Big Ten M5: 03.13.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on March 13th, 2014

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  1. The Big Ten Tournament starting today certainly has the focus of everyone following the conference’s basketball scene except for one head coach. Iowa‘s Fran McCaffery announced in a statement that his son has a tumor on his thyroid. Thirteen-year-old Patrick discovered the tumor last week and will undergo surgery next Wednesday, the day before he turns 14. While we may all have our focus set to basketball and brackets this weekend, McCaffery’s certainly could be elsewhere.
  2. There are plenty of tournament predictions out there and Ken Pomeroy released his log5 thoughts yesterday. He gives the top two seeds the most respect in Michigan and Wisconsin while dropping the Cornhuskers plenty with only a 5 percent chance to win the whole thing. That chance is closer to least-probable Northwestern’s chances than it is to Iowa’s, which is one step above Nebraska. Beyond that the prediction is pretty straight forward in nearly following the seed lines. Some teams may be a tad bit high or low for everyone’s thoughts, but with how this conference season has went, it makes sense to not have any heavy favorites.
  3. The season may not be over for any Big Ten teams this morning, but that doesn’t mean the coaching searches haven’t started for programs that are finished. With this in mind, Sports Illustrated’s Brian Hamilton took a look at the top assistants in the country that could be looking to take their first head coaching job. The Big Ten has three names on the list: Ohio State‘s Jeff Boals, Wisconsin‘s Greg Gard, and Michigan‘s LaVall Jordan. All of the names are solid considerations and have been linked to jobs the past few seasons and certainly could be headed out soon. There was one name that we were surprised not to see – Michigan State‘s Dwayne Stephens. Some may expect him to eventually succeed Tom Izzo, but if Gard’s name is coming up, certainly Stephens should, too. This is a guy who has developed big men Adreian Payne and Draymond Green and been named a top 15 recruiter and assistant coach in the past two years. Really, though, there are plenty of assistant and associate head coaches in the Big Ten that could find head coaching gigs in the near future.
  4. Ohio State got back to winning ways against Michigan State, but that didn’t mean an easy week of practice. The Buckeyes have prepped for the Big Ten Tournament with a challenging week, despite it being the first time they will play on Thursday in the BTT since 2005. This tournament has plenty of intrigue for Ohio State who drew a Purdue team it swept to open the tournament. The games will be important to determining exactly where the Buckeyes end up in the seeding line of the NCAA Tournament, win a few games and a five or six seed is possible, loss to Purdue and it could fall to the dreaded 8-9 game.
  5. The Big Ten Tournament has never treated Indiana well. It has lost in the quarterfinals or first round 11 times in its 16 years of existence. The Hoosiers only have one championship game appearance and have never won the whole thing. That doesn’t matter to this year’s team, who just wants to focus on its first game against Illinois today. Still, this Indiana team needs history to change (and make history in itself by being hte lowest seed to win the tournament) if it wants to play in the NCAA Tournament. Indiana is likely only going if it wins the whole thing, so either history is changing or the Hoosiers are going to start paying close attention to NBA Draft announcements regarding Noah Vonleh.
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Big Ten M5: 03.12.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 12th, 2014

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  1. Nik Stauskas of Michigan was named Big Ten Player of the Year on Monday by both the coaches and the media. He went from primarily a spot-up shooter to someone who put in a tremendous amount of work to become the best player in the league. It’s been documented often about the strength training that he and fellow sophomore Caris LeVert went through in the off-season, and it quite obviously paid off for both. Stauskas managed to still be able to knock down plenty of three-pointers, yet added the ability to drive and distribute on a much higher level than many expected. He is a worthy Big Ten POY.
  2. Playing in the shadow of a famous father is never easy. Playing in the shadow of a father that not only played in the NBA for 14 years, but also serves as an analyst for the network that covers your conference is borderline impossible. But Wisconsin point guard Traveon Jackson has made things work both on and off the court due to a renewed sense of spirituality. Jackson struggled with the responsibilities after unexpectedly having to take the reigns from Josh Gasser once the guards tore his ACL. He turned to drinking and partying as a way to escape from the stress on the court, but has found that things like scripture reading and attending church services have helped him on and off the court.
  3. It’s the eve of the Big Ten Tournament, and not many people within the college basketball community can figure out Michigan State. Coach Tom Izzo feels the importance of the tournament this year more so than in past seasons because, as he says, “we’re just trying to bring back some of the magic we had early in the year when we had everybody playing together.” It will be extremely interesting over the course of the weekend to see if the team can start clicking like they did early on before injuries ruined any sense of flow and cohesion the team had.
  4. The main architect for the Nebraska basketball facelift was named Coach of the Year by his coaching peers on Monday. Coach Tim Miles worked his way up from coaching Division II in obscurity, to potentially coaching in the Big Dance next week. He credits his players for keeping a positive attitude, not letting the porous basketball history of the program prohibit them from changing things.  If they can win three games this weekend, the change will be even further magnified.
  5. After seeing him play in the non-conference part of the season, no one would have guessed that Kendrick Nunn would earn a spot on the Big Ten All-Freshman team. Nunn did just that however, and Illinois has gone 5-3 since he and fellow freshman Malcolm Hill were inserted into the starting five. Indiana Coach Tom Crean has taken notice, as he likened Nunn to Victor Oladipo when asked about preparing for the Illini on Thursday when the two teams square off in first-round play of the Big Ten Tournament.  Nunn has averaged double-figures in those 8 games, and can enhance his ever-growing reputation even more if he continues his solid play, and Illinois wins a game or two in Indianapolis.
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Key Questions For Michigan State at Ohio State Today

Posted by Alex Moscoso & Brendan Brody on March 9th, 2014

It’s the final weekend of the regular season and teams are either jockeying for seeding or trying to get on the right side of the bubble. Later this afternoon, Michigan State will travel to Ohio State and, with both teams clearly in the NCAA Tournament field already, this game will be about building momentum for the Big Ten Tournament and beyond. Once again, RTC Big Ten writers Alex Moscoso and Brendan Brody preview the game as they each ask one another a question about the today’s match-up.

Keith Appling and the Spartans' offense try to keep the momentum going against Ohio State on Sunday. (Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)

Keith Appling and the Spartans’ offense try to keep the momentum going against Ohio State on Sunday. (Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)

AM: In its last two games, Ohio State’s defense (#2 in KenPom) has underperformed against two inferior teams (Indiana and Penn State). Meanwhile, Michigan State’s offense (#18 in KenPom) has been inconsistent since the beginning of February. In the match-up between the Buckeyes’ defense vs the Spartans’ offense today, which comes out on top, and why?

BB: It’s hard to say whether Michigan State’s performance Thursday night against Iowa was simply the result of Iowa’s porous defense or a sign that the Spartans are once again fully healthy and clicking on all cylinders. Numbers like 1.26 points per possession, 58.3 percent shooting from the field, and 20 assists on 28 made fields goals, aren’t anything to take lightly, whether they were accomplished against the league’s third-worst defense in conference play or otherwise. Part of the problem for Ohio State in its two losses is that the Buckeyes let their opponents shoot 38.7 percent from three even though they forced an average of 17 turnovers. The Spartans hit 11 threes the first time these two teams played, and after witnessing Thursday’s offensive clinic, I think they’re going to get the best of the Ohio State defense. Thad Matta’s team wins on defense by eliminating the three, but Michigan State is a bad match-up because of the way they share the ball (11th in the country in assist rate), and how they can spread things out in transition with multiple shooters that can burn you. Kenny Kaminski, Travis Trice, Adreian Payne and Appling all shoot over 40 percent from distance for the season, and Gary Harris is 16-of-33 in his last four games from that distance. I think the Iowa game showed what everyone thought at the beginning of the season. Michigan State is about to go on a run, and Ohio State won’t stop them this afternoon.

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Is Keith Appling Back, and With Him, Michigan State?

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 8th, 2014

When Keith Appling nailed his first three-pointer against Iowa on Thursday night, a sense of reserved joy and nervous hope emanated from the Breslin Center crowd. After all, the beleaguered Spartan point guard hadn’t hit one since suffering a wrist injury in February that sidelined him for three games, not to mention stunted his offensive production — no one knew if this was a blind squirrel finding a nut, or a sign of positive things to come. But when Appling sunk his second triple, capping off a 12-point scoring explosion that marked his best output since January? The arena sounded much more confident this time around, booming with an optimism that not even a senior night victory could manufacture alone. Instead, the cathartic roar acknowledged a greater possibility: If Appling is once again a viable a weapon on the offensive end, Michigan State is once again a Final Four threat.

If Keith Appling is truly back, the Spartans could be set for another March run. (Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)

If Keith Appling is truly back, the Spartans could be set for another March run. (Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)

Entering Thursday, Michigan State had lost three of its previous four games and Appling looked completely inept when it came to putting the ball in the basket. He scored two points in the home loss to Nebraska, one point against Purdue, and combined for 11 in back-to-back defeats to Michigan and Illinois. But while the 6’1’’ senior’s inability to score was troubling enough, his inability to even threaten to score was a much larger problem. Pre-injury Appling was a skilled shooter and an aggressive attacker, both skills that (in addition to his role as facilitator) took pressure off of and opened up shots for shooting guard Gary Harris, the Spartans’ most dynamic offensive player. Whether it was a waning shot clock or a team-wide offensive funk, the ability for Harris or Appling to penetrate-and-kick, finish at the rim, or get to the free throw line, enabled Michigan State to generate points in difficult circumstances. When the point guard hurt his wrist, sapping him of confidence and causing him to continuously defer, much of the burden was placed on Harris’ shoulders — and defenses knew it. Down the stretch against Illinois, for example, the team looked lost as the sophomore tried, time after time, to create his own shot to little avail. “For a long time, Gary had to do everything,” Tom Izzo mentioned after Thursday’s game.

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Two Key Questions for Iowa at Michigan State Tonight

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on March 6th, 2014

Michigan may have clinched the Big Ten, but Iowa‘s trip to Michigan State tonight has plenty of importance for Big Ten Tournament and NCAA seeding. The Hawkeyes are in a battle with Nebraska and Ohio State for their first top-four finish in conference play since they tied for fourth during the 2006-07 season. Michigan State, on the other hand, is trying to get some confidence with its entire lineup finally healthy. For both teams, it is an important contest in terms of momentum, so with that in mind, here are two key questions heading into tonight’s game:

Roy Devyn Marble and the Hawkeyes desperately need a win at Michigan State for NCAA Tournament seeding purposes (Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports).

Roy Devyn Marble and the Hawkeyes desperately need a win at Michigan State for NCAA Tournament seeding purposes (Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports).

1. Both Iowa and Michigan State have had skids recently (losing three of four with each winning versus Purdue), so which team needs this win more for confidence and NCAA Tournament seeding purposes?

Realistically both teams need this win, but Iowa probably needs it more than Sparty. The Hawkeyes ended their losing streak against Purdue, but it nearly blew a double-figure second half lead against the Boilermakers. Iowa is also on the verge of losing a first round bye in the Big Ten Tournament as well as seeding for the NCAA Tournament. Most prognosticators have Fran McCaffery’s group sitting in the #6-#7 range (RTC’s Daniel Evans has them as a #7 seed), so a win likely helps them avoid a fall to the challenging #8-#9 seed line and a potential second-round match-up with a #1 seed. It also gives them the confidence of another marquee win, something they have lacked with only one win against a current Top 25 team. Michigan State needs the win too, as it is battling for a top four protected seed in the NCAA Tournament, but with its lineup only recently becoming healthy, regaining chemistry for tournament play is of paramount importance. Everyone knows what a full Spartans squad can do and seed placement won’t really deter that potential if they start firing on all cylinders.

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Big Ten M5: 03.06.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on March 6th, 2014

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  1. The recent skid for Michigan State has plenty of people questioning if this team is still a top contender. First it was the defense, as the Spartans need to switch on screens without Branden Dawson was causing issues. With his return, though, a loss at Illinois still happened. That prompted the players to air their frustrations with each other in a “players-only” meeting this week. The interesting aspects are that the Spartans were blaming each other, showing a team divided instead of coming together. This late in the season that is never how a team wants to be interacting and playing. Tonight at home against Iowa provides a good chance to see if the issues really were put to bed or if what Tom Izzo calls “the biggest joke in athletics” is just that and the Spartans continue to struggle.
  2. It shouldn’t be news to anyone how big of a week is coming up for Nebraska. It certainly is known to head coach Tim Miles as he admitted he has been checking projections and RPI rankings the past three weeks as his team has began flirting with the bubble. Every game is important for the Cornhuskers right now as they need every possible win to get into the tournament. It certainly would help if they could push themselves up to fourth in the Big Ten as well. Miles may believe they are a tournament team, and now is the chance for them to prove it. Do that and they will have surprised everyone in the country by not just playing in March, but playing in the main event.
  3. Indiana‘s Will Sheehey won’t be a player that sits at the top of the Hoosier record books. Still, he did plenty for the program as he played his final home game last night against Nebraska. Sheehey hit the 1,000-point mark, but the biggest thing he will be remembered for is coming into the program along with Victor Oladipo and helping change the culture. He is a 4-year player that helped lead the transformation from desolation to its first Sweet 16 appearance in a decade (he hit the winning shot against VCU in 2012 to reach it). He helped set a work ethic for the change, and while his last campaign has had road bumps, Sheehey’s legacy will be part of leading the revival.
  4. Penn State has strong guard play this season, that’s no question, but its future may be in the frontcourt. Lately, Pat Chambers has been playing his big men together on the court in Jordan Dickerson and Donovon Jack. Chambers says he plans to use the line-up for the remainder of the season but it struggles with staying on the court due to endurance and match-up issues. It is still one we will likely see in the future and it will be quite the change from a guard-oriented team to one that pounds the ball down low.
  5. We always like to discuss players and All-American status. For coaches it is typically limited to individual conference coaches of the year and the overall national one. Well, Bleacher Report’s Jason King decided to expand his list and he has two Big Ten coaches on his “King’s Court Coaches All-American Team.” Michigan’s John Beilein made the second team and Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan made the third team. He also gave Tim Miles of Nebraska the “most-underrated” award. It’s tough to argue about the Big Ten coach positions, though Beilein could likely make a case for being on the First-Team after losing Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and then Mitch McGary midseason yet still winning an outright Big Ten title. Miles being omitted but listed as the “most underrated” also seems deserving and the right spot. Tom Izzo could make a case for an addition dealing with all the injuries, but for the most part, the Big Ten was represented accurately. This could also be seen as another nod for Beilein as the Big Ten Coach of the Year, which most have him or Miles winning it.
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Big Ten M5: 03.05.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 5th, 2014

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  1. Credit Indiana senior forward Will Sheehey for having some self-awareness when he was asked about his team’s NCAA Tournament chances. The reigning Big Ten Player of the Week said it feels like the team is in the midst of making a run, but that they still have plenty of work left to do. With how bad Indiana’s non-conference schedule was and the fact that the Hoosiers had a 4-8 conference record as recently as February 15, it’s a small miracle that they’ve even put themselves in the position to talk about landing a spot in the field of 68.
  2. In what has become sort of a running M5 tradition, here’s more talk of Michigan State and its latest injury news. While head coach Tom Izzo isn’t going to have Keith Appling miss anymore games, it is possible that he may cut the senior point guard’s minutes if he continues to be ineffective. It’s kind of a lose-lose situation for Izzo. On one hand, he has to let Appling continue to get reps so he’s not rusty for the postseason; on the other hand, if he’s not the same player he was prior to getting hurt (which he clearly is not), then do you take the chance of having a senior leader only playing limited minutes? The Spartans have until the middle of March to figure it out, but time is running out on this team.
  3. Ben Brust has been recognized as one of the best shooters in the Big Ten and for his ability as an undersized rebounder. But when Bo Ryan likens the Wisconsin senior to a mosquito, it’s hard not to scoff. The comparison makes sense, however, as Ryan explained how Brust can frustrate bigger opponents on the defensive end. The Badgers possess a certain grittiness on that side of the ball, and it all starts with Brust and fellow guard Josh Gasser both being able to take on players who are bigger and more athletic than they are.
  4. Many think that Michigan wrapping up the regular season Big Ten crown last night is enough to give John Beilein the Coach of the Year award. That’s not to say that Nebraska head coach Tim Miles doesn’t also offer a compelling argument. It is Miles who deserves the award if the Huskers make the NCAA Tournament, according to the Omaha World-Herald‘s Lee Barfknecht. It will be interesting to see how this and many of the other postseason honors play out. Miles has sped up the Nebraska rebuilding plan and then some, but Beilein dealt with the loss of a potential lottery pick in addition to losing two others starters now playing in the NBA.
  5. Things just keep getting worse for Purdue. First Sterling Carter tore his ACL and will miss the rest of the season, and now promising redshirt freshman Jay Simpson has also seen his Purdue career come to an end. Simpson was recently diagnosed with the heart ailment hypertrophic cardiomyotrophy (HCM). This is the same disease that ended the lives of players such as Hank Gathers and Reggie Lewis. Simpson had to be taken out of the game on February 23 against Nebraska despite not appearing to have suffered an injury, but very luckily the disease was discovered before tragedy struck.
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College Basketball by the Tweets: Tom Izzo, Marcus Paige, TV Ted and More…

Posted by Nick Fasulo (@nickfasuloSBN) on March 4th, 2014

Nick Fasulo is an RTC correspondent who writes the column College Basketball By the Tweets, a look at the world of college hoops through the prism of everyone’s favorite social media platform. You can find him on Twitter @nickfasuloSBN.

Congratulations, everyone, we’ve made it to the month of March, which some people are unofficially just straight up calling “Izzo.”

I guess if you’ve reached the NCAA Tournament in each of the last 16 years, including six Final Four appearances as the head coach of one team, you can pretty much do whatever you want.

Marcus Paige

There’s perhaps no non-freshman player in the country who has improved as much as Marcus Paige since November. The slender point guard is the clear-cut leader of this year’s Tar Heels, and his play against Triangle rival NC State last week proved as much.

And then a few nights later, Paige sealed a victory for UNC on the defensive end.

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Big Ten M5: 03.04.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on March 4th, 2014

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  1. Indiana has not gotten the type of offensive breakout season, or consistency, they would have liked from Will Sheehey in his senior outing. But he’s been coming around as of late and was especially effective in their big win against Iowa on Sunday when he dropped a career-high 30 points. In a week where the Hoosiers played three games, the senior wing averaged 18.7 PPG and 4.3 RPG which was good enough to earn him Player of the Week honors. The Hoosiers are making a late push to get on the right side of the bubble, and they’ll need Sheehey to continue to play well, along with Yogi Ferrell and Noah Vonleh, if they are to have any shot at the NCAA Tournament.
  2. Another team making a late season push is Illinois. Unlike the Hoosiers, the Illini are not looking to a senior as a catalyst, but instead are relying on a pair of freshmen. Kendrick Nunn, one of the two rising stars for Illinois, has added the ability to shoot the deep ball to the Illinois rotation — an area where they were sorely lacking. In the six games since he’s become a starter, Nunn has hit on 16 of his 30 attempted three-point shots (53.3 percent). And for a consecutive week, Nunn has won Rookie of the Week honors in the league for his performances that helped the Illini beat both Nebraska and Michigan State. Nunn’s ascendancy bodes well for John Groce, as the visible success of a Chicago Public School product could open up more recruiting pipelines between Illinois and the Windy City hoops scene.
  3. Speaking of John Groce and recruiting, an interesting story came out yesterday telling the story of how one of Michigan’s most improved player, Caris Levert, was originally hoping to join Groce at Illinois. Levert, an unheralded recruit in high school, was originally committed to Groce when he was the coach at Ohio University. After making it to the Sweet Sixteen, Groce then accepted the head coaching position at Illinois. Levert was told he would receive a phone call from the head coach personally about what the move meant about his commitment — that call never came. Levert ended up committing to Michigan and the rest is history. It’s an interesting recruiting story among Big Ten programs and Groce probably wishes he made that phone call now, especially since he’ll have to take on Levert and the Big Ten champion Wolverines tonight.
  4. Lately, Iowa hasn’t seem like the same team it was earlier in the year — a team thought to have an outside chance to make a Final Four. On Sunday, the Hawkeyes snapped a three-game losing streak when they pulled out a win against Purdue. While a win is a win, the game did not really boost confidence in the team as they blew a big halftime lead in the second half. Iowa is safely in the NCAA Tournament as of right now, but they’ll need to find some sort of defense, which has been nonexistent recently, if they are to get back to playing at the high level that made us all believers in this team earlier in the season.
  5. Finally, Michigan State lost consecutive games for the first time this season when they were beaten at home to Illinois on Saturday. Tom Izzo was visibly frustrated after the loss and expanded on it yesterday, “I’ll have a bit of chip on my shoulder from here on out”. There’s been some talk that we will never see a fully healthy Spartan squad with Keith Appling and Adreian Payne continuing to play with nagging injuries. But Tom Izzo has gotten to Final Fours with lesser teams, and if he is able to transfer the chip on his shoulder to his squad, it may put in them the urgency needed to make a run in the NCAA Tournament. Otherwise, this team might be labeled as one of the bigger disappointments in Spartan history relative to their national championship expectations in the preseason.
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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’s 2014-15 Schedule Brings Back the Rivalries

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on March 3rd, 2014

The Big Ten released its schedule of 2014-15 games late last week and it appears that the rivalries are back. The conference has said it won’t be protecting basketball rivalries in the long run, but at least next season all the major rivalries will have home-and-homes: Indiana-Purdue, Michigan-Ohio State, Michigan-Michigan State, Wisconsin-Minnesota, Iowa-Minnesota, Northwestern-Illinois, and it even gives newcomers Maryland and Rutgers a home-and-home against each other. Before we fully focus on March Madness, here are a few thoughts on next season’s Big Ten schedule.

John Beilein and Michigan are competing for a conference championship this season and appear to have an advantage next year with the release of the 2014-15 B1G schedule. (Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)

John Beilein and Michigan are competing for a conference championship this season and appear to have an advantage next year with the release of the 2014-15 B1G schedule. (Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)

  • It is great to see the return of home-and-home rivalries next season. Indiana-Purdue and Ohio State-Michigan should never only play once, so hopefully next year’s effort to have them play twice continues or we could be in for a series of bland regular seasons in the near future. Rivalry games add intrigue and excitement for the fans even when the teams aren’t all that great (a good case in point was Mackey Arena for Purdue-Indiana a few weeks ago).
  • While it may be foolhardy to argue which teams will benefit from next season’s schedule as of today, the early winners appear to be Michigan, Wisconsin, Purdue and Rutgers. The Wolverines will certainly be happy to see two of its away games at Maryland and Penn State while avoiding trips to Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nebraska. Wisconsin must feel a similar way by seeing its home-and-home includes Northwestern and Penn State with only away games to Maryland and Rutgers — the Badgers also avoid a trip to the state of Indiana entirely, as well as Michigan State and the Izzone. Purdue is ecstatic to see two of the worst home court advantages in the conference are on its away slate in Northwestern and Penn State. While Rutgers’ road games aren’t the friendliest, it could certainly be worse, and its home-and-home schedule with Maryland, Penn State and struggling Purdue and Indiana squads looks promising for an inaugural campaign.

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Will Michigan State Ever be the Team We Thought It Could Be?

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 3rd, 2014

Branden Dawson’s return on Saturday was supposed to be the first positive step towards a full-strength resurgence for Michigan State, a “welcome back” moment for a bona-fide National Championship contender. Instead, the Spartans looked more like a fledgling team with a disorganized collection of talent than a veteran bunch ready to make a deep March run. “We didn’t play like a Michigan State team is supposed to play,” Tom Izzo said after the  53-46 home loss to Illinois. But with only a handful of games remaining before the stakes are significantly raised, the question has suddenly become two-fold for Izzo and his struggling group: Will they hit their peak before it’s too late? And—perhaps more ominous—is their peak even as high as first thought?

The concerns are piling up for Tom Izzo and the Spartans. (Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports)

The concerns are piling up for Tom Izzo and the Spartans. (Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports)

Despite his noticeable rust on the offensive end, Dawson’s first game back was actually encouraging in a lot of ways for the Spartans. The athletic junior seemed just as aggressive on the glass and tenacious on defense as he did before suffering the broken hand that kept him out a month. In 25 minutes of action, Dawson was energetic and unafraid, pulling down a team-high four offensive rebounds to go along with a pair of steals and a blocked shot—all-around pretty good, considering the long absence. The larger, more glaring concern was the play of Keith Appling; only recently back from an injury himself (wrist), the point guard remains nowhere near the player he was before the affliction. The Appling of old would confidently (and accurately) launch from behind the arc, explosively attack the basket, and knock down free throws when he earned trips to the line. It’s the reason he scored in double figures for seven straight games earlier this season and was in the conversation for Big Ten Player of the Year. But since his three-game hiatus in mid-February? The senior leader has attempted only three three-pointers, seldom penetrated the lane, and has gone just 2-for-8 from the charity stripe in 103 minutes of combined action. Among his misses were several potentially game-altering attempts against the Illini on Saturday that might have changed the outcome had they gone in. Whether it’s the lingering wrist injury or something else, Appling cannot continue to play at this level if the Spartans are going to make a run in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournament—he’s simply too important, both as a scoring option and a facilitator, to remain a non-factor.

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