Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 3rd, 2015

In a league defined by chaos this season, last weekend was fairly uneventful and arguably almost normal. There were no upsets, although there were a couple close calls as an undermanned Illinois squad had to sweat it out against Penn State at home, while Rutgers hung with Indiana thanks to the heroics of Myles Mack. Michigan State needed overtime to knock off a gritty Michigan team that once again was without the services of point guard Derrick Walton Jr. Meanwhile, Minnesota avenged an earlier loss to Nebraska by forcing an obscene 20 turnovers and holding the Cornhuskers to just 42 points. It would be obscene not to read the rest of this, so here’s the best and worst of weekend number five in the B1G.

Maurice Walker was unstoppable in the post in Minnesota's 60-42 victory over Nebraska on Saturday. (Ben Garvin, Pioneer Press)

Maurice Walker was unstoppable in the post in Minnesota’s 60-42 victory over Nebraska on Saturday. (Ben Garvin, Pioneer Press)

  • Player of the Weekend: Maurice Walker essentially stole Walter Pitchford’s lunch money, gave him a swirly, and then forged a note making fun of the teacher to get him in trouble. Cheesy elementary school metaphors aside, Walker was dominant on the low blocks for Minnesota, scoring at will on his way to a 19-point effort on 7-of-10 shooting from the field. The rest of the Gophers’ offense was nonexistent for most of the contest, so give the guards credit for pounding the ball inside to him. The fifth-year senior also added eight rebounds, two blocks and three steals. Minnesota is great at taking the ball away ( 14.8% steal rate, third nationally), but Walker is actually fourth in the Big Ten with a steal rate of 3.99 percent. He has really quick hands and does a nice job poking the ball away from post players without fouling. He had three first-half steals in this game as Nebraska coughed the ball up a total of 14 times before halftime.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: Tom Crean wasn’t happy with the way Indiana had been playing, so he shook things up a bit on Saturday against Rutgers. The change meant that Troy Williams –– despite the fact that he’s had a really good season with some outstanding performances — came off of the bench. He had some silly turnovers but the sophomore also contributed a double-double in the form of 14 points and 10 rebounds. He scored on his usual array of drives and dunks, but one thing slightly unique about this performance was that he was led the break after grabbing a defensive rebound. This led to a faster break out in transition, and it also gave the Hoosiers an ability to have Yogi Ferrell spot up on the perimeter with the rest of the shooters. Don’t expect Williams to become a point forward  at Indiana anytime soon, but this was a neat look that takes advantage of Williams’ outstanding ability in the open court while giving Ferrell more looks.

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Big Ten M5: 01.28.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 28th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. Since it was supposed to be played last night, people have probably figured out by now that the game featuring Michigan State and Rutgers was postponed due to the blizzard that decimated the northeastern part of the country over the last couple days. The game is being pushed to Thursday, which may give the Scarlet Knights some time to heal from a rash of injuries to their perimeter. Bishop Daniels is nursing a strained hip flexor, while freshman Mike Williams is dealing with a sprained ankle that will keep him out of action for up to two weeks. Whether or not Daniels plays or not, forward Junior Etou will be back in the lineup after missing a game due to a team disciplinary issue.
  2. Another freshman is dealing with an injury issue as well, although this one is a starter for a nationally ranked team. Indiana guard Robert Johnson suffered a knee injury in a rather unique fashion in Sunday’s tilt against Ohio State. Coach Tom Crean stated that the team’s fourth leading scorer still may play tonight when the Hoosiers travel to West Lafayette to face Purdue. Indiana has no chance against Purdue’s size, so it will have to bomb away from deep if they want to get a crucial road win. If Johnson can’t go, the onus will fall on Nick Zeisloft or Stanford Robinson to pick up the slack.
  3. The PurdueIndiana game will feature as big of a contrast in terms of size that will be seen this season. Purdue will try to bang away inside with behemoths Isaac Haas and AJ Hammons. Indiana will counter with a much quicker lineup featuring no player taller than 6’7″. This makes what usually is one of the better rivalries in the league even more interesting this time around. Neither team really has an answer for the strong spots of the other team. It’s worth watching as well because a Hoosier loss would give each team an identical 5-3 conference mark.
  4. The other game tonight features two desperate teams looking to string together some wins to jump up from the bottom of the league standings. Minnesota travels to Penn State, where they’ll need another effort like his 12-point, 13-rebound from Maurice Walker. He’s one of the best post players in the league, albeit in a league where there aren’t many who can punish teams offensively on the block. He doesn’t always play with the aggressiveness the Gophers need, which made his efforts Saturday a big reason why they were able to beat Illinois. Penn State has some depth on the block, but Walker has the advantage over the trio of Donovon Jack, Jordan Dickerson, and Julian Moore. If the senior can continue to dominate on the low block, Minnesota can still make some noise before March.
  5. Nebraska continued to struggle on the road, as they lost by double-digits to a depleted Michigan team Tuesday night. Coach Tim Miles was succinct in his analysis, stating that ” they outcompeted us, they outexecuted us and we didn’t show much heart.” Whether or not the team was overconfident in seeing that Derrick Walton Jr would miss the game, they simply didn’t get anything done offensively. The Cornhuskers struggle sometimes even when Shavon Shields and Terran Petteway are at their offensive peak, but when they combine to go 5-for-23 from the field it’s a wrap. This team has to prove it can win on the road, and needs to do it quickly. It looked like things were starting to trend upward after winning four out of five games, but this result really makes it difficult to imagine them making a repeat NCAA Tournament appearance.
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Anonymous Nate Mason Fitting in Nicely at Minnesota

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 11th, 2014

After winning the NIT last year, Minnesota‘s fortunes this season were widely believed to be keyed by their veterans. Seniors Andre Hollins, Deandre Mathieu, Maurice Walker and Elliott Eliason all played large roles in last season’s transition from Tubby Smith to Richard Pitino’s NIT championship squad. They are in fact doing so this season, with Hollins leading the team in scoring, Walker leading the team in rebounds and blocks, and Mathieu leading the team in assists. But it has also been freshman Nate Mason who has made his presence felt as the first guard off the bench. His importance has been necessary with the loss of Daquien McNeil to his ongoing legal issues, and Mason has shined with all of the extra responsibility.

Nate Mason (right) has been a key cog for Minnesota in the early season so far. (Kathy Willens, AP)

Nate Mason (right) has been a key cog for Minnesota in the early season so far. (Kathy Willens, AP)

On Monday night, the Gophers forced North Dakota into a whopping 25 turnovers (33.8 percent of their possessions). Most of the damage was done with their pressure defense, with Mason serving as the catalyst with six steals. Mason also ended the game with eight assists, which along with his steals output were career bests for the first-year player. On Wednesday night, the Gophers forced Southern into another 20 miscues, logging 11 of those in the form of steals. Mason has been excellent in Pitino’s pressure style, showing the athleticism necessary to recover when other teams beat the press. The precocious freshman is averaging 9.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.7 steals per game, while hitting 46.7 percent of his threes. This comes from a player who was ranked only 135th in his class, according to 24/7 sports composite rankings.

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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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Big Ten Opening Night: Three Things to Watch For

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 14th, 2014

Eleven Big Ten Teams will make their season debuts tonight. While the only true marquee game on the schedule is the Minnesota-Louisville clash in Puerto Rico, here are three things to watch for if you’re checking out the league as the season begins.

  • Hampton vs. Iowa: Hampton went 18-13 last year, and the Pirates hung with Penn State in the first round of the CBI before ultimately losing by four points. They return eight players from their top 10 in minutes played for a team that ran at the 11th-fastest tempo in the country last season. They did a tremendous job in blocking shots and holding teams to a low percentage on two-point attempts, and have good front line size to match up with the Hawkeyes on the interior. Iowa no longer has Roy Devyn Marble to handle the ball and take all of its big shots, so Mike Gesell and Josh Oglesby will have to be hitting from long range because points in the paint will not be easy to find. This game bears watching because it will be a track meet up and down the court, and because there is also some small upset potential here if Iowa doesn’t come to play.
Mike Geselll will have to take care of the ball Friday night against Hampton. (Getty).

Mike Geselll will have to take care of the ball Friday night against Hampton. (Getty)

  • Michigan State vs. Navy: The Midshipmen went 9-21 last year, so thinking that they will push Sparty tonight might be something of a stretch. But they do return almost everybody from that team, and they did a solid job forcing turnovers last season. Michigan State, of course, has a new floor general, and although Travis Trice has gotten plenty of reps in his three years in East Lansing, he’s never been the guy. Denzel Valentine has a tendency to cough up the ball on occasion, and Lourawls Nairn will be making his much-anticipated collegiate debut. Keep an eye on whether Michigan State can avoid making silly mistakes here. A sloppy effort against a clearly inferior opponent might be a bad sign as the team gets set to take on Duke in the Champions Classic in four days.
  • Minnesota vs. Louisville: This game is the obvious call if you’re looking for opening night intrigue. Minnesota has an early chance to grab a huge non-conference win by playing a top 10 team. Richard Pitino will coach against his dad, who probably knows the Gophers about as well as his son does. Richard, of course, served as an assistant at Louisville just a few seasons ago, so the same likely holds true with the younger Pitino’s knowledge about the Cardinals. If you like guard play, you will get a chance to watch Andre Hollins and Deandre Mathieu take on Chris Jones and Terry Rozier. If the battle in the post is more your cup of tea, then check out Elliott Eliason and Maurice Walker trading haymakers with potential All-American Montrezl Harrell. This one sells itself.
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Can Minnesota’s Andre Hollins Regain His Scoring Touch?

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 6th, 2014

Despite his excellence for three seasons, the collegiate career of Andre Hollins has arguably flown under the radar. He has been a heavy contributor at Minnesota since day one, topping the 20-point plateau five times as a freshman and leading the Gophers in scoring in both his sophomore and junior seasons. He even has an outside chance at cracking 2,000 points for his career if his team makes a deep run in the postseason this year. He’s played under two coaches utilizing vastly different systems, yet still managed to thrive. Last season was his most challenging in Minneapolis — after suffering an ankle injury, he came back too soon and proceeded to look like a shell of his former self. He went from averaging 16.2 PPG before the injury to 11.3 PPG in the 16 games afterward, and he just looked tentative and unsure of himself in February and March. Now in his second year under Richard Pitino, he is flanked by a core of experienced seniors. Can Hollins recapture his scoring touch and lead the Gophers back to the Big Dance?

Andre Hollins needs to regain his scoring touch if Minnesota wants to rise in the B1G standings. (Getty)

Andre Hollins needs to regain his scoring touch if Minnesota wants to rise in the B1G standings. (Getty)

At his best, Hollins is a scorer who does most of his damage from the outside. He’s made quite a few three-pointers in his career, topping out at a superb 41.8 percent in his junior season from behind the arc. He also does a nice job getting to the free throw line, and converts when he’s there, with a career free throw percentage of 84.4 percent. For someone that gets so much of his scoring output from the outside, he still managed to rank ninth in the league in free throw rate, getting to the charity stripe at a 49.7 percent clip. He’s capable of playing both guard spots, as he led the team in assists (3.4 APG) as the primary facilitator in 2012-13. When Deandre Mathieu took over the point guard duties last season, Hollins played off the ball where he was able to get quality looks on kickouts from the speedy Mathieu. The Gophers’ backcourt tandem might be the best in the league this season, and it will need to be if Minnesota hopes to avoid another trip to the NIT.

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NIT Preview: Three Keys for Minnesota Against Florida State

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 1st, 2014

Minnesota has made the most out of its experience in the NIT, as the Gophers have made it to New York City to take on Florida State in the semifinals of the event this evening. This is a rematch of an earlier meeting in December’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge, when Richard Pitino’s team defeated the Seminoles 71-61 at Williams Arena. Despite a lack of prestige and eyeballs on this game, Minnesota is the only Big Ten team still playing basketball other than Wisconsin. In order to advance to Thursday night’s championship game, here are three things for Minnesota to concentrate on to beat FSU again.

With Elliott Eliason probably not playing due to an injury, Minnesota needs a big night Tuesday from Maurice Walker. (Pioneer Press, Ben Garvin)

With Elliott Eliason probably not playing due to an injury, Minnesota needs a big night Tuesday from Maurice Walker. (Pioneer Press, Ben Garvin)

  1. Create turnovers: Florida State turns the ball over slightly less often than Indiana, and anyone who watched any Big Ten basketball this season knows what that means. The Seminoles turn the ball over on over 21 percent of their possessions, and out of the 92 ACC players who played over 40 percent of their team’s available minutes, Devin Bookert and Ian Miller rank fourth and fifth from the bottom. Miller also uses 25.6 percent of the team’s possessions, so taking advantage of his propensity to give the ball away is a must. Minnesota needs to remain aggressive on the perimeter, forcing turnovers instead of letting the  guards — both of whom shoot over 40 percent from deep — get hot from the outside. Read the rest of this entry »
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Some Key Questions Heading into Minnesota vs. Michigan

Posted by Brendan Brody and Alex Moscoso on March 1st, 2014

Minnesota traveling to Ann Arbor for a rematch with Michigan highlights the slate of the games this weekend in the Big Ten. There is a great deal on the line for both teams, as the Gophers look to pick up what would be an enormous resume boost that would come from beating the league’s first place team in their building. Michigan would inch that much closer toward picking up at least a share of the Big Ten regular season crown with a victory. RTC’s Big Ten correspondents Brendan Brody and Alex Moscoso  look at some of what to watch for if you’re tuning in (BTN 6:oo EST).

Jordan Morgan must keep Elliott Eliason off the glass Saturday when Michigan plays Minnesota. (Adam Hunger, Getty Images).

Jordan Morgan must keep Elliott Eliason off the glass Saturday when Michigan plays Minnesota. (Adam Hunger, Getty Images).

Brendan Brody: Michigan showed how dangerous they can be when they hit threes and play at a quicker tempo in their last win over Iowa. Does Michigan try and run with them, or do they try and play at a slower pace?

Alex Moscoso: I’ve coached exactly zero minutes of organized basketball, but it would seem to me that deviating from what you do best is a recipe for disaster. And what Michigan does best is offense. Granted, Minnesota has also shown it’s at its best when they are getting up and down the court-relying on the sharpshooting of Andre Hollins and Deandre Mathieu’s ability to get to the rim. However, if I was John Beilein, I would be ecstatic if Minnesota wanted to get in a track meet with his squad on Saturday. Michigan scores more efficiently (1.21 to 1.14 points per possession), shoots the ball better (55.2% to 51.4% eFG), and virtually runs the same pace as the Gophers (63 to 64.7 adjusted tempo). The question may be, are the Gophers going to be able to run with Michigan. I mentioned Hollins earlier, and he clearly hasn’t been the same since hurting his ankle against Wisconsin. How can Minnesota still win this game if Hollins isn’t effective offensively?

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Weekend Preview in the Big Ten

Posted by Alex Moscoso & Brendan Brody on February 22nd, 2014

Typically, RTC Big Ten microwriters Alex Moscoso and Brendan Brody preview the weekend’s most important or interesting conference game. This week the problem is — and it is a good problem we might add — that all the games on this weekend’s slate have some level of significance. So we decided instead of focusing on just one to quickly preview and analyze each of the five weekend match-ups in this single post. Enjoy.

Wisconsin at Iowa (Saturday, 12:oo PM ET, ESPN2)

Fran McCaffery Was Not Happy About His Previous Ejection (AP)

Fran McCaffery Was Not Happy About His Previous Ejection (AP)

AM: This is one of the most consequential games this weekend as it pits the current third and fourth place teams against one another. If Wisconsin loses, the Badgers will likely be out of contention for a regular season championship as they’ll find themselves three games back of the Michigan-Michigan State winner with only five games remaining. In their previous meeting, Iowa came firing out of the gates and built an 11-point lead at half before blowing it as Fran McCaffery was ejected for an incensed outburst towards the officials. Look for Iowa to try to set the pace once again, but this time get players other than Roy Devyn Marble involved. It would also help to defend the three-point line better than they did at the Kohl Center, where Wisconsin shot a tidy 45.5 percent.

Minnesota at Ohio State (Saturday, 6:oo PM ET, BTN)

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Big Ten Weekend in Review: The Plot Thickens

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 17th, 2014

After Michigan got beaten pretty badly at home against Wisconsin early Sunday afternoon, Michigan State knew that all they had to do was beat Nebraska at home to take over sole possession of first place in the league. The broadcasters even said that the Spartans were watching the Michigan game in the locker room before their game. So of course Sparty got upset by the Cornhuskers because nothing is normal in the 2013-14 Big Ten season. With Wisconsin and Iowa winning over the weekend, there are now four teams within two games of the top spot. With all of these teams playing against each other next weekend (Michigan State at Michigan, Wisconsin at Iowa), absolutely nothing has been settled with three weekends left in the conference schedule. Minnesota got an important win at Northwestern to keep their tourney hopes alive, Purdue annihilated Indiana, and Ohio State and Illinois combined for a whopping 87 points. Here’s the rest of the weekend rundown.

Frank Kaminsky posted his third double-double of the season by scoring 25 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in Wisconsin's weekend win at Michigan. (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky posted his third double-double of the season by scoring 25 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in Wisconsin’s weekend win at Michigan. (Getty)

Player of the Weekend: Frank Kaminsky: This was probably the closest contest so far in the seven weeks of doling out this prestigious award. Sterling Carter and Melsaan Basabe were also worthy candidates, but Kaminsky gets the nod. He destroyed the Wolverines all day, and surprisingly did the majority of his damage inside the paint. In his other games this season where he’s gone for over 20 points, he did so by taking a good number of threes. Specifically, in his 43-point monsoon against North Dakota, Kaminsky went 6-for-6 from three and 4-for-7 on two’s. Sunday afternoon, he only took 2 shots from behind the arc. He was 10-for 14 on two’s and did a good deal of damage on the boards (4 offensive rebounds, 11 total). Kaminsky was as aggressive as he’s been all season trying to corral rebounds, and he attacked the basket the whole game. If he and Nigel Hayes can provide consistent paint points for the Badgers to go along with the ever-present outside attack, then Wisconsin just got a lot more dangerous.

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Is Maurice Walker the Cornerstone of Minnesota’s Postseason Hopes?

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 13th, 2014

Getting consistent inside play- specifically on offense- is something that most Big Ten teams have struggled with. You could look at every single team in the league and say “well they would have more wins right now if (insert pivotman from whichever team you’d like) would have scored more or gotten more rebounds. AJ Hammons, Amir Williams, and Alex Olah are just a few that have failed to consistently make an impact down low, while pick-and-pop players that are centers in name only like Frank Kaminsky, Donovon Jack and Walter Pitchford aren’t consistently lighting up scoreboards either. This is why people need to take a look at what Maurice Walker is doing right now for Minnesota.

Maurice Walker has been a force in the post for Minnesota in their last 6 games.   (Pioneer Press: Ben Garvin)

Maurice Walker has been a force in the post for Minnesota in their last 6 games. (Pioneer Press: Ben Garvin)

There wasn’t really a “coming out party” so the speak with Walker. He hasn’t busted out for a 30 point-15 rebound game or anything. But despite the bulging stat lines he’s been producing, the Purdue game could be served as a marker in the sand for people to take notice and realize that this might be what he’s capable of producing for the rest of the year. This is the game where he took Hammons on and was able to consistently score on him in the deep post. He did so in some crucial situations in a game that took 15 minutes of overtime to settle. The Gophers were looking for him and he delivered, scoring 8 of his 17 points in overtime. Early in the season, there’s no way he would have even touched the ball in critical situations like that. This wasn’t just a one-time thing however. Despite the fact that Minnesota has lost 4 of their last 6, Walker has averaged 23.2 MPG. He’s shot 58.2% from the field, contributing double-figure point production in 4 of the 6. He’s shown a confident and consistent low-post game that many of the big men I mentioned in the first paragraph struggle with. Walker has gotten the ball in the deep post and displayed the ability to either go with a jump hook, or with quality footwork to maneuver his way to a layup.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review: A Slight Return to Normalcy

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 11th, 2014

After the finish of the Penn State-Illinois game on Sunday afternoon, a look at the standings showed that the upside-down nature of the first six weeks of the Big Ten season has self-corrected a little bit. The five teams that the media and our microsite predicted to finish in the top 5 are situated that way with just three games separating first through fifth place. Illinois climbed out of the basement with a win at Penn State, Nebraska got a road win, and Indiana continued to be as inconsistent as any team in the league/country. Here’s the rest of the highlights from the weekend:

Mike Gesell tallied 8 assists with only 1 turnover in Iowa's win over Michigan Saturday. (Matthew Holst, Getty)

Mike Gesell tallied 8 assists with only 1 turnover in Iowa’s win over Michigan Saturday. (Matthew Holst, Getty)

Player of the Weekend: Mike Gesell. Iowa got solid efforts from pretty much everyone in their rotation in their vital home win over Michigan. Roy Devyn Marble hit six three-pointers in the first half and carried them offensively. Their starting frontcourt of Melsaan Basabe, Aaron White, and Adam Woodbury combined for 11 offensive rebounds. Although he didn’t put up a ton of points, Gesell played the biggest role. Part of the problems he has had at times this season has been forcing things on the offensive end. His assist-to-turnover numbers coming into the game in Big Ten play was 2.38/1. So for him to deliver 8 assists to 1 turnover in the game shows what the Hawkeyes can do when he is playing well. He had an offensive rating of 170 and he also had 3 steals. Although he didn’t take many shots, he was efficient in knocking down both threes he attempted, going 3-for-5 from the field for the game. Gesell has gone from a bit of a timeshare with Anthony Clemmons, to playing more minutes. If he can continue to distribute and cause problems on the defensive end like this, Iowa can make a run late in the season at winning the league.

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