Big Ten M5: 01.10.13 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on January 10th, 2013

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  1. The finalists for the Bob Cousy Award have been announced and there are four Big Ten point guards who made the cut – Trey Burke, Aaron Craft, Keith Appling and Dre Hollins. Michigan’s Burke is averaging 7.5 APG and is also a leading candidate for National Player of the Year this season. In addition to his fantastic assist numbers, he has averaged 18.2 PPG but his most impressive stat might be related to turnovers – he’s committed just 11 over the last 10 Michigan games. The sophomore point guard has been named the Big Ten Player of of the Week twice already and will likely make the cut for the Cousy Award for the final 10 and even the last five in March.
  2. Michigan State’s athletic director Mark Hollis wanted the the 2013-14 season opener to be held in the Dallas Cowboys Stadium where four games would be played at the same time. But after that idea fell through (thankfully), head coach Tom Izzo is wondering about a “normal” start to the Spartans’ next season. Over the past two years, MSU has opened its season on an aircraft carrier and at an overseas military base. Izzo is looking forward to some normalcy and added that he “leaves things to Hollis” when asked about scheduling the grand openers. The Spartans had to travel back home and play Kansas within a few days after the trip to Germany this season which had to be very tiring, so maybe Izzo’s squad will benefit from playing a run-of-the-mill regular season opener and start a November winning streak.
  3. After two months of basketball, one thing is very clear for the Buckeyes – Deshaun Thomas needs help. The junior forward is averaging 20.3 PPG and has asserted himself as the primary Buckeye scorer after the departures of Jared Sullinger and William Buford, but he needs help from another consistent scorer to spot for him. The second leading scorer for Thad Matta is Lenzelle Smith Jr., who has averaged just 10.7 PPG but has not been very consistent in big games. Smith needs to average at least 14 PPG in order to form a formidable combination with Thomas the rest of the way. The sophomores – Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott and Laquinton Ross – are still getting used to the Big Ten play so it might take them some more time to contribute consistently to the overall offense.
  4. Seniors are highly valued at Wisconsin in the Bo Ryan system because they understand his offensive philosophy and play solid defense. Senior forward Ryan Evans has been very effective on the boards,  averaging 8.0 RPG this season, but he has been absolutely dismal from the free throw line – shooting just 36.5% from the stripe. Evans scores 11.5 PPG but definitely needs to improve his free throw percentage to help the Badgers compete in the Big Ten. The poor shooting is very unusual for a forward who has played a key role during his time in Madison because Ryan ensures that his teams maximize every opportunity on offense and free throws are the easiest and best way to improve offensive efficiency. It is unlikely that this trend will get Evans benched because he is an experienced player who still adds value to the Badgers, especially on the defensive end.
  5. Illinois head John Groce has been heavily scrutinized during his first season in Champaign but there is another new coach who has done an excellent job at Nebraska – Tim Miles. At the outset, a pedestrian 9-6 record may indicate that Miles hasn’t done much yet but he is trying to get Nebraska out of the cellar and onto the B1G basketball scene. When asked about coaching in the Big Ten, Miles said “ I really do feel like I’m in the best conference in the country. I look at fan support, quality of the coaches, the way the teams play — how productive and efficient they are, and they are all well coached.” The new head coach has a daunting task but he has shown so far that he is energetic enough to instill some confidence into a moribund basketball program in Lincoln that will require a long journey to relevence in the historic conference.
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Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On Illinois, Undefeated Teams, A Blown Call Nobody Noticed, and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 11th, 2012

Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

  1. Illinois fans, here is my mea culpa. I was wrong not to rank your team. On Saturday night, the Fighting Illini ventured up to Spokane and walked out of the Kennel with the best win of any team to date. Yes, better than Duke’s wins over Louisville and Ohio State. Why? There has not been a road win of this magnitude by any team through this early point in the season. The Illini proved they’re for real with a dominant second half against a very strong Gonzaga team. After taking the opening punch and falling behind 8-0 right out of the gate, John Groce’s team didn’t panic and made fantastic adjustments. Gonzaga’s game plan was clearly to feed the ball inside and try to dominate a less than imposing Illinois front line. Illinois’ defense suddenly picked up later in the first half, swarming the Gonzaga big men and forcing the Bulldogs into an uncharacteristic 16 turnovers. Illinois was able to speed the game up a bit and prevent Gonzaga from setting up its half court offense effectively. The Zags attempted 18 threes which is right about their season average but a lot of them were rushed and not something the game plan should have called for against an Illinois team without a significant inside presence. Brandon Paul looked like an All-America candidate with his performance not just on the offensive end but defensively against Pangos and the Gonzaga guards as well. Can Illinois keep this level of play up? I’m not sure but I know one thing: The Illini are way better than I thought. This team’s over-reliance on the three-point shot is concerning and is bound to catch up with them at some point, but Illinois has already proved it will be a factor in the loaded Big Ten.

    Brandon Paul Looked Like An All-American Candidate On Saturday Night In Spokane. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

  2. Another impressive performance played out in a different fashion on Saturday night in Clemson, South Carolina. Trailing Clemson by six points midway through the second half, Arizona absorbed the hit and put the pedal down in impressive fashion with a 26-5 run down the stretch to come out of rowdy Littlejohn Coliseum with a sneaky good road win. It was an impressive showing because this Arizona team had been highly touted but untested coming into the game. The Wildcats passed that test with flying colors as they head into a Saturday showdown with Florida in Tucson. Mark Lyons took control in the final minutes for Arizona but contributions from Nick Johnson (13 points, five steals) and Solomon Hill (10 rebounds despite an awful shooting night) illustrate the talent and depth of Sean Miller’s team. Although he didn’t have a great game, I was thoroughly impressed with the physique of freshman Kaleb Tarczewski. It was the first time I’ve seen him play and his body appears mature beyond his age. He’ll be a load for any opponent in the post. Arizona is clearly the best team in the Pac-12 and has the pieces to make a deep run in March. With the gritty Miller at the helm and a boatload of talent, this team will keep getting better as the year moves along. Make sure you watch the Wildcats take on Florida this Saturday night in what could prove to be the best non-conference game of the season.
  3. Another week, another confounding loss for Baylor. Just when you thought the Bears were turning the corner after winning at Kentucky, they put together an absolute stinker of a loss at home to a mediocre Northwestern team that had just suffered back-to-back home losses to Maryland and Illinois-Chicago. Baylor was dominated on the glass by a Northwestern lineup that isn’t all that physically imposing and allowed the Wildcats to shoot 51% for the game. It is inexcusable for a team with Baylor’s talent to have three losses at this point in the season but you know what I like to say, nobody does less with more than Scott Drew. When you look at the statistics, Baylor appears to be a pretty good team. But the chemistry and focus clearly is lacking, otherwise this team wouldn’t have lost to Charleston and Northwestern on its home court. Baylor is a highly talented team and has actually improved its turnover numbers significantly from previous years. Pierre Jackson is playing like one of the best point guards in America and Drew has seen junior forward Cory Jefferson take a huge step forward. Baylor has two more non-conference challenges before Big 12 play begins, against BYU in Waco and a tough trip to Gonzaga in back to back games at the end of this month. Even if the Bears enter Big 12 play at 8-4, I still believe this team is good enough to eventually earn a Top 25 ranking and fit solidly in the NCAA Tournament. At this point however, Baylor just isn’t there yet. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Weekly Five: 09.21.12 Edition

Posted by jnowak on September 21st, 2012

  1. So the Big East is realigning … again. But what does it mean for the Big Ten? Well, for starters, it means Notre Dame won’t be joining the ranks of the Big Ten, since it’s taking its talents to the ACC for basketball season. It also means the conference that has been long regarded as the best hoops league in the land takes yet another hit after the announced departures of Syracuse and Pittsburgh (not to mention the retirement of Jim Calhoun at Connecticut). Sports Illustrated‘s Luke Winn took a look at the conferences around the country before and after these seismic shifts and noted that the Big Ten moved from the No. 4 spot (I find it hard to believe that was ever the case in the first place) up to No. 2 behind the new-look ACC. It looks like the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge will be a better measuring stick now than ever.
  2. It’s starting to sound like a broken record, but Michigan State’s Mark Hollis is at it again. This time, the forward-thinking athletic director has the Spartans playing another aircraft carrier game (the Germany game against UConn was made official this week)… at Pearl Harbor. He also is pushing for the Spartans to host the First Four round of the NCAA Tournament in nearby Grand Rapids. Hollis has pushed for the Spartans to host NCAA Tournament games at Van Andel Arena before, but this seems more plausible.
  3. From the facilities to the uniforms, the Minnesota basketball program is undergoing a bit of a makeover this summer. The Gophers will be donning new threads this season, outfitted by Nike, joining Michigan State, Ohio State, Illinois and Purdue as other conference teams to sport the Nike Aerographic design uniforms. According to the Big Ten Network, the faint design on the back of the uniform features design features Williams Arena, Minnesota’s block “M” logo and “1851,” the year the university was founded. Speaking of Williams Arena, the home of the Gophers will also have a new overhead scoreboard when the team takes the court this season. The high-def unit — which is 11-feet-seven-inches by 13-feet-eight-inches — was part of an $8 million facilities upgrade around campus.
  4. Indiana basketball has a rich and proud history that includes plenty of memorable games against teams in and out of the Big Ten. So, Terry Hutchens asks, do the Hoosiers have a natural basketball rival? Would it be in-state foe Purdue? Or conference teams like Illinois or Michigan State? There’s plenty of history between Indiana and Kentucky, especially considering last year’s memorable game at Assembly Hall and the impasse the teams reached when trying to continue their non-conference series. What do you think? Do the Hoosiers have a significant rival on the hardwood?
  5. We know how hard it can be, as college students, to come up with $186. Between tuition, rent, trying to survive on ramen noodles and occasionally enjoying a beer (or three), there’s not much left in the bank. So that’s why we agree with NBC College Basketball Talk‘s assessment of the Izzone at Michigan State offering students a chance at free student section tickets this season — “Awesome.” Spartan fans had the opportunity to take one half-court shot, and 21 students came away with tickets good for 13 Michigan State home games. Just what we need — another excuse to practice the half-court shot.
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Could the 16-Team Nike Event Signal a Shift in Scheduling Patterns?

Posted by Chris Johnson on August 17th, 2012

Christopher Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

While Michigan State has found on-court success under the steady hand of coach Tom Izzo, his athletic director Mark Hollis has embraced progressive scheduling tactics that have granted the Spartans access to some of the nation’s most unique events. Last year, Hollis set the standard for inventive hosting sites by spearheading the plans for Michigan State’s game against North Carolina aboard the active warship USS Carl Vinson. The sensational vistas and patriotic atmosphere made the Carrier Classic an unmitigated success. Three similar events next season – on the same day, no less – have been scheduled since, with each taking place on a different U.S. Naval ship; a three-fold amplification of college hoops nationalism, all thanks to Hollis’ trailblazing work. He one-upped himself earlier this year by reaching an agreement for MSU to play Connecticut in a 2012-13 season-opening event at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, an active U.S. forces garrison and NATO site. Hollis’ next endeavor was a historical tribute to the 1963 Mississippi State-Loyola (Chicago) NCAA Tournament game that took place against the wishes of Mississippi’s segregationist governor, which he accomplished by initially offering a neutral site on the MSU campus, then helping to arrange a two-year home-and-home series between the two schools.

The 16-team event will honor the 80th birthday of Nike co-founder Phil Knight (Photo credit: Steve Dipaola/Reuters).

The creative AD has now set his sights on another commemorative event, this one far more inclusive than any of his recent scheduling novelties. According to ESPN’s Andy Katz, Hollis has received confirmation from 16 schools on a dual-pronged mega-tournament honoring the 80th birthday of Nike chairman Phil Knight. The event is tentatively scheduled for a four-day period in November 2017, with two separate fixtures (The Rose Garden and Veterans Memorial Coliseum) featuring an eight-team fields. Hollis selected 16 Nike-sponsored schools he feels represents “all of college basketball’s power conferences.” With multiple participants from each league, the two-tournament format prevents a violation of NCAA protocol prohibiting conference opponents from playing in the same event. The 16 teams are participating on behalf of their own programs in an effort to pay homage to Knight and his illustrious résumé. Neither Nike nor Knight will be involved in staging the festivities.

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