well. I thought Iowa had a terrific game plan and evidence of top-notch coaching and scouting was present throughout the game.

Devyn Marble

Devyn Marble and his mates were outstanding. But Iowa State was just a little bit better. (AP)

One specific example of great scouting came late in the first half when Roy Devyn Marble got in the middle of a dribble hand-off by Georges Niang and broke it up, leading to two Iowa points on the other end. Marble read the play perfectly and it paid off for his team. Fran McCaffery’s squad excelled in transition and got almost anything it wanted offensively on the low block with Aaron White leading the charge. Iowa ran some beautiful half-court sets that resulted in plenty of clean looks, especially for White and Marble. The Hawkeyes dominated the glass (but did not take full advantage of it) and answered the bell nearly every time Iowa State put together a charge, except for the final minute where it wound up costing them the game. Iowa simply didn’t make the plays it needed to win late, highlighted by Mike Gesell’s two missed free throws. McCaffery and his team can learn a lot from this game but in the end it is on the players to step up and lead down the stretch. Whether that’s Marble (most likely), White, Gesell, or someone else, Iowa needs someone to be “the man” in order to take the next step and contend at the very highest level in the Big Ten.

Michigan Back On Track?

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Big Ten M5 12.13.13 Edition

Posted by Max Jakubowski on December 13th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. It has been 26 years since there was a match-up of the two flagship programs in Iowa as members of the Top 25, but that’s exactly what we get tonight when #23 Iowa travels to take on rival and #17 Iowa State in Ames. These two programs were largely irrelevant five years ago, but the hiring of Fran McCaffery at Iowa and Fred Hoiberg at Iowa State has really changed everything in both programs. Each team has realistic expectations to make the NCAA Tournament and perhaps even go deep. Hopefully this intrastate rivalry continues to become must-see television each year (and kudos for the schedule makers for giving us this treat on an otherwise quiet Friday night).
  2. Speaking of the Hawkeyes, their bench play has been absolutely spectacular this year. Via @IowaHoops, the Hawkeyes’ bench is averaging 42.3 points, 24.9 rebounds and 4.2 blocks through 11 games. The two players fueling the bench are senior Zach McCabe and Gabriel Olaseni. McCabe is a tough-nosed forward who attacks rebounding fearlessly and can also knock down perimeter shots. Olaseni is seeing his first real playing time in his career and he is doing a great job protecting the rim for Iowa.
  3. Coming into the season, Ohio State’s LaQuinton Ross was expected to become the Buckeyes’ primary scoring threat this season. As the season got underway, though, Ross struggled by only averaging six points in his first five games. But it now looks like Ross could emerge into the type of scorer many had hoped he would become after Deshaun Thomas. Already Ross’ three-point and turnover percentage are better than that of Thomas, and Ohio State will need the gifted junior to take over offensively if the Buckeyes  and Thad Matta are to reach another Final Four.
  4. Michigan and Illinois are looking for their first big non-conference wins this year. Michigan gets #1 Arizona at the Crisler Center on Saturday, and the match-up to watch is in the backcourt. Arizona’s duo of TJ McConnell and Nick Johnson will go against a young tandem of Derrick Walton Jr. and Caris LeVert. If Michigan’s guards allow Arizona’s guards to go wherever they want on the floor, it will be a long day for Michigan. Illinois heads to Portland to take on #15 Oregon as well on Saturday. The Illini lost to Georgia Tech in the last minute but then rebounded nicely by destroying Auburn. Oregon will represent a major test for the Illini, as the Ducks have excellent pieces at all positions that can really expose the Illinois’ lack of length.
  5. Bo Ryan and his fourth-ranked Wisconsin squad easily defeated in-state opponent Milwaukee earlier this week. The Badgers have been steamrolling everyone so far but their biggest upcoming challenge may be next month when they go to Bloomington to take on Indiana. There are four games between now and then and they should all be wins for the Badgers. The one game Bo Ryan’s team can’t overlook before the Indiana game is when Iowa visits on January 5. Iowa has the depth to stay with Wisconsin on the perimeter and multiple players who can guard Frank Kaminsky.
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Big Ten M5: 12.12.13 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on December 12th, 2013

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  1. It’s been a question all year when discussing Ohio State. Everyone knows how strong the Buckeyes’ defense is, but are they be able to score enough points on the other end to become a Final Four team? Replacing DeShaun Thomas was a huge question mark coming into the year, but through the first quarter of the season, at least, LaQuinton Ross has matched his production. Last night Ross scored only nine points in the team’s 86-48 win over Bryant, but as Ross’ recent production has been on an uptick lately, so too has his team’s scoring capability and potential ceiling. If he has in fact turned a corner and is rapidly becoming the team’s offensive leader, then Thad Matta’s team is well on its way to becoming a legitimate Final Four contender.
  2. Indiana cruised in its most recent win against Oakland, but a potential key player off the bench is starting to emerge. Freshman Luke Fischer has finally healed from a torn labrum in his left shoulder and is no longer wearing a brace. Thanks to being healthy over the past two games, Fischer has notched season highs in minutes and scored 12 points, nearly half of his season total of 25. Granted, these games were blowout wins for the Hoosiers against inferior competition, but Fischer came into this season with a lot of unrealized potential. Some thought Fischer could start at the five for Indiana next to Noah Vonleh, and he is just now starting to show why in the past two games. If he emerges and gives Indiana another strong piece inside he could help alleviate some pressure on Vonleh and give the Hoosiers some quality post minutes off the bench.
  3. It’s impossible to really know at such an early point, but with the good start Minnesota has enjoyed and if Richard Pitino quickly builds the Golden Gophers program up in the next two or three years, would he be likely to stay in Minneapolis or leave for a more traditional, high-powered program? According to his father and Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, “he could die at this program.” The elder Pitino was in town this week to watch his son’s team win on Tuesday night and gave some interesting insights into his son’s career choice. The father had urged him to stay on board as an assistant at Louisville and follow him there as the next head coach in several years, but the son wanted to blaze his own trail. That has to be a good sign for Minnesota fans because if young Pitino is successful he could potentially stay at the school and become a long-term fixture that leads the program routinely to the top of the Big Ten.
  4. Maybe it’s time to start thinking of Penn State as more than a cellar-dweller or a team that could pull off an upset or two in Big Ten play. After a loss to a mediocre Bucknell team in its second game of the season, the Nittany Lions have now won six of eight and pushed their record to 8-3 following last night’s 68-59 win over Duquesne in a neutral site game. This opponent was another middling team, but Penn State’s only other losses were to a very talented Pittsburgh team and a three-point loss to a solid Ole Miss squad. Last night’s win was just another that exhibits that this team could challenge for a top-half finish in the B1G. Most impressively may be Penn State giving up 24 free throws to the Dukes yet still winning the game. It’s also good that Tim Frazier only scored 11 points but had 13 assists, giving credence to the notion that role players are stepping up around the Nittany Lions’ talented backcourt duo. If Penn State wins its next game against 7-1 Princeton, everyone will have to start putting this team on its dark horse radar.
  5. Another game, another high-scorer for Wisconsin. The Badgers have proven to be a very well-balanced and talented squad this season, as Ben Brust led the team in its 78-52 win over UW-Milwaukee last night. Every time out it seems like someone different is taking control of the team, with Sam Dekker, Frank Kaminsky, Traevon Jackson or Josh Gasser trading positions. Brust is just another dimension to the effectiveness of the Badgers as it has gotten off to its best start at 11-0 since 1993-94. This team has shown it can do just about anything in Bo Ryan’s motion offense, with every player versatile enough to hit shots outside or play inside. With five strong scorers in its starting lineup, this could be the year Wisconsin goes from a consistently good team to a Final Four contender. It also helps that it has shown it can play different styles this season, already notching wins in the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and more than 100 points. That’s quite the spectrum of game styles to win them all.
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Big Ten M5: 12.10.13 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 10th, 2013

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  1. Last week was pretty bad for Michigan State. Not only were the Spartans beaten at home by North Carolina, but their best player, sophomore Gary Harris, re-aggravated a prior ankle injury. Now, sophomore big man Matt Costello is expected to miss two weeks with an undisclosed illness. Costello was only averaging 3.4 PPG and 3.9 RPG this season, but with Adreian Payne and Keith Appling also banged up, Tom Izzo could use all the bodies he can get. Lucky for them, their schedule remains devoid of any real challenge until December 21 when they will play Texas in Austin. For the next few weeks, head coach Tom Izzo needs to concentrate on getting his squad completely healthy for conference play.
  2. Unlike the Spartans, Michigan has no such reprieve as the #1 Arizona Wildcats come to Ann Arbor on Saturday. The Wolverines have had a rough start to the season, recording three losses in eight games played already and dropping out of the Top 25. However, a win over the newly top-ranked Wildcats would certainly vault them back into the national conversation and possibly change the trajectory of their season. Thus far, sophomores Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III have not made the necessary jumps from their freshman seasons to help their team compete for a conference title and another trip to the Final Four. They’ll need to figure it out quick, otherwise Aaron Gordon and company may run them off their own court this weekend.
  3. Most of us figured that LaQuinton Ross had put it all together last March and was due for a breakout season in Columbus this year. He’s fallen well short of those expectations so far, though, shooting only 22 percent going into last week’s games. But something clicked over the last seven days as Ross averaged 21.5 points per game on 61.5 percent shooting in the wins versus Maryland and Central Connecticut State. For his troubles, Ross was selected as  the Big Ten Player of the Week. The Buckeyes have the number one defensive efficiency rating in the country as they only allow their opponents 87.3 points per 100 possessions — their offense though, remains outside the top 50. If Ross can become the offensive threat that was anticipated before the season, then there are no limits to what Thad Matta’s team can achieve this year.
  4. Although they’re a young team, Indiana has proven itself capable of competing with just about anyone. The majority of the Hoosiers’ production comes from underclassmen Yogi Ferrell and Noah Vonleh; Will Sheehey, however, is the lone starting senior and provides veteran leadership for the squad. He brings the intensity needed to motivate the others and has upped his own production in points and rebounds per game from last season. Despite all this, head coach Tom Crean says he needs even more out of his veteran. The Hoosiers would like to see him average more than just 10 PPG and become a more legitimate threat to drop 20+ points regularly on teams. Going into conference play, a third offensive option would help boost the Hoosiers into the top third of the Big Ten standings.
  5. If you’ve seen Iowa play at all this season, you know that the Hawkeyes can score the ball; they’re currently ranked ninth in offensive efficiency, scoring 117.4 points per 100 possessions. A point of concern coming into the season was long-range shooting but Fran McCaffery’s team has answered the critics by making 37 percent of their long balls so far. More impressively, they’ve done it without their best long-distance shooter, Josh Oglesby, who may return from injury as early as this month, in the lineup. Iowa has been on a roll without him, getting great contributions from their returning star, Roy Devyn Marble, and their talented newcomer, Jarrod Uthoff. But if Oglesby can make the big threes in late-game situations, something the team could have used in its lone loss to Villanova, he may add an extra win or two for the Hawkeyes this season. If Iowa wants to win at least a share of the Big Ten title, an effective Oglesby can only help in that mission.
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Big Ten M5: 11.18.13 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on November 18th, 2013

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  1. Two lost recruits shouldn’t mean that the program is headed in the wrong direction and Illinois’ John Groce clearly understands that. He shot back at several critics at a press conference over the weekend and discussed next year’s recruiting class: Leron Black and Michael Finke. “I understand there was an article written about Illinois basketball being put in its place,” he said Saturday, referring to another newspaper’s headline. He added, “I’m going to tell you what place it’s in. It’s in a great place. That’s what place it’s in.” Black is not a shabby recruit for next season, even though he is only a top-50 consensus selection. Regardless of what happened over the past two days, Groce’s program is headed in the right direction, especially if the Illini manage to win 20 wins this year.
  2. While Groce didn’t get the prized recruit he went after, Indiana’s Tom Crean seems to believe that Justin Blackmon Jr. will be worth the wait. Crean said that he was stressed until the last minute about Blackmon’s recruitment, bug the freshman shouldn’t disappoint next season. The 6’3″ guard signed the letter of intent on Thursday and will likely start for Crean alongside Yogi Ferrell next year. “I think he’s just scratching the surface athletically,” Crean said. He added, “I think he’s just scratching the surface as a player. In my mind, we got the absolute best player in the state of Indiana, and there was no debate for us for a long, long time that he was that guy.
  3. In case you were out having a good time on Friday night and assumed that Michigan State would roll over Columbia, you were wrong. The Spartans struggled for most of the game before pulling out a 62-53 win at home. A loss would have been a major letdown after a huge win over Kentucky earlier last week. After the tough win over Columbia, Adreian Payne was vocal about the Spartans’ toughness. “I take it personal because rebounding is effort-related, and we’re not playing tough right now,” said Payne, who led the Spartans by grabbing 11 boards. It is very likely that Michigan State will be ranked #1 on Monday, but they will compete with Kansas for a few votes. A strong win against Columbia would have helped their case more, nonetheless, it is a great start to the season.
  4. Minnesota’s Richard Pitino is off to a good start after the first week of the season. The Gophers are 3-0 and they were impressive on the road by beating the Richmond Spiders 73-59. Pitino made some key changes on defense by implementing a full-court press and a zond defense which resulted in a 19-0 run to end the game. “We went zone because they were carving our man up really good,” Pitino said. He added, “We couldn’t get stops and we zone and it worked. Their man offense is really tough to guard, [coach Chris Mooney] is phenomenal.” The season will get tougher for Pitino as the Gophers head to Maui for the non-conference tournament next week.
  5. Last year’s Ohio State match-up with Marquette was cancelled due to weather conditions and the Buckeyes had to play a road game over the weekend. Aaron Craft showcased his overall game by scoring 10 points and dishing out 10 assists. Oh, he also pulled in seven rebounds. Craft continues to be a success for Thad Matta, but he’ll need LaQuinton Ross to step up very soon, if they want to remain competitive against formidable competition. Ross had no points and was 0-6 from the field against a tough Marquette defense. He has to average at least 13 PPG to complement Craft, otherwise, the Buckeyes won’t be able to compete for a Big Ten title.
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Three Ways For Ohio State to Beat Marquette

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 15th, 2013

After starting off the season 2-0, Ohio State will get its first big test on Saturday afternoon when it travels to Milwaukee to take on #17 Marquette. The Buckeyes struggled at home against Ohio University on Tuesday night, and will be in for a tough contest in taking on the preseason Big East favorites in their gym. The game is winnable, though, and here’s the three ways in which they can come away with a victory that should look really good in March:

Aaron Craft will need to have a big day defensively if Ohio State wants to steal a road win at Marquette.  (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Aaron Craft will need to have a big day defensively if Ohio State wants to steal a road win at Marquette. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

  1. Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott need to be absolute pests on the defensive end: With the Buckeyes employing a dual point guard starting lineup early with Scott stepping in for Sam Thompson, Thad Matta has chosen to go with a lineup he used quite a bit last year at the end of games. What this does is allow for two of the best perimeter defenders in all of a college basketball a chance to harass the opposing team’s point guard into turnovers. This is especially important Saturday because Derrick Wilson is stepping in for the graduated Junior Cadoughan. Wilson has been a 10-minute per game bench player, and this will be his first real test in dealing with elite ball pressure. I haven’t really acquainted myself with the guards of Southern or Grambling but I can safely assume they aren’t as good as what Wilson will see Saturday in Craft and Scott. If Ohio State can turn Wilson over, the Buckeyes will be able to get easy buckets in transition and eliminate a potential mismatch on the inside trying to handle Marquette’s post players. Read the rest of this entry »
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