The Blueprints: How Each Big Ten Team Can Advance Past Its First Opponent

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 19th, 2014

The Big Ten is largely known as one of the best, if not the best, basketball conferences in all of the land. This hasn’t necessarily equated to great success in the postseason, however. In fact, it’s been 14 long years since one of the league members has cut down the nets on the first Monday night in April (Michigan State – 2000). The first key to winning it all, obviously, is to win your first game. As we head into the league’s six openers over the next two days, here is what each Big Ten team needs to accomplish in order to get into the next round.

Aaron Craft must create turnovers for Ohio State to beat Dayton. (Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire)

Aaron Craft must create turnovers for Ohio State to beat Dayton. (Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire)

  • Ohio State must create turnovers to beat Dayton: This holds true for almost every game that the Buckeyes play, but it’s especially important here because Dayton plays a slower pace and they turn the ball over 18.1% of the time. Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott, Lenzelle Smith Jr. and the rest of the rangy, athletic Buckeyes need to realize that their best offense here is their defense. If they get some live-ball turnovers that will allow them to get out and run, they’ll have Dayton right where they want them.
  • Michigan State must stop the triple threat to beat Delaware: Delaware has three legitimate offensive weapons in Jarvis Threatt, Devon Saddler, and Davon Usher. All three average at least 18.0 PPG for a team that plays at the 10th fastest tempo in the country. Michigan State has their own big three, however, in Adreian Payne, Gary Harris, and Keith Appling. If the Spartans’ trio can outscore the group of Blue Hens, with Branden Dawson locking down the 6’6″ Usher in the process, Sparty should move on. Read the rest of this entry »
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Ohio State’s Experience and Defensive Urgency Make Buckeyes a Tough NCAA Tournament Out

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 16th, 2014

Ohio State is a flawed basketball team. The Buckeyes don’t have anyone that shoots over 40 percent from three. They don’t have a consistent back-to-the-basket big man. Their point guard sometimes looks like he’s throwing a shot put when he takes an outside shot. They played an adequate non-conference schedule, and then had their share of struggles within the Big Ten. And yet, they are also going to be a very dangerous team in the next couple of weeks, no matter what seed they receive. Although they ended up losing in the Big Ten semifinals to Michigan on Saturday, their performance during their three-day stay in this tournament proved as much.

If Shannon Scott builds upon his play in the Big Ten Tournament, Ohio State is infinitely more dangerous. (Andy Manis, AP)

If Shannon Scott builds upon his play in the Big Ten Tournament, Ohio State is infinitely more dangerous. (Andy Manis, AP)

The Buckeyes did not put forth a steady 40-minute performance in any of their three games this week. They had to hang on to beat first round opponent Purdue; needed to come back from an 18-point deficit against Nebraska; and started their game against Michigan down 15-2. What they did show, however, was the fortitude that a veteran team should play with. They competed with a sense of urgency in mounting comebacks that left them with a win over the Cornhuskers and a close loss to potential #1 seed Michigan. When things got bad and they got into a hole, the combination of their outstanding pressure defense coupled with an increasingly active LaQuinton Ross got them back on track.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review: Illinois and Indiana Mount Late Charges

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 3rd, 2014

With the drama pretty much settled at the top of the Big Ten standings, the biggest storyline to emerge from the weekend was the fact that Illinois and Indiana have rallied back to the point of respectability. Illinois shocked Michigan State 53-46 in East Lansing and has now won four of their last six games. Indiana was missing its Freshman of the Year candidate Noah Vonleh, yet still won over Ohio State 72-64 in a game that wasn’t really as close as the final score indicated. The Hoosiers have now won three of their last four contests and sit at 17-12 (7-9 in the Big Ten) on the season. Illinois is also 17-12 overall, with a 6-10 league mark. It’s still unlikely that either team will make its way to the right side of the bubble, but they’re inching closer and have meaningful games left this week that could help their respective causes. Iowa got back on track with a win over Purdue; Michigan continued to roll; and Wisconsin won its seventh game in a row. Here’s some of the rest from the weekend that was.

Roy Devyn Marble once again took over offensively as Iowa beat Purdue to stop a three game losing streak. (Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports).

Roy Devyn Marble once again took over offensively as Iowa beat Purdue to stop a three game losing streak. (Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports).

Player of the Weekend: Roy Devyn Marble: Marble continues to be slightly overlooked as a defensive player, as his length and wingspan are vital in Iowa’s 1-2-2 trapping half-court zone. Marble reached four or more steals for the fourth time this season, as Iowa forced 16 Purdue turnovers in its win on Sunday. He also did his normal damage on the offensive end as well, scoring 13 of his 21 points in the first half. He needed 18 shots from the field to get there, but this was more a function of Purdue’s defense as opposed to Marble forcing anything. He ended the game with team highs in points (21), assists (five), and steals (four).

Super Sub of the Weekend: Evan Gordon: Gordon and fellow senior Will Sheehey have really played well in the past week as Indiana won two out of three games. Gordon did nothing spectacular on Sunday, but he was really steady as a secondary ball-handler along with Yogi Ferrell. He knocked down pressure free throws in the late stages of the game once again, scoring nine points on the afternoon. He also got three steals as the Hoosiers were able to frustrate Aaron Craft into another horrible offensive game where the senior went 2-of-11 from the field with three turnovers. It looks as though Tom Crean is starting to lean on his seniors in the closing stages of games, as Gordon, Sheehey, and Jeff Howard saw time down the stretch in the win.

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Big Ten M5: 01.31.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 31st, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Michigan State sophomore Matt Costello has seen his role become much more important with Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson sidelined. He posted a double-double in the Spartans’ win against Iowa on Tuesday night, which led to Tom Izzo calling it “ the best game of his life.” Costello has done a great job blocking shots all season long, but it seems as though he’s getting more comfortable playing extended minutes. His rebounding will be sorely needed until the Spartans are back at full strength. It will be interesting to see if the former top-100 recruit can develop a back-to-the-basket game in his next two years in East Lansing.
  2. The B1G season went from strange to borderline wacky Wednesday night when supposed cellar dwellers (at least according to preseason rankings) Penn State and Northwestern won on the road against Ohio State and Wisconsin, respectively. Both of these teams were ranked in the top five nationally a mere three weeks ago. More on Ohio State in a moment, but Wisconsin’s issues can be traced to how well it’s letting other teams shoot the ball, and how poorly it’s shooting from behind the arc. Teams have been living in the paint in all four recent losses, and until the Badgers get that fixed, they’ll continue to hover around .500 in conference play.
  3. Ohio State also looked like a potential Final Four contender until recently, but they’ve arguably looked even worse than Wisconsin in the last couple of weeks. It’s disturbing that senior Lenzelle Smith Jr. was quoted as saying that the team “doesn’t care enough.” Maybe these quotes will spark something in the Buckeyes and they’ll play with more emotion going forward. But Smith and fellow senior Aaron Craft, who both started in the Final Four as sophomores, need to do more on the court in terms of providing senior leadership. Smith needs to shoot better and Craft — despite the free pass the national media seemingly gives him — needs to stop turning the ball over at what has been an alarming rate during their recent struggles.
  4. In happier news, Minnesota is one of the teams in the league that has outperformed against expectations so far. Everyone knows that the team has missed the inside presence and rebounding of the graduated Trevor Mbakwe, but that doesn’t mean that Oto Osenieks hasn’t played well as a stretch-four during his junior season. Osenieks isn’t ever going to average 10 rebounds a game, but he’s improved quite a bit since his last season under former coach Tubby Smith. This can mainly be viewed in his three-point shooting, as the lanky junior has gone from only hitting 2-of-26 as a sophomore, to 12-of-37 during the 2013-14 campaign.
  5. When Penn State jumped out to a 47-40 lead at halftime in its first league game against Michigan State, you could see that this team had the potential to jump up and bite some of the Big Ten heavyweights this season. And after an 0-6 start, the Nittany Lions have won their last two after Wednesday night’s victory in Columbus. They got this win despite many setbacks that should have doomed them to defeat, overcoming a huge free throw disparity and some questionable calls that went against them. After failing to close out the game in numerous close contests, it will be interesting to see whether getting this win can be a springboard for Penn State going forward.
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Big Ten M5: 01.28.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 28th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. At this point it’s really not news when Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo says that injured senior Adreian Payne is unlikely to play before seemingly every contest. Izzo stated on Monday morning that “he [Payne] ran yesterday a little bit more, with more weight on it, but he’s very doubtful for tomorrow,” when asked about his big man’s injury. You have to give Izzo credit for not jeopardizing Payne’s future earnings by rushing him back into the lineup too quickly. You also have to wonder how many other coaches would have had the confidence to hold a star player out knowing that there’s a bigger prize to win starting in March. Sparty certainly has as good of a shot at winning the national championship as any team in America when playing at full strength.
  2. Despite the likelihood of not playing again this season due to back surgery, Mitch McGary is still helping Michigan in every way he can. McGary was seen on the sidelines providing motivation to his teammates any way he can. A recent example was picked up by the ESPN cameras on Saturday in East Lansing, where McGary was shown holding a whiteboard that said “win the game” during a timeout. He’s also been a great resource for Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford, as he can talk the same language with his fellow post teammates and give them constructive feedback from the sidelines.
  3. Indiana showed some signs of turning the corner in its win against Illinois on Sunday. The Hoosiers are far from a polished offensive machine, but they’ve continued to pound teams on the boards regardless. Some of the younger players are also starting to play better, such as freshman Stanford Robinson, who played 29 productive minutes against the Illini. An NCAA berth might still be a stretch, but continued improvement over the season’s last month will go a long way toward getting the program back to elite status in the future.
  4. LaQuinton Ross has taken a good chunk of the blame for Ohio State’s up-and-down season, but Lenzelle Smith Jr. has also been terribly inconsistent with his shooting. After starting B1G play by shooting an abysmal 16 percent from behind the arc, he played much better in the Buckeyes’ recent win against Illinois, hitting 4-of-8 from downtown after going 7-of-31 in the nine games before that. If Ohio State could ever get Ross and Smith going at the same time, they could still become a factor in the Big Ten race.
  5. Iowa could move to a half-game back of Michigan State when the two teams clash tonight in Iowa City. This is one of the biggest Iowa home games in years, as the Hawkeyes have become a player on the national scene for the first time in a decade or longer. Fran McCaffery’s team has already beaten Xavier and Ohio State in a pair of resume-enhancing win, erasing the memory of an 0-7 mark against Top 25 squads last year. With a limping Spartans team coming to town tonight, Iowa needs to capitalize on the fact they are playing the game on their home court against a team at less than full strength.
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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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Three Keys to Ohio State at Purdue Today

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on December 31st, 2013

Big Ten play is here and it gets started today with No. 3 Ohio State‘s trip to West Lafayette to take on Purdue at 1:00 PM ET. The Buckeyes are still undefeated and Purdue has had its struggles in the non-conference season, but the Boilermakers are coming off their most impressive win at West Virginia nine days ago. The match-up will be Ohio State’s second road game of the season, but the first since its trip to Marquette before Thanksgiving (although it should be noted that Purdue students will still be off campus on break, so the crowd may not be as raucous as normal). The Buckeyes need the win to stay near the top of the national rankings and make an early statement that it is the favorite to win the conference. Purdue needs any and all marquee wins to help boost its NCAA Tournament resume, which boasts an 11-3 record but no truly quality victories yet. Here are three keys to this year’s Big Ten season opener. Happy new year, everyone!

Shannon Scott and Ronnie Johnson open up Big Ten play this year against one another and the guards are both key to their team's success (Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports).

Shannon Scott and Ronnie Johnson open up Big Ten play this year against one another and the guards are both key to their team’s success (Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports).

  1. Can Purdue’s guards penetrate and score on Ohio State’s spectacular defense? The Buckeyes’ defense is one of the very best — if not the best — in the country. It leads the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, and is among the best in scoring defense and opponents’ field goal percentage. With Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott and Lenzelle Smith Jr. leading the charge, Purdue will have to manage to find some offense from its trio of slashing guards. The Johnsons and Bryson Scott need to get to the basket and take smart shots, not just go into the lane with reckless abandon to take a leaning, prayer of a floater that has no chance to drop in the basket. Such drives, if performed successfully, will open up lanes for dropoff passes to AJ Hammons, Jay Simpson and the other players cutting to the basket. Without good penetration opportunities today, Purdue’s offense will go stagnant and the Boilermakers will struggle to reach 50 points in the game (leaving almost no chance to win). Read the rest of this entry »
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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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Should Amir Williams Be More Involved in Ohio State’s Offense?

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 29th, 2013

After a frustrating first two years in Columbus where the word that might best describe his play would be inconsistency, Amir Williams has been much more of a factor in the first quarter of the year for the #7 Ohio State squad. Through the first five games of the year, Williams is averaging 10.0 PPG, 8.6 RPG, and 2.2 BPG on 65.4 percent shooting from the field. Coming into this season, he was a 50.9 percent free throw shooter, but is now knocking those down at a 76.2 percent clip. He’s also shown more engagement and aggressiveness than he has in his first two seasons. Last season he was a starter, but he still only averaged 16.5 MPG and was observed to kind of coast and float through games without making much of an impact other than occasionally blocking a shot or two. Now he is up to 24.2 MPG, and with this he’s been more productive and especially more active on the glass. So with this comes the question for a team that is struggling on offense despite their good start: Should Williams be getting the ball more inside?

Amir Williams has been a strong presence inside for Ohio State this season (Kirk Irwin, Getty).

Amir Williams has been a strong presence inside for Ohio State this season (Kirk Irwin, Getty).

In the Wyoming game, Williams got the ball on the block a whopping three times. If you look at his statistical line from the game, you might question my math. He went 5-of-9 from the field and scored 12 points combined with 16 rebounds. But the majority of all his points came from tips and putbacks on the offensive end. Throughout the course of a game where Ohio State probably has at least 60 to 70 possessions, he got the ball in post position three times. If this were a little kid parks and rec league, he might have quit or cried to his parents because the other guys on the team don’t give him the ball. I’m not saying he was hyper-aggressive in his post ups, but there were times they could have dumped it into him quite easily and the guards and wings simply moved the ball around on the outside.

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Who’s the Best 3-Point Shooter in the Big Ten? An Analytical Look…

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 5th, 2013

The title of this post asks a pretty straightforward question: Who is the best shooter from deep in the Big Ten? Seems simple enough. But how do you define the “best” three-point shooter? Is it the player who makes the most threes? Is it the player who makes the highest percentage of his threes? Is it the shooting specialist who contributes the most to his team’s wins?  The best approach, of course, is to appreciate all three characteristics. So let’s do exactly that and look into the numbers.

Andre Hollins lit it up from deep last year.

Andre Hollins lit it up from deep last year. (AP)

First, we need to create a list of players in the Big Ten who meet certain criteria. For the purpose of this analysis, we will only include returning Big Ten players and use last season’s statistics for measurement. While we recognize that freshmen can be highly effective from long range right out of the gate — look no further than Michigan sophomore Nik Stauskas last year — we have no set methodology for projecting freshman output from their high school performance. Therefore, in the interest of convenience, no freshmen are included in this list. The next criterion is that players must have attempted at least 100 3-pointers last season and shot at least 30 percent from deep. This filters out players with a high percentage from a small sample size of 3-point attempts and gunners who put up too many bricks to be considered top-tier shooters.

The table below displays our initial list of candidates given those criteria, and their pertinent statistics from the 2012-13 season (from basketball-reference.com).

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