The Purdue Paradox: Second in the Big Ten and Headed to the NIT?

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on February 19th, 2015

On Sunday, Purdue defeated Nebraska in Mackey Arena to move its record to 17-9 overall and 9-4 in Big Ten play, which puts the Boilermakers in a tie for second place with Maryland and Michigan State. That’s something no one could have foreseen on December 31 when the Boilermakers entered league play at 8-5. If you take a closer look at the standings, you’ll see teams like Ohio State, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa trailing them. Yet, according to Bracketmatrix.com, all of these teams are currently projected to make the NCAA Tournament while Purdue is one of first four teams out. How can this be? Simple, it’s because North Florida and Gardner-Webb, two teams that rank outside the RPI top 150, got the better of Matt Painter‘s team in non-conference play and have become glaring stains on their resume. And unfortunately for Purdue, these two losses threaten to tank what has been a great and much needed bounceback season for this program.

Hammons

A.J. Hammons has led the Boilermakers to second place in the Big Ten, but they still find themselves outside the bubble.

After two consecutive years of subpar basketball, Purdue finds itself closing in on 20 wins and an upper-tier conference finish. From a bird’s-eye view, this is the kind of season Painter needed in order to stave off calls for his firing. But the NCAA Selection Committee has made it clear that games in December, when the Boilermakers went 4-4, are just as valuable to an NCAA Tournament resume as those in January and February. Against North Florida on December 6, Purdue was in control for the first 37 minutes of the game before its interior defense collapsed and allowed the Ospreys to go on a run of layups to earn their first ever win over a Big Ten school. Against Gardner-Webb, Purdue once again collapsed in the second half as the Bulldogs went 14-of-25 from the three-point line to steal a victory. Those bad losses are haunting Purdue in the worst way right now.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 10th, 2015

The weekend before Valentine’s Day in the Big Ten was hardly easy on the eyes. Only five teams were able to crack the the 1.00 points per possession mark, and 10 of the 14 league teams had double-figure turnovers. As an example, Nebraska only managed 13 first half points en route to a 29.4 percent shooting performance in its ugly loss to Penn State. Maryland found itself down by a score of 23-2 to Iowa before finally waking up to make the score a little more respectable (71-55). All in all, it wasn’t a good weekend if you were looking for aesthetically pleasing hoops. As always, though, there were a few highlights and solid performances, so here are some of the best.

D'Angelo Russell and his freshmen cohorts lead Ohio State's efforts in their win Sunday over Rutgers. (Kyle Robertson, Columbus Dispatch)

D’Angelo Russell and his freshmen cohorts lead Ohio State’s efforts in their win Sunday over Rutgers. (Kyle Robertson, Columbus Dispatch)

  • Player of the Weekend: D’Angelo Russell continues to strengthen his candidacies for both Big Ten Player of the Year and National Player of the Year, notching Ohio State’s first triple-double since Evan Turner recorded one in 2010. We can probably just go ahead and make it a post rule that if someone earns a triple-double and his team wins, he will end up with the Player of the Weekend award. Russell didn’t make the handful of spectacular plays that he’s become known for in this game, but he continued to just put up numbers in an efficient way. He scored a ‘quiet’ 23 points, including 17 in the first half on only 13 attempts. He also had six rebounds and seven assists by halftime, making it almost a forgone conclusion that the triple-double was imminent. Granted, all of this production came against Rutgers, but a Player of the Year race that once looked like an easy win for Frank Kaminsky has now become much more competitive. The March 8 tilt between the two stars in Columbus might ultimately decide the award.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: Ohio State freshmen accounted for 61 of the Buckeyes’ 79 points on Sunday night, and Keita Bates-Diop enjoyed his most productive game of the season. Stepping in because Marc Loving was still suspended, Bates-Diop boosted his confidence by hitting two threes early in the first half. From there, he managed to either tie or post career-bests in all five major statistical categories. He tied a career-high in points (19) and assists (three), and set career-highs with his nine rebounds, two steals and three blocks. Not bad for 19 minutes of action. The Buckeyes are getting great contributions from their freshmen right now, and Thad Matta’s first-year players may decide how far this team goes.

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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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Big Ten M5: Christmas Eve Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 24th, 2014

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  1. Things have changed remarkably for the Big Ten in just the span of two weeks. It all started on December 6 when Michigan lost at home to NJIT and Purdue lost to North Florida in West Lafayette. Now, the league has lost a bunch of games to teams ranked below #150 on KenPom’s efficiency ratings, and it is losing much of its credibility in the process. Nebraska’s loss on Monday night to Hawaii was just the latest in a string of embarrassing defeats the league has suffered. The question that these teams will face is whether losses to the likes of Texas Southern and the rest could do so much damage to their resumes that a typical Big Ten 10-8 or 9-9 record becomes dicey on Selection Sunday (when in years past it was virtually a lock).
  2. It’s not often that an opposing coach becomes critical of a team that has just defeated his own team. But that’s just what North Florida head coach Matthew Driscoll did when asked about Iowa after it beat his squad on Saturday. Driscoll referred to a confidence problem with the Hawkeyes that Fran McCaffery echoed when he was asked about Driscoll’s remarks. “I guarantee he’s watched every one of our games, probably twice. So he is qualified to make those remarks. But, I mean, so are you. You’ve seen it.” This team is obviously missing Roy Devyn Marble in more ways than just his scoring ability this season.
  3. In happier Big Ten-related news, Wisconsin moved to 11-1 on the season by notching a solid and methodical road win at California on Monday night. Frank Kaminsky contributed another solid effort with 14 points and eight rebounds, and he kept his spot in second place in CollegeBasketballTalk’s Player of the Year rankings. One thing pointed out that could hurt Kaminsky when gunning for this season’s postseason honors is the fact that there will be times when the relative effectiveness of Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker might limit his touches. The senior has done a great job, however, in doing more than just scoring this season, as he leads the team in steals and blocks and is second in assists.
  4. Tom Crean and Mark Turgeon have both been discussed as Big Ten coaches with tenuous holds on their jobs. But with both Indiana and Maryland getting off to better-than-expected starts in the 2014-15 campaign, their jobs appear to be safer. With many of the league powers showing signs of trouble, the Terps (11-1) and Hoosiers (10-2) are in reasonable positions to make the NCAA Tournament this season. On the other hand, one conference coach who could be in trouble if things don’t turn around soon is Purdue’s Matt Painter. After playing reasonably well at the Maui Invitational, the Boilermakers have since slipped tremendously. They now sit at 8-5 with an RPI of #154. Barring a significant turnaround, Painter could very well find himself in trouble at season’s end.
  5. Turnovers doomed Nebraska in its loss to Hawaii Tuesday morning in its first game at the Diamond Head Classic. Hawaii forced the Cornhuskers into 18 miscues, which, combined with a 7-of-23 shooting night from stars Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields, was simply too much to overcome. Now the team sits at 7-4 after last night’s overtime win against Loyola Marymount, but it lost a golden opportunity for a marquee neutral site win by missing on a battle with Wichita State. Nebraska will play Ohio to finish its trip to the Islands on Thursday, and then starts Big Ten play on December 31 against Indiana at home.
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Big Ten Feast Week Primer

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 24th, 2014

Seven Big Ten teams will be competing in tournaments during Feast Week. Some are expected to do well, while others are looking to pick up some quality wins and defy preseason expectations. Here’s a primer for those hoops-obsessed fans who want to schedule some Big Ten basketball watching around their annoying relatives. The fun gets started later today in Maui, New York and Kansas City.

Progressive Legends Classic: (Monday and Tuesday)

Caris LeVert needs to continue to fill up the stat sheet if Michigan wants to win the Legends Classic. (Getty)

Caris LeVert needs to continue to fill up the stat sheet if Michigan wants to win the Legends Classic. (Getty)

  • Teams: Michigan, Oregon, VCU, Villanova
  • Favorite: Villanova
  • TV: ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPNU
  • Outlook: Michigan will face its first big-name opponents of the season when the Wolverines take on Oregon in the first game. Should they win, they’ll face off against the winner of the VCU-Villanova game after that. The perimeter trio of Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin and Caris LeVert will have to continue to score at a high level, as the trio is producing a robust 67.5 percent of Michigan’s points thus far this season.
  • Predicted Finish: First if they play Villanova; second if they play VCU.

CBE Hall of Fame Classic: (Monday and Tuesday)

  • Teams: Maryland, Arizona State, Iowa State, Alabama
  • Favorite: Iowa State
  • TV: ESPNU, ESPN2

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Purdue’s Hot Start Brings Hope to Program

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

From a distance, this weekend seemed like a relatively unremarkable start for the Big Ten. The teams that were expected to win won, and those that were expected to lose lost. But if you take a closer look, you’ll find that one team, with the help of an especially impressive freshman, turned some heads with its dominant weekend play. Purdue looked nothing like the team picked to finish 11th in the Big Ten, as predicted in the Preseason Media Poll, easily disposing of both of its opponents by a combined 60 points. Outstanding performances from certain players, especially freshman guard Vince Edwards, fueled Purdue’s offense to an average of 78.5 points in the two games, giving Boilermakers fans and some prognosticators reevaluating the trajectory of their season.

Vince Edwards has led Purdue to their hot start. (Jerry Schultheiss).

Vince Edwards has led Purdue to their hot start. (Jerry Schultheiss).

Edwards, a little-known freshman, was awarded this season’s inaugural Big Ten Freshman of the Week – ahead of a number of other high-profile freshmen like Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell – after averaging 19.5 points (including a 26-point outing against IUPUI), 8.0 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in his first two games. The freshman was so unheralded as a recruit that he failed to make both Scout’s and Rivals’s Top 100 rankings. The Middletown, Ohio, native has been a stat stuffer so far, but he hasn’t been the only major contributor. Sophomore Kendall Stephens has been deadly from the outside, evidenced by his 9-of-13 shooting from deep and 17.0 PPG average. A.J. Hammons already has eight blocks, if little else, and sophomore Raphael Davis and freshman Isaac Haas brought excellent performances to the season opener – Davis chipped in 13 points, while Haas contributed 11 points and eight rebounds. The Boilermakers’ hot start has been an impressive team effort thus far, which is in stark contrast to the underachieving unit we saw come out of the gates last year.

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AJ Hammons: RTC Big Ten’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 12th, 2014

AJ Hammons wasn’t supposed to still be playing basketball in West Lafayette this season — the junior was supposed to have taken his considerable size and skills to the NBA two seasons ago. And although he’s flashed snippets of what had NBA scouts drooling, uneven play and a questionable motor have been the more lasting images of his first two seasons at Purdue. Now with a deeper team surrounding him in what some are calling a make-or-break season for head coach Matt Painter, Hammons needs to produce at consistently high level. Still, even with the up-and-down nature to his play, Hammons managed to lead the Big Ten in blocks last season. We expect his development to result in greater maturity and drive this year, making him our Big Ten microsite Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.

AJ Hammons will once again hold the Boilermakers NCAA Tournament hopes in his hands this season. (Purdue Exponent)

AJ Hammons will once again hold the Boilermakers’ NCAA Tournament hopes in his hands. (Purdue Exponent)

Hammons has averaged 2.5 blocks per game in his two seasons in West Lafayette, including a whopping 3.1 rejections per contest despite only playing 25 MPG last season. Among power conference players, only St. John’s Chris Obekpa and UConn’s Amida Brimah logged a better block rate than Hammons’ 13.31 percent. He also finished fifth in the Big Ten in defensive rebounding rate, doing so at a 22.7 percent clip. He was able to manage these numbers without a capable backup, meaning that in many situations he had to worry about foul trouble inhibiting his aggressiveness. With another year of maturity and a security blanket behind him in the name of 7’2″ freshman reserve Isaac Haas, Hammons can finally play aggressively when he’s on the court. This will enable the burly center to contest even more shots at the rim and to hit the glass even harder. Even with his shot-blocking prowess inside, Purdue ranked 101st in defensive two-point field goal percentage at 46.6 percent a season ago. Look for this number to decrease quite a bit this year. Barring injury, Hammons should become the 17th member of the 200-block club within the non-conference part of the schedule, and he only needs 67 blocks to crack the Big Ten’s all-time top 1o.

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Big Ten M5: 03.27.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on March 27th, 2014

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  1. Wisconsin is certainly used to the Sweet Sixteen and plenty of success under Bo Ryan. Part of the reason for that is how Ryan instills the “method of deception” into his players from the moment they arrive on campus. For a team that is often talked about as athletically outmatched, the idea of Ryan preaching the use of ball fakes and shot fakes during every practice makes sense. This could be important in creating opportunities against Baylor’s zone tonight. The Badgers may also use these fakes to get Isaiah Austin into the air and create foul trouble for the athletic big man. If Wisconsin can remove Austin from the center of that zone, their chances of finding open shots everywhere on the floor improves substantially.
  2. Nik Stauskas certainly was one of the biggest surprises this season in the Big Ten. After he was named first team All-America by the National Association of Basketball Coaches this week, you can add that he is one of the nation’s biggest surprises as well. Stauskas was certainly a good player as a freshman last season but expecting him to be one of the five best players in America this year was on nobody’s radar. With this award, he has put himself in elite company at Michigan, becoming just the 13th Wolverine to be named to at least one All-America team in program history. Now the question is whether he, like last year’s Michigan All-American Trey Burke, can lead his team to a Final Four?
  3. Michigan State has played plenty of big games in almost all the major venues across the country. Tom Izzo has taken the Spartans around the world and even played a game on an aircraft carrier. For all of this talent and history of success, the one place that Izzo’s Spartans have struggled is exactly where they are headed this weekend: Madison Square Garden. When Michigan State takes on Virginia in New York City Friday night, it does so with a 2-10 all-time record there (2-6 under Izzo). Sparty hasn’t won at MSG since 2006 and already lost there once this year to Georgetown. While it is obviously foolish to think the arena itself is causing losses, it is an interesting trend to think about. Izzo says he isn’t superstitious but if the losses keep piling up at MSG maybe he will avoid the arena the best he can in the future.
  4. With three Big Ten teams left in the NCAA Tournament it is easy to forget that Minnesota is still playing basketball as well. The Golden Gophers are headed to New York next Tuesday night where they will take on Florida State in the NIT semifinals, thanks in large part to a massive game from Austin Hollins. For a team playing in the NIT rather than the NCAAs, they are still plenty focused on the games ahead and getting to 25 wins this season. While there is no guaranteed correlation between NIT success and the next season, Richard Pitino’s Gophers are playing well and could easily take home some postseason hardware by the end of the season.
  5. It is easy to forget that Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan has never reached the final weekend in college basketball despite everything he has accomplished while at Wisconsin. Having never reached the Final Four gives him the dubious honor of being named the Athlon Sports Top Coach Without a Final Four Appearance. He wasn’t the lone representative from the conference, either. Iowa’s Fran McCaffery came in 11th, Purdue’s Matt Painter at 14th and even Nebraska’s Tim Miles cracked the top 20 at #17. This is certainly not a list any coach wants to reside on and Ryan has a great opportunity to leave it in his wake this weekend.
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Big Ten M5: 03.10.14 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on March 10th, 2014

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  1. Everybody knew that Michigan had essentially wrapped up the outright title before the weekend had begun, but there was still something special about their win over Indiana on Saturday. UMHoops tries to summarize the Wolverines’ magical journey to the conference title, despite losing their big man Mitch McGary in early January. Jordan Morgan, an unheralded role player that helped the Wolverines, was emotional after the win. When asked about his composure during the ceremony, he said, “That was pretty calm compared to when they had to do The Journey interview, I couldn’t even finish that interview.” It is likely that the Wolverines will be a top-3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and are definitely a favorite to reach the Sweet 16 or beyond.
  2. Tom Izzo‘s press conferences have been, for lack of a better word, interesting, over the past week or so. After the loss to Illinois a week ago, he lashed about the energy levels of his squad and after the loss to Ohio State on Sunday, he didn’t hide his frustrations either. Right after the loss, he “exchanged a few words,” with a fan in Columbus and he didn’t appear to be happy at the presser. Couple of the reporters pushed him about the fan and he responded: “She was kind of a jerk.” Putting the issue with the fan aside, the Spartans lost a close game and they might need at least two wins in the Big Ten tournament to lock up a top-4 seed in the NCAA tournament.
  3. Illinois‘ roller coaster season took another turn on Saturday as Jon Ekey nailed a three at the buzzer to upset Iowa on the road. With an 18-13 record, the Illini are not sniffing the NCAA Tournament, not yet at least. But with two wins in the Big Ten Tournament, anything is possible especially if the Gophers drop their first game in Indianapolis. For starters, John Groce’s squad will be in the 8/9 game, and the Illini should be able to find a way to win especially if Kendrick Nunn continues to have a big impact. When asked about his team’s huge win on the road, Groce said, “Obviously for our team to finish with winning three in a row on the road, it kind of adds to that momentum.”
  4. Continuing with the Big Ten Tournament theme, the Illini will try to get past Indiana in the first round. So what’s interesting about the game, other than the fact that both teams are trying to end their season on a high note? Tom Crean’s team will be sporting special adidas uniforms for the game. “Our players are excited to have something that will be unique to their time at Indiana,” Crean said, when asked about the uniforms. Back to the game itself, the Hoosiers split the series with the Illini this year, but have favorable match-ups specifically at the point guard position because Yogi Ferrell should be able to get scorch the Illini backcourt, but expect Kendrick Nunn to take the primary defensive assignment of stopping him. 
  5. After a disappointing season, Purdue head coach Matt Painter is taking responsibility for his team’s performance. After a tough loss to Northwestern, Painter said,”First of all, it’s my fault. It’s my job to get guys to play together, it’s my job to get guys to play hard, it’s my job to get guys to play smart, and we don’t do any of those. And so that is my fault.” Even though the head coach appears to be very harsh on himself, the Boilermakers’ future isn’t too bleak. Two key juniors next season, A.J.Hammons and Ronnie Johnson, should be pivotal players not only for their team, but also in the Big Ten. Both of them are still learning their position, but they have the athleticism to excel as they mature in their careers.
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Three Thoughts as Michigan State Reamed Purdue

Posted by Walker Carey on February 21st, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday night’s game between Michigan State and Purdue in West Lafayette.

Michigan State entered Thursday night’s game at Purdue in dire need of a victory. The Spartans had lost three of their last five games and were still struggling with the effects of injury bug. Tom Izzo’s squad also had to make sure that they did not fall a game behind Michigan in the loss column in the Big Ten standings before Sunday’s clash in Ann Arbor. The Spartans took the lead from the first possession Thursday night and never looked back. After scoring just 51 points in this past Sunday’s home loss to Nebraska, Michigan State exploded for 49 first half points and cruised to a 94-79 road victory to set up a monumental showdown Sunday at the Crisler Center.

The following are three thoughts from Thursday’s action:

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo watches from the sideline as Michigan States Adreian Payne (5) puts up a three-point shot in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in West Lafayette, Ind. Michigan State defeated Purdue 94-79. Payne scored a game-high 23 points in the game. (AP)

Tom Izzo watches from the sideline as Adreian Payne puts up a three-point shot. Michigan State defeated Purdue 94-79. Payne scored 23 points in the game. (AP)

  1. When Gary Harris And Adreian Payne Are Firing On All Cylinders, Michigan State’s Offense Is Nearly Impossible To Contain. Harris has struggled with inconsistency recently in Big Ten play and Payne missed seven games with a foot injury, but both players displayed their standout ability Thursday. After just a 5-of-15 shooting performance in the loss to Nebraska, Harris was in the zone all evening against Purdue, finishing with 25 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field and 6-of-9 from behind the three-point line. When Harris was not lighting up Purdue, it was Payne doing the honors. The senior big man finished with 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting and displayed his versatility with a 4-of-8 performance from behind the three-point line. Harris and Payne are not only Michigan State’s most talented players, they are two of the most talented players in the Big Ten. Their spectacular outings Thursday in West Lafayette showed just how dominant the Spartans’ offense can be on a given night. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 1.09.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on January 9th, 2014

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  1. A lot of people have questioned exactly how good Ohio State is this season. With a non-conference schedule that ended up being weaker than originally expected with Marquette, Notre Dame and Maryland all looking mediocre, the marquee win hasn’t come yet. After the Buckeyes overtime loss at Michigan State, Aaron Craft wasn’t shy about it either. The senior said “we haven’t really done much this year,” as their first loss came against their best opponent. It’s a good sign Craft and the other Ohio State players are questioning themselves after Tuesday night and not satisfied with an overtime defeat. This team may not have had a daunting non-conference schedule, but losing in that way with minimal contributions from Lenzelle Smith Jr. and LaQuinton Ross shows this team has the talent and ability to be a contender.
  2. It shouldn’t be a surprise at this point to see games like Tuesday night from Adreian Payne. He has proven to be Michigan State‘s stud on the inside all year, but doing what he did through extreme foot pain? Well, that just adds another layer to the growing lore surrounding the Spartan big man. Payne apparently was in near tears before the Ohio State game while taking shots in the practice gym just an hour before the game. His ability to come out and obviously go through the pain and produce on a high level is something everyone would like to emulate. It also likely adds a nice marquee moment early in the Big Ten season as Payne is taking an early lead for the conference’s Player of the Year.
  3. The beginning of Mitch McGary‘s journey back to the basketball court is done. The Michigan sophomore had surgery Tuesday on his back that has caused him pain since before the season began and started the second semester of classes Wednesday. McGary now starts his rehab, which does not include traveling with the team for most road trips. The stress of sitting in a plane or bus for hours is something John Beilein puts secondary to making sure he recovers quickly.
  4. We’ve all complained (or at least heard someone do so) about the new rules this season. Fouls and free throws are up across the country and for a team like Nebraska this has been an especially big issue. The Cornhuskers committed 51 personal fouls in its first two conference games. For a team that is usually the less talented team on the court, fouling and giving its opponents free throws is something it simply cannot do. While no one expects Nebraska to compete for the Big Ten or to make the NCAA Tournament, a few wins here and there could get them into the CBI or maybe even the NIT, so it is still important they play smart and not help their opponents win the game.
  5. It’s become a familiar thing to hear in West Lafayette. Matt Painter said his team needs to “show maturity” as the Big Ten season progresses while it has the week off before playing Nebraska. For fans of Purdue, this line has become as common as hearing about the team’s youth. It certainly doesn’t lack that, playing three freshmen, one redshirt freshman and only having two seniors on the roster. Still, at this point, everyone on the roster has experienced at least half a college season and the lapses Purdue seems to show in games is perplexing (like the first 30 minutes at Minnesota). Painter never seemed to figure out the issue last year, so if the Boilermakers have any chance of turning the season around and going to the NCAA Tournament he needs to find a way this season. That or Purdue’s looking at the NIT, if not the CBI.
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Big Ten M5: 01.08.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 8th, 2014

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  1. Bronson Koenig came to Wisconsin despite having offers from Duke, North Carolina and Virginia. Needless to say, he had a decent amount of hype attached to his game, but he hasn’t made a huge impact yet despite some good moments in his 14 games of action. One of the biggest things he’s dealing with in Bo Ryan’s offense is knowing when to score and when to pass. Koenig doesn’t really need to do much more than what he’s doing right now, however, on a team with veterans Ben Brust, Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson ahead of him in the rotation. He provides the Badgers with a someone to play 10 to 15 minutes per game at either the point or on the wing, and the experience he gains this season will pay off much more next year after Brust graduates.
  2. Purdue is in trouble after an 0-2 start that saw the Boilermakers give up 78 points to an offensively challenged Ohio State team and 82 points to Minnesota on Sunday. One of the major catalysts to their struggles has been the defensive end of the floor. Minnesota hit 11-of-24 shots from behind the arc, and Purdue does not rank higher than eighth in the B1G in scoring defense, three-point defense, field goal defense and defensive rebounding. This goes against the blueprint that Matt Painter laid out in the early part of his tenure in West Lafayette, where his teams were mostly known for their defensive intensity. The Boilermakers almost came back and beat Minnesota largely because of the late success of their defensive pressure, but they need to start performing for 40 minutes to get some wins in this difficult conference.
  3. Northwestern lost a transfer on Tuesday afternoon, as 7’2″ Chier Ajou has decided to pursue other opportunities. To date, Ajou had only played in one game and two minutes this season. This frees up a roster spot for next season when head coach Chris Collins can pick up someone who will make for a better fit in his system. It’s a credit to Collins that the transition over from Bill Carmody has gone relatively smoothly, with only two players (Ajou and Mike Turner) transferring so far.
  4. The play of Derrick Walton Jr. has mostly been up and down, but both Michigan head coach John Beilein and Walton himself seem to think that things will become easier for the freshman point guard. He has already cut down on his turnovers — with only six in the last five games — and it’s taken a while for him to learn the complexities of Beilein’s offense, but he is starting to get more comfortable. If Walton Jr. can at a minimum limit his turnovers and knock down an open jumper here and there, the Wolverines will be in decent shape at the point with he and Spike Albrecht splitting time there.
  5. Ohio State almost pulled off another thrilling comeback on Tuesday night, but instead lost its first game of the season to Michigan State in overtime, 72-68. The game showed much of what is already known about the Buckeyes. They are an elite defensive team, especially at the guard spots, but they are still and probably will continue to be a mediocre offensive team. Just like in the Notre Dame game a few weeks ago, this comeback was essentially fueled with tremendous on-ball pressure that created turnovers. The Buckeyes got almost nothing in their half-court offense last night, and unless LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith can develop more consistency on this end of the floor (or Marc Loving morphs from potential superstar to superstar), this will be how it is all season for Thad Matta’s team.
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